Archives for February 2016

A Trip to Alabama’s Bellingrath Gardens


It’s gray and overcast here today, although the recent warm temperatures are giving me spring fever. In the Atlanta area, we could hit 75 degrees in February, plunge back to freezing a week later, and have daffodils in bloom a few days after that. Since I’m getting tired of the bare landscape, I dug out some pictures from last April, when I visited Alabama’s Bellingrath Gardens and Home. It was cloudy then, too, but azaleas and lots of other plants were starting to blossom.


Some azaleas had already hit their peak. Their fallen petals look like confetti on the path.


Bellingrath is a 65-acre Southern estate that opened to the public in 1932. It’s been drawing visitors ever since, and this Gulf Coast icon is a popular place for weddings and other events.


The water looks so cold, doesn’t it?

SDC10173Purple, yellow, and lavender pansies and violas perked up this woodland scene.


Love this froggy fountain.


Stunning orchids were blooming inside a Bellingrath greenhouse.


Angel’s trumpets perfumed the air that day.


I was on a group tour, but I wish I’d had time to just sit and enjoy this beautiful, peaceful scene.


Sigh….pictures like these will have to do for a little while longer, but spring isn’t far away.


Book Review: The Girl in the Well is Me

51gubUXsmpL._SX372_BO1,204,203,200_Ever been in a “tight spot”? Eleven-year-old Kammie Summers is literally in a tight spot when she falls into an abandoned well. As daylight fades, Kammie, her arms pinned against her body, can’t even wipe away her tears. Meanwhile, her three new “friends,” popular girls who got her into this jam as as part of a club initiation, take off. But they’ll be back to get her out.

Won’t they?

Kammie desperately hopes so, and I did, too, as I read The Girl in the Well is Me, the new middle grade novel by Canadian author Karen Rivers. I was mesmerized as Kammie, trapped and alone, revisits both the good and bad things that have happened in her life: her father’s imprisonment for embezzling funds from a charity; an elderly neighbor’s friendship; her mother’s struggles to earn a living; and her own efforts, after the family moves, to fit into a new town and different school. But help is on the way.

Isn’t it?

As her oxygen supply dwindles, Kammie hallucinates about spiders and zombies in the well, while a silvery, French-speaking coyote shows up to keep her company. But rescue is coming.


Rivers’ book reminds me of a one-act stage play. The scenery barely changes, yet the plight and voice and heart of the main character keeps the reader spellbound.

Getting out of the well is Kammie’s biggest problem, of course, but it isn’t her only one. If she survives, she’s got to find a way to go on, not with the life she wishes she had, but the one she’s been given. And no matter what happens with the popular girls and her father or anything else, she’s got to stay true to herself.

I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to Kammie, and you won’t be able to, either. Her dilemma is one we all face, at some point in our lives. Once you finally climb out of the darkness, how do you live in the light?

I highly recommend The Girl in the Well is Me, which has been named a Top 10 Spring 2016 Kids’ Indie Next Pick. It’s also earned a starred review from Kirkus Reviews.

Thanks to Algonquin Young Readers for sending me a copy of this book. My opinions are my own.


Snow Cats and Other Thoughts

snow cats

No, these cats don’t have dandruff. They’re covered – make that, sprinkled – with snow, and I’m posting their picture to show how much of the white stuff fell here a couple of weeks ago. While the rest of the country hunkered down against blizzards, ice storms and every other kind of weather hazard, here in the metro Atlanta area, I took a deep breath, blew the snowflakes off the porch railing, and went about my day.

I’d love to see some snow. I’d like to see fluffy little snow-caps on the rose hips, icicles decorating the bird bath, and a soft blanket of sparkling crystals on the lawn. But the last time I admitted to this romantic-minded foolishness on social media, I got blasted by people who hoped I’d get stuck in my car for a day and a night, with nothing but a half-can of flat Coca Cola and a package of spearmint gum to live on until I was rescued, or the sun came out. They wished me the joy of shoveling to get to the mailbox, only to find that the mail never came, and tunneling through streets piled high with mounds of dirty, freezing slush.

Not what I meant, but never mind. I get it.

Since it’s February, and once again, a few flakes are falling to the north, but not here, I’m turning my thoughts to other things. I’m excited about writing for the Travel Channel blog, which re-launches in March. I’ve covered gardening for years, and I’ll always have dirt under my nails (so to speak), but I’m looking forward to blogging about new topics, like where to find the best oysters or schools that teach you to hang glide. I’ll give tips about where to go on spring break and how travelers can learn to sculpt or play the banjo while on vacation.

This variety reminds me of an aptitude test I took in college. My results said I’d make a great nurse, missionary or librarian (clearly, I had a strong do-gooder streak, as well as an instinct to keep books neatly shelved). But I didn’t skew strongly in any one area. My test also said I’d do well as a scientist (apparently it didn’t measure math skills), teacher, farmer, dancer (seriously? the desire to do a thing does not equal the ability to do it), vet, decorator, designer and artist (if only I could paint).

At first, this Jill-of-all-trades assessment worried me, until I realized that it simply meant that I was curious about a lot of things. That turned out to be a useful quality for a writer.

When you get to explore many different subjects, your work is never boring. I’ve partnered with the captain of a nuclear sub while canning spiced peaches at a cooking school; snorkeled with manatees; and gotten caught in a volcanic eruption (Alaska’s Mount Spurr, years ago, and it was cold ash, not lava, or I wouldn’t be here now). I learned to fly-fish in Montana, on the same river as the one in Robert Redford’s film, A River Runs Through It (sadly, he was long gone).

I’ve backpacked with llamas in Taos, traded heirloom seeds with gardeners from around the South, and climbed into the wheelhouse of a riverboat to watch the dark waters of the Mississippi roll by as the moon rose. Of course, not all assignments are  exciting or fun. I’ve also written about the differences between fluorescent and metal halide lights, the advantages of fertilizing with pellets packed with micronutrients, and more.

I’m grateful, though, for these experiences, because I’ve learned from them. Well, except a few, like the one for a medical client who hired me to write about DRGs (diagnosis related groups, a statistical classification system that–but you don’t care, and I don’t blame you.)

Now I plan to blog more regularly. I want to share info from the travel blog, once the posts go live, and since I’m learning to quilt and sew, I’ll also write about some of my projects. I’ll probably ask for help from folks who know what they’re doing, because I’m teaching myself, and I need it.

And there are books, of course….books I’ll read and review, and a book for middle grade kids that I’m writing. I’ll share my progress–or lack thereof–as time goes on.

Kind of a mixed bag, isn’t it? Travel, quilts, books, and my rescue pups, who wind up in my posts and stories from time to time. That’s okay. Sometimes you start with snow cats, and go on to other thoughts.