Thursday, May 31, 2012

Random Writing Recommendations

Chloë and her teacher, Mrs. Nugent

I went to my granddaughter Chloë's 4th grade County Fair, and ran into my own 4th grade best friend. Fifty-five years later, she's now Chloë's favorite teacher, Mrs. Nugent. She was just Karen when I knew her, way back when.

Karen lived right behind me—we shared the back gate. She was tall and I was short and her mom called us "Mutt and Jeff." (Neither of us know who Mutt and Jeff are.) Her grandma taught me to play Gin Rummy and her grandpa taught me not to lie. I'll never forget that day.

We lived close to a canal. Rumor had it that a little girl had once drowned there, and all the neighborhood kids knew we were not to cross the street or go near that fearsome place. One day I ran through the gate, through their garden, past her grandpa and into the yard. The whole family was searching for Karen's little sister Carolyn who was about three. Even Grandpa put down his shovel, pushed back his hat and hollered, "Carolyn!" through cupped hands, and came up onto the grass. "Have you seen Carolyn?" he asked me.

Thinking it would be funny, I said, "Yes. I saw her floating down the canal." You can imagine how that little joke went over. Grandpa grabbed hold of my wrists and walloped me on the backside. "Have you ever heard the story of the boy who cried 'Wolf"?" he asked. Obviously I hadn't. He sat me right down and told it to me, and then informed me that lying was wrong and I better not do it again. He made me promise.

I've never forgotten that incident—whenever it comes to mind I cringe. (It reminds me that I was often a brat.) Carolyn was eventually found and things settled down; Grandpa went back to the garden and we went inside to have some of Mrs. Thatcher's tapioca pudding.

Looking back, I'm grateful I grew up in a time when adults took responsibility for teaching kids how to behave. I deserved that spanking and I'm glad he taught me a lesson I still remember. Now his granddaughter is teaching my granddaughter lessons she'll always remember, with a softer touch. (Chloë is definitely not a brat and already knows how to behave.)

Who was your best friend in 4th grade? Do you keep in touch? What would you talk about if you got together? Write down a memory!

Benji, 3.

Do you have a favorite day? Mine is Oma Day! Benji came over for an Oma Day and entertained me for a couple of hours. I'd heard he loves playing baseball, and has a powerful swing, so I thought I'd let him tell me about it.

Oma: So, Benji, do you like sports?
Benji: Yes! I do!
Oma: What's your favorite sport?
Benji: Well ... I think ... golf.
Oma: Wow! Do you play golf?
Benji: Not now, but I used to when I was a little kid.

He carried around a tiny helicopter the whole time he was here, and when he was leaving, his mom told him to put it away. "Can I keep it?" he asked. "Maybe you can borrow it," I said. "When you come again, you can bring it back and trade it in for something else." He looked at it and then glanced in the Cousin's Clubhouse at the other toys. "Actually, I want to trade it in right now," he said.

Benji and his cousins in the Cousin's Clubhouse

"…writing comes more easily if
you have something to say."
—Sholem Asch

One secret of writing: collect things to say:
  1. Carry a notebook and jot down kidspeak. Kids are funny.
  2. Listen in on conversations in the check-out line, in restaurants, and the beauty salon.
  3. Imagine what you would have said if you were rude, or clever, or funny.
The other secret of writing: write!
Put on some bum glue and sit down at your computer and make those fingers go.
If you don't write, you'll never be a writer. It's that simple.
If you do, you will.

Want to read ahead? I've got a book list:
  1. How to Write the Story of Your Life, by Frank P. Thomas
  2. The Autobiographer's Handbook, edited by Jennifer Traig
  3. Legacy, by Linda Spence
  4. Tracing Your Family History, by Anthony Adolph
  5. For All Time, by Charley Kempthorne

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writing Fiction With Facts

"All fiction is largely autobiographical
and much autobiography is, of course, fiction."
—PD James

Alex Haley taught me about faction. It's the art of finding facts, and filling them in with fiction. For instance, my dad told me about a time he was chased by a bear. It seems like a good story, but that's all I remember and now he's dead and unavailable to give details. Grandma's diary mentions a summer during the Depression when they lived up the canyon in a tent, and I know my dad was sandwiched between a couple of brothers, all just a year apart.

Mel, Alan, Jiggs, 1932

So when I tell my grandkids about a little boy named Jiggs, I combine those facts, and create a story about three brothers who wandered away from their campsite and surprised a bear who chased them down the mountain. There's a crashing river to cross, a tumble or two and a lot of roaring tossed in for color, but my grands learn some history surrounded by names, locations, dates, and personalities in a memorable tale. It's faction.

A rewarding way to practice your writing skills is to create a little faction. Try this: remember yourself at ten.
Now, what year was that? Oh, yeh, that was the year I was the tetherball champion. I think. Anyway, I had Miss Paschel and she read us all the Wizard of Oz books. And I was in love with Steven Jones and I wrote him mushy letters. One time at church we were in the coat closet at the same time and our mothers discussed our affair right in front of us! And then he found out I wore glasses, so basically it was all over.
Now you've got a few facts to work with. After all, you're the expert on your own life—you don't need to ask a soul if you got it right!

For the next step you'll need a piece of paper and a pencil. Spend five minutes googling: History in 1959 (Alaska and Hawaii became states—I remember that!) Just skim the list and pick a couple of facts that jump out. Now google another few categories: Music in 1959, Movies, TV (I loved Rawhide! That was the year Bonanza started?) Jot down some particulars.

You're ready! Open your blog, your journal, or your mouth and tell your story. If it helps you get going, begin with "Once upon a time ..." I like to start with a quote and then weave details into the backdrop of the scene.
"You wear glasses?" Steven's new front teeth looked enormous as he chewed on this little tidbit. I knew my whole class would know by morning recess. Of course, they were supposed to know because I was supposed to be wearing them, but who would take me serious as a tetherball champion if I had an elastic band holding red plaid specs on my face? We had just pledged allegiance to our new flag—fifty stars were now staggered in the blue background instead of the even spacing of forty-eight.
I would go on to describe my teacher, tell how I loved story-time right after lunch, how I still remember the Patchwork Girl and the time a hornet flew in the window and stung Miss Paschel on the ear while she was reading. (OK, that's the faction part. All the details I want my grands to know about me need a plot to stick to.)

At the end of this little exercise you'll have written a memoir. Memoir is a writing genre—you can major in Memoir, but you don't have to—and it's such a useful way to practice your skills! Even the most amateurish attempts are valuable as a record, and writing something down solidifies it in your own memory. And hey, somebody's going to embellish your stories. It might as well be you!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Please Write

Art by Carl Larsson

I've always been a writer, but it took me a long time to call myself a writer. Writers seemed to be in an exclusive club, and I couldn't just crash the party and say, "Hey guys! I'm a writer, too." I didn't think the real writers would want me in their club. I might be a bad representative of the craft, and they might not want me to sully their reputation.

Anne Lamott influenced me in her fabulous book Bird by Bird:

"I encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward."

So now that I am a writer I do the writer things. I'm always working. I carry notebooks. No matter where I go, what I hear or read, or even think, it could become material.

Art by Jan Ver Meer

Lamott's father was a writer, and she said, "Sometimes he traveled. He could go anyplace he wanted with a sense of purpose. One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around."

It also gives you a reason to read this book!

It's time for summer school—
If you want to practice writing, stop by here for my
Write Stuff Workshops!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Write Your Own Story

Excerpt from

Son of a Gun
Marty Halverson

“There was a man ... my daddy’s voice was as soft and low as a lullaby—would break the heart of Lucifer himself to hear him and Ma sing harmony.” Leo told her then about his sisters, Josey’s harmonica and Nataki . . . “she said our music would make the angels weep.”

“What’d you do?” Ruby asked, picturing the scene.

“Strummed. I got a guitar. We sang all the old Kentucky songs to the Texas wilderness to while away the summertime darkness.” He told her about watching the lightning chain at eight years old, when they first settled the ranch. “Nothing but the wind and the rain to argue with,” he said. Lost in his own memories, Leo went on, “After Ma died of the measles, just before my daddy followed her, he said, ‘I tell you boys, if either of you remember how your ma taught you how to pray, get down on your kneebones this night and tell Him up yonder you’re beholden for the life he give us.’”

Chagrined at his rambling, Leo rolled over and looked at Ruby. “I oughta’ save part of my breath for breathing.” He was talking to her as he’d talked to no one in years.

“You’re good company, Leo Barlow.”

"Guess if you're going to spend your whole life with yourself you need to learn to be good company."

Memoir is my favorite kind of writing, so t
here are a lot of memories tucked in my novel of the old west. Using fiction, I tried to capture emotions that were genuine. I've never lived in Texas, nobody in my family played a harmonica, and ma didn't die of the measles, but I remember summer nights listening to my daddy sing, listening to my mama pray. I remember the joy of pouring those memories out to Dee like sweet syrup, introducing him to the girl I'd been. And I remember learning to enjoy my own company. The story behind this story is true.

It's time to write your own memoir.
How would you tell a story from your childhood?
Get it ready for the campfire—summer nights are coming!

(It's the new season of The Write Stuff Workshops!)

Monday, May 21, 2012

What's Happenin?

Baby Kate, 2 months

"What 'cha been doin', Oma?"

On the road with Chloë

This month I tended some grands while their folks went to Switzerland,

Eliza and Jill

Watched some soccer,

Down the street

Wrote four Garden Park blog posts,

Oma at the wheel

Drove to San Francisco, and Phoenix,

Luke and Sam

Saw perfection,

A couple of kids

Cruised the neighborhood,

Cupcake Party

Celebrated ten Hero bdays,
Spoke twice,
Taught once,
Went to thirteen meetings,
Made 17 visits,
Learned to work my new computer.
(It feels so good to make this list ... )

And I had a ton of fun!

"Living is like tearing through a museum.
Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering, because you can't take it in all at once."
Audrey Hepburn

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Guest Post: Tuesday Surprise

(TravelinOma was hijacked today by a ten-year-old grand
who is more computer savvy than any Oma I know!
The photos, download and post took her about 5 minutes!)

Our mom is in Switzerland (in case Oma didn't tell you).
She made us a countdown chain.
Today, we cut off the lowest chain; the one that said Tuesday.

We found this message:

So we looked where the Play-Doh resides.

And we found the CD.

Highlights are:
I Get Around - Beach Boys
Splish-Splash - Bobby Darin
The Lion Sleeps Tonight - The Tokens
Rockin' Robin - Bobby Day
Blueberry Hill - Fats Domino


By Chloe May Robinson, age 10

Granddaughters: A Sweet Treat

Chloë at San Gelato

I picked the girls up after school, and Chloë got to ride shotgun. At ten, she is still technically a back seat rider, but my back seat could only accommodate her two younger sisters. Who knew it would be a grand perk of Oma day?

She twisted the side mirrors, adjusted the vents, rearranged the sun shades, locked and unlocked the doors. "You seem to be enjoying all the accessories." I said. She checked her hair in the make-up mirror on the back of the visor. "Well, yeh. The front seat is way more luxurious than the back seat." she said.

We're babysitting this week, getting reacquainted with the up close and personal. It's so fun to listen in on girl-talk, get in on bobby-pin demonstrations and overhear piano practice. These girls are 10, 9 and 7, old enough to pack their own lunches and put in their own wash. Bedtime is not an issue and they come home anxious to do their homework. Observing such awesome qualities has restored my belief in heredity.

After dinner they played on the swings in our neighborhood park while the wind whipped their hair into tangled updos--mine was standing straight up. It was time to head over to a family night concert, and I suggested we go home to wash up. "It probably won't do much good to comb our hair with all this wind," I said. "Oma," chided Chloë, "I think we should at least make an effort."

Like I said: granddaughters are a sweet treat!

Chloë May, Ashley Paige and Jessica Dee

"Remember how you always blog about us when we're funny?"
I do!
Click here for some memories of kidspeak:

"Grandkids are the reward for not killing your kids."
--Bill Cosby

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

My Tribute to Moms

Colonial woman dipping candles.

"They had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth."
Mosiah 17:2

Into the hot wax; out of the hot wax. Into the hot wax; out of the hot wax. I watched as the woman dipped her candles. She held a dowel with ten pieces of string looped over it, and repeatedly lowered it into a vat of melted wax.


The first time it looked like nothing stuck to the strings at all. Another dip, and they still looked clean. Patiently, the woman dunked them again, and again, and eventually I could see a film of wax building. Time after time the thin layers adhered to each other, and slowly the strings began to look like candles.

After countless dips.

I've watched other women engaged in an old-fashioned art that also involves patience and repetition. It is mothering. Time after time they dip their kids in character building experiences---say "Please," "Thank you," "I'm sorry;" share your toys; pick up your coat; mind your dad; love your brother; don't whine; feed the dog; say your prayers---over and over again the same admonitions. At first it seems nothing is sticking. The kids are still the same. But eventually they begin to wax strong.

A work of art!

Each experience a child has in character building is like one more dip of the candle.
It is repetitious, it can become wearisome.
But it's worth it.

Art by William Adolphe Bouguereau

"Be not weary in well doing,
for ye are laying the foundation of a great work.
For out of small things proceedeth that which is great."
—D&C 64:33

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


This is what I wanted to be:

Matriarch of a big, happy family,
colorful, kerchiefed, round and rosy-cheeked—
who could represent me better?

I started collecting nesting dolls a long time ago. Made in Russia, their real name is Matryoshka, from a word that means Mother. They are sometimes called Babushka dolls, which I like, too, because it means Grandmother.

There are lots of different themes and designs, and I love seeing how the artists from various villages paint them so meticulously. My grandkids love taking the dolls apart to reveal smaller dolls fitting inside one another.

When my granddaughters turn eight, I give them one to keep. The big doll represents her, her mom is next, and I am after that, with generations of grandmothers and great-grandmothers, back and back and back, who all want her to be happy.

A letter is part of the gift, listing all the names and something unique about each one: Lucy loves gymnastics, Heidi loves to bake, Marty loves to write, June loved to sew, Adelila loved to cook, Emily loved her garden. I tell my eight-year-old that they were loved by these women long before they were even born. If they could, all the grandmothers would share the lessons they learned about life with their posterity. "But you have traits of each of them carried right inside your mind and heart," I say. "It's called heredity!"

Art by Kathryn Brown

I hope my little girls can someday realize the blessing of being Matryoshka and Babushka. It has become more challenging to make this choice.

Bryce Christensen said:
"Too many women have succumbed to a dangerously narrow view of womanhood, repudiating homemaking itself as an outmoded and dispensable artifact of a misguided culture."

In his article Homeless America, he states that women's traditional skills have lost their value.
"By rejecting a role differentiation between fathers and mothers, some women have lost sight of the home as an independent moral realm, building relationships and values that are different from those of the commercial realm."

(This is a great article I've referred to often on my blog. It's long, but interesting.)

Some attitudes in our society are absolutely wrong. I hope my little granddaughters will recognize the great lies listed here:
  1. Men are smarter, have all the power and are more important, so if we want to have influence in the world we should be more like them.
  2. Marriage and family are confining.
  3. Motherhood is menial and a waste of any talented woman's time.
  4. Women are perpetually frazzled and failing.
  5. A woman's value is based on her size, shape, and what she accomplishes outside the home.
--from a talk by Sheri Dew

Some truths I hope my girls will learn from the legacy of their mothers and grandmothers:
  1. By developing the God-given nature to nurture, women have a unique opportunity to change the world.
  2. The influence of a mother has no limit and no end. She can share every aspect of her education and experience in the atmosphere of love she fashions.
  3. Creating a home is a way of creating a world.
  4. Women have abilities beyond their wildest dreams to organize and create.
  5. Women are the soul of a family and a community.
It's been said that women are the survival kit of the human race. That responsibility has been handed down from generation to generation.

I think it's something inside us!

Now it's your turn~

Comment, blog, or think about these questions:
  1. What is the main responsibility of a mother?
  2. What was your decision to be a mother, or not to be a mother, based on?
  3. How do you think the role of motherhood has changed since you were a child?
  4. Is that good or bad?
  5. How do you feel about the role of motherhood personally?

Write down how you feel about the big questions for your posterity. What's written down becomes the history future generations will search for. Let your story be part of their understanding.