Archive | August, 2014

Love Tosses Caged Sparrow Over Another Hurdle

27 Aug

I honestly believe it will never be this special again.

First, some great news…We have an agent! Her name is Diana; she read my proposal for Joe’s story and asked for the manuscript Friday. Over the weekend I went through it one last time and pronounced it finished Sunday night. I sent a hard copy to Joe and electrons to Diana; she is now working on finding the right publisher. I couldn’t say for sure whether Joe or I was more excited, but as I listened to Joe’s elation over the phone Friday, I was tickled to pieces to have witnessed it. (I do believe he did a little jig.)

Completed manuscript

One step closer to the book rack!

It was a sobering moment, Sunday night when I hit the “send” button, and with one click, transmitted more than a year’s worth of work and dreams off to an unknown world in cyberspace. I sat there staring at the “message sent” notice for a long time, contemplating the true scope of this journey, which actually began in the early 70s, sitting with my Nana in her giant four-poster bed, listening to her read from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. I became so inspired by Laura’s storytelling gift that I knew, just knew, it was what I wanted to do for my life. I started writing with abandon, and when my English teacher, Mr. DeRobbio, said I had a gift, I positively soared. I was going to be a writer!

But I didn’t do it. Not really. I stifled the call to write, with a military career (during which I wrote as a journalist, but not for myself–yet even there I received encouragement from people I admired and still try to emulate, like Pat Gibbons, Tom Bartlett, and Ken Smith-Christmas…), and I put it aside for two wonderful children and years of busyness. All the while, I knew God was nudging me…“So, when are you going to start?”

Then He put friends in my life to nurture and encourage, each one sending me a little closer to the ledge—Susannah Johnson’s “The Artist’s Way” class pushed me to Sarah’s writing group, where she, Martha, Meredith, and Anne dared me to dream about “what if?”

One domino toppled the next. I found myself at a writers’ conference that fanned the spark into flame, and met inspiring people like Beth Pensinger and Erin Elizabeth Austin. Over the next year I was a fly on the FB wall, watching their struggles as Beth wrote and published a sweet read called, “Let Me Fall: The Love Story Between God and His Dimwitted Daughter,” and Erin inspired thousands by sharing her battles and victories over darkness and founded Broken but Priceless Ministries. I’ll never be able to express to these women how integral they’ve been in my journey, and yet we barely spoke to each other.

But I STILL didn’t listen, so God forced my hand. He sent Linda Rondeau, a fellow writer and perfect stranger. She just appeared outta’ nowhere, armed with a story about a man who went to prison for a crime he did not commit and looking for someone who might want to write it. Another domino. This led to Joe and his awesome story.

Desire, ability, a story that absolutely HAD to be told–I had no more excuses. I even had my husband’s wide-eyed, “I’m-a-bit-nervous-but-I-know-this-is-important-to-you” blessing, and two sons who were glad to see me doing what I loved. And then sweet, sweet Phanalphie, of RhueStill Inc., who didn’t even know me yet but read my writing and offered me a net to jump into, and she probably would have flown out here from Oklahoma and pushed me off if I’d asked her to.

And again, I didn’t leap off the cliff. I more or less attempted to inch my way over the rim, scraping my knees as I fumbled blindly for toeholds, and I found myself only a couple of feet down, clinging to a ledge by my fingernails, half in and half out of two vastly different worlds. It took more nudging, by many more friends. Carrie and Kevin, my best friends and confidantes from work, helped pry my fingers off the ledge by assuring me that “the gang” would be fine, and although they’d miss me, I had to leave or risk going through life not knowing. Since I left, both of them have sent me inspiring notes when I really needed them, and many others from work continue to check in. Chuck and Rebecca check in almost daily, and let me whine on their e-shoulders when things don’t quite work out the way I want them to.

I also received tremendous support from my prayer partners, Kathy, Dino, Linda, Chris, and Michele, from my neighbor Julie, and friends and family from all over like George, Heidi, Jo, and Willa.

And a book was born.

While I was writing this I thought, you probably wouldn’t want to read a bunch of names of people you don’t know, but then I realized, this isn’t about the names. You do know these people. They’re in your lives as well. You just call them something different.

The bottom line is, if there’s ANYTHING you want to do, you can do it, but not on your own. Dare to dream. Then surround yourself with positive, prayerful people, and listen to God’s nudging; remember that He put this desire in your heart in the first place.

I will write more books. Joe’s story is powerful, but it probably won’t make either of us famous. I will write better books, and more than likely a few flops. I may even receive recognition for some, although that is not my measurement of success.

But it will never be like this. This is special. This is the end of the beginning. And you helped.

Thank you.

Lost in Dr. Who-ville: A Whole Lotta’ Baking Going On

22 Aug

There’s a stranger in my kitchen, baking cookies.

He looks a lot like my teenager, although he’s a foot taller than last year’s model.

But he’s baking cookies. For the second time this week.

There’s flour on the fridge, on the window ledge, and on the sink. There’s even some in the mixing bowl.

I wouldn’t say he can’t bake. He just doesn’t. Last Christmas the two of us made gingerbread together and I thought he was getting the hang of it. I didn’t notice until too late that he’d added a tablespoon of whole cloves instead of ground.

Mmmmmmm, crunchy…

(Before you judge him on his lack of culinary knowledge, you should know that when his mother was a teenager, she foraged through the pantry for a snack and came up with a pretty, gold-wrapped square of something called “bouillon” and popped it into her mouth. He comes by it honestly.)

Flour on the table

Now that I’ve regenerated…boy, am I hungry!

There’s flour on the stove top. He hasn’t even pre-heated the oven yet!

I guess what I’m trying to say is, of all the amazing things this talented young man enjoys and does well, baking is not a strength. Cooking, yes. He can produce a mean Chèvre/Gouda mac’n cheese with very little effort, or a satisfying one-pot meal in a Dutch oven over a campfire. But these are forgiving dishes; they can handle a little miss-handling, if you know what I mean.

Baking, however, is a calm task that requires precise measuring and very little bobbing. Those of you with teens know bouncing and sudden, unexplainable leaping comes with the territory. Unless there’s work to be done, in which case they’ve got that whole comatose thing mastered.

There’s flour on the cat.

So, why would an otherwise normal teenager be using up perfectly good summer vacation days to do something other than Skype and Minecraft?

Well apparently, tomorrow is the 912th-or-something season premiere of Dr. Who. You remember Dr. Who, right? That British program(me) about a delightfully cocky extraterrestrial who travels everywhere and everywhen for no apparent reason and always manages to arrive just in time to prevent the demise of the universe.

Frankly, I didn’t even know the show was still in production, but that gives you an idea of how far I’ve fallen behind the times—although in this case, does it really matter? (Ha! Timelord humor.)

And also, apparently, this season premiere thing is a big deal. The kind of big deal that calls for a Superbowl-type party, at which chips and dip are considered unacceptable fare, as are bacon, baked beans, and bread & butter. So, looking at the list of acceptable fare, and seeing that Fish Fingers with Custard was already taken, and TARDIS Pies (the flavor is bigger on the inside) contain some rather costly ingredients, he opted to make cookies. Big, perfectly round cookies that must be decorated with Circular Gallifreyan writing. (I refuse to look that up, on the grounds that I might learn that it is, indeed, an accepted language with its own dictionary, thesaurus, and syntax rules).

Yesterday he made a half-batch, as a test. They were quite good, and floury. That afternoon we had an appointment across town, after which we stopped for lunch.

The meal is on me, I told him, but anything extra comes out of your own money. He pulled out his wallet to check his finances and when he opened it, up wafted a puff of white flour.

“Hmm,” he said, grinning as he watched the powdery white dust settle on the car seat, the dash, and all over his lap. “How’d that get in there?”

I could only watch, incredulous, and laugh with him.

Yep, I thought. I’m pretty sure that’s my boy.



 “That’s monstrous! Vaporisation without representation is against the constitution!”      — The Doctor

For Bill, Who Knew the Secret

9 Aug

Yesterday was the final day of a long goodbye to our friend and neighbor, Mr Bill. We sent him off with military honors and with much wisecracking and laughter, as was befitting a man voted class clown in high school and who laughed habitually, with great abandon.

Mr. Bill’s life, though too short, was a life well-lived. He was one of those rare people who truly knew that the secret to happiness is to love God and love others. His sweet wife Julie says often of him that he never knew a stranger, which aptly describes the way he so easily drew everyone in, and how effortlessly he could make anyone laugh. His gregarious joy was so contagious that even people who’d only met him once or twice came to the funeral yesterday with stories of his antics and his generosity. A woman he worked with as a teenager at a Hallmark store in the 70s wrote from Arizona to tell of how fondly she still looked back on those days, and how, after she shared her regret with Bill that she’d never received an Easy-bake Oven when she was a child, he’d left one on her car one day, gift wrapped. She still has it today. Another man, who knew Bill in the early 80s and who hasn’t seen him since, came all the way from London to say goodbye, because the bond they’d formed all those years ago had been just that strong.

William Dean Turner

William Dean Turner

He joked about everything, even his cancer. He wrote in a letter to his friends: “I had a PET Scan, which is like a CAT Scan, only it’s for people who have dogs, fish, birds, or are just not cat fans. This scan showed the tumor had shrunk to half its original size. Everyone who was not mentioned in my will was overjoyed.

Later, when the news came that the cancer had resumed its growth and the doctor told him he might have 4 months or 40 years, he said, “that’s the same thing my parole officer told me!”

We met Bill about 10 years ago, through our son, who was around 5 at the time, and who is the reason we call our neighbor “Mr. Bill.” That title made us giggle (my husband and I, that is, because we’re children of the 70’s Saturday Night Live).

Our son developed a Dennis-the-Menace/Mr. Wilson-type of relationship with Mr. Bill. I swear they started swapping jokes almost from day one. Some days our son would stand draped over our mailbox, watching for him to come home from work, bursting at the seams with the “gem” of the day. Seeing his car come around the corner was an occasion for great glee. Bill would leap from the car and fire off a gem of his own that he’d been saving for just that moment. I suspect each of them poured through the joke books every night, looking for ammunition.

Bill was good to all children, and children loved him. He had a child’s heart.

Throughout his Chemo treatments, Bill continued to celebrate life, especially last Halloween (his favorite holiday) when, despite being weak and tired, he dug through the garage and hauled out the house-sized, inflatable black cat with a motion-sensor caterwaul-screeching device and erected it across his walkway (because the kids expect it, he said).

After he passed away last Saturday, my family was saying a prayer of thanks for Bill and his friendship, and it was my son who hit the crux of what had been Bill’s mission on earth, when he said, “Mr. Bill truly knew how to love thy neighbor.”

As I stood with friends and at Quantico National Cemetery watching the Air Force honor guard fold the flag and handed it with great reverence to Mrs. Julie, I realized we’d soon be forming a line to walk past his coffin, and I’d have one final moment, just between the two of us, to say something noble. I actually fretted about this, because it suddenly mattered to me a great deal, but when my turn came, I had nothing. So, I just patted the coffin, closed my eyes, and that’s when the words came:”

“Goodbye Bill, and have fun up there!”

And I know he will.