Sunday Morning Tea: Dec 4, 2022

cup of tea on a saucer on wood table next to a tag that says "Sunday Morning Tea"

Good Sunday morning and welcome to my front porch for Sunday Morning Tea!

For the uninitiated, Sunday Morning Tea is my virtual writing salon, where we talk about our writing goals and projects while sipping on a hot cuppa tea!

The holiday season has officially started, so today I’m drinking another Harney and Sons favorite, Turmeric Spice with Kava, from my Black Santa mug and praying that once I get to the bottom of the cup, I’ll be in the Christmas spirit…

I won’t make any promises, though. This was a tough year.

Continue reading “Sunday Morning Tea: Dec 4, 2022”

Sunday Morning Tea: Oct 23, 2022

Good Sunday morning and welcome to my front porch for Sunday Morning Tea!

It’s a beautiful sunrise—a bit chilly, but that is what our tea is for!

I must confess, I’m a tea-a-holic. I’ve got so much tea that if I were to drink a cup a day, I would be supplied for the next few years. Despite this, I still buy more. Why? Well, it’s one thing to have an endless supply of tea. But to have an endless supply of your favorite tea? Yeah, I don’t quite have enough to drink that every day for the next few years.

Currently my favorite is Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice. It’s the perfect brew for these crisp autumn mornings. It has all those familiar flavors of fall, with just a hint of heat on your tongue at the end. I usually drink my tea with sugar, but this is one of the few teas that I can drink without sugar and it still tastes sweet.

But this post isn’t only about my tea obsession. Let’s talk about writing!

Continue reading “Sunday Morning Tea: Oct 23, 2022”

#WeekendCoffeeShare: $3 Movies and Writing a Story a Day

Morning sunshine! Who’s gonna have a good day today? We are!

Extra shot of espresso for anyone who can tell me which classic Disney Channel series that line is from…

Photo by Arshad Sutar on Pexels.com

Hello, and welcome to another weekend coffee chat! Pull up a chair and have a seat! We have some things to discuss.

First, I’m sure you’re wondering how my writing schedule is going. This week had a minor setback. Having Monday off (Labor Day holiday in US) threw me off my game slightly, but I hope to recover by the time Sunday rolls around because I have a new project to start!

More on that later…

Speaking of Labor Day, did you know last Saturday was National Cinema Day? Yeah, I had no idea this was a thing either, but apparently it’s a way to encourage people to go to the movies during Labor Day weekend, which surprisingly tends to be a slow weekend for theaters. I guess most people prefer to cookout on the unofficial last day of summer. So Saturday, theaters across the country were selling movie tickets for $3. You read that right. $3! I don’t think I’ve ever paid that little for a movie ticket unless I was at the $2 theater, and those theaters usually only show older movies, definitely not new releases.

Like most pandemic-conscious people, I’m still a bit hesitant to go to the movies, opting to wait for the films to come to streaming instead. But since I didn’t have any other plans for my Saturday other than to write and watch tennis, I thought, why not? There were a couple movies I didn’t mind paying $3 to see…

Continue reading “#WeekendCoffeeShare: $3 Movies and Writing a Story a Day”

U is for… [U]ndercooked #AtoZChallenge

The turkey was undercooked. Ma planned to roast it overnight, have the whole house smelling like a Thanksgiving feast by morning. But we woke up freezing, a surprise dusting of snow on the lawn, enough to slick the roads, but not enough to delay the holiday traffic.

Tony and Kerry arrived at noon, arguing again, though I’ve stopped caring what for. Something about Kerry wanting to move back to Raleigh after Tony just got a promotion. Let her go. She’s not the one for him, but Tony married her anyway. He doesn’t listen—he never listens.

Dinner was scheduled for 1:00, but at 2:30, I sat alone by the window, watching for Gregory’s car to pull to the curb. I hadn’t seen him since his birthday on October 24, a week before Halloween, and it was terrifying to see him then. He looked as if he had grown six inches. His face was fuller, half covered in a thick, coarse beard, but the rest of him was so thin and frail, he almost looked like Tony, a physical characteristic the two brothers never shared. While Tony was the spitting image of his father, both in name and appearance, Gregory favored me—the short, stubby fingers, the flat nose, the extra weight around the stomach and arms. But his arms were toned, muscular, the outline of them seen through the thin, sweat resistant short-sleeve shirt he wore, too cool even for mid-fall.

It was Tammi who texted me they’d be over for dinner. Gregory’s phone was off—he hadn’t paid the bill. Gregory had been missing a lot of bills lately—puzzling because his father and I taught him how to be a good steward over his finances. It was as if all of his upbringing left him the moment he met her. Over and over he asked me for money, a car note here, rent there, Tammi’s parking tickets, which I flat out refused. But I didn’t want to completely abandon him, so I slipped him change when I could. The more I gave, the less I saw of him, and when I realized he only came home for money, I stopped giving all together, and his visits became more infrequent.

Before his birthday, June was the last time I’d seen him. He’d even missed our Fourth of July family cookout in Ma’s backyard. After it got dark, we would climb up Ma’s roof and watch the fireworks shot off from the high school football field while enjoying burnt hotdogs and Carolina burgers with chili and slaw. It had been a family tradition since Antonio was alive. No one ever skipped it, rain or shine.

I could hear Ma scrambling in the kitchen. Not much to cook with a twenty pound bird taking up most of the oven, but we had to eat something—it was Thanksgiving after all. With a shrunken menu, the sweet potato casserole, became plain yams, the mac and cheese stovetop, the dressing stuffed inside the turkey to cook them both at the same time, while on the back burners, the greens boiled.

Ma kicked me out of the kitchen shortly after she realized she never turned the oven on last night. “You know you’ve never been a cook,” she said. “You’ll only slow me down.” I was given the assignment to make Tony and Kerry chicken salad sandwiches—the salad already prepared, all I had to do was spread it over the bread—to hold them over to dinner and hopefully to quell their arguing.

And it worked. We had silence for a while . . . until Tammi and her mother showed up, and without Gregory.

I had never met Jacquelyn. She’d tried to introduce herself several times before, calling to explain why she had allowed my son to live with her and her daughter in their overcrowded trailer, knocking on my door in the middle of the night to tell me she’d kicked them out. The vibrations in her voice told me she was nothing but drama then, and now she was standing right before me expecting a free, and she didn’t even bother to bring Gregory with her. And the striking resemblance between her and Tammi—how old was she when she had her? Any stranger would think they were sisters.

“Where’s my son?” I had no interest in shaking hands, fake smiles, or “how do you do’s.” These people overstayed their welcome the second they stepped foot on Ma’s front porch.

“He at work.” Tammi smacked her lips. Her nonchalant attitude quickly got under my skin.

“I was expecting to spend Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I don’t know you.”

Tammi’s mother reached out her hand. “Hi I’m Jacqui—“

“And I don’t care to!” I snapped.

Ma entered, putting the oven mitts she was wearing under her arm. “We may need another hour. That turkey just won’t cook.” When she noticed the tense atmosphere at her front door, she said, “Who’s this?”

“Tammi, and Jacqui,” I cut my eyes at the mother, “decided to invite themselves without Gregory.”

“Where’s Gregory?” Ma asked.

“He had to work,” Jacqui answered.

“On Thanksgiving?”

Jacqui started to say something, but quickly closed her mouth. By the way they shrugged their shoulders, avoided eye contact, it was obvious they were lying. My worried mind went straight to the marathon episodes of Snapped I often watched to fill my Sunday afternoons when I came home from church. It was the worst thing to watch on a Sunday, a holy day of rest. All it did was disrupt my peace. Women taking vengeance into their own hands, taking a life. When Gregory went weeks without calling, I feared the worst. What had they done to him?

I heard Tony barge down the hall, and I knew things would quickly escalate with him in the room.

“You know they’re getting married, right?”

“Who?”

Tony pointed to Tammi.

“Yea, we engaged.” Tammi shrugged her shoulders, flashed the small diamond on her left hand.

A ring. He’d bought her a ring. With what money? I remembered those times he called, whining that his lights were about to get turned off, that he would be evicted if he didn’t pay rent by the end of the week, that he couldn’t afford to have his car repossessed because then he’d have no way to get to work. Were they all lies? The money I’d been giving him—a little here, a little there—had he been collecting it until he had enough to buy a ring and propose? No, no. Heaven forbid I inherit another lethargic, unappreciative daughter-in-law like Kerry, who had secluded herself away in the dining room to pretend she was crying.

Instinctively, I clawed at Tammi’s hand, snatching of the ring I paid for and a thin layer of skin along with it. She yanked my arm back with one hand— with much more force than her petite frame would lead anyone to believe— and with the other hand, slapped me clear across the face. There was shouting and screaming, and at some point Kerry finally appeared in the kitchen doorway behind Ma. I could feel Tony’s arms around my waist. He and Jacqui pulled Tammi and I apart, and backing up, I tripped over Tony’s size 13 shoe and hit the side of my back on the back of the couch, re-agitating a muscle I pulled a few weeks ago when moving around the furniture in Gregory’s room.

“I ain’t gon stay where I’m not wanted!” Tammi was screaming.

“Then why the fuck are you still here?” Tony yelled.

Suddenly the smoke detector in the kitchen went off, setting off all the others in the house, including the one in the living room right above the space of floor that separated me from the intruders. The piercing peal silenced us for several seconds.

Ma rushed back into the kitchen, brushing past Kerry. “Jesus, Kerry, you don’t smell my greens burning?” She stirred the pot, added water and flicked off the eye. She grabbed a towel and begin flapping it under the detector to clear the smoke.

When the noise finally ceased, I looked directly at Tammi. “You need to leave.”

“Gladly.” She turned around and kicked open the screen door, making a sound like ripped metal and leaving behind a dent in the bottom left corner. Jacqui stayed behind for a brief moment, as if considering an apology, but quickly spun around and followed her daughter to the car. I shut the door behind them and noticed the engagement ring on the floor; it must have fallen out of my hand during the scuffle. I quickly kicked it away. The sight of it disgusted me.

“She’ll be back when she realizes it’s gone,” Kerry mumbled.

“Oh, now you got something to say? Where were you when that bitch was hittin’ my mama?” Tony shouted.

Kerry rolled her eyes and turned away. “I’m not arguing with you, Tony.”

“But you gon listen!” He stormed past me, my throbbing face obviously not too much of a concern, to finish his tirade with Kerry from earlier.

Ma returned from the kitchen, her shoulders hunched. She looked just as defeated as I felt. “Why not Chinese? They’re always open on Thanksgiving. I don’t think I can save this dinner.”

“There’s still the turkey and stuffing.”

“That won’t be for another hour. You know my old stomach has to eat early. I’m feeling lightheaded already.”

I tried to force a smile, but my face was so tight, I probably looked constipated. “Why don’t you sit, and I’ll make us some chicken salad sandwiches.”

“Can we eat them outside? I’m sick of those two yelling, and I need to cool off.”

I nodded and looked back to the window. Eating outside would only make me more anxious about Gregory, wondering if every car that drove by was him. I shook my head. No, there was no sense in waiting for him anymore. He wasn’t coming. And Tammi would surely tell him what happened here. Then, after that, I don’t think he will ever come home.

—Nortina


Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. Prologues, character sketches, structure planning, or in the case of this post, more backstories. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!

N is for… [N]ag #AtoZChallenge

All week he’s demanded I make a decision on a birthday present, impatience in his voice. He makes it feel like an obligation, not out of love but necessity. I try not to complain about his attitude, try to accept that he wants to give me anything at all—he doesn’t have to—since I’m so unappreciative, so ungrateful.

I must think of something reasonable, not like the Birkin bag I asked for last year. I never wanted it to begin with; it was a test he failed. With the amount of money he spends on name brand tennis shoes, Rolex watches, designer shades, gold chains, and other expensive jewelry for himself, surely he could spare a couple thousand for his wife. I was wrong. Instead, he bought me a knockoff Michael Kors, and he took it back when I was too slow in saying thank you, made a big show of getting his refund—all twenty-six fifty of it.

I think long and hard about what I truly want. What he can give me to show for our five years of marriage. Besides his grandma’s rental home we’re living in, besides my wages being garnished because he defaulted on his student loans, besides his lavish spending on himself while we’re to our eye sockets in debt, credit too low even for a mortgage from shady online loan companies that approve you next day.

But I shouldn’t complain. I’m such a nag, he tells me. I can’t just be happy. I can’t just love him. The reality is I do love him, since high school I’ve loved him, but being in love and being homeless is not a life I want to live.

So I want a divorce.

There’s no easy way to ask him. His temper runs so hot and cold. I’ve made it worse for myself since loaning his brother money. It was only for gas—twenty dollars tops. He’d spent $260 on shoes just that day, I didn’t think he would miss it. On the contrary, he noticed right away, even more so when he found out who it went to. Tony curses anyone who gives Greg money. He doesn’t deserve it. In Tony’s world, nobody deserves nothing.

He’s stretched out on the couch now, half asleep. A re-air of the game from last night plays on the television. I reach over his shoulder for the remote, held loosely in his hand that hangs over the arm of the couch. As I try to pry it away, his grip tightens, and his eyes shoot open to glare at me.

“The hell are you doing?”

“I was going to change the channel. I didn’t think you were watching.” There was something on the news I wanted to catch. Something about a robbery at the bank where I used to work.

“That’s because you don’t think. Ever.” He sits up, pulls his in legs from across the opposite arm of the couch, knees popping. He’s tall enough to be playing in the NBA instead of half-watching games that don’t matter—neither team made the playoffs. Despite his height, he was never good in basketball—couldn’t handle the ball, worse than Shaq at the free throw line, swatting air, and sometimes faces, when going up for the block. In high school he rode the bench one season before finally quitting and becoming the team’s equipment manager, a job usually reserved for the fast-ass girls in our class—future groupies, ex-basketball wives, and baby mamas—who couldn’t make the cheerleading squad.

I prep what I’m going to say in my head, choosing the most gentle of words to dissuade him from exploding—I’m not happy; I can’t deal with the mood swings anymore; I think we need some time apart, maybe counseling; I’ll stay at my sister’s, she’s already expecting me. I try to avoid using the word “you.” I read somewhere that “you” can be connoted as argumentative, like I’m placing the blame, nagging, that female shit like we always do, according to Tony.

Before I’m able to speak, he turns the volume up to an ear splitting level, the buzzer marking the end of the third quarter ringing in my head, so loud it’s like we’re in the arena. I look at the screen and the volume level is at 85—the highest it goes is 100. “Do you mind turning that down?” I shout.

“Do you mind shutting the fuck up?” He turns it up even higher.

Sometimes I want to hit him for the way he speaks to me, but I fear his reaction, his anger like an unattended to tea kettle about to blow its top off. Last night while preparing dinner I snapped at him for picking food out of the pot after just coming in from work. I don’t want to eat asbestos, I said, lead-laced paint chips in my food.

“Shows how much you pay attention,” he said. “You’re so selfish. You only think about yourself. Do you even think about me during the day? Do I ever cross your mind?” Before I could say anything, he answered for me. “No. I got promoted six months ago, dumbass.”

That was right. He was the new facilities coordinator, the boss of the men  inhaling asbestos and lead-laced paint. How could I forget, as much as he talks about his job, how much money he makes—$40,000 would seem like a lot when grandma’s still flipping the rent—assuming it’s more than my weekly check from the bank because each payday means another impulse purchase for him, while I haven’t bought a new pair of pumps in three years—the faux suede on my old ones ripping at the heel—trying to cover all the bills he hasn’t paid.

But I couldn’t say all that. So I stirred the stroganoff in silence, but to no avail because once he’s started, he can’t let things go. A simple request not to touch the food until it’s ready set him off, and before long I feared the neighbors would hear the insults he screamed at me, his tongue like a double-edged dagger piercing into flesh.

I’m tired of being called stupid, of being told to act like an adult when he’s the one screaming like a teenager. I took the lid from the pot and put it in his face. Not to hurt him, just to silence him, melt his lips like wax so that they sealed shut and the reverberating sound of his voice would finally cease. Instead he knocked it clear across the room, split it in two, then grabbed me by the neck and threw me against the wall, knocking the back of my head into the plaster and leaving a hole and an excruciating migraine. I’ve been taking aspirin pills all day.

It was the first time he ever put his hands on me, and the last straw.

I press the power button on the TV, relieved to have silence in the calm before his storm rages.

“We need to talk.”

“About what?” He slams his hands down on his knees, leans over, cocks his head to the side, twists his lips, charred black from smoking, a nasty habit I wish he’d quit. I don’t like the smell. It’s in his clothes, his skin, on his breath. I’ve asked him numerous times to be considerate of my feelings, that I don’t smoke, that I’d prefer him not to in the house, or at least not around me, but he only shrugs it off, tells me to get over it or stop breathing.

I’m reminded of an article I read online about weed. How it freezes your mind at the age you begin smoking. I don’t know how credible it is, if there was a scientific study to back it, but looking into his eyes, yellow like parchment paper, I realize he hasn’t changed since he was fifteen, when we first started dating. Both he and his brother, teenagers trying to be men. They’d see it if they’d only talk to each other.

I can’t think of what to say next, my practiced speech useless. It’s impossible to have a rational conversation with Tony, they too quickly turn to arguments.

With a sigh I ask, “I’m going to the store, you want something?”

“Really? That’s all you had to say?” He waves me off, aims the remote around my body in front of the TV and presses the power button. “Bye! Get out! All that shit for nothing. Nothing!”

He’s still yelling when I shut the door behind me, the sound spilling from the siding of the house. Now I know the neighbors have heard every argument we’ve ever had. The house just as fragile as our marriage. I don’t want to provoke him any more. I’ll come back for my thing tomorrow, when I know he’ll be at work.

—Nortina


Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. Prologues, character sketches, outlines, backstories. Today’s backstory gives you a glimpse into the character Tony, Gregory’s older brother. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!

J is for… [J]ail #AtoZChallenge

close-up picture tattered American flag behind barbed wire fence

Where’s the justice?

As you may know, this year’s A to Z Challenge is all about planning my novel for NaNoWriMo… because for once I’d like to start and finish a project this year.

In this brief brainstorming session, we’re going to look at our (America’s) crooked justice system and how large (or small) a role it will play in Prodigal Son* (yes, title is still a work in progress).

This post is a day late, unfortunately (I will not fall behind. I will not fall behind). The lid to my well of inspiration was temporarily shut, and I spent most of yesterday in a tug-of-war match with my writer’s block, trying to get it open. Finally, at a little after midnight, when I was dead-dog tired and barely able to keep my eyes open, the idea came to me.

If you’re a writer, you understand how absolutely frustrating it is to have nothing for most of the day, and then the second you are lying in your bed, wrapped up comfortably in your warm, freshly washed sheets, on the brink of sleep… ding! the light bulb comes on.

J is for jail . . . or justice system. (Looky there, they both start with “J”— basic, easy, obvious for this particular novel, yet for some reason, I couldn’t think of it before midnight last night.)

These days, the justice system has been under a lot of scrutiny. (Black Lives Matter ring any bells?) Of course, if you’re black, or at least “woke” (adjective. definition – aware of or updated on current events, especially if they pertain to race), you know this is nothing new. Our prisons are overcrowded, and yes, we’d like to think that everyone behind bars is there because they committed a heinous crime, but that’s not always the case. And thanks to easy accessibility to news (and fake news) through social media and 24/hour news networks like CNN, we’ve seen how money, connections, race, and begging and pleading parents can get a despicable criminal off scot-free, and how it can also get a suspect (who may not always be guilty) tossed in jail (if not killed by police or crackpot vigilantes first) with an excessively long sentence for a victim-less crime.

Will Gregory go to jail for his crime? We don’t want him to. We’ve seen how desperate he’s become in previous backstories—finding out his girlfriend is pregnant, losing his source of income, dealing with Tanisha’s leech-like family—but he still broke the law, and by law, he has to pay for it (pun not intended but surprisingly satisfying). Where’s the sympathy?

This is where Tony, Gregory’s brother, comes in. We still don’t know much about him, but as a teenager, he was sort of a dick, to say it plainly. Is he still that way as an adult. How will he respond to his brother’s disappearance, to his transgressions? Keep in mind, this novel (as seen in my interim title) will allude back to the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son (also called the Lost Son) in Luke 15:11-32. If you get a chance to read it, I want you to look particularly at verses 28 through 30. Notice how the older brother reacts to the return of the lost son. This should give you a clue to Tony’s possible motives/actions toward the climax of this novel.

I’ll leave you to guess on it for now. Then when I post my official outline later in the challenge, we’ll see how many of you guessed right.

How else will we see jail and the justice system used in this novel? Well, besides the obvious—Frank Maye, missing persons detective—I want to take a closer look at Leslie’s work in the Prison Ministry.

For Tuesday’s “I” post, I almost wrote a scene titled “Inmate.” In that scene, Leslie visits the county jail downtown with the other members of the ministry. For most church prison ministries, when the small team of evangelists go to minister with the inmates, the men usually meet with the male inmates, and the women with the female inmates. I won’t deviate from that in this novel, so if you thought that Leslie would discover her son in jail while doing the work of ministry, sorry to disappoint you, but that would be way too easy.

However, she will meet with a female inmate (and as I’m writing this, the idea suddenly popped into my head that maybe she develops a friendship with this woman, oftentimes visiting her outside of ministry work), and the conversations they have—though I haven’t figured out the how yet—will help her to figure some things out about Gregory and his situation (bring her peace, bring her understanding?).

The more I thought about this scene (or scenes) and watched it (them) unfold in my head, the more I realized that I wanted to put it (them) in the novel itself (and the plot thickens), and since the actual “novel writing” won’t begin until November, Tuesday’s post was changed to a backstory on Frank—looking at the circumstances surrounding his father’s disappearance and giving you a little more on his character—since we still don’t know much about him yet.

There may be other areas where I’ll use jail and/or the justice system, but I don’t want to go too deep into it because this isn’t a crime novel (actually, I haven’t figured out what the genre is—Christian fiction? Adult literary fiction?). The focus will still be on our main characters, Leslie, Frank, and to an extent, Gregory. This story is about them, their shared experience through the storm on the road to healing, reconciliation, and maybe forgiveness…

Pausing to look over this post, I realize I did a lot of rambling. Sometimes you just gotta talk things out to urge that brilliant idea forward. I’m definitely at a better place a day late than I was last night. There’s a method to my stream of consciousness madness, I promise!

So, I conclude this post with a potential (rough) outline/plot to my novel in progress.

↗ Climax – Tony’s jealousy/malice

↗  Rising action – Prison Ministry 

Beginning – Missing Gregory

It’s slowly coming together! See you later tonight, when I hope to post “K” and get back on schedule!

—Nortina