Saturday, December 31, 2016

One Word for the New Year

Earlier this week, I chose my "one word" for 2017. You may have seen this suggestion making its rounds on social media. Choose one word that becomes your guiding theme in the twelve months ahead. People's answers have a beautiful variety: thankful, peace, trust, action, hope, brave. I have seen many as the clock keeps ticking its way closer to the new year, and I have chosen mine:


WORTHY

I rolled it around in my brain for a day, considering others but returning to this one. I mulled over why it was the strongest contender. What did it mean for me? How might it affect my year? It nestled into my consciousness and I decided to let it stay. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to share it with you on this blog. As I sorted out my musings into readable paragraphs, I also tried to find a good quotation to use to introduce the idea. It was a rare occasion of Google failing me.

What I found was quote after quote affirming a person's self-worth. I am worthy. You are worthy. On and on and on. We have a crisis of self-worth. This isn't news. It's been going on for decades and only getting worse. The misguided responses of rooting out all humility and lasting, God-given identity haven't exactly helped.

All these people attempting to answer this crisis. At first it seemed like there was nothing applicable to my theme for the new year. I wasn't looking for an affirmation of self-worth. It is exactly because of my belief in my own worth that I chose this word. Then I realized that maybe, just maybe, this new year's theme is a piece of the puzzle of living in a manner that says you know your worth.

I chose WORTHY because I am tired of giving of myself to things that are not worthy of me. I'm tired of being tired - physically and mentally. I, like many people, have trouble saying no to or stepping away from that which isn't worthy of a portion of my reserves of time, energy, attention, and care. In the coming year, I hope to retrain myself to an extent. Give myself only to what is worthy - be it activities, hobbies, relationships, responsibilities, worries, thoughts - and within the collection of what is worthy, spend myself to an extent that is proportionate to each one's importance. Not everything and everyone is worthy of what I have to give, and not everything and everyone that is worthy is equally worthy.

At the close of 2017, I aim to have this a bit more sorted out than I do now. The end result, I hope, will be less of that tiredness I mentioned, yes, but also a better ability to pour myself out for what is WORTHY because I am not wasting myself on what isn't.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Listen to Your (Inner) Three Year Old

My three year old gets it. All that is necessary to fill him with excited anticipation is to tell him we are going to do something together. The activity matters little. Togetherness is the key.

During the brief forty-five minutes we had this morning between him waking up and me departing for work, he must have asked ten times for me to spend time with him. The asking comes in a variety of forms - will you sit with me; can we watch a movie together; are you going to eat with me - but the heart of the question is constant: Can we be together?

Connection; companionship; unity; family. It is my belief that we do not lose our early years' desire for togetherness. We grow adept at minimizing its significance, quieting its voice. We learn to ignore it. We all have our own reasons for doing so.

With each instance in which I must reject my son's request for time with me because I am required to be elsewhere, my heart hurts. Yet there are plenty of times where I also turn him down carelessly, preferring that he leave me alone to do the things I'm more interested in that day or the things I think have to get done. I am imperfect in it, without a doubt, but having children has reawakened my own desire for and value of togetherness.

This isn't written with undue guilt. We cannot be there with them non-stop. Jobs, obligations, responsibilities, and even solitary endeavors are both necessary and valuable. Yes, my children have to learn the hard lesson that they are not at the center of the world they occupy nor can they count on always receiving what they want from others. My thoughts run less along the line of eliminating those lessons and more along the line of wondering what society, and specifically my own family, could look like if alongside those harder lessons everyone also learned that we do not need to guard our hearts against the natural desire for togetherness.

Final request of the day: "Will you rest with me?"
What if I said yes more often, both to my son and to my own timid longing for greater togetherness? What if I factored it more strongly into our Christmas season plans and my New Year's resolutions? What if I replaced "not right now" with "yes, we can be together" as much as possible? It would be a difference maker for the good, I am sure of it.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Paradox of Suffering and Hope at Christmas

Photo provided by Trisha Hummel
Today is my cousin Trudi's 44th birthday. It is her 23rd birthday in eternal life. I was still stumbling my way toward my teen years when Trudi was murdered. Trudi and her older sisters were thick as thieves with my older sisters while I was just one of the little cousins in our extensive family circle. I remember her as cool; fun and beautiful; bold and humorous.

This weekend I spent hours addressing Christmas cards. As I scribbled the names, streets, and cities of my cousins, I couldn't help wondering about Trudi. Would she live in the same area, like her sisters, or would she have established her life elsewhere? Would we have attended a wedding? Would our children have played together by now? Would we have that comfortable, enjoyable dynamic that develops between family members after the years have placed us on level ground?

Hypotheticals. They do an excellent job of muddling the mind and stinging the heart. There's nothing like loss to leave you wading through a pool of hypotheticals. And there's nothing like Christmas time to amplify the wound of loss.

This isn't a direct quote, as I can't remember where I heard it, but I once read that St. John Paul II said suffering is created by feeling cut off from good. We live and love and link ourselves to sources of good. When one of those links is severed, we are left trying to patch the tear.

What has severed a link to good in your life?
Death
Divorce
Job loss
Infertility
Disease
Rejection
Betrayal

Every cut in our connections to what is good is felt keenly in this season of celebration. For some, the suffering renders Christmas undesirable. Potential joy is swallowed up in misery. Sounds of peace are drowned out by the roar of hypotheticals that can never be.

Oh, the paradox of Christmas. For Christmas, my friends, is the arrival of the Divine Response to every wound and cut and tear you carry with you. It is Almighty God dwelling amongst us. He made Himself vulnerable to encounter our vulnerability. God entrusted Himself to the arms of a mother, to the home of an earthly father, and to a community of imperfect, suffering individuals.

Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst
Christmas is the issuance of God's answer to our suffering, to our feeling of being cut off from good. It is a resounding song of hope: "You are not cut off. You are not abandoned. You are not lost. For I am with you. Here in the deepest cuts, I abide with you. I may have allowed pain and loss, but I fill the voids. I AM the source of all good and I AM here."

Christmas, when "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14) is the root of our conviction "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

She Would Have Loved That

Two years ago my last grandparent, my maternal grandmother, passed away. Her death came in the week before Thanksgiving and so inevitably she enters my thoughts a lot in this holiday season. Similarly, it is summertime when my paternal grandmother comes to mind most often as my final memory of her was a family picnic at my parents' house on a warm summer day. Sunshine warmed grass between my toes, family sitting in chairs in the yard, Grandma Theresa makes herself present with us. Now, in the bustle of family focused holidays and age old traditions, Grandma Evelyn is here with me.

Grandma Evelyn with my firstborn, a few months before she passed.

During Sunday Mass last weekend, I leaned over to my husband and whispered, "Grandma would have loved this men's choir." The rich, reverent harmonies could have been from any number of old albums of hymns she used to play on her cassette deck next to her favorite chair. I savored every song during that Mass, enjoying it on her behalf.

Then at the end of Mass, I approached the giving tree set up near the sanctuary. Typically I choose a request for a child's gift from these trees. It gives me a special kind of joy to know a young child will be happier on Christmas day thanks to a small sacrifice on my family's part. It was with this same intention that I went to find this year's star on the giving tree. But what did I find on the first star I read? A little Christmas wish list for an elderly woman that could have been my grandmother's list pretty much every single year. My eyes filled with tears and I swallowed a lump of emotion in my throat as I plucked the star from the tree. I get to shop for my Grandma.

When I read that Christmas list and kept thinking, "she would have loved that," with each item, I realized something I hope I won't forget. Remembering our loved ones gone from this world is a special thing but loving on others with the very love your heart has marked for the ones you lost is immeasurably greater.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Because the Saints Said So: These Days (St. Gianna)

This is me pretending to be ok with the fact that I need a winter coat and hat again. And I need to leave the house even earlier to defrost my car. And my hands and feet will essentially be cold for the next four months (just ask my husband).

These days are hard for me in the motivation department. The uncomfortable temperatures, icy winds, and especially the sparse daylight hours take their toll and I tend toward hibernation instead of productivity. I'd wager I'm not the only one dealing with this seasonal slump. So what to do, what to do?

I used to think the trick was to focus on the future. Wishing my way through winter, counting on spring to come with all its fresh renewal of spirits and inner drive. What did that leave me with, really? A few months of dissatisfaction. There has to be a better way.

St. Gianna Molla said:
"The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day."

Moment by moment with thanksgiving. If I aspire to happiness in every season (winter, yes, but also any difficult or trying "season" you may experience), I must give thanks not merely for what is promised to come but what is here now. Am I thankful for the whipping cold wind? No. But I'm thankful for the sunshine on my skin. Am I thankful for having to wear layers and layers to be tolerably warm? No. But I'm thankful I have those layers to do so. Am I thankful for the darkness descending by the time I leave my office each day to drive home? No. But I am thankful for the brightness of the hugs I receive from my little ones when I walk in the door. Plus I guarantee those evenings make me more thankful for the light of dawn each morning.

What about this moment right now? Right now. Stop and be thankful. Pause to choose something worthy of your gratitude in this exact moment and consciously offer thanks to God. I'll do it with you.

...

And now I'm a little bit happier with my day than before.

The side effect of all this gratitude isn't only happiness. It's that internal motivation to persevere in whatever tasks, projects, or endeavors you are tempted to neglect in this season. For me it is writing projects and being diligent about cooking worthwhile meals for the family. When we see the good in each day, in each moment even, how much greater the impetus to treat the day as deserving of your best.

The lovely hope of spring is still a fine reality to contemplate, but if I count on it to make me my best self in this season of my life I am likely to be disappointed. The gifts of today are reason enough to invest myself in living.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Chasing It Down

This is the first bit of writing I've done in three days. By last night I began to feel the desperate, urgent need in my gut. I cannot go without it. It took 25 years to fully realize my passion. That's when I began the first draft of my first novel. When other (beautiful) things interrupted the pursuit, it took a handful of years before I rediscovered that same passion and dove back in. Now here I am, 35 years old, a few steps away from publishing that debut novel, and craving a taste of my passion whenever I set it aside for more than a day.

If you understand what I mean, you know there are two choices available: label the required effort a burden and gradually let it slip from your grasp, or chase it down with the fervor of a lover desperate not to lose his beloved.

I came across this image from success.com. Oh, how I laughed at the memory into which it plunged my mind. How applicable that memory happened to be for this train of thought. (Train! You'll see why that's funny in a moment.)

Maybe ten years ago, I traveled to Philadelphia with my sister and a good friend. We took the train to New York City for a day of living it up, tourist style. Sights were seen, miles were walked, photos were taken. It was grand fun apart from mildly injuring my foot in the early afternoon and continuing to walk on it for hours afterward. At the end of the day, really it was well into the evening, we tried to squeeze in one more must-see spot before navigating our way back to the train. To summarize, we at some point realized we had misread the train schedule and needed to haul our tired asses dozens of blocks across the dark, noisy, unfamiliar city to catch our connecting train or we would miss the last possible train into Philadelphia. So, haul ass we did. None of us were in great shape. None of us were runners. All three of us were already exhausted, all of us were doubtful we knew the way to the correct train station, and one of us had a terribly sore foot. Still, we ran. We ran through busy intersections and crowded sidewalks. We ran around street corners, glancing backward and forward to see if we were still a trio. We ran through the train station, our unrelenting pace echoing off the walls. We chased down that train like our lives depended on it.

There was no question of giving up. No contemplation of whether or not we should bother. We knew what we had to do and we did it. When we reached the summit of the steps exiting the station in Philadelphia and pointed ourselves toward our hotel, we laughed again and again over the adventure of it all.

I hope I can legitimately compare my pursuit of my passion (writing) with our pursuit of that train. I hope I pursue it like a cash poor, Midwestern girl who really, really wants to sleep in her hotel bed rather than wandering the dark and scary streets of NYC until dawn. I hope I never let up, never decide it is too much. I hope I come out the other side and laugh over the incomparable adventure of it all.

Lastly, I hope you find your passion worth chasing down. If you already found it, run hard, my friend. Run hard.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Doing the Hard Things

Ever have those days when God drops His subtle tendencies and instead places what you need smack dab in front of your face so you won't miss it? Today was one of those days. A Facebook friend shared this photo today and I broke down crying.
There's progress being made toward publishing Full of Days, my debut novel. Steps on this mountain climb of a dream coming true. Writing the first draft nine years ago was hard. Revisions ever since have been hard. Setting it aside when it was not top priority for a few years was hard. Rededicating myself to it this year with a level of commitment I had not employed since writing the first draft has been hard. 

It's all been hard and I have done it all. I have done it and every single bit has been worth it. That's what I keep reminding myself as I acknowledge the intimidation I feel right now. There's something no one ever told me about drawing close to fulfilling the dearest dream of your heart: it can be scary. Not pursuing the dream or giving up on it when you hit the inevitable bumps, those things are scary in their own crushing way. This is a different sort of scary. It's not crushing. It's not terrifying. It is simply intimidating. 

The repeated question running through my head is, "what will I do if this falls apart because I can't do it?" Sometimes the gist of that question is self-doubt, wondering if I am capable. Other times it is a panicked query of myself, at a loss for how I would handle this dream coming to an end so I'd better do everything possible to not let that happen.

I can do the hard things. As I've been doing and will continue to do until this novel is in the hands of every possible person willing to read it, I will do the hard things.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Say It

I love when my pair of crazies sleep at the same time. Today I used the first half hour of the nap productively: clearing things from lunch, folding laundry, and putting clean dishes away. Then it was time for Mamma to sit down. I flipped on Gilmore Girls and opened up Pinterest. My feet up and a pillow under my head, I was ready to relax for however long my children would allow.

A few thumb scrolls down the screen, I pinned a writing tip that looked useful: "100 Ways to Say 'Great.'" One of many similar resources I've found to help a writer avoid using an overused, mediocre word. I scrolled on, perusing recipes and fashion ideas, but the title of that pin kept returning to my mind.

100 ways to say "great." Admirable. Impressive. Spectacular. Lovely. Engaging. Miraculous. With this many superb (another on the list) words available to us, why is it so difficult to tell someone they are great?

We need to say it more. We need to hear it more. We need to stop keeping it to ourselves. When someone makes you laugh or smile extra wide, or someone offers a hug when you need that human touch. The favor-doer, the kind word speaker, the generous server. They all deserve to hear it.

It takes courage to do it. There is a vulnerability in saying kind things but I can't really explain why. This makes me think it is mainly rooted in our fragile pride, which in turn makes me think it is all the more worthwhile to overcome.

So pick your word. Look up the list on Pinterest or dig out that old Thesaurus and find your word. Then, say it. Say it often and say it genuinely to anyone who is great in your life.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Hell of a Way to Die

Writing Prompt: It was a hell of a way to die.
Writing Time: 30 minutes (Longer than usual! We'll see where this takes us.)

Canoe. River. Rocks. Cougars.

It was a hell of a way to die. At least it would make an interesting story. I curled myself deeper into the crevice of the cliff and imagined the teenagers that would hike out here a year from now.

"This is where that girl got mauled by a pair of cougars."

"Yeah, they found her canoe half a mile down the river, all torn up."

They'd stand on the ledge eight feet above where I crouched now, enjoying the horror of it all.

I normally turn around before reaching this section of the river. Today, I wanted to keep going. It's those damn leaves and the way Autumn makes me feel. Oranges, reds, yellows, and those stalwart evergreens living up to their name; I simply had to paddle farther.

A regrettable whim.

When I hit the rocks, the wood of the canoe split beside my left foot. Split is a gentler word than what really happened. Those rocks were not the rounded boulders smoothed by the current that I have encountered before. They were dagger sharp offshoots of the cliff, typically not immersed but the river is high this week.

The water invading the canoe took away any control I still had, tossing the boat into the next set of rocks then flipping me out of my seat. My forearm was sliced by an edge of one rock but my real concern was the undercurrent. A river this high, I knew that undercurrent was stronger than any resistance I'd be able to muster after more than a few minutes of struggle. I wrapped myself around one of those blades of stone like my dearest possession rather than the source of my demise.

From there it was a slippery, bruising scramble toward the cliff. I found enough footholds to reach this crevice, a cave of sorts, and rested. The sun can't reach me here; the brisk October chill, so lovely as I paddled, had me shaking as I watched the rivulets of water running from my boots and clothing over the side of the cliff. My arm was throbbing but not bleeding much.

When I thought I could manage it, I set my mind on making it to the top of the cliff. It was mid morning; at least eight hours til sunset so light wasn't a worry. Surely I'd find my way to a road or a house before then. All I had to do was make it up there and start moving. Move to keep warm. Move to find my way out.

I stuck my head out from under the ledge. Eight feet or so; doable. The stone face was dry up here, which was helpful. I felt around for a place to grip, pulled my body out of the cave, and gritted my teeth as I used my injured arm to continue the movement. One step at a time, carefully, determinedly, I ascended to the top. Such relief when one hand then the other landed on dry grass and cold dirt! Every muscle in my upper body strained to lift. When my face was met with open air instead of the gray striations of stone, I exhaled in a giddy shout.

That's when I saw the cougars.

They both were crouched, chests to the ground, wide jaws suspended above the grass. One was still, glaring, eyes locked on mine. The other was moving toward me by inches at a time. My shout became a split second scream then silent. I could hear them breathing that throaty purr of big cats. I climbed back down to my cave.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Don't Stop Being That Girl

There was a girl dancing in her driveway on my way to work this morning. Backpack on the ground; jeans and sneakers, pink hooded sweatshirt and brown hair in a swinging ponytail. She didn't care that a stranger was.driving by. As I passed, she glanced my way without missing a step. It looked like a particular dance routine, something she'd been practicing.

As she disappeared from my rear view, still dancing the length of her driveway, I flashed back to years ago when I was probably about her age. My sister and I were briefly obsessed with the Dirty Dancing and Pretty Woman soundtracks. We made up a dance routine for one of the tracks; I can't for the life of me remember which one. It might have been just the two of us or it might have been with our two best friends. Exactly the sort of scheme the four of us would have undertaken with solemn, sleepover dedication.

I wanted to turn around and hurry back. I wanted to jump out of the car and shout, "Don't stop being that girl!" Don't stop being the girl who doesn't care that a stranger sees her dancing. That girl who imagines, creates, and does what she sets her mind to do. The one who laughs at her mistakes then sets her mind on succeeding the next time around. Don't stop being that girl who smiles like she has a sweet secret and dances like no one's watching because she doesn't care if anyone is watching.

"Don't stop being that girl," I whispered to myself and kept driving.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Almost

You know that tremendous weight of something being nearly finished but not quite? It is not a burden, this weight. It is thick with anticipation and heavy with significance. The matter paces the circuit of your brain, refusing to step off your mental homestead even while you focus elsewhere. It is always there, always present in the shadows, biding its time. It waits for that break in the day when you'll pull it back into the light. It looks forward to those end of the evening hours when, despite the tiredness, you can't bring yourself to be so cruel as to make it wait until tomorrow. It knows you'll come for it if it simply holds its ground.

The book proposals are almost finished.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Because the Saints Said So: If a Little Flower Could Speak (St. Therese)

Tonight I burnt my thumb. It hurts like the dickens. Every time I take it out of the cup of ice water it makes me want to cry. So, we're going to keep this brief.

Saturday was the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, nicknamed the Little Flower. She's one of my favorite ladies. Therese is an incredible combination of strength and sweetness, of wisdom and youthfulness, and of humility and beauty. If there is one single spiritual work I could recommend due to how it affected me it is Fr. Jean d'Elbee's "I Believe in Love," which is a retreat in book form based on the spirituality of St. Therese.

As we do in this series on the blog, we will focus on a single quote from today's saint of choice:
"If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals, or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case."
We are the little flowers, dear reader. Creations of beauty. That's us. Crafted by God and adorned by His gifts. Stop pretending you're not. Don't shake your head or scoff at my words. We are the little flowers and we can speak! Acting as if we are less than what God created us to be, thinking less of ourselves, leading others to think less of us: none of this gives God glory.

Recognize the good, realize its divine source, and proclaim it by your life. We are always proclaiming something, by our words, obviously, but also by basically every other aspect of daily living. Be a conscious, deliberate proclaimer.

Speak well, little flower.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Week I Took Over the Internet

I type this tucked into a high back lounge chair. My feet are up on a leather ottoman, laptop on my legs. The room is wonderfully quiet as most of the 200 conference attendees dutifully returned to the conference center for tonight's keynote address. I, on the other hand, lingered here.

One of the pieces of advice offered at newbie orientation today was to step away when you needed a break from the group sessions. If you feel a compelling need to sit or walk alone, mulling over what you heard, or praying, or writing, do it. That's where I found myself after the last presentation before dinner. My head is full of the information and advice from the experts I've listened to this afternoon. It is both thrilling and overwhelming. My internal reaction is approximately 71% energized and motivated to move forward, 22% discouragement that my manuscript will never ever be as good as necessary to find a publisher, and 7% desperate need to simply write without worrying about where the words will or won't take me.

I've only been here six hours and already there has been an immeasurable amount to learn. I have briefly met publishers and editors and agents. I have shared conversations with other writers, full of dreams and drive. I have both questioned whether my goals are foolish, and reaffirmed that I cannot fathom life without writing. What a day.

This past week (and many other days in the last few months) was filled with focused preparation for this conference: one sheet, sample chapters, amateur headshot photo (thank you, honey), book proposal, researching the publishers and agents I'd have the opportunity to meet, and so on. If I'm being honest, it was all stressful. It's been a while since anything has brought me that level of anxiety. I was suddenly tackling the nitty gritty of this endeavor and I grew scared.

Have you pursued a dream? Not merely imagined pursuing it but really, seriously pursued it. If so, you know what I mean. The closer you get to that dream being fulfilled, the more frightening the possibility that it will stay out of reach. There are no guarantees and that can be terrifying.

One piece of the preparation was setting up author pages on Facebook and Twitter. I'll say it right now, self-promotion is uncomfortable! Even sharing the links on Facebook for my blog posts leaves me a bit embarrassed. It works though, so I do it. These online platforms are among the most useful for promoting your writing and making yourself available for discovery by potential readers. Publishers and agents are keen to know how you'll help promote your work and having these already established can help your pitch.

Attempting to take over the internet this week (yeah, I now have a Twitter page, a personal Facebook page, an author Facebook page, and this blog), was exactly what I needed to prepare for this conference precisely because of how it made me feel. It was the perfect amount of sacrificing my comfort level for the sake of the goal to set me up to do more of the same now that I'm here. It helped me believe a little more that I can manage to network with strangers, that I can speak boldly about my unpublished manuscript to editors and agents, and that I will never stop writing, whatever might come.

Oh, and if you haven't yet, you can follow me on Twitter @carrieinwriting and keep up with me at facebook.com/carrieinwriting. I'll try to make it an enjoyable experience.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Homesick

Writing Prompt:
"I want to go home."
"And I want to go to the moon. It ain't happening, sweetheart. Time to accept that."
Writing Time: 15 minutes

"What are you moping about now?" I rolled my eyes at Ginny. No small part of me wanted to slap that pout off her pink lips with my wash rag.

Ginny sank down in the next booth, the one she was supposed to be bussing, as if my question gave her permission to do so.

"I want to go home." She heaved a loud sigh and plopped her chin in her hand. Her sparkly purple nail polish was chipping badly.

"And I want to go to the moon. It ain't happening, sweetheart. Time to accept that."

I finished wiping down the booths surrounding her, hoping she'd get the hint that she was holding me up. She didn't.

"Do you really want to go to the moon?"

"Ha!" I couldn't help but laugh. "No, girl, it's just an expression. I've never wanted to go to the moon."

"Where do you want to go?" Ginny stared at me intently, her bright green eyes fixed on my flushed face.

I could have rattled off a dozen places without even a moment's consideration. Instead  I tightened my ponytail and shook my head. "No use thinking about that, kiddo."

She scowled at me. She hated when I called her that. Ginny was 19 and I was 41. I was old enough to be her mother. In fact, she was the same age as my daughter would have been. Something about this girl, homesick whenever she was tired at the end of a shift but earnestly, optimistically independent the rest of the time, something about her wouldn't let me forget that fact.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Prompted

On the occasions I venture onto Pinterest, I tend to seek out four sorts of pins: fashionable outfit ideas, dinner and dessert recipes, workout guides, and writing prompts. I virtually pin each one on the assigned virtual board then continue on the virtual quest for more. I make use of the workout guides regularly. I try out the recipes here and there. I sometimes pick out a few fashionable ensembles to inspire me when I go clothes shopping. Rarely do I take time to use the writing prompts.

So, why not employ this blog to prompt me to use my prompts! Stay tuned as I begin a commitment to use every single writing prompt I have at some point felt compelled to save for later. Silly, strange, vague, specific, fun, and dark - the gamut shall be covered! 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

It's Okay to Love Your Country

For months now, thoughts about my homeland have been crossing my mind. The events that take over the daily headlines have me contemplating America in what she used to be and what she has become. With these thoughts, mixed feelings are felt and levels of hope and despair fluctuate.


On Sunday, I watched a lot of football. Three times I stood in my living room as dozens of individuals stretched out a flag covering the entire square footage of the playing field. Three times I listened through a moment of silence for the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks followed by a performance of our national anthem. Three times I got choked up.

Only two times I felt embarrassed. When the feelings of silliness began to rise during the third occasion, they were sent packing with one simple thought: it's okay to love my country.

I've noticed a tendency toward extremes in people's statements on America lately. So much of it goes all the way back to our collective reaction to September 11th. That attack felt intensely personal even to those of us who did not know individuals lost that day. I remember the sensation of protectiveness, of "how dare you hurt what is mine!" A new era of patriotism was ushered in, justifiably and beneficially so at the time. The experience awakened in many of our hearts a hibernating bear of attachment to our country.

As is perhaps bound to happen though, the fierce plunge into patriotism was taken to an extreme by some. A refusal to hear a word against America and its culture; a disdain for most other nations and nationalities; a fear of anything that appeared outside the realm of what we now held so dear about our homeland. Then the last 10 years or so saw a whiplash reaction; a violent swing to the other end of the spectrum where a high regard for our nation is ridiculed as blind and foolish.

The extremes frustrate me. I see patriotism as a genuine love of home and country. Genuine love is unconditional but it is not naive. Maybe the extremes are rooted in a misunderstanding of unconditional love. To love someone unconditionally is to love them through anything and everything. Highs and lows, achievements and mistakes, rights and wrongs; love them through it all. Unconditional love is not dependent on the other person earning the love. It is dependent on the giver of love choosing to offer it no matter what. However - and this is an important 'however' - unconditional love is not a refusal to recognize flaws. It is not turning a blind eye to what needs to change in the beloved. It is loving them despite the existence of those flaws and seeking productive ways to help them make changes in their best interest.

The extremes aren't authentic love. One is claiming that because you love your country, anyone who has anything to say against her be damned. The other is a refusal to love her so blindly but then just as blindly treating her as wholly unlovable. Neither are true patriotism.

It's okay to be moved by the sight of soldiers, firemen, policemen, and athletes all holding a football field sized flag. It's also okay to look at the political system with a critical eye. It's okay to oppose a federal law that contradicts what you know to be morally good. It's also okay to teach your children to be proud to be American.

It's okay to love your country.


Friday, September 9, 2016

The Willow Tree 4.0: In the End

When I got a good look at William after his return, I could see that the boy I knew was gone. There was no youth left in his face. He was still William though. A little sadder, perhaps, a little more tired, but still him. Tommy took to his father immediately. No fear or reserve. Carly had seen to it that the boy already loved William with all his innocent heart.

The wooden swing was used until it broke. By then Tommy was much taller and he pried the split piece of wood from its ropes and began to use those ropes to still swing as high as he could.

When Tommy was the perfect image of William when he first brought Carly to my field, Tommy brought a girl, too. A sweet, quiet girl with corkscrew curls and a wide eyed way about her. They visited me all summer long and I was content to watch it all happening again. In the last stretch of heat that summer, after the pair laid in each other's arms on the dewy grass, talking, kissing, and dreaming, Tommy strode over to my trunk with a purpose in his step. He took something from his pocket; unfolded, it was a small knife, and he used it to carve something into my bark. It stung a little but I am a large, strong tree and he only cut a tiny piece of me. His girl came up beside him and lifted her face for another kiss when he finished.

The next spring, Tommy returned and used that same knife to scrape away the carving he so carefully made. That hurt a little more, but no more than the sight of the tears he brushed away furiously while working at it. I saw him less and less after that, and I have so often wondered where his road took him.

William and Carly grew old beneath my boughs. He built a bench on which they sat through
countless sunsets. Year after year, they returned; peace on their faces and light in their eyes. They began to walk more slowly. I would see their approach at the far corner of the field and by the time they reached me and sat on their bench, the sun would have shifted to another side of me.

It is spring again now. I expected them to come several sunsets ago, but they have not. There's been no sign of my dear friends

Instead, there are machines. Not like the ones in another time that used to churn up the field in spring or harvest its grains in the autumn. These are different; rougher and louder. They have cleared and flattened the field. Trees that stood for all or most my life are gone from the other side of the meadow. New machines are coming each day now with loads of wood and other materials unknown to me. I am afraid. Their movements get closer and closer and I can only wonder if I will be in their way in the end.

This is why I am gladder than I can say to have told even a few of my stories. I needed to share them and I knew this might be my last opportunity. Thank you ever so much for listening.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Willow Tree 3.2: The Homecoming

The one day I wished I could weep. It was autumn again. My browning leaves danced in a strong wind. The field was harvested and the sun was spending fewer hours in my sight. Tommy sat upon the wooden board suspended from one of my thickest branches. An older man, white hair and a knowing face, came with them one day in the summer to string up the swing with two thick lengths of rope. Tommy called him Papa and was his shadow as the man worked. When I was holding the swing securely, Papa placed Tommy on it and showed him how to work his little legs to propel forward and backward. It took some practice but soon Tommy could do it without aid. He'd reach the limits of the swing's arc and stretch his toes out to tap my strands of leaves hanging in front of him at that height.

That day, Tommy rode the swing while Carly laid on her back in the sunshine just outside my circle of shade. I saw her shiver a bit in the wind, wrapping her yellow sweater a little tighter around herself. She'd roll her head to the side to check on her boy then back toward the sun directly above her. Carly looked sad more and more in those days. She was quick to lift her pretty mouth into a smile when Tommy came to her. She did not know that I watched her face in between the smiles.

When she saw Tommy slowing the swing, scuffing his shoes on the grass beneath him, Carly announced it was time for lunch. She set about unpacking the basket they brought along but Tommy didn't hop off the swing as I expected him to do when the food was in sight. His eyes were fixed on some distant spot along the edge of the field. Carly called to him twice before walking over to see what kept his attention. She turned to follow his gaze and he lifted an arm to point.

A figure was coming into view, a man. Slowly, slowly. I saw Carly's mouth form a little circle; then a gasp and tears before the man was even close enough to see with any clarity. It didn't matter; she knew. She knew and she ran. A sprint along that grassy path, one shoe slipping off with no notice from its wearer. By the time she reached him, I too could see that it was William. Our William. He was home.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

August At Its End

As far as this blog goes, I have been slacking terribly. As far as everything else though, I have not. August was a highly productive and enjoyable month.

  • Manuscript Revisions: Completed! I know that I will find additional changes to make and mistakes to correct as I do an out loud read through this month. However, the intensive round of revisions that began in January is finished and I am quite pleased with the results.
  • Miles Ran: 36.5! In July, I began running regularly. At first, it was intervals of walking and jogging. Eventually, I transitioned to steady running after a warm-up. I have spent August gradually increasing the distance of my runs plus improving my pace. This is a completely new endeavor and I am loving it! I feel stronger and healthier than possibly any other time in my adult years.
  • Blog Posts: 8; A small number compared to July, so this one isn't as celebratory of a comment as the others. Still, I enjoyed writing The Willow Tree series and the final two pieces of that story will be posted soon! The proverbial ball shall keep on rolling for my readers.
  • Writers' Conferences Scheduled: 1! Hip, hip, hooray! A few weeks ago, I registered for my first professional writers' conference. It will take place at the end of September in southwest Michigan. Until then, I will be preparing my "one-sheet" for the editors and agents I have the opportunity to meet there, as well as writing a draft of a proposal for my novel in case any of them are interested in knowing more about it. I'm thrilled at the idea of immersing myself in the world of writing for a few days.
  • RCIA & Adult Confirmation Classes Completed: 0, technically; One more class left in September before the candidates I've been teaching all summer will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. I'll be stepping away from teaching these classes for the foreseeable future in order to focus more on writing, so it's a bittersweet close to this journey. 
  • Dishes Washed, Laundry Folded, Meals Cooked, Hours Worked, Toys Picked Up, Children's Books Read: Countless. My way of saying that there are so many pieces to the jigsaw puzzle of my life beyond what I talk about here. Life is good, and busy.
Now we enter September. Oh, happy month! It is my favorite of all the twelve. I plan to savor it and, God willing, be even more pleased with its results than August's.
September's First Rays of Sunshine (photo taken in Cleveland, WI)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Willow Tree: 3.1 The New Boy

He learned to walk in the clearing between me and the creek. Carly brought him as she promised to do. Those first few cycles of the seasons, when I witnessed him transform from that round, sleepy bundle in her arms to a giggling baby scooting on his hands and knees to this scrappy, ready-to-go boy, were the best of my years. Nothing could surpass the pleasure of it. I guarded his perfect face from the glare of the sun. I watched with anxious hope as he took his first steps then, in what seemed like no time at all, began to run and tumble over the bumps of the earth that surrounded me. I swung my boughs in the wind, inviting him to grab hold and lift his little feet from the ground.

I saw his father in his eyes and smile; heard his father in his laugh. His mother noticed it, too, of course. Bittersweet and beautiful, her still waiting for William's return, she'd set down her papers and pen to watch him play. On picnic days, she talked of nothing but William while the new boy chewed his sandwiches and apples. Stories to make him smile, make him laugh, make him listen in wonder. Always when she finished came the question, "When will Daddy come home?" Always the same answer, whispered into her boy's blonde curls as she hugged him, "Soon, my dear, soon."

The new boy was Thomas William, as that was what Carly called out when he wandered from my side. The rest of the time though, he was Tommy.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Completing Our Masterpieces

Oh, my friends. My dear reader friends. I am inching ever closer to the end of my intensive revisions of the manuscript. Every week I add another stack of pages to the "finished" pile and watch the "to-do" pile shrink. I can see the end. It's out there; up a few small hills, hugging the horizon, waiting to greet me. Not that it's the true end. It's only another necessary phase of the work. Next up: an out loud reading of my novel to find mistakes and weaknesses overlooked by the eye but noticeable to the ear. Still, it is an end. It is a finish line I've been striving for since the start of 2016.


There are times I tell myself to calm down about it all. I fill my brain with warnings about expectations and hopes and dreams. They're dangerous.

Wasted warnings; it can't be helped. This manuscript is my masterpiece and I have to treat it as such. I don't know if it will be a masterpiece in anyone else's eyes but it is in mine. That fact means it needs to be offered to others. That's the latest lesson I've learned.

My almost three year old son often returns from the sitter's house with a new piece of artwork. He is invariably proud of them. This includes those that are purely his, that don't show evidence of how much the sitter helped him but rather look, plain and simple, like the work of a toddler. I arrive home from my workday and he hands them to me with his head held high and a hint of wonder in his voice as he announces, "I made that!" They are his masterpieces. Even when I have to ask him to interpret the picture before I can see the train or the truck or the dog, they are his masterpieces.

Masterpieces aren't meant for the maker alone. They are meant to be held up for anyone to see. At risk of rejection and criticism, indifference and even cruelty, they are to be offered. Because maybe my masterpiece might make another person's day better; maybe it could plant a seed of faith in what is good and true and beautiful; maybe it could edify the heart and mind of a person brought low by lesser things. It could make someone laugh deep in their gut like we all love to laugh. It could bring joy or insight or inspiration. You never know. You never know.

We're all capable of masterpieces. We were designed to provide masterpieces to the rest of our human family. Each unique; each requiring vulnerability and courage. When we create them, we know it. As we are filled with the urgent need to show it to someone, risks be damned, we know what we have created. Want to know why Facebook and YouTube and Instagram are so absurdly successful? Because we long to share our masterpieces with the rest of world. That's not what we are doing most of the time in those mediums but it's a large part of what drives us to use them at all.

My masterpiece might end up only being a masterpiece in my eyes. Or, at most, the eyes of those who love me dearly, much like a toddler's indecipherable depiction of a train. In the end, that's not what matters. What matters is the completion of the masterpiece and it simply is not complete until it is offered to others.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Willow Tree 2.3: The Woman and the Child

Spring began with the wedding. Afterward, only several sunrises passed before Carly found her way back to me. She came alone. I expected to hear William call to her as he arrived; I watched the field and listened over the noise of the birds. He did not come. She sat alone against my trunk, her fingers splayed over the damp ground covering my roots. Perfectly still, eyes focused on the creek, she was silent at first. Then she cried. One sob escaped her throat and her hand, adorned now by a simple band on her finger, went to her mouth to muffle the next one. I watched her shoulders shake.

I have never felt more helpless. Oh how I ached to bend down to hold her. I could only stand beside her, willing her to draw strength from my solidity.

She quieted eventually, lying down below my swaying leaves and falling asleep for the rest of the afternoon. She was a splendid sight: her hair fanned over the grass, one hand tucked beneath her cheek, knees curled toward her stomach. She slept until the sun set and the breeze turned chilly enough to bring on a shiver.

Carly returned often, usually with papers in hand. Some were covered in writing that she read eagerly and clutched to her chest. Other pieces were blank when she arrived and her time was spent filling them to their edges.

It was nearing the close of summer by the time I noticed the swelling of Carly's stomach. The meaning of it was apparent even to me, as I'd spent my years observing the mothers in the forest. After finishing her reading or writing, she would lie down on her back on the smoothest patch of grass under my cover and run her hand round and round the little hill of her belly. One foggy morning, I watched as the child within kicked Carly's hand. Carly sat up, a grin spreading across her pretty face even as tears rapidly filled her eyes.

When she had grown too large to lie on her back, she rolled to her side and held her stomach protectively. That was around the time she began talking to the child.

"Are you going to look like your daddy, little one? I bet you'll have his smile. Yes, I'm sure you will."

"We're in your daddy's favorite spot in the whole world. Did you know that?"

"We got a letter from your daddy today, little one. He is tremendously excited to meet you."

As everything changed to browns, reds, and oranges, and leaves floated off their branches, and the sun closed the days earlier and earlier, Carly walked more slowly through the field. She stayed for briefer bits of time. When the first snowflakes of the season fell from fat, gray clouds, Carly leaned against me and sighed.

"It'll be a while before I come back, I think."

It took a moment for me to emerge from my confusion and realize she was speaking to me. A first in all my years.

"I will come back though. I'll bring my little one, I promise. And someday, I'll bring William with me again."

The winter didn't seem so terribly cold with that promise held beneath my bark.

Monday, August 15, 2016

I Am Not A Tree

I have officially found my personal mantra. A couple months ago, in one of my too-many-per-day perusals of Facebook, I saw this motivational image:
While I am fairly certain I have seen them before, those two sentences stuck with me this time. I remember scrolling back up to it after moving on with my news feed. I stared at the words and whispered, "I am not a tree."

The next day, I added it to my cubicle, right beside my monitor so I would see it often. In all caps on a Post-It: I am not a tree. There have been countless moments in which I have repeated it to myself. 

Here's what I have learned since adopting this mantra:

1. Change is possible. Without a doubt. 

2. I am responsible for where I am. No one has planted me in this spot. No one has buried my feet in the soil and said, "here you shall stay." I have chosen the route to where/who I am now and I shall choose the route going forward. 

3. I am capable of more. Self-doubt is a personal plague. Oh, how I have wrestled with that demon. The wrestling matches are becoming more rare and I come out of the rounds less bruised.

4. I will never regret trying harder. On the other side of the same coin, I will regret trying less. Knowing #3, I am finding the inner resources needed to challenge and push myself to a new degree.

5. Choosing my movements should be done wisely but without fear. Life is brief. Life is full of potential. I would hate for my choices to squander that potential. Thus, I must choose wisely. I must act intentionally, not indifferently. At the same time, the fear of mistakes should not stop me from choosing at all or from taking risks. Mistakes will happen. So will starting over.

Sometimes I tell myself "I am not a tree" as a gentle reminder in a moment of decision. Sometimes I claim it, declaring it loudly in my mind to give myself permission to be bold. Living under this mantra has affected more aspects of my life than I could have predicted: attitude, time management, fitness, nutrition, writing, appearance, goals. 

For whatever it is worth to you, I hope you know you are not a tree either.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What Will It Be Today?

Lately, I am working on mindfulness. Mental awareness of what is present to me in the current moment; less multitasking; more taking note of the small pleasures and experiences that are overlooked when my mind is elsewhere. When I make the effort to practice mindfulness, I reach the end of the day with a clearer head and a more grateful spirit.

One of the easiest times to practice these mental adjustments is when I am running. Only several weeks ago I decided to take up running (read: jogging). I am gradually building my endurance. My muscles are growing stronger and my energy levels are increasing. It's been wonderful, even when I limp through a day or two on sore legs and feet as I lengthen my runs. I run early, dragging myself out of bed at 5 a.m. and starting my route as soon as I'm able to get out the door. The town is quiet, the roads mostly empty, and the sunrise still finishing.

On Tuesday, I couldn't take my eyes off the sky. The clouds were dark, keeping the sunrise at bay for longer than usual. They were heavy and wide. Everything below them seemed dwarfed under that canopy. Yesterday, it was the crickets. Each time I passed a cornfield, I found myself running through a symphony of crickets. The sound was tremendous!

I am trying to pay attention to those things. Not only on my runs, but everywhere else, too. This morning it was the imaginary scenes playing out between my almost three year old's toys in his first minutes out of bed. I stood out of view for a bit to listen before going to say good morning.

What will I notice in the course of tonight or tomorrow that I am apt to overlook? I am happily waiting to find out.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Willow Tree 2.2: The Sailor and His Bride

From those early spring days through the coolest of autumn evenings, he brought Carly back again and again. The boy's name was William. When I first heard her speak his name, I felt such pride at finally knowing it. He told her everyone else called him Bill but he loved the way she said his real name.

William had an excellent laugh, hearty and sincere, and Carly made him laugh a lot in those months. They brought picnics of roast beef sandwiches or bread and cheese. They flew a red kite a few times. They kissed. Light, brush on the lips kisses; warm, drawn out kisses; open mouth, in the middle of a laugh kisses; and deep, long, breathless kisses that ended with their arms wrapped around each other like one might float away if they both did not hold on tightly enough.

Winter came, as it always does. The winds turned icy and the ground grew hard. William and Carly stopped wandering my way. I did not see them until the following spring, a year since their first visit. They arrived on a sunny afternoon, when the field was dotted with purple lupines and the breeze was gentle once again. William wore a crisp, navy blue uniform. Until he was very near, he looked very much a grown man. Up close though, he was still a boy. Carly wore a simple, white dress that skimmed the grass under her feet. Her dark hair was set in thick ringlets. A silky white shawl covered her shoulders and she kept her arm tucked in the crook of William's elbow as they walked toward me.

My boughs were bending with the breeze, their buds beginning to open toward the sun. It is what I consider to be my prettiest state. As they came under my height, Carly ran her hand over a cluster of my lowest hanging branches. I could feel her fingers course over the bumps of my new leaves. The couple had eyes only for each other though - eyes intermittently wet with tears. They spoke in whispers and promises and caresses.

Eventually they were silent. Carly had her cheek against his chest. His arms held her around the waist and they swayed in a soothing rhythm all their own. Finally Carly spoke up again.

"We must get to the party. They will all be wondering why we haven't arrived."

"Let them wait." William answered firmly.

She lifted a hand to his cheek. "No, William. They all need to say goodbye, too. They all need to see us happy before they let you go."

He moved Carly's palm to his lips, planting a kiss there. "I love you."

"I love you."

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Willow Tree 2.1 - The Boy and His Girl

I recognized the boy from years before. He hadn't visited in a long while but there was no mistaking those round, brown eyes, tousled blonde hair, and crooked smile. I knew him in an instant and I was gladdened by his return.

"This used to be my favorite spot as a kid," he whispered to the girl who sat beside him, her head on his shoulder.

I'd suspected as much. He used to tramp through the long grasses of the field, stick in hand, to stop
under my branches. Sometimes he fought imaginary foes, swinging his stick like a mighty sword. On especially warm days, the boy laid beneath the shade I offered. He peered through the gaps of my leaves and boughs, winking at the sun.

A particularly happy memory for me was the time he stood beside me, his hand occasionally resting on my trunk, and recited again and again a wordy, lofty speech by someone named Shakespeare, or Puck perhaps. (These names I discerned from the boy's grumblings at moments when he lost his place.) I recall with delight the final recitation, when he delivered every line with clarity. His smile, his whoop of satisfaction. It was a fine day.

Now he has returned. Grown tall and muscular. His voice is richer yet still full of his younger self. And he has brought his girl. They sit against my trunk, their backs warming the bark. She is lovely; brown, thick hair reaching halfway down her back, cheeks and lips pink with happiness. He looks at her as at a jewel. It is early in spring, the sun only beginning to recover its heat after the long days and nights of winter. His girl - Carly, he calls her - snuggles closer under his arm and the smile on his face is perfect. The hum of their conversation blends with the breeze. It is steady, soothing, and confident, reminding me of a song a man sang once long ago as he walked along the stream to a destination unknown.

The boy and his girl stay until the field is afire with the sun dipping low and bright behind it. I hear Carly promise to come back again with him and I am filled with a share of the hope I see in the boy's face.

They do come back. They do, and I shall tell you what became of them.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Willow Tree 1.1

I stand at the edge of a sloping field that turns golden in October. There is a narrow stream running nearby, near enough for me to enjoy its gurgling sounds and watch it flood its shallow banks each Spring. I have stood here for many years. So many years. I have grown tall and thick and old with my roots stretching for yards and yards beneath the grass and dirt

Though I've tried, I cannot remember the day I was planted. More than when, I have wondered whether it was on purpose. Did someone want me here, in this spot, for a reason particular to him? I have heard myself called a "weeping" willow. From the men, women, and children I have known, I've learned what it is to weep. I wish they would not call me that. I cannot weep. And truly, there has been only a single day that I wished I could weep.

The moments I have witnessed, the people I have been privileged to know; the memories of them all are hanging in my boughs. I fear they will be lost soon. I fear I will be gone. If you would sit with me a while and listen, I am longing to tell my stories.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pictures & Words Day 31: A Month of Ordinary Moments

Photo/Writing Prompt: An Ordinary Moment


I began this Pictures & Words challenge for the month of July for one simple reason: to push myself to write on this blog with a greater and more consistent frequency. As taking pictures is among my favorite activities and writing prompts have recently joined that category as well, I knew this challenge would be enjoyable enough to give me a shot at following through. With a handful of skipped days, I can happily say the challenge was a success. For that reason alone, I'm proud of this month.

What makes it truly great though is the fact that I gained so much more than fulfilling that one goal. It was inevitable. Watching, waiting, seeking out the right shot, it was impossible not to be tuned into the exquisite world that surrounds me day after day. My hand wrapped around my camera and my eyes scanning the scenes I encountered, a thousand ordinary moments became worth capturing. The details typically left in the background, overlooked as I went about my days, came to the foreground, demanding my attention. Like that butterfly on the edge of the flowering bushes lining the sidewalk: where normally I'd only have eyes for the blue views of the lake, I now desired to notice the bits of beauty in its shadows.

Then to take these captured scenes and put them into writing. Such a joy! This month kicked my imagination into high gear. Especially the days that I wrote snippets of fictional stories to accompany the photos, it was such fun to surprise myself with what arose from examining the picture. The endeavor taught me there is a story to be extracted from absolutely any fragment of life. A friend recently asked me where I get my inspiration to write and all I could say, with a laugh, was "everywhere."

So, what do I want to say with these last lines of July 2016? Thank you. Thank you, readers, whomever you may be, for enjoying this month with me. Thank you for coming back again after your first visit to the blog. Thank you for pushing my monthly average views to the 900 to 1000 range. Thank you for taking a minute or two or five out of your day to read my creative ramblings. I can assure you that you have strengthened my belief these pursuits, no matter what comes of them professionally, are wonderfully worthwhile.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Pictures & Words Day 30: All This and More

Photo/Writing Prompt: Summer is...

Summer is sunbeams streaming down without regard for wisps of clouds trying to hold their own. Summer is heat and light. It is head tall cornfields, grass that is greener on every side, and rose perfume in the flower beds.

Summer is passion. It is fireflies behind the fire sides. It is kisses under moonlight. Summer is thunder and rain and the heavy calm that comes after.

Summer is regrowing, replanting, refreshing until all things are new. It is water soaked easiness. It is sand between toes with boats on the blue horizon.

Summer is bare shoulders burnt. It is the bittersweet build up to Fall, to relief from the warmth and hope for colors not green. It is all that you will not to end, knowing it cannot last.

Summer is all this and more.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Pictures & Words Day 28: Rain, Rain, Go Away

Photo/Writing Prompt: Weather


She could not help but hear the old children's song in her head. Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day. There was supposed to be only sunshine. There was supposed to be warmth and calm. Instead their was rain and wind and a drop to cooler temperatures.

Nothing ever went as planned. She should just accept that by now. She tried. As she wiped away the plump, clinging droplets from the chairs and table on the patio, she reminded herself there was no use fretting over what was beyond her control. At least the night would smell lovely with that fresh, rain soaked renewal hanging in the air.

It was hard to accept though. Tonight of all nights she wanted to be perfect. It can still be so. A different sort of perfect, that's all. She smiled a little at the thought. There's more than one way to be perfect and perhaps tonight's way would involve a few raindrops.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Let's Do This.

I have a deadline, folks! An actual deadline with a tangible purpose. I often set personal deadlines for progress in my writing but I don't strictly hold myself to them and little consequence is felt if they aren't met. Finally, I have a deadline from an outside source!

It's not the sort of deadline I hope for, i.e. from a publisher, but it's still meaningful. At the end of September I'll attend my first writers conference! I'm happily anticipating three days spent learning, networking, and dwelling in the professional writers' world. During the conference I will have an opportunity for a brief one-on-one meeting with either an editor from a publishing house appropriate to my genre of writing or with a professional who can assist me with the proposal I need to submit my manuscript to publishers. To take the fullest possible advantage of this, I need to have my manuscript READY. Done editing, done proofreading, done condensing the word count.

So, I have a deadline. A real and necessary deadline! The excitement I feel might be a bit hard to grasp but I had to share anyway. It's a little like this:

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pictures and Words Day 26: Follow Tarrow Creek

Photo/Writing Prompt: Starts With T

"Don't worry, you'll find it without trouble. Just follow Tarrow Creek."

I paid for my water and protein bar and thanked the convenience store clerk. He handed me my change then went back to restocking the shelf of motor oil.

Stepping outside, I had to shade my eyes against the afternoon sun. The heat of the July day drifted over my skin like the rush of air from opening an oven. I smoothed my honey brown hair into a high ponytail, Then I tightened the straps of my backpack and headed in the direction to which the clerk had pointed. The trail head was tucked into a grove of maples off Third Street. If my information was accurate, it would lead me to Tarrow Creek and the creek would lead me to Crescent Beach.

Crescent Beach was a pristine half mile stretch of sand carved out by time, tides, and wind. Few people new of it; even fewer had visited it. It was accessible by boat and by way of the dense forest through which Tarrow Creek ran. I couldn't remember how I first heard of Crescent Beach but when I did, it went straight onto my Places to See list.

When the hiking trail, clear cut and packed down, reached Tarrow Creek, it crossed the narrow channel of water via a haphazard bridge made of two by fours. From there it continued south but I needed to head east. I stood at the edge of the creek, one stride's departure from the trail. I squinted my eyes in the shadows cast by the high sun filtering through the branches. No path was discernible but I refused to be deterred.

Based on my research I knew I had seven miles to go and from what I could see now, those miles would be slow going. I'd worn shorts due to the heat but wished now for pants to guard my shins from the low lying underbrush of the forest. Within the first two miles my legs looked like I'd rubbed them with a thorn bush. A few of the scrapes showed blood but it dried quickly enough to be ignored. My arms below the edges of my t-shirt sleeves weren't in much better shape.

I swept spiders off my shirt and ticks off my ankles. I did my best to give a wide berth to a nest of garter snakes. Harmless as they were, I still had no inclination to draw nearer. I paused over a pair of does staring at me before they fled. Countless birds filled the air with their songs and movements, unseen from their hiding places in the tall trees. I tried to sear into my memory the image of two sandhill cranes walking across one of the few clearings I came upon. They lifted their spindly legs in high steps through the tall, stiff grass. One let out a call and they both took flight, their wings loud in the amphitheater of the surrounding woods.

Always I kept Tarrow Creek to my right. Sometimes my steps went along its bank, sometimes I wandered from it but not enough to lose track of its bubbly brown water. I listened to it gurgling through piles of stones and rushing around small bends in its course. I took one break, sitting upon a fallen tree on the bank. The water swirled around each branch breaking the surface of the creek.

Then finally, finally, I saw the end of the creek. I saw it reach through the last of the trees to the beach and pour down into the lake. Here the creek widened. The sun painted perfect reflections of the trees and clouds onto the flat surface. I pulled off my shoes and socks and tucked them under one arm. When I waded into the creek, the cold water startled my overheated nerves. Then I ran. I ran the yards to the beach, my legs splashing from the creek right into the lake. When I saw, as I fully expected, there was not another soul in sight, I tossed my shoes and bag up onto higher ground then added my shirt and shorts to the pile. I dove down until every inch of me was submerged then popped back up, laughing.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Pictures & Words Day 25: Today I Am Noticing

Photo/Writing Prompt: Pretty

Today I am noticing what is right in front of me. Every single weekday, I drive past this boat landing and the adjacent patch of park land. Rushing to the office, rushing home, I pass by this flash of prettiness. Sometimes I make sure to turn my head and glimpse the view as I drive on down the road. Other days I am distracted, focused elsewhere on this or that.

When I left home this morning, I noticed I was ahead of schedule by a few minutes. I could drive a little slower, not watching the clock with each mile to calculate whether I'd make it to work on time. The slightly slower drive, the brilliancy of the sun, and the longing to draw out the time before I stepped into my cubicle for the day all combined to heighten my awareness of the scenery along the 25 miles of countryside road. I noticed graceful cranes in the fields and a stately hawk perched atop a fence post. I noticed the horse and its foal grazing in the early sunlight. I noticed the water each time it came into view.

For once, I pulled over when I came to this spot. I didn't fly by. I didn't simply smile over the beauty then forget it. I parked the car, stepped out with my camera, and savored what was in front of me.

Beauty works a strange magic. It inspires an array of reactions: gratitude, joy, wonder, sadness, peace. It is always worth noticing.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Pictures & Words Day 23: From Under the Roses

Photo/Writing Prompt: Below

Nina began lying down between the rose bushes on a sunny day in her eleventh summer of life. Mother planted them at precise, equal distances from each other, spaced for their greatest benefit. She explained the science to Nina once but Nina admittedly did not listen.

It was difficult to explain why she'd done it the first time. She had a fight with her older sister who, at fourteen, thought she knew everything and Nina knew nothing. "You're still a child," was the accusation thrown over her sister's shoulder as she'd sauntered out of the room. Nina had wondered what was wrong with still being a child then tried to return to her reading. Her eyes wandered distractedly from the page to the window behind the sofa, and to the flower beds outside the window. Setting the book aside and turning herself around, she rose to her knees. Nina propped her chin on the back of the sofa. Her long, blond hair fell in curtains against each of her cheeks.

The rose bushes were excessive in their blooms this summer. They seemed to be showing off, lording it over the lesser flowers in the beds across the aisle of plush green grass. Nina's gaze lowered to the soil covering the roots of those bushes. Her mind's eye saw how perfectly she might fit in that space between and without another thought she dashed out of the room, down the hall, and out onto the back patio. Outside on the sun warmed bricks, she kicked off the black shoes she still wore since lunch with her grandparents. This called for bare feet.

She was right. She fit perfectly on the patch between the pink roses and the yellow ones. Nina pressed her back against the dirt, trying to feel the life beneath her, the hidden roots responsible for the vibrant petals gathered into sculpted blooms above her face. Suddenly she thought she did feel them. A throb, a pulse pushed against her in return and Nina let a gasp escape before she realized it was the vibrations of Daddy's car pulling into the driveway.

It didn't matter though. She knew it was all there. She remembered Mother digging up two bushes once. Nina had sat on the grass and watched. Mother explained about the roots, about how much they mattered. Nina listened that time, wondering all the while over their ugliness. Such ugliness to produce such beauty. It was entirely incongruous in Nina's mind. She'd learned that word four days ago and this was her first opportunity to use it.

Nina laid like that for an hour. She felt the sun start to burn her bare feet. She heard her mother and father's banal chatter over what was for dinner, what tomorrow's weather might be, and whether grandma seemed more or less confused today. She felt Freckles, their gray, long haired cat, paw at her legs where they extended out on the soft grass. Nina thought a hundred thoughts, remembered a dozen memories, and not a single other soul knew of it. It was the finest hour of her life.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Pictures & Words Day 22: Today I Am Writing

Photo/Writing Prompt: Today I am...

I have spent the last six months diligently editing my Full of Days manuscript. Diligently doesn't mean long stretches of time on any given day though so I am only half way through the novel as of today. A few minutes here, a lunch break there. Progress is progress though. With each page that I turn over to move to the next, I am more excited about the finished draft than ever before.

So, today I am writing.

I am stealing moments where I can to put my pen on these pages. Timothy and Annabelle are playing together happily. The scene before me, this pair on the floor and my manuscript on my knees, is one I treasure. It does not happen nearly often enough so it is a delight to capture it here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pictures & Words Day 20: Treat Yourself

Photo/Writing Prompt: A Cool Drink

This afternoon I'm having a few hours of a "Treat Yourself" day. My fellow Parks & Rec fans understand. Keeping the day more affordable than the spending sprees of Donna & Tom, I have indulged myself in a haircut (which, let's be honest, ladies, is essentially a mini spa treatment). I am currently sipping this cool drink, pleasing to the palate, while I read a book (a sweet treat of the finest variety). Soon I will leave for my appointment for an hour long massage. If you listen closely, you can probably hear my sigh of anticipation through your screen.

The funny thing is that the plans for this afternoon of enjoying a few just-for-me treats motivated me to make the whole day good. After a short, restless night of sleep, I awoke ready to move. Rather than another day of putting off my intention of a morning workout, I changed out of my pajamas, grabbed my sneakers and weights, and headed to the living room to work up a sweat in the quiet of the early morning. A welcome extension of this, I had a renewed desire to eat healthfully today instead of taking up my old habit of considering unhealthy food to be one of the primary ways I can "treat myself." Good breakfast; good lunch. I wore one of my favorite, most comfortable outfits. I made sure to laugh with both of my kids in the short time we had together before leaving home for the day. I kissed my husband a few extra times.

Maybe an ordinary day holds more opportunities to treat yourself [well] than I realized before.

Pictures & Words Day 19: Then I Remember

Photo/Writing Prompt: Sometimes I...

Sometimes I forget how it felt the first time you kissed me, or even held my hand. The nerves, the doubts, the thrilling hope; the sensations have faded like a dress left out in the sun. The vibrancy has dimmed. If I put that dress back on though, if I slip back into the seams of that memory, then I remember it all. The substance of it is no worse for wear. It still envelops me and I sink gladly into it.

Sometimes I forget, but maybe that's how it should be for the sake of the sweetness of remembering.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Pictures & Words Day 15: Don't Forget to Play

Photo/Writing Prompt: Play
(2 pictures because they are one moment together)

"Don't forget to play." Of all the things for my grandfather to say on his death bed, this was not what I expected.

I drove down from Detroit to see him one last time. The nurses said he would likely go in the next twenty-four hours. When I entered his room at the nursing home, pulled a chair up beside his bed, and waited for him to wake, I wondered what I could possibly say. Mom said he knew the end was around the corner. His clear mind was housed in a body exhausted to its limit. Grandpa was always full of advice and information. He could tell you something about everything while never claiming to know it all. My own mind was still blank when Grandpa's eyes opened. They were watery and dim. Short, sparse gray hairs stood askew upon his head. Grandpa was a big man, tall, broad, and thick. Even in his diminished state, he filled the standard issue bed to its edges. He lifted a hand, gesturing for me to lean closer. I did and he planted a kiss with his dry lips on my cheek. That's when I knew I wasn't going to come up with anything worth saying. I didn't have to though. Grandpa started right in.

"Patrick, I'm glad you're here."

I nodded. A lump was forming in my throat and I didn't trust myself to speak.

"I was thinking about you and that little boy of yours. And the little boy you used to be."

He reached for the plastic cup on his bedside table. I held it while he sipped water, the gurgle of air bubbles in the straw the only sound in the room.

"You were such a serious little one. Wanting to be older, wanting to be bigger, wanting to do important things."

I chuckled quietly. "I was, wasn't I?"

Grandpa had no smile though. He went on. "I know you're frustrated at that job. Feels like less than what you should be doing."

I ran a hand over my thinning hair. We'd had plenty of conversations on the topic.

"You are doing important things." He narrowed his eyes when I began to shake my head. "That boy, he's your important thing."

He needed another drink. I could see the strain that it was for his neck to hold his head up from the pillow for those few seconds.

"When your Laurie died, I knew your son would be okay. I wasn't so sure you would be okay, but I knew he would be. He's your important thing and you're doing it right. Can I give you just one bit of advice though?"

"Of course."

He hand engulfed mine. "Don't forget to play."

I'm sure the puzzlement was written on my face. "What do you mean, Grandpa?"

"Just that!" His deep voice rose urgently. "Don't forget to play! You have so much on your shoulders, so much worry. I see it in you from every angle, Patrick. Your son needs to see you play. He needs to see you laugh and smile and enjoy yourself. When he's older, he'll understand without a doubt how hard you worked to provide for him. He'll realize all the sacrifices you made. But don't let him wonder if you enjoyed your years with him. Don't let him question that."

I smiled then, aware that of all the advice he could give me in this moment, this was exactly what I needed to hear.

Grandpa's face relaxed and his eyes lost their focus on me. "You remember how we used to play, Patrick?"

"I do. I remember you teaching us baseball in the backyard. I remember sitting on your shoulders for half a mile to reach the river and filling my jar up with tadpoles. You used to carry me around upside down and I'd tell you what I saw that was different than when I was right side up."

Tears were trickling onto his leathery cheeks but he was smiling so I continued.

"I remember you pretending to be a bear and chasing us around the field behind your house. There was one night we had a board game marathon and you tried to play Twister with us. We all laughed so hard that Grandma almost peed in her pants. I remember the whole family going camping out at Carter Lake. It was the only time all year we could count on Dad taking a couple days off from work. You and Dad taught us boys how to handle a canoe but our first time out alone we tipped it. I remember surfacing next to Greg and the two of you were up on the shore laughing at us."

Grandpa nodded. I squeezed his hand and added, "It made me want to tip it a second time so I could hear you laugh that hard again."

His eyes refocused on me, brighter than before. "So, you'll remember to play?"

"I will."

Grandpa died several hours later. My brother Greg and I were there beside him. My mother, too, but she had dozed in her chair. His passing was so quiet, so calm, that it was over before we realized she was sleeping through it.

After the funeral, the whole family went to Grandpa's favorite restaurant. We had reserved most of the tables in there and still had trouble finding seats for all of us. Everyone swapped stories and memories, laughing and crying together. As we walked out to our cars later, my little boy squeezed in between my brother and me. Without a word we both grabbed his hands and swung him as high as we could manage. Giggles poured out of him and he shouted, "Again, Daddy, again!" I could hear my grandfather's laugh in my ears as we lifted him again.