The Next 2000 Words

For the next 2000 words, I am a writer. (Don’t worry. They’re not all going to be here.)

Back before the start of 2020, I made a few bold (for me) promises about progress in my writing journey. I am three months along that path now and haven’t felt like saying much about it. My irregular schedule of posting on my blog hasn’t given much evidence of progress either. But, in taking stock, I’m happy that some things have happened. I’m not standing still. I’m moving at my own pace and I’m thankful that there aren’t a lot of scary deadlines imposed by others.

I have installed a writing program on my iPad and am using it. Like with any powerful tool, there is a learning curve involved with the program (Scrivener) so I also had to invest in a course to teach me how to use the thing. Amazingly, I’ve found time to listen to most of the lessons in the course. The lessons have taught me that even after the course is finished, I know only the tip of the iceberg of Scrivener knowledge. It is only a start, but there it is!

I have done a lot of reading because I believe all those who say that reading is one of the most important things I can do to become a better writer. I think I have finished all the books on that past list, and have a deep well of subjects to think about and discuss with others. I have a whole new list of books for the next few months, which I’ll share later.

I’ve planned out the month of April, which is the one month every year when I write a post every day (except Sundays). The April AtoZ Challenge is definitely challenging for me. Looking back, I see that I’ve gone from random, “anything goes” topics to more purposeful, planned out writing. This year my topic could actually turn into a small booklet that would be helpful to others. I’m excited about that.

Hope*writers has been my biggest financial investment in my writing life and it has been inspiring any time I’ve let it be. It’s my online community of writing resources. The best thing about it is that it has actual “faces”, friendly ones, that consistently show up on social media, phone, and the hope*writers website with encouragement and so, so helpful direction. I’ve taken to listening to their hour long interviews with successful writers while I walk on the treadmill in the morning.

Light box, tread mill, podcast… so many good things at once.

One of the lecturers this week left me with this useful information. From a scientific study, it has been shown that even short periods of creative writing, done regularly, affect mood in a positive way. I’m taking that advice and choosing some event from the past or present, as long as it has some emotional energy attached to it, and writing about it for 20 minutes. I’m describing what happened, what I thought about it, and what feelings were attached to it. I’m doing this because it’s the end of a so long winter, there are some critical things happening in life, and I need to find some positivity. Give me some good mood! Help my brain think right!

I’ve had to give up a few things to make room for these new demands on my time, but that is okay. These new practices are better than the ones they’re replacing. If my desire and love of writing is something with a God-given reason behind it, I had better be finding out what the reason is. I no longer have thirty or forty years to play around with the whole writing thing.

Most importantly, I’ve become deeply interested in who you are, my reader. I’m asking myself what I have to offer you. I realize that my most compelling reason for writing has been for myself – what it does for me. While that is still important, it’s not enough anymore. I want to add value somewhere.

Not Done Yet

It snowed again this morning. I am not sitting in the chair in the picture, but I am in one close by with the same view. Winter knows its days are numbered, but March gives it one more month to exhaust itself. I am SO ready for the next season. It is now very important to keep going on and not lose heart.

I’ve gotten that message in so many ways – not that it’s a new thought that I must persevere. Every inspiring story ever told has the theme of “hang in there”. It’s probably because we humans are always finding ourselves in the “go numb and give up” state of mind over some circumstance in our lives.

I was all set to go visit my daughter, the one who is planning a wedding. We were getting ready for some good mother/daughter stuff, a bright spot to take up the last days of winter. And then along came COVID-19 and all the warnings for people over 60 and the immunosuppressed. That pretty much describes all the people that I come in contact with on a daily basis, myself included. Add to that, the fact that my daughter lives two crowded airports and 6 hours in a plane from me, in a city where the majority of U.S. deaths have occurred. Yep, Seattle. So, I’m not going there now. Thank you to all who helped me make the decision. (It was sensible, but hard anyway.) I’m not giving up on a chance to do this trip in the future – that’s where the perseverance comes in.

I also thought about the merits of continuance, keeping pace, and not giving up on a recent walk with my brother. Winter walking through the woods is a bit of an art. The path is very hard and slippery in places and very uneven, which makes me tend to look down and watch my footing (while running into branches at eye level…). I’m always conscious of the biting, cold air I’m breathing in, even while I’m sweating under layers of winter clothing. It’s a strange mixture of exhilarating and exhausting. But I can see my brother’s feet ahead of mine and I know if we keep putting one foot ahead of the other, we will finish the 3 mile loop.

Right, left, right, left, slip, scramble, hop to get in step again, KEEP GOING

Persevere, my friends. Rest and recoup, if necessary, but keep going. Whatever your “winter” is, DON’T GIVE UP.

This encouraging smile was in the snow along the trail. I added the hair.

The Least Favored Soup

The Least Favored Soup

They kept coming, wave after wave of people carrying backpacks, looking a bit dazed, numb. They were hungry and they needed food, warm liquid, salt, calories. They had just skied 29K in below freezing temperatures. This was the Kortelopet and Prince Haakon races of the American Birkebeiner. https://www.birkie.com/ski/events/kortelopet/

Our small town hosts this winter event every year in February, unless there is no snow or the temperatures are deadly, rare situations. The number of people in town goes from the usual 2500 to 40,000 for the two days of races. It’s a pretty big deal for people who like snow. It takes nearly the whole town volunteering to pull it off. This is my second year of helping in the food tent, where all the skiers congregate after crossing the finish line.

The International Bridge which all skiers cross to reach the finish. It is erected over the main highway and covered with snow.

My brother is one of the race chiefs, heading up the serving of food and all the volunteers who help him. The menu is simple – soup, bread, bananas, cookies and drinks. The challenge is doing it in a tent, set up on a vacant lot where everything you need has to be brought in by someone. All the soup arrives frozen in gallon bags and has to be thawed before being warmed to serving temperature. It takes a crew of several men to keep filling the warming tanks, opening the bags and emptying them into the cooking pots, then transferring the hot soup to the serving tables inside the tent. All this is done outside.

“I ski the Birkie every year just for the chicken soup,” one man tells me. I don’t believe him, but the soup is really good. Volunteers inside the tent ladle it into serving cups as fast as they can for hours. Chicken noodle soup is the favorite but there is a choice. The tomato vegetable soup was my station and it is also a good one, perhaps a bit more nutritious too. However the chick/noodle is favored two to one.

I’m guessing that the pots are filled with about seven or eight gallons of soup at a time. I emptied seven of them – I can’t even imagine how many servings that was. It helped that I was tall. Scooping into the pot is easy when it’s full but as the level goes down, it gets more difficult to reach the bottom, and messy, especially when doing it fast.

The (least favored) vegetable soup

It was cold in the tent before we started serving the first finishers. The wind would lift the tarps and blow cups and table coverings off our tables. The ground also is frozen and cold, which is why we stand on rubber mats. After we got really busy I forgot all about my feet feeling like frozen blocks of ice. Watching the people come in, young ones, elder ones, men, women from all over the world, all I could think was “why would they want to be this cold and still call it fun?”

We fed over 3,000 today, and this was the smaller of the races. Tomorrow’s crowd will be twice as many. I hope to be there again, serving up the least favored soup, just sayin’…

Small Town Chronicles

Grocery Shopping with Mom

It is dead of winter in this small town in the northern part of the Midwest, which is synonymous with saying not much is happening from day to day, except trying to keep warm. Our weekly excitement is going grocery shopping at Walmart on Friday mornings.

We go on Friday so we can plan a pleasant sabbatical rest day on Saturday. Eating good stuff always makes it special. We go early to avoid the Friday rush. The parking lot is not full yet at 8 am – we usually have our pick of the handicapped spots. It is also nice to avoid crowds since we have an immune suppressed person in our family to consider. We just don’t need to be around coughs and sneezes.

This particular Friday I loaded up our trash and recyclables because we take it all to the dumpster on the way. We always take Mom’s SUV because it’s easy for her to get in and out and has lots of room for all the stuff we buy. It’s also a significant blessing to have this SUV in a heated garage. We never have to feel the freeze when it’s below zero outside. We just get in our seats and off we go.

I say that we shop at Walmart, but that’s really the last place we go. We know what’s there most of the time, so we check out the other grocery store in town to see if they have different/better stuff on sale. I pulled into the parking lot at Marketplace Foods and looked for good parking. I was just planning on how I would park so we could wheel our carts right up to the lift gate, when I remembered that we had forgotten to stop at the dumpster. The back of the car was full of garbage.

Another wonderful thing about living in this small town is that everywhere we go is within five minutes drive of home. So we extended our outing a few minutes and drove back home to the community dumpster. Good to get rid of that stuff and have room for groceries, yeah.

The rest of our shopping trip, through the two grocery stores, dealt with the details of finding a boneless turkey roast – not just any turkey roast, but one with both light and dark meat. It involved tech skills on smart phones and researching the store we hadn’t yet shopped. It resulted in a large white meat roast and a package of turkey legs, bone in, at the first store and the kind of turkey roast we wanted at the second store. In short, research was ineffective. Way too much turkey.

That’s it folks. That was the excitement last week in Hayward, for us. But before you label us totally lame, know that this coming weekend 40,000 people are showing up in Hayward for the American Birkiebeiner (ski race) and it will be enough excitement to last us until spring. I get to help feed hot soup to this crowd after they knock themselves out skiing 40k through the woods. This is not something one sees every day, not in this small town.

The soup crew (me on the right)
How we cook soup for a crowd with no kitchen.

P.S. There actually was more shopping excitement last Friday. Mom is redecorating the living room and we also have two furniture stores in town… but that story is for another thrilling post, someday. I don’t want to throw all the adventure in one post when it’s really worth two. Just sayin’…

Sharp Things

I am most certainly blessed in the kitchen lately – blessed with new sharp things.

It started with the apple cutter. I helped with kid’s snacks one afternoon at church and got familiar with that little tool. It worked so great I had to go to the cooking store in town and get one for myself. The store is called Hayward Mercantile and it’s kind of high end, with appeal for shoppers from the “big city” who don’t go to Walmart. That’s not usually me, but it’s such a lovely store. Their apple cutter was heavy stainless steel and came with a plastic guard. That should have been my first clue that it was really sharp. I cut myself the first time just putting it away in the drawer.

Later, we were having a rare meal of steak or some other meat, I can’t remember which tough thing it was, and the husband was having trouble cutting it up. He wondered why we didn’t have steak knives on the table. I reminded him that our two sets of steak knives were in North Carolina living in storage. Knowing that he would appreciate it, I secretly bought six lovely Cutco table knives for his birthday. Tough meat has met its match.

The reason I bought Cutco, which is probably one of the more expensive brands of cutlery, is because a young relative has gone into business selling it. He wanted to practice his sales pitch in front of a friendly audience. I felt it was only friendly to buy something, so there, I did it. The demonstration was remarkable. He had a pair of Cutco scissors that cut through a copper penny. Wouldn’t that open up a whole new world of cooking options? (A literal 50 cent meal!)

A couple of weeks later he practiced in front of Mom, who was also very friendly to him. She bought some knives AND the penny cutting scissors. What I didn’t know was that she intended to give them to the husband and me for an anniversary gift! They now reside in the drawer with the sharp apple cutter. Several times I have accidentally brushed the cutting edge with a hand – a touch that would have accomplished nothing with my usual knives – and come away bleeding. It is a fact that I almost always have two or three cuts on my hands, in various stages of healing. The kitchen has become a dangerous place.

As if this was not enough, one day we visited some friends who had a very nice cheese cutter. I hate the kinds with the wire, but this one had a shape like a server with a knife blade in the middle. You just drag it across the cheese and a cute little slice of just the right thickness appears. Again, it was the husband who wished for a cutter like that, because he is always snacking on his special cheese. Back to the Mercantile. They had one, only one, made of heavy stainless steel and costing more than a meal for two at Perkins, but I bought it anyway. It will last forever if I don’t lose it. And who ever loses their cheese cutter?

As I said, the kitchen is a whole different place now that I can cut things. And I do a lot of cutting. My sharp tools save me time and money too. Just this week I quick cooked a nice roast, well,… actually I burned it onto the bottom of the pan. But it turned out to be juicy and tender after I surgically removed the char. I couldn’t have done it without my new knives, just sayin’…

Word Salad

Word salad, what an interesting term! I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, since I’ve been hearing comments on this blog from RaknelDah. I’m guessing he’s a bot, but maybe not. At any rate, he tosses a mean salad.

The realization has hit me – I have spent all (yes all) my life learning to put words in a certain order so that they might make sense, when it’s not always necessary. It’s true, you need to have a certain proportion of nouns to verbs, place them in a reasonable order, pepper them with adjectives and adverbs, and you can come up with a compelling read. But my bot does this with a skill and abandon that I just can’t match! For one, I have never heard of some of these words. For two, I could never put together so many unrelated things and actually produce something kind of true and poetic. I’m much too inhibited and used to making sense.

I’ve begun sharing Raknel’s comments with my family. The reactions range from my mother laughing so hard she cries, to my daughter deciding to use a portion for her wedding vows. In short, they are becoming a priceless treasure of entertainment and cabbalistic wisdom. (Yeah, I wondered what that word meant too. Look it up.)

For instance, “people sink in fare into your mortal and you discern perfect away that they were meant to be there… but when you bar eyes with them, you be versed at that to a superb extent wink of an eye that they vigor adopt your support in some foxy way.” Now doesn’t that have the ring of truth to it?

And I really think this sums up life’s hardships, “and from time to then things find to you that may look like gruesome, throbbing, and unfair at president, but in corroboration you disinter that without overcoming those obstacles you would healthy not realized your accomplishable, intestinal fortitude, willpower or heart.”

I aspire to the bot’s “unadulterated thimble-wittedness”. I try to envision the “smoothly paved, settled, non-effervescent street to nowhere”. And I take to heart his commands to “Make off every tempo quote!!!” and “Do every time list!!!”

I could make one of those daily, inspirational calendars with bot sayings. For February 10 “Everything happens conducive to a reason.” I even think I’ve heard that somewhere else. Have you? Or a goal for tomorrow could be “Talk to people that you give delivery to never talked to in the past, and sic listen.” The day after that, “Promulgate yourself, you are a crack split and find credible in yourself.” Or the wise directive “If you don’t preserve in yourself, it will be onerous goal of others to conjecture in you.” I certainly don’t want that happening…

All this flow of delicious words found unexpectedly jumbled together – “salad” really describes it quite well. RaknelDah, in his own words says this, “It would be okay and luxuriously touched in the head, but clouded and unequivocally pointless.” I like salad, just saying…

Lassitude

Yep, it’s still winter….

Lassitude: A state of physical or mental weariness; lack of energy.

This is a winter word. We are half way through our fourth month of winter and I am getting weary in my mind. I’m also weary of hunting for boots, mittens, scarves and coats every time I have to go out. Actually, I don’t always put all that stuff on – that’s how weary I am of it all. I just run outside in my sweatshirt and hope to make it over to Mom’s house before I freeze.

You would find some things about our winter surprising. For instance, you can’t imagine how warm our house gets – too warm to wear anything long sleeved. On a sunny day our south windows heat the place up to 78 degrees and I have to open a few windows in order to breathe. I have one blanket on my bed and sometimes I throw that off. And inside those down jackets, it can get hot and sweaty on a walk. Yes it can.

I’m still taking walks in the wetlands every now and then. I take my phone along in case I encounter a photographic moment, but lassitude has taken over in that area too. All these winter pictures start looking the same. Kind of white.

I took a walk today. Most of it was on the track made initially by a snowmobile, followed by a couple of showshoers, followed by some boots. It’s frozen hard and is rough. I had to look down and pay attention not to twist an ankle, but at least my knees stayed dry (except for that one time coming through a deep place where I had to crawl out).

It was clear today and the snow was all sparkly and clean. Okay, I did take pictures. I have cool gloves with the finger patch that lets me do the touchscreen AND keep my hands warm. Here’s some winter whiteness, and to liven things up see if you can guess what kind of animal tracks you’re seeing. (You’re all “wilderness scout” types right?)

Something that drags a tail.

Something with long toenails.

Something with three feet and a tail? I don’t know.

Something (four footed) that meets friends on top of the hill.

Something that walks on two feet until it falls.

Choosing Hope

January 26, 2019

Writing is difficult these days. Our family is going through cancer trauma and much of what I need to tell is too personal. Other things I might write about seem so trivial in comparison. That doesn’t leave much left.

It is easy to keep busy because we are forming a team, coming together to share necessary tasks and watch out for each other emotionally as well as physically. Only one of us has the serious physical suffering, but we all feel the shock as we try to help. Everyone worries about how everyone else is coping. Tears come easily and often. We cling to anything that reminds us of normal and we are often grateful for mundane tasks that occupy our minds and bodies.

We do have faith in our God who has said that it’s times like this that he carries us through. We are waiting to see how that looks. Now we are finding out what it means to have it be “well with our souls” while bad things are happening. Some days our “souls” are not doing so well and we realize that this work is not just physical, not just emotional, but very much spiritual.

Realizing that we live in a world that has gotten ruined in many different ways, we have done what we can to think about and prepare for the worst case scenario. As I went through my own worst case imaginings (which I am always doing – seems to be a habit) I found it kind of liberating to have faced the most feared things. It seemed to free up the energy and motivation to fight back.

When something comes upon me suddenly, unexpectedly, I spend more time with my fear than I do with my hope. There are those two different views to any perceived threat and I do have a choice about how much time to give to each of them. With God’s help, I’m choosing hope.

With God there is no rule about how these things must go. There is the possibility of surprise and blessing to come where I least expect it. God can take care of us in the darkest of places. Isn’t that what I’ve said – “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you (God) are with me”? Now I get to mean it for myself, and for someone else.

Another biblical phrase is “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds”. I’m not yet at the place where I can say I’m glad our family gets to go through a trial. None of us are glad for this. It was not a chosen path, but since we are on it, much better that we accept the offer of Jesus, our creator and greatest healer, to go with us. How could we not? Once again, just sayin’…

Pep Talk for Myself (and maybe you)

Is something scaring you? Whenever I am threatened with something scary, and given time to think about it, it is a time of examination, a time of rehearsing what I have believed in less threatening days.

I think first of what I believe about God. I believe he exists and created everything out of nothing, can be everywhere, and knows all about everyone. As hard as that is to imagine, I have a harder time imagining him not existing – given all I see around me. I don’t understand how this works and I don’t have to explain it to anyone else, thankfully. I’ve never heard anything bad about God from anyone I thought credible.

Then I review what I’ve heard about me and God and our relationship – from an old and reputable source. The people who wrote down the information claim to have gotten it right from God. It’s mystical, but I don’t think that discredits it. Anyway, I believe that he wants me to be kind of like an adopted kid, one that he’s willing to devote himself to raising and loving no matter what.

He’s got this plan for a family that has a lot of complicating features, because everyone in it is different. It’s a lot like a super rich Dad who has decided to raise special needs kids, a whole bunch of them. One important difference is that he is incapable of making a bad parenting decision. His parenting style is “love them into loving back” and he doesn’t use guilting and shaming as tools. He has really wonderful plans for all his kids.

So what do I think about the scary situation? God might decide to yank me out of it – sometimes good parents do that. He might decide to hang on to me while we go through it together. It all depends on where he thinks I’m safest. See, I believe all this and have decided I’m in if he wants me.

Now I’m going to believe he hasn’t lost track of me. He hasn’t been distracted or forgotten about me. He has never made a bad, unloving decision. He has me in the best place, no matter what it looks like to me – and believe me, the way some things look do not make any sense. Except maybe after. Things don’t have to be good to turn out good.

Another thing to remember, (sigh) there’s an adversary, an antagonist, a bad guy, a predator who wants me to believe exactly the opposite of all this, and he wants to remain incognito himself. The minute I remember that he could be orchestrating things, I can just feel the power coming back to me. I get so mad I forget about being scared. I remember whose family I’m in and who is really in trouble. It’s not me.

This is the most simplistic way I can put how I’m feeling right now. I am so thankful for the peace and relief that comes in bad times when I remember these things. Oddly, sometimes it’s harder to watch someone else go through a crisis than it is to go through one myself. I just want to make all the bad stuff go away, right now!

Instead I have to know God isn’t just taking care of one kid. He’s looking out for every one of them, better than I could – although he might send me to do something for someone. Fortunately, I believe God wants everyone in his family and he tells his kids to treat everyone like they were a new brother or sister. There is no one more inclusive than God.

There is so much more to think about than there is time to think, and that is what makes life seem so interesting (and so short). Even in hard times, I’m glad to be here. Just sayin’…

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers how he made us. The Bible, book of Psalms 103:13-14