The Wolf and the Butterfly

Once upon a time, in the dark forests of eastern Europe, there was a creature that changed its victims into wolves. Not really, but there is a disease that gave people red lesions on their faces and reminded a thirteenth-century physician of a wolf’s bite. In the seventeenth century, the same rash would be described as a butterfly spreading across the face. But the name “lupus” (Latin for “wolf”) stuck.

Those who have known me for a while know I’ve been dealing with chronic joint pain, rashes, unexplained fevers, and fatigue. After seeing half a dozen doctors, multiple blood tests and examinations, I have a diagnosis – lupus.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body, including skin, joints and/or organs. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness)
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • Fever
  • Butterfly-shaped rash across cheeks and nose
  • Sun- or light sensitivity (photosensitivity)

It isn’t contagious; you can’t “catch” lupus. And it isn’t like cancer that can be treated with surgery and/or chemotherapy.

It doesn’t go away, but it can be managed with diet, exercise, and medication. It’s not going to kill me nor stop me from writing, traveling, or drinking tea.

For more information, go to the Lupus Foundation of America.

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I’m not going to share with you a litany of my symptoms and treatment, what I am going to share are things friends have said trying to be helpful. I know it’s easy to mean well and say the wrong thing. We often blurt out the first thing that comes to mind or speak without thinking. Over the past five years, if I had a nickel for every time someone said something unhelpful to me, I could have a night out at the Cicada Club.

Here are just a few:

  • You don’t look sick. Not all illnesses manifest themselves outwardly. I’ve become adept at “pulling it together” and not showing pain and fatigue.
  • You look good, did you lose weight? Illness can take a toll on a body and medication can cause weight loss or gain. Don’t go there; trust me, it’s best not to even mention weight.
  • Have you tried (insert name of drug or herb)? It really helped by sister’s friend’s gardener. You are not a doctor, don’t give medical advice. ‘Nuff said.

 Here a few things I find supportive:

  • Ask me questions about lupus. It’s okay to talk about it, really. It shows you are interested and want to understand.
  • Ask, How are you, today? Every day is different, some better than others.
  • Empathy and validation go a long way. I know it’s hard to know what to say but just saying, “That must be frustrating.” Or “It’s okay, I understand you don’t feel up to it. We’ll reschedule.”

 What if you’ve already said something unhelpful? That’s okay. Take a deep breath, apologize, and start over. You’ll be forgiven, after all, we are all just trying to do the best we can.

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As for me, this just means I’m traveling down a different road than I had planned. This one will have more bumps, hills, and curves, but I’ll just put one foot in front of the other and see where it leads.

Until next time . . . The door is alway open, and the kettle is always on.  di6xK6MrT

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A Day at the Getty Center

I enjoy living in a central location. It’s just a short jaunt to beach, mountains, or cultural events. Generally, nothing in Southern California is more than a three-hour drive, depending on traffic and weather, of course. When the opportunity arose to visit the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Getty Center campus during my Spring Break, I didn’t hesitate.

The Getty Center is the larger of the two museums managed by the Getty Trust. It’s perched on a peak in the Santa Monica Mountains above Interstate 405.  When I had visited there before around twenty years ago, the museum had just opened. I remember newly planted gardens, expansive views from the mountains to the ocean, and endless galleries.

My day started with a drive to Glendale to pick up my friend, Elizabeth. The traffic was horrendous for a Saturday. But fortunately, the Getty Center is a short drive from my friend’s apartment.

The museum has a large parking structure that was nearly full when we arrived. Parking is $15.00, paid at a kiosk, but the museum is free of charge. Once parked, guest’s bags are searched before boarding the tram that takes visitors up the museum. It winds its way up the hillside through a young forest of coast live oaks and delivers riders to the north end of the campus.

Throughout the day, the museum offers programs for adults and children led by trained docents. We arrived in time to join a garden tour. Though called a “garden tour” it was guided walk through the complex with buildings, water features, and plants discussed. Most of the trees are still on the smallish side since they are still young.

On the upper campus, it was pointed out that there is an intention color scheme – lavender, white, and green.  The jacarandas (pronounced [jakəˈrandə] as the name comes from Portuguese, not Spanish) were just beginning to bloom. In full bloom were rosemary, Spanish lavender, and white wisteria. In a few weeks, white and purple crepe myrtles will be in bloom. The colors stand out next against the backdrop of the dark green Italian stone pines.

When designing the museum, they selected the Italian stone pine because they are commonly depicted in Renaissance paintings. The travertine façades also link the Getty to the classical period as it is the same stone used to build the Coliseum and other great buildings of Europe.

The lower level is a sloping garden. At the top is a pool with water dripping down into it from an amphora shaped alcove. The water then pours into a stream that leads you down the hill and into the garden. The beds at the top are mostly succulents and grasses lining the sloping path until you enter the shade of the bougainvillea “trees” that divide the upper and lower gardens. As the footpath continue the colors change into a hodgepodge of mixed colors until you reach the Azalea Maze, an azalea hedge in intertwining circles in the center of the lower pool. The dark green leaves and magenta blossoms made for an impressive end to the walk.

After the tour, we visited the museum gift shop and had a snack at the café. Then it was time for the main event of the day, a program titled Selected Shorts: April Antics – Fictions and Foolery. I hadn’t heard of the podcast Selected Shorts, but the concept sounded interesting: actors reading short stories. There were four programs in total, I chose Saturday evening, because one of my favorite actors, René Auberjonois (Benson, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Boston Legal), was one of the performers.

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The program was hosted by Jane Kaczmarek, who was thoroughly enjoying herself. René was the last on the program, so before he came on we were treated to readings by Joe Mande, Kirsten Vangsness, Sharon Gless, and Justin Kirk.  These performances were delightful and varied in topic and style.

My favorite of these would have to be between Sharon Gless’ reading of “Hat Trick” by Edith Pearlman and Justin Kirk’s reading “The Dummy” by Susan Sontag. Both stories, though very different in voice and emotional impact, were thought-provoking.

René performed “The Invisible Collection” by Stephan Zweig, an author and story I was unfamiliar with. The topic was perfect for the venue, an art museum. It was the story of an art dealer who visits an old customer of his gallery.

Afterward, we went lobby to wait for the performers to emerge. I had the opportunity to chat with Judith Mahalyi, René’s wife of fifty-three years, while waited nervously for him to appear. After he had greeted several other who had attended, including his daughter Tessa Auberjonois, he turned to me, eyebrow arched, “Tess?”

I acknowledged that I was. The smile on René’s face broadened as he put his hand out to me and announced, “My Twitter Pal!” (We’d been interacting on Twitter for most of the past year.)

With that greeting and handshake, my apprehension left me, I was no longer in the company of a celebrity but my friend, René.

We chatted briefly. I introduced him to Elizabeth. Then we wished him and Judith good-night and headed to the tram.

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It was an enjoyable visit to the museum and good performance evening. I regret we didn’t arrive sooner so we could spend some time in the galleries, but they will be waiting for my next visit.

The Getty Museum also has a second campus in Malibu, the Getty Villa, where they house their antiquities collection. Admission is free; an advance, but a timed-entry ticket is required. Also, there is a fee for parking.

I highly recommend visiting either of the Getty Museums. Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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Transitions

Living the high desert of Southern California, I hear two things consistently:

“I’m sorry.” Yes, people apologize to me when they tell them I live in Victorville. For those who live down the hill in San Bernardino or Los Angeles, Victorville and the High Desert Communities are the middle of nowhere. But the truth is, it isn’t. I live ninety minutes from some of the best skiing, camping, and hiking in the country. It’s two hours from the best beaches in the world.  And sixty minutes to three hours, depending on traffic, to some of the best music and theater venues in the solar system (okay, maybe I exaggerate a little.) I like that I easy access to both nature and culture.

“The weather must be boring. You’re either roasting or freezing.” Most think Southern California as a whole doesn’t have seasons, but that is misconception held by those who live in a place where the seasons are spectacular. Yes, it can be extremely hot in the summer, 120o degrees Fahrenheit, but it will cool down at night, unlike Las Vegas, NV. Autumn is cool, crisp, and golden as the mulberries and cottonwoods turn bright yellow; if we’re lucky we might get a little rain. Winter is our wet session. The surrounding mountains are blanketed with snow. Sometimes the desert valley will get snow or frost and when the sun reflects off the Joshua trees the effect is a crystalline landscape. This year, the rains were plentiful, so that means spring will be colorful, and so it has.

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Joshua Tree in Winter

We are transitioning from winter to spring, and the desert is draped with wildflowers. This brings the big city folks out into the desert and with them a few traffic issues.

I went out into the desert this week, early before the tourist arrived, and enjoyed the colorful show. They are starting to fade and may only last another week or so.  The most crowded location was the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Park, but I also visited the empty Saddleback Butte State Park, Old Route 66 between Victorville and Barstow, and Rabbit Springs heading east toward Lucerne Valley.

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If you decide to come out, remember to bring water and sunscreen, stay on the paths to not only avoid damaging the flowers but also the emerging rattlesnakes. Also, if you are blessed to see a desert tortoise, DON’T TOUCH! The tortoise is very susceptible to human bacteria.

The seasons are not the only thing in transition this time of year, so are the people. I have three friends beginning final preparations for retirement in June. This moved me to look at my planning, if all goes well, I will retire from the school district June 2022. It seems so far away, but it’s only six years.

And what will I do when I retire? Write, of course. At this time, I only write about fifteen hours a week. I look forward when I can do it full time.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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Crossroads

I’m at a crossroads, staring at the intersection in front of me wondering which way to I go. I can even imagine the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz telling me, “That way is very nice. It’s pleasant down that way too. Of course, people do go both ways.”

I’ve just finished my most recent draft of The Princess of Sweetwater. It’s been through my critique group, beta readers, and historical fact checkers. I have been working on this story off and on now for six years. It’s ready for me to send to the editor for final revisions before submitting it for publication.

It begs the question, what do I do while I wait for the editor to complete her part segment this journey?

I can stay where I am. Sitting on the fence, waiting, and stewing about what the editor is doing, while I work on query letters and pitches.

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I can march on straight ahead into the high plains of New Mexico to start researching and outlining my next novel.  I do have a research trip already scheduled for October on my calendar. I also have a stack of books to read on ranches, trains, and the state of medicine at that time.

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I can turn right and cross the bridge to focus on writing short stories. I have two stories that need revisions, they have been rejected by one publisher but with a little tweaking could be sent to another. It would be a challenge and a little scary. I’m not used to writing short.

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I can turn left, go down into the valley, and pull out an unfinished, abandoned project.  Maybe it could be revitalized and finished. I have at least three of those in the files. Okay, it’s more like six or eight, but who’s counting?

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These are all constructive. They are moving me toward my goal. Each has a purpose.

There is no shortage of writing I could be doing, the problem is getting passed the paralysis of analysis. That’s what comes a map full of options. Working on the new versus revising the abandoned is the main conflict here. The new is exciting, but eventually, I must run back to adjust the manuscript from the editor, putting the project on hold. The old may have possibilities, they could be rescued, but they were left behind for a reason – they were either bad or boring – could they be fixed?

It is a conundrum. Pick one thing to do or juggle multiple projects?

I know I’m babbling here, partially because my teacup had been substituted with a wine glass – Vino Blanco from Joseph Filippi Winery – partially because I want to do everything. I know if I take on too much the writing will suffer. Perhaps I should focus on those pesky query letters and as well as read my research for the next novel, Sally of Terra Linda. But, April is Camp NaNoWriMo! Dang it, there’s another direction I could go.

So while I bang my head against the wall trying to figure it out, here’s a scene from The Princess of Sweetwater:

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 At the Oakland train station, Fernando led them to the train platform.

“Our car is the last one,” he said. “Yes, there it is. They are getting our trunks loaded. Let’s get on board.”

He helped the ladies climb the steps.

Once on board their private Pullman car, Princess Victoria removed her cloak and laid it on the settee. “Excuse me, I think I’ll freshen up.”

“Please, Your Highness,” Countess Josephine whispered. “May I go first?”

“Of course.”  The princess smiled.

“The train should depart shortly.” Fernando checked his watch. “We just need our staff to arrive.”

Princess Victoria paced the parlor and rung her hands. She hoped the train wouldn’t depart before she had a chance to try for the service door at the opposite end of the car.

When Countess Josephine returned, Princess Victoria moved toward the lavatory.

“Anna, accompany Her Highness.” Fernando propped the parlor door open giving him a clear view of the corridor.

“Pardon me, sir?” Two uniformed railway staff boarded the car, blocking Anna’s path. “I’m Jordan, your steward, and Philips will be your chef.”

Princess Victoria continued toward the lavatory at the end of the car, silently thanking the railroad staff for the distraction. She stopped, her hand on the lip of the open service door, her heart pounding like a sledgehammer on steel. The train whistle blew, she held her breath for a moment. With a final look over her shoulder, she slipped from the train and pushed the door closed.

A station attendant stopped her. “Miss, you need to re-board. The train is departing.”

“It is the wrong train,” she said, ducking into the depot as the train began to move.

The train would be several miles down the track before they realized she hadn’t returned.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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Books to Write By

 

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Writers are always working to hone their craft. We never stop looking for ways to reach beyond our natural gift of storytelling. It can be taking formal course work to pursue an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) or attending conferences, but it can also be to listening comments of other writers as they critique our work, or working with a mentor.

I have also found books on the topic of writing to be helpful. There are a few old favorites that I return to when I have a question or need to review.

Earlier this week, someone asked me which “writing books” I have found helpful, so here are seven of my “go to” books:

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The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler: Inspired by the work of Joseph Campbell,  Mr. Vogler take you through the fundamentals of the hero’s journey, character archetypes, and power of myth to tell a compelling story. I found that even romance stories have these elements which have been used by storytellers since we first gathered around the fire and spun tales to entertain and educate.

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No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty: Written as a resource for National Novel Writing Month  Mr. Baty takes you through the process from the blank page to the first draft in thirty days. Written with humor and solid advice, I found it got me through the first draft of my first novel without going crazy.

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Firsts in Fiction: First line Hooks, Hints, and Help by Aaron Gansky:  This slim volume looks at that all important first line of your story. As a writer and teacher, Mr. Gansky uses this little book to make the process a little less scary. Beautiful examples of the worst and the best first lines are given in the text.

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The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke:  We all want to write that “can’t put down” book. Mr. Gerke takes you through “the rules” of writing. He explains the reason for the rule, gives arguments for and against, and then lets you decide if you want to follow or break the rules. He also discusses how to emotionally engage your reading and psychology of storytelling from Jung to Campbell.

These last two are by the same author, James Scott Bell. It was hard to narrow down which of his excellent books in my library which to choose. As an author and instructor, all of his books are informative.  Here are my two favorites –

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Write Your Novel from the Middle  – This looks at the structure of the novel, finding that one point in the middle that defines what the story is all about. When I used this to do the last draft of my novel The Princess of Sweetwater, it took on a new, unanticipated direction when I defined the “mirror moment” in the story, and I fell in love with it all over again.

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How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career – This is one of the newest additions to my library. After participating in a webinar about the book, I decided to purchase it. Writing short for me is a challenge, rarely are my stories shorter than seven thousand words. Since reading this, I have finished two short stories and am submitting them to anthologies.

So how do I chose which ones to plunk down my hard earned cash and take home to read? A quick search online reveals thousands of books on how to write anything. It’s hard to narrow it down. I look for books written by people I like and respect.  If a book is written by someone I’ve never heard of, I will do a little research into who they are and what their credentials are. Also, I have found that recommendations from my writer friends often prove to be good choices.

What are some of your favorite writing craft resources? List them in the comments below.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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Criticism and Rejection

Rejection is part of the writing business. I found I need to have a thick skin, or I won’t last long. It is a given there will be things said about my writing that will cut deeply.

Critique groups are one of the places you may feel the sharp knife of criticism and rejection. I hand over my precious manuscript to be read by members of the group, and I have copies of theirs. I spent hours carefully reading and noting, what I believe will be helpful, constructive criticism.  I hope they will do the same for me. Then we meet on the appointed day, sit and wait for them to tell me how wonderful I am.

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There are two types of groups – the first is the ones I sat through in college, there are forty or so students and somewhere is that one person who just wants to see if they can make someone cry. They often don’t comment on the writing but attack the writer. Saying things like – you’re the worst writer I’ve ever seen, this was a waste of paper and/or my time, or seriously, you call yourself a writer? The whole time I sit holding back the tears wondering why the professor or grad student who’s the moderator is allowing this verbal abuse. It was because of this type of group I stopped writing for nearly twenty years.

The second critique group is preferable. This is a smaller group, generally no more than five (but there are exceptions.) These are real writers, who want to be their best and want me to also be a better writer. They can be tough. If something in the story isn’t working they tell me with bare-naked honesty. Yes, it still hurts, but it’s the writing, not me as a person. I have gone home several times, mad as a cat forced to take a bath. I lick my wounds for a few days, telling myself they are wrong, wrong, WRONG! Then I look at the chapter and, damn it, they were right, and I make the changes. Real critique groups are a blessing.

Then, of course, there are those dreaded Rejection Letters. I’m sitting here right now with my first rejection in front of me. I’ve re-read it a dozen times, sipping my English Breakfast Tea, and wondering what was wrong with my story? The letter doesn’t give me much of a clue.

March 1, 2017

Tess DeGroot,

Thank you for submitting your short story, Ghost of Tanager Lodge, to XXX’s 2017 annual anthology edition of the ‘XXX’ series, “XXX.” After reviewing your submission, we have decided not to include your story in this installment; however, we look forward to any other stories you submit to future ‘XXX’ compilations. The 2018 volume’s theme, title, submission guidelines, and deadline will be announced April 1, 2017.

Some of the possible reasons for receiving a “1” may have been: more telling than showing, high rate of predictability in the plotline, lack of or ineffective storyline/plot/characters, or poor editing (or not edited at all by a second-party editor), and some failed to meet the minimum requirement of containing a ghost or haunting. You are encouraged to continue to hone your skills and submit again to future ‘XXX’ editions.

Thanks again for submitting.

I’m sure it will be the first of many.

My friend and fellow writer, Brent A. Harris, has been commiserating with me as he got the same later for the story he submitted. He’s been writing longer than I have and has received his share of rejection letters. He said it “took a year and 30ish rejections” before one of his stories was accepted.  He now has two stories published in anthologies, Tales of Wonder  and Tales from Alternate Earths

But we’re not alone in facing rejection. Isaac Asimov displayed his rejection letters on the wall of his office. Stephen King hung his on a nail next to his desk until the nail fell out of the wall. J.K. Rowling recently tweeted some of her rejection letters to encourage new writers.

Nobody said being a writer was easy. When I write, I risk being cut to my very soul every time I share my words. Yes, there will be criticism, rejection, and even have a few bad reviews along the way. But as Brent said, he “will dust it off and revise it to submit elsewhere,” and I will do the same.

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Brent recently shared a writer’s prayer with a group we belong to on Facebook:

The Writer’s Prayer:
Grant me the words to write the story
The wisdom to revise and edit
The success to keep me going
And the rejections to keep me humble

These words are now on a card on my desk, a reminder to keep telling stories, to keep taking risks, and to take the writing seriously but not myself.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open and the kettle is always on.

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A Lenten Journey

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We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. – Martin Luther

I’m sitting here with my cup of peppermint – jasmine green tea, think about the journey that is about to begin.  A forty-day journey through the season of Lent, which starts this Wednesday with Ash Wednesday. It is just the midpoint of the adventure that I embarked on in November with Advent and then Christmas. The trip began with the joyful preparations and celebration of the birth of a child, but now I am descending into the desert. It will be cold and inhospitable. It will be frightening and painful. But I travel with the knowledge that if I enter into the valley of dark despair that is the days of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, I will emerge renewed in the glory and rejoicing that is Easter.  I make this journey every year remembering past years and past lessons learned. It is a time of fasting, prayer, and giving; the three disciplines of Lent.

In the household where I grew up, the Lenten and Easter seasons were of greater importance than those of Advent and Christmas. My mother believed that there was no point in celebrating Christmas unless you then faced the discomfort of Lent and the joyful relief of Easter morning. The story that begins at Christmas is meaningless without the climax and resolution of Easter. This point was brought home to me when comparing the number of seasonal decoration boxes she kept. There were ten boxes for Advent/Christmas season but twenty-one boxes for the Lent/Easter holiday.  Mom liked Christmas, but she loved Easter.

It was my godmother, Lorraine, who gave me the travel imagery for the church year. In a letter she wrote to me when I was in high school, she spoke of the “Great Journey.” At Advent, our traveling companions were Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Zachariah. We traveled with them as they prepared for the birth of the long-expected child. At Christmas we were joined by innkeepers, shepherds, angels and kings as we rejoiced in the birth of a child promised so long ago. But with Lent, we enter a desert place with Jesus, his disciples, and the women. We feel their pain and anguish. We cry within them at the foot of the cross. We follow with hesitation the women as they approach the tomb and are filled with surprise as we discover it empty. We exult with them when they are reunited with their beloved teacher and learn he is so much more.   And before he departs he tells them and us that the journey isn’t over – so now we must carry on.

I know as I experience this journey I will be asked, “What are you giving up for Lent?” While most people will respond naming a food item, such as chocolate, what you do without means more than that. “Giving something up” is part of the Lenten discipline of fasting. For the past few years, I have observed Lent by completely unplugged from the internet, except when necessary for work and writing. This year, I’m doing it a bit differently. I will not be on social media just to play. Instead, I will continue post, but I am limiting my participation to this blog and posts about faith, music, and writing.

By limiting my online time, it will give me more time for the discipline of prayer. I find in the rush of life it is too easy to let time for prayer just slip away. As part of my prayer time, I will use a Lenten calendar of sorts. I have a dish with sand, shells, and candles. Each day as I do my Bible study and prayers, I will as a stone to the display, for a total of forty. When Easter arrives, I will add a small plant. Just like an Advent calendar, it will mark the passing of days through this season.

 

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Lenten Journey Dish 

 

For the last discipline, alms-giving, I am going to abstain from visiting on a daily basis (sometimes twice a day) my favorite coffee bar and the money that would have been spent on that will be donated to Lutheran World Relief.

Won’t you join me on this journey? Here are some resources I’ve enjoyed using:

This year members of my congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church in Victorville CA, are using Martin Luther’s Catechisms: Forming the Faith by Timothy J. Wengert.   Each week reading through a chapter and discussing as a group to exam the growth of faith and our role in the church.

Busted Halo is a website for young adult Roman Catholics. It features several Lenten resources. In previous years, they have had  Fast Pray Give: A Lenten Calendar  Each day, like an Advent Calendar, a new devotion is made available with a challenge to fast, pray and give.

Lutheran Hour Ministries also offers a great Lenten devotional that you can have sent to your email or print out. This year it is From the Cradle to the Empty Grave 

Have blessed journey and I leave you with the prayer from Martin Luther –

Lord Jesus,
You are my righteousness,
I am your sin.

You took on you what was mine;
yet set on me what was yours.

You became what you were not,
that I might become what I was not.

Amen

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is on

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Joy of Reading

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I love to read, and I enjoy passing on the love of reading to others.

It doesn’t take much to encourage a child to explore the endless possibilities of reading.

No, I’m not a parent. I am an educator, an aunt, a Girl Scout volunteer, a writer and a voracious reader. I have a lot of experience with children and books. I’ve learned that you don’t have to be the child’s parent to help them learn to love reading. Through the years I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t . . . So here is my recipe for raising a child that reads:

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  1. Read to them, starting at a very early age. (Yes, I’m saying read to babies in the crib.) Reading to infants and toddlers has benefits that include not only bonding between the reading adult and the child, they learn to connect reading with being loved. It also lets them hear the language played with (Remember how much fun Dr. Seuss is?). For older children, it is a chance to share a book and then talk about what you’ve read.

I read a novel every winter with my students. Without fail, if I am excited about the story, I will have one or two teens tell me, “That’s now my favorite author.”  And for the remainder of the school year, I will see that “reluctant reader” with a non-assigned book in their hand to enjoy.

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  1. Let them see you reading silently. Children, I have found learn best by example, so model the behavior you want them to follow. If an adult they trust and respect does something, they are more likely to do the same. Actions really do speak louder than words.

I always have a book on my desk, along with a magazine or journal. If I have a few minutes between groups, I read. My students see me with my nose in a book as they enter my room, and sometimes they ask what I am reading.

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  1. Fill your space with reading material – books, magazines, comics, newspapers – so something is always at hand to read. A social worker once told me when she does a home visit she looks for printed material (books, magazines, newspapers). If she sees more than five, then the chances of the children in this home graduating from high school jump significantly.

My house and my office have a variety of printed material. I will loan books from my office to students.

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  1. When you find something you really like to read, be enthusiastic about it. If you’re excited about it, it may generate the child’s interest in the book or subject.

I recently finished a young adult novel that was absolutely fantastic. I shared my thoughts with the school librarian and several students. The book was purchased for the school library, and now there is a waiting list to read this book.

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  1. Let them “book graze” or as one of my English teacher friends call it, “book tasting.” With book grazing a child goes to the library and checks out two to three books, then they read the first chapter. If they like what they have read, they can finish the book. If they don’t like it, for any reason, they just take it back and check out a different book. Unlike an assigned reading from class, they do not have to finish the book merely sample part of the text. Sometimes they don’t read for enjoyment because they haven’t found an author or a genre they like. This activity introduces them to a wide variety of writing styles and genres. When a student finds something they like, they can ask the librarian to help them find similar books.

I encourage book grazing with most of the children and teens I know. Just last week I had a student, who had skimmed several books,  come back to me and wanted to know if I could recommend a book similar to the one they had just finished.

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  1. Give books and magazine subscriptions as gifts. If the child you know has a special interest it is easy to find material on that topic to share with them.

All of my “kids” know if they get a present from Auntie Tess, it will almost always be a book. Generally, it is either a book I read at their age and really loved or a book in a genre I know they already enjoy.

Each of these examples produced concrete positive results.

This is so important because reading has benefits beyond being just relatively inexpensive entertainment.  Reading can, just to name a few examples, improve vocabulary skills, teach critical thinking skills, helps develop resiliency, learn empathy, and assist the development of better language skills.

Depending on the source, reading teachers recommend students read 15 minutes to 30 minutes daily (that’s about 1,140,000 – 2,600,00 words a year!) The amount of time spent with their nose in a book had been linked to better school performance and improved self-esteem.

I can’t think of a better gift to give my “kids” then literacy and the benefits brings.

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Here’s a list of some of my favorites:

The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen. Hannah doesn’t want to do to the Passover Seder, but this year will be different as she is transported back in time to face unspeakable horrors. Reading interest level  4th – 6th grade.

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. Life is hard for Jess Aarons, being the only boy squished between four sisters, but his life changes with Leslie Burks moves in. Jess learns many lessons from Leslie, the hardest one will follow a tragic accident. Reading interest level 4th – 8th grade.

The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner. A mysterious gypsy boy, Yann, lives in Paris at the dawn of the French Revolution. He must use his newly emerging powers to stop a murderous count and save the beautiful heiress, Sido.  (This is the book that has the waiting list at my high school.) Reading interest level 6th – 12th grade.

By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman. Set during the California Gold Rush, follow the adventures of a boy and his trusty butler. Will they strike gold or go home empty handed? Reading interest level 4th – 7th grade.

Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska. Manolo has a secret – he’s a coward. Everyone expects him to be a great bullfighter like his father, who died in the bullring when Manolo was only three. He must make a choice to follow in his father’s footsteps or forge his own path. Reading interest level 5th – 9th grade.

If you’re wondering if a book too easy or too hard, a reading teacher taught me this trick when I was working in a bookstore: Have the child turn to a random page and read. How many words were new or difficult? None – the book will be easy to read, 1 to 2 – a little bit of a challenge, but within their reading level, 3 to 4 – more of a challenge, but if it’s of interest they will be able to read. More than four – it’s probably going to be too difficult at this time.

All this talk about reading makes me want to go pour a cup of Earl Gray tea and curl up with a good book.

Please tell me your favorite books to share with children and teen in the comments.

Until next time remember . . .

The door is always open and the kettle is always on.

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What is Love?

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Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare, 1564 – 1616

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.

 

William Shakespeare was a great writer of romantic poetry and dramas, perhaps one can even argue the greatest. I love the images he gives us in Sonnet 116. I picture a lighthouse, a ship at sea, and a storm. He writes that love is “an ever-fixed mark” and “Love alters not.” It is a guiding star. It doesn’t change when you see the other’s faults.  But is true love unchanging? I think answering in the affirmative is too simple of a response.

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On Valentine’s Day weekend we focus on romantic love, that first love that draws us together and drives us nuts. It’s fun, and it’s exciting, but I know from my own experience those feelings don’t last forever. Sorry Hallmark.

I think Tom Hiddleston is more accurate when he said, during an interview for his vampire love story Only Lover’s Left Alive in 2014, “Real love is strange and changeable… but also somehow constant.”

My experience has been real love is fluid, constantly changing and unpredictable as the ocean. When you first fall in love it’s like getting pounded by a wave. It’s exhilarating. Your heart races. Your vision is blurry. You can’t wait for next one to knock you off your feet. As you spend more time together, you learn to ride the waves. You learn to take on gnarly waves, flat seas, riptides, and storms remaining afloat together. Just like the ocean is in constant motion, ever changing, so does the relationship between two people, if it is to last beyond the rush of first love.

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I love my husband, but if I expected us to still be acting like the young couple were thirty years ago I don’t think we’d still be together. We like, other long-marrieds, have matured and that has changed the relationship. I find there I times when the giddy love-struck playfulness is still there – just not every day, all day. Mature relationship shifts with the tide and we become what our partner needs at that moment. At any given moment, I find I may become caregiver, parent, sibling, teacher, playmate or lover to my husband depending on his mood, his needs, his desires. And he does the same for me.

What did I get for Valentine’s Day from Clayton? Nothing. That’s right, he didn’t buy me flowers, candy or jewelry. He didn’t take me out to a fancy restaurant. But last week, he came home from a comic show with a Loki pendant, just because he thought I’d like it. This week, he drove me to work even though it was out of his way, just because my car was in the shop. And today, he’ll proof read this blog for me, just because I asked him. I think I prefer these little everyday demonstrations of his affection than a big show of it once a year.

So Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope it was full of love and laughter that continues throughout the year.

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Update: I originally posted this two years ago, and not much has changed. Married life is still full of its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t change a thing. And what are we doing for Valentine’s Day this year? Same thing we do every year – come home from work, a pot of tea, walk the dogs, cook dinner, and watch a movie.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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Train Tracks and Tea Cups

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Sitting in my room with my cup of jasmine green tea with peppermint, I can hear the train whistle as it passes through Victorville. If it weren’t for the trains, Victorville and Barstow wouldn’t exist. They were “train towns.” And the sound of them passing through makes me nostalgic.

I love trains. I think it’s in my DNA. One great-grandfather was a chaplain serving workers building and repairing the lines in the Ohio Valley. Another was a coalman for a freight line.

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I will ride a train – any train – when I get the chance. Yes, even the replica trains of Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, or the little kiddie trains at the park.

One well-remembered train ride from my childhood was on a Santa Fe Railroad passenger train. We boarded the train at the old Santa Fe Depot (now Amtrak) with a group of friends. The wooden benches faced the windows and were painted yellow and red. They air smelled of diesel fuel and salt water. We disembarked at the small station at Del Mar and hiked down to the beach. Just before sunset, we boarded the train back to San Diego. The next day, there were no more Santa Fe passenger trains.

The summer before I was married I went to Europe and road the rails. From Amsterdam to Vienna, to Istanbul, and Paris. I shared meals and stories with fellow passengers. On the ride to Istanbul, aboard the “Orient Express,” to meet my former exchange student “sister,” as we passed into Hungary. The border official walked off the train with my passport. To say I was panicking would be an understatement.   The father of the family I shared the compartment with ran after him. He returned a few minutes later and reassured me it was “Okay, it okay.” (The only English he knew.) The official was only going to get the three-month stamp for my passport. He had apparently thought I would get off the train in Budapest rather than continue to Istanbul.

The last time I was on a train ride was the year I went to San Francisco for National Novel Writing Month’s Night of Writing Dangerously. An all-night writing marathon. There was a large group of us participating the Great Train Escape. As Amtrak’s Coast Starlight Express left Los Angeles and made stops along the way, more writers joined the car reserved for us. I think about thirty of us were on the train. We talked, we wrote, and we didn’t sleep. I was kept my mind humming with copious amounts of Earl Grey tea and the lovely views from the window. Who knew cows like to wade in the ocean? Or that pelicans would race the train? For the trip home I took the inland route, closer to the route that would have been taken by my heroine, Princess Victoria, as she headed south to find a new life, determined to chart her own course.

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When given my choice, I will take the train. Trains were once the preferred way to travel before personal vehicles and airplanes.  To me there is something special about sitting in the observation car with a cup of tea, of course, watching the scenery go by. And if you’re lucky, there will be an interpreter to tell you about the sights and culture you are passing through.

The dining car is a special experience. Maybe not as fancy as it once was, but still you need a reservation for your seating time. Somehow the food tastes better served on China plates than from a paper bag from the café car. Before the addition of dining cars trains stopped at the famed Harvey House to eat and rest.

Yes, I feel romantic about trains, especially the old steam engines. Maybe that’s why they appear so often in my stories. Trains made it possible to get people and goods to the western United States. In the days of the wagons trains, if it didn’t fit in the wagon it was left behind.

I have one train ride I am planning to do in the next year – the Grand Canyon Train. You board the train in Williams, Arizona and then board the train at their 1909 era train depot. The train takes you to the south rim of the canyon. Spend a day or two at the lodge there and then return to Williams.

Riding along the train tracks with a cup a tea will always bring me joy.

Until next time . . .

The door is always open and the kettle is always on.

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