Wednesday, October 30, 2013

More Change - New Blog

I'd like to say I hate change, but I'd be lying. I love it. Change always brings something new into play and I love playing with new toys.

I'd like to say that I can do it all, but I can't. Sometimes it's just too easy to spread ourselves so thin we can't do anything.

I'd like to invite you to join me at for continued conversations ... probably even moreso than have been happening here at this location.

I might post something here every once in a while, but more than likely I won't.

Find my new blog at Join in the conversations and play along. There will always be words to read.

Monday, September 09, 2013

My Wonderful Friends

The title of this post is a little sappy ... the content might be even worse. Here ... read it and see.

Last week I spent a lot of time thinking about Diana Nyad's amazing swim from Cuba to Key West. The woman blows me away. I love her passion for and dedication to a dream. If we all spent more time focusing on things like that and less time worrying about minutiae we'd be happier.

Anyway ... the mantra she used over and over throughout the swim was "Find a Way." That process of focusing her mind on moving around and through obstacles kept her swimming for 53+ hours. She wouldn't give up.

For the last several weeks I've been thinking about the people I have known throughout my life. One of the greatest joys of Facebook has been the opportunity to reconnect with so many of them and discover that they have been living lives that are interesting and wonderful. They have successes and setbacks, they love and they play. They find joy in so many different things. They have fears and make stupid mistakes. They do great big things and they do small things that might impact just one person. They've raised children and are intimately involved with their grandkids. They are normal ... just like me.

There are people who I knew only as acquaintances when I was younger and I find that I missed so much of who they were because I was so self-involved. I have met friends online through other friends and discover amazing connections and relationships, even though I may never meet these people in person. They are creative ... they are gorgeous ... they are funny ... they are tender ... they are talented ... they are amazing.

(Obligatory friendship picture - TB as a kitten & Leica. Too cute!)

They love animals and explore places in the world I will never see in person. Some of their beliefs are different than mine and some of them make me wonder if they've lost their minds. They obsess over the craziest things and are as vulnerable to hoaxes and lies as the next person.  They are normal ... just like me.

But the thing I've discovered is how much I love these people. I laugh with them when they share their crazy antics, I get emotional when they share their successes and I cry with them when they feel loss and pain. I am terrified that because I have opened myself up to so many more people, I am going to have to experience that many more deaths and painful outcomes. However, my love for my friends tells me I can't do anything else. I don't want to ever lose these connections again. In many cases, it took me over 25 years to find my friends and I won't give that up without a fight. Even if I have to be here, watching as they go through pain.

One of the things I've discovered as I watch this is that Diana Nyad's mantra - "Find A Way" - is more than just a mantra. It's a way of life for most of us. We might whine and complain when confronted with a struggle, but we find a way through it. I have seen extraordinary love and joy, support and encouragement come to people in their darkest days. These connections help us find a way.

Most of all, though, I find that I am so stinking proud of the people I know who have found their way through a life that is filled with twists and turns, pain and struggle. My heart thrills with them as their kids graduate or succeed ... as they find new outlets for their creativity ... or move mountains that seemed immovable. They start new businesses, try new avocations, complete big projects, move on to new careers. They find ways to make their dreams come true, they meet new people, reach beyond themselves to new heights, they encourage others to do the same.

I am in love with the people who surround me, whether in person or online. I am constantly made aware of how wonderful they are ... how wonderful we all are.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Really Random - Trust Me!

It was a good weekend ... and I should be back to work right now because I have a book to finish.  But, all of these images are floating around in my head and then I put them in my camera and now they're on my desktop, so next I think they should be in a blogpost.

Friday night, Max and I went out to dinner with best friends ... at my favorite restaurant ... well, one of them. I watched Fran wrestle a heavy gift bag from the back seat of her Jeep and wondered what in the world she was doing. She looked at me as if I was nuts. My birthday? Oh, holy moley ... I hadn't even thought about that. Granted, it's next week, but she knows I'll be head-down in writing mode at the cabin and this was their chance to help me celebrate.  Whoops. This getting old thing does wonders for remembering things like birth dates. When my family and friends surprised me at my 50th birthday, I thought it might be a great time to just start ignoring that date on the calendar. They think I'm facetious in my protests. I'm not. All those numbers do is annoy me. They try to remind me that age is more important than life. I have to tell you that every single year after that 50th birthday has been a great year. Between getting my Master's Degree and starting to write (and publish ... whee!) books, I haven't had this much fun at any other time in my life ... and I had a lot of fun in those previous 50 years.

Anyway ... Fran and Leonard gave me this:

I love Lodge cast iron. Given any opportunity, I will prefer to use cast iron.  Now, I'm probably not going to put this dutch oven into a pile of coals and cook a peach cobbler, but I can think of a million things to make on my stove top.  Mom went through a cast iron phase and there is one skillet left over from that.  I remember her having a corn cake pan, but have no idea where it ended up.

And then she gave me these:

Amigurumi Crochet - STAR WARS!!!  I'm going to have some fun with that!  I was telling Fran that my mother thought she could teach me how to knit. Oh, it was a complete failure. But, at some point I decided I had to learn and found a wonderful woman who owned a little yarn shop. I took class after class from her until I finally figured it all out. Her best advice: it isn't that difficult, you can do this.  She was right.

Saturday morning Max and I got up and headed out to run errands. We began at the laundromat. When he changed the laundry from the washing machine to the dryer, he came out with a Bic lighter and handed it to me - question in his eyes.  I didn't recognize it. He asked if I was doing anything fun ... like weed. And if I was - I should be sharing. I continued to protest that it wasn't mine, but I'm not sure if he believed me.

However, when we got back home and I was folding the laundry, I pulled THIS out of the pile.  Yeah. It's not mine either, but it was good for a really hearty laugh.  I tossed it in the trash, and then when I was driving back up here to the cabin yesterday afternoon, I called him and asked if he wouldn't pull it out and take a picture for me for this blogpost. I told him he didn't need to make the shot too 'arty,' and he thought dressing the poor teddy bear up would be a good idea. Ummm, no. No, it wouldn't.  He decided that the lighter and the thong had probably belonged to the same person.  This has happened to him before. I remember folding a bunch of laundry several years ago and pulled out another thong.  That time, though, I asked if he knew who the owner was. The poor guy's 'deer in the headlights' response made me laugh. I'm a mean wife.

A week or so ago, Max got a new smart phone. I was rather excited, since that meant that I could take his Android. I've been using a Blackberry and was looking forward to something a little more up to date. Yep. A 2-year-old Android phone is what I was looking for. I spent most of the weekend getting it adjusted to my personal usage habits. Someday I'll get it all figured out.  I love gadgets and toys and don't have nearly enough money to spend on all the things I believe would make my life more fun.  That's a good thing because I really don't have a place to put all those things.

I love my new phone, but as I cleared the photos off my old phone, I realized that I was looking at the earliest pictures of TB in my life. Oh good heavens he was so small and adorable.

Now, the tiny little kitty cat that came inside pleading for his life, begs me to let him back outside as often as possible and stays out as long as I will let him stay there!

The culmination of this great weekend occurred today - Diana Nyad finished her fifth and final attempt to swim the 103 miles between Cuba and Key West. She did it. Our family paid attention to her incredible feats in the 1970s and I have been following her through her last three attempts. I was so shocked in 2011 to discover that a 62 year old woman was ready to attempt something no one else on earth had accomplished ... and now, two years later she has gone all the way.

I woke up at 1:15 this morning to check her progress and realized that she had at least another eight hours. There was no sign or threat that she was in trouble, so my confidence level raised and I went back to sleep. At 6:15, though, I was up to watch the end of the swim. There has never been an event this exciting or a person this inspiring for me. She has reminded me that grit and determination continue to be important. A dream can be realized.

Now ... I have a novel to finish!  That's my dream.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Your World View - Optimist / Pessimist?

I have a friend with an extremely negative worldview. If there are five different interpretations of a someone's actions or words, he will choose the most negative of them and then react according to his interpretation, rather than the actual behavior. There is also no learning curve with this person. No matter how many times someone proves they can be trusted or that they will follow through or that they will always behave in a way that is supportive, the negative interpretation happens first and there is no acknowledgment that he might have been wrong. The cycle repeats ad nauseum and it becomes difficult to believe anything he says about anyone. No one in this person's life is trustworthy. He is always skeptical.

On the other hand, there is my sister. It has taken years and years of beatings and slapdowns for her to finally accept the fact that there are mean people in the world. She gets hijacked by friends and family alike because her first instinct is to trust their motives and actions. I used to go out of my mind when we owned a business together because salesmen could walk in and she would get sucked into their spiel. The next thing I knew we were listening to long drawn out sales pitches until I'd finally had enough and made them go away.  She is the best of us in the world and even though I know it is dangerous, I'd like to be more like her in this regard.

I consider myself to be a fairly positive / optimistic person and all of a sudden this morning it occurred to me that this dichotomy is why there are such interesting comments about my books.

I get crushed by the negative reviews that show up. They suck the life out of me and no matter what anyone says to me, I internalize them until they actually stop me from writing. It's as if there are people who believe I should never write another word because what I've put out there is so awful. Consequently, I'm under strict orders to go nowhere near my reviews. As long as I'm obedient, the joy returns to my writing.

It was hard to realize that when I began writing the Bellingwood series I had the most fun I'd ever had in my life ... doing anything!  I'd finally found it ... you know ... that thing that completes you.  Then, the reviews came in and all of that was replaced with a feeling that I had no business intruding on these people's lives with my words. What was I thinking?

I can talk a little bit about this now, because I'm way on the other side of it. As long as I don't pay attention to the 'haters' (who are gonna hate), I am back to having more fun than anyone deserves to have.  (Please don't let this part of the blogpost become your focus.)

There is something about optimists and pessimists though, and the difference in their worldviews that is triggered by my books. Originally I set out to write something fun and show the world how much I loved the folks in rural Iowa. All of a sudden, people were saying terrible things about my characters and the story itself (comments about my writing ... well, damn ... those hurt, but okay).

The women who befriend the main character, Polly, were looked at with suspicion and derision.  I wrote them as women who extended themselves to others and easily made friends, building relationships and friendships. The sweet stories that are told in the books drew extremely negative reactions - people said they couldn't believe that this was even possible.

Then it occurred to me that I could probably identify those who believed there were horrors behind every tree and those who believed the best about people based on how they reacted to my stories.  If someone lives with a pessimistic world view and believes the worst about people, they will hate what I write and call every action into question. They don't see hope easily and for them, joy comes with a price. Their first reaction is to criticize and to assert themselves as an authority so they don't get stuck in situations they can't handle.

On the other hand (and thankfully these people are more numerous than you can believe), there are those who have weathered pain and struggles and still believe in the goodness of others. They know what it is like to encounter genuinely friendly people because they are that type of person. It is easy to be around my readers because they like folks and will trust them first and allow others to be real and make mistakes.  Judgment doesn't occur because they recognize that they've been there before themselves.

These things make me consider my own behavior. I want people to recognize me as one of those wonderful women in Bellingwood who are open and ready to bring new friends into their lives.  And I want to be Polly Giller (the protagonist of the Bellingwood series), who sees the best in others, no matter what their background.

I want to trust first and learn whether or not I've made the right decision - rather than mistrust at the outset and discover that I was right all along.

See, that's the thing with negative reactions to the world. If we begin by being mistrustful, it only takes one time to justify our behavior - even if one thousand other interactions disprove us.  But, if we believe that it happens only once in a thousand times, we see the world through eyes of joy and happiness and others will be more ready to respond to us with the same behavior.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Could you change your brand of toilet paper?

Last year I got tired of buying toilet paper all the time and hauling it around, so I checked out Amazon's 'Subscribe and Save' and discovered that not only could I have the UPS guy deliver it right to my front door, but I would also end up saving some money. They didn't have the type of toilet paper I was used to, but I went ahead and placed an order. When it showed up, I did NOT like it. At all.

The only problem was that I had forty-eight rolls of toilet paper. I was committed to this new stuff, whether I liked it or not.  Five months passed and the second shipment showed up. I didn't think a thing about it.

Five more months ... almost ... passed and I realized I wasn't going to make it until the next shipment arrived, so I purchased a four-pack from the grocery store. It was the stuff I'd always used up until my big decision to shop from Amazon. I couldn't believe it. Now I didn't like the old stuff.  The toilet paper I had been using for years and years was no longer my favorite. I couldn't wait to finish the package and get back to what I was now used to using.

As I thought about this, I giggled because first of all, I knew it would probably end up as a blog post. But secondly, it occurred to me that change isn't always about leaping into something new, it's about leaving behind something that we are comfortable with - that we are familiar with.

The 'old' may not be better than the new, but we hate the idea that change is involved.

It really bothers me to discover areas of my life where I am so averse to change. That's not the way I was raised.  Because my father was an itinerant United Methodist pastor, we moved pretty regularly. We packed up everything we owned, moved into a new community and a new house. We made new friends, got used to new shops, discovered new ways to get from our house to the schools and fell into new routines. It didn't occur to us to complain or whine about it because both Mom and Dad made sure that they expressed excitement over what was inevitable. They talked about how much fun we would have meeting new people. They always took a couple of road trips so we could see the new town and get excited about our new school and the new parsonage and the new church. They would pick out one thing or another that would be fun for us to know about our new home. Even packing up the house for a move became opportunities for them to encourage us to look forward to the new home. Mom would muse about how her furniture would look in the new place and get us involved in thinking about what we might do with our new room.

For us, moving and change meant that something exciting was in store for us.

I've changed colleges, jobs and homes several times throughout my life and have always approached them with a sense of joyous anticipation. When we closed our business, I looked forward to the next adventure. When I transferred from Asbury to Grand Canyon University, I could hardly wait to dive into a new program.

There is nothing I love more than changing my living space around. I don't do it as much any more because it seems that I have way too much stuff in my life, but one of these days I'll grow uncomfortable with my writing area and everything will be unplugged and pulled away from where it currently resides and shuffled to make a better work space. It happens every six months or so whether it needs to or not.  I really look forward to changing things.

Most things ... because when it comes to changing my brand of toilet paper, I guess I prefer the comfortable and familiar.

The funny thing is - it doesn't really take long for something new to be comfortable and familiar.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Inflammatory Conversations

I'm beginning to see rapid re-posts of this horrid letter delivered to a woman who was babysitting her autistic grandson. It is shocking and disgusting.  Many comments I see in response to this letter are just as shocking and disgusting, though. People call for terrible things to happen to the woman and it makes me realize that so often we do not understand how to perpetuate love and kindness - we are more likely to bring more vile behavior to the table because we are so offended.

Yesterday, I was waiting for my laundry to finish when a woman walked in to begin hers. She was chatting on the phone and since there was no one other than myself there, I listened to what she was saying to her friend - she was speaking loudly and clearly within three feet of me.

However, I wanted to hug her and tell her that she was exactly right.  Apparently, the friend wanted to verbally destroy someone who had hurt her, but this gal went on and on about how that would only add fuel to a fire that needed to be put out. When the friend said something about how her feelings were hurt, the woman told her that feelings were temporary, but the lessons she taught her children would be life-long and she must want to teach them to be kind and loving, not mean and hurtful.

The woman talked of her ex-husband and how it would have been easy for her to say terrible things about him because of what he'd done, but she wanted her own kids to grow up understanding forgiveness, love, and kindness. She made a choice to treat him with respect and encourage her kids to do so as well even though he must have done awful things to her when they were together.

The conversation went on and on as she listened to her friend and attempted to calm her down, reiterating a call to be sensible, if nothing else, for the sake of teaching children the right way to interact with others.

Even in our response to awful behavior, we must remember to not lower ourselves to another's level.  We can't justify their actions by behaving as badly as they do.

My father told of a man who came in to his office once a month, like clockwork. As soon as he got into the office he began to curse and swear, verbally destroying everything that was happening around him.  Rather than getting upset with him and making things worse, Dad calmly listened, expressed his disagreement and thanked the man for taking the time to come in.  After a while, those visits began to become more random until he no longer had anything awful to swear and curse about.

I have a tendency to react quickly with my mouth and so I often walk away from a situation rather than respond to it. My response won't help the situation and I won't win anything by reacting, so a quick retreat is generally more appropriate. I have to ask myself if my words will change anything. If the answer is no, I don't need to encourage any continuation of a bad moment in time.

I have also found that publicly telling someone about their poor choices inflames the situations as well ... unless of course you are in the first grade and don't know any better.

When I did my student teaching in an elementary school in Cedar Rapids, I had a music classroom filled with first graders. The back of the piano faced the class and I was seated so I could look over it, see the children, and still play.  One little boy came up behind the piano, got up close to me and said, "I wet my pants and need to go to the office."  Apparently, they were prepared for this and had fresh clothes for him to wear. So far no one else in the room had seen what he had done and I knew that all he needed to do was leave by the door right behind me and still be saved the embarrassment of wet khaki pants in a class full of peers. I told him that it was fine and he could leave. I didn't want to inflame the situation by making this public.

He chose, instead, to walk back over to the side of the piano and stand in front of everyone. Why? I have no idea. Then he took off running out the door and down to the office.

Sometimes you can't help but make something public, I guess ... and after reading this awful story about a woman who needs more help than the autistic child she is degrading ... I thought you needed a story of an adorable child who still makes me giggle.  It occurs to me that he is at least 30 years old now. He'll never know how much he's made me smile over the years.

Instead of calling for this woman's head, avoid inflaming the discussion. Be that kindness and love to those around you.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Am I Good Enough?

This post has been a long time coming. I'm not much of a complainer or whiner, but sometimes it just gets overwhelming.  So ... here's my heart.

The thing about putting yourself out there is that you expose yourself to criticism and ridicule.

I'll be honest with you. That is NOT something I choose to do easily.  I've always been much more comfortable in the support role; encouraging and building up my friends.  I know just what it means to be told that you aren't good enough and it is important that those around me always here me telling them they are doing a great job.

As much as I loved my father, one thing he did poorly was telling his kids how great they were.  Dad wanted perfection from us. When I brought home a report card with straight A's, he asked if there had been an opportunity for A+'s. I despised having him attend any of my performances because the first thing he did when we got in the car after a really exciting evening was say, "That was a very nice performance, but ..." and then he would begin listing all of the mistakes and problems he had seen.  It was as if nothing was good enough for him.  He couldn't focus on the great moments of the performance; only the mistakes.  There were some very long rides in the car from the high school to our home.

When I finally got up the courage to confront him with his behavior after a particularly grueling session of "here's what you did wrong and here's what everyone else did wrong," he was surprised.  It was never his intention to tell me I wasn't good enough; he was very proud of me.  He had simply recognized the mistakes and was talking about them.

Maybe he didn't understand that every single one of the mistakes I'd made had already resonated so deeply within me that I was feeding into his criticism of me and absorbing it, making it more than what he meant it to be. What I needed from him was affirmation that my mistakes didn't define me.

Artists, composers, musicians, authors ... anyone who creates ... warily places their creation out into the world and waits with bated breath to see what the world will do with it.

When it is ignored, we might be a little shocked. So much time had been spent in creation and so much attention had been paid to this that it is surprising to find no one else really cares.  But, we move past that and look for those who might share the same interest.

When it is accepted, we feel a little glee that others understand those moments we have invested, but we are still wary.

When it is celebrated, our hearts fill. It's as if the most precious part of who we are is now a welcome part of the world.

But, when we are criticized, everything good we believed about ourself is set aside and all of the negative comments we've ever heard begin cycling through our minds. We aren't good enough. We shouldn't even try.  We gather our creation back in, hold it close and swear to never let anyone see it again so neither of us can be hurt.

I didn't understand my father's need to criticize our performances and when I told him that it was hurtful, he was surprised and then began to adjust his behavior. He was MUCH better as we grew older, understanding that his job was to support and encourage rather than to criticize and thus shut our creative sides down.

Mediocre and bad reviews suck the life out of me. The first thing I do is question whether or not I should even continue writing, because apparently someone thinks my work isn't worth the time I've invested in it.

It takes everything in me to overcome those words and move forward.  And then I tell myself that I had the courage to put myself out there. I hear my sister and friends reminding me that there are a great many others who love what I've done.  Little by little, bit by bit, I return to normal. It doesn't take long ... sometimes just a couple of hours, but those two hours can be a killer.

The question for you is - are you an encourager, or would you rather point out errors and things you disagree with?

I'm an encourager because I know that the artist always finds their own mistakes and if I disagree with their interpretation that's on me ... not them.

There, I'm better now.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Another book ... published.

Well, that feels strange.  My third book, Treasure Uncovered, is live on Amazon.  Last summer, I was doing everything I could think of to figure out how to make writing ... well ... real.

I had started and stopped so many different novels over the years that I had absolutely no confidence I would ever finish one, much less find a way for people to read it.  I didn't say too much to anyone, it was a dream that I just held tightly to myself. When random thoughts would occur, I wrote them out, hoping to finally break through the barrier between beginning aproject and finishing it.

So, I took hold of a great book - Julia Cameron's "Artist's Way" and began writing every single day.  There wasn't anything specific that I was writing, it was just words on paper (well, screen).  I was still in the middle of my Master's Degree, so I didn't stress over it, but I did begin writing a novel again (not the Bellingwood series).  And then, I set that book aside one more time. I was so disappointed in myself, but too busy in class to think about it any more than absolutely necessary.

One night, in the middle of November, I was reading a self-published novel and was absolutely in love with the characters and plot lines. It hit me. I had been writing something that was too big for me to write rapidly. But, there was something I could write about ... people I know and love.  Just like the author of the books I was reading had uncovered wonderful characters, I had a ready source of them ... my friends and former church members, people who lived in the many small communities where I had grown up, stories of people my friends knew in their lives.  I had more stories than I knew what to do with!

My friends always told me I should write a book with my stories and I realized that I could turn those into the backgrounds for my fictional characters.  I started writing ... and writing ... and writing.  Characters came alive under my fingers.  Within one month I had a full-blown novel ... written!  I had actually finished it!  The few people I allowed to read it and swore to secrecy (because if it sucked, I wasn't telling anyone) assured me that I should move forward and keep growing with this. I did exactly that.

From the time I was a child, I wanted to be a writer. I would sit at my desk in my room with a blank sheet of paper and a pen or pencil poised over it, hovering while I waited for my mind to release the words.  Some days, that pencil would hover there indefinitely until I gave up, threw it down and picked up a book to read. Other days, I would begin stories and then of course, never finish the entirety of them.

My confidence has returned, so I will go back to some of those plot lines, pick up the stories and do my best to find their conclusion.

Polly Giller arrived in Bellingwood and began to stir the community's imagination, allowing many to look at their dreams differently.  Polly Giller gave me back my dream.

Check out the whole series (wow, it's a series, I've written a series!).

THEN, go "LIKE" the Bellingwood page on Facebook and join me as Book 4  is written and published.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Terror and Excitement

I am sitting here at my desk in abject terror.  Enough so that tears are pressing against my eyes, threatening to erupt at any moment.

At the same time, my soul is filled with excitement at what is about to happen next.

Concurrently, my mind knows that the only way to move forward is to leave the past behind and grab hold of the next goal.

All of these things are swirling through my being and it occurs to me that when I was 25 years old, I would never have imagined having the same sensations twenty-five (cough) years later.  At that time, I was leaving everything I thought I had planned for my life, about to leap into running a business with my mother and sister. I had quit my job as a Christian Education and Music Director and was moving out of my wonderful little apartment and planning to live at home with my family until there was enough money in the business to pay me a real salary. I was terrified, excited and ready to go.

I have a tendency to make huge changes in my life ... all of a sudden. Some of them are thrust on me, some are because I radically react to a situation I am in and others happen because I can see great potential in that change.

When I was in high school, I was an avid letter writer. I had many long distance friends all over the place and would write four or five letters a week. I remember writing some of those letters though - when all I could say to my friends was that nothing much had changed in my life.  There were so many times when I believed that nothing ever would; that I would be doing the same things in the same manner for the rest of my life.

Scores of years later, I recognize that though it often seems as if not much changes, in actuality, life is filled with transformations. These changes are both large and small and even though it seems much safer to avoid them, it's not near as much fun. I like to have fun, even when it is tossing my life up in the air and seeing what shakes out as it returns to reality.

For the last seven or eight months, I have been looking forward to this date, attempting to do my best to prepare for the moment when I was no longer responsible to a professor or fellow students, when I had no more papers to write, textbooks to read or grades with which I needed to be concerned.

Today it has arrived ... well, officially I am finished at midnight tonight, but I have submitted my final paper and unless my professor comes up with more questions, I have written my last response on a classroom wall.  It will take a couple of months for the university to process all of the paperwork and deliver the piece of paper that tells the world I have an advanced degree, but right now, I own this moment.

And in the next moment, I am already preparing for what will follow. I have a rather large list of things that need to happen as I forge ahead. Some are piddly little items which will be checked off as quickly as I can get to them, others will require as much concentration and learning as I've put into several of my classes these last three years; but all will continue to propel me into a different life.

Now, I'm kind of looking forward to a couple of days of not thinking about much of anything, but more than that, I'm looking forward to not fracturing my concentration into many different areas. I have stories to tell and it's going to be fun focusing on one thing at a time.

I'm terrified and excited all at the same time.  I want to cry, I want to bury my head in the sand and I want to scream in fear. Change is here today and I guess the best option is just to keep moving into it and realize that it's up to me as to whether or not it is a good thing.  Since I already told you that I like to have fun, it seems like a great idea to decide that it's not only a good thing, it's going to be extraordinary!

It's nice to have an adorable companion on the journey.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Outdoorsy? Not So Much.

I'm not outdoorsy, but I love being outside on my screened in porch. I'd like to tell you I'm much more productive, but that would be a lie.  I get so distracted by the birds flitting about and the trees moving in the wind, the sunlight sprinkling the meadow and the farm traffic that passes, I lose all sense of time some days.

This afternoon, I realized that, though I have very little experience with and understanding of ornithology, I love watching these birds.  From the glowing crimson of the cardinal to the bright blue of the jay; from the hooting of the owls in the wood to the hammering of the woodpecker, from the sweet and too numerous to count sparrows (thank goodness God does that and not me) to the robins who show up every spring as well as the glorious goldfinches and fluttering hummingbirds, I have a beautiful bird's sanctuary outside these screened windows.

TB can hardly wait for me to open the main door in the morning. If I don't do it as soon as I come out of the bathroom, he follows me around, meowing until it happens.  Then, if I don't make my way out to the porch with the laptop and my coffee which means I open the screen doors for him to roam around; he comes back in to find me and remind me that I need to breathe fresh air and see the sun shine.

When we were growing up, we spent much more time outside than I do now. I loved camping with Dad and I do realize that Mom probably ensured we loved being outside so that she could relax inside with a good book.  In junior high we moved to Sigourney with a community pool and during the summer, we took off on our bikes to be there when it opened.

Without Dad around, though, I've turned into a lousy camper. I finally realized that it just wasn't as much fun now because he loved it so much, he made it easy for all of us to have a good time.  He spent months preparing for camping trips, making lists of all the things he would need, ensuring that everything was in good shape for a trip and packing so we could take things and never be without.  When we were very young, he worked with a tent maker and designed the perfect tent for our family. It is heavy as hell, but still works and is in great shape.  That was always the first thing he would pack into the van and I loved helping him set it up once we arrived at our destination.

Notice I said that I loved helping him set it up.  As I grew older, I realized quickly that he had done all of the work and allowed me to place stakes for him, even though I didn't do all that much.

We traveled to South Dakota one year and met my brother and his family up there for a short vacation. Jim thought it would be a great idea for us to all go tent-camping one night rather than spend money on hotel rooms.  I agreed, remembering all the fun we'd had as kids.

Well, that night torrential rains poured down. Max and I huddled in the tent trying to avoid the water streaming underneath us and doing our best to not touch any part of the tent so we didn't get dripping water.  We failed completely and I tried to sleep that night, laying on top of a rock, wondering why in the hell I had made such a strange choice.  Because of the weather, there was no bonfire and no laughing together as a family. We were soaked and miserable the next morning as we met for breakfast and quickly made the choice to not repeat that event another night.  Since then, I have set aside all thoughts of being an outdoorswoman and choose to stay where there are bathrooms within the same structure where I sleep and screens to stand between me and nature while I relax.

That being said, I love watching the leaves glitter in the sunlight and hearing the multiple bird songs, smelling the scents on the breezes that float past, cooling me in their wake.  God has created an amazing world and even though I sometimes like a little separation between me and its glory, I still love it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


I have spent the last few weeks thinking about freely given, unsolicited advice.  It annoys me.

Advice: an opinion about what could or should be done about a situation or a problem.

Synonyms: guidance, help, input, instruction, judgment, lesson, persuasion, recommendation, suggestion, two cents' worth, warning, view, word to the wise.

Several weeks ago, around the end of school, I read a blog post by a well-known blogger that sent me into hysterical giggling. I laughed and laughed; then I laughed some more as I read follow-up comments from others who had as many ridiculous experiences as the original writer.  Then I quit laughing as I read comments from those whose only intent was to ensure the entire world knew how the author had misused words, obviously didn't know how to raise children correctly and had disappointed the universe.  They told her over and over how to change her life so she could meet their standards.

I finally had to quit reading because I no longer read the hilarious comments with joy, but trepidation because I knew that soon there would be another 'oh-so-helpful' person giving advice ... quite freely.

The other day, I caught myself doing something a bit like that.

A friend had fallen into a deep, blue funk and had the courage to tell me about it, knowing that I would encourage her. But, I couldn't stop after I had written those words; I had to keep going. I wrote it all out, sent the email and then cringed. She hadn't asked me to give her advice on how to fix the situation, but I was more than willing to offer it; I spewed hundreds of words all over the page.

I immediately sent an apology and her reply was gracious - telling me that she knew my advice was not only freely given, but also came with no strings. She's right, I have no problem with a person choosing not to use what I say. And at that point, I relaxed.

What is our deal?

Is it because we need others to know we're the smartest person in the room?  Oh, I'm certain in many cases, that's a great part of it.

Maybe it's because we've been down a certain path ourselves and want to make sure that no one else has to face the same issues we did.  But, that's assuming they're on the exact same path we've been on and will make the same choices we made along the way.  Heaven forbid they walk that path and make better choices all on their own.

Some of it has to do with the fact that we like to homogenize everything to our own limited viewpoint and standards.

In many cases, it's just because we're opinionated and can't imagine that anyone with a different opinion could be correct.

If you look at the title of this blog, I've been called "The Oracle," because I give advice quite freely.  Sometimes I really do think I'm the smartest person in the room; sometimes I know what I've been through and simply don't want to watch someone else deal with it; sometimes I'm seriously opinionated.

But, I need to watch my words.

- Is it the right time to say (or write) something?
- Will they receive it in the spirit with which I offer it?
- Have they really even asked for my advice?
- Do we have a relationship in which I have permission to offer advice?
- Am I simply sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong?
- Will my words affect this person positively or am I being judgmental?
- If I do give advice, am I fine with it being ignored?
- Is my opinion simply that and nothing more?

There's advice and then there's telling people what to do.  It's not an easy line to walk.

And for something a little more fuzzy - here's a picture of TB:

Friday, February 01, 2013

Scared Senseless

Do you have anything in your life that scares you out of your mind?  Some of you will tell me that raising children does that for you, and though I agree with you, I'm talking about something that is yours and yours alone.  Something that challenges you to become more and different, that taps into all of your creativity.  If you are still trying to tell me that raising children does this, that's alright.  This post probably won't apply to you, because I want to talk about your personal growth, not growing your children up to be great people.  That's absolutely a challenge and I'm awfully glad you've chosen to take it on.  From here on out, though ... that's no longer the topic.

What about personal risks? Stepping outside your own box and doing something that makes your heart race and your palms sweat, that terrifies you and excites you all at the same time.

Too often we become complacent and satisfied with our own excellence.  We've come to a point in our lives where we've done all we need to do and that's enough.  We no longer think about growing in our lives, we simply look out a few years to retirement and hope that we can just live to see that day come.  That's enough of a commitment to risk for us.

It is said that if you take no risks and only accomplish the things you can do alone, you are missing out on a big part of your relationship with God.  If you need Him for nothing in your life, then why do you need Him at all, except for bailing you out of bad situations (sickness, screwups, loss, etc.). We risk nothing if we do things we can accomplish on our own.  We don't exercise our trust in God, we don't bother attempting to see if we could be better than we are right now, we don't grow.  In other words, we stay stagnant, like a dirty little pool of water beside a rushing river.  When the drought comes, we dry up and fade away.

In 1980, our family moved to a new community and Mom discovered an interesting new facet of her life.  We were close enough to the University of Iowa for her to begin taking classes consistently in pursuit of the degree she'd put off for a couple of decades.  While she was attending classes, she also discovered that she had a passion for teaching people how to incorporate themselves into the American culture.  The town had many illegal immigrants who desperately wanted to learn how to become Americans, as well as legal immigrants who had poor language skills. Mom became very involved with an English as a Second Language (ESL) program and spent hours on lesson plans as well as learning to speak Spanish so she could more easily communicate with her new friends.  She added Spanish courses to her class schedule at the University and even wrangled me in the year I lived at home after college (don't ask), to help teach ESL and GED classes to students.  The next thing we knew she had immersed herself into the culture and opened our home to some of the women who would come over and spend days cooking up dishes to freeze and store.

Then, came the big question. How far was she willing to go to learn the language?The University offered a one-month immersion course in Mexico.  I know I've written about this before, but Mom's fears were legendary.  She talked friends into taking classes with her so they would open closed doors to the buildings and classrooms.  She made my sister open the door to a classroom at the University the first time.  Now, once the door was opened, she was fine with going in and out of it from that point forward, she just became catatonic at the thought of opening a door to something unknown.  Mom wasn't terribly friendly. People frightened her.  What a hideous thing to have to face as a pastor's wife.  The most amazing things she had done in her life thus far, and she had done some pretty wild and wonderful things, had been with either Dad or one of us kids at her side.  As long as she wasn't alone, she could do a lot of things, albeit sometimes not without kicking and screaming.

Mom cried a lot about the decision to go to Mexico alone.  She would be alone in a culture she knew nothing about and speaking a language in which she had very little fluency and she wasn't comfortable leaving her family for a month. But she decided to go.  A friend went with her, but they didn't live in the same community while there.  She was on her own.

The next summer, her life changed again and we moved to the Omaha area where she opened a business, having never run a business in her life.  Something happened when Mom chose to step out on her own into a world very different from the one she knew well.  My mother was absolutely, stinking brilliant and excelled at everything she chose to attempt.  She was an amazing writer and poet, impressing the heck out of any professor who read her stuff, painted beautiful paintings, sculpted awesome sculptures, wrote and taught Bible studies, published youth curriculum, organized events and raised a pretty terrific family.  But, those were things she could do on her own, with a little help from friends and family to get her past her stumbling blocks.

She didn't find her passion, though, until she reached beyond the things she knew she could accomplish and had to trust God to bridge the gap for her.  Once she learned to rely on Him for the big things, she no longer needed people to open doors.  She knew He was on the other side of the door before she got there.

If you don't take the big risks, you will never find out what you can accomplish after you've put that risk in God's hands.  He doesn't ask us to do it alone, using our own strength.  Philippians 4:13 says "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  There really are no limits once we realize we aren't alone.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


I lay in bed early this morning waiting for the cat to settle down and crawl back under the covers.  Five thirty was much too early for me to do anything productive, so I took the time to let my mind wander. The next thing I knew I was thinking about how much I love words.  If you don't already "Like" the Marvelous Words page on Facebook, you should click through right now.  Every day I come up with a word that fascinates me.  I learn something and you could as well.

The game "Balderdash" is something I rarely play with friends, because words intimidate so many of us.  If we don't know their meaning, we feel left out of conversations or feel as if we are less than others who might have that word in their repertoire.  In actuality, balderdash is more about lying and bluffing, than it is about knowing the true meaning of words. If you can convince enough people that your word is close to the meaning, you win.  Because my vocabulary is rather voluminous, it's not an onerous task for me to intimidate others.

Well, anyway ... words ...

I grew up with two parents who loved words.  I could walk in on a very heated discussion about something - and when I say 'very heated,' I mean a full-fledged argument - and upon asking what the problem was, it would simply be the definition and implied meaning of a word Mom and Dad might have read or heard that day.  They loved talking about words.  My mother was a walking dictionary.  Her vocabulary was like nothing I've ever known or experienced since.  Dad's was pretty profound, there's not doubt about that. Mom loved to write and some of her most joyous years were when she was taking correspondence courses in English literature from the University of Iowa. She would spend hours writing those papers and when the A+'s began rolling in, she would smile and then quietly leave them around for us to discover.  They both read voraciously.  My family thinks I consume books, but again, nothing like Mom.  Dad was always intimidated by how quickly both she and I read, but every evening he had a book in his hands when he was able to be home and in his comfortable chair.  He read during the day as he prepared for sermons and then he spent every week writing something that would be heard by his congregation.  He had to ensure his words were correctly used and took great care to craft a piece he would accept as excellent.  Because, heaven help him if he made a mistake.  Mom would wait until he was home for lunch and in the safety of our house, but she would let him have it.  And they would be off again on another search for the true meaning behind a word.

Mom was so comfortable with words that she made them up or twisted them to suit her purposes.  Because of her vocabulary, the three of us kids never felt safe when using a word we didn't see in print or hear from others.  I often embarrassed myself when using one of her words in public.

I was in second grade when I used one of our family's words in public.  I had never heard the word 'fart.'  In our house it was called a 'foo-foo.'  I used the word with my classmates and after the initial shock and attempt to understand what it was I was saying, laughter and finger-pointing was the next exercise in embarrassing me.  It hadn't occurred to me that my parents would do something like that to us, but of course they didn't want us saying something as crass as 'fart.'

Mom liked to pronounce the silent 'k' in words.  A knife - was 'kuh-nife,' and Fletcher Kneble, the author, was pronounced with a hard 'k.' It didn't even occur to me to correct myself one night in front of a handbell choir I was directing.  I wanted to sound intelligent as we were talking about books we had been reading and out it slipped.  The ladies looked at me and one had the temerity to say, "did you mean Neeble?"  Oh yeah.  That.

Think about the word rhinoceros.  If you are like most people, you immediately recognize that the accent is on the second syllable:  rhi-no'-cer-os.  However, if you use the condensed version of the word - rhino, the accent is on the first syllable:  rhi'-no.  Well, of course Mom thought it was funny to twist the word up a little bit and when saying the entire word, she would pronounce it with the accent on the THIRD syllable:  rhi-no-sor'-us.  Or ... as we got used to saying - rhi-no-sore'-ass. To this day, if you ask me about that horned mammal, I will have to take a moment before I pronounce the word because of her influence.

Several years ago, I was working as the Communications Director for a church and shared an office space with a friend.  One day, we were discussing how impossible it was to get some program or some person or whatever to move forward.  I  mentioned that we were 'stall-foundered.'  He looked at me in confusion.  Now, he is a bright young man with a pretty good vocabulary as well and felt confident that he could challenge me in my word usage.  He asked what I had said and I repeated it.  We were stallfoundered.  "Diane, that's not a word."

Of course it's a word! It's a word that Mom used over and over.  It was a very familiar word ... to me.  Oh no.  She'd gotten me more than twenty years after she died, hadn't she!  And yes, to be sure, there is no such word.  There are two words she combined to create emphasis, but that word doesn't exist in any dictionary.  I will still use it, but at least now I won't insist that it is real.

She twisted words and combined others, sometimes just making up entirely new words.  The word 'nammynools' was one she created when we were children and she got tired of listing through every animal's name in the house, then each child until she got to the right one.  Every living being in her care was one of her nammynools ... a complete twist on the word animal.  I liked that one and trust me, I never believed it might be in the dictionary. But, it's mine now.

Friday, January 18, 2013

My First Novel

The day has finally arrived.  It's one of those days I thought would never get here, but it has.  I've published my first novel - All Roads Lead Home.

The characters are no longer simply wandering around in my mind and the words aren't sitting in a digital file on my computer. They're out there ... in the real world ... waiting to be read by you!

It's a fun story about a girl who returns to Iowa after living in Boston for fourteen years. She finds out how much she missed the good life that can be found in the Midwest.

Polly Giller purchases an old schoolhouse in a small town named Bellingwood with her inheritance and in the midst of renovating it, meets wonderful people and makes new friends.  But, that's not all.  A fake ceiling gives way and two sets of bones come crashing to the floor, a hidden root cellar reveals a huge stash of pop culture paraphernalia from the years the school was open and she comes face to face with the reason she ended up leaving Boston in the first place.

In all of the overwhelming stress of these events, as well as trying to get work done on the old schoolhouse, Polly's new friends show love and compassion in ways she'd forgotten existed.

Lydia Merritt shows up with three other women to welcome Polly to Bellingwood and into their hearts.  She is a woman filled with great love and passion. Beryl Watson is a wild and outspoken woman who is a renowned artist. Andy Saner is a quiet woman who used to teach in the old school and Sylvie Donovan is a young, single mom raising two boys.

Henry Sturtz, the contractor who has been hired by Polly might have a bit of a crush on his boss, her two young Jedi Knights, Doug Randall and Billy Endicott will do anything for her, while Sheriff Aaron Merritt, Lydia's husband, is a solid force who believes in doing the right thing.

These characters have found a place in my heart and I've fallen in love with them.  There are more stories to tell and more books to come (Book Two in April 2013).

Join Polly's Facebook page, buy the book (there's a bonus short story at the end), and have fun reading about real Iowa people who love to be with each other and find ways to take care of each other.

I'm excited!  I hope you are as well!

Sunday, January 13, 2013


This morning, as I lay in bed moving between sleep and wakefulness, my mind wandered to APA standards for writing academic papers.  They annoy me.  Well, what really annoys me is that there are so many different ways of doing things and I don't particularly like this style.  Why has the development of writing styles come to a point where we have multitudes of ways to do things?  Why is it, in a citation, for instance, we have the option (in language - not APA ... there are no options in APA only their way) to write pp. or pg. or p. when contracting the word page?

Then I laughed at myself.  Because that's a strange thought to have before seven o'clock in the morning and because I'm kind of a nut.

I wasn't finished thinking about the whole thing, though.  My mind tracked back to a discussion we'd had on the Marvelous Words Facebook page about language and words and how it was all sometimes so confusing and difficult to grasp.  Why can't language be more organized?

At that point, my mind decided it needed to be more fully awake because it began barreling down various tangents of thought ... all revolving around the beauty found in differences.

We have style guides because our language is filled with so many differences and those differences are what make our language useful as well as glorious.  Without them, the language would be stilted and would only represent a means of expression for a limited number of people.  American English is filled with bits and pieces of words from all over the world, allowing a depth of insight into ourselves that would be missed if we had limited its development to one original source.

But, difference in language was only one of the tangents my thoughts took as I celebrated the freedom with which we are able to be different.  Can you imagine living in a country where vehicles were one color, one size, one shape?  Have you ever seen pictures of East Germany before the wall came down in 1989? Can you imagine not being allowed to try different tastes in the food you eat, or different textures and colors in the clothes you wear, being able to choose whether you want a cat or a dog, and then which breed would fit your life?

The funny thing is, we do attempt to homogenize our lives.  It's awfully convenient for us to enter nearly any medium to large size community in the United States and find a Walgreens.  When we walk in the front door of that store, we see nothing of the local flavor, only those things which have made themselves familiar to the population. We prefer eating a restaurant chains we can find in our own home town because the experience of exploring new and different has already overwhelmed us just by being away from our comfortable, safe house.

Our kids attempt to homogenize their lives.  Expectations for kids' clothing and behavior is one of the things which causes bullying and poor self esteem.  Everyone is supposed to look like and act like the preferred 'type' of kid and anyone who doesn't fit in is ignored.

We are comfortable in the 'same,' but we are surrounded by the 'different.'

I was never one of the 'same.'  When I was in elementary school, we lived in a very small community in southeast Iowa.  My graduating class there would have had only 23 students in it.  We moved into town the summer before my second grade year.  Because I was the minister's daughter, I was already an attraction. In a town that size, the new minister showing up was a big deal ... everyone paid attention.  Over the summer, I got to know a few of the children my age because their families went to our church, but it became apparent, I hadn't gotten to know enough of them.  It didn't occur to me that I should act like a stupid girl in class to gain friends, or to not show my enthusiasm for music or reading, or to not treat adults with respect.  We didn't have much money, so my clothes were made by mom or were handed down from cousins or friends. But, each of those things marked me as different.  Pretty soon, I was lumped with the outcasts in the class, ridiculed and taunted.  The next year I spent time in the hospital for a heart problem, one that scared teachers because they were certain I might die on them.  I was quite different by that point and the popular girls in my class ignored me at best, tried to destroy me at their worst.

Fortunately, I had a mother who believed that 'unique' was these best way to be.  When I would come home in tears, she made sure I knew that my uniqueness was a good thing.  She never once said bad things about the other girls in my class, but began showing me how being different and unique made me worthwhile to the world.  She helped me see the long view of life, looking beyond the small, petty world of the school room to the larger world outside.  I had to deal with those girls during the day, but when I came home at 3:00, my world exploded.  There was unconditional love, acceptance and encouragement; she put books in front of me which blew my little world apart; she took me to the library and put me in the capable hands of an older woman who loved books; she sent me outside to play with my brother and sister, where we created worlds in our imaginations.  Every morning I went back to school filled with thoughts bigger than those of petty classroom jealousies.  When I came home from school beaten down by the girls one more time, the process began again so the next morning I would once again be prepared.

I appreciate a hamburger from McDonald's (the king of homogenization) or a quick meal with friends at Applebees and I shop at Walgreens.  But, this morning my thoughts revolved around differences and how much more exciting they make my world.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Saturday Observations

Things have been flying through my mind this morning. Nothing terribly profound, but I have to write them down so they'll leave my mind.  I want to fill that brain up with other things!

1. I watch television shows on Hulu.  Advertising is highly repetitive.  At this point, I can hardly wait for Tuesday, so the new show with Snooki has finally aired and I no longer have to see advertising for it. I understand people watch this show or it wouldn't be on the air, but really?  I'm actually not that easily offended,  but the ad makes me want to throw things at my screen. And Double Divas?  Good for them, but for heaven's sake, I'm done with that ad. On the other hand, the Toyota ads make me giggle every time I see them.  I love the ads with the receptionist.  Nothing better than showing an employee having fun at their job.

2. Curiosity killed the cat.  It's a proverb I'd never really paid a lot of attention to.  When Howard and Ichabod lived in my life, they were pretty tame.  TB is curious about everything ... especially if I'm involved.  He wants to taste things, he wants to smell things, he wants to know things.  Everything is new and fascinating.  I love that ... and I want to be more like that.  He drives me absolutely nuts when he thinks he needs to be involved, but it is also wonderful to watch.  As I made pumpkin bars yesterday, TB had to taste the pumpkin, it was a riot.  He went right for the emptied can of pumpkin.  His curiosity is a riot.

3. I wonder about people who have no one in their lives to tell them to think twice about the things they say or do.  I have plenty of people who will tell me when I'm being an idiot and I base my responses on whether or not they will find it necessary to correct my behavior.  But, when I come into contact with those who have no such 'stop' in their lives, I am reminded why rage moves people to violence.

I will never understand why it's easier for people to criticize and be negative than to offer encouragement and support, but wow.  AND, the other thing that makes me nuts is those narcissists who find it more important to justify their errors rather than admit to being wrong.

4. I can only take my own filth for so long.  The week and a half between Christmas and New Year's, I had no other commitments in my life, so I took the time to work through a creative process that required a great deal of thought and intense time.  By the time I was finished Thursday evening, the house was a wreck.  Dishes needed to be washed, tables cleared off, bed made ... things were strewn everywhere.  I'd tolerated it while working, but the closer and closer I came to being finished with the task, the more aware I was of the mess I had created. Fortunately I had a day to recuperate.  Things are back in order and I'm ready to get started on the next thing in my life.  Whew!

5. One of the things I love the most about Facebook is knowing what goes on in the lives of my friends.  My heart aches when they hurt and thrills when they are having fun.  I love knowing about their interests and continuing to find things we have in common.  There were things about so many of them that I didn't know when we were spending time together because we were focused on those things we were doing in common.  My friends lead exciting and wonderful lives!

You know how you get Christmas letters and in your cynical mind, you believe that no one can be as successful as those parents make their kids seem?  Well, honestly, that's not true. There is room in this big 'ole world for us to all find success in the things we do and to celebrate those successes.  I'm proud of my friends and the things they love in their lives!

Alright, now it's time for me to go back to work.