Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns, and Paul Simon

photo courtesy of
"And there's a hand, my trusty fiere! And gie's a hand o' thine! And we'll tak a right guid willy waght, for auld lang syne." --Robert Burns

Auld Lang Syne--the signature song as one year ends and another begins. Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne...

Auld Lang Syne. Originally a poem, written by Scotland's famous poet Robert Burns in the late 1780s, it was popularized as a New Year's Eve song by Guy Lombado when his band used it during a live performance at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York in 1929 (source:

For us today, the original Scottish dialect is quaint: For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne. We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet. For auld lang syne. And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp! And surely I'll be mine! And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne. ('For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne. And surely you'll buy your pint cup and surely I'll buy mine! And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne.')

And yet the sentiments remain the same. Auld lang syne, the meaning translates to times gone by or old long ago, and rings true with messages about love and friendship of times past, important things not to be forgotten.

We twa hae run about the braes and pu'd the gowans fine; But we've wander'd mony a weary foot sin auld lang syne. ('We two have run about the slopes and picked the daisies fine; but we've wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.')

We twa hae paidl'd i' the burn, frae mornin' sun till dine; but seas between us braid hae ror'd sin auld lang syne.* ('We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine' but seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.')

Ah, but if Auld Lang Syne is the song to close out 2014, what song should usher in 2015? May I suggest something from Paul Simon? A verse in his song, "Hurricane Eye," goes like this:

You want to be a writer,
Don't know how or when?
Find a quiet place,
Use a humble pen.

Doesn't have quite the 'ring' to it, and it isn't Auld Lang Syne. Still, I think I'll be humming a bit of this from Paul Simon for 2015, telling myself to just pick up that pen. Get those words down. That's how a writer writes. And then, by this time next year, after having continued and appreciated contact with writer friends--real time and blogging buddies--I might be able to sing, And there's a hand, my trusty fiere! And gie's a hand o' thine! And we'll tak a right guid willy waught, for auld lang syne. ('And there's a hand my trusty friend! And give us a hand o' thine! And we'll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.')

How about it? Robert Burns or Paul Simon for 2015?

Or some other songwriter? Who would be your pick for inspiration in the new year? If so, what's the title/sample verse you would choose?

Happy New Year! Wishing you the best in all the year might bring.

(*source for song lyrics:

Monday, December 22, 2014

Stairs and Thoughts and Other Things

art courtesy of
Halfway Down

                                                            Halfway down the stairs
                                                            Is a stair
                                                            Where I sit.
                                                            There isn't any
                                                            Other stair
                                                            Quite like
                                                            I'm not at the bottom,
                                                            I'm not at the top;
                                                            So this is the stair
                                                            I always

                                                            Halfway up the stairs
                                                            Isn't up,
                                                            And it isn't down.
                                                            It isn't in the nursery,
                                                            It isn't in the town.
                                                            And all sorts of funny thoughts
                                                            Run round my head:
                                                            "It isn't really
                                                            It's somewhere else
                                                            Instead!" --A.A. Milne

My thoughts have turned to the stairs lately. I don't know if it's because this time of year tends to wax nostalgic or what. Memories take me to childhood traditions, family experiences, life changes and life blessings. Staircases can do that, I guess, since they play a key part in some of those memories. The curving staircase of my great-aunt's farmhouse where we had family reunions. The staircase of my youth at the bottom of which I'd sit and talk on the telephone as a teenager. The staircase even years before that at the top of which, when I was three years old, I attempted to throw a telephone book down--and bumped all the way down myself along with it. The staircase that has carried my children's footsteps up and down and now my grandkids pattering feet as well.

The steps to the upstairs of our house have seen many feet. Big feet, little feet. Old feet, young feet. Happy feet, stomping feet. Ours is an aged country house (though the country around it now isn't so much country anymore), built in 1935. Steep and narrow, the steps ascend at the back of the house behind the kitchen. Awkward placement, it would seem, but that's how old Mr. Meyer built it for his bride-to-be all those years ago. I know this because of the day when I was a young mother and a strange car pulled into the driveway. Out emerged an elderly man accompanied by a younger driver. In the backseat were two women, their respective wives it turned out. Upon answering the knock at the back door, I heard the younger man say, "I have someone here you might like to meet." At which the elderly gentleman said, "I am Leo Meyer, and I built this house."

What a treasure. Questions about my house that I'd pondered could be posed and answered. Hands that dug the basement, erected the walls--and fashioned the steps--gestured over things that had changed, things that remained the same. The sweet wife, now wizened but once a beaming bride, who toured what was once her home and who whispered, "If you find any money, it's mine."

A few years later, I learned that we were only the fifth owners of this house--and the two families that followed the Meyers before we came along each had a set of twins. Twins, in this house, times two! One couple with twin girls. The other with a girl and a boy. Imagine the antics up and down the steps in those years. Then came the couple that sold the house to us. The years march by just like the many times feet have marched up and down the stairs.

And I wonder, did any of the children in those years sit in the middle of the stairs and just 'be'--listening and imagining and pretending? How did the stairs help form their view of life and give them a boost up to their futures? Roald Dahl once commented, "I do have a blurred memory of sitting on the stairs and trying over and over again to tie one of my shoelaces..." What are the memories of the children who traipsed these stairs?

What are the memories of children who've traveled your stairs? What are your memories of stairs? And aren't words like steps--links to places, connections from past to present and future, a starting place and a help to a destination? Steps--and words--support, launch, propel, nurture, serve and lift. And on occasion give our imaginations a place to pause and be reignited.

Here's to that special stair that can do all those things!

May your holiday celebrations be blessed this year with much joy and peace--and with those quiet moments that help you reflect and recharge. Happy wishes to all.

Friday, December 5, 2014

For the Writer's Survival Kit: Humor, Along With 10 Quotes

photo courtesy pixabay
"From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere." --Dr. Seuss

Times, they are a-gettin' busy. Speeding up, with more and more details needing attention. It's time, I'm thinking, for a little humor. Never hurts to slow the pace for a minute and, well, laugh. Or chuckle. Or simply smile. After all, wisdom says "A cheerful heart is good medicine" (Proverbs 17:22).

With that in mind, I share with you the following, in the hopes that it will at least bring a smile to your face as you embark on what might be a busy month for you, too.

1. "Someone asked me, if I were stranded on a desert island what book would I bring...'How to Build a Boat.' " --Steven Wright

2. "I was reading a book, 'The History of Glue'. I couldn't put it down." --Tim Vine

3. "The telephone book is full of facts, but it doesn't contain a single idea." --Mortimer Adler

4. "From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put." --Winston Churchill

5. "If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers." --Doug Larson

6. "Listen up, Internet: there is no 'h' in 'wacky.' Got that? THERE IS NO 'H' IN WACKY.' Thank you." --Dave Barry

7. "Practically everybody in New York has half a mind to write a book, and does." --Groucho Marx

8. "Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good." --Dr. Samuel Johnson, to an aspiring writer

9. "Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time." --Steven Wright

10. "How old would be if you didn't know how old you were?" --Satchel Paige

Yes, I believe what Mark Twain said: "Humor is mankind's greatest blessing."

And this, from Bob Hope: "I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful."

In our household, when my husband faced retirement after nearly 35 years of teaching, I only had one thing to say: "As long as you keep me laughing, we'll be okay."

He has and we are. After all, from there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.

Is humor important to you, too? Any humorous lines you care to share?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Seeds, Harvest, and a Writer's Thanks

photo courtesy of pixabay
"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant." --Robert Louis Stevenson

Thanksgiving. A day to slow down (even though the to-do list to get the traditional spread on the table can become hectic!) and reflect. A day to consider, acknowledge, and count--count all those blessings that grace our families and our lives. I paused for a few minutes the other day to do just that. It necessitated a period of intentionally stopping, quieting, and taking some deep breaths. After all, that to-do list wasn't going to get done on its own.

But something happened when I got quiet. Yes, I recorded many things I'm thankful for, including my husband and our over-40 years of marriage, my children/their wonderful mates/the precious grandchildren, our home and freedoms and health and all the beauty that can be seen no matter the season of the year. I noted things like the wind through pine trees, grapefruit, ocean walks, sled rides and chapped cheeks, Mom's quilts and warm socks. I added 'time' to the list--time to write, time to learn, time to change and grow, time to meet challenges with more courage than less. So many things, so many directions. In fact, the whole process reminded me of Ann Voskamp's inspiring book, One Thousand Gifts--a book worth pulling off the shelf and rereading.

But the exercise brought me to an interesting point. I found myself remembering some of the people in my life who were influential in helping me get where I am--people who planted seeds, if you will, and who also would probably be surprised to learn they had been included on such list. In no particular order I thought of:

1. Mrs. Stahl who ignited the spark for journalism--and words in general--in high school.
2. Mrs. Moore who taught an elementary child the importance of discipline and kindness.
3. Mr. Walters who, unbeknownst to him, opened up a world of history to a receptive teen--and fired up the desire to bring characters to life through his portrayal of Matthew Brady of Civil War photography fame.
4. Mrs. Bennett who helped an introverted sophomore gain a bit of confidence in public speaking through soft-spoken compliments. 
5. Mrs. Gossett who gave an eight-year old child insight into faith and hope through her weekly neighborhood Bible story times for the children.

These were not the only influential people in my life, but they were the ones that came to mind first. They were happy to plant seeds though they wouldn't necessarily see the harvest. And am I ever grateful for the seeds they planted!

What people 'planted seeds' in your life that you are thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving to all who stop by!

Friday, November 14, 2014

On Footprints, Life's Passion, and Centenarians

fall walk 2013 archives
"You can't leave a footprint that lasts if you're always walking on tiptoe." --Marion Blakely

Footprints. The idea was reinforced when I came across the following report in a recent issue of World Magazine (11/15/14): "There's one thing Madeline Scotto didn't wish for on her 100th birthday: retirement. Despite becoming a centenarian on October 16, the 100-year-old Brooklyn woman still works as a teacher at the St. Ephrem School where she prepares middle-school students for math competitions When asked about retiring after six decades at St. Ephrem, Scotto told WPIX: 'Oh, that's a bad word. I don't ever want to hear that word." Her commute is easy enough: just a walk across the street. 'Some people like what they're doing, but I  have a passion for what I'm doing,' she said. 'And when you have a passion for something, you never give up.'"

Madeline Scotto
photo courtesy Daily Mail
Isn't she darling? Imagine the footprints this little lady has left. Simply because she never shook loose of her passion--passion for children, for teaching, for living. At 100 years old!

Synonyms for passion? With varying degrees of meaning: enthusiasm, love for, coming alive, joie de vivre. No two days will necessarily give a full measure of these gifts, but--if we can look at Miss Madeline's life--we might say she experienced a fuller measure than some.

Others who have weighed in on the subject:

"Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for." --Ray Bradbury

"Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing. do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." --Howard Thurman

"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious." --Albert Einstein

Thank you, Miss Madeline, for your example. For being an inspiration. For leaving footprints to emulate and follow--no matter our age. I just love examples like this!

How about you--any stories of those who have inspired you to reach higher, to live with more joy?

p.s. want ideas of incorporating joie de vivre in your life? Check out "How to Capture Joie De Vivre" here.

Friday, November 7, 2014

John Gardner on The Very Life of Fiction

neighbor's yard November 2014
"Character is the very life of fiction. Setting exists so that the character has someplace to stand, something that can help define him, something he can pick up and throw, if necessary, or eat, or give to his girlfriend. Plot exists so the character can discover for himself (and in the process reveal to the reader) what he, the character, is really like: plot forces the character to choice and action, transforms him from a static construct to a lifelike human being making choices and paying for them or reaping the rewards. And theme exists only to make the character stand up and be somebody: theme is elevated critical language for what the character's main problem is." --John Gardner

Character is fiction's life. Setting, plot and theme support, fill in the gaps, add brushstrokes to the canvas. But character breathes. I share this quote so that I, for one, won't lose track of it. It's a keeper!

Enjoy this beautiful fall weekend, everyone.

Friday, October 31, 2014

On Listening, Inspired by an Anagram

October 2014
"The word listen contains the same letters as the word silent." --Alfred Brendel

Listen and silent. Two different words with the same letters, rearranged. An example of an anagram (anagram (n): "a word, phrase or sentence formed from another by rearranging its letters") but more unique than most. Most anagrams are somewhat silly--word play, word games, word puzzles--but in this case one that goes a little deeper. As in, what does it take to really listen? And why are good listening skills important?

I saw the above quote on a church sign. Looking for information on where the quote came from, I came across an interesting article on Deb Sofield's blog: Listen and Silent are Spelled with the Same Letters--Coincidence? in which she uses Brendel's quote to illustrate the art of listening. Seemed insightful to me--thought I'd share some highlights.

"It hit me," Deb writes, "that listen and silent are an anagram, they have the same letters, but creating different words, and what is interesting is that these two words, in my opinion, have the same value when it comes to their true meaning...(and) the power of listening is probably one of the most underrated skills we learn as kids. Everyone wants to talk and be heard, but it seems to me that so few know how to be silent and listen."

She continues with three reasons why we need to work on being better listeners:

1. People need to know that their words matter.
2. People need to know that you listen and you hear them.
3. Perhaps the hardest part of listening is to do so without judgement.

Timely reminders for me, all because of a chance glance at an anagram! Now how can I improve my listening skills in personal relationships? And might the principles also apply to getting to know these characters I'm wrestling with in my story? At the same time, might my character need someone to listen to her? Now there's a thought. Hmmmm...

What words of wisdom have you chanced upon lately? Do you have a favorite anagram?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ocean Advice and a Thousand Words

Ft. Walton Beach, FL October 2014
Ocean Advice

Let your cares drift away.
Seas every opportunity.
Adapt to changing tides.
Surf life's rough waves.
Harbor strength and perseverance.
Don't be a shellfish.
Bet on a shore thing.

We were fortunate to take a short trip to the beach this past week and, wow, what a gift. Some of my favorite pictures include:

"Let your cares drift away...
...seas every opportunity...   
...adapt to changing tides... life's rough waves...
...harbor strength and perseverance...
...don't be a shellfish... on a shore thing."
Thanks to Valerie and her pinterest board for the poem :-)                                          

And speaking of gifts, the best one was to drive up for the weekend from the beach to son and family's house in sweet Alabama to see, for the first time, our newest grandbaby, sweet little Joy.

Drinking it all in, savoring, storing it up for the winter months ahead. When it's the coldest here, I'll be imagining those long walks along the water's edge. Like they say, "A walk on the beach is worth a thousand words." Hopefully this latest seaside "retreat" will stir an actual thousand words, and more, in writing projects in the weeks ahead.

Where do you like to go for a retreat--writing or otherwise?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Historical Fiction: When the Questions Take a Different Track

pioneer cemetery along October morning walk 2014
"Every age has a keyhole to which its eye is pasted." --Mary McCarthy

I kinda' went on a binge my last visit to the library. A historical novel binge.

Here's how it worked. Instead of going through the library doors with a list of book titles or authors that I wanted to check out, I just walked up and down the shelves looking for the words "historical fiction" on the spines of books. I do this occasionally since this is one of my favorite genres to read, has been since I was a teen.

I stopped myself this time at seven books. They included:
The Girls of Gettysburg, Bobbi Miller (Civil War)
Maggie's Door, Patricia Reilly Giff (mid-nineteenth century Ireland)--sequel to Nory Ryan's Song which I read last month
R My Name is Rachel, Patricia Reilly Giff (Great Depression)
Willow Run, Patricia Reilly Giff (WWII America)
Ronnie's War, Bernard Ashley (WWII London)
One Shining Moment, Gilbert Morris (post WWII)
Motherland, Maria Hummel (WWII Germany)

Two observations: I enjoy Patricia Reilly Giff's books (can you tell?) and Hummel's book, Motherland, posed an approach to writing historical fiction that I'd not given thought to before, a position the author herself embraced only after a time of thoughtful searching and story development. This approach came with a shift in the kinds of questions she asked herself.

First of all, from Goodreads: Motherland is inspired by stories from the author's father and his German childhood, and letters between her grandparents that were hidden in an attic wall for fifty years. It is the author's attempt to reckon with the paradox of her father--a product of her grandparents' fiercely protective love and their status as Mitläufer, Germans who "went along" with Nazism, first reaping its benefits and later its consequences.

This page-turning novel focuses on the Kappus family: Frank is a reconstructive surgeon who lost his beloved wife in childbirth and two months later married a young woman who must look after the baby and his two grieving sons when he is drafted into medical military service. Alone in the house, Liesl must attempt to keep the children fed with dwindling food supplies, safe from the constant Allied air attacks, and protected against the swell of desperate refugees flooding their town. When one child begins to mentally unravel, Liesl must discover the source of the boy's infirmity or lose him forever to Hadamar, the infamous hospital for "unfit" children. The novel bears witness to the shame and courage of Third Reich families during the devastating last days of the war, as each family member's fateful choices lead them deeper into questions of complicity and innocence, to the novel's heartbreaking and unforgettable conclusion.

The story is haunting, troubling, and heart-wrenching, centered as it is on a stepmother's devotion to her three stepsons, trying to keep the family together in the absence of her husband during the travesties of war. But here's where it impacted me. In the author's Acknowledgements, she writes: 

             "My father is a good man, who has always expressed clear love and devotion for his parents and his children. My grandparents died when I was young, but they also struck me as generous and kind, and my grandmother, rather courageous for single-handedly raising three small kids at such a harrowing time. When I started working on this book, I obsessed over the idea of complicity, how ‘good’ people could nonetheless participate in one of the most brutal regimes in contemporary history. The questions What did they know and when did they know it? were key to this investigation. How was it possible that my grandfather worked so close to Buchenwald and still insisted he had no knowledge of the crimes committed in that camp? How could my grandmother be such a loving mother to her stepchildren and not teach them what the Germans had done? My father claims he learned abut the Holocaust only as a teenager, at an Frankfurt, half a decade after the war.
            “Hindsight is always a delicate issue in historical novels. The author and the reader often have a distilled set of facts about an era that the characters do not possess. Perhaps no era is more traveled and judged by readers than World War II, and so we collectively assume that all books about Germans in the 1940s will be books about complicity or resistance to their government’s murderous practices. In fact, most books are. The narrative we get is the one we expect.
            “Yet the more I thought about my grandmother’s letters, the more I realized they weren’t about Naziism. Or rather, that Naziism shadowed her world, but it was illuminated by the antics and accidents of three small boys, by conveying through code that she was sending secret supplies to her husband for his imminent desertion. Yes, she was afraid—of denouncement, of the ever-increasing air raids, of enemy invasion. And yet her narrative was not about totalitarian law, the bloody battles, the Jews and the camps. It was about family, and, paradoxically, it was about protecting her new sons’ innocence in a time when the sky was literally falling.
            “The more I wrote, the more I knew I had to change my fundamental questions. I could not use hindsight as a knife to slice through the past and find anything but what I expected to find. Instead of asking, What did they know, and when did they know it? I began to ask, What did they love? What did they fear? And in place of a prefabricated fable, a complicated human story began to emerge..."

A simple shift in questioning. From What did they know and when did they know it? to What did they love, what did they fear?

Here the emphasis is not on trying to explain history but to experience history. Not to examine and dissect reasons and motives but to invest in lives and struggle with them.

We'll never have all the answers but maybe if we start with different questions...?

What questions do you ask when you start a story?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Love Affair: 14 Quotes on Books and Reading

photo courtesy of

Oh, this love affair with books. It will endure for some of us for a long, long time. Never-ending TBR piles, recommendations, classics, favorites. Why are they so special to us?

I decided to explore what others say about books and reading. Some of my discoveries:

1. "If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking." --Haruki Murakami

2. "There are many little ways to enlarge your child's world. Love of books is the best of all." --Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

3. "The books you don't read won't help." --Jim Rohn

4. "There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and the tired man who wants a book to read." --Gilbert K. Chesterton

5. "It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it." --Oscar Wilde

6. "Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?"-- Henry Ward Beecher

7. "I divide all readers into two classes; those who read to remember and those who read to forget." --William Lyon Phelps

8. "You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." --Paul Sweeney

9. "A book is a device to ignite the imagination." --Alan Bennett

10. "A good book has no ending." --R.D. Cumming

11. "Books have that strange quality, that being of the frailest and tenderest matter, they outlast brass, iron, and marble." --William Drummond, Bibliotheca Edinburgena Lectori

12. "Modern writers are the moons of literature; they shine with reflected light, with light borrowed from the ancients." --Samuel Johnson

13. "I would rather be a poor man in a garret with plenty of books than a man who did not love reading." --Thomas Babington Macaulay

14. "Novels are sweets." --William Makepeace Thackeray, Roundabout Papers: On a Lazy Idle Boy

And we thought sugar was addictive? Ha!

And now for the big announcement, the winner of my 300th post celebration giveaway...drum roll please....Catherine Winn! Congratulations, Catherine, and thanks for celebrating with me :-)

Have a great rest of the week, everyone.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Reach: 300 Posts Celebration and Giveaway!

"When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either." --Leo Burnett

on Badlands Trail, Miami Whitewater Forest
September 2014
I can't believe it. I hit a milestone and almost missed it. This is my 301st blog post.  Recognizing the big 300 almost passed me by.

But it's never too late, right?

Who would have thought when I started this blogging experiment almost five years ago that I would stay the course and still be here today? That's not to say I'm projecting forever. The day may come when the journey takes a fork in the road, energies are diverted in a different direction, but I do know that the reach has already gone further than I ever thought it would. And I don't believe I've come up with a handful of mud either!

The idea has made me consider the idea of reach--and reach's cousins: dream, desire, and risk. A little googling (isn't it amazing the new words that are added to our vocabularies each year that we'd never have considered before?) I came up with the following inspirational thoughts:

"Nothing is impossible. The word itself says 'I'm possible'." --Audrey Hepburn

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." --T.S. Eliot

"Sometimes you just have to jump out the window and grow wings on the way down." --Ray Bradbury

"I haven't failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." --Thomas Edison

"Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world." --Harriet Tubman

"You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream." --C.S. Lewis
(my personal favorite :-)

"The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise." --Maya Angelou

'It's impossible,' said pride.
'It's risky,' said experience.
'It's pointless,' said reason.
'Give it a try,' whispered the heart.' --Unknown

"You had the power all along, my dear." --Glinda, the Good Witch, The Wizard of Oz

To celebrate the number 300, we'll do this:

1. Share links of 300-lists. (Considered coming up with my own list of 300-somethings, but reality set in and I nixed that idea--too big a reach right now!) Some lists from others to consider:

300 Things to Do Once in a Lifetime (The Ultimate Bucket List)

2. Sponsor a celebratory give-away! Kicked around different ideas here, too, but settled on this: to one lucky commenter a $30 Amazon gift card will be sent your way! $3 wasn't a big enough celebration. $300 (as in 300 posts) was...ummm...too much of a reach! So 30's a good compromise.

Like previous giveaways here, all you have to do is comment along with a contact email address, and you will be eligible for the drawing. Deadline is this time next week, Tuesday, October 7. (I considered Monday, October 27--since that will be the 300th day of the year!--but that's too long to wait.)

300 posts of fun, of meeting people, of stretching, reaching, learning, engaging. That's what I'm celebrating. Hope you'll celebrate with me.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Spider Web Whirligigs

spider web whirli-gigs along the highway 2014
"On occasion grassy fields are filled with banded garden spider webs. Scores of dew-covered webs create a spectacular sight at dawn on a misty morning." --Common Spiders of Ohio Field Guide

Forgive me for the poor quality of the above photo. And forgive me for doing yet another post on spiders (first one, here), but I can't resist sharing.

First, the photo. What you see is a picture taken from the open window of a speeding car, us going down the interstate at 70 mph. I almost lost a helium-balloon out that same-said window when I rolled down that window in an attempt to record what we were seeing.

And what we saw was truly spectacular. We were traveling north, hubby and I, on I-71 from Cincinnati to Columbus to celebrate my mom's 91st birthday. (I shared about her 90th here last year.) The day started out foggy, especially near the bridge crossing the Little Miami River. At times the sun broke forth, other times we hit more patches of fog.

At what mile marker did we first notice them? Not sure, but the sight caught the attention of both of us at about the same time. All along the roadside, and I mean everywhere--in the grasses, on the fences, in the gullies and on the rises--were what I could only describe as (for lack of a better description) feathery whirligigs. Delicate, filmy, ethereal, silver, glistening whirligigs. Fairyland.

"What are those??" we said, not knowing yet what would eventually dawn on us.

On and on the phenomena stretched. Mile after mile. Multiples and multiples of filmy designs. Thousands of them dotting and wavering everywhere. Could we count them? Impossible.

And then it hit us. We were looking at wind-spinning spider webs. For nearly a hundred miles, one after another after another. Can you imagine?

Lucky for me I had the camera. I rolled down the window (that's when we almost lost the balloon, but hubby saved the day, driving with one hand and grabbing the balloon with the other), and started snapping away. Sorry, not much to show for it, but maybe you get the idea.

Later we stopped at a roadside rest. Picture two (ahem) not-so-young people dressed for a birthday party traipsing across the grounds of a highway rest stop headed to a fence row that bordered a field of overgrown weeds and dry corn stalks. Hubby puts up with a lot when I carry a camera! Traffic whizzed by, a groundskeeper trimmed, birds squawked. But who cared? We were on a mission. Here's an up-close shot of one web.

And here's a glimpse of the spider herself. Isn't she beautiful? I later learned she's a banded garden spider who, as an adult, spins her art from August to October, so we timed it right. Obviously, Ohio has a lot of banded garden spiders! And the spiders, hardly noticed until time and circumstances wove themselves together, created a most spectacular display and memorable experience. We still talk about what we saw.

That's my spider story of the week--and my inspiration. It has all the elements of good writing--timing, design, wonder. What's your story for the week? Anything inspire you or spark a sense of wonder for you?

p.s. Spider trivia: The spiders' insect-eating habits are extremely helpful to humans. "Every year, billions of spiders do away with a large number of disease-carrying and crop-destroying insects. If every spider ate just one a day for a year, those insects, piled in one spot, would weigh as much as 50 million people... (What??? Is there a way to verify this claim?)...Spiders are, by far, the most important predator of insects in our world." (This from Elaine Kalantarian, here.) Oh, the things you learn!

p.p.s. Would the banded garden spider be subject to the burden of unrealistic expectations in her work? I think not, but writers are susceptible to such pressure. A great article on just that, The Crushing Weight of Expectations, by Robin LaFevers at Writer Unboxed, addresses the idea. You might find it interesting as you seek to spin your own web of words.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

And The Winner Is...

sample of flowers from hubby's garden 2014

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

If asked what we might add to Mr. Andersen's list of must-haves, what would be your answer? I suggest "friends"!

And with that lead-in, I announce the **winner** of my recent give-away contest of Jessica Lawson's delightful debut MG novel, The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher (review found here)--blogger friend, and author in her own right, Karen Lange! Karen blogs over at Write Now, "exploring the adventurous writing life."

Congratulations, Karen. The book will be on its way to you here real soon. 

Thanks to all who entered the drawing--may you all have a great rest of the week!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Being Open to Inspiration

on a September morning walk 2014

"The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over the place; from the sky, from the earth, from a scap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web." --Pablo Picasso

Just a bit of weekend musings after discovering the treasure pictured above on my walk.

Ever thought of yourself as a receptacle? What sparks emotion and inspiration for you? Might I suggest pausing for a moment to take in the intricacies of spiderwebs as a start?

p.s. There's still time to enter the drawing for Jessica Lawson's debut book, "The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher." Check out the link and details here.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Give-Away: The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher

"Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words." --Mark Twain

I think Mark Twain would like to have met debut author and talented writer Jessica Lawson. He would see that she has a way with words, picked a lot of right ones and crossed out the wrong--and did it all while telling Becky Thatcher's story!

I am pleased to give a shout-out for Jessica, someone I "met" (not in real time yet, but that would be fun, too) when I started blogging, and her newly-released MG novel, The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, July 1, 2014).

The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher promises to be, well, a great adventure!

From Goodreads: "In 1860, eleven-year-old Becky Thatcher is the new girl in town, determined to have adventures like she promised her brother Jon before he died. With her Mama frozen in grief and her Daddy busy as town judge, Becky spends much of her time on her own, getting into mischief. Before long, she joins the boys at school in a bet to steal from the Widow Douglas, and Becky convinces her new best friend, Amy Lawrence, to join her.

"Becky decides that she and Amy need a bag of dirt from a bad man's grave as protection for entering the Widow's house, so they sneak out to the cemetery at midnight, where they witness the thieving Pritchard brothers digging up a coffin. Determined to keep her family safe (and to avoid getting in trouble), Becky makes Amy promise not to tell anyone what they saw.

"When their silence inadvertently results in the Widow Douglas being accused of the graverobbery, Becky concocts a plan to clear the Widow's name. If she pulls it off, she might just get her Mama to notice her again and fulfill her promise to Jon in a most unexpected way...if that tattle-tale Tom Sawyer will quit following her around."

There's some great buzz about The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher going around in blogland, along a number of great author interviews that give insight into the heart of the book and how it came to be. Some of the things I learned:

Why Becky Thatcher? In answer to the question "Why did you feel Becky Thatcher was the one who needed a bigger story?" by Mike Grosso over at Fearless Fifteeners, Jessica responded, "Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a classic and I love, love, love the book exactly as it is, so I would never say that she needed a bigger story. I think it was a matter of me always relating more to Tom and Huck, and thinking that it would be neat if Becky Thatcher got to have a little fun as well."

On Becky Thatcher and Voice: In an interview with Jessica at Literary Rambles, Natalie Aguirre said, "I just totally fell in love with Becky and her voice. She's such a character that makes me smile every time I think of her. Share about her and how you got her voice so perfectly right." Jessica: "You are so sweet to say that! She was one of those lucky characters who just showed up fully formed and had a lot to say. The accent and vernacular I gave her probably came, at least partially, from the time I spent as a child in a very small southeastern Missouri town, visiting with my grandparents. My version of Becky T. was also influenced by my love for Twain, Junie B. Jones, Anne Shirley (from Anne of Green Gables), and Mattie Ross in the new version of the movie True Grit (such a great character!)."

Point of View: Tara Dairman, in her interview with Jessica (here), said, "Please tell us about your book." In Jessica's words: "The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is part origin story, part retelling of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, written from Becky's point of view. Though much of the plot is fun/adventure/cherry-spitting/bacon-eating based, there is an internal thread that deals with grieving and loss."

Why Middle Grade? Read about this in Jessica's own words in a post over at Middle Grade March. In the post she tells of her own 'middle-grade' years filled with her childhood adventures--hideaways under porches, planted treasures, night-time games of Ghost in the Graveyard and Cops and Robbers. Nothing better than the story of a tomboy written by a self-professed tomboy. Check this one out and you'll see why Becky Thatcher's character was pegged so well.

Where Did the Idea for Becky Thatcher First Come From? Ha--this is a good one. Dusting. Yep, dusting, as in dusting the bookshelves. Tavia Gilbert in her interview with Jessica asked, "What inspired you to place Becky Thatcher center stage and to tell a well-loved story from a new perspective? From Jessica: "One day, while I was pretending to do a thorough dusting job on my bookshelves, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer caught my eye. I hadn't read it in years and found myself thinking about Tom and Huck and all the adventures they had together. And I thought about Becky Thatcher, the nicely-dressed, finely-coiffed young girl who represented all that was good and pure to Tom--a girl who was distraught at discovering that Tom had been 'engaged' to someone else. At Becky's age, I was more likely to start a game of let's swipe cookies from the cabinet and make a secret hideaway under the porch than to wear dresses and play at being engaged. Being a tree-climbing, mischief-making, cops-and-robbers kind of girl, I always related more to Tom and Huck than to Becky. The novel takes place during a time when things like adventure and mischief were often delegated to and expected of boys. I think a part of me wanted to give Becky a chance to have a little fun as well."

What's exciting about this last link is that Tavia Gilbert, talented audio book narrator, has narrated The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, now available for book-on-tape lovers everywhere. I'm especially tickled about this because I was the lucky winner of this audiobook in a give-away that Jessica sponsored over at her blog Falling Leaflets. And in that particular post, Jessica interviewed Tavia. The interview is another treat--giving great insights into the life of a professional book narrator. You won't want to miss this one either!

And so, having been introduced to The Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by audiobook (which I am thoroughly enjoying), I'm off to order a hard copy, too, for my collection of books by favorite authors. At the same time I'm ordering a second copy--this one for one of YOU. I can't wait to share in the celebration of Jessica's debut and start to a great writing career.

All you have to do is post a comment here (along with your email address where I can contact you) by Monday, September 8, 2014, and your name will be included in the drawing. I'll announce the winner soon after the entry deadline.

So what do you say, are you ready for Becky's adventures? She's ready to tell you about them!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Filling and Spilling, The Writer's Journey

photo courtesy of
"We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing 
how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out." --Ray Bradbury

Still on the journey, how about you? Shall we discuss our progress over a cup of coffee? Sugar and cream with that, or black?

(Love this Ray Bradbury quote!)


Saturday, August 16, 2014

11 Quotes on Babies, and Joy

photo courtesy of
"The world is as many times new as there are children in our lives." --Robert Brault

It's been a couple of special days around here. Texts ringing, updates singing. Announcement finally came in--we're grandparents of another new little one, fifth grandchild and third granddaughter--born yesterday--and we couldn't be happier. This special child is already bringing joy to her parents, her older brother, and all of the family. They live a few states away but you can bet we'll be on our way to meet her as soon as we can.

In celebration of a wee one who's sure to help us see the world a new way and open our eyes once again to wonder, joy, and imagination (and maybe even dance steps?), I share some of my favorite quotes about babies, with hopes and prayers that more children can be raised in nurturing and loving homes. For that is all they ask for, really.

 1. "If one feels the need of something grand, something infinite, something that makes one feel aware of God, one need not go far to find it. I think that I see something deeper, more infinite, more eternal than the ocean in the expression of the eyes of a little baby when it wakes in the morning and coos or laughs because it sees the sun shining on its cradle." --Vincent van Gogh

 2. "Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."--Elizabeth Stone

 3. "A baby has a special way of adding joy to every single day."--unknown

 4. "A new baby is like the beginning of all things--wonder, hope, a dream of possibilities."--Eda J. LeShan

 5.  "A baby is God's opinion that the world should go on."--Carl Sandburg

 6.  "Babies are always more trouble than you thought--and more wonderful."--Charles Osgood

 7.  "Babies are such nice ways to start people."--Don Herrold

 8.  "Babies are bits of stardust, blown from the hand of God."--Barretto

 9.  "Children are a handful sometimes. A heart-full all the time."--unknown

10. "A baby is born with a need to be loved--and never outgrows it."--Frank A. Clark

11. "Every baby needs a lap."--Henry Robin

Once, way back in 2011, I posted my favorite poem about babies, "Song for a Fifth Child," by Ruth Hulbert Hamilton. It has proved to be one of my most popular posts. You can find it here if you'd like to revisit it. And prior to that, when proud big brother to new baby sister was born, I posted about his arrival in Story of Joy (here). In that post I quoted this sentiment, "Jumping for joy is great exercise."

Little did I know that four years later, I'd be posting that his baby sister has arrived and carries the name, did you guess, Joy. (See there's a theme here after all.) Special name connoting what's special about children. Oh, and only secondarily, my middle name. What an honor!

Just sharing a little bit of what has lit up our life this past week. How about you, any good news to share or a sparkle from your corner of the world?

p.s  A serendipitous moment [serendipity (n): "the ability to make fortunate discoveries by accident"]--in searching for 'just' the right photo to illustrate this post, I came across these delightful baby shoes on On further examination, I realized the shoes are set on a background of an open Bible. Looking closer, I saw that the words are not in English. I copied some phrases into and discovered the language is Portuguese. Why is this significant? My daughter-in-law is from Brazil and her first language is Portuguese! Perfect.