The rasp of the soapstone over the plow blade was bittersweet. It was peculiar to not hear other voices in the yard as I performed this chore, removing the burrs that would catch on the rocks. Pa should be checking over the harnesses with Tom, getting everything ready for storing over the long winter. Instead it was only me.
The past summer was the longest I could ever remember, for all that it was relatively mild. Being the only one doing the chores kept me busy enough, thankfully. I didn’t have time to feel the crushing loneliness. Some days things didn’t get done, making the next day even harder. When Tom visited for harvest, I cried in relief. He helped me catch up and taught me how to plan my days better.
That was both good and bad. I was no longer as overwhelmed, but it gave me a moment to miss those I loved.
I set the now sharp blade aside and reached for the tack. It didn’t need any work because Tom oiled and repaired it before he left, but I checked again just in case.
The sound of a carriage in the yard broke through my reverie. “Mary,” Mother Upson called in a sing-song voice. “Where are you girl?”
I jumped up, dropping the tack in my haste, and rushed from the barn. “Mother Upson!” My voice broke at the end, the pleasure of seeing her loving face after so much lonesomeness brought tears to my eyes.
“Now why are you crying, child?” she asked as she clamored out of the wagon and ran to hug me. “I said I’d come visit again if the way was clear. Has Tom gone back up the mountain yet?”
I nodded. “He could feel the weather changing, so left a couple nights ago. Good thing, since it was sleeting last night, so more’n likely icy up his way. I’m surprised you were able to make it.”
“It was muddy, but we didn’t get any ice.” She turned to Father Upson who was coming up behind her, maintaining an arm around my waist. “Pa thought you’d need a few things and was fretting over you being alone all winter, so insisted we try.”
His face became slightly flushed. “Well, I still can’t believe I let you talk me into leaving you up here. I’ve half a mind to force you to return with us.” He held up his hands at the look on my face. “I’m not gonna fight with you more, Mary. Let’s get things unloaded while there’s still light.”
The wagon was full. Surely there wasn’t another quilt left anywhere in the county. “What is all this?” I asked, looking through the piles of cloth.
“Your walls were rather bare, so I asked the ladies at church to help me refurbish old quilts for you. They’ll line the walls and keep in insulated this winter.” She started unloading them from the wagon and into my arms. They were heavy. Father Upson was also pulling some out, loading up his own arms
“How many are there?” I asked, shocked at the pile in his arms.
“Just one more,” she said, laying on top of my pile. It was difficult to see around them. “I’ll get the other things.”
“What other things?” I asked, the question muffled by the topmost quilt.
“Get in the cabin before you drop them” she said, reaching into the wagon for something. Father Upson chuckled when he saw my face, but he knew better than to cross his wife when she set her mind to something.
It was all I could do to make it to Pa’s bed with my load before dropping it. The ropes squeaked with the weight, and groaned when Father Upson added his pile to mine. “When was the last time you tightened the bed?” he asked, lifting the mattress at the corner to examine it.
I shrugged. “Before Pa left. With no one sleeping on it, it seemed silly.”
“And why is no one sleeping on it?” Mother Upson asked as she hurried in, a can that rattled in one hand and an obviously heavy basket looped over her other arm. I looked down, my throat swelling. “Don’t be ridiculous, Mary. Your Pa expected you to use the bed when he left. It’ll be too cold in the winter to sleep anywhere else.”
She was right, I understood this. It didn’t make the transition any easier.
Father Upson began pounding nails partway into the walls, curving the ends around to make hooks. Mother Upson handed me a corner of a quilt, a loop was sewn into it. “These will keep you warmer. Pa has some new oil cloth for your window as well.”
Darkness was falling when Mother Upson decided I was set for winter. A southern wind blew warm across the yard as they climbed back on the wagon, a few clouds skirting across the bright, full moon. “It’ll snow in the morning,” Father Upson said as he gathered the reins. “You should have enough wood to see you through. We’ll be back come spring.”
Mother Upson dabbed at her eyes with her apron, so I purposefully didn’t look at her. “Thank you, for everything.”
He nodded and clicked at the horses. I waved at them both until they reached the road, and watched until they disappeared around the bend.
I've realized something about myself: I hate to blog. I have nothing inspiring to say about writing, since I'm so new to this, so I can't help anyone there. I do have lots to say about being a foster/adopt parent, but sometimes silence is golden. If you have a foster child and want to talk/vent/ask for advice, I'll do my best to answer. Most people aren't as interested in science at the level I am, and the same is true for gardening. What I do know is that I love to write, and the characters of my first book live on in my head even as I write my second novel.
So, in the hope that one day it might be published, I'm posting prequel scenes so you can get to know Mary and Andrew before you ever buy the book. Here is the first:
Wood smoke lingers in the air, mixing with the smell of the coming snow. The year is finally drawing to a close, and I couldn’t be more thankful. Never have I known such pain. Losing Pa last spring was like having a tooth pulled, the agony sharp and deep, but it was nothing like finding John’s name on the lists of the dead.
My eyes trail over the furrows in the fields. It was only yesterday that Tom finished that job and left, admonishing me to spend the winter with the Upsons. Mother Upson begged me to come down the mountain with them, telling me she couldn’t bear to lose another child. I refused, as they both knew I would. That’s why Father Upson hung the ropes even as his wife and I disagreed. He knew I couldn’t leave my home, the one I would have filled with children with John at my side. It’s only appropriate that I stay in a place as empty as my heart.
Pa’s grave is like a scar on the rise, the dirt fresh and clean even from this distance, even after all these months. He lies next to Ma, where he wanted to be. I’ll never lie next to John. Mother Upson was told he was buried somewhere in Western New York, around Schenectady, because he couldn’t be sent home in the summer heat. The chill in the air today is warm compared to how I felt on that August night when I was told he wasn’t coming home, even in a pine box.
Buttercup is lowing in the barn. It’s time for milking. I send up a prayer of gratitude to the Lord for the hard labor before me. When my hands are sufficiently busy my mind isn’t able to dwell on what I’ve lost. Instead, I focus on my blessings. I have lost the men I love, but I have my land, my animals, and if we win this war, my freedom.
But, oh, what a high price I’ve paid. How many other wives, sweethearts and mothers will suffer as I have before this revolution is through? How often will men go to war, leaving widows and orphans behind them?
The lowing is insistent now, so I force myself out of my chair and trudge across the yard to the barn. It’s time to lose myself in my labors, forget the pain in my chest and replace it with the ache in my muscles. I will not relinquish this land through lack of industry. Men I loved died for it. I will work to keep it free.
Eleven years ago today I sat in shock, watching the news. I was supposed to be on a plane to attend training for work, but all flights were cancelled.
I worried about the family of a neighbor of mine. She is from New York City.
A couple years later I met a lady who was evacuated from the Marriott hotel in the Towers who told me about the fear, sorrow, choking smoke and debris. She said she'd never forget the sound of people falling past her window and hitting the ground.
I will never forget the fear and confusion, or the pride in America as people put aside their differences, joined together, and helped each other through a difficult time.
While we may disagree on what choices our leaders need to make in order for our country to move forward, let's be sure to remember one thing: when we work together, we can accomplish anything.
My friend Sue sent me this picture and asked me to write a short for it. So I did. Joe Manganiello is her latest celebrity crush. Thanks so much to Crystal for editing it for me at a moment's notice! If you have a picture or scenario you'd like me to write, please leave it in the comments. Enjoy!
He looked around the room, bare now of the clutter of their lives. Only a wooden box remained. It must be the china, or the crystal. It didn’t matter. Soon it would be gone too. Would this house remember them? Would whoever came to inhabit it next hear echoes of their laughter, tears, frustration and love?
He was exhausted from the day’s labor. She left his suit hanging in the bathroom so he could clean up before leaving the house. He would carry his toiletries and dust and sweat-stained clothes out in an old grocery bag to dinner. And that box. It couldn’t be left behind.
The cold water of the shower made him jump and wish he hadn’t turned off the water heater. It seemed a good idea at the time, like so many ideas before them. At least it rushed him through his ablutions, until his eyes alit on the small tile just above the faucet.
It was a flower, blue. He remembered when she handed it to the guy tiling the bathroom, the way he rolled his eyes, the way she insisted it go there. He always forgot its name, and she always laughed when he asked her time and time again what it was. “Why even bother telling you? It’s not like you’re going to remember the next time someone asks,” she said, her eyes dancing in merriment. “Just tell them it’s blue and to ask me.”
“I remember the important things,” he mumbled, reaching around her to grab a chip from the bowl.
“Oh yeah? When’s our anniversary?” she asked as she slapped his hand away.
He was silent too long, so she turned with a raised eyebrow, arms folded across her chest, knowing she had him.
“The day I became the luckiest guy on earth,” he said, leaning down for a kiss.
“Nice save,” she whispered, pecking at his lips with hers before turning back to whatever it was she was doing. She was always doing something.
“Forget-me-not,” he whispered to the empty shower, surprised he now remembered. Why now, when it was the last time he would gaze on it? No, he would no longer forget. After all, there were so many memories here, even in this shower. Some made him smile and yearn for the woman who was now far away. Others made him cringe, such as bathing his infant son after a diaper explosion.
Eventually the cold became too much, so with a quick rinse he turned off the spray. The heat of the room assaulted him in the absence of the water, and he was sweating before he even finished toweling himself dry. He opened a drawer, wanting his hairbrush and razor, only to hear no rattle of items. A confused look was followed by a quick laugh. Right, it was packed away. Running his fingers through his hair would have to suffice.
Dressed, he walked down the hall, bag in hand, stopping to look into his children’s bedroom. Scuff marks marred the walls. How many times had he come pounding down this hall and into this room, contorting his face into what he hoped was a look of serious anger, and told them to stop jumping on the bunk bed and go to sleep? They cowered before his presumed rage, never having heard that their mother chastised him first. “If they see you laughing they’ll never stop!”
The box called to him as a place to rest for a moment. He didn’t need to leave for dinner for another twenty minutes, so he threw the bag on top and perched on its edge, mindful it might hold something fragile. This house used to hold something fragile: his family.
Leaning forward he gazed at the wall just inside the hallway. From the moment they first brought each child home he stood them up and started the progression of marks to chart their growth. He made a new mark every two months the first couple years, then every six, then every twelve. Would the new owners paint over this treasure? With a sigh he pulled out his phone and took a picture. Maybe it could be recreated.
His eyes traveled around the room. There was the dust mark from the piano. Next to that was the scuff left when their second child decided skateboarding down the hardwood floor was a good plan. Here, next to his foot, was the charred spot he hid from his wife with a new throw rug. He’d assured her the candle was safe as he made love to her in front of the fire, creating their third child.
He chuckled. That was the reason for leaving. Apparently three children didn’t fit into a two-bedroom, nine-hundred-square-foot home with a postage-stamp yard. Granted it took her three more years to convince him. Whenever he tripped over a toy she gave him that look. When he got his promotion he sighed, nodded, and off she went in search of their new home.
It was sad to leave memories behind. There were so many here. A glance at his watch told him it was time to leave for work. Standing, he grabbed the box, bag of dirty clothes and toiletries on top, and carried it through the front door. It was a good thing the box was heavy, or he’d be tempted to linger at the threshold, remembering carrying first her, then each child, through it. Instead he snagged the door with his foot, slamming it behind him.
Putting the box in the car, he gave one last look to the place that brought him so much happiness. A wave to neighbors he would miss was his last act before pulling away. A thrill of anticipation filled him. What new memories would they create?
The government has been involved in a war for many years. They have managed to oust those causing problems, but the cost was high. Add to that the price of maintaining a permanent settlement in the area to prevent terrorism, protecting the freedom of the people liberated, and preventing anarchy, and it's easy to see why taxes have to go up.
To be fair, however, the tax is only going to be on goods. Think of it as a national sales tax that focuses mostly on imports and exports. Many of us nod in acceptance of import taxes, after all, they protect the American businessman, but export? Why should our farmers, artisans, and manufacturers have to pay a tax to send something overseas?
Oh, and this tax is going to be voted on by people we didn't elect but have the right to levy and collect taxes. They can bankrupt us, take everything we own, and throw us in jail if we don't comply.
Christopher Gadsden, of Charleston, SC, said that the tax is inconsistent "with that inherent right of every...subject, not to be taxed but by his own consent, or that of his representative."
You might think I'm talking about today, but this was actually Stamp Act imposed by Parliament in 1764. It only made sense that the Americans pay this bill since it was the French and Indian war that cost so much, and protecting citizens from the Natives in the far-reaching wilderness was expensive. Too bad for them they didn't listen to those living in America when they complained.
To peacefully protest the Massachusetts Assembly asked for representatives from each colony to meet. It was one of the first steps in the formation of a Continental Congress. In case you think a group of people meeting to complain about the economy don't have any impact (Occupy Wall Street, anyone?), then know that as an outgrowth of that meeting trade between America and pretty much anywhere else ceased (Britain controlled all trade from American ports). Ships stacked up in harbors and crates of goods rotted on wharves. Large groups of people burned stamp officials in effigy. Between the loss of income from trade, the mob violence in the colonies, and the fomenting calls for liberty, Parliament rescinded the act the next March.
So this week, when you're writing your check to the IRS, complaining about how much the government is taking, think about another group who had a similar issue. Compare them to the people calling for tax reform today. It's important to realize that the only thing that has really changed is the year.
I hate querying. There's just something inside of me that cringes at the thought of writing to someone I don't know and asking them to give my story a chance. I don't really like meeting strangers unless we know someone in common, so asking them to do something as big as representing me to publishers is a giant leap. Besides, how can I tell they're someone I want to have a working relationship with?
Because of this, for the last few months I've been stalking blogs. It doesn't seem to matter how professional you are, there is no way to prevent your personality from shining through. It's impossible to misrepresent yourself over a long period of time.
What does this have to do with planting seeds? Simple: if I have this hang-up about people, it's easy to believe others might also. So, instead of only stalking, I've started commenting. This allows me to get to know the author of the blog as well as their frequent visitors, and they get to know me. As time goes by I find my reluctance to speak up waning, and along with it goes my hesitance to query that agent.
So I have a question: What blogs do you like to visit? Which agents do you recommend I stalk?
I spent some time out in the garden after work today. Most of the chores at this time of year around raking out the leaves, cleaning up the boxes and mixing in fresh compost. But today I found a treasure under one of the cloths I cover my boxes with, bok choy.
I planted cabbage and beets last fall with the hope of winter gardening. I had visions of eating fresh greens in January, dutifully wiping away the snow to water. Then reality set in, life became hectic, I never got my hoops put up and thought all was lost. This afternoon showed me how wrong I was. There are at least eight plants trying to grow, having come up as the snow melted away.
This really relates to how I feel about writing. As expected, I received another rejection today (the one who hadn't gotten back to me in over twenty weeks, she was very nice about it, though). Mixing this disappointment with the fact that I'm struggling to find time to blog, outline, write and garden while still being a good wife and mother who works full-time makes me reconsider if it's really worth all the frustration. But while on my knees, in the dirt, humbling discussing things with my Father in Heaven, he sent me a little miracle in the form of bok choy. It was a reminder that sometimes our efforts grow later and to have patience, the fruit of our labors will appear when we least expect them.
And so I'm finishing compiling the list for the next round of queries. I'm also taking a fresh look at my book. Are the first five pages compelling? Are there any edits I missed? Does the story drag anywhere? I'm also working on my proposal, probably the area that needs the most revising. Maybe one day I'll reap the rewards of this labor of love.
The most exhilarating and frustrating aspect of trying to become published is, without equal, querying. The process seems simple enough. Write a letter to an agent, describe your book, and see if there is any interest. It's very much like a job interview in approximately five hundred words.
However, there is so much more. There are hundreds of agents, so the list needs to be narrowed down to what genre they represent. Once a list is made, research needs to be done on the agents. They may all want historical romance, but some might not be interested if there is a religious element. Some of those who do take inspirational works will only accept evangelical submissions. (Part of me wonders if the author has to be evangelical, that it's not enough for the characters to be.)
Each agency has different submission requirements. Some want pages appended, some don't. If they do want pages, the number differs from agency to agency. Although five seems to be fairly standard, it most certainly is not a rule.
When I send out a round of queries I make a table. In one column goes the agent's name. The next is the name of the agency. After that is contact information, requested format of the query letter, number of pages requested, if any, and any other pertinent information found on their website. The most useful columns, for me, are the date sent and the date to expect a reply if they are interested (usually found on their website). If the second date passes, then so have they.
This brings me back to the beginning. The exhilarating part of querying is getting that request for more. I've had a few of those. One even requested a full manuscript! She said she'd contact me in six to eight weeks. I was so excited I danced through the house.
Of course, that was almost nineteen weeks ago.
Which leads me to the frustration of querying. The truth is I want an agent who is as excited about my story as I am. That means that I have to find her, though, and so far I've had no luck. It's kind of like fishing. I throw in my hook and get some nibbles, but so far no one has bit. At least all my rejections have been very kind. Compliments have been made to my writing style, the strength of my characters, and my premise. All of which made me smile, until I get to the line where they say the don't think we're a good fit.
OH well, it's all in God's hands anyway. I'm sure one day I'll find that perfect fit. The author of The Help had sixty rejections. The sixty-first was interested. I guess
A friend of mine served on the interfaith committee that was created when the Olympics came to Salt Lake City. Their purpose was to ensure the spiritual needs of all the visiting athletes were met. Ten years ago, at the close of the games, the members of the committee looked at each other and decided they didn't want to disband. With that the Interfaith Roundtable was created.
All faiths, comprising Sikh, Islam, Jewish, Buddhist, and many denominations of Christianity, and more are represented. Once a year they hold a musical celebration. Thanks to my friend, I was able to go to this last night.
It began with a Piute Indian playing traditional flute. We watched Japanese Buddhist drummers, listened to the Quran sung in Arabic, were amazed by African Barungi drummers and dancers, smiled as children sang, and accepted the blessings from Sikh and Ute Indian spiritual leaders.
It was wonderful to see how the Spirit can touch so many people. While I don't agree with many of the beliefs expressed, I appreciate the sacredness of those beliefs to those who hold them dear. I know they don't agree with all of my beliefs either, and I appreciate that they treat them with respect.
That is the point of the Roundtable, learning to appreciate and respect those who believe differently. The truth is, our differences make us unique, but it is our similarities that bring us together. By finding common ground we build bridges of understanding and love.
This morning I roughhoused with my youngest child. She's eighteen. It was fun to wrestle like that, laughing so hard our sides hurt.
She came to us a scared, scarred and silent nine-year-old. Her emotional level was on par with a four-year-old, barking like a dog, freezing up when asked a direct question, and unable to process simple requests. Reading was non-existent and no book held enough enticement for her to learn. We were told she was retarded, would never graduate high school, lacked the ability to form lasting relationships and that we should expect to institutionalize her when she came of age.
Thankfully, through prayers and the hard work of many who cared, none of the case-worker's predictions are coming true. She will graduate in three months with a solid B average. Her relationship with her siblings is strong and she wants to live at home to save money. The only institution I expect to send her to is one of higher learning, and we are waiting for responses from colleges where she's applied.
It's true that she still has many issues that mentally slow her down, being a meth baby has that effect, but all her siblings point to her as the one amongst them most likely to succeed. The reason: she never gives up. No matter how difficult the trial, when she understood its importance, she clawed her way through it.
That dogged determination will be her saving grace in a world that seems to only reward the gifted. It also made for a fun-filled morning.