Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dancing with my Grandmother

First of all, Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt, Community and Craft is out! It was #8 on the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Bestsellers list for its opening week. Hurrah and thank you! I'm giving away four copies of that book so leave a comment (including your email so I can reach you to ask for your snail mail address to send you the book) and I'll select four people at random to receive this hardcover book.

Come April, I'll do the same for my novel, A Flickering Light.

Several years ago a reader in Alaska asked for permission to use my book, A Burden Shared, as part of a conference with native American women of the Cauluka tribe called "To Dance with our Grandmothers: a gathering of women for wholeness" Of course I consented. I'd written that little book (that is now called A Simple Gift of Comfort) to bring nurture to people dealing with various kinds of challenges and grief. I loved the title of their conference. The presentors hoped to help these women see the strengths within themselves that had been handed down to them from their grandmothers but they also planned to offer strategies so that memories stirred up would heal rather than hold them hostage. The organization sent me a book bag and a sweatshirt with the title on it and a pin, a symbol of the Cauluka tribe. I treasure them all still.

During these past months of working on A Flickering Light, I've become more aware of my own grandmother and the dance I have with her. I try to gather as much history as I can when I'm researching actual historical women and then speculate about the missing events, or ask myself questions about why she was where she was when and what must she have been thinking?

That last question is especially important as I've asked, "what must my grandmother have been thinking to allow herself to become so enamored with this unavailable man?" or "What was she thinking setting aside her own passion for photography to risk a relationship that had no future?" The questions have morphed into my thinking about the kinds of decisions I've made through the years and wondering why I did what I did. I suppose that's a risk of history, or at least of personal history. I wonder how much like her I am or whether the evidence for her life she left behind is really who she was?
There are discrepancies in this dance of her life. For example, I have tapes of interviews with her and her adult children and some of what she says doesn't jibe with the facts. Did she forget or did she wish to mislead and if the latter, who was she protecting? Herself or someone else?
That led me to think about a story that theologian Deidrich Bonhoffer told, about a teacher who asked a boy if his father had been drunk the night before. The teacher knew the answer: the boy's father had been publically drunk. The boy stood before the class and said his father hadn't been drinking. He told a lie. So the question Bonhoffer posed was whether it was more moral for an honest person to tell a lie, e.g. the boy, than for a dishonest person, e.g. the teacher, to tell the truth.
Bonhoffer's conclusion was that it was more moral for an honest person to tell a lie because usually he/she does so out of love, to protect another; whereas a person who frequently lies uses the truth as power, to control another person just as the teacher had done to the boy, humiliating him before his peers as he let him know that he knew the truth of his father's state.
I've thought about that often as I dance with my grandmother. What would I lie to protect? Have I told the truth in order to control? What legacy did she mean to leave and what will I leave behind?
A Flickering Light explores some of this as I tried to answer the questions my grandmother's life raised. It is also a story I hope that encourages us to ask ourselves why we do what we do, how we sometimes sabatoge our best hopes and what we can learn from those experiences. I hope you'll look for it in April.
Meanwhile I also promised to tell you about the writing process. The galleys were sent well before Christmas; I've sent them back with my corrections and just last week added a few more. Endorsers are being asked to read the book and see if they're willing to have their names attached to it, always stressful as they may just decide it's not up to their standards or the story is so far removed from the kinds of books they write that their endorsement would mislead their readers if it appeared on my title.
We finished the maps for the book and in the process of proofing them I located a photograph of streetcar bridge across Lake Winona. That set me to wondering when that bridge was built and should I have it on my map or was it torn down by then? That discovery led me to make a little change in the text because the bridge did exist then and we also added it to the map. A detail, I know. This is the stage where I have to watch my tendency toward OC (which is not Orange County!). I have to let go and realize there may be errors or mistakes but I've done the very best I could to make it authentic and a worthy read. The best thing to do now is to keep writing the sequel, take my mind off the book that is "finished."
In a few days, I'll post more about this process. Maybe you'll stop by and share a bit of your own. Happy New Year! Don't forget to say hi and in so doing register to win an Aurora book!Jane

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The cover, A Flickering Light

Here's the cover for my latest novel. I hope you like it! We're in the "gathering endorsements" phase right now, asking people whose work I admire if they'd be willing to read the book and perhaps say something nice about it. Of course, they may hate it and they don't have to say anything good! This is always a time of angst for a writer. The book is finished. It's gone to galley format. A few changes can be made at this point but otherwise, it's finished. Perfection doesn't mean "without errors" it means "complete." So the book is complete. And I work even as we speak on the sequel...I hope you enjoy this little insight into the next book. Keep writing your own, though! Never stop. Jane

A Flickering Light, first photograph

This is my grandmother, Jessie Ann Gaebele. She either took this photograph herself (she was a photographer at the turn of the century) or it was taken of her by the man she worked for. I love this photograph. She told me that her mother called that dress her "kept woman dress" which really annoyed her no end because she said she saved $.25 a week for six months to buy that dress herself.
In my novel about her life, A Flickering Light, I use this photograph along with four others. My grandmother is the narrator for these photographs but the rest of the story is told in third person through her eyes, her employer's eyes and the eyes of his wife. It's an intriguing story I think and I hope you'll like it when it comes out April 21, 2009.
In the sequel I'll be using additional photographs. The process of exploring the pictures, glass negatives I had developed, has been an interesting journey. I've been "reading" the images and unveiling her mystery but also mysteries of my own. I think that's what happens when we read. Who knows what mysteries you'll discover about yourself as you read her story.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

WILLA Literary Award in San Antonio

Yes, we went to Texas! We already had tickets to attend the Women Writing the West conference when we learned that A Tendering in the Storm had won the WILLA Literary Award for Original Softcover Fiction. You can see me holding the trophy (and it covers up my cleavage so nicely, don't you think?) The pin is the symbol for the association and once you've been a board member you get to wear the stylized one as I have on. The earrings were carved for me from mammoth ivory by my friend Elfi Gross. Jerry rarely smiles in photographs...he was acutally having a great time. We visited the Alamo, attended great workshops and he and Bob Foard, husband of the new President of WWW, Sheila Foard, talked guy stuff. My agent and her husband made the trip as well. It was a great evening and a honor to have a book of mine earn the award.
We walked a lot in San Antonio, the weather was perfect for touring both the Alamo and the Menger Hotel. A great city with a fascinating history. The riverwalk is a relaxing place whether walking or taking the boat ride through that portion of the city. We flew hom on Monday (via Atlanta, Salt Lake and Portland!).
Three days later I was back in Texas for the Houston Quilt Show. I spent an evening with my godson Erick Fredstrom and his wife. It was great to see them and have a personalized tour of Houston. If you ever wish to treat yourself to a quilt show where people from around the world teach and display their wares and where you can see quilts hung like paintings in a gallery, well, you should plan to attend the Houston show (that next year will be October 14-18 and you'll need to plan ahead to get a place to stay).
Right now I'm waiting on pins and needles to see the hardcover copy of Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt, Community and Craft. Should be receiving it before long as it'll be in the stores by December 16th. You can scroll down and see Emma's quilt that started it all. I hope you're all writing...and finding things to be grateful for.
I've also posted my "monthly words of encouragement" on my website so please stop by. Have a great day. Warmly, Jane

Columbia River Glacier

Here at last is that photograph of Jerry and me at the Columbia Glacier in Alberta, Canada. It still amazes me that we were there where the Columbia River begins. Our John Day River flowing past our ranch flows into the Columbia 29 miles from here. I tried to load this on my website but failed so here it is thanks to my friend Loris Webb from Edmonton.
Jerry has gone off elk hunting and I'm hoping to catch up on some writing projects as well as teach a class at the Wordstock festival in Portland. I'll also have a signing there in the morning, 11:00 AM should any of you be available to stop by and say hi! Stay well, Jane

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Alberta Canada in October

Our trip to Alberta, Canada...a treasure from my writing chest. A bugling elk, at dusk. Yes, we were this close! Jerry didn't like the color of this photo but I love it. It's almost sepia tone but it was actually the way the evening melted into night: soft and slow and restful.

The view of Edith Lake, Jaspar National Park, Alberta, Canada. This was our view when we awoke each morning. Spectacular. Our hosts have a family cottage on this lake where we heard elk bugle and watched ducks make perfect v's across the water. The landscape reminded me of Wisconsin and Minnesota but with mountains.

Meet Loris and Gary Webb of Edmonton, Alberta who treated the us to a wonderful time in Canada in October. While things were going awry in the stock market in the states, we visited a small museum in Jasper, the Royal Alberta museum in Edmonton, drove up to Maligne (pronounced ma-lean) Lake and Medicine Lake, names familiar from my research for the Tender Ties series; and walked up close to the Columbia Ice Fields and relished the granduer there. Sadly, all the shots we took at the ice fields became blurs of white: too much sun and too much ice! Oh, that's me on the right looking very grateful I hope for Loris taking the time to write to me some years back after reading A Gathering of Finches. It was her first book of mine but happily, not the last. We've corresponded through the years and when they learned that I would be keynoting a writer's conference in Edmonton, extended an invitation to Jerry and me to spend a few extra days with them. She's generous with her books, giving me a couple to read while we stayed at their cabin on Edith Lake. Gary is a marvelous story-teller and we laughed, ate very well, and relaxed. A perfect time of restoration.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Blogger Interview with Heidi Thomas

Hi all.

Heidi Thomas has interviewed me the last couple of days about writing and about A Tendering in the Storm winning the WILLA Literary Award for Best Original Paperback for 2008 --Yeah!

Her questions and my answers are on her blog at Heidi also just signed a contract for a book which is a big hurrah for her! She's been working as an editor and a writer for a long time and this will be her first novel. Perseverance pays!

As for me, I'm heading off to teach a writing workshop this weekend then flying to Minnesota for research and a brief visit with my brother and family and aunt and uncle then on to Madison and Lodi Wisconsin for events there. Check my schedule at my website

One other addition: I learned that rattlesnake poison must be willfully released from a live snake according to my vet. If a dog eats a dead snake, one dead for the past week that he dug up after I buried it! Then likely the venom will be absorbed into his stomach without hurting him. But in case you're worried, you can force the dog to throw up by having him lap up a tablespoon or so of hydrogen peroxide. He is not happy with you once you have done this, and you must quickly go through what he desposited on the carpet before he eats it again. I know, gross. If you're lucky, you'll find bits of snake but no head which means he probably didn't eat the head in the first place.

Ah the wonders of living on Starvation Lane. Happy happy. Jane

Monday, September 1, 2008

Chocolate and Friends

Well, here we are on the Oosterdam. Blair and David Fredstrom, our good friends are in the top picture. And we're at the chocolate extravaganza on board ship in the second. That's me with the chocolate smile and if you do a close up you can see the ribbon of dark chocolate that is giving me that chocolate look. We had a grand time. Thanks to my friend Gayle Gresham for teaching me how to upload pictures to my blog. Next step, figuring out how to do it on the website! Jane

Back to Kindness

Late in August we finally lured two of our friends from French Prairie to come to visit and have dinner with us. The Howards, Brenda and Roger, helped us immensely in working on the Marie Dorion series and we’ve remained friends ever since. It’s one of the great gifts of the writing life, meeting good people who you take into your circle and whose circles occasionally cross with others.
They arrived later on a day when 12 intrepid readers from Beaverton caravanned down the reptile road. They were part of a church group who had read my books and Dave Swehla has followed Emma’s story all over the country I think. He organized this journey. Both that group and the Howards met at the Sherman County Museum on the same day and discovered their mutual connection. I wish I could have been a mouse in the corner to see what the Beaverton crowd had to say about the road!
Brenda told me that earlier she and her sister had been going over old monthly memos posted on this site and now renamed as “words of encouragement” and how they liked the essays especially when I talked about the Psalms. I just finished reading Kathleen Norris’s new book and she’s a great lover of Psalms too and I realized then that I hadn’t been reading them much of late. So Brenda and her sister Judy turned my path back to them.
I chose Psalm 106 and discovered that while it begins with praise it quickly provides a litany of all that God did through the ages for the Israelites and then how the people would forget. They’d praise, be happy, then “turned back to their craving.” I do this so much! What a great phrase: turned back to their craving. And what do we crave for?
Recently in a magazine article that I now can’t find to provide the source for you, a man wrote that this was his philosophy of life: “to do what you can; love what you have; be who you are.” Such a spare and splendid life mission. A grand reminder for the days in which I forget how blessed we are. Jerry’s elk hunting (black powder); our kids are clean and sober; our other kids we’ll see again in September for a wedding of a grandson; a granddaughter called to thank us for her birthday gift; the other granddaughter got a job; we’ll be meeting Canadian readers who I’ve corresponded with for several years and spending time in Jasper, Alberta for a few days following my keynoting Inscribe, a Canadian writer’s conference in Edmonton. Next week it’s a workshop in Hood River and then family time in Minnesota and research along with a quilt presentation in Wisconsin at Quilt Expo. We have so many blessings.
For that Wisconsin event, I bought a new projector and lap top so I can make the presentation. But my computer guy says the projector is so powerful we can do movies in the park here. Or rather, movies in the canyon and show it on the rocks! Yet another adventure.
I digress.
There was another day in August that touched me greatly and reminded me of all we have. We were getting ready to go on an Alaska cruise with our friends from Bend, Blair and David Fredstrom. Yes, we’d gone three years ago but Jerry was very ill then and this would be a different trip. No flying anywhere. We got to spend a night with friends in Everett who kept our car for us and picked us up when we came back. Blair’s in a wheelchair so I planned to spend time with her while Jerry and Dave went into the towns that I’d seen before but Jerry hadn’t spent much time in. And we did have a grand time despite fog, high winds and seas for 36 hours. Blair and I did “On Deck for the Cure” the last day with her pushing herself around every other lap and me pushing her on the others. We did 5K which is 9 laps and 3.5 miles, or so we were told as we pumped away. It was great to have a week with good friends just hanging out.
Anyway, before we left Jerry wanted new jeans and he wanted me to go pick them up at Tony’s Town and Country in The Dalles, a clothing store. I could see all the possibilities of choices that I could mess up so I asked him to call in and tell them exactly what he wanted: size, boot cut or not, stretch or not, brand, etc. He did.
When I went in to pick them up, the female clerk was helping two little boys look at jeans. They were maybe 7 and 9 and had crew-cuts that needed mowing but they were bright and energetic and knew what they wanted. They bounced around and reminded me of my nephews when they were that age. I watched as she helped them. So respectful she was of them, asking what kind of pants they liked, size, etc. One of them said he wasn’t sure of the size so he scampered past me to go upstairs to the women’s section to ask his mother. The clerk made eye contact with me then and she continued to help the other child for a bit. He kept looking so she politely told him she’d just help me and be right back if that was all right with him. He said it was.
Jerry’s pants were at the cash register and she rang me up as the owner came in. She told him the two little boys needed help and he turned to go do that as I gave her a compliment.
“I want to thank you for being so kind and respectful to those little boys,” I said.
Her face opened up in surprise. “Why wouldn’t I be?” she asked.
“Sometimes adults aren’t.”
“Oh, but how will children know what kindness and respect are if they don’t experience it themselves,” she wisely said. “If they don’t see it they can’t give it away. If they experience kindness they’ll be able to pass it on.”
I said it was just so wonderful to see. I reached out to take her hand and squeezed it and apologized for the tears that I didn’t expect to be flowing (and are now as I write this).
“I have a new grandbaby,” she said. “Just born and that’s what I want him to know. “ She was tearful now too.
“What a lucky baby,” I said.
We blubbered for a bit, reaching for tissues, laughing at this moment of camaraderie standing at a counter.
I took my package, nodded to the owner who was chatting with those boys still. (Respect is obviously something modeled from the top down in that store) and headed off to pick up Jerry’s prescriptions still wondering why I was so tearful at seeing compassion expressed in everyday life like that.
At the pharmacy, it turned out that Jerry’s prescription had a problem. His insurance card that had always worked, didn’t. The clerk was very apologetic and had this look of fear in her eyes about what I’d say to this glitch in my day. But I’d seen kindness just minutes before and I said, “That sort of thing happens. I’ll have to call the insurance company and figure it out.” Her shoulders actually sank in relief. “Thank you,” she said. “It does happen and it’s no one’s fault. Thank you.”
Ordinarily I might have been annoyed, maybe even shown it or expressed it to the clerk even though it wasn’t her fault. Like everyone else I get stressed. But for some reason, there was this calm. That clothing saleswoman had given me a great gift in modeling kindness and it was really easy ten minutes later to pass it on.
I still think about the tearfulness. Maybe those tears arose because I’ve seen children abused and hurt or watched them be ignored in stores or heard someone say in harsh tones, “Where’s your mother?” Or maybe it was my acting on the witness I’d seen and telling her. It’s not always easy to give a stranger a compliment but I do try to do that. In a course I took some years ago we’d occasionally be asked to tell different people in the group, one on one, something to make them feel good about themselves. The instructors called it “gifts of confidence.” It forced us to pay attention to who that person was and what their journey was during the rest of the class so we could give away a gift to build their day. It also gave ourselves something: pleasure at noticing something in someone else that is admirable. We always ended feeling lighter, happier, just for giving kindness away.
Whatever it was, it has stayed with me, that woman’s gentle spirit. And Brenda and her sister commenting on reading old monthly memos and how they affected them, that’s a gift of confidence they gave to me that sent me to the Psalms, reminding me now of the richness of everyday life and how small things do truly make a difference not only in the lives of those boys, but in the pharmacy clerk later and in my own as the memory of that good day stays with me.
You can guess what I encourage you to do this month!
My website is nearly completed and I’m learning how to add things on my own. We’ll see if this arrives at all J I still don’t have adding photographs down so you’ll have to wait with that.
Meanwhile, as many of you head back to school with your children take a deep breath, compliment a teacher or two as they’re likely as rattled as you are and maybe together we can pass along that kindness and respect that truly does reduce the “craving” reminding us to be thankful for all we have.
Thanks for visiting the site! Warmly, Jane

Monday, August 4, 2008

Emma's quilt, blog lesson, Women Writing the West

Here is the photograph of Emma Giesy's quilt that first inspired me to write the Change and Cherish historical series. It was made perhaps as early as 1850 and shows the initials "CG" for her husband or her son, it's not certain which. You can't really see them here, but the cover of the book shows them off well. Few of the Aurora colonists distinguished their work by initials. Emma did.
I saw a photo of her quilt (not this one) in a book by Mary ByWater Cross (Treasures in the Trunk) and the rest is history. My husband took this shot at Aurora, Oregon and off to the left is a small glimpse of Emma's house that still stands on the Aurora Museum grounds. What I love about this shot is that you can see the wreath quilting that Emma did in the red and plaid blocks. She used another kind of quilting pattern for the plaid border. Incidentally, the plaid was of teal and green and the wool was grown in Aurora, dyed there and woven there, too.
We are having a replica made of this quilt and YOU can sign up for a drawing for it. Nothing to purchase, just a great opportunity for a beautiful quilt. Pendleton Woolen Mills, the last Northwest Woolen Mill (and one of only a few family owned mills) has donated the wool for this quilt so it won't be exactly like Emma's, but close.
To sign up for the drawing which is being offered by my publisher, WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group a division of Random House, just go to and click on the "contests" page. That's it! The drawing will be sometime early next year after the December 16, 2008 release of my book Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt and Craft that will feature some of the 60 quilts done by the historical women of the Aurora colony, the only successful utopian community in the west. There'll also be photographs of the many other crafts created by the men and women of the colony.
I hope you'll look for the book but also just enjoy this beautiful pieced quilt fluttering in the breeze.
Also, thanks to my friend at Women Writing the West Gayle Gresham, I learned how to post this photograph! My posts should be so much more interesting now and I'm pleased to say I learned something new. Always good. Even old rats when given new mazes to learn grew new brain cells. I've always been encouraged by that. Have a great day, Jane

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Work before the Harvest

I had intended to write this truly inspiring piece for you to announce my revitalized website designed by Stonecreek Media. I wanted my first memo to be truly inspiring. And I thought it might be.
Walking the dog yesterday in the morning brought me images of the stacks of hay taken from our alfalfa field lined up against the base of the ridge like green sugar cubes, one on top of the other. They reminded me of how much work had to go into getting them there: seeding the field last year; getting the Verminator (yes that’s what it’s called) to destroy the gophers; irrigating, irrigating, moving wheel lines and hand lines; keeping the tractor, swather and bailer ready to use. And then there are the days of actually cutting and baling and then picking the 75 pound bails up with the bale buggy and unloading them at the base of the hill.
Work before the harvest marks almost every endeavor. Many pitfalls have to be tended to as well. Will it rain on the hay when it’s down? The river ran higher than normal with episodes of very high water this spring that required we remove the pumps then put them back when the river level lowered. We used the internet to check the stream flow at places upriver to gauge whether we could put the pumps back or get ready to take them out yet again. We got through the first cutting and most of the second cutting before the swather lost a part (that we’re waiting for even now). We expect two more cuttings so it has to get repaired. Our neighbor is buying all that we have so there’s a contract that needs to be met. A contract. A commitment.
These are not unlike the work before the work of harvest in writing.
This has been a busy time of writing for me but also completing that early work. Researching for the next book. Revising for final edits for the current novel about my grandmother (A Flickering Light due out next April. Confirming quilt sizes and details for the quilt and craft book that goes to press the end of August. Preparing for September events –a retreat, a writer’s conference and a quilt-speaking event in Wisconsin, all had their time on my “to do” list this month. None of that looks a lot like “writing.”
Publishing issues, working with my team of agent, editors, sales people and more, played parts in my life this month. While in Florida I wasn’t actually “writing.” I attended a Christian writer’s retreat and a convention. Lynn Austin won the Christy for her fine historical novel A Proper Pursuit and I didn’t feel badly at all! It was a delight to have breakfast with her and to share in her acclaim. I was happy to be on the short list for best Historical Fiction, truly. I’ve hung my Christy Finalist medal on the wall already. Jerry had time with his daughter and family who joined us for the Christy banquet (and I shared a room with my agent and her associate across the street from Disneyland so we watched the fireworks each night. During the day I met with editors and marketing and publicity people and marveled that Floridians actually live year round in a place where when you leave an air-conditioned hotel and step outside your glasses steam up!
All those things can seem not like writing at all, right? Writing is that time when one gets to sit and dream and look out over the rimrocks and river but only for brief moments before becoming lost in the 1870s or 1910 and the lives of men and women who somehow seem to speak to us and keep us from being writers who feel life is solitary and lonely. I’m never less alone than when I’m writing, if that makes sense. Writing is getting to see your book or article in print, right? Writing is when you’re gifted with a letter from someone who read your book or article or heard you speak who says what they just read was your best ever and that what you had to say “spoke specifically to me.”
it’s that work before harvest, the tedious, daily, get up and repeat, cope and adapt kind of work that makes it possible. I must remind myself of that sometimes.
My little words line up to make a sentence and then a page and then a chapter and then a book reminding me of that stack of hay ever-growing until completion that later will be consumed (by cows , not ours thank goodness!) and people will be fed from the result. A very agrarian image but one every one of us who wishes for a harvest understands. The daily tasks aren’t always easy or pretty or inspiring but it’s what we do if we’re to meet our “contracts” however we have made them, with whomever we have made those commitments.
That’s what I thought I’d be writing about, encouraging you all to keep going, toward that harvest.
Instead I’m sitting here with a black eye, bruised forehead, cheek and nose, a black and blue swollen thumb, skinned knee and a scrape on my shoulder that looks that that tubby tabby of 44 pounds who was on the news yesterday used my right arm for a scratching post. And my head hurts. And my glasses that actually survived with lens intact have been redone by Jerry to get the bows somewhat parallel and the nose pieces back into place but they aren’t fitting well. They’re trifocals so we’ll have to get them officially adjusted or I’ll be looking through the wrong places…which is probably why I have the headache.
We leave for an event in Portland tonight and it’s our 32nd wedding anniversary so we’re going to do something to celebrate afterwards though I don’t know what, now. I hope my head stops hurting. Tomorrow Jerry will get to meet a reader-writer-turned-friend I met back in St. Louis at a signing last year who flew out for the Willamette Writers conference hoping to connect with an agent for his own book.
So here’s how the egg-plant color of my eye came about: Bo, our wire-haired pointing Griffon is involved. Out of pity I took him outside last night to tend to his daily duties even though he probably didn’t need to do that. It was late. Ten-thirty. But he’d been whining and pestering and I figured that’s what he wanted. I put the choke collar on him and the leash and we walked down the ramp from the swing-deck of the house just fine. But then a streak passed in front of us (a chipmunk who has been teasing Bo often hiding up in the frame of the pick-up truck where Bo can see him but not reach him. We’ve seen a lot more of those rascals since Diego our cat died). Anyway, Bo bolted. I jerked, grabbed a second twist on the leash (big mistake) and tried to pull him back but instead he pulled me forward, right into the ground, shoulder and face first while the leash twisted free but not before twisting my left thumb.
Bo happily chased his chipmunk neither caring nor noticing that I lay there, head throbbing, glasses somewhere in the darkness beyond the porch light. I shouted for Jerry who heard me inside the house and came out to rescue the glasses and help me up. Bo circled the yard a few times and then did decide to do his duty which enabled me to get his leash and bring him back in. He’s clueless of my current discomfort.
So instead of merely packing for our anniversary weekend (that my friend says sounds more like work to her than play since it involves writing events and that I really do need to learn how to play more!) I’m coping. Changing directions quickly without a lot of friction as my infamous coping saw reminds me.
I’ll consider this interlude – the headache and bent glasses – as yet another piece of the work before the work knowing that there are always glitches, always things to distract us. But most of all, knowing that I have much to be grateful for. I didn’t break a bone. The lenses stayed in the frames. The dog didn’t run too far away. Jerry heard me shout. Looks to me like all in all a very good outcome. Jerry’s seen me with a black eye before and he loves me anyway. What could be a better anniversary present than that!
I hope you enjoy the new website design. Hopefully we’ll be updating more frequently now. Please check my schedule for events near you and thank you all for making my writing life one filled with treasures of connections that keep me ever faithful toward that harvest. Warmly, Jane

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

podcast, A Mending at the Edge

Diane Eble has posted her podcast of an interview she did with me about my latest book, A Mending at the Edge, writing and life. You can listen to it at and also at her blog which is and eventually Abundant Gifts blog at ("I'm a bit behind on posting my audios there" Diane notes. Enjoy! Jane

Joy in the Journey

Hazy smoke from the California fires has settled into our canyon. We smell it in the air that is still as a rabbit watching the passage of a slithering snake. Yesterday it was windy and very, very hot (113 degrees) and we lost power at one point. Breaking the stillness inside, Bo, the wire-haired Griffon, leapt from the couch and rushed to the covered deck door, barking, something he rarely does. Jerry opened the door, Bo bolted out and there on the deck was a snake. Jerry thought it was a rattler, yelled for me to bring the .38 which I did but when I got there, he saw that the snake was a bull snake and wouldn’t shoot it. Bo, meanwhile, barked and baited it until it worked its way down the steps then fell through onto the dirt below. The dog barked, I tried to grab him, it made this hissing sound that to me sounded like a rattler, but Jerry insisted it wasn’t and he wasn’t going to shoot a snake that could eat mice (something we’ve seen more of since the cat was lost to coyotes).
Anyway, I finally grabbed Bo and dragged him from the snake; we came back inside sweating now from our exertion in the heat, and pondered our dog’s intention. Had it been a rattler, he might well have been bitten though he seemed to be just the distance necessary to avoid contact. At the very least, I think we’ll get another cat.
So begins our July. The river is still high so we have many more floaters than usual and expect quite a bunch come this Fourth of July weekend. I hope they bring their SPF 30. We’ve completed the first cutting of hay and are irrigating again. I’m home from a week in Grove City near Pittsburgh where I taught at the St. David’s Christian Writer’s Conference, visited with my agent and her book group then flew home for four more events. This is the first full week to be on the ranch since May and I like it, even without power sometimes.
Next week we leave again for Orlando where I’ll attend another writer’s retreat (I don’t have to do anything except write at it J), participate in the Christy Awards banquet, and attend several receptions, breakfasts, and have a signing while at the large trade show. A Tendering in the Storm is a one of three finalists for a Christy. My titles have been finalists for five national awards without being chosen as the winner and that’s all right with me. Jerry will attend the banquet and so will his daughter and son-in-law who we haven’t seen in awhile. Jerry will spend most of his time with his daughter while I’m chattering with other authors, hanging out with publishers, seeing what’s happening in this sometimes strange industry that makes it possible for my books to reach your hands.
Then later in the month I’ll be at Aurora hopefully fact-checking material for the quilt and craft book. It’s a very good life we lead and I am grateful.
The theme of the Pennsylvania conference was “Joy in the Journey” and as it happens, everything seemed to come together for that event with our discovery of joy along our writing way. I got to remind people to think “midwife” and not just wait until we’re published before finding that joy; we need to celebrate successes along the way. I don’t think that refers to the writers among us but to the parents, the teachers, the windmill operators, but for police and politicians, ranchers, laundry mat owners and on-line entrepreneurs as well. Other faculty, Gayle Roper, Barbara Hirshbaum, Lisa Crayton, Sally Stuart, inspired us and laughed with us opening doors to creativity.
Sometimes when I’m traveling (read that ‘journeying’) I don’t take time to enjoy. I’m concerned about getting to the airport on time, getting through security, hoping my bag will fit as a carry-on, wondering if the weather will affect my connection and who my seat companion will be and whether I’ll arrive safely at the other end.
But if I set a new attitude before I travel (the work before the work) it changes the entire journey for me. In Dallas, on the way to PA, the zipper on my favorite purse broke. But when my friend Bobbi Updegraff picked me up, she had a dozen purses for me to choose from, all made by a mission in Honduras that she supports. She travels and writes for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and has a special interest in Honduras where women there make purses from men’s ties. (For $25 you can have one too!). It was perfect! I didn’t even have to go to the mall to get a replacement and my effort helped a mission project in Central America.
At the conference, I found joy in listening to other faculty like Gayle Roper and Barbara Hirshbaum, Lisa Crayton and Sally Stuart and reading first chapters of participants. A couple of fans drove 4 hours from their homes in Ohio to listen to my presentation and we spent time just connecting. I wasn't rushed and so could also walk beside someone who was troubled and pray with her as she took next steps on her writing journey. I nearly froze back there (it was 54 degrees several days!) but I'd thrown in a shawl at the last minute and was fine, just fine.
Coming home, I had a joyful journey too. I sat next to a Texan who was in “gas and oil” and we shared the exit row seats with extra leg room. I got bumped up to that flight and avoided a storm delay. Turns out that oilman hated take-offs and I hate landings so we offered good support to each other.
While at the airport in Dallas, I bought Jerry’s birthday present. Jerry also checked in early at the hotel in Portland so when I called his cell to tell him I was there and couldn’t get through because Mariah had had that cell and it was full, the hotel put me through to him so he could come and get me. And when we got home, Bo was happy to see us both. All things worked on this journey.
Once, earlier in my life, while living in West Bend, WI, I’d made my then husband drive the 40 miles to the airport a day early, rent a motel then show up at 6:00 AM for a noon flight to Florida – before homeland security. The airport wasn’t even open at 6:00 AM! But I was so anxious I pushed us to get there early and so fearful that I wouldn’t know how to manage if something went wrong that I rarely enjoyed those journeys nor even the vacations. Now I do.
So this is a month in which I can encourage you all to remember that things do change; we do survive inconveniences and sometimes even disasters. Small doors open when we take the time to notice them. Rattlesnakes turn out to be friendly bull snakes; and dogs that get close can be caught and brought back. At least sometimes. This time. And smoke in the canyon isn’t always from a close fire; sometimes the smoke is from a trial far away where finding joy is a challenge.
In his song, "Joy in the Journey," Michael Card writes that "there is a wonder and wildness to life, and freedom for those who obey." Perhaps that’s the key this month, to allow the wonder and wildness to permeate the everyday and bring joy to whatever journey you’re on.
Next month I’ll have a new website. I hope you’ll come by. Meanwhile, thanks for your constant support of my work, interest in our lives and prayers for continued joy on our own Starvation Lane journey. Warmly, Jane

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

blogger interview with Cindy Swanson

It's been awhile, I know. But here for your viewing and listening pleasure is an interview I did with Cindy Swanson a fine interviewer out of Chicago. We spoke about writing and life and I thought you might enjoy this conversation. Kirkpatrick.mp3

I'm also going to bring you my monthly memo for June in about three days. Travel is taking me from blogging; but hopefully I'll meet some of you in Newberg, Stayton, Independence, Portland, Florence (Oregon) and in Pennsylvania in the next two weeks. Please visit my website schedule at Thanks!

Meanwhile, keep writing or pursuing that which brings you nurture. Jane

Monday, May 5, 2008

Blog tour links for A Mending at the Edge

The graph below shows activity on Change and Cherish series in the blogosphere. The phrase “A Mending at the Edge Kirkpatrick” has been mentioned 60 times.

Read some of the reviews at…
Amanda Amanda A Patchwork of Books Amy April Ashley Becky Beth Brittanie CeeCee link Christa Christy David Deanna Deborah Deborah Dee Deena De'Etta Elisabeth Gretchen Heidi here Jamie Janis Jenny Karla Kim Laura Leah Lisa Marlo Melissa Melissa Michele Pamela Paula Reviews By Two - Christian Books Reba Sean Sue Susanne Takiela Tami Terri Tiffany Ty

Christy awards, heart stories, bobcats, listening

May 5, 2008. Today the power went off around 1:30 AM. We had power to the irrigation pumps but no power at the house. The electric company spent the morning and finally found the cause: apparently some coyotes had likely chased a bobcat up the power pole and he had met his demise by chewing into the power link that went to the house. Poor thing! "I suppose he died?" I asked. "He is still there at the scene of the crime," announced the power company. They have to drive over 50 miles to get to us but he seemed pleased to have had a reason to come down the reptile road, watch the river rise from the snowmelt in the mountains and eat his lunch overlooking the alfalfa field. Power is back. I can get back to writing.

this is the montly memo that will eventually be posted on my website Please visit there and check out my schedule. I'll be in Portland, OR tomorrow evening (May 6) for the Willamette Writer's gathering there. Hope you'll stop by.

Earlier this year I took an on-line class from writer/artist mary anne radmacher (she writes her name with all lower case letters, by the way). It began January first and required writing three paragraphs a day and sending them to her. I didn’t think I could manage that with the novel being due, working on the quilt book and Jerry’s January surgery, but I thought it would inspire me and it did.
At the same time, along with several other Christian novelists, I committed to writing 2000 words a day hoping to finish that novel before I went to Italy. I made it! And I’ve kept up the practice mary anne began, a little. Not every single day, but often.
Today I pulled up the phrase “Let your heart instruct you. Listen well. You will know your way.” It’s from one of mary anne’s little boxes of sayings from her site, It seemed especially fitting this month.
May it seems is a month of good news for me. A Mending at the Edge has been on the Pacific Northwest Booksellers bestsellers list since it was released in mid April. The third book in a series often doesn’t sell well so this is great. Along with it, we’ve seen more people at events and signings, too, which is sweet. Then early this week we learned that A Tendering in the Storm, the second book in the series, is a finalist for the Christy Awards, a national award for the best in Christian fiction. The first book in the series didn’t make the Christy cut but it was a finalist for the WILLA Literary Award so it’s amazing to me that this has happened now, after all this time. The list of all the finalists is pretty impressive if you’d care to visit the Christy site. It could make up your reading list for the year!
When I read mary anne’s words, I was reminded about the importance of that heart instruction. Since I began this writing journey, I’ve tried so hard to listen to the stories that really called my name, the ones that “instructed my heart” so I could write them down and share them when I’m off on my adventures speaking to writers groups or to educators or to people who just love stories. I’ve tried to do the same when I’m asked to read a book or explore with someone how to get a book published or whether I could endorse their latest work.
The book that was nominated was a hard book to write because of the sadness of the woman’s life at that point. It’s a book about grief and its many siblings and it’s a book about the price of independence and the costs of compliance to a devastating act. Those are hard subjects and I struggled with whether to tell much of that part of her story. But readers have said even though it was a difficult (as in sad) book to read that it was worthy of their time. Several on the blog tour said the series as a whole had truly affected their own life journey.
Still, readers said they’re looking forward to A Mending at the Edge because they have confidence that Emma’s heart will be restored, that she will find her way. And so she did through the arts, through her faith, through community and through her listening to her heart.
This all speaks, though, to the continuing need to listen to my heart. I have to listen when requests come in that I can’t always fill, for events or to speak. I have to learn how to say “No” which I realize I didn’t do so well if you look at my schedule! I have to learn when to say yes as well.
Today I learned that the release date of the quilt book I’ve been so absorbed in for the past 18 months has been put back to January of 2009. Oh how my heart ached when I learned this! Within the hour of discussion with my editor I went through all the stages of grief: anger, denial, bargaining, depression and finally, acceptance.
While my mind was racing, my heart was saying “what’s the best thing for this story?”
It is the best thing to be able to have the best product possible, the best way for pre-sales, for getting the book into places we hope it will reach people. The more we talked, the more my heart settled. Yes, I have to disappoint people who hoped to have the book to give as Christmas gifts! Yes, I had to change some dates already scheduled for events related to it. But on the plus side, the entire team can do the work they want to do to make this book their best and publishing really is a team sport. All the facets must come together or we’re lost.
On the plus side, Oregon celebrates its 150th birthday next year and the quilt book will be available for that, a perfect way to memorialize Oregon’s history with this historical/quilt/inspiring book. The national association of communal societies will meet in the fall next year and the publisher hopes to do additional promotion through the year so that will be a good linkage. It’s actually a plus that I’ll have “an Oregon Story” (though it’s much more an American story) since my next novel will be set in the Midwest and my Northwest fans might feel slighted a bit. Now they won’t be. They’ll have their own book to devour (hopefully) for 2009 and still have an appetite (hopefully) for my grandmother’s story set in Minnesota and Wisconsin, my home state, when it comes out in April of 2009.
Plus, I’m in the midst of having my website revamped and I’ll be learning a new program so I can post my monthly memo and keep my schedule up instead of having to bug my very busy niece. And I’m already busy researching the second novel in the “Portrait of a Woman” historical series so really, as Jerry said, everything will work out.
It’s really nice to have his support and to know that he, too, can adapt to this change. We’ve been having quite a good time on our journey of travel this year, sometimes with the dog, sometimes not and we’ve discovered that spending that much time together is really pretty special. We’re fortunate indeed.
I don’t know what sort of things may be happening in your lives right now but I do know that taking that deep breath and listening to your heart is a truly good thing to do. You will find your way. And you will not be alone.
I do have lots of events in May so I hope to see you at some of those. Most of all I thank each of you for making room in your heart for my stories.
Warmly, Jane

Friday, April 18, 2008

blog tour, transportation, quilt show and spring

My dear webmaster still hasn't loaded up on my site so I appreciate you waiting for that first chapter read. It won't be long and I'll have a new webmaster (my niece with her five kids is moving on to other things!) but thanks for your patience until then.

On Tuesday, my newest book released! It's called A Mending at the Edge and there's a great review of all three books in the series at written by Kim Ford. I hope you'll go visit it. Tonight I have a signing at Powell's Bookstore in Beaverton, OR. Powelle's is one of the world's largest independent bookstores. I won't be in the downtown store. My first and only visit there was two days after 9/11 and 125 people came, seeking comfort I think and because all the airlines were cancelled.

I had a great trip to Chicago at the quilt show and some other events there. But I was booked on American Airlines and was on the first flight cancelled out of Portland on Tuesday and on the last flight cancelled on Saturday night getting out of Chicago. They flew me to Dallas where THAT flight was cancelled. They found another plane, and we took the skytrain to the new gate and the skytrain stalled! People don't like to get behind me at the copy machine...but this time it wasn't me! Still, we formed a community we people trying to get to Portland and stuck in the world of transportation.

Today it's beautiful on this ranch, white fluffly clouds shadowing the growing alfalfa and the newly seeded sections of the fields. We're fortunate to be here yet another spring. I hope wherever you are today you are inhaling the goodness in your life. Jane

Friday, April 4, 2008

Italy and the next book

Italy was Bella! We had a wonderful time, walking everywhere (except when we took the bus or the train). On Easter in Sorrento, the church bells start clanging at midnight and ring on the hour with fireworks at noon. At the hotel, each room was served a lovely traditional Easter bread shaped like a cross (I didn’t eat it but my traveling friend, Sandy, did and announced it bella!). Behind our hotel a series of steps, hundreds, made their way up the steep mountain side and at different landings were the fourteen stations of the cross. Someone had placed a flower in a vase at each station and at the top there were bouquets of flowers inside the small chapel there. We could see out over the Bay of Napoli to Vesuvius (we could also see Vesuvius from our hotel room window, just lying in our beds!) and view the town of Sorrento with its red-tiled roofs and olive and orange groves throughout the city. Easter morning we kept walking up along a path that eventually took us to another road and there we walked another hour or more past olive groves and orchards where both oranges and lemons grew on the same trees. We carried our umbrellas that day but didn’t need them. It was truly a lovely day of newness all around and I felt so blessed to be spending Easter Sunday in Italy.
At the noon meal later, the hotel brought in a huge (the size of a five year old child) chocolate egg. They then cracked it open and we all got sheets of dark chocolate as dessert for our meal. In Sorrento, they also have a custom where smaller chocolate eggs (the size of footballs) are filled with trinkets, little bracelets or toys for children, and the stores the day before were filled with these presents wrapped like we wrap roses with colorful cellophane paper. Easter Monday is also a holiday there. And by the way, the lemons are the size of grapefruits. We learned that they’re on steroids, really, and people buy them for the novelty of the size but they also cut them open, take out the pulp and put in lemon sorbet that is then frozen and the dessert is served in that huge lemon half with a tiny piece of chocolate for color. I loved that sorbet! It didn’t have flour in it either the way gelato does.
Good Friday was a special day as well as most of the small towns held processions to the church carrying a statue of the crucified Christ. We arrived late on Good Friday and were caught in the traffic jams following those processions. Believe me, the streets are very narrow in places and our driver knew the back roads or we’d still be there waiting for all the little Smart Cars and scooters and three-wheel vehicles to make their way through the maze of alleys and roads so narrow I could stand in the middle and almost touch both sides of the walls lining some of them!
But it was the people and their dogs we loved the best! Of course we were meeting people from around the world, especially Europe, at the conference; but the community of Sorrento was filled with warm and helpful people too. No one every groused at us when we had to ask for directions or asked what something was. I ate gluten-free and only had one bad day (and that might have been from the excess chocolate!) We took some side trips along the Almafi coast, the Isle of Capri (pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable, Cap) and into Rome and even there we figured out how to adapt when the bus we’d planned to take back to Sorrento decided to leave two hours before their printed schedule. So we took the trains and walked back up to our hotel after 10:00 PM feeling very safe (and escorted by some of the street-savvy dogs who show up often to check out the scrap-department. Sadly, we left them few!)
I told Jerry our next project should be to photograph “The Dogs of Sorrento” as they were many and varied but also well-behaved. And it would get us back to Italy!
Maybe I was thinking dogs so much because while I was gone our old lab, Brody, had another stroke and lost control of his functions and Jerry had to have him put him down. I’d said a good good-bye to him before I left thinking that at 14, he might not make it many more months. He didn’t. He was such a good dog and we’d had him at least three years longer than we’d thought we would by giving him what we called “Happy Pills” for his arthritis and other pains. He eventually stopped going on walks with me and with Bo, but before then, he’d walk as far as the two trees that were on the property when we bought it, hackberry trees, growing on the ridge below the house. He’d lie there in the shade and wait until we made the river loop and came back by to pick him up, often having to get the six-wheeler so he could just step in and ride back up the hill. Brody came to us when Mariah did the first time, when she was seven. She’ll be 21 this year so we’ve had a long and loving time with Brody. He’ll be missed.
My sessions at the conference went well. Talking about Enduring Stories or The Seven Thoughts that Hold us Back and how we can transform them, appear to be universal issues. The women from Qatar spoke to me afterwards (there were three of them attending the conference) about how fear and anxiety and unworthiness have to be addressed as their country undertakes an amazing commitment to education bringing six American universities in to provide degrees in medicine, engineering, architecture and more at the upper end while committing to extensive early childhood education and on up to stop what they called the “brain drain” of their countrymen and women who leave to study abroad and often don’t come back. They hope to educate their citizens there and keep them there to continue to advance this small Middle Eastern nation rich in natural gas reserves. The head of their ministry of education is a woman whom these women said was truly a model for them. It was a delight to discover that the material I had to offer, the material that is both a part of my mental health life and my writing life and homestead, too, can speak to people on the other side of the world, about changing how we feel and changing the lives around us by how we live our own.
The main presenter was Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to climb all seven of the world’s highest mountains including Mt. Everest. His presentation brought both tears and laughter along with awe of the power of the human spirit to dream big, to gather up a team of remarkable people (19 of the 21 person team also summitted, the greatest number of team members to do so on any expedition) and to learn to reach further and higher and to inspire those around them to seek greater heights as well. He also showed video clips of some of the challenges of the climb; but also of new technologies that showed that the brain continues to “see” even when the eyes don’t and he is testing a device where he holds a sensor on his tongue which is connected to a computer carried on his back that sends him messages where he can “see” to play tic tac doe with his daughter and see well enough to catch her cheating! He did have three O’s in a row before her three X’s! Ah, the amazing brain.
His story also spoke to me of the work I did with families challenged by developmental disabilities and several other presenters spoke about educational successes around the world in serving students with special needs. The head of the Perkins School for the Blind also presented and gave a horrifying statistic that over 6 million blind children world-wide are not involved in any educational programs because in many countries they do not believe they are entitled to education. Through Erik’s non-profit foundation, he took six blind Tibetan students on a rock-climbing expedition. Imagine the soaring of their spirit to know that they could indeed learn to do things that even sighted people (like me!) quiver at doing, climbing some huge rock, and be successful at it!
So this April, I hope you’re ready to see how eariler inspiring moments and beliefs of my life and Emma’s history got translated into A Mending at the Edge. It’ll be out in two weeks! You’ll be getting a postcard if you’re on my mailing list and there are a number of events where I hope to see you including the coast launch of the book sponsored by Time Enough Books in Ilwaco, WA, not far from where Emma and Christian lived their lives (at the Heritage Museum there, April 20th at 2:00 PM) and of course in Aurora itself on Mother’s Day at 2:00 PM. A new exhibit is opening that weekend as well “All About Emma” and I believe there’ll be tours of some of the museum sites including the house that Emma once lived in. So if you’re in the Northwest….come visit.
I’m scheduled for a number of blog tours during the next weeks. I just have to figure out how to let you all know that! Hmm, maybe posting them on my own blog? You think? I’m still getting the hang of all this!
We’ll be back on the Oregon Coast on April 26th in little Toledo, OR at 1:00 at the Methodist Church there. We’re (Jerry and me) invited back by the Serendipity Book Group that’s been meeting for many years and one of their members, Dixie McKay, is the mom of the woman who invited me to Sorrento as part of the European Council of International Schools. Her daughter is second from the left in this photograph (with new friends Fran (on the far left) and Adelle, next to me, also presenters at the conference). This was at the gala on Saturday night where we were serenaded by waiters who sang so beautifully they could have been on stage. Maybe during the day, they are! Dixie, the mom, rounded up close to a hundred people in that little church the last time we came. We hope we can repeat it!
Very soon, the first chapter of A Mending at the Edge will be posted on my website, I hope you’ll be interested enough to want to read more and then this fall, will also want to see photographs both old and new of the quilts and crafts for which the Aurora colony was known regionally in the book Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt and Craft. We hope through the photographic non-fiction book to let people around the country (maybe the whole world!) know of this group of Christians who sometimes stumbled and fell but who picked themselves up and did their best to live out their Christian beliefs including the Diamond Rule, where they hoped to make others’ lives better than their own. It’s a worthy effort to pursue and this month of spring I hope to do something each day that just might make another’s life better than mine. It will be a challenge for I am humbled by the richness of my own life.
I hope you’re humbled by your own as well. Ciao for now!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

heart disease, children, Ghandi, good reads,

Some of you know that March, in the past, has often been a difficult month for me. Both of my parents died in a March. We survived an airplane crash in March of 1986. And then there are those Ides of March…I used to call it Murphy’s March for all the things that could go wrong.
But over the past few years I’ve decided that I gave March a bad rap. It’s really quite a remarkable month. We do our “bounty counting” in March now (preparing our taxes!). The yellow bells, first signs of fragrant spring, sprout, reminding me of a time I went walking with my dad and stuck that tiny flower in my dad’s shirt pocket. All day he commented on how good everything smelled and only later realized that it was that tiny yellow bell that gave the gift.
There are birthdays that are special in March. Jerry’s mom’s birthday was in March. So was my mom’s. Matt’s birthday is in March. Bo will be 22 months old on the 17th! A great niece, Sarah Hurtley, will turn 17 in March and her Dad will be…well, older in March.
Winter wakes up this month and finds itself transformed into new beginnings and treasures.
I won’t know for another week or more about my heart test results but while they were being done no one said “Oh my!” or “I think you better wait until I share these with the radiologist” you, know, those certain looks suggesting maybe things are worse than I’d thought. So I’m not worried. After all, I took my own advice and guarded my heart and it’s March when I’ll learn the results so I think things will be fine.
We spent a few days last week on the Washington coast not far from where Emma had spent some of her days along the Willapa Bay (my Change and Cherish series). We walked on the beach, picked up sand dollars, ate seafood (lots of it) and read. I finished Robin Cody’s Ricochet River a book that like Sweetness to the Soul made the “100 best books about Oregon list.” Robin is coming to Sherman County on March 3 to spend the day with kids and the evening with adults and kids at the library and he and his wife invited Jerry and me to visit Sherar’s Bridge with them and talk stories. What fun that will be!
I started reading The Florists Daughter by Patricia Hampl, a memoir about her parents living in Minnesota (where my mom grew up) and brought along to keep reading – depending on my mood – The Hardest Time, Dance of the Dissident Daughter, The Audacity of Hope, The Path, The Hidden Wholeness, Bring Warm Clothes i(That one’s about Minnesota winters) and Eat, Pray Love (it was suggested I read this before leaving for Italy in two weeks), and Lee Iacocca’s newest Where Have all the Leaders Gone? You never want to be without books.
And we rented movies on the rainy afternoons. We don’t watch many movies on TV and going to them is a 100 round trip so DVDs at the hotel works well. I could enjoy them more too because I’d finished the rough draft of my 2009 novel just before we left! My goal had been to finish it before I leave for Italy so it was a gift to have it this far along! Lots of revising will be done, editorial comments etc., but this phase is finished and it is a milestone I celebrated walking on the beach.
Anyway, the theme of the weekend and the movies seemed to be the importance of childhood and protecting children but also about the gifts of childhood. Maybe I was just being open to these issues this month thinking of myself as a ‘daughter,’ orphaned now but then we are all orphans in some ways, seeking to find our way home.
Robin Cody’s book was a moving story of teens and love and life and hope and trials, about salmon runs and dams, about small towns and Indians and the stories we tell ourselves and how the lives we live tell stories, too. It was a compelling read and without a doubt I easily set aside all the other books in order to finish Ricochet River. I highly recommend it from young adult on up.
Anyway, the most profound film we watched was called Water. It’s an East Indian production, subtitled, set in the 1930s. It’s about a young widow (age 7) being sent to live in the community of widows which is what happened for Hindu wives whose husbands died. They could die with them, be sent to this widow’s town, or if the family allowed, be given in marriage to the younger brother of the deceased husband. It was a strict caste system and the story suggests it changed with Ghandi’s influence but as late as 2000 was still practiced by some Hindu people. This is women in history month and I couldn’t help but note that women, young women and old women still struggle in many places around the world, even in my neighborhood though we have no widow’s community.
Into this mix came the 7 year old widow. There were women who had been there for many years, who had also come at the age of 7 or 8, some of whom had never known the husband whose death had sent them there. It was not always a bad place but the wrench of being left there by her in-laws and the way that lives changed there because she was being a child and because these widows had to find ways to survive, moved me deeply. I think the last time I’d cried that hard at the end of a film was at the movie “The Deer Hunter” back in 1979 and it was probably as much as the power of the film as the fact that Jerry was having cervical surgery the next day…life seemed so fragile and of course, it is.
But I was held by someone who loved me while I cried and our friend who was with us, who also shed her tears, reached out to touch my hand and I felt so grateful, so blessed at my childhood, my life, my choices, my chances to lead the life I do, loved as I am.
My admiration for Ghandi’s work grew, too. Such a profound weight Ghandi took upon himself to change a way of life, to make a small dent in colonial influences left by the British in that nation (who had certain advantages by these widows needing to earn money for food), by the weight of generations of Hindu tradition that accepted how these widows of all ages should be treated. His faith and personal conviction were never displayed in the film; it was all about this one child but it personalized how a single life and the lives of those around her were changed and needed to be changed by Ghandi’s listening to his heart, by people knowing he was out there moving to make life better for the smallest child. The law was changed but it was another widow’s act of compassion that truly changed the child’s life, her act of courage to defy the rules and order on behalf of a child’s need.
Or maybe I was so affected because I’d also just come from leading a Presbyterian women’s retreat and as a way to get to know them, I’d asked the women to share their name and share something they loved doing as a child. As I always am at these events, I was moved by the diversity, the range of happy and sad childhoods but also that each could name something they had once loved to do, lost themselves in doing, remembered with fondness what they’d done.
Several said they didn’t do that activity much anymore and I suggested that maybe we ought to. Maybe a way to celebrate the gifts of childhood, (which to me are wonder and passion, un-conditional love, easy forgiveness of ourselves, siblings and even our parents!) is to once again engage in roller skating, horseback riding, reading for pleasure, taking walks with our grandmother, “playing church”, singing, trying something new even if we look foolish. If we were fortunate enough to grow up with at least one person whom we knew loved us, would be there for us, to “protect, border and salute” us (From a Rilke poem), then maybe as adults we could salute those times by repeating them or better yet, giving a child a chance to do those things too.
Someone in one of those books I’m reading said that if we are engaged in parenting, teaching and healing, then we are engaged in meaningful living. So that’s my task and joy this month: to look for ways to enrich the lives of others by parenting, teaching and healing in the best way I know how.
It’s Women in History month and I’ll be speaking at a few events this month and traveling to Italy at the end of it. But I think I’ll make a little more time to go walking with Bo and urging the old dog, Brody, to walk a little further than the deck. I’ll read for pleasure and not just research or to meet contracts. And I’ll be a little more grateful that I grew up as I did running free on a farm protected not from all the tragedies that can affect a child but protected in ways that allowed me to dream and to discover a faith that sustains and urges above all in this world to “love kindness, seek justice and walk humbly with your God.” We are so many of us, profoundly blessed even in this month of March, even with struggles yet for women’s voices to be heard. I am blessed beyond measure and I hope to do a better job of remembering that. Have a wonderful month!

Note and update: The heart tests I had revealed an enlarged left ventricle probably caused by untreated high blood pressure (which is now under control) or from my having had rheumatic fever as a child. And my EKG was abnormal…but apparently it’s always looked like I’ve had a heart attack! At least the one done in 2002 had the same strangeness that brought the doctor back into the exam room saying “Has anyone ever told you about your abnormal EKG?” They hadn’t but now they have. I’m ok. I just need to keep my BP under control. There was no evidence of buit or stroke-like stuff so I’m back on the treadmill my 4 miles a day and heading for Italy on the 20th! Thanks to all for checking in with me. I’m sorry this hasn’t gotten posted on my website yet but my webmaster had some trials at her house. It’s what living looks like.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Finishing Things

I've been remiss! I'll try to do better. My husband had a second surgery in January and I was busy trying to finish my novel due April 1 that will come out in April of 2009. It's based on my grandmother's life -- she was a photographer in 1910-1915 in Minnesota. I have a couple dozen glass plates that either she or my grandfather took and I've worked five of them into the story. Getting them printed was a treat and it was done by a local photographer so I didn't even have to travel more than 50 miles to get them. My husband is doing well!

I had line edits for a book coming out next month, A Mending at the Edge, last in the novel series due too this past month. That will be followed in September by a nonfiction book about the Aurora Colony in Oreogn that inspired my Change and Cherish series. That book is called Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt and Craft. I hope you'll look for it. My husband took a lot of the photographs and I just finished the line edits for it too. Now we have the photographic part to manage. The museum is quilting a replica of one of the original quilts done by Emma Wagner Giesy, the woman I've written about in my novel series, and there'll be a way for anyone to put their name into a drawing for that quilt come purchase required!

In between I taught a class on writing with a mentor of mine, my first writing instructor, Bob Welch. That was pretty amazing, humbling and encouraging all at the same time.

What I wanted to say though is how good it feels to finish something. I know the novel comingout NEXT April is in it's first draft stage and I'm now doing revisions before sending it off to the editor. And I'll get to relook at it after she's considered it and makes suggestions. But there is something truly liberating about reaching for something I wanted -- like finishing the book before I leave for Italy next week for a conference I'll speak at but will also be a time of relaxation. For a lot of writers, that "finishing" thing is really tough. I try to remind them and myself that perfect does not mean "without errors" but rather "complete." Things that are complete are perfect. It helps me actually write "the end" and it helps me keep going even on the days when the Harpies sitting behind me are saying that what I've written is drivel.

I hope whatever your harpies are telling you that keeps you from feeling the joy of being finished that you'll put Duct tape on them. Someone gave me red duct tape and it really quiets those voices. But if you don't have real duct tape handy, just put a mental tape across their mouths and keep going until you've, well, finished! Stay well, warmly, Jane