Shushes, Small Things, & Plain Vanilla

Shhhh!

I’ve heard this a lot lately. Mom’s been working on a project. She calls it The Story. She’s spent like a million years at her keyboard working on it. Or maybe it’s only been 20 minutes?

Anyway, The Story is finally finished. Here it is! (Can I bark now? Like, real loud? Cuz this is like a big bark-worthy thing here, ya know?!)

Find out more at: The Small Things: What ‘The Waltons’ Taught Me About Writing & More.

Here’s one of my favorite parts. Near the end:

High above the river a bald eagle soars in slow circles. Dropping like a stone, the majestic raptor glides low over the water, talons out, and spears a fish. Great wings beating, he climbs to the nearest conifer to tear and eat. Northwest clouds cough out a cold chorus as sable night seeps over the Olympic Mountains.

Night rings down the curtain on day. Ideas roll around in my head like lost pennies. Small things like eucalyptus trees. A Michigan dairy farm. Guitar lessons. A first love. Girl’s chorus and my first creative writing teacher. Lunches and lagoons. Summer adventures and sheer stupidity. Time is like a penny. Life stories that don’t always go the way we planned. Clark Park, to which I’ve never returned….

… Peering out the window at a rising moon, I give thanks for family, friends, and a roof over my head. I recall A.J. Covington’s advice to a fledgling Walton writer and pad back to my keyboard. I can’t help but smile. You were right, Doc. You were right, indeed.

Mom says, “Sometimes even ‘plain vanilla’ has flavor.”

You’ll get that if you get The Story. Woof!

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My Favorite Holiday!

Humans finally came up with a holiday I can sink my teeth into, so to speak. I mean, bark. Did you know that today is National Love Your Pet Day?

I mean, hey. After all the endless hours I spend guarding, playing with, walking, protecting, supervising and watching my humans and all the weird stuff they do (“Teeth brushing”? What’s up with that?), isn’t it about time I get some extra recognition?

You gonna eat that?

So today Mom’s making my favorite homemade treats. Come on, beef burgers!

We’re going to play chase the breakers at the beach and throw the ball and frisbee, too! Unless it’s snowing. Or pouring rain. Then we’ll just play in the weather!

Alright, who hid the ball?

Afterwards, I’ll curl up on my soft, fuzzy doggie blanket near the heating vent, all nice and cozy. Or even better: I’ll hijack and hog Mom’s blanket. If she’ll let me hop onto the recliner. Since it’s National Love Your Pet Day, that’s a pretty sure bet. Or I can always deploy my patented, never-fail, 100% guaranteed Adorable Puppy Eyes.

Not even Mom can resist that.

Is this place great, or what?

Check out my snazzy HUNTER ORANGE coat! It’s even waterproof!

How are you loving your four-legged buddy today?

Book Brontosaurus, Mobile Devices, and Pizza

View from Fremont TrailI had to laugh. Not because the situation was funny, but because there wasn’t much else to do.

Yours truly exercised executive privilege the other day and took the kiddos swimming at the local YMCA. Along with half the population of the Free World.

It seemed like a good idea at the time: a warm, blue, postcard-perfect summer day. An open afternoon. A recently renewed Y membership. A heated indoor pool. Almost-clean towels. (Nobody’s perfect.)

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Book Tag!

I’m a tag expert. Get the ball? I’m on it! Fetch the stick! It’s mine! Grab the Frisbee? Oh yeah! So Mom says we’re getting the tail wagging for 2019 with a New Year’s Book Tag.

Ready to play? Aw, come on! It’ll be fun! Let’s jump on it! Ready? Set? Let’s go:

How Many Books Will You Read This Year?

Mom’s Goodreads goal was 365 books for 2018. She finished with 383. Can we get back to you on this year?

What are five books you didn’t get to in 2018 but will make a priority for 2019?

Hmmmm… Maybe Stephanie Garber’s Caraval series and Neal Shusterman’s Scythe series. You?

What genre do you want to read more of?

Creative non-fiction narrative. It’s non-fiction that reads like fiction, with a compelling plot. Mom wants to read more about Czar Nicholas II. I’m holding out for more Rin Tin Tin. Go figure.

Three non-bookish goals for 2019?

  • Mom: Walk 10 – 15 miles a week. Me: Walk 100 miles a week. (We may have to negotiate.)
  • Mom: Learn how to make tiramisu
  • “Teach the dog to let go of the ball” (What’s up with that?)

A book you’ve had forever that you still need to read?

Mom reads fast. I mean, Like. The. Wind. She also has a pretty good handle on what she is and isn’t interested in. So she doesn’t have much to say about this category. Other than she wants to finish the sequels to The Darkest Minds. You?

What word will define your 2019?

Just one? Are you kidding me?! Well, okay. If you insist. How ‘bout squirrel? No? Would you settle for pizza? (I like Hawaiian. Just sayin’.)

Now it’s your turn. Ready to do this? Consider yourself tagged.

Winning or Wounding and “Smithing” Well

Geyser spray

Niagara falls. Earthquakes. Stars. Old Faithful. Rainbows. A pen.

Power.

Writer, maybe you’ve never really thought about it before, but do you realize the power you have at your fingertips? The impact your words can have? There may be no other profession that can persuade, convince, motivate or edify like writing. Writers have the ability to create, enhance, improve, challenge, enlighten, embrace, entertain, or educate like few others. We can also destroy, defeat, discourage, dampen, denigrate, divide and dispirit.

If you’re a word smith, smith well. And carefully, because the “power of the pen” is immense.

Oops

Example: Awhile back I received a Dear John letter from a friend. Let’s call her Sally.

Okay, it wasn’t really a “letter.” It was more like a one-way ticket for an under-the-bus reservation. Seems I inadvertently “hurt her deeply” by not immediately returning an “I’m dying, please call me” message she left on my machine. While we were on vacation. Out of town. Tent-camping for a week in Incommunicado Land.

Her first message came in an hour after our departure for terra incognita. The second arrived the next day, and with increased voltage: “I can’t believe you haven’t called me back yet. I told you I was dying.” (This isn’t the first “I’m dying” call I’ve received from Sally.) I called her back when we got home. No answer. Left a message explaining we’d been out of town for a week, hoped she was feeling better, please give me a call and let me know how you are.

No response.

Several months later I received a four-sentence note from Sally. “Please do not contact me again” she wrote, “I’m not interested in a one-way relationship.”

At Your Fingertips

Now, I could go several different directions here. But to stay on target, here’s the point: If you’re a writer, you have enormous power at your fingertips. You can wound or win with your words. You can splash canvasses with color, wonder and intrigue. Introduce readers to far-off lands, distant destinations, or, like Tolkien, create entire worlds and histories in your head and transfer them to the page. You can inspire, amuse and make merry. You can also delve into the depths of despair, cut others off at the knees. Alienate, isolate, separate and depress.

A good example of the latter: 1984 by George Orwell and Night, by Elie Wiesel. If you’re really interested, here’s a list of the Top 10 Most Depressing Books. (I do not agree with this list entirely, but they got 1984 right.)

I scoured the internet in search of a reasonable, sane listing of the Top 10 Most Inspiring or Uplifting Books ever written. By “inspiring” I mean uplifting, engaging, poignant, powerful or laugh-out-loud. A beautifully crafted, thoughtfully written work that ignites an “Aha!” moment(s), drawing readers into something bigger than themselves.

‘Most Inspirational?’

I must’ve read through like nine zillion lists, usually punctuated with, “You have got to be kidding!” So, after I picked myself up off the floor, I decided to create my own. Here in no particular order are my purely subjective choices for Most Inspirational:

The Bible

The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams

Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls

The Notebook, Three Weeks With My Brother – Nicholas Sparks

The Christmas Box, Road to Grace series – Richard Paul Evans

The Gift of the Magi, The Ransom of Red Chief – O. Henry

The Hiding Place – Corrie ten Boom

These Strange Ashes – Elisabeth Elliot

The Applause of Heaven, When God Whispers Your Name – Max Lucado

A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

Cold Tangerines – Shauna Niequist

The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

Secrets of the Vine, The Prayer of Jabez – Bruce Wilkinson

The Last Lecture – Randy Pausch

The Wizard of Oz – Frank Baum

For Those Who Hurt – Charles Swindoll

Woods Runner, Winter Dance – Gary Paulsen

The Mitford Series – Jan Karon

Inkheart – Cornelia Funke

Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Out of Africa – Isak Dinesen

Walking With God, Waking the Dead – John Eldredge

Sunrise to Paradise – Ruth Kirk

That’s the short, short list of champion wordsmiths who’ve “smithed” well. If you want the full list, check out my Book Shelf.

Kristine Lowder - close up

What’s on your list? Cite an example of someone who “smiths” well.

Ya Gotta Have the ‘Want To’

“383 books in one year?!” people suck in their breath. “How’d you do it?”

Well. I gotta be honest. It was me.

I mean, ‘cmon. Who do you think took Mom on all those walks to the library to grab the latest truckloadsof unread titles? Who do you think nosed through Mom’s book bag(s) until I settled on something worthy and trotted it out? Who do you think sat in her lap while she turned pages? And pages. And pages.

And. Pages.

You know how modest I am. But, hey. As they say, If you’ve got it, flaunt it. And I definitely Have. It.

Oh, sure. Mom says being a fast reader – somewhere between warp speed and 100 mph with your hair on fire – helps. Ditto audio books. Creative juggling. Prioritizing. Self-discipline.

Also reading and eating. Reading (audio) and driving. Reading and washing dishes, folding laundry, cleaning out the basement, mopping the floor, cooking (audio). Reading and walking (audio). Reading in the check out line. At red lights. In the doctor’s and dentist’s waiting room. Setting aside one day a week to read. Logging off the computer. Turning off the phone. Letting voice mail handle it.

Being a voracious reader and lifelong-bibliophile who’d rather get lost in a good book than eat doesn’t hurt, either.

But. If you really, really want to read 383 books in one year like Mom, here’s the key: Ya gotta have the want to.

It all comes down to commitment. Desire. Drive. Aka: the “want to.”

But we all know the real score here. Mom got all those books read because of me. After all, I’m a World Champion Want-To-er. I’m happiest when I’m with my peeps. Reading. Driving. Walking. At red lights. Waiting. Supervising (“Quiet! Mom’s reading!”). In Mom’s lap while she turns pages.

See? Told you it was me.

I love this job. Wait. Do I smell bacon?

Kimber the Magnificent (and modest, too!)

 

What’s your “gotta have the want to” for 2019?

Merry & Bright: 7 Splendid Seasonal Reads

Ready for reading that’s merry and bright? Here are seven uplifting, engaging reads to help celebrate the season with faith, hope, and love. In no particular order:

The Christmas Box. A perennial favorite from master storyteller Richard Paul Evans.

A young family moves in with a wealthy widow just before the holidays as caretakers. The father, Richard, is so engrossed in getting his fledgling business off the ground that he is unaware of his misplaced piorities. Sensing this, the widow Mary Parkin is determined to not let Richard make the same mistake that haunts her past. Can she reach him before it’s too late?

A rich, warm tale of family, faith, and the brevity of life. Beautifully written.

The Homecoming. It’s Christmas Eve in the Blue Ridge Moutains of Virginia during the Depression. Clay Spencer, patriarch of a large family, is overdue. While the Spencer clan anxiously awaits Clay’s homecoming, the older son, Clay-boy, goes in search of his father.

The novel that launched The Waltons.

Like The Christmas Box, I read this story every Christmas season.

Homespun Christmas.

Can love be kindled in the seemingly dying embers of this small logging town? Can the Christmas wishes of one young boy once again ignite the fires of optimism in the inhabitants of Hope? Will one Christmas centennial celebration change an inevitable outcome?

Four multi-published, award-winning authors present a heart-warming story of people working together for a common cause and finding love. Just fun. I can almost hear the sleigh bells!

Shepherds Abiding. The eighth Mitford novel provides a glimpse of the best present of all: one’s heart.

Father Tim discovers an old nativity scene in need of repair. Even though he’s not exactly the “artsy” type like his wife, Cynthia, he decides to undertake its restoration because he knows how much she’ll love it. Through Father Tim’s journey, readers are treated to a seat at Mitford’s holiday table and a wonderful tale about the true Christmas spirit.

The Christmas Secret. A struggling young mother saves the life of a stranger and sets in motion a series of events that no one could’ve imagined as she navigates crushing defeat and disappointment on the way to hope, faith, and love. Warm, wonderful characters and a rich storyline.

Note: The timeline gets a little muddled as it skips back and forth between present and past. Also, the POV flips between first and third person and can get confusing. Still a cozy read for cold winter nights!

The Gift of the Magi. One of O. Henry’s most poignant and best-loved short stories. It’s Christmas and neither Mr. nor Mrs. Jim Dillingham can afford to buy the other a gift. Selfless sacrifices and an O. Henry ending ensue. A lovely read.

Because Easter begins with Christmas.

Honorable Mentions:

A Christmas Carol -Charles Dickens

How the Grinch Stole Christmas – Dr. Seuss

The Mistletoe Secret – Richard Paul Evans.

Twas the Night Before Christmas – Clement Moore

What are your seasonal favorites?

10 Best Christmas Movies

Image credit: maxpixel

‘Tis the season for merry-making and movie-watching. Grab some hot chocolate. Plop in a peppermint stick. Gather the fam or invite some friends over and get comfy. (Don’t forget the little’uns!) Here’s my 100% subjective, totally unscientific list of Best Christmas Movies (in no particular order):

 

Photo credit: IMBD

1. A Thousand Men and a Baby (1997): Based on the true story about the men of the U.S.S. Point Cruz who break all of the rules in order to save an Amerasian infant abandoned at an American Army supply depot in 1953. Knowing that the baby boy will not survive in Korea, the men sneak him aboard their ship, nurse him back to health and find a way to get him to America so he may be adopted in time for Christmas.

Public domain

2. White Christmas (1954): Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and a snowless Vermont. Okay. So it’s a little thin on a few essentials. Like a coherent plot. But who cares?

Photo credit: IMBD

3. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989): When there’s no place like home for the holidays!

Photo credit: IMBD

4. The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971). A rural family awaits the return of their father on Christmas Eve. Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia during the Depression. The pilot that launched The Waltons.

Photo credit: IMBd

5. The Littlest Angel (1969): A little shepherd boy, newly arrived in Heaven, tries to adjust to life in the Hereafter.

6. Scrooge (1970): There have been about a zillion adaptations of this Charles Dickens chestnut. My favorite, by far, is the musical version starring Albert Finney. Thank you very, very, very much…

Photo credit: IMBD

7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). The original, animated version with Boris Karloff. (The remakes were awful.)

Photo credit: IMBd

8. The Small One (1978): A young Judean boy tries to sell his beloved old donkey to someone who would care for him as much as he does.

Photo credit: IMBd.

9. The Christmas Box (1995).  A poignant, heartwarming story of timeless truths about love, family, and faith. A seasonal classic starring Richard Thomas and Maureen O’Hara, based on the Richard Paul Evans book of the same name. A perennial favorite, along with:

Public domain

10. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). James Stewart and Donna Reed star in this wonderful film by Frank Capra. In a class by itself.

 

Did yours make the cut? What would you add?

10 Tips for Reducing Holiday Stress

You know I’m a happy camper, right? My middle name is “merry and bright”! So I don’t quite get all this barking about “holiday stress.” Mom says it’s a thing. So it must be a thing. Right?

Well. You also know I’m a helper. I help going out on walks and hikes. Cleaning up kitchen spills. Guarding the house. Especially from menacing deer. Lurking Fed Ex drivers. Sketchy-looking plastic bags.

Being a world class helper and all, I figure I better help with this holiday stress thing. So here are my top ten tips for reducing holiday stress. Ready? Okay. Here goes:

1 – 9: Get a dog.

10. Take her for long walks. Preferably without that stupid orange doggie coat.

What?

Oh, alright. Mom says I have to try harder to be helpful. Sigh. Here we go:

  1. Take extra precautions to stay healthy. Getting sick can wreck anyone’s holiday faster than you can say “Ebenezer.” So drink plenty of water. Get a good night’s sleep. Wash your hands. (Something about killing germs?) Take Vitamin C to ward off the effects of Jack Frost. (Anyone nipping at my family’s noses is in deep doo-doo! Just sayin’.)
  2. Say “No.” I hear this all the time. It’s easy. Like, if it feels wrong, too stressful, or there’s a cat involved, just trot out this handy-dandy two-letter word. Works wonders!
  3. Make scents. No, really. Find a plug-in, candle, or potpourri pot with a favorite, soothing scent. Activate. Let it fill the whole house with a refreshing, relaxing aroma. (Mom made me say that.)
  4. Exercise. Even if you have to chug up stairs or do jumping jacks in the basement due to weather, get moving! Get that heart rate up! Exercise reduces stress. (Or you could just walk the dog, ya know.)
  5. Sing. I don’t quite get it, but Mom always feels better when she’s rocking out to Manheim Steimroller at nose bleed volume (see # 4, above). Or belting out Joy to the World at the top of her lungs. So it must work. You could also listen to this guy:

6. Take a hot bath. And lock the door. (Mom made me say that, too. You know how moms are.)

7. Practice an “attitude of gratitude.” Like me. I’m thankful for everything! Family! Walks! Chow! A new leash! A warm fireplace! Sunshine! Well, okay. Maybe not The Powder Puff on four legs. (Nobody’s perfect.) Altho I wouldn’t know myself, I hear it’s hard to be a Scrooge when you’re focusing on being thankful.

8. Slow. Down. For just five minutes, okay? Related: Apply the “KISS” principle. Keep things simple. If you don’t know how to do that, lemme help:

9. Get a dog. (That Scrooge dude? Bet he was a feline fun. Hah, bumhug!)

10. Hang out with me! Cuz I love everyone! O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy…