“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

Humble Pie

Which makes you fatter? Lemon pie or humble pie.

I’ve had plenty of both. Humble pie is dessert after a meal of eating your own words. It’s the prize for being wrong.

Which is harder? Going on a diet or facing your wrongness? Both, I guess.

It’s now almost a year since our granddaughter Joanna Leigh came to live at our home, which was several months prior to being awarded legal custody. She was 17 months old. Since she had been living in our house with her mother, our daughter, for the better part of those 17 months, she felt secure and happy here, reducing the harshness of such a change. We didn’t see any signs of distress in her sleeping, eating, or other behavior, despite being separated from her mother, who was again being ruled by her drug addictions.

Joanna Leigh was on time with repeating words at about a year old, with “ba-ba,” “dog,” “go,” and the infamous “NO!” She began quickly referring to my husband as “Papa.” She was not yet calling me anything in particular, even though I had begun referring to myself as “Mama Jo,” my other granddaughter’s name for me. Then the process quickly went to two-word combinations, like “my yogurt,” “my color.” The “mine” phase took on a life of its own, which I chronicled in two Words and Language posts, June 10 and July 9. (See the categories in the right sidebars.)

Then suddenly, Whammo, Bam, Pow: the trickle had turned into a torrent. Joanna Leigh was suddenly in the throes of learning language at about 150 miles an hour. We were flabbergasted daily.

When she was not speaking English sentences, she was babbling some other language, Jabberwocky, maybe. For practice, I guess.

But she still wasn’t really calling me anything. There were times when I thought she might be trying to call me “mama,” which, as it turns out, was feeding my misconceptions.

How toddlers begin using language is also humbling. According to Steven Pinker in his 1994 book, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language, at about 18 months, toddlers’ language production “takes off.” Pinker says that language development goes from babbling at about eight months to “All Hell Breaks Loose” at this stage.

Vocabulary growth jumps to the new-word-every-two-hours minimum rate that the child will maintain through adolescence. And syntax begins, with string of the minimum length that allows it.

He also says that there is more going on in children’s minds than is revealed by what comes out of their mouths.

When children do put words together, the words seem to meet up with a bottleneck at the output end. Children’s two-and-three-word utterances look like samples drawn from longer potential sentences expressing a complete and more complicated idea.

My misconception began with believing I could protect Joanna Leigh from the hurt that would come with being separated from or even losing her mother.

Then I added to that the belief that I could be an adequate mother figure as her memory of her own mother began to change or even fade.

I was wrong on both counts.

In late April and early May, Joanna Leigh began seeing her mother periodically, while she was in a Birmingham treatment/housing facility for women. After several trips to the facility, Joanna Leigh woke up in the night crying for her “mommy.” The blow was hard and complete. I felt as if a tornado had spun out of nowhere, picked me up, and thrown me out into the backyard. I was afraid, sorrowful, distressed, and heartbroken for her.

It was a hard way to learn that I could not keep Joanna Leigh from hurt and to discover that she wasn’t calling me or thinking of me as “mama” or a mommy substitute. I realized she needed to see her mother.

She held the concepts in her mind, but she didn’t yet have the language to let them out. She needed her mommy and she needed me, Papa, and her home. It took language.

Right now, she sees her mother; it may or may not last. She thinks of this house, Mama Jo, Papa, Maggie, Patty, her toys, her stuffed friends in her room, all of it, as Home. This Home helps her feel secure, happy, and confident. When or if the time comes for hurt, all we can do is be here.

Language is humbling. It’s so built into us that we simply take it for granted.

Being so wrong about something so important to a child is humbling.

So I eat the Humble Pie. I need to find a way to stay off the lemon pie.

TwiKu: Follow-up Words on Tweets

A Haiku is to a poem as a tweet is to a newsy telephone call. (See the previous post.)


A Twitter’s tweet is about two Haiku long. That’s all. I’m suggesting – or challenging: Twitterers, speak in Haiku.

If you recall from your school days, a Haiku is a short, very short, stylized Japanese poem, but it is very pithy, descriptive, insightful. Or just fun. It is three lines consisting of, in English, a total of 17 syllables: five in line 1, seven in line two, and five in line 3. Depending on the length of your words and numbers of punctuation marks and spaces, two Haiku could be a Tweet.

A TwiKu. Or Haikeet. Or Tweetku. Or . . .

Two, Two, Two Haiku

A Twitter’s Tweet make on-line.

Syllables endure.

The Long and Short

For a short poem, Haiku writing has a long list of “rules,” but only a few, including the 3-line, 17-syllable rules, are widely suggested:

l Include some reference to the season or time of year.

l For immediacy, write in the present tense.

l Rely on images to create a moment of understanding, harmony, humor or irony.

l Have some fun.

Conversely, Tweets, long in meaning, impose a limit of 140 letters/characters/spaces. The longest English words with only one syllable, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, are nine letters: screeched, scrounged, stretched, some plural nouns, and a few others: Long words, short sound, too many spaces.



The Japan Program at The University of Alabama (http://uanews.ua.edu/2009/02/ua-japan-program-presenting-23rd-sakura-festival/) has sponsored for 23 years The Sakura Festival, and part of the celebration is a Haiku contest. Here are several winners’ Haikus:

Through the winter mists

Steel beams of the crane appear

As lace, fragile, still

Amelia Heath - Northport, Alabama [92 characters/spaces]


Poems are my home;

Haikus those rare visitors

That quicken the heart.

Christa Pandey - Tuscaloosa, Alabama [67 characters, spaces]

Here is the 23rd annual 2009 Sakura Haiku winner:

Swelling clouds, the curves

of your body in darkness,

your whispers, the rain.

Sam Martone – Tuscaloosa, Alabama [78 characters, spaces]

Ok, here are a couple of my own:

Cows on interstates,

Tuscaloosa News got it.

Bizarre modern life.

63 characters/spaces

Hummingbirds act out

Too early: Winter Comes soon.

Sun leaves: Eat. Fight. Fly.

68 characters/spaces

Memory is Autumn’s

Gardenia. Once new, once sweet,

Now overripe husks.

69 characters/spaces

That’s all. Sometime in a future post, I’ll tell you about the cows on the interstate.


Tweet-Brained: Who's Your Grandma? Part III

Ring. Ring. Ring.


“Hi. It’s me. Are you busy? Got a minute?”

“No. I’m reading the paper. Did you see the piece on the cows on the interstate? Doesn’t that beat all?”

The answer to the caller’s question, “Got a minute?” is 102 characters and spaces, without the quote marks. This is the stuff of which Twitter is made.

Who cares? The grandmothers and grandfathers out there who haven’t signed on ARE interested; they just may not know it yet. The Spittin’ Grits posts “Who’s Your Grandma, Parts I and II” made the case for getting interested. While there’s also Facebook, MySpace, and many other social sites, Twitter has features of interest to Seniors -- mainly, your grandkids are likely Twitterers. If your grandkids are not yet Twitterers, your kids are, and they Twit about their kids constantly. You can “follow” them, a Twitter word for “be in contact with.” And I could have alerted my contacts, called “Followers,” about the cows on the interstate, which I am not making up.

twitter_logo copy

I could have tweeted as it happened, like this: Truth: Cows are on 1-59/20, Tuscaloosa, at mile marker 81. Traffic backed up for miles while the round-up goes on. See T-News online.

This tweet is 134 characters and spaces. The max is 140, established when text-messaging was new.

That was Then. . .

Twitter began finding its real power during the U.S. presidential campaign and election; the political events in Iran and then China pretty much sealed this site as relevant, some say amazing. Then multitudes of users got into it and re-invented it.

So, what is Twitter? Well, it’s this cyber-place with a powder blue-turquoise background and a funny looking Bluebird of Happiness as part of the logo. Here’s how it describes itself:

Twitter has grown into a real-time short messaging service that works over multiple networks and devices.

In countries all around the world, people follow the sources most relevant to them and access information via Twitter as it happens—from breaking world news to updates from friends. See what people are doing right now.

This is NOW. . .


Twitter made the cover of Time magazine June 15. Writer Steven B. Johnson went so far as to say “Twitter is changing the way we live” and it is “a powerful form of communication.” His view is that the power of Twitter is not what it may have started out as or what it appears to be now, but “the most fascinating thing about Twitter is not what it’s doing to us. It’s what we’re doing to it.”

Remember: It hasn’t been that long since we grandparents wondered why there would ever be any need for going to the trouble to learn E-MAIL. E-mail, of all things. Then the newfangled abilities of CELL PHONES.

Remember: The real motivation for the grands to learn e-mail was to stay in touch with your children, to get pictures, to stay connected.

Now: E-mail is essential in our lives. Blackberries and iPhones are essentials. And think of the wide uses for both: It’s not just “Hi, how are you?” anymore.

Now is the time. The Bluebird of Twitterness is waiting.

First, just go there. Then in the search box, type either “crimson tide” or “#crimsontide” (without the quote marks). See where it takes you. Then try “joannagrits” (no quote marks). Now you choose.

O.K. You’re ready to Sign Up Now. Think about a user name, password, and wording for a profile. Don’t be put off by creating a profile. Here’s mine:

· Name: Joanna Cravey Hutt

 · Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

 · Web: http://spittingri...

 · Bio: Spittin' Grits blog, senior citizen, Southerner, writer, grandmother parenting grandchild

How hard is that? Not.

Now you’ve really come of age.

Who’s Your Grandma? Part II


ow do you know you’re old? How you feel? How you look? How you act? How many original teeth you have?

Look in the right-hand column under the category “Grandparents,” click on that link, and look back at the August 31 post for a grandparents’ profile and a poll.

One stat really bothers me: 13 percent of Americans are now over 65. By 2050 one of us in five will be over 65. What???? I don’t think so. Not a one of us will be over 65 then; we’ll all be over 115.

Wait. I think I misread that, not that the details make any difference.

Here’s one way you know you’re old: When you’ve had friends or have been married for longer than the Internet has been in existence. The Internet turned 40 this month on Sept. 2. On that date in 1969, some soon-to-be geeks sent some gobbledygook from one computer at UCLA to another computer at UCLA to test the Arpanet. Doesn’t sound like much, right? Well, it doesn’t sound like much being 65 these days – until you think about it. I’ve had some friends for more than 50 or 60 years. In a little less than two years, I’m scheduled to go to my 50th high school reunion.

It’s a bit more reassuring to know that it was another 21 years before the World Wide Web (the www. part of Internet addresses) was created, but not much. Then the really big event happened in July 1995: Amazon.com went online, and I ordered my first book that fall. I had ordered enough books by the next Christmas that they sent me a mouse pad with Amazon.com on it. I still have it.


From two Arpanet computers at UCLA to the Internet to the World Wide Web , all in 40 years. Image, about 1992, from An Atlas of Cyberspaces at: http://personalpages.manchester.ac.uk/staff/m.dodge/cybergeography/atlas/geographic.html

Knowing Where Your Grandkids Are

Seniors, male and female, ages 64 to 72, born 1937-45, according to the PEW Research Center, are known as the “Silent Generation”; those older are designated the “G.I. Generation.” The Silent portion makes up about 9 percent of the U.S. adult population (over 18). A little more than half of us (56 percent of the 9 percent of Silents) go online. But that’s not going to get it. If we’re going to know about our grandkids, we’d better become closer friends with the Internet/WWW. Here’s the skinny:

The Silent Generation makes up only about 7 percent of the total Internet-using population. That’s us, my peers.

Only 11 percent of that 7 percent of us go farther and use social networking sites, like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and others – not many of us.

We Silents go online to get answers to questions – like the side effects of our prescriptions – to bank, and to shop – a lot of those goods going to our zero to 17-year-old grandkids, I’ll bet.

Meanwhile. . .

About 95 percent of teen kids between 12 and 17 (who make up 20 percent of the adult population) are Internet on-liners.

Fully 65 percent of those teen on-liners use social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and others. And this virtual life is non-school hours.

Babies from zero to 11 are on-liners, even if there are no stats to prove it. They may be Twittering as we speak.

These stats are clear. If you, grandma and grandpa, want to know about your grandkids, get online, get social, get with it.

The Teens

The 12 to 17-year-olds are online to connect with friends and family and to play games. They connect with people through reading e-mail or instant messages or by creating blogs, like this one, and through the social networking sites. They are likely to have created a “profile” on these sites.

If you find out that your 7-year-old grandkid has a blog, let me know, since the stats are still out on them.

The Silents

So, how do we know if we’re old? The answer seems to lie in how we spend our days. Here’s how our day looks:

Nine out of ten of us talk to friends and family; eight in ten read a book or newspaper or magazine. Then those same eight go to their Sun-Mon-Tues-Wed-Thurs-Fri-Sat plastic pill container and take our medicines. Four of those ten take a nap.

And only one in four gets on the Internet.

I’ve taken the plunge, grandfriends, and you can too. I have profiles on Twitter and Facebook. I use the photo site Flickr, the video sites YouTube and Vimeo, and get music from iTunes. I get a lot of my news online.

Is this a great country, or what?

Twits, Twitterers, and Tweets

twitter_logo copy

The next few Spittin’ Grits posts will give a few lessons. We’ll start with Twitter. Look in the right-hand column of Spittin’ Grits, scroll down below “Labels” and look at “About the Blogette”; at the bottom of the “About,” you’ll see a link to my profile. Those are just examples of creating a profile, which you WILL do.

Show your Twits, join the Twitterers, and keep up with your grandkid’s Tweets. Breathe deep and go to the site: http://twitter.com.

Stop: Look back at that last sentence above. How many characters do you think it contains, with spaces? This is big. It has 132. Remember that. A Tweet is limited to only 140 characters and spaces.

Information about generational use of technology is available at: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1093/generations-online.


I will be off for a few days. Posts will restart in about a week. Thanks for visiting, and please come back.

The Worm Moon


keep up with happenings in space at www.spaceweather.com, where I find out about sunspots, near-Earth asteroids, the Aurora Borealis, and happenings with the planets, space debris, and all sorts of celestial out-of-sight events. Fans send in photos, including this one of the Corn Moon taken at Yellowstone National Park several nights ago.

fullmoonOldFaithful Astronomy professor Jimmy Westlake of Colorado Mountain College recently took this shot of the Corn Moon. "The Moon is visible through the top of Old Faithful's steamy plume," he pointed out on the spaceweather.com site. "I took the picture using a Fuji Finepix S2 digital camera set at ISO 800 for a 4-second exposure."

The Corn Moon’s rising on Sept. 4 and my 27-month-old granddaughter’s excitement in seeing it took me back to last March and its Worm Moon.

In February in Alabama, yellow daffodils begin breaking through the cold ground. The camellias venture to open. Cardinals usher in the morning with chirps and whistles. Robins return in large groups and stand on the lawn. The sun stays in the sky a bit later. And, last February, my then-20-month-old granddaughter, Joanna Leigh, discovered the moon.

Now the sun’s presence in our hemisphere is waning as we approach the Autumnal Equinox this month. The leaves are beginning to thin; we’ll be able to see this year’s remaining moons more easily.

Late February and early March in Alabama tease, offering a string of days at 70-plus degrees with sunshine before it plunges to cold briefly, then starts climbing again. On March 2 this year, it snowed after dropping 6.377 inches of rain on our yard. We watched the early spring moon every clear evening from its crescent to its full Worm Moon showing in March. It rose over the trees in the woods behind the house. We live on a ridge; we’re high enough that the moon topped the leafless trees early.

The March full moon is called a “Worm Moon,” but I didn’t try to explain that to Joanna Leigh. It signals the coming of northern spring, a thawing of the soil, and the first stirrings of earthworms in dormant gardens. This year’s Worm Moon was beautiful.

At first I pointed up and pointed up. She kept tilting her head further and further upward. I kept saying “moon.’ Finally she spotted it. She breathed in, eyes wide and lips rounded in astonishment and wonder. After that, every evening she expressed that same wonderment as we watched it rise. She said “moon. And she put it together with the moon in the favorite child’s book, Goodnight, Moon; she would point at the book and says “moon.” We read.

She can find the moon herself now. She showed me the Corn Moon last Friday.

A Wonder

Grandchildren are a wonder in a way different from what you remember about your own, I think. As the jokes go, grandparents don’t know which is better: the headlights at the grandchildren's coming or the taillights at their leaving; they are wonderful and tiring, but you can send them home to mama and daddy.

My granddaughter doesn’t go home to mama or daddy, because of our daughter’s history of unrelenting drug use. My husband and I were granted custody of Joanna Leigh last March. Thankfully, she is now able to spend more time with her mother, who has been drug-free for months and who shows unprecedented determination to stay that way. Being with her mother makes her very happy, and she has shown her Mommy the Moon.

No Taillights

Grandparents’ parenting grandchildren is quite different from headlights coming and going. Cute misbehavior, a.k.a. testing your resolve, now demands consistent disciplining. Discontent, temper tantrums, hunger, and tiredness, a.k.a. whining and throwing yourself to the floor, now becomes intolerable and demands constant attention. The pleasure of reading a bedtime story instead of watching the evening news now becomes a long-term teaching tool.

Running after her in the yard for two and three hours. Bending down to clean up sticky juices and drinks from toys and the hardwood floor. Getting the car seat out of the car to hose it down. Carrying her up stairs. Leaning over the tub to give her a bath. Keeping up with laundry. Running up stairs to grab diapers you forgot to take downstairs.

Looking in the mirror only to realize again that I am 66 can increase the anxiety of what lies before my husband and me as parenting grandparents. Days will ease away into the twilight, but there are no taillights. Dawn returns like headlights up the driveway, ushering in the next day and the next and the next. We will reinvent each day as long as we can, even if we have to make it up as we go along.

And to keep perspective, I’ll keep my eye on www.spaceweather.com. I’ll consult my Old Farmer’s Almanac. And delight in Joanna Leigh’s love of seeing the Moon.

As the schedule of the remaining full moons below reveals, we will all have a special New Year’s Eve treat this year in the U.S. Central time zone: A Blue Moon. There won’t be another Blue Moon until August 2012.

Next is the Harvest Moon, October 4 in some U.S. time zones.

One way to make a blue moon: use a blue filter. That's what Kostian Iftica did when he photographed this full moon rising over Brighton, Mass. (http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/scitech/display.cfm?ST_ID=585)

One way to make a blue moon: use a blue filter. That's what Kostian Iftica did on July 2nd when he photographed this full moon rising over Brighton, Mass.

September 4

Full Corn Moon

12:03 pm

October 4

Full Harvest Moon

2:10 am

November 2nd

Full Hunter's Moon

2:14 pm

December 2nd

Full Cold Moon

2:30 am

December 31st

Full Blue Moon

2:13 pm

Memoir Morality


nly a relatively small percentage of Americans are drug (including prescription drugs), chemical substances (like glue and meth), and alcohol addicts.

Do not be misled. The price to all of us is high beyond imagining. Aside from the emotional, spiritual, moral, and political cost, in money alone you have already paid and paid and paid. The cost of bailing out the U.S. economy will eventually pale in comparison to our 35-year Drug War. It is already into the tens of billions of dollars. And this doesn’t include the cost of sending millions of people to jails and prisons for drug-related, non-violent offenses.


When I think of how we are all  affected, I see in my mind’s eye the famous map of cyberspace created by Bill Cheswick and Hal Burch at Bell Labs (shown above and at http://www.cheswick.com/ches/map/gallery/isp-ss.gif) in the 1990s  – not a mere net or spider web.

Another view of that interconnected world shows how U.S. cyberspace is linked. The image is a strong metaphor for how we're all linked in drug addiction. cyberspace From: http://personalpages.manchester.ac.uk/staff/m.dodge/cybergeography/atlas/geographic.html

The Lost Child: A Mother’s Story by British writer Julie Myerson will soon be published by Bloomsbury Publishing in the U.S., nearly six months after its publication in Britain, which was followed by a tidal wave of scrutiny, criticism, opinion pieces, reactions from her son and other family members, and moral indignation by many. The controversy has struck a personal chord. I feel I need to address the issue personally and publicly.

The criticism was fairly predictable: She was chasing money at the expense of her own child. She was seeking revenge for the hurt she suffered. She was trying to teach her child a lesson. She was betraying her child’s privacy. She ruined her child’s life.


According to Britain’s Times Online, the son’s father justified the publication based on politics and public policy: believing “the book will expose the ‘emergency of skunk’, the super-strength cannabis that can permanently damage growing brains.”

Americans are more open to books on difficult personal stories and memoirs, on topics from alcoholism, autism, drug addiction, incest, insanity, through nearly the whole alphabet. And thank goodness for the openness if it serves to help others who are suffering or if it helps to guide reality-based public policy.

beautiful_boy_2  For more on Beautiful Boy (pictured above), go to http://davidsheff.com/.


ComeBackI own or have read or am familiar with many examples of books involving drug addicts and their families and addiction as a condition, including Come Back, pictured above) by mother and daughter Claire and Mia Fontaine. Why do I have these books? How do I know enough to comment credibly on the subject?

I’ve been there. I have lived most of my adult life involved in my daughter’s unrelenting addictions. Learning what I know, chasing knowledge, making sense of my life have been my means of survival. I feel the strong compulsion not to take what I’ve learned and know to the grave. I will write about it.

The Writer

A writer’s motives for telling a hard story are simply not relevant, as long as he or she tells the story as truthfully as can be recounted; readers must realize that each story or memoir is the writer’s personal memories and perceptions. Then the story has to stand on its own as valuable or worthless, regardless of whether the writing was for a high moral purpose, was an expression of the author’s passion for the subject, or was a way to make a buck.

Truth does not betray, in this case the drug addict. Truth may be harsh, it may be unpleasant, it may be ugly, it may intrude, but truth doesn’t betray. We betray ourselves when we can’t accept the truth and its reality. That is called denial.

In fact, the reverse is true: drug addiction betrays an individual, a family, communities, life in general. Telling these stories truthfully has intrinsic value.

The Readers

Generally readers can smell crap and garbage and dishonesty a mile away. They may buy it or read it anyway, helping make the authors rich. Formula romance, mystery, and western fiction or “tell-all” biography and non-fiction come to mind. Is a writer getting rich from crap because readers buy it a reason for moral indignation? I call that a waste of time and energy.

Some crap and garbage and dishonesty take longer to be revealed, as was the case in James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces pictured below.

AMillionBe patient. Generally you can count on the crap and dishonesty to out itself. 

Drug Addiction and the Addict

Addiction steals people away.


The harsh reality is that using addicts are generally one- dimensional people; their individuality has been hijacked by the thing they chase incessantly regardless of other people, like their parents and even their children, or their own lives. Not love, not shame, not guilt, not a sense of responsibility nor obligation nor ambition – none of these otherwise human guidelines drive the using drug addicts’ lives. Only two behaviors drive their day-to-day existence: lying and manipulating; only these stand any chance of leading to success in chasing down the drug.

Two books in particular are told from the point of view of the addict: What's Left of Us by Richard Farrell (shown above) and The Night of the Gun by David Carr (shown below).


According to Farrell on his Web site (http://whatsleftofus.com/site.html) he wrote his memoir of his life as a heroin addict in response to Frey's untruthful account in A Million Little Pieces.


Principle vs. Reality

We are only human. We often have to inform our principles with realities.

Addiction to alcohol or illicit or prescription drugs is life threatening. That’s the reality. I strongly urge parents who suspect their children of using drugs to do whatever it takes to intervene – including suspending privacy. Parents of addicts have to re-think their own principles and their obligations to their children, because the end of the using addict’s story is death or prison. They can’t keep it up forever.

Public Policy

I would urge those who feel moral outrage at the writing of these stories and memoirs to re-channel that energy into something more valuable, like getting out of the Drug War and turning it into the War for Treatment, Education, and Research.

The books mentioned in this post are available at retail on-line or community book sellers.

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