Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sharing the love of reading

April 23rd was the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth and death. April 23 was UNESCO World Book Day. April 23 was World Book Night. What a perfect time to share the love of reading with a group of kids.

Yesterday, I joined 2,500 other volunteer book givers to carry out the World Book Night mission to share the love of reading by distributing 500,000 books in one day.

Friend and fellow WBN book giver Mary Gottschalk and I chose to give our books out at Oakridge Neighborhood, home to 300 low-income families, many of whom are refugees.

Before passing out books, we held a lively discussion of reading and writing with teens and pre-teens in one of the Oakridge Neighborhood after-school programs. What fun to hear that these young people are writing stories and keeping diaries. They could be writing the books WBN gives out in the future.

I chose The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as my book to give. Mary chose The Things They Carried. The program leaders at Oakridge plan to have book club-type discussions of the books, using the discussion guides included in each specially printed edition of the books made just for this event.  

Because there were so many young people with so many different interests - and so many good books on the World Book Night list, I picked up copies of several other authors on the list to distribute as well. We encouraged them to take a book, read it and pass it on.

The love of reading is contagious. What fun to pass it on!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day highs and lows

"It's so clean here," Colonel Hill observed as we stood looking out the window of a restaurant many stories above the downtown Des Moines streets.

"It could be better," I responded, spying cans and paper litter, even from that far away.

I realize it's a matter of perspective. The colonel was visiting from Washington, D.C. Litter on big city streets makes Iowa look positively pristine by comparison. But even if we could smugly say we're not as bad as they are, that's hardly a badge of distinction.

Today is Earth Day.  Started in 1970 as a protest, since then the day has served as a celebration of the birth of the modern environmental movement and a day of action.

An AP article compared pictures from the EPA Documerica project. Things look a lot better, but they also show work to be done. Earth Day raises awareness each year of the need for good environmental stewardship, and of the need for each person to take responsibility for our environment. 

Every spring I find myself ranting about all the litter in the roadside ditches. Because of the mild, mostly snow-free, winter just past, I was able to keep the ditches along my walking trail reasonably clean throughout the winter. Pretty much every day I took a walk this winter, I came back with 2-3 bottles or cans. The capacity people have to litter is endless.

Since Earth Day is about action, my action today will be to bag up all the recyclable containers I've picked up in the last few weeks and take them to a recycling center. But also, because Colonel Hill reminded me that by comparison we also have it pretty good here in Iowa, I'll focus on the beauty of our surroundings, too. The plum tree my husband planted this week and the bleeding hearts blooming in the garden.

Our earth is beautiful. Earth Day reminds us all to take responsibility for keeping it that way.

Happy Earth Day!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Will she get her man?

The story of David &Goliath is well known. But in reading about David, most people overlook the prize he won for bringing back the Philistine’s head—King Saul’s daughter, Michal. The women behind the men are often overlooked—in the bible and elsewhere—but that’s what makes these women such good fiction fodder. As author Rachelle Ayala has discovered in writing MICHAL’S WINDOW.

The story is told mostly from Michal's viewpoint. The young princess who falls madly in love with David, a young man who plays the harp for her father. David loves her just as much but their love is thwarted time and again because David is slated to be the next king. Michal’s father, King Saul, feels threatened and sets out to have David killed. Yes, even though David is married to his daughter. Soap operas have nothing on the bible!

Michal’s goal is simple—to be with the man she loves—and she is relentless in trying to get to him even as she wonders if he feels the same for her. She’s a feisty girl who doesn’t follow the rules of the day for women and that gets her into and out of many scrapes—and into and out of the arms of many men.  Will she ever be reunited with the love of her life? How does she deal with the reality that her husband takes many wives? What does she do about the other men who love her—and that she loves back? This is an epic story of love gained and lost, of betrayal and redemption.

Books like this always send me back to the bible to separate biblical fact from fiction. Ayala is faithful to the biblical story of King David, a story that includes graphic violence as well as explicit sensuality and sex—scenes Ayala writes exceptionally well. In rich detail and vivid scenes, the author takes us into a world where women are given, or taken, as prizes by men. She weaves in Michal’s story in a way that makes the characters real and the story totally believable.

Intertwining Michal into all of the actions of David while building Michal’s parallel story created the one challenge I found in this novel—the length, which is roughly twice that of an average novel.

MICHAL’S WINDOW is well written, historically accurate, a fascinating view of the women who receive only passing mention behind the men in stories we may think we know so well. MICHAL'S WINDOW reminded me of Anita Diamant's THE RED TENT. If you liked that one, this could be for you. A good read but settle in. 4.5 stars

The author provided a copy of the novel in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

And what did we learn from that?

Woo Hoo! Thanks everyone for your support during my first 2-day Kindle Select Free Promo. IMHO, it was a success. 

At the end of two days, GROWING UP COUNTRY-Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl had been downloaded 7,173 times, landing me at #52 on the Kindle Top 100 Best Seller list as well as at #1 or #2 on various non-fiction history and biography lists.

My #1 goal for the promotion was to expand awareness for my book and that happened.

But, even as I was reveling in the child-like wonder of watching my book rise in the ranks, I was already hearing my public relations counselor self whisper in my ear--What did we learn? What worked? What didn't? What will we do differently next time?

Now that I've had a few minutes to take a breath, here's what I learned.

It takes a village

In 48 hours, you have to get the word about your free book out to as many people as possible. You can't do this alone. I signed up for the World Literary Cafe 15th of the month Free For All. The $10 investment was well worth it. WLC featured my book along with others on their website and their Tweet teams went into overdrive to promote.

I engaged my friends in the Facebook and Twitter worlds to help spread the news. Since most authors are going to be doing the same themselves someday, everyone plays. More on that below.

Next time -- I'll also join some of the WLC Tweet Teams (free) and add WLC Social Media Mania (paid) to the mix to extend the goodness beyond the Free days.

If you ask, someone will answer - but make it easy

The indie author world is a caring, sharing group. If you ask, someone has done it before and will readily share their learning.  I participate in several Facebook indie author groups and several Kindle Free promo groups. I posted my Free Day promo on all pages each day and I was bold in asking people to share the news with their friends. To make it easy to share, I made sure my posts were Tweetable length and already included hashtags. So anyone who chose to, could just cut and paste to Twitter.

Here are links to a few of my favorite Facebook indie author groups -
  • Indie Authors Promo https://www.facebook.com/groups/279403915471105/
  • Memoirs-R-Us https://www.facebook.com/groups/166765903397390/
  • The Heard - An Author's Voice https://www.facebook.com/groups/358463560861573/
  • WLC Book Marketing & Branding https://www.facebook.com/groups/265856476824177/ (only for people who have taken a WLC Book Branding workshop led by best selling author Melissa Foster)

Next time -- There are a long list of sites that list free books and many list for free. I knew of only a few going into my promotion. Now I know of many more, and I'll post to every one.

A BIG shout out to Clare Ayala for sharing her experience with Kindle Select promos on her blog. In another post, she provides a long list of promo sites.  While you're there, check out her novel - Michal's Window. If you like historical fiction and romance, you can't go wrong with this one.

Social Media is Full Time WORK

Now I have firsthand experience with why companies hire people to manage their social media presence. It's work. The advice from experts in doing a Free Day promotion is to 'Tweet like crazy.' Even with a Tweet scheduling platform like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, tweeting, responding, adapting kept me at my computer all day. 

Next Time -- I'll do more of what I did this time.  I wrote pages of Tweets out in advance so all I had to do was cut and paste. I'll still be at the computer responding to messages and thanking people over and over for helping spread the word. And I'll collapse in exhaustion - but happy - at the end.

The bottom line to my experience is that next time I'll do the same and more. Part of the problem with experiences like this, is you don't know what you don't know until it's over. But from my perspective, it's fun. I'm learning, so it's all good. As I learn more, I'll share. It's what social media is all about.

Note-Image from squidoo.com

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A FREE! gift for readers

I promised to give back to readers in April and here comes your second opportunity. Today and tomorrow, April 14 and April 15, you can download the Kindle version of my memoir Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl, absolutely free. Yep, FREE.

This is a really good deal for readers and, though it may seem counter intuitive, it could be a really good deal for me, too.

Here's how it works.

  • Free ebook promotions generate widespread attention and many people who don't know about my book, will see it. Many (I hope) will download it FREE.
  • If enough readers download it, my book will rise in the Amazon best seller ranks, whether those who download it read the book or not. Then - after the free promotion is over - people who use those lists to guide purchase decisions may be encouraged to buy the book because so many others already have it.
  • Of course, I hope people who download my book will read it it, and then that at least some of them will write reviews and post their reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Library Thing - all the places readers look for guidance on future purchases.  

I have never done a free book promotion, so I won't have firsthand experience to report until after this weekend. But other authors have done this and achieved varying levels of success.

My boss of many years had a sign on his wall that said, "Once you give it away, it's gone."  He's the same boss I blogged about back in January.  His signs really stuck with me, but then I read them every day for 10 years (proving the power of a repeated message). Anyway, he didn't believe in giving away our product.

He may have been right about giving away public relations counsel, but giving away ebooks in promotions like this may be more like providing product free to a non-profit so that paying customers will see what you have and like it enough to pay for it.  I hope so, anyway.  When the promotion is over, I'll let you know how it went.

 In the meantime, if you have a Kindle, this is your opportunity. Go ahead, download Growing Up Country. It's FREE! My gift to you. And I'd be most grateful if you shared this news with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, email. The more free downloads, the better.

P.S. Just a reminder to you Goodreads members to sign up to win a free hard copy of my memoir. If you haven't done so yet, there's still time. The giveaway runs through April 30.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Doing the hard work - Editing

Most novels have fewer than 100,000 words. There are notable exceptions to this limit - Stieg Larsson and J.K. Rowling are two. But for most authors, fewer words are better.

So it is with trepidation that I face rewriting my novel, which stands at the moment somewhere north of 130,000 words. How do I ax a fourth of the precious words I spent the last years writing?

Kurt Vonnegut wrote some of the most memorable books I read in college, including Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle. This week I came across his Eight Tips on How to Write a Great Story and I begin to understand why his writing is so powerful.

Here are his Eight Tips
  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Within this list--right there in Tip 4--I  see one way to tackle my editing task. In fact, I'm making a sign to stick on my computer screen. Does this sentence reveal character? Does it advance action?   If not, out it goes.

Thanks to Kurt Vonnegut for offering just the writing guidance I need.

Image courtesy of: http://voiceseducation.org/category/tag/kurt-vonnegut

Monday, April 9, 2012

Are you feeling lucky?

Readers have been so good to me, this month I'm giving back. Through April, I'm working with Goodreads. Members of this book lovers social networking site can sign up to win one of three signed copies of my memoir - Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl - to be given away on May 1.

For those who are not familiar with my memoir, Growing Up Country tells stories of growing up on a family dairy farm in the middle of America in the middle of the 20th Century. If you grew up in rural America, these stories will trigger your memories and your senses, releasing stories of your own. If the rural Midwest is foreign territory to you, these stories invite you into a fascinating and disappearing world.

If you love to read, but you're not a Goodreads member, you might want to consider joining. Launched in 2007, Goodreads boasts 3.5+ million members, who've listed over a million books. Members line their 'shelves' with books they've read, post reviews, and add books to 'to-be-read' lists. Like other social networking sites, friends connect, share recommendations, and chat in book club-like discussions.

My goal is to give gifts to encourage and reward reader interest and get my book in front of more readers at the same time.  A win-win.

So, if you're a Goodreads member, I hope you'll enter the giveaway for my book.  I hope you'll tell your friends about the giveaway. And when it gets to May 1, I hope you're one of the lucky three and I get to send a copy of my book to you!

Good luck!

P.S. This is the first reader-reward opportunity in April. There will be others. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Keeping a diary

When I was a teenager, diaries were popular gifts. The ones I received were all the same with a few lines designated for each day of the year. Four or five lines about 1/8th of an inch apart. Similar to the pocket day planner I carry around in my purse today, except these diaries had tiny locks and tinier keys.

I knew the intent was to write the important things that happened each day, but how could I crowd my unruly handwriting into lines that were so close together or say anything of importance in only four lines? God forbid that I break the rules and use the space of two days to write what happened in one! And what if I wrote something personal and one of my sisters or my mother read it? Even then I had secrets too big to trust to paper. Or at least I thought I did.

Instead I wrote down mundane things like what the weather was like. Often the diary gathered the dust of disinterest after a week or two.

Little did I know that all these years later, I'd still be keeping a diary in the modern day form of a blog and I'd still be driven to write about the weather. Yet, it's true. The weather this spring inspires gratitude and poetry. The weather is so unbelievable I can't help but note it. Were I trying to shoehorn my words into the diary of my teen years, here's what it would say:

"April 1, 2012. 89 degrees. Sunshine. Crab apple and redbud trees in full bloom. Daffodils and hyacinths blooming BEFORE Easter. Mowed the grass. Second time this year!!!"

Not since 1910 have we had a March so warm. In fact, this year March temps blew the 1910 record out of the water. Weather like this deserves its place in my diary. And I'm glad to have a blog. My handwriting has become less tidy over the years.

Friday, March 30, 2012

All Dressed Up - 1900 Style

Did they have a telephone? Was there running water? What kind of buggy did they use? What did they wear? The questions I face every time I sit down to write are never ending. Finding the answers is one of the joys of writing historical fiction.

What women wore at the turn of the 20th Century is at the top of my list since one of my characters is a seamstress. I got help on this topic from a trip to the Living History Farms 1900 Farm and to the Iowa State Historical Society.  Another resource came to me recently in the form of a new social media friend.

I'm delighted to be guest blogging today at J.P. Lane's blog All Dressed Up. I share some of my thoughts about 'stepping back in time' through my writing. I hope you'll come on over and take a look.

While you're there, look at some of her other posts. Joan delves into the intricacies of fashion going back hundreds of years. Her discoveries are fascinating. No doubt I'll be asking her to take a look at what I write about fashion in the WWI era.

Author J.P. Lane is a former fashion designer who also has 20 years of writing under her belt. She was an Addy award-winning copywriter for the Miami Herald's marketing division and has been published in other leading Florida publications. In her thriller, The Tangled Web, (due to be republished in May) she takes you behind the postcard facade of the Caribbean to reveal a horrifyingly corrupt underworld visitors never see.

If you'd like to know more about Joan:
Follow her on twitter http://twitter.com/jpLANEauthor
Follow her blog http://jplanewrites.blogspot.com

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Do you sound like a writer?

This week I'm sharing good words on writing from others. Today's wisdom comes from George Orwell. In his 1946 essay 'Politics and the English Language,' he criticized the bad habits of many writers and promoted the use of clear language.

In that essay, Orwell provided the following list of rules for writers.

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Some people I meet at book events say they hesitate to write because they believe they won't 'sound like a writer.' They seem to believe writers are imbued with some magic vocabulary and generally that vocabulary isn't found in everyday language.

Simple words in clearly stated sentences can have greater impact and connect more readily with readers. Readers understand simple and clear. Readers relate to simple and clear.  At the same time, simple words in clearly stated sentences doesn't mean writing has to be trite. See Rule 1.

Good advice when Orwell wrote these rules in 1946. Good advice 66 years later.

Thanks, George Orwell!

Monday, March 26, 2012

"When you can't create, you can work"

How do you write? Do you have a system for writing? Someone asks these questions almost every time I speak. As though there might be a magic formula.  As though if you do just the right things in just the right order, words will flow out of your fingertips. Don't I wish!

I came across the 11 Commandments of Writing and Creative Routine --words of writing wisdom from Henry Miller, written in 1932-33 when he was working on his first novel, Tropic of Cancer. Apparently he was struggling with the same challenges all of us writers face.

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’
  3. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  5. When you can’t create you can work.
  6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers.
  7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  8. Don’t be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  9. Discard the Program when you feel like it—but go back to it next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  10. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  11. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.
Miller's advice is to himself is practical and realistic. It recognizes creativity and how the pleasure can be encouraged or lost.

The commandment that resonates most with me at the moment is #5 - When you can't create, you can work. I write new material in the morning. When my creative energy lags--as it does around 3 every afternoon--then I can edit, work on my website, Tweet, add to a marketing plan. In other words, there are many ways to be productive. And success often comes from keeping at it.

 Thanks Henry Miller!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What inspires you?

Where do you find your writing inspiration? When a reader asked that recently, I had to think, and the more I thought, the more multi-faceted the answer became. Here are a few sources I rely on.

Stories to Tell - If an idea keeps hanging around, whether it's in my face or hiding in the weeds, of it keeps making itself known, that's inspiration. The idea for the novel I'm writing now (historical fiction roughly based on my grandparents, circa 1914) has been with me for a good 50 years. I couldn't ignore the story anymore.

Butt Glue - "I write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired at 9 o'clock every morning."-- Peter De Vries, American editor and novelist.   What I've learned is that if I sit down to write--and stay there, regardless--I WILL write. Someone referred to this source of inspiration as 'butt glue.' I buy it by the barrel.

Deadlines - Every two weeks, I meet with my writing buddy. We've each committed to having copy for the other to critique for every meeting. My years as a public relations counselor serve me well. If there's a deadline, I meet it.

Mighty Forces - Barbara Robinette Moss, author of Change Me Into Zeus's Daughter, signed my copy of her book, "Be brave, and mighty forces will come to your aid." I didn't know at the time what those mighty forces might be, but there have been many. My mother, for one, kept telling me I could write our family stories. She believed in me and kept telling me that until my memoir was finally published. Along side my mother were writing teachers, writing buddies, readers, family, friends. All, mighty forces.

Nature - The beauty of the outdoors always inspires. Bursts of spring flowers. Gale-force winds. Snow drifts blanketing the landscape. Steams trickling and floods raging. That's why you see me blogging so often about my prairie, which is both teacher and inspiration.

On any given day, one of these--or several--may come into play at just the right moment. And isn't that the way of inspiration?

There are more sources that inspire me. In fact, I'm already thinking of several. I could go on. But these are a good start.

And now I ask, What inspires you?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Burn, prairie, burn!

My experience with fire is limited. Contained blazes in fireplaces and smaller campfires are comforting, welcoming, inviting on cold nights. I'm rather fond of those.

Other fires--forest fires or grass fires to clear out roadside ditches? I've never experienced one, and I'm just fine with that.

Yet here I was this past week chomping at the bit to start a fire, because I have a prairie. Fires are prescribed on prairies - generally every three or four years. Part of the natural cycle of prairie life, cleaning off plant waste, keeping brush and volunteer trees under control.

With the open, dry winter we've had, any burn could be risky. My complete lack of experience makes it more so. I looked to my more experienced husband. He kept telling me it would only take 15 minutes. I know my prairie patch isn't all that big, but I was skeptical.

We went to the prairie, well prepared, waiting until dusk when the wind died down. We had newspapers and a lighter to start the fire and buckets of water and rakes to stop it if we had to. I called the county emergency services to alert them to our plan.

We tucked lit newspapers in the up-wind side of the prairie. In seconds, the dried plant residue kindled and flames grew. In less than a minute the fire was so hot I retreated 20-30 feet. The fire swept along, fueled by the brush, pushed by the breeze.

As a rabbit ran ahead of the fire, I couldn't help but think of a wide open range fire with buffalo, antelope and other wildlife stampeding to escape. I wondered at my own ability to escape such a blaze. A creek, for sure. But could I hide under an overturned wheelbarrow or any other inflammable structure? Someplace. Anyplace, to be safe. I doubt I could have outrun it. Scary thoughts, indeed.

Even in my small prairie, the fire was impressive. It was exciting. I called emergency services to tell them our fire was out. It was over in 19 minutes.

Friday, March 16, 2012

March in the prairie

Sometimes it takes a 3-year-old to make me see what's right in front of me. My Granddaughter Hannah and I took a walk out to the prairie this weekend. To me, the prairie looks brown. Flattened by wind and snow. There's not much going on.

Hannah saw something completely different. She waded right in. "What's that?" she asked. "That's Indian grass," I explained. She took a frond and waved it over her head. "What's that?"  "That's a dried cone flower. Want to pick a bouquet?" "No. What's that?"  "That's an aster; they're purple when they bloom."

The fallen plants I could ignore as I stepped over them with ease were waist high to her. "Just step on it!" I urged. "I step on it," she agreed, marching on.

We spotted a butterfly, small and brown/gold. A little early in the season, I think. But there it was, flitting about too quickly to be caught.

We flushed a rabbit. It heard us coming and shot out of the undergrowth like it was fired from a cannon. Hannah scrambled after it, unable to catch up, but passionate to try.

Every bit of my dried out, used up, blown down, patch of prairie was something for her to enjoy. I've been looking past the brown, eager for the new green shoots of spring and the brilliant colors of summer. It took a 3-year-old to show me there's good reason to visit the prairie and enjoy all that's there right now.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The challenge of making amends

"Make direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."  That's the ninth step of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program.

THE NINTH STEP, a  novel by Barbara Taylor Sissel, explores the complexity of taking that step through the lives of Cotton O'Dell and his fiance Livie Saunders.
On Cotton's wedding day, hungover and still drinking, he runs a stop sign, and hits a car carrying a woman and her daughter. Cotton stops long enough to call 911, see the child is unhurt, and talk to the woman as she dies. Then he flees - the scene, the state, the law. His fiance Livie is left at the altar, knowing only because Cotton sends a terse postcard later that he is not dead.

Six years later, Cotton sets out to make amends. But are some actions too awful to be forgiven? Can love lost ever be recaptured? Can he make amends without endangering his own life and the lives of others?

In a novel reminiscent of Jodi Picoult, Sissel introduces us to each of the people impacted by that crash. The action and emotions are intense. The writing is excellent. I cared about the characters. I found myself standing at the stove cooking supper with my Kindle in hand. I just had to know how it turned out.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A host of golden daffodils

The daffodils burst into bloom overnight. March 14, 2012. One of the earliest dates in my memory.

I cannot look at these beautiful blooms without recalling the poem my 8th grade teacher required we memorize. So in honor of Mrs. Clausen who did so much to plant poetry in my mind, and in joy at the early daffodil blooms, I share William Wordsworth's lovely poem, penned in 1804.

"I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud"

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced;
but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Old dog, more new tricks

"Maybe I can retire before I have to learn this." That's a thought that actually ran through my mind in the 1990s when the Internet was new and I was struggling to figure out the brand new technology. 

That memory popped to mind this past week as I struggled to figure out Twitter. I signed up for Twitter because I know social media is critical to effective book marketing these days.

From a book marketing workshop run by Melissa Foster, I learned that effective tweeting requires posts a dozen times a day! And your Twitter effort can be accomplished in 30 minutes a day. Ha! Ha!  Just thinking of a dozen worthwhile things to say in a day boggles my mind. Melissa provided tips and tools (Tweetdeck) and a community (World Literary Cafe) to help make the task doable.

Right now, I'm bordering on overload. I spend more like an hour and a half a day on Twitter, which does not count the time I lay awake in the middle of the night trying to think of ways to fit my normally wordy self into 140 characters or fewer. Egads!

But, I did learn to use the Internet and from there, I set up my own website - a must for any author. Then I learned Facebook. Then blogging. With each new platform came new vocabulary and new skills. Now Twitter. I must believe I'll learn this one, too. And still find time in the day to write my novel.

I've always said that everyday that I learn something new is a good day. I guess this has been a really GOOD week!  Now that I have the Internet, I could no more imagine living without it than live without breathing. And that's hardly an exaggeration.

Will Twitter be like that? As I prepare another round of Tweets, I can only hope so.  In the meantime, I'd be honored if you followed me on Twitter - @CABodensteiner

Melissa Foster is a best-selling author of several books, including  COME BACK TO ME. She founded World Literary Cafe, a supportive on-line author community,

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Itching for spring, for green

I'm itching to be in the garden. The view outside my office window is brown, brown and more brown. With your occasional robin, which tells me spring is on the way.

This morning, I took the loppers and cut volunteer trees out of the hedgerows, a task I usually tackle in the fall. You can see how desperate I am to be outside. I found the task much easier to do before everything leafs out. This may become a new spring routine.

My daffodils are up and budding. I don't know if they know that it is still very early in March, and this is IOWA. Normally I'd be raking away the leaf mulch, but I'm hesitant - winter could still throw something big at us. I sure hope the daffodils know more than the calendar.

Since the sun is shining and the breeze is blowing and today is a very good approximation of spring, I'm going back outside. There are sticks to pick up. Daffodils to appreciate.

If the daffodils can pretend it's spring, so can I.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When enough is enough

Some 20 years ago an animal rights activist dressed like a pig walked up to a young woman who wore the crown of Iowa Pork Queen that year and shoved a whipped cream pie in her face. The intent was to protest the killing of millions of hogs to "feed America's meat addiction."

The young woman was not hurt. The pork producers called the protest staged by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) "a childish act."

Until the pie-in-the-face incident, PETA's message had been gaining some traction among Iowa audiences. Their demonstrations had been outrageous but amusing: barbecuing a 'human' made out of tofu, "naked" women holding PETA messages parading on downtown streets. Crowds gathered, took pictures, talked, absorbed some of the activist message.

But then they shoved a pie in a girl's face. Public outrage was immediate and loud. Even people who supported PETA's message, could not countenance an attack on an innocent 19-year-old. PETA stepped over the line. They were forced to step back and back down.

We're seeing the modern day equivalent of that attack with Rush Limbaugh calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and "prostitute."  Over and over again. For three straight days.

Only when advertisers began to jump ship did he issue a half-hearted apology, saying he "did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke" and his words were an "attempt to be humorous."

Not personal? Really? Humorous? Really? Limbaugh makes a very good living making over the top statements about people. But this time he stepped over the line. Possibly into legal defamation.

As a public relations professional most of my life, I'm all in favor of an apology, when you've truly messed up - which Limbaugh did - and when the apology is truly meant. But the truth is that Limbaugh is not sorry - except that he's losing advertisers. And putting pretty words on it won't fix this problem.

Limbaugh stepped over the line. And the public and advertisers are saying, enough is enough. Finally.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Doing laundry with a brick

This morning, I went to the laundry room and propped the brick back against the dryer 'on' button. It began to whir. This was at least the 5th time I'd propped the brick back in place for this single load.  I heaved a heavy sigh - laundry is SO difficult. 

Then, as I sat down with my cup of coffee and the morning paper, I realized it is Monday morning and I had the good sense to laugh at myself.

Monday was always laundry day on the farm. All the dirty clothes went down the laundry chute to the basement where Mom sorted everything into piles, pulled the washing machine and rinse tubs out from the wall, filled them with water and began the all-day task of doing the laundry.

In summer, she carried baskets of wet clothes outside and hung them on the clothesline. In winter, she hung each item from lines stung along the basement ceiling.

Laundry took much of the day and it wasn't light work. Yet, Mom had it easier than her mother who took in laundry to support herself and her daughters and used a hand-cranked washtub to do it.

Our dryer is temperamental. The only thing wrong with it is that the 'on' switch doesn't stay on, despite my husband's diligent efforts to fix it. We've devised the brick as an interim solution until the day when we both throw up our hands at the same time and agree it's time to replace the machine.

This Monday morning, as I prop the brick in place and think about laundry day 50 and 100 years ago, I believe I will try not to feel quite so put upon. Wishing you all a modern laundry day!

Friday, March 2, 2012

They're back!

It's spring and love is in the air. Now we're ready for babies.  The Bald Eagles are nesting, so it won't be long.  The Decorah Eagle Cam is operating and if the past is any guide to the future, millions worldwide will check in to see eggs laid, babies hatch, eaglets fledge and leave the nest.

We're lucky in Iowa that if we look up, we might see eagles and their nests in real time. I saw one today.

As I walked around Gray's Lake in Des Moines, I kept watch because I'd heard reports of eagles there. Sure enough, there was one of these magnificent birds soaring over the river. And there was its nest, easy to spot since the trees haven't leafed out yet. The eagle stopped at the nest, flew to a nearby tree, perched there a while, flew out, looped around and returned to its perch. Several times. A remarkable sight to see.

Bald eagle pairs return to, and add on to, the same nests year after year until, eventually, the nests may weigh a ton or more. Though no longer protected under the Federal Endangered Species act, these birds are still covered by the Gold and Bald Eagle Protection Act.  Bald Eagles have experienced a remarkable resurgence, with nesting pairs of eagles documented in 84 of Iowa's 99 counties.

Next time you're out for a walk, look up. You might just see an eagle.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hard Laughter - Anne Lamott

I was delighted to rediscover this novel by Anne Lamott. I'd read it long enough ago to forget the details. But I remember the style and it was as engaging to read this time as it was the first time.

HARD LAUGHTER tells the story of 23-year-old writer Jennifer whose father Wallace is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Jennifer and her brothers - along with friends and family - experience a roller coaster of emotions that ultimately draw this quirky family ever closer together. With a great eye for detail and a deft sense of humor, Lamott brings every character, including the town they live in, to life, making the reader care about them all.

I had the pleasure of hearing Lamott speak at a Des Moines Public Library event almost a year ago. Her 'voice' is as clear and engaging in person as it is in her writing.

It is a pleasure to read - and learn from - really good writing like this. Hard Laughter is worth reading twice. Worth reading three times.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Good fences make good neighbors

We have new neighbors and we're delighted. Like the previous folks, the new owners are horse people. Watching the horses out my kitchen window is one of my great pleasures.

One morning, one of the horses took to vigorously scratching its neck against a fence posts. The fence was none too sturdy in the first place and I wasn't at all certain it would stand up against this assault. When I mentioned it, my husband commented, "I hope their fence doesn't become our problem."

Growing up on a farm, I can remember my dad talking with neighbors about repairing boundary line fences. As was the custom, the farmers faced each other across the fence. Each farmer took responsibility for the half of the fence to his right. I viewed this as quite a neighborly custom. 'Good fences make good neighbors,' everyone said. Robert Frost included that famous line in his poem "Mending Wall."

It wasn't until this past week, because of a dispute that made the Des Moines Register, that I learned my dad and our neighbors were following the law. In 1851, shortly after Iowa became a state, when the enterprise of the vast majority of the state was agriculture involving both livestock and crops, the Iowa legislature passed a law that made those on both sides of a fence responsible for installing and maintaining the fence line.

As more farmers turn solely to crops and as more town people acquire acreages that abut livestock farms, the attitudes toward fences and who should pay for their upkeep changes.

We love to see the horses in their pasture, but not on our lawn or in our garden. We understand that good fences make good neighbors. And we certainly benefit when our neighbors keep their horses contained, but would we be willing to help pay to make that happen?  

Friday, February 24, 2012

Only the best

Winter has given us only the best this year. Many of the warmest days on record to enjoy shirtsleeve walks where we stepped carefully to avoid goose gifts along the path.

A sunset that flamed and boiled and looked like molten lava on the last day of 2011.

The clearest mornings to be surprised and delighted and sent scurrying for my camera to capture something I'd never seen before - a hot air balloon floating right over our deck on a January morning.

And this morning, the most beautiful winter wonderland snow clinging to the trees and glinting like diamonds as the first rays of sun hit.

Yes, this year winter has given Iowa the best.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tied to apron string memories

A friend gave me an apron for Christmas. It's a beauty - with ruffled layers of lime green, cherry red, and royal blue. It makes me happy to look at it, and I feel cheerful when I wear it. Which is on special occasions.

Aprons are not the staple of kitchen wear today that they once were. My mother wore an apron - most often to protect her Sunday dress from spatter as she fried the chicken we'd have when we came home from church. She didn't wear an apron everyday. Not like my grandmothers.

My grandmothers donned their aprons each morning as they dressed. They'd no more have gone to the kitchen without an apron then they would have stepped out without their shoes. They used their aprons for far more than protecting their clothes. Aprons were potholders, they were for drying hands and tears and wiping away sweat, they were slings for carrying apples and eggs and vegetables. Far easier to wash an apron than the dress it covered. On a visit to the Living History Farm in Des Moines, I learned that aprons were the first line of defense from sparks flying out of the wood cookstove.

Aprons figure prominently in the novel I'm writing about farm life in the early 1900s. Tying on an apron puts me in the mood and the mindset of that time. Wearing an apron, I feel more capable. In an apron, I join the ranks of farm women who went into the kitchen every day and worked the magic that brought meals to the table and contributed to the stability of farm living. Women in aprons got things done.

Do you have a favorite apron or apron memory? If you do, I'd like to hear about it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Playing with paper dolls

Paper dolls. My sisters and I played with them when we were little. I don't remember who the characters were, but it was great fun to change the clothes over and over, imagining the dolls in different settings. Paper dolls. A great way to spend hours as a child.

Fast forward to today. One of my favorite shows this year is Downton Abbey.  This terrific Masterpiece Classic series on PBS has held me spellbound, fueling my passion of the moment for all things WWI.  Sadly, the season finale was on Sunday.

What would I do until season 3 airs? As it turns out, someone has answered the question. Play with paper dolls! The enterprising folks at Vulture have created paper dolls for the key Downton Abbey characters.

These paper dolls are a hoot. The Dowager Countess, for instance, includes six changeable faces to convey her different expressions. But they are all the same! Likely funny only to those who watch the series.

The idea of paper dolls is perfect. The timing is perfect.  A childhood pleasure meets an adult pleasure. I love it when the stars come into alignment!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Learning from others' crises

When I was in college, I took a self defense class during which I learned to ward off an attacker, break a fall, and use common objects to defend myself. Over and over again, the instructor threw me to the ground, attacked me from the front, back, side. We practiced until my reactions were second nature. The point was to be prepared, to learn the moves before an attack occurred. What I did in that class is no different than a company preparing for a crisis.

When a crisis happens to someone else, businesses have many reactions. The first is generally relief - Thank god that didn't happen to us! Some also express naive denial - Thank god that could never happen to us! What they would be wise to think is - What if something like that did happen to us?

Whenever a crisis happens, I find myself thinking, "What would I have done? How would I have advised that client had I been their public relations counselor?" The media are full of opportunities to exercise this thinking. The mental equivalent of my self defense class.

I guest blogged this week on ReasonedPR.com - discussing what went wrong from a public relations standpoint in the Susan G. Komen For the Cure - Planned Parenthood blow up.

The rules of crisis communication include: Telling it all. Telling it fast. Keep on telling it. A fourth is to Tell your own story. You can't always control whether a crisis happens to you, but you can always control how you communicate about it.

It's easier, I admit, to be on the sidelines for one of these exercises than in the frying pan. On the outside, I don't have the pressure of media breathing down my neck, the public banging on the social media door, or the CEO and board demanding, what do we do? Being on the outside also means I don't have all the insider info.

But there are guidelines to successfully navigating a crisis. It's best if you don't have to figure out what those moves are after a crisis hits.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A confab of rabbits

A light snow blanketed the lawn this morning. Enough to freshen the landscape. As I made my way down the driveway to retrieve the newspaper, I noticed there had been a confab of rabbits at play in the early hours.

Their tracks came from all directions, crisscrossed the driveway, met two or three in a group, then took off again. I wondered what business of the warren brought them all out. Hitting the road for the work day? Planning a potluck before the hawks take wing? An early morning exercise class?

A little bit of silliness on my part, I know, but fun to imagine. We've had so little snow this winter, I realized I hadn't had the pleasure of spotting animal tracks on a fresh canvas and wondering what the animal kingdom has been up to.

In an open winter like we've had, food is easy to find. Water has been free flowing. Life has been comparatively easy in the wild world. Good for them. Not so many aimless musings for me. And I miss that. Seeing the world in a different way is just one of the reasons I enjoy winters with snow.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What's in a name?

Negro. Black. Colored. People of Color. African-American.

Having spent my career in the public relations world, and considering myself reasonably sensitive in any case, I've always tried to be mindful of using the terminology groups of people prefer to describe themselves. Because the terminology changes regularly within the black community - and because it's all so politically charged - I've often felt as though I'm walking on eggshells, uncertain whether I'm using the right term of the moment.   

A recent article written by Jesse Washington for the Associated Press addressed the changing attitudes among young black people on this topic. According to the article, increasingly, young black people are shunning the term African-American. Census figures show that 1 in 10 black people in America is born abroad. So the slave ancestry connotation of African-American is at the least inaccurate and possibly even offensive.

I was dismayed to learn from a prominent black educator that some in the black community are offended when any black person who cannot prove slave ancestry adopts the term African-American to describe themselves.  Rather than bring people together, the labeling is used as a wedge to drive apart. But then, maybe for some, that's the point.

We have seen that in the political arena. Both Alan Keyes and Herman Cain used slave ancestry as a mark of differentiation against President Obama. The not-so-subtle implication that the President isn't black enough or American enough.

But then such tactics are used often, regardless of race, to declare oneself 'in' and someone else 'out.'  

The more generations that pass since their ancestors left Africa, the more tenuous the connection some may feel.  One young man, Gibr George of Miami, interviewed for the AP article said, "Are we always going to be tethered to Africa? Spiritually I'm American. When the war starts, I'm fighting for America."

All the terms, all the labels, had a purpose. They meant something in our society at the time. Perhaps moving us all along, maybe to greater awareness, pride, sensitivity, hopefully to greater cohesiveness but perhaps to greater separateness.

I know words matter. I know names matter. But I'm with Gibr George - Couldn't we all just be Americans? I hope I live to see that day.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Amazing Giveaway: A Free Pass to the 2012 San Francisco Writers Conference

Willy Wonka can't beat this. Writer's Digest is giving away a free ticket to the San Francisco Writer's Conference - Feb. 16-19, 2012.

This full-registration pass includes all sessions and keynotes in the main conference, plus participation at the Agent Speed Dating portion. Total worth $745!

The opportunity to meet other authors, hear incredible speakers, pitch my novel to agents - all in San Francisco - well, of course, I hope I win! But you might want to enter, too. Follow the entry rules at Chuck Sambuchino's blog. 

And good luck. Someone will win. And soon.

Friday, February 3, 2012

There's still time

Back in December, I wrote about the World Book Night - a worldwide effort to give away 1 million books. I'm pleased to report I've been chosen to be one of those giving books away. Hurrah!

I'm re-posting that blog because event organizers have extended the application deadline for joining the effort to February 6. There's still time. Check below for info and links. Then, act fast.

Beaverdale Books is one of the distribution sites for Des Moines. There may be others. So come along. Have some fun. Give some books away!

Re-Post from Dec. 16, 2011

Giving Away 1 Million Books

Want to help give help away a million books? The organizers of World Book Night are looking for 50,000 passionate readers to do just that on April 23, 2012.

Anna Quindlen, novelist and honorary chairwoman of World Book Night in the USA, says "It will be like Halloween on an intellectual level." 

Volunteers choose one of 30 titles - mostly current novels and memoirs - to give out. The costs of the million paperback books have been underwritten by publishers, printers and paper companies. Authors have waived their royalties.

You make your application on the World Book Night website. If you're chosen to be one of the book givers, they'll let you know by the end of February.

I've signed up and am keeping my fingers crossed. If I am chosen, I'll be giving out books to residents of Oakridge Neighborhood, a community providing housing and services to low-income people in Des Moines.

My book choices include:

If I'm not chosen, I may go buy the books and give them out at Oakridge anyway. I just think the whole deal is really cool.

Taking to the water

I am not a water person. I love looking at the ocean and listening to the surf on beach vacations, but I enjoy all this with both feet on terra firma. So no one is more surprised than I that I've become a fan of sea kayaking.

The idea of white water kayaking has always scared me - what if I tipped over and couldn't get free of the craft? Not a problem with a sea kayak since I sit perched atop a plastic craft similar to a surf board. If it capsizes, which seems highly unlikely, I'm in the drink - and bobbing free and upright like a cork in my personal flotation device.

After the first time on the water, I was hooked. The craft is stable, even in the wake of large, fast-moving motor craft. (Yachts and speedboats gave no quarter, I might add.) Maneuvering is easy. 

The first time out, I was worried about a lot of things - falling off because of my own ineptitude, being swamped by another craft, getting tipped over by a whale or porpoise.

The reality was so different. Seeing the bay at eye level, the water shimmering like blue silk. Swarms of fish bubbling just below the surface, the targets of hungry gulls. Passing party boats filled with cheering, waving revelers. Feeling the strength of paddling. Hearing the quiet when I stopped and let my kayak move at the whim of the current.

By the time I surfed a wave back to shore, I was ready to go again. And I did. Kayaking became part of my every day beach routine in Puerto Vallarta.

By the end of the week, I paddled out each morning, hoping to see a whale.  Ah, I wish. Wouldn't that be cool!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Just another day in paradise

I can't say anything that this picture doesn't already.

Puerto Vallarta - January 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012

We can all use a little help

The talk of the Puerto Vallarta beach this past week was a turtle hatch.  Why the mama turtle chose a busy resort beach as the nest for her eggs is anyone's guess, but she did. Ultimately, it may have been a good thing.

During the week, a larger than normal surf rolled in, rearranging the sand dunes and exposing a turtle nest. The waves carried exposed eggs toward a backwater instead of toward the open sea. The eggs hatched during the day instead of at night. Black birds swooped in to take advantage.

People who know a lot more than I do were there to help. Baby turtles need to orient themselves to where they're born and walk to the ocean themselves. The re-arranged sand made their success unlikely.

A woman moved two baby turtles closer to the water. She didn't put them in the water, just put them within sight of the water. She and I stood and watched, cheering them on. One little turtle ran straight to the water and was swept away by the first wave. The second turtle appeared more unsure. The little guy walked parallel to the water for a while, the waves edging closer and closer. Finally, he, too, turned and walked in to greet the waves.

A man told me he'd watched over six little turtles until they were safely in the sea.

The exposed, unhatched eggs concerned many walkers. A couple went to the nearest hotel to alert security. They were told to collect the eggs and re-bury them in a secure area near the hotel until experts could come and relocate the eggs to the marina.

Maybe the hatchlings would have made it on their own, but the odds were against them. Many eggs were destroyed by the birds. A few more of the babies had a chance because people cared to look over them.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Reminiscing & Research

When our garden is in full swing, I pull out all the canning supplies and fill our fruit cellar shelves. Just like my mom before me, I can tomatoes, salsa, plums - whatever we grow.

Even though the containers I use for preserving produce are glass jars, I've always called it 'canning.'  I never gave a thought to the word 'canning.' Until this past week when I learned that 'canning' takes its name from a time when preserving produce was actually done in cans. Who knew?

Last week, I shared growing up country stories from my memoir with the residents at Valley View Village a senior living facility in Des Moines. The average age of those in the audience was at least 80, maybe older.

Many came to the meeting room in wheelchairs, using walkers or with assistance from staff. But what they lacked in physical capabilities, they made up for in mental sharpness.

As I talked about my stories of growing up in the 1950s, they remembered their own experiences growing up before and during the Great Depression. Roosters chasing them. Fixing meals for threshers. Milking cows by hand. Gardening and canning. 

Hearing stories of the older folks who come to my book talks is rewarding on so many levels. One is that as they're reminiscing, I'm doing research for my novel. They talk about cooking on wood stoves and shocking oats for the threashers, and I'm making mental notes of details that may work their way into my novel.  And then all of a sudden they say something totally unexpected - like canning was done in cans.

Those unexpected details are the best. Fun for me to learn something new and perfect for adding reality and depth to my writing.

I have to spend more time talking with these folks.

Monday, January 23, 2012

How well do we handle freedom?

“Use well thy freedom.” Those words are chiseled on a college building in Jonathan Franzen’s novel FREEDOM. They articulate one of the major themes of this 576-page tome, which follows the lives of Walter and Patty Berglund and their two children.

We want freedom. We cherish our freedoms. We fight to preserve freedom. But as I was reading this book, I was reminded of the line in the movie - A Few Good Men.

When Kaffee (Tom Cruise) says, “I want the truth.” Jessep (Jack Nicholson) responds, “You can’t handle the truth.”

We want freedom, but how well do we handle it?

Children raised in a totally permissive environment may grow up without the personal and social skills to thrive as adults. Unrestricted access to drugs may lead to abuse and destroyed lives. Often the rules that restrict our freedom exist to protect us from ourselves.

The characters in Franzen’s novel all fight to break the bonds that hold them – parents, marriage, work. For good or ill, all of Franzen’s characters experience their desired freedom at some point.

But the freedom they achieve might be liberating or destructive, or both.

I didn’t find myself particularly liking any of the characters in this novel - and when I invest as much time in reading a book as this one takes, I'd like to like at least ONE character. Because of this quality, getting through the 576 pages was a bit of a slog. But the characters were real. Their desires, their challenges, their lives. And I think the messiness of their lives is indicative of the messiness of freedom.

We need to use well our freedom.

Image from Amazon.com

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Crimes of passion - Stepping back

Jane beats a real estate broker bloody with her stiletto heel. Kit lays into her brother with a broken wine bottle. Physically and mentally abused by her husband, Leah finally takes it out on her children. Grace uses her own car as a battering ram on her daughter's boyfriend's car, totaling both vehicles.

I can imagine that any woman - possibly any man, too - would be able to see themselves in the shoes of one of these characters. Angry and pushed to the limit. Committing crimes of passion. Each action completely understandable in the moment. None of the actions appropriate or acceptable. Because none of them backs off at the critical moment, all of these women need a miracle.

Kris Radish's new book TUESDAY NIGHT MIRACLES tells the story of these four women who have one chance to avoid jail through a court-ordered anger management group. Their group is led by accomplished psychologist Dr. Olivia Bayer who has overcome her own anger issues. Close to retirement, Bayer uses non-traditional approaches to help her charges find themselves and each other. 

The characters in this book are vivid and believable. The techniques Dr. Bayer uses are ones any reader could use to stay in touch with herself, provide emotional outlets, and hopefully allow one to step away from the anger.

An excellent read.

Photo from Amazon.com

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ode to spring - and hope

I walked yesterday afternoon. The sun on my face. A gentle breeze ruffling my hair. In an hour, I was ready to shed the light jacket I’d put on before I left the house. I love spring in Iowa.

Oh, wait! It’s not spring, though it sure seems like it. The thermometer regularly reads 50 degrees, even up to 63 degrees. Who would imagine that the light dusting of snow we had last week, only half an inch, would be only the second snowfall this entire winter to last longer than one day?

The beautiful weather has drawn everyone out - walkers, runners, bikers, golfers - in shirtsleeves and shorts. In January. In Iowa.  

The open water of the local pond has become the favorite gathering place of 10,000+ Canadian geese. They are out, too, doing their rather messy thing. 

It’s been so warm I’ve spent more than a few moments concerned about the trees. I walked recently with a friend and passed a magnolia tree that was putting out flower buds. In JANUARY!

After spending some days worrying, I realized there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. So at this point, I just put out a little hope. I am hopeful the trees have this figured out and somehow know that this is one weird winter and they are not fooled. I hope that if we do lose the blossoms and therefore the fruits for this season, I hope we do not also lose the trees.  

And I hope we get more days like this. I'll be out walking again this afternoon, the sun warming my face. I am very much enjoying springtime in January!