Thursday, September 14, 2017

Book Giveaway!!!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Awakened by Allen Madding

Awakened

by Allen Madding

Giveaway ends September 22, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pause

Thursday night we had a planned maintenance at work which I was asked to be apart, so the workday went from 7AM until 1:30AM. Fortunately, I got Friday comped to recoup. Do I awoke Friday with a list of things I wanted to accomplish personally. Top of the list was getting some Advance Reader Copies (ARC) of Awakened mailed out to members of the launch team. I jumped in White Lighting (my 1970 C20 pickup) and rode over to Walgreens to pickup some padded envelopes as I had a depleted inventory. Much to my chagrin when i crawled back in the truck to head home with the envelopes, the starter refused to cooperate. It wouldn't even click.



I called State Farm Roadside Assistance and found a place in the shade beside the building to wait. before they arrived, a landscaper noticed the hood up and asked me if I needed a jump. He hooked up a jump box and said it showed the battery fully charged. White Lightning refused to budge despite the jump. I thanked him for his assistance and called State Farm Roadside Assistance back and advised a jump was no longer needed, but a tow truck.

I retreated to the shade of the side of the building and began to wait for the estimated 1 hour arrival. At first, I wanted to fuss about the list of things I wanted to accomplish and my predicament that had me stuck standing on a concrete sidewalk in the sweltering Florida heat. I quietly became a student of human nature or as my Granddad would have called it, I began people watching.

From my vantage of the corner of the building, I had a clear view of 54th Avenue and MLK Street as well as the main parking lot in front of Walgreens and their adjoining liquor store as well as the optometrist office to the back of the side parking lot. At 10:30am on a Friday, this parking lot was a hotbed of activity. A man passed by smelling of dried urine pushing a shopping cart full of empty cans and other collected items. Another man pulled up in a pickup and hurried inside only to return shortly and hurry back to his pickup for a few minutes and then back in the drug store. A few minutes later he returned carrying a small shopping bag and a large bag of diapers. A woman suddenly appeared smoking a cigarette nervously pacing back and forth. After six or seven trips past me she disappeared from my sight reappearing moments later on the other side of the street.

As I continued to wait for the tow truck, I began to hear rolls of thunder. I looked to the north and could see ominous black clouds, but the heat and humidity dissuaded from considering sitting in the truck.  When the rain began, I huddled closer to the building to take as much advantage of the narrow overhang as possible. A woman pulled up in a small SUV and made her way slowly into the drug store. While she was inside the rain increased in intensity. After a while, she returned from the store to her SUV with a small shopping bag in hand. She opened the door and disappeared from my sight. She was not seated in the vehicle but the driver's door was standing wide open in a Florida downpour. I could not help but wonder what on earth the was doing. After ten minutes or so, she popped up and headed back into the drug store with the shopping bag. After another ten minutes or so, she reappeared and returned to the SUV. Once again she disappeared from my line of sight with the driver's door open in the steady downfall of rain. Finally, she crawled into the driver's seat, closed the door, started the vehicle, and slowly drove away.

The rain began to let up and the sun began to break through. Within moments it was a light drizzle and then it quit all together. As the heat and humidity began to increase, the tow truck appeared.

Initially, I wanted to feel sorry for myself sitting three hours stranded outside Walgreens. But it gave me a chance to pause from my list of chores and the hectic busyness of my week and take a slow look around me. These are my neighbors. This is my community. These are the people I am called to love. It was a good reminder.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Inferno Films Producing New Documentary Entitled Community First, A Home for the Homeless

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For those who haven't heard, one of the biggest things I am excited about in the work to end homelessness in our country is a model community - Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ Community First! Village in Austin, Texas which is a complete paradigm shift. Mobile Loaves and Fishes is an organization that has been serving the homeless community in the Austin are for years with an eye to restoring dignity. The Community First! Village utilizes RVs and Tiny Homes in a 27-acre master planned development in East Austin providing affordable, permanent housing for the disabled and chronically homeless in Central Texas.

Today, I am thrilled to announce that Award-winning director and filmmaker Layton Blaylock and the team at Inferno Films are producing a documentary entitled, Community First: A Home for the Homeless. The film follows the progress of Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ Community First! Village in Austin. Production began in March 2017 and will continue through the remainder of the year. A Kickstarter to drive monetary support for the documentary project launches on Wednesday, August 23rd.

Here is a teaser for the documentary - Teaser (video)

Formed in 1999, Inferno films is headed by Director/DP Layton Blaylock and Executive Producers Quincy Lowman and Jeff Hastings. They have produced a wide variety of award-winning broadcast projects and television commercials. Their 2006 feature length documentary, Art From the Streets, has garnered several awards and played at over 30 film festivals around the world.

Community First! Village is a 27-acre master planned development in East Austin that provides affordable, permanent housing for the disabled and chronically homeless in Central Texas. Home to over 200 people including its formerly homeless residents, work campers, on-site missioners, and staff, the project aims to “heal the lives of the homeless through the transformative power of community,” says Blaylock.  The documentary follows this unique residential program as it provides a model of addressing homelessness by providing homes as well as personal care, community involvement,  an opportunity to earn a dignified income, and expression in the creative arts. Special events regularly occur on-site, such as family-friendly movie nights, art shows, tours, and volunteer opportunities that are open to anyone, allowing connections to develop between those who live inside and outside of the Village.

For more information on the documentary, and a link to the Kickstarter, visit www.communityfirstthemovie.com or facebook.com/communityfirstmovie. For more information on Inferno Films, visit www.infernofilms.com. To learn more about Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ Community First! Village, visit http://mlf.org/community-first/.



Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Live, Laugh, Love, Love to Laugh

Image Source: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/explore/laughter-quotes/


From time to time friends will comment on my ability to bring laughter to any occasion. I freely admit that I love to laugh and firmly believe if you cannot laugh, you cannot enjoy life. I cannot take credit for my sense of humor. It is directly inherited. One of the funniest men in my life growing up was my Grandpa Madding. He was always up to something and all ways had a joke to tell.

As a small kid, I loved watching HeeHaw with Grandpa. Especially when they sang "Where, Where are you tonight? Why did you leave me here all alone? I searched the world over and thought I found true love. You met another and PFFFTT you were gone!" My Mom hated when I sang that and threatened to whip me. Grandpa thought it was hilarious.





 Our family loved to hunt and fish. My Dad had taken me and my brother hunting with him several time. He carried his shotgun, and we tagged along with our Daisy BB guns. He had taught us gun safety and things to be aware of in the woods. So when Grandpa came to town one Fall, we went into the woods hunting. When we came upon an electric fence, I froze in place. Grandpa took a look at it and declared it wasn't an electric fence. I pointed out the insulators on the post and argued the point. He scoffed, "Here I'll show you it isn't electric," he said. Unbeknownst to me, he had lightly grabbed a hold of the back of my belt. With the other hand, he grabbed the electric fence. I got a hefty jolt of electric fence charger while he laughed.

Many years later after I had moved into my first house, Grandpa Madding, Grandpa Jackson, and my Dad decided to tune up a push mower that Dad was going to give me to maintain my yard. both Granddads began to argue why it wouldn't start. Grandpa Madding suggested pulling the spark plug, laying it across the motor, and pulling the starter rope to see if the plug was firing. Grandpa Jackson quickly grabbed a ratchet and a socket and pulled the plug, carefully laid it so the plug was contacting metal to make a good ground and reached up to pull the rope. Unbeknownst to him, you guessed it, Grandpa Madding grabbed the back of his belt with one hand and the spark plug wire with the other just as Grandpa Jackson pulled the starter rope. He jumped and shouted and shook his head when he got the shock from the coil on the mower while Grandpa Madding laughed.

"I guess the plug and ignition module is good, huh Jack?" He laughed.

Before my daughter was born, my wife and I lived on 11 acres and had a small heard of goats to help with the mowing. He had came through an visited and headed out on an Airstream Caravan. One night all of the Airstreamers would gather and have a pot luck dinner. This one evening at potluck a lady stood at the microphone and introduced herself, named off all of her kids, grand kids, and great grand kids. When Grandpa Madding was introduced, not to be out done, he named his son, my brother and I as his two grandkids, and then said, "and I have a granddog Lugnut, and four grandgoats, Buckwheat, Barney, Betsy, and Coco."

Over the years growing up, I worked along side of him building additions on family houses, roofing houses, washing cars, etc. I learned a work ethic from him, and I learned that no matter how miserable the conditions hot or cold, not matter how hard the work, a little sense of humor and a good laugh makes the job a lot more enjoyable. And I have tried to carry both of those lessons with me.

These days I will crack a joke while working and will think how much it sounds like something he would say. I encourage you to laugh a little. It will do a lot for your overall disposition.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Little Johnny and Adventures on the Flint River

The Flint River (image source: wikimedia.org)


As a boy growing up in rural South Georgia, Mitchell County to be exact, I was introduced to fishing on the mighty Flint River. My Dad bought a 14 foot aluminum Jon boat and powered it with a 9 1/2 horse Johnson outboard that we called Little Johnny that he had gotten when my Granddad sold his Salt Water boat. On occasion, he would let me set at the back of the boat and pilot the boat. I remember the initial awe and fear I felt as I struggled to learn to turn the motor the opposite direction that I wanted the boat to head and becoming familiar with the less than raw power available at the twist of my wrist.

image source: smalloutboards.com


The Flint River was not a body of water to be taken lightly. I had sandbars, snags, and rocks to navigate past and spring holes that were hundreds of feet deep. It was a river to be respected and an appropriate amount of fear probably would be advised as well. Anytime Dad was piloting the boat on the Flint, I was instructed to sit to one side, so he could see the water ahead and avoid the rocks and snags that stuck up depending on the levels of the water. Anytime I piloted the boat, he sat up front calling out the dangers and giving directions on where to head for safe passage.

Amazingly, when my brother got his drivers license, my Dad allowed the two of us to take the boat fishing during the week after school while he was out of town on work. To this day, I am amazed that he allowed us to take his boat out. I am not sure if he suffered a head injury at work or just decided that he had taught us everything we needed to know, and it was time to let us spread our wings a bit.

So one gorgeous Spring day, we got home from school, ignored our homework assignments, hooked to boat up to my brother's car and headed for the Flint. We launched the boat and headed off down river as we had done a hundred times prior. I honestly don't remember if we caught anything that day or not. But I do vividly remember this - about an hour before dark, we decided it was time to head home. My brother tugged on Little Johnny's rope and the motor fired to life. We set a course upstream for the boat ramp. I quickly noticed something out of the ordinary. The river level had risen a good bit since we had launched. I recognized that to mean that the Georgia Power Dam flood gates north of us had been opened.

Georgia Power Dam on the Flint River (image source: cyclethunder.wormley.org)

With the rising level of water, there were less rocks and snags visible above the top of the water. My brother began to navigate from memory of where the rocks and snags were since they were not all completely visible. This instantly struck a bit of fear in my heart, because I knew if he missed remembering one rock that might now be just below the surface of the water, it could damage the boat or the outboard, and even worse throw us out of the boat or overturn us. I zipped up the zipper on the front of my life jacket and quietly checked to make sure he had his one and zipped.

It was then I noticed the second problem at hand. With the rising level of water, the current of the river had magnified. I could hear Little Johnny's hum and could tell my brother had the throttle twisted wide open. Looking out the front of the boat, I couldn't tell we were moving. I froze for a moment in fear as I thought about the possibility that the rising Flint River's current could by stronger than Little Johnny's 9 1/2 horsepower could overcome. I quickly quit watching for snags and rocks and began watching the shoreline.

My brother noted the change in my behavior and asked, "What are you looking at on the bank?"

I sheepishly admitted to my fear. "I'm looking at trees to see if we are actually moving forward!"

He laughed and then asked, "Well are we?"

I sat for a few minutes staring at a single unique looking tree. Slowly I could see it beginning to move to the South of us. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

"Yes, barely but we are," I replied. "I hope we have enough gas to make it to the boat ramp."

He quickly looked down at the 5 gallon red fuel can that supplied Little Johnny the two-cycle gas and oil mixture.

"Three quarters of a tank," he called out.

We slowly made our way up river and finally arrived at the boat ramp. Our slow progress had put us behind schedule, and it was now dark. He quickly backed the boat trailer down the ramp, and we loaded the boat.

"That was some scary stuff there for a bit," I admitted after we were in the car and headed home. "I didn't think we were gonna make it up river."

I think back on that episode of my childhood several times as I get older. When I am working on a project or working on personal growth and begin to become frustrated with the progress, I remember that day on the waters of the mighty Flint River and looking to the shoreline for something to provide me proof that we are moving in the right direction despite the lack of speed. That experience has always helped me to remember to not focus so intently on the final destination but to look for progress. If I can see progress being made, I can then motivate myself to keep going.

How about you? Are you looking for progress - positive movement towards your goals? Or are you frozen staring at the final destination and overcome with defeat because of how far away it seems? Focus on signs of positive movement and keep on pressing forward.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Book Review: Wonder by R. J. Palacio


Auggie Pullman was born with several "small anomalies". In fact his face was so disfigured from birth and numerous surgeries, his parents elected to homeschool him that is until 5th grade. Auggie is about to face his greatest fear, being the new kid at Beecher Prep. And everyone knows middle school kids are not the kindest and most considerate. Inside Auggie is just an  ordinary kid with ordinary dreams and aspirations, but he has an extraordinary face. He knows it will be a struggle to convince his classmates that he doesn't have cooties and that his disfigured face isn't contagious. But how will he do it? How can he convince his classmates that they can be brave enough to go against the popular culture of making fun of him and actually befriend him? There is only one way - to bravely show them what he is like on the inside.

Wonder is well written, has wonderfully and accurately created characters. I highly recommend it to parents and children of all ages. There are a host of great lessons to be learned from this entertaining read.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Dining Reviews Are Moving



I'm a very excited to announce a new venture with a very good friend and talented chef, Leslie Barton. We have launched a new website SlapYourGrandma.com. This website will provide restaurant and recipes so good, you'll want to, well, slap your grandma.

All dining reviews going forward will be found on this new website. I encourage you to bookmark the page and join us on this new adventure.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Great American Scream Machine - a Lesson in Overcoming Fear

Image Source: http://www.themeparkreview.com


I was probably around 10 years old when my family made its first trip to Six Flags Over Atlanta. The trip is a fond memory including bumper cars, log flume water rides, the Dahlonega Mine Train - which at that time was a wooden roller coaster that smelled of creosote and had an interactive animated "Buford the Buzzard" tossing insults at the waiting crowd in the queue line.

The event of the day the left an indelible mark in my memory from 43 years ago, was the Great American Scream Machine - a wooden roller coaster that had opened that year with a hill that was 105 feet tall and a top speed of 57 miles an hour. The restraints for the coaster consisted of a lap bar. Current day it utilizes a seat belt and a lap bar, but for the life of me I only remember the lap bar on my first ride.

As a 10 year old kid, I had seen the advertisements for the Scream Machine and had my hesitations. It was a mammoth site painted in gleaming white adorned with red, white, and blue banners.  Somehow my Dad performed a skillful job of talking me into it over the course of the day. As we stood in the queue line, I glanced up at the huge 105 feet tall hill and began to rethink my decision.

"I think I have changed my mind", I told my Dad.

He chuckled, "Too late now", he said pointing to the sea of people in line behind us.

I began to try to muster up all of the courage I could possibly find in my 10 year old being. I loved the Dahlonega Mine Train, so I told myself that maybe after the first hill it would be about the same. But somehow deep down, I knew that even if it was, it would be a heck of a lot faster. After several minutes, we took our seats about halfway back in the roller coaster. The lap bar came down about three inches away from actually touching my thighs. I took hold of it and decided holding on would probably be in my best interest for self preservation. Minutes went by as we set motionless in the roller coaster anticipating what was about to happen. Finally the high school kid at the console with all the cool lights and buttons pressed a button and our car began to roll out of the station and around a curve in the track providing a clear view of the huge hill of wood and track that stood before us like a mountain.

Image Source: http://www.themeparkreview.com

The car began to climb the hill with an all to familiar click-click-click sound. I could feel all of the courage I had mustered up in the queue line quickly draining out of my body, seeping into the soles of my shoes, and out the bottom of the car. As riders in front of me held up their hands to show the absence of fear, I increased by grip on the lap bar sitting several inches above my lap. After what seemed like hours, we reached the top of the huge hill. I looked off to the sides and marveled at how small everything below us seemed. The first couple of rows of riders and cars began to disappear over the peak of the hill and the screaming began. Then after a few moments, we were rocketing down the other side. I felt weightless. I could feel my small 10 year old butt leaving the seat of the car and my thighs rose to make contact with the lap bar. I struggled with what little strength my little bony arms contained to hold on to the lap bar and tried unsuccessfully to leverage myself back down into my seat. Looking straight ahead all I could see were the cars of riders descending the hill in front of us and the bottom of the hill which seemed miles away. In my mind, I could begin to picture myself floating completely out of the car and tumbling down in front of the coaster. I flexed all of my non-existent 10 year old not-going-out-for-football muscles and continued trying to hold myself in the car while clenching the muscles in my abdomen and holding my breath. My Dad sat laughing in the seat next to me unaware of his youngest son's impending death. I began to pray confessing every misdeed I had ever committed or even thought of committing over the last 10 years promising to read my Bible and study every Sunday School lesson every week.

When we finally reached the bottom and began to climb the next hill that paled in comparison to the first, I felt my butt make contact with the seat, and I began breathing again.

"Dad, you better hold onto me", I screamed, "I almost fell out on that last hill."

He smiled and chuckled seemingly unconvinced that I had just had a close encounter with death. The next few hills seemed enjoyable compared to the introduction with the Grim Reaper I had just experienced on the downhill of a 105 feet plunge to almost certain death. I managed to continue to breathe through the remaining hills until the car came sliding into a sudden stop at the station.

I quickly gazed around me and then performed a self inventory - all fingers check, all toes check, two legs, two arms check, no detectable dampness in my underwear and no unusual smells. Yes! I had survived and would live to see another episode of Emergency!

As we walked away from the station, my legs felt wobbly and my head seemed to be spinning. I stopped,turned, and looked at that menacing towering track and was amazed that I had done it. I had rode the Great American Scream Machine and had lived to tell about it.

Years later, I returned to Six Flags as a Junior in High School. When we unloaded the van, I glanced up at that same towering track and thought, "I rode that as a little kid no big deal". I rode it again but this time with my hands up. Six Flags had added a new coaster called the MindBender an all steel roller coaster. While not as tall as the Scream Machine and slightly slower, the MindBender completed two barrel rolls mid-track. And to grab your attention, the designers made sure you could see the inversions sections of track from the parking lot. We rode everything in the park that day, and I had successfully steered clear of the MindBender. But just after dark, two girls in our group asked me if I had ridden it. When I said no, they responded, "We rode it before lunch. Come on, you gotta try this!" What was I going to do, chicken out in front of two high school girls?

When we boarded the cars it was dark, and the operators had tied glow sticks to the front of the first car. As we rolled out and came to speed, I could see maybe 10 feet of track in front of the glow stick so every twist and turn was a surprise. Before I knew it we were inverted twice and sliding back to a stop at the station. As I stepped out of the car and onto the platform I felt slightly dizzy and began laughing.

I would return to Six Flags several times while living in Georgia. I reached a point where I skipped all of the other rides and spent an entire Saturday going from one coaster to another until I had ridden all they had to offer and some more than once. I now go to Disney World on a regular basis and ride any and all coasters they offer.

What got me to a point where I was not scared to ride a new unfamiliar coaster? What was it that got me over the fear of roller coasters? It is simple. I conquered the fear by pushing through it when I was 10 years old and agreeing to get on the Great American Scream Machine against all of my better judgement and a little 10 year old voice screaming inside my head "NOOOOO". Is not that the way we overcome any fear? It's the fear of the unknown. Despite seeing all the commercials and the watching movie at the Chevy Show just hours before getting on it that was filmed from the front of the first car on the Great American Scream Machine, I had no idea what it was going to be like. So, I was scared silly. But once I rode it, once I overcame the initial fear, the second time as a Junior in High School was not so bad, because I knew what to expect. I remembered the sensation of weightlessness and the lap bar actually touched my lap. So having that fear conquered, moving onto the MindBender was not as overwhelming. And after riding the MindBender, I had no fear of riding the Georgia Scorcher, Batman, Acrophobia, the Ninja, the Georgia Cyclone, or Goliath.

When I returned with my daughter around age 10, she quickly decline every coaster in the park. I spent countless Saturdays for two season with season passes with her. Finally, I talked her into it. She agreed to ride the Great American Scream Machine. When we stepped out of the car onto the platform, her words were "I'm glad that's over with!" Did I talk her into it, because I wanted to make her do something she did not want to do? No! I did it, because I wanted her to face fear head on and discover what a fearless and courageous person she could be come by facing her fears. Face your fears and free yourself from them.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Review: Real Artists Don't Starve - Jeff Goins


I have read several of Jeff Goins' books and follow him in social media as he has been an excellent source for strategy and encouragement for writers and bloggers. When I learned he was releasing "Real Artists Don't Starve", I added it to my reading list for a future purchase once released. A couple of weeks ago, Jeff emailed me and asked if I would like a pre-release copy to read and review. Being a budget minded avid reader, I of course took him up on his generous offer. Who would not, it is a free book after all that I wanted to read anyhow.

The book is an excellent read for anyone that writes - short stories, novelist, bloggers, poets, and other artists as well. Especially those who have been keeping you art under wraps and not putting it out for the public to experience and enjoy. Jeff sets to work immediately to dispel the ancient theory that to produce good art one has to starve. Right off the bat he user Michaelangelo as a prime example. He provides research that clearly shows Michaelangelo was not a starving artist despite what you might have been told in school. Through out the book, he provides numerous examples of artists who have not starved for the sake of art, but have worked day jobs while perfecting their art and then shuttered their day jobs once their art became a source of sustenance. 

Even better, Jeff goes on to provide recommendations for artists who have been perfecting their art on how to continue to make the next step. Instead of starving, he encourages the reader to thrive and provides solid recommendations on moving from starving to thriving. He provides a solid contrast between the thoughts, beliefs, and actions of a starving artist versus a thriving artist.

I found the book to be an easy and delightful read and a shot in the arm of encouragement. So the first book did not sell 10,000 copies and you were unable to retire to Key West on the profits? Go write another and another. Find some writers that have enjoyed some publication success and study up on what they are doing, follow them, hang out with them when opportunity arises and learn from them.

If you are a writer, a musician, a painter, or any other artist who has been quietly working at your art, may I make a humble recommendation that might just give you the shot in the arm you need to reach success? Buy this book, read it, contemplate his recommendations, and then in a few months read it again. I honestly believe you will thank me for making the recommendation.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Cardinals and Blackberries

When I was around 4 years old, my family moved from Southern Indiana to South Georgia. My father had been working in Georgia for a few months before the move, and had been sending us reel to reel tape recorded messages describing the land down South. We left behind a neighborhood full of kids that were our friends and headed off into the unknown. My brother and I rode in the back of my Mom's Buick station wagon in the area behind the third seat on a set of large foam cushions that had been made to fit the area. This was a day before car seats and mandatory seat belts. While they drove down the interstate, we had our own private play area with huge windows that provided us ample opportunity to pump our arms at every passing semi in hopes they would sound off their air horns. 

Also left behind in the move were two sets of grandparents. Granny Jackson, my mother's mom, was not particularly keen on the idea of her only grand kids being so many miles away. She had lived hours away from us in Loiusville, Kentucky when we were in Indiana, but she had cajoled by Granddad into carrying her to see us on a regular basis. I fondly remember she made the most of every holiday on the calendar. We would awaken on Christmas morning to find them setting in our family room waiting to watch us open presents. She recorded ghost stories complete with sound effects rattling silverware to sound like chains for Halloween. Even at a young age, we knew we would miss her after the long distance move.

We moved into a rental house that I vividly remember to this day. There was not a blade of grass in the yard, just bare dirt and a huge Oak tree in the front yard. The day we moved in, my Dad checked out the washing machine sitting on the back porch and got stung by wasps. I specifically remember you could see the ground beneath the house through the cracks in our bedroom floorboards. In the Winter, we would go out to the hallway where there was a large furnace grate in the floor. We would stand on it until out socks got smoking hot and then run to our beds and crawl down in the covers.

When our house in Indiana sold, we loaded up the station wagon and began looking at houses. A few months we moved into what would be our family's home for my entire kindergarten through college years. Not long after we had moved into the new house, we received a surprise phone call. My Granny Jackson had been cajoling and pestering my Granddad to bring her to Georgia to see her grandkids. He was driving a truck for Meadow Gold Creamery and repeatedly refused her requests on grounds of his work schedule. She did not drive, so she had grown accustomed to utilizing taxis and the like when she needed. Much to our surprise, she got fed up with the waiting and bought herself a ticket on a Trailways bus and rode from Louisville to rural South Georgia. I am quite sure at the time, it did not occur to me what a major feat that was for her as it does now. 

Within a few months, we were given the news that they were moving to Georgia and they built a house diagonally across the street from us. Granny Jackson was a captivating storyteller. Around campfires or at the side of our beds, she crafted stories that held our attention and unlocked our imagination. She loved music and loved to sing with the phonograph in the big console television that sat in their living room. On grand occasion, she would pull out her guitar, and play and sing Pasty Cline songs for me.

Her house was always filled with the smell of home cooking. She made soup beans and ham in an cast iron dutch oven and cornbread in a cast iron skillet. Coffee was made in a percolator on the stove. During the Spring and Summer, she would lead me out to the backyard, and we would pick wild blackberries. She wash them and bake a blackberry cobbler in a cast iron skillet and serve it up with a scoop of ice cream. To this day, I still think it is perhaps one of the greatest desserts known to man. 

When her diabetes reached a point where she could not longer hold down a chord against the frets of her guitar, she gave it to me. I tried to resist accepting, but she would have no part of it. I had taken piano lessons for years up until that point. I promptly quit piano lesson and took up the guitar. 

When I was in high school, they bought a piece of land just outside of town, and my brother and I helped my Granddad build their new house there. There land backed up to woods and the blackberry picking was even better than at the other house. Once I was old enough to drive, many a weekend, I chose to stay at their house. 

While off at college, I got the news Granny had experienced a stroke and had been rushed to a hospital in Tallahassee. I drove home and accompanied our family to visit her in the hospital. I was paralyzed with fear as I watched her roll a Get Well card someone had sent her like a two year old might. I cried huge crocodile tears, stroked her hand, kissed her cheek, and prayed with every fiber of my being that she would recover. And recover she did. Several weeks later, I called her at home. She had some trouble speaking, but I could tell she was just happy to hear my voice. I soon learned that she was leaving the cane the doctor sent her home with lying beside her chair and moving around the house without "any of that foolishness". But the stroke had severely affected her vision to the point she could only show shadows. I continued to call and check in on her and encourage her. A few days later, I received a package through the college mail - a package of homemade brownies she had baked for me with a note that she was worried that I was not eating well with that college cafeteria food. Stunned that a recovering stroke victim that could only see shadows had baked me brownies, I sat in my dorm room and cried grateful tears for a Grandmother that loved me so selflessly. 

Several weeks later, I walked out of a college class that I was certain I was failing and looked up to see the campus pastor from the United Methodist Wesley Foundation. He invited me to lunch which of course I gladly accepted considering my options at the college cafeteria. Over lunch he broke the news to me that Granny Jackson had suffered another stroke and had passed away. The 4 hour drive home was a blur punctuated by a flat tire in the rain. That was 31 years ago.  I remember it vividly as if it were yesterday.

I have always heard that if you see a cardinal (red bird) and coincidentally the state bird of Indiana, that it is a late relative coming by to check on you. While I do not necessarily buy into the whole concept of reincarnation, it is a pleasant thought. Since we moved into our home here in Florida last Summer, there has been a Cardinal that visits our bird feeder in the front yard just outside our picture window. I smile and say, Granny is checking in on us. While that might not really be the case, I do know I carry her around with me. My love of hearing, reading, writing and storytelling are gifts she gave me. Her guitar hangs in a case in my office. Every time I pickup a guitar and play, I think of her. And whenever I find blackberry cobbler on a menu and I order it, I always catch myself thinking, Granny's was better.