Monday, May 31, 2010

Memory Day

John Allen Bagley

The outlaws arrived about midday and tied their horses at the hitching rank across the street from the bank. Montpelier, Idaho was a sleepy little town in 1896, but Butch Cassidy and his pals didn't attract a lot of attention until just before closing time.

Cashier Gray was standing on the steps of the bank talking with a friend when Butch pulled a gun and ushered the surprised banker inside, where they forced the pay teller and a young female stenographer against the wall. One of the gang leaned across the writing desk and trained guns on them while Cassidy swept the money into a gunny sack, nonchalantly walked across the street, got on his horse and rode casually out of town. His men gave him a few minutes, and fled in different directions.

Pandemonium erupted as the alarm spread. Attorney John Bagley gave chase with a gun, first on a bicycle and then on his horse. Later a posse took up the chase. John Bagley appeared for the state in prosecuting several of the gang after they were caught in Jackson Hole. Butch got away.

Hawley Bagley

John's son Hawley got away, too. He was just five years old when the circus paraded past his house, which The Montpelier Examiner described this way:

The elegant residence of Attorney General John Bagley and his cultured eastern wife Nina Valve (she was from Iowa) is the largest and most pretentious home in the entire Bear Lake County, containing as it does twenty-one rooms. Three stories and an attic are all lighted by electricity and heated by furnaces. All through the home modern science has been brought to play in producing the best sanitarian domestic effects. A leading feature is the attic which has been designated a children's romp room and sanctum. The walls are covered with paintings and chalk drawings of more than ordinary merit.

The romp room didn't have the allure of the elephants that day in 1904. Hawley followed them to the circus grounds and watched the midgets, giants and acrobats set up the tents. A photographer snapped his picture for the newspaper before his alarmed mother Nina found him and hauled him away from the seduction of the big top.

Hawley's mother died a year later, ten days after his sixth birthday.

Adelila Hogensen

Hawley was in high school when he fell in love with an older woman. Ad was two years ahead of him, but they debated on the high school team together and traveled around to the debates in a horse-pulled sleigh. They wrote for the yearbook staff and kept writing—love letters.

Gerald Hawley Bagley

Jiggs was their second son. He said, "My folks were always in deep trouble with money. We did any old thing to make ends meet. One summer we went up to Mount Olympus and picked worms. The owner of a huge dew-berry patch came down through the neighborhoods in a truck to pick kids up. We had to bring a bucket, a hat and a pair of gloves. We'd pick great big, three-inch green worms until our buckets were full, and then go over and dump them on a fire of burning oil. We did that all day and earned two dollars. Then they'd take us home in the truck."

June Lundgren

Junie looked through the closet for her sister's new plaid taffeta Christmas skirt. Rosie would never even know that she'd borrowed it. It was the depression, and Junie usually wore hand-me-downs from her four older sisters, but she wanted something different for the party. She was going with Jiggs. Her hair was curled, her lipstick was red, and her stocking seams were straight when she got out the iron to touch up the skirt. She had to be careful because taffeta melts.

Junie wore her old gray skirt that night, and was gone when Rosie discovered the hole in her new skirt. It was in the exact shape of an iron.

Jiggs and June got married on April Fool's Day, 1946.


And then I was born.

"Our lives are so important to us that we tend to think the story begins with our birth. Yet that is not so. We are the continuation of someone else's story."

Today I'm remembering the beginning of my story.


~Write the first chapter of your life story. Who were the main characters before you were born?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Casual Blogger Conference

I survived and thrived today!

Next week will be devoted to the stuff I learned,
but if you want a sneak peak, click here.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hot Stuff!

—Image by

"You begin to wonder . . . do your friends go home after a party
and tell stories about you?"
—William Norwich

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oma Kits

Chelsea (5)

Lucy: Oma, tell us a story about when you were a little girl.
Chelsea: She wasn't a little girl. She was our mom's mom.
Lucy: Before that she was a little girl. Right, Oma?

Eliza and Jill (3)

So I got out the Clothesline Oma Kit and told them about visiting my grandma. "When I was a little girl she didn't have a regular washer. She used a huge tub and scrubbed the clothes by hand, and then a wringer squeezed all the water out. But first, all the dirty clothes were dropped in a clothes shoot. It was a little trap door in the bathroom floor. I'm sure a few of my cousins wiggled through it and rode the tin slippery slide to the soft pile of laundry in the basement.

"After Grama washed the sheets, she guided them between two big rollers called a wringer, and twisted a crank. They'd come out the other side, and land in a wicker basket. Then she stuffed her apron pockets with clothespins and we went out to the big back lawn. While I picked hollyhocks to make into dolls, and my brother tried hard to fall into the fishpond, she hung the load on the line. I can remember the clean smell as the wind whipped the damp sheets like billowing sails."

The little girls listened to my stories while they pinched the clothespins and fastened calico fabric pieces on the line we'd strung between the dining room chairs.

When I arrived they'd danced around, asking if I'd brought the Oma Kits. Oma Kits are baggies with prepared activities I bring in a rubbermaid box when I come to babysit. Today we had time for several:

~The Button Box: Buttons of all kinds—coins, jewels, hearts, balloons, animals, faces. We sort them, count them, hide them, make up stories about them, and even practice sewing them. I have a spool of thread, a few needles, some swatches of fabric, and a pair of kid's scissors in the baggie, plus a thimble (which can be used for Hide the Thimble later.)


(We've tried spinning a big button on a thread, but so far, I'm the only one who can do it.)

Illustration by Sarah Chamberlain

~The Memory Game: A stack of 3x5 cards and stickers (two of each.) The first time I had the kids stick a picture on each card. Now we use the deck to play Concentration.

~The Other Memory Game: A bunch of objects (comb, finger puppet, toothpick umbrella, spoon, ribbon, etc.) We spread these on the table and one person (It) hides their eyes while another person removes one of the objects. Then It looks at the display and guesses which thing is missing.

~Felt Paperdolls: A bunch of felt pieces I cut into shapes.

~Fridge Magnets: Random magnets I've collected—people, a dragon, a cuckoo clock, a violin, flowers, etc. We sit on the kitchen floor and take turns making up stories with the refrigerator as the stage.

~Books: I bring the ones I like to read.

~Finger Puppets: They put on a show from behind the couch.

~Anytime Games: This baggie contains a typed list to remind me of songs, finger plays and games that don't require anything (I Spy, Hokey Pokey, Jump-rope and clapping rhymes, Twenty Questions, Going on a Bear Hunt, I Have a Little Doggie, Gossip, Who Stole the Cookies, etc.) Plus there's a bandanna for a blindfold, dice, a spinner, pennies, a string for Cat's Cradle, Old Maid, little golf pencils, pad of paper, marbles, jacks, Pick Up Sticks, pipe cleaners to bend into shapes, and some little wooden tops.

To assemble these kits, I first typed up a list of activities, and then a list of stuff to buy. I got three rubbermaid boxes and a variety of baggies. After a trip to a toy-store and a craft store, I put together my kits. It took some time, but it wasn't very expensive. I keep the boxes in my car and I'm ready for an Oma day anytime, without any effort at all.

I love to borrow from the past and pass on the old-fashioned, simple games my grandmothers played with me. It's an excuse to tell my stories, introduce my grands to each other, and create a legacy.

Alex Haley said, "Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children." That's my goal.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Blog Art

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

"We go to art museums, longing for a glimpse of the world through someone else’s eyes. The images we see of starry skies and fields of flowers are not valuable because they are truth. The yearning to see them is based . . . on the desire to learn a different way of looking at the world. Memoirs provide the same benefit."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What Did You Say?

"Think over everything you say,
but don't say everything you think."

I'm doing some research for my panel discussion. Please leave a comment!
  1. Have you ever gotten in trouble because of a blog post you wrote? Why?
  2. Do you post your opinions about religion or politics? Why or why not?
  3. Have you ever had rude comments on your blog? How did you respond?
  4. When you read blogs, what topics make you squirm?
  5. What would you blog about if nobody knew it was you?
"I'm not saying we ought to misbehave,
but we ought to seem as if we could."
—Oscar Wilde

Monday, May 24, 2010

Elevator Speech

Do you have an elevator speech?

"Which floor?" I asked. Her chin rested on top of the books she was carrying and her eyes sparkled. We were both going down to P2. "Can I help you with those?" "Heavens no, dear," she laughed. "I'm fine." Although she was over seventy, she was managing her load easier than I could have done.

"I'm sending these off to my publisher. I write cookbooks. I wrote three and had them each printed and bound myself. Then I went to a book conference in Las Vegas. I walked up to the guy from Random House (a huge no-no!) and showed him my books and he said 'Send me everything you've got!'" The doors opened, she grinned and said, "Have a nice day." In just twenty seconds she'd captivated me. The perfect elevator speech.

What is an elevator speech? It's a 15 – 30 second blurb about who you are, what you do and why you're worth knowing. It's called an elevator speech because it is about the length of time between floors, when there's a captive audience. It's a great skill in business, on a date, at a party, in an interview, but it works in everyday life, too.

Have you ever run into an old friend and had this conversation? "What have you been up to?" "Oh, nothing much." "Keeping busy?" "Yeah. You?" "Same old, same old . . ." I have—hundreds of times. My life is fun and exciting, but I sound like a dud. Recently someone said, "So you have a blog? What do you blog about?" "Oh, well, my ideas, my life, my family." (Myself.) There must be a better way to answer these questions. I need an elevator speech.

So now it's urgent. This weekend at the Casual Blogger Conference, I'm on a panel called Faith in Blogging. It's inter-denominational, and six participants will discuss questions like "How do you talk about faith on your blog?" "Is religion too controversial?" "What kind of response do you get from spiritual posts?" There could be some hot buttons, but when I talk about it I sound duddy. My vocabulary needs to be jazzed up.

Leading up to the panel there's a speaker's dinner, a Girl's Night Out, plus two days of classes and workshops. Plenty of "Hi, what's your name . . . are you speaking? . . . what do you blog about?" Ideal times for an elevator speech.

Do you want to write me one? Where's my skill when I need it? I'm a wordsmith, but words are failing me. How can I introduce myself, my blog, and my topic in 30 seconds without sounding stodgy? I need a tag-line, something catchy to punch it up. You know, something like "I'm Old Faithful" or "Hey! Keep the Faith" or "Faithfully yours, TravelinOma" but light and fun-sounding. (And I also need a two-sentence introduction/bio that is concise and captivating.)

If you know a speech writer, have him meet me in the elevator.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Oma Pets

Ashley, when she was just a pup.

The beast is coming out in all of us.

Chloe (8) has a lot of dolphin in her. She's smart. With her nose in a book, even during dinner, it's hard to pull her out of the trance she goes into when she's learning. She corrects my spelling, my French pronunciation, and my button pushing.

The collection of remotes has me bamboozled. When I asked for help clicking over to the regular TV, Jess (6) informed me, "We don't have regular TV. Just recorded." Chloe said she'd fix me up before she went to bed.

They put on a DVD. After one segment of Animaniacs, they b-e-g-g-e-d for another. And then another. I put my foot down and said, "Bedtime." OK. I'm weak. One more. Then it started: "We're not tired . . ." "We can stay up later . . ." "Our mom lets us . . ."

"Nope. Time for bed. Now! Oh, and Chloe, can you fix the TV for me?"

Her shoulders sagged, her arm drooped, and she dropped the remote on the couch. "I can't right now, Oma," she said. "I'm just too tired." Dolphins aren't even that smart.

The Jess beast has a tattle tale. It was morning rush hour—gobble breakfast, pack lunch, sharpen pencils; brushes, headbands and barrettes at the ready. I was emptying the dishwasher when one of the glasses slipped out of my hand and shattered on the counter top. "Oh no!" shrieked Jess, and disappeared downstairs. Chloe found a roll of paper towels and Ashley pointed out silver shards. Jess eventually returned and said, "I just had to email mom that you broke one of her favorite glasses."

Ashley (5) is part kitty—purring softly, gliding in silence, but screeching when she's mistreated. Her fur goes up and her claws come out, ready for a cat-fight, but she can be calmed right down with a little loving attention. And she meows until she gets what she wants.

Her Barbie guitar mercifully stopped playing after an hour or so. "It needs new batteries," she said. "Hmmm," I said, looking it over, "I think we need to wait for your dad to fix it." Too bad. So sad.

"I know where his tool kit is . . . he lets me . . ." she was already out in the garage searching through screwdriver heads. She leaped up to the cupboard shelf and immediately had batteries of all sizes "I'll find the matching ones." Now she's doing her Elvis impression of "Polly-Wolly-Doodle" with a lot of twang.

Oma is an old dog learning new tricks.

I had a couple of requests for this recipe.
(The quick and easy version is to pick it up at the deli.)

Frog Eye Salad

This recipe uses a tiny round pasta called Acine di' Pepe (like orzo, but round) which gives it an interesting texture similar to tapioca.

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 (20-ounce) can pineapple chunks in its own juice, undrained
2 (11-ounce) cans mandarin orange segments, drained
1 large egg, beaten
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 1/3 cups (8 ounces) Acine di Pepe Pasta, uncooked
3 1/2 cups (8 ounces) frozen non-dairy whipped topping, thawed and divided
3 cups miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup flaked coconut
Maraschino cherries (optional)

In medium saucepan, stir together sugar, flour and salt.

Drain pineapple, reserving juice to equal 1 cup. With whisk, gradually stir juice and egg into sugar mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil. Stir in lemon juice. Cool mixture to room temperature.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Rinse with cold water to cool quickly; drain well.

In large bowl, stir together pineapple juice mixture and pasta. Cover; refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Add crushed pineapple and chunks, oranges, 2 cups whipped topping, marshmallows and coconut; mix gently and thoroughly. Cover; refrigerate until cold.

Top with remaining whipped topping; garnish with cherries, if desired.

Makes 12 servings.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Guest Post:Parisian Oma

Chloe when she was 5. She's now 8.

As you can tell, this is a guest post by me, Chloe.

First I'll give you tonight's menu. First is some chicken breasts, frog-eye salad, and raspberry parfait salad. Cranberry sauce to go on the chicken, water for drinks, and for dessert mint brownies(Opa brought us this meal).

It's about 6:10 P.M. right now, and it's raining.
My parents are in Paris for their tenth anniversary right now, and Oma's babysitting us. So far they've been to the Eiffel Tower, L'Arc De Triomphe, the Norte Dame, some museum(where they saw Van Gogh, Seurat, and another artist I don't remember), River Seine, and a street market.

I was begging to go with them and this is how it went:Me:Can I come with you too? Parents:No. Me:PLEASE! Parents:No. Etc. So as you can guess, I'm not in Paris. I'm in same old Utah, doing the same old things, at the same old times.

Anyway, I just finished a really good book(if you're a fan of the Baby-sitters Club, stay tuned), and it's called:The Baby-Sitters Club:Babysitters Summer Vacation! Super Special #2. Long title, ain't it? Anyway, the babysitters in this book are Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, Stacey, Dawn, Jessi, Mallory, and Logan and they decide to go to Camp Mohawk for two weeks. Plus, a lot of their babysitting charges are going to camp too! The babysitters are Counselors In Training(except for Jessi and Mallory; they're junior CITs)and the charges are campers. It's a pretty good book, especially with Nonie the lisper and Old Meanie.

Here's my favorite conversation."Where are the bathrooms?" asked Freddie."They're separate buildings, group bathrooms."replied Charlene."EW!"everyone screamed.FROM DAWN'S CHAPTER. Hee hee hee.

'm Chloe, I was blogging for myself and also for my Oma, so peace out!

Rays of Sunshine

Chloe, Ashley, Jessica, 2008

I'm being swallowed by a boa constrictor,
I'm being swallowed by a boa constrictor,
I'm being swallowed by a boa constrictor
And I don't like it very much.

Oh no, (oh no) he swallowed my toe (he swallowed my toe)
Oh gee, he's up to my knee,
Oh fiddle, he's reached my middle,
Oh heck, he's up to my neck!
Oh dread, (oh dread) he swallowed my . . . slurp.

The girlies left a bit of sunshine at a rest home today. This song brought the house down. OK, actually the house was just one room, and one of the two patients ("I think technically they're called roommates" said Chloe) has had a stroke and didn't say much. But Aunt Marie gave them a standing ovation (although technically, she was laying down.)

They performed "Once upon a time, in a nursery rhyme, there were three bears. Cha—cha." and said all the right things: "Were you really the star of a play?" "We already know you were Grampa Jigg's baby sister." Having learned technique from Marie herself, I had coached the girls on enunciating, talking slow and loud, and answering with more than one word. On the way home Chloe said, "I was almost laughing because she asked all the questions we practiced!" It's hard for them to believe I was once the little girl singing "You are my sunshine" to standing ovations at Grama's house, accompanied by Aunt Marie's ukulele. It's fun to skip through generations, holding the hands of grands on either side.

The girls weren't weaving sunshine all day, however. This morning they were huffing in each other's faces, describing the smell of bad breath. "You stink like dried throw-up." "Did you swallow a poopy diaper?" I tried to change the subject, but it kept creeping in to the conversation.

After the rest home (where the bathroom had a Pine Sol tang, and we decided we didn't need it after all) there was an emergency need for a potty stop. Seven-Eleven was handy. I think we may have drifted into a bodega on the set of Law and Order, the kind of place that the audience knows will soon be the scene of a murder. It was pretty scary.

At first we couldn't find the bathroom, and nobody seemed to speak English to give us directions. We wandered toward what seemed to be the back of the refrigerator. A man in a turban, unloading cases of beer, pointed us to a locked door next to a wall of water pipes. The key was at the cash register.

Jess and Chloe were dancing frantically, holding it (figuratively and literally) while the clerk searched for the key. Ashley had darted towards the slurpee machine, and was trying to fill her cup with blueberry slush. She is a child who gets what she wants, and her sisters understand, so they waited while she painstakingly picked the right straw and lid, and then we made the ten-yard dash, blueberries slushing onto the already sticky floor.

"This place stinks!" "Somebody should clean this toilet!" "What is that?" Luckily, I had to stand guard outside the bathroom and protect Ashley, so I didn't get as up close and personal as the girls did. Everybody could hear their review of the place—it's too bad nobody could understand. "THERE'S NO SOAP!"

We'd come full circle. After they were all showered and disinfected, the smell of strawberry shampoo and toothpaste filled the kitchen along with their silly giggles. "Your breath smells like candy canes." Homework, stories, prayers, excuses, and finally—bedtime. My back aches and my legs are tired, but my heart is warm. There's sunshine on my shoulders.

Chloe May

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I'm looking at things differently.

I'm a TravelinOma this week. In just eight hours we've torn apart the play room and put it back together again. We've been to a family party, had two sets of snacks, found, lost and found three pairs of shoes, painted toenails and fingernails, and read several stories.

I accidentally set off the burglar alarm, and had to wake Chloe up to turn it off, and I just spent an hour trying to figure out how to set the alarm clock so we'll be up to get dressed, make beds, eat breakfast, practice, comb hair, brush teeth, clean rooms and be on our way to school before 8:00 am. I know this is the routine for most of you, but I'm old and challenged in more than technology.

Luckily I'm seeing my little charges more clearly. They are competent, dependable, helpful, considerate and don't have too high of expectations for their Oma. They're dying to step in and babysit me. Isn't that what this whole relationship bit is all about? I'll take care of you and then you'll take care of me. I've got to make this week all about fun memories for them to draw on when they're pushing me around in my wheelchair on their duty visits to the rest-home. I want them to remember I was once a spunky Oma with ideas popping out for ways to live regular life with a Mary Poppins flavor.

I was going to plan our tomorrows extravaganza with your support as I blogged ideas that would take breath away from kids, moms and Omas everywhere. Unfortunately, I'm already breathless and I haven't got a single idea. The alarm got all my attention and the plan will happen whether I plan it or not. These girls look at things differently, too. They just want to keep the grandmas and grandpas alive and smiling so they can get their prize from Paris. I think we'll work together very well!

Tomorrow we'll discuss it all with my eyes totally opened.

Friday, May 14, 2010


The diary was just sitting there, begging to be read.

Babysitting had its perks. Once I saw a stack of Playboys in somebody's bedroom. Another time I read someone's will. (After all, they'd told me to make myself at home.) My favorite gig was tending the Watson twins, because of the diary.

I was thirteen and my mom used to volunteer me to the neighbors. Kids didn't interest me much, but I enjoyed snooping through people's stuff. Tucked in the Watson's bookshelf was a diary, with a lock. Conveniently, the key hung from a little ribbon attached to the binding, almost as if they wanted me to read it.

The entries started the summer Mrs. Watson was fifteen. She and Mr. Watson had just met at a church Roadshow practice. Over the weeks she wrote about their romance, how they wrapped up in the stage curtains and kissed, how they snuck out to sit under the lilac bushes of the house next door, how they walked home on sidewalks lit by nothing but stars.

Friday nights couldn't come fast enough for me. After the little girls were in bed, I'd curl up with my fantasy life and dream of being fifteen. After the roadshow ended, the young couple couldn't figure out how to be together, and by the time school started, they had drifted apart. He was a senior, she was a sophomore and it was as if the summer had never happened. I studied the daily entries, looking for times he said "Hi" in the hall, or waved to her from a convertible full of girls. He was as elusive for me as he had been for her.

After he graduated and went off to college, she came into her own. There were parties and football games and she even got elected as a junior class officer. Her major responsibility was planning the Junior Prom. She made the posters, lined up the intermission band, and decorated the gym, but she didn't have a date. After all the work, she sat home alone.

The garage door opened earlier than usual, and I jerked out of my reverie, stuffed the diary under a pillow on the couch, and tried to look innocent. Mr. Watson opened the refrigerator while Mrs. Watson went for her wallet, and I jammed the book back in its place.

It was a couple of weeks before I went babysitting again. The diary was gone. My face got hot, and my heart started pounding. They knew! Oh my gosh, they knew! Writhing in embarrassment, I waited for them to come home, expecting . . . I didn't know what I was expecting, but I was mortified, ashamed of my blatant snooping. Nothing was said, but a few Fridays went by before Mrs. Watson called and asked me to tend her kids.

There on the coffee table was the diary, unlocked. Maybe they had just been reading it themselves, or maybe one of the kids pulled it down. Whatever. It was just sitting there, and I had to see how it ended.

Mr. Watson had visited Mrs. Watson on that bleak night of Junior Prom, and told her about his mission call to Finland. They picked up where they left off, and she was at the train station to wave him good-bye on his three-year adventure. (Missions were longer in those days.)

The very last page of the diary told about the day he came home. "He rang my doorbell, and when I heard his voice I flew down the stairs into his arms. He said he loved me, and asked me to marry him. We're getting married in just six weeks."

Obviously, I already knew the ending, since I was babysitting their twin daughters. Even so, I wiped away tears as I finished the story and put it back in the bookcase a full hour before they got home.

The next morning I remembered it had been sitting on the coffee table when I arrived. Whoops.


~Write about a time you snooped. What did you find?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Write Group

JJ saw them in reflection before he heard the words. About to say "Howdy" he caught the drift of a conversation that would change his life.

"Ruby Barlow sure ain't no Sunday School teacher. Sam Lester had her working as an upstairs girl over at The Fat Chance ten years back, even after she had that kid 'a hers. Passed him off as Leo's boy, but he came a mite too early for that."

JJ recognized the Sullivans as the rumor-mongers. "Pa, they're talkin' about Ma. Aren't you going to say something—set 'em straight?" Leo didn't look away from the store window, staring in at the glossy black boots with their two-inch heels, digging his own into the soft dirt. He couldn't meet the dare in his son's eyes. "Pa, didn't you hear . . ."

"Quit dawdling, Jage!" His father could bark harsher than Turk ever did. "Get the buckboard, and load that sack of grain."

It was typical of Pa to ignore gossip. He stepped around contention as nimbly as he did cow-pies. But why wouldn't he defend his own wife's honor? It reminded JJ of a time he trailed a fox to a nest of Texas bobwhites. The hen let out a shrill whistle and spread her feathers to protect her young, while the male scuttled soundlessly into the brush. Disgusted, JJ let the fox go and took "daddy quail" home for dinner. Ma had agreed the coward deserved roasting.

As usual, the ride back to the ranch was silent. If Josey were here, he and Pa would be talking about books. Pa was obsessed with anything to do with letters—why else would he insist his two sons both be called by their initials? It was humiliating. Miss Milner announced to the whole school that the Barlow boys were there mainly to teach them their alphabet. His older brother was named after Uncle Josey, as well as Grandpa Manchester Josiah Barlow, and called MJ to avoid confusion, although it hardly seemed necessary since both his namesakes were dead. JJ had taken to calling him Josey just to spite Pa.

"What does JJ stand for?" This question never failed to rile his father. "I hate not having a real name."

Leo gave his stock answer. "Son, you have to make your name for yourself."

Son of a Gun, by Marty Halverson

If you've read this far, you're an honorary member of The Write Group. You are my connection to the outside world. I've become a hermit, making up imaginary friends because I'm neglecting all my real ones—writing a book is solitary work. I read somewhere that the most important writer's tool is "bum glue." (It keeps you stuck to your seat.) Another crucial tool is feedback.

Without referring to the excerpt above, can you answer these questions?
  1. Who is this book about?
  2. Where and when is it taking place?
  3. What is the problem this character is trying to solve?
I need to know if I'm communicating!


~Write an introductory scene. Without intruding, have the character introduce himself, tell us where we are and what his problem is.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What Shall I Say?

Art by Mary Engelbreit

So, I've run into some trouble-spots in my novel. I can google "prairie flowers in Texas" and "saloon decor in the 1870's" but my characters are having issues. They need to talk things out, but they don't know what to say. Any ideas?
  • Ruby was seduced by a cowboy just passing through town. She has just realized she's pregnant, and knows her recently widowed mother will be devastated. How does she tell her?
  • Leo has fallen in love with Ruby who works in a saloon "entertaining gentlemen" to support her son. She thinks of herself as a fallen woman, unworthy of a decent man. Leo needs to convince her that she is a good person. What does he say?
  • JJ is ten years old, shopping in town with his father, Leo. He overhears someone say that his mother was a "tramp" and that he was illegitimate—the result of a one-night stand. He's furious that people are spreading hateful rumors about his mother. Later JJ tells Ruby what he heard, and she has to tell him it's true. How does she explain it?
What do you say?

(Put in a good word or two
and I might mention you when I'm on Oprah.)


~Everyone has a unique voice. Write a short dialogue between two characters, and make them sound different from each other.

~Listen in on a conversation and notice speech patterns. What do they tell you about the person?

~Write a paragraph using slang words that pinpoint when you were a teenager. (Example: "We went to a groovy flick. It was boss.")

Monday, May 10, 2010

Meet Me in St Louis

Hannah's baptism.

I travel for a living. Not a living as in getting paid big bucks—a living as in getting big payoffs. With twelve of our grands in four different states, we keep our bags packed. This past weekend we got to see the Missouri Heroes.

Mack's ballgame.

They enticed us with a coconut cake, but there were a few extra perks.

Chase's scrambled eggs.

  1. Late night chats.
  2. Breakfast in bed.
  3. McKay's trumpet solo.
  4. Chase's violin concert.
  5. Hannah's white dress.
  6. Homemade bread every day.
  7. Mack passing the sacrament.
  8. Gorgeous spring greenery.
  9. Antique village in Faust Park.
  10. Kids who hug each other after family prayers.
It was a short, intense burst of Oma joy.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Smiling at Mom

Junie, 1940

"When mamma smiled, beautiful as her face was,
it grew incomparably more lovely,
and everything around seemed brighter."
—Leo Tolstoy

My mom had the cutest smile. A crooked side tooth slightly covered her front tooth—she called it her personality tooth. There was a bump on her nose, inherited from her dad, but she never talked about fixing anything. She was satisfied with herself. I think that's why I'm satisfied with myself. I learned that smiling was the most important thing.

Mom wore pedal pushers and blouses during the day, but when it was time for my dad to come home, she always cleaned up. She'd change into a skirt, fix her hair, and put on red lipstick and a squirt of perfume. It was like she had a date. I knew she loved him, and I could hardly wait to have someone like that in my life. They were married for 51 years before she died, and they always seemed like sweethearts.

Me, Polly, Tommy and Mom at Grand Canyon, 1958

"I am my mother's daughter...and although it's been years since I left home, her sayings form a perpetual long-playing record on my inner-ear turntable." —Carol Shields

A few things I still hear my mom say everyday:
  1. "The dishes aren't done until you sweep the floor and wipe off the top of the refrigerator."
  2. "Wipe off the faucets and dry the sink when you wash your hands."
  3. "Stand up straight."
  4. "I'm right here."
"You never will finish being a daughter . . .
You will be one when you're ninety."
—Gail Goodwin

I think about Mom every day. When I iron I remember how she sang On a Bicycle Built for Two, and Mairsie Doats. I remember the nurse cap and cape she made me, and how she'd put my arm in a sling with a dishtowel so I could play broken arm.

She walked to the Dairy Queen with us, pushing a stroller, to buy a chocolate dipped ice cream cone on summer days. We sat in the porch swing and she taught me to whistle and blow bubbles with Bazooka, while we waited for Dad to come home. She showed me how to play hopscotch and jacks, and use a hula hoop.

I never had a doubt that she believed in God, and she taught me that he answered our prayers. I wish I could hug her for Mother's Day and have a fun visit. Someday.

Mom, just before she died, 1997

"They always looked back before turning the corner, for their mother was always at the window to nod and smile, and wave her hand at them...the last glimpse of that motherly face was sure to affect them like sunshine." —Louisa May Alcott

I know she's still smiling.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Mom Celebration Re-run

This is the story of our family.
Once upon a time there was a girl named Marty and a boy named Dee.

They fell in love and decided to get married.

They lived in a little tiny house called a trailer. All their stuff fit in perfectly, because they didn't have very much stuff. It was their first home and they were a happy family.

But Marty wanted to be a mom. So pretty soon they had a new baby. They liked her so much they wanted some more.

When they had their third baby, they moved into a regular house. The kids had stuff, too, and it wouldn't all fit into their little trailer. Their new house became a home because there was a happy family living inside. Lullabies, baby quilts, and squishy stuffed animals gave the home a soft, cozy feeling.

By and by they had even more kids. It was getting pretty scary! There was yelling, teasing, crying, and loud music. Home didn't automatically feel soft and cozy anymore. It took some effort to make every person feel happy.

Sometimes their home seemed like a giant party, when they played games together, laughed and were kind to each other. It felt peaceful.

Other times it seemed like an Insane Asylum. Chaos ruled.

Short people were hanging around everywhere making a racket and doing crazy things, concentrating on themselves and forgetting to be nice to each other. It was noisy and raucous.

It was enough to give a person a headache.

But at the end of the trail, everyone was still smiling. And the whole family had learned important lessons from trekking through life together.

It's hard to see the big picture when you're inside the frame. You're so busy trying to be happy,
it's possible to forget how happy you already are. It's helpful to look closely at the memories.

I see it all in better perspective when I spend time with the next generation. I feel so blessed that I got to be a mom. Now I celebrate Mother's Day with an attitude of gratitude.

I love the encouragement the Lord gives moms in this scripture:

"Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing,
for ye are laying the foundation of a great work.
And out of small things proceedeth that which is great."
Doctrine & Covenants 64:33

Happy Mother's Day to everyone in the Mother'hood.
It's a great place to raise a family!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Motherhood: Shaping a World

All art by William Adolfe Bouguereau

There are those who think motherhood is menial and a waste of any talented woman's time. Some believe that if you're not making money, you're not successful. Others say marriage and motherhood are confining. In my experience these statements are false. One blessing of mothers is to help shape the world.

With seven children, our home was noisy and busy, but it wasn't usually chaotic. It was a bustling schoolhouse where kids were learning to work, cooperate, forgive and communicate. Tutoring and study groups were held in the kitchen; collaboration and reasoning workshops took place in the bedrooms. Besides flute and clarinet, multiplication tables and setting tables, life skills were being taught: doing the laundry, fixing a sprinkler, organizing a garage, planning a meal, or changing the oil. And while I was teaching this home-school, I was learning, too.

Among other things, I learned to listen, to counsel, to motivate and support. My kids shaped my world while I was shaping theirs. The writer Ellen Goodman said, "The pleasure of being a parent is the extraordinary experience of having short people who hang around a while, who push and prod and aggravate and thrill you and make life fuller."

by Ellen Bryson Remington

A learned friend from time gone by
When my pursuits were intellectual
Crossed my path today; and glancing
Quickly at my rounded middle,
Noting the smudges there from little hands,
The wrinkles, too, from childish tears,
He asked, "What are you into now?"

I wish I could have made him understand.
"I'm into graphic arts—a type
Advanced beyond the popular conception.
I deal in shapes so intricate, so exquisite
That in this life I'll never know their limits."

I thought how every day I shape so many things:
I shape the edges of a pie,
I shape a diaper to the tiny leg,
I shape some flowers from our small backyard
Into a bright bouquet,
The covers on a bed till they are
Soft and welcoming.
I shape small eager hands around a ball
And show them how to throw.

But also, with my mind and with my love
I shape the tense and troubled hours;
I take them formless, dark, and shape them
Into light and warmth for spirits' growing.

I guide a pliant, loving mind,
Now fresh and good from God.
I try to show him things our Savior would.
I shape the design of his temperament,
The pattern of his moods.
I shape desires in his heart
Of this world and another.

And now in me another life is shaped—
The way he'll look and stand,
The contours of his hands—
And God is partner to that shaping.

Let those who do not understand
Think I am lost in merely mothering.
I smile—and shape my daily chores
Into eternal joy.