Pause and Effect


Every now and then, she gives herself the small pleasure of the freedom to breath. This decision toward independence is the zipper separating her responsibilities from her desires; the two halves fall away.

Only then is she able to see clearly the obstacles in her life. They don’t always approach head on, and she must look to the right and the left to see what blocks her journey.

When she clears her horizons of the minutiae of daily routine, her existence reorganizes into a system of priorities. The hazards of life recede, her vision focuses.

The path of her life is steady, extending toward a ribbon of hope. She can grasp it for herself now as there is plenty for her future. In doing so, she combats the crumbling edges of false perceptions and keeps the rolling tide of disappointment at bay.

Inspection of herself and her life grounds her. Dreams take flight and possibilities are realized. Reordered, she continues in the role of woman, wife, mother.


Thank you to HBSmithPhotography for the amazing photograph.

Egg On My Face

What could be more delicious or simple than a fried egg? There is so much about the egg that I could say (the history of eggs, uses in different cultures, health benefits, recipes, etc.) but won’t. There are tons of websites devoted to the creation of the perfect fried egg including debates on cast iron versus non-stick skillets. There are sites encouraging the incorporation of the fried egg into everything from bowls of rice and/or veggies to plopping it down on top of ciabatta bread and tomatoes then sprinkling with feta cheese and arugula, thus elevating the humble fried egg to a snazzy dinner item. And don’t get me started on the various methods of frying with absurd names like “animal style” and “press down.” One ill-informed person even suggested that the perfect fried egg wouldn’t have crispy brown edges. Seriously? That’s the best part.

I guess I’m old school and harken back to the days when the toughest decision one had to make about fried eggs was whether or not you wanted the yolk hard or soft. This simplicity of thought is where my mind drifted as I wrote the scene in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, when midwife Collie Mercer makes a celebratory breakfast for the Welles family in honor of the new baby she has just delivered.

The Welleses lived on a farm, so naturally eggs were part of their diet in some fashion on a daily basis. I imagine nothing fancier than scrambled or fried eggs ever appeared on the Welles children’s plates, not even an omelet. But I also know that the eggs were prepared with love. And while a wide variety of foods may not have been an option, no boxes of colorful cereal or flaky croissants, the children were no doubt raised with an appreciation for an abundance of good food prepared simply.

There isn’t an exact recipe involved with this post. In many ways, the preparation of a great fried egg is a combination of common knowledge and simple logic with a dash of familial preference for good measure.

The Perfect Fried Egg

Fresh eggs – we obtain ours from a neighbor down the street


Salt & pepper

Cast Iron Skillet – our preference at the Gibson household

Pre-heat a cast iron skillet on the stove. Melt about ½ T of butter in the pan per egg until it bubbles. Don’t brown or burn the butter. Crack your eggs directly into the skillet, spacing evenly around the circumference depending on the quantity of eggs and size of the skillet.

Break the yolks at this point if you want them hard. Allow the underside to set up before flipping them to continue cooking on the other side. They are done when the yolk it set and the edges reach desired crispness.

Or, when the underside of the white turns opaque, you can pour a little water in the pan and cover to steam your eggs to doneness. This is usually done for a soft yolk. No flipping required.

Season the cooked eggs with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot and enjoy!

Regal and Waiting

“Hey there, big kitty, how you doing…c’mon, sleepyhead, wakeup….Cinnamon?”

The boxy head pops up; icy green eyes scan the human face on the other side of the bars. Recognition never comes, and all enthusiasm fades as the cat’s eyes glaze over with disappointment and disinterest.

The woman standing there checks the card on the stacked metal cages that hold cats from the local rescue. Surprise flashes across her face when she reads that the large cat with a most inelegant head is indeed a female. Cats are usually defined by a slightly feminine grace, even the males. The girth of this particular feline is impressive.

She is appropriately named. Her fur is deeper than butterscotch or peanut butter, and while she would fall into the category of orange tabby, her coat is a dark, two shade variation of rusted pine needles. Her profile card says that she is nine and her former owners surrendered her because they didn’t want her anymore. Surrendered; the softened, politically correct term for abandoned, guaranteed not to inflict guilt upon an owner. No one forced them to give up the animal.

The profile cards admit when owners move, develop allergies, have a child of whom the animal is jealous, or returned to the rescue because he or she didn’t get along with earlier acquired pets. Cinnamon’s tag clearly indicates that she is no longer wanted.

Other people stop by the cages, read the cards, and cautiously poke their fingers through the bars to scratch behind an ear or under a chin. Cinnamon returns to her nap just beyond the reach of the grasping fingers; she is oblivious to the kind words and prying eyes.

She has seen this all before on the faces of these humans who stop by to look at her and her fellow rescues. Their eyes search first for the kittens or at least the young cats a year old or less. Then they read the cards on the cages, making mournful noises in their throats over the rescued strays. They compare each cat to one they’ve known at some time or other (This one looks like Lucky, only bigger or Doesn’t that one resemble Jane’s cat, Dartmouth). They cheer victoriously when a cat allows itself to be petted; more so should the slinky creature meow as if for their pleasure. They chuckle at funny names bestowed upon the cats (Witherspoon, Merlin, or Chairman Meow).

Cinnamon doesn’t care about any of this, but then neither does Ziggy in the bottom, left-hand cage. They continue napping, lending to the aloof reputation that cats enjoy and proving sullen, dog-loving boyfriends correct when they claim cats aren’t as nice or cuddly as dogs. Cinnamon does not need or want to go home with the young women dating these idiots. In fact, she doesn’t need anyone, or at least that’s what she wants you to believe.

Sometimes, during the hours she spends at the pet store in the small room with a glass partition, she wonders in cat fashion how long she’ll be here. And where are her owners? Why never crosses her mind because it isn’t her fault. She does wish the store employees wouldn’t prop open the door to the room. The store can be quite noisy, especially on the weekends.

A Dash of CinnamonOn the days that Cinnamon graces the public with her wakeful presence, her peridot eyes, and her expressionless visage, she likes to sit upright in her cage with tail wrapped around her front toes. From this position, she regally dispenses judgment like Bast. Go ahead and assess me if you dare. Her countenance would lead one to believe that she could read thoughts.

If she could, she would find humor in those running through the head of a man who really wants another cat but doubts the two he has at home would get along with her. His boys, both under two years of age, can be quite rambunctious at times. They would probably torment Cinnamon relentlessly as she attempted to nap. He imagines a scene in which Cinnamon rises like a disturbed lioness that tears into his precious fur babies with tooth and claw. Yes, perhaps, he’ll leave this one for someone else.

Then there is the young couple with two toddlers in tow. The mother, pregnant to the point of bursting, repeatedly corrects the children rattling the lock dangling from Cinnamon’s cage. The temptation is too much, and the mother must remove her offspring who tries to climb the front of the cages. She calls to the father who lingers a moment in the glass room, considering Cinnamon for adoption until a vision of a black lab playing with his grade school-aged children passes through his thoughts.

A little girl, who has been promised a cat for her birthday, complains to her anxious parents that she couldn’t rename the dumb, old cat because she probably wouldn’t learn her new name. She balls her fists on her hips and shouts Muffin. Cinnamon ignores her. When the child says Cinnamon, the cat’s head moves. The little girl stamps her foot, shouts I told you so, and dissolves into a tantrum of tears. She is dragged, screaming, from the store.

One woman passes up the opportunity to adopt Cinnamon because she fears cat fur would stick to her cabernet colored suede couch. An elderly couple decides against the option because they worry about who would take the cat in the event she outlived them. Another couple admires her, but their children are grown, and they want to start traveling; finding someone to watch the pets is such a chore.

No matter. Cinnamon is not in a hurry to go anywhere. Her owners might return at any minute. Maybe tomorrow.

One by one the lights in the warehouse-sized store begin to go off for the night. The staff scurries to finish sweeping and arranging displays. They grab coats, purses, keys, and lunchboxes. One calls out goodnight to the rescue cats. Then it is dark and silent, except for security lights and the bubbling of tanks in the fish department.

Cinnamon stares into the darkness, searching for movement in the aisles of pet food and toys. She doesn’t move for thirty minutes or more. It would feel so luscious to be able to escape her cage for a few moments, to stretch and roll along the floor, to prowl the quiet store. She curls into a ball under the wooden shelf in her cage and falls asleep contrary to her nature.

In her dreams, there is a person who visits the store for the express purpose of taking her home. Perhaps it’s a man, maybe a woman, but either way the voice is kind, soothing. This human is gentle with her, only saying her name in the long, drawn out way a human does when he or she is calling for someone. This individual doesn’t scold harshly when she is caught sleeping on the couch or lapping puddles off the shower floor. Cinnamon isn’t expected to curl up on a lap or play with kittenish toys. But this person is always within reach, reading the paper on the floor and laughing when Cinnamon decides to plop down on the pages, or sitting on the basement steps and inviting her to share the space. Most importantly, this person is patient. Patiently waiting for Cinnamon to relax enough to bestow even a fiber of trust. However long it takes, this person will wait, and he or she will recognize success when the sandpaper kiss of a tongue caresses the back of a hand just once.

Paws twitch and eyelids flicker. Cinnamon chatters in her sleep.

Across town a widowed woman said goodbye to her beloved cat today. Tomorrow, she will visit the pet store in search of another to help her work through her grief. Probably an older specimen for they are usually calmer, more settled. She is partial to orange tabbies.

And If I Perish

And If I PerishAnd If I Perish was recommended to me by the nurse re-enactors of the Conneaut D-day event as a source of information on American medical staff during World War II. I needed to place my protagonist, Dr. John Welles, in the European Theater as a surgeon, but I truly had no idea how to incorporate a civilian doctor among the ranks of military personnel.

Thanks to Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee’s thoroughly researched book, I not only had a way to place Dr. Welles in the war, I had firsthand accounts via actual medical staff of what he would have encountered.

And If I Perish is a treasure trove of information not to be missed. I highly recommend it to students of nursing and history. While the contribution of doctors is also noted, the focus of the book is on the nurses who responded to the call to tend American soldiers fighting in North Africa, Italy, and at the Normandy landings through to the end of the war in Europe.

Often without footwear and uniforms in their sizes, yet an abundance of nylons, lipstick, and face powder supplied by the military, the nurses who participated in World War II made tremendous sacrifices and improvised on the spot to ensure that American and Allied soldiers received the best in medical care. They even gave the best they had to offer when working on German POWS who, with the exception of SS officers, were often grateful for the care they received once they overcame the fear of being captured.

It was no small challenge for the nurses to assist doctors while only a couple of miles from the front lines, often in horrible weather, and sometimes during retreats with the threat of being left behind hanging over their heads. And they did it without the benefit of weaponry to fight back.

The nurses endured bombing, strafing, and even evacuation from a hospital ship that had been attacked by unscrupulous pilots of the Luftwaffe contrary to the Hague Conventions. Occasionally they lost one of their own, a fact that further solidified their sense of family. All this they endured at less pay than their male counterparts.

With the equality that women enjoy today in many fields of work, it is difficult for me to comprehend why, for so many years, the nurses’ stories were overlooked and why they didn’t receive as many promotions and awards as the men serving. Hopefully, Mrs. Monahan and Mrs. Neidel-Greenlee’s book came in time for all of them to know how loved and appreciated they were and are for the sacrifices they made in serving their country.

My Classical Education

My Classical EducationI stopped reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice forty-two pages before the end of the book. I am familiar with the conclusion, and I have viewed both the Jennifer Ehle version of the movie as well as the Keira Knightly version (the Jennifer Ehle is far superior), and yet I put the book down for no other reason than to extend my own enjoyment. I’ll never tire of the tension between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, Jane’s sweet disposition, or even Mrs. Bennet’s endless rambling and scheming plans to marry off her daughters.

Pride and Prejudice is the first in a list of books that I am reading not only for pleasure but also for a close study of classical literature as suggested by Francine Prose in her book, Reading Like a Writer. The language alone inspires me to write better. I do have to wonder, though, if Jane Austen would have liked the benefit of word searches. While her pet words do not detract from the story in any way, she does have a few that she repeatedly employs. I find it encouraging that someone who is considered a master of writing and storytelling made such a simple error, and it is certainly one that I am willing to overlook.

Most importantly, what I am learning from reading Pride and Prejudice is that great writing appears in many different styles that transcend time. I may acquire a few talents from Jane Austen, and being compared to her would be no small compliment, but I have a voice of my own to hone and hopefully will do so until one day, when someone reads a passage from my books, they will be able to say, “Clearly, this is HL Gibson’s writing, and it is remarkably well done.”

A Matter of Classes

A Matter of ClassesOne of the jewels in the crown of the research for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, is a class schedule from the University of Maryland for 1922. I could not have been more pleased with the delivery of this item into my possession than if I had asked what the Queen of England ate for dinner on May 28, 1997, and been told not only what she consumed but how well she like it.

Let this exaggeration serve to convey exactly how pleased I am. When I began my research, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to discover what classes and labs doctors in the 1920s were required to pursue or for how long. I only had my knowledge of modern day medicine to fall back on, and that simply wouldn’t do.

Douglas Skeen, who at the time of my research was employed at the Maryland Department of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland, and hopefully still is, is responsible for locating the bulletin and sending it to me as a PDF. I sincerely thank Mr. Skeen yet again for performing his role as a Reference Librarian above and beyond my expectations.

I created the Research Road portion of my blog with the express purpose of sharing what I discovered with other writers. I don’t know how many others may need similar information, but I will allow you to stand on my shoulders as you search for it, and I’ll hold your ankles to balance you as you do. With that being said, please enjoy the attached PDF of the Bulletin of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and College of Physicians and Surgeons, Vol. VII, from July 1922. At the very least, I hope you enjoy the walk through history.

UM Bulletin Vol 7 July 1922

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

I first spied Francine Prose’s book, Reading Like a Writer, while shelving at my former job. I sneaked a few moments to read the first few pages and Reading Like a Writerinstantly fell in love. The sentence that resonated with me, “Like most–maybe all–writers, I learned to write by writing and, by example, by reading books,” combined with, “Long before the idea of a writer’s conference was a glimmer in anyone’s eye, writers learned by reading the work of their predecessors,” confirmed for me that I had found a kindred spirit. Her passion for reading and writing and the process of learning by indulging in both was the best piece of advice I had ever heard. Mrs. Prose’s comments awakened in me what I always believed to be true: great writing is an organic process that comes from creating beyond outlines and plot-pointed structures with perfect character arcs.

Great writing begins with close reading and follows with careful consideration for every word that will become a sentence, which will become a paragraph. This isn’t to say that Mrs. Prose or I believe writing should be utter chaos without any structure, but I trust if one applied her approach to their own writing, he or she would see amazing growth in how they create characters, employ narration and dialogue, and present details and gestures.

Woven throughout the book are examples from great writers that will back up what Mrs. Prose is teaching. You don’t need to be familiar with these authors or their works to appreciate them. Another reviewer I read proclaimed his dislike for Mrs. Prose’s book because he didn’t know any of the referenced works. I suspect he thought Mrs. Prose was being pretentious; I encourage you not to be intimidated by her knowledge but rather delve into the suggested reading list as soon as possible.

Another aspect of the book that appealed to me is Mrs. Prose’s admission that while there are rules in writing for the express purpose of guiding us, rules are, essentially, meant to be broken. And if you’re brave enough to ride off the reservation of writing rules, make sure you’re breaking them brilliantly.

Regardless of your preferred writing style or approach thereof, I highly recommend reading Francine Prose’s book. I would be truly surprised if you didn’t take away something positive from the experience.

Spread the Love

One of my earliest memories of butter includes sitting on the carpet in the kindergarten classroom, all of us in a large circle, passing a massive canning jar from person to person as we shook the sealed jar full of whipping cream as hard as our little arms could manage. We’d been told that this would produce butter. I remember my skepticism, but since I loved butter, I gladly took part and watched the magic unfold.

It’s funny how many of my food memories are attached to my Grandma Smith, but I believe her kitchen is where I developed my love of butter.Butter versus Margarine There was something different about the sunshine yellow block that sat in her cut glass butter dish. It was lighter, sweeter than the golden-colored sticks of ‘butter’ we used at home. As a young child, any yellow, creamy substance that one spread on toast or crackers was referred to as butter. My mother provided the explanation of the difference, and I learned the definition of margarine. It wouldn’t be until decades later that I learned what an evil substance margarine is, but I digress.

Grandma Smith would bring me packets of real butter from restaurants where she had dined. Nothing against my mother, but she used margarine for years until I finally convinced her to switch. Glory be–my taste buds rejoiced and food became so much tastier.

Where is all this leading you ask? To my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, of course. I’ve already established that as an author, I love to feed my fictional characters. Twice I reference butter specifically, once in conjunction with biscuits and again with cornbread, but what I want my readers to understand without mentioning it every time is that butter is my fictional characters’ ingredient of choice when it comes to cooking and baking.

As I wrote the scenes involving food and envisioned the preparation, butter was always in the picture, sitting in a crock or dish, just within reach of the experienced hands that would lovingly incorporate it into the recipe. I’ll spare you the debate on the health benefits of butter versus margarine and simply say don’t fear butter and all things in moderation.

To sum up this post, I made butter with my son because I wanted him to experience how easy and fun it is. The added step of washing the butter is new for me based on research for this post. The instructions for this activity follow. I highly recommend doing this with your kids because the memories you’ll make are priceless.


Homemade Butter

2 c whipping cream (Raw cream from grass-fed cows is recommended, but store bought organic will work as well. This quantity will yield approximately ½ c of butter.)

sea salt

I used a stand mixer with a wire attachment for this process and chilled the bowl and wire attachment prior to using.

Pour the cream into your mixing bowl, filling the bowl halfway so it does not overflow as air is whipped into the cream. Mix on a medium-low speed to prevent splashing. As the cream thickens, you can turn it up to medium.

This process should take about 15 minutes but can vary depending on how much cream you are using and what type if mixer you have. Whipped cream will develop first. When the whipped cream begins to deflate, watch closely as your mixture can rapidly change to butter. To prevent splashing, cover the bowl with a lightly dampened tea towel.

When the butter begins to clump and stick to the whisk, it is done mixing. Pour the mixture through a fine strainer to separate the solids, butter, from the liquids, buttermilk. If you want it to last for more than a few days, you need to wash the butter. This will remove as much buttermilk as possible to keep the butter from going rancid. Put the butter back in your mixing bowl and cover with clean, cold water.

Use a large spoon to press the butter into the sides of the bowl. The water will become cloudy as the buttermilk is removed from the butter. Pour off the cloudy water and add more fresh. You can repeat this process until the water stays clear. Stir in a large pinch of amount of sea salt for every ½ c of butter.

Store in refrigerator or at room temperature if you will use it within a week or two.

Apple Seeds

Warmth from the sunbaked, terracotta tiles radiates through the bottom of his thin-soled, canvas shoes. The old man eases himself into a wrought iron chair beneath the jacaranda tree. He slips a pen knife from his pocket; he isn’t supposed to have it, not after Crazy Effie threatened one of the orderlies with her nail file during breakfast. Now they’re all supposed to cut their sausage links with a fork or spoon. This place, this rest home for the retired, treats them like imbeciles. He chuckles to himself as he watches his friend, Wade, drooling as he sits strapped into his wheelchair, napping in the sun. Maybe some of us are, he thinks.

It will be a cold day in Phoenix when he allows them to remove his pen knife from his possession. It’s nothing special. No insignia from a branch of the service or Boy Scouts graces the mother-of-pearl sides. It’s just a nice knife he bought at Woolworth’s when there was still one at the mall. He thinks there might have been a matching razor with it but can’t say for sure. He’s used it to open everything from letters to wounds. Years of grime need to be wiped from the space where the mother-of-pearl meets the metal. Hell, maybe it’s not even real mother-of-pearl.

Apple SeedsHe removes a green apple from his sweater pocket. The bulge caught the eye of every resident he passed, making them wonder what he had smuggled out of the dining room. Green apples are his favorite, and the pretty Hispanic girl who runs the dining room, Gina or Tina, he can’t remember which, always keeps a few in the cooler for him. She knows he likes them cold; he must make more of an effort to remember her name.

Carefully, with much consideration and turning of the apple over and over in his hands while worrying his dentures with his tongue, he decides where to make the first cut. The vibrant green skin breaks with a crisp snap and a soft spray of juice as he slices along the entire curve of the apple. He licks the tartness from his thumb. With a gentle twist, he separates the halves.

Two seeds pop out onto his lap. He draws his knees together to catch them before they fall to the greedy earth hiding between the tiles below, enticing with the promise of life. He knows what the seeds do not: nothing disruptive, certainly not an apple tree with a vast and reaching root system, would ever be allowed to flourish here. Both seeds are pinched between his forefinger and thumb, and then placed gently on the tip of his protruding tongue.

The old man enjoys the bitter-almond taste of the seeds. He always chews them. While most people, especially his lazy grandchildren, only eat the flesh of the apple, the old man consumes every part of it except the stem. He savors the acrid taste of the seeds as he cuts a slice from one half of the apple, eating it off the thumb on which it is balanced, his knife held securely in the same hand. Another seed is visible but trapped in its pocket. A little surgery with the pen knife frees it from its fibrous prison. This seed is bigger because it did not have to share space with a sibling.

His wife once told him the taste of the seed was from the cyanide within. It seemed like a fact she would know, so he never questioned her on it. From then on, he made a point of eating every seed especially if she was watching. I’m building up my tolerance and recognition of cyanide in the event that someone tries to poison me, he had teased her. She retorted that if she wanted him dead she would use the cast iron skillet on his head while he slept. Their wicked sense of humor shocked most people, even their friends.

He wonders how many apple seeds he’d have to eat to escape this place. It’s so beautiful, Dad, his daughter had said, with flowering trees and benches, shuffle board courts and walking paths, a chess club and whirlpool. Who had she been trying to convince? One little tumble down the front porch steps and the next thing he knew, he was an inmate at Buena Vista Acres. His daughter believed she was doing him a favor moving him to Arizona to be near her. As if a fifty minute drive was near her. He might as well still be living in Ohio for all that he sees her.

If he could see anyone right now, it would be his wife. He crushes two more seeds between his back teeth, the ones that are still real. More of the apple is consumed, more seeds discovered. More memories flirt with the edges of his mind. The white walls of the main building shimmer with early morning heat, the brightness nearly blinding him even though his eyes are averted. Bittersweet and tart, apple seeds and life. The core of his existence chewed away to nothing. He will not let it poison him. He kisses the stem and flicks it into the bushes.

As he returns to his room for a nap, he waves to Maria, the dining room attendant. Maria, just like his wife. He smiles to himself, proud at having found a way to remember her name.

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