Tag: writing (Page 1 of 5)

Refrigerator Shrine

Short and squatty with a handle that pulled out to open the door, Grandmother’s Frigidaire is home to an important piece of my family history, a story of a first and a last . . .

The first and only time Grandmother Hewell told me “No” was the day I – the apple orchard of her eye – reached to the back of the squatty, boxy, white-on-the-outside-turquoise-on-the-inside refrigerator intending to help myself to the Zero candy bar in the back left corner of the second shelf. Her loud, abrupt “NO” startled me. She offered no explanation, just “You leave that alone,” as she pushed me to the side and closed the refrigerator door.

I was stunned. Grandmother had never denied me anything – not a single thing. My wish was her command, and I didn’t have to clean some funny-shaped lantern to get her attention. But that fateful day, all I got was a resolute, unwavering NO.

a boy holding a baby in front of an old car parked beside an unpainted house

Crawford Jr. plays with 6 month old Baby Gene

William Eugene Hewell – was he my uncle or is he my uncle? I never know whether to use past or present tense when talking about people who are so alive inside me but aren’t readily available to hug or sit beside or laugh with.

Laugh with.

Everybody I ask to tell me about my Uncle Gene says the same three things:
~ I can’t think of him without seeing him sitting up on that tractor seat.
~ I remember him popping wheelies in the front of the school before the bell rang.
~ He was funny. Lord a-mercy how that man did make us laugh. I never knew anybody as funny as your Uncle Gene.

William Eugene Hewell was born on March 31, 1933, a mere five weeks before five armed bandits held the family hostage while waiting on the bank’s vault to open so they could relieve it of its money bags. Uncle Gene was the last of five children born to Grandmother and Granddaddy. Before him, there was Juanita who lived 4 days. Edgar and Earl were twins, one living for an hour, the other stillborn. Then there was Crawford Junior, my daddy. He was five when Uncle Gene was born.

a young boy sits behind the wheel of a tractor

12 year old uncle Gene behind the wheel of the tractor

Zero candy bars were Uncle Gene’s favorite. The morning of December 19, 1951, he pulled the handle to open the refrigerator door, placing his beloved Zero candy bar in the back left corner so it would be nice and cold when he came in later that afternoon. He kissed his mother on the cheek, said something to make her laugh and shake her head, then went out the back door. He hopped up on the tractor and headed off to spend the day pulling stumps up on the property. Though I can’t imagine how he reached the pedals, family lore – those sacred stories that remain forever impervious to logic – holds that Uncle Gene learned to drive a tractor when he was 8 years old. Two years later,  Granddaddy began renting out the tractor, sending Uncle Gene along to operate it. Details aside, it stands true that Uncle Gene knew his way around tractors.

But this day, something went terribly, horribly, unspeakably wrong.

He put the chain too high up on the stump, some tell me. Others say he put the chain too low. Either way, the result remains the same. As Uncle Gene began to move the tractor forward, it reared up and flipped over on him, crushing him instantly. I am told that my wiry, small-framed granddaddy found my rotund uncle, lifted the tractor off him, and carried Uncle Gene back to the house where he laid him on the bed he shared with my grandmother.

Granddaddy Hewell drove a silver stake in the ground to mark the spot. Grandmother kept that Zero candy bar as her private refrigerator memorial to the son she loved to immensely. Years later, Crawford created his memorial to his brother Gene by naming his firstborn child after him. He spelled her name Jeanne.

newspaper article about the death of Eugene Hewell


P.S. Uncle Gene died on December 19, 1951. Twelve years later to the day, Granddaddy Hewell died. He died in his sleep, and because the attending doctor couldn’t be sure whether he died before or after midnight, he chose to let Granddaddy’s death stand forever as the same day his younger son was killed.

P.S. 2 I am currently writing a book about what happened to my family on May 5-6, 1933 and having a big time as my daddy would say, learning more about myself as I look back at those who preceded me.

Walking Diary


The Engineer: Do you see the Rainbow Trout?

The Artist: Not yet, but would you just look at that heart and
that exclamation point sunning themselves right beside each other!

Then whoosh – in that snap of a moment,
I have my way into the piece I’m writing.
And I have my segue.

I declare: walking is as necessary to writing
as inhaling is to breathing.

Goodbye Mockingbird


By now y’all know that Harper Lee, who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, died in her sleep earlier today.

Back in my short-haired days, I took an impromptu visit to Monroeville, Alabama. Y’all just click right here if you want to revisit that trip with me. (It’s worth the zero cost of admission if I do say so myself.)

Then, about two years later, I dragged treated The Engineer and my nephew to a trip to Monroeville. This way to join us on that trip. You’re not gonna’ believe what happened.

RIP, Harper Lee.  And hey, tell Boo Radley I said Hey, will ya’? We need more kind-hearted characters like him, and we need more Scouts to teach us how to appreciate them. Thank you for introducing us.

Starting Is Such Sweet Fodder


Starting is, quite often, the hardest part for me, and since beginning my daily walking practice, that’s how I start: I walk. I move my body through space. I see parts of this beautiful rock we call Earth up close and personal. It gives me fresh perspectives and newfound confidence. It opens me up and leaves me eager (or at least ready) to start any creative project of writing or stitching, and today I have much writing to do.


Today we walk this bridge in Daytona Beach, Florida
something I would have found daunting before last year, something I suggest today.


There are birds


and clouds


and even a deliciously ancient tree
right at the end of the bridge . . .
or beginning of the bridge, depending.


They say that if you’re a hammer, everything’s a nail.
Maybe that’s why I see quilted water


and shadows of quilt lines.


There is, as you might expect, a most remarkable view from the top of the bridge.


There are even quilts of tile
portraying the rich variety of animal life around these parts.


and bald eagles.
Have you seen this?
My daughter, Alison, turned me onto it.
Caution – it’s addicting.



and my personal favorite: manatees.
I’m going to swim with them this year, you know,
just as soon as I feel comfortable
trotting this swimsuit-clad body out in public.
Manatees are called the gentle giants, and they remind me of Nancy
slow moving, quiet, gentle, always smiling.

Speaking of Nancy, we’re here to move her this week. Stay tuned.

Keepsake Writing Tribes Forming, and You’re Cordially Invited


Okay. so the tree is down, the thank you notes written, and the wrapping paper is neatly folded for use next year. Time to dust your hands off, push up your sleeves, and get to work creating this year’s Christmas presents.

Yes, really.

If you’ve ever promised yourself that One Day you are going to write and preserve your personal and family stories, keep reading because 2/15/14 is One Day. (I’m gonna’ tell you this most important note right up front, though: it is not a quick-and-easy project to add to your already filled-to-the-brim life, so only serious contenders need apply.)

Where most of my friends wore necklaces, I wore a Brownie camera. If you don’t count all those 5-year diaries, I wrote my first personal history in 2000 when I conducted interviews, did the research, and wrote a book about my father-in-law on the occasion of his 80th birthday. That was in late July. When I woke up after sleeping for a week, a little voice whispered “Write a book about your daddy, and do it NOW.”

“You must be crazy,” I countered. It’s August, and there’s no way I can do all the work to have a book wrapped and under the tree by December.”

“Ahem,” the voice said through clenched teeth, “Write a book about your daddy, and do it NOW.”

I learned long time ago that I lose every time I argue with The Voice, so I got out of bed, brushed my teeth, and got to work. The leather-bound books arrived on Saturday, 12/2/2000 while Daddy was in the hospital, suffering from complications from a fall he took a week before. I gathered the family around his bed, and we started reading the book to Daddy  at 20 minutes till 1, finishing at 15 till 5. Daddy died at 5 minutes till 5.

After that, I penned 16 more personal histories for various family members and clients, and taught the occasional workshop for the more DIY-inclined. I know what I’m doing – I know how hard it is to add this job to an already full life. I know how deflating it can be to sit with a blank sheet of paper or a blank computer screen. I know how lonely it can be to write. I also know how exhilarating it is to hold a book of your stories in your hand, and how rewarding it is to have other people smile and thank you with tears in their eyes when they unwrap their very own copy. That’s why I’ll offer whatever support you need/want. I can be:

  • the Trellis that provides the structure for you as you grow and bloom
  • the Drill Instructor who demands more of you than you may have ever thought possible
  • the Fairy Godmother who whispers morsels of encouragement just when you need it.

I can’t do it for you, but I can make it fun and do everything I can think of to help you create this lasting legacy.

The first month, you’ll write stories from your personal history. I have a plethora of kindling should you need it.

The second month, you’ll write stories from your family history, and again: I have kindling. If you want to interview family members, I have questions and information about how to conduct a good, solid interview (complete with a checklist of what equipment and materials you’ll need).

The third month, you’ll write stories about things – family heirlooms (clothing, furniture, household items); personal memorabilia (clothing, shoes, jewelry, tools, cars); photos; documents (letters and such). You’ll be creating an inventory that can be used in a variety of ways as well as a treasure trove of information that might otherwise be lost forever.

It’s a low tech workshop that’ll go like this: every day for the 3 months, I’ll post multiple morsels of inspiration, information, ideas, and encouragement in a private, just-for-us Facebook group, and for those who aren’t on FB and don’t want to be, I’ll post the same thing on a just-for-us page on my blog that requires a secret handshake that you’ll receive upon registration. There’ll be handouts, gold stars, silver stars, badges, videos, audio clips, and more. I’ll provide information and direction for what to do once you’ve ready to move from the gathering phase to the harvesting and preserving phase (that means turning them into a book, though you should hear some of the other things you can do, too.) Shoot, we might even have refreshments sometimes. I’ll respond to comments and questions on both Facebook and the blog, and you’re welcome to read and comment on either or both. I’ll be posting inspirational quotes, writing tips, organizational techniques, book recommendations, and more. Much, much more. Though our focus is gathering, I’ll be sharing nuggets about all sorts of things that will help you when you’re ready to string the stories together to make a book.

I’ve dubbed our group the Keepsake Writing Tribe: Path Whackers, and for those who want more, I’ve crafted a Keepsake Writing Tribe called Torch Toters. Torch Toters will enjoy all the benefits of the Path Whackers Tribe plus send me up to 3000 words every other week (for a total of 6 pieces). I’ll read and respond with general reader feedback along with suggestions for light editing and polish. Torch Toters will, of course, enjoy everything the Path Whackers receive, too. There are only a limited number of spaces available in the Torch Toters Tribe, so don’t wait too long to sign up.

Imagine holding a book of stories about your mother and her sewing machine, for example. Or stories about your dad and his first car. Or about that old rickety chair that has always been in the corner of the kitchen. Don’t let these stories and this information be lost forever. Sign up today and let me help you create something of lasting value, something that will be treasured for generations and generations and even more generations to come.


Keepsake Writers: Path Whackers Tribe

Class full. Join us next time?

That’s only a few cents/day, and remember: you can compile the stories and make as many books as you need which means you’ll be creating an affordable, invaluable present. (Book production not included in this price, but there will be information about how and where to do that along with a whole lot more information you’ll need to make book.)

Keepsake Writers: Torch Toters Tribe

This class is full, too. Maybe you’ll join us next time?

That’s less than a cup of coffee a day – still quite affordable pricing for an invaluable gift.


Refunds: Tribe sizes are kept small to allow ample interaction between participants and me (even though I won’t be reading and editing for Path Whackers, I still offer a lot of personal back and forth), so once you’ve paid for a spot in either Tribe, I am counting on your participation and can offer refunds only if something comes up and I have to cancel the class. Which could happen, but I sure hope it won’t cause I am passionate about this. I really am.


41 years ago today, Jeanne Hewell-Chambers met the man who is now her husband. He was a bar tender, Jeanne was a customer. I guess you could say she picked him up in a bar.

Remember Rhonda Patzia?

Some of you may remember the words penned by my friend Rhonda about her life with multiple sclerosis and life in hospice that I shared on my blog a few years ago. I met Rhonda in graduate school where she routinely shed her crutches and the clutches of multiple sclerosis when she picked up her camera. It was a sight to behold watching her climb picnic tables to get better shots.

For her thesis, this former professional photographer named Rhonda asked women to allow her to take nude portraits of them. Though I cheered her on and even recruited for her, I admit to feeling a wee little bit left out that she didn’t ask me . . . but then, on the last night of her last residency, she flopped down in one of those hideous metal folding chairs and asked, “So, are you going to pose for me?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” I told her.

We met the next morning in the meditation house, one of the two locations she chose for my portrait, and she casually mentioned that she was also going to take some shots of me sitting on some moss in the woods because she had more than 36 exposures to spend and I was her last model. As I stripped completely naked in front of those beautiful walls with their layers and layers of peeling paint, I chattered with nervous excitement. When i neatly folded the last article of clothing, Rhonda looked at me and said, “I was only going to photograph you from the waist up.”

The portraits became a part of her thesis and went on to become a traveling exhibit that moved the country around with and without her accompanying workshop. Rumor has it that they are being compiled into a book. I’ll keep you posted.

Rhonda also asked me to read the Vagina Monologue she wrote as part of her thesis, and I tell you what: I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun or been so honored. That woman is just full of surprises.

Rhonda’s courage, her determination to live even while dying, her deep dedication to writing the unblinking, undiluted truth about her life with multiple sclerosis and her life in hospice has been a constant source of inspiration. I love her.

I’ve just received notice that Rhonda is in the final days of her earthly life, and I thought maybe you’d like to take a few minutes to send her on her way by reading her story then leaving her a note in her journal over at Caring Bridge. Her family is reading all notes left in her journal to her as she transitions. Whether your read her writings or not, thank you for giving her a fine send-off with your thoughts and wishes, and thank you Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg for letting us know.

in the middle of a muddle


how does this blog fit into my life? do i even dare ask: how does this blog fit neatly into my life? no, that seems a completely different question that speaks to writing in the midst of interruptions and such, so i’ll choose the question i led with: how does this blog fit into my life?

that’s a question i’ve been asking myself of late. i don’t want to give up the blog, you see, cause i look forward to being here and i miss being here when i’m not . . . and yet it’s like fiddling with a Rubik’s cube to figure this out. is this little acre in the ethers a journal, a therapist’s couch, a postcard, lunch with friends? it’s a question that pops up every year or so for me, and i think it’s a conversation worth having, though i’d almost rather get a root canal without anesthesia. i count myself lucky that it’s a conversation i can have with my friend angela, and following angela’s good lead, i’m analyzing the blogs i enjoy regularly in terms of what i like about them and why i keep reading (even if i don’t always leave a comment. which is another conversation i’m having with myself.). she has a really good system – you should ask her about it sometime.

on any given day, my life looks like a woman trying to sip water from a fully-loaded firehose. i hugely – enormously – admire women who can pluck jewel or three from their day and write about it clearly and succinctly and interestingly. me? i just see the steady stream of water, not the individual drops. i’ve tried pretending i’m writing letters to friends. i’ve tried pretending that my kids are interested enough to drop in and see what mom’s up to. i’ve tried pretending i’m throwing parties here. and still i question: how much to reveal? what to write about? how often to post?

and to further complicate things, the more i stay away, the deeper the hole gets, the harder it is for me to isolate a single thing to write about because as we’ve already established, i’m not good at plucking, and honestly, maybe i’m not smart enough or aware enough or whatever enough, but the thing is: i just don’t have an epiphany a day. it’s with a bit of a red face that i tell you i can go years before the lightbulb goes off.

it might be easier had i information to impart, but i don’t. i really don’t. and to tell you the truth, i’m kinda’ tired of hearing and seeing all these offers from folks who will tell me how to make every inch, every aspect of my life better ’cause i know it’s ultimately up to me. and right now, that’s precisely what i’m doing: seeking ways to live the life with my name on it, to live it with gusto, sass, abandon, and sparkle ratcheted up so much i need sunglasses to brush my hair.

so, sigh.



Enter (I hope) the long sentence: the collection of clauses that is so many-chambered and lavish and abundant in tones and suggestions, that has so much room for near-contradiction and ambiguity and those places in memory or imagination that can’t be simplified, or put into easy words, that it allows the reader to keep many things in her head and heart at the same time, and to descend, as by a spiral staircase, deeper into herself and those things that won’t be squeezed into an either/or. With each clause, we’re taken further and further from trite conclusions — or that at least is the hope — and away from reductionism, as if the writer were a dentist, saying “Open wider” so that he can probe the tender, neglected spaces in the reader (though in this case it’s not the mouth that he’s attending to but the mind). ~ Pico Iyer

the amazing thing about committing to (at least) a year’s worth of altars – committing to stay – is that i see altars everywhere, even in long sentences.


Was there a spot in your day when you paused and paid attention to a tender, often-neglected place in your life physical or otherwise)? What led you there? Who or what held the space for you?

That’s what altars do for me: They slow me down, open the way to a deeper, more meaningful engagement with life.

How ’bout you?

More about 365 Altars



from my journal, dated 12/25/11 (but still true):

maybe it’s because i have a tendency to live, think, walk and breathe in metaphors.

maybe it’s because i’m still too invested in pleasing others.

maybe it’s because i don’t have enough degrees.

maybe it’s because i don’t travel enough, don’t cook enough, don’t . . . don’t . . . don’t. . .

maybe it’s because i have far more questions than answers.

maybe it’s because i’m unwilling or distrustful or too egocentric to just take what you tell me as the gospel truth.

i don’t know why,
i only know that
i have a restless soul
that wants to be
listened to deeply
loved wholeheartedly
seen lightly
touched tenderly.
my spirit
begs space to ask
the questions
and patience
to find the answers
that the answers
might be
more questions
or a painting
or dance
or cloth
or sky
or grass
or weeds
or fire
or rain.

my soul
has an itch
that no amount
of over the counter
or prescription
can soothe.
and the worst part?
the itch moves
and shifts
and enjoys
hide and seek.

More about 365 Altars

just call me elf


whether you’re a card-carrying member of the fabled 1% or not, you don’t have to spend a lot of money for presents this holiday season. you know that, right? we can’t keep spending money we don’t have. what you may not know or may not have thought about: when you give from your deepest creative self, you not only save money, you gift your self and the lucky recipient. it’s just one of those magical inexplicables – like writing every day doesn’t deplete your word pantry, in fact, just the opposite: the more you write, the more you have to write.

allow me to introduce the personal shopper member of the committee that is me. she loves to conjure fun, one-of-a-kind, inexpensive gifts . . .


  • write love letters. give the recipient a tour of the real estate they own in your heart. don’t hold back – this is the gift that will keep on giving. every time they read it – and they’ll read it often cause they’ll keep it forever – will be a gift.
  • my grandmother canned food in green glass ball jars. she sweated in a hot kitchen all summer so we could eat well all winter. find an old jar and fill it with pieces of paper containing words that come to mind when you think of this person. trust me: they’ll feast year-round.
  • get a t-shirt, pajamas, scarf or any other wearable and grab some fabric markers then decorate the clothing with story kindling and punch lines of favorite memories.
  • know their shoe size? buy them a pair of plain white sneakers and decorate them with colorful words and phrases of love to lighten their step.
  • fill a blank journal with favorite quotes – yours and theirs.
  • do you owe someone an apology? write it out, attach it to a blackboard eraser, and deliver it.
  • cut a snowflake from folded paper and turn it into a gift by writing “like a snowflake, you’re one of a kind” or something similar that would melt a real frosty.
  • cut out words from magazines and instead of creating a ransom letter, create a you-are-special letter.
  • create a calendar of compliments by noting compliments in a calendar.
  • get your camera out and find things containing letters of the alphabet needed to spell out words that describe the recipient. (for example, the end of a swingset resembles a capital A – that kind of thing.) (have fun with this – remember: you can rotate and crop.)

  • use your computer or camera to record your favorite stories about the recipient. ask others to participate by sharing their favorite story, then compile them into one album of love.
  • scan photos of the recipient and drop the digitized version into a document containing the story about the photo. OR keep the digitized copy for yourself and glue the original into an empty journal, penning the photo particulars (who, left to right; where; what they were/are doing; and any other details you can remember) to create a special album of memories.
  • do a little research on your computer and create a year-in-review book of things that are of interest to the giftee.
  • for loved ones, commit family legends to paper (digital or otherwise). add photos and maybe even genealogical information to create a family tree album.
  • fill a jar with questions written on slip of paper – things like “tell me about your childhood pets” and “tell me about your first job” and “what stories do you remember about your parents” and “of all the things you’ve done, what are you most proud of” and “tell me about your hobbies.” around the lid to the jar, tie ribbons on which is written several dates throughout the year when you’ll get together and listen to their answers to the questions you’ll draw from the jar. (oh, and you’ll probably want to take a tape recorder on those listening dates, too.)

  • have something you plan to leave them in your will? go ahead and give it to them. they’ll get to enjoy it longer, and you won’t have to dust it. oh, and be sure to include the provenance, telling where you obtained the item, how and when you used it, maybe even how much you paid for it – things that will tell the story about the item.
  • personally, i hate to cook, but i have it on good authority that not every is like that, so gather recipes and create a cookbook. have a section of perennial favorites and a section of new recipes for those who love adventure in the kitchen.
  • keep ’em warm and stylish: embellish an inexpensive scarf or wrap with words of love and mirth using needle and thread.
  • give them a bib, a fork and a calendar with particular dates circled and tell ’em not to make plans on those nights cause those are date nights when you’re cooking for them.
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