New Year, New Goals


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

New Year, New Goals

By Nandy Ekle

We are one week into the new year and I am just now getting around to thinking about my goals for this year.

This past year brought a lot of adventure and some frustrations. I struggled with decisions regarding my health, I lived through a wild midnight storm which ravaged my house (in the words of my grandson, “Nana, your house is broke”). Because of this we worked with insurances and contractors to repair the damage, and actually came out ahead with a lot of upgrades. A few family problems, the health issues, and the culmination of that right before the Christmas/New Year holidays. And, of course, Christmas and New Year found us traveling to visit our children and our parents.

Needless to say, my writing has suffered. Oh, that’s a vast understatement. My writing has nearly completely stopped. And that, my dear Word Smith Six followers, is the source of tons of frustration.

So. We are one week into the new year. The time has come to pack all that away in a box and hide it under the bed. The time has come to look ahead and find the inspiration and the voices begging to be converted to words.

And so, beloved followers, I will make this promise. I will write a new original blog each week. I will not allow a Freaky Friday to go by without new words appearing on this blog site.

And the other side of my promise is to write at least 1000 words a day. They might not necessarily be intelligible words, but they will be my words. And according to the experts, this should strike that flame again.

Comment below and tell me about your writing goals for the 2016 year. I am very interested to hear about them.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

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FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD


Outtakes 180

 

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD

By Cait Collins

 

I love the holidays. The hustle and bustle, social events, end-of-the-school-term concerts make me happy. But there is one thing I hate…food, glorious food.

I’m not officially on a diet, but I am trying to watch what and how much I eat. I definitely do not want to gain back the ten pounds I lost last fall. So what do you do when everywhere you look there is food?

It’s so unfair. Your co-workers bring goodies from their kitchens and let you know to help yourself. If you don’t partake, feelings are hurt. However, if I eat, my backside suffers. Is there no middle ground?

This is a sampling of the holiday feasting.

It started before Thanksgiving with a food day at work. I don’t remember the menu, but I do recall the table being overloaded and the team eating from the start of the day to the end of the shift.

Then there was family Thanksgiving at the church building. (The kitchen is bigger than at any of our homes and we can all sit together.) Let’s see, turkey, lots of turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, dressing, salad, pickles, olives, dinner rolls, candied yams, desserts; more food than any of us could or should eat. We all took leftovers home.

December rolled around and the parties started. My sister’s jewelry party provided chips, dips, crackers and cream cheese spread, apple slices, grapes, pineapple chunks.

A shopping trip ended in dinner out with two of my nephews. Shrimp was a great change of pace. The congregation’s holiday adult party was catered. I could not eat everything on my plate. Nor could I sample all the home cooked brunch fare the morning after the party. And we brown-bagged dinner the night we filled the holiday baskets for our shut-ins.

Family Christmas dinner was early so that we could all be together before kids left to spend the holiday with their dads. The scent of Mexican food filled the church fellowship hall as we scarffed enchiladas, tamales, queso and chips, fajitas, and desserts.

The day before my vacation began we celebrated our short association with co-workers from our Manila office. The tables in the conference room were loaded with Mexican food. Everything from queso to taco soup tempted the stomach.

My sisters and I celebrated December birthdays with Cheryl’s famous chicken salad sandwiches, chips, and ice cream. Then I joined my in-laws for filet minion on Christmas Eve. Janet made stew on Christmas day, and New Year’s Eve, we waited for the end of 2014 with snacks and desserts. New Year’s day, I spent quietly eating grilled chicken and black-eyed peas.

Man, was I glad to see the holidays end.

You’d think the New Year would bring an end to the obsession with food. Not so my friends. The food train continues to roll with homemade goodies making their way to the food cube at work. And on Friday, there is another food day.

Mexican food.

Again.

I raise my eyes heavenward. “Please, Lord, make it stop,” I beg. “I’ve had enough of food, glorious food.”

In the musical Oliver, Oliver and his friends sang of Food, Glorious Food because he and the other orphans were starving. I complain because there’s too much of a good thing. The point is anything you dream can be a story.

 

EVERY Idea has Potential


EVERY Idea has Potential

west texas christmas stories

If you’re brand new to writing, you may have self-doubt. You might question sentence structure, your novel’s length, character motivation, the list goes on and on.

If you’re fairly new to writing, you might have dealt with these self doubt issues already, but might be shocked at how much your writing changes over a week, months, even years.

Whatever stage you’re at in this game, I want to emphasize the importance of writing every idea that pops into your head. As I blogged about last week, we must become fearless. The hardest part is to stop trying to make sense of the ideas that come to you at the most inopportune times.  I say this because I’ve let so many slip away.  However, one idea that I didn’t let slip away became a published story this week.

West Texas Christmas Stories

In 2006, I remember having an idea for a Christmas story. No clue as to why it came to me or where I was, but it was about a cowboy spending a lonely holiday and being content in his life.  Last year, I watched an old cowboy greet the morning sun on his horse just before he rode out into to the pasture to gather a herd. The look on his face was pure joy and contentment. The horse seemed excited too. For both of them a day’s work was just ahead, doing what they loved to do. That old cowboy reminded me of that holiday story. I found it on my computer, polished it up, and wondered where I could send it. This year, someone forwarded a story call out to me. My story fit the submission criteria, I submitted it, and had a “Yes” before days end. Six years after I had made a note, the spark became a published story in West Texas Christmas Stories with Abilene Christian University Press.

Write, Write, Write

The more you exercise that writing muscle, the more your eyes will look at the world as a writer. I remember taking our kids to the Fort Worth Zoo, just after I had begun to write fiction. My oldest, who was around seven then, said, “Would you stop saying everything’s a story.” My husband agreed, “ It is annoying.”

I hadn’t even realized I’d been speaking out loud, but the entire day held fascinating events, animals, sights and sounds wherever I turned. I couldn’t contain my excitement at seeing the world in a different light; through the eyes of a writer. Because everyone seemed annoyed, I didn’t take a note one. I was too embarrassed. I can’t help but wonder what might have been the fate of all of those ideas I never wrote down.

Now, I carry a journal or notebook everywhere and even snap a zillion pics with my iPhone. I’ll let you know the results in another six years or so. How crazy is this business?

www.nataliebright.com

Order From Chaos


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Order From Chaos

By Nandy Ekle

The kids fight to see who will be in bed first, but after getting there and pulling the covers over their heads, they lay awake listening for every little sound. Is Santa here yet, they ask each other in whispered voices so they won’t get in trouble on this night when they need to be extra, extra good. Eventually each child nods off, snores and dreams of a special toy they had fervently asked for.

Christmas morning the sun peeks in through the windows and every kid wakes up with a deep breath and the feeling that something has happened during the night. They jump from bed and run into the room where the tree stands sparkling. Their parents follow them with tired knowing looks on their faces. The presents are passed out and the chaos begins. Ribbons and paper fly through the air as the children rip it from the boxes to find the surprises hidden underneath.

As a young mother I would watch my own brood tear through the paper in less than fifteen minutes and shake my head. I had been a meticulous gift wrapper and the destruction often left me wondering why I took so much care. Then I would look at the mess of tags and ribbons and gibblets of paper all over the floor I kept vacuumed and clean and wondered why I bothered.

But when all the frantic unwrapping and opening and string cutting and shouting was over, the clean up came and life became normal again. And the happy looks my kids wore on their faces reminded me what it was all about.

So where am I going with this happy memory? Well, it occurred to me that the pantser style of writing, which is the way I write most of the time, is a lot like Christmas morning. I get an idea in my head that buzzes around enough to keep me from sleeping the way I should. As I lay awake at night thinking about the new characters and what they want and why they can’t have it without an adventure, every thought from kids’ lunch money to laundry can have a bearing on my story. When I finally get to sit at the computer to tune in to the voices telling me a story, I tear through the words as if they were simply thin tissue paper covering a secret surprise inside a box and the only way to get to the center of the adventure is to violently rip every shred of taped paper and fling it away.

Once the story is revealed, I can look around the room. It appears as though an explosion took place, only instead of bright colored paper, it’s words. Then comes the job of putting everything in order—tossing out the trash, rearranging scenes and characters, making sure all the little pieces are still there without a lot of extra stuff that doesn’t fit anything. When it’s all done, I see the look on my readers’ faces and remember what it’s all about.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

Not So Christmas Poem


Outtakes 74

 Not So Christmas Poem

By Cait Collins

Twas the week before Christmas

And the church ladies came

Christmas cheer to prepare

For the elderly and shut-ins

We all hold dear.

I pulled into the parking lot,

My car loaded down

With lotions, tissues, books and bags.

I opened the door, my sisters I greeted

When the air was rent by a shrill sounding whistle.

Ross, you see,

Gave his wife the church key

But the alarm code was missing

And thus we listened to the offending whistle.

When what to our panicked eyes did appear

But a green sedan and a kindly elf.

“Brother Glen, Brother Glen,

Can you help us out?

Our 80 year old minister threw open the car door

And sprinted inside to shut off the loud cry.

The telephone rang, most likely the alarm company,

Calling to check on the code he cleared.

Amarillo’s Finest did not appear

So we flipped on the lights

Opened our packs and unloaded the stash.

The ladies went straight to their work,

Loaded the bags, and cleaned up the trash.

And with a sigh of relief we headed out.

Glen met us as we came down the hall.

Smiles and hugs he had for us all.

His arms around me and shaking his head,

He held me closer and lovingly said,

“Of you Brown girls I’ll never be shed.

At least I’ll not have to go post your bail.

You’re free to go home and not go to jail.”

We laughed and waved and went on our way,

Our Christmas errands to finish that day.

Please forgive this poor verse.

However versions one, two, and three

Were really much worse.

I’m not a poet,

Of that I don’t lie.

The point of this Outtake is

At least I tried.

My apologies to Clement Clarke Moore for taking liberties with Twas the Night Before Christmas… I hope you and yours have enjoyed a great holiday. I wish you a very happy 2013.

TUMBLEWEEDS


TUMBLEWEEDS

By Sharon Stevens

 

Tonight I watch as tumbleweed after tumbleweed blows across my path. Hundreds, no thousands seemed to tear themselves away from their earthly home desperately seeking a place to grab onto. Sadly they only found themselves buried against barbed wire fences with countless others of their species. The wind continues to howl and moan around me, pounding and pelting me with grit and dirt every which way I turn.

My first thought was that the world was coming to an end, but I knew this wasn’t supposed to happen until Friday. What a relief to realize that until then I am apparently safe. My second thought is that with so much darkness and desperation I would have never been able to live during the “dirty thirties” of Ken Burn’s Dust Bowl days. And I very much doubt that I could have survived as a pioneer woman living in a dugout out on the desolate plains hundreds of miles away from any neighbor.

All other thoughts turned to the tumbleweeds themselves. Several years ago I read a Louis L’Amour story about a lonely widow out on the plains that would tie notes to tumbleweeds just to try to connect to another human being. She never knew if anyone would ever see her notes. It was enough that she could put her thoughts down into something tangible, and send them on their way. “Conagher” found one of these with the writing attached, and looked for more clues to try to find the writer.

So many people predict that books are on their last legs, believing that technology will take their place.  And we are faced with the belief of the Mayans predicting that the world will be destroyed on December 21, 2012. Just like the horrific tragedy in Connecticut there will always be those who seek to drain our dreams and extinguish our passion, destroying our way of life, along with everything we believe in. Personally I prefer to hold in my heart a future that includes all that is wonderful and passionate. My thoughts are that even if we…humankind…blast to eternity in a ball of fire our ashes will remain behind to be reconstituted at a later date. There is no doubt in my mind that the message will still be there, readable and clear for future generations to follow. Like the sweet cockroach in “Wall E” I think that tumbleweeds, as books will survive any holocaust.

As writers we have to write as though our thoughts and desires will continue to survive. If we believed that our stories would never reach outside the ideas we hold in our hearts, or if we fail to find our “spark” as in Natalie Bright’s blog post, then we should never begin in the first place.

So just in case the Mayan’s are correct I want to get my Wordsmith six blog out of this plastic computer box as soon as possible. Hopefully I can get it printed onto a medium even if it is something as simple as copy paper. I hope and pray from the very bottom of my heart and soul all my words can come alive again. I so want to be reassured that it will be there for others to share for the future. At that time, how wonderful would it be if whoever controls the universe, whether it is the Good Lord or any other Higher Power, that He will see fit to rebuild a world with Hanukah as well as Christmas, and tumbleweeds as well as books.

As God and John Wayne are my witness, I know the message will be perfectly clear.

The Gift of Story


The Gift of Story

by Natalie Bright

Conversations from the Past

“I can’t believe she bought everyone a present,” my mother said, as Dad eased our car out of my grandparent’s driveway.

My father shook his head in agreement. “She’ll be paying for gifts through next summer.”

So began the conversation my parents had every year following our family’s Christmas. My grandmother bought presents for everybody. The gift list included her four kids and their spouses, plus nine grandchildren. She bought and baked goodies for her mail carrier, her beautician, the pastor and his family, and most of the neighbors on her rural country road.

Giving to Others

My parents never understood why my grandmother worked so hard and spent so much money at Christmas. I think she wanted to make special holiday memories for all of us, and more importantly, I think it made her  happy.

How Do You Give?

A lighted tree, decorations hung everywhere, and seeing my children’s faces when they open their gifts makes me happy. It is indeed a thankful time of joy and giving, which got me to thinking how people give in so many different ways.

You might cook a fantastic meal for loved ones, knit or sew, or donate money to a worthy cause. If you don’t have  extra funds, you probably donate your time. Most of you simply show up: at work and at home again, because someone is depending on you to be there. It’s all giving in one way or another and hopefully, you’re happy in doing it.

As for Writers, We Write.

Writers give by writing. It may sound trite compared to some of the things I’ve mentioned above, but it’s not insignificant to us. In reality, as words fill the blank page, we don’t expect anything in return, although with fingers-crossed we sincerely hope that you’ll buy the book, love the story, post a great review and become a devoted fan. That would make us very happy.

With words we bestow our innermost sadness, hurts, happiness, and fears to you, our dear readers, throughout the year. It’s hard work and we rip our guts out for you. The written word is a powerful gift. Words can change your world view, touch your heart in ways you never imagined, make you laugh out loud, or make you cry.

Sometimes, the gift of a story will remain with you your whole life.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everybody!

http://www.nataliebright.com

Experience the Season


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Experience the Season

By Nandy Ekle

Bright sparkly lights. Cold wind. The taste of peppermint. Festive music. The smell of burning wax from candles. The silvery icicles hung from the tree in our living room window. And magic in the air. These are my memories of Christmas as a child. My mother made new ornaments every year from Styrofoam balls and sequins. My dad wrapped presents and made his own bows. We three kids tried a little harder to get along so Santa wouldn’t bring us coal.

A very strong memory I have is of my parents collecting toys and fun things for a family we knew who were having a hard time. Mom and Dad took us shopping to help find little trinkets for the children of the family since we played together. Our job was to pick out dolls and hair brushes and pony tail holders, wrap them in the colorful paper, then be quiet and pretend we didn’t know anything about it. When my friend, the oldest daughter of the family, called to tell me about the sack of presents left on their porch Christmas Eve night, I had to act amazed to hear that such a thing happened, all the while giggling inside myself.

As an adult, wife, mother, grandmother, we have tried to make our own traditions. The endless baking. Sitting on the floor with gifts, paper, tape and ink pens spread out while I wrap presents. Gathering the same addresses every year for the Christmas cards.

I think in the past couple of years a new tradition has started. This one has nothing to do with the rest of the family, but has everything to do with feelings. The last few years I have woken up on a cold morning humming a song that inspires a new story. I sit at the computer as the sun slowly rises over the horizon and the magic of the season makes a new story appear on the “paper.” The best thing to do when that happens is to go with it. Let the memories, feelings and emotions of the holiday flow and you’ll probably find your best story.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

Music to Write By


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Music to Write By

By Nandy Ekle

 I love all kinds of music and this time of year is rich with tunes. There are hymns to God as well as love to fellow man. There are songs about the magic of the season and joy of children learning about Christmas. And there are always love songs because this time of seems to inspire romance.

For the past few mornings I have woken up with a certain song in my head that I’ve heard on the Christmas radio station. It’s not necessarily a happy song, and that’s why it continues to play through my brain. I know there’s a story in that song.

When I hear the words, its’ easy to slide into that zone and visualize the confusion and torment the singer feels. I hear, see, and feel the whole thing play out. I can even smell the scents in the room where the holiday party is taking place. The character in my head picks up a nibble from a tray and I taste the morsel as he/she pops it into his/her mouth.

My job now is to write down what my character tells me through the song. I need to let go of the reins and let the zone overtake me completely to get my own words on paper.

Listen to one of your favorite Christmas songs and let your senses take over. Let the magic of the season write the story for you.

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

CAKIES


 

CAKIES

by Sharon Stevens

Our daughter called looking for the recipe for Cakies.

She needed to take something to work for Halloween, and thought this treasured family favorite would be the perfect addition for the office celebration. She knew the basic ingredients were devil’s food cake mix, oats, brown sugar and oil, but couldn’t remember the exact ingredients and neither could I.

The recipe for Cakies was given to me years ago by Maggie Henry, a Girl Scout leader.  Once I had perfected it with trial and error, I took it to every PTA, Girl Scout, choir and fundraiser event from the get go. I also made it for Easter, Christmas, and especially Halloween. We would buy cake mixes on sale and freeze them until the next event. And we always kept everything else on hand.  If the girls came home saying they needed to take something to share I knew I couldn’t go wrong with something simple I could fix at a moment’s notice.

That evening I pulled out everything I had collected over the years trying to find what I was looking for. What a trip down memory lane! This brought up the most precious thoughts of our children, and every function we had attended together as a family. I had so much fun going through the collected memories right at my fingertips. Most of the favored ones were spattered, and stained with various and sundry long forgotten splatters.

When I finally found it, I e-mailed the recipe to my daughter, and thought I had added every piece. That evening she called and told me I had neglected to include the amount of oats which could alter the final result. After the discussion, I admitted I had made it wrong all these years or at the very least, hadn’t followed it to the letter.

Isn’t that just like writers? We take a simple basic recipe and change the story to fit our needs. No matter what genre we enjoy, we can adjust, knowing that it won’t ruin the final product, but only enhance our tale.

Our daughter called today and told me that the Cakies went over big, and several had asked for the recipe.  I had forgotten over the years how much fun I had in making this, but also in trying new things. I was never very adventuresome, and knew no matter how hard I tried it would never look like the perfect photo shoot in the magazine. No matter, I always enjoyed a good recipe.

So on the way home I stopped at the United Grocery store and picked up a copy of the November “Accent West”. I knew I would find something I could cook. And there I found it in Becky McKinley’s article about heirloom and family recipes “Cookies, Candies and Pies!” With just a quick glance I realized I had all the ingredients at home to make the Buffalo Chip Cookies.

I wonder what simple changes I can try to make it my own.

CAKIES

Cream 1 egg, ¼- ½ cup water, 1 stick of butter or margarine, ½ cup oil, ½ cup brown sugar

Stir together one box of devil’s food cake mix and 2 cups of oats

NOTE-for years I thought it was old-fashioned oats, but the recipe I founds says quick cooking

Spread into sheet cake pan

Mixture will be very thick.

May add nuts, chocolate chips, or fruit

Can use any kind of cake mix and any frosting.

Spice cake with cream cheese frosting is yummy.

Preheat oven to 375

Bake for 20-25 minutes, cool and cut into bars