Friday, December 31, 2010

Expect the Unexpected

I had planned to write a totally upbeat post for today, but as I type this, our neighborhood tornado siren just started blaring, thunder has started to boom, and it's impossible to ignore the storm headed our way.

The TV weather forecaster is warning folks west and south of us to seek shelter immediately. Nasty stuff threatens.

Tornado watches and warnings are nothing new to those of us living in "tornado alley," but usually thunderstorms and tornadoes are springtime events, or sometimes in the fall. I don't remember having a tornado so late in the year.

Snow and ice storms, yes, but a tornado on the last day December? Guess anything is possible.

At least with tornadoes, we have warnings, but with life that's not always the case.

As I reflect on 2010, I had hoped to focus on the good things and not the bad, but today's weather is a reminder that no matter how much I want only good in my life, sometimes bad stuff like rejection, sickness, accidents--and tornados--pop up unexpected and unwelcome.

A few years ago when my life seemed to be filled with nasty stuff, I read five words that helped sustain me through dark times - "Look back, but don't stare."

Having survived several tornados and weathered many storms, this much I know: The nasty stuff will pass and the sun will shine again.

So, as thunder rumbles and the new year approaches, I'm being prepared but remaining positive. I'm going to look back, but not stare.

I'm looking ahead with a hopeful heart to welcome the unexpected, especially those moments of joy and grace that give purpose to my life.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Crazy for Calendars

This time of the year I go crazy for calendars.

I can't help myself. I justify buying them or picking up my complimentary copies from church or businesses because it's a way for me to get organized for the new year, keep up with family and school and sporting events, and track my goals, plus I just love calendars, especially pretty ones.

Today at Barnes and Noble I spent some time looking at the calendars, which were reduced by 50 percent. That's my kind of sale. I didn't buy one, but I've got my eye on a couple and might return later if I can justify buying another one, even if only to look at the pretty pictures. (I'm easily amused.)

I feel guilty wanting to have another calendar because I already have these:

2011 Saints from the Catholic Extension, which has been "providing Catholic calendars for nearly one hunderd years." Got this one after Mass from our parish. Each month has a large photo of a saint with a saying from them. This family calendar will be posted above the phone to jot down events.

Weekend Projects 2011 from True Value "Start right. Start here." Picked up this one while paying for keys at the local hardware store. It includes a checklist of monthly projects and things to do around the house. I'll give this one to Walt. He's our weekend projects guy.

2011 black pocket planner with my name embossed in gold from the Lakota children at the St. Joseph's Indian School, where I donate money sometimes. This one goes in my purse. The folks from St. Joseph Indian School keep sending me free stuff and I feel guilty if I don't send money to pay for the free stuff they send.

2011 Reading Writers calendar. It's free and a very handy way to track submissions and deadlines. I'll print off a copy for each month and keep in a folder or post on the bulletin board in my office to track deadlines and payments.

Blue Mountain Social Butterfly downloadable calendar from Blue Mountain Arts. For birthdays, anniversaries, and such. You have to register to receive it, but it's free and pretty and reminders are delivered to your PC (or laptop). Some folks might hesitate wanting to do that, but I'm trying it to see if it helps me stay on top of events.

So far, that's it, but it's not even January 1st yet, so I'll probably give in and buy a couple more. And I haven't been to the Hallmark store lately, where I usually pick up a free pocket planner.

How about you? Any favorite calendars to recommend?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Review of Geese to a Poor Market by L. D. Whitaker


Recently I finished reading Geese to a Poor Market, written by L. D. Whitaker and published by High Hill Press. The book's setting is in the Missouri Ozarks in the 1950s. Its title comes from an Ozarks expression that means selling yourself or your goods for less than they are worth.

Whitaker's novel is rich with the sights, sounds, sayings, and characters of the Missouri Ozarks. Told from multiple points of view, the story centers on the lives of Rita Sanders and her son Wesley.

At the beginning of the story, Rita leaves her semi-truck-driving-hard-drinking-cheating husband Ray and takes their seven-year-old son Wesley back to her parents' home in rural Missouri. Life isn't easy for Rita or Wesley, but Rita's parents tighten their belts and do their best to welcome them home.

Rita's father Will O'Dell is strong and proud, but also has a gentle streak, especially when it comes to his grandson. Although Will's left arm has been amputated above the wrist, he manages to make a living by farming.

Rita's mother Beulah is prudish and judgmental. She disapproves of Rita's leaving her husband, even though he was the one who was cheating, but she loves her grandson and wants what she thinks is best for him. Beulah is insensed when Rita gets a job working for retired Navy vet Sam Rockford at a local honky-tonk to help pay for their share of the family expenses. Beulah tells Rita her actions are like, "driving geese to a poor market."

Things get dicey after Rita moves in with Sam, and Ray shows up to reclaim his son.

In the tradition of Ozark storytellers, Whitaker knows how to spin a good yarn. His book is peopled with characters who leap off the pages, including moonshiners, lame-brained criminals, fire-and-brimstone revival preachers, the goodly, and the goodless. Whitaker's background as an attorney shows in the parts of the book that deal with the intracacies and nuances of Missouri law.

His descriptions of life in the Missouri Ozarks are vivid and specific. It's hard to find fault with Whitaker's debut novel. My only criticism--and it's a minor one--is that at times the detailed descriptions and lengthy dialogue interrupt the flow of the story.

On balance, Geese to a Poor Market is a thoughtful and an entertaining tale that captures the essence of the struggles, loves, and lives of a family living in the Ozarks in the mid-1950s.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas and a joyful New Year. I'll be taking a break from blogging for the rest of the week, but I'll be back next Monday.

Until then, I leave you with this Irish blessing:

"May you always walk in sunshine. May you never want for more. May Irish angels rest their wings right beside your door."

Monday, December 20, 2010

Soltice Lunar Eclipse, Tomorrow, December 21

Seeing red: You'll have to stay up late or get get up early to see it, but according to NASA, tomorrow, December 21, "the first day of northern winter, when the full Moon passes almost dead-center through Earth's shadow, for 72 minutes of eerie totality, an amber light will play across the snows of North America, throwing landscapes into an unusual state of ruddy shadow.

"The eclipse begins on Tuesday morning, Dec. 21st, at 1:33 am EST (Monday, Dec. 20th, at 10:33 pm PST). At that time, Earth's shadow will appear as a dark-red bite at the edge of the lunar disk. It takes about an hour for the 'bite' to expand and swallow the entire Moon. Totality commences at 02:41 am EST (11:41 pm PST) and lasts for 72 minutes. If you're planning to dash out for only one quick look -­ it is December, after all -­ choose this moment: 03:17 am EST (17 minutes past midnight PST). That's when the Moon will be in deepest shadow, displaying the most fantastic shades of coppery red."

Anyone plan to take a peek at the coppery red moon?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

FREE Writer's Calendar from ReadingWriters

If you're like me, you're looking for a bargain this time of year, while trying to get organized for next year.

Here's a way I've found to do both.

Elizabeth Guy over at ReadingWriters, "The Ultimate Reading Service for Writers by Writers," is giving away a free download of a 2011 writer's calendar.
At the beginning of this year, I took advantage of the 2010 free calendar. The calendar helped me track my writing goals, deadlines, submissions, and payments due. Another cool feature is the inspirational writing quotes each month.

Did I mention it's free?

Here's a link to download your free calendar from ReadingWriters.

While you're visiting the ReadingWriters site, you can take advantage of other free download offers, including "Ten Steps to a Killer Story" and "How to Use Y'all Like a Southerner."
I can't wait to read those!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's On Top of Your Tree?

Top O' the morning to ya,
and the rest o'the day as well.

That Irish greeting put me in mind of what people put on top of their Christmas trees.

My sister Kathleen has a large black top hat on hers. She bought it a few years ago when my niece Jamie had a shop on Main Street in St. Charles. The top hat is unique and stylish, and definitely an attention grabber, but it's not something I would put on top of my tree.

I like angel tree tops and have a collection in different colors and styles. For the past several years I've selected a different one depending on the color of ornaments we use.

This Christmas is different.

While we were decorating, Cari asked why we always have an angel on top She wanted to use a gold star. Deciding it was time for a change, I drove to several stores looking for a gold star but couldn't find one. I was about to give up when I discovered one at Wal-Mart.

So, here's a photo of our tree, which is a work in progress. We add ornaments each day.

Yesterday Michael brought home a grinch ornament he made in art class. It's made out of a lightbult painted bright green with a red and white hat on top.

Notice the gold and white star, which has passed Cari's very critical eye as being "tree top worthy."

So, I'm curious: If you have a Christmas tree, what do you put on top?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thanks, A Winner and More Welcomes

Thanks to: Carole, Clella, Betty, Terri, Sally, Tammy, and Pat for leaving comments about the EXTRAORDINARY Advance Reading Copy giveaway.

The name of the winner of the ARC of EXTRAORDINARY by New York Times best-selling author Nancy Werlin is . . .

TAMMY

So, Tammy please e-mail me at dvolkenannt (at) charter.net to make arrangements to get the ARC to you. I think you will enjoy it!

To all others: If you didn't win, take heart, I plan to have another giveaway later this month.

Now, I want to WELCOME my most recent followers, TOM and JANEL. I hope you will stop by often, and THANKS to my regular visitors. I hope you will continue to visit.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thoughts on Book Signings

Last Saturday my sister Kathleen and I braved the rain to drop by a book signing at Main Street Books in St. Charles. We fought traffic from a parade that was getting ready to start, struggled to find parking, and had to use a broken umbrella in the pouring rain, but I'm so glad we went.

Four local Chicken Soup authors joined forces for a "Chicken Soup for the Soul, Canned Food for the Body." The authors included three writing and blogging buddies: Becky Povich, T'amara Goodsell, and Linda O'Connell, along with Theresa Sanders, a local writer I don't know well, but who has also been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

As part of the promotion, shoppers who brought in canned goods received twenty percent off their total purchases.

The event was lots of fun! I got to talk with several of my writer friends, including those signing books and others who stopped by to show their support. Bea Siros was there to take photos and report the event for a local news-magazine. Lou Turner from High Hill Press and Debbie Marshall from the Missouri Writers' Guild also were there chatting, buying books, and offering support.

I'm sure the event made money for the book store and the authors, and it no doubt did a lot to spread good will to the local food pantry receiving canned goods.

Vicki Erwin, the manager of Main Street Books, was her usually friendly self, saying hello and chatting while Kathleen and I each purchased a couple of books.

Kathleen and I picked up a couple Christmas presents, saved some money, got to visit with old friends and meet some new ones, and we had a good time.

All book signings should be this successful. Here's why I think Saturday's book signing worked so well:

* Location. Main Street Books is a wonderful site for a book signing, and the manager Vicki Erwin is helpful, supportive, and friendly.
* Timing. The signing was from 1-3 p.m., which coincided with the annual Old Time Christmas parade. In spite of the bad weather, the streets were crowded.

* Publicity. Several of the authors posted about the signing on their blogs and e-mailed their friends. The event was also announced in Main Street Book's newsletter.

* Theme. The Chicken Soup for the Soul tie in with a canned good collection was a hit. Who doesn't want to help out a food pantry--and get 20 percent off their entire purchase?

* Extras. The ladies gave away peppermint canes, candy kisses, book marks, pens, gift bags, and other items. Tammy even gave away some free books she received because of a publisher's mistake.

* The more the merrier. Having four writers there brought in more people to the store. I much prefer to go to one signing for four people than four signings one at a time for one person each. Four seemed to be the right number. Many more than that would've been a bit crowded.

Here's what didn't help:

* Weather: Not much you can do much about that.

* Parking: It took awhile, but we found a spot, and I can use the exercise.

As you can see, the positives outweighed the negatives, and those minor inconveniences of weather and parking make life interesting.

So, congratulations, ladies. Your event was a hit, you helped fill a need in our community, and it was great to see you all!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Submission Opportunity - Star Spangled Banner Anthology

Are you living the American dream? If so Choice Publishing Group (Choice) might want to publish your story in their Patchwork Path: Star Spangled Banner anthology.

Here are submission highlights:

* Stories and essays from 250 to 2000 words
* Fiction and non fiction
* No poetry
* Based on creativity, originality, concept, and style
* Not all works accepted
* No entry or reading fee
* Deadline December 31, 2010
* Authors receive $50 for each published story
* Two story limit per author per anthology

Visit the Patchwork Patch website submission page for complete details.

Good luck!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December Giveaway #2 - Extraordinary

My second giveaway this month is for an Advance Reading Copy of EXTRAORDINARY, published by Dial books, and written by New York times best-selling author, Nancy Werlin.

What does it mean to be extraordinary? That is the question posed by this intriguing young adult fantasy novel, which is not the type of book I usually read.

When I read the book's title on the list of possible review books for Teenreads, I wasn't sure if it was a book I would enjoy. It's about fairies who live in our world and a pledge made generations ago. Not my cup of tea, but I decided to step outside my reading comfort zone and try something different. I have to say I was enchanted with the story about Phoebe and Mallory, who become unlikely friends, and whose friendship is tested after Mallory's brother Ryland appears.

Beyond being a fantasy about fairies, it's also about family and courage and loyalty and sacrifice. To read more about the novel, visit Nancy Werlin's Extraordinary site.

To spread some Christmas cheer, I'm giving away my ARC of EXTRAORDINARY to one lucky person who posts a comment between today and December 13. I will pick one name at random (drawn from slips of paper out of a hat) and announce the winner next week.

So, good luck!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 7--A Day to Remember

December 7 is a day to remember.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor, a day, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced, was "a day that will live in infamy."

At that time, my dad, James P. Duly, Sr., had moved from St. Louis and was living with his older brother Tom in Chicago. Because of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dad enlisted in the Army. After training, he was assigned to the 96th Infantry Division and sent to the Pacific Theater. He served in the Philippines and Okinawa. After the war he returned home to St. Louis, where he met my mom.

Dad was proud of being in the service. He didn't talk a lot about the war, but it affected him--and us--the rest of his life. He was frequently hospitalized in the VA hospital because of his service-connected disability. Dad died in the VA hospital in St. Louis on April, 12, 1983. So, today I remember my dad for his service during World War II, but mostly I remember Dad for giving me life and the values he instilled in me.

On a happy note, today I also remember my baby sister, Bridget, who was born on December 7, 1961--49 years ago today. Bridget is the fun and bubbly one in our family.

Mom had originally wanted to give Bridget the name Christine, but another relative named her daughter Christine a few months before Bridget was born. My grandpa urged Mom and Dad to name Bridget Pearl because she was born on Pearl Harbor Day, but thankfully, they didn't listen to him. Bridget fits her name so well. She loves everything Irish. She is a hard worker, a wonderful gardner and animal lover, and a great sister and aunt. (Her husband Steve's birthday is September 11, so they share birthdays when our country was attacked.)

So, thanks, Dad, and Happy Birthday, Bridget, on this special day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Saint, A Winner, and Welcome!

Happy St. Nicholas Day, a holiday celebrated by many Catholics. St. Nicholas Day is a special day in many European countries, especially in Germany.

Traditionally St. Nicholas visits the homes of children and leaves treats if they're good. If they're bad, they get a visit from Ruprecht, who is in charge of discipline. Ruprecht carries chains and a strap and disciplines naughty children. The St. Nicholas Center has a lot of information about how the holiday is celebrated in various countries. My husband Walter, who was born in the Bavarian section of Germany, tells the tale that he frequently got visited by Ruprecht on St. Nicholas Day. The photo at the left is from the St. Nicholas Center.

Growing up in St. Louis, we always celebrated St. Nicholas Day but never got a visit from Ruprecht. Mostly we found a candy cane or candy bar in our shoes. Last night Michael and Cari put out their shoes--actually Michael put out his size 13 Nikes and a pair of tall boots--Cari just put out her boots. This morning everyone, including Walter, and Harley our black Lab got treats.


Now, for a winner. Last week I announced a giveaway of the book A Cup of Comfort for Christmas, which has my true story, "Santa Wore Cowboy Boots." Thanks to everyone who left a comment--all 13 of you! The name picked at random to win the book is . . . drum roll, please . . .


SALLY

So, Sally, if you will please e-mail me at dvolkenannt (at) charter.net I will make arrangements to send the book to you.

I'm going to announce another giveaway later this week, so if you didn't win this go around, you might have luck next time.

Last, and certainly not least, I want to welcome all my new followers who signed up over the last month: Lynn, Sally, Jenny, Stacy Sue, Underground Teacher, Al Walker, and Sara. Welcome. I hope you stop by often.

And to all my faithful blog followers, thank you!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

God Works in Mysterious Ways

Yesterday morning I met with Becky Povich, a writing friend, critique group pal, and blogger buddy. Becky is bubbly and fun and always upbeat. She also is the new president of Saturday Writers. I'm stepping down from the board of SW, and I had some contest entries and other paperwork to turn over to her--plus, we wanted to get together and chat.

Originally I planned to turn over the paperwork to Becky Tuesday morning at critique group, but Becky couldn't make it to critique group. Then Becky was going to stop by my house Tuesday night, but because I had some running around with the grandkids, we had to reschedule until Wednesday.

Third time's the charm. I suggested we meet Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. at the Starbucks across from the post office in St. Peters because it's close to both of our homes. Becky agreed, so Starbucks is where we met.

Becky was excited about her true story that was recently published in Thin Threads, Life Changing Moments. Her story is about a woman named Tara's experience with Habitat for Humanity, and Becky brought along a copy to show me. Becky is donating $5 to Habitat for Humanity for each copy she sells.

As we settled in with our hot drinks, a young woman wearing a pea coat and a stylish hat and sitting with a friend at a table nearby said, "Becky?"

After Becky turned to look, the young woman rose from her seat. Becky squealed, "Oh, my God. I don't believe it." She jumped up and gave the woman a big hug.

Would you be surprised if I told you the young woman was Tara, the woman in Becky's story, who was on her way to Barnes and Noble to buy a book for her daughter, but who stopped at Starbucks to meet a friend for coffee? Becky hadn't seen Tara in weeks, but was planning to call that very afternoon. Because Becky had a copy of her book to show me, she was able to give a signed copy to Tara, much to her delight.

The rest of what went on yesterday morning isn't as interesting as the strange coincidence of Becky running into Tara, who lives about twenty miles from St. Peters, being in that Starbucks on that day at that time when Becky and I were meeting to talk, after rescheduling our meeting for a third time.

Coincidence? I don't think so. God truly does work in mysterious ways.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tis the Season For Giving - Monthly Giveaway #1

In the spirit of the Christmas holiday--and to help clean out my bookshelves--I'm giving away a signed copy of A CUP OF COMFORT FOR CHRISTMAS, which includes my true story, "Santa Wore Cowboy Boots."

The true story takes place in Christmas 1981, when my husband, Walt; my children, Julie and Erik; and I lived in Southern Arizona. One afternoon before Christmas I was depressed about being so far away from my family back in Missouri. Julie and Erik were off school so I took them to see Santa at the local K-Mart.

"Santa Wore Cowboy Boots" is special to me because it's about the lesson my late son Erik taught me about the true spirit of Christmas.

To win a signed copy of A CUP OF COMFORT FOR CHRISTMAS, just leave a comment between now and December 5. The name of one winner will be picked at random. The winner's name will be announced next week.

But wait, there's more: To show my appreciation to my blog visitors for being so friendly and supportive all year long I will have a few giveaways this month, so check back later to see what other goodies you can win.

Merry Christmas!

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