Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Little Read, Big Deal

The recent Little Read event in the Caldwell County School System here in western North Carolina proved to be much more like a Big Deal event for me as the visiting author. The concept is fantastic, a huge shout out to whoever conceived it. Every fourth grader in the county reads the same book, discusses it with each other, and meets the author...Me!

The book they chose? When Christmas Feels Like Home and it isn't even Christmas, which in the end proved to be an advantage. The students could focus on the theme of the story rather than the frame I built it around.
It's all about being comfortable in new situations. In my powerpoint presentation I showed (basic rule of writing, show don't tell) them my experiences living and going to school abroad, just like Eduardo in the book. I had them experience being in class when they couldn't understand anything the teacher said as I recited a selection I had memorized in French class all those many years ago.

And they got it. THEY GOT IT!!!

From that little language experiment, they understood what Eduardo went through when he first came to America. We had fun going through figurative language and miscues I wrote in the first few drafts of the book. I let them in on a few background secrets, like the holly misplaced on the Thanksgiving table.
And the name changes of the characters...and the title.

They had worked through activities based on the book created by my teacher/daughter-in-law.

They asked questions at the end. Great, well thought-out questions that were an extension of what we had discussed. After I introduced my other books, the question came (in all six presentations at the various schools) "Which one is your favorite?" which I always threw back to them, "It's like asking your mother or grandmother who is your favorite. I love them all the same."

The question I had most fun with was "How old are you?" 

The first time, I answered truthfully and they collectively gasped! So I came up with "I'm a grandma, so I'm about the same age as your grandmas" Yuk, yuk to that. Some of their grandmas are in their thirties!

Being a grandma is fun. I can love on the little ones and send them back home with their parents.

Being a visiting author is the same kind of fun. I enjoyed those fourth graders and realized there were parts of teaching I missed. But then, when we were finished, I waved goodbye to them all and sent them back to class with their teachers. 

Catch of the day,


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Helen Hall's My Story Memoir

One of the fun sides of being a self-published author is helping others to accomplish their goal of publishing a book. Last fall a former teacher/friend in the county, Dr. Helen Hall, contacted me about a memoir she had completed and was seeking help with getting out into the world. I love being the midwife in a birth such as this!

We had several formatting sessions at her house. Her vision of the book included a hardback cover, something I had never done. In fact, in the end, we had to go with a company I had never worked with, but about which I had heard only good things, Lulu. We were not disappointed, especially when the process was nearly the same as my earlier comfort zones.

Helen's daughter, Sigrid, designed the cover. Didn't she do a grand job?

The back cover contains a family picture, because, bottom line, the beginnings of her life story is centered around this very group. 

Of course there were glitches in getting this book out. There were days of doubting this would ever come to pass. There were decisions to make, from major ones, which photographs to include, to minor ones, which font (which wasn't all that minor after all!). 

Strange thing, I did not read the book at this point. I wasn't the editor. I helped with interior design. I read a paragraph here and there when we had issues with spacing or widows and orphans (technical term I throw in to say we were on top of this!). But I did not read the actual My Story: This is How It Was until the first shipment of books arrived at her home and I had a personally autographed copy in my hands.

Oh what a story! Her subtitle, This is How It Was, was so aptly chosen. She made growing up Phillips sound like the most wonderful, exciting experience ever, while at the same time holding very little, if any, of the negatives back. She gives a rarely revealed insight to life in a rural black community in the days of segregation, including the many accompanying challenges. This Dulatown community defined her even further beyond her family. Like her parents, it nurtured her and prepared her to face the realities of the outside world. You'll just have to read this story!

So now Helen Hall, like the published author she is, celebrates. 

She held an audience spellbound at her first outing of the book this past week. The presentation was taped, so click on over to Youtube and experience it yourself.

 She signed books and ran out, returning to her home to bring more copies. 

Some stories just need to be shared. This is one. I feel humbled and proud that I had a small part in it.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Donkey's Tale

Once upon a time there was a donkey named Jake minding his own donkey business in the field, chomping on hay, warding off coyotes, braying his opinions every now and then, when what to his enormous long ears would he hear but the clank and the clatter of the horse trailer being moved. 

Being the curious donkey he was, he trotted over to investigate this noise. His owner lured him closer with the largest, most delicious looking carrot his eyes had ever beheld, so he followed the bait up the waiting ramp. A slam behind him mattered not. His attention was on the treat. The trailer beneath him moved. He chomped on. The trailer stopped. The back opened and he unloaded, fully expecting more food, an apple or two for his trouble.

A man and a woman approached. He lifted her onto Jake's back and tugged on the reins. Jake obediently followed…and followed…and followed. Over and over and over again that night they went down the same path. Crowds watched them and expressed delight. He ate his treats and his belly filled. When the evening ended, Jake loaded back onto the trailer and returned to his pasture.

A few days later, the same strange event occurred again. He was whisked away and brought back, but this time the thrill faded. “No more,” he vowed in his jackass of a brain.

The next afternoon, when he heard the clink and the clatter of the horse trailer, he ran the other way. He absconded. He didn’t know the word, but he lived the definition, to depart secretly and hide oneself. Absconded.

The owner searched and searched to no avail. Text number one to the pageant director: We can’t find Jake anywhere.

No worries. The afternoon was still young.

Two hours later and darkness descending, text number two: Never did find that dumb ass. Looked everywhere.

Mary and Joseph walked that night.

When the trailer clanked its presence the next night, final performance by the way, Jake had returned. He was ready. The lure of the snacks beckoned him once again and the prodigal donkey came back. He acted his part as if nothing had ever happened and charmed the audience. When it was over and he received the loving pats from actors along the trail, Jake returned to his pasture and to doing what donkeys do to keep warm in the cold, dark days of winter.

There’s bound to be a moral to this story. If I were Aesop, I’d come up with one for sure.

But I can’t. For you see, I was the pageant director on the receiving end of the “We can’t find Jake anywhere” text. I was the one who fretted over that absconding donkey knowing the disappointment of the children in the audience expecting to see a furry creature in the scene. We made do, although he was truly missed.

Strange thing, though. I wasn’t mad at that stubborn donkey who was acting like an ass acts. I was jealous. He did what I wish I could do sometimes when things don’t go my way. He took off for the hills. He didn’t have the ability or the desire to know what he was doing to the rest of us in the pageant. He just wanted to escape. He didn’t have the capacity or the humanity to realize how much his presence meant to us. He just wanted away from the madness.

The real bottom line of this story is that Jake came back. I’ll never know what was going through his mind that led to his decision to return, but I can guess. I think he took that time to renew himself. He needed a break from the spinning world. We all do.

Returning is a courageous but necessary act. If any of you want to pull a Jake, I say go for it in your own time…after you tell someone …after you prepare. Take a breather for an hour or two, but know you are needed. Refresh. Come back strong.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Spiders I have known

I'm not too big on spiders. I avoid them at all cost, including having the bug man show up yesterday and spray. SOOOO when a dear friend and member of my critique group was writing a story about a spider, I wasn't all that excited. After all, who could get excited over a squirmy creature that appears nightly and weaves its lair in secret, only for me to walk through the next day. Not my favorite morning activity!
Who can turn this bland spider into a lovable story?
E.B. White pulled it off with his classic Charlotte's Web, but I couldn't imagine anyone else even attempting the challenge, much less accomplishing it.

But wait.

I read her manuscript about a spider named Spivey from the first time she submitted it, through several revisions, until the book became a reality and let me proudly say, MY FRIEND SANDRA WARREN JUST PULLED IT OFF!!! Her previous children's book was about an alligator who thought differently than other alligators. This one carries that theme and introduces Spivey, a creative thinker who designs a web of her own making despite being ridiculed by the other spiders. I was already rooting for Spivey and her independent nature, but when I saw the finished product with its fantastic, over the top art work, I really felt that I knew Spivey and her feelings. Talk about pulling it off, artist SUSAN FITZGERALD JUST PULLED IT OFF!!!!

I can like spiders now, especially after seeing this lovely miss pictured above as she tells about her new web. I can't wait for you to read the book with its unexpected ending. Spoiler alert, it's a Christmas story that can be read any time of the year, Spivey's Web.
Available not only in print, but also in all kinds of ebook formats. Look for it on Amazon. Download it for your Christmas morning enjoyment.

Catch of the day,


Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Thankful Heart

The whole idea of giving thanks is one of the first concepts a parent passes along to the next generation. I can see it in my mind's eye, someone handing a toddler a cracker and the mother speaking to the child, reminding him or her, "What do you say?"

"Thank you," is the expected response, although often in beginning stages it's more, "Kank ooh." I'm loving that image.

An opinion, just because today is Thanksgiving and this is my blog: The whole idea of thanks has been misconstrued. Yes, we are to say thanks to others. That is basic, the cornerstone of civilization. Reading through my friends' posts on facebook, I can see that genteel side of being thankful.

But there is a deeper side of Thanksgiving that needs to be passed along to the next generation.

It is also necessary for me to give thanks to my creator, a basic tenet of my faith in a higher power. "Thank you, God," I say not nearly enough. The psalmist says it frequently. Thanks. Praise. Joy. One of the first psalms I memorized beyond the twenty-third was the hundredth, the one that starts out the way I remember, "Enter into his gates with Thanksgiving..." But there's more: "Give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever."

I'm learning to make posters like the one above, and I want to use this new skill to do good, to remind people of what life should be all about, to uplift and honor. I see that I should have capitalized the word "His," according to the grammar I learned in the old days when paying homage to God necessitated capital letters even on pronouns. Now God has no gender specific pronouns in many texts I read. Using that rule, I can rewrite: Give thanks to God and praise God's name, for the Lord is good and God's love endures forever. Either way, I'm still thankful to God for the blessings I've received.

I took the picture behind the quote specifically for this poster. It's a tray my mother gave me years ago, one I usually keep on my table the whole month of November. It reminds me of the joy of Thanksgiving and the closeness of family back when we could sit around the same table and linger over pumpkin pie and catch up on our latest doings. 

Those days are over. New groups surround the table now, yet no matter where I am, those I'm with give thanks to God and teach our younger ones to have a thankful heart. 

We are so blessed.


Catch of the day,


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Honoring a Veteran

So many wars. So many lives interrupted. So many men lost. 

So much to say to them. 

Last Saturday, November 11, 2017, I tried. I stood with the crowd when the emcee of the event I was attending stopped the action cold. He pointed to his watch. "It's the eleventh hour," he spoke into the mic, "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month." We didn't need the accompanying explanation to tell us this was the moment of the armistice signifying the end of the first great war. We had our poppies on our lapels to remind us. Saying "Thanks for your service," doesn't seem adequate, although that one single act goes a long way. 

I stood next to this man, Jasper B. Reese, the co-author of my book, Back in the Time, and a veteran of the Korean conflict. 

At Yokota Air Base in Japan
We were at the annual meeting of the North Carolina Society of Historians, an organization formed to collect, preserve and perpetuate North Carolina's heritage...and to recognize those persons who fulfill the society's objectives. That's why we were there, to be recognized. 
Jasper Reese holding our recognition award,
and me, holding the book
We received the distinguished Historical Book Award for this memoir of his that I helped him write. He wrote his part, describing growing up in the far western mountains of North Carolina, watching his father go to war in the forties, going to war himself in the fifties. I wrote my part, describing the schools in the Spring Creek community of Madison County. We subtitled the book, Medicine, Education and Life in the Isolation of Western North Carolina's Spring Creek, pretty much summing up the story line of the book.

Meanwhile I was doubly honored. Another of my books won the Historical Book Award as well. I wrote this one with Johnny Mack Turner. Racing On the Road and Off in Caldwell County and the Surrounding Areas. 
With Johnny Mack's daughter, Cindy Smith
This book needed no subtitle. The title says it all, and the book tells all, well, mostly all, since there were a few stories we decided not to include because maybe, just maybe, these men didn't tell their children and grandchildren about their escapades dragging on the road in the wee hours of the morning back in the forties and fifties. Historical? Indeed.

History isn't all wars, thank heavens. It's daily life. Daily living. Daily getting up and going about the business of making a life. 

That's what these historians found in both of my books. I appreciate the honor, but the real honor goes to those we wrote about. I salute them, veterans or not.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Missing Man Table

Armistice Day

Veteran's Day

Call it what you want, but today is a day to remember. The name matters little. The reason matters most.

Today I post a picture of a table, not just any table, but the Missing Man Table lovingly assembled by the curator of our Caldwell County Heritage Museum. 

The empty chair is one that will never be filled by the son who went to war and never returned. The red roses and ribbon signify the blood spilled. The upturned glass, never again to be lifted in joy and celebration. The unlit candle, life snuffed out. The salt on the plate, our tears. The lemon, war's bitterness.

I went to a lecture about Armistice Day given by Beverly Beal, retired Superior Court Judge. He told the standing room only crowd about many of the World War I veterans from Caldwell County. Beside him as he spoke was this Missing Man Table.


A testimony to the sacrifice of those who went before us and gave all so that we could meet there on that day, exercising our freedom of assembly right.

When he finished he introduced me to read the poem In Flanders Fields. In his introduction, Judge Beal, knowing I was a writer, made the statement, something to the effect, "The greatest book will never be written. It died on the battlefield."

That stunned me and I barely could stumble through my assigned reading, but in honor of those who served and never came back, I made it through. I've copied and pasted here. Read it now. Read it again. Absorb the words. Most of all, appreciate a veteran on this day.


Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow 
Between the crosses, row on row, 
That mark our place; and in the sky 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly 
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago 
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie 
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe: 
To you from failing hands we throw 
The torch, be yours to hold it high. 
If ye break faith with us who die 
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow 
In Flanders fields.

Catch of the day,