“Love Pats and Cream Drops” -Remembering Grandma Jack


Earlier this week my family marked the anniversary of the passing of my Grandmother. Jacqualeen Tavenner was my Mom’s mother (and namesake) and to the many who knew and loved her she was simply “Jack”.

Grandma Jack was, in a word, unique! As certain as I am that I received my love of books and words from my Grandpa Westfall, I’m equally sure my quirkiness can be directly linked to my blue jean wearing wise-cracking Grandma Jack.

Grandma Jack’s door was always open to anyone who wanted to take a seat at the kitchen table, sip a cup of coffee, play a game of gin rummy and inhale second-hand Camel cigarette smoke. Nearly every Saturday of my childhood was spent in that house- bursting at the seams with my sisters and cousins.

My Gran was equal parts “tough old broad” and “sentimental grandmother.” She could tell someone off (once or twice even ME!) at the drop of a hat, but was a real softy at heart. I know that one of her favorite memories was of picking me up at Tavennerville Elementary on Valentine’s Day and reading each card stuffed into the red construction paper covered manila folder embossed with my name.

You couldn’t walk by her without getting slugged in the arm. “Love pats” is what she called them. As difficult as it was for her to show it in traditional ways, she loved her grandkids and we loved her!

We loved going to her house on Pennsylvania Avenue at Christmas! Gran was never anyone’s definition of conventional. She didn’t bake cookies and make fudge like my Grandma Westfall, but she always bought the best candy! Her kitchen was filled with chocolate covered peanuts, caramels and cream drops bought at, if my memory serves me, the “Annual Mineral Wells Fire Department Christmas Candy Sale”. I can’t look at a box of ribbon candy without thinking of Grandma Jack.

I’ll miss that tough old broad this Christmas, but in her memory today I will drink copious amounts of coffee and scour the Christmas Market for a cellophane bag of chocolate covered cream drops! I might even slug someone in the arm…

Until next time…Merry Christmas Today and Every Day!

Aunt Zip



Ready. Set. Christmas!

christmastreebareWe had cleared away the pumpkin trifle dessert dishes and savored our coffee for, oh say 90 seconds, when it hit us! You know, that inexplicably warm and fuzzy feeling that signals the turning of the seasonal page. The flipping of the festive hourglass.

Ready. Set. Christmas!

As happy as I was to welcome that familiar feeling, I did not- unlike some friends and family who’s identity I will kindly protect-slink out of the house after dinner last evening to buy off-brand electronics and four slice toasters at questionable discounts. I also did not join the ranks of the crazy Black Friday shoppers. You know the type… darting eyes which rarely blink, ramming Target carts into anyone who’d dare saunter into their path to the .99 dvds.

I’m generally a proponent of shopping “local”. No, I don’t mean the local Wal-mart! I relish scouring the tiny co-op shops in East Nashville. I love popping into little stores in Sylvan Park and gifting locally roasted coffees. But this year (I’m a little ashamed to say) I’ve been a bit of a convenience shopper. I have had so many packages sent to my office that I fear the shipping and receiving guys may be considering delivering a large lump of coal with my next Amazon Prime shipment.

So, this afternoon instead of shopping, I will eat leftover red velvet cake and trim my tree! Even now it stands majestically in front of the bay window waiting to be draped in tinsel and twinkling lights!

Ready. Set. Christmas!

Until next time…Merry Christmas Today and Every Day.

Aunt Zip






“We Gather Together…”


The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on the TV, Christmas Blend coffee in my cup, rosemary potatoes in the crock pot and brussel sprouts waiting patiently to be tossed in olive oil and cracked pepper and popped into the oven.

I didn’t wake up in my Grandparent’s house this morning. I didn’t draw my first breath to gather the intoxicating aroma of Grandma Helen’s succulent turkey- with dressing INSIDE. (I think I just drooled a little)

Nor will I be wedged like a sardine around the tiny table at Grandma Jack’s house surrounded by sisters and cousins and potato turkeys waiting for Grandma to yell at Pap to pass the salt.

It’s been nearly ten years since my Grandparents passed but that white block house on Pike Street is still the place I’d most like to be this morning… followed of course by a short jaunt to the Camel cigarette-smoke filled kitchen on Pennsylvania Avenue.

I didn’t wake up in my hometown this morning. I woke up in my own home with no wafting scent of roasting turkey, only the sight of a furry boy who is counting down the minutes til the Thanksgiving feast at ‘Uncle Shayne’s’ house.

With all the travel in the last month (Africa) I did not load up the SUV yesterday and head for the Burg. I will miss Joyce and Desmond’s first Thanksgiving with my big crazy family. I missed helping out at the Salvation Army this morning with my sisters and nieces and nephews -armed with Tim Horton’s coffee and very little sleep.

I will miss my Mom’s potato salad and fighting my Uncle Stoney for the last of the raw stuffing. Yes, I do know how gross that sounds…

But I will be spending this Thanksgiving with my second family. 

Someone once said “Friends are the family you choose.” No one believes this more than I. So, although the faces will be different I will be surrounded by people I love and I will give thanks for my ENTIRE family!

Happy Thanksgiving and as always… Merry Christmas Today and Every Day!

Aunt Zip

“A Christmas Carol, A Cup of Coffee and Tears of Joy”


It is a cool gray November day in Nashville.

At any other time of the year this sort of weather would probably tempt me to hibernate. Slip into my fuzzy slippers, snuggle beneath my alpaca throw and budge only for coffee and bathroom breaks.

But, it’s not just any time of the year. It is 32 days until Christmas and I am trying, in vain, to control a level of excitement generally reserved for seven year old children hopped up on hot chocolate and candy canes!

I’ve been drinking coffee out of my favorite Pottery Barn Christmas Mug, watching “A Christmas Carol” and sorting Christmas gifts. I’ve tucked gifts into festive Santa and Snowmen boxes with bows and glitter (which is now covering me!). One such box holds a beautifully hand knitted (no, not knitted by THESE hands) scarf and hat- pink of course. I can’t wait to see my sweet niece Joyce’s face when she opens it.

This is the holiday we’ve been dreaming, waiting and planning for. For the last twelve months, my entire family and many close friends have prayed, hoped, cried and sacrificed time and money in the pursuit of bringing home these two beautiful children. Just typing this is causing my eyes to well with tears…

Excuse me a moment while I wipe the tears away AND swipe the stuffed Rudolf figure my dog Reagan stealthfully snatched from the stash of Christmas decorations while I was otherwise engaged.

I cannot wait to see the look of excitement and wonder in those deep brown eyes- Joyce and Desmond’s, not Reagan’s…

I have heard a phrase bandied about in the corporate world quite a bit of late. “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Joyce and Desmond have known a very different life than my other eleven nieces and nephews. The first eleven have always known the life enriching love of an uber close-knit, funny, loud, musical, creative and God-fearing family.

We’re not perfect- not by any stretch! But, we are fiercely loyal and can always count on each other for the support we need. We have faith in each other. We trust each other.

A few weeks ago I visited the orphanage where Joyce and Desmond spent most of their lives. Accra Ghana is entrenched in abject poverty. I have seen poverty in inner-city areas. I’ve seen homeless on the streets in New York City and my own city of Nashville. I remember driving through some very poor neighborhoods when I was in the Bahamas several years ago. I remember how sad I felt at the thought that people were forced to live that way. I thought I knew what being poor looked like. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In Ghana, we drove for hours and NEVER once saw a residential area I would feel safe living in.

The orphanage in Accra had no indoor shower, cramped sleeping quarters and abysmal nutrition. There were chickens wandering about in the courtyard- and by courtyard I mean concrete slab outside the dormitory. They had little adult supervision and clearly had to learn to fend for themselves. The older children routinely hit the younger children displaying  a sort of tenuous hierarchy among the group. I can honestly (and with heavy heart) say that I treat my dog far better than these children are treated.

How then could Desmond and Joyce still occasionally cry for what they knew as “home”?

“You don’t know what you don’t know.”

They don’t know they now have the chance at a better life. An amazing life! They don’t know they have a family who loves them deeply. That their mother, father, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents would do anything within their power to make sure they were happy, healthy and safe. As my sister shared earlier this week, they don’t know yet, but day by day they are starting to feel a little more comfortable. A little more settled.

This Christmas our big quirky family will attempt to solidify this for them even more. We will envelope them in the kind of love only a family can give. The kind of love which heals the deepest hurt and empowers us to do greater things.

We share this love because it was first shared with us…

“Unto us a child is born…and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, the Prince of Peace…” Isaiah 9:6

Until next time…Merry Christmas Today and Every Day!

Aunt Zip






Christmas in Ghana

506We were sweaty, dirty (most likely stinky!) and exhausted. We had just spent more time in a car whose driver preferred not using his AC, than we did at the Cape Coast Castle and we still had two more stops to make before we headed back to our “star rated” (.5 star maybe??) hotel.

My sister Mary and I were in Accra, Ghana picking up her newly adopted children and suffice it to say, we were out of our element.

Shanties on the side of the roads housed people whose daily job it was to hawk anything from water in a bag to tire inner tubes to drivers on those roads. There seemed to be very little indoor plumbing and NO public restrooms as we know them.

When we pulled into the “Shop Rite” to buy cake for the children at the orphanage, I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be an actual grocery store, or more like the “convenience store” we had visited.

We walked through the sliding doors and the first thing that caught my eye?

Christmas Decor!

The Shop Rite was decorated for Christmas!

It’s difficult to reconcile the nearly 90 degree temps with frosted window panes and hot chocolate but there it was…

Christmas in Ghana!

Until next time… Merry Christmas Today and Every Day!

Aunt Zip

“Christmas at The News and Sentinel”


Please click the following link to check out my new Christmas Novella. It’s set in my hometown of Parkersburg, WV.

It will be available as a FREE Kindle download on Monday. I would love it if you’d check it out and leave a quick review.

“Christmas at The News and Sentinel”

The paperback is available by pre-order today and will be available on Amazon this week.

Thank you and Merry Christmas Today and Every Day!

Aunt Zip

Pumpkins and Mums and Sugar Plums!


“The Holidays are fast approaching!” An announcer’s voice cut right through my pre-coffee stupor as I watched the local news this morning.

I have been accused by some *COUGH* Suzanne *COUGH* of leap-frogging right over Thanksgiving straight to Christmas. I’ll admit, I do start celebrating much sooner than most. I may or may not already be planning my Holiday decor. And yes, just this week I listened to Bette Midler’s ‘Cool Yule’ in it’s entirety.

BUT I actually really love the Fall and all the activities that come along with it. I love buying pumpkins and mums (today’s the day!) at the Farmer’s Market. I look forward to Fall Fest every year, including our annual communal viewing of my favorite Autumn themed movie “Pieces of April”.

I am working on living in the moment.

Recent changes at work have led to a very busy couple of weeks for some in my department. Yesterday while chatting with a co-worker I found myself saying that once we get past next week, we’ll be able to breathe.

OOPS! That was definitely NOT living in the moment and my co-worker kindly reminded me of that fact.

So, where’s the balance when it comes to the Holidays? I’m glad you asked…

For me, it’s enjoying the ENTIRE season. Pumpkins, mums, and visions of sugar plums…

Anyone else with me? I mean besides my nephew Alex…pretty sure we share a brain when it comes to all things Holiday! : -)

Until next time…Merry Christmas Today and Every Day!

Aunt Zip