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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Wars and Rumors of Wars--A Three Part Look At The Past

Wanda Molsberry Bates

I have been thinking about a dear friend of mine who passed away several years ago, well into her 90's. She wrote many fine pieces of creative nonfiction, mostly memoir. With all the recent talk of our country being close to another war with North Korea, the fears of another ISIS attack and more unsettling world news, I thought about a 3 part memoir piece that Wanda wrote and shared in 2006 on a website for writers called Our Echo. 

I am going to share Wanda's memories and insight on wars, extending from 1898 up to the early 2000's. Older readers may nod their heads as they remember similar stories in their own families. I would hope younger readers would get a picture of what life was like for their grandparents, great-grandparents during times of conflict. We must look at history to understand what goes on in the present.

Please share with others who might be interested. Perhaps Wanda's memories will trigger some of your own and inspire you to write about them for your own family.

Part 1:  By Wanda Molsberry Bates

“And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars...For nation shall rise against nation, & kingdom against kingdom:" ( Matthew 24:6,7 )


Many times in my long lifetime I have heard of wars and rumors of wars. I have heard family stories of wartime events, and sometimes my family and I have been actively affected by events of the war years. The first family wartime story that I remember happened during the Spanish/American war. It was a story about my Uncle Eldon, one of my father’s brothers. He was plowing when he heard of the declaration of war against Spain. One of his friends came along and said he was going to enlist, and he encouraged my uncle to go with him. Eldon enthusiastically agreed, tying his horses to a fence, and, not looking backward, went off to join the war. This was in 1898. 

I have a small memory of World War I. I had a little part in the victory celebration in my home town and I heard stories told about my brothers’ war experiences. After the Armistice was signed in November, 1918, a huge army tank was brought to Main Street in my home town of Clarksville, IA, where people were given rides as the tank rumbled up and down over a pile of railroad ties. My oldest brother, Chet, took me to see it and I wanted to have a ride in the tank. However, Chet told me the driver would not want me to sit on his silk cushions as I had given in to the demands of nature. I was not quite four years old. Stories were told during those war days of German neighbors who were called “slackers” and whose houses were defaced by yellow paint. 

Chet enlisted in the Army and was a second lieutenant stationed at Camp Dodge in Ft. Dodge, IA. He had a clerical job there and one of his jobs was to receive the bodies of deceased soldiers and meet with the parents. Old letters written to my mother showed that he wished to go to France, but he did not go overseas. At one time he and my brother, Mahlon, a 15-year-old, camped out and spent nights guarding a bridge on the Great Western Railroad track which ran south of town. I was told that Chet had a gun but Mahlon was not permitted to carry one. Some time later Chet frightened me badly by shooting a bullet into the ground in our back yard.

Old song books and sheet music published during the WWI days included favorites, “Over There,” “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” “Oh., How I Hate to Get up in the Morning,” “’Round Her Neck, She Wears a Yeller Ribbon,” “It’s a Long Way from Tipperary.” “Goodbye, Broadway. Hello, France,” and “The Rose of No Man’s Land.”

Chet had a “souvenir” of WWI, a grotesque gas mask. It was frightening to see such a hideous thing and I will never forget an experience with it which happened when I was about five years old. My older sisters, Bess and Iris, decided to play a trick on the neighbor children and me and Bess lined us up on the back porch and said she had a story to tell us. She went on to say that an old witch had been seen in the neighborhood and she had even grabbed a child but the child’s father had been able to beat her off and rescue the child. As the story grew more and more lurid, she suddenly shrieked, “Oh, here she comes now! Run for your lives!” Around the corner of the house came this terrible apparition. It was my sister, Iris, decked out in a long dress and wearing the horrible gas mask. We all did run screaming around the house, with the witch in pursuit. My mother answered my cries and pleas to be let in the front door which had been locked. Soon the other children found out that it was a game and they played it over and over the rest of the afternoon. I, being an orthodox coward, stayed safely inside the house with my mother.

(To be continued.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Finding The Christmas Tree Was An Annual Event

If you write memoir and family stories, this time of year is perfect for relating how your family obtained a Christmas tree each year. When I grew up, the only artificial trees were those awful silver ones that looked as fake as could be. Some revolved on a stand and had a spotlight shining on them. My family went to the same tree lot year after year and the process was the same each time. I wrote about it years ago and the story still brings a smile as I remember the annual trek to get a tree. Getting the tree, whether you lived in city or country or small town, was a major event.

My story is below. Read it and see if it triggers memories of your own so that you can write your story for your Family Stories book or to submit to a magazine like Reminisce or Good Old Days. You might consider sending your story to your local paper. Your story is too late now for the magazines, but send it mid-year for Christmas 2018 issues. 

Finding The Right Christmas Tree
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, normally empty, now held dozens of evergreen trees. The pines and firs seemed to have appeared magically, lined up like the toy soldiers my brothers played with.  A wire had been strung around the lot and bare light bulbs attached. There was plenty of light to allow buyers see the assortment of trees that would decorate the homes in our neighborhood.
The proprietors, who were also hunters, had erected a wooden tepee-like frame in a prominent corner to display two dead deer and a black bear. They were hung from hooks and occasionally swayed when the wind gusted.

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 of the bear, 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

 Dad held a tree upright. “No,” we chorused. “It’s not big enough.”

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

The owner ambled over, so bundled up he looked kin 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 scooted 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.

Even more 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 balcony 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. He always caved to our chorus of “not big enough.” 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, being warned to place it strand by strand. “No throwing it at the tree,” Mom said. Near the finish line, we did throw that tinsel when Mom went to the kitchen. It was great fun to toss it and see how high we could throw.

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. The tree was so tall that her blonde hair skimmed the ceiling. I visited her every day while the tree was up. There were days when it seemed she smiled at me. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without her.

That sweet angel got lost somewhere over the years. Most likely, she’d become tattered and torn, and Mother discarded her long after we children had grown and left home.

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. Not once has she smiled at me.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

How Writers Recognize Giving Tuesday

Today is Giving Tuesday, a day designated to encourage people to give a donation to a worthy cause. Some suggest groups that help world hunger, refugees, fighting diseases and other needs. I've noticed that many of the writing newsletters I subscribe to have popped up with a suggestion to donate to keep their sites alive. I'm sure other special interest groups are doing the same today. 

As writers, we can consider giving our writing to a charitable group that puts out anthologies which are aimed at helping a particular needy group. I have recently donated a story and a poem to two of these groups. One is Samaritan's Purse and the other is Bards Against Hunger. There is no compensation to the writer other than the joy of knowing you helped in some small way for one of the many needy charitable groups in our world.

There has always been a controversy about writers giving away their work for no compensation. Many do exactly that, especially in the early days of their writing journey, just to have a better opportunity to be published. The other side of that coin is that some writers feel you should never, ever give away your work, that you are meant to be paid for the time, creativity and effort put in. 

I would hope that writers on both sides of that question--to give away your writing--would consider doing so for a charitable cause. You might also consider writing for free for a newsletter that your church or synagogue puts out, or a club you belong to. I was asked to write an article for a magazine about one of the members in an international women's group I belong to. I would not have dreamed of asking for compensation. I think many writers would do this but there might be a few holdouts who feel they need to be paid no matter what the situation. 

On this Giving Tuesday, consider donating your writing to some charitable cause. If not today, look for a way to do so in 2018. Or perhaps donate a little money to your favorite writing site. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

My Monday Morning Rant On Pronouns!

I'm going to begin the week with a rant. Why not? It seems to be what we see on television and in the newspapers today, mostly political. My gripe today is grammatical. No, don't hit the delete button; hear me out.

There is a trend today to use the he/him and she/her pronouns incorrectly. There are even some people who have college educations  who use the wrong form to begin a sentence. Examples below:

      Her and Jim are dating now.

     Him and Don went hunting early one morning.

     Her and her teammates practiced hard every day.

     Him and his dog like to jog together.

All of the sentences above are incorrect. They should read: 

     She and Jim are dating now.

     He and Don went hunting early one morning.

     She and her teammates practiced hard every day.

     He and his dog like to jog together.

She and he are used as subjects--telling who did what. Her and him are objects--telling who it was done to. 

     John gave the ring to her on Valentine's Day.

     She handed the paddle to him later that day.

Here's the big thing--never, ever begin a sentence with her or him

Twice this week I noted newscasters on television beginning a sentence with her.  Both were college interns. It appears to be rampant with young adolescents. Teachers must hear them do this in class. Do they correct the students? If not them, then who is going to do it? 

If you want to be a writer or a tv journalist, you'd better learn and use the proper form. Contrary to the opinion of some, grammar IS important. And no, I am not chastising those people who did not have the privilege of a good education. They are a victim of circumstance. It's those who went to proper schools, have college degrees and even graduate degrees who use these words incorrectly--they are the ones to whom I am directing my rant. 

It may be a little thing, but it is something that will stand out in a job interview, in a paper for a class, in a piece of writing submitted for publication. Work on developing the right way to use these pronouns and you'll do yourself and everyone else a favor. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Feast For Oscar

Today's post is a Thanksgiving story published in a children's magazine a few years ago. It is one that all might enjoy as we celebrate this American holiday with gratitude and sharing. Enjoy your holiday break.  Look for a new post next Monday.

A Feast For Oscar
By Nancy Julien Kopp

“Turkey!” shouted three boys in the back row of Miss Edwards’ fourth grade class.

“What else?” our teacher asked.

Melissa Martin waved her hand. “How about sweet potatoes and cranberries?”

We were listing foods people usually eat for Thanksgiving. Thinking of all those good things made my mouth water and my stomach growl like a hungry lion. I raised my hand and waved it back and forth so Miss Edwards would call on me.

“Yes Tim,” she said.

I added my Thanksgiving favorite. “How about stuffing for the turkey?”

Nearly everyone in our class named something—everyone except for Oscar Livingood.

Miss Edwards strolled between the rows of desks. “Oscar, what will you have for this special dinner?” she asked.
Oscar ducked his head and mumbled words that sounded like, Cereal, I guess.”
The class roared with laughter. I laughed long and hard at what Oscar had said. Oscar was a real comic.
Miss Edwards held up her hand for quiet, then asked Oscar, “Are you sure?”
Oscar kept his eyes on the desktop. “Pretty sure. That’s what we have most nights.”
Miss Edwards patted Oscar on the head and returned to the front of the room.
We waited. What would she say now?
“Take out your English books and turn to page 67.”
That was it. She never mentioned Oscar’s strange remark. Instead, she erased the long list of foods on the chalkboard and the subject of Thanksgiving dinner was dropped.
I walked home from school alone that day. I couldn’t stop thinking about Oscar. The guy had a funny name and it sounded life he ate funny, too. Maybe he wasn’t trying to amuse us, maybe he was serious.
I ran into the house letting the screen door slam behind me. I cringed and waited for Mom to yell “Don’t slam that door!” but she didn’t say a word. She was at the kitchen table writing.
I grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter and peered over her shoulder. “Hey Mom, what are you doing?”
She smiled but kept on writing. “I’m making a grocery list for Thanksgiving. There are so many extra things to buy when you create a super-duper, fantastic feast like w’ll have next week. Your Gran is coming and so is Uncle Pete.”
I said, “Get lots of good stuff. I’m saving up to eat enough for two people.” Mom’s list included all my favorites—turkey, cranberries, pumpkin, potatoes and sweet potatoes. On and on it went. “Yum, I can’t wait for Thanksgiving.”
“We have a lot to be thankful for.” Mom said. “Not everyone can afford to buy all these extra things for a holiday dinner.”
Her comment made me think of Oscar, and I didn’t like the picture forming in my mind. Would Oscar and his mom sit at their table with nothing but two bowls of cereal? I
shook my head a little to clear the picture away and went upstairs to start on my homework.
The next day I watched Oscar Livingood. He needed a haircut and his clothes looked pretty worn and raggedy. Most days, Oscar faded into the background because he didn’t have much to say. .Maybe that’s why I never paid much attention to him before. Now, all I could think of was the bowl of cereal he’d eat for Thanksgiving dinner.
On Monday morning, Miss Edwards announced that the class would make up a basket of food for a needy family for a class project. By the day before Thanksgiving, cans and boxes rested in the basket our teacher had provided. Even Oscar slipped a can of soup in with the rest. Miss Edwards would add a turkey at the last minute.
We held a drawing to determine who would go with the teacher to deliver the basket. I drew one of the lucky tickets, and so did Oscar. After school, we climbed into Miss Edwards’ van.  She stopped at the market to pick up the turkey and we were off to visit the family whose name had been given to us. They knew we were coming, but even so, their faces lit up with happiness when they opened the door. The mother and father thanked us over and over, and three little kids fingered the big basket.
On the way home, I said to Oscar, “It’s good to help people who really need help, isn’t it?
Oscar grinned and pushed his long hair off his forehead. “They’ll remember this Thanksgiving for a long time. They’ll know somebody cared.”

Suddenly, the bowl of cereal popped into my head again. “Oscar, who are you going to be with tomorrow?”

“Just my mom.”
That night I tossed and turned in my bed while I dreamed about giant boxes of cereal marching in a parade. When I woke up, I knew what my plan for the day would be. First, I’d talk to Mom and Dad and tell them about Oscar and his mother. Next, I would walk down to Oscar’s house and invite them to join us at our dinner table. I wanted him to know somebody cared about him, too. Oscar was not going to eat cereal on Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thanksgiving Is Perfect For Writing Family Stories

Through the years this blog has been in existence, I have urged readers to write their family stories. We tell them around the table when families gather as many will do in only a couple of days as we celebrate Thanksgiving. That's wonderful but as time goes on and the elders in the family are no longer present at the table, the stories will get lost. 

Someone needs to write them so that future generations will have some family history. Write one story at a time and keep it in  notebook, perhaps a loose leaf binder so that you can continue to add to it easily. Many people begin the project and feel it is too overwhelming to write ALL those stories so they write a few and quit. The key to overcoming that is to write only one story and wait awhile before starting on another. If writing that first story motivates you to keep going, all the better, but the stories do not have to be written all at once. 

When you're reminded of something that happened in the family, jot down some notes. Keep a small notebook handy for these little reminders. 

Don't back out of the project with the excuse that I'm not a writer. I can't do this. Yes, you can. To make a Family Stories Book, you do not have to be a professional writer. Your family is not going to judge the writing; they will appreciate that you made the effort to preserve these tales. 

A few things to keep in mind when you write:
  • write one story at a time
  • include first and last names
  • use dates, exact or approximate, if you know them
  • include sensory details (taste, sight, sound, touch and smell) to make your story come alive
  • include why the story is memorable for you--good or bad
  • write the sad or difficult stories as well as the happy or funny ones--they are a part of the family history, too
  • get in the habit of using action verbs instead of lots of is, are, were verbs--your stories will sing
  • length is not an issue, no story too short or too long if it is your story
  • include the place where the story happened
With this being Thanksgiving week, why not start with a Thanksgiving memory? Here are a few triggers to inspire you and perhaps jog your memory. Too busy to do it today or tomorrow? Next week is fine. 
  • What was the weather like at Thanksgiving?
  • Where did you live? Urban or rural? House or apartment?
  • Who did your family celebrate with?
  • What special dishes did your family have?
  • Who did the cooking?
  • What things did the family do before and after dinner?
  • What funny things happened?
  • What unhappy things occurred?
  • All about cousins
  • All about aunts and uncles
  • All about grandparents
  • Were there any cooking disasters on Thanksgiving? 
  • What did you do in school the days prior to the holiday?
I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping your family history alive. Some of those family happenings can also be made into publishable stories. Chicken Soup for the Soul books and other anthologies are filled with them. Whether you want to publish them or only keep them for your family, start writing! 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Remembering A Special Friend


Today, I'd like to commemorate a very dear friend who passed away very unexpectedly last Friday. We lived on different continents, me in the USA and Mavis in South Africa, but the distance between hearts is nothing but a hop, skip and a jump. We were in close touch made possible by the technology we have today. A few years ago, I wrote a story about our friendship that was published in a Chicken Soup book. I'd like to post it today with both sadness and joy--sad because I have lost a very special friend and joy that I'd had the privilege of knowing her for 29 years.

During this Thanksgiving season, be grateful for your friends for they are a true blessing.

New Friends, Faraway Friends, Forever Friends
By Nancy Julien Kopp

The tour guide stood at the front of our bus, mic in hand. “You can visit the fantastic aquarium,” she said, “or you can shop along Baltimore’s harbor.”

My choice was lunch and shopping, but I wasn’t quite sure what my new friend would choose.  Mavis looked at me and announced in her musical voice, “A fish is just a fish, but shopping….!” I nodded my head in agreement, and we both laughed. Dozens of women on this convention spouse tour left the bus and headed in various directions.

My new friend lived thousands of miles away in South Africa.  Her British family had emigrated there long before she was born.

We had a wonderful afternoon eating Crab Bisque on a restaurant’s outdoor deck, the special scent of the sea and boats bobbing in the harbor making it a memorable meal. We had a perfect view of one the tall ships, sails furled. Both of us ate with relish and talked about our children who were close in age, then browsed the quaint little shops. Mavis bought a small teddy bear for a grandchild soon to be born but was at a loss when it came time to pay. She held out a handful of American coins. “Nancy, find the ones I need to pay.”  We middle-aged women giggled like schoolgirls as I picked out the correct amount.

As the tour bus sped back to our nation’s capital, I reflected on the past days. My husband, Ken, and I had gone to the huge cocktail party on the opening night of this week-long bank convention. There had to be 300 or more people in the large ballroom. We didn’t know a soul, so walked slowly across the room holding our drinks. Another couple was doing the same from the opposite side. He was tall and slim, and she was short, blonde and a bit on the round side. We met in the center, smiled at one another and introduced ourselves.

We could not have been more opposite. My husband headed a small Trust Department in a bank in a mid-sized college community in Kansas. Mike headed the Trust Department of a very large British bank in Johannesburg, South Africa. Despite the thousands of miles between our homes and different cultures, we hit it off immediately. Ken and I had been invited to a party later that evening given by an investment company. Ken asked our new acquaintances to accompany us. “Is it alright to crash a party in America? Mike asked. Ken assured him it was OK if they were with us. I rolled my eyes at my husband but seconded the invitation.

The pattern was set for the remainder of the week. Mike and Ken attended meetings all day while Mavis and I headed for the spouse tours. The four of us had dinner together each evening at various restaurants near our hotel. We traded information about our towns, our families, and our backgrounds. We ate and laughed and soaked in the atmosphere of Washington, DC. The bond between us became stronger with each day. It pleased me that the men got along as well as Mavis and I did. Not always the case with two couples.

Finally, the last day arrived. As we’d done each morning, Mavis and I met in the hotel coffee shop for breakfast. Ken and Mike had eaten earlier before their final meeting. For the first time, I was not enjoying myself with my new friend. Only because I knew I would never see this witty, warm woman again.

I felt as if I’d known her for twenty years, not a mere week. I pushed my scrambled eggs round and round on my plate, my appetite suddenly gone.

“We must write one another, Nancy,” Mavis said as she poured each of us a second cup of coffee. We exchanged addresses and lingered as long as  possible.  When we could delay no longer, the two of us walked to the elevator and I pushed the button a bit harder than necessary.

I told Mavis how very much I’d enjoyed the week, but my voice quavered as I did so.

She put her arms around me and we gave one another the warmest of hugs. Sometimes, a hug can convey so much more than words. This dear woman stepped back and in her British accent said, “I know we will see each other again.”

As I looked into her blue eyes, part of me believed her while another piece of me thought “Fat chance of that!”  Emotion welled and the lump in my throat was so big that all I could do was nod, give her another quick hug and flee inside the elevator. The tears flowed as I walked down the hall to our room. How awful, I thought, to have such a wonderful new friend only to lose her at the end of a week.

It turned out that Mavis was right and I was wrong. Letters flew across the ocean, then later we faxed messages, and finally both of us had e-mail and we could chat as often as we liked. Now, we even skype one another.

In the twenty-four years since we met, Mike and Mavis have visited our home three times. On each of those visits, we have taken them to parts of the USA they’d not seen before. We have gone to South Africa to visit them twice, where they squired us from one end of their beautiful country to the other.  We have met in England, Ireland and Germany to travel together, spending three weeks each time in one another’s company. Never a cross word, never did I feel like I couldn’t wait til the time was over.  

We have been warmly welcomed by Mike and Mavis’ children whenever we have visited their homes in South Africa and England. Our children have graciously hosted our dear friends when they have visited here in our country. Over the years, the circle of friendship grew to include our extended families.

We clicked that first night in Washington, DC and our friendship strengthened more and more through the years. We have shared our hopes and concerns for our children. We have heralded the arrival of each other’s grandchildren, one by one. We have laughed together, we have held deep discussions about our individual countries. We’ve chuckled over the senior moments we all seem to have now, and we have savored this unusual friendship. Two couples from different parts of the world who found they had a great deal in common. Once new friends, then faraway friends and finally, forever friends.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Great Quote For Writers

Nice words by Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt in today's poster. Roosevelt must have truly believed his own words as he accomplished a great deal in his political career and as head of a large family. Read this one-page bio to learn more about our 26th president. Candice Millard's excellent book, The River of Doubt, gives readers a look at another side of Teddy as he and a party of men explore the Amazon River. Read about it here. Once again, you'll see the man who spoke the words above and why he believed in himself.

What if every writer who started a new project wrote while muttering words like This is never gonna fly! Who in the world would read this? I'm not a good writer. and more. But, if the writer continues to tap our words on his/her keyboard, he/she must have some faith or they wouldn't continue to write. So, then we have a writer who believes a little bit but not all the way. Doubt becomes a daily companion. Quit beating yourself up day after day. Resolve to think nothing negative about your writing for one full week. Then a month and keep going.

Even if you don't believe in yourself wholeheartedly, you'll give it a try if you have the passion to write. There has to be something to drive you on even when you don't fully believe that you can be a success, that your story will be published someday. With each bit of success, your belief in yourself will increase. It might not soar to the top of the flagpole but will climb inch by inch. 

Like all things in our writing journey, we move a step at a time, never flying from bottom step to the top in the blink of an eye. Ponder on where you were as a writer five, ten or twenty years ago compared to your position in writing today. Hopefully, you are looking at growth. You did something, didn't you? You are a better writer today than way back in the early days. That  should help you believe in yourself.

How many times have we all seen self-confidence articles that use The Little Engine That Could as an example? So often that there has to be some merit to the comparison. If you're not going to give up, then you must believe in yourself. And, if you do believe in yourself, you will be halfway to your goal just like Teddy Roosevelt said. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Good Advice For Writers

The poster for today can be applied to writers who tend to dwell on the rejections they've received or poor reviews on a book. It's aimed at the ones who have been chastised by an editor or ridiculed by non-writer friends who have little understanding of what the writing life is like. It's for the writers who beat themselves up over past writing, wishing it could have been done over.

Perhaps it is also good advice for all writers. What happened yesterday or last week or last year or ten years ago is beyond our reach as far as changing what occurred. How many times have we all thought If only I hadn't said (done)(written) that! 

Whatever happened cannot be forgotten either. We all have little compartments in our memory bank that hold the things we wish we hadn't said or done. Our minds will not allow us to forget what happened. What if you wrote something without checking your facts and you were called on it by a reader? You are never going to forget it. Nor should you. I look at those occurrences as a learning situation. Not an easy lesson, but a lesson, nevertheless.

We also cannot edit what happened anytime before today. Oh, if only there was a delete button in our past writing journey. There are bumps in the road that we'd be happy to edit or erase completely. We can tell ourself that it was never there but that's only fooling the one who knows best--us.

So, what is left? Acceptance. It's the right thing to do but it is definitely not the easiest path to take. I have learned that accepting whatever negative came into my writing life is a way for me to continue on the learning curve and for me to move on to something new without agonizing over the past. You can worry yourself to a frazzle. Accept and take the next step in your writing journey. 

Perhaps we should not only accept but be thankful that the past is over and we move into the future once we embrace acceptance. Not always easy but something to work on, little by little. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

I Love To Write Day

How could I possibly pass up I Love To Write Day? John Riddle, a writer, is the man credited for creating this national day to recognize the art of writing. You can read the history here.

This day is not restricted to professional writers. Far from it. Today is meant to encourage all people to write something. Anything! It is hoped that teachers will recognize the day with a writing project in the classroom. Hopefully, it will be something fun that will encourage children to continue to write and enjoy the process. 

Are you thinking What shall I write?

How about writing that personal letter to a family member or friend today? We all have good intentions of writing to someone and then life barges in and interrupts us so we put it off. No more putting it off. Today is the day! It doesn't have to be several pages, although it could. Even a short personal note to someone you care about will suffice.

Write in your personal journal. Don't have one? Today would be a great day to begin one. What do you write in a daily journal? Anything you want to, no matter how trivial or how filled with anger or how passionate. It's all for you, no one else, so pour out your heart.

Today would be a good day to write a family story. If you have a Family Stories Book started, add this new one to it. If you don't have a book of your family stories, today is the day to begin. Write one story, then add another some other time. Keep writing about the happenings in your family as far back as you can remember. Keep the stories in a 3 ring binder. You'll be surprised how fast it fills up if you write those stories on a regular basis. What a treasure it will be for your children and grandchildren. Don't wait. Begin today!

If nothing else, write a grocery list. It's not terribly creative but it IS writing. 

Ponder on the art of writing. Consider what life would be like if we did not have authors and newspaper journalists, poets and publishers, libraries and book shops. We cannot read if someone does not write.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A First Draft Is Only The Beginning

Yesterday, I told you that I'd subbed a first draft to be critiqued by a few members of my online writing group because I was having so much trouble with it. The idea in my mind was not what appeared in print. So far, two people have looked at my rough piece and, as hoped, they could see what I could not. They both gave me some good advice and something to work toward.

I found three posters with quotes about writing the first draft. The one above gives us a quote from author, Terry Prachett. It is so simple but worthy. Isn't that what we do with that first draft--tell ourselves the story giving it the bones with hopes of fleshing the story in later drafts? It's important to get those thoughts in our head into actual words so that we have a base on which to build the story.

The second poster is also simple but worth our attention. This earliest writing of a story or essay or poem or article is not expected to be perfect. How nice if that would happen but it's not the way this game works. They are meant to transfer the idea from within us to something concrete that we can continue to work on. Don't beat yourself over the head if you read that first effort and think it's a piece of garbage. It very well could be at that point but you have plenty of opportunity to mold it into a finished product you can be proud of.

This last poster gives us a great mental image while letting us know that the first draft is not a finished product. The road to the end result may be short and sweet or long and agonizing. When we wrote on typewriters, it made a writer feel good to grab that piece of paper filled with drivel and rip it out of the machine, then tear it into bits. Now, we either hit the delete button (I hope you don't do that!) or put in a file to be looked at later. Please don't delete what you've written. While it isn't perfect, there may be golden nuggets tucked in here and there. You'll find them when you read the work after it's been in your files for a few days or weeks. 

A first draft is only the beginning and that is of prime importance. Remind yourself of that each time you set out to write something new. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

When A Draft Doesn't Work

I've been working on a personal essay off and on for weeks. First drafts are never terrific but this one I don't like one bit. It's a topic that came to me one day that I wanted to pursue. It felt worthwhile and I was inspired to give it a go.

I opened a new page in Word and started typing what came to mind. My fingers flew over the keys and I was encouraged. When I finished, I read it over. Disappointment surrounded me, disgust popped up, as well. The piece just didn't gel. It didn't convey what had been in my mind. It gave no reason for being. Who would want to read this? That was my thought. So, I put it in a file to mellow for a few days. I actually let it sit for a couple of weeks as I wasn't eager to get back to it.

I reworked parts of the essay, tried to bring out a lesson learned, read it over and felt the same emotions as I did with the original writing. What is wrong with this? A question with no answer. So, I turned to my online writing group for help. I subbed it with a note saying that I was not happy with the piece, knew something was amiss and needed some honest opinions and suggestions. That's where the story sits right now as I wait for the sage advice of experienced writers. 

All writers run into a situation like this now and then. What do you do when it happens? You could delete the whole thing and regard it as a stupid idea in the first place. I wouldn't advise that solution. Sure, it would be gone and something you didn't have to worry about. but think about this. If the idea appealed to you before you started the writing for the first draft, there must have been a reason. You were inspired in some way and you wanted to write about the subject that had come to you. It's worth saving.

You can do what I have done. Let another writer, or several, look at your draft. Others see your writing from a different perspective. One of them might pinpoint the problem in a split second. When we write, we're very subjective. We also know in our head what we want to convey but the words that pop onto the screen don't jive with our thoughts. Or they don't make our thoughts clear to a reader. Maybe the words in our heart are filled with emotion but the emotion doesn't come through in the writing. Another writer will see that and let you know what changes might help. Heed the advice. 

When you submit it to a group as I did, you should get feedback from more than one person. Note carefully what things are pointed out multiple times. If several see the same trouble spot, you'll know that's a place that needs work. Some writers pay big bucks for a professional critique. Join a group and help one another for free. Or ask a personal writer friend or two to look at your draft.

Another way to make your draft better is to let it sit for a week or two after you write the first draft. When you go back and read it again, you'll see problems you hadn't noticed earlier. You'll also note the parts that are good and know that you want to keep them in the next draft. Occasionally, you'll run into a brick wall even after letting the draft age a bit, just as I did. That's when you want to seek outside help. 

Every piece of writing is not going to being a gold star edition when you first start working on it. Once in awhile, it happens but more often, that first draft ends up being one of many before you're ready to submit for publication. 

When you read the first draft, try to step back and read objectively. It's not an easy thing to do because we are immersed in our own ideas, our own way of conveying a message to our readers. 

Know this, too--when you write something that doesn't seem to work out the way you'd hoped, you are not alone. Many, many writers experience the same thing. Even our friend, Snoopy, feels just like you and I when he writes a poor first draft. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

A Common Bond For Veterans

This is a different version of an older story about a WWII cemetery in France that we had the privilege of visiting. A simple question from me and a heartfelt answer from a veteran proved another memorable moment in my life.  Note the link to a YouTube video at the end. 

A Common Bond

Leaves rustled softly as a light breeze drifted through the cemetery chapel, open to the air on two sides. This was the final stop on our tour of a WWII American Cemetery in southern France. The Rhone American Cemetery draws many tourists.

Our guide asked if there were any veterans of wars the USA had fought. “We would like you to participate in a wreath laying ceremony,” she said.

Three men stepped forward while the rest of our group of forty-two senior citizens gathered closer to the altar. Balwinder, our guide, offered the large bouquet of fresh flowers adorned with red, white and blue ribbons to one of the men. The trio walked slowly to the altar. Their shoulders were rounded, their hair thin and gray, their faces creased with the lines of time gone by.
The earlier breeze suddenly became a wind that brought fallen leaves to swirl around our feet and intensified the sound of ones moving on the trees that rimmed the chapel. Clouds blocked the sun as the three men stood shoulder to shoulder. One stepped forward and laid the flowers at either end of the altar between a Christian cross and a tablet depicting a Star of David.
After the flower bearer stepped back in line with his fellow vets, all three snapped to attention and saluted the dead American soldier depicted in the large mosaic mural behind the altar. For one magical moment, they were three young military men, the years dropping away. Each had given part of himself to his country decades earlier.
Now, they were touring France and making a visit to the Rhone American Military Cemetery where nearly 900 American soldiers were buried after the invasion of southern France in 1944. The boats landed in Normandy in the north and, weeks later, in the Mediterranean Sea in the south. The cemetery, in Draguignan, near the Rhone River, is close to where these soldiers fought and fell. For various reasons, their families in America chose to have them buried in France instead of requesting that they be shipped home for burial.
Balwinder, a native of India and citizen of France, asked if we would sing our national anthem. Silence. Then a few people began slowly, others joined in. As our voices blended and grew stronger with the familiar words, the wind died and the clouds parted allowing the sun to warm us once again.
My heart swelled and a lump rose to my throat. I had to wipe a stray tear from my cheek, and in the silence that followed our singing, I studied the towering blue mosaic mural. The central figure was an angel, robed in blue, seated on a chair. In her arms, she cradles the body of a dead American soldier with a tenderness that is easily felt. There were other, smaller figures on either side, but my gaze riveted on the angel and the soldier—he who represented so many who had given their lives. Young men who had everything to live for died fighting to free the people of France, then occupied by Nazi Germany.
As we ate dinner that evening, I spoke with one of the men who had participated in the wreath laying ceremony. “What went through your mind today as you laid the flowers on the altar at the cemetery?”
He replied with no hesitation, no time to ponder and search for an answer. “Veterans have a bond that is never broken, no matter how many years have passed. There’s nothing else like it.”  He smiled and added one more comment. “Only another vet fully understands.”

I know that Jesus understands, too. It is He who made that special bond for our military men and women and He who keeps it strong.
The veteran sat across the table from me, a retired railroad man who laughed a lot and still enjoyed life but when he spoke about the common bond of vets, his face turned serious, and only he knew the rest of the wartime memories that lay quietly within.

A video portraying the cemetery and the lovely mosaic tile mural in the chapel can be viewed here.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

An Essay For Veterans Day

Today and tomorrow, I will post essays I have written to honor the men and women who served in the military or do so now as we celebrate Veterans Day on Saturday, November 11th. Perhaps reading the two will trigger some thoughts of your own and prompt you to write about it. 

My thanks to all veterans, including my husband who served in the Army many years ago.

An experience several years ago on an airplane sitting next to a soldier prompted this personal essay. 

Sitting By A Soldier 

On an April day in 2006, my mood matched the gray skies as I boarded the plane, located Row 25, and settled into my seat. I pulled a paperback from my bag and buckled the seat belt. Sighing, I stared out the window, still feeling sorry for myself after a cancelled connecting flight had interrupted a long-awaited trip two days earlier. My online writers critique group spent the better part of a year planning for a four day retreat. Eighteen of us would travel from around the world to complete the bond started online. My disappointment over missing the meeting and being stuck in Chicago for two days felt almost overwhelming. Now finally heading home, I served as hostess at a Pity Party with a guest list of one.

A deep voice interrupted my thoughts. “Morning, Ma’am.”

I looked up at a young man in civilian clothes but with that military air about him, buzz hair cut, clean shaven and polite. He stowed his gear and slid into the aisle seat next to mine. He leaned back and closed his eyes as the plane taxied faster and faster, then left the ground behind as it climbed above the clouds.

It wasn’t long before my seatmate asked me if I lived in Chicago, the city we were leaving.

“I grew up there,” I told him, “but now I live in Manhattan, Kansas.”

”I was stationed at Ft. Riley once, so I know about Manhattan and Junction City, too.”

We continued to chat about simple things and then moved on to the Iraq war. “This is a different kind of war,” he said.

I told him that I remembered how different things had been in WWII. I was a little girl then, but I’d been aware of shortages during those years. No tires for cars, no silk stockings for women. My mother always made sure she had our ration books along when we shopped for food.

“That’s what I mean about it being different,” he said. “This war isn’t affecting the people here in the US. They haven’t made any sacrifices.”

He talked about his tour in Iraq back in 2003-04 and his feelings about being career military. “When it’s time to re-up,” he said, “I’m never sure what I should do. Stay and get my full time in for the benefits, or get out and make my wife happy.” His hand tightened around the soda can the flight attendant had brought him earlier.

“It must be very hard on families right now,” I remarked. I wanted to offer more, but I felt at a loss as to what else I might say.

“People have no idea.  It’s hard on wives, on kids, and the guys over in the war zones, too. Only reason I re-upped last time is because my dad told me something just before he died. Said to stay in the Army, and every time I think of getting out, I remember that.” He was quiet for a few seconds, and then said, “I’ll be going back to Iraq again, but I don’t want to.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to respond to his admission, or even if I should make a comment to what seemed a very private thought.

He continued to talk about Iraq, described his idea of what should be done by the military. “We need to pull back and put our troops on the edges of the country, close down those borders, keep the foreign insurgents out.”  He told me how disheartening it was to hear about Americans who didn’t support the troops, who bashed the president all the time.

He appeared truly hurt by the naysayers, and I responded by telling him something I really believed. “Remember one thing each time you see a protester. For every one of them, there are two who care about you and support what you’re doing.” Did I have a scientific study or statistics to back up what I’d said? No, but the words came from my heart, and they came because I wanted to ease this troubled man’s mind in some way.

He looked at me quietly a moment before saying, “Thank you, I’ll remember that.”

My book lay unopened as we moved on to several other topics, some war-related and others not. Before I knew it, the pilot announced our approach to Kansas City. The young man reached over and offered me his hand. I slipped mine into his, warm and strong, and accepted a firm handshake. Still holding my hand, he said, “I’m not much of a talker, and I don’t know why I told you all those things, but thanks for listening. And I’ll remember what you told me.”

I swallowed hard and had to blink a few times so no tears would spill over. “I enjoyed our visit, too, and I wish you the best of everything.”

The wheels touched the runway and we taxied to the gate. Travelers gathered their belongings and filed off the plane. My husband welcomed me with his familiar smile and a hug, and we went to the baggage area to claim my rerouted luggage. As I handed the clerk the paperwork, I heard a familiar deep voice say, “So this is the lucky man.” I turned to see my soldier shaking my husband’s hand. I winked at him and waved as we left. My pity party of one had disbanded, leaving in its place a memorable flight for two.

As my husband and I drove home that day, I couldn’t help but wonder if the soldier and I were meant to cross paths, that our meeting was no coincidence. Did I need to hear all he’d had to say to realize my disappointment over my cancelled trip proved very minor compared to what he faced? Did he need to spill out his thoughts and feelings to me and receive a word of encouragement? Perhaps yes on both counts. I’ve kept him in my prayers, and I’ll remember this moment in time when two people of different generations touched each other’s lives.    

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Write About Toys and Games Of Your Childhood

Remember these?

Last night, my husband and I started talking about the things we did for fun when we were kids growing up in the 1930's and '40's. Our conversation stemmed from a piece of writing a woman in my Memories Writing Group had done. She listed so many forgotten toys and games and I know it triggered memories for many others in the group of seniors. She ended by saying that though she grew up in the depression years and times of great drought here in Kansas, she and her friends were oblivious to all of that. They grew up having fun with what little they had. She learned much later how difficult it had been for her parents and other adults in those years.

For those who write memoir or family stories, here's the list Ken and I put together last night. Hopefully, some of what is there will trigger memories and inspire you to write. For the younger readers, it may be of interest to you to see how we entertained ourselves with the simplest things. 

For all my readers--your family would appreciate your memories of what you did for fun, the games you played, the toys you had as a child. They're sure to be different from what the kids of today have, whether you grew up 7 or 2 decades ago. 

The List
  • roller skates that clamped onto shoes, skate key to tighten, then wear around your neck on a shoelace
  • jacks
  • marbles
  • jumping rope
  • simple homemade kites, a tail made from Mom's rags
  • spinning tops
  • sledding
  • ice skating (if you were lucky enough to have skates)
  • dodge ball
  • baseball on a school playground or in a park--no special field provided
  • football in the park or someone's back yard
  • outdoor games like Red Rover, Hide and Seek, Tag and Statue
  • croquet
  • ping pong
  • badminton
  • paper dolls
  • coloring books
  • indoor games like Monopoly and Checkers
  • cap guns
  • dress-ups (using Mom's old clothes, hats and shoes)
Let us know if you have any others to add. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Inspiration To Write About Thanksgiving

NATURAL THANKSGIVING TABLESCAPE . An easy to set nature inspired Thanksgiving tablescape.
Thanksgiving Table

Holidays are natural topics for writers and those who write only to add to their Family Stories Book. Thanksgiving provides myriad paths to follow as we write about the foods, the decorations, the giving of thanks, the family gatherings and more. 

Here are a few paths to follow when writing about this treasured American holiday:

FoodWe probably place food at, or near, the top of the list. Our gathering together for this American holiday takes place around a table. Whether your table setting is elegant like the one above or uses paper plates, it's the food itself that takes the spotlight. One thing I love about this holiday is that the menu is pretty well set by every family, repeated year after year. One year, I didn't make the famous Green Bean Casserole, and I thought my adult son was going to cry. "But Mom," he said, "we have to have Green Bean Casserole on Thanksgiving." You can write about your traditional foods, the years that things went wrong with one or more of the dishes you make, and more. Don't forget about what it takes to shop for and prepare all that food.

Decorations:  This topic is wide open. Some families have a simple table while others go all out to make the table worthy of a magazine photo shoot. Kids often like to make place cards--fun for them and gets them out of the busy kitchen for awhile. Some families decorate the entire house and outside, as well. Others concentrate solely on the table. Write about it from any angle you like.

Gratitude:  This is such a wide topic that you could write a dozen essays or memoir pieces using this one word as your guide. It's a time of year that many people pause a bit to consider the blessings in their lives. Some are everyday things we normally take for granted. Others are big ones such as the healing of someone who had been very ill or the safe return of a military family member. Does your family take time at the table to express your thanks aloud, or does no one say it but perhaps think about it? Does your family include a church service on Thanksgiving morning? 

Where You Celebrate:  This is not a big thing but it could be of importance if you always have Thanksgiving at one place. How about when you worked up your courage and suggested a change? How did it go? Does your family take turns hosting the meal? Again, there are lots of angles to write about. You might start with a paragraph or two about the family tradition at Aunt Polly's and then veer off to an entire essay as to why that's important to you. 

Childhood Memories:  Thanksgiving memories from childhood are going to be different than the ones where you were the cook with children and other relatives all over the house. What did you do as a child on this holiday? Played outside in the piles of leaves or had football games in the yard? Were you sent out so you'd be out of the way? What did you like or not like about this holiday when you were a youngster?

Thanksgiving Disasters:  By this, I mean disasters in the kitchen or at the dining room table. We all have those Remember the year that....? stories. My own was when I had a houseful of people, all the side dishes finished only to learn that the turkey was nowhere near ready because I miscalculated the time. So we....well, I may share the story with you later this month. 

People:  Think about the people you have been with many Thanksgivings. What is unique about some of them? Why does Uncle Oscar always grumble? Why is Cousin Angie always picking at the food in the kitchen before it's put on the table? Why does Aunt Gert criticize every dish but the one she brought? It can go on and on--both positives and negatives.

Once you begin writing about any one of the above, or incorporating all of them in one piece, your mind will fill with memories and thoughts that will make you keep writing. You might even find inspiration for other personal essays to write. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Two Choices In Your Writing Life--Which One For You?

Image may contain: flower, plant, text and nature

Writers deal with both faith and fear as they travel through the long journey of the writing world.
Let's look at both today. Use the following as a checklist. Which ones do you think apply to you? 

  •  I am afraid I'll never be good enough to compete with professional writers. (Guess what? They have fears, too.) 
  • I worry that I'll never be published or won't be published in the top notch magazines or publishing houses. 
  • I fear submitting my writing
  • I worry that I'll run out of topics to write about
  • I am terrified of Writer's Block
  • I am scared to read reviews in case they are bad
  • I am afraid of being rejected
  • I worry that my writing mechanics are not good enough
  • I'm afraid to go to writing conferences 
  • I believe in myself
  • I know I have given my very best
  • Someday, I'll be published
  • I'll be published in a top rated magazine or publishing house
  • I keep learning about my craft
  • I have plenty to write about; all I need to do is look at the world with a writer's eye
  • I will submit my work on a regular basis
  • I will join writing groups to learn and to offer what I know to others
  • I will accept speaking engagements connected to my writing
You have two choices. Are you going to allow the Fear section to take over your writing life? Or will you work on the ones in the Faith section? Every one of us can probably relate to several things in each category. Which list is the one for you? 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Call Out For Stories and Poems

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Chicken Soup for the Soul has a call for stories for a new book. Looks like the title alone will draw the interest of female readers. Maybe some men, as well. Note the words above the title of the book--101 Stories about Being Confident, Courageous and Your True Self.

What kind of stories are they looking for? The list of suggested topics is lengthy. Go to the Possible Books page, scroll down to The Empowered Woman and study the list. Perhaps inspiration will hit as you read. Submissions are due January 10, 2018. That's just over two months away, but with the holidays looming, it's not really a great deal of time, so get started on your story, or poem, to submit for this one. 

Did you note that I said ...story, or poem,...? Poetry is accepted as well as stories. The poem would most likely be considered a narrative one--telling a story. I see very few poems in the Chicken Soup books which leads me to think that they don't receive very many poetry submissions. That should be an 'Aha!' moment for you who write poetry. Fewer submissions means less competition. Give it a try. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

There is a call out for stories for four more Chicken Soup books.  They are:
  1. Christmas and Holiday Collection--deadline is January 10, 2018
  2. Love Stories--deadline November 30, 2017
  3. Stories About My Mom--deadline July 31, 2018
  4. The Best Advice I Ever Heard--February 28, 2018
Again, consider poems as well as your true stories for any, or all, of these titles. The competition is fierce as there are often 6,000 or more submissions for each book with only 101 being selected. There is no entry or reading fee so your cost is nothing but your time and supreme effort. If your submission doesn't make it, you still have a finished story (or poem) to submit somewhere else. It's a win-win situation. Start planning, start writing, then submit before the deadline. The sooner, the better.

The opportunity is there. It's up to you to take advantage of it or pass it by.