Words from a Reader

The “Writing Life Stories” e-mails I receive are such treasures. As soon as I see there is one in my inbox, I read it immediately. I look forward to them and never know how they will touch me. They can be interesting, informative, humorous, and/or touching.

Saturday, September 30, 2023


I got an urge to go back to South Georgia this past week. 

I can't drive down there at this time, so I did the next best thing. I went online and found Mark's Melon Patch where I have shopped in years past.  They carry fresh produce grown in the area and they carry jellies and syrup, with no additives like corn syrup, that I cannot find in my area of North Carolina or in the area of Atlanta where my sister lives.

When I was a girl at home, Mother and I would go to a farm where sugar cane was processed. A horse or mule hitched to a pole, walked around and around while activating a machine that squeezed the juice out of the cane stalk. The juice ran into a large kettle set over a fire. This was called a cane grinding. It was a fall harvesting of the sweet cane grown on the farms. 

Mother liked the juice and we drank a few cupfuls while there. The juice was cooked down and became cane syrup. Mother took home a large bottle of juice and several jars of syrup. Although we didn't think about it then, we were able to buy for a small price, something that was pure. Nothing was added to it - no high fructose corn syrup - as is found in all the syrups on the grocery store shelves today. 
Sugar cane syrup purchased at Mark's Melon Patch online

Although I doubt many farms grow cane now and don't hold cane grindings, someone makes pure sugar cane syrup and Mark's Melon Patch sells it. 

This time of year is when the Mayhaws are gathered. The little red, tart, berries were gathered on our farm by spreading white sheets under the limbs of the low-growing bush-like trees. The limbs of the tree were then shaken and all the ripe berries fell onto the sheets. It took many of the little berries to make even one pint of jelly.

We took the berries home to Mother who had the wizardry to turn them into the most delicious jelly one could ever taste. 

As I craved some of these delicacies I decided to see if Mark's Melon Patch would ship them to me. They did. Right away I had to taste the syrup on pancakes. Soooo good. 
This morning, I opened one of the jars of Mayhaw jelly and it was as good as my mother made it. 

Two jars of Mayhaw jelly and one of pepper jelly

Do you have special foods you enjoyed in your youth and can't find where you live now?

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Mary Ricketson publishes "Stutters - A Book of Hope"

Redhawk Publications Unveils Mary Ricketson's Collection,

"Stutters - A Book of Hope"


Hickory, NC - Redhawk Publications announces the release of Mary Ricketson's ninth poetry book, "Stutters - A Book of Hope." This collection marks Ricketson's third collaboration with Redhawk Publications, offering readers a revealing glimpse into her personal journey.

Mary Ricketson, a seasoned writer and poet, shares her early struggles with stuttering, baring her soul and presenting herself as a vulnerable yet resilient woman. She invites readers into her world, illuminating the empowering nature of her experiences.

Reflecting on her lifelong passion for writing, Ricketson remarks, "All my life, I've expressed myself through fragments of words and snippets of stories. I remember winning a plane ticket and luggage through an essay contest during my high school years. Although I did not stand out as a writer in college, I have dedicated the past three decades to writing seriously. Writing has been my refuge since childhood, a way to navigate my severe stutter. In my early 40s, I realized that writing was an essential part of my being."

"Stutters - A Book of Hope" represents a departure from Ricketson's previous works, delving deep into her personal history. Initially hesitant to explore her stuttering journey through poetry, she found herself drawn to the subject, even when she sought to avoid it. Through her evocative verses, Ricketson captures the struggle, the darkness, and ultimately, the joy that emerges from embracing one's unique experiences. Each poem serves as a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Acquisitions Editor Patty Thompson, speaking about the decision to publish Ricketson's manuscript, expressed her admiration, saying, "When I heard Mary read a few of her poems at an open mic event, I was captivated. The raw emotion in her words left an impression on me. It was clear that we needed to share her collection with the world. We eagerly awaited the arrival of her completed manuscript, and we are thrilled to present this book to our readers. It is one of the more poignant and vulnerable poetry collections we have published to date."

"Stutters - A Book of Hope" will resonate with poetry enthusiasts and creative writing aficionados alike. However, its appeal extends beyond those boundaries. This collection speaks to the universal experience of feeling different and uniquely challenged. Whether one has faced the sting of being an outsider or has endured the pain of bullying, Ricketson's words offer solace and a sense of belonging. Each page radiates with a sense of hope, gently reminding readers that it exists even in the darkest of moments.

Mary Ricketson will be one of the featured authors at Redhawk Publication’s Book Fair on September 30th at the Catawba County Library in Newton, NC from 10am – 2pm as part of the Catawba Valley Festival of the Arts.

Copies of “Stutters – A Book of Hope” are available for purchase on Redhawk Publications' website at https://tinyurl.com/StuttersABookOfHope

Redhawk Publications is an artistic initiative of the Catawba Valley Community College, publishing written works of interest for the local community, North Carolina, and the entire United States. Established in 2017, Redhawk Publications offers over 130 titles to date and is one of only three community colleges nationwide with a publishing press. For additional information on Redhawk Publications, visit their website at https://redhawkpublications.com, or contact Patty Thompson at pthompson994@cvcc.edu.


Wednesday, September 20, 2023

What mistakes do we often make in writing Memoir?

In the years I have taught memoir writing, I have seen the same problems over and over. In the next few weeks, I will write about some of them. Maybe they will be helpful to you. Leave a comment and let me know.


A memoir is not an autobiography.

An autobiography usually contains reflections that one can only acquire from the vantage point of old age. So, an autobiography often starts at birth and follows the writer through youth, a string of questionable decisions, two or more rocky relationships, eventual triumph, and ultimately to old age.

But, a memoir is not like that. While an autobiography is often written at the perceived end of one’s life, a memoir can be tethered to any huge event in one’s life. A memoir is a slice of life. You can document anything, including the death of a loved one, the birth or adoption of a child, summer camp, a religious awakening, becoming an adult, journeying to a different country, or adjusting to a new home, just to name a few ideas.

If you lived it, you can write it.

But, it would be a mistake to write about everything that you’ve experienced in your life at one time. Unless you’re a public figure, very few people are interested in reading about your life from cradle to almost grave. It’s much more impactful, even for public figures, to write about key, transformative events in their lives.

Not sure how to whittle down your epic life into a memoir? Remember, you don’t have to write just one memoir. Isn’t that so liberating? Over the course of your life, you can write several memoirs about the different events that shaped who you are.

What event would take up at least one chapter of your autobiography? Take that chapter and expand it into an entire book. A memoir gives you the opportunity to dig deep into a pivotal event or explore how you felt, why you felt it, and the lessons you learned.

One of the first narratives I wrote about my life was titled The Trains Still Pass Through Acree. In a short piece, I wrote about all the people I knew in the little town of Acree. One of the incidents I wrote about was two of my friends tying up their little brother who often lied to his parents when they came home from work. He told them that his sisters were cruel to him and other tales that were untrue. The girls had a hard time convincing their parents that Butch was not telling the truth.

The girls tied up the mean little brother and put him on the railroad track. He could not move. They waited until the train was in sight and the whistle was blowing before dragging Butch out of danger but left him close enough to smell the smoke and feel the bursts of air from the engine slowing down. He had to promise never to tell lies about them to his parents. 

Editors told me I had too many stories in this essay. I tried to tell too much including all my other stories about others who lived in Acree. 

I had lots of good stories within that short piece, but I needed to concentrate on one incident and do a better job of writing about it instead of jumping around to many other anecdotes. 

This short piece would work better as a book. Each story about the little settlement of Acree could be included. 

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on this subject or any questions you might have.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

John C. Campbell Folk School offers discount to locals

My friend and fellow writer Darnell Arnoult is teaching Creative Nonfiction in a Flash at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC. I have known her for many years and I have taken a number of her classes. You will enjoy and learn so much in this weekend class Sept. 8 - 10. 
Visit here to learn about the class and remember, if you live in the area near the folk school, you are eligible for a 25% discount and a guarantee of a seat in the class.

Check out the writing classes scheduled for 2024. Yes, you probably should register now for those classes. Karen Holmes will teach in January. Look for her class description under Writing Classes.

No matter where you live, a week at the folk school will be an experience you will always remember. As a writer, I owe most of my success to classes I took there for over twenty years. 

Monday, August 7, 2023

Trip to the City

My week with my family in Roswell, GA, as usual, was fun and relaxing.

We go out to eat often and with so many restaurants nearby, I am always curious as to where they will take me next. The most interesting restaurant was th 57th Fighter Group, located next to the Dekalb Peachtree Airport. The decor is World War II. You enter through a narrow hallway with walls made from sandbags. Stu said that was to make the place look like a bunker. I was immediately taken with all the photos on the walls. Real people and places in black and white. 

The uniformed military men brought back memories of my dear brother-in-law, Stan. He was so handsome in his Air Force uniform. I was a small child when I first met him. The war had recently ended, I think, when he met my sister, June, and she brought him home to meet her family. He was still in the service.

The WWII theme also reminded me of my two cousins who died. I never met them. I also had cousins who came home to live long lives. My oldest brother joined the Navy and I have sweet memories of him in his white sailor uniform he wore when he hitchhiked home on weekends. He never had a problem catching a ride because civilians were happy to help a man in uniform and there was no fear of opening the car door to one of them.

The 57th restaurant is a favorite of many of my friends in the Atlanta area, but I had never heard of it.
A DJ played music that was popular in the days of my youth. A biplane gave rides just outside the area where we sat and it was fun to see it take off and land.

The plane reminded me that my sister, Gay, when we were in college, often skipped class to go for a ride with college students who were taking flying lessons. I am glad she never told me at the time. I would have been worried to death. She still likes to take rides in small airplanes and has a friend who has taken her up in his own plane. 

My only experience in a small private plane was scary and very stressful. Barry and I flew to Boone NC when my sister, June, called and asked us to come. Stan was in critical condition and it was Thanksgiving weekend. I will never forget how I felt that day, anxious to be with my sister, afraid of what doctors had told her. The weather was really bad and in 1975, Boone did not have much of an airport.  I think he had died before we finally arrived, but June was not told because she was alone and the hospital knew her family was on the way. 

I like to keep my feet on the ground or in my car. I will fly in a large airplane if I am going long distances such as on my trips to Hawaii, California, and New York City, but I only do it because I must. 

Back in my little mountain town, I get back to reality and a slow style of life.
Hope you all are having a good summer, not too hot, and like me, are grateful for air conditioning. 

Sunday, July 30, 2023

My Week, the fun, the good and the sad

Another Sunday has passed and here I am with my sister again. We have had a good visit and I spent several hours with my niece, Lee.

Last week in Hayesville, I was a guest for Mountain Wordsmiths, a Zoom event hosted by Carroll Taylor and sponsored by NCWN-West. We had about 15 people sign in and I was so happy to see the names of many of my friends and family there. I recorded my reading for one of our members and when I played it back I was not happy with the way my voice sounded. I think it is the poor microphone I have to use and perhaps how I sat while reading. 

I read a couple of memoir pieces and a short story, as well as several poems. Some comments were "I like to hear you read about real people." I read a piece about my aunt and uncle who had their farm taken by the government in 1962 so that a large military base could be built there. This was imminent domain. If you ever knew anyone who had to sell out because the forces that be said their home was needed for the good of the community or the country, will understand the emotional effect of my story. My sister said she and Stu listened to my reading and fought tears.

The next day I loaded my car and drove to Roswell, GA and it felt so good to enter my second home. When I am here I feel like I am on vacation. 

It seems that wherever I am now, I continue to hear sad stories from people I know and love. One friend said her daughter had been in four different hospitals in the past ten days. Another friend said her daughter has been diagnosed with cancer. I ache for my friends. My heart hurts for them. I don't have children, but I do have beloved nieces and nephews and I worry about them as if they were my own. 

Having lost five brothers and sisters and my husband and three in-laws as well as both my parents, I know grief all too well. 
Having faced cancer with my beloved husband and my dear brother, Ray, I feel the worst kind of fear when I hear that word. I will pray for my friends and their daughters and I will ask others to pray for them, but I prayed for Barry and Ray and so did their church families. 

I am feeling uplifted by another very dear friend who is fighting cancer with all her might, heart, and energy, and is actually feeling better now. I do believe that doctors are not the entire answer to healing cancer. Positive thoughts, energy healing, spiritual energy, and constant love by others have a strong effect, I believe. Sometimes this only gives more time and not complete healing, but remission of any kind is wonderful. 

You can tell I am sorrowful tonight even though I am feeling well physically. 
My knee is fixed and I have no pain since the surgery has healed. I seldom have the need for a cane or walker anymore. I will see my knee surgeon next week for his final examination and I am sure he will be pleased at the progress I made. Dr. DeCook at Northside Hospital in Cumming, GA does a terrific job with his patients. His staff is on the spot with follow-up care as well as preparing the patient before the surgery. The prep exercises are an essential part of a good recovery.

My sister is surprised and overjoyed at the improvement in my health compared to this time last year. I am grateful for my life and my friends and family who are there for me when times are tough. I deeply appreciate you, my readers. 

I hope I have not brought you down with this post. I seem to have a need to share my sorrows as well as my happiness with you, my faithful readers. 
Let me hear from you and have a great week. Until next time, much love.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Calamity at the Festival

It has been a long time since I posted here and I am sorry. You might have thought I had "kicked the bucket" as my father used to say. But no. I have been quite busy with my writing group events and helping writers who call or email for assistance. This week I was asked to help someone who wanted to know how to self-publish a memoir. I gave her my best advice. Another writer wanted my help in finding an illustrator for her children's book. I am working on that.

My largest project that took lots of time was our booth at the Festival on the Square in Hayesville NC where I live. 
For a number of weeks, I asked for volunteers and organized a schedule of when they would arrive to sit at the tables and promote our writing organization as well as sell their own books. The festival lasted two days, Saturday and Sunday from 10 AM until 4:30 PM. 

Writers, Carroll Taylor and Joan Howard in pink

Saturday all was fine. We left with the tables cleared and all our stuff put away in a large plastic tub. I worked the morning shift on Sunday. When I arrived, I found our booth in shambles. The storm on Saturday night had filled the canopy of the tent so full of water that it broke the frame and the tent was almost on the ground. I stood there fighting tears not knowing what to do. I knew I could not physically move the broken tent frame. I could not reach the volunteers who had put up the tent on Friday. I just said out loud, "I don't know what to do."

Suddenly a young couple appeared and without a word to me, they began taking down the broken frame and sodden canopy. I didn't know them and stood in wonder at their ability. I kept saying thank you, thank you. 

Within a few minutes, the woman in charge of the festival, Joan, appeared and said I have a frame you might be able to use with your canopy. I wanted to say to her, I can't put up a frame. I had watched two men set up the poor broken thing that was now on the ground, and I had helped them by holding one corner.

But to my amazement, more people showed up and in no time, the old broken frame was taken away, the borrowed frame was set up and my blue canopy tent was stretched over it. It did not fit perfectly, but a man who owns an Alpaca farm jumped in to help. With duct tape, he and the young couple had a tent up over my tables and I was ready to man the booth by ten o'clock when my cohort arrived.

The young couple turned out to be vendors who had a booth near me. They were from Jupiter, Florida, and the sweetest people. At the end of the day, I took them a copy of Paws, Claws, Hooves, Feathers, and Fins and thanked them for all their help. They then insisted on giving me a beautiful shell from the beach.

No matter how often I hear about this terrible world we live in today, I don't believe it because people are so good to me. Somehow I always find, without even looking, good and kind, caring people. Now there were many other people who saw my problem, but the young couple and Joan and Reba who had the frame they gave me, and the Alpaca Farm owner did not hesitate to jump in to help. That is why I insist there are more good people in this country than bad. We just don't hear enough about the good.

Have a good weekend and I hope you find many good people along the way. I know you, my readers, are good folk. I appreciate you taking the time to visit here. 

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Reimagining My "one precious" Life

Today I read words by a woman who has turned 63 and is planning the rest of her life or how to regenerate her life as she grows older. I am in the place where I will be regenerating my life soon. Leaving the life I have lived here in my mountain home, to make new friends, find new activities, and new ways I can help others, particularly in the writing field. I already have some plans, but I am not ready to voice them yet.
Read the article in Sixty and Me and see if what she says relates to your life and your future.

This is a sample of what she writes:
"A friend of mine went to Argentina to learn how to Tango when she was in her 60s and still teaches Tango lessons today in her 80s! How fabulous!

Write your visions down. Begin to collate a vision book and add to it with pictures, quotes, and research how you might bring your visions to life. Everything in our life begins first in the imagination. It is here that dreams are born and built upon. Creating a vision book is a powerful actionable step towards creating a new life story. This is your template from which you can add to and build on.

Aging doesn't have to mean the end. As long as we can breathe, talk, think, and communicate, we can build a new way of life. My sister, in her late seventies, began ballroom dance classes. For several years she has been dancing two or three times each week. She is preparing to dance in a competition (in her age group) in the fall. I am so proud of her. She loves to dance and it keeps her fit. She can lift and carry heavy loads. She is strong and healthy because she quit leading a sedentary lifestyle. She is happier as well.

I regenerated my life after Barry died. I opened my writing studio, Writers Circle Around the Table, where I taught writing, and brought wonderful writers and poets here so others could learn how to improve their writing. Many of us enjoyed those years with three-hour classes where we made new friends while we shared our writing with each other. Many of the writers who attended these classes are published writers now. 

I had to learn how to make the project work for me and for all who were involved. I did not have funds set aside to pay people who came here to Hayesville. But the wonderful men and women who taught at my table agreed that we would set reasonable fees for the workshops, give the instructor an opportunity to hold a public reading where he/she could sell their books, and I would divide the fees between me and the one who was teaching. No one made lots of money, but I received enough to pay my expenses and serve refreshments for each class. The best payment for me was meeting so many new writers who are still friends today. 

For ten years Writers Circle Around the Table fulfilled my dreams and helped me through my grief. I like to learn and I like to teach. My studio fulfilled both of those interests.  During those ten years, I also was voted by the majority of our members to become Program Coordinator for NCWN-West, an organization I have supported and been a leader in since its infancy.

It seems strange that I will be embarking on another attempt to reinvigorate my life before long. But I am ready to make my plans and get busy. 

If you are at an age when you wonder what you will do with the rest of your "one precious life" following Sixty and Me's Astrid Longhurst advice might be all you need.

Let me know if this applies to you and if you are getting ready to make new plans.
Thanks so much for reading and I hope you will come back.


Friday, June 30, 2023

Times they are A-changing

I often see events advertised here in Clay County or Towns County, GA and the idea is immediately "I want to go." And then I remember what I have to do to go to an outdoor event.

When Barry was with me, he carried the folding chairs or the cooler. All I had to do was walk and sit.
Now, living alone I have to think about how I will get there and what I have to take with me.
It wasn't so long ago, was it, that he and I attended mountain festivals and outdoor singing on the square? Yes, it was long ago. The last time we did that was 2007 and early 2008 before he was diagnosed with cancer in July. 

However, this July, Festival on the Square and thousands of people will gather here in our little town to shop for handmade crafts, eat ice cream and freshly cooked barbecue, buy books from NCWN-West, and meet friends. They will sit for hours in front of the gazebo in their own folding chairs where local singers and players entertain. This event has changed very little, but I and my family that attended for many years have drastically changed. My brothers and my husband are gone now. Instead of attending and enjoying the music, I hope to work at the Netwest booth Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. The chairs will already be in place thanks to our volunteers who set up the booth. I will not carry much with me. 

Although Barry and I watched television, he, more than I, we also liked going to the movies. There is nothing quite like seeing a good movie on the big screen. I have gone alone to the movies once or twice when there was a show I was anxious to see, but I left feeling sad. The memories of how we talked about what we liked or did not like, how we shared a large bag of popcorn, and I was too full to stop to eat somewhere, memories that make me miss him more. 

It is not the same when I ask a friend to come with me. Seems my friends don't like the same kind of movies I like and I am not fond of their choices. It is not easy to find a restaurant we can agree on but easier than finding similar movies. 

Barry and I often took day trips to mountain towns miles from home. Doing that alone is just not the same. Weekends were always busy for us. Saturday could be filled in many ways, and on Sunday we went to church where we both sang in the choir. A group of us went out to eat after church and we had many laughs and lots of fun. 

One day, when I move down to Roswell, Ga where I will be with my sister and brother-in-law and niece and her husband, I will be making a big change but I hope I will have more good times and can make good memories. I am beginning to look forward to moving, but getting my house ready to sell and downsizing is a hard, hard task that takes lots of time. 

As Bob Dylon said in the song, we older folk should get out of the way if we can't lend a hand for the times are a-changing. I want to lend a hand, but not sure how I can. 

Come mothers and fathersThroughout the landAnd don't criticizeWhat you can't understandYour sons and your daughtersAre beyond your commandYour old road is rapidly agin'Please get out of the new oneIf you can't lend your handFor the times they are a-changin'