No blood and guts, please


I confess. I have never read the Twilight series http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/twilightseries.html. My remote control would never stop on a channel airing The Vampire Diaries http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/twilightseries.html. I’d rather go to the dentist than be forced to watch a blood and guts movie.

The ability to create fantasy escapes me. In fact, I have a difficult time closing my eyes and imagining that I am someplace I’m not. Perhaps my DNA makeup does not include much of the imagination gene.

My interests focus on real life stories, not the reality shows aired on television today, but the slice of life stories of everyday people. Humor often serves as my crutch in difficult times and I make light of challenging situations rather than defer to the martyr syndrome, as evident in my book, Peaks and Valleys http://www.amazon.com/Peaks-Valleys-Mrs-Diane-How/dp/0967490170.

While my imagination may be limited, I still love to write and my dream is to write other people’s stories. I firmly believe everyone has a story, although I find most people think no one would be interested in hearing about his or her life.

It doesn’t require imagination to write someone’s life review. It does take time to listen and ask open-ended questions and it takes honesty by the person who is sharing their story. The end product can serve as a legacy for younger generations who will someday want to know about their ancestors’ journey.

The Missouri Humanities Council and Warriors Arts Alliance http://www.mohumanities.org/proud-to-be-writing-by-american-warriors/ recognized that the unembellished stories and poems written by veterans do not need props or imaginary characters to be worthy of inclusion in their anthology of remarkable and inspiring stories. In fact, they currently are accepting admissions for their next book.

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At a recent writers meeting http://www.saturdaywriters.org/, I listened while four American veterans read excerpts from the recently published book Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors. Their tales brought tears to my eyes and stirred intense feelings from years of reading similar letters while working for the Department of the Army.

Although the painful process of writing the story reflected in the quiver of each voice as the scripted words were read, there was a therapeutic benefit for each of the veterans. Each shared his reason for having done so during the question and answers period that followed.

Having listened to the veteran’s stories, I realized that not all writer’s need to have a vivid imagination. While my reading material and viewing time is limited to less imaginative works, there are many possibilities for me to suceed in my writing efforts.

How about you? Do fanciful characters dance in your head? What stirs you to pick up paper and pen and write?

Bountiful Baskets


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It’s funny how a thought sticks in your mind until it finds its way into a post. This weekend, my daughter and I made baskets while at Girl Scout Camp Tuckaho http://www.girlscoutsem.org/Programs/Camp/Camp-Tuckaho.aspx. We’ve both been involved in Girl Scouts since 1977 and as a treat, each year about nearly 100 adult volunteers from two districts come together to share talents, laughter and treasured memories with one another.

One of the many baskets displayed by our instructor, Pat Vogel, http://www.bittersweetbasketsandsupply.com/ was titled Bountiful Basket and it made its way into our conversations enough times that it settled in my brain. I returned home late Sunday evening and dragged myself into bed. (Hey, weaving baskets for hours on end and walking across icy fields to get from lodge to lodge was hard work!) Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the laundry basket bursting at the seems with clothes that needed washing. I smiled and decided to wait until morning to tackle that chore.

My thoughts continued to turn to bountiful baskets as I rested my still tender fingers against my disgustingly bloated stomach. Seemed I overfilled the bread basket that occupies the area where I used to have a waist. One thing for sure, we always eat well while at any Girl Scout function; it goes hand to hand, or maybe I should say mouth, with a bunch of women and fresh country air.

As I tried to fall asleep, I realized that although my body was worn, my mind was traveling at a high rate of speed. It wasn’t long before I found myself sitting in front of my laptop. Why? I had recevied the most bountiful blessing on Friday when my last post, Rock, Paper, Laptop, was Freshly Pressed. It was the first time for me and I was overwhelmed by the response. By the time I returned on Sunday, more than 1500 fellow bloggers had viewed my post and many of them took the time to hit the “like” button and/or leave a comment. What an extraordinary event!

To all those who took the time to read my post, write a comment, put a smile on my face with the click of button, or follow my blog, thank you, thank you, thank you! I hope all of you have bountiful baskets filled with great things this week.

Facing the truth


It’s mid January and the first time in nearly 50 days that I’ve tried to compose a post for my blog. My yellow pads of paper are blank, much like the white space in my word documents. The craziness of the holidays, winter blues, lack of inspiration – any of those excuses could be supported using a little creative writing. Yet, my writer’s block is something much more than procrastination; something I have not been able to clarify in my mind or on paper until today.

A good friend and fellow blogger, Amanda Bretz shared something on her blog, http://authoramandabretz.wordpress.com/2013, that was beautifully written, but took great strength and courage to publish. She is an accomplished writer who is forging her name in the publishing world with her third book and many other accomplishments. Without realizing it, her inspiring words helped me put my problem into perspective.

So what could be so terrible that would freeze my pen and keyboard too? A four letter word sums it up. FEAR.

There is fear of failure; fear of no one caring if I ever posted another thought; fear that my writing does not deserve to be read; fear that if light touches the darkness of my heart, the walls will crumble and expose the stifled hopes and dreams buried so deep that they no longer have have form.

There it is. Now, what do I do about it? Like eating an elephant – it will require one bite at a time. Surely it is possible to find a balance where honesty does not cause pain for others yet allows for fulfillment of needs.

Have you found a way write the truth? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

North, South, East or West?


Devoting time to the start of my third book and family emergencies have distracted me from writing on my blog recently, yet each day on my journey in life brings me closer to understanding the direction in which I am heading.

When I began my blog in March, my search for a purposeful life (after retirement) was evident in my posts What Now and What Now Continued.   I hoped that my mission would become evident to me through my writing.  I often find that the veiled truth is revealed in such subtle ways that only come to light when I script my thoughts.  I have struggled to find a constant theme for my blog, but I may be getting closer to identifying a topic of interest that would bring the results for which I was hoping.

Volunteering with a hospice group has provided me with an opportunity to share my poetry and books in a way that provides comfort and/or distraction to others who desperately want to find peace in their lives.  The satisfaction that it brings to me means more to me than any number of books that I have sold.  I would love to incorporate more of that into my blog.

Another opportunity to share what I consider a gift also presented itself this week.  I am blessed me with a calm, insightful demeanor that seems to sooth others during a time of crisis.  I find unexpected words of comfort and often, friends and family have related that my efforts helped them find peace.

My niece has been a caregiver for her grandmother for five years.  Her grandma is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease and the time has come where caring for her in her home is no longer advisable.  While some may find it a relief to relinquish the responsibility, others struggle with strong emotions, such as guilt, that surface during such a transition.  Hopefully, my words are helping her to get through this painful experience.

My niece said she could not stop crying.  I shared with her that grieving is not only appropriate, but necessary.  It comforted her to realize what a special gift she has been given in the unique relationship with her grandmother she has served.  It cannot be replicated by anyone who did not serve in the same role.  For every difficult moment, there were many cherishing memories that she will be able to hold in her heart for years to come.

As caregiver, she served in a parenting role, always setting limits and having to insist on difficult tasks like bathing and taking medicines.  Now she has the opportunity to return to the role of granddaughter and enjoy the remaining time by bringing love and tenderness to her grandmother during her final days.

The Peaks and Valleys of my life have blessed me with peace, strength, and a sort of wisdom, which are meant to be shared through my blog.  Perhaps a new opportunity presents itself.

From the Boughs of a Cradle


Poetry flows freely from my pen onto yellow pads, yet it seldom finds its voice at the keyboard.  Perhaps that makes sense since it’s difficult to walk leisurely through the woods while pecking away on a laptop.  My appreciation for the stimulation that Mother Nature provides began as a small child while wondering the hill of the Missouri Ozarks.  My love of poetry can be attributed to Robert Frost.

Mr. Frost shared the same love for God’s creations that I do.  He created his own footprints in The Road Not Taken and he touched the hollows of my soul through poems such as Bereft.  I felt a kindred connection to his need to share melancholy thoughts in the form of poems.

While I cannot compare my writings to such a master of the art, I share with you a poem that formed from my futile thoughts one evening after watching the local news.

From the Boughs of a Cradle

From the boughs of a cradle, much like you and me

So dependent on others, so innocent and free

He grinned with a smile that would capture your heart

No clue that his world would soon fall apart

Left alone once too often; forced to grow up too fast

The pleasures that warmed him were soon part of his past

The drugs and the booze became his whole life

Such a sense of abandon, such continuous strife

From street gangs to prison, he followed the path

Consumed by his anger, his hatred, his wrath

Now death by injection, the sentence he waits

So hopeless and helpless behind steel gates

The cradle is empty, the smile worn away

No family or friends to protect him today

 Will his soul die before us as inevitable fate

Or will a spirit embrace him?  Is it ever too late?

 

By Diane How

The Right Words at the Right Time


One of the books I picked up recently at a used book sale is The RIGHT WORDS at the RIGHT TIME by Marlo Thomas  and Friends.  It was published more than a decade ago, yet the messages contained within the pages are timeless.  The amazing short stories, by well-known men and women, describe how something that someone said changed their lives forever.

I loved that I could pick up the book and read two or three stories when I had a few extra minutes.  Many of the messages were profound, some were surprising, a few were familiar.  Did you know that Dwight Eisenhower once said “Never question another man’s motive.  His wisdom, yes, but never his motives.”  Isn’t that thought provoking?

The only problem with the book is, it wasn’t enough.  I could have read two or three more volumes.

Words have a powerful impact on my life.  Many times someone has said something that stuck with me and helped me see a new angle on an issue.  Wouldn’t it be great if I could remember some of them now?  I could share them with other bloggers or start collecting them for future reference when  a senior moment sets in and stifles my attempt to write an interesting post.

Oooh, oooh, wait!  One truly inspirational thought comes to mind.  I’m going to start typing fast so I don’t forget it.

My brother Rob once told me “Problems are merely unresolved opportunities.”  That piece of advice helped me to focus on the result rather than be blocked by the challenge.  It helped me work through countless events at work and in my personal life.

OK, another one just flashed by, except I have no idea who said it and when I searched for the author on the internet, I got numerous unconfirmed responses.  Whereever you go, there you are.

Maybe you can help satisfy my need for more.  What right words were spoken to you or read at the right time?   Would you be willing to share?  I hope so.  My thirst for knowledge has not been satified.

What’s in it for You?


It amazes me how many people publish books and write blogs.  There were over a million posts on WordPress.com just today.  My inherent desire to understand fellow writers leads me to ask the question “Why do you write?”

For me, I think there are three main reasons that come to mind.

  1. Writing is my passion.  Pens and paper can be found on nearly every flat surface in my house.  It comforts me to work through my emotions whether I am happy or sad, frustrated or fulfilled.  Writing my first book, Peaks and Valley, (available through Amazon and Kindle) provided me an opportunity to revisit my childhood.  It also allowed me to recognize issues that sometimes kept me from embracing life to the fullest.  The therapeutic aspect was an unexpected bonus.  By writing I can script romantic fascinations and be openly honest without risking being misunderstood by family and friends.
  2. When I retired, I began to feel removed from people other than my immediate family.  I thrive on being connected to other people.  Writing my blog increases the chance of connecting with people who share a common interest, fellow writers.  When I check my stats and see that someone read one of my posts, it brings a smile to my face.  Should someone take the time to leave a comment, I am delighted and encouraged to keep writing.
  3. On numerous occasions, something I wrote, a poem, a letter, a short story, has touched another person’s soul and perhaps made their day a little brighter.  There is a voice in my head, call it divine intervention or a gift that speaks words of comfort for me to share with others in times of need.  It is my belief that each of us are blessed with gifts and once we recognize them, it is our duty to share them.

So why do you write?  I’d love to know.

A Glance Back


Trying to measure where the last two years have disappeared is like trying to hug a passing cloud.  I could no more complete an after action report accounting for the time than I could return to working full time every day.

Often, an inner voice urges me to accomplish more than I have done, yet another voice reminds me that I have crossed off a few bucket-list items.  Sometimes I yearn for more, but today, I choose to focus on those things that have brought me pleasure and a sense of fulfillment.

Writing tops my list of achievements.  No, I cannot proclaim a best-seller, but I did publish my first book, Peaks and Valleys.  The non-fiction memoir begins in the 50’s in my childhood hometown of Pine Lawn, Missouri.  As indicated by the title, many of the tales brought a smile to my face as I wrote them.  Some of them were written as tears fell from my eyes.  Revisiting the happy, and sometimes painful, times of my life had a therapeutic consequence.  When I finished, it brought me peace, comfort and an appreciation for the experiences that made me whom I am today.  The journey is worth taking, for everyone.  I hope others will be inspired to follow my path and clean out a few of their own closets along the way.  The book is available through Amazon.com and Kindle.

I also wrote a second book, Burning Embers, for which I am currently searching for a publisher.  Writing a romance/suspense novel in thirty days was not on my original bucket list, rather it was a challenge introduced to me through a writing club that I joined named Pen to Paper Writing Club.  I found the experience so rewarding that I drafted an outline for my next novel which I will begin shortly.  Who knew I had an imagination?

The poet in me continues to surface whenever I cannot find the words to speak directly to friends and family.  I have contemplated publishing some of my poems, but finding gratification in the positive effect the words provide the person for whom they were written is enough for now.

As a multi-tasking person, all that writing wasn’t quite enough to keep me busy, so I began this blog.  My social media skills are limited and until one of my fellow writers encouraged me, I had never visited a blog site.  Now I follow a few that tickle my interests or touch my soul.  I’m still in the beginning stages, but I find it another way to release the writer in me. (http://authordianemhow.com)

More recently, I began volunteering with VITAS Hospice Care as a Story Keeper.  This rewarding opportunity entails recording life stories of patients who are in hospice care so that they may leave a treasure for their loved ones and future generations.  I wrote about my first visit in one of my blogs.  It is amazing how God directs us on our journey to the right place at the right time.  If you have any doubts about following His lead, read When you volunteer are you giving or receiving?.

Every day has not been as uncomplicated as this post makes it sound, but as I said, today, I am sticking with the positive, happy times.  My husband and I have found time to fish, gamble and spend time with our daughter and her boyfriend.  We’ve even managed to get in a few short trips to Branson, Lake of the Ozarks and Georgia.  Lunch and dinner dates fill a few of the squares on my calendar and provide me with the chance to catch up with family, friends, former co-workers and my wonderful Girl Scout buddies.

I yearn to know what memories filter through when you look back a few days, months or years.

A Treasured Gift


 

The Treasured Gift

            I put little value on material things.  I am a terrible shopper and find no enjoyment in browsing the racks of a clothing store.  Other than my wedding and engagement rings and a simple watch, my jewelry collection consists of a few necklaces given to me by my husband and daughter.

Early in my marriage, I began buying a spoon from each state I visited.  They, hang in a shadow box on the wall of our dining room.  I look at them occasionally when I dust the case.  Family and friends have given me other items that are displayed in a curio cabinet in the living room.  The sentiment far outweighs the monetary value of my earthly possessions.

I prefer to give gifts rather than receive them.  For me, it is the thought that counts.  I enjoy watching someone’s eyes light up when they open an unexpected package.  That brings me joy more than anything else.

The office where I worked participated in a secret Santa gift exchange one Christmas.  About three weeks before the holiday party, each person wrote down their name and three inexpensive items he or she desired.  I seldom came prepared with a well-thought out selection.  Often I ended up with a gift card or a pair of gloves.  I will never forget the enjoyment of opening a gift that I knew I would always treasure.

I carefully picked up the eight-by-ten, simply-wrapped package trying to anticipate its contents.  As I peeled the paper back, I saw a plain black plastic case wrapped in cellophane.  I struggled to remove the clear cover, more puzzled than ever.

I could not imagine what would come in such an unusual container.  My eyes widened in delight at the contents.  A professional assortment of writing pens made me grin like a child.  Not only were there six pens, including a fountain pen with cartridges, there were many refills for each.  It was a gift that someone selected with thought and love.  I knew immediately who my secret Santa had been.  My friend and co-worker, Joyce Richard, recognized the perfect gift for a writer.

I spend many hours on my laptop, working on my novel, but there is nothing that can replace a smooth writing pen and a blank piece of paper.  I have written many thoughts on scraps of discarded paper, tissues, on the corners of a newspaper and even the palm of my hand.  I can’t imagine having all these thoughts in my mind and not being able to write them down.

Until recent years, you couldn’t stuff a computer in your pocket or the bottom of your purse, ready to support you whenever the need arises.  Maybe someday I’ll catch up with the progress made in electronics.  Until then (and probably after), I’ll continue to cherish the wonderful selection of pens and the comfort they bring me when I fill my pages with thoughts.