Friday, January 29, 2010

Slow, Reading and Writing Ahead

I appreciate our weathermen, but they did try my patience this time. Two days of hand-wringing over the coming blizzard left Wal-Mart with emptied shelves, schools closing ahead in fear, my friends racing for their last icy Sonic before being housebound, and even the street department was cindering--with not a flake in sight. Because it is still January, I could take the 6-8 inches they feared, but this morning the snow storm looks more like a snow burp. Well, I am in blizzard mindset so I believe I will stay in my robe, brew a pot of tea, and continue as if there were a raging storm out my window.


First, I will do a tad of writing. Persimmon is an online magazine for women writers over sixty. They are adding a new feature called Short Takes to their publication. This will be short pieces of 250-500 words on a given topic. The first topic for the Summer 2010 issue is First Thing in the Morning. Maybe I will write something about facing snow first thing in the morning. For submission information go to http://www.persimmontree.org/submissions.php.


Reading in winter often means rereading or dabbling in books, as well as tackling some big novel I might have at hand. Thanks to fellow blogger Becky Povich’s inquiry about a favorite but lesser known book title, I recalled wanting to reread Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden. This is a delightful small book about an older woman living in South Carolina and her famous 30 X110 garden. She and her garden were highlighted on 60 Minutes a few years ago. It is a pleasant and charming read, as is the follow up Mrs. Whaley Entertains.


As often is the case, one good book leads a reader to another title. In searching for a used copy of the Whaley books online, I ran across Dinner at Miss Lady’s by Luann Landon. Another small book, this one has both essays and recipes. The recipes swing from elite to simple, and the fare is Southern for sure with heavily sugared lemonade, hand-rolled biscuits, Whiskey cake, and corn spoon bread. Landon captures her unique and eccentric Southern family in this tiny memoir. It is a charming read on a snowy day.


Sometimes the mood I am in affects what I think of a book or work. While I loved lines taken from Billy Collins, I never truly warmed up to his full poems. However, this morning I have a deeper appreciation of his work as I reread The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems. My marker has highlighted many passages, and I have groaned with pleasure at some of his images. He describes the importance of a window to a poet’s work by comparing it to miners going down a mine, to chefs chopping in their kitchens. A window is where a poet looks out for inspiration for writing--that he does not get paid for weekly! Collins tells us that the trouble with poetry is that it “…encourages the writing of more poetry…” which is true of prose as well.


I hear the kettle bubbling so it is time for tea until some lunch of comfort food like pancakes with sausages or maybe navy beans with cornbread. I have books to read and lines to write until then!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

January 29th Is Kansas Day


William Allen White said, “ When anything is going to happen in this country, it happens first in Kansas.”

When becoming a state, Kansas was born like many babes with cries, tears, and blood. In fact, Kansas was known then as Bleeding Kansas. The contentious issue was whether Kansas would come into the Union as a free or slave state, and both sides of the issue were lobbying, with guns and torture, to persuade the state to vote their way.
 
Growing up, I heard a lot of stories about those bad guys across the border in Missouri. Now that I live across the border, I hear a little more about the cruelties of the Jayhawkers. The fact is, there were plenty of horrors practiced on both sides of the border.



But in grade school I didn’t think much about the Border Wars. I just enjoyed learning about Kansas facts like the state bird is a yellow breasted Meadowlark, the state flower is the sunflower, and the state tree is the cottonwood. I still remember one of those January PTA programs where we children were lined up on a small curtained stage to present our Kansas Play. We had worked for weeks cutting yellow construction paper petals for sunflower masks, practicing the state song Home on the Range, and learning our speaking parts about the Kansa Indians, how the term Jayhawk was born (someone who shouts their opinions like a jay and fights like a hawk) or how the Neosho River got its name.


Kansas has given the world athletes as in Wilt Chamberlin, movie stars like Hattie McDaniel (Gone with the Wind), TV stars like Kirstie Alley, professional clowns (Emmett Kelly), astronauts, presidents and the inventor of basketball. The writing world has benefited from such Kansas authors and poets as Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, William Inge, and Gordon Parks.


Next year, Kansas will turn 150 years old. I clearly remember when Kansas turned 100, and it was a year long celebration. Everyone dressed up in long “centennial dresses”. My Granny made me a long calico dress and prairie bonnet for parades and such. Men dressed like pioneers or Kansas characters. I am sure the state will celebrate again next year when Kansas celebrates its sesquicentennial, a 150 years since achieving statehood. Until then, Happy 149th birthday, Kansas!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dad's Writing Influence


A person never dies as long as their name rests on someone’s lips....a Native American saying


Mr. and Mrs. Monk Hefley Mr. and
Mrs. Bob McKinney          




Yesterday was a good day full of small accomplishments, including an afternoon of writing and submitting. A writing check even arrived in the mail! The sun was out some, although the wind had a bitter bite. The clouds began to gather in the late afternoon and, despite being a fine day, my spirit began to sink as the sun snuggled in gray clouds at the horizon. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but when I heard the weatherman say another front of freezing rain and possibly snow was on the way, I figured it was just an attack of winter weather doldrums. Then I heard that January 25th is unofficially designated as the most depressing day of the year. The cards were stacked against me for feeling cheerful.



Then I felt a small tear gather as I remembered that today would have been my Dad’s 83rd birthday. He has been gone nearly a decade, and still I have moments that I really miss him. His birthday always causes a special prayer or remembrance, but once in a while the empty spot echoes louder than usual. Last night I really missed making a birthday phone call or choosing a fitting card. His absence leaves my life flawed like a melody from a piano with a broken ivory; the piano still makes music but the notes stumble over the missing key.


My dad was taken by mesothelioma, an asbestos-based cancer. One strand of asbestos is smaller than a human hair. One fiber can rest in a human body for years before it goes wild and rings its death knell. It is hard to accept that American companies knew asbestos was a killer and still let greed rule as the profits rolled in—while signing a death warrant for men, many unknowingly, working with it.


Dad influenced my writing life, giving me a command of figurative language even before I knew what it was. He spoke in colloquial terms, using country or folksy similes and metaphors. Some weren’t meant to be repeated even though they were quite colorful! Since he didn’t read anything other than the local newspaper, his lively language must have been inherited- maybe from Irish ancestors that loved bawdy ditties to go with a brew or two. Or maybe it was the musical quality of language that his fiddle-playing, toe-tapping grandfather passed on to him. Some of his words and terms, I have never heard elsewhere like the word kyfogging. It means to fake or pretend, but I have never found anyone outside of our family who uses the term.


Once while shopping in a book store I visited regularly, the shop owner asked me if I realized I spoke in similes all the time. I had not noticed, but I think I knew where that trait originated. So when Dad retired, I wanted to help him learn the love of reading. At first he was resistant. But I introduced him to works by Monk Hefley, a real Ozarker who wrote great books in the bawdy language of hill folks. Dad fell in the love with the stories and was hooked on books. What a pleasure to be his teacher then and to lead him to L’Amour, Zane Grey and more.


When I managed to get author Hefley to come to my classroom and talk to my students, I invited Dad to visit the program. He was thrilled to meet Monk ,and they had a good time together remembering growing up in Depression days, of hunting and trapping for food and cash, of frying squirrel for supper, of sneaking into a hidden still or two among other memories.


Today the sun has made a temporary and dazzling appearance before the coming rain and sleet of tomorrow. I’d like to think it is in honor of Dad’s birthday and that while Dad is on my lips, he is not really gone.













                                                                                      

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Art as Tranquilzers

Stories are one of my first memories. My mother read to me everyday at naptime, and I always had a lot of children’s books. I remember my very first picture book; When Daddy Comes Home to Me was about a dad in a suit returning in the evening from the office. I was mesmerized by that daddy because he was so different from my blue collar daddy who came home for lunch each day from an auto parts store at the time. Another first book was a fat tome of stories about forest animals, elves and fairies playing with or tricking children in gardens. I drive down country roads now when the spring may apples pop up in ditches and on shoulders and find myself wondering if a mouse or a toad is serving tea and cake under those plant umbrellas.



I continued to love stories read by teachers at school, ones I read to myself, memories told at family reunions, or tales told by elderly neighbors. Then I began to write my own stories. Often now, I find myself frustrated by my lack of creativity or my limited new ways to see old stories. But then I remember I need to lighten up and enjoy the pleasure of the search. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says, “Remember that art is process. The process is supposed to be fun.”


My brother-in-law found his own way to tell stories when he taught himself photography. He now has a small side business doing portraits. His settings and angles with people shots are impressive, but I love his inanimate objects because I think they each “talk” and tell a story. His portraits and prints may be seen and ordered at http://www.myerphotography.com/8.html.


DH deals in creativity another way. When first married and living in a tiny St. Louis apartment with no tools, he wanted to build something. He was designing wings and tools for airplanes at McDonald Douglas, but he wanted his hands on building materials at home. So he designed and built me a spice cabinet. It was imperfect in places, but I loved it and that wood project was a start. He now builds everything in his workshop from toy trucks to kitchen cabinets. I see stories in DH’s work too.


For example, a primitive chest is built from barn wood taken from a barn that once stood on the family farm. On the side are some holes in the wood made by a wood bee long ago. I picture DH playing and working in that barn that is now only a memory. When I wanted shawl pins, DH made several and some he made out of hedge or Osage Orange taken from trees on the family farm. I write daily at a desk DH built out of red oak purchased from two local Ozark suppliers who are always good for stories at their mills or outlets.



Julia Cameron says that words are “like tiny tranquilizers”. While I use words to exercise my creativity and as my “tranquilizers”, these men each use another process. But in the end we are all doing the same thing. We all are creating art, dealing in the stories of our lives, and I hope having fun on the way.



Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Magazine of Blogs?


Yesterday was a super January day. It was warm enough to go out in a light jacket, and more important, the sun was out like a suspended lemon! Winter landscapes with sun can be beautiful too. The yellowing grasses, burned fields, exposed tree limbs of winter all look radiant and sculptured in sunlight. It was a good day for DH and me to go idea shopping. We are getting ready to remodel a bathroom in the spring and needed sizes, prices, etc. This job means an outside wall must come out so a tub can come inside this tiny bath off our bedroom.



So we took off to make what seemed like a hundred stops at warehouses, plumbing supply showrooms, home improvement stores, and window places. It sounds easy and was until about five hours into it, we were tired, hungry and done in—and we hadn’t even picked up a hammer on this job yet! We stopped for a quick sandwich and pushed on to two more stops before calling it a day. One of those was a trip to Books a Million to peruse bathroom and building magazines, which was not productive. Those bathrooms shown in magazines are either ultra modern, not my taste, or gorgeous baths the size of a small barn, not my luck. There were no pictures of a tiny bath built like a shoe box off a modest bedroom!


While there, I searched out other magazines, always hunting a new writing market and checking on the publishing trends. They have such lovely magazines for special interest groups now like weaving, scrapbooking, beading, wood crafts, spirituality, genealogy, even body tattoos and beer drinking ones. There seems to be a slight increase in literary journals and even magazines devoted to strictly short mysteries. However, I still miss plain the old “women’s stories” that appeared in magazines such as Redbook, Good Housekeeping, and even Family Circle. I am showing my age, but names like Pearl Buck, Marjorie Franco, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh come to mind. Some of those old stories are still a mighty fine read.


A magazine that really surprised me was Artful Blogging. I had never seen or heard of this publication before, and it is a whole publication devoted to the online blogs of other writers. It was pricey at $14.95, but it is a quarterly publication. Although I really need no help in wandering off the beaten reading path to get lost in blogs, this magazine highlights a variety of blogs a reader might want to check out. The pictures are lovely and personalities varied. Published by Somerset, this is a new magazine by publishers of many other writing opportunities. Writers might want to check out the writing guidelines at http://www.stampington.com/ .

Monday, January 18, 2010

Writers on Martin Luther King Day

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I mean no disrespect to this great peace-maker, or to Lincoln or Washington, but celebrating their days right in the middle of winter is not an amusing time for a writer! We wait for mail everyday, even though it often brings heart-tearing rejections. To know there will be no postal delivery makes the day even longer in winter. While never easy to face a day with no mail, it is easier to bear national holidays in the months when sun shines, grass grows, flowers bloom.



Writers are cooped up inside, hammering away on keyboards while the snow flies and the cold bites. We stay up late creating and reading; we stretch our brains for every scrap of creativity lurking, capture it, and send it out in submissions to dance on the desks of editors. We drink numerous pots of hot tea and make vegetable soup while taking refuge from the weather inside with our words. Even when the snow and ice melt, sand and cinders hang around for weeks reminding us (and our carpets and hardwood floors) that winter is still parked on our front porch. We don’t dare look at gardening catalogs yet, knowing April tilling is far away!


So a day without mail is like a day without air. We are sure that this day could be the one for a great acceptance letter or a bountiful contract. It might be sleeping down at the post office in the bottom of a canvas bag right now! We can face a trip to the mailbox in torrential rain or knee deep snow if the post office will just run mail routes. We are willing to pull on snowshoes, raincoats, even a clean nightgown under our writing robes if there will just be a visit from the mailman! But alas, today is a national holiday, right in the middle of January. Think anyone else wants to move Rev. King’s day--to the end of March maybe?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Winter Breakfast, Plain and Simple


Writers have always been intrigued with the lifestyle of the Amish, and the Plain and Simple people have often been characters in popular mysteries and romances. The group’s avoidance of electricity, minimal schooling, traveling by horse and buggy, and living rustic and simple lifestyles entices authors to choose Amish areas as a setting for unfolding their plots.



In the early autumn of last year, DH and I went looking for a country-styled furniture store we had heard about that was about 25 miles north of us. Once we turned off the main highway and began to travel a side road deep in to rich farmland, we began to notice the yellow horse and buggy signs. Veering off on a graveled lane and crossing a low-water bridge, we ended up smack dab on an Amish farm. Sitting along side a perfectly manicured garden was a metal building housing an Amish business that sold Amish furniture from Ohio and bulk foods. The woman clerking sold me some tapioca, bulk oat bran, and some unrefined salt. She said we had just missed the community breakfast and invited us to come to the next one.



Last week we came home to a message on our phone (they do have a phone in a small building outside the home built just for a business phone) that said this Saturday was the community breakfast; one is held about twice a year as a social and a money maker for the community. They only ask for a donation in a jar by the door. There are 31 Amish family that have settled in this gently sloping farmland raising row crops, cattle, truck gardens, and doing carpentry and baking. Despite dark low hanging clouds and a serious fog warning, we headed out this morning to check out the Amish breakfast. We had to go early because they start serving at 7:00 a.m.


The temperature had crawled up to the high thirties, making the land look like a spring thaw. There was a marriage of mud and leftover snow on the road shoulders. Once off the main road, the country side road was softer than Play Dough; a slide off in the ditch could have been axle deep mud. Three quarters of a mile down this narrow road, a right turn took you onto an Amish farm. Continuing on, passing the assembly of horses and buggies, we found the breakfast being held in a huge structure used for constructing smaller farm buildings. We parked, waded across thick, oozing mud and met earlier eaters leaving while carrying an armload of baked goods. “The doughnuts are extra good this morning,” said the man in farm clothing and cap, a satisfied smile on his lips.


Just inside the door, a sea of shades in black, ecru, purple and aqua unfolded. It looked like room wrapped in the rich colors of a velvet quilt. The bearded faces of men in bowl hair cuts helped the women with heads all covered in the same white cap, strings tied under their chins. Three rows of workers were set up at stations cracking eggs and stirring biscuits, flipping pancakes or frying on gas ranges, or serving from a long buffet table. Eaters got their own plates and sat at benches family style. The sausage was obviously Amish made and delicious. The biscuits were flaky, and pancakes were perfect. On all the bench tables were plates of warm, freshly fried doughnuts that were outstanding. The men and young boys were helping to cook, serve, and wipe tables along side the women. Dishes were being washed in another corner of the cement floored building. I had a nice visit with a young Amish girl who was eating her own breakfast before taking a turn at working at the food tables. After a wonderful breakfast with these gentle people, we peeked at the baked goods for sale and brought home some bread and a pumpkin roll. It was hard to leave the pies, fried pies and doughnuts that were left!



After breakfast a short detour took us by Prairie State Park, a favorite place that we have not visited much recently. Again we maneuvered on roads of mud and slush. This is a small state park that is maintaining a piece of what is left of the tall grass prairie that used to exist here. The rolling grasslands host many forms of wildlife including herds of elk and buffalo. The elk were fenced away from the public right now, but the buffalo were free ranging the park. Beautiful and majestic, two buffalo bulls were eating close to the road. We pulled up beside them and they never missed a bite. We could hear the tearing sounds of grass as the buffalo had their own breakfast. They looked well fed wearing thick dark coats with humps and shoulders the same flaxen shade as the faded winter grasses. Geese were honking wildly overhead as they flew from one pond to another. Easing the truck down the muddied roads, we scared up two white tail deer that bounced off as if on springs, heading from ditch to woods close by. In less than a quarter mile, a huge flock of wild turkey scuttled across the grass heading for a ravine. We were intruders on their world today.


The buffalo and wildlife, like the Amish farmers, were spending a winter day eating, resting, and socializing before spring weather and work returned. Neither was bothered by the ankle deep mud and misty air, as there was more winter yet to come.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

National Hot Tea Month

Every month seems to be National Something Month anymore, but I was surprised to learn that January was National Hot Tea Month. Although never a coffee drinker, I have gradually become an aficionado of tea, almost any kind. Growing up I never thought of tea as a hot drink. My mother made ice tea in the summer, but not the Southern kind with a bag of sugar. She set her Lipton tea bags from the grocery store in a quart fruit jar, added boiling water, and covered the jar mouth with an upside down saucer until the brew was the right color for drinking. Then when “sun tea” became popular, she set a clear gallon jug out on our porch to bask in sunlight. Sun tea was never as good as that brewed in the fruit jar, however.



I was introduced to a cup of hot tea when I met my in-laws. They drank coffee but also consumed hot tea brewed in a green enamelware tea pot. I found I liked hot tea, and when DH and I married, Lipton’s tea was a staple in our kitchen. While on a business trip to Canada, the wife of a salesman invited us to her home where she served Red Rose. This was delicious tea and awakened me to the fact there were other brands besides Lipton. I began to experiment, read, and learn. I found I liked loose teas even better than bagged. I was intrigued by the “agony of the leaves”, the swirling in the body of the pot as boiling water made them unfurl like tiny flags.


Once I began to brew up so many hot teas, I thought I needed more tea pots…then tea cups. Pots and cups sprang up over the house like dandelions on a spring lawn. I like them colorful and useful. Friends often gave me cute pots or decorated pots, but I did not want to only look at pots. A tea pot had to be useful. I do have tea pots for the seasons and change them often so taking tea is a visual treat as well as a tasty one. The same is true for cups. I don’t use ones that match a set of dishes, but choose to use an assortment of cups varied in size and color. I do have a few mugs for taking to the deck in summer or for the hearty drinks of deep winter, but I favor a nice English bone china that tinkles a wee bit when a spoons stirs.



I have found some green teas I like, but I favor a hearty black tea especially first thing in the morning. I like some dessert teas, but I don’t like to drink them alone: chocolate and sweet dessert teas need friends to share the pot with around the table. Recent studies show that tea is not just tasty but healthy. Supposedly tea drinkers have fewer colds and flu sieges, fight cancer better, and maybe even loose weight more easily. I can not vouch for any of the claims, but I do feed my tea leaves to my plants, both indoors and out, and they respond well to the tea.


One thing I have not done is learn to read tea leaves in the bottom of a cup. I have always been too busy getting to the pot for the next cup of tea! Maybe I will take a look at tea leaf reading during this National Month of Hot Tea. Then again, maybe I will just go brew another pot of Tippy Yunnan and search out some short bread for tea time!







Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Heart and Home Tea Room

"Perhaps that is the true gift of a teatime celebration: It fills our cups with joy and warmth and friendship. May the echo of the teacups' message be heard not only at Christmas, not only on special occasions, but anytime friends come together."

                                                                                                           Emilie Barnes




Although we feasted through the holidays, munched through the blizzard, and gorged through the frigid cold, we haven’t stopped eating yet. I looked in the winter-stocked freezer and found plenty of food still there. After copious cups of warming tea, the cabinet even now holds numerous tins of blacks, greens, and herbals, enough to open a tea shop. But when the sun threw warming rays our way today and the occasion to have lunch out with friends popped up, we never hesitated for a minute to leave the house for some lunch out.



After days of wind chills and icy temps, traveling down Highway 71 with sunshine streaming in the car windows was a delight. Sharing the ride with friends made it even better. We headed down to Heart and Home, an aging Ozark stone cottage sitting at the crossroads of two minor Missouri highways. The cottage had been a gift shop for several years when Linda the owner was convinced by an elderly lady to mingle a tea room in her business space. Linda is a darling person, and she admits she knows nothing about tea or coffee since she drinks neither. But she was eager for a new adventure and four months ago added Tea Room to her Heart and Home sign. She has been busy cooking, serving— and learning ever since.



The d├ęcor is minimal, leaning towards shabby chic. The teas are well known brands to some like Boston Teas, Tea for Life and Tea Forte. She does serve hot tea in bags, but brings everyone their own china tea pot with hot water and checks often to keep it satisfactorily filled. Prices are inexpensive. It is the food and personality that are the blue ribbon features of Heart and Home.


Each table has a loaded plate of banana or pumpkin bread; when diners are seated, a bowl of butter is added. They have a special of the day that might be something hearty like a meatloaf. The menu has a few varied salads, sandwiches, and soups or a combination. Heart and Home serves all sandwiches on homemade bread; soups are served in generous portions. Desserts are homemade, look and taste like something from the “good ole days” and cinnamon rolls are the specialty.




Heart and Home is not a place to go if you are looking for French cuisine, fancy desserts decorated with spiraling trims, or swanky label wines. But if you are looking for good food served with a smiling face and place to share “joy and warmth” over a cuppa with friends, seek out Heart and Home near Neosho.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Moon of Popping Trees

"The days are short,
   the sun is a spark               
 Hung thin between
 the dark and dark."       
JohnUpdike


               
Native Americans called January the Month of Popping Trees. I call it the Month of Wiping Out. In the kitchen it is a month of wiping out withered potatoes from the pantry, wrinkled celery from the crisper, and using up those half packages of cream cheese left from Christmas. From some deep shelf in the freezer, we consume the last loaf of pumpkin bread made from this year’s Halloween pumpkins.



Ragged clothes are sorted and cut into shop rags. Run over and leather-worn shoes are used up in the wet snow for a couple of weeks and then pitched into the trash can with no laments. January sales might bring in new towels and sheets, but old ones are tossed out for sure.


The last of those half-squeezed tubes of lotions, failed nail colors, and dated medicines are flung to the waste basket with no feeling of waste. Notebooks with only a handful of unmarked pages are lobbed in File 13. Any poinsettias that look more like a naked winter branch than thriving plant are chucked to the dumpster.


Normally, I have a writing and reading list to conquer, to wipe out, but this year’s the extreme cold has made me lethargic. I don’t feel very creative; my mind wanders like a snow plow roaring down the street pushing new ideas to the gutter. Even reading, my attention span rambles more than normal, thinking more about cold toes and fingers than the story in my hands. Last night’s wind chill here was -15, the coldest record in the last 25 years.


A final wiping out the last bits of loose tea in all the nearly empty tins takes place this month. The late mornings, the loitering in jammies and heavy flannel robes, lingering over whopping breakfasts with the copious amounts of hot tea make for leisurely use of many tea pots. With no hurry to the day, the procedure of choosing, warming, and brewing in varied pots is a treat. I use the Christmas reds a few extra times before they are put away, or I pull out the Blue Willows and other blue and whites. A large Brown Betty under a tea cozy means tea for breakfast and some still warm for a later cup. After several days of a snow blanket and frigid temps, when we think we can stand it no longer, I pop out a lively pastel or floral tea pot to remind us that the spring will come.


As we wipe out the food supplies here, face the extra hard cold spell, and tolerate the long confinement with little exercise but plenty of comfort food, the Month of Popping Trees might become the Month of Popping Buttons this year.





Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Making Pretty...


"...a picture shoud be soemthing pleasant, cheerful, and pretty...There are too many unpleasant things in life as it is without creating still more..." Renior


My mother-in-law, now in her nineties, has painted or delved into art related things since she was a young girl working at the Wichita Art Museum. I have a few of her pictures on my walls, and I appreciate them because they are scenes of places I know, express moods I like, or are painted in colors I enjoy. One I have in a hallway is a water color that she was throwing away because she didn’t like it, and the painting had a damaged corner. I salvaged it, framed it, and hung it.



I couldn’t say whether these art works are grand or not, but I like them. Like Renoir, I think there are enough ugly things in the world and any picture that is pleasing to someone is splendid. Unlike writing, a picture can be enjoyed if it doesn’t sell. It can hang in the artist’s home or be given as a gift. But what does one do if her canvas is paper and the paints are words? Once a story or poem is written, it can not decorate a wall or stand on a table easel. If no editor or publisher finds it worthy of printing, then the work goes into a box under the bed or file cabinet in an office. It, too, might be pleasant, cheerful and pretty, but without that stamp of approval from the critics, it is hard to share, hard to enjoy.


I love any old barn. Barns are like country dowagers that stand in the wings waiting for someone to appreciate their worth. Even as they crumble across the rural landscapes, the old barns radiate a beauty. This picture of a local barn and cows rests in a barn wood frame DH made for me. I finally got it together and placed on a wall between two doorways. It hangs where I see it immediately when I leave my office; I can view it from my desk. I love the blue shades and appreciate the promise of spring my mother-in-law painted into the scene. By Renoir’s definition, my mother-in-law’s work is a success because it gives me pleasure and cheer with each glance I make during the day.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Changes Are Made



"Out with the old and in with the new"; the old saying is right for the entire month of January.

Change is never easy for us anal retentive types, and the older I get, the less I want to make the changes the world leaves on my doorstep. Abandoning the landline phone was not much of a challenge, but letting go of my irreplaceable Mrs. Tea when she wore out was like saying goodbye to an old friend. When faced with changes like cleaning a closet or a file cabinet, I flounder at what to toss and what to save. I will admit to having eliminated things occasionally that I later wish I had back. However, over all, I never miss most of the cluttering minutia I have tossed out.


Seeing the magazines and newspapers I known forever reduce in size, change format, or even cease publication is a distressing change. But I am part of the problem when I have to cancel my own subscriptions due to budget changes in my own life. The last year’s economy and forced retirement at this house felt like strangulation at times. The changes it brought on were many, and like stinging shots whizzing from a Gatling gun, they came fast and furiously. I have to make tighter choices now on what publications I keep coming to my mailbox for the next year and which ones were not necessary to my reading and writing life.


I have always paid the price for an up to date Writer’s Market, a fat tome on my bookshelf. It was always worth the pricey cost, but the last few years that price just got too steep for me. Today I decided to subscribe to Hope Clark’s TOTAL FundsforWriter’s, www.fundsforwriters.com/total.htm, a paid subscription for markets. She is running a special during the month of January at $9 for the year of biweekly markets delivered to your email box. I figured $9 was a bargain for the year and will give it a shot. I don’t remember how I found Hope, but I do subscribe to her free weekly newsletter now, which also includes a few markets each week. Her motivational essays and writing tips help inspire writers. Her newsletters are a bright spot and welcome sight when they appear, especially on a stark winter’s day.


I never meant for anything online to replace any book in my life, but this is one of the changes I am forced to make. I read more and more online, getting tangled in the wonderful world of blogs and websites. Each one introduces me to another, and if I am not careful, I follow each one like a strand of fiber into a snarled knot of yarn. I have met interesting people and outstanding ideas online; it is a temptation to spend too much time there. So I remind myself to accept the change of reading online, but not to squander too much time there. Today my order for Hope’s markets is made, and now back to my own work of laundry, writing, cooking, writing, cleaning, writing…..


Happily, some things never change!