Second Chances

As the fifth anniversary of my being revived after a Sudden Cardiac Arrest happened (in 2010), I wanted to write about it. After all, we don’t all get a second chance at life. I wanted to commemorate the occasion. However, what I found was that I couldn’t write the story as a true memoir.

I don’t know if I didn’t trust my writing skills. I didn’t know if I doubted my ability to tell the story in a heartfelt and meaningful way. Or – most likely – I didn’t have the strength to dig down deep and acknowledge my true feelings and thoughts from life since that moment.

So, I did what any self-respecting ‘chicken’ would do. I wrote the book but told it in a fictional manner. I created Jenny and had her tell her story. So, although many of the incidents and thoughts are true, including pieces of my actual journal entries here and there, it’s told as a fictional tale in A Second Chance.

I had thoughts about writing another book, this time a true memoir. But it’s not going to happen this year. This year is already so horrendously crazy that I know it won’t happen. Plus…I need to find where I filed all my notes and journals from twelve years ago. You know, where I stashed them for ‘safekeeping’.

Here’s a snippet from A Second Chance.

In trying to narrow down what I really wanted to do with my life, I started examining my dreams and goals. When I talked to someone else, I asked them what theirs were. I guess I thought that in seeing what everyone else dreamed of, I’d find a clue to my own ambitions.

I asked my friends about theirs.

Carla wanted to travel. A lot.

Amber wanted to lose weight. And she wanted to meet a wonderful man and fall in love.

Nancy never shared her private dreams. If she had any, she kept them hidden deep within.

Wanda, she just wanted to be famous. Although she professed that her dream was ‘to help others’, she was more transparent than she thought and time soon revealed her true motives.

I asked people that I met around the neighborhood and while out on errands.

The postman, he wanted to win a marathon.

The cashier at the grocery store, her big dream was to complete her bachelor’s degree.

I asked my coworkers at Crafty Hands.

Diane dreamed of finishing her showpiece garden.

Leanne’s dream was to open her own animal shelter.

Jane dreamed of having a successful business – any business – that wasn’t Crafty Hands.

Marvin fooled me. I thought his answer would be a promotion to manager. Nope. His dream was simply to hang on through the next five years and make it to retirement.

Go to Fiji, work at a big cat sanctuary, learn to weave, learn to make soap…every person I asked had something different. Some desires were small and achievable. Some longings were lofty and seemingly unattainable.

Most could only be accomplished after many steps and sometimes a lot of effort. Patience and fortitude would be required before many saw their end result.

A marathon runner doesn’t go from nothing to a five mile run without repetitive practice and work. Every day, or several times a week, the runner is sprinting, gaining endurance, and building their muscles. Hot or cold. Sunshine or rain. The runner practices, practices, practices until the goal is achieved.

No one else’s dreams and goals helped me focus on my innermost desires. But, they pointed out lessons I still needed. Perseverance was a common denominator in most of the goals. Patience was another.

Practice was needed for almost all of them.

Thinking of the inner critic mentioned above, my thoughts traveled to: I should have done this. I should have said this. I should have added this. That dreaded inner critic of mine never shuts up or goes away.

However, this harping pesky critter, so annoying and obnoxious, often bore knowledge I needed to see or learn.

I’m not the best observer of details. I’ve admitted this for a long time. I’ve often joked that I’d be a horrible police witness. If someone asked me to describe a robber, I’d probably say, “Ummmmm…It was a guy. Just your average guy. Hmmmmm…What he was wearing? I don’t remember. T-shirt and jeans? Maybe a ball cap. Glasses? I don’t remember. I didn’t pay that much attention.”

This inner critic sat on my shoulder the other day, yammering away. As if it’s ever gone for long. It’s summer and the weather is beautiful. You’d think it would be off relaxing somewhere, on a tropical beach or someplace. But no! Here it was, hanging out with me, in the back of a huge air-conditioned building where you can’t even see a window or the glorious outdoors, watching me cut fabric. It sprawled across my shoulder, making itself comfortable.

“Psssst,” I heard a soft whisper in my ear.

I ignored it.

“PSSSSTTTT,” it got louder.

I tried swatting it off of my shoulder, to no avail. It can be so persistent, that inner critic.

“HEY!” it screamed at me. I swear, I think it moonlights wearing that tight little red suit, complete with gleaming horns, a pointed tail and pitchfork in hand.

“What do you want?” I answered back. “Can’t you see I’m working here?”

“You’re not very observant,” Ms. IC told me.

“Yeah, so tell me something I don’t know. Go away, I’m busy.”

“You don’t notice details.”

“Okay,” I admitted. “So…I don’t notice details. I’ve never been good about paying attention to little things. There are more important things in this world than seeing what kind of shirts and shoes everyone has on. So, what about it?”

Ms. IC straightened up her shoulders and cleared her throat. “Don’t you see? If you want to be fully aware of life, you need to pay attention to details. It’s the specifics that will add dimension. You can’t go around, cloaked in oblivion, in your own little world.”

Ah, the voice of wisdom. I stopped trying to swat her off my shoulder and stroked the top of her cute little head.

Minor, insignificant details; I need to pay attention to them. I realized that this will take practice. Maybe I should shoot for that marathon instead. No, I’ll keep muddling through with my other efforts. A bruised ego sounds less painful than hurting, aching muscles.

It’s a funny thing about life, I found. It’s odd to see how the lessons build on each other. Or, was it that the more aware I became, the more I saw?

Researching in Today’s World

One day, on a break at work, I started pulling my thoughts together for an essay I want to write about family stories from World War II. I was still in the preliminary phase. I’d started a handwritten introductory paragraph. I’d also pulled my notes from when I’d talked to my dad’s cousin four years ago. I had a general idea of a few stories she mentioned from war time, but I needed to go back and re-read my notes to make sure I was remembering correctly. And also, to see if I’d forgotten a tidbit or two!

As I was jotting topic ideas in the margin, trying to organize my ideas so they’d flow naturally, a few questions came to mind.

What years was World War II fought? I know early ‘40’s, but never seem to remember the exact years.

What year was Pearl Harbor bombed? December 7th is ingrained in my mind, but not the year.

As I re-read my notes, I saw a mention about how Dorothy read ten books at the library’s summer reading program and won tickets to go see Bambi. The second movie shown was Union Pacific. She hadn’t mentioned any year, or how old she was, and I wasn’t where it fell in the wartime memories she was sharing. One thing I’ve noticed as I try to collect family stories is that they don’t follow a timeline very well. Memories and thoughts seem to jump around. When was Bambi released? When was Union Pacific released?

There questions needed answered before I started getting into the meat of the essay, but I was sitting in my car on a break, miles from my computer or a local library. So out came the phone, I opened a browser and started typing away.

The war was fought from 1939-1945. Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. Bambi was released August 13, 1942. Union Pacific was released 4/27/1939.

Wow! In less than three minutes I had the answers I needed and could start crafting the skeleton of the essay. Ten years ago, I would have had to be at home, connected to a computer. Twenty or twenty-five years ago I would have had to have a set of encyclopedias or make a trip to the library. And now, with a few swipes and taps, I can pull up unlimited information to answer just about any question I have.

When I’m at a family gathering or a social event and see all the faces buried in their phones, I gripe quite a bit about technology and what it has done to our world. But you know, I may have to take some of those grumbles back, because this handy access sure is useful too!

Quilts from the Past

I’ve already admitted in previous blogs how much I enjoy using pieces from the past as inspiration for stories. Sometimes it’s postcards. Sometimes it’s old pictures. Sometimes it’s vintage dish towels. Often, vintage quilts force their way into my stories too.

Years ago, in southern California, I stopped at a yard sale and stole a whole laundry basket full of vintage quilt tops and quilt squares. No, don’t go picking up the phone to call the sheriff. I didn’t really steal them. I paid for them. In cash. I forget whether it was fifteen or twenty dollars. (It was about twenty years ago, so cut my memory some slack, please.) But for that nominal amount, I got three old quilt tops, two of them hand stitched, and a set of thirty quilt squares created in 1934. So, yes, I stole them!

Of the thirty quilt squares, 27 of them had names stitched on them. I know the year was 1934, because one had the year stitched into the bonnet, along with “From Mother, To Doris.”

It took me many years to discover where the squares originated from. By then, I’d moved to Texas, far from where I’d purchased the quilted goods. By then, additional information had been put online, and I found that the women and young girls came from Athelstan, Iowa, a town that no longer existed (except for the few remaining old buildings).

I don’t have the square anymore. When I discovered that a museum nearby would take them, I headed to Iowa to hand them over. They held a Quilt Tea for me, and I met many of the descendants of the women that stitched these squares so long ago, many who are dear friends to this day.

If you’re anywhere near southern Iowa, you can check them out – along with many other wonderful delights – in the most fabulous place – The Taylor County Historical Museum. There are so many delightful treasures there that you could spend all day there – and more – delighting in their pieces of the past.

Just a note – I’m at work at finally writing the story about these squares, which will be my Christmas book this fall. Calico Connections. But I’ll post more about that when I have the cover and we’re closer to the end point.

One of the quilt tops that was in the laundry basket of items was an unusual pattern. It was similar to one called Grandma’s Flower Garden, along with a few other popular names that I’m not recalling as I write this. But the main pattern had an extra hexagon on each side, elongating the design. I loved this quilt top so much, it’s hanging in my window where I write, so I can see it every day. (Protected from the sunlight from the back with a doubled navy blue sheet, of course!)

Several years ago, I finally discovered the pattern name – Diamond Field.

I wanted to use the quilt top in a story, but I also didn’t want it to compete with the quilt squares. (You can find out more about them in Memories on Muslin, or in a easy reader children’s book – A Gift from the Heart, written as Jasper Lynn.) So, I did what fiction writers can do – I moved them.

Having some research from an area in northern Arkansas, Goshen and Mayfield, near my Dad’s house, I moved the quilt top south and proceeded to write the story about some women from Arkansas. (My apologies to whoever created the quilt top originally, most likely someone from Doris Morris’ family in Iowa)

The Diamond Field Quilt is a short story in Pieces of the Past, a collection of 13 historical fiction short stories. It was slated to be out by now, but I got held up with extra medical appointments, scans, infusions etc. (Not for me, but my better half) Pieces of the Past should be out by Mother’s Day.

But even though the writing and publishing isn’t going nowhere near as quickly as I’d planned for this year, I still enjoy looking at the creative work that someone spent so much time on so many, many years ago. Each hexagon, hand stitched together, with many rows of hexagons between them. I can’t fathom the patience it took to stich these all by hand. I tip my hand to you, anonymous woman from the past.

Postcards Turn Into Writing Projects

I used to write in a monthly blog hop – The Insecure Writers Support Group. One month they asked the question: Has a single photo or work of art ever inspired a story? What was it and did you finish it?

I had to laugh as I read that month’s question. They were asking me? The self-proclaimed Queen of the Antique Stores? The one who can’t always afford to buy the coveted treasures she sees displayed on the shelves and counters?

Ah, but never fear…I can afford to buy photographs and postcards, and thus have filled up my own coffers with these wondrous paper delights. Some of these photographs, and many of the postcards, have been making their way into my Vintage Daze Short Stories. Although many tales are still in the ‘In Progress’ status, and some in the done–but-editing-phase, a few short stories completed and published.

Dear Arlie began with some postcards I inherited from Pauline, an elderly woman that I grew up next door to. The postcards she sent to a friend from 1907-1911 kicked off the story, but then I added vintage photographs from her companion, Bea’s, scrapbook to embellish Dear Arlie.

Another postcard that I discovered in an antique store on one of my jaunts inspired the beginning of a story, The Grotto. The Grotto is a magnificent creation in Iowa that is still in existence. On this story, I had many snippets of Iowa history that I wanted to include, but they were from a wide range of time. Wanting to stay within a short story length and not have a full saga, on this story I created a current day woman visiting her grandmother that suffers from dementia. This way the different periods of time come out in varying memories through their visits. This story is only about halfway completed. It got pushed aside last year so I could start working on some Christmas short stories and I haven’t returned to it yet.

I have a feeling that many authors reading this will be nodding their heads in agreement about the ‘never returned to it yet’ phrase.

Although, I have to share that this postcard in a round about way started off my Christmas book from last year – The POW’s Legacy. During my research for this story, I discovered another fascinating tidbit from northern Iowa, not too far from the grotto. During World War II, a POW camp in Algona housed German soldiers. One man, with a few helpers, created a nativity scene from native materials. It was so well liked that the camp commander asked him about making a larger scene for the next year. Over 75-years later, this nativity scene is still displayed each Christmas. (Up until 2020, when for the first time Covid shut down the display.)

When I was talking to a friend about writing, a friend that happened to come from Iowa, I found out that not only had she visited the Grotto – many times – she’d also seen the nativity scene. She shared a booklet with me that had many stories from the WW2 days, including one from her aunt – and The POW’S Legacy was born.

So many postcards. So many stories I can tell from the many vintage postcards I own. So little time…

Christmas Ornament On A Tree In Front Of The Blue Sea

On the Road Again

For the ‘O’ Day in the A to Z Blog Challenge, I’m sharing ‘On the Road Again’ – the story about my Mom’s Easter in 1942, when Easter fell on a day when the family was moving from the West Coast back to the Arkansas hills. This wasn’t the first year that the family was ‘on the road again’. But it was the year that she had an Easter dilemma. One that engraved itself in her memory and was repeated to us many times throughout the years.

It was featured in Prairie Times this month – on the front page! I wish Mom were still alive so she could see her younger self on the front page of a monthly paper, holding the doll she’d gotten for Christmas one year.

Here’s a link to the Prairie Times paper – one of my favorite publications. I’ll also include the story here, so if you want to just keep reading it here without going to another site.

Iona Mae’s Easter Dilemma

Iona Mae turned five a month before Pearl Harbor was bombed. But that disaster didn’t weigh heavily on her. She had bigger problems to fret about.

With four kids in the Jones household now, was Mama going to be able to sew her a pretty new dress for Christmas? Was she going to be able to master the alphabet that teacher was trying to teach her? Would cousin Fred share a piece of Black Jack gum with her?

She had little time to worry about the war or the blackouts. Not with all the huge issues she had to deal with.

That wasn’t the same for her daddy, Casey Jones. He worried about the bombing at Pearl Harbor, along with many others living near the California coastline.

His fears were very real and of greater magnitude than little Iona Mae faced in her kindergarten class.

Would the Japanese bomb California next? Many sightings of Japanese fighter planes were too close to the coast for comfort. Several ships not far off the coastline were shot at. Nightly blackouts with citizens patrolling to ensure not a peep of light escaped the houses, did little to ease Casey’s fears.

“We’re moving. Back to Arkansas. Back to the hills. We won’t be bombed there.”

The family waited until the last week of March. Iona Mae had spring break from school. It was a better time to pull her out and move. And the weather would be better.

By the end of the week the old Chevy was packed to the gills with everything that they could take. There was barely room for Casey and Bea to fit in the car, along with the four children. Suitcases and boxes filled the lower portion of the back seat. A blanket laid across the top made room for Iona, Bill, and Helen to lay. The newest baby, Tom, rode on Bea’s lap.

And they were off – headed to the Ozarks where Papa Goss lived in the house in the holler. No running water. No electricity. Not even an outhouse.

The family was on a grand adventure. They progressed at a much slower rate than we’re used to traveling today, inching their way across the map. No motels for this traveling family. They stopped at night at the side of the road and laid blankets out on the ground to sleep on.

But this journey across the states added another trouble for Iona Mae to worry about.

They’d left California during her school break. Which came right before Easter. They weren’t going to be home for the holiday.

“How is the Easter Bunny going to find us, Mama?”

This question probably peppered her parents along the miles, much as the ‘Are we there yet?’ questions plaque today’s parents.

“We’re not at home. How will the Easter Bunny find us?” It was indeed a big concern for a tiny one who adored getting candy on this special occasion. There were few sweets in their day-to-day life.

Easter morning arrived while they were still traveling. Iona Mae opened her eyes and lay there on the blanket next to the car. In the middle of the four sleeping children was a paper mache rabbit – stuffed full of candy.

“The Easter Bunny did find us!” she squealed.

Bea’s sly grin was the only thing that gave her away. She was a mother prepared. She’d thought ahead and was going to make sure her children had goodies for the special day. She had her priorities – her man and her children.

Iona Mae didn’t notice her mother’s secretive smile; she was too busy sifting through the candy to see if her favorite flavor was in there – black licorice.


Growing up in Southern California, there were two elderly ladies living next door. Bea and Pauline. Occasionally mentioned separately, but somehow, as a young child, knowing the two housebound women, they always seemed to be mentioned together. Mutt and Jeff. Laurel and Hardy. You know how it is – always both names.

I believe they bought the house and moved in shortly before my mom and dad married and bought next door. When I was first born and a toddler, they may have been out and about more. But if they were, I don’t remember that. My memories of the two neighbors is that they were always inside.

Pauline spent a lot of time in her room watching the black and white television. I remember going to visit and sitting in her room and talking to her as she lay in bed. Sometimes I’d be reading in their living room and Pauline would get up, make her way through the kitchen to open a can of peaches and offer me some. Bea was usually camped out at the dining room table which was covered with stacks of all her paperwork, bills, newspapers, and what-not, perusing the paperwork with a huge magnifying glass and her handy walker right beside her.

They had a cushy chair right next to a four-shelf glass fronted lawyers bookcase filled with books, and a light, and I was always welcome to camp out and read to my heart’s content. I spent a lot of time in there reading their books. If I wasn’t inside – I was outside climbing the two orange trees, catching bees, picking ripe apricots off the apricot tree, or nestled in the canvas covered swing on the back porch reading my way through the stack of newspapers, reading every comic strip I could get my hands on.

Bea and Pauline died when I was in high school. Pauline first in 1974, and Bea next, on February 14, 1975. I was able to go through the house and pick some items to keep in remembrance of them. I chose pictures and postcards.

Over forty years later I still have these mementoes. One of my favorites is a postcard sporting the lovely (and much younger) Pauline that she mailed to her friend Arlie Shinkle in Illinois December 26, 1910.

A few years ago, many miles away and now living in Texas, I discovered Find a Grave. I looked up Bea and Pauline headstones and posted a picture of Pauline’s postcard on the site, in her memory that others could see too.

I am so glad I did that!

About two weeks ago I received a message on Find a Grave from Bea’s great niece. She’d been researching her great aunt that the family had lost touch with many, many years ago, when she’d moved to California. When she saw that Bea was listed on the same census as Pauline, she looked Pauline up and saw that I’d posted the postcard and messaged me to ask if I happened to know Bea too.

Did I know Bea? Yes, I did!

So many memories that I want to write up about Bea to send her. Alas, with ‘real life’ rearing its ugly head right now, I haven’t gotten that done yet. But I did go through and pulled some pictures out to send her. My sister sent me some other pictures that she pulled out from my mom’s things. While going through the folder with my ‘Bea and Pauline memories’ in it, I also found a small leather-bound volume ‘Pocket Key of Heaven’ with Bea’s signature inside and the date – April 24, 1901.

Wow! Tomorrow it will be exactly 121 years since Bea inscribed her name on the flyleaf.

And now these items are in an envelope waiting to send to her great niece – once I finally sit down and get those memories typed up for her.

Neighbors – sometimes you never realize how long their memories will live with you. And in this instance, I was surprised to discover that I was the custodian of some heirlooms that I needed to hold on to for over forty years – almost fifty years!- so I could at a much later time hand them over to family, so they can enjoy these mementoes of a great aunt they’d never met.

Author Note – A few years back, when I first entered this ‘writing world’, I put together the postcards I had that Pauline had sent her friend, Arlie. What I don’t know is how these postcards ended up back in Pauline’s possession. When I researched Arlie, thinking maybe they’d been returned to Pauline after Arlie’s death – I found out that my theory wasn’t correct, as Arlie lived many years later than Pauline did. How I wish, wish, wish I could find out the story behind the cards being back in Pauline’s possession. Alas, that one will be one of those unsolved mysteries for me.

I put together a short digital book with pictures of each of the postcards, along with the backs. It’s available as an ebook – Dear Arlie: Postcards to a Friend. A few years later, I wanted to expand some of the factual information and create more of a story. Dear Arlie: A Vintage Daze Short Story

Memory Gardens

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

With carnations for Grandpa Jones … red flowers for Grandma Jones; they must be red … violets for Grandma Cline … And zinnias, definitely zinnias for my brother, Butch. (Luther, he whispers softly in my ear. Sorry my dear brother, after 35 years of calling you Butch before you left us, Butch it is.)

Traces of these dear souls that touched my life are scattered throughout the house; the clock Grandpa Jones made, the clock my brother gave me for a long-ago birthday or Christmas present, the milk glass candy dish from Grandma Jones, the quilt from Grandma Cline, the cookbooks from several close friends. These physical items are more than just a book, a clock, a dish or a quilt. They are keys that open the floodgates of memories, keeping the spirits of these loved ones close to me and alive in my heart.

What can be nicer than expanding this sphere of memories outside the house and into the garden?

And that is the story of how my own memory garden started. With red roses for Grandma, carnations for Grandpa, and of course zinnias – always zinnias – for my brother.

Sorry Grandma Cline, I never did have the patience to attempt violets in memory of the multiple shelves of violets that I remember you tending to. Another flower for Grandma Cline’s memory would be a lilac. I’ve tried that one twice and failed both times. What’s funny is that out of all the plants I’ve planted to remember loved ones with, I don’t have a single plant in the garden to signify Grandma Cline. But out of all the people – she was the most ardent gardener!

Here’s a snippet from Memory Gardens:

Choosing Your Plants

Choose a plant that reminds you of a loved one. A number of methods can be utilized in choosing your plant palate.

A specific plant: Choose a specific plant that reminds you of your loved one. My brother (Butch, who I’ve already mentioned) loved to grow zinnias. Whenever I see zinnias I’m reminded of the zinnias he grew in Toledo when we were children, and the zinnias he grew on his property in Iowa. When I see or smell carnations, memories flood my mind of the carnations my Grandpa Jones grew in Glendora, when I was a young child.

A favorite color: Did your loved one have a favorite color? My Grandma Jones loved red. Red, red, red! Any red flower could be used to honor Grandma’s memory.

A favorite scent: Did they have a favorite scent? Some popular favorite scents or fragrances they might have cherished might be lavender, rose, orange blossom, jasmine, or others.

Plant name: Several plants have names that could be used for certain loved ones. For instance, Black Eyed Susan’s for Sue, Susan, Susie, or Suzanna. You could plant Bachelor Buttons to represent a favorite bachelor uncle. Rose of Sharon (hibiscus) is perfect to remember a Sharon in your life. An expanded list follows later in the book.

A favorite season: Did your loved one have a favorite season, perhaps spring or fall? You could grow plants that symbolize that particular season, such as daffodils for spring or chrysanthemums for fall.

Plant symbolism: Many plants have symbolic meanings attached to them. A few examples are Rosemary for remembrance, Baby’s Breath for innocence, or Iris for faith, promise in love, or hope. A chapter on the symbolic meaning of plants follows.

Special Circumstances: There may be other special circumstances about your loved one that brings a certain planting scheme to mind. Are they a veteran? If they’re a veteran or have served in any military branches, plantings of red, white, and blue may be appropriate. Or, perhaps use a selection of yellow flowering plants – to symbolize the ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon’ theme.

Flower of the Month: Certain flowers represent “flowers of the month”. A list of flowers and months follows. You could choose a plant that represents either their birth month or the month of their angel day.

In Memory Gardens, Angel Day is a phrase used to replace day of their death. My dear friend, Becky, devastated over the death of her daughter, began calling that horrible March day of Sarah’s death her ‘angel day’. I’ve adopted the practice since then. It doesn’t diminish the finality or the tragedy of our loved one’s death but acknowledges that they’ve left this earthly plane and still exist in spirit – in the realm of the angels.

Losing a Child

He entered my life late, he left it too soon, this third son of mine. He came into my life the easy way; already potty-trained, already driving. His leaving … not so easy.

People say that losing a child is one of the worst things to happen to a parent. They say it is difficult. They say it is rough. If you haven’t been there, you have no idea. You can’t imagine how this tragedy will affect your life in all aspects. Two friends lost children, years before I lost my stepson, Mark Gloyd. I did not fully understand the depth of their pain. I didn’t know the void left in their life. I could empathize with them. I could cry with them. I couldn’t fully know the feelings and emotions a child’s death evoked.

December 27, 2005, two days after a joyless Christmas, I entered their world – a world consisting of bereaved parents in various stages of grief, denial, pain and recovery. I did not want to join their club. I held no sway with the nomination process. I had no say in the outcome.

Mark was one month past his 23rd birthday.

My sole consolation was that I was there for him at the end of his losing battle with cancer. I held his hand and stroked his brow. His mother sat on his other side. His father hovered around us all, encompassed in an enveloping grief and sorrow that permeated the room. I was there as he drew his last breath, as I was not when he drew his first.

So, what do we do as writers? We write. We write about our life. Our world and experiences are transcribed into words. We write on paper – tablets, napkins, parchment, standard bond. We type on computers; click-clack-click-clack, keystrokes slowly etching our memories onto hard drives and flash drives.

We write. We journey through our souls. We heal. We honor. The memories of our loved ones become engraved in time, their footsteps on this earth memorialized by our words. Because that’s what we writers do. We write.

They watch over our shoulders. Smiling. They know they are loved. They know we remember.


Author’s note – These words were written for another project in 2013. I kept wanting to write Mark’s story and honor his life – but I chickened out. I found that I couldn’t dive deep enough into the pain of losing him to write a full book. So I cheated. I teamed up with many other authors that lost children or siblings. Together we told our stories in two different anthologies – Mothers of Angels, and Mothers of Angels 2.


My kinfolk, especially Grandma and Grandpa Jones often find themselves woven into my writing world.

Grandma came from an Arkie holler – or, for those that don’t speak hillbilly, a hollow in the Arkansas Ozarks. Grandpa from Missouri farmlands. My favorite part of ‘their story’ is how Grandpa was running ‘shine and drove down to Arkansas to pick up product from a Goss man who had a still up in said holler. Papa Goss was Grandma’s father and she met the charming young man and the rest was history. The two married and had seven children. I’m the oldest child of the oldest child.

And now that I write, I find the oft repeated family tales are often pieced into my own writing, Kinfolk from the past become characters in different tales. Some are used in a realistic non-fictional ways and other times they’re used in totally fictional circumstances.

Just this month, my mom’s often repeated story of her Easter in 1942 was published again – and made the front page this time. I wish she were still alive to see it. I know she’d be proud as punch. (No, I’m not going to share the story with you right now – it’s slated for a future A to Z Day – the day of ‘O’. Stay tuned and you can read it in a few days.)

Right now, I’m working on a manuscript about writing family stories, developed from my most popular class at several local libraries. I’m busy incorporating some snippets in it from other authors who also have used kinfolk in their writing, either as minor characters or as a whole family history.

Sometimes family annoys us to no end. We shake our heads. We mutter. We grumble about the failings we see in our family members.

But most often, family is a cherished and adored part of our life, full of people we couldn’t be without.

But whichever it is, if we’re writers, we’re blessed to have some on both end of the kinfolk spectrum. We’re not above it. We’ll use anyone in our books. Kinfolk aren’t excluded from our endeavors.

Grandpa Jumped into My Story

Best Thing Since Sliced Bread


Journaling has been an important part of my life for almost thirty years – off and on. I clarify the ‘off and on’ part because although I’ve journaled consistently for months and years at a time – I’ve also gotten ‘busy with life’ and neglected this aspect of introspection for months and years at a time also.

One thing I will admit – I do feel better about life, I feel more proactive and positive, and I feel like I get to know myself better when I consistently journal.

My journaling over the years usually takes one of three forms.

Inner Thoughts and Wonderings – To be honest, this type of journaling is what brings me closer to my inner self – the one that likes to hide from truth and light sometimes. But I have discovered that the older I get, the less prone I am to put these thoughts down on paper. Sometimes the thought crosses my mind – Do I want my children to read these thoughts and inner struggles after I’m gone? And as much as I ADORE finding old diaries, journals, and letters from people from the past…I don’t know if I want to be one leaving these written fragments of my life for others to discover years from now.

Another characteristic of this type of journaling that bothers me from time to time is that I find when I’m in this mode, I usually am writing in a negative frame of mind. It’s everything that’s wrong or not working in my life at the moment. And often I find that I steer away from this because I want to see things from a more optimistic point of view.

Affirmations – Often, instead of journaling inner thoughts and feelings, I turn to writing affirmations. Over and over and over. Repetitive words to better my life, improve my attitude, and focus on the more positive side of life. Unfortunately, I find that I can do this daily for short spurts of time, but eventually I become bored and end up stopping.

Gratitude – What has become my most favorite form of journaling is a gratitude journal. I know you’ve all seen people promoting this at one time or another. Write down three things you’re thankful for, five things, or ten things. Every day. Every morning. Every night. The basic instructions vary a little from one person to the next, but it’s generally the same.

The only downside I discovered with this type of journaling is the repetitive rut that I find myself falling into much too quickly. Five things a day. I start with the same basic ones.

  • I’m thankful I woke up.
  • I’m thankful I have a job.
  • I’m thankful for the food in the pantry and refrigerator.
  • I’m thankful for…

And the next day I write my list again. And without fail, it’s almost always virtually the same. Minor tweaks here and there. Small differences if something major happened that day. A call from a grandson. A text from a son. An acceptance on a submission. But typically…it becomes the same-ole-same-ole.

To counteract this problem, I began collecting tips and techniques to help make my gratitude journaling deeper and more reflective of my true appreciation for the blessings that fill my life. Last year, as we were deep in the midst of Covid, I put together some of this information, along with blank journaling pages into two journals. My Gratitude Journal and My Blessings Journal. My blessings journal is more faith-based in nature, sharing inspirational Bible verses and other quotes to inspire, prompt, and lead into a more reflective gratitude.

Here’s a snippet with some gratitude prompts from My Gratitude Journal:

Gratitude Prompts

In the same vein as the Lists of Ten, these prompts are here to encourage you in thinking of all the many different things you have to be thankful for. When you’re feeling stuck, or you’re struggling to come up with specific items that vary from entry to entry, browse the list of prompts below and see if any spark new ideas of appreciation.

People in Your Life

Who would you be unable to live without?

Can you think of a teacher that influenced you in a positive way?

Who is the most inspirational person you know?

How do you feel about your closest friends?

Who was the last person you hugged?

Who did you last say ‘I love you’ to?

Who provides you with a valuable service?

What color makes you feel happiest?

How does it make you feel when you give someone a gift?

Who do you appreciate?

What have others done in your life that you are thankful for?

Who taught you something that you are grateful for?

Who is the one friend you can always rely on?

What is one lesson you learn from rude people?

What is one small, everyday thing that you enjoy with a special person in your life?

What do you like most about your oldest friend?

Your Senses

What sounds can you hear in this present moment?

What five things do you see around you?

What are your favorite foods to eat?

What is your favorite dessert?

How does an ice cream cone on a hot day taste?

How does a gentle breeze brushing across you feel?

What is your favorite texture to feel?

What fragrance do you enjoy smelling the most?

What sounds would you miss if you couldn’t hear them?

What is your favorite sight?

What is your favorite taste?

What is your favorite sensation?

Memories and the Past

What traditions did you enjoy as a child?

What was your favorite childhood vacation?

Did you have a favorite pet growing up?

What is the best gift you’ve received?

Is there a memorable holiday that you will always remember?

What is your favorite memory of a parent?

What is a favorite memory of a grandparent?

What is a favorite memory of growing up with your siblings?

What is a family tradition that you are thankful for?

What is the biggest lesson you learned in childhood?

What is a weird family tradition that you love?

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Opportunities and Blessings

What quote changed your life in some way?

What opportunities have changed your life for the better?

What kindnesses have you experienced?

What material possessions are you thankful for?

Who is associated with something you’re thankful for? (For example, for a nice meal there are the farmers who grew the produce, the truckers that transported it, the grocery workers that got it to your shopping basket, etc.)

What is your favorite charity and why do you support it?

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