A Veritable Smorgasbord

Here are the goofy things I’ve brain juggled today. Consider it a veritable 513152_origsmorgasbord. Here’s Templeton’s song from Wilbur to whet your appetite.

My dad used to call young guys, Butch. Not all of them. It was sort of balinghis compliment to a teenager who seemed like a tough looking fella. I suppose it was his verbal pat on the back to another alpha-type. I don’t know if he called my brother that when he was young, but I do know when Dad hired teenage guys to help lay pipe or bale hay, he usually nicknames at least one of them Butch. I only know this because I also went along on those work days. I drove the tractor when laying pipe, and I really don’t remember what in the heck I was doing when we were baling. I couldn’t have thrown the bales, and I doubt I drove the tractor. Maybe I just tagged along to watch the high school boy’s muscles flex… although I really don’t remember having crushes on any of the boys he hired. They all just looked greasy and dirty to me.

Speaking of greasy and dirty, I just finished reading Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell. Geeze. I had no idea THAT was coming. Such pathetic… everything… I couldn’t even pull myself away—it reginald_marsh_tobacco_road_d5534149hwas like watching the proverbial train wreck. I’m not judging it because there are plenty of people out there doing so and have been for many a year. I am saying, he painted a fine picture of depravity using some unique tools from his writing tool box. It’s written like the author was simple-minded (one of the tools he used.) As a writer, I kept wanting to rewrite redundant sentences. Then at the end of the book, Caldwell’s true writing voice shows up to give the reader the denouement. In the end, I have to say, I kind of weirdly liked the book, but I also really hated it. Yet it had some kind of peculiar effect on me. It’s like eating raw oysters (which I adore.) While you’re eating them, they are so darned good in such a funky stinky kind of way, and as long as you don’t stop to think about how slimy they are, or that they were alive a moment earlier, you can enjoy them. But reading that book was almost like a shameful thing. Like admitting you read the most craptastic, bodice-ripping romance novels, or vampire porn, or, GASP… that you don’t read books at all!!! Here’s another earwig for you. Tobacco Road.

IMG_1874Where else did my mind roam today? To my baby kittens who are growing so fast. Their names are Smudge (The tan one) and O’Mally (The yellow one). Both boys. Very rough and tumble and just darn fun to watch play. Smudge may turn into Pudge soon, as he’s so fat he makes a thump when he does a somersault over his brother and lands hard on the ground. O’Mally tends to cry right before he goes to sleep, just like a toddler fighting a nap. I love them to death, but what in the hell was I thinking! Two brawling male cats in the house! This can NOT turn out well. I’ll keep you posted.

Flames of Rosewood – Book Review

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JOY IN THE MOMENTS

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Yesterday I talked about water. Today, I’m washed in friendship!

Charissa Stastny reviewed my book, Flames of Rosewood on her blog. Go check it out and make sure to follow her blog. She always has great insight on new books. Comment on her post and you may win a free print copy of my book, Flames of Rosewood!

Whisper Into the Stream

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There are things from books, movies, or conversations where something really strikes me and sticks with me. For instance, when I read The Grapes of Wrath, there was a conversation between Ma and Uncle John where John is talking about how bothered he is by his many sins. Ma tells him not to tell his sins to others. Don’t burden them, she urges. Instead, her suggestion was to go down to the river, stick his head under the water, and whisper his sins into the stream. I loved this notion of sending his sins away on the ripples of water in silence.

Like chaff in the breeze, pollen in the air, or leaves falling from the trees… so random where the sins would land. 

Water. It washes us, we drink it, we cook with it, we play in it, and when we put something in it, like a small amount of flavoring or other liquid, it becomes diluted. By definition, diluting is making something weaker. Washing our hands or bodies dilutes dirt—weakens its hold on our skin. So maybe whispering your sins in the stream would dilute the sins.

This led me to think about baptism. I suppose the concept of washing away original sin matches up with diluting, weakening, and washing. I went to a baptism a few years back where the priest actually used the term “exorcism” during the baptism. This shocked me as I’d never heard that said in a baptism before, but I suppose I can see how the rite of Baptism is washing away the stain of original sin.

All this thought about water, also reminded me of reading about a man who wrote messages of redemption, stuffed them in empty 5th of whiskey bottles and pitched them out into the sea. He’d been a drinker, then God saved him from the demon whiskey. His pledge was to use the once sin-filled vessels to preach the message of Christ. He sent salvation to bob away on the waves…

Like chaff in the breeze, pollen in the air, or leaves falling from the trees… so random where the redemption would land. 

Like a sin whispered in the stream, diluted, washed, cleansed. Water carries everything I guess. If you’re a believer, you can’t have eternal life without it. Temporal life would end quickly without water, too. Random? Maybe. Or maybe not. Again, this depends on if you are a believer. One way or the other, this idea of water taking us from sin to salvation is one to think on. Hopefully, my random ramblings will get you thinking about something or another. Just tossing it out there to see where it floats.

 

Kittens, Kansas City, and Insights

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.