bell buckle redux

There's a video story at today about the battle for Bell Buckle. Among other folks, the reporter interviews several of my family members... There's no way to link directly to the video. Just go to and click on the story with Bell Buckle in the title.


grown up

I've had many moments along the way when I realized I was becoming and then was a real grown-up: marriage, motherhood, being unable to drink red wine on a weeknight without nasty consequences the next day...

But today I experienced another milestone that made me realize I am, indeed, all grown up. I e-mailed a list of friends and family members -- all in their 30s like me -- with some info about my upcoming travel plans, and received at least seven auto-responder replies in which I was told the person I had e-mailed was out of the office, but that I could contact his/her assistant and/or secretary should I have urgent business.

When did my little brother get an assistant? Does this man look like he should have an assistant?

I feel old...

save my hometown

For Further Information Contact:

Sue Allison 931-389-9230/

David vs. Goliath: A Small Town Fights Back

They gather at the local café on Saturday mornings, their numbers growing larger, their war chest richer and their resolve stronger.

The teachers, the airline pilot, the cotton farmer, Tennessee’s Poet Laureate, local merchants, the sculptor, retirees and others who show up at the Bell Buckle Café are planning a defense of what they view as an enemy attack on their community. They have established a legal defense fund, hired a prominent attorney, ordered yard signs and are vowing to defeat an out-of-town developer’s plan to annex 210 acres of scenic farmland to build up to 500 houses - a move that could more than triple the population and forever change the character of their beloved village. It also would open the door to further sprawl and a lifestyle change they say would break their hearts, rob their children of what they now have and ruin their town.

"It’s a defense against the pillage of a community," said Eugene Strobel, who was mayor from 1978-1986. "Unlike so much of the nation, Bell Buckle has maintained the qualities Americans remember with nostalgia. It has remained unscathed by greed and unplanned growth. It’s not a cliche when we boast that children here ride their bicycles all over town, dogs roam the streets and we have virtually no crime. This is a lifestyle worth preserving and cherishing. That’s what we intend to do."

Bell Buckle is an odd and eclectic place - a mix including farmers, artists, factory workers, educators and students at the local K-12 public school and a private prep school that has been part of the town since 1886. Small churches, modest homes and grand homes stand side by side along the tree-lined streets.

The café has been a gathering spot for years, but until recently, most of the conversation was about politics, crops, weather and families, interrupted occasionally by trains that roar past on nearby tracks as they have for more than a century. Now, though, at nearly every table filled with "locals," the talk is about annexation or the latest edition of "The Patriot Commentator," a newsletter spawned by the controversy and published by a local school teacher.

"We feel like David taking on Goliath," said Robert Allison who grew up in Bell Buckle, left for college and law school, worked and married in Chicago, but returned with his wife to raise their children in the warm environment he missed. (Note from Katie: Robert and Nicole are my brother and sister in law)

"Now the dreams I have for my three young children are threatened with extinction," Allison said. "My sisters and I loved growing up here and from the day my oldest child was born four years ago, I knew I wanted him to have that same experience and special childhood."

Edwina Chilton, a resident for 20 years, said too many towns have just given up and given in, leaving few "national treasures" such as Bell Buckle remaining.

"It’s as though we have become conditioned to believe it’s inevitable and we might as well just accept it," she said. "The destruction of small towns has done serious damage to the fiber of our country and we need to start fighting back. It’s all about money - huge obscene amounts of money - and we need to wake up and realize it before there are no Bell Buckles remaining. There is no price tag that should or can be placed on what we have. It’s not for sale."

Until the past year, there was peace in the little incorporated town of about 400 residents, located 50 miles southeast of Nashville. For a brief time a couple of years ago there was a short-lived rift over whether the dry town should allow 82 Market - right across the railroad tracks - to sell beer. But, citizens were polled, the measure passed and the two factions were quickly over their disagreement as though it never happened.

This time it’s different though. The people of Bell Buckle are not divided. There is no question that the overwhelming majority of Bell Buckle residents oppose the planned annexation of the property owned by Sue and Billy Dean, who live outside town limits and operate an insurance business. Until the issue arose, their names were unknown to many, if not most, in the town. Today, they are household words.

The Deans bought the property in question in two parcels in 2000 and 2003 and have said they want it annexed before they sell it to Murfreesboro developer Roger Ritch. Annexation would put the burden for sewer, water and other services on the town, saving Ritch money and allowing him to sell more houses for greater profit. Annexation also would increase the number of houses he could build since the town’s zoning is more lenient than zoning in the county. Additionally, the county is grappling with the cost of rapid growth it already has allowed and may be reluctant to ask taxpayers to provide additional services for another development.

Twice, opponents of the Bell Buckle plan have circulated petitions, going door-to-door throughout the town. And twice, residents - who view themselves as stakeholders - have indicated they do not want the Deans and Ritch to carry out their plan. The most recent petitions netted signatures from 95 of the 118 occupied houses in town - an impressive number since almost 10 percent of knocks on doors were unanswered because residents were not at home. Only one person signed a petition favoring the annexation.

So what is keeping it alive? A big part of the answer is Mayor Linda Key, who has come down on the side of annexing the Dean property and led a 3-2 vote by the board of mayor and aldermen to deny residents the right to decide at the polls in a referendum. Ironically, the mayor’s brother had purchased the bulk of the land before he died and left it to his wife, who sold it to the Deans.

In February, the mayor disbanded the planning commission and appointed three new members. The two members who were not removed include the mayor. On one other occasion since the annexation issue arose, she also fired certain members and hand-picked replacements. She appointed Sue Dean to the commission, but then removed her too. Skeptics say it was not done to appease opponents, but because Dean could not vote on any questions concerning the annexation of her property. They believe the mayor shopped for members who would support her position and could cast votes leading to the annexation.

Monthly meetings of the town planning commission and the mayor and board of aldermen, which in the past drew only a handful of residents, now are filled to overflowing. Crowds of vocal citizens have attended every meeting in recent months, packing town hall and spilling out onto the sidewalk, demanding to be heard on the issue. The Deans also have attended meetings, accompanied by their attorney.

The question of Bell Buckle’s future remains unresolved while the town remains in turmoil.

"Old Glory gives us a right to vote. We need a referendum," said Tennessee Poet Laureate Maggie Vaughn, who moved to town 23 years ago. "The young people of Bell Buckle will grow up with a civics lesson they never will forget. The things that matter in life are worth fighting to preserve. That, and a wonderful healthy community, will be our legacy to them."


I am in love with bungalows. I grew up in one and own one now.

Not surprisingly, I'm also a huge Frank Lloyd Wright fan...and Chicago is one of my favorite spots on the planet.

So I sure do wish I had an extra $750,000 lying around to buy this house that no one else seems to want.

drug companies

Gee, this is a shocker...NOT.


An important new study is getting big press this week. It determined that high levels of an ingredient in rocket fuel are present in American women's breast milk.

This is alarming and needs to be remedied. It's not a good thing.

However, what the press fails to make clear enough in the alarmist headlines ("Rocket Fuel Found in Breastmilk! Wean Now!) is that the study found that the SAME CHEMICAL was also found in cow's milk, the primary ingredient in most infant formula. (The levels were not as high, but the testing on cow's milk was limited.)

For the record, I'm anti-rocket-fuel-in-any-milk, but the infant formula industry is going to go to town capitalizing on the fear these headlines will create in pregnant and nursing women.


The good folks at have asked me to answer some reader questions...


My new favorite, bad headline of the week.


v. bad mother

This morning, my 7 year old, Elliot was going on and on about this coffee shop he wants to open. He was telling me all about the coffee and tea and donuts that would be available at Chez Elliot, and then he says, "But don't worry Mommy. I'll have plenty of beer and wine, and maybe some martinis for you there."

My laptop - RIP

I think my beloved Dell laptop is ready to move on to its eternal reward.

On the suggestion of several folks, and out of curiosity, I am considering getting an Apple laptop this time. I've never had an Apple anything except an iPod, which I love.

So I'm looking for feedback on what model I should consider, as well as where to look for the best price on an Apple notebook.

Basically, my laptop is a glorified PDA. I do all my writing on it, which is its primary purpose, but I also store a lot of photos and music on it. I never watch streaming video, so that capability isn't important, and I don't do any games or anything like that on it. It needs to be sturdy, extremely portable, and good for working online wirelessly and storing a lot of words, photos and music. That's it. Not that complex.

So I welcome suggestions on where to shop and what to buy....



I can't believe Sandra Dee is dead. She's always been one of my more random pop culture obsessions. Here's a really cool interview my grandmother did with her for Photoplay magazine in 1960.

The brothers Granju

Originally uploaded by kgranju.
I like this photo of my sons. They are getting pretty good, too.


Body of Work

As of 12 months ago, I work in TV news as my primary occupation, and coming from a print/online journalism background, it's been an interesting transition. While I was growing up, my father was a television reporter/anchor and my mother was state capitol bureau chief for United Press International, as well as editor of a daily newspaper. So I've been aware of the cultural differences between TV and newspaper newsrooms all my life, but still, it's been an interesting transition.

But anyway, my mother sent me a link today to this this hilarious article from the Nashville Scene about just how bizarre much of TV news -- particularly at the local level -- has gotten. It's a must-read if you have any interest in where the news business is today.

PS: My two fave local (my market - not the station for which I work. Our writing is way better ;-)) TV news lines of the week:

Anchor: "Next, we'll tell you how Bush's budget bashes those who need it most."

Reporter: "There's nothing worse than a wet basement." (This was the lead line in a a story on, what else, wet basements. It followed several stories about fatal car accidents and child abuse. Still, this reporter contends there is NOTHING worse than a wet basement.

Lemon Drop

I just found some pictures from last spring of my daughter Jane's last horseshow on her pony, Lemon Drop (barn name: "Dickens").

Jane rode Dickens for almost three years. He took her from the walk-trot division when she was only five years old, all the way through the short stirrup division.

Dickens was the absolute best first pony imaginable. He taught Jane how to switch her leads, jump, and get around a show ring. My son, Elliot, rode Dickens in his first shows when Elliot was only three years old. But Dickens iss elderly (about 17 now), and can't do the bigger jumps that Jane's ready for, so now he's been passed on to another little girl and is teaching her how to ride.

Jane's working really hard with the new small, green pony we've gotten for her to show this season, but he's a bit of a struggle, making us appreciate good old Dickens all the more.

I think that every pony a child rides along the way teaches her something different. My first pony, Missy, taught me not to take her for granted. If I jerked on her mouth or tried to work her too long or too hard, she would simply dump me off. But if she liked the way I was riding, she'd jump any fence, wade through any creek, and run as fast as I asked her to.

But I digress...

Dickens really did play a big role in turning Jane into the rider she is today, at age 9. I wish we could clone him.


Bill Maher is right

From his op-ed piece in today's LA Times:

"And what's so frightening is that we're seeing the beginnings of the first post-9/11 generation — the kids who first became aware of the news under an "Americans need to watch what they say" administration, the kids who've been told that dissent is un-American and therefore justifiably punished by a fine, imprisonment — or the loss of your show on ABC.

President Bush once asked, "Is our children learning?" No — they isn't. A more appropriate question might be, "Is our teachers teaching?" In four years, you can teach a gorilla sign language. Is it too much to ask that in the same amount of time a kid be taught what those crazy hippies who founded this country had in mind?"
Word to the wise: if you spill, say, hot chocolate, on your laptop, don't attempt to solve the problem by drying the thing off with, say, your hairdryer. Nothing good can come of it.
A reader sent me this link today to an interview I did with a Scottish newspaper.... I didn't know it was online. My comments are near the middle.
Check out this very funny piece this week by my writergrrls-pal Mara Math from the San Francisco Chronicle. It details how she was turned down by the SPCA in SanFran when she tried to adopt a cat because she couldn't guarantee there are no mice living in her building.


Every mother I know is talking about this week's Newsweek/MSNBC coverage of Judith Warner's new book, "Perfect Madness." I haven't finished it yet, but am finding it fascinating and will post my thoughts on it when I have time. (I've been asked to write something about it for a parenting mag, so I need to get it finished this weekend...)

In the meantime, however, this is my favorite take on it so far.
I've been thinking a lot about overparenting lately, and last night, my youngest child gave me another good example of it when he told me that his five year old cousin on his Dad's side is only allowed to climb trees with my seven year old if he -- the cousin -- is wearing a HELMET.

down with demons

According to the Associated Press, Vatican University has debuted a new class on satanism, exorcism and demonic possession. From the article about it:

"A major theme of the first day's course was how to differentiate between a person who is possessed and someone who is simply suffering psychological problems."

Hmmmm.... this is definitely info I could use. Maybe I can enroll at VU online....

(long) quote o' the day -- from Astrid Lindgren

"When I was about 20 years old, I met an old pastor's wife who told me that when she was young and had her first child, she didn't believe in striking children, although spanking kids with a switch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time. But one day when her son was four or five, he did something that she felt warranted a spanking - the first of his life. And she told him that he would have to go outside and find a switch for her to hit him with. The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, "Mama, I couldn't find a switch, but here's a rock that you can throw at me."

All of a sudden the mother understood how the situation felt from the child's point of view: that if my mother wants to hurt me, then it makes no difference what she does it with; she might as well do it with a stone. And the mother took the boy onto her lap and they both cried. Then she laid the rock on a shelf in the kitchen to remind herself forever: never violence. And that is something I think everyone should keep in mind. Because violence begins in the nursery— one can raise children into violence."

--Astrid Lidgren


my crush on Dr. Dean

Here's something from the DNC blog about Howard Dean's first staff meeting.

I'm more energized and hopeful about the DNC than I have been in years.

Originally uploaded by kgranju.
I found this in a drawyer the other day. It's my father.

(don't) steal these books; buy them instead

A couple of my friends have new books coming out this Spring. You should definitely check these out:

First up is a new one from Miriam Peskowitz.

And then we have the always hilarious hijinks of Ayun Halliday, who has moved from writing about babies and travel to the joys of underemployment:

And then there is the new one from prolific ex-pat hipmama provocateur, Bee Lavender. It's an exploration of how motherhood intersects with art:


Speaking (a post or two down) about people picking on me publicly because I am divorced (their reasoning being, it seems, that getting divorced obviates everything I've ever written), here is an example of what I'm talking about.


You know your child has been watching too much TV when...

Tonight when I was lying down with Elliot, my first grader, helping him get to sleep, he asked:

"Mama, can we go see the number one comedy movie in America?"

I'm not sure what that movie is, but he knows ;-) We don't have any TV at home (except for watching DVDs), so I guess he heard a commercial at his Dad's or cousins'. It was pretty funny.


This week, my literary agent, Faye Bender, will start pitching my new book proposal to publishers. I'm feeling very relaxed and positive about it, which is a switch from the way I felt when my old agent would take a project out. She was so hard to get in touch with and so intimidating, that I felt really stressed about the whole thing. She was (and is) an excellent agent, but just not the right fit for me.

Faye, who became my new agent a few months ago, is the opposite. She's the bomb. She represents some other authors I particularly like, including Ariel Gore, so I thought she would be a good fit for me and I was right.

I dreaded the idea of switching agents for faaaaar too long. Now I really wish I had done it sooner. So here's some unsolicited advice for all you writers out there: get an agent who "gets" what you are all about-- your writing and voice and audience. Don't stick with an agent just because it seems too logistically or emotionally hard to switch.

Having an agent who is so good really makes it easier for me to just concentrate on doing good work instead of whether the work will sell.

Of course, I hope this project does sell ;-)

why blog

Today someone asked me why I have a blog, which is something people ask me quite a bit, actually. The first reason is that it helps me land freelance work. Probably 1/4 of my magazine work comes from connections I make or interest I get from an editor based on something I've written about here.

I also hear from folks via the blog who have read my book or other stuff I've had published. I like hearing from readers, even if all they want to do is project a little schadenfreude my way, and tell me how I suck as a parent because I ended up divorced. I'm getting less of that lately, but still some...


A good friend of mine, whom I've known for many years, called me today to tell me how depressing he finds Valentine's Day now that his boyfriend has moved out after a nasty break-up.

So we were thinking about ways he could revel in being alone, and I remembered this over-the-top Buddhist teaching about the joys of isolation....:

"Having utterly isolated himself from the Pleasures of Sense, having isolated himself from evil ways, he dwells, having entered upon the First Jhana, with which is associated reasoning, with which is associated investigation, which has its beginning in isolation, which is full of joy and bliss. This very body, with joy and bliss originating in isolation, he drenches, he saturates, he permeates, he suffuses: there is not a single part of his whole body which is not suffused with joy and bliss originating in isolation."

Excerpt from 'The Fruits of the Religious Life' based on Digha Nikaya 2: i. 71-85

Probably, I'll send him some flowers in Seattle tomorrow, and surprise him, because I love him and wish he lived nearby...



Last year, a magazine hired me to write a sappy round-up of people's favorite Valentines Day stories. I was a cynic when I started the article (having only recently -- and rather painfully -- broken up with the person whom I had thought would be my Valentine-For-Life).

I agreed to write the thing only for the rather nice amount of money they paid me to do it, but by the end, I was a believer again. The stories were just too sweet, too sincere, too....romantic for me to resist. I actually ended up enjoying writing it, and it eased some of the crankiness I was feeling on my first V-Day as a single person in more than ten years.

So on the eve of this V-Day, 2005, I've decided to take a stab at recalling my own most memorable valentines -- good, bad and otherwise:

Every year: my father sends me candy because he loves me, no matter what, and he's a good guy.

6th grade: Raymond Pryor gave me a small bag of slightly melted peppermints and a kiss on my cheek.

7th grade: A really strange redheaded kid who in retrospect, reminds me of Napoleon Dynamite, gave me this bizarre, miniature oil lamp with some sort of romantic saying on it. He gave it to me at school, which embarrassed the hell out of me and I'm afraid I wasn't very nice to him.(Betsy B.K.? Stephanie? Anybody remember this kid? He was a boarding student who left after that year.). I've felt really guilty about it ever since.

9th grade: I had this wonderful pal, Bryan Upchurch, who declared his love for me on a daily basis every day he went to school with me. I would tell him we were only buddies, and he would tell me, "that's okay -- I'll wait." So he waited...and waited... and in the meantime, he wrote me a beautiful poem and gave me flowers on V-Day. That was also the year that during V-day week, I got my first real, honest-to-God kiss from one Drew Carrington. Outside, under the stars, cold weather in front of some building on the Webb campus. It was very romantic -- he wrapped me up in this big, camel-colored wool coat and planted one on me. Very memorable.

10th grade: Bo Wagner gave me gold earrings for V-Day. My mother and father made me give them back, which ranks among the most embarrassing moments of high school. They insisted I was far too young to be getting expensive jewelry from anyone. And guess what? They were right. (It took me a long time and motherhood to realize that, though)

That was also the year Eddie Rehfeldt crushed my heart into a gazillion pieces. He was three years older and president of the senior class and adorable and he asked me to the prom and then backed out at the last minute so he could take his ex, with whom he had reunited. It was his loss (as I've told him since, and he's admitted), because I had planned to make it a Very Good Prom.

11th grade: Went swimming in a freezing pond in some park in Nashville with friends on V-Day, who may have included Betsy Babb, Stephanie Jennings, Todd Tolbert and Ben Huddleston. Tate Westbrook may have also been involved. I know there was a VW bus involved and he had one. Details are fuzzy.

12th grade: It was all about Harry Elliott, the most exasperating boyfriend I've ever, ever had, for a wide variety of reasons. But he came through on Valentine's Day, to my great surprise. Do you remember that, Harry? I also got quite a nice Valentine that year from my chemistry teacher, which is a long story unto itself.

Freshman year: Would have been a total loss but for last minute roses from my dear friend David Graham who was at Harvard but knew I was feeling bummed out in TN that week.

Sophomore year:Totally in love with David Rhoden, who drew me a (really good) cartoon, bought me a pitcher of beer, and gave me an autobiography of Tip O'Neill. My kinda gifts. What can I say? The boy knew me well.

Junior year: Having just spent a semester in England, looking fwd to seeing cute boyfriend at Princeton. Drove all the way to N.J. with friend from UT who was also dating someone at Princeton. Proceeded to have the least romantic weekend of my life until then. Effective end of that relationship, although he did come see me in TN that Spring..but by that time I had met Chris Granju, who would become my Valentine for the next 13 years.

Next 13 years: Too many great V-days to count, having married a tremendously romantic person. Lots of amazing love letters, ridiculous cards, gorgeous flowers, terrific jewelry, and fun nights out. But the best V-Day was in 1998 -- our son Elliot had been born on January 3, and was hospitalized for three weeks. He almost died, truly. He was released from the NICU near the end of January, and by February 14, we felt like it would be okay to leave him for 90 minutes with the grandparents while we went out and enjoyed our first meal alone together since the whole ordeal started.

We went to this ridiculously chi-chi French bistro as a treat to ourselves, but the waitress was rude, the food was bad and we ended up leaving in hysterics. For some reason the whole thing seemed really, really funny; we were all dressed up and had no place to go for the remaining 30 minutes of our "free time" before I needed to go nurse the baby. So Chris drove us to Cherokee Blvd., where were parked for twenty minutes and he gave me a beautiful necklace. It makes me sad to wear it now, but I've packed it away for Elliot's signifigant other when Elliot's all grown up.

And so tomorrow is another Valentines Day... My children have made me Valentines at school. I'm making mixed CDs for various new and old Valentines that I'll pass out tomorrow, and someone - not sure who -- brought me flowers. And I'm a little cynical, but also hopeful, being a romantic optimist at heart. So who knows what the day --or week or year -- might bring... I still believe, or in the immortal words of Carrie Bradshaw:

"I'm looking for love. Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can't-live-without-each-other love."

Yeah, what she said.
When I came home from doing some work at my office today, there were roses on my front porch. The note just said "Be Mine."

I have no idea who left them and I'm super curious. No one I've asked will 'fess up. So I'm pleasantly baffled.

They were pink roses, too, which are my faves.

Whomever it was, thanks :-)



I rescued some cool metal shelves from a dumpster in my neighborhood last week and since it's a nice day today, I figure I'll sit out on the porch and sand and paint them. The problem is, I have no idea how to do this, being exceptionally UNhandy.

Do I sand the whole thing? Just the rough spots? What kind of sand paper do I use? Do I have to use primer before I paint them the glossy, fire engine red color they were meant to be?

If any regular readers know the answers to these girly-girl questions, please be in touch. I'll be eternally grateful.


Have you ever noticed that nearly all adult men say they "play a little guitar"? Of the last ten men I've met, at least 7 have made this claim. So I started calling 'em on it, which has led to some perversely funny responses. Funny to me, I guess, in a snarky sort of way.

But this week I met someone who, wonder of wonders, really can play the guitar. Kinda nice.


I am beginning to wonder if I was crazy to agree to allow a local hypnotherapist to do his thing on me as part of a series airing on the TV station for which I work. The deal is, this guy says he can hypnotize away my oldest and most entrenched bad habit: nibbling my nails, which my mother says I was already doing by age 3 or 4.

So far, I am not convinced this is gonna work, but I will feel absolutely terrible if it doesn't work because the hypnotist told me today that if I do NOT quit biting my nails, his career is finished, given that he has now told a large percentage of Knoxville's local-TV-news-watching audience that he can get me to stop.

That's a lot of pressure (on me). Actually, I think my desire to NOT allow this nice man to be humiliated on TV will be the catalyst for quitting more than the hypnosis itself.

It is very relaxing, tho' -- the hypnosis, I mean. It's nice to get paid to write about lying around during part of my workday listening to the kind of Enya-esque muzak they play when you get a massage.


I'm supporting Howard Dean for Democratic National Committee Chair.