A Peek at my Mother’s Life

One thing about living as a transient pastor’s family is the risk you face when moving into a home you may have only seen once; a home over which you have no control and one where you’ll have to adapt all of your belongings in a very short period of time.

Living with my parents, we learned to adapt quickly and laugh through the foibles we encountered. Dad fixed what he could and he could fix a lot. Mom painted walls, covered countertops, cleaned out closets, did what she could to make it nice – and we learned the stuff-shuffle. For the most part, it was loads of fun, but there are always stories to be told. And really … where would I be without stories?

Mom thought she should start a journal. It looks as if she did so because she had no other way to deal with her frustration. However, it’s funny. The journal didn’t last any longer than the words you see here. They make me laugh.

The Move from Gravity, IA to Bussey, IA, June 16th, 1961

Moving:
Frank gone to Conference – me alone with sick child, ear infections, no doctor, telephone or car. Finally, Diane cured, piled boxes of books in guest room, packed and packed – absolutely exhausted one hot night lying on bed with no sheet covering me – sound asleep. Suddenly mouse ran up my bare leg – screamed, shook him off and unable to sleep for rest of night. Sprayed all around with moth spray in great hopes that it would be effective on mice also.

After much heaving, packing, throwing and burning – got much stuff packed – Frank arrived home on Friday afternoon. I’d strained my back and had cramps in it that night. Had to keep yelling at Frank to awaken him to pull my back straight.

Great moving day.
Van arrived at 11:00 a.m. Amazed at such a small truck to carry our great load. Frank loaded VW and Studebaker. At 2:30, we took off. Frank had 3000 pounds of books, one goat and a petrified white Tom cat. I had Diane, more books, a black kitten, 3 goldfish and a turtle. I also had a flat tire 5 miles out of Knoxville and a useless jack. Things straightened out and we arrived in Bussey. The previous minister still loading – great hoards of people piling trash into pickups. Finally the man and his family left and the van gone, too with the promise to return and collect the rest of their belongings. Amazing amount of junk. I sat around on the living room floor with eight or ten of our new parishioners till 10:00 p.m. or so. Our van not in sight. Took a tour of our new house and nearly cried. Molding and mopboard in living room painted half-white and half cream – someone had lost interest in the middle. Living room floor refinished around a lovely little square where there had obviously been a rug, great jagged crack in the kitchen sink – the plumbing leaky and corroded – no electrical plug-ins upstairs – only bare hanging bulbs – no toilet upstairs – one downstairs. Kitchen unbelievable. 4 feet of counter space – linoleum worn thru to floor. Besides these small things, the windows, six footers with springs – not pulleys, kept falling down since the wood was worn out at the springs – most propped open by various lengths of wood. Coal furnace, etc.

Margie & Diane 1961 3At first glance, this was all I saw – but knew there was a great deal more I didn’t want to see. At 11:30 still no van. The last of the loyal people left – with many invitations for bed and board – but we still had hopes of van arriving. At 12:30 a.m. we gave in – dragged car seats in from VW and curled up in them. Diane very uncomfortable, but asleep – Frank & I extremely so – but young enough to think it funny. Our new friends had stocked the refrigerator with eggs and pies and homemade bread and rolls – our neighbor brought us coffee and rolls and since the minister’s wife before us had neglected to check the bottom of the stove, we had a plentiful supply of pots and pans the next morning.

At 10:00 a.m. our van arrived – seems the movers didn’t get the van packed till 3:00 a.m. However we later discovered the biggest reason was not the small size of the van as they claimed, but the constant little breaks the two movers kept taking at the local tavern. Naturally, it would be difficult to fit a large load of furniture in a small van especially if one couldn’t see straight.

At about the same time on Friday, the parsonage committee arrived – all set to find out the major and minor repairs we would like. Frank told them very bluntly that he had lived in parsonages all his life – but had never seen one in worse condition. They appeared surprised – but after a tour of the place agreed heartily. Several suggestions made – and by Monday night at the official board meeting, the church people decided almost unanimously to build us a new house before Fall.

After that it didn’t seem so terrible to live in that dreadful old house. At least we had the prospects of a new one within 4 or 5 months.

The first Sunday after taking up occupancy was a hectic one. Frank had to hurry off early in order to find his way to the other two churches. As he passed thru town, he noticed a body lying partly in the gutter. Being a good Christian gentleman, he stopped to see if he could help. Our neighbor’s 17 year old son was lying there dead drunk. Aid soon arrived and I caught sight of him later being dragged unconscious onto his front lawn – where he was rather unceremoniously left lying for at least 4 hours. There was no sign of hide nor hair though when the sheriff arrived later in the afternoon. This, of course, wasn’t a very happy portent of what our neighbors were like, though I later found the rest of the family to be very pleasant. I never have discovered what the head of the house looked like. He always had a layer of coal dust on his face.

1961 - Rachel & Diane. Mom really tried to help us be friends.

1961 – Rachel & Diane. Mom really tried to help us be friends.

Meanwhile, our goat was a great attraction to all the children in town – and the adults too were fascinated. Rachel was a very friendly goat – except that she was jealous of my two year old daughter – she tried to knock Diane down every time she turned around. Diane soon was scared to death to go out without me. The goat had a fatal complex – she thought she was human. I’d raised her since she was a week old – and she had been allowed to sit on my lap and be petted like a little child. The fear my daughter had developed finally forced me into giving Rachel away – a sad day for me, but a joyous one for Diane.

(Aside: I refused to say the goat’s name – Rachel. It was Zhuhbee for some reason. And for as many years as Mom was alive, she always insisted that Dad had given her a choice that day – to get rid of the goat or her daughter. She said it was a difficult choice. This was living with Margie Greenwood!)

A little earlier, our big old Tom Cat had developed some dreadful disease and Frank finally had to dispose of him. I had given away the 3 goldfish and the turtle to the neighbor children – they smelled so and we were left with the small kitten. Diane took care of him. She beat him up regularly till he was the meanest small kitten one could ever find. You had to be careful how you walked, because he would stalk you and pounce on your ankles, kicking, biting and clawing. He went the way of the rest of our pets – I gave him away too, along with 10 cans of cat food.

Diane decided to help keep things active, so she proceeded to eat some aspirin and had to have her stomach pumped out. Then she ate some medicated hand cream – who knows what else she managed to get into – I locked everything up after that.

Work on our house was progressing rapidly – it was started at the beginning of Sept. and we were in at least partly by November 1st.

November 1961 Family in Bussey 2

The Oskaloosa newspaper came to Bussey to do an article on the new parsonage … and the new, young pastor’s family.

~~~

A funny story from last year about the first Mother’s Day after my mom died. We really do find humor in the strangest things. 

Mother’s Day, Pt. 1

And then, there is this bit that Mom wrote about being a minister’s wife. You’ll love it.

Mother’s Day, Pt. 2

I Am Not the Christian You’re Looking For

In 1974, I walked down the aisle of my church, knelt at an altar and made the choice to commit my life to Jesus Christ. From that point forward, it’s been a crazy journey – one I would never choose to have missed.

However, what I didn’t know in the innocence of my choice that day, was that the most difficult times ahead would often come because of those who attempted to define how I walked that road with Jesus Christ. I lost my mother when I was 28 … that didn’t break me, it only made my faith stronger. I dealt with other personal struggles – none of which were impossible because my faith gave me strength.

No, the worst faith crises came from those who called themselves Christians and insisted on telling me that I wasn’t doing it right.

Do you want a list? Oh, I want to give you one, but these are just highlights and barely scratch the surface of how others have insisted I live out my faith.

1. Let’s start with my mother’s death. Believe it or not, during this entire ordeal, the most outwardly holy and pious Christians we knew told us that our faith wasn’t strong enough and that’s why she died. If we’d had faith as small as a mustard seed, she would have been healed. Thank heavens for our own strong faith and will, as well as an outpouring of love from people, both Christian and non-Christian.

2. Then there was my denomination. I grew up as a United Methodist. Somehow in the midst of the raging political and religious conservatism of the 90s, that denomination was vilified. If you were a Methodist, you couldn’t be a Christian because the denomination was too liberal. Nothing else mattered, the label was enough. To this day, I encounter pious Christians who hold themselves above others based on denominational choices.

3. During the 1990s, I was told that if I was not a Republican, I couldn’t be a Christian, because only extreme conservatives understood what the Christian walk looked like. Any other choice and I was apostate. I even had one person tell me that making a choice for a specific Presidential candidate revealed a person’s Christianity. We still base our judgment on a person’s faith based on their choices for political office.

4. Believe it or not, there continue to be people who insist that unless I read scripture from the King James Version, I can’t possibly be a Christian. There are still certain versions of scripture that when used will cause you to be named as a heretic. The word of God is not to be defined by one interpretation. It is much too big for that.

5. Then there was a day I stood in the sanctuary of my church and was told that no one was really a Christian unless they spoke in tongues. I’d heard this before, but was shocked at the accusation being tossed out at me. I had to be a little more pointed, I could tell, so I looked the person straight in the eye and asked if they were telling me that I wasn’t a Christian. A philosophical belief had just become very personal for him and he had no good answer.

6. The essence of my faith is disparaged by Christians on a regular basis because of disagreements regarding interpretation of Scripture. When I began attending seminary, I knew for certain that I would be exposed to centuries of various interpretations and I’m so grateful for that. What I learned was that there is nothing new under the sun. Even the hottest issues we argue about today created hatred and dissension within faith groups years ago. We’ve learned nothing. It is still easier for a Christian to hate … even me because I choose to believe differently … than it is to listen and to love.

~~~

While I say very little about this publicly, I am weary of having to justify myself as a Christian because others define my faith with narrow boundaries.

Jesus Christ came to change that behavior. He exploded the faith of Jews who had created a narrow, negative religion. They had a rule for everything and their rules were more important than the people they were to serve. It was a faith of dos and do nots. It was not a faith that could make great changes in or offer salvation to the world. They had become insular, tightly protecting their beliefs, not trusting that the God of creation could possibly be in control. They were so caught up in their definition of faith that they lost sight of God’s true purpose for them.

We are not here on earth to piously set forth the rules and regulations of Christianity. Even as you quote Paul’s words (which is where you find nearly all of those highly vaunted rules and regulations of Christianity), you miss Paul’s purpose.

The apostle Paul pointed to Jesus Christ in everything he did.

And Jesus points to God.

As Christ-followers, we have to stop insulating our faith – protecting our beliefs. We must trust that the God of creation is completely in control and HE DOES NOT NEED US TO FIGHT HIS BATTLES.

One lesson we should have learned from the Old Testament Israelites is that when they stepped back and allowed God to be in control, the battle was always won. When they asked other groups for help against a particular foe, they lost. When they tried to do it on their own, they lost horribly.

And when they decided to rule themselves using their interpretation of rules and regulations from Scripture, God sent His Son to turn the world upside down. Jesus didn’t come to earth because of some enormous sin that the outside world was committing. God sent Jesus because his own people were so caught up in piously living out their faith that they’d forgotten how to love others … to love those inside and outside their faith structure.

The Israelites were to be a light to the world (Isaiah 49:6). They were to represent the one, true God. They lost their way. Instead of representing God, they presented Him in their image, according to their beliefs.

Jesus said no. To a people whose lives revolved around the Law, when asked which law was the greatest, Jesus told them to love God and love each other (Matthew 22:37). When challenged by those who spent their lives reading and interpreting the Law of Moses (Pharisees), Jesus lived out love.

Love is not narrow. Love is expansive. Love is not defined by rules, it is defined by God who created things we have not yet begun to see, much less understand.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7, NRSV)

I will never be the Christian I’m expected to be. I just can’t do it. I’ve made choices that cause others to question whether my faith is what it should be and that’s okay. Because in the end, I don’t answer to them. The one thing that God promised me from the very beginning of our relationship was that as long as I relied on him, talked to him and loved him (and others), he would help me on the journey. He’s always been right beside me. He’s never failed me. I have sinned and been on my knees asking forgiveness, but love defines our relationship.

So I trust God … yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He’s removed rules and regulations and replaced them with love. He defines my faith. I don’t have to prove that to anyone else. I simply have to live so that others see His love in me.

As you define what a Christian should look like, how they should act, what they should believe and how they should respond to the world, know that I will never live to your standards. My life … my faith is in God’s hands, not yours.

Stop defining faith and start living it. Our faith is love. Perfect love. We can’t let ourselves become Pharisees who shut out the world in order to have a perfect and true religion.

Being a Christian limits me.

Following Jesus Christ who is the beginning, the middle, and the end of my salvation, my faith, and my life … allows me to live in love, without limitations.

~~~

It is completely unnecessary for you to attempt to comfort me or stroke my ego for making choices. I’m not looking for sympathy or accolades. This isn’t that kind of a post – it is simply my story and the thoughts that come from living it. My confidence lies within me and is based on one greater than anything I can ever be.

~~~

Picture 2Waiting for the cute cat picture?

There were a lot of words in this post, but since y’all are readers, I wasn’t too worried. Apparently I had a lot to say.

Here ya go. This is every one of them snuggled up against my leg. It’s pretty wonderful to wake up to this.

Grey is tucked between Earl (on his back) and TB. I’m just out of room.

Diane’s Tote Bag

These tote bags are fun! And they’re pretty simple to make. The best part for me is that they use up some of my stash, opening up space for more fabric!

IMG_5233      IMG_4621

The frogs in the first picture are another favorite pattern of mine. You can find that pattern here.

To make a tote, you’ll need:IMG_5244

Two (2) Fat Quarters
Sixteen (16) 5″ squares
Fusible Interfacing

Four fat quarters and most of a charm pack will make two tote bags. I use nearly a full package of 20″ x 1 yard Heat n Bond Fusible Interfacing for a single tote bag.

IMG_5246OUTSIDE OF THE TOTE BAG:
From one fat quarter, you will cut:
2 – 2.5 x 18″ strips
3 – 3.5 x 18″ strips (1 for base, 2 for the handles)
1 – Leftover strip (for the base of the lining)

After you’ve chosen the 5″ charms for the body, sew them together (1/4″ seam allowance on everything). For this, I used the Island Batiks and decided to do a ROYGBIV (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet) theme with grey stripes. I love the bright colors! Be sure to iron all of your seams as we sew along.

IMG_5248Sew a 2.5 x 18″ grey stripe between the two charm strips you’ve just assembled, for both the back and the front of the bag. Sew them together with one of the 3.5 x 18″ grey stripes.

If you’ve done the math, you’ll notice immediately that 4 – 5″ charms sewn together (with seam allowances) equals 18.5 inches and your fat quarter stripes are only 18 inches. Don’t panic. It’s not a crisis.

Cut fusible interfacing to fit and iron it to the wrong side of the bag. Fold the bag in half, right sides together and sew outer seams (1/4″ seam allowance).

If you want to trim the excess before sewing the outer seam, do it for a cleaner look (that no one but you will ever know is there).

(Now that you have your fusible interfacing on the cutting mat, you might as well cut out the pieces for the handles. You need 2 – 2.5 x 18″ strips.)

IMG_5251INSIDE LINING:

Cut the second fat quarter in half – approximately 10″ x 18″ pieces. Now, this is where you need to do some fuzzy math calculations. You need to end up with a 25.5″ x 18″ piece. Fat quarters are rarely an exact size. The leftover strip from the outside fat quarter is probably six inches wide and that will more than likely work just as it is. Sew it to the two panels as the base of your lining.

Fold the lining in half, right sides together, and sew outer seams (1/4″ seam allowance).

IMG_5253BOX CORNERS:

If you haven’t done these before, they are amazing. There are a couple of ways to do them, but this is my way.

IMG_5254After ironing open the seam, I fold the corner so the outer seam is centered, then sew a straight line 1.5″ from the tip – edge to edge.

Snip the corner off, being sure not to cut into the stitching you just did. Voila. You have a nice straight edge for the base of your tote bag. Do this on both the outside and the lining of the bag.

IMG_5256HANDLES:

Iron a 2.5 x 18 piece of fusible interfacing to the center of each of the 3.5 x 18″ fabric strips.

IMG_5257Press a half-inch hem on each side of the interfacing, wrong side to interfacing, then fold the fabric in half for a 1.25 x 18″ handle.

Top stitch (over stitch, whatever you like to call it) close to the hem, then top stitch the opposite side, just so it looks pretty. Leave the ends open (they’ll be tucked into the bag).

IMG_5255FINISHING:

Turn the outside of the bag right side out. Tuck it into the lining (still inside out) so right sides are together.

Match up the side seams of the outside and the lining (maybe pin them together to keep things straight), and match up your top.

IMG_5258Tuck the handles in on each side. I pin them at the outside edges of the inner two 5″ squares.

Sew around the top (1/4″ seam allowance), leaving an opening for turning. Be sure that at the beginning and at the end of the seam, you run a few stitches back and forth as an anchor, so it doesn’t pull apart when you turn the bag inside out. I like to start on the inside of one of the handles and sew all the way around to the inside of the other handle.

IMG_5260Pull the bag through the hole and once you’ve done that, stuff the lining inside and iron the top flat. You’re making sure that the hole edges are ironed down.

Then … top stitch around the top of the entire bag. These stitches will also help anchor the handles in place.

Believe it or not, you’re finished!

These are wonderful tote bags. Enjoy!

IMG_5263

 

No Exceptions

IMG_4927I drove through Campus Town in Ames today. It’s always fun to see kids starting their lives, rushing from class to class. I don’t miss those years at all, but I do like watching from a distance.

As I drove past a church, two handwritten banners hung in their front windows. The first read: ‘God Loves You’ and in the next window, ‘No Exceptions.’

No exceptions.

My mind was absorbed for the rest of the drive home. This is exactly what the Kingdom of God should look like here on earth. No exceptions.

As we journey from the cross to the Resurrection this weekend, those two words take on more significance. No exceptions.

God’s son did not die on the cross for some of the people. He didn’t die just for the Jews or for Christians; for people who go to church on Sunday mornings or those who seem to live perfectly holy lives. He didn’t just die for Americans or Catholics or Protestants, or for those whose belief systems – political, religious, or philosophical – line up with ours. He didn’t just die for white folk or rich people, those who can afford health care or who have a good work ethic. He didn’t just die on that cross for those who have their lives all together and whose children are brought up the way we believe they should behave. He didn’t just die for those with no mental health issues, or the families who can afford homes.

No exceptions.

Jesus Christ’s life on earth, his death, resurrection and his living presence are for everyone – no exceptions.

My heart aches at the ugly behavior and talk coming from those who proclaim their Christianity louder than they live it out. Mom always told me that actions speak louder than words. But we scream and yell our hatred and bigotry in the name of Jesus so that the words will seem louder than actions, and those who are as angry and hateful can hear the nasty words and support those ugly beliefs.

When Jesus was asked which commandment was the most important, he gave a simple response. Summed up, he said: Love God. Love Others. He didn’t place any exceptions on that. He didn’t tell people to love God and then love only some of the others. Jesus stated that we are to Love God and Love Others. No exceptions.

We’ll move past Holy Week and Easter Sunday and return to life as it always has been, giving little regard to the incredible passion that changed the world. The passion that came about because of exceptional love for all of humanity.

We are called to perfection as Jesus is perfect. That perfection comes from love. God’s love. When we live out that love, we find that we no longer need to scream and shout; our actions will be louder than our words and no one can drown them out.

Let this be the moment you decide to love, knowing how much God loved you.

No exceptions.

Bellingwood Vignette – Book 13, #3

TB loves the heating pad under my desk. Apparently he was plenty warm!

TB loves the heating pad under my desk. Apparently he was plenty warm!

Vignettes are published in the newsletters that come out each month, but every once in a while, I will write one that comes out before the 25th.

The vignettes are very short stories that fit within the context of the books, but aren’t necessary to the story. They might enhance something that you’ll read  in each book, but generally are just a quick look at some of the characters from their own perspective rather than Polly’s.

Book 13 is just around the corner (Friday, March 25th – only a couple of days away) and while you’re waiting, here is a quick look at what the kids are doing after school one day.

And They Call it Puppy Love

“Wait up, you guys,” Kayla yelled.

Mr. Smith stepped in front of her and she pulled up short. “No running in the halls, Miss Armstrong.”

“Sorry,” she muttered.

Rebecca had stopped in front of the girls’ bathroom to wait for her friend. “Slow down, Andrew. We have to wait for Kayla.”

“Whatever,” he muttered. “I’ll just be at my locker. Find me when you’re ready to go.”

She turned and watched him walk away. “What’s his problem?”

“Where’d Andrew go?” Kayla asked.

“I don’t know. His locker, I guess.” Rebecca shook her head. “What did Mr. Smith want?”

“Told me not to run.” Kayla huffed a laugh. “Like I run. I hate running. Why would I run in the halls when I don’t even like to run in gym?”

“I know, right?” Rebecca said, laughing. “Let’s get rid of some of this stuff.”

The two girls walked down the hall and turned the corner. Andrew was at the far end, leaning against his locker, watching them come his way.

Rebecca stopped in front of hers. “You go on. I just need to get my coat.”

“I’ll be right back,” Kayla said.

“Stupid boys,” Rebecca groused. She opened her locker and put books on the shelf and shoved things around so she could get her coat. It made her laugh. Polly was always complaining about how messy her room was. If she could see this, she’d go bananas. Kayla’s was way different. It was clean and really cute. She had Disney paper on the inside of the door and a sweet little white board and even a calendar hanging there. All organized and neat. Rebecca yanked on her coat and pulled it out from under the books she’d jammed in there all day, then dug around for her scarf.

Even there, Kayla was smarter than her. She always pulled her scarf through the sleeve of her coat so that she could find it right away. There it was. Polly would have a cow if Rebecca came home without it. No, that wasn’t right. She’d have the cow in the morning when Rebecca tried to leave without it on. She wrapped it around her neck twice and shoved her hair out of her face.

“Are you ready?” Kayla asked.

“Not hardly. How’d you get your stuff so fast?”

Kayla just laughed. “You should let me do up your locker for you.”

“You’d have to do it every week. I’ll just make a mess again.”

“Why don’t you hang any pictures up? Or even some of your drawings? Those would be really cool,” Kayla said.

Rebecca bent over and dug around on the floor of the locker, underneath a pile of folders. She pulled out a bent and broken corkboard. “Because everything breaks. I don’t even know where the pins are for this. Polly bought me some cute cat pins and they’re somewhere.”

“You should just throw that away.”

“Here, throw it away.” Rebecca shoved it at her friend.

Kayla took the three steps to a trash can and lifted the corkboard high, then let it drop. “See how difficult that was?”

Rebecca looked down at Andrew, still standing beside his locker. He was doing his best to ignore them. He spoke to some of the boys who were putting coats on, but kept a steady eye on what she and Kayla were doing.

“What did he do to you?” Kayla whispered. “Did he say something stupid? Are you guys breaking up?”

“No. He didn’t say anything stupid and we aren’t breaking up.” Rebecca kicked the bottom of her locker. “I hate this thing. I can’t find anything in here.”

“You really should let me clean it out for you. I could at least get you organized,” Kayla pleaded.

“I’m just going to throw everything away.” Rebecca bent over and picked up a stack of paper.

When she started toward the trash can, Kayla jumped in front of her. “No. You’ll be mad if you throw away some of your drawings. And there might be pictures in there and some of your stories.” She pulled out a piece of music. “And was this supposed to be turned in before Christmas.”

“They don’t care.”

“Yes they do. I was in the band room when Lisa and Sheena were sorting things. They were missing a bunch of parts. How are we supposed to play that again?”

“Then take it back.”

Kayla held onto it. “I will. Is there more in there?”

“Here.” Rebecca held out the stack, waiting for Kayla to extend her arms. When she did, Rebecca pushed everything at her friend. “You do whatever you want with it. Throw it out, color on it. I don’t care. Just get it out of my sight.”

“Why are you in such a bad mood?” Kayla asked, following Rebecca back to her locker. “What did Andrew do?”

“Who said he did anything?”

“I said. You only get like this when you and him are fighting.”

Rebecca shot a glance down the hall, turned her back on Andrew and bent into her locker. “It’s embarrassing when he gets all lovey-dovey,” she said in low tones, checking the hallway around them. Most of the kids were gone by this point. “I don’t want people teasing us because he’s always trying to sit beside me or…” she kicked the bottom of the locker again. “Whatever.”

“I wish I had a boyfriend try to get all lovey-dovey with me,” Kayla said. “You’re lucky. You shouldn’t be mean to him. What if he breaks up with you because you aren’t very nice.”

“I’d still have you,” Rebecca said.

Kayla didn’t respond, but looked down at the stack of papers in her hands.

“I’m mean to you, too. Is that what you’re thinking?” Rebecca asked.

Shaking her head very slowly, Kayla just smiled at her friend. “You’re never mean. Just a little volatile.”

“Where did you get that word?”

“Stephanie’s word-of-the-day calendar at home.” Kayla laughed and then looked worried. “But I didn’t think of you when we talked about it the word at breakfast. I promise.”

Rebecca took the stack of papers back from Kayla and jammed them into the bottom of her locker. “You can fix this up if you want,” she said. “But not tonight. Everybody else is gone. We should go.”

“Are you taking this?” Kayla asked, holding out Rebecca’s sketchbook.

“Yeah, I better.” Rebecca pulled her coat on, slung the backpack over her shoulder and then took the sketchbook from Kayla. She reached back into her locker and picked up her pencil case and kicked the door shut. “We’re leaving, Andrew. Are you coming?”

He trotted down the hall toward them. “Are you going to be mad at me all night?” he asked.

“I’m not mad,” Rebecca responded. She shook her head when she caught him giving Kayla a look. “I’m not,” she repeated. “Let’s just go.

They walked out of the front door of the school and she shivered as they hit the cold air.

“It’s cold,” Andrew said. “Let me hold your hand.”

Rebecca held up her hands, one with the sketchbook and the other with the pencil holder. “I have stuff in my hands.”

“You could put it in your backpack.”

Kayla laughed. “No she can’t. There’s no more room. Will you let me clean that out sometime, too?”

“At least let me button up your coat for you,” Andrew said.

“Fine.” Rebecca stopped in the middle of the street, planted her feet and turned to face him. “Button my stupid coat.”

“It’s really hard work being your boyfriend,” Kayla said. “He needs a medal.”

Rebecca watched her two friends try hard not to laugh and she shook her head. “I’m high maintenance?”

Andrew and Kayla looked at each other and then turned to look at her, innocence pasted on their faces.

“Of course not,” Andrew said.

Kayla spoke over him. “Not all the time.”

“But I don’t want to be high maintenance. I hate high maintenance girls.” Rebecca slumped her shoulders in defeat. “I’m sorry. You guys are my best friends. Here.” She handed the pencil holder to Andrew.

He took it and frowned at her until she held her hand out. “Oh.” Andrew smiled and took it in his.

“But just until we get to the highway,” Rebecca said. “I don’t want Polly to see it.”

He nodded. “This is good enough.”

Booze, Catnip & Light Sabers. Oh my.

IMG_4951Right in the middle of tearing through Book 13, I got a fun care package from my brother and sister-in-law. He does the ridiculous, she does the sublime (and some of the ridiculous). It’s always entertaining, though.

He warned me the box was coming and said there was something in it from “All Roads Lead Home” that needed to be re-created. Now, we had talked about him shipping some alcohol to me, so I began to wonder if the ingredients for “Red-Headed Slut” (the drink) might be showing up. I had no idea.

To be honest, I had to ask when I opened the box, because it still didn’t make enough sense to me. Then he reminded me of Doug and Billy’s Star Wars battle with homemade light sabers. When it gets dark enough tonight, I’m turning off the lights and will be varooming around the house with my glow-in-the dark saber.

Now, if you’ve been around a while, you’ll remember THIS POST with another care package my brother sent me. He’d just published Book 1 – Rookie Privateer – in his Privateer Tales series and station foam had erupted to seal the place from being exposed to space. He filled that box with spray sealant foam and I had quite the entertaining time extracting the wonderful gifts he and Janet sent to me.

This time, planning preceded execution and the unpacking wasn’t nearly as difficult. Though, there was still some foam that hadn’t completely hardened and even though I knew it, I still stuck my index finger into it. Apparently, a five year old still resides in my brain.

While the ingredients for the red-headed slut weren’t in the box, a couple of bottles of Fireball Whisky were. Spray foam is a perfect way to make sure those bottles remained in place.

Grey rolling around, reaching out to play with an unwilling TB.

Grey rolling around, reaching out to play with an unwilling TB.

Now, the fun started. The cats had been very interested in the box – because well – it’s a box! And there were new things that smelled like someone else’s house.

Jim & Janet wrapped the bottles in multiple layers of plastic bags so the foam didn’t adhere. But the fun was inside the bags. I pulled the first one open and couldn’t figure out why there was … oh my gosh, it’s CATNIP! I spread it out on the carpet and the cats went nuts. Janet (Jim?) had packed a little toy ball in amongst the catnip and I tossed it to Earl. He was gone.

Earl found his happy place.

Earl found his happy place.

TB landed on the catnip and wanted no one else to have any part of it. Grey wanted nothing more than to roll her little body all over it. He kept hissing, eating and batting at her whenever she got close. But she was persistent. Then she grabbed the toy from Earl and chased it around the room while little boy started rolling on the carpet. Happy, happy cats. I don’t often give them catnip, but wow do they love the stuff.

I opened the second bottle of Fireball and there was MORE catnip. It hit the floor, too and they were in pure bliss. Rolling, nibbling, more rolling, more nibbling, chasing, running. It was too much for them to handle. What fun, what fun.

The cats have finally fallen asleep. TB here on the table beside me, the kittens on the heating pad at my feet. I’m waiting until it’s dark to turn off all of the lights and swoop around the rooms with my glow-in-the-dark light saber. Okay, maybe I’m waiting for darkness and a couple of shots of Fireball to glow in my tummy.

I still have more editing and re-writing to do. There’s a vignette that needs to be written, a cover that needs to be finished – because the email newsletter comes out Thursday morning at six in the morning. If you haven’t signed up, do so right now – (right there on the right side of this page). You don’t want to miss all the fun.

Thank you, Jim and Janet. You made a good day – great!

Deadlines Work For Me

I work better with deadlines. I’m not fond of them, but deadlines force me to focus and complete tasks. When my sister and I owned the printshop, deadlines were imposed on us by our customers. Whether they were ridiculous or not (and often they were unbelievable), we worked to them. Not meeting a deadline was unacceptable.

TB landed in my mouse area and Grey felt she needed to be there as well. The lantern? That was one of those windy, blizzardy nights I worried we might lose power.

TB landed in my mouse area and Grey felt she needed to be there as well. The lantern? That was one of those windy, blizzardy nights I worried we might lose power.

We opened the printshop in 1984 with Mom. For a while, the three of us were the only ones there. In those early years, it seemed as if every Thursday night, I stayed at the shop, printing until four in the morning, then fell asleep on the floor until Mom and Carol opened the front door for business at eight. (We finally hired a press person and that silliness went away.) But for years after that, Carol and I did whatever it took to make sure projects were finished on time. I can’t tell you the number of times you could have walked into our living room and found all of us (including Dad), assembling booklets and newsletters, mailings and whatever other large project required our attention.

Anyway, deadlines. Those years of practice (no, I won’t call it torture) taught me a lot about time management. I still require a target deadline in order to finish the tasks in front of me. Friends insist that these are my own self-imposed deadlines and I can be flexible with them.

Not really. Because I refuse to take a step down that slippery slope. Each time a deadline passes that I don’t meet, I lose traction. This is my job, this is my livelihood, this is my future.

Wow, this is not at all what I was trying to say in this post. The last thing I want to do is get all self-righteous about deadlines. Life is much more fun than that.

See, the crazy thing about me meeting deadlines is that I have reverted to those Thursday nights. Right now I’m in a dead heat to finish this book by the deadline that I have created. That means that I am either thinking about the story or I’m writing words like mad.

When I write, I can’t have interruptions (other than kittens – everyone needs kittens (or pupper-dogs) ). I might as well just not write while there are other things going on. Activity on FB (yeah, yeah. I know, turn it off), phone calls, messaging, any number of things. I love every one of those distractions and know that I can wait to write and we’ll all be happy.

Do you see a theme? Cats where I'm working. They have a million places to sleep, but hanging out right in my space is preferable. I can hardly argue with that. I like having 'em around!

Do you see a theme? Cats where I’m working. They have a million places to sleep, but hanging out right in my space is preferable. I can hardly argue with that. I like having ’em around!

Around nine thirty in the evening, things slow down enough for me to change my focus An Evernote file is opened, I type the Chapter Number, re-read the end of the last chapter just to make sure I’m ready and then I go … and go and go and go. Some nights I can get through only a half of a chapter because I’m exhausted. Other nights … well … I’ve seen plenty of sunrises, but from the back end. When y’all are stretching your arms and slamming your alarms off, I’m begging the cats to tuck themselves in around me so I can relax and fall asleep.

The problem is that two hours later, they’re ready for more play time. But that’s another story.

In Diane’s perfect world, a personal robot would gladly do the tasks that need to happen during the rest of the world’s work day while I sleep (and oh, by the way, keep the kittens quiet for me, please). I’m sluggish and foggy-brained during the day (I never was much of a morning person – oh, I have funny stories around that … eh … funny to me, probably won’t translate well to anyone else). At night, though? The lights turn on. Every fiber of my being comes alive. The caffeine that I’ve ingested up to that point explodes in my cells, buzzing and humming until I pour it out. These are the moments that I live for. This is why I love what I do. It’s why I’m a hermit – the noise of the world falls away and its silence gives way to the cacophony in my mind.

These next two weeks are stressful, rewarding and exciting as I push to finish the initial writing of the book. Once the words are written, re-writes and edits happen until I have a raw first draft. There is so much more that happens from that point forward – beta readers (and I have plenty, not looking for more, though I thank you for your interest), cover and title creation, writing a synopsis, final editing (several times), formatting for paperback and Kindle, a couple of short stories and writing email newsletters, marketing … oh my.

So I cherish these last two weeks of intensive writing and re-writing. For now, this is all I have to focus on and though I am sleeping at strange and odd hours, it’s just the best fun of all.

BY THE WAY!

Don’t forget that this Friday and Saturday the Bellingwood Boxed Set (Books 1-3) will be FREE for Kindle. It’s a perfect opportunity for you to invite your friends to join you in this crazy little town we love. On Friday morning, I’ll create a post on Facebook with links so you can share them. THANK YOU for being part of this journey with me. 

Handling Conflict. Or, My Sister is a B-A

Carol - Kindergarten

Carol – Kindergarten (1967)

Last night as I was chatting with my sister, I accused her of trying to rescue everyone. Of course, that made me smile because it is who I’ve written in Polly.

I’ve had conversations this week with both my sister and brother and one thing that stands out is our frustration with inequality. It should be such a simple concept, but humanity isn’t wired to take care of others – only to protect and promote ourselves. Kindness, encouragement, support – it’s what we sometimes do for friends and family, but rarely for anyone else.

At least it feels that way. Gone are the days when polite behavior and considering other’s needs above your own is the norm. Am I right? Well … I hope not. I’ve exaggerated this for effect.

This morning was rough. The kittens and I do not have a good sleep cycle plan happening yet. But that’s a different topic. As I tried to fall back to sleep, I let my mind wander. This morning I thought about what had been going on in Carol and Jim’s lives and thought to myself: My sister is a bad-ass.

The three of us approach conflict, abusive personalities, wrong-thinking (on and on and on) in similar, but very different ways.

Jim has a lifetime of upper management skills. He’s learned to measure his thoughts and seek to reason with parties involved. Oh, he still loses sleep and his blood pressure rises, but he’s very good at finding the right words to bring everyone to the table. When someone upsets continuity, he backs away until he can speak reasonably.

I’ve always just put it out there. But I’ve lost friends because of that and over the years, I’ve come to realize that most people don’t care what my opinions are – and there is no way I will change theirs, so I don’t bother. Which is too bad, but the argument isn’t worth it any longer. I’ve fought hard for things I believed in throughout my lifetime and I’ve been treated hideously because of it. You know what? I lived. I still speak my mind, but only if I believe it’s worthwhile. Otherwise, I try to work on the other side – to find the positive and be encouraging.

Now Carol. She’s a riot. If you meet her, you will meet this incredibly sweet and wonderful person. She’s happy, positive, upbeat, enthusiastic, loving … all of those great things. That’s just her personality. She lights up a room when she enters. She’s gregarious and can hold a conversation with anyone. When we worked together at the print shop, strangers would come in and before they left, they’d told her their life story and she’d helped them.

Carol is our conciliator – our mediator. She is always trying to smooth the waters between people, working to understand both sides of a discussion so she can explain it and bring others back to the center.

But dang, if you cross that girl, you won’t even believe what you’ll get. It takes a lot to for her to get to the point that she’ll show outsiders her fury and it will surprise the heck out of you to see her go. But as I look back, some of her escapades are pure entertainment – and good for a story or two.

Carol and Jamie with Kadi and Charcoal (1968)

Carol and Jamie with Kadi and Charcoal (1968)

When she was just a kid in elementary school, she and Jamie walked to school (I went by myself, because ugh, they were so little and stupid) together. An older boy had been picking on Jamie regularly and one day, Carol was done. She went after that boy (who was actually older and bigger than her as well), thunked him on the head with her binder, and made him back off.

Years later, Carol and I were going home late one evening after work. We were driving down a one way (two lane) residential street and of course, street lights were out along the way. All of a sudden, we both saw it – a pickup truck parked in a driveway with half of his bed in the street. She swerved, cursed and then cursed some more. I was still trying to catch my breath when she made a quick turn, went around the block and pulled up behind the pickup. Carol parked and stormed out of the car up to the front door. When a young man answered, she let all hell rain down on him. He was in shock (of course) and called for his friend to fix it. He apologized over and over. I still hadn’t processed on all that had happened until long after she was back in the car and we were heading home again. Whoa!

A few years later, she and I were living in a gorgeous apartment on Park Avenue in Omaha. What a beautiful place. Big rooms, hard wood floors, beautifully restored wood trim. We loved it. But the neighborhood was a little dodgy. Two blocks down, a crack house had regular visits from the police – and today? Yeah. Don’t go there. Even angels fear to tread on that street.

Christmas 1988 - Ghenghis Khan in our apartment.

Christmas 1988 – Ghenghis Khan in our apartment.

When we lived there in the eighties, it was still … not horrible. But if we took long walks with our dog in the evenings, both of us went – just to be safe. One evening we were walking Genghis (a shih-tzu – Genghis Khan, King of the Mongrel Hordes) and there was a commotion across the street at a small local bar. Carol looked over and saw a man lift a tire iron to beat a kid. She hollered and started after him. I stopped her. Because a drunken idiot with a tire iron is never a good thing. She screamed again at the man to stop. He turned and said, “But he was stealing from me!” Okay, he was engaged now. (I was shaking and ready to run for help.) She told him that beating someone was wrong. If the kid really stole from him, he should call the police. And oh, by the way, we were calling them if he didn’t stop. The guy stopped, the kid ran, and we scurried home.

Seriously – bad-ass sister. Who knew? She scares me sometimes and I’m not afraid of much when it comes to that stuff.

Nowadays, Carol deals with little freakin’ bullies in her classroom. They break her heart because she wants them to understand how much better life is without that kind of ugliness. She isn’t afraid to wade into messes that she should probably avoid, but the kids know what side she’s on – every day.

Everyone has stories of when they’ve stood strong between right and wrong, but they shouldn’t just be individual stories. These should be a lifetime of knowing what the right thing is to do and doing it. Maybe there should be more of a moral to this post, but honestly … today I’m just chuckling when I think about my sweet, kind, wonderful sister being some kind of hell-on-wheels bad-ass! I love that!

Marketing? Stop Complaining, Diane.

BellingwoodBoxedSet1-3Marketing is a pain in my butt. I hate it, hate it, hate it. I spend money to give my books away for free and then I spend hours filling out forms on various websites that ask me more questions than I’m comfortable answering sometimes. I won’t be surprised to find a question about the color of my underwear one of these days. None of the marketing sites ask exactly the same questions, so it’s always a tossup as to which answer I need to create.

As I sat here complaining to myself (well, and the cats, too), I realized that I want my books to just do the work for me. And then I laughed because you know what? I’m a lousy manager.

What in the world, Diane? Non-sequitur much?

Not really. See, when people work for me, I just want to assign the work and then have them to it without anymore input from me – unless a crisis comes up. But that’s just not reality. People are people. And I’m a horrible, horrible manager. It makes me cry to have to manage people.

Consequently, I no longer do that. And I don’t cry over that anymore. (I cry over everything else, though – sheesh – what waterworks these eyes are).

Notice their tails? I did that. Because I love messing with them while they sleep.

Notice their tails? I did that. Because I love messing with them while they sleep.

This is one of the things about self-publishing. There isn’t some little lackey out there in media / publishing land who creates promotions and spends hours finding new and creative ways to convince the world they should buy your books. Nope. It’s all about dimly lit rooms with computer monitors and cats surrounding you. (Wait – that’s probably just me – not every other author who self-publishes likes kittens and dimly lit rooms.)

Okay – enough complaining. The awesome, amazing, wonderful side of marketing my own books? When it’s all over and the forms filled out, the money gone from my account and the dates are scheduled, I know that I’m about to meet really fabulous people who are introduced to my Bellingwood books and fall in love with the stories.

Little by little, person by person, my books really do begin doing the work for me. You share with your friends and family, they share and the network grows. That network means that I get to meet and find out about some of the coolest people in the world. I am continually blown away by how fun that is.

Moving out of Sigourney - 1980

Moving out of Sigourney – 1980

When I was growing up, we moved a lot. Methodist ministers didn’t stay in one place much longer than 5-6 years. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. As much as I adored the friends I had already made, I knew that this was an opportunity to meet so many more great people. This had a lot to do with my parent’s attitudes about change. They taught us to greet it with anticipation and expectation. Mom, especially, prepared us to have fun with all of the new people we would encounter. (The funny thing – both she and Dad were hermits, too!)

So, just like the hated days of packing up the house (we had a lot of stuff) to move, I got through this day of scheduling marketing – knowing that on the other side, something great is going to come.

You always have to look for the fun – right?

Oh … wanna know the dates? Tell your friends!

I’ve scheduled the Bellingwood Boxed Set to be free on February 19-20 and then again on March 3-5. Don’t worry. You’ll see those dates again as we get closer, but if you’ve been waiting to share the series – the time is here!

Little Moments

It really is about the little moments in life, isn’t it!

The cats and I just had a blast and because words rattled around in my head, I needed to share. However, because I was busy processing on the words – there are no photographs of this actual event.

Tuna casserole has been tantalizing me for a few months. Don’t know why it took so long to make it – it’s a simple recipe and it’s one of my favorites.

Mom didn’t make casseroles. That’s not how she learned to cook, so we didn’t have them unless someone in the congregation made one and gave it to us. Tuna was something she purchased to create tuna salad. Well, heck, when she was on a diet, she just ate tuna and cottage cheese. That happened often.

Anyway. Tonight was the night. Last night I made sure I had all of the ingredients so all I had to do was cook some noodles and mix the ingredients.

Three cans of tuna. Three cats. Perfect equation. What was fun was watching their little personalities at play throughout this extravagance.

For the kittens, this was new. As soon as TB smelled tuna in the air, he was right there in front of me. He knew this would be awesome.

IMG_4827

The kittens will do nearly anything to be close to TB – no matter how uncomfortable it might be.

I squeezed the tuna juice (water) into three little dishes and put his in front of him immediately, then one in front of Grey – because she was in a PANIC! If TB was that excited, it had to be great. Earl sat on the floor in front of me, desperate to be in on it, but he couldn’t think fast enough to get to a chair that would give him access to the table. I put his on the floor so he could participate right away.

TB hunkered in. This was his to enjoy.

Grey dashed back and forth, trying to figure out where the most fun would happen. Was it at the dish of tuna juice? Maybe one of the empty cans of tuna. Would Mom let her near the casserole dish where all of the ingredients were landing? Oh my, oh my, oh my!

And Earl? That little sweetie just kept looking up at me – he’d found nirvana. I could read it in his eyes. “Thank you, Mom. You’re the best ever.”

They are so distinct in their personalities and those few moments – over dishes of tuna juice – were pure pleasure for me. Each cat was able to experience something simple that I could do for them and they experienced it in their own way.

So what if Grey was all over the place. That was her joy. So what if Earl couldn’t figure out how to get to the top of the table (he usually can, he was overwhelmed). I could make it easy on him and he was content. And TB? This was old hat and one of those few moments that I let him (them) be involved in what I’m cooking.

IMG_4850

I love this face.

Apparently I need to make tuna casserole more often. We all love it.

As I watched each of them find their own way through the moment, I thought about how wonderful it is to do things for other people. I love to give gifts. I’m making quilts right now. Who knows where they’ll end up – or even if they’ll work out. I’m kind of a newbie at this. But those moments of someone else’s joy pile up in my mind as I cut out pieces of fabric and plot a pattern.

When I first started writing, I didn’t have very many readers. I could identify most of the people who were reading my books. And you know what? I wrote the story as if I were telling it to them. Their reactions to bits and pieces of the book were in my mind at all times. Those moments were surely only mine, but once the book was published, it became something that I shared with them, even if it wasn’t at the same time.

Some of the most fun I have is in the moments – whether they are shared immediately or put off until later. I don’t want to miss any moments because I’m too caught up in negative crap. I agonize for those people who spend so much time looking for (and finding) ugliness, anger, bitterness, betrayal and frustration. They miss moments of joy.

Silly little moments. Perfect moments that add up to so much more.

Edit:
Hehe – I re-read this and thought: someone is going to think I’m an imbecile because I used the word extravagance instead of extravaganza. When, in truth, I wanted to use the word extravagance. Just thought I’d put that out there.