Kittens, Kansas City, and Insights

IMG_1803

Today my brain is frayed thinking about three different things.

  1. The two kittens I’ve adopted. So, they’re still having a little trouble drinking milk from a bowl, but I think by the end of the week they’ll be little pros. As you can see by the picture, one is cream-colored with taupe gray on his tail and tipping his ears. The other is a little yellow fellow. My husband called him Yeller because he meows a lot and loudly. What we actually name them is still in the air for now. Their mother seems to kind of want them, but kind of not. (I remember days like that.) She was raising them in the rafters of our gazebo and one had fallen out. I tried to put them back with her today and they were crawling over the edge before I even got off the ladder. I have tried to bring the mother in the house, and she has, in turn, left many claw marks on my arms during the process. She’s a little wild. I feel bad about bringing the kittens in, but we tend to see cats come and go all the time on the farm. (And when I say, come and go, by “go” I mean, take a dirt nap.) We live right by a gravel road and people are generally going around 40 when they pass our house. Maybe faster. In the night, animals often meet their demise to either a passing pickup or a hungry predator. But these two little boys are just too cute to leave to fate in the dangerous outside world. Mama Cat can come in, but those little boys aren’t going back out. I lost my favorite cat last week and I don’t intend to lose these two. Case closed.
  2. We’re planning a little family weekend for August. Kansas City, Missouri is four hours from where we live and around four hours from St. Louis where my daughter lives. I thought we’d compromise and get together midway and it’s looking like it might work for us to do that soon. We’re in the planning stages, but as always, I know we’ll want to listen to some Blues, eat some barbeque, and enjoy the pool at whatever hotel we pick. I’ve heard people say they like to stay in Overland Park, but I don’t know why. Any suggestions are welcome. I’ve been to the Power & Light District and there is a free concert there one of the nights. We’ll probably take that in. And I know we’ll drop by Arthur Bryant’s. Any suggestions on a great place to stay or a really cool place to eat, or a gotta-do activity or attraction, would be appreciated.
  3. The inspiring church service I went to on Sunday. We have a new Pastor at our church. A young guy. Being the church secretary, I work with him and find him to be accommodating, intelligent, and a good leader. But it’s during service on Sunday when I see who he is as a minister, and not just as my boss. He comes alive talking about God. You can see it. You can feel it. And most importantly, you leave mulling over ideas and filled with a bit of surety of what this whole Christianity thing is all about. I’ve found over the years that understanding scripture, or Bible stories, or what God is doing in my life, kind of comes in bursts. Epiphanies. Moments of Clarity… which, by the way, has ended up being a dandy name for this blog and subsequent book! Bits of understanding cross over us like a ray of sunshine poking through a cloudy sky… then it disappears. Deep insights and feelings are hard to grasp and harder to hold tight. It’s why, he reminded us, we need to go to church every Sunday. Just like school. You can’t just learn math one day and be good for life. You have to practice. Make it part of your process and routine. I’m just guessing here, of course. I run so darn fast from any math problem it’s like my hair is on fire. But I assume if one does a job with math, it becomes far easier the more often you do it. Everything’s that way, isn’t it? Parenting, writing, running, singing, life… the more often you do it, the easier it gets, the better you understand it, the better doing it you become. Yes. I think I’ll keep going to church on Sunday. I could use all the epiphanies I can get.

Feed the Good Dog

good-dog

Look Up: I watched a segment about Neil deGrasse Tyson on 60 Minutes last night. I loved his energy and excitement for astrophysics, for his work, for life. He talked about how when he steps outside at night he still looks up and is amazed. That’s how we should see life, isn’t it? Looking up in wonder and awe of it all—like a child.

Look Down: Yet, I’d say there’s something to be said for looking down. One can’t walk around with their “head in the clouds” all the time. We people who live on the farm know we must look down when we walk or we may just step in something nasty. We must have a grip on reality, and a practical human acceptance of our own flaws… be humble.

Look Around: And we mustn’t forget to look around. We are surrounded by people who need help, need love, need support. Yes, every one of us. Even those we don’t agree with. We’re all in this together, aren’t we? And as they say, none of us are getting out alive.

Every day I see people who are working so hard to be of good use to those around them. I live in a community that buzzes like a full hive of bees, many people volunteering to make good things happen for all of us. There really is good in this world.

And, yes… there is bad, too. The news is a hard pill to swallow with senseless shootings and electoral mud-slinging, natural disasters and the constant threat of terror and global warming. If I focus my attention there, it is a heavy-weight I put on my own shoulders. I can only shrug it away if I choose to stop to look up in awe, look down in humility and look around to see what small thing I can do to be of use.

You’ve probably heard the story about there being a good dog and a bad dog fighting in all of us. The dog who wins is the one you feed the most. We can choose to feed the good dog.

So, put good thoughts out to the universe. Let being a positive influence become a habit. I hope you get an opportunity to look up and see the stars this week. Or maybe the fireflies. Or someone doing something great for others. Feed the good dog.

Shhhhh. It’s only on Amazon.

51rXNfrbOzL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

I’m going to whisper this quietly into cyberspace.

My book, Flames of Rosewood, is now live on Amazon.

Why am I whispering? Because it’s only on Amazon. Nook won’t accept my cover as it is so I’m waiting for a new cover. I haven’t formatted it for Smashwords, so it isn’t on Sony or iBook or anywhere else. And I haven’t even begun to get it ready for a print copy.

Considering all of those things, I’m not really ready to launch this book, but if you are one of the few people who read this blog, you get to know about the Amazon launch first. And, if for some reason you read it and feel inclined to leave a decent review, I’d be ever so much obliged. Reviews sell books, so if I could glean a few before my hard launch, it would be delightful.

So, you can whisper this to friends who have Kindles or Kindle aps on their computers or iPads or phones. Nook and other e-reader users must wait. Print copy folks must wait even longer. I’ll jump up and down more when it’s all ready to roll.

Until then, some of you who are interested can get a first peek.

Pity, Fear, and Catharsis

quote-a-tragedy-then-is-the-imitation-of-an-action-with-incidents-arousing-pity-and-fear-wherewith-aristotle-207391

Here’s a little something for both my readers and my writing friends.

Aristotle, 2000 years ago, described this writing formula. A story must have pity, fear, and catharsis. I think it’s helpful for us to remember this formula when we write. I’d venture it can be applied to just about any writing you mean to be persuasive.

He said an author must make the audience feel pity for a character. We do that by making the character go through some misfortune. This enables the reader to emotionally connect with the character. Another word for pity would be empathy. So, for instance, a while back I wrote a blog about the importance of not publishing a book until it was ready. I called the blog post, Harness the Elephant.  My goal was to help you understand why a book I’d been working on wasn’t going to come out when I had originally thought it would. Essentially, I asked for your empathy.

Once the writer has that emotional connection between the reader and the character, the writer has some control over the reader. You then put the character into worse and worse and worse situations. Because of the emotional connection (pity or empathy), the audience will feel fear for the character. In the blog I mentioned earlier, I likened myself to having steered my elephant down the wrong path. Now, these aren’t the highest of imaginary stakes, yet, a source of tension was introduced and a problem required a solution.

When you release the character from the jeopardy of whatever problematic situation they’re in, then the audience experiences catharsis. A sigh. Whew. That’s over! So, what’s the catharsis of my Harness the Elephant blog post? I finally got my book, Flames of Roses, finished. I just got it back from the editor. Hopefully, It will be available to readers very soon. 

Universal Bones

cofield

 

In a speech accepting his Nobel Prize in the Stockholm City Hall, on December 10, 1950, William Faulkner said of that day’s writers, “…(they have) forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself, (that) alone can make good writing…” He said it was the only subject worth the sweat and agony of writing. He went on to explain that a writer must remember “…the basest of all things is to be afraid…” and the old universal truths are “…love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” If a writer doesn’t keep these truths, then “He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars.”

I guess this is a good example of why Faulkner won the Nobel Prize. Not only because he could write like that, but because he could think like that!

I agree and believe every story worth reading or writing is ultimately a story about love. Some kind of love. At its core, to write a great story, the bones of the story must be made of and for and about some kind of love. Love of country, love of family, love of a child, for an animal, for oneself, or for another, or the lack of love, the longing for love, and truly… it’s the absence of love that creates all of the problems in the world. Don’t forget about the love of money, the love of life, murder for love, jealousy, envy, greed, anger, fear… all are emotions that stem from or the lack of love. So, essentially, figure out the simple love story of your book and make sure THAT story is always at the core. Don’t forget to stay true to that simple idea. Achieving that love, or losing that love… almost losing that love…IS the problem your story must solve.

We need look no further than the Bible for the ultimate love story. There we see a love that sacrifices for the good of the whole. That Christ-like figure is seen in so many great stories: Jim Casey in the Grapes of Wrath, Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, John Coffee in The Green Mile, Superman, Harry Potter, John Connor in The Terminator, and this list goes on and on. You can’t have great sacrifice, without great love. And sacrifice is the ultimate show of love.

Facing Fears

Me

Public speaking has always been fairly terrifying for me, but I’m facing my fears and slowly but surely, getting over them. It helps a lot when one know what they’re talking about. But it helps even more when I can get out of my own neurotic head, and move from thinking, Oh, my God… they’re all looking at me! to It’s my job to make them comfortable and to teach them something. They’re all counting on me.

It does not help to pretend everyone is naked. I have a very good imagination, but not that good. Or bad.

I spoke twice this past weekend. I won’t deny, that kind of pressure takes a toll on me. I was so exhausted from it, I slept all afternoon on Sunday. But I think both presentations went as well as I could make them, and that’s all I can expect of myself: My best.

So, thank you to the Henderson Heritage Park, and St. Luke’s United Methodist Women; the two groups who gave me the opportunity to speak. Both events were blessings I enjoyed very much. Some day, I hope I can get up and speak without feeling wiped out afterward or nervous before and during. That’s my goal. To become good at public speaking. It’s my new quest. There. I’ve put it out to the world. Now let’s see where it goes.

What are your fears and are you trying to conquer any of them?

Too Much Great Food

IMG_1669

I’m all excited about some new food discoveries:

Blue Apron:  This is a meal delivery business. I was given a free week of food from my daughter for Mother’s Day. Basically, a big box came to my door and inside was all the ingredients I need to make three meals for two. The recipesare included and it takes you step by step through making a  delicious meal I might not have normally made. Iwas prepared to poo-poo this concept, but by golly, in the end, I do believe there is a market for this and I have to give a nod to those companies who are serving this niche market. Cost-wise… not sure it’s a financially sound idea unless you have plenty of money to spend. I could buy all of the products to make these six meals for far less than the amount they charge. But… would they be delivered to me? Measured out? Including the steps for the entire meal? Without me having to even think? Nope. I’d have to go to the grocery store, plan the menu, find the recipes, unpack the groceries. Chances are, I’d buy more than I needed and have waste. OR… more likely, I wouldn’t do it at all. I’d order out and have more calories and a higher price tag on the meal.

Tonight I made Seared Cod with spring vegetables in a vinaigrette. Delish! I would have never thought of this spring veggie salad and I know I’ll be making it again. It was outstanding. So, I’m pretty excited about Blue Apron delivered meals. It’s in-home cooking school. It’s fun. It’s nutritious. I’d recommend it to anyone who can afford it, has very little time to spare to eat well, and who enjoys trying new recipes and foods. Especially a single person or a couple who is only home in the evening for one meal.

My husband’s garden: There really isn’t much my husband can’t do, and do well. Turns out, gardening is also among his talents. Right now the peas and beans are flowering in his beautiful garden. The tomatoes and peppers look great. We’ve been enjoying lettuce, kale, spinach and radishes. He keeps it beautifully weeded. It’s a thing of beauty. I couldn’t be more proud of him. And because he also makes lunch sometimes, I now know how much I love….

Radish sandwiches. Because of my husband’s garden and cooking, I now am in love with a radish sandwich. Recipe? Cut up radishes in thin slices. Put on white bread with mayo and butter. Lettuce is nice, too, but not a must. Yeah. It’s really, really good. I know. Who would have ever thought?

Cake donuts: I really don’t want to think about them because it only makes me want a dozen. We have a small business in our area who sells their baked goods at a local grocery story a couple of mornings a week. All these years I thought I only liked fluffy glazed donuts. Then I tasted these cake donuts. Curses. Now I know that twice a week I can go buy as many cake donuts as I can carry out, and they are, to me, heavenly. I think this is just cruel. Why? Why me? Why did I have to go and fall in love with cake donuts from Buresh Bakery? In all the grocery joints in all the world… why’d they have to walk into mine?

I’m doomed.

 

I Can Fix That For Ya

027026dfe790e98cb19ee69379cc8ee6395abae9_list

 

Writers create characters from  many people in their past. Actors in movies, our teachers, friends, and, of course, our relatives. One relative from my past would certainly be Aunt Virginia, who everyone called, Jidge. I have a classic tale about Jidge that should leave you having an image of this woman from my childhood, and yet another goofy story about my silly life.

Aunt Jidge had wire-like grayish white hair. It stood out around her head in a type of afro, which I assume resulted from an old-lady perm gone terribly wrong. Jidge had pop-eyes which left her looking curious, in an astounded sort of way. I don’t have a specific memory of her smoking, but she must have because her voice had a sandpaper quality. She was a big woman with layers of chins and arms. I remember big brown moles on her face and some stray hairs on her chinny-chin-chin. So, yeah. Aunt Jidge was kind of a frightening looking woman to a kid, but I was used to her, so she didn’t scare me… but, I wouldn’t have crossed her without first preparing to take off at a sprint.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I tended to miss a couple of days of school here and there because of dreaded awful menstrual cramps. I would have been loathsome to discuss this when I was younger, but over the years, doctors have done things to me that have quite effectively eliminated most of my pride. Plus, we now listen to Viagra and Depends commercials during dinner… so, really, once those topics are up for conversation, what isn’t on the table to discuss?

So I’m home one school day when I was around sixteen, writhing on the couch, clutching my gut, and cursing being female, when Aunt Jidge takes a look at me and says, “I can fix that for ya.”

Since my pain was at a point I could almost no longer bear, I was completely up for whatever cure scary old Aunt Jidge had up the sleeve of her sweater.

She waddled into the kitchen, got out a glass from the cupboard and filled it half full with water. She put it in the microwave. Heated it to boiling. Then she took my Dad’s bottle of whiskey and filled the rest of the glass with its dangerous amber liquid. “Now, drink it all at once!” She hands the warm concoction to me.

She had a look in her eye, sort of a cross between demanding, knowing, and just plain devilish. I did what I was told. I’m pretty sure I was unconscious within five minutes, and there is the story of the first time I got drunk and passed out. Essentially, a crazy old aunt slipped me a hot toddy. I slept right through my cramps in an utterly relaxed state. Yea for crazy Aunt Jidge! It’s amazing what adults could do to kids back in the seventies!

 

 

Malcolm’s Choice

IMG_1085

The picture above is old. Maybe 29 years old. Something like that. It’s of me at maybe 22, and my dog Malcolm. I’m laying on a super-cheap couch Steve and I bought for our first home; an old two-story farmhouse belonging to the family my husband worked for as a hired hand.

Malcolm had quite the history in my family. He first belonged to my sister, Gwen and her husband John. I believe they owned him when they lived in St. Joseph Missouri. Then they had their first child, Jackie, and I think that was the reason behind Gwen and John bringing Malcolm to live at my parent’s farm… on which I was living too… at the time I was probably 14 years old.

Malcolm was a Labrador, and anyone who has had labs knows they have great personalities. That dog was like the cool guy at the party. He had all kinds of swagger and strut and I spent a lot of time hugging on that dog. He was an excellent listener.  I completely trusted Malcolm.

Honestly, I don’t remember much about my teen years. I know Malcolm didn’t like every guy I dated. He barked at some and wouldn’t let others pet him. I remember saying I wouldn’t marry a guy unless Malcolm approved of him. Well, I held to my word. Along came Steve and lo and behold, Malcolm didn’t as much as bark at him. He loved Steve right from the beginning. So did my mom now that I think of it. I remember getting head to head with that dog. I said, “This one? Are you sure?” His tail wagged.

Our wedding day

Our wedding day

That dog did not steer me wrong. I haven’t always realized it, but Steve is just what the dogtor ordered… sorry, couldn’t resist the bad pun. My husband married me 31 years ago today. I’m lucky to have him. And I’m very glad I listened to my good old dog, Malcolm!

Potential Stories

IMG_1195

It’s time for me to move on, but I’m stuck. Quagmired in my vacation. My brain keeps recalling little things, preventing me from doing big things. Real things. Like laundry, making meals, cleaning things. Writing my book. Writing the next book. Balancing my checkbook. So I’ll write down the little things and hope it will be like facing fears… If I deal with it, then I might be able to get on with it. Because, seriously, I have things to do!

So, here are the little things that I think are little scenes or stories I’ll always remember and may like to tell.

  • The bird in the breadbox.
  • Biduie spanks the cat.
  • Singing, “Oh, Champs Elysees.”
  • The man with the green scarf.
  • The Birds liked Eric Clapton.
  • Drinking in the dark.
  • Mis-using French. Au Revoir means goodbye, not hello.
  • Twisting the nose.
  • Viola!
  •  Three valium and the last plane ride.
  • Madame Marchand.

Now, we’ll see if there’s a story in any of these tidbits. Let me know if one, in particular, sparks your interest.