The Threads That Bind – Part Two
I rewrote a post a few days ago and forgot to change the title. If you haven’t read The Threads That Bind – Part One, you might want to visit that post first. This is a continuation of my journey.
My belief that a common thread connects us all was reinforced during my second life-story recording.
My manager led the way into the patient’s home. After brief introductions, I explained why I was there and handed the man a few papers. “These are questions, prompts of sort, to help you get started, if you decide you want to make an audio tape for your family.”
He drew his brows tight and twisted his mouth, pushing the papers aside. “I’m not doing the recording.”
The response did not surprise me. Few people feel they have a story to tell. Regardless, I wasn’t going to let the visit go to waste. While my role with the hospice group was primarily to record stories, I wanted to make a difference. “How about if I come by for a visit every week, just to talk?”
The man studied my face for a moment. “What would we talk about?”
I smiled. “Anything you’d like. Sports? Movies? Do you play cards or checkers?”
He thought about it and finally agreed. As promised, I returned with no agenda other than to brighten his day. I brought along fresh blueberry muffins, something he’d mentioned on our first visit. I chuckled when he suggested I could bring chocolate on my next visit.
On the fourth visit, he surprised me. He handed me the papers I’d left on my first visit. I glanced at them and noticed a one-word answer after each question.
A half smile pushed his slender cheek up before he spoke. “I’m ready.”
And so began the journey. As he talked, he became more comfortable with the process. When he shared stories of bar-hopping with a group of friends, I was intrigued. The recollections were the same as told by Tom. It turned out that my cousin’s husband was one of this man’s best friends with whom he made the tavern rounds. They had lost touch over the years. Unfortunately, Tom had passed, but his wife was delighted to be reconnected to someone who shared her past experiences.
The validation that I was exactly where I was supposed to be filled me with joy and anticipation of where my journey would take me next. I met many people, some whose stories I recorded, others who I listened to as a friend.
And then it happened. On the initial visit with another patient, the opportunity to achieve my dream presented itself.
It was a sunny Friday afternoon. A middle-aged woman invited me into the quaint, senior-living apartment. A bouquet of flowers scented the room. A young girl sat on the floor cross-stitching on fabric.
The woman made introductions, extending her hand toward the child. “This is my daughter. She likes to sew. Her grandmother taught her.”
I smiled and greeted her. “Nice to meet you. What beautiful work you do.”
The woman directed me to an older, robust woman who was busy rearranging a large stack of assorted papers and clippings. “This is my mother.”
I extended my hand, “It’s so nice to meet you. How are you today?”
“Fine.” Her voice was as firm as her handshake.
My curiosity urged me to ask, “Looks like you have some important papers there.”
“When can we get started?”
The abrupt response surprised me. “It sounds like you’re ready.” I sat down next to her. “I don’t usually start recording on the first visit. It helps if we prepare for it by getting to know each other a little first. That way I can be sure we meet your wishes and make the best audio we can. Would that be alright?”
A pained expression covered the woman’s face. “What I really want…” she hesitated before continuing, tears brimming. “I wanted to write my life story, but I don’t know where to start and I don’t have enough time.” Her eyes pleaded for understanding.
A tingle ricocheted through my body. I touched her hand in reassurance. “I love to write. I’ve always wanted to write someone’s life story or help them write it.” I drew in a breath while contemplating my offer. “Perhaps that’s why I’m here. God works in mysterious ways. Maybe I can help you.”
The words seemed to lift her frown. “Really? Would you? I can’t do it by myself.”
“I’d be happy to help. I’m excited and can’t wait to get started.”
She pushed the pile of papers in my direction. “Take these with you and read them, if you have time?”
“I’d be honored. How about 1:00 p.m. on Monday? Will that work for you?”
“Oh, yes. That would be fine.” She reached for my hand and squeezed it. “Thank you.”
“It’s my pleasure. I’ll see you Monday and we’ll jump right in.”
I spent Saturday, reading the scribbled notes and brief stories, trying to place them in chronological order. The woman’s parents had owned a 350 acre farm in South Dakota and in the menagerie of papers, I found an essay written by her mother. It described the challenges of feeding twenty-five farmhands during harvesting in the 1900’s. It was a piece of history that had been entrusted to me.
On Sunday, I received a call from the volunteer manager telling me that the woman had passed away. My heart ached knowing her wish went unfulfilled. I planned to return all the paperwork to the family, but before I could, I received another phone call from the hospice manager. “The family asked if you could help write the book for the patient. They want to meet with you to discuss it if you are interested.”
A couple of meetings and two months of emails between family members allowed me to piece together the information. Additional stories were shared and incorporated by her children and surviving sister. The woman’s wish had been fulfilled. I have no doubt that a greater force brought us together for that very reason.
The simple act of giving my time returned ten-fold, not in money, but something much more gratuitous. I admire the people who share their life stories to create the audio recordings. They allow families to continue to hear their voice after they’re gone and by filling a void in their lives, they’ve filled the void in mine.
How has volunteering blessed you? I’d love to hear your stories.
I’m trying to juggle writing the second book in a series, editing a romantic suspense, drafting a short story and poem for upcoming contests, and marketing my first novel. It’s overwhelming.
Sometimes, I have to step away and play for a little bit. What do I do when I’m not stuck in front of my laptop pecking away at the keyboard?
I weave baskets. Yes, old fashion basketry. Did you know some of the oldest baskets date back 10,000 to 12,000 years? Believe it or not, I’m not the only one interested in this craft. In fact, there are hundreds, probably thousands, of men and women who belong to guilds all over the United States.
Every August, my daughter and I attend the Missouri Basketweavers Guild (see basketweavers.org) convention, spending the weekend creating amazing baskets and sharing time with other weavers. In order to keep our skills fresh, and just because we love doing it, we gather in my home with another dear friend about once a month and create something new.
I finished my first basket of the year this weekend. It’s called Lucky. The pattern was designed by Dianne Gleixner, a gifted instructor I met at one of the conventions I attended.
Basket weaving is my guilty pleasure, right after wine and dark chocolate. It uses another part of my brain that needs attention too. There’s something therapeutic about working the reed, packing the rows snug, and shaping it until it looks like the one in the picture.
Just for a little while, my mind isn’t consumed by plots and dialogues, inciting incidents and Amazon ads, Facebook posts and Book This or Book That. In order to achieve success in the craft, I have to focus on the pattern and use my hands and fingers in a different way. It frees my mind from writing, just for a short while.
What is it that you do when you need a distraction from your work? Do you sew? Read? Solve puzzles?
How about taking a few minutes to share, you never know when you might inspire someone to try something new.
Turning Back the Clock
One puddle at a time
I was born with two left feet, a qualified klutz for sure. You know those exercise videos with music that make it look like you’ve got rhythm? Well, let’s just say there’s a reason I do them behind closed doors. The closest I come to physical coordination is puddle jumping. I love to teach kids how to do it so the water splashes on someone else.
While thumbing through some notes I made in preparation of my next novel, I came across a story I jotted down this summer after a weekend trip to my daughter’s lake house. I found myself laughing so hard I had to run to the bathroom. Maybe you could use a chuckle today, too, totally at my expense, of course.
A dear friend sent me a book, Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/96597.Younger_Next_Year_for_Women I became engrossed in the claims made by the two male authors. They encouraged, actually, insisted, there is an athlete in each of us and we better find it if we hope to be mobile as we age. Heck, I’m already aged, and more than a little overweight, but somehow their words made it worth a shot.
While at the lake, I relaxed on their redwood deck that sits high above the end of a peaceful cove. With my book in one hand, a glass of pinot noir in the other, and a box of cheesy snacks within an arm’s reach between me and my daughter, I turned the page. Harry’s Rules, the ones I just finished reading, smacked me upside the head. The irony of reading this particular book, while stuffing my face with Cheez-Its, and following each swallow with sips of chilled wine, made me cringe.
Was I just going to read about getting fit or put it in action? I closed the book, stood and brushed the crumbs from my jeans. “Let’s go take the neighbor’s paddle boat out.”
My daughter looked at me with raised brows, but to my surprise, she jumped up and headed up the stairs to the cabin. “Aren’t you going to change into your swim suit?”
The last thing I wanted to do was expose more of my rolls of fat and cellulite. “Naw. We’re not going in the water, just in the boat.”
I’m sure you know what happens next, but I did promise to entertain you, so I’ll continue.
With towels and sunscreen in hand, my daughter returned and we walked down the thirty-something steps to her neighbor’s dock. We hoisted the paddleboat over the side of the dock and my daughter held onto one of the ropes The other was tethered to the dock.
“Go ahead and get in.”
Leading with my right foot, I tried to step into the swaying object without success. Then I tried my left foot. Somehow, I managed to plop down on the hard plastic bump between the two seats, but at least I was in it and not the lake.
With the ease of an experienced sailor, my daughter climbed in, released both ropes, and we were off. We peddled together for a while until my legs tired, a good twenty foot, for sure. Taking turns pumping our legs, we rode out to the end of the cove and back. The hot July sun burned overhead, almost as much as the calves of my legs, but it was a pleasant experience and reminded me of the many options available to exercise our bodies into shape.
We made our way back to the side of the neighbor’s dock and my daughter jumped out, pulling the front rope tight so I could climb out. I stood and wobbled, trying to find my balance on the waves, then put a foot on the platform. The back of the boat swung away from the dock stretching my legs apart. Too late to do anything else, I simply sat down in the water.
Of course, I’m not what you’d call a swimmer, so I treaded water, trying to figure out how I was going to get to shore or back on the deck.
“Stand up.” My daughter shouted between belly laughs. “Stand up.”
Fortunately, the water was only waist high. Laughter echoed from the top of the hill where my husband stood watching as I hoisted myself up on the end of the dock. My daughter’s fiancée, too polite to laugh out loud, fiddled with his cell phone to avoid eye contact, but asked if I needed help.
“I’m good, thanks.” I laughed as hard as the others. “Did you get all that on video?”
It was fortunate that I had left my phone on the deck and didn’t try to avoid the inevitable dunk, possibly breaking a leg or arm. By the time I climbed the thirty-something steps back to the cabin, my jeans laden with lake water, I felt I’d gotten a good start on my new exercise program, although I anticipated in the future it would be on dry land.
It’s been six months since my husband and I started getting serious about exercise. We average twenty-five to thirty miles a week and I’m thirty pounds lighter. I doubt I’ll ever succeed at the exercise videos, although I still try occasionally, and I haven’t been kayaking or water skiing, but I still love puddle jumping. I feel younger than I did last year, so that’s a plus.
I’ve been introduced to so many new terminologies in the past two years, most of them pertaining to writing, my head spins like that little blue circle on my computer does every time it doesn’t want to connect to something.
I laughed the first time I read a Facebook post announcing a book birth. Boy, what a crazy term, I thought. As I’ve muddled through the complex and overwhelming process of self-publishing, I decided I probably know where the term originated, even though I haven’t confirmed it yet.
I remember the excitement being pregnant, eons ago mind you, but still, it’s one of those things you don’t easily forget. Oh, my gosh. The excitement! I had a baby growing inside me. It wasn’t long before I could feel her squirming about, kicking and reminding me that soon I’d be holding this precious little bundle with tiny fingers and toes, stroking it’s tender cheeks and drawing in the insatiable scent of a newborn.
As the months passed, my joy turned to anxiety. What did I know about being a mother? Sure, I’d learned some things from watching my younger siblings, but to be totally responsible for this tiny miracle I carried inside me? It was overwhelming to comprehend, especially since I wasn’t handed a book giving me specific instructions for handling colic, puberty or dating.
Similarly, when I first started writing The Dahlonega Sisters, The Gold Miner Ring, I was enthusiastic and couldn’t wait to complete each chapter. Then as I shared it with my critique group, I began to understand it needed a lot of nurturing. After many rewrites and edits, somewhere around my fourth draft, I got brave enough to set a delivery date of October, no later than November 2019.
That’s when the labor pains began. I had to learn the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional, and then someone threw in “hybrid” just for good measure. Simple words like genre became complex. I didn’t understand the challenge of finding the appropriate genre for the book I wrote. All I knew was that I wrote something I wanted to share with others.
With the hand-holding assistant of my mentor, dear friend, and talented author, Jeanne Felfe, https://www.BridgetoUsBook.com, I managed to learn the difference and need for an ISBN, LCCN, AISN, and a thousand other acronyms with which I won’t bore you.
The much anticipated day of arrival came and the delivery man left a box on my doorstep. I anxiously removed the first book and stroked the delicate matte cover, savoring the heavenly scent of my freshly printed manuscript. I restrained from using the term book birth, but I did take a picture to post on my author FB page, https://www.facebook.com/dianemhow/
And now I know the job of “raising” this new addition will be even harder than giving birth to it. I’m overwhelmed with notices from Book Bub, Facebook, Amazon, and dozens of unread articles on promoting and marketing. Then there’s twitter, FB, Instagram, and so many more social media opportunities. But I’m determined to do my best, taking one bite of the elephant at a time.
It would be an honor if you’d stop by for a visit.
It’s available everywhere!
Happy Book Birth, The Dahlonega Sisters! Hope you have many siblings to follow.
Many years ago, more than I care to acknowledge, I dreamed of publishing a novel. I wasn’t hoping for fame or fortune, merely a desire to entertain some readers, bring a little joy to a stressful day, and know that I made just a smidgen of a positive influence in this often worrisome world.
My dream felt as distant as the stars in the sky. I’ve heard many writers share the same feeling, but the more I became involved in the world of writing, I watched others succeed and I decided I wanted it too.
First, I joined a writers Guild, http://www.saturdaywriters.org, and then a small critique group, Pen to Paper. Soon I belonged to a second critique group, The Round Table Writers, some of the most powerful and supportive friends and writers in Missouri. My vocabulary increased, I began to understand point of view, and soon, I was writing short stories and poetry that won contests and were published in anthologies.
Still, I held onto my dream of completing a novel. I was introduced to National Novel Writing Month, NANOWRIMO, https://nanowrimo.org, which challenges writers to compose a fifty-thousand word novel during the thirty days of November.
I dove in head first and succeeded the first year I tried. I fell short the second time, but I learned I could do it if I put my mind to it. My first two attempts are still works in progress. About two years ago, I began a third novel and fell in love with the characters and story plot. I finally gained the confidence to believe it should reach the shelves of a bookstore. With the help of many fellow writers, especially Jeanne Felfe, https://jeannefelfe.com/, , author of the heartfelt novel, Bridge to Us, I’ve stretched a little closer to that star.
I am pleased to announce The Dahlonega Sisters, The Gold Miner Ring, is available for preorder on Amazon with a scheduled release date of November 5, 2019. It will also be available in paperback. https://www.amazon.com/author/dianemhow
To all the bloggers, dreamers and hesitant writers, I say go for it. Read, listen, join, and learn. Then make a goal and keep plugging away until that star becomes so close you can almost touch it. You can do it! I believe in you.
I’ve always believed that the lack of communication creates most of the problems in the world. Today’s use of abbreviated texts, character-limited tweets, and instantly reported news challenges my aging brain and supports my theory. It’s like trying to read hieroglyphics without learning the symbols.
I think one of the reasons is the tendency to half-listen. Someone begins a conversation and the listener’s mind fast-forwards to finish the rest of the story or sentence using the person’s own experiences, certainties, and beliefs.
The same thing happens when a news article or even a post on social media is published. Often, the writer presents one version of an issue or event which may or may not be support by facts. Even if both sides of the story are presented, the receiver reads and applies principles, opinions, and prejudices that influence and sometimes distort the message. This can create conflict, disagreements and misunderstandings.
It happens to everyone. I’ll be the first to admit, I sometimes half-listen, or skim articles, and I misinterpret messages from friends and family. I venture to say everyone does it. I’m pretty sure no one is infallible, nor has anyone ever mastered all of the elements of perfect communications. Is there such a thing?
I offer an example of an event that occurred many years ago when my daughter, who had started junior high at a new school, left a message for me at work. I had gone to lunch and when I returned, I found a brief note on my desk that read, “Pick your daughter up at school.”
Before I left for work, she’d told me she didn’t feel well, but she’d insisted on going to school. I immediately assumed her cold had worsened and she needed to go home. My work schedule did not offer me the opportunity to take off on short notice, so I called my husband and asked if he could pick her up, reminding him of her new location and trying to give him directions.
“I’ll find it,” he reassured me. After nearly an hour of searching, he located the school and went directly to the nurse’s office expecting our daughter to be there. She wasn’t. The nurse directed him to the main office and they paged her on the intercom.
Meanwhile, the woman at the desk said, “I’m glad you’re here.” She presented a piece of to him. I can only imagine his puzzled expression as he looked at the blank personal check.
“We can’t accept this,” the woman folder her arms and frowned.
My husband, who does not write checks, advised her that he’d have me write out a new one. Meanwhile, my daughter arrived, surprised to see her father. When she asked where I was, he explained that I couldn’t get off to pick her up. Without communicating any further, they left, but on the drive home, my daughter inquired as to why she was being taken home. His reply, “Because you’re sick.”
“No I’m not,” she adamantly denied, and asked to be taken back, noting that she had an after school meeting with the Honor Society she didn’t want to miss. “Well, you are now. We’re going home.”
Embarrassed about the blank check and upset that I sent him to the school unnecessarily, he refused to take her back. Eventually, she convinced him and she made her meeting.
By the time I got home from work, I received an earful from both of them. I had failed to ask for details regarding the short note. He refused to listen to my directions for getting to the school, and she could have clarified why he was taking her out of school.
The check was another disaster for which I accepted full responsibility. It turned out that in my haste to take care of business before I hurried off to work, I had grabbed a felt marker and had written a check to the school to pay for my daughter’s weekly lunch ticket. When she turned it into the school, it had all the proper information. Unfortunately, all that had disappeared by the time they were processing the check into their system, making it useless. I had used a sewing marker with disappearing ink. It’s a great invention for marking material, but not very good for writing checks.
We all laugh about it now, but it truly taught me a great lesson about asking questions, confirming suspicions, and only using ballpoint pens for check writing. It saves a lot of time for enjoying the finer things in life.
I work hard on my communication skills even today. It takes practice to listen, ask questions, and clarify the messages received, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone worked a little harder at it?
In my soon-to-be released novel, The Dahlonega Sisters, superstitions, fear, and miscommunications create conflicts and test the bond between three aging sisters. Until then, I have a few questions for you.
Has someone misinterpreted a text or email you sent?
Did it result in a conflict or broken friendship?
What could you have done differently?
Some time ago, a friend and fellow author, Amanda Bretz (https://amandabretz.wordpress.com), described a tender moment between herself and her father. No words were uttered. A simple squeeze of the hand spoke as loud as a pastor from the pulpit. The power of touch amazes and encourages me, especially when words are not enough.
As a writer, I draw upon an infinite source of words to fill the pages of a book, yet there are times when words are not enough to convey the intensity of the moment. A gentle kiss, a stroke of a hand on one’s cheek, a strong embrace conveys emotions unreached by mere speech.
Perhaps that was why I wrote the following poem some years ago as my mother suffered the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. Although she could not verbalize her thoughts, we spent many hours just holding hands and sharing gentle squeezes, along with heartfelt smiles. I think if she could have expressed her thoughts, she would have said these words.
The memories of yesterday
Will become distorted over time
The written word will lose its strength
A verse will lose its rhyme
The laughs we shared will pass by me
My words will make no sense
Such simple things we once enjoyed
Will now seem rather dense
Old photographs will fade away
Your face may lose its name
You’ll think I’ve traveled far away
But my heart will know you came
No need for words, no bouquets bright
No trinkets made of gold
No promise for a miracle
Just your hand for me to hold
Your love’s the only treasure
It will endure through all the pain
Just speak to me in silence
You’ll be my sunshine in all the rain
Have you been struggling to find the right words? Could the answer be in the power of touch?
Tell me your story. I’d love to hear it.
Writing often is a solitary calling, especially in winter months. You’d think I’d flourish when confined indoors with plenty of free time to devote to my passion. Instead, my mind hibernates, shuts down, and refuses to unveil any hint of creativity. Even the ink in my pen coagulates when cold winds blow.
During the other seasons, I have a fantastic (monthly) writing club, Saturday Writers, (saturdaywriters.org) to encourage me with contests, open mic nights, and amazing guest speakers, but they cease meeting for a couple of months, just when I need them the most.
Unfortunately, weather, health issues, and holiday commitments tend to cancel many of the biweekly critique group meetings, leaving a void in my face-to-face writing support system. Thank goodness for email and Facebook, but it’s not the same. I want and need to see the person’s face light up when a particular phrase I’ve written hits the mark or pay attention when a frown appears letting me know I need to rework a story.
My husband and daughter tend to tolerate my obsession for storytelling, and on rare occasions they provide a nod of approval after being urged to read something I’ve scripted. I get it. Writing doesn’t excite everyone. I try not to take it personally, but it would be refreshing to have one of them ask “What are you working on?” or even better, “I’d like to read that when you’re ready.”
Of course, showing interests goes both ways. Hubby likes sports, especially wrestling, and the weather and gardening. He spends many hours on-line reading about upcoming matches, baseball trades, and the daily forecast. I try not to half-listen when he shares his recent finds, but there are times when my attention fades.
My daughter loves cooking, basket weaving and shopping on-line, especially for shoes and purses. My purse selection is limited to two at any given time, one that’s worn and tattered and the one I bought to replace it. We do share the hobby of basket weaving. She’s an experienced weaver with a basement full of reeds, handles and patterns. She made this amazing basket one Saturday while I piddled with two simple ones.
I’m still an advance beginner. All of my supplies fit in a duffle bag.
My daughter’s also a speed reader and while she will read whatever I send her, her comments are normally limited to pointing out my mistakes.
I’ve found a rather simple, possibly sneaky, way of gaining their attention and giving them a reason to care. We do share some common interests such as nature, humor and a loveable dog named Hammie.
Personal anecdotes and yarns often become part of my short stories. Before I publish anything that involves my family, I make them read it and give their approval. Sometimes they provide a different version based on their memory of the event or they might remind me of another humorous tale.
Now that spring has arrived, my inspiration blossoms like the lovely ornamental cherry tree in my side yard.
I’ve still not identified its exact variety, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s twisted, gnarled trunk and snowy white canopy bring me joy and signal a fresh start. The ink in my pen flows again.
I start each morning with an essential cup of coffee and the daily newspaper. I feel the need to keep current on issues of importance, but all the crime and political craziness that fill the dozen pages I read do nothing to put me in a positive mood for the rest of the day.
I believe writing is a reflection of who we are and how we process the experiences we’ve had. Being an insufferable optomist is hard. I need a positive kick in the rear to balance out the negative effect of the disheatening news and keep things in perspective.
Fortunately, many blogs have a foot up ready to give me a push. One of them, Stories by Shivangi, reminds me to maintain a balance of realism and positivity. The writer focuses on a wide range of topics, yet she leaves me with a peaceful sense that influences my keyboard. Take a look at the joyful face of the baby on this post https://adivir.wordpress.com/2019/01/11/just-a-thought-humor/.
My spirits lift when I see that giggling bundle of innocence and it sets my sails in a better direction. Even when I’m attacking difficult rewrites, a simple glance at that photo brings a smile to my face . So does my granddog Hammie
How about you? Is there a blogger that brightens your day?
What do you do to find balance and perspective in your day?