"Have you thought about writing your family history, but found yourself stuck from the start? Writing a family narrative can be a daunting task, but Karen Jones Gowen found a way to bring her mother's story to life." (Homespun Magazine)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I am now a Geneablog, I have the badge!

When I started this particular blog, I thought I'd like to connect with other family history buffs, but didn't really know where to find them. I figured eventually they would find me LOL. And eventually they did! Which is just so exciting!

All you writers out there working so hard on social media, I figure this is a sign that it really does work. Those people who share the same interests will find each other. So welcome to my new followers, and I'll try not to post so much about making donuts, eating too much fast food or my new year's challenges, and stick a bit more to the topic and purpose I meant this blog to be in the first place: writing from life. Writing your story. Or the stories of those you love.

And despite that new badge I put on my sidebar, I really can't call myself a genealogist. I don't walk the walk so I better not talk the talk.  I love to write from life, love to read stories that other people write about themselves and their families. But I don't research names and dates. My husband does a little bit of that, when he has the time. And right now we are involved with some start-up businesses so there isn't much time.

Now I leave you with a Christmas image from the past-- my mother as a child in Nebraska, reminding us once again that Christmas is timeless. And seen through a child's eyes is magical, even when times are hard, the tree is small, and the gifts are simple.

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 

See you next year!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Genealogy Bloggers

Welcome to new followers! I couldn't figure out what I had done to attract so many new followers in such a short time, surely it wasn't my recent post about my challenges for the new year LOL? So I did some checking on blogger comments and found this comment on my very first post:

Hello there!

You’ve got a great genealogy blog and we’ve added it to the list of over 1,500 genealogy blogs at GeneaBloggers (http://www.geneabloggers.com).

We will announce your blog in our weekly New Genealogy Blogs on Saturday, December 11, 2010. In the meantime, please visit the About (http://www.geneabloggers.com/about/) section at GeneaBloggers to learn how you can display your GeneaBloggers badge on your blog and also how you can participate in activities such as the Daily Blogging Themes.

If you need technical assistance, please check out Bootcamp for GeneaBloggers (http://fbbootcamp.blogspot.com).


Isn't that just so cool??? So I'll for sure check out this awesome site, get the badge and have fun with following some new blogs myself. Hooray for family history! Hooray for writing from life!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Challenging Myself for 2011

I was recently freed from a responsibility I've had for the past three years that took up a great deal of my time and energy. So I'm feeling somewhat giddy with the freedom. There are three major things I want to take on for 2011:


Of course I'll have to work it into my schedule but I think I can do it! For reading, it will be to read one book a week, or let's round down to 50 books for the year.  I'll count them down on my blog and let you know what I'm reading. (Reviews as always will show up on Goodreads.) For writing, it will be to write every day for a minimum one hour. And not journaling or blogging but real, creative, writing. The hard stuff. The stuff that books are made of. I have never done this. It's about time I set this challenge and do it. Walking is easy, since I already have started but I want to keep it up. Walk 30 minutes a day. (I'll let you know if I'm losing any weight!)

So there you go, my challenges for 2011. Not New Year's resolutions, because I never keep those. These are challenges. With no excuses allowed. I'm going to start practicing from now until January 1st, to see how it will all work into my schedule. Maybe clean my closets ahead of time to feel organized, then I'll be ready to go! What new challenges do you want to take on for the new year?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Latest from Camp Pendleton

In honor of Pearl Harbor Day, which also happens to by my young Marine's birthday, here is the latest from Camp Pendleton, from his recent letter, written on Thanksgiving Day:

"Here is my day so far. Wake up, make racks, get dressed, clean house. These were all part of our every day routine, then we went to chow and ate the usual breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes and other foods. Here comes the good part-- we are having church today because we skipped it on Sunday and at church (which is where I am right now) we got Costco pumpkin pie, cinnamon rolls, brownies, M & M's, hot chocolate and apple cider. It was the greatest thing in the world, but I am feeling kinda sick because I haven't had food like this for almost 2 months."

"We have been shooting all week and we had qual day yesterday. I qualified with expert, which is the best possible qual. I can hit a human-sized target from 500 yards with plain iron sights and no scope with my MIGA4 rifle."

"People in boot camp wouldn't be so miserable if they didn't tell themselves that everything they do is horrible; and if they didn't have a bad attitude about everything."

"You know an energy drink is good when it is called Xyience and pronounced 'science.'"

"True love is writing a love note to your girl.... in the porta john."

"Birds don't poop on recruits' heads because we are wearing camoflauge and they can't see us."

Happy 19th birthday, Recruit Gowen.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Frugal Christmas Tree

Last year we topped off a pair of huge, outrageously growing pine trees in front of our house. They literally block the entire front porch. The plan is to cut them down eventually, as they were meant to be decorative and have gotten completely out of control. What are they feeding on anyway?

Anyway, one of the tops made a pretty awesome Christmas tree. This year we cut down a spreading branch that is the size of a tree with a trunk that fit nicely in our tree stand. (I know this all sounds bizarre, and I really need photos to show you, but maybe later, since I'm unable to put anything new on my computer right now.)

But let it be said, that I love this tree! You can't even tell where it was cut from! It's all set up and decorated in our front hall, smells all piney and fresh, and looks amazing. When I see artificial trees all decorated in the stores selling for hundreds of dollars, I come home and happily gaze upon my frugal Christmas tree.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SNOW and Service

A few days before Thanksgiving we got SNOW. Lots and lots of it. Then more, and more and more. Now there's probably 2 feet, and another 3 or 4 feet drifted. And it is COLD!! I'm spending way too much time on the computer simply because I like the warmth on my lap.

Yesterday morning my husband went out to shovel. We live on a corner lot which means a lot of sidewalk, not to mention driveway. You get the picture. So here's the poor guy out there with his bad knees, all hunched over doing his manly duty for our home and property, when two little neighbor boys from across the street came over with their snow shovels. They are two brothers, one 12, the other 7.

They pitched right in and worked with my husband until the job was done. When they finished, he thanked them, gave them some cookies and they ran home. This morning their mom called to thank me for the cookies, and to thank me for giving her sons the opportunity to learn service. (I know, this is the kind of neighborhood we live in. It's a little bit of heaven on earth & we love it.)

Her older son had said, "Mom, I'm so glad we went over to help Mr. Gowen. He never could have shoveled all that snow by himself. He needed our help, and I have such a good feeling about what we did." She said he had a smile on his face all day, lingering from the joy of serving someone who really needed it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Homemade Maple Bars and Happy Thanksgiving

Last night was a birthday celebration-- a pizza building party. And for dessert the birthday boy's favorite food of all time-- maple bars. But not just any maple bars, these were made from scratch, dough rising, cut in shapes, then fried, iced while hot, made in my own kitchen by my daughter and me maple bars. She wanted to double the recipe so I was frying for an hour and a half, and we ended up with about 4 cookie sheets of maple bars. And this after eating pizza? omigosh, no wonder my husband and me are so danged fat.

Well, it turned out that he and I didn't get the opportunity to overeat, because all the six foot boys in our family (as well as the future son in law birthday boy) pretty well demolished all of it. Two huge pizzas with pepperoni, sausage and 4 lbs. of cheese, and nearly 4 trays of maple bars. Alright, we aren't quite such pigs, to be truthful, a lot of it was divided up and taken to various homes. And there were fifteen people for dinner.

That was our pre Thanksgiving hog fest.Eating turkey tomorrow will feel like a diet. But seeing all that food disappear got me to thinking. What is it about this upcoming holiday season that makes us feel like overindulging and consuming more than our share? It seems to begin at Halloween and then by Jan 2, we are all stuffed, broke, in debt and planning our New Year's resolutions to remedy the situation. It's not just food and overeating, it's all the spending and the shopping and the conspicuous consumption. We've all done it, and most of us don't like it, but we get sucked in just the same. I could blame the media, but they don't force us into the stores to open our wallets.

This year, I would love to have a simpler holiday, with less indulgence, more heart and less cash, with service instead of selfishness. Do you think that's even possible in this cultural environment?  And in case you're interested, here's the recipe for the maple bars:

  1 1/2 c. milk
  1/2 c. shortening
  4 tbsp. sugar
  2 tsp. salt
  2 yeast cakes
  4 tbsp. warm water
  4 3/4 c. flour
  3 eggs, beaten well
  Frosting (recipe follows)

Bring milk to boiling point and pour over shortening, sugar
and salt in a large bowl. Cool to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast
in warm water and add to lukewarm mixture in bowl along
with flour and eggs; mix well.
Grease bowl and add dough, turning to grease top. Cover and
let rise in a warm place until doubled. Turn out onto a
well floured board and roll 1/2" thick. Cut into 2"x4"
pieces. Let rise again in warm place until double.
Deep fry in oil heated to 375 degrees in deep skillet or
fryer until golden on all sides. Remove to paper towels to
drain. Make Frosting and frost bars while still warm.

  2 c. confectioners' sugar
  3 tbsp. butter, softened
  1/4 c. milk
  1/4 c. maple syrup
  1/2 tsp. maple flavoring

Blend butter into sugar, add milk a tablespoon at a time until right consistency. Should be smooth and spreadable. Add more powdered sugar if mixture is too runny, and more milk and/or syrup if it's too stiff.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tucking in the Garden

When I moved out West from Illinois 30 years ago, I remember being surprised to hear people with lawns bashing trees. "I don't like trees on my property. They kill the grass, plus there's all those leaves to rake in the fall."

Huh? Grass is nice and all but nothing that special. Once settled into our home, my husband and I set about to plant trees everywhere we could, first at one home then the next one, where we live now. It had about 6 or 8 trees on the property; we planted another 10 or 12.

As for having to rake the leaves, well, yes that's part of it. In fact, we spent two hours today doing just that. It was nice. Raking the leaves is the last loving act one performs for their yard. Then we gathered them up and lay them over the garden like a warm blanket, to cover it all winter. After months of rain and snow, the leaves will break down into the soil, enriching it for spring planting.

I noticed that the trees, now barren of their leaves, had many dried pears, apples or edible berries still hanging on the branches like Christmas ornaments. These will feed the birds that winter over. How can anyone not love a tree? Now the trees, the garden, the yard and the birds are all ready for winter. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Figuring out the Blogs (Again, sigh)

So I'm involved with a lot of stuff right now. Two start-ups-- the cookie business and the website for authors-- plus I'm doing more with WiDo Publishing. I have a couple of editing projects, my own novel to revise by the end of the year, and now they have asked me to help them get more of a presence on social media. One of the editors does Twitter but isn't a fan. WiDo doesn't have a blog. There's a Facebook account which thankfully I will not work on (can't stand fb, but that's just me).

I'm thinking maybe after the holidays I will morph my writing/editing blog into one for WiDo Publishing, thus doing their blog while still keeping my own voice. And this quiet blog will become my new "author blog," since it's all about me anyway LOL. I like having an author blog, but right now I have two of them, really is that necessary? That way I can blog for WiDo, and blog here, and still keep it down to two.

What do you think? Does that make sense?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Cookie House

Here's an excerpt from a book I wrote for a class assignment (unpublished). Oh, first a word of explanation. The assignment was to collect stories on a particular theme from a group of people who had something in common. I chose the theme of Food, and the group of people was my family, largely my children. This excerpt is from one of my daughters, and it proves to me that children writing from life is the most charming, honest kind of writing ever:

I was walking home from kindergarten in the fall, and it was windy and kind of cold outside. When I finally got home I went in through the back door that went straight into the kitchen. Every surface of the kitchen was covered in cookies, hundreds of cookies, of all different kinds--not just chocolate chip, but mint chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate chip, butterscotch cookies, cinnamon cookies. I wanted to try one of each kind. The house smelled so good, it was like it was made of cookies. And it was warm and so nice. My mom let me eat all the cookies I wanted and I wanted to try one of each, but I got too full. I liked the mint chocolate chip because mint has always been my favorite flavor. Some of the older kids would come in all excited and say, "Did you try this one yet? Did you try this one? This one's my favorite." I wanted to stay in that kitchen forever.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Saving Precious Memories

I started this blog as a means of encouraging people to save and record their personal and family histories, although I mostly just ramble on about my soup, my walks, my basement, my dogs....

My 93-year-old mom, the subject of Farm Girl, suffered a stroke two weeks ago, and I thank God every day that she and I were able to put this book together back when she was in full health. This was at age 90, mind you.

A lady who heard me speak at a library, said regretfully, "I thought I'd have more time." I am so grateful that I don't have those regrets, but if Mother hadn't lived such a long, active life, I might be saying the same thing: "I thought I'd have more time."

What's the best way to record our own, our parents or grandparents' stories? Just make it a priority and do it. There is no right or wrong method, no secret formula. However, it's one of those things that too easily gets procrastinated regardless of the best intentions. Don't put it off until it's too late-- record those precious memories that will be treasured by many.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Autumn Walk

Today we walked almost two hours, from our house straight west, up the big hill where we could turn back and look out over the valley. Then on to the lake, with a couple stops in to tour the model homes. One was the most light-filled, spacious small house I have ever seen-- on 3 levels, and positively inviting. Decorated by Ikea. We even sat on the front porch for a bit to imagine what it would be like to live there and decided our front porch is better.

Then on to the lake, which was as still and smooth as glass, with the wavy reflection of the houses making the water surface look like an impressionist painting. Still a few ducks on the water, although most have gone South by now. We would have enjoyed sauntering further along the lake, but we were getting tired, and it was still forty minutes back home. A beautiful, mild November day, perfect for a long walk.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Lost Art of Writing Letters

Let's say you want to write a memoir for publication, or a personal history for family use. One of the best sources of material is LETTERS. Too bad letter-writing is such a lost art. Hopefully, you have saved your letters and those of your family members.

I have postcards written by my grandmother in the early 1900's. The handwriting is a bit difficult to decipher but worth the trouble, as it gives a clue to what mattered to her. Who visited, what gifts she received at Christmas, what was served at a special dinner. These are the kinds of details that are precious gems when writing from life. Because our memories can't be trusted. But letters, diary entries, and photographs can keep the accurate record of daily activities. Even a grocery list from 50 years ago can be a valuable resource.

Gone are the days when people communicated via letter. Unless you have a son or daughter at boot camp, that is. So this topic gives me an excuse to share some precious letters that arrived at my house this week. They're from my 18 year old son who's been at Marine boot camp in San Diego for 3 weeks. Each segment tells a little story:

Dear Mom and Dad,

"I have only wondered why I am here a few times, and only on certain hours of really bad days. Overall it isn't super duper bad. Today we got haircuts, and the barbers are super angry Italians who have no idea how hard they are pressing that razor against the heads of recruits."

"Today we practiced drill with rifles and it was pretty sweet, but holding an 8 pound gun right in front of you for an hour is super exhausting."

"I have yet to be IT'd, which is where a drill instructor takes you aside and makes you do pushups/situps/jumping jacks and running in place while he is yelling at you and making you shout things."

"DI's hate whistling more than Mom does. Getting caught whistling is like condemning yourself to only eating steamed carrots for time and all eternity."

"The one thing I will look forward to when I get home other than the lack of swearing, abundance of females, no more group showers and eating a Snickers, is taking my time while eating and not getting shouted at while eating."

From these letters, I'm getting a picture of what it's like for him at Camp Pendleton. Sometimes I wish email and cell phones had never been invented. It's convenient and cheap sure, but it has turned letter-writing into a rare thing indeed.

Another letter came today! Here are more excerpts from Recruit Gowen:

Dear Mom and Dad,

"Who would have guessed that drill instructors say 'heinous'. I don't even know how to spell that word." (Yes, he did spell it correctly!)

"Grandma's house is great and I love it here. (When he was preparing to leave, I couldn't say 'boot camp' so I said he was leaving for 'Grandma's house.') I get to drink apple juice every day and I get pudding almost every day. I sure wish that I had eaten a Snickers before I left because I have wanted one since Day 1, so don't forget to bring one to my graduation."

"I decided that my last letter lacked stories and adventure, so I will tell you about my adventures today. I spit up blood, did push ups on a red ant hill, learned about Marine Corps history, ate pudding and did drills. One of the best times was when a few of us recruits were cleaning outside, then a DI jumped through an open window to tell us that we were moving too slow."

I'll admit I had tons of anxiety about my youngest boy going to Marine Boot Camp (which is why I called it 'Grandma's house') but after getting these letters, I am comforted and even entertained. I know he's doing well. And the letters he gets from home will keep him going strong.

This post brought to you by the proud parent of a U.S. Marine

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


It is cold in the house today. I made soup yesterday, and it is so yummy. Last night I took the pot over to a neighbor who broke a leg or something, but she never answered the door, and today I don't want to go out, or call anyone or do anything but think about stuff and eat the soup.

Sorry neighbor, I tried.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Goodbye Summer. I will miss you.

We turned on our furnace yesterday, so it's official. Summer is over. Even though the lawn is still very green and lush, when the leaves turn colors and fall off, it can't be denied. End of summer.

Some years I am so sick and tired of summer that I'm thrilled to see it end, but not this year. Spring was cool and wet, and by June I wanted it to be hot, hot, hot. I love the dry oven heat of Utah--90 degrees is perfect summer weather here. So July and August were great. Now it's cold again, and I'm sad.

Goodbye garden. Goodbye my hungry pond fish with your busy lives--soon you'll be still at the deepest corner of the pond, waiting out winter. Goodbye my flower beds that I ignored all season, too late now. Goodbye afternoon read-ins under the fan in the living room.Goodbye falling asleep at night to crickets chirping. Goodbye to the smell of fresh-mowed grass. Goodbye grass.

Goodbye, Summer. I will miss you. And it will be so long before you come round again. Sigh.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Painting the Basement

Monday, October 18, 2010

Writing Exercises for Family History

The Story and The Person:

    When sharing family history, there are two elements of the utmost importance: The Story, and The Person.

    Everyone loves a story. Children who roll their eyes and say, “Oh no, not again,” when parents and grandparents try to tell them a moral or lesson learned based on their own lives, will listen eagerly and learn readily when the lesson is clothed in the robes of the story.

    Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Stories have characters- people or animals that others can relate to. They connect the storyteller and the listener through shared emotion. Sometimes they are sad, sometimes suspenseful, sometimes funny. But always a story will cause us to feel something, and to be a better person for the experience. We improve our storytelling skills, either spoken or written, through practice.
    The other important element is the Person. When I put my mother’s stories together, I noticed the sound of the young Nebraska farm girl. I could hear her voice. When my kids read the book, they said, “It sounds just like Grandma. It is like knowing Grandma as a little girl.”

    Family history stories shared with our children can help them to see their grandparents in a whole new light. We could always see pictures of my mother as a young girl in the 1920's, but now we have her voice. We hear her talking about her mom and her dad, the country school she attended through 8th grade, her description of the dust bowl days, how she felt about the changes brought to that area by the Great Depression.

    It was important for me to keep that voice true in the narrative, so I kept it in first person, and I kept her way of talking. She wanted me to correct some of the grammar, or to rewrite certain phrases, and I said, “No, Mom, this sounds like a Nebraska farm girl. We don’t want it to sound like an English teacher.”

    And she said, “Oh, who would want to read about that silly little girl.”

    Lots of people, because that silly little girl came alive in the book. The reader can hear her voice, and gets insight into her personality and character, and the fact that she is kind of spoiled and flighty endears her to us. Because if I had portrayed her as a perfect little girl, she wouldn’t seem real, since no one is perfect.
Values of Preserving Memories through Writing:

    Writing preserves the life and the memories of the person’s history, and then it becomes a time traveling experience to the reader.

    It allows you to know and to learn from someone you’ve never met.

    When we look up from our lives and want to treasure the moment, writing preserves these moments to be treasured and relived by you and your posterity and others as well.

Writing Exercises that Awaken Creativity and Preserve Memories:
    You have to start somewhere, and that might be just sitting down and writing for five minutes on any given topic. Perhaps a word you find in the headline of a newspaper, like airplanes, economy, France, peace, soldiers. This exercise will open doors to creativity, stimulate ideas, and get you over your fear of writing.

    They can also work for children, giving them one word topics and having them write for 2-5 minutes, then have them read what they wrote without criticism. Try words like animals, purple, fuzzy, pumpkins, feet, or have them come up with their own choices. There are certain rules to this exercise.

#1. NO COMMENTS OR CRITICISM! Even comments can be damaging, as one child’s work might elicit enthusiastic praise and the response to another, less enjoyable piece of writing might be “Oh, that’s good, too.” Kids can see through the comments, so better to not say anything.

    #2. The writing can take any form they desire, such as a song, a poem, or just a list of words, or a little short story. The idea is to stimulate creativity, not to stifle it.

    How do we go from these simple writing exercises to preserving memories? One woman wanted to write her memories of her mother. She set the goal of one page, but once she got going, she ended up with three typed pages. Her sister read the pages, and they both cried together, remembering their mom who had passed on. Setting small goals can get us started on the path to preserving our precious memories before they fade away.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

84 Grams of Fat in One Meal

I've posted about the simple things for awhile, now it's time to go to the other side. The other side of hell that is. I just read about the worst hamburgers in America, and I feel ashamed to live in a country where people eat more calories in one meal than a family in Namibia might get for an entire week. And I am not making that up about Namibia. My son spent nine months there and I heard about it firsthand. Well, secondhand. He and his companion found a starving man behind a trash bin. The man was skin and bones, covered in garbage. They wouldn't have noticed him except he moved a bit and it caught my son's eye. They took him to the hospital, but it was too late to save him and he died several days later.

Here's the hamburger link but don't read it on an empty stomach or it will make you nauseous. I sit here blogging and checking my email and come across this on Yahoo. Before breakfast. And yes, I am quite nauseous right now just reading about these hamburgers. Okay, I admit that I despise excessive and habitual reliance on fast food. It's on my list of What Destroys Families and Makes Americans Fat. We have kitchens in our homes and supermarkets around the corner, why not cook real food? Why not make a simple sandwich and take it to work? Or if you're a construction worker who uses 8000 calories a day, how about two sandwiches, two bananas, some peanut butter cookies, and a handful of almonds? What is the attraction of the fast food? It's disgusting, expensive, and unhealthy. And it's an abomination to eat 84 grams of fat in one hamburger.

In my church, the members are encouraged to fast once a month, to abstain from food and drink for two consecutive meals and then donate the money saved (and to be generous in the donation) for the welfare of the poor and the needy. I love this. Think of what our world could be like if every person did this. Once a month. Give, give, give--that's what makes our world a better place. Not consuming as much food, fuel, stuff as fast as we can.

Okay, I am done with my rant, sorry if I offended anyone. I like a hamburger occasionally. And hot dogs, and fries. But please, a little moderation is called for! Okay, I'm done for real now. Peace Out.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Nature is Scary

I live surrounded by mountains. They're beautiful but dangerous. Every year people get killed there doing all the seasonal mountain sports--hiking, rafting, skiing, snowboarding. One year a mother and daughter just disappeared while hiking. Several years later their bodies were found. Sometimes someone will disappear and never be found. That happened to a little boy on a hike with a Scout troop. No one ever knew what happened to him. It's the saddest thing to hear about these things.

See my two boys over there? They hiked Angel's Peak, one of the supposedly most dangerous hikes at Zions, where hikers are killed each year. In fact there had been a death there already that summer, and there was another one after our visit. I was scared, and they laughed at my fears. (As you can see.)

I was talking to my mom about this and she said, "The same thing happens here (Minnesota), only it's on the water since we have all the lakes. Boating accidents, drownings while swimming--every year we hear of several deaths out on the lakes."

When my son was in Namibia, he looked out upon the wilderness just off the road and thought about parking the car and heading out. Not that he would, since he's under strict obligation to not go "exploring". He asked his African companion, "What would happen if I took off out there and just started walking?"

His companion laughed and said, "You would never get back alive." Instead, he just took a picture of this giraffe by the road.

What kind of dangerous environment do you face where you live?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

If Money were no object

If money were no object I would:

Hire a housecleaner

Get new carpet

Fix up the whole rundown house (Er--I mean pay to have someone else do it)

Go buy new clothes NOW

Travel but not too much

Buy my husband a new car

Be thin (I know they're not related but I just figure if I was rich I would also be thin)

Many other things too numerous to mention

What would you do?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I'm Going to be a Marine Mom

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wasting Money is Stupid

I just got back from a sales meeting where a new guy talked about a company he worked for once that was on the verge of getting a huge contract. The boss said, "If this goes through, we'll all be sitting on the beach in Hawaii throwing hundred dollar bills in the air."

Of course, this image, which is meant to be a powerful motivator simply puzzles me. Why would you throw the money in the air?

Why not go shopping with it? There must be some fabulous restaurants in Hawaii where you could enjoy lobster, and all the amenities for that hundred dollars. Or go buy some great shoes, purses, and make up. Get a spa treatment.

Or is the idea that you have so much money that you can do all these things and still have enough to throw away?

If that's the case, then how about giving it to homeless people? Or better yet, find a nice catholic nun (aka Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost) and give those hundred dollar bills to her instead of throwing them in the air.

Is it possible to have so much money that ever wasting it like that makes any sense whatsoever?

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Lovely Day Involving Pie

Yesterday we picked 4 boxes of gala apples from our tree. They weren't quite ready but I got overzealous so there they are-- not as wonderful as they should have been but still nice, large, slightly tart apples. Of course everyone wanted pie. When they all want pie, it's fairly easy to get help in the kitchen. So my youngest son, a high school senior,  made the crust for two 9 in. apple pies while I cut up the apples.

He said:  Mom, remember last year when we had Pie Week?

I said: Yes, that was so nice. You learned how to make crust and every day after school we made a new kind of pie. Pie Week was fun.

(There was apple, peach, and something involving pudding and whipped cream I think, but I can't remember all the kinds of pie. I only remember how delightful it was that my teen-age son wanted to be in the kitchen with me making pie. That doesn't happen often. In fact, only then. And today.)

He said: I was telling my friend Megan about Pie Week and she said when they make pie at her home, she makes the crust while her mom does the filling, and when they're done they roll out the bits of dough and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top and bake it. I thought it was weird that we did the exact same thing.

I said: My mom used to do that too, but I didn't help her much with anything. She and I didn't cook together like we're doing now. Shall we have Pie Week again? We can make more pies than this. You can come home from school everyday this week, and we'll make pie again.

He said: No, let's just do this one. What did you do that was wild when you were young? Did you toilet paper anyone's house?

I said:  I never heard of that when I was a kid. But once a friend and I wrote nasty things about another friend on a bathroom wall. And I used to smoke straws. You light the end of a straw and smoke it.

He laughed.

Anyway, we had a lovely afternoon, and the apple pie was delicious.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Is This a Crush?

Conversation at dinner table:

18 year old son (high school senior): So this girl comes up to me at breakfast and says, 'Hey, can I have a drink of your juice?' And I say, 'Sure.' So she takes the cup and SHE DRINKS THE ENTIRE THING! I was so mad. So then her friend comes over and starts eating my cinnamon roll. Just picking away at it until it's GONE!

Me (highly knowledgeable mom and a girl with 3 sisters): She has a crush on you. They like you.

Son: No, they don't.

Me: Yes, they do. That's a girl's way of saying 'I want you to take care of me and feed me for the rest of my life.'

Son: No, it isn't. Just because they come up and annoy me and eat my food doesn't mean they want to marry me and live with me forever.

Me: Of course not. It's all subconscious. But yes, underneath that is what they're saying, although they don't realize it. Believe me, I know how girls think. One or both of them have a crush on you.

Son: (scoffingly) No, they don't.

What do you think, people? Is this a crush or not?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sometimes I miss our dogs

We had a Doberman named Lugosi and a Bassett Hound named Tara. Lugosi died first, just a few years ago, and Tara followed the next summer. I am truly surprised she waited that long. They were the same age, had grown up together and were as bonded as a brother and sister--the kind who never fight, who do everything together, laugh and get in trouble together and play jokes on other people.

Tara & Lugosi used to work together to destroy the back fence. He would pull on boards with his teeth, she would dig out dirt underneath with her big paws, to give him more biting room. They'd keep at it until there was broken boards and splinters all around, and a hole big enough for them to squeeze through. Then they would be free to run around the neighborhood. They never went too far. And they were always together.

Neighbors would see them and phone us, "Your dogs are out."  Lugosi looked scary. After all, he was a large Doberman with cropped ears and tail, at attention, ready to attack. But of course he never did. He just looked like that. Can a dog help the way he looks? Tara flopped around, following Lugosi everywhere. She somehow made him look cuter and more innocent, probably due to her Bassett hound cuteness.

Tara wasn't very bright. One time an upstairs window was open without a screen. Tara saw something go past on the front yard, probably a cat, and decided to chase it. By going through the window. My mom and I were in the living room and saw Tara fly through the air in front of our picture window, her big ears flapping. She fell on the grass, tumbled back up and went chasing after the cat.

Yes, sometimes I miss our dogs.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Here's a good idea-- take the kids to see a film about the end of the world

One night awhile back my husband and I went to see the film 2012. And behind us was a family complete with soda cans rolling around the floor, who knows what other snacks they brought into the theater in mom's big purse, and a couple young kids. Just a fun, family outing to see Hollywood's version of what happens when the earth's core heats up and destroys the world.

This is a pretty good movie, my husband and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But not what you'd want children to see. Aren't kids prone to nightmares anyway, without help from the latest Hollywood disaster film?

So how about it folks. Take your little ones to see a film where California is completely destroyed in about 5 minutes of awesome computer graphics. No, that won't give them nightmares. How about where a dad tries to rescue his two boys and dies in the attempt with the boys watching and screaming? Sure, why not! It's all fake after all. The kids know that, right?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Day our Nation was Attacked

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Canning Tomatoes

Monday, September 6, 2010

Stupid Things I attach Value to

Things I attach value to that have gotten out of control:

Plastic bags of all sizes (Yes, I know! What idiot saves these? And I wasn't alive during the Great Depression either.)

Purses and canvas bags (What is it with my obsession with having stuff to carry stuff?!)

Empty water bottles (I like to refill them and drink water out of bottles instead of glasses. Go figure.)

Oh, wait that's not all-- empty soda bottles of a certain shape, for use as water bottles (Is it because I live in the desert?)

Paper, any and all kinds, including the sheets that still have one good side ( I could write a novel a year until I die and still not use all this paper!)

Gallon size Ziploc bags (these at least make sense. Rinsed out & dried they're quite reusable, but not if they had meat. Then I throw them out.)

Books. (You've heard of cat ladies? I'm the book lady. Every room in my house has a stack somewhere. The least I could do is put them away, right?)

DVD's. (Stupid to buy them since I only watch most movies once or twice.)

I could go on, but these are the worst offenders. I'm not a saver. Actually, I do quite well at decluttering and tossing or giving away, but this list is my toughest challenge. What's on your stupid save list?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Bringing in posts from my original blog-- Has anyone ever heard of Vox?

Vox is where I started blogging. I did a lot there until I discovered Blogger. Goodbye Vox. I visited now and then and wrote the occasional post. Now they are shutting down, and I'll lose my posts by Sept. 30. Since most of them were daily life type of stuff, I'm going to transfer a few of them to here. This one was when it was mid-summer, and dang I still miss summer!!

Today I watered the front lawn-- the dry spots--timing the sprinkler 30 minutes on each area. I know Utah is a desert, but I don't want to hear about growing native plants yadayadayada. I've eliminated over half the grass that was here when we first moved to this house, and what's left I like to keep green thank you very much. Which takes water, especially in July and August.

Meanwhile, while moving the sprinkler around all afternoon, I also did laundry and edited a manuscript. Heated up some lasagna from the freezer for the fam, and went back to sitting, watering and editing. Under the ceiling fan in the living room, of course, which is the only tolerable spot in our house from about noon to 9 p.m. 

Tomorrow is a family party so I just finished making a HUGE batch of caramel corn. Why don't I learn to be conservative in my food prep? Because I'm a creative cook and add a little of this, and more of that, and try this, and oh yes two cans of evaporated milk how will that be? It's not getting to soft ball stage, I need to add the rest of that bag of brown sugar. Until I have a huge pan of caramel. Better make more popcorn, I don't like it too sweet. And four giant pans later I sit down under the fan again to write about what I did. 

If I did photos, I'd take pictures to show you. But I like to draw pictures with words. It's good practice for my writing skills. Not that you folks get much in the way of my writing skills on this blog. I pretty much just blather away about whatever's on my mind.

Haha, nothing's changed there. I still use my blog to blather about whatever's on my mind.Only now I do it here instead of on Vox.

Shooting the TV

I want to shoot the TV like Elvis used to do. Good thing there are no guns in the house or that TV would be history. We haven't had cable for years. We were so happy with our old-fashioned antenna wires hooked through the attic, getting all the local channels. Plenty for us, since the major network channels provided what we like-- PBS, Law & Order, Criminal Minds and sometimes House. 24 Hours when it's on. When I'm by myself, I like to watch American Idol and America's Next Top Model. Those are our TV shows, and we watch erratically, not caring if we miss anything. No tivoing or anything like that. We are very 20th century TV watchers.

Then came the digital age, and we were forced to buy that little box if we wanted to continue watching our TV. So we took the $40 coupon and bought our digital box. It works half the time. Some channels don't even come in. And sometimes when we're in the middle of a show, it starts sizzling and blacking out.

It's like the old days, the Fifties--when you would have to go bang on the TV to get a good picture. Only I don't want to bang on it, I want to shoot it and put it out of its misery.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

How Do People Do Stuff?

I've had these questions lately. Like, how does anyone find this blog when I do nothing to promote it and don't follow anyone with this link? Yet 53 people have found me here. Latest is the awesome Elana Johnson *waves to Elana* and so this brings me to other questions.

Like, how do 62 year-old unemployed men with broken knees find suitable jobs? Men like my husband who were in the mortgage business for 25 years and saw their livelihoods disappear with the economic, mortgage-related crash three years ago. He had his own business and we thought he was set for retirement and could work into old age doing what he loved-- helping people with less than perfect credit get home loans. Not any more.

And, how does one woman have a dream about vampires, write a book and become a millionaire? Yet other writers labor for years over much better books and never find a publisher let alone become independently wealthy. How do you hit the jackpot like that? There's no way anyone can plan to make such a thing happen. It's like winning the lottery.

Do you ever wonder how some people have amazingly happy and successful marriages and others struggle to find one single, satisfying relationship? I'm one of those lucky ones and I for the life of me can't tell you the secret to this one. Same with kids. I have 10 awesome, talented and wonderful children, who are growing to adulthood and making me and their dad proud. How did we do this? Don't know, can't tell you.

How do some people stay thin their whole lives,and others struggle to lose even five pounds? Are the thin people more disciplined, or just have better genetic makeup? What's the secret to being thin and healthy? And don't say diet and exercise, because I know skinny minnies who eat candy and watch TV every night. While others are dieting and exercising constantly but can't lose ten pounds.

So is it just me,  or does anyone else wonder how people do stuff? If so, what kinds of things do you wonder about?

Monday, August 23, 2010

What is Your Passion? And Can you Make a Living at it?

I had a conversation today with my son who's preparing to go back to college after two years in South Africa. Originally, his plan was to earn money through music-- as a teacher, playing in orchestras, and giving private lessons. His major is music education and his instrument is the viola. But now that he's back in the States, and the talk is about the economy, he's wondering if he should go into science rather than the arts, for more financial stability.

He enjoys science, gets good grades and could do something in that field, yet music is his passion, and he wants to make a living at it. He says, "I can't imagine anything more wonderful than getting paid for playing music."

Meanwhile, I'm reading a blog today and find this quote by Dan Wells, award-winning author of I am Not a Serial Killer:

"Anyone can make a living as an artist. If you put as much time and energy as a doctor does in building a career, you can be just as successful. Unfortunately there are not programs designed to guide an author step by step into the industry as there are in other fields but if you consider yourself a writer and work everyday toward making it a career, you can't lose."

What do you think? In spite of economic issues, do you think it's possible to support a family by pursuing one's passion? Or should artsy people like writers, musicians and actors stick with the sensible majors where high-paying jobs are waiting?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Writing from Life

I finished my second novel, House of Diamonds, and it's being reviewed by the editor for the second time. I believe I may have another set or two of revisions and then we can call it good. I hope so. I feel really good about this one. Here's the handle (And thank you to some fantastic blogging friends for helping me pull it together):  "Two sisters, one facing opportunity the other tragedy. Can their bond endure?"

It's written about things experienced by my sister and I (Cindy and Marcie in the books) at a particular time in our lives. I wouldn't call it an autobiographical novel, because I make so much stuff up. But the background comes from true experiences. I wrote it because I wanted to tell this story:

When the lives of two sisters take a much different course than expected

When one sister is on the verge of realizing her lifelong dream and the other faces a terrible tragedy

To give a voice to a beloved baby who had none

To show the incredible power that comes to families when they pull together to overcome challenges. At these times, a house of pain can become a house of diamonds.

House of Diamonds is up on Goodreads if you want to add it to your to-read shelf. (hint hint).

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Fat Sister

My older sister was fat. It was one of the common topics of conversation around the house, especially as she entered her teen years.

“Are you sure you want seconds on spaghetti, Julie?”

“But I love spaghetti, Mom. It’s my favorite food. Spaghetti isn’t very fattening, is it?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“How about if I eat seconds on spaghetti instead of finishing my salad?”

I grew up hearing about calories, sit-ups, and the latest diet. All my sister’s friends were skinny and pretty and popular. Julie had soft white-blond hair, round blue eyes and a friendly smile. Everyone liked her. But she wasn’t thin. And at 13, 16 and 18 having a trim figure seemed like the answer to all her problems and the most important goal one could hope to reach.

When she didn’t make the swim team, it was because she was too fat. When she didn’t go to Junior Prom, it was because boys don’t date fat girls. When she didn’t get the part-time job she wanted, it was because of the excess weight.

She would try to diet, cutting out seconds and passing by the candy stand at school. After several weeks of such discipline, a two or three pound loss would be her reward. Oh, joy! She was getting there at last. She felt thin and self-disciplined. And then she’d go back to eating mashed potatoes and Snickers until the discouraging cycle would begin again.

In those days I had no weight problem, so I couldn’t really understand my sister’s obsession with her figure. (Although if I had really thought about it, I might have seen a parallel in my own tendency to stand forever in front of a two-way mirror agonizing over my big nose.) I’m afraid she didn’t find me a very sympathetic audience as she stood each morning before the full-length mirror.

“Karen, does this skirt and blouse make me look fat?”

“Well, maybe a little.”

“How about with the blouse out? Is that better?”

“I’m not sure.”

“But look at it from the back. Fat?”

“Uh, no. I think it’s better with the blouse in. Definitely.”

“Are you sure? How about if I wear a sweater?”

“Julie! I’m gonna be late for school. Yes, it looks fine.”

“No, it doesn’t. You’re just saying that so you can go. You don’t even care about me.”

“Yes, I do! Wear the blouse tucked in and the sweater.”

“How about the blouse out and the sweater out? Doesn’t that cover more?”

“No. It looks sloppy. Now I’ve got to get to school. Bye.”

“Mo-ther!” The tears start. “Why am I so FAT?"

Eventually Julie learned why she was fat. It had to do with eating too much and exercising too little. Somewhere along the line, when she was in college, she got it all together and lost her excess weight.

Now she’s ten pounds lighter than me, jogs two miles a day and, although she still loves food, she rarely overeats. My sister who was a teenager with a matronly, frumpy shape is now the mother of two and has the figure of a nineteen-year-old.

And no one deserves it more than my fat sister.

(Note from author: This essay was written 25 years ago, when I only weighed 10 lbs. more than her. Now it's more like 50. Not something I'm real proud of, but just thought I should let you all know LOL.)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Your Life in a Jar

I spoke at a Senior's Group in Salt Lake about my process of writing Farm Girl, and gave a few tips on writing from life. One of the ladies in attendance talked about something their group is doing called "Your Life in a Jar."

They meet once a week, and draw a topic from the jar, such as games played as a child, radio programs listened to, trips or vacations, meals, etc. Then they write on this, and they're ready for another subject the next week.

This is a great idea that eliminates one of the biggest problems in writing one's history-- feeling OVERWHELMED!! Most of us can write quite a bit about one topic, but when faced with the idea of writing an entire memoir, or personal history from birth to present? It's overwhelming to the most avid writer!

So there you go! Get a jar, start adding slips of paper to it, and when you have time to write, just pull a topic out of the jar to write about! Brilliant idea!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

All about me, me, me and thanks for stopping by!

Welcome to new followers Patricia, Angela and Myrna, and thank you for your kind comments on my essay post.

How does anyone find this quiet, hidden blog? I don't promote it. It has a lot to do with my books and how I write and my interest in writing from life, but I don't try to get followers like I do on my other one. However, when you show up it's always a thrill!

Lately I've been on twitter a lot which has given me a huge headache. I'm involved with starting a website for published authors and needing to network via twitter. It's exhausting. Here are a few words I never thought would be in my vocabulary:





Marketing & Promotion

Designing & developing a website

I knew the words, but never cared. I wanted to write and let the 21st century go its merry way while I --

Rearranged my furniture

Pulled weeds in my flower beds

Had parties with my many children & celebrated their various stages of life

Watched the koi in the pond and counted their offspring

Cooked when I felt like it

Read a million books

Worked when I found a job after Costco....

Oh yes, and write. Who would have guessed what the writing would lead to? Back to the twittering, the networking, the website...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summertime is Magical

I am enjoying this summer so much for no particular reason. Here's an essay I wrote years ago that was published in the local paper. It may be included in my current wip, as the main character is a writer who gets essays published in the local paper LOL.

I grew up in one of central Illinois’ small towns; and if I let the years roll back, I can see a typical summer evening.

It was a sweltering day in mid-July and the blazing sun had finally dropped like a red hot coal below the horizon. Our supper eaten, my sister and I had no desire to stand, dripping seat, in a steamy kitchen helping with the dishes. We sneaked out the back and ran to the green coolness of our “hideout” in the yard.

At the far end of the lawn sat a wooden tool shed crowded on one side by two abundant lilac bushes. There was just enough space between them for two young girls to sit side by side, backs against the rough, white-washed boards. Beneath us grew a dense, natural carpet of tough grass and delicate clover that felt cool on bare feet.

I chewed on a clover leaf, pale green and nearly transparent. It tasted both tangy and sweet, like the lemon and honey mixture mother would give to soothe a cough. There in our shady shelter, my sister and I hunched like two rabbits, nibbling on clover leaves and tender grass shoots.

One’s own backyard seems like another world when darkness takes over. As the evening light gradually dimmed into dusk, the foliage around us blended into one shadowy blur, and our hideout became a cave. We were explorers hunting for lost treasure buried here years ago by pirates.

Unseen crickets chirped loudly, sounding very near. Lightning bugs winked at us merrily. I caught one, pretending it was a fairy sprinkled with gold dust. Holding it in my cupped hand, I felt the tickle as it fluttered to escape. It soon crawled out from beneath my fingers, and I watched it stretch out secret wings and take off, blinking its way into the night.

The evening breeze felt cool and damp and smelled of green, growing plants. Mosquitoes like the night air, too; and soon we were slapping ourselves where we felt their itching stings.

Before long we heard mother call us in, so reluctantly we dragged our way into the house to get ready for bed.

Twenty years later, I am the mother standing at the back door calling my little adventurers back to the “real” world of baths and beds and “put your sneakers in the closet.”

As they troop up the stairs, I step outside just for a moment, before they realize I’ve gone. I need to catch a lightning bug and feel the sprinkling of fairy dust in my hand.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

To Record a Life History for Personal Use

This post is to answer Donna, who has collected mountains of information for her father's memoir. Since I'm in publishing, I tend to use literary terms that may not be helpful to those who want to write a life story rather than write for an audience. Terms like voice, narrative flow, tone and point of view don't matter in that case.

So this post is for those wanting to record a life history for family and posterity, not for publication. If that is you, and you already have the collected records, photos, letters, journals, not to mention your own memories-- then you are half way there. As I've said before, it's the collecting that takes the most time, but it's where the work should begin.

Then you must organize your material into usable files, either on the computer or in envelopes, folders or boxes, whatever works best for you. Word perfect is one of the easiest programs to use for those who are used to the "typewriter." Haha, remember that old thing? Oh how I have loved the typewriters of my life! This looks like the one I wrote my stories on as a child.

And then there's the last one I owned, that I started Uncut Diamonds on ten years ago, back when it had a different title, different POV, different tone and wasn't even a novel lol! It was just excerpts from my old journals, organized in a way that I thought might make a story.
This is an IBM Selectric. Pretty cool, huh? Mine got donated to charity when I finally was able to let it go. Now I love my laptops. I'm on my fourth, and the only one that was bought new.

But let's say you have files of diaries and letters-- what will you be writing? I would suggest keeping those for later and starting with recording your memories. Just write and let it flow, in whatever format feels most comfortable. You might start with arranging them into "chapters," such as childhood, teen years, school days, vacations, meals and home routines, games and recreation, illnesses.

When you have poured everything out and have a huge file of your written memories, you can add to it from other files, like letters, photos, and whatever else is in your collection. The main thing is to get the words down, without worrying about how they sound, or grammar, or anything like an English teacher or an editor might frown upon.

This is your story, so write it in your way. It may take awhile to get past the mental roadblocks:

*this sounds stupid*

*I don't know how to use commas*

*this is too much work*

*who will ever read this?*

*does it even make sense?*

*I wish I were a better writer*

Let me assure you that even those who write for a living have these doubts about their work on a regular basis.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Writing a Memoir-- where to begin?

So you want to write your life story, or the memoir of a loved one-- a worthy endeavor, but where to begin? First you need to collect information. I posted about that earlier so go here and read then return.

Okay, once you have collected, what next? Organize! Think subject matter not chronology. When I wrote Farm Girl, the organization fell into place since my mother's memories covered the same topics over and over. School, Home, Family, the Community, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression. And because it was about her growing up years, the chapter organization could be somewhat chronological without being the dull routine of born in 1917, and then what happens each year after bla bla bla.

And this brings me to my next subject-- go for the gold, which in literary terms according to moi means to go for the story. Information is all very important, but only as it is useful for the story. I just finished reading the  memoir, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. She does an incredible job of drawing characters, creating tone and setting, giving background-- all leading to the story of her and her sister's imprisonment at Ravensbruck and what they learned there. And up until that point, she tells story after story to draw you in and keep you reading. Not in a random way, but brilliantly designed so that each event, story, chapter, and character in her narrative is necessary to the whole.

So there you have the three steps. One Two Three!

  • Collect information
  • Organize it
  • Build a story

Sounds so easy doesn't it? Well, I never said it would be easy. I only said it would be worth it!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Why I Do Not Sing

See that picture above with the two blonde girls in their cowgirl outfits? I'm the one on the left. This photo brings back one of my earliest memories of vacationing camping as a family.

We had made friends with some other little kids in the campground and one of them came up with this idea to sing for our parents. We practiced a song called "Lilies of the Valley," hiding back in the woods, over by the stream where no one could see or hear us. A girl, not one of my sisters, was in charge of practices, organizing everything and setting up the performance.

Really most of the details are fuzzy until I get to the actual performance, which is a clear and vivid memory. Our little group singing in front of half a dozen adults. The adults smiling and laughing, probably because we were so cute, but what did I know about the workings of the adult mind? I thought they were mocking us. I had been chosen to sing a brief solo, which I did, all the while in agony due to the laughter. I remember cracking on the last couple notes, unable to focus, knowing how terrible I sounded, hating their eyes on me, feeling intense shame and humiliation.

We finished "Lilies of the Valley" to grand applause, which didn't come close to making up for the laughter at the beginning. They begged for more, and we complied, singing two other songs we had practiced. I say "we." Not me. I never wanted to sing again. I stood there like a stone, just watching the audience. They didn't laugh as they had at first, but it didn't matter. The damage was done. Music and I were not friends from that moment on.

I could continue with other episodes involving singing, embarrassment and the torture of having to participate in choirs, up until recent years. Now I'm done. I will sing in church if my husband opens the hymnbook and holds it in front of my face. Then I'll sing about half the notes. Maybe.

And it all goes back to "Lilies of the Valley." I must have had a fairly good voice and tone or the bossy girl in charge wouldn't have picked me for the solo. But that one event shaped me for a lifetime of not singing. No loss. There's plenty of music in the world without my contribution. Interesting how our earliest experiences make us who into we are.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Lifetime to be Treasured

Here is young Lucille Marker:

Here she is as a young woman:

Here is Lucille Marker Jones with me on tour for Farm Girl, two years ago:

Here she is one month ago, at her granddaughter's wedding:

And lest you think she's confined to a wheelchair (heaven forbid!), here she is with the bride & groom and the bride's parents:

93 years young and still going strong--truly a lifetime to be treasured!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sharing in the History of a Dress

Approximately 30 years ago this fall my sister and her husband were married. She wore an elegant wedding dress, of a simple design with a lace overlay & long sleeves, also of lace. She called me today to report on her daughter's wedding last week which I unfortunately couldn't attend.

"She wore my wedding dress," my sister said. "And Maggie wants to wear it, too, when she gets married."  So both of her daughters will wear the dress! That is just so cool.

What a lovely thing to wear your mother's wedding dress! Or even a grandmother's vintage one-- which reminds me of that scene in Sleepless in Seattle where Meg Ryan is trying on her grandmother's wedding dress, her mom zips it up and it rips. (haha, Meg Ryan, you're fat)

Anyway, here it is with sleeves shortened, and isn't the bride stunning? What an adorable couple! Congratulations to newlyweds Kari & Kelly!

A simple gesture full of meaning-- sharing the family history through marriage vows and a vintage wedding gown.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Family Ties

I opened my email the other day and found this treat sent to me by a JWalstad. I read it with great interest since Walstad is a name in my family history:

"I've been reconstructing some of the family history as homesteaders in the Nebraska prairie.  During the course of my research, I encountered a novel by Willa Cather titled, My Antonia.  It turns out that it's a classic of American literature.  So I ordered it from Amazon.com. and promptly read it from cover to cover.  It was a great read!  Soon after it arrived, Amazon flagged several other books around that pioneering theme that they thought I might be interested in, and Farm Girl was listed among them.  I skimmed the description and discovered that you had a chapter in it on the Walstads.  So I promptly ordered it, and it's one of the best books I've ever purchased because of its relevance to my heritage.  I've since passed it along to my wife and my father to read.  They've been equally captivated.  Now I've got to order your second book, Uncut Diamonds

This afternoon I had another pleasant surprise:  a phone call from your 93 year-old mother, Lucille!  You had sent her my earlier email, and she decided to contact me directly.  Turns out that she knew my grandfather (Julius Oscar Walstad) as well as my uncles Joe, Paul, and aunt Ruth.  What a small world!  She's a wealth of information, and I'm so glad you captured much of her fascinating history.  Although she's still accumulating it, so you may have to write a sequel!  In any event, we had a wonderful conversation.  She's an amazing person!"

So here's a guy who came across Farm Girl on Amazon, found out he was related to the Norwegians mentioned in the first chapter-- Hans Walstad homesteading in Nebraska, and his parents Jakob and Karen Walstad across the river. Turns out that Jakob and Karen were his great-great grandparents as well as mine!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Report from Capetown

This is from an email I got this morning from my son Travis who is serving a mission in Capetown:

Good morning. It is freezing cold here, raining and I can’t feel my feet. Winter in Cape Town is nice.

Well, the world cup has begun. It makes missionary work exciting. People started blowing their vuvuzelas Thursday night till late, and started blowing them again at about 6 on Friday morning and they went all day long. If you watched the opening match you probably heard that trumpet horn noise throughout the game. (That must be the buzzing sound so many commented on in their twitters!) Thats a vuvuzela. We were on our way to a teaching appointment when South Africa scored their goal and the whole township exploded (figuratively speaking). Everybody ran into the streets cheering and shouting. Old mamas and tatas were dancing, cars were hooting their horns. I’ve never seen such madness. It was fun. I keep telling people that USA is going to win and they always laugh at me. It is a good way to start a conversation. The work hasn’t slowed down because we haven’t let it. Those that are willing to turn their TV’s off really show a lot of commitment. Everybody thinks that we are a couple of tourists exploring the township to see what it is like.

Happy birthday Mum! I hope it was nice. I still don’t know your age. You stopped ageing for me around your 40’s so that is what you’ll always be.

Picture of this young missionary before he left for Africa nearly two years ago, with his "mum" who is clearly over 40:

Okay, besides the fact that I thought this was an interesting email considering the big match going on there, I am reminded of how many stories lurk just under the surface of everyone's daily events, wherever and whatever. An observant person who wants to write can find the stories everywhere.

In Travis's email, there's the story of these tall white Americans on the streets desiring to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and people thinking they're tourists there for the World Cup. There's the story of the people in the townships, and the food they eat, the homes they live in, the sports they follow, and that horn they blow that sounds like buzzing over the TV. There's the story of this tall young man with a name badge (who is he? why is he going to Africa? why is his mom so short? what's with that smile? why does he look so happy?)

Anyway, you get the point. I love writing from life. There's no end of material to choose from. In fact, no one writer can live long enough to get out all the compelling stories. If the path you have chosen is to write stories, then time is of the essence. Write, write, write on!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lazy Summer Day

Our 18 year old son twisted an ankle yesterday while playing basketball. After the usual ice pack, elevation and ibuprofen treatment we figured he was ok. Then at midnight he woke us up in terrible pain. My husband took him to the emergency room. No broken bones, but he was fitted with a brace from foot to knee for proper healing.

Illness and accidents (not to mention hospitals) stress me out so bad. I stayed in bed awake while the two of them went off to the hospital. Two hours later they came back and I was able to sleep.

So today as I sit in front of an open window, doing not much beside blogging and checking emails, listening to the birds, the lawnmowers, the wind in the trees I suddenly realize why I'm too tired to do anything else. Being awake from midnight to 2 a.m. will do that to you. I was feeling guilty about wasting time, when really why not just enjoy this beautiful summer day and be grateful for the opportunity to catch up on posting and commenting?

Do I ever love summer! As a child it was all about sleeping late then reading until afternoon when we'd go swimming at the pool. After swimming my sister and I would play Canasta until dinner in a darkened living room (cooler that way). After dinner would be playing baseball, kickball, badminton or croquet with the neighbor kids. Then staying up late reading in bed with a fan blowing on me. (I still do that!)

There was always the long vacation with the family, going camping and visiting my grandma in Nebraska (see Farm Girl for more Nebraska lol!) And see above photo for a scene from one of our campground visits.

Happy summer, everyone! I hope you can all spend some time just doing nothing!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Deleting Posts

This blog is about writing from life. And occasionally I write too much, then I get embarrassed. Or maybe the event or persons I wrote about might get embarrassed, if they happen to stumble across my blog and recognize themselves.

So I woke up this morning deciding to delete my last post. I don't think this individual reads my blogs, but is she does I wouldn't want her to have pain from reading about herself here.

That said, I must admit that I exaggerate everything. It's part of my writing style. I do it for humor and to make my stories/characters more interesting.

When I wrote Uncut Diamonds, I exaggerated Shawn McGill's parents, making them worse than the very lovely people, sort of nice people, than who they are based on in real life-- (my in-laws). I did this because nice people aren't interesting. Moderate, balanced, well-adjusted people don't make interesting characters in fiction. Or in blog posts.

Uncut Diamonds is a novel about family. Based on real people and real events, yes, but still a novel. I took a lot of liberties, although those involved with the time and the characters can fairly easily recognize themselves and others.

It may be why one of my sister-in-laws hates my novel and refuses to speak to me seems less than enthusiastic about my novel, since she sees her parents portrayed as not very nice people. They aren't villains, they just don't come off real well in the story.

Big deal, it's what writers do. We take stuff and mix it up to make a story. That's what I did with my blog post about the neighbor lady. I took a real incident, real dialogue, and I exaggerated my conclusion/summary to make it into a little story to post here.

Let's see, I have three different blogs, and so far I've deleted a post on each one that I felt might be embarrassing to someone. It's the price you pay when you write from life. Sometimes life can be embarrassing. Too bad we can't delete our bad days, our most embarrassing moments, our painful experiences. Just press the delete button and poof! it's gone! Never happened!

Have you ever gotten in trouble for writing too truthfully? Offending people? Embarrassing yourself and others? Getting fired from your job? Called on the carpet? Let's hope not, but hey it's bound to happen when we write from life!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Am I Quirky and Offbeat over Here? I hope so!

Here's an award I got from amazing blogger Patrick Tillett.

I love this award and how Patrick explains it: "The "White Russian" Award is for my favorite blogs. I'm sure it's no coincidence that they all have something unusual about them, are a bit quirky, or totally offbeat, and I like them as folks. Some of them are mega-popular and some are undiscovered."

I love it that he thinks my blog here is unusual, a bit quirky or totally offbeat. I could say the same about his. If you haven't been there, please go because it is a treat. Pat should be writing a memoir. Whether he ever does or not, at least he's blogging and we can all enjoy his posts and his photography.

Thanks, Pat, for this award. And since there are no rules to pass it on, I won't :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Learning and Doing

I love those two words. They mean you can accomplish almost anything you want if you learn how and then commit yourself to doing it. I could even be on Oprah if I learn the rules and do them. I could have my books in the local Costco warehouses if I wanted to. (I've learned the rules there, but I choose not to follow them, so it won't happen and I'm ok with that.) Same with Oprah-- I know what it would take and I don't want to pay the price.

Too often we think we CAN'T do something. What we really mean is we can't do it by OUR rules. My rules for getting on Oprah would be to do nothing much special and then Oprah calls me and offers me an all-expense-paid trip to Chicago to appear on her show and listen to her tell me how wonderful the book Farm Girl is and that all her fans must go right out and buy a copy.

Those would be my rules and clearly it won't happen. Also, my rules would involve me not having to talk at all because I would be petrified. So yes, I'd just sit there in a new outfit and red shoes and listen to Oprah wax poetic about how wonderful Farm Girl is. That's all. Those are my rules! Not going to happen. Because Oprah has her own rules for getting on her show, as well she should. She isn't a multi-million-dollar industry by accident.

Think about the things you want to do. Have you learned the rules? Are you operating by the rules at play or by your own rules? Because if you want to achieve the goal, you must DO as well as LEARN. You must play by the rules of the game at hand.

This last year I learned how social media works and I entered into the fray. (Just joined Twitter but not Facebook, no not ever!) I learned more about story structure and I'm doing it with my current work in progress. (Course my editor says my character-development is suffering but I can fix that.) I learned a few other things, too, but why bore you with my entire year in review lol?

What new things have you learned and done recently?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Great Follower Chase and other Anxiety-inducing Behaviors

I decided when I began this blog that I wouldn't get caught up in the follower chase, the countdown for more and more followers. We writers seem obsessed with adding and counting followers and commenters, probably because we need readers to feel complete.

My daughter did both a writer and yoga blog for awhile, and she noticed that the yoga bloggers don't have follower icons on their blogs. Apparently, they don't care how many followers they have.

Maybe we writers should be doing more yoga, and calming ourselves down. Not worrying so much about followers, commenters, agents and query letters (omigosh does that subject ever get us into a tailspin of anxiety), marketing (my current focus and cause of frequent panic attacks), time to write (Who has time to do anything? Something's got to give. If it's important to us, we'll do it, otherwise we won't), and the be-all and end-all --- GETTING PUBLISHED!

Man, we are a stressed-out bunch of people. That's what I've learned from following writer blogs. And I used to think it was just me! Just knowing I'm not the only one helps to calm me down. And coming to this blog instead of hyperactive follower-obsessed other blog. There may come a time when I slow down on that one and just hang out here.

Now, if you'll forgive me for asking a personal, self-absorbed question to the faithful few who follow this blog: Which one of my blogs do you prefer? This one or Coming Down the Mountain?

Monday, May 17, 2010

If Only

My 93 year-old mother, the grown up farm girl, came this weekend for my daughter's wedding. She traveled with my sister from Minnesota to Utah and stayed at our home for three days. Sunday she came to church with me and caused a minor stir among several of the people who had read Farm Girl. They fell in love with her, murmuring things like, "I can't believe she's 93! Her mind is so sharp." "What an honor to meet your mom. She is adorable!"
"I loved Farm Girl! And here she is!" "If only she could stay longer and talk to us about the book and answer all our questions."

Truly I feel blessed to still have my mom around and active mentally and physically. She lives alone in an independent living center and drives her eighty-year-old neighbors to their doctor's appointments.

Since she went back home, I've been thinking "if only." I've thought about the enthusiastic reactions that came from those who met her Sunday, and how they took to her right off. I'm used to people taking to my mom. She has a way about her that attracts people. I've thought about the tour we took in Nebraska two years ago. As hard as it was traveling at her age, she enjoyed it immensely.

"If only" we could figure out a way and means to travel again and let people meet her-- this elderly white-haired lady with a quick mind who amazes everyone. "If only" people could meet her, hear her speak and reminisce about those farm girl days, and feel inspired to write their own stories or those of their parents and grandparents. "If only" we could travel the world carrying the message of Farm Girl-- that ordinary people often have the best stories.

As my mother wrote in her forward:

"After all, history is just the story of people's lives. To me my life has been very ordinary and typical of others in our community of that era. It is rather humbling to think that anyone other than family would find much interest in my experiences. Nevertheless, I am thankful to Karen for believing that these memories are worth saving."

"If only" we could turn back the clock and give her the vigor she had at 73, then my mom and me would tour the world and share the story of Farm Girl. That would be so fun.