Monday, November 27, 2006

Straight Talk for a Bargain:
49 Cents Makes Good Sense

I've purchased plenty of books at because it is convenient and I live where it is not easy to get to a bookstore. Recently, I've become aware of Amazon Shorts--short stories and short nonfiction for only 49 cents to be downloaded onto my computer. I can see if I like a certain author or read something for less than it would be to purchase a magazine.

Since I've also published nearly 500 book reviews and have worked freelance for editors and agents in reading/doctoring manuscripts, I've read a lot and fixed a lot of manuscripts. So, when I saw that editor and author Terry Whalin had an Amazon Short up for only 49 cents,(Straight Talk from the Editor: 18 Keys to a Rejection-Proof Your Submission) I purchased it right away to see if it would be something to pass along to the many writers with whom I've come into contact. It is a gold mine of information--and only 49 cents!

He is up-to-the-minute in the writing world and gives a lot of advice for writers--for not much more than your time spent. What a great resource and generous offering to writers. Be sure to also check out his blog, The Writing Life, for insights into current highlights in the publishing world.

You can't get a magazine, a comic book, a cup of coffee, a loaf of bread or even a pound of bananas for 49 cents! But you can possibly save yourself a lot of heartache from a lot of rejections by taking time and 49 cents to read this Short. My review? Worth it and more.


On to My 1000 Gifts today:

101. warm weather as we approach December
102. pork tenderloin on the grill because of the warm weather!
103. my Memphis cookbook with a scrumptious marinade recipe
104. Christmas decorations with lots of memories
105. twinkling multi-colored Christmas lights
106. yummy Mediterranean pasta salad
107. my precious Nativity that sister-in-law Melba made and gave to my husband and me for our first Christmas together as a married couple (25 years ago)
108. Super Glue--that saved poor Joseph's head when he fell over and cracked (we DO have four boys...a miracle the Nativity set has survived this long)
109. Claritan--because warm weather always kicks up some sort of allergy
110. my olive-colored Salomon sneakers with the tromped down heels--comfort in a shoe
111. freshly-made coffee and a thoughtful husband
112. a strong and friendly writing community
113. Imy's cherry pie!
114. online shopping to avoid the crowds
115. family updates from my mom's sister, Aunt Mayme
116. My Aunt Linda
117. the crinkling sound of raffia
118. My Cowboys & Indians magazine
119. A Savior who is Christ the Lord
120. A great story in Luke 2
121. Our huge family Bible
122. freedom to talk about what we believe and not to be put into jail or
killed for it
123. freedom to blog!
124. music
125. music my husband and boys play
126. a voice to sing (even if only my dog appreciates my voice)
127. a warm shower and great accoustics
128. a variety of colors
129. gold rings my true love gave to me
130. scents of cinnamon and pine

Friday, November 24, 2006

Ancora Imparo

Ancora Imparo
Supposedly Michaelangelo, when he was 87, said, "Ancora Imparo" which means "I am still learning." Whether he said this or not, his works left behind show us that he, indeed, was able to create new things, learning as he went, even up until the end. It is an inspiring story and a nice phrase to adopt no matter how old we are.

My husband often says that he has the mind of the beginner. I would like to think that I have the mind of a beginner, but boy, howdy, it is awful frustrating sometimes to start all over again. Mostly, in our culture, we see this as something to be frowned upon or to be "stupid." But I like seeing new things and I do like hearing about something new and interesting. I have learned new things with each thing I write, so hopefully, I am always learning with joy.

When someone points me to a new link or tells of a new way to do something, or I discover a new book that keeps me up all night to read "one more page," these are things I receive with glee. I am not always good at having this attitude. But I am learning that it makes life better. If you can live one more day, finding something new to attempt, or something to learn, it is worth it. I don't know your circumstances or if you struggle at this time of year with thoughts of being worthless. (I sometimes do.) Since having read these words of Michaelangelo, I have thought that to see the world with the "mind of a beginner" may be just the thing to grasp and hold on to--to humbly learn and accept the new information. To not see "starting over" as some sort of awful disaster. I think of what Albert Einstein said, "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called Research." And we all know that scientists,explorers, and artists, writers and the great composers--all of them didn't always know what they were doing, but they sought to continue and explore.

I have an email group of friends who have long shared writerly things, but also their humor, sadnesses, family events, failures and triumphs. This week was a flurry of emails with prayer requests for difficult things, funny(humor--argh,argh) insights in spite of some tough situations, and happy events to celebrate. I learned even more about these friends whom I thought I already knew well. I'm glad we keep in touch and share these things. I learn more and appreciate more.

So, onward with my 1000 Gifts!

76. moisturizing lotions! for my dry skin
77. prayers of friends
78. boys who help me move furniture (and are big enough to do it!)
79. boys who didn't complain even though their friends kept calling and told them to ditch me and my requests for help
80. peaceful evenings
81. a clean rug and a good attitude (thanks to my oldest)
82. yummy banana bread (thanks to my youngest)
83. kisses on the top of my head (thanks to my 2nd oldest)
84. laughing (thanks to my 3rd child's dry humor)
85. a husband who cares about my state of mind!
86. a dog which thinks I'm the greatest thing to ever walk the earth (thank goodness dogs don't know better)
87. friends who share knowledge of things like gmail and PDFs (and always seems to have time to explain)
88. Acceptance to the university in the mail today (Yay, Bryce!)
89. When rearranging books, furniture, finding my Norwegian family book of customs, photos and recipes that I haven't seen in quite awhile!
90. Melba's cranberry salad leftover from yesterday in a dish in my fridge
91. hairclips when I don't feel like fixing my hair
92. lipsticks in a variety of colors and moisturous smoothness (current favorites: raisinberry and cantaloupe)
93. good music (thanks to my husband and sons who were practicing)
94. a dishwasher! (nuff said)
95. a working washing machine and dryer
96. clean boys' rooms!
97. a sparkling clean front window! (Thanks, Max)
98. ice from the icemaker
99. Faith in a God bigger than anything I'm worried about
100. holidays to show us the things that are important

Only 900 to go!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

This is our family on Thanksgiving in the little stone house near the crick. My dad took the picture. Usually on Thanksgiving we either had family in (my mother's sister's family) or we traveled on a quick trip to Tennessee.

One of our favorite things to do on Thanksgiving was to get up, watch the Macy's Thanksgiving parade on TV. The only parades we saw were either the mice going to the fields to pick up the dropped corn and beans, or the geese flying in a V to the South. After we ate our turkey, we searched the carcass for the "pulley" bone or the wishbone. Two people would pull until it broke and whoever got the larger piece could make a wish for the year.

We had already listed things we were thankful for and made placemats or turkeys from hand drawings (with the fingers as feathers.) Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday for many reasons.

Continuing on with the 1000 Gifts....

58. a warm house on a cold morning
59. crisp bacon
60. a working husband who loves his job
61. good friends who remember me
62. sons
63. crunching leaves and senses of hearing and smell to appreciate them
64. our broadband internet satellite and a clear day
65. stacks of books and magazines by my bed
66. neighbors
67. newspaper in the box early in the morning
68. comics section
69. smell of woodsmoke from neighbors' fireplaces
70. our shoe repairman who fixed my favorite pair of boots and had them ready yesterday!
71. good memories that fade out the bad
72. refrigerators and freezers that work!
73. electricity ON
74. sunshine
75. hot coffee when I'm bleary-eyed

What are your Thanksgiving memories?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

1004 West 11th Street

Do you remember memorizing your phone number and address when you were in first grade? Well, I can't remember my phone number from that time, but I do remember our address. We lived in this house about 6 years. I remember my mother liking the house, but not liking living in town. She grew up on a farm in northern Minnesota. She had loved our house in Arcadia on the dirt/gravel road.

I probably picked up on her feelings about living in town, and I, too, missed having all of my animals and the freedom from neighborhood mean boys. We had a ton of mean boys on our street. And the girls weren't much better. In fact while living on this street: my brand new bicycle was stolen, my birthstone ring my grandmother gave to me was stolen (knew who did it, couldn't prove it,) my brother was hit in the head with a hammer (yeah, true story--he lived and recovered, amazingly,) I stepped on a sharp bone that went clear through my foot and got blood poisoning,a drunk neighbor man tried to scare and hurt us while we played in the yard (my dad went down to talk to him--let's just say he never bothered us again, but boy, was I scared!), fights occurred frequently, people screamed and hit each other, my dog was sent to exile, a man tried to get into our car (mom locked the doors with automatic locks and tromped on the gas,)and we and this house survived the Palm Sunday tornado, but some of our neighbors and their homes did not.

I want to remember something good about this place. It was such a nice house, with a big, fenced in yard. We were nice kids, with a nice mom and had a grape arbor, apple trees, peach trees, a cherry tree, a vegetable garden and a good stand of rhubarb. Mom made all kinds of treats from all of our bounty--even grape juice and grape jelly. We had our very own swingset and played on it daily. We had adventures in the yard and wore our dad's army uniforms.

I had my own room. We got to have an inside dog (a short-haired chihuahua named PeeWee.) I do remember that we lived within minutes from our pediatrician because it is what saved my brother's life. He was stung by a bumblebee and swelled so fast, that by the time mom got us into the car and into the waiting room of the doctor, he had stopped breathing--but the doc had the instant cure and he soon was pinked up and no longer turning blue! Now, that's a gift of Providence to have lived close enough.

But it just wasn't a place where we liked living. I've never liked living in town. Just a country girl, I guess. I used to want to go back to our old house, or better yet, move to Tennessee, I would ache (and sometimes cry.) I guess it is true that home is where your heart is. If we knew how wonderful our heavenly home really is, I think we would feel that way about heaven, too.

1000 GIFTS continued....
29. sinus pills and ibuprofen--OTCs that work!
30. boys home and content
31. cold water right from the tap
32. hymns
33. Sunday newspapers and color comics
34. football!
35. "da" Bears!
36. memories
37. memories not as painful as when they happened (fading or disappearing pain--a gift)
38. lots of trees
39. singing birds
40. scampering squirrels
41. mooing cows
42. the babble of the creek going over stones and logs
43. internet that works and brings friends to my email box
44. crushed ice
45. raspberry peach iced tea
46. homemade biscuits!
47. fried chicken
48. my humorous husband
49. laughing
50. teen boys who still kiss me goodnight
51. ironing (the only chore I actually like--I get to think while accomplishing a task)
52. Amazon Shorts!
53. books that come right to my door
54. choices of books
55. a comfy bed with down comforter on a cold night
56. Sharing humor in the Bible with my boys

What gifts can you count today?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I like lists. Even if I don't accomplish all the things on my lists, I feel a sense of accomplishment just having the list--lists of groceries, things to be done, lists for gifts, lists of my treasured things/people/places, lists of peeves.

So, when the Christian Women Online's Ann Voskamp challenged us to blog our 1000 Gifts this season, I immediately began thinking of just what kind of gifts I receive or give each day. Click on the photo to find out more about this, and to see how many unique gifts there are (there is a list of bloggers participating in this.)

1. A husband, whom I admire, who challenges me each day
2. Four boys who call me "MOM!"
3. My worn-out Thompson Chain Reference Bible with the marked pages I can turn to just the verse/passage I need easily
4. A dog who won't let me lie in bed all day--makes me get outside and feel the crisp air
5. Friends who won't lose touch and continue to email me
6. Sleep (in a cozy bed)
7. A book that makes me think about it even two days after putting it down
(Coming to America: Patterns of Love by Robin Lee Hatcher)
8. Sunshine after days of rain, flooding and gray skies
9. Talented family who gets together for music playing (tonight!)
11.My husband's extended family
12.Imy and Melba who support all of us with their presence and cheers hearing--the woodpecker outside my window sight--a flash of red when I finally spot the woodpecker sense of smell--the cinnamon-pumpkin aroma from my burning candle
16.Spicy Obsession cologne
17.a hot shower
18.a great sale at Christopher and Banks old L.L.Bean boots I slip on to wear outside every morning
20.a small Degas notebook to jot my early morning ideas-- given to me by my friend, LeAnne
21.Uniball pens--love them
22.a fun bookmark arriving in the mail (thanks!)
23.My Steeple Hill Suspense books arriving (like having Christmas early!)
24.cheeeburgers (with onions!)
25.the color green
26.The Barbie Girls who started an editors' blog
27.The Writing Life blog that keeps me informed of writerly things
28.Camy Tang who is so very different from me, but yet I relate to her--plus, she challenges me to actually WRITE!

Only 973 things to go! What's on your list today?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Second grade snots
Third grade angels...
Fourth grade not.

And I can't remember the rest of the chant--can you? (You're old if you can. ha!)

I didn't go to kindergarten because we lived in the middle of nowhere on a gravel road. Most people my age probably didn't go. We had dogs and cats and cows and a great little pony named Star (whom I loved above all.) I loved where we lived. I was ruler of my little domain. I had a raccoon named Jim, and a little brother to boss around, and plenty of animals.

But when I was entering first grade we moved to a small city because of my dad's work. I had my own room and routinely began having nightmares about wild animals looking into my windows at night. The windows were small, horizontal and situated at the top of the room and you'd have to be pretty tall to look in. I didn't like the closeness of the neighbors, and it was all pretty strange to me. I missed my pony. And one of our dogs started causing problems. He was getting out and stealing. He'd bring stuff that people left in their yards and deposit them on our porch. We'd have to go door-to-door to ask, "Is this yours?"

It would be unbelievable what would be left in their yards. We ended up taking that dog to my granddaddy in Tennessee because my mom got tired of having to deal with it. I loved that dog, and my granddaddy, being simpatico with me, loved him, too. Someone, however, ended up poisoning the dog because he couldn't get over his thieving ways. He was also territorial in that he wouldn't let anyone trespass into granddaddy's yard. He probably had learned that when we lived back in the country. I suppose this was only a part of why I hated living in the city.

We owned a pretty good corner lot with a white picket fence, apple and peach trees, a small vegetable garden, a grape arbor and pine trees and rows of peonies and rose bushes. It looked idyllic, all-American. Our neighbors were a strange mix of characters. And because my dad was not too keen on the school system, he let my mother enroll me into a Christian school of my mother's family denomination, several blocks from our house. I loved books, could read and was very excited about going to school with kids. Except for some cousins, cradle roll at church, and my little brother of whom I'm 4 years older, I didn't have much experience with being around kids.

I was in a classroom of four grades. The other classroom housed the upper four grades. We had school in the church and our only playground was the parking lot. The two classrooms were taught by a husband-wife team. My teacher was the woman and her husband was the upper grades teacher. I didn't know it at the time, but I have a strong auditory learning style, so it was difficult for me to work on my seatwork while my teacher was teaching the other grades.

Soon I was listening to and absorbing not only my work, but 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade work, too. I would get all my work done and remember everything talked about in the other grades. I had a lot to talk about (an auditory trait) when I would get home from school. Since we were not allowed to talk much in school, I had to restrain my talk to recess and to when I would be picked up by my mother. Sometimes I would run to the car because I had so much pent up to say.

Lou Ann was the pastor's daughter and in fourth grade. She was sort of the "boss" of the whole class. Being outgoing and always seeking attention, she would hold court at recess and she did all of the talking. All the kids would gather around her to hear what she had cooked up for us to do at recess. She organized games and bossed us by saying who got to do what. I am not sure if the teacher was intimidated by her because of who her dad was, or if she was just relieved that she didn't have to organize us at recess (she never got a break from us all day long.) The teacher just let her do whatever. She would stand away from us and just let Lou Ann take over.

I, having been the princess of my entire universe from nearly the beginning, and having always been around adults (and used to getting my way,) from the beginning wasn't too keen on Lou Ann. But I also was the smallest kid in the entire school, and was very blonde and very fair. I am sure I looked pretty puny next to Lou Ann. Plus, I was an "outcast" because my mother had been unfairly ousted from her denomination(though she went to church regularly,) and my dad, well, he was a "heathen" according to "The Church." I not only was reminded of this black mark by my cousins on my mother's side, but now by kids at our school whom Lou Ann had informed (which would be--oh, yeah. Everyone.)

But, being a bit of a rebel, I bucked the system from the beginning. I wasn't going to have Lou Ann tell me what to do, first grade baby or not. I knew I was a good person and that the love of Jesus was in my heart, too. I knew I was smart and had as much right to talk as anyone else. This baffled Lou Ann.

Lou Ann had to get control of me, so I became her concentrated campaign effort. (Plus, besides me, her domain was pretty secure.)First of all, she corrected me whenever possible. She made sure to make it appear that I was not only the most ignorant person on the face of the planet (regardless of my straight-A status, except in handwriting,) but she wanted everyone to know that I was tainted with "shame." I distinctly remember telling a story(probably about my pony, my dogs or Tennessee--my most beloved place on earth) in a group of kids, and Lou Ann interrupted to correct me.

"You can't say that."

"What? What did I say?"

"Ain't. You can't say ain't. It isn't proper English. You must say, 'is not' or 'are not. If you say 'ain't,' you're stupid."

She made saying "ain't" sound like a sin. All the kids gasped and I wasn't sure how to handle this, not being used to someone calling me stupid. Plus, she made it sound like I had cussed--and I sure never did that. I remember the teacher correcting one of my fellow first graders for saying "Holy Mackerel" and I had cringed about that. (I don't think I'd ever heard someone say "Holy Mackerel" before.)I didn't even think bad words.

Anyway, being a bit of a Pharisee myself, I was determined to at least speak properly. And being quite auditory in learning style, I could pick up every spoken nuance and was pretty good at mimic.

My sinful nature wanted to get into Lou Ann's face and say, "Ain't. Ain't, ain't, ain't, AIN'T." Who was she to tell me what I could and could not say? Instead, I clamped my mouth shut, as I probably blazed blood red. I blushed fairly easily and knew when I was being put down into my place. I don't think I used the word ain't again until I was in high school, when I finally discovered grace.

That is when Lou Ann knew she had me. And that's when Lou Ann started her next campaign to ruin my life. She would race to my mom's car every day (because she stayed at school to go home with her dad later, she didn't have to get ready to go) and she'd tell everything I did or said that day to my mother. I'd get to the car and there would be my nemesis, Lou Ann, telling my mom her version of the day. She had blabbed absolutely everything to my mother and I had lost my fresh audience. Not only had she hobbled my talking tendency at school, but now she took over my mother--my one and only audience. Since I needed to "talk" through what I learned, this was a major frustration to me.

And so, the nightmares began. I vividly remember the nightmares I had throughout my time at in that house, in that neighborhood and in that school. What I couldn't work out in my waking life, I took to working out in my dreams. Lou Ann was just the beginning, and actually a small part of my troubles. And while my bubbly, outgoing nature was somewhat suppressed, it didn't die out. Like Joseph in prison, I had to make the best of my life, because I wasn't going anywhere else.

My mom seemed to think that no one paid attention to Lou Ann and so she talked to her every day. She didn't discourage her despite my objections to Lou Ann. She would laugh and tell me I could still tell her everything, and that it was ok for Lou Ann to talk to her after school. It was hard to share my mother, but it was the beginning of my observations of my mom and her gifts of kindness to and understanding of hurting people.

Fortunately for me, Lou Ann's dad was transferred to another church at the end of the school year. By second grade I no longer had to contend with her. What I didn't know was that Lou Ann was actually the least troublesome person I could run into. But, I would have plenty more Lou Anns in my life over the years (still do,) but like my mom, I learned to deal with and understand the bossy Lou Anns of life. And it sure didn't kill the "ain'ts" for me. Ain't no doubt about it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Truth or Dare?

When I was in junior high I first heard about this game played at parties, "Truth or Dare?" (I was rather cloistered before then.) I never played it--nor did I ever observe it being played. I often wondered if I ever did get to play, would I take truth? Or would I take a dare? I never knew for sure. I think because at that time of my life I didn't want anyone to know anything about my real life, I would've taken a dare. Anything to keep my real life obscured. I would rather do something daring than to reveal my true thoughts, feelings or things about myself.

At that time was also when I was writing in earnest. I poured out my heart onto pages and pages of notebooks. I wrote fiction, memoirs, feelings, observations--anything! I could easily write 10 pages at a time, only quitting when I became exhausted and fell to sleep. I also was sketching on everything. I loved drawing.

When I was 18 and a week before I went to college, I remember that I took every single one of those stacks of notebooks filled with my writing and sketches, and burned them. No one was home at the time, and I had plenty of time. We lived in the country and we had a barrel for burning consummable trash. I made sure every page burned. I made sure no one would read one word or see what I drew. I had only shown these notebooks--and only selected pages--to a cousin visiting on furlough with her parents from Africa. She told me that I had inspired her to write her own stories--and she has published many articles and children's books--all related to her denomination. I am proud of her. She fulfilled a calling. She did what I only dreamed about doing.

In the years since then, I've published tons of articles,comic strips (high school newspaper,) columns, book reviews and written reams of unpublished works. I had dreams of publishing children's stories. I wrote a bunch of them. I even had a few book proposals. But those were not something I was going to get to fulfill through publishing. Markets, timing, and probably poor vision on them defeated them. I have not burned them, but someday when I'm dead, someone will probably do that for me. (Well, maybe a few of them were lost on old floppy computer disks.)

On Monday I posted my 60th blog and I took a step back to see what this has accomplished. Sort of an evaluation on my road to writing and actually publishing something. It has been a road dotted with pleasant sidetrips, squirrels, cows, books, favorites and a couple landmines(a couple blew up on me. Don't ask.) Some of the twists in the road surprised me. Some frightened me. (I have two posts I have not put up--I'm not sure if I should or ever will.)

I have appreciated every single reader and love getting the feedback/commentary. Voice? Do I have voice? Yeah, someone told me that I do. Early on I asked if readers would help me to decide what I should be writing. What do you like reading that I write? Doing a blog enables me to get feedback on what I have to say. I write these fast and don't think too much about what I'm going to say--I just write it (and you probably can tell.) They say if you write what you love, you will have no problem writing it. It is true. I can actually point out my favorite posts.

I decided after asking readers if they would judge samples, to just post stuff,share photos and see how people responded to my memories, observations and stories. Not all of the memories, observations or stories are necessarily accurate--and are not newspaper reports--they are skewed by my imagination, opinion, background and emotion-laden memories. They are limited by my own processing of events and photos. Most of it is not sale-worthy. I think I have one post that several actually told me should be fashioned into an article (and I did do this with that piece a few years ago--but it was rejected across the board. I really appreciated it that people liked it, though.)

I have been evaluating fiction for a while now. I have worked for agents, editors, published and unpublished authors, and even judged in a couple contests. I "fix" other people's fiction. In doing so I know what makes fiction work. Many of those manuscripts I tinkered with have gone on to be published now (or will be.) It is satisfying to me. But. I still want my very own fiction. Something that is written and filled with my own viewpoint and voice and stories. Something I tell that I want to tell. Because I had read so many books (having published around 500 book reviews--and having read much, much more than that,) and because I've "fixed" so many manuscripts, I had lost my own voice. I had lost my own stories to tell. I had become a chameleon and merely adapted to my environment. But this blog helps me to find my own voice again.

The other night I was out with a friend who does not write. She doesn't have a desire to write that I know of and I don't think she even likes writing the short emails I get from her. (My husband is this way, too. My husband doesn't like reading books, either. She at least likes reading.) My friend is my prayer partner and because I shared with her my angst over what I write, or should be writing, in the form of a prayer request, it came out that I didn't want to go back to teaching--and why. I told her story after story of tragedies from my classrooms--and the heartaches it caused for me. I have this way, however, of lacing almost all of the stories with self-deprecating humor. (There are some stories I cannot tell without crying, however. And I find no humor in them.)

I can always depend on this friend to tell truth. She would probably choose truth in playing the game. And the truth would be noble and just and laced (or skewed to the positive side) with love. She said I should tell stories like the ones I was telling her. She said people needed to read these stories because in reading them they would have something to relate to for their own troubles. While they didn't solve someone's troubles, it would be enough to know someone understood and could still laugh and cry with them.

So, I'm still thinking about this, and still trying to figure out what form, what genre, what way to take in the telling of these stories. And to tell them before I leave this life. So, truth or dare? If I were playing the game, what would be the truth I have to tell? And if I take the dare, what would I have to do? I don't know, even after now 61 posts.

What would you do? Which one do you choose? As I read some of the paths other people have taken, I find my own answers. But I find myself looking at something new in other people's writing--is the author telling truth? Or did he/she take a dare? It is important in establishing the type of writing you/I do and in the way it is told. Sometimes it is difficult to quantify. Sometimes it involves both truth and dare!

Truth? Or dare? Which do you choose? Which should I choose?

Monday, November 13, 2006

I Live in Nowheresville, USA...

If I go anywhere, I get asked, "Where are you from?" (Sort of with the look of "what planet are you from?" or "what state of mind are you from?" not "what place in the U.S. are you from?") And I always have to explain it.In fact it is like a passion of mine to make clear where I am from. (And yes, ending sentences with prepositions is a prerequisite language requirement for fitting in.)

"Well, have you heard of Garfield the Cat and James Dean, or The Gaithers or Sandi Patty or Zippy? Yeah, well, I am from the same place they are from,only I'm out in the cornfields, not the towns."

Technically, I live in a woods along the river. I have a lot of squirrels (but don't control them. They're squirrelly, after all.) Our biggest traffic problem is deer who get hit by cars (my son just hit one. Sigh) and farm equipment as big as houses on the roads trying to get to their fields.

Recently, I found out that James Dean's star on the Hollywood walk is the second most visited star of all. Now, how do they keep track of that? Do they have some sort of counter on the star that flips every time someone visits it? How does something like this happen that a movie star who has been dead for 50 years is more famous now than he was in real life? It makes you wonder. Still, people talk about him here like it was yesterday that Jimmy was reading comic books and not buying them in the dime store. Then, they get this look of the deer in the headlights when someone asks if James Dean was acting out on the streets when he was ten. (More like, he was feeding the cows who would be his dinner.)

We live quiet little lives with the biggest happening being during the Museum Days festival the last weekend in September, or when the cows escape from the butcher's holding pen (before the delicious execution--yeah, I like my steaks, roasts and hamburgers--what of it?) This happened a while back and no one could catch those cows. They were hiding in the unharvested corn, eating their way into our town's history books and newspaper reporting.

What happened was (and I have no idea how this happens, but I blame James Dean) some Right to Life for Cows organization in New York state decided to put their nose into our business. How they found out about the runaway cows is anyone's guess, so I'll guess and say that they're part of the world who gets our little hometown newspaper because of James Dean (which I get for free in my mail) and saw it in the weekly news. Yeah, sometimes we have real excitement. Why just this week we had an angry and tearful lady who was mad that for four years in a row her pumpkins got smashed on Halloween. I would like to start an advice column in this newspaper. My suggestion would be to bring her pumpkins inside on Halloween for safe-keeping. One of my friends finds this tradition of kids smashing pumpkins (or stealing) to be great as she never has to dispose of her pumpkins after Halloween. She lets the neighborhood thug-kids of mischief take care of them.

But I've taken a rabbit trail here. Back to the cow story.

Anyway, these NY guys who disdain meat not breathing, come to our town with a trailer. They are in our town to rescue the cows who have obviously gone feral. The cows on the lam are now being fought over between these guys who want to rescue them from their culinary fate, and the ones who would like to make these troublemakers into their dinner (the troublemakers being the cows here, not the animal rights rescue team.) The butcher is disgusted that no one can capture the fence-jumpers, so he tells these guys if they can catch 'em, they can take them back to Sunny Side Up Farm where cows are allowed to live their lives free from fear of being captured and eaten at a local Chat 'n' Chew diner.

Well, these cows were rather crafty, but didn't know they had been reprieved. They avoided all attempts at capture with legged-diligence for over a week. Finally, one day they broke through the corn and onto the road. Since they were full of corn and had picked up a little weight, they weren't as agile as they were when they went on their wild hare prison break. A certain brown package delivery truck hit one. He(the driver of the truck) was knocked coo-coo, and not very happy about the situation, but was ok. The Sunny Side guys show up to see if they can perform CPR on the cow, but the cow dies. I don't think I ever heard of what they did with the dead cow, but I'm thinking the truck guy got to claim it. The other cow, now sadly standing over his friend who took a jump over the fence with him, mourned by chewing a cud leftover from the now wrecked cornfield.

After a big lecture from the animal rights people about our heathen ways, they go back to New York because even though they worship James Dean, they cannot understand these people who born and raised him. While most of our community consists of gentle farmers and Quaker-mentality (except for the pumpkin-smashers once a year,) we don't like outsiders messing with our tenderloins and burgers. (And yes, we have non-combatant vegetarians, too.)

So, now you know about where I'm from. I Fear the Feral Cows. It disturbs our usual peaceful existence (except for that last weekend in September.)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Blue Plate Special Day

My friends have all done these 100 Somethings, so today is one of those days for me. Here are my current 100 Preferences. Subject to change at the will of the chef here.

Crystal’s 100 Preferences
1. Country-living over living in towns, cities or neighborhoods
2. Country music over most every other kind of music, but only by a big hair
3. Rings over other types of jewelry
4. Polished toenails over non-polished
5. Dark polish over pastels
6. Boots over all types of shoe-wear
7. Iced Raspberry tea over most types of drinks
8. With crushed ice, over non-ice,cubed ice or hot
9. Health Nut bread over white
10. Lay’s Potato Chips over any sweets, including chocolate
11. Black coffee over flavored coffee
12. Coke over Pepsi
13. Staying up late over getting up early
14. Blue jeans over khakis
15. Wood and tiled floors over carpeted
16. Leather furniture over fabric
17. Suburbans over mini-vans and Hummers
18. Black over blue cars
19. Salty over Sweet
20. Sausage, green pepper and mushroom pizza over pepperoni pizza
21. Casual over formal
22. Jackie Chan movies over Bruce Lee movies
23. Pierce Brosnan and Sean Connery over all other James Bonds
24. Dogs and cats over horses and guinea pigs
25. Daisies, Lilacs and Roses over Carnations
26. Star on top of Christmas tree over angels
27. Potatoes over all other side dishes
28. Loose watchbands over tight
29. My worn out NIV-Thompson Chain Reference Bible over all my other Bibles
30. Rivers over oceans
31. Local cookbooks over all other types of souvenirs (unless I’m visiting Australia—then I want an opal)
32. Stoneware over china
33. stoneware plates over paper plates
34. McDonald’s fries over all others’ except Steak and Shake’s
35. Oranges over apples
36. Cinnamon-scent over vanilla, fruit, flowers candles
37. Jeeps and pickup trucks over sports cars
38. White pines over other pines
39. Walnuts over peanuts
40. Barns over high-rises
41. Paper over plastic bags
42. Pies over Cakes
43. Hershey’s chocolate over any other brand (yes, really)
44. Peanut M & Ms over Plain
45. Robert Bateman and N.A. Noel over Picasso
46. Monet over Rembrandt
47. Romantic comedies over romantic dramas
48. Football over boxing (hate boxing)
49. Sweatshirts over sweaters
50. Cashmere or cotton over wool sweaters
51. Berries over melons
52. Salad over soup
53. Books and movies over symphonies and plays
54. Art galleries over zoos
55. Libraries over coffee shops
56. BBQs over Soirees
57. Elvis over the Beatles—but only by a hair
58. Dancing over sitting
59. Med-well over rare
60. Vanilla over chocolate ice cream
61. Cheeseburgers over chicken sandwiches
62. Book and movie discussions over politics
63. Yelling at ballgames, rather than sitting passively
64. coaching track over basketball
65. Playing rather than watching
66. Reading over board or video games
67. NASCAR over Indy Car
68. Sports movies over the film festival ones
69. Happy endings over sad, tragic endings
70. Indiana Jones’ Harrison Ford over Star Wars’ Harrison Ford
71. Cornbread or biscuits over desserts
72. Meg Ryan over Meryl Streep
73. Country Living magazine over Ladies Home Journal
74. Sports Illustrated over Newsweek
75. Dolly Parton over Celine Dion
76. Johnny Cash over Waylon Jennings
77. Makeup over no-makeup
78. Quilts over fuzzy blankets
79. Keens over Manalo Blahniks
80. Brighton over Coach
81. Chili over Chicken soup
82. Scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy rather than cereal
83. Funny over schmaltzy
84. 300-count cotton over silk/satin sheets
85. Down comforter over bedspread
86. Side-sleeping or stomach, rather than back
87. Field trip chaperone rather than planning class parties
88. Novels over poetry
89. Typing on computer word processors over manual typewriters
90. Clocks over no clocks
91. Saying getting “a Coke” over pop, soda or drink
92. Motorcycles over bicycles
93. Shooting sports over other sports (to participate)
94. Auto-racing over other sports (to watch)
95. HGTV over Network stations
96. Gem show over Knife show
97. American football over soccer
98. Savannah over Vegas
99. Poirot over Sherlock Holmes
100. My boys’ art projects over all other artists

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Are You Happy and Do You Know It?

There are a ton of unhappy people in our lives. You know who they are. They're jealous and petty. They steal your joy, if you let them. They imagine what you're thinking. They're always busy, and are too busy for you. They step on your ribbons during your parade. They are not your friends.

Mary Lou Retton has so much joy bouncing out all over, people make fun of her. But frankly, I find her smile and positive outlook refreshing. Lately, I've let people steal my joy, but no more. I'm too old for all these games people play. In Mary Lou Retton's book, Gateways to Happiness: 7 Ways to a More Peaceful, More Prosperous, More Satisfying Life, she lists the gateways towards true joy and happiness. There is a lot of ugliness out there, and I'm determined to find the fun and the beauty and the joy in just being here. This is my time. It's all I've got, and someone else muddying my waters doesn't mean I have to stop enjoying the swim.

Here are Mary Lou's 7 Gateways to Happiness: Family, Faith, Relationships, Attitude, Discipline, Health and Laughter. I told you about some of the books that I have enjoyed reading and it's taken me awhile to figure out why I like them. Wrapped in the journey of reading is a seeking of true joy and contentment, no matter how bad we are bummed out by circumstances.

You may have a lousy family. Ok. So, "adopt" your family. Find people to love who love you back. A family is one that cheers you on, encourages you, thinks you are God's Gift. They are the ones who tell you your breath stinks, too, before you meet the President (but have a breath mint to help you out.) They're the ones who only wish the best for you. They love you unconditionally. If you have real family which is constantly negative and putting you down,too, and who finds fault every time you breathe, well, you don't need that.

Everyone needs faith. If you have lost your faith, then it's time to look for it. Billy Graham says that his purpose is to "help people find a personal relationship with God, which," he believes,"comes through knowing Christ." I think that's a pretty good purpose. However, there are people who steal your joy because you have this purpose. Don't let them.

What kind of relationships are in your daily life? For a long time I had some crummy relationships. I was always finding people who really aren't my friends. They dragged me down, sabotaged me, submarined me each time I had dreams or laughter. No more. If I can't find a person determined to find joy in living close in proximity to me (which my own family and my husband's family are joyful people, so I don't have to go far,) then I'll find them in long distance places, and try to keep up with those people. You people hopefully know who you are. I try to email you often.

Check your attitude. I notice that when I get around certain people, my attitude gets negative. Once you begin feeling negative about a situation, you soon are on your way to a poisoning. It makes things twice as hard. And watch it that your confidence doesn't come across as arrogance, rudeness or insensitivity. (It can.) Mary Lou says, "True confidence is founded on the knowledge of God's great love for us, and it doesn't require the approval or recognition of others." Mary Lou Retton's attitude is superb. The price of the book is worth it for this section.

Discipline is where I've fallen down lately. I have let myself be swallowed in involvements that I need to get rid of, excess in indecision, and just plain tiredness. It really makes me unhappy. So, it's back on the trail of self-discipline for me. Cleaning out and moving on. I may not be able to control what happens to me, but I can control my reaction, my self-discipline and my attitude in this area. You can, too.

Health is another area that is difficult to have control over. You can't always control what is going to happen to you. Disease hits the just and unjust. My mother lived well, but yet she was struck down by a disease that didn't care that she was doing everything right. Still, I believe that if she had just given in, or said, "Oh, well. I guess I'm going to die," that she wouldn't have made it 35 more years. I would've been without a mother growing up. My brother wouldn't have been born. My kids would've never known their grandmother. Even in the worst case scenario, you can fight for your health. Believe it.

Laughter is the area I've decided is going to be a big part of my life. I even made my tagline, "In love and laughter." I know that I cannot write tearjerkers. It's just not in my nature. I try to find something to laugh about each day, if it kills me. (Ha!) That's why I read the funny papers everyday and I keep Calvin and Hobbes books close by. If I start falling into an abyss of doom and gloom, or one of those petty people have crossed me like a black cat, well, I pull out something funny to read or look at photos of times when I laughed with my head back.

One of my very favorite photos of Mary Lou Retton is one where she is with President Ronald Reagan. He is laughing, but she has her head thrown all the way back and you can see the roof of her mouth! It makes you smile just to see it. And you long to know what was so funny. You want a good belly laugh, too.

Jesus told his disciples one time, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) Yeah, we got trouble. It starts with a T and ends with an E, that's trouble. T-R-O-U-B-L-E. (Ok, I just stole that from a musical...) Find a joy in each day. Your peace and satisfaction depends on it. Take heart.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Building Blocks

Writing takes a lot of building blocks. You start with one, and build on it. Last night I tried to place another block in the building, and realized that I've been building on a solid foundation of reading good writing from the early days in school. Listening to Chip MacGregor talk about the business of writing in Dr. Dennis E. Hensley's Taylor University Writing program had me thinking long after the lecture was over. What was I reading to build up my own writing?

You need to be a reader to write. Stephen King says in his book, On Writing: "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."

Then he goes on to say that he's a slow reader, but still manages to read 70-80 books a year!

I spent my first five years of school in a Christian school with very strict rules about what I was allowed to read. It was pretty tough on me because if I could've, I would read everything I could get my hands on--and did, when I could. But in sixth grade I went to a public school and had a Jewish man as my teacher. He loved books and read to us everyday. But what really opened my world of reading was when he read to us the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. I never got over that. My heart pounded and I had to have more. His voice was rich and the words pulled me into the story. I couldn't stop thinking about it. It was something I had never experienced before.

We were able to buy books through Scholastic Reading Club, and my mom and I would scan the papers and she'd buy me a couple books each time. I remember it was in sixth grade that I bought a paperback version of one of my all-time favorite books--My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber. I read that book over and over. It still makes me laugh.

Then, the summer of magic happened. The summer before I entered 7th grade, my mom decided I could finally read Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. She actually owned this book, and I still have this book. I read it nearly around the clock for almost four days. I barely ate, and only stopped for necessary breaks (oh, I probably took it with me...) I was so fearful that she would change her mind and take it back, so I read it as fast as I could. It was so good, I read it again, this time savoring the scenes and characters.

Then, that same summer, mom gave to me To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. They say there are books that change your life. That change you for having read them. Now, I can list many books since that affected the way I thought, but that book startled me. I ended up reading that book over and over. I read it just to read certain parts. I read it through completely 21 times. I wrote my own stories and they sounded like To Kill a Mockingbird.

Because I had been so protected as a child in reading books, it wasn't until I was in seventh grade that I read all of the Nancy Drew books. I could read one a day. I had never heard of Nancy Drew. Then, I read Mark Twain. I fell totally and completely in love with Mark Twain. I did reports on him, thought about wearing white suits and longed to see the Mississippi River.

In high school I had the best English teachers and I took every single English course my high school offered. I won the English department award and was even an assistant to one of the English teachers who had me teaching reading to students (mostly boys) who had trouble with reading. One time we read aloud, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. For my own enjoyment, since I worked in the high school library, I read almost every book we had. I found the likes of Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck--but I also went back to pick up all the childhood books I should've already read, like Little Women.

It wasn't until I was studying to be an elementary teacher that I discovered Roald Dahl. One of my all time favorites that he wrote was Matilda. I felt like Matilda. The very first chapter is titled, "The Reader of Books." I understood Matilda. Roald Dahl was a genius in my book. When I became a sixth grade teacher, I read to my students The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Since my students could barely read themselves, were kids that were kicked around and "outsiders" themselves, they related to that book above all of the books I read to them that year. It changed them.

So, recently I was told to make a list of books I loved and felt passionate about to help me focus my own writing. I had to give up in frustration. Reading books is a joy, and I love to discover a new book. I love books. I have published around 500 book reviews and have books stacked to the ceiling. But of all the current books I've read, A Girl Called Zippy by Haven Kimmel is my favorite. I finally realized that this book is at the top of my list. Something Is Drooling Under the Bed by Bill Watterson is probably up there close to the top, too. (In case you don't know, this is a Calvin and Hobbes book.)

Anyway, here are a few books. I'm sure it will change soon.

1. A Girl Called Zippy by Haven Kimmel
2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
3. On Writing by Stephen King
4. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
6. My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber
7. A Heart for God by Sinclair Ferguson
8. On the Anvil by Max Lucado
9. Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Burns
10. Jan Karon’s Mitford Series
11. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
12. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
13. Centennial by James Michener
14. Matilda by Roald Dahl
15. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
16. Columns by Will Rogers
17. Chosen by Ginger Garrett
18. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
19. Lighthouse series (3) by Eugenia Price
20. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
21. All Things series by James Herriot
22. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
23. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
24. Lake Woebeggon by Garrison Keillor
25. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
26. A Bride Most Begrudging by Deanne Gist
27. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
28. O’Malley series by Dee Henderson
29. Brenda Kinsel (all of them)
30. The Last Jihad by Joel C. Rosenberg
31. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
32. Just about anything Lisa Samson
33. Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
34. Savannah from Savannah by Denise Hildreth
35. Chateau of Echoes by Siri Mitchell
36. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning
and more...

Ok, I have to stop there for now. What are a couple of your favorite books?