Mother’s Day

I will look after you and I will look after anybody you say needs to be looked after, any way you say. I am here. I brought my whole self to you. I am your mother.

Maya Angelou, Mom & Me & Mom

Ola Mae Turner Myers, my mother, was born in Union County, Tennessee, a farming community outside Knoxville. She was the second child and daughter born to Elsie Seymour Turner and Ura Turner.

My mother’s father was only 22 when he was killed in a mining accident leaving my then 19 year old grandmother with two children under 3 years old.

My grandmother, Elsie Seymour Turner Heiskell

With winter coming on, my young widowed grandmother packed up a few necessities, bundled up her two babies against the November chill, and moved back home to her mother, Rebecca Seymour.

Rebecca Seymour, my great grandmother, was the

My great grandmother, Rebecca Seymour.

midwife for her Union County community. She had never married, so she raised her seven children alone. That’s right! Rebecca Seymour was one of many women of that place and time, who chose independence over being worked to death on a farm. But that’s another story.  She had a horse and wagon and land and work to provide for her needs; and she could do anything that needed to be done: plant, milk, chop, sew, and build. She could comfort her grieving daughter and her precious grandchildren.

My mother Ola Mae Turner Myers as a young woman

I have small girl memories of my own mother in a navy blue suit and a hat. When my mother went out, she came home with paper dolls and helped me cut them out. She played piano by ear, and she had a pretty voice. She mashed butter into white Karo syrup for eating on her hot brown biscuits. When I was sick, she made egg custard in a double boiler. Our red and white striped slip covers and curtains matched, and she had sewn all of it herself. She sewed my seersucker night gowns too. I remember slipping them over my head while I was still damp from the bath.

Those were the good days. Bad times would come for us too, and my mother stood strong. Today I am thinking of these women, the mothers who came before me, and hoping I am just a little like them.

If You Saw Something in the Metro, You Would Say Something.

If you saw something in the metro, you would say something. Say something about this.

One casualty of Donald Trump’s first 100 days may be my sense of humor. While Tump’s theater-of-the-absurd candidacy for President often elicited guffaws and head-shaking disbelief, his Presidency has been no laughing matter.

George Will’s must-read column appearing in Thursday’s Virginian-Pilot only darkened my gloomy outlook. Will, a conservative, has a long association with the Koch brothers, those ultra-conservative, self-serving, big money plutocrats. This makes yesterday’s column all the more chilling.

After documenting the worst of Trump’s many displays of “mortifying” ignorance, Will concludes with the following directive:

“So it’s up to the public to quarantine this presidency by insistently communicating to its elected representatives a steady, rational fear of this man whose combination of impulsivity and credulity render him uniquely unfit to take the nation into a military conflict.”

This mandate demands our attention. And it’s not just about my sense of humor. It’s about the future of our nation. It’s no laughing matter.  Speak up!


Susan Motley copyright May 2017

Tomi Wortham Short


It’s hard for me to believe that it has been nearly thirty years since the day I first met Tomi Short. Hard to believe because I remember the day so vividly.

I can see my hand on the knob of the metal door that opened to The Starting Pointe School of Dance in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I remember pushing the door thinking it was not going to open; and when it did, finding Tomi seated at a desk just inside. Her smile was quick; her eyes sparkled. “Have a seat, Mom,” she said, “while I talk with your girls. Feel free to look through my scrapbook on the table there.”

Emily wanted to take ballet class and Elisabeth wanted to tap. I mindlessly flipped through the scrapbook focusing more on the conversation taking place with my children. Tomi coaxed Elisabeth into ballet explaining that the dance form is the foundation for all dance. We talked about their ages and the clothing and shoes they would need for their classes. I glanced at the framed photo signed, “Tomi, there will always be a place for you here, George Balanchine.” We settled on two ballet classes per week for two eager little girls, and the rest, as they say, is history.


Over the many years Emily and Elisabeth danced with Tomi, they learned so many things. They learned the mundane but powerful truth that practice makes perfect. They learned life skills such as the importance of punctuality and preparedness; how to work within a group to achieve a common purpose. Tomi stressed the importance of taking care of the body including the feet. Once after looking at a photo of feet bruised and blistered from pointe shoes, Tomi snorted, “That’s ridiculous. Mine never looked like that.”

That spring the students of The Starting Pointe didn’t have a recital. They had a performance: Jack and the Beanstalk. I don’t think our region had ever seen anything quite like it. The experience developed in her students self-assurance and discipline and pride in being part of something bigger than themselves.

I at last came to understand the significance of Tomi’s relationship with the New York City Ballet, George Balanchine, Ninnette, and Jacques d’Amboise and others; but she was always just Mrs. Short to us.

She was the Mrs. Short who, unable to find affordable costumes with fur accents, cut up her own mink jacket. When I expressed my disbelief, she was matter of fact. “People here don’t wear fur,” she explained. “and if I were to wear it in New York these days, it might be spray painted. Better to use it for costumes.” I am certain the mice scampering across the stage never knew they were adorned in mink.

In the end, Mrs. Short left us moving on to Richmond and Abingdon where she continued her engagement with the arts and dance. We stayed in touch though, and I will miss our visits with her infrequent as they were. She never failed to ask for information about her former students. She never failed to inspire me with her spunk even as she railed about the ravages of time on her body.

From her instruction of young dancers to her more recent work with senior citizens suffering from dementia, Tomi Wortham Short has left a powerful legacy. So many of us are better because we knew her. We will miss her.


Copyright May 2017

English Has Gone Global

From Seville to Madrid to La Alberca to Barcelona, the following scenarios repeat with astonishing frequency.

From Seville to Madrid to La Alberca to Barcelona, adults are studying English.

Scenario #1
Me: Hola!
Spaniard: Hola!
Me: Habla Ingles?
Spaniard: Of course. How can I help you?

Scenario #2
Me: Hola!
Spaniard: Hola!
Me: Habla Ingles?
Spaniard: No, no. Only little.
Me: Donde esta ehhhhh el …ehhhh la…ehhhh …..
Spaniard: How can I help you?

Scenario #3
Me: Hola!
Spaniard: Hola!
Me: Habla Ingles?
Spaniard: Yes, how can I help you?
Me: How did you learn English?
Spaniard: In school. This isn’t my first job. I work here at night only to improve my English.

For the second year in a row, my travels in Spain began with an eight-day stint as a volunteer English speaker for Diverbo’s Pueblo Ingles. And for the second year in a row, I emerged from the experience with an acute awareness that the English language has gone global. It is the language of the Internet, and possibly because of that, of international business. For many, it is the language of securing employment and raising one’s standard of living.

In the course of one day, a Spaniard working in a multi-national company could speak with a client in Paris in the morning, a supplier in Louisville, Kentucky before lunch, and the CFO of her company in Kyoto, Japan before leaving work for the day. At home that evening, the employee will prepare for the next day’s conference call with a New York-based advertising agency and the company’s marketing division in Japan. All of the calls will be conducted in English. All will be somewhat accent laden and without the facial expressions and hand gestures so helpful for communication.

Just in case you, a native speaker of English, have relaxed into thinking that you would enjoy an advantage here, think again. This common English language of business has been dubbed Globish, and it is characterized by the speakers’ impeccable grammar and sizable vocabularies. Native speakers of English are known to be the most difficult to understand in these situations.

Consider also, that for years Spain has endured high unemployment rates. The website Trading Economics and others report that Spain has averaged an 18% unemployment rate over recent months.

English language proficiency is becoming an imperative for seeking and holding a job in this highly competitive market. In fact, my Pueblo Ingles students tell me that interviews can switch to English without warning.

With employment and advancement on the job at stake, members of Spain’s workforce are banking that English proficiency will distinguish them from their less fluent peers. At the same time, English language instruction has become big business in Spain and throughout the world.

From East Tennessee to Catalonia, Onions Inspire Spring Festivals

The crispiness of a slice of sweet new spring onion perched on a crunchy saltine cracker is not only an addictive snacking combination. Some even maintain that the daily consumption of this humble vegetable is the key to a life of good health.

You may know that Georgia has its Vidalia, Texas has its Texas Sweet, Washington has its Walla Walla, and they all have their festivals. But there’s more. From Italy to Germany to Switzerland to the UK and beyond, the humble onion inspires countless celebrations.

And that brings me to the ramp and the calcot (pronounced cal sote), two members of the onion family whose spring arrival is celebrated almost simultaneously. Polk County, Tennessee is the home of the Annual Ramp Tramp Festival (one of many ramp festivals throughout the US) and Valls, Tarragona, located on the outskirts of Barcelona, Spain, is the home of Calcotada.

In the Catalan region of Spain that includes Barcelona, the calcot eating begins in January and runs through April. The calcot’s mild sweet flavor is attributed to a cultivation method that involves piling soil around the plant to protect and lengthen the white part of the onion.

Throughout Catalonia the spring arrival of the little onion is observed with cooking demonstrations, parades, eating competitions and Calcotada, the harvest festival.

Calcots require little to no cleaning prior to cooking and are typically grilled over open flames until blackened, then wrapped in newspaper, and served on terra cotta tiles to keep them warm. The traditionalist will eat each calcot by first dipping the white part in Romesco sauce before tipping back his head and guiding the entire calcot into his mouth. It’s a messy business but a true Catalonian delicacy.

While Catalonians are harvesting, grilling and eating their little onions, ramp festivals are sprouting up just about anywhere ramps can be found. They grow wild in mountainous regions from North and South Carolina through Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, New York and Canada. Polk County, Tennessee located about two hours south of Knoxville or an hour east of Chattanooga, is the home of one such festival: the Ramp Tramp Festival has been held annually since 1958.

During the first days of the festival, ramp lovers armed with digging equipment will tramp up mountains through forests and hollers in search of a fine stand of ramps. They must be harvested carefully leaving behind undamaged plants for regrowth.

To the tune of bluegrass and gospel music, cooks carefully clean the dirty ramps and prepare the ultimate festival meal of white beans cooked with streaked meat (fat back), garnished with sliced raw ramps, and served with cornbread. The ramps, whose flavor has been described as a combination of leek and garlic, can be scrambled with eggs, fried with potatoes, wilted in bacon fat or roasted and grilled whole.

This time of year, look for ramps in farm markets in regions where ramps grow wild. But you had better act fast. By the end of April, ramp and calcot lovers alike will have to be content waiting for next year.


Copyright Susan Motley 2017

Dreaming in Spanish

The gardens of the Alcazar in Sevilla

A few years ago, an acquaintance who had recently returned from a holiday in Spain assured me that I didn’t need to see that country until I had exhausted my travel bucket list. “Nothing there,” she said, “that you can’t see elsewhere in Europe.”

I went anyway as a volunteer English speaker.

A bus load of us, roughly half Anglos and half Spaniards, were brought together to inhabit Pueblo Ingles for eight days of English-only conversation in a mountain resort outside La Alberca. We came from all walks of life. Among us there was a doctor, a college professor, a meteorologist, a travel writer, a few teachers working and retired, and a host of business professionals. We were mothers, fathers, single, newly married, facing divorce. We ranged from young global wanderers to a spunky eighty-something Irish woman, also a global wanderer. Two of us were British ex-pats who had years before chosen to live in Spain.

We Anglos were all looking for the opportunity to give back something while experiencing the vibrance of Spain and its people. The Spaniards were earnest in their determination to improve their English speaking skills, and we Anglos were charged with that responsibility.

Monument to La Alberca’s pig

During those eight days we ate every meal together. We partied together. We watched futbol, Madrid vs. Barcelona. We planned and delivered presentations, we acted in skits, and played games. We talked about everything from the mundane, the weather (Please don’t take that personally, Sebastian), to the vital: raising children, helping ailing parents, working too hard, maintaining and ending relationships, making career decisions. We laughed every day. Ostensibly we Anglos had come to volunteer, but truthfully, like our Spanish counterparts, we too had come to learn.

I learned that Spaniards are justifiably proud of their towns, cities and regions; and since that time at Pueblo Ingles with the big hearted Spaniards who came together there, I have had a dream. I dream of returning to Spain and renting a small villa for one or two months in Valencia or Jerez. I want to see the dancing horses and the white-washed cities. I want to see more Flamenco and hear the guitar. I want to visit every cathedral, I want to go to Basque Country and San Sebastian. I want to go to Cordoba, Toledo, Cuenca, Malaga, Avila; and

The walled city of Avila seen from the highway.

I want to see everything in each of those places. I want to see a bull fight and a football match. I want to drink the wine, eat the ham, sip the sherry, enjoy the tapas, and drizzle good Spanish olive oil on everything possible. I want to walk the Camino de Santiago. I want to go to Gibraltar and see a huge ship pass through the straits. I want to return to the Alhambra, and take in the sweet scent of Seville’s gardens. I want to seek out every crazy Spanish festival and so much more.

Because there is so much more to Spain. From its history and culture to its stunning architecture and natural features to its beautiful language and its generous people; there are so many things not to be found anywhere else in the world or Europe for that matter.

The Illegals

We had boarded our wee-hours-of-the-morning flight with plans of a wedding party lunch in Miami, but before we were even settled in our seats, the pilot announced that the plane had not received mandatory maintenance the night before and that we should deplane. We were told to rest easy though. The maintenance crew was already on its way—from Charlotte! But no worries as they say. We had a long layover in Miami, and in the highly unlikely event that we didn’t arrive in time to make our connection, there was a nearly empty flight to Montego Bay taking off from the same concourse. We could hop right on. Still we watched uneasily as other passengers were booked to other flights while we waited and earnestly considered Bloody Marys.

To shorten this saga of mishap-filled air travel, we did not connect to our flight out of Miami, and the Montego Bay flight did not exist. Six members of our party of eight had been automatically ticketed for a much later flight. The remaining two were routed to Dallas where they would spend the night and fly to Jamaica the next day.

Hoping to stick together, we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening regularly pestering and alternately befriending the gate crew. We wanted to be first in line when two seats opened up for the direct flight to Jamaica. We were rewarded with vouchers for more airport food than we could eat.

The prospect that we would all fly together began dimming in direct proportion to the growing crowd and noise level in the gate area. Then the inevitable announcement rang out. The airline needed ten passengers to give up their seats. Ten.

I don’t remember who of us approached the gate crew to find out how this could happen, but we learned that ten illegal immigrants were being returned to Jamaica on our flight.

The Dallas bound members of our party said good bye, and the rest of us craned our necks for a look at the ten despicable heinous hardened criminals who would be taking those ten seats condemning ten paying passengers to spending the night in Miami and receiving free flights to anywhere in the continental United States. Ten villains.

Just at boarding time, the group was escorted onto the concourse where they lined up to board first. An uneasy assemblage of ten women and children.

My Grandma’s Pretty Garden

My pretty Cullipher Farm CSA. Elsie Heiskell would find it pretty.

With a small metal dishpan and a paring knife in her hand, my Grandma Heiskell would call her little dog Scrapper to chase away the snakes; and we would take the short walk up the dirt and gravel road to her vegetable garden just above the house.

There we plucked sun-warmed tomatoes, okra, and corn. We pulled sweet onions from the ground and dug new potatoes. We placed these things in the dishpan. Standing in the shade of the rows of corn, I would be dismayed that there were no green beans to be found, but with my grandmother’s encouragement to look with my hands, there they were in abundance.

On the way back to the house, my grandmother would exclaim “how pretty” the food in the dishpan was. Pretty! Back then I thought pretty a strange word to describe the produce from the garden, the produce that she had labored over since spring fending off every sort of weed and pest.

But pretty was her word for the unblemished ear of corn, the plump green bean, the perfectly ripe tomato, the shiny white onion, the crisp green lettuce or cabbage.

Today I delight in our weekly CSA share of leafy greens, reds, and purples that are just simply so pretty.


Copyright Susan Motley 2017

My Flower Ban Has Been Lifted

The New Leaf van on Valentine’s Day 2017

I must have been desperate for dinner out or for an escape from the daily grind when a beautiful and obviously expensive flower arrangement arrived from my husband. I thanked him but told him firmly that from that day forward there were to be no more flowers. “Take me to dinner or a movie, a concert or a play,” I said. “Flowers die. And then they are thrown out. It’s a waste of money.”

What was I thinking? I love flowers. Everyone who knows me knows this about me. Still, I never took back those words.

In the years that followed, I gleaned the elements of our holiday table arrangements from our backyard. We brushed away the occasional insect or spider that appeared on the tablecloth. We ignored the brown frost spots on camellias and the black spot on rose leaves. Family and friends kindly overlooked the less than perfect symmetry of my homemade arrangements.

Then this past Valentine’s Day, my husband and I agreed to assist the two regular delivery persons for a local florist shop. You see, the ten to fifteen arrangements a florist typically sends out every day, escalates to nearly two hundred over two days when Valentine’s Day falls during the week. And often these arrangements are made to detailed specification. One customer required that the arrangement “Include one and only one sunflower.” No berries in another. While another emphasized that the two dozen roses he was ordering “must be pink. No substitutions.” While some customers request that the flowers arrive on the thirteenth, most must be delivered on Valentine’s Day.

On February thirteenth, my husband and I set out with eleven arrangements and a route that took us to offices and homes. We quickly understood that, in addition to flowers, we were the bearers of surprise and delight.

“For me?”
“How sweet!”
“Look, everyone.” And everyone does look.

It was fun! The back of our SUV had never looked so beautiful or smelled so sweet, and I began to think about what I had been missing since had invoked my flower moratorium.

The next day, February 14, the number of arrangements swelled. We delivered to professors and business professionals. We left flowers with receptionists and neighbors who promised to make sure they were received. We left flowers with housekeepers—one exclaimed: “He always spoils her.” Always there were smiles. Smiles from the student whose parents had specified there had to be orange in the arrangement. We all smiled with the husband who came into the shop asking for 35 roses—one for each year he and his wife had been married. Quick glances at notes brought smiles. One note read, “For my beautiful wife,” while another note revealed the flowers were “for the best mother in the world.” And from far-away parents to their university student daughter: “Honey, we are so proud of you.”

Late in the afternoon on February 14, the shop owners put a “Happy Valentine’s Day” message on the answering machine. The last arrangement had been made and delivered. The stock of roses and tulips and iris and wax myrtle, and hydrangeas and orchids and daisies and carnations and greenery and berries had been depleted. The floor of the workroom had been raked up. And in dorm rooms, on office desks, on dinner tables and in foyers sat vibrant fragrant expressions of every kind of human affection.

I have definitely been missing something, and I am officially lifting my flower moratorium.

Copyright Susan Motley 2017

Barren Ridge Celebrates Mid-Winter

The Alphorn

The Alphorn

John and Shelby Higgs, the owners of Barren Ridge Vineyard and Winery, really know how to throw a party, and even though Barren Ridge is far removed from the alpine peaks of Switzerland and Sweden, on January 28, 150 guests answered the call of the alphorn to attend their annual Swedish Fire Festival.

Barren Ridge, located at the end of a country road in Fishersville, Virginia, is graced with mountain views and glowing sunsets. The comfortable tasting room is warmed by a large stone fireplace and complemented by a patio that looks out over the vineyards and mountains. The shale and limestone soil and the expertise of the winemaker contribute to a collection of palate-friendly wines well-worth the drinking.

The festival commenced in the Barren Ridge tasting room where servers were quick to refill the glasses of Petit Verdot that accompanied the warm Raclette cheese served on thin slices of baguette. The buttery rich cheese and the liberally poured wine paired perfectly.

Upstairs in the banquet room, guests were treated to chef Tracy Hiner’s Swedish and Swiss inspired feast highlighted by a beautifully prepared venison and boar ragout and a poached salmon that would have been too beautiful to eat except that it was so perfectly prepared. Barren Ridge Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and the classical guitar stylings of John Paul Gladwell and John B.Clark complemented the festival dining. When the pear tart dessert arrived, so did Harmony, the Barren Ridge suggested dessert pairing.

After dinner guests returned to the tasting room for cups of hot mulled Red Barren before progressing out to the patio to enjoy the hauntingly beautiful tones of an Alphorn duet. A row of Swedish fire logs blazing just beyond the patio diminished the winter darkness and warmed the spirit if not the body.

John Higgs laughingly offers the disclaimer that this seemingly Nordic tradition is wholly a Barren Ridge creation, and it is a tradition worth perpetuating. Next year, be sure to watch the Barren Ridge website for the date in late January. The Higgs say the event always sells out. Make your reservation early and consider spending the night at either the Stonewall Jackson Hotel or one of the area’s charming Bed and Breakfasts. Come celebrate mid-winter Barren Ridge style.


Copyright Susan A. Motley 2017

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