A few feet away, there’s a steady sound. If you didn’t know what it was, you might picture a cauldron with something cooking. You’d envision steam and the constant movement of ingredients in liquid. And you’d be right.
Last week’s snow has nearly melted, no big project is calling my name, it’s Monday morning, so I’m making soup. A definite soup person myself, I was glad to discover our neighbor does not like to cook, and loves her veggies and meat in broth, too. If Lance gets tired of my concoctions–because it’s difficult to make just a little soup–our neighbor will help out.
There’s just something about that bubbling sound…quiet, nonintrusive, yet noticeable in the background, like white noise. Someone ought to add “soup boiling” to the list of white noises on those machines…what a comforting thought as you drift off to sleep. Even if you’re facing a rough night, somebody’s got the food covered.
Learning about the suffering of people during WWII always broadens me. Tens of thousands in Holland starved to death . . . Audrey Hepburn, an eighty-eight pound teenager at the time, ate tulip bulb soup with other desperate citizens.
What solace they would have gleaned in the reliable resonance of real vegetables and beef or chicken boiling in a pot. Such a simple item, something we take for granted. Delving into history often swells into gratitude–I have never known the sort of hunger they endured.
So today, I hone in on this wholesome, vibrant, homey sound.
Maybe it will usher in a new character…some woman cooking for her family. Perhaps she’s in a distressing situation. Perhaps not.
Hmm…images are starting to bubble up in my mind. (:
It might sound a bit confusing to look forward to a retreat, but I’m quoting an author friend from Connecticut when I say this. Today she told me she’d made her reservations at the quaint GILES HOTEL in Comfort, TX for our late February writers’ retreat.
In military terms, the word retreat smells of defeat, but more than one victory has come about after troops experienced a retreat. Take General George Washington, for instance–when facing General Howe’s forces, retreat became Washington’s strategy.
We’ve all seen the painting and heard the story of this famed Revolutionary War hero crossing the Delaware with his men in the dead of night . . . well, that qualified as a RETREAT. General Washington retreated his troops many times, but in the end, those retreats contributed to his final victory over the British.
A limited number of authors, or as some of them would say, “wannabes” will gather in Comfort, Tx, not far from San Antonio. We chose this venue purposefully, since the hotel’s own history highlighted one of the stories in our 2022 Christmas collection.
We’ll eat together, explore some writing genres and techniques in mini-workshops, and venture forth into the quaint town of Comfort to explore the wealth of history right down the street. Some will be working on stories for the 2023 edition of A Hill Country Christmas . . . that’s exciting!
Others may spend time on their own, if that’s what they need at this point–any portion of our schedule is open to individual discretion, of course. But hopefully our networking will enhance the effect of retreating.
We still have some spots left–join this site for more information.
On December 30, it’s natural to look back over the past year, celebrate successes and victories, bemoan our errors, and perhaps plan ahead a little. I’m so grateful for new author and reader friends, the joy of producing our Texas Hill Country Christmas Collection, and am looking forward to our writers’ retreat in late February.
In the rear-view mirror, one choice I’d change if I had a do-over…on a cold, miserable mid-April day, I might still go walking in the closest large building to our home, BUT I would not go upstairs. Thus, I would not roll my left ankle coming down the steps and splat onto the unforgiving hallway floor. Breaking a femur is no fun.
Yep, that’s one thing I’d change. And I was only trying to keep exercising in spite of the weather…
A whole bunch of other people I met in the hospital and rehab and even now in ongoing physical therapy might note similar alterations in their behavior this past year. One of them, a new friend I met on a day when her facial bruises made a memorable impression, writes this:
I was on my way home from volunteering at Food Bank and I stopped to check for mail. It was dark, so I turned on emergency flashers, but forgot to put the car in park. As I got out, the car rolled forward and I fell backwards (onto right hip area). As I tried to get up to stop my car, my arms and/or legs gave out and I hit my head on the street. I then managed to get back into my car, which had stopped at my cul-de-sac turn (as if to say, “Get in. I’ll take you home.”). Luckily, there were no serious injuries- just a very “colorful” couple of weeks to come.
Don’t you love her sense of humor? And Jan has even shared some photos.
When she first shared her story, Jan said, “Lesson for all: Put car in park before exiting!” So you know what she would change if she could go back.
Another shot of Jan in the Emergency Room:
And another later at home. Note: sometimes the healing process can make us look even worse than at the beginning.
The wonderful thing is, finding a bit of humor in our situations makes all the difference. If Jan had looked like anyone else around us the day I met her in a very public spot, her remarkably humble attitude might not have shown through. And we both agreed that sometimes it seems like our bodies resist the “normal” track.
Neither of us have any idea what’s ahead in 2023, of course, but we’ve both made it this far. One thing that’s helped me on “low” days has been keeping a list of people fighting much bigger, life-and-death battles…
a young mom with a newborn AND a frightening cancer.
Someone who had two bone breaks last year and now faces serious cancer surgery.
And the list goes on. Lifting them up in the middle of a sleepless night puts my own woes in perspective.
As you look back on 2022 and ahead to a new year, any stories you’d like to relate? We all benefit from this kind of sharing!
Time and again, C.S. Lewis nails it. I just became familiar with his little Christmas poem called “The Nativity” from The Collected Poems of C.S. Lewis: A Critical Edition.
Among the asses (stubborn I as they)
I see my Saviour where I looked for hay.
How often does what we think we’re looking for get in the way of what we might actually see by opening our minds and hearts?
Can anybody identify?
We live in the midst of change…constant change. Maybe it’s due to aging, but change seems to blast us lately. “Us” includes our circle of family and friends, and change exists everywhere. Feels like we’re constantly hit with another alteration to get used to.
Yesterday on her birthday, Lance pulled up a photo from our daughter’s childhood. Reminded me of how creative she is, and how time has flown by. Here, I see childhood’s uninhibited joys…exploration and discovery.
Ah, the pure pleasure of playing in the mud! Messes didn’t bother me that much back then, all part of learning.
Anyway, here we are with Christmas around the corner. A different Christmas, with friends rather than family…and my prayer is for eyes to SEE, not just to LOOK.
May you, too, find what you didn’t expect this season!
Patti Shene Gonzales has always been such an encouragement to me and other writers, but I had no idea she had the PROBLEM she shares about here. I’ve always admired people who share their struggles, so here she is, and she’s offering a free e-book of her debut novella to a commenter. Enjoy!
What I Learned From My First Published Novella
All my life, I have been a procrastinator. Lately, I have passed off the flaw with the statement, “why do today what can be done tomorrow? After all, Jesus might return tonight!” Although this thought brings a chuckle, it does not lead to a productive lifestyle.
More than once, I have found myself in situations where I lack some important food ingredient, household product, or whatever, because I failed to write it down on my shopping list.
I can’t count the number of events I have missed in town or online because I put off entering said event in my calendar at the time I read about it. I am always thinking, “I’ll do it later.”
I believe it was way back in April that I was invited to participate in a multi author Christmas novella series. I was so excited, but in my mind, April was a long way away from a November release date. HA!
The months in between flew by faster than an airliner in blue sky, and before I knew it, summer was drawing to a close. I had not written one word of the story. Oh, yes, ideas churned in my mind all the time, but I had nothing concrete to show for it.
I am a member of an excellent critique group who have offered me so much valuable advice about my writing over the past couple of years. By the time I settled down to write Cathy’s Christmas Confession, there was not enough time to send all of my chapters to my critique buddies.
In retrospect, this first novella would have been so much better if I had taken the time to write, get critiques, edit, and hone the finished product. As it turned out, I spent a very rushed eight weeks writing this story.
Many days and nights I was literally in a panic, fearful I would not fulfill my commitment to God and my fellow authors. I could not face another defeat in my writing career. I had told too many people about this novella. No way was I going to back out on the project.
God intervened at this point and gave me some solid ideas to help me craft a story worth reading. He brought scenes to mind that I had not even thought of. He spoke to me through my main characters and their shared experience of loss. He enabled me to demonstrate the theme that Christmas is not always joyful for the hurting, but there are ways to recognize the true meaning of Christmas through our pain.
Writing is hard. It takes time, patience, perseverance, skill, encouragement, creativity and guidance. I learned a valuable lesson while writing this novella. Procrastination is not a positive trait for an author.
There are hundreds of Christmas stories available to readers every year. Cathy’s Christmas Confession is not a story for all audiences. However, if this story appeals to you, my prayer is that it will bless you and bring joy to your heart.
Happy Jesus’s birthday!
Christmas is not a time of joy for the hurting.
During a snowstorm, widow Cathy Fischer creams a stop sign on her way to work at the Christmas Ridge Community Church. Acquaintance David Martin stops to help. Cathy sees signs of deep grief in David, a recent widower. She reaches out with support in an attempt to help David through this most difficult first Christmas without his beloved wife.
David Martin struggles with grief over the death of his wife. He blames God for her rapid demise after her cancer diagnosis. Cathy reaches out to him with compassion and support and soon enlists him in her mission to bring joy to others at Christmas. Will their joint quest restore David’s faith?
David needs to turn loose of the past and embrace his future. Cathy has a confession to make to the entire community that may give David a different perspective of who she really is. Will her confession set her free?
Does God have plans in mind for the two of them they did not anticipate?
Patti Shene Gonzales hosts Step Into the Light, a weekly interview style podcast, where guests share their journey out of darkness or ways they lead others back to light. She hosts writers on her two blogs, Patti’s Porch and The Over 50 Writer. Patti is published in two anthologies and local publications and has three novels in progress. She enjoys writing, reading, critiquing, and spending time with family and friends. Patti lives in Colorado with her devoted feline companion, Duncan. Cathy’s Christmas Confession is her first novella.
The other day on Hwy 87 between Pine and Payson, AZ, the heavens definitely revealed an up-and-down pattern.
Dark clouds, a bit of blue sky peeking through now and then.
And then voila! Sunshine.
A veritable blaze. Worth the wait!
Kind of like life…we don’t know for sure when the sun will appear, but when it does, what a moment.
During these days of preparation before Christmas, joy finds a way of peeping through like sunshine.
This morning I opened a tin of tea sachets, a wonderful early Christmas gift. Their aroma led me to believe there’d be a flavor burst in my cup.
And they were right. Ahh….my British genes perked up!
During World War II, tea played quite a role in the morale of British soldiers. Most American soldiers probably gravitated to coffee, but either way, a steaming cup energized many a weary attitude.
Admittedly, the effect couldn’t last forever, and n this old world, promises aren’t always kept. But when they are, we bask in the result.
Every year the promise of the nativity magnetizes us, lures us to believe in a long-range plan originating in divine love. Although we can’t necessarily see the complete fulfillment yet, we honor the promise.
A hearty welcome to Becky Van Vleet, whose first novel tells her father’s WWII story and honors his sacrifice. Becky’s offering a signed hardback copy of Unintended Hero to one commenter–for yourself, or would make a great gift!
The Story Behind the Story
As a baby boomer, I grew up in a household hearing stories from my parents about the Great Depression and WWII. I don’t recall being all that interested as a youngster, yet I never forgot the firsthand stories my parents shared. Fast forward a few years, and I marry a baby boomer, who also recalled similar stories. As an educator with four children, the call to preserve these stories in some fashion or form came to me. Not knowing how long our parents would live to share their firsthand accounts with our children, I decided I’d better not let the stories perish in oblivion.
I’d always been fascinated with my father’s stories he shared about the USS Denver, the light cruiser he was a gunner on in the South Pacific in WWII. So I whipped out my dated cassette recorder on March 19, 1990, corralled my father to our kitchen table, and asked him to recount his WWII adventures, experiences, and battles so I could save his stories for our children, his grandchildren.
For the next two hours, his stories tumbled out with pride and a remarkable remembrance. I sat spellbound, taking it all in. At the time, my plan was to simply save the cassettes as historical keepsakes for my family.
Fast forward again, thirty years later. Covid hits, and I’m homebound with a worldwide shutdown. My children are grown up with children of their own. Time is on my hands. Another call to write a book to preserve my father’s WWII stories came loud and clear.
Google and search engines became my friends, working in tandem with my fingers on my keyboard. I had a big puzzle on my hands to fit all the pieces together—my dad’s stories on the cassettes, the USS Denver deck logs, tedious research for the whole Pacific Theater for WWII, researching ammunition and guns (remember I said my father was a gunner), all the battles, hundreds of other Navy ships, and the . . . well, I had a lot of pieces to fit together to formulate a story. And a well-written story. I wouldn’t settle for less than the best.
This was a story, after all, about my father.
He was no longer living, and my book must honor not only him, but the other sixteen million Americans who also answered the call of duty to fight for our country. They had sacrificed school, jobs, families, homes, personal aspirations, and their very lives. My book would represent them as well.
Tap, tap, tap. My fingers flew over my keyboard faster than armor piercing shells flying from WWII battleships for more than a year as a manuscript immerged.Help came from everywhere–my husband, editors, WWII veterans, and friends. Family cheered me on.
Unintended Hero, my debut historical novel, finally made an inaugural appearance on Amazon in August, 2022. For Gail’s readers, if you know of any WWII buffs in your circle, or, if you have young people in your circle who could benefit from a good story about patriotism, sacrifice for a cause beyond self, and teamwork for America, I’d like to recommend this book to you. This is not about self-promotion nor sales. That was never my intention when I set out to write my father’s story. This book is about preserving a firsthand story from Walter Troyan, my father, who came from The Greatest Generation, to use Tom Brokaw’s term. A story about sacrifice and freedom which impersonates Thomas Paine’s “The American Crisis” which he wrote in 1776.
Becky Van Vleet
Becky Van Vleet is a wife, mother, grandmother, swimmer, gardener, oil painter, power walker, and a writer who loves God. She especially enjoys getting together with friends and family, eating cotton candy, asking Alexa hundreds of questions, and reading books to her grandchildren. An award-winning author of children’s picture books, she’s over the moon about her debut novel, Unintended Hero, a true story about her father’s experiences on the USS Denver in WWII. Her website is devoted to preserving family stories and memories, believing it’s important to tell our stories to the next generations. Check out her website at www.beckyvanvleet.com
Holidays always bring Mom to mind. She created plenty of food for seven of us, plus hired men all year long, but really outdid herself on holidays. Entertaining meant a lot to her, and she put forth a mind-boggling amount of effort to produce perfect turkey, dressing, gravy, homeland rolls and pies . . . the works.
We have it pretty easy now, in comparison. Mom’s old gas oven threatened to blow every time she squatted down to light the burners. I definitely remember that “poof!” For her, progressing to an electric one must have seemed like heaven.
At age nineteen, setting up housekeeping in a stark little frame farmhouse couldn’t have been easy, especially since she grew up in poverty and probably didn’t know a lot about stocking a kitchen. But she managed, and people eventually raved about her culinary skills. Oh, the pies . . . luscious crusts, enticing raspberry and peach and apple fillings. My cousin recalls FOOD as being a highlight when visiting us on the farm.
Tthat was due to Mom’s willingness to pour herself into cooking and baking. In the photo, she’s on the left, at about five years old. In adulthood she always had something perking, and wasn’t afraid to try new recipes that came along, like Baked Alaska. For an Iowa homemaker in the fifties, that really says a lot about risk-taking.
Now, our daughter consistently comes up with new recipe ideas, and our granddaughter has grown up knowing her way around the kitchen. This would make Mom proud, because it’s a good share of her legacy.
The men may have battled the elements to produce a corn and soybean harvest, but Mom fought her own forays in the kitchen. Making do came naturally to her, having survived the Depression years and World War II rationing.
This morning, I needed to make deviled eggs and was out of mayo, so an old cookbook provided a recipe for making my own. Really not complicated, but requiring a double boiler which I rarely use. The main ingredients, STANDING and STIRRING, brought Mom to mind once again. How many hours did she spend standing at the stove, mixing and tasting and adding a bit more spice, waiting and hoping for a positive outcome?
My addiction to the WWII era began in her kitchen, because she hummed or whistled or sang those touching tunes as she worked. And she let me help, too. Drew me right into her world, like a skilled artisan.
No doubt about it, Mom’s creations qualified as ART. Her hopes and dreams and aspirations came out in those baking powder biscuits, beef pot roasts, homemade noodles and chicken, and a myriad of other comfort foods. Homemade banana pudding, custard pie that Dad loved, and meringue that peaked as high as anyone’s.
I have to say that noticing the mayonnaise begin to thicken brought a wave of satisfaction this morning. Just one heaping tablespoon of flour mixed with 4 eggs, 1/2 cup of cider vinegar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 2 tsp mustard, and 1/2 cup of Xylitol somehow caused this reaction. This mixture was fast becoming a creation. (You can make it w/regular sugar, of course, and use GF flour if you wish.)
Who we are today goes way back, doesn’t it? Who we have become, rooted in what was, makes a good place to visit once in a while.
May your holidays exude a touch of the nostalgia that makes you into such a unique person in this world hungry for individuality and creativity! And may you find time to stand and stir.
Nothing like welcoming a debut author with her new release! Cheri Dargan, an IOWA author, is offering a paperback copy of THE GIFT to a commenter. (It’s a WWII story…and the beginning of a saga…you’ll like it!)
Cherie, here you go!
I’ve been waiting for the past six months for my novel to be published. There’s no nursery to paint or stacks of onesies to wash and arrange neatly in a bureau. No need to stock the freezer, buy several boxes of disposable diapers, arrange stuffed animals in a room, or assemble a new crib. However, the experience feels familiar from two pregnancies.
When I got the word that I could order books, I was excited, but it didn’t seem real. I developed several presentations to give at book talks and put together my first newsletter. I was running errands when the baby arrived on Oct. 21st. My husband sent me a text with a picture of four medium-sized boxes stacked up on our bench outside the front door.
When I got home, I brought the boxes in and opened one, my heart beating fast. I lifted out a book and examined it, smiling. My husband took pictures of me holding the book. I sent them out to friends and family in a text and my sister said, “it’s beautiful!” I agreed. It’s a girl! The Gift, born October 21st at 8 ½ by 5 ½ inches and weighing 12.83 ounces. A week later, the hardbound edition arrived, and we admired its beautiful cover like adoring parents.
One of my daughter’s friends read the book and posted a review. “I just finished reading your book and I just thought it was wonderful! I loved all the Iowa and Midwest references, and I really enjoyed the characters and the story. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series! Congratulations!”
And I thought, “She likes it! She likes our book baby. She wants to read Book Two!” Book Two is ready for Beta readers, and I have a few lined up. Then, as I juggle book events for book One, and get Book Two ready for publication, I need to get back to Book Three, which needs more development.
Suddenly, I feel like a busy young mother, wiping her hands on the apron from doing dishes, checking on the baby, refereeing a squabble between the twins, and patting her pregnant belly. So far, I’ve written Books one through Five for the Grandmother’s Treasures series. It’s going to be fun to bring home all the babies!
A snowy day in Northern Iowa. When we needed to postpone our journey to Arizona for a couple of weeks, Lance coped by cleaning out the basement. A man of action…
I’m engaging in as much action as possible, too. Thankfully, writing historical fiction involves intense research and a lot of thinking and mixing, like the fabulous muffins I stirred up today. Might as well use up the ingredients in my cupboards…might as well make them healthy and attractive while I’m at it.
Might as well enjoy one piping hot from the oven and laced with melted butter, right?
For me, life’s small pleasures include steaming cups of tea whenever possible. Accompany those cups with heaping doses of reading, writing, baking, and as much exercise as my body can handle at any given time. I add this, of course, because in both of my recent falls, I was EXERCISING to stay healthy. Oh, the irony life hands us!
Anyway, today it hit me that baking and putting together a story have a lot in common. You amass ingredients, not sure which you’ll use in the long run, but at least this gives a general idea about what your character will endure…or enjoy…or simply meet along life’s path.
Here’s the basic mix, a conglomerate of
1/2 cup softened butter scant 3/4 cup dry xylitol 2 large eggs 2 cups gluten-free flour mix 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 cup applesauce
And then I decided to include…. Famous last words. My mother-in-law used to marvel at my capacity to add and subtract ingredients at will. Well, it’s kind of like the taking-and-giving that come into our earthly lives. Win some, lose some, as they say.
It’s also quite like the way a story comes together for me. The character appears, I search out details about what his or her life might have been like, and the tale unfolds. Sometimes my proclivity for detail gets in the way, and I have to take out some scenes…too much can be too. much. Right now, with this particular story, I’m still in the adding phase. We’ll see how it goes.
For this afternoon’s baking, I merely added. Chopped sunflower seeds and almonds. Dried cranberries sweetened with fruit juice, not refined sugar), some raw unsweetened coconut–I love the texture this adds, not to mention the fiber. A few pinches of chia seeds provides a defining crunch.
And let’s see…is that it for this time? I might have chosen a little drained pineapple for tang, but that portion of the cupboard lies bare. When I have the leisure, I allow these decisions to develop over a reasonable time. I can bake in a hurry, thanks to my mom, who could, in a flash, whip up something to stave off hunger for several hired farm workers. I’m grateful for the way she instilled “kitchen confidence” in me.
But at times it’s nice to bake slowly. Today I started this recipe just after lunch and let it sit for awhile. The chia seeds occurred to me just before the oven reached the correct temperature. Yes, I do go with the prescribed temperature–changing that is usually a bridge too far, sort of like altering historical details in historical fiction. Nope.
Right now, the muffins, melding into my kind of tasty treat, are looking awfully good.
It won’t be long and my taste buds will be extra happy. Me gusto! Little-by little, I’m also studying the lovely Spanish language, perfect for this story set in Texas Hill Country, 1942. When I consider how much researching LAND THAT I LOVE taught me, I can’t help but be a little excited. So much to learn from the past–so many ways it instructs the present.
Okay, the count is in. YUM! And just in case you need it, bake these at 350 for 12-15 minutes.