Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Truth or a Lie?

For our Wednesday's Guest spot please welcome Slim Randles and some of the guys from the Mule Barn Truck Stop. Grab a cup of coffee, sit back and enjoy....

Delbert McLain came by to have coffee with us the other day. He’s our chamber of commerce, you know. And he ties fishing flies, but doesn’t fish. Delbert’s mission in life seems to be to promote our little valley into becoming so important and prosperous that we won’t want to live here anymore.

But he does try hard.

“Got an idea, guys,” he said. He swept his necktie out of the way so he wouldn’t accidentally butter it. “A contest.”

“Like the knife-sharpening contest you thought up, Del?”

“No, Doc. That didn’t pan out. See, what I’m thinking is, we should play to our strengths here. You know, delve into our plusses, put our minuses on a shelf somewhere, and show the world what we do best!”

“Drink coffee?”

“Of course not, Steve!  I mean, we need to hold a liar’s contest!”

Dead silence. All eyes on Delbert.

He looked around at all the solemn faces.

“You know what I mean …”

More solemnity.

“It could really draw crowds.”

Then Doc, our unofficial spokesman because he has more degrees than a thermometer, spoke up.

“And just who would the liars be?”

“Well … you know, like Steve here. Remember Steve when you said you once rode a bucking horse while sitting backwards on it? Things like that.”

“I did that, Delbert,” Steve said.

“I saw him do that,” Dud said.

“Oh. Well, Dewey once told me he’d put a cow into the branches of a tree. We could start off with something like that.”

“Three of us were there when Dewey did that,” Steve said. “Ran that cow off a little bluff. We had to cut the tree down.”

Delbert sipped his coffee and ate a slice of toast. He’d forgotten to put any jelly on it, too.

“Doc’s squirrel?” Delbert said.

Now Doc’s fictitious squirrel, Chipper, was a lie. But it was the kind of lie that takes on a life of its own until … well …

“You talking about Chipper?” Dud asked.

“If that’s his name,” Delbert said.

“How is ol’ Chip, anyway, Doc?” asked Steve.

“Doing okay. Sleeps a lot these days. Hibernation, you know.”

Delbert left a tip and got up to go pay. They waited until he was gone before laughing.

Read free samples of Slim’s books at

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday Morning Musings

You may have noticed, if you have kids or grandkids between the ages of 7 and 10, that there is a level of socialization that is more intense than it ever used to be. Very young girls are forming exclusive friendships and pledging to be best friends forever. (BFF)

That is scary on so many levels, as pointed out by one mother in an op-ed piece for The Dallas Morning News. Julie Blair wrote about her daughter's experience when the current BFF dumped her for another BFF. That act was accompanied by lots of tears and angst, and it made Julie take a look at the topic in a new way. "Third grade in 2013 seems a sorting-hat year: Girls are reportedly pairing off at recess. These 8- and 9-year-old children have begun to figure out where and with whom they fit in. They pick up and drop BFFs like toddlers do colorful plastic toys. While some do it with grace, others are hurtful.
Few seem to realize the importance and downright fun of having an entire playground posse."

This article resonated with me because it deals with a social situation that has probably been going on for centuries. I know it has passed through several generations in my family. I clearly remember the first two years of high school being buffeted by the "friendship whims" of my peers. Then my oldest daughter experienced that in 8th grade. Then my oldest granddaughter experienced that in 6th grade. Most recently my younger granddaughters have been experiencing it in 4th grade.

See the pattern here?

When I wrote my young-adult novel, Friends Forever, that deals with these friendship whims, I really hoped that as we got better at parenting and kids got smarter and more aware of how their behavior affects others, that this problem would diminish.

I'm disappointed that it hasn't.

I'm also disappointed to see businesses and the media encouraging this new phenomenon. According to Ms. Blair, "American companies like Disney continue to promote the idea of exclusivity between young girls. Not only should you have a BFF, they teach on a good majority of their tween television shows, but you should both get matching T-shirts and jammies to tell the world that you’re going steady. If those are in the wash, you can buy binders, photo frames or locker magnets to announce your exclusivity."

I am also disappointed in the parents who encourage their girls to buy into all of this. The parents think it is cute, and they are treating their children like little adults. They are not little adults. They are children, not ready for the emotional entanglements involved in all this BFF stuff. That type of dependence and exclusivity is something that most people share with a life-partner.

That usually comes a long time after 3rd grade.

Now that I have that off my chest, here is something that might interest you if you are into fantasy and sci-fi stories. A group of authors are doing   The World Building Blog Hop hosted by Sharon Bayliss.  Today they are letting readers know how they created their make-believe worlds. This morning I read a piece by Yolanda Renee and it was pretty interesting. Since I set my stories in the real world, I am not participating in the blog hop, but I will read some of the blogs. It is always fun to discover new worlds. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

another Friday post

I decided not to get all snarky today, although there is plenty going on in the world to be snarky about. Who besides me doesn't care a bit whether Beyonce lip-synced the National Anthem during the Inaguration ceremony? I could not believe that was the lead story for the following two days.

So let's forget about that, and not keep speculating whether she will lip-sync when singing at the Super Bowl halftime show. Instead, let's have...

...some fun with Pickles
Earl is sitting, watching Opal fold laundry and he says, "You know what I would really like to do?"

"No, what?"

"I would love to write a book about all my travels and adventures."



Then Earl thinks a minute. "Of course, first I'd have to go out and have some travels and adventures."

Picture Courtesy of ShutterStock
 From B.C.

Wiley's DIctionary word of the day is "fandango."

The definition: "What to do when Dango gets heatstroke."

From Non Sequitur
Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden. Adam has picked all the apples from the apple tree, and Eve is giving him one of those looks that women have perfected from that time on. Adam says, "Yes, I took all of them. It's my invention called 'banking.'"

That one had me laughing out loud. I didn't say I couldn't share some snark from the funny papers. (smile)

Literary Lessons:
"Death walked like a man among men, and we fell like leaves, like dust around him. The Knight struggled against the Specyor, each one winning even as he lost."  Easy Rawlins, a character cereated by Walter Mosley, doing some deep thinking while watching a movie "The Seventh Seal." From the book Blonde Faith

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wednesday's Guest - James R. Callan

Please help me welcome James R. Callan to It's Not all Gravy. I first met Jim at the Art Center in Winnsboro Texas, then soon found out that he was the head of the Northeast Texas Writers Organization, NETWO, and was a driving force behind their annual spring conference. Check out the website for information about the organization and the conference, and in the meantime, meet Jim Callan.

We're glad to have you here Jim. Tell me, have you always wanted to be a writer, or have you come to writing after another career? 
I intended to write when I graduated from college, but couldn’t support a family writing.  So, I took a 35 year detour in mathematics and computer science.  When I no longer needed to support a family, I returned to my first love – writing.  For two years, I wrote a monthly column for a national magazine.  And for six months, I wrote a weekly newspaper column that appears in four states.  I’ve had three non-fiction books published.  But my real interest is in mystery/suspense novels and I have four published so far.

I know that your success with fiction has been long coming. What was the first thing you ever had published?
The first thing I ever had published was a mathematical paper on finding extreme points on an ill-defined surface.  The second was on low energy electron defraction.

Oh, that must have been fascinating. (smile) I'm glad you switched to fiction. I know there is a lot of research involved in writing fiction, as well as nonfiction.What is the most interesting research you have done for your books?
In a book as yet unpublished, I had to research the jungle around San Sebastian, Mexico.  A very interesting place, and one that I’ll visit again.

Tell  us what gives you the most pleasure in writing?
Writing a scene that brings tears to my eyes.  Or writing a paragraph that flows so smoothly it makes me smile to read it, even for the tenth time.

That process is exciting for most writers.  If we are not emotionally invested in our stories, the reader won't be, but we also need to take a break now and then. What do you do for fun when you need a break?
I read (as all writers should) and I travel.  We’ve visited all fifty states, and five continents.  I expect to add the sixth continent this year.  (Antarctica will have to wait a bit.)

I'm sure you have picked up many story ideas in your travels. Where do your stories begin? With character or plot?
Sometimes with plot and sometimes character.  Often, it is from some snippet I read or hear.  A three paragraph story in the L.A. Times led to a 95,000 word novel. My latest book, A Ton of Gold, came about when I read an old folk's tale and wondered how that could affect the lives of someone today.

When you are not traveling extensively, where do you live?

We split our time between the middle of a forest in east Texas and a beachside condo in Mexico.  When we are in Texas and the peaceful, quiet house on a hillside overlooking a small lake, we are very happy.  But when we are in Puerto Vallarta, in the middle of constant activity, music, and people, we love that.  We have two very interesting groups of friends and are perfectly happy in either group.  Perhaps having the one makes the other more interesting.

That sounds like a terrific way to split your time, and what a wonderful contrast. I'm sure that feeds your creativity. Now share with us what has been your most interesting job, besides writing.
I’ve been blessed to have a variety of interesting jobs.  Coaching girls’ basketball was a delight.  I worked at a research center where money was no object.  My wife and I ran our own company and expanded a field of advertising research into areas never done before and back in a time when you had to create whatever computer programs you needed.  And certainly writing is at the top of interesting jobs.  As I said, I’ve been blessed.
Jim's books are Cleansed by Fire, a mystery prompted by the church fires in east Texas a couple of years back; Murder a Cappella, an interesting mystery that is set in the international finals of the Sweet Adelines singing contest, and the soon to be released A Ton of Gold.

You can also meet Jim on his Website, blog, connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday Morning Musings

On Sunday, Mallard Fillmore, in his inimitable way had this commentary  about the significance of today: "As most of you know tomorrow's Inauguration Day holiday Martin Luther King Day and Squirrel Appreciation Day all fall on the very same day. This phenomenon won't occur again in our lifetime... And it's significance is already being felt by federal employees across the nation."

Then a federal employee chimes in, "Three holidays but only one day off?"

And Mallard signs off with, "More on this as it develops."

When we finished chuckling over the strip, my husband said, "Maybe we can get the squirrels to dance at the inauguration ball."

Photo Courtesy National Geographic

Which made me wonder why we have to have another huge inauguration with all the parties. Why not just have a swearing in ceremony and a nice quiet dinner at the White House? Why do we have to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars for basically an instant replay of four years ago?

Granted, it is important to honor our president, but we don't have to do it to such an extreme. And it is too bad that the media coverage will be such that it will dwarf the other significance of today - honoring one of the great men of history.

Some people don't think any more of Martin Luther King Day than the fact that it is a holiday and a day off work. Thank goodness, there are many more who recognize the importance of what he did and the need to celebrate and honor that.

And thank goodness that we teach our children and grandchildren the legacy that King left us. I was proud to be active in the Civil Rights Movement, and we have made strides in acceptance and equality. Yet prejudice and bigotry still impact our society way too much. Dr. King's mission will not be complete until that no longer happens.

Dr. King left us a lot of memorable quotes and this is one of my favorites, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

Wonderful words, but only wonderful if we take them to heart and act on them.

Photo Courtesy of the Nobel Peace Organization

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Book Review - Cleansed by Fire by James R. Callan

Cleansed by Fire
James R. Callan
Paperback: 238 pages
Publisher: Pennant Publishing (February 3, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 096468506X
ISBN-13: 978-0964685062

Two churches have been burned in a small Texas town, and Father Frank DeLuca, pastor of Prince of Peace Church, has heard that another church will be burned.The problem is, he heard this in the confessional and church law forbids him from telling anyone.
Cleansed by Fire

Still Father DeLuca is compelled to try to do something to prevent another tragedy, so he begins an investigation. Among the suspects are a new man in town who is involved in the local drug scene, a man who says the churches deserve to burn, and a school drop-out who mixes alcohol and drugs.  

As with most stories, this one was spurred by a real incident. A few years ago there was a series of church burnings in East Texas, and I am not surprised that someone used that as a basis for a story. Callan did a good job mixing fact and fiction.

Since I am a fan of mysteries with a much harder edge, I wanted to feel a stronger sense of real dread as the story developed, and that did not come until Father DeLuca was put in direct danger. Up to that point the story was a bit too light for my taste. However, there are a lot of readers who prefer the lighter touch, and they will enjoy this

Father DeLuca is a well-developed character, and it was interesting to get an insight into the daily life of a priest, who came across as much like a man as a cleric. The rest of the people in the story were also well-drawn characters, and the story came to a satisfying end.

James R. Callan will be my guest this coming Wednesday. I hope you can stop by and help him feel welcome at It's Not All Gravy.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday's Odds and Ends

This is the latest bad news regarding the XL Keystone Pipeline. Elizabeth Bast wrote in Oil Change International, "Emissions from tar sands extraction and upgrading are between 3.2 and 4.5 times higher than the equivalent emissions from conventional oil produced in North America.On a life-cycle basis, the average gallon of tar sands bitumen derived fuel has between 14 and 37 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than the average gallon of fuel from conventional oil."

Lorne Stockman,  research director at Oil Change International had this to say, “What we’ve uncovered is something industry doesn’t want you to hear: exploiting the tar sands and building the Keystone XL pipeline is even more damaging to the climate than has been previously reported.”

The problem is, despite all the protests and the research into the effects, the pipeline is under construction. I drive past a section of it every time I go to town and hate the devastation I see on two sides of the road. In one place, it actually comes within 100 yards of a home that someone had built out in the country so they could enjoy nature.

Okay, that's my rant for the day.

For a little levity, consider this from Pickles. Opal and her grandson, Nelson,  are sitting in the lving room. Nelson says, "I hope tomorrow is funner that today."

Opal says,  "Funner is not a word Nelson. The correct way to say it would be, 'I hope tomorrow will be more fun than today.'"

To which he responds, "The longer I sit here the more unfunner this day is getting."

Literary Lesson: "You don't pay for anything by being dead. That's when you stop paying for it." from Duplicate Keys by Jane Smiley

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Neighborhood Dog

My Wednesday Guest today is Slim Randles and his friend, Billy. Enjoy.

The problem was Billy, you see. Billy’s our town dog, ever since Sally passed away quietly on Doc’s porch, and Billy’s owner, Stewart Simpson, died two weeks later. The people who inherited Stew’s house didn’t particularly enjoy having Billy around, and Billy appeared to feel the same way about them, so he became our dog. By which I mean everyone’s dog.

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

People in town fed him whenever he came around, so there wasn’t a problem that way. Matter of fact, he’d gained a few extra pounds by riding the grub line.

His job, as official town dog, was to be colorful, which he was, to greet tourists, which he did, and to escort the children to school, which he accomplished every weekday. On Saturdays he’d show up at the school, look around, then go back downtown and see if there were any tourists who needed guidance.

The problem was, it was now winter and cold, and Billy is a short-haired coonhound and shivers a lot. But he’s our dog, and our responsibility, and that’s why the high school boys in woodshop took over.

First they held a design contest, to see who could lay out the best house possible for Billy. Two of the guys even measured him first, because you’d want the thing to be cozy, but not crowded. Then when the winning design was chosen, they set to work. In a week’s time, Billy had the best-insulated, classiest dog house in town.  It could withstand zoning changes, hurricanes and atomic attack. They took it down to the crossing where the school kids were each weekday and leveled out a place for it under a shade tree. Then they threw some kibble in it to get Billy to go in.

Billy ate the kibble and curled up and lay down in there and there were smiles all over town. The boys from woodshop received congratulations from the multitudes, and the project was declared a success.

And when darkness fell and the wind began out of the east, Billy walked over to Mrs. Sandiford’s house and scratched on the door. She let him in and he jumped up on the couch with her two cats, Boots and Desdemona, and sighed.

Love comes in all forms.

Read free samples of Slim’s books at 
You might really enjoy, Home Country, a collection of of essays that Slim has written over the years.   

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday Morning Musing

Have you heard that AIG filed a suit against the Federal Government for what they claimed was unfair terms of the 2008 bailout? In case you've forgotten that debacle, AIG is the insurance company that made multibillion-dollar bad bets on mortgages and put us on the brink of financial collapse. They were given $182 billion in bailout money, which current ads from AIG are saying that they have paid back, with interest. They also take thirty seconds of our time to let us know how much they are doing  to help victims of the terrible storm Sandy.

A little tug on the heartstrings to keep us from thinjing about the knife they proposed to stick into our pocketbooks. Keep in mind that any successful suit of the government means money out of our pockets, more money on top of what already came out of our pockets.

Talking to a friend about this, he commented, "That takes a lot of chutzpah. The operational definition of chutzpah being 'murdering your parents and then throwing yourself on the mercy of the courts because you are an orphan.'"

Thomas G. Donlan made the same statement in his article in Barrons, where he also wrote, "The AIG 'rescue' was a shameful episode in U.S. financial history, one that will come back to haunt the taxpayers and the government's creditors the next time an insurance company, a bank, a nonbank, a government-sponsored enterprise, or a Ponzi scheme seems too big to fail and too big to dismember, and is assuredly too big to succeed." 

Over the weekend I learned that AIG has backed down from the suit. According to an editorial in The Dallas Morning News, "After a little shaming and angry public backlash, AIG is sheepishly bakcking off, but it's reminded us that you can't spell ingrate without AIG."

So my post today wouldn't leave you on a downbeat, I looked online for a comic strip to share. Just for fun, check out today's strip from Luann. Young people use libraries for the most interesting reasons.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Book Review - Rules of Crime by LJ Sellers

Rules of Crime
LJ Sellers
Paperback: 294 pages
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (February 26, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1611098068
ISBN-13: 978-1611098068

In this latest Detective Wade Jackson mystery, he is called by his daughter, Katie, who tells him his ex-wife, Renee, is missing. Jackson doesn't tell Katie, but he suspects that Renee may have fallen off the wagon and has walked away until she can straighten out again. When her wealthy fiance receives a ransom call, the horrible truth that she has been kidnapped is revealed.

While Jackson is investigating the kidnapping, his protege, Detective Lara Evans is on a case involving a young woman who was beaten and dumped at the ER. The University of Oregon coed is unconscious, so Lara has the task of trying to identify the victim before she can even start looking for a perpetrator.  

The kidnapping case is taken over by a new FBI liaison in Eugene, Agent Carla River, and things do not go well when the money is taken to the kidnapper. Even though some suspects are taken into custody, they are unwilling to reveal any information that can lead the officers to Renee.

This is another good suspense novel from Sellers, and the plot twists complicate the story enough to keep you guessing. Some of the police deductions seem to come too quickly in places, but that was a minor flaw in an otherwise well-written book. I especially liked the relationship between Jackson and his daughter.

FTC Disclaimer:  The author sent me an ARC of the book some time ago, but Mr. Federal Trade Commission, that is what authors and publishers do. They send advance review copies to reviewers all the time. No money changes hands, although if LJ would like to share some of her royalties... wait, I didn't really say that. Just ignore the last comment, please.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Some Friday Fun

I'm still working on the history book and my deadline keeps getting closer and closer. Things keep interfering with my plan, like getting the flu a couple of weeks ago. Then my writing partner got sick last week and was still feeling poorly early this week. More delays. UGH! But you know what? The world will not end if the book is a few days late. Of course, my editor might not feel that way, so I hope she does not read this.

Anyway, I thought I would share some levity from the funny papers. Enjoy....

Last week's Blondie strip was amusing. Blondie and Dagwood are in bed and he has his iPad open. He says, "I'm posting that it's time for me to turn in."

Blondie says, "I think you're getting addicted to posting too many trivial things on your Facebook page."

In the next frame Dagwood says, "Honey, please. I can quit posting any time I want to."

To which she responds, "I don't know, it seems like you're getting carried away."

Dagwood's last Facebook post, "Get this - Blondie thinks I post way too much trivial stuff on my Facebook page."

Picture Courtesy of Suzy Covey Comic Book Collection

A good one from Dilbert. Dogbert is sharing news with Dilbert. "I got a job as a news manufacturer for an online media company. I quote people out of contect, add misleading headlines, and tie it all up with a snarky bow."

Dilbert says, "I thought the news occurred naturally."

Dogbert comes up with a snarky headline, "'Engineer thinks news is magic.'"

Picture Courtesy of the Competent Parent Blog
 Lessons From Literature:
Here's another one from A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. "A hero is someone who does something for other people. He does something that other men don't and can't do. He is different from other men. He is above other men."

I'm pretty sure Mr. Gaines meant the designation for someone other that a sports figure.What do you think?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Ooops, I Goofed

On Monday I was supposed to put up a post about a terrific new cover for  Solomon's Compass by Carol Kilgore. It was part of a fun "cover reveal" that had a number of bloggers sharing her excitement over this awesome cover. My apologies, Carol, and even though it is a bit late, I did want to share your cover and your new release with my readers.

The quality of a book cover is important for drawing attention, and this one certainly does its job. Carol said in her e-mail that she and the cover artist worked a long time to get this just right, and I would say the work paid off.

Even though I love the cover, I wasn't sure I was going to buy this book until I read the short synopsis:

A missing belt—her uncle’s prized possession. The lure of buried treasure. And a sexy former SEAL who makes U.S. Coast Guard Commander Taylor Campbell crazy. What more could any woman want. Right?

Taylor is on a quest to unearth her uncle’s buried treasure—a journey so far out of the realm of her real life she can barely fathom it. There’s one other minor glitch. Taylor's certain the buried treasure was all in Uncle Randy's dementia-riddled mind. Now he’s dead.

All the same, Taylor is in Rock Harbor, Texas, to settle her uncle's estate, including following his directions to the treasure—even if doing so means trespassing. When someone tries to kill her, Taylor's quest becomes personal. She tosses Randy's official cause of death—Drowning Due to Accident—out the window and starts looking at his Rock Harbor acquaintances. Could Randy's treasure be real?

Jake Solomon is in Rock Harbor under false pretenses. He loathes the charade, but if he doesn't follow the plan, his dad will make Jake's SEAL training feel like a day on the monkey bars in kindergarten.

The plan is to protect Taylor Campbell from the fate that befell her uncle and the other members of a tight circle of Coast Guardsmen called the Compass Points who served together on Point boats in Vietnam.

Due to the danger involved, Jake’s dad has ordered him not to become involved with Taylor. Disobeying his father was Jake’s first mistake.

Taylor is attracted to Jake as well, but she refuses to wait for Jake to locate the killer when she knows her plan will force her uncle’s murderer into action.

But the killer's actions are just what Jake is afraid of.

Okay, I'm hooked. I can't wait for the book to be available. What about you? Does this sound like a story you would like to read?

Carol Kilgore is an award-winning author of several published short stories and many essays and articles. Solomon’s Compass is her second novel, a blend of mystery, suspense, and romance she calls Crime Fiction with a Kiss – always at least one crime; always a love story. Carol and her Coast Guard husband live in San Antonio, Texas, with two herding dogs that like nothing better than pack time on the patio.

You can find Carol here:

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Book Review - Spaghetti is Not A Finger Food by Jodi Carmichael

Spaghetti is not a Finger Food
Jodi Carmichael
Illustrated by Sarah Ackerley
ISBN-10: 0-9829938-8-9
Publication Date: December 3, 2012
Illustrated Chapter Book
For Children Ages 8-12

Book Blurb: Follow a quirky day in the life of Connor, a brilliant student with an equally high talent for second-guessing the rules. As both entertainment and an accessible educational tool to help teach students about Asperger’s Syndrome, the book is a welcome addition to schools and libraries alike.

What a delightful story; funny and poignant and very realistic. It is written for children, but adults will enjoy Connor and his antics just as much as a child. A person with Asperger's processes his or her world in such a different way than other people, and this story offers great insight into what that process is like without belaboring the point. For a little while you just walk in Connor's shoes, cheering when he makes good choices and squirming when he does not. All the while you understand that for him to control his impulses is a great challenge.

The illustrations by Sarah Ackerley are so well done and help make the story come alive. We can see the struggle on the teacher's face as she tries to be patient with Connor, and we can see his intensity when he just has to get that book on the top shelf in the library or tell his teacher that lizards are not related to dinosaurs.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

Little Pickle Press is an eco-friendly publisher of award-winning children’s media. For more information, please visit their website 

Buy Spaghetti for Amazon Kindle

Jodi Carmichael
About the Author Jodi Carmichael:

About the Illustrator Sarah Ackerley:

Download the FREE Lesson Plan:
Coming soon!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Book Review - A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

A Lesson Before Dying 
Ernest J. Gaines
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (September 28, 1997)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0375702709
ISBN-13: 978-0375702709

A Lesson Before Dying, is set in a small Cajun community in the late 1940s.  Jefferson, a young black man, is present at a liquor store shoot out that leaves three men dead, including the white store owner. Because the two robbers are dead, Jefferson alone must pay for the crime. He is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Grant Wiggins, the teacher at the plantation school, is not-so-gently persuaded by his aunt to visit Jefferson and help him find some pride. Miss Emma, Jefferson's godmother heard a white man refer to Jefferson as a hog, and she wants him to "be a man."

Grant has little faith in the white justice system, and little faith in a God who allows some people to be trapped in years of prejudice and bigotry, and he has no idea how to impart any wisdom on a man who is about to die. As he tries to fulfill the promise to Miss Emma to help Jefferson "walk like a man," Grant wrestles with his own demons.

Some reviewers have compared this book to To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's classic, and that is a fair comparison. Both stories have a number of lessons for the reader, especially readers far removed from the years when a black man had to stand for hours just to speak to a white man in authority.  

The cast of characters in this story are very realistic and well-drawn, and Gaines did not hold back in portraying what life was like for people in the deep south in the 40s. The story is powerful and for the most part very well-written. I did, however, find the use of vernacular overdone. There were places I had to read sentences over and over to decipher the fractured English. Granted, that is the way uneducated people speak, but I have been told by writing instructors not to use vernacular to the point of confusing a reader.

Still, this is a book well worth the read.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Stop Killing the Earth

Here in East Texas protestors are still trying to halt the expansion of the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline. They block construction sites, chaining themselves to equipment and/or trees, but it is not a fight they will probably win.

Too bad.

We need to take seriously the dangers of this pipeline, as well as other environmental issues caused by drilling for oil.

According to an article on, the TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will not have the advanced spill protection technology the company has continuously claimed it will. Inside Climate News reported this week about the tar sands pipeline’s threat to a major fresh water source for millions of Americans, and other local resources: “… [The Keystone XL pipeline] is being proposed across the Ogallala/High Plains aquifer, one of the nation's most important sources of drinking and irrigation water. Yet none of the major features that protect Austin's much smaller aquifer are included in the plan. In fact, they haven't even been discussed,” the article reads.

I hope you take a moment to read the full article.

Today I received a notice about a disaster in the Arctic from Dan Ritzman, Sierra Club Arctic Campaign Director.

"On New Year's Day, a Shell Oil rig, carrying over 150,000 gallons of petroleum products, broke free from its tugboat and ran aground near Kodiak Island, Alaska.

"Last year, Shell came close to drilling for oil in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas - also known as the Polar Bear Seas because they are home to 20% of the world's polar bear population. But Shell showed it was completely unprepared for the reality of the stormy waters of the Arctic Ocean. Shell’s ships caught fire, the spill clean-up equipment was destroyed during testing, and at the last minute, Shell admitted it wouldn't be able to comply with its clean air permits.

"The Polar Bear Seas are far too important and fragile to leave in the hands of Big Oil. They are home to walrus, endangered ice seals, hundreds of species of migratory birds, and bowhead and beluga whales. Shell’s incompetence could lead to an irreversible disaster."

More about this disaster and the implications for furthur drilling can be read on

What do you think of our dependence on oil and the environmental impact?

As a new feature to my blog, I will share an interesting quote from a book I'm reading. I got the idea as I was reading this morning during breakfast and came across this line. 

Lessons From Literature:
"I went in to see Miss Emma. I didn't want to, but out of respect for her I thought I should." From A Lesson Before Dying by  Ernest J. Gaines.

I though that was interesting in this age of only doing what feels good.  Do yo make yourself do things you'd rather not because it is a good thing to do for another person?

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New Year's Resolutions - To Keep or Not to Keep

Thanks to my friend, Slim Randles, for another fun post. I think I am way too much like Annette. (smile) Somehow I've always thought New Year's Goals would be much easier to think about than resolutions. Resolutions are so definite.

Annette George, owner of the Soup ‘R Market, picked up the list of her New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Replace cracked glass on the meat cooler.
  2. Walk two miles each morning before work.
  3. Lose 15 pounds by summer.
  4. Take a class in Spanish.

She thought about the kind of person she’d be at this time next year with all those things done, and it made her smile. Then she looked out the window at the snow and crossed off number two. “Each morning” was just too … too, inflexible. It’s always best, she thought to make promises you can keep.

Annette tapped her teeth with the pencil.

The Spanish class was in the city, and with gas prices being what they are … well, she could always pick up a Spanish grammar book at the Read Me Now bookstore. Number 4 reluctantly had a line drawn through it.

 You know, that glass has been cracked on the meat cooler for six years now, and it has never caused any kind of health threat. So the line up the glass causes a slight distortion as a shopper looks at a pork chop. So what? And have you seen what they get to replace that glass?

 The pencil drew again, slowly but deliberately.

 This left number three: lose 15 pounds by summer. This is one she will not scratch off. She remembers sitting by the swimming hole on Lewis Creek last summer watching the kids swimming. Next summer, she’ll swim with them. She will lose those 15 pounds. How? Well, by … eating better. Sure. Maybe one of those chocolate milkshake supplements each morning. Well, better not say each morning, but … whenever, you know.  And walking. How much? Who knows? But walking.

Yes. Walking. Losing 15 pounds. By summer. She smiled and decided to celebrate with a candy bar.

Only one, of course.

 Life is good.

Read free samples of Slim’s books at