Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bethany House Inspirational Romance--whether captivating contemporary or heartfelt historical--these love stories will engage your reader's imagination!


A Shining Light (Home to Amana #3)
Told in alternating first-person segments, "A Shining Light" is a compelling inspirational historical romance from author Judith Miller. Set in the 1890's, the story begins in Baltimore, Maryland as Andrea Wilson learns that her husband, Fred, has died at sea. After years of suffering abuse and poverty due to her husband's cruel nature and drunkenness, Andrea feels more relief than grief. She determines to make a better future for herself and her young son, Lukas, by returning to her family home in Iowa. Hoping to reconcile with her father, Andrea is devastated to discover that he died in a fire on the farm, and the property now belongs to someone else. Members of the nearby Amana village offer refuge, and Lukas finds a friend and mentor in the tinsmith, Dirk Knefler. As time passes, even as they must get used to a very different life than they had known, Andrea and Lukas find a measure of comfort in the simplicity of the village life. The bond between Lukas and Dirk grows, as does a tentative relationship between Dirk and Andrea. However, an unexpected and life-changing turn of events will threaten the future happiness of them all. Their religious faith and their faith in each other will be put through a mighty test--one they cannot afford to lose. Will their devotion win out over all? "A Shining Light" is Book Three in author Judith Miller's involving "Home to Amana" series.
Review Copy Gratis Bethany House Books
A Sensible Arrangement (Lone Star Brides, #1)
At nearly thirty five years in age, childless and widowed, Marty Dandridge Olson was contemplating a major life change. Lonely, and still angry over the tragic death of her husband four years earlier, Marty was considering remarriage. Not for love, not to someone with whom she had a fond acquaintance, but to a stranger who had placed a newspaper ad for a "Lone Star Bride" willing to leave Texas and move to Colorado. Jacob Wythe is a career-minded Texan making a name for himself in the banking boom in Colorado. As a bank manager, the pressure was on for him to make a suitable marriage to prove himself stable and worthy of his position. Having failed at love before, a marriage in name only seemed like a most sensible arrangement to Jake, and the widowed Marty Olson appears to be the perfect candidate. However, the best-intended plans are often derailed by unexpected twists of fate, and Marty and Jake will find themselves caught up in a challenging situation. When problems at the bank threaten Jake's job security, he longs for a return to ranching. Complicating matters are the growing feelings between Marty and Jake--along with a very big secret that Marty is keeping. Will Marty's heart lead her to be completely honest with Jake? When the truth comes out, will Jake's love be strong enough to withstand Marty's misguided betrayal? Once again, gifted author Tracie Peterson reminds us that faith can move mountains--even if it moves one hill at a time.

Review Copy Gratis Bethany House Books
Meant to be Mine (A Porter Family Novel, #2)
"Meant to be Mine" drew me in, turned me inside out and upside down, and then set me right again. Author Becky Wade is an extremely gifted storyteller, effortlessly developing her characters and adding depth to the story line while treating her readers to appealing touches of humor. Celia Park had a nomadic childhood, with her father's job moving the family every few years to a new city. As they settled into Plano, Texas just as Celia was about to start high school, she was miserable and found little to interest her in her new home. That all changed when Ty Porter came into her life. A year ahead of her in school, he shared a class with her and soon had her mesmerized. Good-looking and much too charming for his own good, Ty sailed through life, surviving one escapade after another, and remaining well-liked through it all. Celia was infatuated with him, and while he dated the most beautiful and popular girls in school, he was always kind to Celia. After he graduated, Ty enlisted in the Marines. A year later, after her own graduation, Celia went away to college in Oregon. It would be over seven years before she would see Ty again. By then, he'd become a successful bull rider, and when a friend persuades Celia to attend one of Ty's events in Las Vegas, she and Ty fall into a whirlwind romance. Abandoning her natural common sense and practicality, Celia headily agrees when an inebriated Ty rushes her into a kitschy Vegas wedding. The next morning, sober and sorry, Ty crushes Celia by telling her that he made a mistake and that he loves someone else. His bluntness is almost bone-shattering, but a devastated Celia manages to move on. Over five years later, Ty is now a three-time world champion bull rider--wealthy and a certified celebrity. Still legally married to Celia, and wanting to tie up loose ends, Ty seeks her out. He finds Celia to be more lovely and endearing than ever, and she has a very big secret that will change Ty's life forever. When Ty discovers that Celia never wanted him to know that she gave birth to his daughter, Addie, his world is rocked. He wants his child, and he wants her mother too, but he'll have to work hard to gain Celia's trust. Both Celia and Ty have much to learn about themselves and about each other. A near-tragedy brings them together in close circumstances, and the two of them want the best for their child. Having everything come to him so easily in life, Ty had never spent much time contemplating his faith. Having suffered some major disappointments, Celia had let her love for Addie and her anger at Ty propel her through her own life. She too had drifted away from faith and prayer. Can Ty let go of his long-held guilt and accept a newfound faith? Can Celia truly forgive both Ty and herself and reach out for a love and joy she never expected? A recommended read for fans of redemption, renewal, and a romance worth the wait.

Review Copy Gratis Bethany House Books
Child of Mine
A young girl, Nattie, is orphaned at age four when her adoptive parents are killed in a tragic accident. Her single, carefree uncle, Jack Livingston, is chosen as her guardian. The young Amish woman, Laura Mast, who had been shunned by the Amish community, had worked for Nattie's parents. She continues as Nattie's nanny after the child goes to live with her uncle. A sad and struggling young woman, Kelly Maines, searches for years to find the daughter who was stolen from her as an infant and sold to "baby buyers". Compelling characters are brought together in an involving story line in "Child of Mine", an inspirational contemporary romance from the husband-and-wife writing team of David and Beverly Lewis. Irrepressible Nattie is an inveterate list-maker and a determined matchmaker. She wants a mother, and she thinks Laura would be the perfect choice to marry her uncle Jack. When Jack meets Kelly, however, she captures his immediate interest. Checking out one more lead from the private investigator she had hired to help her locate her daughter, Kelly makes her way to Jack's aviation business. Her original intention had been to tell him the truth of her visit, but something about Jack makes her hold back, and she pretends to want to take flying lessons. The more Jack talks about Nattie, the more Kelly hopes that the girl will turn out to be her own daughter. Laura, who has always been like a mother to Nattie, is harboring a secret of her own--a secret which will greatly affect all those around her. "Child of Mine" is a touching and intriguing story, a reminder of the roles that faith and fate play in all our lives. This is a heartfelt tale of loss and forgiveness, discovery and redemption, and at the center of the story there is one small girl with a big personality.
Review Copy Gratis Library Thing
Until I Found You
I am a longtime fan of author Victoria Bylin's historical western romances, so it comes as no surprise that I was captivated by "Until I Found You", her first contemporary release. Written with thoughtfulness and humor, this well-paced story is both touching and charming. Set in California "condor country", the setting adds great depth to the story, with the majestic birds themselves adding poignancy and spiritual relevance as the story line unfolds. On her way back to the small town of Meadows to help with the after-stroke care of her grandmother, Leona, Kate Darby's journey takes a dangerous side route. To avoid a collision with huge condor sitting in the middle of the road, Kate slams on the brakes, causing the car to slide and hang precariously from the side of the road. Terrified, and afraid to move, Kate is eventually rescued by Nick Sheridan, who pulls her to safety just before her car plummets and bursts into flames. Upon seeing, Nick already knows who Kate is--he is friends with her grandmother, and he also helps Leona with her small local newspaper, "The Clarion". Kate is appealing and beautiful, but Nick is working out a year-long pact he made with God to get his life in order. After living a life filled with often reckless indulgence, a personal tragedy had given Nick new perspective on life and faith. After much personal loss in her own life, Kate had very little faith of her own, and she was spiritually adrift. She loved her grandmother greatly, however, and leaving her job in Los Angeles and putting her own life on hold to care for Leona was something she did without question. Leona was all the family that Kate had left, and they had always been close. Finding much to enjoy in Meadows, including her unexpected friendship and attraction to Nick, Kate begins to reflect on her future and to tentatively seek out a real relationship with God. Much occurs to cloud her vision, and Nick is suffering through personal doubts of his own, but he knows one thing for sure--Kate is the love of his life. Does she feel the same for him? Could she share with him the kind of future for which he longs--a happy family life in Meadows with Kate by his side? Knowing that she is struggling with her concern for Leona and the responsibilities of her job back in L.A., can he be patient and give her the freedom she needs to find her true answers? "Until I Found You" is a wonderfully-written inspirational romance with appealing characters and an interesting, compelling story line that will keep the ready involved until the very end. A fabulous contemporary romance debut for the very talented storyteller Victoria Bylin.
Review Copy Gratis Bethany House Books

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"JOHN WAYNE: THE LIFE AND LEGEND"--by Scott Eyman--"BIG SHOULDERS" left big boots to fill

John Wayne: The Life and Legend 


"That guy you see on the screen isn't really me. I'm Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne. I know him well. I'm one of his closest students. I have to be. I make a living out of him"----Duke Morrison, AKA John Wayne, 1957   

John Wayne was one of Hollywood’s most famous and most successful actors, but he was more than that. He became a symbol of America itself. He epitomized the Western film, which for many people epitomized America. He identified with conservative political causes from the early 1930s to his death in 1979, making him a hero to one generation of Americans and a villain to another. But unlike fellow actor Ronald Reagan, Wayne had no interest in politics as a career. Like many stars, he altered his life story, claiming to have become an actor almost by accident when in fact he had studied drama and aspired to act for most of his youth. He married three times, all to Latina women, and conducted a lengthy affair with Marlene Dietrich, as unlikely a romantic partner as one could imagine for the Duke. Wayne projected dignity, integrity, and strength in all his films, even when his characters were flawed, and whatever character he played was always prepared to confront injustice in his own way. More than thirty years after his death, he remains the standard by which male stars are judged and an actor whose morally unambiguous films continue to attract sizeable audiences.


Scott Eyman interviewed Wayne, as well as many family members, and he has drawn on previously unpublished reminiscences from friends and associates of the Duke in this biography, as well as documents from his production company that shed light on Wayne’s business affairs. He traces Wayne from his childhood to his stardom in Stagecoach and dozens of films after that. Eyman perceptively analyzes Wayne’s relationship with John Ford, the director with whom he’s most associated and who made some of Wayne’s greatest films, among them She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Quiet Man, and The Searchers. His evaluation of Wayne himself is shrewd: a skilled actor who was reluctant to step outside his comfort zone. Wayne was self-aware; he once said, “I’ve played the kind of man I’d like to have been.” It’s that man and the real John Wayne who are brilliantly profiled in Scott Eyman’s insightful biography of a true American legend.  


Scott Eyman has authored 11 books, including, with Robert Wagner, the New York Times bestseller Pieces of My Heart.

Among his other books are "Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer," "Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford," "Ernst Lubitsch: Laughter in Paradise," and "The Speed of Sound" (all Simon & Schuster) and "John Ford: The Searcher" for Taschen.

He has lectured extensively around the world, most frequently at the National Film Theater in London, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Moscow Film Theater. He's done the commentary tracks for many DVD's, including "Trouble in Paradise," "My Darling Clementine," and Stagecoach.


Eyman has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune, as well as practically every film magazine extinct or still extant.


He's the literary critic for the Palm Beach Post; he and his wife Lynn live in Palm Beach.

''THE CHAPERONE" and "THE ENTERTAINER"--two terrific titles--spotlighting The Jazz Age, Hollywood, American Popular Culture and beyond

The Chaperone 
THE CHAPERONE  by Laura Moriarty   

A New York Times bestseller, The Chaperone is a captivating novel about the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in the 1920s and the summer that would change them both.

Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will transform their lives forever.


For Cora, the city holds the promise of discovery that might answer the question at the core of her being, and even as she does her best to watch over Louise in this strange and bustling place she embarks on a mission of her own. And while what she finds isn’t what she anticipated, she is liberated in a way she could not have imagined. Over the course of Cora’s relationship with Louise, her eyes are opened to the promise of the twentieth century and a new understanding of the possibilities for being fully alive.


Drawing on the rich history of the 1920s, ’30s, and beyond—from the orphan trains to Prohibition, flappers,  and the onset of the Great Depression to the burgeoning movement for equal rights and new opportunities for women—Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone illustrates how rapidly everything, from fashion and hemlines to values and attitudes, was changing at this time and what a vast difference it all made for Louise Brooks, Cora Carlisle, and others like them.


Laura Moriarty   

Laura Moriarty earned a degree is social work before returning for her M.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Kansas. She was the recipient of the George Bennett Fellowship for Creative Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. She currently lives with her daughter in Lawrence, Kansas, and is at work on her next novel.


 Movies, Magic, and My Father's Twentieth Century 
"THE ENTERTAINER"  by Margaret Talbot   

Using the life and career of her father, an early Hollywood actor, New Yorker writer Margaret Talbot tells the thrilling story of the rise of popular culture through a transfixing personal lens. The arc of Lyle Talbot’s career is in fact the story of American entertainment. Born in 1902, Lyle left his home in small-town Nebraska in 1918 to join a traveling carnival. From there he became a magician’s assistant, an actor in a traveling theater troupe, a romantic lead in early talkies, then an actor in major Warner Bros. pictures with stars such as Humphrey Bogart and Carole Lombard, then an actor in cult B movies, and finally a part of the advent of television, with regular roles on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Leave It to Beaver. Ultimately, his career spanned the entire trajectory of the industry.   

In her captivating, impeccably researched narrative—a charmed combination of Hollywood history, social history, and family memoir—Margaret Talbot conjures warmth and nostalgia for those earlier eras of ’10s and ’20s small-town America, ’30s and ’40s Hollywood. She transports us to an alluring time, simpler but also exciting, and illustrates the changing face of her father’s America, all while telling the story of mass entertainment across the first half of the twentieth century.    


Image of Margaret Talbot

Margaret Talbot is a non-fiction writer, who has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2003, and before that was a contributing writer at The New York Times magazine, executive editor of The New Republic, and a founding editor of Lingua Franca: The Review of Academic Life. In addition to those publications, she has written for The Atlantic, The National Geographic, More, Slate and
Margaret grew up in Studio City, California, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and has a Master's Degree in History from Harvard University.

Her reporting and essays have been collected in a number of anthologies, including The Art of the Essay, The Best American Science Writing. and Because I Said So. Margaret is the recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award, and is a former senior fellow at the New America Foundation.

Her first book, The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father's Twentieth Century was published by Riverhead in November 2012, and will be available in paperback in November 2013.

She lives in Washington D.C., with her husband, writer Arthur Allen, and their two children, Ike and Lucy. Margaret serves on the board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"CHOCOLAT"--delicious "book into movie" from author Joanne Harris has a sequel that's "just peachy"!

Try me... Test me... Taste me...

When an exotic stranger, Vianne Rocher, arrives in the French village of Lansquenet and opens a chocolate boutique directly opposite the church, Father Reynaud denounces her as a serious danger to his flock - especially as it is the beginning of Lent, the traditional season of self-denial. War is declared as the priest denounces the newcomer's wares as the ultimate sin.

Suddenly Vianne's shop-cum-café means that there is somewhere for secrets to be whispered, grievances to be aired, dreams to be tested. But Vianne's plans for an Easter Chocolate Festival divide the whole community in a conflict that escalates into a 'Church not Chocolate' battle. As mouths water in anticipation, can the solemnity of the Church compare with the pagan passion of a chocolate éclair?

For the first time here is a novel in which chocolate enjoys its true importance. Rich, clever and mischievous, Chocolat is a literary feast for all senses.
The Girl with No Shadow (Chocolat, #2)
The wind has always dictated Vianne Rocher's every move, buffeting her from the French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes to the crowded streets of Paris. Cloaked in a new identity, that of widow Yanne Charbonneau, she opens a chocolaterie on a small Montmartre street, determined to still the wind at last and keep her daughters, Anouk and baby Rosette, safe. But the weather vane soon turns, and Zozie de l'Alba blows into their lives. Charming and enigmatic, Zozie provides the brightness that Yanne's life needs--as her vivacity and bold lollipop shoes dazzle rebellious and impressionable preadolescent Anouk. But beneath their new friend's benevolent facade lies a ruthless treachery--for devious, seductive Zozie has plans that will shake their world to pieces.
Peaches for Monsieur le Curé
The tantalizing sequel to the blockbuster New York Times bestseller Chocolat

Even before it was adapted into the Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, Joanne Harris’s Chocolat entranced readers with its mix of hedonism, whimsy, and, of course, chocolate. Now, at last, Chocolat’s heroine returns to the beautiful French village of Lansquenet in another, equally beguiling tale.

When Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave, she knows she must go back to Lansquenet. But the past can be dangerous, and Vianne and her daughters find their old hometown changed in unexpected ways. Most surprising of all, her old nemesis, Francis Reynaud, desperately needs her help.
Can Vianne work her magic once again?
Joanne Harris
Joanne Harris was born in Barnsley in 1964, of a French mother and an English father. She studied Modern and Mediaeval Languages at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge and was a teacher for fifteen years, during which time she published three novels; The Evil Seed (1989), Sleep, Pale Sister (1993) and Chocolat (1999), which was made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp.

Since then, she has written five more novels; Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange, Coastliners, Holy Fools, and, most recently, Gentlemen and Players, plus; Jigs & Reels, a collection of short stories and, with cookery writer Fran Warde, two cookbooks; The French Kitchen and The French Market. Her books are now published in over 40 countries and have won a number of British and international awards. In 2004, Joanne was one of the judges of the Whitbread prize (categories; first novel and overall winner); and in 2005 she was a judge of the Orange prize.

Her hobbies are listed in Who’s Who as: “mooching, lounging, strutting, strumming, priest-baiting and quiet subversion of the system”, although she also enjoys obfuscation, sleaze, rebellion, witchcraft, armed robbery, tea and biscuits. She is not above bribery and would not necessarily refuse an offer involving exotic travel, champagne or yellow diamonds from Graff. She plays bass guitar in a band first formed when she was 16, is currently studying Old Norse and lives with her husband Kevin and her daughter Anouchka, about 15 miles from the place she was born.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

MAMA WAS A DANCER--Happy Mother's Day to all Moms, Grans, and "Like-a-Moms"


Mama was a dancer. Brush, Shuffle, Step. Adagio. Allegro. Arabesque. Plié. Pirouette. Mama was an ice skater too. Step Sequence. Salchow. Sit-Spin. Spiral. Mama loved all animals, but horses were her favorite. She loved to ride horseback. Cadence. Canter. Gait. Gallop. The last decade of my mother's life, she was progressively ill. I lifted her, carried her, and pushed her wheelchair. Whenever possible, whenever there was a long, clear, safe path, I would "run" the wheelchair. Going as fast as I could go, pushing the wheelchair for all its might. Once again, Mama could fly.   

Mama was also talented, artistic, and very theatrical. She played the piano "by ear". I used to get tickled when she played because she added extra notes throughout the music piece. I asked her about those little extras one time, and she just gave a grin and said that was the way it ought to be played. I couldn't afford to buy her a spinet piano, but I did get her a full-sized electronic keyboard with a stand. She loved it so much! She was like a kid experimenting with all the different sound effects. More than once when I returned home at the end of a work day I could hear Mama, aka "The Phantom", at the keyboard. When the house windows were open, you could hear her playing out through the neighborhood. We both loved "The Phantom of the Opera".   

I have always set high standards for myself as far as what I had to accomplish in my personal life. I was an "organized perfectionist", determined to meet all the goals I set for myself. I did pretty well at that for many years, and then life began to impose its own needs that had to be met. When my mother's health began its sad deterioration, and I became more and more a caregiver, something had to give. I no longer worked overtime, not all of the daily household chores were done each day, meals became much more simple, personal time was minimalized, and life as it was continued on a more elementary level. I let go of a lot of my own personal expectations...and it didn't kill me. The most important thing was my mother's care, and when I focused more on her needs and less on my own expectations, I could actually relax and give myself a break. In some ways, I felt closer to my mother than I ever had in my whole life. My mother has been gone for a while now, but I have never gone back to being "uber-woman", and I'm glad.  

I was not fortunate enough to have my own children, but I have been taking care of adults, kids, babies, and animals for most of my life. When I was a very young child, my family employed a wonderful housekeeper, "Nan", to whom I contributed more than one gray hair. Later, as an adult, I worked as a housekeeper and child care provider for a family with five children, four of whom were boys. I am an only child, and I was more of a girly-girl than a tomboy. This experience was quite an eye-opener, contributing to more than one of my own gray hairs : ) I loved those kids, and they loved me, especially my peanut butter cookies. I cried my eyes out when I changed jobs and had to leave "my kids" behind. It is important to try to have some sort of order in your daily life, but it is equally important to let kids play and just be kids. Grown-ups need to be kids sometimes, and who better to teach us than a child?  

My Gran was the greatest cook ever, and some of my happiest childhood memories involve being in the kitchen with her and learning to cook. My lessons in cooking and keeping house are from the old school, but many "old" things are new again. Gran was also wonderfully creative and talented with a needle and thread. She used to make the school clothes for my mother and her sister. She would make her own patterns out of brown paper bags, and she used whatever fabric, even flour sacks, that was available. She made them quite a few "broomstick skirts". Gran was a very great influence on me, and I also love to cook and sew. I even did custom sewing for years, making clothing and collectible cloth dolls. I also made quilts, pillows, and custom-tailored western shirts with embroidery and pearl snaps. At times in my life, my sewing and baking have supplemented my income. I could always count on my fudge to sell through special orders, craft shows and flea markets.  

A mother is many different things to many different people. She may be a mother by birth, by adoption, or by osmosis, but her love of others is cellular and soulful. Embrace your mother as a parent and as a person. In your own life, accept and celebrate your role as caregiver in whatever role you are given.   

Love is patient, Love is kind,
It does not envy, it does not boast,
It is not proud, It is not rude,
It is not self-seeking,
It is not easily angered,
It keeps no record of wrongs.


Love does not delight in evil,
but rejoices with the truth.


Love always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.


Love bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.


Love never ends.


L o v e  N e v e r  F a i l s. 

Corinthians 13 : 4 - 8 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mama--remembering "Miss Betty" and sharing her recipes

REMEMBERING MAMA--one of kind, vastly entertaining, often disconcerting, always my Mama! 

Today, May 3rd, would have been my mother's 81th birthday. It's hard to imagine my mother being over eighty years old. She's been gone for almost eight years, and though she was very ill for the last decade of her life, her spirit prevailed. I don't think anyone who met Mama could ever forget her! She was unique, sly, witty, talented, charming, funny, and very pretty. Mama was an animal rights champion and a world-class wildlife care provider. As a young girl, running through the woods near her home, she would sometimes come across horrible steel-jaw traps. She would smash them with a big rock, which sprung the trap, and then she would throw the trap in the river. She loved to ride horseback, and she always said that horses were her favorite animals.

Mama was a true daughter of the South, both sassy and refined. I lost track of how many times we watched "Gone With the Wind". Mama was also talented, artistic, and very theatrical. She studied ballet and tap, and she played the piano "by ear". I used to get tickled when she played because she added extra notes throughout the music piece. I asked her about those little extras one time, and she just gave a grin and said that was the way it ought to be played. I couldn't afford to buy her a spinet piano, but I did get her a full-sized electronic keyboard with a stand. She loved it so much! She was like a kid experimenting with all the different sound effects. More than once when I returned home at the end of a work day I could hear Mama, aka "The Phantom", at the keyboard. When the house windows were open, you could hear her playing out through the neighborhood. We both loved "The Phantom of the Opera". Mama also loved to figure skate, and we spent many, many hours watching figure skating programs on the TV. She was very knowledgeable about the sport, and her comments were often more enlightening than those of the professional commentators.

Mama was a "selective cook". If she liked it, she cooked it, and she cooked it well. Cubed steak and gravy with peppers and onions over mashed potatoes. Baked beans and coleslaw. "Secret Recipe" salad dressing. Fried chicken cooked in real butter in a big old cast iron skillet--with gravy, of course. Yellow cake with caramel frosting. Stuffed peppers. Hot dogs loaded with everything but the kitchen sink. Everywhere we traveled on our road trips, we found a little place that sold hot dogs. A hot dog, chips, and a cold drink would always hit the spot. Mama taught me how to ride a bike, how to knit, and how to remain gracious in the face of disaster. She encouraged me to read as a child, and she started me off with a library of "Little Golden Books". She said they were for me, but I think she enjoyed them even more than I did! She also started my cookbook collection. Before I was born, she began collecting recipe booklets and little cookbooks, and she wrote the date and a little note in each book. When I was older, and really got into recipes and cooking, Mama used to tell people that I could prepare dishes that looked "just like the picture in the book". That was her way of complimenting my cooking.

I come from a long line of dramatic, intelligent, piercingly humorous Southern women. My all-time favorite movie is "Show Boat" (1951), with Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson. When I was a kid, my mother, grandmother and I would sing along with the movies. Mom had the high voice, mine was lower, and Gran did the "silly singing". On a nonmusical note, my mother was totally enamored of the film "Gone With the Wind". I have truly lost track of the number of times that we saw it in the theater, and then again when it started being shown on TV. She thought Leslie Howard, who portrayed Ashley Wilkes, was quite a hunk! My most vivid memory of our "Gone With the Wind" experience was when it was shown at our local theater during my senior year in high school. Mom and I had to go, and we ended up sitting on the front row with two friends of mine from my high school class. We three girls spent as much time watching Mom and her expressions and taking in her comments as we did watching the movie. Many times through the years, my friends have told me that Mom made the movie memorable for them! I can still see her face, lit with an almost childish delight, and illuminated by the images on the screen.

Do you have a favorite book that your mother read to you as a child? Is there a book that you have read as an adult that you associate with your mother? Have you ever read a book in which a character reminded you a lot of your mother? Do you have a favorite food from childhood--something that only your mother prepared the best? I'd love to hear your own memories and stories of your mother or someone who was like a mother in your life.


Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie

1 quart strawberries
1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese
1 baked pastry shell, 9-inch
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
red food coloring
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar

Wash, drain, and hull strawberries. Beat cream cheese with a fork until smooth. Spread cream cheese over bottom of the cooled pie shell. Stand half of the whole strawberries in the shell with tips up. Puree remaining strawberries in a blender, adding enough water to make 1 1/2 cups of puree. In a saucepan, mix granulated sugar with cornstarch; gradually stir in the strawberry puree mixture and the lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and clear, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in a few drops of red food coloring; remove from heat. Cool sauce for about 10 minutes, then pour over the strawberries in the shell. Chill for about 3 hours, or until firm. Beat cream with confectioners' sugar until mixture holds its shape. Spoon whipped cream in a ring around the edge of the pie. Store leftover pie in the refrigerator.

Westerner Beef and Beans

1 1/2 to 2 lbs ground chuck
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
salt & black pepper
one small pinch of red pepper flakes
1 can (16 oz) baked beans or pork & beans, undrained
1 can (16 oz) Great Northern beans, undrained
1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
1/2 cup barbeque sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
crumbled cooked bacon

In a large, deep skillet or Dutch Oven, brown ground chuck with onion, bell pepper, and celery. Season lightly with salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Spoon out grease from skillet. Stir in remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat until bubbly. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook 10 to 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. To serve, top with crumbled cooked bacon. If there are any leftovers, this makes a great hot dog topping.

Tangy-Sweet Coleslaw

6 cups shredded fresh green cabbage
2 carrots, shredded
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 small bell pepper, chopped fine
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
salt & pepper to taste

Toss cabbage in a large bowl with carrots, onion, and bell pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour the dressing over the slaw mix and toss to coat thoroughly. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time. Stir well before serving.   


Cornbread Casserole 

1 box or pouch (approx 8.5 oz) corn muffin mix
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) creamed corn
1 can (15 ounces) whole corn kernels, drained
2 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the cornbread mix, creamed corn, corn kernels, eggs, sour cream, and butter. Stir in cheese. Pour batter into a 13-x-9-inch greased baking dish. Bake for 30 minutes or until the center is firm, and bread is golden in color. Cut into squares to serve.

Easy Lemon Cookies

1 (18.25 ounce) package lemon cake mix
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar for decoration

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Pour cake mix into a large bowl. Stir in eggs, oil, and lemon extract until well blended. Drop teaspoonfuls of dough into a bowl of confectioners' sugar. Roll them around until they're lightly covered. Once sugared, put them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 6 to 9 minutes in the preheated oven. The bottoms will be light brown, and the insides chewy. 

Butter-Fried Chicken

one whole chicken, cut into fryer pieces
one to two sticks real butter
salt & pepper
poultry seasoning

In a large ziploc bag, add about one cup flour with a good shake of salt & pepper and a pinch of poultry seasoning. Add chicken pieces a few at a time and shake in sealed bag to coat well. Repeat until all chicken pieces are well-coated. Save any leftover flour mixture to make pan gravy. In a large (10 inch), deep cast iron skillet melt butter over medium heat. Add chicken pieces and cook until crispy brown on bottom. Turn chicken pieces and cook until well-done and golden, crispy brown. Arrange chicken pieces on serving platter. While skillet is hot, brown leftover flour in grease (add extra flour if needed). Carefully add enough cold water (be careful of hot grease splatters) to make gravy. Stir gravy continuously until smooth and thick. If needed, add extra seasoning to taste.

Mama's Summer Salad

one red ripe tomato
one yellow ripe tomato
one cucumber
one bell pepper
one onion

1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light cooking oil
salt & pepper to taste

Cut vegetables into bite-sized chunks and mix together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, dissolve sugar with vinegar. Blend in oil. Add salt & pepper to taste. Pour dressing over vegetables and stir well. Cover and chill. Flavor improves overnight. Stir salad well before serving.

Yellow Cake with Caramel Icing

one two-layer size butter-flavored yellow cake mix
Prepare cake mix as directed for two cake layers. Bake and allow to cool.

2 c. white granulated sugar
2 c. brown sugar
2 sticks butter
1 sm. can evaporated milk plus a small amount of milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine sugar, butter, and evaporated milk (pour evaporated milk in a measuring cup and fill to 1 cup with whole milk). Place in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and cook to the soft ball stage. Add vanilla extract. Cool and beat until creamy. Spread quickly over cooled cake.

if Mama ain't happy...ain't nobody happy