Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Brand New Day


It's that in-between time. Christmas is over but the new year hasn't yet started. Here in Anchorage, it's dark. Today we only have five hours and thirty-three minutes of daylight, and the sky is overcast so even that daylight is gray and flat. On top of that, we're having a Chinook, a warm wind that blows down the mountains and is melting our meager covering of snow, so once the sun goes down, parking lots will be ice rinks and the night will be that much darker.

But things are looking up. We have almost ten minutes more of daylight than we did on winter solstice a week ago. The new year is coming, along with resolutions and goals and a chance for new beginnings. Summer will come again, and the world will be green.

And, as a consolation for the nasty wind, just look at this morning's sunrise behind the Chugach mountains. 

A new day begins ...



Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

What does Christmas smell like?

The scent of a fresh evergreen tree has to be the loveliest smell of Christmas.
Unless it's baking cookies. 
Or peppermint candy canes. 
Cloves and cinnamon sticks in spiced tea? 
Sage and roasting turkey?
Wood smoke from neighbor's chimneys?


Whatever your favorite Christmas smells like, I hope yours was perfect, and that  all your Christmas Wishes came true.

 
Merry Christmas and wishing the Happiest New Year to you and yours.

-Beth

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Christmas Reads

It’s that time of the year when my reading preferences, which tend toward to sentimental anyway, veer into what some would call sappy. I love a good Christmas story, with tears and laughter, redemption and happily ever after. Cold dark nights, a warm cup of tea, and a dog to curl up beside me on the couch make this the perfect time of the year to settle in for a read. Yes, traditionally, the dog would be at my feet, but Roxy insists if she's under my blanket, we'll both be warmer.

There are a few stories I visit almost every year, like favorite relatives. First is the classic, Charles Dicken’s A Christmas CarolThe ultimate story of redemption, Ebeneezer Scrooge becomes a new man overnight after seeing ghostly visitors. What may be my all time favorite, Winter Solstice by Rosemunde Pilcher, is the story of a man who’s lost everything and the people, especially one amazing woman, who bring joy back into his life. Recently I finished a wonderful collection,  A Heartwarming Christmas, twelve interconnected stories of love and family, set in the lovely fictional town of Christmas Town, Maine. 

I have a whole shelf of Christmas mysteries I occasional reread. Mary Higgins Clark wrote some great ones. Just today I downloaded a Sherlock Homes short story set at Christmas, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. Can't wait to find out what a carbuncle is.

In between decorating, baking, and writing cards, I'll be spending some time with old favorites and meeting new ones. Do you have some favorite Christmas stories I should try?

Hope your holidays are filled with warmth and magic and heartwarming tales. Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Colors of Autumn

I've always lived in the West. West Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Alaska, and Arizona to be exact, all different, but similar too, with a certain spare, rugged beauty. I love the West, the wide-open spaces, the rocky landscapes, and the big blue skies. It's only this time of year that I get a little jealous of those of you on the East Coast, because of your trees.

Western forests are mostly evergreen, pines or spruces, with some cottonwoods along the creeks and golden aspens high in the mountains, but we don't get the glorious masses of autumn color like the hardwood forests in the east. I see the amazing yellow, red, burgundy, and bronze of oaks and maples in neighbors' yards, so much more luminous than the pictures I've seen of autumn foliage, and can only imagine a whole forest of rich, glowing leaves in so many different shades.

Someday, I'll visit New England in the autumn and see it for myself. In the meantime, I try to make up for the lack of outdoor autumn displays with fabrics and flowers. I found this paisley remnant that looked like fall to me, and couldn't resist making a pillow.



We have a nice warm quilt on the bed. 


And aren't those mums my hubby brought home gorgeous?



So if the fall colors are beautiful where you are, take a minute to appreciate them for me. Someday, I'll see them, too.






Thursday, October 29, 2015

One Beautiful Week in Review

Thunderheads in East
Last Friday, I decided I needed to focus on the positive and improve my attitude. With that in mind, I resolved to pay attention to the beautiful things around me every day for a week, and post One Beautiful Thing everyday on twitter, under the hashtag #1BeautifulThing.

Conclusion: I'm constantly surrounded by beautiful things. These are the pictures I posted, but there were many more moments of beauty every day, especially the contributions from Bethany House on Twitter. She elevates doodling to fine art. 

When I started paying attention, I began to see beauty everywhere. I snapped pictures of a dozen beautiful things, and there were dozens more I'd have liked to captured in a photo, but I couldn't.


Home-grown Tomatoes
There was  the hawk perched in a dead tree
The cowdog riding shotgun in an ancient jeep
Mule deer, two doe and two fawns, bounding across the road
Gambel quail rustling through the brush and calling at dusk
The lizard sunning on deck
Kid's faces as they talked about dressing up for Halloween
The smell of pine and junipers after a rain
The drama of an afternoon thunderstorm (although I tried to catch a little)
 A Stellar jay stealing a pine nut off the patio table, and many, many more.

Last Wild Asters of the year
So was the experiment successful? I'd say yes. I feel more energetic now, happier. I realize how privileged I am to live my life. I need to focus that energy into my next project, and I think this week of gratitude will pay off with better productivity. And now and then, I'll continue to post #1BeautifulThing, just to remind myself how lucky I am. 


Child's Kaleidoscope



   Would you like to join me?
Driving by Pampas Grass
Great Grandma's Carnival Glass Bowl

Pumpkin Ripening
Moonrise over Canyon Rim


Love a Good Thunderstorm

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Zucchini and Writing Romance

According to Christopher Booker,  there are only Seven Basic Plots in existence.  And romance writers, with the required ending of HEA (happily ever after) have even fewer to chose from. Most, if not all, romance stories are Plot 7, Rebirth. Sometimes Rags to Riches, a Quest, or a Comedy might get thrown in as well, but romance is really about change and growth. Two people are meant to be together, but some force within one or both of the protagonists keeps them apart. When they grow enough to overcome that force, they have earned their HEA.

Successful romance writers are prolific, often writing several stories a year. So how do they manage to come up with so many different stories using one basic plot? I think it’s a little like zucchini.


We have two healthy zucchini plants in our garden. If you’ve ever grown zucchini, you know a modest plant can produce an astounding number of squash. I’ve heard a rumor that people in the Midwest lock their doors in August for fear a neighbor will drop off unwanted zucchinis. I know I’ve been tempted.

We’ve been eating zucchini every day, and yet so far we’re not sick of it. Taking a cue from Forest Gump's friend Bubba, we're eating it in a million different ways. It’s good dipped in cornmeal and fried, brushed with olive oil and rosemary and grilled, and stir-fried with onions and peppers. It’s nice stuffed with onions, mushrooms, celery, and cheese or with ground meat and rice. Zucchini bread is a classic, muffins are good, and I haven’t tried it but my neighbor gave me a recipe for chocolate chip zucchini cookies. I think shredded zucchini and carrots would make a lovely vegetable timbale, and it probably wouldn’t be bad in an omelet.  It’s all zucchini, and yet each recipe tastes a little different.

Romance stories are like that. The basic plot may be the same, but each character is an individual, acting according to his or her motivations and experiences, and interacting with other individuals. There may be popular tropes like friends to lovers or secret babies, but when they’re presented in a new and unusual way, the story feels fresh. I think that’s why romance fans are such voracious readers. They can count on an introduction to interesting people, a heartfelt struggle, and finally a feel-good ending, and yet each story is unique.


And just in case you’re interested, here’s a zucchini recipe.

Zucchini Bread
1 ¼ cup sugar
1 ½ cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 eggs
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup oil
1 cup shredded zucchini
½ cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 small can pineapple tidbits - drained (optional)

Preheat oven to 350˚. Grease a loaf pan or spray with cooking spray. In medium bowl mix dry ingredients (first 6 ingredients). Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in eggs, vanilla, and oil. Mix the wet ingredients together in the well. Add zucchini, nuts, and pineapple and stir until batter is well moistened but do not overmix.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 60 to 70 minutes. A toothpick in the center should come out fairly clean, although the bread will still be moist. Let cool in pan 15 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack before slicing. 

Makes about 16 slices.




Friday, October 23, 2015

One Beautiful Thing

I've been a little cranky this week. I'm not sure why: maybe minor disappointments and rain ... maybe hormones ... who knows? Yesterday, the sun came out. I went for a walk, watched the sky and the birds, smelled the pines, and I felt like myself again. 

Anyway, I've challenged myself to a week of noticing the beautiful things around me. Every day, I'll post a tweet with a picture or at least a description of One Beautiful Thing I saw that day. Feel free to join me with hashtag #1BeautifulThing.

Here's the first day - thunderheads building in the sky to the east while the sun shone in the west. 

What beautiful thing did you see today?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Writing Synergy


Synergy - The interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc. Dictionary.com



On a recent road trip, we came across this field. At first glance, it's a typical cotton field. The cotton plants take in sunshine and turn it into cotton which we make into crisp sheets and comfortable blue jeans. Plants are the original solar collectors. But for the cotton to thrive, it needs water, and rain isn't always dependable in West Texas. Wind, however, is almost constant, and the windmills on this property produce electricity. Electricity powers the pumps that produce water from an underground aquifer for the irrigation system that keeps this cotton growing.

At the base of the windmill, you can see a pump-jack, pumping oil from deeper underground. The oil will be made into fuel, which powers the tractors and farm machinery necessary to plant, cultivate, and harvest the cotton. Everything works together to produce the crop. 

The best stories are a little like this field. The main crop is the plot, driving the story along. But like dry-land farming, without the irrigation of well-developed characters the plot would wither and die. Strong characters are as crucial to a story as water is to a crop.

Far overhead, the breezes of the story drive the theme, the overarching feel of the story. Whether it's about the power of love or the misery of greed, the theme is the "lesson" we take from the story. Did you know windmills automatically shut down when the wind blows too hard? Theme is like that. It works best when it's a subtle breeze, not a hurricane.

And underneath it all, the author's voice produces the energy to plant the crop and nurture it. Humor, plot twists, juxtaposition: all the things that make a story special come from the reservoir of the author's personality and life experience. 

All together, these forces add up to more than the sum of their parts. That's what produces a good crop, and what produces a good story. 



Monday, October 12, 2015

Writing Angels

When you hang out in writing circles, you meet the nicest people. At least that's been my experience. Writers have beta read for me, helped me craft blurbs, alerted me to opportunities, and helped me with promotion, all out of the goodness of their hearts. 

Today, I'd like to say thank you the multi-talented Liz Madrid, my latest writing angel. She read my entry for SYTYCW15 and not only voted and left encouraging comments, she's done some wonderful things to try to gather enough votes to get As Long As We Both Shall Live into the next round. By the way, if you haven't yet voted, there's still time up until Oct. 14th. Just follow the link and click the star. 

Liz sent out creative messages on Wattpad and Twitter letting people know about the story. Then she created this wonderful cover for the book. And as if that wasn't enough, she made the amazing trailer below.





Liz's creativity isn't limited to social and visual media. I've just finished reading her story, Collateral, a fast-paced story of intrigue, family ties, and whirlwind romance. It's only on Wattpad until Oct. 15, so if you have a chance to read it before then, I highly recommend it. If not, grab a copy when it gets published. It's one of those books that will have you staying up past your bedtime for one more chapter, until it's three AM and you can finally rest knowing how it all turned out. 

Liz is just one of the many writing angels who've helped me along in my writing career. There are so many of you to thank, but I won't make a list today. You know who you are.

So, who are the angels in your writing life?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Harlequin SYTYCW15 Contest

Exciting News!

I'm one of the top 50 picked for the first round of Harlequin's SYTYCW15. That's the So You Think You Can Write contest for 2015, with a grand prize of a two-book contract. 

In this round, the editors judged pitches and first chapters from everyone who entered, and chose the top 50. Now, popular vote on Wattpad between Oct. 8th and Oct. 14th will determine which 25 move forward. So, if you're on Wattpad, or willing to take a few moments to register (it's easy) please take a look and consider voting for As Long As We Both Shall Live. Just click one the link and once you're in Part 1, click on the star to vote.


As Long As We Both Shall Live is targeted for Harlequin Heartwarming, a line of clean romances.  

Tawny broke his heart when she took their daughter and ran, but she can’t outrun a brain tumor. Now Alex is determined to save the mother of his child, even if he has to drag her into treatment. If he fails, he and his daughter will lose her forever. If he succeeds, he might lose them both. What else can he do? She may have run, but Tawny is still his wife.





Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Visit to City of Rocks State Park


Have you ever seen a little piece of nature that seems completely different from the area around it? Maybe a fern-filled grotto around a spring in the desert? Or a wildflower meadow in the center of a dense forest? Enchanted places?

Not far from Silver City, New Mexico, we found such a place in City of Rocks State Park. In the middle of a rolling grassy plain, an ancient volcano left behind a core of hard rock that had eroded and weathered into what looks like a city on the hill. 

 


It's easy to imagine a thriving city, magically turned to stone. Like all cities, it has streets and alleys, windows and doors.

It's nicely landscaped, with wildflowers, 
live oaks, and desert plants.








Rock City has quite a few permanent residents, although they are a little camera shy.














Weathered rocks are a little like cloud formations, stimulating the imagination. If I stare at them for very long, I begin to see things there. Like stone castles…




Giant toadstools,

and petrified monsters.




The best part of this park is that the campsites are nestled right into the rocks, making visitors a part of this enchanted city. And right in the middle, under the wide-open sky, are a small observatory and meeting circle where they offer occasional programs on astronomy.



So, if you ever find yourself in western New Mexico (The Land of Enchantment), you might want to take time to explore this odd little park, and see what enchantments you find there. 



Sunday, September 20, 2015

More Favorite Words




Last month I talked about a few of my favorite words (Collecting Words) but that's only the beginning.  Word collecting is great, because words are not only free, they don't have to be dusted. The ones I like best are words that invoke a special meaning and also dance off the tongue. How about these?


Debacle

Not a near miss, not even a nice try, but a huge, total, spectacular failure. A fiasco. The debacle might well have been caused by someone's ...


Shenanigans

Mischief, or maybe something more nefarious. Secret, dishonest manipulations. And can't you just hear the Irish accent?


Huckleberry

Like a blueberry, but a bigger, sweeter, wilder version. In my mind, huckleberries are always connected to a special camping trip to Montana. Also slang for "the man you're looking for." The one who can get the job done. "I'm your huckleberry."


Mosquitos and No-see-ums

Be honest. Don't you feel itchy just hearing the names of the buzzing little biological instruments of torture?


Levitate

Floating in the air, but it implies that the rise was unexpected, maybe miraculous. 


Rabble-rousers

Lots of these around, always trying to stir up the crowd, to drive a wedge between groups of people. Sometimes it's for a greater good, and sometimes just to make themselves important. Rabble-rabble-rabble. 


Scuttlebutt

The lowdown, the rumor, the truth behind the official story. Did you know this derives from a nautical term for the water cask, so in effect, it has the same meaning as the water cooler does in office slang? 


Brouhaha

A big deal that really isn't. Lots of public excitement and confusion, but in the grand scheme of things, nothing all that important. A hullabaloo. 

Your turn. I know I can't be the only one who collects odd words. Share your favorites. 


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Floating the Kenai

Last week, my husband decided to go fishing, and invited me along. At first I declined, looking forward to a full day of writing. But the weather forecast said it would be a beautiful day, rare in September. The Kenai River draws visitors from all over the world. How could I pass up the opportunity? 


It was the right decision. Just on the drive down, we saw four swans in Potter's Marsh and a couple of dozen belugas in Turnagain Arm. Once we reached the Kenai Peninsula, we had to brake to avoid a bull moose that ran across the road.


The Kenai River itself is beautiful, with just enough glacial silt from feeder creeks to give the river a slightly milky turquoise color. The water ran high, and the fishing wasn't good. My husband only hooked some spent cohos and one small trout. The pair of bald eagles watching him seemed disappointed, too. I guess they were hoping for the castoffs. 

Personally, the lack of fish didn't bother me at all. We already have more fish in the freezer than I care to eat. But it was a perfect float, a reminder of how lucky I am to live in Alaska. And the writing was still waiting the next day. 



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Dog for All Seasons

In honor of National Dog Day, I'd like to share a few moments from the life of a happy, funny, and loyal companion, Roxy. Roxy likes to play. Always. She's happy to chase a ball, or tug on a rope, or pounce on a laser pointer. She even thinks the reflected sunbeams from her dog-tags are a toy and chases them across the wall.

She thinks every action is an invitation to play, including vacuuming the living room, when she attacks the vacuum cleaner and lifts it from the floor. 

She enjoys watering the garden ...



and shoveling snow ...


and she likes to find the hidden icicles and carry them away to hide them. 
This one was a little more than she could handle.


When we adopted her, we told Roxy she wasn't allowed on 
the couch, but she assured us she was. 

Guess who won that battle.



Happy National Dog Day. I hope you have someone who bring as much joy into your life as Roxy does to mine.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Collecting Words

English is a rich language, mostly because of our habit of plundering words from other languages all over the world. As a writer, I like reaching for just the right word, the word that conveys my meaning exactly. Sometimes it’s illusive, but often the perfect word is right there, waiting.

I love words, playing with them and moving them around. I love collecting interesting words and storing them away for later, like jars of jam. These are a few of of my favorite words. Not that I necessarily use them often, but I love the pictures they paint.

Illumine   

http://www.italian-renaissance-art.com/Sistine-Madonna.html
It means to enlighten, to convey the truth, but to me it means so much more. I picture illuminated manuscripts, with rich detail incorporated into the text like the ones at here, at Diana Wilder's blog. To illumine is to bring knowledge that glows with light, like a Raphael painting.

Kerfuffle 

Can’t you just see the dust flying, hear the noisy bickering, and experience all the fuss and bother in this old Scottish word?

Powwow 

Not just a meeting, with a never-ending PowerPoint presentation while participants surreptitiously check their emails, but a gathering where ideas will be discussed and celebrated. I also love the word surreptitious. It sounds so sneaky.

Trademark -State of Wyoming

Rodeo 

Long-horned bulls and fearless cowboys. Surefooted horses, American flags, and the smell of livestock. All packed into one little word.

Quagmire

A mucky, boggy, frustrating situation. It's accompanied by the sucking sound my feet make as I struggle to pull them from the mire and make my way to solid ground. "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into."*

Serendipity
First of all, it's fun to say. And the whole idea of a happy accident, a coincidence that leads to something wonderful, is a story in the making.

Ponder 

I won’t just think about it. I’ll contemplate, ruminate on it, chew it over in my mind. This idea isn’t a quick snack; it’s a whole meal. A feast. And I will give it the attention it deserves.

What are some of your favorite words?

*Catchphrase from  Laurel and Hardy

Friday, August 14, 2015

Hospitality

Hospitality: the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.  -dictionary.com

Summer is the time for visitors, at least here in Alaska. As we’ve been getting the house ready for guests, I’ve been thinking about hospitality.

I’ve been on the receiving end of hospitality countless times, with friends and relatives who share their homes, their meals, and their lives. They’ve been welcoming and generous, but one of my most memorable acts of hospitality was unexpected.

Once upon a time, my husband and I were on a camping vacation in Montana. We set up the tent in a state park campground. The woman in the camping spot next door greeted us and said they'd come to pick wild huckleberries. When I mentioned I'd never tasted a huckleberry, her mouth dropped open in surprise. She ran into their camper calling, "They've never tasted huckleberries!"  and returned with a small box full of what looked like giant blueberries. They tasted like blueberries, too, but more so, sweeter and juicier. Delicious. Sharing her harvest with strangers: a wonderful example of hospitality.

I thought of her many years (and two kids) later, on a family vacation in Hawaii. We picked up a pineapple at the grocery store and hiked to a waterfall. After we swam in the pool under the falls, I cut up the pineapple for a snack. If you've never had fresh, ripe, locally grown pineapple, you can take my word that it's exponentially better than canned. A young couple walked by, smiling at the sight of my kids with pineapple juice running down their chins. When I offered them some fresh pineapple, their faces lit up as if they'd won the lottery.

I like books that offer hospitality. Books that make me feel at home, that invite me to relax and get to know the characters. And when the stories offer an unexpected treat, sharing a little taste of something unique, that’s when I fall in love.