Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Life Goes On

Our niece Vicki Sue picked up Ernestine, Leah, and Emerson yesterday afternoon to take them up to the Saint Louis airport. It was sad to see them go, but little Emmy’s antics kept us smiling during the repeated hugs and reluctant goodbyes. While the trunk was being loaded with luggage, Emmy helped me water the flowers again and she had opportunity to tell Jake goodbye there in the driveway.

Probably I am one of the few to use both of Vickie Sue’s names. But when I came into the family, she was called that, and I remember well that beautiful little blonde when she was Emmy’s age. I have persisted in using both her names, however, because before she married Ernie Escue, we had three Vickie/Vicki Glascos in our family. The two spelled “Vickie” even had their medical records mixed up once before our daughter-in-law moved from the region. So I have designated these three “our Vickie” for our daughter-in-law, “DuWayne’s Vickie” for our niece-in-law and Vicki Sue for our niece. It saves time and confusion sometimes to use the designations, and I enjoy the memories of the little blonde that name conjures up for me.

One of the challenges of aging is coping with the piling up of memories on top of each other. Just when I thought I had our large extended family figured out, the children grew up and got married, and new generations came about, and it is now happening yet again. Now I have to think hard sometimes to keep from calling a young woman by her mother’s name. It seems so impossible that little Vicki Sue is a grandmother. Life goes on.

Although we did not get around to having a family reunion during this visit by Ernestine, we did create memories. The Old Homeplace is a pleasant restaurant in Goreville in Johnson County, and it lies between Union and Williamson Counties, where most of our clan lives. Those who could make it met there for dinner one night, and then the traditional brothers’ breakfast was also there. Since their brother Kenny’s death, often the three remaining brothers only fill one table with just them and our sister-in-law Ginger and maybe a nephew or grandchild or two. But quite a few tables had to be put together for the fifteen who breakfasted together on Saturday. Kenny’s son Bryce was there to everyone’s joy, and Ernestine and crew and Vicki Sue had lunched with her Aunt Opal and her cousin Kyna the day before. Life goes on.

Our daughter Mary Ellen was down from central Illinois and was able to make the breakfast. Then after she and Brianna returned from taking Trent to his friend’s graduation party Saturday night, their family was sleeping at the new place they have bought where they had been renting a large building to store their combine this winter. Brian and a young farm hand are still busy farming, but Mary Ellen was using her Memorial Day off to paint some of the rooms in their new Williamson County home.

She and Brianna came over on Sunday afternoon to watch the last day of the NCAA Super Regional softball tournament on television. Because the Saturday 3-2 game had been so very close, and I was convinced that a Georgia player called out at home had really been safe, I expected Georgia to come back and win that second game. This would cause the two teams to play a third game since the tournament winner had to win two out of three games to be one of the eight teams to go on to the NCAA World Series in Oklahoma City.

That is exactly what happened. Senior pitcher Erin Arevalo gave up just two hits to earn a complete game win of 1-0. After Garry and Ginger showed up to say a final farewell to Ernestine and family, there were nine of us in the Woodsong family room rooting for Georgia and getting especially excited when we saw Gerry or Tara. I was up in the kitchen briefly and missed seeing Vickie, Brian, Aidan, and Maddux in the crowd.

Thirty minutes later after our win, the third game was played in that Knoxville heat. The game remained scoreless for four innings. Again Erin Arevalo pitched. Then Georgia scored and we thought the game was ours. But two runs by Tennessee in the sixth inning gave them the game. It broke our hearts for Erin Arevalo, who had given such a stellar performance, to not go back to the World Series as a senior. We could tell it broke all the Georgia players’ hearts and certainly Tara’s. But if anyone beat them, Georgia would want it to be Tennessee, another SEC team filled with friends. Life goes on.

Partly to get our minds off the game, but mostly to please Emmy, we piled into the car and went to Barb and Keith’s for the evening so Emmy could play with their great granddaughter Gracie, who I think had just finished second grade. She was visiting and had brought the three fat little puppies in the house.

Gracie and Emmy were immediately enraptured with each other—Gracie being proud of taking care of Emmy and Emmy delighting in being considered a big girl to play with Gracie. They went into the room Barbara has always used for kids, and wallowed with the puppies on the carpet there. Leah and the rest of us adults were not allowed in there, but ever so often the two little girls would come out either to get one of Barbara’s throws to wrap a puppy in or to show us something, including Gracie pushing Emmy on Barbara’ s fancy walker with the three pups snuggling in its large basket. Of course, Emmy would have stayed forever, but eventually we had to go although we did run by the Cedars’ house one more time so that they could say goodbye to Katherine, David, and Sam.

Yesterday morning was reserved for breakfast, packing, and lunch. There was more visiting when Mary Ellen came over to say goodbye and bring Emmy a stuffed animal gift to remember her trip with, and then she returned to her paint work. Lunch was leftovers from the week, and then the afternoon leave taking took over when Vicki arrived.

Gerald and I had just finished supper, and he’d gone back outside to work. I’d cleaned the supper dishes and gone out on the deck to read and swing awhile. And then three grandkids—Trent, Brianna, and Sam--showed up with the explanation that their mom had evidently had enough of their help with the painting. They were in top form enjoying being together, and were soon swinging on the deck while Gerald and I sat with them in lawn chairs there. After milk and cookies at the kitchen table, they went down to their grandkid den to do whatever they find to do there—always something different—and they also visited my computer to connect with friends before they headed home. Life goes on.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sumertime Brings Family Visits--Ernie, Leah, and Emmy

Happy squeals, giggles, uninhibited howls of displeasure when the occasion calls for it, and the patter of little footsteps have filled our home this week. It is a pleasant addition to the household to have this tiny little girl, who won’t be three until June 6, making all that noise. With blonde hair, light blue eyes, and an almost perpetual little smile, our great niece Emerson has an interest in everything she sees and a near unlimited amount of energy. Fortunately, she has a doting grammy and an involved mother taking constant care of her as she comes to visit in strange homes and meet all her many relatives here in Southern Illinois.

Ernestine is Gerald and his brothers’ only sister. She and her daughter Leah, haven’t been here from Rock Springs, Wyoming, since Emmy was ten months old. Although there have many adorable phone photos sent since then, of course, nothing is a good as getting to experience this particular slice of Emmy’s childhood.

Raised in a stimulating home and with much time spent with her grandparents in their book-laden home, Emmy knew all about the farm life that her grandmother Ernestine lived as a little girl. So she came here with expectations of horses and cows and feeding chickens—just like she has seen in her books. Since we have none of those animals on our farm anymore, it is probably for the best that she first visited our brothers’ farms before Gerald went to Union County and brought Ernie, Leah, and Emmy up to finish their visit here with us at Woodsong.

At Garry and Ginger’s, there were multiple kittens, and she was taken by Uncle Garry through his fields on his four-wheeler and saw the wheat that bread is made from and fields of corn and soybeans growing in neat rows. It was there that she began to learn she has all kinds of cousins here in addition to the single cousin she has back in Wyoming.

Ernestine’s cousin Judy and husband Morris had a pen of ducks just waiting for a little girl to enjoy, and Keith and Barbara’s place is a veritable paradise for a little animal lover. Ducks and geese and chickens and rabbits abound there. I don’t think Barbara still has terrapins peeking out from under furniture in her living room, and I know the raccoon she once had was long ago released, but Keith’s dog Hash is ready to be petted and will always travel with Keith, who is more than ready to show off his cattle herd. Emmy liked the ones with horns best and has photos to take home to show her family back in Wyoming.

Best of all, perhaps, was Emmy’s trip to Keith and Barbara’s son Tim and wife Glenda’s farm just down the road. In addition to more dogs and puppies, there are horses and an arena there. Just as Emmy was not afraid of any dog including her cousin Sam’s huge golden doodle when she visited Katherine last night, she was right at home in her cousins’ arms on top of a horse.

At our house, she likes Jake, and we have shown her the fireflies, martins, and hummingbirds. Going out into the yard after dark with her grandmother, she wondered for the first time if she needed to be afraid. “What is that noise?” she asked. Ernestine had to assure her that the crickets and frogs down at the lake were not coming up to get her.

She seemingly adjusted to farm life very well because she announced to her mother that farm girls did not need to take a nightly bath. No one is quite sure where she got that information, but she sure looked sweet after that bath with a shiny face, snuggly clean pajamas, and her shiny shampooed hair.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Making money flow to the writer--Kathie DeNosky knows how

Standing at the ironing board pressing Gerald’s short-sleeve summer shirts this afternoon, I mulled over last night’s Southern Illinois Writers Guild meeting and re-enjoyed it.

Our president Cindy Gunnin gave us a very helpful handout and a brief update on a young writer who recently not only had her anthology essay totally changed in serious bad ways but was then scolded by the scam publisher from whom she had planned to buy copies.

Cindy introduced us to James D. Macdonald’s advice, which came about when he became angry over an agent taking advantage of a novice writer. Macdonald called this Yog’s Law, and this rule is one that every writer should hard wire into his/her brain: Money flows toward the writer. That simply means that if anyone ever asks for money to publish you or to be your agent, you know that person is a fraud and not to be trusted.

Not being a science fiction/fantasy reader, I was unfamiliar with the names of Macdonald and his wife Dr. Debra Doyle or the titles of their many books, but actually I had read about some of his efforts to protect writers from unscrupulous publishers and the so-called agents and editors who prey on our desire to be published. Just googling and surfing a bit made me want to know more about these two authors. (Although I read little fiction, I like to know about real people, such as Macdonald and Doyle.)

Cindy Gunnin’s handout was the perfect segue into introducing Kathie DeNosky, our evening’s speaker. Kathie is the author of more than 30 romance novels with a world-wide reading audience who has sold over 30 million books for Harlequin. A life-long resident of Southern Illinois, this former housewife definitely has money flowing in the right direction to allow her to live on her writing career income.

Kathie was generous in sharing her experiences. She spoke of both the bad and good in her life as a well-known writer. (Some negatives were weight gain and shoulder damage from all the keyboard time and getting letters from inmates, which finally caused her to ask to be on the FBI’s no contact list.) Obviously the good outweighs any disadvantages for her or she would not keep writing. It was plain to me that accomplishing her goals has demanded intelligence, talent, perseverance, focus, flexibility, and hard work that many of us lack. I came away impressed not only with her work ethic and determination, but also with her humor, warmth, and the meticulous research that has not only pleased her publisher but earned fans from around the world. I am not a romance reader although I did read her first two books, and they are on the book shelves with my collection of local writers’ books. Again as with Macdonald and Doyle, I found myself delighting in coming to better know this real live writer who is even more fascinating than her created characters.

Kathie admits that when she is up against a deadline and is putting in fourteen-hour days, she gets what she calls “deadline dementia.” She had just the previous morning completed two books she has written since the middle of February. At this point, Cindy reminded Kathie that she had also revised a book during that same exhausting time frame. Now Kathie has until sometime in August to complete her next romance, and she made it clear she is happy to anticipate a slower pace, which will allow her to do some living in addition to writing.

During the eight years she struggled to learn her craft, she wrote four or five romances and collected a slew of rejection letters while doing so. However, once her first book was accepted twelve years ago by Harlequin, she has been in constant demand by them. She quickly secured an agent and turned all time-consuming negotiating over to him. She told her editor then that this opportunity was one she craved and she was willing to work hard to continue producing for them.

She has done that—even through the long illness of her late husband, Charlie, who in her earliest years had served as her business manager. Despite caring for him with medical procedures that I know must have been time-consuming and demanding, Kathie said she kept turning out the contracted books her publisher wanted. She usually writes at night when the phone is not ringing, and if anyone rings her doorbell, she doesn’t intend to answer it anyway.

She knew writing would have to be her career and means of support after she lost her husband, and she forced herself to sit at the computer and turn out books through this difficult time. (Her youngest child had just graduated high school when her first book sold, and although she had enjoyed teaching craft classes in folk art and basket weaving at a local store, she did not want to depend on those skills for her living.) I would imagine writing was also a means to escape the sadness that her husband’s illness caused her.

She admitted the only time she has not written in the twelve years since her first book was published was after his death, as she found it very hard to write of romance when she had just lost the love of her life. Also she was suddenly plunged into the business end of her writing, and she had to file her own income taxes and make crucial decisions on her own. She took the time she needed to grieve and adjust and then returned to the second love of her life—using her imagination to tell stories.

Despite explaining drawbacks in a writing career to us, she was quick to share the joys of working for a traditional publisher who takes care of all the editing, printing, promoting, distributing, and legal aspects of her career. (If someone pirates and posts one of her books online, she will call Harlequin and the post will disappear within the hour.) All she has to do is write. The shelf life of romance novels is extremely brief before they are yanked for return, but Harlequin also puts her books online and translates them and ships them abroad. So she was able to tell us that even her first book has never gone out of print. The royalty checks for it and the others are still coming in--no wonder with her books published in 29 languages.

Her use of time was interesting. She doesn’t like to fly, so when she goes to see her son and wife and two grandbabies on the west coast, she goes by train--in her own compartment with bed and bathroom and her laptop. She has two whole days to write without interruptions before she arrives at her loved ones’ home. (And the same coming back, of course.) By using their location for one of her novels, she is able to sightsee and complete area research in addition to visiting. She schedules spring and fall visits to the Smokies and shuts herself up to write without interruptions while enjoying the mountains and the markets that she loves.
It was there that a friend phoned her that she had made the USA Today best seller list. She thought her friend was kidding, but she went down the street and found the paper and saw her name on the same page as the likes of John Grisham. That she was last on the list did not take away her awe and pleasure, and she later learned she was the first Harlequin author to make the list.

She was open to answer questions from the aspiring writers listening to her. Yes, she could usually complete a book in two or three months. (The shortest time she ever accomplished was three weeks.) At first she sent a synopsis and a number of chapters to show she could write. But since her books sold well, she quickly was able to cut that to a synopsis and three chapters and then one chapter. After selling fifteen or twenty books to Harlequin, she was finally only asked to send them a synopsis, and her editor would say go ahead with it. Most of the books in the line she writes for contain nine or ten chapters. How many pages are in her synopsis? She said usually eight to twelve pages and that becomes her roadmap for the book.

She often concludes with an epilogue because readers want to know what happened in the future. They want a happy ending, and she always gives them that. She gave us a happy evening also, and I am sure some of us went home dreaming of that phone call when a publisher says yes. And instead of being asked for money to see one’s book in print, the message would include that the advance would soon be arriving and money would be flowing in the writer’s direction.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Whirring of Wings and Whizzing Softballs

The hummingbirds are back. It took a day or two before one must have found the feeders and told their friends. Tonight the air on the lake side of our house was literally alive with birds.

The martins were chirping noisily on the long perches on the monster house Gerald built for them near our deck. Then suddenly they or a group from yet another martin apartment building on other side of our house would take flight. Too many birds to count would fill the air flying up and down and swooping over my head seeming to rejoice at their ability to do acrobatics together in the air.

At the same time, the tiny hummers were flying in and out and onto the feeder in front of me with their whirring wings adding to the twilight bird music. I relaxed after a lovely day of Bible study, worship, and family time until with daylight gradually fading, it became too chilly to linger outside any longer without a sweater.

On Friday, Gerald took the van up to the Rehabilitation Institute to bring Katherine home from Saint Louis, so that her husband David did not have to miss work. Along with a beautiful bouquet and special cake and goodies, David and son Sam had a huge welcome home banner waiting for her as she rolled into the house. She seems considerably stronger.

We were all watching the Georgia Bulldogs play a tremendous game of softball against Alabama, but as soon as possible we left for the farm to see the end of the game there while the Cedar family were together again after two and a half weeks. Unfortunately, despite the tremendous game pitched by Erin Arevalo, one home run left the ending score 1-0 in favor of the Crimson Tide.

That put our Georgia team out of their single elimination Conference tournament, but we were comforted by knowing that earlier that day, our Southern Illinois University Salukis had beaten the number one seed and would be playing for the Missouri Valley Conference championship the next day.

Yesterday after a hurried lunch, phone calls assured us that Mary Ellen and Brianna had arrived from their home in central Illinois and would go with Gerald and me to see SIUC play. They were waiting beside the road at the new farm house their family recently bought to give Brian yet more acreage. MET and Bri jumped in, and we stopped only to leave a car seat at our sister-in-law Opal’s house. That was so our niece Vicki Sue could pick it up and have safe transportation for our great niece Emerson from Wyoming. Vicki picks up Gerald’s sister Ernestine, her daughter Leah, and little Emmie in Saint Louis this coming Friday.

Mary Ellen could not keep from being upset at not being able to take time to visit with her Aunt Opal, who was outside with a plant sale going on opposite her neighbor’s yard sale. But we had to hurry onto Carbondale and the stadium. Gerald dropped us off at the gate and found a place to park while we found seats inside.

What should have been a thrill to see SIUC place second in their conference was diluted by the lopsided score, but we still clapped loudly when that second-place trophy was awarded. That trophy does not come without lots of dedication and hard work by young women who also manage to study and take final exams as well as attending practices. But meeting our granddaughter Erin for pizza at Pagliai’s after their team meeting did soften our disappointment.

We agreed to meet again at Woodsong for lunch today although Gerald would have gladly taken us out to eat for Mother’s Day. But I’m not too enthusiastic about waiting in line at an eatery on a holiday. So I thawed a couple small roasts and stuck them in the oven with veggies before we left for our village church at 9 a.m. The Cedars came out, and I was able to hear a little more of the new therapies that the St. Louis multiple sclerosis doctors are recommending for Katherine. Also good news is the return of a favorite young woman aide from a couple of summers ago, who is moving into their spare bedroom.

Our evening ended tonight when Gerald and I watched the NAAC Selection Show for Division I Softball. The 64 teams in the nation who will be playing in the sixteen Regionals this coming weekend were announced. Number 10 ranked Georgia will be hosting their regional in Athens, and I am sure Erin was happy to see her alma mater Texas A&M ranking 8th and hosting their regional. Our entire family was bound to have been pleased to hear praises for Mel Dumezich at A&M, who is a Southern Force alum, and, of course,for Georgia’s Erin Arevalo. Their whizzing softballs have earned them well-deserved recognition.

Now I suppose the birds are bedded down for the night, and Gerald is as well after falling asleep in his recliner the minute the selection show finished. Probably it’s time for me to also come to the end of a good day as soon as I make the morning coffee.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Just Swingin'

When we planned our house over a decade ago, I thought we would use our deck looking out on our little lake a lot. We and guests do go in and out and stand out there often enjoying the view and the air, but we do not use it as much as I anticipated. Only occasionally do we actually sit and have long conversations out there. It so often seems too hot or too cold if not raining.

I thought Gerald and I might eat out there frequently. We don’t. It is easier and quicker to serve meals inside the kitchen than on the outside table; and when Gerald comes in from outside work, I figure he enjoys the air conditioning inside as we watch the view. We can also watch the birds at the feeder from inside, but the birds would not likely gather there if we were sitting outside.

The birds are one of the things we have enjoyed most about the deck, but they are also one reason we use it less. The bird droppings are not always as attractive as the birds—especially when a splatter hits a newly washed window.

In my imagination, I planned dinner parties for the deck, but except for an occasional picnic meal for grandkids, no dinner parties have happened. I thought I would read out there, but the very first summer we lived here, I kept getting rained out when I tried that and, therefore, never took up the habit.

A friend told me she would sip her morning coffee out there, and it sounded so good that occasionally I do that. This week I have a couple of times. I enjoyed as always the martins swooping by with their lovely aerial ballet. I was reminded it was time to cook up some nectar and put out the hummingbird feeders as I always like having them fly close to my head when I sit in that swing in the summer time. So when Gerald and I shopped at Kroger on senior day Wednesday, I picked up a new feeder on sale to go with the ones I need to get out from last summer. Now I must make that nectar.

I talked by phone with Katherine at the Rehabilitation Institute of St. Louis last night. She asked how her dad was, and I was able to give her good reports since he spent Wednesday going to appointments. First he had a dental appointment and they checked out his new partial with a wax mold. The dentist and his father (who makes the dentures) will refine it further, and Gerald was well pleased. Then he hurried up to Benton to get a part for our son-in-law Brian who is working night and day with the planting right now.

We’d agreed on an early lunch, but Gerald had to eat hurriedly so we could leave for Carbondale for his two appointments there. I traveled along so that I could recycle the stuff accumulated in the garage. I’d packed both the trunk and the back seat of the car the afternoon before with newspapers, cardboard, tin cans, plastic, and glass. I was able to accomplish that unloading task while he was pronounced in good shape by his cardiologist who monitors his atrial fibrillation. I also had time to take my Birkenstocks to Shawnee Trails to be sent off and resoled.

We had a little time before an appointment at The Hearing Place, so we visited the near-by air conditioned McDonnell’s and Gerald treated us with a cup of ice cream and diet cola. I had Darrel Dexter’s book I am reading to entertain myself while he saw John Reimbold, and then we had time for two more errands before we stopped at senior day at Kroger. Gerald helped me get the trunk load of groceries (a month’s supply of many items) inside before we ate the on-sale tacos we’d picked up at a Marion drive-in window. Then he did another task either in his shop or for Brian I cannot remember which. Anyhow I felt the busy day should prove to Katherine that her dad was in good shape.

Today Brian has finished planting our farm and our sister-in-law Opal’s farm, and Gerald is helping him move machinery over to the acres that Brian rents near Harrisburg. Everyone will breathe a sign of relief when all the crops are in for everyone. Of course, by then I think Brian’s wheat crops will need harvesting. Those fields are beautiful right now.

It is a busy time for farmers, but I may go sit on the swing again tomorrow and see if I have attracted any hummingbirds yet.