Christmas Then…And Now

Today we share a piece from the 2016 December Read Around.

Christmas Then…And Now

By Jeanne Crownover

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Am I the only one who resents going to the store in October and finding I have to wade through aisles of Christmas decorations to get to the Halloween candy?

Reflecting back on my childhood in Wisconsin, Christmas preparations never started until after Thanksgiving. It wasn’t until the leftovers had been eaten, the little ‘potato turkey’ we brought home from school had begun to rot, and the cornucopia along with the fall-colored tapers had been packed away that anyone even began to think about Christmas.

Not until people had recovered from one holiday did they start preparing for the next: shopping for gifts, writing cards, baking cookies. The tree was a distant concept, not having to be dealt with until before shortly before the actual holiday.

I know that not all families were like mine, waiting until the 23rd or 24th to purchase their trees. In our household, however, the week before Christmas found my mother reminding my father on a daily basis, more harshly as the days wore on, that with the only car in the family, he needed to go get the tree!

But the selection obviously remained good, as a tall, fragrant pine was always obtained, and on the 24th was brought into the house and decorated. The lights were tested briefly to make sure they were all working, but the formal lighting of the tree did not take place until darkness fell on Christmas Eve.

I remember coming home from church at night and seeing how splendid the tree looked in our big bay window. After a glass of milk and some freshly baked stolen, I was hurried off to bed, being told I needed to allow Santa ample time to make his delivery.

Christmas morning, the family arose to find the tree surrounded by a profusion of brightly wrapped packages. After opening gifts, they were left under the tree for several days so friends could see them when they came to call.

What a shock years later when raising a family in Southern California, to have my kids tell me on Christmas afternoon that at our neighbor’s house across the street, all gifts, save the few that the children were playing with at the moment, had already been put away.

This feeling of disbelief was eclipsed only by the disappointment I experienced a week later when attending a New Year’s Eve party at the same home. The house felt like a tomb. Not a scintilla of Christmas remained.

It made me pause and wonder. Had it been around so long that the magic was gone?

As a child I’d heard about the twelve days of Christmas and assumed that was why we left our tree up until at least the fifth of January. None of us grew tired of Christmas. We never wanted it to end.

So as an adult, I’ve always felt a bit out of sync as the holidays approach. While my California offspring never let me wait until the 24th to put up the tree, and I realize that keeping a tree up until the 5th of January could be construed as flirting with a visit from the fire department, I know my cards are always the last to be sent, my gifts the last to be wrapped, and my tree the last to be decorated.

Customs ingrained in childhood are difficult to erase. I’ll always view Christmas Eve as the beginning of my holiday, and while I know the enchantment won’t last forever, I hope that it lingers at least a little while, before it slowly…only slowly…fades away.

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Member Monday: Larry Watters

Last Saturday was a Writers Forum Read Around. That means we have fresh material for our Member Mondays!

Our first piece will be from past Writers Forum President Larry Watters. Larry says that since he has stepped down from some positions of responsibility, he actually has time to write. We look forward to more from Larry!

Too Many Graves

By Larry Watters

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Chapter One: The Counting

Matt shook his head in frustration. The first time he counted he thought he had made a mistake. He just as easily could have signed off on the tally, but being a perfectionist, he just had to get it right.

But when the second go-around came up with the same number, he got concerned. “Boy,” he said aloud to himself, “there should only be eighty-one graves, not eighty-three.” Then he giggled at the thought of what someone would think if they overheard him; a mass murderer maybe.

Matt Wampler was the supervisor of the, some would say gruesome, job of relocating graves before water started covering them next month.  Matt had won the bid for relocating the old Brandy Creek Cemetery to higher ground before the waters behind the new dam started flooding what had been the old communities of Brandy and Bourbon, both so named from the freely flowing kegs of yore.

It was a mix of old and new graves. Some of the sites dated back to the Gold Rush days when the area was host to California’s second major gold find. It was said that gold was on the surface back then, needed no picks, or even shovels, to gather it up.

Others were fairly recent. While the soon-to-be-covered towns were technically ghost towns, the cemetery was still active, popular with descendants of the early pioneers.

But having two too many graves was unsettling. He had hired a crew of five to dig the new graves, dig-up the old and rebury the remains. He suspected that his crew had got a little over eager when digging fresh sites with the backhoe and had simply lost count. He had let them go, all except for Paul. He briefly considered that he and his sole helper could uncover all to find the empties, and then decided that they didn’t really have to go to that extreme; that they only needed to poke a rod down to find the empty ones.

They didn’t really need to check all either; only the twenty-three that were unmarked. The rest had markers.

He rang Paul on his cell, and explained the mystery. Paul said he’d be there the next morning with a couple of long rods for probing.

Contented, Matt decided to call it a day and enjoy the beauty of the new location. Situated on a small rise above the dam, it overlooked the soon to be lake. Scrub pines with their raucous Scrub Jays filled most of the hill side. But in clearings a cavalcade of color ran riot. The native wildflowers were in bloom.

Sighing, Matt pulled his lunch from his backpack in the shade. He ate the same thing most every time when he was working at the site; Cheddar cheese from a local creamery, salami from a local meat locker, and Ritz crackers. It was a meal that seemed made for graveyards. Well, not really. But it was one that he was used to.

He fondly remembered being with his dad on road trips, and how it was almost a rule to have that same snack on stops. Sometimes roadside, but most of the time dad detoured off and found an old cemetery. After wandering to see who found the oldest grave, they would sit on the tailgate of the pickup and chow down; Matt with his sodas and Dad with his beers. Matt had outgrown sodas, preferring water these days.

He wished his dad had outgrown beers, but alas, it never came to be. Hal had never been one to get drunk, but Matt could never remember when his dad didn’t have a beer can stuck between his legs while driving, sitting on a tree stump when they stopped, or perched on the tail gate eating.

Listening to the birds, Matt sliced his salami, cut his cheese, and piled each on crackers. Cracker by cracker, he polished off the tube. He had a sense of being watched. Maybe it was the squirrels expecting a hand out. He hoped so any way.

Not many people shared his love of eating with dead people. It was an oddity that he could not explain. But today was different.

He really had the feeling that more than squirrels were watching. It was a sense that had saved his life back in ‘Nam.

Premise: After checking, they discover that none of the graves were empty.

Wild Horses in Redding

Okay…not actual wild horses, but last Saturday (November 11), the Writers Forum hosted a talk from award winning author and wild horse advocate Terri Farley.

Terri presented her workshop on Nonfiction Writing for Fiction Writers. Her premise is that fiction writers collect an enormous amount of research while working on their projects, so why not  maximize the use of all of that solid research? Terri demonstrated research and documentation strategies for strengthening our nonfiction writing, and shared with us pitfalls and hazards to avoid.

About forty people attended the workshop.

I was curious about which of Terri’s passions came first: writing or horses? She doesn’t have a simple answer for that. She was riding horses before she started putting pen to paper, but on her earliest Southern California rides, she was already crafting stories in her head while on horseback. Unfortunately, horses fell by the wayside for a time. Writing and teaching took prominence for a while, but her love of horses was rekindled after college. They both merged in her first best selling series on The Phantom Stallion, set on the ranges of northern Nevada. The Phantom Stallion series has twenty-four volumes. Her passion for both continues today in her latest book, a nonfiction book titled Wild at Heart.

Terri is being honored tonight, November 16, along with two other inductees into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame in Reno, Nevada.

Congratulations, Terri!

 

On Your Mark…!

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, kicks off tomorrow.

The official NaNoWriMo website lists 36 participants from the Redding area. Are you one of them? Check in with us here! We would love to cheer you on!

20171030_120233I have my notebooks ready. My pens are fresh. I’m ready to go.

The process is really pretty simple for getting involved. Technically, you just need to write, but it can add a motivating factor to actually sign up at the NaNoWriMo website and interact with other writers attempting the same goal. It’s free.

You don’t even have to be working on a novel. The event was originally organized for novel writing, but other categories have been included in the project. I am officially a Rebel, because I will be working on something other than a novel. I will be adding to my memoir, with which I have been stalled at 30,000 words for far too long.

It’s not too late to start on your 50,000 word commitment for November! Come and join us! Share your NaNoWriMo stories and thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

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Geo.

Member Monday: Pilgrimage of Poetry

Today’s Member Monday sees pieces sent in from participants of Anna Elkins’ ‘Pilgrimage of Poetry’ workshop. If you recall, participants walked around outside of the meeting at All Saints Episcopal Church until they found one thing that drew their attention. Then participants concentrated on all of the sensory images they drew from that object, and by the end of the workshop, had crafted a poem from those sensory images. Here are several that were submitted to the blog.

The Blessor

Granite chunk – large, heavy, rich hue of orange/gold and pale turquoise.
You touch me with your Grandeur.
Silence emanates from you.
American Natives call Stones the Keepers of Earth Memories.

You stand alone
above adjacent field of smaller stones.

A Sentinel?     Guardian?       Transmitter of Sacred Silence?

I bow and touch your surface.
Blessing fills me.

I stand in Silence.

 

Sonia Lovejoy

 

HUMMER

You are the blur of speed-demon wings hovering overhead

You are a lively twittering of scolding and questioning family and friends

You are a feathered hobbit secretly living in the thick, fragrant branches of a Coastal Pine tree

You are an insatiable drinker of sweet red nectar

You are a harbinger of Summer’s end

You…bring me Wonder

I…give you a Safe Haven free of cats and dogs!

by

Vicki Nelson

October 21, 2017

Redding Writers’ Forum Member

 

 

The Little Library

 

You are another world, hiding in plain view from the rest of the world.

You are the chatter coming from the pages of the books.

You are the flowers and trees that surround your stand.

You are the raindrops that trickle down the shingles of your roof.

You are intriguing, luring us to enter and wander through the pages of the books.

Bring me the stories that tempt me to lose myself in.

I give you credence and appreciation for these books.

 

Vickie Linnet

 

Traveler

You are a pile of rounded river rocks, far from any river

You are the sound of cars on the road, heading somewhere else

You are the scent of damp air and dirt

Scent so strong that I can taste the rain and the clay

You are a chill in the air

 

Bring me peace that I am exactly where I am supposed to be today

I give you my love for the journeys

George T. Parker

 

My NaNoWriMo Master Plan

Yes, I do have a plan for attacking the massive project that is NaNoWriMo.

First, it is important to understand that the point of NaNoWriMo is to get 50,000 words on paper. The goal is not to create 50,000 publishable words. The goal is to get a rough draft. The project instructions specifically say that editing anything you write during NaNoWriMo is a big no-no! The goal is to get a big chunk of words written that you can then go back and edit after November.

That said, here’s my plan…

To achieve 50,000 words in the thirty days of November, you need to write 1,667 words per day, every day, to achieve the goal. If you take weekends off and lose eight days of writing, you need to write 2,273 words on every weekday to hit the mark. Don’t forget…the Thanksgiving holiday is in there, too. More potential days off. If you take those days off, your daily goal for the remaining days goes up.

img_20150912_082649_350My particular writing style is that I always do my rough drafts in longhand, in notebooks like Moleskine or Picadilly. I’ve tried to compose on a keyboard, but it never goes as smoothly as longhand. I find myself editing as I go, and that is a huge anchor when you are attempting a word count goal.

One of the most important lessons that I learned in the California Conservation Corps is that the way you accomplish big goals is to break them down into smaller pieces that are easily manageable. 1,667 words per day is an intimidating number. A much easier number to work with is 500. I know I can write 500 words pretty easily. I am pretty sure that I can write 500 words before work, 500 words after work, and 500 words before bed, for 1500 words. That leaves about 167 words to account for at some other time during the day. I can round that up to 200 words. I can find time for 200 words during breaks at work and on lunch. That would give me 1,700 words per day, and I should be able to achieve my goal comfortably. Right? (That dull roar you are now hearing in the background is all of those NaNoWriMo veterans laughing at my cute and tidy plan.)

Since I’m going to be writing longhand and won’t have the handy word count feature at the bottom of my page as I write, I had to personalize my production math for this project. What I discovered is that I average 171.8 words per page in my notebooks when I fill a page. Three pages are 515 words. There are about 80 pages in every notebook. I should fill four notebooks by the end of November.

There is my target. Ten or eleven pages in my notebook, every day. Three pages before work, three pages after work, three pages before bed, and about a page-and-a-half whenever I can during the day. Here is where the beauty of my notebook comes in: I can fit it in my back pocket. It is always with me. When I come out of FoodMaxx, before I start the car, I can knockout a couple of paragraphs. Easily.

And there you have my NaNoWriMo Attack Plan.

Military planners say that no plan survives initial contact with the enemy. We shall see.

Fellow NaNoWriMo writers…what is your plan? Share it with us!

-Geo.

Ambushed by NaNoWriMo

It was supposed to be an easy project. I was going to write a piece on NaNoWriMo for Writers Forum. Then for the next day, I was going to post a link to a podcast or YouTube video on NaNoWrimo. I was going to look around to see if there were any local writers participating this year, or if there were any NaNoWriMo events in Shasta County, and write a short blog post on them. For research, I went to the NaNoWriMo website to dig a little deeper into how it works.

Before I knew what had happened, I had signed up to actually participate in NaNoWriMo. Now I’m on the hook for 50,000 words in November.

What have I done?!

So…on Wednesday, I join the mad scramble of writers all over the world going for 50,000 words on their projects.

Right now I find myself at Madayne Eatery and Espresso on Hilltop Drive on a Friday morning, trying to clear several other writing projects off my desk/laptop to make way for the What-Have-I-Gotten-Myself-Into Project.

NaNoWriMo Laptop

Seriously, I am looking forward to this challenge. I have been aware of it for years, but I’ve never had the guts to give it a shot before. Even if I don’t make 50,000 words, the worst that can happen is that I make some progress on my Big Writing Project.

If you still haven’t gone to the NaNoWriMo website to check it all out, you can find it here:

https://nanowrimo.org

Are any other Writers Forum members along for this ride? Anybody else from the North State who reads this blog? Share your stories with us!

If you know me at all, you know that I believe that everybody has a story worth sharing.

-Geo.