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Friday, December 30, 2011

A New Year's Wish

This is the final post of 2011. As we celebrate the end of one year and the onset of another, I have many wishes for my family, friends and readers. Some of you fit into all three of those categories! A friend posted a New Year's Wish poster on facebook earlier this week,and I'd like to share it here. It seems to says a great deal of what is already in my heart. Enjoy the good parts of your world and do the best you can with the areas that are difficult.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Blog Looks and Looking Back

Female Writer Scratching Her Head While Holding A Pencil Clipart Picture by Dennis Cox

I've been trying out new backgrounds for the blog. Some were awful so ditched them right away. I liked one a lot until a reader commented that the background was blurry and she liked the old one better. So, I've kept looking for one that really appeals to me. Yesterday, I even thought I'd go back to the old one. But guess what? I can't find it! It doesn't seem to exist anymore. 

So, now it's imperative that I find one and stay with it. Not there yet, however, so you may be seeing a different look every day for awhile. Why the need to change? I'd gotten tired of the old one with the brown tones that seemed a bit dreary to me. I wrote about making changes one day last week. Maybe not all changes are for the better.

Now for the Looking Back part of this post. I'm not a fan of the many newspaper and TV journalist pieces which summarize the year's events for us. They tend to make me antsy. My mind rejects them as it keeps repeating to me, "Get on with the new stuff. This is all water over the dam." Well, maybe that's not the best attitude to take. There are good reasons to recap the year.

Writers need to recap the year just past in their writing world. It's time to look over your records (oh, please don't say What records?) and see where you stand in achieving your writing goals and ponder what you might do differently in 2012. 

Look at:
1. the number of submissions you made
2. the number of acceptances received
3. the number of rejections (grit your teeth and do it!)
4. your writing income and expenses (needed for tax purposes but also for your knowledge)
5. goals met and those still pending
6. your record keeping methods (good or need some changes?)

Now that you've looked back at 2011, make a list of goals you would like to meet in 2012. Make them realistic for the most part, but go ahead and put something wild and wacky in the list, too. Put the list somewhere visible so you can refer to it from time to time. You'll be ready for the new year.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Regular or Decaf?

Coffee drinkers can be separated into two distinct groups--those who want full-bodied regular and the ones who choose decaf. I think writers can be classified in similar groups--those regular writers who spend a part of every day writing and the others (decaf!) who write only occasionally. 

Which one are you? Do you write only when inspiration hits? Or do you try to write something every day? Which group do you think is going to have more work published? 

Most writing books recommend the everyday method. You don't need to write a full story or article each day. But do some kind each day--even a simple exercise. Try the color exercise where you name a color, then find as many words as possible to describe the color without actually naming it. You could choose a different color for days. You might work on characterizations if you're a fiction writer. Or you could set a goal of a certain number of words per day if you are working on a novel. 

For me, this blog serves as my daily writing. It forces me to write something each day from Monday through Friday. It keeps the creative juices flowing, it serves as a writing exercise of sorts, and, best of all, I thoroughly enjoy it.

If you're in the group that writes only occasionally, it might take more time than you'd like to get those words to come out the way you'd like. You have to search a little harder for that creativity than the regular writer. And maybe your writing world is not as satisfying as for those who write on a regular basis. If you do more thinking about writing than actual writing, it's gets easier and easier to 'put it off' another day--or two or three or...

There's a brand new year only days away. You can make a choice now. Are you going for regular or decaf in your writing world. Could be that choosing regular over decaf will give you a more satisfying result. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Making Changes

Did you notice the new background for my blog? It feels lighter and brighter to me, so I think I'll keep it. Nice to be able to change the design of a blog now and then.

Some people are resistant to changes. Let's face it--some people really hate change. That's too bad because they tend to stay stuck in a time warp. The world changes rapidly today, and I strongly believe we need to be able to make our own changes to stay in the loop.

Fourteen years ago, I did all my writing on an electric typewriter. I submitted my work by writing a cover letter and enclosing both in an envelope, then mailed to an editor. Computers were not new by any means, but not everyone had a personal computer. I told my husband I wanted one. "I don't want to stay back in the twentieth century. I want to keep up with what's happening." He grumbled a bit but we went to a Gateway store in Kansas City, and after discussing many things with the salesman, we ordered one.

It wasn't an easy change for me. There I was, nearly sixty, and attempting to learn something brand new. I didn't understand the vocabulary, I was terrified of clicking on the wrong thing and losing all I'd typed. I didn't have a clue as to what they meant by ram or what files were and more. But doggone it, I was determined to learn, and I did so through trial and error. Well, lots of errors!  But I did learn and it has been one of the best changes I've ever made.

I have friends who say they don't need to have a computer. Never had one, don't need one, don't want one. The one thing they aren't saying is that they're scared to death of something they don't understand. So, they won't make a change.

What if I had resisted making the change from submitting my writing by snail mail to email? Some publications now accept only electronic submissions. Look at the addition of e-books. A huge change in the publishing industry. One that some embrace wholeheartedly while others are still resisting. Had I not made the change to a computer, I'd have no idea about the e-book world.

If you make no other resolution for the coming new year, decide to be open to change. It might be a rocky road at first, but in the end, it will probably make your life easier and fuller. I need to consider an Ipad for my next change. Even now, I'm way behind in that world.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Take A Small Bit of Imagination And....

One of my facebook friends posted the terrific quote and picture above. The picture drew me in and the quote grabbed me. Albert Einstein, mostly connected with math, hit a gem for writers. 

Think of it! Logic is for math scholars but imagination leads to the creativity that writers possess. Take a small bit of imagination and it can lead down many paths. The writer doesn't say 10 plus 10 equals twenty. The writer says, what if I put 10 boys and 10 girls into the bottom of a canyon filled with wild horses? What if there were 10 puppies sent out to 10 different homes with the stipulation that the new owners keep a journal on each pup's life for one year. What if 10 little girls from Afghanistan were sentenced 10 lashes as punishment for going to school? 

On and on you can go. The possibilities are endless. Ask yourself what if for many different subjects and see what you come up with. Use some of that imagination and be creative. Before you know it, you're on to a brand new story.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Not All Gifts Come In Packages

new christmas clipart image: gift wrapped christmas present in red and green with a gift tagnew christmas clipart image: christmas gift or christmas present with gift tag

Yesterday, I wrote about the new Christmas anthology that I'd received in the mail. One of my memory stories was published in it. Then, last night, I received a message saying that a children's story I'd submitted several weeks ago had been published at Knowonder! ezine. Angels In The Snow was based on a true story. I'd read in the newspaper that a small girl had been lifted by a giant gust of wind and thrown into a huge snowdrift where she remained--stuck--until a huge dog rescued her. I wrote the story several years ago so was very happy to see it published at last. The editor of Knowonder! had written me a couple weeks ago saying they had a lot of stories about angels in the snow submitted so was unsure if they could use mine. Apparently, it won out over the others. 

These were two very nice Christmas gifts. Every time I have a story published, it feels like a gift to me. Yes, I put a lot of time and effort in the writing, but maybe it's because I started writing later in life that every publication feels like a present. It lets me know I've accomplished something I set out to do when most people are looking forward to the carefree years of retirement. I've enjoyed some of that, too, ever since Ken retired, but I wouldn't trade all the stressful moments of working on a story and working on it again and again for anything, 

The year is racing to a close, only days until we celebrate Christmas with our family and then New Year's Eve with friends. It's been a good year for me personally and as a writer. When I look back on the writing world of 2011, I know I've received many other gifts besides the two mentioned at the beginning of this post. A few of them are:

1. Having one or more submissions published each month
2. Contuing to find enough material for the blog five days a week
3. Spending tme with fellow writers at my crit group's conference
4. More ideas for stories than time allows me to wrte
5. The ability to write coherently in my senior years

Think back over your year. What writing gifts have you received? There might be more than you think. 

Whatever holiday you celebrate in December, may it be filled with warmth and joy--and ideas for new stories!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A New Christmas Anthology

Book Cover - Celebrating Christmas with… Memories, Poetry, and Good Food

I have a memory story in a brand new Christmas anthology called Celebrating Christmas with...Memories, Poetry and Good Food. I received my copy yesterday. December 21st seemed a bit late to be sending a Christmas book. I was under the impression that the book would be published sometime this fall, but messages I received from the editor, Donna Clark Goodrich, indicated that the book was not ready at that time. Her hands were tied as the publisher/distributor had held up the book for some reason. I could sense her frustration. It's a shame that a time-sensitive book that needed to be out in the fall didn't make it. I've only had time to leaf through my copy, but it looks like a nice collection and would make a gift for someone--maybe for NEXT Christmas. You can order at Amazon now or after Christmas.

My story is about the wonderful Christmas windows at Marshall Field's Department Store in Chicago during the 1940's and '50's. The story is printed below.

Magical Windows of Christmas
By Nancy Julien Kopp

At least once during the Christmas seasons of my 1940’s childhood, my mother and I rode the elevated train from suburban Oak Park to downtown Chicago, exiting at the Marshall Field’s station. Pigeons strutted on the wooden platform and railings, flapping soft gray wings now and then, drawing my attention, but Mother pulled me toward a long flight of steps to the street, leaving the pigeons far above us.

We headed to a special, magical place, the big department store’s Christmas windows. Often, the wind and cold air stung our cheeks. Sometimes snowflakes floated lazily over us, but it didn’t matter. A crowd formed close to the windows of Marshall Field’s, and Mother and I wiggled into the center, moving closer and closer to the front until we stood before Christmas Window #1.

There, before us was a wonderland that brought oohs and ahs from the crowd. “Look, Mommy!” could be heard off and on as well when excited children pointed out the obvious to their mothers.

Marshall Fields initiated the Christmas window display in 1897. During November, the windows were covered with brown paper and not unveiled until the day after Thanksgiving. For weeks, designers and their staff worked long hours to create a story told in eleven successive windows, using a fairy tale or child’s book theme. Animation came in later years, and the designs grew more and more lifelike.  Piles of snow and frost-covered trees looked real enough to touch. A tray of gingerbread men near an oven so perfect, I could almost smell the spicy aroma. A scroll or some other unique prop told part of the story, and the rest came with our imagination.

The earlier windows were toy displays, a marketing scheme that drew thousands of shoppers. Later, in the mid-40’s, the story windows began, and Uncle Mistletoe and Aunt Holly were introduced.

We moved from window to window enjoying the continuing tale. Stories like Snow White and Pinocchio came to life behind the giant windows. They were probably more exciting in the days prior to television, for we had nothing like this anywhere but the movie theaters. By the time we’d walked the entire route, our feet were tingling with the cold, and we headed into the store to warm up.

What better place to thaw out than in the line that ended with a short sit on Santa’s lap. By the time, we reached Santa, we’d shed gloves and hats and unbuttoned our heavy coats. I told Santa my dearest wishes, never doubting that he’d remember and bring at least one of the items I’d requested.
When the 1950’s rolled around, I made the trip downtown to Marshall Field’s with my girlfriends. Even then, my excitement stayed at a high pitch. I noticed more details, and my friends and I giggled and chatted, and pointed things out to one another. With rosy cheeks and numbing toes by the time we’d gotten to the end, we headed into the store. Not to see Santa but to savor a cup of hot chocolate and then spend some time wandering through the massive place looking for Christmas gifts for our family members. We might finish the day with a Frango Mint, the candy made famous by Marshall Field’s.

Today, Field’s is no more. The sign in front now says Macy’s. It was a sad day for me when that happened. A piece of my childhood crumbled, never to be the same. But the memory of the Christmas windows and my visits to Santa remain even many decades later. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Keep A Notepad Handy

Those who celebrate Christmas have a good excuse for not writing much this month. There's the shopping, wrapping, cards to get mailed, parties to attend, baking, decorating and more. Besides that, the usual routine things need attention. The laundry is still there, the dust continues to swirl and settle on tables, and you still need to eat three times (or more in some cases) a day..

It's no wonder there's precious little time to write, especially for those who freelance. Full-time, paid writers have to keep to a work schedule. Freelancers can stray, and how can they not in a time like this?

Even with all the holiday activity, thoughts for stories still come to writers. You might get a brilliant idea while loading the dishwasher or folding laundry. But by the time you get to your computer, a few hours later, the thought may be gone. Or if not gone, maybe only part of it is left in your crowded mind. Suddenly, you're dealing with a missed opportunity.

So what's the answer? Keep a notepad or small notebook handy. When inspiration hits, write down enough keywords so that you can bring it back when you do have time to sit down and work on it. I've kept reading glasses in my purse, in the kitchen, living room and my office for years. They're where I need them. So why not do the same with your notepads? Keep several around so you can save your ideas. Tear off the page and place it by your computer. 

A half-dozen small notepads or notebooks might be a great gift for a writer. These Idea Books might produce some great stories, essays or articles one day. Maybe you should gift yourself with a few. Keep it visible, then use it all year long.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another Christmas Memory Story

Picking out the right tree to decorate is a part of Christmas tradition for so many families. I've posted a memory story of what it was like in my Chicago suburban childhood. If you've got a story to tell about buying and decorating your tree, take time out and write it! Then send it to Chicken Soup for the Soul next Christmas book. 

A Christmas Tree, A Pink Dress and Golden Wings
By Nancy Julien Kopp

 In the 1940’s, we city folk didn’t cut down a tree in the fields but kept our own tradition. On a cold December evening, Dad announced that it was time to find a Christmas tree. My two younger brothers and I grabbed heavy coats, hats, gloves and snow boots, and flew down three flights of stairs to our 1939 Plymouth. Our excitement bubbled over in giggles and hoots.

The corner lot Dad drove to was normally empty--now in December, dozens of evergreen trees magically appeared, lined up like soldiers going into battle. A string of electric light bulbs ringed the entire lot, making it appear like a stage show.
The proprietors, who were also hunters, had erected a wooden teepee-like frame to display two dead deer and a black bear in a prominent corner. Animal rights groups didn’t protest in those days.

My brothers and I marched round and round the frozen animals.

“Go ahead, touch it,” Howard dared.
My hand reached within inches of the thick, matted fur, but I quickly drew it back. “You first,” I challenged, but Howard only circled the animals, hands behind him.

Meanwhile, Dad walked the rows of trees, pulling a few upright, shaking the snow off.

He called to us, and we crunched across the snow-packed ground

 “No,” we chorused. “It’s not big enough.”

We followed Dad and thumbed our noses at several others. “Not big enough,” we said, stamping cold feet to warm them.

The owner ambled over, so bundled up he looked akin to the dead bear. He kept a cigar clamped in his teeth and wore gloves with the fingers cut off, so he could peel off dollar bills from the stack he carried to make change.

Dad shook the man’s hand and said, “OK, let’s see the good trees now.”

The burly man moved the cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, rolled his eyes and finally gestured for us to follow him.

We moved across the pine-scented lot to a brick building. The man opened a door, and we tromped single-file down a long flight of concrete steps.
Dozens of trees leaned against the walls. Dad pulled out one after the other until he found a tree that we three children deemed “big enough.”

Silence now, as the serious part of this adventure commenced. Dad and the cigar chomping man dickered about the price. Finally, money changed hands, and Dad hoisted the tree. We jostled one another up the steps to be closer to the green treasure.

Dad fastened the tree to the top of the car with the rope he’d brought with us. The boys and I knelt on the back seat, watching to make sure the tree didn’t slide off the roof of the car during the short drive.

Once home, Dad hauled the tree up three flights of stairs to our apartment and put it on our small outdoor balcony. We’d wait until close to Christmas to bring it in and decorate the branches. Several times a day, I peered through the glass door to check that no one had stolen it. Why I thought someone would climb to the third floor to steal our tree is a wonder.

Days later, Dad carried the tree inside and tried to put it in the stand, but it was no use. The tree was too tall. It should have been no surprise, as it happened every year. Dad found his favorite saw and cut several inches off the tree trunk. When he put it in the stand, it rose like a flagpole, straight and tall, nearly touching the ceiling. There was a  collective “Ahhh” from the entire family.

Dad hummed a Christmas tune as he strung the many-colored lights, then Mother helped us hang sparkly ornaments, and we finished with strand upon strand of silver tinsel.

Finally, Dad climbed a step-stool and placed the last piece on the top. What joy to see our special angel with the pink satin dress and golden wings. There were times I could swear she smiled at me.

That sweet angel got lost somewhere over the years. Most likely, she’d become tattered and torn, and Mother discarded her.

Now, my husband brings our tree upstairs from a basement storage closet. Artificial, always the same height, never needs to be made shorter. It’s easier, but I miss those cold, snowy excursions to the tree lot with my brothers. I still put an angel on top of the tree. She’s nice but not quite the same as the one with the pink dress and golden wings.

Family traditions may change, but the memories last forever. They are what makes us the people we are today.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Life Isn't Always Great

Product Details

Remember Pollyanna, the girl who put a positive spin on just about everything in life? No matter what misery came along, she smiled her way through it. She's obviously not a real person. Eleanor Porter, the woman who created Pollyanna must have wanted to send a strong message to her readers about facing life with the right attitude. Her character carried it to extremes at times, but she definitely made a point.

The problem is that very few of us can look at every part of our life with a smile as big as the girl in the book and movie. I'm one who tries hard to keep a positive outlook as much as possible, but there are times when you just cannot do it, times when the sadness in your life overshadows all else.

There are periods in your writing life when you write about sadness, tragedy, and the downside of life. It's perfectly alright to do that. I think it serves a purpose for both the reader and the writer. The reader can take comfort in the fact that others also meet adversity in everyday life. They see a kindred spirit, and perhaps they can find a positive message somewhere within the sadness of the story. The writer finds a release in writing about a dark spot in life and can offer solace in some way to the reader.

Let's face it. LIfe isn't always great. Yesterday, I read two poems written by a woman who had never submitted her work anywhere. They were well written but both centered on an abused woman. She managed to bring forth some outstanding emotion in her poems. Any other woman who had lived with a controlling individual could readily relate. I read a Christmas letter about a tragic time in a friend's 2011, but she managed to find a scripture verse that fit perfectly.

Death is a subject some writers avoid at all costs, while others embrace the subject in their writing. Death is a part of life, and I think we need to address it in our writing, too. I've stood at the graves of two of my children and both my parents with myriad thoughts swirling through my mind. And I've written about it. Comments from readers let me know it was alright to share my grief with others. Doing so may have helped some who read my story, and I know it eased my sadness.

Writers face all the joys and sorrows of everyday, ordinary people. Who better to write about both the happy and sad times of life? My hope is that they manage to incorporate a thread of hope that the reader can grasp and hold onto. You see, the Pollyanna in me wants it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Good Read

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

It's been awhile since I've recommended a good read. Last night, I finished Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I cried twiec in the last chapters. My paternal grandmother was known for saying that she didn't get her money's worth at a movie unless she had a a good cry. And she was going to the silent movies!

This novel uses an interesting technique of jumping from the war years of the early '40's to the mid '80's. An old hotel where belongings of many Japanese families were stored serves as the vessel to take us from one era to the other.  In a chapter or two, we are seeing life through the eyes of a young Chinese boy in Seattle, and in other chapters, we live with Henry as a middle-aged man. The author is part Chinese and familiar with the Seattle area and the rounding up of thousands of Japanese-Americans during WWII. This is the background for the story of friendship and love between Henry and a Keiko, a young Japanese girl who goes to the all-white school with Henry until her family is sent to an internment camp.

Henry has problems at home with his stern father, a deep and lasting friendship with a black jazz saxophone player, and an unusual ally in a gruff cook at the school. Jamie Ford's characters are well drawn and memorable. Henry has a hard time in the all-white school. At his father's insistence, he wears a button on his shirt that read I am Chinese. Obedience to family wins out over the humiliation of wearing the button in front of the school bullies.

We follow Henry and Keiko's friendship and innocent love of twelve to thirteen year old kids. Through the years, we see Henry's devotion to the first girl he ever loved and to the man who introduced them to jazz music. We are given the background of the internment camps and given the choice to decide if it was just or not. This is a story of people from different cultures intermingling and learning to live together. It is the story of Henry as a boy and Henry as a father. Most of all, it's a story that will touch your heart and stay with you after you've read the final chapter.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Don't Be A Scaredy Cat!

new christmas clipart image: coloring page of a cute little kitten wearing a santa hat and a christmas bell on its collar

I've known many writers who are afraid to submit their work to an editor. Oh, many of them don't actually speak those words I'm afraid to send my work to an editor. but it's what is running through their mind, maybe even subconsciously. So, they make up excuses as to why they haven't submitted any of the many finished pieces in their files.

They claim they don't have time, or they haven't found the right market yet. Or they'll fool themselves by saying they'll work on it next month because there are too many things going on in their life right now. All of those may be quite valid reasons but it's often a cover-up for the real reason. They're afraid.

That's nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something to work on. I'm the first one to agree that exposing your precious words to the world is filled with risk. The greatest risk being that you'll not only be rejected but also get a scathing rejection letter. They hurt! Darned right they do. But guess what? Maybe the editor will love what you sent, and it will end up being published. Happiness. 

But that can also be a frightening event. Only in the sense that once published, it's gong to be expected that you keep producing good material. You can and will, but you'll also write things that are going to get that rejection letter, too. It's all a part of this writing game we play. 

So, how do you overcome the fear to send your work for other eyes to see? I think it comes down to an attitude adjustment. Have a chat with yourself. A writer needs to develop a tough hide so that the arrows of rejection can't penetrate. You'll never get to the point where it doesn't affect you in some way, but you can become hardened enough to either send the piece out again or file it away for some revisons later. 

As far as being afraid when your work has been accepted--what a wonderful problem to have. Someone liked your writing well enough to publish it and pay for it. Rise to the occasion and keep on writing. You did it once, and you can do it again. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Keeping Track For Writers

We're nearing the end of 2011, so it's time to look over your records and make an assessment of what has happened in your writing life this past year.  You do keep records, don't you? If not, you should.

What and Why:
1. list your submissions (where sent and when) so you know where your precious words are sent
2. show you acceptances or rejections so you know which ones to keep on sending
3. keep track of any income received so you know if you exceeded last year's income or  not and for tax purposes
4.  keep track of expenses incurred for tax purposes
5.  keep a list of publications you want to submit to, include editors' name if possible

There are probably other records some writers keep, but the ones above will give you a good start if you are not already doing them. At the end of each year, I look over my submissions and acceptances. Sometimes a picture emerges showiong me that my work is selling in a certain type of magazine, ezine or whatever. Common sense tells me that I need to concentrate in that area. It doesn't mean I should give up on the others, just that my focus should be on what is, apparently, my strong suit. 

Compare your income from year to year. If you've had either an especially good year or a rather bad one, ask yourself why. What happened to make it either topnotch or abysmal? Was it a good/bad market year or was it something you did?

Keeping that list suggested in number 5 will be helpful for this next year. 

This is not a full list of records you need. What others can you suggest? 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Letter Or A Trigger?

The Christmas letters are coming in at a rapid pace. Several days ago, I gave a few guidelines in writing a Christmas letter to enclose in your greeting cards to old friends and far-away family. 

As I read a letter yesterday, something occurred to me. The person who sent the letter had been a neighbor when my children were growing up. She had two girls who were close friends of my daughter, so the girls were back and forth between houses all the time. We had other things in common, as well. 
Reading about her family and what she's doing now triggered a lot of old memories.

I thought about the many times those three little girls played Little House On The Prairie. For hours! Or how they made clothes for their Barbie dolls, helped me bake cookies and squealed with delight while playing a game. 

Memories! They're what you need for some of those Chicken Soup or other creative nonfiction stories. It's far too busy to write the stories now, but you can keep a list of those memories triggered by what you find in the Christmas letters. Then, in January, you can start workiong on those stories. It's the perfect inspiration. Don't pass up this golden opportunity. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Christmas Story For Chocolate Lovers

Free Christmas Clip Art Image: Merry Christmas Penguin in Winter Snow Scene 

I'm posting a Christmas story that was published several years ago in Chicken Soup for the Soul:  Chocolate Lovers book. The next Christmas book Chicken Soup will publish comes out late fall of 2012, so you've got plenty of time to get Christmas stories written and submitted. 

A Spoonful of Fudge

By Nancy Julien Kopp

Spiral back in time with me to a mid-December day in 1947 and relive one of my treasured memories. With our teacher’s guidance, my third grade class planned the Christmas party, which would be held on our final day before the holiday break. Our classroom already looked festive thanks to a live Christmas tree decorated with our art work. Cut-out paper snowflakes adorned the tall windows, and in free time we’d made construction paper chains which we used to decorate every available space in the room.

But now the most important part of getting ready was upon us. Miss Marshak asked for volunteers to bring Christmas napkins, cookies, and punch.

 “Now what else would be good to have at the party?” she asked.

A boy in the last row hollered, “Fudge!”

At his one-word answer, I sat up straight and waved my hand in the air. When Miss Marshak did not call on me immediately, I bounced up and down in my chair and gestured furiously.

 “Yes, Nancy,” she finally said.

“I’ll bring the fudge. My mother makes the best fudge in the world.” My mouth watered at the thought of the creamy, rich chocolate candy my entire family loved.

I could hardly wait to get home and tell my mother that I’d volunteered to bring fudge for the party. She’d be so excited to share her special fudge with all my classmates. I barely felt the cold December air as I hurried along the six blocks from school to our apartment building. My feet scarcely touched the stairs as I sailed up the three flights to our door.

Mother stopped peeling potatoes when I burst into the kitchen. I announced the great news, but I didn’t get the reaction I’d expected. Her face paled. “Fudge? Isn’t there something else you can bring?”

“No. Other people signed up for the rest.” My excitement deflated like a pricked balloon.
What could be wrong?

Mother shrugged, picked up the potato peeler and said, “It’s all right. I’ll make the fudge.”

The December days slid by, one by one. I helped Mother put up our Christmas decorations. Dad took my brothers and me to pick out a tree, and Mother spent her days wrapping packages and baking special cookies and Christmas cakes. At school, we practiced for our part in the all-school musical program, read Christmas stories in reading time and created our own in Language Arts period. Giggles got louder as Christmas surrounded us.

Finally, the day before the party arrived. Our teacher went over a checklist to make sure everyone remembered what they were to bring the next day. How could I forget? I’d thought about the chocolaty, wonderful fudge Mother would make every day. I could almost taste its smoothness and the lingering sweetness it left.

When I got home that afternoon, my baby brother was crying, and Mother looked about to cry along with him. “What’s wrong?” I asked. My worry centered not on the baby or my mother but on the fudge.

Mother sank into a kitchen chair. “I’ve made three batches of fudge today, and none of them worked. They’re all too soft. I can’t send it to school.”

I had no idea why she was so disturbed. Fudge was always soft and gooey. We spooned it up every time we had it. “Why?” was all I could think to say.

Nancy,” my mother said, “fudge is not meant to be eaten with a spoon. It should be firm enough to pick it up in a piece and pop into your mouth. I beat and beat it, but it’s like it always is when I make it. Too soft. And I made it three times today!”

Tears welled in her eyes, and my baby brother reached up and patted her cheek. Maybe even he knew how bad she felt. How could I bring the fudge to school? I loved my mother’s fudge, but maybe nobody else would. Maybe they’d laugh when they saw it. I worked up my courage and asked, “What are we going to do?”

The next morning, I carried a big pan of fudge and 21 spoons to school.

 The soft candy was the hit of the party. After we had our punch and cookies, everyone gathered around the cake pan of fudge, spoon in hand, and dug in. My fears were never realized. One of the boys licked his spoon and said, “You were right. Your mom does make the best fudge in the world.” Echoes of agreement sounded around the circle. We dipped our spoons for more.

Some years later, Mother began to make a new fudge recipe that contained marshmallow crème. The ads promised it was foolproof--firm fudge every time. They were right, but the spoonfuls of soft fudge we’d eaten all those years before remained my favorite, and I never forgot how my mother found a solution to what might have been my biggest third grade disaster. It wasn't only fudge she'd given me that December day.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Hope--A Four Letter Word

Of all the forces that make for a better world, none is so powerful as Hope. With Hope, onc can think, one can work, one can dream. If you have Hope, you have everything.  (Anonymous) 

Let's face it. Writers get discouraged when they submit their work over and over and get nothing but rejections. Even those who get published sometimes feel depressed when the rejections outnumber the acceptances. Hey, we're human! Seems natural to feel down when we're striving to reach our goals and the climb is incredibly slow.

I found the quote above when putting together a program on Christmas Hope. I read it over a few times and it occurred to me that the quote fits a writer's personna quite well. If you have it, you can keep it close by, pull it out when times are tough. Look at it, stroke it like a soft kitten, and keep it close to you when needed.

If a story keeps getting rejected, hang onto hope while you make revisions. There's usually a reason a story doesn't make it. It simply needs more work.

If you're selling your work but it's going far more slowly than you'd once dreamed, hang onto the hope that eventually it will get better. Your publication list will grow longer as your writing grows stronger.
The easy way out is to give up. If you care about your writing, you won't do that.

Look at the quote again. A four letter word--HOPE--will give you the power to reach for those goals you've set in your writing life.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Critique Groups--Are You In The Right One?


The picture above shows three of the members of my online critique group (writersandcrittters) at our October conference. Miho, on the right, is gving a presentation on poetry. She is from Japan but now lives in Shanghai, China. Next to her is Nichole, who has lived in several European countries and is now berthed in San Francisco. She is interested in scriptwriting for TV and movies. In the back is Carla, who hails from South Carolina and writes mystery novels. 

Three women from three different backgrounds--yet they have the common bond of a love for writing. All three write in different genres but they are willing to offer critiques to one another. They have a genuine respect for one another's writing abilities, and they learn from one another, as well. 

For me, this critique group has been a perfect fit from day one. I knew a few people already in the group and soon came to know the others. We subbed and critted on a regular basis, held online chats on writing-related issues and occasional off-line messages as we connected on a more personal, friendship level. I have always been comfortable in this group.

However, not everyone has had the same experience. Yesterday, one of our newer members--of perhaps a year or so--sent a message saying she was leaving. She felt the group was not for her for various reasons. She didn't offer the reasons, and I rather wish she had. Maybe some of her concerns could have been addressed, although I'm sure she'd had discussions with our moderator before making this decision. She wrote fiction and did it well. She didn't participate in the group on a regular basis but, when she did, she offered excellent critiques and posted some interesting subs. At the conference, she indicated she wasn't sure if she fit into the group and migh consider other options. 

I was sorry to see her drop out, but for her, it was probably the right thing to do. She'd given it enough time to know what felt good and what didn't. Not every group is right for every person. Writers are like all people--we have different personalities, different needs, different desires. If you find yourself in a group that doesn't make you feel like you're gaining something as well as giving to others, then perhaps it's time to look for a new group. 

I am one who believes that critique groups have tremendous benefits, but not every group will benefit every writer. You might need to try several before you land in one that inspires and excites you. I consider myself pretty fortunate that I hit the right one for me on the first try, and when it closed down due to a serious illness of the moderator, I landed on my feet in my second group and am still happy to be there.  

It's not a bad thing to move from one group to another several times until you find the one where you want to stay. Look around your local community for face-to-face groups, look online for a vast variety of crit groups. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Tad More On Grammar

A Yesterday's post on grammar drew several comments on facebook and one here, as well. Clearly, it's one of those boring subjects that still holds interest for some people. One of my facebook friends sent me a link to a really good chart of misspelled words They list more than the ones I wrote about yesterday. It would be a good one to put in your To Keep file.

There are so many facets to grammar. We could explore them for days and days--dangling participles, active and passive verbs, subjects and predicates, adjectives and adverbs. Then, there is the entire world of punctuation. That, alone, might be material for an entire week of posting.

But, day after day of grammar might definitely become tedious. You'd feel like you were back in school again, worrying more about a new zit than what words are prepositions.

Think back to the various English teachers you had. Which one made learning proper grammar the most painless? Which ones made it sheet torture? Which ones didn't teach you much at all? This might be good information to put in your memory book.

I have to say that, in high school, I learned more about English grammar in my three years of French classes. Sounds weird, I know, but it's true. I had two different teachers in those three years of French, but both of them opened a window onto grammar in both languages.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Grammar--A Boring Necessity

Grammar! We plough through it in grade school and high school. We're expected to know it well by the time we hit our college campus, and as writers, we are held to the highest expectations in using proper grammar. But as much as we'd like to be viewed as perfect, few of us can accept the award for 100% correct grammar in every piece we write. 

That said, I'd like to see writers reach the A level if not the A+ the majority of the time. I didn't mind studying grammar in school. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. My love of words was formed early in my life. I knew kids who absolutely detested the grammar part of English classes. I liked learning the rules and using them. Maybe it's because I'm an organized person and it allowed me to keep things as should be.

Now, many decades later, I get truly irritated when I see poor grammar in public places like written words on a TV screen, or an advertisement, or a story/essay/article written and published with glaring grammatical errors. 

I've seen the misuse of your and you're over and over again. It's beyond me that people do not readily see that  you're is a contraction of you are  and your shows possession, such as your mother, your sweater, your passion. It seems so simple, and yet it is mixed-up by an amazing number of people. 

Affect and effect are two more words that are often misused. The easiest way to remember the correct way is that affect is a verb and effect is a noun. So, Age affects the ability to think clearly. and The effects of age can slow us down considerably.

Many confuse they're and their. Again, they're is a contraction of they are while their is a possessive. I heard they're going to the concert tonight to see their daughter perform.

Grammar sometimes seems boring, but I deem it one of life's boring necessities. Pay attention to the little things like this when you write.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Music and Words--An Everlasting Gift

new christmas clipart image: beautiful christmas image with french horn holly and a red bow

We spent a portion of our Sunday afternoon at a Christmas Choir Concert on the campus of Kansas State University. Oh, they termed it a Holiday Concert, but the music was all geared to Christmas. Seven lighted Christmas trees graced the sides of the stage and large, wrapped boxes with huge bows sat nearby. 

While each of several choirs moved onto of off the stage, one choir member led the audience in singing
Christmas carols that had been printed on the program sheets. What a great way this was to get some Christmas spirit.

Ken and I were both so impressed with the talent of the many students who performed. We learned later that many are not music majors but join one of the choirs as an extracurricular activity. Four of those studentts were awarded a special scholarship at the end of the concert. 

As we listened to the heart-lifting melodies, both religious and fun type of songs, I started to think about the tremendous gift we've been given by those who can string words together in such a meaningful way. Composers bring us the music and those who add the lyrics should be revered, as well. 

There are so many songs that we come to know by heart. The words given us become treasures. Whether it's Silent Night or Let It Snow, we've been gifted with those words written by one person. 

Songwriting has become a category at many writers conferences in recent years. It's not one of the workshops I would choose to attend because I have no talent in that field, but I've been pleased to see it offered for those who do have an interest. 

I'm grateful to lyricists of the past and those yet to make a splash with words of a new song one day. 

Think about it the next time you watch a musical program on TV, or attend a concert or musical play. Be grateful for the gift of words strung together and backed by music to give  you an everlasting gift.

Friday, December 2, 2011

December--My Childhod Memories

Me at age 10 when many of the memories below happened

As promised, my December memories are below. Have you started on yours? Even if you only write about a few things, you can keep adding more to it. A work in progress!

December Thoughts 
By Nancy Julien Kopp

When I was growing up, on December first my mother turned to the last page on the calendar and planted the seed of anticipation of what was to come. “Oh look, it’s December,” she’d often remark. And immediately, my brothers and I started thinking about what we wanted Santa to leave under our tree. Our excitement grew day by day.

We turned the pages in the toy section of the Sears catalog over and over again, and we marked the initial of our first name by the items we wanted most, confident that Santa would bring at least one of our heart’s desires.

I looked forward to the time right after school in December because a Chicago radio station ran a serialized children’s story called “The Cinnamon Bear” which became a real part of Christmas for me over the years. The adventures of the two children and the Cinnamon Bear never changed, it was the same story every year, but that didn’t matter. I listened to each episode as if it were brand new and thrilled to the happy ending each year.

After a long, cold walk at the end of school on December days, the smell of Christmas greeted me the moment I reached home. I’d open the door to the pine scent of the Christmas tree mingled with the many delicacies Mother baked. She made an assortment of cookies that pleased every palate. Cinnamon rolls with icing drizzled over the top tasted so good straight from the oven. Coffeecakes, muffins, homemade bread and even her fudge, that never did get firm enough to pick up, graced our December table. Memories of a warm kitchen, the air filled with spicy aromas, and an after-school cup of hot chocolate and a fresh-baked treat remain with me these many years later.

Because our apartment had little storage space, Mother wrapped the gifts as she bought them and then stacked them up on the dressers in her bedroom. All through December, she would send my brothers and me on little errands to that bedroom. “Bring my pincushion,” she’d say, and off I’d go to the bedroom to get it. The sight of the stack of gaily wrapped packages made me unbearably curious, but I knew better than to shake the packages. All I did was look and wonder which ones were mine.

I enjoyed buying gifts for my family almost as much as receiving them. I babysat neighborhood children from the time I was about ten for 25 cents an hour, and I saved some of that hard-earned cash all year for Christmas purchases. I bought gifts for each member of my family and also for some of the children I took care of. At our school parties we were to bring a grab bag gift with a limited dollar amount. It was to be marked whether for a boy or a girl. They were always small things, but I looked forward to getting that grab bag gift every year. It was the highlight of our class party, always held on the final day before the Christmas break.

Close to Christmas, the postman delivered a big box filled with packages from my aunt and uncle who lived in far-away Phoenix. Aunt Jane wrapped her gifts fancier than my mother did, and seeing them each year was sheer pleasure. I’d check all of them to see which one was mine and wonder if I could wait until Christmas morning to open it. But wait I did, as there was never any opening of gifts until the specified time. On Christmas Eve Mother would send us into the bedroom to bring the stacked packages out to the living room and we watched as my dad placed them around the tree. Oh, what a glittering array it was by the time he’d finished. All evening I kept my eye on those packages, while little shivers of excitement ran up and down my spine. Mother shooed us to bed early, but not until we’d pinned one of our everyday socks to the back of a chair. “The sooner you go to sleep, the sooner Santa will come.” It was her Christmas Eve mantra.

In the morning, we children tumbled out of bed and rushed to the living room to see what Santa had left us. Santa’s gifts were never wrapped but sitting somewhere near the tree. We all knew which one was ours, for hadn’t we marked our wishes in the Sears catalog? After the excitement of seeing the surprises from Santa and checking our stockings, which always held an orange and walnuts in the shell, we opened the gifts one by one, as Dad passed them out. Often, the packages held little things or something to wear, but a few had new toys that thrilled us.

After we opened our gifts, we had a big breakfast, and it was the one day of the year I was allowed to eat fudge early in the morning, a Christmas treat. The rest of the day we played with our new toys and I helped Mother in the kitchen with a special Christmas dinner. Often it was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, a special dish my grandmother passed down. Sometimes my Aunt Vivienne and Uncle Jimmy came for Christmas dinner. Their daughter, Carol, was my age and an only child. She always got many more gifts than I did, but it never seemed to bother me. I accepted the fact that she didn’t have brothers to share with like I did.

December holds many happy family memories. Our Christmases today are somewhat different than those of long ago, as we’ve made our own traditions with our children, as they are doing with theirs now, too. But the warmth of a family celebrating together remains constant, and I pray it always will.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Write Your December Memories

Free Christmas Clip Art Image: Beautiful Christmas Wintertime Scene with a Sleigh Driving through the Snow and a Forest of Trees
I turned the page on three calendars this morning. Suddenly, the last month of the year is upon us. Some of us will celebrate Christmas this month, others will  looks forward to Hanukkah or Kwanza. Whatever we commemorate this month, we all have memories of years past. This is the perfect day to take a few minutes and write a rough draft about your December memories. If you started your memory book last January, this month will give you a full year of memories. What a perfect gift for your children and grandchildren! 

Start thinking about what your life was like during the month of  December during your childhood. What chores did you do in the winter months? What kind of clothes did your mom insist on in December? What special foods did your family eat in December? What kind of parties did you host or attend? What did your classroom look like in December? 

Kwanzaa Clip Art

Did your family attend special holiday performances at school, church, or a theater? Did all your friends celebrate the same way you did, or did they recognize a December holiday different than your own? What were the secret places your mom hid gifts? Did they stay secret? What kind of weather did your area have in December? What did you do on the holiday itself?

I hope these questions have triggered some memories for you. Now, it's time to start writing about those things that have come back to you. Only yesterday, a friend told me she rode a pony three miles to school when she was a child. What a wonderful experience to describe to her grandchildren in her memory book. She'd have pluses and minuses to traveling to school that way.

Tomorrow, I'll post my December memories. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Letters

It's the last day of November, so we're shifting into holiday mode. We're at the top of the hill and the downhill path to December 25th is pretty steep. We'll be there before we know it. The To-Do List is growing by the minute. 

One of the first things I like to get done is addressing and sending our Christmas cards. I keep trying to pare the list but it's hard to give up people from my past whom I truly care about, even if our time to reach out and touch one another is an annual event. I want to know what has been happening in their life so I look forward to the cards that come with letters. Whether they are a printed, copied letter or a handwritten note, I enjoy each one. 

Like the stories, essays and articles we write, the letters run the gamut of being rambling to a well-written, brief report of a family's past year. All that's needed are the highlights and the important things. I don't need to know what each grandchild's activities are or what hotel you stayed in on each of six trips. One reason I prefer the personal note is that I can gear what I write to that particular person. There are some who do not know my children and really aren't interested in their lives. Others knew my children in their growing up years and want to know where they are and what is happening with them. 

Some Christmas letters run on and on and ....  One woman I know sends two pages, single spaced and printed on both sides. You can imagine the details she includes. I typically scan the letter for what might be of interest and give up by page 3. Think short!

In my stage of life, lots of the letters bring sad news of either a death or a serious illness. Kind of dampens the holiday spirit, but I do want to know these things. Some finish with a little something positive which helps a lot. Others are still too distraught to do that. 

My short list of things to do or not do when writing your Christmas Letter:
1.  Keep it short
2. Keep it organized, no rambling
3.  Don't make it Grandma's Brag Book
4.  Consider your blessings, not your gripes
5.  Look at #1 again 

Do you have any more to add? What do you like or dislike about Christmas Letters you receive? Comments please.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nameless Gems

The Ladies Guild at my church celebrates Advent with an annual Brunch. We have two groups involved who alternate hostessing the event. My Circle is responsible this year. One woman is great at decorating, so she always takes on that job. Guess who is given the job of preparing a program? So, here I am searching the cyberworld and my own inner thoughts for something that illustrates our theme.

Months ago, I selected the theme Christmas Hope. We've done agnels, carols, trees, bells. nativity sets in the past, so I wanted something different, but little did I know that my theme would prove difficult. I've searched  bookstores and the library for a children's book that illustrates the hope that the birth of Jesus has given us. Zippo! 

I've spent an eternity of time online looking for quotes, poetry, or a story that fits the theme. I've finally come up with enough material to build my program, but in doing so, I noted something rather sad. At least, for a writer like me, it tugs at my heart.

Many of the better poems and stories I found had no author. The byline or end line only showed Anonymous. Some of these unknown author pieces were true gems. Beautiful, poignant, filled with valuable messages--and yet they remain nameless. 

Someone created these words that have lived on, but they are lost in a swirl of smoke that's drifted off, never to be seen again. And someone else started passing the piece on but neglected to give the author credit. And another someone did the same. 

If you use an admired piece of writing in a program, on your blog or website, or quote from it in an essay you might be working on, give the author credit. If you don't know the author, say so. Even Anonymous means some real person wrote this gem. They deserve to be named.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Add Sensory Details to Memoir Stories

Lots of people write memoir stories or full books. They've been In for quite some time and show no signs of leaving the literary world. A memoir story is a report of what happened in the past. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

If all you do is report what happened, your story may end up being passed around your family but it's doubtful that it will see publication. People don't watn to read a list of what your childhood was like. They want to live it with you.They waant to see it, feel it, smell, hear and taste the time you are writing about. They want the sensory details.

When you write about visiting Grandma and Grandpa on their Minnesota farm, you remember what the barn smelled like when you trotted alongside Grandpa when he did the milking. You know what the old wooden table in Grandma's kitchen felt like when you rubbed a small hand across it. You still delight in the memory of the guinea hens that woke you each morning from outside the bedroom window.

But your reader doesn't experience those things unless you add them to your story. If you say that the guinea hens woke you each morning, you're reporting. If you say, "Each morning, guinea hens screeched outside my bedroom window until I pulled the covers over my head and clapped my hands over my ears to muffle the annoying wake-up call." Now, the reader can hear the guinea hens and see you reacting.

When bringing old memories to mind, pay attention to the five senses. Think back to what you saw, heard, felt, tasted and smelled--whether it was at the farm, in your classroom, or on a picnic at the beach. Show those details in your writing. Note that I said show. Telling isn't enough.

If necessary, write your memoir story as it happened, then go back and add the sensory details. Do this until you start writing them into your story automatically. Your readers will thank you.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Reason To Write Family Stories

Regular readers here know I encourage--OK, a better word is nag---others to write family stories. I mention it often because I think it's important to leave as much of your family history as possible. The medical world has worked hard to make people realize the importance of knowing your family medical history, but the rest of it is worthwhile, as well.

The picture above is of my four grandchildren, taken last summer in Vail, Colorado. What a grand and glorious time we had with them and their parents. We ate breakfast in our condo but lunches and dinners were eaten in restaurants. The family stories moved around the table as one after another were told. The children, ages 4, 7, 12, and 15 paid close attention. Kids love stories, and what better ones to hear than about your grandparents and great-grandparents, or even farther back? 

It's for these four that I'm writing as many family stories as possible. I won't always be around to tell them so I'd like to leave them a written record. I want them to know that part of the people in their background worked hard in the coal mines, that others farmed the rich soil of central Illinois, that some came to America from Ireland while others immigrated here from Germany and French Canada. I want them to know that their great-great grandmother was a womn of independence in a time when it was unusual for a woman to begin her own business. All this and so much more.

Make time to write your family stories for those you love. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

An Embarassing Thanksgiiving

This is a Thanksgiving story I sent to Chicken Soup for their new Food and Love book. The story didn't make it, but maybe it will give you an idea of what my most embarassing Thanksgiving was like. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Blame The Turkey!

Thanksgiving of 1981 brought family to visit and another visitor I didn’t invite. Only a month earlier, I’d pushed our bed away from the wall to clean and something popped in my lower back. Hot, searing pain down my left leg showed up the next morning. The sciatic nerve was inflamed when the herniated disc pushed against it.  I coped as well as I could and it did get better, little by little, with rest and medications.

By Thanksgiving, I felt much better, although not 100%. I bent over to lift the 18 pound  turkey from the oven, and as I grasped the roaster handles, two thoughts crossed my mind. One was that the turkey smelled and looked wonderful, and the other thought was that I should have called Ken to lift it. The turkey finished what had started weeks earlier.
Misery moved into our house that day.

Seven months later, I had surgery for the herniated disc I’d tried to live with. My family suffered along with me during those months and in recovery. Not with the kind of pain I had but because of all the things I could no longer do. I had to say no to many invitations, missed games the kids had, couldn’t make a lot of the special dishes they loved and needed more help in the house than I ever had. They were willing workers at first, but it got old fast.

To make matters worse, I experienced a rare set of complications after surgery and stayed   in the hospital eleven days. I came home with worse pain than I’d had before. My progress moved at a turtle’s pace, and my family soon lost sympathy. My husband wondered if I’d ever be normal again. And so did I.

One afternoon, I sipped a cup of steaming tea. I knew I had to do something to get my life back the way it once was. I wanted my children to love me again, not resent me because of the things I could no longer do. I wanted a husband who wasn’t afraid to touch me for fear of hurting me all over again.

So, I began to read and listen. I used my library as my resource for books about back pain. I read incessantly. I listened to a couple other friends who had gone through much the same thing. Networking wasn’t a common term in the ‘80’s, but I definitely did it in my own way.

At a dinner party one evening, our host placed his hand on mine as I moved my chair back from the table. “Don’t try to stand up that way,” he said. “Place your hands on the table and push yourself up. It’s much easier on your back.” It did help.

“Sleep with a pillow between your knees,” a nurse had told me some time earlier, so I tried it. I didn’t moan when I got out of bed the next morning. I wasn’t ready to do cartwheels, but I did stand up straight instead of being hunched over like an old crone.

The years sped by, and I put all the things I’d learned about sciatica and herniated discs into practice. I wasn’t without pain, but it wasn’t constant.  The discomfort became something that I learned to live and deal with.

And then, in 1997, I shifted to the left while sitting in a chair. Pop! I felt it happen. And soon I was back to the searing pain in my leg and lower back pain. I did all the things I had learned, but nothing helped. One day, my left leg collapsed as I stepped down from the porch. It happened so fast, I just lay in a heap wondering how I ended up on the sidewalk.

Only days later, I started down the basement stairway when the leg collapsed again, but this time I grabbed a railing and kept myself from tumbling to the bottom. It was time to see a neurosurgeon. After an MRI and other tests, he confirmed what I already knew—another disc had herniated. Surgery would be necessary. Otherwise, the muscles in my left leg would keep deteriorating. It took little to convince me, but the well-known doctor could not fit me into is schedule for another month.

Each day found me worse than the day before until I finally had to give up and stay in bed. Then, my widowed mother broke her arm and my brother called and said he’d be bringing her to my house as she couldn’t cope alone. I tried to tell him that I didn’t think I’d be much help, but the next day, he brought Mom to our house.

I managed to get out of bed to fix breakfast and lunch and Ken helped with dinner. Mon really was helpless with only one arm and other problems she had. The worst day came when I could not even walk down the hall to go to the kitchen to make lunch. I crawled on hands and knees, tears brimming from the pain.

When Mom saw me, she said, “I’m going home. You can’t do this.”  She called my brother and he came to get her the next day.

The surgery went well this time, and I was home on the third day. My recovery period moved along with steady improvement. I went to therapy three days a week, and I walked daily as instructed by the doctor. I took three ten-minute walks a day, increasing the time as the days went by until I walked 30 minutes two to three times daily. I persisted because of what my doctor told me. The walking, he said, brings oxygen to the surgical site and aids in healing. That knowledge kept me walking.

Two months after the surgery, we flew to England where we spent three weeks touring with friends. I climbed flight upon flight of stairs in the tube stations in London, and I walked miles around palaces and museums. I continued to do the exercises the therapist had given me. I went to bed tired every night, but I didn’t have to deal with major pain any longer.

I still do all the little things I learned over the years.  Sometimes, I forget and lift something heavier than I should or I twist the wrong way, and then I have mild sciatic pain in my left leg for a couple days. But I take an anti-inflammatory medicine, sleep  with a pillow between my knees and before long, I’m fine again. And whenever I have a flare-up, I make sure I get outside and walk. It helps so much. I try to walk on a regular basis, because if I slack off, that’s when I’m apt to have a couple miserable days.

I’ve learned to live with a bad back, and I keep all the helpful things in mind.  I ask my husband or my son to lift the turkey roaster now.

One doctor said it best, “We can do a lot with surgery, but we can’t give you a new back. It’s up to you to take care of it the best you can.” Smart man!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

There's A Story Here---Someday

You can find a story idea almost anywhere. I found one early this morning.

I staggered down the hall to the kitchen at 7 a.m., still not fully awake. Strange, since I'd been lying in bed since 5:30 wondering why I couldn't sleep. Too many things on my mind. The day before Thanksgiving is cooking day and I have a list of things that needed my attention. I decided to make the Sour Cream Muffins right away. We could each have one with our cereal later in the morning. Brilliant idea? Maybe not.

I gathered the ingredients on the counter, except for the cinnamon/sugar topping I'd need. The half-pint jar was on the top shelf of the lazy susan in an upper cabinet. I reached up and behind a few other items. The sleeve of my robe caught on a bottle of soy sauce. It started to tumble and I caught it with my free hand, still holding onto the sugar jar. All was fine until the worcestershire sauce bottle got into the act. It did a flip, knocking over all the flavoring bottles next to it, and as I reached to grab it, the sugar jar slipped out of my hand, hit the granite countertop and broke into a gazillion pieces. Cinnamon-laced sugar landed on the counter and floor.

I didn't say a word, possibly because of my still groggy condition. Instead, I looked at the mess on counter and floor. Glass everywhere and most of the sugar on the floor. I decided I'd sweep up the glass with a broom and dustpan, then vacuum the rest. To get the broom, I had to walk across the sugar. Trust me, you do not ever want to walk on sugar! Crunch, slippery, nasty stuff.

I swept up the glass and part of the sugar, dumped it in the trash and then vacuumed the entire kitchen floor to make sure no errant piece of glass had been missed.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Back To Basics--Staying On The Topic

Ever read an essay that crosses lines like a car driven by a guy whose been partying too long? Back and forth from one subject to another and never saying a whole lot. It happens more than you might think. You're more likely to read one like this in a critique group, but they do slip by occasionally as a published piece.

How does it happen? We have an idea for an essay and start writing. Before you can say Grammar Teacher, something triggers a memory or another thought and you add it to what you've already written. Three more paragraphs and you think of something else that is only mildly related, but you like it and add that, too. Before you know it, your essay is weaving across clearly marked lines and it can even turn into two separate essays.

In high school, English teachers preached about the topic sentence. It's one sentence at the beginning, or close to the beginning, of your essay that defines the entire piece. It's almost like watching a movie preview. It tells the reader what he/she is going to find in the wh Everything that follows should pertain in some way to it. 

If you suddenly decide to add a personal anecdote, or a piece of your past, that's fine. But it should be pertinent to the subject. And keep it brief. If you talk about Aunt Sally, the reader doesn't need to know how Aunt Sally is related to your family, or where she grew up, or what kind of pie she makes--unless those things are important to the point you're making.

That topic sentence you wrote is your guiding light. Keep it shining on one straight path. Your probability of having the essay published is much greater if you do so.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Writer's Thankfulness List

It's Thanksgiving week which brings to mind many holiday dinners in the past when someone at the table starts to verbally list things he is thankful for. When he finishes, he turns to the person next to him and says, "How about you? What are you thankful for?" And it keeps going around the table with rapid reduncancy since many of us are thankful for the same things. It's done with sincerity by the person who flips the switch to Thankfulness, but often others groan at the mere thought of having to contribute. Rather than make a scene by refusing, we comply. We sometimes surprise ourselves at what pops out.

Today I'm going to flip the Thankfulness switch to On for writers. What blessings are there in your writing world? What parts of your writing life are you truly thankful for? Or have you ever thought about it? Do you keep your personal life and writing life separated by a six foot wide moat or do you blend the two together?

Take a few minutes sometime this week to think about gratitude for what your writing life has given you. Make a list. You can do it. You're a writer! Post your list somewhere visible and keep it there as a reminder when your writing life is slow or seems hopelessly stuck. What started out as a thankful list could turn into encouragement to soldier on.

My Writing World Thankfulness List
I am thankful for:
1.  doing something that I enjoy to the fullest extent
2.  having the opportunity to share my thoughts with others through publication
3.  the many good friends I've made
4.  the opportunity to learn to be more patient
5.  the joy that writing a good story/essay/poem brings
6.  being able to be creative
7.  the growth I've seen in my writing over the years
8.  rejections which make me take a harder look at my work
9.  the mental exercise writing affords me
10. a way to offer encouragement or entertainment to others

This is only a beginning. I'm sure I'll think of others as the week goes on. I hope you will, also.