A Writer’s Life

26 02, 2024

Swimming and Books

By |2024-02-25T14:54:57-06:00February 26th, 2024|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life|0 Comments

 There’s a new feature at the gym where I swim. A book table is now in the hallway to the indoor pool.

That’s right, a free books table and it warms the heart of this writer/reader.  

You can leave a book or simply choose from the selection available. Sometimes the books are fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes how-to and biographies.

SOURCE: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/383017143282395248/

It’s like one of those Little Free Libraries on a stand that neighborhoods have only this free library is on a table.

I leave the gym after my early morning swim refreshed in body and a brand-new or slightly used book tucked inside my swim bag.

 Life is good for this writer who is also an avid reader.

12 02, 2024

Valentines Say I Love You

By |2024-02-10T07:59:52-06:00February 12th, 2024|A Writer's Life, Holidays, Writer's Life|1 Comment

Valentine cards say the words we sometimes find difficult to voice.

When I was in grade school – not Little House of the Prairie days, but close – we had Valentine’s Day parties at school and gave our friends homemade cards. We made mailboxes from shoe boxes or decorated envelopes to collect our cards.

Those years helped form my love of Valentine cards and began my Valentine card collection. And, yes, I still have a few cards from that era. For sure, I’ve collected cards from those days.

Vintage valentines can be very valuable, especially Victorian-era pop-up honeycomb ones. Value varies and can range from the hundreds of dollars up to thousands. Check Kovels Valentine’s Day collectibles Pinterest board for examples and values.

Interested in becoming a Valentine card collector, here are some tips on how to start.

What to look for

  1. Cards that relate to the news of the day
  2. Valentines signed by someone known
  3. Older homemade cards
  4. Victorian three-dimensional valentines
  5. Postcard valentines
  6. Die-cut school-type valentines from the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s
  7. Mechanical valentines with moving parts

Hairstyles, clothes, cars, or trains pictured in older valentines will help date the card.

Where should you look?

  1. Old scrapbooks
  2. Keepsake boxes for sentimental ephemera
  3. Old heart-shaped candy boxes
  4. Flea markets or ephemera shows
  5. House sales, garage/yard sales, and thrift shops

Are contemporary valentines worth collecting?

The simple answer is yes. According to Terry Kovel of Kovel’s Antiques, Inc., look for cards with certain characteristics:

  1. Current news, pop culture, and/or historical events.
  2. Cards depicting characters from Disney, children’s books, cartoons, movies, and television shows.
  3. Be cautious about modern technology cards. Those record-your-own-voice cards will stop talking as they age.

Learn more about Valentine collecting from these sites:

The Ephemera Society on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/TheEphemeraSociety

National Valentine Collectors Association on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/126503137423748/posts/412749768799082/

National Valentine Collectors Association. Marketplace on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1411386215859744

Here’s a peek at some from my collection. I love displaying them for Valentine’s Day each February.

5 02, 2024

The Nana Block

By |2024-02-04T14:14:02-06:00February 5th, 2024|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life|1 Comment

At one time our son and his family lived next door. Having four grandchildren right next door was great fun.

The children would slip next door any time they wanted. Especially the oldest grandson and often his brother. Their momma was a late sleeper, and he knew his Nana was an early bird.

Just about every morning, he’d come across the driveway over to where the Captain Crunch cereal and Pop Tarts were and spend the day.

I’d ask, “Does your mother know you’re here?”His answer was always yes.

This was long before cell phone texting, back when phones with long stretchy chords hung on the kitchen wall. My wee hour calls to verify they had permission always woke their whole household.

Because that didn’t work so well, we devised what we called the Nana block, a wooden block from their bucket of blocks with Nana written on it. If they had that, then I was to let them in for Nana time.

No Nana block. No entrance.

This worked nicely until I discovered our clever little grandson who was tall and resourceful was snitching the block.

He’d climb from a chair to the counter to get the block from the refrigerator or stand on an upside-down pot on the counter to reach it from the top of the kitchen cabinets. Totally bypassing the ask mommy part.

We went back to confirmation calls.

Fast forward to now. I get up at 4:30 a.m. most mornings to go swim at the gym. Before I leave I take the dog out. Sometimes when I walk Finnegan that early, he takes care of business. Other times he doesn’t.

We needed a way for hubby-dear to know if he should walk our Finnegan. One that didn’t involve sticky notes, which never seem to stick.

He made a new sorta of Nana Block from a keychain disk. I set it beside his coffee station.

Works like a charm. No wake-up texts or phone calls are needed.

22 01, 2024

The Wet Suit

By |2024-01-21T12:42:11-06:00January 22nd, 2024|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life|2 Comments

The recent cold snap here on the Gulf Coast did nowhere near the damage of the Texas Ice Apocalypse of 2021.

Mainly because the sub-zero temperatures didn’t last as long and the power grid did not fail, but also because everyone heeded the warnings and prepared. Plants were covered. Faucets insulated. People didn’t drive on icy roads and conserved electricity.

The only damage affecting me was the frozen indoor pool heater at the gym I use. That was a bummer because I swim there two to three days a week.

As the temperatures warmed to the high twenties and low thirties later in the week, I was eager to go to the pool after days of no swimming. Only, with no pool heater, the water temperatures dropped well below my comfort levels of 85o – 92o.

Swimming in chilly water is not my thing. But I had a fix—my wet suit.

No, I’m not a diver or a surfer. I’m not even a good swimmer.

Years ago, I bought a wet suit to prolong the time I could swim in our backyard pool.

Cool nights in the fall meant the pool temperatures fell well below my comfort level. We did not have a heater so, wearing a wet suit, I could get my exercise and be warm.

I never could bring myself to get rid of it even though I haven’t used it in years.

I pulled it out and headed to the pool. At the gym, two other brave swimmers joined me. One, who is training for a triathlon, wore a full wet suit. The other woman who only had on a swimsuit didn’t last very long.

We’re not sure when the new part to fix the pool heater will arrive. Thanks to my trusty wet suit it’s not a problem for me.

15 01, 2024

Blue Monday

By |2024-01-14T16:17:49-06:00January 15th, 2024|A Writer's Life, Holidays|0 Comments

You’re probably somewhere cold right now. Winter storms and a polar vortex have prompted weather advisories in every state in the lower forty-eight over the last four days.

We’ve been hearing warnings for days, which has sent flashbacks of the cold snap of 2021 (when the Texas power grid collapsed for four days) to so many here on the Texas Gulf Coast. So many lost their homes.

Space City Weather, the most reliable weather forecasters I’ve found, encouraged: “… let’s look at the current forecast for low temperatures …for Tuesday since that will be the coldest morning for the vast majority of the state. If you compare the (2021) record lows …, most locations will be solidly 5 to 10 degrees warmer than that cold snap.”

Reassuring, yes. But, if you lived through the ice apocalypse of 2021 without electricity for four days, still not comfortable. Temperatures in the twenties for days are way too cold!

It’s unnerving and it’s happening on what’s known as Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year, the time of year when most everyone feels a letdown.

Christmas has come and gone with all the twinkling lights, good food, and fun. The days are dark, dark, dark and most of our well-intended resolutions have flown out the window. It feels like a lot of work to simply face the day.

Never heard of Blue Monday? Blue Monday was originally dreamed up by psychologist Dr Cliff Arnall in 2004. He devised the formula for the bleakest day to help a travel company sell holidays, with the first Blue Monday on 24 January 2005. Arnall says it was “never his intention to make the day sound negative,” but rather “to inspire people to take action and make bold life decisions.”

Truth is, none of us gets a pass from winter. It’s part of a natural life-cycle system that moves through four seasons. We must all go through winter to get to spring, and winters can be bleak. That’s for sure.

Blue Monday may seem like a cold dreary day but there’s hope. December 22 was the shortest day of the year. That means every day after Blue Monday is a day closer to the lighter, brighter (and warmer) days of Spring.

If wintry weather has you in its grip, please stay warm and safe. Remember this too will pass.

P.S. January 15 is also Martin Luther King Day. And it’s falling on his actual birthday this year. How cool is that?

4 12, 2023

Christmas Card Time

By |2023-12-03T12:56:03-06:00December 4th, 2023|A Writer's Life, Holidays, Writer's Life|0 Comments

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is receiving Christmas cards from family and friends with newsy letters. I bundle the cards by year with a ribbon and store them in baskets. The baskets then become part of our holiday decorations.

I like to take a packet from the baskets, look at the photos, and read the letters. It always sparks memories. Some sad knowing the original writer is no longer with us. But mostly the cards trigger good thoughts. It’s almost like having the senders here with me again.

I’m not alone in my love of sending and receiving Christmas cards. As outdated as the practice may seem to some, others cling to the tradition along with me. Americans buy approximately 1.6 billion Christmas cards a year!

The tradition began in the 1800s. As printing techniques improved, and costs dropped, Christmas cards increased in popularity. Read a detailed history here.

When postage dropped to half a penny, more people were able to send greetings. I collect those vintage postcards. Some date back to the 1900s. I love reading through the handwritten notes and looking at the intricate designs.

Many people today send handcrafted cards or order family picture cards. Handcrafted ones are extra special. So are the ones with family pictures.

What is it about this old-fashioned tradition that appeals to me and so many others?

The Greeting Card Association research suggests: “The tradition of giving greeting cards is a meaningful expression of personal affection for another person…”

Some question whether that appeal will be compelling enough to survive the conveniences of the digital era.

I believe it will.

If you want to start the tradition yourself, create a Christmas card list. Gathering addresses is as easy as gathering email addresses and holding a card in your hand beats reading a screen, in my opinion.

My list is on a spreadsheet that I update every year. It’s an easy way to correct addresses and keep track of cards sent and/or received. Because I prefer holiday-themed stamps, I order seasonal stamps online https://store.usps.com/store/results/stamps/holiday/_/N-9y93lvZ1mzlvsg

To make the task less daunting, I use address labels and newsy letters. Some don’t like newsletters. I love them. Makes me feel like I’ve been a part of my friend’s world.

Christmas cards – sending and receiving – will always be a favorite part of the holiday season for me. They are a way to stay in touch, to share our lives even though we may live an ocean apart.

What do you think? Do you send Christmas cards?

27 11, 2023

Christmas Tree Time

By |2023-11-26T10:07:41-06:00November 27th, 2023|A Writer's Life, Holidays, Writer's Life|1 Comment

Live Christmas trees are standing outside my grocery store. I remember when you bought your tree from roadside Christmas tree lots like you see in Hallmark movies set in New York City. Nowadays grocery and big box stores in our area are the ones with fresh trees for sale.

Christmas décor has been out since Halloween competing with ghosts and jack-o-lanterns and pilgrims and turkeys. But there’s something about the scent of fresh trees that truly sends me into the Christmas mood.

My family went out searching for the perfect cedar along the rural roads in the hill country of Texas when I was young. We’d spot one and holler for Daddy to stop. He’d hop out of the 1957 Ford station wagon and check it out.

“Two trunks. No good.” He’d say as he climbed back into the car. Or “Too skinny” he’d mumble with a head shake not even stopping.

Finally, we’d find the perfect tree. He’d carry his ax over and chop it down. We had to watch from the car. We were never allowed to stand by the tree while he chopped. “Too dangerous, the ax could slip,” he said.

Years later, we learned the perfect tree was always on the other side of the barbed wire fence on someone’s property and he might have to run fast.

Fond memories.

Growing up my Aunt’s Christmas tree, fully decorated, always stood in the garage wrapped in a plastic bag year-round. Some time in early December she’d move the tree into the den to the same place it stood every year.

We call the trees pencil trees these days. Back then, it was simply a skinny, little pre-decorated tree. As the years went by, the tree lost most of its ornaments. It stood like a sparkling light tree. We never cared.

It wasn’t the tree we’d come for, but the family celebration.

We’ll be dragging our tree from the barn soon. It’s not fully decorated or the live cedar of my memories. We call it “Charlie Brown.”

Soon our three adult children, their spouses, eleven grandchildren, two grand-spouses, and three great-grands will be here building holiday memories around our little tree all decked out in its holiday finery.

I can hear them sharing their memories years later. “Remember Nana and Pepa’s skinny beanpole tree.”

They’ll have a chuckle and, hopefully, remember most of all the love and fun of family gathered like I do.

For some, the holidays have no fond memories. To you, I send a cyber hug and prayers.

To the others, are you getting your Christmas tree ready for your holiday gatherings?

20 11, 2023

Traditions at Thanksgiving

By |2023-11-19T12:58:16-06:00November 20th, 2023|A Writer's Life, Holidays, Writer's Life|0 Comments

We’re celebrating Thanksgiving this week in the United States.

Time for family reunions, food, fun, travel, football games, Black Friday,

and expressing thankfulness

The American celebration of the day began during the Civil War when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Football games and Black Friday were not included on that first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in 1621, but the basis for our modern Thanksgiving festivities remains the same.

Families will gather to give thanks for their blessings.

Our clan will bring all the Thanksgiving feast fixings to our youngest daughter’s home where her famous brine turkey will fill the house with yummy scents.

Years ago, she started a family tradition that has become our favorite part of the day. Besides being the best turkey cooker, she’s a professional photographer and scrapbooker. Every year when we arrive at her house, she hands out cards.

On that card, we write what we are thankful for that year. She snaps a picture with her Polaroid Instant Camera which we affix to our thankful card. Before we eat, we share what we’ve written on our cards.

At the end of the day, she gathers all the cards and puts them into a yearly scrapbook. The highlight of our yearly gatherings is looking back through Thanksgiving scrapbooks from years past.

We have a lovely day filled with traditions that remind me of Tevye’s words in the song from Fiddler on the Roof.

"Tradition. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as... as a fiddler on the roof!"

Thanksgiving traditions, while lovely and touching, aren’t based on the things on the table or around the table but on the love that surrounds us.

May you have a blessed Thanksgiving filled with love.

13 11, 2023

Then this happened

By |2023-11-12T15:58:35-06:00November 13th, 2023|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life|1 Comment

I’m usually deep into an imaginary story dreaming up havoc to dump on my characters. Conflict is a critical component of storytelling.

The characters and the readers should be surprised when a writer “throws another bear into their canoe.

That’s a direct quote from writer friend JoAnn Ross during a writing class she taught. It refers to adding twists and turns to complicate characters’ lives when plotting.

Bears can be good things or bad things, whatever adds conflict to the lives of the story characters.

This week Mother Nature dumped a surprise bear at our house.

The beautiful 200-year-old oak in our front yard lost a massive limb on a bright sunny day with zero wind. Just kaboom and it was on the ground.

We don’t know what caused the limb to fall, but the theory is that the hard freeze of 2021 followed by the extended, excessive heat this summer has weakened the massive oaks that populate our neighborhood. Several smaller limbs have fallen throughout the neighborhood and many trees have died.

Our tree disaster is a perfect example of how story-plotting bears should work.

All those limbs and leaves in our front yard are a problem. Ever since its fall, it’s been raining which makes it impossible to get a tree company to come out, and clearing it ourselves is impossible.

The branch will just have to stay there until we get some dry weather.

Plotting bears work the same for writers. They can be good or bad things that complicate a character’s life as things happening in real life can be good or bad.

Have you had any complicating bears drop into your life lately?

23 10, 2023

Change is Coming

By |2023-10-22T17:59:30-05:00October 23rd, 2023|A Writer's Life, Make Me Think Monday|1 Comment

You can feel it in the air.

You can see it in the shifting of colors on the trees–shading from green to red to brown.

Shadows are lengthening as the sun shifts.

I’m sitting on my swing porch with a  cup of tea. I can feel the change and at the same time dread it.

The constancy of seasonal changes can be comforting. If you live where leaves put on a show of color, nature supplies a master class in how change can be beautiful.

I definitely welcome the cooler temperatures after the sweltering summer we had.

The annual shift from Daylight Savings Time–that’s a major problem for me. My body protests the loss of an hour’s sleep and takes weeks to adjust.

I’m not a tree willingly changing color and shedding foliage. I’m a Texas tree that slowly fades to ugly, boring brown instead of glowing with reds, yellows, and oranges.

Grumbling and complaining, I  remind myself there’s not much I can do about the weather or the time change except adjust my clothing, our thermostat, and our clocks.

I know Spring will roll around again and I will get back that hour of rest I lost. But the change tends to steal my peacefulness. It doesn’t have to.

A better approach to the change is with pliancy instead of frustration. Flexibility keeps our happiness steady. That’s why I take a cup of tea to the porch swing and relax.

Others recommend these three things when any change is stressful.

  • Breathe –By breathing slower and more deeply from your stomach, you signal your nervous system to calm down when you can’t control the situation. Purposeful breathing allows you to calm down and think rationally.
  • Smile – Smile even if whatever change has thrown your way is not funny. You’ll find a certain amount of detachment can lead to acceptance.
  • Pray or Meditate – To refocus the mind.

Most importantly,  remember that change is the only constant in this world. Whatever the catastrophe or circumstance, eventually it will change.

What about you? What strategies do you use when change stresses you?

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