" /> Loose Leaf Notes: September 2006 Archives

« August 2006 | Main | October 2006 »

September 30, 2006

Do Writers Retire?

As a writer, it seems that I seesaw between the fast-paced productiveness of writing and the dead end crash it leads to when the bottom falls out. When I’m inspired, I complain that can’t write fast enough. When I’m not, I whine about having nothing to say.

I know I should enjoy what is commonly referred to as “the writer’s block,” the way a person on vacation shouldn’t think about work. I thought I had gotten over the feeling I used to get when my creative outpouring dried up: that my writing had been a fluke afterall and would never happen again.

When my writing becomes forced and feels empty of energy, I remember what renowned poet Nikki Giovanni said to her creative writing class that I sat in on years ago: to be a good writer you have to go out and live so that you’ll have something to write about. Nikki’s words help me to push myself away from the writing table, find a change of scenery, and get involved in life.

On the other hand, when I’m obsessed and feel that the muse is slave driver with her own agenda, I like to imagine letting go of writing altogether. rubymag2.jpg I envision a day when I don’t blog, when I don’t walk around with a notebook and feel compelled to translate everything into words. During those times, I remember the words of Ruby Altizer Roberts, a past poet laureate of Virginia who was born in Floyd and grew up in nearby Christiansburg.

I interviewed Ruby for a Blacksburg art magazine (now defunct) called “Expressions” in 1999. She was 93 years old at the time. Arriving at her stately home, called The Shamrocks, in my kelly-green blouse, khaki pants, and black blazer, she opened the door and said, “Oh, I see you’re Irish.”

I thought she was psychic (I learned during the interview that she was involved in metaphysics), but I later realized my name “Colleen” probably gave her a clue. As I fumbled with the tape recorder that ultimately didn’t work, she put me at ease with her Southern charm and her bright enthusiasm.

At one point, I asked, considering her age, “Ruby, do you still write poetry?”

“No,” she answered, letting out a sigh of relief. “I have my life back.”

Post note:
You can read more about Ruby and one of her poems in a past Loose Leaf post HERE. In it Ruby answers the question “Where does poetry come from?”

September 29, 2006

Foot Loose

1. Déjà vu
2. His kind of yoga
3. Her kind of yoga
4. On equal footing
5. On our way home ...

September 28, 2006

13 Thursday: The Ocean View

12ocean.jpg 1. If I was an alien and I landed on earth I’d say TAKE ME TO YOUR OCEAN instead of TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER.

2. The next line would be, “and don’t forget the PEOPLE magazine.”

3. On vacation, life decisions come down to whether we should ride our bikes from the campground to the beach or drive.

4. Fully dressed people with socks and shoes on shouldn’t be allowed on the beach. They remind me of the people who stand around watching others dance but won’t dance themselves.

5. People who own houses along the beach usually name them. Here are a few I saw this past weekend while we were camping in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina: C-Scape, Sol Mates, Sun Bling, Pelican’s Porch, and Wright Nice (as in the Wright Brothers).

6. Apparently, if we had gone a little further south to Hatteras, we could have seen these ones: Shor Nuf, Knot on Call, For the Halibut, Seas the Moment, Pier Pressure, Native Sun, Fin and Tonic, Scooby Dunes, and Fish and Ships.

7. If you google “beach quotes,” you’ll get sites trying to sell you real estate rather than what famous people have said about the beach.

8. If you google “ocean quotes,” you might have better luck. You could find something like this: Faith is knowing there is an ocean because you have seen a brook. ~ William Arthur Ward

9. This is an example of how differently a pessimist and an optimist view the ocean: 1. Ocean: A body of water occupying about two-thirds of a world made for man - who has no gills. ~ Ambrose Bierce. 2. You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

10. Number 54 on my 100 Things About Me says: Sometimes I feel like I’m more at home in water. Being in the ocean makes me giddy. I grew up on in the South Shore of Boston on the tip of a peninsula called Hull, surrounded by water. My siblings and I used to wonder how anyone could stand to not live near the ocean. Ironically, I’ve lived the last 27 years not near the ocean, but I periodically crave to be near it. I overheard my husband once say, “When she gets out of sorts, I know it’s time to take her to the ocean.”

11. I am from a granite boulder seawall … and cotton candy at Paragon Park …I’m from blackberry stains and beach rose petals … catalpa beans and bamboo ... I am from the salt of the earth … One if by land, two if by sea …John F. Kennedy and Fenway Park … even when the Red Sox are losing … excerpt from the poem “Where I’m From.”

12. This is the essay I recorded for WVTF public radio about growing up by the ocean.

13. When it comes to owning beachfront property, this is the best my husband and I can do.

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. View more 13 Thursday’s here.

September 27, 2006

Life's a Beach

1. Birds of a feather
2. Flock together
3. King of my castle
4. Honey, I’m home
5. The family Pet

September 26, 2006


sandshadow.jpg We had to avoid stepping on frogs the size of flies that were hopping across our path. The sand felt like talc beneath our bare feet. We followed others who seemed to know the way. Eventually, the narrow winding pathway opened to an eerie scene. People walked in groups, in pairs, or on their own, around a pond, past some hang gliding equipment, and then up and down some of the tallest natural sand dunes in the country. It was a pilgrimage that reminded me of something out of a science fiction movie. We were going to watch the setting sun at Jockey State Park, but it might have been a space ship landing. Some had already reached the top of the first dune. They stood lined up, looking like miniature people in a blur of whirling sand to those of us below.

dunelineup2.jpg The dunes run for miles along the coastline of Nags Head, North Carolina. The tallest, Jockey Ridge, is 80 to 100 feet high, depending on the weather. It likely got its name from stories of early inhabitants who captured wild ponies and rode them on the ridge, the state park brochure says. Like most natural treasures, the people of area had to fight to preserve it from encroaching development. It became a State Park in 1974 due to their efforts.

On the dunes, the force of wind was dizzying. It made the bottle of beer that Joe and I shared whistle. I felt like we had been transported to the Sahara, or the moon. Grains of sand whipped against us, stinging our skin. Our voices were muffled against the roar, and my scalp was matted with sand.

The people at the dune were as interesting to me as the landscape was. From the top of the final and largest dune, we looked back at them. A few children rolled down the dune on their sides. A man in sneakers was running and shouting something. Two Amish women stood on a peak talking while their dresses flapped wildly in the wind.


There was plenty of room to spread out. "Do you think anyone has ever gotten married up here?" I asked Joe.

He had to go back into the valley between dunes to get his knapsack, where he had dropped it earlier so that he’d be free to do cartwheels.

“I’ll be buried in sand when you get back,” I told him.

September 24, 2006

High Noon

surf2sm.jpg “If it’s this hot in late September, I wonder what it’s like here in summer.” Colleen to Joe

Day 2, The Outer Banks: The roar of the ocean is not like holding a shell to your ear. The magical illusion of the ocean’s color in evening has given way to muddy green. The shells and stones have lost their glint. At high noon, it’s too hot to be interested in them.

High noon is the time of day when wars are started, duels are fought, and a dip in the ocean is required to get out of the heat. That is, if I can make it past the giant breakers. If I can survive being thrown like a stick in the eye of a storm, sucked under like a dish rag going down the drain of a sink.

September 23, 2006

Peacock Blue

usbshells2.jpg When I’m retired I’ll walk the beach, collecting seashells. I'll drop them like other people drop coins into a glass jar at the end of each day. ~ Colleen

I'm the only one on the beach collecting shells. The whole beach? For me? When I was young I only picked up the perfectly formed shells. Now I’m drawn to bits and pieces, worn down into unusual shapes. I scan the shore with my eyes like I do at the thrift shop looking for clothes. Even though I think I’m being discerning, soon all my pockets are bulging with shells of the right color and quality.

The camp ground we’re staying at has peacocks. Seeing them reminded me of the ones my sister Sherry and I saw at a zoo in Florida when we were teenagers. A few years after that, I bought several long peacock feathers and put them in a wine bottle for a decoration in my very first apartment. Now I was picking them up off the ground, free and plentiful like shells. I wore one in my hair all day.

Joe and I got into a deep discussion regarding the color of the ocean. I thought it looked marine blue, becoming almost indigo dark in places. He saw the colors teal and aquamarine. In reality, it was hard to tell where one shade of blue, green, or purple began and where it ended. The ocean is a sea full watercolors changing with the play of light, accented with the crashing of brilliant white waves.

The waves roll out on the horizon like the mountains of the Blue Ridge. They’re big enough today to draw lots of surfers. Trying to photograph surfers in the act is like trying to photograph butterflies. I chased many butterflies around my yard this summer pursuing the perfect shot, the way the surfers now wait for the perfect wave. Sometimes it happens.

My jeans are wet up to my knees. While trying to get a perfect shot of the wet-suit-less surfers on their brightly colored boards, a roaring wave caught me unaware. I’m about to head back to the camper to change because the sunset is next on our schedule. It’s already creating a glow of spreading lavender where the sea and sky meet. Here, on the outer banks of North Carolina, watching the sunset is the best show in town.

September 22, 2006

The Writing’s on the Wall

1. Overbooked
2. Overcrowded
3. A sweeping change
4. A clean sweep
5. Even lawnmowers have bumper stickers

Post note: There's a change on the horizon, having to do with getting away from it all and involving my favorite thing, the ocean! Posting may be erratic. See you soon!

September 21, 2006

Thirteen Thursday: Let It All Hang Out

13letithangout.jpg 1. My sister has been doing a week long series of “100 Things About Me,” featuring many of our family members. You can check it out HERE.

2. My hands frequently slip on the keyboard while typing, and things ensue that I have no control over. Periodically, I have to abandon a word document and start over because I don’t know how to stop the red from underlining everything.

3. The mean in me: yesterday I squished two Japanese beetles that were mating on one of my dahlia flowers, and announced loudly as I did it, “THE HONEYMOON IS OVER!”

4. Best line from a wedding toast, heard recently: I’m going to tell you a story … but you know, I’m not very good with the accuracy of stories … I’m a Republican by the way. (He really is.)

5. I underlined the first line of the first paragraph in the introduction of Barbara Kingsolver’s book, “Small Wonder” and felt like she wrote it for me: I learned a surprising thing in writing this book. It is possible to move away from a vast, unbearable pain by delving into it deeper and deeper – by “diving into the wreck,” to borrow the perfect words of Adrienne Rich. You can look at all the parts of a terrible thing until you see that they are assemblies of smaller parts, all of which you can name, and some of which you can heal or alter, and finally the terror that seemed unbearable becomes manageable. I suppose what I am describing is the process of grief.

6. In the past, I frequently traveled to Blacksburg (50 minutes away) to attend talks by inspiring speakers, such as Kurt Vonnegut, William Coffin Sloane, and Helen Caldecott on the Virginia Tech campus. More recently, I’ve become more discerning about what events I’ll attend and how far I’m willing to travel to attend them. I’ve frequently heard myself say, half jokingly “I’ll wait till they come to Floyd,” when a big name who I’m interested in is scheduled to talk somewhere nearby. In the case of best selling author, Barbara Kingsolver, my plan worked. She came to Floyd!

7. I noticed while surveying the packed high school auditorium last Saturday night when she spoke that people from Blacksburg had come to Floyd for a high profile event for a change.

8. It took her coming for me to realize that she’s a hero of mine, both as a writer and as a human being. Barbara is a longtime environmental, peace and justice activist. Considering my interest in names as our assignments, what do you think her last name “Kingsolver” implies?

9. I’m still working on a post about her recent talk here in Floyd in which she read from her yet-to-be on the bookstands new book. Do you think I’ll need a Barbara Kingsolver category on my sidebar soon?

10. Here’s a great line from another writer I admire, seen in the blogsphere this week: Toby and Ralph got naked and drove the van off the cliff. The Seventh Day Adventists already called the cops. You can read the rest of this literal cliffhanger HERE.

11. And yet another from a writer of songs: John Mellencamp: Man in the straw house … Sure don't know what he's talkin' about … Don't leave me standing … On the front porch baby … Makes me feel like I'm selling something … Ask me in - Let it all Hang Out.

12. As a girl, doing laundry was one of my main family chores. I hung it, folded it, and put it away in family members’ drawers. Back then, I used to pretend that our house caught on fire and that the clothes on my back and the ones I was hanging were all that was saved. Oddly, to this day doing laundry is the household chore I least mind doing.

13. Zen proverb quote goes like this: After enlightenment, the laundry.

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. View more 13 Thursday’s here.

September 20, 2006

Floyd’s Spoken Word Open Mic is One Year Old

dcreadersm.jpg For the first anniversary of the Spoken Word Open Mic at the Café Del Sol a lawyer from Washington D.C. with aspirations of becoming a musician scribbled his poem on a scrap of paper before coming up to the stage to read it. Dr. Sue Osborn was in the house with her son Mars. She read a poem from her journal about a blackberry, which began … My family doesn’t want this one. Radford University graduate, Bekah, got a rousing applause for each one of the three original poems she read. Open Mic regulars and Floyd Writer’s Circle members, Mara and I also read. Mara performed an experiential piece, read in between a recording of “Don’t Think Twice it’s Alright,” sung by Joan Baez and The Indigo Girls. Another piece she read was inspired by a National Geographic article that likened being in love to obsessive compulsive disorder …The conversation heart you gave me on valentine’s day … was probably spiked with dopamine. I never ate it … But if I had, I could have avoided months of clichés … I read two serious poems, one of which is brand new and the result of a recent therapy session. Feeling a little guilty about possibly bumming the audience out, I promised to follow those poems with one that would make them laugh. And it did!

At the Dentist

It’s too late to pretend
that the overhead lamp
is the sun in Tahiti
and the reclining chair
is a floating raft in a blue green sea

Because the tube in my mouth
I could be sipping a drink from
is not really a straw for pina colada
and the grinding drill I hear coming closer
is not the blender that mixed it


September 19, 2006

The Walking Tour

walkkingtourfeetsm2.jpgLongtime member and photograph archivist of the Floyd County Historical Society, Kathleen Ingoldsby, was instrumental in bringing the Historic Walking Tour to Floyd. She was the spark behind the creation of the eight panel, fold-out walking tour brochure guide, complete with sepia photos and descriptive listings of 45 historic sites in Floyd. While attending the first annual Floyd Homecoming and Harvest Festival this past Saturday, I was among one of the first groups who, with our brochures, followed Kathleen, our tour guide, around town as if she was the Pied Piper of local history.

She is also a member or my writer’s workshop and a regular Scrabble player, which is probably why, when describing a “quonset roof structure,” she pointed out what a good scoring Scrabble word “quonset” would make. After seeing the quality of the walking tour brochure and guessing at the amount of work that went into it, I understood why she's recently been too busy to attend our writer’s circle.

Because I forgot my notebook, I was forced to scribble all over my brochure during our hour-and-a half trek, which began at the Old Jacksonville cemetery, dated on the brochure as circa 1827. The rare soapstone tomb table there is especially impressive. When my sons were young they imagined it to be the one Aslan, the lion in the Narnia Chronicles, was slain on.
By following the brochure and listening to Kathleen’s narrative, we learned that at one time Floyd had a movie theatre and a hospital in town. There was likely a 10 pin bowling alley above what is now the Spessard and Boswell law offices. There were gas pumps in front of the Farmers Supply, which first began as the Thomas Huff General Store. “Many people learned to drive in the parking lot behind the building, which also sold automobiles. Without licenses, anyone could drive back then,” Kathleen elaborated.

The Headen-Howard House property, number 14 on the Floyd Historic Walking Tour list, is so historically valued that it’s individually listed in Virginia and National Historic Registers. It features an original brick well house, meat house, log stables, a separate brick kitchen, and its original ornate wrought iron fence, which was common in Floyd County in the 19th century. My Irish heritage is probably what caused me to underline the part of the description that read, “Constructed by Henry Dillon, an Irish-born brick mason.”

Dillon’s own brick home, just across the street, still stands and is also a historic site. Since the recent addition of the over-sized wooden lady on the front lawn, sculpted by artist Lanny Bean, this mid-nineteenth century brick home is an especially easy landmark.

Kathleen, a former potter and an architectural enthusiast, knows a lot about bricks. As she described their early method of manufacture and styles of laying them, I was running my hand along the soapstone wall of the real estate office that used to be the “Peoples Bank.” Soapstone, the mineral steatite, is found all along the Appalachian chain and was readily available in Floyd, she told us. I was thinking about the chimney in my own home, built with recovered soapstone slabs that were found at an abandoned house site, as Kathleen pointed to the Food Lion and told us that clay bricks were once fired on the lot. Later, I would run my hand along the quartz filled stone wall, another example of the use of local resources, on the corner of Locust and Oxford Street and wonder how I could have passed by it so many times without really appreciating it.
It was hard to imagine the oxen carts hauling building supplies that Kathleen described, or the soda fountain in the original Odd Fellows Hall (a factor in how Oddfella’s Cantina got its name) where Bell’s Art Gallery now exists. There were lots of lawyer’s offices back then, just as there are today. On court day, which likely happened about once a month, townspeople came out to socialize, watch the trials, trade horses, and do other business. In fact, part of Locust Street was once called "Jockey Street."

According to Kathleen early Floydians were a resourceful group, and the Floyd of 1860 was a bustling hub of enterprise, even more than Montgomery County at the time. The 1846 Jacksonville Academy and the Oxford Academy, a high school that taught calculus, Latin, and Greek, were important educational influences that brought new people and new ideas to Floyd.

So much about the town of Floyd has changed, but in other ways it hasn’t. During the ninteenth century Floyd was a mix of tried-and-true culture and new innovation. When I think about the Floyd I know today, it could be described the same way.

Post Notes:
You can learn more about Floyd history by visiting the Floyd County Historical Society’s website. The statement on the Historic Walking Tour brochure, made possible by “The Floyd Fund” reads: The Society encourages interest in the history of Floyd County through the collection, preservation, and stewardship of significant historic materials. Educational programs include lectures, publications, community outreach, and exhibits. The Society maintains a substantial archive of historic artifacts, documents, and early photographs. Photo #3 is of our tour group standing in front of Schoolhouse Fabrics, which at one time was a high school.

September 18, 2006

Advice from Barbara Kingsolver

bkings.jpg ~ Taken from her talk in Floyd Virginia, September 16, 2006.

To upcoming writers: Learn everything you can about the world. Start books that no one will want to read. Having something to say is more important than trying to guess what people want to hear. Quit smoking. Live long enough to have something wise to say.

For activists and others concerned about the environment: Go to Alaska. It’s worth the jet fuel. Don’t think it’s all gone because it’s not.

On drawing from people you know to create fictional characters: I don’t use real people in my books. They’re not co-operative. My characters have to be my slaves!

Making movies from books: The best way to do it is how Jane Austen did it. Wait till your dead and then they can make all the movies they want. (Although, Barbara did relate that, contrary to past experiences, the current collaboration on a screenplay for "The Poisonwood Bible" is looking very hopeful.)

On the importance of libraries: Libraries are revolutionary. Free ideas for anybody? In America?

Best quote of the night: Are the choices you make adding up to the only thing that matters? (Passing on to our children what is precious before we gobble it all up).

On advice giving: I never give advice because people don’t really want it.

Post Note:
The photo is of acclaimed author Barbara Kingsolver, her daughter Lilly, and her husband Steven, taken at the Floyd High School library. I’m working on a longer piece about her visit to Floyd and the new book she read from, which I hope to post later in the week. Meanwhile, you can read more about her here.

September 16, 2006

A Floyd First

oldchurchg2.jpg Downtown Floyd was abuzz with the sound of weed-whacking and lawn mowing. As I made my way through town yesterday hanging flyers for our next Spoken Word event, I couldn’t help but notice the smell of freshly mowed grass wafting through the air. Everywhere I went, up and down Locust and Main Streets, people were sprucing up their businesses, getting ready for the first annual “Floyd Homecoming and Harvest Festival” the following day.

Inspired by the County’s upcoming 175 year anniversary, the festival was planned for Saturday, September 16, to coincide with The Harvest Moon’s second annual “A Taste of Floyd,” a slow-food event that features locally-produced food. In conjunction with that, a first ever old-fashioned County Fair is planned, complete with contests for best garden produce, plants, food, and more.

The Floyd County Historical Society will be hosting a Walking Tour of historical sites. History exhibits, heritage demonstrations, live traditional music, children’s games, and animal shows are also on the agenda.
The day’s events are set to cumulate with a reading and a discussion, hosted by “The Friends of the Library,” featuring acclaimed author Barbara Kingsolver, who currently lives in Southwest Virginia.

“Do you know what time the Walking Tour starts in the morning?” a friend stopped to ask while I was at the Harvest Moon posting a flyer on their community bulletin board.

“See you tomorrow night at Barbara Kingsolver’s talk,” another friend said as she was walking to her car and I was gazing at the colorful tents set up on the Harvest Moon lawn and along the driveway.

Further up the road, a woman in front of The Floyd Beauty Shoppe was trying to unclog a weed-whacker. Across the street, Rick, from Whisker’s Roadhouse (upstairs at Mama Lazardo’s Restaurant), was up on a ladder changing the sign that announces the weekend’s entertainment. His big grille was set up, ready to fire, to feed the “Friday night Jamboree” crowd that night and festival-goers on Saturday. I was just about to push a tack into the Plexiglas encased bulletin board in front of the New Mountain Mercantile when I heard someone shout, “Hey, gorgeous!”

“I’m up here,” she had to shout-out twice before I looked up and saw her. It was Kanta, director of Alpha Learning Center, just above the Mercantile. “Got a second?” she asked, inviting me up. I got a brief tour of her digs, where she teaches, makes art, holds workshops, and now lives. I was impressed!

I still had one flyer to hang, so I headed to the Café Del Sol where our spoken word open mic takes place every third Saturday night from 7-9. Because most lovers of the word wouldn’t want to miss meeting Barbara Kingsolver this Saturday, the event was re-scheduled for Sunday 5-7, the following day. In front of the Winter Sun building where the café is housed, I passed a trailer filled with tree limbs, part of the day’s landscaping efforts, I wondered?

“Did a tree fall?” I asked a group of familiar faces who were gathered in front of the café.

“It’s for the play. They’re decorating the stage,” someone answered. The Magic of Midsummer Nights Dream, a play written by 12 year old Cameron Arie Woodruff and presented by the Young Actor’s Co-op was to be performed that evening.
Now I was on roll. A theme had formed. I drove back down to the Harvest Moon to get some photographs of the gardener I had seen landscaping 20 minutes before, but I was too late. I saw David, a Blacksburg musician in town for Irish Night at Oddfella’s Cantina, standing in front of the Moon on his cell phone. He took the time to say hello before making yet a second call. “Get an office!” I called out playfully.

At that point my friend, Katherine, who works at the Harvest Moon, whizzed by on her way to the slow-food big top city. She was carrying something.

“What are you doing back, just taking pictures?” She asked, and I nodded.

I tried to stay out of her way.

Post Notes: Photos - 1. The Old Church Gallery, which is currently featuring “Whittlin Through Time," an exhibit of Floyd Folk art. 2. Farmer's Supply Building. 3. A few tents in front of the Harvest Moon.
The Walking Tours begin at 11:00 and 1:00, Barbara Kingsolver will be at the Floyd High School at 7 p.m, and the Spoken Word Open Mic is Sunday from 5-7 p.m.

September 15, 2006

They Call Me Aunt Orlene

Opuckettsm.jpg In a private woodland setting on a warm August afternoon, Phyllis Stump transformed herself into Orlene Puckett, the legendary local midwife. For nearly two hours, Ms. Stump, a storyteller and actress, held the attention of approximately 15 of us who attended her one-woman play. Under an open tent, to protect us from the bright sun, we laughed and cried as “Aunt Orlene” revealed the story of her life.

She was born Orlene Hawks in 1837 and is believed to have lived to be 102 years old, but not all the records agree. Regarding those discrepancies, Ms. Stump, as Aunt Orlene, explains, “I’ve lived long enough, and you have too, to be mighty skeptical of anything the government tries to tell you, especially if it comes to facts and figures.” About the death of her first child from diphtheria at the age of seven months, she lowered her head, leaned on her walking stick and said this: “I can tell you for sure that the pain of bringing a baby into this world don’t compare to losing a child, even if you know she’s going to heaven.”

Orlene Puckett bore and lost a total of 24 babies. Some were stillborn; others lived a few hours or a number of days. Ironically, at the age of 50 she took up midwifery, traveling by horse, mule, carriage, or on foot all over Carroll, Patrick, and Floyd County to deliver over 1000 healthy babies.

Schooled by her mother, Orlene lived a typical 19th century rural mountain lifestyle. Her family didn’t have much money. They made what they needed and grew what they ate, supplementing their diet with foraged food and herbal medicine. Her life spanned the Civil War and WWI, right up to the late 1930s, when construction of The Blue Ridge Parkway forced her out of her mountaintop cabin. She died weeks after that move.

So believable was Ms. Stump’s performance as Aunt Orlene that when the play was over and Ms. Stump donned her modern-day clothes and spoke in her own voice, I was jarred. Once I was able to make the transition, accepting that Aunt Orlene was a character portrayal, I approached Ms. Stump with two questions. The first was one that many have asked, back in Orlene’s time and still today.

“How is it possible that all of Orlene Puckett’s babies died?” I wanted to know.

Her answer was the same one given by Karen Cecil Smith in her book, Orlean Puckett: the Life of a Mountain Midwife; RH disease, which meant an incompatibility between Orlene’s blood type and her babies.
My next question was one pertaining to the old black bag that Ms. Stump used in her play. It was authentic, Orlene Puckett’s, lent to Ms. Stump by a family member of Orlene’s.

“Can I peek inside?” I asked curiously. She obligingly flicked it open and I peered in. The sateen fabric was frayed and torn. I saw a daisy flower and a soldier’s emblem.

“It’s probably from WWI,” Ms. Stump told me.

My curiosity was not abated, and so days later I called Ms. Stump, using the phone number on the business card she gave me. I told her how convincing her performance had been and how well written the script was.

“How did you come to do this particular play?” I asked.

“We bought a house in 2001 off the Blue Ridge Parkway,” she answered, “a half mile from the Puckett cabin." She was standing in front of the cabin with her husband one day when she said to him, determinedly, “I’m going to come up here and be Orlene Puckett.”

After taking a year to do research and write the script, Ms. Stump has realized her goal. “They Call Me Aunt Orlene” is a captivating play, one that is likely to become a regional classic.

Post Note: The above appeared in this week’s Floyd Press. Ms. Stump will be performing her one woman play at the Puckett cabin on the Blue Ridge Parkway, milepost 189.9 on September 23rd at 2:00 p.m. Upcoming performances also include: Hollows History Center in Arafat, Virginia, on October 1st at 2:00; and Mount Airy Museum of Regional History on November 19th at 2:00.

September 14, 2006

How Do You Spell 13 Thursday?

dict2.jpg The Scrabble dictionary isn’t really a dictionary at all. It’s a book designed to keep players from spending all their time fighting over what’s a word. ~ Stephen Fatsis

1. Standardized spelling is a modern invention that dates back to the late 19th century. President Andrew Jackson said this: It’s a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word.

2. I frequently browse books from back to front and read words in ways other than left to right.

3. I’ve had my Honda CRV for over 3 years and I still push the wrong button to put the window down. What can I say? It’s in the wrong place.

4. This is the way I feel about therapy: It’s not about finding out who did what to me or why. It’s about finding out what I’m storing and what’s weighing me down. I think everyone has some emotional baggage. It’s there affecting us whether or not we acknowledge it. I figure I might as well open the bag and see what’s in there, remember why I put it there, and decide what I can now throw away.

5. Our local supermarket, which does employ a butcher, is appropriately called "Slaughters." Yesterday I saw a 6 foot female rock singer sing on the Ellen Show. Her name was Storm Large. More on names as our assignments, HERE.

6. What’s in your dictionary? I find myself collecting autumn leaves like I collect shells when I’m walking on the beach. Wanting to preserve their beauty, I press them in my large red American Heritage dictionary. Some leaves have been in my dictionary for many years, so that when I look up a word, pieces fly out or crumple into dried confetti. Sometimes a faded green shamrock from Ireland or a purple wildflower, collected while hiking on the Parkway, will spill out onto my burnt orange living room carpet and tell a story of a day already lived. Read more HERE.

7. Here’s what Stephen Fatsis, author of Word Freak says about the dictionary: Dictionaries are designed to appear authoritative. They’re thick, sturdy, and precise, with pages of explanatory material and complex notational schemes …. People refer to “the dictionary” as if there were just one, divinely inspired like the Bible … But dictionaries are as subjective as any other piece of writing. Which words are included in them and which words are removed or ignored are decisions made by lexicographers based on shifting criteria, varying standards, and divergent publishing goals?

8. Did you know that the Scrabble tournament players use a different Scrabble dictionary than the rest of us? After the National Scrabble Association took “questionable” words out of the “The Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary,” prompted by complaints of certain groups, the tournament players fought for their own more complete Scrabble dictionary, which is not commonly sold in bookstores. The subtitle on the one I own says: “The Official Reference for Recreational and School Play.” The word fart isn’t in it, but the word blog is.

9. Scrabble tournaments are like the Grateful Dead Shows of the game world.

10. What happens when you get a poet, an Arab American comedian, a Professor of Ethics, a student, a playwright, and 2 Reverends together to talk about the attacks of 9/11, their aftermath, and the war in Iraq? The best part of this thoughtful roundtable, which aired on The PBS News Hour on 9/11, was that a wide range of views were expressed in a respectful manner. See for yourself HERE.

11. When my son Josh was nine, he said, “I wish war was extinct like the dinosaur age.”

12. When my son Dylan started public school in the 5th grade, after home schooling and then going to a small alternative school for several years, he said, “It’s just like the army, Mum. They make you stand in lines.”

13. Life is Stranger than Fiction: I once left my journal in an Applebee’s restaurant after having lunch there. When I went back an hour or so later to look for it, I discovered it was on the floor being used as a shim to balance a wobbly table.

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. View more 13 Thursdays HERE.

September 13, 2006



The mantra
is the vehicle
that knows
the best shortcut
when my mind
is downtown traffic

~ Colleen Redman

We'Moon is a best-selling appointment book, astrological moon calendar, earth-centered spiritual guide and multicultural handbook in natural rhythms. Now in its 26th year of publication, We'Moon is created for, by and about womyn. ~ From the We’Moon website. The above poem is included in the current issue, “We’Moon 07.” This year’s theme is “On Purpose.”

September 12, 2006

Got the Picture?

1. Peer Pressure
2. Question Authority
3. An Invitation
4. Off duty
5. A Taste of What’s to Come

September 11, 2006

What were you doing when it happened?

Death is a season rather than a single date. I hadn’t been home from the last funeral for even a week when the terrorist attacks on the U.S. took place--September 11, 2001. Two towers came down, one right after the other like my brothers did, killing over 3,000 innocent people. Now the whole country was in grief. Maybe I wouldn’t stick out so, like a sore thumb. From The Jim and Dan Stories.

The 5th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. is also the 5th anniversary of my brothers' deaths. My brother Dan, who was suffering with a liver illness, planned a road trip with our older brother Jim (a.k.a. "the weatherman"), thinking in the back of his mind that it might be a last chance for them to spend time together. They traveled from our hometown of Hull, Massachusetts, where Jim still lived, down the east coast, before heading back to Houston, where Dan lived and where Jim would fly home from. They went to a baseball game together, gambled in Atlantic City, saw the Vietnam War Memorial, and visited me in Virginia. It was Jim's first time visiting me and the first time he had been out of Massachusetts since he was in the Army during Vietnam and stationed in Korea. Two weeks after Jim returned from the trip, he died unexpectedly and tragically in a machine shop accident.

Dan missed Jim’s wake because he was too sick to attend, but he pulled himself together to make the funeral. My mother and I helped dress him that morning. Dan knew in his heart that as he watched his brother’s funeral, he was seeing what his own would be like. He died a month later in a hospital in Houston. My sister Kathy, sister-in-law Jeanne, and I were with him when he took his last breath.

It was my niece Chrissie, my only other family member who also lives in Virginia, who called on September 11th to tell me what had happened and to tell me to turn on the TV. I didn’t want to watch. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to see more death. And then it hit me. And then it sunk in.

The following is another excerpt from the Jim and Dan Stories:

Jim had his teeth cleaned a couple of days before he died. He left a “things to do” list on his night stand table. At Dan’s apartment, The Houston Chronicles piled up at the front door. The messages on his answering machine piled up too.

When someone dies, it’s like their life stands still and their belongings are frozen in time. All the details of everyday living that they worried about prove to be meaningless. They’re excused from all obligations. Their lives don’t wind down; they just stop.

The girl at the Pharmacy approached my mother cautiously, “Mrs. Redman, I thought you might like to have these,” she said. They were developed photographs of Jim and Dan’s trip that Jim never had the chance to pick up (probably one of the chores on his “things to do list”).

“Only Jim,” I thought when I heard he had taken pictures of clouds from the airplane window on his flight home from Houston.

“There are a couple of the World Trade Center buildings before they came down, taken from the highway. Can you believe it?!” my mother asked.

September 10, 2006

Viva Fiesta!

fiestacakesm.jpg The vows were exchanged under a fruit filled apple tree, alongside a small creek. The bride wore a silk sheath gown with a white rose behind her ear. Draped in a shawl, she was escorted by her father, who had arrived the day before from Spain. They walked past the gardens and the pottery studio, to be united with the groom, standing under the grape-vine archway that was adorned with flowers and bunches of grapes. His bright orange tie and lapel flower matched the bride’s bouquet.

Some of the toasts at the reception were done in Spanish; others were interpreted to those who didn’t speak both languages. I got to practice the only sentence I know in Spanish, Yo tango dos ehos, and learn a new one, Yo vivo en Floyd. fiestaribbonssm.jpg The tapas were served by friends in sun-colored aprons, and they kept coming. There was serano ham with manchego tetilla, idiazabul cheeses and roasted red peppers; tequila lime shrimp; saffron rice with chicken skewers and chipolte sauce; and more. I sat next to young woman who inspired me to decorate my glasses with the ribbons that had been tied around our cloth napkins. There was salsa dancing, and the red wine flowed, so did the laughter (and a few tears as well). It was hard to resist a second helping of that cake.

September 9, 2006

Big Guns and a Megaphone

The Bush Administration and its supporters would like to know, whose side are you on? Are you one of those terrorist-supporters who wants to “cut and run” in Iraq, or are you a true American willing to “stay the course,” even though the course has cost the lives of over 2,500 U.S. soldiers and more than 40,000 Iraqi civilians, with no end to the violence in sight

Distilling the issue of Iraq down to side-taking sound bites is a familiar Bush administration tactic, one that was used to sell the Iraq invasion to Americans (whether or not they wanted it) over three years ago. Unfortunately, such dramatized tactics further divides our country and stifles constructive debate, and when the current argument for “staying the course” includes the chilling warning “if we don’t fight terrorist there, we will fight them here at home,” it feels more like a form of bullying than a rationale for foreign policy.

Personally, I can’t begin to answer the heartbreaking question of what to do about Iraq without first expressing my frustration and then asking two pressing questions that have remained unanswered: “What are we doing there in the first place, and who will be held accountable for the misrepresentations that got us there and the failed policies that have followed?

With a big megaphone and a world stage to shout their message from, the Bush administration’s “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and “Mushroom Cloud” scare tactics drowned out the voices of reason. They ignored world opinion, the U.N. Security Counsel, most of our allies, and the opinions of many Middle Eastern policy experts when they pursued a war based on a hypothetical threat with an urgency that was unwarranted. Some of those voices of reason were the same ones who counseled President Bush’s father during the first Gulf War, predicting that taking Saddam out of power could open the way for something far worse. As bad as Saddam’s rule was, they knew his dictatorship was holding Iraqi warring factions apart.

The war in Iraq has been a mismanaged disaster and has created deadly repercussions in several ways. First, by becoming invading occupiers of a country that had not attacked us, we played into al Qaeda hands, giving them a ready made cause for recruiting more America-hating militants into their ranks. Secondly, after seeing the ousting of Saddam and what can happen to a country that can’t protect itself, both Iran and Japan have stepped up their efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Lastly, and most tragically, is the large numbers of innocent Iraqis that have been killed because of the war. More civilians are dying on a daily basis than did under Saddam’s rule, and because modern Iraq is a country made up of Western-imposed boundaries that force rivals to live side-by-side, it has all the signs of being an ongoing source of civil violence (if not all out civil war) in a similar way that the Israel and Palestine conflict is.

Upbeat portrayals of progress in Iraq, made by the Bush administration, have been as off target as their claim that we had to invade Iraq because of its stockpiles of WMDs. They contradict the Pentagon’s own mid-May to mid August assessment, which was grim and included the following conclusions: Concern about civil war has increased in recent months; Iraqi casualties have shot up 51 percent; and sectarian blood-letting is gradually spreading north.

With support for the war dwindling more each day, the Bush administration has picked up their megaphone again. This time the word “Fascism” has replaced “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Instead of images of mushroom clouds we get those of Hitler, along with inflammatory remarks comparing those who don’t support the war to those who ignored the holocaust when it was taking place.

Will tough talk like that save Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s job? Will it rally enough fervor to get a few Republicans re-elected in November?

“Staying the course” is a noble sounding phrase, meant to play on the best in Americans. But as Americans, isn’t it our duty to guard against governmental abuse of power, to assure that our soldiers aren’t put in harm’s way unnecessarily, and to demand accountability from our government officials when they are?

I find it difficult to accept the advice of “staying the course” from an administration that has led us so far off course.

Post note: The following was written for the Roanoke Times and The New River Free Press.

September 8, 2006

A Driving Inspiration

Moon in high gear
with one headlight out
Moon is the muse
that drives me

September 7, 2006

Thirteen Thursday: View from the Blue

13pkwaysmaz.jpg 1. Blue… winners strive for it … babies’ babble it… purple is another version of it… I once did a poetry reading using only poems that had the word “blue” somewhere in them.

2. There are so many ways to say blue: aquamarine, azure, sapphire, navy, midnight, periwinkle, royal, turquoise, indigo. Did I miss any?

3. I live off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County, a one stoplight rural small town. The Parkway is a 469 mile scenic road that runs through the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive in Virginia to Oconaluftee in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, North Carolina.

4. In a WVTF radio essay called Homegrown, I asked, “Where else but in Floyd could you learn from an old-timer how to forage ginseng one day and then meet Wavy Gravy, the Woodstock clown with an ice-cream flavor named after him, in town for Floyd Fest the next?”

5. There’s a Floyd legend that many of us transplants came to the county after reading somewhere that more tofu was sold here than anywhere else in eastern part of the country.

6. Where else but in Floyd can you grocery shop and get a receipt that says Namaste on it?
7. My husband and I got married at the Saddle Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway on a Blue Moon in June when the full moon and the setting sun were in the sky together, like a bride and groom. At the reception at Chateau Morrisette, I danced to the song "Blue Moon" with my dad.

8. I just sold a piece to our local paper about a one-woman play that I saw in August, depicting the life of Orlene Puckett, a mountain midwife who lived from 1837 to 1939 and lived in a cabin on the Parkway. There's a direct correlation between blogging this past year and a half and having the confidence now to submit stories (that I want to write about anyways).

9. I want to shock the world with cobalt … invent new blue slang… drop its name in conversation… wear all shades of it... My Celtic ancestors went into battle naked and painted blue. Here’s a good photo of the Blue Girls of Floyd Fest.

10. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young have reunited for a war protest tour called “Freedom of Speech.” It’s sad that so many of their songs written about Vietnam apply again today. Here’s a excerpt from a Chicago Newspaper about the tour: Even with the Bush administration under the most scrutiny of its lifetime, not many younger bands have been so bold as to stage an entire tour like this one. One likely reason is that no band has such a readymade songbook to pull from. (The word blues does appear in the article and Stephen Still has a bright blue shirt on).

11. When I was a girl people thought my sister Kathy and I were twins. We were close in size and my mother would sometime buy us the same clothes, mine in blue and hers in red, in order to tell them (and us) apart.

12. In Floyd, we get fresh fish from Indigo Farms Seafood, a business run by two women who make weekly trips to the coast bringing back fresh seafood to sell off their refrigerated truck. I call them “The Indigo Girls.”

13. My favorite famous last words in a novel are from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins and go like this: … Indigo … indigoing … indigone.

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here.

September 6, 2006

Sign of the Times

Summer on Sale
Cold enough for socks
Putting up the harvest
Everything’s coming up Mums
Future Thanksgiving pie
Is the woodshed half empty or half full?

September 5, 2006

My Weekend Job

picnicsm.jpg He brought me a pineapple and told me I looked like Pocahontas. Last month it was Mary Poppins that I looked like. I helped him pick tomatoes from my garden, verbally directing him or guiding his hand because he’s legally blind and developmentally disabled.

I put tomato in the bologna sandwich that I made for his lunch, not the green one he picked, but a red one. Bologna is his favorite. I packed it in his lunchbox, and then drove us up to the Blue Ridge Parkway for a picnic at the Saddle Overlook.

He couldn’t see the view of rolling mountains, but he could see the bright yellow sports car that was parked next to us and strained his neck to get a better look. Sitting in our lounge chairs, I told him about the butterflies flying past us, which ones were black, which flew up close.

He wanted to walk, so we hiked up an inclining trail to an old hiker’s hut, a remnant from before the Appalachian Trail got re-routed. He held onto my arm the entire way up, and when the footing got challenging, I used both my hands to direct him.

“Look at you! You’re like a mountain climber!” I announced when we finally reached the top. He thought the hiker’s hut looked like a pig pen, and with a floor made muddy from yesterday’s heavy rains, it did.

We had broken a sweat and worked up an appetite, so we gulped down some water before heading back down the trail to have lunch.

“What’s for dinner?” he asked, as we were finishing up and his hand was surveying the potato chip bag to see if he had missed any.

“It begins with an S,” I told him, knowing how much he likes games.

“Sloppy Joe!” he guessed, “Or steak and onions!”

“Good guesses,” I said, and one of them was right.

Post Note:
For 8 years I provided full time foster care for an adult with developmental disabilities. Now I do respite occasionally on weekends for other foster care providers.

September 4, 2006

A Double Header

Some people play Scrabble for a living. Not me. Although, I did just play two games in two days. I won one, and I lost one, but not as bad as Mara, who can be seen in the photo above with a big L for LOSER on her forehead.
Mara is forced to play blindfolded. Or, I snapped the camera quickly because I was trying to get the man in the background, who was wearing a shirt that said PAGAN on it, but he turned just as Mara’s girlfriend Leigh went to set the bag down and the camera caught it, seemingly in mid-air.
Woman in purple turns Leigh’s head. Should Mara be jealous?

More SCRABBLE antics HERE.

September 2, 2006

From Iceland to Greece to Western Massachusetts

alexcat.png Now’s a good time to make that guacamole you were talking about,” (which really meant, this may take some time),” I said to my friend Alex, as I hunched over the Scrabble board and tried to concentrate.

When it was her turn to play, I got up and sliced one of the tomatoes that I brought from my garden. Every time I got up from the kitchen nook where we were playing, her cat took my seat, as if it was understood that it was hers after all, and I was only keeping it warm.

Because Alex’s husband works at home and also likes to play Scrabble, it was Alex’s 3rd game of the day. It was only my first, but by the time we finished I was worn out.

“It’s the ultimate irony,” I said to her.

Alex, who has more stamina than me, has cancer and was not expected to live past last Christmas. I’m healthy but have limited energy stores. I have to meter out my activities and rest in between each one.

We try to play a monthly game, but the last time we played was in late May. In June, Alex had a trip to Iceland planned to see the Icelandic ponies with her husband and sister-in-law. July came and went. I, for one, was busy with my son’s wedding and hosting company who were in town for it.

Sometime in August, I called Alex for a game. It took her two weeks to call me back.

“I was in Greece,” she told me.

“You’re kidding?!” Why was I surprised?

It’s becoming a regular part of our games; after we play, her husband sets up a slide show on his computer and I enjoy photos of their journeys around the world.

I was half kidding when I said, after watching the Greece one, “What’s next, Alex?” She proceeded to outline a 4 stop trip up north that ended with a wedding in western Massachusetts.

Like I said, it’s the ultimate irony.

Note: More Scrabble antics can be found HERE.

September 1, 2006

Lover of Woods and Words

jim'sbookasm.jpg Two watersheds have created my life. I have mapped out the valleys and mountains of these singing waters in the folds of my grandmother’s quilt and the creases of the palm of my hand. These wrinkles in the landscape, and the waters that created them, carry me home again and again. ~ Jim Minnick

“It's supposed to be you who cries while reading my book, and not the other way around!” I wrote in an e-mail to my friend Jim Minnick, author of Finding a Clear Path. Jim and I recently met-up at the Franklin County Book Festival, where we both were scheduled to do readings, and where we happily exchanged our respective books.

Mine is a family story about losing two brothers and is part of a curriculum in a grief and loss class at Radford University. His is a collection of essays steeped in his growing-up years on a farm in Pennsylvania, and living in the countryside of Southwest Virginia as an adult.

When I reached page 14, I broke down.

My father taught me to read. Long before I could decipher the black squiggles on a page, he had me reading the meadow and mountain woods … Jim wrote in an essay titled “Walking in a World of Language.” In “Naming What You Love,” the essay that follows, he writes: Red bud, bergamot, red-eyed vireo. I record the return and reawakening of each species in my notebook, my private welcome back.

“Growing up the way you did, with support and encouragement that fostered your love of nature, stirred up my grief at not having such a childhood,” I wrote to Jim in the e-mail. “I wanted the names of the amazing natural things around me, but, coming from a small town working class family of 11 with a father who was struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from WWII, no one knew the names or remembered them,” I confessed.

Jim, a former Floyd County blueberry farmer who has since moved to Rural Retreat, Virginia, is a teacher of writing and literature at Radford University. A portion of the proceeds from his book, published by the West Virginia University Press, is donated to the Blue Ridge Forest Cooperative, a landowner group working to practice sustainable forestry, and to the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. The donations are made in the names of Floyd Countians, Mary Risacher and Tony Equale. (Note: Mary passed away from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after the publication of Jim’s book).

As a Floyd Countian myself, Mary and Tony’s were not the only recognizable names I came across in Jim’s book. Many of the regional places and events Jim writes about are familiar to me.

In simple, gracefully precise language, Jim writes about a Rock Castle Gorge hike, another one up to Buffalo Mountain, the ice storms of 1993, and finding his way on the back roads of Floyd County using the Little River as a map. Birds, butterflies, yellow jackets, and a turtle with the date “1899” carved on its body all show up in Jim’s book, as do blacksnakes, or the stories of them, passed down by former owners of the 100 year old Floyd farmhouse that Jim and his wife lived in for 12 years.

Most of the essays in Finding a Clear Path were previously published in a column that Jim wrote for the Roanoke Times New River Current, and many include useful suggestions and resources, including those for building a pond, growing ginseng, making horseradish, and more. Jim’s unobtrusive voice is a blended part of the natural world that he writes about. “An eloquent invitation to slow down and pay attention,” the quote on the cover, written by Sandra Ballard says.

But my whole family also read in the written world. Every day Mom and Dad read the newspaper. My older sister scowled at my interruptions of Nancy Drew … Later Kathy, my sister, helped me to write my name
, Jim continues in “Naming What You Love.”

More tears come, as I recall my first day of kindergarten and the sense of un-preparedness I felt when I discovered that most everyone in the class, but me, already knew how to write their names. It wasn’t that I wasn’t capable of writing my name – I learned to do it by the end of the day – but no one had shown me beforehand, or told me it was something important to know.

As an adult, writing has become a central theme in my life, and although I missed out on the degree of individual guidance that Jim had growing up on a farm, I’ve been making up for lost time, learning to identify flowers on the Blue Ridge Parkway, foraging for wild herbs to make my own medicinal tinctures, and growing and preserving a substantial amount of my own food.

Living in the country for the past 20 years has accelerated my exploration into natural world, but it’s an ongoing self-study. I consider Jim’s book to be a refreshing opportunity to continue my education. Viewing the world from his eyes has further opened my own.

For Colleen, a fellow lover of woods and words, Jim wrote below his signature in my copy of “Finding a Clear Path.”

Note: Jim's book can be ordered via the West Virginia University Press or can be purchased in Floyd from Notebooks, as well as from Barnes and Noble and other bookstores.