Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer Holidays and Hopes for Fall

School begins tomorrow. As I look back upon this summer, I am filled with joy. Here are some of the critters that we came across today in the woods.

Two banana slugs posing:

A cricket sunning:

An owl hunting! In broad daylight:

We came home to our summer bounty:

Perfect for ratatouille (I added a big eggplant from the store).

Summer is far from over. And soon I'll need to make more batches of zucchini bread, tomato salsa and soup. I love having a taste of all this in the winter ...

Besides all the food processing that I will do this fall, what do I hope to accomplish writing-wise? To begin anew on my novel. I only worked a little bit on it this summer not because I didn't have time, but because I chose to spend it doing other things, like doing projects with my kids, taking long walks in the woods, going swimming, visiting with family and friends. Oh, I wrote every day, but I didn't work on my novel. Big difference. So here's hoping I can finish the first half of this by the end of this year. And polish a few shorter pieces for magazines. I should probably get my CV out there again for writing work-for-hire books.
Tonight I will read over the bits of the novel I've written, see where I need to go, write two pages even if it all ends up in the trash.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

On Revision and Deadlines

It's taken my ten-year-old son all summer to get to a story that I asked him to polish , but once he put his mind to it, he made two rounds of revision, wrote a cover letter and sent it off. To Stone Soup! Wish him luck.

By the time football season ends he should find out whether or not his story was accepted. He'll be spared a letter of rejection since they only respond if they are interested. Regardless, I am proud of him. He wrote a terrific first draft last year for a salmon unit in class. I didn't see it until this year and I was impressed with his natural sense of story, the vivid language -- specific nouns and active verbs. The story sparkled. I knew with a couple of rounds of revision it could be dazzling.

It's not easy to get a child to revise a story. I do workshops in schools and kids don't really care for revision -- they wrote a story and that's that. I like to show them the process and show how much fun it can be to say what you mean, to choose words carefully and what a difference even small changes make in clarity. Although most children enjoy the workshop, they don't make it a habit to revise their work unless they have to. My son included. So I gave him a deadline -- before the summer is over, I wanted that story polished and out in the mail. And he did it with a week to spare. Yes!!!

That's what I need -- for my mother to tell me to finish my book or else!

So tell me how you finish projects? Do you obey self-imposed deadlines or do you need a nudge from a critique partner? Or do you only finish the projects that you've got a contract and deadline for?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Discipline is Freedom

"Discipline is Freedom." I first heard this from Garth Fagan, modern dance choreographer extraordinaire. Years ago, I had the privilege to take a master class with his company when they were in Pullman, Wa. I'm no dancer, but I took a couple of jazz and ballet classes during graduate school for a sense of balance. My Ph.D. thesis advisor, Lin Randall, was a fan and friend of Garth Fagan and she managed to get me a place alongside all these amazing dancers. I couldn't believe the things they could do with their bodies, and so effortlessly. I was even more in awe when I learned about how he made his company, from the bottom of the bucket.

Kristi's post on Talent, Passion and Discipline reminded me of his quote. Because it's true. When you have the discipline to practice your art and craft, you gain freedom to be the best you can be. Read more about cultivating self discipline here.

During the summer, my own writing takes a backseat to my children, home, students, and company. It's not the season for it. I have my priorities and family always comes first. Perhaps I will not be the writer I can be, but then again, perhaps I may have nothing to say without these important people in my life. But come fall, when school begins, I need to be more disciplined in carving time for my novel and then using it for that. I like to shoot for two pages. I make slow and steady progress that way.

So, tell me, what are your writing routines that work for you? How do you stay disciplined?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Looking for Jesus

From Warner Press' website: Inspired by religious instructors who spoke of Jesus as a rugged and strong man, this Sallman painting depicts the Master as a man of strength, compassion, love and faith. This beloved depiction of Christ is by far Sallman's most popular work and the cornerstone of his ministry as a Christian artist.
My mother had this print when we were growing up. My sister has it now. And I have been looking for this portrait in the local Christian bookstores but they do not carry it. I tried Amazon. No luck. So thankful to the Blueboarders for directing me to a place where I can buy this.
I have to believe that this painting was divinely inspired because I look at it and feel instantly enveloped in His grace and mercy. No other portrait has had this effect on me. I want for my children to have this face to turn to in our home.
I find that religious objects help us stay close to God throughout the day. I like having a rosary in my pocket. I like to finger the cross and the beads. And likewise, pictures help. As does music. My favorite hymns come unbidden to me. We have small holy corners throughout the house and letting my eyes fall upon them, lighting a candle, touching the frankinscence or myrrh is a little like a kiss from heaven.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Our Wedding Anniversary

This was the car -- a 1966 Barracuda -- that we drove off into the sunset after our wedding. A perfect August day. The earth, sky, water, and many family and friends witnessed our vows.

Tomorrow is our 15th wedding anniversary. Two cats, two kids, four fish and one dog later, I can say I have regrets. I wish Michael and I had been mature enough to make this commitment to each other earlier. It certainly would have given us more time to be together and have more children. See, although we are celebrating 15 years of married life, we were in love for ten years before we got married. We had a long distance relationship, each of us selfishly pursuing our own careers. I never recommend it when young people are considering it. Because at the end of the day, it's not the career that counts, but being with the person you love.
I am thankful for these past 25 years together with you Michael, but it's the past 15 years being married that I cherish. These are a few things I love doing with you:

Sleeping (even if the cat is in between us).

Watching movies.

Holding hands.

Reading aloud.

Making babies.

Afternoon tea.

Baths (you've got to admit it saves water).



Kissing (Did you know that kissing started with mothers giving a food kiss to their babies?).

Daily letters.

Road trips.



Thinking about growing old and toothless with grandchildren around us (That's the most romantic thing I can think of).
I love you, Michael B. I love who I've become being with you -- a better person.
We don't have too many pictures of us together, but here's one from five or six years ago at Thanksgiving. Oh yeah! Thank God.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Power of Words

I must be the last person on earth to pick up SAVVY by Ingrid Law. From the first line on, I was hooked: When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it.

It's not just that I like quirky characters, but how they relate to each other and how utterly believable they are. I still haven't finished it, but I've already laughed out loud so many times that my kids are itching to get their hands on it. They will have to wait. Right now they are laughing their heads off with James Howe's Bunnicula books. Thank goodness.

But this reminds me again and again the power of words. Words have the power to transport us to other worlds, to make us laugh, make us think, but we can also distort the meaning of words to do grave unjustice, even kill.

Just think of Nazi Germany or slavery or abortion. By defining Jewish people, or slaves or the unborn as non-persons, we have sanctioned killing. The full weight of this hasn't sunk in yet, but already the health-care reform makes me realize that very soon, we will legalize killing of those who are old and sick and thought to be a burden to our society. I pray this does not happen.

Two books by William Brennan have brought immense clarity to the way we use words:

Dehumanizing the Vulnerable: When Word Games Take Lives

and John Paul II: Confronting the Language Empowering the Culture of Death.

If you have interest in the power of words and how they are used and misused, read these books.


Friday, August 7, 2009

August and Rakhi

We just returned from a camping trip at Larrabee State Park. Perfect weather. Gorgeous. A necessary getaway from the work that is a constant at home. Here are the kids, poking around in the fire.

and scrabbling around on the rocks

We hiked up to this beautiful mountain lake where the kids and pup swam ... and we discovered how our puppy will not come back to us. She did return eventually, but we were anxious for a little while. I have no idea whether dogs know that they are getting tired and need to turn around and come back to shore.

All the extra laundry is done. And we celebrated Rakhi -- a festival that honors the relationship between brothers and sisters. It's a moveable feast like Easter, but since I never remember when the moon is supposed to be full in August, I have always celebrated it on Aug. 7, which is my older brother's birthday, the one who died before I even met him. He was only five. But from the time I can remember, I've thought of him as my guardian angel ... and I feel it to my core. When I look back upon my life, I know he's always watched over me. I've been in some awful scrapes, and yet manage to come out unscathed.

Here's a picture of my two brothers with my mom.

My son is sporting two rakhis -- one from his sister and one from his cousin-sister. I do hope the three of them will always be close, take care of each other, long after we are gone.

August. It's a great month. I hope you're all having a fabulous summer.