Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Starting Over

"It is amazing to me, " said Bingley. "How young ladies can have the patience to be so very accomplished as they all are."

From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Miss Bingley saw, or suspected enough to be jealous; and her great anxiety for the recovery of her dear friend Jane received some assistance from her desire of getting rid of Elizabeth. She often tried to provoke Darcy into disliking her guest, by talking of their supposed marriage, and planning his happiness in such an alliance.

From Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Well. It happened.

Several weeks back, we had a freeze. Not a hard one, but cold enough so that my uncovered plants were destroyed. Had I remembered to cover them, I think that they would have survived, but the whole incident got me to thinking...

I planted what I thought were cold hearty vegetables: kale, brussels sprouts, etc. The problem, I see so clearly now in a big "duh" moment, is that the plants were still babies. If they had been adults, and more robust, then I'm sure that they would have come through just fine.

Lesson learned? ... start sooner. The time to start winter vegetables around here is in the fall after it's cooled down enough so that your leafy greens don't bolt but it's still going to stay warm enough so that the plants have enough of a real head start... not only to deal with the rare truly
freezing night but, maybe more importantly, with the shorter days and stingy light of winter.

Winter turns to spring quickly here and this is a time of starting over...not just for my garden but for me. I am officially unemployed and, for the first time in my life, not by choice. It's a recent development and I feel an odd, and completely unexpected, sense of freedom along with the more predictable anxiety. Time seems to mutate, to expand. I have long stretches of it that never were there before. How will I fill it all? Then I realize that what I have is the same amount of time that I always I just have different choices in how to spend it. New possibilities open up. Of course, a lot of my time is, and must be, devoted to job hunting and networking, but...

... now a daily yoga practice becomes a reality and not just a goal that I never quite reach.

...I finally actually have the time to do a genuine Spring Cleaning. It's something that I've wanted to do ever since we moved into this house. I've always imagined other people clean their house thoroughly from top to bottom once a year and those other people have, in my more crazed moments, a sort of moral superiority or strength of character over myself who has always wanted to do a Spring Cleaning but never has quite managed it.

...I can get more exercise. I have the time now to walk to town, to the store, or to the library instead of taking the bus or driving.

...I have more time for doing the sort of cooking that I love: labor intensive and/or learning experience type recipes. Here's the remains of the peach cobbler that I made yesterday from farmers market peaches that I froze last summer.

Cobblers aren't hard, but I've never made one before.

Maybe it sounds like I'm in denial about my situation but, believe me, stark reality is always right at the surface of my awareness. I think what I'm doing is trying to keep myself positive and productive in the face of an inner voice that belongs to a very familiar persona...part standard issue nag part extremely inventive doomsayer and alarmist. Even now she is scolding me. "Why are you blogging? You need to get out there and find a job! Something! Anything! RIGHT THIS SECOND!"

Of course, there is genuine urgency to my situation, but no more so than that of all the other people who are out there right now looking for work. Maybe I am ultimately a genuine optimist because I can't help but feel possibilities opening up inside of what at one time I might have called a disaster. Such a relative word, disaster. When I was 9, a disaster was moving away from my first best friend. When I was 13, a disaster was throwing up on the double Ferris wheel in full view of everyone who was attending the county fair. I'm not living in a war zone. I'm not starving. I'm not homeless. I'm just unemployed.

I've started a spring garden here toward winter's tail.

At the beginning of February, I planted lettuce, radishes, peas - both sugar snap and English. All of those tender and sweet flavors of warmer days and still cool nights. All of these are easy because you direct sow them in the soil.

Then you wait.

...and that's something else I've discovered about myself as a gardener. I get impatient waiting for plants to come up although waiting is exactly what you have to do.

Planning and patience... lessons learned.

Today's Twist

Jane Austen was an English novelist most active between 1811 and 1816. Although she published anonymously during her lifetime, her books are today some of the most beloved and widely read. Although Austen's depictions of rural gentry life are comic and often rather sly and mischievous, she also paints a serious picture of women's almost complete dependence on marriage to gain social and economic security.
Mr. Bingley in the quote above is referring to a very specific range of skills, or "accomplishments", that were considered essential for young women to make themselves mistress of...usually in order to render themselves more entertaining and ornamental in company. His sister, Miss Bingley, is worried, and for good reason, early on in the novel that her own target for marriage, the very wealthy Mr. Darcy, might be developing a dangerous liking for Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of the novel. Miss Bingley makes heroic efforts to secure Mr. Darcy for herself, but it's clear that he doesn't really consider her as a serious contender for his affections and her stratagems for getting Elizabeth out of the picture only paint her (unwitting)
rival as more interesting to Mr. Darcy.
Austen fans can be quite adamant about which novel is the best, but Pride and Prejudice is certainly the best known and widest read. As someone who rereads all of Jane Austen over and over, I can say fervently, if not adamantly, that it is my favorite.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Winter light... add it and toss.

In winter when the fields are white,
I sing this song for your delight.

In spring when woods are getting green,
I'll try and tell you what I mean.

In summer when the days are long,
Perhaps you'll understand the song.

In autumn, when the leaves are brown,
Take pen and ink and write it down.

From Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.

December 21st is the first official day of winter but we've been feeling it set in around here for several weeks now. This being Georgia, there are still warm days but overall this fall has been colder than the past several have been and of course there's that particular quality to the light...

...and another learning phase in my gardening education has begun...understanding the importance of light. There is one thing that I know I'll do next year and that is, I will start earlier. I sowed kale from seed in October and planted Brussels sprouts seedlings around the same time. I have fine little plants growing, but that's just it...they're little. If I had started these back in August, I think I would have been seeing a harvest by now. It's an important lesson for me, this importance of day length.

Here's the strawberry pot. It appears that the plants have gone dormant.

Plants need a rest too. Some things are still doing well. The rosemary that I planted at the side of the house is thriving and the salad greens have done just fine. Here's the pot of micro-greens, a mix of mustard, cress, and radish greens . While not shade lovers, they are at least tolerant of less light.

Most salad greens prefer a cooler temperature to a hotter one, so we've had lettuce pretty steadily since October.

I love the color variations and ruffled leaves of loose leaf lettuces.

Here's a recent salad - mixed greens with dried cherries and toasted pecans.

I like to toss it lightly with this dressing:

4 TBS olive oil
1 TBS red wine vinegar
1 crushed garlic clove
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp ketchup (it's good!)
2 tsp sour cream
dried basil, thyme, or oregano...or all of them
salt and pepper to taste

Of course you can increase the proportions if you want more dressing. My formula departs from the classic vinaigrette ratio of oil to vinegar which is 3 to 1 but I like the less "bitey" taste it has when it's 4 to 1. As any good cook does, you'll be sticking spoon or finger into the dressing to taste it as you adjust the seasonings and add-ins. I have a glass dressing bottle that I use, but I've often made salad for one (me!) where I mix a dressing at the bottom of the salad bowl, pile my greens in and toss.

Yum...I know that salad greens are traditionally a spring vegetable and "tonic" but we get so few locally during our sauna like summers that it feels like a great treat to be eating them now. Maybe for me their soft sweetness is a "tonic" to the tomatoes and peppers that I love so much but that seem to avalanche us in the hot months.

Today's twist -

Lewis Carroll is the pen name of the English author and mathematician, Charles Dodgson, who was active in the mid to late 1800's. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865, was an immediate commercial success which turned "Lewis Carroll", overnight, into a household name and turned Dodgson into a wealthy man. The sequel, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, published in 1872, was no less successful although it, in many ways, is a darker piece of work. The income and fame allowed Dodgson, who was socially ambitious, to move in more rarefied circles and to become a respected photographer. He is today considered one of the very best photographers of the Victorian period. Many of his photographs are of very young girls, but despite popular conceptions there is no solid evidence to prove that Dodgson was a pedophile.

The verse above is recited by Humpty Dumpty who is sitting atop his famous wall when Alice meets him. Their conversation is seemingly an odd debate concerning semantics. For example, Alice questions Humpty Dumpty's use of the word "glory"...

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "It means exactly what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."

Although the haughty egg seems bent on convincing Alice that everything that she thinks is correct is, in fact, not, and is, in fact, idiotic and completely backward - he assures her that should he fall off the wall, the king will send all his horses and men, because..." he has promised me- with his very own mouth. "

Alice, who is unfailingly polite but always self-possessed, finally tires of Humpty Dumpty's convoluted insults and walks away. Behind her, a heavy crash shakes the forest end to end.

Needless to say, both Alice books remain among my favorites.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Everyday they looked at that garden. It was rough and grassy because it was made in the prairie sod, but all the tiny plants were growing. Little crumbled leaves of peas came up, and tiny spears of onions. The beans themselves popped out of the ground. But it was the little yellow-bean stem, coiled like a spring, that pushed them up. Then the baby bean-leaves, and the beans unfolded flat to the sunshine.
Pretty soon, they would all begin to live like kings.

From Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Like many children, I adored the "Little House" series of books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. For me, there was something enchanting about the Ingalls family's sometimes hard, and always self-reliant existence. Ma and Pa Ingalls seemed to be able to do anything, from building a house to making cheese. Even Mary and Laura could churn butter. Of the series, I liked Farmer Boy well enough. but somehow the story of Almonzo Wilder's adventures on a prosperous farm, where there was always more than enough to eat, just didn't capture my imagination in the same way as did the Ingalls' ongoing struggles and joys carving out a life in the unpredictable but exciting wilderness of early America.

I mean, look at the drama involved in a bean plant starting to produce its buds and all the anticipation involved in watching the plant's growth. I think I always related to that.

Kings indeed.

I enjoyed a fairly sheltered, mostly suburban, certainly happy and satisfied childhood, and yet (or maybe because?) the idea of self-reliance was incredibly alluring. Certainly, most of the "hobbies" that I've taken up in recent years (knitting and crochet, cooking, gardening, bread baking) or are considering ( cheese making, brewing and wine making, canning, sewing, weaving, bee-keeping, poultry) are really life skills. I've come to feel that we do too much shopping and not enough making and tending. If that sounds old-fashioned, so be it, but give our forebears credit...they got by. Plus, they had a certain measure of control over their living situations. I think we might have misplaced the importance of that in favor of an easier ride.

I'm no survivalist. I don't want to stake out a piece of land and defend it with a gun. The type of self-reliance I'm committed to is that which helps sustain community as well as oneself. Look out for yourself and your family, but do it in a community spirited way.

If you grow vegetables, you might think about starting a community "trade-off" . For example you make a deal with six or seven other gardeners, you grow all the tomatoes, another person grows all the peppers, another grows all the onions, etc. This isn't my idea. I'm borrowing it from Christina's wonderful blog A Thinking Stomach. Check out the link here:

Or, if you can't garden yourself, you can join a CSA (community supported agriculture). You're supporting local farmers and you benefit from the fresh ( and usually cheaper) produce.

Or you can patronize local farmer's markets. It may seem more expensive at first, but remember, you're buying better quality both in taste and nutrition. Buying local helps to insure a healthy local economy. And not to be a doomsayer, but I think the day isn't long coming when the illusion of cheap food will vanish. I say illusion because America's relatively cheap food costs have been partially bolstered for years by cheap and readily available fossil fuels. I think that pretty soon we'll find that the tomatoes shipped from California will be as expensive, if not more so, as the local tomatoes available at the farmer's market. In February, that California tomato is going to be even more expensive (if you live in Georgia like me). It will be a luxury item (although it still won't taste like one). So maybe we don't need to eat tomatoes in February? Or maybe you grew enough over the summer, or bought enough in August (from a farmer) to freeze or can?

We should pay what food costs. Times are tough and getting tougher and I worry about keeping and finding work, along with a lot of other people, but I am convinced that we need to make ourselves, and our communities, self-reliant. That means, in part, being very particular about how we spend our money, and how better than buying from someone you know or can get to know? Sure you can save five or ten dollars going to Wal-Mart, but, really, who are you helping there? You'll probably wind up walking out of the store with the "bargain" item plus a lot of other stuff you don't need and who benefits from that? Not you, and certainly not the community that you are a part of.

So you might ask, if I'm so green - and apparently so bossy about it - why do I do container gardening exclusively? I realize that I am enormously blessed in actually owning an home. Let me also just say that I am not a huge fan of lawns. I think a little lawn is great for its aesthetic value and if you are a fan of croquet nothing is better. Otherwise, it seems a little odd to me to use a large swath of land for one plant when you could be growing food. So why do I still have a lawn? Why don't I tear it out and plant vegetables? I have no weird neighborhood covenants to deal with and my actual neighbors are pretty cool. Well...

Here's my backyard.

Here's the front.

As you can see, there's lots of space, but not much sun.

Here's a - sort of - exception.

I'm thinking that I could put in borders of vegetables here that tolerate shade, mainly leafy greens, but true sun lovers like tomatoes and eggplants, and peppers are always going to be out of the question. So the deck is my garden for now. You do what you can. I've started herbs in the sunny strip at the side of the house and I might actually try a variety of asparagus there called Jersey King, reputed to perform well in heavy clay soil, which Georgia has in abundance. Of course with asparagus you have to wait at least two years to harvest, but after that the plant can produce a lush spring crop for twenty to thirty years.

That's what I call a good investment.

I'm currently dizzy with possibilities though. The election results have renewed, not only my faith in the democratic electoral process, but my own passionate commitment to community and maybe some increasing clarity around the fact that we live in a locality, but we also have a community that we are part of on the national and international levels as well. I'm especially inspired by Michael Pollan's recent manifesto to the president elect published by the New York Times on Octotober 9th and addressed to the "Farmer in Chief." This is a moving and eloquent document written, of course, before the results were in.

What is most striking, and I think what has many abuzz, is Pollan's recommendation that our new president turn part of the White House lawn into a "victory" garden. Please read this wonderful piece of journalism. It's long, but Pollan is such an engaging writer that it won't feel that way. I particularly love the image he suggests of the First Family engaged in tending the nation's exemplary vegetable garden. What a wonderful picture (and model) that would present for all Americans... and to the the rest of our community... the world.

Today's Twist

Laura Ingalls Wilder was an American author born in 1867, She is best known, of course, for her "Little House" series of children's books, the first, Little House in the Big Woods, being published in 1932. Wilder had a career as a journalist prior to this, but there is still some controversy over the true authorship of the the novels. The consensus seems to be that while Wilder actually wrote the stories, her daughter Rose, (also a writer) edited them, perhaps re-writing them to a certain extent. Laura and Rose were both strong-minded women and their collaboration couldn't have been an easy one. Nonetheless, the result of that collaboration has provided generations of readers with great pleasure.

Laura Ingalls Wilder had, by many reports, an independent character (dare I say, self-reliant?) notable for the times and certainly evident in the young Laura presented in the books. Apparently, she was also competitive. In her late eighties, she declared that she would live until 90 simply because her husband, Almonzo Wilder, had and he wasn't going to beat her. Sure enough, she made it. Three days after her 90th birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder died on Feburarary 10, 1957.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Stay tuned...

Hi everyone. I may be away a little longer. I am job hunting and spending every spare moment on that. I promise I will be back as soon as I can. Stay with me...

Friday, September 26, 2008


"...because the salmon are running up that river even as we speak and they're running in the millions. You dig smoked salmon? Anybody here dig smoked salmon? And the blackberries. The cranberries. You never saw anything like it. You want to know how we're going to eat? We're going to eat the land because it's one big smorgasbord. There's nobody - I mean - nobody to stop us."

Sess walked her around the place showing it off. He demonstrated the clarity of the Thirty Mile where it crashed into the opaque Yukon, which ran heavy with its freight of glacial debris, showed her where he planned to build a sauna and a workshop, lectured her on the garden that was already showing green against the plastic he'd laid down for heat retention. He was growing cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, kohlrabi and Brussels sprout, potatoes, onions, peas, lettuce, Early Girl tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, squash.

From Drop City by T. C. Boyle

The 49th state. The Borderlands. The Frozen North.

I've been thinking a lot about Alaska lately. I mean, really, who hasn't? Most of it, of course, has to do with Sarah Palin's advent onto the consciousness of the public. While considering who she is and what I think of her, I do what I often do when presented with thorny, controversial issues...I read a book!

...or actually re-read. Drop City has to rank right up there as one of my favorite novels. Wonderfully evocative of a particular time, the 1970's in Vietnam War era America, and peopled with characters written with razor clarity, Drop City has repaid me with the deepest of reading pleasure time and again. (I'm one of those people that re-reads Pride and Prejudice every year. When I love a book, I really love it.)

The novel presents two groups of people who are, on the surface of things, galaxies apart.

One of the groups, is Drop City, a free-wheeling commune based in Northern California where the Love Bubble is about to burst. The speaker, in the first quote above is Norm Sender, self-styled "pasha", and founder of Drop City who is trying to convince the members of the commune to move to Alaska after the group has run afoul with the local authorities. He has inherited land there, a cabin on the Thirty Mile river, and seems convinced himself that Alaska will be a land of plenty.

The other group is represented by Cecil "Sess" Herder, a young fur trapper and homesteader who has grown up in Alaska and is deeply familiar with both its ravishing beauty and its harsh truth. In the section quoted above, he is showing off for Pamela, an Alaskan city girl who is eager to get back to "the bush" and become self-sufficient. She has taken the practical approach of advertising for a husband (Pamela is an old-fashioned girl) and Sess wants her to pick him. Sess really has nothing to worry about. He is a perfect match for the feisty Pamela and he is nothing if not schooled, in a way that makes a real difference in this wild, gorgeous, often brutal, part of the world.

"Everything has to be in the ground by the first of June," he was saying. "Though you risk a frost, which is why I keep that wood stacked up over there, just as a precaution because we get a growing season out here of maybe a hundred-five days or so, what with the river keeping everything a tad less frigid, and every day counts, believe me, and round about February you'd kill to have a little pickled cabbage or stewed tomatoes with your thousandth serving of moose."

From Drop City by T. C. Boyle

Pamela and Sess's counterparts in Drop City are Star and Marco. Star is a drop-out from the Midwest, with a heart for justice, whose intelligence and compassion sometimes surprise her more laid back compatriots but serves, nonetheless, to provide a sorely needed anchor. Marco is a draft dodger who actually loves his parents. He isn't rebelling so much as fleeing from certain death in Vietnam. He possesses solid values - he respects hard work and loyalty - and he practices what he believes.

In the book, Alaska seems to represent both a real place and a metaphorical one. It's a place where you can re-invent yourself, or become more yourself. It's a place where you can "live off the land" but it's definitely not the Land of Cockaigne that Norm Sender pictures for his naive followers. One survives, and thrives, here by building and hunting and planting..with the seasons in mind.

We have a long growing season here in Georgia. Long as in 365 days a year. You really can keep something growing here just about all year round, and that's got me thinking.

Do I want to? Keep growing?

Here's a recent haul from the deck.

I stuffed and baked some of the peppers and froze the rest. The tomatoes we ate, although more are coming in everyday. September is the big tomato month here and I know I should be grateful since they are my favorite...and yet...and yet...

...more peppers coming in everyday.

I feel the allure of putting a garden to bed. Let everyone get a rest. At the same time, I feel this urge to keep growing all and everything I can...for as long as I can...

one of two very robust cherry tomato plants that I put in just a month ago. They are just starting to ripen.

...some of it is coming from the deep shock of witnessing my latest grocery bills, but that's okay, it only hardens my resolve to be as home-grown and local as I can be... of the last of the slicing tomatoes. Melancholy me. Oh well, the best pleasures sometimes have boundaries around them.

...which of course means continuing to grow my own and supplementing from the farmer's markets, which now don't seem as expensive to me. Food has been falsely cheap for us Americans for too long I fear.

Here's the mighty, stalwart, leafy green of the southern garden, Swiss chard. It's pretty bolt-resistant, not to mention the vegetable version of stained glass.

For fun, I'm going to try peas and see how they do over the winter. I know they are considered a spring crop but I just love them. Lettuce too. I've started radishes, carrots, and beets again and I'm going to try Brussels sprouts. Gosh, writing about it actually re-energizes me.

Who knows...with the rate of global warming, there may be a time when I'm only growing tomatoes and eggplants here and no lettuce or peas at all. Get it while you can...and enjoy it while you do.

Today's Twist

T. C. Boyle is the author of many wonderful books including World's End which won the PEN/Faulkner Prize in 1988, one of my favorites Budding Prospects, and the provocative and very interesting The Inner Circle which was made into a movie with Liam Neeson and Laura Linney. He is also the author of a fabulous book of short stories, Greasy Lake, which I guarantee will change your mind about language - specifically the English language and its capacity for nuance and ravishment.

And then there's Drop City.

It may not be Sarah Palin's Alaska, in fact, I'm pretty sure it isn't.

But it might be yours. Read and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Just to let you know...

This is a very basic post to let all of you know that I've put the blog on Technorati as a way of connecting to more of the folks who are interested in the green, sustainable, urban homesteading life.
Coming up...Alaska!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mothers and Daughters

The girl had taken a PhD in philosophy and this left Mrs. Hopewell at a complete loss. You could say "My daughter is a nurse," or "My daughter is a school teacher," or even, "My daughter is a chemical engineer." You could not say "My daughter is a philosopher." That was something that ended with the Greeks and the Romans.

From Good Country People by Flannery O'Connor

I once had the feeling I would dig my mother's grave with my writing too, but I later discovered that this was vanity on my part. They are hardier than we think.

Flannery O'Connor writing to a friend. From The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor

Maybe every woman has an "I'm becoming my mother" moment. For me it was when my mother saw our house for the first time. She looked around and said, "The light is wonderful. I like that you left most of the windows bare." At once, I remembered the planning stages for the house that my parents built in south Georgia. Everyone was to get one thing that they wanted. My father's wish was that he would never have to mow another lawn. The house is way back in the woods and the "landscaping" is pretty much what grows wild. I forget what my wish was, although I suspect it had something to with the green carpet in my room which was different from the rest of the carpeting and which I grew to dislike pretty intensely. My mother's wish was that she would never have to cover a window. She paints and has an artist's appreciation for the quality of natural light. I guess maybe I have that too because since we've lived in this house, I've resisted window treatments except where concessions to modesty or privacy make it necessary.

As a teenager, I wasn't crazy about living in the country and I'm still a committed urbanite, but when I visit my parents now I find myself filled with a deepening appreciation for their choice. It's peaceful there and there's a sort of quiet delight in being able to look out any window and see an unfiddled-with landscape.

So maybe I am turning into my mother and I too will someday live in the country but for now, my adventures, gardening and otherwise, will remain of the urban variety.

Here's my strawberry pot.

What you see here all came from a single plant! Strawberry plants have some very interesting qualities one of which is that the "mother" plant which in this pot is the plant at the top -

- sends out runners, or "daughters".

You can propagate more plants by taking the daughter and locating the node with the plantlet -

- then pressing the plantlet to the soil and securing it down with a u-shaped holder. There are clips manufactured and sold for this purpose, or you can do what I do and use a paper clip. Unfold the paper clip and reform it into the proper u-shape. Once secured (and properly watered and fertilized) -

the daughter will root and grow into a new, viable plant.

Pretty neat, huh?

I'll admit that I bought the mother strawberry under a bit of duress. It was early summer and our local garden center had a couple of pots of leggy plants on display and drastically marked down. Lola pretty much insisted that I buy one. With container gardening, you usually buy a transplant as early in the spring as you can and you get a small one so it has time to develop some strong roots before it flowers. This plant had a lot of flowers on it and I think Lola, who I'm sure had visions of home grown strawberries within a week or two, was dismayed when I made it my first act, after potting the plant, to snip off all the flowers. It feels barbaric when you do it, but, just like thinning a lettuce bed, it is essential for the ongoing health of the plant. Most container gardeners treat strawberries as an annual, buying new plants every year, but I have something different in mind. I'm going to winter-over the pot and let it flower again next spring. I'll bring it indoors if it gets really cold, but it should be fine most of the time. By propagating daughters from the mother and then propagating off those daughters as they become mothers, I hope to create in this one container, an entire strawberry patch...urban gardening style!

Today's Twist

Flannery O'Connor was an American writer who published 2 novels and more than 24 short stories between 1950 and 1964. She was born and raised in Milledgeville, Georgia and returned there in 1951 when she was diagnosed with lupus, a disease which eventually claimed her life, but more than 10 years beyond the time that the experts had initially given her. O'Connor had a lively, curious mind and a keen sense of the absurd. She was also a devout Catholic living in the very Protestant Deep South. Most of her writing has to do with characters, often self-described atheists or fundamentalist Protestants, who experience a sudden moment of divine presence or revelation, usually through an ironic twist of plot. Sardonic and unsentimental, O'Connor was by turns amused and exasperated by the public and critical response to her fiction. Her view was that she was writing realistic stories, specifically stories that embodied Catholic realism, and the fact that these were seen by some (and still are) as "grotesque" was both humorous and frustrating to her. A master of style and character, her writing remains fresh today even as we in the South struggle with different issues and (perceived) realities.
O"Connor never married nor had a long term romantic relationship. She was a prolific writer of letters and the bulk of her intimate relationship was with her visitors, correspondents, and with her mother, Regina Cline O'Connor, who devoted herself completely to the care of her daughter when she returned home after the diagnosis of her disease. O'Connor was equally devoted to her mother. In a letter to her dear friend, Sally Fitzgerald, she writes that her greatest fear is that her mother would die before her. "I don't know," she writes, "what I would do without her."