Grandmother Looper

Written by Braiden on November 15, 2012

Grandmother Looper Photo

That’s me at three years old, looking unimpressed by and a bit dubious about the arrival of my baby brother, Brad. Grandmother Looper gazes at the newborn adoringly, while my mother beams proudly after the arrival of her newborn son.

Inez Ellard Looper, my mother’s mother and my maternal grandmother, was a real Southern belle, described as a wonderful woman or a real ball buster, depending on which family member you get to reminiscing about her.

Afraid I didn’t know her well enough to form my own opinion. But I do know she and I shared something in common. . .our love for the kitchen.

As a little girl, I loved watching her in the kitchen when we’d visit her home in Georgia, after the long train ride all the way from Philadelphia.

Biscuits were her forte, ooh-ed and aah-ed over by friends and family alike. My poor mother never did pick up the knack, a fact long-lamented by my biscuit-lovin’ father.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see her arthritic right hand, the one with the same crooked index finger as I have, as it moved in and out over the biscuit dough, kneading gently and knowingly until it was just the right mix of butter, flour, and whole milk.

Her biscuits were light as the proverbial feather. She claimed that Clabber Girl Baking Powder was her secret, as she preferred that brand to Calumet. I think her real secret weapon was making her biscuits with lots of love.

I also remember my grandmother’s cornbread, the thick batter poured into well-seasoned and  -greased cast-iron pans. The molds in the pans were in the shape of corn cobs, so the cornbread sticks were especially fun to eat (with lots of butter, of course!).

My grandmother was also well known for her Japanese Seven-Layer Cake, her rendition of the popular Lady Baltimore Cake. Grandmother’s version featured spicy layer cake with raisins, boiled sugar icing, pineapple, and copious amounts of coconut. I wish I had a slice right now.

So what would I tell my grandmother if I had five more minutes with her? I’d tell her I wish I had known her better and that she’d lived longer so that we could have been friends. I’d tell her about how watching her as a child may have inspired my cookbook and food-writing career.

What would I ask my grandmother if I had five more minutes?

I’d ask her for her recipe box so I could continue her legacy of love in the kitchen.

Grandmother Looper Photo

Mom, Grandmother, and me–gotta love the pillbox hats and the mink stoles, as un-P.C. as they are today

Grandmother Looper Photo

My grandparents, brother Brad, and me in front of our house in suburban Philadelphia circa 1962

Braiden Rex-Johnson Second Birthday

Toddler Braiden swiping some icing off the big birthday cake at Grandmother’s home in Dalton, Georgia. I don’t know what happened to the sideboard, mirror, or framed botanical prints, but one of the pink vases still graces my office. . .a fond reminder of Grandmother and childhood visits to Georgia.

For the Love of a Great Dog Named Amanda

Written by Nancy on January 5, 2012

Nancy and Amanda as “a ball of fluff” puppy

My husband I moved to the Seattle area just about 15 years ago, and I didn’t know a soul. Fortunately, we adopted a golden retriever puppy a few months later. Amanda helped open doors to new friends and neighbors and wonderful places to play and explore. Some say the people in the Northwest are nice, but not friendly. I can say with fond authority that having a dog like Amanda makes all the difference in the world.

With her happy gait and friendly expression, people would come out of their homes to say hello to both of us as we took long walks in the neighborhood. When we visited local parks, traveled the ferries, or took road trips around the region, she seemed to smile and invite conversation.

She could shake hands and do a “high five” with anyone wishing to make her acquaintance. At home, she was a loyal companion and playmate.

She was always happy to see me when I returned home from work or errands. She often sat happily at my feet with her dark brown eyes holding my gaze and her right paw holding my hand.

She helped welcome our son Kyle to our home six years ago. She endured various home remodeling projects with good humor. The pitter patter of her paws brought joyful noise throughout our house.

Over the years, I watched Amanda grow from a ball of fluff to a mature and regal adult to a tired and weary senior citizen. As time passed, her quick and bouncy gait changed to a slow and deliberate saunter.

Sometimes, she would have trouble walking up the stairs. Her hearing grew weak, her vision grew cloudy, and she seemed so very tired. Yet every now and then, her tail would wag, and she would look at me with those dark brown eyes so I could see the puppy inside.

Last Wednesday, I learned that Amanda had a tumor. The prognosis was grim. Rather than put her through the surgery and the follow-up care at age 15, I made the difficult choice to lay her down. Through my tears, I tried hard to hold her gaze as I held her right paw with my hand. I then buried my face in her fur as she quietly slipped away.

I sat with Amanda for quite a while, remembering all the special moments I shared with her throughout her life. At six weeks old, she picked me for her new master, and I made a commitment to love her and care for her until the very end.

She led a charmed life and brought smiles and joy to everyone she met, especially me. Aside from being stung by a bee once, I don’t think she ever had a bad day in her life.

She introduced me to the people and places of the Puget Sound in a magical, joyful way. The years with Amanda passed quickly, the memories are sweet, and the end came all too soon. For the love of a great dog named Amanda, I am all the richer.

She’ll always have a place in my heart.

Editor’s Note: Nancy wrote this moving story seven years ago, shortly after Amanda’s death. She now shares her life with another magnificent golden retriever, Shadow, shown above.

More stories from: Featured Story,With My Dog

Give Me Just Five Minutes

Written by Braiden on November 10, 2011

 One of the main premises of the Five More Minutes With website is submissions from readers.

So I think the writer’s exercise below, originally published last year, bears repeating.

Please feel free to send me your stories for possible publication!

Family friend Mabel Milson and me on the swing set at my childhood home. 

Many of you have told me what a wonderful idea you think Five More Minutes With is, but you are shy about writing for the site because you’re not a professional writer, or because you simply don’t have the time.

Today I’m asking for just five minutes of your day to complete a simple writing exercise. Writing exercises are a trick that professional writers use if they’re feeling stuck on a project or idea. By forcing yourself to write about a topic, it often starts the creative juices churning and leads directly into writing “flow,” one of the greatest feelings known to man.

Begin this five-minute writing exercise by finding a comfortable spot to write and getting out your yellow legal pad, iPad, or computer. At the top of your preferred writing device, write the following question: What would you say to a departed loved one, or a person or pet no longer in your life, if you had five more minutes to spend with them?

Next, set your kitchen timer or cellular phone alarm for five minutes from now.

Now ready, set, go. . .read over the question and start writing. . .

Write off the cuff and straight from your heart, and don’t be critical or try to self-edit. . .this should be like a conversation between you and the person or pet you’re writing to.

Let your subconscious work its magic. There’s just something very conducive about being under the gun and knowing you have just five minutes to write a piece that eggs on the mind, helping you to write quickly and well.

If your thoughts are flowing, set the timer for another two or three minutes and continue writing.

Now take a minute or two and reread what you’ve written. I hope you will be surprised and pleased with what you came up with, and more than likely you’ve produced a story ready for publication on the Five More Minutes With Web site.

If you’re comfortable, please follow the link above and post your story, or send it directly to me at

I’d also love a photo of your loved one, if available, so please feel free to post or send one or two of those along as well.

In upcoming posts, I’ll share other writing tips on how to get into “flow,” so please stay tuned.

In addition to timed writing exercises, some writers respond well to visual or auditory cues. For example, quite often before I start writing FMMW posts, I turn on two OXO Candelas (smokeless, fireless “candles”) and place them on either side of my writing desk, as their warm glow simultaneously sends me into a place of calm and inspires me to think deep thoughts.

Other writers may be inspired by music. If you’re one of those, here’s the link to a Frank Sinatra tune that goes particularly well with the Five More Minutes zeitgeist.

Here’s what I said about that song in a previous post:

“After I received a recent Five More Minutes With Google alert, I followed an interesting-sounding link and discovered a recording of a“Frank Sinatra – Five Minutes More 78 rpm 1946 factory sample” that is simply incredible, the PERFECT song to match this site.

“The first 40 seconds or so aren’t nearly as compelling or to the point as the final two minutes, but the entire thing is a nostalgic romp through simpler times and softer days.

“The words go something like this:

“Give me five minutes more, only five minutes more,

“Let me stay, let me stay, in your arms.

“Here am I, begging for, only five minutes more,

“Only five more minutes of your charms. . .

“Give me five minutes more, only five minutes more.

“Let me stay, let me stay, in your arms.

“Awww, come on!”

Today I’m begging for just five minutes of your time in order to produce a story for Five More Minutes With. . .

Give Me Just Five Minutes: Writers’ Tips Continued

Written by Braiden on August 5, 2010

Something as simple as lighting a candle or listening to a particular piece of music can help a writer enter the state of writing “flow”

In my previous post, I described a timed exercise–writing about a topic for a specified period of time–which somehow causes the brain to react quickly and well. I also promised I’d share additional tricks writers use to get in “flow,” that elusive but wonderful feeling when the thoughts and words are flowing, almost as if from a higher intelligence or being.

So while some writers respond well to time constraints (think of reporters who can only write when they are on a deadline), some writers react well to visual or auditory cues.

For example, quite often before I start writing FMMW stories, I turn down the lights and ignite two OXO Candela Glow rechargeable lights (smokeless, fireless “candles”) and place them on either side of my writing desk. The candles’ warm, ivory-colored glow simultaneously sends me into a place of calm and inspires me to think deep thoughts.

Other writers may be inspired by music. If you’re one of those, here’s the link to a Frank Sinatra tune that goes particularly well with the Five More Minutes With zeitgeist: “Frank Sinatra – Five Minutes More 78 rpm 1946 factory sample”

Even scents can trigger memories. Sometimes when I buy Star-Gazer Lilies, their heavy, musky scent reminds me of funerals I’ve attended. That scent sends me into thoughts of those I have loved who are now departed.

So whatever trick(s) you use to enter the state of flow, I’ll hope you’ll use it/them today, be inspired to write a story for, then share it with our FMMW community.

Listen to Our FMMW Radio Interview

Written by Braiden on June 28, 2010

Five more minutes with radio interview

It’s always exciting to do publicity  such as radio and television interviews, as well as public appearances for my books in my “other” life of food-and-wine writing.

But nothing was as exciting as my first radio interview on “Chat With Women” for Five More Minutes With.

Thanks to Chris Prouty, my brilliant Web designer, you can now listen to the interview directly from the FMMW Web site.

Have a listen and learn more about the inspiration for FMMW!

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