Saturday, May 30, 2015

Reading Journey of a Wanna-Be Author: Year #2

My Kindle is two years old now and listed below are the books I've read since June 6 of last year. All but four were read on my Kindle. I read more because of her. I enjoy the device for all the reasons I wrote about last year in the first blog post. Click here to read that.

I surprised myself with the number of books I read considering I was doing my write-every-single day challenge that I wrote about here. By the way, I still haven't broken my writing string. Am I trying it for another year? Maybe. We'll see.

In November, I had a goal to read five middle grade books instead of participating in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I made my goal and even completed one of the books the morning before Thanksgiving Day. I don't think I've ever read one book in one setting unless it was "The Little Red Hen" or some other childhood text.

My favorite book on the list below was number 10. I bawled during various parts of book 1. I cried with books 3, 7, 10, 12. I enjoyed the nostalgia in book 2, so I will read more of Stan Crader. And I am hooked on the author of books 21 and 22, Jenny B. Jones. I have a couple more of her books cued up on my Kindle right now. I would love to meet her some day. I've linked the authors to their websites, Twitterfeeds, or blogs.

Books I have read from June 6, 2014 until May 30, 2015

  1. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (for book club)
  2. The Bridge by Stan Crader
  3. Crazy by Han Nolan
  4. The Christian Writer's Coach: How to Get the Most out of a Writer's Conference by various authors
  5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1 by Jeff Kinney
  6. Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
  7. Almost April by Deborah Ferguson (debut author)
  8. Millicent Marie is Not My Name by Karen Pokraz Toz
  9. Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
  10. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi (for book club)
  11. The Bare Naked Truth: Dating, Waiting, and God's Purity Plan by Bekah Hamrick Martin
  12. Somebody Like You by Beth K. Vogt (for book club)
  13. Writing Habit Mastery - How to Write 2,000 Words a Day and Forever Cure Writer's Block by S. J. Scott
  14. The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic by Mark Levin (for book club)
  15. Writing in Obedience: A Writing Skill Reference Guide: A Primer for Christian Fiction Writers by Terry Burns
  16. 31 Devotions for Writers by various authors, edited Susette Williams
  17. Rodrick Rules, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 2 by Jeff Kinney
  18. Christmas Hotel: Book 1 by Saundra Staats McLemore
  19. Let's Write a Short Story by Joe Bunting
  20. Writer's Doubt: The #1 Enemy of Writing (and what you Can Do About It) by Bryan Hutchinson
  21. In Between: A Katie Parker Production, Book 1 by Jenny B. Jones
  22. On the Loose: A Katie Parker Production, Book 2 by Jenny B. Jones
  23. Old Shack Mystery by LeAnn Campbell
  24. Dakota Christmas by Joseph Bottum (a Kindle single)
  25. Emotional Thesaurus A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglist
  26. Mystery on Maple Hill by Debra L. Butterfield
  27. Write Your Novel from the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers, and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell

Have you read any of those books or other works by those authors? What was your favorite book to read this past year? What's on your summer reading list?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

30-day Writing Streak Turns into a Year

Last year on May 18, I told myself I had to write for 30 days straight. I managed to do it for an entire year.

Why had I set that goal to begin with?

I had a writers’ conference in a month that I had paid for. It was an eight-hour drive away, and if I couldn't commit to write for 30 days in a row, I had no business investing money in my long-time dream to become published.

When I wrote for just seven days straight, I was ecstatic. I had never done that. Not even in college.

This writing-every-day commitment was more than my usual 5-year-short-diary entry. In that, I mimic what my Grandma Elizabeth and Mom did in theirs. It's a log of what we did, what I cooked, current event info, and the weather. Grandma included how many eggs she got, and Mom referred to work on the farm. I mention school events and Chris’ picture taking successes.

So I defined this writing every-single-day thing. To me in meant deliberate work on a passage in order to make it publishable. Some days I wrote a draft. Others, I revised—which by the way, is the most enjoyable part of writing for me, but that means my drafts are nasty typo-ridden pieces that get all marked up.

One of my many writing spots.
Here was my set-up for the SCBWI webinar with Elizabeth Law on May 2.

There were days that it was a battle, and some days I only wrote a couple sentences, but I still set the time aside to do it. It had gotten too late. I’d graded 50-some papers written by 12-year-olds. I didn’t know what to write about. But I did not want to break my steak, so I forced myself.

The worst and more dangerous excuse? This is a waste of time.

That thought came when I was tired or hungry. I noticed those negative thoughts during other work too, not just writing. It may be common sense to most people, but since I'd developed workaholic tendencies from my mom (click here to read about that), the realization was life-changing for me. It was okay to leave things undone and take care of physical needs.

I actually enjoyed my day job more because I had set aside time for my hobby. I was mentally prepared to return to work because my mind had actually left the place for awhile.

To make room in my schedule to write every day, I had to change some things. I watched less TV. I didn't talk on the phone as much. I didn't micromanage myself at work. I said no to other activities. I cooked bigger batches and fed my husband three days of leftovers instead of two.

I also kept a log with the following headings: date, study of the publishing world, what I wrote today, Damien work (my middle grade WIP about a boy with an imaginary elf on his right shoulder). Looking back at the log and celebrating small successes helped me forge ahead.

Considering this yourself? Click here for an encouraging list of writing memes. It was compiled by writer Linda W. Yezak, one of the first writers' blogs from which I drew encouragement.

This writing-every-day routine might not work for everyone. If you're the persistent type, it could. If the pressure of just one more thing, would do you in, then don't. Consider starting small like I wrote about here in the habit stacking post.

For many years I tried to establish a writing habit, but this write every-single-day thing worked for me. The timing was right, I guess, and I'd invested the money. I knew I needed to take action if I ever wanted my publishing dream to become reality. In the course of my study it, I’ve learned so much, but that’s for another post.

I do know that I will continue to write even if my WIP doesn’t see the light of day. I enjoy it that much.

Did I achieve what my original write-for-30-days-in-a-row commitment intended? You bet. Now the day isn't done unless I have written.

Have you tried doing something everyday? What were your results? Now that summer vacation has arrived, do you have any mid-year resolutions? What plans have you put in place for success?

Monday, May 18, 2015

What Happened in that Gym, Isn't Gonna Stay in There

Our middle school gym is in the midst of a facelift. Its floor was worn out long ago, and I know our community voted for a more modern look for our school system, but that won't stop me from going down this sentimental path.

I didn't grow up in the Kansas town that's been my home for 26 years, so last week I solicited memories about this gym from my colleagues at USD 268 Cheney. Here's what I learned about the place.

A senior girl accepted a marriage proposal on the three-point line one evening. This gal is now our high school secretary, Molly McGuire Amsink, a '94 graduate. "That was 22 years ago. Still married with three children," Amsink said.

Todd Hague, now CHS activities director and a '96 graduate, told me he was attempting to make a teammate miss a free throw one time by mooning them right at the time Coach Hofer (that was me) came into the gym!

Hague also told me that “Ted Dewey and Vern Ferguson sat on the front row at center court for every basketball game.” Dewey ran the town grocery store back in the day, and Ferguson taught social studies and served as the cross country and track coach.

Hague remembered beating number one ranked Medicine Lodge his senior year and starting the Cardinal Classic pre-season tourney against Collegiate when Maurice Evans played for them. Evans went on to play in the NBA.

"There were also some pretty intense PE whiffle ball games in there. If you hit the top curtain on the stage, it was a home run," Hague said.

Ashley Oliver, CES teacher and '94 graduate, played in the pep band on the stage that used to reside on the north end, as did Ann Albers Asbury, a '91 Cardinal grad and current English teacher at the high school.

“It was really the center of the high school when I was a student; everything happened there—it was not only the gym but also the auditorium, commons, and a classroom,” Asbury said.

“I have a lot of great memories playing in the pep band, which was up on the stage that doesn't exist anymore!" Asbury played flute and recalled her fun time sitting by upperclassman Shelly Griffith who passed away several years ago. "She was such a nice person to a shy freshman," Asbury added. "We were at the end of the front row, so we were always getting hit by loose basketballs during warm-up. We didn't mind because we had a ball just looking at all the cute boys!"

Asbury said she thinks about Shelly every time she enters that gym and when the pep band plays "Sweet Caroline" because that was one of their favorite songs. “I think the fact that Shelly passed away so young makes me have such strong memories of her in the gym,” Asbury said.

I too have memories of that stage. During my first years here in the early ’90s, jr. high promotion and awards were held all in one night and in that gym. One year the event lasted from seven o'clock in the evening until past 10 pm. Toddlers were crawling in the aisles anxious to get home as all us teachers sat up on stage during the entire event.

Awards are now a separate event from eighth grade promotion and held in the mornings during the last few days of school. The stage was converted into the vocal room a year after the new high school was built.

Back then, the stage held extra fans. Debbie Disken Hillman, our high school counselor and '78 Cheney graduate, said the gym was absolutely packed—even the stage—for a Cheney vs. Garden Plain game.

The gym was also a dangerous place. I played 2-on-2 with head girls' basketball coach Jack Goss against our players Carin Wiles Crumrine and Tiffany Lowery Holmes one day after practice. Poor Carin broke her leg. I think it was her ankle, and she was out for the season.

CHS principal and 1984 graduate Greg Rosenhagen drove his head into the sidelines resulting in eight stitches during a Friday night competition.

"We had a make-up game the next night,” Rosenhagen said, “so Doc Gracey, the local vet at the time, put my stitches in that night after the game."

Quirky things happened in there too. Hillman said when her dad, Ken Disken, was head boys' basketball coach, she was cheering on the sidelines, and he got excited and threw up his arms to clap. “His watch flew off and landed at my feet. I was diagonal from the bench,” Hillman said.

Hillman had a few other memories—like the electricity going out during the 1977 graduation ceremony. And I’m sure her dad can provide some more stories too. Maybe they will share those in the comment section of this post.

Holley Masterson Rohloff, current teacher and '94 grad remembered classmate Kirsten Mize Runyan falling during prom decorating and chipping or losing some teeth. Hague remembered that too.

The floor had a crack. Melanie Tolar, former CHS girls' head basketball coach and current CES PE teacher, said, "It [the crack] was growing larger and larger until they finally did some repairs. We always wanted to trap [opponents] by the crack."

The quirks of the gym were infamous in Central Plains League. Jessa Albers, now a school nurse but once a rival Owl from Garden Plain, said, "I hated playing in that gym because of the dead spots on the floor. It was like Cheney had a sixth man on the court."

Mark Rosenhagen, current transportation director, a former Cheney teacher and a 1980 graduate, was known to sing Christmas carols in February while keeping the clock for basketball games while current English instructor Carla Simmons kept the book.

Book keeping and clock running were simple in that gym with the non-computerized system. I remember doing the spooky number activity with Lynn Thalmann, a now retired social studies teacher and former Cheney boys’ basketball coach.

If a player's number coordinated with the time or the score, "Ah, spooky number," he’d say. It was extra spooky if the team foul count matched the time in anyway too. Never a dull moment with Thalmann around. Maybe this post will find him, and he'll chime in at the comment section.

As a girls’ JV coach, I remember a Hail Mary shot by 1994 graduate Cami Sowers McAndrew. She let it fly from the hashmark on the opposite end of the court and in it went. This was right before half-time in a game I'm sure we ended up winning.

Stacy Bolinger DeVore, current teacher, former CHS volleyball coach and a 1982 grad herself, remembered playing donkey basketball in that gym. She also has a vivid memory of current faculty member, Coach Randy Weber. As girls' basketball coach, Weber grew upset about the team not being able to run a guard weave out front.

"He grabbed the ball and threw it down so hard that it hit the ceiling! It was the [maddest] I have ever seen him!" DeVore said.

Like that, PE teachers and coaches have always made an impression on youngsters. Becky Parsons Smarsh, a 1974 Cheney grad and current aide at the middle school, remembered when a young Jack Thomas, now a retired high school counselor, first came to town as the coach and PE teacher.

Seems the high school girls were infatuated with the young man until the principal directed Coach Thomas to run their tails off as discipline for being naughty in home ec class. “We didn’t quite see Mr. Thomas the same after that,” Smarsh said.

Dances, particularly the prom, weren’t always held in the middle school gym. Marilyn Smith Keller, a CES teacher and 1982 graduate, said, "We used to go out of town, but our class liked the idea of being in town and not having to travel to Wichita. The class of 1981 was not thrilled with this idea, but the tradition of prom in the gym continues today," she said. Smarsh had some prom stories too. Maybe she'll tell us more in the comment section.

This beloved small gym served as a rite of passage, and probably still will even with its soon-to-be updated décor. CES teacher Jenny Murray, mother of a current middle school student this year, summed it up.

"I will never forget peeking into the middle school gym and seeing my daughter dance at her first school dance. She didn't know I was watching...I was instantly filled with pride and sadness at how she had grown. I will never forget it."

What about your old high school gym? This post conjure up any fond memories for you? 

Didn't get to share your CMS gym memories? Comment here on the blog so we have a permanent home for your words. It will get lost on the Facebook feed and the email trail. Posting on the blog will allow people to return back to this post easily to read and reminisce for months to come.

Warning: Blogger has an issue with eating your words, so copy (ctrl-C, command-C for Mac) what is typed before hitting “post.” If it eats it, then you can paste (ctrl-V, command-V for Mac) it back into the comment box that pops up. I’m sorry, but I have no control over this issue. It also does it to the professional bloggers who use this program. There is also no need for you to fill out all the info either. Post anonymously, if you prefer, and then type your name so we know who you are so we can interact with each other.

I enjoyed putting together the tidbits that were sent to me. If someone has a longer story deserving of a separate post, contact me. Thanks for your memories, for they really are a Matter of Life and Breath.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Decade Without Mom on Mother's Day

My mom Stella died in January
2005 at 79-years-old. I don't cry so
much anymore, but I do miss her phone
calls, visits, laughter, and wisdom. 
Here's some of what Mom taught me. 

Work comes before play
Always. Get done what needs to be done. No excuses, get moving, and don't be pokey. Only when tasks were done would we get to watch TV, my favorite childhood pastime. Or we'd watch while we work, but we would not stop. A break is fine, but if the task was not done, we would get back to work shortly. When working and talking, do both. Do not stop to talk. That was one of Mom's pet peeves.

Mom & sister Priscilla work a burn pile on the farm
In her later years when she slowed down, morning and early afternoon were for work.

Our reward came later when we'd play table games like Skip-Bo, Scrabble, or Chinese Checkers. Mom also enjoyed reading magazines (which she did while making me practice pianoread about that here), watching TV, and of course, making lists for the next day. This leads me to the next point.

Plan, plan, and plan some more
Know today what you're wearing tomorrow if you're going out. Always take water along. When driving, change lanes soon enough so you don't have to force your way in. Get your nose out there when making a left turn so oncoming traffic has to let you turn when the light turns redyou're already in the intersection.

One of her pet peeves about planning stems back to the check-writing days. Mom would say, "Write part of the check out before the clerk tells you your amountotherwise you're holding up the entire line."

Mom & I with her new China
When planning trips to Kansas to see my sister Brenda, Mom drove Dad nuts when she'd already be planning we we'd need to do upon our return.

He'd say, "You're just like your mother who gets her purse and jacket ready the night before her appointment." My Grandma Katie did do that. 

And I admit, I usually know when the week starts what I will wear each day. I even write it down, so I don't end up wearing the same thing twice! Mom made me change out of school clothes into everyday clothes the minute I got home. I still do that today. Yes, I wear my clothes more than once before washing them if they're not dirty.

I learned two years that my over planning caused my stress. I took Mom's influence here too far. I didn't like a monkey wrench getting thrown into my plans. I'm learning to be more flexible and enjoy the moment I am in rather than plan for the ones that haven't arrived yet. Reading the minimalist and mindfulness blogs helped. I have a couple of those listed on my blog roll. The Zen Habits guy is incredible.

Write a grocery list

Yes, more planning, but it saves money. Do it throughout the week when you discover you'll need it. Before embarking on your shopping trip, plan your stops in a logical order to not waste time or gas. 

Never be without bread or milk in the house. Mom even froze milk in case we didn't get to town. It was yucky and watery, but it worked when we needed it. A frozen loaf of bread wasn't so bad. We lived 22 miles from town, so her planning ahead saved many a meal.

Mother's Day 2002 when Mom was in the nursing home

Reuse and recycle what is reasonable

Mom did this before it was vogue. Paper milk cartons served as freezer containers for butchered chickens. Just needed markers and masking tape to write down what was in it.

Save boxes. They're needed for gifts. Mom had an entire cabinet of empty boxes inside more empty boxes inside yet more empty boxes. My sister Priscilla and I sure laughed when we were cleaning out that cabinet after Mom passed. Just when we thought there were no more boxes, we'd find another tiny one.

I inherited this box habit and one time yelled, "Look at that nice box!" I'd seen a large appliance box on someone's lawn. My sister Brenda said I sounded just like Mom.

Mom holding me, the late-comer, when she was 41-years-old

Mom would also ask the store keepers if they had any boxes. She'd bring them home and cut out a door for me and turn it upside down, so I'd have a cardboard house. What Mom hasn't done that for her little kid? 

She also stockpiled large pieces of cardboard to put under the sink that Dad just didn't seem to have time to fix.

If brown recluse spiders weren't so prevalent in Kansas, I think you'd find box inside box inside box in my garage. I just might have a couple of those in my classroom at school.

Do not tell people what others say about them

Judy Finstad, mom's hairdresser said, "Your mom's different. She doesn't gossip." I never heard my mom doing that. I don't recall her repeating juicy news to Judy, her sisters, or to a friend on the phone. She might tell Dad or me at supper time, but never really anyone else.

Maybe she had it easy because she was a farm wife and didn't work around a lot of other people, but regardless, I am going to strive to be more like mom in this area.

How about you? What daily living tasks did your mom teach you? How about her personality traits? Any carry over to you? Are there any habits you take too far?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A High School Teacher Who Influenced Me

In honor of teacher appreciation week, May 4-8, I am writing about one of my high school teachers. His involvement during my years at Hitchcock High School in South Dakota helped shape who I am today.

Frank Podraza was our principal and high school football coach. He did not hand out compliments. You earned them. And I guess I kind of liked that about him.

Frank Podraza: a South Dakota Hall of Fame coach

A few years ago, Coach Podraza was honored into the South Dakota Hall of Fame. I warned him this post was coming, and he allowed me to swipe some pictures off of his Facebook page to include in this post, so thank you to those who snapped these pictures.

My senior year at the 281 Conference Mid-Season Basketball tourney, we struggled an entire game that should have been an easy win, but they shut down our two big scorers, post Shari Hofer (not a relative of mine—there are lots of Hofers in South Dakota) and our point guard, Ann Westall.

I found success on the wing that night and made some shots. I'd never made 10 points in a real game in my life—and they were all field goals from the wing, 12-15 feet out. I was pretty proud of myself. I even sunk the basket that tied it up. We won then in overtime.

The next day at school, I expected Mr. Podraza to say something like, "You finally hit some buckets, Mel. Nice game."

sittin' in the halls of HHS: Mr. Podraza, his '80s look
But no. That is not the sort of thing he would say. No way.

Why? Because I had also had a shot at the buzzer at the end of regulation and missed it. And, according to him, I should have nailed that one too.

I had no come back. I remember being miffed only momentarily by his commentbecause I knew he was right.

Now if you're a parent thinking, he was a jerk. Don't. He wasn't. If you're a youngster thinking, he's mean. Don't. He's wasn't.

What he stated was fact. That's Mr. Podraza. Always pushing. Demanding your best. And when you did your best, he expected continued improvement after that. He did it in a way that wasn't demanding or demeaning. And that takes tact, discipline, and a sense of humor.

Coach Podraza

As a teacher, Mr. Podraza, stretched me to do Algebra I and Algebra II and computers—back when they just came into the classroom. Read about my memories of his computer class by clicking here.

He put up with all my opinions, readily admitted a mishap, an error, or a misunderstanding. He didn't mind talking things through. He had a great sense of humor and a knack for making me laugh at myself because he laughed at himself too. The local pool hall, which he ran, was dubbed The Polish Inn.

Frank Podraza

I recall another time he put me in my place. We were upstairs by the banisters outside the business room. I had the habit of saying I couldn't do something, so one time Coach said something like, "Why do you always say that, Mel? Do you want someone to compliment you or beg you to do it? You're going to do it anyway, you know." Again, I had no comeback.

I'm known for getting on my soap box. Yes, even back then, but Mr. Podraza had a way of talking me down. Yet he made me feel important, that my ideas mattered, and that I was intelligent and capable. I had the guts to write the essay that earned my spot to represent our school at South Dakota Girls' State in 1983. I had the confidence to be the high school newspaper editor that lead me to do the same in college.

The encouragement he gave me during those high school years continues to impact me today—especially when I venture into something new. When uncertainty hits, I hear his words.

Mr. Podraza's note in my senior memory book
When it came time for my high school graduation party, Mr. Podraza came all the way out to our farm. (Like Mr. Wiens did so I wouldn't quit band. Read about that here). Driving 12 miles out in the country was a big deal back in the day.

But Frank Podraza attended because he cared about me. And I wasn't even one of his football players.

Thank you, Coach, for believing in me all those years ago when I was a know-it-all high school girl.

Do you recall comments from a teacher that made a positive impact on your life? What were you taught besides the content of the class? Any push you to do something you thought you could never do?