Monday, December 1, 2008

December 2008

We were notified we’re being audited by the IRS. Our accountant said this was strictly “random,” a statistical audit pulled from a social security number and the IRS uses this kind of audit to help decide whom to audit in the future, with more target, I guess. “Sometimes they only want to look at one thing; sometimes they want to see every piece of paper,” our accountant told us.


Perhaps because we’ve been audited before though not this “random” kind; perhaps because of the mellowness of the pneumonia that has kept me down this month, I didn’t panic. It’s just another little bump in the road and one we can deal with. On the scale of things, being audited is minor. Having a roof over our heads, being able to pay bills, having work to which one is suited and perhaps even a gift to give away, those are wonderful things for which we are truly grateful this season.

Random thoughts have come my way this month even before the audit announcement. Watching news reports from Mumbai, India brought randomness to mind, how someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time can change lives forever. Grieving is rarely planned for. It comes in response.

Another random act: Jerry got a speeding ticket, one of only two in his lifetime. He was allowed to take an on-line class as part of his fine reduction and since he’s not computer literate, I had to register him and I’ve ended up taking the class with him. It’s been interesting to read statistics about attitudes and beliefs and behaviors that can end up in fatal accidents and just how many could likely be prevented by traveling the speed limit among other things. In Idaho, for example, 70% of fatal accidents occur on rural roads and because of speeding. Being hit by a drunk driver may be less random than one thinks, too.

My cold that usually morphs into bronchitis if it worsens instead became pneumonia. Random?

I read an article about randomness too. Writers think about randomness a lot, wondering if becoming an overnight success is really something one can cause to happen or if in fact the success of a particular writer getting published at all has very little to do with the quality of writing, the degree of promotion, or any number of other things we try to work into our equation but in fact may be, well, more random than we’d like to believe. One comment in the article came from a businessman who noted that “Fifty percent of my marketing/advertising budget is wasted. I just don’t know which 50%.” And so like the rest of us he tries new things.

A new book called Outliers explores success and one comment the author made is that more successful people as in millionaires etc. were born in 1955. Bill Gates. Also the founder of Apple, born in 1955. Random? Luck of the birthday? I remember reading once about successful women. It was said that women who succeed are told it was because of market forces, the right timing, etc. And if they failed it was because of poor planning, inadequate skills. Yet men who succeeded at some entrepreneurial venture were told it was because of their great planning, their wonderful skills and if men failed, it was because of "poor market conditions, bad timing over things they couldn't control." Hmmm, gender as part of random success or not?

Like many of us, I struggle with random and try to scoop it. I’ve contracted for book trailers to be made for both the Aurora quilt book and the new novel A Flickering Light coming out in April. That’s new for me. They’ll be up early next year on YouTube and other sites, hoping for exposure. We’re still going to send postcards out. Do they work? Do they remind people to call their local bookstore or library and see if the book is available? Who knowsJ

I’m talking with my publisher about publicity, what part of the country should we target, what audience, what’s the best use of my time, that sort of thing. We do what we can and yet, just as with the Aurora book that will go on sale on the 16th, things happen. Who could have predicted that having the book come out just before Christmas in the long run was better than if it had come out at the original date, last September when the economy and election were on everyone’s mind and a book about quilts and community and craft most likely wasn’t. (Except on mine, of course J)

And the pricing, at $17.99 that had seemed low for a lovely hardcover photographic book now seems wonderful and will make it more likely others might be able to purchase one to give as a gift. Something lovely under twenty dollars! And aren’t those things just well, random?

Take my walk this morning. The weather was glorious. Blue, blue sky, geese chattering in the rimrocks, weather reaching sixty degrees. I felt up to walking, finally, after this bout of pneumonia that continues on still though I’m much better. Bo was elated! He did his happy dog dance, swirling and swirling, short tail tucked under as he raced around the yard, returning to see if it was real, I was actually going to open the gate and let him out and walk with him. Oh to be able to make someone so happy just by being present! I don’t walk as much as I should outside for a reason I’ll get to so Bo saw this as a special treat.

We headed down the road, past the goat. Bo waited at the crossroads to see if we’d turn to the river or up the hill. I chose the river (a random choice to Bo I’m sure but to me it was because it was downhill!). Matt arrived about then, let his dog out who joined us, we three happily making our way to the river’s edge.

Where the Russian Olives are planted in double rows and we’d thought were burned out by the wildfire several years ago, there is now an almost park atmosphere. Matt trimmed the trees last summer and the grass is lush. I could see where deer have made it a place of choice: close to the alfalfa field with good cover and the river gurgling beyond. Deer probably drink lots of water, something I’m supposed to be doing. A nest hangs from one of the trees. The light breeze left us in this quiet. It is perhaps the most restful place one could be on a lovely End of November morning.

I made my way around the field beside the river. Bo sniffed, checked back in, dug for gophers, plunged into the water. We walked back up toward the barn where Matt worked on the swather. He planned to drive up to the house and pick up Jerry whose back was hurting lots this morning, so I got a ride. Funny how not having to walk that extra footage back up the hill seemed like a special gift of sorts with my breath so short and just being tired from coughing. Dogs piled in, we headed home and breakfast, pulling burrs from Bo’s fur before making our way inside.

But I was beat for the rest of the day, just read mostly and slept. This is not a good sign but it is better than it was. I’ve had lots of time for reading and napping this past month, and for thinking and yes, a little praying too.

I noted that my foot hurt afterwards. It’s the foot damaged in the plane accident (such a random thing, wasn’t it?) and while I’m so grateful I can walk on it at all, I do know that I sometimes put off taking the dog for a walk on the ranch because the ground is uneven, the rocks slick and that foot is not solid. I’ve fallen more than once (broke my arm, remember?) and usually afterwards that foot aches for quite awhile. So I’ve preferred the treadmill. No rocks to adapt to.

But it occurred to me that while the uneven ground can be dangerous, so can a flat surface. Earlier this month I fell and hit my knee on the curb outside the convention center in Portland. The leaves were slick and I think I didn’t raise my foot high enough because I keep favoring that bad foot. Or maybe it was just a random act of clumsinessJ

Anyway, after the walk, I realized that the constant adapting required of walking on uneven ground has likely made that foot stronger than it otherwise would have been. I’m not sure it makes great gains on the treadmill at all though my heart and blood pressure have improved. But I know that foot would not have improved to the point it’s at if I hadn’t put some pressure on it, hadn’t made myself do what is uncomfortable. And the fact is that walking where there might be problems doesn’t mean there will be problems.

My time with the dog, breathing in the fresh air, listening to the river and geese, walking without coughing for a time at least, gave me great peace so I didn’t even think about the foot until after I came back and felt the ache, the throb of discomfort.

Maybe my foot would have hurt anyway. Who knows? But I gathered a little understanding about why Jerry sometimes pushes himself through his own pain, at risk to greater injury at times but also because to not do so means he would end up “doing nothing” as he puts it. At 78, I could never say he is a man who does nothing even if sometimes the things he chooses to do drive me crazy (like remodeling the living room two weeks before Christmas!) Still, the Aurora book is evidence that we can work together on a creative venture and live to tell about it.

Besides, taking the dog for a walk regardless of the weather, ignoring the possibility of pain, looking for what treasures I might just find making my way beside the river, seems a joyous gift I can give myself. Finding joy doesn’t have to be random. I can choose to place myself where that opportunity can happen even if it means sometimes risking pain.

I do the opposite of random well. I plan a lot even though Churchill once noted that “planning is essential but plans are useless.” Life happens. Yet something fortuitous can come from planning. Today it was a reminder that after twenty-four years, this landscape continues to bring me joy when I enter into it, when I risk again discomfort, unknowingness, do what it is that I can do without always knowing the outcome.

I suppose that’s why I write as well. It’s a pretty random occupation according to that article I read. It brings with it sometimes haphazard moments of delight (seeing old friends in San Antonio and Houston, having a book arrive and look wonderful, one that Jerry and I and friends from Aurora and beyond have struggled over for three years, meeting a new author (Glenda Burgess) whose memoir The Geography of Love I highly recommend, spending a weekend with a friend while participating with a book festival) as well as times of pain (bad reviews, poor writing days, falling down on the city streets of Portland, arriving home with pneumonia, having to cancel events because of it, feeling like a slug for a month wondering if I’ll ever feel like myself again.)

We can’t control the randomness though it must be human nature to try.

This month especially I'll hang on to Paul Tillich’s observation that as humans one of our life lessons is to come to terms with how little we control. Being here at all on this ranch reminds me of that lesson: we control mostly our attitudes and behavior in response to living.

That’s where I am today as we enter December, this last month of 2008. We can only do what we can, look random in the eye and keep going, trusting that the path we’re on is not one we walk on alone. And if we should be reminded by some random act, a stumble, a bump in the road, that we might want to change our course, then my prayer for each of us is that we'll have the courage to make that change, even though it means stepping into the unknown and risking a little discomfort along the way.

There’s always the chance that we’ll make some dog do the happy dog dance and find ourselves smiling at what power we have to bring joy to the dog and to ourselves.

Make it a great month!
Warmly, Jane

Saturday, November 1, 2008

November 2008

After so much traveling this year, I am home and don’t have to fly anywhere for the next three months. Hurrah! I’ve met so many wonderful people on my trips and this past month is no exception. In San Antonio, a reader who wasn’t attending the Women Writing the West conference (where I received this lovely award) watched my website schedule and came in for the signing of the WILLA Literary Award Winners. What a treat that was!


Earlier, I celebrated 100 years of the Shumia Book group and got to meet other authors and spend time with a favorite of mine, Molly Gloss (whose Hearts of Horses is a finalist for the Oregon Book Awards. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for her this Sunday night.) The Shumia Book group introduced me to new readers and the restful stay with new friends, the Cavanaugh’s of Prineville, among others. A couple of those book group members also found me in Houston last week at the International Quilt Show! I couldn’t believe that someone was calling my name and that they really meant me! I met people from Dubai, Germany, Sweden, and every state in the Union I’m sure at that quilt show! What a grand experience. I also signed books next to Sandra Dallas, an author I truly admire and I’m pleased to call my friend. Her latest, Tall Grass is a book as exceptional as To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s about a family living near a Japanese relocation camp in the 1940s, a book you won’t want to put down until it’s finished.

On the opening day of deer season, I hunted then rushed down Highway 97 to a baby shower of a woman I’d worked with at Warm Springs. She and her husband are expecting their first and it was great to see old friends from my work on the reservation and to enjoy the stories and laughter.

A group of women from Brownsville, OR dressed in period costumes as they attended a fundraiser for the Newell House on Oregon’s French Prairie and if all works well I hope to post some of the photographs of those women who I gave character names to for the day. I’m humbled and gratified by the way these stories touch people and always encouraged by the inventiveness of readers finding ways to keep the stories relevant and alive inside their lives. It’s makes the effort of travel well worthwhile.

It rained here a bit last night, clearing the sky of dust and making the air pungent with scents of sage and wet rocks (yes, rocks do have a scent especially when they’ve been pulled up from the river or been kissed by rain.) Rather than walk on my treadmill or do my Ten Minute Trainer, I decided to take Bo for a walk. When I do, I always wonder why I don’t walk every day with him. By the end of our trek I remember: my foot. The one residual from the airplane crash all those years ago is that my right foot lacking an arch is stressed by uneven ground and the ache afterwards reminds me of that day 22 years ago when we cluttered up the streets of Wasco with our plane.

On the other hand, when I endure the foot stress, there are lovely gifts given on this election day of 2008. Bo stayed with me pretty much. We’ve been working on that. He loves to race through the bunch grass and sniff at every spot where a deer once napped or where a pheasant might be huddling. Pheasant season is open now but the time to hunt on our property has passed because we’re in a special game refuge area. He came every time I called him which is also a big plus and he’s been really good about sitting and waiting with longing eyes when I say “stay.” He lets me walk past him or wait to say “OK” before he races out the door or to the next ridge. And as I walked I could keep people I’m praying for in my heart bringing their needs along with me as I balanced the rocks, felt the cool wind on my face and watched the dog being a dog.

I also signed up for another of artist/writer maryanne rachmacher’s on-line classes. I told her she was cheaper than therapy. Her focus for us is about making the upcoming holidays into experiences we want to cherish rather than events we race through, are overwhelmed by or wish we could avoid. Writing helps me clarify those things and maryanne’s courses are just the ticket. (She designed my business cards and my special greeting cards and yes, she spells her name with lowercase letters.) Today she pointed out that “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts.” Now that’s a wonderful insight, isn’t it? My foot is just one example of how yes, it was stressed as I walked but it also gave me wonderful desserts.

Another stress today I hope to turn into a dessert is finishing up a manuscript review of A Flickering Light and getting it sent back for final copyediting. Researching this book about my grandmother’s life as a photographer has yielded a whole range of emotions and family connections that I’ll treasure always. My 86 year old aunt last week sent me a photograph my grandmother used as a sample for her studio. It was as though I’d stepped back in time and imagined what the day she took that photograph was like. Who was this woman? What did my grandmother see out her window; what did she hear and smell as she walked to work in Winona, Minnesota? Such thoughts also take me to my brother and his family who live in that state. I’ll be calling them later. We always connect on election day.

I’m preparing for Wordstock http://www.wordstockfestival.com/ this Sunday. Come by and see me at 11:00 AM or take my class at 3:15 PM about the “Seven Stories that Hold us Back and How we can Transform them” at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. The plan now is that I’ll spend a little time with our friend Sandy while Jerry makes his way further east to try to fill his black powder elk tag. So while he’s tromping through the trees, my friend and I will be making literary connections and watching movies, something I rarely get to do! (Actually, it was maryanne’s course that spurred on my plan to not just drive to Portland, meet my obligations and drive home, but to take a little extra time to play. It’s a way to turn the stress of holiday planning into “sweet desserts.”

My friend Bob Welch and I are also preparing for our Beachside Writer’s Workshop scheduled for next February. I know times are tight but a weekend for writing and laughter on the Oregon Coast in the depths of a winter weekend could be a grand Christmas present to give yourself or an aspiring writer in your life. info@bobwelch.net will get you details.

I also contracted to have book trailers made…it’s the latest thing they tell me, popping up pictures on U-Tube and Amazon that tell a brief story of the book and hopefully peek a reader’s interest. Someone else will be producing it because frankly, I took pictures with my cell phone camera and don’t know how to get them out! There’s an albino deer near my brother’s farm in Minnesota that’s stuck in there for eternity! (or until I can track down my granddaughter to help release him!)

Harvest House Publishers also notified me this morning that A Simple Gift of Comfort, newly revised, is a featured book on their website. Please visit. There’s also an interview with me posted there. http://www.harvesthousepublishers.com/giftbooks.cfm. If you haven’t seen the new edition, the watercolors are exquisite! Harvest House is also publishing B.J. Hoff’s newest novels with an Amish setting. I love B.J.’s writing! I know it’ll be a series I’ll adore.

And soon the quilt book will arrive with all those gorgeous photographs Jerry and our friend Nancy Lloyd took in Aurora. December 16th, in time for Christmas! You can also still sign up to win the replica of Emma Giesy’s quilt by going to http://www.waterbrookpress.com/ and click on “contests”. Nothing terrible will happen to you if you leave your email address: no one will call and try to sell you anything! You’ll just be entered into the drawing and you don’t have to purchase a thing. Pendleton Woolen Mills donated the wool for this fabulous quilt.

You might mark your calendar for February 14th too as Oregon celebrates its 150th birthday that day and we celebrate the official publication of Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt, Community and Craft at the Museum in Aurora. I’ve never written more than three books about a place before: this is number four. But somehow the stories and artifacts of Aurora warranted more and I’m pleased to have yet another reason to spend time with those keeping the Aurora story alive. You’re all welcome!

I also have another announcement to make that has a level of stress attached: I’m going to write a contemporary book, a humorous one I hope. Some of you have heard me talk at times with tongue in cheek about how Oprah doesn’t know my name (and that it isn’t my job to get her to, either. It’s my job as a writer to show up, to assume the position of a writer and to tell the stories I’ve been given the best way I know how and to trust that I’m not alone in the telling). I said I was always going to write a book about an author trying to get Oprah to accept her book for Oprah’s book group and the trials and tribulations as she went from seeking fame to fulfillment. Well, a former editor who had moved to Zondervan remembered my chattering about that book (and remembered that I’d actually written it and it had been rejected by a publisher). He’d read it and liked it so…sometime in 2010 I hope you’ll be reading and laughing through Oprah Doesn’t Know My Name. But deciding to do this was stressful. Could I make the needed revisions so it was a publishable book? Should I? I don’t want to abandon stories of ordinary historical women (and I won’t: I have contracts for five more books). Those women give me spiritual insights and allow me to explore the place of faith in everyday life. But I’m also hoping that the stress of doing something new, of stepping out beyond my own comfort zone as we did nearly 25 years ago when we came here to Starvation Lane, will turn into desserts. Anxiety can be a good thing. It’s what our gatepost sign reminds me: to live at the edge of possibility.

I don’t know what you might be “stressed” about this month: finances, family, health and wealth; or what desserts await you. But I know we are not alone and I know your presence in my life brings precious joy in this season of gratitude. What better time to live the Aurora Colony’s Diamond Rule: To each day make another’s life better than you own. I wish you than best November ever and I thank you for all you do as readers to make my life better than I ever could have imagined.

Warmly, Jane

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October 2008

I think I know where the idea for a crazy quilt came from. The idea came to me while we drove with friends in Alberta, Canada, north toward the Columbia Ice fields, that place in the north that gives birth to three rivers: the Columbia, the Athabasca and the Saskatchewan. The Columbia flows into the Pacific and miles south, not too far from our rattlesnake and rock ranch. The Saskatchewan flows to the Atlantic out through the great Hudson’s Bay. And the Athabasca flows north into the Arctic Sea. Imagine, all from that single ice cap glacier!


But about the crazy quilt.

As we drove north in Jasper National Park, with yellow aspens lining the gray highway, I looked up and saw this granite mountain with glacier-made striations up-thrust across our path. Clusters of pine trees rose high against it in places leaving gray valleys in between. Sky as blue as Crater Lake (you North westerners will know exactly what I mean) met mountain edges as sharp as scissor cuts. The variety of material in that landscape made me think of the velvets and shirting and pieces of calico that make up a Crazy quilt. We were the stitches holding it all together as we drove along, admiring lakes and being amazed at the weather so warm it was as though we drove into a quilt that would comfort for a life-time.

The memories will.

Writer and theologian Frederick Buechner speaks of up-thrust moments, those times when the distance between God and man seems thin as aging skin, when our minds while never being able to fully grasp Divinity, allows us a glimpse into the grandeur, the peace and joy that is God who allows us to be here,, on this earth, with friends, with those we love, sharing a landscape of magnificence and humbled to our core. Who could ask for more?

Yet more is given.

We had a grand time at the InScribe writer’s conference in Edmonton where I made new friends and discovered fans from across the border. At a poetry class I treated myself to, I wrote a poem about my grandmother that just might appear one day in one of my books about her. Who knows, maybe even in a future monthly memo! Then it was off for several days with the Webbs, a family introduced to us through books and one woman’s willingness to write to me nearly 10 years ago, a letter that began a relationships but this was the first actual meeting of Loris and her husband Gary. Grand people they are who demonstrated to us the meaning of both Christian charity and grace. It was as though we’d been spending time together for a lifetime. Another up-thrust in a September day. We heard elk bugling, watch mountain sheep cluster, saw a pink sunrise against snow peaks reflecting in Edith lake where our friends have a family cabin. It was a luscious time of relaxation and we will be forever grateful.

Earlier in the month we celebrated a family wedding in Florida (where the summer storms stayed aloft for this lovely outdoor wedding) and before that it was research in Minnesota where my brother and his family and my two aunts and an uncle took over a little back room in a restaurant in Minnesota to look at glass negatives taken by either my grandmother or grandfather. We told stories, gathered up three generations and later located a photographer in Red Wing who could put those lovely images onto disks I'll use for the second book in the series that I'm writing now.

We also toured Winona, MN (site of A Flickering Light) to be sure I had directions clear (the Mississippi River flows east and west there) and another up-thrust: the director of the Winona County Historical Museum turns out to have been one of the first directors of the Aurora Colony Museum in Oregon, a place that has consumed my life these past three years. A small world indeed and one my brother and sister-in-law enjoyed as we imagined our grandparents wandering the streets of that old river town.

In Wisconsin, I connected with quilt show enthusiasts, presented my PowerPoint on Aurora (to appreciative audiences) shared a meal with WWW president and friend Kathleen Ernst, spent time with my Wisconsin cousins and my 91 year old aunt (who is a writer, too); then home a day then to Florida and grandkids; home a day to say hi to Bo and Matt and Melissa who minded the ranch; then on to Canada.

Here it is, October 4th and today I get to drive to a baby shower near Warm Springs to help celebrate the soon-to-be baby of a young woman I once shared an office with on the reservation. I’m looking forward to seeing old friends and feel privileged that my name was on the invitation list. The soon to be mom is Shilo, the young woman we visited the Oklahoma Western Heritage Museum with where I missed seeing Kareem Abdul Jabar (“How could you miss seeing him?” my husband asked. "He's seven feet tall!" “I was looking at art,” I defended. “He is art,” Shilo said…another memory in my crazy quilt).

Jerry has declined to come to the shower – it’s deer season!. Jerry instead stayed at home. Last year he hunted with his cane, remember? (a rifle too, of course) and ended up later in the hospital having surgery for his burst colon. I went out with him this morning but we saw only fat does and fawns we startled from their comfort holes deep within the grasses beneath a hackberry tree or two. A couple of pheasants flew up and walking back we picked apples from our tree and shared one withBo. Tasty indeed.

On Monday we’ll finalize the details for the quilt book and I must say that while this project has consumed more time than I ever imagined it might, I believe it will be a treasure of images, of stories told through vibrant quilts and sheets of music written in blackberry juice ink and peppered with old photographs that often included dogs of every shape and size who helped tell the the story of the only successful utopian community to survive in the American West. Publication date: December 16. Please mark your calendars. You can pre-order through your local bookstore and of course, on line.

We have several events this month: in Prineville celebrating 100 years of the Shumia Book Club. Prineville sports the opening scene of A Land of Sheltered Promise. We’ll be at the Newell House in French Prairie (it’s all sold out) a part of theTender Ties connection; I’ll be in Bend to support my friend Blair’s PEO, an organization that provides scholarships to women so they can go on to school.

At the end of the month, we fly to San Antonio where A Tendering in the Storm will receive a lovely WILLA Literary Award. Jerry’s flying with me and my agent will be there too!

So perhaps I’ve come full circle this month, with images of past, present and future, searching artifacts and mixing them with family and friends, combining stories with my writing life and seeing how blessed I am to have followed my heart and started writing things that others might choose to read. From that has come these memories that fit like fabric pieces against the landscape of my life. I don’t take the time often enough to appreciate those up-thrusts. But today I am and I encourage you to consider yours, those very moments when (to paraphrase Mary Oliver) we let ourselves be brides “married to amazement; bridegrooms who took the world into our arms.”

***
I’ll post additional photographs on my blog. For those reading this, you can find my blog in the menu on the left and simply click on blog and there I’ll be. At least virtually. In truth, I’ll be writing, remembering, imagining and being grateful that so many of you keep tuning in and caring for the stories. Please, celebrate your own!
Warmly, Jane

Monday, September 1, 2008

September 2008

It's September 1 and I'm here! Hurrah for Stonecreek Media and my new website! Thanks for being patient with us all.


Late in August we finally lured two of our friends from French Prairie to come to visit and have dinner with us. The Howards, Brenda and Roger, helped us immensely in working on the Marie Dorion series and we’ve remained friends ever since. It’s one of the great gifts of the writing life, meeting good people who you take into your circle and whose circles occasionally cross with others.

They arrived later on a day when 12 intrepid readers from Beaverton caravanned down the reptile road. They were part of a church group who had read my books and Dave Swehla has followed Emma’s story all over the country I think. He organized this journey. Both that group and the Howards met at the Sherman County Museum on the same day and discovered their mutual connection. I wish I could have been a mouse in the corner to see what the Beaverton crowd had to say about the road!

Brenda told me that earlier she and her sister had been going over old monthly memos posted on this site and now renamed as “words of encouragement” and how they liked the essays especially when I talked about the Psalms. I just finished reading Kathleen Norris’s new book and she’s a great lover of Psalms too and I realized then that I hadn’t been reading them much of late. So Brenda and her sister Judy turned my path back to them.

I chose Psalm 106 and discovered that while it begins with praise it quickly provides a litany of all that God did through the ages for the Israelites and then how the people would forget. They’d praise, be happy, then “turned back to their craving.” I do this so much! What a great phrase: turned back to their craving. And what do we crave for?

Recently in a magazine article that I now can’t find to provide the source for you, a man wrote that this was his philosophy of life: “to do what you can; love what you have; be who you are.” Such a spare and splendid life mission. A grand reminder for the days in which I forget how blessed we are. Jerry’s elk hunting (black powder); our kids are clean and sober; our other kids we’ll see again in September for a wedding of a grandson; a granddaughter called to thank us for her birthday gift; the other granddaughter got a job; we’ll be meeting Canadian readers who I’ve corresponded with for several years and spending time in Jasper, Alberta for a few days following my keynoting Inscribe, a Canadian writer’s conference in Edmonton. Next week it’s a workshop in Hood River and then family time in Minnesota and research along with a quilt presentation in Wisconsin at Quilt Expo. We have so many blessings.

For that Wisconsin event, I bought a new projector and lap top so I can make the presentation. But my computer guy says the projector is so powerful we can do movies in the park here. Or rather, movies in the canyon and show it on the rocks! Yet another adventure.

I digress.

There was another day in August that touched me greatly and reminded me of all we have. We were getting ready to go on an Alaska cruise with our friends from Bend, Blair and David Fredstrom. Yes, we’d gone three years ago but Jerry was very ill then and this would be a different trip. No flying anywhere. We got to spend a night with friends in Everett who kept our car for us and picked us up when we came back. Blair’s in a wheelchair so I planned to spend time with her while Jerry and Dave went into the towns that I’d seen before but Jerry hadn’t spent much time in. And we did have a grand time despite fog, high winds and seas for 36 hours. Blair and I did “On Deck for the Cure” the last day with her pushing herself around every other lap and me pushing her on the others. We did 5K which is 9 laps and 3.5 miles, or so we were told as we pumped away. It was great to have a week with good friends just hanging out.

Anyway, before we left Jerry wanted new jeans and he wanted me to go pick them up at Tony’s Town and Country in The Dalles, a clothing store. I could see all the possibilities of choices that I could mess up so I asked him to call in and tell them exactly what he wanted: size, boot cut or not, stretch or not, brand, etc. He did.

When I went in to pick them up, the female clerk was helping two little boys look at jeans. They were maybe 7 and 9 and had crew-cuts that needed mowing but they were bright and energetic and knew what they wanted. They bounced around and reminded me of my nephews when they were that age. I watched as she helped them. So respectful she was of them, asking what kind of pants they liked, size, etc. One of them said he wasn’t sure of the size so he scampered past me to go upstairs to the women’s section to ask his mother. The clerk made eye contact with me then and she continued to help the other child for a bit. He kept looking so she politely told him she’d just help me and be right back if that was all right with him. He said it was.

Jerry’s pants were at the cash register and she rang me up as the owner came in. She told him the two little boys needed help and he turned to go do that as I gave her a compliment.

“I want to thank you for being so kind and respectful to those little boys,” I said.

Her face opened up in surprise. “Why wouldn’t I be?” she asked.

“Sometimes adults aren’t.”

“Oh, but how will children know what kindness and respect are if they don’t experience it themselves,” she wisely said. “If they don’t see it they can’t give it away. If they experience kindness they’ll be able to pass it on.”

Indeed. How will they know, I thought. I said it was just so wonderful to see. I reached out to take her hand and squeezed it and apologized for the tears that I didn’t expect to be flowing (and are now as I write this).

“I have a new grandbaby,” she said. “Just born and that’s what I want him to know. “ She was tearful now too.

“What a lucky baby,” I said.

We blubbered for a bit, reaching for tissues, laughing at this moment of camaraderie standing at a counter.

I took my package, nodded to the owner who was chatting with those boys still. (Respect is obviously something modeled from the top down in that store) and headed off to pick up Jerry’s prescriptions still wondering why I was so tearful at seeing compassion expressed in everyday life like that.

At the pharmacy, it turned out that Jerry’s prescription had a problem. His insurance card that had always worked, didn’t. The clerk was very apologetic and had this look of fear in her eyes about what I’d say to this glitch in my day. But I’d seen kindness just minutes before and I said, “That sort of thing happens. I’ll have to call the insurance company and figure it out.” Her shoulders actually sank in relief. “Thank you,” she said. “It does happen and it’s no one’s fault. Thank you.”

Ordinarily I might have been annoyed, maybe even shown it or expressed it to the clerk even though it wasn’t her fault. Like everyone else I get stressed. But for some reason, there was this calm. That clothing saleswoman had given me a great gift in modeling kindness and it was really easy ten minutes later to pass it on. I felt light as a leaf.

I still think about the tearfulness. Maybe those tears arose because I’ve seen children abused and hurt or watched them be ignored in stores or heard someone say in harsh tones, “Where’s your mother?” Or maybe it was my acting on the witness I’d seen and telling her. It’s not always easy to give a stranger a compliment but I do try to do that.

In a course I took some years ago we’d occasionally be asked to tell different people in the group, one on one, something to make them feel good about themselves. The instructors called it “gifts of confidence.” It forced us to pay attention to who that person was and what their journey was during the rest of the class so we could give away a gift to build their day. It also gave ourselves something: pleasure at noticing something in someone else that is admirable. We always ended feeling lighter, happier, just for giving kindness away.

Whatever it was, it has stayed with me, that woman’s gentle spirit. And Brenda and her sister commenting on reading old monthly memos and how they affected them, that’s a gift of confidence they gave to me that sent me to the Psalms, reminding me now of the richness of everyday life and how small things do truly make a difference not only in the lives of those boys, but in the pharmacy clerk later and in my own as the memory of that good day stays with me.

You can guess what I encourage you to do this month!

My website is nearly completed and I’m learning how to add things on my own. We’ll see if this arrives at all J I still don’t have adding photographs down so you’ll have to wait with that.

Meanwhile, as many of you head back to school with your children take a deep breath, compliment a teacher or two as they’re likely as rattled as you are and maybe together we can pass along that kindness and respect that truly does reduce the “craving” reminding us to be thankful for all we have and to pass that goodness on.

Thanks for visiting the site! Warmly, Jane

Friday, August 1, 2008

August 2008

I had intended to write this truly inspiring piece for you to announce my revitalized website designed by Stonecreek Media. I wanted my first memo to be truly inspiring. And I thought it might be.




Walking the dog yesterday in the morning brought me images of the stacks of hay taken from our alfalfa field lined up against the base of the ridge like green sugar cubes, one on top of the other. They reminded me of how much work had to go into getting them there: seeding the field last year; getting the Verminator (yes that's what it's called) to destroy the gophers; irrigating, irrigating, moving wheel lines and hand lines; keeping the tractor, swather and bailer ready to use. And then there are the days of actually cutting and baling and then picking the 75 pound bails up with the bale buggy and unloading them at the base of the hill.



Work before the harvest marks almost every endeavor. Many pitfalls have to be tended to as well. Will it rain on the hay when it's down? The river ran higher than normal with episodes of very high water this spring that required we remove the pumps then put them back when the river level lowered. We used the internet to check the stream flow at places upriver to gauge whether we could put the pumps back or get ready to take them out yet again. We got through the first cutting and most of the second cutting before the swather lost a part (that we're waiting for even now). We expect two more cuttings so it has to get repaired. Our neighbor is buying all that we have so there's a contract that needs to be met. A contract. A commitment.



These are not unlike the work before the work of harvest in writing.



This has been a busy time of writing for me but also completing that early work. Researching for the next book. Revising for final edits for the current novel about my grandmother (A Flickering Light due out next April. Confirming quilt sizes and details for the quilt and craft book that goes to press the end of August. Preparing for September events -a retreat, a writer's conference and a quilt-speaking event in Wisconsin, all had their time on my "to do" list this month. None of that looks a lot like "writing."



Publishing issues, working with my team of agent, editors, sales people and more, played parts in my life this month. While in Florida I wasn't actually "writing." I attended a Christian writer's retreat and a convention. Lynn Austin won the Christy for her fine historical novel A Proper Pursuit and I didn't feel badly at all! It was a delight to have breakfast with her and to share in her acclaim. I was happy to be on the short list for best Historical Fiction, truly. I've hung my Christy Finalist medal on the wall already. Jerry had time with his daughter and family who joined us for the Christy banquet (and I shared a room with my agent and her associate across the street from Disneyland so we watched the fireworks each night. During the day I met with editors and marketing and publicity people and marveled that Floridians actually live year round in a place where when you leave an air-conditioned hotel and step outside your glasses steam up!



All those things can seem not like writing at all, right? Writing is that time when one gets to sit and dream and look out over the rimrocks and river but only for brief moments before becoming lost in the 1870s or 1910 and the lives of men and women who somehow seem to speak to us and keep us from being writers who feel life is solitary and lonely. I'm never less alone than when I'm writing, if that makes sense. Writing is getting to see your book or article in print, right? Writing is when you're gifted with a letter from someone who read your book or article or heard you speak who says what they just read was your best ever and that what you had to say "spoke specifically to me."



it's that work before harvest, the tedious, daily, get up and repeat, cope and adapt kind of work that makes it possible. I must remind myself of that sometimes.



My little words line up to make a sentence and then a page and then a chapter and then a book reminding me of that stack of hay ever-growing until completion that later will be consumed (by cows , not ours thank goodness!) and people will be fed from the result. A very agrarian image but one every one of us who wishes for a harvest understands. The daily tasks aren't always easy or pretty or inspiring but it's what we do if we're to meet our "contracts" however we have made them, with whomever we have made those commitments.



That's what I thought I'd be writing about, encouraging you all to keep going, toward that harvest.



Instead I'm sitting here with a black eye, bruised forehead, cheek and nose, a black and blue swollen thumb, skinned knee and a scrape on my shoulder that looks that that tubby tabby of 44 pounds who was on the news yesterday used my right arm for a scratching post. And my head hurts. And my glasses that actually survived with lens intact have been redone by Jerry to get the bows somewhat parallel and the nose pieces back into place but they aren't fitting well. They're trifocals so we'll have to get them officially adjusted or I'll be looking through the wrong places...which is probably why I have the headache.



We leave for an event in Portland tonight and it's our 32nd wedding anniversary so we're going to do something to celebrate afterwards though I don't know what, now. I hope my head stops hurting. Tomorrow Jerry will get to meet a reader-writer-turned-friend I met back in St. Louis at a signing last year who flew out for the Willamette Writers conference hoping to connect with an agent for his own book.



So here's how the egg-plant color of my eye came about: Bo, our wire-haired pointing Griffon is involved. Out of pity I took him outside last night to tend to his daily duties even though he probably didn't need to do that. It was late. Ten-thirty. But he'd been whining and pestering and I figured that's what he wanted. I put the choke collar on him and the leash and we walked down the ramp from the swing-deck of the house just fine. But then a streak passed in front of us (a chipmunk who has been teasing Bo often hiding up in the frame of the pick-up truck where Bo can see him but not reach him. We've seen a lot more of those rascals since Diego our cat died). Anyway, Bo bolted. I jerked, grabbed a second twist on the leash (big mistake) and tried to pull him back but instead he pulled me forward, right into the ground, shoulder and face first while the leash twisted free but not before twisting my left thumb.



Bo happily chased his chipmunk neither caring nor noticing that I lay there, head throbbing, glasses somewhere in the darkness beyond the porch light. I shouted for Jerry who heard me inside the house and came out to rescue the glasses and help me up. Bo circled the yard a few times and then did decide to do his duty which enabled me to get his leash and bring him back in. He's clueless of my current discomfort.



So instead of merely packing for our anniversary weekend (that my friend says sounds more like work to her than play since it involves writing events and that I really do need to learn how to play more!) I'm coping. Changing directions quickly without a lot of friction as my infamous coping saw reminds me.



I'll consider this interlude - the headache and bent glasses - as yet another piece of the work before the work knowing that there are always glitches, always things to distract us. But most of all, knowing that I have much to be grateful for. I didn't break a bone. The lenses stayed in the frames. The dog didn't run too far away. Jerry heard me shout. Looks to me like all in all a very good outcome. Jerry's seen me with a black eye before and he loves me anyway. What could be a better anniversary present than that!



I hope you enjoy the new website design. Hopefully we'll be updating more frequently now. Please check my schedule for events near you and thank you all for making my writing life one filled with treasures of connections that keep me ever faithful toward that harvest.



Warmly, Jane
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