Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snail Mail Giveaway & I Came Back

I love finding weird coincidences. Like the fact that I decided to visit the old Story Club here, and saw it has been 2 years to the day since I posted. Yikes! I know that blogs are going by the wayside a little,  and most of us don't have time to read them or want to. But I still get some blog posts by e-mail and when I do check them out, I'm always rewarded with something in my busy day. Anyway, I realized that this is good for me. I see strange and wonderful things every day, and I'm doing this Club a disservice by not sharing those observations. So if you're still there, and I know some of you have stuck with me, be ready for some posts. I also want to give something away. You may remember I love Trader Joe's. I'm obsessed with their gourmet greeting cards. I'll send a little assortment to someone who tells me 5-10 of their favorite things (I added my own on over there on the right side). Because we all need to send more snail mail!

P.S. I have picked up my writing works in progress and plan to continue with them very soon after this little hiatus I went on. It was a great hiatus. 

(Random drawing 1/24 by midnight. US addresses only, sorry. Any subscriber outside the U.S. who comments: I will try to send you snail mail sometime in 2016. I would love a pen pal).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What a Writer Thinks

I can only speak for myself in this, but I bet many writers have these same thoughts at some point. So here's just a glimpse of what goes through my mind.
P.S. I was never crazy before I started writing.

I want to write like this!
I love that scene I just wrote. I could read it over and over again.

I love that scene, how I remember it in my mind-- but if I go back and read it again, it's probably entirely stupid.

I won't re-read what I just wrote; plunging ahead!

I can't believe I just used a cliche I've never spoken in real life.

I think an adverb could be okay here; I'll. . .leave it. . .for now.
We are not amused by this book.

Somewhere, someone is going to read this and go, "Yeah, right" and throw my book across the room!

Sometime, someone's going to review this book and call it "the work of a child."

This IS the work of a child; what was I thinking? 

Why am I wasting my time, putting all this effort into total trash?!?!

But I love it, and it's from my heart.

But who cares? It will most likely never see the light of day!

That scene was really funny to me-- but someone's going to call it a cartoon.

That IS what I'm writing-- a total cartoon of stupid stupidity!
This isn't going to be me! Not giving up. Ever.

But I love it, and I know I can't please everyone. 

Even if I can please ONE reader, it will all be worth it. I think.

What else could I be doing with my time?

Someone, somewhere will point out this type of screw was not used until later in history. 

So what? Screw them. 

Why?? For the love of Pete, WHY am I doing this???? 

Wait, Pete is the name of one of my characters. 

I can't wait until I get a free moment. I have this great scene in my head I need to write.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Tale of Two Traumas and What Matters

After re-connecting with a school friend, she told me a story that has stuck with me. I had asked a question regarding what you would miss if it were taken from you, and she said she had been through two robberies! This I had to hear.

Thanks to Christy for telling her story here.

In May of our senior year of high school, my dad took a new job in Memphis. My mom, brother, and I stayed behind so I could graduate and we could work our summer jobs before school in the fall. So, the 3 of us lived in an apartment temporarily, while Dad came home every other weekend all summer. In August, my brother moved to his college dorm, and the night before I was supposed to go to school, we borrowed our friend's car and loaded it up with all my stuff. I went out with some friends, came home and went to bed.
My mom came into my room the next morning.
"Was the car there when you got home last night?"
"Yep, sure was, Mom."
"Well, it's not now."
And so, I moved to college with literally the clothes on my back. They had my scrapbook from my graduation reception (pictures from my birth through graduation), journals, and computer--Everything I was taking to college with me.
It doesn't take long to move into the dorm when you have one pair of shoes and a stereo. My parents and I went to Wal-Mart and spent probably $1000 trying to get me ready for the first day of class. I didn't even have sheets, pens, backpack...nothing. Mom and Dad moved to Memphis the next day (it broke their hearts to leave me knowing the trauma I was going through). Three days later was my 18th birthday and they found the car. It had one of my birthday presents and my case of Dr. Pepper left in it. That's it. 
The second robbery was just that. Karl and I had been married 8 months. We came home from work one night (we carpooled) and found one of our laundry baskets in our driveway (we live in the country in the middle of nowhere. The closest neighbor is 1/2 mile away and we can only see one house from ours). There was a trail of DVDs through the yard up to the door. It wasn't pretty when we entered the house. All of the kitchen cabinets were open and the place was ransacked. They got interrupted or I'm certain they would have taken more (we know they were interrupted because there were bags half-packed left throughout the house). They took most of the electronic equipment, all the DVDs (we had a ton), jewelry, guns, ammo, money, and more. All told, it was about $14,000 worth of stuff. They took the diamond tennis bracelet that Dad gave Mom on their 15th anniversary. They took a box of letters that my mother-in-law had written to Karl through the years. They took my jewelry box with my high school class ring in it (so if you're ever in a pawn shop, see if my name is engraved on the inside. HA!). 
They never found out who did it (in either case, actually).

How do you move on and heal from either of these horrible situations?

It was hard to process. The first time, I was so lost I didn't know anyone at college since it was the first day. I literally had nothing. It was VERY hard to cope. I would imagine that moving to college would have been hard anyway, but adding on your parents moving 9 hours away and not having any of your stuff just made it worse. In some ways, I'm angry that I didn't get to have the "normal" first week of college experience. I missed out on a lot the first day because I was trying to get some of my stuff replaced. It took months to get everything replaced. I have the list of everything that was taken. . .it's ridiculously long. 

The home robbery was very violating. Knowing that these people had been through my drawers and cabinets was disgusting to me. My mom came out the next day and scrubbed my entire kitchen from top to bottom (cabinets, dishes, floor, doors, etc). We just wanted to get the "ick" out. It took a long time for me to not be paranoid when I came home after work. I never felt unsafe because I knew my husband would keep me safe. But, I still felt uneasy--especially when I was home alone at night. Where we live, there are no street lights. It's very dark and quiet. Every time the dog barked, I thought someone might be coming. It was hard. Eventually I worked through it and rarely feel panicky about it anymore (it's been 9 years), but I do still have some random moments of paranoia. When it comes now, it's intense because I'm home with the kids and my "Mama Bear" instincts come out to protect my babies. 
I think it's probably made me less trusting of people I don't know. If someone just stops by our house, I meet them outside (don't even let them get inside the fence) with my phone in my hand in case I have to call for help. I even make my kids stay away from the windows!

It really makes you realize what actually matters. The DVDs and TV's can be replaced. The pictures and letters hurt the most. You can't get those back. Yes, you have the memories of what they said, but when that person is gone, it would be nice to have their written words or a picture with them. I do take more precautions now to save and back up all my pictures.

Christy, I'm so glad we reconnected, and I wish I had been able to help out when you went to college! We all went our separate ways, with no Facebook back then. . . I hope you had support around you at the time.

Obviously, you have healed because you have a bright, shining, positive spirit on social media-- where I see you now. I hope your story can inspire someone else who has been violated by theft that others have been there-- and have moved through it. Thanks for sharing and letting me use your story! 

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Reading Year in Review

This is the first time I've ever taken inventory at the end of a year like this. It was a fun little research project for myself. Go ahead and try it! See what fun stats you can create from your own list.

Books read: 26
Of these, 12 were e-books.
(Note: These do not include children's books, of which I've read too many to count!)

Fiction: 18
Non-fiction: 8

New authors I'm following: 4

Broken into genres. . .

Historical: 15
Suspense: 2
Memoir: 2
On Writing: 2
Life: 2
Romance: 1
Cooking/Memoir: 1
Humor: 1

Reviews written: 18

My favorite of the fiction: When Mountains Move (Julie Cantrell)

My favorite of the non-fiction: The Question That Never Goes Away (Philip Yancey)

Books that stuck with me / surprised me / so glad I stumbled upon:

3500: An Autistic Boy's Ten-Year Romance with Snow White (Ron Miles)

The Truth About Butterflies: A Memoir (Nancy Stephan)

Laugh-out-loud moments:

Crossroads Road (Jeff Kay)

Teary moments:

3500 (see above)

The Question.... (see above)

The Truth... (see above)

Authors met this year:

Eleanor Brown
Alex George
Sandra Dallas

What a year for readers! There are so many books out there and so little time. I tend to read all the new books released by my favorite authors, e-books that have gotten good reviews (especially when they're offered FREE), heartwrenching memoirs, lots of historical, those recommended to me, and thrift store gems I pick up. 

So, 26 books. This doesn't include all the research I do online and in books for writing, blog reading, and articles. I also read a LOT of e-book samples before I determine whether or not to order, AND I have spent time with some books which sadly, I did not finish. 

What did the year look like for you? Was there a book that surprised you? Throw me a statistic!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

So Long. Farewell. Good-bye.

I was a person who hated good-byes. Still do. If there was a way to just avoid that whole part of someone leaving, I would. Somehow it seemed if I didn't actually bid someone farewell, it wasn't really like they were leaving. Maybe they would come back.
So eventually I figured it was either easier to not get close in the first place, or just forget the whole painful good-bye. It worked pretty well for me, up until I heard a college professor say, "If you learn nothing else here, learn to say a good good-bye." 
A good good-bye. That stuck with me.
I began to observe how people around me said good-bye. To my amazement, there were a lot of folks out there who had no idea how to do this. Or didn't bother. I found myself in leadership positions where I was occasionally responsible for good-bye parties. I was a therapist who had to provide closure when clients had reached the end. I was a teacher who promoted the Sunday School kids in August. Suddenly, my own kids had friends who moved away. People left all around us. It was up to me to make these a smooth transition or a non-transition.
I currently coordinate services in a housing development where people constantly move in and move out. Sometimes I bond with those kids. They might say good-bye but usually, they just disappear with their parents, and I don't see them leave. This hurts. Why? Because I want people to know they have made an impact. They have touched someone in the world, even for a short time. Because saying "good-bye" is an important piece of the grieving puzzle. Without it, wounds just don't always heal properly.
I've now given many farewell speeches. Last cards. Thank-you tributes. I've even made scrapbooks and picture frames. Gone to lunches. Given hugs. If I hadn't, it's likely that no one else would have.
Same for you. If you don't do it, who will? Learn to say a good good-bye. Tears are okay.

Have you said a good good-bye, or has someone else given you this gift? 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Teach Them Nothing You Wish Them to Unlearn

On July 4, 1863, James McKill, Confederate Army Captain from Missouri, was taken prisoner of war by the Union Army. He was held for a total of 21 months, until the end of the war. Captain McKill was my great-great-great grandfather. 

On November 14, 1863, he arrived at the prison on Johnson's Island in Ohio. Here, in a letter to his wife, are his own words.

(To fully experience this post, you need to listen to this right now as you read! No excuses.)

Dear Wife. . .November 14th, a cold rainy day, the rain coming down in true fall style, between fifty and sixty of us were ordered to be ready in two hours for a move. Accordingly, at 10 a.m., we were called out, a guard placed around us, and away we started on foot, through the rain and mud for Columbus. Part of which way we were marched double quick, to be in time for the train. While marching through the streets of Columbus, I could hardly fail to contrast my present, with a former visit to this city twenty-six years ago. Then I was a happy boy of seven years. My time here was spent in a quiet house on the outskirts of the town, overlooking the tranquil Scioto. A kind father, an indulgent mother, and a dear brother were then beside me, each doing for me, all that duty bid, or affections prompted. But now, I am here as a prisoner of war, wet, weary and covered with mud, hurried through the streets, with the idle and curious gazing at me from every window and door. 

. . .At half past eight p.m., we were consigned to Johnson Island's Prison, wet, cold, and hungry. We had eaten nothing since early breakfast, but no food was given us. No lights or fires being permitted after 9:00, we were necessarily compelled to look around in haste for a place to sleep. We (that is, my bunk mate and I), at length, found an empty bunk. We spread our wet blankets upon the boards, and turned in to rest our wearied frames in sleep or to ruminate upon the vicissitudes of life, whichever might best suit our feelings. 

Our food, although plain, is wholesome and in quantity, sufficient. The number of prisoners occupying each block is about 180. They are, I believe, all officers and of all ranks from 3rd Lt. to Major General and there is no state in Dixie from Virginia to Texas, from Georgia to Missouri, but what is well represented, as also every trade and occupation followed by man in civilized life. Here is the Legislator who has vacated his seat in the hall. Here is the Farmer, whose broad fields are left untilled. Here is the Minister whose voice is no more heard in the sanctuary of the Lord. Here is the Lawyer whose briefs and law books together lie molding on the dusty shelf. Here is the Merchant, the Mechanic, the Grocer Clerks. . . Our occupations here are almost as varied as formerly-- Cooking, Washing, (I have become a pretty fair washerman), and Ironing. Also, the Jewelers trade has a great run at present, almost to every man, having become proficient in the art. I have done something in my leisure moments, having made a ring for you, a breast pin for little Ella, and am now at work on one for Monroe. These I think I shall keep and have the pleasure of presenting you when first we meet.

Fourteen months have fled, Dear Wife, since we parted last. Since then, I have been much exposed to danger and disease. I have twice stood on the bloody battlefield and saw men by the score hurried to their last accounts. I have been where hundreds have sickened and died, but in all this time, no danger has harmed me, no disease has prostrated me. I see from your letters that yourself and my family have also been spared. I should be thankful to God for all this, and trust that I am. 
Belle McKill, wife of James

Now, Dear Wife, the time may be long or it may be short 'ere we meet again. Not knowing which, let us constantly put our trust in God and pray that He will speedily send us peace and restore us again to each others' society. Those little babes of ours, I know you love equally as much, if not more, than I do or can, but Dear Wife, do not-- because I am absent-- hasten them to their lust. Cultivate in them moral as well as their mental facilities. Teach them nothing that you would wish them to unlearn. Teach them to hate falsehood, to love truth, and walk in the ways of virtue. Tell my aged mother, I long to see her once more. I would, that I could, be with her to comfort her and protect her in her declining years, and return to her, at least in part, that core and affection which she for so many years bestowed upon her wayward boy. 

. . .In conclusion, Dear Wife, what shall I say to you-- that I long to see you, or that I love you? No, but that such so I have been for nine years past, I will still remain while life shall last. 

Your husband,
James McKill

Prisoners on Johnson's Island were treated pretty well. At first, prisoners were kept only about 5 months, but those who came later (as McKill) were kept up to 16 months. Prisoners found ways to prevent boredom, which was one of the worst conditions they suffered. They wrote letters, kept diaries, and participated in original theatrical productions. They also kept autograph albums, signed by prisoners, including their ranks, service, addresses, and where they were captured. Many played baseball, chess and checkers, and were even able to garden. Prisoners took to writing poems to express their feelings. We have a few that McKill wrote during his time there. 

Originally, letters were only allowed to be one page. But Missouri General M. Jeff Thompson struck a secret deal, offering to pay the censors 2.5 cents for each page read in the evenings. The scheme worked well until a prisoner complained to a Commandant he had to pay a dime tax to receive a four-page-letter. The matter was investigated, and the one-page rule was put back in effect. 

This probably explains why all of McKill's letters after this first one appear to be about the same length, probably a handwritten page. 

Captain McKill returned to his family at the end of the war. He never intended to join the war, but he was in a unique situation. Living on the Missouri/Kansas border, he felt it was the only way to save his farm and those of his neighbors. The reasons for war were complicated, and many were thrust into choosing a side. It was a terrible time for all. I am thankful my ancestor made it home, but I ache for all the families who never saw their soldiers again. 

(Prison information taken from the Johnson's Island website).

(The letters and family pictures were taken from a book edited by a family member. I have further edited the words of the letter to be more understandable).

Have you found any old family letters? Have you discovered anything interesting from them?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Distracted by Blondie

Look closely to see two elk. Or just take my word for it.
I would hate to leave my summer vacation dangling in space. As you may recall, we had just ridden the river and were contemplating leaving the ranch in the morning. Or possibly, you may not recall this at all. Whatever. Either way, I hope you can appreciate what my horseback-riding experience had to offer in the way of a life/writing analogy.

My daughter and I headed down the mountain from our cabin to join the few others for our morning horseback ride. After watching a video in which, once again, we were told our lives could be on the line in this risky activity, we met our horses! She had a sweet little guy named Junior, and I had a strong, sturdy dude named Buck. The view from atop a horse is so different. Suddenly, trust becomes real, since other feet besides yours are touching the ground. Those feet are going to carry you, or not. Wherever they ultimately go, that's where you're going, like it or not. *Analogy #1: Get out of your comfort zone now and then if you want to see a new perspective. Feeling stuck? Look through someone else's eyes.

We began our slow, steady climb up the rocky paths and green pastures of the mountainous ranch. Slow it was, since every horse wanted to eat instead of walk. This was no head-to-butt ride up a narrow trail. These horses were free and relaxed, which meant we only had to keep up with the group. There was even a horse-in-training. She had no rider and no one leading her. She simply followed along with the group. She was beautifully golden, young, smart, trim, and her name was Blondie. 

Buck did not like Blondie. For whatever reason, he did not appreciate her behind him, and actually snapped at her. Did he think she was going to nip at him? Hurry him along? Did they have issues back at the corral? I don't know. I just tried to steer clear of her when possible. *Analogy #2: Jealousy and worrying about what other people are doing will get you nowhere. You will look silly if you lash out in front of your herd. You can't compare your strengths to someone who's in a different place than you. And most likely, they aren't doing what you think they're doing behind your back.

Buck liked to procrastinate. He'd eat as much as he could, ignoring my pleas to keep up. Then, when the horse ahead just turned the corner, Buck would run to catch up. Our Guide would occasionally stop to make sure everyone was still with him. Then we'd all ride on, trying to keep from getting brushed off our horses by the overpassing trees and shrubs. At one point, my daughter had finally had enough of keeping it under control on this long-and-getting-longer ride (and she had hurt her hand on the saddle). I stopped with her, just long enough to see her cry and then my Buck sailed on by, without an ounce of sympathy. We called the Guide, who rode over and gently talked to her. As sweet as could be, he took Junior's reins and led them on the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Buck, Blondie, and I somehow ended up toward the back of the group.

I tried to keep an eye on that Vixen. So did Buck. I coaxed him to get back up with the group, to no avail. I had lost all control, and danger was imminent. As long as she stayed away, Buck contentedly ate the grass. I talked soothingly to him, patting him. Let's go, boy. She means nothing to you. She's just in training, hoping to be like you someday. Then Blondie galloped past us, with her brown mane and tan legs flying. Buck was having none of that. As much as he hated her behind us, he did not like her passing him up. I let out a scream as he galloped down the steep, rocky path. The Guide said that I came around the corner, hanging on, bouncing sideways out of the saddle. My heart pounded, my legs shook. He calmly came toward us.

Buck stopped short upon hearing the Guide's voice. I informed him that Buck did not like Blondie. She was distracting and annoying. He pulled Buck to the front of the group, away from that chick. He asked if I would like him to guide us the rest of the way. "Yes," I squeaked. 
*Analogy #3: When you find yourself falling, find that expert who can help you back on. When you find your control and confidence again, you can take the next step.

Our Guide was expert enough to ride his own horse, while leading BOTH Junior and Buck. We had a great rest of the ride, just chatting, not worrying about the horses. I don't even know where Blondie went after that. I just know we were more than ready to get a drink and get back to the ground. 

Isn't he cute?
A dirty, crusty little border collie ran along with us the whole way. He zipped in and out amongst the horses, always keeping his Master within his sight. Clearly, that dog lived for these rides and loved every minute of it. On the final stretch of rocky road, the Guide simply put his hand down and pointed, not saying a word. The dog sat. We rode on and still that dog sat. I looked back several times. He laid down, one black-and-white ear sticking up. After a couple minutes, the Guide whistled ever so slightly, and that collie came running until he caught up to us again. What a faithful little dog. 
*Analogy #4: You can hear all kinds of things, from different people, good and bad. Until you cut through the noise and listen to yourself, you'll only be doing what other people want. Do it for yourself. 
What are the Blondies in your life? Distracting you, annoying you, keeping you from your goal? Are you doing it for yourself? Or someone else?