The Bridge to Summer Break

Summer is here, school is out, and the kids are home all day long.

When I was growing up that meant fun and adventure. We’d get up at sunrise, have breakfast, and then we were out for the day running around the neighborhood, riding our bikes in the canyons, and eating lunch at whoever’s mom would feed us that that day. If my mom had the day off from work, lunch was at our house. Everyone knew if we played our cards right, she’d let us hang out in the family room and play cards or watch television until time for dinner. We thought we were getting away with something – but the truth was she liked having us around.

As we got older, we could take the bus somewhere for the day. The beach, the zoo, or the library were popular destinations. Occasionally, it was a day at the mall and the afternoon matinee.

As the school year wrapped up, I asked my students (high school age, most receiving special education services) what they planned to do over the long break. Most responded, “nothing.”

Being the “speech teacher,” I would inquire for more detail, working on one last chance to teach better communication skills. “Define – nothing. Are you sitting on your bed twiddling your thumbs? Or sitting on the floor with your fingers in your ears?”

They give me polite laughter at the attempted joke.

Nothing means playing video games all day. Things have changed since I was a kid.

The moment they say admit that they have no real plans for summer, students that have been with me awhile know what is coming next.

We just spent the last five months reading a novel together as the platform to work on their language goals. This year we read Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson.

We talked about the main characters, Jesse and Leslie, spending time stretching the wings of their imaginations bringing Terabithia into existence. It was in this land of their making, they learned the power of friendship, how to face the giants in their lives, and how it was important to give back to the world what they had learned. The ending is bittersweet, there were a few wet eyes and sniffles as we finished the reading.

Before we get back to how this relates to my student’s summer, let me explain why I read to my students.

I am not a reading teacher, my pay-the-bills job is providing Language, Speech, and Hearing Services to high school students. I use reading as a platform to meet their goals. It is through reading, I can introduce them to vocabulary and grammar in context. The stories demonstrate the use of critical thinking and problem-solving skills in a wide variety of settings. Most importantly, it is through reading we learn how to deal with strong emotions in relative safety, especially empathy.

Now, back to our main topic – What are you doing during Summer Break?

After they have told me that they plan on spending their summer in their dark, probably smelly, bedrooms staring at a monitor for two months, I take a deep breath and smile. “Is that the best you can do? Where is your sense of adventure? Where is your imagination?”

They roll their eyes.

“Are you ready for your summer assignment?” I continue.

From the freshman, I get wide-eyed looks of disbelief – homework over summer? The older students roll their eyes again and say, “We know, we know – read.”


This is their assignment, printed on stationary –

Dear Students,

It’s time to say goodbye to another school year. Where did it go? These past ten months have gone by too fast. I have watched you learn, discover, and become young adults.

I’m going to ask you to do three things over the Summer:

  • Read every day for at least thirty minutes (longer would be better). Read anything: sports magazines, comic books, the manual for that new video game, or novels. You don’t need money to do this – the public library is free. The librarians will be glad to help you find something of interest at your reading level. Take advantage of the library’s summer reading program and book browse. (To browse a book – pick up a book and start reading. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to finish it. Return it and get another book. If you like it, finish it and then ask the librarian to help you find other books by the same author or in the same genre.)
  • Get some sun on your face every day. That means – go outside. Play basketball in the park. Go for a walk. Ride your bike. Have fun.
  • Come back to school in one piece. I don’t want to see any broken students in August. I want you back safe, healthy, and ready to learn.

Take care and have fun. I look forward to seeing you all in the fall.

Students that have done my summer homework report that they had a fun break, learned something new, and were ready to be back at school. Those that didn’t report they had an okay break and are not ready to be back a school.

If you have students at home for the summer and they’ve decided that hibernating in their bedrooms and vegetating is how they are spending their break, might I make a suggestion?

Encourage them to come out of the dark and join you in the sunshine. Make it a family activity to go to the library, take a hike, or do something new.

I have no children at home. It would be easy for me to park myself at the computer and surf all day. But I know that I’d be hurting both my physical and mental health. So, I read, write, take the dogs for walks, borrow my friend’s children for a day, and plan adventures. In other words, I follow my own advice to my students.

I’ll admit those last few weeks of the school year I was so looking forward to a break from getting up at 4:30 in the morning, being responsible for a hundred plus students, and facing the daily pile of paperwork on my desk.  But I also know that come the end of July, I’ll be ready to cross back over the bridge a start another school year.

I wish you all, my beloved readers, a happy and safe summer. And don’t worry, I’ll be posting my adventures so you can share in the fun too.

Until next time . . .

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

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Memorial Day, a Day of Rememberance

Repost from last Memorial Day – sorry for the repeat, but I’m a bit under the weather and these thoughts are still relevant as they were last year. I’ll be back up to speed next week. 

Please don’t wish me a happy Memorial Day. Please don’t thank me for my service today. Today isn’t about celebrating the first weekend of the Summer season, backyard barbecues, or fantastic deals at the mall. Today is a memorial service, a funeral of sorts.


Let me explain.

Today, I went to the Victorville Memorial Park as requested by my American Legion post to participate in the Memorial Day ceremony. While waiting for it to begin, I had a conversation with Rene De La Cruz, a reporter for the Victor Valley Daily Press. We discussed the meaning of the day and the “celebrations” we saw, and frankly, we found it a little disturbing.

We have three holidays to honor our military. Veteran’s Day, a day of giving thanks and honor to those who have served during all of the wars and conflicts. Armed Forces’ Day, a day to celebrate and encourage those currently on active duty, a holiday that is largely forgotten. And Memorial Day, a day to remember and honor those who paid the ultimate price and gave their life in service to us, the people of the United States of America.

Memorial Day came out of the Civil War. General John Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, gave this order: “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

He called it Decoration Day and chose the date because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle. And at the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield (and future President) gave a speech at Arlington National Cemetery. That day 5,000 came to decorate the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

The day became alternately known as both Decoration Day and Memorial Day, the name was not official until 1968. It was fixed to the last Monday in May, rather than the 30th, in 1971.

Okay, history lesson over.

For me, Memorial Day is a somber day. A day I approach with a tear in my eye and a heavy heart.

I remember as a child, there were friends whose fathers, uncles and older brothers didn’t come home from Vietnam.

I remember friends and colleagues that didn’t come home from Desert Storm, during my time on active duty.

I remember friends whose sons and daughters, brother and sisters, wives and husbands haven’t come home from the current conflicts.

I remember my great-grandfathers, who served in World War I. Great-grandpa Kimball, my maternal grandmother’s father, never made it home, he was one of the many soldiers and sailors who died in the flu pandemic at the end of war. He died and was buried at Portsmouth Naval Hospital, Portsmouth, Virginia (His last “duty station” was my first.) Great-grandpa Nelson, my maternal grandmother’s step-father, was a shipmate of Great-grandpa Kimball’s and told wonderful stories about him.

Great-grandpa Nelson, “Gramps” as we called him, loved it when we would recite poems to him. In Flander’s Field by John McCrea, was a favorite of his. I memorized it and recited at a school Memorial Day assembly when I was in junior high school.


by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (1872 – 1918) Canadian Army Medical Corp

In Flanders fields, the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place: and in the sky

The larks still bravely singing fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved: and now we lie

In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe

To you, from failing hands, we throw

The torch: be yours to hold it high

If ye break faith with us who die,

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields

Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915, during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium


On this day, remember those you gave the greatest measure and sacrificed themselves so you can spend the day sunning yourself on the beach, go to the mall and live your life without fear.

Until next time, remember – the door is always open, and the kettle is always on.

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Not a Mom, but I do Mother

Today is Mother’s Day, my least favorite day of the year.

I often go out of my way to stay home on the second Sunday in May. The reason being I get asked the same two questions every year, not just by strangers but by friends who should already know the answers.

  • What did you do for your mom for Mother’s Day? Nothing, given she died 21 years ago this November. The most I can do is go put flowers on her niche. I will always miss my mom.
  • What did your kids do for you this morning? Nothing, I have no children unless you count the ones with four legs and fur.

Argos and Rowdy Girl, my furbabies.

Cheryl Lacey Donovan wrote in her book The Ministry of Motherhood that “Mother is a verb. It’s something you do. Not just who you are.”

But the truth be told, as an educator (both public schools and Sunday School) and a Girl Scout leader, I have mothered a lot of children.

You don’t have to give birth to be a “Mom.” I have many friends who have fostered, adopted, or been step-mothers. This doesn’t make you any less of a mother. What makes you a mother is loving a child unconditionally through life’s bumps and turns.

If you’re lucky like me, you’ll have a few who will bestow upon you the title “Other Mother” or “Auntie.”

One young man, who still calls me Auntie, had the staff at the high school convinced I was his real aunt. This backfired on him, when he was in trouble instead of calling home they threatened him with calling me. I’d give him an earful, and when he got home, he’d get it a second time.

Another young man, broke my heart when he told me, “You’ve been a better mom, than my own mom.” It was a bittersweet moment, in that I was glad I was there for him, but I understood what he meant.

The students who belong to the writing club I sponsor at the high schools often look to me to be a mom/auntie. Sometimes I forget that then a mom tells me, “Thank you so much for being such an important mother figure in my girls’ life!” It makes the hassles of paperwork, scheduling, and fundraising worth it.

Then there are my “mini-me” girls, who are now taller than me.

I’ve known Erin since she was six and she was in my Sunday School class. Her mom and I came to be “sisters.” When I’ve taken her places, even with you mom with us, people thought she was my daughter as her coloring and build are more like mine than her tall, dark mother. Through the years I have been a teacher, Girl Scout leader, and friend. She’s in high school now and doesn’t need me that much anymore, but that’s okay, I can still make her roll her eyes at my dumb jokes.

My other mini-me, Jessica, is another that looks more like me than her own mother. We met in the beginning orchestra of the local community college when she was ten. We both were learning to play the cello. She was this cute little thing whose toes barely touched the floor when she sat to play. Now in high school, her playing makes me sound like I’m still very much a beginner.

Erin and Jessica are the same age. They attend the same high school. They are best friends, and it’s my fault.

What is funny is neither of them remembered when they first met. I introduced them one afternoon when I had a Christmas cooking baking party with them and Jessica’s siblings. I had four children – Erin (11), Jessica (11), Kaylee (10), and Derrick (10) – in my small kitchen baking cookies. The kitchen was a mess, the cookies were impressive works of art, and they were happy, giggly kids.



Jessica, Me, and Erin

I love “my kids” and don’t you mess with them. I can be a fierce mama bear and will defend my cubs as quickly as their real mothers would.

The world is full of both wonderful women and men, who care for children, guiding and mentoring them. Just because they didn’t give birth to these children does mean they care any less than their parents do.

Let me wish you, the mothering non-moms out there, a “Happy Mother’s Day.” You too make a difference in the lives of the children. And though you may never be told “Thank You,” it doesn’t go unnoticed.

Until next time . . .

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


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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.


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.


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.


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.

me & Rene

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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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.


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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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.


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.


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.


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?


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:

oakland station

 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



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:


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.


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.


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.


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 –


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.


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.


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.


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


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.



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.


Until next time . . .

The door is always open, and the kettle is on

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