The Road Taken

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Decades of writing experience only define me as a writer, not an expert at writing. I have been blessed. Opportunities have come to me. I have not been a ravenous, desperate journalist needing to make my name and my way. Although very good college instructors and early experiences as a student writer and stringer for local news outlets allowed me to research, investigate, soar and plummet, I never developed that Geraldo Rivera passion to “get the dirt” or pursue the story behind the story.

A woman who came of age in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I confess I ran the sidelines of the big issues of the times. It was a good place for a reporter, not a popular place from the point of view of the radicals who loudly and passionately wanted everyone to jump onto their bandwagons, especially on college and university campuses.  My liberal upbringing, laced with good moral values, taught me to love people more than their causes. Hard-hitting investigative reporters can’t be too compassionate. I was…too compassionate, loving everyone, reluctant to press too hard, uneasy writing about the worst in our society.

I did get my degree with high grades in journalism from a state college fomenting with controversy in 1972, a hotbed of radical thought and actions. I had married a wonderful conservative man who must have been dazzled by my blond beauty. We were so very different, he in his three-piece suit traveling to the business district downtown while I put on my clogs and shawl for the bus trip uptown where we student journalists were being sent out to cover the challenging times in front of us.

My husband and I shared one great passion…hurting children. So, from suits and shawls to hiking boots and flannel shirts, we began a journey in which our educations became tools to rescue and help children in ways we never dreamed. That is a story for another time. Let this be the summation of my writer’s tale to date: I write passionately, but more from a place of victory than from defeat. I have contributed for many years to a magazine entitled “Enjoy!” It is all about the best of the region in the world where I live. It sums up the place I have come to as a writer.

There is much to celebrate in this world. I choose to pursue the best in people, write about solutions, not problems, explore the goodness of God, and try to bring a word of hope to the hopeless. I am still learning how to write so my words make a difference, not waves; how to say something that will being clarity and transformation to others’ lives in the midst of confusion and chaos, to choose a better road to travel.

Historical Perspectives

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A Cowboy Heritage

A Cowboy Heritage

I’m reflecting on family connections in a new way today. This summer we attended a first ever family reunion for my mother’s side of the family. What a surprise to see our faces in old family photos in someone else’s albums! I had saved a few of theirs from my mother’s collection of old photos when she died so many years ago. At long last we not so distant relatives came face to face, surprised by resemblances, shocked by aging changes, delighted to share old stories and tell new ones.

The disconnect came about when both my mother and her father died in the same year. Our “cowboy” grandpa had really been our only link to that side of the family. My mother’s mother died shortly after giving birth and the baby had been shuffled from relative to relative for the first few years. She eventually became the responsibility of her grandmother who did her best to raise a reportedly feisty girl who grew into a beautiful and “scrappy” teen, according an estranged step-sister who told us some favorite stories of our mother’s young adult antics.

We visited our grandfather on the southeastern Montana ranch a few times when we were young. Grandpa visited us once a year at Christmas, descending from the train with his leather belt and silver buckle slung low below his beer belly and walking with legs bowed by numberless years of riding the range. Once I was invited to spend a summer on the ranch when I was 15. I’m pretty sure my grandfather hoped to marry me off to a cowboy before the end of the summer. It didn’t work.

As we five siblings grew into adulthood our fractured family and personal pursuits overshadowed our diminishing relationships. I was only 25 when my grandpa died and then our mother passed away suddenly three months later. Even then it didn’t occur to us that something had been severed. Not until the past year.

My youngest sister has felt the loss of family connections to our mother’s family the most acutely. She was only 12 when our mother died. When she asked and I began to dig, we found a cousin of our mother’s and began a correspondence. At last, my two sisters had a face-to-face with this cousin and another invited to join the mini reunion. Thus the family reunion became a plan and a reality.

From that wonderful reconnection with our grandfather’s clan, a new interest and connection with our grandmother’s family began to take shape. Now we enjoy a flurry of Facebook and email communication with people who live all over the US and who share our ancient history, have added us to their expanding genealogies and who have embraced us as eagerly as we have sought them out. We look alike, share similar interests and talents. We all have stories of tragedy and triumph, joy and sadness. I so love hearing about their life journeys, commiserating when our lives mirror each others, rejoicing in their accomplishments and they in mine, and learning more about our mother and why she became the person we grew up knowing.

I didn’t realize how wonderful this connection could be or what I had been missing all these years. Now I know. This feels right…connected to my past and my present through the diverse family that shares it with me.

Joy is a Choice

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Coffee on my back patio sets the stage for most days. A joyous, raucous concert of rising and falling bird song delights me. Squirrels travel and chatter along the overhead highway of interlaced oak branches that bracket a view of the western mountains. I meditate and reflect in those moments trying to block out the list of “to-dos” that attempt to squander away my morning peace. It is in those precious always too brief moments that my spirit revels in the beauty of life, the fullness of the my blessings and the treasure of family and friends.

Life inevitably unwinds us into busyness. Those early moments when I claim joy as my halo, my crown of identity, allow me to walk through the day with a sense of transcendence, a calm sense of sanctuary even when assaulted with trials and unforeseen challenges. As one who tends to live passionately, establishing joy as my framework early in the day keeps me in balance, prevents breakdowns or emotional faceplants. I’m choosing to create a place of peace about me…in my home, in my car, in the space that surrounds me. It is very difficult to be unhappy, unsettled, overwhelmed when peace and joy have settled into my whole being.

Grey clouds of depression and discouragement inevitably will threaten. I wish I could say that I have perfected the morning routine of claiming joy, brushing away the insidious thoughts that steal away my peace. It is like so many things in life that require discipline. It requires purposeful practice. On cold and rainy days, a cozy place on my living room sofa with my Bible open on my lap offers the same opportunity to choose joy rather than fussing, peace rather than fretting. I sometimes forget, rush into the day full charge ahead. Danger looms. Sometimes I can muscle through on my own strength. It is exhausting.

Then comes another morning fresh and new…another day to choose. I choose JOY.

Learning the Ropes…A Beginners Course in “How To Get Read”

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That’s just where I am. I’ve been harnessed in. Now I’m ready to tackle the course. I simply have to keep my eyes on the next handhold and step out on the narrow bridge to the next platform. I have two wonderful coaches helping me along the journey of writing and getting published. Thonie continues to do the hard work of publicizing herself as a writer with two books published and the third being refined. She is coaching me in the fine points of becoming a part of the writers’ community both locally and further afield. She gives me assignments to tackle in both the writing of my manuscript and in “building my platform.”

Jeremiah is my technology coach. He also gives me assignments. As he is dealing with a rank amateur, he has to speak gently giving bite-sized instruction so I don’t panic in these beginning stages. It’s all about “building my brand,” he says.

What about the great idea I have been nurturing and the inspirational thoughts I want to put on paper (or a screen) for others to read? That’s really all I wanted to do. Knock me over with a noodle! I have so much to learn. Writing my book is such a small part of becoming an author whose works bless the shelves of book stores and make the Best Sellers list on Amazon.com.

Today I began to study the tutorials Jeremiah recommended in order to improve and upgrade my internet presence. Oh my… Accidentally, I read an article by a very successful journalist who says she still has to work hard at keeping her branding relevant, unique and intriguing in a crowded field of writers trying to do the same.

The whole process can be suffocating. But the members of the peanut gallery who have encouraged me to continue, my steadfast friends and family and my coaching staff spur me on to take the next step, grab the next rope on the course…and swing out. Going back is not an option.

A Fitful, Fretful Journey

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It is time to write this book that keeps working its way to the surface of my thoughts. I don’t have any trouble writing my thoughts, but the discipline of organizing my ideas, researching, interviewing, then writing on a regular schedule and sticking to the plan…that is hard.

I am reading the works of other authors not for story content anymore, but for organization, for technique, for sentences and paragraphs that grab and keep my attention. I am reading to learn how to craft my story so you will all want to read it from beginning to end.

The book I am writing is non-fiction. So, I am reading non-fiction books to see what works for me as a reader. I am writing my book at the same time. My confidence waxes and wanes. I am reading a book now by an author who has done something I hope to do…paint a word picture as an analogy to illustrate his point of view. He then ties his train of thought together in a later chapter so the reader has that “AHA” moment, the moment when the questions raised by the author in the previous chapter, the point of view that challenges the reader to think about an old idea in a new way, makes so much sense that the reader wishes she had thought of it herself.

Another something I look for in a well-written book, another something I hope to incorporate in my writing, is conciseness without neglecting the descriptive phrasing that elicits an emotional response from the reader. Let’s face it, what we read needs to move us in some emotional way, or why read it? I don’t mean sobbing emotions, or soppy sentimentality. I mean emotions that lure us into the story or that inspire us to learn more. The book I am reading now does that. The author uses personal illustrations, speaks in the first person and speaks directly to me. I am reading carefully.

The process moves me along. Reading as a writer, taking a refresher course on “Building Great Sentences,” writing here for practice and having you all let me know what you think, this is helping me grow in my craft as a writer. All you readers give purpose to what we writers write. I want to move you, inspire you and to create a hunger in you to read more.

Let’s see what happens.

Celebrating Life

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Jacque rests uncomfortably in the hospital with her daughter sitting vigilant through the night. Surgery went well, says the doctor. Got all the cancer they could see. Waiting for tests that will show if there is more and what course of treatment may be required in weeks to come. No visitors right now.

The older we get the more often we come face-to-face with the inevitable end of life. Its easy to ignore when we are young and vigorous, full of the future. When the future has a time limit looming we look at life much differently. Each day counts more. Every family event holds more poignancy. Some decisions seem more trivial while others become more urgent.

I love Jacque, my friend, my mentor, my encourager, my sister in Christ. She has a devoted family and large circle of influence. Much prayer has been offered for her healing and return to life in the NOW. There are so many of us wanting her to stick around for awhile longer.

Not long ago we shared sweet memories of a brother-in-law at a gathering in his honor. I learned many things I didn’t know about him. He lived a good life, suffered a long time with chronic and worsening pain. We gladly let him go. Just two years earlier we gathered round Ruby, my husband’s mother who had only the month before turned 99 years old. As we all said goodbye to the shell, the well-used temple, left behind by her heaven-bound spirit, relief and joy and sadness and loss, smiles through tears, celebration and song floated among us in the room. She too lived a good life.

Life is short…an old adage with little meaning until life really is short. I am a grandmother now. Life is short. I want to love the living, love the moments and the days, love the people and the experiences we share. It is time to celebrate life for all its worth. I do believe in the after-life; heaven will be my home someday. But right NOW, I choose to make the most of the time remaining. Get Well, Jacque. Let’s celebrate!

A Wonderful Legacy…WORDS

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My Dad and my Granddaughter...Passing on the legacy

My Dad and my Granddaughter…Passing on the legacy

Family time growing up with my dad always included interesting conversation. We memorized classical poetry while hiking in the Trinity Alps of northern California and listened by the warmth of winter fires to The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas and The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Dad stimulated our interest in politics, philosophy, religion, social issues, and current events. He asked us to share our ideas and opinions. He introduced us to interesting places on the globe and described exotic animals. We often entertained creative people. His own hunger for knowledge defined the culture of our home.

My brother Wallace has become the great philosopher of our family, a theologian and teacher who expounds from insatiable reading. He is an impassioned purveyor of knowledge. Aaron learned early the need for practicality and hard physical labor, yet he writes wilderness adventure tales from a sensitivity and respect for nature birthed in those early woodland jaunts and years as an avid outdoorsman. Both brothers, embracing opposing political and social views, enjoy a good and vigorous debate.

We three sisters have lived very different adult lives. Janice and I each have a passion to write, both have degrees that validate our skill and training, both speak from lives rich and full. She has lived as a world-travelling cosmopolitan while I have lived as a traditional country homemaker. Our youngest sister, Linnea, races at mach speed through life, a mover and shaker in the fitness world, training pageant contestants and conducting on-line workouts. She knows how to influence others with her encouraging words. All three of us enjoy lively debate, share enthusiastically from our own points of view, and love the challenge of keeping up with “the boys” in any conversation of substance.

“Invictus”, “Lord Randall”, “The Raggedy Man” and “The Highwayman” may be heard recited even by our progeny now at family gatherings, remnants of our childhood entertainment with our Dad. We all look forward to biennial family reunions with extended family. Pinochle games often end in enthusiastic (even sometimes flush-faced) conversation about current events or social responsibility.

My husband is a wise man born of a family with roots in common sense, careful planning and practicalities. I am born of a family rich in words, lofty dreams and spontaneity. I gained knowledge, he gained wisdom. As we’ve blended our lives these past 43 years, John speaks and writes more emotionally and I listen and speak more carefully. We both love words. He whistles and sings harmonies from his Baptist upbringing, I recite epic poetry. What a wonderful heritage has been passed from our forebears that we now pass on to our offspring.

Forever Friends

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Today Janet celebrates her birthday. I am among a whole tribe of people who love this woman and feel honored to be called friend by her. One of the rare gifted people who LOVE middle school-aged kids and old people and babies equally, Janet has a following of fans reaching back through her years of teaching, mentoring, mothering, ministry and missions. She puts others before herself most of the time.

Her creativity and passion have left lovely, enduring impressions on those of us lucky enough to have relationship with Janet. Gifts designed to encourage left on doorsteps, homemade treasures given on holidays, home visits to shut-ins, community service with her students, potlucks with friends, conversations on the trail during regular runs, adventuring on rock faces and wilderness trails with her husband, and often with others who never grow too old to learn from her, and on and on…these are things of which I know. Others would tell more.

Janet is a giver. She thrives on doing random and planned and purposeful acts of kindness. The bible says, “A friend shows [herself] friendly.” Janet is a friend to many.

Through the years I have come to know her well. We are sisters and friends. Janet is the foremost initiator of  adventures with our intimate group. Our time together waxes and wanes as we all have busy lives and other commitments. But, the fact remains: we are forever friends.

Autumn Leaves Must Fall

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I am glad for autumn. Glad for the breezes that cleanse the smoke from the sky. Glad to enjoy cooler mornings on the back patio with my coffee. I am so glad the fires that clouded our summer skies are burning out and the firefighters will soon mop up and go home to their families. I am glad that school has resumed and the grandchildren have launched into another year of learning and growing, making friends and discovering new interests and passions. I love autumn most of all the seasons.

Autumn is a time of shedding leaves and the malaise of summer, of harvesting and putting up, of changing direction and letting fresh ideas whisper life into slumbering daydreams. It is a time to prepare for winter’s challenges and darker days. I love the changing colors of autumn that herald the soon coming of my favorite holidays and the promise of cozy evenings in front of the fire. Autumn’s colors are my colors…orange and amber, bronze and brown, red and yellow.

When the last autumn leaves have fallen and the barrenness of winter descends, newly written thoughts will be pondered and polished. Autumn’s colors having birthed inspiration and pleasure in the putting down of thoughts on this screen and into my stories, will have done their job. And as I write through the winter months, I pray for my words to have meaning that offers help, hope and joy to others.