A Miracle on a Gravel Road

We have all seen those interesting cell phone videos capturing those remarkable times when a child gets out of bed in the middle of the night to snuggle up with their puppy. Maybe you have seen the photo of a bear trying to climb into a home or the photo of an alligator standing in the middle of a living room. Thanks to personal cameras we are seeing things we have never seen before. Yet I seldom feel the need to carry a phone when taking a walk. A phone is not extremely useful on our country gravel road where cell coverage is weak. However, during a recent early morning walk, I learned a new way to think about cameras.

The last few days had been hot. I decided to walk while the sun’s rays were cool and inviting. My footsteps were purposeful, but my mind wandered. Sparkling dewdrops that faded from the corn stocks almost went unnoticed as a tiny spotted fawn appeared on the crest of the hill in front of me. Trying not to frighten this little fella, I slowed my stride down to a stop. But it seemed the fawn’s curiosity won over any feelings of apprehension. Leaping through the corn stocks, he stopped a few feet in front of me.

Slowly turning my head, I scanned the scenery for an angry doe. It did not take but a moment to become captivated by this adorable little fawn. He had sleek legs, enormous eyes, and lashes that would put Maybelline out of business. That is when I wished that I had brought my camera. This would have been an awesome picture to share with others. We stood together for quite some time before he seemed to lose interest. Tilting his head, he looked up at me, then slowly began to walk into the long grass on the other side of the road.

The rest of the way home, I had an extra bounce in my step as I sang the words to a Sarah McLachlan’s song. “It’s just another ordinary miracle today.” This fawn was not ordinary nor was it something any of us would have missed. But how often had I pass right by ordinary miracles without giving them a second thought?

The trinket I found that morning is that sometimes it is best not to have a camera or a phone. Realizing those times I spent behind the camera lens had filtered out details and emotions that will never be mine. But on that morning, I was able to soak up every facet and feeling. I learned sometimes trivial real-life occurrences can far outweigh any grandiose virtual reality. After all, –it’s the mundane everyday routines that bring “ordinary” miracles.

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A Bit Like Herding Cats

Watching YouTube videos had begun to wear on me. And reading about health issues was depressing. I set my phone down, looked out the window, and began to reminisce about all the places I had traveled. Smiling, I thought back a few years to one of the shortest trips I have ever taken. It was a long weekend cruise in the Bahamas with our four adult children. This trip turned out to be one of my favorites.

The idea for this family time all started when my stepdaughter asked what we were going to do to celebrate our company’s 30th anniversary. We thought of many ideas, but nothing seemed to work. A friend suggested the idea of taking a trip with all our children to celebrate. I was not sold on the idea.

Travel is hard!  And realistically, things do not always run smoothly with siblings and especially in a blended family. But I soon put aside worries of sibling issues and began to embrace thoughts of a family trip when I realized this opportunity to get just the six of us together would never happen again. Later that year, we would eagerly welcome a daughter-in-law into the family and a year later a son-in-law. And just recently we have been blessed with a granddaughter.

Ideas of traveling for a week or more to extravagant places with all our children began to excite me more and more before we started to work on rearranging six adult’s schedules. Merging our free times together became a bit like herding cats. Emails flew back and forth as my husband and I worked on booking the cruise, hotel accommodations, airline tickets, and shuttles for all the different schedules. This flurry of emails continued for weeks. As much as I tried to shake negative thoughts away, chills of uncertainty crept through me. I remember telling myself several times, “This trip’s never going to happen.”

But somehow, we managed to find a long weekend where everyone was available. The cruise was wonderful. We spent every minute together! We all went to dinner together, we listened to each other’s stories, laughed at each other’s jokes, and saw a late show. We spent an entire day at the beach, shopped the markets, and enjoyed showing each other our purchases. During this long weekend trip to the Bahamas, none of them ever excluded anyone. It seemed, that for the first time, the “his” and the “mine”, had blended into OUR family.

Our children made this trip incredibly special. My husband and I had received the biggest gift they could have ever given us. I am so grateful for that time we had with them. This trip taught me to treasure every moment with loved ones–no matter how short the celebration or how insignificant the day may seem at the time!

The trinket I discovered that may help me when writing for children, is that when we flood our minds with thoughts of how something could have been better, we drown out precious moments.

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Finding Joy Among the Chaos

I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking lately, as I’m sure most of us are doing. Tucked inside our homes quarantined from others is a lot like what Minnesotans do during bad weather.

Years of long harsh winters have taught me how to stay busy while I’m alone. I’ve learned to enjoy working on art projects, fixing items around the house, reorganizing my belongings, reading a good book, and even reflecting on new goals. Could I possibly learn to think of the quarantine as an extension to winter? Let me back up and describe this past winter.

My husband and I had spent an entire month of January moving our business. I never realized what a huge job it was going to be until I stood in the middle of a floor surrounded by a dozen full garbage bags, five boxes of recyclable paper, a couple hundred pounds of metal, and a bunch of charitable items and realized, what we had decided to keep, was not going to fit into the building where it was being moved. I began to giggle at how ridiculous it felt to be a tidy person all my life and to have collected so much junk.

Juggling things around trying to squeeze all our personal and business equipment into one place, we began to hang bicycles, tools, and lawn chairs in the shed. With a dozen afternoons of sorting stacking and labeling shelves for business and household items behind us, it felt good to stand in the middle of the large clean shed.

It seemed we had no more than finished the task of purging a mess of our own making, my deceased uncles’ belongings arrived at our house, and the whole process started over again. Our social life would have to wait. The semi-truck pulled up, opened the doors, and started wheeling out box after box and furniture wrapped in blankets. After an hour, I asked the driver, “How many more boxes and pieces of furniture is there to unload?” The driver looked up. On the ceiling to the semi-trailer, there appeared a measuring system very much like the numbers on a football field.

“We’re not quite halfway…” He answered.

Just a week earlier, we stood admiring our organizational skills in this very building. Now a huge mess of boxes and old furniture cluttered the entire shed. I stood staring down the narrow path stacked higher than my shoulders. Digging into the job of sorting through my aunt and uncle’s lifetime worth of treasures, I became overwhelmed with memories and thoughts of never seeing them again. As I stood sifting through the important documents and sentimental items, I reminded myself to wait until the job’s done, to go down memory lane.

When everything had been sorted and repackaged, I was able to sit down and go through old pictures of my aunt and uncle. It reminded me of the good times I had with them. But it also made me realize how little I really knew about them. And so, my next project is going to be connecting more with friends and loved ones.

This virus is not going to define me. I don’t want to continue putting energy into material things and distancing from my community. After spending most of the winter being an introvert, it’s time to reach out to others. I decided to get virtually-in-touch with at least one person each week. By sending a text message, a phone call, an old-fashioned handwritten letter to say, thank you, I’m thinking of you, a picture, or an article of something that interests them, I can spread love and kindness without spreading germs.

Many of us have found joy among the chaos. There are lots of uplifting stories of people helping others during this time of adversity. A trinket I discovered from this shelter at home experience, gave me a different prospective to weave into my next children’s story.

How are you handling this quarantine? What positive constructive things are you doing or seeing?

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A Girl Named Charlie

What’s in a name? Does a name really influence what we think about ourselves and others? Does the name of a product influence us to buy it? We all heard Shakespeare’s response to a rose by any other name.

In the story The Lion of Tupungato, one of the chapters is titled, What’s in A Name? It explains how a male lion is given the name Pansy. What if the story were about an adorable teacup poodle named Killer? Do these names influence what we feel about the character and their stories?

 

When my children were very young, I would play games to keep them occupied while I shopped for groceries. One of the games would be to “read” product labels. Children, like many of us, use product recognition rather than reading the words. Bright colors and placement on the shelves helped them to finding items.

Does our preconceived notions about an animal, or the color of a product, influences us more than the name? This question reminded me of a chaotic trip to the grocery store with my children years ago. I had crossed everything off our grocery list. My youngest child had become tired and a little cranky. While trying to comfort him, my daughter began to express the dislike for her name. I was busy soothing a toddler as I continued to quickly empty our cart. Trying not to hold up the line that was growing behind me, I ended up ignoring my daughters request for a new, not so ordinary name. The gentleman ahead of us, still bagging his groceries, burst out laughing, when he heard me answer “Sorry, Charlie!”

Before I go any further, I must tell you, Charlie is not my daughter’s name. Not that it isn’t a great girls name. The fact is, I never really thought about it. I had spoken as though the words had been prerecorded and yanked from deep inside my brain. Sorry, was the only word I could think to say. The tuna fish commercials that ran throughout the 90’s had conditioned me to automatically put the two words together.

So, why did this man nearly split a gut trying not to laugh? Did that same add come into his mind? Did he really feel sorry for a little girl having what he considered to be a boy’s name? Was it because of the fiasco that had transpired up to that point when I called her Charlie? We’ll never know.

While standing in the checkout line at the grocery store today, a cookbook filled with crockpot recipes caught my eye. It was titled “DUMP FOOD.” Are customers really buying this small book? And if so, is it because of the shock value, an impulsive purchase, or does it really sound delicious?

The trinket I discovered from that experience, is that I can have fun with self-expression and shock values in my children’s stories because the names don’t affect or hurt anyone. Naming a fictitious character, a funny name, or a produce name that shocks the buyer into purchasing something they might not is totally acceptable, in my opinion. It’s only when it affects and alters someone else’s life that we must take a huge step back and think about it! In 2008, The Guardian News shocked its readers with a true story about a girl tragically named “Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii?”

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How to Create Illustrations

At some point in our lives, most of us have sat staring at a blank page trying to find the best words to write. It may have been for a book, a report, research, a thesis, or an essay. The beginning can feel exhilarating, exciting and daunting all at the same time.

It starts out like that for me when creating a children’s story. However, once the words have found their place, my work is only half done. That’s when a completely different set of blank pages presents themselves to me. This time waiting for images. Numerous pencil drawings are sketched before the right look of each character in the story appears. Once I have an idea for each of their personalities in that particular scene and the sketchy image fits the story-line, the oil paints come out and details start to emerge.

As I take the cap off a tube of oil paint, a faint smell wafts into the room and across the canvas. My excitement grows as the pallet knife scrapes a tiny color from numerous globs lined up across the pallet. I start to blend. With the slightest amount of Indigo, the night sky becomes more mystifying. The tiniest of crimson brings a blushing innocence to the young girl’s face. A bit of Ochre softly highlights the furry little fella walking in the stars.

I think, it may be rather humorous watching me create these scenes. Each shadow or line is felt before it is added to the canvas. My face will look surprised, my shoulders and eyebrows will rise.  I lower my brow and my bottom lip quivers in order to feel what the character is feeling. I believe any great music, literary, or art piece must be truly felt by its maker. If I don’t feel it, the viewer will not see it.

When creating a children’s picture book, the words are only half of the story. Each illustration carries a great deal of meaning. I enjoy personifying animals. Giving them an expression of surprise or hurt creates a deeper meaning to the story-line. To paint things that are not even mentioned in the words, allows the reader to perceive what they want to see happening. Making it their own personalized story.

The trinket I discovered from these illustrations that I want to share with young readers and listeners is to be curious and creative. The fast- exciting words of this story, asks you to listen. The illustrations beg you to be aware of what you see happening. Both words and illustrations in this upcoming book will invite everyone that reads it, to be more aware and inquisitive.

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What’s in Your Cup?

Think about it. Aren’t people a lot like dishes? We are born with our basic structure of who we are as an individual. Some of us are born porcelain cups, others clay mugs. We are painted in a multitude of colors. Some of us even have intricate patterns. We cannot choose to be a mug or cup. But each day, one serving at a time, we can choose what goes into our lives and how we can serve others.

As a young woman starting to set up a household, my grandmother bought me the most beautiful set of china. It looked very similar to her set, that I admired and loved. As a child, I often thought that someday I would serve my grandchildren on her set of dishes.

I remember my Grandmother would take out her beautiful china dishes on holiday occasions. I would eat until I was nearly sick. My grandmother was a good cook. I vividly remember one Christmas eve dinner at her house when I was rather small. She served a dark plum cake for dessert. It was drizzled with a white sauce. Its sweet, smooth taste lingered. With each breath I took, the warm sweetness filled my lungs. I asked my Grandmother for the recipe. She never gave it to me. It might have been because, she didn’t have a recipe to give me. She often made up recipes adding a pinch of this and a dash of that. –Or, maybe the reason for not giving it to me was because it probably had a tiny bit of rum added. I will never know.

There were also times when it was only the two of us. My Grandmother would serve coffee and cookies on her fancy china cups and saucers. She also loved to drink out of colorful long-stemmed crystal glasses and would comment, “It made things taste better.” Only once, when we sat on the dock dangling our feet in the lake, do I remember seeing her drink from a can.

My Grandmother always made me feel special. We would fill our afternoon together discussing things like an art project she was working on, her garden, and we would revisit her youth. We seldom talked about feelings, and yet, somehow, I felt she allowed me to be that clay mug. And to empty all the bad thoughts that had consumed me, working and associating with negative people.  Slowly, she would refill my mug with good feelings.

When she gave me the new dishes, I promised to take good care of them so that nothing would ever happen to any of the pieces. Wearing a forlorn smile, she said, “I don’t want you to pack them away. I want you to use them. Enjoy your dishes! And when one of the pieces gets a chip or a crack, don’t be sad. Look at that chip with fond memories of when friends and loved ones gathered around your table. Why have beautiful things if you can’t enjoy them?”

My grandmother has long since passed away. Over the years I’ve learned to view my life like this gift of china from her. Life and cups are fragile. In an instant, they are shattered and gone. Life is not easy. Along the way, dishes get chipped, cracked, and broken. We could keep them safely packed in the cupboard where there isn’t any risk of them ever getting broken. But nothing lasts forever. So, use what you’ve been given to serve others and make memories.

The trinket that I discovered from this old “mug” that may bring flavor to my children’s stories is to “Savor the damaged dishes just as much as the bright, pretty ones!  Serve delicious food in them and appreciate the good memories they bring you. Don’t fill your plate too full. Remember to save room for dessert. And don’t waste time filling up on things that are distasteful.”

Maybe if we share some of these simple thoughts, we could dilute some of the bitter things that are being poured into our cups and mugs. –The bitterness we also refer to as anxiety.

…After all, aren’t people a lot like dishes?

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TAKE THREE

There is a common saying.” If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing twice!” However, is it worth doing three, four and five times? It took me numerous revisions to come up with the best storyline to my new book titled, The Lion of Tupungato.

Although the following piece is an interesting message, I found a better way to use this character to tell this wonderful story. This piece did not make it into the book. But I thought it would be fun to share with you.

When young Isabel moves from Argentina to the United States without her father or her lion, it was one of the hardest decisions Isabel had ever made. She grew up quickly without her lion to guide her. Isabel faced inequality and bullying. As a young nurse just out of school, she found herself dealing with a patient that was a wealthy narcissistic man. And if you didn’t know that he was rich, he’d tell you.

The paramedics had put up with as much as they could take of Max’s self-centered, outrageous behavior. The Emergency Medical Team transferred him into the bed directly in front of where Isabel had been charting. She quickly read over is new admission’s medical chart, while he scowled at her. Maxwell Smith, seventy-two years of age. Isabel went on to read medical terms for heart problems. Cardiac arrhythmia and shortness of breath.

Before she could get any more information about his case, Max pulled his head off the pillow and grumbled, “You’ve got to be kidding me! What could you know about heart problems? There was a long pause as Isabel regained her composure. Max huffed, “You’re just what I thought! I’ve got an uneducated imbecile watching to make sure my heart doesn’t quit. Young Lady, do you know who I am? –I’m one of the richest men in Minnesota! So, don’t you think I deserve the very best medical attention money can buy? …Of course, I do! So, get me a real nurse. Right Now! Go on…. I will not tolerate someone like you hanging around my bedside trying to figure out how to use that stethoscope around your neck.”

Isabel was speechless. Never in her entire life had anyone talked to her like that. Even the kids on the school bus, that made fun of her years ago, didn’t hurt like this.

 After this mysterious part in The Lion of Tupungato story that I can’t divulge. Isabel finds a strength from deep within herself. She possesses a newfound confidence and knowledge not only as a nurse, but as a person. The story continues with Isabel admitting to herself, “It doesn’t matter what Max Smith or anyone else says or thinks. I know in my heart I am a darn good nurse and I have as much right to be part of this medical team as anyone else!” Believing that she could handle any inequality that others might throw at her, Isabel dries her eyes and returns to work.

 Max Smith’s heart stopped shortly after ten-thirty-two that night.

In the next chapter: Max started breathing on his own again. Isabel looked out the window and thought of her lion friend, Pansy and how he had given her the courage and determination to be there for Mr. Smith.”  She then quietly turned and walked out of the room.

Days later, Max found out that Isabel assisted in his recovery. Blinking slowly, he cleared his throat. “I… I just wanted to thank you for what you did for this cranky old bully.”

Isabel turned and walked towards him, “I was just doing my job.”

 “No!  You went above and beyond the call of duty. And I see now, I misjudged you. You’re a good nurse! Probably, the best nurse my money can buy.

But Mr. Smith, I would have done the same for you if you hadn’t any money at all….

The trinket I discovered in this piece was more like a steppingstone. With each new revision of The Lion of Tupungato, I stepped closer to creating a story that would be exciting and fast moving yet produce an aura from a golden age in a faraway land. Finally, I found the best way to tell this heartwarming, endearing story of a young girl’s love and loss of friends and family that leads her to find pride and confidence.

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What Do You Binge Watch?

A blush color seeps back into my white knuckles as I pull into the garage. The door slowly shuts, closing out the icy blanket that made driving home so miserable. Wondering if this winter will ever end, I hear a chickadee abandon his winter song and prematurely sing his springtime song, “spring’s coming.” My heart begins to melt depressing thoughts away. There are some good qualities to the long dark nights of January. It brings a new start, once the hassle of wrapping up business transactions for the previous year is done. It’s a slow month for most of us. And that’s a good thing!

Life is much more exciting when there are contrasts. Those busy holidays are much more enjoyable when it’s added to a rather empty calendar. The artist in me loves a splash of color in a monochromatic room. The nature lover in me craves a rainy day after many sunny hot days. I’ve learned to appreciate the quiet long dark winter nights after all the busy social Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s events. For most of us, January is a time to sit quietly and binge watch our favorite shows.

The most desired show for me, is not a program on television or online. It’s a warm welcoming fire surrounded by a beautiful stone fireplace. I watch as the small flames of the new fire sparkle on the small aspen wood kindling pieces and the stringy elm log fibers. The dark walnut wood is a beautiful log that adds depth to the fire, even though it will leave more ashes than the others. I think about how hard it was cutting each these logs from dead trees in our woods. It’s true, firewood warms you twice. I remember sweating as I carried, split, and stacked each log. –The flames grow and its heat intensifies as the heavy red oak and hickory logs become the heart of the fire. Watching the blue and orange flames dance around the twisted, knurled, blackened pieces of firewood, I become mesmerized.

Snuggling into my overstuffed chair, a calm feeling dilutes any feel of urgency. There’s no need to guilt myself into thinking I should be doing anything. Sitting with a glass of wine I notice the flurries outside. There is a snow globe effect in the windows that surround me. It’s close to seventy degrees difference from the temperature outside to what it is in front of the fire.

For those that live in the more extreme latitudes, learning to like winter makes life more pleasant. It’s a large percentage of our year. I figure, I can either muddle my way through these long winter evenings with a blur of television episodes or create a mood that allows time for contemplating life and becoming a little wiser.

The trinket from these experiences, I may find useful when writing children’s stories, is this. When winter tells us to slow down, try to listen. We shouldn’t sit and watch life pass us by. But rather, savor every minute.

 

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