Lose the Cape!

Lose the Cape

Monday, January 15, 2018

55 Years - Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Growing up - I was not raised to "see" color. Race and ethnicity were not the essence of bias, character was. My childhood friends were a hodgepodge of skin hues, all darker than my own. (This is pretty much a given in any social scenario - I come in two tones, pale and burned red!) Immigrant and native born, my circle was wide. I am grateful for this upbringing, yet it makes grasping the reasons for hate due to hue all the more difficult!

Today, we remember Martin Luther King, Jr, the man who stood in Washington, DC. and gave the iconic "I have a dream" speech. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."The content of their character, beautiful alliteration. Judging by color, at that time, meant whether the skin was dark or light. As the years have passed, America has added many hues that range between and, sadly, each is still "judged."

"In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred." Fifty-five years has brought wars and recessions, technology and medical advancements - progress in much of life, yet the divisions continue. Beyond the color of our skin, we divide and judge gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, financial positions, and political affiliations. Toddler-like tantrums due to opinions voiced, people "unfriending" each other on social media platforms due to the votes they cast, violence erupting in streets, with fists and weapons…wrongful deeds, bitterness and hatred. These were the warning words of a man who is honored this January day, yet where is the honor in these behaviors? I can answer that - there is none!

Martin Luther King, Jr. had integrity and spirit - he loved people and had courage to peacefully voice and advocate his beliefs. He united both blacks and whites to follow and pursue the cause; he inspired.

Now - I have a dream. I have a dream that my three children might one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, by the multiple ethnicities flowing through their veins, by the religion in which the believe and follow, by their sexuality, by whether they are rich or poor, by whether they vote Democratic or Republican, by the career path the choose, or by anything more than the content of their character. Might they be judged as fair and kind, sensitive to the needs of others, loving towards the people around them, open to voicing opinions while respecting the opinions of others. May they be judged for their forgiveness and acts of charity, for following laws and being productive members of society, and for being hard workers, earning and not entitled.

(Quotes: Thanks to www.archives.gov/files/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf Copyright 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Monday, January 8, 2018

Where is the toilet plunger?!...

Shel Silverstein - I was first introduced to his poems 30 years ago, when a friend gifted me a hard copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends. Lines read and re-read, some even pasted into memory - the kind so tightly glued that they can still be quoted years later, decades later!

It all began when the toilet plunger became a pretend light saber. The life of that play was cut immediately short. "Do you know where that has been?!" Inside shutter, slight gag, before demanding hand washings. "Teddy said it was a hat, so I put it on. Now Daddy's saying, "Where the heck's the toilet plunger gone?" The words tumbled out of my memory and mind, onto my tongue. I laughed. It could have been worse, right?

It provoked me to contemplate the aspects of memory - the way the brain works and remembers. Obviously, if we constantly repeat things, we tend to remember them....or maybe not obviously, but it seems to be the case. However, do you remember that song - the one that came out when you were twelve and played through the speakers of your radio continuously, for months. You knew every word and pause, every building crescendo, every staccato sounding word. Decades have now past - that same song that filled your every day has only passed your ears a dozen times since then, but it begins to play on a radio station. Before your kids can flip the station, your hand freezes their motion. There you are again, decades later, singing every word in sync with the artist. But how do you remember it all?

I honestly think music and rhyme play a big part of the memorization - that poem, that song...it is the rhythm and rhyme that catch, crocheting of lyrics into the recesses of memory, easily pulled out, like a loose string from fabric.

Now to sanitize that plunger, just in case star wars calls for another saber fight!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

When the best of baking intentions goes…bust?

It's the holidays…time for purchasing gifts, wrapping them, last minute errands, decorating, and baking. Oh, the smells that fill the home, lingering aromas of vanilla and cooked dough - it's the scented candle delight without lighting a flame.

This year, I decided that I would bake for the neighbors, as well. In the previous years, bouts of viruses have kept me from this endeavor, but 2017 is deemed to be cookies (and fudge) year! My eight year old helped me narrow down the list of options (hardly narrowing when choosing five, plus fudge, but still) - oatmeal with red and green M&Ms, sugar with sprinkles, peanut butter, caramel, and lemon drop.
Beginning yesterday, we started with the sugar and caramels. "Helping," she stirred, covered the counters with flour, dropped bits of dough on the floor (much to our dog's delight), and placed balls of our blendings onto cookie sheets. Although she made more of a mess than helped, I was glad that I put her in charge of balling up and lining the last tray.

Why, you ask? Caramel pieces - the ones for baking, are the same pale ,fleshy color as the dough. My bright idea was to top all the ones I had made with a caramel piece - falsely assuming it would melt into the cookie, giving the top bite as much delight as the inside. What I didn't realize is that the caramel does NOT melt, but, instead, turns a lovely shade of tan. Allow me to give you a visual.

So…this happened. Can you note the difference between mommy-topped cookies and my daughter's? Do you see why I was so relieved that she did the second tray? Sigh. Otherwise, no caramel cookies would have been added to the neighbor's plates! haha

On the other hand, I believe I have found a wonderful recipe and unique "look" for any future mammogram technicians or breast surgeons. Lacking the usual reds and greens, it truly could be a gift of any occasion?!

Although this particular batch was a…bust, we have thoroughly enjoyed them!

Merry Christmas - and happy writing!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

What autism looks like….

This is a new thing for our family - autism. I could go into a detailed back story of how and why our eldest daughter wasn't diagnosed until age 13 - signs seemingly just quirks, delays thought to be laziness, singular random melt-downs so far a few between that the connection was lost. At 3 years, she was "tested" by a group in North Carolina - the answer, "believed to be on the spectrum, but not specific due to abilities to be interactive with others." I left it at that. I was uninformed and uneducated - the few individuals I knew to be autistic were more in the realm of Rain Man, the more typical assumption. She can talk, she interacts, she doesn't scream about things. Sure, her speech was hard to understand until well after 5 years and her sentences condensed to short staccatos of random words. No, she wasn't interested in pretend play with other girls (or on her own) and didn't seem to have a grasp of volume control when "talking" to herself. But - she was happy, easy-going. She was the infant who was happy in anyone's arms, the baby who never cried unless she was injured, the toddler that had only one all-out tantrum. Yet, there wasn't the usual "comfort found in mommy" connection, no communication for being hungry, wet, or tired. With number two born 19  months later, I was grateful of her seemingly low-maintenance personality, especially when our son was quite the opposite! :)
It wasn't until a few poignant events, ages 11-13, that something didn't settle for me. With pen and notepad, I began writing it all out - the "quirks," delays, previous findings, aversions to strange things and fixation on others, those events that didn't add up, didn't make sense. I researched and began asking the "right" questions with her and finally talked to our pediatrician. "I think that I should refer her to the behavioral science group at the University of South Florida and that she should be tested for Autism Spectrum Disorder." What?! No, no, no - she makes eye contact, she can talk - there is just something else up, right?
After completing a stack of paperwork, I received a call from one of the psychiatrists at USF. Three hours later, after numerous questions, she wanted to move to the next stage - observation and testing with our daughter. She strongly felt that she should be tested further. After a five hour appointment and a month of the psychologist's team's viewing of videos and questionnaires done that day, my husband and I found ourselves in the Dr's office again. Yes, she was definitely on the Spectrum, Autism specific in it…with an anxiety disorder. Although we were prepared to hear "spectrum," it still felt like our world took an unexpected tilt.
Everyone diagnosed is different - let's just start there. There are variances in the levels of autism, in scope - it is truly wide and intimidating. What I want to share is what autism looks like - for this teenage girl. She is smart and scores well when academically challenged. Her aspirations are to be a large animal vet and if she puts her mind to it, I know she will be one! Although her facial expressions are not as varied as my younger two, her smile can brighten a room. She comes across as shy to most - unsure about what she should say or do, worried about not reading someone's body language correctly. She will start a therapy group for that next month, though -given a safe place to practice and working with people who understand the complexities of the austic brain far better than our hours of research and reading possess. She is also quiet, unless she has something to say. She is sensitive - especially to anything perceived as criticism. She defends other's quicker than herself. Although sarcasm is lost on her, her world being very black and white, she has a quick sense of humor and her laugh is contagious. She is loyal - trust may be very slowly earned from her, but once she does, she is fiercely loyal.
She has a super power - an unexplainable connection with animals. She can quiet the wildest of horses with her voice and soft touch. This ability became apparent when she was just shy of two years old and wandered towards a pit bull, whose owner was on his cell. When we saw her, she was laying stomach-to-stomach, babbling at the dog and the owner had ceased his conversation and was standing with mouth agape. "I don't understand - he hates children and bites! But then she came up - I swear, I didn't see her - and he sits, then lays down, then this - " gesturing to the scene before him. The incident wasn't singular and we now call it her super power, one that will certainly come in handy with a rowdy elephant in the future!
That is the thing - about autism, ADD/ADHD, other medically termed diagnosis with "disorder" looming at the end. It isn't a disorder, not necessarily, it is a difference. Sure, the brain may have to be taught certain social cues and how to wrap the mind around what isn't black and white, what is grey. But that same brain can access things that ours can't - whether with animals, the ability to pick up musical instruments with ease, or telling what day of the week was March 28th, 1763 - those are super powers! I shared with her about the girl with autism who never spoke. People assumed she wasn't smart, so she taught herself how to read and write - now? She is a published author! She can't make the words in her mind come out of her mouth, but boy can she write them! (See, back to writing!) Would she have that unique ability to describe what most often limit to speaking if she could form those words verbally?
Since navigating these waters of autism is so new to us, the learning curve so wide, I am sure this will not be the only blog I will post on the topic. I did want to introduce this "let's be real" first as it is one, of many, in which fills those pen hued pages of notebook. It is life and it is beautiful.

The wave...

As I brush off the dust from my computer's neglected keyboard and open the college-ruled notebook that accompanies me to every chiropractic, physically therapy, blood testing, -ologist, etc. apt…every two hours of becoming the human kid-taxi…I finally sit down to blog, to you. The chicken scratchings of thoughts, marked in various hues of pen colors and pencil strokes - notations, ideas, and random thoughts….all with the plans to pry open the laptop and click away at the keys, yet not doing so.

In last year's blog, "Coffee and chronological order…," I mentioned not getting caught up by linear form, to pen the scenes that the mood dictates, not just what should be next. In a round about way, I have ignored my own suggestions and done just that! Although there isn't a chronological order to my blog, there is the underlying topic - about writing. However, even though my daily life is writing, it isn't the process or finite details that consume it - It is life. I realized that without tips and tactics to share, I wasn't blogging. With the chaos of life, I pen it, but never post. So - for the time being, I am no longer limiting myself suggestion, but to whatever drives my thoughts, yet writer focused. Maybe I should rename - "The continuing writer - let's be real"?

Why the title, "The wave…"? In those many hours, riding over speed bumps, stopped at red lights, and rolling my eyes at impatient drivers, a thought came to mind. We drive a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon - my husband's pride and joy. When he bought our silver tank, the dealership let us in on the Wrangler secret - the wave - four fingers up and a slant, given to the Wranglers driving the other way. I have no idea where this began or why it is singular to this vehicle, just that it is. It is a commonality - "I chose as you did" vehicular connection between strangers. Maybe writers need a wave - perhaps a pencil in the air - "I write, too!?" The thought was fleeting and invoked a soft giggle - "there goes that lady driving around with her pencil in the air!" Obviously, it wouldn't catch on and has more potential to become a driving hazard than a "thing," but still - to all you writers, taxying your children here and there, I raise my invisible pencil to you!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Having problems "braining?"...

Allow me to paint you a picture with words…
Millions of water droplets are assaulting your car's windshield. Back and forth, wipers work in synchronized motions, clearing the moisture from the glass. Traffic. Of course it would be heavy on hour ten of eleven long ones. As the happy American Bulldog snoozes with your daughter in the backseat, the hubby hums along to the radio and chomps on the cookies purchased at the gas station north of Ocala. Behind the wheel, you navigate the rain storm and automobiles. In a domino affect, taillights shine red - one after another, breaks peeling with their complete stops. Your arms and body tense, taught as the wheel you grasp tightly, foot firm in the heavy push of the pedal, as the Jeep shimmies to a stop. Behind you, the Mercedes is less attentive to the series of events and still approaches, closer and closer, until a jerking action shoves you forward. Lovely. Hour ten. One to go. Pulling over into the wet grass beside the cluttered asphalt lanes, you and the Mercedes roll. Hour ten, with the upcoming police report, now two to go.

We had a wonderful vacation in the picturesque North Carolina foothills last week. A few trees were tipped with red lined leaves, preparing for the autumn peak. With two vehicles for the trip, it meant neither car held all three kiddos (read: MUCH quieter) and the dog was a wonderful traveler! Now, however, I feel like I need a vacation after my vacation! The whiplash of the rear-ending fractured a vertebrae in the upper lumbar of my neck. (At least the X-rays validated that my pain wasn't imagined!) I, as the sole tensed one in the car, was the only injured party, thankfully. Since then, however, I seem to be having a problem braining!

It is a made-up verb, I know; but it is the best way to describe the cobwebs and fog in my mind.  I have read the same paragraphs over and over, walked into many a room and forgotten why I entered, looked at my third grader's math with a puzzled expression - oh, it is math. Hm. The accident didn't give me dame bramage or anything (har har), but the pain just has me "off" in the department of adequate braining. I was going to wait until I felt better to blog (because, frankly, I couldn't think of what to blog about!), but opted to just write whatever popped into my head, instead. My first thoughts, staring aimlessly at the blank post title, was "I am having problems braining!!" So - there you go! Ever have a hard time braining?

The backseat occupants..at the NC rental house. (Photograph contributed by Holly McLaughlin, my sis-in-law. :) )

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hurricane Irma - In the eye of the storm...

After I sent my sister-in-law a picture of our house - metal hurricane shutters donning our windows, secured up and ready to brace for Hurricane Irma - she said it looked like inspiration for a dungeon story! Although I haven't considered something quite so dark, it did get me thinking about how my unique surroundings could be quite inspirational. Thanks to my dear s-i-l, my mind wandered…away from pantry of dried goods, which were likely to be our next week's meals, far from the bathtubs filled with water to flush our toilets, straying from the spaghetti models of hurricane paths leading right over our home…and onto the details of the observed.

Sunlight filtered in through the small cracks around the metal shutters. Tiny specks of light dared to enter the darkness, sneaking in like shadows in reverse. It was both eerie and calm at the same time. Odd. My creative juices, now on stories instead of meal planning with cold beans and tuna packs, turned towards the possibilities amidst a deadly storm - a murder mystery. What better cover to committing a heinous act than under the veil of chaos that of the wind and rains accompanying a hurricane?

Writing, creating - it is more than a creative outlet or driving passion. It can be balm to the soul…and, in that day, soothing to the sanity! Although I am generally a patient person, the one area in which I inevitably fail is the "hurrying up to wait" type. For example, you rush as fast as the speed limit and traffic will allow to make it to a doctor's appointment on time - only to sit and wait for an hour before being seen. Hurry, hurry, hurry - stop, wait, wait, wait. Nope, just not that great at the art of that type of patience! For anyone who has prepped for a hurricane - from the day that the storm is discovered to be heading your way until it hits - there is a LOT of hurry. Hurry to the store to buy any food you may need (and water). Hurry to the gas station before the rush on gas leaves you without. Hurry to put shutters on, board up windows, put down the sandbags, or whatever needs to be done on the exterior of the house. Inside, hurrying in preparations for electricity and utility outages (AC turned way down (check), fridge and freezer at  lowest setting (check), bathtubs filled with water (check), generator working (check), flashlights, batteries, candles, and lighters all together (check)). Hurrying to clear out safe rooms and fill them with any needed supplies. Hurry. Hurry. Hurry. Wait. Wait, Aaaaand wait! In this past week's case, wait an additional day and half, being the meteorologist were wrong about almost everything concerning Irma - from paths to times to CAT levels! Dealing with worried children: "Are we going to die?" "Are we going to get sucked out the roof it it comes off?" "What happens if my stuffed animals get caught in a flood and disappear?" "What if I have to poop DURING the storm?!" The list goes on - haha. 

Thanks to my s-i-l's thought, I now had a sanity soother and saver. Write! Pen in hand (wanting to concerve the laptops's battery, of course), I wrote what I observed. The shape of the shutters against the windows, the bits of sunlight trying to seep inside, the mirror-like image it case on the walls…the sounds of the wind and rain hitting the metal, escalating into higher and louder octaves of chaos and noise…the worried children who eventually found slumber to be their companion, breathing hard, but barely audible against the wind and rain…the feeling of completely quiet and calm, almost eery, surrounding me when I woke, when the storm had passed…all of it.

Although I highly doubt a murder mystery will be fleshed out from this experience, it has fed the imagination with detail and realism that I, most likely, would not have completely considered. Be inspired by the chaos around you - tuck the details into your verbal toolbox. Using them paints pictures of realism, raw and true - not merely envisioned and imagined, but genuine!

Hurricane shutters installed and ready!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Self publishing vs. vanity publishing...

Oh, the wide world of publishing! You have spent those days, weeks, months, and years, soul-pouring.  Trusted extra eyes have perused your pages. Red markings cover sheets of script, running comments from character or plot inconsistencies to the notes of your ever-honest grammar nazi. All criticisms have been taken into consideration; all edits are done. With numb finger tips, eyes blurry and red - it is ready - that labor of love is completed! Although you may not feel 100% confident that your work is publish-worthy, others do. (Let's face it, we are our worst critics.)

Time for the agent tango - that arduous dance of query letters and waiting…and waiting…and waiting. Chances are high that you will never receive a response from an agent - not even a simple "no," will be sent. So, why bother with an agent - well, most publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. What does that mean? Without an agent to solicit, they won't be reading anything. So, back to the agents - look at the requirements for reading query letters - most say that they are not interested in new clients, unless they have published a book! Full circle - no agent = no publisher, nothing published = no agent! (Of course, that isn't always the case, not with every agent or each publisher; however, this is a fair warning, the sometimes invisible rules of the game.)

Before you close this blog, with a sigh of defeat, please read on: There are more ways to be published than through agents and big publishers! However, one is reputable, the other not. When the words "self published" get tossed around, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Probably similar thoughts to those I once had.

First of all, self-publishing is not the same thing as vanity publishing. How so? Vanity publishing is where you pay money to see your book in print. Now, these can be sneaky - a publisher might rave about your work, say they want to publish, BUT that you need to put in some cash (your part) for it to come to fruition. Hmm. Nope. This is a vanity publisher - it would be cheaper to go to Staples and have them print your book in bulk! With self-publishing (or Indie Publishing, as some are called), other than electing to pay an editor or artwork consultant, etc., "your part" is in royalties received, not payments out. (An aside, I went to a self publishing seminar - becoming your own publishing company, taking bids for editors, art consultants, printers - all for their cut in royalties - is also an option. In this case, they make bids for you, therefore are only paid when books are sold. They have investment in your project, as well as you do. Leave a comment and I would be happy to share more about this process. It is more detailed than using a one-stop-shop, but can be more rewarding, as well.)

So - self-publishing looks like an option for you? Do your homework and have a plan before uploading that brain child of yours onto a self-publisher platform. For starters - create a business plan! A what? "I am a writer/author, not a marketer or salesman!" Maybe so, but it is your piece of work, your responsibility. (Another aside - yes, large publishers do promote their own authors and do much of the marketing, but most now want to know what you can bring to the table, as well. They want to know whether or not you already have an audience, promotional ideas, what all you will do, in terms of book signings, readings, appearances, etc. After a friend's first book did well with a publisher, she opted to self-publish her next. Her words, "I was already doing most of the work and the profits were much greater with self-publishing.")

Back to the business plan - research the minimum prices for various formats for your work. (E vs. paper - they all will have different minimums.) Research things like - best search words, best eye-catching covers in small (aka, thumbnail on-line) and print version, most versatile fonts, etc. Yes, research! Then, consider your audience. What places or types of people are featured in your work? Build off of that. Plan to use social media, email contact lists, put it in your annual Christmas letter - think outside the box: Where, to whom, and how can I promote my book. Did you mention a specific cafe or diner in your book? Call them - tell them about your upcoming debut and that it holds free advertising for them. Ask if they will help promote your book with a simple sign: "Check out the XYZ Diner in John Doe's new novel, Bla Bla Bla! After that initial shock wave of friends and family who support your book, who else is going to follow, clicking a purchase button from an unknown author? Having a plan will help in the long term success of your work.

There are many self-publishing platforms who work, hand in hand, with bookstores (on-line and not), and offer a plethora of options in guiding you through the process of manuscript to book. Amazon's kindle and createspace are two that are user friendly and free, for starters. HOWEVER - read the fine print and protect yourself and the rights of what you have labored to create! Get an ISBN for your novel or writing collection. Although it may promote more exposure, sharing is an option of which to be wary. (An option that allows anyone to share the book around, fee free.) Be diligent in searching for other stories that surface that have similar themes to yours - plagiarism in the e form is on the rise! :O

Yes, there are publishers and agents who watch the sales of new novels, trolling for potential clients and money makers for their businesses. However, if your work is doing well on its own, do you need them? Only if they can bring to the table guarantees that are worth what might cut into your royalties - such as, in writing, contracts to sell future books, added marketing, etc. Also, again, be wary of vanity publishers who also scout good sales - always research any promising publishers and agents. And hold those rights to your labor of love tightly to your chest - it is YOUR creation!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Why do you write?...

It is a legitimate question - why do you write?

We paint and draw because we like the tactile nature of the activity, pouring colors onto the white and creating something new. We read because we enjoy it - are amused by it, inspired by it. Traveling, swimming, riding horses, playing games, spitting watermelon seeds - whatever it may be, it entertains and excites, relaxes and rejuvenates. Writing, on the other hand, isn't something we label as a hobby. It creates, like other forms of art, it may entertain and inspire, excite and amuse, relax and rejuvenate, like other hobbies, but, for me, it is not - it is a passion. It is my soul's song, bringing to life characters that leave the pages and enter hearts.

But what is the goal of writing for you? All of the above hobbies have an end game, so to speak - a painting to enjoy, another book for our shelves, more pictures to decorate the scrapbooks of our traveling adventures, another trophy or triumph for the mantle. I think that is the difference of why we don't categorize writing as a "hobby." Is "I just enjoy it" enough?

If we are honest, the wide world of publishing comes to mind. It is that proverbial "pat on the back" that legitimizes our hours, days, weeks, months, and years of pouring ourselves into a story or book; our artwork on display in the world's literary gallery. However, here is a question you should ask yourself - what if nothing you write ends up on the shelves of someone's personal library? It comes back to: "Why do you write?" Is it a passion or desired profession? Honestly, I doubt it can be the latter without the former.

Here is another thoughtful question: When you meet someone new, in those obligatory introductions and veiled details of your life, do you expose, "I am a writer," or "I am an author?" If the answer is yes, then it is most definitely a passion, one rooted so deeply in your heart that it is a part of your identity.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a writer is one who writes; an author is the writer of a literary work, such as novels, poems, short stories, and the likes. (My wording.) If you have created literary works, you are an author - publication is not a requirement of the title, did you know that?

Consider the question, why do you write? In my next blog, I want to share with you some opportunities for exposure. For those with the passion, who are willing to go a step forward, and put yourself out there - allowing those words you penned to be read by more than family and friends! Until then - happy writing!
August 21, 2017's Solar Eclipse - Central Florida's View :)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A lot of geek, and a little writing...

I would imagine that most of us have that one subject or activity that truly draws us towards it - a passion, so to speak. If we were to define it as an intense passion, it may even qualify for the "geek level" of interest. My geek level? Genealogy! Yes, I am the one of those who spends hours sifting through birth and death certificates, immigration records, census reports, and the likes. My youngest recently asked me, "Why do you care about all these dead people - it isn't like you knew them!" Hmm, good question.

Part of it is the challenge - the mystery of unwrapping an individual's life who can no longer speak for themselves. Another aspect is the history (and I have mentioned my love for that more than a few times). However, it's the story behind the records that truly intrigues me - the proverbial pulling back the curtain of facts and revealing the details of raw life.

There are three family members who presently have my full "geek attention," one based on facts and two on inherited stories, rumors even. Who was great grandpa's real daddy and the truth behind the name changes, after immigration. Although the second of those three might peek your curiosity most, it is what has become of the third that I will share…sorry. ;)

As the story goes, my great, great, great grandfather immigrated to the United States with his mother and younger sister, from Germany, in the early 1800s. No one knew anything about his father, just that he had died before they immigrated….or, at least, that is what was passed down. With little to work with - names, various immigration dates, probable birth dates, possible towns…you get the jist, lots of stories and little facts, I dove into the mystery surrounding the people. Census records, Civil War papers, and marriages in the United States were concrete, but the dates were messy. One census had a birth date of 1828, another 1834. Civil War papers even made notes that the last name was spelled with variations and dates of birth weren't the same. Varied spellings of surnames are understandable - many people changed the spelling of their last names to sound more "Americanized." Birth dates, though? Immigration dates also differed. The one clue that I had was on a single death certificate - a maiden name for his mother - Blum.
To shorten the story, before I bore you into closing this blog - Between a cousin and I, we have connected many dots. For starters, we couldn't find their immigration records with the surname Warner, because they didn't use it - they used Blum. Birth records from Gundelfingen, Baden, Germany unlocked other doors, such as, she had three children, not two, and all their records had this nice little German word under the name. Google translate to the rescue - the word meant "illegitimate." Hmmm, well, that helped a bit. Tracking down the Warner aspect of it was a dead end, after initially thinking maybe that was the lover's last name. Then my cousin told me about a Catholic Prayer Book that the mother had brought with her from Germany, to help her learn English. The inscription was from a Muller to a Frei - neither names were in the mother's genealogy that either of us could find. Also, they weren't Catholic - no records of christenings, marriages in Catholic church, etc. Utilizing the story that the trio immigrated under the sponsorship of the lover's brother, various details fell into place. All three and the Frei brother were found in the 1850 census. Also, in the course of investigating, I found that some of the mother's relatives were buried in Jewish cemeteries. Interesting.

So - what does this particular geek interest have to do with writing? There is a story here - the grit behind the facts, to play with and create. If the speculation comes to fruition, a Catholic fell in love with a Jewess, had three children, then died (or not) before she immigrated with her two living children to the United States. How did they meet? I did some research into having children out of wed-lock in that time and country. Once betrothed/engaged, a couple was seen to be married in the Jewish faith. (Makes sense, if you have ever read about Joseph's questions on quietly divorcing Mary, in the Bible.) If he were converting and they were seen as married, it would be perceived entirely different than a Jew converting to Catholicm and having children before marriage. So, what really happened to him? Did he die or was he pulled back to his family for some reason. (I have yet to find anyone with the last name of Frei or Muller, or any variations of either, who died in that time frame and place.) And…why change from Blum to Warner around 1860? These are still things clouded with speculations…more mystery to unravel, curtains to dust out and open. But regardless, there is a story, seeped in traditions, blending faiths, unexpected love, tragedy. (The youngest child died in a drowning at 2 years of age, as well.) There are heart wrenching swells and valleys in that story, even if I never discover all the facts. It inspires me to pen it, using the knowns and stirring in the questions, chocolate chips in the cookie dough of imagination - concocting a more tasty and textured story.
My great, great, great Grandfather.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

My article, "Embracing the Mess," is featured on Lose The Cape!

http://losethecape.com/embracing-mess/ - Please check it out and give it a read- you may find something familiar in it! (For all you mothers, Lose the Cape! is a great resource for sanity and comrades through the journey of motherhood. :) )

Monday, July 17, 2017

Writing flow and creativity…

With some of the recent submissions I have made, I find myself varying my writing style... quite a bit. I have stepped outside the confines of comfortable and into the poetry of prose. Laying aside the grammar nazi, (deep breath, she is such a part of me!) I am playing with more freely structured sentences. I am a literary fiction fan - lover of the classics, so this is a big step outside my box. However, I am finding it to be very addicting, as well. I have written poems for longer than prose, so being able to incorporate a poetical element into my stories is exciting!

Regardless to the style, formatted to sentence perfection or chaotically creative, there is one rule that should always apply - flow! Have you ever read a book or story in which every sentence started with a noun? No? Of course not! They would never be published! Varied sentence structure adds to flow and creativity. For example:

Harriet likes to paint pictures. She uses both acrylics and oil paints. She usually paints with acrylics on weekdays and oils on weekends.


Let's switch it up some:

Harriet likes to paint pictures, using both acrylics and oil paints. Usually, she paints with acrylics on the weekdays and oils on the weekend.

A bit better - at least they don't all start with nouns.

Now, lets make it more creative - use more interesting words, something more colorful, bringing the writing alive. Using a thesauruses when stumped is fine, we won't tell. Also - using those similes, metaphors, and personification. (See the blog post, "The poetry of it all…" for further explanation.) Let's try again:

Harriet's enjoys creating images with brushstrokes of color. Using both acrylic and oil mediums, she paints pictures of the imagination. On weekdays, she sticks to her acrylics and, on weekends, she explores the world of oils.

Ok, still a bit like a biography on a painter, but at least more interesting, right? To try one more thing - a messy sentence structure that will change everything, but keep the vital information of the text's integrity.

Art strokes Harriet's heart passion, like the brushes she holds in her hands. Weekdays, the Monday through Friday of work and labor, leave less time. Just acrylics. Without the clocks clicking, reminders of duties to be done, oils. Blending hues of blues with shades of amber, her pictures come alive.

Play with it, even if you never use the words you pen. Step outside your confines of comfort and write something that borders poetry. Paint the words and make them come alive!

The tactile nature of painting is therapeutic for me. I like to play with textures, layering paints on patterns…rinse, repeat! Charcoal pulls those patterns from the top layers, creating something unintended and new. "Beauty with a broken wing."

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Writing on war...

Happy belated 4th of July to you all!
Last night, as the house almost shook with the noise of fireworks, squealers, pop bombs, etc, I was thinking - this place sounds like a war zone! I went inside and closed my eyes. Why, you ask? I am in the middle of writing a piece for Consequence Magazine, which has an upcoming issue about women writing about war. In story form, I am telling the story about my Tetka Anka and Chicko Branko. (Tetka is aunt, Chicko is uncle, in Serbian) Anka's story is unique, in that she spent four years in a concentration camp (during World War II), and not because of her religious background. It was for her ethnicity, Serbian, and her lack of response to a demand to work in the mines. Her thought, 'I already have a job, why would I need another one?' The naivety of a nineteen year old girl landed her in a living hell, hundreds of miles from home, in Belsen-Bergen.
I am starting to stray from the topic a bit, though. How does our generation understand being in war. Not as the soldier, but the civilians in the war zones? Most likely, we cannot. I suppose we rely on our imaginations, as best as we can…but what can we pull from in order to help make these writings more real?
Sitting in the dark, eyes closed, I listened. The screeching sounds before the boom, the loud pops in rapid succession nearby - all of it. I imagined it was artillery nearby, the sounds of approaching battle fire and war. Even though I knew it all imagined, I must say that this take on July 4th fireworks was a bit unnerving! (An aside, those sounds much really bring back unwanted flashbacks to battlefields for our veterans! :( )
Using these noises of the fireworks to help better imagine the sounds and fear that citizens might have experienced…it makes me wonder what other sounds, smells, sights, etc. that might be utilized in my writer's toolbox. Any ideas?

Monday, June 26, 2017

Story boards...

Hello to all, on this rainy Monday - did I mention I love the rain? :)

Yesterday, after I spilled coffee on my beloved legal pad, its pages covered with thoughts, phrases, and stories, I was a wee bit upset! Now the pages look aged, antique even, and although I can still read the scribbles, I can't use the pad until it is completely dry. Not a bit deal - use other paper, right? But there is something about the tangible, the need to touch pencil to yellow page, that abets my mental process. 

This couldn't have come at a worse time, being I had set aside time to work out story points for a new book. (Yes, amidst the chaos that is three kids home for the summer, I worked out an hour of calm!) As I was erasing the 2x3 foot white board that I use to teach my kids math, I thought of something and jotted it down on the board….a new tactile experience to writing thoughts, not a replacement of white, lined, notebook paper. Having a few different colored white board markers didn't hurt, either. Away I scribbled, erasing here and there, taking a picture before erasing the entirety, adding more. Don't inform my legal pad, but I may have found an even better way to story scheme - a story board! The additional plus is that the pictures are on my phone, which accompanies me almost everywhere; whereas, my legal pad…well, it doesn't quite fit in my purse!

So! There you go. If you are as OCD as I am and something happens to your beloved mind method, try something way outside the box. Grab a paper plate and scribble, get some sidewalk chalk and head outside, or whatever might break your mold. Step outside the usual, you might just find something better than before!
(The rain is gone, so outside I go - the lanai is such a wonderful writing venue!)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Passage of time...

So - today is my son's twelfth birthday! My boy-sandwiched-between-two-girls has reached his last tween year…already! Earlier, it dawned on me that next year, on this day, I will have two teenagers in the house…suddenly, I feel strands of silver appearing amidst the red hair and an extra dozen wrinkles on my forehead and face…yep - older. Why didn't time pass this quickly when we were children? From one birthday to the next, it seemed like decades of years passed…so…slowly. As adults, though - whoosh! Wasn't it his eleventh birthday last week?!
I was contemplating how I might write out his life - spin his story, so to speak, from conception up until this day. What parts would cover pages and which, mere paragraphs. Pregnancy would get at least a couple, being he was the second miracle baby - from a womb doctors thought infertile. Baby days fly by, especially when there is a 19 month old running around the house…little things, like hating his baths or giggling when he passed gas, my boy! Toddler years would get chapters (flooding the kitchen is in the blog about writing about children's antics)…and traumas, like "near drowning" and "could have died that night" stories, of course, would make pages. His life experiences have made him who he is, creates character…
What is the point of this rambling, when it comes to writing, you ask? It would be the stories, the traumas, the antics, the backgrounds - those things are the foundational building blocks. Much like the fiction we write, the grit of what makes our characters who they are - the choices they make and why - those fill the pages. If I was going to base a character around my son…and the setting was a lake, children swimming around, splashing, enjoying the sunshine…he would be the one still cautious, goggles on tight. Why? Because of that backstory, "near drowning." He would also be the kid who is patiently encouraging a five year old girl to wade into the water, assuring her that he understands her fears, but that it will be alright. Why? Again, the backstory.
All of your characters have a history - they have gone through the passage of time…and who they are, when you write them, is because of this. So, get creative with your characters - if they make a quirky decision, explain it to readers, either before, during, or afterwards…paint the picture of their past, what has made them who they are. If you want your characters to come alive on the pages for readers, then animate them with a colorful past!