Sunday, August 31, 2014

1 in 8 - The C Word

Turns out I'm the 1 in 8. A couple of weeks ago I heard the "c" word no one wants to hear. This week I'll have surgery to remove a cancerous lump from my breast. The lump is very small and the possibility of a complete cure is very good. But I'm still 1 in 8. 


My mother had breast cancer when she was a couple of years older than I am now. And yes, that's definitely a risk factor and the reason I've always been diligent about doing mammograms - at least until Mother needed someone to stay with her all the time. Then there was never enough time for all I needed to do with her care and my writing deadlines and .... well, you know, everything I wanted to do. 
 
I put off the mammograms for three years. Not a wise decision. So I feel blessed that the lump is small and that my delay in getting a mammogram may not have mattered. It probably wouldn't have shown up last year anyway. But the mammogram did show up a lump when I went for what I thought would be a routine test after Mom died. Further tests confirmed the diagnosis. And now on to surgery and radiation treatments. Not something I'm looking forward to, but something I know some of you have already faced. You may have faced even more drastic treatments.

There's a young woman I know in our community now who is taking her second round of chemo. Another dear writer friend, Judy Sliger, just passed away after a heroic fight with cancer. Not breast cancer, but ovarian cancer. She did years of chemo and was ever a spiritual light to her friends. She wrote a book, Take Heart, Prayers for the Terminally Ill. (See it on Amazon.) I just got my copy in the mail and the next day hear that she's gone on to heaven.  

Since my diagnosis, I have been humbled by the many people who are praying for me. What a special gift to give me! Their time, their moments with the Lord. I know you will be praying for me too and I thank you in advance. 

Kaelyn and me
You may remember my blog posts a couple of years ago about my great-niece, Kaelyn when she got to have her no more chemo party at St Jude after three years of chemo treatments to fight the leukemia that was trying to steal this beautiful child from us. She was diagnosed when she was five and she was covered with many prayers. Some of you prayed for her too. She's ten now. A couple of weeks ago I saw her when we went to a revival service her father was preaching. The first thing she said to me was "Aunt Ann, did you hear the news? I'm cured." St. Jude had given her that news a couple of weeks before when she went for a check-up. Now that's the "c" word we all want to hear. And one I expect to hear in due time. 

Thank you for reading. I do so appreciate each and every one of you. Also, if you're on my newsletter list, watch for one to show up in your e-mail boxes this week with a new giveaway chance. If you're not on my newsletter list, you can be. Just sign up here, http://bit.ly/Annsnewsltr.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sorting through the Odds & Ends of Mom's Life

The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life. ~William Morris

Mom's been gone for over a month now. For a while it's felt like she's still at the memory care facility and I need to go see about her. But that's not so. She doesn't need anybody to see about her now. She's in a better place. Her smile is back. She's laughing and glad to finally be "home" with her mother and dad. She would sometimes say when she had a moment of clarity before the dementia got worse that she was ready to go on except she didn't want to leave us. Then at the end she no longer remembered us so perhaps that made it easier for her to leave. 

We've begun going through her things. So far we've just scratched a little of the surface, but already we're seeing things with no real value except that they meant something to Mom. All the odds and ends of a life well lived. There's the newspaper article with my picture when one of my earlier books was published. Then we find a certificate she received for work with the Homemakers. We go through piles of bird magazines because she did love her birds. We find enough greeting cards and stationery to fill a shopping bag. I know she intended to send each and every card to her many friends. The old Scrabble game that dates back to our childhood is in a shirt box. She saved it even though someone gave her one of the deluxe game boards that swiveled and had little pockets for the tiles. We found the dictionary so well used as she worked her crossword puzzles that it was falling apart. 

Mama's memory is soaked into everything we pick up. We find Dad's jacket with his horseshoe champion patch sewn on it. And there in the back of a closet are his clay court croquet mallets. We take garbage bags full of things to Goodwill and put other garbage bags in the trash. But we also have piles we keep for ourselves. Things we can't seem to part with. I think we're all going to have to build on a storage room. And we haven't even started on the real memory drawers. 

But it has to be done and I'm fortunate to have two sisters to work through the memories with me. What can we save? What will we do with this? Do you want it? Where will we put it? How can we part with it? The questions echo between us.

Mom has keepsakes from her family and from Dad's family too. And now we are going to have keepsakes too. But the best keepsake is all the memories of times with her. We will part with what we have to with sadness, but we'll never part with the memory of her love.  

Have you had to sort through a loved one's things? What was the hardest part of that for you?


Sunday, August 24, 2014

What Grows in Your Garden?

It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato. ~Lewis Grizzard

Do you have a garden or maybe just a tomato plant in a big pot out on the deck? If you don't have a garden now, have you grown a garden in the past? 


We used to grow a huge garden and I would can and freeze dozens of quarts and pints of beans, corn, zucchini, tomatoes, and more. Come winter, that food tasted fine and kept the grocery bill down too. We still have a garden, but now our son and his wife grow and harvest most of the vegetables. We just don't need as much as we used to when we had more mouths around our table. 



So we let them have most of our garden space and get to enjoy the extra benefit of seeing the grandkids gathering their own food and learning how that food grows. When the kids are little, they enjoy picking peppers and tomatoes, even beans.




As they get older, they're not quite as thrilled about the prospect of picking a basket of beans or wading out in a wet garden to pick tomatoes that need picking, rain or no. They have enjoyed the watermelon and cantaloupe this year. Fun vegetables to grow and this year we beat the raccoons to them.  



I don't care what anybody says: Nothing is better than a tomato you grow. There's something about it that's different than a tomato you can buy. It's a great thing. ~Tom Vilsack

I think that's true for everything you grow. It's just better when you've paid in sweat for what you eat. What's your favorite vegetable to grow? Oh, and I like having a row of flowers on the edge of the garden to harvest and enjoy too. The zinnias have done great this year.

Tell me what you've enjoyed most growing in your gardens.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Spotted on My Walks through Nature's Garden


There are always flowers for those who want to see them. (Henri Matisse)

I usually take a walk every day if at all possible. My dog, Oscar, would be disappointed if we didn't, although on some of the hotter days in summer, he sometimes looks at me as if he thinks I might have lost my mind wanting to walk when it's 90 degrees in the shade. Actually I try not to walk when it's that hot unless I can keep to the shade. Not for me, but for him. His black fur coat is hot.

But I love spotting gifts of nature when I walk. A couple of days ago, I found this beautiful pink flower. One stalk with all these blooms. No others anywhere around. I've never seen one like it before. It looks like a flower that belongs in a cultivated flower bed, but there it was on the edge of the hayfield in nature's big, wild garden. I haven't tried to look it up. Maybe one of you will recognize it and give it a name. 

I enjoy walking in Nature's garden. There are weeds too and sticktights or what some of you call beggar lice. You hear the whine of a mosquito now and again and flies can be worrisome when you get around the cows. But always there are sights to see and things to spot when I take a walk. 

I like sharing some of the things I spot on my Facebook page. It's like taking my friends for a walk with me. So tonight I'm asking you to walk along and see what we can spot. 
 
I always keep an eye out for flowers. The daisies are a favorite. They bloom with such determination and so cheerfully. It doesn't matter if I pick a few to pluck the petals. Another will pop up in its place. Tiny, more delicate looking flowers scatter color through the grasses.
 
 
 
Sometimes the blooms are small but so plentiful they carpet the whole field 
 
 

Then Kentucky's state flower, the goldenrod lights up the summer with color.

And among all the flowers are the butterflies. Beauty on wing.


Hope you enjoyed walking with me and spotting a few of the things along the way.



One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today. (Dale Carnegie)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hunting Down that Idea Fairy



Where do you get your ideas? That's a question I'm often asked, especially when I talk to young people. It's a question most all writers are asked at one time or another. Here's an answer I stumbled across last week. I'm not familiar with Sarah Zette's writing, but I have to admire her sense of humor here where she's obviously answering the question about where she finds her ideas.


 My joking answer to this question is that I leave a bowl of milk out on the back porch every night for the Idea Fairy. In the morning, the milk is gone and there's a brand-new shiny idea by the bowl. ~Sarah Zette

I might have to try that bowl of milk on the back porch, but you know, I'm thinking around here, I'd just attract raccoons. Maybe a chocolate bar would work better. If I was an idea fairy, I'd fly in for the chocolate and fight off those raccoons. 

But all kidding aside, where do you get your ideas is a fair question. It's a question I sometimes ask myself when I'm starting down a new story road and looking for an idea. Where will the next idea come from? And will it be an idea that can fly? And to be totally truthful, it's a question I sometimes ask myself when I've come to the end of a story road and reread what I've written. I think where in the world did that come from? 



The imagination is an amazing thing. You mix it with all those memories and impressions that have buried themselves in your brain and out pop ideas. You might have a Eureka moment and say, "I've got it!!" 

So you have the initial idea and then you invite in characters to show up to make the idea become a story. If I can bring those characters to life in my imagination, then maybe, just maybe, they will show me what happens next when I get stuck on the story road. Because that beginning idea has to grow and expand and put out branches to bear the fruit of the story that the reader will harvest.

So the question about where do ideas come from is not an easy one to answer. Oh, I can say things like ideas come from all the things you've experienced and from all the experiences you've read in stories and newspapers. They come from things you've witnessed your friends and families experiencing. And sometimes, they come from out of the blue. You can't trace them to anything. 

Ideas can be like mosquitoes buzzing in your ears or butterflies floating by on a breeze. Sometimes they come like thunderclaps shaking your house or they might be a mere whisper in the wind. So many wonderful ways to have ideas awaken inside you. 

One of the best ways for me to feed the idea mill is by reading. That’s what I’m getting ready to do to help my new idea grow legs to be off and running. It’s while I’m researching that my ideas can deepen and grow. So I definitely can agree with the following quote. 

 A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life. ~Norman Cousins

So many of my stories owe much to the books I’ve found at libraries.

Have you ever wondered about where writers get ideas? Or if you are a writer, how would you answer that question?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What's in a Name?

One thing they never tell you about child raising is that for the rest of your life, at the drop of a hat, you are expected to know your child's name and how old he or she is. ~Erma Bombeck

That's true for mamas and also for writers. I'll be giving a book talk and somebody will ask something about one of the characters in my book. They will have forgotten the name, but they expect me to remember. That's certainly understandable. They didn't invent them and live with them for a year or more while they were writing their stories. No, that was me, but sometimes the names slip away, especially if it wasn't a major character in the story.

You see, there are a lot of people to name in a novel. Of course you start out with the main characters, your hero and heroine. Then you start fleshing them in with family members and friends. Think about all the people in your own extended family. Add in the people you went to school with. Now the ones you've worked with. Oh, and all those people at church. And don't forget your Facebook friends. 

Names circle us like a swarm of bees. Sometimes the names stick and rise up to our lips when we need to speak the name. Sometimes the name is firmly entrenched in our brain, but it refuses to come out where we can say it. At least, not when we want it to. It generally shows up hours later while we're thinking about something totally different. The name will pop into our head out of the blue and sometimes we'll say we knew it started with a "J" or whatever letter. 

I have named dozens and dozens of characters. Some years ago, I started keeping a record of my major characters' names. That's supposed to help keep me from using the same names over and over. I tend to like some names more than others. 

I'm editing a book I wrote several years ago that never found a publisher. I decided I needed to change one of my secondary character's name. I have seen other writers ask their Facebook friends for help with name, so I decided to do the same. I asked what they would name the small town newspaper editor. He's the kind of guy that sort of rubs people the wrong way with his questions since they feel he's always trying to get a story out of them. But he's not a bad guy. He does want the town to do well, but he also wants to sell newspaper. He's in his late thirties and the story is set in the 1990's here in Kentucky. His last name is Leland.

I had originally named him Miles which I do like, but it's too much like my main character's name, Michael. Readers might get confused if they were reading fast about who was who. So I asked my Facebook friends what they would name this guy. And before morning I had over 80 comments. Now, after a few days, I've gotten around 125 names. 

So tonight, for fun, I wrote down all the great suggestions. The amazing thing is that in all those names, there weren't all that many repeat suggestions. Clark was the most suggested name with 7. Phil or Phillip was runner-up with 6. Most of the names were single suggestions. Everybody had a different idea of what to name my pesky little editor. I wanted a one syllable name and there were many suggestions that had me nodding my head and thinking, yes, that might work. But he's just one guy and so he only needs one name. I've already tried Lloyd. No one suggested that name. And Kyle. Two or three suggested that name. Those names didn't seem to fit. And so, right now I'm going with Hank. That was suggested by a couple of people. 

Hank Leland. What do you think? Does that sound like a pesky newspaper man who is always ready to dig for a story? If not, what do you suggest? 

Naming characters is actually a fun part of writing fiction. But I do like for the name to fit. Sometimes that takes some brainstorming before a writer can settle on the perfect name. And sometimes that name gets changed and then changed again. 

No wonder I can't remember some of my characters' names. Could be, I'm still considering changing those names. LOL.

Monday, August 11, 2014

On the Hunt for Bargains




Bargain - a thing bought or offered for sale more cheaply than is usual or expected.

Folks all along US 127 have been either offering or looking for bargains all week. The worlds longest yard sale goes from Alabama to Michigan with Kentucky right in the middle. Last week, scenes like the one above were scattered all along the road that runs through the county where I live. People set up booths full of everything but the kitchen sink and I imagine there were even a few of those sinks for sale here and there. Landowners with an accessible piece of property rented out spaces with an eye to this new cash crop and the hope that it wouldn't rain too much so that the bargain hunters' wouldn't get stuck in their fields. And the bargain hunters came. 

I'm not a yard sale person. Not even much of a bargain hunter. I shop when I have to - food, grandkids' birthdays and Christmas. I have been to yard sales a few times in years past. My daughter and I explored a few when she was first renting an apartment to see if she could find some cheap dishes, etc. I've even bought a few things I really like at yard sales, but I didn't dip my shopping toes into the 127 Yard Sale this year. My husband did. He likes bargain hunting much more than I do. Of course the bargains he's hunting are way different than the bargains I'd be hunting if I decided to join the shopping fray.
 
But there are other ways to find bargains besides on the 127 Yard Sale. Bargains pop up every day on the internet - especially if you are an e-book reader. Books show up free every day and sometimes are only free for a day so you have to grab them quick. Other times, they stay free for weeks, even months like my Hollyhill book, Scent of Lilacs. Still free on Amazon, Nook and Christianbook.com

But that's not the only bargain going on with my books right now. My story set in Louisville in 1855 that has more romance than some of my other books, Words Spoken True, has been at the reduced price of 99 cents at Amazon for a couple of weeks now. May end today. I don't know, but right now it's a bargain. 


And then there's the e-book version of Angels at the Crossroads, the only nonfiction book I've written, that stays at a bargain e-book price of around three bucks. That book is a friend's powerful life testimony of forgiveness and redemption that shows how the Lord never gives up on us no matter how we mess up. Instead he puts people in our paths to help us choose the right direction when we stand at those crossroads in life. 

You can even find bargains out there in print books. The internet has made bargain finding in books so much easier. Unfortunately, that has also made it hard for many brick and mortar stores to compete, but that's part of the free enterprise system. For months now, readers have had the opportunity to buy the print version of Small Town Girl at Christianbook.com for a low price. 


So the book bargains are out there. For my books and for many other writers' books too. The price per word of these bargains is almost too low to figure and free is free. Of course, they have to be words you want to read or the bargain isn't a bargain. But if you're a bargain hunter, you don't have to get out and fight the 127 traffic. You can just cruise around on the internet and find some book bargains and then settle down out on the swing or glider on your porch with a tall glass of sweet tea and enjoy some stories at a bargain price.