Wednesday, January 21, 2015

We've Moved

Visit Me At My New Site

My new website, that also includes a blog, is over at Wordpress and all the posts from here are now living over there.

Here is the link to the new blog site where you can find all the archived posts, as well as new ones as they appear.  I've enjoyed all the connections I've made via this blog, and I do hope you will all come to the new site.

If you have been a follower here, you can follow the new blog site  by adding the following link to your Blogger Reading List or whatever website/app you use to follow blogs.
And I will leave you now with a picture of my cats. They are my companions as I write every day, and they love to look out the window at all the birds that flit around in the side yard. I'm sure they all wish they could go out and get a snack.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Monday Morning Musings

How was your weekend? Mine was busy, but a lot of fun. Yesterday I met with my writer's group and received some good feedback on my new book. Saturday, I was at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts, keeping the doors open, and met some folks who were interested in the current exhibit and art classes.

Friday night I had the pleasure of hearing two of my favorite singer/songwriters, Lynn Adler and Lindy Hearne, known as Adler & Hearne, live on the Bowery Stage at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts. They were joined by Michael McNevin another terrific singer/songwriter for an interesting concert - Songwriters in the Round - taking turns sharing original songs. Some were older songs, but there were a few new ones, and all the songs told wonderful musical stories. That's one of the things I love about Americana and Folk music, the story.

I also love the cover of the new Adler& Hearne CD. It was taken at their Organic Song Farm here in East Texas and the body of water is Goolsby's Pool. 

What I'm Reading: Actually finished this short story the other day and am back to reading Rollercoaster for next Sunday's review. The short story is The Pit Stop by Carmen DeSousa. This is a 10,000 word story that introduces Detective Mark Waters, a recurring character is other stories by Ms. DeSousa. It was a good, quick read, and I liked this new detective - at least new to me.

Courtesy of Wikipedia
Celebrating Strong Women: In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I want to feature his wife, Coretta  Scott King. That horrible day in 1968 when MLKwas shot in Memphis, most of the nation cried because we lost a great leader, but very little of the media coverage focused on her loss. I couldn't help but think how much more tragic that day was for her than for us.

Despite the inherent dangers of the Civil Rights era, and they both were very aware of those dangers, she worked along with her husband throughout the 1950s and '60s. She took part in the  Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 and worked to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

While her husband was primarily in the limelight during those years, Coretta had a notable career as an activist, working as a public mediator and as a liaison to peace and justice organizations. Following the death of her husband, Coretta continued his work along with hers. She founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, based in Atlanta, Georgia, serving as the center's president and chief executive officer from its inception. In 1980, a 23-acre site around Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthplace was designated for use by the King Center. The following year, a museum complex was dedicated on the site.

On April 27, 2010, Journalist Shannon Firth wrote on the website Finding Dulcinea about Coretta on the occasion of her birthday. This is what Shannon wrote, "Coretta Scott King was more than just the wife of a legend, she was a singer, an organizer and an activist in her own right, pledging her support to nonviolence, tolerance and equality for all races, genders and classes. Though criticized for both whitewashing her husband’s image and for not rigidly following his beliefs, she did what was in her nature—she persevered."

Yes she did!!!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Writing Tips From Elmore Leonard.

This post originally appeared in Feb 2012, but the book is still available, and the writing tips are still relevant, so I thought I would share it again. I was so busy with work for the art center, as well as working on my newest book, I didn't finish reading a book this week for review.

I thought I would try something different this week. Thanks to a tip from Kristen Lamb, an awesome lady who gives advice to writers on her blog, I found out about a different approach to blog sharing. I have had writer friends, Slim Randles, Tracy Farr and Carl Brookins who have either sent me a review, as in the case of Carl, or given me permission to use one of their blog posts or essays. But what Kristen suggested recently is that we give a teaser on our blog with a link to the site where the original was posted.

Since Sunday is my usual day for a book review, I decided I would link to one of the premier review places, The New York Times. Here is the opening of a recent review of Elmore Leonard's latest book, Raylan. The review was written by Olen Steinhauer.
 In an essay that appeared in The New York Times in 2001, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle,” Elmore Leonard listed his 10 rules of writing. The final one — No. 11, actually — the “most important rule . . . that sums up the 10,” is “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
 It’s a terrific rule. In fact, I liked it so much that I passed it on to a creative-writing class I once taught. However, there’s more to Leonard's rule that I didn’t pass on: “Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the ­narrative.”

I thought this was a bit serendipitous, as Leonard is one of my favorite authors, and I love his rules of writing, especially his point about not letting proper usage disrupt the rhythm of the writing. The rhythm of our writing is what distinguishes our voice, and we need to let that have some freedom from the constraints of proper usage.

I hope you can go read the rest of the review of the new book in which U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, now the star of the TV show “Justified,” returns to confront gambling, mining and organ trafficking in Elmore Leonard’s latest.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday's Odds and Ends

Another week has whizzed by. I was busy all week preparing for the big garage sale at the Winnsboro Center For the Arts, which didn't leave much time for writing, but I did get a few thousand words done on my current work in progress. How was your week? I hope it was productive and, most of all, fun.
This is Sammy. He likes to take over my office chair.
 I was dismayed to read about a bridal shop in Akron Ohio that closed because of the fear of Ebola. Apparently, Amber Benson, the Dallas nurse who had Ebola, had been a customer at that store and when news of that was revealed, customer stopped going to the store. The owner, Anna Younker, was quoted as saying, "It's like our store had cooties."

How sad.

The attack on the newspaper in Paris, Charlie Hebdo, was still big news for another week, raising a continuous flurry of news reports and commentary on the Muslim religion and its penchant for violence. Too often the reporting insinuated that all Muslims are terrorists, and it is only the Islam religion that promotes violence. That is simply not true. Throughout history other religions including Christianity have been twisted to support the right to kill in the name of that religion. Just think about the Holocaust. Just think about the battles between Protestants and Catholics that went on for so many years in Ireland. The truth is that none of these religions promote violence. They all teach about love and peace and tolerance. It is people who take those religious beliefs and tenets and twist them to serve their own purposes.

Friday's Funnies starts with this from Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis. In the first panel Goat is talking on cell phone and says, "Hey dad, did you get the Ken Burns Civil War D.V.D. I sent you for your birthday?"

"Yeah what do I do with it?"

"You put it in the D.V.D. player I got you."


"In the little tray."

"What tray?"

"The little tray in the D.V.D. player."

"Which one is the D.V.D. player?"

"On top of the TV set."

Dad says, "Okay okay gimme a minute will ya.....? There okay I got it in and now I'm watching an explosion."

"Good. You're watching the Civil War?"

"No. No. The TV exploded."

Goat walks over to Pig and says, "Never by your parents anything invented in the last 30 years."

(I think my kids say that about me, too.)

This one is from Dustin by Steve Kelly and Jeff Parker. Dustin and his friend, Fitch, are in a convenience store. Fitch is holding a lottery ticket and says, "This is it Dustin. This is the one."

Dustin says, "Seriously Fitch? A lottery ticket?"

"Absolutely, Dude. I've got a feeling about this one."

"Fitch, why do you keep throwing away money on those things?"

"You can't win if you don't play, man."  Then Fitch scratches off the ticket, looks up and says, "Lost again. Man, I wish I had a dollar for every time that happened."
Today's Writing Wisdom comes from Xander Bennet from his blog post, How Not to Write a Screenplay that was first posted last spring. Xander is a a screenwriter and author and his blog is all about writing and film. In this post he has an extensive list of things not to do, and amidst the humor are some points we all could take to heart as we write, no matter what form our writing takes. Here are just a few of the things we should not do:

Agonize over your script’s title.
Start a pointless argument on Twitter.
Decide you need to do more research. Fall down a Wikipedia hole and forget what you were doing.
Change your screenwriting software.
Wait for your manager/agent/friend/reader to email you back.
Make more coffee; you need it.
Eat more snacks; you earned them.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review - #Burnt Edges by Dana Leipold

"What on earth?" you might be saying. Has Maryann lost all her marbles? This is Thursday, and it isn't even one of her regular blogging days. So what gives? What gives is that I am participating in a book tour for Dana Leipold and this is the only day that was available to me to do a review. Besides I do like surprises, as long as they are good surprises. So, without further ado...

Burnt Edges
Dana Leipold
File Size: 554 KB
Print Length: 243 pages
Publisher: Random Chick Publishing (October 21, 2014)

Abuse or an uncertain future. This is Laurel Lee Page’s choice when she is faced with an unplanned pregnancy at 18. Born into a broken family, all she has ever known is guilt and shame. No matter what she does or who she meets, Laurel appears to be living a condemned life but she is determined to find independence and freedom in spite of her family’s legacy of hatred and self-contempt. Can Laurel see that she is in a powerful position, poised to break the cycle of abuse? Set in Southern California during the tumultuous 1960s era, Burnt Edges is based on true events and proves that strength can be found even in the most horrific situations.

There is much to applaud about this book, and I did enjoy the vivid descriptions that set the reader firmly in a scene and introduced the characters. One Amazon reviewer commented that there was a detachment about the writing style, as if the narrator, Laurel, was looking at events from afar. That helped establish a character who had been emotionally battered by the abuse she had experienced she was afraid to step out of that detachment lest she drown in her emotions.
Writers who base a story on true events have to carefully consider what of the truth needs to be in a book and what doesn't. Not everything needs to happen in the story just because they happened in real life, and there were a couple of scenes that to me didn't seem to fit. The timeline also jumped a lot and for the most part that worked effectively. However, there were a couple of places where we left a traumatic moment and I wanted to stay a little longer to experience Laurel's emotional reaction. I also found a number of editing mistakes, especially in the second half of the book, and I wonder if it was not as carefully edited as the first half.
Despite those issues, this was a compelling read, and I did get so engrossed in the story that I was eager to see what came next. The author did a great job depicting the experiences of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, and readers will connect with Laurel and hope to see something good come to her to help her heal from the bad.

Buy Links

There is a giveaway for this tour. Visitors to the various stops on the tour will have a chance to win one of ten $10 Amazon gift cards, courtesy of the author. The contest ends 1/23.
Enter by clicking the RAFFLECOPTER LINK

Author Bio
Dana Leipold is a freelance writer, author, and member of the Association of Independent Authors and Creativity Coaching Association. Her debut novel, Burnt Edges, depicts the unwavering resilience of a young woman in the face of family violence and abuse. She has self-published two other books: a collection of limericks in Dr. Seuss-style for adults entitled, Stupid Poetry: The Ultimate Collection of Sublime and Ridiculous Poems, and a non-fiction book entitled, The Power of Writing Well: Write Well. Change the World. In addition, she coaches other writers on story structure, messaging, and writing skills so they can achieve their dreams to become published authors. Leipold lives with her husband and two children in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads | Pinterest

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Daybreak. Coffee. The Big Two.

I'm happy to have Slim Randles here again as today's Wednesday's Guest. I thought this was a nice piece that invites us to stop and appreciate our days, especially those early morning hours when the world is waking up. I do love those daybreak times when I go outside and the sun is rising over the treeline in the meadow across the road. This is a picture I took a couple of weeks ago when I could actually see a sunrise before the clouds took over the sky 24/7. Now and then I look at it to remind myself the sun does exist.

If you'd like, you can have a donut to go with your coffee and then enjoy Slim's story. And when you finish here, hop over to The Blood-Red Pencil, where Slim has another guest post.

There’s something so satisfying about getting out of bed when the world is still dark and quiet and resting. Making the coffee gives us time to scratch and think. Well, scratch, anyway. Most of that thinking will start after about the third cup.

But it’s a quiet time. A private time. When the world is dark, and there isn’t yet a hint of pink over the eastern mountains, it’s very good. We can relax. No one is expecting anything from us right now. Our guilt can take some time off, and we can listen to music or work a crossword puzzle or turn on the TV and watch the weather guy discuss millibars and troughs.

Soon enough, we’ll have to be out there living for others: our bosses, our customers, our animals, our fields. But right now no one needs us except the dog, and she does well on kibbles and an occasional drive-by ear rumple.

We can look out the window at the eastern glow and wonder what will happen in the hours until our world turns dark again. People will be born and people will die. People will win honors and people will go to jail. People will create things today that live past them and people will disappear forever. People will write about these things and other people will read about these things.

And then the world will go dark and dormant on us again and we’ll think about what happened in our tiny portion of this huge moving amalgam and hopefully we’ll sleep easily tonight. Then, when we arise tomorrow and head for the coffee pot, we can think about what happened today, and how it has made us slightly different for taking on the next tomorrow.

Come to us, daylight. Bring us the new day. But do it gently, please, and slowly enough for one more cup.

Slim Randles writes a nationally syndicated column, Home Country, and is the author of a number of books including  Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing. That title, and others, are published by  LPD Press.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Monday Morning Musings

Here in my little corner of East Texas we dodged a weather bullet this weekend. There was the possibility of ice and maybe snow, and while I wouldn't have minded the snow, I was not eager to go slipping and sliding down the path to the barn. Luckily, the really nasty stuff stayed north and west of us. Saturday night I was able to get to town to see Rhett Butler in concert. If you have never seen him or heard his music, you are missing out. He plays guitar - sometimes two at one time - and the music is magical.

So how was your weekend? Before you read on, how about a glass of hot cider to keep warm this chilly morning?

What I'm reading: I just finished Prayer for the Dying by Pete Brassett. It's an intriguing short mystery set in Ireland and I enjoyed it very much. Now I'm reading No Telling by Parris Afton Bonds. Many moons ago I was in a writing group with her in the Dallas area, and it has been a long time since I read one of her books. This story line that has a mystery element appealed to me, and so far it is a pretty good read.

PHOTO: Rachel CarsonCelebrating Strong Women: It is especially significant to me to showcase Rachel Louise Carson today. She is noted for her dedication to environmental issues, which is something I greatly admire. She was born in Pennsylvania in 1907 and died in 1964.

Carson graduated from Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College) in 1929, studied at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, and received her MA in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932.
She was hired by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries to write radio scripts during the Depression and supplemented her income writing feature articles on natural history for the Baltimore Sun. She began a fifteen-year career in the federal service as a scientist and editor in 1936 and rose to become Editor-in-Chief of all publications for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

She wrote extensively about environmental issues, and in 1952 her prize-winning study of the ocean, The Sea Around Us, was published. That book, along with The Edge of the Sea that came out in 1955, made Carson famous as a naturalist and science writer. Carson resigned from government service in 1952 to devote herself to her writing. A later book, Silent Spring, documented the devastating effects of pesticides like DDT on birds and the environment, and the revelations helped in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

In 1952  she was given the  National Book Award for Non-fiction for The Sea Around Us. That year she also received the John Burroughs Medal, the Henry Grier Bryant Gold Medal, Geographical Society New York Zoological Society Gold Medal, and she was awarded a Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for research on tidal life.

Carson died in 1964 after a long battle against breast cancer.

What a great role model she is for all of us to work harder to protect our world and all its living creatures.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book Review - Spring For Susannah by Catherine Richmond

This is a book I read and reviewed some time ago, but it was such a good read, I thought I would share the review again. The book is available in paperback and as an e-book.

Spring For Susannah
Catherine Richmond
 Paperback: 356 pages
 Publisher: Thomas Nelson (June 14, 2011)
 Language: English
 ISBN-10: 1595549242
 ISBN-13: 978-1595549242

Following the death of her father in Michigan, Susannah Underhill is left rootless, and she agrees to go west to the Dakota Territory to marry Jesse Mason, brother of Susannah's minister. At the urging of the minister's wife, Susannah has corresponded with Jesse for several months, but meeting in letters is nothing like meeting in person.

Susannah is quiet and shy, a stark contrast to Jesse's outgoing personality. She doesn't know what to talk to him about or how, and is often more comfortable talking to the dog. He is less threatening than this man who seems to overpower her sometimes just by his mere presence. And he is so confident about God and God's love. How can anyone be that confident?

Before her father died, Susannah helped him in his veterinary practice in Detroit, and that experience helps save Jesse's ox and twin calves. She also helps neighboring farmers with their animals, and Jesse realizes that she is an asset and a blessing in this land that challenges the strongest of men and women. For her part, Susannah starts to feel a part of this desolate land and begins to appreciate what made Jesse come out here to homestead. While it is harsh and stark with many challenges, the Dakota prairie is beautiful in spring.

As Susannah works through her awkwardness and feelings of unworthiness the bond that unites these two people grows stronger. This is a beautifully written story with language and descriptions that bring the prairie to life like the sun brings new growth in the spring. The characters are true and believable, and the testimony to faith is woven seamlessly throughout the story with a deft hand. As Susannah learns to trust the love of Jesse, she learns to trust in the love of God.

This is a book that will appeal to fans of inspirational fiction, but it also has a wider appeal because of the strength of the love story.
In the words of the author, "I was busy raising a family, working as an occupational therapist, and trying to remember where I hid the chocolate, when a song sparked a story within me. The journey to publication has been long, but full of blessings. I couldn’t have done it without ACFW, RWA, and FHL, the inspirational chapter of RWA – and lots of chocolate!" Catherine's Web site 

FTC Disclaimer: The author sent me an advance review copy of the book, hoping that I would write a review. But she did say if I didn't like the book, I didn't have to write one. In keeping with full disclosure, I will also admit that I know the author, and I had the pleasure of reading this book in its infancy. For her sake and mine, I won't say how long ago that was. What I will say is that I was impressed with the writing then and am even more impressed now. I am not a fan of inspirational fiction. It is often too preachy for my tastes, but this one doesn't pound the pulpit.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Friday's Odds and Ends

Some cities, concerned about the amount of litter on their streets, have imposed a fee for using plastic bags at stores. Dallas is the latest. Granted, litter is a problem. I hate to even say how much trash I see along the county road where I walk each morning. I also hate to admit how many times I've seen someone toss a drink can out a truck window as they are driving along. When I was a kid, if I threw something out the car window, my father would stop and make me go pick it up. Believe me, I never tossed even a gum wrapper out after that.

That's a point that a Dallas resident, Barbara Whitfield Streetman made in a letter to the editor. She challenged parents to do what my father did, "Teach kids never to throw anything out of the car window or throw anything on the sidewalks or anyplace. Just carry it home and dispose of it."

What a concept.

Reactions to the latest violence - the mass shooting in Paris - incited the same kind of hateful rhetoric and behaviors as the last two in the United States. Sadly, and I may keep saying this until more than two people get it, that will not stop until people stop reacting with their emotions. Someone once said, "Hate the sin, not the sinner." I think that was Jesus, and so many of the people reacting with hate and anger call themselves Christians?


That's it for my rants today. Aren't you glad? Just for fun I took a picture of my cats this morning. All four of them are on the edge of my desk watching the birds that are fluttering around in the flowerbed. The cats are twitching tails and ears and wishing there was no glass between them and the birds.Every now and then I hear a little chirp and it is one of the cats talking to the bird. I wonder if Harry is saying, "Come here little bird. I won't hurt you."

Harry is the black cat closest to the window
Now for some Friday Funnies. This first one is from Luann by Greg Evans. Luann's parents, Nancy and Frank are sitting at the table in the kitchen working with some papers and Nancy says, "I can't believe it's another new year already."

"No kidding," Franks says. "Time is flying by. When I was a carefree kid, a year lasted forever. Now that I don't have a spare second, the days flash by. Life is backwards."

Nancy looks at him in surprise. "You'd rather rush through joyful childhood and crawl through grumpy old age?"

"Maybe I wouldn't BE grumpy if I had more T... " He looks up. "Wait a minute. How did I become a grumpy old man all of a sudden?"

She goes back to the paper she was writing on. "Time is flying by."

Here's one from Pickles by Brian Crane. Opal is sitting in the overstuffed chair, surrounded by hangars. Nelson stands in front of the chair watching what she is doing. Earl leans on the back of the chair and asks, "What are you doing with all those hangars, Opal?"

"I'm crocheting colorful covers for them."

"Silly question... Why do they need covers?"

"Covers keep clothes from slipping off the hanger. And they're pretty."

"Ah that makes sense." Then Earl walks off with Nelson and says, "I didn't have the heart to tell her I could accomplish the same thing in a tenth of the time with a roll of friction tape."

Finally, this one from Crankshaft by Batiuk & Ayers. Crankshaft and his son-in-law, Jeff, are watching a news program on television and the weather forecast starts. The meteorologist says, "This is the big one, people. The mother of all snow storms.

"We're not going to get inches of snow...!!! But FEET of snow.

"We're going to get snow, snow, snow... and even MORE SNOW!!"

Crankshaft looks at Jeff and says, "He must get paid by the flake."

Another new feature I would like to start on the blog is "Writing Wisdom". Each week I will add some bit of inspiration or advice that I find helpful. This week I found a piece that Anna Elliot wrote,  In Praise of Quitting, for Writer Unboxed, and I found her article very helpful in thinking about projects that we start and then abandon.  I'll just post a short excerpt here, but do click over and read the whole article. It is well worth your time.
Now, maybe I’ll go back to the abandoned story someday.   At some point, I’ll at least pull it out of the drawer and give it a read-through to see if there’s something there.  Maybe there is, maybe there’s not.  But that’s the good thing about stories.  They’re very forgiving.  They’re not going to be mad at you that you walked away and left them to sit idle for a couple of months or even years.  Sometimes they actually even reward you for having walked away by suddenly revealing to you just what the fatal flaw was that made them impossible to finish before.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Value of Play

Please welcome Slim Randles as today's Wednesday's Guest. He's here so often he could be called a regular, but Wednesday's Regular doesn't have the same rhythm as Wednesday's Guest, and in my estimation, writing is all about rhythm. I love this essay because I do love to play in the snow, and I miss it here in Texas where it only comes now and then. Reading Slim's post, I couldn't help but think of the new ad campaign sponsored by the the NFL: NFL Rush Play 60 that is part of a nation-wide effort to get kids to go outside and play. Funny thing is that those of us of a certain age didn't need that kind of push. If Mom said, "Go outside and play" we were gone. It's kind of sad that that is not true today. But, I digress. Grab a cup of something to keep you warm on this cold winter day and enjoy. You may have a cookie, read the essay, and then go outside and play. (smile)

The whole thing began right after the first good snow this year. Herb Collins was looking out his window at the point on his small farm where Lewis Creek cuts through a rather steep hill. Neighborhood kids were sledding up there and trying to avoid rocks and one gnarly tree that stuck out. He also noticed that if the kids were successful in avoiding death and destruction, they came to an immediate and violent halt at a submerged log next to the creek.
He brought this up at the next unscheduled-but-daily-anyway meeting of the World Dilemma Think Tank down at the Mule Barn. Some executive decisions were made rather suddenly, and construction began the following day.
Jim Kennedy showed up driving a Bobcat, Doc brought a chain saw, and Steve had his four-wheel-drive pickup with a big chain in it.

At the end of three hours, a long, sloping gentle run began up by the road and looped around two turns, and ended in a gentle upslope on the far side of the frozen creek.

Of course, this activity ruined what snow cover there was, so the kids looked disappointed.
But last week it snowed hard, a good six inches, and the kids went running down to try the new sled run.
It wasn’t all that exciting for them. So when Doc and Herb and Dud and Steve showed up, one of the kids politely pointed out to Mr. Collins that they couldn’t really get going very fast down that hill on the new run.
“I know that,” said Herb. “But see all those other steep runs you have? You can go break your neck on any of them. This run is for a special purpose.”

“A special purpose, sir?”

Herb nodded. “Steve? If you please.”

And Steve brought out the toboggan from his pickup truck, and the old guys took turns being kids once more down their own sledding run.

Brought to you by “Strange Tales of Alaska,” by Slim Randles. Now available on

Monday, January 05, 2015

Monday Morning Musings

The beginning of a new week is almost as energizing as the beginning of a new year; a fresh start to all the things for which you have set goals. I'm going to be working a lot at the art center the rest of this month as we prepare for a major fundraiser, and I'm also going to go to another community theatre and audition for a show. This is my time to play on a different stage and not have all the other responsibilities of mounting a show. Even with all that, I am still going to make my goal to write every day.

It's cold and blustery here today, so I am starting my morning with some hot chocolate. You are welcome to join me.

What I'm reading: Actually, I'm reading two books, one for review and one for fun. The first is Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer by Woody Weingarten. This is a book of significant importance, and I will do a review in a few weeks, as well as have Woody as my Wednesday's Guest.

The other book is New Year Island by Paul Draker. I just started reading that one last night and got through the first three chapters without yet getting to the main story. Paul uses the technique of introducing the major players in their own chapter, giving the reader back story on each, so it will be a while before we get to the premise of the story which is what intrigued me about the book when I checked it out - "Ten strangers... marooned on an island for society's amusement. As they're picked off one by one, they realize that they have something in common -- they've each already survived atrocities. But can they live through this twisted mind game?"

If there are seven more chapters before the real story begins, I'm not sure if I will finish the book, as I am not fond of that style at all. Even though each chapter is well written and very dramatic, I prefer to get into the story a lot sooner. What about you?

Celebrating Strong Women: For the new year, I thought I would try something different on Mondays and highlight one woman each week for her significant role, either currently or in history. Today I chose Jane Addams who was born in 1860 and died in 1935. She is recognized as the founder of the social work profession in the United States, and I remember learning that fact when I studied sociology in college. She was also a leader in women's suffrage and promoting world peace, and in 1931 she was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Jane was born in Cedarville, Illinois, into a prosperous northern Illinois family. Her father, John Addams was a founding memeber of the Illinois Republican Party. He was a state senator from 1855 to 1870 and was friends with Abraham Lincoln, helping Lincoln in his political campaigns.  Her mother died when Jane was two years old, and John later married again.

Reading was one of Jane's favorite pastimes, and she had a desire for higher education, wanting to study medicine. She thought that would be a good way to fulfill her dream of doing something to help people. She attended Rockford Female Seminary, which is now Rockford University, but was never able to finish her medical training due to ill health and family emergencies.

Finally in 1889 Jane was able to act on her dream of helping others, especially women. Along with her college friend and intimate partner Ellen Gates Starr, she founded the Hull House in Chicago. They rented a mansion that had been built by Charles Hull in 1856, but the building was in disrepair. Using her own money, Jane had the repairs done and eventually a number of other wealthy women started offering financial support. Those donors included Helen Culver, who managed her first cousin Charles Hull's estate. Eventually she allowed them to use the house rent-free. 

The Hull House was a center for research, empirical analysis, study, and debate, as well as a pragmatic center for living in and establishing good relations with the neighborhood. Residents of Hull-house conducted investigations on housing, midwifery, fatigue, tuberculosis, typhoid, garbage collection, cocaine, and truancy. Its facilities included a night school for adults, clubs for older children, a public kitchen, an art gallery, a gym, a girls' club, a bathhouse, a book bindery, a music school, a drama group and a theater.

The focus on arts at Hull House was very important to Jane, wanting to encourage students to think creatively and independently. She challenged the system of industrialized education that focused on training a student for a specific job, and I think that part of her philosophy is still relevant today. We need to challenge the educational system in place today and allow young people more opportunities for creative learning, which is one reason my heart is so entrenched in the Winnsboro Center for the Arts and the programs we offer in all forms of creative expression.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Friday's Odds and Ends

How was your New Year's Day? The cold I'd been fighting for a week finally won over the jillions of vitamins I'd taken, so I was not in a party frame of mind. I did watch a couple of the bowl games, in between napping, and was happy that Michigan State won the Cottonbowl. I know as a naturalized Texan, I should support a Texas team, but Michigan State has always had my heart.

I also watched Oregon beat Florida State, and that was also a good game. However, I thought the lime green uniforms the Oregon players wore were ugly as sin.

In between naps, I also logged on to Facebook to send out Holiday greetings, and it was interesting to see the different traditional meals that are purported to bring good luck. Here in Texas the good luck meal includes black-eyed peas, and that tradition spreads across the South. My Scandinavian friends in South Dakota eat pickled herring, and folks of Italian descent eat lentils.

I wondered about the significance of these foods, as did Sara Bir, a contributor for Good Eats. She researched the True Story of Traditional New Year's Lucky Foods, and her article is very interesting. She explores all the legends and myths surrounding the "lucky" foods, and the article is well worth a read. Supposedly the choices of food are supposed to represent money, and it is monetary good luck that we are most eager for.

In particular, I liked what she said about black-eyed peas, "When you find a coin—any coin—that looks like a black-eyed pea, please call me."

She then goes on to explain that the peas, like most of the other good-luck foods, are staples of the households that serve them, and not just on New Year's Day.

Sara finishes her article with, "Luck is something humans have no influence over, but the solace we take in cultural and culinary identity is. These rituals of eating special foods remind us who we are, where we've been, and the ways we hope to thrive."

I agree. While it is fun to play along with the good luck tradition, eating black-eyed peas has never  affected the good and the bad of the following year. In fact, the first year that I insisted we eat black-eyed peas - I liked them but my husband and kids did not - we had the worst luck the following year. He told me that a black-eyed pea was never to darken our door again.

So what did you eat for good luck yesterday?

Thursday, January 01, 2015

New Year's Day 2015

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy and successful New Year! Are you setting new goals? Making resolutions? I hope yours fare better than Luann's Father's.

What happens to your New Year's resolutions? Do they follow the same pattern as Luann's parents. In a strip that ran on November 16, 2014 Nancy and Frank DeGroot  are sitting on the couch eating popcorn. She's reading a book and he's reading the newspaper. And she asks, "What ever happened to your New Year's resolution to take up jogging?"

"Nothing I'm keen to start. It's just that in January and February were too cold. March was windy. April I had taxes to do, and in May we had house guests. June, July and August were way too hot. Then I got that kink in my neck and then I couldn't find my earbuds."

She says, "I see. And right now?"

"It's getting kind of dark..."

"But you're keen to start."

He grabs a handful of popcorn and turns back to the newspaper. "Think about it all the time."

If you want some inspiration for establishing new habits and sticking to them, this blog post from Dani Greer at The Blood Red Pencil might be of help.