Connie A Thompson

Sunday Dinner: Happy Birthday Dad

P1000521Today at Sunday dinner we’ll be celebrating my father’s birthday. I’ll spare him by not telling you how old he’ll be later this week.

One year when we were kids, my Dad had become infatuated with poker. He played all the time. He even taught us a little just so he could play more often. I’ll still can’t remember much of what beats what, but I do remember having a great time when Dad pulled out the cards. Mom was an expert shuffler. She looked like something from Vegas with the way the cards flew between her hands. She was also great at Rummy, but Dad was the poker player.

One year for Dad’s birthday, I must have been around 8, Mom make him a cake. We rarely ever had store-bought cakes so this was not unusual. She spent forever decorating the top of the cake to look like a Royal Flush. She was so tickled with her creation. In another life, I think my Mom would have loved to have been a baker. I don’t really remember Dad’s reaction. I’m sure he was pleased.

This morning I’m making Dad’s birthday cake. The house smells like warm chocolate cake. Dad’s favorite is chocolate on chocolate so I’m sure he’ll be pleased. The cookout a few weeks ago was such a hit that we’ve decided to do it again. My husband will be firing up the grill and cooking hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch today.

Sundays are probably my favorite day of the week. I get to see my family. We’ll talk and laugh. My nephew, Ethan always provides a few laughs. My grandson, Daniel will be into everything. (This past week he put the remote control in the fish tank. I guess the fish wanted to change the channel.)

Sundays for me tend to be an odd combination of past and present. I enjoy when everyone comes over, but I can’t help but remember little snippets of the past when I was the child going to my Grandmother’s house. It is a family tradition she instilled in me and I’m so thankful and honored to be carrying it on.

I also want to wish my mother-in-laws a Happy Birthday. Yes, it is plural. Happy Birthday Jan and Shirley. Jan is my late husband, Mike’s mother. Shirley is my husband, Chuck’s mother. I’m so thankful to have two wonderful mother-in-laws.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you have a wonderful day!

 

Sunday Dinner: Grandmother’s Applesauce Cake

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Grandmother’s Applesauce Cake

This past Friday would have been my Mom’s birthday. My mother loved birthdays. For our birthdays, she would always buy two cards–one thoughtful and serious and the other funny. Mom was also superstitious, but being born on the 13th—she embraced that number.

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Randall, Dennis, Me, Mom

To celebrate Mom’s birthday, we’re having a family favorite this weekend—Grandmother’s Applesauce Cake. When you’re celebrating your birthday, it is only fitting that your own mother have something to do with it. So in honor of the two most influential women in my life, here is a favorite family recipe.

When you make this cake, be sure not to follow the directions on the box. Just follow the recipe below. I hope your family enjoys it as much as mine does.

Grandmother Rodgers’ Applesauce Cake

Ingredients for cake:

• Yellow Cake Mix

• 2 eggs

• 1 can applesauce (approx. 15 oz)

• ½ tsp cinnamon

• ¼ tsp nutmeg

• ¼ tsp cloves

• ¼ tsp ginger

 

Ingredients glaze:

• 1 cup powdered confectioners’ sugar

• ¼ cup orange juice

• ¼ cup butter

 

Preparation:

Mix all ingredients (do not prepare cake mix according to box instructions).

Bake for 30 to 35 min in 350° oven.

 

Drizzle glaze over warm cake.

Mourning Dawn

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Dawn
8/26/1968 – 4/5/1988

 

Mourning Dawn

 

As rain falls

on this gray morning,

 

my mother leans

against the peeling paint,

her body wedged

 

between two blue hydrangeas,

 

the only landscaping

in our bleak yard.

 

Her face, wet with tears

and rain,

 

mourning her daughter,

Dawn.

Permission to Write a Bad First Draft

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Just about every author I’ve asked about what books should I read on writing, always says Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King‘s On Writing. I’ve read them both in the past, but now I’m seeing them through new eyes. There was a time when I said I wanted to be a writer, but life always got in the way. I would finish a few pages and think this is great. A few days later I would read those pages again and realize how awful they were. I didn’t see the gems hidden within that first draft. I have found my first draft is just my way of getting the ideas down on paper. It is with the editing and rewriting that the real story begins to appear.

I was under the misconception that when a writer writes, everything is wonderful. I had no idea how many drafts a piece can go through. I just turned in my first short story for the MFA at Converse College. I am anxiously waiting to hear what my mentor has to say. The story was birthed at Hub City’s Writing in Place conference through a prompt given to the glass by Wiley Cash. His novel, A Land More Kind Than Home is one of my new favorite books. I can’t wait to read his next novel, This Dark Road to Mercy. He read just a few pages to us this summer. I know when I finally get my copy, my nose will be buried in a book. My family will need to understand that I will be unavailable once I start. (Of course they are used to this. Me, immersed in a novel? Yes since the days of Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and Laura Ingalls).

That day in class I wrote two pages. Wiley encouraged me to keep with it and see where it went. The story I finished with was not the one I started with, but I did keep a few of the sentences in tact. From that scene came a short story about a little girl who is caught between the innocence of childhood and the excitement of becoming a teenager. She has a kitten poster beside a Shaun Cassidy poster hanging on her bedroom wall. She loves her mother and yet she is embarrassed by her as well.

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So many books and so little time. I’ve replaced my radio listening time with audio books. Right now I’m listening to Stephen King narrate On Writing. I believe it is so powerful to hear the author read especially about his own creative process. I am still in awe of King’s overwhelming elation at selling the paperback rights to Carrie. It was more money than he ever imagined. All this from a little story he started and originally threw in the trash. His wife, Tabitha saved it and encouraged him to keep going. A supportive spouse is a definitely plus for anyone who aspires to be an author. My husband sometimes teases me when I start talking about people. Are these real people or characters in your work?

Sunday Dinner: Cubed Steak and Back to School

 

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First day of school 2002

 

Tomorrow the children in our area are going back to school. Yesterday Walmart and Target were filled with parents and kids searching the aisles for school supplies.

 

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It made me think of back to school shopping with my son. He was only six and it was the beginning of first grade. We had the list of required school supplies. He wanted everything to be purple, his new favorite color since it was Donatello’s signifying color, his favorite Ninja Turtle.

Still excited over Ninja turtle action figures

Still excited over Ninja turtle action figures

While we were in the store a summer downpour came. My umbrella was in the car and I had just spent all of my money on school supplies. We waited. It kept raining. It did not seem like it would quit anytime soon.

Ryan looks up at me with his big blue eyes. “Mama, it’s only water.”

We run out into the rain. The sun is shining in spite of the downpour. We laughed and he splashed in every puddle there was on our way to the car. It was an awesome day.

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Cube Steak

Today we’re having one of Ryan’s favorites, cubed steak. Some may know it as chicken fried steak.

You’ll need cubed steak. For the breading you need flour, poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper. There is no exact amount. I just sprinkle the spices into the flour. Dredge the cube steak in the mixture, coating both sides. Cook in a skillet with the bottom covered in oil. I like to cover the skillet, it makes the steak more tender. I usually turn it a couple of times, checking to be sure that it is cooked evenly.

 

Sunday Dinner: Peach Cobbler

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My Mom and Grandmother loved any kind of cobbler. And when the peaches came in, there was sure to be a peach cobbler for dessert. But my mother and grandmother did not always cook with a recipe, they just knew. When Grandmother talked about preparing food, it was a handful of this, a spoon of that, and after decades of cooking, she just knew.

Sometimes in recreating their recipes, their is a lot of trial and error.

When Chuck and I married, his mother sent me a copy of the Vincent family cookbook, a list of recipes she compiled over the years of all the family favorites. I didn’t realize how different Southern cooking can be until looking at those recipes. Artichoke hearts is a favorite ingredient with their family. To me, it was just one of those things I saw on the shelves of the grocery store. Amid the recipes I’m not familiar with, there were many that I was including peach cobbler. Chuck is such a sweetheart. He loves to cook. He offered to make the peach cobbler.

We had to go to two fruit stands before he found the peaches he was looking for, the really ripe ones that demand your immediate attention.

Vincent Family Peach Cobbler 

4 C. pealed and sliced peaches.

Mix with 1/4 C. sugar and sprinkle cinnamon over the top.

Place in a 9″ pie pan and dot with pieces of butter.

Topping:

1C Bisquick

1/4 C. sugar

1 egg

Mix together and put on top of peaches. Sprinkle 2 or 3 tablespoons of water over the topping mixture and bake 25 – 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Top should be nice and brown.

Chuck also left a couple of the peach pits because his Grandma always said that it adds flavor.

Review: Shake Down the Stars

41PgMBELuHL._SY300_Piper Nelson is going through the motions. She teaches school and she helps care for her nieces. The only problem is that alcohol is getting in the way and even she is starting to notice it. She was once a stellar teacher, favored by the students, but when the principal removes her from her class because she was passed out on the desk, Piper begins to realize that changes are needed.

Her sister is marrying a famous sports star. She’s more interested in the reality television show they’ll be starring in than being concerned for her daughters or her sister.

Her mother is married to a prominent evangelist. You would think she would help and Piper even tries to help herself by attending church, which results in disastrous and embarrassing moment for herself, her mother, and her stepfather.

Piper uses alcohol to self-medicate, a means to help her deal with the death of her daughter. Piper has a secret; the accident was her fault. And while she divorced her husband soon after their daughter’s death, she can’t seem to let him go, until he becomes interested in another woman.

Piper wanders her neighborhood, paying tribute to alters placed on the streets remembering those taken. She identifies with the loss, the need to preserve something. She also spends time in the cemetery by her daughter’s grave.

The one bright moment in her life was meeting Selwyn. They spent an evening staring at the stars. Astronomy is Piper’s favorite topic. She was introduced to the stars, planets, and universe by one of her mother’s old boyfriends. She still doesn’t understand why her mother didn’t marry him. Instead she married the pastor and took young Piper away from the only person she felt close to.

Faced with the probability of losing her job, Piper seeks help. She finally finds it in AA. She balks when they tell her to seek a higher power. She doesn’t want anything to do with her mother’s god. Her sponsor encourages her to think of the universe as her higher power. Piper begins to heal, but her recovery is full of mistakes.

As I read the first few pages of Shake Down the Stars, my first thought was what in the world can I have in common with Piper? My favorite books are the ones where I identify with characters. But as I was drawn into the story, I felt Piper’s pain. I regretted her bad decisions and I cheered her good ones.

My sister died at eighteen. And while I mourned her loss, it could not compare to the loss my mother felt. It consumed her for months, even years. My mother never got over the loss, but she learned to live with it. The loss of a child is the most horrific loss a person can endure. And Renee Swindle’s novel, Shake Down the Stars is true to the pain and yet there is hope too. You should definitely read the novel and join Piper on her road to finding her new normal. You’ll never look at the stars the same again.

Review: The Perfume Collector

Le droit de choisir — every woman should have the right to choose.

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Grace Munroe is surprised when a Parisian attorney contacts her informing her that she is the sole heir to the estate of Madame Eva d’Orsey. At first Grace believes it is merely a case of mistaken identity.

Grace is married and childless. Children are not part of her future. Her husband travels for business frequently. Grace is not like other women. She doesn’t much care for fashion or hairstyles. She is intrigued with numbers and patterns. And yet her friend, Mallory persists on taking Grace out and to parties and events forcing her to engage with others. And it is at one of these parties that Grace learns her husband might be having an affair. Paris seems to be just the answer, a diversion from the reality of her life.

Grace boards an aeroplane for Paris, which is quite an adventure given that it is 1955 and her beloved England is still recovering from the war.

In Paris,  she expects to find answers. Who is Madame d’Orsey and why did she leave her fortune to Grace? The handsome lawyer takes her around town introducing her to French cuisine. She meets people who knew the late Madame, but all refuse to speak of her.

The story is told through two characters, Eva and Grace. We meet Eva as a fourteen-year-old orphan, who gains employment with a prestigious hotel in New York. Working with the alcoholic Rita, it does not take young Eva long to realize that this is not the life she wishes to lead. She takes chances. She’s exploited. She finds a way out of the dismal life she was destined to lead.

Grace is an aristocratic woman. Her father died when she was young. Her mother died in the bombings. She lived with an uncle and now she’s married. She seems to lead the perfect life, but something is missing.

Grace is on a quest to discover who Eva was and why she would leave her such a fortune. Grace is excited by the mystery, but as secrets are revealed, Grace isn’t sure she wants to know the truth.

The Perfume Collector is the kind of story that envelops you transporting you to other worlds and other lives. It is storytelling at its best.

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro is the August selection of She Reads. Please join us at She Reads for blog posts, reviews, discussions, giveaways, recipes,  and a wine pairing.

Sunday Dinner: Celebrating Ashley’s Birthday

Amanda, Ashley, and Connie

Amanda, Ashley, and Connie

Families grow in the usual ways through births and marriages, and sometimes God has other plans.

In elementary school, Ashley was my daughter’s best friends despite the one year difference in their ages. They lived in the same neighborhood, rode the same bus, and went to the same church. Ashley spent many nights at our house, much like my best friend, Lisa did when we were kids.

Ashley and Amanda balanced each other. Amanda was adventurous while Ashley tended to be more cautious. Ashley kept Amanda out of major trouble while Amanda encouraged Ashley to try and do new things. Funny how life repeats itself, but in the Connie and Lisa friendship, I was the goody goody as Lisa used to say.

Ashley stayed over so often that she practically lived with us, but any time the girls got too rowdy or obnoxious as preteen girls do, I would threaten to send her home.

I always thought I would have three children, but after my daughter was born, my mother convinced me to have my tubes tied. No more babies for me. I just assumed that I was wrong; two children would be enough.

One night Ashley called and without going into detail, she needed a place to stay. It was only going to be for a few days. She lived with me for most of her teen years. I never replaced her parents. She continues to maintain wonderful relationships with them.

We often find God has plans for us to grow, and being a mother figure to Ashley was one of those ways we each got to grow. Ashley’s presence changed the family dynamic. She and Amanda were still good friends, but things changed and they became more like sisters, at times very close and other times at each other’s throats. Ryan now had two girls to pick on. My brother would tease him that he was living with the estrogen club.

Beach Pyramid

Beach Pyramid

This Sunday we’re celebrating Ashley’s birthday. This past week she finished her internship and will begin working next week as a dental assistant for a local dentist. She makes this Mama proud.

Ashley and Ryan

Ryan and Ashley

Ashley has requested a yellow cake and her favorite Sunday dinner recipe, my Mom’s barbecued chicken.

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Grandma Mary Anne’s Barbecue ChickenIngredients:

  • Boneless chicken breasts

•                Barbeque sauce

 Preparation:

Place chicken breasts in water on top of stove and boil until done. Check to make sure the chicken is no longer pink on the inside. For added flavor, you can chop and onion and/or celery and add to the water.

Cut chicken into small bite size pieces. Place in casserole dish and cover with barbeque sauce and stir. Thoroughly coat each piece of chicken. Cover with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350°.

 

 

 

Back for seconds with CALLING ME HOME by Julie Kibler

I’m an avid reader. I can devour a book easily in a weekend or less, and of course this happens either because I have free time that weekend and/or the book is just too good to put down. I will admit that I try to pace myself now. A really good book is like dessert, I try to savor it, enjoy it, and take my time. But if I didn’t, and it was that good and I devoured it, I’ll read it again.

It makes me think of a cruise I was on several years ago. The first night at dinner, they offered us Chocolate Lava Cake. It was delicious, a miniature cake filled with hot chocolate. The next night, they offered it again, and I ordered it again. I had it every night for four nights. When the final night of the cruise came, they had something special for us, Baked Alaska. I was disappointed, it was our last night, and I wanted the Chocolate Lava Cake. Well on a cruise, you can have just about anything you want and our waiter had the foresight to make sure that I also had Chocolate Lava Cake. It was delicious. I savored every morsel, taking the tiniest bites.

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That is how a great book is for me. I know the story, I know what to expect, and even though I’m prepared and I know how the story ends, I savor every word. My book club will be discussing Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler tonight. I’m so excited because Julie will be joining us via Skype.

Calling Me Home was the She Reads book of the month for February. It has also been optioned by Hollywood. We’re really interested to see whom Hollywood casts.

Are there any books that you’ve read more than once?