Thursday, June 30, 2011

Time and Summer Writing: Pickle It

"Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in." --Henry David Thoreau

Maybe summer isn't really any busier than any other time of year, but it can seem that way. Vacations, visitors, needs of children off school for the summer, do-it-yourself projects around the house, gardening. Some people still can, pickle and otherwise preserve garden produce, too (something I used to do in another life). Pack one, two, or all of the above together--and where's the time for writing. How do we fit that into the schedule? Do we even try?

My answer? I say, pickle it.

Writing, not unlike the process of pickling which involves a cucumber becoming a pickle, is a process of "becoming." We don't arrive complete. Cucumber vines, after all, don't grow pickles.

Yet writing takes time--becoming a writer takes time--while time is often at a premium. So many other things to do. Therefore, I propose we protect our writing time by...pickling it.

So, without further ado (and while eating a pickle...Well, not really. I'm actually eating watermelon while I write this, but some people do pickle watermelon rinds), here we go:

P--Preserve patterns of writing, protect them, persevere in them. Give yourself permission to write, first of all, then set aside pockets of time in which to do so--whether it be short-term goals, targets, journaling, writing exercises, a half-hour here/half-hour there. Whatever propels you as a writer and puts words on paper.

I--Inhale as you go, and don't feel guilty if you miss the mark occasionally. The joy is in the becoming, not in checking off a to-do list. Breathe in the beauty around you--in your adventures, relationships, opportunities. Take time to enjoy--and appreciate. A writer is far more than that of the solitary figure up in her writing tower, laboring away and never enjoying life.

C--Choose goals wisely. Margie Lawson, in a post titled, 'Duh' Your Way to Success, says research indicates that Americans expect to complete 42% more than they can possibly do in any given time frame. "No wonder people are stressed and depressed," she says. "They continually push themselves to fail." Don't overschedule--but don't cancel out completely, either.

K--Know your personal rhythms and best times of the day in which you can squirrel away a little writing time. Anticipate the ups and downs of those cycles--and keep on keeping on. Be kind to yourself. Award kudos when you do make progress. And keep notebooks and pens everywhere to catch those elusive inspirations that will wing themselves your way.

L--Listen, look, awaken all the senses, wherever you go, whatever you do. But also linger--at the table, in gatherings, in the moment. Learn to say no, but also agree at times to say yes! Lighten up. In the long run, it's all part of the becoming.

E--Exhale. Relax. Release. Ann Roecker, in A Workshop on Time Management (Zondervan 1988), wrote: " easily mismanaged. If we want to manage our time effectively, we must also learn to manage it realistically." In her opinion, important skills to cultivate include the ability to change course, the ability to recover quickly, and the ability to forgive oneself and others repeatedly.

Certainly we all must find what works for us. Not every pickle tastes the same. But there's one thing we do have in common, and that is the challenge of making time enough to write. That's where PICKLE comes in.

How do you preserve and protect your writing time in the summer? Or do you adjust your writing cycles to seasons, and change things around?

Other quotes on time:
---"You can't turn back the clock but you can wind it up again." --Bonnie Prudden
---"Most worthwhile achievements are the result of many little things done in a single direction."--Nido Qubein
---"Procrastination is the thief of time." --Joseph Heller
---"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana." --Groucho Marx (ha!)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Winged Words Caught on the Hop

We took a break yesterday--a beauty break--when we visited the "Butterflies of Brazil" exhibit at Cincinnati's Krohn Conservatory. Sharing some of the sights, along with accompanying quotes--wings of beauty, wings of words. Hope you enjoy!

"Beautiful and graceful, varied and enchanting, small but approachable, butterflies lead
you to the sunny side of life. And everyone deserves a little sunshine." --Jeffrey Glassberg

"What would a butterfly quote, on looking in the mirror? It would say, the adventure was worth it!"
                                                                                                                   --Manali Oak

"Just living is not enough," said the butterfly,
"one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower."--Hans Christian Anderson

" that fly and all but sing." --Robert Frost

"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes
it has gone through to achieve that beauty." --Author Unknown

"Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you." --Nathaniel Hawthorne
(*this one perched on hubby's shoulder for at least 20 minutes!)

"It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten...That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop."
                                                                                                                             --Vita Sackville-West

Happy rest of the weekend with wishes for a great new week ahead--filled with sunshine, adventure, flowers, beauty, and a few winged words caught on the hop!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Blog Awards

Blog awards have come my way recently and I wanted to take some time to say thanks to some generous blogging pals and participate in the fun of passing the awards on to others. Thank you, Rebecca at Rebecca Kiel, Girl Friday at Reading, Writing and Ribaldry, and Carla at Carla's Writing World for this scrumptious-looking "Irresistibly Sweet" award, and the additional "Stylish Blogger" award from Carla, too.

I appreciate your thinking of me...

Here are the general guidelines for accepting the awards:
1. Thank and link back to the person who passed on the award.
2. Share 7 random tidbits about yourself.
3. Pass the award on to 5 others (the number varies at times from 3-10!) and link to their blogs.
4. Let those people know you've given them the award.

Passing the awards on is easy, and fun, since there are so many great blogs out there to be recognized. Coming up with 7 additional tidbits about myself (you'll find earlier lists here and here) is getting harder. But they tell us writers to dig a little deeper, so here goes:

7 random things about me:
1. I love to cool off with a tall glass of equal amounts of orange juice and ginger ale, lots of ice.
2. My favorite lotion fragrance is Lemongrass Sage, from Betina Bath and Body, a local company out of Fairfield, OH that makes natural skin care products. My daughter stocks up on it for me on Mother's Day and birthdays. Thanks, Melissa!
3. I'm hooked on reading Newbery award winners. My personal collection of said winners has grown to 20 volumes and counting. That was about the only good thing about Borders going out of business here, I bought 5 titles real cheap.
4. I wish there were more hours in the day. Then I could write my books, read all I want to, AND knit, scrapbook, and update photo albums.
5. My publication credits include stories in Cup of Comfort anthologies (Christmas Prayers, Devotionals for Mothers and Daughters), and in Adams Media's My Dad is My Hero. I've had children's stories published in Children's Playmate, Children's Digest, and Boys' Quest.
6. The day will soon be here when all my grandchildren will be together for the first time. Circumstances have delayed such a gathering from happening prior to this, but it won't be long until 3-year old Angelica and 6-month old Adrian get to play with 1-year old Nicholas who's back in the States temporarily from Spain. We can't wait.
7. Hubby and I will celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary this coming Friday, June 24. There's no way either of us is that old, is there???

Now to pass on the awards. I enjoy dropping in on these sites, and I think you will, too.

Jen at Jen's Bookshelf
Cheryl at Cheryl's Musings
Karen at Musings of a Novelista
Andrea at That's Another Story
Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina at Elizabeth Varadan's Fourth Wish 
Kimberly at Meetings with My Muse
Megan at On Beyond Words and Pictures

Enjoy meeting these bloggers if you haven't already!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day and Tollhouse Cookies

"Think what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down on our blankets for a nap." --Barbara Jordan

Father's Day around here means dessert. Which favorite of the guys will we make this year? Blueberry cheesecake? Millionaire salad (marshmallows, coconut, mandarin oranges and pineapple, etc)? Mom's (as in mother-in-law) chocolate cake with fudge icing? The latter, unfortunately, is a sad story since I failed to get the recipe when I had a chance and have never been able to get the icing the right consistency. But we've sure eaten a lot of chocolate cake trying!

This year, though, the dessert of the day will be the tried-and-true Original Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chip cookie, except...

Yes, I have to admit, I've adjusted, adapted, and...ahem...changed the recipe. Acceptable? Well, the cookies go fast so they must be agreeable :-) My little change is to substitute 1/2 cup canola oil for half the butter amount (the recipe calls for a cup of butter), and instead of equal amounts of granulated and brown sugar, I simply use granulated. Seems to keep the spreading to a minimum--and makes for a tasty-looking cookie ( if I don't leave them in the oven too long!).

Did you know that the original Tollhouse cookie came about by accident?

Back in the 1930s a couple by the name of Ruth and Kenneth Wakefield purchased a Cape Cod-style house in Whitman, Massachusetts that, built in 1709, had been a toll house for the toll road, and also used as an inn--a place to stop for food and rest from the long road and hard travel of the day. Ruth and Kenneth turned their house into a lodge, the Toll House Inn.

The story goes that Ruth, a dietician, was baking cookies for the Inn's menu, and the recipe called for baker's chocolate. Finding herself without, she chopped a bar of Nestle semi-sweet chocolate into little chips, and added them to the dough, thinking they would melt and spread through the cookie.  They didn't. One report (Her Story Network) says that she thought the cookies were ruined. Maybe she even debated whether or not to serve them.

The rest is history. Not only did she serve them, but the cookies were a great success. Ruth's Toll House cookies became famous when the recipe was published in newspapers. Other bakers copied her recipe, and the sale of Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate increased. Nestle took notice of the increase in popularity of their product.

In 1939, The Toll House Inn cookie recipe was featured on the  Betty Crocker "Famous Foods from Famous Eating Places" radio series. Ruth, the smart business woman that she was (according to Facts About Chocolate) approached Nestle and struck a deal. Nestle got to print the recipe that we now know as "The Original Nestle Toll House Cookie" on all their semi-sweet chocolate bars and Ruth got free chocolate for life. Later, to make things easier on the consumer, Nestle started marketing chocolate "morsels," what we now know as the chocolate chip. The cookie, according to Facts, has gone on to become the most popular cookie worldwide, and the official cookie of its home state, Massachusetts.

And to think I'd dare mess with such a famous recipe...

Do you change recipes around, too? Is that sort of like changing story arcs and plot sequences sometimes? Do they come out better, too?

Happy Father's Day!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Discovery and Rediscovery

Reading is a family affair in our house. And although our tastes differ, sometimes hubby and I will encourage one another to read outside our normal interests. History is one of those subjects I have always liked, and something he has only in the last few years developed a taste for.

Interestingly, he came across a review that caught his eye, and said he thought he might be interested in reading it: Patricia Brady's A Being So Gentle: The Frontier Love Story of Rachel and Andrew Jackson (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2011). When he read the description to me, I immediately thought of a book I had read years ago, The President's Lady, by Irving Stone. In fact, I told him, I thought we had it on a shelf somewhere upstairs. And, surprise! There it was, neglected and forgotten for how many years now? I read it as a teen, and even then it was an older book, written in 1951. We decided we would read both versions and compare.

We were not disappointed. Each book covers a fascinating period in our country's history--and the trials and tribulations of a couple whose relationship was called into question not once, but many times throughout their adult life.

Of A Being So Gentle, Goodreads says: "The forty-year love affair between Rachel and Andrew Jackson parallels a tumultuous period in American history. Andrew Jackson was at the forefront of the American revolution--but he never could have made it without the support of his wife. Beautiful, charismatic, and generous, Rachel Jackson had the courage to go against the mores of her times in the name of love. As the wife of a great general in wartime, she often found herself running their plantation alone and, a true heroine, she took in and raised children orphaned by the war. Like many great love stories, this one ends tragically when Rachel dies only a few weeks after Andrew is elected president. He moved into the White House alone and never remarried. Andrew and Rachel Jackson's devotion to one another is inspiring, and here, in Patricia Brady's vivid prose, their story of love and loss comes to life for the first time."

Of The President's Lady: "In this acclaimed biographical novel, Irving Stone brings to life the tender and poignant love story of Rachel and Andrew Jackson. 'Beyond any doubt one of the great romances of all time.'--The Saturday Review of Literature."

From the flyleaf of The President's Lady this tempting tidbit: "...Irving Stone here brings to life the deeply moving story of Rachel and Andrew Jackson. Theirs is a tender and poignant love story, and the reader will find that Rachel Jackson lived the most controversial and amazing melodrama that ever engulfed an American woman."

Both books are good reads (no pun intended!), but I have to admit I have my favorite of the two. Same subject, different perspectives. Both based on fact, but the differing styles, tone, and approach are distinguishable. But that should come as no surprise--the books were written 60 years apart!

Reading the books was both a fun discovery and rediscovery. What old book have you recently rediscovered? Any new versions of an old subject?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Is Your Motor Running?

"Whether it is fiction or nonfiction, if it's of book length be sure that its motor
is running in the first three pages. The first three paragraphs would be even better.
By 'motor running,' I mean piquing the reader's curiosity about what comes next
so that he won't want to put the book down." --Sol Stein

Over the course of time that I've worked on my book, I've gone to a number of conferences, attended writer's workshops, and been privileged to have sample pages critiqued. I've kept a log of comments, from which--in each subsequent revision--I've drawn from to make improvements to my writing. Here's a sample of what's been said:

  • "Get them hooked then feed them later."
  • "Keep them turning the pages."
  • "Give main characters an entrance--let the reader know someone important has entered."
  • "Start the story with a bang--you must catch an editor's eye before you can do so for a child."
  • "Don't 'information dump' on the first page."
  • "Keep the action moving at the beginning."
  • "The first chapter is a bit slow and not much happens. I'd start (pointing to second chapterhere."
I've learned (I hope) when I've started slow, stalled the motor, boxed in the car of the story, lost my way. How about you? Is your story's motor running? What's some good advice you've gotten that helped you improve your work?

*photo courtesy of

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Mulberry Memories

"What heaven can be more real than to retain the spirit-world of childhood, tempered and balanced by knowledge and common-sense, to fear no longer the terror that flieth by night, yet to feel truly and understand a little, a very little, the story of life." --Beatrix Potter, author of The Tale of Peter Rabbit

We went on our walk together this morning, hubby and I, something we try to do on Saturday mornings as a different routine than the normal weekly things. And lo and behold, we discovered that the mulberries are ripe.

The mulberry tree edges the road about a mile up the way. If you, like me, tend to keep your head down when you're walking (hubby always admonishes: "Get your head up! Look around. Don't watch your feet...") then the first sign of evidence are the purple splotches on the asphalt. But when we checked out the tree's branches, we marveled at the rich lode of berries growing there.

And the memories kicked in. I'm a child, along with a couple of neighbor kids, and we have crossed the road where it curves around the bend, skipped up the lane, and climbed the gnarled branches of the neighborhood mulberry tree. The owner doesn't care. We nestle in the crook of its branches, and stretch as far as we can to reach the plumpest, juiciest berries. The sun warms our arms. The breeze ruffles the leaves and cools our faces. We eat until we're full. It's one of my favorite summer memories.

For hubby, his memory bank kicked in as we passed a cluster of first-of-the-season daisies. "The end of the school year" flower, he says, the name he gave the daisy as a kid. He'd notice fields of daisies growing along the bus route those last few school days and know that school was just about over. Then he'd be free. Free to play ball--even if it meant just himself, with a rock and a stick and an imagination back on the hill behind the house. There he'd throw the rock up, hit it as far as he could--and pretend that the rustling leaves were his adoring fans cheering him on.

Oh, the childhood memories!

Recently, in our newspaper, columnist Paul Daugherty wrote a column about summertime ("How Summer Is Supposed to Be Spent"). In it he recalled how, as a child, his parents (who both worked) would leave a quarter on the bureau in the living room for him, and a handwritten reminder: "Have a good day and don't break anything." Armed with that 25-cents, "a bike and two good friends," he writes that he'd "throw myself at the day." He writes of being Roberto Clemente one day, Steve McQueen another, of sneaking into the tennis club pool or visiting the local pet store. He says, "Some days, we were bored. Kids need to be bored. Boredom is good."

He makes a good point as he continues: "The essential part of childhood is...being a child. Plan nothing. Risk. Extend...Loll. Dare. Engage. Run, jump, be fearless, look silly. The magic is in the day. Seize it. Find your own quarter on the bureau in the living room. One summer to a customer. This one's yours. Play."

I love his philosophy and think that we could use a bit of it in our adult lives, too. Especially those of us who write for children--as we explore such intangibles as imagination, creativity, wonder and the craft of words. What do you think? What's one of your favorite childhood summer memories--and how can you incorporate a touch of the child you were into the adult you've become?