Melrose 042.jpgThey had been a couple for more than twenty years.  Each having been married before, tying the knot in front of a judge or minister didn’t appeal, but their relationship was committed and solid.  Not until two months ago, when ill health and inheritance laws made it mandatory did thoughts of a wedding intrude.  She, too sick to walk down an aisle, stayed in the van in the Dollar General parking lot while a designated official did the honors.

Enter two families.  In the intervening months a small miracle had occurred.  She was given a new medication that bought more time.  Family was coming, both his and hers, to make sure that this Thanksgiving was one to remember.  The suggestion was made that right before dinner would be a good time to really celebrate their vows.  After all, one of the relatives was a minister, more than happy to do the honors.  Two others were musicians with banjos at the ready.  We already had the feast planned.  The perfect lakeshore was only yards from their front door.  Her father was there to give her away; her sisters were there to help her dress.  A favorite niece was thrilled to be the flower girl.

One group of family decorated the house with flowers and candles.  Another went to buy a wedding ring.  I found the grocery store and bought the only cake not decorated with Thanksgiving turkeys.  The bride’s choice of processional music was discovered in a neighbor’s CD collection.  The couple’s old Jack Russell agreed to be the ring bearer.

They were married again as the sun set.  The bride, who until recently had not even been able to stand, walked down the aisle on her father’s arm.  At the most solemn moment of the ceremony a trio of sandhill cranes flew across the lake and into the sunset, calling as they flew, as if in blessing.

I have attended many weddings and many Thanksgiving dinners.  I will likely attend more.  This Thanksgiving will always be one of the truly special ones.  In the midst of uncertainty, two families, nearly strangers, joined together and made sure there was much to be thankful for.

Autumn Leaves 2 from Stock.xchng.jpgHistorical facts are always in dispute.  Not having been at the Thanksgiving celebration at Plymouth Plantation so many years ago, I can’t tell you what was said, how politically correct were the attitudes, whether the Native Americans spoke excellent English, as some claim, or excellent Algonkian.  I’m not even sure what was consumed, although wild game’s a given.  Having seen turkeys in the wild, I know what an addition they would have been.

Accuracy is important, and I thank the historians who struggle for it.  But at this time of year, I concentrate on the spirit of the holiday.  There have been harvest festivals throughout time, and myriad occasions when we have gathered together to thank whatever God we worship for the blessings in our lives.  Gratitude doesn’t set us apart from our fellow creatures, but the ability to express it is powerful and life altering, and for the most part, all our own.

So let me offer my own words of gratitude.  Thanks for following my blog this year.  Southern Exposure began just slightly more than a year ago, and I loved writing it from the start, although that was unexpected.  I appreciate your thoughtful, sometimes hilarious comments, your frequently expressed appreciation for my novels, the way you have shared important personal moments of your own here, on Facebook or in email.  You’ve made this blog a joy, and joy is underrated.

May you have good food on your table this holiday, good friends around it, and good times with family, who share your good memories of other holidays. 

Happy Thanksgiving from my house to yours. 

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I’m enjoying my Facebook experience.  Many of you have found my Emilie Richards page and signed on as “fans,” a word Facebook coined but one that always makes me feel like a wannabe rock star.  I prefer “readers.”  It’s easy to interact on the page, and I like finding out more about you and what you think.

Today I confessed to a recent “addiction” to Wheel of Fortune and asked my readers what TV shows they watch that no one would expect them to.  The answers were wonderful.  Who knew Lawrence Welk reruns were still on the air?  Reality shows were no surprise, the Food Network took a bow, and some wonderful older sit coms and dramas were mentioned.  I applauded when I found there’s another Murder She Wrote fan on my page.  Someday I’ll have to do an entire blog about what I’ve learned from Jessica Fletcher.

Familiar shows are a source of comfort for me.  I love challenging television, too, innovative and edgy shows that make me think.  But when I’m tired, watching something I can simply sink into is pure joy.  Comfort is key.

Books can be comfort reads, as well.  I rarely re-read a novel, but I have authors whose books I always read, just for the sheer comfort they give me.  They aren’t difficult books, and they aren’t demanding intellectually.  Nothing is expected except going along for the ride.  I know I will be entertained, that when I’m done I’ll feel satisfied, nourished, rejuvenated.  There are many, many worse ways to spend my time.

Then there’s food.  Homemade bread.  Chocolate.  Grilled cheese sandwiches.  Tomato or chicken noodle soup.  Pierogies.  The list goes on, food that comforts me and makes the rest of my day more enjoyable.  Sometimes my choices are actually good for me, sometimes they aren’t, but always the choice brings a warm sense of satisfaction that’s worth the occasional overdose of calories or fat grams.

I’ve never been sure why the things that comfort us most are things we’re a little embarrassed to admit.  Maybe it’s because we’re all working longer and harder these days to keep jobs and make ends meet.  We’re constantly told we need to do our best, to shine, to reach for the stars.

I think that sometimes, just sometimes, we really need to reach for the television remote.  We need to turn on those old sit coms that make us laugh, then hunker down on the sofa with popcorn and cocoa.  Or we need to pull out a novel that won’t demand anything except our attention and appreciation, then fall asleep with our finger marking a page.

Me, I plan to keep watching Wheel of Fortune every night.  I’ve yet to figure out why I’m enjoying it so much.  But that’s because I haven’t tried to.  I’m not going to analyze the things that bring me comfort and pleasure.  I think I’ll just take them as the gifts they are.

Enter a drawing to win a happiness keychain and an autographed copy of Emilie’s Happiness Key. Details here.

 


Name Tag.jpgWhat’s in a name? 

If you’ve ever named a child, or even a pet, you know the answer.  We don’t take this lightly, do we?  “Oh, we’ll call the new puppy Rover, that’s easy.  We’ll call the new baby Jane or Mary because they’re easy to pronounce and spell.”

Rover, Jane, Mary?  All perfectly good names, but particularly good when chosen for a good reason.  Wonderful Aunt Jane, whose chocolate chip cookies are a favorite childhood memory.  Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Rover, because your father told wonderful stories about “his” childhood Rover, and you’re hoping the new pup will live up to the legend.

Do you remember the wonderfully moving scene in the TV production of Alex Haley’s Roots, when Kunta Kinte’s father held him up to the night sky and gave him his name?  Powerful stuff, names.  They set the seal on who we are.

I have many names.  You might, too.  Although my real name is Emilie, I was called Terry as a child, after Theresa, my middle name.  My mother was Emilie, too, and confusion was avoided this way.  My husband and family still call me Terry, as do childhood friends, people from our churches, and a very few writers.  Every one else calls me Emilie.  I answer to both, and I no longer think of them as two “different” people, as I first did when I began using Emilie on my novels. I am Emilie, Terry, Mom, Aunt, and Grammar.  I love them all.

Character names are nearly as important.  Do you ever wonder how novelists choose names for their characters?  I can tell you how I make my choices, and for me, choosing for characters is only a tad less harrowing than choosing for my children.  I’ve been known to stop work on a book for days, because I don’t yet have a character’s name that really suggests their personality, dreams, wishes, faults, and strengths.  Suggests who they are to whom, you might ask?  To me, of course.  Because my take on a name may not be yours.  But then, it’s my book.

First, I look at ethnicity.  My Boston Brahmin heroine would most likely not be called Rosita.  If she were, there might be a fabulous story behind the name that I would need to discover and share with my readers.  Rosita would be a major piece of characterization. 

Second, I look at the first letter of a name.  Have you ever been confused in a novel because there are four characters that begin with R?  As novelists, we want to avoid confusion.  I make lists to be certain I don’t really have a Robin, Rosita, Rose, Rita. It’s important not to pull my readers out of the story. 

Third, suitability of a name for a certain time period.  Did you know that the Social Security Administration  keeps lists of the most popular names for each year from 1879 forward?  You can also get popular names by state, and popular names for twins.  It’s helpful to remember that children in 1945 weren’t often named Britney or Tiffany.

Fourth, suitability of a name for a certain region.  For the Shenandoah Album series, I researched cemetery listings in the area where my novels were set, and used surnames that were part of Shenandoah County’s history.  In Happiness Key, Wanda is from Florida, while Tracy is from California, names that work for those regions.  Their names were also checked by popularity for their birth years. 

Fifth, and this is completely subjective, if a name doesn’t spring immediately to mind, I go through baby name lists, helpfully available online these days, and let my first impressions guide me.  When I have four or five possibilities I’ve checked out, I live with them a bit.  Sometimes the names affect the characterization, too.  Wanda might be a completely different character if I’d named her Thelma.  In fact I can guarantee it.

A Rose can indeed be a Robin or a Rita, but everything else will change when the name does. That’s part of the mysterious process of writing a novel.  For me, it’s also part of the fun.  

Enter a drawing to win a happiness keychain and an autographed copy of Emilie’s Happiness Key. Details here.

 

Beach Chair Santa from istock.jpgI’m embarrassed to admit I have almost every Christmas tree ornament that’s ever come my way.  My husband, who just cleaned our attic, knows this is true since we have too many boxes filled with sagging salt dough drummer boys and flaking gilded walnuts.  I saved every ornament my children made or bought for our tree, planning to present them to each one as he or she left home.  I still have them all, despite an empty nest.  My children claim they want their treasures on “our” tree, because that’s where they’ve always been.  I’m afraid this is a tactful way of saying that no sensible person would still put these relics where they can be seen.  Luckily they know when it comes to the holidays, I’m not sensible .

For me, all holidays are about traditions and memories.  Each Christmas I bake the same chocolate chip studded bishop’s cake, the pecan ‘turtles” my mother made, the same cranberry-orange bread for Christmas morning.  I put out my ceramic houses, including the mirror pond my husband made from a garage sale find on that Christmas years ago when we couldn’t afford so much as a wreath to add to our tiny house collection.  That was the year all the children’s Christmas gifts came from garage sales, too, spruced with new paint and repackaged.  It was one of our best.

This holiday season we won’t be at home.  Since my husband is still on sabbatical, we’re heading south to Florida, where we were raised.  We have lots of extended family there, some we must see because of ill health, some we’ve just missed.  After Thanksgiving, we’ll settle into a rental house for December and January.  I’ll finish my next mystery and walk the beaches early in the morning, looking for Wanda and Tracy, Janya and Alice.  I’ll research Sunset Bridge and think about new book ideas.  My husband has a “to do” list as long as his arm.  I expect these months to be productive and pleasurable. 

But traditional?  Not at all.  We’ll be away from home with none of our Christmas memorabilia, and none of our children, most of whom will visit in January.  I’ll probably forget to bring my recipes.  Our gift to each other is Florida itself and plane tickets to our children, so shopping at crowded malls?  No need. 

How will we make this sojourn a happy Christmas memory? I’ve given this a lot of thought.

First, I’ll look for concerts of holiday favorites.  High school, local churches, community choruses, the more off key the better.  I’ll check for Christmas Eve services, where I can hear the nativity story retold, and look for ways to give back to my new community. I might buy a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, that last sad little tree nobody else wants, and decorate it with popcorn and seashells.  Those recipes?  Online, of course, if I need them.  Turkey and all the fixings at the grocery counter, with a few shrimp thrown in for ambience.  Plenty of fun new shops to stroll through, if I feel the need.  Hot spiced cider if the weather allows.  Hot chocolate even if it doesn’t.

Most of all I’ll be sure to unpack gratitude and spend time admiring it.  I’m convinced where we are or what traditions we observe are immaterial to the holiday spirit. Beginning with Thanksgiving, this time has been set aside to remember our blessings and the gifts we received throughout the year.  The trappings are fun, but I can put them aside this year and concentrate on the meaning behind them.

How about you?  Have you been away from home on your favorite holiday?  Did you find a way to make it special anyway?  One of my most memorable Thanksgivings was spent in Australia, where we had a delicious no-fuss pineapple pizza instead of turkey. I enjoyed my family instead of laboring silently in the kitchen all day.  Have you had a holiday like that? I always enjoy your comments.

Remember, too, that if you do comment on any November blog and tell us a special moment of good fortune in your life, I’ll enter you in my November happiness keychain and Happiness Key giveaway.  

 

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I believe in dreams.  Dreaming and working hard can help us realize our heart’s desires.  On the other hand I’ve seen many hard-working dreamers who never reach all their goals and consequently feel they’ve failed.  As a mother I urged my children to choose work they loved.  That way, the work, itself, would be a dream fulfilled, and whatever followed would be lagniappe, that something extra with which we are occasionally gifted.

My own work has been a dream come true.  I still, all these novels later, need to pinch myself  to be sure that my job, that thing for which I’m paid enough to feed my family, is actually writing and publishing.  Whatever else comes from it?  Lagniappe.

I’ll confess, though, that for many years, I’ve been working toward two other dreams. One of them was to own a summer cottage at Chautauqua Institution, so friends and family could gather and enjoy time together in that beautiful place.  Every year when I visited, I scanned classifieds and stopped by houses that were for sale, but never took that final step.

Oddly enough, it seems an author can take a lesson from her own work. Happiness Key, out this summer, made me consider my own personal keys to happiness.   Like so many of you who shared yours on this blog, I realized the important keys were already in place.  To remind myself, I slid my real keys on a “happiness keychain,” like the ones I presented in the beach bag giveaway, and decided to put those two dreams of mine in my back pocket while I appreciated the many blessings I already have.

What is it about letting go?  This summer we decided just to enjoy ourselves during a month at Chautauqua and forget long range plans.  We spent our weeks there ignoring open houses.  Then, out of the mists, the right house appeared.  Just like that. It would not be ignored.  

Lagniappe.

The key to that house has been on my happiness keychain since Friday, when we signed the final papers.  The house is zipped up in awnings awaiting better weather, when we’ll spend our first night inside.  “She” was built in 1895, a real Victorian lady with quirks and wear and character.  And porches?  She has enough to make even this fanatic happy.  I hope to write many books in an old wicker chair on the side porch, while I keep track of my neighborhood doings.  See if I don’t.

You’ve generously shared the things in your life that make you happy.  For the rest of November, will you do it again?  Please comment on any of my blog entries and tell me about a time in your life when a dream came true unexpectedly.  I’ll nod along and smile.  If you comment on your dream, I’ll also enter you in a drawing to win one of two lucky pewter ”happiness keychains,” just like mine, along with an autographed copy of Happiness Key.

I’ll confess I’m a bit superstitious about these keychains now, and I want to pass on the good luck.  To comment, just click on “comments” (in red) at the top of this or any blog.  You’ll read what other people had to say, plus find a place to add your own.  Let’s share those good memories.

Oh, I did say I had ”two” dreams, didn’t I?  Keep checking my blog.  If my second dream comes true, as well, I promise you’ll be the first ones to know.  And if it does? 

I might just go into the happiness keychain business.    

Old Glory from Istock.jpgLiving in Northern Virginia comes with fabulous perks.  One of them is the proximity of Washington DC’s amazing and free museums.  Living in Nothern Virginia comes with problems, as well.  We are an ambitious lot, working far more than the so-called normal 40 hours a week, and using cars as weapons so that we can be the first to arrive, even if nobody’s there to congratulate us.  It’s quite possible we take “winning” to unhealthy levels.  Witness my experience this morning at my polling place.

This past weekend my husband and I took time to visit the Smithsonian’s recently reopened National Museum of American History.  We marveled, as we have so many times, at the flag that flew over Ft.McHenry on the morning that Francis Scott Key penned our national anthem.  The descendants of the fort’s commander donated this Star Spangled Banner to the Smithsonian when it was clear it needed to be preserved for all of us to enjoy.  And judging by the people walking reverently by that window, this was a sacrifice worth making.  After our visit I experienced, as I so often do in DC, warm appreciation for the country I live in and the many sacrifices that have been made to bring us to this moment in history.

Fast forward to today.  Today Virginians are voting for a new governor, and the election’s an important one, as are all elections. I arrived at my polling place and was gratified that in an election the pundits have already called, so many people were in line.   As I walked toward the door a man with a stack of ballots held one out and asked if I’d like to see the candidates endorsed by the Washington Post

Inside, while I waited, I scanned the so-called Washington Post ballot.  It was not, in fact, any such thing.  It was, in fact, a ballot designed by a major party, with names checked off for those who were running under that sponsorship.  Only one name had the notation Washington Post endorsed candidate.

The people around me told me that they, too, had been told this was a list of all those endorsed by the Post, and since our paper has cachet in this community, they’d planned to use it for a last minute consultation. 

I did report my experience, but local election officials can not police what’s said as voters walk inside their polling place, not even lies designed to confuse them.  Although we confronted the man, what are the chances he will stop trying to mislead voters today?

This week we’ve watched reports on the elections in Afghanistan, and we in the US have shaken our heads at perceived corruption.  But truthfully?  Corruption has many faces and nationalities.  Political advertisements on all sides, designed not to inform voters but to enrage them. Facts twisted on major networks to entice viewers.  Pundits who are far more interested in selling advertising than in telling the truth.  Polling place volunteers who intentionally mislead prospective voters.

That flag at the National Museum of American History?  That fine example of the flag that’s flown in every battle my ancestors ever fought for this nation?  It deserves honesty, truth, and brotherhood among our political candidates and parties.  Democrat, Republican, Independent.  Let’s demand no less of any of them.