Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Overcoming Terror

This has been a good week for me. I am overcoming a gut level, soul-shaking terror of the Lake County, Illinois judicial system, and this victory is very satisfying. Today, I walked the halls of the courthouse with no fear and this makes me feel incredibly light-hearted and hopeful. God's favor went before me, and I loved seeing it in action. A task that could have been complex and troublesome, was made easy with God's favor.

As a result of my experiences this week, I have to agree with those who have said it before me: "to overcome your fear you have to face it and walk straight into it." And, in my situation, the prayer and physical support of my brothers and sisters in Christ have made all the difference in the world. There is nothing on earth sweeter to me right now than the love of Christ as expressed by his body - the church.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Suffice it to say that once again, I didn't have this ready in advance, and since I'm teaching school, I won't be able to add much until the end of the day. But until then, I'll leave you with this thought.

The business of the storyteller is to ask questions, not to answer them.
—Joseph Conrad, novelist

Now I'm going to show that I really stay almost entirely in the genre of children's writing, because I don't remember who Joseph Conrad is. But I do find this statement from the Oxford Essential Guide to Writing interesting, and have been mulling it over. It was given in context in a section where they were talking about using natural endings for essays and papers. Their suggestion was to use discretion about making a final judgment at the end of the essay, and this was why.

Comments? Opinions?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Just Around the Corner

Just around the corner from my regular daily route I discovered a treasure. Most (like my sister who accompanied me) may not call it that, but I'm just a sucker for quaint little restaurants occupying cute little historical homes in the middle of preserved 1800's towns.

The name, Benedict's Eggs and More. I know, not very romantic, but as Shakespeare said, "What's in a name?"

It wasn't just the fact that it was a lovely restored home. The food choices were wonderful. I had, The Waldorf Chicken Wrap. This flavorful cold wrap had walnuts, apples, grapes, and dried cranberries. A tasteful combination, served along with a cold, Orzo Pasta Salad, which turned out to be equally enjoyable.

Making this choice was not an easy task. Menu items also included, Smoked Turkey with Orange Cranberry Relish (sandwich), Cucumber Avocado and Gruyere Cheese Sandwich, and a Muffin Melt - Choice of chicken salad or tuna salad nestled on top of a tomato capped english muffin and finished with melted white cheddar cheese. Served with chopped salad and breakfast potatoes. These were a few of my favorite options, of which I had a hard time choosing.

I also enjoyed a cup of tea. The waitress brought out a wooden box filled with possibilities. My choice was Chamomile Citron. I would probable need the expertise of someone like Steven Knoerr (tea connoisseur and critic) to describe it, but I was pleased.

So if you ever find yourself in East Dundee and you are hungry for breakfast or lunch, I highly recommend this enchanting little spot to please your pallet and warm your spirits.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Unpleasant characters

This past weekend I watched the film "Where Angels Fear to Tread" based on the novel by E.M. Forster. I also saw the musical "Children of Eden." Although very different in many ways, the two had these things in common: unpleasant characters and no message of redemption.

"Where Angels Fear to Tread" is a story of Victorian England and its unpleasant, unloving, snobbish upper class. This movie was remarkable in that almost none of its characters were changed in any way by their experiences. And, two of the characters kidnapped a child, who was almost immediately killed in a related accident, but suffered no discernible consequences or life changes as a result.

The woman who kidnapped the child was portrayed as a religious Christian who read the Bible. And, the film implied that it was a Bible verse that inspired her to take the child. Another character, the daughter of a pastor and a woman who did charitable works, had also determined to come for the child because she was in love with the father. However, the pastor's daughter would never have married the man because he wasn't appropriate.

"Children of Eden" is an interpretation of the first part of the biblical book of Genesis. The musical portrayed God as a creative genius of a human father who wouldn't let his children grow up and punished creativity. The message of hope and redemption was entirely missing. And the meaning of love was certainly confused.

Although both of these works referenced the Bible in many ways, the writers didn't appear to have an understanding of God's goodness or his plans for his children. They didn't understand that God's is a giving and sacrificial love. They condemned and judged human beings, but didn't understand redemption.

What a thought-provoking time these two works produced in me! Because of them, I am trusting that God will direct my writing to be clearly understood, and to be rightly motivated.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Update: The Chick Is Out

This is a second post today, but I don't think anyone will care. The chick extricated itself from the shell while I was gone during lunch. Dwight got to see it. The kids got to see it. I did NOT get to see it. I'm trying not to be bitter, but somehow it just seems wrong. For example, I didn't miss even one of the births of my kids. Moms should be present at births. It may take extensive therapy including large quantities of twizzlers for me to come to grips with this.

In the mean time, I'll post pictures of the new arrival. It's snuggling with a small stuffed dog at present, having felt a little lonely when it popped out of the shell.

Birth Announcement: It's Official

I've been making blogs ahead and then setting them to post automatically, but this weekend I wasn't quite as organized as usual, so you get the late breaking news.

We are in the process of watching a chick hatch today.

Here's the lowdown. After ordering our chicks through the mail for the past few years, we finally got a chicken who actually wanted to set on her own eggs. This was very exciting for all of us, since it also meant that when the chicks hatched, the hen would take care of them herself. We knew from past experience that being the mother hen for a bunch of chicks was a lot of work, so we were pretty happy to pass this off on an unsuspecting chicken.

So after waiting breathlessly for 18 to 21 days, two little chicks appeared from the original four eggs. Just on the off chance that some of the eggs were not fertilized, we had belatedly added a couple extras to the nest about ten days later. Sure enough, when the first two hatched, we eventually discovered that three of the remaining four were not going to produce chicks. And unfortunately, as soon as the mother hen had to chase the new chicks around, she no longer wanted to set on the remaining egg that seemed to be a chick.

So we took a desk lamp and our chemistry thermometer, set up a little bowl with a towel, and put the egg in it. It has been a long ten days trying to keep it between 38º and 40º Celsius and flipping the egg several times a day. Talk about primitive conditions. But last night, all our work paid off.

Dwight heard the egg cheep.

Hearing an egg cheep is significant. It means that the chick is indeed alive and has broken through the inner membrane. This morning—more cheeps. And a tiny hole. Talk about a long labor. Once the first hole shows up, the chick usually sleeps for three to eight hours. We're still looking at another eight to 16 hours before it emerges completely at some point today.

So consider this an official birth announcement. Of the first two chicks, one is mostly barred rock, and the other is partial austrolorp. We are hoping that there is at least one rooster in the bunch, since ours is getting on in chicken years, and that the mommy will take over with this chick once it is old enough to hang out with it's siblings.

If any of you have little ones (or even big ones) who would like to stop by and see the chicks, try to soon. They grow quickly!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Realization and Retribution

Attention Laura and Beth. I am calling you on the originality of your story entries on our retreat.

Laura quote, "Her hair was bright green, and she lunged toward him, shaking her fist."

Beth quote, "'Look, Sal," he pleaded. "I didn't know that peddler was crooked. He said it'd make your hair black as a crow."'

I knew this sounded familiar, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Ahhh Haaa! Your deep seeded plot to masquerade as classic novelists has been uncovered by yours truly. The secret is out, to be revealed for all the world to see. Your dastardly deeds are undone!

Here is the evidence, concrete and impenetrable.

Lucy Maud Montgomery penned this quote taken from, Anne of Green Gables, Chapter XXVII, Vanity and Vexation of Spirit.

'"But I didn't mean to dye it green, Marilla," protested Anne dejectedly. "If I was wicked I ment to be wicked to some purpose. He said it would turn my hair a beautiful raven black--he positively assured me that it would."'

I shall expect a written apology for this malicious, vindictive, threat against one of our beloved authoresses.

Now let us reflect on that skillful work of fiction Montgomery has bestowed upon the world with some memorable quotes.

"Overhead was one long canopy of snowy fragrant bloom. Below the boughs the air was full of a purple twilight and far ahead a glimpse of painted sunset sky shone like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle."

'"Oh,, I don't like that name, either. I shall call it--let me see--the Lake of Shining Waters. Yes, that is the right name for it. I know because of the thrill. When I hit on a name that suits exactly it gives me a thrill. Do things ever give you a thrill?'"

"Anne's beauty-loving eyes lingered on it all, taking everything greedily in. She had looked on so many unlovely places in her life, poor child; but this was as lovely as anything she had ever dreamed."

Here's to the classics, may their words remain esteemed and cherished forevermore.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In the heat of battle

I am right in the middle of a sword fight on the frozen ice of Lake Incendia. So, I'll have to catch up with you all when I return....

Monday, September 14, 2009

More help for NaNoWriMo

I don't want you to think that I'm trying to press you to participate in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but I do want to make it as easy as possible for you to decide to participate in it. I'll wait until October to be truly pushy. So for this week, I'm going to direct you to the following sites to help you prepare.

NaNoWriMo web site —

Young Writers' NaNoWriMo —

Randy Ingermanson's site —
(Get his ezine monthly and it will be invaluable.)

Okay, now I've done all I can do, except for nagging you in October. Happy writing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I have been working on an assignment for my writing class. It's a non-fiction article and as much as I love my topic, I was struggling.

The reason, RESEARCH! I am coming off a summer of four children, a dog, a husband, and no fixed schedule. Now it's time to buckle down and get back to work.

I enjoy writing fiction. Usually a phrase or an idea will come to me out of nowhere and I'll race to get it on paper. That wasn't happening with this non-fiction article. I was dreading it.

I went to the library the other day and checked out some books on my topic. I got a notebook, pen. and a cup of tea. Then I got comfy and began researching one of my favorites subjects. I am now LOVING IT! My notebook is getting filled and I'm almost ready to start writing again.

Moral to my story? Procrastination is the enemy. Just jump in and have fun!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Telling a Story

How you tell a story is almost as important as the content. This is immediately apparent if a story is read aloud. I've heard it said that certain people could read the yellow pages out loud and have their audience in stitches.

Perhaps I could have made this post more interesting by beginning with: "Why can some people can read the yellow pages and entertain their audience? In this blog, I will reveal the secret to telling a great story."

Almost everybody always wants to know a secret or how to entertain an audience. Yes - that's it - a mystery!

Or perhaps, I could have begun more bluntly: "If you want to be a more effective story-teller/writer, then read this blog to learn how."

A good rule is to choose and use action verbs. "Is" just can't compete with "can" or "entertain" or "reveal"; or "want" and "read."

Writers can't use facial expressions or eye contact to engage their audience, so they have to use effective images. So, maybe I could have written: "Are you sitting alone at your computer night after night wishing for a larger audience? What you need is THE LAST DRAFT, the all new blog that punches up your writing to grab and hold your readers' attention!"

Ahhh.... If only it were true.... Okay, so exaggeration only works for advertising...

But, this I know to be true - use your own unique voice. Write like you would talk - except use action verbs and effective imagery. Create characters that speak authentically by writing from your own experiences. The more experiences you have, the more material you have to tap into. Or, observe others and write down their quirks and oddities, or interesting turns of phrase or vocabulary use.

And, don't be afraid to experiment. Write different paragraphs or sections that cover the same action, and then find someone who will read them and tell you what they liked best. Or, trap someone into listening to you read your different versions. You can get a live reaction. Spouses and children come in really handy for this.

Audience input is what helped shape classics such as the Odyssey and Beowulf. These stories developed as performers sang the tales and adapted or changed or remembered them differently over time. Some scholars even debate that Shakespeare may have been a group of writers under the direction of the Duke of Oxford, and that the plays were written and performed, then re-written and performed. And then you have the example of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who read portions of their stories to their writer's group for reaction and criticism. That must have been some group!

That said, I am grateful to be a part of this writers' group!

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Hero's Journey: A Writer's Tool

I'm always looking for helpful writing tools on the internet. No doubt many writers already know about this one, but I didn't, so I thought I'd share. I think it will be especially helpful for anyone wanting an edge while they write a novel in one month (that's 50,000 words) during Nanowrimo. There's a web site which has a basic "formula" called the hero's journey and is a great way to plot out a story you are planning to write. Although none of us wants to be formulaic in our writing, I believe the greatest benefit of the site is that it helps a writer recognize the milestones necessary for a good story. Check it out, and enjoy!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Remembering Fun and Games

I think one of the highlights of this retreat for all of us was when we played the Story Relay Game. We each wrote a blurb of a story beginning and we all built on it. We laughed so hard at the surprise endings, completely opposite to where we thought they'd go. Consider as you read it was sometimes challenging to keep the stories straight while straining to read the authors hurried handwriting. Enjoy the results of our game.

Story Relay Games

Laughing and Dying


They laughed their heads off, then put on their hats and headed for their cars. The first one to cross the flooded parking lot, Lillie, gamely waved at the others as she waded up to the door of her Jeep. Still giggling, Mellie slogged into the ankle deep water wearing her flip-flops.


“Do you think we’ll make it?” Lexi asked.

Brycen grabbed Mellie as she slipped, barely keeping her from sitting down in the water. “Better leave your car here and go with Lillie in the Jeep. It’s higher.”

Lightning forked over the shopping center followed by an almost simultaneous crash. Mellie was still laughing, but Brycen grimly steered her to his SUV.


Brycen wasn’t laughing anymore. He squinted his eyes at the pouring rain and saw the water rising quickly. A few more minutes and even the SUV’s wouldn’t make it out of this low parking lot.

“Mellie, stop! We have to get out of here now.”

Mellie heard the serious tone Brycen used and stopped laughing. Already the water was climbing, almost reaching the bottom of the SUV. She saw panic in his eyes. She quickened her pace fealing now a current of water underneath her trying to take her down. She looked around to call to Lillie, but she was nowhere in sight.



He was already trying to start the engine. It wouldn’t start. Mellie looked around. The others were already driving on higher ground.


It still wasn’t starting.

“Maybe we can make a swim for it!” Brycen yelled over the rushing water. He grabbed her hand. They trudged through the waist high [water] together.

“We have to get out of this valley!” Brycen yelled.

Mellie’s hysterical crying was making her a dead weight.

“Come on, Mellie!” Brycen dragged her forward. “A levee must have broken.”

Water came rushing into the parking lot from over the rise.

They both stared from the water to the hill in front of them. They didn’t have a choice. They had to make it! The water rose higher with every second. The hill was too far away.

“Got to swim!” Brycen kicked off his shoes and started to stroke.

“I can’t swim!” Mellie yelled as she began to be pulled under. Brycen pulled her onto his back, swimming forward. The swirl of the water pulled him away. Mellie was so heavy.

He blinked the water out of his eyes. Pumping to keep their heads above water. His legs pumped as much as he could. But the water was stronger.

I Laughed So Hard I Cried


The green corn stalks rustled in the windy air. Bunnies hopping in between the rows. Black crows flying around. The sun beating down on the backs of ladybugs grazing on green leaves. Then, the quiet silence was broken by, “Grrrr.”

The sound sent the birds swarming, ladybugs flying, bunnies scrambling, and the cornstalks shaking.


Slowly, a burly brown bear emerged from the cornfield. He stood up on his hind legs surveying the lazy garden. Out of the corner of his eye, the bear caught a tiny flicker of black and yellow. Before he finished another step forward, his head was surrounded by a swarm of angry honeybees.


Tucker and I watched and waited, high above the waving cornstalks, hidden by the leaves of the sugar maple at the edge of Ma’s garden.

“Ya think the bees’ll win or the bear?” Tucker asked.

“Dunno,” I said. Truth is, I didn’t much care as long as neither one got us.

“Ma’ll tan our hides if we don’t get back with that corn pronto.”

Ma was small, but she could swing a paddle awful good if you didn’t hop to it quick. She wasn’t one for loafin.’

“It’s okay,” I said. “Got me a plan.” I worked myself around the tree and slid down the side away from the bear.


“Don’t move, Tucker. I’ll be right back.”

I raced as fast as two legs could go. Panting, I reached the garage. I rummaged through pa’s old car parts and picked me up a hub cap. Then I opened his tool box and picked me up a screw driver. Then I headed on back.

The bear was still there swattin’ at them bees. I took a deep breath and gathered up all the courage I could muster, hub cap in one hand and screw driver in the other, I banged the two together and hollered as loud as I could.

Tucker screamed louder than me and fell out of the tree. That bear got him a scare to gettin’ it in stereo and all, and raced off quick as lightening.
I looked over at Tucker, and he glared at me. I saw why. The whole front of Tuck’s pants were wet.

I dropped to the ground and laughed so hard I cried.

Green Haired Monster


The back door screeched as Waldo pushed it open, stepping out into the night. He could see nothing but blackness in every direction. Suddenly, he heard a piercing scream come from the east, it had to be the Bockenhalks farm.

Inside, his heart skipped a beat. He knew what it was. He raced out, praying he could get there in time.


Waldo’s legs flew across the dry dirt, then over the brown grass. The drought prevented him from sneaking.

“Please, please, God—no!” Waldo’s words couldn’t come out. He stumbled in the blackness and kept running west. Sliding into the Bockenhalk’s farm yard, Waldo saw his sister.


Her hair was bright green, and she lunged toward him, shaking her fist.

“How could you do this to me? My friends all hate me now! I’m gonna get you!”

She grabbed him by his ears, and as she pummeled him, Waldo tried to explain.


“Look, Sal,” he pleaded. “I didn’t know that peddler was crooked. He said it’d make your hair black as a crow.”

“I’ll crow you, you scamp.” She dragged him toward Evie Bockenhalk, whose eyes bugged out into the night.

“What are we going to do to ‘im, Sal?”

“We ain’t twins for nothing.” She gritted her teeth to hold Waldo as he squirmed helplessly in her grasp. “Come Monday morning when school starts, I ain’t gonna be the only green-haired Johnson in class.”

Rudolph and Theodore



I turned my head to see who had yelled about the same time that Dozer Macmillan’s fist connected with my jaw. The next thing I remember, I was looking up at the school nurse.

“Do you know where you are?”


I glanced around the room allowing my eyes to focus. What happened? Why was my head throbbing? And who exactly was I?

“Rudolph? How do you feel?”

Rudolph? What kind of name was that? My name couldn’t be Rudolph.


“Where am I?” Rudolph’s youthful voice cracked.

“You don’t know where you are?” the nurse asked.

“If I knew, I wouldn’t have asked.”

The nurse almost took a step back from his forcefulness. “You’re at school in the nurse’s office.”


“That’s what you do all day.” She shot back.

Rudolph walked out of her office.

“Come back here!”

He kept walking, his eyes wildly looking around, not recognizing anything.

“Are you hurt? I have to look at your head.” Her steps quickened to catch up with him. Rudolph pointed to the metal covered walls. “What are these?”

“Lockers. You know, they hold your stuff.”

“Where is mine?”


At that moment, Dozer’s bloody-nosed face appeared at a classroom window. It started coming back to Rudolph. I knew that face, and I knew his name.

“Oh, forget about it,” I said, and spun around to confront Dozer through the window. “You better not call me Rudy again, or I will not be your best friend any more.”

He hissed through the door. “If you ever call me Theodore, I’ll take out your other eye.”

“Okay, so it’s back to Dozer.”

“And Blip, I won’t say the ‘R’ word ever again.” He smiled and high-fived the glass.

I high-fived him back. It was pretty cool to have had amnesia and a black eye on my first day back in school.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Weekend in the Country

"...A weekend in the country
How amusing.
How delightfully droll..." (A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC by Stephen Sondheim)

But, it was far more than that. Our weekend was also productive!

Our retreat brought about two key changes for my novel. And, I tested out one of the major plot changes with some of my teen-aged Facebook friends. Their responses were unanimous in favor of the new plot twist - although they didn't know that it was new. I just gave them two different choices. I am so pleased for this inspiration that came during the retreat. It is giving me a whole new puzzle to figure out and a new energy to my writing.

I am also grateful for the time away, especially as it has been a bit stressful in my life recently. There is something so relaxing and reviving about a short getaway in a beautiful place with like-minded friends.