Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Little Feathers: Back Story- Pure Fiction

Little Feathers: Back Story- Pure Fiction: Michael paced and fidgeted, waiting, as usual, for his chance to give advice to the boss. And the boss needed advice, because the whole...

Back Story- Pure Fiction

Michael paced and fidgeted, waiting, as usual, for his chance to give advice to the boss. And the boss needed advice, because the whole world was going to hell. In fact, a big part of the world was in hell already.  Why couldn’t he see that?
The big old wooden door opened, and Michael put on his game face. Not to aggressive…the boss didn’t like that. Not too…whatever! Michael shrugged his shoulders, admitting to himself, if no one else, that he had not gotten it right yet. Not the right combination of words and tone and emotion to move the guy to act like Michael knew he should. Knew he HAD to.
“Michael! How are you?” he said, coming forward to give Michael that hug that Michael had to brace himself for. Not because he didn’t like the hug, but because it always drew him offsides. Made him lose his focus and intent. 
“Fine, fine. And you?” Michael drew back from the hug, looking into his boss’ eyes to see what mood he might be in today. Bummer. He looked happy. The guy was delusional.
“I am good. And glad to hear you are well. What can I do for you, Michael?”
As if he didn’t know. As if Michael had not been pleading for the same thing now for way too long.  Michael shook his head, just a tiny shake. Took a deep breath. Took a chance on contact and put his hand on his boss’ forearm for emphasis.
“They are at it again. Only this time, I think is worse than ever. I can’t do anything with them, they surely won’t listen to me. You’re going to have to do something. They will listen to you if you go down there.” Michael went for the combo effect…sincere, urgent but not pushy.
“ I know. You know, it breaks my heart. I have tried everything I can think of. Except…”
Michael interrupted, “You haven’t tried everything. You haven’t just gone down there and talked to them yourself. Unless you count that whole burning bush thing. Which, wasn’t quite the same thing as just showing up, you have to admit.”
His boss smiled, the memory settling on him. He chuckled. “Well, maybe not the exact right thing, but it seemed like a good idea back then. But anyway, this morn…”
Michael burst in again, “You keep sending people to tell them. It isn’t working! They either kill them or ignore them, or both! You have to do it yourself” Michael was warming to his subject. His pupils were dilated with fervor, and the hand on his boss’ arm was squeezing in passionate appeal.
His boss looked down at the gripping fingers and looked back into Michael’s eyes. Michael let go with sudden frustration, stepping back and shaking his head. This was going to end like every other meeting. Nothing. Big fat nothing. He started to turn away.
“Michael, listen for a minute,” it wasn’t a request, “I am trying to tell you something. I have an idea, and I think you will like it. I think it might work.”
Michael stopped breathing. Progress. Something new. Something besides the same old sending of some poor guy who ends up dead, despised by the very people he trying to reach.
“What…what…” Michael leaned a little toward his boss, a little afraid to get up too much hope.
“I’ve decided to go down there myself. “
Michael jumped up, pumping his fist and doing a little jig. “I knew it! I knew you would fix it! You love them too much to let them keep on killing each other! I knew you would fix it!”
His boss was grinning now, watching Michael’s joyful reaction. He waited a minute for Michael to do a little shadow boxing of the enemy.
“Take that, evil! Take that, death! Take that you sorry excuse for human misery maker!” Michael kept it up for a minute, then curiosity sunk in.
“Where will you appear first? That could be a huge decision, you know. You have to get the powerful behind you first. Wait…what am thinking…you would have to if you were a human, but since you are God, once you go down there as yourself, the whole entire human race will fall on their knees before you!”
His boss nodded, pausing, “That’s just the thing, Michael. That is the very reason I can’t do it the way you are thinking. We’ve been over this a hundred times.”
Michael’s face fell. What was the catch? He turned and started pacing, reciting in a terse voice,
“You made them to be free. You can’t manipulate them. They have to live free from strings and obligation to you or they can’t be truly themselves. Yadda, yadda, yadda…”
His boss ignored this last disrespectful tirade.
“That is right, Michael. That never changes. If I love them, I am bound by all the laws of every moral code ever imagined to give them their freedom.”
“Well, what moral code do they live by, for crying out loud? How can you make it worse by stopping them from making such a dung heap of themselves and all of earth?” Michael was so deeply disappointed he forgot that there was still a plan that had not been tried before.
His boss sat down, motioning to the other easy chair beside him. “Michael. Sit. I am sorry it can’t be done your way. But I do have an idea. And I think it just might work. Sit here. I feel how much you love them. How much you grieve for them. You have to believe me when I tell you I feel those things as keenly as you.”
Michael sat, his arms on his knees, his head hanging. He let out a sigh, and raised his eyes to the face of this boss who he did love so much.
“I’m going down there. But they will think I’m a real human. I’ll live like they do, and the hope is that I’ll get the chance to teach them how to love each other. And themselves.”
“So…where will you appear first?”
“Well, if I’m going to do it right, I’m going to do the whole thing. I’ll be born, like them.”
“You have got to be kidding me? You, a baby? You will be so at their mercy, you’ll never make it to be old enough to teach them anything!” Michael let out another sigh. He loved his boss, but this was a bad idea.
“No, I think it will work. I have the mother picked out. She’s good. And the father is a good man. I’ll do the whole thing. I’ll be born, I’ll grow up, I’ll love my family. I’ll gather some followers and spread the news that love is for everyone. That no one is alone. That no life, and no death is beyond me.”
“So, you picked a queen? Who is it?”
“Well, not a queen. I picked a Jewish girl. Her name is Mary. You know, the Jews have messed up a lot, but they keep trying, and that’s where I want to go. Remember David? He has a descendent named Joseph who is engaged to Mary. It’s the perfect family.”
“Now I know you are kidding me! They are dirt poor! You will be lucky to get enough to eat, much less gain any influence at all with society!”
“That’s kind of my point, Michael. I want to do it the hardest way, so that there aren’t any people anywhere, ever, for the rest of time who think they aren’t good enough to live in love.”
Michael slowly shook his head. “I don’t think you know what you’re in for. I’ve been down there. It isn’t what you think. There is not much hope, and there isn’t much love either. And for sure, they have forgotten their promises to you.”
His boss nodded just as slowly, “ I do know, Michael. But I have not forgotten mine to them.”
The look on his boss’ face left no room for argument. In fact, the extreme fondness he felt for his creation shone on his face like a light. Michael felt a little bubble of hope under his breast bone for the first time in a very long time. This was crazy, but maybe crazy was just the right thing for this mess that was the human condition.
“OK. So, let’s say you are going to go down there and show them how to love each other. Then what?”
“Well, I guess we’ll have to see what they do with it. And with me.” He put his hand on Michael’s arm. “And I’m going to need your help. I know I said it the human way, but we’ll add just a touch of your ideas. See, we gotta get Mary on board, give the word to Joseph that he doesn’t need to worry, maybe tell some shepherds, and…let’s put a big star in the sky ahead of time to kind of point the way.”
“So, a star over Jerusalem?”
“Well, no. I’m going to be born in Bethlehem. Because that’s where David came from, and I’m going to do my darnedest to fulfill some of the Hebrew prophecy. To give them hope. And to help them know who I am.”
Michael chuckled. “You have this all figured out. OK, we’ll try it your way. And pray. A lot!”
His boss grinned from ear to ear. “I knew I could count on you. Now, let’s get this thing rolling!”

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Little Feathers: My War on the War of Art

Little Feathers: My War on the War of Art: A while ago my son, Josh, recommended a book to me that I read and took to heart. At least I thought I did. The War of Art, by Steven Pressf...

My War on the War of Art

A while ago my son, Josh, recommended a book to me that I read and took to heart. At least I thought I did. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, taught me about the many ways I have sabotaged my own creativity. Much of the book is about overcoming the thing that keeps any of us from doing what we are passionate about as fully as we could. That thing is, quite simply, our self talk. I don't want to over simplify the book, and I believe it is truly worth reading for anyone who feels they have not lived up their potential. We may think of creativity as applying only to the arts, but as problem solving is creativity at its best, it actually applies to all of life.
I learned a lot about myself from the book and for a while I worked really hard at being scrupulously honest about my motivations, my efforts, and my ultimate responsibility for my creative output. I had little litmus tests in place to see if I was acquiescing to the negative messages that manifest themselves in the life of every person. Then, I must have gotten tired.
There is song written by Cat Stevens; The First Cut is the Deepest. I only know the Sheryl Crow rendition. At any rate, I totally agree with the concept that the habits of self talk we establish early in our lives, "I'm no good at math",  "I can't dance" etc, are so deeply engrained in our psyche that we have to work hard to bounce the needle out of that groove and make a different recording. BUT the good news is that we can break old habits. Including how we see ourselves and our contribution to this life.
I am writing about this because I have let myself fall back into patterns that keep me from breaking free as a writer. I have so many reasons lined up that no one will want to read/buy whatever it is I'm working on. If this ever happens to you, I say let's go to war.
If the war on my art is the creative hamstringing caused by self doubt, then I am ready to make war on that war. My weapons will be courage, diligence, humility, and hope. What have I got to lose but old grooves that don't serve me well anyway?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Little Feathers: Goodbye Hannah

Little Feathers: Goodbye Hannah: Our kids had a fabulous team of teachers in the third grade at Highland Park Elementary. Those teachers could do anything! Except for one re...

Goodbye Hannah

Our kids had a fabulous team of teachers in the third grade at Highland Park Elementary. Those teachers could do anything! Except for one really hard thing. The teacher who read aloud to them did such a great job. Until she came to the part in the story where she needed the other teacher to read for a while. The part where the dog died.

A great story is one that helps us wrestle with the hard questions in life. Like how to go on when we are covered in grief. Like how to come to terms with the loneliness we feel when lose a friend or family member. And because dogs are such perfect examples of a loving friend and family member, many of the really great stories we read as youngsters deal with the death of a dog. Like, Where the Red Fern Grows, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Old Yeller.

It was about the same time our son was in third grade that it seemed like one hard thing after another was happening in the lives of my circle of friends. We even made a dark humor joke about it. We would tell of the struggle, and then someone would say,  "And then the dog died."

There are people who own dogs. I've owned a few. Dogs who came and went without a lot of impact. But then, there are dogs who own people. And I've been owned by a few. The first time I ever saw my dad cry was when we had to put down our beloved Spotty when I was a kid. Spotty owned our whole family. Smart, funny, loving...a lot like the Boxer girl, Lucy, who owns Bob and I now.

 My sister in law and her husband were owned by a beautiful, funny, smart Golden Retriever named Montana's Hannah Banana who died yesterday. Some people can't understand how the death of a dog can be so tough. It's only a pet, they say. But if they say that, they have not experienced that little piece of heaven on earth that is the unconditional love of a dog. It isn't just the smiley faced dog grins, the efforts to respond to us and please us. It is the also the way dogs make us better people. We have a deep desire to care for a dog who loves us, to make their lives good, too. Hannah had a wonderful life. Her people did a really good job of appreciating the gift they were given in a dog who loved them. They will miss her so much. Because they lost a friend and a family member. Goodbye, Hannah. Good dog.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Little Feathers: Elementary, My Dear

Little Feathers: Elementary, My Dear: I was lucky  to get a writing assignment from a house that publishes a  devotional book for people with intelletual and developemental disab...

Elementary, My Dear

I was lucky  to get a writing assignment from a house that publishes a  devotional book for people with intelletual and developemental disabilities. I was asked to use a really helpful tool on Microsoft Word that edits for a certain grade level. This tool is so amazing, because it checks for sentence structure, vocabulary, etc. Though the audience for this devotional is adults, I was advised to use a third grade setting. And something really rewarding happened.
I got to boil down comments on a scripture passage to very elementary thoughts. I kept asking myself why I usually think this relationship between God and us humans is so complicated. Why do I think I always need more information? Like what influenced the author of the book, or what some theologian thinks of this precept or that. I get so deep into thinking I need to know the mind of God (unfathomable) and understand the purpose of our living. I get lost in the history of the church, the personalities that shaped the different translations and proclamations.
I find I can put all I need to know in a few sentences. God loves us more than we can imagine. We struggle and grieve and fail and reach out to God. God is there. In the pain and sorrow. Then, we sing and shout for joy in the midst of the sweet things life brings us, the chances we are given to try again. And God is there. In the first breath of a newborn, the hug of a loved one, the encouragement of those who have lived long and seen much and still greet the new day with a will to live. And the names we call our organizations or churches, the programs and dogma, those may not have much to do with the truth of the matter. God was God before the written word, before the cosmos came into fine focus. Nothing I write will change the nature of God. Even if I get some details wrong, all I really need to know is this simple truth: nothing can separate me from the love of God. It's elementary.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Little Feathers: Enough

Little Feathers: Enough: I saw a video of a bunch of adults behaving like idiots at a Black Friday sale of cell phones at a Walmart. I was really sad that the word C...


I saw a video of a bunch of adults behaving like idiots at a Black Friday sale of cell phones at a Walmart. I was really sad that the word Christmas was even associated with such behavior. I don't want the world to think that is how Americans act, and I don't want anyone to think that sad commentary on human nature has anything to do with Christmas.
I decided a long time ago that Christmas has very little to do with giving or receiving gifts. I love to find presents that seem perfect for loved ones. But Christmas is so far beyond that process. It is, for me, a magical time that has to do with a story about being loved. A story about the gift of hope. Even the story of Santa isn't about possessions, it is about a magical guy who loves to bring a surprise to children. He doesn't make the latest cell phone up north. Or a tablet. Or even Chanel #5 with Brad Pitt on the box. He makes toys, and delivers them around the world because it is fun to give children a treat. And because there are a lot of children who need some help believing that life is full of hope and love. It isn't the toys that give them message, but done right, it is the knowledge that someone cares about them.
The whole question of how much is enough, and how we can fill that hole of insecurity that drives our commercial world is one that strikes me as really worthwhile. How can I make that point in my children's books without preaching? How can I somehow come to terms, through my characters, with the notion that I am enough already? That I have enough already. That nothing I can buy will keep me safe from the uncertainty that fills our airwaves and consumes our awareness.
No one I know is immune to the siren call of a buyers high. I find myself eying the latest and greatest, thinking I need this or that. But I don't. If I did not get anything new at all for years, I would still have everything I need.
The things I love most about Christmas are the intangibles. The family singing carols together. Getting out the decorations and reliving Christmases past with loved ones who are gone, or times when life seemed simpler and easier mentally, if not physically. Times when the dancing eyes and warm hugs of our children were magic enough. Baking the goodies that transport my senses to the magical place of good memories. Sitting by the fireplace and looking at the tree, saying it is surely the prettiest it has ever been. Which is kind of funny since it is stored in a bag and assembled each year. But this year's tree will for sure be the prettiest we've ever had.
I love Christmas. And I want to remember it as it was intended. Hopeful. Generous. Shining with a soft glow of memories. But as more than a time gone by; as a chance to live today with a purpose. Tomorrow can take care of itself. Christmas for today is about sharing with those who do not have enough, who need the gift of love or food or clothes or toys to help them feel the hope. It is about giving our hearts to the people we have been given to love. And, about the peace that fills our hearts and minds because we know that we are loved beyond measure.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Little Feathers: Trending Now...

Little Feathers: Trending Now...: We live in the age of the Great Compare-athon. Suddenly everything everyone is doing, saying and being is out there for us to see. Or, to be...

Trending Now...

We live in the age of the Great Compare-athon. Suddenly everything everyone is doing, saying and being is out there for us to see. Or, to be more correct, the versions of themselves they want people to see are out there. To say that social media is changing society is an understatement. And the fact that money can be made from tracking trends and garnering preferences takes the momentum of the phenomenon to warp speed. Never has so much been made of the need to be "with it". Or at least, never has it invaded our space so silently and totally. In many ways it has extended the High School-esque social climbing way on into the adult world. Want to fit in? Want to be popular? Want others to think you are hip and amazing? There is a fix for any perceived social weakness. If you don't believe me, read the ads on the margins of facebook. Will I really be happier if I buy the revolutionary new product discovered by the woman who covered herself in something scarlet and lumpy? You know, the woman all the dermatologists hate because she is cutting into their business.

I started thinking about his because I read some advice from a children's writer, saying that if we want to make money we should look to see what is trending in children's books and write to that theme. Yikes! That seems like such a bad idea. But I do notice a huge effort in that direction. Just search YA novels about vampires and you will see what I mean. Or picture books about bodily functions.

It just doesn't fit for me. Any more than I can put myself in skinny jeans or that must-have neon puce jumpsuit. I still have to be myself, and in this brave new world of keeping up with the current trend, I'll just have to start my own trend. I'm trending myself.  So much more freedom! Who knows, maybe I'll still sell more books. But I'll definitely enjoy writing what comes out of my own imagination!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Little Feathers: Roots And Nuts

Little Feathers: Roots And Nuts: A nut doesn't fall far from the tree. I heard that as a kid, and at first I thought I was simply being called a nut. And while that may be t...

Roots And Nuts

A nut doesn't fall far from the tree. I heard that as a kid, and at first I thought I was simply being called a nut. And while that may be true, the real meaning of the saying rings true for me as well.
I don't think it necessarily means we are bound by nature to be the behavioral spitting image of our parents. But I do think we grow in the shadow of a tree and our world view is very influenced by the type of forest surrounding us. Not determined by it, because we do have the power to decide who we are, but still influenced by it.

I was a late bloomer. I was slow to grow up (still working on it) and sometimes wonder if that is one reason I like to write children's books. I heard once, at a Highlight's for Children writer's workshop, that our imaginations are sometimes sparked, engaged, jump to warp speed, at a certain age. And that is the age of children for whom we do our best writing. It is part of the genre argument...pick one and write it and that's who you are as an author. As my current publisher, Richard Tate, told me, we don't walk in to a bookstore and wonder what kind of book we'll get if we buy a Danielle Steele or a John Grishom. We know. Publishers want that for their authors.

I've fought that notion. I say to myself that I need to write in different genres. I loved write for hire work I did for Augsburg Press, daily devotionals for adults. I loved writing Sunday School materials for High Schoolers. I loved writing musicals with my partner, Edie Elkjer. We wrote for middle grades. Then I wrote musicals for our church High School group. I love writing rhyming stories... the first thing I sold was a rhyming story about a frog king that Highlights bought. And my picture book that is now under contract with Tate Publishing is a rhyming story.

So, what about that tree analogy? What kind of a nut am I? I think about the literature I loved the most when I was a kid. It was any hero's journey where some good came out of the struggle. It could be Homer Price, it could be the Narnia Books, it could be Peanuts cartoons. I always loved it when hope at least glimmered, and people (or creatures) had the opportunity to become their best selves.
I'm still hoping I can publish my YA novel about a Soviet ballerina in the '60s. It may have to be under a nom de plume! We wouldn't want readers to wonder what kind of nut was inside once they know Judy Beglau is a picture book writer! Some people like the mixed nuts. But I guess if you are an almond purist you don't want hazelnuts mucking up your taste buds!

My mom is a really good writer. As a teenager I was struck to my bones by a poem she wrote just for herself. And she was always making up rhymes for coworkers' going away parties, etc. And my grandfather, her dad, published a book of poems. So....when I'm wondering what kind of nut I am, maybe the answer doesn't fall far from the tree. If my alter ego wants to publish a YA novel she'll just have to get her own publisher!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Who's In the Details?

I've heard it both ways: God is in the details. The devil in the details. I would imagine that the version you identify with depends on whether or not you have attended to the details!
I am beginning to see that easy part of getting a book sold is the writing of it! For sure, getting a publisher to look at it is not the easy part! There are many how-to books written about getting your book out of the "slush pile" and into hands of an editor or publisher. I have been to many a session on this subject at writer's conferences. And still I feel I lucked into my current relationship. Sure,I kept sending my book off to publishers. I attended to that detail. And I have a little stack of rejection letters that I kept for practicing the formula I learned from one successful author: a rejection letter arrives...you open it, read it quickly for the bottom line, do a little dance in the front hallway and say, "Yes!!! A rejection letter! Now I am one letter closer to getting an acceptance letter!" Do this quickly before any hint of those enemies of progress, those pesky tears of frustration, can appear to muck up your dance. But back to the luck part. I sent my book of to dozens of publishers. I always checked to make sure I had names right. At first I sent the manuscript to one publisher at a time, because that was the way things worked in the olden days (two years ago?). But since many established rules of publishing have gone out the window ( for example, the courtesy on the part of some publishers of any reply whatsoever), I would do my research and mail to multiple publishers at once. And the result of that was that sometimes I got more than one rejection letter on the same day! Such a great opportunity for that dance!
Then one day, a small miracle happened. I got an email from a publisher. Tate Publishing emailed me saying they might be interested in Mad Mad Annabelle Jane. And now I am climbing this learning curve of awesomeness. How a published author becomes a successful author. It can be done, and done by me, I am certain. And we'll just see who is in the details after all!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Little Feathers: The Fun Part

Little Feathers: The Fun Part: The fun part of writing is that moment (usually before I sit down to the keyboard) when thoughts are lining up, begging to be sequenced into...

The Fun Part

The fun part of writing is that moment (usually before I sit down to the keyboard) when thoughts are lining up, begging to be sequenced into something comprehensible. It could be a story. I sometimes enter short story contests because they are just fun. Someone gives a writing prompt like a premise or a list of words, and pow! My brain boots up and a story comes out. I especially love the 1,000 word stories. A thousand word limit gives me elbow room for a bit of character development but not enough space so that I have to leave myself story-line bread crumbs.
And I have to say, I love writing a rhyming story or song lyrics or poems. If I have to stop and make a word rhyme by inverting word order or contriving a sort-of rhyme, I scrap that line. It has to be a story that rhymes, not vice versa. I was really impressed with that notion at the first writer conference I attended a few years ago. The speaker referred to it as "organic rhyming". Instantly my imagine jumped up. Organic would mean no pesticides...which could mean nothing stuck on a word to make it work, like messing up the syllable emphasis. No artificial fertilizers...that could mean no pretending...either it works and it flows and feels good to read, or it doesn't. I am working with a publisher now on a rhyming picture book: Mad Mad Annabelle Jane. I am in the early stages so I have not had contact with the editor yet. But I am really hopeful to get the "Organically Grown" stamp when all is said and done.
I know who Annabelle Jane is. I have a little detector that beeps when I try to make her do something uncharacteristic. And it's a really annoying beep, one I can't ignore. I am hopeful that this relationship with my protagonist will keep us both safe as we head into the editing process. I'll let you know. If I forget, Annabelle will certainly remind me. She is a very persistent girl. Very.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Little Feathers: Fruits of Our Labors.

Little Feathers: Fruits of Our Labors.: I have often said that I am not a multitasker. But we all are. Some of us just like it better than others. Anyone who has raised children kn...

Fruits of Our Labors.

I have often said that I am not a multitasker. But we all are. Some of us just like it better than others. Anyone who has raised children knows there is no such as completing one task at a time. If your child is stuck, your dog has barfed, your car alarm is wailing, your smoke alarm is piercing the air...you drop what you are doing and address the crisis. And sometimes the domino theory predicts that the smoke alarm will go off since the thing you left in order to address the stuckness, the barf or the wailing was the supper on the stove.
Well, I'm going to quit saying I'm not a multitasker. I'll just embrace my instinct for self preservation that yearns for a day of check marks on my to do list. I can't insist on getting things done in order, because that would be like yelling at umpires...fruitless. And it's all about the fruit. The fruit is the reward for the work. So writing projects that never make into the mailbox, on their way to the great publishing house in the sky, are all pruning and no harvest. Even a thoughtful rejection letter is fruit. I learn from it. I guess I learn from the one liner rejection letters, too. Not to waste my stamp on that publisher.
I am excited to be working with a publisher on a picture book right now, though we are in the early stages and the major task at hand is drumming up patience. But hey...patience is fruitful, right? And the narrative poem I wrote with Thomas Pavlechko to weave his Ghoultide Scarols into a story is being performed by several professional and civic groups this fall. Including a production we are mounting ourselves. With choir, orchestra, actors, dancers...the story is coming alive onstage. Fruit!!! And much opportunity for honing that skill of multitasking!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bumpier Bumps

As I get older, life just gets more interesting. The bumps get bumpier. The sad parts are sadder. It makes sense I guess, because the longer we live, the more loss we experience. Someday I'm going to ask God a couple of questions that really have me wondering. Like, how come the years when we have teenagers in the house is when we tend to begin that long and lovely road to living without estrogen??? And just when we good and depleted of that helpful hormone, many of us begin to lose those people who loved us so unconditionally...our parents. I know we must be grateful if we have a mom and dad who always thought we were amazing and wonderful. I know we must grateful that we have them so many years when they live a long life. But those two things that are blessings indeed also make it very difficult to say goodbye.
I used to think that if I was just a good enough mom, our kids would never struggle. They would get all our positive traits and sail through life without a wrinkle. I used to think that if I was just a good enough daughter, my folks' old age would be a breeze. But here is the really funny thing about that. That would mean that I was responsible for someone life besides my own. When I think of it that way, I see what a trap that is. It's ironically a very self centered way to go through life. I may think I'm being a servant, when I'm really busy trying to pull strings to keep everything and everyone happy. Not only self centered, but very impossible as well.
So, I am working hard on going with the flow. Taking things a day at a time. Working to separate my ego from my best self. If the bumps seem bumpier, I'll just have to hope my shock absorbers are working. About the sad parts...well. We just have to be sad sometimes. Today a good friend of mine wrote the following, and I think it about sums it up:
" That's what life is. It's a banquet and a challenge and a wonderment and a puzzlement and a
blessing and a bit of crap samich."
I'll say thanks for the banquet. Thanks for the challenge because surely it'll make me a better person. Thanks for the wonderment and puzzlement and blessing. And I'll surely live through the crap samich.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Let 'er go, Judy

Anyone who has ever taken their child to their first day of kindergarten knows this feeling. You realize as you leave that school room that there is someone else who will be a tremendous influence on this offspring. The way your little one is looking at their teacher...let's just hope that teacher sees the miracle standing before them, and not just another little body to herd around!
That scene from the past is coming to mind because I am considering letting another offspring go out into the wide world. I got an offer from a publisher for a picture book I've been working on. The little girl in the book is part me, part our daughters, part imagination. And I'm feeling just a slight reluctance to let her go. Will that editor see her for the gem that she is, or just another character to manipulate into a formula? What will be left of my heroine after they are done with her?
Still, I know that there is no stopping the growth of a child. No keeping them from the trials and tribulations, successes and celebrations that will shape their lives. We know when we hold that warm, sweet, perfect baby, blinking in the bright lights of the real world right after they are born that this is a person with a destiny. Now they are apart from us, and though we hold them near for those first few years, the launching pad that will propel them onward, outward and away from us is never far from view.
There really isn't a reason for me to write a book unless I'm willing to send it out there. Risking those rejection slips, risking brief comments from editors who can't see the child for the mismatched clothes. So I guess I'll take the next step and see what happens. She may even grow into something fabulous, like our daughters and son have done. I guess I'll do like my friend Nelle Hudson used to advise. I'll hold the right thought.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Crazy Love

I was awake off and on last night, and three songs kept weaving their way through my mind. The gentle, lyrical Aaron Neville song Love, Love, Love, Love, Crazy Love. Then a haunting song I heard recently by Lisa Loeb..."the time between meeting and finally leaving is sometimes called falling in love". The third is a song our daughter wrote, and the line that kept playing was "We can choose to be happy in each others arms", ( J-D's Song, www.reverbnation.com/sallynava).

Anyway, I kept thinking about building a life with a person. About what makes love last. We all know the usual progression: attraction, infatuation, devotion, respect, commitment, love. Sometimes we think the beginning phases are love. And they are. Otherwise the music industry would be out of business. But after spending thirty eight years going through the phases (and some repeat...how awesome is that!) I realize that we often get to the really good part years into it. When we are lucky enough to have found someone who wants the same things we want from life and spend years working together to fulfill our dreams, the trust built over time can be bedrock itself. It sees us through those times when we wonder what on earth we were thinking when we said, "I Do" (admit it now, everyone has those thoughts sometimes!).
But back to the songs. I think the theory about dreams is interesting that says our subconscious spends our dreams trying to figure out the mysteries of life that we give up on in our waking hours. I can see right off why Crazy Love wound its way through. My brain would chose that over "Why Don't We Do It In the Road" for sheer romance. And the Lisa Loeb song addresses all those heartbreaking endings that people live through when they can't make the leap to the next stage of love, for whatever reason. I know many wonderful people who have lived through this sadness, and I'm not saying they just didn't try hard enough. But Sally's song was the one that resonated with me in the end. Sometimes, the glue that keeps us together is choosing to be happy in each others arms. When we do,when we both do, when we look for the good in our partner and choose to give them the same grace we want for ourselves, a little miracle happens. We find, years later, that we love them more than the day when we stood there in our white dress and held flowers. Crazy Love.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Not a Rational Place! No Little Feathers in Sight

Many people in the world rely on reason, on rational thought to process life and all its issues. The thing about reason that doesn't work for me is that you need to know all the variables. You can't have gaps in your information due to unknowns, or your conclusions are no longer rational.
It has always been puzzling to me that people will allow guesses put forth by scientists (Big Bang Theory, Darwin's Theory of Evolution) I suppose because they are posited by educated, rational folks. But if others fill in the unknowns with a different guess, well, it's just plain ignorant. There doesn't seem to be a disconnect for some when questions are asked about the origin of the physical properties that caused the Big Bang. Or the creator of the amoeba that became the fish, etc. It doesn't matter so much to me how it all began. I'm not sure we'll ever know that in this life. What matters most to me is how treat each other now, today.
I think kids have a corner on truth. They know for a fact that they don't know it all. And they are OK with that. But something happens as we grow up. We become convinced that it is NOT OK to say we just don't know. Our society places intellect way up high on an altar. Almost as high as athletic skill (yes, an attempt at humor). We are happy to degrade others for their lack of sophisticated thought. And what does that get us? A judgmental hierarchy of thinkers. Yikes. No wonder we are so out of line priority-wise. It's not how we care for each other that gets the big bucks, or teachers and nurses and social workers would be paid better than lawyers and first basemen.
How do we model responsible adulthood for our kids? I hope it includes what is really important in life. I hope it includes stewardship of our bodies, our minds, our environment, and most of all, our role in building up a society that honors the individual's right to determine their own destiny. That includes religious freedom. Who can tell me who God is? No one. Certainly not my government (shudder).
The messages our kids get about what is important often come blaring from the TV, and we all know how shallow, how self serving and self aggrandizing those sounds bites can be. I am hopeful that kids today are hearing from their parents that the really important things in life come from within. From a desire to be a good person.
I know many young parents who are doing a great job of that. I hope it's a generational trait. The world hangs on that hope.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Hope Floats

Last night we watched a movie in our little community clubhouse; Hope Floats. It had really sad parts, more than I remembered from watching it before. It was a very human story of betrayal, abandonment, fear, death, illness, humiliation. But it didn't end there. As the title suggests, the human story is also about loyalty, forgiveness, redemption, love, friends, family...hope.
In the night I thought a lot about the movie. About how we humans put our trust in things or people that prove not worthy of our trust. Like society's approval, or other shallow and unreliable validation. And some things are hard and sad simply because the people we love grow ill and die. If we stop there, life can be too hard. So we don't. We go on. We wake up the next day, or the next, and find beauty in the world around us, beauty in the people around us, and hope floats up.
It is an old, old story. "Nothing new under the sun" was old when Shakespeare said it. Maybe even when the writer of Ecclesiastes said it. For a long time, I thought that was a fatalistic saying. But now I realize that the fact that all the parts of life that we deal with, all the hurt and longing, all the joy and fulfillment are part of an ongoing human story. We are new each day, we are making our own choices that lead us down paths that no one has walked, exactly. But the old truths are eternal. We struggle. We grieve. We heal. We grow. Hope Floats.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I Can.... Canoe?

Roll your eyes. Analogy time. I'm a young girl, in my canoe on the river of life. I find an excellent partner to paddle along with me, and though we skirmish a bit deciding who will steer, we settle into a rhythm before long. Of course we hit the rapids, and they look very frightening indeed right before we run a narrow, rocky, steep section. Class five sometimes. A couple of capsizing episodes, but we get back in and paddle like mad. We make the calm, glassy, deep part and lie back, resting our arms and catching our breath. The sun beats down and we get a little crispy, so we don't mind the cliffs that block the sun even if they mean more rapids. We have helmets by now, with our acquired respect for rocks that jut up in the most inopportune spots.
One day I look around the canoe for a particular thing, only to find so much stuff. We have filled our little boat with so much stuff. It's a wonder we can float at all. It's a wonder we can find the things we really need, like paddles. But lightening our load can be tricky. Stuff that seems burdensome to me might my partner's important something. And vice versa. But we do shed some stuff, and gain a little room to maneuver.
For a short while (maybe years, yes?) I thought I needed to give steering advice to every canoe within shouting distance. They needed the benefit of my expertise, right? And I clearly had it figured out. Clearly. What to do in a rainstorm, a pirate attack, a dark night in the tricky part. But, blessedly, I learned a couple of things. Late, maybe, but still...
People like to run the river their own way. Not everyone huddles under overlying branches in the lightening storm. Some people get out and swim for fun! And sure enough, they are able to get back in. Oh, there are some constants that apply to everyone. We are all moving, all carried by the years, by the advancing currents that lead us to old age and beyond, if we are so blessed. We can tie our little boat to moments by our sheer will to remember. But we will continue our journey no matter how much we want to look back to the way it used to be. And if we look back too much, we might miss that beautiful sunset over the Oak Tree ahead. Or the first star barely visible in that soft blue velvet sky. It can be tempting to want a map that shows every feature that lies ahead. But I also have learned that looking down at a map, or a cell phone, or a book, or a computer keeps me from soaking in the scenery around me.
Happy paddling everyone. See you at the seashore.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Our Kathryn Rose, youngest daughter, graduated from college last weekend. It is one of those occasions, like a wedding, when I know I should only feel happiness for the blessing. But there is something about these milestones that emphasizes and exaggerates the passing of time. And that is always sobering, even in the midst of the gratitude.
We say, "seems like yesterday", "I remember when", "where did the time go" and other cliches that have become overused purely through their truth. A dear friend told me on Saturday that he had a very clear vision of Katie running around the bleachers of Josh's basketball games at about ten years of age. Then here she is, a grown woman...and the intervening years were but a blur.
I can call up memories of Katie from any time in her life. The snapshots in my memory are often the ones from ordinary days, not the big occasions. I hold those pictures in my mind and page through them, lingering on the ones that seem so clear that I remember the smells and sounds of the day as well. Her sweaty little face peering up at me, her eyes dancing in hopes that she can convince me to say yes. I think I did, way too often. The way she waited for her brother and sister to do whatever they were involved in by playing something that involved moving around. The way she bragged about her siblings to her friends. The way she danced. Even from the time she was little, she danced outside herself with freedom and abandon. She spent so much time dancing, it is very appropriate that she should have her degree in dance.
I am so happy that she graduated. I am so proud that she is an accomplished, generous young woman. I don't wish any of the years back, nor would I turn back the clock if I could. But I do look back with nostalgia at the time when three children made joyful noise and general mess in our home. When glitter stuck to the floor and little tiny pieces of paper cut outs went through the laundry in pants pockets. When the sound of a basketball bouncing somewhere nearby was the white noise of our home. When the days were filled with lessons and games and concerts and dances. They were very good days. I guess that is the reason I miss them so much.
But enough looking back. When Katie was little, she was always ready to go anywhere, any time. "Let's go!" was most likely her first sentence. Looking forward, I wish her the very same passion that filled her childhood. Go Katie!

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Vast Eternal

This morning a friend of mine shared this link on his facebook page. I thought, how nice...a chant. I'll just listen a second and see if I like it. Instead of listening a second, I was transported. Suddenly, the sheer numbers of those seeking the face of God rose up before me. The different pronunciation of hallelujah seemed like a lens that zoomed out from my chair in my house in my neighborhood in my country, and showed me a picture of pilgrims on their journey of faith in places and times I have never seen. Whatever their language or tradition, whatever their doctrine or understanding of their place in the universe, devout people everywhere are seeking to live their lives as best they can. It might mean an orange monk's robe. Or a priest's collar or rabbi's Yarmulke. But it also means a fireman's, or soldier's, or policeman's hat. It means the dusty boots of the conservationist, the exhausted arms of a mother at midnight rocking her newborn. It means the aid workers in war torn villages, the food delivery drivers in places wracked by famine, the medical teams in the ER. Sometimes the devout are so busy giving urgent care, there is little time or energy for hallelujahs. Let those of us who have the luxury of time lend our voices. To a good cause, to the positive experience of others who encounter us. To the hallelujah. www.youtube.com

Monday, April 16, 2012

Lightening Our Load

My husband, Bob, and I were looking around at things not too long ago and asked ourselves what possessions we aren't using that might have a second life elsewhere. So he listed his beloved Indian Chief motorcycle on ebay. He just isn't riding it. I listed my cool Lemond road bike on Craig's List because I get neck trouble when I ride it.
That got me thinking about other things I carry with me that need to find a second life elsewhere. So here is my next posting on Craig's List:
One worry wart. Well used but still in good condition. Can be applied to children of any age and used without concern that it will run out. No expiration date or age limit for either the worrier or the worry-ee. Free to the first person who will pick it up.
One ego. Somewhat battered around the edges but still able to put on a good show of righteous indignation. Particularly useful in an election year. Will pay for someone to take it.
I hope they go fast on Craig's list. Just think of the extra room I'll have for enlightenment!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Children are the best reality check. We adults sometimes think we have this body of knowledge from having lived through so many things that makes us better equipped to understand life. But every now and then I see a child zero in on the basic, elemental things. Like a sense of wonder at the beauty of the earth. Like the need to touch the ones we love...holding hands, hugging, just touching. Like the pure joy of moving through space with the bodies we were given.
I hear the echoes of the child in the voices of adults who see the season's first lightning bug, or notice that the rose bush has burst into bloom. I used to roll my eyes at talk about our 'inner child'. It sounded contrived to me; like psycho babble. But somehow, writing for children makes me recognize the truth in the phrase. It's not that we become children again, because that very body of knowledge I mentioned earlier is a barrier to re-entry. Instead, it is being open to the incredible world that surrounds us, being mindful of the pure imagination it took to think of all creatures, great and small. And that most complex of all creatures, our fellow humans. An intentional shift away from dwelling on the trumped up worries of modern life can bless us again with joy in the simple gifts. A childlike joy. Not childish. But childlike. Because kids get the important stuff.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Floating, floating

Floating down softly
In the corner of my eye
Like the lilting feather
In Forrest Gump.
Just a bit of insight
Just a small, small bit of white
That makes the world
A softer, safer place.

Sometimes the lightening bolt
Of epiphany is too much.
I'm not ready.
So the still, small voice
That echoes through all time
Sends just that one thing
That one message of hope
Of love, of everlasting grace.

Then, one day, I see them all
Lying at my feet like feathers
Softening the path
Quieting the footsteps of effort
Just easing the way
All because I am not alone
I know,
because I did not send them.

Monday, January 16, 2012

That empty nest

Our nest has been empty for a while now. Our youngest is twenty six. You would think I'd have it down by now; the way to be myself with no little ones left at home. And most of the time I do. My husband, Bob, and I have lots of things we do to enjoy life. We built a cabin in New Mexico. We have great friends both there and in Austin. We have our grown kids nearby in Austin. And my folks live in Sun City. So it's not really loneliness that makes me stand in the center of my nest and realize how much I miss the little feathers that used to line it so perfectly, making it such a comfortable place to live.
Since the youngest left home I have been writing a lot, mostly projects for children, and that fact got me to asking myself: why do I write for children instead of adults? Do I write for children because I loved being a child, or because I loved being a mom? Do I write for children because I remember so vividly what it was like to be five and fifteen? Or because when my children were those ages, and all the other ages they have been, my favorite thing was watching them become the people they are today? I don't know. I just know that calling up the memories of either time in my life is like taking pictures out of an album. Holding them in my hand and noticing anew the background or other details. Remembering the smells, the sounds, the way life felt on a day when the camera lens caught a big smile or a giant tear.
I don't really idealize the past, because I do remember the giant tear days very well. I guess I just want to make sure that in the busy, shifting, variable present I don't forget the days that got me to this one. This day is a gift, no doubt. And those days were as well. I want to remember to send thank you notes.