A Place to Contemplate

I recently came across a blog that I enjoyed immensely called Seams Like a Story, https://debravandeventer.com/. The author, Debra VanDeventer, is a writer in my hometown of Oro Valley. In fact, as it turns out, she is a neighbor. We met at the Oro Valley Writers’ Forum at our local library. I’m passing this along to our readers because I think you will like Deb’s take on life. She is a writer, seamstress, and grandmotherly adventurer among all the other titles accrued by a woman during a lifetime. She retired from teaching, but it is clear she is and always will be a teacher who looks at life as a learning opportunity. Her most recent blog is about a thing called Hygge – a Danish word that means “courage, comfort, joy.” In our tumultuous times, it is good to have a place to retreat, to contemplate and be comforted. That is what Deb promotes in her latest blog post. Give it a try.

I have commented on my love of writing and what my writing “place” means to me. It is my hygge place where I can retreat to write, read, and contemplate; where hours seem like seconds. I am surrounded by books, music, photos of my people, and pictures that speak to me of places I’ve been either in life or in spirit. It is also a place I share with three cats, my muses. It has taken a lifetime to curate the exact items that give my space that feeling of contentment. Everything in here has a meaning and a memory.  

Stories are born of imagination and experience. Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets is a collaborative memoir of our writers’ group as well as an anthology of the stories we three accumulated through our time together. Most of the writing and editing that I contributed to our book was done in this room at my desk. When we three could not be together in person, we met through Zoom to keep the project alive. Have a blessed day and enjoy your own hygge place.

Tucson Festival of Books

We three, Sally, Jackie, and I, are so excited to announce we have been selected to participate in the Tucson Festival of Books. According to the Festival website, it is the third-largest book festival in the United States. It is held annually since 2009 on the University of Arizona campus during a weekend of spring break. This year the dates are March 4th and 5th. We will be in the Indie Author Pavilion, on Saturday, March 4th from 10am to 1pm with our book. Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets was one of the books selected out of over two hundred submissions. We look forward to meeting readers and writers.

We are doubly happy because being in the festival means Jackie will leave snowy Colorado to join us here in sunny Tucson. It’s been a long time since we’ve been together except for our weekly zooms. Another cause for celebration!!

I plan to attend panel discussions by other authors and get books signed by some of my favorites including J.A. Jance, T.C. Boyle, Cara Black, Luis Alberto Urrea, and Rosemary Simpson. I have to pinch myself to make sure it is not a dream when I think we are presenting our book at the same festival as they are. I’ve read many of J.A. Jance’s books and could not pick a favorite, I like them all. I love Tortilla Curtain and Terranaughts by T.C. Boyle. I gobble up the books by Cara Black who writes about Paris, my favorite city, in her Aimee Leduc thrillers, especially Murder in Saint-Germain. I was introduced to her writing in the anthology A Paris All Your Own. I met Rosemary Simpson at our Oro Valley Writers’ Forum and have enjoyed reading her series of historical mysteries set during the Gilded Age in New York. I was captivated by Luis Alberto Urrea’s book The Hummingbird’s Daughter, an epic story based on the life of his aunt who discovered her amazing healing powers during a time of revolution in Mexico. And on and on I could go.

We hope you can attend if you are in the area. We’d love to meet you and hear your opinion about our book and blog.

Tucson Festival of Books

Whose Ring Is It?

Prompts: Whether you write fiction, non-fiction, or memoir, story is the important element.  Conveying facts through story is the best way to engage your readers. Feeding facts one after another will put a reader to sleep quicker than snow melts at the equator. Creating a story within the boundaries of a prompt (facts) trains your brain to be creative (narrative). This is an example of a quick write making a one-page story from a given set of “facts”.

Jackie’s Prompt: Write one or two pages and include words: pliable, awkward, distance, imagine, sensible. Start the story with: “I picked it up to have a better look and …”

These were the things that first came to my mind.

… I discovered it was alive

…it bit me

….it appeared to be a diamond ring

          I picked it up to have a better look and I probably would not have noticed it except for a brief parting of clouds, a peek-a-boo moment of sun.  The day was covered in a thick gray blanket to keep out all but the faintest daylight at three o’clock. In that moment there was a brilliant flash in the pile of yesterday’s leaves. Is it real? Of course not was the answer that came instantly to mind. How would a diamond ring be in my backyard buried in a pile of leaves that we raked yesterday? I shoved it into my pocket, vowing to check with my housemate. I knew for sure it could not belong to Collin, but it might have belonged to Ellen, his sister. She has a collection of jewelry to rival Musk’s collection of Tweets. Possibly it fell from his pocket as we did yard work. Why would he have it?  Yesterday had been so much fun. We laughed and plunged into piles of leaves like little children as we cleaned up the last of fall’s debris beneath the oak, maple, and sycamore trees that bordered our property. My job today was to bag up all the piles while Collin was gone. The trashman comes tomorrow.

          When I finished pushing leaves into twenty-four black garbage bags I went into the house for a cup of tea. The warmth of the kitchen melted icy fingers that had clamped onto my neck and shoulders in the late afternoon chill. I wrapped my hands around the hot cup letting the steam drift up into my face. I sat at the kitchen counter and pulled the ring from my pocket, a simple wide white gold band with an emerald cut diamond of several carats. It was striking.  Could it be real?

          I reached for my cell phone. Collin left early this morning for a business trip to Hopewell, a distance of about two hundred miles, so I didn’t expect him to be home tonight. I wanted to let him know I’d found the ring in case he was worried. I could not imagine why he’d have it, but I knew he’d be concerned if he discovered it missing.  He answered on the second ring.

          “Busy?” I asked

          “No, the meetings are over and I’m on my way to a hotel. It seemed more sensible to stay over than trying to get home tonight.”

          “Yeah, I figured that. Guess what? I found the ring.”

          “What ring?” He sounded hesitant.

          “Did you lose a ring in the backyard yesterday while we were raking?”

          “I didn’t have a ring.” His voice was gruff, his answer felt abrupt.

          “That’s strange. How would a ring get into our leaf pile?”  There was an awkward pause.

          “What kind of ring?” he asked.

          “It looks like a diamond.”

          “Do you think it’s real?”

          “Don’t know, I’m not an expert. It’s pretty and I’d say if it is real, it’s impressive.  I’ll put it in my jewelry box and you can check it out when you get home. We’ll figure it out. Seems strange though to have a ring randomly show up in the backyard.”

          “Don’t tell anybody about it. Okay?”

          I am usually very pliable when it comes to Collin’s requests. We’ve been best friends for more than a decade and suffered through each other’s ups and downs; his boyfriends, my boyfriends, his business ventures, my writing. Something in his voice sent an alert. My skin prickled.

          “What’s up, Collin?”

          “What’d you mean?”

          “Is it or is it not your ring?”

          “No, I told you. But just don’t make a big deal of it. We’ll talk when I get home. I’m leaving now. See you in about four hours.” He hung up the phone.

What do you know differently from the story’s beginning to the end? This is an example of turning facts into narrative.

An Anniversary Remembrance

My husband and I celebrated our fifty-nineth anniversary a couple of days ago. Wow, it sounds like a lifetime. Well, it almost is. We met in high school and that was that. Going through old journals and blogs (something I do at the end/beginning of a year) I found this piece I wrote ten years ago. I think it is worth revisiting.

August 2012. Steady Eddie and I recently took in a movie called Hope Springs.  At times it was like watching someone suffer with an aching tooth remembering that your toothaches too.  Ouch!  It was also a reminder of why we are married.  Not that there is any good reason as reason goes, just that there are emotional connections and shared memories that cannot be compared or duplicated by any other couple.  They make our marriage, ours.  They make the humdrum every day and annoying things bearable.  They make us laugh together, sigh together, sometimes cry together and smile at each other when no one else can understand.  Those private moments and memories are the superglue that holds our ship together in stormy seas.

I don’t think this movie appeals to a wide audience but considering the number of baby boomers, it has a fairly deep pool from which to pull.  A good friend of our daughter, Calliope, set her criteria for movie-going to a high standard.  “No old people sex”, Lisa once said.  At the time she defined “old people sex” as any hanky panky on screen by anyone over 30.  This movie would definitely not meet her criteria.  Even though overtly it is about the sex follies of the senior set, it is ultimately about the strong link forged through fire and ice by people over years of married life.

So many times – sometimes daily – I get annoyed with Steady Eddie, like a gnat at a picnic that dives at your eyes, ears, and nose.  All I want to do is pinch his head off.  For instance, when he buys the largest container of mayonnaise at Costco that does not fit in our refrigerator without rearranging ALL the shelves and it is so big we don’t have a spoon or spreader long enough to reach the bottom of the container.  Is that not annoying?  Especially when he defends his choice and says he’ll do it again if left on his own at Costco.  To top it off whenever he goes to the frig to make a sandwich he says, “Where did YOU put the mayonnaise?”  and it is the largest thing in the front on the second shelf.  He says, “It is below my eye level so I couldn’t see it”.  Now how can you NOT want to pinch his head off? Eddie, on the other hand, has no reason to be annoyed with me.   Well, maybe I forget to take the safety brake off when I drive his truck.  But that is it.

I do admit Eddie has many endearing qualities.  For one he cooks eggs benedict for me every Saturday morning. Then there are the times when he brings home flowers just to make me smile, or he touches me gently as we pass in the hall, or remembers an obscure special occasion, or lets me know he is thinking about me when I am most vulnerable, that makes all that other stuff go away.  I could make long lists of those good moments, but they wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else but me.

Anyway, most of the time marriage is great and the rest of the time it teaches patience, tolerance, and restraint – all of which are good skills to have so you don’t go to prison for capital murder and leave the children as orphans.

January 2023. More than ten years have passed since I wrote this, and it still holds up. I laugh at the names I assigned people on the premise they can’t sue me if they are not recognized. We’ve shared so many adventures and weathered many more storms in the meantime and our ship is still upright, maybe even stronger as we age together. Thank you, Steady Eddie, you know who you are. I love you.

Ethan Allen Secretary

I began in a rock maple forest of Vermont. I was taken to an enormous mill and fashioned into my current shape at a company called Ethan Allen Furniture. I am what is known as a drop-front secretary. You can open my front panel to reveal the writing desk. When the writing surface is exposed you see six small cubbies, three on one side and three on the other with a drawer beneath each side. The center cubbie is wider and has a shelf beneath it. When the writing surface is closed you see a lock to secure it. Below the writing surface is a shallow drawer the width of the desk, and beneath that are three drawers. One deep file drawer on the right and three smaller drawers on the left. The large file drawer has a lock on the side. I sit on delicate square feet.  

In 1955 I was ordered and shipped to Seattle for Mrs. Louvee. I resided on the west wall near the entry across the living room from the fireplace and big bay window. Next to me was placed a curved spindle back maple chair. On my top rested a hobnob milk glass lamp with two stacking globes connected by brass fittings, and a clear white chimney coming from the top. We were Mrs. Louvee’s delight and the first thing visitors saw when they came into the room.

Mrs. Louvee was meticulous. I was dusted and polished each week. She placed bills to be paid in one of my cubbies, letters to be answered in another, business envelopes in a third, and letter-sized envelopes in a fourth. The other side cubbies were used for office necessities like a stapler, an electric pencil sharpener, a small hole punch, tape, stamps, a clear plastic box of paper clips, and the necessary box of eighteen milk chocolate Ferrero truffles. The two short drawers under the cubbies held pens, pencils, erasers, staples, and lip gloss. The long drawer under the writing surface held important papers and paid bills that would be filed in the large file drawer at some point. The other three smaller drawers held an engagement calendar along with three past year calendars, photographs, and address books – she had several. That was my life until Mrs. moved to Tucson in 1999.

She insisted on bringing me with her to her new, much smaller, home and I had a place in her bedroom. Still dusted and polished, I was no longer on display and seldom used. When she passed, I went to live with her daughter Miss Diana.

What a difference! Now I reside in Miss Diana’s writing room. My inside cubbies are cluttered with a hodge-podge of sticky notes, a flashlight, hand cream, 3 x 5 cards, stickers, stamps, hard drives, bookmarks, photos, candles, DVDs, CDs, and of course a box of chocolates – not Ferrero truffles but dark chocolate cherries and coffee nips. The drawers are crammed with tarot cards, writing prompt cards, outdated manuals for electronics, a whole drawer of old electronics like recorders, headsets, more hard drives. The big file drawer is stuffed with writing notebooks, files of stories, poems, chapters of partially written books, and miscellaneous notes. Neatness doesn’t count. I have not seen a dusting rag or polish in at least six years. My top is littered with old photos, a Kleenex box, a glass keepsake box full of who-knows-what, a stack of coasters, and a stack of books. A lamp that looks like a stack of kittywampus books took the place of the lovely milk glass lamp. Around me is a plethora of books and papers Miss Diana uses as she creates word pictures. An old office chair sits before me. Sigh. But I am used daily. I am no longer an occasional piece of gleaming furniture. I have a very important job.  Even if I don’t look so good – I’m happy.

Christmas Gift

This week we hosted a reunion of our family and former neighbors.

Our fourteen-year-old grandson, David, met two neighborhood children when they were all two-years-old. We were his full-time caregivers while his mom, our daughter, worked. David was at our home every weekday and grew up with the kids in our neighborhood. As time passed, changes were inevitable. Jill’s family moved to Washington DC and Bobby’s moved to a different part of Tucson. We kept in touch sporadically during the years as the kids grew. Our grandson was, for a while, in the same school as Bobby, when he lived across the street. But by the age of seven, they were all separated with Jill being the farthest.

The boys get together several times a month and remain close friends. Our daughter took David to Washington DC one summer to visit Jill and her family. Another summer, they met halfway in Chicago. Jill’s family visited Tucson once and all three kids got together.

This year they made the trip to Tucson for a short visit. We hosted the reunion at our house. All the adults wondered how the teens would react to each other after a four-year separation. By noon the boys sat by the window watching for Jill’s arrival. It was an amazing greeting. All three kids moved right into the space of their friendship as if only a day or two had passed. They chatted non-stop. In the afternoon they took a two-hour walk while we, grownups, were fixing dinner. They bought sweet rolls for our dessert.

After dinner, the kids went into the room that we keep for David’s occasional overnights; the room that once housed his toys and where he napped as a baby. On his walls are photo posters that I made each year from when he was two until seven. All three kids are in those posters. They stayed in the room reminiscing over their pictures, laughing and talking for quite a while. I know those memories meant something to them.

Greater than any wrapped present, purchased or made, is the gift of friendship. We know these three will maintain their relationship as they become adults. Each is on the brink of adulthood now, each has their own interests, their unique set of talents, their own friends at schools but they will always remember the closeness that came of their time as children. Another reunion, possibly in California, is being planned for summer. David has no siblings, Bobby has no siblings, and Jill has a sister seven years younger. The relationship the three teens created is very like brothers and sister – family.

Where I Am From

In this hurly-burly of year-end and holidays, it is nice to take a breath and reflect. Who am I now? With each year and the myriad of experiences it brings, it is good to assess the changes that may have been of consequence. Births, deaths, marriages, jobs, illness can all impact our sense of self. What is at your core and how was it created?

As Sally posted on Wednesday, I also admire Amanda Le Rougetel’s blog What’s My Story from her blogsite, https://fiveyearsawriter.blogspot.com/. I did not rise to Amanda’s challenge to make my story in sixty-five words or less. However, it is a great way to describe yourself by encapsulating your experiences in a short poem. In light of Sally’s post “Who Am I”, I was reminded of a prompt Beth Alvarado gave us in a 2013 writing group.  Write a poem that describes where you are from. (I know, I know – don’t end a sentence with a preposition – cardinal error). In 1998 George Ella Lyon, a Kentucky poet, wrote a book titled Where I Am From that was used as a model in teaching memoir writing. Clues to who you are come directly from your roots and experiences. Those memories are touchstones that reconnect me deeply back to myself in chaotic times, physical or emotional. Each stanza describes places that formed my view of the world, places where I was at home or where I lived tenuously until I could move on, ending in Tucson where I belong. I was born in Kansas, spent summers over many years with grandparents in Colorado, lived forty years in Western Washington, and finally settled in the Southwest that combines the sunshine of Kansas, the mountains of Colorado, and the extraordinary high desert skies. These short phrases packed with images, smells, and sounds tell my story.

Where I Am From

I am from the traveling wind, wide blue skies, and waving wheat

Great-grandma’s raw onions by the supper plate

Great-grandpa’s coffee can spittoon beside his rocker

Refrigerator on the back porch and dirt fruit cellar

Fireflies on summer nights

I am from the deep dark earth, mountain highs

Fishing at Estes Park

Honeysuckle, snapdragons, and putting up the beans

A ringer on the washing machine

Cold fried chicken and white bread with butter and sugar

I am from endless gray skies,

Armies of black-green sentinel firs reaching to the clouds

City of a thousand cultures mingled like succulent odors of stew

The drizzle of cold, the smell of mold

Wind in the sails, islands in the fog

I am from the knife-edged mountain peaks with hidden crevices

That rise from the desert floor

Coyotes howling, javelina prowling

The soul-filling smell of the creosote bush after summer monsoons

The endless blue of sky and translucent flower of prickly pear

This is one of the poems published in our book, Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets; Chapter 4, page 285. I sincerely hope you are creating happy memories with family and friends during this holiday season.

Weekend Project

I recently read a poem by Tom Chester titled Sedimentology (Sedimentology – TURN-STONE) in which he more or less describes my writing room. I don’t know about all writers but some I know have a similar problem – collections of words that pile up in various forms to make hillocks and eventually mountains of paper, bound and unbound. I looked around my room and decided that this weekend would be dedicated to moving those mountains. Books were replaced on shelves where they belonged – the easiest task. It took the better part of two days, but I excised a Hefty bag full of detritus that has been collecting for weeks and months; piles on every horizontal surface including the floor. The remaining notes, papers, letters, and clippings were properly classified and tucked into labeled file folders, then housed in one of three file cabinets according to their category: business, personal, or writing references. I also have a small box of mementos that don’t fit in files but will reside on a shelf in a closet until I forget why I kept them.

These pictures are not MY writing room but a close proximity to what it looked like. I didn’t take a photo of my room in its disarray.

The file labeled Bits and Pieces is the thickest. It contains jagged pieces of envelopes and napkins, published thought-provoking articles, and scribbled lined-pages of half thought out ideas that didn’t make it into one of my notebook/journals. The journals, themselves, take up a couple of shelves in a bookcase. Much of the time spent in this exercise was rereading those precious scraps of writing, so urgently recorded that, at one time, seemed quite brilliant; tossing most. The saved ones are worthy of becoming a short story, a poem, or a blog post. I rediscovered letters from friends that need to be answered – better late than never. Of course, my three cat-comrades, Nunny Catch, Oliver, and Sadie, assisted by roaming among the sorted piles, and across my lap insisting on head rubs while I sat on the floor where they could easily reach me. It was labor, long overdue, and totally worth the effort. A cleansing of sorts. Now I can enter my tidy room and get right to my desk without moving or avoiding piles. Ahh, that feels good. The sad reality is that those mountains will rebuild over the next year – despite the best of intentions.

Why I Write

It’s about Power.

As a writer of fiction, I can create a city, a village, a country, a world. I can fill it with characters that I love or love to hate. I can imbue them with a certain amount of free will and, if I don’t like how they use it, I have the power of the eraser or delete key. The characters I create may be human or they may be animals, even mechanical beings, or a combination of these.  I can ride down a country road feeling the fluid strength of the steed beneath me, enjoying the bucolic scene of field and meadow, knowing that around the next bend there is a plot twist that will change my story, transform the world. I can change the weather from stormy to sunny and back again. In short, I am god.  I can wander through forests of words and chop down the one I want to take to a sentence I’m constructing. I can plunge into oceans of emotions to catch the one that will give my character motivation to propel the story forward.

Similarly, when I write memoir or creative non-fiction, I take an event from the headlines or from memory and, while sticking to the reality of it, invent or reimagine dialogue I did not hear or do not remember. I give the incident a spin to emphasize the part I think is important or transformative. It is my story told my way. This kind of writing does require research to authenticate it. I enjoy research because it opens the discovery of things I did not know and enriches knowledge that I then mine for other stories.  I prefer fiction and poetry because I am not bounded by facts, annoying facts that constrict my imagination.

Writing is an inexpensive form of entertainment and also therapy. The cost of a pencil and paper can set me up for hours and hours of diversion. I disappear into a world I create. Sometimes it is hard for me to resurface, to attend to my daily tasks and the real-life characters, human and animal, who live with me. I am glassy-eyed and slightly incoherent for a time when I leave my writing desk depending on how long I have been immersed in writing. My dear husband can attest to the state of suspended animation that surrounds me. I gave up the idea of writing the great American novel by the time I was thirty. I write for myself because I love to play god.


There is only one. My husband and I went to see the movie, Elvis, with Austin Butler as Elvis and Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker. Let me just say, Austin may be a good actor, but he is no Elvis. The 1979 movie with Kurt Russell as The King was a more convincing portrait. This new movie, however, was heavy on the portrayal of Parker and his relationship with Elvis. Tom Hanks disappeared into the role of the Colonel. He was amazing. How sweet Tom H. could embody the sleaze that was Parker makes it clear he is an incredible actor. This is not meant to be a movie critique. Many of my friends saw the show and have differing opinions. I think it is doing well at the box office but I would not recommend it. The music, of course, carries the show.

I was twelve when Elvis entered my life. He had been around for a while by then, but it was his music played on KJR in Seattle that got my attention. I think the fervent plea Don’t Be Cruel was my introduction. With the urgency only a teen can understand, I talked my mom into taking me to the record store. In those days there were stores dedicated to vinyl records, where you could spend hours listening to your favorite songs at individual turntables with headphones. It was a Saturday pastime for me and my friends. I bought a 45 of Don’t Be Cruel with Hound Dog on the B side.  Don’t Be Cruel was played until there were no more grooves, Hound Dog not so much. With my babysitting money, I bought each album as they came out from 1957 to 1963. Elvis was the guest of honor at all sleepovers with my friends – swooning, giggling, weeping, whispered secrets, popcorn, hot dogs, layered jello dessert, and coke, the order of the night. The walls in my bedroom were papered floor to ceiling and wall to wall around windows and closets with Elvis pictures taken from fan magazines. That is impressive in my memory because my mother was a stickler for clean and orderly. Nothing in her house was less than perfect – except my room. I teased her that she lived in a Doris Day movie – sheets and underwear ironed; closets, cupboards, and drawers in color coordinated tidy stacks and rows. The fact that she accommodated my obsession with Elvis adorning every nook and cranny of my room for six years is, as I look back, a testament to love or maybe just giving up to a headstrong teen. When I married and left home, the room was quickly reclaimed.

In 1963, as a newly engaged woman, I believed it was time to put those teenage things away and become the adult my new status decreed, even though I was still 18. I had my own real-life love (even better looking than Elvis in my eyes) so dream lovers were no longer significant. I gave all my LP’s and 45’s to my sixteen-year-old neighbor who was as ga-ga about Elvis as I had been.

Now fifty-eight years later I am an Elvis fan-atic once again after being reintroduced to his music.  I listen to his channel on SiriusXM Radio, on Amazon Music, and Alexa. I rediscovered songs I forgot. His voice is unmistakable and moves me whether I’m listening to heartfelt gospel, crooned love ballads, or feverish rock and roll tunes. They send me back in time, but in another way, I enjoy a new perspective after living and loving for so many years. Thank you, Elvis. Your legacy is very much appreciated.

This is one of the stories in my life, a short version. It is important to recognize all the stories that make up a life and honor them. Sharing tales, fiction, and non-fiction, is how humans connect. We discover that we have more in common and our differences become less important. As we show in our book, Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets, a writers’ group can help a writer develop those stories for themselves and their families. Take some time today to write a memory.