Bivouac of the Dead*

My thoughts turn to my hometown of Nancy, Kentucky, on Memorial Day.

The town is set on a little hill, just west of Haney’s Apple Orchard. On the hill’s northeastern edge is Mill Springs National Cemetery, spreading over more than six acres of ground. There are no stop lights, even now, but there is a gas station, a feed store, and more than one dollar store these days.

The town let go the name “Mill Springs,” and also an older name, “Logan’s Crossroads,” as the Civil War came to a close. A national cemetery was dedicated in 1867, a quarter-mile from the post office. It was named “Mill Springs National Cemetery,” for the battle of Mill Springs, the first Union Army victory of significance. Yet, the town came to be named “Nancy,” and has kept that name despite a plethora of local memorials.

Local legend has it, the post master’s wife, “Nancy,” took over her husband’s duties when he left to serve the Union Army. The postmaster’s job in the area was crucial. Not only sorting mail, or keeping track of people. In a farm community, local gossip of illnesses and fires, church happenings, crop failures and successes, were vital. Though her husband never returned from his time in the Union Army, Nancy maintained the town’s center until her death well into the 20th century.

To the south of the town of Nancy, such at it is, is a park dedicated to General Felix Zollicoffer. He was a confederate general and newspaper editor from Nashville, TN. After being shot by his own men, he had to be snuck out of Nancy (where not only Union sympathies were against him, but resentment of an urban, patrician general was also a factor) and back to Nashville, where a hasty funeral cortege was created outside the city. Between the formal dedications of Union and Confederate cemeteries, lie rolling farms belonging to our cousins and neighbors.

It was across that farmland, in the 1970s, when I was little girl, that battle re-enactments occurred. They were a sight to behold and complete with full cannon brigades, and members of the local Quarter Horse riding clubs shining in full military dress as the horses stepped high across the pickets to avoid early crops of corn or tobacco.

Modern veterans, those uncles and cousins and neighbor farmer’s sons, were there. But it took me growing up to understand the local pageantry around the Civil War, and by contrast, the silence and hush surrounding those who served in WWI, II, and later conflicts. I only knew as a child, that to be kind to my uncles, most of whom were vets, was not to mention their military service. In retrospect, it was my mother, aunts, and the ladies of the church who taught me to stay removed and quiet. Since I was a chattering child and a reader, I see, now, their wisdom. I can compare the words, which in their opinion were of little value, with the action they took.

Behind the lack of pageantry, in a small, practical place, care and action took the place of words. There were no widows without food or places to live, and no orphans allowed to hungry. The women of the community made sure whatever might be needed, and then some, was delivered. After all, a missing limb or wound could keep a harvest from happening, or the every day small chores from keeping a household afloat. They kept close track of who showed up to strip tobacco or take in hay, and praised or cajoled the rest of us to return service for service, accordingly. Though I was too young to understand, I recall the quiet command issued when a soldier came home, and the community acknowledged in whispers, he’s a different person. “Just go and have a word,” mother and the aunts would reply, “or do something to help. Otherwise, shut up.”  

How grateful I am, now, to have been kept quiet. To have gotten to listen, and watch, both graveside and out among the living and the doing. The women and the men who served, whether recognized in a tomb stone or town name, building some ephemeral coming together of belief and empathy.

When there is a storm on the horizon, I think of my little home town. That place which is a crossroads, and where Taps was played this morning by a lone trumpeter from the green peak of the hill, just as it has been for one hundred and fifty-three some odd years. Today, I am a child again, and Aunt Freda, a war bride famous for her chocolate mousse and fried chicken, is saying,

“If you want to do something, hold a hand.”


*Bivouac of the Dead. An elegiac poem by Theodore O’hara. Placed in part at Arlington National Cemetery, Antietam, Mill Springs, and other national cemeteries as of 2001. Frequently unattributed to O’hara, despite the poem’s praise and recognition, as the Louisiana newspaper man and veteran of The Mexican American Wars, also served the Confederate Army.

Waving from the Labyrinth



I read Neil Gaiman’s “A Lunar Labyrinth,” from Trigger Warning, on World Labyrinth Day. World Labyrinth day occurs each year on May the 2nd.

I had no idea.

For me, a very good short story has the power to hang on. Not like a monkey on my back, but as a whispered side conversation I only realize is there when the day begins to drone. If the story is very, very good; it’s a new sieve to parse the world through. “A Lunar Labyrinth” is just that good. (As is the rest of the volume, but let’s save that for another day.)

“It’s probably easier now than it was when the bushes were high. It’s a chance. Otherwise, the labyrinth gets to cure you of all that ails you. “

I had post serendipity. Postipity? Poserentipity? when a Facebook conversation with friends began around The Labyrinth Revival. BTW: there is a World Wide Labyrinth Locator! BTW: there are 2 pages of results for locations with labyrinths to visit within 100 miles of Nashville! BTW: there’s a Labyrinth 5k! BTW, my friends have been holding out on this labyrinthine knowledge of their’s.

One friend suggested my sons, both on the Autism Spectrum with various (ADHD, OCD) and sundry (sensitivity to light, noise, crowds) perspectives, might feel some stress relief walking a labyrinth. I thought this idea had potential.

And meanwhile,  the whispering side conversation added some ingredients…

We talk a lot about super heroes at my house. With a teen and a tween guy, who love their video games and comic books and Brandon Sanderson, it’s a regular topic of conversation. Okay, it may also be that mom adores Dr. Who, SciFi, and the Muppets. We talk about trigger warnings a lot, too. Mostly, how to tell other people which ones we own before they start blaring.

Clips from “Watch Me Move, the animation show.” The Frist Center for the Visual Arts. 2014.


What was the response to my suggestion that we take a few summer trips to visit labyrinths?

“Yeah, mom.”

“Sure. Sure. We can go.”

“…you know we are in them all the time, though, right?”

“Yeah, mom. All the best games and stories ARE labyrinths.”

Ah. Maybe I didn’t need the courage to put on the cape. I needed a reminder I’m already in the labyrinth. Of course,

“(I’ll) have to run.”



The Labyrinth Revival. The Atlantic.

The World Wide Labyrinth Locator. (There are 2 pages of results within 100 miles of Nashville…)

Labyrinth Society Facebook page.

Labyrinth 5k. (Twitter.)

Spiced Tea…and Wildcards

The Spiced Tea Ruling…and Wildcards


My mother, the undisputed Queen of the Kitchen, as anointed by both the Stevenson and Keeney clans, has declared the right and proper version of the Spiced Tea Recipe. We do not argue with her, since everyone from the county mail lady to Ohio tourists begin showing up on her front porch in early November hoping for a cup.

My big sister, Gayle, and I–rebels that we are–have dared to create our own methods. Gayle’s is sweeter than Mom’s, and she’ll tell you it isn’t right to drink it without homemade gingerbread on the side. My take is more about getting it done; less sweet. More fruit pulp because the guys at my house will demolish a crate of oranges for a snack. Don’t even think about getting homemade gingerbread with my version, unless you stopped by the Pepperidge Farm.


We do agree on a few tips: first, buy multiple cans of unsweetened pineapple juice. If you’re expecting company, keep plenty of tea bags at the ready. Once the first batch has been made, we all add tea or more fruit juice to make the 2nd, 3rd, and more rounds as needed. No call for perfection or fussiness.

Second, we’d all love to juice rather than buying the tinned version, but girl, there are other things to do. If  When you get around to it before one of us, please let us know how it comes out.


Third, never, EVER, substitute a certain orange powdered product supposedly adored by astronauts. Reese Witherspoon’s grandmother may swear by it, but here, it does not work. We even have it on good sister-in-law authority, along with a horrifying story of a bridge game gone wild as a result of the failed experiment. Really, you don’t want to know.

Finally, you might as well plan on making multiple batches. The house will smell splendid. If your baking, wrapping, hugging, writing, and loving on people is all taken care of, I would suggest a wee drop of bourbon, rum, or whiskey added to the bottom of a cup. If you don’t have any of that done, and are suddenly thinking of better gift-giving all year long, and calendaring that in for 2015–put up your feet, honey, and make it a shot.

It all comes together. Plus, there’s band fundraising fruit in that background basket.


Mary Beth’s Spiced Tea

2 quarts of water

8 Lipton tea bags (standard size, caffeinated)

14 whole cloves

3 cinnamon sticks

1 lemon

1 orange

1 quart of unsweetened pineapple juice

1 Cup of sugar

Boil 1 quart of water. Remove from heat and add 8 Lipton tea bags.

While the tea is steeping, pour 1 quart of water into a 4-6 quart crock pot. Place the heat on high. Add the cloves, cinnamon sticks, and sugar. Keep on high heat for 15 minutes.

Slice the lemon and orange to 1/4″ thickness. Add to the spiced water in the crock pot.

Pour in the can of unsweetened pineapple juice. Then, add the quart of steeped tea. Cover. Turn the heat to low. Allow to heat through for 45 minutes. Remove the cloves and cinnamon sticks with a slotted spoon.


Gayle’s Sweet, Sweet Spiced Tea

2 quarts of water

6 tea bags (standard size, caffeinated) or 2 family sized tea bags

10 whole cloves

3 cinnamon sticks

1 Tb Ground cinnamon

2 oranges

1 cup of orange juice

1 quart of unsweetened pineapple juice

1 Cup of sugar

Boil 1 quart of water. Remove from heat and add tea bags.

While the tea is steeping, pour 1 quart of water into a 4-6 quart crock pot. Place the heat on high. Add the cloves, cinnamon sticks, ground cinnamon and cup of sugar. Keep on high heat for 15 minutes.

At the end of heating time, add steeped tea. Then, orange juice and pineapple juice. Slice oranges. Remove cloves and cinnamon sticks. Garnish with orange slices, cover, and turn heat to low for 30 minutes. Remove orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and cloves before serving.


Lora’s Calm and Fruity Spiced Tea

1 quarts water

10 Twinnings Irish Breakfast tea bags (naturally decaf)

14 whole cloves

3 cinnamon sticks

4 oranges

1 tsp lemon juice

1 quart of unsweetened pineapple juice

1/2 cup of sugar

Boil 1 quart of water. Remove from heat and add tea bags. Allow to stand.

While the tea is steeping, pour pineapple juice, lemon juice, and cloves, cinnamon sticks, and sugar into 4-6 quart crock pot. Place the heat on high.

Slice the oranges the best you can. Toss them in the crock pot.

Pour in the steeped tea. Add 1 quart of water. Cover. Allow to heat 30 minutes. Remove cinnamon sticks and cloves.


No matter which version you choose, or how many variations you try, I hope you’ll be surrounded by people and love for the sharing.

Happy holidays,




Action Items for Fabulous Nashville Women and Men

Fabulous women don’t need me, or anyone else, to dictate to them what to think about the Midterm Election;

you were building households, families, neighborhoods, communities, businesses, non-profits, and …well, worlds, my friends– worlds! before last Tuesday…

and I heard a lot of great ideas last week. Got to listen in to some amazing conversations. And WOW–does Nashville ever have some  fabulous men, too–

but with respect, honey, before we pick the remote back up, change the channel, and return to our To Do Lists and necessities

here are some action items that you, my friend, can choose from (and add to in the comments, please and thank you), for your ownself:

1. Work on voter registration

2. Learn more about the needs of women in rural areas, and how to respectfully support them.

3. Give to Planned Parenthood. Their next fundraiser event is December 1st, and located on our new SALON community calendar, here, as well.

4. Tell stories; from how you got your education and experience to what it feels like to walk down your street to how you take care of your health and well-being

5. Find out who your elected officials are, and write them a letter. Here’s a nice PDF sample version, if you aren’t a writer. It’s from the good librarians at The American Library Association (where a lot of great, free, things happen for young people in disadvantaged urban and rural areas every day).

6. Repeal Amendment 1 Petition. Will it be effective? I do not know. Does it make me feel better that over 12k people have signed it–you betcha!

7. Teach our daughters they own their own bodies.

8. Sign up for AWAKE’s email list, and support their work on behalf of all TN women and children. Did you know how common violence against women is in TN?!?

9. Teach our children to call it what it is. Yes, I wish this was not necessary, but sexual abuse happens to 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys in the U.S. each year.

10. Give time to young women in TN, in Nashville, in your community, and/or in your neighborhood. It doesn’t have to be formal. Listening means a lot. 

11. Pay attention to the TN judiciary. There are 3 branches of government, and politics is certainly a shell game with an ever-moving pea.

12. Offer to help in voter drives on campuses

13. Advocate for plain language in governance

14. Draw cartoons about TN’s dichotomies. Or look at Clay Bennett’s. Or make photographs, paintings, poems…

15. Find out more about TN women political candidates.

16. Choose a local candidate to support, now. I’ve chosen Nancy VanReece, who is asking for pledges of volunteer time and not just cash, and a better future for District 8 and Nashville.

17. Do your due diligence on all candidates: Project Vote Smart is one resource.

18. Be a savvy consumer. (Open Secrets searchable records for public corporate campaign finance.)

19. Be a savvy giver. (Giving Matters Tips on non-profit due diligence.)

20. Learn more about mandated reporting of child abuse and neglect. Review the guide on state statutes to help advocate for our young people.

We aren’t alone, my fabulous friends, and we are not powerless.






Mediation on a Pumpkin


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Thanks to @NancyVanReece for sharing the images, above, from her time with the Amqui Station Farmer’s Market.

Today is Closing Day at the market, and our Nashville friends have a final opportunity to stock up on the heirloom pumpkins and other goodies between noon and 3pm.

The Coleman Brothers, pictured above, have been growing heirloom pumpkins for three generations. According to the University of Illinois, over 90% of the pumpkins grown in the U.S. are raised within 90 miles of Peoria, IL. So, we’re particularly fortunate to have growers in the SouthEast, and expert cultivators, no less. Lucky us.

Rabbit Holes. Tangents. And Other Trips Off the Beaten Path.