Monthly Archives: April 2015

End of the Month Randomness

Way back at the beginning of 2015 (oh, so long ago), I decided that this year instead of New Year’s resolutions, I would build a set of monthly challenges for myself that would stretch my creativity and my tenacity, in some cases.

I challenged myself during the month of April to write a blog post every day and by golly, here it is, April 30 and I’ve met the challenge. Now, I didn’t challenge myself to be intellectual or witty every day … thank heavens. But I wrote.

What do I think about this?

Oh, I’m SO taking tomorrow off and maybe even Saturday (from writing blog posts, not my regular writing). Some wrote years ago that creative (fiction) writing and blog writing are two different animals and it is not easy to try to do both. I will admit to struggling more this month with writing Book 10 than I did during the month of March.

Tomorrow I start a new challenge. I really wish I were more of an artist. My mother was amazing and it annoys the heck out of me that I never managed to be better at this. So, during the month of May, my challenge is to sketch or draw, doodle, color … do something visually artistic. Maybe I’ll scan some of them and you’ll see what I’ve done, but more than likely, I’ll leave them tucked away for myself.

Today has been buggy … annoyingly buggy. The dead fly count is growing rapidly around me. And this morning, a loud buzzing sound in the front window had TB’s attention. I was getting ready to head out to do some errands and when I realized a yellow jacket had managed to get inside (oh, I’m glad I didn’t know this last night, I would never have slept!), I knew I had to deal with it before leaving or I’d worry about TB the entire time I was gone. His demise was achieved with many layers of paper towels between he and me and a quick flush.  As much as I love this place, I’m not what you call a real outdoorsy kind of a girl.

The Bellingwood boxed set is still free – through midnight tonight (April 30). There’s nothing more I love than giving away these books so that people can find their way to Bellingwood. I love that community and those characters so much. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m in this to make a living … but now that I’ve started writing these stories, there’s no way I can stop.

BridgeSpring in Iowa has been absolutely glorious this year. While I was out today, farmers were in the fields and a dust cloud was rising across the countryside. Grass is growing and dandelions are popping up everywhere. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re such a pretty sign of spring. The trees aren’t fully leafed out, but once they are, I’ll lose sight of the bridge. Since I was a child, that bridge signified our arrival at the happiest place on earth (seriously … no, not Disney). Even today, I drive slowly across the bridge, look down the river and then turn my eyes home. I love this bridge.

TB has been exhausting himself every day now that the weather has gotten so beautiful. He goes outside as soon as possible and then about an hour and a half later, he’ll show up and collapse in front of me. I have more energy than ever before … just because I’m not trying to use it all up in my attempt to stay warm. I’m still not outdoorsy … might as well give up trying.

Happy end of April! Tomorrow is a new day!

Bellingwood Boxed Set – FREE!

Book 1-3 Box Set a 100 dpiFor two days only (April 29-30), the Bellingwood Boxed Set: Books 1-3 is FREE for Kindle. (Click on the book cover to be taken to Amazon.)

Now’s the time to tell your friends how to get to a friendly town in the Midwest. The directions are pretty easy. The first short story is also part of the set and not only that, but one of my brother’s short stories is also part of the boxed set. You can fall in love with a group of people who live in a completely different time and space. That’s a lot of great stories in one small package.

All Roads Leads Home: Polly Giller returns to small-town Iowa from Boston ready to start a new life. She is renovating an old school building and while getting to know new friends, two sets of bones fall out of the ceiling. Don’t miss this heartwarming first story in a series that makes you want to move to Bellingwood and get to know Polly and her friends. Before you know it, you’ll be part of the community.

Polly’s First Christmas in Bellingwood: This first short story in the series occurs a few months after the end of “All Roads Lead Home.” While preparing for Sycamore House’s first big Christmas party, an old friend shows up needing help when he gets in trouble with the sheriff.

A Big Life in a Small Town: Bellingwood’s first barn-raising is coming up and to celebrate, Sycamore House is planning a hoe-down. The idea of a dance makes Polly nervous, but the gorgeous veterinarian is ready to step in and teach her a few moves, much to the chagrin of Henry Sturtz. A close friend of Lydia Merritt left a cryptic message as she died, asking her family to take care of … what? The ‘what’ brings new excitement to Polly’s life.

Treasure Uncovered: Sycamore House is having difficulty finding a good custodian and when the latest man doesn’t show up for work, Polly checks on him, only to find that he has been killed. The Sheriff is beginning to worry every time her number shows up on his phone. Does it mean another dead body? Thefts happening around the community are connected to Polly and her friends, but who would do this?

Big Pete: Jamie McFarlane introduces Big Pete Hoffen, the father of Liam, the main character from his Privateer Tales. Liam and his friend, Nick James save their mining colony from pirates and find themselves in possession of a ship, tasked with keeping an eye on pirate activity throughout the galaxy. Liam only knows his father as a miner on a lonely asteroid, but in this story, Pete’s exciting past led him to choose a quieter life. You will love this introduction to Jamie’s rollicking adventures in space.

5 FB Tips from Someone Who’s Here Too Much

I’ve posted some of these in the past, but the information never gets old and we can always learn something new, right? If you already know and use every single one of these, yay you. You’re awesome. Go to the front of the class and get your gold star (that was always my favorite place to be).

Anyway, here a few things that might make you look like you know what you’re doing.

1. First up … game requests. I have to say it, quit complaining and demanding that your friends stop sending them. Sometimes the game sends them out and that friend is cringing the entire time. Your slam makes them feel even worse. Take responsibility for your own FB feed. You can fix a lot of this over time – all by yourself.

GamesWhen you get a game request, don’t click on it – that doesn’t work. Click on ‘Games’ in the list on the left side of your FB feed. When you get to the next page, click on ‘Activity.’ You’ll find all of the requests there. Block everything from those games. You’ll never see another request show up from any of them, even when the game globally sends things out from your friend. It might take a while to get through all of the games your friends are playing, but pretty soon, like me, you’ll only see requests when a new game hits the Internet. One more run at it and you’re free and clear again. And look, you haven’t made a scene and your friends are safe from your ire.

2. While we’re on the topic of blocking garbage from your feed, if you are like me, your friends are all quite different in their beliefs and in the ways they see the world. There are a lot of times you simply don’t want to see the vile (to your eyes) stuff they post because it makes you think less of them. AND, it raises your blood pressure to the point that you want to lash out at them.

A – that’s silly. People have differing belief structures and we shouldn’t have to fight about it.
B – your blood pressure should stay calm and relaxed. We can fix this.

Rebecca BIn the image I’m sharing, I am NOT hiding anything from Rebecca B Books.  Her posts are amazing, but it is readily available to make my point. I also really like Upworthy, so I won’t hide things from them either.

See that little arrow (highlighted) in the top right corner of the feed? Click on it and a menu of things will come up. You have choices. I hide things from quite a few FB pages so no matter who posts them, I will never see anything. I breathe better every day by doing this.

Use the tools FB gives you to lower your blood pressure and help keep your friends friendly. I’ve cleared out 90% of the awful garbage that shows up regularly. I’m not nearly as disgusted with the people in my friends’ list as I have been in the past. It makes for a much nicer experience.

3. How to edit your own posts and comments

Edit PostDo you ever write a post and then realize that you missed a word, misspelled a word or really didn’t mean what you’ve written? You can fix it. And again, there’s a little arrow in the top right corner of the post that gives you options.

When you click on ‘Edit Post,’ all of a sudden you can go back to what you’ve entered and make any changes needed. This will make you a much better typist … it certainly has helped me!

And if you posted something in the heat of the moment and realize that it might hurt someone else’s feelings or you might have just embarrassed yourself more than need be? Delete the thing and be done with it. Happiness ensues.

Edit commentOH LOOK! You can ALSO edit your comments any time. Hover over the right side of your comment and a grey pencil will show up. Click on it. Again … you can edit or delete the comment. Make your choice wisely, little one … you can make it better or make it go away.

So, rather than making another comment in hopes of editing your mistakes … just fix it where it happened and nobody will know the difference.

4. How to tag someone and only use the first name.

Carol two namesSometimes I swear my mother is calling me out on Facebook. She’s the only person until now who ever used all of my names. And that only happened when I was in trouble.

Nowadays, we can tag people in Facebook posts and comments. It’s pretty cool. I use it to tell my sister (who never seems to catch on to my fun stuff unless I tag her) when there’s something I want her to see.

But I don’t need to call her out by her full name. She knows what it is and so do I. Facebook lets us use their first name only. It takes an extra step, but it’s worth it to make yourself look a little more professional and to stop sounding like their mother, hollering across the neighborhood when they’re late to dinner.

Carol one nameType the name and hit ‘enter.’ The full name will show up in your post or comment. Then hit backspace. If they only have two names – like my sister, all it takes it one tap on the backspace key. If they have three names – like I do, it will take two taps to eliminate ‘Muir’ and then ‘Greenwood.’ All you have left is my first name and the tag is still attached to it, telling me that you want me to pay attention to something interesting or important (they aren’t always the same, am I right?). And, you haven’t used all of my names just to get my attention. Ahhh … more happiness.

5. Reply within a thread.

This was one of those things that FB really needed to deal with and they did. First on PAGES and finally on regular posts. It’s such an easy thing and your follow-up conversation won’t get lost in a mass of comments.

Nested commentsSay you comment on a post. Instead of typing a new comment when I want to respond to you, I am going to click that little button that says ‘Reply.’ That way, our conversation stays all in one place rather than being scattered through a number of other comments. If you want to enter a conversation initiated by a commenter, you can also hit reply and join that specific conversation.

Carol and I responded to Jamie’s comment, but notice that Lynne wanted to change the subject. She made a completely different comment. Of course, I had to respond to that as well, but that’s hidden in this picture.

Take advantage of the fun ways to have conversations on Facebook. It’s much more fun than stubbing your toe.

Bonus Tip.

Jamie McFarlaneTagging a FB page is different than tagging a person. My brother’s FB page is Jamie McFarlane Author. I’d like to be able to tag him by just using his first name, but because it’s a page and not a person, I have to use the whole thing. That’s okay, but because I know him, I still feeling like I’m yelling at him, using all of his names.

Pages and profiles are similar, yet different. It’s kind of fun to learn how to maneuver between them.

So there … a few tips and tricks. I hope they made sense and I hope they help!

Caveat: I know that some of your are going to want to jump right in here and tell me how different it is on your phone or your tablet or whatever. Uh huh. Got it. Some of these might not always work, but don’t be afraid to dig around. FB is always trying to make the experience better for everyone.

Vignettes on Kindle

Book 9 Vignette 100 dpiI’ve been asked if the itty bitty short stories that I’m writing to keep y’all engaged while working on the main book each quarter will be available anywhere other than the email newsletter.

The answer is … sure, why not!

And because I have fallen in love with writing stories from other character’s perspectives, this is something I plan to keep doing for as long as these characters talk to me. Sometimes they talk quite loudly, by the way.

Because the vignettes are fairly book specific, about a month after publication of the book, I will draw them together and publish them to the Kindle in a little anthology. If you’ve collected them along the way – yay. But if you want to add one more thing to your Bellingwood library, here you go. And hey, in a few years, new readers will be able to access these easily, right? Of course I’m right.

This collection is just the first four stories, which relate to the main story of Book 9 – Pages of the Past.

For those who might ask if these will come out in paperback … I suspect so, but not until I can gather a whole lot more of them. I might consider doing it at the end of the year. We’ll have to wait and see.

Enjoy!

The Wild Boar Story

IMG_0126One summer, many years ago, we nearly gave away this wonderful place that is my home in the middle of nowhere. After years of growing up here, enjoying vacations and long weekends, learning to swim in the river, building a cabin and spending hours and hours playing in the hillside, Mom was ready to sell and move on.

Why?

Here’s the story …

Dad and Jamie came up for a quick couple of days one summer to mow and clean up the meadow so the place wouldn’t be so out of control for an upcoming two week vacation. Back in those days there were no cell phones and Dad refused to have any type of communication device here at the cabin. When he was here, he was unavailable. Neighbors up the way agreed to take emergency calls for us, but otherwise, he was incommunicado.

This meant that we didn’t hear anything from them until they returned. They had left after youth group on Sunday evening and returned late Tuesday evening.

Two things occurred that Tuesday evening that set Mom on edge. Dad brought in freshly dressed meat and the front of our van had been badly dented. She was pretty upset about the whole thing. She’d worked herself into a frenzy until Dad finally told her what had happened.

He and Jim had stopped at the top of the lane to open the gate so they could drive in. It was late evening when they got here, darkness had set in, but when in the light from the van’s headlights they saw two gleaming, red eyes. Dad heard snorting and and pawing in the dirt. Neither he nor Jim wanted to accost whatever beast was in front of them, but they knew they had to deal with it.

He drove forward and realized that it was a wild boar and it was not going to give way.

Now, Dad didn’t give Mom too many details about the occurrence. They’d gotten home late and he had an early morning prayer breakfast at church. He insisted that she let him go to bed. They’d talk about it the next day.

He went to bed. My brother went to bed. We all went to bed.

Mom sort of went to bed. All night long, she worried about a herd of wild boar living in the woods of the hillside behind us. If she’d been on edge the night before, by morning, she was in a frenzy. As soon as Jamie came down for breakfast, she began questioning him.

Now … Jamie was ready to tell Mom the entire story and he did. He told her how an angry and terrifying boar had pawed the ground in front of them, daring them to charge forward with the van. Dad thought that if he did so, he’d scare the boar enough so that it would run up into the hills and they could get all the way in to the cabin. But it didn’t happen that way. Dad drove forward and the boar held its ground. Finally, Dad and Jim decided that the only thing they could do was to ram it – head on.

It took several tries, but they finally killed the boar, dressed it, and brought the meat home.

Jamie left breakfast to do whatever it was he was doing that day and by the time Dad got home for lunch, Mom was done. She fluctuated between anger and fear. Fear that for the last sixteen / seventeen years, our family had been in danger. Anger that my Dad would put Jamie in harm’s way. As soon as Dad sat down at the kitchen table, Mom demanded that he find a buyer and sell this place. We weren’t going to have anything to do with land that was home to a herd of wild boar.

Dad was flummoxed. What in the world was she talking about? He finally uncovered the story that my brother had spun off of the initial joke from the night before. Jamie had not woke up that morning intending to extend the story, but as any good story teller is wont to do, the moment he saw a sucker, he dropped the hook, set it and pulled her in. Then he walked away, not knowing that her reaction was going to be quite so severe.

It took Dad a while to convince Mom that there were no wild boars in the state of Iowa, much less hiding in the hillside behind the cabin. They had actually hit a deer on the way in, made sure it was dead and then dressed it while they were here. There had been no confrontation on the lane, no one was in any danger.

My brother is still an amazing story teller (he writes books too – check him out at fickledragon.com) and since Mom is no longer around for him to entertain with his stories, he is safe knowing that I will still buy nearly everything he tells me and I will always be entertained by the stories he spins.

However, if you ever hear about wild boar in central Iowa, don’t believe a word of it.

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.

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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!