Autumn Leaves

It’s been co-o-ol-d here, chilly enough to wear several layers, a scarf and gloves. The other day, while walking out of a brisk wind in the fellowship hall of a nearby church, this hand-crafted sign caught my attention: 

What a great play on words, eh? 

The sentiment also describes the mental state of the hero in the manuscript I’m working on right now. It’s the middle of World War II – November 1944, and things have been VERY bad. How could they get worse, with V-2 vengeance weapons killing thousands in London? 

Well…my hero is a thinker, and he can’t imagine worse any more. In fact, he’s become almost numb–so many mass-casualty events, he can scarcely keep up with them. In his policeman’s role, he lives way too close to them. 

Can you imagine how doubts must have crept into these people’s minds as the war slogged on? Always a hope of victory by Christmas, but one Christmas after another had passed, and still, soldiers were sacrificing their lives for the cause. When would this horror end? 

Maybe that’s why this little sign struck home with me. In all seasons of history, autumn leaves have fallen, and most likely, this will continue. Summer, autumn, winter, spring. And in every century new wars have sprung up, nation against nation. The human family never seems to learn. I don’t know how people survive without the constant of a worldview including an unchanging Creator. 

Outside our back door, a few tomatoes still cling to their vines, while most have been picked and frozen or made into sauces or soup. Our daughter’s kitchen smelled SO wonderful today, with two vats of applesauce and apple butter bubbling away…it’s that time of year. 

Whatever the weather in your area (and in your life,) I hope you find time to enjoy some beauty in each day. That’s what my hero is learning to do. 

September Slips Away

Already. Anybody else feel the transience of the months…the seasons? In our ISU OLLIE  Life Memories class, I’ve been privileged to meet many talented, inspired writers. And what inspires them? All sorts of topics…intriguing people, events that shape the course of lives, family traditions, methods of making-do… In a word, experience.

I dislike saying good-bye to these folks from various walks of life and backgrounds. We were just getting to know each other, but I’m hoping some of them stay in touch. I’d like to see how their memoirs develop and blossom as they nurture words and phrases.

Such a short season together…only three class times, but thankfully, richness knows no timeline. Perhaps that’s true of nature’s seasons, as well. This year’s vivid yellow begonias may wend their way, through memory, into a story. So might the purple potatoes our daughter planted this year…

This variety boasts lovely inner designs, like paisley patterns.

Such natural wonders all around us, and so are the stories we live day-to-day. As Annie Dillard writes, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Viewing our life as memories of specific days to record gives us one story at a time to digest and share with others. I’m grateful that yesterday, our helpful granddaughter spent time with me transferring an enormous walnut crop into pails…would you believe large garbage cans? And here she is, highlighting the spectacular pumpkin in her mother’s garden.

Perhaps sixty years hence, she and her brother will say, “Remember that gigantic pumpkin Mom grew? What summer was that, anyway…?


Look closely at this photo of some fall veggies sitting on my counter to see a metaphor for the writing life:

On the top tomato, do you spy a whitish, fuzzy object? It’s hard to get a good shot of this. Let me have my husband try. 


Hmm… maybe a little clearer. Or not…

When I picked that top tomato from our vines sprawling wa-a-a-y out of control, this small caterpillar attracted my attention. Spinning away, in the business of transformation. 

That’s how my days pass–spinning stories, except when I surface to instruct a class, facilitate a writing workshop, or attend a grandchild’s ballgame. On September 10, 17, and 24 this year, I have the joy of interacting with an incredible group of writers at an Iowa State University OLLIE class. Such fun discussions–wish I lived closer! 

Spinning, spinning…that’s my task, weaving the threads of characters’ lives together. Or in the case of the WWII nurse I’m writing about now, discovering how the actual threads of her life carried her through the horrors of war.  Five long years she gave to the effort–the best of her twenties.

This past week, I had the privilege of hearing this incredible woman’s voice in a DVD as she spoke to a group in her later years. Oh my! What a memory she had…what a lovely, intriguing woman. I’m indebted to her daughter, who sent me that video presentation, along with photos and information.

In November, I get to meet this daughter, and possiblly her brother as well. I’ll be facilitating a writing workshop at the Joliet, IL library, and be able to walk the streets Dorothy walked during her post-war life, see her photo albums, touch the many campaign badges she earned…

And it will all center on spinning. 

Interesting that I’m a disaster at sewing, and after several knitting lessons, never did master that precise art.

But I am spinning, always. 

Hurry up and Wait

We’e been enjoying cool nights and mornings in northern Iowa, with more rain than the usual late August-early September. The morning glories are in their glory, climbing all over our weary clematis vines.

I’ve been remiss in blogging, but definitely not in researching and writing. And this week, I became familiar with a new word: festinate.

This word’s early recorded use was by William Shakespeare. He used it as an adjective pronounced \FESS-tuh-nut\ in King Lear, “Advise the Duke where you are going, to a most festinate preparation.”

The Latin proverb festina lente means “make haste slowly.” Shakespeare also used the adverb festinately in Love’s Labour’s Lost: “Bring him festinately hither,” Don Ariano de Armado orders. The verb festinate, meaning “to hasten,” occurs later.

So…is autumn festinating, or will we still have some hot days? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, I’m still working my way up the Italian boot with my heroine Dorothy, a real-live WWII nurse. She’s about the go to the hideous battlefield called Anzio, otherwise known as “Hell’s Half-Acre.”

It seems the Allies hurried up and landed, but then made haste very slowly in claiming the hills around the beachhead. My husband always says, “In the Army, it’s hurry up and wait.” But oh, the suffering the survivors of Anzio endured…

Until next week…don’t forget to smell the flowers still peeping their heads out before the first frost. 

The Awful Business That Goes On…

Believe me when I say that laughter up at the front lines is a very precious thing—precious to those grand guys who are giving and taking the awful business that goes on there. . . . There’s a lump the size of Grant’s Tomb in your throat when they come up to you and shake your hand and mumble “Thanks.” Imagine those guys thanking me! Look what they’re doin’ for me. And for you.—Bob Hope, 1944

This week marks no patriotic holiday, but I don’t think it hurts to once again say thanks to the men and women who earned Bob Hope’s admiration. He knew the difference between the adulation of stardom and the devotion of giving one’s life for one’s country.

But reading his history of entertaining the troops all over the world in several wars reminds us of his bravery too. He and other entertainers risked life and limb going to places fraught with danger. Wonder how many of our modern “stars” would be so courageous.

 Bob Hope with troops near D-Day, 1944

Back in the forties, a long list of actors and actresses, singers, and sports stars not only entertained the troops, but served in the military…Jimmy Stewart, Charlton Heston, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Glenn Miller, and Joe DiMaggio, to name a few. Picture Charlton Heston as a REAL aerial gunner and radio operator.

These professionals joined in “the awful business” that defeated Naziism and liberated hundreds of thousands of people–and it was a horrible process.

So what is my point? Just a general thank-you for what all of these “Greatest Generation” folks sacrificed, since I’m deep in WWII research right now. Gratitude is the key word here, since I’m deep in research right now, learning more about the battles in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and Southern France–campaigns that led to a costly Allied victory.

Because of thousands of unselfish acts, we can enjoy life today. Including photography, and  voila! Your weekly view from our little corner of Iowa. (Hummingbirds do actually sit still once in a while!)

Kindred Spirits

Last week I had lunch with another author, and we exchanged horror stories from writing conferences where we presented our proposals to an editor or agent. Marie told me how she burst into tears right in the VIP’s presence when they made a critical comment…not once, but twice.

Of course, this was years ago, when we were just beginning to believe in our work–and boy, could I ever identify. Once, an editor looked over what I had prepared to win her heart to my heroine’s saga. She sat back and said, “I don’t see any story here.”

For once, I found myself speechless.

Many of us write in obscurity and relative isolation, as do artists in other fields. We get so glued to our WIP (work in progress) that it seems more real than the actual physical world around us. Then to face rejection of what we’ve poured our hearts and souls into…it’s pretty tough.

Because I’m writing about the very real, TRULY tough world of war, I can’t feel sorry for myself for long, though. But it does help to have some camaraderie, someone who understands you’re just coming up for air when you appear out in public. Your pulse may still be racing from what happened in an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) like this, just off the coast of Sicily in 1943.

It’s a writer’s life–it is what it is, but I’ve learned how much we need each other. I’m grateful for how easy it is to reach out to another writer these days…just type a quick e-mail and write, HELP!

Today, I’m not even going to try tying in Lance’s great photo with what I’m writing. I’m constantly making connections, integrating this into that…This time, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions, but add a hearty, “Thank you, Marie, for taking the time to meet me for lunch!”

August activities, and…comparing

My FB page report for the week says activity is up by 1,450 percent. That sounds great. The trouble is, I have no idea why.

I traveled to Ames this week to meet potential students for my September OLLIE memoir writing class, and had fun chatting with some writers. Ahh…my favorite folks–looking forward to getting to know them and their stories better in a few weeks!

Friday night we saw “Annie” performed by Cedar Summer Stock. All of their 2018 performances featured incredible voices, choreography, costumes, and scenery…what more could anyone ask? Watch for them next summer.

On Saturday, we went to a cousin’s house for a family picnic. Oh my, what a spread. My gluten-sugar-lactose free offering turned out fine, but compared to the other great fare, well…actually, another one of our granddaughter’s quotes says it best: Comparison is the THIEF of joy. 

So there you go–why compare? And that brings me to flowers: observe.

Specimen one, an amazing geranium.

Specimen two, Gerber daisies in full spread.

And last, but not least, this year’s spectacular yellow begonias. I can’t get over how from delicate pale yellow clamshells (lower right), such incredible blossoms emerge.

So what’s to compare, right? Three lovely floral beauties, each with so much to offer. Yet, we compare things…and people… constantly.

Merriam-Webster defines compare as to examine the character or qualities of especially in order to discover resemblances or differences or to view in relation to.

I’ve been comparing the manuscript I’m working on with its predecessors. Why would I do this? Maybe because this story  has given me lots of challenges from the get-go. The research  leads me deeper into comprehending the vast effects of World War II…but how can I possibly do this topic justice? Does comparing help? Not so much.

I’ve grown as a writer since the last one, so maybe I expected the process to be easier this time. Yes, maybe that’s it.

Yet this is a whole different flower. Yes, it’s that THIEF at it again! Just get back to this story unfolding right now. Forget about the others…seize the joys and frustrations of this one.

It’s healthy to have little self-chats like this from time to time, don’t you think?


An author I’ve come to know online recently shared this thought as something that’s helped her through life.

She shared this with an authors’ group, and I wrote her to ask if I could use it in my workshops and elsewhere. In addition, I asked Leta to describe how this became her philosophy. Here’s what she said:

“There’s a saying (unfortunately not mine) good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. That has certainly been a truism in my life, especially the younger years. For too long, I met difficulty with the wail – Why me, God? Finally I found the answer. ‘Because I want you to grow and mature into a spiritual adult, my child.’ Leta McCurry – 84 years a student in the classroom of life.”

What can I add to this profound perspective? Nothing I can write will improve on Leta’s summary, so I’ll let it stand “as is.” This is the same way we learn to accept with a grateful heart what we cannot change, and to accept ourselves in the midst of that process.

I’m sure Leta would appreciate you stopping by her blog and connecting with her.

And here are some photos of midsummer in the heart of Iowa. With thanks to Lance… (Practicing gratitude reveals the beauty all around us…) Enjoy!



Impatiens, granddaughters, and a budding story…

This summer, we’ve been relishing the double impatiens adorning our front step–our granddaughter picked them out on a spring trip to the garden shop and decided these white buckets sitting in our shed could hang from the stair rails. She was right. (I can’t get this photo to turn around…but you get the idea.)


What great taste! Sweeping the steps this morning, I noticed this small white bud, fallen before its time.

Such promise here…multi-layered petals packed safely away in one succinct package. With time, water, and sunshine, this would’ve been one of the faintly pink blossoms that stop us mid-flight to take another look.

At the same time, I’ve been stuck in my writing, unable to settle into telling an incredible woman’s story. Perhaps it’s because she’s a real WWII nurse who made an incredible difference in so many soldiers’ lives. Until now, my characters have all come into being through what we call the muse. 

But this woman actually suffered through more battles than I could have imagined. So tenacious and stalwart…how can I possibly do her memory justice?

Whatever the reason, I’ve been struggling. But yesterday, our granddaughter shared a quote with me that has me rethinking things:

If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan, but never the goal.

Maybe for this particular novel, I must break free from my usual method. Maybe I need to learn a new process.

And maybe I will!



Obviating 101

Here’s more than you ever wanted to know about one particular verb and its synonyms:

       Obviate derives from the Latin obviare (“to meet or withstand”) and the Latin obviam (“in the way”) and is the origin of our adjective obvious. Obviate has a number of English synonyms, including prevent, preclude, and avert; all of these can mean “to hinder or stop something.” When you prevent or preclude, you put up an insurmountable obstacle. Preclude often implies a degree of chance involved in halting an event. Obviate generally suggests using intelligence or forethought to ward off trouble. Avert implies a bad situation prevented or deflected by effective means.

Midsummer finds us obviating all over the place. Example: our tomato plants, hit by last week’s storm, are now ready for the next one, having been grounded with
reliable (we hope) metal anchors.

Lance also spent a sweaty hour fixing an eave spout about the garage door, so it now drains into a suitable spot.


Mundane, everyday actions, but they obviate disasters. Okay, minor disasters. (: Reflecting on many of my actions throughout life as child, wife, mother, and friend, obviation often played a role.

Of course, we can’t avert every undesired occurrence. But this doesn’t stop us from trying. Later in life, we learn these events might have happened to make us–or somebody else–stronger. Oh, the joys of hindsight…

On these slow summer days, I ponder obviation in relation to my novels. What experiences have developed my characters’ strength, self-discipline and motivation?

Most likely tough ones that tested their endurance more than they care to recall. Yep. Just today, my morning teabag presented an applicable quote: Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go. T.S. Eliot

      What a freeing concept–wish I’d embraced it long ago.  

The heroines in my own reading take risks…big ones, and so do those in my writing.  Maybe that’s why WWII folks attract me so much, eh?