Monday, May 12, 2014

Saturday, March 15, 2014


Beginning a new writing project, I pull out my dog-eared copies of On Writing Well, by William Zinsser, and The Elements of Style, by Strunk/White/Kalman, and begin my mental mantra of “Why do write? Why do I write? Why do I write?” 

Certainly, I don't write for money or fame. Like most writers out there plugging away at the keyboard, I have more lint in my pockets than coins. Truth is, I fell in love with books the moment I opened my first Dick and Jane primer, which is exactly why I need to be reminded to keep my writing simple and to the point, following the old adage, “Less is More”. 

Back in the old-timey days, during the forties, fifties and throughout most of the sixties many classrooms used the Dick and Jane series. Dick, the clean-cut older brother, Jane, the innocuous middle child, and Sally, the cute three year old with a riot of blond curls, all coming to life in those sweet stories of sibling hijinks, along with their dog, Spot, and cat, Puff. (Note: Did you know that Spot was originally a terrier instead of a Cocker Spaniel?) These stories taught us to repeat words such as up, down, Oh, come, help, run, look, work, balloon, and rain. Teaching manuals referred to these as “sight words” or “whole word” learning, instead of phonetically sounding out words.  

Dick and Jane primers first appeared in the classrooms in 1930, through Scott-Foresman Publishing Company, with expert, William S. Gray, and Zerna Sharp, illustrator. (Note: Ms. Sharp often used the Sears Catalog as a reference for the children's clothing styles) Together, they devised basic primers with identifiable characters and stories meant to appeal to young age groups.

By the 1970’s, the experts complained that Dick and Jane didn’t do such a great job teaching us “baby boomers” how to read. And so, with little or no fanfare, the educators canned Dick and Jane. Could it be that modern educators tend to over-analyze and complicate "the basics" when it comes to keeping reading simple and a fun learning experience? Just sayin'

I want to share a few quotes from the fabulous Mark Twain, whose down to earth witticisms and homespun stories are still loved and appreciated in our so-called modern world:

“The world doesn’t owe you anything. It was here first.”

“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, then success is sure.”

“Never allow anyone to be your priority, while allowing yourself to be their option.”

“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak, because a baby can’t chew it.”

 "When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart."—Mark Twain, letter to a 12-year-old boy.

Now, without further ado, I’ll collect my ragtag books, On Writing Well, and The Elements of Style, and go to my reading corner and tuck a couple of comfortable pillows under my bum and begin to read, hopefully at a higher grade level than the naysayers of Dick and Jane say I, as a baby boomer, am capable of comprehending. Tsk Tsk.

By the way, if you happen to come across a copy of On Writing Well, check out Chapter 2 - Simplicity
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Interesting reference web sites for Dick and Jane -

Mark Twain quotes -

Sherry Hartzler is the author of Three Moons Over Sedona, Island Passage, and Chasing Joe, all available on

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

LOG CABIN JOURNAL: SOUP - The Ultimate Winter Comfort Food

LOG CABIN JOURNAL: SOUP - The Ultimate Winter Comfort Food:     More snow Ugh. Four inches of the stuff on the ground this morning, the temperature at 5 degrees.   Can you believe Tom and I d...

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Traveling back to Ohio, from Florida, my husband turned off the interstate and we moseyed on over to Cross Creek, near Gainesville, Florida. Tucked away in a swampy, palmetto thriving, alligator and snake infested, Spanish moss hangin’-from-the-trees kind of place, I suppose you’re wondering why I was so excited to visit such a non-destination.

Cross Creek was the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling, published in April of 1938. Her first novel, South Moon Under, was published in 1933, her success putting an end to her first marriage to Charles Rawlings. I suppose back then it wasn’t such a good thing for a woman to be more successful than her husband.

Marjorie bought her Cross Creek farm in 1928, determined to earn a living from her 74 acre orange grove. It was there that Marjorie wrote her stories about the colorful people who lived in the community of Cross Creek. 

An independent, educated woman, Marjorie could drink like a man and cuss a blue streak. In other words, Marjorie was a woman before her time, fueled by determination and a yearning for success as a writer in the flamboyant era of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.  
Driving into the parking area of the Florida State Park of Cross Creek, I immediately felt disappointed that I wasn’t somehow magically transported back in time to experience first-hand the house and citrus grove as I’d envisioned it. Silly, huh? I suppose that’s the writer part of me – strongly imagining how something should be, and then disappointed to find out that it t’ain’t necessarily so.

It was chilly the day of our visit to Cross Creek. We got out of the car and wrapped up in our light jackets, anticipating a guided tour of the house and farm yard. Walking through the rusty gate and following the path leading to the barn and house, we were welcomed by a flock of chickens, one of whom politely consented to pose for my camera. However, the ducks pecking at the ground nearby chose to ignore us completely.

Except for ducks and chickens, my husband and I were alone on the premises.

Then, we heard the friendly squeak of a screen door at the front of the house and out stepped the tour guide, supposedly dressed in 1930’s garb. Her frumpy appearance looked more like she was headed to the barnyard to feed the chickens, which pretty much fit the scenery of Marjorie’s home. Being the last tour on this nippy, overcast day, Tom and I constituted the so-called tour group.

Following our guide to the front porch of the house, I experienced my second wave of disappointment. After having watched the movie, Cross Creek, with Mary Steenburgen, Peter Coyote and Rip Torn, for about a thousand times, I childishly had the  notion in my head that the movie was shot entirely on location. It wasn’t. In fact, I was soon to find out that there were many things in the movie that were not exactly true.

My first question to the guide was this: “Where’s the lake?” The guide laughed and told me that anyone who’d seen the movie expected to see a lake not far from Marjorie’s front door. She informed me that the movie production team had constructed a replica of the cracker house “a piece” down the road by the lake. Darn. It was akin to telling a kid there isn't a tooth fairy.

It wasn’t until I stepped onto the wooden porch that I shed my preconceived impressions of what I thought Cross Creek should look like. After all, this was Marjorie’s porch! To the right was the round table made by her first husband, Charles, the same table where Marjorie placed her typewriter and wrote her novels. This was the exact place – right here, right here - where she wrote The Yearling, the novel for which she won the Pulitzer in 1938.

Goosebumps shivered up and down my arms as the guide invited us into the cozy living room and intimate library. All the furniture is original, donated back to her home by Marjorie’s second husband, Norton Baskin.  

Standing in the center of the room, I imagined the likes of Ernest Hemingway sitting in one of the upholstered chairs drinking his whiskey, bourbon or whatever, immersed in conversations with other authors who had, at one time or another, visited Marjorie here at Cross Creek. Or, Max Perkins, the most fabulous editor of the mid-twentieth century, dining with other guests, in a second connected board and battened structure that housed the kitchen and dining room. Marjorie, an excellent cook, (See Cross Creek Cookery on was known to serve seven course meals to her guests.

The guest bedroom, located in a third connected structure, is Spartan in furnishings with a bed that looks a bit too narrow for visiting company, but I suppose everyone was smaller and shorter back then, all except for Gary Cooper (actor in The Yearling) who once stayed in this guest room. Perhaps Gary just kind of dangled his feet off the side of the bed. This bedroom was also used by Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind. Marjorie and "Peggy" Mitchell became good friends.  
Let’s see, Margaret Mitchell won the Pulitzer in 1937, and Marjorie won the Pulitzer in 1938. Two brilliant, independent women who attained remarkable literary success less than twenty years after women gained the right to vote! Truly amazing.

A comical point of interest in Marjorie’s house is the bathroom. It seems Marjorie had put in the first bathroom in the community. To celebrate this marvel of indoor plumbing, she held a party, icing down champagne in the bathroom sink and arranging red roses in the commode water. Lordy, I wish I’d known this gutsy woman!

The kitchen and dining room structure gave me the best insight as to who Marjorie really was as a person. The wood cook stove, wooden counters, old porcelain sink, the open cupboards displaying her dishes, and shelves filled with empty spice tins from the era. Not far from the backdoor of the kitchen is a fenced in garden. Ahhh, this was Marjorie’s domain, her real life as the woman who wrote about her existence in a rough backwoods environment.

Marjorie lived full-time at Cross Creek from 1928 through 1942. In 1941, she married Norton Baskin, her long-time friend. Marjorie and Norman spent the next decade dividing time between a farm in New York and Crescent Beach cottage, near St. Augustine, Florida.  However, most of her later writings she did at Cross Creek and the Crescent Beach cottage. Marjorie died December 14, 1953, after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 57. She is buried at Antioch Cemetery near Island Grove, not far from her home at Cross Creek.

Our tour of Marjorie’s Cross Creek home came to an end. Before leaving our guide at the back porch of Marjorie’s quaint kitchen, I asked her if she thought Mary Steenburgen and Peter Coyote did an adequate portrayal of Marjorie and Norman Baskin? She replied that Peter Coyote had actually met the then still-living Norman Baskin during filming and how close they were in appearance and speech. As to Mary Steenburgen, the guide kind of chuckled, saying that while she thought the actress did a marvelous “younger version” of Marjorie, she would like to see another movie made of Marjorie’s later years and that Kathy Bates would probably fit quite comfortably into the role. Interesting thought