Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Good Books

I’m not an expert on what makes a good book. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been writing, but I know I still have a mountain more to learn. In the last several years I’ve tried to read as many young adult and children’s books as I can get my hands on. I’ve searched libraries, garage sales, and half price book stores for stories that are different. Of course I have my writer friends to recommend books and even lend them. It occurred to me that I want to tell you about what books I like. Maybe you'll discover something new.

I first discovered The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien as a young mother, a century ago. I think I’ve read the four books twice, and each time I never wanted them to end. I’m a reader that jumps into the story so that it surrounds me, flows in and out of me, and when I’m finished reading for the day, I’m still in Rivendale. What magical elements go into creating a story like this? Is it vocabulary? Is it action verbs? Is it character description and development? Is it plotting twists and turns? I’d say yes, yes, yes, yes, and more. Oh how I would love to write like Tolkien!

I came to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, later in life. I loved it that there were seven books to tell the whole story because it was almost as if it would go on forever. It’s the story of Narnia, a wild and miraculous world where animals talk, the ruler is the lion Aslan, and humans visit. Narnia is a place of growing up. It’s a place of discovery. It’s a place of becoming so much more than you ever thought you could be.

Madeline L’Engle’s books come next. My boys were too old to discover her in school. A friend of mine introduced me to her in A Wrinkle in Time and I was hooked on everything she wrote. I found a set of five books called the “time quintet’ involving the Murray family: A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time. What an imagination she had! That reminds me that if I’m going to write children’s stories I need to free my imagination from all confines of convention.

Look for more jewels to come....

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Rabbit Trails

It is an inconvenient truth that this blog does not write itself when I'm busy. When I'm creating, I'm writing my book or I'm making fused glass. There has to be another part of me that puts things on this blog. After all, blogs are ways we share ourselves with like-minded people. There isn't enough of me to go around. For instance, my book project is a two part story of a thirteen year old girl who has a passion for horses and is grossly misunderstood by her family. Yes that sounds like a cliche, but it isn't, believe me. I have a working title for the story, which I'm still writing, but it doesn't say much about the story, Mandy & Min. So I stop writing to think of other titles, none of which I'll need until the story is finished. Do you get where I'm going? It's called procrastinating Rabbit Trails.

I consider about the plot elements. Then I look for actual words from the story as possible titles. I Google my ideas to see if others have used them, and cross those out. Here's what is left: Understanding Mandy, Mandy Inside Out, Growing Up Mandy, I'm Not Cinderella, I Can't Believe You'd Do That, Don't Put Me In a Box, Life Is More Than a Box, Then I'll Go Live In the Barn. I haven't found the one that speaks to me yet. What do you, my reader, think? What title would you pick up? I don't know why it should be so hard to name a book. I can call it My Thing and be done.

After I exhaust my title ideas, I wonder how I would use my name as author. Would it be first & last name; first, middle & last name; first, middle & maiden name; first & maiden name? I Google all combinations. Yes, there are lots of Carol Caldwells out there. Then I conclude it doesn't matter. However, when I use my maiden name, I get a number of genealogy hits. (I like genealogy, for the fun of it.) So I am off on  German names sites, leaving behind my as yet undecided book title. I can rabbit trail with the best of internet users.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Foreigners In Our Lives

“The plane’s here. That’s her flight!” Why am I so excited, I wondered. We have hosted three foreign exchange students, so I should be getting used to this by now. It was less than a month since we said good-by to Gudi, our German ‘daughter’. What a horrible day that was. Most of her friends were there. Her parents who came for graduation were leaving with her, and they did not understand why she was crying. Bob had to push Gudi into the gangway because she wasn’t going of her own accord. I’m sure her parents thought we bewitched her or something.  Actually, the opposite was true.  Gudi charmed her way into our hearts and saying “good-bye” was tearing us apart.
            So here we were doing this again, opening our home to a high school student that we would welcome and treat as our own child for a school year. Our close friends thought we were crazy.
            “If it hurts for them to leave, why do it?” they would ask. That’s a good question. Is it because it feels better when you do it again, like a drug fix? Were we addicted to exchange students? Was such a thing possible?
            I was holding the “Welcome Pat” sign and balloons because our son didn’t want anything to do with it. It might threaten his cool. This was the year we were going to host an Italian, but our exchange coordinator had called to say she had a file on a Brazilian girl that she thought would fit well into our family. So much for the Italian.     
            Finally we saw people deplaning, and took a spot by the gate. That was when you could actually go to the gate to meet your party. The excitement was like waiting for a birth; only the result wasn’t a baby, but a teenager. Impatiently we looked at everyone getting off of the plane.
            “Is this her? No, too old; no too young; no she’s with someone.”  Then down the ramp came this smiling, bubbly, dark-haired girl.  We knew her immediately.  You would not know she had been traveling over 24 hours from Sao Paulo. That’s because she’s Brazilian and they have boundless energy! Welcoming hugs and kisses on the cheeks (I think our son shook her hand) and we were off for another adventure.

That was our life from 1985 to 2006. I can't even imagine our lives without our foreign "kids". It wasn't long before Bob and I took on the role of working as  Representatives for an exchange organization, and finally I became a State Coordinator for Washington and Oregon. I don't need a script to give a talk on exchange just flows out of me.

We've had around 22 students live in our home, most have been year long (9 months) students, but some were here a semester and some for the summer. I can honestly say that hosting isn't something everyone should do, but I wish they would. The student may be a stranger when they arrive at the airport, but they don't stay that way. It does take a conscious effort to make them a part of your family. You have to treat them like a son or daughter. Hosting can be compared to taking in a foster child, but exchange students are usually older, come with their own money, don't require intervention by a psychologist, and can be just wonderful. We developed a deep and abiding love for most of our foreign sons and daughters.

The idea of hosting is that you learn about another culture and country. But it's interesting that you learn as much about yourself as you do about them. You learn what is really important to you when the student doesn't know the family rules yet. You learn how much you treasure something when it isn't appreciated or gets broken. And when they leave, if she left the key to her suitcase in her bedroom at your house, you know she wanted to stay. Thinking of that, even now 28 years later, I tear up.

We gave up hosting when grandchildren appeared. There wasn't time for everything, and grandchildren had to come first. But I still miss the excitement of choosing a new student and waiting at the airport for them to arrive.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Sheba was the name of the horse I learned to ride on. I was in Girl Scouts and a retired Army soldier brought his string of polo ponies for the troop to ride. Sheba was huge, a dapple grey, and I loved her. My parents bought me jodhpurs and riding boots. I already had my leather jacket with fringe on the sleeves and along the bottom. I can't say I learned to ride well, nor have I had a lot of experience on horses. I read and read and read about them. I lived with them in my imagination. I collected postcards with horse pictures on them, and horse figurines. And I watched cowboy movies on TV.  So why shouldn't I write a story about horses?

My story in progress has a horse named Sheba. She's the favorite of the main character Mandy.  I love writing horse scenes. It's like I can be there through Mandy. I check my facts through local people more knowledgeable than I am. Of course every story has to have a crisis. This is a scene that I barely got through because I was crying:

“Come in Mandy,” she said. She was sitting at the kitchen table looking at a photo album. There were pictures of when Mr. Parker was alive and he had the string of polo ponies.
“So what did the vet say?” I asked, a little out of breath.
She looked at me with soft eyes. “He said he thinks Sheba has pleural pneumonia.”
“She must have gotten a cold or influenza. You remember I told you that while you were mending your broken leg, my son brought a horse over for me to look at. Well he did buy it and he brought it again to run in the pasture. This time we were more careful with Sheba, but his horse had a runny nose. Colds can be pretty contagious and turn quickly to pneumonia.” She turned her eyes to the album. “These are pictures of when we first got her.”
I looked over and saw a younger and thinner Sheba with Mr. Parker on her back. “So does the vet have medicine to cure her? She will get better, won’t she?” I asked the questions, but I think I already knew the answer by looking at Mrs. Parker’s droopy red eyes. 
 “No honey, medicine can’t cure this. Sheba has to be put down. We need to clean out the stable so Bubbaloo and Scout don’t get sick too.”
“NO!” I screamed as loud as I could, hoping my voice would rise up as far as heaven and make it not so. “She can’t die, not ever!” Tears gushed down my face and I shook all over. I covered my face with my t-shirt and screamed. Mrs. Parker knelt down in front of me. She held me.
After a long time, she stood and grabbed my hands, boosting me up . “Come on Mandy, I’ll take you home.”
 “I…I’ve uh….got um…bike.” I stuttered through “sup-sup” sounds.
“That’s OK. We’ll put it in the trunk. She put an arm around my shoulder and kept hold of one hand. At the back door, we stopped as she lifted her car keys off a hook. I leaned hard on her.                          

Writing is a strange phenomena for me. I live through my characters. They bring new color to my life. This is a way I can express my love of horses when I don't have the means to own one.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A touch of color

The world is full of color. It comes in all shapes, sizes, and elements. It is physical, spiritual, and literary. This blog is going to be about the color we have in our lives. Open your eyes and you will see it.

You'll probably want to know something about me and how can I talk about color. I came from southern California originally. Grew up with the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and Gidget. The color was body tan and ocean blue.

I discovered how books can bring color to my life. Reading was a passion. Painting came next, bringing life to a blank canvass. I found that people brought color. Enter foreign exchange students.

Besides paint, I think glass is the ultimate color experience. It's pure eye candy. So I discovered what I can do with fused glass, amazing things. However, always lurking in my soul was the desire to paint with words-write. Finally it erupted as children's stories.

I invite anyone to blog with me about your passions that give color to your life. You can also find me on Facebook. Let's have fun together.