Sunday, November 29, 2009

I'm Thankful for . . . SPIDERS?!

Okay, I'll admit it's a quirky post-Thanksgiving blog post. Thankful for SPIDERS?

I don't really love spiders the way I love snakes, but I do admire and respect their skills and entrepreneurial success. I don't like them roaming freely inside my house, but when one takes up lodging outside, I find it gratifying to contemplate the Creator and creation. God designed these little arachnids perfectly for their purpose (we won't get into what that is).

This specimen, a hump-backed orb weaver (web of concentric circles), took up residentce beneath our satellite dish recently. By virtue of it also being under a floodlight, I experimented with my various camera settings at night.

Here, it looks a Fort Bragg paratrooper in free fall.

Daytime photos proved more revealing and rewarding. The heavy dew one morning were reminiscent of "Charlotte's Web." Which is about the best "press/marketing" ploy for spider's that's ever been pulled off.
Admit it, aren't you looking for words like "Some Pig," "Radiant," "Terrific," and "Humble?" Maybe you won't find those, but you certainly will find a miracle in this web and all other webs.

As I mentioned, there is much to admire and respect in spiders, even if you don't like their creepy movements, unexpected appearance, and bloodthirsty ways (see the aforementioned "Charlotte's Web."

The white siding of our house sets off this spider at rest. Patiently meditating. Not knowing where your next meal will come from breeds patience. According to Charlotte.
Charlotte also said she did her best thinking upside down. I don't recommend that, at least not for extended periods.

I would have posted a video of this spider at work, but she's been resting most of the time when I had my camera handy.

I hope I haven't offended anyone by these somewhat positive thoughts about a much-maligned octoped. But I was always taught, "If you can't say anything nice about a spider, don't say anything at all."
So here's my last "something nice:" Charlotte was all about friendship, loyalty, and sacrifice. And she was a GREAT WRITER!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hangin' Out With Claire

What better way to spend the day before Thanksgiving than quality time with Claire? It was just a couple of hours, but believe me, it was quality time!

We were eager to try out the "Johnny Jump-Up." That's not really a generic name for this contraption, but that's what the first one I ever saw was called. My first principal loaned us one and Jennifer and Amanda LOVED the thing.

Claire had tried Brianna's earlier this week, and seemed to get a thrill out of having one at her own house. Well, maybe you can't tell it from her expression, but trust me.

Claire loves to try to stand up, and this device lets her bounce without putting undue pressure on those little legs. I think I would market this toy as "Baby Bungee." Wish I'd had one.
"Grandpa, you should have let Grandma take the picture. Sure, you centered it okay, but by holding the camera in your right hand, you cut off my little head. Tut, tut."

"Ah, this is the life. I hope you don't have to get up any time soon, Grandpa."

"Nope, I've got nowhere to go and nothing better to do. So let's sing another round of Down by the Station or The Wheels on the Bus."

"Sure, Grandpa. And I'll just hold on to these thumbs to make sure you don't try to get away."

"No, I haven't got a Mohawk. I'm just having a bad hair day-- and you can blame that on Grandpa, too."

"Uh, what was that you said, Grandpa? I wasn't listening-- I was watching Grandma."

Claire loves her Grandma. And her fuzzy ribbon ball of many colors.
And Grandma loves Claire!
We also had a pleasant neighborhood walk, introducing Claire to our backpack (no pictures). When we got back, a hungry Claire sucked down her bottle in record time. But she opted not to take a nap. That suited me and Judy just fine.
Ya know what else suits us fine? Tomorrow's Thanksgiving and we get to see both Claire AND Brianna. Oh yeah, and a bunch of grown-ups. : )
Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Brianna Plays, then Hits the Road

Friday was a special day. Judy and I lunched with Amanda and Brianna at 195. Judy and I had their Butter Chicken, an Indian curry dish which has become one of our favorites. Having Brianna with us made us celebrities. She was very patient with us while we ate; then she ate her own lunch--real people food. Amanda's blog has some great videos of Bri eating-- check it out.

Then, while Amanda put in a couple of hours at work, Judy and I babysat--with pleasure.

"Okay, Brianna. Here's a book and a toy. Which do you choose?"

"Yeah! She chooses the book! That's our GIRL!"

"Surely this child isn't putting herself to sleep!"

Brianna: "So this is that sunbeam that little Trixie in 'For Better or Worse' gets so worked up over. What's the big deal?"

Brianna: "I don't get it Grandma. I'm pushing as hard as I can. But my head stays where it was and my bottom pops up. What am I doing wrong?"
Brianna: "No problem. I'd rather untie your shoe anyway."
Brianna: "Grandma-- it's the paparazzi! They're back. Hide me, quick!"
Saturday was yard sale day and Brianna was at our house for a short while. We thought she would be tired and fussy after a long morning, but when she got in her little car, she was ready to play. This is my favorite video of her (that I've taken) so far.

Just wait till we let her wheels touch the floor!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Loyd Homeplace: Connections to People, Places, and Historical Events

I'd like to continue to share some historical background that was the basis for my book, Mystery at the Loyd Homeplace. In 1821, the state of Georgia conducted a land lottery to distribute to new settlers lands that Cherokee, Creek, and Oconee Indians had ceded to the state. DeKalb County was one of the new counties created, and apparently the parents of my ancestor Jabez Loyd were granted some 600 acres of that land. We have detailed information about where all the original property lines were located and how the land was subsequently subdivided.

Jabez Loyd was my great-great-great grandfather and lived from 1820 to 1890. Obviously, he didn't receive this land when he was 1 year old! His father must have. But that is a story of speculation for yet another blog post.

The Loyd property would have been in the northeast quadrant of the map below, intersected by the South Fork of Peachtree Creek (if you can see the fine print).

After researching Civil War era maps and local records, I was able to drive my father to this small neighborhood park last spring. It is located on the shore of Peachtree Creek, at the southeast corner of Jabez Loyd's 600 acres.
Unobserved by most motorists, Peachtree Creek flows parallel to I-85 for some distance between the Shallowford Road and Clairmont Road exits. Chances are very good some of my readers have passed over this spot--and the old Loyd property!
Peachtree Creek then cuts sharply to the west, under I-85. Several hundred yards downstream, Jabez Loyd built a mill in 1860 (just before the outbreak of the Civil War). He operated it until his death in 1890. By my father's time (born in 1914) nothing of the old mill was mentioned. He never knew about it until I found references to it in Jabez Loyd's will and in an obscure history of DeKalb County.
The Battle of Peachtree Creek was fought just a few miles from the Loyd Homeplace. This battle is central to the "mystery" in my book. The map below shows the progress of the Union army toward Atlanta in the summer of 1864.
If Sherman's path had veered a short distance, the Loyd homeplace could easily have been one of the thousands of structures burned to the ground. A family story was passed on that the family valuables were buried to hide them from the invading army. Daddy's grandmother even told that the burial was near a gate to a sheepfold. My story incorporates this plausible account and explores two or three possibilities.
When I read my book, the unveiling and opening of the treasure (note the initials of Jabez M. Loyd on the strongbox) is a climactic moment.
The treasure inside may not be real, but my student readers understand that there could be a Loyd treasure still on the property or in the house at the Loyd Homeplace!
This is a rare picture of my grandfather (standing: Joseph Carl Loyd--Papa Loyd) and great grandfather (seated: Joseph Alford Loyd). Yes, that's a wheelbarrow he's seated on.
This is a picture of Mary Louvinnie Echols Loyd, my great grandmother. We are not sure if my father is among the children pictured here. The occasion seems to be a birthday. Daddy says large family gatherings were common, not just at reunion times. Many cousins lived nearby.
This is my grandparents, who I called Mama and Papa Loyd in real life and in the book.
Here, they're seated on the steps at one end of their house. This is not the Loyd homeplace, but was the setting for much of my book. For those of you who have read the book, the window on the right is the one from which Buddy and I saw a fox (Chapter 1).
These are a barn and shed at Papa Loyd's Sunrise Dairy, where Daddy and his brothers put in countless hard hours as they grew up.
Now, not to bore anyone, but I'd like to acquaint you with the other characters of Mystery at the Loyd Homeplace. Real people, every one.

Fast forward a few years. This handsome fellow is my father, Marvin Ellis Loyd, during his World War II military stint.
Two years after the war, while a student at the University of Georgia, Daddy returned home for Christmas holidays. That very night he was a guest at a Y.W.C.A. dance and met my mother, Elizabeth Anne Black. They danced the evening away and then dined at the Varsity. That's a family tradition that survives to this day--the Varsity, not the dancing. : )
Just a few decades later. . . .
Buddy and Ken around 1956. We were a little older in my book.
Caryn at about age 2. She was a little older in my book. She got all the looks, didn't she?
The photo below was in 1965, so we were 16, 12, and 7. In the book we were 13, 9, and 4.
Here are Mama and Papa Loyd in 1962 with all the grandchildren gathered around. They're all named in my book. This would have been the same year in which my mystery tale was set. In spite of the Christmas tree, the occasion was their 50th wedding anniversary.
This picture, taken in 1984, included all of Mama Loyd's children except my Uncle Raymond, who passed away in 1975. Amazingly, all of her grandchildren and great grandchildren are also in this picture. I'm holding Amanda and Jennifer is in front of Mama Loyd.

I happen to think I've got some real family treasure. I bet you do, too. Have you ever thought about writing about some treasured family story or the family characters you cherish so much? I highly recommend it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Mystery at the Loyd Homeplace": How did it begin?

All my life, I've loved writing. I especially loved it in my early grades in school when we were encouraged to let our imaginations run free. And in my 33 years of teaching young writers, I accumulated a briefcase full of my own stories because I always wrote when my children wrote.

But it was not until late in 2006 that I felt inspired to write my first book. It was that December when I first shared the kernel of my idea with Judy and friends Charlie and Liz. I had no timetable, but that would take care of itself.

My book would be a mystery, based on a Loyd family story passed down for four generations from the Civil War. At the time of the war the Loyd homeplace was in danger of being burned by General Sherman's marauding troops as they assaulted Atlanta in the final year of the fighting. Because the hilltop was the second highest point in the county, Confederate lookouts observed Union troop movements from that spot as the enemy approached Atlanta.

Although the Battle of Peachtree Creek was fought just a few miles from the house, the Loyd homeplace was somehow spared. Peachtree Creek crossed the southern portion of my great great-grandfather Jabez Loyd's original 600 acre land lot.

Not only was the house spared; it is still standing. This picture shows the house as it appears today. It is now a clubhouse for the Chateau Montagne Apartments.
When it was converted into a clubhouse, some changes and renovations were made. But see for yourself how the basic character of the house has been retained. The picture below is the oldest existing picture of the house, circa 1910.
Pictured above, from left to right: Joseph Alford Loyd (my great-grandfather), Mary (Mollie) Louvinnie Echols Loyd (my great-grandmother), Joseph Carl Loyd (my grandfather), and his sisters Jewel and Ruby.

In black-and-white, as below, the similarities in the old and new versions of the house are still striking.

And viewed from a little farther away, it's easy to let this setting conjure up a mystery, such as the one in my book.
It's thrilling to me to imagine the original foundation of this house perhaps being laid by my great great-grandfather Jabez Loyd and his three young sons, Joseph Alford Loyd, John Ellis Brown Loyd, and Samuel Parks Loyd. In truth, we are not certain of the year of the house's construction, but it certainly pre-dates the Civil War.
Particularly intriguing to me is the fireplace, which is central to the mystery in my book. It amazes me to think of Loyds of three generations ago cooking over and warming themselves by this fire.

This is the chimney for that fireplace. It doesn't look like any structural changes have been made. Again, the black-and-white photo seems appropriate.

In spite of a new roof and flashing, the rock masonry appears to be the original.

According to my father, this massive elm tree in the back yard could be as old as the house itself.
The greenery on these huge branches is an astonishing little plant called Resurrection Fern. In dry weather it shrivels and turns brown. When it rains, it springs back to life and turns green. It resurrects. Very fitting, because for me to even be in these surroundings resurrects images and visions of my ancestors and the lives they lived here.
Inside the house, the renovations have been more extensive. My father could not recognize much original construction. But the huge beams overhead appear to be part of the old house.

This old pump organ is not from the homeplace; it's one our family bought at a Chamblee antique store. But it represents the pump organ Daddy says was in the old Loyd homeplace. You see, his grandparents actually had an entire room that was set up for circuit-riding preachers to stay in when they came to the area to preach revivals and such. Daddy described every detail of that room.
In fact, Daddy, Marvin Ellis Loyd, was my main source and inspiration in moving forward with my book. The dozens of questions he was able to answer for me lent a higher degree of accuracy and authenticity to the book.
Below, Daddy is pictured beside a plaque that has been on the porch of the Loyd homeplace since the 1960's when the property was sold. We are delighted that the owners have preserved and maintained the old house so well. And though it's on private property in a gated community, the owners welcome visitors who are interested in the old house. Several people who have read my book have already visited the house when in Atlanta.

The plaque is not 100% accurate. But at least the owners saw some value in researching and preserving the old house rather than demolishing it and putting up some contemporary clubhouse. The dates below are not correct, but we're not really sure when the house was built, or by which Loyd it was built, Joseph Alfred, Jabez, or maybe even Jabez's father! We may never know, but it's fun for me to try to work it out in my head.
Just last year, we took Daddy to the old homeplace. I needed his help to try to reconstruct a map of the areas around the old house, since no other structures are still standing. Even though his vision is poor, he was able to stand in the back yard and front yard and give me excellent descriptions and estimates of where various things were located.
I can now include in my books the diagram below, showing the relative locations of such things as the barn, orchard, hog pen, various sheds, smokehouse, and where early paths and lanes led.

Sharing my family history with young readers (and older ones) has been very fulfilling to me. More about that in an upcoming blog post. After all, I haven't really told you what the MYSTERY is yet!