Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Five Years

Downhill, cross country,
and snowshoeing in Tahoe.
We did everything together.
October 29thwill mark the fifth anniversary of Tom’s very sudden death. Five years. No wonder I’ve been in a funk for the past few weeks. I never expected to outlive my husband by…well…any amount of time. I guess I never considered we wouldn’t “go” together. We did everything else together.

Five years. And when I say, “funk”, that’s what I’m calling the emotional exhaustion I experienced. Not depression. I checked it out with my favorite go-to doctor, Dr. Google. 

You see, for a few weeks I had low energy levels, no motivation to write, sleepless nights followed by naps during the day, crying at the drop of a hat and the big one…forgetfulness. I’m not talking about forgetting to eat or forgetting to check the mail. I do that stuff all the time because I get busy. Engaged in my writing and such. 

No. This was bigger. I forgot to pick up my grandson for his golf match. Three times. He’d call and I’d jump in the car, race to get him, and each day manage to drive him to the course before his tee time. I’m sure he was flustered by not getting there early. I was devastated. 

He was forgiving. I cried.

Late one night…or maybe it was in the wee hours of the morning…I consulted Dr. Google. If I was going through some kind of depression or mental illness I wanted to confront it head on. I listed my symptoms and the good doctor took me to several pages. 

I decided I was emotionally exhausted. It is real. I decided to take steps to care for myself with more walking, less television, eating a more balanced diet, and following a strict schedule (which did not include midday naps). I asked my personal secretary, “Alexa,” to remind me of appointments. I picked my grandson up on time thereafter (with an M&M McFlurry in hand I might add…his favorite), and went to bed at the appropriate hour. 

Five years. I didn’t experience this feeling with any other “anniversary” of Tom’s death. (I put anniversary in quotes because the word connotes celebration to me…maybe I should use the word “remembrance” or something. 

I digress. 

Tom's Colleagues Campaigned to Have a Scholarship in His Name
As Well As This Lifetime Achievement Award
I think the reason this upcoming day has hit me so hard is because I simply thought I would never live this long without him. And it could go on for years. And years. And more years.

So I decided to do something even more positive. 

You see, Tom’s research to protect people in the workplace was impactful. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has referred to him as a “public health hero.” After his death, the CDC Foundation set up a scholarship in Tom’s name. They established it and told me then that if it reached the $50,000 mark in …yep, Five Years…it will be an endowed fund. 

That means it will go on forever. Young men and women seeking to follow in Tom’s footsteps will have access to financial aide for their education. 

tireless leadership...
fierce determination"
For me, it isn’t that some deserving student will receive funds. For me it is that every applicant will read Tom’s story, look at his body of research, and hopefully, seek to serve others the way Tom did. Tom’s work was, in effect, his ministry. He was passionate about what he did. He sincerely cared about people. 

I want what Tom did to inspire others to conduct research with a sense of “mission” and harbor a deep care about worker safety. 

Five years. It’s coming up.

The fund is short by several thousand dollars. So, here is my proposition:
October is National Ergonomics Month. I will match monies donated in this month. I have limited funds, so there is a cap on how far I can go, but if donors give $15,000 I’ll match it and the scholarship will be firmly established. 

You see, when Tom died, we had just purchased a camper. We were able to use it three times. We talked of our future travels and planned to live in it in Naples, Florida for a couple of months in 2015. 

It was a plan. A dream.

I put the money aside from the camper to use in a way that would honor Tom. This is it. Any amount helps. Twenty-five dollars? Yes. Fifty or a hundred? Of course. It’s all tax deductible. So if you won the lottery and want to donate a couple of thousand, I won’t discourage you! 

And I’ll make it easy. Click onthe following to donate on line. 

If you prefer to write a check, you'll find the form at the following link. Simply print it out and mail it in with your check.  The address is on the form.

And if you already give to the CDC Foundation, you can designate this year’s gift to go to the Thomas R. Waters Memorial Scholarship.  

Thank you. For bearing with me through all this. Holding me up. Reading to the end. But most of all...for giving.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Friendship Set to Music

Friendship Set to Music.  That is what the brochure said.  I looked at my husband of thirty-five years.  I could not imagine a day when he would even suggest we take dance lessons. And these weren’t just any kind of dance lessons.  The brochure he held in his hand was advertising square dance lessons.  The lessons were free.  Three dates were listed starting the first Tuesday in January. Attending one of the sessions would be at the very least, a cheap date.

I smiled.  “Sounds like fun.” 

I doubted that when the date rolled around he would follow through. Sometimes, something sounded like a good idea at the moment, but when the time arrived, Tom would balk and grumble about going to an event.  

We had just entered a new season of our lives.  Our youngest daughter had married. We were official empty nesters.  The process had been a long one.  Years earlier, when Kendall initially left for college we had a taste of the empty nester experience.  I remember the first Friday night we were not headed to a high school football game to watch Kendall cheer.  We quickly realized that many of the people we would have called friends were actually acquaintances; parents of Kendall’s friends.  

For most of our daughter’s college career we had found our social outlet through activities designed for us as individuals.  Tom enjoyed his golf league and playing a round or two with friends from church.  I had taken on a more active role in our Women’s Ministry team, including a weekly Bible study.

We had fallen into a rhythm of sorts that seemingly met our individual needs. When the first Tuesday of January arrived, I casually mentioned the lessons to Tom. 

“Are we going to try this?” I asked.  

“’Sure, if you want to,” he replied.  I was surprised.

“Okay,” I answered, “but I am not wearing a fluffy dress or big hair!”

The lessons were held at the county park in a real barn.  A long table boasted a bowl of popcorn, cookies, pretzels, water, and coffee.  The atmosphere was “wholesome.”  I smiled to myself at the thought.  It would be a descriptor I looked for in planning activities for my kids.

That night we learned the person directing our movements was referred to as the caller. We learned a few basic moves. We also learned that square dancing was declared the national folk dance by President Reagan.  I loved the free lesson but I couldn’t read Tom’s reaction. The caller invited all newcomers to return the next week.  I was ready. However, I told myself, if Tom didn’t like it I would not whine or beg.  As we walked out to the car, Tom surprised me by naming all the other people we knew we should ask to join us the following week.  He was hooked.

As it turned out, square dancing is more involved than I remembered it being in my sixth grade physical education class.  Our lessons extended over a period of nine months.  We then joined a square dance club.  We found ourselves going out to eat with fellow dancers, traveling to weekend events, and sharing our joys and sorrows with our newfound friends. Square dancing is, by its very structure, a social activity.  

When my husband died in October 2014 our square dance community rallied around me. They brought food to our family the night of the visitation. Cards and letters poured into the house. Dancers delivered meals. I looked out one snowy day in winter to see one of our square dance friends shoveling my driveway. 

It has been nearly five years now since Tom left this earth for heaven. A couple of weeks ago, I headed back to “the barn” where square dance lessons are held. There were a lot of new people there but many familiar faces. I was greeted with hugs and smiles. One of the men offered to be my partner for the night as I brushed up on some of the basic moves. 

I thought it would be hard to walk into that space again. I thought it would be challenging to dance without Tom. In the end, though, I discovered that the brochure was right in the first place. Square dancing is Friendship Set to Music. 

Through these past few years I’ve learned the friendship remains even when the music fades. Maybe that is the greatest gift of all.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Truth Behind the 10 Minute Novelist

I belong to several writing groups. One that meets online via Facebook is called 10 Minute Novelists. When I first joined, I wondered what the notion of a ten-minute novelist meant. 
Write a novel in only ten minutes a day? Sure.

Use ten-minute intervals or snatches of time every day? Yes. 

Or was it for writers like me who can only sit still for ten minutes at a time? Of course.

What I found was a community of writers trying to fit in their passion for writing into any bit of time they could carve out of an already busy schedule. 

I found an honest group of writers muddling through the process of writing and publishing and fulfilling their dreams.

I found people willing to share what they were learning in the process. 

I found people who can laugh together as they share an invisible table of snacks via the internet.

I found both experienced and inexperienced authors offering words of wisdom.

I found people not afraid to speculate on possible answers to impossible problems. 

I found authors who celebrate each other’s successes

And I have found friends.

I found people who have prayed with me and over me when my husband died suddenly. I found people who offered me words of encouragement as I struggled to find my way back to writing. I found a group who celebrated any small success I had with the same enthusiasm as the release of a new novel. 

This group reminded me through their support what writing is all about. It’s about sharing our life stories. It’s about creating happily ever after endings if we choose even if they do not match reality. It’s about inventing or reinventing ourselves as we move through life. It’s about appreciating the power of the printed word. It’s about losing yourself in a world you create….for at least ten minutes every day.

Note, A version of this post was shared on the 10 Minute Novelist blog in 2015.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Love is Patient. Love is Kind

This past week we buried my sweet Aunt Ruby. Aunt Ruby was eighty-nine years old. Her health had been failing but she was determined to make it to ninety. She told her doctor as much a few days before her passing. Her body gave out, but her spirit never gave up. 

I was asked to share thoughts about my aunt at the funeral. I decided to share some of those thoughts here as well. I want to honor her and remember her, yes. But in gathering my thoughts on Aunt Ruby, I learned something about myself and the woman I want to be as I walk this life. 

When I first began preparing my talk for my aunt’s funeral, several words and phrases came to mind. Words like “trustworthy” and “hospitable”; phrases like “gentle spirit” and “quiet strength.” 

A Woman of Noble Character
The words that surfaced reminded me of the woman of noble character described in Proverbs 31: 
            “…she brings her husband good and not harm…”
            “…she gets up while it is still dark, she provides food for her family…”
            “…she sets about her work vigorously…”
            “…her lamp does not go out at night…”
            “...she makes clothing for her family and covering for her bed…”
            “…she is clothed with strength and dignity…”
            “she does not eat the bread of idleness…”
“…charm is deceptive, beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised..”

I share those phases because each one describes my aunt. One would be worth mentioning. Any woman would be honored to be described by one of these phrases, but the truth is that I had to select only a few from the long list in the chapter. Aunt Ruby was a woman of noble character. 

But is There More?
As I was working on what I would say at the service for my aunt, I shared my thoughts with one of my daughters. Aunt Ruby’s life brought to her mind, words from the New Testament in Galatians 5 verse 22 where Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, piece, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control

Yep, that’s my Aunt Ruby.

This year, I’ve been working to memorize the twelfth chapter of Romans. In that chapter we are instructed to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer, …and to practice hospitality.”

Yep, that’s my Aunt Ruby.

Patience Learned, Patience Cultivated, Patience Practiced 

But as I went to through the days leading to that point in time when we would all gather to say our final farewell and share our memories of a life well lived, I realized one quality, one trait emerged over and over in the scripture I chose and in my aunt’s life: Patience.

My aunt loved to fish. Fishing takes patience. Aunt Ruby learned patience as she baited the hook, dropped her line in the water and waited. 

She raised a garden to feed her family. Gardening takes patience. Aunt Ruby cultivated patience and demonstrated faith as she planted seeds, watered, waited, weeded and watered and waited some more, watched the plants bloom and waited still longer. Eventually, the vegetables grew and ripened. She’d pick the fruits of her labor to feed her family with fresh bounty as well as preserve the rest for use later. 

Aunt Ruby worked as a seamstress for a high-end dress shop. She altered clothes for customers. Sewing a garment at any level requires patience, but meeting the needs and demands for people who are paying for the service requires a big dose of patience and much needed grace. Fabric can be unforgiving, sewing machines can break, and a job that should take minutes winds up taking hours. I’m sure there were times when my aunt was frustrated, but she put the patience she learned to work for her. She did what she had to do. She was loved and respected by her employer, coworkers and clients.

Patience isn’t necessarily a gift. It is a learned behavior; A behavior or trait to be cultivated and practiced.

Maybe in this instant world we live in. This place where we connect with people instantly all over the world through technology and expect our food to be instantly ready for us when we are hungry.  Maybe in this time when we expect…no when we demand… to have the answers at our fingertips and become frustrated when it doesn’t happen. Maybe we can learn from Aunt Ruby. 

Maybe it’s time we do a little more fishing or plant a garden. 

You see patience is more than something we wish we had or something we wish others around us practiced. Patience is the thread that holds us together.It is the first quality used to describe love in the thirteenth chapter of the letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

“Love is patient, love is kind.” I Corinthians 13:4

Thank you, Aunt Ruby for helping me to see this. Thank you for a life well lived.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Sneak Peek: Behind the Scenes

Libby's Cuppa Joe is 6 Months Old This Month! 
In celebration of Libby's birthday, I decided to take my readers behind the scenes of Libby’s Cuppa Joe
I’m often asked about where I get the idea for a story. The ideas for me are easy. I look around and imagine the story behind what makes a person think and act the way they do. But crafting a story? Crafting takes research. Come with me behind the scenes in the crafting of Libby’s Cuppa Joe.
The Setting Libby’s Cuppa Joe takes place in a coffee shop in Door County, Wisconsin. I had visited Door County as a tourist. To assure accuracy, I researched the Wisconsin peninsula on-line. I gathered information about the calendar of events in the communities there and used a map to think through the places and roads my characters would travel.
The Coffee Shop Running a coffee shop is a bit beyond the skills I acquired with my Mr. Coffee. While I enjoy drinking coffee and love the ambience of a quaint coffee shop when I’m traveling, I was clueless about what goes on in the commercial kitchen. I first contacted a friend who runs the coffee shop at the university where I taught. He gave me great technical advice. I found trade shows available for the industry online. Although I couldn’t afford such events, I gleaned great information and good questions from the websites and promotional materials. I took those questions to a sweet couple operating a coffee shop near where I lived in Florida during the writing of the book. 
The Cookies I knew I wanted to serve sweets in Libby’s Cuppa Joe coffee shop. I started with what I knew. I baked coffee cakes and cinnamon rolls. I decided these foods, though delicious, weren’t cost effective for my main character, Sonja Parker, who is, like me, learning the business. I settled on a recipe my mother gave me for Breakfast Cookies. I baked them and tried adding ingredients to make them even more special. My husband loved this part of the research and encouraged me to continue my work!
Kringle My daughter lives in Wisconsin. A pastry common to the area where she lives is called kringle. The traditional kringle is made with an almond paste though more contemporary versions are filled with fruit. This research proved to be messy. I had flour and sticky dough everywhere. My finished version of the flaky crust may not have looked pretty, but it was delicious. Since I had trouble making it, I knew Sonja would find it difficult. I brought help in by way of a young woman named Melissa. She helped Sonja in the coffee shop not only in creating the intricate kringle pastry, but to offer kindness and love to Sonja who most certainly needed it.
Grab Your Copy Here!
Character Names Sometimes readers ask me about the names I choose for characters. One rule of thumb writers often use is to make sure main characters don’t have names that begin with the same letter. We don’t like to confuse our readers. I have two other little tricks up my sleeve. I determine the ages of my characters then decide what year they were born. On the internet I can find popular names for that year. I used that for several of my characters in Libby’s Cuppa Joe. I chose Sonja’s name for two reasons. I looked for a name that was both popular for her age but also indicative of the European heritage of many of the people who settled Wisconsin.
A Power Outage It is important for characters to face stress from time to time. I read of a couple of power outages in Door County so I threw one Sonja’s way. I made it happen in winter and caused the freezing conditions to break pipes in her establishment. What a mess. I’m not a plumber and had to do quite a bit of digging to figure out what Sonja had done wrong when she closed her shop for the winter months and what she had to do to fix it.
The Kenosha Connection I have Sonja visit with her parents in Kenosha, Wisconsin. She visits the library there, goes to the doctor and to church. I don’t need to use my imagination for this one. Here is the “behind the scenes” fact: My daughter lives in Kenosha. My visits there helped me in the crafting of Libbys Cuppa Joe.

How Libby Got Her Name When I started writing the book I researched names as I said before. One of the names I found for the year the original proprietor of the coffee shop was born was Shirley. I have a cousin named Shirley so I thought it a good way to give a nod to her. I started the writing of Shirley’s Cuppa Joe. I wasn’t far into it when my youngest daughter said she would pass over a book with that title. She thought I needed a more contemporary name. I put the problem out to readers of my blog. There were several options offered. One was “Livvy.” I changed it slightly to become Libby and tested it with my readers. I’ll find a new way to nod to my cousin.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Downton Abbey Within Me

The Downton Abbey movie is scheduled for release later this month. Some of my friends and I are already planning to go to the theater the minute it opens. In light of recent conversations I’ve had with my friends, it seemed appropriate to share this post. Disclaimer: I first crafted this Downton Abbey post for Karen Wingate’s blog Grace on Parade five years ago.
Another Disclaimer:
Not Downton Abbey
but a church in Budapest.
I liked it.
Accepting Who You Are….Gracefully
(and realizing it’s a blessing)

I recently took one of those silly on-line quizzes to find out which Downton Abbey character I would be were I living in that era. Silly, because the quiz asked questions such as “Which color do you prefer?” Easy. Which animal do I like? No problem. Which gift card would I like to receive? Piece of cake. 

Some of the questions were a bit harder for me. For example, the quiz put up pictures and titles of movies and music albums and asked me to select my favorite for each of those categories. I hadn’t heard of most of them. And there was the question about which adult drink I preferred. Since water wasn’t a choice and I don’t drink alcoholic beverages, I picked one that looked pretty.

Obviously, the quiz is not based on sound scientific research principles. I knew enough about research to know I shouldn’t trust the results. But there it was. Only a few clicks away I discovered I was not Lady Mary –a character whose quiet ways I admire, but rather, Daisy Mason, scullery maid turned assistant cook.

I was devastated. I envisioned myself living in the main house with an elegant room upstairs. Instead, I was destined to do what I’ve done for most of my life: get up early, cook for my family, clean up the kitchen, work hard, and try to do what I’m told to do. 

Others taking the test were reporting their results on social media. Hmm…better to act as if I didn’t take the quiz than to admit to my lowly state, right?

I was silent. Then I watched the final episode of Downton Abbey for the season and the verses from Proverbs 31 came to mind. I opened my Bible. This description of a wife of noble character says “She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family…” (v.15) and “She sets about her work vigorously…” (v.17) “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.”(v. 20) “She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. (v. 27)

And think about verses 28-30. “Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Maybe Daisy isn’t such a bad choice for me. I would like to be known for having a servant’s heart. I work hard and I try to be obedient to God. Daisy? I may not know much about music and movies, but I know I prefer coffee and cookies over tea and crumpets. Breakfast cookies to be exact…maybe I’ll head back to the kitchen… I guess it worked out after all. 

By the way, the recipe for Breakfast Cookies is found in the novel
They are delicious! Trust me!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Farming and Writing Are Similar: Plant, Water, Weed

I’ve decided I am indeed blessed to have a farm heritage. My maternal grandparents were, for the most part, subsistence farmers, raising the food they needed for themselves and their livestock year by year. My paternal grandparents were commercial farmers, growing crops to sell and maintaining a herd of dairy cows for the milk.

We always had a garden. In fact I think nearly every member of the extended family had some sort of garden. Gardening provides food, yes. But it is valuable on so many other levels. 

Preparing the Soil: Hard Work
Of course if you’re going to plant a garden you need to prepare the garden bed. It may involve clearing the area of unwanted weeds or grass, getting rid of rocks or debris, and breaking up the ground with a tiller. It’s hard work. 

But isn’t that true in other areas of life? We have to prepare the way for relationships. We even use the language of gardening: friendship grow, love blooms. 

And how about in business? We talk of those ground breaking moments and getting over the stumbling blocks in our way. I see it in writing. I work hard preparing to write a story before I ever pick up the pen. 

Preparing the soil isn’t a glamorous part of anything we do. It’s hard work. And I’d venture to say that often where relationships never take root and businesses or ideas fade quickly, they were likely built on rocky ground.

Planting the Seeds: Faith and Patience
Still Growing Tomatoes
When I was a little girl, we referred to spring as planting season. Some crops were planted at differing times of year, depending on the temperature, moisture, and the plant. For example we planted winter wheat in the fall. Still, we thought of spring as the planting season for most crops. The soil had to be ready and the seeds planted in furrows the right depth.

Not all seeds will germinate and produce food. Not all of my ideas take root either. But we keep trying. I remember a pastor talking about faith one time. He described how a farmer plants seeds and trusts the seed will produce fruit to harvest. But it takes patience. That time of waiting and trust he used as an image for faith.

Weeding: More Hard Work
Weeds will grow in a garden. It’s a given. They’ll try to take over. And they willtake over unless you are ever diligent. I’ve seen it happen in relationships where unhealthy elements come in and come between people. I’ve seen it in business, where greed overpowers the mission of the company. 

I’ve seen it in writing as well. Sometimes it is merely a lack of editing making the story impossible to read. Other times it is a subplot that overshadows the intended story. The story becomes so convoluted, no one can follow it. 

I could take this notion of farming even further, but you get the idea. Everything worth having in life requires faith, patience and hard work. Everything starts with a tiny seed of hope.

I often meet people who say they really want to be authors. They have some great ideas. They simply don’t want to get their hands dirty. They don’t want to have to plant, water, and wait. They want an instant best seller.

But me? I guess I’m a farmer at heart. I’m happy with the seeds God has given me and the simple crops I can share with others. I’ve learned that preparing the soil, planting the seeds, and weeding the rows between them is rewarding in and of itself. But all it produces is somehow sweeter and better than anything I can find elsewhere. 

Don’t forget…You have another week to craft and turn in your short story to have a chance to win an Amazon gift card and a spot on this blog. CLICK HERE TO SEE LAST WEEK’S POST FOR DETAILS.