I find myself wondering what to do with this space. I'm not really a blogger. I'm not trying to sell anything. I don't have enough writerly news to post here regularly.
So here it is, almost a year since I updated my subscribers.
During this silence, my writing has suffered, but I have tried other creative pursuits.
My niece and I taught art at school this past year, spending every Wednesday going from classroom to classroom. We piloted the Tools for Creativity curriculum, created by Cynthia Jantz from Arizona, and I highly recommend it. First semester was drawing, second acrylics, third watercolors, and the short final semester was paper and clay.
At the end of March, I drove three hours to attend the Second Annual Missouri Writers' Conference in Latham, Missouri. I think they should insert the word "Plain" in that title somewhere, because it is open to Mennonite and Amish writers. I made some new friends, gave a fifteen-minute talk on "Light and Shadow: Mental Health and Writing," and sold 26 books.
It was interesting to spend an entire day talking about writing with Plain people. The variety was amazing. From Old Order Amish who write handwritten letters to Mennonites with published books. From a middle-aged male poet from Kentucky to a sixteen-year-old girl from my own town.
Most amazing of all was the Amish woman in her twenties, a teacher, with half her face wrapped in an ace bandage, due to a dodge ball game gone wrong the day before. She seemed unsteady on her feet and someone tended her constantly in case she fainted. Wow, she must really love writing, I thought, to have come out in public like that. And then they announced the next speaker, and guess who walked to the front of the room! (She was an animated speaker on Anabaptist historical writing, in spite of the injury!)
"Take a painting class" was one of the items on my "22 for '22" bucket list, so I chose the closest option: Pieces of My Art in Holt, Missouri. Lee agreed to join me (if you knew him, you'd realize the magnitude of that) and we invited another couple to go along. Lee and I did a quick practice run the night before, so he'd at least know how to hold the brushes. It's amazing how we all four followed the same instructions, using the exact same materials, and how they all turned out differently. (But well!)
One thing that has greatly improved the outlook of Jamesportians is our new coffee shop: Bricktown Coffee. I do my best to provide the proper coffee shop ambience, tapping away at my laptop and swirling Americanos with heavy cream.
Reporting live from the round table, after almost a year of silence...it's me. Thanks for tuning in.
August 10 is Missouri's birthday, and this year she turned 200 years old. August 10 is also the date of the Battle of Wilson's Creek near Springfield, Missouri.
The Livingston County Library in Chillicothe offered a free lecture by Darin Chappell, a local pastor, historian, and city administrator.
During the Civil War, Missouri was a hotly contested border state. A slave state that remained with the Union, Missourians suffered through brother-to-brother battles and battles between pro-slavery bushwhackers and anti-slavery jayhawkers.
The Civil War officially began at Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 12, 1861. The Battle of Wilson's Creek, the second major Civil War battle and the first battle west of the Mississippi River, occurred a few months later.
The most interesting thing I learned in the lecture was that Missouri became a prototype for the entire country during the Civil War. During the war, Missouri was sharply divided between North and South, between pro-slavery and pro-Union.
Even more fascinating, according to Mr. Chappell, that line still exists today. He moved from south Missouri to Chillicothe (here in Northwest Missouri) several years ago. He commented on the different ways of speaking here, as well as all the Catholics, compared to all the Southern Baptists in his part of the state.
"They don't call my part of the country the Bible Belt for nothin'," he said.
He told us that Interstate 70 is now the dividing line between the North (Democrat Missouri) and the South (Republican Missouri) and pointed out the cultural, political, and religious differences in the two parts of the state.
Personally, I only know of one Democrat in our county, but I make a point of not discussing politics. And we may have more Catholics than south Missouri, but I know very few. However, I found it super interesting and will be watching for such differences on future Missouri road trips.
Speaking of road trips...I also hope to visit the Battle of Wilson's Creek National Battlefield. The visitors' center and free museum are open daily.
Most of us have at least a vague picture of our country's history, but there are so many local stories we never hear about.
Happy Birthday Missouri!
Things I'm Loving
I love trying new things, and when those new things turn out well, I want everyone else to try them, too. Here are a few of my recent loved items, starting with an amazing spice blend, gifted to me by my sister:
I wasn't sure how to use this spice, so I went a safe route and sprinkled (Okay, honestly, I don't sprinkle when it comes to spices. I pour) it on roasted veggies. I hadn't planned ahead, so the veggie combination depended upon local availability. (Very local. Think: counter and refrigerator.) This time it was sweet potatoes, onion, baby carrots, and cauliflower. I cut everything into roughly 1/2-inch chunks, doused it all with avocado oil, and baked it on a cookie sheet for about 45 minutes at 450 degrees, adding the cauliflower and onions after about ten minutes. If you keep all the veggies separate in their corners, you can test and remove each kind as needed. Delish!
On to the next item. I'm a huge fan of Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, so I used my last teacherly gift card to buy Better Than Before.
It's a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it. Gretchen Rubin uses a fun blend of geeky statistics and science, along with a conversational, easy-to-read writing style. I reach for the book every night as though it were fiction.
I also enjoyed reading this post by Eva at Prairie Garden Blog:
All those posts are good, but I could especially relate to her vacation problem that rose from reading a particular book.
And while you're reading all my recs, first make yourself this peach smoothie/milkshake/delicious drink:
My peaches were kind of small, so I used two. I don't do so well with milk, so I used coconut milk. I'm trying to cut back on sugar, so I used 1 tablespoon of maple syrup and 1 tsp. of birch xylitol. I believe enough of the original recipe remains to merit posting it here!
I feel guilty recommending this next glorious thing, because it will only benefit locals, or possibly those traveling through. Last night we ate supper in Kansas City before picking up someone from the airport. One random choice from my phone became a new favorite: Jerusalem Cafe.
We tried the gyros, of course, after starters of Greek salad and lentil soup. Beautiful, warm triangles of baklava for dessert with Turkish coffee. And that coffee came on an ornate tray, in an ornate Turkish pot (we called it an ibric in Romania) - full of grounds and topped by golden foam - ready to pour into tiny white porcelain cups. The food was amazing, but I'd go back just for the coffee.
One more thing. Go read this poem:
A friend shared it with me the other day, and I'm glad she did.
Well, that is the end of my list of recently loved things. It may become a regular feature.
What have you been loving?
Grandma's Publishing Advice
Last week we visited my ninety-year-old grandma in an assisted living home in Kansas. My grandma has always encouraged me to write, and I dedicated the first book I wrote to her. She is known for speaking her mind, but when it comes to me, Grandma mainly just reads and applauds. On this visit, however, she gave me some advice.
"That last book you wrote," she said, casting about with raised hand for the title. "The Bucharest one. People are buying it. That book is being read."
She named a few people who'd told her they bought it, or liked it, or both. I thanked her but sensed she wasn't finished yet. Sure enough.
"I think it'd sell more if it had a different handle," she said.
Handle? On a book? Grandma's mind sometimes slips a gear. She's ninety, after all.
But then she continued.
"Some people don't know what the book is about. They don't know what this white horse is. They're scared to buy it," she said firmly. "You should call it something simpler. I think it would sell much better that way."
I did not argue. Not everyone enjoys a metaphor.
School is out.
I'm never quite sure how to feel about that.
My classroom is bare and messy at the same time. My lunch bag is stuck away in a hard-to-get place. I suddenly have too many nice dresses. I haven't seen a live person since Lee left this morning. I haven't done any math in a week, and I haven't cracked a single lame joke in... never mind.
The last months were frenzied. Field trip, grad party, program practice, final tests, Mother's Day, birthday parties, and contracts. (I didn't sign mine this time. I'm extremely emotional about it.)
Somewhere in the mix, probably while realizing I was the worst teacher ever, I read this comforting blog post and felt better:
Whew. Maybe I'm doing okay after all.
My class made poetry books for Mother's Day gifts, a collection of all the poems my students wrote this year. Our covers followed a similar theme and all turned out lovely.
(My niece made it.)
And now for some writing news.
The first printing of White Horse to Bucharest sold out (cartwheels!), so for a few weeks it was listed as out-of-stock on Gospel Publishers' website. However, the second printing is now finished and available for purchase.
The book is also now available from Christian Light Publications. I'm so excited about this, as I think CLP will help it reach a much broader audience.
And that's my mishmash update for today.
This summer I plan to write. (After I cook and clean and do all the things.) Hopefully I'll share more here, too. I have a book giveaway planned for sometime this summer.
Keep your ears peeled!
We Have a Winner
We have a winner for the tea sampler from Prairie Garden Teas.
Steph Nichols, please step forward to receive your prize. (Or rather, Eva will be contacting you shortly.)
That was fun. Thanks for all the participation. Maybe we'll do another giveaway one of these days.
Tea Sampler Giveaway
Though it always comes second to a well made coffee, I do enjoy a good cup of tea with a long book. My favorite is hot black tea with a splash of milk and a spoonful of sugar. Preferably loose-leaf Earl Grey, but English breakfast or some version of chai will do almost as well.
While living near Ukraine, I marveled at how their tea aisles rivaled American cereal aisles in length and diversity. We tried a lot of different teas there. Oolong is lovely. Rooibos, mint, red, and white are all good options.
The latest type I've sampled is called pu-erh (also pu-'er) tea. I bought mine from Prairie Garden Spices and Teas, which offers a variety of quality teas, spices, and etc. Pu-erh tea brews up light and delicate; I felt like I should drink it from one of those porcelain, handle-less Asian teacups.
Almost any tea warms the soul, especially if it comes in a pottery mug, alongside a thick book, and on a rainy day. And now that summer approaches, try your favorite blend over ice. Earl Grey, Moroccan mint, peach white tea... There's more to iced tea than "Liptons in the yellow box," however refreshing and nostalgic that may be.
In celebration of all things tea, I'm doing a fun giveaway with Eva from Prairie Garden Tea and Spices. Our lucky winner (US readers only, please) will receive the collection pictured above, which contains samples of three loose-leaf teas: Lazy Daze herbal tea, peach white tea, and Hibiscus Heaven herbal tea. The winner will be able to brew a cup immediately, thanks to the handy tea strainer that fits over a mug and comes with its own lid.
Enter below for a chance to win this lovely sampler packet, valued at $25. Spread the word! Tell your friends! The giveaway will stay open through Monday.
The word cinquain comes from the Latin word for five. A cinquain must have five lines, but it can have many different variations, each with its own specific pattern. The pattern I chose for my creative writing class looks like this:
ADJECTIVE – ADJECTIVE
ING VERB – ING VERB – ING VERB
FOUR WORD PHRASE
SYNONYM OF TOPIC
My current class hasn't done this exercise yet, but here are some of the cinquains my students wrote last year:
Try writing your own cinquains (or teaching your class about them) with this free, printable worksheet similar to what I used. (Send me your cinquains if you like. I'm a greedy poetry monster.)
Hello there, 2021
I could say plenty of negative things about 2020, but there is one thing I've greatly enjoyed about this strange year: watching people embrace new activities.
My local greenhouse sold out of herbs and vegetables earlier and faster than ever before, For a few weeks, every nearby grocery store was out of yeast and bread flour, and even our local bulk food store sold out of random baking items and canning lids. When checking out books from my online library, I had to place more holds than usual, because so many more people are reading. I heard that Bob Ross's painting tutorials are getting a lot more viewers, and art and craft supplies fly off the shelves. This summer I noticed more people hanging out on their porches or playing catch in their yards, and the people on the walking track at the park tripled.
Yeah, I was grumpy that I couldn't get what I needed for my normal, non-Covid-related gardening and baking and reading. I suspect that a lot of the bread flopped and most of the herbs died. Nevertheless, I love that people are trying new things and finding new hobbies to fill their empty hours.
I've done the same. Tried new recipes, did some drawing and painting, completed a free online poetry course, took more walks with my sister and nieces, and studied the enneagram.
Just because 2020 is over doesn't mean we need to go back to the rat race. My brother-in-law shared an article that sums up my hopes for the next year.
Let Each Task Fill up Your World...
Every December my mom got out the Christmas box. Among all the goodies - the white porcelain music box that played "Silent Night," the red candle with my birthdate on it, the homemade knickknacks we kids made in school - was a stack of holiday books. Each year, as my reading level advanced, I fell in love with a new Christmas story. Those stories still speak to me now, and it's hard to know if they're really good, or if it's just the nostalgia.
My favorite, read-every-year holiday story is "The Gift of the Magi," a short story by O. Henry.
I used to love "Jello Christmas." It's not quite as compelling as I remembered it, but the message is still a good one.
On That Night, a beautiful novella by Elizabeth Yates, centers around the quote at the beginning: "Among the many legends surrounding Christmas Eve, there is one that states that on that night, lost things are found again."
I often read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, an oldie but goodie that teaches a lesson, paints a picture of England circa 1840, and offers a plethora of quotable lines.
"The Gold and Ivory Tablecloth" is a classical Readers Digest short story by Rev. Howard C Schade.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is a humorous Christmas read for kids and adults alike. I read it to my students this year, laughed so hard I had to quit reading, and then almost cried at the end.
The Blue Carbuncle, a Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is set in the days surrounding Christmas.
Then there are the books with holiday chapters or scenes: The opening of Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott, with the sisters grouped around the crackling fire. The Christmas chapters in The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Who can forget Anne's happiness with the beautiful Christmas dress from Matthew in Anne of Green Gables? Better still are the chapters in Anne of Windy Poplars when Anne takes bitter, unhappy Katherine home for a Green Gables Christmas.
This is only the tip of the iceberg. Which holiday books or stories did I miss and which are your favorites?