Writer’s Life

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.

8 01, 2024

It’s a Holiday Wrap

By |2024-01-07T07:20:52-06:00January 8th, 2024|Holidays, Writer's Life|0 Comments

Our holiday was a whirlwind that became a tsunami with twenty-three gathered before Christmas Day to celebrate and have a first-ever all-of-us picture taken, including our OES who was the best behaved.

Dealing with that many personalities was a challenge. The photographer had her hands full and did a fantastic job. Considering the drama surrounding it, it turned out well.

We all survived and the whole event provided writer me with lots of characterization and conflict ideas for future protagonists.

The tree is undecorated, bundled, and stored in the barn shed to await another year.

The treasured pinecone people and tiny village houses from my grandparents’ home are nestled all snug in their box and stored away in the closet to await next Christmas’s unveiling.

January 1 is the clear-cut start for another trip around the sun. Another 365 opportunities — 366 this year since it’s a leap year — to pause and think about how we can best use our time in this new year.

That usually means making resolutions or setting goals.

According to Forbes.com, New Year goals include quit smoking, fitness, finances, mental health, diet,  work-life balance, more time for loved ones, learning a new skill, drinking less, meditating more, and traveling more. All of these are admirable goals and intentions.

The sad fact is most goals and resolutions will fail miserably and fail quickly. Statistics on how long New Year’s goals last do not put the New Year tradition in a favorable light.

Most goals will fail within 3-4 months. Only one percent of goals last twelve months. So, you’re not alone if your intentions peter out.

Give yourself grace when you do fail, “The beauty of goal setting is you don’t need a ball drop or cannons of confetti to signal a fresh start—you can recommit to your resolutions at any time.”

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again, to paraphrase a song lyric.

Me, I’m going simple for 2024. Only one goal. Finish my new romantic suspense, DEAD BODY GIRL.

Frankly, I’m more than ready to settle into an imaginary world where the writer is in charge. 2023 is good and well gone, holiday stress is over. Time to move into 2024 with all its promise and clean pages.

What about you? Any goals or resolutions?

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?

16 10, 2023

Dictionary Day

By |2023-10-12T08:43:54-05:00October 16th, 2023|Holidays, Writer's Life, Writing Craft|1 Comment

This day honors Noah Webster, the man who fathered the American Dictionary. It’s one of my favorite holidays because I love dictionaries.

As a child, I’d spend hours poring through the pages of my grandmother’s eight-inch-thick Webster’s New International Dictionary (of the English Language). It was a fertile resource for a blossoming logophile or, as I prefer to call myself – a wordsmith.

The ancient leather-bound book with its India-skin paper had leather alphabet tabs cut into the pages. The detailed illustrations and maps are gorgeous. There were diagrams, charts, and thousands of words.

With so many dictionary resources readily available online, it’s easy to believe a hard copy isn’t necessary anymore. I disagree. Every home should have at least one realio-trulio paper dictionary available.

All sorts of wonderful magical stuff can happen when you use a hardcopy dictionary instead of looking up definitions online.

Your finger glides over other words as it scrolls down the printed page. Words that you might never have seen right there at your fingertips. You can see a word’s origin and its root without clicking to a different screen for synonyms and antonyms.

Yes, all that’s included with online dictionaries, but do you scroll down to discover the rest of the entry?

Probably not.

Understanding meaning is important. I learned that from my British antiques business partner. His British accent and my Texas drawl tended to muddle discussions and complicate purchases for the shop when the English and American definitions didn’t match. The King’s English Dictionary he gave me saved us many times over.

Spelling can be a problem no matter what type of dictionary you use. I stump spell checkers 90% of the time. Plus, spell checkers don’t give definitions.

I keep 20,000 WORDS by Louis A. Leslie side-by-side with my dictionary for fast lookup of commonly misspelled words. This little jewel gets me through my writing day.

While you may never love dictionaries as I do, I still recommend you have a hard-copy dictionary handy. You never know what you might learn.

25 09, 2023

Farming and Farm Animal Myths

By |2023-09-22T12:19:46-05:00September 25th, 2023|A Writer's Life, Writer's Life|1 Comment

Recently we watched Clarkson’s Farm documentary. The series documents British personality Jeremy Clarkson’s attempts at running Diddly Squat Farm, a 1,000-acre farm in the Cotswold, England.

It was fascinating learning the details of running a large farm. Plus, the farm name intrigued me. If you’re not familiar with the word, it’s a slang term that means doing nothing.

I think Clarkson was making a play on words when he named the farm. He expected running it would be easy. In the end, he admitted farming was a lot more work than he thought.

The series, besides teaching me a lot about farming, debunked several farm animal myths.

  1. Cow tipping isn’t really a thing. Cow’s eyes are on the sides of their heads, they can see about three hundred degrees around them without moving which makes them very difficult to sneak up on. Plus, cows weigh 1,200 to 1,600 pounds. It would take a bunch of people to push one over, assuming they wouldn’t move out of your way in the first place.
  2. Brown cows do not make chocolate milk contrary to what my daddy told me when I was a kid. Interesting that seven percent of the American population believes the myth.
  3. Pigs are not dirty animals. They roll in the mud to cool off and protect themselves from the sun but actually prefer to be clean.
  4. Goats don’t eat tin cans. They may gnaw the tin can but they’re eating the label and glue, not the tin. Goats prefer what’s up high, like leaves and berries on trees, as well as grasses, weeds, and other things on the ground.
  5. Roosters only crow at sunrise. Wrong they crow all the time, not just at sunrise. Their “cock-a-doodle-doo” asserts dominance, warns of danger, and communicates with their flock.

We see lots of cows and horses in the pastures as we drive into town for shopping and activities. My respect and understanding of what the farmers and ranchers go through increased dramatically for them after watching the series. I am disappointed that brown cows don’t make chocolate milk, though.

I recommend Clarkson’s Farm series on Amazon. It’s entertaining, informative, and filled with some laugh-out-loud moments. Watching it might debunk some of your farming myths too.

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