Dear Michael Lee,
I know you are a southern woman, writer, cook (exhausted), relentless renovator. I devour your blog whether you are telling us about door colors, the saga of the columns and the corbels, farmstock living in your gorgeous front hall, or garden adventures with attack goats and boughs. The food ~~ did I mention that? As a non-cook (yet still exhausted), I can only gaze in wonder at your photos, salivating and googling the mysterious (to me) ingredients that sometimes creep into the recipes. (Recently I learned about chorizo sausage.)
Your books are here in my house with other writers I “know,” by which I mean to say I met them, shook hands, chatted, shared a meal or munchies. From some I wrested a signature in exchange for purchasing a book. I have not met you, nor do I have your signature honoring my shelf (your book tours never make it up here!), yet of all these women, I feel I know you best. Maybe those Libra stars that shone in the heavens over us both at birth helped, but I think it has more to do with the characters I have met and the adventures we, and all your readers, share through your wonderful writing. Yes, your characters speak with a southern accent, as all of the commentaries and reviews of your books point out, but it is a southern voice which I can hear well. And I am a Yankee.
I know that one of us northern girls has inspired you, and I want you to know that your fan base is not limited to the states where a dusting of snow is a welcomed, unusual sight.
The southern ideas of house as person, location as character, and family as the center and root of all things that matter are things I understand. Up here, it is said, we don’t dress up our crazies and put them on the porch. Actually, we do, but we disguise them and we are unlikely to admit it. Those porches up here often have ceilings painted “haint” blue, too, but for the most mundane reason ~~ to keep the mosquitoes away. How much more alive it seems to sit on a porch under a blue ceiling, knowing the blue is protecting us and all we love from the haints and their cohorts. And how invigorating it is to leap into the worlds you portray and share the intensity of life which your characters experience. In your books and blog I find passionate women I either want to meet or run from. I read with interest, amusement, and fear that I will meet myself in one of them. I nod, cry, and sigh. I pick up my phone and call my mother. Here, too, we have secret recipes and family secrets and secret family recipes. My mother’s recipes always include the secret ingredient. She says to me, “I’ll tell you the secret. Don’t write it down.” Now I’ll tell you. It always starts with S. Sugar, Salt or Smell it to see if you need to add more. Nothing as sinister as Teeny’s recipes, yet potentially harmful none the less. As I read Teeny’s family recipe book, I reflect. That place where women dream up revenge recipes and write them down — I want to escape both to that place and from that place.
Reading your books or your blog is the best kind of armchair travel. When my trip through the South ends, I am enlightened, moved, usually exhausted and either wishing for more or happy to be home again (no, I do not want to live with a few of those ladies, but Teeny, well, I’m the houseguest who won’t leave!). I have experienced descriptions of southern landscapes which have me opening the map to find this new place I should visit (or avoid), and houses so clearly drawn that I can feel them breathing as I step inside the pages. When I travel I collect tiny houses. The first time I met Teeny I thought of this one in my collection. It is one of my favorites. Is it because it is pink?
I wish I could share a birthday cake with you, and in fact, I did make one. It was red velvet, from Jacqueline’s Purple Chocolat Home recipe (I have made it several times and it is delicious–you would have loved it), but then I had the brilliant idea of decorating it. I used to do that with my mother when I was just a kid and she took all those classes our mothers took in the 70’s –cake decorating, ceramics, flower arranging. In the memory I have created I was quite good back then. But apparently cake decorating is a skill that is not like riding a bike. Yes, the cake decorating was a disaster. Teeny level. So I rushed downtown where I found two huge red velvet cupcakes. One for you and one for me!
I will stick with what I know best ~~ setting the table for your birthday celebration.
Our incredible autumn this year has meant fewer red and orange leaves but more flowers still in bloom, and these are from my yard.
We can wash down the red velvet cupcakes
with this New England nectar ~~
with this New England nectar ~~
~~ from a favorite local vineyard.
These cupcakes are huge enough to require forks. The baker told me someone had already been in this morning and purchased the dozen normal size cupcakes he had. When he saw the crazed look on my face he rushed into the back and came out with the big ones.
This one is for you.
And I’ve added six candles.
I’ll spare you my singing, but you can still make a wish.
Michael Lee, thank you for your books and your blog. (Oh, yes, those Pins … I could get happily lost there, too.) You have given me many moments of joy, ideas to reflect upon, and much inspiration.
From the depths of my Connecticut Yankee heart
I wish you
I wish you
a joyous birthday
and a wonderful year ahead.
And when Teeny takes cake decorating lessons
again, I will, too.
~~ visit Michael Lee West at Rattlebridge Farm ~~
~~ for more tributes to Michael Lee please visit Jain or Mary ~~
Jain~ a quiet life
Kitty~ Kitty’s Kozy Kitchen
Sarah~ Hyacinths for the Soul
Sam~ My Carolina Kitchen
Rett~ The Gazebo House
Jenna~ The Painted Apron
Linda~ More Fun Less Laundry
Debbie~ Mountain Breaths
Jacqueline~ Purple Chocolat Home
Pam~ Sidewalk Shoes
Susan~ Between Naps on the Porch
~~ join me also at ~~