Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Best Gift

My daughter and her dog, Sumo

"Time is free, but it's priceless.  You can't own it, but you can use it. You can't keep it, but you can spend it. Once you've lost it, you can never get it back." (Harvey MacKay)

Time - sometimes it seems there's never enough time to get everything we need to do done. That's certainly been true for me this summer as I struggled to get a new Shaker story out of my head and typed into my computer. Part of the reason for my struggle was that for about a year now my mom has needed someone with her around the clock due to heart problems and worsening dementia. It hasn't always been easy, but I did find out a few things about myself and writing.

First I discovered I'm not as fast a writer as I'd like to be. Second, I need a lot of alone time with just me and my computer to get a story out of my head. Third, I am an expert delayer if the words are not coming easy. And last but certainly not least, I can't do it all anymore. Maybe I never could, but for sure, I can't now.

Then again, maybe the best thing I learned is that I am loved. Of course I already knew that, but sometimes actions prove it all over again. My daughter gave me a week of her time. She used some of her vacation time and came home to sit with Mom in my place to allow me that alone time to finish my stubborn work in progress. That was not only very touching, but also very motivating.

I could hardly twiddle my fingers and find delaying trails to follow when she was here expressly to give me time to write. I had to write. And I did. I got to the end of the story. Not exactly finished completely, but the story is out of my head and down there on the screen paper where I can cut and polish. That doesn't take as much alone time. That I can do in the midst of distractions.

Time. These last few months the refrain in my head has been "How much time do I have?" That was how many hours before I needed to go to Mom's or cook dinner or turn in for the night. Or how many months, weeks, days before my deadline for the story. Not happy questions.

Time is such a gift. Both the time the Lord gives us each day and the time we share with one another. Thank you for spending a few moments of your time with me.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pogo Sticks and Friends

Did you ever bounce on a pogo stick? How many bounces in a row? Two might be my high number. For me, pogo sticks and balance don't go together. My kids got these two pogo sticks years ago and now my grandkids enjoy trying to do some bouncing. This granddaughter was able to bounce with a little help from her friends. 

Isn't that the way so many things are? We can keep the bounces going better when our friends lend us a helping hand. My daughter has been lending me a helping hand this week. With my deadline looming and the story being stubborn, she came to sit with Mom in my place for a few days to give me the alone hours I needed to pull those reluctant words out of my head. Late Tuesday I was finally able to chase down those elusive two words I'd been hunting through too many pages. The End. 

I'm not finished. I still have some heavy lifting to do as I trim and polish and make the story readable. But I was able to keep bouncing out the story with that help from my friends. One of the very best friends to have is a daughter.

A daughter is a gift of love. (Author Unknown)

Hope you're bouncing through whatever you need to get done this summer week. With that help from your friends. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hometown Book Celebration with my Reading Friends

My celebration of The Blessed was a fun time of friends and book talking with a little chocolate thrown in to sweeten the hour. I was lucky enough to have my daughter and husband (in the photo with me) there to help me carry everything in. Books can be heavy. 

I do so appreciate all my hometown reading friends who came out on a very hot Sunday afternoon to help me celebrate my fourth Shaker book, The Blessed. Each time a new person came in I felt as if I was getting a gift. And I was - the gift of their time and presence. I know others of you wished you could be there too and that's a gift and blessing to me too. 

I like talking about books and writing and always enjoy the question and answer part of any speech the most. Of course sometimes people don't have any questions or maybe they're just ready to get to the door prizes so they can go home. It's fun to give away stuff. And it's fun to win stuff. 

Today it seemed as if the prizes went to the perfect people in the group. A lady who likes to send notes and card to be an encourager got a card organizer and strawberry notecards. A young person interested in writing won the notebook and pens I had for somebody to start writing her own book. My neighbor who loves all things Shaker was there got the Shaker hot pad that said, "Hands to work and hearts to God." Another lady, a first time attendee to one of my celebrations, won The Blessed. Another friend who sews a lot got the audio tape of The Outsider. She's already read the book, but sometimes I think it's more fun to listen to a book after you've read it. She plans to listen while she was sewing. 

Then I gave away a cup that had a sisters are always your best friends type of saying on it to a beautiful woman, a retired teacher. All three of my children were blessed to have her in elementary school and she got them off to a great start in school. Of course she probably has dozens of mugs from her days of getting Christmas gifts from her students. I was a room mother for her class when my youngest son was in third grade. I'll never forget what a gift she gave those children that Christmas and no doubt every year she taught. She let them gather around her and then she opened their gifts one by one and expressed gratitude and sincere pleasure over each and every one. Those little gift givers glowed. 

It truly is more blessed to give than to receive at times. And Mrs. Simpson was a blessing to her students that Christmas as she taught them that truth in a simple, loving way. I enjoyed giving away my little door prizes today too. And talking to my friends - those I knew before today and those I know now because we became friends today.

Are you a good gift receiver who sees the spirit of love behind your best gifts? I have a little box decorated with sparkles by my grandson especially for me when he was in second grade. It is one of my most treasured gifts. What treasures have you been given? 

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Swimming Holes and Creeks and Other Summertime Fun

"Hot enough for you?" 

With the temperature pushing 100 degrees, some folks are ready to slug anybody asking that question. It's been a hot July here in Kentucky. But the rain has been falling and the creeks are full. That's how we used to cool off
when I was a kid. We'd load up in the car and take off for the creek down the road. Then there was our cousins' pond we swam in every week. No concrete ponds for us. We just waded in with the mud and the fishes and the snakes. Actually I never saw any snakes or I might have waded out a little faster than I waded in. 

Things have changed some since those days when a backyard pool was the stuff of impossible dreams. Wouldn't it be nice, you might have said, but you would have never believed it possible. Now a lot of people have pools in their backyards. My neighbor has a pool. My niece has a pool. 

Ah, but I still have the creek. And the memories of those swimming holes when I was a kid. They say summertime to me. A time when I might lay down on the cool linoleum covered floor and lose myself in a good book. We had chores for sure, but July was when things slowed down. The first cutting of hay was in the barn. The crops were too big to plow or hoe but not ready for harvest. The garden was just coming on and I could eat tomatoes and cucumbers still warm from the sun. There were always kittens to try to catch and daisies in the field to pluck the petals to see if he loves me or he loves me not. The cousins came to stay with us a week and we would go stay with them a week. The public library had shelves and shelves of books holding out promises to me. A pitcher of ice tea would be on the table noon and night. Ice cream was often in the freezer. 

Those July weeks stretched out long and lazy. Maybe I need to recapture one of those July days. Go down to the creek and wade in or settle down out in the swing with a book and that tall glass of ice tea. 

That sounds like summer to me. But my grandkids will have other summer memories. They might remember the creeks too, but they'll also remember those pools. Their cool reading places will be in their air-conditioned bedrooms. But the library still holds out promises to them. They're still making memories and enjoying those long, lazy days of July that can be a gift to a child. 

Thanks for reading. What do you remember about July when you were a kid? 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jams and Country Roots

A bubbling pot of sweet goodness. That's what you're seeing here. I was making jam out of a combination of blackberries and boysenberries with some raspberries (frozen earlier for just this purpose) mixed in to make the whole pot sweeter. 

And that's where the roots and connections come in. That's what my grandmother did and my mother did before me. They passed down the recipe. Of course there's no real recipe - just pound for pound berries and sugar and then cook until it's right. There were other hints though. Some advised putting a marble in the pot to keep it from boiling over. I never tried that. Instead, I used the swipe of butter around the upper rim of the cooking pot. That worked today. I wasn't sure it would since I had the pot pretty full. 

Even the pot connects me to my past. This heavy duty pot has been in use canning and preserving and making jams and relishes since before I can remember. I don't know if it was new with my mother, but I do know that it's boiled a lot of pots of jam, not to mention cooking tomatoes and pears and green beans to get them ready to pack in canning jars. I've done all that too. Now I just do the occasional pot of jam or relish. I do can a lot of green beans but have packed them raw into the jars for these last many years after a home extension agent convinced my aunt it wasn't necessary to boil them before packing them in the jars. She shared the easier method with my mom.

I use some of these canning roots in my stories. I had Kate and Evie canning beans in my book, Angel Sister. In the Hollyhill books, people were sharing garden produce with their preacher all the time. Gardens are a great way to make connections. I have one daughter-in-law who likes gardening and putting up her own produce. She too feels the connections as she  is following in her grandmother's and mother's steps. 

Most every body who could gardened in the generations past and then canned and preserved. It was patriotic during the war years when anybody with a backyard was encouraged to plant a "victory" garden. Gardening then wasn't a hobby or for fun. It was survival and a way to have good food summer and winter. It's not survival for me. I can buy good food at the store. Produce is available all year round. But it seems wrong not to preserve and can. 

Many years ago, I read an autobiography of Janice Holt Giles, a popular historical novel author who lived in Kentucky and wrote about Kentucky history. She had to use her mornings to can the produce Henry (her husband) insisted they had to raise. A city girl, she wasn't a young woman when she married Henry and moved to his family farm in Kentucky. She sounded a little resentful when she wrote of having to spend time canning instead of writing as she wanted to do. Especially after her books were making money. But roots go deep for country folk. To Henry, canning that garden produce was as necessary as breathing and probably seemed more necessary than writing. Maybe it is for me too. A connection to my country roots. A connection with a bonus. It's kept us well fed and has given me fodder for my stories. 

How about you? What connects you to your roots? 


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Blessed on Tour

The Blessed is on tour this week, visiting reviewers' blogs in lots of places. I'm here at home, watching from afar and hoping the reviewers will like Lacey's story. It's always interesting reading those first reviews, but that's all it can be - interesting. A writer doesn't want to invest too much energy in tracking reviews. Good or bad.

Some writers don't read reviews at all. I do. I can't seem to help myself. I want to know what people think when they read my stories. But then I say "great" when the reviewer likes my story and sigh and say "too bad, but oh well" when a reviewer is not enamored with my plot line or characters. It's fun to get those "must read" or "can't put it down" or "a recommended read." It's not as much fun to get the negative comments, but at the same time, while you certainly hope everybody in the whole wide world will love your book, that's probably not going to happen. 

Sometimes you're wondering if the reviewers really read your book since in their reviews they get the characters' names wrong or totally miss all your beautiful scenes. Or you think maybe they had a stomach bug or a headache or their teenagers were throwing fits while they were reading. You never think that when they say good things. Oh no, then you think they are wise and intuitive and know exactly what they're talking about. Especially if they color in all those stars on the review pages.

I once printed up a page of blurbs from reviews of my novel, The Scent of Lilacs and was using it to try to convince a reader to give my book a try. The savvy lady handed it back to me without reading the first line and said, "You wouldn't have put anything bad on there." And she was right. 

So The Blessed is out there making the rounds and getting read. But you know, whatever the reviews, I've turned that story loose. I can't do any more to it now. I told Lacey's and Isaac's stories as best I could and then I moved on. I've got a whole new bunch of characters now. A new story to tell. And I'm trying to tell it in such a way that someday it will be out there making the rounds in blogosphere world.

I was a guest on Divine Detours yesterday. Kathy Harris has come up with a great idea for a blog and asks those she interviews if we've ever found ourselves sidetracked from the path we planned to take.  Oh, and she's a dog lover too, so she asks about my dogs. That was a fun question to answer. But I also liked thinking about my divine detours that have brought me to an unplanned or unexpected destination that turned out to be a better place. Maybe I'll tell you about some of those detours in a future post.

 Meanwhile I'll enjoy going blogging with The Blessed. Hope you're enjoying your week too. I sent out a newsletter today. If you're not on my newsletter list, you can sign up from my website. Ann's website

Happy reading! Hope you're enjoying the heart of summer.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Racing toward their Future

Not many of us can remember being two. If we could, we'd surely be more open to wonder. We'd remember discovering the world bit by bit. My preacher likes to tell young people that he did this or that before they "discovered America." In other words, before they were born. That's sort of how I felt this weekend taking care of my grandsons. They're on the cusp of three, but still every bit two-year-olds right now. And the world holds many marvels for them. Butterflies, macaroni, slides and swimming pools, to name a few. They don't bother trying to hide how they feel. If they're mad, they let you know it. If some brother sneaks up and snatches one of their favorite toys, then they don't keep it a secret. If they fall down, the bump or bruise is grave - for at least five seconds.

I think all that fresh, raw emotion is what makes grandparents enjoy their grandchildren so much. We're getting older. We're ready and able to slow down the clock a little. To sit on a creek bank and watch the frogs, to throw rocks in a pond just for the fun of making a splash, to make up silly stories about chipmunks, or to bounce a little child in the air a dozen times when he giggles and says "Again."  

A neighbor once told me that if she'd known grandkids were going to be so much fun, she'd have had them first. Of course that wouldn't work. We weren't ready to be grandparents then. That's a job you have to grow into, little by little as the gray begins slipping into your hair and the wrinkles come and sit down on your face and settle in to stay instead of just passing by after a smile or two. You understand things better - like the importance of playing hide-and-seek and how it doesn't matter if part of your body is showing in the hiding place as long as your eyes aren't. You know pushing a swing to send that little one up "high as the moon" is one of the most important things a person can do. You know what's ahead. Maybe not exactly, but well enough to know that these early years are to be treasured and enjoyed and that for grandparents they are a bonus not to be wasted or lost in the busyness of life. They - those grandbabies - are life. 

Hope you are enjoying life this week no matter where in the circle of life you are - beginning with your families or sitting back watching some sweet grandbabies. That's what I did this weekend. Well, I can't say I sat back and watched anything. I was running full tilt after them but it was good to see their eagerness for the journey ahead. That's what I want to catch from them - for myself and for my characters. Eagerness for the journey ahead. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Taking Time to Enjoy

July - the heart of summer! In Kentucky the weather is hot and sometimes stormy. The crops are laid by. That means they've grown too big to plow. The gardens are coming on and some of the neighbors are bragging about their first ripe tomato. They used to brag over the back fences. Now they post pictures and brag on Facebook.

July - when the wild blackberries hang heavy on the vines for those hardy enough to trek out to the fields and brave the briars for the sweet reward of homemade blackberry pie or jam. That's what we did this p.m. My son and his family came out to pick berries. The five-year-old was eager to get out of the truck and started. Somehow none of the berries ever ended up in her bucket. If she was going to challenge the thorns on the briars, she was going to get the reward of the berries right away. I didn't take my camera or I would be showing you little Miss Eager Berry in the blackberry patch.  

Instead I'm showing you the milkweed. I waded through grass and weeds to find this a few weeks ago because generally they are butterfly magnets. I was disappointed when only one butterfly was tasting the nectar. Sometimes we get our expectations too high. And sometimes we forget to look at all.

I passed up watching the city's fireworks on the 4th. With one bunch of the grandkids. I could have heard their squeals of delight, but I thought I had to go home and work. You know, I should have stayed and smelled the roses. Or in this case, watched the roses bloom in the sky. And go boom.

The book will get written. The words will come. It will happen. But it will also happen that the roses will bloom, the blackberries will ripen, and the grandkids will need hugs. Or maybe it's the grandma who needs the hugs.

Hope July is going well for you and that you are taking plenty of time to smell the roses.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Freedom to Write

“Liberty is the possibility of doubting, the possibility of making a mistake, the possibility of searching and experimenting, the possibility of saying No to any authority--literary, artistic, philosophic, religious, social and even political.” Ignazio Silone (Italian Novelist & Journalist, 1900-1978)

Liberty is what we celebrate here in America on the Fourth of July. It's what we've had from the time we were born here on American soil. We look at the flag. We say the pledge. We speak of the men and women who have died to maintain our liberty. America - the land of the free. We embrace freedom with the same ease that we pull air into our lungs. It's there, surrounding us. Freedom is ours. We have the liberty to make our own choices. To mess up. To get up and try again. To succeed. To question. To decide our own futures.  We don't all agree on what freedom means. But here in America, we believe freedom is our right.

Albert Einstein said "Everything that is really great or inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom."

Do you truly believe in freedom? Are you living in freedom or are you in bondage to your own doubts and fears of living free? As a young writer, I had to free myself of the fear of failure. If I wrote it and never sent it out, I would never face failure. Nor would I know success. But I had stories to tell and so I had to find the courage to embrace the freedom to tell those stories. Many years have passed since I licked those first stamps to send out that first bit of writing to try to become a published writer. I've had some successes. And many failures. But I have always been free to choose. Free to give up or to continue on with absolutely no guarantees that any kind of continued success would ever come my way. I always chose that freedom to keep writing. To continue to fill pages with words. Uncensored words. I wasn't guaranteed success or publication, but I was always free to write whatever I wanted. 

Freedom - put that on a writer's list of necessities right up there with perseverance and imagination and courage. Why do I need courage? To face the blank page. To tell another story. To believe in freedom. To believe I have the freedom to follow my dream.

"Freedom is the last, best hope for earth." (Abraham Lincoln)

May you be blessed with much freedom on this Fourth of July weekend. Thanks for reading!