Thursday, September 30, 2010

Make your reader smell your work

Check out blogger Allison Schrieber Lee at Her posts are always noteworthy and uplifting, but her comment about parenting made me nod. "I was not perfect, but I was perfect in my intention to do what I could in whatever moment I was in."

Here are a few more lines of my "olfactory" writing -using the sense of smell to trigger mommy memories.

Baby milk-breath, the nape of her neck;
his tiny toes, downy hair ~ good as it gets for mom.

Sick little baby, please don't cry; I'll sing you another lullaby.
Diarrhea filled diapers, vomit soaked sheets ~ the stuffy stench of motherhood.

Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder, Jergens Lotion, No Tears Shampoo,
bubble gum pink liquid antibiotics ~ pain relievers of childhood.

Will you share a baby-scented memory with me?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The 'smell' of a story

I've been reading Anderson Cooper's book, Dispatches from the Edge, a Memoir of Wars, Disasters and Survival. Back in the day when he couldn't get a job as a journalist, he boarded a plane with a cheap camera and the guts to make a name for himself. Now, he is a widely recognizable correspondent for CNN. His memoir is interesting. He is the son of Gloria Vanderbilt. He reveals some interesting personal information about his family.

In one chapter he tells about filming horrific images and discusses the sights, sounds, smells and feel of war and hurricane zones. On his flight home, although he had showered and had clean clothes on, he kept smelling those 'images'. He thought he was hallucinating, and then he realized he was wearing the same shoes that had stepped in the mud and the blood. He claims that for him, "every story has a smell."

I like that description. Most of our 'life stories' have a smell too. So I jotted a few down. Since fall is in the air, I'll share this one. I remember being a little girl sitting on my grandparents' front steps watching Pappy burn the pile of leaves in the gutter that my cousin and I had just tromped and crunched through. Kids today wouldn't recognize that smell, but my frame of reference is a vivid sensory experience.

Crisp autumn wind snarks up my five year old nose, mingles with the smell of burning leaves and rushes to the pleasure center in my brain; the promise of Halloween and a sack of candy to last me until Christmas, a day away.

Think of any incident or time of your life and write a sentence or two using sensory detail and please SHARE. I will share more another time. Right now, it is off to work I go.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Apples Galore

Delectable, juicy, sweet, warm, crunchy, a little bit of heaven in my mouth ... I gave into temptation and made an apple-crumble, (no crust, but enough cinnamon and crumbs (flour, sugar, butter) on top to make your mouth water.) Then I threw caution to the wind, darted out and bought a half gallon of vanilla ice cream. This morning I am calling that scale a big fat liar.

Since we recently took a field trip to the apple orchard, I used an apple theme in class. First, I set out a pile of apples and asked the children to 'guesstimate' how many. Then, I lined them up and we counted them from left to right. We did premath: 10 little apples sitting in a line, Abby took one, and now there are (she counts) nine! We sorted and classified by size and color. Then each child selected an apple and described every single detail about THEIR apple. This increases their obervation skills. Next, the apples went back into the pile, and each child had to find their own apple again. Amazing that they all did, too. Then, we read a book, From Apple Tree to Apple Pie, and each child retold the story in sequential order using six picture cards. Next, came the most fun, each child cut a round, red apple and made up their own recipe. Most chose to tell me how they would make apple pie, but several kids told me how to make apple pancakes or apple cookies. This is a fun and funny activity. They are learning about measurements and time, and learning to sequence. They answered questions such as how many? What else will you add? Where will you cook it? For how long?

This is what a typical recipe page looked like: their cut out apple with their name printed on it.

FIRST, get one, two, three apples or thirteen and smash 'em good. (crush, chop, cut, smoosh)
THEN, add six dribbles of sugar and some spinkles of milk and a spoon of salt and a cup water.
NEXT, cook it in the microwave/oven/stove for elventeen mintues/ twelve hours/ two seconds
LAST, you eat it and share some with ...

Now, after all that sweet talk, maybe you can see why I took my bag of apples home, warmed up my kitchen and made the house smell so good it made our mouths water waiting for our dessert. This cool weather makes me feel like baking. How about you?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fall fun

The weather has cooled considerably; temperature in the low 50s and it won't be warmer than 70s this week.

Hubby has had a cold and so we've kept the airconditioner on to keep the mold and pollen outdoors, but last night I could not resist opening the windows. All the while I thought it was this pillow top mattress that has been keeping me awake at night. Loved it when we first purchased it, but a couple of years later, it is like sleeping in a foam ditch. So last weekend, I had Bill flip the mattress to the hard as a board side with no padding whatsoever. That gave me sore shoulders for a week. Last night we flipped the mattress back, I flung open the window and snoozed like a kitten curled up by a warm fire.

Friday I took my classes on a field trip to Eckert's Apple Orchard in Belleville, Illinois. Rain threatened, it sprinkled a little, then cleared as we arrived. The children rode a wagon pulled by a tractor to the orchard and picked their own bags of apples and carried them in their arms like a 'heavy baby'. They ate an apple in the orchard and they played in the various areas: trikes, mini golf, playground, petting zoo.

Fall, my favorite season, has arrived with glorious colors and wonderful weather. When the sun is shining and the trees are highlighted I feel spunky. I want to climb a mountain like I did 37 years ago, when I was pregnant with my son. Okay, it wasn't really a mountain, just a Missouri hill, but it seemed like a mountain when I was clutching my swollen belly wondering if my baby would be a boy or girl.

On Saturday, my school did a fundraiser, a Fun Run in Carondelet Park. Some parents and students participated in the 5K run, others did the mile walk, and cutest was the preschoolers who ran a mini-mile, little elbows propelling those 3-5 year olds down and around the loop near the lake and Boathouse, and then back again (about two blocks). They were awarded a ribbon, and wow where they proud!
The weather was gorgoeus for mass in the park and a gathering of friends.

I feel invigorated. I think I will put on my tennis shoes and take a walk this morning.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Inadequacies of a Writer

Many years ago back in the '70s when I was just beginning my teaching career, my professional organization, The National Association for the Education of Young Children did a survey. They polled teachers across the nation and asked how we referred to ourselves - our professional titles. Many members had full degrees, some had partial degrees, some had a few credits, some had no college but years of experience. Yet we all did exactly the same work. Only a few of us referred to ourselves as preschool teachers, even those who had advanced degrees. We called ourselves childcare attendants, teacher aides, child care assistants, early childhood educators, specialists etc. The theory was that society didn't view our occupation as valuable; they certainly didn't pay a salary commensurate with our multi-tasking capabilities. At that time, Pre K teachers were grossly underpaid compared to K-12 teachers. At a social event, when someone asked, "What do you do?" I hesitated to say, "Preschool teacher," because 90 % of the time people responded (& still do), "Oh, you do daycare." Or worse yet, "You BABYSIT."

I know a college instructor who is a fantastic published writer, but when asked her occupation, she prefers to tell people she is an English teacher. So why do we writers hesitate to refer to ourselves as such? I think it is because we think of ourselves as just FREELANCE writers, not full time writers who make a living at it. In my case, when someone asks what I do, I almost always mention my day job first; I think of that as my primary occupation, but more than that, maybe I have feelings of inadequacy… after all, I am just a freelancer, even though I have some notable publication credits. I do have confidence in my ability to write, but when I compare myself to 'real writers' like Stephen King or Maya Angelou I feel insignificant. After reading Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott, I realize we all must have these insecurities.

I received a pittance of a check the other day, a stipend (my brother calls it an insult) for a story and also a poem published in an anthology, and I want to brag that I received 2 publishing credits. The book is on the shelf, but the first thing I am inclined to say is that it's not high quality work. Why do I do that? It was publishable.

Do you ever feel like you are not up to par despite your publishing credits? Because of a lack of them? Do you consider yourself a writer because you write or because you are published?
What holds you back/ propels you on?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Devotionals for Mothers
101 daily Devotionals to Comfort, Encourage, and Inspire Mothers.
Throughout time, women have shared their joys and sorrows, thoughts and feelings, experiences and life lessons with one another. The tradition continues in this charming book filled with 101 stories on motherhood, faith, and comfort that affirm God's unconditional love and wisom. Women will find encouragement, solace and strength in these personal stories and prayers by fellow moms about all aspects of motherhood, from its joys and blessings to challenges and test of faith. This book will uplift, counsel, and reassure any woman of faith who needs a boost or reminder of God's ever-present love as she goes through the ups and downs of life and motherhood. (easy to read, 500 words or less).
My story, Listen to the Children, is on page 145. It is about a granddaughter who brought me to my knees with a profound statement of truth. By the way, Lisa Whelchel, aka Blair, on the 80's sitcom, Facts of Life wrote the foreword.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Thin Threads, weaving life stories together one at a time

Recently I received good news. Thin Threads Anthology - More Real Stories of Life Changing Moments is scheduled for release in November. My story, Santa's Helper Was a State Trooper is included.

Even better news, my story, Dancing Down the Cookie Aisle has just been released in a SPECIAL EDITION, Thin Threads of Love and Romance.

There are several titles in these series: Thin Threads of Compassion and Giving; Thin Threads of Joy and Inspiration; Thin Threads of Recovery and Survival; Thin Threads of Grief and Renewal. These books are very affordable and would make great holdiay gifts. You can purchase books directly at

Now, here is some good news for YOU. Thin Threads is seeking stories for upcoming special editions. The first to be released in January is Thin Threads of Faith and Hope. You can submit on line, but you'd better hurry. Stacey Battat is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Kiwi Publishing, Stacey is friendly and easy to work with.

Friend and fellow-blogger, Becky Povich, also received news that one of her heart-warming stories will appear in Thin Threads.
The next story published could be yours!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Eagle Soars

Bill's oldest grandchild, seventeen year old Kyle, achieved the rank of Eagle Scout today. He is a hard worker, has accomplished a lot in his life. He really enjoys physical work, building, constructing and tearing down, which is a carry over from when he was a little boy. He would duct tape things together: his tractor would be taped to his chair which was taped to another toy or table. He was always a busy builder who swore one day he would drive a long-long-long-long truck. He now drives an extended cab pick up truck and works construction when he's not coaching girl's volley ball or attending high school.

The presentation had some funny moments. Mr. Madden told about the evening Kyle was on his very first campout. When he went to the outhouse he accidentally dropped his flashlight down in the hole. The adults saw him running back down the road with his flash light flickering; they assumed he had fallen. He was covered in mud, or so they thought, until he got closer and they could smell him. He wanted to be RESPONSIBLE, so he climbed down the hole and retrieved the flashlight which belonged to one of the dads. Yes, everyone had a good laugh.
For the most part, though, it was a solemn ceremony, with manly handshakes and congratulations from officials, family and friends. It is customary for the Eagle Scout to present his parents with a Mom/Dad pin. Kyle's mom, Robin is the scout master for his troop and works very hard. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Kyle presented his parents and step parents with their pins. Then, quite unexpectedly Mr. Madden looked around the room and surprised everyone when he announced, "And at Kyle's request, he would like to present one more 'Dad' pin to a man who has been most influential in his life, his grandpa." Bill cried, walked up front and hugged that big 6 foot tall kid, his oldest grandchild, his first grandbaby, his little boy. There wasn't a dry eye. It was a Kodak moment, a memory maker, a thrill beyond compare for Bill. Congratulations to our little builder who has achieved a great honor today and made one grandpa happier than ever.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Some guys not only tell whoppers, they are whoppers!

Folks, if you thought Erma Bombeck was a hoot, check out my friend Tammy at Her take on middle-aged single guys will make you howl. You will come away appreciating your single status or the goon you've got, because some of the guys she's met are...well read on and read back a few posts because one is more hysterical than the other. If you are dropping your line into the vast sea of singles, you'll appreciate Tammy's catch and release philosphy.
graphics courtesy of Webweavers Free Clip Art

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Erma Bombeck

Humor writer, Erma Bombeck could take an everyday event and turn it into an essay that made readers laugh out loud. Sure, sometimes the laughs were at the expense of her family, but everyone could relate. When I was a young mother, I couldn't wait to read her newspaper column. I can remember relishing the early morning, my alone, quiet time. I would ease out the front door, sit on the porch and try to turn the newspaper pages without making a rustling sound for fear of waking the kids, three rooms away, because those little darlings could track me down like bloodhounds.

I looked like a spy in a 1950's cheap film when a neighbor came out his or her door. I'd raise my opened paper forehead-high and keep my head buried. I'd lower it an inch at a time past my eyes to make certain that Joe, the friendly, old scrubby Dutchman didn't notice me and shout, "Ahhh, goota mahning! When is your husband going to mow the lawn?" I didn't want the cop up the block heading to the precinct to wave and bellow louder than his car horn, "Moooornin'!" And that old gossip woman two doors up, well she was so nearsighted that she mistook a morning wave for a come hither motion, and once she opened her mouth, she did her best to tell the worst about each neighbor on the block. I avoided those early risers who could raise my ire, and my kids from their lairs before I was ready for them.

I actually mourned Erma's passing when she died from complications of kidney disease.

I came across a book recently by Alicia Alvrez, The Ladies' Room Reader, The Ultimate Women's Trivia Book, (2000) in which she claims Erma Bombeck wanted to keep us laughing even from the grave. She requested that her epitaph read, "BIG DEAL!" I'm used to dust.

Erma Bombeck was my hero. Did you read her columns, books?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Decision making time

We've all been at that proverbial fork in the road where we have to decide whether we'll listen to our head or our heart. I have to decide by the end of this week which path to take. A huge educational institution out of Washington D.C. sent me a contract for a story I wrote about a former colleague, a veteran teacher who made a tremendous impact on students, faculty and staff, especially me. My story is in the running. After all of the contracts are received, the publisher will make final determination as to which stories will go into the publication. It will then be distributed to public school teachers across the nation.

I have tried unsuccessfully for ten years to get this story 'out there'. Now the opportunity is here and I am wondering if I should give it away; compensation is a copy of the book in exchange for all rights. This goes against my better judgment, not the no stipend part, but relinguishing all rights. My heart tells me that this woman's story needs to be told. I know that her story will stop with me ( she is now deceased) if I decline to sign the contract, and I know that it will continue to impact others and have a wide reach if I release it. She was an inspiration to me, so in honor of Thurma Young, I think I shall sign the contract and allow her legacy to live on.

Thanks for listening late this evening while I reasoned with myself and wrestled with my conscience. Each of us has to do what's right for us. I work hard at my craft and I know that my words are valuable, but sometimes, money isn't the only payoff. How do you feel about this?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Beloved Dusty

When you were a pup
you froliced in open fields
and feather pillows,
teethed on my shoes
and legs of wooden tables.
In the summer
the kids dressed you up.
In winter, you shed your thick coat, you sweet, confused Spaniel-mix.
Now, as you snooze through old age
may you be blessed
with a field of dreams to romp in,
the wind always blowing against your face,
and the thrill of finally catching that elusive squirrel.
Lay down your weary head and snooze. Rest.
Sleep peacefully,
Dusty, old girl.
I was an eighteen year old newlywed. I spotted her in the pet department of Arlan's, a local department store similar to K-Mart. Her litter mates were in a cage; she was an escapee. I watched her rip open a bag of puppy chow and lead her brothers and sisters to the buffet. I knew this feisty little girl had personality, and I knew she was the one for me.
She was my first "baby". We paid our last seven dollars for her. She gave me fifteen years of devotion, and I gave her my heart.
This is a slightly modified version of a poem that was published in On the Edge Poetry and Prose Anthology, Missouri State Poetry Society, published by Fountain City Publishing (2008).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Queen of the Last Frontier, published by High Hill Press

Queen of the Last Frontier, the biography of Emily Viaene Keaster, as told to Linda O'Connell, published by High Hill Press, is now available on $15.95

Emily and I met in Delta Junction, Alaska in 1969 when my former husband was stationed at Ft. Greely Army Arctic Test Center. Her husband, Walt, was a civillian who worked on post with my ex. The Keasters were pioneer homesteaders who battled the hostile environment, wild animals and the land boss.

This book chronicles the life of Emily from her birth in the back seat of a Studebaker to the present. Queen of the Last Frontier evokes a range of emotions. Readers will discover how Emily reared children and raised cattle and hell in the Land of the Midnight Sun. Emily Viaene Keaster has made numerous contributions to the town of Delta Junction. She continues to reign supreme over her homestead.

Publisher, Lou Ella Turner at High Hill Press, Cottleville, MO did a wonderful job on this book. I would highly recommend this small press publisher. My experience was pleasant and positive.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Group hug on the writing track

We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.

I can't attribute the quote, but I can certainly relate. Where would I be without my writing community, blog friends, other women who have been where I am now? Supporting one another, whether it's in letter form, in person or on line is like an arm around the shoulder, a buddy hug. I so appreciate ALL of you, whether you are readers who haven't signed on, or regular followers.

Together we can!

At preschool two little boys were at the train table fussing over the same engine. I gave them each a differn't Thomas the Tank engine and they went merrily on their way in opposite directions pushing their trains along the track. And then, the inevitable happened. They came face to face and their trains collided on the same track. They each stood their ground, used their words instead of their fists, and I couldn't help but laugh when they started belly bumping. One said, "Scooze me." The other one, "ESSCUUUSE me!" This continued for about five belly bumps and increasingly more vocal scooze me's. Then I stepped in and showed them how to get around the bend. Sometimes that's all any of us need is a conductor to reroute us, redirect us. So, excuse me, if you have been making excuses, get back on track, the writing track.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Not a poet? Think again.

Last evening I drove about forty miles to Jefferson County Chapter of the Missouri Poetry Society, led my Billy and Faye Adams. What a wonderful event!

I am a wordy essayist, a long-winded letter writer, a jabber jaw. But one evening I heard a poet read aloud at a St. Louis Writer's Guild event. I was amazed. His poems, mostly free verse, sounded like greatly condensed versions of my essays. "If this is poetry, I can do THIS!" I thought. I hurried home and took a four page story I had been working on and pared it down to one page. I presented it to my critique group who were blown away by the short version, which ended up being a poem that won a prize.

So, you think you're not a poet? Try it, just take an essay and remove all unnecessay words. Write so tight it hurts, and then read the words aloud and amaze yourself. Tweak it here and there and then send it off. Let it take wing. It will either fly away or return to you.

Come on! You can do it, you don't have to worry about rhyming words, no sing song silly stuff. Just write from YOUR heart and chop it down to bite size.

Missouri Review is seeking contemporary fiction, poetry, essays, and they PAY $30 per accepted page.

Monday, September 6, 2010


I love it when I stumble upon something good. I want to share this treasure with all of you writers out there. has numerous call outs for various types of writing. Have fun perusing this site.

Today, I challenge you to tell me about stumbling. Did you fall flat? Kick up a gem? Discover a truth? Sometimes our stumbles are stepping stones, eye openers, head clearers, ego adjustments.

Stumble over words? Stumble upon? Stumble down? Stumble into a person?
Give this topic some thought and then share with me, won't you?

Three decades ago, I stumbled into the wrong college class and sat in the empty classroom for ten minutes before I realized I was in the right room number, but the wrong tower building. Then, I had to slink into the real class, and wow! did I stumble upon a wonderful writing instructor and some talented writers.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Labor Day fun

The weather was gorgeous, sunny and 75 degrees. Son-in-law, George, is an etymologist and nature lover. Every Labor Day he invites family and friends (he has a dozen siblings) to Sherwood Forest in Cuivre River State park for the entire weekend. It's a group camping area with four differen't sections of primitive cabins furnished only with bunks. Each area has a bathhouse and an outdoor fire pit. Years ago, we used to spend the entire weekend in Sherwood Forest, sleep in those insect riddled cabins and cook and eat our meals in the mess hall with the other 100 people in attendance. Some years it was unbearbley hot, others freezing cold at night, and last year it was rainy and the ground so muddy and soupy, every one left early.
This year Bill and I decided a full day from 9:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. would be sufficient. Before we left, Georgie, who was already there, texted and asked if we had any board games. Bill texted back: Phase Ten, Yahtzee, Smart Ass. Georgie texted, Grandpa, WHAT did I do?!
We forgot that Georgie was sick last week and missed Bill's birthday. So he wasn't aware that Bill had received the trivia game, Smart Ass as a gift. We sure got a chuckle out of that.
The 65 children of all ages, played baseball, volleyball, soccer, badminton, did archery, rode bikes through the woods, hiked trails, and worked up endless appetites. Darkness brought added fun as the teenaged boys ganged up against the teenaged girls to see who could wreak the most havoc on the other ones' cabins. Nightfall brought roaring fires where adults and the younger children made s'mores. Sean, eleven years old decided to find some firewood. We heard him coming before we saw him; he'd found a downed limb, practically half of a small tree.

Autumn is my favorite season, and yesterday was a perfect fall day to be with family and friends, to appreciate the beauty in nature, to star gaze in an open field without artificial light, to awe at how fast the years are flying and how big the grandkids are getting, and to be grateful for how blessed we truly are.

Did you do something special for Labor Day?

Friday, September 3, 2010

It's all about the wording

"Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."~ Mark Twain

If you are so inclined to overuse boring words such as "very" or "really", or other words that do not move your story forward, stop and think about this quote. It makes me take a closer look, and it helps me to write with impact.

I received an email today that illustrates this point. A little boy sat begging on a corner with his upturned hat and a sign that read: I am blind, please help. The boy received only a few coins.
A man walked by and turned the blind boy's sign board around and wrote: Today is a beautiful day, but I cannot see it.

The blind boy received many donations.

There you have it: the first ingredient for a Chicken Soup for the Soul story. Both signs told people that the boy was blind. The second told people that they were lucky that they were not blind. It is obvious which sign was more effective.

Be creative, and innovative and your writing will be more effective. Write with impact and remember that your titles are as important as the content of your story.

This unattributed quote was attached to the email. Be thankful. When life gives you 100 reasons to cry, show life 1000 reasons to smile.

Will you tell me two things that made you smile today?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Grandpa did WHAT!

I get excited when I find something valuable, even if it's only valuable to me. Bill and I spent a few hours at the Misssouri History Museum at 225 So. Skinker. The Historical Society has archives and records and pictures, an unbelivable collection. It's across from Forest Park. I had intended to go there way before now and way before I return to school, but alas, summer is drawing to a close and school is about to start. So, today I fit this visit into my schedule. If Bill hadn't been with me, I'd have stayed all day.

Oh my goodness, what gems we found. I searched for my great uncle who was a big shot in the St. Louis Police Department in the '30s and '40s. I hit dead ends searching for his name, but hit upon Bill's grandfather who also a higher up, a generation earlier than my great uncle. His grandfather was in uniform, had a handlebar mustache, wore a star on his dress uniform jacket and wore a high rounded top hat. Bill's brother looks just like their grandfather. The likeness is incredible.

I discovered that my mom wasn't kidding when she said her grandfather was in real estate; the city directory listed that as his occupation back in the 1920's. I learned where my maternal great-grandparents lived and what my grandfather's occupation was: a lamplighter and he also worked at Mallinckrodt.

My greatest discovery: my paternal great-great-great grandfather (or uncle, I'll have to research the genealogy more closely) gave an eyewitness official report to an Indian battle in New Madrid, MO back in the early 1800's. Apparently, a neighbor had been entertaining three Native Americans and offered them liquor which was against the law. They got drunk, demanded the rest of the booze, did some whooping and yelling, and ended up killing the neighbor and another man and burning down the house. Wow! Those skeletons were rattling in my closet.

I had so much fun, I am sure I will go back for more. You have to leave your purse in a locker and use pencil only, but if you find an article or picture you want copied, they will photocopy for 25 cents, OR you can bring your camera and pay them $10 for an entire day of taking your own photos. This would be ideal if you are doing research for a book. You can also access information on line at and click on Archives or Guides and search their genealogy database. Have fun! You can't imagine what you'll find.

My high cheek bones should be proof enough that I am part Native American, but I can't document it yet although Dad and his folks always said we were.

A dumb man tells his wife to be quiet; a wise man tells her how pretty her lips look when her mouth is closed. ~Native American Proverb