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?”

Mother’s Day, Pt. 1

TB - 2011 in my arms. He was only 3 months old.

TB – 2011 in my arms. He was only 3 months old.

I’ve waited years to tell this story because I wanted to make sure I didn’t embarrass anyone. My sister says the people involved have probably forgotten about it, and besides, I haven’t seen them for a couple of decades anyway (wow, how time flies.)

Mom died in March of 1987. Of course it was difficult and I still miss her, but even in the middle of grief, there were some hilarious moments.

The first Mother’s  Day after her death (a month and a half maybe?) Dad, Carol and I assumed we would just hunker in and not pay any more attention to it than necessary. Carol and I had moved home a year or so earlier to help Mom open a printing business. When she got sick, we were glad to be there to help when necessary and stay close to her as well. So, there’s that …

Anyway, Dad preached a bland Mother’s Day sermon, the church gave out flowers or something or other and we thought we might escape and make it through the day.

Nope! A very nice woman, whose husband had long-since died and whose kids lived far away invited us to come over after church. With no other plans in place, the three of us traipsed to her home and had a lovely dinner. She made a fuss over us … over Dad, showed us (him) all over her home and finally let us leave when the time was appropriate.

All we could think was that the first Mother’s Day was over and the next year would be easier. We were thankful for a little distraction in the day and went home and crashed, completely oblivious to the trouble we had just stirred up in that little church.

A few days passed. Carol and I were at work every day, so we didn’t pay much attention to what was happening at church. We had choir practice that next Wednesday evening and didn’t notice anything, even though the woman who had invited us to dinner seemed a little uncomfortable.

Then came the next UMW (United Methodist Women) meeting. None of us were aware of anything going on, but one of our close friends, an older woman who had the craziest sense of humor, showed up in Dad’s office after that meeting to tell him the story. She was getting such a kick out of it all.

Apparently, tempers had flared, cross words had been spoken and the middle-aged single women were HOT at each other. They had actually discussed the fact (not long after Mom died) that they needed to give Dad six months to finish grieving his wife’s loss. Until then, he was off limits as dating material. But then, someone crossed the line. By inviting us to Mother’s Day dinner, this woman had thrown down the gauntlet and the gloves were off.

One of those women fully intended to be the next minister’s wife – and queen of the church. And because only one of them had thought to be so generous as to invite us to dinner on Mother’s Day (How could she? How crass!), the others felt as if they’d lost their chances at putting their best feet forward. The funniest thing? They no longer cared about Dad’s grieving period. They were going for it.

Fortunately for everyone involved, my father was a very smart man. He immediately let it be known that he needed a lot of time. And the truth is, he did. It took him nearly four months to come back to life again. But by Thanksgiving, he was dating a woman from out of town. That didn’t make the church ladies too thrilled, but what could they do? Throw a tantrum? Admit that they were conniving to trap the preacher? They were at a loss.

Is there a moral to this story? I can think of a bunch of ’em, but for now, though I had to wait twenty-eight years, I still find it hilarious.

Exercising New Brain Cells

I wish that somewhere along the line, my extremely artistic mother would have spent more time with me helping me to become a better artist. That’s a regret. But she didn’t and at this point, the regret is complete silliness, nothing I can do about it. I envy people who can take images from their mind and bring them to reality. SO MUCH!

One of my favorite illustrators is Rebecca B. Her little characters and stories for children are wonderful. I love watching her stories come alive as she draws. So today … on the Facebook Bellingwood page, I hope you will all share something that you have been creatively creating this last week. I don’t care what medium you use (no photography yet – that’s a June thing – trust me, you’ll be glad you waited), I just want to see what you’re doing. Whether you’re in the middle of a project, have something completed, or are just starting out … take a quick picture of it and post it in the comment section of this post over on Facebook. If you can figure out how to do it here, that will count as well.

On Saturday afternoon, I will randomly select one person who has posted a comment with a picture of their work to win a signed copy of Rebecca B’s “Trini Bee” (click the title to see the Amazon description).

PictureWe’ll be doing this all through the month of May, so you have multiple chances to win a copy of her books. If this stirs you into doing something fun and creative – AWESOME. If it’s just a chance to show off some of the fun things you create – even better!

Picture 2Now … I told you that I’m sketching / doodling / drawing this month. I am NOT an artist. Not by any stretch of the imagination. The worst thing? I find myself annoyed that it takes so long to actually put this all together. Apparently, I’m really not an artist. But it makes different parts of my brain work and that’s good for me, so I will stick with it this month and see what I come up with. I’m willing to show my lame attempts to you – and please don’t feel that you have to tell me how good they are. It’s okay. I don’t have to be great at this. All that matters is that I’m doing something. I’m also not looking for artistic help / advice / critique. For all of you who look and see how bad my perspective is … that’s cool. Hush.

I have this awesome journal that I write in every day. There’s a lot of space in this thing for all sorts of creativity, so I’m using the non-journal pages to sketch and draw. But that’s the background that you’re seeing.

Now, show me what you’re doing!

Post-Writing Randomness

Well, Book 10 is written. The first draft is finished and now comes the hard work … the re-writes. I introduced a character that I don’t particularly need, so he needs to come out. But that’s okay, he’s unimportant in the whole scheme of things.

Because I normally go through a bit of depression after I finish a book, I started right away on Book 11. The first chapter is written and the new character has been introduced. He’s starting to develop in my mind, so I’m looking forward to exploring what he’s up to.

My to-do list has exploded in the last couple of days. Everything from writing to sewing, to designing promotional things, creating giveaways and shipping. I have a little desk / table that I need to get built for the front porch … because it’s spring and I should be as close to the outside as I can get without actually being in the middle of bugs and rain and other critters that make me shudder.

IMG_2797Thunder, rainstorms and sunshine have combined to push central Iowa into the heart of springtime. Everything is so lush and green, rivers are swollen, color is exploding. People are anticipating summer vacations, my teacher friends can hardly wait for the end of the school year, the campgrounds are starting to fill on the weekends. In another month or so, they’ll even be full during the weeks. This afternoon I passed a field full of sheep … and lambs! Oh, the sweetest little lambies toddling around on their little legs.

Iowa farmers are planting. Black dirt! Really black dirt. Believe it or not, a person once asked if farmers injected black die into the dirt here. This is some of the richest farm ground in the country and it’s fun to watch the land come alive in the spring.

It’s Thursday and tomorrow we’re going to have fun with visual arts over on the FB Bellingwood page … join us with anything fun that you’re working on … even if (especially if) you’re learning something new! Trust me, my sketches and doodles aren’t anything to turn over to the Guggenheim, but I’ll share anyway.

May Challenge – Visual Arts

scan-2015-02-19-0001Apparently, I had more to say on this, so yesterday’s blog post wasn’t the last you’ll see from me in a while.

This morning, while trying madly to fall back to sleep, my brain was running on high octane for some reason. So, I just let it have fun and waited until it was finished.

Here’s what we (my brain and I) have decided to do during the month of May:

Because there were several people who commented that they might take this visual arts challenge on during the month, I thought maybe I’d make it worth your while to jump in with us. You don’t have to do what I’m doing – which is to sketch or doodle, draw or color each day, but maybe you could pull something off each week.

Every Friday (starting May 8 – we’ll end it on Friday, June 5), I will create a post on the Bellingwood Facebook page. Comment there with a picture or scan of what you’ve created during the last week and I will use my online random generator to choose someone’s name as a winner (we’ll get to the prizes in a minute).

All types of visual art are welcome – except photography (I’ll tell you why in a minute, too). Gardens, cross-stitch, knitting, crochet, sewing, quilting, drawing, painting, doodling, coloring, embroidery, floral designs, glass etching, sculpting, pottery … seriously, there’s no limit. As long as you consider it to be visually interesting or beautiful … and you’ve created it with your own hot little hands, submit it. Take a picture of it or scan it (to a jpg) and post it in a comment and you’re entered.

Why not photography? Because that’s my June challenge. I’ve already set aside the month of June to take a photograph each day and I’m going to invite you to participate in that as well. I’ve got a great idea for prizes for that, but we’ll discuss that when we get closer. So … no photography this month – well, except for taking pictures of your great creations.

Rebecca BPRIZES!

Oh my gosh, I can’t wait to share these with you. My friend, Rebecca B, is a most amazing illustrator and storyteller. She has created a wonderful series of books. These have been written to encourage children … to show them how extraordinary they are. Parents and grandparents, teachers and daycare providers should all have these books in their libraries. I can’t say enough fabulous things about what she does.

Each week, one of these signed books will be awarded to someone who offers an entry onto my visual arts post. Take a few minutes to check out Rebecca’s website – AND, check out her Facebook page. I appreciate that you have all taken time to ‘like’ my Facebook page. It really means a lot to authors and artists when you do this. You really have no idea how important it is to us. So … ‘like’ her page and explore The Imaginary World of Rebecca B.

I’m off to do a little sketching or doodling or something. I can only tell you that it’s a good thing TB doesn’t care about showing up in social media. Drawing a cat is good practice for me and drawing him makes me waver between frustrated (because I want to capture his essence – hahaha) and happy – because he’s so stinking adorable! The sketch at the top of this post was from a couple of months ago. I haven’t started yet today.