Generous Good Words Livecast
Weekly Facebook Livecast
Every Sunday evening at 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!
June 28, 2020 - Personas
June 21, 2020 - Redemption
June 14, 2020 - Learn
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.
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.
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?”
“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.
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 …
CAROL AND HER FROGGIE
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.