New Release: Memory Man

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In just under the wire as November comes to a close. Memory Man is a story about the memories we’d like to forget and a mysterious man rumored to help people do it.

Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite.

Detroit is a city with a long memory. Though most folks I know want to forget. Only they can’t. Can’t forget the past. Can’t forget the glory days. Can’t forget the rot and decay. I thought maybe we’d be better off if the whole world could forget what Detroit once was. Then maybe we wouldn’t feel so bad about what it is.

But that wasn’t what I had to forget exactly. And that did seem a tall order for just one man, even if he was miraculous.

Just one more story to go this year! Thanks for coming with me on this writing journey. I’ve had such a great time and have learned so much that I’m planning on sharing in an ebook early next year. If you’re a writer who wishes you were more intentional about your writing, I strongly encourage you to come up with a doable goal for 2014 that will have you writing consistently. Start thinking about it now. The new year will be here before you know it.

Wildflower Wednesday: White Clover

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Common Name: White Clover

Scientific Name: Trifolium repens

Habitat & Range: sunny fields and lawns statewide

Bloom Time: spring, summer, and fall

About: Clovers are non-native plants brought over form Europe for pasturing livestock and now, of course, they are found absolutely everywhere. The White Clover is the one that will occasionally produce a four-leaf clover. Butterflies and bees love it for the nectar. Rabbits love to eat the leaves and the flowers. And as a child when I was stuck out in left field during my first year of Little League, I’d eat the flowers too. Just because I could. And I was bored. Good luck controlling these in your yard. It spreads by creeping and by seeds that can lay dormant for years before germinating.

Reference: Wildflowers of Michigan by Stan Tekiela; Adventure Publications, 2000

Why Today I Am Remembering C.S. Lewis Rather than JFK

Someone else died on this date fifty years ago whose influence during and after his life has far and away surpassed that of JFK. And this excellent little documentary film shows you just a small slice of why he is so significant. I encourage you to watch it. It is beautifully done and I was happy to see some familiar faces in it.

I See Free Books in Your Future…

It would appear from the sidebar that this space is close to having 1000 followers, so I wanted to remind all of you lovely readers that I made a promise back in September that if A Beautiful Fiction reached the 1000 follower mark by the end of the year, I would make all of my short stories free for one day (January 2nd, my gift to you on my birthday). As of the writing of this post, we’re 37 followers away from that goal.

First, thank you for reading and for sharing articles with your friends through email, on Facebook, and on Twitter. I hope that you continue to find these posts informative and encouraging.

Second, I do have to apologize and tell you that one story (“This Elegant Ruin”) will not be available as part of this giveaway because it is officially a runner up in the Saturday Evening Post 2014 Great American Fiction Contest and I’m awaiting a contract that will outline which rights I maintain to it. Suffice to say, it will be free online anyway as it will be on the Saturday Evening Post‘s website in January or February. It will also appear in their 2014 fiction anthology. And I believe I will still be able to include it in my short story collection next year (both ebook and printed book).

So, once more…

How can you help make this great giveaway happen?

1.) One easy way is to click the Follow button on the righthand side of the screen if you are not already an official follower of this blog. You’ll get new posts emailed to you automatically–and nothing else. No spam. No ads. Just blog posts. That’s it. When I blog you’ll know about it and you’ll be among the first to know about future giveaways and promos!

2.) When you read a blog post that speaks to you, please share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter or email it to someone you think would enjoy and benefit from what I write about here.

Here’s the other big announcement: Once the January 2, 2014 date passes, the stories will not only no longer be free, they will no longer be available on Kindle. I’ll be taking them all out of circulation as I work on the collection. So get them while they’re hot.

Thanks again for reading.

Wildflower Wednesday: Spotted Touch-Me-Not

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Common Name: Spotted Touch-Me-Not

Scientific Name: Impatiens capensis

Habitat & Range: wet shade and woodlands, by streams, and in wetlands statewide

Bloom Time: summer

About: You’ll see Touch-Me-Nots in yellow as well, but the orange ones are my favorite. These shade-loving plants not only have beautiful, exotic looking flowers, they are a favorite of children for their exploding seed pods. An annual, the Touch-Me-Not (also known as Jewelweed) disperses its seeds dramatically by flinging them here and there at a gentle touch. In the wild this is accomplished largely by deer walking by. But on walking trails it is a fun activity for children and adults alike. Its flowers are favored by hummingbirds and the sap from its stems can be used to soothe poison ivy or stings from nettles. An all around lovely, fun, and useful forest flower.

Reference: Wildflowers of Michigan by Stan Tekiela; Adventure Publications, 2000

A History of English in 10 Minutes

Have you guys seen this? I love reading about and discussing word origins (or making them up when information isn’t readily available) and I love studying the development of the English language. So many intriguing questions…

How did we come to have the largest vocabulary of any spoken language, along with thousands upon thousands of archaic words that have fallen into disuse and create an endless source of material for those page-a-day calendars? What makes English so unique and adaptable? How did English become the international language of business and commerce?

Do yourself a favor and watch this great little history over your morning coffee or at your lunch hour.

Trailblazing and the Seductive Pull of the Status Quo

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In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, we encounter two opposite impulses embodied in Laura’s parents. Pa is a restless wanderer moving his family ever west in search of more space, more freedom, and complete self-reliance. Ma is obedient to her husband’s wishes, but her heart is still back in New England where her family remains. Just when the family settles in one place and the land is tamed and things are beginning to work smoothly, just when Ma’s workload gets a little lighter because the house is built, the barn is secure, and the vegetable garden is established, Pa announces the family is leaving that all behind and heading back out on the trail to chase the horizon.

As Americans, we admire Pa and leave Ma to fret about Indian attacks and the children’s education. Or we pretend we do. Or we do while we’re yet young and unattached. But when we have established homes and jobs and families of our own, the pull of the horizon must war with the pull of the earth beneath our feet. We begin to see the sense in staying where we are. We begin to see all that open land not as welcoming us but as waiting to destroy us.

So we stay in jobs we dislike for 30 years in order to feed and clothe our families and keep our health insurance (well, maybe not that anymore…). It would be a different thing, we say, if we were single or childless. We take the path of least resistance and claim that it must be God’s will for our lives because we encounter no obstacles (if that’s your view, go check out 1 Corinthians 16:9 and note the word and). We keep plodding through and put out of mind that there may be something else for us.

Is there something you have been putting off for fear that your life will be disrupted? Or that you may fail? The Ingalls family never quite made it to where Pa wanted to go. I’m not sure even reaching the Pacific Ocean would have quelled his wanderlust. In fact, they had to turn back east and retreat for a time. But that never seemed to stop Pa. And though they encountered hardship most of us can’t imagine nowadays, they also experienced the pride of being trailblazers.

It’s hard to balance contentment with one’s circumstances and the drive to get that dream job or live in that dream city or pursue that dream degree. The status quo is so comfortable, so cozy, so easy. Why would we want to mess with that?

Still, if you have gifts and you aren’t using them or you’re not using them to the extent you believe you should, maybe it’s time to venture out of your shell and take the plunge into the unknown. If an opportunity presents itself to you and your first instinct is to retreat into your shell and wait for it to go away, maybe it’s time to be brave and take on the challenge.

There will be obstacles. There will be long winters, rushing rivers, millions of grasshoppers, prairie fires and chimney fires, people who resent you, and family that doesn’t quite understand. There will be hard work and hard weather. But there will also be satisfaction and joy and adventure.

Case in point: I have submitted a few of my short stories this year to a number of contests and gotten a number of emails that include the words, “We’re sorry, but…” And yet, last night I got an email from one of those contests that told me I am a finalist! And that email was from The Saturday Evening Post. Even if I don’t win, I still got that far, I may end up in their anthology, I now have contact with the editor there who likes my work, and I can add this information to my bio as I query other magazines, editors, or agents.

But if I hadn’t taken the plunge and risked lots of rejection, I could never have gotten this far.

Is opportunity knocking? Why not crack the door and at least give it a chance to talk.

Wildflower Wednesday: New England Aster

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Common Name: New England Aster

Scientific Name: Aster novae-angliae

Habitat & Range: moist, sun, prairies, roadsides throughout the state

Bloom Time: autumn

About: Late fall really is a lovely time, even if our recent snow up in Michigan is telling us that it’s over. Along with the goldenrod and gentian we’ve seen previously on Wildflower Wednesday, the beautiful native New England Aster brings bursts of color to compliment the reds, oranges, yellows, and browns of fall. While it ranges from white to pink to lavender to deep purple, the New England Aster usually looks just about as it does in this photo taken on the grounds of Camp Lael in Lapeer, Michigan. Asters are often found in perennial gardens, but they can be quite leggy. Plant them in waves and prune the plant down in the late spring to keep them more compact, or put them near the back of the bed where other plants will hide their ugly stems.

Reference: Wildflowers of Michigan by Stan Tekiela; Adventure Publications, 2000

Remember Life before You Had the Capacity to Feel Embarrassed?

Appletree3I vividly remember the first time I felt self-conscious. I blame the administrators at Bush Elementary School in Essexville, Michigan, as it was their tennis-shoes-only policy that created the problem. You see, as a small girl I refused to wear pants. I wanted to wear only dresses. And when I started kindergarten, I had starry little-kid plans to continue to wear only dresses.

BUT . . .

When we kindergartners came in from the playground in the morning, the first thing we were required to do after hanging up our little coats and backpacks was to change out of our “street shoes” and don our tennis shoes. (I guess much of the country calls them sneakers, so if you’re lost, that’s what we’re talking about here.)

At five years old, I knew instinctively that wearing tennis shoes with a dress looked DUMB. And I felt DUMB wearing them. I felt like a DUMB idiot. And I felt that every one of my fellow students must be snickering behind my back about how DUMB I looked.

As an adult, I can now accept that absolutely no one else even noticed what I had on my feet. My embarrassment was imaginary. Call it practice embarrassment for all the years of real embarrassment that were to follow.

Still, that’s when I stopped wearing dresses. It would be years before I wore them again. Now I am often one of only a few women in my church and at my place of work who wears dresses or skirts almost exclusively. (Of course, I certainly don’t wear them with tennis shoes.)

Why do I even bring this up? Because this past week we discovered that our little five-year-old boy has a plantar’s wart (we assume from the mats at karate). We’re treating it and it is slowly disappearing, but this weekend he had two friends at our house for a sleepover. Before the guys all left Friday evening for their fun night out at karate buddy week and a sub-literate kids’ movie, I handed my husband the tube of wart remover just in case they should need to reapply. One of my son’s friends saw it.

“What’s that?” the friend said.

“That’s none of your business,” my husband replied in an effort to protect his son’s dignity. My boy’s warts are his private concern. I would have replied the same way.

But not our little kindergartner. “That’s for the wart on my foot.”

No shame. No embarrassment. No self-consciousness. Take him or leave him, warts and all.

It is not the first time I have noted with a bittersweet pang the complete lack of self-consciousness my son possesses. Bittersweet because I know that one day it will come to an inevitable end, and on that day my poor little boy will feel profoundly embarrassed. We all have to do our time.

I hope after that, though, he’ll reach a point, perhaps in early high school as I did, where he realizes that he truly doesn’t give a crap what other people think of him. I hope he can see that every person he had thought was analyzing and judging him actually had no time to do so because they were all so busy having their own near-constant paranoid, insecure self-image crises. Because you know what? It matters very little what the world out there thinks of you.

Live honestly, serve God, love people, and stop worrying about what’s on your feet. Nobody cares. Every time you find yourself obsessing over what someone is thinking of you, go give that person a compliment. Because you can rest assured they’re worried about looking DUMB too.

Great Lakes Infographic Love

Who doesn’t love a good infographic? Wonder which of the Great Lakes is the longest or deepest or highest? Or how far you would travel by ship from the westernmost point of Lake Superior down the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic? Wonder no more:

Click on the graphic to see it bigger. And if you’re looking for Lake Michigan, it’s combined with Lake Huron as they really function as one body of water despite their separation by the Lower Peninsula.