Thursday, June 26, 2014

Magic in the Making

This week has been a bit of a trial. It did not start with Monday, as you might imagine, but started with Tuesday when I sent a text to my niece, Amy, who was babysitting my brother's daughter. The conversation went like this:

Me: Are you on your own with the chipmunk today? Because maybe I'll come visit this afternoon. 
Amy: I am for the next few hours. They canceled their trip because Granddad had a heart attack...They're on their way back now.

And that was how I learned that my dad had had a heart attack. The man turned 70 in February, for Pete's sake, so it's not unheard of, but like everything else heart attacks are things that happen to “other people.” At least that's what my dad said. 
“Older people?” I corrected him. 
“Other older people,” he agreed, with a slight eye roll.

True enough. When a seventy-year-old gardens, bikes, walks, and occasionally runs, fixes anything that needs fixing in his own home and the seven rental units he owns (not to mention the odd fix-it project of any of his six children), and still finds time to visit, serve, and uplift others, that's not the type of person you expect to become seriously ill. And neither does he.
But, when you have a penchant for cookies dunked in anything (yes, water will do) and any type of salty bagged crunchable item, some health issues are understandable. Especially if you've reached your seventies without encountering many before then.

In true dad fashion, he's still cracking jokes about taking his handy-dandy cutters to the numerous wires hooking him to a roomful of machines on Day 1 (to which the nurse chuckled and counseled him not to do so or the entire occupancy of the nurse's station would flock in like a pack of mother birds) or how it felt like While You Were Sleeping where everyone kept visiting when he was napping on Day 2.

If I have a quirky sense of humor, this is indeed the man to blame. And let's go ahead and blame him for my sweet tooth while we're at it. Amy had a story to tell about that too.  Apparently, when the grandkids would stay with them in the summer, he'd wake them up for late night snacktime after my mom had retired for the night. When I asked him if he really did that his reply was an exuberant, “Well, of course I did!” The man has no shame.

Anyway, we love him and are exceedingly glad that he is recuperating so quickly. After being admitted on Tuesday, he was released after Thursday.  He was too good-natured to whine about it, but we all know he'd rather recover at home than in a hospital.
As a family, we have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of love, support, and faith on his behalf. We are truly astounded. And we are seeing what others might call magic or good fortune and which we recognize as daily miracles.

For more about my amazing dad and some of the lessons he taught me, revisit Plot Twist! and as always, thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Diva Depressed

Even divas have their off days. In fact, being a diva ensures that you'll have some especially bad days. After all, the higher you soar, the further you fall.

When we met diva Vanessa Sumers--connoisseur of fine shoes, handbags, and obedient minions--all was running smoothly in her universe. However, like everyone, she has more than a few skeletons in her closet, including the family she left behind in the pursuit of greatness.

We rejoin her after she has learned of her stepmother's death. Returning to her hometown for the memorial services, she must face demons from her past and reunite with those who will always hold a special place in Vanessa's heart.

Excerpt from Vanessa Stmers:

The pastor gripped her hand in welcome, his face full of condolences as he drew her into the chapel.  Relief washed over Vanessa as she realized he didn’t know her.  She spotted a free section on the back row, and attempting to blend into the crowd, she scanned the room for familiar faces.
                “Nessa!” A voice called out as strong arms pulled her into a tight embrace.  “I can’t believe you’re here!  It’s so good to see you!”  Her stepbrother buried her in a bear hug. 
                Vanessa, surprised, returned his hug somewhat stiffly.
                “Peter,” she attempted a smile, her face tight with the effort.
                Unaffected by her uneasiness, Peter grinned.  Shadows of the little boy were evident in the man’s face; the same bright blue eyes that had charmed and incited mischief in his youth, and the ever-boyish grin. He’d become quite handsome.
                “It’s good to see you too,” Vanessa managed at last.
                “You look amazing, sis,” he said, squeezing her arm in a friendly way.  “You always were a stunner.  And we always knew you’d make it big.  Definitely got all the brains in the family,” he declared.  
                “Thanks, Peter,” she said, feeling awkward. She opened her mouth to force a more congenial reply but Peter’s gaze was drawn to the front of the chapel. 
                “Sorry, Nessa. Gotta run.  Looks like they’re about to begin.  You want to come sit with Dad?”
                She shook her head in response; she certainly wasn’t ready for that. 
                He patted her arm, treating her to a sad smile before turning away.
Still taken aback from the run-in with her estranged younger brother, Vanessa made her way down the row and took a seat by the wall.  The services began as someone settled into the seat beside her.         
Vanessa’s gaze was fixed on her father, somberly following his wife’s casket as it entered.  He took a seat by Peter on the stand, his eyes downcast. Roland Sumers had never been a handsome man, but the steel gray hair and the lines creasing his face gave him a distinguished look.  Like her hometown, she hadn’t realized how much she’d missed him, how she’d felt cheated out of the only parent who cared about her, until that moment.  As if an inner barrier had burst, her heartstrings pulled taut in her chest and tears rushed down her cheeks.
A handkerchief appeared before her.  Wordlessly, she accepted it, dabbing at her face so as to cause the least amount of damage to her make-up.  When she’d recovered her composure, she turned to offer a quiet thank you.  The words died on her lips as she met familiar dark brown eyes set in a deeply tanned face. 
His lips curved into a smile.  “Good to see you again, Vanessa.”
The service was underway, so there was no time for else and Vanessa was so thoroughly tongue-tied she wouldn't have been able to formulate complete sentences.  Sitting perfectly still—to all appearances attending to the pastor—her mind dwelt on the man beside her. 
Vanessa had considered the possibility of running into a former flame.  But in her wildest imaginings she had never considered seeing her brother’s best friend, Matthew. When she’d left home Matty Johannsen had been a gangly teen.  All ears and long limbs, he’d been in that awkward ape-like state between boy and man.  His only attractive feature had been the big brown eyes fringed by long lashes.  Those beautiful eyes provided a glimpse into a singularly unique soul: equal parts amiability, wisdom, and humor. 
Matty had been Vanessa’s favorite among Peter’s friends—a group of boys who had typically made her feel stodgy and straight-laced.  Matty hadn’t been like that.  Instead, he’d smile that too-wide, too-many-teeth grin and bombard her with tales of his latest hare-brained schemes and pepper her with questions about her dreams and ambitions.  She would feign disinterest, but something about the odd-looking youngster fed her attention-starved soul.  Matthew had been more like a brother than Peter and some part of her mind persisted in seeing him as nothing more than the skinny too-tall teenager of days gone by.  She couldn’t have imagined he’d turn out like this.
Vanessa covertly looked him over as the pastor droned on. He was extremely tall, she noted, but where he’d been scarecrow-thin as a teenager, he’d developed a broad-shouldered muscular physique as a man which was only accentuated by the suit he wore.
Under the carefully applied make-up, Vanessa felt her face flush all the way up to the roots of her carefully coiffed hair. How could she think this way about Matthew? 
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Matthew's lips twitch, as if he found something amusing.  With a feeling of irritation blossoming in her chest, her lips drew into a severe line and she fixed her gaze back on the pastor.  Matty Johannsen, attractive as he might have become, would not be permitted to laugh at her. Ignoring him for the remainder of the service, Vanessa folded her arms and sat ramrod straight in her seat.

 * * * * *

I'm quite fond of Vanessa. She's the type who stomps her little Prada heel and demands a story of her own. And she did. Read more about Vanessa's adventures in Dealing With Divas, Hostile Makeover, and Finding Myself in Literature. Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Unexpected Sweetness

We'd taken longer than usual to arrive at Golden Gate Park. Alright, I had missed the exit and instead of heading toward it, we were speeding away from it. After a detour along surface roads, a full-blown debate about whether I'd be able to cross four lanes of barely moving traffic, and an ongoing prayer that my Utah licence plate would grant everyone patience with my non-Californian driving skills, and there I was proudly maneuvering my way back to the correct highway. Only one more moment of tension involving my stick shift and a lengthy San Francisco hill dotted with traffic lights, and we made it.
Only to find that the Conservatory of Flowers is closed on Mondays. Delightful. We wandered around, snapped photos of the partially-bloomed Dahlia garden, and realized something: cats can be vindictive. In this case, old slightly neurotic cats can knock expensive cameras onto the floor because said cats feel they're being ignored.  The result of this particular cat disaster was that my cousin's camera wasn't functioning correctly. While she worked on the camera, we piled back into the car to explore other parts of the park . A hazy memory of lush rose beds drove me onward, but they were nowhere to be found. A small sign designating the Shakespeare Garden caught my attention and parking the car, my mom and I made our way back to it. 
The Shakespeare Garden was small but charming. After perusing the old fashioned flowers and the collection of quotations from Shakespearean plays, we retraced our steps. A message from my cousin revealed that at last the camera was repaired--old neurotic cat had done nothing more than flip a tiny switch.  Cindy's relief was palpable, which was only understandable, she's a photographer.
In the meantime, we learned that the Rose Garden was only a few minutes away. Taking the right streets this time and feeling like a queen for finding a nearby parking spot, we arrived at last. 
Roses in June couldn't be more glorious, the garden in full bloom and awash with lovely smells was exactly as I remembered it. Names like Hot Cocoa and Honey Perfume dotted the beds and with an irrepressible grin on my face, I perused each and every one at my leisure.
At the end of a somewhat tense day, discovering something sweet was like a tender mercy extended from above, a balm to all our souls.  Isn't finding unexpected loveliness at journey's end always like that?
Dear friends, I'd love to hear of your adventures and unexpected discoveries.  Feel free to comment below.
For more on my ongoing search for beauty and inspiration, revisit Hope Grows In A... or Sun, Surf, & Solace

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sun, Surf, & Solace

Greetings all! The author is currently roadtripping all over the Bay Area (northern California) with her seventy-two-year-old mother.

Like that's not a recipe for adventure...
Here we are stopping for a selfie while Geeves brings the car around. That's how we roll in Reno.

My favorite so far has been Beach Day. You can play Spot the Tourist by seeing who braves the water this time of year. 
There I am, and yes, the water is cold. But it doesn't matter.  It's my happy place. 

When life turns nasty, my mind heads to the beach and conjures up the sound of waves rolling onto the shore and pulling out afterward.  Like a great sigh or the rhythmic breathing of a large animal, that sound calms me more than anything else.  
As I told my cousin, for a girl who lives so far inland, I am strangely enamored with the ocean.  Simple pleasures, my friends, simple pleasures. Sun, surf, sand, good friends, and solace.

As always, thanks for stopping in.  Words of wisdom and/or utter silliness will resume when I return to my beloved Utah.  Happy summer!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Wannabes Need Not Apply

Wannabe, aspiring, hopeful, etc. Blech! Why do we have a whole collection of words to describe the fact that we're not certain of our writing skills? Personally, I think it's counterproductive to cut the legs out from under our own abilities.  Since this is my blog and after 30+ years I have finally embraced the title of writer, I feel empowered enough to help others determine if they have what it takes to be writers.

Following is a simple quiz to weed out the wannabes from the writers.  Are you ready?  Great! Let's play:

Are You A Writer?
(wannabees need not apply)
Strangely enough, some children are genuinely passionate about writing.  These are the individuals who are so desperate to write that they will write anything, anywhere, and with whatever is on hand. For instance, one of my kindergartners brought me a love note written on a rolled out toilet paper tube. Now THAT is passion.
So, you ever made up your own stories?

This is a characteristic of mature writers who possess a broader world view. Through their writing, they share what they have learned as well as their ideas and opinions on matters they consider important.  Public speakers also engage in most of these activities, but if they don't put pen to paper--editorials, blog posts, etc.--I'm not counting them as writers. Sorry!
So, do you feel the need to comment on interesting events, natural phenomena, and other cool stuff?

Lastly, what about:
Fan fiction?
(Apparently three questions are all I can handle. Probably because I'm a writer and I'd rather be writing. But this is really pretty simple.)
If you answered yes to any, all, or some of the above questions:
In the immortal words of Loki, Ta-da! 
You're officially a writer! Do a happy dance! (Or, you know, go write something, which is probably what you were going to do anyway.)

Now that you have this important information, what will you do with it? You can hold it inside, like a beautiful secret, letting it blossom and grow as you expand your skills as a story weaver. Or, you may choose to share your gift with the world. Whatever you do, my best wishes go with you. Embrace your awesome, my friends.

For information on what I've done since I faced the fact that I'm a writer, look back at Embracing the Fangirl Within, Finding Myself in Literature, or There Are Weirdos For Everyone which details my journey out of denial and into a contract.  Happy writing and reading!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Paper Dolls & Cotton Castles

Paper dolls of various sizes litter the dining room table. Round, fat tummies, cotton-candy hair, extra big eyes, and cheerful grins.  Trace them, she taught me, trace them to make the clothes. I hold a pencil in one had and a handful of markers in the other. I remember to add tiny rectangular tabs to the shoulders and waists to affix the dresses, top, and pants to the dolls. 

With a little bit of effort, you can make your own fun.
I've never suspected that she's to blame for my clothes fetish, but perhaps she is.

The day-to-day clothes I wore as a teenager certainly didn't inspire my love for clothing. We did our best with six kids and a single income, but that meant we thrifted before thrifting was the thing. She did have a gift for sewing new items out of practically anything.  She fashioned dresses, tops, and skirts and loved doing it. Through high school, all my cute dresses were made by her hands on a treadle-run machine no one else could work. The rhythmic clickety-clack across cream lace, blue and white taffeta, and forest green sheers became the background music of our home life.  

Beauty can be made even if money is scarce.
We were green before green was the thing too. T-shaped posts supported three laundry lines, too many clothespins to count, and clothes and bedding for a family of eight. I remember weaving in and out of the sheets, feeling like a princess in a cotton-walled castle with a blue sky roof. 

There were chats over piles of laundry while we folded. Fold, chat, fold, chat. Momma's little helper. She always said the work went faster when you had someone to talk to, and as usual, she was right.

Work is light when everyone takes a part. 
That's my mom. 

She's a bestower of good advice, a woman the neighbors call angelic, a housekeeper who has always preferred to be hands deep in dirt rather than cleaning indoors, a gifted artist who keeps her talents a secret, a wife who has made it work with her sweetheart for nearly 50 years, a mom who takes twenty minutes to say goodbye because there's always one more thing to say and one more hug and kiss to give. 

She is and always will be my biggest fan.

Thanks, mom! Happy 72 years of being amazing!

The Versatile Blogger Award

Such an honor just to be nominated! Because, let't be honest, the only thing I've ever won is a big white Christmas bear (I think we called him Chris...awww, the originality of the tween years).

All joking aside, I really am honored to be nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award, mostly because I get to share the love with other exemplary bloggers.  Oh, and I get to tell you a little more about myself at the end.

First off, let me recognize the lovely and talented Claudia Y. Burgoa who nominating me for the award. Thanks, dear!  Follow the link to learn more about her.

Here are a bunch of phenomenal writers, bloggers, authors and artists you might enjoy meeting (links are embedded):
  • Prairie Wife  Fashion, recipes, & darn good stories
  • Cindy Iverson Artist, photographer, & web designer, as well as a born inspiration
  • Eve Jacob Talented writer and all-round funny girl
  • Fiona Quinn Author inspiring other writers with cool tips like surviving the zombie apocalypse with only the items in your heroine's handbag
  • BeYouDesignsUt Fashionista with a penchant for thrifting, bargains, and journaling
  • Jo Ann Schneider Author, kung-fu fighter, & weaver of awesome tales
  • StuckInScared Writer sharing the hope she's found in the midst of hardship
  • Karen Soutar Driving instructor by day & gifted writer by night
  • Gina Stoneheart Writer with a passion for fostering youth education & creativity

And Seven Things About Me:
(Don't worry, I'll make 'em good!)

  1. I love rollerskating! That's right, I'm thirty-something and nothing makes me feel more free than buzzing about in my fabulous white and baby blue, old-school, boot skates.  I keep them in the trunk of my car, because you just never know when you might need them.
  2. Chocolate and I have an unhealthy relationship.  It taunts me from afar and not-so-afar with it's creamy goodness.  But I usually come out on top of the situation!
  3. Hobbity feet run in the family, so I keep my toenails painted to distract from the squareness of my feeties. At present, my toesies are sporting neon pink with bejeweled flowers. So fancy!
  4. As a young girl, I wanted to be a singer. Okay, originally I wanted to be Dolly Parton, but that dream died with my early affinity for country music.  The dream transformed to performing solos in a slinky, sequined dress...which I never actually did either.  However, I always maintain a presence in some sort of vocal group, even if it's just the church choir.
  5. I have always loved books.  My aunt introduced me to Anne Shirley as a tender age and I have never looked back!  
  6. During my girlhood, I relied greatly on the enchanting power of my three dimples and smiled instead of talking to people.  No one believes it now, but I truly was the shy girl who'd rather be reading books.
  7. Until a couple of years ago, I had never shared my writing with anyone.  So in December, when I received the email from Cedar Fort saying they wanted to publish Becoming Beauty, I was ecstatic, to say the least.  All the pounding on the floor and shouting probably put the downstairs neighbor's dog into a hissy fit.  
Thanks, for stopping in!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Start of Something Good

Teaching young children is like growing a garden, you get to see everything from sobbing and knowing nothing on the first day of school to the development of competent readers and writers who vow they'll miss you forever on the last day of school.
One of my--ahem--cherubs was just such a girl.  I had educated her older two sisters, who were both bright and willing to help, and I expected much of the same. What actually happened took me by surprise. I've crafted a short story to give you the basics of her first day of kindergarten:

          I glared at the airplane thingy stuck on the front of the school.  
          There was no way I was going under that thing or through those big glass doors, no matter what was behind them.  My sisters, after saying hello to everyone, had already gone in, but I wasn't going to follow. No matter what they'd told me about school, I just wanted to be home.
          “Come along, m’hija,” Mom said quietly, her warm hand tugging mine. "It's time for school. Your teacher will be waiting." 
          I fixed my big brown eyes on her. It didn't matter that I was only five. I already knew what my big eyes could do. You'd see. She'd cave in a minute, and then it would be home, my favorite cereal, and cartoons galore.
          Mom didn't look convinced. She raised her eyebrows and gave me the Mommy Look instead.
          Usually, being the smallest in the family means I do what I want. Today, being the smallest meant that if she towed me where I didn't want to go, I had no choice but to follow.
          We passed through the big glass doors and were swallowed up by too much noise and too many long legs. A few kids peeking through their parents legs like me, but most of them hurried off and left their parents behind.  I could never do that.
          A wall of windows, the sun glaring through them, stretched in front of us. Between the brightness, the noise, and all the people, it was too much.  I tried to hide behind mom, but she didn't give me the chance. To both sides branched wide, white hallways, like at the hospital.  My stomach felt funny just thinking about it. When Ana had gotten hurt, we'd all gone to the hospital. 
          I hated it. 
          Remembering she'd gotten hurt at school, I tried to dig my heels in, but the floor was too slippery. Mom didn't seem to be bothered by any of it.  Ignoring everything, she led me down one of the hallways.  More glass doors stood at the end of the hall. Had I won? Looking at the doors, my insides felt less funny. Home, cereal, and cartoons, here I come!
          Right before we got there, mom turned again and I lost sight of the way out and forgot about cartoons for a second. In front of me were kids my size with Dora, Barbie, and Sponge Bob backpacks strapped to their backs. I wanted a closer look at them, but not if it meant staying at school. 
          Parents helped kids put their things away, took pictures, and shelled out kisses and hugs. Were they all leaving? Would my mom leave? I dug in my heels the best I could. I wasn't going any further. The only place I was going was home.
          Mom turned to me and crouched down so she was looking right in my eyes and said in her softest voice, “You're going to be fine. Your sisters loved kindergarten.”
I didn't believe her, but I didn't have time to think about it because that's when she got there.  I'd seen her before.
          “Good morning, Mari. How are you?” she asked. Unlike mom's, her voice was loud. And how did she know my name? 
          “Are you ready for kindergarten?” Her smile—like the rest of her—was too big. She was even bigger than daddy.
          Tears splashed down my cheeks. Mom was going to leave me with this big lady! I flung my arms around my mom. She wasn't leaving without me.
          Her big brown eyes were sad as she peeled me off and passed me to the big lady. The big lady's hand went to my back as she steered me to a room full of bright colors and strange girls and boys. I glanced back at mom, trying to decide if I could make it back to her.  She smiled a little smile at me.
          Just then the big lady crouched down to whisper in my ear, “You know, Mari, there are so many fun things waiting for you. And I already know we're going to be good friends.”
          Her warm hand on my back and her words still in my ears, something inside me grew less scared. I looked back at mom one more time, and taking a deep breath, I stepped into the classroom.

 * * * * *
I'd like to say it was that easy.  In reality, the little friend in question spent the better part of the first month of school sobbing and refusing to eat breakfast for the first 20 minutes of every day. However, in the end she became one of my greatest success stories.  Not only does she read and write beautifully, but she is confident and happy at school and simply adores me.  (That last part probably isn't important from an educational standpoint, but I really did tell her we were going to be best friends, because even with all those tear, I had that feeling from the get-go.)

For more of my adventures in kindergarten, read Closing Time and Run, Forrest, RUN! And if you ever need a slice of sunshine, feel free to volunteer at your local elementary school.  Seriously, little people are the most gracious and welcoming individuals I know.

Closing Time

As we draw the curtains on the summer sun, scrub the last crayon marks off the tables, pussyfoot around the cereal snack still littering the floor, and switch the lights off on yet another school year, I feel the need for a bit of introspection.
I often express the wish that I could write children's literature. I admire the creativity, simplicity, and power of a well-written picture book. Regrettably, I don't have the talent for working in that genre, but with a lifelong love of teaching and fostering early literacy, I can impart the skills necessary for children to tell their own stories instead.

This time of year is particularly rewarding because I get to see the fruits of my labors. Students who came to me in August knowing nothing about books, speaking very little English, and writing nothing more than their names (if I'm lucky), now fluently read and write.

We completed our bout of testing (don't get me started!) with a test to determine students' reading level for first grade.  One of my comrades in arms was concerned because with so many distractions, reading instruction has been spotty lately.  Regardless, all of the children except those with severe learning disabilities are reading on a first-grade level because these are skills we've worked on since day one.  It makes me pleased to see children who once struggled to recognize their own name in print reading confidently.

These children inspire, uplift, and entertain me.  I can't wait to see where they will go and what they will do next.  Though I am the educator, they have taught me so many things that I will always carry with me.

And as the one and only Pig Queen, I wear my big, green, bejeweled tiara with pride and confidence. After all, who wouldn't?

For more about teaching and how I survive it with my sanity intact, revisit Run, Forrest, RUN! Plot Twist! The Power of Fairytales