What Matters Most: 3 Reasons the Season of Thanks Continues

An autumn sky.

I am late for an important date:

A date with gratitude and a date to blog.

Thanksgiving break carried my family and me on a train ride of illness, dealing with death, baking challenges and realizing what matters most.

The Christmas shopping season catches our attention with ringing Hersey kisses commercials and bright red and green colors. It is easy to forget the meaning of Thanksgiving. It is easier to see knock down prices on Black Friday weekend.

Remember, remember the season of thanks in November.

Charles Dickens wrote we should keep it in our hearts all year long. I believe the same theory goes for being thankful.

Three lessons reminded me why I am thankful.

Lesson 1: Health

My grandmother said, “Always be thankful for your health.” I heard a lecture voice at the age of sixteen. Turns out she was right.

Last Sunday, my family kicked off Thanksgiving by meeting my husband’s father and sister at a restaurant. My son—who suffered from a cold—dealt with a misunderstanding from the milk. He was not eating after he drank. Not long after, everything came up.

I cleaned him and let him play with a car. He sat next to me at the table. He tugged my shirt and whimpered. Charles—a very independent 2-year-old—rarely clings to me. Before I could figure out what was wrong, everything came up again.

Vomit covered our shirts and pants as we went to the bathroom. It was the one occasion for which I’d forgotten to pack extra clothes. I felt like a horrible mother, but I cleaned him up again.

As I came out of the bathroom, two teen girls stared at me. Years ago, I would’ve thought How did that woman let herself out of the house like that, or when I become a mother I will still care about my appearance.

The foul milk-smelling stains on my clothes transformed into something else. They were mommy battle scars. They were a reminder: Hey, Rebecca, you’re not all that. Any moment, something could change.

On the ride home, my husband and I dealt with Charles’ health. The next day we learned he had an ear infection, from which he is still recovering, and I became sick, too.

Good health should never be devalued.

Not all food or autumn decorations are beautiful.

Lesson 2: Baking does not Always go the Baker’s Way

No secret. I make cheesecakes. Since I made my first one, I’ve perfected the method as I have learned the steps and requirements of a good cake maker. Making cheesecake is different from other cakes. For one, you use a different pan.

You don’t want your cake to sink.

You want your cake to be moist, but not so moist if falls apart.

You don’t want cracks on the top.

An engineer tries to solve a car’s problems. I attempt to perfect my cheesecake methods.

One week ago, I made two cherry cheesecakes. One was a belated Veteran’s Day present for my father, and the other was my brother’s birthday present.

My father’s cake went untouched as every member of my family ate Thomas’ cake.

I did everything I did before to make my Thanksgiving strawberry cheesecake except I forgot the bit of flour. The next morning my cake began falling apart. It looked like earthquake cracks separating earth as I unhinged the ring in which the cake sat.

While my family watched the Macy’s Day Parade, the OCD and perfectionist personality came out. What do I do? I can’t take this.

Luckily, we had a back up. Dad’s cake was still fresh and untouched. We took it, and everything worked out.

Lesson 3: Inspiration for a Lifetime

Dad called early last week. An emotional man, he sobbed and left a message that his first cousin had died.

This particular cousin was not a far-off relative who we sent Christmas cards to every year. She was a sister to Dad. She was a connection to the town in which my book, Sons of the Edisto, takes place. She provided historical accounts. Dad’s cousin enlightened me about members of my family who have now passed.

When I talked to her during my research in Bamberg, SC; the cousin talked to me openly. She knew of my project. She was not afraid to tell me the Ku Klux Klan still paraded through the streets of Bamberg in 1948 after a World War in which 6 million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany.

The cousin understood my grandfather—her uncle—was a hero who did not have to state his opinion, but stood up to injustice through simple actions. Her memory is attached to his, and I am thankful for everything she did for my father. I am thankful for the information she provided.

Words and Photos By Rebecca T. Dickinson

In Memory of Becky.


Six Sentence Sunday

Today, I share a contemporary piece.

I have shared six sentence scenes from short stories related to my book, Sons of the Edisto. The Good Year is a fresh story in the sense I have not done anything with it yet. I have not shared it with anyone. I’ve only edited it a few times. Inspired, I wrote the story about one year ago.

What I share now is the current opening. I plan to make changes as time allows over the coming weeks.

Salley knew of a bar. He knew many. He dragged Jeremy to every sand pit between Bowsman, South Carolina and the Georgia line. Regular bars looked like Italian restaurants compared to the ten-cent places Salley took Jeremy.

“This place is way out,” Jeremy said.

Pine trees outnumbered the cars on the two lane road.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

© 2006-2012 by R.T. Dickinson. All rights reserved. No part of this blog, Sons of the Edisto, Red Loam, The Good Year, manuscripts or related material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of R.T. Dickinson.

4 Ways Becoming a Parent Changes a Writer

Everything changes.

Seasons, relationships and the way we, as writers, craft words.

I had no idea the changes coming when I worked as a journalist in 2009.

I know two consistencies: change always occurs and I have always been a writer.

Have you examined the ways in which you’ve changed as a writer or author?

Like a scientist examines every variable of an experiment, writers experience more than one change in how or why they write. One of my reasons is simple:


In 2009, I take one last look at the University of South Carolina horseshoe. One of the many photos I found in which my now husband catches me lost in thought with his camera.

  • Drop and Walk

Every mother’s birthing story is different. Some think, Awe, he is mine. Other new moms ponder Oh, my God, what am I going to do, as nurses prop a new baby in her arms.

I thought, Okay, I got the boy out in 20 minutes. Take these needles and stuff out of me so I can walk.

“Wait,” the nurse said. “You should rest there.”

“I’m good. I’m ready to walk.”

Fifteen minutes later, I walked across the room with equipment still hooked up with a tube and needle to my arm.

A baby is here. No time to waste. As a new parent you do not immediately realize the way you were writing is done.

When a child is born, so is a new writer.

  • Everybody is Watching

All of a sudden, people watch you like a new Broadway show or a football team in its first season with a new coach. The questions roll through their minds.

Is she going to let Dad change all the diapers? Is she breastfeeding? Did she even try?

In some cases—like Soviet vs. American spies—families, friends and others watch you. They are looking to see if you’ll fit into the mommy cookie mold or spill over the top. You become slightly paranoid.

As your bundle of joy turns into a toddler, parents at the park watch how you handle your child when he or she screams, throws mulch or sand or hits.

You gain a new insight in the way people think. That creates great inspiration for characters.

“There by the river you will always be, love, you and me.” Six months pregnant, John hikes trails with me in the middle of winter. Somewhere in North Carolina, 2010.

  • Five More Minutes

… are the famous words said by teens everywhere not ready to wake up and go to school. They are also the words of parents who remain dedicated to their craft. Something about any artist that is difficult to understand is that writing is not some hobby you stick in the attic after Junior or Sarah is born.

Writing stays in your heart, mind and spirit. If you’re like me, it is hardwired into you. You think plots, characters, stories, how you can improve this sentence or that scene or what makes another writer a genius.

A reporter friend gave my husband these words of advice:

“If you want to lose her, you’ll never listen when she talks about her writing. You’ll never leave her alone to write. You’ll encourage her to pursue her craft.”

John listened.

I know a lot of parent-writers who are also fully employed. They are great parents and writers.

If you feel you do not have the time, because you have burp-up stuff on your shoulder, your toddler keeps hitting others and you feel like a horrible parent—you are not alone.

If you work hard and know you must come home and tend the flock, you are still a writer.

The reality is you are attached to the craft and you will not let it go.

When I read Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty, she wrote of her son, “Thank you for those times when mommy needed just a few more minutes.”

  • Words Move Us

My grandmother practiced the faith of words. That is any child who can read has the foundation to do anything he or she wants.

Read to your children. Read often. When that is not enough, turn off the idiot box or the iPad and snuggle up on the wePad.

My parents, John and I read to Charles. One night, I sat in Charles’ rocking chair reading my book. He opened a pop-up book with animals. One at a time, he said, “walrus,” “owl,” “Wolf howls,” and “whale.”

Charles loves cars and books. He will build a circular fort of books around him and look at the pictures. He says the words.

And even when we’re at the computer typing away, we should turn and listen when our children say, “Mommy, look.”

Otherwise you’re missing out.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

Photos by John Bridges

* 10 Things I Shall Leave For My Son to Say

I Will Remember

I will remember beyond the eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month.

I will remember.

Great Uncle Durgin’s plane was shot down by the Luftwaffe. His body, never found.

His 19 years will not waste away in the Mediterranean Sea. One day—when the time is right—my second child will be named for him.

Casper Marshall Durgin Jr. served in World War II. His name is listed in a memorial inside St. Paul’s Cathedral.

I will remember my father could not watch Forest Gump because of the war scenes. No story or song need remind him of the Vietnam War. He understood—the real life version for those who’ve read The Hunger Games—what it meant when his country drew his number; his name.

Daddy sacrificed. Words cannot reclaim the unspoken pains he knew and saw. No matter how much time goes by, he will always recall memories from a far away land.

I will not forget the veteran I interviewed for a Veteran’s Day article in 2008. He did not want to talk to me, the reporter with pen and paper. Looking back now, I can’t blame him. I wanted to write a good story and meet a deadline.

I was 23. How could I relate to the horrors that flew home with the Afghanistan veteran? He spoke of nightmares, storms, distrust in the way things were and of how many homeless veterans had been forgotten.

Never again will I take the attitude of the 23-year-old I was. I will remember behind the names on every memorial, life was taken. Some of the soldiers who returned home brought war with them.

What or who will you remember today?

World War I Memorial on the South Carolinana Library wall.

By Rebecca T. Dickinson

No More Reservations: Goodbye Bourdain

Courtesy of http://blogs.houstonpress.com

Everything must come to an end.

Sadly, Anthony Bourdain’s show, No Reservations, is one of them. Tonight at 8 p.m., the Travel Channel will show the series finale in Brooklyn.

Due to my schedule, I never watch Bourdain’s show when it comes on. I watch reruns later in the week or on the weekend. I have watched No Reservations, and I am sad to see it go off the air.

Behind the show is Anthony Bourdain, who is not only a chef, but a traveler, explorer of taste and a prolific writer. Maybe he would not call himself prolific. When you listen to his words on the show or read his blog, you know he is not another television show host. He is not another person showing you all the cool places.

Bourdain digs into a culture and what makes its food. He writes and delivers the show with sarcastic and meaningful speeches. Bourdain writes in the way we want good food to taste. He writes the way we want to dream. Whether you agree or disagree with his strong opinions—much stronger than the vodka he drinks—you cannot deny the man’s talent for words.

Beyond Bourdain’s charismatic charm with words, he taught me something as a writer. I began writing about food. Some of you might’ve read The Write to Cook blogs. This summer I explored memories, smells and stories surrounding the food I know so well.

I am not a professional chef and I do not travel as much as I did when I was a reporter and student, but I understand the vivid language high-quality food offers readers. Food should not be an overindulgence (except on rare occasions), but an art—a connection to the life around us.

What is one of the best meals you have experienced? How do you wish you could write about it?

How Does Career Choice Affect Writers?

I am reading Carl Hiaasen’s Nature Girl.

Courtesy of http://stacyhelton.blogspot.com/

I never doubt Hiaasen’s authenticity when it comes to creating over-the-top characters. In journalism, over-the-top is sometimes the norm. What led Hiaasen to become an author?

Since falling for his writing style—with which I share certain satirical values in my contemporary stories—I had decided to research the author. I discovered he is a longtime journalist for The Miami Herald. His column is said to express outspoken views. He wrote his first two books with another author, and Hiaasen also reminds me of Hemingway.

Hemingway, also a man of many words, worked as a journalist. Some of his work I appreciate, and some is as good. Again—at one time—I wondered: Must a person work in a writing-related career to become an author?

No doubt it helps.

Courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Hiaasen

Author Carl Hiaasen, author of Nature Girl.

Courtesy of http://www.biography.com/people/ernest-hemingway-9334498

Ernest Hemingway

An editor once told me there is a difference between a journalist and a writer. Another editor told me journalism students cannot write with the same creativity as a writer. (Not my belief.) A publisher complimented me on the fact that I had little trouble coming up with great leads for stories, which was a challenge for many young journalists.

After I left full-time journalism, I did—and still do—freelance work. I thought it was beneficial to become a copy writer or something in the publishing industry.

But, I am not journalist or someone who belongs in front of a computer all day.

And, I’m not Hemingway or Hiaasen.

For two years, I dressed in costume as a reporter. I told myself it would support the (creative) writing. It was a good lie until the day I stopped writing.

Something stirred in my gut. I fought it because I had the messed up notion in my mind that if I became a teacher, I would already be viewed as the writer who failed.

It was a good try,” I thought someone would say. “Let’s pack up the pens and try something that brings in a real paycheck.”

How many teachers have gone on to become great writers? I don’t know.

In my life, writing and education walked hand-in-hand. One guided the other.

Older children and teenagers are main characters in my stories and novel.

I am still learning to build writing and editing time into my new schedule, but I find myself happier and, hopefully, a better writer.

Do you believe your profession can work with your writing?

What do you do to make time for writing?

By Rebecca T. Dickinson