I was thinking earlier today about the continued importance of handwriting in this age of technology. More specifically, I was thinking about how valuable it can still be to writers, even though most of us do the bulk of our writing on computers.
Let me explain. Some of you may recall my mentioning in the past the large whiteboard mounted on the wall of the room where I do my writing. This board is invaluable to me when I am plotting out a story or fleshing out a specific scene. I have long noticed that when I write notes out on the board, the whole brainstorming process is just easier.
I have other friends who hand write story notes in notebooks. Another friend writes out the entire first drafts of her stories by hand on a legal pad. What do we all have in common? Writing things out by hand when we need to be creative.
As it turns out, this sense of greater creativity and productivity is not simply in my imagination. More and more studies are proving the connection between our hand and our brain. When we write by hand, it stimulates areas of the brain which lead to increased skills such as comprehension, problem-solving, and retention. Other studies have discovered that young children who learn their letters by drawing them manually instead of typing them on a keyboard, for example, learn much better and faster.
So as it turns out, I was being smarter than I realized when I asked my husband to mount the whiteboard on the wall. Each time I use it, I am strengthening the connection between my hand and my brain and am improving my writing.
If you don’t have the space for an oversized whiteboard on your wall, grab a pencil and a legal pad. This is what I used when I was problem-solving during my former day job as a business analyst, and I can attest to its success.
But if I have given you the urge to go-to-town with a large whiteboard and colored markers, then don’t spend buckets of money for the expensive (and smaller) versions sold in office supply stores. Get to your local big box store and look for white hardboard wall panels in the section where paneling is sold. You can purchase a 4’ x 8’ sheet of smooth, acrylic-coated wall panel (i.e., whiteboard) for less than $20. They are lightweight, and fairly easy to tack up. Some people even use glue or double-stick tape.
Or you can still find that trusty legal pad. Either way, happy writing and happy creativity.
As you all have probably guessed by now, I like history. I don’t just like to write about it, I also like to see it and absorb it. And not just about major events. To me, it is also fascinating to see everyday objects used in the past by everyday people.
One unexpected advantage to my upcoming move, I am realizing, is the opportunity it presents to experience history which is “new” to me. Or should I say “older” history?
What I am trying to say, is that we will soon be moving to an area which was settled much sooner than where I live now. This means there will be a treasure trove of new things for me to see and learn about which pre-date the history in my current region. Hence, things which are both “new” to me yet also “older” at the same time.
I am looking forward to exploring once we are settled. If I am lucky, I will find some old shops to wander through, where I can pick up old household items and wonder about the people who used them in the past. What stories could these objects tell from years ago? (After all, if walls can talk, why can’t other objects?)
The move will also provide history opportunities on a larger scale. We will be within driving distance of many interesting locations. I can only imagine the fun days I could spend wandering through old homes or on old battlefields. (Note to self: Be sure to wander around some of the historical locations where I am now before we move – the places I always thought I would go see “one of these days.” These days are numbered now!)
I am trying to hold on to this happy thought of new or different history as I deal with the craziness of the actual move. (And to also remember the other advantages which prompted this move in the first place. Living near our son and his family is the primary benefit.)
After all, once we are settled, the stress of the move will become merely a page in our own history. Then I can forget about the headaches and get back to enjoying the “new” history around me.
Summer is finally here, the weather is gorgeous - and I can finally post a new blog on my temperamental website. Life is good!
To celebrate, I am sharing a fun summer trivia quiz I found online a few weeks ago, courtesy of www.Playbuzz.com. The answers are given below the quiz.
ANSWERS TO QUIZ
I tend to call my progress toward a writing career a “journey.” I am realizing how apt is that word choice.
Trying to go from a newbie writing her first few lines of a story to a multi-published author is like taking a journey cross-country. With no GPS and an out-of-date road atlas shoved under the seat.
In both cases, I think we all start out in a haze of optimism. “It will be fine,” we tell ourselves. “It won’t take long at all.” We buckle in and start forward. About the time we finish the first chapter of our story or cross the first state line, we realize this journey might be a tad longer than we thought. “But that’s OK,” we reassure ourselves. “I’ll still have plenty of time after I arrive.”
Then we hit our first detour. It might not be too bad. Maybe a quick little jog on side streets in our car, or a pause in our writing to figure out a plot twist. “It’s still a piece of cake, though” we think. We’ve got this.
But then the detours and delays start cropping up faster than orange barrels in construction season. Or, when writing, we reach that slump around the halfway point of our first draft when it feels like we will never finish the story.
If we let these delays and slumps define our journey, then it can become an unbearable slog. Reaching the other coast or getting that first book sale almost doesn’t matter because we are too exhausted from the trip.
Unless we choose to look at our journey differently.
If we take the time to explore local features, visit little museums, discover out-of-the way diners to eat in, then the road trip takes on a whole new meaning. As we stop to admire beautiful vistas along the way, we realize we aren’t really in such a rush for the journey to end. It's become an adventure.
Likewise with our writing. If we take the time to celebrate milestones along the way, then it suddenly becomes a pleasant walk instead of a forced march. Each time we celebrate finishing a first draft or do well in a contest or cheer for a friend’s first sale it reminds us of why we started down this path. After all, we aren’t here solely because our writing muse lured us into it. We write because once started on this journey, we can’t imagine doing anything else . And we know that if we keep moving forward, then one day we will reach that wide ocean of writing success at the end of our journey. What an adventure!
I have had lilacs a bit on the brain lately. They are one of my favorite flowering bushes, and I have been waiting for mine to bloom. To me, they are a true indicator that summer is not far away.
This past weekend caused me to think about them even more. It all started when most of us siblings were gathered at my mom’s house to spend the day doing spring yard work. At one point, I was standing next to my mom while she talked about two smaller lilac bushes in the side yard. She said one of them was a cutting from a bush my father’s mother owned. Since my mom’s plant has probably been there for close to fifty years, it made me wonder just how old the original bush might be.
And I wish I could recall what she said about the origins of the second bush, because that is one tough plant! My mom wanted a dead pine tree in her yard cut down, and the only safe place my husband had to drop the tree was right over that lilac bush. Yet even though that poor bush was smashed by a huge tree, as soon as the tree sections were removed, that bush popped right back up like it was never touched. Amazing!
All of this made me a bit curious about the lilacs growing next to so many old houses. This prompted a bit of quick research on my part – something I am never reluctant to do. I discovered that lilacs are not native to North America, and were brought here by European settlers. There was a tradition of planting a lilac bush by the front door. However, the lilacs the Europeans brought were not native to most of their home countries, either. Lilacs originated in the Balkans, but made it to the rest of Europe in the 1500s by a long route through Istanbul. They were carried back from Istanbul to Austria by travelers on the silk route.
Since the very earliest settlers in North America were trying to simply survive in a harsh new climate, lilacs didn’t make it onto west-bound ships from Europe until the mid-1700’s. But the many-flowered stems have quietly been a part of our history ever since. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both made notes about the lilacs in their gardens. The longest living lilacs in North America are thought to have been planted around 1750 in New Hampshire. Imagine having garden plants which are over 250 years old! Lilacs prefer a cooler climate, which is why you will often find them in New England and the Midwest and also in Canada, which has a long history of growing lilacs and creating new hybrids.
All of this interesting background has helped me reach a conclusion. Once my husband and I are settled in our new house, I will make sure there is a lilac planted by the front door. After all, I don’t want to break with tradition. Perhaps, decades from now, people will be wondering who planted it.
The “Golden Spike” was driven on this date in 1869. What was the “Golden Spike”? Some of you may recall hearing it mentioned in a U.S. History class. This spike, which was truly made of gold, was not just a romantic bit of showmanship. It symbolized a huge milestone in U.S. history. The Union Pacific Railroad (starting from Omaha, Nebraska) and the Central Pacific Railroad (starting from the west coast) spent over six years building 1,900 miles of tracks to join the two sides of the country. And when the two railroads finally met up on May 10, 1869 near Promontory Summit, Utah, the golden spike was driven in with a silver hammer to join the two railroads into one continuous railroad line.
Even after several years of planning, this was no easy task. Small teams of surveyors had the dangerous job of scouting ahead through lands controlled by (understandably hostile) native tribes to determine the exact routes. Since much of the route went through enormous mountain ranges, trestles and bridges had to be built and tunnels had to be blasted. These edifices had to be designed and constructed before the teams laying the tracks reached them. The tunnels were particularly time-consuming. In fact, for many of the tunnels, which were hacked or blasted through granite, the crews only advance about one foot per day. Even on more level land, progress was slow, averaging about a mile a day.
Think about the logistics of all of this. Thousands of men were needed to construct firm, smooth roadbeds, build the bridges, force tunnels through the mountains, and actually lay the tracks. More people were needed to feed the crews everyday and provide some sort of sleeping quarters. Still more people were needed to keep the crews and their trains supplied with firewood, water, food – and work supplies. Think about not only the miles and miles of track and railroad ties needed, but all of the railroad spikes, shovels, picks, wheelbarrows and other equipment needed. And don’t forget the teams of mules and horses – and wagons –needed to haul materials to the work sites. Most of these materials had to be replaced regularly in large quantities. It all had to come from somewhere, and that was not easy to do when working in what at the time was truly “the middle of nowhere.”
But after six years of grueling labor, the “Golden Spike” was driven in and the work was done. Why was this a big deal? Because it was now possible to ride a train all the way from the east coast to the west coast. Before this, a person traveling between the coasts had two choices: 1) take a ship all the way around the southern tip of South America and back up the coast to California, or 2) take a ship to Panama, make the trek through the jungle to the other side, and then take another ship up the coast. These voyages took six months or more to complete. Now, the trip could be done in about one week on the railroad.
Another key thing the railroad did was to help open up the vast middle of the country to settlement. Not only did the trains make it easier for immigrants or other new settlers to get to their destination, but as part of their arrangement with the federal government the railroads were given huge tracts of land which they could then turn around and sell to the settlers. While the deal between the federal government and the railroads was not perfect, and in fact a few individuals became quite wealthy by rigging the system, it proved beneficial to the country as a whole. As a result, with the influx of new settlers, many of the places where the trains stopped to obtain more fuel and water became large cities we know today.
The Transcontinental Railroad was like the lunar moonwalk of its day. It captured everyone’s attention so much, it was said to be one of the inspirations for Jules Verne’s book Around the World in Eighty Days, and also provided the inspiration for several movies in later years.
Today, much of this original railroad line is still in use, especially the portions through the mountain ranges. While the original tracks and ties were replaced over time, the trains are still running on the routes laid out by those early survey crews and on roadbeds dug out by those early laborers. Personally, it provides me with the inspiration to take a train trip across the country. If I ever do, I will say a silent word of thanks for the men who worked so hard all those years ago to make such a daring dream a glorious reality.
Happy May, everyone. It feels as though we reached a long-awaited milestone on the calendar.
And speaking of milestones, I witnessed one yesterday which caught me totally by surprise. And for once, it had nothing to do with writing goals, or my current historical romance manuscript, or even with getting our house sold.
You see, last summer, I saw a mama turtle deposit a batch of eggs in a hole she dug in our lawn next to our front sidewalk. When she was done, she trundled across our driveway and (I presume) through a small bit of woods to reach a pond on our neighbor’s property where we assumed she lived.
I looked up how long it should take for those eggs to hatch, and marked the date on a calendar. When the time came, I kept watch and was very disappointed when no little turtles appeared.
I was gone for a time yesterday morning and when I arrived home, I surprised a tiny little turtle, about the size of my thumb, in front of our garage. You can see how small he is by comparing him to the dandelion in the photo. When he saw me approaching, he scurried over to the mud puddle and plopped into it, no doubt hoping I couldn’t see him. (I could – the puddle wasn’t that deep. But I did admire his persistence in not moving as long as I was there.)
When I told my husband about the little turtle later, he was the one who thought of the nest of turtle eggs from last year. Sure enough, there was a small hole – tiny turtle sized – in our lawn in the nest’s location. And according to my daughter-in-law, who works at a nature center, this sometimes occurs with turtles. If the eggs hatch too late in the summer, the baby turtles simply stay put underground and hibernate through the winter, not coming out until the following spring.
So I guess that is what happened with this little guy, and I am hoping will happen yet with his brothers and sisters. Once the weather finally warmed up, he crawled out of his nest and then used his in-born homing instinct to crawl hundreds of yards back to that pond where his mother came from last summer. Pretty amazing.
It dawned on me I could use him as an example for lessons on life, and for my writing. I could create some wonderful metaphors about not giving up. Or about waiting patiently for the right time for something to occur. Or about homing instincts taking us where we need to be.
But I decided not to. Instead, I simply enjoyed this beautiful example of nature and God’s design for all life. Happy May, everyone.
This past weekend, we attended a baby shower for our son and his wife. Our daughter-in-law and her friend did most of the planning and preparation for it, and did a marvelous job.
The first thing I noticed was the cookies they decorated. Since the shower had a “bee” theme, they made sugar cookies which looked like flowers and honey bees. Once you look at the photo, I am sure you will agree they did an amazing job decorating the cookies!
They also did a great job of organizing several fun activities. (I’ll be honest, I sometimes don’t enjoy the games at showers, but I thoroughly enjoyed this afternoon.) One of their challenges required prep work ahead of time to obtain baby photos from the guests, but once they mounted the photos on a large poster board, people had a fun time trying to guess the most correctly. And later on, watching teams of people trying to see how quickly they could change the diaper on a doll was a hoot.
Some of the other activities were less competitive, but no less fun. My daughter-in-law had baked several dozen cupcakes when she set on a table along with tubes of colored frosting and various containers of sprinkles. Guests had a ball decorating their own cupcakes. And those who were feeling even more artistic could then move to the next table over, where plain white bibs and onesies were waiting to be decorated with fabric paint. This proved quite popular also, and as an added bonus, my son and his wife ended up with many personalized items for their new baby afterwards.
In short, it was a wonderful day, and well worth the hours of travel required to attend it. I did regret not getting a blog out last week because of this, but I felt certain you all would understand. After all, new grandchildren do not come along every day, and milestones like this are meant to be savored.
So now, I am shifting back into “normal life again. The baby shower is over, and most of the tasks we needed to complete prior to selling our house have been dealt with. Perhaps now I can focus a bit more on my writing while I am waiting for the new baby to come and for our new home to be determined. If you continue reading in the coming weeks, I will keep you posted as to how both events are progressing.
Since my spring fever is spiking right now, I decided this installment of “If These Walls Could Talk” should include flowers as well as a house.
I think this photo fits the bill perfectly. Better yet, it combines romance and mystery in its story.
The lovely flowers in the foreground give it a lush, summery, welcoming air. Yet at the same time, the narrow path leading to the old buildings in the background gives it a sense of curiosity and adventure.
What do you suppose lies at the end of this path? Is it a charming home, with children playing in the yard and a fresh-baked pie cooling on the windowsill? Or is an empty, tattered shell clinging to its fading memories? Is it derelict and abandoned, or still well-preserved and much-loved? Looking at this photo gives me the urge to make my way down the path and find out. No matter what lies at the end of the path, the flowers along the way would make it worthwhile.
And if I were really lucky, perhaps the buildings would tell me some fascinating stories about the previous owners. That is, If These Walls Could Talk.
For some reason this year, I am more impatient than ever for spring to arrive. Perhaps this is because our cold weather has not been interspersed with many of the warm days which encourage us to hang on until spring is really here.
One effect of my spring fever is that I have been noticing more articles recently about gardening in ways to encourage the proliferation of bees, as well as attracting more butterflies and hummingbirds to a garden. Since they are all useful as well as beautiful, I was curious to see if it is possible to attract all three with the same plants and methods, and did a little internet research. It is!
I quickly found several good sites with information about attracting one or all of the little flyers. Some of the general tips I consistently saw included:
As I looked at the tips, and the lists of flowers for each (bees, butterflies and hummingbirds) I started noticing some flower names appearing more than once.
Here is a list I compiled of flowering plants which seem to attract all three:
Here are more flowering plants which attract at least two of the three:
I hope these lists inspire you to plant a few of the flowers above in your garden this year, or even in a window box. Our colorful little flying friends will appreciate it. And if you enjoyed this blog, please sign up for my email list. I will appreciate that.
In the meantime, try to enjoy spring (I hope it exists wherever you are) and I will return next week with my next blog.
I write historical romances, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.