Category Archives: southern

Friday Foto: The Pensacola Beach Sign

Gaudy, yet classic.

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Southern Weekend: Nature’s Perfect Food

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I had to go out amongst the heathen this week, my darlings. Yes, I left the warm and friendly land of Southern Hospitality, the Emerald Coast, to go down to the harsh and unfriendly land of Transplanted Yankees. Orlando.

When I was a kid, Orlando was a nice little place. Lots of orange trees, several cattle ranches, and people who sounded just about like I do when they talked. Then, of course, Walt hit town, and everything changed.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Disney, and everything about Disney. I love the princesses, I love the anthropomorphic animals, and I deeply, deeply adore the sales tax that our favorite Mouse makes possible. When y’all are filling out state income tax forms and paying out the nose for even a public college education in your states, we Floridians raise a vodka and orange juice to Disney World. Both my degrees were made possible by very low state-resident tuition back in the day, which was itself made possible by all of you coming to Florida on vacay and giving us 7 per cent of every dollar.

BUT this does not mean that I like going to Orlando, except on the occasions when I can myself play tourist and hang out with characters at the parks. See, it’s not Florida anymore. At least not as I understand Florida.

I cannot stand getting into a conversation in my home state, where my roots on at least one side of the family tree go back seven generations, and being asked (in an exaggerated Suzanne Sugarbaker drawl), “And where are y’all from, sugar?” I lose my laid back Southern ability to tolerate fools gladly, and I get the horrible urge to snap, “I’m from here, you goddam Yankee. Where the blue hades are you from?”

See, Florida is the upside down state. What’s North is South, and what’s South is North. Up here in God’s country, north and west of the Suwannee, were are part of the Deep South. We move slow, and we talk slower. We say “carry me to school” instead of “drive me.” When we prepare to do something, we’re “fixin’ to.” We say “y’all” and “ain’t” and we bless everyone’s hearts. And we eat grits.

This week, at a conference for local government attorneys from across Florida, the hotel served breakfast. Eggs. Bacon. Orange juice. All well and good. But there was a big casserole dish of some kind of seasoned potatoes next to the eggs. WTF? I don’t mind a hash brown now and then, when the mood strikes. But breakfast requires grits. Grits. The signature food of the South.

Grits are, as most of you know, ground corn, or more technically, ground hominy; hominy being a form of corn processed with alkali. Its just about the same thing as polenta, for which Yankees will pay big bucks in Italian restaurants. Nevertheless, they turn up their noses at it on a breakfast table. And when you ask for it in a big resort hotel in Orlando, the waiter acts like you asked for something A) exotic, B) disgusting, or C) A and B above.

So I didn’t get my grits in Orlando. But right now I am sitting at a good old fashioned Southern coffee shop (think Black, Sweet or With Cream rather than Latte, Mocha or Cappucino). And by my side is a dish of that ambrosia of the breakfast table, Nature’s perfect food, Grits with Butter.

I’ll close with a quote from our neighbors from the not-far north, the State of South Carolina. In a bill to make Grits the official state prepared food, the legislature said:

“An inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food, [grits] should be made popular throughout the world. Given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of [grits] is a man of peace.”

“Where’s The Love?” Blog Hop: Hook, Line, and Sinker

Today I’m participating in the “Where’s The Love” blog hop, sponsored by my friend, the Fearless Leader of my crit group (I love you, SFWG!), Ms. Heather Webb.

Ms. Heather’s fabulous book, Becoming Josephine, will be published by Plume/Penguin in early 2014. And since it tells the story of how a young Josephine captured Napoleon’s heart, the girl knows her love scenes!!!

Y’all hop on over to Heather’s website, join in the Celebration of Love, and have a happy Valentine’s Day!!!

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In my WIP, Hook, Line, and Sinker, Emory is a city girl who unexpectedly ends up at a fish camp near the Florida-Georgia border. Against her will, she finds herself attracted to Gary, a hunting and fishing country boy with the heart of a Southern gentleman. In this scene, Gary has taken Emory out into the woods on his family’s property to see his special place, a magical, ancient oak tree.


As soon as he had spread the blanket out, he turned and lifted me down from my perch on the branch. “I want you. Right here. Right now. Out in the open, nothing hidden.”

Oh. Wow. “Me too. Right here. Right now.”

We sank together to the ground, under the magical fairy oak.

“What do you want, Emory?” He murmured between deep, soul-baring kisses. “Tell me what you want.”

“I want you.”

“Where? How?” His lips burned a trail across my skin. “Tell me what you want.”

“You…. I don’t know.” I tried to catch my breath, but it was a losing battle. “I want you.”

I had done a lot of things in my life, but I had never made love out in the open air, with nothing but the branches of a tree for shelter. It was sweet and intimate and yet brazenly exposed.

Gary rose up over me, his face taut with concentration and — what? Love? Of course not. But as he looked down at me, his eyes somehow fierce and tender at the same time, I realized that I had done exactly what I had intended not to do. I had opened my heart to someone. To this funny, sincere, very real man. And I didn’t know how I was going to deal with that.

Southern Weekend: Who Got the Baby?

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All up and down the Gulf Coast this time of year, you hear the question. “Who got the baby?”
No, it’s not that there have been a spate of divorces with contested custody. Nor that a kidnapping crime wave has resulted in a glut of missing infants. This is, nevertheless, a deadly serious question. You see, it is Mardi Gras season on the Gulf Coast, and the natives are restless, waiting for their King Cake.

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King Cake is a traditional sweet served at Mardi Gras parties. It’s something like a cinnamon roll you Yankees might have for breakfast, but we jazz ours up by sprinkling the top with sugar in the three official colors of Mardi Gras: Purple (for Justice), Green (for Faith) and Gold (for Power). And before we bake this festive treat, we tuck a baby doll, representing the Baby Jesus, in as a surprise for one lucky party-goer. See, when you get the slice that has the baby, you get the privilege of hosting the next party! Whee! See how much fun that is?

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Seriously, since most King Cakes are consumed at office coffee breaks and neighborhood get-togethers, the requirement of being the next host mostly means you have to stop at the bakery and bring a cake the following day.

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Nowadays, of course, given our litigious society, bakers are afraid some stupid person will break a tooth or choke on the baby and sue for several million dollars. So they usually put the baby on top of the cake. Before serving, you have to reach up under and smoosh the baby up into the cake. Then you should rotate it several times so even you don’t know exactly where the baby is. The surprise is part of the fun.

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Here in Pensacola, you can get a pretty good King Cake at Publix or any other chain grocery store. The best however, come from Jay’s Pastry Shop on 12th Avenue in East Hill. But if you really want to go all out and have the very best, you need to order from Gambino’s in New Orleans.

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As to the varieties, my daughters are staunch traditionalists and only eat plain cinnamon King Cakes, but I like the cherry or lemon filled. I’m a daredevil that way.

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Southern Weekend: Moonpies

The Moonpie Song
(sung to the tune of “Our House” by Madness)

Moonpie
In the middle of the street
Moonpie
It still looks fit to eat

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If you are from the South, you are familiar with the Moonpie, a little slice of heaven combining graham crackers and marshmallow fluff into a tasty snack that, with a bottle of RC Cola, provides all the nutrition of — well, of graham crackers, marshmallow fluff, and a soda.

Seriously, when indulging in Moonpies, nutrition is not top of your thought processes. What you are no doubt thinking about as you bite into a Moonpie is the miracle achieved by the Chattanooga Bakers when they combined crunchy graham goodness with marshmallowy sticky softness to create the quintessential Southern treat.

But only those Southerners lucky enough to live along the Central Gulf Coast (aka The Redneck Riviera) know the highest and best use to which a Moonpie may be put: the Moonpie as Mardi Gras Throw. Yes, if you are between say, Destin, Florida and Slidell, Louisiana in February, there is a darn good chance that somebody may just haul off and throw a free Moonpie your way.

See, here in God’s Country, we don’t just have beauty queens and politicians wave at you from parade floats — we expect them to throw us something. Beads, candy, stuffed animals — if you are on a float and aren’t throwing freebies to the crowd, I won’t guarantee your safety.

The best season for parades here is Carnival, which runs from Epiphany on January 6 to Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). Mardi Gras is always the last day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and usually falls sometime in February.

It was Mobile, Alabama (not New Orleans) that first celebrated Mardi Gras in America, and it is now a festive occasion up and down the Central Gulf Coast.
And at some point, one of the Carnival float riders realized that a Moonpie is just the right size and shape for throwing to the kids along a parade route.

The rest, as they say, is history. Mobile even celebrates each New Year with the midnight dropping of a massive, lighted Moonpie!

If you are not from the South, well, bless your heart! You can order Moonpies direct from the original bakery at http://www.moonpie.com. Cassie likes the chocolate ones, but Mac swears by the banana.

Friday Foto: Welcome to the Varsity, What’ll Ya Have?

I love this place almost as much as my heroine, Cassie, does . . . .

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Southern Weekend: Sweet Tea

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I just love Steel Magnolias. So many movies make fun of Southerners or spend all their time dwelling on the very real problems the region had, has, and most likely will continue to have. I submit that the perception of the troubled South is because Southerners are just a lot more open about our problems, by the way.
But Steel Magnolias may be one of the best films ever made about ordinary, middle-class modern-day Southerners. If you were born and reared (not raised – crops are raised; children are reared) in the Deep South, you recognized the characters the actresses portrayed so well. The crazy lady who raises tomatoes, the mother who would give her right arm for her baby girl, the bride who gushes about her “colors” …. Lord, I didn’t just recognize those women; I AM them!
Which is why my friends and I quote Steel Magnolias constantly. The characters in the movie (and the play) say what we would say if we had really good script writers. “It takes some effort to look like this” “my personal tragedy will not interfere with my ability to do good hair,” and, of course, “I’m not as sweet as I used to be” — I use a quote from Steel Magnolias daily.
And today, I’m using my quote quota to bring you a true icon of the South, one of the main things that separates the residents of God’s Country from the rest of y’all benighted souls. As Truvy (Dolly Parton) put it: Sweet Tea: the House Wine of the South.
Now, some of y’all may think y’all know how to make sweet tea. You just buy a jar of Lipton Instant and add water. Or worse yet, you may buy the canned/bottled stuff. Honey, please! I mean, it will do if you are surrounded by the Yankee Army and can’t smuggle in the real thing, but other than that, there is no excuse! Let RomanceMama tell you how to make sweet tea, just like her Momma, Grandma, and Aunt Granny did it.

Ingredients:

8 regular-sized tea bags (true Southerners use Luzianne)
12 cups of water
Simple syrup

Now, DON’T throw the tea bags and water in a pot and set it to boiling. Only Yankees do that. You have to get the water just to the point of boiling, and then remove it from the heat and drop in the tea bags. Cover it and steep at least 10 but no more than 20 minutes. The longer it steeps, the stronger it will be, but if you let it go too long, it gets a bitter edge that will ruin your reputation with the Women’s Missionary Union Refreshment Committee.

That will give you time to make the simple syrup, as follows:

2 cups sugar
3 cups very hot water

Stir the sugar into the water until it is completely dissolved.

When the tea is finished steeping, pour the simple syrup and tea into a gallon pitcher. At this point, you have to taste it and adjust the water and sugar until it is just how you like it.

DON’T just put ice in the pitcher and/or stick it in the fridge now. Even educated Yankees don’t do that! Getting it cold too quick makes sweet tea all cloudy and yucky looking. For nice clear tea, let it get to room temperature. Then you can stick it in the fridge til its cold. Serve it over ice with a slice of lemon. If you want to get really fancy with it, put a sprig of fresh mint in each glass. I prefer to drink my sweet tea in antique crystal, but a mason jar will do in a pinch.

The Next Big Thing: Holding Out for a Hero

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My thanks to my incredible writing group buddy, Marci McGuire Jefferson of the SFWG, and her friend Anna Lee Huber for tagging me in The Next Big Thing blog game! Since I do, in my wild novelist fantasies, hope that my book will be a least “a thing” if not the next big one, I am extremely honored and pleased to be playing.

So, with no further ado, here are my answers to The Next Big Thing Blog Questions:

What is the working title of your next book?

Holding Out for a Hero

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

I started reading historical romance as a middle schooler, and I’ve fantasized about those dashing lords and rakish rogues all my life. When I decided to write a contemporary story, I wondered what it would be like if a romance-fixated modern woman met someone who seemed to be a modern-day Darcy. But as the story progressed, it turned out that the man of her dreams was a real nightmare! My poor heroine has to learn a few hard truths before she finds her happily-ever-after with a real-life hero.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Humorous Southern women’s fiction

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I’ve always thought that Cassie, the heroine, looks a lot like Selena Gomez, although Cassie is a few years older James, the English hero-apparent, is a dead-ringer for Henry Cavill. But Mac, the good-old-boy cop from Cassie’s hometown, wasn’t based on an actor. He is a tall, buff red-head — think Prince Harry on a motorcycle. Since Prince Harry probably isn’t interested in a movie role, I’d settle for Eddie Redmayne, who played Marius in Les Miz.

5) What is the one-sentence description of your book?

“If Bridget Jones was a Southern Baptist”

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Agency (I hope!!!) If you know an agent, send them my way . . . .

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

5 months, maybe? Seriously, I hardly know, because I have written and edited and rewritten and reedited so many times. And I had other projects going on at the same time, so I wasn’t really keeping track.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Mary Kay Andrews’s books about Savannah, the books of the lovely Haywood Smith, and a bit of Fannie Flagg.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Men in cravats and breeches!

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Holding Out for a Hero has hunky men with British Accents, gorgeous good-old-boys in police uniforms, hot romance, violent crime, ethical scandals, and the First Baptist Church Women’s Missionary Union, bless their hearts! How can you not like that?

Again, my deepest thanks to Marci McGuire Jefferson and Anna Lee Huber. Stay tuned next week, for The Next Big Thing from Darlene Henderson and more!

Caturday: It’s DJ Kitty!!!

Ro’mama enjoyed herself last night, my darlings. Went to a pro baseball game with some good friends – fun, laughter, and watching boys in baseball pants! I was in heaven.
Then, to top it all off, Tampa Bay’s fabulous mascot made an appearance! What else is there to say? Here’s DJ Kitty!!!!

Posted using Tinydesk Writer iPhone app

Crap! That’s Pensacola Beach on theTV!

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It is never a good thing to wake up to the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore broadcasting from your home town. So first off, my darlings, pray for us. Not just that our home will make it through another storm when the damage from three weeks ago has not yet been fixed, but that DH and I don’t hurt each other.
See, everyone has different ways of dealing with Hurricane Season. I’m an “OMG, it’s coming. There’s a big red X on top of my house, and it is gonna hit right here” kind of girl. Let a storm form off the coast of Africa, and I am in Publix, laying in my store of bottled water, bleach, and white bread. (Why the white bread? Heck if I know. But ask any native Floridian – come a named storm, and the grocery shelves are bare of white bread.)
DH, on the other hand, is more into the “why panic before you have to?” school of hurricane preparation. When DD#1 was a baby, a named storm (Opal, I think) was moving in on us. DH was home, working on his dissertation for his PhD. All day, I called home to let him know the latest from NOAA — who was evacuating, what the latest forecast said. When emergency services told everyone to leave their offices early and go home to prepare, I was shocked to find no bottled water, no bleach, not more than half a loaf of bread on hand.
I asked why, and DH assured me that he’d been waiting for me to get home so we could assess the sitch. I’d assessed it — we were by God evacuating right then! So, over DH’s protests that it wasn’t really necessary, I packed up the baby and the wedding albums and we set off.
Only to discover that the evacuation routes were bumper to bumper. The cop at the foot of the I-10 entrance ramp said it was an estimated 2-hour wait from there til one actually got on the Interstate. So, we turned around, headed home, and hunkered down.
In the hallway, we built a nest out of mattresses and I slept in there with the baby all night, while the wind whipped and the rain cascaded down. In the wee hours of the morning, in total darkness because the power was out, there was a massive noise — and a pine tree came to visit in my bedroom.
I took pictures of the mattress nest and the wrecked bedroom. I figured one day they would be on the Weather Channel as a warning: “All that was ever found of this family was a camera with these heart-breaking photos…”
The next morning, DH came as close as he gets to apologizing. He’d been so caught up in writing that he hadn’t really paid attention to the storm — or to my frantic phone calls. He’d actually been a bit annoyed that I kept calling when he was trying to work!
I swore that from then on, I would be evacuating with my children, with or without their father. But, about ten years later, when Ivan blew through town, I had forgotten how awful Opal had been, and I let DH’s nonchalance convince me to stay. This time it was the den that got the pine tree addition, and it came about 3 feet from the skull of our niece as she slept on the floor of the den.
Never again. If it is a hurricane, I’m out of here. DH can brave the storm; me and my babies will be in a nice motel somewhere in North Georgia or the Carolinas.
As of Noon, Sunday, June 24, 2012, Debby is only a tropical storm. I am a dyed-in-the-wool Florida cracker, and I don’t run from a little rain and wind. But if this b!tch gets upgraded to a hurricane (even Cat 1), color me gone!