FREE Book and Catching Up

Book 1-3 Box Set a 100 dpiFirst up, the Bellingwood Boxed Set: Books 1-3 for Kindle is FREE until Sunday, July 5. Polly moves into Bellingwood and the roller coaster begins. It’s hard to believe that so much has happened to her since those early days when she was just getting to know her new home, but ten books later, these people are part of our family.

They certainly are part of mine. I dream and think about them when I’m not writing them. They’re good people to know.

These last two weeks have been crazy-insane for me. It all started on that fateful Friday night when I drank too much wine and played with everybody on the Bellingwood Facebook page. From that moment on, I didn’t stop moving. Final edits for Book 10, publication craziness and then a fun trip to Omaha to see my nephew’s brand new baby (born on the day I actually published Book 10). I got to spend time with that new little boy while I was waiting for my niece’s wedding to begin. So much family fun in one day!

On Sunday, I spent time with friends and then drove myself back to the cabin and collapsed. I gave myself two days off and did nothing but sew and watch Star Trek: Voyager. It was glorious. While I was in Omaha, I made my way (with great trepidation) into my old craft room to see what I had in the way of sewing stuff. I pretty much quit crafting and sewing a couple of years into my marriage (mid 1990s). So many other things were going on, I just didn’t have time. Well, lookie there! I brought three large totes filled with fabric, pillow forms, and notions back with me and had a great time digging through them and finding treasures. What fun!

Sleepy kittyMy poor cat was awfully glad to see me. I’d left him here alone while I was playing with friends and family and I’m pretty sure he didn’t sleep. He loves to play outside, but after a quick run to make sure everything was where it belonged, he came back in and settled down beside me for the next three days. Today was the first day he’s acted like my normal TB.

As of July 1, I’m back on the 1000 words / day regimen. No matter how tired I am or what I’ve got going on, I will write (at the very least) one thousand words. Even if I have no idea what is supposed to happen in a chapter, I will write. Because it always comes. The characters rarely stop talking.

Book 11 is underway. I’ve introduced a ton of new characters and at least two will become part of the fabric of Bellingwood. Polly has found the dead body and she’s opening Sycamore House to someone who needs a place to come back to life. As I wrote last night, I discovered she is starting to think about the next adventure in restoration. (Seriously girl, you have to take a breath!) It’s a good thing she found Henry. He’s the only man I know with the patience to put up with her shenanigans.

Here we are at a holiday weekend. It’s a beautiful day in Iowa, the cat is outside enjoying the sunshine, I have no pressing issues, my mind is filled with ideas and I’ve had at least one jolt of caffeine.

TB just came in and nudged my leg to tell me that he’s still around and thinking about me. It’s time to hug him.

I hope you all have safe and happy Independence Day celebrations.

Party On, Dude

Mom, let's not party that hard again for awhile. Okay?

Mom, let’s not party that hard again for awhile. Okay?

Last night’s festivities on the Bellingwood Facebook page were a riot! I had a great time hanging out with you all. You’re hilarious. There were crazy questions to be answered and among the correct answers were hilarious responses. Thank you, thank you for playing.

I have prizes piled up ready to be awarded. So I need to hear from everyone with a shipping address (or email address for the Kindle Ebooks) as soon as possible. Mugs come from CafePress and it takes them a few days to get things moving, so be patient. Signed paperbacks will be slower than you’d like. After I upload content, it takes a week and a half at lease for them to ship to me. I will turn around and ship them back out in a couple of days … so … more patience.

Frogs will be shipped out on Monday, the Star Wars apron will be shipped a week from Monday (I’m heading to Omaha next weekend to spend time with Fran and pick it up!), and the Kindle ebook will show up in your email as soon as they are live on Amazon.

Okay … enough noise from me. I will find the winner’s comment on each post and let you know that you’ve got a prize coming, but here we go!

Questions / Answers / Prize / Winner

1. In Book 1, what was the name of the drink Beryl ordered to trip up the new bartender at Davey’s. Do you remember the ingredients?
Red Headed Slut – Jagermeister, peach schnapps, cranberry juice
Prize: Signed paperback copy of Book 10
Winner: Nola Sokol Knowles

2. In Book 1, what did Sylvie find in the crates of items they discovered in the basement of Sycamore House that she’d lost in high school? Do you remember what she found in it?
Jacket. Plastic case with a boy band picture on the front – lip gloss tubes inside
Prize: Sweet Bean mug
Winner: Denise Chamberlain

3. In Book 1, what do we discover Lydia uses to bribe Aaron to talk?
Her fried chicken
Prize: Blue frog
Winner: Lori Decker Alderson

4. In Book 2, what was Elise Marberry’s real first name?
Linda
Prize: Ebook
Winner: Carla Marie Montfort

5. In Book 2, what was the main entree Polly cooked for her ‘date’ with Mark Ogden?
Chicken Marsala
Prize: Sycamore House Mug
Winner: Brad Hickson

6. In Book 3, why did Polly’s third custodian leave the job?
Moved to Florida to live on a commune – farm
Prize: Green frog
Winner: Susan Vaughn

7. In Book 3, what common Midwestern bird did Sal and Polly see on the road coming back from Boone? Sal had never seen one before.
Pheasant
Prize: Signed paperback
Winner: Deseray MacDonald

8. In Book 3, Polly and Henry talked about childhood dreams. Henry didn’t want to be a cowboy when he was a child, he wanted to be a what?
Astronaut
Prize: Sycamore House Mug
Winner: Joanne Magee

9. In Book 4, Polly uncovers a stuffed animal she’d had as a child. What is the animal and what is its name?
Grey elephant named Tigger
Prize: Kindle Ebook
Winner: Marie Harness

10. In Book 4, what instrument does Jeff Lyndsay play at the concert during Bellingwood Days?
Clarinet
Prize: Pink Frog
Winner: Pat Case

11. In Book 5, where was Henry at the beginning of the story when everything was falling apart around Polly?
In Ann Arbor, MI with his sister
Prize: Sweet Bean Mug
Winner: Julie Cavanaugh

12. Before things fell apart in Book 6, what was the pet name Henry regularly used for Polly?
Pretty Polly
Prize: Max Print
Jacque Berry Webb

13. In Book 5, how did Thomas Zeller’s old girlfriend choose her last name whenever she changed her identity?
Names of things that had to do with sewing
Prize: Fran apron
Winner: RaeEllen Kurzendoerfer

14. In Book 6, J. J. Roberts, one of the owners of the winery tells Polly that Lucy, the waitress at Joe’s Diner was his … what when he was little?
Babysitter
Prize: Red fancy frog
Winner: Ann Otwell

15. In Book 6, Polly had to wake Andrew up when he was staying at her apartment. He refused to get up. What did she do to him to make him miserable enough to come awake?
Dropped water droplets on his forehead.
Prize: Kindle Ebook
Winner: Anne Moore Jesseph

16. In Book 7, what did Drea Renaldi’s mother send to Bellingwood with her daughter as a gift for Polly?
White lace table runner
Prize: Signed Paperback book
Winner: Melanie Curtis

17. In Book 7, what was the name of Uncle Loren’s dog?
Duchess
Prize: Max print
Winner: Dee Schwark

18. In Book 6 & 7, we discover Polly’s favorite breakfast meal at the diner. What is it called?
Garbage plate.
Prize: Kindle eBook
Winner: Jo Thompson

19. In Book 8, when Polly and Henry arrived at Mrs. Willard’s to look at the Woodies (old cars), Nate came outside eating a what?
Cinnamon roll that melted in his mouth
Prize: Signed Paperback copy
Winner: Doris Nash

20. Of the four Percheron horses, who is the alpha and really … Eliseo’s horse?
Nan
Prize: Red / Green Frog
Winner: Lynn Dion

21. In Book 9, what was the first movie Andrew introduced to Kayla?
Star Wars
Prize: Kindle eBook
Winner: Jill Henderson

Big Day on Friday!

Okay first … I have something on my mind that’s been rolling around for the last couple of hours and I just need to spill it. I had a Beryl moment today and didn’t capitalize on it at all. I’m either ashamed or proud of myself.

The most beautiful young man I’ve ever seen waited on me in a drive-thru (I was in Ames running errands). He had gorgeous wavy / curly long brown hair, extraordinary eyes, dark skin and just a little bristle on his chin. I admit it. I completely objectified him while I sat in my Jeep. I couldn’t quit smiling. He was so beautiful! Now, if I’d been Beryl, I might have said something rather than sit there with a silly smile on my face, but I didn’t want to embarrass either of us. But seriously folks … I have no idea why he’s in Ames, Iowa and not on one of the coasts making millions of dollars as a model or actor. Maybe it was just so I could have a moment today.

You know, nothing bad here. Kind of like my appreciation for music that fills my soul or a photograph that blows my mind … that beauty. I wasn’t panting or being stupid, just really appreciating God’s talent. Whew.

Okay … moving on.

Friday, June 19 is going to be huge on the Facebook Bellingwood page and I hope you are all planning to participate. One of the best parts of writing these books has been the opportunity to get to know so many fun people. I can’t even express how amazing that is. You may not know how important and extraordinary you are in the big scheme of life, but you really are. To people who know you on a daily basis and … to me. I only get to see little bits and pieces of you, but when you share them, it means the world to me.

Creativity Friday

Creativity FridaysFirst up will be Creativity Friday.

I’ll get the post up early tomorrow. Gather your photographs to share.

That post will be live (and pinned to the top of the Facebook page so you can find it once all of the questions for Wine & Trivia Night start posting) until Saturday late afternoon.

I can’t wait to see this week’s photographs. I’m always astounded at how you see the world.

Bellingwood WINE & TRIVIA NIGHT!

Bellingwood Wine & Trivia Night (1)Then … (trumpet fanfare) at 6 pm CDT I will post the first trivia question for our first Wine & Trivia Night. We’re going to do it right there on the page.

1. I will post a picture of the prize along with the question. Comment with your response and start a conversation with the girl who is about to put three bottles of wine in the fridge to cool (I’d better make a good dinner and have lots of bread available, eh?).

2. Now, Facebook isn’t friendly to this type of thing. They will not put all of these posts into your timeline feed. You will have to check in on a regular basis.

3. Here’s the deal. Unless I’m too drunk to know what I’m doing, I will post a new question every 15 minutes until 11 pm CDT. And I won’t start expiring questions until 9 pm CDT. You’ll have plenty of time to get in there and respond.

4. Winners will be chosen at random from those who give the right (or close) answer. Seriously … do I care if you look it up or even (gasp) use someone else’s answer? Not at all. I just want to play with you and give stuff away.

Book 10 – The River Rolls On

Book 10 test 1For those of you who might not know yet – release date is June 25. What else happens on the 25th of the month? The email newsletter. Make sure you’ve signed up for it because it will pop into your email in box at 6 am to remind you that it is finally here!

There will be a short vignette in the email, too! Sign up today.

I know there was a lot of information in this post and that always scares me because as much as y’all love to read, you’re terrible at assimilating information sometimes.

Short list of info:

1. Creativity Friday
2. Wine & Trivia Night – Friday, June 19, 6-11 pm CDT
3. Book 10 release – June 25

The Beginning of the End

This has been a weird week. One of those ‘lull’ weeks while you wait for things to come together. Max was here at the cabin for a couple of days. He’s heading out to Ohio to spend time with his family. This was a first stop. He took some pictures around the area and there might be a couple more book covers there. I can’t write or create when people are in my space. They wear me out. Apparently, my brain needs a lot of quiet in order to be creative.

Busy-work creativity is easy. I sewed. That felt good, too.

CockpitBefore Max got here, I completely re-arranged my work space. I feel like I’m in a cockpit now. It’s awesome. I think I have everything where I need it. I’ve spent the last few days tweaking things, adjusting and making changes. It feels good.

While I was waiting for the next part of this journey to kick off, my beta readers finished sending in their manuscripts. I will start digging through all of those edits this weekend. Working through this process isn’t easy. I giggle nervously at the stupid mistakes they’ve caught, stress out over continuity problems they see, struggle to deal with rewrites they recommend and manage through areas they don’t like. Putting your soul out there on paper and then asking people to find errors is enough to turn a person inside out. I probably need to buy extra chocolate to get through this. It’s painful! But in the end, it makes a better product and so I dig in.

So … lull-week. It’s over.

In the next two weeks, it feels as if a million things have to happen. On Saturday, the 27th, I drive to Omaha and then to Lincoln for my niece’s wedding. That day feels like the end of a storm that is about to happen.

I thought it was going to be crazy, but this morning I opened my email and discovered the manuscript for my brother’s next book. He’s been in the middle of a month of chaos and sees no sign of it ending either, but he managed to finish writing and has gone through his first round of personal editing and re-writes. I will go through this and edit from a very high level. Then, he’ll go through it again and back to me before sending to his beta readers. But yep. His first edit is on my desk.

Frogs for Trivia Night

Frogs for Trivia Night

Next Friday, I am kicking off Bellingwood’s first Wine / Trivia Night (on the Facebook page). I’ve gotten most of the prizes in place and need to find twenty-five (or more) trivia questions from the first nine books. It’s going to be a blast and I can hardly wait, but I have nine books to read this week.

Once I am through the beta readers’ edits, I dig into the manuscript and find many more inconsistencies and errors. No matter who reads this manuscript, errors, typos and problems still exist. I have eleven readers at this point and none of them find exactly the same things. It always surprises me and always makes me grateful to have such a wonderful group of people. But, the final is on me. I will go through my book quite a few more times before it actually hits publication. And I’m relentless. I have no critic that is harder on my work than me.

On the 25th of June, the next email newsletter comes out. The big release announcement will be there, as will another vignette. I need to get that written. Those newsletters take a lot of time to create. It always surprises me. I’ve been writing and creating newsletter most of my life. It shouldn’t take that long, but it does.

While all of this work is going on, I find that my mind often runs away to Bellingwood. I’m eight chapters into Book 11 and Polly has found a body (surprised?). School is about to start for the kids, the coffee shop is ready to open, they are hiring like crazy (lots of new characters) and that has Sylvie, Jeff, Polly and Sal working to get everyone trained and in place.

My brother also talked to me about a side project he is working toward, which means writing a story that is far from Bellingwood. I can hardly wait and my imagination is spinning like crazy.

TB likes the new digs

TB likes the new digs

So … two weeks. The countdown begins tonight. Because this afternoon I need to get out and do laundry so that I don’t have to think about it for a while.

And just in case you feel an urge to worry about me or feel sorry for me … don’t. This is when I’m happiest – when I have a million things to do and a short time to do them. I am completely in my element. I might whine and complain a bit – just pat me on the head and give me a little encouragement. Then tell me to get back to work.

June 25 will be here before you know it! Polly and the gang can hardly wait to tell you the next part of their story. It’s a doozy!

Creativity Friday – #3

20150522_141035How many of you are starting to feel the release that summer brings? Vacations are being planned, kids are excited to be out of school, the weather makes it easier to be anywhere but inside the house. Everything changes!

So what have you been working on lately? Gardens? Kids crafts? Graduation, wedding, baby gifts? There are so many things that you do to show off your creativity. I’ll bet there are things you do that you don’t even realize others would envy. Do you bake glorious goodies or create fantastic meals?

You know … my mom was a great cook, but when she made a meal she wasn’t sure we’d like, out came the china, the candles and the sterling silver. She could set a beautiful table. It took a while for us to realize what she was doing.

There are so many different creative talents that I envy. I can’t make a garden come alive to save my own life … no matter how hard I try. I love colorful gardens and I love wonderful vegetable gardens. We moved into Sigourney and followed a woman who had an immense garden in the back yard. And she planted it before she moved!! That first summer was … well … hell. The three of us kids had to be outside every day weeding her immense garden, because Mom wasn’t going to let it die. We had glorious vegetables that year and then … we were done. Mom had fought so hard with us to keep us going and she didn’t want to do the work either – the next year, nothing. Fortunately, the church decided that a beautiful new addition needed to be built in that space and all of our guilt went away.

IloveyouThis week’s prize book by Rebecca B is one of my favorites! “I Love You More” describes creative ways to express love. It’s so much fun. Kids love to have you read to them – and reading about how you love them more than moustaches on goats or puppies with wrinkles would be fantastic!

This week my sketch is sitting on top of a pile of new fabric that just came in. From Daleks to Cornhuskers, Hawkeyes to teachers, I have plans for it all. I can hardly wait to dig in. My goodness, but I love to sew. I don’t know that my sketching is getting any better, but that really wasn’t the purpose for this. I really want to just make sure that all of my brain cells are firing on a regular basis, so I’ll stretch ’em out with things that make me uncomfortable!

Time to share your creativity! Comment on this post over on the FB Bellingwood page with a picture of what you’re working on – from the kitchen to the craft room to the great outdoors. Whatever it is that shows off your creativity. And … if you posted in the last couple of weeks and didn’t win – try, try again! There’s no reason not to!

Numbers or Friends – It’s Both

Left-Brain-vs.-Right-Brain1-480x343The Bellingwood Facebook page crossed another milestone the other day and so, of course, because I like round numbers, we’re celebrating a little. You know, I can easily get all caught up in numbers. Metrics make the left side of my brain purr. And trust me, I have numerical goals spinning around in my brain all the time. I got all of that from my dad. No matter what he had going on, Dad had a way to measure it. He taught me that there was no such thing as too much information.

But as fun as it is to see numbers increase … and as programmed as I am (we are) to set goals and try to achieve them, one thing I worry about is that goals like that don’t have any reality attached to them. I’m always terrified that my focus on being successful at what I’m doing will subvert the original fun and joy that I found in simply writing stories.

Now, here is me being completely honest with you. In July of 2012, I looked out one year and realized that when my Master’s Degree was complete, I was going to have to be prepared for the next step. There were a few things I did not want to do. I didn’t want to enter the corporate world, I didn’t want to run a business where I had to deal with employees and customers (again) and I didn’t want to go back to work in an institutional church. I considered looking for online teaching positions … anything so I could have freedom and independence.

Then one night, I thought about the huge number of stories I had on hard drives and in notebooks. I did a little research and realized that self-publishing was a much more realistic possibility than ever before. I was still working intensely to finish the Master’s Degree and creative writing wasn’t something I had the energy for with the papers I had to complete each week. However, if I wanted to maintain my independence and freedom, I couldn’t simply hope for the best, I had to actively get busy.

I fought with myself, cried a lot, panicked some more and knew I had to do something so that my dreams were financially feasible. That November, while the rest of the world focused on Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), even though I thought it was ridiculous and that I could never pull off a full-blown novel, much less one that would interest anyone other than my sister and a few friends, I wrote … and I wrote and wrote and wrote. By the end of the month, I’d written well over 110,000 words and for the first time in my life, I’d actually completed something that looked like a book. It was rough, but I’d done it. I started through the editing process, found a cover photo that would work, came up with a title and thrust myself into the learning process of self-publishing. I was still writing papers each week for the Master’s Degree, but that month I was right in the middle of a wonderful course on leadership and everything was focused on the possibilities a person had in their life. The learning was right up my alley, the papers made sense, and I managed to pull it all off.

All Roads Lead Home was published in January and I was writing Book 2. My time frame was tightening up. The degree would be finished at the end of May and I needed income to show up. I was running out of time. A Big Life in a Small Town was published in April and I started writing Book 3. By now I was in the middle of some of the worst classes I’d ever taken. Terrible professors who didn’t know how to work with students in an online environment … I had to fight with the powers-that-be to get out of a second class with one woman and this was some of the toughest stuff I’d had to learn. But, I kept writing papers and kept writing stories.

June arrived. My classes were finished and it was do or die time. Could I do it? Book 3 – Treasure Uncovered was released. Marketing became easier once I had a few titles in the hopper. I was still uncomfortable about giving my books away, but with two others out, I felt that I could make Book 1 free every once in a while and hope that people would give it a shot. Having more readers was more important than the dollars I would lose when I made it free.

That summer, I cried a lot. I was still fearful of failure. Would my books hold people’s interest long enough for them to continue to read the series? By this point, I had re-edited Book 1 a couple of times. I learned so much about writing, editing and publishing (I’m still learning). There were days I was certain my head would explode. I needed this to work. Desperately needed this to work.

Those who tell authors how to do what they’re doing (and there are plenty who believe their opinions are golden) insist that if it’s about the money, the author has lost sight of themselves. That’s not true. For me to continue to do what I love, I need to make a living. The money is always part of it. My books need to sell. Numbers need to increase – whether it’s Facebook page likes, Twitter followers, reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, or email newsletter signups. That’s a reality I can’t get around, so I’ll own it.

But it truly is only a small part of my reality. When I see the numbers increase (especially on Facebook), that means something completely different to the part of me that isn’t ruled by the left side of my brain.

It means that the community of people who are drawn together because they enjoy the crazy characters in Bellingwood is growing.

I constantly hear that you appreciate how I communicate regularly with people here. I understand that’s different than many other authors, but it’s hard for me to even use that term (author) to describe myself. Oh, I know that I am … I ‘author’ books. But that’s not who I am … it’s what I do. As wonderful as it is to have an income so that I can maintain freedom and independence and continue to write, it is just as amazing to encounter so many interesting people. And you are!

You come from places I’ve never seen. You work in (have worked in) jobs that I didn’t even realize existed. You have backgrounds that are interesting, your names are often unique and your interests are fascinating. It’s fun to make connections – to find that we sometimes know the same places or have experienced the same things. How can I not communicate with you?

I will continue to celebrate the milestone moments … not just because it’s about success, but because it means that I have a chance to get to know more delightful people. When I consider how many of you I would have missed had I not pushed myself to sit down and write that first book, it’s almost painful.

C.S. Lewis spoke about friendship after one of the Inklings (his writing cohorts / friends. The group included some amazing authors, including J. R. R. Tolkien) had died. He recognized that the death didn’t mean he would have more time with his other friends. The loss of that friend meant that each of them was missing a part of themselves – the part that Charles brought out of them.

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out,” Lewis wrote. “By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth … each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others.”

Christian History Magazine-Issue 88: C.S. Lewis: Pointing People to Reality. 2005. Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today.

That’s how I feel about this community. You each bring out a part of me … of each other … that wouldn’t have existed without you. While my left brain purrs about metrics, I prefer to push it aside and let the rest of me be thankful that each of you has chosen to be part of Bellingwood. Thanks for being here!

Creativity Friday #2

IMG_2835It’s another Friday and time for you to share your talent!

Reply in the comments on the Bellingwood Facebook page with a picture of something that you have been working on … no matter the media. Gardening, painting, crochet, knitting, sewing, beadwork, illustration, quilting, needlework, floral work, pottery, glass work … really, there’s no limit to what you can share here.

I look forward to seeing what you are doing … and if you posted something last week, go for it again!

Tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon, I will randomly choose one person who will win a signed copy of Rebecca B’s children’s book “Little Dorothy Isn’t.” I love this story about a little girl who can only see what she doesn’t have rather than what she does have.

IMG_2836

I’m having fun sketching … I’m having even more fun sewing, though. My addiction to fabric has returned in full force. I keep telling myself that the only way to stay ahead of the piles that could accrue.

20150515_023534   20150510_001503

Share your creativity!

 

 

Which Character is Your Mom?

Mom & Dad's honeymoon. He took her canoeing. That's driftwood in front of her.

Mom & Dad’s honeymoon. He took her canoeing. That’s driftwood in front of her.

One of the most difficult things I’ve dealt with in the last 28 years is that friends and family never had the opportunity to get to know Mom in all of her wild glory. My brother’s wife met her just before she found out she had cancer and his kids never had the chance to meet her. My husband never knew her, many of my closest friends never got to know who she was. That was difficult. Okay, sure, they know me and Carol and Jim … but, Mom? She was her own unique person. I’ve struggled with this a lot over the years, but … you know … moving on and all.

This morning, after someone read my last Mother’s Day post, they asked which character in the Bellingwood series represented her. I had to think about that. She isn’t Lydia. Mom wasn’t nurturing in the way Lydia is. She didn’t organize things at church, she didn’t pull folks together to take care of someone who needed help. Nope, not Lydia.

Then, I thought about Beryl. While Beryl has some of Mom’s artistic creativity, that woman’s personality is not my mom. Andy Saner/ Specek. Not really. Andy is too reserved and quiet.

Sylvie – well, maybe. Sylvie ‘found’ herself as an adult in her 40s and went from living at home with her family to running a business and being very involved in the world. She’s a no-nonsense parent who gives her kids room to grow up. But still, no, this isn’t my mother.

Then it hit me. I’ve written ten books and it finally dawned on me. I’m telling her story to everyone who reads the series. I can hardly type this without becoming emotional. I had no idea that was what I was doing. And honestly, I’ve wondered why this series has come so naturally to me. Polly isn’t me … she’s my mother. I’m looking in from the outside … not out from the inside as I tell this story. I’m telling you about my mom.

I don’t know why it took me so long.

Sal? The girl from Boston? She’s an amalgam of two of my mother’s friends. Why didn’t I realize what I was doing? I’m a nut! The women who surround Polly are Mom’s friends who came into her life over the years. As I thought about this, I realized that when I began looking back at Mom’s friends, I recognized them in the women I have created.

Now, as for Henry, there is some of my Dad in him, but not really … and that’s not what this is about. That will be another day for self-reflection.

None of us kids know a lot about Mom’s life before we came into it. She was an only child, whose father was probably a bigger influence in her life than her mother. We have a few stories, but if we were to be put to the test, we didn’t know my mother as a kid. You’ll find that I did that to Polly, too. Those years she was in Boston are vague. There are stories that will crop up here and there, but she came alive when she returned to Iowa.

Mom came alive when she moved to Iowa. She loved kids (older kids) and wasn’t terribly fond of babies and ooey, gooey stuff. The three of us became much more fun for her when we were old enough to engage. She had very interesting friends and never really cared about returning to her old life in Boston.

Pragmatism defined my mother. Life was what it was and you dealt with it. You didn’t fuss and fume because it wasn’t something different, you made the best of what you had. We weren’t allowed to feel sorry for ourselves very long. Suck it up and move on, there are other things that needed our attention and time.

It was more than that, though. We learned to love our lives, no matter what we did or didn’t have. Life was so much bigger than anything in front of us. People came and went, stuff was unimportant, and holding on to pain and grudges was ridiculous.

One of the things about Polly that grabs you is that she is always in the present … the right now. Everything that happened in the past is part of who she is, but it doesn’t cause her to ignore the life in front of her.

Mom lived in the right now. Her past was a story to tell, not a life that needed to be relived over and over. And if it was too painful and not relevant – the story didn’t need to be told.

She was a private person. Mom was thrust into the public eye (as a minister’s wife in a small town), a place she wouldn’t have chosen to be, yet she did it with creativity and grace (unless you listened to her complain at home) because it was expected.  Polly built Sycamore House, but she puts everyone else out front – Jeff, Sylvie, Eliseo. Most people see them on a daily basis, not Polly. She is transparent … yet private.

Polly doesn’t have an agenda for her life, she isn’t planning to be a tycoon. Success is important, but only because it allows her to do what she enjoys doing most … living life with the people she cares for.

My personal stories show up in the lives of all of the characters – wherever they fit, I tell on myself. You’ll never know which are true and which are fiction, but Polly’s story isn’t about me. I can’t believe it took me so long to realize what I was doing, but for those of you who never met my mother … you’re meeting her now. Her behavior sometimes might infuriate you … she might be self-centered and whiny, she might surprise you with who she chooses to befriend (or not befriend), she might frustrate you because she doesn’t follow your expectations. But … if you want to know why she’s so danged human … it’s because she is exactly that to me.

I don’t know what I’ll do with all of this information – whether it will make it easier or more difficult to write Polly … but now I better understand what I’ve done. So, I’m not ready to tell you that Polly IS my mother (there are so many differences) … but, if you want to find Mom in any of my characters … Polly Giller is where you’ll find her.

Mother’s Day, Pt. 2

Aug. 1962. Mom with her parents, me and Carol (2 months old).

Aug. 1962. Mom with her parents, me and Carol (2 months old).

Last year, right about this time, I wrote a post about Mom and in it, I shared an article that she had written on being a minister’s wife. To be honest, what I wrote last year says it all and there are so many new people reading these posts right now, that it makes sense to share it again. So here it is … because she was a riot and even though she’s been gone for 28 years, I am who I am because she was my Mom.

Happy Mother’s Day to you all!

~~~

The one person who impacted me the most died six months before my 28th birthday. She was brilliant, talented, hilarious, normal, mean and rotten, loving, straightforward, practical … Mom was terrific. She met Dad and fell in love with him despite the fact that he was graduating from seminary. In the late 1950s, ministers didn’t have much chance at making a lot of money. She had three children, even though the idea of babies was abhorrent to her. She moved to small-town Iowa with Dad even though all she’d ever known was upscale big city life.

Mom wrote this article in 1972 and I remember the glee she took in poking at expectations for minister’s wives. If she could destroy a stereotype, she took the opportunity. Some things have changed since this article – others haven’t. We still need love, forgiveness, and understanding. But, her writing continues to makes me laugh.

As I read the first paragraph, I did discover where I got two of my favorite words. We love to laugh in our family. Snorting and giggling are just two ways to describe it. Enjoy … and laugh a little. She loved laughing at herself.

My Second Skin
by Margaret Greenwood
Originally published in Arise! Magazine, A Magazine for Christian Laity
March – April 1972

I have just finished reading a 1969 report entitled “An Insight Into the Role of a Minister’s Wife” compiled from 23 questionnaires sent to various ministers’ wives and also to a number of presidents of local Women’s Missionary Societies of the Baptist Church in Southwest Iowa. I cringed, giggled and snorted through most of it, but I realized again the terrible gap between the parsonage family and the church people when one is allowed free expression without fear of identification.

It is quite obvious to me now that no one will ever offer my name for beatification. However, I shall have to live with this disappointment along with many others. The report was not a scientifically prepared job, but if the Methodists have the same viewpoint expressed in the report as the southwest Iowa Baptists, I am in deep trouble! One lady said: “A minister’s wife because of his many callers should keep their home and herself presentable at all times because there is a reflection on the church if she does not.” Now the grammar may not be quite up to snuff, but the thought literally explodes! Right there, I’ve failed! My house almost always looks like a gaggle of geese has been driven through it, followed by my husband, three children, a dog and various numbers of gerbils at various times. I am one of those poor benighted souls who always snatches frantically at a nightgown on the wing chair (the dog is lonely when I am out of the house and always drags filmy stuff downstairs to her favorite chair to lie on), kicks the shoes under the sofa, stuffs socks in my pockets and throws magazines into the closet when the doorbell rings. As soon as my caller leaves, I clean the house in a frenzy of guilt. Before the next person arrives, those crazy geese have gone through again!

Another individual commented in the report, “Be clean. Be neat. Wear make-up in good taste so you’ll look warm and alive and not like something the cat dragged in. A good thing to re-evaluate every now and then is your hair style…This goes for shoe styles.” Well, I am warm; touch me and I’ll giggle. I am alive. See … I’m breathing. However, I seldom wear shoes, a fact which all of my friends have accepted with good grace even though my mother hasn’t. She insisted I soak my feet in Clorox for twenty minutes before I went to the hospital to deliver my first child. By the third baby, I barely had time to even find my shoes! As for hair styles, I can wear it only one way: short and curly! If I let it grow, I look like George Washington without the powder. When I am painting, walls or pictures, or throwing pots on my potter’s wheel or even trying to cope with goose feathers, I look more like the wrath of God than a cat’s plaything.

The questionnaire pointed one thing out to me in particular. The minister’s wife is judged actually on the image one has already formed of a position, not of a person. She should be, but usually is not, the epitome of womanhood, an Eve gone straight! She should also do everything and be everything that the women of the church do not want to do or cannot do. My husband really lucked out! I can’t play the piano and my typing is lousy, so no church organist job or choir directorship for me; I can’t even be an unpaid secretary. I do direct a mean Christmas program, however!

Several weeks ago, I had a very special experience. I was at a friend’s house having coffee when another woman dropped in, a stranger to me. Debbie, my hostess, introduced me:

“Sally, I’d like you to meet Margie Greenwood.”

So what’s special about that? Well, I was practically wriggling with joy! Sally stared at me, perplexed. Then recognition dawned upon her.

“Oh yes, you’re the new minister’s wife.”

I stopped my happy squirming, but for a precious moment I had been an individual in my own right, free of my tight second skin.

This second skin, like any girdle which is too small for its wearer, constricts only a part of one. The rest bulges out uncontrollably. So, too, with ministers’ wives. Resentments, hostility, and anger spill over despite our determination to shove it back under the unforgiving garment. Have you ever seen a woman suffer when her girdle hurts? The metaphor is most appropriate!

The first half of the survey was devoted to ministers’ wives’ reactions, their joys and their frustrations. The Baptist girls sound remarkably like the Methodists with whom I have talked. In fact, they sound quite human. Most of them felt their greatest joy was in being a wife to their husband, and in this I heartily concur! Few of them had any desire to be “Mrs. Minister,” although this slipped through with a couple of them. I’ll never forget a Christmas card my husband and I received addressed to “Rev. Frank and Mrs. Pastor Greenwood.” The greatest frustration of these gals was almost unanimous; it was the inability to make close friends within their congregations and to be held at a distance by them. What a congregation as a whole expects of its minister’s wife is unbelievable! When they suddenly discover that her feet are clay (even when washed), occasionally they’ll smack her right in the solar plexus. This is why we have so many gasping ministers’ wives.

I discovered this fact early in my married life. There was a small group of self-appointed watchdogs in our first church who checked on me twice a week. They didn’t even bother to knock on the door. After a year’s residence, I installed locks. You should have seen me once when I was trying to iron my dress in the kitchen and I caught sight of one of the ladies as she stepped onto the front porch. I dropped to my hands and knees and crawled to the front door. I held it tightly against her as she tried to push it open, but my twenty years of strength more than matched her seventy odd years of determination. Knowing she would also try the back door, I snaked along the walls, still on my hands and knees, and held that door against her, too. My husband arrived a few minutes later and found me lying on the linoleum floor of the kitchen too weak with laughter to get up! Ah, the dignity of such encounters with the good ladies of the parish.

This kind of problem gave me food for thought, so I devised my own system to beat it. I hid. I hid behind my Eastern debutante background, my education, anything that would suffice. I hid behind my wonderful sister-in-law who lived nearby. Without her, I never would have survived. She took most of my problems, many of which I created myself, onto her own back. There was a period of three months when all three churches on the circuit owed us my husband’s salary, $995. I finally went home to visit my parents and took the baby with me. My husband ate one good meal a day at his sister’s house. When the churches finally paid up, I could return. However, one cannot hide forever. So, in our next church, I tried a different attack. I was so busy with three children, one of whom was always sick, that I don’t think anyone even realized my husband was married. In our third parish I resolved, since I had been seen on moving day, that I would try to be myself, and it worked to my great surprise! In all the responses in the aforementioned questionnaire, only one dear soul, bless her forever, suggested that the greatest asset of a minister’s wife’s personality is “being herself.” I’ll say one thing for this approach; it’s a whole lot easier on a person even if it is sometimes embarrassing.

In one small town where we lived, the church had built us a beautiful new parsonage. I loved it and everyone in town was proud of it. One day, true to the directions in the minister’s wife handbook, which I was rereading for the twentieth time, I decided to bake bread for someone who was sick. I also decided to plant petunias around the foundation of the house. I left our baby inside asleep in her crib, feeling guilty because maybe the house would blow up or catch on fire or some other such dire calamity would happen, but I traipsed outside with my trowel and flowers anyway. Some time later I decided I’d better check on her. I opened the kitchen door and nearly fainted. The house was full of smoke! I grabbed the baby, took my older daughter by the hand and ran to my husband’s study in the church shouting, “The house is on fire! The house is on fire!” (One has to shout at him, he only responds to frightening sounds!) He told me to call the fire department and he raced over to the house. A word of explanation is appropriate here. In small Iowa towns, the fire department is a voluntary deal. Any man who is in town responds to the fire whistle and usually everyone else does, too. this was no exception, and besides, the parsonage was the newest house in town. Those men went through the house with a fine-toothed comb. Finally, one gentleman lifted the lid on a pot on the stove and discovered the charred, burned potatoes for my bread! A friendly woman comforted me with the words: “Don’t feel badly, Margie. Now we know you’re human.”

I do try not to take myself too seriously, and I am trying to be myself. I even allow my parents to be themselves although that was not always the case. A year after we were married, my mother visited us. She had snatched a quick cigarette while I stood sentinel at the window. I saw one of my dear watchdogs coming up the walk and I yelled at Mother to run upstairs and take her ashtray with her. Thus, when I opened the door I stood innocently alone, wreathed in a thick gray cloud of cigarette smoke!

It’s difficult to find the Holy Spirit in such an atmosphere, but after nine years of searching, I finally found him. I had seldom attended church before my marriage, and had no background on which to build. I only saw the marvelous faith of my husband and that of several of the fine people in our various churches. I wanted this assurance, but I didn’t know how to go about finding it. I had been thrust into a wildly different life, from the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Boston to an Iowa town of 250 people which looked like a set for a bad John Wayne western. A “modern” house back East was one with unusual architectural characteristics. In rural southwest Iowa thirteen years ago, it was one with an indoor toilet! It was indeed a radically different way of life. I didn’t understand the people and many of them never did figure me out. It was when I finally made the decision to be the human being that God had created originally, not a paper doll image raggedly drawn by a mythological congregation, that I really learned to love. When one’s eyes are always checking on one’s image, one can’t see past one’s nose.

I had to make some spiritual giant steps, after hundreds of baby steps and innumerable “go back three paces” even to come within sight of my goal. An understanding, forgiving and patient husband and a loving group of friends in our church (I refuse to call them our “congregation.” They are my friends and it is our church.) have supported and helped me tremendously in my spiritual growth. I had a dramatic encounter with God during an early morning prayer vigil which cemented my relationship with him. I don’t have any astounding answers to life’s problems, but together as loving children of God, we all can struggle, supported and helped by each other. It’s a lot easier to climb a barbed wire fence with someone to hold the wires for you.

The role of the “Minister’s Wife” exists in capital letters. I can’t deny it and it would be foolish to try to do so. However, I can re-define it in human terms. For me it is the role of a searching woman attempting to discover joy of her own humanity and the love of God and trying to relate this love to her very existence. This makes me no better or worse than any of my friends. If my house is messy and my feet bare, I shall hope that my callers will be more interested in our relationship as children of God than they will be in that last goose disappearing around the corner. We haven’t time to play around with non-essentials when there is such a desperate need for love, forgiveness and understanding in the Christian community and the world.

Please examine your image of your minister’s wife. Let her be human and love her despite it. It’s quite possible that as a child of God, she is having just as hard a struggle trying to love your human failings, too. God loves you, and I love you, too.

Bellingwood Vignette – 07

Book 10 will be published on June 25, but until then, here’s a little something fun for you. Happy Mother’s Day!

This little vignette actually occurs just prior to Book 10. It doesn’t affect anything in the overall story, but is a look at a conversation that happens behind the scenes in Bellingwood. All of the Bellingwood books are written from Polly’s perspective, so if she’s not in the room, we have no idea what else is happening. And there is always plenty of action going on, whether she’s there or not.

07 – What’s a Guy to Do?Flowers

“I have no idea what I’m supposed to do,” Henry said.

Bill Sturtz clapped his son on the back and laughed. “That doesn’t surprise me at all. I’m guessing this isn’t the first time and it’s certainly not going to be the last with that little spitfire you married. You know, your mother and I had no idea what kind of life you’d have, but that wife of yours is going to keep you on your toes until the day you drop into your grave.”

“Probably longer than that,” Henry replied, rolling his eyes. “But help me out here, what am I supposed to do?”

“The flip answer is to tell you that she isn’t your mother and so you shouldn’t have to do anything.”

Henry scowled at his dad. “You buy flowers for Mom. Don’t give me that.”

“She’s the mother of my children.” Bill flipped the switch to turn the sander on and then flipped it back off. “I’m not helping, am I?”

“Not much,” Henry said. “Does she want me to recognize Mother’s Day or not? And what about Rebecca and her Mom and Jessie and her baby. We have all of these people in our lives and…” He sat down in a beat up old desk chair behind the work bench. “It shouldn’t be this hard.”

“Son, you’re the one who is making this difficult. Has Polly hinted that she wants you to celebrate thie holiday?”

“No, but…”

“No buts,” Bill said. “Has she ever hung you out to dry about holidays and celebrations?”

Henry nodded. “You’re right. She would have told me. But what if she just isn’t thinking about it. Should I be helping her do something about her own Mom or the woman who raised her? I know they’re dead, but maybe she wants to remember them somehow.”

“I declare,” Bill said, leaning over the workbench. “When did you lose your ever-lovin’ mind? You aren’t usually this spineless. I thought you two had one of those open marriages.”

“Dad!” Henry exclaimed. “What in the world do you mean by that? We don’t have an open marriage.”

Bill drew back in surprise. “I don’t know. What do I mean? What’s an open marriage?”

Henry was still trying to make sense of the conversation. “An open marriage means that we don’t care who the other person…” He hesitated. “Well, who they have a relationship with.” Henry waved his hand around. “You know… a relationship.”

“Oh!” Bill started laughing. “No! I meant open conversation. You two talk all the time, no matter what it’s about. Why haven’t you talked this topic into the ground?”

“We don’t talk things into the ground. We just…” Henry looked up at his father, who was grinning at him. “Okay, we talk things to death sometimes. But at least we’re talking.”

“Yeah. You’re part of that new revolution in marriage.” Bill drew his hands up in the air and made air quotes as he said. “You ‘communicate.'”

Henry lifted his left nostril and mockingly growled at his father. “And I’m not spineless. If Polly hasn’t said anything about the holiday, I don’t know if it will upset her because she doesn’t have a mother or because she isn’t a mother. Why won’t you help me?”

Bill rubbed his hand across the piece of wood in front of him, as if he were testing to see if it really needed to be sanded. “Every marriage is different. You have to figure this out on your own. What works for me and your mother might not be right for you and Polly. What do you want to do?”

“I keep saying that I don’t know.” Henry slumped in the chair.

“Then buy her jewelry or chocolate or something.”

“She’d hate that,” Henry said. “What are you and Mom doing for lunch on Sunday?”

“Your mother is probably cooking something. I don’t know. We haven’t talked about it.”

“You aren’t even taking her out?” Henry shook his head. “You’re terrible.”

“Where are we gonna go?” Bill asked. “Every restaurant’s filled to capacity. If Marie wants to go out to eat, we’ll do it a different day. No sense standing in line for an hour to feel like we have to hurry through a meal because that long line hasn’t gotten any shorter.”

Henry rubbed his hand down his face and rested his chin in his palm. “You could come over to our place. Polly and I’ll cook.”

“Don’t you think you should talk to her about this before you make the invitation, son? Or haven’t you learned how dangerous that is.”

“She’ll be fine.”

Marie Sturtz chose that moment to walk into the shop. She was carrying Jessie’s baby, bouncing it gently in her arms. “I didn’t hear any machines running out here and I saw your truck, Henry. Why aren’t you working at the coffee shop?”

He shrugged. “I was just talking to Dad about Mother’s Day. Am I supposed to do something for Polly or not?”

Marie gave her husband a smile, her eyes glinting with mischief. “Did he tell you to buy her flowers?”

“No. He thought I should do jewelry or chocolate,” Henry said.

Bill frowned at his wife. “You don’t like my flowers?”

“They’re always lovely,” Marie winked at her son. “I already have a spot picked out in the garden for them.”

“Maybe I won’t buy any this year,” Bill grumped.

“Don’t be like that. I love whatever you give me,” she said and turned back to Henry. “Would you and Polly like to come for dinner on Sunday? Maybe that would help.”

“You know Polly. She’ll want to feed the world. Jessie and Rebecca and Evelyn and who knows? She’ll probably want to invite Stephanie and Kayla and then, if she decides that Sylvie shouldn’t cook for herself on Mother’s Day, she’ll invite them. Oh, and that means that Eliseo will be invited.” He paused. “What am I up to now, thirteen or fourteen? I’m sure I’ve forgotten some.”

“Then we should have potluck,” Marie declared. “I’ll call Polly and set it up. That way you won’t have to worry about anything.”

“But I still don’t know whether or not I should get her anything,” Henry said with a little bit of a whine.

“Stop that,” Bill said. “You don’t whine.”

Marie laughed at the two of them. “If I know Polly, she’ll be happy just having all of her friends around. That’s what fills her up. She isn’t used to having people give her gifts or do nice things for her. Bring as many people as you can in for lunch and she’ll be in her element.”

“So I don’t have to worry about buying her a present?”

The baby fussed in Marie’s arms and she started to bounce again. She looked up at the clock on the wall and said, “I’ll bet you’re getting hungry. Mama’s probably wondering where we went.” Then she said to Henry. “You should always buy her presents. Even if it’s just because it’s Tuesday.” Marie stepped close to her husband and elbowed his side. “Isn’t that right, sweetie?”

“Right, sweetie,” he echoed.

Marie left the shop and Bill groaned. “See what just happened there? Now I have to go buy her a present.”

“You do not,” Henry said.

Bill flipped the sander on and said over his shoulder. “Yes I do. And you should too. You’d be surprised at how much more fun you’ll have.”

Any further conversation was cut off at the sound of the sander on wood. Henry stood up and walked toward the door of the shop. He glanced back at his dad and heard humming. All of a sudden, Bill was moving his shoulders and swinging his hips to music that was playing only in his head.

“That’s my dad, folks,” Henry said under his breath. “He’ll be here all week.”

He took his phone out and texted Polly. “What’s your favorite flower?”