Saturday, December 29, 2007

An obscure writer's top ten moments of 2007...

  • I started a part time job. This one is number ten because after seven months of working, whatever writing projects I had in mind have been buried beneath all the trappings that surround concentrating on a job. On the positive side, my boss is a delightful person who appreciates everything I do to simplify her life. Why did I return to work after a couple years of glorious and eagerly anticipated retirement? See number nine.
  • We moved to a new home on the outskirts of a small Kansas town. Bald eagles visit from a nearby aerie to perch in the top of our trees and watch for easy prey. We enjoy seeing our national bird up close, but keep our fingers crossed that the easy prey they find won't turn out to be our outdoor cats. The squirrels that frolicked in our trees when we moved here have disappeared, probably taken by hungry eagles. Bird watching here is a daily treat.
  • I lived through another summer in the plains. I've always hated summer -- the awful heat, the horrible insects -- so when fall and winter arrive I'm properly grateful.
  • We've had regular snows this winter. Snow is one of my favorite things in the world. It cleans and freshens the air and transforms dull gray and brown nature into a pristine wonderland. This year we also had icy rain that broke trees and power lines and left thousands of people without power. Ice is NOT one of my favorite things, especially when people with limited finances have to pay through the nose for electric companies to reconnect power lines to their houses. I'm grateful we were not without power, and that our electric company had the foresight to bury our power lines underground.
  • Despite less writing time and energy, I HAVE managed to have an occasional poem featured in online ezines or hard copy journals this year. The editors of Bellowing Ark and The Time Garden seem to like my style so I'm grateful for that blessing. These two editors are exceptional people and I'd say that even if they didn't accept my poetry and commentary submissions.
  • I reached the milestone age of 65. An eye-blink ago I was 40. Two eye-blinks ago I was 18 and starting nursing school. Those of you who think your eyes, teeth, muscles, joints and bones will always be strong have a huge shock in store! My grandma told me once when she was 89 that inside her mind she still felt 18. I'm beginning to understand what she meant by that.
  • My three books still sell occasionally online, on consignment, or from my personal supply at home. I'm always so pleased when strangers buy my books based on word of mouth or positive reviews. I've never been as aggressive as unknown writers need to be if they want to sell books. I could easily appear on major network programs with passionate pleas for viewers to share their largesse with humans or animals, or to derail politicians' gravy train. Convincing people to part with their hard-earned money for my books is not in my repertoire.
  • My sister Pam is 17 months past surgery for colon cancer with no recurrence of cancer. Every month of testing negative for cancer recurrence is a blessing. I often think the trillions of dollars spent on wars around the globe would be better spent on eradicating this awful disease.
  • My husband and I are relatively healthy, despite our advancing age. Mama always told me I had the constitution of an Army mule so maybe she was right. Thank God for good genes!!
  • My family and friends are surviving life's stresses, strong and smiling despite whatever comes their way. Nothing makes me happier than seeing the people I love find a small shred of joy in life to keep them going. May that continue through 2008.

So there you have it, my top ten for 2007. I wish for everyone I love to continue thriving through 2008 and to find unexpected blessings along the way. For those of you I don't know or have never met, I wish you the same. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

OH, the weather outside is frightful......

...but the fire feels so delightful. There may still be unfortunate souls without electricity from the ice storm and snow we had more than a week ago. We lost many tree limbs, but were never without power during that ordeal. Today we have blowing and drifting snow. Not much accumulation so far because the snow blows away as fast as it falls.

We started our day today with the electricity going on and off. Fortunately, I managed to brew a pot of coffee before it went off and stayed off for a couple hours. Hubby had the kerosene stove primed and ready, but we didn't need it. We are blessed to have a very good and reliable electric company.

Living and surviving harsh winter weather without power is an adventure. While living in a mountainous region of Kentucky, we spent eight days without electricity one winter. I cooked and made coffee on our kerosene heater. That was the experience that taught me to always have a land line phone and non-electric clock that work whether we have power or not. I also learned to keep plenty of pillar candles and matches on hand for night time emergencies, and to stock our larder with soups, crackers, peanut butter at all times -- winter and summer.

My husband thinks he's trapped in living hell if the TV doesn't work. I lose touch with friends and family around the country and world when my computer doesn't work. We hear every day about how foolish humans are to be dependent of foreign oil for heating and gasoline. Personally, I think we are foolish to depend on electricity for our every day activities and even our survival. Today, I'm thinking perhaps our country needs to focus less on foreign involvements of varying kinds and spend the trillions frittered away on lost causes around the world on developing new forms of providing power. We are one of the families who would live "green" if we knew how and could afford it. Until that happens, we have to depend on kerosene stoves or wood burners when we lose power in the winter.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Change of Pace.....

Yesterday I cleaned house and caught up on laundry and watched Andy Hardy movies on TCM. Talk about your feel good movies!!

Maybe people like Judge and Mrs. Hardy and their son Andy never truly existed, but I was comforted to think life might have been like that at some lost, past time. Andy's teenage rebellions were mild, and always respectful, with no physical or verbal violence. His worries and anxieties resolved themselves painlessly through the support of family and friends. The Hardy home was warm and loving, the parents calm and nurturing. They taught their son by example how life should be lived. None of Andy's peers were suicidal or homicidal. None fancied themselves to be vampires, goths, or hit men. Nobody lived in fear of home invasions or car jackings.

Oh, I know the Andy Hardy series were only movies about imaginary people. What a blessed relief it must have been to go to movies back in those days, to enjoy well-adjusted people interacting in character driven plots without murders and explosions. Maybe it's my age creating such longings to live in softer times. Maybe children were never safe and life was not blithely peaceful. Or perhaps movie makers knew a secret then that their modern peers have overlooked: People like to feel happy and safe, nurtured and serene and accepted.

Thanks for yesterday, Andy Hardy, and for softening the edges of a chaotic world.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My thoughts on Tom Sheehan

Tom Sheehan is the sort of writer and poet who comes along once in a reader's lifetime. He's one of the top five best writers in the world in my opinion. His work is stunning, powerful, humorous, shattering. So why isn't his name a household word? Why is mine the only review of this particular book on Amazon? Why hasn't he won the Pushcart Prize, despite several nominations? Sheehan has had well-deserved local and regional recognition, but not the attention his amazing work deserves. For this feature I chose A Collection of Friends for review.

A Collection of Friends
Short Stories by Tom Sheehan
ISBN-13: 978-1929763177
260 pages at 17.95 paperback
Pocol Press

According to one critic, Tom Sheehan is a "national treasure." After reading A Collection of Friends, I agree. This book is also a treasure. Sheehan writes with a kindly intimacy that welcomes readers into his life. His words are rich with cadence and imagery as he remembers the sounds, sights, scents, and ghostly voices from his years in Saugus, Mass. Several stories from his book were nominated for Pushcart Prizes and many more of them deserved to be.

In the Preface, Sheehan says of his friends: "Piecemeal, as entities, in my ear, clapping me on the back, giving me a push when needed, they have caused this book. I am indebted to them, those who have given my life all its savage joys." From a lovingly tended larder of memories, the author spins camera-clear stories of family, friends, war, town drunks, places and pleasures, long held sorrows. Each is a moving testimony to man's grit and pride or quiet acceptance of adversity. Every thing, every place, and every one become objects in Tom Sheehan's social laboratory. His experiences as a lad made him what he is today as writer in his eighth decade. He tells of hunger as if it were a living entity, and the "awful sense of exposure" borne of poverty. Sensory perceptions were absorbed in his youth like a sponge. Tragedies forgotten by others over time still live fresh in his mind and won't let go. Each story stands alone and is memorable in distinct ways. I give only a few examples due to space limitations

"The Dumpmaster's Boy" is one of several paeans to Sheehan's grandfather, who loved his fellow man, quoted Irish poets, wrote his own lyrical poetry, and longed to see his homeland Ireland one more time.

"Orion's Belt" is an unintended social commentary, a lesson in grace, strength, poverty, and snobbish cruelty with Sheehan's beautiful, dignified mother shining as a central figure.

"The Day Titanic Drowned", the memory of a powerful draft animal that drowned decades ago, is a standout. The day and the animal come alive through Sheehan's telling.

"Parkie, Tanker, Tiger of Tobruk" is a numbing account of desert survival circa WW 2, how one man escaped death in war only to die by inches for decades after his return to Saugus. (This one particular story has haunted me since first reading it and remains clear in my mind today.)

And "The Quiet, Empty Bedrooms of Saugus" was so beautifully written, so emotionally overwhelming that it must be read to fully comprehend.

Any words I write here are inadequate. Tom Sheehan treasures his memories. To quote the author, "The clarity stings the memory.... Somehow, inexplicably, it is soul deep, has pine aromas, the acrobatics of light, known temperature touching my face the way I recall the stand on a lone Korean outpost."

I've never been to Massachusetts, know nothing of Saugus or Tom Sheehan, but feel I know them well through A Collection of Friends. Any story or poem Tom Sheehan writes is exceptional and highly recommended.

Friday, October 26, 2007

New Works Review announces writing awards....

Some of you know I'm the Review Editor at New Works Review. NWR is an online literary
e-zine that has rapidly gained an international following. Readers from around the globe visit the website and stay to read the work posted there; poetry, story, essay, and photography submissions reflect that diversity.

My role at NWR is to submit reviews of exceptional work by promising writers. In keeping with this series of posts about unknown writers and their work, today I'm pleased to report that NWR has established two new writing awards:

The Stanley Kunitz Award for Poetry -- Kirtland Snyder has been chosen for this award for his poem, "Funny How Much Sorrow Looks Like Anger."

The Georges Simenon Fiction Award -- Tom Sheehan received this award for his short story, "The Man Who Hid Music."

Snyder and Sheehan will also be nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

NWR is allowed six nominations for the Pushcart Prize, and will submit the following writers and work:

Pushcart Nominations for Poetry

Stanley Kunitz Funny How Much Sorrow Looks Like Anger
Liz Rosenberg Becoming a Father
Alicia Ostriker Insomnia

Pushcart Nominations for Fiction

Tom Sheehan The Man Who Hid Music
Irv Greenfield The Game of Bling
Michael Corrigan Free Fall

Alicia Ostriker is the featured poet in the current edition of NWR. Tom Sheehan's Pushcart-nominated story is also in the current edition along with an essay by Michael Corrigan. If you'd like to learn more about these exceptional writers, go to www.new-works.org.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Confessions of a Shanty Irishman

Confessions of a Shanty Irishman was Michael Corrigan's first book. He's written several since, and all are well worth reading. In all his stories and novels, Corrigan uses his Irish history to great effect. He mixes a smattering of truth, a dash of fiction, then laces everything liberally with blarney and Irish spirit. From my first reading of his first book, he's been a favorite writer of mine.

Confessions of a Shanty Irishman
by Michael Corrigan
ISBN 978-1591292289

Michael Corrigan has a gift to share. From the erin green covers to the morsels of his memories within them, the author serves himself up to the reader like a meat and potatoes stew. Alternately dark with pathos, then light with sudden bursts of humor, this story lives. The author's way with words is purely Irish, through and through.

His San Francisco home is shared by an old country grandfather who worked hard and proud to make America his home; a calm and sensible grandmother who unfailingly nurtures all three men she loves; and a handsome father who works and pays the bills despite his losing battle with the demon drink. Moving in and out of the Michael's life are kinfolk who are all apples off the same Irish tree, each with their own personality and contribution to the author's childhood memories. A mother who abandoned her Irish Catholic husband and infant in search of fun is an occasional visitor, a mystery throughout the author's life.

Mr. Corrigan cooks up a fine, rich broth with his memories. I was intrigued by his family, his lifelong friends, the nuns who taught him as a child, and the priests who took him from innocent altar boy to a manhood full of doubt about his faith. A genetic love of drink plagues him from early on. His struggle with the Irish Catholic faith is honestly relayed through thoughts or spoken words. And his appreciation of the fair sex is sometimes humorous or sad. But it was the author's relationship with his father that, for me at least, put the shine on this novel. His father dies young, a dissipated remnant of the once darkly handsome, charismatic man who raised his son without a mother. The author's memory of that day haunts me:

"The old days of Irish wakes with ice lifted off the corpse for drinks had passed. Now it was only a rosary, and relatives listened to the priest reciting before the open coffin. I wondered if the Vikings weren't right to put the body on a ship and riddle the vessel with fire arrows, rather than lay the body out for morbid viewing. I couldn't accept that plastic-looking empty husk as my father. Thomas. It was too much of a contradiction, a furious denial of what he had been in life. Where was the person who took the wheel of his brother's boat and waved at the home movie lens? When would we hear that warm baritone again with its Bing Crosby resonance?"

Confessions of a Shanty Irishman is selling well and finding an audience. Deservedly so. Michael Corrigan's voice is strong, resonant. I like to think he inherited that resonant voice from his father, and that somewhere in the afterlife, Thomas Corrigan is proud.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Harp All Made of Gold by Klyd Watkins

Klyd Watkins calls himself "The Time Gardener" and maintains a poetry-related website at www.thetimegarden.com. I discovered The Time Garden and Klyd Watkins quite by accident a couple years ago and liked what I saw. The diversity of poets appealed to me. To my delight, I found some of my favorite poets and their work in Klyd's garden. Sharon Doubiago, Eve Hanninen, Christina Pacosz, CarrieAnn Thunell, David Pointer, Charles Potts, Charles Ries, and Joel Waldman visit TTG from time to time. I also discovered poets previously unfamiliar to me, who create their poetry in a variety of styles. In short, The Time Garden offers an eclectic mix of poetry and also features wide open discussions and commentaries that keep my brain cells active.

Watkins is a renaissance man: poet, musician, publisher with a history of creativity reaching back into the 60s. Time Barn Books publishes exceptional small books with glossy covers. ThunderShack produces Watkins poetry-spoken-to-music CDs and features some of Nashville's finest musicians as background. The featured review today is of Watkins' latest CD.

Harp All Made of Gold
CD of spoken poetry by Klyd Watkins with music by the Watkins family & friends
ID # 3447934019
CD with 9 tracks at $10 USA
Thundershack Production
529 Barrywood Drive
Nashville TN 37220-1636
www.thundershack.net

The spoken words in this CD were originally the narrative poem titled "Jack," by Klyd Watkins. With Watkins' commanding voice accompanied by talented Nashville musicians and haunting Appalachian vocals as background, Harp All Made of Gold becomes an exceptional tour de force. In this allegory based on the fairy tale "Jack and the Bean Stalk," Watkins takes the story of Jack further, brings it to life with incredible depth and emotion.

Jack's desire is for the golden harp to sing for him in daylight instead of haunting his dreams at night. He desires this beyond reason. Accompaniment of fiddle, guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and harmonica delivers a sensual, penetrating power as the golden harp teases Jack with memories of "fee fi fo fum" and the giant. Background vocals and musical styles reflect the shifting topography of Jack's fears and fascinations. Musicians segue from rock to bluegrass to southern gospel to dulcet, and driving each transition is the resonant voice of poet Klyd Watkins. Each track is verbally and musically strong and hypnotic but I must admit the poet's bluegrass-style rendition of "Tourmaline" on track eight gave me goosebumps.

Nothing Klyd Watkins does in the way of poetry is ordinary and this CD produced by Bob Watkins for Thundershack is extraordinary in every way. The talented Watkins family and their Nashville friends have entertained delighted fans worldwide for years with their CDs. They're deserving of that loyal fan base. If you enjoy poetry and music, Harp All Made of Gold is highly recommended.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Eileen R. Tabios' latest book......

I'm always pleased when Eileen Tabios sends me her latest book for review. Her range as a poet is amazing, everything from free form to experimental, poignantly expressive to humorous. Always, her work is imaginative and thought provoking. This latest book is vintage Tabios, with the added treat of stunning prose as a bonus. Tabios has gained a huge internet following through blogger. You'll find her hanging out at http://galatearesurrects.blogspot.com.

The Light Sang as it Left Your Eyes
Our Autobiography
By Eileen R. Tabios
ISBN 978-0-9792416-2-8
366 pages at 19.95 paperback
Marsh Hawk Press
P.O. Box 206
East Rockaway NY 11518

Eileen R. Tabios is one of the best avant garde and experimental poets alive today. Her poetic explorations -- scumbling, ekphrasis, Hay(na)Ku -- demonstrate a zest for words and meanings as she shapes poems that reflect her world. Black sorrows, bright hopes, harsh injustices, a poisoned environment, new poetic forms, and boundless love share equal time on each skillfully crafted page published. In this latest book, Tabios proves that she has mastered prose equal to her exceptional poetry.

In April, 2006, Eileen Tabios’ father died. Filamore B. Tabios, Sr. had fled the Philippines with his family when Ferdinand Marcos came to power. He was an old world father, patriarchal and strong-willed in his dealings with an equally strong-willed daughter. In this book, as she spends time in the hospital at her dying father’s bedside, the boundaries and divisions between them soften. The journal she shares in this book is a remarkable psalm to life. Consider this excerpt from the opening poem -- “Sentences” -- to understand the poet’s heart:

The same book you read to excavate me is a fiction I sculpted to soften
my marble core, as if -- and I still don’t know -- words can save me from
myself.

The same poem you are feeling your way through is a thin, blue vein dug
out from beneath my flesh for the color of a sky breaking into scarlet to
set words afire.

Somehow, those dying days in April clarify the poet’s vision and understanding. She makes sense out of her sorrow by identifying with Marcos’ daughter, Imee. In “What Can a Daughter Say?”, Eileen Tabios acts as surrogate for Imee Marcos and both daughters learn what their fathers were, and were not:

The palace of one’s childhood
-- for even those who could afford
the bricks to obviate metaphor --
is usually constructed from memory.

Ms. Tabios and her peers have perfected the art of Hay(na)Ku, a poem comprised of six words and three lines. Tabios edits and writes, writes and edits as she struggles through the reality of losing her father to cancer:

The poem cannot
be pure.
Sound

never travels unimpeded
by anonymous
butterflies.

Her father‘s dying does not soften Eileen Tabios‘ reflections on injustice. “April in Los Angeles” is a 120 verse contemplation on love, grief, horror, exhaustion and regret that zeroes in on the cost cutting cruelty practiced by modern hospitals. Tabios fans will discover that sorrow has neither blurred her outlook on world politics or injustice, nor smothered her passionate love of friends, family, and literary excellence. This autobiography in poetry and prose is typical Tabios -- intensely personal yet international in flavor -- with translations by and collaborations with her peers from other lands. Highly recommended.

Review by Laurel Johnson for Midwest Book Review

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

a series begins about books and writers.......

As a book reviewer, I review books by relatively "unknown" poets and writers. I promised to introduce you to a few of these and today begins that series. The writer today is Charles Foertmeyer. Foertmeyer lives and works in Cincinnati and tells his stories with unusual twists. I enjoy reading the mysterious and unusual so Foertmeyer's award nominated books intrigue me. He publishes all his books through iUniverse. The book reviewed today is Badr:

Badr
By C.H. Foertmeyer
ISBN 0-595-43857-1
170 pages at 13.95 paperback
iUniverse
2021 Pine Lake Rd. Ste. 100
Lincoln NE 68512

C. H. Foertmeyer's stories are always a pleasing surprise. Each of his twelve novels has a suspenseful plot with intriguing twists, real-life characters -- common folk struggling against overwhelming odds -- and an underlying message of hope. I probably say this in each review of Foertmeyer's latest book, but I mean it with all sincerity: Badr just may be his best book yet.

Marlin Goldburg is a quiet, sensible man who enjoys the solitary peace of working in his gardens. As the book begins, Marlin fears he may be losing touch with reality. Odd visions come and go unpredictably while working in the garden, during breakfast, even while driving on the interstate that cuts through Cincinnati. Without warning, Marlin is transported to another time and place. He sees tan hands and a forearm marked with a distinctive tattoo. The hands are digging in sand, burying bombs. Marlin and his wife Anne research the tattoo because they feel it is key to his visions. The tattoo is a red Star of David pierced by a black scimitar. The mystery of his visions dies with Marlin in an accident on the interstate on May 13, 1986.

Badr is born in Iraq on May 13, 1986. As soon as he is old enough to think for himself, Badr hates Americans and American Jews in particular. As a young man he funnels that powerful hate into surreptitious acts of violence against the American soldiers occupying his land. He avoids joining jihadist groups and works alone, earning the name Lone Wolf. Neither the soldiers nor his people know Lone Wolf's true identity. Badr masquerades as a friend to the Americans, earning their trust. His goal is to move to America, become a citizen, and sacrifice himself in one horrendous act. From childhood, Badr has been haunted by frightening visions of pale-skinned hands digging in rich dirt, planting flower bulbs.

Marlin's God and Badr's Allah work in mysterious ways. Badr does reach American soil with his hate and plans intact, but is Allah on his side? Does Allah honor a young man with murderous hate in his heart? That's where several delicious, suspenseful plot twists come in. You'll have to read the book to learn the answer. If you enjoy a suspenseful story, well told, Badr is highly recommended.

Charles Foertmeyer's books can be found at www.amazon.com, www.iuniverse.com and on his website at www.foertmeyer.com.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11/07 -- a day of contemplation

Just as my parents and grandparents never forgot where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed, my generation will always remember where we were when planes loaded with Americans crashed into the twin towers, the Pentagon, and that Pennsylvania field. On 9/11/01 I was on the job in a long term care facility in Beatrice NE. Walking down a resident hall, I heard the sound of soft weeping from several patient rooms and went to investigate. One elderly man said while blowing his nose, "They'll never learn. No matter what becomes of them, they'll never learn." I asked him what he meant. He held a handkerchief against his eyes to blot the flow of tears and gestured towards the TV. I saw the New York City skyline and the smoking towers. "This time the sonsabitches brought it to our doorsteps."

I sat for several minutes with my arm around his shoulder before proceeding to the lobby. Patients and employees huddled together there. The nursing home owner said quietly, "The towers won't stand up under such heat. Pretty soon that steel will melt and they'll fall." We all waited until they fell. Employees comforted patients forced to relive Pearl Harbor Day. Patients comforted employees watching this attack on American soil live and in color. Everyone cried for the passengers on each plane and for the poor working stiffs trapped in burning, collapsing buildings. Later we cried together again for the Pentagon employees, and again for the plane forced down in that field by passengers determined to prevail against armed terrorists. Our minds could barely absorb what we were seeing and hearing.

The ensuing years have introduced us to the many heroes who died that day -- or did their jobs despite the possibility that they might die -- the firemen, police officers, military, and common everyday citizens who rallied to save lives at Ground Zero. We remember politicians who showed us what they were made of by either striding those streets bravely, soot covered and choking, through clouds of smoke and burning fuel, or hiding in safe places. And we knew that day was a turning point of sorts, one that would impact the entire world because someone attacked Americans on their own soil.

I'm an American who holds strong opinions but rarely voices them. For example, I think countries should take care of their own people first and foremost. Education, health care, a healthy national budget, and infrastructure should come first, ahead of war and subsidies to other countries. I DO believe in a strong military in place to protect our own soil. And I DO believe that any country with the poor judgment to attack us on our home ground should have that favor returned in spades. Yes, someone will tell me I can't have it both ways. I can't have a protectionist philosophy and a "paybacks are hell" mentality at the same time. Well, yes I can hold such schizophrenic thoughts today, thinking back.

Maybe tomorrow I'll be better. For today, we'll fly our flag here on the Ponderosa and I'll drive to work with my car lights on. That will be my small way of honoring that day six years ago, of respecting the memory of those who died then and the thousands who have died in war since. And I'll say a special prayer for the "angry giant" awakened on Pearl Harbor Day -- the giant not allowed to sleep or rest since -- and for the cowardly attackers who plot from hiding.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Email, granddaddies, spiders -- OH MY!!

I've lost control of my email. More than one long term email friend has reminded me lately that my correspondence has fallen off dramatically in direct proportion to my writing of poetry and prose. Since returning to the work force in May, I've lost control of everything.

During my brief retirement, my daily routine was set around household chores. In my case, a clean, uncluttered house produces a focused, uncluttered mind so daily housecleaning was priority one. Of equal importance was keeping in touch with friends and family via email. All that changed in May. I still think about and care about my email friends, just can't seem to focus on writing anything, including an email. So if anyone out there is wondering -- I stopped doing creative writing in favor of catching up on your emails as often as I can think straight enough to do it.

My days are full from before daylight til my nine p.m. bedtime. I spent the last two early mornings, for example, putting water seal on our deck. The granddaddies I saw inside and outside the house served as a warning that winter might come early and harsh. At eye level I could see dozens of granddaddies hunkered down in protected places. Even a large woman wielding a chemical-saturated paint brush didn't intimidate them. I had to physically transplant them to another location. My grandpa always warned that killing a granddaddy caused bad luck so each one had to be moved gently via a piece of cardboard. I hold no such reverence for spiders. Spiders of any size or type scare the hell out of me. But these past two days spent at eye level with spiders taught me a worthwhile lesson. Every spider I saw, large or small, was scurrying towards a hidey hole dragging other bugs wrapped in webs. Storing up winter food supplies maybe. One very large spider took over an hour to drag its burden awhile and rest awhile, before disappearing down a hole ten feet away from where I was working. Outside spiders are safe; spiders with the poor judgement to come inside my house meet swift ends.

Oh, that lesson I learned from the spiders is that the time has come to stock our pantry for winter, just in case we can't get out to buy groceries. We've lived in places where we went without electricity or heat for 7-8 days at a time. I've learned to cook and make coffee on our kerosene stove during such times, and to always have a land line telephone not dependent on electricity to function. It's time to lay in a supply of fat chunky candles just in case. If the spiders and granddaddies are right, the winter will be early and long here. They understand priorities better than we humans do -- food, shelter, warmth. Everything else is a luxury we take for granted.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Kansas Notable Book Award

"I'm ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille." has segued to what non-winners always say: "It was an honor to be nominated."

My Name is Esther Clara didn't make the list of winners for the 2007 Kansas Notable Book Award. My publisher and devoted fans were shocked and disappointed. Fortunately, my heart had not been set on winning. After all, I AM a native Kansan and know the state slogan means exactly what it says. AD ASTRA PER ASPERA -- To the stars through difficulty -- personifies life in general and the writing life in particular. This wasn't the first, or even largest, award my books have failed to win and if I keep writing it probably won't be the last.

So don't despair, friends and fellow travelers. I'll simply keep doing what I do until the next award nomination comes along. For now, check out the list of books and writers who DID win the Kansas Notable Book Award. I've copied and pasted them below from the Kansas Center for the Book website:

2007 Kansas Notable Books
Ashworth, William Ogallala Blue: Water and Life on the High Plains
Bertels, Alice S. John Steuart Curry: The Road Home
Brandsberg, George Afoot: A Tale of the Great Dakota Turkey Drive
Carter, Ally I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You
Dean, Virgil (editor) John Brown to Bob Dole: Movers and Shakers in Kansas DeArment, Robert Ballots and Bullets: The Bloody County Seat Wars of Kansas History
Eickhoff, Diane Revolutionary Heart: The Life of Clarina Nichols and the Pioneering Crusade for Women’s Rights
Hind, Steven The Loose Change of Wonder
Hoy, James Flint Hills Cowboys: Tales of the Tallgrass Prairie
Johnson, Stephen T. My Little Yellow Taxi
Jost, Lora & Dave Loewenstein Kansas Murals: A Travelers Guide
Lerner, Ben Angle of Yaw
Low, Denise Words of a Prairie Alchemist
Miner, Craig Next Year Country: Dust to Dust in Western Kansas,1890-1940
Pickard, Nancy The Virgin of Small Plains
Pitzer, Susanna Not Afraid of Dogs
Ruby, Lois Shanghai Shadows
Taylor, Rudy Light on Main Street

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Life on the Ponderosa.....

July was an eventful month and August promises to be the same. Readers of this blog who think I'm not as gabby as usual, you're right. Working a part time job since May has shattered my concentration related to writing, whether it be emails, blogs, or any form of creative writing.

Living here on the Ponderosa DOES inspire me from time to time. That inspiration takes various forms. One hot afternoon, half grown fawn stood and watched us filling one of our bird baths. His ears twitched side to side as he cocked his head, not ten feet away from us. Maybe he was thirst. This was the first deer we've seen since moving here in January. After a few minutes he bounded off into the woods, leaping over the tree that went down during a spring wind storm. Birds, cats, and raccoons drink out of our bird baths but that was our only deer sighting so far.

Two recent poems inspired by life on the Ponderosa have been or will be published in Bellowing Ark. I'm always surprised and pleased when any journal wants to publish my work. The editor of Bellowing Ark also maintains an ongoing conversation with readers about our modern life and seeks suggestions about solving problems with politics, the environment, health care, and the mess created by patriarchal power. He frequently publishes my commentaries to his conversations. Bellowing Ark sparks my thought processes and fans the fluttering flame of creativity. In the world of literary journals BA is unique so I'm happy editor Robert Ward includes my work from time to time. Writers and poets unfamiliar with Ward's philosophy have wondered at the name of his journal. It comes from a Dylan Thomas quote: "Look, I build my bellowing ark to the best of my love as the flood begins..."

OK it's off to work for me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A day in history......

65 years ago today, I was born. July 1942. The U.S. had joined the Allies in battles against Nazi Germany and Japan. The attack on Pearl Harbor was recent history. My Grandma's favorite actor was Franchot Tone. Anyone remember him? My mother's favorite actor was Clark Gable, destined to be replaced in a year by that young upstart Robert Mitchum. Dad was soon sent off to the Pacific and my Uncle Kenny sent to Europe to do their part in the war.

Except for my grandpa and youngest uncle, the early infancy and toddler years were spent in the company of females. Mom, Grandma, Aunts, and their female friends were my daily role models. Mom and Aunt Maxine raised chickens for eggs and food. Grandma and Grandpa raised a huge Victory Garden and canned the vegetables. All family members at home shared in that bounty. Those were years of rationing -- gasoline, butter, sugar -- because our soldiers needed the rationed items worse than those of us who were safe at home. Citizens in our small town had to be practical and frugal in those times or go hungry. The wage earning men were gone to war. Most women did not work outside the home. So the women in my family did the best they could to keep everyone healthy and fed until their men returned from war.

65 seems old, but in the grand scheme of life it's but the blink of an eye. More than six decades have passed so swiftly I can scarcely believe it. Today I will celebrate those years in contemplation, thinking about the loved ones who are long gone from my life -- Mom, Dad, two sets of grandparents, Aunt Maxine, Uncle Kenny, Uncle Jerome. They made my history what it is today. I'll also give thanks for the family members still with me because they are a large part of my history also.

Happy birthday to me!!

Friday, July 13, 2007

An era has passed......

William Screech died today at 7 a.m. UK time. Unknown to most of the world, William made a rather large impact on my life. We had been email friends for several years.

William was born with cerebral palsy and lived in a nursing home. He had a fine, curious, interesting mind living inside that frail body. He eagerly followed British, American, and international politics. He fought injustice from his wheelchair or his hospital bed. Despite his own health problems and struggles, he figuratively rode the white steed of advocacy, a knight in shining armor writing wrongs through articulate emails to the news media and politicians.

I'll miss William's emails, his spirit, and his commentaries on the world. He was a strong-willed, outspoken man who didn't allow his his physical afflictions to diminish his intelligence. I admired that about him.

William was a Christian who grieved for those who did not follow the teachings of Jesus. He believed in Heaven. Today William's crippled body is free of earthly bonds. His muscles are no longer spastic and stiff. His legs are strong. He has no pain. William's spirit is free. He's joyful in his new home, as he always knew he would be.

I'll surely miss your interesting emails, William. I'll miss your presence in my life but will not wish you back. I know where you are today, you're finally happy. Give God a wave for your American friend while striding the streets of Heaven.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Book sales and a new work schedule

I haven't posted to my blog in awhile. Summer is here with all its attendant weeding and watering, picnics and other social activities that must be sandwiched into my new work schedule. My job is interesting and my boss a delightful woman, but I'm having trouble getting back into a routine after several years of retirement.

Two writing projects have been on hold for months now. The research I had started when this job materialized is still lying dormant in the storage container. How did I ever manage to write three books and co-write one book while working? It's a mystery to me!

The Alley of Wishes recently sold a couple or three copies on Amazon. I hadn't checked sales there for awhile so was pleasantly surprised to find a 200,000-plus ranking a week or so ago. I recently attended a neighborhood picnic where people asked me about my published books. Talking about myself and my books one-on-one is not a strong suit with me. I envy people who can get right out there and hustle their work. Book readings and signings are a different story. In front of a crowd I turn into a HAM who delights in the discussion.

Sales of My Name is Esther Clara have waxed and waned and is currently in a wane cycle. It's being considered for a Kansas Notable Book Award this year. I'd like to see it get the award because that would honor the protagonists, my maternal grandparents, but the realist in me has doubts. I'll know soon.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ireland -- a dream of mine


Continuing with the discussion of my interests, Ireland is near the top of that list. My father's side of the family came from Eniskillin Ireland. One "black Irish" lad married a Cherokee woman. That pairing produced my paternal grandmother. I've always wanted to visit Ireland, to stand on a rocky cliff and feel stiff winds blowing in off the sea. Photos from friends in the UK, and Michael Corrigan's visits to Ireland are the closest I will ever get to visiting the Emerald Isle.
Corrigan recently visited Ireland, the home of his ancestors. Knowing my love of Ireland and the sea, he graciously sent me this picture. It sparked my imagination and almost jump-started my lagging desire to write. He's standing on an ancient stone fort, Dun Aonghasa on the Isle of Inis Mor in the Aran Islands. I can only imagine the view from this watch fort, built before the birth of Christ. If these time-worn stones could talk, imagine the stories they would tell us!! Think of the sturdy Celts who lived and fought there, and how the sea must have looked in every season.
I'm hoping many stories develop as a result of Michael Corrigan's visit to his ancestral home. He has that special way with words Irish writers seem to have. Perhaps he will spin a tale of Inis Mor, ancient stone forts, and the sturdy Celts who fought against a steady onslaught of invaders. Or maybe he will write about the sea winds and storms that have shaped the coasts of Ireland. I'll hope for that, to see Ireland vicariously through his prose.


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Everything you ever wanted to know.....

I've had some emails about my blog recently that need answering, questions about me, my interests, people and writers I'd like to meet. One person does not like my new blog template because it does not have the current weather where I live icon and the hit counter. When I switched from the original template, those two things did not make the transition. I can't explain why. Maybe some day I'll figure it out. I was disappointed too.

MY INTERESTS

I enjoy taking photographs of the natural world around me. I do NOT enjoy the great outdoors in any season but winter because bugs and insects of all kinds freak me out. Boston Legal, the original CSI in Las Vegas, and Dancing With the Stars are my favorite TV shows. Family gatherings are my favorite activity, and I enjoy having lunch with friends. Old time rock and roll is my favorite kind of music, but I will listen to country CDs if they are by Willie Nelson or Brooks and Dunne.

PEOPLE AND WRITERS I'D LIKE TO MEET

I'm not very star struck. I'd love to meet friends I correspond with in the UK. None of my favorite writers are famous. I'd enjoy meeting Eric Burton, author of $oft Money, because his book is one that didn't get lost in my reviewing shuffle. Ditto Michael Corrigan, author of Confessions of a Shanty Irishman; The Irish Connection; and Byron. Ditto again Elizabeth Lucas-Taylor, whose book Unfinished Business was one of the sexiest, savviest ones I've read in that particular genre. I'd like to meet the editor and publisher of two of my books, Carol Adler of Dandelion Books. I'd like to meet Nashville poet and musician, Klyd Watkins, because his spoken poetry to music CDs are addicting. I have a huge list of poets and writers on my list of favorites. Maybe I'll write about them another day, give them a brief turn in the spotlight.

Until then, I've answered the email questions. If you want to know anything else, just ask.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Remembering in writing.....

  • Recently, Dandelion Books, the publisher of two of my books, asked me to write an article explaining why I wrote a memoir about my grandparents. The hope was to inspire others to write similar books about their ancestors. It seemed to be a perfect article in celebration of Memorial Day. My grandparents loved Memorial Day, but always called it Decoration Day. They loved the USA but were quite outspoken about politics, taxes, and government programs. Following is the article that can be found on the Dandelion website at www.dandelionbooks.net.

=======================================================

Treasures in the Attic of Memories

When my uncle suggested an interesting writing project might be a book about my maternal grandmother’s life, I hesitated. Granted, my grandma and grandpa lived through pivotal periods of the 20th century -- World War I, women’s suffrage, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, women’s liberation, and the Vietnam War. They saw the advent of electricity, the automobile, radio, and television. And yes, their love story was touching, funny, and engaging. Grandma’s marriage to the only man she ever loved, her gangly Kansas farm boy, lasted more than sixty years. So much of their history was lost when my grandparents died, I doubted my ability to tell such a story in ways readers would enjoy.

I knew many of their experiences from stories they told of early life on the farm and the struggles they endured trying to raise five children at a time when almost every American was poor. In way of encouragement, my uncle sent me audiotapes and videotapes of Grandma telling stories of her childhood and youth. Within those tapes I found treasure, and the framework on which to build the creative non-fiction novel, My Name is Esther Clara.

I’m still surprised at the response this book received. I’m not accustomed to such attentions:

The editor at Dandelion Books loved it. I had expected just the opposite;

A TV producer in Pennsylvania loved the book and scheduled an interview with me. This twenty minute interview featuring me and my book was shown twice -- once live and once in rebroadcast;

Libraries and gift shops in my home state scheduled readings and signings;

Relatives I’d never met discovered the book in various ways and called the publisher to get my contact information and to order copies of the book. Long lost relatives scheduled a reunion so they could meet me;

Fans of my earlier books said this might just be my best book yet;

Strangers who did not know Grandma or me related to her strength, her feisty personality and outspoken ways. One woman said she had read the book four times because she admires my grandma so much;

And, the book is under consideration for the Kansas Notable Book Award this year.

My grandparents were not rich or famous. Neither am I. If you’ve ever considered writing a memoir about your parents or grandparents, now is the time to start. The courage and determination of common everyday citizens in past generations made this country great. Their stories should be told.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Blogs that make you think??

THINKING BLOGGER AWARD. I tried to post the icon here but all that showed up is html that would not transform itself to the thinking blogger icon. You'll have to use your imagination here. Evidently my thinker is not working up to speed.

That space rascal Aston West nominated my recent posting "May Day Memories" for the Thinking Blogger Award. Thanks Aston! Obviously, I'm not a thinking blogger all the time because I'm supposed to add an icon to my sidebar linking to the post he nominated and.....I don't have a sidebar, can't figure out how to GET a sidebar on this new template, so readers will have to rough it and just scroll down a couple posts.

As part of the award, I'm supposed to list five blogs that make me think, so here goes:
http://elucas-taylor.blogspot.com Elizabeth Lucas-Taylor dedicates a large portion of her time providing helpful information for writers, authors, and freelancers. I visit her blog often to learn the latest tips and hints. Any of her posts qualify for the Thinking Blogger Award.
http://dispatchesfromkansas.blogspot.com Tom Parker's thought processes never cease to amaze me. He is the thinking person's writer par excellence but I'm nominating "Under the Shadow of the Potential" for this award. His thoughts on tornadoes, lives lost, and homes destroyed will definitely make readers think.
http://ackworthborn.blogspot.com I'm devoted to reading Gerald England's blog because he lives in an area of the world that interests me. His post "Windmere, or What's in a Name" contained information both interesting and informative.
http://evansonevans.blogspot.com John Evanetski combines multiple elements to create his blog. "A Lifetime Journey to Self-Realization" is the exceptional post I recommend to thinking bloggers.
http://tismoreblessed.blogspot.com In the post "Shyness" Gary shares his struggles with being shy. As a person who has battled shyness all her life, this post made me think beyond the end of my nose.

OK, my work is done here. Now it's up to my five candidates to pass on the mantle of the Thinking Blogger Award to others.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Waxing and Waning

My life has waxed and waned so often, sometimes I'm dizzy from the effect. This is especially true in the literary aspect of life. From the moment my first book was released, for example, sales have occasionally waxed but mostly waned. I say that with my sense of humor securely intact. That they sell any copies at all is a blessing for an unknown writer.

The Grass Dance was published in 2001. It is not my best book but received glowing reviews and continues to sell regularly. The inception of my modest but vocal fan base came as a result of this first book. I've never understood the appeal of this non-fiction book but am surely grateful that most readers continue to embrace the message. Not everyone loved the book. Yes, it's had an occasional bash but continues to sell steadily, especially on Amazon.

The Alley of Wishes hit the bookstores in 2003. I'd been working on this fictional book for more than 20 years as the story and characters evolved and my interest in it waxed and waned. Some readers connected with this story of unconditional love in incredible ways. Others thought the writing style "too literary." The most helpful feedback I've received as writer came from this book. This is the book of my heart. Die hard fans adored it and beg for a prequel or sequel, but my interest in writing has waned. This is the one book I expected to outsell all others I've written.

My Name is Esther Clara was released in 2006, another non-fiction book, the first person rendition of my maternal grandmother's life. I received more media attention for this book than any other but didn't see a remarkable spike in sales as a result of such publicity. If I had to choose, this is the book I'd want to succeed because my grandparents were so dear to my heart. Fans were less enamored of this book than they were the first two, probably because The Alley of Wishes was a tough act to follow in every respect.

Color of Laughter, Color of Tears was a book of poetry released in 2005, written with Stephen R. Sulik, a Texas cop. Unfortunately, this book is no longer available because the publisher went out of business. Anyone curious about my poetry will have to remain curious. Sulik originally wanted the poetry to represent "harsh and soft" -- an interplay of male and female. He soon discovered that my work represented harsh, stark realities and was in no way soft so he had to regroup. We were so proud to have a book of poetry published and regret our publisher's demise.

Will I add more books to my list of accomplishments? I hope so. The book I'm working on now will be different than all the others.....if I can make it work and do the subject matter justice.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

May Day Memories

I spent the day yesterday thinking about what May Day meant when I was a child. Mom loved May Day and threw herself into celebrating it with the same gusto she assigned to every other holiday. For several days before May 1st, she assembled gaily colored construction paper, glue, scissors and lacy paper trim. Mom didn't have much money for such frivolous purchases, so bought her May basket makings at the five and dime a bit at a time for weeks in advance.

All four of her kids sat around the kitchen table with Mom, constructing May baskets. She encouraged us to use our imaginations. Mom was a master at such encouragement. Even the clumsiest attempts at creativity were praised to the high heavens. Some of the baskets were works of art, others barely recognizable as baskets. Just as long as they were sturdy enough to hold flowers, candy, or cookies, Mom's goals were met.

The evening before or the morning of our basket deliveries, we kids picked flowers. In those days by May first, we had blooming forsythia, lilacs, and spirea in our yard. Each basket featured Mom's home made goodies and a cheery nosegay of flowers. Grandma and Grandpa were always our first recipients. The fun of May Day was that the baskets should be a surprise, delivered in secret. I doubt if it was much of a secret, four chubby munchkins sitting May baskets on their porch while giggling and scrambling to run off before being seen. But we carried out our deliveries enthusiastically.

Mom made a list of those who received May baskets. Her list included relatives, neighbors, teachers, and friends. We kids ran all over town delivering our gifts, thrilled with the task and proud to be brightening the day of people we knew.

Mom said the purpose of May Day baskets was to bring joy to both the givers and the recipients. I miss our May Day activities. Do people deliver home made May baskets today? I haven't seen one since childhood. But every year on May 1st, I feel an overwhelming need to make and deliver baskets. The child in me surfaces and a little spark of joy sneaks in. Just about everyone I love is scattered around the country now. I'd love to magically transport myself to their doors, deposit a basket of joy then run away to hide and watch their faces when they discover the gift.

I hope you enjoy the nosegay of flowers I put on your grave, Mom. It was a combination birthday and May Day present. It was sister Jeanne's idea because she remembers May Day too. We all do.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mom

88 years ago today, my mother was born. She presented to the world as a chubby, pink bundle with wispy brown hair. Her parents named her Verla Mae. Those were the days of home births. Pre and post natal care did not exist; no footprints were taken; no lab work was done.

Mother grew to be a beautiful young woman with green eyes shining in a heart shaped face. She married her childhood sweetheart. Their first child, me, was conceived just before Dad left for basic training in World War Two. I was almost two years old when he returned at war's end. Between 1946 and 1951, our little family grew by three more children.

Mom's creativity took many forms. Halloween was one of her favorite times. She made our costumes and applied face paints or make up before we kids went trick or treating around town. And for years I kept the elephant costume she made when I played the mastodon in a high school play. She made our Easter outfits and every other creation on an old treadle sewing machine.

Mom loved every holiday, but Christmas was her favorite time of year. She baked Christmas cookies so wonderful that even little kids hated to eat them. Santa heads were decorated with fluffy icing beard and chocolate chip eyes. Christmas trees iced with green frosting and candy baubles looked as festive as the real thing. Every raindeer was Rudolph with a red icing nose and a jaunty look. Candy canes, angels, stars -- all were decorated with different color frostings and so tasty that I can still remember the first bite. A dab of icing stuck each cookie to a paper lace doily. Beautiful, appealing to the eye, and special because of the effort put into it. Mom's cookies signified to everyone what she was as a person.

Mom divorced our father when my brother was a baby. From that point on she became a master at creating something out of almost nothing. Yes, we were poor as the proverbial churchmice but did not realize it then. She fed us nourishing food, made every holiday special, and took any job she could find to support her little brood.

Mom died more than twenty years ago, but I still remember life when she was in it, baking cookies, simmering chicken and noodles or navy bean soup. So I just wanted to say Happy Birthday, Mom. The older I get, the more I miss you.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Strange Bedfellows?

Garage sales and gusting prairie winds are the bedfellows of which I speak. My mother used to say, "People will buy a piece of paper if it's priced right." That might have been true in her day, but not today. Maybe we've all watched too many episodes of The Antiques Road Show or Cash in the Attic. We're all looking for that ten thousand dollar treasure, bought for a nickel.

Box after box of treasures accumulated by three families made their way to our garage from pick up trucks. Unloading and arranging said treasures was a royal pain with a stiff wind blowing sand and dust in our eyes. Anything weighing less than five pounds blew off the tables, keeping the young, strong legs of my nephew busy chasing down the wind-blown treasure. Shoppers persevered with mostly good humor and high spirits. Folks from Kansas, Nebraska, and even Colorado cruised the tables while holding to their hats or skirts, grinning a greeting, "What a beautiful day!" Yes, the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, and people living in the heartland of our country take the wind in stride.

Those pieces of paper of which my mother spoke would not have lasted long yesterday. Pillows and curtains blew down a slope into our woods. One departing woman lost a stuffed animal purchase. We found it rolling in the driveway after she left, pushed along by the wind. Two of my husband's treasured green glass canning jars blew off the table onto concrete, but did not break. The day was interesting but draining. I ended my day covered with grit and wind-blown to distraction.

The third bedfellow added to the mix is my writing. I'm not inspired right now, but keep working at it. A short story submitted to the Kansas Voices contest didn't make the winners' list. But a poem submitted to Bellowing Ark fared better. The editor said it was one of my best poems in his opinion, even though my customary sturm und drang were missing.

That's my garage sale in rural Kansas report. I'll spend today recuperating and regrouping from the excitement and the wind.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Has anybody seen my Muse?

Writers and poets speak frequently about their Muse, the ethereal spirit that inspires our work and whispers sweet words into our ears. My Muse has been missing for quite some time and I can't give you a good physical description of her. At one time she was a strict taskmistress, a glowing alter ego, a top notch idea advisor. My personal Muse inhabited the joy in my smile, the light in my eyes, the electrical impulses in my brain. She pulled my random thoughts together and transformed them into poetry or prose. She memorialized my mother and grandparents and created flesh and blood people out of fictional characters. She left as suddenly as she came. I miss her, especially now, when the world is providing such pithy grist for writers and poets.

One of my favorite poets, Christina Pacosz, writes breathtaking poetry about the Iraq situation, Afghan women, and the plight of suffering humanity everywhere. Her work is pertinent to the times, beautiful and touching. A long-time favorite novelist, C.H. Foertmeyer, just had his 12th book published. Badr -- an intriguing, imaginative, surreal story of an Iraqi and an American -- just may be his best book yet. Pacosz and Foertmeyer express well their shocks, fears and hopes for a shaken world.

Without my Muse, my literary tongue is silenced. Even my thoughts are hogtied. Maybe I took her for granted. Maybe I ignored her nudgings and she finally gave up on me. Or maybe she's simply on vacation, regrouping because I worked her too hard for several years. Wherever she is, I miss her and wish she'd come home.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter!!

Our morning here on the Ponderosa dawned sunny and cold with a clear blue sky. Today I commemorate the occasion with thoughts of my mother and grandparents. Mom was a woman of limited financial means but struggled to celebrate each holiday in memorable ways for her four children.

All four of her little munchkins always had an Easter basket on Easter morning, filled with colored eggs and chocolate rabbits and marshmallow chicks. Sometimes when she could afford it, a stuffed animal graced each basket. But Easter was more than treats in our family. We all had some semblance of a new Easter outfit for church -- new shoes and white anklets with ruffles for the girls, a new bow tie for our brother, sometimes new dresses Mom sewed on her machine. We walked as a family to the old Methodist Church down by the city park, looking spiffy and feeling grand. I'm sure we all had wide grins as we slid into the pew to sit with Grandma and Grandpa for Easter services.

We all knew the Easter story from the time we were toddlers. We learned that message in church. And Christ's message of love was taught daily by our mother and grandparents. Love and sacrifice was their message to four little kids who'd had a hard upbringing but did not realize it then. That message will not be lost as long as we remember those early times of innocence. When people wonder why I write so often about my mother and grandparents, that is the reason. They loved and protected us, corrected our missteps firmly, and lived the Easter message in their daily lives.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A report from the Ponderosa

My brother calls our new place "the Ponderosa." Two acres does not quite qualify for Ponderosa status, but those acres do seem to grow incrementally when it comes to yard work.

Life in the Land of Oz has its excitements and unexpected shocks. An eagle or large hawk took one of our outdoor cats. That's what we think since she simply disappeared and her remains have not been found anywhere on or around our property. Such a loss was not on our wish list. Then, our famous Kansas winds blew a strip of shingles off our roof. Reroofing the house was also not on our list of things to do. We planned to plant a garden, trees, and rose bushes this week, but that project will have to be postponed awhile because temps in the 70s and 80s swiftly plummeted into the 20s at night and 40s by day. Plainsdwellers often joke that we have to run our furnace in the morning and the air conditioner in the afternoon. That joke loses a bit of its humor when those wide temp variations start in MARCH.

Meanwhile, inside my climate controlled house, I'm working on a new writing project. I enjoy writing and the creative process involved, but it's darn hard work that, for most writers, produces very few rewards. My writing technique is that I don't write for fame or money. Unknown writers are better served if they don't have grand expectations. My writing projects are outcome oriented. I strive to create interesting stories, written in a distinctive style. Once that is accomplished I hope for a publisher willing to at least look at my work. I don't query agents because several very good writers I know are worse off now than they ever were before finding an agent. But thinking about publication is a moot point until this latest writing project is completed.

All in all, life is good here. Brightly colored songbirds flit from tree to tree around our house. Cardinals, bluejays, and woodpeckers swoop down to snag the bread I put out for them each morning. Except for the occasional trilling bird song or squawking of bluejays, life is quiet on the Ponderosa. This cold snap will end. Warm weather will arrive and stay until late fall. The trees will leaf out and our plantings will eventually grow, flower, or produce food. And barring any unforeseen complication. my latest writing project will bear fruit.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Thoughts on a Rainy Day

Rain is almost always a blessing in the plains. We rarely have daily rains and flooding, usually the opposite with day after day, week after week of hot dry weather. By July and August, every living thing droops with the stresses of such weather. Any time rain falls, I'm thankful. I can look out the south facing windows in my computer room and see a forsythia bush blooming yellow and a yet-to-be-identified fruit tree with white blossoms, soaking up the moisture.

I'm particularly happy to see that mature forsythia bush growing on our new property. Mom loved forsythia bushes. When we were kids, seeing the ones in our yard bud and bloom brought a smile to her face. She often cut sprigs to brighten up the house or share with Grandma. For Mom, more than any other flowering plant, forsythia was the bellwether of spring. I'm thinking of planting a row of forsythia bushes along the road in front of our house. I'll call it "Verla's garden" in my mind and dedicate my labors to her.

Mom also loved flowering crabapple trees, the ones that bloom rosy pink in spring. I make a point of planting at least one every place I live. My husband thinks less is more when it comes to planting trees because it's such a hard job, but I think MORE is more. We'll compromise. I'll plant at least two flowering crabapple trees in bare areas to the south of our house. Then next year I'll have two more visions of spring to brighten my view.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Joys of Spring

I love winter best of all, no matter where I'm living at the time. Wind howling in from the north and blankets of snow transport me to childhood winters of snow forts and snowball fights and Mom's hot chocolate. But the arrival of Spring in a place surrounded by budding trees is a joy to behold.

This spring at our new home will be an adventure. Each new plant pushing through the soil will be a surprise. Checking for mushrooms in the woods will be a daily sortie for awhile. Raking the accumulated thatch of years to make room for new grass is a hard job, but rewarding. Planting trees and rose bushes will be labor rewarded for years to come. Setting up watering and feeding stations for a variety of birds will be, perhaps, our greatest challenge. Our neighbors across the roads have cats who visit our outdoor cats regularly so protecting native songbirds will be a high priority.

We are tree people and bird watchers. We believe there can never be enough trees surrounding us. One of our favorite relaxations is sitting in the garage watching rain fall in the woods behind our house. We don't have a porch for sitting yet so make our observations from the garage. Watching redbirds, bluebirds, woodpeckers, and the occasional oriole flit from tree to tree is a joy. Behind our property, to the east, a sprawling field hosts the musical song of meadowlarks and the raucous calls of crows. Our days and evenings will be blessed by such sights and sounds.

Yes, I guess we are easily entertained. Such entertainment is free for the taking this spring, and we don't have to travel to exotic places. All we have to do is go outside, listen, and look around us. For an added bonus, we get to breathe air fragrant with the scents of rich earth and new growth.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Pea soup fog, awards, and housewarming gifts

One of the joys I miss most from our years of living in Kentucky is fog. We loved sitting on the porch morning and evening, watching fog creep up the hollers and swirl around us ghostlike. Through some quirk of nature, Kansas and Nebraska have been enjoying such fogs in recent months. Yesterday afternoon I watched out my kitchen window watching fog roll in across the field behind our property. This morning we woke up to thick, white, swirling fog. Fog is dangerous for folks traveling the highways and byways, but a beautiful phenomenon for those safely cocooned inside the house.

My admiration for writer and journalist Tom Parker is no secret to those who read this blog. I often struggle with the reality that writers like Parker do not receive the recognition they deserve. Well, now I can rejoice. Tom Parker won TWO first place awards in the Kansas Press Association's 2007 Awards for Excellence. Parker has a weekly column in the Washington County News, maintains a blog at http://dispatchesfromkansas.blogspot.com, and wrote a book of short stories by the same name. (The News also won several awards. I was especially pleased with the award for their Opinion page, which is one of the best and most interesting I've ever read in any newspaper, thanks to Editor Dan Thalmann.) If you have not followed Tom Parker's blog, you're missing a treat. Who woulda thought that living in Kansas would be so exciting??

Another of my favorite writers is Elizabeth Lucas-Taylor. Her first book, Unfinished Business, just literally blew my mind. She's a woman who can write sizzling romance and intrigue as well as or better than any big name best selling writer. Her talents are many and varied, including crochet work. She crocheted and sent me a lovely throw as a housewarming gift, to keep me warm on cold Kansas nights. Taylor has too many credentials to list here, and dedicates much of her time to helping other writers. She's also a woman of strong opinions, which she shares at http://elucas-taylor.blogspot.com. To learn more about her, visit her blog.

Personally, I plan to snuggle under my warm throw on this foggy morning and read Parker's latest column in the Washington County News.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Poet and cartoonist Ed Galing

A year or so ago, the editor of a poetry journal sent me Ed Galing's chapbooks to review. I was immediately charmed by the man and favorably impressed by the depth of his poetry.

Galing is almost 90 years old, a typical American of his generation. He served in World War 2, raised a family, and was married to the same woman for more than six decades. He's wanted to be a writer all his life, but poetry and prose does not put food on the table and pay the bills for most writers so he placed that calling on hold until retirement.

Ed Galing has had regional recognition for years. He's the Poet Laureate of Hatboro PA for example. It's only been in recent years that Ed has begun to receive wider recognition. That recognition is long overdue in my opinion. He brings to his poetry and cartoons a lifetime of watching the world around him. He zeroes in on human strengths and foibles as well or better than any poet or artist you can name, living or dead.

Ed does not have a computer. All letters and submissions are either hand written or typed on a manual typewriter. The lack of a computer does not hamper him in any way. Many of the best hard copy journals today feature his work.

If you want to learn more about this amazing man and his work, poet Doug Holder has created a blog for Ed. There you will see samples of his poetry and his bio. Holder has done a great service with this blog. The world needs to discover Ed Galing.

http://edgaling.blogspot.com is where you will find him. Thanks, Mr. Holder, for sharing an American icon with the public.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

At last, I'm back.


Here is our new home. It sits on two acres just outside the city limits of Washington KS. A couple days after we moved our furniture in, we had a lovely snow. The move was two weeks ago today. My new internet provider was activated yesterday so this is my first blog in my new home. On clear nights I can see the stars. We're still adjusting to the quiet that surrounds us. No trains, no barking dogs, no screaming neighbors. The donkey across the road brays occasionally, or a passing vehicle breaks the silence. Most sounds are softened by the thick shelter belt of pine trees that grow north of the house. Birds of every kind and color flit from tree to tree. North and east of the house and garage are wide, open fields. I wonder if the peace and quiet will inspire me?
If I were a tourist, Washington County Kansas and the small towns therein would be my preferred destination. Washington is the county seat with a courthouse presiding over the town square. Good food and plenty of it can be found in numerous restaurants, cafes and taverns. So far I've eaten at the Longhorn Bar and Grill in Washington, Our Daily Bread in Barnes KS, and Ricky's Cafe in Hanover KS. All serve generous portions of food like Grandma used to make. Northeastern Kansas is a tapestry of rivers, riparian shelter belts, rolling prairies and pastures, rocky outcroppings, and grain fields, not the flat featureless landscape tourists imagine it to be. The air is fresh, and no bluer skies exist anywhere else I know of. Meadowlark songs sound suddenly from fields. The scent of sweet clover in summer stirs on the wind. The people are friendly and open because they live, work, and thrive in clean, safe surroundings.
I was born and raised in a town twenty miles from here and my brother's family lives here, so Washington is a familiar place to me. Our new home is clean and comfortable, a very pleasant place to be so far. I'm happy to be here and back online. I switched to ATT/SBC Global DSL as my internet provider. Everyone associated with ATT/SBC -- from the folks at the other end of my telephone to the workers who came to my house -- has been helpful and kind. Life has been very good lately. May that continue.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A MOVING Testimonial.....

Every time we move, we swear it will be the last time. We pinky swear, "Never again!!" What dolts we are. Perhaps moving is the shape our spirit of adventure takes. Some people cruise to the Caribbean. Others climb mountains or bunjee jump. We move....and move and move and move and move. Eight times at last count, or is it nine? I forget.

Our soon-to-be ex-home is comfortable, peaceful and pleasant. Not "house beautiful" material but OK. When we moved the last time my one request was to have a house with two bathrooms. We have a lot of company and enjoy visitors. Two bathrooms just seemed a luxury to me. This old house has one so we and our guests made do.

Several months ago the almost ideal place materialized. We'd been looking for a small acreage for a couple years. This one has two acres just outside the city limits of a small Kansas town. The ranch style home has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. And the huge garage has room for two vehicles AND my husband's garage sale treasures.

Within the next few days we will move our furniture and embark on our latest adventure. It's all happened too fast for me to absorb. These days I'm a slow plodder instead of the over-achieving workaholic I used to be. Slowly but gradually our new house will be turned into a peaceful, pleasant home -- one with two bathrooms!! :)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Michael Corrigan and the male grief process

Several years ago I discovered the writing of Michael Corrigan when I reviewed his book Confessions of a Shanty Irishman. I enjoyed and admired Corrigan's writing style, his use of humor and blarney, his expression of deep felt emotion at the death of the father who raised him. That first book was swiftly followed by
The Irish Connection and later by Byron. Corrigan is the quintessential Celtic writer -- gifted with a humorous take on life and blessed with the words to express himself. His writing can be playful, deadly serious, and occasionally stunning.

As sometimes happens, Corrigan and I maintained email contact after the reviews were written. As fellow writers we compared our successes and failures. I lived my rather humdrum life vicariously through him and his wife Karen and their travels to places I will never visit -- Spain, Ireland, San Francisco. The blow of losing his father, grandparents, and mother was softened, always, by Karen's joyous presence in his life. The sum of their marriage is expressed in the photo above.

On September 12 2005, Michael lost Karen to a brain aneurysm. His brief email saying Karen was in the hospital, not expected to live, chilled me to the marrow and broke my heart because I knew he had lost his anchor, his raison d'etre in life. Although we'd never met, I knew Karen and Michael Corrigan well. How could he survive the loss of his bright and shining girl, the respected business woman and activist? How could he give sorrow words in a world that had "turned black before his eyes" as Dylan said in a song?

After more than a year of solitary living, a life without Karen, Michael's introspective grief is reaching out to comfort others. He worries about men in particular because males rarely express their grief or seek the counseling they need. Weekly counseling has helped him survive the black emptiness of life without Karen. In the winter edition of an online literary journal, New Works Review, Michael Corrigan tells his story of grief and loss and reaches out to other men suffering as he is. His journey through shock, despair, and grief is beautifully written and helpful.

I encourage everyone, male and female, to read Corrigan's essay, in which he truly does "Give Sorrow Words." Karen would be so proud to know her death became a catalyst to help others. If even one person benefits from Michael's words, Karen's legacy will continue. Share the link with anyone you know who might benefit from Michael Corrigan's experience. http://www.new-works.org/9_1corrigan/sorrow.htm

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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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