To Mom . . . well done!

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.

Bringing the Book Baby Home

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!

Stay in touch with Cherie here:

Cherie Dargan

cheriedargan@gmail.com

www.cheriedargan.com  Author’s Site.

www.facebook.com/CherieDarganAuthor

Passage – Veterans’ Day/Thanksgiving

Around the turn of the century, my grandmother came to a tiny Iowa town to work in the grocery store. We have only a dark photo showing her inside the establishment, but it’s possible to imagine how things went the day my Grandpa, a local would-be farmer, walked in and met her.

With no scrapbooks dating that far back, the details have been left up to our imaginations. Still, the wedding photograph below reflects positivity, especially compared with some stern-faced one from this era. Knowing this couple in their later years, I can picture a not-so-instant falling-in-love.

By the time I hung around their farm as a teen, the opposite aspects of their personalities stood out. Invariably, Grandpa shivered and turned the thermostat up. Grandma promptly turned it down. Just one small but constant action taking place in their everyday lives each winter.

But they agreed on many points. Work hard and whatever you do, do NOT waste a penny. At the end of each long day, go to your rest with hope for the new day coming.

They had worked nonstop to make a life here, having lost a farm during the Great Depression and earned back the land through intense physical labor. Grandma knew work from the age of eleven, when her mother died and she hired out to clean other people’s houses. This couple also produced six children–five girls and my father.

During my youth, these aunts and uncles came ’round for the holidays and brought cousins to play with. By then, this farm family survived World War II as well, with their only son/brother serving four long years. So much for the “only son of a family farmer” exemption.

Across the nation, a similar story played out among family after family. But many of them lost the son or sons and daughters they sent off to war. As Veterans’ Day approached, and Thanksgiving, many an empty place was set at the table.

It’s that time of year. I’m pausing to remember and be grateful for the sacrifices made, and for all the good we enjoy today.

Writing Reviews and Poems and Novels, oh MY!

Authors love receiving reviews, that’s for sure! During the past two weeks, we’ve been delighted that so many of our ARC readers really enjoyed our new HILL COUNTRY CHRISTMAS.

One of our reviewers, Cathy Fiorello, came to my attention through an online writers’ workshop last summer and we kept corresponding. Since then, I’ve read some of her work, and recently, Cathy’s review of A H ill Country Christmas/Hope for Hardscrabble Times caught my attention, perhaps because I can relate to being an “outsider” and finding Texas history so intriguing.

See what you think:

A Hill Country Christmas – Amazon review

I’m not a Texan, y’all. I’m an East Coast, New England, city girl. I’m not a history buff, and I never knew what a topsy-turvy doll was. But I was sent a copy of A Hill Country Christmas – Hope for Hardscrabble Times, with the possibility of writing a review of it. Here’s my personal opinion of this book: it’s lovely. It made me feel wistful for something I’ve never known.

Most of the stories were written about a simpler time when people worked harder than I do and went through more random sorrow than I’ve gone through. But there was a dignity to their lives, their faith, and the way they loved. 

The book contains seventeen stories about happenings in the great land of Texas, arranged chronologically from 1835 to 2021. Reading them gave me a respite from the disillusionment of the post-modern age of information I live in.  I said respite instead of escape because a respite can produce growth instead of numb avoidance. The book made me want to change – slow down, appreciate nature, my family, savor a slow cup of coffee. It made me want to really listen to people – something that doesn’t always happen in my break-neck life. 

Favorite stories: A Castroville Christmas Eve, The Made-over Christmas, Christmas Conundrum, The Deer Hunters’ Ball, and Lo Nuestro.Read it for Christmas, or when it’s hot out. It will help you lean into kindness and simplicity.

Putting extra thought into these phrases…wistful for something I’ve never known…lean into kindness and simplicity…shows a literary writer at work. That word “literary” means delving a bit deeper by seeking unique phrases to clarify or define one’s meaning, thus creating vivid images for the reader.

Cathy also writes novels and poetry–a traditional publisher recently requested the full manuscript of her debut novel. I expect we’ll soon be hearing more from this Northeastern girl!

Connect with Cathy on FaceBook or at cathyfiorello.com.

Challenges of Chronic Illness

A few weeks ago, I met Hannah Wingert at the Preston, MN library and learned that besides being a mother of four and working at the library, she’s written a book published last year. After reading this non-fiction wealth of encouragement for those navigating debilitating illnesses, especially during their parenting years, I’m astounded Hannah found the time and energy to devote to writing.

Her story and suggestions about living with the emotional and physical challenges of chronic illness most likely have something to say to just about any reader, whether in their parenting years or not. I know I could relate as someone in recovery from a couple of accidents.

I learned a new term… Spoonie. Have some of you already heard of this? (Notice the spoons on the cover.)

Hannah agreed to an interview and is offering a paperback copy of her book, Yet Will I Praise Him to a commenter here. Perhaps her perspective ignites questions for you–please feel free to ask her, and also please share this post widely, as she desires to help as many readers as possible. Thanks!

Interview:

How is coping with a chronic disease different from other challenges you see people face?

It really isn’t. Most people face challenges at some point in their lives and the way we handle them boils down to “will I let this make me bitter or better?” The truths of God’s Word apply to all circumstances and struggles.

How did you decide your book would focus on moms?

After receiving my diagnosis of EDS, I decided to look for a book about being a mom with a chronic illness from a faith based perspective to help me deal with my new reality, but couldn’t find any. So, I decided to write one because I figured that if I was looking for something like that, other moms might be too.

What is the most practical, helpful daily advice you have been given along the way?

Honestly, I don’t even remember who told me this, but the most helpful advice I ever received was to take one step at a time and just get through the next thing in front of you. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and anxious about what’s coming, or the unknowns, or even how much I have on my to-do list and how little energy I have to accomplish it.

But if I focus on just getting through that difficult, pain-filled day, or that first thing on my to-do list, I can keep from falling apart. Shortly after someone gave me that advice, I happened to read Matthew 6 and the last verse in that chapter (verse 34) says “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” It cemented for me how good that advice really was!     


What would you say to someone who has just discovered they have a long road ahead of dealing w/a chronic illness?  


Allow yourself to go through the stages of grief. Learn as much as you can about your condition because often patients have to be the experts when the doctors are not. Connect with others going through similar struggles for support and give yourself grace on those bad days. 

 

What is it about chai lattes that has you hooked?

I’ve never liked coffee so quite a few years ago, when I was at a coffee shop with my mom, she urged me to try a chai latte. I took one sip and was hooked! Some people have to have their coffee everyday, but for me it’s a chai latte. 

The link to purchase Hannah’s book:  https://www.amazon.com/Yet-Will-Praise-Him-Parenting/dp/1649600119

Tough Times–Tough Folks!

First published in

Hope for Hardscrabble Times -A Hill Country Christmas FB page

I love introducing people–this old world has so many cool individuals. Today, please meet an extremely creative young person with ideas and art popping all of the time. How do I know this? She’s my grandaughter Cora Joy, known in our family for nearly seventeen years now as Cora Baby. And what a sweetheart she is!

Here’s her latest wall art, and she’s an athlete, too. At the opening volley game a couple of weeks ago, she tweaked her left knee—yep, this girl who has yearned for the beginning of the season, practiced all winter to hone her skills . . . I have been proud of her many, many times, but never more than now, when she’s come upon some hardscrabble times.

But like the heroes and heroines of the stories in our Hill Country Christmas Collection, she knows how to hang in there. To make do. To bring advantage out of disadvantage.

We can’t wait until she can play again, but going to her games still perks us up. She’s ALL THERE, regardless of adverse circumstances. Cheering her teammates on, greeting each member who comes off the floor, totally present in the moment. Reminds me of several of our characters, folks from various eras who faced war, pestilence, pandemic, and a host of other personal trials with spunk (to borrow a WWII term.)

So our family is cheering for Cora…and the authors of our Christmas Collecction are cheering right up to release day, October 1, too. May each of our tales brighten the homes of readers everywhere and provide examples of facing down obstacles with SPIRIT.

Who in your present or past knows how to look tough times in the eye and keep on movin’ ahead? Please share about one of them here!

LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE

Hope for Hardscrabble Times – A Hill Country Christmas

Let me introduce you to my new writer friend, Shannon Mcfarland. She’s a “born writer” contributing a story to our A Hill Country Texas–Hope for Hardscrabble Times collection. You’ll see here how her observations on a simple snail flow. LOVELY! Reprinted with permission, first published on FB page Hope For Hardscrabble Times, August 20, 2022.

Hey y’all, Shannon here! I recently recovered from Covid. Thankfully, my symptoms were mild and the worst side effect was the frustration of being quarantined at home. I found working from home to be terribly boring and was anxious to get back to my normal routine of nonstop movement. Now my morning routine was taking a Covid test, being hopeful for a negative response, and being disappointed when it would read positive.

One morning I was especially pouty over my positive test (although I did make myself feel a little better with the reminder that at least it wasn’t a positive pregnancy test.) and decided to go water the plants in my drought stricken yard. I had transplanted a jasmine from our old house and was doing my best to keep it alive in the brutal summer heat. Usually, this means I hurriedly dump water on it as I rush off to do something else.

This morning, I decided to take my coffee out with me and sit on the porch next to the Jasmine while watering it slowly. As I gently poured out the water, I noticed the ground next to the jasmine moving… right before a tiny snail popped his head above ground looking for water. I looked around for a leaf that would make a suitable cup.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH VIDEO

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Then I carefully dripped water off of my finger tips into the curled underside of the leaf before positioning it close to the snail. I sat lost in the moment and watched captivated as the snail greedily drank the water from the leaf. The experience reminded me of a favorite childhood book about fairies and elves having picnics and dances with garden creatures under a full moon. I always wished I could join their fun.

Now here I was, sharing the morning with a snail. Me with my cup of coffee, him with his leaf of water. The snail was on his third leaf of water when it occurred to me to see if I could get a video. I have since sat on the porch with my coffee in hopes my snail friend might be enticed to come join me for a fresh leaf of water.

So far, Mr. Snail has declined. While I can’t say I am happy I had Covid, I can say that I will always be grateful one of the side effects was slowing down enough to enjoy a morning with a snail.

Gail here–hopefully, your end-of-summer is providing moments like this. Moments to reflect, to ponder, to connect! We have been having fun connecting over on the HOPE FOR HARDSCRABBLE TIMES FB page–come on over and join us for news of our Christmas Collection and the upcoming book tour!

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The Back Side of Summer (and suffering)

As August approaches full bloom, some surprises surface. Just outside our windows, some intrepid morning glories we DID NOT PLANT are all about decorating an old trellis after the clematis has died out for the year. I took the photo from the inside, through the screen, but these beauties are still gorgeous.

Not far away, this upstart sunflower lifts its head to its source. Thank you birds, for planting this one, and Granddaughter Cora for snapping this shot. We’ve noticed how every morning, the blossom turns eastward to greet the morning sun, and by afternoon, has revolved to the other side of our world.

I’ve been thinking a lot about pain lately–so many types to consider. My Texas friends post photos of deep crevasses in their soil because of the horrible drought. Such a heart-rending form of loss. A few weeks ago, a long-time friend of mine passed from this life after a seemingly endlesss battle with cancer.

Another friend faces surgery for breast cancer in two weeks, and another, only 38 years old with an infant and a young child, has entered the same struggle. You all have many other names to add to this list–suffering lurks everywhere around us.

Of course, we’ve all heard how it makes us better people in the long run. Some of us have memorized these promises, claimed them . . . but when sorrow or pain or terrible loss hits us, we may forget their consolation for a time.

To quote R. W. Emerson: Every moment instructs, and every object; for wisdom is infused into every form. It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence until after long time.

“We did not guess its essence until after long time.” Wisdom coming to us in pain? Sure doesn’t feel like it!

Every single moment instructs us–looking back over some of the worst situations of my life, I know this is true. One recent outstanding circumstance comes to mind–the April night before surgery for my broken femur. Confined to bed, watched over by caring nurses, I “got used to” my new state. And right in the middle of my conjectures, someone’s comment reminded me of all the good that had come my way during the past year.

A sense enveloped me that, based on these past experiences, all would be well this time, too. If my Creator could resolve those long-term struggles, surely this one lay within the reach of grace.

How many times have I traveled this route with one of my characters? A reader wrote me yesterday, asking if I had planned from the beginning for a horrendous loss to strike one of them. No, I hadn’t. As the story progressed, like real life, an almost unbearable grief entered his life–and he grew through the experience.

Just like we do.

Here’s the front side of the morning glories. Some years I’ve tried to transplant them, but they really do much better totally on their own. From the back, the glow of early morning sunshine makes this scene just as pretty. A new perspective…sunshine where we might not have expected it. Beauty poking into our kitchen.

Recently I read this on a FaceBook post, with no author mentioned:

Never regret a day in your life: good days give happiness, bad days give experience, worst days give lessons, and best days give memories.

When pain besets us, this becomes our challenge. Life is hard–yes, that’s true. But life also offers us so much that’s good, both on the front side and the back.

August Thoughts

Ttwitters outside my window tell the tale of a wren family’s second birthing this summer. Both of our wren houses have hosted these events–of course, we’re unsure if it’s two families, or one doing double-duty. Tell me if you know!

Lance has become such a great photographer–and as I’ve been mostly confined to watching from the window, his patience radiates to my heart. He’s been very patient with me, too, not an easy task since my second bone break/surgery this spring.

By July, I thought I’d be recuperated. By August, surely. But today I start a med I’ve always vowed to refuse. Shows what happens when you’re quite desperate.

Can we be “quite” desperate? Or is that like being quite pregnant?

Anyway, pain makes an intrepid teacher, and along with our courtyard flowers, our feathered family has provided a distraction. I can see them right this moment, Mama busy doing all she can to provide for her young, and Papa singing the most impressive songs. (I think he helps find worms, too, but am not sure.) Again, do tell if you know for sure!

Meanwhile, I’m so grateful I can still write most of the time. A Hill Country Christmas/Hope for Hardscrabble Times is about to go to press, thanks to Lynn Dean’s work…the sort of tedious labor that would drive me crazy.

We’re excited to look forward to more good times in Texas Hill Country in October, and I’m scheduled to facilitate an all-day workshop in Olathe, KS in November. To that end, I would really appreciate your prayers for this med to work. And if you’d like to boost our new FB page, we’d be thrilled. You’ve heard of FB jail? Well…let me just say one of our authors received an unwarranted penalty, so we could use your help in sharing/liking/etc.

https://www.facebook.com/ahillcountrychristmas/?notif_id=1658506714180216&notif_t=page_user_activity&ref=notif

Thanks for your support in so many ways!