Home of the Bellingwood Series – Nammynools

Generous Good Words Livecast

Weekly Facebook Livecast

Last Sunday of every month – 7 pm Central

Please join me as I talk about everything under the sun. From the latest Bellingwood updates and activities to cool words, Mom’s poetry and stories, great projects my friends are working on, and a few of the many thoughts flitting through my brain during the week, I have no shortage of things to say. 

I encourage you and grab every opportunity to tell the truth of how amazing you are. I’ve always looked for the good and I always find it. You know, like Luke Skywalker who believed there was good even in Darth Vader. He was right! And so am I.

Every Monday following the Livecast, I will post the transcript and a link to the video on this page. Thanks for spending time with me!

October 25, 2020 - Fear vs. Love

Hello there!
This morning, a jam-packed newsletter went out. If you haven’t signed up, you can do it right now at nammynools.com and you will be given immediate access to every past issue, including today’s.
I pressed publish on three projects this week. The second in my fantasy series – Mage Renewed, the compilation of Book 31’s vignettes, and the creative journal, whenever Amazon finally approves it. That’s a big, stinking week.
Then there’s this year’s Christmas card. I am in love with Bec Schreiber’s drawings of my cats. The card is on its way to the printer and by the time early December rolls around, I’ll be diligently writing names and addresses on those cards to get them out to you. If you want one, send an email with your physical mailing address to nammynools@gmail.com. Please don’t send your addresses as messages on Facebook or as responses to posts. Everything needs to come in to one location so I can manage the onslaught.
On Friday, we’ll have another Creativity Friday. What a great time to tell us what you’ve been working on for fall and what you’re planning for the holidays. If you sell things through an Etsy store or a Facebook page or a website, make sure you tell us how to reach you. I can only express how appreciative I am of the compliments you share with each other, the encouragement and the support. You are all amazing.
On Tuesday, I am giving away the first boxed set of the series again. This is the best way to bring new readers on board. They get a taste of the characters and within three books, plus a short story, will know whether they want to keep going. It’s a frenzied few days of answering questions, but it is always fun. And, we get to meet new folks. That’s the most fun for me. I love building this community.
It’s funny, I attended a church many years ago in a growing community. People were moving in and bringing with them lots of fun and excitement. There were so many new children they built new schools. What a great thing for a small town to have happen. I know of many small towns who would love to see that kind of growth.
But for some who had lived there for their entire lives, it was so frightening they became belligerent. They didn’t want growth. They didn’t want change. They didn’t want new people to become active in roles they’d assumed over the years. They wanted everything to stay the same because it was safe.
There was such conflict in town because of those who wanted things to remain the same. Oh, they were fine with the added tax base and the money flowing in, but they didn’t want to sacrifice their power. They were afraid of the changes that were coming. The thing is, change wasn’t afraid of them. It kept coming and because they had chosen to oppose it, they weren’t part of the fun as it progressed. What miserable little lives they led.
Fear is such a negative place for us to exist. I’ll be honest, I’m afraid of a lot of things. A lot of things. And it is in those fears that I live my most limited life. I’d like to tell you that I will overcome them and I do try … and fail. But the thing I refuse to do is take my fears and apply them to other people’s lives, because I recognize them for what they are.
Our fears are often baseless, but that one time … out of thousands … when the worst happens, suddenly we’re justified in being afraid. So, everyone else should be, too.
Earlier this year, a friend of mine, who loves to hike the public trails in her neck of the woods wrote a blog post and then she wrote something confusing. “It’s okay, I wasn’t lost.” Well, I had to ask. In a previous post, she’d joked about getting lost and the fun of experiencing new things along the way. And some of her friends panicked. She’d gotten lost! They missed the entire point. Well, first, she was obviously home safe, because she was writing from her computer, but mostly that by getting a little lost, she experienced something new and different. She’d taken an adventure.
Even those who knew her well, took their fears of being lost and planted them smack dab on top of her. My friend is an adult, she’s a brilliant person, she’s raised wonderfully talented children, she raises other’s children during the day. She’s tough and strong and she knows her own limits and she is always prepared. But that wasn’t enough to overcome fears that didn’t even belong to her.
In other words, adventuring or taking risks has become unacceptable to some and in order to keep the status quo around them, they insist on making that same behavior unacceptable in their friends. No. Don’t put your fears onto other people. Don’t assume that others live in the same worldview or mindset that you live. It’s not easy to look beyond yourself, but it’s healthy.
This has happened to me a lot over the last ten years as I changed my life from one that was familiar to my friends to one that allowed me to write. People who care poured out all their fears on top of me – fears about change, loss, solitary living while I write, being out in the wilds … of Iowa, on and on. I chose to risk and that was frightening for other people. They couldn’t accept that in that choice, I was doing something different and exciting and adventurous.
One thing that still drives me batty is reactions to postings I make about weather. Now, here is when you start seeing people’s fears come alive. There is nothing more distressing than posting about how I love watching a big storm come in – the sound of the thunder, the strikes of lightning, the wild winds and rain – only to have twenty-five people show up and respond with “Please be very careful. It’s dangerous. Stay safe.” Uhhh, why wouldn’t I be safe? You’re missing the excitement of this by trying to reduce it to a moment of fearfulness. Oh, I understand that you care, but it’s a surface reaction, showing how little you know of me. Fear is what drives that type of response. If you are afraid of storms, you’re certain that no one else would want to experience them.
I grew up with a father who couldn’t hear the storms rage until they were loud and explosive. Because of that, he wasn’t fearful around them. He loved a good storm. I also grew up with parents who didn’t want to encourage fear in us. So when a big storm came, we went on an adventure. Dad had prepared a storm shelter in our basement with cots and a radio, blankets, pillows, lanterns. It was always just right there. Mom would wake him up – since he didn’t hear the storm coming – and the two of them took us downstairs. There was no fear, no extra urgency … just being smart and prepared. We’d snuggle into new places to sleep … all together, rather than spread out in our rooms. It was an adventure.
Halfway through, we’d lose Dad to the upstairs. He couldn’t help himself, he wanted to watch the electricity crackle across the sky, and see the trees moving in the wind. He loved storms. As the years passed and we grew older, once we were settled in the basement, he’d let us come up and stand beside him in the doorway. It was wonderful to see his awe at the power of a storm. So, how can I help but still be in awe when storms occur? I don’t want to worry about whether others are afraid for me. That’s on them, not me.
And by the way, I didn’t get to be this age by sticking my neck into unnecessary risks. I am an adult. I am a smart adult. I prepare and plan. And yes, I understand that weird things happen. But if they do, trust me, it’s going to be a story, not a reason to be fearful.
As people of God, we know better than to succumb to our fears – from Joshua’s “Be strong and courageous,” to Jesus’ “Fear not …”
In Paul’s letter to his friend, Timothy, he writes “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” John, in his first letter writes, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
Did you notice that in those passages I quoted, fear is not the opposite of safety? No, the opposite of fear is love. Anger and fury are rooted in fear, not love. Resentment and jealousy are based on fear, not love. Conspiracies, mistrust and lies are all based in fear, not love.
Love brings empathy, trust, forgiveness, understanding – everything that wipes out the worst of what life offers. When we deliberately change our perspective, we see a different reality. One where people aren’t out to hurt us or deliberately sabotage us. We look to understand their perspectives, their hurts, their fears, their needs. And we respond in ways that bring health and wholeness. We don’t exacerbate open wounds or encourage more pain, we heal. We don’t spread our fears onto others, we help them rise into their adventure.
Bellingwood is all about finding the best inside ourselves and then instead of exposing the worst in others, learning how to allow them to grow into adventure. There is so much darkness out there, but we don’t have to let it permeate our daily lives. We don’t have to feed it. We can focus on joy and hope without being afraid.
We are better than fear.
I have an announcement regarding the Sunday evening Livecasts. While I know that many of you have become avid followers, I’m going to slow down. I’m not stopping by any means, but I do have to regain some of the time that I use to plan, prepare, and practice these. I have to tell you, I never gave my father enough credit for the huge number of hours he invested in his weekly sermons.
When I originally began – last November, by the way, I hoped to just jump on every once in a while to show you my face and let you know some of what was happening.
Then, March brought the pandemic and my focus changed. Because I believe so much in positive things like curiosity, learning, hope, kindness, grace, generosity, gratitude, and love, those were the things I knew I could offer when the world seemed to be upside down.
Granted, the world still doesn’t feel as if it has tilted back onto its proper axis, but for now, my focus is changing again.
See, before I knew it, I’d set myself up on a weekly schedule. What? I’m all about consistency. If I’m going to do something – then I’m going to make a plan and stick to it. Never deviate. This is why you get the books on a regular timetable. I am a compulsive planner and because my father taught me to never quit, I will go down fighting to be consistent.
Instead of every week, I will be here once a month. On the last Sunday of each month, I’ll show up and chat with you. Everything you are used to – maybe some fun words, things going on with my books, and always encouragement to love and be loved.
Tonight’s message is short – I have a whole book to be writing and last week was crazy-nuts. But now we’re entering my favorite part of the year when nights are longer and blankets are wrapped around my legs. When I can snuggle in while snow falls. I love a good blizzard. I have everything I need – probably for an apocalypse. Writing comes more naturally for this cave-girl during the winter months.
Though I won’t be face-to-screen with you next week, I’ll be back on November 29. Book 32 will be in the hands of my editors and beta readers and I’ll be deep in the holiday short story. And I hope that you will have recovered from whatever Thanksgiving dinner you cook.
Just a thought – if your Thanksgiving dinner is going to be weird this year, think about cooking for others. One of the things my sister does (I’m always so proud of her) is make sure that some of her elderly neighbors get plates of turkey and fixings at the holidays. She loves making holiday meals and they won’t spend their money to do the extras. Check on single people and neighbors you know who aren’t going to be able to travel to their families’ homes this year. They don’t have to be at your table to enjoy the bounteousness of your feast. Buy the big turkey and share it. Drop dinner off at their back door and tell them you love them.
One last thing. Since this year is so weird, think about bringing the spirit of Christmas into your life a little at a time and start early. You have to know that there isn’t a turkey or pumpkin out there that will be offended if Christmas shows up before its time. You don’t need to be either. Quit complaining about early decorating and gift purchasing. Let love of the holiday flow around you. Be positive and hopeful. Look for peace on earth – and let it start with you … tonight, tomorrow, every day.
I love you so much and I’ll see you in a few weeks. Happy Halloween and Happy Thankgiving.

October 18, 2020 - Stress and Food

I hate stress. However, evidently, I should have more it in my life, except for the fact that it’s horrible. When I’m under stress, I don’t eat. So, apparently, I don’t live in great amounts of stress. Because when it hits, I’m a mess. About the only thing that sounds appealing is chocolate.
Now, I refuse to be political, but I do want to acknowledge the high stress levels we are all under with only two and a half weeks before election day. Please don’t make any comments here about whatever issue you might have with one candidate or another, political parties, anything. That isn’t what this is about, and I will delete them … and be annoyed with you.
For me, the worst stress comes when I am out of control … of a situation, an outcome, a decision. When things start happening around me and I can’t help bring them to a close or have any impact on the conclusion. When I know that trying to find my way out of a bad situation isn’t going to be seen as important by the one person or customer service representative or group that is in charge. When I can’t get good answers to a question. That’s when I lose my equanimity. This is also when I generally find myself red-faced and sobbing in frustration.
We don’t know what’s going to happen in the election and we’re waiting for everything to settle back down. I remember the days immediately following 9-11. We were certain that another terrible, awful thing was going to happen. Everyone worried about more terrorism striking throughout the country. We didn’t know if we were striking back or what was coming next. Those days were unsettling and stress-filled. We had no personal control and there were no good answers.
I remember the time when someone broke into our house and ransacked it, stealing everything they could see. The story in Book 31 about Rebecca not being worried because no one could find anything in her room since it was so messy? That’s from my horribly messy house. Life was busy then and I had no extra time.  But the really important stuff was unnoticed because it was unseen.
Even though the landlord immediately replaced the broken backdoor window with plexi instead of glass, it took weeks for me to stop wondering whether they’d be back. In my head, I knew they’d gotten whatever they could and wouldn’t return, but my amygdala – that little almond shaped fight-or-flight nerve cluster in the brain – told me that I needed to be on alert and worried. I listened.
We always listen to that little cluster of nerves. It’s what has kept humanity on top of the food chain for eons. We protect ourselves based on our fears.
Until those fears are elevated beyond sense.
The thing is – we aren’t going to stop worrying or being stressed over whatever will come next, so we need to counter that worry with practical, pragmatic behavior. Election results, the pandemic, injustice, the economy. These niggle at the back of our minds all the time. And the more global worries we try to grasp and understand, the less emotional space we have to worry about health, our job, our relationships, our family, their health, day-to-day frustrations. The list goes on and on. Our fuses grow short and it usually happens around those personal worries because if we can control anything – it might be one of those. If we explode and lose our minds, it will be with the people around us or those we come in contact with.
It isn’t easy to put it all into perspective. Everything demands our attention.
But it doesn’t. Consider the election. I have voted. What more do I need to invest in worry or thought about any of it? I did my research, I spent time trying to understand platforms and issues. I voted. I’m finished. I should walk away from everything else because I can’t impact the outcome any more than I already have. But my amygdala tells me that I need to pay attention, so I feed it. All that does it take up space that might be necessary when something important and personal becomes an issue, making it impossible for me to handle those things calmly.
And I don’t like not being calm. If I’m not calm and reasonable, books don’t get written. I have much too much to do to expend effort on stress.
So … I look for things that will help distract me. I read a lot. And, well, I look for fun things to talk about on Sunday evenings.
I started by telling you that I don’t eat when I’m stressed. And … that I am apparently not stressed often enough to lose weight. But rather than eat, tonight I want to talk about the background of phrases and idioms that use food.
Let’s start with the phrase – a square meal. The word square meaning honest and straightforward goes back to 1591. But it wasn’t until the 1840s that the phrase square meal, meaning something that is an honest and straightforward meal – a good meal, something satisfying, showed up. The author of the article says that the earliest print reference found was in 1856 in a California newspaper. It was an advertisement for a restaurant called Hope and Neptune. They served oyster, chicken, and game suppers on short notice, but wanted patrons to know they would always get a hearty welcome and a square meal. Sounds like a place people should patronize. (1)
Some of these others are just plain fun.
What am I, Chopped Liver? The first person to say this according to William Safire was Jimmy Durante on his 1954 television show. Chopped liver was a common Jewish side dish but when served beside chicken soup or gefilte fish, it didn’t get nearly enough attention. So … if you aren’t getting enough attention, what are you? Chopped liver?
Maybe you’ll take all of this with a grain of salt – meaning to be skeptical. This is an ancient phrase. Pliny the Elder who lived from 23 to 79 AD gave a recipe for an antidote to poison. The Roman General Pompey invested a lot of effort in building up his immunity to poisons. The last line of the recipe read that whatever it was should be taken fasting, plus a grain of salt. Apparently, people misunderstood the recipe – figuring that adding salt would make it easier to swallow. Or that the whole thing was a hoax. Okay.
Those ancient Romans. Salt was important to them. If someone isn’t worth their salt, they aren’t doing the job they were paid to do. Our word salary – payment, comes from the Latin word salarium which was a Roman’s soldier’s allowance to buy salt. If they didn’t do their job, they didn’t receive their salt money – their salary.
According to the Grammar Girl, Pliny also coined “In a nutshell.” In his “Natural History” he wrote of hearing about a version of The Iliad being written in such tiny letters the entire book could fit inside a nutshell. That’s a bit suspect because they didn’t have pens and paper, people used a stylus on a clay tablet. The phrase was lost until Shakespeare used it in Hamlet. (2)
Don’t Cry Over Spilled milk. Again, from the Grammar Girl. She writes that this idiom began with European fairy lore. Milk-loving fairies would drink up any spilled milk so none would go to waste. I have a very strong memory of my father in one of his highly – stressed periods getting upset with Carol because she spilled milk at the table. Milk, by the way, sours and creates a horrible stench if it isn’t properly cleaned up.
My sister and I ran a quick printing shop for nearly twenty-years. We purchased a light table from another company to do pre-press layout. It was a large light table. One that used four full-size florescent bulbs. The woman who owned it previously had spilled her coffee – heavily laden with cream and it dripped down into parts of the table that no one could reach. Every once in a while, when the table warmed up, you could smell that spoiled milk. Whew! Bad.
Sowing your wild oats. Seriously, has it ever occurred to you to ask where these things come from? Until I started looking, I didn’t realize how much history I was missing. In the sixteenth century, wild oats were worthless as a cereal crop. This was long before we grew oats on purpose. Those oat seeds would spread into a farmer’s fields with only a little wind. A young man who sowed his wild oats, spread seeds without purpose.
Spilling the beans. In ancient Greece, senators placed black or white beans in a jar to cast votes. If someone spilled the jar early, the election results would be known before their time. We do have to wait until after November 3rd. No one can spill any beans.
Born with a silver spoon in their mouth described a christening spoon, given by godparents to a child. The tradition was practiced in Europe as early as the 1600s. The spoons were a sign of a family’s wealth. Godparents generally gave twelve silver spoons – one for each of the twelve apostles. If they weren’t well-off, they gave four – one for each of the Gospels. Along the way, the phrase began to connote someone who received wealth from an inheritance, not hard work.
Egging someone on. Well, this isn’t about eggs. An old Norse word – eggja – means to goad or incite and showed up in the English language in around 1200 AD.
You’re the apple of my eye. Much of the reading I did around this referred to Shakespeare’s use of the phrase in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Old English word for apple referred to the fruit as well as the eyeball. It was believed that the eyeball was a solid object like an apple. So, someone who is the apple of your eye is as precious as your ability to see.
Now, when I first read the learned etymologists’ description of apple of your eye, they stopped with Shakespeare and Old English. I’m not much of a Shakespearean scholar. In fact, I’m not at all. And while I acknowledge that the phrase is found in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, if you remember several weeks ago, I spoke about Shakespeare and how he used scripture in his writing. I am much more of a scripture scholar than I am Shakespeare scholar. When the Bible was translated into English, they picked up that idiom apple of the eye. The references point to the dark part of the eye – the pupil. English translations were what Shakespeare used when reading scripture.
In Deuteronomy 32:10, Moses writes that the Lord found Jacob in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.
Psalm 17:8. David cries out to God and asks him to “Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings.” Here, the pupil is also considered to be the apple. David wants God’s eyes on him always.
Solomon in Proverbs 7:2 writes that we should “Keep God’s words and store up his commands within us. If we keep his commands, we will live. We should guard his teachings as the apple of our eye.”
The prophet Zechariah writes in Zechariah 2:8: “For this is what the Lord Almighty says: “After the Glorious One has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye— 9 I will surely raise my hand against them …”
One commentary says of the Zechariah passage that The apple of His eye is a figure taken from Deuteronomy 32:10, the “apple” is literally a “gate or opening” and probably refers to the pupil of the eye, that part of the eye most easily injured, the most demanding of protection.
Let me tell you right now that you are the apple of my eye. I am so grateful for this community. I know I say that over and over, but during those late nights when I’m doing my best to write the next sentence or start a new scene or come up with a fresh bit of information about a character, I think about who I write for. It’s no longer just for me. It really never was.
They – you know, the ubiquitous they – say that an author should write for themselves. I agree … kind of. But I’ve always had friends hanging out in my head when I write. I imagine them laughing along with a joke I’m writing or scowling when I write something rotten. I know exactly what my friends’ reactions will be to stories I tell, and my imagination brings them along.
As I’ve grown to know more of you better, this community of people is who hangs out with me when I write. I think about some of you cursing me when I mess with a character or laughing out loud while you read in bed beside your spouse, who is now annoyed because you should be asleep. Or weeping at your kitchen table and you can’t find tissues, so you use a napkin instead.
You are the apple of my eye and I am so thankful that you are here.
Next Sunday is newsletter day. I said it last week, I’ll repeat myself. This newsletter will be filled with fun stuff. I can’t wait to get the second Mage’s Odyssey book in your hands. I love these characters as much as I love Polly and her friends. They’re different, but still, they are the same. They are my characters. They love each other and have found ways to support the others along the journey. I’m excited for the next part of the story and I’m very excited to get started on Book 3.
I hope we can be honest about the stresses that plague us. My sister, Carol, is a fifth-grade teacher in Omaha. The school system there is doing its best to figure out what the right thing is to do with their teachers and students. No one has the perfect plan. When she and I talk in the evening, sometimes she is so stressed out, she can barely think straight. The thing is, I know there are people in all walks of life right now who are in the same situation.
Be kind and gracious, especially as we walk through these next few weeks. If you are stressed, imagine that the same thing is happening to those around you. We are all humans, walking through life together … at the same time. Who knows that you weren’t placed here for such a time as this? Don’t waste your time. Use it well.
It was late when I worked on this Livecast script and I have yet to turn my furnace on. A space heater was running, but it just isn’t cold enough for the furnace. Two grey cats took up residence on my desk. Grey in the circle of my arms while I typed, and Earl learned across my mouse and my right forearm. I didn’t have the desire to push them away. They want me to love them, even though their approach is annoying.
That’s a lesson. The world wants our warmth and love. Don’t hold back. Give more than you think you have. You won’t run out.
I love you and I’ll be back next week.
Lindsey, F. D. (1985). Zechariah. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 1553). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

October 11, 2020 - Rabbit Holes

Today has been really warm. That means we’re looking at storms tonight because the weather is about to change. I’m ready for it. Well, almost. I do know that I’m ready for overnight lows to get to the point that I don’t mind cats tucked in around me. And a few blankets on top of us all. I’m a blanket-aholic.
Rabbit-holes. I live for them. There is always something fun to chase. So here we go.
Friday night, just when I thought I had the schedule in place for the next few weeks, I realized time was passing far more quickly than I’d intended. Now, I didn’t panic; I did the next best thing. I took a nap. When I woke up, I started scribbling notes, and added things to my task list. Then I went window shopping on Amazon.
Shopping has always been my go-to for stress-relief. What’s yours?
My first career-type job was in a church in Northwestern Iowa as the Christian Ed and Music Director. They paid me a starting teacher’s salary. In essence, barely enough to live. But at least it was something and I was still young enough to be happy with exactly that.
I had nothing extra though. I couldn’t go shopping – there wasn’t any money for that. And there was plenty of stress. It felt like a big-girl job for a very young girl. I worked and worked. Except for Saturday mornings. I woke up on Saturdays and breathed.
Then, I went grocery shopping. I spent as much time wandering the aisles of that grocery store as I possibly could. I peered at the strangest items on the shelves, imagining them in grand and glorious concoctions. Of course, I always walked out with hamburger and pasta and canned tomatoes and Kraft macaroni and cheese and whatever else would make inexpensive meals. But I had been shopping and it felt wonderful.
Mom taught me how to be frugal. Do you remember the black and white generic branded foods? At Aldi’s in the 1970s, sometimes they were black and yellow. I remember laughing at the white cans with black lettered – BEER. Of course, we never bought that. Our household was dry. Oh, I have stories about that, too. Hmmm … rabbit hole might be the theme of this week’s Livecast.
Okay, so, my father was a teetotaler. I have letters back and forth between him and his father, also a Methodist minister, from the early sixties, discussing the horrors and tragedies of alcohol. All very pious and preachy. Both men preached from the pulpit on its destructive capabilities. Needless to say, there was no alcohol in our house.
Well, not exactly.
One of my mother’s favorite stories to tell on herself was about a fire in the brand-new parsonage the church built for its brand-new pastor. She was outside in the garden with me – I would have been two and half or so, when she saw smoke rolling out of the windows. In the brand-new house. They’d lived in it for less than six months. She ran to Dad’s office – just across the lawn and they called the fire department – made up of volunteers – all men from the little town where we lived.
The entire community rushed to see what was happening because the new parsonage had been all they’d talked about for months. Finally, one of the men came out with a pan of potatoes Mom had put on to boil to make bread and promptly forgotten. He proudly showed Mom what he’d found.
But Mom’s biggest fear after she quit worrying about the fire? That someone might have dug around in her cupboards and found the illicit bottle of sherry she’d tucked WAY back in the back. She was as ornery as they came and it gave her no small amount of pleasure to cook with the sherry when important church-type people came into town to spend time with Dad. After that fright, though, it went down the drain.
Stories of drinking and alcohol in my life were a big deal … because we just didn’t. I remember the night we came home from visiting some friends. The woman had thoughtfully given Mom and Dad a gift bag with ingredients to make a recipe she’d just discovered – beer bread. Inside the bag was a can of Coors. Dad opened the driver’s door of the VW and poured it out onto the gravel in front of our garage, completely ignoring Mom’s insistence that there wouldn’t be any alcohol once it had baked into the bread. No alcohol in our house.
Another night, our family was invited to a parishioner’s home for dinner. The woman put food on the table and then, with a flourish, presented a crystal bowl – filled with fruit – soaked in rum. It was part of the meal, but any leftovers would go home with us and she was giving the bowl to Mom as a gift. My poor father. How was he to tell his three kids that we weren’t allowed to eat the fruit? He couldn’t. All he could do was watch in horror as the woman scooped it out and put it on our plates. My memory was that it tasted vile. When you’ve never had alcohol in your life, it’s a bit of a surprise to the taste buds.
In the eighties, suddenly there was something new and fun for those celebrations when alcohol was inappropriate. Sparkling grape juice. We were shopping at Sam’s Club and Mom’s eyes landed on those beautiful champagne-style bottles. She bought several, imagining how wonderful they would taste and what fun we could have. When we got home, it didn’t occur to her or any of us that it was a problem and we carried them inside and set them on the counter.
Dad walked in and his mouth dropped open by at least a mile. How could she buy alcohol? She knew how he felt about it. Mom laughed and pointed out to him that it was only grape juice. That’s when Dad lost his credibility. He refused to accept that it was okay because it looked like it was an alcoholic beverage and what would people think if the minister’s wife was buying that? They wouldn’t know any different.
Mom laughed again and told him to get over himself. The poor guy. We had sparkling grape juice at many a celebration after that. Well, the rest of us did. I don’t know that Dad was ever able to set aside his pride on that one.
Wow … I was talking about shopping. I remember the very first time I walked into that grocery store in northwest Iowa. You know what? It was probably a time or two after that because it took me a couple of trips to get comfortable in my new skin. That skin that was mine and mine alone. I wasn’t spending Mom and Dad’s money. I wasn’t buying groceries using someone else’s list. This was mine.
I walked past the Mauna Loa macadamia nuts. I’d only had them once or twice before because they were such an outlandish expense. You can buy a whole lot of peanuts for what a jar of macadamia nuts cost. I slid that jar into my cart and felt like I was the richest girl on earth. I had the freedom to purchase whatever I wanted. No one could stop me.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that wasn’t going to be a normal pattern. I couldn’t afford those nuts any more than Mom could, but it was a wonderful moment.
Shopping has always been my stress-relief. And it doesn’t matter whether I spend much money or not. When I owned the printing shop in Omaha, just up on 72nd Street were my three biggest stress-busters. Target, Borders bookstore and Barnes & Noble. I didn’t need much time in Target. I didn’t want to wander the aisles. I just needed to be able to purchase something. Toilet paper would do.
But the bookstores? What dangerous, wonderful places. Comfortable chairs in front of bookshelves filled with everything I could dream of reading. I generally spent too much money there. Shopping is good for my soul.
How many of you got book catalogs from Barnes and Noble before it spread its stores all over the country? And do you remember being all up in arms because that monster store chased out the smaller bookstores in town? Before Barnes and Noble, I lived at Waldenbooks and B. Dalton. Before those stores, I lived in tiny little bookstores. We’ve always found good reasons to be mad at someone for new ways of doing business, haven’t we? We were mad at Waldenbooks. Then, we were mad at Barnes and Noble – but never mad enough to not shop there, because holy moley, we could find the best books. And now, people get all self-righteous and angry at Amazon. It’s a cycle. We just need to stop being infuriated every time something new and different comes along. We’d be a lot less stressed. Maybe less shopping.
Anyway, the book catalog from Barnes and Noble. Living in small-town Iowa, there wasn’t much of an opportunity to have the world’s books at your fingertips. I had friends who would sit for hours perusing the Sears catalog, but I went through the Barnes and Noble catalog with a fine-tooth comb. I wanted to know about every book they had available. What incredible things could I discover? I’d sit for hours with that catalog. Black type on newsprint with very few book covers. Just a title and short description. Ahhh, but it was enough.
The week after Christmas in 1990, my sister, a friend and I went to New York City. One of Carol’s best friends worked in and had an apartment in Manhattan. She was back in Iowa for the holidays, so she offered her place to us for the weekend. We were going to celebrate New Year’s Eve in New York City! I tell you what. We saw everything we could in those few short days. The Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, a Broadway show, Macy’s, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve never run so fast to be able to see everything I could.
Well, there was that Sunday afternoon that I only had four hours to see everything I could in Washington DC. I ran really fast that day. You’d be amazed at how much you can take in when you focus and don’t dawdle. I even had time that day to stand in front of the Viet Nam Memorial and sob my eyes out.
Anyway, back to New York City. We got in late on a Friday evening. We wandered past the Twin Towers. It was 1990. Then we ran into a pizza place because we were starving. Rush, rush, rush. I stopped on a corner as Tracy and Carol were racing to get somewhere else. I could see it.  Right across the street. Granted it was a bigger street than any I’d ever really experienced. But there was Paradise. Right in front of me. Barnes and Noble.
And I couldn’t get to it. We’d made a plan. I didn’t know that I was forgoing a trip to Barnes and Noble when I made the plan, but I allowed Carol and Tracy to drag me away. Here we are, thirty years later and I still remember that heart-wrenching moment. There was my promised land and I couldn’t cross the River Jordan.
Fortunately, my brother and his family lived in the Denver area and I was given the opportunity to shop at the Tattered Cover. The only problem with those trips was that I had too many people traveling with me and couldn’t spend the entire day wandering through the shelves.
As much as I loved escaping into a bookstore, I don’t miss it. Now I can escape into the comfort of my recliner and order books from a catalog bigger than Barnes and Noble could ever print. Though I don’t have to toss furtive glances over my shoulder and blush when the erotica titles jumped off the page. Whoa. Remember the comment two weeks ago when I explored the word curious? In the mid-1800s, the word curiosa was a euphemism for erotic and pornographic in booksellers’ catalogs. Until the Barnes and Noble catalog, I’d never seen descriptions of those books. Still makes me giggle and blush a little.
I’ve been talking about shopping. The word ‘shop’ has an interesting history. Seriously, did you think I’d let a perfect opportunity for learning pass by?
It comes from a European word – skupp – probably around 250 – 300 bc – that meant booth or shed. A cow shed. In essence, where buyers would look at a cow they wanted to purchase and strike an agreement. It moved through several different languages. Old French – eschoppe – a lean-to booth. German – ‘schopf’ meant porch. By the thirteen hundreds, the word had transformed into shoppe, a booth or shed for trade or work.
There, I feel better.
Two more weeks until the next newsletter comes out. It promises to be packed with lots of goodness. The second book in the Mage’s Odyssey – my fantasy series – will be released. I love this one. If you like fantasy and haven’t read Book 1 – Mage Reborn yet, I’ll drop a link.
That Creative Journaling and Planning book will be published. I think you’ll love it. Some of my friends are creating pages to show off what fun you can have with the book. Those will be available later on the website.
The vignettes from Book 30 will be published to Amazon.
Just remember, all of the vignettes are available for free, but you have to look for them. The little publication I put on Amazon is only for those who need to have them in one place. You can read them in past issues of the newsletter and there are some on my website. I never intended for these to be anything but free. Honestly, originally it was an enticement for people to read the newsletter. Now, the vignettes are a fun way to peer into the lives of other Bellingwood characters.
This year’s Christmas card is nearly finished, so in the newsletter, I’ll give you instructions on how to get one of those in the mail.
I’m glad that I waited until Friday to realize how quickly time was passing and that I needed to scurry in order to get everything done. That meant that I took time last week to slow down. I didn’t get nearly enough cleaning or other busy work done, but my mind had time to think and process. I’d have loved to have more. You know, there’s never enough, but I had this time.
My thankful cards last week were filled with notions of quiet, peace, reflection, and of course, cat snuggles. I have my cards ready to go for this next week. I figure there will be a lot of gratitude for just getting things done.
By the end of the week, I will have started writing Book 32. That means I’m at the end of year eight in this career. For heaven’s sake, I’m not that old. I am so thankful that I found you all while writing these stories.
This week, what are you thankful for? What have you done for someone else? What makes you curious? Where have you found grace? What brings you peace?
These concepts are wonderful to think about in theory, but how often do we bring them into reality and make them practical parts of our daily lives?
Because I’m in a small town, I know my mail clerk very well. She’s a sweetheart. When I discovered that my favorite coffee shop had made it to Boone, I told her about it. After a crazy shipping day, a month or so ago, I gave her a gift card to say thanks for her help. She told me last week that she hasn’t been able to spend it all because four different times when she got to the window, the person in front of her had paid for her order. Four times! She was blown away by the kindness.
Blow someone away this week. Make kindness a practical part of your week. Spend a few minutes contemplating creative ways that you can give. In your busy, crazy life, consider where you find peace. Maybe it’s a few minutes on the phone with a friend, or snuggling an animal, or a child as they fall asleep. Make peace and gratitude, grace and kindness active parts of your week.
I love you and I am thankful for you. I can’t wait for next week. Maybe I’ll actually get to the topic I’d planned for tonight. Have a great week.

October 4, 2020 - Hope

I’m still watching the television show, “Bones.” There is often something in it that intrigues me, so I spend time researching and discovering. This week, I watched an episode called “The Doctor in the Photo.” The little tidbit that got me was about an experiment where a professor created glasses—goggles, that would cause someone to see the world exactly upside down. I went looking for details and it was true. The professor’s assistant wore these glasses and, while at first, of course, he was unable to interact with the world, it only took a few days for his mind to adjust and adapt. At that point, he could function just as any of the rest of us. Ride a bicycle, walk in public, drink, eat … everything.
They further tested the idea and flipped which information went into the left and right eyes. A few days later, the assistant adjusted.
By the way, he also had to readjust every time he removed the special glasses.
That got me thinking about adaptation.
Because of the way I grew up, I became extremely adaptable to situations – especially homes where I lived. As the daughter of a minister, when we moved, we didn’t move into a home that belonged to us, we moved into a parsonage. Sometimes they were large, sometimes very small. Living rooms were many different sizes. Sometimes there were formal dining rooms, other times the dining room extended off the living room. Three bedrooms or four bedrooms. One small parsonage had a single bedroom on the main floor and two had been built into the attic. While Dad was there, he did finish another room in the basement so as nearly adults, Carol and I didn’t have to share a tiny room.
We learned to adapt our furniture and our movements based on what we were given. We couldn’t knock out walls or do much else. Sometimes we couldn’t even paint the walls. We didn’t change out carpeting or fix windows, and in many homes, the front draperies were already in place. Just so you know – the men and women in these churches were very proud and protective of their home and the things that they had done to fix it up for the pastor. Making a fuss just wasn’t appropriate.
We adapted. The thing is, I still adapt. Sometimes it frustrates me when I realize that I could have changed something all along, but I am so programmed to adjust my own behavior and my own needs, it never occurred to me.
But I also believe that because I am so adaptable, my life is often easier. Rather than being frustrated when the world doesn’t meet my expectations. I adapt.
The reason I’m talking about this is that I had kind of a strange eye-opening experience this week. By the time I got to Monday morning, I had been going at it hard for more than two months. Maybe a day or two off here and there, but mostly I work long days and just keep moving until I’m finished.
Don’t feel sorry for me. This is my best life. I could make different decisions. I choose every day what I do.
But Sunday evening’s Livecast was the last thing I needed to accomplish, and I was done with the siege. I could slow down. Monday and Tuesday, and even Wednesday, I was a mess. I dragged around, barely making eye contact. My sleep was off, I didn’t want to do any of the things I’d anticipated with great excitement. I just existed. Oh, I kept the task list from falling apart, but that was only because my willpower took over.
Then Thursday came. I slept well and when I had my first free moment, I spent it reading. Not the novels I read every night, but nonfiction mind-expanding reading. I had finally adapted to the slower pace and my mind relaxed. It took three days.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll gear up and be head-down for the next few months to accomplish the rest of the plans I have for 2020. It will take a few days to adapt to that faster pace again. I’ll do it because I love it.
You know, every week, I seem to come to the end and think to myself, Well, that was a lot to deal with in the world. And then, the next week delivers more insanity and a girl becomes exhausted. I am so glad that I’ve been tracking what I’m grateful for every evening. It re-centers my mind and gives me a bigger perspective.
The thing is, every week, I hope that the next one will calm down.
Hope. That is one of those mysterious virtues that we desperately need in order to exist. The Bible is filled with passages about hope. God is the God of all hope – Romans 15:13. Jeremiah 29:11 – For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Paul tells the Corinthians that hope is one of the three great virtues, faith, hope and love.
Franklin Roosevelt said, “We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Hope is an expectation of positive outcomes. Its definitions include “expect with confidence” and “to cherish a desire with anticipation.” (1)
Barbara Fredrickson says that hope comes into its own when crisis looms, opening us to new creative possibilities. (1)
The story of Pandora’s Box. In Greek mythology, Zeus was angry with Prometheus, who stole fire from heaven and gave it to humanity. Zeus wanted to punish humans, so he commanded Hephaestus, the god of craftsmen – blacksmiths, metalworkers, carpenters, artisans, sculptors – to mold from earth the first woman – a beautiful evil. Her descendants would torment the human race.
Other gods come together to complete this woman. Athena taught her needlework and weaving. Aphrodite shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs. Hermes gave her a shameless mind and deceitful nature, then gave her the power of speech – lies and crafty words. Athena clothed her in a silver gown. Then Hermes named her Pandora – meaning All-Gift. Everyone who lived on Olympus each gave a gift – a plague to humanity.
Epimetheus was the brother of Prometheus. These two men were Titans and were the representatives of mankind. He is always seen as the foolish one. Now, Prometheus warned his brother not to accept any gift from Zeus, but Epimetheus didn’t listen. As soon as he accepted Pandora, she scattered the contents of her jar. All manner of evils poured out on earth.
One item was left.
One pessimistic interpretation of this myth says that hope did escape, much to the delight of Zeus. It was the worst of all the torments. No matter how bad things became for humanity, when hope arrived, humans came together and held on, only to be battered over and over again by the other evils.
The story of Pandora, Prometheus, Epimetheus and others was told by Hesiod, an ancient Greek poet and storyteller who lived around the same time as Homer. Another Greek storyteller of that time was Aesop – Aesop’s fables.
Aesop finishes the story of Pandora. In her jar were also useful things. Those good things like trust and restraint, the graces, acts of piety and rules of conduct – flew back to the home of the gods when the jar was opened. (2) Except hope. They managed to close the jar before she flew off. That is why hope is still found among humanity, promising that she will bestow on each of us the good things that have gone away. (3)
The etymology of the English word hope doesn’t go back to Greek or Latin. Old English hopian means to have the theological virtue of hope – hope for salvation, mercy, trust in God’s word. (4) The word tracks back to Indo-European roots which describe a bow, a curve, an arch, a ring, a hoop. Hoop – hope.
The root of the word ‘hope’ gives us the connotation of a change in direction; going in a different way. (5)  Curving – bending.
Now, the Greek and Hebrew words for hope mean something much stronger than how we often use the word. I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow. I hope I did well on that test. I hope for this or that. It is much like wishful thinking. We have no expectation.
On the other hand, the Greek word, elpis, which is translated as hope in Scripture is a confident expectation. It is a much stronger application. If we were to use the word ‘elpis,’ when we said that we hoped it didn’t rain tomorrow, we wouldn’t carry an umbrella, because we would be confident in our expectation of no rain.
It’s a fine line, I know, but it is such an important distinction.
Hope is vital. It isn’t passive. If all you do is hope and then do nothing else, you’re wishing – not hoping. Saying “I hope I get a job,” and then doing nothing to support that is worthless. Hope motivates us to move forward when everything seems to be falling apart. Hope encourages us to keep going when others lose themselves. Hope is a vision of what can be. When we see the possibilities, we can find our way to them.
Hope is active. Wishing is passive. Hope involves a plan and a commitment. Hope is believing in something bigger than this moment.
True hope is not a wish based on uncertainty. True hope is a confident expectation.
But hope doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In First Corinthians, Paul states that three things remain – faith, hope and love. To have hope, you have to have faith in something bigger and more important than you. It is a reason to go on, and it has nothing to do with you. Hope exists within a framework of love. If you are going through a difficult time and hope finds you, it does so because of those whom you love and those who love you deeply. (6)
Dale Archer, who writes how the power of hope defines the psychological victim and the psychological survivor, also affirms the importance of gratitude. Focusing on what you have to be thankful for, not on things you don’t have or have lost, or even what you want. (6) This is another facet of hope.
This has been a tough year. I don’t care what your beliefs are, you can’t deny that 2020 has sucked us dry. We’re exhausted from the uproar around us. The thing is, we aren’t smart enough to turn off the noise. It feeds our basest instincts. I read a book earlier this week that talked about how the news is like a sugar-rush to our brains. It’s not good for us, but we keep taking it in day by day because we don’t want to miss out on the next rush. It’s difficult to wean ourselves away from the onslaught of information.
If we can’t pull ourselves away from it, the only thing we have left, is to do our best to counter that attack on our hearts and minds.
Last week I talked about staying curious. Hah. Last night I ordered a book. I don’t even know why I did it. Well, actually, I kind of do know, but it was an impulse buy. The problem is there are eleven books in the collection and I want them all. The book’s title and description hauled me in. “The Book of Unusual Knowledge. 704 pages crammed with a cornucopia of information.” Other titles are “The Book of Extraordinary Facts,” “Weird and Unusual Trivia,” “Amazing Curiosities,” “Incredible Information,” “The Book of Who Said That?” “The Book of Amazing History,” “The Book of Random Oddities.”
Dad had Parkinson’s Disease and as it progressed, the drugs he took destroyed his concentration. He was limited to reading only short bits of information and he fell in love with these types of books. One was always beside his chair. I landed on this book and couldn’t help myself. I had to have it – and as time passes, I’ll likely purchase them all. Because who doesn’t love feeding their curiosity with wonderful information?
Creativity. Find ways to be creative. Whether you are making things to sell or just to make things, do something. Don’t tell me you aren’t creative. We are of the Creator. Creative people are better able to live with uncertainty. Why? Because they adapt their thinking to allow for the flow of the unknown. Creativity helps develop confidence. According to several studies, research shows that creativity decreases mortality risks because it draws on a variety of neural networks within the brain. (7)
Take care of others. Create things for them. Giving helps us to connect. It creates stronger communities. It makes us happier and healthier. (8) A few weeks ago, I told the story of how my sister had a bad day and she knew that the best way to counter her grumpy attitude was to do something nice for someone else. So, she simply bought a meal at a drive-through. My parents drilled that into us from an early age. The easiest way, the fastest way to forget about your own problems is to focus on caring for someone else. Everything drops into perspective.
Be grateful. Say Thank-You. I am still amazed and appalled at how few people take the time to say those two simple words. We get too busy to stop and appreciate the effort someone puts into taking care of us, serving us, feeding us, giving to us. All it takes is two words – thank you. Say those words. Adopt an attitude of gratitude.
I am still writing down ten things I’m thankful for every evening. It doesn’t matter how many days in a row that you realize you are grateful for a good night’s sleep or for the snuggles of a pet or the love of a spouse, a friend or a child or grandchild. There are no requirements for this list other than to be thankful.
Hope is active – a confident expectation. It isn’t a wish – a passive dream. There are things we can do that will inspire hope in others and in us and there is no reason to sit around bemoaning how awful the year is, or how terrible the world has become. We don’t have to sit in the mud and whine about how dirty we are. We hope. We expect. We act.
Do it all. Be kind and gracious. Be grateful and loving. Say the words. Show hope to the world. Live that life so that people are drawn to the goodness inside you. You are amazing and I am so thankful that we are here together in this time and in this place.
I love you. I hope you have a wonderful week. I expect that you will have a wonderful week. Fill it with hope. Confident expectation. Do something good. Do something hopeful. I’ll see you next week.
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1450845800/ (The Book of Unusual Knowledge)

September 27, 2020 - Curiosity

I’m back! I missed you last Sunday. What a wild week.
Yesterday I walked through the house and out to the front porch and shuddered at what I’ve done to this place. Over the last two weeks, all I’ve done is write and edit and format and publish and then write some more. And edit some more.
Apparently, I decided that the first half of the year, though busy, is the planning time I use to build out the insanity of the last part of the year. In the last month, I finished writing, editing, and publishing Book 31. I finished writing, initial edits and extraneous plans for Mage Renewed, the second book in my fantasy series. I put together, sent a draft, and have received a proof copy for a new journal.
This last week I was either doing a final read-through on Book 31 or editing to get out to my readers and editors the second book of Mage’s Odyssey. I barely came up for air. The house looks like it.
Friday night, after Book 31 was published and many of you had already finished reading it, I sent off the manuscript for Mage Renewed, sat back, and got a little emotional at the letdown. Now what?
Have no fear. Yesterday, I began the list of things that need to be completed before January 1st. There is so much fun yet to come! Even a small holiday surprise … maybe. And for those of you who want to try to guess what it is – stop it. I’ll never tell. You know how I am with teasers.
When I was growing up, my sweet little sister was the worst about surprises. She hated them. She wanted to know. Until the day she opened her Christmas presents early. She snuck into the living room, untaped the wrapping paper and peeked. She was thrilled at the gifts, but on Christmas morning she was disappointed that there was no surprise. You might have caught me out there shaking gifts and feeling them and trying to come up with an idea of what they were, but I didn’t want to know. I wanted to guess. The anticipation was the fun part.
Fast-forward thirty years or so and my now horrible sister had completely changed her tune. We owned a printing shop and Carol’s domain was the front customer service area. I worked behind the wall, doing graphic design. When packages were delivered, I knew because I heard her talking to the UPS guy. And then … nothing. I’d wait until I was about to pop and finally show up and stand in front of her desk.
The package was always right there. She’d reach over, push it across to me and grin. Because my curiosity was just about to kill me and she didn’t care anymore. We’d really flip-flopped. When I turned fifty, Carol surprised me with a party. I knew something was going on, but I had no idea what. I showed up to her house and there were my friends. All dressed in fifties costumes. Carol had outdone herself. She doesn’t get to pull those off on me very often. My curiosity is such that I don’t let much get past me. It’s hard to surprise me because I pay attention to everything.
Lately I’ve been re-watching the series Bones. One of the characters who shows up in Season 4 is Vincent Nigel-Murray. This young man has a mind filled with trivia. He knows the oddest little details and blurts out trivia when he’s nervous. His curiosity is boundless.
Curiosity might be bad for cats. In fact, there are many times I’ve told my fur-balls that their curiosity will get them into trouble. It would be nice if they paid attention.
On the other hand, curiosity in humans is linked to happiness, creativity, satisfying intimate relationships, increased personal growth after traumatic experiences, and increased meaning in life. (1) Curiosity makes you a happier, more content, and a better person. Stay curious.
When Orville Wright – one of the Wright brothers – was told that he and his brother were an example of how far someone could go in life with no special advantages, he didn’t accept that. He responded, “the greatest thing in our favor was growing up in a family where there was always much encouragement to intellectual curiosity.” (1)
Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”(2)
I love learning. If someone presents me with information, I rarely accept it at face value. I want to know for myself. This is a big issue we face right now with social media. People present information with no foundation and others accept it, then turn around and disseminate it. Remember how we used to laugh at the idea that it had to be true because it’s on the internet? We mocked that. But we’ve grown lazy. A meme or an unknown random site proclaims to tell the truth and we accept it without further inquiry. Especially if it feeds a fear or stirs our emotions. It must be true. Guess what? It likely isn’t. We’ve allowed others to temper our curiosity.
In the late 1990s, when the internet was just beginning to grow, I was in heaven. Pure and utter heaven. Suddenly, information was at my fingertips. If I was curious, I had access to vast depths of knowledge. This was bigger than any encyclopedia. I was no longer limited to one source, it felt like I had access to the library at Alexandria.
I still feel that way. The resources I’ve bookmarked over the years are intense. I’m actually saddened at the fact that I don’t have time in my life to do all of the study and take all of the courses and read all of the books that will serve my curious mind. I want to know it all. I don’t want to ever be limited in my knowledge. And yet, time limits me. So, I’ll do what I can with what I have.
You gotta know I’m about to talk about the word curiosity now.
Believe it or not, the words cure and curious do come from the same Latin root word – cura, which means care and concern. I’ve said it before, but I would love to spend at least one of my lifetimes investigating the roots and development of words. Cura gave us curatus or curate – the spiritual charge of a parish – a priest. A curator – someone who is in charge of exhibits in museums. They care about exhibits. The word existed in Roman Law for a person who was a guardian – someone in charge of or who cared for a minor.
I’m putting a link in at the end of the transcript if you want to read more, but that word family also encompasses words like accurate, secure, manicure. These words all have the sense of ‘caring.’ Accurate – it is done with care. Secure – free from care of danger. Manicure / pedicure – caring for hands or feet. (3)
That root cura grew to another word – curiosus. In Latin that word means careful, diligent, meddlesome, and inquisitive.
Little known fact about the word. By the mid-1800s, the word curiosa (sounds like a Harry Potter spell – curiosah, not curiosa) was a euphemism for erotic and pornographic in booksellers’ catalogs.
How many of you grew up with curio cabinets? A curio is something that is novel, rare, or bizarre. It was an object of interest. In the 1800s the word came about to describe bric-a-brac from the Far East. Later it described interesting items.
With all of that in its background, curiosity is the desire to know – caring about knowledge.
Along with learning comes remembering. I hated memorizing. Music solos, speeches, recitations, poems. My father’s memorization skills were incredible. He had locked in so many different pieces of literature that he could recite. Scripture passages were never a problem for him. Good thing, since he was a pastor. I could call him out of the blue and ask about a scripture passage and after reciting it, he sent me right to its location. He never failed me. I spent years trying to memorize scripture. The thing is, I can tell you exactly where it is in my Bible and I can remember everything about it except for the exact words. I’m really good at using my resources and really bad at memorization.
However, memories are something that I’ve worked to retain since I was a child. When I was in my early twenties, Mom used to laugh about the fact that I looked back so often to remember. I was still young. We had always told stories about our childhood. As soon as an experience happened, it became a memory … a story to be retold.
I’ve heard from quite a few of you that you tried the Five-Year journal and love it. You only write down a few things from each day. After five years, you’ll have a journal that helps you look back and see what you’ve done, what the world was like, even outside temperatures, on and on. I started mine last September – my birthday month. That means I just turned over to a new year. Let me tell you what fun it has been to read the silly things I thought were important. Even when I was so boring. Yesterday’s entry from last year mentioned that I had done nothing all day long. That doesn’t often happen, but I was glad for it.
Curiosity helps us be happier, more content, and a better person. Memories help us remember who we were. They help us focus our dreams and plans. I have fallen in love with capturing those things into journals.
Anne Lamott, in her book, Bird by Bird, writes of learning how to keep track of her memories. You know the ones that flit through your mind, make you smile and then move on? Stories that kids and grandkids might like to hear, but they’re not around and you’re going to forget. She keeps 3×5 cards everywhere. In her car, in her bathroom, in her purse, at her desk, by her bed, in a pocket. If a memory she’d like to keep flits into her mind while she’s busy doing other things, she notes a few words on a card that will help bring it back later.
Then, when she has time and is in a place she can spend re-telling that memory, she does. After reading this, I began doing it, capturing notes of thoughts when I was busy with other things. I’ve managed to write out some great memories. Not nearly enough, but it’s better than before.
My father had such a great memory for family stories. Stories from our generation, from his, and stories he’d been told by his parents. I begged him to start writing those out when he retired. He never did. We lost so many of our memories because he was the last person to have that story intact. The thing is, those moments that seem inconsequential, help anchor our lives in time and space.
This fall I’m publishing another journal. It’s different than the five-year journal. This one is for me. I discovered a format years ago that would allow me to do nearly everything I wanted, but it wasn’t perfect. I began adapting to that format. I adapted to it. On the pages where the designer had put too many ‘helpful’ words in, I ignored those and pretty soon, they were nothing more than separation lines. I didn’t even see the words. He had put times of day in the planner area, which is where I write out my daily stuff. I ignored all of that.
This summer it occurred to me that I had the capability to create exactly what I wanted. Why did it take me so long? You have no idea how many different projects like this I worked on when I owned a printing shop. I designed calendars and journals and even entire planner systems for customers. So I set to work. Gone are the extraneous words and pages that might work perfectly for those who use it to plan their business day. I finally have a creation that will allow me to plan, scrapbook, write, journal my days, doodle, get creative, anything I want.
I love to use stickers and Rebecca gave me washi tape with cats on it. I use that to tack in notes and cards I receive. I need to be better at printing photographs that I love. I plan my books out in my journal. I set my to-do lists in here. I add my gratitude cards every week. I’m not yet to the point of filling every page in my journal every year, but I’m better than I ever was. Every week there are columns for each day to write down what happened. Then there are two pages that I can fill with whatever I want. Those are completely undated. I add sticky tabs to help me flip to the page where I am taking notes for the next book or where I keep a list of vignettes to write or a list of the books I’ve read this year.
It’s funny. For the last twenty years I have worked to become digital. I keep a calendar on Google. I keep notes in Evernote. And yet, my physical analog planner and journal is my constant companion.
The Creative Journal isn’t available on Amazon yet, but it will be ready to purchase by October 25th. I’ll share images of how it can be used on the Diane Greenwood Muir, Author page and on my website between now and then. I’m excited to share it with you. I’m just as excited to have my own copy to kick off next year.
Are you keeping a daily list of things you’re thankful for? Even with all the crazy that has been the last few weeks, I’ve managed to ensure I do it every evening. My days are filled with things that give me joy, moments of beauty, thoughts that fill my heart. Some nights I lean back in my recliner and am overwhelmed with a sense of contentment. The great thing is, those are some of my most difficult days – when news is bad or I’ve messed things up. At the end of the day, I am grateful for the opportunity to have done it all.
Thank you for the wonderful things you’ve said to me about the Bellingwood books – and Book 31. It’s hard to believe that it is out in the world now and that many of you have already finished reading it. Y’all need to slow down a little! I can’t write any faster.
Planning for the compendium is underway. I have no idea if I’m going to pull this thing together by the end of the year, but you’ll get something from me. I’m assembling data. How did I do this to myself? So many characters, so many details. If you want to keep up with the process, join the Bellingwood Readalong Group. I ask for help, ideas and thoughts and will post bits and pieces of information along the way. We’ll get there.
Tomorrow starts a new week. A fresh week. We get to choose how we approach it. It feels like there is no limit to the stress and strain and worry and frustration that we face every day. The thing is, grace, generosity, gratitude, love, kindness are boundless. We choose which we allow to define us.
Thank you for everything you give to me. I love you. I hope you have a wonderful week. Be curious. It helps overcome trauma. It helps with happiness and creativity. You will be a better person. Fill your week with curiosity, with gratitude and grace. I’ll see you next week.

September 13, 2020 - Gratitude

The other evening, my sister was telling me about her day. It was one of those really bad days in the life of a teacher. Horrible behaviors by kids, not much learning happening because … well, horrible behaviors. The kids are remote-learning and some parents are unable to parent well. Carol hasn’t been sleeping. An aide in the building decided to give pushy advice rather than help. So, Carol was grumpy when she left school. She didn’t feel like cooking dinner, so headed for a drive-thru. Still grumpy.
There was only one other vehicle there – right behind her. She told the person at the window that she was having a bad day, so to help fix that, she wanted to pay for the next person’s meal. And she asked the clerk to tell them to have a great day.
That story just made me smile.
This is one of those truths I wish I could express to everyone enough so they would believe it. The very best way to make life better for yourself is to make life better for someone else. When we are so self-aware and selfish and self-centered and self-focused, that’s all we think about. And we aren’t much good to ourselves when that’s happening. Our problems become huge because those are the only things on our mind.
But when our focus turns outward – to caring for others, our own issues and problems are placed into the proper perspective.
Carol starts every day with her students in a great way. She asks them each for a powerful positive. She’s done this for years. Gratitude or something good that happened in their lives. Even something they like about themselves. Anything that is positive.
I love that.
This week I received a package of birthday goodies from her, but one of the best things in the package was a set of sweet notes that her kids wrote to me at the beginning of last March, before the world got weird. She finally found them.
My job is to make Carol’s life easier. She sacrifices a lot for her students and invests an incredible amount of time and money. Just like every other teacher on the planet. What that means is that when she is focused on helping them learn about life and classroom behaviors and lessons and testing, she doesn’t always have time to come up with creative fun things. That’s where I come in.
Hard candy. I send root beer barrels, butterscotch, and lemon drops. I sew little fabric baskets for the kids to stow things in their desks and trays for the tops of their desks. I send moon pies for Pi Day on March 14th and Star Wars bookmarks for Star Wars Day on May 4. I make sure her classroom has plenty of tissues and hand wipes, extra pencils and rulers and anything necessary to help Carol ensure these kids know they are cared for and can be successful.
This isn’t about me, though it sounds like it. And I wish I were telling someone else’s story, not ours.
Carol doesn’t have an easy classroom. She is right smack dab in the center of Omaha and a certain percentage of the kids in her school live with grandparents because their parents aren’t around. Older brothers and sisters are in gangs. One father of a child who sent me one of these letters is in prison. They’ve seen the worst of life and struggle with behaviors. Carol expects the very best from them and she generally gets it.
She has these kids write thank you notes all year long. To other staff members, to so many people. While she’s teaching them the rudiments of letter writing, they’re writing letters that mean something.
I was the recipient of a pile of these notes. I recognized names of the kids Carol struggled to help. Kids who should never know the life they know. And I read sweet words of love and gratitude because of what she teaches.
However, even with all of that, a few made me laugh out loud.
From one little boy. His note was artistic and done on a half sheet of paper folded into a note. I know from her what hell he has experienced. But listen to this:
Dear Mrs. Diane,
This may be a small letter, but this is an enormous thank you for all of the work you’ve put in from the beginning of the school year. Mrs. Greenwood has so many stories about you. You seem like an amazing person.
Oh, my heart!!
This next boy is going somewhere.
Dear Diane,
Thank you for the countless amount of stuff you have given us. The candy is my favorite part because, well, I mean, why wouldn’t it be? Also, thank you for those pencil shaving things that we use, although we don’t have any pencil sharpeners to use them on because they were taken away. But, on the good side, everyone in this class is thankful for you and we appreciate what you do for us.
P.S. Thank you for the Spellathon pledges. Our class has a one-way ticket to victory.
Dear Diane,
Thank you for buying almost everything in our classroom, like the candy. I think the root beer barrels are the class favorite. Ms. Greenwood and me and all my classmates appreciate all of the things you bought us.
Sounds like the candy was a big hit.
As I read through the letters, I was struck at how special it is to be the recipient of gratitude. I do none of this to receive recognition. I generally prefer no one ever knows it was me, but Carol insists that her class needs to learn how to say thank you.
Thank you seems to be such a difficult thing for us to say sometimes and that surprises the heck out of me. It was the first thing my parents taught us. After opening Christmas gifts, we all sat at the dining room table with pencil and paper to write thank you letters to anyone who had sent us a gift. We grumbled and we groaned, because we would have preferred to do anything else. But we did it.
I was very young when my mother spoke with me about saying thank you. As the daughter of a United Methodist minister who also played the piano and sang, I spent a lot of time performing in front of people. My sister and I sang together from an early age. People stopped us to tell us how wonderful we sounded. As little girls, learning to take compliments gracefully and gratefully was something we needed to learn. It wasn’t innate. One Sunday, after I’d evidently not been gracious enough, Mom sat with me and discussed the relationship built between a performer and her audience. For those few minutes, that person connected with me. If they wanted to acknowledge how it made them feel, I needed to put myself in their place and ask what my expectation might be. I needed to change my perspective. It wasn’t about me – it was about them.
Years ago, we had an employee who never used the words – thank you. At Christmas when we exchanged gifts, she was complimentary about the gift, but never said the words. If a customer complimented her – she couldn’t acknowledge it with a thank you. It was strange to watch.
I’m reading a novel right now about the fae – fairy-folk. One thing you never say to a fae is ‘thank you’ because it implies a debt. I hope to never meet one, I’ll be sunk.
Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and author, discusses why it’s so difficult to use those words, thank you. One reason he offers is that people might have trouble acknowledging they received something. They don’t want to look needy or feel indebted or they’re embarrassed. (1)
But the thing about those words, thank you, he says, is that when you say it, it’s a small moment with big ripples. It’s confirmation that we are all joined in that act of giving. When you hear the words, he writes that you feel seen and appreciated, that you matter. That’s a wonderful concept. We are surrounded by loneliness. Too many people feel invisible. Imagine what you could do for someone’s heart simply by saying thank you.
It’s difficult to make emotional connections with people, but I believe our parents and grandparents and those who went before us were absolutely right when they tried to teach us the importance of gracious words. Saying things like please and thank you. I love you and I’m sorry.
The psychologist, David Ludden, writes that we are pack animals. I may be a hermit, but I do need my pack. Because of this, we need the emotional connection to each other that comes from words offered from the heart. He’s writing about the difficulty in saying thank you. Too often we worry about doing it right. And then we don’t do anything at all. He says we should worry less about competence and focus our attention on warmth. In the end, no one cares if you used the right words. Rather, they care about your warmth – the sincerity of the emotion you express. (2)
We’ve been given the simple words. Thank you. Please. I love you. I’m sorry.
I woke up in the middle of my night – well, Friday morning – in a complete panic about the amount of work I have between now and the twenty-fifth of September. These next two weeks are going to go by in a blur. That’s okay. I always know it’s coming and there’s nothing else I’d rather do.
Book 31 will be published the same day that I hope to deliver the second Mage book to my editors and readers. I don’t do things in small ways.
The second Mage book will be released at the end of October. And if you’re paying attention, that means October 25th, because my newsletters come out on the 25th of every month. I’m a little Erbsenzahler. That’s my new favorite word. It’s a German word that describes someone who is obsessed with details and a bit of a control freak. It’s so much better than any descriptive word we have in English.
I have two vignettes to write before the twenty-fifth. One will come out next weekend, the other in the newsletter. You know, along with the release of Book 31.
This Friday night is Trivia Night. Are you ready? I know many of you have been re-reading the series, hoping you’ll know the answers without cheating. That makes me laugh. A lot. Because the best part of Trivia night is the fun of getting together, and … cheating so we can eat chocolate. And if you can’t eat chocolate because of your diet, it’s about eating or drinking something that’s only a little naughty. The focus isn’t on knowing without reading others’ answers. But maybe you’re a little erbsenzahler, too and you hate the idea that you need to cheat. That just means you’ll eat chocolate because you want to.
Everyone is invited and welcome. The questions come from only the first three books. At six o’clock central, I post the first question and then go until eleven o’clock. If you can’t be there during the event, you have until Sunday to answer the questions. Don’t NOT answer a question because you don’t know the answer. Cheat, for heaven’s sake. There’s nothing serious about this.
Well, except for the prizes. I’ll choose winners on Sunday. Mugs, signed paperbacks, charms, ebooks.
It used to be called Wine and Trivia Night. While I encourage you to drink as much or as little as you want, I’ve cut back because I go to work after we’re finished. Put on your comfy clothes, drag out a bowl of M&Ms, a glass of wine or something fun just for you. And come play. It’s a great time to get to know each other and entertain Diane.
Because things are so insane for me, tonight’s Livecast is a little shorter than normal and I’m cancelling next Sunday. I just don’t have it in me. If you could see the list on my desk, you’d laugh and tell me I was nuts. I’m a little nuts. I admit it. I can do everything necessary, but when I panicked on Friday morning, and then let go of doing next week’s Livecast, that panic decreased by a whole lot. It’s only one week. I’ll be back on the 27th.
As much work as I have going on the next two weeks – well, even the next three and a half months, I can hardly wait. I love my job. I love you. I love being creative and having the opportunity to share it. I am so grateful for it all.
Gratitude can change us. It really can. I have to tell you that re-focusing myself these last few weeks at the end of the day has been a big deal. I have my cards ready for next week. Ten things every day that I am thankful for.
I can’t wait to see you at Trivia Night on Friday and I can’t wait for the next book to be in your hot little hands. I love you and I hope you have a wonderful week. Say thank you. Say I love you. Say the words. Good night.

September 6, 2020 - Poetry

I am not a poet. I can write it if necessary, but poetry is not my literature of choice.
My mother loved writing poetry. My father was a master at reading it aloud. My sister loves to write poetry. I have close friends who live for poetry.
Now, what’s so funny about me saying that poetry isn’t my literature of choice is that, as a musician whose father was a pastor and who grew up in the church, the Methodist hymnal is as familiar to me as any other book. More so. I learned to play hymns when I was child.
One thing my father did was to find incredibly diverse piano teachers along the way. Before I even went to school, he had a piano in place at our house. He asked a high school girl who belonged to our church if she’d consider giving me piano lessons. She was understandably terrified, but then he told her what he wanted. He wanted me to love to play. He wanted me to associate fun with the piano. That was all. Her name was also Diane. Diane Bonnett. And she was the prettiest, sweetest girl. She and her family lived out on a farm and I spent as much time playing with the chickens and other farm animals as I did sitting at the piano. But I learned to play.
We were only there a couple of years before moving to a new community. He and Mom found a new piano teacher for me who was strict and straightforward. From her I learned music theory and how to practice. It wasn’t nearly as much fun, but it was good for me.
The organist in that church was a wonderful woman who didn’t have a great deal of classical music training, but she loved gospel music. My elderly piano teacher died, and when I was eight or nine years old, Dad asked Geneva, the organist, if she’d teach me. Geneva had no confidence that she could do it, but again, Dad told her that he just wanted me to enjoy the piano. And so, I traveled to another farm every week to play with this wonderful woman. What I learned from her was how chords and melodies worked together. No other piano teacher in my life taught me as much about the underlying structure of music as Geneva, who wasn’t classically trained. Everything she knew came from gospel tunes and hymns. I received a sympathy card from Geneva after Dad’s death. Because he had trusted her to teach me, he gave her a lifelong career. She was still teaching piano to children in that community.
We moved to Sigourney, and my next piano teacher was the one who gave me my classical background. She was also a member of our church and an incredible musician and teacher. Mary Lou filled every nook and cranny of my life with music and demanded excellence. I gave her everything I could.
Geneva’s piano lessons were the beginning of my love for church music. We worked out of the hymnal every week along with my regular piano lesson. Song after song, I fell in love with her favorite hymns and still play them as she taught me – with a great deal of energy and joy. Geneva wasn’t much for funeral dirges on a Sunday morning. Those songs were meant to be joyful and she enjoyed playing them.
So, as much as I huff and puff about not loving poetry, hymns are poetry set to music and I have memorized more hymns in my lifetime than most people have read poems. So I should be careful about what I say regarding my love of poetry. Because I do love it – when I understand it. And therein lies the rub.
I’ve read some of my mother’s poetry to you and since my heart is so much a part of what she’s written, I understand it. There are many poets whose words ring with beauty. But as famous as Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is, there are poems in there that twist my eyes all up as I peer at the words to understand what he’s trying to say.
So … a history of poetry. I had to look it up.
Audrey Golden in an article titled “A Brief History of Poetry,” writes that it is a challenge to pinpoint the earliest work of poetry. (1) The first form was the epic poem – a long narrative form of poetry telling the story of extraordinary feats and adventures.
The Epic of Gilgamesh dates to the 18th century BC. These Sumerian poems were discovered on many different tablets by archaeologists. Sumer was an ancient civilization in Mesopotamia – located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, later known as Babylonia, it’s now southern Iraq.
Six or seven hundred years later, Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey, more epic poems that told of Greek mythology.
The sonnet – made familiar by Shakespeare – was generally written in iambic pentameter. What is Iambic pentameter? It’s a ten-syllable line – every other syllable is stressed. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? It’s said to mimic a human heartbeat, symbolizing that the words come from the heart. It’s romantic poetry. If you want to hear his sonnets read, look for Patrick Stewart’s Facebook page – Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek. He has been reading a sonnet a day since April.
But romantic poetry and epic historical poetry are only a tiny part of the fabric of this style of literature and as I dug into different types of poems and how poetry transformed through the ages, my eyes bled a little and I’m not a literature professor, nor do we have an entire semester to suss it all out. It’s fascinating, but not easily condensed into eighteen minutes or less.
I actually do quite a bit of research in preparation for these Livecasts. It’s amazing how much reading has to happen unless I’m just here to tell a good story. While I was doing this research, I wondered about popular singers and their use of classical poetry. Interestingly enough, there is very little appropriation. Musicians write their own. They write their songs in meter and rhyme and sometimes it works as a spoken poem.
The Sound of Silence
Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
“Fools,” said I, “You do not know
Silence, like a cancer, grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells, of silence
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds of silence
Paul Simon said that he went into a bathroom to be alone, then turned off the light so he could concentrate. “Hello darkness, my old friend.” The poem was about the inability of people to communicate emotionally, to listen to each other, to understand each other, to love each other. “Take my arms, that I might reach you.”
Musicians might not use classic poetry as lyrics, but they will take inspiration from it.
ELO’s Xanadu, also sung by Olivia Newton-John in the movie of the same name was taken from the poem Kubla Khan, written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1816. A fictional land where Kubla Khan ordered his dome to be built, the name later became synonymous with paradise.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
   Down to a sunless sea.
Dean Pitchford, who wrote the lyrics for “I Sing the Body Electric,” the final song in the movie “Fame,” saw the title of Walt Whitman’s poem – I Sing the Body Electric. During a walk to a friend’s apartment, he wrote the first verse.
‘I sing the body electric, I celebrate the me yet to come, I toast to my own reunion, when I become one with the sun and I’ll look back on Venus, I’ll look back on Mars, and I’ll burn with the fire of ten million stars. And in time and in time we will all be stars.’
Kerry Livgren of the band, Kansas, was reading a book of Native American poetry when he read the line, “For All We Are Is Dust In The Wind.” He began considering his own material success. The band was making money, but it struck him that in the end, we are only dust in the wind.
Hymns are poems set to music. Or … hymns are songs written as poems.
Many of our most familiar hymns were written in the eighteenth century. Names like Isaac Watts, John Newton, Charles Wesley – clergymen who wrote hymns for their parishes.
Isaac Watts wrote Joy to the World, O God, Our Help in Ages Past and more than 600 others. John Newton penned Amazing Grace and Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken. Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, wrote Hark, The Herald Angels Sing, Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Rejoice, the Lord is King. He wrote more than 6500 hymns.
Their hymns were written during a period when the world was given great literary works by poets and authors such as Alexander Pope, who was known as one of England’s greatest poets. He is the second-most quoted writer, after Shakespeare, in the English language. If you’ve ever used the phrase, Damning with faint praise – that’s one of his.
Other authors during this time were Jonathan Swift, a renowned satirist, but you’d recognize him as the author of Gulliver’s Travels. Daniel Defoe, the trader, journalist, spy, and the author of Robinson Crusoe.
Hymns of this age were a literary counterculture to that type of entertaining writing. Contemporary poetry tended to be ornate and contrived, intended for a sophisticated audience that demanded a polished style (2). Hymns, on the other hand, were simple and to the point. They had one purpose, to help worshipers express their feelings.
Now, before anyone decides to leap onto a soapbox to join the war that many churches still see waged regarding what music should be appropriate in church, please don’t. The worship wars – a battle for what we’ve always known vs. what is new and maybe, uncomfortable is not new. And as much as I love my hymns, I love contemporary worship songs.  I am generally about both / and, not either / or. Lines drawn in the sand are meant to exclude and pit one side against another.
In an article about the worship wars, the author quoted an excerpt written by someone who was quite unhappy with the new worship music. (3) To be honest, I’ve heard words just like these come from parishioners and other musicians throughout my lifetime.
There are several reasons for opposing it.
One, it’s too new.
Two, it’s worldly, even blasphemous.
This new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style.
Because there are so many songs, you can’t learn them all.
It puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than Godly lyrics.
This new music creates disturbances making people act indecently and disorderly.
The preceding generation got along without it.
It’s a money-making scheme and some of these new music upstarts are lewd and loose.
This was written by a pastor in 1723 about Isaac Watts.
Other points the article made had me chuckling.
The Gregorian Chant was one of the earliest forms of acceptable music in the church. One line of melody sung by men and men only. Later, boys’ voices were added, singing the same line of melody, but an octave higher. And then, harmonies were added. People were furious.
Martin Luther’s hymns in the early fifteen hundreds infuriated church leadership. He created simple, singable melodies that encouraged group participation. A Mighty Fortress is our God is an example of that.
In 1540, John Calvin declared that the only songs appropriate for church were Old Testament Psalms sung in a metrical rhythm. And oh, by the way, the only acceptable text was from the Geneva Bible.
In 1750, John and Charles Wesley wrote their hymns to help teach theology and doctrine. Church leaders weren’t happy.
In the 1880s, the Sunday School era brought about songs like “Count Your Blessings, Name Them One by One,” or “I’ll be a Sunbeam for Jesus.” These were deemed inappropriate because they were subjective – not objective – directed toward God.
Jazz in the early 1900s caused the pope to issue an edict. The piano was forbidden in the Catholic church because it was too worldly.
The Jesus movement of the sixties and seventies used other instruments, such as guitars, bass, and drums. Those instruments were unacceptable in the church. Consequently, those young people made church happen elsewhere.
There have always been lines drawn about what is appropriate in church, and yet, we no longer sing Gregorian chant. Music and poetry have evolved, both within and outside the church. Both will continue to evolve. We haven’t seen the last word in either form. And we would be fools to draw a line and separate ourselves from the extraordinary possibilities of what’s yet to come.
So maybe I need to recognize more of the poetry that I do love rather than focus on the pieces that I don’t want to take the time to comprehend.
Book 31 is still with my editors and proofreaders. One more week and I’ll make their corrections, do more editing of my own, then send it off to my final editor. The 25th will be here soon.
Tuesday is my birthday. Hold on to your greetings. I’ll put a post up on the Bellingwood page – and I’ll give away a few more recipe books and Journals. It’s better to have a party than feel sorry for myself, right?
Tomorrow, I begin Week Three of writing out my gratitude. I already have my cards ready. Some days I struggle to find ten things, but what I find to be the most difficult is to move beyond being thankful for things that happen for me – I always feel so selfish when I write them down. Then I tell myself that it doesn’t matter. No one else will ever read these things. It’s okay to write down how thankful I am for a creative mind or that I am strong enough to overcome my fears. Those balance nicely with how much I love snuggly kitties or that I got some laundry done!
This is a habit I’m glad to have restarted in my life.
One thing I thought about while working on the Livecast this week was that line in the sand. Divisiveness is something that destroys community. It destroys friendships and even families. We want to be able to state our beliefs, but we’ve forgotten how to respect that others might see things from a different perspective. We believe their perspective is wrong and are willing to stand up and fight about it.
No … see … that isn’t how community works. We don’t have to declare our differences and then challenge others to either agree or walk away.
There is no kindness in that behavior. There is no generosity or grace. There is no love or gentleness.
One last poem. It was one of my father’s favorites and I can’t tell you the number of times he spoke these words on a Sunday morning.
Edwin Markham was an American poet from Oregon who died in 1940. He was chosen to read his poem, Lincoln, the Man of the People, at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922.
But this poem is only four lines and it’s called Outwitted.
He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
I love you and I hope you have a week filled with grace and generosity, kindness and gratitude. I’ll see you next week.

August 30, 2020 - Passion and Learning

This last week I sent the manuscript for Book 31 to my readers and editors. It makes me emotional every single time. I’d compare it to sending a child to kindergarten the first day, but it’s not quite that big.
I recognized years ago that creatives – musicians, performers, speakers, actors, artists – anyone who offers their creation, a part of themselves that is so personal – to the public, takes a risk. Because humanity is what it is, that risk is sometimes met with derision and criticism, confirming that we were absolutely correct in keeping that piece of us close and safe.
I’ve been told that we should separate ourselves from our creation because it’s the only way to function, but for me, it feels like telling parents that first day of school they’re no longer connected to their child. They say you should let your creation go and release any attachment to it. That’s impossible and a very cold way to exist.
But when we do take the risk and put it out there, no matter how emotional or terrified we are, we’re just as likely to be met with love and acceptance. Which is what this community offers. Not only to me, but to each other. You are why I love Creativity Friday. Each person who posts something they created takes that risk, hoping others will see the beauty they see. We each view the world through different lenses and we want our community to accept our vision of the world as part of a glorious whole. When you compliment and care for each other – you give permission to continue to be creative. Thank you for how you interact within the community.
Back to the reason I started talking about this. I get emotional when I send a manuscript off. And that emotion hangs around for a few days, so anything will make me cry. Talking to a friend whose husband just died. Not only did I ache for her and miss my friend, but I was thrust back to memories of loss of my own and I wept.
My cats beg to snuggle me and leap into my arms, then relax and fall asleep. Yeah, I get emotional.
Friday, I got in my Jeep to run errands. As I drove, I looked at the beautiful blue sky, fields with crops growing, I listened to music – oldies, you know, and suddenly tears were streaming down my face. I don’t know exactly why I was so emotional, but I’d guess it had something to do with utter gratitude.
I have a friend who’s maybe fifteen years older than me. Years ago, I teased her because every single Sunday in church, I caught her crying. She told me to wait ten years – it would happen to me. It did. I don’t even think it took that long.
Not that I haven’t always worn my emotions on my sleeve. My mother died before there were any grandchildren. Two years later, in the middle of an August night, my phone rang. My brother and his wife were going to the hospital for the birth of their first child. At two-twenty, he called again to tell me that Matthew had been born. When I wept with joy, he laughed and said that was what he was waiting for because Mom would have cried with him. He’d assured his wife that I would cry. I did.
You can always count on me. High emotion? Fear, joy, love, anger, frustration, thrill, excitement, passion. I’ll cry. Every time.
We use the word ‘passionate’ to describe intense feelings. Wanna know what’s interesting? The word’s history.  Here we go …
Passion showed up around 1200 A.D. in reference to the suffering of Christ on the cross. A French term, it comes from the Latin passionem – which means suffering or enduring.
Have you seen a Passion Play? I experienced one in the Black Hills in the 70s. One of the oldest is the Oberammergau in Bavaria. It focuses on the suffering … the passion of Christ. The passion flower was named in 1630. The corona of the flower looks like a crown of thorns and other parts of the flower are said to symbolize different parts of the passion story. Not only that, the flower stays open for three days.
That which must be endured – or passio was then extended to the sufferings of martyrs. By the early 13th century, it referred to general suffering and pain and was used to describe ailments, diseases, or afflictions. Passions were diseases, sickness.
Around the late 14th century, the word in English meant “the state of being affected or acted upon by something external.” The word changed just enough with that definition to become our word – passive – being acted upon.
It seems odd doesn’t it? Passion is such an active word, yet ‘passive’ came from that term.
Because words do what they do and transform in meaning – when passion described disease and afflictions, it then picked up the idea of emotions, desires, feelings – a desire to sin was considered an affliction.
The Latin word passio was translated from the Greek word pathos – which means suffering, but also means feeling or emotion.
By the late 1500s, the word came to mean sexual love – passionate love, and from that, passion began to describe a lasting or controlling emotion.
If we become angry about something and let it go, it’s just anger. But when it turns into a feeling that controls us for a long period of time, it becomes a passion. Not only anger, but grief, sorrow, even hope and joy.
The Century Dictionary in the 1800s said that “As compared with the word affection, the distinctive mark of passion is that it masters the mind, so the person becomes its subject or its passive instrument, while an affection, though moving, affecting, or influencing a person, still leaves him his self-control.”
George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright who wrote Pygmalion, the play that gave us My Fair Lady, said, “there are passions far more exciting than the physical ones…intellectual passion, mathematical passion, passion for discovery and exploration: the mightiest of all passions.”*
I’ve been thinking about those things lately. Passion for discovery, exploration, learning.
Are you a learner? I’d have to guess that if you’re listening to this, you are. I once dreamed of spending my life in a library or research nook surrounded by books, learning all I could about whatever field I took an interest in. When the internet began to explode, I might have cried a little. Finally, answers to my questions were at hand, no matter the time of day. If I was curious, I could learn.
I grew up with curious parents – avid learners. They read everything and discussed what they learned with us. When I had a question, one of them had an answer. Not only was there an answer for my curious mind, but there were further leading questions from them that caused me to dig deeper and explore whatever topic had come up. I wanted to be just like them. Curiosity is something to be encouraged. Learning is never-ending. I want to know everything.
Because of that passion for learning and teaching, it’s hard for me to understand those who have the capacity, but no desire to read, learn, grow, change, and understand. Learning is a privilege.
This week, I did some reading about the history of education.
We’re going way back. Before humanity became an agricultural society – to when we were hunter-gatherers. Children didn’t go to school. There was no such thing. They played and explored. They learned what was necessary in their play to succeed in their culture. Identifying plants and animals and the landscape. They learned the crafts and tools necessary to hunt and gather. It happened naturally.
Then about ten thousand years ago, with the advent of agriculture, the role of the child changed. No longer able to simply play and explore, they were put to work on farms with their families. Homes were built, families grew larger because food was more readily available and they stayed in one place. In order to be successful, workers were necessary – and the easiest way to get workers was to bear children. Now, all things never being equal, this led to the feudalistic societies of the Middle Ages and we began to see the separation of classes of people. Children with nothing became servants. The males of the elite were taught, but girls and the poor servant children were left behind.
Industrialization made things worse. Child labor was a horrendous thing.
But then, the Protestant Reformation changed more than just religious life in Europe, it changed education. Martin Luther insisted that salvation depended on each individual’s reading and understanding of scripture. Up until that point, the only time people heard scripture was from the pulpit during Mass. Now, if each person needed to read scripture in order to be saved from eternal damnation, they needed to be able to read. Public education became a Christian’s responsibility. The Lutheran church ran successful schools throughout Germany.
In England, it took a little longer. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church was appalled – broken-hearted at the number of children on the streets. They worked all day, but at night and on weekends especially, they had nothing to do and no place to go. Chaos reigned. He and his cohorts brought them into all-day Sunday Schools. They were called Sunday Scholars. Not only were they given religious instruction, but these children were taught to read and learned mathematics. They came in droves from the streets. John Wesley, in his journals, wrote of attending the Sunday Schools throughout England and being surrounded by upwards of 800 children at every location. They were fed, taught how to care for themselves and learned good manners. Not only that, but these children learned to sing. Every bit of their lives from basic care, to instruction, to art was lifted up. Change came to England. Child Labor was on its way out.
In America, one of the first schools was established in 1606 by Franciscan priests in Saint Augustine, Florida. Spanish settlers had arrived in 1565 and education began not long after.
While schools were established in the colonies, most children were still taught at home. In 1647, a law was passed in Massachusetts that any town of at least 50 families must hire a schoolmaster. Any town of at least 100 families was required to have a Latin grammar school master to prepare students to attend Harvard College, which had been established in 1636 – the first higher education institution in America.
In 1785, as people moved west, the Land Ordinance declared that townships would be made of 640-acre sections and one of those would be set aside for public schooling.
In 1837, Horace Mann became Secretary of the newly formed Massachusetts State Board of Education. He worked to increase funding for public schools and better training for teachers.
In 1855 – just as a personal aside, the University of Iowa was the first state university to admit men and women on an equal basis.
In 1857 – The National Teachers Association was established in Philadelphia.
In 1867 – The Department of Education was created to help states establish school systems. George Peabody funded the two million dollar Peabody Education Fund to aid public education in southern states.
By the early 1900s, public schools were established and the timeline begins to show signs of honing and refining the idea of free public education. Things moved away from the home, from religious institutions, and into the hands of the people.
I am a huge proponent and advocate for public education, even though it seems to be mired down in impossible obstacles these days. I also believe in and advocate for any system of learning, whether home schools or private schools. It frustrates me that too many people fight for an either/or approach to learning. Both / and. All of it. We need to encourage a love and passion for learning.
When I think about those thousands of children on the streets who had no homes, no structure in their lives other than long, hard workdays, no possessions to speak of, no hope for a future, my heart hurts. We still have children whose lives will only change if given a chance to learn. What amazing minds they have. I am so thankful for teachers.
I am also grateful that I love learning. There is nothing more exciting than those a-ha moments when a new piece of information leaps into my mind and I am forever changed. I clearly remember learning matrices in high school algebra. We were working quietly at our desks. I was doing my best to understand the patterns and how it worked. Then it clicked and it made sense. I looked up in shock and my teacher sat at his desk and grinned with me. He watched the lightbulb turn on. It was a great moment.
So … here’s a silly thing I learned this week and I haven’t been able to get over it. I have no idea why it even occurred to me to ask, but I was curious about fingernails and their purpose. Oh, the whole protecting my fingers and toes from harm makes sense, but then I read something that set me back.
The article mentioned that fingernails make it easier for you to grip. Well, that didn’t make the right amount of sense to me … until I read that they give strength and stability to the tip of the finger. If you didn’t have a fingernail there, your fingertip would roll back. I guess that if someone has lost the tip of their finger, they’d understand that, but I wouldn’t. I was enamored with that bit of information and I’ve spent the week pressing on my fingertips, delighted at the design.
This is why I love to learn. I am always amazed at the beauty and order that comes from comprehending a new piece of information. One more part of the entirety of life is revealed, even though so much is still missing. I’m looking forward to that whole knowing fully thing.
Last week I challenged you to write down ten things each day you were thankful for. It’s not easy. If ten things is overwhelming, try it again with five. I’m doing it again this week, because it’s a habit I’d like to build. There is something joyous about looking back over the day to uncover gratitude rather than being frustrated by the day’s problems. A friend told me after last week’s Livecast that she’s always written down five things she’s thankful for each day. One night, when she couldn’t sleep, she realized she hadn’t done her thankfuls.  She got up, wrote them down, and went to sleep. It’s a transformation of our minds.
This week, along with continuing to write down the things we are grateful for, I want to add another challenge. Each day, find one person to compliment or encourage. Write it down on a card or in your journal so you can see what you’ve done. Maybe the person is online. Maybe it’s a card that you mail. Maybe it’s at work or the clerk at a store or drive-thru. Maybe it’s a word or two – or a bigger tip than usual. But be sure to write it down. Make yourself accountable to share your gratitude for someone else.
Changing the world for the better doesn’t happen overnight, changing ourselves doesn’t either. But we can start today … to be kind and loving, gracious and caring. Grateful.
I love you. I am so thankful for you. Have a wonderful week – filled with gratitude.

August 23, 2020 - Gratitude

The other day, a pastor friend of mine wrote about sending his son off to college. He described how the word ‘good-bye’ came about. In the late fourteenth century, instead of saying good-bye, people said, God be with ye. Over the next two hundred years, it was contracted to good-bye.
Of course, that sent my mind off on a tangent and though I didn’t find what I was looking for, I did find some other interesting tidbits and today is going to be a fabulous hodgepodge of learning! Because I love finding out where words come from.
My original intent was to find more words like good-bye – words that began with a religious or spiritual background but became part of our everyday vocabulary. It’s not as easy to create that search as you might think, but the wonder of it is that with a little creative digging, I discovered even more interesting information.
We’ve seen the quizzes on Facebook – is it Shakespeare or the Bible? What caught my eye when I perused several of the quizzes was that for Biblical quotes, they used the King James version of the Bible. Of course, I had to ask, is the timing of those two types of language close?
Well, yes, it is. The King James Bible was published in 1611 and Shakespeare was actively writing between 1585 and 1613. Right on top of each other. No wonder we’re confused as to where some of our common phrases originated. The thing is, Shakespeare’s plays are filled with Biblical references, but of course, he didn’t use the King James version. Remember, it wasn’t published until the end of his career. Shakespeare used the Geneva Bible, which was the first Bible to use chapters and numbered verses. It was also likely the Bible that the Puritans brought with them to America on the Mayflower. It was published in 1560.
I’ll come back to Shakespeare another day because there is an immense amount of reading I want to do before I start unleashing those phrases.
But what are some phrases we use regularly that have been taken from scripture? Some are obvious. Love your neighbor. Fall from grace. O, ye of little faith.
Did you know that the eleventh hour – meaning something you do at the last minute – comes from the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20? Those workers who were hired last – at the eleventh hour – made the same amount of money as those who were hired first and who had agreed to work for a good wage.
At your wit’s end. I’m a little at my wit’s end when I realize that no matter how many times I’ve read through the Bible or all the years of study and teaching and writing I’ve done, I’ve missed some of these.
Psalm 107, verse 27 – The psalmist speaks of those who go down to the sea in ships, reel to and fro, stagger like drunken men, and are at their wit’s end.
Blind leading the blind – Matthew 15:14. I know that one.
Getting through it by the skin of your teeth – escaping by the narrowest margin. That’s from Job 19:20. That poor man was lucky to have skin on his teeth. He didn’t, I know.
Pearls before swine. Offering something worthwhile to those who undervalue or don’t appreciate it. Don’t do it. Matthew 7:6.
Describing someone as having feet of clay. It means they have a weakness that will lead to their downfall. This is from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the second chapter of Daniel in the Old Testament. Daniel tells the king that though his kingdom is great, the kingdoms that follow will become weaker and weaker, leading to the downfall of the entire structure.
The book of Ecclesiastes is difficult to understand on the best of days, but we’ve taken some nice sayings from it. Eat, drink and be merry? Well, man has no better thing to do than that. Chapter eight, verse fifteen. A fly in the ointment? From Ecclesiastes 10, verse 1. Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking scent. And from chapter 1, verse 9 – There is nothing new under the sun.
Jeremiah in chapter 13, verse 22, asks, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” No, a leopard can’t change its spots.
The phrase, writing on the wall, has predicted misfortune in the English language since the 1700s. It comes from Daniel, chapter five when a ghostly hand appeared behind King Balshazzar and wrote on the wall – mene mene tekel upharsin. Daniel told Balshazzar his kingdom had been numbered, weighed, and divided. That night Balshazzar was killed and Babylon was claimed by the Persians.
Here’s an interesting bit. Red-letter day. It has to do with the Bible, but not that Jesus’ words are printed in red ink in some printings of the New Testament.
Let’s talk about the Gutenberg Bible. First book in Western Europe to be printed on a press with movable type. Gutenberg was a genius. He also experimented with two-color printing. Now, at the time, in hand-lettered books, important texts were lettered in red to set them apart.
Red lettering is called rubrication. from the Latin word – ruber, meaning red. And just in case you think that rubber – which is sometimes red, is also from that same root – nope. Another word entirely.
Anyway, headlines were printed in red ink and known as rubrics. Rubric later became the word for a guide that listed criteria for grading academic projects, tests, or papers. But the word rubric comes from rubrication or red lettering. Maybe that’s why teachers grade in red ink.
Back to Gutenberg. He discovered that two-color printing was difficult and expensive because it required two passes through the press with great precision. As a former owner of a print-shop and someone who once ran presses, I can tell you, it takes a little doing to line things up perfectly for multiple colors. It couldn’t happen for the entire Bible – it was too expensive. Very few two color pages still exist. But Gutenberg also printed liturgical calendars. Important feast days were rubricated so they were easier to identify. Those became known as red-letter days. Special days are red-letter days. Rubricated.
Let’s talk about the word ‘talent.’ The word came into English in the 800s as an ancient unit of weight. And an ancient unit of money corresponding to that weight.
How did it transform from currency to a person’s natural abilities? Well, in Matthew 25 – the parable of the talents. Jesus tells the story of a landowner who handed out talents – currency – in accordance with each person’s abilities. To those from whom more is expected; more is given. By the 1400s, the word in English transformed from currency to natural ability.
Now, here’s one that surprised me. The word Maudlin. Maudlin means weepy sentimentality. Before the 1600s, it was the name of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears. Many Biblical historians identify her as Mary from Magdala or Mary Magdalene, but when the name Magdalene was translated into French, it became Maudlin. The woman who wept. Maudlin.
Now, let’s look at a few fun words that have Hebrew words in their background.
A cherub. Not a cute little angel. That’s actually Cupid from Greek and Roman mythology. The cherubs were God’s attendants and not necessarily angels. Some had four faces – a human, ox, lion, an eagle – from Revelation and from Ezekiel. The original Hebrew is keruv – translated to Cherub.
One of my favorite nuts is the macadamia. They are named after John Macadam. Macadam means son of Adam.
Cider – I told you the story about my parents eating stale wedding cake and drinking apple cider that had turned for the first half of their honeymoon. I’m one of the weird people who doesn’t like hot cider. The word cider comes from the Hebrew word, shekar, meaning strong drink.
For the next word, they had to stretch to get it back to Hebrew, but okay, it’s fun. Jacket. Jacket comes from the French word Jacquet, which came from the name Jacques. A jacket was clothing for an ordinary Jack, not a rich Louis. Here’s how it gets back to the Hebrew language. Jacques is the French version of Jacob – the Hebrew Ya’akov. When Ya’akov wound through Italy and Spain, though, we got James. Jack comes from Jacob – Ya’akov because of the French language. James comes from Jacob – Ya’akov because of different regional translations in southern Europe.
And bedlam. Utter madness. Believe it or not, bedlam is an altered form of the name Bethlehem. It came about because the name of an insane asylum in London was the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem. I love words.
This last week, I finished writing Book 31. On Tuesday, the newsletter will come out with the cover and title, a vignette, notice of the next Trivia night, and a few other things. Be sure you’ve signed up to receive it at nammynools.com. I send a newsletter out the 25th of every month. It’s hard to believe that yet another month has passed.
I’m deep into editing the manuscript. It’s funny. When I write the last words of the book, I close the file, sit back, and think to myself – I don’t know how I’m going to fix this one. Every single time. Then I start at the beginning, which is always interesting because after a month of writing, I’ve forgotten many of the conversations and little bits that I’d written.
Once I get through the first round of edits, I feel a little better. The second round I do on a printed manuscript – rubrication – red pen everywhere. It’s amazing how many different errors I spot just by seeing it in a different format. There will be two more rounds before handing it off to my brilliant team of readers and editors. When they’re finished, I go through it twice more prior to handing it to a final editor and then two to three times after that. I do love the process.
The other day, a friend of mine posted about the simple joy she has taken in slowing her life down these last five months because she didn’t have any other option. She couldn’t do all the things she normally did – chasing her life. Instead, she stayed home and fixed things around the house, cleaned, spent time with her grandchildren, took moments to find peace and quiet. She read and wrote notes. She listened.
We get to make choices about how we respond to what life hands us. My friend looked back on the last five months and said that she discovered her life had been reset, the journey had taken her to an unexpected destination and she was grateful. Her story filled my heart. I’ve seen too many people complain and whine because they don’t want to adapt to anything new and different. Their lives are so rigidly set, that anything else is frightening. They want what they used to know. That’s all. I’m sad for them.
What are some things that happened for you since the middle of March that you are grateful for?
As silly as it sounds, I’m grateful for restaurants that now offer curbside pickup. This has been fun for me. Places I won’t go to on a regular basis because I’m usually in a hurry and don’t have time to wait for a waiter or food preparation or any number of things, now will have my food ready and waiting when I drive in. Meals that are much better than fast food.
I’m grateful for new technologies that connect people. My sister and I spend more time doing video chats than ever before, because that technology dropped into place in a big way this year. I love her face. I’ve also reconnected with old friends in the same way.
And, even though I’ve been using grocery pickup for several years, my grocery store has made the entire process easier and more streamlined.
Businesses in small towns have become more customer-centric with a greater focus on meeting the customer’s needs. They can’t count on people wandering in just because they have nothing better to do. And though it takes creative planning, it’s better for everyone. I’m much more aware of whether I’m using a local business or not.
This isn’t an easy time for us, and we have some intense and frightening challenges ahead. That doesn’t mean that we should wallow in the mire, hopeless and helpless – day after day recounting our struggles and forgetting the gift of life we’ve been given.
I read a fascinating article about research being done regarding how gratitude changes our brain. It’s to help mental health professionals better care for their patients. Anecdotally, I know this to be true. It’s interesting that too many people don’t take better advantage of it. The researchers for this article made four points.
First – Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions by shifting our attention away from resentment and envy toward blessings and gratefulness for others.
Second – Gratitude helps even if you don’t share it. The researchers asked people to write letters of gratitude, but told them they didn’t need to mail the letters. In fact, only 23% of the writers sent their letters. The sending didn’t matter. Just by writing the letter, attitudes shifted.
Third – Gratitude’s benefits take time. Now, while this might initially seem like a negative, it’s not. What it means is that unlike other positive activities whose benefits decrease over time, gratitude continues to snowball and increase. It might take time to see the positive effect, but it will show up and keep growing.
And finally, the researchers discovered that gratitude has lasting effects on the brain. Literally. They tested their subjects using an fMRI to measure brain activity. The area of the prefrontal cortex that is related to learning and decision making was affected. Those who practice gratitude become more sensitive to the experience of gratitude later on and it changed how they respond. In other words, rather than spending time and energy in pursuit of things we don’t have, gratitude reverses our priorities to help us appreciate the people and the things we do have.
It all seems so obvious, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s difficult for us to spend time being grateful every day. To write a letter of gratitude to someone, to list things each day for which we are grateful. It occurs to me I could save a lot of money if I were to spend fifteen minutes writing down the things I’m grateful for rather than wandering around a shopping website.
Let’s face it. We are blasted every day with ways to feel bad about life, ourselves, our relationships, our world. What if we challenged that – upended the story, thought outside the box? Heck, throw away the box.
This week, I challenge you to take seven three by five cards or a journal or seven pieces of paper. Something. Anything. Set it up tonight so you don’t forget it by morning. Each day, write down ten things you are grateful for. Change the story. Change your brain. Transform your own world. See things differently.
Look for the newsletter on Tuesday. If you haven’t signed up – go to nammynools.com. Only one more month, guys. Book 31 will be in your hands and we’ll be heading for the last book of 2020. Time flies, I tell ya.
I am grateful for you. I love you very much. I hope you have a wonderful week.

August 16, 2020 - Dreams and Writers

Do you dream? How often do you remember your dreams? Do you write them down or let them fade away?
I’ve talked how much I love my sleep and that if I don’t get enough, I’m grumpy. I’m seriously grumpy about it. One thing I know about myself is that when I’m busy with things that aren’t creative – things that I have to … go do … I stop sleeping. It takes me right back to the years of owning a business, when my mind worked and worked overnight to organize the next day.
When I’m head down writing, I sleep at odd hours and it’s glorious. My dreams become more … well, interesting, because I fall asleep with my mind working on story lines rather than daily busyness.
It’s during these times that my dreams become lucid, vivid – interactive. Unless I come up and out of it with enough sense to anchor the memory of the dream, it’s hard to recall them, though. I’ve had a few dreams that manage to stay with me. I tell myself about them over and over until I’m finally at my desk and able to write them down. Even in the retelling, I adjust things so that the dreams make sense, rather than the crazy-odd sequence of events that my awake-brain recognizes for its strangeness. I still get glimpses of the ghastly creatures and dark, foggy locations, but they fade as I write.
Friday night, I had a couple of weird dreams during a nap. In the first one, I heard a noise outside and wasn’t dressed enough to greet visitors, so I madly dashed around trying to get my clothes on. And then I heard motorcycles. When I arrived at the front door, a man, his wife and child stood beside their green sedan. He asked if I had a job for him. No, I sent him down the road to the company he was looking for. When I looked up – on the gravel road in front of me there were scores of people screaming and playing and drinking, and motorcyclists were tearing through my land, and I knew I had to call the police. I pulled myself up and out, then I saw Grey asleep on my chest and went back down – and my dream shifted to another odd story. But someday, you might read about Polly calling Ken Wallers because there’s a huge party in the cemetery and she can’t get them to go home. Who knows.
Because looking up words is a favorite pastime, I looked for the etymology of the word dream. It’s a doozy and honestly, completely confusing. The word goes back through languages all the way to Sanskrit. The definitions describe deception, illusion, phantasm, lies, delusion – even ghosts and apparitions. Fun stuff. Dreams.
One thing I do when I’m in the middle of writing is fall asleep. Okay, duh. But, bear with me. There is that time between wakefulness and sleep – it’s called a hypnagogic state. I use it. I send my mind along a specific story line, knowing that from there, I will come up with the next steps in the story as I drift off. I generally end up taking a nap, which is perfectly fine, but I nearly always come up with enough story to proceed.
For me, it’s shutting out everything else except for the story and then letting my creative mind do the hard work. I’ve done this my entire life and I suspect many of you have as well. You may not realize how useful it can be for creativity. The problem is that oftentimes, our minds move from the hypnagogic state into wakefulness without much effort and suddenly we’re solving problems rather than being creative and relaxing into sleep.
Franz Kafka was an insomniac and he called those moments hypnagogic hallucinations. His problem was that he always woke up from them and wrote, not helping the initial problem of insomnia. After one of his hallucinations, he wrote The Metamorphosis about a man who woke one morning to find himself transformed into a huge insect.
Stephen King thinks of the creative process as a kind of wakeful dream state. His imagery for writing is fascinating. He says, “in both writing and sleeping, we learn to be physically still at the same time we are encouraging our minds to unlock from the humdrum rational thinking of our daytime lives.” He believes you can train your waking mind to sleep creatively and work out the vividly imagined waking dreams which are successful works of fiction.
My nighttime dreams are so haphazard and weird that it’s nearly impossible to describe most of them in words. But that’s what many writers have done.
I always thought it would be wonderfully cool if I had a dream that led to a full-blown New York Times bestseller. It hasn’t happened yet, but on the other hand, I do use that creative time – that hypnagogic state just before falling asleep – to find the story I’m already telling.
So, what books HAVE come from author’s dreams?
Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” He was sick with tuberculosis at the time, worried about his family’s finances, and wanted to write a book about the duality of man’s nature. He had the title, but no plot. He tried and tried, until one night when he had a high fever from tuberculosis, he dreamed a few scenes. His wife woke him because he was screaming. He wasn’t happy, because he said he was ‘dreaming a fine bogey tale.’ But he wrote down the scenes and completed the manuscript – no doubt, the article says, helped by the cocaine he took for tuberculosis. Six weeks later, after many re-writes to create the allegory and polish the story, the book was published and his financial troubles were wiped away.
I’m not ready to deal with fevered dreams or cocaine, so that one is unique.
Do you remember Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach? And the Neil Diamond album? It was such a big deal when I was in junior high and high school. Everyone carried a copy of that little blue paperback. Well, Richard Bach’s story of writing that is kind of incredible. He wrote the first part of the book from a waking dream – a vision. Then, it sat on a shelf for eight years until one night, he woke from a dream and realized he had the end of that story.
E. B. White fell asleep while traveling on a train from West Virginia to New York. He dreamed about a tiny boy who looked and acted like a rat. He got home, typed up a few stories about Stuart Little to read to his nieces and nephews. Twenty years later, the story was published.
Most of us know that dreams are often a tool our brains use to work out things we’re thinking about.
Frankenstein came from a dream that Mary Shelley had after discussing with her future husband the possibility of reanimating human corpses using electrical currents. That’s some serious romantic fireside chatting. Now, while we might not consider this discussion to be terribly unique, it happened in 1816. Benjamin Franklin proved that lightning was electrical in 1752. Thomas Edison didn’t create the electric light bulb until 1879. It wasn’t until the 1880s that small electrical power stations started popping up in cities. No one was using electricity like that in 1816.
However, the discussion was inspired by a scientific feud between Luigi Galvani (where the word galvanic comes from), who noted spasms in a dissected frog’s leg when touched by an arc made of two metals. The other person in that feud was Alessandro Volta (where the word voltaic comes from). These two men feuded over the reason for the spasms. I’m not going into the science here, but I’ll give you a link where you can read about it.
Imagine a creative mind like Mary Shelley’s latching onto something as interesting as reanimation through electricity because of the spasms in a dissected frog leg. She went to bed that night and dreamed of Frankenstein’s monster and how he had been created. When she woke, she wrote the short story, but her future husband, Percy Shelley – Lord Byron, encouraged her to write a full-length novel. Interestingly enough, their discussion that evening led him to write Vampyre, the first of the romantic vampire / human love stories.
Speaking of vampire love stories, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series came from a dream she had about two lovers lying in a meadow talking about how their love could never work out. A normal girl and a beautiful, sparkly vampire.
Charlotte Bronte wrote that the characters in Jane Eyre were ‘inmates’ of her mind who walked her dreams. That’s a little dark.
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron came one night when he woke from a dream about a young woman with concentration camp numbers on her arm. He immediately started to write.
The one man who uses dreams well is Stephen King. Misery came about after he fell asleep on a plane and dreamed about a fan kidnapping her favorite author. When the plane landed, he sat at the airport and wrote the first 40 pages because he didn’t want to lose the dream. The story, Dreamcatcher, came from another dream he had while recuperating from a car accident. He turned to his dreams to help solve plot issues when writing the novel IT. I can’t imagine asking my mind to dream about that hideous clown.
It makes sense that horror stories come from dreams and nightmares. They’re so difficult to describe otherwise. Lovecraft was haunted by nightmares of strange creatures that later become his night-gaunts.
My dreams tend more to solving mysteries and chasing bad guys, or too often strange people on my land. There was once a rather large traveling circus with all of the oddball characters you can imagine in and out of my home. It wasn’t creepy, but I was confused. I’ve spent untold number of dreams, racing through warehouses and down streets, across shipping docks and in darkened buildings with a murderer running away from me. And this happened even before I was writing about Polly. My dreams are always exciting.
There is something wonderful about falling asleep and knowing that the adventure is just about to begin. It’s almost as wonderful as sitting down with a blank screen and knowing that the next adventure is one I will create.
One of my big projects this year is beginning the compendium. I’m digging through notes that I’ve been taking all year long – re-reading the books and making sure I pull as many details as possible. I tossed so many insignificant details in – normal parts of a small town to make it more real to me and you. I didn’t think anything of them at the time, but the deeper we go in the story, the more important those details become. So, I’m trying to recapture them. The Compendium is overwhelming. There is so much that needs to be in there, and as soon as I think I’m done, someone will tell me it’s not enough. I didn’t capture something they were looking for. And by the way, if you know me at all, those words are my Waterloo. Not enough? Well, now I need to go back to work.
For the first round, I’m cutting it off at Book 20. A lot of things happened by that point. There are many things that haven’t. That will frustrate some who know the whole story because you’ll ask where so and so is, or for a sketch of something that hasn’t been written. I do what I can do. Seriously, this thing is going to put me into a whimpering puddle. Last week, as I finished taking notes for Book 19, it suddenly hit me that I had all those vignettes that offered details about other Bellingwood characters. When did we meet Marnie Evans’ family? Oh, in a vignette from Book 14.
Believe it or not, the first draft of Book 31 will be finished this week. Wasn’t it just a week ago that we discussed the release of Book 30? As crazy as 2020 has been, it’s nearly the end of August. I saw a meme the other day that said, “Not to be superstitious or anything, but if y’all could stop saying, This year can’t get any worse, that would be great.” I agree. Stop it.
I think we’re exhausted. I know that even my happy-Diane has taken a few hits. It’s harder and harder to remain positive and upbeat when so many are wearing out. Do you remember how exhausted we were that year after 9-11? Because there was such an immense draw on our emotions, every little thing that we normally handled without falling apart became bigger.
That’s happened with the pandemic. It has filled up so much of our normal stress level that those little things we’d usually be able to just deal with and set aside are now huge. And the big things that require us to gird our loins and strap on the big kid pants feel impossible. We’re worn thin.
There was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called Night Terrors. The crew grows more and more violent and there’s no obvious reason for it. Until Dr. Crusher realizes they aren’t dreaming. They aren’t getting to REM sleep. It’s being interrupted. We need sleep. We need dreams.
There is more anger and more frustration today. And less patience and less kindness. It’s easier to complain than to compliment. It’s easier to be negative than to encourage. We have to focus to do things that should be second nature. To reach beyond ourselves and see the needs of someone else. We all are in need right now. We all need encouragement and kindness and patience. We all need to be loved.
All I can do is encourage you to believe the best about others first. Assume their intention is good. Be careful how you speak, what you type. Be so careful. Be wary of repeating and reposting things that sow discord. It feels like those of us who work to be positive and kind barely exist.
The other day, a friend reposted a message from 2017 that affirmed there were more good people than bad, more of us that love beyond our differences and who refuse to accept hatred of any type. My friend’s introductory comment was that she hoped it was still true. She wondered. For a woman who is nearly always positive and loving, her comment thrummed in my soul. Too many of us are beginning to feel like we’re alone on an island.
But we aren’t. And one of the things I love about this community is that you are always here to remind each other of that.
People are good and right now, it’s difficult to remember that. Don’t let social media define your impression of humanity. There is more love and genuine kindness, more generosity and caring, than we know. We have to stand strong when it feels like the world’s ugliness assaults us. It’s a deception, an illusion, a phantasm, a lie. We are still here. We might be tired, but we still love and express kindness and grace.
I love you. I am so thankful for this community. I appreciate your positive and encouraging comments – for me, to each other. When I see you chatting together, it brings such joy. Thank you. I hope you have a great week.

August 9, 2020 - LOLs and Stories

Do you ever read a post, laugh, and then read the comments and wonder who sucked the humor out of the universe? Drives me nuts. I remember a day not so long ago, when being politically correct was a slur, not a way of life. Now, I’m not talking about jokes in poor taste – racially, by gender, any of those. I’m talking about hilarity that too many fail to comprehend, so instead, they get all uppity.
Don’t be that person. And if it still needs to be said these days, don’t be the person who makes jokes at the expense of someone else’s personhood.
Anyway. I decided to ask the internet about jokes. The internet never fails me. The oldest recorded joke. 1900 BC. I wish I had looked for this last week, because, of course, it’s potty humor.
And it’s not that funny, except that it’s four thousand years old! And maybe I just don’t get it.
It’s from Sumeria – now southern Iraq.
“Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”
I’m still working on it. But you guys, it was written four thousand years ago in cuneiform. That’s just the best.
The next oldest is from ancient Egypt. “How do you entertain a bored pharaoh? You sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile and urge the pharaoh to go catch a fish.”
Homer’s “The Odyssey” was written in 800 BC. Odysseus tells the Cyclops that his real name is ‘nobody.’ When Odysseus instructs his men to attack the Cyclops, the Cyclops shouts: “Help, Nobody is attacking me!” No one comes to help.
In 429 BC, Sophocles wrote the play “Oedipus Tyrannus.” And this joke or brainteaser is still discussed today.
“What animal walks on four feet in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening? Man. He goes on all fours as a baby, on two feet as a man, and uses a cane in old age.”
If you’ve ever discussed that brainteaser, you are part of a twenty-four hundred year old conversation.
In the fourth century, AD, two Greeks – Hierocles and Philagrius wrote a joke book. Philogelos – Laughter-Lover. One of the jokes was “Asked by the court barber how he wanted his hair cut, the king replied, “In silence.”
The oldest recorded British joke dates to tenth-century Anglo-Saxons. “What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it has often poked before? A key.” Bawdy folk, those Anglo-Saxons.
I’ve often found that the things that cause me to laugh the hardest are when people are able to laugh at themselves. It’s really not that easy unless you are comfortable with yourself. Because my family grew up telling stories, we learned that getting people to laugh with you is pure joy.
The other night, I found a list of tweets where people told about something awkward they’d done. I laughed until it hurt.
“I had to go to a library to pay a ten-cent fee and I was practicing in the car between “I have to pay a fine” and “I have to pay a fee.” I walked in and firmly stated “I have to pee” and slapped a five-dollar bill on the counter and walked out. That was three years ago and I still haven’t been back.”
“The elevator doors opened and a guy walked in. It was just me and him in there and he said, “I love you.” I’m not rude, so I said, “I love you, too.” He gave me a weird look and pointed at his Bluetooth.”
“I was at the airport and the TSA agent told me to scan my license face down, but I just heard “Scan your face down” so I put my face on the scanner and waited. I wish this was a joke but no, it happened, and the TSA guy could not stop laughing and now I have to go into WitSec.”
“So, I MEANT to say “oh crap, I left my phone in my car,” but what I ALMOST said was “Oh no, I left my cone in my phar,” and wouldn’t that have been embarrassing, but I caught myself and what I ACTUALLY said was “Ah, my fart cone.” So, anyway.”
Now, the last thing I am is a master of comedy. I don’t tell jokes well. No, seriously. I’m a terrible joke-teller. I read them well and so, there’s that, but you will never see me writing a comedy sketch and performing it. Oh, never say never. I may have just set myself up for something very frightening in my future. Anyway, I’m no good at telling jokes.
The reason you laugh when reading my books is that I can deliver a story around an uncomfortable situation. But I’m not a humorist.
With that in mind, instead of teaching about comedy and humor, I will teach about the words – comedy and humor. I am much more comfortable with vocabulary.
Let’s start with comedy. Can you guess which language this word originates from? Whether you guessed Latin or Greek, you’re correct. This is one of those words that has come through many iterations from a really obscure beginning.
Comedy’s definition is that it is a light drama with a happy ending. As opposed to tragedy, it was a type of dramatic literature that dealt with serious and profound topics in a light, familiar or satirical manner. Now for its origins.
Comedye Middle English from Middle French, then yes, it ran through Latin – comoedia to get there. But it was first a Greek word – komoidia. This is when I start having fun with words.
Komos – is a revel, a village festival, a festal procession. Kome means village. Oidia means to sing. Our word ‘ode’ – An ode to a summer’s day.  Literally, comedy was a village song. Through the years, the word transformed and now we have funny and not-so-funny comedians or village singers.
So … the word comedy moved from village song to hilarity that makes us laugh until we cry.
Next … the word humor. Oh, I can’t even with this word.
Because the word’s origins come from all over Europe, I’m going straight to the Latin word humor. Spelled the same, sounds the same.
The first definition in the dictionary for the word humor is – normal functioning fluid or semifluid of the body – blood, lymph or bile – especially in vertebrates. Medical background – humor is fluid in the body.
The Latin word – humerer or without the ‘h’ – umere means to be moist or damp. Our word humid comes from the same root.
Now, how did we get from fluid to funny? It wasn’t easy.
In medieval physiology – from the 1300s – the humor was any of the four fluids of the body – blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy or black bile. Their relative proportions determined your physical condition and state of mind. State of mind is important here.
In the early 1500s, the idea of mood or a temporary state of mind based on the balance of these four fluid humors was attributed to people. So, they were judged to be healthy or not based on their attitudes. Words such as humor, wit, satire, sarcasm, invectives, irony, cynicism, and sardonic – described people’s frame of mind – their temperament. How they responded showed their balance of fluids – humors.
Questions such as Are you an agreeable person? Have you a pleasant humor? were posed as patients spoke with their doctors.
In the 1580s, Shakespeare played on the word and described humorous as whimsical, full of fancies, based on how people responded and acted. A person acted according to the balance of their physical and mental condition – their temperament.
Merriam-Webster then defined humors as actions that reveal the oddities or quirks of human temperament: whimsical or fantastic actions. These oddities come from the balance or inbalance of the humors.
So, we’ve come from the four fluid humors – blood, phlegm, choler, melancholy – to a person’s temperament, and their whimsical temperament.
This led to the word defining that quality in a situation that appeals to a sense of the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous.
We’ve moved from ‘moist’ which is an uncomfortable word, to fluids in the body, both real and imagined, to temperament based on the proportion of these fluids, to laughing at quirks regarding a person’s temperament. That’s humor. It was a long, difficult road for that word, but we got there.
And you know, this discussion helps me understand why people want a smile or a good mood or pleasant interaction. We have hundreds of years of belief built in that pleasant temperament means you are healthy.
There are some other great words along the same line.
Have you ever looked up the word farce? Its obsolete definition is to stuff a chicken or other poultry. To stuff oneself with food. It comes from the Latin farcire – to stuff. But this led to a transformation of the word’s definition. To enlarge, amplify or expand by interpolation or addition of witty material or quotations. So, they stuffed a story with witty material and it became a farce. Broad, ridiculous humor.
The word joke comes from Latin – jocus. A jest or a game.
Laughter. I can’t pronounce the Old Norse word, but essentially, it’s h – laughter. Laughter is what it is. It’s the same in every language and doesn’t need a definition. But when you look at the etymology of the word laugh, you do get back to an Old English word – hlowan – to moo.
And one last word, because it’s beautiful to me – cartoon.
It comes from the same word that gives us card. Greeting card. Carte. But a cartoon originally was a preparatory design, drawing, or painting for something like a fresco, a mosaic or a tapestry. It was usually drawn in full size on paper and then traced or copied onto the surface which would become the final work.
From there, the word began to describe drawings that were often symbolic and usually intended as humor, caricature, or satire – a comment on public and usually political matters.
I love, though, that the original idea for a cartoon was something that with more depth and time would offer artwork of intense beauty.
I have several friends, who, in my daily Facebook feed, post jokes, bits of humor, things to laugh at, oftentimes things I groan at. I’m glad to be able to laugh every day.
I may have told this story and though some of you will have as your first response the pity or caring emoji, don’t. Listen to the whole story – don’t just react. Laughter is my go-to.
Mom died in 1987 and spent her last two weeks in the hospital. My brother, who lived in Colorado at the time, came out the week before she died to spend good time with her. As we all sat in the hospital room, he started telling a story.
Now, I’ve said it before, but there is no one who can make me laugh like my brother. Years before that, we were in my apartment prior to leaving on a family vacation. He got to telling some story. I’d been sitting in this silly macrame sling chair and I had to get out and lie on the floor because I was laughing so hard. Next thing I knew, Mom was lying there beside me, both of us out of control. When I see the letters ROTFL – rolling on the floor laughing, I see that image. It’s real to me.
Anyway, in the hospital, he got to telling us about his first ever ski experience. He’d just moved to Colorado. One of his best friends was going to teach him how to ski. Parker was an excellent athlete. Jim’s first trip down the slopes, he wore heavy blue jeans – it’s all he had. He told us about the absurdity of learning to go up the ski lift, he talked about learning how to point his skis – and not doing so well. He described falling over and over. With every word, I watched the story grow and I started to laugh. His blue jeans were heavier from being soaked in the snow after falling so many times. He still hadn’t made it all the way down the mountainside and Parker had been up and down several times. Jim had nothing left. He couldn’t get his skis to point the right way any longer. He was exhausted. But Parker refused to give up. He skied backwards, his hands holding the tips of Jim’s skis in place. Jim started to lean forward and put his hands on Parker’s head. The next thing he knew his friend was skiing backwards, holding Jim’s skis, his face plowing through the snow. He never complained. Jim did learn how to ski another day.
Well, I’m sure there was more to the story, because Jim wasn’t even finished with it and I was howling … literally howling with laughter as I pictured the entire scene. He’d painted it so well.
My poor father didn’t know what to do. Here we were in the hospital – you know, a solemn place. My dad’s job involved him spending a lot of time with people in the hospital. We were being a little raucous. Okay, I was. Finally, Dad stood up, walked over to the door, closed it quietly, came back, and sat down.
I love to laugh. And a good story will send me over the edge every time.
The good news is that the day after Dad died, our family gathered in his garage and Jim did it to me again. I don’t even remember the story this time, but I do remember Dad’s wife coming out and telling us that was it was ten o’clock and we needed to be mindful of the neighbors. You know, because they were all old and in bed. I didn’t want to start a fight with her, but we all knew that they’d rather hear laughter coming from Dad’s house than anything else. His neighbors loved him. Fortunately, she went back inside and Jim closed the garage door. We weren’t done laughing. We always have stories to tell.
Humor and comedy come from stories. Judd Apatow, the writer behind The 40-Year-Old Virgin (seriously, I nearly lost everything during the scene when they waxed Steve Carell’s chest hair. A friend and I were sitting beside each other in the theater and lost it in that out-of-control gut-busting, can’t-breathe laughter.) Apatow says that the best way to tell a joke is to find the punchline and then tell the story around it.
It’s always about the story.
Our stories connect us. They connect our past, our present, and our future. They help us understand each other – because in every good story, we recognize a hint of ourselves, thereby helping us to make that connection.
The earliest recorded joke about the woman not farting in her husband’s lap? It’s not funny to us because we have no connection to it.
Your story is important. Sometimes it feels like our stories are too painful to share or too ugly and dark. Whether or not you feel that you can share it isn’t the point. The point is – that the story is important and that it matters.
While recorded humor goes back four thousand years, stories that transcend time and place originated the moment humanity came together. We express ourselves through our stories. I’m thankful to be able to write stories. Some are completely made up, some from experiences I’ve had or I’ve observed, and I’m glad you enjoy reading them.
But your stories are just as important. Every single one of them. The hard things you’ve experienced, the laughter, the pain, the sorrow, the joy. Anger and fear, relief and comfort. Friends, enemies, parents, children, spouses, lovers. Family in whatever form. All these things have defined and shaped you. And whether or not you believe you are a wondrous gift, I know it to be true. Your story is important. Even if you and God are the only ones who know the depths of it. You are a beautiful, glorious story.
This week, remember that about those around you. People all have stories – stories they want to tell, stories they can never speak aloud. Respond to them the same way you would want others to care for you. Respond with grace, love, generosity, and kindness.
Post one (only one) Dad joke as a comment any time before Wednesday, June 12, I’ll choose two people, randomly, to win a signed copy of either the Bellingwood Recipe Book or the One Line a Day Journal.
I love you all. I love that you have stories to tell. We are storytellers. I’ll see you next week.

August 2, 2020 - Potty Humor

Just in case you were beginning to think that I’d gotten much too serious on Sunday evenings, let me prove you wrong tonight. Because I’m about to discuss things that are quite inappropriate unless I’m in the company of friends. So … y’all are my friends, right?
Earlier this week I was writing a chapter that mentioned port-a-potties. I’m not telling you any more than that. You’ll read about it in September. Anyway, years ago, I heard someone call those things Kybos, a word I’d never heard before. That meant research. Kybo is Australian slang for a temporary lavatory constructed for use when camping. That wasn’t enough. I’m in the US. I needed more. And then I found it. It’s a scouting thing. Apparently, Kybo was a brand of coffee and the empty coffee cans weren’t used to freeze chocolate chip cookies, but held the lime for outdoor toilets. Now, scouts you know may have given the word other meanings, using it as an acronym. That’s called a backronym, assigning words to each letter after the fact.
The blogger, whose article I read, had other fun information on outdoor toilet experiences and what they’re called. I’ll put the link in the transcript for you.  
But that sent my mind spinning as I thought about a lifetime of potty stories. We’ve all talked about them, haven’t we? Or haven’t we?
My thoughts devolved. Exactly where you might think they went. Right down the toilet. The problem was as I jotted down notes of stories revolving around, well, that, I discovered I had thousands. Okay, maybe hundreds. But a lot.
Whenever my family is together, no matter how high-falutin’ or edumacated or thoughtful our discussions begin, we always end up talking about poop. Every single time. What is it about this subject that is so entertaining? Don’t answer.
My brother, Jamie McFarlane is his pen name, has a running joke in his Privateer Tales book series. The main character, Liam Hoffen, always gets stuck cleaning out the septic. No matter what spaceship he’s in or how important he becomes, he ends up dealing with … poop. Why? Well, as Jim says, he spent his life cleaning out that mess, why should his character get off easy?
If you’re wondering. Liam Hoffman, the plumber friend of Henry’s in the Bellingwood books is a nod to Jamie’s character. There’s no reason not to have fun.
I have a picture on my website of the schoolhouse that was my inspiration for Sycamore House. The building is long gone. They couldn’t find a buyer to restore it. But someone bought the land and demolished the building. As I watched it come down, I was curious about what was going to be placed on that beautiful spot. Imagine my surprise when it was a port-a-potty warehouse. I’d never seen one of those before.
My brother’s main character deals with septic issues while Polly’s best punishment for her children is cleaning bathrooms. Whether it’s the stories we write or the stories we tell when we’re with family and friends, the joke really is – everything ends with poop. We can’t help ourselves.
So, I do have stories. I’ll try to keep them as above board, clean, fresh, as I can.
When Dad put running water into the cabin on our property, he put a septic system in. We weren’t up here that often, so it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t know much about septic systems, having always lived in town. I have to tell you, showing up at a friend’s house in the country and having them ask you to please not flush unless absolutely necessary because their septic system needed to be drained was disconcerting for a city girl.
Anyway, thirty years later I came to the cabin to work in solitude on my Master’s Degree. It didn’t take long to discover an issue. I called in a plumber. The issue was bigger than that, so I called in a septic company to drain the tank. I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with any those weirdos, but they are nuts. Completely and totally insane. You’d have to be, I guess. Here I am, a happy little city girl, paying someone to manage the whole thing, but no. Their hideous sense of humor got the better of … me. Those good ole boys insisted that I learn about septic systems. Errr, what? I don’t want to know this.
The next thing I knew I was standing over the open tank, a little concerned because I was on an incline and didn’t want to fall in. I desperately tried not to gag at the smell (one I will never forget) while they taught me about grey and black water. I don’t need this information. I have this information. They thought it was the funniest thing ever. All I wanted was for them to pump it, take my money, and go away.
What would life be without memories and adventures?
I’m sure I’ve told you about Mom and Dad’s first appointment. A tiny town in southwest Iowa named Gravity. The parsonage had a modern toilet, but the church didn’t. On Dad’s ordination day – back then they were performed in the local church, Mom begged the local troublemakers to take any of the dignitaries to the parsonage if necessary. But no, the Bishop, the highest man in the United Methodist Church in the state of Iowa, was soon seen being escorted out back. She wanted to die of embarrassment. It was likely a story he told for years.
On Mom’s honeymoon … Now remember, she grew up in Boston, lived in the carriage house on the estate owned by the treasurer of Harvard University. She attended an exclusive grammar school as well as an exclusive girl’s secondary school. She’d been invited to the Tuileries in southern France for her debutante ball. On the second half of her honeymoon – the first half was a rustic canoe trip in upper New York State somewhere. She laughed that she and Dad lived on leftover wedding cake and apple cider that had turned that week. The second week, she and Dad ended up in the Ozarks, visiting his uncle’s family. His parents were there, so they could introduce Dad’s new wife to the family. We’re talking serious hillbillies in the Ozarks here. Not a lot of modern conveniences. Do you see the fun in how Mom and Dad’s lives were diametrically opposed? I can’t even.
They couldn’t wait to show Mom where the outhouse was. And yes, there was an old Herter’s catalog right there to be used when necessary. No toilet paper. Mom learned a lot about Dad’s extended family. His parents didn’t live like that and didn’t raise their children down there. The other wild thing that happened that week was that they were given a bed in the attic. The only problem was, Dad’s parents slept in the same attic room. Grandma and Grandpa sent Mom and Dad up to bed a half hour early so they could have alone time on their honeymoon.
When they put a trailer on our family’s land in 1964, there was no indoor plumbing. Dad dug a pit and put up a nice little outhouse. I spent more time than I like to admit using that little building. There was nothing fun about it and I still remember the scent of the lime he poured down after every trip. And scooching away from the bales of barbed wire he stored in there. When we were very young, Mom was okay with us using a chamber pot in the trailer overnight. But one of us had to dump and clean it every morning. We weren’t particularly fond of that task, so unless it was bitter cold out, it was easier to just grab the flashlight and take the walk.
Hanging on the wall beside the toilet seat was a poem written by James Whitcomb Riley.
Riley wrote a poem called Little Orphant Annie, based on an orphan his family took in. The comic strip by Harold Gray was based on that poem. Another of Riley’s very famous poems – The Raggedy Man – was the inspiration for the Raggedy Ann dolls.
My grandfather, who ran the printing shop at Harvard, took great glee in printing ridiculous things when the presses were slow. He printed a bunch of these poems and handed them out to everyone, being sure to inform his friends, that his daughter married a man who gave her an outhouse. You can find the poem online – entitled the Passing of the Back House. My grandfather’s printed pieces were called The Passing of the Privy.
By the way, Privy comes from the French word – prive – meaning intimate or familiar. It showed up in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as well as Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as what we call an outhouse.
Every time I was in the outhouse I read that poem. Every single time. There were words. Later, I found my grandfathers’ printed copies and hung one in my bathroom at home. I wish I knew where they had gone. But I kept a digital copy.
The Passing of the Privy
James Whitcomb Riley
When memory keeps me company and moves to smiles and tears,
A weather-beaten object looms through the mist of years.
Behind the house and barn it stood, a half a mile or more.
And hurrying feet a path had made straight to its swinging door.
Its architecture was a type of simple classic art.
But in the tragedy of life it played a leading part;
And oft the passing traveler drove slow and heaved a sigh
To see the modest hired girl slip out with glances shy.
We had our posy garden that the women loved so well
I loved it too, but better still I loved the stronger smell
That filled the evening breezes so full of homely cheer,
And told the night -o’ertaken tramp that human life was near.
On lazy August afternoons it made a little bower,
Delightful, where my grandsire sat and whiled away an hour.
For there, the summer morning its very cares entwined.
And berry bushes reddened in the steaming soil behind.
All day fat spiders spun their web to catch the buzzing flies
That flitted to and from the house, where Ma was making pies.
And once a swarm of hornets bold had built a palace there,
And stung my unsuspecting aunt–I must not tell you where.
Then father took a flaming pole–that was a happy day–
He nearly burned the building up, but the hornets left to stay.
When summer bloom began to fade and winter to carouse,
We banked the little building with a heap of hemlock boughs.
But when the crust was on the snow and sullen skies were gray,
In sooth, the building was no place where one could wish to stay.
We did our duties promptly there, one purpose swayed the mind;
We tarried not, nor lingered long, on what we left behind.
The torture of the icy seat would make a Spartan sob,
For needs must scrape the goose-flesh with a lacerating cob,
That from a frost-encrusted nail hung pendant by a string.
My father was a frugal man and wasted not a thing.
When Grandpa had to “go out back” and make his morning call,
We’d bundle up the dear old man with muffler and a shawl.
I knew the hole on which he sat–’twas padded all around,
And once I dared to sit there-’twas all too wide I found.
My loins were all too little and I jack-knifed there to stay.
They had to come and get me out or I’d have passed away.
Then father said ambition, was a thing small boys should shun,
And I must use the children’s hole ’till childhood’s days were done.
But still I marvel at the craft that cut those holes so true;
The baby hole, and the slender hole that fitted Sister Sue,
That dear old country landmark; I’ve tramped around a bit,
And in the lap of luxury my lot has been to sit.
But e’er I die I’ll eat the fruit of trees I robbed of yore,
Then seek the shanty where my name is carved upon the door.
I ween the old familiar smell will soothe my jaded soul;
I’m now a man, but none the less, I’ll try the children’s hole.
I’m nearly at the halfway point with Book 31. Polly is having a crazy, crazy week, but that probably doesn’t surprise you. Since I began looking for and finding more quiet time in my days, I’m having so much more fun writing. I can’t believe what a change this made in my creativity. But it’s still not enough time.
It’s frustrating to have so many fun ideas. I write them down, but I’ll never accomplish them all and that drives me nuts. Story ideas scramble around in my head, but then something random sideswipes me and my focus shifts. I am so easily distracted.
I probably sound like I’m complaining and maybe I am. It’s strange. When I was in my twenties, I had all the time in the world. Now I’m desperate to savor every moment and eke everything out of them. I guess this is why the wisdom of age happens too late for youthfulness to capture. Man, we were dumb.
The compendium. I’m working on it. If you join the Bellingwood Readalong Group, you’ll learn more about its progress. I asked for lists or notes to come in by the end of this weekend and I’ve received some great information. Thank you. This is going to be a huge project and I’m still working on the format. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that it will never be complete. Every once in a while someone asks a random question about a character or a location and I realize … oh, that was a detail I’d never considered to be important. But it probably is, so I dig back in.
Bec Schreiber, the artist who created the recipe book cover, has already started on the cover for the compendium. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with. I love talented and creative people. This is why I love Creativity Friday so much. I watch you show off your talents and what you share, and am so proud and happy to know such amazing people. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for interacting with each other – with your compliments and your questions. You’re wonderful.
Last week the Boxed Set: Books 1-3 were free. Now, while that was fun, the best part is what’s happening now. We’re adding new people into this community. New names are popping up all the time and because you all are so integral to Bellingwood, you don’t even realize how welcoming you are just by your conversations. Thank you.
Tomorrow is a fresh start. A new month, a new week, a new day. Each new day we receive a fresh opportunity to be our very best selves. To lift others who are in desperate need of things we may never understand.
I’ll never forget the day I was in a grocery checkout line – a few years ago. The woman in front of me had complained and whined and berated both the young man checking her out and the young woman bagging her groceries. She was a miserable person. I couldn’t help her, but I knew that I needed to help erase her ugliness. While she stood in line, I watched the body language of those happy kids deteriorate. She destroyed them for no good reason other than her own misery. I started with a smile. It changed everything. I told them what a great job they did with a difficult situation. A manager walked past and I caught her and told her that she should be proud of them. She wasn’t terribly sure what to do with me, but smiled. By the time I left, those two kids were joking and laughing again.
We can change a moment for people. It doesn’t take much. But we have to think about someone other than ourselves. Pay attention – whether you’re in a drive-thru or in a store or with your family or friends. Think about what they might need from you in that moment. And offer it. A good word. A smile – maybe smiley eyes if you’re wearing a mask. Or a joke or something to make them laugh. Respond with love and grace.
I love you all and I probably won’t tell more potty stories, but I can’t guarantee it. I’ll see you next week.

July 26, 2020 - Age and Silver Linings

When I turned 41, my father was ready for me. Twenty-five years earlier, when he turned 41 and I was a fifteen-year-old know-it-all, I’d laughed and called him old. Surprisingly, he never forgot that. I received a call from Dad on my birthday asking if 41 was still old. Yeah, whatever.
The funny thing is that of all my birthdays, that year hit me the hardest. It had nothing to do with his phone call. Not my fortieth, my fiftieth or my sixtieth. But when I turned forty-one, I was miserable. Fortunately, with me, those types of negative emotions don’t stick around long, but still, I will never forget how difficult that birthday was. Evidently, forty-one crossed some invisible age boundary.
I probably talk more about my age now than ever before, because it’s so strange to realize how long I’ve been around, how much I’ve learned, all that I’ve encountered and seen … and yet, I still feel as if there is so much ahead. Sometimes I wish we didn’t mark years, so we wouldn’t classify people based on a number.
You know, sometimes people call that ageism. I don’t like any of it – especially when age doesn’t tell the whole story of who we are. And these days, age … the number … has become a big deal. I’m tired of it and disgusted by those who think that it’s appropriate to judge anyone based on a number. Elderly? Bite me. What if we were to stop classifying people negatively based on the number of years they’ve been gaining wisdom?
There’s a saying I love – old age and treachery beats youth and exuberance every time.
So a couple of weeks ago when I was traipsing around the internet reading interesting articles as I do, I landed on one from the MIT Age Lab. The headline reads: “‘Old age’ is made up – and this concept is hurting everyone.” The author, the head of the Age Lab, discusses products designed for older people that reinforce a bogus image of them as passive and feeble.
Oh, I am so on board with this. He writes about failed products. They sell, but fail to do what they should – help people. Hearing aids. Even if people are forced to purchase them, they don’t use them. They’re ugly, they call attention to a disability and oftentimes, bring judgment from outsiders. Only 20% of people who could benefit from hearing aids, use them. If you tell me that you use one – know that you’re in a minute segment of society. Your experience doesn’t cross over to everyone. Personal emergency response technologies – wearable devices, age-friendly cars, blended foods (gross), oversize cell phones (are you kidding me?)
Personal emergency response pendants are seen as useful for ‘old people.’ The problem is – who sees themself as an old people? Not me. The article states that only 35% of people 75 or older consider themselves ‘old.’
He talks about products being uninspiring – big, beige and boring. I know, right? And the idea that older people aren’t tech savvy is a fallacy. In the year 2000 – 14% of 65-plus America used the internet. Today, 73% are online. And of the people I know in that age group who aren’t? Really don’t want to be. They might be wiser than us.
He writes about the ‘golden years’ hoax. Old age is made up. Okay, sure, there are biological realities with aging, but seriously, folks, feeble doesn’t describe us. Feeble-minded? Stop it. Do you know that the word ‘geriatric’ wasn’t even in our vocabulary until 1909? Suddenly, old age had become something that needed to be handled – taken care of. In the early 1800s, no one thought of the older generation as being a drain or needing help. Then came some really poor science. They believed the body ran out of vital energy – batteries drained. So white hair and menopause meant you needed to stop doing things. It was time to become passive.
Forced retirement in the late 1800s because of the industrialization of America exposed generations to the need for financial assistance. People who were working and happy to do so were forced out of their jobs. In 1875 we saw the first pensions, so now, business managers could fire older employees without fear. In 1910, oldness was a problem. Then in the 1950s, a marketing man named Del Webb came up with ‘the golden years’ to advertise travel and relocation. Retirement became no longer a bad thing, but was promoted and marketed as a chance to be old and leisurely. Now, while we appreciate some of these things, what they’ve done is define and categorize. Everyone should want to retire. Everyone will need assistance. No one of a certain age can be trusted to be brilliant, creative, insightful, wise, hard-working, important, useful.
The author writes about infantilizing products on the shelves of our marketplace. I walk right past those aisles in a pharmacy. I want nothing to do with items where the pictures show an obviously feeble and helpless old person who can’t care for themselves. We’re faced with those images everywhere and they reinforce the idea that grey hair and wise wrinkles equal elderly and helpless. Those images make it impossible to change societal perceptions.
The article is filled with interesting and good information and I’ll include a link. The point I want to make is that this concept is one we must change. Kids aren’t going to do it for us. If you remember, and I do, when we were young, we never believed that we’d be anything but youthful. Imagine our surprise.
We need to insist that society doesn’t get to define who is feeble and useless, because of a number and a need to categorize folks and set them aside.
It never slows down in my world. This will be another busy week. I am well into Book 31. Polly exhausts me. I really do remember having that much energy, but still.
Tomorrow! The Boxed Set – Books 1-3 will be available FREE for three days. Monday – Wednesday, July 27-29. I’ll create an ad and would love for you to share it. Look for it, please. Like the post, make a positive comment, share the post. As I advertise across Facebook, those actions are called “social proof.” Proof that people like you are inviting others to be part of the same experience.
In fact, the more that you click the ‘like’ button on any Facebook post means that post and that page are promoted by Facebook into the feeds of other people. Those of us who make our living desperately need you to engage – even if it’s a click. It changes everything. Don’t do it only for me. Do it for anyone that you support. Do it often. Click ‘like.’
I know you tell others about the Bellingwood books and I’m grateful. I love the stories of you sharing Bellingwood with your friends and family. Building our community is fun. Think about the number of people, new names, new relationships you’ve encountered – because this community continues to grow.
Reading has become a haven for many of us when we’re stuck at home. Authors can write in quarantine. I just saw that Taylor Swift released a new album she’d been writing and producing during quarantine. I love that. For many artists, though, staying creative while the world’s stress presses in is difficult. I’m grateful that I’ve been a quiet, solitary hermit for years. But even still, watching this impact my friends and family is hard and I think about them when I should be working and writing.
One thing I have difficulty with is that after five months, rather than trying to make the best of what the world is handing us, too many still take it personally and use phrases such as trying or awful, horrible times. If you and your family are healthy, rather than choose misery, look for silver linings. It’s annoying to not be able to travel like you’re used to. It’s no fun not to be able to spend as much time in person with friends or go to a restaurant, but it’s not awful. Caring for the health of yourself and others is a generous gift. Finding creative new ways to do things is an opportunity. We are already seeing incredibly creative people come up with new and better ways to live.
If you look for the good in every day, in everything that you do, you will find it. If you want to believe that this is the worst time of your life, it will be. You have the choice. Circumstances don’t have to define your attitude. I’ve probably told you this story, but I’ll repeat it.
Many years ago, I was a Christian Ed and Music Director in a church. I directed an incredible handbell choir. These women were talented, and we made music like I couldn’t believe. One summer, two separate women in the group had hysterectomies. Both had kids, one had several young children and the other had middle grade and high school children. Both were finished having their children. Both hysterectomies were because of medical necessity.
When we finally came back together that fall, I watched these two women talk about their experiences. One chose misery. Her womanhood was taken from her. She’d never have more children. Everything about the experience was awful. Yes, I know her hormones were a mess. Her doctors did all they could for her and she refused to be part of the healing. This was her personality. The women tried to comfort her. Some had been through it and offered their hearts and their love. She soaked it up, but didn’t want to grow. She wanted to stay there in her misery.
The other woman practically danced in after she healed. For the first time in her adult life, she could comfortably wear white skirts. She found every silver lining in that surgery and was grateful for each moment.
This pandemic isn’t ending soon. If we choose to see these days as miserable and awful and depressing and horrible … they will be. If instead, we choose to look for good and joy and beauty; If we choose to be part of kindness and creativity – doing for others instead of expecting the world to hand us some perfect circumstance – without stress or conflict – we’ll find peace.
There was a discussion this weekend about me not introducing the pandemic to Bellingwood. Most people were grateful for that decision. And others disagreed. If I’m writing reality, why aren’t I showing how the people of Bellingwood handle the pandemic?
Well, okay. This is my decision. Yes, Bellingwood is as real as you want it to be. But it is fiction. It is fantasy. The story is about people and the way they interact with each other. It isn’t about world events or world history. I hope that in several years, when the pandemic isn’t as intense and the world has found a normal that works, others will begin this series and enjoy the books without the stories being anchored in a singular moment.
I made that mistake in an early book. I was so shaken when the Boston bombing happened in the middle of me writing Book 3 – Treasure Uncovered. Polly was from Boston. Sal was coming to visit, and I didn’t feel as if I could ignore what happened. My emotional reaction affected my writing. I was still trying to find my way as an author. I regret anchoring the book to that moment. I’ve used the storyline throughout the series, but I’ll never do that again. Bellingwood is fiction. I’m sorry.
Readers have gotten angry because they want the series to be so real that there’s no room for the story. People were upset early on because of Polly’s inheritance – how could she have enough to buy and build out Sycamore House? First of all, not reality … fiction. But the truth is – the schoolhouse that I modeled Sycamore House on was sold for $49,000. Local construction would have cost maybe $200,000. It didn’t occur to me to justify the fiction for those who expected reality. I had bad reviews because I didn’t understand reality. New readers still review poorly for that reason. What? It’s fiction.
Even reality TV is fictionalized. We’ve been so desensitized, that we often forget that what people show us and what they want us to believe is rarely truth.
I tell stories. I tell stories based on truths, but I don’t deliver reality. That’s not my job. I write fiction. That’s my job.
You don’t have to rise up in righteous indignation. I’m fine. It was a struggle seven years ago, but I moved past it. There will always be those who can’t separate reality from fiction. We see it every single day played out on Facebook and social media.
This week was the second of my attempts to shut down for three hours every evening. It went much better. I’ve discovered, though, that one difficulty is so much of my work – research, notes, writing projects – is all digital. If I turn my computer off, I’m without it. The first part of the week, I pushed to complete things so I could shut down at five o’clock. It frustrated me a little to walk away, but the quiet time did help with my writing and my sanity.
This is a game changer for me and I feel ridiculous that it took frustration to realize what I’d done. I love solitude. I love quiet. It’s the only way I’m able to be creative. I lost my mind. I’m finding it again.
Two other things this week. Creativity Friday will happen. I can’t wait to see what you have to share.
As soon as I can this evening, I’m posting a mug giveaway. We hit 4300 likes on Saturday. Now, it will fluctuate around that number for a few days, but I captured a screen shot. I love seeing this community grow.
And don’t forget – tomorrow is the Boxed Set freebie. I appreciate you showing up and helping me promote it with likes, shares and comments.
This is the last week of July. Can you believe it? A lot will happen in the next few weeks as teachers, students, parents, administrators try to figure out what is right. My sister is a fifth-grade teacher and I’ll be keeping a close eye on her.
We all believe we know the right answer – we don’t. There is no perfect answer. There is no perfect answer for any of this. But decisions are being made and we have to move forward.
Instead of blasting out more of the same garbage – open letters, fear-mongering, incorrect data, haphazard reports – it comes from each side; instead of taking to social media to instigate more division or prove your opinion, talk to a teacher and ask how you can help. Talk to a parent of a student and ask if they need anything. Talk to an administrator and ask what you can do. Stop using words that separate and divide in useless formats such as social media. Instead, offer to Be Bellingwood. Actively look for ways to be involved. There are so many needs and so many opportunities for us to do things, even from the safety of our own homes. Take yourself off the social media rollercoaster and place yourself in the position of being the helper.
If you can’t help, be quiet. Opinions shouted out across social media only make tough situations tougher. Choosing sides when you’re not involved is so divisive. We can choose to support those we love and care for.
I’m constantly asked about Polly and the pandemic and being stuck in the house with her family. The thing is, as awesome as she is with her family and as much as she has that great big house with a yard and resources, Polly wouldn’t stop there. She wouldn’t sit in her house and huddle up with her family behind closed doors. She’d make sure that others had what they needed. From food deliveries to a smile, maybe a bunch of flowers or a silly gift left on the front stoop, she and her friends would ensure that others knew they were part of a community of grace.
Too many of us shut our front doors in March and closed ourselves off from the world. The world needs Bellingwood. The world needs you and me. Right now. Take the grace that has been given to you and share it.

July 19, 2020 - Honor and Respect

For the last two weeks, I’ve jotted down notes of ideas I intended for the Livecasts. You’ve heard none it because when I sat down to pull it together, it just didn’t work. It will come out someday. I’ll rewrite the words until they tell my message without sending anyone off into a rant. I avoid rants whenever possible.
The other thing is that I just don’t have the desire to drag anyone with me into the deep and musty recesses of my mind. I spend enough time in there, you’d think I’d at least sweep out the corners, but then I find a good tale and hide in my book nook instead. Funny how my brain is much like my life. Things around here could use a good vacuuming, too.
Last Monday, I ended up in one of those rooms up there that was filled with chaos. File drawers were open, papers spilled out everywhere. Stacks and piles, of details and to-do lists, covered my floral fainting couch. I couldn’t even find the walnut rolltop desk, so many things were out of control. None of these things really exist.
Like many of you, sleep becomes elusive when there are things to be done. I wake up in the middle of the night and lie still, hoping to fall back to sleep, but instead, my mind shuffles from room to room, trying to put one more thing in order. Over and over, I work through the things I need to accomplish – that day, that week, oh heck, let’s worry about the things that need to be completed by December, 2025!
For me, not sleeping, though, is like setting off a bomb in my well-ordered universe. Everything I finally jammed into the right location in those filing cabinets explodes and all I can see is the mess. I’m an eight or nine-hour a night sleeper. Well, I should be.
When I worked in the outside world, I only slept four to five hours a night. I’d wake up and start processing on the day, doing my best to think through every detail so that when surprises arrived, and they always did, I had enough space to deal with them. But that meant I didn’t sleep. I lived that way for decades. When I look back on journal entries and written prayers, I was always searching for peace and rest.
Then, I left that life behind and discovered true peaceful sleep. For some reason, these last few years, I’ve returned to busy-ness and I can’t shut my brain back down after a three or four hour … nap. I’d like to blame the cats, but they’re the same no matter how well I sleep.
Back to last Monday. What I realized was that my focus and the easy creativity that usually flows had been throttled. What had I done to myself other than not sleep?
I have a million things to accomplish, but that’s nothing new. It’s my favorite part of living in my brain. You know, on that floral fainting couch. Why was I struggling?
I queried Google. And it came back with a wonderful Ted talk by Chris Bailey, the author of HyperFocus. He had asked the same questions and began paying attention to his screen time. Well, duh. Now, we all know (and if you don’t, do your research) that screen time, no matter the device, disrupts a child’s developing mind to great detriment. Ask any teacher. But I assumed that at my age, my brain is developed and manageable. Sometimes it stinks being sixty years old and having to admit how wrong you are.
I don’t use my phone or other devices as much as some, because I’m usually at my desk. I spend too much time online. Not learning and researching and writing, but scrolling through garbage. And I justify the time by asserting that my business is my community and I can’t simply turn it off. I’m wrong.
Anyway, Chris Bailey’s talk is terrific and if you want a little inspiration, I’ll drop the link in the transcript and in the description for this video. He discusses how screens satisfy as well as increase our need for stimulation.
So, I thought … let’s try something new and different. Actually, old, tried and true – it’s just that I changed things in the last six or seven years. Somehow, somewhere, I let go of the quiet time and filled it with constant stimulation. That’s not me.
New plan.
Since I get up late in the day, after writing until the wee hours (happy Diane), I decided that rather than stop being online all together, because that’s ridiculous, I would shut my computer and all my devices down at five o’clock after working for several hours. At eight, after three hours of quiet, I’d wind it all back up, deal with communication that had come in and gear up for my late night writing.
Day One. Perfection. I take great joy in sitting with pen and paper and letting my mind wander. It was a wonderful evening. When I booted up my laptop, I was ready to engage for a couple of hours and my writing that night was smooth.
Day Two. Well, huh. Okay. I had to finish my taxes. Can’t shut down the computer for that. Oh wait, there it is. I’m done. Yay. But I hadn’t slept the night before because when I write smoothly for hours, it takes a while to shut my brain back off and I’d been processing on everything I needed to do. So, I took a nap. Did nothing productive. Back online. Writing, but not quite as easy.
Day Three. A huge project dropped on me and I can’t work on it without the computer being on. No problem. I was expecting it – but still – bad timing.
Day Four. Yeah. No. Still working on that big project. No time for anything else. Besides, I need to think about the Livecast and I do that best while typing, and these things need to be handled, and there’s a list. The laptop is still on and every browser tab is screaming for my attention.
Day Five. Do you see how my best-laid plans deteriorated right before my eyes? The thing is, now I know what is necessary. And I’m committed to holding on to as many days with that initial plan as possible, even if I’m unable to do it every day. I’d love to get to the point where those three hours are sacred.
Don’t tell me that I just need to do it because it’s so important. Before handing out advice, you go first and make a profound transformation in your life patterns and see how it goes. Then get back to me. Things aren’t that easy. Especially at this age. But I’m not one to give up. Failing never upends me. I’ll try again and again until it becomes necessary for me to live that way. So, if you don’t see me around for a few hours in an evening, don’t panic. I’m redecorating for all my weird and oddly shaped thoughts to have room to dance.
One thing I always wanted to do when I was younger was keep a journal. I love paper. I love writing utensils. I love office supplies. I know I’m not alone. Mom bought me diaries and journal books. I have a smattering of entries in everything. I’d get going for a few days and then, I’d get busy.
Then one day, I stumbled upon a silly organizer. I was in my fifties. Rather than use it for what the designer intended, I began writing out my day and my thoughts. There was no pressure. The days were undated. I didn’t feel as if I was screwing anything up by not writing. But I wrote. And I’ve been writing in these journals for years now. Every single night.
This was one of those profound transformations that I messed up for most of my adult life. I tried everything and failed, until finally, I didn’t. And now, I keep a couple of journals. I started a One Line a Day journal on September 1st last year. I can’t wait to wrap around to the second year and see what was important to me every day.
Writing stories. I had failed miserably at those until that one glorious November in 2012 when I wrote All Roads Lead Home. It was the first large fiction work I’d ever completed. I have unfinished works everywhere. I’d love to think I could pull them out and breathe fresh life into them. It will never happen. They had a purpose. I practiced telling stories even though I failed at finishing them. With All Roads Lead Home, I finished. It was a profound transformation in my life.
I have failed a million times. I don’t talk about my failures because they’re mine and they’re personal. I don’t fret over them, I don’t wonder what might have been. I learned from every attempt. There are projects that I sketched out in January of this year. Goals, we’ll call them. Things I planned to finish. I won’t. Notice that I made no promises out loud. I hate disappointing people. There’s no reason for it. When I know that I’m going to finish something, that’s when the world hears about it. There’s nothing worse than getting excited because a creative person promises great and grand things are coming – and then nothing does. I’m all about consistency.
I don’t mind re-working my goals. I don’t mind failing. That’s a lie. I hate failing. But I’ve learned it comes with the territory. Or life. I refuse to give up. I refuse to stop.
Tonight is the end of a long week of interrupted quiet time. There are no more big outside projects on my horizon. Tomorrow I will wake up, do my thing, shut down for a few hours, come back renewed and refreshed and ready to write. Which is a good thing because tomorrow is my drop-dead deadline for starting the next Bellingwood book. The wonderful thing is that because I had a few days where I allowed my mind to wander, I have extensive notes ready to be turned into chapters. I can’t wait to write this one.
There is one other thing I’d like set out for your consideration this week. It’s nothing new. I’ve talked about it.
Stop engaging in arguments on Facebook. Stop initiating them. Stop trying to stir the pot. Stop offering unwanted advice. Stop trying to make people agree with you. Because Facebook isn’t the place. No matter what you think. Those people who agree with all of your opinionated posts – on any side? They’re your choir. You’re changing no one’s mind. That’s not how it works. Yes, it’s very nice to have people pat you on the back for promoting an idea they agree with. But you won’t get others to flip. And this stuff is making Facebook ugly.
If you don’t believe in science – because this information is based on a study published in Psychological Science, use your common sense. Because that’s exactly what it is.
You will never change someone’s mind based on a comment or a social media post. At best, they’ll ignore you. At worst, a flame-war begins with someone you don’t know. And it doesn’t have to be politics or conspiracy theories. I see it happen in the most innocuous places. I’ve hidden comments on my personal page. If you’re friends with me, you know I don’t post controversy. It’s all fun and silly and maybe encouraging. Mostly cat photos. But someone who doesn’t know me well, will offer an opinion – a random opinion. I know exactly what happens next. Another person who doesn’t know the commenter will take it out of context and start an argument. None of it has anything to do with the cute cat in the picture.
The study points out that we respond differently to others’ opinions based on whether we read it or hear that person speak in real life or a video. Why? Well, it’s because when we see someone, we take a number of visual cues from them and engage with them as real life human beings.
On the other hand, when we read a controversial or differing opinion, we become dismissive. We dehumanize the person who wrote it. Think about that. Seeing and hearing someone reminds us that the speaker is human.
In the initial article I read, the author talked about how he couldn’t help himself one day. He had to correct someone’s misinformation. And it wasn’t anyone he knew. It was a friend – of a friend he hadn’t spoken to since high school some twenty years ago. Ten horrible comments later, nothing had changed. No minds had been enlightened. And he was in an unnecessary bad mood.
His recommendation, and I like it, is to type the heck out of the comment. Explain your rationale, detail salient points. Then delete it. Because really, why do you care what some random person believes? Why do you care? Especially when the end game for you is that you are now emotionally involved in a conversation that’s going nowhere. Your blood pressure goes up, you’re annoyed, and you can’t engage with your real world without that useless conversation dribbling in. We have to stop this.
Arguing online is fruitless because we forget that behind every comment – nearly every comment – is a human being. Someone who loves, someone who struggles, someone who passionately believes, someone who needs attention as much, apparently, as you do. We don’t have to like them. We don’t have to agree. But we do need to honor their humanity. We need to honor our own humanity. To be people who can be respected, even in the midst of conflicting opinions.
This is what we forget when we are as anonymous as social media allows us to be. Honor. Respect.
I’m reading a book by Susan Cain called “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.” It’s a fascinating read. I can’t tell you whether I’m an extrovert or introvert. You might believe that because I’m a hermit, I’m an introvert. In many cases I am, but I was never considered to be shy and I love being around people … most of the time.
That’s a topic for another day. What’s pertinent here are her words about how popular attributes in American culture changed in the early 20th century. Prior to 1920, virtues such as citizenship, duty, work, golden deeds, honor, reputation, morals, manners, and integrity were highly sought after. Then came, well, Dale Carnegie and his salesmanship programs. Suddenly Americans became more interested in personality than character. Attributes such as magnetic, fascinating, stunning, attractive, glowing, dominant, forceful, energetic were now the ideal. Cain writes that it was perfect timing. Americans became obsessed with movie stars in the 20s and 30s. Personal magnetism. Stardom.
The first list of virtues had been important for centuries. Then everything changed and we focused more on selling ourselves through whatever means we could. I’m ready to return to the quiet truths of those who can be trusted because of who they are, not who they want us to believe they are. And don’t for a minute think that I’m talking about global or national issues. I’m talking about you. I’m talking about me. I’m talking about the way we relate to each other, both online and in person.
I encourage you this week to measure your words. Not just once or twice. Does it matter that everyone knows your opinion or hears your advice? Think about how others will read the words you type. Leave your limited mindset and consider a different worldview. Will you trust that someone else just might be as smart or smarter than you and maybe see things from a different perspective? We’re never too old to learn how to be more compassionate, respectful, honorable, generous, kind, and loving. Never.
Next Saturday is the 25th of the month. A newsletter will come out to you if you’ve signed up at nammynools.com. Of course, there will be a vignette, Book 30’s vignettes will be published, and one or two other fun things will be in there.
I am so tired of the heat and ready for fall temperatures. But one thing that 60 years of life will do for you is tell you that you can wait. I’ve anticipated autumn every summer for lo, these sixty years and it comes every year. I just have to be patient. I am grateful for air conditioning.
Bellingwood Book 31 is about to take off. A lot will be happening in this story. I can’t wait to dig in.
This week, take your love of the series with you. Be Bellingwood. Be kind, generous, compassionate, honorable, respectful. Respond with grace. I love you and I’ll see you next week.
 Newsletter signup and a whole lot more – nammynools.com
Chris Bailey – Ted Talk – https://youtu.be/Hu4Yvq-g7_Y
The journal / planner / scheduler / organizer I use –  https://www.neuyear.net/collections/book-tools/products/beta-undated-week-dominator 
Susan Cain – Quiet Revolution – https://www.quietrev.com/
Susan Cain – Quiet (book) – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B004J4WNL2/ 

July 12, 2020 - Time

Good evening! Have you had a good week? Are you ready for the next one? One problem I have with doing these weekly livecasts is that they mark time so darned well. Before we know it, another week has passed and here we are.
Last Monday, I heard from a friend that it had been six months since their family faced a near tragedy. Life is going well for them, but it hit me. Six months! It doesn’t feel like that much time has passed. But when I consider all that has happened since late January and early February, I can’t deny it.
Well, you know me. Maybe you don’t yet, but you’ll learn. Thinking about time sent my mind off onto a learning excursion. Join me, if you will.
Last year, I listened to a podcast on Time by Brad Harris. He has a series called How It All Began, and a new one called Concept. I learned a lot and borrowed ideas from him for today. But if you want to learn from a brilliant, highly educated man, check out the links I’ll post.
What a fascinating concept time is. Do you know that precisely marking time is as recent as the mid-1800s? And many of the big leaps in understanding and technology came about because sailors were being lost at sea and they had yet to discover a way to calculate longitude so ships could navigate without visual markers.
Until four thousand years ago, seeing time as anything other than circular was not a concept people understood. Day and night, sunshine and darkness. The seasons and the length of days were all seen as circular, not linear. Time was renewable. It didn’t fade into the past, they didn’t look toward the future. They lived in the present. This is so far beyond our comprehension when every tick of the clock moves us to something different.
Two thousand years before the modern era, four thousand or so years ago, Egyptians created a simple sundial to mark time during daylight. This happened because societies grew more complex and people built patterns by which to govern their lives. When the sundial hit a certain point, women would gather to go do a specific task. But the sundial’s timekeeping was flexible – based on the length of time the sun was in the sky. It took another five hundred years before markings appeared on sundials, breaking a day into twelve segments. The hours were still flexible, though, based on the length of the day. In the summer, they had longer hours or segments. In the winter, hours were much shorter.
The word ‘hour’ comes from the Greek word ‘hora’ which really is a term used to indicate any limited time. It could identify a year, month, or day. The word evolved to mean sixty minutes. But the idea of minutes and seconds wouldn’t even exist for more than three thousand years.
As years passed, urban societies needed methods to discern workdays, and this required precision, especially when the sun wasn’t shining because it was cloudy or after nightfall. The first candle timer was created by the Saxon King Albert, the man who repelled Norse invaders from England. In the late eight hundreds, he drew lines on a candle to mark the passage of the hours of the day. Whether the sun shone or not, he knew how much time had passed.
Then there were water clocks. Some of the earliest, released water to crops at specific times. Many were used to note time for religious rites, whether Christian or otherwise, that occurred during the night when the sun wasn’t shining. In China, water clocks were important in their understanding of astronomy and astrology as they mapped the movement of the sun and the stars.
But remember, for all these timers, it was still flexible. There was no way to be sure of anything. Even though it was cloudy or night, those hours were based on the length of daylight.
It was Saint Benedict, who, during the Dark Ages, those years after the fall of the Roman Empire, sought to bring order to Roman Catholic monasteries. He is credited with helping Europe emerge from the Dark Ages. His influence helped to develop European civilization and culture. How?
Benedict was all about order. We can still read “The Rule of Saint Benedict.” He had a rule for every single thing and his writing continues to influence monasteries and monks 1400 years later. His insistence on structured prayer-time gave the world an incredible gift.
Bells rang seven times (minimally) a day to remind the monks to pray. At Lauds (prior to daybreak), prime (just after daybreak), terce (third hour or nine in the morning), sext (sixth hour or noon), Nones (ninth hour or three o’clock), Vespers (sunset or six in the evening) and Compline (end of the day, seven o’clock.) which is when they went to sleep.
Monks were responsible for ringing the bells, but any distraction or if they fell asleep or bad weather, and they missed it. For folks with an obsession for order, this was a problem that needed to be corrected. Tinkerers worked on the problem and the next step was the creation of lead-weight mechanisms that would automatically ring the bells on a given schedule. These bells alerted not only the monks, but soon, entire communities relied on them to keep their lives organized, to plan events and workdays.
Do you know what the French word for bell is? You’ve seen those bell-shaped hats or glass-domed coverings for ornaments called a Cloche – c l o c h e. Well, this is where our word clock comes from. From the ringing of bells to announce the time. It was in the early 1300s, when clock faces with hands to mark time, began appearing on the large bell towers that had popped up in nearly every community in Europe and rang out with a variety of time-keeping.
Paris. 1370. The city was a cacophony of ringing bells. Bell towers filled every neighborhood, churches, businesses. Bells rang to announce the canonical hours, the church hours. Bells rang to announce the beginning and end of various workdays for businesses. Bells rang every hour on the hour, twenty-four hours a day. Now, while the bells rang to announce the time, there was a problem. Each clock was set independently. It didn’t matter if the time for a tower in one church was different from the tower down the street, they rang according to what the tower’s owner believed to be the correct time. There was no standard. Life wasn’t pleasant in 1369 in Paris. It was loud. Too loud. King Charles the Fifth finally had enough and wrote a law forcing each clock tower to be in time with the royal tower’s clock. Soon, this same type of law was enacted throughout Europe. Peace settled – at least for the fifty-nine minutes out of every hour … or so.
For hundreds of years, thousands even, maritime trade was more localized than we understand. The only safe way for sailors to travel was to keep land in sight. They could measure where they were north and south, latitude was established because of the equator. But if they got too far from land and were turned around, they could wander the seas forever without knowing where they were. Too long at sea, searching for a land marker, and they’d get scurvy, or starve, or they’d die as their ship was tossed in storms. They had no longitudinal markers. They couldn’t measure time.
Kings and Queens offered grand amounts of wealth to anyone who would create a method for sailors to travel far from land without fear of imminent death. They still ventured out. But it was never safe. Think about it. I know Columbus has a terrible reputation – deservedly, but he sailed out beyond land markers, searching for something new. The pilgrims and explorers from England traveled without knowing if they’d ever make it to the new world. It wasn’t just the dangers of sea travel – it was not knowing exactly where they were.
The industrial revolution brought about innovation that put clocks into homes, reducing the size of their mechanisms. Innovators, engineers, and mathematicians searched for ways to allow sailors to sail without fear.
They finally set London as zero degrees on a 360-degree circumference of earth. For every hour east or west from London, it was 15 degrees. Sailors were incredible mathematicians. They could figure anything with the right data. So, they took clocks with London’s time on their ships and then, using the stars could figure out the time of day in their location. Comparing that to the clock, they could measure where they were – how far from London they were located. This worked, except for the fact that those clocks weren’t stable. A terrible storm could disrupt the timing mechanism. Clocks made of metal components swelled and shrank depending on the temperature, messing with timepieces. If you think about it – being off by only a few minutes could put a ship out of its path by many nautical miles.
John Harrison, a British carpenter, not a clock maker, set to work. He spent years designing a clock that would hold time in as precise a manner as possible. Then one day a ship sailed from England to Jamaica with one of his clocks on board. There was only 15 seconds drift – they were off by only one nautical mile. Everything changed. That was 1762. England was on the cusp of the industrial revolution, and it was made possible because of the precision of clockwork.
The French picked up on England’s clockmaking and then Huguenot refugees, fleeing religious persecution in France, arrived in Geneva, Switzerland. Now, what’s fascinating here is that John Calvin, the Protestant reformer, is part of the growth of Swiss timekeeping. He set down strict rules that prohibited wearing jewelry. Geneva had a huge jewelry industry and jewelers were worried. But wearing a watch? Well, that was acceptable. Suddenly, watchmakers filled the shops of Geneva and the industry blossomed.
Here we are in the mid-1800s. Time still wasn’t universal. Due to the lack of international or even national travel, time was localized. Then rail came, but they had a problem. Schedules were impossible to keep when the local stations along the route kept different times. Sure, the engineers all had those pretty pocket watches, but what could they do when a local station was behind or ahead of them?
By 1848, England’s railroad companies set their time to Greenwich time – from the Royal Observatory. Within ten years this became a standard – not only for railroads, but for every business and individual. In 1884, think about that – 1884. Iowa became a state in 1846, representatives from around the world met in America to set Greenwich time as point zero. Twenty-four time zones around the world were based on that point. Standards were being set into place.
In the 1880s, Pierre Curie discovered that quartz crystals would vibrate when pressurized or electrified. Engineers tuned these crystals for radio broadcasting, but scientists at Bell Labs realized that the rapid vibration of quartz crystals could regulate a clock precisely, much better than a swinging pendulum. Technology continues to leap forward with atomic clocks, making space exploration and understanding physics possible on more precise levels.
Time is now so integrated into our lives and our society, into exploration and innovation, we barely notice it – except when it feels like it passes too quickly.
Rather than seeing life as a renewable circle, we identify its beginning and its end. We try to learn from the past, though we fail miserably, and we plan for the future, sometimes failing even worse. That wasn’t always how people lived.
But things change and transform.
It’s funny. I often see posts about how people wish we could turn back the clock and return to a simpler time – usually their childhood. It makes me laugh because of a lesson I learned from my mother years ago.
I was in the middle of reading a bunch of prairie books – starting with Laura Ingalls Wilder. One evening I said something to Mom about wishing I’d lived during those days when everything was simpler. Not one to let a learning opportunity pass, she sat me down and told me that it was fine to read about those days, but I needed to understand that I wouldn’t have lived to experience them.
See, I’d had a dangerous condition when I was a child. It affected my heart, causing it to race for no reason. I can’t tell you the number of times my parents rushed me to a doctor or to an emergency room. I finally ended up in the hospital for a week while doctors did their best to find a better way to regulate things. They did, I grew out of it and all is fine.
But Mom’s point was that I wouldn’t have lived in a time when there were no highly-skilled doctors to ensure that I had the proper care. Now, I thought she was missing the point. I only wanted to play with Laura and Mary Ingalls. But she wanted me to understand a bigger concept about time. Without the opportunity to search for something better in the future, we’re stuck with the horrors of the past – plagues and sicknesses that we know now how to cure. It was a conversation that stuck with me.
The past needs to stay where it is. We must always look forward, though we should never forget the lessons we learned. A fact that I’m afraid is much too easy to do. It is one thing to romanticize the pleasures of childhood when innocence painted its picture across our lives. At the same time, there were wars, revolutions, riots, oppression, cowards and dishonorable politicians, murder and crime, sickness. But love and life and hope for a better future still won out.
Those things we fear today … wars, revolutions, riots, oppression, cowards, dishonorable politicians, murder, crime, sickness, on and on. See, those things have been part of history from the very beginning. Politics? What we think is a scourge on society? Greek senators and Roman politicians would put ours to shame. We are so naive about history that we think these are the worst of times. They aren’t. We need to never forget that. Today’s news is not new, it is simply current.
On the other hand, as much as those awful things have always been part of life, so has love and joy and happiness. Playfulness, generosity. The innocence of a child, the enthusiastic spirit of youth, the wisdom of an adult who has been through it. Kindness when people are in need, gratitude, grace and mercy when those things are needed the most. Selflessness, sacrifice, bravery, honor.
The past, the present, and the future don’t differ so much. Never despair. Always hope.
The big picture of society’s ills seems so overwhelming. Those are the negatives – the revolutions, wars, politics, riots, murder, crime, oppression, sickness. We have no power over those as individuals.
But we have power over the other. Our reactions. Our responses. And this is where I encourage you to be Bellingwood. To be playful, happy. To trust and be grateful. To be honorable, selfless. To think of others first. To say the words, I love you. To believe that others are better than you think. To expect the best of them. To respond with grace.
Time keeps marching forward. But we have the opportunity to change the moment for ourselves and for each other. And in doing so, this is how we affect those big societal issues. Little by little, piece by piece, one act of love followed by another and another.
Never despair. Always hope.
I love you very much. Thank you for being part of my life. Give your best this week to everyone you come in contact with, whether in person or on social media. Be Bellingwood. Respond with grace. And after another week ticks by, I’ll be back.

July 5, 2020 - Perspective

Here we go with a new week. A new opportunity to do wonderful things, new possibilities for positive responses. It’s all in the way we look at things, isn’t it?

This morning I was thinking. It’s what I do. A lot.

I am incredibly grateful for parents who looked for the good, even when things were miserable. Who found stories, even while working through difficult issues and problems. Who taught us that laughter cures a million fears and love fixes a million more.

You know, sometimes I worry that as I tell my stories, you could go one of two ways. First, that you might believe I lived a perfect life with perfect parents in perfect circumstances. Second, maybe instead you believe that I’ve deliberately deceived myself and whitewashed the life I lived. Neither of those is true. My family is as human as anyone and we’ve made horrific mistakes, terrible decisions, and hurt each other. I know all of that. But I also know that a person can’t truly live when wallowing in misery, that the story comes about when we overcome and that finding goodness, joy and hope brings happiness and peace. It’s all in our perspective. And the one thing for my family is that the story is the goal.

Carol’s fifth-graders love it when she tells stories. Those are the moments when they all fully engage. She doesn’t think she’s a writer, but she’s definitely a story-teller. My brother is one of the best story-tellers on the planet. I’ve never had anyone else in my life tell a story that literally has me rolling on the floor laughing. Yep. He does that to me still. I’m probably his best audience, but man, that boy can tell a story.

Okay, on to my stories for today.

As a pastor in the fifties and sixties, Dad’s salary was meager. One time, when I was nine or ten months old, the churches Dad served either couldn’t afford to pay him or they’d forgotten. Whatever the reason, this had been going on for several months and finally, the only way for my parents to continue to exist was for Mom to take me back to Boston to live with her parents. Dad lived alone on what little he had until his sister, also a member of that church, realized what was going on. She rallied the troops, no she yelled at the troops and made sure the pastor was paid so his family could come home. Thank goodness for Aunt Ruth.

But here’s the thing. All I really know about that story was that it was an adventure, a blip in time, and that Dad’s sister was an amazing and strong woman. My parents didn’t recount the stress or worry and they didn’t focus on the negative or the failure or Mom’s embarrassment when she had to ask her family for help. None of that was important, because it was transitory. The long-lasting part of it was that it became a fun story to tell.

By the time Mom was pregnant with my brother, who is five years younger than me, they were looking for something that would be a permanent home for our family. Because United Methodist pastors were transient, the one thing missing in their lives was home ownership. Mom and Dad wanted something that would always be part of our family, no matter where we lived.

They found a spot in north central Iowa. Dad paid $75 an acre for 17 acres of what farmers would consider to be useless land. It was perfect for us. These seventeen acres sit on a beautiful river, have a nice pasture, a wooded hillside and a few wonderful families who live nearby.

After buying the land, the next purchase was an old used trailer that Dad pulled onto the property and parked on a cement pad. You guys, it was Dad’s pride and joy. Why? Well, not because it was pretty or fancy or anything like that. In fact, it was none of those things. It had a story. The trailer had been previously owned by a prostitute. Dad loved telling people that story. There were mirrors everywhere. Imagine how much fun that was for three little kids. And Dad knew it would be. The old guy who sold it to him could hardly contain himself at the idea of a young Methodist pastor with three little children buying a prostitute’s trailer for their idyllic vacation spot. He gave Dad a heck of a deal. And over the years, Dad pampered that thing. Every summer to keep the roof from leaking, he climbed up with a stack of old cloth diapers (he saved everything) and tarred and sealed that roof. We had an outhouse and a well with a pump. The three of us kids hauled a lot of water. But the trailer had all we needed. Including mirrors.

Throughout the years, this land was Dad’s haven. He moved close after retirement so he could be near his home – the place he loved. We had electricity, but he refused to bring in a telephone line. Since we’re deep in a valley, no television signal (or cell signal for that matter) gets down here and that was fine with him. When we drove into the lane and unlocked the front gate, the outside world turned off – something a pastor rarely gets to experience.

The funny thing is, after he died and I came up here to work on my Master’s Degree, I needed outside access. Iowa has fiber to the curb and the local telephone / internet company had brought fiber down the gravel road to our lane. I called and one of the owners came out with his crew. He told me about this old guy who threw him off the land when he offered to bring the internet to the cabin. Yeah … that was my father.

When we were young, the first two days of vacation here were work-camp. We cleaned mouse droppings out of drawers and cabinets in the trailer and scrubbed it down. There were beds to make, groceries and supplies to unload and pack away, dishes, utensils, pots and pans to unpack from their safe rubber tubs, a lawn to mow, water to haul in from the pump, the outhouse to clear out and then we were free to play. Seventeen acres of hills and ravines and woods and pasture to explore. The stories we made up, the tales we told as we chased each other.

The river is just beyond the pasture and we swam and played and fished and cleaned up before heading to bed, exhausted and happy. I remember the year Mom and I put insulation in the ceiling of the cabin. 1979. Dad had finally built a cabin that is still here today. On a hot and steamy summer day, we were tucked back into a dark space of the little attic floor, working as fast as possible so we could escape. We finished and the two of us couldn’t tolerate the feeling of that glass wool on our sweaty skin, so we ran as fast as we could, fully clothed, to the river to let the water wash away the itchy mess.

The investment was there, the work was hard, the memories and stories are forever.

One of my memories made it into the Bellingwood books and someone mentioned it the other day, which brought all this to mind. In Book 5, Polly remembers a woman named Marie Elmwood who lived down the road when Polly was a child. Mrs. Elmwood kept coffee cans filled with chocolate chip cookies in her deep freeze. That’s when Polly’s love of those things began.

Well, that’s a story from my childhood at the cabin. The family who sold the land to Mom and Dad lived across the river and ran a sorghum mill. Marie and Art. Their son, Paul, and his family who became close friends of ours – we played with their kids every summer – lived up the road about a half mile. But Marie kept chocolate chip cookies in coffee cans in her freezer. Every time we came up, we had to go see the sorghum mill, it was fascinating. And every time we visited, she sent us home with a can of frozen chocolate chip cookies.

The sorghum mill is long gone and new friends own the land where it resided. The barn on the cover of Book 3 sits in its place.

Mom and Dad are gone, but they instilled a love for this land that lives on in us kids, and now their grandchildren are learning to love it. I have another of Mom’s poems. Of course I do.

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
Copyright 2020 – James Greenwood, Diane Greenwood Muir, Carol Greenwood


Many of you have finished Book 30 by now. I’m so thankful that you are part of Bellingwood and enjoy my stories. Someone asked me – not long after I published Book 1 – how many more I intended to write. Well, I had no idea. I knew it wasn’t going to be a trilogy. The same question still crops up. For a long time, I thought twenty books would be enough. Then I thought maybe forty books. I don’t even think about it any longer. I just keep writing. There is so much yet to come.

Speaking of twenty books. I am working on a compendium for the series. We’ll start with the first twenty. You might notice a post from earlier this week sending you to the Bellingwood Readalong group. If you’ve been taking notes as you read and re-read the series and would be willing to share those with me. I’d love that. I need them in a decent format. Excel, Word, whatever you have. One person sent me her notes directly in an email and that worked fine- I just copied and pasted it into a Word document. I can’t do anything with photographs of your handwritten notes. I don’t have time to decipher even the neatest script and for me to do anything with it, I’d need to re-type it.

The compendium won’t be available until the end of the year – I have a schedule. This first part of the process is the killer. Trying to figure out how to sort the notes and keep it cohesive. I’ve been asked about character’s ages – that information will be in there. Everything I can think of will be in there.

I was also asked about maps and sketches. Again, that information will be part of the compendium, but it won’t be complete, because Bellingwood is fluid. Creating these things all take incredible amounts of time and to be honest, I hate the idea of boxing myself in. If it’s been written, that’s fine. If I create a map of the downtown with every building filled – that leaves me no room to create new characters, shops, etc. If I leave buildings empty, readers will expect that’s reality, when in truth, I just haven’t gotten there yet. I still have to think through how this will all work.


Independence weekend feels like the halfway point. I haven’t accomplished nearly enough. The good news, I have many things in process. At some point, I’ll start wrapping them up. But even still, I have a million other projects on my drawing board, begging for my attention. There’s nothing like living a creative life. I’m never bored, I’m always overwhelmed. I think I prefer it this way.

Tomorrow begins a new week. The second half of the year. What can you do to transform 2020 into a story that holds hope and joy and love? I know, I know … you all have an answer or two that everyone else should be sure to do to bring about change. I’m thinking more about personal growth, not asking others to kick in and participate in the work on a global scale. That’s important, but not the point. This is about you and me.

Maybe you change how you look at the world. Maybe you change how you look at 2020. Think about doing specific things for others and considering them before yourself. Maybe you decide that now is the time for you to sprinkle joy, happiness, love, and creativity rather than worry, stress, and anxiety. Maybe you tell someone who needs to hear a good word that you are there for them. Don’t stick your nose in their problems and tell them what to do. Just that you have their back, that you love them.

Stop reinforcing the negative attitudes and behaviors that are so prevalent on social media. Stop blindly reposting garbage that divides and separates, just because you think it sounds like something you might agree with.

Be a rebel. Give us, instead, your very best. I’d so much rather see pictures of your meals and your gardens, your quilts, your cats and dogs, your children and even your big toe. Okay, not the big toe. That’s probably a bit much. We want more of you, not more reconstituted vomit-press. Imagine how much joy you could bring to your friends and family.

Okay, really, no big toes. Unless, of course, they’re right there beside the other pretty-painted toenails on a beach with a gorgeous ocean in front of you. Or on a hammock looking into the sunset. And maybe add in your Kindle with a Bellingwood book cover there, too.

We have it within ourselves. We are of the Creator. Let’s change the world and create more Bellingwood. Change your perspective. Change the story. Don’t be intimidated by the naysayers. Stand up. Be unique. Be strong. Be loving. Be filled with grace. Be different. Share that with the world. Tell that story. I challenge you.

I love you very much and I am so thankful for you. I’ll be back next week.

June 28, 2020 - Personas

Last week was a busy, busy week. Last week was insane. It feels like the crazy started a week ago Friday with Trivia Night and then just kept roaring along. I’m exhausted. While I’m in the middle of it, communicating with all of you is wonderful and joyful, thrilling and exhilarating. At the end, I feel like my brain ran a marathon and didn’t bother alerting anyone that it needed a nap. And I do like my naps.
Thank you, though, for a wonderfully successful and exciting release week. I would write whether or not this community existed, because Bellingwood is so alive inside me. But what makes my life and what I do so great is the fact that I’m not alone, even though I’m a hermit. I get to share those voices in my head with people who don’t think I’m a crazy person. At least you don’t say so out loud.
It was a great week and the best part was that we spent it together. The story for Book 31 is being sketched out and pretty soon I’ll drop into the writing process again. I can hardly wait.
Yesterday, I used a word and thought to myself, I wonder how that word came into the English language. So, I looked for more information.
Kowtow. You might already know where it came from, but I didn’t. It means to show deference – something I don’t do well at all. I’m respectful, but I kowtow to no one.
The word is Chinese, though we’ve anglicized the spelling. K-o-w-t-o-w. In Chinese, it’s two words – k’ou t’ou. Literally it means k’ou – knock or bump and t’ou – head. It’s the custom of touching the ground with the forehead while kneeling, as a gesture of respect or submission. Yeah. I don’t do submission.
Okay, I didn’t know if I was going to tell any stories this evening, but I can’t let this one go, because it’s perfect. Years and years ago, Mom was going through a period of self … revelation. She was doing her very best to understand her role as a Christian, a wife, a minister’s wife and a mother who wanted her children to live the right way. She read every book on Christian woman-hood. As she dug deeper and felt more defeated at her own obvious failures – she finally decided that complete and total submission had to be the answer. She stripped herself of all powers of decision-making. This had to be the right thing to do because so many Christian leaders were saying so. Right? She’d be the first to point out that those leaders were predominantly male. But she was willing to try because if that’s what God wanted her to do, that’s what she was going to do.
Let me read you a few of her words.
“For several weeks (notice it didn’t last very long) I never made one decision that affected our family without asking first. The kids had to ask their dad everything. If he wasn’t home and they wanted to go somewhere and I didn’t know what he would decide, it was just tough; they stayed home. I wanted to be a Christian and do the right thing. Surely this would make our family instantly happy. I wanted desperately to do God’s will and become a good wife and mother. I wasn’t playing around. I was in dead earnest. Maybe if I just suffered enough, died to self, had my pride crushed and swept away, I could be an obedient and submissive woman. I figured the Lord was probably teaching me a very good lesson. He was! And I did need it. So I laid me down to suffer.
“Before long, I had assumed all the trappings of bloody martyrdom. I practically hated my husband and I wasn’t too fond of God, either. Frank was totally unaware of my inner seething. He was simply enjoying a respite from my many ‘helpful’ suggestions and assertive behavior. I couldn’t stand the anger any longer. My ‘cross’ was not only killing me but my marriage as well.”
Now, by the time Mom finally talked to Dad about what she’d been trying and that the experiment was over, he could only laugh. He didn’t want a submissive wife, but he wasn’t about to complain. He married Mom because she was brilliant, headstrong, and thoughtful. Things went back to normal. The funny thing is, she didn’t raise daughters who believed in easy submission either. Respect is one thing. Submission … nope.
Kowtow. Not my thing.
Of course, that one word dragged me into the world of foreign loanwords. Words that the English language borrowed directly from others. I love this quotation by James D. Nicoll: “English doesn’t borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar.”
One site I found gives estimated percentages of the origins of modern English.
29% – Latin
29% – French
26% – Germanic Languages
6% – Greek – Poor Gus from My Big Fat Greek Wedding would be disappointed.
6% – Other languages
4% – Derived from Proper Names
Yep. That’s us. Let’s look at a few. There are many words that I’ve always accepted as is. But when I find out where they’ve come from, I’m thrilled.
Dollar. I love this history. Its first known use is 1553. It is an alteration of the Low German or Dutch word – daler. From the German taler which is short for joachimstaler. Joachimstaler is literally gulden of Joachimstal. The taler is a coin minted from silver from a mine opened in 1516 near the town Joachimstal in northwest Bohemia – Czechoslovakia.
Our word ‘dollar’ comes down from a city in Bohemia. The taler became the standardized coin of northern Germany. In southern Germany, the coin-standard was called a gulden.
Oh, I’m not done. When English colonists came to America, they used the word ‘dollar’ to refer to the Spanish peso or ‘piece of eight’ which was a large silver coin about the same size as the taler. The Spanish dollar became very familiar in the colonies and became a standard of currency.
Now, for the fun. When the Revolution came, for the colonists, the best thing about the dollar was that it wasn’t British. In 1786, the Continental Congress adopted the dollar as a unit when it set up the US currency system. Those rebellious and not-so-submissive colonists weren’t about to adopt the pound as the standard!
Okay, a few more quick words.
Hoi Polloi. This phrase sounds so fancy. Especially when what it refers to is the masses or the common people. The word is Greek. Let’s dig in.
You’re already familiar with other derivatives of the Greek word polloi. Poly or polus means ‘many or much.’ Polygamy – gamos means marriage. So … many marriages. Polytheism – many gods. Polyglot – glot means tongue – we get glossary and glottis from that. So – a polyglot is someone who knows many languages. Polymath. The Greek worth mathema means ‘that which is learned’. Later, it developed into the specialized term mathematics. A polymath is a person with wide-ranging knowledge or learning. PollyGiller – many friends. Oh. Maybe not.
Hoi is the Greek article – the. Hoi Polloi literally means – the many.
We have quite a few French phrases that have been directly adopted into our vocabulary.
Faux pas – a blunder. Literally means false step.
deja-vu – deja – already. vu – seen. Already seen
Cul de sac. Cul – bottom or ass. de – of. sac – bag. Literally bottom (or ass) of the bag.
Du jour. du – of the. jour – day. Of the day
Cafe au lait – coffee with the lait or milk
Eau de toilette – water from the toilette. Toilette doesn’t mean that thing you flush, it means to groom. Grooming water
Femme Fatale – fatal or deadly woman
Foie gras – Foie – liver. Gras – fatty. Fatty liver
Grand Prix – Grand Prize.
Joie de vivre – Joy of living
Vis a vis – Face to face
Avant garde – Avant – in advance of, Garde – Guard. Advance Guard. That’s interesting
Latin words fill our vocabulary, but also fill our legal system. Because why not? We can’t understand it anyway.
But seriously. Roman Law is at the foundation of the laws of Europe and thus most of Western Civilization, as well as throughout Africa and Latin America. In 451 BC – before Christ or before the common era – BCE, so, 450 years before the common era, the laws of the Roman Empire were being questioned far too often. Ten men, called the decemvirs came together to codify it – write it down for the first time. They created the Twelve Tables which documented the centuries-old customary laws and became the foundation of Roman law. Civil law, public law, and religious law. The history is too big to discuss here. There will be a link at the end of the transcript if you want to read more. Suffice it to say, Western civilization benefited greatly and we are still very much linked to the ancient law and its terms.
Modus Operandi – Method of operating – MO
Mea Culpa – My own fault
Affidavit – he has sworn
Ad hominem – at the person (attacking a person’s character rather than answering his argument)
Bona fide – in good faith
Compos mentis – having command of the mind
   Non compos mentis – not of sound mind
Corpus delicti – body of the crime. A person can’t be convicted of a crime unless it’s proven a crime was committed
Corpus juris – the complete collection of laws of a jurisdiction or court
Fiat – let it be done. A warrant issued by a judge
Guardian ad litem – family law – the guardian that represents those who can’t represent themselves
Habeaus corpus – may you have the body. Challenging the legality of detention
In toto – in total
And I skimmed to only the letter ‘i’.  
Okay, one last word that we borrowed from well … Latin and the French.
Person. An individual or human being. This word comes from the Old French personne. My pronunciation stinks. I apologize. Anyway, this is a great word. Why? Because it comes from the Latin word persona.
We know that word. In English, persona is a facade, a social front that an individual assumes to show the world what role is being played.
Well, that’s exactly what the Latin word means. Persona is a part in a drama. An assumed character. Originally the word represented a mask or a false face – usually made of wood or clay that covered the whole head and was worn by actors in Roman Theater.
The word just has such an interesting history – coming from meaning an assumed role to defining an individual or human being.
We all tend to assume roles, don’t we? And the anonymity of social media has given many of us permission to do just that without any recourse.
When we are in public, we put on our personas to keep us safe. We are strong and confident or beautiful and powerful or arrogant and rude or whatever it takes to allow us to exist in the presence of those with whom we feel uncomfortable.
I don’t go out very often. I’m a hermit. I work all the time. When I’m by myself or with family and very close friends, I can be exactly who I am. Maybe I don’t take a shower every day or put on dress-up clothes, or wear shoes. But the minute I step out the front door to go to the grocery store or the post office, I am clean and fully dressed. My armor is in place, my smile is ready to go.
See, I was never comfortable as an actor. In high school and college, I was thrilled to let my friends take the stage while I sat at the piano or worked backstage. If you’re going to put me on stage or in front of people, you’re going to get me. I don’t do mimicry or accents – obviously.
But my outside persona is cleaner and more nicely dressed than my inside self. No one needs to see the other – unless you know me very very well. And even then, not so much.
I remember hitting adolescence and becoming acutely aware of how different my family was at home than in public. For a time, it felt offensive. That we weren’t being truly honest. We fought with each other at home. We sulked and said mean things. We weren’t always particularly nice. But the minute we walked out the front door, smiles were pasted on and we were on our best, most loving, happy family behavior.
The thing is, I look back now, and I realize that the ugliness I felt we were lying about outside the front door wasn’t a lie. It was that we felt safe enough to show our real emotions inside the house, knowing that we were loved even when we were ugly. We weren’t safe outside that front door. Mom knew that. She knew that people who didn’t know us as well and didn’t love us unconditionally would judge each of us based on their perception of what our family should be like – not on who we really were.
The person – the persona. It’s okay to not feel safe among those who don’t know your whole story. On the other hand, it’s not okay to judge others when you don’t know their story.
Be kind without expectation of kindness being returned. Think before you speak (or write, as the case may be). Expect that you might be the one who misunderstands – not that someone else is doing something wrong. Reflect on yourself before you indict another. Offer forgiveness before it is necessary. Show love unconditionally.
This week will likely be much quieter for me than last week. I’m ready. My poor brain needs a lot of calm and peace, solitude and quiet to be able to create and I am ready to go.
I love you all. I am grateful for you. Be Bellingwood. Respond with grace. Be to the world who you are to me. I think you are amazing and I’m so thankful that you are part of my life. I’ll see you next week. Good night.

June 21, 2020 - Redemption

Do you know what the date is today? June 25, minus four! So close. No, the book isn’t going to be released today. Sorry. We are almost there. No spoiler alerts or anything, but when you pick up that book, please don’t accuse me of not giving you a tissue alert. This is your warning.
Pushing through the early days of the pandemic was no problem for me. I was busy. Things in the world went crazy as I finished and published Book 29. Then I dove into the next Mage’s Odyssey book and then into Book 30. I remember watching people plan for grand home improvement projects as they suddenly had time and all I could think was, dang, I’m always here and I have never taken on those types of projects. Let me tell you, there are plenty that could be finished. I need a keeper.
It would have to be a robot. When I’m trying to work, distractions destroy me. A person in my space is disruptive. So … unfinished it is because I work all the time. And I’ll still envy you all with your March and April home projects that I hope you finished.
Before I dig into the meat of today’s thoughts, I had two words come at me this week from readers and I want to share them with you. Really, any time you want me to talk about a word, send it to me and I’ll try, because it’s fun. But only if you’re interested, not because you think I should talk about a specific word.
The first was from Barbara Riddle, who asked about the phrase – hunky-dory. I was surprised and delighted with its history.
The word was first used in American English in 1866, meaning all right or satisfactory. It came from New York City slang used in children’s street games.  Remember that Manhattan was originally owned by the Dutch? Well, the Dutch word ‘honk’ means place of refuge or hiding place. So, your home or where you are stationed is your hunk, your safe position. Hunker down. Children’s games – the hunk is a base or a goal. These are all old, archaic definitions, but they led to hunky dory meaning everything is all right. Things are safe, satisfactory.
Etymology Online also refers to another theory that traces the word to Honcho tori, a street in Yokohama, Japan, where sailors went for diversions of the sort sailors enjoy.
And now you know.
A question came at me about the word systemic. So, why are we hearing it used when discussing racism and oppression.
If you have a medical background, you know that the word applies to systems like the circulatory system within the body. If something spreads through the entire circulatory system – it’s systemic. If it happens in one spot, it’s local. Another common usage is in discussions regarding plant systems. A fungicide or insecticide will enter the plant through the roots and pass through the tissues.
So, how does this apply to racism and oppression? The same thing happens within the system of our culture, our laws, our behavior. Racism and oppression of people of color have, for the last four hundred years, permeated the entirety of our society. It is a systemic issue.
The other day, I showed you a picture of one of my treasures. I have to tell you, that post revealed to me, again, how we each read things differently. I didn’t originally create the post to quiz you, but after guesses started popping up in the comments, I went back and re-read what I’d written. That was exactly what I’d asked for, unless you read it the way I heard it in my head.
Let me read those words out loud to you – using two different inflections.
What is that crazy little blue oddly-shaped thing? I’ll be talking about it Sunday night during the Generous Good Words Livecast!
One asks for a response. The other is rhetorical. This, by the way, folks, is why so much misunderstanding happens in social media. We have to be more aware and do our best to read it through the author’s voice, not our own. It’s hard to discern what people actually mean and often times we don’t even think that there might be a difference in understanding. We react based only on our worldview. Narrow worldview. As a writer, it frustrates the heck out of me because I can write and intend one thing, but when it is pointed out that it can be understood another way, I see it immediately. I don’t know what I could have done differently.
Anyway, here’s my treasure. This is one of my very favorite things in the world. It is absolutely unique and one of a kind. Well, one of several. She made more than one.
I’ve talked a lot about Mom and her creativity. There was nothing she couldn’t do. She decided that she wanted to throw pots on a potter’s wheel. Dad found a kick-wheel – not one of the light-weight electric ones, no, this had a heavy, stone wheel to kick. And he found a kiln for her and Mom was in heaven. Let me tell you, she had the strongest right leg on the planet from kicking that wheel. The thing was a monster to move. And Dad always put it in the basement. Good thing he was a strong man.
Not only did Mom throw pots on the wheel, she sculpted and since she had a really nice kiln, she purchased molds and made other beautiful pieces. But her favorite things were pots and bowls of all shapes and sizes. The three of us kids enjoyed the potter’s wheel, but you did have to have some length to your legs in order to kick that thing. I have short legs.
There comes a point in the process when a thrown pot is finished. It’s either relatively perfect or has flopped. The ‘flopped’ pot would be tossed back into the tub of wet clay and recycled. Unless you were my mother. Flopped pots were her favorite things. That’s when her extraordinary creativity came into play. She saw more beauty in the mistakes than she did in the perfect pots. Oh, the perfect pots became beautiful gifts, but flopped pots were her joy.
This was a pot that didn’t hold up. It started well and ended up saggy and ugly. Until Mom got her hands on it. Look at those hands and feet. And look here on the back. A curly-q piggy tail. She pushed clay through a sieve to get the hair. She made several of these over the years. I managed to hold on to one of them.
This came to life because of me. I don’t know if you can see it, but the big toe on both of the feet turns up a little bit. That’s me. Mom could always tell when I was nervous or excited because my big toe went up. If both toes went up, I was working hard on something up in my head.
It has a name, too. They are called “Beasters.” There’s a story that goes with that name and if you are offended by bad language, cover your ears, I’m about to use a nasty word. Fair warning.
Her father’s favorite dismissive term for people he didn’t like was ‘bloody bastard.’ He was forever using that phrase. No matter how often she tried to tell him that little girls repeated everything, he didn’t stop. Until the day I called someone a bloody beaster. That was a whole lot cuter than the other. And the beaster was born not long after.
In one silly little creation, Mom redeemed a flopped pot and her father’s bad language. I’ve said it before, but not often enough, Polly is more of my mother than most of you realize. Now, Mom could come unhinged like nobody’s business. She and I fought like wild things. Oh, I have stories about some of our fights. But it was nearly always twenty minutes of heat, fury, and loud screeching and we were done. One or the other of us walked back into the room and said, “Want to be friends?” And life went back to normal.
Have I told you about the time my father was doing a funeral at the church next door? There was no air conditioning in the church and none in the parsonage, so every window was open because it was hot! Mom and I went off on something and my poor father began speaking louder and louder to cover the fight his family was having. We paid attention to the church schedule after that. Of course, there was the fight that Mom and Dad had one night. Funniest thing ever. Same parsonage, same open windows. She followed Dad around the house yelling at him for something or other while he quietly closed every window.
When it came to thinking through … understanding … what was going on with her kids’ bad behavior or the reasons that others behaved poorly, Mom was always ready to help us process. And she was wise enough not to create a crisis when there wasn’t one. Her pragmatism forced us to see the entire picture, not just the pinprick that had us all worked up. Like Polly, that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be punishment for what we’d done wrong. There was always something that needed to be cleaned or dealt with. And if she had kids to do the work, all the better. Mom was happy to lie down on the sofa with a book and the dogs while we scurried about making up for our numerous sins.
Like this Beaster, Mom looked to redeem rather than toss to the side. When I was bullied in elementary school, she knew those girls would never change. There were bigger problems with those who bullied me than their behavior showed. No, she redeemed me. Every morning she told me how proud she was of me and how strong I was. Every evening when I came home defeated and lost, she told me how much she loved me and when they laughed at me for being different, she showed me how that meant I was unique and that was the best part of me. No one could take that away from me. Every single day.
There are those who were kids in Mom’s youth groups that experienced her intentional redemption of their lives. She saw what they needed and gave it to them without reservation. Time, love, discipline, a listening ear, even money. She held nothing back.
If you want to know who Polly is modeled after, it is the woman who made this Beaster. Who saw beauty beyond the mess and then actively worked to bring it to life.
She wasn’t perfect. She knew pain and betrayal, loneliness and misery. Her childhood was the farthest thing from loving that a person could get. Lila Kahane has nothing on Mom’s mother. But rather than wallow in the problems from her past, she chose to use them as a launching point. She discovered what redemptive love was all about and knew that the only way to live with that was to share what she had with anyone who needed it.
I know today is Father’s Day. Dad was the first one to show Mom what unreserved love looked like.
This is a poem she wrote eleven years, three children, three moves and untold ups and downs after they were married. Dad wasn’t perfect either.
What gifts have you given me
These pleated, swift-swirling years?
You forget our anniversary,
A Christmas slipped past with tears.
What gifts have you offered me?
The solid bulk of your strength
When selfish ego I flee.
You go to fantastic length
To open and set me free
From tenuous links of chain
I’ve battled ferociously.
the Spirit I’ve sought with pain;
but now, dearest man, I see
With your love a solid plank,
I’ll soar victoriously.
This, the gift you’ve given me!

Margie Greenwood, 1970
Copyright 2020 – James Greenwood, Diane Greenwood Muir, Carol Greenwood
Mom died at the age of forty-eight. With no regrets. She wasn’t famous and she hadn’t traveled the world, but she’d experienced redemption, love, and joy. And she turned it all back to anyone she encountered. Everything she took into her life, she gave away. Literally. If you walked into our house and commented on something that you particularly liked, she’d offer it to you, fully expecting you to take it. She wanted you to have it.
This silly piece of clay means something because of the redemption Mom infused into it. My life does too. My stories are imbued with redemption and change and transformation because of the life she lived. Every time I look at those big toes sticking up beside a pot that had flopped onto its side and should have been tossed away, I think about the gifts she gave.
This is why I encourage the generous use of words that redeem, that encourage, that love. We have within us the power to lift others. It doesn’t take that much, though it’s often difficult to overcome our selfish need for attention and love. We don’t understand that the more love we give, the more we receive. The more grace we offer, the more is returned to us. The more encouragement we share, the more we are encouraged. This is never a zero-sum game.
While I’m talking about pottery, I want to tell you about my friend, Julie Fjell. She makes things like this. Her whimsical designs fill my space. When I looked for items to show you, I realized I could show off her pieces for an hour. I kept picking them up. I just love them. Now, the reason I’m talking about her is that she is hosting a live sale this Tuesday evening on her Facebook page. She’s given me two 10% online discount codes to give away. They can be used either Tuesday night at the sale or on her website. The link to her Facebook page and her website will be in the description soon after this is over. To win one of the discount codes, comment on this video with the word ‘pottery’ before Monday at nine pm central time. I will choose two winners and notify you right away and you have until June 30th to use the codes.
Seriously, go ‘like’ her page and check in on Tuesday for the live sale. The pewter charms that I give away on Trivia Night are also from her shop. I love Julie and I adore her talent. Don’t miss this.
Later this evening, I will choose and notify winners from Friday’s Trivia Night. I always have so much fun at those. Thank you. You guys are the best.
Then, it’s only a few days until Book 30’s release. The newsletter will come out Thursday morning with a new vignette and the link to purchase the book. It’s one of the crazy things about self-publishing with Amazon. I never have a firm date when the book will be live. I always get a question about pre-orders. I don’t do them. For pre-orders, Amazon expects the book to be uploaded and ready to go long before the release date. With my short publishing time frame, I can’t. There’s just no time to make that all happen with the Bellingwood series.
So, remember, have your tissues ready. I’m just saying. I can’t wait for the book to be in your hands and then I’ll be head down in Book 31 and you’ll be asking when it’s ready.
I love you all so much and here we go. Another week. Another opportunity to respond with grace and redemption.

June 14, 2020 - Learn

I’m tired. Like many of you, I’m not sleeping as well as I should. There’s too much going on. Then I blame the cats. They prefer it when I’m up and playing. I blame temperature change. I hate the heat and humidity. But I’ve also been head down in Book 30 and that keeps me awake. I’m getting closer and closer. Tonight, the manuscript is safely ensconced in the arms of my final editor, so I have a couple of days. 
What’s coming up next? This Friday night is Trivia Night here on the Bellingwood Facebook page. Everyone is invited. Everyone. Six o’clock central. I will post questions throughout the night from the first three books. I figure everyone here has read at least that far. If not, I still don’t post many spoilers. 
Now, if you’ve never played before, it’s easy. All you have to do is comment on each post with the correct answer. Cheating is encouraged. Wait for someone to comment with the right answer. I always affirm the first correct response. Then cheat, comment with that answer, eat chocolate as penance (that’s my requirement) and voila! You’re in. I won’t respond to all the correct answers, but since I usually add a comment along with the question, if you have anything interesting to say or respond to, I’m there ready to chat. The point isn’t only to know the right answer. The point is to have fun, get to know each other, and maybe win a prize. 
When I first started doing this, it was called Wine and Trivia Night and I soon discovered that too much wine made responding to scores of comments coming in boom, boom, boom … well … interesting. And scary. And oh, good grief, I had to make a different decision. I might have an adult beverage nearby, but no more bottle-of-wine trivia nights for Diane. That girl was a mess.
If you can’t be there on Friday, you have until Saturday evening to drop in, check through the questions and respond. All I want is for you to show up, learn a little something, have fun, and enter to win. 
June 25th is just over a week and a half away. But it is coming. It will be here and then we’ll be off and thinking about Book 31. If you haven’t signed up for the newsletter so that you’re aware of the book’s release, you can do that at nammynools.com. While you’re there, be sure to dig around under the menu tabs. Book lists, sketches, maps, and a bunch of other content is available. 
Tomorrow night, I hope to have a vignette written and posted. There will be yet, one more vignette written for the newsletter on the twenty-fifth. 
I started writing the vignettes while in the midst of writing Book 9. First of all, it was a wonderful way to give you something interesting to read in the newsletters, but when I realized that I could tell stories about Bellingwood characters from their perspectives and maybe peek into a moment in their lives without having Polly show up at the front door, I loved it. I don’t intend to tell a great deal of people’s back stories, but it is fun to see them interact with each other for just a few minutes. 
This week I asked you about words that seem similar but aren’t the same. You gave me some great examples that frustrate you and I’ll talk about a few of those. 
A conversation with my sister, Carol, brought this to mind when she stumbled through the pair of words invoke or evoke.
Of course, that sent me off to do research and I was rewarded with glorious information. Those two words come from the Latin vocare, meaning “to call.” Invoke means to call upon. Evoke means to call forth. Invoke is generally used when someone calls upon an authority, or a law, or a right. They invoke their right to .. do something. The word evoke refers to memories or emotions. The scent of lilacs evokes memories of summer days at my grandmother’s house. 
That conversation aroused my curiosity regarding other word pairs that come from the same Latin stem word and thus, confuse us. In last week’s discussion about words, I talked about how ennui and annoy come from the same word. 
It isn’t quite as easy to find these pairs, so I asked questions, you responded, and I went digging.
Roberta Vaughn brought up a pair that many of us have trouble with. Principal (pal) or principle (ple). Now, some of us were taught to remember that the principal in our school is our pal, that doesn’t always click for everyone. The weird thing is that these two words branch off from the Latin word – princeps, meaning first or original or chief. Principles (ple) are fundamentals, the origins, the beginnings. Principal (pal) and the word ‘prince’ are on the same branch. They are the first person, the most important, the chief. I know of no other way to remember the difference other than to know that the principal is our pal. And even that might not be helpful. 
You know, every time I tell you that a word comes from the Latin such and such, I’m reminded of Gus from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” who says “Now, gimme a word, any word, and I’ll show you how the root of that word is Greek.” Greek and Latin are foundational to European languages and thus, the English language. Anyway.
Marnita Beal’s frustrating words were stationery – either spelled with ery at the end or ary. Vocabulary.com calls them kissing cousins. Another Latin word – stationarius, means a seller in a fixed location. So … stationary with ary means unmovable. 
How did we get writing paper from stationarius? This is why I love language study. This is so much fun. The Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that: “Roving peddlers were more common in the Middle Ages; sellers with a fixed location were often bookshops licensed by universities.” The word transformed to be more specific. These book dealers – sellers of books and paper – were called stationers. Now, we’ve discovered the connection between the two words. These little bits of history just make me grin. One way to remember the difference is by focusing on the word paper, which ends in ‘er’. That will help us remember that stationery uses ‘ery.’
Because English takes words from so many different languages, we run into issues like the one Diana Long wrote about – desert and dessert. Now, the best way to remember this is that you always want two desserts – so that’s the double-s. Confusion arises because the word dessert comes from Middle French desservir, which means to clear the table. So, dessert comes at the end as they clear the table. And desert – with its many definitions – comes from the Latin word deserere. Two language origins, two different words, similar spellings, great confusion. The best thing to do is to associate strawberry shortcake with the word dessert. Two helpings. Two s’s.
Vinita Wrinkle told us that she had trouble for years with the words counsel and council – sel and cil. They both find their beginnings in Latin. The word is consilium – an assembly. Up until the 1500s, those two words were interchangeable. Now, they are absolutely not. Vocabulary.com again gives a mnemonic device to help remember the difference. Council is a crowd of people in a meeting. Crowd begins with ‘c’ and that will point the correct way to the end of the word – cil. Counsel – sel – is when people say something. A counselor or a lawyer (your counsel) say or speak about things to help you. Say or speak begin with an ‘s’ and you can go out from there. Not particularly helpful, but if it triggers a memory while you’re focusing on the words, it’s a win all the way around.
Now, while I love clearing up confusion about words, the biggest takeaway for me is always the opportunity to dig down and learn more about why words are confusing or even better, where they’ve come from and then get a little bit of history. When we were all much younger, our parents told us to look things up in the dictionary. Whether they wanted us to learn how to use a dictionary or weren’t willing to admit they didn’t know the answer, it didn’t matter. We learned to look things up. Today, online search engines are even better. Use them. We have resources like the online etmology dictionary or immediate access to Merriam-Webster. I subscribe to Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary because of the depth of knowledge I can access. They dig into etymology. I think it’s $30 a year. That was a whole lot better than the $300 subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary. Maybe someday I will believe I can afford it. I love words. 
Because words and language are so much fun for me, I find that I’d rather learn about words than complain about the fact that the English language is so difficult. My complaints won’t change anything so it’s wasted energy. But we do get worked up about language foibles. Oftentimes it’s because we don’t understand things and we won’t go looking any further. Everyone has more to learn … about so many things. 
We have another week ahead to practice kindness, gentleness, understanding, grace, and love. That’s the best thing about life. We can try again, no matter how many times we fail. The coronavirus is rearing its ugly head again all over the country. Be careful. Be kind. 
Black Lives Matter is demanding that we listen and learn. And I would hope that rather than spouting words of bigotry, hate, white victimization, on and on, you are reading, listening, and learning what it means to have been black in the midst of people who see you as less than. Be smart about this. Grow a little. Learn a lot. Listen.
The other day, I was in line at a drive through. It was warm and windows were rolled down and the people in very nice SUV in front of me were talking loud enough for me to hear. A white woman, about my age, dressed well, likely money and some education, mocked George Floyd’s last words. They laughed and went on and on. She should know better, but her understanding of compassion and empathy were different than mine. I was shocked, but it happened so fast and before I could come up with a good way to respond stuck in a car in a drive-thru, they were through the line and on their way. All I could do was ache – because this is why we are in the place we are. Less than. Not equal to. Something to be mocked, with no understanding that this man had family who loved and cared for him. Less than.
The thing is, I can’t change how you feel about the things happening in the world today. That is not my job. And yeah, you have a right to feel the way you want to feel. However, what I would ask you to consider is when is it a good time to be quiet and not make a mockery of things that affect so many others. Words can be harsh and hurt so much.
This story comes from years and years ago when I was a child. Mom and one of her friends, who had children the same age were in a King’s Food Host with all of us kids. King’s was a Midwestern food chain – they were known for their Cheese Frenchees. Oh, it was fun. There was a telephone in the high-backed booth that you could pick up to place your order. Anyway, the restaurant isn’t important. Mom and her friend were gossiping about someone. Suddenly, Marla went silent and shock crossed her face as the person they were talking about got up from the booth behind us and walked out of the restaurant.
That was one of the first times I realized how people hear our words – whether they are hateful or helpful. Mom was so ashamed, but she also knew that it was a perfect lesson for her children. She had to apologize to that person fast, because she didn’t dare let it fester. I don’t remember how it all turned out, but I learned a great deal that day. How many of us have experienced a time when we walked in on someone gossiping about us, making fun of us, making us feel less than?
Our words have power. Not only over those who hear them, but over our hearts as well. On any given day on Facebook, we see posts telling us to be kind to ourselves, to say nice things to ourselves. But the truth of it is, no matter how many nice things we say to ourselves about ourselves, when we speak hateful things about others, those words are just as poisonous to our hearts. Every time we speak hate out loud we allow hate into our hearts. Every time we mock someone or gossip or laugh at someone, we give those negative emotions real estate within us.
Psychologists and doctors have long known that people who are angry and hateful will spend more time being sick. Our health, our physical health, comes at a price when our emotions are negative and angry.
I want to live differently than that. To reflect God’s goodness and love. I screw it up. All the time. Thankfully, life isn’t about perfection. It’s about learning and growing and transforming into a better version of yourself, no matter how old you are. We can be better.
This week, choose your words. Your words reflect your heart. If you have to change some things, do it now. We’re all capable of adapting and transforming. I am finding words and phrases in my vernacular that aren’t right and I’m very conscious of the words I use. I’m having to excise things from my vocabulary. It’s not easy. But I’ll do it. It’s worth it. Consider your words this week and how they not only affect others, but you, as well. 
Use words that lift up and encourage. Feel your heart being lifted. Use words that reflect the kindness and love you have within you. Respond with grace.
I love you. And next week when I see you, we’ll only be a few days away from the release of Book 30 – Peace in the Storm. Good night and have a great week.
Online Etymology Dictionary:  https://www.etymonline.com/

June 7, 2020 - Listen

Facebook Live – June 7, 2020

This week I asked you to share some of your favorite and most interesting words and you didn’t disappoint. I can’t wait to dig into a few of them.

Before we begin, I have to just check in and ask, How are you? It seems like we’ve been on a roller coaster with no sign that the operator is going to bring the ride to an end. What can we do? I’m all for throwing my hands up in the air and screaming at the top of my lungs while careening down the next hill.

You know, I used to love roller coasters. Then I got older and smarter. Does everyone have an interesting story about a carnival ride? My father told the story of being on a ride with his older brother who wasn’t feeling very good in the first place. It was one of those spinning and twisting rides – tilt-a-whirl, maybe? This would have been back in the 1940s. He was thankful to be on the inside as his brother got sick and coated the crowd with … well … you know. The operator couldn’t get that ride stopped soon enough.

So, where did the word carnival come from?

There are three definitions. Carnival – the festival of merrymaking prior to Lent. Did you know that in the earliest days Carnival originally began at Epiphany (January 6) and extended to Ash Wednesday? It wasn’t until much later that they shortened it to just a few days. We think of Mardi Gras – which is the very end of the festival – literally, it means, Fat Tuesday.

Carnival also means any type of merrymaking or feasting. And then what we know as a carnival with sideshows, games of chance and rides.

Now … for the interesting part of this word. Carnival and carnivore come from the same Latin stem- carne – flesh. For carnival, you add the Latin – levare, which means to take away from. These Latin origins lead us to Italy, which was where Roman Catholicism was born. The Italian words carnelevare, carnevale literally mean removal of meat. It was the Roman Catholic’s celebration before they stopped eating meat for Lent.

I can research a word without even intending for it to part of the conversation. I was asking about how you are doing. These last couple of weeks have been filled with emotional upheaval. Now is the time to use all of those good words and express ourselves in terms of love, compassion, understanding, peace, grace, and mercy. Leave behind suspicion, distrust, anger. And if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all. Instead, listen.

I’ve spent innumerable hours this week listening, reading, and learning. Deep learning, listening to difficult things, and reading even more difficult books. It’s hard work, but for me, it’s worth it. I have many things I could say about what I’ve learned, what I observe and what I believe, but now is not the time for me to speak to those issues. And you know what? It may never be my time. All I can speak to is that we need to listen hard before we say anything at all.

Seth Godin writes in today’s blogpost:

Listening is difficult

Hearing happens when we’re able to recognize a sound.

Listening happens when we put in the effort to understand what it means.

It not only requires focus, but it also requires a commitment to encountering the experience, intent and emotion behind the words. And that commitment can be scary. Because if we’re exposed to that emotion and those ideas, we discover things we might be avoiding.


We are bad at listening.

I feel it necessary to say right now that if you think I’m picking on you specifically or any of these words are aimed your way because I might have seen something you typed or a response you made – you couldn’t be more wrong. I don’t work that way. I never have. It’s funny. Every single Sunday as people filed past my father after church, someone always said “Pastor Greenwood, were you peeking in my windows at home this week? Or, I didn’t see you at the basketball game, but you just called me out.” Dad never spoke to anyone specifically in a sermon. Neither will I.

Back to topic. All right, if I were to say to you, “I hate police brutality,” there are those of you who would nod your head, agree, and move on. But how many of you have as your initial response – “but not all police are brutal”, or words like that? I wish I was in an auditorium where you could raise your hands. It would also be interesting to see how many of you would have responded that way last week and not this week.

Nowhere in that simple four-word statement, did I make a generalization that all police were brutal. It wasn’t even implied. I wasn’t talking about people. I was talking about an issue. That would be like me saying “I hate sour milk.” Would you jump on the post and tell me that all milk isn’t sour? No, that’s ridiculous.

We’ve been conditioned on social media to overreact to topics and words, allowing ourselves to be inflamed for no good reason. Part of the issue is anonymity and distance. We often forget who we are speaking to (another human … just like us) and what we know about them (they’re basically good people who are … human … just like us.)

What do you know about me? Not a lot, but through my books, you know how I write law enforcement officers. My most trusted characters are law enforcement. Right? But if your first response to my words was to think it necessary to point out that all police aren’t brutal, to try to correct any misunderstanding I might have, you weren’t listening to what I had to say, you were only waiting to respond. You weren’t prepared to engage in communication with me, you only wanted to make your voice and your thoughts heard. And inflame the topic, to make it bigger than it was.

See, our job isn’t to jump into a random conversation and offer opinions. This is a huge problem we have with communication. We don’t listen to understand. It requires too much of us. Instead, we respond with what we are thinking about … our perspective. Many times it has nothing to do with the original words. We don’t communicate, we spew what’s going on in our minds and then walk away.

This often leaves the original person bewildered. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to shake my head as I read a response to some bit of silliness I posted that went off on a weird tangent because people paid no attention to the intent and emotion (hilarity) of my words and diverted the conversation to bring attention to themselves.

A friend who has a small business told me the other day that she’d posted a few wonderful items you could purchase for a father figure in your life for Father’s Day. The first comment? All dead.

What? Now, why would someone respond that way? Because they were only thinking of themselves and wanted to divert attention away from her business to themselves. That’s a huge problem, we are so desperate for attention that rather than allow someone else to have it, we divert. Rather than listen to understand, we only read or listen to respond.

I’m going to repeat Seth Godin’s post. And I will put a link to his Facebook page in the description. You should follow him. He’s incredible.

Listening is difficult

Hearing happens when we’re able to recognize a sound.

Listening happens when we put in the effort to understand what it means.


Okay … that’s my counsel for the week. Let’s look at some cool words.

I read something a couple of weeks ago about the longest non-medical term in the dictionary. And if you feel that you need to contradict me, go ahead. Just know that I’ll likely roll my eyes. Anyway, I had to practice this word over and over and over and over, just to be able to say it. I’ll likely mess it up.

Twenty-nine letters. Twelve syllables. Floccinaucinihilpilification. It means the action or habit of estimating something as worthless. Here’s a sentence.

I am very offended by my friends’ floccinaucinihilipilification of my amazing new vocabulary. They think it’s worthless.

The best part of this word, is where it came from. In the 1800s, the standard for learning Latin was the Eton Latin Grammar. On page 234 of this little grammar book, there were four words in a table that pretty much meant the same thing. Flocci, nauci, nihili, pili. Those clever British boys at Eton combined the four words so they could memorize them.

Floccinaucinihilipilification. Worthless. I have memorized how to say a word that epitomizes Floccinaucinihilipilifaction. I’ll never have a reason to say it again.

Now I want to dig into a few words that you all posted.

First off – discombobulate. It sounds like what it is. Which is an onomatopoeia, by the way. We all know that discombobulate means to upset and confuse. The word didn’t show up until 1916 and was an alteration of two words – discomfit, to cause embarrassment, or defeat in battle and discompose, to disturb the order of something. Let me tell you, words have been mish-mashed to create new words long before we got annoyed at things those kids do today with words.

Another great word is shenanigans. Merriam-Webster says that its first known use was in 1855 and has absolutely no idea of its origin. It’s just a fun word to say.

Sue Baldwin writes that Ennui is her favorite word – a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction. It comes – obviously – from the Old French – enui and that stem is also spelled anoi – that led to the word, annoyance. I find that fascinating. Because the definition for annoy is a feeling of discomfort or vexation. We have two words from the same stem. Weariness and dissatisfaction / discomfort or vexation.

Another word from Barbara Iliff was relax. She asked, how can you relax if you haven’t laxed before. But actually, one definition of the word means to become ‘lax, or loose, or weak.’ In English, we use the prefix ‘re’ to mean do something again. But this word comes from the Latin word relaxare. To loosen, slacken. It’s not carrying the English prefix, it’s a Latin word.

Then, Mary Reeves said that her husband loves to say the word Omphaloskepsis. Well, that was a new one for me. Another one I had to practice. I’ve heard people use the phrase ‘contemplate one’s navel,’ but I’d never heard the term for it. What we may not know is that it describes an aid to meditation. It’s not only about being self-absorbed in useless or excessive self-contemplation.

This word comes from Greek, not Latin. Two words omphalos – which means navel, and skepsis – which means viewing, examination, speculation. (Hold on to skepsis – we’ll be back). It’s found in the practice of yoga of Hinduism and sometimes even in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In Hindu yoga, the navel is the site of a powerful chakra – it is the umbilical – birth. If you look the word up on Wikipedia, you’ll also see a photograph of four Greek statues depicting omphaloskepsis. Greek monks believed that by doing this they would experience celestial joys while conversing with the Deity.

I want to track back to the word skepsis. That isn’t the direct origin of the word skeptic, but it’s from the same family. The word for skeptic is skeptikos. The word, skeptic, comes from a doctrine of skepticism – an ancient school of philosophy that believes true knowledge is impossible or that all knowledge is uncertain. Skepticism, Stoicism, Cynicism, Epicurianism were all ancient Greek philosophies. Their ideas have come down through history, but have been reduced to a single word in the English language. Anyway, where skepsis means viewing, examination, speculation, the word skeptikos means thoughtful or reflective. Yeah, I dig this stuff.

Then, Kate Kingsley-Taylor gave me the word obstreperous. She mentioned that when she used it – it kicked kids out of a fit they might be having because they had to think about the word. There are two great definitions. The first is – engaging in aggressive noisiness. The second is stubbornly defiant. I swear, definitions of words are seriously fun to read.

This is an old word – first used around 1600. Its Latin foundation obstrepere – to make noise against, led to the Old English word thraeft – quarrel or discord.

The synonyms in Merriam-Webster are just as much fun. Caterwauling, clamorous, vociferous, yawping, yowling.

Caterwauling is exactly what it sounds like. To quarrel like noisy cats, to cry as cats do in rutting time. It comes through Middle English from Middle Dutch cater – tomcat and wrauwen – to wail.

The word Yawp is to make a raucous noise. It originated in the 1300s. Middle English – yolpen – to boast, call out, or yelp. I want to use that word more often.

When I talk about Middle English, Old English, Middle Dutch, etc., these are all time periods when specific dialects were spoken and written. Language has never been stagnant. It constantly flows and changes and mixes and transforms. I’m telling ya, I’d have loved a career as a linguist.

Speaking of linguists, I found the coolest podcast this week. Each episode is only four or five minutes. An English professor at the University of Michigan and a morning host on Michigan Radio meet every Sunday morning to uncover the history of fun words and phrases. I’ll put the link in the description. You might learn things like the history of stir-crazy. What is the stir? It’s slang term for prison that came from 1800s London. It became popular in American English in the mid-1970s. I got caught up in the episodes and had a blast. So, if you’re staying at home and want to learn about words, this is a fun podcast.

Speaking of podcasts – the transcript to this video cast will be on my website tomorrow. You’ll be able to see the words I talked about in print and there will be links at the end to some of the research I did. Go to nammynools.com and look under the Extras tab for the Generous Good Words Livecast.

We’re getting closer and closer to the 25th of the month and Book 30’s release. I know, I know. You want it tomorrow. But you have to wait. There’s a process.

I hate to admit how structured I am about things. You know, I deliberately introduce chaos and uncertainty into my life because I am so highly structured. I read once that if our brains do the same thing every single time, we lose flexibility. I know how inflexible I can be when it comes to my work life, so I intentionally push myself to do unexpected things at other times. But when it comes to my writing and to my schedule, I have a process in place that ensures projects are finished on time and done the way I want them. You have to wait.

We have another week ahead of us. We get to choose how we respond. We can sit around and contemplate our navels, worry about what’s going to happen next, or fret over what has happened. None of these things do us any good. They aren’t healthy and drag us down. We can deliberately look for ways to learn, to listen, to be helpful, to express love and compassion.

One of my favorite lines in Book 30 happens on the last page. Polly talks about love. I kind of stole it from scripture, but she re-states it. She says: Love isn’t about knowing you. You don’t have to earn it or ask for it. Love is something I offer.

Offer love this week. Say the words.

I love you. And I’ll be back next Sunday. Have a good week.

Links for more information:





May 31, 2020 - Change the Story

This week has been difficult. I generally refuse to discuss politics and world events with people I don’t know well. Which means most of you – and pretty much everyone on my social media pages. That’s not who I am. Those things are not only private for me, but I also don’t trust that I am safe because it is too easy on social media to misconstrue and then troll someone’s expressions without knowing where they come from.

Before I go any further tonight, though, I will beg of you to be judicious – careful – in any comments you post. I will hide anything that seeks to draw another’s ire, that pushes anger, that is rumor or conspiracy, that is divisive or political.

But tonight, like some of you … many of you … I find myself awash in a sea of emotions over the horrors that humanity visits on its own. From the absolute disregard of the loss of more than a hundred thousand fellow Americans in less than three months to the active hatred and bigotry we saw in Minneapolis with the death of George Floyd. From the crazed fury of someone screaming across a parking lot at a woman because she wore a face mask to another woman who calls the police when asked to leash her dog by a black man in Central Park.

The first major news story that captivated me as a child was the assassination of Martin Luther King. I was only four years old when JFK was assassinated so I don’t remember much about that, but I remember the pain and loss that I felt coming from my parents as they watched the news following King’s death. Those images and their visceral response molded me. Many years later, when asked about it, the image of that balcony scene and the tears on both my parents’ faces blended.

We can’t become immune to the pain of loss, though it seems like every day we are subjected to some new assault on our emotions. Instead of grieving, we either ignore what is happening or we become righteously angry and speak appalling words of retribution and hate. We must be better at expressing our pain at loss, our frustration with those who seek to divert attention from the true divisions in our society, and we must be more free with words of healing, love, understanding, compassion, grace, and mercy.

We have to speak those words into our daily conversations, into the things we post on social media, not only in the midst of crisis. We have to speak those words into the relationships we have both in person and online. With our children, with our friends, with our families. Say the words – I love you. We do no one any good if we hide the love and goodness that this world is desperate to feel. Right now, it seems as if anger and hatred prevail. We hear vitriol and selfish demands every day. But we have the power to overcome that darkness. Light always pierces darkness. Love covers hatred. The message of Jesus Christ on the cross is that sin and death are powerless against sacrificial love.

Yesterday, the US sent two people back into space from our soil. Early spaceflights were another news story that brought my family to the television when we were children. There is so much wonder surrounding these leaps beyond what we know.

In July of 1969, we set foot on the moon. For some, dreams came true; for others, dreams were set into motion. Imaginations soared. In those early flights, I took my cues again from my parents, as we watched things unfold. They were so excited. We held our breath together and we exulted as men and women broke out into a new adventure.

But we still had work to do back here on earth. So much work. Never-ending work to express love and compassion to those who don’t fit into our limited idea of who is worthwhile.

Mom wrote this poem the day after the moon landing in 1969. Hear her cry for justice and mercy.

The black night sparkles
With the brilliant gems set
In its obsidian crown.

Above, limitless
Space stretches, a challenge
To the minds of humans.

Man has conquered space.
Now he walks the moon
Amid the gems of night.

He has within him
The power and glory
Of God himself.

Man walks the moon and
Down below, night children
Stalk the ghetto streets.

Thus, the paradox
Of man’s infinite mind.
He may walk the moon.

But he fails to heed
The cry of anguish of
His fellow mortals.

Little lower than
The angels, the psalmist
Sings. How much lower?

So far to go to
Reach the angels, so much
Farther than the moon

Now, while this poem stops with Mom’s conviction that humanity has lost its way, that isn’t the end of the story. It’s not the end of any story. That is the moment when the story gets to change.

Let me read to you a Christmas poem she wrote six months later. The same challenges are there. Humanity hasn’t changed. But the story has.

Holy Child

Peace on earth! Good will to men!
The sounds ring out with bell-like tone.
Yearly, the tarnished words again
Stand starkly naked . . . alone!

Amid the tinsel, glitter, laughter,
The message of that grown Child
Who spoke of love, peace ever after,
The man who walked the second mile,

Is guiltily hidden deep down
Under mounds of gifts; pushed aside
By fur-clad shoppers who darkly frown
And snatch a bauble with greedy pride.

Peace on earth . . . a hollow joke
to children whose wide dark eyes,
Terror-struck at a world blood-soaked
Reflect the carnage and the cries.
Mars, god of war, with smoking gun
Stands on the corpse-strewn field.
Discord, his sister, Strife her son,
Triumphantly lift high the shield.

Peace! The lonely cry of long-haired kids,
Plaintive sounds of ancient songs,
Of gentle friends . . . of Jesus . . . bids
us hurry to right the devilish wrongs.

The perfect gift cannot be bought,
Nor gaily wrapped, but found again
Within oneself where love has wrought
The miracle: good will to men.

Lion and lamb, white man, black man;
Nations, people, reconciled;
Rejoice and sing, hand in hand,
to us was born that holy Child.

In these two poems, I find understanding that transcends time. There is hatred … and reconciliation. There is pain … and compassion. There is anger … and peace. There is loss … and hope. There is sin … and love.

We won’t find those things in the streets, in the midst of riots and feelings of helplessness and fear – unless we find it first within ourselves. Unless we speak it from deep within us.

Don’t waste your breath speaking words of fury, frustration, anger, bitterness, conflict. All you do is raise the sound of raucous babble. We have enough of those words being spoken and cried out every minute of the day. From people who are begging us to hear, to listen, to pay attention.

Change your words. Change the balance. Change the perspective. Change the story.

In first-century Corinth, many factions were at odds with each other. The Greeks with their traditions and heritage came up against Roman extravagance. Great wealth … ostentatious wealth conflicted with the simple lives of those in the surrounding province. In his commentary on First Corinthians, D. E. Garland writes: Corinthian society was riddled by competitive individualism, and this ethos spilled over into the relationships in the church as wealthier members competed for followers. Socially pretentious and self-important individuals appear to have dominated the church. It is likely that they flaunted their symbols of status, wisdom, influence, and family pedigree and looked down on others of lesser status. They appear to have wanted to preserve the social barriers of class and status that permeated their social world but were nullified in the cross of Christ.

Sound familiar? Not only in the church, but in our lives today. History doesn’t change. Hearts change.

Paul – the man who held cloaks for those who stoned Stephen for his faith – his heart changed. And his response to rabid bigotry and those social barriers comes in the form of one of the most beautiful pieces of writing. It has become so familiar to us, though, that we often stop listening to the words. Hear them now.

Paul says – And yet I will show you the most excellent way.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

You and I have it within ourselves to bring love, grace, understanding, hope, peace, and mercy to the world. We are not powerless. We have within us the power and glory of God himself.

Events in the world will continue to unfold. Some will horrify us in their seeming evil and we’ll wonder and question – where is the good? Goodness is found in each one of us. We must release it with our words and our actions. Don’t tell me that you hope and pray that the world will know this or come to understand that. It’s you. It’s me. We have to take responsibility. Personal responsibility. Bigger responsibility than posting some weak and ineffective meme or echoing empty words written by others. Make love and peace your own. Speak hope. Share peace. Offer compassion. Live love. Respond with grace.

I love you. Use words that bring about reconciliation and love this week. Be generous with those words and actions.

The New International Version. (2011). (1 Co 12:31–13:13). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Garland, D. E. (2003). 1 Corinthians (p. 6). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

May 24, 2020 - Word Fun, Thoughts on Struggling

This evening I’m in the final hours of my regular quarterly push. By the time I go to bed tonight, I’ll have delivered the manuscript for Book 30 to my editors and beta readers, written the vignette, and published the newsletter. After I finish the first draft, which I did early this week, I dig right back in and do an initial re-write to fix problems I created along the way. Then I edit like crazy. I get rid of extra words – lots of prepositional phrases – and try to uncover as many errors as possible. I miss tons of them. Then I edit again and make more changes. Then I edit again and by that point, I’m so tired of reading the story, it’s time for my editors to take over. The cover and title are ready for you to see. Those will be in tomorrow’s newsletter and then I’ll change the profile picture on the Bellingwood page so everyone can see it. Then I will breathe and sleep. Tomorrow, after a nap, or three, I gather up the loose strands of the rest of my creativity and work on various other projects I have going on. During these last two weeks, and it happens every quarterly cycle, I am so highly focused on finishing the book that it’s hard for me to do much of anything else, which is frustrating. I have so many things I want to complete. I’d like to think that I can write several projects at the same time, but I’d be fooling myself. I can do it for a week or two, but not long.

I have learned, though, to prepare for the siege. I make casseroles in advance and put them in the freezer. I buy easy-to-cook meals and recognize that the house just isn’t going to be clean. I’ll do the very basics and that’s all. You know the thing is, I absolutely ensure that the cats have everything they need or want. Nothing changes for them. For me, it all does, but not for them. They are spoiled, and I love them.

During last week’s Livecast, I talked about words and digging into etymology, the study of a word or phrase. In Book 5 – Life Between the Lines, Polly showed Andrew how to find the etymology of the word ‘illustrate.’ All you have to do is type those two words into a search. Illustrate – etymology. e t y m o l o g y

As a matter of fact, while I worked on that word, I flew down a rabbit hole for about twenty minutes while digging into its Latin origins. I love this stuff. I can’t even tell you how much. The word illustrate goes all the way back to a census which was taken every five years in ancient Rome. Immediately following the census, there was a rite of purification called a lustration. So, the word illustrate comes down from that word which means to purify, make bright.

I could have spent a lifetime studying languages and words. Actually, if I’d had my choice, I would have chosen several lifetimes and each one would have been quite different – studying and learning things that I love with a passion. As I think about it, I have done many different things, but there are so many that I didn’t take time to pursue. But this is the life I live and it’s beautiful. It’s interesting. At my age, and I know I’m still young to many of you. Thank you. Anyway, at my age, I look back and see the variety of choices that I made leading me to this point.

I can focus in on specific points in time, look at a decision and maybe regret that I didn’t take another path. Until I look at the big picture of my life. Had I chosen differently at any time, I wouldn’t be here. And I like here very much. Sure, there are always things that I might change, but being content and happy with my choices and the path I’m on, even in the midst of mistakes and regrets, allows me a sense of peace.

There have been times in the past when I’ve wept and gnashed my teeth at the seeming difficulties, the tragedies, the agonies, my poor decisions, tough circumstances, decisions I felt that were forced on me. The thing is, now that I’m finally old enough to look back, I see the wisdom and learning I was able to take from each of those moments. Especially the hardest moments. I don’t remember many of the easy times. Those blurred together. They’re just life. The memories come from the difficulties. That’s where the stories are written. Overcoming. Growing. Learning. I have learned so much.

Now in the midst of those difficulties, no one could have told me that I would be thankful for the learning and the experience I gained. And trust me, when I enter another difficult circumstance, and I’m not foolish enough to think that I won’t, I might not be particularly gracious about it. In fact, I can almost guarantee that weeping and gnashing of teeth will be my first reaction. I have a lifetime of practice. I might not see the good until I’m on the other side. In some of the awful times, all I wanted was a rescue, an easy out. I’m not terribly fond of struggle.

No one gets out of this life without struggle. How we handle it is what makes us who we are. How we help others through their struggles shows the world who we are.

We have a month until Book 30 is released. Do you remember when Book 29 came out? You were so ready for a distraction and we were barely into it. I know that for many of you the last two … or three … months have seemed like an eternity. Quarantine, social distancing, a new normal. It all feels like such a struggle. I’m thankful to be struggling with those things and not the disease itself. And again. How we handle it is what makes us who we are. How we help others shows the world who we are.

I believe that you love the Bellingwood books because you are that community. You might have trouble some days expressing compassion, kindness, generosity, grace, mercy. Especially when socking someone in the teeth would feel so good. But your essence is the heart of Bellingwood. Even in the midst of struggle, you look for beauty, you offer compassion and love, you set others above yourself, you respond with grace.

Tomorrow, the newsletter will arrive in your email if you’ve signed up at nammynools.com. I hope you open it. The vignette is fun, I love the cover and title, and I have something new in there to share. I can’t wait for you to see it.

On Friday, we’ll celebrate another Creativity Friday, I am looking forward to seeing what you’ve been working on. You know, my friend, Susan, who owns the bookstore in Boone, Iowa, one of Andrew’s favorite shops, has been selling puzzles like crazy. Putting puzzles together is a creative outlet. So, if that’s what you’re doing. If coloring apps are what you’re doing, these are creative outlets for you. I can’t express enough how different creativity looks to each person. Whether you are making something or caring for someone or something, maybe you’re learning, or teaching, or helping, or dreaming. You are a child of the Creator. You are creative. I can’t wait to see what you’ve done this last month.

Then it will be June and before you know it, Book 30 will be in your hands. You’ll finish it and we’ll start the cycle all over again. This is a wild book. I couldn’t believe everything that unfolded. All I could do was hold my breath and write as fast as possible. I had a whole plan. Chapters One, Two and Three fell right into it. And then Chapter Four hit. I don’t even know. I really did intend for this book to be a little quieter, a little more light-hearted. No. But we all know, it’s Bellingwood. When you get to the end of the story, you’ll smile a little, maybe get a little teary-eyed. I’ve got ya.

Tonight’s Livecast is shorter because of all the work I need to finish before midnight, or two, or four. I am so grateful to all of you for being Bellingwood out there in the real world. I’ll say it again and again. Be generous with your good words. Share that love and compassion. Compliment people. Offer kindness even when you’d rather kick someone in the teeth. Smile and be positive, even when you’d prefer to snarl and take someone out. Respond with grace.

I love you, and I’ll be back next week. Maybe with some more great words I’ve uncovered.

May 17, 2020 - Words and Phrases

Words. Our days are filled with them. Everything we encounter requires that we use words. Okay, not everything, but we still use words to describe those things that don’t require us to speak or write. Confused? Awesome.

My parents loved words. As a Methodist minister, Dad prepared a twenty-minute sermon every week. Twenty minutes of using words to encourage and teach. He read and studied in preparation, and he read for pleasure. Mom loved reading and writing, studying, learning. She had one of the largest vocabularies of anyone I’ve ever met. And she knew how to use her words.

She was convinced to run for the school board in Sigourney in the 1970s. A job normally performed by men in the community, she was nervous. But one other woman had already been elected, so Mom agreed. She was so stinking excited on election day to pull the lever beside her name. But once she got on the board, she discovered that just because she’d been elected didn’t mean those men would respect her.

She wasn’t having it. Mom was married to a strong leader in the community, one who respected men and women alike and recognized her brilliance and leadership. These men? She was about to take them out. Every month she over-prepared for the meetings and when they attempted to shut her, her opinions, or suggestions up, Mom respectfully unleashed her out-sized vocabulary on them, effectively closing them down until she was able to finish her thoughts. She was not a woman to be taken lightly.

I remember one of the first big words she made sure we knew. She loved it. Sesquipedalianist – lover of long words. In seminary, I took Greek and Hebrew, you know, like you do. Now, I’m not a linguist by any stretch, but I learned to tear into words – rip them apart. If you dig into the word sesquipedalian, you find that it’s Latin – sesquipedalis – a foot and a half long. Sesquis – one and a half times as great + pedalis – foot.

One of the greatest joys I took from learning Greek and Hebrew was how to dig into the Etymology or the history of a word. You see that concept show up in the Bellingwood books because I believe it’s important for us to understand the beauty of words – not just their definitions. There are many underlying stories behind words and phrases. We often get so caught up in the technicalities of grammar and language that we lose sight of their beauty. That whole forest and trees analogy.

Earlier this week I asked for some of your favorite words, for words you’ve had difficulty with, for words you had to relearn as an adult. The biggest thing people wanted to talk about was how others mistype, mispronounce, misuse words.

What’s so interesting is that until the explosion of Facebook and Twitter, we interacted with friends and family using speech. We talked to each other in person or on the telephone. And speech patterns often ignore standard grammatical patterns. Vocalized speech is also easily forgotten. As soon as we’ve finished the conversation, people rarely remember word usage, proper grammar, heck, they barely remember what we said. No one thinks about conjunctions, commas, prepositional phrases, run-on sentences or spelling the word there when we speak.

Suddenly, grammar police everywhere came to life when their friends, who hadn’t been in an English class for twenty years and had likely been more interested in a boy or girl than whatever was on the blackboard, had to write something to make themselves clear. Rather than looking for the intent of a sentence, grammar and spelling became the focus, not communication.

When I was young, I had penpals around the world. It never once occurred to me to judge their written words. The only thing I wanted to do was take whatever I could from their letter, share it with my family, and write a letter back so we could continue the conversation. Nowadays, everything but the intent of the writer becomes important. Grammar, spelling, some random bit of information that triggers a thought. And we’re off the rails.

One comment in this week’s post was about bullying based on language arts skills. This is real. There are readers who didn’t participate in that post this week because they’re afraid of judgment. And guess what – they were proved right. With every judgmental comment, they knew for sure they’d be judged, too. I had a close friend, who, when we first connected on Facebook told me she was terrified of commenting on my posts, or sending emails, even letting me see her posts. She knew my background and we’d never done any type of written communication before. Would I judge her and think less of her because her education was different than mine? No. You’re safe with me. That’s all I want anyone to know.

I want to pick up a couple of words that were dropped in the post from earlier this week. And I’m not picking on you – just using the examples.

Youse. Youse is a plural usage of You. Just like y’all. It was popular during the early 1900s and has held on. So, the two of youse or the rest of youse. Though it’s a colloquialism, it’s a real word.

Let me define colloquialism – a word or phrase, not used in formal language, but one used in informal conversation. That’s the point. Conversation. Right?

Jerry-rigged vs. Jury-rigged. Believe it or not, Jerry-rigged originated before 1900. It evolved from the word Jerry-built. It has nothing to do with German engineering during World War II. The word is older than that. This is why I love etymology – the study of words. Jury-rigged has nothing to do with the judicial system. It’s a nautical term – comes from Middle English – jory. Middle English was the language spoken and used just prior to the Renaissance – 1066 to late 1400s. A Jory sail was an improvised sail … on a ship. So, jury-rigged is improvised rigging on a sailing ship.

Jerry-built was something built cheaply to not last long. Merriam-Webster says that this word sidled up to jury-rigged in the late 19th century and jerry-rigged came into being. It’s a recognized word.

Another word that sends people up the wall is irregardless. While it is nonstandard, its definition is … regardless. The word has been around since 1795. Merriam-Webster figures its origins come from blending the two words irrespective and regardless. Regardless, it’s right there and we can hate it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a real word.

The Grammar Girl posted yesterday about the word gifting. It annoys people. I might be part of that group. For me, gift is a noun, not a verb. Unless, of course, I’m wrong. In truth, gift has been a verb for over 400 years, though it fell out of common use except in Scotland. The gift tax in 1930 brought it back, but when it really returned to our vocabulary was when Elaine came up with the term re-gifting in a Seinfeld episode. I still don’t like it, but that’s my problem, not anyone else’s. Right?

I grew up with a father who had a serious hearing problem until he was in his thirties. He was partially deaf in both ears and didn’t hear things correctly. They thought he was slow-witted until his second-grade teacher realized that if she moved him to the front of the classroom, he heard her instructions. Because he’d misheard words, pronunciation was difficult. He practiced his sermons like crazy and often asked Mom for help. He told a story of submitting a paper in college. In it, he continually used the phrase – taking it for granite. That was how he’d heard it, and no one caught his mistake when he used the phrase out loud. But the professor handed the paper back with red marks slashed through his error. Dad was mortified. But in reality, it was understandable.

We spent many years working with poverty-stricken areas in the hollers (hollows of the mountains) of Kentucky. I learned another deep lesson in language during those years. In one holler where we spent an entire summer, I grew to know the people well and care for them. But their accent was off the charts. I had to work to understand them. They sounded backward and stupid – according to my Midwestern ear. But then, Mom explained their heritage. They’d emigrated from Scotland and because they were so isolated, while they took in American terms and heard the slower Southern accent, their speech patterns had transformed into a hodge podge. Very unique to them. Very odd to me.

Pronunciations of words like: warsh, idear, crick or creek, roof or roof, route or route all come about because of regional dialects. How about lawyer or lawyer, pecahn or pe-can, been or been, boo-ie or bowie knife. Television has also influenced how generations speak. Pronunciations come from other languages as immigrants blend into society. In some cases, we accept them. In others, we see them as lowering a person’s intellectual quotient.

If you hear someone say they’re going to pahk the cah, not for a second would you believe they were dumb. But if someone says they’re going warsh the car, suddenly, because they’re not from Boston, but somewhere else, its unacceptable. This is a regional pronunciation that takes in a huge span of the eastern US. And just because you’re from one of those states and don’t use that pronunciation, means nothing. It likely means you’ve watched more television. It’s a regional pronunciation, not an indicator of intelligence.

Media uses what’s called “General American English.” It is not the accent of the entire nation and it is not a homogeneous standard. Linda Ellerbee once said, that in television you are not supposed to sound like you’re from anywhere. We’re all from somewhere.

When it comes to pronunciation, one thing I learned when taking Greek was how the accent – this time I mean the emphasis of a syllable – moved backward from the end of the word based on specific rules. I still don’t do it right. In fact, I crack myself up every time I try to say a very Greek word – well, a city name. That city where the 300 Spartans laid down their lives in the war against the Persians.

If I tell you that it is Thermo ply – you’ll screw up your face and try to figure out exactly what I’m saying. Then I’ll see your face and correct myself to Thermopylae. It’s a terrible thing. And you’d think I’d get it.

My mother messed me up bad. She loved twisting words on purpose. But sometimes she didn’t tell us as children that’s what she was doing. Have you ever seen a horned rhino with a flaming red behind? Mom’s twist was “rhino-sore-ass.” If you start that word with the accent on the first syllable, like I grew up doing? You’re sunk before you get any further. The accent should land on the second syllable. Rhin-o – Rhin – o’ – saurus.

Now, I know you all have your own stories of twisted words and other verbal hilarities. Those are the things that make words fun.

Shakespeare was a master of creating words. It’s hard these days as an author to make up a word. We are harangued and corrected if something doesn’t fit into a standard dictionary. Imagine the trouble Shakespeare had when creating words like bandit, critic, dauntless, dwindle, elbow, lonely, lackluster, swagger, uncomfortable, unearthly, unreal, undress. Words that are familiar to us and used every day, were new to his audiences.

Another story about my mother abandoning me to the language wolves. Twelve years ago, or so, I worked at a Methodist Church in Omaha as their communications director. My office mate was a bright young man who took care of the tech. One day I was moaning about how something wasn’t working, and I couldn’t go any further. I told him that I was stall-foundered. He looked at me in confusion and asked, “What was that word?”

Stall foundered.

“Diane, that’s not a word.”

“Sure it is.” Both of us tore to the internet to look it up. Mom had done it to me again. I’d used that word my entire life. You can tell what it means. I was stopped … foundered … stalled.

As an author, I know my responsibility is to keep grammar, spelling, and word usage as clean as possible. I make mistakes, and I’ve put systems in place to correct them. And I still miss things. Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series, once replied to a reader who taunted him with finding a mistake in a book by saying, “I wrote 100,000 words and you found one that was an error. Congratulations. I hope you enjoyed the rest of the words.”

Now, I correct my siblings in their spellings, but you know what? I have permission and if I mess something up, they’re permitted to correct me. It’s part of the life we’ve lived together in a family where words are a big deal. I tell you this, because well, it’s only been a few days since the last time I corrected someone’s spelling. But I will never, ever do it to anyone else. The conversation is what’s important. The connection. The shared story.

So, the moral of today’s talk is that “When you choose a high horse to climb up on, don’t forget, there is always someone ready to come along with a bigger horse and a taller saddle.” That kind of applies to any high horse you want to climb up on and wave your judgment stick.

And we return to last week’s words – Respond with grace. If you see or hear an error in language usage from a friend or family member, is your response grace-filled or judgmental? Often, it isn’t about their error, but your heart. Did they take joy in the words they shared only to be shut down by your correction? Or did you miss the point of their words because you focused on the error. That’s on you. Unless of course, they’re a professional writer.


Beginning tomorrow, I will post the transcripts to my past Facebook Livesteams onto my website along with a link to the FB video. There have been several of these, so it will take a few days to get them all out there. For a girl who likes to have folders in cabinets and everything well-labeled, organized, alphabetized, and in one place – the internet is a frustrating mass of information. My digital life was supposed to help me easily find things. Now, it’s spread out everywhere. AND, I’m being told I should be on Instagram as well.

That frightens me. I had an account on Instagram that I allowed to languish. When I returned to reinvigorate it, I discovered it had been hacked and was now home to thousands of hookers and other pretty girls from around the world who were gathering followers to themselves in frightening numbers. I changed the password. But getting rid of those people was an overwhelming task, so I killed the account instead. I haven’t had the courage to go back.


Summer is here, school is out, life is different, yet it is still … life. I follow Tim Cotton on the Bangor Maine Police Department page. If you don’t, you should. He is amazing. And I just discovered that he’s a preacher’s kid. His sign-off slogan for his posts there comes from his grandmother – Keep your hands to yourself, leave other people’s things alone, and be kind to one another. That’s perfection.

Mine isn’t nearly as clever. Be generous with your good words this week. Share kindness and love. Avoid judgment. Respond with grace. Be careful that what you say and write creates a connection and encourages conversation. The conversation is more important than any rules.

I’m nearly finished writing Book 30. The story upended itself last night. For the better, I’m sure, but this will make me scramble. That’s always a good thing. A week from tomorrow is the next newsletter with the title and cover reveal and another vignette. You can sign up for the newsletter on my website at nammynools.com.

I love you all and I’ll be back next week.


May 10, 2020 - Culture Shock and Silly Poems

Happy Mother’s Day.

My mother was incredibly creative and wow, did she love words. To kick things off this evening, I want to read a silly poem she wrote.

A Fable
There dwelt a noble ant
Who never said, “I can’t.”
He’d flash his ever glossy eye
And lazy ants would ossify.

He dug an earthen home,
Quite like a catacomb.
He truly was industrious;
His history most illustrious.

Ant was fearless and brave;
But sweet stuff he did crave.
He nearly met a dreadful doom
Upon a sticky honey spoon.

Ant was terribly stuck.
He groaned, “What frightful luck!”
He pondered his messy fate;
Then, he ate and ate and ate!

Moral: An ant galvanic
Will not panic.
A turned on ant
Is a good fellow to
have around in an emergency!

Copyright 2020, James Greenwood, Diane Greenwood Muir, Carol Greenwood

Last week I told you that Mom grew up in a wealthy upper-crust Boston life. She flunked out of Duke University and then, Tufts University because she couldn’t be bothered to work at it. An absolutely brilliant woman, she worked on getting her college degree for the rest of her life. Slowly but surely, she proved to herself and everyone that every-freakin-thought of hers was genius. There was nothing worse than being in college at the same time as your brilliant mother. I had a great GPA – she had a perfect one. It was miserable. She gloated. I fumed.

Mom attended an exclusive grammar school and then an exclusive secondary school. They didn’t call them elementary, junior high, and high schools out there back then. She was engaged to a young man who had gone off to college and would later become quite wealthy – a fact she mentioned to Dad every once in a while. He made her promise to wait.

Yeah, that didn’t happen. She was introduced to Dad on a blind date and afterwards told her friends that if he asked her out again, she was marrying that man. Dad was a poor seminary student at Boston University and quite grateful for Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ house. Grammy adored him – this young, strapping, good-looking man who flattered her every week. She knew something was up when Mom’s reading material was all about living as a minister’s wife.

Mom had no idea what was coming. None. Here was a girl who was used to having everything handed to her. She’d grown up with nurses and nannies and suddenly, she was thrust into small-town Iowa, a place that hadn’t changed in fifty years. Within a year, she had a baby. And, she had strangers who were intimately involved in her life every day since she now belonged to them as the local minister’s wife.

These are a few of her words – picked up and out of some of the sermons and talks she gave. There is so much more, but this clearly describes some of her early culture shock. She and Dad were married in 1958. That’s when the fun began.

East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet! Well, folks…we did indeed meet. We collided head on! My first sight of the tiny Iowa town in which I was to live the first two and a half years of my life as a married woman was inauspicious. We had endured shock after shock on my honeymoon, especially since I was undergoing withdrawal, unbeknownst to me, from a cigarette clutch. I’d been a pack and a half a day smoker for several years and I’d taken a last desperate drag on my maid of honor’s cigarette five minutes before I was married to my budding Methodist minister.

He had long ago asked me, and I had readily agreed to stop smoking. I had just put it off. I always put everything off.

I cried without stopping on our wedding night. Frank spent the first half of the night sitting in an empty church, while I slept with a blanket and pillow in the bathtub. This did not get our marriage off to a blazing start, I might add. Bless him, he had the patience of a saint.

I was already beginning to feel bereft, no smoking, no drinking, no swearing (I didn’t know what I was going to do when I stubbed my toe!), no gossiping, no ____ ad infinitum. And I was dreadfully homesick.

So, when we drove into Gravity, Iowa the last week in September, we were both in a weakened emotional state. The dream of a rose covered cottage on a shady, quiet clean street, clipped lawn, flowers blooming and a lovely rock-garden covered with moss dies hard. I entered the first stages of profound culture shock when we drove off Route 149 into that tiny, dusty town – pop. 185. 150 of whom must have been over 70.

The main street looked like a set for a bad John Wayne western. The storefronts were empty, battered and crumbling. Only a grocery store, post office (circa 1900), hardware store of sorts, produce and a bank (which was later robbed by simply shoving hard on the locked front door during lunch break, when the only employee was next door eating at one of several taverns). The main street was wide and dusty, the curbs high, with rings for hitching one’s horse or wagon. One actually expected two slit-eyed cowboys to swagger out at either end of the street, hands poised over their six-shooters and start firing.

I should have been prepared for the parsonage. I barely glanced at the church. Who looks at a church when ones first home is standing there in all of its turn of the century, midwestern glory? The place laced even a snitch of imagination. The house was probably not designed, simply built as quickly and easily as possible by church folks handy with tools. The prototype of this house can be seen all over Iowa, two story, white square frame house, large windows placed squarely on either side of the front door. The house was quartered into four rooms downstairs, four upstairs. But the “front” room now was the length of the house. A long, grey sagging porch ornamented the whole front of the house. Like a saggy old lady with a faded dress and sensible shoes, it stood and had seen its better days.

So, there I stood, 20 years old, a young, raw kid – selfish, used to living in relative luxury – completely oblivious to church etiquette, devoid of any spiritual understanding (I got a D in Religion in college – I didn’t know the difference between the Old and the New Testament), irresponsible and immature spiritually and emotionally. I was scared to open my mouth for fear I would stick my foot in it, yet constantly opened it anyway. I think I did everything wrong. I alienated people with my snobbery which was half fear, quarter shock and quarter actual snobbery. I irritated others with my willingness to be defensive about anything.

I was petrified of the huge wooden crank phone and the operator on the other end, an individual with a mind of her own. I drove to my sister-in-law’s (3 miles out of town) for months because I was too scared to try to ring out! I learned not to call out during a thunderstorm, because all the operators got as far from the switchboard as possible.

In a bitty small town, certain natural laws are reversed – sound travels faster than light. When our first child was born, the grand event was announced in the first class of the day at the high school. It was remarkable, because she was born at 8:05. Frank called my mother who was staying at the parsonage at 8:15 and school began at 8:20. Mrs. Crow had rung the open lines used for fires and special meetings and announced the blessed event to everyone who had a party line, which was 95% of the people in town and the county.

The ladies of the church took me over with a vengeance. They really had to struggle to make a minister’s wife out of me. I was mighty poor clay for such a vessel! And I was so sensitive to any slight, it was awful. This small group of self-appointed watchdogs checked on me twice a week. They didn’t even bother to knock on the door of the parsonage.

In the Methodist church, the local church owns the parsonage. Consequently, in the early days, the people of the church believed since it was their home, they had every right to walk in whenever they wanted.

After a year’s residence, I installed locks. You should have seen me once when I was trying to iron my dress in the kitchen and caught sight of one of the ladies as she stepped onto the front porch. I dropped to my hands and knees and crawled to the front door. I held it tightly against her as she tried to push it open, but my twenty years of strength more than matched her seventy odd years of determination. Knowing she would also try the back door, I snaked along the walls, still on my hands and knees, and held that door against her, too. My husband arrived a few minutes later and found me lying on the linoleum floor of the kitchen too weak with laughter to get up! She had gone over to tattle to him that the parsonage had locks. He didn’t know anything about it. We got them soon after.

As an aside, after I was born, Mom’s parents gave her a washer and dryer so she didn’t have to haul dirty diapers to the laundromat. One Sunday afternoon, she did laundry. The next Thursday at the monthly women’s meeting, they went after my father because Mom had done laundry on the Sabbath. They saw the steam from the dryer vent.

Okay, back to it.

A year after we were married, my mother visited us. She had snatched a quick cigarette while I stood sentinel at the window. I saw one of my dear watchdogs coming up the walk and I yelled at Mother to run upstairs and take her ashtray with her. Thus, when I opened the door I stood innocently alone, wreathed in a thick gray cloud of cigarette smoke!

Several months after we’d moved in, my father, returning from a trip to Hawaii, stopped in to see us. Now my father has a rare sense of humor, which is why I always keep him bottled up safely in the house when he stops by. That evening he wanted to show us the slides he’d taken on the Islands, so we pulled the wide shade in the front room for a screen and settled back to enjoy his travelogue. Near the end, he announced he wanted us to see a picture of his “bathing buddy” and explained since the surf was dangerous they always suggested you swim in pairs. Then he flashed a purchased slide of a nude female on the shade. We roared with laughter at the joke. But, suddenly Frank turned pale and rushed outside. There she was, in her all-over tan shining right out our window on the main street of Gravity, Iowa. A couple of our parishioners were disappearing down the sidewalk.

Towards the end of our stay in Gravity, Frank was to be ordained. I cleaned the house until it glistened. Especially the bathroom, because the church didn’t have indoor toilets. If one was really desperate he trekked out to “Adam and Eve” in the back yard. However, everyone had to use “Eve”, because the stone step was slipping under Adam and you were in imminent danger of sliding all the way in with it.

I warned all the ladies to send any guests who asked directions over to the house, and I told one of the District Superintendents, as well. I thought his eyes glinted strangely, and the next thing I knew he had taken Bishop Ensley “out back”. We moved six months later.

Culture shock barely described what Mom faced those first years. But you know, she managed through it. She was ready to see her own failings and do whatever she could to be better. She overcame so much with laughter and pragmatism. How could she do anything else? She was married, had children, and wasn’t returning to the life of her childhood, no matter how often she said she wanted to chuck it all. Mom decided that her new life was actually better and she lived it with great joy and love.

Okay, one last silly little poem she wrote. Just because I love her words.

A Tale of a Dog
A Little Bit of Doggerel

That’s the silliest thing I ever did see:
A dog who lives on top of a tree.

A dog who leaps and hops and jumps
Across the branches and over the stumps.

Amidst fat bats and scowly owls
She sits on high and howls and howls.

Such a regal beast is fit for finer things
Than sitting in trees and doing hand springs

Thus all such tales must have an ending.
She finally fell down and her bones are mending.

Copyright 2020, James Greenwood, Diane Greenwood Muir, Carol Greenwood

I am more than two-thirds through Book 30. There’s a lot going on in Bellingwood. That doesn’t surprise anyone. While you’re all waiting with bated breath for it to be released, I’m stunned that time is passing so quickly. Two weeks from tomorrow it will be in the hands of my editors, the next newsletter will come out with the cover and title reveal, and I’ll breathe for a few days, then dig into other stories begging to be written.

I want to remind you over and over that patience, love, kindness, and generosity should be our watchwords. I see more and more bitterness, anger, frustration, and ugliness happen in my feed. I understand it’s an outgrowth of what we face and the anxiety that comes from not knowing what’s next, but those expressions are so useless. They don’t achieve a thing except to add more anxiety. They change nothing. Well, that’s not true. They change us. They allow us to muddle around in misery, dragging everyone down with us. Step up and out of it. If you can’t find a way, ask someone you love and trust for help … for prayers … for a minute to listen. And pay attention to your friends and family. Be their strength. Love with all you have. Do kind things. Respond with grace.

Respond with grace. Respond with grace. Do not be proud of taking someone down for making a mistake or for doing what you perceive is the wrong thing. You do not know. Respond with grace and mercy.

Another week is upon us. Know how grateful I am for you. Pop into either the Bellingwood Readalong or the Recipes Group and talk to each other. They’re the best places for others to see your posts. If you post on the main page, very few will see it. Facebook isn’t helpful. Real sharing and getting to know each other is happening in the groups. This is Bellingwood. We’re an amazing community and I’m glad you’re here. I love you.

And yep – I’ll be back next week. Pretty sure I’m going to talk about words. Great words. Fun words. A little inspiration from Mom’s love of words and her immense vocabulary.

May 3, 2020 - A Froggie Story

Have you looked at the pets from yesterday’s post here on the Bellingwood page? Oh my goodness, you have some wonderful furbabies. It’s fun to see who you love. I wouldn’t want to live without mine. Many have come and gone over the years and I love them all.

The first thing I want to share today is a story my mother wrote for my sister, Carol. Looks like she wrote it as a follow-up to the story I read last week – James Arthur and the Blue Flowered Towel. When she got going on a creativity kick, that woman could produce some things.

If you’ve been here a while, you know that I used to sew up beanbag frogs as giveaways. I haven’t spent much time sewing frogs lately, but if you’d like to make one yourself, there are directions and a pattern on my website. I’ll put the link to it in the description after I’m finished. These little frogs have been part of our lives for many, many years. Evidently, from the story, even from my mother’s childhood and she was born in 1938. The first pattern we had was one she drew off – probably the frog from this story.

Without further ado …

A Short Story by Margie Greenwood

Copyright 2020, James Greenwood, Diane Greenwood Muir, Carol Greenwood

James Arthur’s sister, Carol, is two years older than he and she lived in the room across the hall with her big sister, Diane.

Now Carol is an especially beautiful young lady, with very curly brown hair, a ribbon bow mouth and snapping green eyes. She also has a dimple in the very middle of her chin. Sometimes Carol has a small case of the sulks and then her dimple grows very big as her eyebrows and mouth try to meet at her nose. Usually, however, she is smiling, laughing, and dancing.

One day a friend of Mommy’s brought her a funny green bean bag frog like the ones Mommy used to play with when she was a little girl. Mommy sat the frog on a lamp in the living room. When Carol came home from school that day, she knew something was different. She looked around the living room and there sat the friendliest frog you ever did see.

“Oh, Mommy. Can I play with it?” she pleaded.

Mommy said Carol had to keep the frog very clean since it was a special frog.

Carol tenderly lifted the frog from its perch and cradled it in her arms.

“You’re really beautiful, little frog,” she crooned. Carefully she carried the frog up to her bedroom and climbed up on her bed where she laid the frog on its back on her pillow. Then she got off her bed to look for a little piece of material to keep the new frog warm!

She searched through the toy chest, but couldn’t find anything suitable.

“Oh yes!” she said aloud. “I’ll use a wash cloth,” and she ran back downstairs to find the softest wash cloth she could find. When she returned, she looked at her pillow, but it was empty.

“I’m sure I put the frog on my pillow,” she said as she looked on the little bookcase beside her bed and on the floor. She even got down on her knees and looked under the bed. But she couldn’t find the frog.

Perplexed, she climbed on her bed again and slipped her bare feet under the covers for they were just a little chilly.

“Ohh! What’s that?” she shouted and flung back the blankets.

There was the bean bag frog lying on its stomach staring at her with its funny wiggly eyes.

“What in the world are you doing under there froggie?” she asked and started to pick up the frog.

“I was cold!” a strange, croaky voice replied.

“What?” said Carol, her hand hanging in mid-air. “I thought I heard a voice. Daddy, are you there? Are you playing a trick on me?”

Carol’s daddy thought he was quite a ventriloquist and often pretended he was speaking for one of their toys. Of course, Carol, Diane and James Arthur knew it was Daddy talking, but they didn’t want to make him feel bad, so they pretended their toys could talk.

Carol jumped off her bed and looked out the bedroom door. She peered under the twin beds. She even looked in the closet, but Daddy was not there.

“Maybe I just THOUGHT I heard a voice,” she said to herself and slowly walked back to her bed. The frog had disappeared again! This time Carol threw the covers back completely, and there was the bean bag frog down at the very bottom of her bed.

“Poor froggie, are you afraid of your new home?” and again, she reached out to pick it up.

“Certainly not!” The same deep gravelly voice replied. “It’s just that I’m still quite new, and I’m dreadfully cold.”

Carol stared in shock at the bean bag frog. It had to be the frog talking. No one else was around. James Arthur was outside, Diane was reading downstairs and Mommy was working in the kitchen.

She lay down on the bed with her head close to the frog.

“I’ve got a nice blanket here for you. See if this doesn’t help,” and she laid the soft wash cloth on the frog’s green back.

“Oh, that’s lovely. Thank you so much little girl. I say. What’s your name, if it isn’t too presumptuous to ask?”

“I’m Carol Greenwood. Why do you talk so funny? You don’t sound like my family?”

“Of course, of course, dear child. I’m made from imported English cloth. Hoist the mainsails! Watch the halyards there, boys. Lower the anchor, swabbie. Oh I do beg your pardon. I’ve got to watch my tongue. You see, my imported English cloth is stuffed with navy beans. I guess I’m just a very nautical English frog, aha, aha, aha!

Carol was extremely interested in the conversation and thought this was surely the most amazing thing that had ever happened to her.

“Would you be so kind as to sit me up, please?” the frog requested politely.

Carol sat the frog upright and then asked, “What is your name?”

The frog lowered its funny eyes and Carol was sure a little pink blush stole over its green plaid cheeks. The frog lifted one arm and beckoned Carol a little closer until the frog’s head was right next to Carol’s left ear.

“Ellie Mae,” it whispered and fell over sideways.

“What a beautiful name,” Carol exclaimed. “It just fits you.”

Ellie Mae peered up at Carol.

“Oh, do you really think so. It sounded so … so … so common. I thought Guinivere or Lady Sarah Heddington Thornton or even Victoria would have been (she pronounced this like a green bean) much more appropriate.”

Carol clapped her hands in delight. What a funny frog!

“Let’s keep this a secret, Ellie Mae. I don’t think anyone would really believe you talk anyway, so let’s not tell anyone quite yet.” Carol said.

“Certainly, my dear. It will be a jolly good show. Hip, hip, hoorah. Slip the oars, mates and hoist the anchor!” Ellie Mae cried.

Carol didn’t think Ellie Mae really knew what she was talking about, but it did sound cute. She picked Ellie Mae up and put her on her shoulder.

“It’s time for supper, Ellie Mae. Let’s go eat.” Carol ran lightly down the stairs and Ellie Mae clung tightly to her neck.

“Put the frog down, Carol,” Mother said, “and go wash your hands for supper.” Carol sighed and put Ellie Mae on the brown chair near the kitchen table.

“Be real quiet,” she warned. Ellie Mae gave her a big wink.


Go ahead and laugh at my awful accent. I’m not a mimic, something I’ve lamented my entire life. I don’t remember and quote movie lines or pick up accents. When I was in junior high, I remember lying in bed one night talking with a girl who was much older than me – high school, you know. She knew the lyrics to every single song that had come on the radio. I couldn’t remember a one of them. Now, I’ve gotten better with that, but memorization is what I do, not mimicry.

I brought along a couple of friends who need new homes. Comment on this video at any point and I will choose a winner before next Sunday’s Facebook Live. Many of you watch throughout the week. I don’t want anyone to miss out.

I also don’t plan to go into the post office this week if I can possibly help it, so the frogs will wait. There are some words that want to flow like crazy. I’m the type of creative who needs a ton of silence and blank space to think. Distractions are sometimes welcome, but whenever I divert from that blank space, I have to search for it again and it takes hours. I hate sounding so philosophical about this, because I can force myself to work and write when necessary. But for those deeply creative things, I desperately seek solitude and quiet time. Every time I leave the house – groceries, mail, whatever – I pretty much lose the day. By the time I come back, all I want to do is lock the doors, close the blinds, and push away everything that distracts me.

And trust me when I tell you – EVERYTHING distracts me. Nature is the worst and I live in one of the most gorgeous, natural spots in all of Iowa. All beautiful and warm, green and inviting right now. You’d think I could find myself out on the porch. Nope. I listen to the birds and become entranced by leaves fluttering in the breeze. I hear my wind chimes and the river rushing by. I’m telling you, it’s beautiful. I watch farmers travel past on the gravel road and wonder what they’re hauling. I see small animals and hawks and then … hours have passed and not a single thought was given to my work.

While it’s all inspiring, I get nothing done. I experience life with every sense on full alert so I don’t ever miss anything.

I’ve always hated missing out. Always. And living as the pastor’s family, our house was a hotbed of fascinating people and information. I knew better than to talk about the people who were there or the things that happened. I had no desire to carry tales, but I did want to know. We kids would get sent off to play after dinner, while the adults went to the living room. I’d stop, just out of sight, hoping to hear what they talked about.

Mom was no dummy. “Diane, go on, now.”

She hadn’t even gotten out of her chair. How did she know? But I came by it honestly. Here’s a story in her own words:

Once a neighbor minister came to our house to discuss something which disturbed him. I went upstairs to give them the privacy of the living room, but I couldn’t restrain my curiosity, so I tiptoed into the guest room where an open heat register looked down on the living room couch. My husband was sitting directly underneath. I knew he could hear me scuffling about even with his poor hearing, but he never gave a sign, just listened politely to the angry gentleman across from him. I couldn’t see very well, so I lay on my stomach and peered down. Unfortunately little pieces of plaster dislodged as I tried to get comfortable. Frank sat calmly amidst a most amazing shower of plaster particles with a straight face. And then, my 18 month old daughter toddled in, looked down at her daddy and said very clearly, “What are you doing on your tummy, mama?”

Hah. While I was looking for that story, I read through a bunch of Mom’s sermons, poems, stories, writings. One of these days I need to collect them. She knew how to tell a story. She could laugh at herself in the midst of some of her craziest antics. A debutante who became a small-town Iowa minister’s wife, who moved from upper-crust Boston to Gravity, Iowa, where, in her words, the downtown looked like a scene from a bad John Wayne movie. Population 185 – 70% of them over the age of seventy. Yeah. I need to let you all know her better.

Since next week is Mother’s Day, I’ll let you in on a few more of her wild wanderings in words. She was clever and insightful – often making her quite dangerous when it came to arguments and deep discussions.


There were a couple of questions asked this week.

The first was if I ever have out of body experiences when I write. Yes. Sometimes I get so caught up in the characters and the story that I forget where and when I am. Mostly the when. I can’t tell you the number of times I come up out of writing a chapter and try to assimilate that day of the week with reality. The worst is when I’m writing a weekend and it’s really only Wednesday. I get so confused.

The second was if I intentionally planned to have a character who constantly finds dead bodies. Well, nope. That grew organically. As I continued writing Polly, I couldn’t ignore the elephant in the room. She’s not a detective, she’s not a cop, she’s not a private investigator – she’s a regular person. Readers would think I was an idiot if I didn’t address the fact that the Bellingwood mysteries revolved around a regular person. So, I owned it and then built on it. I don’t mind stretching reality a bit – good grief, this IS fiction and I’m telling stories, not reality, but if I’m going to create a new reality where one person finds all the murdered bodies in a single county, I need to let you in on the secret and tell you that there is just a smidge of magic happening here. No one can explain it – no one ever will. It’s just what we’ve got going on so that this series can exist.

I didn’t put it all together until about Book 3. You’ll notice that in Book 2, Madeline Black died, but wasn’t murdered, though a mystery showed up anyway. Now, since Polly was with Lydia Merritt when they found Madeline, she managed to be part of the event, but not directly. After that, though, I knew better than to try to create situations for the rest of time without letting you in on what I was doing. As long as Polly could live with it, so could you.

When I first began writing, I read some good advice. Something to the effect of – if you want your readers to believe what you’re about to write, you have to believe it first. Don’t explain it away, don’t apologize for it – just let it be and let them come to understand it as you’ve come to understand it. Then they’re happy to be on the journey with you.

This next week will see people in many states make an attempt to find normal again. I have opinions, but you know what? They don’t matter. And while you may assume you know my opinion, you might be surprised. I hope that completely confused you.

Opinions and advice – seems that we are all full of both and willing on social media to share them without invitation or thought as to who might read it or what others might feel, or who we offend. We only think of saying what’s in our head – and stop there.

Be careful and kind this week … and always. Don’t load your opinions, your worldview, your advice on others. Especially those you barely know on social media. You have no idea what their motivation is or what their needs are or why they wrote what they wrote. You are also likely misinterpreting their intent if you feel the need to correct them.

My parents said it over and over and so did most of yours. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t speak. If you feel you have to correct someone, don’t do it in public. If you’re dying to share advice, opinions or argue – walk away and consider how you might change YOUR behavior, not theirs. Their life is not yours to manage. Yours is. Especially now when anxiety and fears are so great. Now is the time to bring grace, peace, hope, and kindness to bear.

Being generous with our good words is exactly that. We swallow the rest. What we do need to hear from each other is – in essence – I love you, Thank you, Good job, How can I help, Are you okay, You’re beautiful. You are strong. You are special. You are unique. You are amazing. Use words that encourage others and offer grace and mercy … first. Let the other stuff go. It’s not as important as lifting someone up. Be generous with your good words.

I love you so much and I am so grateful that you are here. We’re in for an interesting week, an interesting month, an interesting summer, an interesting year. Be a bridge. Be loving. Walk away. Take a breath. Be Bellingwood.

Next week is Mother’s Day. I have some more fun things from my own mother to share. I’ll see you then.

April 26, 2020 - Story Time

Tonight’s Facebook Live is going to be a little different. I’ll wrap up with some news and love, but first I want to read a story to you that my mother wrote in 1970.  I thought I’d be able to fit two stories in tonight, but they’re a little longer than I realized, so I’ll save one for next week.
I feel like I should have a smoking jacket on and maybe a pipe, but I don’t own either of those things and I don’t smoke. Though I do love the smell of good pipe tobacco. That’s beside the point. So, I’ll wear my fancy Steampunk hat and read to you.
Do you remember taking a towel to Kindergarten to lay across your mat when it was naptime? Well, one day, Mom handed over a very special towel to my brother, Jamie, before he went out the door to school. It wasn’t special until after she wrote the story. Up until that point, it was just another towel on the shelf in the linen closet. But that day after he walked off to school, Mom wrote a fantastical little story about James Arthur and his blue-flowered towel.
Copyright 2020 – James Greenwood, Diane Greenwood Muir, Carol Greenwood
Once upon a time, not so many days ago, there lived a small young gentleman by the name of James Arthur. Actually, he wasn’t very small, he was quite good-sized for a kindergarten fellow, and most of the time he was a gentleman. James Arthur lived in a lovely town named Morning Sun, smack in the bottom right hand corner of Iowa, right in the very middle of the United States of America!
He lived in a white house on the main street of town with his mother, his father, and two older sisters, Diane and Carol, and a small black dog named Charcoal who loved him very much, even when he pouted, and who licked his ear when he laughed.
One black stormy night, James Arthur woke up suddenly. A terrible, horrid screeching sound made him pull the blanket over his head. What awful noises! The scary wind seemed to be trying to catch him and pull him into the cold blackness outside his window. James Arthur was frightened. He wished he had courage enough to throw back the blankets and run and jump into Mommy’s bed. But SOMETHING might catch him. The wind howled louder and louder. A loose can grated along the sidewalk. James Arthur pulled his legs under him, ready to spring. Suddenly, he threw the blankets off, jumped from his bed and ran pell-mell into his mother and father’s bedroom. He made a running leap and landed safely…beside Mommy. He crawled under her covers and before long he went back to sleep again.
The next morning was Monday and after breakfast it was time to go to school. James Arthur, Diane, and Carol put on their warm winter coats, their brown, blue and red stocking hats, wooly mittens and boots, and Mother handed James Arthur a blue flowered towel to take to school for naptime. When James Arthur and the other kindergartners lay down for their naps after lunch, they needed nice soft towels to keep them warm.
“Well, James Arthur,” Mother said, “I don’t think you will need to walk to school today. There is such a strong wind that all you will have to do is hold the towel out in front of you and you will sail to school.”
She kissed them all good-bye as they went out the door.
James Arthur and his sisters left the house and Diane and Carol joined several other girls who were passing by. James Arthur didn’t care to be seen walking with that many girls, so he slowed down and let them go ahead.
My, but it was tiresome to walk such a long way. Perhaps Mommy was right. Maybe he should sail, James Arthur thought to himself. The wind seemed friendly now. It wasn’t scary like it had been last night. He unrolled the blue flowered towel and looked at it. He thought deeply and then grabbed the two top corners of the blue flowered towel. WHOOPS. Before he could say, “Hey, look at me,” he was kicking his feet several inches off the ground. BUMP! He landed again. He decided he must be doing something wrong. He tucked one end of the blue flowered towel under the bottom of his brown jacket, and then waited for a good gust of wind to come along. He took a strong grip on the upper two corners, braced his feet, shut his eyes, and off he went. The feeling of the chill air rushing past his face made him open his eyes, he was being carried up over the 100-year-old maple trees lining Main Street.
He shouted, “Diane! Carol! Look at me! Look up here!”
But they didn’t hear him because the wind made so much noise. He swooped over the Methodist Church belfry. He went to Sunday School here, and his Daddy was in there right now in his study. Wouldn’t Daddy be surprised if he looked out of his window now? Daddy had often told James Arthur that he wished HE could fly.
“Help,” yelled James Arthur. He was headed straight for one of the three big clocks on the tall, square Library tower.
“Help!” he cried again, but no one looked up; no one heard him. He was so scared, he jerked one hand, and of course, one corner of the blue flowered towel, towards his face. Miraculously, he swerved sharply and missed the yellow brick tower by the width of a very skinny hair. Just to see what would happen, he moved the other corner, and surprise! He turned in the opposite direction.
Now, he could make up his own mind where to go. Unfortunately, James Arthur was only 5 1/2 years old and didn’t know his directions very well. And James Arthur didn’t have a map, although he couldn’t have read one even if he’d been lucky enough to have one. However, he had a very practical bent of mind, inherited no doubt from his father, who never got lost on a trip…well, hardly ever. He decided there was no sense in traveling towards the sun, for he had no sunglasses either. So, he turned his back on the bright sun which occasionally hid behind the speeding clouds and set his course westward. He had long since left Morning Sun behind, had crossed a large frozen river and now was traveling swiftly over rugged prairies. A few cows were munching at a haystack and looked up curiously when the strangely shaped shadow crossed their paths. James Arthur had gained enough control over the blue flowered towel that he could ride it one-handed, that is, for a second or two. Usually, he made a few funny flips and flops when he did this, so he tried to keep both hands on the driving corners.
Dark, black hills disappeared beneath him and then he was passing over tall, snowcapped mountains with people skiing on them. He swooped dreadfully close to a round lady riding up a mountain in a chairlift. She stared at him, rubbed her eyes very hard, and stared again. James Arthur was a gentleman, so he smiled politely and said, “Good Morning. Isn’t it a lovely day?” Then with a graceful turn, he flew off over the mountain with his brown stocking cap flowing out behind him, leaving an extremely confused lady to ride the chairlift back down the mountain so she could go right home, take two aspirins, and go to bed.
The snow grew deeper and deeper beneath him, and the air grew colder. James Arthur was so glad Mommy had made him wear his new blue sweater under his jacket today. His brand new black boots helped keep his feet warm, too.
Above all, James Arthur was an observant young man. Nothing escaped his eyes. If his mother forgot to use soap when she washed her hands, he would put on his best “parent” voice and remind her.
“Mommy, you didn’t use soap. Please go back and wash your hands with soap.”
He’d laugh and laugh when Mommy would sigh and say, “Ah! Hoist by my own petard.” Of course, he didn’t know what a petard was, but he thought it sounded pretty good anyway.
Below him he saw animals: deer, moose, rabbits, and then he saw a bear! It wasn’t one of those plain brown bears— my goodness, no! It was a beautiful white polar bear leaning over a hole in the ice, slapping shiny fish out of the water. James Arthur knew an old polar bear couldn’t catch him, but he was a cautious fellow and didn’t like to take unnecessary chances, so he flew just a little bit higher. Disappointingly, the bear didn’t even look up when James Arthur swooped over.
James Arthur saw a great expanse of water. At first he thought it might be the Iowa River, but he knew there weren’t any polar bears there, so he decided it must the ocean that his mother was always talking about. She used to swim in an ocean when she was a little girl. There certainly weren’t any oceans in Iowa, he knew.
A huge shiny patch of ice caught his attention. He lowered his flaps, or rather, he lowered the blue flowered towel and he sailed closer and closer to the ice. He swung his feet down and touched.
How wonderful it was to skim across the sparkling ice with a blue flowered towel to sail him along. He saw several dark lumps ahead of him and raised his towel to catch a gust of wind just in time to sail clear over a large herd of brown seals. They barked and ha-ruphed at him, but he just smiled politely and said, “Excuse me, please. I hope I didn’t disturb your nap.”
Out over the ocean he flew, and then decided he’d better follow the coastline down, for it was becoming somewhat chilly so far north.
“Yipes!” he cried and wiped his wet chin and nose. “What got me all wet?” he wondered. Then he looked down. Below him was a school of whales traveling south. One of them, the biggest he was sure, had spouted. The spray had gotten James Arthur rather wet.
“No matter,” he said, “the warm air will soon dry me out.” Now he could see green grass, flowers and palm trees. The wind was quite warm and before long James Arthur wanted to take off his stocking cap, but he was afraid he’d fall down if he took both hands off the corners of his blue flowered towel.
He was awfully tired of the blue ocean underneath him, so he pulled the left corner of the blue flowered towel and turned inland. He knew Iowa was in the middle of the United States of America and he was certainly on the edge of the United States of America, so he would surely find Iowa if he headed for the middle. He did wish he knew where he was! He saw a great silver train streaking along a track below him. He’d been on a train like that once when he’d visited Grandma and Grandpa in Clarinda, another pretty town smack dab in the left hand corner of the state of Iowa. Maybe this was the same train going in the other direction.
Truth to tell, James Arthur was a little tired of his adventure and wished he were back in Morning Sun right this minute. Again, he crossed the big tall, snow-capped mountains, and swooped down by the same chair lift. There was the round lady going down the chair lift. She gave an awful shriek when she saw James Arthur and the blue flowered towel and covered her eyes with her hands.
“Oh, I am sorry. I really didn’t mean to scare you,” James Arthur apologized. She lifted one finger from her left eye, looked at him again and groaned. James Arthur politely sped off. He was in such a hurry!
The black hills disappeared beneath him. He crossed the rugged prairies with curious cows who were still munching hay at the big haystacks, and he crossed a great wide, frozen river. He sailed over quite a few small towns, but none looked quite right.
Then he spied a familiar yellow brick tower with three clocks on it, all telling different times. He whirled around it and headed for the old grade school. If he were lucky, he wouldn’t even be tardy. He saw the boys and girls disappearing through the big red double doors. He lowered the corners of the blue flowered towel and made an excellent landing. He quickly bunched up his blue flowered towel and disappeared inside the double doors just as the bell rang.
That afternoon, when he came home from school, his mother said, “Well, James Arthur. What did you do today?”
He looked out the window and up at the sky, then back to his mother and his sisters.
“I sailed to Alaska with my blue flowered towel,” he replied.
Mommy laughed and hugged him. Then she gave James Arthur, Diane, and Carol some cookies and milk. James Arthur was so glad to be home that he slipped a piece of his cookie under the table to Charcoal.
Margie Greenwood
February 1970
I love that little story.
This last week has been a good one here in my cabin in the woods. Lots and lots of words were written. Cats were snuggled and more words were written. I have to tell you. I am a wreck when I don’t get enough done during the day. Talk about a case of work-aholic-ism. I blame my father.
When we were growing up, the only good reason for sitting around was if we had a book in our hands. Consequently, the three of us turned into avid readers. My poor mother wasn’t a huge fan of hard work. She always said that’s why she had three kids. She couldn’t wait to get us out the door in the morning so she could land on the sofa with her dogs and a good book. During the summer, poor Mom spent an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom, only so she could have some peace and quiet with her book.
These last few days, many of you have commented on the Creativity Friday post. Please continue to do so – and please read through the comments. Reply, Like the pages that are offered, Favorite Etsy stores, on and on. If you see something that you’d like to purchase and can, please do it. Don’t wait. Support each other. Connect for sure.
Creativity is one of those things that links our hearts, our hands, and our minds. Whether it’s making something, singing, acting, teaching, leading, guiding, scheduling … whatever it is that thrills your soul while you are in the middle of doing it … that’s creativity. I can’t express enough how important it is for you … for all of us … to dig into those things right now, even when we’re stressed, cranky, and in a mood. Especially when we’re feeling those things.
And then, share your creativity. Whether you make cookies for a neighbor and leave them on the doorstep, or a special card for your mail-person to say thank you, or a sign for your delivery person. What if we were to tape signs in our car windows telling the person who puts our groceries in the trunk how special they are? Share and bring a smile to someone.
You know, the thing is – life is different now. It will likely never return to what we were used to. We’re stressed about it because we can’t identify the end of this transformation. We have no idea what it’s going to look like. Heck, for some of us we don’t know what tomorrow will look like. And the last thing we want to be forced to do is adapt … one more time.
But that’s what makes us humans. We adapt. We might grump and groan about it, but we will still do so, because otherwise – well, we aren’t here. Seems to me that doing it with a better attitude would make everyone much happier. There are mornings I wake up all grumpy and growly because my cats decided for me that four hours of sleep was enough. They’re ready to play. Grey has been especially pushy this week. I blame the change in the weather. Two mornings for sure, I sat on the edge of my bed and had to say to myself … out loud, “Diane, this is your choice. You get to choose whether or not you are going to be angry and annoyed or whether you’ll set it aside and enjoy your day.”
I generally choose to set things aside. Anger and grumpiness gets me nowhere and I get nothing done. And when I come to the end of one of those days, I’m so disappointed in my behavior and the fact that I let a day escape without doing anything worthwhile.
This week, as life gives you twists and turns. Spouses annoy you because they’ve been in your space far too long, children are begging for attention when all you want is a chance to read your book, one more co-worker still can’t figure out technology, you don’t know when you’ll get to hug your grandbabies or children, on and on. You get to choose your response.
You really do. Lead out with joy. With hope and peace. Lead out with gratitude and generosity. Do good things. Be kind. Speak loving words. See, the words you speak land in the hearts of those you care for – even your annoying co-worker.
Deuteronomy 30:19-20 says, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.”
Choose life. Choose love. Choose your response.
Be generous with your good words.
I love you. I am thankful for you. I’ll see you next week.

April 19, 2020 - Overcomers

How are you?
You should know that I type out these little talks because looking for words when I speak is often a problem. That huge vocabulary I have is derailed by a mouth that goes faster than my brain. Anyway, it’s obvious that I’ve spent the week writing. When I typed the words – how are you – I used quotation marks, because of course, it’s dialog.
I’m writing Book 30 and the first dead body showed up. We’ll see if it’s the last. Two new characters – well, if you add kids and husbands and aunts, there are more, but two more significant characters are here. One will fade into the background and the other seems like a whole lot of fun, I’m looking forward to having Polly run into her around town. She’s a gregarious extrovert and can’t shut up to save her life. I love people who blather and tell their whole life story without any extra help from me.
This last week has been a good solid week of writing. See, I’m desperately trying to get five more chapters written in the next Mage’s Odyssey story. I usually write it in between Bellingwood activity. This stuff is hard work. Much harder than Bellingwood. I do get into the middle of a Bellingwood story and struggle while waiting for characters to tell me what’s going on, but they’re actually pretty chatty. Writing fantasy is a whole different thing. Everything requires me to create. Not only characters and their interactions, but I’m developing magic, beasts, locations, different races and languages. How does a different culture do things? Every time I open the manuscript, my mind works overtime making things up. It’s exhausting.
When I wrote stories years and years ago, I just knew fantasy had to be easier to write than normal, everyday life. Because I could make it up. Well, nope, that’s not how it goes. It’s as exciting to write this as anything I’ve ever done, but man, it makes me work for it.
Now, what that means is that when I’m avoiding writing the next Mage’s Odyssey chapter, my mind says, “Hey, why don’t you write a Bellingwood chapter so you don’t feel like you’re not getting anything done.” “Well, thank you, I think I will.” And … I started writing Bellingwood Book 30 earlier than usual. Now, it won’t come out to you any faster, because I’ll use those extra days in the middle as I bring the Mage book back under my thumb. I don’t let these things control me very long.
I was in the middle of a Master’s Degree when I wrote “All Roads Lead Home.” I had two reasons to write. One was avoidance. When I couldn’t imagine one more hour of research and writing papers, I wrote a story. The other reason was much more planful. It was the summer of 2011? 2012? I can never remember. Yeah, 2012. I knew that I needed to figure out the next steps in my life – post degree. I’d owned a printing business for over twenty years and wasn’t going back to doing that. I’d worked as a communications director for a large Methodist Church in Omaha. After a lifetime in church leadership, I was done with that part of my career, too. I needed to find something that I could love for the rest of my life.
My Master’s Degree would give me options, but the summer before I finished, I started writing. A girl named Polly Mason moved into her first apartment. She was a pharmacist and found a dead body. Then the story morphed and Polly was a girl who came back to Iowa from New York City to open a knitting store. I was trying to find the story.
Then November came – National Novel Writing Month. I wasn’t thinking about it until I sent a message with some ideas to Rebecca. She mentioned the novel writing month and that I should tuck into it. All of a sudden, it was a challenge and my mind exploded with the story. I had Polly, the dog – Obiwan, Sylvie and her two boys. A veterinarian was going to be the first victim – but that changed. The schoolhouse showed up as I drove past one in Luther, Iowa – it’s since been torn down. The horses. It all fell into place and I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote.
Writing Polly’s story was an escape from the writing I had to do for my Master’s Degree. I worked on my papers for class during the day, and at night, I found Polly. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but the story was finished during that month in 2012.
Then I wrote the Christmas story and in January, A Big Life in a Small Town came pouring out of me. I was still working on my Master’s Degree. In March, I started writing Treasure Uncovered. Polly’s life took off. That June, I finished my degree work and I had three books written.
Now, I avoid writing one thing by writing another. And when writing, I completely avoid housework.
Next Saturday is the 25th and that means the newsletter and another vignette. If you haven’t signed up to get the newsletter, you can on nammynools.com. The website is right over there in the details of this page. The vignettes are so much fun to write. Since I write the Bellingwood books from Polly’s perspective, sometimes you miss things going on in the background. Even though Polly isn’t always around, the community keeps doing its thing. People keep living their lives.
I wish I had a better way to express to you that Bellingwood continues to exist for me in the three months between books. Polly’s stories take about two weeks and then everything goes back to normal. The kids are normal kids, the adults see each other and go out. They have dinner, they meet downtown, they work and do what everyone does. Bellingwood keeps moving on.
The vignettes are available in every newsletter and I write one or two more during a book cycle that show up on my website. Speaking of the website – you should spend time there. I have sketches and maps, and yes, I understand it is never enough. I keep trying to add more. Do a search for ‘vignettes’ and you’ll find those I’ve posted.
Vignettes are different than short stories. Less than 2000 words – just a really quick bit. Short stories for me range between fifteen to twenty-five thousand words. I do a Bellingwood Christmas short every year and those are absolutely part of the storyline. You can’t ignore them and come back. When something else leaps out and demands to be told, it will happen. Stories like Andrew’s “Hidden in the Trees,” Alistair Greyson’s story, “Break Through the Clouds.” I have more that run around up there, but they aren’t far enough along yet to finish and publish.
If you want an entire list – go to my website – nammynools.com. Under the books tab, you’ll see Bellingwood books – and voila, there’s a list! By the way, Mage’s Odyssey, Book #2 will be out at the end of October.
You gave me a couple of questions. One was about cat toys. They have a ton of toys around here, but their favorite thing is a circular tunnel. It’s big enough for the big boys and has two open ends. They chase each other in and out of that all the time. It’s the only toy I’ve gotten them that still holds their interest. I’ll put a link in the description after this is over.
The other was about Hayden and Heath’s possible inheritance and family information. I keep asking if they’re ready for everything to be revealed. Apparently not. So I have no good information on that yet. Someday.
This has been a good week. I’ve gotten a lot of writing done. Of course, it’s never enough, but that’s just my normal state of being. Many of my friends are finding good ways to manage this new world we live in – others struggle and I ache for them. I will tell you over and over that it’s all in how you approach life.
This year I started reading the Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. He quotes the ancient Stoic philosophers – Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca. Stoicism is understanding that our perceptions rather than circumstances affect our lives. I’m not much for philosophy, but this makes sense and asks us to consider that our negative emotions aren’t driven by outside forces, but by our own inner thoughts and world view. That kind of changes things. We are responsible for our attitudes – we can choose to be negative, upset, angry, irrational. Or we can choose to look at things through a very different view; one that looks for hope, joy, peace, love, community, kindness. One that expects that others might not be actually doing wrong to us if we look for their perspective. We choose to step back and realize that it’s not really just about us.
Now, all the hard things we’re dealing with right now are perfect fodder for stories. But good stories don’t sit in the hard and stay there. They don’t live in a ditch and play in the mud. Good stories tell of overcoming and finding our way back to solid ground. Kids, friends, spouses, family members need to know that they will have stories to tell in the future and those stories can be awesome, even in the hardest times. The stories we celebrate? Are stories of people overcoming. Be the overcomer. Look for the good. Look for the path out of the ditch. Then share that.
I am a positive person and I find joy wherever I can. I look for it and it’s there. I try to be grateful and express that. I admit to failing, but I come back. But even someone like me gets dragged down by everyone who wants to sit in the ditch. I can’t be enough for everybody so people like me – need you to find your way through this and be generous with your gratitude, your hope, your joy, your stories of overcoming. Then I can get up tomorrow and be positive and encouraging for someone else. My sister doesn’t even know how often she helps me when I’ve had about enough of people’s negative garbage. All of a sudden, I get a video call so she can show me one of her dogs being goofy. Or she tells me about how she did something for a student or how someone dropped a gift at her house.
My phrase over and over for you is to be generous with your good words. Don’t allow a negative perception of circumstances to steal your joy. But if it happens, let it be real, let it flow. Grieve, be sad, be angry. And then let it go and look for ways to be grateful, to be hopeful and loving. Share the good things. Talk about your goofy kids or dogs and cats. Laugh about the things that are hard, but that you’ve dealt with.
Things are going to be difficult for us. Trouble will come from every side. Failure, mistakes, loss, worries, stress, horrors. That’s life. I don’t want to make less of it than it is, but we cannot mire down in it, because if we do, we’ll never know anything else. Never.
Love. Grace. Gratitude. Hope. Kindness. People need you to offer your best. When words are what we have to express ourselves, be generous with your good words.
I love you all and I’ll be back next week.

April 12, 2020 - Secure Your Memories

Happy Easter! Happy Passover!
It is cold, rainy, snowy, windy – all of those things in the Midwest. I see other parts of the US are facing crazy weather, too. I hope you are safe.
This morning I saw pictures of friends heading to drive-in Sunrise services and I had a flashback. Actually, several. For those of you morning-people, none of this makes sense. For the rest of you, we suffer. Right?
My father, a Methodist pastor, was a morning person. An early-morning person. A happy, early morning person. I am not. I am the anti-morning person.
Suddenly in the midst of an absolutely normal childhood, Dad decided that Easter sunrise services would be a grand idea. People would love to come out at the break of dawn to the side of a local lake to hear the Good News. Oh yeah, I knew what was coming. See, I was Dad’s musician. He’d encouraged me to learn to play the guitar, so I had a mobile instrument.
I remember that first sunrise service. We woke up to cold rain. Pretty sure I heard God laugh that morning. Was Dad canceling the thing? Oh no. People could come or not, he’d be there. And besides, it was going to let up. I struggled … likely quite noisily … and made it into the van with him and off we went. Did Mom go? Nope. She had Easter preparations to make at home. She had a Sunday School class to prepare for. Rat-fink.
It wasn’t enough that we were there for the sunrise service, nope, we were there an hour earlier than anyone else so Dad could get things ready. The thing was, Easter Sunrise services were always filled with people, no matter the weather. In all those years, I think we had one beautiful, warm morning. And today? I’m still pretty sure I hear God chuckling at everyone scurrying around trying to make a happy, hoppy day with rain, cold, snow, and wind.
I don’t miss those early mornings. I learned to do them without complaint, but nothing would turn me into a morning person.
As much as I complained, though, here it is many years later and the memory is a treasured one. It’s become a story now. This is one of the things all three of us kids learned from our parents. Every experience can become a story and every story secures the memory – it’s all in how you tell it … and retell it.
We heard funny little stories about us over and over. Like the night I walked into Mom and Dad’s bedroom. I was drawn to the light of the television. She knew I needed to go to the bathroom, so she told me to turn around, go to the bathroom and go back to sleep. A little while later, she checked on us and found me on the floor of the bathroom, sound asleep on the rug. I’d done exactly what she told me to do. Gone to the bathroom and then went to sleep. She took a picture to help with the memory and then she put me to bed. Picture and story first, practical behavior second. And this was back in the sixties. But they told that story over and over.
My brother was a toddler when he wandered into their room. They’d left the light on in their closet and woke up in shock when my brother walked in and peed in Dad’s shoes. He turned right around and went back to bed. That was when the light went off in their closet and on in the bathroom.
These stories get anchored in our heads because they’re told so often. Everyone laughs and enjoys the memory.
What memories will you take from these last weeks? I’m starting to see more and more people look for (and find) positive and happy things. We have so much to be grateful for, even in the midst of one of the strangest events in our lives. You don’t have to be a writer to capture this. Write out a few memories. Even if it’s just a few lines. And don’t worry that you haven’t started yet. Start now. Open a Microsoft Word document, type in today’s date and jot down observation. Did Aunt Tilly show up on your family Zoom call dressed in her Easter bonnet? Maybe your grandson cut the hair on one side of his head. Or your husband embarrassed you by farting in the middle of the conversation and when you scolded him, he didn’t realize everyone could hear. These are the stories you’ll want to remember next year, the year after, and twenty years from now.
Just write down a few lines. If the weather is crazy, write it down. If your cat pranced across your picture-perfect Easter table, write it down. If you didn’t create a picture-perfect Easter table for the first time in decades, write it down.
Use typing paper, lined paper, a journal, anything. Don’t worry about what you’ve missed writing, capture thoughts and memories from today. And one of these days when you want to fling your family out of the house because you’re so tired of them, take your pieces of paper into another room and write down a few more memories. You don’t need to be an author or a storyteller, you need to be a re-member-er. It doesn’t need to be witty or funny, it just needs to be enough to bring back the memory.
And don’t count on Facebook. We used to write things out on MySpace – it’s gone. Print your pictures. Write your memories.
These are times we want to remember. History is being made. Don’t miss the opportunity to capture your own memories. Tell your story.
Okay, not many questions from y’all. My Easter was quiet. I did NOT get up for sunrise service. My Easter basket as a child was filled with underwear and socks … and candy. We didn’t have favorite candies. We liked it all. Well, Carol loved malted milk eggs covered in chocolate, but otherwise, just bring it on.
The other question I got was about a couple of story lines and when they’ll be finished. There are so many more open storylines – I have a nice, long list. But this question pointed to two that have been the subject of discussion as you all read through the series again. When will we meet Rebecca’s father and when will Polly dig into the information on the drive Jon Renaldi gave her in Book 10 when the brothers investigated her employees? I don’t know when those stories will be told – or if they’ll be told. Bellingwood and its people are organic and when I try to force a storyline on them, they react badly.
Now, that could be a little of my own rebellious nature showing up. I have a tendency to reject ‘advice and recommendations’ that come to me unsolicited. Imagine how much fun my parents had raising this strong-willed child. When people (readers) push me on a story, or believe they’ve out-thought me and know what I’m going to do next … and are stupid enough to say it out loud, my rebellion raises its ugly head and … nope. Even though it might have once been in the plans, it gets tossed out the window. I will not be predictable – except that you can absolutely predict that behavior. I will not have people assume they know what’s going on in my head. Nope, nope, nope. I didn’t say this was a good thing – it’s just what it is. What should have happened in Book 16 (and I’m not giving it away because we have so many new readers), didn’t, because everyone popped in after Book 15 to tell me that it was going to happen. My back went up and characters stayed where they were a few months longer.
I received a lot of pushback during the early years because Polly and Henry weren’t getting together as fast as readers wanted them to. They wanted the books to be just like every other romance series out there – a couple of good fights, some hot sex, and then it’s done and they’re married. But the books were coming out every three months and sometimes life takes longer than three months to put things together. Polly had come off a terrible relationship and started a brand new life. She wasn’t miserable alone, she was excited to be single and free. Strong enough to handle things on her own. She didn’t need a man to fix her. Besides, Henry frustrated the heck out of her. But according to reviewers and readers, I needed to have them in bed together within six months of meeting. Uhhhh, why? I knew the series was going to be written for many years. No one needed to rush. So my back went up and I wrote the story that needed to be written.
All of that to say … when story lines occur organically, they will be told. I can’t force Rebecca’s father to show up when the story is about something completely different. And Polly has no idea where that thumb drive is. Nor does she care. We’ve gotten to know her employees. Unless there’s something ridiculous in their background that I haven’t learned yet, it might never surface. There are so many other stories to be told.
I don’t know if we are in the middle, getting to the end, or where we are in this shelter-in-place thing we have going on. I keep seeing that ‘we’re in this together,’ and we are. We have no choice, to be honest. I’ve seen amazing stories of kindness and helpfulness and hate the idea that in our attempt to move back to what we used to be, we lose sight of those things. In many ways, I’ll miss this time. Not in every way, but a lot of good has come out. For every story of a company who isn’t handling it well, we see multiple stories of companies who are reaching out and caring for their community. One of our readers posted pictures yesterday in her bunny suit with handmade signs. She asked her friends if they’d like a personalized message from the Easter Bunny – and then took the picture. You know of so many of these types of stories. There is a lot of good.
Find the good in your days. Write down your memories. Be grateful. Tell people that you love them, that you are thinking of them. One young woman whose mother died before this happened, mentioned that she’s had people check on her every day. Every single day. Make phone calls, send texts and messages. Mail quick notes. Say thank you over and over. Be grateful – both in your heart and out loud. Don’t miss the opportunity to spread joy, love, peace, and hope.
Be generous with your good words.
I love you and I’m so thankful you are part of this community. I hope you have a wonderful week and I’ll be back next Sunday.

April 5, 2020 - Gratitude

My copies of Book 29 showed up the other day. Yay! It’s always fun to see your work in physical form. Photographers, painters, knitters, quilters … when you are finally finished with a project and can hold it in your hot little hands. Ahhh 
This week is a strange week for many. Holy week started today with Palm Sunday. Passover begins Wednesday evening.
Do you ever think about how your worldview is different than others? Differing worldviews are what cause a lot of judgmental behavior, let me tell you. I have a funny story that taught me a big lesson. Years ago, I was part of a leadership team in a church and because I lived near the florist where we purchased the palm fronds for Palm Sunday, I offered to pick them up. I filled my trunk with stacks and stacks of palm fronds.
They were safely ensconced in there. I’d take them to church with me the next morning. I went to the grocery store afterwards. Purchased my groceries and a young man walked out with my cart. I opened the trunk and as he placed the bags beside the palm fronds, he asked what they were. Well, that was a surprise, but okay. I told him and he was still bewildered. 
Suddenly, it hit me that he had no concept of church holidays – something I’d lived with my entire life. I explained what Palm Sunday was and why we celebrated. He finally nodded to turn me off and left with the cart. As I got back into my car, I took notice of the fact that not everyone believed the same way I believed. Not everyone saw the world through the same pair of goggles that I’ve worn since I was a child. He hadn’t grown up in my shoes and it wasn’t my place to judge him or his parents. It was my place to judge my own self-centered worldview behavior and try to change it to be more accepting and maybe not look quite so surprised at an innocent question.
I’m not here to judge, I’m here to teach, encourage, I’m here to love.
Now, as a pastor’s kid, the weeks before Christmas and Easter were fraught with tension (like that word? Fraught). Poor Dad … and then Mom … and then the three of us kids, were caught up in a maelstrom (another great word) of stress as Dad worked to prepare beautiful and meaningful worship experiences so the church membership could celebrate the holiday. 
It got flat-out ugly at our house. Dad was grumpy and Mom wasn’t having it. Not a one of us would ever tell you that we enjoyed holiday seasons. Oh, once everything was over, Christmas Day was awesome and Easter dinner was fantastic. 
There is a lot of stress that hangs on the shoulders of your pastors and leaders. They’re under even more stress right now. Not only in the middle of all this are they looking for meaningful ways for you to celebrate, but they’re starting to worry about finances. Easter Sunday is the biggest giving Sunday of the year. Pews generally stuffed with family and visitors will be empty. Church leadership doesn’t want to make a big deal about it because they know how important it is for you to experience Holy Week as the holiday that it is. That’s what is most important to these people who care so much about you. Be sure to care back. Okay?
Now, while I’m talking about spiritual things, I want to tell you that whatever you are feeling right now is okay. But I also want to remind you that you don’t need to just wallow in fear and misery. That does no one any good – especially those who are stuck in the same house with you. By now, they’ve heard all your complaints, tried to fix things so you are happy, or left you to soak in it by yourself and are hiding in a closet somewhere. Or maybe you’re dealing with this from the other side – darned tired of putting up with the tragedy from one person’s limited point of view. 
Go to the Psalms. If you don’t have a Bible in the house – find them online. Just start reading through them. One every day. It’s an amazing habit to build anyway. David teaches us how to grieve, to handle fear, to approach God with our anger, fear, grief, and even petty annoyances. This is a man who was taken from his sheep to play the lute for a King who was losing his sanity. And how was he appreciated? King Saul tried to have him murdered because God had anointed David to replace him. Throughout David’s life, things were never easy. His wife ridiculed him, his sons tried to take over the kingdom, he had battles to fight. God wouldn’t let him build a temple. It wasn’t easy.
But read those Psalms. He cries out. He yells at God. He whimpers in frustration. And then, he remembers. When it seems he is ready to completely give up. He remembers. Gratitude and praise flow through his words. 
No matter how bad you feel – frustrated, grieving, annoyed, depressed. Remember. Bring gratitude back into your heart. I will tell you again. If you can’t find ten things to be thankful for today, start working on that list. Look around. Look outside your own heart. Look beyond your fears and frustrations. Open your eyes to something other than yourself. Be grateful.
I found the craziest thing to be grateful for today. And please laugh. Don’t make more of this than it is. It’s a laugh. 
We’ve all been watching our favorite celebrities do whatever they can to encourage us, make us laugh, entertain us; all while being stuck in less-than-flattering environments. People whose lives have been guided by creating a persona. They have stylists who follow them around, touching up their makeup, giving them perfect hair. They live with awesome lighting and sound engineers. And now … they are showing us their real selves. No makeup. No false eyelashes, greying, flat hair. No enhanced lighting or sound. Just reality. 
This morning, I watched a quick video from someone I follow and love and she was doing her best NOT to apologize for all the ‘real’ but she couldn’t help herself. She knew that wasn’t what people expected from her. 
Me? All I could think was. Good heavens, I’ve never put on a false eyelash in my life. I wouldn’t even know how. When I quit working outside the house, I quit wearing makeup – not that I’d worn much before that. My hair stylist has always been me, except for the talented people who gave me good hair cuts. I don’t use lighting or sound equipment. I’m just me. And today I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful to just be me. This person you see is the same person I see every day. My face is my face. I don’t put a different one on in the morning.
It hit me and I laughed out loud as I realized I don’t have to apologize for not giving you what you will always see from me.
Before you start going on and on about how we should all be that way – stop. No judgment. We are the ones who pay those people to perform. If they don’t give us what we want, we stop paying them. Their behavior is based on our response. We don’t pay for ugly performers. We want them to be beautiful and not offend us. Don’t tell me that you aren’t that shallow, please at least be honest about it. I was so shocked by what I saw from this woman, I felt awful for her. She hasn’t aged well. But that isn’t what she wants me to think about when she’s trying to speak to my heart. So she puts on a face that will allow me to look past her age and hear her words.
More honesty. When I first started writing, one thing I thought a lot about was that I didn’t want ‘me’ to distract from the words I wrote. I want you to be all-in with Polly or with Hester in the Mage books. When I write other projects or I speak to you from my heart, I don’t want you to  be distracted by me. This is why performers wear makeup and attempt to present perfection. 
But I’m grateful that I started simply – because simple is what will last me throughout the years. Whew. 
So, this next week. Continue to find ways to be grateful. Look for ways you can be generous with others. Whether it is making face masks, or writing a letter to someone who is alone, or buying a gift on Amazon and having it delivered. Tell people that you love them. Tell them thank you for what they do. Be generous with your good words.
I love you.

March 29, 2020 - Good Words

Hello there, fellow quarantinians! Are you doing okay out there? I brought a couple of friends to hang out with me today. General Leia Organa and WonderWoman. We’ve got this.
I left the house on Friday after two weeks of going nowhere. I was surprised at the number of vehicles on the road. I mean, I usually don’t see all that many in the country, so I didn’t have high expectations. A quick trip to the post office – had to say hello to my friendly postal chick. I kinda miss her. Then, to Boone for Burger King, Scooters Coffee – a smoothie, and my grocery pickup. Also … stop touching your face, Diane. Good grief. I got in the car and my nose started itching. I carry wipes in my car. I’m set.
Yesterday, I saw a notice that the winery just down the road was open and would bring bottles of wine to your car. Ummm, okay? This sounds like a plan. A very good plan. I met a new neighbor (six miles away), made a friend, got some wine. And while I was out, I dropped off one of those bottles to a neighbor. So, I’ve seen the world. It hasn’t changed all that much and now I’m back inside for a few more weeks. How much fuel am I saving? Well, since I don’t really leave the place all that often anyway, not much.
The book release last week was awesome. Thank you all for loving Bellingwood. It makes what I’m about to say that much more difficult. Don’t hate me. But … you’re going to have to wait until June 25 for Book 30. Hahaha.
I totally cracked myself up with that one. Felt a little guilty, then tossed off the guilt because what’s a girl to do with her time these days? Oh … write a book. Don’t worry. I plan to write the Bellingwood story until I’m on my last legs … or fingers … or something.
The Creativity Friday post is going to stay up. I’d love for all of you to scroll down and look for it. Then, engage with those who are creating. Those who have something to sell or a Facebook page to ‘like’ or an Etsy store to favorite. Do those things. Like their pages. Support each other in bigger ways than patting them on the head and saying ‘nice work.’ If you see something you’d like to purchase, do it now if you can. We are trying to figure this whole thing out and we need each other.
Tonight, I am thankful. Gratitude is one of those things we can conjure up all on our own. It’s easy.
As I unpacked my groceries the other day, there were many things not included because the store was out. There were other things that they’d substituted for me. Yesterday, a few items sat on the table, waiting for me to put them where they belonged. A larger container of mayonnaise than I’d originally ordered, two small cans of tomato sauce rather than a single normal-sized can. Instead of a large party pack of plain M&Ms (my go-go stuff when I’m writing late at night and need a jolt), I received five or six smaller packs of crispy M&Ms. I smiled and was grateful, because the people who had picked my order had done their very best to make sure I had what I needed.
In my mailbox, I discovered a gift – a package of handmade greeting cards from a friend. Just about the time I was ready to send out notes, I had the perfect cards to use.
Every night, three cats insist that I need to stay warm. I’m gonna need a fan. But I’m so grateful for snuggly furballs.
You all are here for me and for each other. You have no idea how it makes me feel to see you chatting back and forth on a post. You recognize names now, don’t you. This community is becoming more solidified every day. I am so grateful.
This week, look for fresh ways to be thankful. Things outside your norm. More than just what you usually say – my health, my family, my home – even though this is no time to take any of those for granted. But think differently, look for ways to be thankful. Find ways to tell others ‘thank you.’ Be generous with your good words. Thank you. I love you. Those words help make connections. They fill a person’s heart. And they create growth of gratitude and love in your own heart.
So thank you. I love you. And I’ll be back next week. I hope you fill yours with good words.

March 22, 2020 - A Changed Worldview

As I was doing a final read-through of Book 29, it hit me that my perceptions … my worldview has changed. I was suddenly uncomfortable with all the hand-shaking, the hugging, the gathering, the being close to people that is part of life in Bellingwood. That used to be part of … life. All it took was a week for that change to permeate my consciousness.
How long will it take before we’re comfortable with affection and being in close proximity to others again? Things humanity has taken for granted since the beginning of time – with a few exceptions during plagues and epidemics. Suddenly, those are stripped away, and we view everyone and everything as a possible threat to our health.
Well, not in Bellingwood. Even though it’s difficult to think back to a time when that was all normal (two weeks ago), I will continue to write my stories and life will go on.
The first busy week is over and it was wonderful. In the midst of an upside-down world, you showed up and spent time here. Thank you.
Now comes another big week. Tomorrow, Monday, we’ll celebrate that the page is over 4200 likes with a mug giveaway. I’ll create a post, you’ll comment, and we’re off.
Wednesday, Book 29 is finally published. Hah. I love that you push so hard on timing. It makes me chuckle. Writing a book every three months is sometimes a bit overwhelming. From story creation to writing, rewrites, editing, formatting, and then publishing, it all takes time. I’m driven to meet deadlines while doing my best to provide excellence. It’s been part of my makeup since I was very young. I’d love to tell you that I can go faster, do more, and give you everything you want, and it kills me when it isn’t enough. But I’ve learned to laugh at myself and let a lot of the pushing slide off my back. I know what I’m good at and am confident in what I do. So … you wait.
I’m looking forward to Creativity Friday this week. No matter what you sell or do as a service or whatever, here is where you get an opportunity to share with the community. If you haven’t a good way for people to contact you, create a Facebook page right now. Put photos up and have good contact information. Last week a reader posted a photo of a gorgeous wreath she’d purchased from another reader. Both were thrilled. I was ecstatic to see it happen. Let’s see what other connections we can make.
So, no matter what it is that you create, do, or sell, be ready to tell us. We want to know.
Now, while we aren’t posting anything on the Bellingwood pages (any of them, even the groups) about the corona virus, I do want to encourage good news. Information about the disease or governmental response, both national and local floating around, we don’t need that repeated in here ad nauseum. We are already seeing it over and over. Even if you believe people should know everything, this is not the place. Seriously, if you think we’re missing it – you should know better than that.
On the other hand, thanking those who are helping to take care of our world right now, from healthcare providers to truckers, grocery store workers, delivery folks, on and on, that is important. Gratitude and grace will be what brings us together as humans.
Reach out to your friends, family and neighbors with a note, a phone call, a text, a message. Tell people you are thinking about them. Ask if they’re okay. Listen when others talk. This is the most important thing. Don’t try to push your own thoughts and feelings and worries and concerns into conversation – listen first. Your turn will come. These are the things Polly teaches her kids. They’re what my parents taught us. This is what we all need to practice.
I am so thankful for you today. I love that we’re all here together. Take care of yourselves. And I’ll be back next Sunday evening with another Live because I like chatting with you.

March 15, 2020 - The Beginning of the Weird

Are you still smiling? Of course you are – even if it feels a little strained these days. 
I’m glad you’re here with me. And I’m so thankful that you’re part of Bellingwood. For me, this is a little sane spot in the middle of an insane world and you are part of that.
First of all, you need to know that I am a hermit. This whole staying away from people thing? I’ve been doing that for years. I don’t hate it. That’s the only way for me to hold on to enough focus to be creative, to write, to be me. When I’m with people, I’m as social as they come. I’m not necessarily an introvert. But I prefer solitude. Weird girl.
Friday, I knew that I needed to just manage my life in the outside world, so if necessary, I could come back and not leave for a few weeks. You know, like I do. So, off I went to the post office and then to get groceries and gas up my car. I’d been talking to myself for hours about not touching my face, keeping my hands clean. I carry a pack of Lysol wipes in the car and finally just draped one over the shift knob to remind me. I was NEVER so glad to get home, wash my hands and collapse in my own germs so I could quit worrying about whether or not I was touching my face. I mean, my nose itches, for pete’s sake.
Though the corona virus is a huge deal right now throughout the world, you aren’t going to see me reference it in the Bellingwood books. A couple of reasons for that. 
First – who knows where we’ll be next year, two years, or even five years from now when others start reading this series. I know – it will likely be considered an historical event – but for now I’m not going to throw my characters into it. We’re all living with enough drama, I don’t need to create more for us in Bellingwood. Second – it’s Bellingwood. That’s all.
Now, I will tell you that when I started writing this book in the middle of January, I did write about quarantining part of the Bell House because of flu and colds. What a weird thing to be re-reading while editing. A girl never knows.
However, I’m declaring Bellingwood a virus-free zone. You have enough information and mis-information coming into your Facebook feeds and we aren’t feeding any of that here. Not on the page, not in the groups. Not in Bellingwood. If you feel you HAVE to share the latest and greatest bit of information you’ve just learned, do not do it here, no matter how important you think it is to everyone’s safety. 
See, this is one of those times when we are inundated with so much that we can’t make sense of it. In 1999 after Columbine, In 2000 as we prepared for Y2K, and then in 2001 following 9-11; I was addicted to news. I had headline news running 24 hours a day. Then I started to notice something about myself. I was depressed all the time. I wasn’t laughing, I wasn’t having fun. I was miserable. The first thing I did was to turn off the news. I had enough information, one more person’s opinion or re-statement of the facts changed nothing about what I knew. But it was tearing at my heart and soul. 
You’d be surprised at how quickly we recover when we aren’t inundated with daily horrors. I felt free again. Seriously, hide those people on Facebook who insist on continually sharing the worst in life, who post negative, scary, and misguided things. They aren’t doing you any favors. If you find yourself feeding into it – figure out where it’s coming from and then Stop it. Ugliness, fear, and lies spread as fast as any virus. Find ways to spread joy and creativity and happiness. The other will make its own way without your participation.
So … speaking of creativity and happiness. Let’s talk about Bellingwood. There is so much going on here the next two weeks.
This Wednesday, March 18 – I’m giving away the first boxed set. Free. I’ll post a link on the Facebook page for you to share. And oh my, thank you for sharing. Making positive comments on that post, liking it, on and on. That really helps as I advertise. Thank you for everything.
Friday, March 20 – Trivia Night! We’ll start at 6 pm central time and go until 11. I will post questions. You will answer them. Cheat for heaven’s sake. You have to pay a penance for cheating., I usually expect you to eat a piece of chocolate, so stock up. It’s only twelve questions – you can eat M&Ms. If not chocolate, something that’s decadent for you.  I’ll choose winners from each question on Saturday, the 21st. It’s a whole lot of fun. Hang out with me – we chatter, I lose my mind trying to keep up with everyone’s comments. It gets worse if I have alcohol in me. We’ll see.
Wednesday, March 25 – Newsletter and Book 29! That’s pretty self-explanatory. Sign up on my website nammynools.com.
Friday, March 28 – Creativity Friday. Okay, here’s where I want you to get really involved. On this Creativity Friday, I’m going to ask you to share the creative things you’re working on, but if you sell and ship your items, I’ll ask for that information as well. Have you created a Facebook page for selling your items? Do it! This is a wonderful way to let people know that you’re legit. Especially now that you probably won’t be going to craft fairs for a while. You have a couple of weeks to get this set up. Do you have a website? 
And not only you, but if you have a kid or a best friend or a parent or a spouse who has a shop, or sells something, be prepared to share that. If you sell things like Pampered Chef or Scentsy or any of those types of things – give us your shop page. Etsy shops, Ebay shops (do people still have those?). This is the time to tell us.
If things are still wacky in another month, we’ll continue doing this. No, it’s not the place to tell us about good causes you believe we should support or how we should purchase locally, or to complain about how awful the world is. We all know those things. We aren’t here to listen to your advice or opinions. This is about supporting you, your family, and your best friends.
But don’t do that yet. Wait until the 28th. Then we can have all the information in one place – on one post. I don’t care if you are in the UK or Australia, Canada, Mexico, or anywhere else. I have readers in all those locations and they might want to connect with you. 
A couple of things yet. Rebecca B is my designer, my creative partner in many things and an amazing designer. She has just published two books. A children’s book – Frederick the Caterpillar – about risking what we’re used to – to become something amazing. And You Are A Wonder – a glorious reminder of who we are … who you are. Check out her FB page here – Rebecca B books. Like it. Support her. Support each other always! 
Speaking of Likes and Follows. Click that silly Like button on pages. The follow button is nice, but the LIke button is better. That’s what a page counts. And when I tip over the next 100 mark, there are mug prizes to be given away, but we can’t get there without you all participating. 
Last thing. While you’re home wondering what to do with yourself this next week, consider letter writing. Literal letters on papers. Mail them with stamps. I know you still have paper. A few weeks ago, I sent a letter to my junior high English teacher after watching a video of her speak at her church (she talked about my dad being important in her spiritual growth – I cried). But I received a really nice note back from her on Friday. She told me how glad she was that I wrote to her. And then her last line wrenched my heart. Three simple words: Write again sometime.
Let’s fill mailboxes with messages of love, encouragement, hope, joy, peace. If your hand hurts too much from arthritis to write a letter, type and print it out. Send a postcard instead of a letter. Talk your children into writing to their grandparents and aunts / uncles. These little pieces from the heart will mean so much. Remember how you loved receiving mail. Be the person who sends it

December 31, 2019 - A New Year is Coming

Thank you for hanging with me in 2019.
It wasn’t an easy year for many of us. 
January is my favorite time of the year. I dig in and plan for the upcoming months. I will live up in my head for the next two weeks, sketching out story ideas, scheduling activities and goals, dreaming up new craziness to try.
Last January I was so excited I could barely stand it. What a great year.
Just about the time I thought things were going to sail along smoothly … February hit. 
Sometimes it felt like things were never going to get any better, but then I realized it was all in my head. I had control of those … feelings.
Sure, things happened. Over and over. 
Sometimes I tanked. Completely. This is where friends and family come in handy. See, when things were a mess in my life, their lives were more normal and they reminded me that it was temporary. It was a moment in an otherwise pretty wonderful life.
Now, I’d like fewer of those stressors to happen in 2020, but the truth is, we get what we get. It’s how we handle ourselves in the middle of life, whether it is good or bad that shows the world who we really are.
I added a lot of new things to my professional life this year. From the journal, to the recipe book and then a fantasy story. Two groups were added to the Bellingwood page and with the addition of other books, the Facebook author page was created. My new website is really close to being finished – like days, now. It isn’t a big change, but it will be clean and fresh and I’ll be back to writing on a regular basis there.
So, what would I like to see happen in 2020?
One thing that I’ve not done much with this last year is focus on your creativity. 
Have you heard of Johanna Basford? She is the amazing illustrator who gives us adult coloring books that are out of this world. This last fall, she offered a free drawing video course on her Facebook page. She believes that when we are being creative, we can find happiness. And in so doing, we inspire happiness in others.
Tara Reid is another creative (and marketing) genius who believes that creativity sparks happiness. 
Bob Ross taught us about happy little trees.
See … these artists understand that little tiny truth. Happiness is right there … at the tips of our fingers. Yes, joy comes from somewhere much deeper within and happiness is ephemeral – circumstances can knock it right out of our lives. But when it is so simple to find moments of happiness in being creative, why shouldn’t we search for those moments? Whether it is drawing a simple flower or taking a picture of a sunset (or sunrise for you early birds), or bringing a garden to life, sewing a quilt, singing a song, or even making dinner, we all create. 
We are made in the image of God, right? And what is the first thing we learn about God in the book of Genesis. He is a creator. He is the creator. He creates every day. For us to deny that we are creative, or ignore the little nudges to make something … anything … is to deny our true selves. 
This next year I intend to be creative in new and different ways. I just ordered a book on calligraphy and hand lettering. I’m going to write four Bellingwood books and a holiday short story. I plan to finish the second book in the Mage’s Odyssey series and hunker down on some of the other stories that beg to be written. 
But mostly, I will encourage you to be creative. You aren’t too old; you aren’t too decrepit; you aren’t too anything that’s negative.
This morning I read a post by a young man who went home for Christmas. His grandmother had decided that she was going to learn to play the fiddle and told no one. In her late 60s, she picked up a violin, took lessons, and by Christmas, she played for her family. 
Let’s see what happiness we can bring to the world. It is begging for us to do so much more.
Before I started writing full-time, I read several inspiring books. Stephen Pressfield’s War of Art and several by Seth Godin. One thing they reiterated over and over was that we each have something to offer the world. By ignoring it, the world misses out on knowing something profound. 
I don’t care what you believe your limits are. You have something to offer. It’s time to take hold of that, believe in yourself, and do. 
Let’s go get this year. I am here to encourage you and to love you. Thank you for doing the same thing for me.