How’s Your Penmanship?


Outtakes 221

How’s Your Penmanship?

By Cait Collins

It’s getting closer to the holidays and I’m starting to put my to-do list together. One of my big things is my Christmas card list. I like keeping in touch with family and old friends. I’m very particular about the cards I send. I can spend an hour or more going through the card displays at my favorite Hallmark store. I buy special pens and nice envelope seals.

I hand-address and sign every card. Some have short hand-written notes. Instead of a computer generated letter, I write my letters individually and gear them to the recipient. Do not misunderstand, I enjoy reading the annual newsletters I receive, and if I had a huge list, I would probably do a computer letter. But my list is relatively small, so I write the letters.

So what goes into my letters? It depends on the person, but I try to recall good memories, update friends and family on important events during the year, inquire on goings on with their families, and end with good wishes for the holiday. Each letter is personal.

My mom taught me the importance of the Christmas card tradition. Being in the military, we were often separated from family and friends during the holidays. Cards and notes were Mom’s way of being part of the extended family when we were not able to be home for Christmas. Her list grew with each transfer as she added new friends. Sadly, she would receive notes letting her know of the passing of a special friend. Her address book was filled with pages with names lined through. It was her way of saying “Gone, but not forgotten.” When she became too ill to write her cards, I took on the task. Sometimes I would have to ask her about the person so I could target the letter. I always made sure to get the letters completed early so she could sign them.

As we become more technology oriented, we tend to neglect the old ways. We lose touch with folks who were parts of our lives. We forget there are ties that keep us together, and memories that had impact on us. This holiday season why not reach out to those who hold special places in our hearts. Write a letter. Tuck it inside of a holiday card. The rewards are priceless.

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Lists


Outtakes 214

Lists

By Cait Collins

 

I love lists. I can’t take a trip, plan a party, or shop for special occasions without making a least one list. Folks laugh at my purse-size notebooks, but I do stay organized and I don’t forget what I need to buy or pack. I even keep a mini-ledger to track my spending so that I stay on budget.

The question is, “What do my lists have to do with writing?” There are a couple of applications. While lists keep me organized in my personal life, I cannot write from outlines. I have writer friends who need the structure of an outline and detailed character sketches. I know others who write by the seat of their pants. Lack of structure could potentially create pitfalls for the author. On the other hand, too many details can stifle creativity. Personally, I enjoy the discussions I have with my characters. Their point of view has helped me rework scenes. Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose, but the conversations are fund.

While I don’t outline or track turning points, I do keep some lists and notes. Pulitzer Prize winning author, Michael Cunningham, taught an advanced writing group the importance of lists. One exercise was to make a list of 20 physical characteristics of our hero. The characteristics were to employ the five senses. When the list was complete, we were to write the opening paragraph to our story and use six of those items in the opening. I was amazed at how alive the hero became. When having problems creating vibrant characters, I employ this method and it does help me rework the scenes around the characters.

Different writing personalities must find an organization method that works for them. There is really no right or wrong way to structure a story. A rough draft might be an outline. Or a timeline can keep the author focused. The most important thing is to write the story.

 

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.

 

Relax


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Relax

By Nandy Ekle

Shopping, cooking, eating, decorating, partying, wrapping, mailing, planning, eating, cleaning, making up extra beds, staying up late hours, hugging, kissing, laughing, crying, eating, re-cleaning, unwrapping, redecorating, good-bying, and re-cleaning again. From the beginning of November through the beginning of January, life is nonstop chaos. And for those of us whose comfort is routine and order, The Holidays are exhausting. Add to that a full-time job, unfinished stories and a cruel conscience, and, well, no wonder the muse vanishes every time we boot up the computer.

Now, it’s over. The time has come to put things back in order and continue on with your life. But you’re tired. No, that’s not right. You’re EXHAUSTED. You put your hands on the keys and watch them just sit there. Ideas bounce around in your head with characters and scenes.

What you really need is rest. Give yourself permission to take one week off. Heal, rest, relax.

But don’t forget that while you’re resting and relaxing, your characters are frozen exactly where you left them, which, depending on where they are and what they’re doing, can be very awkward.

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

Relax


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Relax

By Nandy Ekle

Shopping, cooking, eating, decorating, partying, wrapping, mailing, planning, eating, cleaning, making up extra beds, staying up late hours, hugging, kissing, laughing, crying, eating, re-cleaning, unwrapping, redecorating, good-bying, and re-cleaning again. From the beginning of November through the beginning of January, life is nonstop chaos. And for those of us whose comfort is routine and order, The Holidays are exhausting. Add to that a full-time job, unfinished stories and a cruel conscience, and, well, no wonder the muse vanishes every time we boot up the computer.

Now, it’s over. The time has come to put things back in order and continue on with your life. But you’re tired. No, that’s not right. You’re EXHAUSTED. You put your hands on the keys and watch them just sit there. Ideas bounce around in your head with characters and scenes.

What you really need is rest. Give yourself permission to take one week off. Heal, rest, relax.

But don’t forget that while you’re resting and relaxing, your characters are frozen exactly where you left them, which, depending on where they are and what they’re doing, can be very awkward.

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

Holiday Blessings


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

Holiday Blessings

By Nandy Ekle

We love our relatives–our mothers, fathers, siblings, in-laws, out-laws, and everyone in between.  Each family is as unique as the individuals that make it up. No two families are alike. And that’s what makes our holiday times special.

Most of our family members are pure gold and we can’t wait to be with them. We feel so warm and comfortable with them and hate when the time comes to go our separate ways again. There are other members of our family who . . . well, we shake our heads and wonder if our genes actually match.

But I learned something a few years ago. After a fairly stressful year, a new job, a few changes in the dynamics of my immediate family, and an injury–the holidays felt more like impending doom than fun and joy. I slipped away into my own world and read a book (don’t even remember which book) and I found the answer to my holiday joylessness.

If I could change my attitude, I was sure I would find a way to enjoy the whole yuletide process. I knew the people I would be around, I knew that I love them and would do anything for them. And that’s when it dawned on me. I would be in a goldmine. I would be surrounded by characters and stories that I could embellish like a Christmas tree.

And boom! There it was! I was suddenly excited about the holidays.

I repeat, I love every single member of my family, the ones I’ve known my whole entire life, the ones who have joined us over the years, and the newest ones. The thought of spending time with the whole crazy bunch thrills me. There is always fun and laughter, joy and love. And through it all, the muse sits on my shoulder taking notes.

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

PATRIOTISM


PATRIOTISM

by Sharon Stevens

n. patriot+ism- love and loyal or zealous support of one’s own country,especially in all matters involving other countries; nationalism.     Websters New World Dictionary

In honor, memory, and celebration of my grandparents Richard & Anna Groves

What I know about patriotism I learned from my grandparents. During World War II families were encouraged to invite servicemen from the local air base for holiday meals. Rationing dictated they could only host two men at a time. The soldiers chosen for my grandparents refused to come unless they could bring a third. Their friend was of Chinese descent from California, and though he fought in Uncle Sam’s army he was unwelcome outside the base.

Grandfather had served in World War I in France in the Balloon Corp when the Armistice was signed. He knew how it felt to be so far from home at any time, but especially during the holiday season. Also their son was serving in Italy. Grandmother found it hard to imagine her first born a world away, and hoped he could find refuge with a family there. So without hesitation they opened their hearts to these three young men.

My mother remembers that first Thanksgiving of the war. They ate turkey with all the trimmings, and cakes made within rationing guidelines.

From that point on the soldier became a surrogate son. Christmas came and went, New Years and Valentine’s Day followed. Every spare moment found him at their address and not just for meals. Weekends were spent playing cards and listening to the radio with the family. Many of the other soldiers spent time off the base riding the bus downtown, to the drive inns, to the dances…his refuge was found within.

I have thought back over my grandparents efforts many times. Outside their home this young man would have faced certain discrimination, an ugliness aimed at his features though he wore the uniform of an American soldier.

In sharing the family hearth my grandparents weren’t marching in cadence with a military band, or saluting the flag with their hands over their hearts as the Star Spangled Banner stirred their soul. Their gesture spanned countless generations of dedicated Americans. They were doing what they could for the war effort by offering a warm meal with filling hearts while they filled bellies. Our family celebrated freedom just by welcoming a young soldier, AND the two friends who refused to leave him behind…simply a shining example linking the heritage of all patriots across time.

Through this legacy I know wars aren’t just won on the battlefield. Patriotism is practiced by those warriors who merely keep the home fires burning.

Sharon Stevens