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 FRESH FROM THE INKWELL 

RANDOM ENCOUNTER AT RANDOM HOUSE

PRAIRIE WRITERS ASSIGNMENT:
YOU'LL NEVER GUESS WHO I RAN INTO AT RANDOM HOUSE

I hobbled across the plush carpet to the elevator, and jabbed the UP arrow. The doors whooshed open.

A woman with long blonde hair, fiftyish, stood inside cradling a manuscript, much bulkier than mine. She stepped aside as I entered the lift. I acknowledged my fellow author with a brief smile, before pressing the 6th floor button.

The woman looked alarmingly familiar as she glanced down at my surgical boot.

“Nasty accident?” Her vowels were distinctly Transatlantic.

I chuckled grimly. “You don’t want to know.”

How could I explain that I’d broken my foot on a stack of her hefty hardbacks at a midnight launch party, in a Barnes & Noble store that denied shelf space to my paperback YA mysteries? All my writing life I’d wanted to rub shoulders with such a literary giant, a rags-to-riches success, for the luck to rub off on me. On school visits, kids had asked me whether I knew her, being from the same country.

Now I had the chance, and all I could think of was my throbbing, swollen foot. I seethed with resentment and envy.

We reached our floor, the offices of the Acquisitions Editor. But as I limped out, I thrust a pen and a sticky note under the author’s nose.

“May I have your autograph for my nephew, please, Ms. Rowling? He loves Harry Potter.” Read More 
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RELOCATION, DISLOCATION, AND DISCOMBOBULATION

PRAIRIE WRITERS HOMEWORK ~ SEPTEMBER 2015
RELOCATION, DISLOCATION, AND DISCOMBOBULATION

Farthest temporary move: England to Iran

Biggest regret about living in Iran: Not taking the time to really learn Farsi. Not seeing prettier towns like Shiraz and Isfahan.

Farthest permanent move: England to America

Worst homesickness: First weeks of college at 18. First months in Florida at 28.

Hardest adjustments on arrival in the US: Different words for things, or the same words with different meanings. Driving on the other side of the road, changing lanes in fast traffic, and turning left. Too much choice at the grocery store, unfamiliar items. How to feed a new husband?

Shocks: My husband chewing gum when we opened a bank account and a deacon’s wife chewing gum in church - both frowned on where I came from.

Reasons to move: Romance. Divorce. Adventure. Job opportunity. Be close to the city. Get away from the city. Be close to family. Get away from “bloomin’ relations.”

Unusual finds: Someone had dropped a molar, halfway up the stairs. I put it under my pillow for the tooth fairy, and she left me a tinfoil sixpence! The attic of that house was filled with cherub paintings and floral chamber pots that went to the auction rooms.

Welcome gifts: In Iran, home-made pizza from the American students’ moms, who also lent us clothes, because our luggage had been misplaced. In Florida, a home-grown avocado from our Dutch neighbor.

Most refreshing moving-day gift: Six bottles of ginger beer (non-alcoholic) from a Canadian couple at our church in Texas.

Surprises: Mexican dinners for the Ex-Pat community, made by the US Army cook in Iran. Transatlantic Brides & Parents Association in Dallas. Meeting Nona, who’d taught in Iran the same year as I did. British shows on PBS. Radio 4 on the Internet. Golden Oldies at the grocery store in Kansas. Lakes and rivers whenever I missed the sea.

Mother’s response to news of Mark’s job transfer to Surrey: “Oh Hazel, that’s wonderful - and you’ll be near Linda!”

Care packages: Candy corn, Blow Pops, and Kool-Aid from US to UK. Easter eggs, Yorkshire tea, and Christmas pudding from UK to US.

Hardest adjustments on relocation to the UK: Driving on the other side of the road. Figuring out the coins while jet-lagged. Gloomy grey sky for days on end in winter.

Hardest thing on returning to the US after three years in England: Teenage daughter leaving a close-knit bunch of classmates there, discovering her old friends had moved on to different pursuits. Sorting out academic credits with the HS registrar.

Most humbling requirement for a teaching certificate: After my degree from TWU, one semester of student teaching, in spite of seven years’ experience overseas.

Funniest requirement for US citizenship: Having to prove my grasp of the English language by writing the sentence, “They could not find the dog.”

How to feel at home: Get a library card, volunteer at a school, join a church, and seek out arty, crafty people. They are everywhere!

Ice-breakers: Dogs and children

Number of trips taken by husband and dog from TX to KS with a load: Nine.

Unusual send-off: Texas tea with ladies in gloves, jeans, and lampshade hats.

What helped sell our house fast: Decluttering, a bowl of fruit, and location.

Number of boxes unpacked in KS after all the giving, selling, pitching, and ditching: Too many to count. Some are still in the attic.

Number of moves in my life: Thirteen, not counting temporary rentals.

Number of times I want to move again: Zero. But you never know…

How to keep in touch with roots: Facebook, and fly back for one fortnight a year. Read More 

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TUSCANY, O TUSCANY!

PRAIRIES WRITERS HOMEWORK:
FIRST 10 WORDS WERE PULLED AT RANDOM FROM A BOOK

“I want to take a closer look at the mural,” I tell my coworkers, as the last student leaves the building.

The library buzzes with preparations for my farewell party, due to start in thirty minutes. Fruit, veg, cupcakes, napkins are laid out in rainbow order. A Yellow Brick Road made of butcher paper is unfurled across the top of the bookshelves, for attendees to sign.

I walk on down the hallway, and enter the teachers’ lounge.

The boldness of the mural always takes me by surprise. Should it have more distance–like Veronese’s “Wedding at Cana” at one end of a huge gallery in the Louvre—for viewers to get a proper perspective on the Italian landscape? But we don’t have that kind of space at College Street Elementary.

Cuisine, literature, movies, home décor, everything is Tuscan in 2010, it seems. The faculty had grown tired of the previous mural, a fishing scene in muted tones, after a decade of lunching beside it. Our principal had conspired with Susan and decided we needed Tuscany.

So, how did it fall to yours truly to create the new mural? Because I am the Art Specialist. But what made me think I had time for this, my biggest undertaking yet, six foot by twelve? Flattery, mostly, plus the challenge and the fun of it.

I love paint! After watching the kids produce art for five years, it was my turn—with help from an overhead projector and a team of volunteers. They slapped primer over the old mural, and we searched online for soothing images of cypress trees and whitewashed villas.

While a clatter of utensils and voices echoes from the library, I take a closer look at the mural.

I touch the sunburnt tiles of the foreground building marked ALBERGO, an inn or restaurant. It is smooth, buttery, just the right tint of vermilion—a blend of students’ tempera, household latex, and acrylic flow medium. The shadows under the eaves are Patty’s work, applying what she’d learned in a watercolor class.

Angela, Wendy, and Debbie, less experienced but most enthusiastic, had filled the penciled fields with various greens and browns, using a nice dry-brush texture. We had twirled our brush-tips Van Gogh-style around the foliage, and debated the colors of the sailboats on the distant lake.

Are those purple splotches under the row of poplars unrealistic? That’s all right, if our aim is a place of escape, an oasis from the day-to-day stress of teaching.

Now I scan the boxy roofs, windows, chimneys of Tuscany, and see that all is well. I pull a black Sharpie marker from the pocket of my paint-spattered apron, to sign and date the bottom right corner--giving credit to Tan Chun, whose work inspired us.

My eyes follow the earth’s overlapping curves toward the farthest hills. The mural needs one final touch. In the cloud-blown sky, I place a bird, a simple V, the kind children like to draw. I add a second, then a third, each smaller than the previous one.

They represent three retirees: Patty, Debbie, and me, winging our way to new lives beyond the classroom—or in my case, beyond Texas to Kansas.

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” drifts down the hall from a CD player.

It is time to go greet my guests and join the party. Read More 

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Catch a Falling Writer


ASSIGNMENT: "FALLING"

Catch a Falling Writer

I can’t help falling in love with words:
Saxon, Germanic, Latin, or coined by the Bard;
short, long, terse, flowery, subtle, shiny words.

I can’t help falling in love with a silver-nib fountain pen;
syringing black ink from a bottle like a junkie, or
swapping out a cartridge for my next fix,
scratching thoughts on hammered vellum.

I can’t help falling in love with gel pens;
green, magenta, turquoise, according to mood
scribbling vignettes in a composition book.
As the Thames flows to the sea, so this ink
is my life-blood shed for the world to read.

I can’t help falling in love with another journal,
lined or unlined with space for sketching;
blank, dated, or headed with quotes and triggers.

I can’t help falling in love with a keyboard;
cutting, pasting, polishing, and printing in selected fonts.

I can’t help falling in love with visions of a table
stacked with a new book series for me to sign,
fans lined up outside the door and around the block.

Sales plummet, royalties are paltry, publishers merge,
doors close to unknown, un-agented authors, and yet…
I can’t help falling in love with writing, even as I hate it.
Please help me, I’m falling in love again.

In the words of punk band Chumbawamba:
I get knocked down, but I get up again.
You’re never gonna keep me down.
Like the Beatles, I get by with a little help
from my friends—the Prairie Writers group. Read More 
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JOY JAR 2014

Contents of the Joy Jar I filled this year
..........................................................................
Agency D3: Discover, Decide, Defend (VBS)
Baby photos and videos on Facebook
Bible/Shakespeare/other literary classics
Blue Devils!
Book clubs
Branson restaurants, not having to cook
Cameraderie of a choir
Christmas carols
Chlorine in hair, sunblock on arms, turps on fingers
Comfortable shoes
Constancy: knitting patterns/music/stars
De-cluttering
Different views of the Needles & Culver Cliff (I.W)
Dunking digestive biscuits (cookies)
Empty Yahoo inbox, trash and spam
Emptying this jar when I thought I had no blog
Ex-Pats on Facebook
FB photo challenge
Family games
Finishing a book (reading or writing)
First cup of coffee Mark brings me every day in bed
Fish & Chips
Fresh air, sun cows grazing, run with Jet after long winter
Good read e.g. Far From the East End
Gospel music at Friendly Baptist Church, Branson
Gumbo
Hand quilting
Identifying a bird by sight and sound
Internet & printer for research & school
Kids whose favorite subject is art
Live theater
Masterpiece on PBS; Call the Midwife; Mr. Selfridge
Meeting a deadline
New bulletin board of K-6 artwork
Organized art supplies
Ozark evergreens and layered rock
Photo of Sandown through a green wave (FB)
PJs all day when it’s cold and gray outside
Pin oaks changing color daily in front of house
Reading in bed with the heater blazing
Reading/napping/piano on snow-bound days
Realizing I’d written/submitted more than I thought
Receiving Christmas cards with news/pix
Reclaiming writing space and time
Rediscovering old books; and piano classics
Return of the Muses (for writing and painting)
Seeing kids create their own paint colors
Seeing people I know in town
Segovia & others on Classical Arts Showcase (PBS)
Smaller art classes after division (gr 1, 2, 4)
Smell of sizing, pressing quilt blocks
Smooth feel of piano keys
Special effects and TRUTH of Jonah production
Starting a book (reading or writing)
State Fair of Texas via DART train
Sun low on horizon, pink snow across flat prairie
Sunrise when I catch it: God painted the sky
Taking kids’ weaving off the looms
Tank full of propane, $$$ to pay for it
Turning in grades
Variety of food at CQ suppers, all U can eat
Typesetting a chapbook like VW at Hogarth Press
Wassail
W. Somerset Maugham
Warm sweaters and scarves
Women’s Bible Study (Ann Graham Lotz)
Wrapping Christmas presents
Yorkshire puds & sausage rolls Read More 
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