Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dirty Tricks

I'm a night owl who taught herself to be an early bird. That didn't stop me from staying up late, however, especially if I had a good book open. There were so many times that I'd have my light on, and I'd say to myself, "Just one more chapter, and then I'll shut off the light and leave the rest for tomorrow. I swear I will!"

Some chapters just don't let you close the book. You have to know what happens next, or you'll never get to sleep. Someone slips off a cliff, or there's a shot heard in the dark. Footsteps echo through a supposedly empty hallway, and a child awakes up in fear. The chapter ends there. How can you possibly close the book there? Obviously, the light would stay on, and I would continue reading.

Poor Ellen. She called me after reading the last two chapters of my book. 

"How could you do that to me?" 

She had turned the page, but it was the end of the last chapter I had emailed to her. She'd have to wait to see what happens next. I left her with a cliff hanger. Oops. Leaving the light on wouldn't help. She had no more pages to turn.

Hey, Ellen. Remember how mean you could be to me when we were little kids? I'm the one who's laughing now! 

By the way—my husband says you'll get even somehow, and I'm sure you will eventually. I can hardly wait to see how you pull it off. This is so much fun! I love you, kid! Remember when you used to be older than me? You forgot to tell me when to stop counting.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Still Squirming

When I think back on some of my childhood camping experiences, I understand why my sister shakes her head and rolls her eyes, wondering why I love those memories. I really enjoyed myself back then, but it's hard to explain it to other people. Most of those stories are outrageous, and I'm often the butt of the joke.

Daddy didn't think anybody needed an air mattress, even if the ground was covered with rocks. That's why God made little kids: to remove the rocks before the tent is pitched. If you miss any, you deserve to roll over on them. 

He had a good trick. Everybody had to scoop out a little hollow in the dirt where their hips would nestle. That way, while you're lying all cosy in your sleeping bag, your head and shoulders would be higher than your hips, making you much more comfortable. I'm not sure this works. I never seemed to get my hollow in the right place, but I tried.

There was one memorable night when we arrived somewhere, late and tired as usual. We picked rocks and dug our hollows, then erected the tent. Dragging our sleeping bags inside, we preserved our modesty by carefully undressing in shifts. We lay down like sardines in our bags, the night sounds all around us. I rolled around, trying to get my hips in the right place. Dad shut off the lantern. It was dark.

Wiggle, wiggle, squirm. Where is that hole? Swish went the zipper when I had to move it down to readjust myself. My flannel PJs had twisted inside the flannel sleeping bag. Zip. Wiggle. Come on, hole. I know you're there. Squirm. Wiggle. Squirm.

"Kathleen Louise! What are you doing over there?"

"Sorry, Daddy. I keep getting my shoulder caught in my rump hole!"

My mother is particularly fond of telling stories like that. The larger the group, the more likely this story is in making the rounds. Beware of marrying into our family. There are hundreds of stories like this, and you might consider avoiding Thanksgiving dinner until people think you've already heard all of the embarrassing tales from each of your new in-laws... 

Never mind. That will never happen. Besides, Ellen & Johnny host Thanksgiving each year. You really wouldn't want to miss that. And our family will never run out of stories, or care if you've already heard them.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


The bus was crowded. All of the characters from my novel were crammed in the tiny seats, most of them still trying to change into their fighting costumes. The smell of smoke hung heavy in the air. I was chain smoking. Where was my ash tray? Oh, yeah. I don't have one anymore. I think there are still a couple back on our deck at home. Crap. I pulled out an old metal band aid box from my borrowed leather back pack, emptying the contents back into the pack. This will be war, after all. We might need band aids. The box should work for me.

Inhaling, I realize how much I needed this. Flicking the ashes into the band aid box, I have the sudden feeling that eyes are burning a hole in the back of my neck. "This can't be happening," I yell. "It's trite. It's happened too many times before!" Still, the feeling persists. I look around cautiously. Sure enough, my mother is seated behind me, glaring at my cigarette. Too late now, I realize with a sigh, and use the band aid box again, turning my back on her. I don't know how that feels to her, but I can guess. It doesn't feel good to me.

I still need to change my costume. Looking out the window I realize we're almost to the old meadow. The fight is going to start at dawn, and I'm too tired for this. What if I fall asleep? Something tells me I'm just not good enough for the task ahead. My head bows down. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to pray or cry.

The bus hits a rock and starts careening down a sharp incline. I'm the only one screaming when I suddenly wake up.


I guess I might as well start writing for the day. Fixation can be fascinating.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Remembering To Breathe

Tonight as I walked out on the back deck, a mama deer was about twenty feet away with her twin fawns.  Some things put life in perspective. That did it for me. Their legs are getting stronger so quickly. Two weeks ago they were spindly, and shook when they walked. Now, although spots still decorate their coats, they can jump and bound around the yard. It's great entertainment. There's nothing on the television to compare.

Their bright eyes are inquisitive when I speak to them, but Mama deer is used to me. I wonder if she realizes they've been visiting without her every morning. They were on the rear deck this morning, their curiosity overcoming their good sense, I suppose. I'm harmless, and when they're grown, their little ones will also enjoy my corner of heaven. They don't eat my flowers. I only grow the ones they don't have a taste for, like the Iris. 

We talked for awhile. Well, I talked and they stood and listened. Deer are very polite. If I bring my guitar out, they stay until I finish playing. They must be fond of music. Sorry, dear, no concert tonight. Like Robert Frost, I have "promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep." But I did take a deep breath, and it helps the words flow.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Instant Perfectionism

I'm so glad I have a jet tub. Why would anyone spend the better part of thirteen hours laboring over the first ten pages of a novel? Is it obsession? No, that's a perfume. 

I think I've polished those pages as much as my talent allows. They're ready to show. Well, at least they're ready to show to my friendly English teacher slash fantasy fan who agreed to read them for me. Then, I'll probably take her comments and do this again tomorrow. 

The good news is that there's an agent who is actually going to read those pages once I get them in the mail to her, and I need to do it quickly. There is a little catch, though. I still have to write a synopsis. I can do that. What's a synopsis? I was familiar with the word, but had no idea what it entailed in relation to a marketing a novel. 

The good news is that I received email instructions. The bad news is that I have to condense over 300 pages of novel into one page containing twenty-five lines (or fewer) of twelve point text. Oh, goody.

When I finish this, I'm going to have my husband drive me to the Post Office, and get it in the mail. After that, I'm signing on for a forty-eight hour voluntary coma.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

By the time I entered the 10th Grade in high school, we had made seven cross country trips in a station wagon with four kids, two parents and all the camping gear a family could stuff in a small space and load on top of the car. My parents were either noble or nuts. I never did figure out which.

Here's a photo of the four of us at the Grand Canyon. My mother loves to remind us that we fought over comic books that entire trip. She swore she'd never again allow us to have comics in the car. Then she found out how much pain a kid could inflict with a hard back book. 

Trips would have been easier if Daddy had been more willing to stop occasionally. Once he put his foot down on the gas, he hated to lift it up again. Heaven help you if you didn't take care of all your business at the gas stop. We still love to tease Kenny, the youngest, about the time he said he didn't have to use the bathroom until about a half hour down the road. Dad pulled over by the side of the road. 

"Just go behind the bushes!" There might be an expletive deleted in there, but you don't need to know that, do you? 

"But I've got to go number two, Daddy." 

"Too bad, kid. Use the bush. We just left the gas station, and you said you didn't have to go. They had clean restrooms. Now you've got a bush."

He used the bush. Then he stepped in it before climbing back in the car.

Ellen, who always got car sick at the least provocation, proceeded to throw up not much further down the road.

Daddy stopped at the next gas station. It was a long stop. The car got cleaned and aired out. At least we weren't fighting over the comic books.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Uncle Mart

I was such a little kid when I fell in love with my Uncle Mart. He was actually my dad's uncle, and the story of his life was taken from the tales of the old west.

He left his home, family, and twin sister in Wisconsin and and made his way, mostly on foot he said, to St. Louis, Missouri. There he joined a wagon train heading West. He was a big twelve year old. He said he had no money to speak of, but he was young and strong. To pay for his passage, he helped out wherever he could. He worked mostly with the horses and the chuck wagon. 

He was headed for the Pacific Coast until he saw Idaho. Something about the Teton Mountains must have spoken to his soul, because that's where he stopped. He never complained to me about hardships along the trail, but he said it was a long trip. 

We found him still living in Idaho when I was in about the second grade. He had never moved on from there, but had homesteaded some land back away from the city of Tendoy. That made us laugh because Tendoy had a population of twenty, and if you blinked on the highway, you'd miss it. Either Daddy drove too fast, or he blinked a lot. Every time we went to see Uncle Mart, we'd have to turn around after driving past the town by mistake. Oops, there it went.

You'd leave the paved roads and wind up through the hills on hard-packed dirt roads. Herds of sheep would share the road with you, and more than once we'd be stifling our laughter while Daddy tried to honk and yell the animals off the road. Our giggles would have been the final straw. 

Uncle Mart lived in a valley near the crest of the foothills. He and friends had built everything he needed. There was his main homestead, a two room cabin. It had a bedroom, and a kitchen and living room combination. He cooked on a wood burning stove, which always sported a ready crock of sourdough. We had sour dough pancakes and biscuits that have never been equaled in my experience. He also had a bunkhouse. "Back in the day," he'd tell us, "it would fill up with hands to tend the sheep." He no longer owned any when we came along. 

The third building was our favorite. I should mention that he had no running water. He walked to the springs and then heated water on the old stove. He didn't have electricity. He used kerosene lanterns and had a hand cranked victrola. But across the graveled yard was the plunge. That's what he called his third building, and its contents. It was a covered, heated swimming pool, fed by underground hot springs. People would drive up and pay two bits for a plunge, and the name stuck. He gave family discounts, of course.

A couple of times, Mom and Dad would leave us kids there and go off together. I loved those weeks. I'd listen to Uncle Mart as long as he'd keep talking. He'd rock and smoke his pipe, and his rheumy eyes would look across his land, looking backwards in time. He talked about riding shotgun for Wells Fargo, but he didn't say much about that. Most of his stories were about the people that came up to see him at his homestead and use the plunge.

My favorite story was about all the swimsuits he had stored for people to use up there. Whenever someone left one behind, he'd save it for visitors in need. Eventually, he said he took the size labels out of all the suits. Why? Because there was always some lady who would insist she was a size twelve, and rip the seams on one of his suits. He could give her a sixteen with no tag, and she'd be perfectly happy He was no dummy.

When he finally got on an airplane for the first time in his life to visit us in California in the early sixties, we picked him up at the Los Angeles International airport. I'll never forget what he said when we crested the hills overlooking the vast San Fernando Valley on our way home.

"It would take a person a powerful long time to shake hands with every man who's got his porch light on in this town."

I still miss you, Uncle Mart... Even though you told Daddy that someday a pack rat was going to come along and trade me for a hen turd.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back to the Drawing Board

Tonight I went to my first critique group. That's where you sit down with a bunch of writers and read each others' work and then discuss it. It was strange, interesting, and terrifying. Let's put this in perspective.

All right, Moms. Everybody get your new baby. That's right. Gather up that little child you've been working with day after day, and let's all go to play group. Okay, everybody. Take a seat, and we're all going to play nice. First, let's make sure we all understand the rules. Number one, we take turns. That's good. 

One child at a time will be examined and then everyone will spend some quiet time really looking at the child and making notes in private about the child's good and bad points. Specifically, the bad points are what's going to help the mother improve her child, so those should be noted most carefully. 

Second, then, you should sit there and take notes while everyone takes turns telling you what's wrong with your child. This is the important part: don't take it personally. Got that? This can be fun. Repeat after me: THIS CAN BE FUN. Well, at least it can be helpful. That I do believe, since I got some really great comments. I didn't like them all, but I did get some really helpful comments. (Oops—I used the word comments twice in the same paragraph. I'll need to edit that!)

Now that I've handled the subject with my usual sense of the absurd, I'll admit that I'm absolutely delighted with the evening and the group. I do wish there had been more than one person there with a passing knowledge of fantasy lit, but I don't know where a fantasy critique group is located this side of Denver. This group did have an incredible number of ideas for tightening up the text and avoiding repetitive or unnecessary language, though, among other things—many other things.

There were some disappointments, as when people had little to say other than, "I don't like fantasy." I understand that to be an honest comment, though, and I would have had to say the same if faced with horror. There was one story with language that made me uncomfortable, and that was hard to overlook. I wasn't as honest as the woman who admitted she didn't like fantasy, so I respected her for that.

Probably my biggest surprise was having two different writers tell me that my writing reminded them of Madeleine L'Engle. I'm not sure if they expected me to be complimented, but I was. I'm pretty sure the lady who said my writing style had shades of Dickens didn't mean it as a good thing, but I'm weird. I really like Dickens. Maybe I read too much.

Tomorrow I'm going to spend the whole day writing, while trying to incorporate the comments they made. Then in a day or two, I'll go back over the chapters they marked up, and try to edit them with their comments in mind. At least that's the plan now. 

And yes, I'm taking my baby back to the same play group next Tuesday night. They all meant well, and I don't have to believe anything I hear. I probably will, but I don't have to...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Adding Music to the Blog

I really thought adding music to my blog was a great idea. I did my due diligence. I checked into it and then found out I had to use songs from 'their' list. Okay. How bad could their list be?

I don't really like to compromise. Maybe that didn't come out right. Between people, compromise is a great thing, but when you're trying to be creative, compromise is not a good thing. It's like compromising on your conscience. I decided to go in reverse. I made a list of fifty songs that I'd be delighted to have people hear when they tuned in to my blog. They were not mainstream songs, I'll admit, but were all songs that would give a person a glimpse into the quirky world of Kathleen's mind. 

With list in hand, I went to see how many of my songs were available on their list. Zero. 

Alright, so I really didn't expect to see Egged Bus Rag on their list. Unfortunately there aren't enough Marcel Dadi fans in the world. That didn't mitigate my disappointment, though. and I'd like to have included three songs from the Ringling 5, Sheep Dog Rap, Grandpa's Barn, and If Jesus Had Been Norwegian. People need these songs. Not according to their list they don't.

Alright, then, let's get more mainstream. Whatever happened to Weird Al? He's mainstream, isn't he? I'm not the only person in the world who plays the accordion. How about Good Enough for Now, or I'll Be Mellow When I'm Dead? I even had The Check's in the Mail on my list. No such luck. 

But I was really crushed when I didn't find Anticipation Blues among their songs. That one most certainly should have been there! Poor old Tennessee Ernie Ford wrote that song in honor of every nervous expectant father in the world, and they deserve to hear it often. Besides, it's very funny, and I laugh every time I hear it. I deserve to have it on my blog site. 

No, I guess I don't. It's not on the list.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Music History Class

I was just sharing a funny story with a friend who mentioned in her blog that she was getting a new organ. It was a really good deal, since the organ's stops were broken. Well, that threw me right back to my music history class at Mount St. Mary's college back in the sixties. Yes, I said the  sixties. 

I'm not sure how they decided who was going to teach what at that school. I'm not saying the nun was tone deaf of anything, but she wasn't exactly a music aficionado. In her defense, most of the students in the classroom were only filling seats anyway. I was one of the few who really wanted to know the subject matter. To me it was more than just a convenient elective. 

I actually read the textbook cover to cover. I think that stunned Sister whatever her name was. I came away from that class with an A, and two really great stories. Let's start with the organ. Yes, you knew I had to return to my friend's blog about buying an organ, didn't you?

One day in class, with a perfectly straight face, the nun was lecturing and while most of the students slept or looked out of the windows at the beautiful campus, I took notes. I'll admit I wasn't this diligent in every class. At one point she said, and this is very close to a direct quote, "Johann Sebastian Bach's organ had no stops. He and his second wife had thirteen children."

I was the only one who laughed. She glared at me.

The second time I had a good laugh in that room, even though I had to laugh all by myself, was while the the good nun was grading essays or something at the front of the room. We had all been given a chapter or section to read in the text book, and she kept herself busy while we were doing that. When I came to what I was positive was a typographical error, I thought it was so funny, I burst out laughing. The class, suddenly coming awake, all stared at me. The teacher again looked at me in consternation.

What was so funny, she wanted to know. I explained that I had just found "the" misprint. She informed me that she had been using that text book for two semesters, and that if there were any misprints or typographical errors in the text, she would certainly have spotted them before now. She then requested that I stand up and read to the class what I considered to be in error.

I wish I had a camera with me that day to capture the nun's red face when I stood at my desk and read what that text said about Bach in the next paragraph:

"Because Bach did not have an organ in his home, he practiced on a spinster in his attic." She told me to sit down. I understand those texts were replaced at the end of that term.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Insight: Art In Other Forms

Today I was sent a link to a YouTube video clip of a painter in action. You Tube is a site I never visit unless someone sends me a clip, but I'm always happy to be sent there. I just don't usually 'play' on web sites. Before I give you the link, let me give you the insight I received from it.

This guy paints the same way I hope I'm writing. First off, it's just pouring out of him. Also, he concentrates on one part of the canvas, then suddenly rushes to another part that he's already worked on to add detail.

As the picture progresses upon his canvas, it tells a story which becomes ever more clear, yet more complex. When he is finished, although the story is complete, there is just enough room for the viewer to put their own emotions into t
he canvas along with those of the artist. His are obvious. They show while you watch him work, and they show in the finished product, but there still remains room for those of the viewer.

I know that's a lot to expect from a first novel. However, as Robert Browning said, "A man's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"

Now that I made you read all that, here's your link.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Can there possibly be anything more wonderful than having really great leftovers in the refrigerator? It's particularly nice when someone else depends on you for their food and you're really busy.

I'd hate to think of my husband wasting away on Ramen and Twinkies while I sit in here writing a fantasy novel about good versus evil. That doesn't sound fair. So I've really been vigilant in keeping a lot of great food in there. Every night I make sure he has something that he didn't eat the night before, with a good variety, too. Balanced nutrition is something I at least think about. Is spaghetti, corn and a salad balanced? Well, it looks good on the plate and he loves it. That's pretty balanced when the cook is writing a novel.

Tonight, even though we had two really wonderful stuffed tomatoes still sitting in there, (and they sounded great to me) I set them aside for tomorrow night. Dumb, I guess, but John had them last night. Tonight I made a chicken dish that he really enjoys. Now in a couple of nights, when the stuffed tomatoes are just a memory, there will be leftover poppy seed chicken. Cool.

This way I'm usually only spending major time in the kitchen every other night, except when he raids the leftovers at lunchtime. Except for the days when that happens, on those alternate nights I just reheat, add some yogurt, applesauce or a salad and serve.

Am I getting smarter, or just more organized? Oh, somebody please write and tell me I'm finally getting smarter.

Never mind. I wouldn't believe you anyway.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Post challenge

  1. As a comment on my blog, leave one memory that you and I have had together. It doesn’t matter if you knew me a little or a lot, if we’ve actually met in person or not. Just write anything you remember!
  2. Next, re-post these instructions on your blog and see the fun memories people leave!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Every Writer Should Have One

I have a sister. I was born having mine. If you weren't born having one, and your parents never provided one, then you need to go find one, especially if you really want to be a good writer. This can't be just any sister. She has to be like the one I have.

First of all, she has to be voracious reader. It helps if she reads everything from Clive Cussler to Nora Roberts. It's imperative that she be willing to close a book after fifty or seventy five pages or more and say, "This isn't worth my time. There are just too many really great books in the world to spend time reading poorly written junk." If she can do that, you know she'll recognize talent—if you've got any.

The second requirement is patience. If you want your sister to be your first reader, then she has to realize that she's only going to be getting a couple of chapters at a time. Even at the pace I'm writing, that means she's only going to get a couple of chapters every other day. That's a very slow way to read a novel.

The third thing that I would consider a necessity is honesty. She can't love you so much that she can't tell you what she really thinks. Tonight for the first time Ellen called and asked me if I wanted constructive criticism.

"Yes," I said.

"Well, I don't have any. Write faster!"

The bottom line here is that what every writer needs isn't just a sister. It's my sister.
She encourages me. She gives me confidence when I'm afraid the story will get stopped up in my brain. She lets me know that somebody besides me will see value in it.

She's my sister.
You can't have her. She's mine. I need her. And I love her. Thank you, Ellen.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

We all suffer through the pangs of making difficult decisions. The path not taken haunts most of us in one form or another. Whoever you would have been if you had taken that other turn, or made that other choice, is never going to exist. That puts a lot of weight on some of our decisions.

Since I opened up the subject of Mom and her poetry readings again yesterday, I'd like to add one of my favorites to the list. I'd hate for it to get lost forever. I know she didn't write it, and I'm not sure anyone knows who did, but she recited it in high school with an Italian accent, one of many she could mimic at that time, along with Finish and Swedish. You'd never guess how shy she is. I could never get her to do this in public now. Maybe she was braver then, or just more comfortable with her high school friends.

Here's the difficult decision of a young Italian man, ready to begin his own family. I've always wondered who he chose. (I hope it was Carlotta.)

Between Two Loves
I gotta love for Angela.
I love Carlotta too.
I no can marry both of them,
So what I gonna do?

Oh, Angela is pretty girl!
She's gotta hair so black, so curl,
And teeth so white as anything!
And oh, she's gotta voice to sing
That make your heart think it must jump
Right up and dance or it will bust!
And all the time she sing, her eyes
They smile just like Italia's skies,
And makin' flirting looks at you.
But that is all what she can do.

Carlotta is no gotta song,
But she is twice as big and strong
As Angela. And she no look
So beautiful—but she can cook!
You ought to see her carry wood;
I tell you what, it do you good.
When she is be somebody's wife,
She work'a hard, you bet my life!
She never getting tired, too.
But that is all what she can do.

Oh, my! I wish that Angela
Was strong for carry wood,
Or Carlotta got a song
And look'a pretty good.
I gotta love for Angela.
I love Carlotta too.
I no can marry both of them
So what I gonna do?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mama Recited Poetry

Dad didn't always appreciate the poems Mama recited to us kids. The one I remember that made him the most cross was called "When Papa was a Little Boy." Reading it as an adult, I understand exactly why he'd leave the room. I even understand some of what would be happening before she'd start reciting it. It would happen when Daddy would be on one of his perfectionist rampages. That's as good a word as any. I'm positive it was more effective than her yelling at him would have been.

I imagine the poem would fit many a husband and father, but with a little rewording, it would probably fit many women and mothers of today's world as well. Enjoy now a laugh at the expense of our strange family.

When Papa Was A Little Boy

When Papa was a little boy, you really couldn't find
Within the state or anywhere a child so quick to mind.
His mother never called but once and he was always there.
He never made the baby cry or pulled his sister's hair.

He never slid down banisters or made the slightest noise;
And never in his life was known to fight with other boys.
He always studied hard at school and got his lessons right;
And chopping wood and milking cows were Papa's chief delight.

He always rose at six o'clock and went to bed at eight,
And never lay abed til noon, and never sat up late.
He finished Latin, French and Greek when he was ten years old,
And knew the Spanish alphabet as soon as he was told.

He never grumbled when he had to do the evening chores,
And ne'er in all his life forgot to shut the stable doors.
He never, never thought of play until his work was done,
And labored hard from break of day until the set of sun.

He never scraped his muddy shoes upon the parlor floor,
And never answered back his ma, and never banged the door.
"But truly, I could never see," said little Dick Malloy,
"How he could never do these things and really be a boy."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Things I Used To Want

There are things that I really wanted at one time or another that are no longer important to me. In fact, there are things I used to dream about that I would no longer want in my life at all now. I'm not even thinking about material things. I'm thinking about life.

Ages ago, probably close to 40 years, I read a book called "Lookout Wife." I looked it up on the internet. It was written by Jeanne Kellar Beaty, but is now out of print. In the novel, this couple lived in a lookout tower in a mountain forest, and they watched for fires, read books, talked and enjoyed nature. I wanted that life. For years I wanted that life. I don't even remember if it was a good book, but it sounded like a great life. Now I think that I'm too busy writing to actually keep an eye out for fires. Sorry, guys. Find another lookout wife. I'm busy now.

Whenever we found a really fine place to camp, I'd notice that the best spot was always occupied by the camp host. That seemed like such a great job. Free parking, do not pass go. Enjoy the great outdoors every day. Blinders? Sure, I couldn't see past the campfires and marshmallows then. Now I realize that there are probably drunks and fights and lost kids that have to be handled. It's not all fun by the lakeshore, is it? Well, I'm certainly not interested in dealing with all that!

I could go on, but what's the point. I never specifically dreamed of having this piece of land in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. If I had, well, it would still be what I wanted. Anything else would be on this list of things I used to want.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What I Know About God

The question is, what do I know about God. That's right, I used the "G" word. I'm not politically correct. So sue me. This is my blog. If you don't like it, go write your own.

Know? Not, much, I'll admit. Believe? Oh, I believe a whole lot of things, and it doesn't matter at all to me if they're different from what you believe. I'm more interested in people who do what they think is right than in people who do what I think is right. Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority there. It causes wars.

The more I study Scripture, the more I realize that there are some things we are not meant to see clearly in this life. I'm going to get to the point now before I make some of you really uncomfortable. 

I love the cold. My husband loves the heat. I love soup. John always orders the salad. I like to sleep with a window open and fresh air in the room, even in the middle of the winter. Just don't open it up as wide. A couple of inches will do. You guessed it. My beloved would be content to nail all the suckers shut. If you want to be outside, he figures you can use a door and stay out there until you're ready to come back into the house. Wear a parka.

Have you ever found a married couple who both liked the same temperature? The same foods? The same amount of covers? One likes country music, but the other likes rock, or blues or jazz. Yet they're really in love, and they (we) learn to live with the differences. Eventually, they learn to enjoy some of those differences.

Yet all the time, as the window goes open, close, open, close, or the fan goes on, off, on, off, I get this mental image of God. He's not a physical image. Not a big bearded old man sitting on a cloud, or anything like that. He's just a loving presence in my mind. And He always seems to be laughing. So what I really know is that He has a great sense of humor.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Public Apology

I'm finally going to admit my shameful past. For a little while, at least, I was a rotten kid. I was a mean and jealous older sister when my brother Kenny was born. 

From what I was told, since I don't remember my particular episode of personal depravity, I put on a really great act of loving the little stinker for a long time. He was brought home from the hospital and I gave no indication that I was lying in wait for my chance to attack. He learned to talk, and still I bided my time. 

There are few indications that I was a sneaky kid. Perhaps there were other factors involved. He was, after all, only seventeen months younger than I was. All those things I had been praised for doing were now expected of me. He was the one being praised. Maybe that contributed to my downfall.

When I had still been the youngest, I got a lot more time and attention. Now that I was only number three of four, I obviously was no longer getting as much individual attention as I craved. One might argue that I didn't need as much. Try explaining that to a two year old. I'd like to be around to hear you... 

Then there were the grandparents. On previous visits, they gave every indication of being most interested in the marvelous advances I'd made. Oh, there were so many new words I had learned. Gee, I could walk now! Wasn't I wonderful! Wasn't I smart! And here they were, coming again for a visit. 

You guessed it. They ran right passed me, I'm told, where I waited by the window to see their arrival. Kenny had just started walking solo, and I was a big girl now, two and a half years old. 

I have to give my mother credit. She paid a lot more attention to me than my jealous little mind had realized. Once they had settled down in the kitchen for a hot cup of coffee, my mother was not oblivious to the sounds in the house. Oh, no.
She immediately noticed when strange sounds started emanating from the bathroom. The combined sounds of splashing and the constant rattle of the flushing lever caught her attention and sent her in at a run.

There she saw her poor little son being held by the scruff of his little neck, head held firmly beneath the water of the toilet by her two year old daughter, who was flushing as fast as possible. Yes, that was me. I knew what to do when something needed to be eliminated.

So I now, for the first time, publicly apologize to Kenny. I'm sorry I tried to get rid of you. I'm almost always really sorry I did that, particularly when we all get together and someone starts ribbing me about it. And Mom, thanks for paying more attention to me than I noticed. You still do, and I love you for it. Keep it up. I still need that... more than I'm usually willing to admit.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Memorizing Poetry for School

My dad had a wicked sense of humor. I was in second or third grade when the teacher sent us home to memorize a poem. We had a week to learn it. It was up to our parents to select a poem and help us learn it. My father really resented teachers who asked him to sit still and teach his kids stuff. Mom always thought it was good for him (and us) when he wasn't overseas somewhere. Bonding they would call it now.

I guess he figured that they were going to have to listen to me recite it, so he picked a very long poem from my mom's little green book of favorite poems she had copied down. Mom gave poetry readings in high school that were really funny. Dad worked with me until I recite it from memory—with feeling.
I still can.

Of course at that age, I didn't realize it was a poem about two boys. Actually, I didn't really understand the poem at all, but I didn't
really care. I loved spending time with Daddy, and this was great attention. We spent hours working on it.

I remember that the teacher had set aside an afternoon for the poetry readings, and we didn't finish. I guess that was my fault. The other poems were like nursery rhymes and stuff. But I was proud. I didn't miss a word. The teacher's mouth was hanging open. I do remember that. Here for posterity is the poem, even though I have no idea who wrote it.

The Twins
(anonymous as far as I know)

In form and feature face and limb,
I grew so much like my brother
That folks got taking me for him,
And each one for the other.
It puzzled all our kith and kin.
It reached an awful pitch,
For one of us was born a twin,
Yet not a soul knew which.

One day, to make the matters worse,
Before our names were fixed,
As we were being washed by nurse
We got completely mixed.
And thus, you see, by fate's decree,
Or rather, nurse's whim,
My brother John got christened me
And I got christened him.

This fatal likeness even dogged
My footsteps when at school,
And I was always being flogged
For John turned out a fool.
I put this question hopelessly
To everyone I knew:
What would you do if you were me
To prove that you were you?

The close resemblance turned the tide
Of my domestic life,
For somehow my intended bride
Became my brother's wife.
In short, year after year the same
Absurd mistakes went on.
And when I died the neighbors came
And buried brother John.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Getting an Education

I'm getting an education I'm fairly sure I don't want. I'm also sure I don't have the time for this. Unfortunately, it's an education I'm going to need, and I'm going to need it fairly quickly.

How many books have I read in my lifetime? I would say that in a normal week I read at least two or three books. There have been many times that I've read a book in a day. That wasn't while writing a book of my own, of course. 

Writing really cuts into my reading time. That was something that never occurred to me before I started this project. Writing now absorbs most of my days and wakes me up at night. My DVR is filling up with unwatched Jeopardy episodes. My husband has started to hide out down in the basement. He comes back up a few times a day to stand watching me, or to offer mail or coffee. He always comes up when his nose tells him I've cooked. I'm determined not to let that job escape me, or the laundry. He might run away from home.

So now I'm finding out that the work doesn't end when I finish telling the story. I need to figure out if I want an agent. If I do, I have to find one willing to have me. (Willing?) Then I need to make sure the agent works hard for me. Don't they need to do that to make money from my book? Maybe I need to start over and get a different agent. I haven't even picked one out yet, and already I know I've got the wrong one.

There are a multitude of web sites to help you deal with the publishing process. Almost nobody's going to want to publish that first novel, they all agree, but there are miracle stories everywhere, so hang in there. Be persistent. Don't let that growing pile of rejection letters get you down. Just grow a thicker skin, and above all, be patient, because once you have the agent and the publisher, it'll only be a couple of years before your book is on the shelf at your local book store.

I knew I didn't want this particular education. I think I'll just shut up and write.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

I'm Too Gullible

I was thinking back about John's long years working for the Department of Defense, and I started remembering all the long business trips he had to take. It was particularly hard when he went places I would have loved to go and couldn't, like Spain or Hawaii, and stayed away for two weeks for two months—or more.

I reminded him about the long trips he made to Alaska. He got a little uncomfortable, since he knew where I was headed. I always love to tease him about his four-month long trips to Kodiak Island. I wanted to go on one of those trips. It was a time when we could actually have managed it. He said it would be nice, but there were no women there. Well, I certainly wouldn't want to be the only woman on some outpost way up north, so I was very understanding, even though I was really disappointed.

Now, with John's security clearance, whatever missiles they sent up, or whatever designs they flew, I never heard about them. If it wasn't on the news or in the paper, I often didn't even know exactly where he was. Perhaps some of the other husbands would share information and trust that it would go no further, but John had always figured that he gave his word to keep his mouth shut, and that's what he would do.

When he returned from his final trip to Alaska, he handed over some awards he'd been given, along with the newspapers that told what had been accomplished by the team there. He showed me the beautiful coat they had presented to him. Then he said that the final test launch had turned into a real zoo. 

Zoo? Yeah. It seems that so many military officers wanted to fly into Alaska for the test launch ceremony that they had to close down the schools and use the school busses to carry the officers around.

Hey, honey? Who takes care of the children at night when the schools are closed, SINCE THERE ARE NO WOMEN THERE ON THE ISLAND?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

View From the Ridge

Last night we sat on the ridge behind our friend Doug's house, just up the hill on the acre above ours. From there we can see the valley on the other side of the foothills. We watched the fireworks start up shortly after dark.

From our vantage point we could hear quite well, and could see at a distance the fireworks from about ten small cities and towns on the floor of the valley. It was an incredible experience. It is wonderful to feel that on this one day each year we're all celebrating the birth of a nation—our own.

I know it's popular to point out the problems our country has. I can't imagine living anywhere else. We sure come closer than any other country I've ever heard of to the ideals I hold. I'm not going to get political. I just want to point out that as a nation, we're one lucky bunch of people.

I've started something new this year, and I suggested it in church. Whenever you feel like complaining about the high cost of gas, or the increasing costs of food, say a prayer instead. It will do more good, and you'll
probably feel better.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Don't Answer This Question

Am I perverse, or am I just tired today?

It's rather typical for me to be up until midnight, and last night I was up until after one in the morning. Staying up late never seems to be a problem. Now that I've been writing this novel, it's easy to stay at the keyboard until all hours. I write, edit what I've written, do some research, type in the corrections from my edits and write some more... Then I get up around five in the morning and start it all over.

I like to take a couple of hours in the afternoon to lie down and listen to music. I usually fall asleep, then get up in time to feed my husband. It works out quite well.

Today I'm waiting for quarter to nine, so we can walk up the ridge and watch the fireworks in the valley below. We can see a beautiful spread from up here. It's really magnificent. I'm looking forward to it. So why am I struggling to stay awake? It isn't even eight o'clock yet, and it's almost a losing battle.

I always told my boys—well, I told them lots of things, and they've probably forgotten most of them. But this is one of those things that I said a lot:

You can burn your candle at both ends, but only for half as long. I think my candle's getting short.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Old Barns

I got my first darkroom in 1969. My camera was a 35mm Canon FT. None of that matters, except that the photos I took were precious to me. I began my photography in Okinawa, and it was like an addiction. I began to notice that there were certain things I couldn't resist photographing. No matter how many shots I had, whenever I saw a barn or an outhouse, I needed that picture. Some of my outhouse photos are probably already on this site. I'll make sure another time. For now, I'd like to concentrate on the barn.

I've never known why those old barns so captured my imagination. I vaguely remember visiting a great aunt and uncle in Wisconsin on a farm when I was very little. She made doughnuts for us. He had cheeks that looked like apples. I remember they had a barn, but don't remember what it looked like, other than big. It certainly wasn't falling down, as far as I remember. After years of capturing old barns on film, I heard a song. Can a song explain something that your heart has known for years?

I'd like to introduce you to a group called The Ringling 5. It's a band from up in Montana, and they haven't put out an album yet that I don't have. My old Pastor (thank you, Master Stan) introduced me to their music, and I'll be forever grateful.

The Ringling 5 is composed of about seven math challenged but extremely talented musicians. Most of their music is very funny, but I want to just copy down the lyrics of one that's not. It's called Grandpa's Barn. Their website is The guitar picking on this album is sort of the style I use myself when I play, so it makes me feel really comfortable when I listen to it. The words rock my soul.

Grandpa's Barn
by The Ringling 5

As Grandpa sat beside the barn,
Ninety years of living lined his face.
He said, "Lord, the sights I've seen, and
Lord, the dreams I've dreamed!
They're all wrapped up in this old place."

I built this barn in 1901,
The first year that I moved onto this place,
With trees from down the draw,
I worked that hammer and saw,
'Til the sweat poured off my face.

His life is reflected in the boards of this old barn.
They're weathered and they're splintered,
But they haven't lost their charm.
It stands in quiet solitude through good times and bad.
It holds all the dreams he ever had.

"The first time that I kissed your Grandma
The harvest moon was shining through the door.
Her eyes sparkled and they shined.
I've seen 'em a million times.
God, if I could see them just once more!"

Grandkids played up in the hayloft.
The neighbors came and danced across the floor.
The horses in the stall,
The harness on the wall,
A batch of kittens sunning 'round the door.

His life is reflected in the boards of this old barn.
They're weathered and they're splintered,
But they haven't lost their charm.
It stands in quiet solitude through good times and bad.
It holds all the dreams he ever had.

Time can tear a building to the ground.
Roads can take a young man far away.
It seems like when you're gone
It hasn't been that long
But Grandpa passed away in '68.

When you're traveling down a rutted road,
And some old barn shows up in your mirror,
Take a moment—look around,
Even though it's falling down.
Someone's dreams were kept in there.

Their life is reflected in the boards of that old barn
They're knotted and they're splintered
But they haven't lost their charm.
It stands in quiet solitude through good times and bad.
It holds all the dreams they ever had.
It'll hold all the dreams you'll ever have.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

My Mom and the Girl Scouts

Mom called me last night and said she woke up in the middle of the night laughing. She had remembered being in the Girl Scouts back in Upper Michigan. Back then girls joined the Girl Scouts. Mom said it was the only game in town. There were about a dozen bunks in the bunk house at Bass Lake, about five miles from their town, Gwinn, and enough girls in their Troop the fill the bunks. The camp belonged to the CCI Mining Camp, and their Scout Troop was given a week there every summer. My Grandpa was the head engineer for the mines, so that might have had something to do with the troop being given free time at the camp. Who knows?

Anyway, Mom said they would put their ruck sacks on their backs and march the whole five miles together. What woke her up laughing was remembering the marching chant that she hadn't thought of in years. Knowing that I like to collect the kind of silly songs and poems that she and Dad always loved to share with us, she had to ask if I remembered the marching chant. I didn't. Here it is for posterity and a few good shakes of the head. Let's all just agree that nobody is writing stuff like this anymore:

Left, Left,
I had a good job and I left
I left my wife and forty-nine kids
On the verge of starvation without any gingerbread
Left, Left

Mom said that those twelve girls would repeat that over and over for the entire five miles. You suppose their leaders had more than one reason to be thrilled when the shores of Bass Lake finally came into view?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Great Potato Harvest

Little kids, at least in the nineteen fifties, weren't often given the opportunity to earn money. A few might have gotten an allowance, but there were many strings attached, and the chance to earn some extra cash was rare.

While living in Idaho, it won't shock anyone to know that the local farmers regularly hired women and children during harvest season to pick potatoes. The big combine would go through the field and the potatoes would be left more or less on top of the dirt. Then the women and children would be given empty burlap bags and they'd head down the rows. You had to bend at the waist and reach into the dirt, pick up those big Idaho russets and shove them into the sack. Then you had to drag that sack on down the row until it was full. At that point you had to heft the sack up and drag it back to the collection point. There it would be weighed and tallied up by your name. The picker would be given a new sack, and back into the field you would go. As the day progressed, those burlap bags got increasingly heavier. I remember it too well.

We probably got five cents a bag. The sun was hot. You don't think about having a sore back or being exhausted when you're a little kid, until it happens. It was the summer between third and fourth grade for me. My brother Kenny was a year behind that, Ellen two years ahead of me, and Pat old enough to work on the combine. At one point during the day, Kenny let Mom know how the three of us kids she had taken to the field all felt, and it was no longer gratitude for the chance to earn some money.

Dragging a new empty burlap bag behind him up the potato row, he trudged up to our mother.

"Mama, can little kids have heart attacks?"

"No, honey, they can't."

As he returned to his spot in line, we all clearly heard his response. "Where there's a will, there's a way."