Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: May 2021

Sabrina and I met in the McAlester OK Wal-Mart parking lot.

How I Met the Hillbilly Girl

By G. S. Norwood

Last Thursday was National Rescue Dog Day. Technically, it’s Jan’s week to write the blog, but she is busy rescuing dogs in the nail-biter finale of her upcoming novel, A Bone to Pick. So I thought I’d mark the occasion with another story about one of the dogs I’ve helped rescue. I’m calling this one, “How I Met the Hillbilly Girl.”

Rescue Required

Rescue groups coordinate their efforts all the time. So it wasn’t really a surprise when somebody from Mo-Kan Border Collie Rescue got in touch with the group I volunteered for early in March 2013. Headquartered in Houston, All Border Collie Rescue had outposts in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, and Oklahoma City back then. Mo-Kan had spotted what looked like a pure-bred dog in a small shelter in east central Oklahoma. She needed to get out, but Mo-Kan didn’t have a foster for her. They hoped we did.

The woman who worked at the shelter said the dog’s situation was dire. Not only did the shelter euthanize dogs when they ran out of space, they didn’t have separate runs for the dogs. This young female border collie—the shelter called her Sabrina—was in a big pen with a bunch of pit bulls. Some of them were unneutered males. Plus, Sabrina clearly hated the shelter. She was starting to shut down emotionally.

Sabrina in the shelter.
You can tell by the look on her face, Sabrina is saying, “Somebody get me out of here!” (see credit note below).

A Stake and a Chain

One potential foster backed out. Another couldn’t take the dog until the foster got back from a business trip. Meanwhile, the woman at the shelter was getting frantic.

“A man looked at her today,” she told us. “He said he didn’t have room, but he’s gone to ask if his nephew can keep her in his yard. He said he’d pick up a stake and a chain, to chain her out! If I tag her for rescue now, she won’t be available for him to adopt. Sabrina is a great dog. She deserves a better life than being staked out on a chain.”

Somebody had to step up. Even though I lived in a rented house at the time, and already had all the dogs my landladies would allow, I said I’d take Sabrina for a week, until the other foster got back from her business trip.

Warren’s purple truck.
I used Warren’s Dodge Dakota pickup truck for a lot of my dog transports. It’s easy to spot in a parking lot. (G. S. Norwood).

How I Met the Hillbilly Girl

A Mo-Kan volunteer in Fort Smith, Arkansas, agreed to pull Sabrina from the shelter. I would drive north to McAlester, Oklahoma. We’d meet in the Wal-Mart parking lot so I could take Sabrina to my place in Texas, where I’d hold her for the week.

It was cold and cloudy when I pulled into the McAlester Wal-Mart parking lot that Saturday morning. It wasn’t long before I spotted the blue Hyundai I was watching for—and she spotted my infamous purple Dodge Dakota pickup truck. (It was Warren’s. It’s hard to miss.)

Sabrina was more than happy to get out of the car and take a deep breath of freedom. Then she sat on my feet, leaned on my leg. Jumped up to wrap her front legs around me and give me a kiss. Wendy, the Mo-Kan volunteer, took some pictures, then I loaded Sabrina into the front seat of my truck, and we were Texas bound.

Sabrina and I met in the McAlester OK Wal-Mart parking lot.
Sabrina was really happy to get out of that shelter and meet me for her ride to Texas. (Photo by Wendy Mac).

Transport Failure

Some dogs fresh out of the shelter are so bouncy I have to crate them so it’s safe to drive. Not Sabrina. She curled up on the seat and fell asleep almost instantly. Little by little, as I drove south, Sabrina moved closer to me, until she was pressing against my leg. As we crossed the Red River I said, “Congratulations, pretty girl. You’re a Texan now.”

She let out a huge sigh, put her head on my knee, and fell deeply asleep.

I had been looking to adopt a classic black and white female border collie for the past five months. I thought a female would be a better fit with my very shy male dog, Tam. I had a foster dog, Chess, but he would be up for adoption soon. I wanted a second dog to keep.

When a volunteer agrees to foster a dog, we’re supposed to help the dog be adopted by someone else. If the foster decides to adopt the dog herself, we call that a “foster failure.” By the time I got Sabrina home, I knew she wasn’t even going to be a foster failure. She was a transport failure.

Zoe the first night out of the shelter.
Zoe’s first night in her new home. Note the untouched chicken in her bowl. (G. S. Norwood).

Meet Zoe, the Hillbilly Girl

I was on the phone to my chapter coordinator as soon as I got home. Sabrina became Zoe. I brought her home on a Saturday. On Monday, she went into her first heat cycle. We had pulled her in the nick of time.

She wasn’t used to fancy dog food. That first night out of the shelter she completely snubbed some home-cooked chicken and rice I’d made her. The next night I sprinkled a little Purina Dog Chow on the chicken. Now THAT was good eatin’!

She showed other preferences as I got to know her better. She was super tuned in to pizza and Whataburger drive-up windows. She liked men in their late 20s to early 30s. And she always perked up when she heard a motorcycle drive by. You can tell a lot about a dog by the things she likes, and Zoe’s tastes were distinctly redneck. That’s how she got the nickname Hillbilly Girl. Still, she’s a class act. I don’t know what we’d do without her.

Three photos from Zoe’s current life.
The Hillbilly Girl Zoe is now the “Sheriff” of the Pack (photos L-R by G. S. Norwood, Christine Lindsay, and Julia Rigler Photography).


We have several sources to thank for the photos in this post. The first one is Sabrina’s shelter photo (Maybe they’ve been able to improve conditions since then, but we’ve chosen to redact the shelter’s name). The series of Sabrina and G. meeting is by Wendy Mac, the Mo-Kan volunteer from Arkansas (montage by Jan S. Gephardt). And the photos of Warren’s purple truck and Sabrina/Zoe on her first night in her new home are by G. S. Norwood. In the final montage, L-R, the photos are by G. S. Norwood, Christine Lindsay, and Julia Rigler (again, montage by Jan S. Gephardt). Many thanks to all!

Deviled eggs, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Brownies with chocolate chips, and the movie “Wreck-It Ralph.”

Stuff that Works

By G. S. Norwood

Do you have trusted favorites? Movies you always turn to when you’re sad? Music that somehow never grows old? Maybe it’s a series of books that feature such a beloved setting and characters you can slip away into them whenever the world makes you weary, and find yourself at home amongst friends. Do you long to pull on your favorite sweater, and settle down in your favorite chair, with your favorite tea in your favorite mug? Congratulations! You’ve found yourself some stuff that works.

“Stuff that Works,” by Guy Clark (Paul Adamietz and his You Tube Channel)

Americana music legend Guy Clark defined stuff that works as, “Stuff that’s real. Stuff you feel. The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall.” Here’s some of the stuff that works for me.

As You Wish

My relationship with The Princess Bride goes all the way back to William Goldman’s original novel. I discovered it at a little science fiction book store just off campus when I was working toward my BFA in Theatre. I read it in a weekend to escape more academic reading assignments, then started sharing it with my friends. And I even brought it to the costume shop where I worked over the summer. If an actor was assigned to help us, but had no sewing skills, we would demand dramatic readings for entertainment. The sword fight on the Cliffs of Insanity was a big favorite.

A montage of images from “The Princess Bride.”
One thing that works: The Princess Bride. (Credits below).

So I was eager to see what Rob Reiner had done with the story when the film came out in 1987. Warren had no experience with the story, but trusted my judgement, and he loved it so much we went back a second time to take his mother to see it. Then we visited my mother at Thanksgiving and took her to see it, too. Now I divide my friends into those who quote The Princess Bride and those who have no idea what the rest of us are laughing about.

I watched it again not long ago, and am delighted to say that it still holds up just fine.

Dried Leaves in Water

Somehow, I never picked up the habit of drinking coffee. I remember, when I was a kid, my parents’ morning coffee smelled so good as it was perking. But, when I begged for a sip, the bitter brew tasted just horrible. They drank it black, and never thought to sweeten it with milk and sugar for a child’s palate.

Tea was a different story. Mom used to give us hot tea with buttered graham crackers when we came home from school in the afternoon. We always had iced tea in the summer. By the time I got to college, my taste for tea marked me as a slightly eccentric individual. (Even back then I enjoyed having that kind of reputation.) Now I start nearly every day with a cup of hot tea.

A mug, a plate, and a teapot near G.’s tea kettle.
All set for dried leaves in water! The ceramics are all by Alex Macias. (Photo by G. S. Norwood).

My taste for functional pottery grew out of my love for tea. Now my mug collection threatens to take over my kitchen cabinets, and nearly all my dishes are handmade pottery creations.

A Home in Notting Hill

I have never been to England, but I feel as if I have friends in Notting Hill. This is because mystery writer Deborah Crombie does such a great job of evoking the sights, sounds, and criminal intent of London in her Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James novels. She calls them “novels with a body in them,” and has created such a beloved cast of characters that I can’t wait to read each book as it comes out. Opening a new Deborah Crombie novel is like sitting down with old friends over tea, for a nice long gossip, to catch up on what they’ve been doing. Going back to re-read earlier books is a joy as well. Escaping the stress and boredom of the mundane world with a trip to Notting Hill is a coping mechanism that has worked for me for years.

Deborah Crombie and all of her books that were published as of May, 2021.
Mystery novelist Deborah Crombie and her book covers to date (credits below).

Random Pleasures

There’s lots of other random stuff that works for me. Stuff I can go back to whenever I feel stressed or just too tired to think. The animated film, Wreck-it Ralph is a good example. Weird, I know, but I’ve watched it more than a dozen times.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s cover of the old Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia song, Ripple. You can play that one at my funeral, if you’re not sure what music is appropriate.

A soft gray sweater tunic I picked up one year at Chico’s. It’s baggy. Shapeless. It came in purple and gray. I leaned toward the purple, but it looked horrible on me. The gray, however, was cloud-soft, flattered my face, and lived in my closet for years and years and years. I always look forward to the onset of cold weather because I know it is waiting for me.

Deviled eggs, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Brownies with chocolate chips, and the movie “Wreck-It Ralph.”
Some of the Stuff that Works for G. (credits below).

Stuff That Works

Deviled Eggs and Fudge Brownies are not necessarily to be eaten together. But these two simple foods are my go-to recipes when I need to contribute to a pot luck dinner. I am a traditionalist on both fronts.

The deviled eggs have mayo, yellow mustard, and a dusting of paprika. You can use vinegar, pickle relish, Dijon mustard, or any number of other “gourmet” variations, but they won’t taste right. The original is always the best.

Ditto the brownies. Make ‘em from scratch. Use butter and Baker’s unsweetened chocolate. Replace the walnuts the recipe calls for with Nestle’s Toll House Morsels. You won’t regret it.

And that’s the goal, isn’t it? To find stuff you can reach for, time and again, when you need just the right thing without overthinking it. What is some of the stuff that works for you?


We definitely have a lot of people to thank for the imagery in this week’s post, starting with Paul Adamietz and his You Tube Channel for the “GUY CLARK STUFF THAT WORKS” video. If you enjoyed it, please give him a thumbs-up (and maybe subscribe?). While we’re on the relatively simple images, we’d like to thank G. S. Norwood for the photo of her MUG, PLATE, AND TEAPOT, all created by Alex Macias, of Alex Macias Ceramics of McKinney, TX. All of the montages were assembled by Jan S. Gephardt. Credits for the montage images are grouped by montage.

For the PRINCESS BRIDE montage:

We thank the following: Fototelegraf, for the movie still of Fred Savage and Peter Falk as the grandson and grandfather. Kentucky Sports Radio, for the photo of Inigo (Mandy Patinkin), Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), and Fezzik (André the Giant). All Posters, for the kiss that “left them all behind,” featuring Westley (Cary Elwes) and Buttercup (Robin Wright). On roughly the next row down, we acknowledge with gratitude: Abe Books, for the 1984 cover of the edition that G. read, of William Goldman’s book, The Princess Bride.

We were delighted to find Kelly Martinez’s “Movies from Another Point of View” on Buzzfeed, with the “Have Fun Storming the Castle” photo of Carol Kane and Billy Crystal as Valerie and Miracle Max (the latter recently quoted in a different post on this blog). Thanks very much to Amazon, for the nice image of the original movie poster from 1987. And for the center-bottom photo, once again featuring Elwes and Wright as Westley and Buttercup, we’d like to acknowledge (and urge you to investigate) All Roads Lead to the Kitchen’s recipe for “Fire Swamp Fireball Cocktail.”

For the montage of DEBORAH CROMBIE and ALL HER BOOKS:

We are delighted to thank Ms. Crombie herself, via her website. Since G. mentioned the Notting Hill setting, we were pleased to find the photo of Deborah Crombie at Falafel King in Notting Hill, London (2009) in her website’s photo gallery. And we gratefully acquired the images of her book covers (with helpful ordinal numbers!) from her website’s listing of The Books. Many thanks and much love, Deb!

For the STUFF THAT WORKS montage:

Many thanks to IMDB, for the Wreck-It Ralph movie poster. A big thank-you to Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s website “Photos” gallery, for the photo of Gilmore on stage. The mouth-watering photo of fudge brownies with chocolate chips comes from Food and Thrift’s post, “Chocolate Chip Fudge Brownies . . . and Breast Cancer Awareness!” (YES! There’s a recipe there, too!). Now we’re both grateful to blogger Elizabeth, and craving brownies. Finally, author G. S. Norwood is also the author of the deviled eggs (and the apple pie in the background), as well as the photographer for the last image on the right. Many thanks to all!

The looming rose bush that inspired this post.


By G. S. Norwood

Family Weirdness

My sister and I call ourselves the Weird Sisters, but the truth is, we are not the only eccentric people on our family tree. Not by a country mile. Trust me on this. There was, for instance, our grandmother, Ethel Briscoe Sherrell. The story of her father – our great-grandpa – and the hand-tinted photograph of an elderly farm wife with a giant rose bush, is only one example of our family weirdness.

A Picture of Pearl

Fat pink roses.
The photo showed a woman standing in front of a rose bush, covered with big, deep pink roses. (Photo: G. S. Norwood).

As long as I can remember, an old-fashioned photograph hung over Grandma Sherrell’s bed. It had a fancy wooden frame with a domed glass cover. The photo showed a woman in a plain house dress and apron, her hair pulled back in a bun, standing in front of a tall, awkwardly-shaped rose bush, covered with big, deep pink roses.

The photo must have been black and white to begin with, but my grandmother had paid to have it enlarged and hand tinted. All the other colors had faded over the years, but those fat, pink roses still glowed out of the picture, catching my eye every time. Finally, when I was in college, I asked Grandma Sherrell the history behind the photo.

“That’s the only picture I have of my mother,” she told me.

Family History

Two photos of Grandma Ethel Sherrell, one with Grandpa Jack Sherrell.
Ethel and Jack Sherrell, unlikely source of family weirdness (Sherrell Family Archive).

Ethel was the oldest child of Ira and Pearl Thornton Briscoe. Born deep in the hills of south-central Missouri in 1904, Ethel assumed the traditional family role of helping her mother care for her seven younger brothers and sisters. She felt very close to her mother, but never cared much for her father. She told me once he was mean.

But what was the story of the rose bush? Even back then, I loved roses, and I knew my grandmother had tried to raise a few of the thorny, finicky hybrid teas that passed for commercially available roses in mid-century Missouri. The bush in the picture didn’t look like any rose I’d ever seen. True shrub roses had mostly fallen out of fashion when I was a kid, and weren’t readily available in the nurseries and garden centers around Springfield.

“My mother planted that bush down by the front gate,” my grandmother recalled. “She loved it. It had the prettiest pink flowers, and always smelled so good.”

Rose History

I could well imagine. A rose like that might offer a little oasis of beauty in the otherwise hard life of a hill country farm wife with a growing family to care for. The roses we now call antiques, like Teddy Roosevelt’s reputed favorite, Duchesse de Brabant, were fashionable shrubs around the turn of the past century. Country women often started new bushes from rooted cuttings passed from friend to friend.

The rose and the Roosevelt: Duchesse de Brabant Rose and Teddy Roosevelt.
The antique shrub rose Duchesse de Brabant was reportedly Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite. (Photos: Annie’s Annuals/Malcolm Manners, and The White House).

Tragedy and Revenge

But then my grandmother’s story took a darker turn.

“One day my daddy took a notion to do some damn fool thing. Move the fence. Plant another row of beans. Something. He cut down my mother’s rose bush without even asking her.”

At this point, the story began to take on fairy tale elements for me. Didn’t Ira know you should never cut down a beloved thorn bush? That’s a sure-fire way to incur the wrath of the fairies. Or your wife.

My grandmother nodded to her photo. “My mother loved that rose bush, and never forgave him for cutting it down. In the original photo, my mother and my father both were standing there by the gate, where the rose bush used to be. It’s the only photo I have of my mother, but I never liked my father. I took the photo to the man who did enlargements and hand tinting. I asked him to blow the picture up, do the hand tinting, and paint that rose bush back where it belonged, right over the top of Daddy.”


I was both thrilled and appalled by Grandma Sherrell’s story. Appalled by the symbolic patricide of replacing her father with her mother’s lost rose bush. But also, a little thrilled to know that I was descended from such ruthlessness. Nobody ever said Grandma Sherrell was an easy woman. Yes, she was first in line to help cook church dinners and volunteer for the Navy Mothers Club. At the same time, she was sometimes impossible to please, and always quick to decide which of her acquaintances would be “in the Kingdom” come Judgement Day.


When Grandma died, Jan and I both wanted the picture, but our great-aunt Maxine—Ethel’s youngest sister—called dibs because it was the only photo she had of her mother, too. We have no idea where the photo is now, with Maxine long gone. The story of the rose bush, however, has stuck with both of us. And just the other day, as I was taking photos of my own rose bush, Zephirine Drouhin, I framed the shot, then looked up from my camera in shocked recognition.

The looming rose bush that inspired this post.
G.’s own Zephrine Drouhin rose. (Photo: G. S. Norwood).

There, looming more than six feet tall on my phone screen, was a narrow, awkwardly-shaped rose bush, covered in brilliant, fragrant pink blooms.

“Great-Grandpa!” I cried.


The Duchesse de Brabant rose photo is courtesy of “Annie’s Annuals” and photographer Malcolm Manners. The photo of Teddy Roosevelt is from The White House. The photos of Jack and Ethel Sherrell are from the Sherrell Family archive, as noted. Photos of G.’s roses (which followers of this blog may remember from last week’s post) are by G. S. Norwood. All montages assembled by Jan S. Gephardt.

This is how the strong survive, a montage of happy roses.

Only the Strong Survive

By G. S. Norwood

I have blogged about my flower garden before. Heaven knows my Facebook friends are tired of the new iris and rose photos I post every spring. But this year it felt a little different, stepping out into my garden after the Great Texas Deep Freeze of this past February. When our temperatures dipped into single digits, I was afraid everything in my garden would die. With temperatures like that, only the strong survive.

The once-verdant plant stand is a disaster zone after the freeze.
The patio plant stand in happier days (at left). Today it’s a total loss. (G. S. Norwood).

Total Loss

Let’s get through the painful part first. My back patio plant stand, which has been thriving in fairly deep shade for at least the last five summers, is a total loss. I’ve managed to overwinter three types of ferns, and even some tender begonias, for the past two years. They all bit the dust this winter. Even though I covered them, they weren’t strong enough to survive snow and sub-zero nights.

The only up-side is that I now have a chance to clean out old pots and repaint the weathered boards I used to build the plant stand. The boards still need another coat of paint, but then it’s off to the nurseries for me. Fingers crossed that there will be anything left after all the other gardeners in the county turned out to replace the zillion plants they’d lost to the freezing temperatures.

If only the strong survive, the verdict is still out on the flame acanthus.
In happier days, the flame acanthus attracted hummingbirds to the window outside my home office. Now it’s mostly dead, with a few inappropriate volunteer trees mixed in. (G. S. Norwood).

Looking Dead

Out front there looked to be some obvious casualties. The creeping lemon thyme and the delightful blackfoot daisy that once spilled over the edge of my planter box were both undeniably dead, as was the dwarf butterfly bush I’d intended to plant in a bare spot last fall.

Other perennials, including three flame acanthus bushes, a Texas sage, my cluster of rock roses, and a newly planted abelia looked dead, but still had some spring in their twigs. I might have to do some pruning, but there is a chance they can come back from the root.

The clematis vine, on the trellis next to the front steps, also looked dead. But it always looks dead over the winter. I decided to hold out some hope that these plants were, to quote Miracle Max in The Princess Bride, “only mostly dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive.”

Built of sterner stuff than the Texas natives, the clematis bounced back.
The clematis vine was only mostly dead, but quickly came back to glorious life. (G. S. Norwood).

Only the Strong Survive

In contrast to the Texas natives like the flame acanthus and the blackfoot daisy, my roses apparently loved the cold snap. They have come roaring back this spring, with thick foliage, lots of blossoms, and nary a hint of black spot. Even the Snow Witch rose that got accidentally mowed over is blooming like never before. They brighten my days and perfume my yard. I’ll let them speak for themselves.

This is how the strong survive, a montage of happy roses.
The roses came roaring back. Clockwise from upper left: Maggie, Zephrine, Carnival Glass, Marie Daly (pink), Sweet Pegge, and the return of the previously-mowed Snow Witch. (G. S. Norwood).

Iris Festival

Like the roses, my iris are enjoying a great spring. Iris grow happily in colder climates. February’s freeze seems to have invigorated them. Old favorites like Titan’s Glory and War Chief are blooming lushly. I even have blooms this spring from rhizomes I planted years ago but never saw a flower from, including the spectacular Cantina and Medici Prince.

If only the strong survive, here’s a gallery of my iris heroes.
My iris are having a great spring. Clockwise from upper left: Diamond Lake, Cantina, Medici Prince, Titan’s Glory, Cascadian Rhythm, No Count Blues, Blue Heritage, and War Chief. (G. S. Norwood).

The Garden Evolves

I’m not going to tell you that I’m glad we had such cold weather this past winter. Never mind my plants; 151 Texans died because of that cold snap. We don’t need that again. But the freeze did give me the chance to reassess my garden. In the weeks ahead I will trim back the plants that got overgrown. Shape and reshape the overall composition of the borders out front. I’ll give big plants more room, root out volunteer trees that are in completely the wrong place, and make the whole thing just a little bit closer to my ideal. Because no garden is ever completely finished. A garden is a living thing that keeps the gardener busy, and happy, for a lifetime.


Many thanks to author G. S. Norwood for the photos she took of her garden. All are ©2020-2021 by G. S. Norwood. If you wish to use them, kindly attribute the photographer and provide a link back to this post. G. is the author of the urban fantasy “Deep Ellum” stories, set in the historic Deep Ellum neighborhood of Dallas, Texas. The montages were prepared by Jan S. Gephardt.

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