Monthly Archives: July 2017

A Teacher and Her Kids – Thank Yous from the heart

Seriously – May this card be with you? These kids are awesome!

My sister, Carol, teaches fifth grade. Her kids are never easy – a mix of cultures, education levels, a range of disabilities and behavioral issues, few parents are involved – education these days is a mess. We hear it all the time, but I don’t know that any of us can fully understand what we ask teachers to do if we aren’t in the classroom. And the thing of it is? Few of us have the courage to walk into a classroom and offer to help.

I’m so proud of Carol and the huge amount of herself she pours into those kids. They struggle, she encourages. They fight her off, she keeps loving them. They pout, sulk, scream, rant, rave – she stays steadfast. They steal from her and lie to her and Carol returns every day to remind them that they get to choose between living a life of integrity and one of shame.

The kids know that when she sits them down for another “Ms. Greenwood lecture,” that she is teaching them how to live in the big world out there. They might moan and groan, but even when she isn’t teaching them ‘reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic,’ they’re receiving important lessons from her.

I can’t be in the classroom with her, but I get to be the ‘fun’ part of her kids’ year. I sew up little pouches at the beginning of the year, then Carol and I fill them with pencils and things that the kids can use and have fun with. For Pi Day (March 14), I delivered a case of moon pies to Carol. On Star Wars Day (May 4 – May the 4th be with you), I delivered Star Wars bookmarks. If something special comes to the school that requires funds for the kids to purchase something, Carol and I make those funds available.

This year, we read about a kindness board that used post-it notes. I sent a huge stack of colorful post-its. The kids write kind things on those notes and hang them on the board. They get to see kindness every day.

One thing Carol does on a regular basis is ask her kids to write thank you cards. See … bigger learning than just the basics.

She handed a stack of them to me yesterday. I can tell that she talks about me in the classroom. They know I’m an author. They know I love cats and Star Wars. Those awesome kids integrated what they knew of me and what Carol reminded them I’d given to the classroom over the year into each note.

Yeah. I cried.

Now, while you all are going to try to tell me how great it is that I do this for her classroom, that’s not the point of this story.

You all know teachers. Don’t ask them what they need help with. Nobody ever responds to that.

Offer to do the crazy things – like moon pies and bookmarks, opening day gifts to help the kids get started with a bang. Buy a package of fun-colored paper for the teacher to use. Heck, buy the teacher a gross of pencils and an electric pencil sharpener. Give the teacher an Amazon gift card to buy extra supplies for kids who don’t have everything they need. Sew, knit or crochet gift bags or silly stuffed animals. Buy supplies for a creative bulletin board. There are so many things you can do.

But I promise that though teachers desperately need so much help and so many things, they’ve learned to do a great job with those kids – without those things. You have to find creative ways to offer to help them.

I need to get sewing on this year’s first-day bags. These little thank you notes spur me into wanting to do more and more for Carol’s classroom. As long as she is teaching, I get to be part of these kids’ life and I love it.

Support your teacher friends. If you don’t have a close friend who teaches, make one. Be creative. They need you. Kids need you. We’re all in this together.

Eleven Annoying Lists

Here’s a rant. Just so you know.

I am tired of the number of posts, clickbait links, blog posts, etc., that focus on all the things we are doing wrong. (Caveat: these aren’t real lists, I’m exaggerating.)

– Fifteen things you’re doing wrong in your marriage.
– Five reasons your cat hates you.
– Three things you don’t know about the color pink.
– How you are pooping incorrectly.
– Ten reasons you will never be successful.
– Eight ways you’re hurting your children.
– Thirteen books you haven’t read.
– Nineteen things you’re doing wrong.
– Forty words you’re mis-pronouncing.
– Seven things wrong with NCIS.
– Twenty-two items you’ve been using wrong.

Three cats who don’t fit in the space they’re inhabiting.

We had parents who spent our childhood correcting us. Our teachers corrected us. Even our spouses and children correct us still. We are absolutely wired to pay attention when we are told that we are wrong.

The problem is – in many cases, our response should be ‘so what? I’m doing it my way.’

But we’re terribly afraid that we won’t be like everyone else, so we’d better get on the ball and discover what we don’t know.

These stupid lists make us feel inadequate.

Which, by the way, is the reason that most advertising succeeds in this day and age. Advertising reaches to the very basest of our fears – that we are missing something extraordinary if we don’t purchase the perfect floatie for our pool or the newest fad hair color or fill our homes with junk … on and on.

I’m the worst when it comes to being susceptible to good advertising. I don’t even like Coca-Cola (I know, shame on me), but if I see an ad showing a coke being poured over ice, I salivate. Every single time. Billboards with that image just about do me in.

Anyway … back to those lists of things we’re doing wrong. I get all ragey-furious when I see those in my Facebook feed. I’m so tired of people thinking that the only way to get my attention is to tell me I don’t know what I’m doing.

Now here’s the deal. As long as we continue to click on those links, those lists will continue to be made and propagated in your feeds.

There is so much negative information that comes at us every day. We’ve become inured to it and have learned to live with it, but in truth, we don’t have to live with it. We can choose to set it aside. Hide those lists when they show up. Push the negative away.

I discovered a couple of months ago, as I hid so much garbage from my Facebook feed, that it soon began filling up with things I loved. Pictures of kittens and dogs, stories of kindness and goodness, encouraging words and funny jokes. The other creeps in, but I no longer find myself growling at the screen.

We get to make the choice – either be concerned every day about what we’re doing wrong – or find joy in the life we’re living right now.

I choose joy.

Which makes the title of this blog post ridiculous, but it got your attention. I should be ashamed. LOL.

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Thank you to those of you who have written reviews for Book 18 – Just Around the Bend and the Prequel – Finding the Road Home.

If you haven’t had an opportunity to do so, I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you share your thoughts on Bellingwood with the world. It’s hard for me to ask, but then … look … here I am asking. These are so important to have as I move forward to let others know about Bellingwood.

Right now, I’m most interested in building the reviews up for the Prequel. If you’ve read it and would tell others how much you enjoy reading the Bellingwood series, I would be grateful. Click on the book titles to get to the Amazon page for the books. Thank you!

Mid-Month Catch-Up

Where in the world is Polly?

In the June newsletter, I announced a contest – Where in the World is Polly? I’m not ready for you to do anything yet, but you should be taking pictures this month of a Bellingwood cover in the world.

Pull a cover up on your e-reader or use a paperback. It can be any of the Bellingwood books. Hold it up at the beach or a concert, your back yard, a garden, in your favorite chair, from a mountain top, at a restaurant, with your best buddies. All I want is to see Bellingwood in your world.

Be sure it’s the COVER of a Bellingwood book, not content or text.

Hold on to that picture, because in the July newsletter, I will set everything in motion for the contest.

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Reviews.

Oh, how I hate asking you to write reviews for me, but they help so much, both in increasing the rank so others are made aware of Bellingwood and when I attempt to do advertising outside of Amazon. Everybody wants to know how many reviews you have.

Anyway, I need you and I’m not very good at asking for help. You don’t have to write a lot of words, but you certainly can.

If you’ve written a review that you want me to see, please copy it and post it as a reply or send it directly to me in an email. I’m very careful of reading reviews on Amazon because the bad ones literally spiral me down into a blithering puddle and I spend the next two days questioning why I even bother to write. Now I get myself out of that faster than when I first started writing, but it is still painful to read such terrible things about my heart’s passion. No matter how I try to avoid reading the bad reviews (because I know they’re not good for me), it’s like watching a train wreck – I can’t look away.

I appreciate you so much and that you take the time to read my books and hang out with me, means the world!

Here’s the link to Book 18 – Just Around the Bend. If you’ve read the Prequel, I’m desperate for reviews on that as well, so click on this link to write a quick one.

Thank you!

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Newsletter and Facebook

If you haven’t signed up for the newsletter, you want to do that today. I’ve got a LIST of things to tell you in the next one. Click here to stay in touch with what’s going on.

Newsletters go out once a month on the twenty-fifth. Every quarter, I announce the new book, but there is so much more – contests, a fifteen-hundred-word vignette, cover reveals, more short story announcements (oh, I have a new one coming in July – you’re gonna love it), and other fun things.

If you haven’t joined the Facebook Bellingwood page, you should. It truly is becoming a bit of Bellingwood online. Wonderful people from all over the world hang out and it is so much fun watching you all start to interact with each other. You’re amazing! If I have fewer words than a blog post – that’s where I put them. I also have a terrible tendency to tease the story while I’m writing the next book.

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Earl adores TB, who barely tolerates all of the attention Earl wants to shower him with. So when I see TB allowing Earl to rest his big ole head on the belly, I smile.

Finally …

Book 19 is being written. My crazy brain is telling me about stories that aren’t even supposed to be in this book, too! I’m building up a list of characters who are planning to show up in Bellingwood in the next few books. Do you have any idea how worn out my brain is from pushing them back until it’s the right time? Imagine having all of these people talking to you whenever you slow down enough to listen.

By the way, if you DO have that many people talking to you, you might want to consider writing stories. Evidently, there are characters desperate to have their tales told to the world and you’re the only person who can do it. No … I’m not kidding.

That’s enough for today. I love you all and am so grateful for you being part of what I’m doing here.

Which One Are You?

Mom, won’t you PLEASE pay attention to me?

I regularly get questions about which of the characters has my personality or characteristics. It finally hit me that I gave each of the five women who comprise my main characters – Polly, Lydia, Beryl, Andy, and Sylvie something of myself. Now while I’ve given them each little pieces of me, they’ve filled out their own personalities. I think these women are familiar because they are so like all of us. You aren’t just a bunch of Lydias or Beryls, but you all recognize something of yourselves in each of them.

Sylvie got some of my fears and regrets – as well as the tenacity to push through them. The other night I was binge-watching NCIS and Ducky said “If you are in hell, keep going.” That made so much sense to me. We all do that. It’s why we’re still here, though I can’t describe much of my life as hell.

But Sylvie represents the part of me that was certain I had my life-plan in place at the age of twenty-one. I had a degree in music education and intended to teach or move right on to get my Master’s degree in Christian Education and Music. I’d spend my life working on staff in churches. Sylvie had a life-plan. She was going to be a nurse. Children and an abusive husband changed her plan.

I didn’t have those, but life changed my plan and I spent the next twenty years running a quick printing shop. Like Sylvie, it was surprising when things changed and I realized that something better was in front of me. I’d spent fifty years volunteering and working in churches – in multitudes of positions both musical and non-musical – too numerous to list here. Things change. Sylvie changed and moved forward. So did I. That’s where the two of our personalities converge.

Andy Saner-Specek. Andy is the part of me that is the introvert (it grows greater as I age, that’s for sure). She is content to be in supportive roles. She is highly organized and makes sure that the people around her are safe and have tools they need in order to live out their dreams. She has plenty to say, but doesn’t need to speak up all the time. Sometimes it’s awesome to just sit back and enjoy the chaos around you.

Beryl Watson. I think all of us would like to think we are Beryl. She’s wacky and wildly creative. On the outside, it looks as if she doesn’t care what others think of her. Beryl is a side of me people will rarely see. If I could have gotten away with wearing the wild clothing she wears, I would have, but it was never appropriate for the jobs I held or the life I lived. I tend to be outspoken at times, but usually get myself in trouble, so I’m more circumspect. But trust me, those words are in my head and it’s all I can do to keep them quiet. The thing with Beryl is that she cares very much what people think of her, so she is quite calculating in how she presents herself to the world. If they’re going to talk about her, she’s going to be in charge of what they say. She’ll own it – before anyone gets a chance to comment. Those who have rejected Beryl in the past hurt her badly and she will never let that happen again if she can help it.

I’m that person. I’m hyper-aware of people’s responses to me and to others. Sometimes I read more into a response than is actually there, but if there is going to be any discussion about me, I want to be the one who has created the conversation.

Lydia Merritt. The part of Lydia that I gave her is her awareness of others. I’m not as hospitable as Lydia is, nor will I drop in on people to take care of them, but I do my best to pay attention to those I encounter – whether online or in person. If there’s a need I can meet without them asking for help, I will do everything I can. Lydia makes me want to be better at that behavior. There are so many other aspects of Lydia that I wish I could apply to myself. Her unfettered generosity is something that I love about her and will always strive to emulate. Oh … and she drives my Jeep.

Polly Giller. I’ve written before that in many ways, Polly is representative of my mother. The one aspect of myself I gave to Polly is her tenacity and willingness to do whatever it takes to get things done. This was a value instilled into us by Dad from a very early age. No matter what, tasks will be completed. If you start something, you stick to it until you are finished. You don’t quit. When you’re ready to be done with something, you make a plan to walk away from it … you don’t just drop out.

Now the things that drive you crazy about Polly are also from my personality. When she whines because it gets to be too much or she gets too nosy or she wants to tell people what to do – well, that’s me. You’ll often notice that she deals with a lot of these things in her head. It’s better that way and while she might seem annoying, it’s her way (my way) of working out the nastiness inside before letting it loose on the world. Who cares if she’s whiny inside her head? She has to work through it.

Also, the story she told about not wearing underwear to school one day in Kindergarten was mine. I was that rebellious little girl who thought she knew better than Mom. I got two blocks from home and ran back crying because I realized how wrong it was. There are a lot of Polly’s embarrassing stories that come from my background.

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Before I close, I need to tell you what happened to me today. I just love people.

I had errands to run and figured I’d head for Ames to do a couple of them and maybe pick something fun up for lunch. Living in the country doesn’t offer many opportunities for fast-food. My Jeep has been absolutely filthy and I hadn’t had time to wash it yet, so I ran through a car wash in Boone and headed east to Ames.

When I brought my car up to speed, it started to shake. Damn it. I pulled up the tire pressure numbers and they were just fine, so I didn’t have a flat. I tried to talk myself into believing that the roads were just that bad. But when I crossed the bridge and took the entrance ramp onto Highway-30, I knew it was me, so I pulled over and called my garage. I love these guys. I trust them completely.

His first thought was that maybe with the heat, one of the tires had a bubble or maybe a belt on the tire had slipped. I was now about 40 miles from the garage in Webster City (Gerber Auto, if you want to know) and I asked if he thought I could make it. Sure, he said, just don’t go very fast. I also knew that if I didn’t make it, they’d come get me. Like I said, I love these guys.

I made it there with no problem. When I got to the counter, Josh smiled at me and told me they’d take care of me – not to worry. Then … the owner came out and took my keys. He wanted to drive it to see what the problem was. For some crazy reason, I told them that I’d just come out of a car wash before it started. The next question was – you drive a lot on gravel, don’t you? Of course I do.

The owner took the car out, then brought it back and drove into a bay. They knocked out about two pounds of mud that had gotten caught up in behind brake calipers. He drove it again and returned to tell me it was driving smooooooth now. When I tried to pay, Josh glared at me and said, “You’re welcome.”

Of course! Thank you!

I went back out to my Jeep, drove away and just wept. THIS is Iowa-nice. For a girl who knows nothing about cars, I am grateful for a garage who treats me with respect and the guys who take every opportunity to teach me something new so I don’t have to rely on them. I know how to wash the undercarriage of my Jeep now. But they also told me it would happen again and they’d take care of me the next time.

If you ever wonder why I write stories of good people in Bellingwood, it’s because they are so real in the every day parts of my life.

And … I stopped at Dairy Queen for a pork tenderloin. Oh yeah – that’s another thing Polly got from me.