Saturday, November 26, 2011

Give Thanks.

As most of you know, there's an abundance of things for the Marquez family to give thanks for. And we do.

This  was our fourth Thanksgiving since Nic's accident. The first year, she was still an in-patient at Methodist Rehab, and she had to get a day pass to have Thanksgiving dinner with us. Jacqui Katool hosted it at her home, and Nicole enjoyed dinner while sitting in a wheelchair.

The next year, she was home, and we had dinner at our house. It was a joyful day!

Last year, I hit the wall. Exhausted. My strategy for Thanksgiving dinner was to keep my mouth shut and hope someone would invite us to their house. It worked! We had dinner around my parents' dining room table!

But this year was different.

I acquired a 10' long rustic farm table and that started a chain of totally rearranging my house! My tiny dining room is only 10' x 10', so that wasn't an option. I had to put it in our den, which meant moving furniture around, or even out. But it was important enough to do, as it meant that my entire family could sit at one table for Thanksgiving.

This Thanksgiving was picture perfect...the weather could not have been better. The day started with brunch, which disappeared pretty fast.

 Classic Breakfast Casserole is a family favorite, and a Thanksgiving tradition, usually eaten during the Macy's Parade, but as children have grown older, if they parade hasn't been Tivo'd, that doesn't happen any more.

Even though I cooked all day Wednesday, I still had some last minute things to make the pumpkin pies.
Soon, the table was set...

Before long, the table was surrounded with family. The Marquez's on one sister's family, The Jordans, on the other, with my parents sitting at either end.
I sat across the table from Matthew and Sarah.

My plate was filled way to full...
Yet, fifteen minutes later, it looked like this:
While my niece, Lauren, and brother-in-law Bob had an after-dinner snooze...
Sarah and I washed dishes...and washed dishes...and washed dishes....

Then we stuffed the leftovers into the fridge...
And of course, while we cleaned, the guys watched football. Two of Joe's best buds, Phillip Norton and Micah Pellerin, stopped in to watch whatever big game was being played...
Those are Joe's hairy legs stretched out on the ottoman. Joe graduated high school with Phil and Micah, and they are all still great friends. (Kudos to Micah, who is a first-round draft pick for the NFL!!!) Larry loved having all the guys over, too. He's just happy when he's with his "babies." 

It seems like every year there is more and more to be Thankful for. Joe is leaving December 6 to go to Los Angeles for what could be the opportunity of a lifetime (stay tuned!). Nicole's motivational speaking career is taking off and she continues to grow stronger every day. Larry and I are fat and happy and in good health. And our extended family is doing well. The list of blessings we have is long. 

Blessings to all who read this!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Orange You Glad it's FALL??!!

Fall is my favorite time of year, hands down. Perfect weather--right when we thought we couldn't take another hot and humid Mississippi day, the weather has turned cool, making it a great time to take a walk, dine outdoors and enjoy doing just about anything without sweating!

One of the things I like most about fall is the colors: reds, golds, bronzes, yellows and ORANGE, which is one of my favorites. I've heard tell that orange is the color of insanity. Well, call me crazy, but it's one of my favorites, and there's plenty of orange just about everywhere you look this time of year.

Huge pallets of bright orange pumpkins stop customers just inside the doors of every supermarket. Pumpkin patches appear at fruit stands and church lawns. Pumpkins for baking, carving and decorating. I love them all, even those that aren't orange (since when did white or green pumpkins become a part of this season?)

Orange mums add a splash of color to front porches and the leaves are starting (trying!) to turn shades of orange, red and gold. 

Inspired by the season, I brightened up my hair a bit (rather, Crystal Williams at Social Agenda Salon in Fondren did it!). The initial result was amazingly neon. I'm talking hair so bright orange that pumpkins everywhere would be jealous. After a moment of shock, Crystal quickly regrouped, squirted some toner all over my head and voila! A lovely head of gloriously bronze hair, perfect for the season!

I really just love all things pumpkin...from pumpkin pie to one of my favorite seasonal beverages;
Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale...kinda sweet, kinda spicy, very smooth.
Another fun orange treat is candy corn. CBS Sunday Morning did an entire segment on candy corn recently. While good on their own, my favorite way to eat them is mixed with equal parts of roasted, salted peanuts. Eaten together, it's the perfect combination of salty and sweet. Kind of like eating a PayDay candy bar.

If you'd like to see lots of ORANGE, head down highway 49 south and stop in at Donna's #6 Produce. It's on the right, just outside of Florence. It's a "you can't miss it" kind of place.
I recently set up their Facebook page and I'll be updating the content a few times a week. I went down to meet Donna and tour the place and wow! Was I ever surprised! It's a treasure chest full of not only fabulous produce, but homemade ice cream and fudge, pumpkin rolls (incredible!), preserves, syrups, jellies, sauces and more--all made on site, and an incredible gift department. And this time of year, everywhere you look it's orange: There are Vardaman sweet potatoes, pumpkins, satsumas...Please go to their Facebook page and "Like" it!

They say it's going to be a long winter, so don't let this beautiful fall weather pass you by. Get out and enjoy a jig if you feel like it...if someone calls you insane, just tell 'em the orange did it!

Blessings to all who read this!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Happy Fall Y'all!

Happy fall y'all!

There's nothing like a little cold snap to give me a big attitude adjustment. I LOVE cool weather (I don't care for cold weather and hot weather, but warm and cool make me happy!).

I finally packed up all the shells and beach rocks and signs of summer around my house and pulled out my Halloween decorations. I'm not kidding when I tell you I have eight big orange and black tubs full of all things Halloween.

But this year, I'm dialing it down several notches. I'm drawn to vintage-looking decorations so most of the other stuff will go back in the attic. Plus, I'm not doing our "Great Pumpkin Massacre" pumpkin carving party this year, so much of what I use to decorate in the backyard for that will not be needed. We'll do the party next year, bigger and better than ever!

So here's what I've put out for the season:

I also tuck old Halloween photos away in those tubs, and this is one of my favorites:

Nicole was in the kindergarten, and I was pregnant with Joseph. Larry was a trooper! We trick-or-treated in my parents' neighborhood (Audubon Point) and had enough candy to last a year. Being frugal, I put aside assorted candies to fill Nicole's stocking at Christmas!

One tradition that's been long-standing in our household is making a big pot of chili on Halloween and opening up our doors to friends and family. It's a serve-yourself-off-the-stove affair to anyone who wants to stop in. I like to take mine out to the front porch where I can sit and hand out candy to neighborhood trick-or-treaters.

I don't have a standard chili recipe, although it always turns out pretty good. For years I used Carroll Shelby's chili kits, two per batch, and I double everything, using one pound of ground beef and one pound of Jimmy Dean bulk sausage.  (There's a real Carroll Shelby--a race car driver who developed his chili kits on the side. Here's what Wikipaedia has to say about him.)

This year, things are going to be different. I have made a personal decision to eliminate as much processed foods as possible from my diet, and to eat as organically as possible. So this year's chili will include a pound of grassfed ground beef from Livingston Springs Farm from right here in Madison County, and perhaps some bison, which you can buy in the freezer section of Kroger and Fresh Market. My only concession will be regular Fritos, which I LOVE crumbling on the top of my chili, along with some grated cheddar cheese. (I grate my own cheese...the grated cheese that comes in a bag has ALOT more in it besides what should be in cheese...I'm just sayin'...).

I am going to use the chili recipe from one of my favorite blogs, "the kitchn."  But wouldn't you know it...Paula Deen will be at Lemuria today at 5pm, signing copies of her new Southern Cooking Bible.

You just know that if she has a chili recipe in there, it's gonna be goooooooood....and probably not nearly as healthy as the recipe I linked to above.

So, what are you doing this Halloween? Wanna join me on the front porch for some chili? If so, bring a bag of candy for the little ones and the beverage of your choice.


Blessings to all who read this!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


How did I get here?

I know many people who are advocates for one thing or another, usually because of a personal experience or connection. In our family's case, it's spinal cord injury.

So how did I become an advocate for ALS? And what is ALS anyway?

It started as a job. A way to make some extra money. That's all.

I could use the skills I had developed over the past 30 years in marketing, advertising, public relations and event planning to be the walk coordinator for the ALS Association of Louisiana/Mississippi. Twenty hours a week. Raise some funds, and plan a walk. Piece of cake.

But then something happened. I met Renee Lowery, the Patient Services Coordinator for Mississippi. I went to a support group meeting she led at Methodist Rehab in Jackson. Then I went to a support group she led on the Coast. I went on a visit with her to the home of a woman who had been diagnosed with ALS after being sick for five years. She was literally on her death bed. I listened as Renee spoke frankly, yet gently, to the lady and her husband, helping them to understand what they could expect in the coming months (turned out to be weeks, as the lady passed away soon after our visit).

Because of time spent with Renee, I've been able to meet courageous patients, suffering from this killer disease, and their wonderful family members and caregivers. I've seen the dramatic progression of the disease in some of the patients over the span of a few short months. And I've gotten mad. I hate this disease. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

So what is ALS? It's a bitch, that's what. And it sucks. It may start with a slight dropped foot. Or a thick tongue. Or weak arms. It presents itself like dozens of other illnesses, so it's difficult to diagnose. The average length of time for diagnosis, as a matter of fact, is about 14 months.

The progression of the disease is horrible. Gradual, but nearly always complete paralysis. Patients must have a feeding tube in order to get enough nutrition. Most end up on a ventilator as they are unable to even breathe on their own. They are robbed of their speech, yet their brains are working just as well as ever.

Patients with ALS are literally trapped inside their own body. And it can strike anyone, at just about any age. Right now there is a 24-year-old single mother of three small children in Jackson who has it. And just recently, Steve Gleason, formerly of the New Orleans Saints, was diagnosed.

I spent last weekend in Metarie, Louisisana at the annual ALS walk there. It was amazing. There were teams walking in support of friends and family members who have ALS. There were teams walking in memory of loved ones lost to ALS. And there were teams who were simply there to support the cause.

And everyone raised money.

And everyone had fun.

And now we're doing it in Flowood, at Winner's Circle Park on Saturday, October 15. Registration is at 9am, the walk begins at 10 (just over one mile), followed by lunch, courtesy of Julep. (We had jambalaya in Metarie, of course!)

You can just show up and participate. There is no registration fee, but donations, of course, are welcomed.

You can actually sign up online to have a team at our ALS Association Louisiana/Mississippi Chapter website, then send your team link to all your friends so they can make donations.

I'm asking all my friends to go to my walk team link and make a $5 donation (or more, if they feel so inclined). If all my facebook friends (1900+) would make a $5 donation, that would be over $9000! My actual goal is $500, but I'd love to hit something in the middle.

If you come to my walk (The Walk to Defeat ALS), you'll meet Kelly Viator, who is the executive director of the Louisiana/Mississippi chapter of the ALS Association.
Kelly formed the chapter in a spare bedroom in her house in Baton Rouge after her mother, Margaret, passed away from ALS.
I took  the photo of her mom's portrait in the memorial tent at the ALS walk in Metarie. It made me think of Ruth Harbison, our sweet neighbor and friend when I was growing up. Ruth lived across the street, and I spent much of my childhood in her kitchen and on her front porch. She always had time to listen to whatever it was I had to say. Ruth had the most beautiful blue eyes, and I will never forget the sparkling amethyst ring she wore all the time. I admired it throughout my childhood, then, as fate would have it, both of my children were born in February. Amethyst is that month's birth stone. Ruth suffered from ALS the last months of her life, and it was painful to watch her frustration at not being able to communicate with us. Larry would take her banana pudding from the Country Club, and at the end, she couldn't even swallow it, but she loved having the taste of it on her tongue.


Blessings to all who read this!
P.S. I have my hand out once again today...and this is an URGENT REQUEST!!!
One of Nicole's dear friends, Donovan Childress, has been diagnosed with colon cancer. He is recovering from surgery and when he's strong enough, he'll have chemo. He's young, has no health insurance, and can't work right now. It takes time for things like Medicaid and Disability to happen, and in the meantime, he needs to pay rent/utilities/general living expenses. 
If you'd like to help, please send a check asap.

Make checks out to his girlfriend, Nicole Luna,
and send it to my address:
120 Whisper Lake Blvd, Madison, MS 39110
and I'll get it to them right away. Thank you!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Everyone Has a Story...

Wow. My head is still spinning. What a weekend!

I just returned from the three-day Memphis Creative Non-Fiction Writer's Workshop on the campus of the University of Memphis. Turns out that U of M has one of the top up-and-coming creative writing programs in the country, and one of our workshop's faculty members was Kristen Iversen, director of the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Memphis and editor in chief of the program's award-winning literary journal, The Pinch.

I could have been easily intimidated by the others in attendance. But as one of the workshoppers, Judy, said after her manuscript was critiqued by the group: "Thank you for giving me a 'safe place' to share my work." The connections in the room were amazing. Twenty people, most strangers, became close friends and found amazing connections with each other throughout the weekend. Nothing was held back, and while the critiques were very honest, there was a sense that the comments were made in order to make each other better writers. There was a lot of nurturing in that room!

And the stories! I was amazed at what so many of my fellow workshoppers had been through in their lives, and they bravely write about it, partly as a way to release themselves from the pain, and partly to share their resilience with others. I survived. You will too. Work through the pain and turmoil and you will be a better, stonger person. I'm living proof. Bob Cowser nailed it when he said "the bad things in life makes for a good story."

There was Carol from Huntsville, who wrote about the pain of placing her adolescent, ADHD son in a military academy to save him from himself. Terrence, from Santa Fe, was unknowingly a good friend of Arthur Leigh Allen, the  Zodiac Killer, even naming his son after him. He had one of my favorite descriptions of the weekend in his manuscript: "Buddah meets Bubba."
There was Greg, a gentle soul who is also a creative writing professor in Arkansas and Porter, an accomplished journalist who has written a novel and is now writing articles as a platform to generate interest. Two really smart and delightful fellows!

There was Robert (left) and Ren (right), both from Fairhope, Alabama. Robert is a retired executive who is also an avid outdoorsman. Ren is the widow of the former president of the largest catfish producer in the world. Her story touched us all. One minute they were living the good life, the next, he was indicted by the Federal Government for price fixing. Two federal trials later, he was acquitted, but it came at a huge expense to their family, both financially and emotionally. I so admired her bravery in telling the story, and the manuscript submission we critiqued was amazing. Judy (in the middle) is from Memphis and her quiet demeanor belies the fire she has burning inside. I was so moved by her.

Bruce Thomas, a former weather man living in Kansas, made a remarkable connection with the workshop coordinator, Susan Cushman of Memphis. Both grew up in Jackson, Mississippi--on the same street! They lived five houses apart! Bruce graduated early from St. Jospeph Catholic School in Jackson, then headed to Mississippi State Universtity. He graduated college and went on to be a meteorologist, working at TV stations around the country. Yet, he didn't learn to read until he was 25 years old! Bruce has become a self-made millionaire with a business plan he put together to sell NOAA weather radios in grocery stores. This workshop was his first attempt at writing, and while it was rough around the edges, his passion showed clearly on the page. Susan and I were first facebook friends, then met in person at Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas last year. She's an amazing woman and writer, and is working on her first novel, "Cherry Bomb."

I was so inspired and encouraged by these two women:

Besides winning, hands down, the best-hair-of-anyone-there award  by Yours Truly, I was moved by both of their stories. In addition to being an amazing fine artist, Suzanne Henley (left) of Memphis is an incredible writer. All I can say is that I have never considered my bathroom to be a cathedral, but I'll look at it in a new light now after reading her manuscript! She is quietly brave. Reverend Connie Tuttle is another quietly brave soul who pastors a church in Atlanta. Her struggles and triumphs are spelled out in her memoir in a most beautiful way. These women have both been on long, difficult spiritual journeys, and their light shines brightly!

And everyone loved Harley, the Vietnam veteran who is desperate to tell his story as quickly as possible, as he is suffering from dementia. We never would have known it--in addition to being a gifted writer, he is delightful, if not somewhat opinionated, but he is as honest and transparent as they come and let us know his situation. One of my favorite parts of the weekend was his bantering back and forth
with Kristen Iverson.

Speaking of Kristen, she was wonderful! She thoughtfully critiqued the manuscripts in my group and led some very helpful discussions. I really love how she led the critique session, which led to me adding many new tools in my writing toolbox. Here she is (middle) on one of our coffee breaks:
Also in the picture is Alexis (left) an oh-so-brave woman who has lived a life of alcoholism that landed her in jail after a drunk-driving episode which resulted in a Texas socialite breaking her leg two days before her wedding. Now an English teacher for a community college in Vermont, Alexis is writing a memoir about her drinking life and how she--and those close to her--survived. Gretchen (right) is a retired college creative writing professor living in Atlanta, so I really took her critiques on my work to heart.

Bob Cowser, who teaches at Lawrence University in upstate New York, is one of the smartest, most well-red men I've ever met. We were introduced to him at the faculty book reading at Burke's Books in the funky Cooper-Young area of Memphis on Friday night. He led the manuscript critique sessions on Saturday, and his knowledge and high energy had me wide-eyed all day.

Neil White also read from his book, In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, which is something I can never grow tired of. It's one of the only books I've read all the way through more than once. He did a craft talk for our group on Friday, focusing on how to write a proposal that will sell. Good stuff to know!

The finale at the book reading was Kory Wells, a poet from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and her daughter, Kelsy, who is a multi-instrumentalist roots musician. While Kelsy picked the banjo, strummed a fiddle and tapped (not all at the same time!), Kory read a few of her poems. We were all tapping our feet as we were transported to another place through Kory's poetry.

I had the pleasure of being a houseguest of a friend from my past, Emma French Connelly. I knew her another lifetime ago when she worked at an advertising agency in Jackson. Now she's a priest at St. John's Episcopal Church in Memphis as well as being a wonderful writer. While we talked about writing all weekend, Emma had to carve out time to do some more writing of her own--she had to write the sermon she preached Sunday morning! I was sustained by her delicious homemade granola and the warm hospitality shown to me by Emma and her sweet hubby, Robert.

Others there were my writing partner and partner-in-crime, Nancy Kay Wessman, a personal trainer named Tony, and Dan, both from Memphis. Tony got beat up over his essay: "Ladies, This is Why You are Single," but it was all in good fun. Dan wrote a journalistic memoir based on his father's experiences in WWII. Sheila, another Memphis resident, told me an amazing story about a night in Milan that I won't soon forget!

The icing on the cake was a chance to meet one-on-one with entertainment attorney and book agent John D. Mason. I learned so much in my 20-minute meeting with him on Saturday, and I was encouraged that he wants to see a couple completed chapters of my book.

It was a room filled with big characters. Big personaltities. Big stories. I could have been intimidated, but instead, I left inspired and uplifted. I can do this! I am a writer. And as Bob Cowser pointed out to us all, I am an artist!

Blessings to all who read this!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Are You Out of Your Gourd?!

Are you out of your gourd?

That might be some people's reaction to an invitation to go to the Mississippi Gourd Festival in Raleigh, Mississippi. My reaction, on the other hand, was "Sure! Let's go!"

My dad called last Friday night and asked if I'd like to go to the Gourd Festival on Saturday. Because we had tickets to the USM game, I regretfully had to decline. No problem--the festival was on Sunday, too! Yay!

Luckily, Larry was off work Sunday and we both got to go. After a quick breakfast at the Beagle Bagel, gassing up the car and a couple more errands, we headed to my parents' home to pick them up. Then off we went to Raleigh. First of all, I don't believe I've ever been to Raleigh. With less than 1500 residents, it is still the second-largest town in Smith County, and it's the County Seat. For such a small town, it has quite an impressive courthouse.

After about an hour's drive, we arrived at the Smith County Ag Center, the site of the anticipated Gourd Festival. We arrived about noon, and we were all surprised to see many cars were already there. I knew it was going to be a fun event when I saw Felder Rushing's truck in the parking lot. How did I know it was Felder's truck? Well, who else has a rolling garden in the bed of a bright green pickup truck? As a matter of fact, I uploaded this photo to Facebook right after I snapped it with my phone, and almost immediately, Malcolm White remarked "Felder."

Inside, I was unsure of what I'd see. I'd never been to a gourd festival before. Not surprisingly, I saw gourds everywhere, of every shape and size. For some reason, I kept thinking of the television show "Hoarders," (probably because 'hoard' rhymes with 'gourd.') Nonethess, these people were as crazy about gourding as the people on TV are about hoarding.

The people who grow and decorate gourds, most members of the Mississippi Gourd Society, are a pretty creative lot. They "see" things in a gourd that the average eye may not see. I saw gourds painted to look like Santa Claus, fish, geese, snowmen, and much more. They were made into birdhouses, boxes and bowls. Some of my favorites were intricately carved with beautiful designs.

No part of any gourd goes to waste. There was gourd jewelry made of painted and polished pieces of gourds. And windchimes. And purses. Crosses and flowers and butterflies, oh my!
One of the most amazing items I saw crafted from gourds was a banjo made from gourds. Jason Smith crafts "banzas" and has even recorded a CD of the music strummed on the instruments. I could have listened to him play all day!
So my senses were bombarded with all things gourd-related, and I HAD to buy something to take home! I seemed to gravitate to Helen Looman's booth. Her gourds were very simple, clean and beautifully crafted. I found out later that Helen is a member of the Craftsmen's Guild of Mississippi. The one I loved the most was a simple bowl, stained with leather dye. It had woven pine straw around the top. Helen patiently explain her weaving technique to me, not realizing that I had absolutely no desire whatsoever to do what she does. I simply wanted to buy the bowl and be impressed by her work. Which is what I did. And here it is, in my house:

And because I'm a sucker for handmade Christmas ornaments, I got this little squash-shaped gourd painted up like a little Santa Claus:
It will hang on my Christmas tree next to my dried okra Santa! (I believe I'm going to get a "permanant" Christmas tree crafted by metal artist Stephanie Dwyer to hang all my special handcrafted ornaments!)

So, who knew how much fun a gourd festival would be? I suspected it would be an interesting outing, and I was right! So what adventure is next? Perhaps the on October 22 in Rolling Fork, Mississippi.

But before I can plan which festival I go to next, I have a couple of other big events to attend. The first is the  Memphis Creative Nonfiction Writer's Workshop this weekend. I'm excited because I'll be making a pitch to several agents, and I'll be getting criquiques on a portion of my manuscript. (In case you don't know, I'm writing a book about Nicole's journey...). Also, I'm planning this year's Walk to Defeat ALS. It will be held October 15 at Winner's Circle Park in Flowood. I need all my friends to jump on board!

So, what are YOU doing this weekend? There's always something going on...just cruise the internet to find a festival, event, or activity and get out there and create some fun memories!

Blessings to all who read this!