Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas 2009

A dozen deer crossed our path as we drove up the reptile road. The engineering of the essentially-a-one-lane-road brought them to our sight again and again and again until at the top of the ridge we watched them one by one jump the fence and head down the river breaks, their white tails disappearing beneath the rock ledge.


It was zero degrees this morning and reminded me of our first Christmas here twenty-five years ago when snow dusted the sagebrush and the roof of the house under construction and the cold froze the mud paths as hard as concrete. We used the hair dryer to thaw out the pipes beneath the fifth wheel trailer. Deer trails like white braids twisted through the ridges toward the river that then as now forms a shoelace of white meandering through the foothills of the John Day River breaks. Chatting Canada geese occupy a small pool of open water. Bo, our Griffon, barks back at the geese while surveying the landscape from his perch on the deck. PB the cat and Caesar the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, our new addition, stand beside him. View photos on Bo’s blog www.bodaciousbothedog.blogspot.com. Stan the goat still guards what remains of the vineyard which is mostly wooden stakes and Stan’s recycled weeds. Two steers await their fate but for now happily munch on the last hay we’ll take from the flat beside the river.


Change does come despite the similarities of times past. Two years ago we sold the cows and now we’ve decided not to try to raise alfalfa next year. Equipment needs updating, the rise of fuel costs, and just the human cost of sustaining ourselves on the land has led us to that decision. I’ll still be planting rows of words and harvesting them in books at least for a few years more. Jerry traveled with me to several events this year in Minnesota and Wisconsin and around the Northwest but stayed home for Kentucky and Texas and a few other sites while he recovered from surgery. He’s doing well but emergency room travel up the reptile road reminded us that while we can still do this homestead thing, we wonder for how long. Jerry will be a young eighty next year.


Two vacation highlights of year were trips to Baja, Mexico and Whistler, BC that included friends Sandy Maynard and her sister Donna Perry. Jerry loves the odds of traveling with three women. He did all the driving into Canada. I notice he no longer complains about the voice of the GPS system. She seems to beat out three women giving him directions at once. You think? We also tried to make my 45th class reunion, got stuck at the airport, had trouble with the rental car, took a wrong turn down a snowmobile road (it was over this little bridge, just like the guy at the tavern directed us to!) and missed it! Fortunately, we found a few classmates at the Mondovi Inn and caught up; time with my 90+year old aunt Idella and cousins Mike and Linda Rutschow helped make up for the loss of time with classmates. For the 50th, we’ll come the day before.

We had great visits from family and friends this fall. My brother and his wife came west and fixed incredible meals for us and told us stories while we cheered the Packers on. Jerry’s daughter Katy and husband Joe visited from Florida and Jerry fished with them and son Matt for two full days without success. At least the wind calmed for them belying the value of the hundreds of windmills that now dot the landscape beyond our sight above us along Starvation Lane. Or youngest granddaughter, Madison, attends a dental assistant program in Florida and works full time. Katy’s other children are spread around the south. Matt continues to work for us and he and Melissa tend the ranch when we travel. Mariah works full time for Azure Farms in Moro, a natural food corporation that ships gluten free food, bulk grains and Nancy’s Yogurt among other things, around the west.

My latest book based on my maternal grandmother’s life A Flickering Light was named this month to Library Journal’s list of Best Books of 2009 which is a delight. Even better has been the reception of the book by family members who still invite me back for family gatherings! My aunt Corinne and Uncle Ron, Aunt Helen and Minnesota cousins Pat and Ross, Molly and others not only helped with research but made our launch trip at the Winona Historical Society a wonderful event. The sequel will be out in March and is called An Absence so Great. We’re also getting ready for my first contemporary book titled Oprah Doesn’t Know My Name which I hope will make people laugh as well as consider the cost of fame versus fulfillment. I’m at work on the next novel. Working title: Journey to a Present Joy.


So we come to this season seeking to savor the present, often fleeting joys of life: The memories of good times, challenges met, changes that await. For us, the blessings of the Christ Child’s presence in our hearts reminds us to thank you all for your part in helping us savor these present joys. We wish you enduring blessings for the year ahead and pray that despite the weather or uncertain circumstances, that your holidays will be warm and fulfilling in every way.


Love, Jane and Jerry

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December 2009

“Are you ready?” Several years ago an early morning phone call woke me at a motel in Idaho where I was teaching a writing class. No, “Hello, did I wake you?” or “Sorry, but are you ready?” Just the query: “Are you ready?”


It was a wrong number but it prompted me to write about the things I wasn’t sure I was ready for. One was my precious nephew graduating from high school and moving on to being “out there” in the wild world. His interest was the criminal justice field. I wasn’t sure I was ready for him to be old enough to maybe enlist in the military, maybe going off to war, maybe becoming a police officer or a Federal agent of some kind. But he’d been focused on service and protection of others his entire life. He even had the task of taking the family’s eggs to the women’s shelter each week as a reminder of how relationships can deteriorate but also as a statement to women and children that there are men who would treat them with kindness. He has a caring heart.

While at Hamlin University, he interned with the St. Paul Police department then graduated from Hamlin a year and a half ago. He enrolled immediately in the police academy where he graduated at the top of his class. Things were looking good for a job! Then the economy sank. Even police jobs were frozen. So he took odd jobs working security at area theme parks, for example. He helped at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. He worked as a bouncer, worked for his parents in sales, a job he really didn’t like but he needed work. He put his job applications in and kept checking back hoping for an interview.

Well this week he got the calls! Two interviews with two agencies he most wanted. Now, he hasn’t had the interviews yet; no job has been offered. There are few openings and lots of applicants including former police officers who were laid off earlier. But the good news is that he’s ready! He’s been ready. And that’s all we can really ask of ourselves in a trying time: to just be ready, stay focused, keep our feet on firm ground. If the job offers don’t follow I’m certain he’ll keep looking, broaden the agencies he might want to work for but for now, his patience and commitment have brought him to a new place in the job hunt and we are pleased for him. And for the agency that might chose him. He’d be a good man. He’s ready.

That seems fitting with this season of Advent. Being ready, being prepared is what this season is all about. Being ready to accept the possibility of joy, as Mary did. Being ready to put aside our fears as the shepherds did. Being ready to give gifts as the wise men did; being ready to receive gifts as Jesus did. It is a season to consider.

I confess, I’m not ready with the gifts and cards of the season. Tensions on the home front have redirected my thinking. Even good news such as A Flickering Light being named to Library Journal’s Best Books of 2009 hasn’t stayed on my tongue for very long, the recognition being more like salt than sugar. So I decided to re-read a devotional by Ann Spangler called The Tender Words of God. I actually began the year with Jerry and I reading that book through. Now we begin again. Her words direct me to scriptures reminding me of aspects of God’s character that I need to praise God for and to rely on.

Last week it was strength, which I needed. This week, it’s protection which I also need.

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” reads Psalm 91. The Hebrew word sel can be translated as shadow while tsel, another Hebrew word, expands that shadow to be a protective shadow. Oh to remind myself daily that I am privileged to be resting in that protective shadow!

Our Northwest news of the death of four police officers has touched me deeply. They were simply preparing for their shift, doing their jobs when this crazed man walked in and shot the four of them. They were there getting ready to protect their community; they were not protected from one man’s outrageous anger and intention.

The grief of their families makes me think again of my nephew choosing law enforcement as a profession. Is being ready to die something police officers are encouraged to think about? I’ll have to ask my nephew. Surely their families were not ready for the news that came to them of their great loss. And where was that protection from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

My devotional reminds me that bad things do happen to good people but that the protective shadow God promises each of us is God’s presence in protecting our souls. It doesn’t explain when tragedy strikes but it does impress on me the urgency of having my soul ready for whatever may come and trusting that I can find peace within that protective shadow. Two years of telling my grandmother’s story as a photographer have made me think more about shadow and light and the idea of a protective shadow is a comfort.

Part of my family distress this past month required telling the truth about how I felt. I realized that I’d been protecting other people’s feelings at the expense of my own and I’d begun to feel dishonest to myself, to my soul, to my heart. (That workshop I led last month about people who sabotage themselves really spoke to me…and I was delivering it!)

“Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil” reads Proverbs 4:23-27.

Sometimes evil finds us when we are getting ready as those fine police officers fatally learned. Our hearts can become sick with anxiety and worry over things we can’t control. What we can control is being aware, taking responsibility for how we feel and moving toward making changes that will guard our hearts and souls. I suspect those officers chose their profession knowing of the risks and we can be grateful they chose to serve anyway.

I’m getting ready this season not for the presents or the mountains of food; not even for the gathering of family and friends or the time at home working on my next book, not having to travel so much. Only three more events await me this December: one in Moro on the 5th at the Sherman County Museum and one in Portland on the 6th at the Historical Society and a gathering of Tualatin area history buffs who paid for lunch with me (and supported the historical society at the same time). After that, I’m home until the end of January! Hurrah!

What I am getting ready for this season is to be grateful: For life; for people willing to give their lives in protection of others; for small gifts like roses and black-eyed Susan’s still blooming in December that fit perfectly in my Bauer pottery; the gentleness of loving friends and family; for words of scripture and the comforting words of writers who share God’s tender care for us despite the turmoil of this world and our own inner turmoil, too.

It’s my hope, and Jerry’s too, that along with the cards and shopping and all the accoutrements that threaten to consume the season that you’ll find time to get ready for the things that truly matter. You know the names of what those are and as writer Madelein L’Engle once noted, “we are named by the choices we make.” Choose to be ready.

Merry Christmas each and every one!

Warmly, Jane

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November 2009

Can it really be November? I’m still making mistakes writing “2008” on my checks! Maybe that’s a sign that I don’t want to let the past go and yet…it’s gone. The sunlight too will appear at different hours now, darkness arriving by 5:00, maybe even 4:30. Turn on that SAD light!


We’ll cherish this November as Jerry’s daughter and son-in-law will visit for a week. Joe hasn’t been here since 1989. Wow will things look different! We’ve seen them, of course. Last year at a grandson’s wedding; and the year before that during a conference in Florida. Katy was here three years ago. But Joe will see lots of changes. That’s what my brother Craig and his wife Barb noted during their quick trip here last week. The windmills, yes; but also the size of our roses, the height of the trees planted through the years. And they hadn’t met either Bo or Cici before so that was a huge change.

Cici left the family portrait we tried to take of my brother’s visit; but this morning as Jerry was finishing up his doe tag duties the dogs were exiled to the house and watched attentively to make sure he didn’t do anything wrong. Note the stain glass iris. It was made by Ken Tedder of the couple who shared our airplane crash all those years ago.

I helped with the does too, but came back inside to finish final edits for An Absence so Great and responded to queries from the copy editor. This is always a crunch time and it usually comes as I’m also working on the next book (I’ll be in Spokane for a few days this month, researching and I corresponded with my new editor at Zondervan where my huge leap of faith has settled with my first contemporary book due out sometime next year. I’ll keep you posted); and preparing for this weekend’s event at Morning Song Acres and next weekend at The Nature of Words in Bend www.thenatureofwords.org. I feel honored to be participating in both.

I also posted a water color painting done by Jeanney McArthur, a local artist and librarian at the Sherman Public School Library where I serve on the board. Jerry selected the matting and frame and had the inscription added by Jeanney “She of Many Stories” which Jeanney had titled it. Jerry wanted it where it could be seen. All those words around it, all those book titles…I guess I am surrounded by my words. I have to say I was stunned to see it. She of Many Stories looks better than how I see myself.

Deciding where to hang the portrait in the house has been an issue. It would be best in my office where it wouldn’t look so, well, “out there.” But Jerry likes to look at it and he says we should hang it in the living room. We’ll see. I’m not sure how I’ll feel looking at a painting of myself everyday. I somehow don’t feel worthy of such recognition though when I think of it as art, honoring a fellow artist’s work, well, then it doesn’t seem so bold. Jeanney’s work is worthy; it’s the subject I’m struggling about.

Might be better to have it behind me, looking over my shoulder while I write.

I’ve been thinking a lot of late about worthiness. I’ve read two books on my new Kindle. Sway: The irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior and Immunity to Change. Off the Kindle, SAIL Simply an Inspired Life by Mary Anne Radmacher and Jonathan Lockwood Huie also graced my days. In part I’ve been researching the topic of this weekend’s workshop: Do Talented People Sabotage Themselves? It’s one of the issues I’ve been considering in my last two books and it seems to be a constant issue in my own life. When I was counseling people, that question hovered over the talented people I saw (which is all of them!) shrouded them in uncertainty and self-doubt.

Freud had an opinion. “There are no mistakes,” he wrote. But perhaps early childhood educators have a more refined grasp of the issue as they know that every behavior is meant to meet a need. Often, it’s protection. A child acts out because he fears he’ll go unnoticed, will disappear.

As adults it might look like we over eat because we’re somehow taking care of ourselves, feeding a sadness or fear; or we eat too little, become anorexic as a way to take care of ourselves. Our addictions are ways of avoiding pain, or perhaps fearing the loss of something so great we can’t imagine life without it and so we make choices that eventually change our brain chemistry and instead of using a substance to protect ourselves the substance takes control of us.

What the authors of the first two books mention is that fear of loss, the inability to recognize that a commitment needs to be changed (stop digging the hole deeper!) and attributed value (that can cloud our judgment or assessment of the facts) appear to be leading contenders for why we sometimes do irrational things. The SAIL book has the subtitle: Consciously choosing unbounded happiness in Good Times and Bad and it really is about choices. The other two books address some of the science of change and irrational behavior; SAIL talks about the stories we tell ourselves and how we can tell ourselves new stories. Naturally, I’m drawn to the SAIL book J

What I’ve taken from them all though, is the importance of valuing ourselves. An example given was a story of a virtuoso violinist who wore a baseball cap, sloppy shirt and jeans at Grand Central Station while playing his 5 million dollar Stratavarius (is that how that’s spelled?) violin to see if anyone paid him heed. No one did. Oh, one woman stood aghast because she recognized him. He commands thousands of audience members when he’s in a concert hall dressed as one would “expect.” People discounted his work because they attributed less value to him based on how he was dressed and the setting he was in.

The opposite, attributing great value where none exists, can also bring us down as charlatans take advantage of people because we attribute great value to their opinion or station in life. It’s the Emperor has no clothes sort of scenario. But we are often pulled toward ignoring those “facts” because we are emotionally engaged in trying not to lose face or perhaps discounting our own opinion. Ask any young person in love to predict their future with their new found beau and despite their parents or best friends opposite opinion, they’ll seek out the behaviors that affirm their value attributed to the loved one. When the break up comes, they’re devastated: but their parents and roommates saw it coming but then they weren’t emotionally engaged.

It’s that quality, attributed value, that I suspect often catches up with talented people who may reach the top but then discount the value of their efforts and so then do something to bring them back “where they truly belong.”

While I’m not “at the top” I do understand that sense of being in a place where I don’t think I deserve. A water color portrait comes to mind.

And yet it was Paul who said in all things be happy, find joy. To do that, I think we do have to attribute value in the right places. It isn’t arrogance to acknowledge a talent or a skill. It’s arrogance when we propose that our talent or skill outweighs that of another, has more value. Humility isn’t ignoring or demeaning a talent or skill either; it’s living in such a way that the talking about our talent or skill is not the primary subject in our relationships with others. At least that’s my definition.

I have my work cut out for me interweaving understandings of irresistible pulls toward irrational behavior (was coming to Starvation Point irrational? Yes! But then I wouldn’t be here writing to you now) and at the same time identifying the ways my own behavior keeps me from moving forward as it protects, keeps me safe from the painful losses I hope to avoid. And yet, as one of the authors of SAIL noted, “We would never be conscious of Joy if there were no suffering.”

My best behavior today? Be grateful that sometimes irrational behavior does lead us to joys we could never imagine. Maybe because we find a way to place the value on God’s leading and trust that God knows the route even if we’re still trying to load the destination it into our GPS.

November is a month for gratitude sharing. I have much to be grateful for. I hope our paths cross sometime before the end of the year but if not, know that I am grateful for your willingness to visit my site and share this journey. Only one month left of this year. Imagine the possibilities of joy.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Warmly, Jane

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October 2009

I can just see the ridge above the river. It’s bathed in fog following a heavy rainstorm through the night that took off tree branches and left them like flower petals at a wedding, dribbling down the hillside toward the rose bushes. When I let the dogs out, they barked at the intruders then ignored them since they didn’t move like a good raccoon or chipmunk (Bo’s favorite thing to chase). We needed the rain. The neighbor called and said it was snowing where they are but we kept a pretty constant 48 degrees. We’ve put up the irrigation system for the winter so it’s good to have rain to soak the ground before we move on into what might be a harsh and early winter.


I’m focused on the weather, something I have no control over and must just observe.

The irony, of course, is that I control nothing except my attitude. I say that often enough at retreats, book signings, events. And yet I struggle with accepting it when the world is a turning place, as T.S. Elliot once wrote as he described God as “that still place in a turning world.”

September’s been a turning place. Jerry was hospitalized twice, first for the gall bladder surgery that didn’t go quite as planned and then 10 days later for a blood clot and infection where the gall bladder used to be. During the first hospitalization, a good friend was also hospitalized and I met her in the ER to offer moral support. Jerry had just been released but we stayed in Bend to be close to the hospital to make sure everything “worked” before we headed home. We had Caesar with us, the Cavalier Spaniel, during Jerry’s stay, so he became quite well known by hospital staff. He lays beneath my feet even as I write. At least I could be there for my friend and for Jerry.

For Jerry’s second adventure in medicine, we were reminded that the gall bladder was once hitched up under the diaphragm, and was attached to the liver. When each breath Jerry took brought on spasms of pain (this for a man who has root canals without Novocain) I called our pastor’s wife (a nurse) and then his doctor. Both directed us to the nearest ER in The Dalles, 52 miles away. We spent the night there as they ran tests, and the ER Doc talked to his surgeon. They found an abscess that would need to be drained and it was decided having it done where he’d had the surgery would be best.

I drove us home arriving at 4:30 AM. (I know. I wanted to just drive to Bend but Jerry wanted a couple hours of good sleep before being cut on again). We slept two hours then headed three hours to Bend where he was admitted again and they inserted a tube through his liver to his abdomen to drain what was a blood clot and infection. I stayed with our friend who had been hospitalized earlier…she was still recovering at home, too. We came back to the ranch on Friday. The tube is out. He’s still having lots of pain and is on antibiotics but we’re hopeful this is “it” and he’s on the uphill swing. He missed the opening of deer season, the first time in 40 years.

After the first surgery, my satellite dish died so those of you who might have tried to reach me, couldn’t. Then when the new dish was installed much higher on the house, thank goodness, my internet returned but my website and email died – so those of you who might have tried to reach me, couldn’t. It was a frustrating time followed by Jerry’s emergency.

While driving those long distances between hospitals, I listened to NPR as long as the signal lasted. After all those years of driving to Warm Springs and back I’m pretty certain where I’ll loose the program and where it’ll come back in on another station. The news gets a little scattered that way and in between I have time to think. We listened to a program on sustainability and I heard a farmer in the Willamette valley comment about a hope he has to keep some of his land as agriculture but to build housing around it, not unlike European villages where people live in town then go out to work their fields. The other person was from a city council who hated to see the farmland go, who loved this farmer’s efforts through the years to promote local products, provide biodegradable bags at his roadside stand even before they became popular, that sort of thing. He was sad to think that a farmer with that attitude of sustainability would now think of development.

What the farmer responded was that he works 96 hours a week on his farm and has his entire adult life and that isn’t sustainable for him or his family or the next generation. So he has to look at doing things differently. I missed the rest of the program but his comment on personal sustainability struck home.

On my old computer keyboard the word “refresh” was right next to “home” and to get to “home” you pushed the “up” arrow. Quite obvious, really, that to be refreshed, I need to look up. And outward. Find the joy in Jerry’s recovery, accept that I have finite limits, that I need refreshment daily to sustain my life. It’s strange to me, but when the unexpected swirls around me I let soothing routines go. I stop exercising. I stop my daily devotional time. I don’t contribute to my listservs. I cease noticing the little things. I start demeaning myself about canceling commitments, being a terrible nurse, then escalate to whether I’ll have the stamina to meet my obligations for the next week or next month or even next year and still meet needs on the ranch and of course, for Jerry. I prevent the Psalms from restoring because I don’t read them. I don’t even write.

Yes, I did take the dog for a walk each day of Jerry’s hospitalization but instead of taking in the mountains, the scent of sagebrush and juniper, listen to the geese flying overhead and feel the cool morning air against my face, I made up my to do list in my head.

So there you have it. I diagnose my problem, identify what will address it and then fail to act – because I lack the energy clearly not a sustainable plan to alter that turning world.

But then Providence moved.

So I walked around outside after getting Jerry settled back at home. I took pictures of our “trough” garden, the converted cow watering tanks Matt and I planted earlier this spring. I’d thrown wildflower seeds around the outside of it too and loved the effect of blending tiny flowers and the towering cosmos bending purple against the metal troughs. We’ve enjoyed lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, herbs and just a pleasant corner to look at, off the deck. The potatoes should be ready before long. I didn’t get a single zucchini…now that must say something about my purple thumb! But it drew butterflies and bees and me, taking in this little plot of sustainability.

The dogs brought toys to me and I threw them. I’d had to cancel a number of events this past month as I didn’t want to leave Jerry without support through this recovery. Tossing toys and watching the dogs race across the lawn made me laugh and I realized I hadn’t done much of that of late. That brought on further thoughts of sustainability; our sustainability here on this ranch.

Finding refreshment rather than energy depletion from this pleasant place is an on-going challenge. At times this month, I haven’t even had the energy to walk outside to marvel at the trough garden that Jerry poo-pooed when I proposed it this spring. He wanted something big, if we were going to go through the effort of having a garden; but big I knew I couldn’t sustain.

I can’t sustain big in anything if I fail to let healing practices make their way into my everyday. I think that’s the wisdom for caregivers everywhere. We have to care for ourselves as well as those around us if we’re to keep moving forward and not just survivng.

So I send you this morning a photograph of my garden and my dogs. I’ve read a devotional in one of my favorite books Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner. He wrote of the light in darkness from Isaiah: the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light bringing a reminder that darkness is what a lot of our prayers are about, mine included and how much I need the healing warmth of that light. A favorite Psalm came to mind: The Lord knows my lot; he makes my boundaries fall on pleasant places and I no longer felt alone. Refreshed, in fact, for the first time in days.

I will write today, finishing preparations for a retreat this weekend (Jerry will have company throughout!) I’ve handouts to prepare for my appearance at the Nature of Words in November http://www.thenatureofwords.org/ – I hope you’ll come. I’m also gearing up for a workshop I participate in with Bob Welch on the Oregon Coast in February – I hope you’ll consider signing up for that as well. Visit http://www.bobwelch.net/ and click on Beachside Writers. I intend to take the dogs for a long walk.

A weight feels lifted as I give myself permission to cancel events if necessary and to slow down even more in what I schedule next year. My brother and his wife will visit from Minnesota in three weeks; Jerry’s daughter and her husband will visit in November. I’ve finished the copy edits for An Absence so Great, the sequel to A Flickering Light. I await comment on my contemporary book I’m doing for Zondervan; and am working on the next historical book, as yet untitled.

Jerry’s come by to have me put salve on his wounds. They’re healing. The fog appears to be lifting from the river canyon and everything looks crisper following the rain. The wind chimes barely bump against each other in an otherwise still day. The weather seems to be changing. I’ll let that sustain me for this day.

Warmly, Jane

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September 2009

He’s a belly warmer, that’s what Jerry calls him. Sometimes we get the gender mixed up because he looks fragile and he’s been fixed but he comes when we call his nick name, CiCi (short for Caesar. ) He arrived knowing his name or I might have called him Admiral Byrd because he explores and explores and doesn’t let the size of the steers deter him from going into their pen before I can catch him; nor does he let the expanse of the alfalfa field look daunting. Though Bo is many times his size, they play well together though Bo’s look in this photograph has been labeled: “Puleeze! Do I have to be in the photograph with this creature?”


He is a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel. A belly warmer, a lap dog. It’s the first small dog that I’ve had and I have to say it’s not bad at all. When I watch the news and worry about what’s happened to civility; when the fires rage in California and I remember our own fires and how we were spared the losses of so many; when Jerry’s health puts question marks in our day and we struggle to find answers, that little dog is comfort. Bo is too, of course, but Bo on a belly would not be calming. He weighs 80 pounds now.

We added to our four paws family after returning from a vacation into British Columbia. Several people asked if it was truly a vacation and it was! Oh, we did a little business, visited bookstores, of course; but mostly we relaxed. We visited the glass museum in Tacoma then took the ferry to Victoria, BC where we visited the Butchart Gardens and the butterfly garden next door. Then on to Vancouver for opening ceremonies of the World Police and Fire Games held there. A drive to Whistler followed, site of the winter Olympics and four days of supporting our policeman friend’s golfing competition in the games. Terrible fires burned in the region so our views were hampered some but if you can go to Whistler for the Olympics, do! Throughout Canada whenever we asked for anything people would say “No problem.” It was like that. No problems except for a couple of episodes for Jerry that laid him up with severe stomach pains, reasons for which we’re still discussing with his doctors.

We ended our time at Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands. Quaint and lovely; and the local bookstore had a copy of one of my books!

We delivered our two friends to Salem (Jerry did the driving with three women and a GPS female voice telling him how. Could this be why his stomach ached? )where we picked up our new recruit. CiCi is a brother to a dog our friend in Salem has who has brought such joy to her life. There was one left in that litter so we fell in love, too.

This past week on the ranch I’ve been on a deadline but also helping move irrigation pipe as Matt had dental work done that got complicated and he’s been laid up for nearly two weeks. We have wheel lines and big guns, but one wheel line is short so hand pipe is added to its end. That has to be moved as the wheel line moves to a new setting on the field. CiCi loves racing in the field and Bo loves jumping in the river then racing back to play.

It’s been good for me to get outside, especially when I’m on a deadline because getting up at 4:00 a.m. and staying at the computer for long hours can numb a mind. I confess I have a little trepidation with the dogs in the field because of the snakes but so far, so good. I haven’t seen a single rattler this year.

I’m also not worrying about the eagles that nest in the rocks because I figure Bo will scare them off if they try to swoop down to have a Caesar salad.

A ride in the six-wheeler holding CiCi, watching red tail hawks dance with wind, gripping pipes and walking across the field with Jerry carrying the other end of the pipe remind me of worthy work and all we did to clear the fields. Twenty-five years and two fires ago, the sage brush used to stand so tall we had to ride Deere John to make a path to reach the river.

Opening lines of books have originated from that field. I broke an arm beside the water trough that sits at its edge – or used to. I confiscated the water troughs for my trough garden that’s yielded yummy tomatoes, lettuce and two egg plants that are coming on firm! Watermelons flourished in this field.

The landscape as it always does tells me stories. A pine tree planted 22 years now soars up into my second story view. It offsets the rock to my left that slopes steep as a cow’s face. Deer often skip up over the edge of that rock when I let Bo and CiCi out in the morning. I see them against the pale horizon. The neighbor across the river makes hay at night when there’s moisture in the air. The light from his tractor pricks the morning. Sometimes his wife will call us to see if we see evidence that he’s all right, still working. It’s what neighbor’s do.

Perhaps I’m ready for fall.

I’ve met my deadlines. I’ve sent off my “children.” An Absence so Great will see the light of a bookstore in March of 2010. It’s the sequel to A Flickering Light. I hope you’ll like it. I’m including more photographs.

Then there’s the Oprah book. No, not one that Oprah picked but a book about a writer trying to get Oprah to pick her book. It’s called Oprah Doesn’t Know My Name and some of you who have heard me speak know I say that sometimes, that it isn’t my job as a writer to get Oprah to know my name. It’s my job to show up and tell the story I’ve been given. Zondervan asked to see this book and if accepted, it’ll come out perhaps around this time next year. Meanwhile I’m working on the next historical novel and of course, writing my words of encouragement to you.

I hope you’ll note my schedule. Despite the flames in LA, I’m flying there for the Women Writing the West conference (see the latest newsletter at www.womenwritingthewest.org ) where I get to pick up Aurora’s finalist plaque for the WILLA Literary Award for best creative nonfiction. On the 17th, I’ll help Warner Pacific College www.warnerpacific.edu/inaugural inaugurate its new President, Dr. Andrea Cook. Some venues are open to the public. An Eco-Justice gathering in Trout Lake Washington occurs on September 19th www.presbyteryofthecascades.org and on Sunday, a final Communal Humanities panel featuring the literature of communal societies such as Aurora takes place at Lewis and Clark. www.communalhumanities.typepad.com. An exhibit at the Watze Library Aurora to Rajnesshpuram features Dr. Jim Kopp’s book Eden Within Eden and mine about Aurora and the Young Life ranch among others. The event is free! There’ll be food! Join us.

All that ought to keep me busy as I also prepare for retreats I’m leading: Morning song Acres, the Nature of Words in November www.thenatureofwords.org and getting geared up for Beachside Writers with Bob Welch, an annual event on the Oregon Coast next February. Registration will begin soon.

Still, I’m looking for a less frenzied pace this fall. Jerry and I think of slowing down, taking more vacations. That means we may not make hay next year at all, just keep a few stupid cows, I mean steers like the six he bought back this year we fed and took to the sale last week. Well, we kept two. So along with Stan the goat and the dogs, those are the only livestock we have.

It’s enough. A Medieval literary English Professor gave a lovely lecture last month I got to hear that revolved around a phrase of the period “enough is as good as a feast.” That’s how I’m feeling this September. I have enough right where I am. And truly, it is as good as a feast.

I hope you’re feasting wherever you are. Thank you for your part in making my life enough.

Warmly, Jane

Saturday, August 1, 2009

August 2009

We’ve had a wild summer of travel with a few glitches (I missed my class reunion because the plane was delayed and the rental car illusive for 1.5 hours and then we took a wrong turn onto a snowmobile trail instead of the road we were supposed to take). But we still found classmates at the Mondovi Inn and I visited my English teacher the next afternoon and spent lots of time staying with relatives as we traveled around the state on the Wisconsin book tour.


A highlight was watching my nephew in a play at Mankato State University and seeing old friends from Northern Wisconsin we hadn’t seen for many years. Tomorrow we leave for a needed vacation in Canada for the International Police and Firemen’s Olympics in Whistler and Victoria, BC. It’s supposed to be cool there which is good since it’s supposed to be 104 and higher here tomorrow! We’ll visit a good friend in the hospital in Bend and celebrate a birthday in Eugene and then we head north.

But I wanted to share with you how my brother and his family catch up the peacocks they sold when they got too many. They have lots of them around their Redwing, MN farm and with four new babies coming along, they decided to sell two males and a female.

Here’s how they catch them up: They put a mirror in the shed so when the peacocks walk by, they notice themselves. They’re apparently quite vain, those birds and this time, the male walked in but came right back out. A few minutes later, he brought in the exact male and female my brother planned to sell! They all came in to look at themselves and when they did, he closed the door on them.

Now they’re in a very dark place and they let them stay to calm down for a time.

A couple of hours later, my brother went inside the dark shed and as his eyes adjusted, he could see that on the far end a door had just a little sliver of light across the bottom and all three birds where there. They’d migrated toward the light. He reached down and picked each one up and put them into the boxes he’d prepared for them (with lots of ventilation) and voila! He had them.

This seems like such a wonderful metaphor to me of life. We notice ourselves, become preoccupied with our own images, visages, our own preening sometimes. We add negative comments to our preening too, how our hips are too wide or too thin; how gravity is pulling us downward. And while we’re paying attention to ourselves, the day darkens and suddenly we’re all alone in a dark world. It’s pretty scary at first but eventually we calm down and our eyes adjust and we look for…the light. Light is just so amazing. So directional, so illuminating, so warming. And the light of the world is all we really need in darkness. All we really need.

I know, the metaphor breaks down with the realization that my brother could catch the peacocks because they were hanging around the light but then, they were taken to another farm where they’ll live a happier life not being overcrowded with so many other peas and hens. So maybe it still works: we never know when we’re snatched out of the darkness just what awaits us. But as Willa Cather once wrote “some lessons are learned in calm and some in storm.”

We’ve had some troubling things of late, as have many of you. Financial worries though not so frightening as those who’ve lost their jobs or homes. Our struggle is whether to buy new equipment to replace the broken down bail wagon, the pumps etc. or maybe this is the time to cease farming all together. Our kids have dental needs and without insurance, we’ve become it. Jerry’s back continues to strain. (But my blood pressure is doing great!) These feel like dark places. But like those birds, we can’t afford to spend too much time focused on ourselves or we’ll get sucked right in to the darkness. Instead, we must keep seeking the light.

That’s part of what we hope to do while we’re traveling in Canada. We’re driving and will have two friends in the car with us (so we won’t likely kill each other over traffic questions, which happens even with a GPS though it has truly saved our marriage at times). The experience I want to have is to be nurtured, to rest, to enjoy the beauty of the great Northwest and all it has to offer and to spend some time in quiet prayer in early morning thinking not so much about me but about the lives of those I love. Jerry and I will celebrate our 33st wedding anniversary while we’re traveling, a pretty amazing feat in itself.

When we return there’ll be an event in Spokane, WA and another deadline for my Oprah Doesn’t Know My Name book and researching the next novel and awaiting copy editing queries for An Absence So Great (April, 2010). Much to do and better done in light.

I hope your August will draw you toward the light.

Thanks for sharing time with me.

Warmly, Jane

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July 2009

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/06/16/kirkpatrick - click to hear Jane's Minnesota Public Radio interview about A Flickering Light...
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Summer reading. What could be better? For me, it's one of the nice things about travel where I have several hours of uninterrupted reading time sitting in airports, on planes, waiting. I watch a lot too during travel. I've gotten some great descriptions of characters while standing in line at Hudson's or Powell's or Borders Books at the airport (where I'm always checking to see if they have my books, of course and turning any of mine face out. It's a requirement of an author to do that you understand and loyal fans do it too!)

This past month I finished People of the Book by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Great read. Then a friend sent me The Uncommon Reader, a novella, that made me wish I could write short, lovely witty pieces like that. I read two of Laurie R. King's earlier Kate Martinelli books. They're mysteries with a female cop (Kate) and well done. I've read all of the author's Mary Stewart series books about the wife of Sherlock Holmes. I adore those books and got to hear Laurie R. King speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids a few years back. (That, by the way, is a worthy way for an author to spend money, attending that conference that acts as a feast for writers. I gorged myself listening to great authors including Joyce Carol Oates and Frederick Buechner who were both there. Oh, and Katherine Patterson too!) I also read Bibi Gaston's book The Loveliest Woman in America a memoir about her grandmother who was an early stage and film star, part of a dynasty related to the Pinchots (who developed the Forest Service) and the role of landscape in the stories of our lives. A must read. And she lives in The Dalles now, imagine that (not the grandmother, but the author!). The paper back just came out so I hope you'll look for it. She'll be on AM Northwest on July 2 if you're in the Pacific Northwest.

Coming home, I picked up The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Oh, it is a splendid read. I cried, smiled, laughed but mostly relished the story of how a people endured, no triumphed, during the occupation of the German army during WW II. The author became ill toward the final revisions and her niece, also a writer, stepped into finish the book. The author died shortly before or right at publication and that too made me cry and I hoped she might somehow know that her words have touched hundreds of thousands and will continue to do so I have no doubt.

I've also done a bit of endorsement reading this summer. One of the titles is by my good friend Mary Anne Radmacher who is an artist and calligrapher and poet and writer. She's penned a lovely book with a co-author Jonathan Lockwood Huie called Simply an Inspired Life. It's not the usual self-help book in that when you finish it, you feel that you truly can make changes in your life and it doesn't feel so daunting. Mary Anne also teaches an on-line writing course and I've taken more than one from her. (http://www.maryanneradmacher.net/) The last one during the month of May helped break a block not of writing but of enjoying what I was writing. I ended up having the Story tell me why it was being so difficult to write down and I got an ear full! That was a good thing. I found myself laughing after that which is also a good thing since the book, Oprah Doesn't Know My Name is meant to be funny. We'll see how it appears come sometime next year.

Linda Clare, a creative writing instructor in Eugene, also has a new book coming out called The Fence my Father Built set in Central Oregon. It's her first novel and she's done a fine job. I learned there are corn snakes in Central Oregon. I always love learning some new tidbit in a book, don't you?

My book tours also take me into bookstores of course where I often had the time to peruse the shelves not always being swamped by fans (though we did run out of all my titles at Barnes and Noble)! I found Sandra Dallas' latest Prayers for Sale and Susan Meissner's The Shape of Mercy in Barnes and Noble in Minnesota; lots of Christian fiction titles at the Northwestern Book store in Burnsville, MN, and in Red Wing's Best of Times Bookstore, I bought my brother Creating Minnesota, a book I'd bought for myself for research as it's such a lovely rendering of Minnesota stories told through her people. It won a Spur Award a couple of years back. I'm always amazed at the number of books by authors I've never heard of before! It makes me hopeful for a time when I might not be writing but will at last get to all those shelves of books I've been hoarding to read during a slow time in my life. Should that time ever come. Jerry suggests that on these book tours I'm buying more books than I'm selling but he exaggerates. Still, the idea of being on a plane without a book to read...well, that seems like such wasted time and it is helping the economy,I'm certain of that.

I lie awake some mornings, early, when I'm on the road. Maybe it's the different bed, food, activity level; maybe that I'm not writing when I'm traveling, maybe that throws me off. I miss Bo (don't forget to visit Bo's blog http://www.bodaciousbothedog.blogspot.com/. So I picked up a new book light at the Time Enough Bookstore in Ilwaco last month so I can read without disturbing Jerry. It's like a miner's light and fits around my head. Good coverage on the page. But for some reason I often don't pick up a book when the sky is graying into morning light. I pray, I think, I work out plot issues, I imagine what I might have said to the interviewer who suggested my latest novel was "steamy" when it isn't, I wonder if I'll fall back asleep.

But I also think it's guilt that keeps me from picking up that book and reading it, as though reading is a sinful thing. It's so far from that! Reading unveils mysteries and there are many still locked inside of me, questions unanswered that I might find the answers to when I read. It's the same reason why it's so hard for me to schedule vacations, to not just plunge my tour time full of interviews, visits, even research rather than just being. Or reading. I always have a deadline ( I'm on one now!) but still, reading a good book can only enhance the writing so long as I can keep the harpies silent.

To my credit, on Father's Day, I did relax. We were with my brother and his family, his two boys who are such fine young men. We went to church together and then watched the US open. It poured rain in Minnesota so it was a good thing to be doing, watching golf. And my brother was patient in explaining things so that I could cheer at the right moment and even groaned at a missed putt, a bogey and so sad, a double bogey. I remember a book about golf I read one by George Will called A Good Walk Spoiled but it was my sister-in-law and brother's explanations that gave me the real understanding of golf that day. It's a way to intensely relax. I took golf lessons once and my instructor said if I ever made it to the green, I'd be pretty good. I'd forgotten that until I watched the"chipping" going on in the rain.

I think reading allows me to intensely relax.

So what is my word of encouragement this month? It's to find ways to relax, to read, to give ourselves the pleasure of being transported to new places - Guernsey Island, Connecticut (where the loveliest woman in America hailed from), England - The Uncommon Reader - San Francisco (where the mysteries I mentioned are set). You know. You have those books stacked beside your bed. Read them!

All that said, I'll be on the road again to Wisconsin beginning July 11th. We have events in Eau Claire on the 15th;Lodi that evening, Mt Horeb on Saturday July 18 1:00-3:00 in the Prairie Bookstore and then several events back home in the Northwest. I hope you'll check my schedule. I especially hope you'll call in to OPB's Think Out Loud program when I'm the guest author, July 2 from 9 to10:00 Am. here is a link to the TOL site where listeners can comment:

http://www.opb.org/thinkoutloud/shows/northwest-passages-jane-kirkpatrick/

http://www.opb.org/radio/?mode=whereToListen

The show is live from 9 -10 AM. It repeats the same day in the evening, 9 - 10 PM.

Right after that, we head to Bend and Jerry's final (we hope) cancer follow-up. From then on, it's only once a year and that'll be grand!

On the Fifth of July, we'll be in Aurora. I can't get away from that place and I don't want to! This time it's a Sunday afternoon program with the archivist from the U of O library, a quilt historian and Jim Kopp, the foremost authority on communal societies in Oregon. His latest book Eden within Eden which I also read this summer captures the history of the many communal societies through the years that chose Oregon. Fascinating reading. Anyway,he'll moderate and it's from 1 to 3 at the Aurora Museum.

Like you, I'll be busy, but there is a time and place for everything, remember Ecclesiastes? I'm sure it was written that there was a time to rest...and that means, a time to read. Find that good book and don't neglect the Good Book either. There is nurture inside all those words.

Warmly, Jane

Monday, June 1, 2009

June 2009

Serendipity, unexpected delights. That’s what much of a writer’s life is about but then, that’s what much of life in general can be about if we allow it. Some of you at writer conferences I’ve spoken at have heard me say that in the Biblical Concordance there are more columns devoted to the word “behold” than to the word “believe.” My writer friend Venita Hampton Wright notes in her book The Soul Tells a Story that it’s part of an author’s work to help readers “pay attention” to the world around them, to their lives, to the stories of their souls. I agree.


This past week I spent in Texas meeting new people, exploring “new markets” as Jerry describes it, his former life as a salesman peeking through the curtain of retirement. Serendipitous moments included seeing a cousin I hadn’t seen for forty years and learning we both like to collect Bauer pottery, one of the first crafts companies (begun in Paducah, KY in 1909 then moving on to Los Angeles). My mom and dad bought a set of the multi-colored fired plates, serving dishes, bowls and platters on their honeymoon to Texas in 1941. She never used it. When we moved my parents to their assisted living facility on the Warm Springs reservation in 2000, I got the pottery! Hurrah!

I use them.

Jerry broke one of the platters and went to an antique store to replace it hoping he wouldn’t have to tell me but the only one he found, smaller than the one he broke, cost $350. He had to confess…. My cousins told me not to put them in the dishwasher, so that was a wonderful serendipitous moment of wisdom.

I stayed with a woman I’d met while the two of us worked on a Women Writing the West conference held in Ft. Worth some years ago. What a delight to spend six days with Cindy and her husband Sandy. We discovered many serendipitous moments woven with many common threads. Cindy loves Far Side cartoons, too! She’s a writer who sometimes has a hard time promoting herself – she writes as Irene Sandell and both her books are historical novels set in Texas and are terrific reads!. She taught history for 33 years -- not something we both did, but I love history, too. With her husband and son, she makes documentary films to go with Texas curriculum. Jerry and I and his son make this writing/ranching life work. In her spare time of retirement, she tends to her grandkids, picking them up and taking them to preschool and school, cheering at their basketball games and graduations into kindergarden. Family is important to them all and…they have a ranch they sometimes think of moving to but it’s kinda far off the beaten path. Hmmm. Sound familiar?

Having a few days in between events when I couldn’t clean my house (hers was clean!), didn’t have the dog to walk (they have a cat named George but I did walk nearly every day and got Cindy started too!) and when I knew issues needing resolution at home would have to wait, gave me permission to write. I found myself reading more, laughing with the Sandells, noticing the world of Dallas and Plano Texas, meeting up with fans and making new ones, one who drove more than 150 miles to attend my signing and another who had attended Beachside Writers two years ago bringing her mother to meet me. A quilt event at the Heritage Village in Dallas turned out well (they liked hearing about Aurora there!). All were lovely serendipitous gifts that make me more aware of trying to noticing those energizing moments every day when I’m at home.

So instead of being stressed right now that I’m a day late with the words of encouragement, or that my website has been giving me fits (as some of you know!) or that the first cutting of our hay crop is toast as its too full of fox tail rather than alfalfa and even our six steers won’t touch it; or that my Oprah Doesn’t Know My Name book synopsis is due in less than three weeks (and I have to finish the revisions in order to write the synopsis…it’s just my way J); or that I have revisions for the sequel to A Flickering Light awaiting my fingers, despite all that, I’m going to go take a walk with Bodacious Bo and enjoy it.

By the way, Bodacious Bo The Dog is about to have his own blog once we get this website trained. That’s another serendipitous thing: my friend Judy whom I met in Wisconsin in 2005 has a husband willing to help me out and I’m SO grateful for a technical person who is cheerful and on top of things. He and Judy suggested Bo’s blog.

But enough about Bo. Well that’s not possible, but I digress…

By mid month, I hope to have more serendipitous moments when Jerry and I travel to Minnesota for events there promoting A Flickering Light. The St. Paul Pioneer Press is scheduled to do a feature about the book in their entertainment section so if you’re back there, please look for it sometime during the week of June 11-20. Please check my schedule for the Barnes and Noble book signing in Roseville, MN on June 16th; a KARE Showcase Minnesota television appearance that same morning; Winona Historical Society presentation on the 18th; Red Wing’s Best of Times Books presentation on the19th and a signing in Burnsville at Northwestern Bookstore on June 20th. In between we’ll visit with descendants of Jessie Anne Gaebele, the subject of the book and my grandmother. So far, I’m still being invited to the family reunions…and I’ll get to see my brother and his family whom I adore, each one! (Happy birthday, Barbie!)

June will also see us taking some days at the Oregon coast with our friend Sandy (not the Texas Sandy) where I’m committed to taking deep breaths of gratitude for a life full of fascinating experiences that sometimes occur away from the homestead but more often than not, occur right here at home. If I just notice.

I need to go out now and check the garden Matt and I planted inside two cattle troughs left behind by the “stupid cows”. Oh, I’m not calling them that any more. They rip happily at grass in the fields across the river as they are now owned by a ranch woman who once was young enough to sit atop a pile of watermelons we took to them to feed their pigs. I can wave at those cows and pointed out to them our trough garden.

The tomatoes are doing well.

I hope you are too!
 
Warmly, Jane

Friday, May 1, 2009

May 2009

The river races in flood stage; the pumps have been pulled out once again. It's a tedious exercise putting them in, hoping to start irrigating the dry fields beside the river but because of rain upriver or snowmelt in the mountains, the river rises so high we can't keep the pumps at the bank or they'll be submerged. So we pull them out as dust blows across the young alfalfa sprouts while the river threatens the field.


Parts of this month of May already have felt submerged for me. My website was down (and still is at times) with complications at the server level. Then we thought we had it fixed but the forms don't work. Then on Thursday, the last day I could submit a proposal on behalf of four colleagues for a conference next year, the form zipped off before I could proof read it. So I sent a notice as they said I could asking if the two typos could be corrected. What followed was a notice on Monday that the proposal had been deleted but I was welcome to resubmit it, they'd give me until the end of Monday. Except that then I was away from home.

Our home phone was out of order too so I couldn't call home to ask the file be faxed to me. I had to recreate the proposal and biographical information for the four participants spread across the US all the while wondering why I was obsessing. I mean, it wasn't my fault the form had zipped away from my hands or that it had been deleted rather than corrected. Maybe we weren't meant to submit the proposal. I had to think about that. I had a signing that evening and I could feel heat in my face as I raced through the possibilities of what I might do on behalf of my friends without getting myself in some emotional state that I forgot what I wanted to say at my signing.

I wore a cape of responsibility so I composed, made phone calls trying to reach people to get home addresses etc., things required for the proposal that I had at home but not with me! Finally, close to 2:00 Pacific Time, I went to the website to resubmit -- but the form was no longer there! I called the conference contact in Georgia - it was nearly 5:00 there -- explaining my problem and she offered to type what I sent her into the form at her end which was great. Meanwhile, I desperately tried to send what I'd re-created but I was at a friend's house (they were gone) and somehow I needed a password to send the email out.

Again, I wondered why I cared this much. I mean, they might not even choose the proposal after all that!

Jerry finally drove me to our second home away from home these past years, the Aurora Museum where I could send the file out. I still haven't heard if it arrived....but now I have done my best.

So what would I have done with my day if I hadn't been working on that proposal? That's what I asked myself. I'd have taken the dog for longs walks in between rain showers. I'd have walked hand in hand with Jerry by the secluded pond near our friend's home. I had to sit for a bit to try to decide how I felt about giving up that time for a proposal and if it had been just me, I think I'd have bunched it. But there is this aura of responsibility I live with: other people counted on me. I wonder if my characters don't make choices too because "others count on them" and what do they give up for that? Maybe, like me sometimes, it is easier to give to others than to accept nurture for ourselves.

Fine, I thought: be responsible in the care of one's family. Be present and available in a time of crisis. Keep one's commitments. But it is also fine to let things go...especially when being nurtured is the alternative, filling up with pleasures not often granted. But I chose to use the time to meet a commitment made to others. Time with Jerry is "an other" and time walking with him and with the dog are joys I treasure but gave up for the day. I'm still working on why.

On the up side though, once I sent it off, we drove to accept an invitation to visit the Lewis and Clark College library and meet with the Director, a friend, who showed us the fabulous special collections surrounding Lewis and Clark. Many of the documents are one of a kind including a 2200 codices hand-copied by a woman named Mary Anderson in 1893 replicating the journals of Lewis and Clark. It made me curious about who she was and how she was chosen for the task.

The library acquired many of these volumes as a gift from a private citizen in the Northwest whose passion was Lewis and Clark books. He collected every edition, German, Dutch, English, etc. of Lewis' journals and every book related to the expedition and then donated it all to the college. What generosity! What a lovely way to allow his passion to serve so many. There's something gracious about being willing to part with something that obviously gave him so much pleasure to collect through the years. Scholars, graduate students and interlopers like me had a fine time of it touching leather printed in 1811 -- if only for a moment.

That evening, nearly forty people braved a downpour, truly, in Portland to attend the signing at Powell's Books. One lovely lady said she made her husband (who has shingles) bring her anyway! They all ignored the flu scare and their shining faces and comments after I spoke lifted my spirits. It never occurred to me not to keep that commitment but that was for someone else...my grandmother whose story I tell in A Flickering Light, the publisher, and yes, for Jerry and me too who make our writing life together.

Speaking of the writing life, I'll be in Dallas Texas at the end of the month. If you're in the area, please consider coming out for a couple of events there. Back at home, our weekends are filled too with events in the Northwest including Mothers Day once again in Aurora. Bo is traveling with us to those which is grand.

Hopefully soon my website will recover as a friend of mine works on it diligently; the phone is working again and clearer than ever before. I'm working on revisions of the sequel to A Flickering Light and on my brain-expanding "uncomfortable" writing book about a writer trying to get Oprah to know her name thinking that will bring her fame and fulfillment. It's a humorous book, I hope though some of my decisions about how hard to submit a proposal might be telling me something related to "fame vs. fulfillment."

Eventually, the river will move back into its banks and I've made a promise to myself that before the day is over, I'll take Bo for a walk beside the river, holding Jerry's hand.

Enjoy spring! Warmly, Jane

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April 2009

Even though April is the month when A Flickering Light is released; and even though I hope to see many of you at the Paducah Quilt show in Kentucky and at other venues in that fine city and in places in Oregon, too -- Eugene and Roseburg among others- please check my schedule on the site; and even though I should be urging you to call your local bookstore and tell them to order in that book, what I want to tell you today, instead, is this lovely story that has nothing to do with me. It has to do with charity, giving, listening to inner voices and then acting. It has to do with endurance, perseverance and an abiding faith.

In 1930, in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, a family faced great loss at the death of the husband and father in a logging accident. He left behind 11 children. Their mother rented a fifteen acre farm in order to grow as much food as they could themselves. Only four of the children were old enough to farm out, as they used to say, to help out, working for others for nickels and dimes so critical for the survival of them all.

The mother did what she could: planting a huge garden, canning and preserving, sewing and mending. And every week when the children took their baths, their mother cut the buttons off their under ware because they'd break in the old ringer washing machines and she could not afford to buy buttons to replace them. They had no money to spare. Then after wash day, she'd sew them all back onto clean pairs. She did this every week without complaint. Likely, only the older children were aware of her late night efforts with buttons.

During one harsh winter when rare snows hit the Willamette Valley near Canby, Oregon (not far from Aurora, I might add), she realized that the cupboard was bare. There'd be nothing for breakfast, nothing to send with the children to school for lunch; nothing for breakfast or lunch or dinner. Her children recall that she got down on her knees that night - they were of Amish and Mennonite faith traditions -- and prayed. It was all she had left.

While doing so, someone knocked on the door.

As she opened the door, she saw a boy scout leave a box of groceries for the family, tipped his hat "good evening" and walked away. The family didn't know who their benefactor was but at that moment they were grateful beyond measure for God's provision. As the older children, still awake, unpacked the box they found in the bottom, a bag of what their mother needed most after food for her children: buttons. Dozens of buttons.

Thirty years later, one of the daughters, Lela Landis Yoder learned the "rest of the story" while delivering Easter Lilies for her church. An elderly woman in the same area where she'd grown up invited her in for a few minutes of conversation along with the flower. The car was loaded with lilies, but the daughter took the time for tea.

In the course of that conversation, the woman asked Lela who her people were and she was told that she was one of those eleven children of Ida Egli. The elderly woman then described how much she'd admired Ida, how she'd taken care of those eleven children, doing what she must. She also told her it was Frank Cutsforth, owner of a local grocery store (and his family still owns a grocery store!) who packed that box of food and he asked this elderly woman if she had anything to spare. The elderly woman operated a dry goods store and while she didn't have any food to give, she looked around and there was a bag of buttons. She wasn't sure what possessed her to include them in the box, but she had, making Mrs. Egli's life so much easier.

Buttons.

I love the full circle of this story. Hard times; people giving of what they have; someone deciding to put together a food box yet having the foresight to ask at a dry goods store to see if something besides food might bring nourishment to the family. And then years later, the discovery of the rest of the story. Incidentally, I learned of this story through the generosity of Frank Cutsforth who sent me a copy of a book written about the life of Elsie Egli Cutsforth and the story written by Lela Landis Yoder was included as a clip. It had been published in Country magazine some years back. Frank is involved in the Rotary in Canby where I met him while speaking on Aurora during Valentine's week earlier this year. The family store includes a community meeting place above it.

That story made me cry. It reminded me of conversations about the depression years that I was fortunate enough not to have to life through. It also reminded me of a news story I heard recently, that during hard times, people with little tended to give more than people who had a lot. Perhaps they understood the great joy that comes from giving, from listening to the lives of others and acting. Maybe giving rather than hanging on to what they had was a mark of their trust, their faith that like the lilies of the field, we are tended and cared about.

The store owner; the dry goods woman; the mother herself doing what she could to give to her children speaks of the human condition, the spirit of life and care for one's neighbor. And then years later, that sense of generosity is reflected in the lives of that woman's children: the daughter who took time to deliver Easter Lilies and stayed for tea receiving a blessing in the process.

Buttons held those long johns together but it was Elsie Egli's faith and persistence to do what she could and trust God for the rest that held that family together. I suspect there are stories like that in each of your family histories too and I hope this April, you'll share them with your children. Even if they're your stories. Especially if they're your stories.

During this season of renewal, when Christians around the world celebrate the risen Lord, it's little stories like the one above that keep reminding me that he is a "risen" Lord, still touching the lives of others as they pray, attempt to meet the needs of their families and neighbors and even when times are difficult, reaching into their reserve of living to pull out something that another could benefit from, something as insignificant as buttons; as significant as generosity even when it feels like we have little to share.

Have a wonderful month of April!



Warmly, Jane

Sunday, March 1, 2009

March 2009

March, the reflective month. When we were building on our place 25 years ago now, March was always a difficult month. I called it “Murphy’s March” in honor of the old adage about Murphy’s Law being when things can’t get any worse, they do and other depressing thoughts like that. March portended floods and escaped cows and broken machinery and high winds…you get the picture.


But I’m looking with optimism on March these days, a sign that people can change how they feel. After all, February turned out to be a pretty good month and it rubs off onto March.

Our Beachside Writers workshop I get to teach with my mentor Bob Welch was a great success and I left encouraged by listening to people read pieces they’d written from their hearts, trusting that their own voices would emerge for having committed to their stories. We shared lots of laughter and even a birthday cake for a participant and me who shared the same birthday. I told everyone that my birthday was Saturday but apparently, it was Friday! How can one mess up like that?

We celebrated Oregon’s birthday (February 14) with friends from Santa Fe, Evertt, Salem, North Bend, WA and the surrounding area of Aurora with too little time (after a great signing event to support the museum there) at the Bed and Breakfast chattering about life and relationships and balance.

Aurora quilters have completed the quilt top for the replica of Emma’s quilt and the drawing will be in late March – something to look forward to! You can still sign up to win Emma’s quilt by going to http://www.waterbrookpress.com/ and clicking on contests. It’s beautiful!

The Oregon Cultural Heritage lecture series the next week introduced us to new people and allowed a fine dinner with writer friends Molly Gloss and Shannon Applegate, both strong women and superb writers. A gathering the next day at Capital Manor in Salem brought in close to 500 people to hear about Aurora and Jerry and I followed it with a tour of a tree farm outside of Salem owned by Mike and Marea Stone. They’ve been faithful readers of my work and welcomed faces in crowds throughout the years so it was a delight to at last see their family business and share how blessed they are in having good work that engages the entire family.

Then we headed on to our friends in Eugene where Carol has agreed to help with my event coordination (so I stop losing things or double booking J) Then on to the coast and the workshop and a day extra to simply unwind, the gift of another reader at a condo on the coast.

While we were gone, it rained on the ranch and was shrouded in fog for most of the week Matt and Melissa looked after things. We drove home Monday in a pouring rain and the road was a mud-slicked roller coaster. But Tuesday morning, the day the IRS agent and our accountant were due down the road, it was beautiful! Sunny and still. By the time our guests planned to arrive the road had dried out enough they could come down in a four wheel drive vehicle and we didn’t have to come up and pick them up with the six wheeler. (It rained again the next day and is raining now, too, the patter on the rooftop like soft drumming). They picked the perfect day.

As far as we know, the IRS interview went well. The agent was pleasant and asked lots of questions required of the statistical audit and since we had nothing to hide it was easy to give the answers. Still, I was glad when it was over and will be even more glad when the report is in and we discover whether there were glitches or not in our return. Our accountant has been our accountant for over 34 years. He’s practically a member of the family! I remember asking a small business woman before Jerry and I were married, if she could recommend an honest, smart and state-of-the art accountant. She did and he’s still our guy. He drove the agent down who noted he was glad he wasn’t driving and was on the inside so not so close to the edge. I didn’t point out to him that going out, he’d be closer to the cliff-side edge…no sense increasing anxiety, right?

So now it’s March. And these will be short words of encouragement as I’m hoping to finish the second book in my Portrait of a Heart Series this week. I like to have a couple of weeks to let it sit before I look at it one last time then send it to the editor. It’s due April 1. I woke up at 1:30 AM hoping to go back to sleep but by 3:00 it was apparent I wouldn’t. Prayers said, I got up, wrote a letter to our accountant to finish the 2008 taxes. I’ll finish this then go to work. I hope you’ll understand.

In my musings though, about March, I was reminded that this is the month of the anniversary of both of my parents’ deaths though three years apart. I thought of my dad yesterday when a man at the gas station stood waiting in the rain. His stance, hands on hips; his size, a big man; his hat; all reminded me of my father. My mom’s been on my mind a lot too as I’ve listened to a friend who looks after her mom deal with hospitalizations, changes in medications, that phone call that comes when one least expects it and yet her ear waits for it everyday, wondering what might be happening and how the schedule of her day will change by tending to her mom.

A friend I spoke with in Wisconsin reminded me that we never stop thinking of those we’ve loved; little things just keep catching us. David James Duncan writes about “river teeth” he calls them, the braches of fallen trees in a river that catch things and hold them and are there long after other parts of the tree have been washed away. When I think of how my dad stood or the way he loved his cats or wish my mom could have met Bo (she was the dog person; my dad the cat guy); or wonder if one of dad’s cats ever slept on the back of mom’s dog the way our PB (short for Purr Ball) sleeps on Bo, I think of those as river teeth. They’d good places to begin writing from, too, even if you’re not “a writer.”

I thought of my parents, too as my friend Kay told me of a class she’d taken to make garden stones. A woman in Warm Springs made us six or seven stones and I had one made for mom and dad that they had in their apartment and then marked their gravesites until we got the stone set. Now they’re part of the garden stones that line the front of our house below the river deck. Brought back fond thoughts of Warm Springs and my parents.

It’s also possible that my thoughts have ranged to my parents in part because I’m writing about my grandmother, living with her daily, wondering what she might have thought or speculate about the events I document through census information or gather through family stories. There’s some evidence now that we transfer more than just physical properties in our DNA but emotional properties as well. Perhaps that’s from the changes our brains actually undergo as we live – and they keep changing especially if we keep active, eat well, don’t abuse ourselves and stay connected to the world around us. So I wonder what of her life choices might have changed her brain and what of that might she have passed on to my mother? Or my father’s mother to him and thus to me?

I’d like to think one quality is a love of music. My grandmother played the piano and I have tapes of her playing when she was in her 80s and then while in her 90s. You can hear the changes: a little slower, more hesitation but just the same, she played from memory or “by ear” and it was obviously something she dearly loved. My aunt said my grandfather gave her a piano for a wedding present. I have some of her sheet music so she must have also learned to read music. A woman this weekend wrote of how her life was blessed by a woman who gave her music lessons many years before. Pretty powerful, music.

My dad and mom both had pretty good singing voices and while neither played any instruments, they always had tapes of music they loved playing in their truck when they traveled or at home. The last thing my mom heard before she died was the song “Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,” an orchestral rendition. They supported my own love of music giving me piano lessons I started around five and then allowing me to convert to the flute when I was twelve. We have a piano downstairs but it holds pictures and hasn’t been opened in probably 15 years! Music still transports me almost as quickly as poetry can taking me to places in the heart and soul I sometimes resist knowing; I’m swept away yet always grateful for the journey.

She loved art too. My aunt, my mom’s baby sister, has a degree in art from Hamlin University (where my nephew graduated in criminal justice studies last May. He’s hoping to get hired by the St. Paul police so keep him in your prayers! My brother’s other son is auditioning for his umpteenth play – musicals, too – while working on a bachelor of fine arts. Remember him too! ) My mom could draw quite well though she didn’t do it much…too busy raising kids, helping my dad on the farm and then working full time as a nurse. But she loved beauty in the natural world, waterfalls, gardens, the bluffs and the sea. My grandmother was a photographer – I’m not; but I do love beauty and the various ways that art captures the essence of creation, relationship, spirit. (I find photographs to be amazing portrayals of relationships and highly recommend a book called “PhotoTherapy” for help in getting unstuck in one’s life so maybe her love of photographs has come to me in other ways.)

Both my mother and grandmother had a kind of determination to make things work despite challenges and to find the goodness even in life’s trials. My mom was born with a crossed eye and when they did the surgery at age three, there were problems and she lost her sight in that eye. Yet she went on to nursing school and she could always see well enough to tell me to pick up my room! Both women could set aside personal frustrations for the greater good. They could refocus when things got tough and draw on a reserve of quiet faith to sustain them.

They were both committed to service, to family, to caring for others. (I remember that even as a kindergarten child I would ask for an extra nickel on “mission Sunday” the fourth Sunday of every month. That passion for mission came from somewhere!) In later years when I helped pay my parents’ bills I marveled at how many charities received small checks from them each month even on fixed incomes. My mom said they always had enough when they gave some away each month. I like to think those qualities are in my DNA; at least I look for them there.

Both my grandmother and mother had their mystery, too: unanswered questions that all the census records, audio tapes of family interviews, newspaper stories, family histories, can’t explain. I tell myself that one of the gifts of the writing life is the chance to keep going deeper into who I am based on where I came from. It’s what I encouraged the students last weekend to keep considering whether they get published or not, that to write, to have the focus and interest to tell our own stories, is a gift we give ourselves. It’s a privilege. Just as it is for me to write these words of encouragement hoping someone reads them. But even if no one does, I’ve had the honor of spending a few minutes of my life remembering two women (and a few others) who gave me life and gave me the tools for living well if I would choose to do it.

Now it’s time to return to 1913. A Flickering Light, book one, will be out April 14th. It has a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly and got 4.5 stars (out of 5) from Romantic Times. What I’m most pleased about is that the reviewers are saying the characters are fully developed, that there are no bad guys, just people dealing with the messiness of life and we can feel for them and care about them. My wish to honor who my grandmother's life is being reflected in the reviews and that’s encouraging. Now on to book two so I can find out the rest of the story! It’s going to be a great March! I hope you feel that too -- and this may be the time for a river tooth exploration of you own...what memory of your family pops up; time to write about it even if you aren't a writer.

Warmly, Jane

Sunday, February 1, 2009

February 2009

It’s already February third, in the high forties with the sun flashing off the wings of the hundreds of Canada geese nestled in the alfalfa field. We’ve let Stan our goat out for the day and he’s roaming the rimrocks. Or was until Jerry noticed that he had climbed into the back of the truck and was using the hood of the cab for his front feet. A no-no. Jerry has taken Bo to the vet because his ears keep giving him trouble. He lets us clean them out but during the night we hear him flicking his head and later rubbing his ears along the side of the bed until he reaches me. I scratch his ears as he leans in. It’s his early warning sign so off he goes to visit his doctor. Turns out he is prone to yeast infections in his ears. Almost every February. I’d go along but I’m on a deadline and I’m behind and we’ve just come back from a week in southern Baja where sun and sand and slow reading walked hand in hand with rest.


They say the longest day of the year is the first day back from a vacation and I think that’s so. Part of my obsessiveness when I return from a time of rest is my early warning sign that I’m in need of an attitude adjustment, a reminder that my pace needs to slow not just on vacation but when I’m home. Take the dog for a longer walk. Bundle up and look at the moon for awhile. Fix a meal that takes lots of fussing. Read in the early morning when I wake up at 3:00 instead of getting up and going to work.

February is the perfect time to change our pace. This is the month of celebration after all: Valentine’s Day; Oregon’s 150th birthday (also on the 14th); President’s Day. I have a nephew turning 22, a god-daughter turning 26 or 27; two great nieces, one turning 8 and the other one 10 on either side of my own gosh, my own 63rd birthday! (I tried three times to type 63 and kept hitting 53…even when I just typed it a second time. Hmmm, wonder what that means?) My nephew in Florida and his wife just celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary. February is a big month for card-buying!

My grandmother was born February 12th in 1892, 117 years ago, in a narrow Wisconsin valley known as Cream in the rolling hills not far from the Mississippi River. While doing the research, we discovered that a few years later, after she and her family had moved to Winona, MN, that right down the road from her old farm my father was born on another farm. Small world. My aunt noted when we looked at the old property maps that her family must have come early to the area for they had the best lowland property, good for drainage and fine crops. “Those pieces were taken early,” my 91 year old aunt noted.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about my grandmother since I’m working on the second book about her that won’t be out until 2010. I’ve changed the working title to “An Absence so Great” from a letter sent to a friend of mine after the death of her child. The poet wrote: “How could I have prepared for an absence so great as you.” It may not be the final title…we’ll see.

I wonder about the attitude adjustments she had to make in her lifetime. Her only living child, a daughter, tells me that she frequently said of things “That’s water under the bridge” and didn’t allow the past to hold her hostage. She rarely found fault nor placed blame when things happened, kept her eyes focused up and forward. I don’t think she’d have thought of herself as a feminist, someone interested in removing educational, social, theological, employment or other barriers that prevent people (male or female) from attaining their greatest potential (my definition of feminism which I hold dear) and yet she was, striking out on her own to become a photographer, one who traveled to run other studios while the mostly male owners recovered from mercury poisonings acquired from the developing solutions. I wondered if she might have gotten sick from the chemicals herself though there’s no family story related to that. There’s a photograph of her with my grandfather, one of the very few of them together because they were usually taking shots of each other, that shows her looking very tired. I can see it in her eyes. I see that same look reflected in my own at times.

I showed a couple of photographs of her to my sister-in-law a few weeks ago and she said, “I can see the resemblance.” I can’t. She was tiny, barely five feet tall and wore size 3 shoes on her wedding day. But maybe there is some other resemblance: that tired look.

The family stories are mostly about her perseverance, her fortitude especially during the depression after my grandfather died leaving her with three children at home and two just launched. There were three step-children in her life as well but they were pretty much grown and away. Her husband, my grandfather, was buried on my mom’s 20th birthday. She was the middle child.

I’m writing about an earlier time, when my grandmother was actively involved in photography and also young , traveling far from home and I suspect a little homesick and also falling in love.

I think God was her guide in life. While exploring events and dates and when she was here or there and knowing part of what transpired as she pursued her career, I could see her making decisions that would later cost her dearly. I’ve been there, done that myself. And I wonder if she ever felt during those times as I have, a kind of spiritual absence, a “prone to wander from the God I love” as the old hymnist wrote. And if so, what did she do about it? Did she walk on a beach somewhere in a pondering mood, spend time looking at the sun flashing off the wings of trumpeter swans prone to flying overhead in Winona, watch them settle down amidst wild rice and arrow plants at the edges of the lakes and rivers and marvel at their creation and their freedom to come and go at will? How her heart must have ached at times as she was absent from home and the love of her life, the man who later became her husband.

Among some of the things my aunt sent me as I began writing was a poem my grandmother had written. It’s signed not dated and it speaks of hardships and the way through them. “Life is like a ship at sea, the waves of life toss us to and fro.” She goes on about trying again and again, speaking of Christ’s teachings “as the only real things that count” and no matter what we have to face, to keep going “straight ahead full speed until we reach our destination. May God be our guide.”

Part of why I write these stories about actual historical women is because I want to explore the decisions they made and where they drew their strength from. I hope to glean from their lives the universal qualities that speak to men and women of all generations. I want them to help them step from one generation into another to teach and touch us with their lives.

So I can speculate about my grandmother’s journey but discovering something written by her about her view of life offers richness both for me as a granddaughter but also as a writer. And hopefully that translates into something a reader will find of value as well.

For those of you who don’t consider yourselves writers, I’d encourage you to write anyway. Imagine the gift you could give to a grandchild, a special kid in your life, a nephew or niece as you write of where you draw your strength from, how you fill up when the gauge of your heart reads “almost empty.” How you sometimes might have wandered and what brought you back.

It’s that strength in her, that view to go “straight ahead full speed” and let God be our guide that I hope to convey in this novel about her, how she worked through the costly choices that I think must have rubbed her soul raw and how she kept her focus. It’s what I hope my own life might demonstrate to those around me. I’d like that to be “the resemblance” that others might see of my grandmother in me.

I hope you’ll check the schedule and join me in Leavenworth, WA this weekend; Aurora, Oregon on Valentine’s Day; at the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission gathering with me, Molly Gloss and Shannon Applegate in Portland, OR on February 18th; at the Salem Manor on February 19th and of course at Yachats for Beachside Writer’s on my birthday, Feb 20-22. But what better way for me to celebrate my next year than to cheer writers on toward their own goals!

So much for my plan not to schedule any events from January through March and just write. But then, I wouldn’t have been able to walk on the beach along the Sea of Cortez if I hadn’t adjusted that plan. Life is full of adjustments…make the best of yours.

Warmly, Jane

Thursday, January 1, 2009

January 2009

Recently, Caroline Kennedy, who is hoping to be named to replace Senator Hillary Clinton as New York’s senator, was described as not being as articulate as one would expect as she answered questions for the press. Of note was her frequent use of the phrase “you know.” One pundit suggested that was just a “word tic” and shouldn’t be used to judge her poorly.


I thought about that as I visited one of my favorite websites, a blog by Cindy Swanson http://www.cindyswanslife.blogspot.com/. She’s a radio commentator out of the Chicago area and she’s interviewed me on air a couple of times. Once I had to drive to the top of the hill to use my cell phone because the power had gone out at the house and our cell phone only works when we’re not at home. She thought that was pretty funny. Anyway, she has a lovely voice (she does voice overs) and after one interview, she put the text of our conversation on her site, unedited except where she added “laugher." I happened to click on that link and reread what I'd said.

What Cindy didn’t do was take out my “word tics” and I had a few, let me tell you. The most common one was “Well, you know…” at the beginning of many of my answers. Wow, was that an eye opener and one to remind myself to listen to recordings to improve my clarity and articulateness though now I note I have something in common with Caroline Kennedy!

Because I’m also finalizing galley changes for A Flickering Light I’m aware of what I now call “text tics,” wordy little phrases that pop up that do nothing for clarity and add to the word count. I’ve been aware of words like “just” as in “just add to the word count” that I deleted or “she seemed to hesitate” with the operative tic word being “seemed.” I search the manuscript for those in order to decide whether to keep them or not. Did she or didn’t she hesitate? How would I show that she seemed to do it rather than that she did it? It’s a tedious part of writing that makes the work better of course and I try hard to make sure that’s done in the manuscript before I send it in.

Yet, with each edit, I find new text tics and I hate it when they happen so late in the process as when we’re getting ready to go to press. In this manuscript it was an excessive use of the word some as in “she put some flour into the bowl.” No, she put flour into the bowl! Another relative of some was my use of the phrase “some sort of” as in “He wondered if some sort of gift might make the difference.” No, “He wondered if a gift...” and even better would be to describe the gift specifically and what impact he wanted it to have. “He wondered if a necklace or a lapel watch might brighten her eyes.”

Even though I read each page out loud more than once, I still create new tics. I think it’s because our brains are so pliable that when I find one and fix it, a new one takes its place. It requires diligence or a friend to point these out to us so we can decide whether to keep them or let them go.

While walking down to feed the steers this morning in a world sunbeam-still, I wondered if I might not have some spiritual tics I need to address as well.

At the top of my computer I have t Ann Lamont’s phrase “You don’t have time for that” which I dearly love. It reminds me when I start to obsess about how bad my writing is or ask how I could be so close to finishing a book before I catch this or that error, that I don’t have time to listen to those harpies. But as I’m working I feel sorry for the copy editors who find that vinyl wasn’t invented in 1910 and the word I needed was linoleum, for example. I just learned this week that the place in my book known as Garvin Heights (and used by me throughout) wasn’t called that until 1918 and my book is set between 1907 and 1910. Before then it was Bluffside Park. Thank goodness for “find and replace” but I still had to let the copy/production people know and I hated making more work for them. How could I be so inept? Would anyone know or care?

I would.

I don’t have time for that, right?

One of my readers noted that I have a knack for turning challenges into positive experiences (our tax time and IRS audit mentioned in the last monthly memo, being a reminder of our bounty, for example). And that’s true. But during the past few months of illness and snow storms, I also found myself saying “You don’t have time for that” in a negative context. “You don’t have time to rest (which is what I needed to do to recover from pneumonia).” Or, “you don’t have time to take the dog for a walk” even though doing so is good for my blood pressure and Bo loves the jaunts. I thought of myself as lazy because I wasn’t doing all the things I usually do at Christmas time. I just didn’t have the energy. I cancelled some events disappointing bookstores who had ordered in my books; I decadentlly read other people’s books. (Loving Frank and The God of Animals, and The Chili Queen, all novels, and When the Heart Waits and Dreams of my Father, memoirs, are fabulous reads) so why do I berate myself for taking the time to enjoy what I love to do? My positive ticking had apparently slowed down.

There are other tics I think invade my spiritual life. Another is how often I forget that God really does love me just the way I am despite my flabby arms, belly fat, thunder thighs, droopy chins (among other items of anatomy). “You’ve let yourself go” my spiritual tic says. Instead of looking at myself in the mirror and trying to see what God sees or what someone else who loves me adores, I identify all the flaws. I do it so seamlessly that unless someone points it out to me (Jerry saying I’m deriding myself again), my brain will just take it in and let me pursue that line of thinking which adds nothing to my life and takes energy away.

I haven’t even replaced the sign below the light in our refrigerator saying “It’s not in here.” That sign marked the frig for years as a suggestion from Geneen Roth who wrote When Food is Love. The sign finally got tacky and I took it out. But it was a little word tic that kept me from putting it back. “Why bother? It’s not doing you any good or you’d be as svelte as Caroline Kennedy!

Why bother? Because I’m important. Being healthy is important. Taking time to exercise matters. Setting aside quiet time, journaling, engaging with others, praying, are all important behaviors regardless of our walk in life.

I need to say things like "You keep learning as you write so you’re not inadequate." I need to compare myself to those I love by identifying strengths we both share rather than diminishing myself by noting how slender she is or how successful he is when I’m feeling like neither. I am who I am and that’s not bad. In fact, that’s good.

So as part of my new year promise, not a resolution mind you, I’m going to be more alert to those damaging tics. That’s what writing is all about, helping us be more alert. Writer Lisa Sampson says she writes in part to let others know they are not alone. Vinita Hampton Wright notes that “waking up” is an important task for the writer and all artists. Poet Mary Oliver is saying that I think in her poem “Praying” where she reminds us that this living is not a contest but a “doorway into thanks.”

I write, I live, I love, I pray with the hope that doing so blesses others and honors my Creator. That's the promise I need to claim.

One of the joys of writing is having my publishers send me treasures at Christmas time (Books!) and one of them this year sent me The Tender Words of God by Ann Spangler. Her opening line is “I have never found it easy to believe in God’s love for me…” It seemed – no, it was the perfect invitation for me to focus more on positive tics, phrases that will bring me encouragement and clarity for the new year.

I wish that for you as well, that someone who loves you will bring to your awareness the spiritual tics that hold you back and that you’ll trust in the tender words of God to bring you phrases that strengthen, guide, nurture and expand your lives in ways you never imagined.

Now I’m going to replace that sign in the frig.

Have a wonderful January! I hope our paths will cross. Please check my schedule and don't forget to visit the guest book. You might be the lucky winner of a copy of Aurora!

Happy New Year. Jane
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