My Turn! My Turn!

My second favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner is cooking it – my first favorite being the people gathered to eat. For many years in our Army designated homes in three countries outside the USA and five states outside our home state of Mississippi where our extended families still lived, our hosting of the family feast has been impractical, if not impossible. Usually, we held our own wherever we were and invited guests who were also far from their homes of origin.

Occasionally, we made the trek to Mississippi and partook of both a Butler and McGee Thanksgiving meal. My mother-in-law, whose lifelong passion was feeding her four boys and ultimately their offspring, was queen of her kitchen. Beyond stirring a pot or setting the table, she allowed no help.

My mother, who was not fond of kitchen duties, gladly turned over any meal I wanted to do. She might or might not have the seasonings I thought I needed. She might or might not have the size pan I wanted to use. She remained sure I could cope and took herself out to visit with the guests in another room. If the eaters noticed my perceived preparation deficiencies, they were not mentioned.

Memorable Thanksgivings occurred in both houses, including the one when Beth brought her prospective husband Don, an only child, into the craziness of four sisters. It is a testament to his courage that he did not flee.

My own Thanksgiving philosophy lies somewhere between these two who set the example, much like my dressing combines elements of both of theirs. And times have changed. For several reasons, including our move to South Mississippi, my house has been convenient in recent years for the sisters to gather for the celebration. We missed one sister this year because of an unexpected family illness, but two sisters and the unflappable brother-in-law joined Al and me for the feast. Since it’s my house and I get to call the shots, we included a picture book in our offering of thanks – Breaking the Bread by Pat Zeitlow Miller.

I claimed “My turn! My turn!” as I pulled out my favorite pans and seasonings. And I contend that with all the years I’ve missed the privilege of cooking the family Thanksgiving meal at my house, it can be “my turn” for a very long time. I add to that contention my hope that everyone will be well enough in coming years for all four sisters and other family members to be present.

(For the record, the dog returned to the floor after the photo op.)


What Pet Should I Get?

From the stash of manuscripts left after the death of Dr. Seuss, has come a new book – What Pet Should I Get? Since he is not here to ask, even the experts can only guess when it was written, why it wasn’t published, or whether it is an early part of another published book. The boy and girl are the same ones who show up in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Maybe this is an early version of that book that took a different turn after he started writing.

What is known is that Dr. Seuss was a perfectionist. It took him nine months to write the 236 words in The Cat in the Hat. Sometimes a book took as long as a year. His advice is still good for any writer, “Each sentence, each word is important. Don’t rush. Keep molding your writing until it’s just right.” Perhaps that is why so many editors discourage writing in rhyme. Few people put the required time into perfecting the few words that make a rhyming picture book sing, and those who try to imitate Seuss usually wind up with a poor simulated sing-song. (This includes me.)

His first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, went out at least twenty times to rejections. I’ve seen as high as twenty-seven. Whatever the number, he had reached the discouraging point of deciding he would take it home and burn it when he happened to run into the person who eventually helped him get it published. And the rest, they say , , ,

The new book, called to my attention and loaned by my friendly church librarian, has that Seuss feel and fun. A kid (or former kid) will certainly relate to the problem of choosing the exact right pet when there can be only one. I’m guessing he wasn’t through with the manuscript because the fine-tuning is not quite to the level of the well-worn copy of One Fish, Two Fish that I got out for comparison, but is still far ahead of his imitators. The back matter with its insight into how Seuss worked is a reward for the former kid who reads it aloud to a present kid.

So I enjoyed the new book and took to heart two lessons from the good doctor – perfectionism and persistence.


Stumbling into Thankful

I didn’t start the “one-a-day things to be thankful for” in November like some of my friends on Facebook although I have enjoyed theirs and often thought, “Me, too.” I certainly could have found that many, but I wasn’t sure I would keep up with the task. It seemed worse to let it drift off than not to start.

But in the mood of the season, I experienced one this week that I would be remiss not to mention. You may have noticed that I’ve become quite fond of my adopted hometown of Hattiesburg, MS. One of its jewels nestled right downtown is the Oddfellows Gallery, and I am thankful.

Frequently, their displays feature local artists who work in a variety of mediums. Currently, in conjunction with the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, the gallery is showcasing the works of Tasha Tudor. Children’s books, advent calendars, and greeting card art line the walls with showcases displaying her intricate doll house fittings, doll books, and floral boxes. Since Tasha was such a lover of fabrics and things that could be made from them, the gallery has intermingled quilt art from the local award-winning Pine Belt Quilter’s Guild.

As I completed the second event yesterday that the gallery has hosted in connection with the exhibit, it seemed imperative that I add it to the list of things for which I am grateful. The exhibit runs through December with normal hours from 11AM – 5PM Thursday through Saturday. But if you are like me and have a sister in town who will leave before the proper hours, they are gracious with appointments (601-544-5777) for a different personal time.

One more special event remains – a St. Nicholas Tea at 4 PM on December 12, advertised for parents and children dressed in their finest. I’m planning to attend, claiming that I have been both parent and child, and am pulling out my nicest duds. Like the other best things in life for which I am grateful, all this is free. Just let them know you’re coming to tea by logging in to  If you are too far away, I am so sorry. Maybe on your next visit to the area, you can add the gallery to your list and see whatever they are currently showcasing.


Last in a Long Line of Rebels

Bits of a Civil War diary by Louise Duncan Mayhew in the 1860s, introduce each chapter of Lisa Lewis Tyre’s middle grade novel, Last in a Long Line of Rebels. That story informs the primary one of present day urgency for the writer’s namesake Lou Mayhew as she tries to save her home from being demolished in a case of eminent domain.

In her debut novel, Lisa Tyre sets her story in rural Tennessee where the characters ring true and the family doorbell plays “Rocky Top,” the University of Tennessee theme song.

Lou has several issues beside saving her house that are skillfully woven into the mix. There’s the richer classmate gloating over her upcoming trip while insinuating that Lou will have nothing interesting to tell at the end of the summer, the embarrassment of discovering that her ancestors were slave owners, the black high school friend shafted by a racially biased coach who recommends a less skilled white player for an athletic scholarship at UT, and the impending birth of a new sibling. She gets her adventure underway with a rash promise to attend church in a last resort prayer and a hope that she and her cronies can find some rumored gold hidden during the Civil War. Her hip grandmother Bertie, who is bound to be up to something, adds additional color.

Near the halfway mark in the novel, Lou discovers the diary. The note at its beginning gives her a connection with its author:

            If you find this, my dear friend

            The heartfelt musings I have penned

            Know they belong to me alone

            Until I lie beneath cold stone.

                                    Louise Duncan 

Humor abounds in comments like, “Just my luck. The one time I wanted to hear the preacher ramble on, he couldn’t” or “Pastor Brown said . . . that money doesn’t buy happiness. I could tell him that being poor ain’t no big whoop either.” Other lines touch the heart, “It struck me that mothers spend a lot of time saying bye.”

If you have a middle schooler who loves a good book, buy a copy for a gift. Treat yourself and pre-read it before you give it away. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 


Oddly Superstitious Day

Full disclosure – I didn’t notice this myself. Charles Osgood pointed it out on last week’s CBS Sunday Morning. Writing today’s date numerically gets you a sequential odd set of numbers – 11/13/15. To top it off, it’s Friday the thirteenth! I’ve been thinking all week about how to celebrate this odd day by doing something different, even if it doesn’t qualify as weird. They say (and you know what authorities “they” are) that changing from routine to novelty exercises the brain, and mine definitely could use a workout. I scrutinized several choices and discarded them.

We could do our morning walk at the mall clockwise instead of counterclockwise. Not a choice. Al is a creature of habit and not into novelty. He also believes that counterclockwise is The Right Way to walk.

I could try writing with my left hand – one of the chosen exercises “they” recommend. Not a choice. I sometimes have trouble deciphering my writing with my dominant hand once it’s gotten cold. I’m sure I couldn’t read anything I wrote with my left.

So for now, I’ll keep it minor. We always have hamburgers on Saturday night. We’ll be away for supper tomorrow night so I think we’ll have them tonight instead, and I’ll try to remember not to go to church tomorrow though it will feel like Sunday.

I could leave the bed unmade. Also not a choice. I can live with dust and clutter and would win no prizes for housekeeping, but there is something about an unmade bed that seriously disturbs my psyche.

As for the superstitions, if I run into a black cat and break a mirror while crossing under a ladder with my umbrella up inside on this Friday the thirteenth, I’ll just snap the wishbone on last night’s chicken, pick up any penny I find, cross my fingers, knock on wood, and hope for some beginner’s luck.