Friday, April 30, 2010

Sorry to fake you out . . .

My blog has to take a back seat today.
Even when they're fake, don't you like them anyway?
(Posts, I mean.)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cowboy Round-Up

Us, in the olden days, 1983

I been studyin' up on cowboys, horses, saloons and such. I can't sound like some greenhorn writin' a novel, sayin' "she had his photograph in her locket" when they ain't even invented the photography yet. Why, I almost said "he wore a hemp necktie to church on Sunday," til I found out that's a hangin' noose. I got to watch my p's and q's and make sure I don't get 'em backwards.

Folks set a lotta store by newspapers. Here's some of what was goin' on back in the day:

"Beginning with a single room, the old Sanders house grew like a game of dominoes. As each of the seven sons brought home his bride, he added a small room to one end of the paternal dwelling. Every room had its own outside door and gave the couples all the privacy they could ever want."
—Roland F. Dickey, New Mexico Village

"There were forty-eight lynchings in California during last year, and only nineteen were legal ones."
—Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, March 1, 1856

"A couple came from Ohio, arriving in Leavenworth a few days since, and were married about noon. At 8 o'clock in the evening a bouncing boy weighing ten and a half pounds, was born to the blooming bride of less than ten hours."
—Sumner County Press, Wellington, Kansas, January 8, 1874

"A sore throat can be treated in several ways. Wrap the throat in red flannel, wrap it with a kerosene-soaked rag or place a poultice of fried onions around the neck."
—Dr. Francis A. Long, Madison, Nebraska, 1882

"The marriage of Miss Alice Tomlison reminds us that our premium school teachers are being gathered into the matrimonial net by men who place self above the public welfare. Suppose all the marrriageable female teachers in the world were to be married tomorrow, the country would go to rack and ruin."
—Times, Grand Island, Nebraska, September 15, 1883

"WANTED: YOUNG SKINNY WIRY FELLOWS not over eighteen. Must be expert riders willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. WAGES $25 per week. Apply, Central Overland Express, San Francisco, California."

They say to write what you know. I was brought up on pioneer stories, had a friend with a horse, and watched Gunsmoke every Saturday night—I thought I knew the old west. But I've realized I know nothing about cowboy days. Even so, I'm writing a western. It's takin' a heap of study.

Today I spent a few hours learning the parts of a horse. (It's hard to describe a horse when you don't know the vocabulary.) I found out that horses are measured "in hands, from their withers." I'd always thought palomino was a breed (it's a color) and that a colt was a baby horse. Actually they're called foals. Then they become yearlings and then, when they're two, the boys become colts, and the girls become fillies.

Afterward, I read up on Stetsons (the cowboy's umbrella,) bandannas (they were silk, not cotton,) chaps (protection from cactus spikes) and spurs. Do you know why a cowboy's spurs jingled? They attached little bells to make a tinkling sound, so the cows would hear them coming in the dark and not get startled. If a cow was spooked somehow, it could start a stampede, which always cost them money, time and a few lives.

"Read, every day, something nobody else is reading.
Think, every day, something nobody else is thinking."
—Christopher Morley

What random things have you been learning lately?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Write Idea

Oma by Stephen Cartwright

I love you guys—I really do. You read my stuff. That's all I want out of this blog—an incentive to write and someone to read it.

When I was in 2nd grade I wrote a report on lettuce. I just made it up so it didn't have any factual information in it. I followed my mom around all morning begging to read it to her. When she heard it she said, (meaning well, I'm sure) "Let's look it up."

So she got out her cookbook and had me copy a paragraph about lettuce, and that's what I read in class. It was over fifty years ago and I still remember being devastated that nobody ever read my brilliant piece on lettuce. Since then I've followed lots of people around, begging them to notice my notations. Writers need readers.

At the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver we went to a book signing/reading by Anne Lamott, the author of Bird by Bird. She said,
"When my students ask why I write I say, 'Because I want to and I'm good at it.' I tell them what it will be like in the morning when I sit down to work, with few ideas and a lot of blank paper, with hideous conceit and low self-esteem in equal measure, fingers poised on the keyboard. I tell them they'll want to be really good right off, and they may not be, but they might be good someday if they just keep the faith and keep practicing. And they may even go from wanting to have written something to just wanting to be writing, wanting to be working on something, like they'd want to be playing the piano or tennis, because writing brings with it so much joy, so much challenge. It is work and play together."
Oma 24/7

I'm there. I love writing for it's own sake, but it is a scary business. You strip off your false front and show your bare-naked heart and actually ask for judgment.

When I'm sitting at my desk, alone with my keyboard and screen, the ever present worry is, "Will they get what I mean?" They are ever present on the other side of the computer or looking over my shoulder while I type. But when I look up to ask them what they thought, they disappear. "Who am I writing this for?" I wonder.

I loved your comments and emails on last night's post. I think we're all wondering who we're writing for, and if what we have to say is worth reading, even though we have important ideas clambering to get out. We put pressure on ourselves to be consistent, creative, funny, honest and useful without hurting anybody's feelings. And then we compare ourselves, speculating that our original isn't as original as theirs.

Isn't it interesting that reading someone else's doubts is so reassuring? Your questions answer my questions, reminding me that it's not about being the best, or the most popular. It's not even about lettuce. It's about connecting with others through words to discover ourselves. What I'm trying to say is thank you for being my they.


~Who are you writing for? Write a letter to them.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Not Tonight, Dear

I've got a headache.

Sometimes blogging gives me a throb in the temples and a pain in the neck. Does blogging ever make you crazy? Leave a comment with your detailed frustration and we'll make it a discussion. And I'll do some research and answer your questions in a future post.

Now, I'm taking two aspirin and I'll call you in the morning.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A New Character in Twelve Steps

Ruby emerges from my typewriter

Ruby drank her colored water and wiped her mouth. "None of that tarantula juice sold here, Mister. Can I have another one?" She was perspiring from the dance, and cinnamon colored tendrils curled at her hairline. Leo wondered if she smiled like this at every cowboy who swung through the doors of the Fat Chance Saloon, or if she could tell he needed encouragement to drop extra coins on the mahogany bar. The dance had cost him 75¢ and every drink was a dollar, but a night in Sam's Town wasn't cheap—or typical.

"Are you a boarder?" Leo asked, embarrassed, knowing what this implied.

"I'm stayin' here, if that's what you mean. But just for a while. I've got a little boy back in Greenville, and I'm trying to get on my feet so I can take care of him proper." Leo looked down at his calloused hands.

"Don't you go judging, me," Ruby frowned, unwrapping the ribbon she had around her wrist and tying back her thick russet curls. "It's not like I'm some life-long soiled dove. I'm only nineteen. I just need to make some money for me and JJ."

The tinny keys of the piano roused her sense of responsibility as Sam slapped the bar. "Gents, balance your ladies onto the floor. The professor is going to play us a waltz. Tickets please."

Ruby teased the paper stub from Leo's pocket, tore it half-way through, and twirled out of his reach, sweet-talking him with her eyes. "C'mon. Take a turn with a fallen angel."—Son of a Gun, by Marty Halverson

These are some of my imaginary friends. We're just getting acquainted. I usually write short stories, biography or creative non-fiction, but now I'm trying my hand as a novelist. Son of a Gun is the story of Ruby's son JJ, his quest to find his father, and how Leo changes their lives. It is so much fun to create characters and then see what they say and do. I love it!

Do you want a new BFF? Here's how to get one in a dozen steps:

Character Sketch
  1. Name:
  2. Nickname:
  3. Birth Date/Place:
  4. Character Role: (Main or minor)
  5. Physical Description: (Age, race, eye color, hair color/style, build, skin tone, style of dress)
  6. Characteristics/Mannerisms: (Physical flaws, habits)
  7. Speech pattern/voice: (Particular phrases)
  8. Personality traits: (Strengths, vices, interests, favorites)
  9. Background: (Family tree, childhood, pivotal events in life, religion, outlook)
  10. Internal conflicts: (Personal problems, emotional turmoil)
  11. External conflicts: (What is preventing his success?)
  12. Occupation/Education: (How did he become what he is?)
I've spent the last few days writing character sketches, asking Ruby, Leo and some other folks questions, using these prompts. Then I write down their answers. I've been surprised at the details they supply: I noticed Ruby fiddling with her ribbon right off. And Leo mentioned that his mother was a Quaker. Interesting. So do Quakers drink and gamble and carouse? Why is he at the Fat Chance Saloon?

The more I get to know my imaginary friends, the more real they become. Where exactly do they live, and when? What's going on in their corner of the world? Why do they matter? I can't wait to tell their story.

Elizabeth George says, "Give your characters a chance to tell you what part they're going to play in your novel. Believe me. They will."

I'm listening.


~Create a new character. Use the twelve steps as prompts and let your imaginary friend run wild!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Love Story Update

Artwork by Polly

On a glorious Saturday in late April, 1969, Dee and I hiked up to the Cafe Winkler overlooking all of Salzburg. Dee asked me to marry him. I said yes. We knew we would arrive home in six weeks to $00.00 so the timing was yet to be decided, and I knew that until he actually gave me a ring, he wouldn't consider us engaged. I had considered us engaged since his first "I love you," but thought it wiser not to announce it, even to him.

View from Cafe Winkler, Salzburg

To celebrate we went on a (chaste) group honeymoon to Budapest on April 30. Hungary was behind the Iron Curtain, and we had to have visas and official guides to go. We were told that the border was strictly guarded and we were not permitted under any circumstances to take photos as we crossed.

Guard towers on the road to Budapest, 1969

The guard towers were all around us, and soldiers with machine guns were watching every vehicle carefully. As we passed one of them, Dee took a picture out the window of the bus. I was shocked at his blatant indifference to the rules; (I've since discovered that Dee never thinks rules apply to him.) A few minutes later some soldiers on motorcycles pulled up next to us and waved us over. We stopped and the officers boarded our bus.

Guards working before they stopped our bus.

The driver was Czech and the communication was awkward between our German and English, and these foreign tongues. Of course it didn't take a linguist to figure out what they wanted. They had seen someone on our bus take a picture and they wanted to confiscate all our cameras for retribution.

Dee, realizing it was time to step up, volunteered that he was the criminal and they didn't need to take every one's camera; they could have his. After a little negotiation, the soldiers said he could just give up his film. This was 'back in the day' when it was impossible to tell what was on a roll of film until it was developed. Our friend Bryant slyly passed Dee his own film, allowing Dee to keep the fatal shot of the border towers. He handed over the phony film. To our relief, we were allowed to go on. None of our fellow travelers saw the humor in the event, or even the adventure; everyone was just mad.

Communist May Day parade

May Day in Eastern Europe had special significance because of the giant Communist Parade. I was clueless, and pictured floats and costumes. It turned out to be thousands of factory workers carrying Communist flags, marching past the government officials.

Dee said he wanted to take a picture and left me in the stands. He didn't come back. After the events of the day before, I was worried that he'd been arrested and sent to a concentration camp. The atmosphere at the parade was not comfortable for us Americans, and I could feel the oppression of the people.

Dee's new Commie buddy 1969
(We still have this flag, which Dee liberated from Communist captivity himself.)

Our guides started rounding us up to load into the buses and Dee still hadn't returned. I looked down at the workers in the parade and there he was, marching between 2 men, carrying a huge Hungarian flag. Somehow he made it back to the bus with photos of President Kadar and others who could put him in prison . . . I could hardly wait to get out of this country!

Gypsy singers in Budapest cafe.

That night we went to a quaint restaurant, decorated with brightly colored embroidered linens and hand painted pottery. There were gypsy musicians wearing tall, black hats, puffy shirts and baggy pants tucked into boots. Playing their violins, they wandered from table to table while we ate Chicken Paprikas and Palatshinken. As we were eating, some girls at the next table began talking about candle passings.

Back in the dorms there would frequently be a sign on the door announcing a special ceremony that night. Everyone would gather in anticipation, wondering who. Standing in a circle, with crossed arms, holding hands, we sang love songs while a candle decorated with flowers and ribbons was passed from girl to girl. Sitting on the candle was a diamond engagement ring. There were sighs, and whispers, and a little warbling:

♫ They say there's a tree in the meadow,
a tree that will give you a sign . . .
♫ Come along with me, to the Sweetheart Tree,
♫ Come and carve your name next to mine . . . ♫

After the candle had gone around the circle once, (or twice to add to the suspense,) the lucky girl blew out the candle and put her ring on. Squeals, hugs and tears followed.

That night in Budapest someone started passing a candle. It went around one table and then another before it came to our table. I was sitting next to my true love, the gypsies were playing, everyone was watching, and when it came to me, I blew the candle out. Our engagement was official.

It must have been a trick candle.
After forty-one years, the light has never gone out.

What keeps your candle burning?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Being Shot

We were victims of a shooting and it wasn't painful at all. In fact, I think everybody should be treated to a personal photo shoot. (Check out Justin's blog to see how we did.) I picked up some tricks that even amateurs could use on friends who need a shot of self-esteem.

Shooting Tips
  1. Loosen up your target. Ask them about themselves and really listen to their answers. Let them feel important.
  2. Tell a killer joke, and then laugh at the ones they shoot back at you.
  3. Bombard them with compliments. "You have a beautiful clavicle." "Just act natural. You're perfect." "I want to capture you the way you are."
  4. Catch the details of their stories, and refer back to them, while you catch the details of their face.
  5. Aim to please—welcome signs, water bottles, chocolate truffles . . . anything that signals it's their special day.
Then whip out your Coolpix and shoot 'em where they stand. With such gallant treatment, they won't even care what the photos look like!

In our case we got it all—preferential treatment, a free photo-shoot, and great results. Justin's studio is in a 100-year-old building overlooking the exact center of downtown Provo. Lofty molded ceilings, a wooden staircase and a gorgeous dark red wall add to the ambiance. But it's not just the atmosphere. Cool equipment that's the real deal, an artist's eye for light and shadow, plus experience and talent make Justin's photos one-of-a-kind.

Being shot in black and white for posterity was unique. Getting a shot of self-esteem shouldn't be so rare. Recharge some batteries—hold your own photo shoot and make someone you care about feel beautiful!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Photo Shoot

Some high-flyin' photographer has got me in his sights.

Marta (a photographer in her own right) told me a few weeks ago that my Mother's Day present was going to be a portrait of the two of us. She had the appointment all scheduled for April 20th. Was that OK? I pictured a cute 5 X 7 on my bulletin board and got my hair cut for the occasion.

Tonight I got some scary details about this modeling gig. Justin Hackworth doesn't just take pictures—he produces art. He doesn't photoshop out your double chin(s) or whiten your teeth; he finds beauty in shapes and textures (otherwise called bulges and zits.) And then he puts them on his blog.

This is the third year of his Thirty Strangers Project, a fundraiser he does for women and children in crisis. Every day during April he photographs mothers and daughters for donations to this cause. It has been so successful that people from all over the country vie for the chance to be part of the project. In February he announced on his blog that he would randomly give away the 30 spots. Out of hundreds of contestants, Marta was one of the winners, and tomorrow is our big day.

I checked out his awesome website and it's obvious Justin is into truth in art. Marta says we'll finally see what we really look like. That terrified me, so tonight I've practiced sucking up my chin(s), sucking in my stomach and sucking up to the artist while looking aesthetically pleasing at the same time. The authentic arty Marty look.

If I'm appearing on anybody's blog, I need some beauty sleep. I'll give you the full story later.
I may or may not let you know when I'm the centerfold on his blog.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Postcard: We're in Heaven

Oma in Heaven

"Book lovers are thought by unbookish people to be gentle and unworldly, and perhaps a few of them are so. But there are those who need books as wildly as the dope-taker in pursuit of his drug. They may not want the book to read immediately, or at all; they want them to possess, to arrange on their shelves, to place by their bedside." —Robertson Davies

Do you like to buy books? There's a wonderful shopping list by the author Italo Calvino— (I'm paraphrasing and editing because it's too long for a blog.) See if you recognize your bookstore habits:

In the shop window you identify the cover with the title you're looking for. You force your way through the shop, past the barricade of Books You Haven't Read, but you're not intimidated. You know that among them are:
  1. Books You Needn't Read,
  2. Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading,
  3. Books You'd Read If You Had More Time. You bypass them, and move into the
  4. Books You Mean To Read,
  5. Books You'll Read When They Come Out In Paperback section, and bump into the
  6. Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You've Read Them,
  7. Books You Want To Own So They'll Be Handy Just In Case and
  8. Books You Ought To Get Now So You Can Read Them Next Summer. Suddenly you see
  9. Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time To Reread and
  10. Books You've Always Pretended to Have Read And Now It's Time To Really Read Them.

Tattered Cover Bookstore, Denver, CO

Is there a more pleasant place than a room full of books?"
Erik Christian Haugaard

Today we'll be at The Tattered Cover in Denver. Wish you were here?

"Some people say life is the thing.
I prefer books."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Postcard: A Grand Day

The Colorado Heroes

"The best thing about grandchildren is that they accept us, for ourselves, without rebuke or effort to change us. No one in our entire lives has been so loving: not our parents, siblings, spouses, friends, and especially not our own grown children." —A grandparent

"Every adult, abused by responsibility, worry, expectations and invisibility needs a grandchild."—Another grandparent

"They say genes skip a generation. Maybe that's why we find our grandkids so absolutely adorable. They take after us!"—Every grandparent

We're on a Cousin's Club tour.
Be back soon!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


♫ Search, Ponder and Pray ♫

My favorite way to start the morning is to wake up a few minutes before the alarm and just lay there and ponder. I think through my family list and remember (or wonder) what's going on with each one. Ideas start popping of how I can do what I need to do, and I pop up, too, ready to start.

When I was a little girl we always said a morning prayer. I still can't begin the day without one. I pray out loud (to keep my train of thought) and count my blessings. Then I outline what's on my schedule, and ask for specific things ("Help me say the right thing when I call Edith . . ." "Give me extra energy for the grandkids . . .") A prayer in the morning lifts my spirits, and gives me a desire to do something worthwhile that day.

During breakfast I search the scriptures for an encouraging nugget of wisdom that feels right to me. It's my soul food.

But mornings didn't always melt in my mouth. Sometimes they sucked.

"Mornin' time"

In my full-time motherhood days my early-morning routine was trounced by 2 am earaches and 5 am feedings. Hysterical arguing, giggling or crying replaced the alarm clock, and I rolled out of bed onto the daily merry-go-round.

The only time it was quiet enough to ponder was when I vacuumed up the spilled Cheerios, and I wasn't thinking kind thoughts. Instead of blessings, I counted seven lunches, seven backpacks and fourteen shoes. Sometimes we had a family devotional. But often I just recited a scripture after somebody said a prayer in the car as we drove to school. It was the McDonald's version of soul food.

Life has different flavors. Back then I was doing more and pondering less. Prayers were constant, but silent. I was gaining wisdom through experience—experience that has made my study now more meaningful.

Search, ponder and pray: three sweet, simple suggestions. And whether they are crunched in quick bites or savored slowly, they are lifesavers.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Stand Up and Be Counted

"The king was in his counting house . . ."

In the winter of 1085, King William ordered his servants to travel all over England and find out what he owned. It took them a year. Visiting each shire, village, farm and castle, they counted everything. They went back to the king and told him how many people lived in England (two million) and how many sheep, cows, horses, ploughs, pigs, fishponds and haystacks were in his kingdom. It was all written down in The Domesday Book, which still exists today.

The Domesday Book

The census form I filled out didn't ask anything about my fishponds or haystacks, but at least I got counted. I don't want to just be counted. I want to count.

I was standing at a Dillards counter behind a woman waiting to buy a skirt. A cashier was helping a teenage girl who had decided on a dress. She asked if she could put it on hold for a few days. "I can't hold anything longer than 24 hours," the sales lady said. The girl seemed very disappointed and explained that she didn't get paid until Friday, so she wouldn't be able to buy the dress.

Just then the woman in front of me spoke up. "I'll buy it for you." We all looked at her in surprise, as she said again, "Let me buy it for you." The girl quickly said, "Oh, no! I couldn't let you do that!" The woman said, "Please. I had a daughter about your age who was killed in a car accident last year. I'd love to buy her a dress. Let me do it for you."

The sales lady and I both had tears in our eyes as the girl hugged her new friend. It was such a sweet act, so unexpected and kind. She counted.

Other people can be counted on. Last fall Dee had a heart attack. After an extremely stressful day, the doctors assured me he'd be OK, so I drove home to have my break down in private. I had one before I got there.


I was sitting in the left turn lane of a busy downtown street and the car died. Died. I guess death was after someone that day and settled for the car. It just conked out. It took me a few seconds to find the blinker lights, as people roared up behind me, honked like crazy, and yelled at me. Two guys even flipped me off!

I sat there, close to tears, wondering what to do. I couldn't call Dee for advice—he deserved that much of a break. My sons had definitely done their duty, tending kids, worrying all day, and visiting the hospital. But I ended up calling my son.

There were a number of strange types around while I sat there waiting in the dark, blocking traffic. Suddenly two guys knocked on my window. I assumed I was being car-jacked (it didn't occur to me that people don't car-jack cars that don't work.) They motioned that they'd push me out of the intersection. A couple of minutes later another scary looking but helpful man pushed me into a vacant parking spot. (Don't judge guys by their tattooed necks and pierced eyebrows.)

Pete arrived, and worked under the hood with jumper cables for a while, then crawled under his truck and my car, hooked us together, and towed me to a car repair place. There are people all around that I count on.


I admire those who have the courage to stand up and be counted. Abigail, a new mother, was a speaker at her law school graduation. She said,

"I look at the opportunities that it appears I have missed out on, but when I look down at my two-month-old daughter sleeping in my arms I am struck with the realization that there is nowhere in the world that I would rather be at this moment.

"I have already started my full-time post-graduate employment as a stay-at-home wife and mother. While this is not a typical job for a recent law school graduate in today's world, I can't think of a better use for my fine education than to apply it as I love and serve my family."
This is a woman who stands for something.
She'll make a difference—you can count on it.


~Write a paragraph that starts: "I can always count on________"

Monday, April 12, 2010

Anne Frank's Diary: A letter to my grandkids

Anne Frank, a happy 13-year-old girl.

Hi Heroes,

I want to tell you about one of my other heroes. Anne Frank lived with her family in Amsterdam while Hitler was running things in Germany. Hitler didn't like Jewish people, so he spread rumors about them and got people all riled up against them. His armies went to different countries and started tormenting Jews all over Europe.

The Jews were told to wear these yellow stars sewn to their clothes so people could tell who they were. Then, even if they were little children, people in the towns had permission to spit on them, trip them in the mud, push them down, kick them out of school. The Jews weren't allowed in restaurants, or public bathrooms, or movies, even though they were some of the most successful families in the neighborhoods. It became stylish to hate Jews. So almost everybody did.

When Anne turned thirteen she got a red-plaid diary for her birthday. She wrote in it that first day, and named it "Kitty."

"I hope I will be able to confide everything in you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support."

This is the first entry in Anne Frank's diary, June 12, 1942 . She wanted to tell her new best-friend Kitty everything in her heart, even the stuff she couldn't tell her sister Margo, or her parents. She started writing in it every single day. Pretty soon it was all filled up, so she got new diaries. They were her pride and joy. She said she didn't feel scared when she was writing.

Anne had lots of reason to be scared. Her sister Margo was only sixteen, but the soldiers were coming to take her away to a work camp (it was really a concentration camp where they killed Jews.) Anne's parents took their girls to some hidden rooms above the dad's office in this blue building. They had to be perfectly quiet when the workers were there all day, and at night their friends brought them food and library books.

They thought it would only be for a couple of weeks but they stayed there a long time. Pretty soon, another family came, and then a man who was a dentist joined them in hiding. They had to stay there for two whole years, never going outside, always with the same people.

Anne wrote it all down in her dairy. She dreamed of having it published some day.

On a hidden radio they heard the news that the British and American armies were coming to save them soon. Every day they got more and more excited. Anne actually re-wrote her diaries so she could take them to a book-company and turn them into real books when she got out.

One horrible day, August 1, 1944, the Nazi soldiers discovered the family's hiding place in Amsterdam. The eight people who had hidden for two years were all arrested and sent to concentration camps all over Europe. Anne left her diaries in their hiding place.

The saddest part of the story is that they all died in the concentration camps. Anne, and her sister, her mother, their friends . . . all but Anne's father. After the war he went back to their hiding place and found Anne's diaries and read them. He remembered that she'd wanted to get them published so people would know what it was like to be Jewish during World War II, when Hitler and his armies were terrorizing and killing millions of Jews.

Anne's father, Otto, took the diaries to several publishing companies who all said "No." They thought a thirteen-year-old girl's diaries would be silly and unimportant. Finally, someone read one. He said, "This is an extraordinary document of the human spirit."

In her second-to-last entry she wrote,

"It's a wonder I haven't abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart."

Anne Frank

Tonight we watched the Masterpiece presentation of a new Anne Frank movie. It was so incredible it should be seen by everyone. It's a tender story, ultimately a sad story, but totally true and hopeful.

In this movie, Anne seems just like every thirteen-year-old girl and we see some of the normal family angst going on between teens and parents, all in close contact with other people who were living in intimate surroundings for two years without a break. The new movie is riveting and although I knew the end, I was caught up in it so much that I was surprised that they were found.

I cannot recommend it highly enough. I bought it so you can borrow it from Oma's Travelin Library.

The Anne Frank exhibit is in the Salt Lake City library right now as it tours the country, and it, too, is an absolute must-see for anyone over ten or so. We saw it in Amsterdam with our kids, and it is touching to see how the human spirit survives, and even thrives under horrific circumstances. It's an important history lesson that can not be lost to the next generations.

Here are some ideas for A Visit With Anne Frank. Grandparents, families, or friends could remember and learn about her:
  1. Have a pajama party for eight people (sleep-over optional) in a crowded room. (There were eight people hidden in their small annex above the dad's office.) Serve a baked potato bar, and cabbage salad. (That's all they had to eat.) Serve strawberries for dessert. (Once they got strawberries for a special treat.) Each person could bring a sleeping bag (or a large quilt) plus a copy of "Diary of Anne Frank."
  2. Have a game of tag outside and later talk about how the Nazi's were after the Jews, chased them down, caught them, and then hauled them off.
  3. Tell the true story of the Holocaust using details that would be meaningful, but don't terrorize the kids you're dealing with. Go on-line for info, or just read and discover points in the diary.
  4. Prepare some underlined parts of the book that are funny and human: what they ate, the cat getting lost, how she got in trouble, etc. When everyone is comfy on their pillow with their books, skip through and tell the story using Anne's diary and her more personal, humorous perspective.
  5. Ask thought questions "What would you have done if you had to share your room with an old man?" "What if you couldn't go outside for two years." "Would you have been bugged by your parents, siblings, etc. if you never saw anyone else?" "How would you keep learning?"
  6. Provide popcorn and then watch the movie.
  7. Visit the exhibit in Salt Lake City (it's here until May) or whenever it gets to your town.
  8. Present everyone with a diary and explain how important it will be for them to write about their life experiences, record thoughts, feelings, and even drawings.
  9. Take pictures of each person, and send them each their photo with a quick note saying how they are a hero to you.
The Anne Frank exhibit is worth visiting and celebrating. It may be too mature a subject for the under-ten crowd, but I think it will open up a new world to everyone who sees it. It's a reminder of the faith and courage of children (and everyone) in hard times.

It also reminds us why it's worthwhile to write our life's story in a blog, in day-timers, in a scrapbook, in a diary, whatever, and the joy obeying this counsel brings to us throughout our lives.

Time Capsule

Is there a special dessert or meal that brings back memories to you for some reason? Serve it and tell about your memory.

Make a time capsule to open in a few years. Have everybody write a memory, stick in a photo or drawing and make plans for the big unveiling. Tell them you'll send invitations in five years, and put it on YOUR calendar so you'll remember to follow through.

Time Capsule

Most important, write in your journal. Describe your friends, the foods you like, the feelings, frustrations you have, your clothes or your hairstyle. Commit to writing about your life regularly. You're the only one who can do it.

I could finish this post with a bunch of ways a diary has made a difference for an individual or a family, but I see some hands raised already to share a personal story. Go for it! Everybody read the comments today, since they're part of the post.

Now, what did you want to say?

* Homework:

~Join in the class discussion, or write a post (tell us where to find it) on how someone keeping a journal has made a difference to you.

~Don't worry about catching up the last 5 months, (or 5 years.) Just pick up your diary and write about yourself today.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Thought Process

Hard thinking.

I can't write anything because I have so much to write. Do you ever feel like that? I've got a little notebook full of random thoughts I want to expound on, but I haven't had time to do any of them justice.

Notes piled on my desk are starting to yell at me. Unorganized pictures in iPhoto nag me; collected quotes, underlined in red and stacked on my bench, are losing their punch; the constant reminders in my day-timer are making me defensive. I feel henpecked by my blog, overwhelmed by my own expectations.

Many topics arouse my passion at the moment: new mothers, old mothers; new brides, old brides; new babies, old babies; health care, Obama; being rich, being poor. Posts on saloon girls and ghost towns and birth-order and portfolios and copywrites and insomnia are pulsing in my fingertips. But my brain is so crowded I can't find anything.

I need to sift through my jumbled thoughts, process what's worth keeping, and put the rest in storage. I can't write with a messy mind.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My Advice

Photo by Maurice Branger, 1925

"The true secret of giving advice is,
after you have honestly given it,
to be perfectly indifferent whether it is taken or not,
and never persist in trying to set people right."
---Hannah Whithall Smith

I have some advice:
  1. If you want someone to take your advice, make them think they thought of it themselves.
  2. Don't take any credit when someone follows your advice and it works.
  3. When somebody asks for advice they usually just want validation.
  4. Quote a more important source than yourself when giving advice. The people who know you well enough to ask you for it, don't respect you enough to take it.
  5. When you ask for advice, don't immediately tell the person that you've already thought of that idea and it's a dumb one.
  6. Only ask someone's opinion when you have time to listen to it.
  7. Never follow up on the advice you gave, especially if it was unsolicited.
  8. Surround any tiny speck of criticism with mountains of praise.
  9. Take your own advice.
  10. Remember, our opinions only matter to the people who agree with us anyway.
What's your advice?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Some folks just look qualified.

Do you have credentials that prove your abilities? Or is your experience far beyond your training? What could you do with your expertise? I could:
  1. Teach kindergarten
  2. Write advertisements for hotels
  3. Give marriage counseling to engaged couples
  4. Teach creative writing to 10th graders
  5. Present story hour in a library
  6. Decorate a pediatrician's office
  7. Create window displays for a stationery store
  8. Analyze potential jurors for a lawyer
  9. Compose poems for greeting cards
  10. Be a life coach for empty-nest moms
  11. Plan European ancestry pilgrimages
  12. Rearrange closets for shop-a-holics
  13. Coordinate scrapbook paper packets
  14. Compile quotation books
  15. Discover quaint cafes and shops for guide books
  16. Make up jingles for commercials
  17. Write an advice column
  18. Organize bookshelves
  19. Find forgotten places
  20. Make book-mark kits

But without credentials, I'm not credible.
(Does that make me incredible??)

*Homework Assignment:

~List your incredible abilities.

~What did you want to be when you grew up?

~What would you advise a teenager to major in?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


I'm ghostwriting a western.

It's not my usual genre, but I have fun writing anything! Here's the condensed version:

Girl falls for gunslinger—gunslinger ditches pregnant girl—girl marries hero—

hero and girl make good life, raise son—gunslinger comes after hero—

gunslinger's son saves hero.

(This idea could be a worth a quarter with a little effort.)

My client recorded his idea for the story on a digital recorder and hired me to turn it into a book. Since people don't talk in sentences, the word-for-word transcript starts like this:

"I want to, uh, tell a story, well I've got a story I, uh, want to tell, and, well, Jack Smith is a, well, he was a cowboy in Texas, and his training, I mean his job is training horses for the, uh, army. He trained horses for the United States Army in Texas. And he has this horse that's a beautiful, bright red color. He's a gunslinger, with a beautiful horse with a pure white tail."

~Step 1: Transcribe and format into paragraphs.

New and improved 5¢ version:

Jack Smith was a cowboy on a small ranch in Texas. Jack's job was to train horses so they could be sold to the US Army. Jack's horse was almost red. A pure white mane and tail stood out against it's shiny auburn coat. It was Jack’s pride and joy. All he had in his life was this beautiful horse.

Although Jack was very fast with a gun, he practiced whenever he could. He liked to shoot, but he was very fair. If a squirrel was on a tree, he waited until the squirrel blinked or gave some indication that it was going to move before he pulled his gun to shoot it. The same with a bird on the wing; he’d never shoot while it was a still target. A snake had to slither away before he took aim—any living creature deserved a chance. He worked on his skill as he traveled.

~Step 2: Go through 20 pages of text. Highlight work to be done.

Newer and improved 10¢ version:

Jack Smith was a cowboy on a small ranch in Texas. (Where in Texas? When? Describe Jack. Give a little background. Create authentic setting. What's the landscape in this part of Texas? Is Texas still a country or is it a state? Check history. Do we like Jack? Why or why not? Show don't tell.)

Jack's horse was almost bright red. A pure white mane and tail stood out against it's shiny auburn coat. It was Jack’s pride and joy. All he had in his life was this beautiful horse. (Are there red horses? Is it a male or female? What's it's name? Find out what you call female horses at various ages. Where did he get her? Why is she so special?)

~Step 3: Preliminary research for authentic details on:

clothing, saloons, horses, guns, geography, mode of travel,

distances, ranch life,Texas history, landscape, animals to shoot,

etc., etc., etc.

New 15¢ details:

  1. Stephenville, Texas, founded 1856, 56 miles from nearest neighboring town, Erath County, Texas. Adjacent counties: Hood (northeast) Bosque (southwest, pronounced Bos-kee, 30 families in 1850, 56 miles away) The imaginary towns could be placed nearby.
  2. Kick-a-poo and Comanche Indians nearby, not Apache or Navajo.
  3. Arrival of Fort Worth/Rio Grande Railway in 1889, but stage coaches met the trains.
  4. Lumber: hickory, poplar, ash, beech, timbered basins of the Trinity, Brazos, Bosque Rivers. Antelope, wild hogs, wolves, coyotes, and buffalo roamed the plains.
  5. Stage coach stop, in Stephenville, day's ride (40-miles) on horseback from Bosque.
  6. Names of drinks ("Tarancula Juice") and card-games ("Three card monte and Faro") popular in 1870's saloons.
  7. Customers paid 75¢ for a 15-minute dance with a saloon girl. They bought her a drink for 75¢ but she was served colored water in a shot glass.
  8. Saloon girls were called "Shady Ladies" or "Soiled Doves" although most of them were not prostitutes.
  9. Texas cowboys always wore chaps made of goatskins with the hair left on to protect from cactus thorns.
  10. Stagecoaches rocked instead of bouncing. There were usually 12 passengers who sat so close they intertwined knees for the whole 12 hour ride.

~Step 4: Write first draft:

New and vastly improved 25¢ version:

Jack had lived a man’s life since he was a boy of fifteen. Back then he had no trace of the dark shadow that haunted his face, even after a close shave, or the deep drawl that charmed women and intimidated men. When other Texans called him Smitty, he took offense, his left hand never far from the pistol he wore tucked in the front of his pants. “It’s Smith,” he snapped. “Jack Smith.”

Besides his quick temper, Jack was known for his fast draw. It seemed to be inborn. He couldn’t remember a time he wasn’t shooting snakes or squirrels, blue jays or black crows. It got so he even let them play his game. If a bird wasn’t flying, he kicked up some leaves to scare it off the branch and into the air before he brought it down. Jack was fair. He didn’t pull his gun on unsuspecting varmints.

Sitting astride his bright red chestnut horse, Jack was conspicuous when he rode through town. At six feet, three inches, with thick dark hair and glacial green eyes, he looked menacing. “Come on, Big Red,” he murmured, although she responded to his movements as if she was part of him. They’d been a team since she’d first tossed her pure white mane and gazed up at him as a foal. Her blue eyes were unusual in a horse without white face markings, but Big Red was unique in many ways. The striking filly was the only female Jack was faithful to.

I'm only on page 5 of this rewrite, with at least 50 to go.

Then we'll start the serious editing, fact checking, and final proofreading.

It could turn out to be a pretty good story!

I might be the next Zane Grey.

(I'm Zaney, don't you think?)