Sunday, December 31, 2006

Winter in the Plains of America

A friend from central Nebraska called to say the power had been out in her area since six p.m. Saturday night. Due to freezing rains followed by snow and wind, trees and limbs were down taking power lines with them. We were luckier here in southeastern Nebraska. We had slow soaking rains for a couple days with snow starting today.

When Arctic winds blow out of the North bringing snow and dangerous wind chills, I think of a story my grandma used to tell. It's one of my favorite stories, paraphrased from the book of her life, My Name is Esther Clara. It puts in perspective what little inconveniences we have today when winter winds howl around the house and snow drifts level with our porch.

In the early 1920s, Grandma and Grandpa set out from Kansas for a road construction job in Minnesota. America's roadways were sparse in those days. Cross country traveling and trucking were as rare as the roads. Americans were just beginning their love affair with motorized vehicles then, but wanted good roads to travel instead of rutted cowpaths.

Grandpa had been lured to Minnesota with the promise of good wages and "sturdy housing" if he was willing to work in winter. The phrase "sturdy housing" conjured up visions of a cozy little cabin where his family would be warm and safe. They arrived in a blizzard and were given a canvas tent to erect -- their housing for the winter -- and a small coal burning stove for heat and cooking. That they did not immediately return to Kansas is a testament to their determination, and their desperate need for decent wages.

Grandma, Grandpa, and their two toddlers spent most of that awful Minnesota winter living in a canvas tent. Wind blew so hard it ripped tears in the tent and Grandma kept the holes patched by sewing sheets over them. Her job was to get coal every morning from the company storage shed, to cook and wash their clothes by hand, and keep their kids warm. Grandpa's job was to work 12 hours a day, snow or shine, daylight or dark, in below zero wind chills to clear the woods for a roadbed. The workers got four breaks a day on schedule. Grandma kept quilts by the stove to warm her young husband at each break. She wrapped him in warm quilts, gave him coffee with milk and sugar and hot soup to heat his innards, and fed him fat sandwiches on home made bread for energy. Somehow they survived and thrived.

So today, when the snow blows and wind howls around my warm house, I'm thankful. Even if the electricity goes out, our kerosene stove is a handy source of heat and means of cooking. I don't have to patch holes in a drafty tent, and I don't have to live in the throes of winter with fragile shelter. Could I survive while roughing it today, like they did then? I doubt it. I'm two generations removed from coal stoves and life without electricity. And it's doubtful that I have their courage and resourcefulness. Modern life is a blessing that has spoiled me.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Memories Part 4

This will be the final chapter of my Christmas reminiscences. We lived in a different world when I was a child. My memories will take you back in time to an era I consider to be warmer, safer than the one we know today.

I don't have any pictures of the whole gang gathered for Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Their house was small so we had to pack ourselves into it in separate areas and the only time we were all together in one space was at mealtime. Otherwise, the women were cooking, the men out hunting or gabbing in the living room around the tree, and the children in various rooms or outside depending on the weather.

Togetherness ruled in Grandma and Grandpa's world. None of their family questioned where they would be on Christmas day. Everyone would be together, rubbing elbows in small spaces, surrounded by laughter and familiar voices.

World War Two was still a recent memory then, so Uncle Kenny Ketchell shared war stories or tales of the shell shocked veteran who lived with them. Homeless veterans were rare in those days because family or friends took them in out of respect and concern. We kids never tired of Uncle Kenny's stories, told proudly from a well of patriotism and amazing courage.

Grandpa and Uncle Don Ford took great delight in teasing and joking. No one escaped their mischief -- especially the children -- and they kept it up until Grandma silently intervened by giving them the dreaded "straight mouth." When Grandma pursed her lips together, even Grandpa hunkered down and took a break from mischief. Uncle Don was not so easily intimidated, but switched from teasing to intellectual challenges to appease Grandma.

Before we gathered for our meal, Uncle Jerome Lueers sang "Bless the House" as our family prayer. His beautiful Irish tenor voice penetrated every room from corner to corner, ceiling to floor, touching hearts and spirits. Stresses fell away and anxieties departed because his voice soothed and healed.

So many of the participants of our gladsome gatherings are gone now. I remember them with fondness today because they are a part of the tapestry that is my life: Grandma and Grandpa Ford; Mother, Verla Ford Smith; Aunt Maxine Ford Ketchell, Uncle Kenny, and their sons Randy and Keith; Uncle Jerome Lueers and daughter Nancy. I miss their presence and their gifts.

We epitomized the American family in those days, relatives who enjoyed every nuance of Christmas and made no apologies for it. We were a family who believed in God, a family that prayed together and took comfort in the Christ Child's message, who put angels on our trees and creches in our yards. This Christmas I will celebrate those times, envision those familiar faces, and fond memories will put a smile on my face. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas Part Three



The old Methodist Church in Marysville Kansas was a large part of our social life back when I was a kid. Even practicing for the Sunday School Christmas play and carol sing was a thrill, back in the days before television dominated our lives. And all we Sunday School children knew that if we were good, if we played our parts and sang our carols well, Santa Claus would visit church after the Sunday service nearest Christmas.

After church, some of the people went outside to smoke. Others, ladies mostly, went downstairs to begin serving pot luck dinner. Mom and Grandma always brought fried chicken and some sort of dessert. Everything was made from scratch in those days. No KFC or deli cole slaw, no store-bought cakes or pies. Mom often made mayonnaise cake -- a rich, chocolate cake with fudge frosting. Grandma's old standby recipe was her world famous frosted molasses creams. I always made sure to sit with Grandpa. He knew ALL the best things to eat. He'd help me fill my plate, starting with Mom's or Grandma's fried chicken because he said theirs was the best. Finally, he'd say, "That oughta hold me over for awhile." That was the familiar signal to take my empty plate to the kitchen and go sit with Mom and Grandma. The most exciting part of the day was at hand. Santa Claus would soon arrive!!

The Methodist Church Santa was a tall man with twinkling blue eyes. He called all the children by name while handing out bags of candy, nuts, apples, and oranges. The genuinely happy sound of his laugh, the deep timbre of his voice, and the smell of his whiskers was comforting and familiar. When it came my turn to sit on Santa's lap and tell him my secret Christmas wishes, I wanted to snuggle in against him and take a nap. Mom always whisked me away before I could nod off.

Guess I was too young back then to realize why Santa seemed so familiar and comforting to me. Grandpa Ford was the quintessential Santa. He played his part to perfection and loved Christmas as much as any child. My grandpa loved Christmas and playing Santa almost as much as he loved me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas Part Two

I've often been told that whatever shred of creativity I have came from my mother. Mine just took a different form than hers. Mom took colorful, creative handiwork to a level beyond my capabilities. Holidays shined because of her imagination, especially Christmas.

Mom wasn't born with a silver spoon in her mouth and neither were her children, but she didn't let that lack dampen her enthusiasm. Every Christmas package she wrapped became a work of art so beautiful that even children hated to destroy her creations. No matter how mundane the content might be -- socks, overboots, even the dreaded underwear -- came packaged like the rarest treasure. She labored hours over each package. Using glue and glitter she created snow scenes with reindeer, laughing Santas, angels on heavenly clouds, baby Jesus surrounded by Mary, Joseph, wise men, shepherds, and lowing cattle. I've often wished that even one of those packages had survived intact so I could brag about her talent today. Mom's inspired art deserved to be framed and hung on my walls because I understand now that such handiwork was an extension of her love.

No Christmas season was complete without trays loaded with Mom's decorated cookies. Like her wrapped packages, cookies were transformed to high art with Mom's special touches. Flat cookies formed by cookie cutters became a three dimensional finished product. Even her four little cookie monsters hated to bite into them, at least until they'd been properly admired from every angle. Santas and reindeer, snowmen and angels took on a vibrant life of their own. Mom spent hours coloring bowls of frosting to just the right hues. My personal favorite was Frosty the Snowman, complete with gaily colored stocking hat, scarf, happy smile and carrot nose all carefully formed from frosting to accent his white roundness. My second favorite was Santa. Shredded coconut atop white frosting transformed his beard to a believable reality. Our classes at Lincoln Grade School eagerly anticipated a tray of Mom's decorated cookies each Christmas. Each cookie sat on its own paper lace doily and seemed too wonderful to eat.

One year in particular stayed firmly in my memory. Our house was heated by a warm morning stove with isinglass doors. A howling blizzard knocked out the electricity but our house stayed warm and cozy, thanks to our gas stove. Bitter winds drove temperatures down below zero. Mom bundled me up in a snow suit and sent me across the street to our neighbors, who heated with electricity, and said to tell them our house was warm if they wanted to come over. Before long our living room was packed with people, laughing and talking while their kids ran and played and jostled each other. That day had started out as cookie baking day. One tray had been completed with individual rows of Santas, angels, snowmen, and reindeer. When that tray of treasures was knocked to the floor by careless children, the entire house went silent. Then Mom cried while the neighbor ladies tried to rescue a few unbroken cookies from the fractured mess. Mom said, "No, I'll just start all over in the morning." And she did. I don't remember how long our neighbors stayed with us that day, but Mom's broken cookies were a loss that silenced all the jabber and play.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Christmas memories Part One

Yesterday was sunny and breezy, with high wispy clouds in a bright blue sky, a perfect winter day. I sat on my back porch and watched the clouds awhile, overcome with imprinted sensations from another place and time. I was a child again, bursting with excitement, walking to Grandma and Grandpa's house. Cold air bit at chubby cheeks and knees. I wanted to break loose and run, but Mother firmly held my mittened left hand. I skipped and chattered at her side, hoping Santa Claus would greet me at their door, asking Mom if Santa visited everyone or just Grandma's house. My memories of past Christmases may not be on a par with IDEALS magazine, all beautiful in their perfection, but they're mine and I want to start the season by sharing them.

In December 1945 I was three going on four. The world war was winding down, but I knew nothing about war in those days. What I DID know for certain was that Grandma's house was bright with shiny decorations and a fat cedar tree with piles of gaily wrapped packages under it. My child's mind reasoned that a fair number of those presents would be mine! I had been a very good girl, nice not naughty, so Santa surely had not forgotten me as he flew around the world with sleigh and reindeer.

Grandpa met us at the door that day, smiling ear to ear. He picked me up and swung me around the living room, then held me high so I could touch sweet Angie the Christmas Tree Angel at the top of their tree. The air inside their house was moist and fragrant with scents of a baking turkey and dressing. Piled high and colorful along the buffet in their dining room, Grandma had arranged home made cookies, pies, candy, and frosted molasses creams. Now if there was anything I loved better than presents, it was food, especially desserts. Grandpa knew that, so after he piled my coat, hat, and mittens on the bed in their back bedroom, he snuck two cookies from the pile. He had a colorfully decorated snowman and I had a reindeer. Grandpa was the absolute BEST at sneaking goodies behind Grandma's back so I learned that technique from a master.

That year Santa brought me a doctor kit, a gift I put to immediate use. Uncle Don and his friend Earl Elliott ate too much and needed doctoring. Uncle Don crashed on the couch, moaning and groaning and rubbing his full stomach. Earl sprawled on the floor beside the couch, swearing he would die at any moment. Lucky for them, a fledgling doctor/nurse was on the scene to administer emergency treatment. With the little stethoscope around my neck and a fake plastic thermomenter in my hand, I listened to their hearts and lungs and gurgling tummies, then took their temperature. Both patients lived and are still alive today as a testament to my skill in 1945. No need to thank me now, Don and Earl. I was just doing my job.

One of these days soon another memory will take hold. Stay tuned until then.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Kurdistani nurse and me......

I've lived a rather humdrum life with only rare occasions readers would consider out of the ordinary. But recently, a wondrous and unusual opportunity presented itself in the form of a Kurdistani counterpart. A delightful woman / nurse / writer from Kurdistan emailed asking to interview me. She hoped to translate the interview into her language and submit it to regional nursing magazines and poetry journals. I'm not certain how or why she chose me after searching the web for female nurses who are also writers, but I'm so pleased she did. I do not mention this fine woman's name in my blog because I forgot to get her permission for that. She did, however, give her enthusiastic permission to write about our interview.

I'd heard of the Kurds, of course, and knew that they are a people with a rich history, culture, and roots in ancient times. Kurdistan today is a large region that covers northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and a portion of Armenia. At this point in time, it's a region and not a country, but Kurdistan has its own language and its own flag.

She captured and held my interest immediately with one sentence in her first interview question: "I think doctors and nurses must tenderize themselves with literature." What an amazing thought!! That one sentence opened up a dialog that freed us both to be ourselves, to talk as friends and fellow travelers, to share an honesty rare between our cultures. During our interview, we spoke of many things: our work as nurses, our love of poetry and prose, the sorrows humans of all cultures experience in times of war, our cultural differences and human similarities. She contacted me in early October 2006 and the interview ended this week.

As a free lance journalist, my Kurdistani interviewer is very skilled at framing pertinent questions and understanding her subject. She opened her heart and spirit to me, an American, and shared pieces of herself. She knows and understands our culture far better than I do hers. And now, I'm blessed with a new friend. We may live on opposite sides of the world, but our similarities as humans far outstrip our differences. The experience of knowing this woman has been a gift.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Random thoughts

I'm still giddy because a major online bookseller finally has my two Dandelion-published books for sale. The Alley of Wishes was released in 2003 and My Name is Esther Clara early in 2006. Neither had been available for purchase from that bookseller until recently. The mysterious ways of booksellers boggle the mind. Most brick and mortar bookstores don't carry my books unless I place them there on consignment, so people hoping to purchase my work must buy from the publisher, amazon.com, or me. Amazon.com has always featured all my books as soon as they're available, so I'm grateful for that.

I've mentioned Tom Parker's blog, Dispatches from Kansas, more than once. Anyone who has not been following his serialized journey to the desert southwest needs to hop on over to his blog immediately. Parker's writing style is amazing. That old Colorado country boy turned Kansan tells a compelling story. Go to http://dispatchesfromkansas.blogspot.com and read for yourself. Parker has a book out with the same name and I'm hoping a sequel will soon follow.

No one writes a humorous story better than Kansas author Max Yoho. His latest book, The Moon Butter Route, received the Kansas Notable Book Award for 2006. What exactly is moon butter? Well, think delicious fresh-churned butter blended with moonshine and other tasty ingredients. If you think Kansas and Kansans are boring, Max Yoho's characters will convince you otherwise. You may even want to MOVE to Kansas for the fun.

The Christmas season is upon us. Just in case book lovers on your list are bored with the same old formulaic books, maybe it's time to think outside the New York Times bestseller list and go for hidden gold with a book by Tom Parker or Max Yoho.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Laura Sanow, HELLO!!

I was so pleased to see your post about the Sanows. But I wish you had left your email address so I could communicate with you. Next time you visit my blog, please leave your email address. I'd love to meet more of the Lawrence Sanow and August Sanow relatives.

My trip to Iowa in October was a wonderful experience. I got to see the Sanow homeplace and take pictures of it, and met some really nice relatives. Wish you could have been there.

Stay in touch. We can swap Sanow stories.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Drum Roll Please.......

Did you miss me? Were you bored with my blog about agents and publishers? Well, you'll have to take the bitter with the sweet. I'll try to redeem myself today. Today's info is sweet because a couple pleasant happenings occured in my world.

First, this past week I discovered my two Dandelion-published books are now available on Barnes and Noble website. The Dandelion edition of The Alley of Wishes was published in 2003 and has never been available for purchase on barnesandnoble.com. My Name is Esther Clara was released in January 2006 and was also unavailable....until recently. I can't explain why BN did not make them available when first released. That's one of life's writing related mysteries. But I'm happy they're available now and grateful to my publisher for making that unexpected miracle happen.

Second, we may be moving soon. We've moved many times in the last 40 years and swear that each time will be the last. Moving is not an easy task and gets less easy, less an adventure, the older we get. Still, if all goes as planned we will be moving to another town soon. I'll keep you informed as we progress.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Agent and publisher queries

Several writers contacted me in recent weeks hoping I could advise them on either agent or publisher queries or both. Most writers I know consider finding a reputable agent and "name" publisher necessities. Unfortunately, I'm not much help in that arena.

Twenty-five years ago I had a New York agent who snagged a reading for an early version of The Alley of Wishes with Knopf. For reasons I won't go into here, that placement was not pursued to final acceptance or rejection. When I revised TAOW early in the 21st century, I queried Knopf. Their reply was swift and professional. I received a small manila envelope containing my query, uopened, and a letter explaining their action: Due to the threat of anthrax prevalent at that time, Knopf was not opening unsolicited mail. So I self-published TAOW and several months later Dandelion Books asked to re-publish it. I happily agreed.

I've never queried a New York publisher since. Dandelion published My Name is Esther Clara, also, and I'm thankful for that blessing.

In the last six years, I've queried two agents. Both read the first two chapters of TAOW and gave two different critiques. One agent took a pass, said I TOLD her about the characters instead of SHOWING them. The other agent said I did a wonderful job of SHOWING her the characters, but since the book did not fit into any particular genre niche, she had to take a pass.

So there you have it in a nutshell, writers and readers, why I'm a poor one to advise anyone on agents and New York publishers. Between writing, reading books for review, and living a normal everyday life, I don't have the time, energy, or patience for such games. It isn't rejection I fear, it's wasting months of precious time.

Every person has different goals and dreams. I write my books for reasons that have nothing to do with money or fame so the way I've chosen to publish my books works well for me. My way is not acceptable to writers who prefer the New York route to publication. Whichever way you choose, good luck!!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Surprise, surprise......

The gas prices that had dropped so dramatically before the election jumped a dime after the election. At least that's what happened in my neck of the woods. I doubt if the price increase will stop with a dime.

Maybe the increase in gasoline today is an amazing coincidence. Maybe the decrease in prices before the election was another coincidence.

Maybe I'm just too suspicious.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

No Paris Breakfasts, but.......

"Paris Breakfasts" is the blog of the day today. I thought, well crap. I've never had breakfast in Paris KY, let along THE Paris. But every life is different. What may seem mundane to some brings joy to others. Two major holidays are fast upon us and my mind is taking me back through several decades, remembering.

I'm old enough now to look back on the past with fondness. The mind is an amazing instrument. Some memories hide behind doors, just waiting to be accesssed so they can dance through my thoughts again. Five generations have been carefully stored behind those doors.

Great grandparents were an important part of my life as a child. Nearly every Sunday after church, Grandma and Grandpa Ford, Mom, and her four urchins piled into the car and headed for Frankfort, Kansas to visit Grandpa's parents. A mob of great aunts and uncles and second cousins ate, played, gabbed, argued politics, and pranked each other for several hours. In the middle of all this activity, Great Grandma sat quietly observing while Great Grandpa joked and teased the children. They've been gone for more than fifty years but they still live, tucked away in my memory banks. Once they were young, dreaming of what life would be when their kids came along, now they're a part of my history.

My maternal grandparents were almost like parents to me. I grew from infancy to adulthood with them nearby, correcting or encouraging in tandem with my mother. I am who I am as a person today, in part, because of their influence. They lived in a very small house, but every Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas is memorable because of them. When their four children and fifteen grandchildren packed themselves into that tiny space, bedlam reigned. All it took to bring instant silence to the place was Grandma or Grandpa saying one word or pointing one index finger at the gang. I miss those days of family togetherness, and the food at Grandma's house was at least as good as anything in Paris, France. That's what I imagine anyway.

Mother, grandparents, several aunts and uncles, and two cousins have gone to glory. That's sad and I miss them, but they still live in the passages of my mind. Mostly I allow them to be young and vibrant, laughing and telling stories about their youth. Or sometimes I envision them playing cutthroat games of pinochle after dinner. Families used to do such things before football games on television or other exotic pursuits took precedence. Can you imagine it? And I'm old enough to remember those times, if only in memories.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Kansas Authors Club

I'm a native Kansas author currently living in Nebraska. A few weeks ago, Carol Yoho suggested I become a member of the Kansas Author Club. (I mistakenly believed a writer had to be a Kansas resident to join KAC.) Carol is website manager for KAC, a woman who treats her webmistress responsibilities with loving detail. Their website is visually attractive and easy to navigate.

Two of the KAC programs, especially, appeal to me: Writers in the Community and Writers in the Schools. These two programs work hand-in-glove with Kansas Center for the Book programs, in which writers reach out into the community.

Literacy is a pet concern of mine because reading and writing impacted my life as a young child. When I was five, just learning to read and write, Mother gave me Golden Books and fairy tales to read and often read them with me. She put a Big Chief tablet and a fistful of pencils in my hands and suggested I write stories or poems for her. Even at that tender age, I was a dreamer, spinning imaginary tales in my head. Mom's encouragement to read and write nurtured a creative spark in me that continues today. The reading and writing of poetry and prose has been a faithful companion through every sad and joyful moment of my life. Reading opened new worlds and realities for me when I was young. That benefit has continued to this day.

I believe reading and journaling can change lives in positive ways. One doesn't have to be a world class writer or scholar to reap the benefits. Transforming the jumble of thoughts in our heads into words on paper can free us from sorrow over time, or bring vibrant life to our joys. Writers can be the flint that strikes a spark of enjoyment for reading or expressing through words in others. That's literacy at its finest in my opinion.

Long story short, I'm thankful to Carol Yoho for encouraging me to join KAC. Many gifted Kansas writers are members so I'm in good company. Check out their website at www.kansasauthors.org. Maybe some day you'll see my name associated with a program in a school, a nursing home, or a public meeting, extolling the benefits of reading and writing in a chaotic modern world.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

the sweet, sour, and bitter of it.....

This morning I'm running vinegar through my coffee pot and thinking about politics. If only mean spirited political advertisements could be as easily dispatched as the lime in the inner workings of my coffee maker!

One ad in my state shows all the African animals a candidate killed on safari. Another features a candidate running, running, running on a narrow highway, up hills and down, trying to escape the fact that he's "gone Washington." Some use humor to soften the rhetoric, others shock my sensibilities so harshly and thoroughly I'm queasy after viewing them. Candidates for higher office admittedly spend millions of their own money and more millions from political contributions for these ads. When they discuss the problems concerning voters, all make the same big promises that never seem to get addressed once they reach office.

Who can we believe? More than one candidate has gone to Washington with stars in their eyes and the determination to make a difference, only to discover it ain't that easy once they get there. Political gamesmanship must be learned and practiced like a pro to reach their goals.

A friend told me recently that the problem with us -- citizens of the U.S. -- is that we want something for nothing and our checks for free. (Yes, she was quoting a popular song.) I don't believe that's true of the majority. If it were true, we would not be the richest nation on earth and politicians would not have a trillion dollar budget to juggle. So here are the concerns I have for any politician seeking office this year or next. And none of them have anything to do with safaris, how much land they own, or how many taxes they pay:
  • why is it that we can't afford as a country to raise minimum wage but we CAN afford to raise YOUR wages?
  • why is it that social security is going bust after being used for decades for spending projects other than what it was intended? Is it, perhaps, because Washington politicians have their own retirement plan that pays far better than Social Security, regardless of how long or how short your political career has been?
  • why the cuts each year to federal health care plans, such as Medicare and VA care? Can it be because politicians at the federal level have their own special health care plan firmly in place and don't have to pay a dime for anything? Not even a small co-pay?
  • why are wars a higher priority than health care, education, and infrastructure? It seems to me that the national budget should be like my own. Financial responsibilities have priority. Then if anything is left over, outside interests can be pursued. If my house, yard, and car are falling apart, that's my fault. If our schools, roads, and health care system are deteriorating, that's your fault because you've sent too much money out of this country.

We live in a wonderful country and I'm thankful to be a citizen. I take my right to vote seriously but I'm not sure any more whether votes have an effect on what happens in Washington. Still, I keep hoping with every election that my doubts will be proven wrong. Wouldn't that be sweet?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Part 2 -- Remsen and Marcus Iowa

My trip to Iowa was delightful in every way. First, I must mention the scenery. I've mentioned several times on my blog that people are mistaken to imagine Kansas and Nebraska as flat, featureless, and boring. The same can be said for Iowa. For miles past Council Bluffs, travelers see high plateaus and bluffs topped by hardwood forests. The poet in me imagined the Native Indian watch fires atop those bluffs in ages past. Bluffs along the Missouri River are easily as tall as many of the worn down mountains in the Appalachian chain. Iowa is blessed with fertile valleys and rolling hills, where corn grows in fields far as eye can see and sleek cattle graze along the roadsides.

My friend and I stayed at the Frontier Motel in Remsen. Remsenites say the Frontier has been there as long as they can remember. It is not fancy, but is clean and comfortable at $28 per double occupancy, and is within easy walking distance of an excellent restaurant, The Golden Pheasant. We chose Remsen as our home base because Marg Sanow and her uncle Dale Sanow live there, a town of about 1400 people.

My friend said she'd never eaten so often or so well as we did in Remsen. We had the absolute best pizza EVER at Greg's Pizza and Grill, made from scratch on site. We had a whopping big and delicious breakfast at Ruth's Cafe. If you ever eat there, order the breakfast sausages. OH YUM!! And one day we had a generous lunch at The Remsen Cafe. Dale fed us broasted chicken and potato wedges one evening from Mrs. B's, and cooked spaghetti sauce from scratch another night to top his perfectly al dente pasta. Grandma Esther Clara often said, "We Sanows like our grub." That appreciation has been carried down through several generations, and the food we had in Remsen was exceptional.

Friday night, Marg hosted a gathering of Sanow descendents in the basement meeting room of The Happy Siesta Health Care Center, where her mother resides. We Sanows snarfed ham and cheese sandwiches, pickles, chips, and cake while we gabbed a mile a minute and exchanged information. I was thrilled to meet so many relatives in one spot and only wish I had had longer to visit. But now I am armed with names, addresses, and emails so I can keep in contact with branches of Grandma's family.

Saturday, Don Sanow, another long lost relative, bought our breakfast at the Marcus truck stop -- good food, cooked to order. After our tummies were full, he took us on a driving tour so we could see Grandma's home place memorialized in My Name is Esther Clara. Much has changed in the years since the Sanows lived there, but seeing the place, walking the same ground they walked a hundred years ago, was a bittersweet experience for me. From there, Don drove us to the cemetery where Ma and Pa Sanow and several of their older children are buried. The last thing on his agenda was to show us Marcus, a town roughly the size of Remsen. Main street looks much like it did when Grandma was a girl, lined with stone and brick buildings built to last. Marcus has its own home-owned ethanol plant, a huge operation that awed us all with its size.

Later we visited Lois Krekow, the woman who originally put me in touch with Marg Sanow. I wanted to thank her in person for her kindness. Lois is on the Marcus Library board and read my post searching for Sanow relatives on the Marcus Iowa Blog. She and her husband live in a comfortable home in the country outside Marcus.

Sunday, suddenly, the visit ended and it was time to head home. Whether relative or non-relative, the people in Marcus and Remsen were friendly and helpful. I need to thank them all in writing, but will also thank them here, for making my visit pleasant and memorable. I miss everyone who lives in that pristine Iowa valley.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Marcus and Remsen Iowa

Next week I'll be visiting my grandma's birth place, Marcus Iowa. Regular readers and fans know that Grandma's life began on a farm near Marcus. Early chapters in My Name is Esther Clara feature that farm, Grandma's family, and the town of Marcus itself.

Grandma and Grandpa returned to Iowa regularly for visits, funerals, and family gatherings. Many Sanow relatives lived in Remsen. One of my happiest memories as a teenager is of a visit made to Remsen with Grandma and Grandpa. It's been decades since I visited there. All of Grandma's generation are gone now, and many of my mother's generation, but my generation and younger are very much alive and still kicking.

After my maternal grandparents died, I lost track of the Sanow relatives. I'm looking forward to meeting long lost relatives and renewing family ties. Stay tuned for a report when I return.

www.marcusiowa.com and www.remseniowa.net will tell you a bit about the area I'll be visiting. Marcus has it's own blog, which I'll place on my blogroll. http://marcusiowa.blogspot.com is that URL.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Kansas Book Celebration in Wichita KS

Is literacy really on the skids today? Evidently not in Wichita KS Friday and Saturday, September 29 and 30. When this first ever celebration of books, authors, the Arts, and Kansas heritage was scheduled, I wondered what the outcome would be. I don't have to wonder anymore because I saw the proof with my own eyes. Kansans, at least, value books, writers, the arts, and their heritage in great numbers.

Wichita author, Nancy Mehl, and I arrived at Lawrence Dumont Stadium on Friday to a crowd of several thousand people. While picking my way through the crowd, I noticed:
  • school children engaged in rapt conversations with writers;
  • adults in electric wheelchairs scooting from one tent to another;
  • people of all ages buying books from vendors;
  • TV, newspaper, and radio crews filming, photographing, or interviewing writers and vendors.

Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius kicked off the celebration which had been carefully planned by the Governor's Cultural Affairs Council and Kansas Center for the Book. A diverse group of authors spoke to attentive crowds in large tents. Topics included everything from the archeological history of Kansas to the cowboy life to fiction about American Indians.

Visitors to the event on Saturday demonstrated the same enthusiasm. Independent Book Store vendors seemed to be doing a brisk business selling books. Despite temps in the nineties, crowds fanned themselves while writers entertained them with stories from and about their books. An impressive array of sponsors, writers, entertainers, and vendors pulled off this two-day celebration without a noticeable hitch.

Enhancing this already exciting experience, I was privileged to socialize and break bread with a few of my favorite people. Wichita author Nancy Mehl provided transportation around the city and introduced me to a few new restaurants. We were privileged to have dinner with Tom and Lori Parker Friday night, lunch with Max and Carol Yoho on Saturday, and dinner with Todd and Cheryl Hunter Saturday night. Visiting with a few of my favorite writers was a bonus! (Max's book, The Moon Butter Route, was one winner of the Kansas Notable Book award. Tom's book, Dispatches from Kansas, and Nancy's book, Malevolence, were Notable Book nominees.) I also got to gab briefly with one of my favorite independent bookstore owners -- Stormy Kennedy of Claflin Books in Manhattan, KS -- and to meet Kansas Center for the Book Director, Roy Bird.

Today that weekend celebration is history. I returned home with fond memories of the experience and look forward to next year.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Kansas Center for the Book

Tomorrow I leave for Wichita KS to experience a celebration by and for the Kansas Center for the Book. I enjoy visiting Wichita and the friends I've made there. Friday and Saturday will be filled with taking in Kansas-related programs. Native American Dancers, Bluegrass musicians, poetry readings, and book signings are only a few events on the menu. The Black and White and Read All Over Ball is Friday night. I won't be doing the bugaloo in my formal attire this year. Maybe next year.

One of my favorite writers, Max Yoho, will receive the Kansas Notable Book Award along with 14 others. A couple more of my favorite Kansas writers -- Tom Parker and Nancy Mehl -- did not win this year. I'll start right away thinking good thoughts for next year's nominations.

The highlight of any trip to Wichita for me is an evening at the Mosley Street Melodrama. I eat dinner and laugh myself silly at the vaudeville-esque antics and sing along with the wonderful music. Joining me in the fun and frolic will be writer Todd Hunter and his wife Cheryl, and Nancy Mehl. I might even have a libation in way of celebration. Smith and Kerns is a favorite after dinner drink of mine. The Long Island ice tea is great, but packs a huge wallop!!

I apologize to readers who must scroll down to the bottom of the page to see my profile and blogroll. Don't know what happened there but a technowhiz I ain't, so unless blogger techs know how to fix it, guess it will stay in its state of misalignment.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A fine day for a book reading......

We drove to Blue Rapids, Kansas in bright sunshine. The weather was near-perfect with a brisk breeze and temps in the low sixties. Whatever route you choose in that kind of weather provides pleasant natural vistas. Colorful scatterings of yellow and white daisies, goldenrod, and buttercups grow wild along the highways. Sleek cattle and horses graze on native grasses or drink belly-deep in farm ponds. Hardwood trees, just starting to turn fall colors, mark indelibly riparian causeways. Every so often a farmstead looms, nestled safely into vales between plateaus and rolling hills. As always, I imagine what this land must have been when native tribes were the sole human inhabitants. By the time we reached Blue Rapids, my mind and spirit were energized and ready for the afternoon event.

Shoppers browsed Mercantile treasures and a fascinating array of Kansas-made products as we breezed through the door. I joked that my "groupies" would be arriving soon. Owner Lori Parker set out tasty snickerdoodles, confetti cookies, and raspberry tea as treats. She also treated us to a sample of scrumptious Scuppernong Cider, made and bottled in Blue Rapids. This did not taste like any cider commonly known, but more like fruit juice of an indescribably delicious flavor. The legion of my faithful groupies arrived. With everyone sated by cookies, tea, and cider, the reading began. Tom Parker introduced me with a flourish and I was off and running.

Tom had insisted I lay out all my books, but My Name is Esther Clara was to be the main focus. I read a passage about the hapless rooster who got drunk on fermenting wine bubbling through the bunghole, followed by one that showed Grandma's strong opinions about politics and politicians, women's liberation, and setting priorities. I was center stage from one to two thirty and most of that time was spent answering questions or telling literary war stories. The audience was appreciative, but keep in mind that they were groupies -- friends, family, and loyal fans. I'm not certain what the response might be in an audience of strangers.

Before heading home I bought a bottle of Scuppernong cider. Can't wait to introduce my husband to it. Next time, I'm checking out the ear candles more closely and buying jelly. Maybe, if I'm lucky the Mercantile will have be back for another performance.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Thoughts on a rainy day....

Now that our fall weather pattern has set in, temperatures have moderated here in the plains. I hunker down through summer every year, waiting for fall and winter. Soon there will be no more flies and mosquitoes, no gasping-hot days and smothering nights. Today, with cool breezes blowing through the windows surrounding my computer desk and the first frost just around the corner, I'm celebrating life.

A couple days ago I started reading 1491 by Charles C. Mann. He provides a compelling picture of North and South America before the arrival of Columbus, de Soto, and the subsequent influx of immigrants from other lands. I must admit the North American Indian tribes interest me more than those in South America. So far, the book provides more questions to pique my curiosity instead of answers.

I'm surprised paleontologists and archeologists don't know more about the North American Indians. Granted, they did not build huge pyramids and cities made of stone like their cousins in the southern hemisphere, or create objets d'art out of gold, but their accomplishments were amazing. Perhaps the lure of finding gold treasures buried with bones adds interest to digs in South America? And stone cities don't deteriorate like those of wood, thatch, and animal skins. Mann proposes that millions of indigenous natives populated the North American continent, living in well organized cities, before the advent of European diseases. I want to know how they lived and what they thought in the millennia before the first European arrived. I want to know why they actually welcomed people they viewed as weird, smelly and unwashed instead of killing them the second they touched ground in the new land. How and why did the Indians see those first explorers as fellow humans and treat them as such?

Where I live now was at one time a lush river valley and crossroad of an ancient indigenous highway. Long before fertile grasslands were broken by plows, Native tribes set their tipis in riparian forests along the river. Game was plentiful here -- bison, antelope, turkeys, pheasant, quail, fish and fresh water clams. I wonder what their lives were like before explorers and immigrants arrived, in the centuries when only tribes with tradegoods from the east and west walked these trails? Maybe I'll find answers yet in 1491. I'm only halfway through the book.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The words of gods.....

A comment to my last blog prompted the title of this post. Now, I don't see physicians as gods. Perhaps a handful of doctors reign godlike over their domains, but most physicians I know understand their fallibilities only too well.

The commenter told his doctors that they BECOME gods to scared patients in pain. He stated, "The words of gods must be chosen carefully and be with the clarity of a god." Meaning, I think, that he wanted to be fully informed by the doctors who hold his life in their hands.

People with catastrophic diseases, those facing surgery or even simple diagnostic testing need information from the doctors and nurses responsible for their care. I wonder sometimes if medical professionals empathize with the shock, horror, and fright their patients experience when thrown into the confusing maelstrom of a modern health care system. Most people are not versed in human disease processes. All they know for sure is that they DO NOT WANT the disease, pain, heart numbing fear, surgery, and a body image different from the one they've had since birth. The only thing that helps frightened, suffering people in the slightest is compassionate teaching and explanations from the doctors and nurses they are forced by circumstance to trust.

Patients may be too shocked and scared to understand the words doctors and nurses speak, but they do sense an underlying kindness and compassion. They see the body language as a doctor speaks, hear the tone of voice, hold to any offering of hope and assurance. No communication is effective unless the patient understands. When a nurse or doctor says, "Do you have any questions?" the patient may not know enough yet to ASK a question. I'll use my sister as an example.

When doctors gave her the option of taking oral chemotherapy and radiation before surgery, each one said essentially the same thing: "I've seen tumors break up and shrink considerably with radiation." Granted, they did not PROMISE the tumor would shrink but that's what she heard -- the carrot on a stick, the hope of a tumor shrinking down to nothing. Nobody told her the radiation would burn soft tissues in the area of the tumor and she would suffer horribly with that. No, when she complained of horrible burning in her vaginal and anal area, she was told by technicians, "Hmm, you're the first one who ever complained of that." Really? The only one? If she had known healthy soft tissues would be "fried" by radiation, her decision might have been different because she ultimately found out that radiation did nothing to shrink the tumor.

Despite her long ordeal, my sister is a brave woman and presented a humorously courageous front to caregivers. But her words told anyone listening what her fears were. The outcome of radiation and surgery horrified her. She's only one of hundreds of thousands of patients shocked and horrified each year. In that respect, the commenter to my original post hit the proverbial nail on the head:

"The words of gods must be chosen carefully and be with the clarity of a god." Patient education is not effective unless it educates, informs, and lessens fears.

Friday, September 01, 2006

So many interesting writing projects, so little time...

September 1st is here at last. I can see and feel fall arriving in the prairies. I'm hoping for a spurt of creativity, or at least a steady trickle. A bit of added encouragement came yesterday when I checked two of my books on Amazon. Copies of My Name is Esther Clara and The Alley of Wishes had sold. It's impossible to know how many copies, but some at least, according to the much improved rankings.

The main book project I'm considering is a novel based on a relative's ancestors. Reading her genealogy information is a fascinating trip through time in the British Isles. Her ancestors have been traced back, so far, to the 12th century in England, with a handful of Irish and Scottish progenitors thrown in for good measure. Some day soon I'll dig out the genealogy search and begin in earnest. And once I begin, I'll be consumed. Writing My Name is Esther Clara inspired me to do more biographies. Real people, real places, can be more intriguing than fiction.

My co-author on the poetry book, Stephen Sulik, wants to begin a mystery suspense novel with me as editor. Sulik's previous book, The Tattered Coat, had action, mystery, and suspense with tinges of surreality mixed in. If he decides to write another book, I'll edit.

My sister Pam thinks I should write a book about her experiences with colon cancer --
  • radiation, chemotherapy, and their side effects
  • what to expect from the surgery and post op course
  • the importance of faith and a positive attitude on patient outcomes
  • the detrimental effect on patients when they don't have adequate teaching each step of the way
  • and the impact of various physician specialists on their patients.

I haven't investigated yet to see how many other books have been written on the subject .

Several others have asked me to write memoirs of their parents/grandparents' lives. I use the "method acting" technique while writing. I become the characters, live in their milieu, and act them out in prose. Some characters are easier to "become" than others.

Stay tuned to see if this old lady writer has it in her to complete another book or books.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

How I Occupy my Retirement Time

I've heard some people are bored after retirement. Boredom has never been a problem for me, not during the days I trucked off to work each day and certainly not now.

My day begins by feeding the feral strays, dumpees, and tamed cats that eat at what I call our "smorgasbord" each morning on our patio. I'm the alpha female of this feline colony. Some love me, others fear my presence, but all quickly learn that no fighting is allowed within the confines of our yard. Two females are currently slated for spaying, if my husband and I can figure out how to get them into the pet taxi.

Housework. I often wonder now how working women manage to clean house. Half my time is taken up each day with shuffling and reshuffling the clutter that accumulates around my computer desk. Books, review notes, phone numbers and addresses jotted onto sticky notes, dates and times of trips or meetings -- all join the clutter I shuffle every day.

Reading blogs. I check certain blogs each morning. Most are on my blogroll, which is in serious need of updating. On Aston West's blog I learned that fellow writer Matt Dinniman was named Blogger of Note. Congrats Matt! I imagine one of my favorite heroic characters -- Aston -- is toasting you with Vladirian liquor as he zooms recklessly through deep space.

Over at K.K.'s Profound Thoughts, that long time friend shared her thoughts on turning 60 and not appreciating her mother in youth. Life is short and passes swiftly by. Our priorities change with age. Today I'm empathizing with K.K. because my mother died too young, also. Her loss more than twenty years ago changed my outlook on life.

At Tom Parker's Dispatches from Kansas, he took me on a lively journey to the edge of the world and beyond. My main whine about Parker's blog is that he doesn't have a new one posted to start each day. His writings are addicting.

Reading books and writing reviews of same: Some of the books I review are easy to read while others require extra time and concentration. I'm a volunteer reviewer, which means I don't get paid. :) People ask me why I devote so much time and energy to reviewing without compensation. The answer is complicated. One, I have always enjoyed reading and reviewing allows me that pleasure without having to buy books. Two, crafting a review is an exercise in writing. Each book and review is different so I try to capture the essence of the book and its author in my reviews. Three, reviewing introduces me to a wide array of gifted writers, their publishers and publicists. I've "discovered" many unknown gems in my tenure as a reviewer. Believe me, many talented writers never see the best seller list, which is a sad commentary on our times. I believe that the Kerouacs, Hemingways, Fitzgeralds, and Cathers of our time are mostly undiscovered.

So those are the highlights of this retiree's day. I'm never, ever bored because I don't have the time. Sometime soon I'll add "Starting on my fifth book" to the list and then for SURE my waking hours will be packed full.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Book Readings and Signings

I used to hate book signings, and shied away from readings. It's not that I'm bashful. Actually, I've been a public speaker all my adult life and can ham it up with the best of them....off the top of my head and without notes. Crowds don't intimidate me. But when it comes to reading from my own books, I flounder a bit.

Selling myself as a writer is hard. I'm more charismatic in print than I am in person. I've even tried to schmooze an attractive friend into making personal appearances and pretending to be me. Darn it, she refused.

In September a book reading is scheduled at the Blue Rapids Mercantile. My sisters call it "the Merc" because they enjoy giving everyone, everything, and every place nicknames. The Mercantile is a very cool place, with the personality of an old time general store. You could wander for hours there, checking out all the antiques, collectibles, and gifts on display. Blue Rapids is a small northeast Kansas town on the Blue River, nestled into a broad valley and rolling hills. I'll be reading from My Name is Esther Clara.

Esther Clara -- my grandma -- loved Blue Rapids so it's fitting that I'll be reading from her book there. I need to choose several interesting passages to read. Everyone likes the chapter where she burns the outhouse down at age five. Me, I like the time she and her siblings dyed their father's prize winning geese green, the time they "helped" the rooster get drunk on Pa's home made wine, or when she nearly killed the hogs by scraping pepper she'd spilled into the slop bucket. Reading those passages, I could ham it up big!

Guess I'll think about it some more. Wish me luck with the reading.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Moonflowers and templates


Over at KK's Profound thoughts, (she's on my blogroll) she wrote about the moonflowers growing along her back yard fence. Her blog reminded me of the moonflowers growing under our bedroom window in a previous home. The fragrance is beyond description -- lush, exotic, spicy, sweet -- and I swear the huge white blooms glow in the moonlight at night.

The blooms often come out on cloudy days too. Hummingbirds love them. I can't get them to grow where I live now, but I'd love to have a huge bed of moonflowers to scent the night air.


So far only two readers have commented on changing my current blogger template. In addition, I've received five emails on the subject from people who either did not know how or preferred not to post a comment. Sorry Cash, but the vote so far is against changing my template to gray or anything else. Maybe the readers who knew me as a nurse, and know me as a writer, think I'm more a peach orchard purple person than gray. I'll continue to take comments for awhile before considering a template change.

Now, go plant some moonflowers for inspiration and an unequaled perfume.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Bellowing Ark

Look: I build my bellowing ark to the best
of my love as the flood begins...
Dylan Thomas
I had heard of Bellowing Ark the journal, and had even reviewed a book released by Bellowing Ark the publisher, but knew very little otherwise until visiting their website. With one brief pass through the website, I understood their philosophy. The Dylan Thomas quote above explains their mission as I see it, from strictly my point of view: Life can be noisy, scary, and messy, so we offer hope and love wherever we can find it.
My adventure began when CarrieAnn Thunnell, a poet and journal editor from Washington State, suggested I visit the B.A. website and read "The Conversations: Unchain the Power of Women as a Mighty Force for Revolution." As an editor familiar with my poetry, she also thought I should submit samples of poetry for consideration, something I rarely ever do.
I don't have the time or energy for this! was my thought at the time, but I dutifully checked the B.A. website. B.A. Editor Robert Ward's "Conversations" were not at all what I expected. His commentaries and responses from subscribers hooked me, took me back to childhood to a time of hope in a flood of happy memories. His words inspired and intrigued me, so I sent off a response to his commentary along with several poems. I'm delighted to report that Mr. Ward printed my response AND my poems and even solicited more. When my complimentary issues arrived, I discovered poetry, prose, serialized novels, commentaries, and interviews featuring known and unknown writers, all in a roomy newspaper format WITHOUT advertising.
Robert Ward and I have communicated numerous times since my initial visit to the Bellowing Ark website. Some of my poetry is too dark for his journal's philsophy, lest you think he accepts everything I submit. But I understand his goals. This is an excellent journal, presenting hopeful thoughts and concepts to a world staggered by war, disease, greed, and depletion of natural resources. We have too many dark spectres shadowing our world and Robert Ward is determined that Bellowing Ark will not add to that darkness.
If you enjoy a variety of poetry and prose and need a dose of hope and courage, check out www.bellowingark.org. If you are a poet or writer, gird your loins and send Robert Ward a submission. Or if the "Conversations" spark an opinion, send him a response whether you agree or not.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Klyd Watkins' The Time Garden

I should be doing shameless self-promotion, hawking my books, but I'd rather talk about interesting people and websites today. Klyd Watkins and his website The Time Garden are favorites of mine.

An interesting and diverse group of writers, poets, and musicians pop into Klyd's garden from time to time. In fact, that's where I discovered some of my favorite contemporary poets. I never know whose work will be featured when I visit. Christina Pacosz, Sharon Doubiago, David Pointer, Charles Ries, Charles Potts, and Dan Powers can be found in a multitude of journals and websites, but I read them first at TTG.

Watkins is a humble gardenmeister who hovers proudly in the background as his guests enjoy the poetic flowers and sometimes lively discussions or commentaries. "The Great Duckweed Debate" is a personal favorite of mine, where Reed Richards and Klyd Watkins square off poetically. Yours truly has even been known to comment.

The Time Garden is unusual, the ambiance casual, much like the man who tends the garden. Watkins and his visitors prefer it that way. If you enjoy poetry or music, check it out at www.thetimegarden.com. Check the Poet Index, the Theme Patch, and the Fresh Produce Stand to get an idea of what Klyd's Garden is all about.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Comment from across the pond.....


No, not just any pond, THE pond. Today I received comment on Grandma's book from a reader in the UK. Since I call these folks my "Britbunny pals" they just might be a bit prejudiced in my favor. I call the male half of the Britbunnies "our gallant knight." He had this to say about the book:

The good times at the beginning were brilliant.
The chapter "Decoration day", very poignant It's a pity we do not have that special day over here.
Esther Clara was quite a woman.
Husband Herb was a very good and kind man.
As a pair, they set a good example to the rest of us, as we should be living our lives today!
The best book I've read in a long time!



You know how we writers are. We treasure such kind words about the work we've poured our life's blood into. So thank you dear gallant knight, for the review. I'll treasure it.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Dreams and Regrets

One of the chapters in My Name is Esther Clara is "Dreams and Regrets." In that chapter, my 90-year-old Grandma reminisces about the small dreams that came true and her regrets about the ones that didn't. The dreams she and Grandpa transformed to reality were small ones, but life-enriching in ways meaningful to them:
  • they hoped to own their own home and finally fulfilled that dream after 29 years of marriage. Home ownership, in their eyes, measured their success as a couple;
  • Grandma wanted a modern automatic washer and dryer so Grandpa saved his money and finally bought her the best they could afford;
  • Grandpa had dreamed of seeing the ocean since he was a young lad feeding his imagination through books. One year during a trip to Pennsylvania, their son took them to the Atlantic shore so Grandpa got to roll his pants legs up and wade the waters he had dreamed of all his life.

The regrets Grandma contemplated were dreams left unpursued for one reason or another:

  • after retirement, Grandpa wanted to take her to Hawaii as the honeymoon they never had. Grandma said no, because she feared leaving the continental U.S. and also thought they were too old;
  • Grandpa loved caves and dreamed of visiting Carlsbad Caverns. By the time they could afford such a trip, Grandpa's vision had failed and Grandma's practical side prevailed.

Most people I know are just like Grandma and Grandpa, postponing their dreams until they have more money or time. Hopes, dreams, plans are put on hold until retirement, until the kids get through college or the house is paid off. There's no sin in being practical, but life is short and sometimes we face a hard row to hoe from cradle to grave. Our dreams are the flavoring that makes hard times palatable. Grandma saw that clearly near the end of her long life.

So what are your dreams, large or small? Like Grandpa, I've always wanted to experience the ocean. So what's stopping me? I've dreamed of owning a home that would be ideal for a writer's retreat? Why didn't I follow through? If my dreams don't come true, should I blame lack of time, money, planning, vision, courage? I wonder what Grandma's answer would be to that question.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Rain and Tom Parker

This is a good day. After a week of temperatures in the high 90s and low 100s that baked every living thing to toast, a cool front has arrived with soaking rains. So far this morning I've watched robins, blue jays, cardinals and meadowlarks splash and frolic in the yard, fluffing their feathers and singing joyfully as the dry earth cools and softens. Trees raise their branches to the rain, sighing a collective relief. Brown grass is greening as I write. The scent of rain-washed air drifts through my window on a stirring breeze. Yes, this is a very good day, indeed.

Today is a gift in more ways than one. While checking the blogs I regularly read, I discovered Tom Parker's "Dispatches from Kansas" had TWO new postings. Any new offering by Parker is Literary Nirvana and two is a bonus! So with the sound of gentle rain dripping outside my window, I read Parker's poignant tributes to two old friends: one a man who served his community with a cheerful energy all his life, the other an ancient cottonwood whose shade had sheltered humans and animals for untold centuries. (I couldn't help but imagine how many droughts, healing rains, blizzards, and tornadoes that old tree survived in its lifetime.)

Anyone reading my blog needs to hop on over and read Parker's "Dispatches from Kansas." A link to his site is on my blogroll. Discovering the people, places, and things of rural Kansas through his eyes is a treat akin to a ghastly summer drought relieved by rain.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Nurses, Writers, and human nature

Back in the early 1960s when I was an impressionable young nursing student, one of our instructors made a dire prediction. Petite, feisty, and outspoken, fire blazed in her eyes as she stalked the aisles of our packed classrooom, tossing a stub of chalk from one hand to another. Her words are as fresh in my mind today as they were more than 40 years ago.

"Before you reach my age, you'll see the beginnings of a nursing shortage in this country. It's inevitable."

None of us believed her, and thought her classroom teaching had veered off in the wrong direction. She'd been a young nurse during W.W. 2 and then Korea. Nursing schools in my home state still reaped the benefits of those war years, with classes bursting at the seams and quotas exceeded to the point that prospective students had to be turned away. I watched her eyes spark, watched that bit of chalk traverse an arc from hand to hand.

"Those shortages are bound to happen because nurses have a bad habit of eating their young. In this class, you're gonna learn not to do that or I'll die trying."

Eat their young? What the hell does that mean? She read our collective thoughts that first day and laughed, with very little humor in the sound of it.

"Older nurses will try to figuratively eat YOU and I will just be DAMNED if that is gonna happen!" She saw the furtive looks that passed between us while we wondered if she might be crazy and paused a couple beats before continuing in a softer, sadder voice. "OK. Here's what I mean. You've worked the floor for several weeks now. How many welcomed you with open arms?"

None for most. Only a couple in my recollection.

"How many tried to orient you to meds and treatments in any meaningful way?"

Again, none or maybe one was the class concensus.

"How many slept and left you on your own at night? Complained about your ignorance behind your back and joked about 'baby sitting students' just loud enough for you to hear? Ridiculed your nursing documentation and lack of knowledge about charting?"

She watched the light dawn as our minds ran through the weeks of floor assignments. I could think of two helpful staff members. One was my aunt, a nurse, the other an intern who welcomed any set of hands available in holding death or disease at bay.

"That's what I mean by 'eating their young.' If they don't make positive contributions in helping mold students into accomplished nurses, if they tease and ridicule and gripe instead of teaching in positive ways, I call that 'eating their young.' That isn't gonna happen on my watch!"

That instructor taught us, one scenario at a time, how NOT to be discouraged when older nurses put us down. She taught us how to find the information we needed to enhance our classroom education, how to gain experience and strength from every patient in our care. And most important of all, she provided step-by-step guidelines to prevent her students from eating their young when they became Registered Nurses. The philosophy she shared was simple: Do for others what you hope others will do for you. Have patience. Be kind. Make suggestions. Teach by example. Nurture. Help others become the best they can be.

Her prediction came true. There HAS BEEN a nursing shortage in our country. I often wonder if the nursing shortages in this nation have a bit to do with that long-standing human tendency to gripe and complain about others instead of nurturning.

Forty years passed and I moved from nursing to writing. That nursing instructor's words seemed appropriate for writers, also. I thought writing might be different, that writers might not eat their young, but it isn't. A few writers DO nurture and support their colleagues in many ways, are kindly and encouraging. Others publicly shame and slam inexperienced or unknown writers, zeroing in on every typo and tense shift with gusto. You can read such slams on message boards, on amazon, and a multitude of places around the web.

Granted, maybe losing a few writers through discouragement, slamming, and shunning can't be compared to losing nurses. Nurses, when they are at their best, benefit humanity. They labor selflessly in obscurity, saving lives and easing pain. But what of art, the miracle of words? What if the work of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, the Brownings, Cather, Camus, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Morrison, Wiesel had been shunned and ridiculed out of existence before it gave voice to their times? Would that be a loss to humanity?

Monday, July 10, 2006

A birthday for Esther Clara's husband


July 11 is my maternal grandfather's birthday. Herb Ford was born in 1892 and died in 1981 and let no grass grow under his feet at any point in between. Shown here with his great-grandson Kevin, Grandpa's face reflects his mischievous and playful side. Grandma often said he had a streak of mischief in him a mile wide. He liked to gently tease and play with his grandchildren and great grandchildren, making up for lost opportunities and the years of hard work that occupied his time and energy when his own kids were small.

Grandpa was 50 years old when I was born, no longer young, but youthful. Until his death he was the dominant male figure in my life. His philosophy of life influenced my personality and behaviors from birth through young adulthood. His own life had been one of hard work and struggle. Such a life is all he'd ever known. But he enjoyed the small happinesses of life with a childlike optimism. He looked forward to Grandma's fried chicken on Sunday with as much anticipation as he did Christmas. Ice cream and cake on his birthday was a major event. His dreams and needs were simple ones, easily fulfilled and always accepted with twinkling eyes.

The day before Grandpa died, Grandma baked one of his favorite treats -- Bulgur wheat bread. He waited patiently, as usual, for the first loaf to come out of the oven so he could lather a thick warm chunk of fresh bread with butter. Late that afternoon before suppertime, he delivered a loaf of Bulgur bread to my door, all smiles, saying he'd already "tried it on for size and it was some of Grandma's best yet." The next day after breakfast, unexpectedly, he was gone.

Now I don't mean this post to be pitiful in any way. Grandpa got his wish for old age and its inevitable date with death. He still got around on his own two legs, still enjoyed his eats with gusto, and did not have to linger in a nursing home. He exited life happy and content, with a tummy full of Grandma's delicious Bulgur bread.

If he happens to be hanging around in the invisible realm, I just want to say, "Happy Birthday, Grandpa!"

Friday, July 07, 2006

A Moveable Feast

Readers who know I'm a writer may find this hard to believe, but I'm not all that familiar with the work of Hemingway. In my high school years, The Old Man and the Sea was required reading, but most of what I remember of the story comes from the movie of the same name. I've always been a voracious reader, since early childhood. Certain books and authors made a lasting impression on me: Mazo de la Roche; Gene Stratton Porter; Colleen McCullough; D.H. Lawrence. But Hemingway did not make my preferred reading list. Ditto Faulkner, Camus, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. That brings me back to the main topic, which is
A Moveable Feast by Hemingway.

I had preconceived notions of Hemingway's writings, based on nothing, really. Assumptions I guess. I'm not a fan of terse prose, of which I assumed Hemingway was master. His mystique was lost on me. Author Michael Corrigan strives mightily to expand my horizons as a reader so finally convinced me to read either A Moveable Feast or The Sun Also Rises. I chose the former because it entails Hemingway's memories of Paris in his early years with first wife Hadley, before the fame, before the subsequent wives. Paris in the 1920s appealed to me.

What I discovered was not terse, dry prose at all, but words carefully chosen and lovingly crafted. Through Hemingway's eyes, I found the true essence of Paris as it was in that time and will never be again. In his day, an expatriate in Paris could live on five dollars a day and still have the money to travel. At his side, I walked the streets he loved and saw them as he did -- the trees and parks, quais and bistros, shabby flats. And I participated in intimate conversations with 20th century literary icons, laughed at the oddities of personality, empathized with their doubts.

Critics have called A Moveable Feast an irreverent portrait of such literary icons as Stein, Fitzgerald, and Ford Madox Ford. I found these portraits to be anything but irreverent. In fact, Hemingway's depth of compassion for dysfunctional friends and peers amazed me. In most cases he empathized, sympathized, made allowances and gentle observations in his recollections. And always, he focused on improving his own writing without envying the successes of his peers. Only the very rich were roasted. He spared the rich nothing in his memories of traveling and enjoying life on a shoestring. Hemingway believed the very rich ruined pristine places for common travelers, and robbed people of their innocent pleasures through wickedness and excess.

So hmmmm. Hemingway was not the man or writer I expected him to be. I can see now why his persona was so appealing to a generation of readers and why so many writers wish to emulate his sparcity of prose. I can't decide which Hemingway book to read next, but am leaning towards For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Sometimes the old classics said it best.....

The World is too Much With Us; Late and Soon by William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

My apologies to Mr. Wordsworth for not quoting his fine poem in its entirety. Those of you who are poetically inclined may find it strange, as I do, that the words of this poem are as appropriate today -- perhaps more so -- as they were 200 years ago. It's the small things that get me down until the world is too much with me, flaws in my everyday world. The flaws that throw my spirit out of tune are nothing in the grand scheme of things, but enlarge incrementally until they're all I can see.

For example, we live in a small town of roughly 4,000 people. A copper-domed court house dominates its central square with dignity. Raised sidewalks, a holdover from the horse and buggy days, set apart the downtown area from others of its size. Stately shade trees line brick streets laid in another century. All roads leading into town pass wheatfields, cornfields, rolling pastureland, or milo fields. Clumps of cottonwoods, elm, and oak line creeks and rivers. Charming.

Unfortunately, this town boasts a larger feral cat population than human. Cats live in the storm drains, in sheds and garages if they can find entry, in and under every sort of shelter imaginable, such as porches. They breed incessantly, and God help you if your porch or garage is their chosen shelter. Local authorities say there is nothing they can do.....unless said cats congregate on your property and the neighbors complain.

Our retirement years have not been the peaceful golden time we expected. In a desperate attempt to stem the cat population, we spend endless time and money worrying about, taming, spaying, and neutering feral cats. My husband, ever the old softie, insists that any cat visiting should be fed. He can't go along with the advice of locals who say, "Just let them starve." (Yes, he feels the same about humans. We'd be bankrupt if we lived in a city full of homeless starving people.)

My computer desk is in a window-lined room on the south side of our house. Every so often a car stops in our alley, easily visible from where I sit. Such stops are dumpings in progress. Half grown pregnant house pets, kittens, or ancient house cats in dire need of euthanizing are deposited by their loving masters in our alley. You don't want to know the punishment I wish on such people, but here's a hint: It has something to do with being hung by their boobs or balls and left to twist in the wind until half dead from starvation.

Most people love and nurture their pets, regardless of species, just as most people do their children. It's the tiny handfull of those who don't that throw my spirit out of tune.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Writing does have its rewards sometimes.....


Every writer enjoys praise for their work and I'm no exception. Whatever form a compliment may take, however unusual, I happily receive it. Since I dedicated a post to the reader who called my first book "the worst schlock she ever read," today I'll share a review that's as far to the other end of the spectrum as you can get. I'm betting this complimentary bouquet is rarely received by writers.

This particular reader started by saying all the usual things we writers love to hear. The book referred to is My Name is Esther Clara:
  • could not put the book down;
  • excellent;
  • felt a part of Esther Clara's life and times;
  • experiences in the book rang true.

And then this reader put a capper on it that was priceless. Have you ever had a colonoscopy prep? For two days before the main event you eat nothing but clear liquids while taking strong laxatives at prescribed intervals. As a result, long spaces of time are spent in the bathroom praying to survive the abdominal cramping and other icky ordeals. The reader said being engrossed in My Name is Esther Clara made that colonoscopy prep less stressful and easier to endure. Reading my book got the intrepid soul through a long, difficult prep.

Unusual as compliments go? Yes. But ever so gratifying. I'm happy to have been of service. Anyone scheduled for a colonoscopy might keep this satisfied customer in mind. As the reader said, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, "Nothing passes the time more pleasantly than a good read."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

POD-DY Mouth -- a person of generosity and vision

In keeping with my blog's stated philosophy, the third prong of which is showcasing exceptional blogs and people, today I want to discuss POD-DY Mouth. Her blog can be found at http://girlondemand.blogspot.com and she's well worth the read, especially if you are an author familiar with print-on-demand publishing. (POD)

The designation of POD has been called the kiss of death by some and the best thing that ever happened to publishing by others. POD books can be self-published by the author, as those with iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Lulu, XLibris, and others. There are also numerous small press publishers who utilize print-on-demand publishing because it is more economical. Huge print runs and storage of said print runs is unnecessary with POD-published books. Books are literally "printed on demand." Whether one book is ordered, or ten, the order is printed and shipped when received.

Now back to POD-DY Mouth. The purpose of her blog is "Wading through the sea of print-on-demand titles, one overpriced paperback at a time...and giving you the buried treasure." Since she is a published author whose books are with PENGUIN, her goal of reading POD books and sharing the gems with readers is a generous undertaking. Instead of sitting on her laurels, feeling superior, she has the vision to realize that all POD-published books are not necessarily stinkers. Similarly, all authors with POD publishers are not untalented hacks and losers.

As a reviewer for several online and hard copy groups, I've waded nose-deep in the same sea of POD titles as POD-DY Mouth. If not for POD publishing, I would not have discovered Tom Sheehan -- a national literary treasure if there ever was one. I would not have experienced the joy of reading Kevin Watson. The shattering prose of Michael Corrigan would have been lost to me. None of these, or the glorious prose of Tom Parker, would have permanent homes in my book shelf today if POD publishing did not exist. For brevity's sake I won't go on, except to say that some of the best books I've ever read, books I treasure, are POD-published books.

I'm a POD-published writer myself. I chose that route deliberately because I'm no spring chicken anymore for one thing, and my patience with rejection has worn thin. As stated in a recent POD-DY Mouth posting, "Not everyone equates success with the best seller list." That's me in a nutshell. The POD company that published my two most popular books -- without a penny's cost to me -- says they are arrows of love shot out into the world. I'll never be famous, maybe, and major reviewers won't review POD books, but my arrows of love have reached many of their marks anyway.

Once you've waded through my ramblings, go read POD-DY Mouth. Her blog is exceptional many ways. I applaud her efforts and her honesty. And if she had not vowed to remain anonymous, I'd extol her books here too. Thanks so much, Girl On Demand, for your generous spirit and vision. Take a bow. Take several bows.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sanow Family ties....


Until I reached my forties, family history meant very little to me. Maybe I was too focused on my job or other mundane things. Life gets in the way sometimes, and then before we know it we've lost an entire generation of people who were a large part of our lives. I tried to rectify that in later years by writing a book about my maternal grandmother and her family.

In the photo above left, Esther Clara Sofia Sanow is standing on the far right, next to her seated mother, Emelie Schultz Sanow. My Name is Esther Clara is the story of her life and times. Esther Clara is the little Cherokee County Iowa girl who burned the family outhouse down and nearly killed the hogs by putting pepper in their slop when she was five. Her adventures were many and varied throughout life and certainly did not stop when she met and married Herb Ford from Kansas. Whether burning outhouses, sick hogs, drunk roosters, mean goats, white witchcraft, blizzards, bedbugs or World Wars, Esther Clara took life head on.

Any Sanow descendents out there searching the web for information, I hope you find this blog and contact me. The Sanow children in the photos are as follows:
  • Anna Augusta
  • Amelia
  • Louise Emma aka "Lizzie"
  • Esther Clara
  • Carl Albert
  • Frank August
  • Otto Carl
  • Henry
  • August
  • Alfred

Emelie Schultz Sanow and August Ferdinand Sanow were their parents, who raised their ten children on a farm near Marcus, Iowa from 1878 until the last child left home.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A meandering Father's Day train of thought....

Mom always said her kids were a "duke's mixture." What she meant by that, I was never quite sure, but guess it referred to the several different nationalities swimming around in our gene pool.

Dad's side of the family was predominantly English and Irish with a soupcon of Cherokee to enhance the mix. Mom's people were Polish / Prussian / German and English. All our ancestors, except the Cherokee woman who married an Irishman, emigrated to America on boats. It's safe to say that none of them traveled in first class accommodations on their voyage to a new land. We came from poor but sturdy European stock.

My ancestor's first order of business was to learn the laws and language of the land. The Germans, especially, made it a family rule to first establish citizenship and then to speak only American English in their homes. Grandma said sometimes her parents argued behind closed doors in German, but the children were required to converse only in the language of this land. As a result, Grandma and her siblings knew a few cuss words in German and how to say "I love you" --"Ich liebe dich" -- but very little else.

All I know about the Cherokee woman in my father's ancestry is that she ruled her marriage with matriarchal determination. She refused to "lay" with her handsome dark haired, dark eyed husband until he homesteaded land in Kansas. She also stubbornly refused to register as an Indian, and insisted whatever children their marriage might produce be born outside the reservation on their own land. I suspect he swiftly complied because 12 children came of their union. No one in later generations ever met the woman, but her strength is in her descendents to this day.

My father left my life early, via divorce, but his ancestors live on in his children. They are indelibly stamped into our DNA. So thanks, Dad, for the Irish--Cherokee genes you passed along to your children.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Jesus in Song -- Shirley Priscilla Johnson's website


Today I segue from hard line rock and roll to an exceptional Christian ministry. Never let it be
said that my blog does not offer a variety of talent from which to choose!!



Shirley and Robert Johnson have co-pastored He Lives Ministries in Florida for more than 25 years. Shirley also has a degree in Christian Counseling, is a published writer and songwriter, and reviewer for Midwest Book Review. Although we share a last name, the Johnson's are no relation to me. I do claim Shirley as a treasured friend and colleague, however.

In the beginning of her music ministry, Shirley created glorious praise songs inspired by God. Although these songs were sung by only her voice and occasionally that of her nephew, sometimes a chorus of Angelic voices were clearly identifiable as accompaniment. Now I am nowhere NEAR as faithful in my service to the Lord as Shirley is, but those angelic choirs on her recordings inspired even me!!

In the years I've known her, Shirley has added to her list of Christian music and books.

  • A Divorced Mother Talks to God and Whispers of Life -- Poetry from the Heart are traditionally published books.
  • Her child-friendly, inspirational packets of colorful booklets, tapes, CDs, coloring books, and crayons make delightful gifts for children and Sunday School classes.
  • Her Covenant Package containing a beautiful book, pen, music CD, and salt pouches in a striking tote bag makes a perfect gift for adults. (Why salt packets? God made a Covenant of Salt in Numbers 18:19. Go read it for yourself.)
  • The Fos and Prissy Series for adults and The Nothing Book for kids of any age are humorous tales that often made me laugh out loud.
  • Her latest project is Shiloh Cards for pets and people.

One goal when starting this blog adventure was to feature talented people who don't get the publicity they deserve. Shirley Priscilla Johnson surely qualifies. Read more about her ministry at http://www.funport.com/insong/default.htm

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Thundershack.net -- rock and roll and more.....

I enjoy expanding my horizons and making new discoveries. I love rock and roll and the people who make the music. Thundershack.net is two treats in one -- a new discovery, and people making great music.

If there is a partiarch of Thundershack, I guess it would be Klyd Watkins. He's the one with the long gray hair and beard in the montage to your left. He's been working at making Thundershack a reality for a long time now. To quote him, "Thundershack is a studio built out of concrete blocks and a love of music." Klyd was determined to have a state of the art studio, and he finally got what he wanted.

I guess you could say Thundershack is a family affair because Klyd Watkins' sons Bob, David, and Eric are also first class musicians. These folks, along with fellow musicians from the Nashville area, can play anything and I DO mean ANYTHING. Their CDs include everything from old time rock and roll to country raunch to experimental rock to spoken word poetry accompanied by world class music. As a rock and roll lover since its inception in the 50s, I'm a die hard fan. I've seen the music transform itself over five decades now. These guys are unusual, off beat, unique, and march to their own drummer, which is what rock and roll is all about. Don't expect a formula approach or laundered lyrics from this music!!

In addition to music made by the Watkins family and colleagues, Thundershack records intense, aggressive groove metal by Thousandfold; music by rock and roll singer/guitarist Marc Harris; and the latest work by hard core rockers The Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies. In other words, this studio produces music for devotees of rock and roll. If you are on the lookout for something different, not the same old everyday stuff, Klyd Watkins is your man and Thundershack will deliver. Check out www.thundershack.net to learn more.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Alley of Wishes



A writer is always so pleased when a flurry of interest is created about their book or books. The Alley of Wishes was published in 2003 by Dandelion books. Now, almost three years later, renewed interest in readers has snuck up and surprised me.

Alley is my sentimental favorite book, a testament to the power of unconditional love, hope, and friendship. As fiction, it's quite different from My Name is Esther Clara. Readers who loved Esther Clara, or my first, The Grass Dance, were either delighted or shocked by the Alley story line. It's not an easy book to pigeon hole in any particular genre. I say it is a fictional allegory, and prefer to think of it as literary fiction. Others say it is historical fiction or romantic fiction, despite the fact that it was not written according to any set formula.

I wrote Alley for my mother, who died in 1984. Her marriage to an alcoholic man was often violent and a sorrow that stayed with Mom all her life. When I talk to writer groups about this book, I tell them that every sorrow, rage, and joy I've ever known was called upon to create Alley. The violence in it seems real because I've known violence first hand. The sorrow experienced by the main characters is real because I've lived with great sorrow. The love, joy, and hope they feel was alive in me as I wrote the book.

Faithful readers and fans of my work often express the hope that I'll write a prequel or sequel to Alley. I'm not convinced that will ever happen. I think it's best that The Alley of Wishes stands alone as my gift to the world because that's what I intended it to be. I want it to shine as an example of how love, hope and friendship can mend shattered lives in beautiful ways. I'm not an arrogant or proud person, just one who accomplished what she set out to do in a book.

Thanks so much to the readers who buy this book and take the time to comment on it in emails and letters. My mother loved reading. By reading this book I wrote for her, in my mind you honor her.

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I enjoy good writing by writers and poets who are not famous. My mother said I was born a hundred years too late. The older I get, the more I realize how right she was.

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