Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

Confessions of a Confirmed Bibliophile

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Long before I was a writer, I was a reader. I still am. I love books. Not only do I love them for the stories that dwell inside them, I also love the physical sensation of holding—no, of experiencing a book. I love the sleek covers of a new paperback, the faint crack of the spine in opening a new hardcover. I love the crisp white pages with their sharp corners, and the smell of binder’s glue.

But a recent reading of  Nevil Shute’s Australian classic The Far Country reminded me of the more subtle joys of old books. This was a sixty-year-old library book, and it showed. The boards were covered with thick, coarsely woven fabric treated with something that would presumably withstand a nuclear blast. There was nothing remotely attractive about this sort of binding; it was bound with durability, not beauty, in mind. Still, there was something about it that I found appealing. Maybe it was the way it fell open in my hand—and stayed open at the same page, even when I laid it down. Maybe it was the way the once-sharp corners were rounded with wear, the edges of the once-crisp pages furred velvety soft by dozens, even hundreds, of hands. Other, newer books might be more glamorous, but there’s something comforting about old books.

In a way, every old book is a mystery, regardless of genre: what child, long since grown to adulthood, scribbled with a red crayon on the front endpaper? Who was the H. Colby who received my copy of Georgette Heyer’s The Reluctant Widow for Christmas in 1947? Was he/she pleased with the gift? What series of events transpired to move the volume from H. Colby’s bookshelf to mine?

Maybe this is why my feelings toward ebook readers are so ambivalent. On the one hand, I’m pleased to see so many out-of-print books finding new life through this medium, and of course I’m delighted to receive a royalty check each month for sales of my own backlist, now available in electronic form. And yet even though I have a Kindle, I still prefer print books. Part of the problem, I believe, is the sameness of ebooks: no matter how different the subject matter, every book looks alike on my Kindle. The text appears in the same font, with the same spacing between lines, paragraphing, and all other formatting. All identical except the stories they tell.

But that, of course, is the most important part. And that, in the end, may be what will eventually make me fall in love with ebooks too. After all, my love of books had to come from somewhere, some book in my now long-forgotten childhood that made me hungry for more of that. Maybe I just haven’t yet stumbled across that story, unavailable except in electronic form, that sends me to the computer determined to clutter up my Kindle’s memory banks with more. Maybe the next electronic book I read will be the one to have me devouring ebooks like a junkie in search of his next fix.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

Because I love books.

Steps on the Journey

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Earlier this month one of our Under The Cuckoo Clock members - Cindy Strandvold - shared a paragraph that was part of a year-end message she received from her agent's agency:

"While it's exciting to see the year's successes listed this way, there are so many more things we are proud of that cannot be quantified--most notably, the countless times that all of our clients, published and unpublished, have pushed through self-doubt, gotten past rejection, continued to focus on growing in their craft, started new projects, brought others to completion, finished revisions, taken note of their own successes (in all forms), and held on to hope.† Each step on the path is worth celebrating, not just those that come with publishing contracts or starred reviews."

For weeks now I have not stopped thinking about the concept.
It was "each step on the path is worth celebrating" that touches a chord in me. I am endlessly trying to improve myself, to mindfully steer my course and reach long term and short term goals. My list is long!

Often I get so caught up in achieving a particular goal, I forget to be glad - in the moment - for what is happening right now.

Celebrate each step

*† Like celebrating when I sell a story to a local publisher.
*† Like celebrating when the subject of an article I write brings me flowers.
(Thanks, Heather Janssen!)
* Like celebrating when I write a blog entry here and post it on time.† 🙂

Each step is part of the journey, and thus, a big deal indeed. Thanks to the writers who sit Under The Cuckoo Clock for bringing chocolate (!) to give us pause, to notice, and transform each step into a noteworthy celebration - sweet in every way.

Ladybugs and Chocolate Peanut Clusters

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

Yesterday, as I was feeding hay to the horses, I spotted a ladybug atop a tall stalk of grass. For a moment I contemplated capturing it for my rose garden, thinking of all the juicy aphids there. Instead I watched it grooming and reshaping the lovely orange wings, realigning the black dots just so. This ladybug appeared to be preparing for a long journey. Soon, it launched into the morning and zoomed into a forest of tansy mustard weeds.

Last evening, I attended the†celebration for†Katherine†Hewitts' new†venture, †'Be Magazine',see† Michelle LaBorde's lovely home in Niwot. The backyard was filled with chatter about the articles on amazing women along the Front Range.† As I listened to the music and talked with novelist Janet Fogg, about†the†exciting journey†of her†new release Soliloquy, I thought of the ladybug.

Every woman there was about to launch into the bounty of the world; there are stories and extraordinary women making them happen everywhere. Thank you--Katherine and Michelle for a marvelous evening and 'Good Luck' with your magazine. Thank you for making a venue to showcase the women I have come to respect and love and for letting us write about them.†

As the sun was setting, I spotted a plate of chocolate peanut clusters and savored the crunchy goodness, then†licked my fingers. Yes-- there is abundance all around us; in the music, in the lives of women who†make a simple rich dessert††to share at a party, and in the forest of 'weeds' at the edge of the corral. What fun. I enjoy being in it, all.

The Obstacle is the Path--Zen saying

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

This always reminds me of that old camp song. The lyrics go--so high can't go over it, so low can't go thru it, so wide can't go over it...gotta go thru it.

This is life, an no matter how confused I am or discouraged, I have to go thru stuff to get to the other side.

How many times in my life have I wanted an easier and softer way? And† how many times have I valued the lesson once it is finally learned?

Lately my path seems filled with thorns and brambles. I have to trust that somewhere in all of this turmoil is the path. Because, life is unfolding as it should and now is all I really have.

I Breathe You

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

From the Ditch Witch Chronicles --

April is finally here. The long winter is over and I can see green, everywhere.

†I manage a 110 acre agricultural farm in Larimer Countyómy job is to irrigate the pasture (thus the moniker ìThe Ditch Witchî) and provide forage for the free ranging 20+ horse herd living there.

Most of the horses are older, retired show friendsómany are lame or exhibit the typical neurological or health problems inherit in aging.

These old ones are my favorites. No matter where I am working they amble over for a visit. One by one, they come in close and touch me with their noses and then they stand quietly next to meÖlike in the movie ëAvatarí, they ëseeí me, but in old horse speak they are saying ìI breathe you.î

It means they trust and recognize me, I am accepted. What a gift! Every time it happens, I hope I smell trustworthy and dependable, solid and memorable.

Too often, I am filled with self doubt; I do not feel confident or very solid. Some days, I see me as unremarkableómy hair is grey and my left shoulder doesnít work so well right now. The horses simply remind me that they know me and accept me as part of their herd. I value that trust and am always grateful to belong near them.

It sounds so simple. Take the time to really notice others you encounter, check out their demeanor. See if you can notice their life force and honor each of them by speaking clearly, softly saying ìI breathe you. I care that you are here.î This is a good practice.

The Book Aunt

Monday, February 15th, 2010

When I was a little girl, my Great-aunt Thelma always sent me books as gifts. Now I know to some kids this might rate up there with underwear for Christmas, but to me it was heaven. Aunt Thelma had no children of her own, but she had an uncanny knack of choosing books I loved. To this day I have the well-worn, first-edition copies of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach with her neat cursive inscription and the date of 1973. I was eight.

In my life I have read thousands of books, but Roald Dahl still heads the list as one of my favorite authors ever. As a childrenís writer myself, I aspire to his extraordinary ability to invent completely ridiculous situations and characters that are somehow totally believable. What kid could resist this opening scene from James and the Giant Peach?

"Here is James Henry Trotter when he was about four years old. (illustration)

Up until this time, he had had a happy life, living peacefully with his mother and father in a beautiful house beside the sea. There were always plenty of other children for him to play with, and there was the sandy beach for him to run about on, and the ocean to paddle in. It was the perfect life for a small boy.

Then, one day, Jamesís mother and father went to London to do some shopping, and there a terrible thing happened. Both of them suddenly got eaten up (in full daylight, mind you, and on a crowded street) by an enormous angry rhinoceros which had escaped from the London Zoo."

See what I mean? So, what books do you remember from your childhood?

Take a StandóBe CourageousóHelp Others

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

His mother died when he was five and then the sister, who he counted on as a mother, died. He grew up on the streets of San Francisco, raised by the World War II veterans who managed the local YMCA. The speaker was Gus Lee, a first generation Chinese man who served in our Armed Forces.

I was hooked. See, he had already explained more than I have ever ìlivedî in his opening words. However, his next thoughts completely floored me as he†continued to describe†how†the home village in China was taken over, the country swarmed by over a million invaders--all determined to commit genocide and re-establish a different government. So his parents began the ëspectacular adventureí of immigrating to the US.

He reminded the NoCoNet audience of over 250 job seekers that very few of us came here on a first class ticket. Most of our ancestors were fleeing impossible odds and running to the only place that would take them.

How true. My ancestors were Irish/Welsh immigrants, poor working class folks who settled in the South, along the Mississippi River Delta of LA. My grandfathers were iron workers. black smiths and mule skinners for the logging company. Every day my dad put on his uniform and went into the city to work; he hung glass in the skyscrapers and was proud of his job.

Gus Lee reminded me that I only need another job. Nothing more. Not a new country. I do not have to run for my life. My children do not go hungry every night; they have both parents and a warm, safe house to sleep in. Nothing about this economic downturn is anything like what any of these brave immigrant†people endured.

I became keenly aware that all anyone in the room needed was the next job. I felt humbled, expanded, rejuvenated with a healthier perspective. And, then he explained that courage is part of character and you can let fear erode your character or stand up and be intentional about who you are and what you are all about. He said you can show your family fear or courage in the midst of travesty. It is a personal choice and a soul quest.

Upon reflection, few things really shake up in my blessed life in Loveland, CO.

But the earth did shake and broke open in Haiti and the world fell down on all those people. Till I get another job, I have a job to do. I am helping at the warehouse of H.E.L.P. International in Loveland, CO. check out,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/You can help, too.

Stay courageous, persevere. Help others all you can. You can learn more about Gus Lee and Character.FtCollins at

The Fox and the Dust Bunnies

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Dust bunnies are odd things. They lurk in nooks and crannies, swirling under the beds and in the corners behind the entertainment center. As they toss and tumble about, they seem to grow in density and fervor, almost as if infused with a mind or life of their own.

I am not a tall person. When I clean, I have to stand on step ladders and swipe at cobwebs and dusty regions with long fuzz busters, dodging bits and pieces as they drift down onto me. It is not a pleasant task.

My most recent cleaning episode was sparked by the holidays. We had not opened the various bins of green and red; nothing had been draped across the fireplace or along the banisters of the staircase. In order to decorate, I felt I had to tackle the dust bunnies of our busy lives and prepare my decorating pallet. Once I took down the curtains, washed and ironed them all, I then could see the streaks on the windows. So, I was resentfully rubbing away the grime when I spotted the fox.

She hunts the back yard often, a streak of fiery orange atop delicate black legs. Her lovely brushy tail is enormous. She was sitting on the low garden wall watching me. A furry bundle, a dead cottontail, lay at her feet and her perfect jaw was dropped into a wide grin. She appeared to be laughing at me.

Here was an incredibly beautiful wild fox thing with her own bunny--food to nourish the next Spring kits growing inside her womb. Then, she gracefully picked up her banquet and trotted up the snowy hill then disappeared under the aspens.

My resentment at our grimy dust bunnies suddenly snapped into perspective and I felt the blessing of peaceful gratitude for my home fill my heart. Life was suddenly called into sharper focus by a visiting fox.

Inspiration Extraordinaire

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

A little over nineteen years ago I invited a scraggly, abandoned cat into my life. Little did I know the profound effect that decision would have on me.†

I wanted Snickers as soon as I saw his picture in the newspaper as the local Humane Societyís featured pet of the week. Besides convincing my husband I had to have this cat, I needed written permission from our landlord. All this took time. Time in which I feared someone else would adopt him before I could.

Once the hurdles were finally cleared, I dragged my husband out the door. The short drive to the animal shelter seemed to take forever. I rushed inside and scanned the cages. ìWeíre too late!î I wailed.

The woman at the front desk assured us Snickers was still in residence. We looked again and found the enclosure with his name. The dirty, matted creature huddled in the cage did not look anything like the picture Iíd seen in the newspaper. Turns out, the photo had been a close-up of his face, strategically taken not to show the bedraggled state of the rest of his body.

ìAre you sure you want this cat?î my husband asked. ìWe could get a different one.î

I stuck my fingers between the wire bars. Snickers rubbed up against them and purred. He had a gravelly meow, bright blue eyes, and beautiful seal-point coloring beneath all the dirt. ìIím sure,î I answered. We filled out the paperwork and took him home.

Our new cat was all weíd hoped for: intelligent, playful, and affectionate. He was also bossy, opinionated, and continually voiced his viewpoint in a loud insistent meow that virtually ensured he always got his way.

When I decided to write a childrenís novel, Snickers helped by curling up on my lap and rubbing his chin on my pencil while I wrote. It soon became our tradition. Heíd hop on the couch as soon as he saw me settle in to work. Somehow, staring into his deep blue eyes seemed to help the ideas flow. Not surprisingly, my main character had a cat who tagged along throughout the story.

ìCut the cat,î my critique group said.

ìI canít. Heís important,î I argued.

ìWhy? He doesnít do anything for the story.î

Why indeed? They were right, of course. But the cat didnít want to be cut. In fact, the cat wanted to take over. He was bossy and opinionated. His cocky personality seemed familiar. Then it hit me . . . He was Snickers!

Any cat lover can tell you the sum of their cat is more than its parts. Their aura of mystery is legendary. I found myself completely captivated by imagining my catís secret life.

I ditched my first book and started over. The main character of my new adventure story is Snickers, the hero who saves the feline way of life.

Not long after Snickersís twenty-first birthday, he stopped eating. After a phone call to our vet who is also a personal friend, I knew it was time. That night she came to our house and put Snickers to sleep on my lap while silent tears streamed down my face.

I canít help but think he lived so long because he was holding out for our book to hit the shelves. Like me, he fantasized it would be a run-away best seller and he wanted to see his name in print alongside of mine. Because of course, he knew that without his influence, Iíd never have found my story.

Someday our book will be published and Snickers will live on through all the children who read his story. But for now, the dedication page is only written in my heart. ìTo the real Snickers, my old friend and Inspiration Extraordinaire. Rest in peace.î