April 18, A Winter’s Day in Iowa…

Well, it’s the third snowstorm since March 23. Just sayin’, and returning  from my indoor walk this morning, I still marveled at how light and huge the flakes are. A fall so thick we can barely see across the street.

And the birds are wild at the feeder…free food, why not?

While it lasts, they’re seizing the moment. Might as well embrace the unexpected or undesirable experiences that come our way. So they thought they’d be sitting on their eggs by now…not so much.

At the risk of redundancy, I have to say that during World War II, if you were deployed or doing clandestine work as a secret agent, this attitude would get you a long way.

NOTHING was expected–if you could predict an occurrence, something probably had gone wrong. Murphy’s law multiplied. 

Starting next week, I plan to make posts from actual locations where Lancasters took off with their precious cargo of agents like Kate Isaacs. Yes, and from the underground tunnels where Winston Churchill and military leaders made decisions that changed the world. And from Baker Street…and…

In the meantime, enjoy some more shots from our back room during this heavy snowstorm. An undesirable storm…but embraced.

April Surprises

April fools came a couple of days late this year, and yes, I snapped a picture of these birdie prints just outside our door. Maybe a sparrow seeking sustenance between the cracks in our deck.

I consider myself fortunate. My husband shoulders the work snow brings. Early this morning, he was out creating walkable paths for the likes of moi.

 

Why so bundled up? Try seven degrees F.

He also takes amazing photographs of the flora and fauna around here–we used to comment that we’d know when we’re old when we started watching birds. Weeel…

A humble sparrow, fluffed against the cold. She thought she’d be building her nest and laying her eggs by now.

But April or no April, expectations or no expectations, iNature dumps a snowstorm when she pleases. These days prove perfect for researching.

As usual, I’ve been studying WWII history, and am so impressed by British citizens’ tenacity. They took hit after hit after hit, long before we Americans even entered the war. Entire towns leveled by the Luftwaffe…thousands of lives lost. Attacks foiled, with unbearable losses.

But those losses would mount far higher…the war had only begun, and words like unbearable would take on new levels of meaning.

Yet in the historical annals, photo after photo attests to ordinary British citizens’ pluck. It seemed that as suffering and challenges increased, so did people’s stamina, endurance, and proactivity: in a word, their pluck. 

We don’t use this word much any more, but pluckiness will get you through a lot. Yesterday I came across a picture of two women emerging from the rubble of their bombed out homes, each with a houseplant in her hands…and they both wore a smile. 

There’s a lot to be said for pluck…it’s fluffing out your feathers in the face of a storm. It’s picking up your shovel and starting in…or keeping on. It’s that indefatigable hope dwelling inside that keeps you going, no matter what.

The Quality of Light

“Of all the facts I daily live with there’s none more comforting than this; If I have two rooms, one dark, the other light, and I open the door between them, the dark room becomes lighter without the light one becoming darker. I know this is no headline, but it is a marvelous foot note; and comforts me in that.” ― Gerhard Frost

Probably there’s some scientific explanation for why light affects darkness, but not vice-versa. These kinds of questions intrigue me, so I guess it’s no wonder they furrow my characters’ brows, as well.

Why doesn’t darkness “move into” light when we open a door or when a light shines outside our windows? Instead, brightness penetrates into the formerly dark area.

In my last novel, Kate, Domingo, and the wily priest who accompanies them on some of their clandestine missions ponder such concepts. Why didn’t one of the assassination attempts on Hitler’s life succeed? How could such evil run rampant over Europe?

If you enjoyed With Each New Dawn and A Purpose True, you’d most likely appreciate the story I’m working on right now, too. Stan, an all-American guy-type, considers philosophical questions in the mountains of Bataan, where he and a captain escape to carry on guerrilla warfare instead of succumbing to captivity in a Japanese POW camp.

Add to this the captain’s literary mind bursting with quotes, and his penchant for employing them in everyday conversation…plus his bouts of malaria and dengue fever. Needless to say, Stan has his hands full.

As usual, I keep thinking this novel must be nearly finished…and that day will come. Meanwhile, Easter’s not a bad time to consider the effect of light on darkness, and the failure of darkness to squelch light.

Have a meaningful holiday.

 

Making Do

This past two weeks have tweaked my perspective after I fell and hurt my wrist. Since driving is out, these days have been more isolated than normal. Some friends came to my rescue with groceries and other household needs like chopping vegetables, opening cans, and vacuuming.

Some other friends visited, too:

Nice to have company…the first few days, I read through a pile of books I’ve been meaning to get to, and learned so much…about World War II. How’d you guess?

Once I could type again, even one-handed, my latest hero and heroine kept me company. Oh, what the ordinary citizens of the 40’s went through–they made do all the time. For this story, I’m researching the war in the Philippines.

Here’s one of my resources, a compilation of the Los Angeles Examiner’s wartime headlines. With a trusty magnifying glass borrowed from a friend, I’ve unearthed some real gems–hopefully, you’ll read some of them when ALL FOR THE CAUSE is published.

 

Sunshine and Clouds

Last night’s storm produced a gorgeous landscape this morning.

I’ve been trying to capture the beauty – certainly wish Lance were here – he’d do a far better job. But still, I keep snapping shots.

These two look a lot alike, but the second highlights the sunshine a bit more. A little difference in perspective. Put together with the photos Lance sent of Iowa’s ice storm last week, it’s all about glistening and shimmering.

 

Not to mention frigid and frustrating to people with plans for the day.

But consider the shimmering. The storm immersed every single centimeter of each twig, blade of dried grass, and object in its path. No escape, for ice makes no exception.
As my husband says about situations we must accept, “it is what it is.” And from a purely aesthetic viewpoint, ice slashing down from the skies creates a beautiful scene.

Now, the storm that hit here last night is headed north, and I doubt many are looking forward to more cold and snow. Thankfully, winter cannot last forever.

Recently, a neighbor from my childhood contacted me. We’ve been sharing our perspectives and I’m learning so much. Our families weren’t close, so her perceptions of “the way we were” shine a fresh light on the past. Kind of like sunshine on snow.

Our correspondence takes me back…way back. And that, of course reminds me of Addie on her Iowa farm back in World War II, and her bff Kate writing her encouraging letters from London. An avid reader recently wrote me that she stayed up nights for two weeks reading this novel and its sequels.

In my youth, I’d NEVER have imagined I’d one day create such a series, though books were my best friends. The ups and downs back then, though, shaped me into a writer. It is what it is, and I’m determined to seek the sunshine

 

 

Finding a Way

If you’ve seen my FB page from yesterday, you know that last weekend provided an incredible experience. My co-facilitator and seventeen other writers at our Pine retreat proved the truth of our title, Writing Into Daylight.

Whether through memoir, other nonfiction, or fiction, we’re moving out of the shadows. I could go on about that metaphor, but would rather share a photo my husband took this morning in frozen northern Iowa.

Clearly, an ice storm has put this bird feeder out of commission. However, a tenacious squirrel awoke this morning with one goal: food.

Yes, he thought, it’s frigid and miserable, but this furry creature’s willing to do whatever it takes to satisfy the hunger roiling inside.

What will it take to reach his desired goal? He’ll do it. The hunger drives him, despite all odds.

For those writers at our retreat, this squirrel provides a picture of the writing life. Challenging, goal-oriented, lonely, passionate. We might have to go out on a limb, pardon the pun:

The deeper connection is that for some of us, writing equals sustenance, nurture. It’s our calling, our vocation, and even though risks present themselves, we must write.

All kinds of doubts and questions assail us. Do our words deserve to be heard/read? Does what we have to say really matter to anybody out there? Will our stories touch, nourish, encourage or warn readers?

Like this squirrel, we cannot know the answers before plunging into the work. But we take the leap, ignoring the voices, inner and outer, that proclaim us foolhardy. Perhaps we feel we’re hanging on by one claw, but sitting back and watching just won’t do.

At times in my leapsthe odds against success seemed far too high, the struggle much more arduous than I’d realized. In addition to the laborious task of writing, we’re responsible for promotion? We’re expected to swing out there with no net underneath, to seek potential readers? Yep, it is what it is. Might as well accept it.

But somehow, this process sustains us. Such an intriguing journey, replete with opportunities to toss aside the torch and give up. Yet also brimming with adventures, new contacts, and opportunities to grow.

I’m very grateful for our weekend adventure, all the chances to step outside my comfort zone, think outside the. box, and especially, new writing friends. Doesn’t get any better!

Last but definitely NOT least, I’m so thankful for Lance’s expertise with the camera–what a perfect SHOW he provided for us this morning!

On Being Away…

That’s what I’ve been – away. We had company for a week, and went to see the beautiful Red Rock country around Sedona. Oh my…such glorious natural beauty.

The weather has been far too dry for safety up under the Mogollon Rim, but yesterday the rain came. Ahh…blessed relief. I’m so grateful, and also thankful that it came before and after I drove up the mountain from Mesa, where I met with a group of women intrigued by words.

Older women like me: I know I ought to label us mature women. But right now, only the magic of words matters. Oh, how words bound us together! Phrases and word-pictures enveloped us in shared wonder, reminded us of our moorings and our deep connection, and urged us forward in our private pursuits.

As in reading fiction, we allowed words to spellbind us, original words straight from the heart. Two members created incredible metaphors that still linger. One depicted life as an onion…being peeled, chopped, sautéed, and in the process, coming alive to one’s unique personhood. The other painted life as a sailboat gracing turquoise-blue waters, feeling warm wind wrapping one’s face and freedom bracing one’s heart.

Mmm…there’s nothing like gathering around words, working with them, playing with them, embracing them. Yesterday, we allowed words to infiltrate our consciousness and tie us to each other, or to unlock  memories.

This coming weekend, I get to embrace words again, with an eclectic group of writing retreat participants. I’ve been remiss at posting photos lately, but surely will after getting to know these seventeen other word-lovers better. We’ll see you then.

Once in A Blue Moon

We just experienced a lunar eclipse, otherwise known as a “blue moon.” Lance set his alarm and caught some photos around 5 a.m. today.

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One of our slang terms comes from this phenomenon: To do something “once in a blue moon” is to do it very rarely: “That company puts on a good performance only once in a blue moon.” The phrase refers to the appearance of a second full moon within a calendar month, which actually happens about every thirty-two months.

Ties in perfectly with something I do as rarely as possible -prepare my part of our income taxes…ARGH! I put it off as long as possible, in spite of determining that this year, it’ll be different.

With far more right than left-brained tendencies, putting the past year’s activities into concise columns is no fun. But this necessary accounting is…well, necessary.

Yesterday I completed the final edit of my next novel, All For the Cause, before submitting it to beta readers. The cause, of course, is World War II, and now I have time to work on the cozy WWII mystery an author friend and I are co-writing.

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The moon holds a certain mystique…does it really affect human behavior as specifically as we often hear? For me, taxes have zero mystique, but almost always some mystery.

But sending my heroine and hero off to be critiqued also gives me pause. Have I been faithful to their their deep-seated motivations and goals? Have I taken into account their idiosyncrasies, even ones that might drive readers crazy? Have I honored their devotion to the war effort?

Stan, the hero, truly challenged me, since I’ve never fought my way through the jungles of Bataan, been wounded, or gritted my teeth and determined to heal completely so I could return and participate in the liberation of tens of thousands of G.I.’s taken captive by the Japanese in the Philippines.

I gave my best effort to comprehending what he went through, including interviewing an incredible WWII veteran who lives quite close to us. His story enlivened Stan for me, and provided details I’d never have found any other way.IMG_4666

So onward with this writing journey. We’ll see what my beta readers have to say and make adjustments. If past manuscripts are any indicator, there’ll still be plenty of editing to do.

No matter how much time and energy the process takes, I’d far rather do this than tax preparation! And just for good measure, here’s another intriguing photo taken two days ago from under the Mogollon Rim.

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Light in Darkness

We went to see an incredibly well-written/directed/acted movie yesterday. The Darkest Hour offers humor, honesty, riveting tension, and a challenge. My own personal challenge was to avoid crying through the last hour, and I failed.

It’s difficult to imagine the stress Winston Churchill experienced as Britain’s new prime minister in the dire circumstances brought on by appeasement: Hitler’s forces surrounded the entire British army near Dunkirk, and many in the government urged this new leader to seek a peace agreement.

It’s even more difficult to imagine our world today if Winston Churchill had cowed to the pressure and ignored his intuition that declared England must NOT negotiate with Herr Hitler. Unfortunately, he had no way of knowing how many British citizens agreed with him.

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This morning, my tea bag boasted just the right sentiment for Prime Minister Churchill’s predicament.

Many in Parliament were still controlled by the former appeasement-focused government, and felt nothing could be worse than the present situation. They were also quite aware of Churchill’s imperfections. The movie clearly and honestly shows these…and that’s part of its power.

Who among us is perfect? What leader has no weaknesses? Yet, certain leaders arise at just the right time to alter history’s course for the better.

My tears were for this imperfect leader’s loneliness in what seemed an impossible task. Yet he found the strength to persevere, to act courageously in the face of bitter adversaries on every side. He ordered the Admiralty to summon ordinary citizens with seaworthy vessels to rescue the men at Dunkirk. Kind of like the fishes and loaves…nobody thought the idea could possibly work.

But behind the scenes, the nation prayed…and a truly miraculous outcome afforded Churchill with the support the next difficult five years would require. This production also provides a down-to-earth example for us when anyone’s opinion threatens to dim our light.

I don’t often promote a movie, but this one stands out as UNMISSABLE, especially if the World War II era intrigues you.

 

 

Country Folk of Another Era

Reading Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale has given me an even deeper appreciation of the way simple country folks suffered in the early years of World War II.

When we say country, we visualize rural American farm families. But in France in the early 1940’s, thousands of peasants tended their gardens and vineyards, cared for their children, and enjoyed a simple pastoral setting.

Then, suddenly their freedoms were swept away by the brutal Nazi occupation.

What’s interesting is how people came from all walks of life to help the French Resistance change the tide of the war. One of these, from my Women of the Heartland series, hailed from Iowa farm country. Used to the sight of corn and soybeans ripening for harvest, Kate Isaacs is thrust into the midst of unthinkable horrors.

Unthinkable but very real. Her land-centered background serves her well as she treks back woods trails to avoid the Gestapo, delivering vital messages for the Resistance. So does her heritage of valuing hard work and tenacity. You can’t take the country out of a country girl, right?

Admittedly, this “country,” replete with mountains and deep valleys, is different from Kate’s moorings. Along the way, she views incredible structures like the Abbey of St. Pierre at Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, built in the ninth century. She gasps at this architecture and takes heart at the eternal message of hope engraved in this incredible structure’s entrance.

If you need some more historical fiction to get you through the winter, may I suggest…