Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Preacher’s Wife, A Small Town … and a Hooker (and a Progress Bar)

I don’t know what triggered my memory of this story, but I am at my desk, bubbling with laughter.

When we first lived in Sigourney, my mother’s father moved into a one-bedroom Quonset hut home just down the alley a ways. Poor Mac was an absolutely brilliant man whose loss of eyesight had really messed with his world. He could no longer drive, he couldn’t read, he was pretty miserable.

Mac was a character. He wasn’t terribly comfortable with us kids, but he loved his daughter and some of his greatest fun came from stirring his son-in-law up. He could get Dad going and sit back and laugh for hours at the fun. When we lived in Morning Sun, Mac came back from a trip to Hawaii with slides. The only place to show them was on the large white shade that pulled down over our front window. All of a sudden, Dad gasped, jumped up, ran outside and then back in. Mac was showing the entire community his pictures of naked women on the beaches of Hawaii. He knew exactly what he’d done and took great pleasure in stirring up the preacher.

Mac smoked, drank heavily and … oh, by the way, loved women. A lot.

He was a terrible alcoholic – both of Mom’s parents were, as a matter of fact. The local liquor store in Sigourney was glad to deliver alcohol to him, until Mom figured out what was happening and threatened someone somewhere. I suppose that hearing from the Methodist preacher’s wife isn’t a great thing to have happen. They quit delivering.

When he lived in Iowa City, he met a … pimp. Let’s just call it what it was. Well, his eyesight got so bad that he could no longer live on his own and we moved him closer to us. Oh, what a riot that was. We kids (mostly Carol and Jamie) made extra money by cleaning his little house. It was horrible. Smelled so bad from the smoke … and he was a pig. He never washed a dish or picked anything up. The man either had a wife to do that or he had paid people to clean up after him.

Anyway, one day, Carol answered a knock at our back door. You know … the parsonage? Where the Methodist minister lived with his very young, very nice family? As Carol tells it, this absolutely beautiful woman was standing there, asking for Mac – apparently she was lost and didn’t know which house he lived in. She had a lot of makeup on, dressed in flashy clothes and surprised a very young girl. Carol called for Mom, who knew immediately what was going on and threatened this woman with arrest if she didn’t get back in her car and drive back to whatever hole she’d come out from under. Mom also made her understand that if this pimp (and would you believe that Mom knew his name? I’ve forgotten it now, but it seemed so strange to me that he was a normal guy with a normal name) sent any more women to Sigourney, she would make sure her friends in the police force dealt with him as well.

Margie Greenwood on a rampage was not something most outsiders saw. The woman was scared enough to run for her life. And poor Mac … well, he was lonely that day.

Mom was horrified that this had happened in the middle of the day in a small town in Iowa, to her of all people! She couldn’t tell anyone that her father was bringing hookers in from Iowa City. I suspect that there were plenty of people in town that didn’t even know her father lived there. And I also know that all Mom could imagine was this woman knocking on the door of one of our neighbor’s homes. How would she ever explain that?

To this day, I howl with laughter at the horror in her tone as she told Dad what had happened. Of course he thought it was pretty funny. Especially since he didn’t have to deal with it, it wasn’t his father … and the woman was gone.

Mac lived through five heart attacks. After his last one, Mom begged him to quit smoking. He finally said to her, “Margie, you’ve taken away my liquor and my women, will you please leave me one last vice?” She patted his hand in that hospital bed and told him that she wasn’t happy about it, but that made sense to her.

I love the stories that exist within our family. Some of them are awful and embarrassing and others are adorable and fun, but they are all part of the texture that makes up who we are and where we have come from. But in our family, there will always be a story around that day in Sigourney, when a hooker showed up at the back door of the preacher’s house.

Okay, then there was that time when Dad was in Des Moines at a meeting at the United Methodist Conference Headquarters. He got into the Volkswagen to come home and all of a sudden, a very attractive young woman, all made up and dressed in clothes too tight to do anything but stand or sit, opened the passenger door and sat down beside him. When he asked what she wanted, she asked what he wanted. Yeah. I think he was glad no one he knew was around to see that happen! (Oh, and he asked her to please get out and get on her way.)


As for the book’s progress, I’m getting there. So close! After writing, I will take it through one heavy edit, send it off to my Beta Readers / Editors and then bring it back in for two-three more runs at proofreading and editing. That’s a large part of the fun of these books for me and when I completely fall in love with the stories. While my Beta Readers have the book, though, I’ll be able to think about some of these short stories. Right now, it’s all I can do to process on Polly and her cadre of friends.

102914 Progress Bar

A Cat Who Knows What He Wants

TB is a very smart cat. I’ve known since the day he showed up at the back door that I was his to command. We have had a battle for ‘alpha’ from the very beginning. I insist that I’ve won, only to realize that he’s totally played me and I’m doing exactly as he desires.

One thing that surprised me was his desire to sleep under the blankets at night. My dogs always did, but never my cats.

But TB has rules for this and it all depends on the ambient temperature … and … what time of night it is.

When it’s warm, he sleeps peacefully on top of the blankets, curled up next to the crook in my legs. When it’s cold, though, he finds his way underneath and at some point, I wake up to sharp little claws kneading at my calves. It’s startling, especially when I don’t remember lifting the covers for him to crawl in.

TB generally wakes with the dawn. How he knows that has happened under a pile of warm blankets, I have no idea, because it’s not time-based, it’s about dawn, no matter what time of year it is (summer is rough). But we get up and I go to the bathroom, open the door to the porch so he can greet the morning, and then I make sure he has food and water before going back to bed.

If the outside world doesn’t give him enough entertainment, he comes back in and tears around from the floor to my side, to the back corner of the bed, up on his cat tree, back to my body, down to the floor and on and on until I wake up enough to fully play with him.

TB Waking upNow, the funniest thing that happens is his morning go-back-to-sleep requirement. He wants to go under the blankets, but not all the way. No, he must go under just the comforter. Nothing deeper. Not under the sheet, not under the blanket (that shows up when it finally gets cold enough for me), but under the top comforter.

I’ve tested this over and over. At night, when he paws at the blankets, I’ll lift the comforter to see if he wants that. Nope, all of the blankets. Okay, fine. In the morning, I’ll lift the blankets and he sits beside my head and glares at me. I should know better. I separate the comforter away from the stack and voila, that’s perfect. Thank you, Mom. I knew you’d figure it out.

If, however, I have fallen asleep and don’t respond quickly enough to him in the morning, he heads to the floor, walks to the end of the bed and crawls up underneath the comforter, then snuggles in to his normal spot behind my legs – on top of the sheet. He’ll stay there long after I’ve finally gotten out of bed, safe in his spot.

The boy knows what he wants and will go to great lengths to get it. Yes, I’m the alpha. Until I’m not. I woke him up to take the picture and right now he’s loving on me, telling me gently that it’s time for me to open the screen door so he can explore. If I don’t hurry, he’ll get a little mouthy and then get even pushier. Whoops, the mouthy just happened. I’d better hurry.

Sickness, Stories and a Progress Bar

This last week has been … well … bleh. I hate being sick. What a huge waste of time.

We Greenwoods are terrible at being sick. It’s Dad’s fault. I don’t know if that man ever really took a sick day unless surgery was involved. And it annoyed him to no end if Mom was sick. I distinctly remember her being down for the count after a series of back problems. He was simply furious that she couldn’t pull it together and get up and moving. Dad insisted that she had twenty-four hours to get over whatever it was she was doing. There was no ‘or else,’ simply ‘do it.’

Now, the funny thing is that Mom didn’t put up with us being sick either. We didn’t get away with much, that’s for sure. When we were truly ill, she brought home comic books and ice cream to make us happier, took us to the doctor when necessary, but we didn’t get any opportunities to wallow. And if we were home from school, we weren’t sitting in front of the television enjoying the day – we were either in bed at death’s door or we were doing something constructive around the house.

It was easier to just not be sick.

I felt bad enough for a few days to not have any energy to be creative, so little writing happened (though I was all better last night – whee!), but I did spend several solid twelve hour days editing my brother’s (Jamie McFarlane) newest fantasy tale – Lesser Prince. I love the way that boy writes. He’s always been a storyteller. He can describe an event in such incredible detail that you are right there with him, panting for the end.

My favorite story about his tale-telling, happened in Mom’s hospital room the week before she died. Jim described the events of his first trip down a ski-slope. All of a sudden I was right there with him as this extremely athletic friend of his desperately tried to make it a good experience for a complete novice. I watched as his friend, in an attempt to get Jim’s skis going in the right direction, skied backwards with his hands holding the tips of the skis, trying to align them correctly. Parker was bent over and Jim – out of control, ending up pressing Parker’s face further and further into the wet snow. My poor brother was just glad to get to the bottom of the slope … four hours later, dignity left somewhere in the first hundred yards.

As Jim told this story, Mom and I both started laughing so hard we could barely contain ourselves. I was nearly sick with laughter. I’m probably one of my brother’s best audiences. As I lost control, he kept amping the story up, ensuring I’d never come up for air. Poor Dad was so worried about everyone else on the floor that he quietly got up and shut the door to the room and begged me to regain a sense of decorum. I was too far gone.

It’s always been that way, I guess. I can remember many other instances where Jim has had me on the floor in laughter. And I mean that literally. It’s easier to just prepare myself for loss of control when he is ready to tell a story.

Because he does so well with this, I asked him to write a couple of action / chase scenes for the next book in the Bellingwood series. Seriously, folks, I was panting by the time I finished reading them. They’re awesome! I can’t write like that. It’s not my thing. I will get you from Point A to Point B, but he will take you on a rollercoaster ride all over the pavement and up into the air and through ditches and … well, you’ll just be glad you took the ride.

I’m getting so close on Book 8. Max and I are looking at images for the cover, I’ve not yet begun to stress over the title – that will come later, and I’m looking forward to getting this finished, initially edited and into the hands of my Beta Readers soon. It’s going to happen, I promise!

Here is this week’s progress – do you see that I’m at the 80% mark for Polly? Awesome!

102314 Progress

A Little Positivity on a Post-It Note

I watched a video / read an article about a girl in Alberta, Canada who responded to a rotten act of bullying with positive action. She covered lockers with uplifting messages on post-it notes. The thing is – it spread throughout the community.

Click HERE to watch this inspirational video (2:04 long).

That made me start thinking of all the things we need to hear on a regular basis. Even if it’s just a quick post-it note on a Facebook wall or a message or email. Sometimes we work so hard at something that should be effortless. Don’t over think this or create a committee or host a coffee or add frills to the idea. Just do it.

A simple post-it with simple words can make a difference.

I took fifteen minutes and wrote out fourteen post-its, took quick pictures and then cropped them down. They’re going to start showing up out there, every once in a while. Because the truth is, I think this world is filled with extraordinarily amazing people. Focusing on anything but those positive things in your lives is not worth my time and only damages both you and me. Seeing you through my eyes should be joyous and wondrous and that’s what makes me smile every day.

So … here goes. If you want to use any of these, go ahead. Steal ’em, share ’em, post ’em. Just click on the image and download it to your desktop, then put it anywhere you like!

I’m saving my post-its. Who knows where or when they’ll show up. Make your own. Fill the lives of people around you with a little bit of encouragement and happiness. Do them in real life, share them in your virtual life. When you’re annoyed with someone – post a little joy – it will help both of you.

And if you use hashtags as you share these – use #positivepostit.

You're Perfect    You're Beautiful   You're Amazing!

You're a Great Friend    You Rock!    You Mean the World to Me

You Are Unique    You are Strong and Wonderful    You are Special

You Are Loved    You Are Awesome    Today is Good Because of You

Sea of Mediocrity    Live Love Laugh    I'm Glad You're in My Life

I Love Your Smile   I Love You    Believe in Yourself

Weather Musings and a Progress Bar

I’m listening to and watching the wind blow like crazy outside. The sky is bright blue, the sun is shining, the river is full due to the steady rain from yesterday and I love it all. This is fall in Iowa. We complain because there is too much rain or too much heat or too much wind – too much cold or every other thing, but in truth … we have had a wonderful summer and a gorgeous fall so far. For some reason or other, we expect every day to be perfect, but these days that aren’t quite so perfect give us that much more appreciation for those that are. We should appreciate more than we complain.

When did we become such weather wimps? One day does not a season make. One of the characters in my books finally had it with Iowa winters and moved to the southwest. Last winter was brutal. I hadn’t seen so many below-zero days in a long time. But as much as I might have complained, I would never leave this. It’s my home and when spring came, it exploded with green and lush growth – leaving behind all of the cruelty of those frozen days and nights.

Life is an adventure and sometimes it seems as if the weather drags us onto rickety rope bridges that cross deep chasms … adventures we don’t want to face. I need to quit complaining about it … even when my well pit freezes because there is no snow cover to keep the ground temperate or when I lose power for four hours because the winds have blown power lines down … when the A/C quits working in the middle of the single heat wave of the summer or the river rises and fills my meadow. All of these things are temporary and when I look back over a lifetime of living in the Midwest, I realize that some of the best memories are around those experiences. I lived through them. I rose above them. I learned something about myself in each of them.

When I was very young, my father’s hearing was negligible. He relied on Mom to wake him if a bad storm was coming. He made going to the basement exciting for us kids, rather than terrifying.

Then one day he met a doctor who told him that one small surgery would return his hearing. Mom and Dad grabbed the opportunity. Everything was about to change in our lives … including how Dad experienced weather.

One night just after surgery, he woke Mom in a panic, telling her that they needed to get to the basement. A terrible storm was coming. She rolled over, woke enough to listen and told him to go back to sleep. For the first time in his life, he was hearing a breeze. Not wind … just a breeze. He took great pleasure in that moment and I’ll never forget that story. Sometimes we listen so hard for the storm, that’s what we hear … when in actuality it is just a breeze.

Now for this week’s progress. It was a good week. Stories are advancing. I know they aren’t advancing nearly fast enough for some of you – not for me either, but it was a good week.

Progress 101414

How I Always Want to Remember Bells Dell

Bells Dell laneDo we really own the land or are we just caretakers of this particular spot of earth? In this beautiful poem written by my mother in 1969, she describes her adoration of the beautiful place our family calls home.

You can see why I am so passionate about words in the way she uses them here. It’s exciting and vibrant. I want to swat away the bugs and I can smell the dirt and hear the birds chirping as they flit through the sky around me. And I am reminded that we borrow the earth, we can never own it.


Long years I thought of it and now
I have bought my garden;
I saw it, desired it, asked for it,
And gave the man some money for it.
It is my garden now, isn’t it?

My mind answers yes, my soul, no!
I cannot own what is universal;
I cannot lay claim to ageless change;
I cannot buy the memories of other footsteps
Treading the same winding paths.

My garden is a meadow, a hill,
A river, trees, gooseberries, thistles,
The spring-popped morel, the dainty columbine,
The delicate warm breeze of summer
Laughing gently at my folly.

It is bugs, myriad swarms of clinging,
Flying, buzzing insects, sticking to my
Sweaty skin as I labor to trim,
Control, govern the lush new growth
Of a wanton spring.

But I cannot own these things.
Does one entrap the wind, command
It to gently soothe a hot, dusty face?
Does one really own free-flying birds
And deer who call my garden home?

I may live here, too, at peace with
The wild things whose roots stretch far
Deeper into this black dirt than mine. I am
Merely a guest, content to
Borrow the beauty of my garden.

The trees will grow here long after
I die. They will watch others till
My garden. The over-arching boughs of
The leaning walnut on the hillside gives
Its benediction to my garden.

Margie Greenwood
Bell’s Dell
May 28, 1969

The Ballad of Bells Dell

Building small cabin 1Mom wrote this five years after she and Dad purchased the land. There are grand stories about things that happened heard in Iowa’s early days that have long since been lost been lost. She alludes to some and I don’t know if I’ll ever find them again, so maybe I’ll make up my own. This does evoke great memories of my childhood, listening as she and Dad spoke with neighbors who told of miners and millers. Time passes, people come and go, but the land remains.

The pictures in this post are of Mom and Dad building the first room – 1/4 of the cabin where I do most of my writing now. Dad built it for us kids – a place to play and sleep, out of the confines of the little trailer. I just realized that it was during this summer – 1969 – that Mom was also doing some of her best writing. Bells Dell brings it out of us.

Building small cabin 2I have one more of her poems about Bells Dell that I will share tomorrow. I’m so thankful to have her words.

This land holds a mystery;
Age-old secrets kept intact
Through years of history,
Now from rusted bindings hacked.

Into the hillside men bored
A tunnel, looking for coal.
Their lives and their labors poured
they into the long dark hole.

The tunnel is closed and sealed.
Ninety-odd years have now passed
Since men, grimy, blackened, reeled
From gloom to sunlight at last.

An aged man who once lived here
Told us how two brothers worked
The mines and how the old fear
Of death round each corner lurked.

Red cabin 1One brother looked back too soon;
Death caught him a glancing blow.
The clanking ore cars, the Boone
No longer heard above its flow.

Across the river, the old
Bell’s Mill ground settler’s grain
While folks sat and talked and told
Tales of Indians and wagon trains.

But Death had crossed the river
And stopped the wooden mill wheel.
His son’s crushed bones sent shivers
Down Bell’s spine; his blood congealed.

Late one night in early spring,
Ice went out; up rose the Boone.
Great ice chunks did smash and fling
Themselves high beneath the moon.

Death claimed the miller that night
While violent ice knives spilled
The mill’s life blood as if in spite
For grain no longer to be milled.

Red Cabin 2The mineral water spring
That lured folks from miles around,
Searching cures, no longer sings.
Cows trampled it in the ground.

A row of huts once stood
Upon the hillside here.
Children romped warm in mitts and hood
While mothers toiled and spilled a tear.

Their men worked at the sawmill
Down by the edge of the road.
A rough crew, but bound by law still;
Justice was served as the cock crowed.

Much later, a fine old woman
Fought her own battle with death.
It took the life of this human
As her soul fled with her last breath.

An emptiness surrounds her house,
A bleakness, a hole of despair;
Sounds of mourning whistle through the boughs;
Her husband waits with a vacant stare.

Playing in the river 3Last summer, wading, we found
Under the river, wood parts
From the old mill race. But no sound
We heard of ghostly, creaking carts.

The children climb, slide and play
On the old slag heap beside
Our drive. A sunken place flays
Our memories of a miner’s pride.

The land is peopled with ghosts
Who once lived and loved and died.
They beckon, eternal hosts
who live on the other side.

Some of their secrets we share.
We’ll add our own to this land;
Much later then we will dare
Follow the beckoning hand.

August 15, 1969
Margie Greenwood

Bell’s Dell Reverie – A Short Story

I wrote this quite a few years ago. This describes the home of my heart, a beautiful spot in the woods that has been part of our family since 1964, the year my brother was born. The original owner of the land was a man named Bell, my mother appropriate it for the name of this gorgeous bit of land that we have the privilege to care for. I will share this with you today and tomorrow, even more beautiful words that Mom wrote when she described her love for this place.

Bell's Dell 1Bell’s Dell Reverie

Merry placed her hand carefully on the barbed wire fence, looking at the land on the other side with yearning. She had never understood why it was so difficult to get this last corner of the land so that she could feel as if their property was complete. Her parents told her that a harsh man, an old lawyer, owned it and would never give it up. While that made no sense to her, she accepted their words as truth and as a child had vowed that one day she would be able to purchase that tiny little corner and finish what they had started. She was grown up now and it no longer seemed quite as important, yet there was still a sense of incompleteness.

As she walked the fence line, she smiled. Today was going to be a great day. She wanted to walk through the wooded hillside before everyone else arrived. She stopped and sat on a stump at the top of the hill. This was another location she had dreamed of changing throughout her life. There was a perfect entrance from the road and the flat space up here only needed to be cleared of trees and brush. As a little girl she had designed an immense home around the tree that would stand in the center. Merry could still see it in her mind’s eye. Looking around, she saw several of the blocks of wood her father had brought up here many years ago to use as stools for family gatherings.

Tears filled her eyes as she remembered the innocence of a childhood long since lost. Sometimes she felt so alone, so many people had come and gone in her life, yet the land was still here, filled with memories and stories. She pulled herself up off the stump and continued down the fence line, looking over into a neighbor’s twenty acres and remembering yet another dream of owning all of this land and opening it up so the entire family could live together in the same place. Childhood dreams were so expansive, ready to encompass everyone she loved.

Bell's Dell fenceAs she walked down the hillside, Merry approached the barn-red, wooden fence enclosing the main living area. She climbed over it and continued along the outer fence toward the river. Her hands trailed along tall weeds, while low-hanging tree branches brushed her face as she walked, lost in memories and thoughts. There was nothing in these woods to frighten her, she had walked through them for many years. The earth beneath her feet was as familiar as her own skin. She stumbled across a mole hill, one of thousands in the meadow. She’d never seen one of those animals, but their lives played out every day along with the numerous other animals the filled these acres.

The sound of rushing water brought a new smile to her lips. The river was the heart and soul of the land. It was here that she played with her family in the summertime heat, here where she crawled down a ten-foot embankment to fish with her father. Here was where the trees hung on by deep roots, until erosion finally took them into the river. The old ‘sitting tree,’ with a bent branch hanging out over the river was a favorite place of her mother’s when she needed some peace – away from three energetic children. Her father had created an easier access to the river at the far end of the property, but Merry still preferred to sit on the edge of the high bank, watching the river make its way around the bend. Sandbars poked up through the rushing water where she had searched for clamshells and just up a ways, were the barely recognizable traces of an old mill race. She had traveled the river by canoe and innertube with groups of friends, had walked it checking lines in the middle of the night with her father for fish and had played in it and bathed in it after long, hot days working with her family.

Merry sat for awhile, but realized it was finally time to go back. She walked through the lower meadow, picking her way through the debris of flooding from the river. As she walked past a walnut tree, she stopped for a few moments. letting her fingers trace the indentations of the bark. She bent down to pick up a green walnut, then sniffed her fingers. It never changed. The outer shell of the walnut still smelled the same and she knew she wouldn’t get rid of that scent easily.

A car drove past. She looked up, but they didn’t see her in the meadow. She walked over to the ditch with its steep hillside leading up to the road. Growth had gotten in the way of the beautiful, clean white sand that had been here when she was young.

There wasn’t much left to do. Though she hadn’t walked through all of the valleys and hillsides of the one home that had been a constant throughout her life, she knew each of them intimately. She’d gathered morel mushrooms and gotten lost in piles of leaves on the floors of the ravines. She had picked gooseberries and black raspberries for her mother to make jellies and jams, and played in the golden dirt until only a long swim in the river would clear off the filth.

She looked at the cabin that her parents had built. It had changed over the years, transforming as each generation made it their own. They had always talked of building a real house, but somehow it stayed what it was, a cabin in the woods, ready for families to play in and fill up.
Merry walked down the lane toward the cabin and stopped at the wood fence. She crawled up on it and looked out over the land that she had known as long as she could remember. This was where her heart’s memories stopped. This was where they had begun. She shook herself from her reverie and realized that she had missed much of the excitement happening around her.

Cars filled the lane and people were milling around, laughing, talking and hugging. Children were running through the cars, dogs were barking and chasing in the grass. It was everything she could hope for. Food and suitcases were carried into the cabin, the activity started ramping up. She just sat and watched as it happened around her. Merry certainly didn’t mind being ignored today.

Then the busyness ceased and everyone gathered in one place. She looked on as her nephew, now a father with kids of his own, finished pouring the ashes into a freshly dug hole. It was close to her parents and her grandparents. There were no markers, but everyone knew. That was okay, those remains didn’t mean much at this point, they were just the last remnants of very full lives.

The smile returned one last time. She gazed out over the land that she loved, stepped off the fence, and walked into eternity.

Organized Chaos … or a Left-Brained Creative

Last night I was chatting with a friend about the fact that I build time for procrastination into my schedule. I know that I’m going to do it, so rather than worry about not accomplishing everything, I just plan to procrastinate.

I am creative, but at the same time, I’m actually quite organized. I drive my husband nuts with a new computer. The first thing I have to do is organize everything so that it works just the way I want it to work.

Back in the days when I lived my life as a church choir director, the first thing I did was dig into choral music files after moving into a new church position. Oh my goodness – had no one ever heard of alphabetizing and categorizing? Apparently not. There wasn’t a single music library that I didn’t purge, clean up and organize within the first few months of arriving.

When I had my first apartment – in Spencer – I had that placed so stinking organized, there was literally a stapler-sized space in the junk drawer in the kitchen. There was a place for everything and everything was in its place. Oh, that was a wonderful little apartment. Problem was, as soon as I moved in with my sister … and then with my husband, I had to just give up. It wasn’t worth being annoyed or upset every time someone decided that more things needed to go into the junk drawer (they were wrong, but I wasn’t fighting with them). Books were jammed into bookshelves haphazardly and … ack, there was just too much stuff … everywhere. I decided that relationships were more important than my insane behavior, so I let most of it go.

As I was chatting last night, though, I thought about where this strange compound of organization and creativity came from.

It’s obvious, I know, but I’d never really thought about it.

Dad epitomized organization. If you ever took a trip with him, you knew about lists. He created the very best lists for youth group trips and fully expected that parents and students follow those lists. If you did, you had exactly what you needed, no more – no less. If you didn’t, you were a fool. Those lists were part of our family trips and for most of my life I prepared a list of things I needed, no matter how short a trip I was taking. After he died, I got into his home office and opened his file cabinets. Holy moley, I knew he was OCD about that stuff, but whoa … talk about a file folder extravaganza! It was awesome. I found everything his wife needed for their finances and then some. I pulled out files of letters he’d saved from when we kids were in college, there were things from all of his churches, newsletters and bulletins. Files filled with manuals of long lost appliances and others with notes he’d taken on various topics that fascinated him. All of it was alphabetized and organized.

Then there was Mom. Oh, she wanted nothing more than to be organized, but it was nearly impossible for her. Life was too important. She tried over and over again to bring her life under control. It shamed her to be such a mess when Dad kept uncovering her piles. I wish I had known enough to tell her that it was okay and done more to help her. Chaos described her, but my goodness, when she put a brush to canvas or words on paper or her hands on clay on the potter’s wheel, beauty exploded. There was nothing she couldn’t do. She made our clothes, including beautiful dresses for dances, costumes for singing groups, play clothes. She made my favorite maxi coat … and she learned how to be a wonderful cook. She created haunted houses with sheer curtain panels, fluorescent paints and black lights. Now when she finished a project, there was a huge mess everywhere, but she’d created beauty – no one could dispute that.

Rather than clean the house, Mom would more than likely be found painting something crazy. I wish we had never let the back door at the old house in Sigourney go. She’d painted a quick little scene on it one day – I barely remember it, but every day when I came home from school, I walked past it. There was a bear and some other animals there. Just a random day for her. She saw an open space on an old door and rather than sand it down and make it perfect, it became a canvas for something fun.

How those two managed to raise three relatively sane children, I don’t know. It probably had something to do with respect and love. There was a lot of that, even in the midst of the chaos and wild & crazy fights they had. As much trouble as they had fully understanding the other one, they never lost sight of the fact that they balanced each other. Even after Mom died, Dad still tried to figure out why she had been so chaotic in her life – why she never did things his way. They’d been together for nearly 30 years and she was still a mystery to him.

Mom didn’t worry quite so much about Dad’s differences. They frustrated her and she’d just laugh and blow him off. I don’t think he was quite a mystery, she knew exactly what he was. The mystery was why he kept trying to get her to straighten up!

It took Carol longer than either me or Jim to figure out how important organization was in her life. But as much chaos as comes at her every day, she finally figured out that the things she could organize needed to happen right away so sshe’d quit thinking about them. We’re each an amalgamation of Mom’s and Dad’s qualities and it’s fun to be old enough to recognize it and enjoy it.

Now, speaking of procrastination, I will be honest with you about last week’s work. Don’t fret – I’m not too terribly concerned. I have set deadlines for myself and when I push up against those, I really kick in and churn work out. The thing is, a lot of the things that I do as part of the writing process don’t show up in these charts. No, this isn’t an excuse … just my reality. But, to keep me on track and accountable (because I said I would), even though the numbers haven’t jumped much from last week, a little progress is just fine. I know where I am in the process and it’s just about right.

Progress 100714

Bellingwood Characters

BellingwoodCharacterListMy brother, who is also a writer (check him out at, and I have been trying to figure out a way to create a glossary of characters for our books. He found a great plugin for the website that seems easy to use and I can open it up for submissions from those of you who love Bellingwood.

Your help is necessary. I’m in the middle of Book 8 and there have been a number of characters show up throughout the last two years of writing. I’ve been so overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to manage this, that instead of finding the perfect tool, I’ve just let it fall apart.

I have a good (not great) list of names in Evernote, but that doesn’t make them available to you, and honestly, there are plenty that I’ve written into a story and forgotten to get into my list.

If you would like to help assemble this glossary of characters, I would love it. Anyone can jump in. All you have to do is go to the “Bellingwood Characters List” page (last option under the Bellingwood tab at the top of the page) and click to “submit a name” and type in the information.

Every single character – from Polly  and Henry, to the person who teaches piano lessons and plays the organ at the Lutheran church needs to make this list. No matter how innocuous their presence is, they deserve a citation. However, if you could be sure to tell us which book they first show up in, that would be extraordinarily helpful. Call out the book by the number, not the title (i.e. Bk 4) – it’s just easier.

I’ve set down a few ground rules – the first and foremost is that I will approve, and then edit … for grammar, spelling and serious spoilers.

Because there is an approval process, and it will take time to refresh the directory, it might take time for you to see your submission show up. I can’t be there every minute if I’m sleeping or writing, so give me time to get them posted. I’ll go as fast as possible.

Check the directory before making a submission, though, to ensure that someone else hasn’t already entered the character name. Click the ‘refresh’ button at the top of your browser once in a while, just to make sure you have the latest list in front of you.

Please enter the character name with the last name, followed by a comma and then the first name: Giller, Polly. That way the glossary will populate with all of the folks from the same family under the correct alphabetical heading.

Keep your character description brief. Less than 100 words, if possible. I’ve started the process and you can see that I’m not going into a lot of detail, just basic information to tell readers a little about how the character interacts with the story.

By the way, if you would like to help me create a much more detailed character study, I could certainly use that help, too. It won’t be published, but will be more of a resource for me as I write. We will cull all of the minutest character details from the books. Message me on Facebook, use the Contact Form on the website or just leave a comment on this page and I’ll be in touch.

Be sure to enter your name as the submitter (there’s a box). Not this week and probably not next week … it might take several weeks or so, but I will go through the submitter’s names and randomly pick winners for fun things. It won’t matter how many character names you’ve submitted – even if it is only one, your name will go in the bowl.

I hope you have fun with this. You all have fallen in love with the people in Bellingwood and in some ways, you know them as well as I do. Your input is really appreciated.