Silence

One thing I’ve learned to appreciate more than anything is silence.

When I’m out here in the middle of nowhere, I hear a lot of it after the sun goes down. All of the tractors and big equipment have been parked for the night, the wind begins to settle, the birds go to sleep.112314 TB stopping me from playing a game

I turn everything off in the house and hear … nothing.

It’s an incredible sound, filled with peace and contentment.

There was a day when I had to have noise … white noise, television, music … noise. It shut out worry and stress.

But now, I appreciate nothing more than the stillness of the world around me.

When was the last time you sat in the absolute quiet of the moment?

Spring is Springing

Spring 02It’s a grey, dreary day (again), but yesterday was gorgeous. The bright blue sky and warm (er) temperatures made for a glorious day to be outside. TB wanted all of that. Now, truthfully, he wants to be outside today, too. What’s he know, he’s just a cat.

I have a friend in Florida who asked for pictures of spring. She said that it’s always green down there. What?

We take for granted the differences in the seasons sometimes. Okay … I do. The yellow-green buds on the trees before they leaf out, the emerald green of new grass … everything that signifies spring to me.

Spring 04I went outside with my camera and shot around the property here. It really is beautiful, even as the trees are trying to spread their leaves and the grass is working to slough off the brown and grey. Ditches that were filled with grey, sooty snow and mud are now rich with beautiful color, deep, black dirt in the fields is being turned and prepared for planting. Ornamental trees are exploding with pinks, reds and whites. The onset of spring is one of my favorite things.

Soon these trees will offer shade that protects my little place from the heat of summer. The grass will grow and need to be mowed, and cool grey days will give way to warm grey days. I can hardly wait to sit on the porch and listen as the rain falls from the sky on one of those warm rainy days.

Spring 05By the time late February and early March arrive, I begin complaining (loudly sometimes) about winter. I’m tired of being house bound with an energetic cat. I’m tired of worrying whether everyone is safe on icy roads, I’m tired of the cold and the wind that whistles through every layer of clothing I wear.

But I wouldn’t trade the seasons that I get to experience in the Midwest. Even on the days when I wonder if spring will ever truly arrive, I know in my heart that it is coming and all I have to do is exercise a little patience. In the summer when I am exhausted from dealing with the heat and all I want is a breath of fresh, cool air, I know that it will come.

I’m thankful for the sunshine I experienced yesterday and as I look at these pictures, I know that it will return – I just have to be patient.

And maybe I’m thinking about the weather too much. I could probably take a cue from TB and just be glad for whatever the day brings because it’s another day to be alive and hang out with a friend.

I Can’t Be Trusted

Dew ShineSee this? Do I need it? No. Was it a spur of the moment purchase? Yes. Did I succumb to their stinking marketing technique? Absolutely.

Here’s the deal. I don’t need to buy much of anything (other than clothes, food, etc.) and walking into a store almost always ensures that I will walk out having spent more money than I wanted to spend. Always.

I have a house filled with things I don’t need. I wish someone would just take that stuff away and give it a happy home.

Most items I buy, I get from Amazon because I don’t have to deal with some smart marketing department tugging on my weak and feeble heart strings. I know what I want or need, I put it in my cart, I sit on it for a couple of days and if I still want it, I place the order and it shows up.

Because I can’t even walk into a convenience store without getting trapped. Fortunately they don’t sell high ticket items or I’d be sunk. Truthfully, the only reason I was in there was to use their bathroom, but I’m unable to do that without buying at least something. I had that something in my hand and was headed for the register, safe at only spending a few dollars.

Bet me!

I’m hopeless.

Choices

This post might seem to be a bit of a rant, I suppose. I’ll just tell you that up front and you can stop reading before you go any further.

The other day I saw a ‘poster’ that said something about how much poor grammar bothered the person who posted it. That made me think … and then think some more.

While I am highly conscious of using proper grammar and spelling in my own writing, the last thing I want to do is intimidate others in how they write or speak. The only purpose that serves is to stop them from communicating. It doesn’t fix what they haven’t learned, it bullies them. It also makes a clear distinction between those who do and those who do not use proper grammar. And that distinction only serves to separate us.

Friends and readers have told me they were afraid to communicate publicly with me because they didn’t have polished communication skills. Oh no, no, no, no, no. That isn’t what I’m about at all.

So I’ve made a choice to not be bothered by grammar and word usage in written forums. The relationship is much more important. Learning by intimidation and bullying will never work, but teaching by example might.

When I was young, we discovered that I have perfect pitch. What a blessing that was. It made my early music education so much easier and I enjoyed accompanying musicians because I could quickly discern and change keys for them as they performed.

One day, someone put me in front of an old, battered piano and asked me to play. I did so and had great fun. Another person took me aside and asked why I wasn’t cringing the entire time. The piano was horribly out of tune and with my perfect pitch, it should have made me a wreck. I shrugged it off. I’d been asked to do something for someone and the shape of the piano had nothing to do with the gift that person needed.

I made a choice not to be bothered by the out of tune piano. Why would I refuse to play because of that?

Not long after my mother died, I was out with friends. We were laughing and having fun. One of them quietly asked how I was able to be so happy when I’d just lost my best friend. It didn’t occur to me that I shouldn’t be happy. Of course I missed her, but my life was continuing. I hadn’t died. Mom did.

I made a choice to be happy in the midst of death. I grieved her loss, but that didn’t change the fact that my life was full and moving forward.

Because I am active on the Facebook Bellingwood page, I spend a lot of time there. A rather large number of ugly political posts show up on a regular basis. People tend to react and respond with just as much ugliness no matter the side of the argument, creating a furor and causing more ugliness. I began removing those posts and their original sources from my feed.

I’ve made a choice to not fill my life with ugliness and conflict. Posting and responding on Facebook (or Twitter, or anything) with anger and hostility will not cause transformation. The biggest changes we see in the world that have come about due to social media? Kindness, grace, love, caring, and giving are their foundation.

fork-in-the-road-624151138_f1ff60b2db_oIn an attempt to set ourselves apart in a world filled with noise … we take the easy path. We taunt, we belittle, we bully, we tear others down to build ourselves up, we yell and scream to be heard above the cacophony. That’s the easy road. Everybody is on it and they’ve paved it with tears, blood, hearts, souls, and sometimes even bodies.

Take the more difficult route. Make a choice every time you speak, post or write something. Be an encourager, a comforter, be merciful, be a peacemaker, be humble.

Make the choice.

Happy Birthday, Jamie!

Jim burying Carol in SandNot too many days ago, I walked down memory lane in a post for National Siblings Day. But now, I have a good reason to tell more stories about my brother. It’s his birthday.

He really didn’t have it easy. He came into a family with two little girls who were actually pretty obedient. From the very beginning, he made sure that Mom and Dad weren’t going to just accept easy as the norm. He was the one who had stitches, who broke his arm, who tried to electrocute himself, who got in trouble with … well, anyone. He had no intention of following in our footsteps.

Jim probably has the highest IQ of the three of us, yet his grades totally stunk, because he simply wasn’t going to play that game. When it came time to go to college, Carol and I stuck close to home and Jim said ‘nope, bye-bye’ and left the state. He flat out ignored expectations and forged ahead on his own. No one was going to limit him except himself and no one was going to tell him what to do.

Jim Carol Kadi Charcoal 1968Mom named both me and Carol with the full intention of no one ever shortening our names. It was a deliberate move. However, once there was a boy in the mix, she wanted to honor family members, so James Arthur was named. However, Mom refused to have a ‘Jimmy’ running around in her life, so she is the one who shortened his name immediately to Jamie. Funny thing … we moved to a new community after his freshman year in high school and his independent streak popped out again. The first Sunday after church, when he introduced himself, out popped “I’m Jim. Jim Greenwood.” All of us looked at him in shock and he gave us an “I dare you to challenge me” look. That was it. He was Jim.

He tested Mom’s patience over and over. When we moved into a new parsonage in Sigourney, she found little piles of ash all over our basement where young firestarter boy fed his need for bad behavior. I remember her being quite grateful that the house was still standing.

This boy (and a buddy) poured laundry soap in our local fountain. When one of my best friends was watching them for a week while the rest of us were on a mission trip, he and this same friend … refilled a 2 liter mountain dew bottle (what else looks like Dew?) and put it back in the refrigerator. Fortunately, I have smart friends.

Jim's Room - W. LibertyHe is five years younger than me, which means that until I was out of college, he was just a pain the neck. His pranks annoyed me and I’m sure I was fairly free with my disdain for him. Fortunately, I had a year at home between college and my first job. That was his senior year in high school and we discovered a friendship that had never existed. I’m thankful for that.

Mom died before Jim had a family. I’m sorry she’s missed that. It would have given her a lot of joy to watch him be a dad … all responsible and stuff. As his kids started making their way through the vagaries of childhood into adulthood, I waited for him to tell some of his crazy stories. I wasn’t going to tattle on him, first. I don’t know how many of his mistakes he’s shared with them, but those are part of what turned him into the good dad that he is.

Jim is the best story teller among us. When he starts telling tales, I excuse myself to go to the bathroom first, because I know that once he gets started, I’m going to be laughing and crying without reservation. He’s the only person who has ever put me … literally … on the floor because I was laughing so hard. I can’t believe I survived that night.

10152044_10203614033092925_6545489859369742573_n

Pressing ‘publish’ on his first book!

We’re having a lot of fun right now – writing books in tandem. It’s been a great experience to share with him. It is nice having someone you trust to share ideas with, knowing they’ll go nowhere else until it’s time to put them out into the world.

If you haven’t found his books yet, you should check him out. He writes adventure / science fiction and the first book in his fantasy series is awesome. Check out his website, but then … like his Facebook page and tell him Happy Birthday. The first book in his Privateer Tales is “Rookie Privateer” and the first in his Guardians of Gaeland is “Lesser Prince.”

Happy Birthday!

Warm, Fuzzy Feelings

IMG_1578You know that feeling you get when the house is clean, the kids are in bed, your spouse is doing something other than needing you to take care of them, the weather is perfect, bills are paid, you’ve gotten enough sleep …

No? Well, neither do I. But I can imagine it.

Sometimes, though, all of those things don’t need to have happened for me to feel contented and happy. It’s really a matter of focus. I don’t have to focus on all of the things that haven’t been done, I concentrate on great things that happen.

Well, maybe not even great things – just the little things that make me smile.

Now, today the house is clean and because it was so cool last night, I slept wonderfully. I have two of those things going for me. That’s a great start.

As I was sitting at my desk feeling all warm and fuzzy, I wondered exactly why that might be. The truth is, it is the community that is building up around Bellingwood. What an amazing group of people you are.

When I see negative, snipey, hostile comments floating around, I sneak in and read your positive words. You are encouragers – if you’re doing this for me, I know it’s part of your nature and you’re doing it for others. You support people – your friends – and often people you’ve never met in person.

I love writing, but more than anything, I treasure the fact that I am getting to know so many amazing people because of what I’ve written. I write the characters in Bellingwood because of the great people I’ve known throughout my life. I continue to write these characters because of the great people I’m meeting.

Thank you for being part of this.

Bellingwood Vignette (05)

These vignettes are just a small glimpse at other characters when Polly isn’t around. They don’t change the story or add anything that you’d miss if you didn’t read them. The first four vignettes are based on stories you’ll find in Book 9.

This story, though, could happen at any time. It’s just one of many conversations that happen in the background on any given day.

il_170x135.241941956All That Glitters

Jeff strode into the kitchen at Sycamore House and set his mug on the counter loud enough to get Sylvie’s attention.

“Yo, kitchen wench,” he said. “What kinda coffee ya got for me this morning?”

“Yo, strumpet,” she retorted. “Same as every morning. You know where it is.”

“Where’s Rachel?” he asked “Don’t you two have a lunch to cater or something?” Jeff poured coffee from the urn on the counter and went on through the kitchen to the table by the back window.

“No, it was more like a continental brunchey thing at the library. She’s taking care of it. I’m working on the cake for the wedding.”

Jeff pulled a plate of scones closer and turned it around a couple of times, looking for just the right choice. Before he could select one, Sylvie slid napkins across the table at him.

“Can you sit for a minute?” He gestured to a chair across from him.

She shrugged and sat down. Before he could say anything, she jumped up again.

“What?” he asked. “Don’t you ever sit still?”

“I need coffee.” Sylvie took her mug up from the prep table, refilled it, and came back to join him. “So what’s up?”

“Not much. I’m tired of my office.”

“Don’t lie to me, mister man. You never drop in for coffee unless you need to talk.”

Jeff sipped his coffee, looking at her over the rim. “You’re much too observant.”

“It’s a mom thing. Is it work? A boy?” She winked at him. “Heaven forbid, is it a girl?”

He chuckled. “It’s really nothing…” He paused. “It’s kind of work. Do you ever wonder if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing?”

Sylvie set her jaw and then put her hand out to touch his forearm. “You can’t be serious. You aren’t leaving us, are you?”

“No,” he slowly shook his head. “No. Like I said, it’s nothing.”

“Don’t you nothing me, Jeff Lindsay. I won’t put up with that. You started something. You’ve put the fear of God in me and you will darn well finish what it is you’re thinking.”

“I love my job. I really do,” he said. “And sometimes I think that it’s just ridiculous how much fun I have here. I like everyone I’m working with and you know as well as I do that working for Polly is easy. She lets us do our own thing.”

“And she appreciates everything you do,” Sylvie interjected.

“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “She’s free with the compliments. But is it weird that I like working in small town Iowa? Am I staying here because it’s safe and I don’t have to fight through challenges to grab big goals?”

“Do you want to run a big hotel in the middle of Manhattan?” Sylvie asked.

Jeff looked up at her in shock. “What? No!”

“Chicago? Kansas City? Dallas? Do you want to live in a large city?”

He shrugged and grimaced. “It would be a lot easier to find someone to be with.”

“That’s crap and you know it. The reason you haven’t found someone is because you’ve spent too much time working. But, you should also know that if Polly thought you weren’t happy because you were lonely, she’d…”

“She’d probably go find a string of nice young men for me to date,” he said, rolling his eyes.

“Either that or she’d tell you to leave if that’s what you needed to do.” Sylvie scowled at him. “Is that what this is about? Finding the love of your life?”

He gave her a shocked look again. “No!”

“Then what? Why are you questioning this?”

“I hate to admit it, but…”

“But what?” Sylvie tapped an invisible watch on her wrist. “You’re wasting time big boy. Out with it.”

Jeff laughed at her. “You’re a tough woman.”

“Yes I am. You’re babbling about how perfect your job is and how easy it is to work for your boss and how much you like this place and in the middle of that, you’re trying to make something terrible out of it. Now why would you be that foolish?”

“Because it’s too easy.”

“Uh huh. Go ahead. Explain that to me.”

“I got an email from a classmate this morning. She just lost her job managing a restaurant for some big time chef down in Houston. She worked hard for that job and clawed her way to the top.” He pursed his lips. “I feel guilty. I didn’t do any clawing.”

Sylvie laughed and snorted through her nose.

“Stop laughing at me,” he said.

“I can’t help it. You’re an idiot.”

“I know.” He drew the words out. “But nothing this good ever happened to me before. What am I supposed to think?”

“I would never have pegged you for one of those dopes who looks for the grey clouds in every silver lining.”

Jeff grinned. “I’m usually not, but this email shook me up. Everyone knew that Kimmy was going to be a success. She knew it. There were days I wanted to vomit while I listened to her sketch out her plans for the future. Nothing would stop her. And now … she’s been stopped.”

“Do you think she’ll find another job?”

“Probably.”

“Do you think she was happy?”

He sighed. “That’s the thing. I doubt it. But then I don’t know if she even understands the meaning of the word. She was always so driven. When the rest of us went out for drinks, she wouldn’t go. She said we were wasting time that could be put to better use. That girl worked all the time and when she wasn’t working, she was … well … working.”

“I can’t imagine what kind of life she’d lived up to that point to make her behave that way,” Sylvie said quietly. “You aren’t that person.”

“No I’m not,” he declared.

“And you don’t want to live her life, do you?”

“Only a little bit. Sometimes things are a little slow around here for me.” He grinned at her.

“Well, give yourself another year or two. With Polly opening new businesses in town, I think you’ll find yourself plenty busy.”

“It’s so strange. I always saw myself running one place – a big hotel. I’d take care of all of the needs of the guests and make sure that everything they encountered was smooth. Around here, I never know what I’m going to deal with next. Some days I’m helping guests at the hotel, and then in the middle of that, I have a Chamber of Commerce meeting to discuss some Crazy Dayz event downtown. Then, I’m managing a kids club on Monday afternoons or soothing bridezillas and their mothers, and now I’m adding a bakery.”

“And you hate it?” Sylvie teased him.

“Stop it. You’re right. It’s more than I ever could have imagined. I use information I never knew I had.”

Sylvie stood up and stepped back from the table. “So now what are you going to do?”

He glanced back and forth. “I don’t know?”

“You’re going back to work. You aren’t going to complain about it any longer. You’re going to be thankful you have what you have and you’re going to leave me alone so I can get this stupid cake going. Will you please tell Henry to hurry so I have a full-blown bakery?”

“Yes ma’am,” Jeff said, mocking in his chagrin. “I’ll be good.”

“You’re right, you will. And the next time you hear about one of your classmates failing in their high-powered job, remember that any one of them could have come to Bellingwood instead of you. You are a lucky man.”

“Okay,” he said. Jeff rinsed his mug out in the sink. “You really are tough.”

Sylvie hugged him. “That’s from being a mom. If you’d really needed a sympathetic ear, I’d have found it within myself to give that to you.”

“Good to know,” he said. “When I’m feeling sad about my love life, will you commiserate with me?”

“Nope, I’ll kick your butt. Commiseration implies that I’m feeling sad about mine. I don’t need that right now. If you want it, fine, but leave me out of it.”

“We don’t get to talk about your love life, do we?” Jeff asked.

“No you don’t. Now go back to work. This cake isn’t making itself.”

Saturday night in Bellingwood

Things are never dull in Bellingwood … and that means there is always something going on up in my mind.

My husband spent the weekend here in Iowa – we hoped to have lots of sunshine so that he could traipse around the neighborhood with his camera. We had a little bit of sunshine and of course, today storm clouds settled in and we’ve seen nothing but grey and rain.

However, Max did some quick cleanup on a couple of shots from yesterday and one or the other will be perfect for Book 10’s cover. Now all I need is a title … oh, and to finish the book. But, all in good time.

As we were driving toward Boone today, I stopped and said, “This is the Bellingwood corner. The town is just over that way about a mile.” He laughed at me. Every time I drive past it, though, that’s what goes through my mind – it’s the Bellingwood corner. In the last month or so, I drove up from Boone and it was getting dark and I could swear I saw enough lights off to the east for it to be a small town. I think the farmer over there is messing with my brain. Or my imagination is a little out of control.

Then Max asked where Polly had gotten run off the road. Well … the first time, it was on this highway, but the second time was over to the west several miles … on a road that I don’t like to drive because it is so twisty and turny and uppy and downy. It scares me enough that I avoid it. I suppose I should have told Polly that before she made the attempt.

We stopped in at the Tunnel Mill canoe access … just to see if there was anything there that would be good for a picture. The light was all wrong, but the pickup truck sitting in the parking area could well have been Henry’s as he and Polly walked with the dogs back in the woods.

The other day I asked on the Facebook Bellingwood page who you’d like to see me write the next vignette about. It started off strongly for Beryl and soon moved to Eliseo … and then to Jeff. The thing is, I need you to know that these vignettes are just a quick glimpse at something they’re doing while I’m in the middle of writing the next book. I don’t get too in-depth because of the huge number of readers that never get to these stories.

I know you’re desperate for more about Jeff, Eliseo, Sal, Sylvie … everyone. The funny thing? Their stories are pretty organic and will happen when they’re ready to tell me what needs to be told. And, when the story is told from Polly’s perspective, that’s the view you get to see. Jeff’s story will come … and then, another story about him will be told in the future. That’s just the way the series is going to go.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the events in my books happen over the course of a year and we glimpse two – three week sections in each book. Since I intend to be writing these for a very long time, each individual’s story might not happen for a while. I’d been intending to write Aaron’s story since Book 1 – and it didn’t show up until Book 9.

The other funny thing is that I never intended for Jeff to be a primary character. He was there as a support system to Polly. When I first got started, Polly, Lydia, Beryl, Andy and then to some extent, Sylvie were who would figure centrally in the storyline. Well, LOOK how that turned out. Talk about having to keep up with the characters! They had their own agendas and it was all I could do to hold on for the ride.

The same thing with Eliseo. He came in so that Polly had some freedom from the nitty gritty daily work in the barn. All of a sudden, he was a major player in the story. Sal was a link to Polly’s life in Boston – and she decided to move to Bellingwood so she could be part of the books. I needed a librarian and Joss & Nate became close friends with Polly & Henry. These people will not leave me alone.

I have more characters who are clamoring to move into Bellingwood. There’s one right now that might show up at the end of Book 10. I’m trying to get him to hold on for Book 11, but he’s getting pretty noisy. He’s going to move into town and stay and he’s already told me what he’ll do once he gets there. He’s going to frustrate some of you (and that makes me giggle in a big way), but he’s a great guy and I can’t wait to introduce him to you.

Max heads back to Omaha tomorrow morning and I’ll be able to write again. I tell you what. Having things go on in my life is directly proportional to my being creative. If stuff is going on, I’m not writing. So, I’m glad that I have a clean place, my laundry is done, the cover for Book 10 is in process and … tomorrow it all stops and I go back to work.

First thing = a short little vignette about Jeff. Because he’s a hoot!

Oh, here’s a little hint (about 20%) of the cover I’ll be using for Book 10.
Book 10 cover hint

Solitude and Busyness

Meadow 5I have just renewed my understanding of the need for quiet, solitude and privacy (yeah. I totally typed soliturde first).

Anyway …

This week has been busy … filled with activity and things that needed to happen … other than writing. And you know what? I’ve gotten nothing … let me repeat that … NOTHING written. Other than the fact that I have a lot of other things finished and dealt with, I’m frustrated as heck. (and no, please … I don’t need advice or pity or anything like that … this fixes itself. Sometimes I just put stuff out there because I’m telling the story.)

When I owned the print shop, I was the graphic designer. Large projects would come in and they’d sit on the corner of my desk while all of the small bits of work got finished and sent out. Fortunately, I usually had a deadline looming and that would force me to get to it. But I knew that I needed a large chunk of time to be able to think through the project and build the process for creation.

One thing I learned about myself during those years was that I need empty head space in order to be creative. I can’t do that with a million things floating around in my mind. I can’t work with a cluttered desk (even though supposedly it’s a sign of creativity). If there is clutter on my desk, I feel that it needs to be dealt with and put away. Books back on their shelves, trash in the trash can, papers filed, everything put away. If there are small projects that need to be worked on, those have to happen and be gone so that I’m not thinking about them any longer. And if there is something looming out there … all I can do is think about that. I have to manage it before I can move on.

I can’t write for a few minutes, take a phone call, write for a few more minutes, go do dishes, write again, clear my desk and then write some more. Once I settle in to write, nothing can distract me or I’m sunk.

Now, I’m a multi-tasker from way back. My mind will fling itself a million different ways in order to finish lots of things. I particularly like it when I can start a project on one machine, let it work and do something else while it’s going.

When it comes to writing, though … I need to clear out the dross and find silence. Lots and lots of uninterrupted silence.

Between getting taxes done (that loomed for a couple of days) and then cleaning in order to have people here, dealing with a Jeep in need of TLC and pushing packages to the mailbox, I’ve spent my time doing tasks. Those have filled my world and while it’s great to have them finished, once I drop into bed, I look longingly into the room in my mind that holds my stories. I see them in there, talking among themselves and want to join them. But at that point my eyes are drooping, I’m yawning, and I know that all I will hear from them is mumbling. Nothing will be clear.

It’s funny. Even though I spend most of my life being a hermit … writing as a hermit, I’m desperately jealous of that time. I’m not a huge fan of the world interrupting me. I spent fifty years of my life living in interruptions. I loved every day of those years, but now that I’m here, I am almost frantic to hold on to these long drawn-out periods of peace, solitude and silence.

Max is coming up so that we can do some photography for the cover of Book 10. We’ll have a great weekend. And then, I can hardly wait to greet my stories again and listen as they fill my mind.