Friday, June 26, 2009

Parenting Tip #1 - Bring Me Your Pillow

From time to time, as the mood (and memory) strikes me, I thought I'd share some parenting tips of things that worked for me over the years, mostly to correct my own deficiencies.

One of those deficiencies is my memory. At 67, I'm not afraid Alzheimer's is setting in when I forget something vital, because I've always been that way. I remember, when I was 26 and teaching 5th grade, I sent one of my students to the office on an errand, promptly forgot I had sent him, loaded the rest of the students on a bus, and took off on a field trip to the museum. Needless to say, I didn't get voted Teacher of the Year that year.

With that kind of track record, how was I going to teach my children responsibility?

"Mom, can me'n Sam play croquet?"

"Can you remember to put it away this time? Remember how last time you played you forgot, and the home teachers tripped over a wicket in the dark?"

"Yeah, I didn't know you knew how to make a butterfly bandage out of a band-aid. That was pretty cool."

"Don't change the subject. Do you promise to put the croquet set away when you're finished using it?"

"Yeah, mom. I promise."

"Okay. Put your pillow on my bed."

After the child puts his pillow on my bed, he can play croquet. When he goes to bed (earlier than Mom), he'll know by lack of pillow that he needs to put away the game. If he chooses to sleep without a pillow instead, I will know that when I retire and will roust him out of a warm bed to go out in his jammies in the dark and put away the croquet set. It usually only happens once, and he has learned that Mom will follow through...if she can remember.

This little trick relieved a lot of stress in our house, and even now, when our cusp-of-middle-age daughter comes to borrow a tool from her dad's shop, she'll ask, "Should I bring you my pillow?"
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Trail of Storms by Marsha Ward, a Review

A couple years ago—or maybe it was three—I listened to Marsha Ward read a chapter she had just finished for the third book in her saga about the Owen family. I hadn’t yet read Man from Shenandoah or Ride to Raton, the first two books in the series, and so couldn’t appreciate the background. What I did appreciate was Marsha’s knowledge of life in the 19th century and how she was able to build tension with a few well placed words.

I think Trail of Storms is Marsha Ward’s best book to date. The years she has spent honing her craft show as she has become a better writer with each book in the series. This book takes off like a scalded hound and never lets up, pulling the reader through one adventure after another as the Bingham family travels west after the Civil War. Jessie Bingham is the sweetheart James Owen, bowing to pressure from his father, left behind when his family went west.

Here’s a part of what I heard Marsha read that summer three years ago:

From behind, noise pounded on the prairie like another roll of thunder. Heppie looked over her shoulder. What new danger was upon them? A horse approached with Ned bent low over its neck, driving forward to catch up to the runaway wagon. He passed Heppie. Clods of earth fell around her, stirred up by the horse’s hooves. A small chunk of sod hit her cheek, sticking in place, and she batted it as if it were a bug. She had to see what was happening to George.

She realized she was running, half falling over the furrows of churned-up earth left behind by hooves and wheels. Her throat felt raw, filled with her high, keening cry. Her lungs burned as she filled them with air that seemed to have been singed by the lightning. The wagon was so far away!

Another horse blew by, whipping up a dust cloud, pressing the thick yellow air against her. Mr. Fletcher. Luke sprinted by, his arms pumping with effort. She squinted her eyes, trying to find the wagon. Trying to see George.

At last she broke out of the dust. Ahead of her, the wagon lay on its side at the end of a plowed-up rut in the earth, one wheel smashed, the other spinning crazily. Ned Heizer and Robert Fletcher were off their mounts, struggling with horses thrashing on the ground. Luke ran towards them. Where was George?

Raindrops began to pelt her—needles on her flesh—but she kept running. Was George under the wagon? Her head seemed to reel as the storm grew in ferocity. Someone was screaming, “George!” over and over. She finally recognized her own voice.

See what I mean? I held my breath as I read through that passage.

Though this book begins with the story of Jessie Bingham and her family, when they meet up with James Owen, it becomes his story. That was okay with me, because I knew him from Ride to Raton, but I think it would be all right for someone who hadn’t read Marsha’s other books, too, because she gives the reader necessary tidbits of the back story as she goes. Also, though each book in the series may highlight one person, it’s actually about the family and the adventures they go through.

There are lots of adventures for the Bingham family in this book. It begins with the rape of Jessie’s sister by a Union soldier, which precipitates the decision to leave the South. Jessie, thinking she would never see James Owen again, accepts the marriage proposal of another man. When she does meet with her former sweetheart, she finds he is lost in grief for the wife he just buried. There’s more: pursuit by some ex-Union soldiers, a child born en route, a meeting with a group of Mormons on their way to Zion, rescue from a snowstorm by a Spanish Don.

Marsha Ward does a great job of putting you in the place and time and making you care about the families you’re reading about. That’s storytelling at its best.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Farewell to Uncle Nate

Two months ago I blogged about my Uncle Nate's review of my latest book, Counting the Cost. He called me on the phone to tell me how much he liked it, and though our conversation ranged over lots of subjects, he kept coming back to the book, wanting to talk about it some more.

I was grateful for that call, because it let me know that the things I wrote about in the book--life in rural, Depression-era New Mexico and, more particularly, the family secret that I only learned when I was middle-aged--that it rang true to someone who lived there and then. And, that it was okay to write about the secret.

I'm doubly grateful for the call, because Nathan Robert Smith died earlier this month. He would be 95 this October, and his once-powerful body was worn out. In that last phone conversation, he told me about a near-death experience he had recently and said he didn't fear death any more, but quite the contrary.

I learned about Uncle Nate's death as I paused on a remote logging road in a high pass in the mountains around Conconully, WA. I had left my cell phone on in hopes of finding service as we got higher, as the only signal in Conconully was at the cemetery. When I checked, I found I had a message from my cousin saying that her grandfather, my uncle, was gone.

I processed that information as I looked out over the scene before me, and as I thought about this good man and what he had been in my life, I reaffirmed my belief in the immortality of the soul and the eternal nature of family ties. I pictured the reunion beyond the veil and how my mother, who loved her brother dearly and never did anything by halves, would greet him.

The photo at the top of this blog has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. Uncle Nate joined the army before I was born, and this picture has always hung on a wall in my home. As time has passed, I've never had trouble reconciling the aging reality of my Uncle Nate with this handsome young image. Now, the 'aging reality' is gone, but the picture of this young Nate Smith reminds me that his features live on in my two sons, and his name is carried by a grandson.

That gives me comfort.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Great Father's Day Gift - If There's a Trailer Involved

Do any of you have a dad, husband or sons with a trailer parked in the yard somewhere? It could be a utility trailer, a camping trailer, a boat or some other toy haulin’ trailer, but whichever kind it is, here’s an idea for a Father’s Day gift (or fill-in-the-blank gift, if it’s not Father’s Day but you’ve got a guy to buy for.)

Im going to tell you about a great tool for hitching up a trailer. It might even save some wear and tear on your relationship. I don’t know about you, but flagging someone back into position isn’t my favorite thing in the world. Since Derrill got his Hitchin’ Rods at Camper’s World, he hasn’t asked me once. Come to think of it, he quit asking me a long time ago, figuring it was easier to make several tries himself than to try to hide his disgruntlement with my frenetic hand gestures.

The way it works is this: The rods are magnetic, and one is placed on the ball of the pulling vehicle, the other on the top of the part of the hitch that goes over the ball.

As you back up, you watch in your rearview mirror and line up the two rods. This will bring you straight-on to the hitch. (Kind of like the hymn, "Let the lower lights be burning.")

When you're right in position, as the ball goes under the receiver, it knocks the rod off the ball, and that is your message that you're there. Works like a charm every time.

Here are links for where you can buy this type of tool on the internet:

One is for Align Kwik, and another is sold on Amazon. The ones Derrill bought at Camper's World can be bought online, too. Click here.

So, there you go. I know I'm late, that Father's Day is just a few days away, but call around, I'm sure you can find these locally.

And, if your guy doesn't have a trailer, well, maybe that's the place to start, before you buy the Hitchin' Rods.


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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fallow Times

I'm back. Have you missed me? I haven't posted for about 3 1/2 weeks. My keyboard has been gathering dust, and my mind hasn't had a single catchy phrase tumbling around, waiting to fall out onto a page.

In doing interviews, people often ask me if I've ever experienced writer's block. I haven't, but I do have fallow times, every now and then, when I don't want to write and can't even project that some time in the future I might take it up again.

I've learned to embrace these times and not force the issue. In the meantime, during this last one, I helped with a cycling event for charity and went 4-wheeling in the mountains of Central Washington, both of which I'm going to blog about in the next few days. I also have an idea for a story starting to burble in my brain, and I've read several books that I want to review.

The law of the harvest goes farther than 'As ye sow, so shall ye reap' and 'To every thing there is a season.' Equally true is that you can't exhaust the soil. You have to allow it to rest and rejuvenate, to soak up moisture and a bit of manure and get ready to do its magic with the seeds that will be planted there.

I've rested, and I had a couple experiences with cow dung and bear scat while in the mountains. I think I'm ready to do some magic.


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