Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On taking a chance: my interview by Michael Lee West

Most people like to read about things they know about as well as what they don't, and everybody likes to read about people they know... or think they know. That's how it felt when I started reading the novels of Michael Lee West many years ago: not only do the characters and dialogue ring true to this Southern lady, but the setting was eerily familiar as well, and talk around town was that the town she set some of her novels in, especially American Pie and Crazy Ladies, was a shadow of the town Mrs. West and I both reside in: Lebanon, Tennessee.

I devoured every novel she'd written up until the point I started reading them, and then awaiting each new one. My copy of Mad Girls in Love literally split in half from me wagging it around and reading it for weeks.

Mrs. West and I have kept in touch over the years, starting with us meeting at the Tennessee Writers Alliance writing conference at Cumberland University in 2004, I think. Then I joined the board of the TWA and had Mrs. West involved in its quarterly newsletter and then, last year, asked her to be involved in Milk & Ink: a Mosaic of Motherhood, the literary anthology I helped edit and contributed to.

So, as a fan of her work and a fellow writer I was thrilled when she asked to interview me for her stylish and popular blog, http://designsbygollum.blogspot.com/

In my interview I talk about my trip to France last year, my writing habits and even give the recipe for the favorite French dish I make at home, chicken ratatouille.

Here's the link - I hope you enjoy and come back for more!

Monday, May 30, 2011

On Mayhem: Living with kittens

The thought "I wonder where my Coke is - I sure would like a sip" had no sooner entered my mind then I heard the thunk and splash. The sticky, delicious liquid was already dripping off the edge of the white bureau in my den and soaking into the beige carpet before I could moan a curse and shove my laptop aside, tripping over The Best Comforter in the World to get to the mess.

I have one mama cat, Gatsby, and three kittens. We had five kittens but have managed to unload two of them so far. I fear we are keeping the rest, as they have found their way, quite relentlessly, into our hearts.

Monster and The Dude

I've never had cats before: we are dog people in my family. My dad and stepmother have a lovely Siamese, Jasmine, but she pretty much lives under their bed and is rarely seen in my presence. In fact, I was severely allergic to them until either A. I had my son or B. he decided he needed kitten about a year and half ago. I don't know what happened, but my severe allergy was downgraded to mild when Gatsby found her way into our life as a kitten just a little younger than hers are now.

Gatsby on the ride home

My son and I hadn't been living at The Cottage for very long before I returned home one day to find our front door slightly ajar - it had been that way for hours, apparently. Obviously distressed, I burst into the house with little thought to a knife-wielding stranger camped out inside but more along the lines of "They took our stuff! Our STUFF!" Nevermind we have very few things of any value to anyone but us: it is our stuff.

Our stuff was all still there, from the ancient, Jurassic analog TV to my pretty but relatively inexpensive jewelry. Everything, that is, except our beloved cat.

I talked to neighbors, I made calls: no one had seen her. Not knowing anything about cats or their... habits... I threw up my hands and prepared to tell my son that his cat was gone. The recent move and my even more recent bout with kidney stones resulting in an extended stay in ICU with sepsis had been unsettling enough - now the cat was gone.

She wasn't gone for long. Two days later we spotted her on the front porch as we returned home. She wasn't alone.

"Gatsby's back," The Dude cried out, pointing from the backseat. "And she has a new husband!"

"Oh hell," I muttered, eying the orange, quite pedestrian friend who had escorted our little slut cat home.

Of course you know how the story goes. I, again, knew nothing about pregnant cats. I thought (and prayed) that she was just getting fat. I convinced myself that she was just getting fat even if I convinced no one else. As the truth began to literally show itself I relented to the fact that we were about to have several new additions to our small family.

"How many kittens do cats have?" I wondered aloud to friends. "Two? Three, maybe?" This resulted in amused snorts from my best friend Sarah, a cat lover from way back.

In late February I returned home from a trip to a local walk-in clinic to treat a hellacious sinus infection to my jubilant son meeting me at the door, jabbering, "Gatsby had her kittens! There are FIVE of them!"

Horrified, I stumbled to our laundry room to find Gatsby, even more irritable than usual, curled around a nest of mewling, slick and gorgeous kittens.

Since then our little home has gone from manageable and pleasant to unpredictable, often messy and delightful. Things are suddenly knocked from shelves and tables, there are unexplained messes in unexpected places, and forget about sitting for any extended period of time without having a small knot of fuzzy kitten for company.

Here are some things I have learned from having kittens:

1. Your stuff is no longer your stuff. It's their stuff. Feel privileged for even being allowed to remain in the house.

2. Don't leave your purse on any sort of elevated surface. Don't leave anything on any sort of elevated surface, for that matter, because it will get knocked off and things will be scattered. Lipsticks and earrings will disappear forever.

3. Your days of laying down and reading peacefully are over. Your reading view will either be blocked by a sleeping cat on your chest or you will become part of the track they are using to run laps through the house.

4. Forget about privacy, period. Whether it's just sleeping (they will find a way to enter your bedroom unless you just plain ole shut the door, and then they will mew pitifully and mercilessly outside the door, and small paws will appear beneath the door, patting inside desperately) or what was once considered private bathroom time (bathing alone is unacceptable, you can't be trusted to be alone in their bathtub, don't you know that's where they get the best sips of water?), you are now at their mercy at all times.

5. Your vocabulary will now include phrases like "sifting litter pan liner" and "odor control for small spaces" which, actually, can be applied to other parts of your life.

6. There are few things softer or more precious in this world than the belly of a sated, sleeping long-haired kitten purring, curled around your neck. This will become a soothing and necessary part of your writing routine, like ambient music.

7. Get used to waking up and having at least a small part of every room scattered, including piles of books knocked over every single day, several times a day, and DVDs knocked off the top of the DVD player because one of the kittens just loves napping on top of the warm machine.

So, there are sacrifices that must be made, time that will be carved out of your day to do anything from change the litter box (constantly, at least twice a day, at least in my house) to pausing to let a passing kitten nuzzle your nose or weave between your ankles as you try to complete a hurried meal. These are the little things that change your life and make you adore these little darling creatures that, at one time, made your eyes swell and your back prickle in annoyance.

Because, looking at them, how could you not love them?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On Telling Tales: A Forward

Time for a laugh

Trust me – you’re not the only one who’s felt this way.

You’re not the only mom who has opened your sliding minivan door (Minivan? When did you agree to drive a minivan?) and had all sorts of clothes, food packaging, plastic cups, lost homework and various sports-related articles spill out onto a parking lot.

You’re not the only mom who has had to make two dozen last-minute cupcakes for class, or walk, without makeup and with flyaway hair, your child to class as he clutches a tardy slip, irate because it’s actually your fault he’s late. Not the only mom to worry about whether your child makes the football team, makes the grade, makes the right choice.

You’re not the only woman who’s worried about what sort of mom she is, whether her decisions are correct, whether or not to console the child you just disciplined. You’re not the only woman who has had to turn to another mother instead of her husband or mate for consultation and condolence.

And, most likely, you don’t have time to sit down and read a whole lot of a book, no matter how much you’d love to and how great it is.

Only part of the funny, touching, validating and entertaining book you’re holding in your hands is that is can – and maybe should – be read in sips. Telling Tales is a compilation of weekly columns by Angel Kane and Becky Andrews, two intelligent, professional, compassionate women who happen to have a lot of children and a lot to say about what it takes to keep their family, their careers, and their sanity in tact.

Telling Tales is about the bonds between mothers and their children, their mates, and their families, but also about the imperative relationship between mothers and their friends. No woman, despite how urgently we wish to be sometimes, is an island – and our life preservers can be the phone calls, the understanding nods, and the time our friends take to share our burdens, our stories and our lives.

Telling Tales is a life jacket to grasp when you need just a little something to make you smile and hold up your head, turn your face to the world and think, “I’m not alone, and I can do this.”

I have read the columns written alternately by these two women in The Wilson Post newspapers for years, but it wasn’t until I read them all together in a complete manuscript that I felt the strength of their friendship and the honest, wry wisdom of their words. I’m honored to be a part of this collection of columns, and I know you will enjoy each little sip of the cocktail and come back for more.

And, like any good diversion in life, this one’s better shared with a friend.

Tomi L. Wiley
October, 2010

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Short Short Story *or* A Beginning....

The first cake I tried apparently had way too much explosive agent inside because when I tossed the damn thing out the front door of my bakery and into the street the tow truck it splattered against exploded.

I was walking back into the shop, wiping buttercream icing off my hands with the hem of my apron, when the bakery floor buckled and the glass shelves in my display cases fell, sprinkling a dozen cooling cupcakes with slivers of glass. Smelling smoke, I turned, my lower lip caught between my teeth, and saw the truck on fire in the middle of the street; dollops of buttercream icing and a few pink roses dotted the sidewalk between the front door of my bakery and the smoldering tow truck.

"Aw sugar," I said.