Puzzled

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Animals / Just for Fun

I loved working jigsaw puzzles when I was a kid. Somehow, though, it seems that I outgrew them. I don’t remember exactly how or why it happened, only that when I went away to college, I didn’t take any along.

But now, after more than a 50-year absence, I’ve redeveloped a passion for jigsaw puzzles. And I know exactly how that happened. Last February, when I spent a week with Sue in a condo on the beach in Alabama, she had a 1000-piece puzzle in progress when I arrived. It was, appropriately, a picture of many wine bottles.

I enjoyed helping her put it together, so much so that I bought a puzzle as soon as I got home. That one led to another and to another, until I was hooked again. The leaning tower of puzzle boxes in one of my closets is proof of that. And for the past year, I have eaten many meals at the bistro table in my sunroom or on my breakfast bar because so often there is a puzzle spread out on my dining room table.

It turns out that I am not the only one in my home who likes puzzles. When I dump a box full of pieces on the table, cat ears perk up, even if they are sound asleep. Both girls love jumping on the table and “helping” me. They take turns gleefully rolling on or sleeping on the pieces as I try to work around a purring, furry body. They also think it’s hilarious performing gravity checks with the pieces, slowly nudging them to the edge of the table until they fall to the floor.

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I thought I had read that doing puzzles is good for the brain. So I did some quick research this morning, and it turns out I was right. If I can believe the claims, my puzzle habit is helping improve my memory, my concentration, my problem-solving skills, my visual-spatial reasoning, my mood, and even my IQ. Then with the additional benefits of interacting with my cats, I can also lower my stress and blood pressure and increase my quality of life.

With the promise of so many benefits, I have all the excuses I need to continue working my puzzles.

What about you? Are you a fan of jigsaw puzzles too?

A Slice of Vacation Life

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Blogging / Just for Fun / Nature

Today’s assignment is to recreate the events of a single day. This one will be easy, since I will draw on memories of my recent stay with my friend, Sue, in her rental condo in Orange Beach, AL

 

I wake up when I wake up, without an alarm or obligation. I know without getting out of bed whether Sue is up before me. The first thing she does each morning is open the glass doors to the balcony. If I can hear the ocean, she is up.

I dress for a day in the mid-70s, getting reacquainted with the summer clothes and sandals I haven’t worn since September. Coffee is waiting in the kitchen; the fixings for my favorite breakfast are in the frig. I’ll get to them in a minute. First, I go out on the balcony to commune with the surf and the beach. The ocean has a different mood every time I look at it. I often take photos or record a short video, like the one below. They don’t do the scene justice, but I love looking at them when I return to February in Illinois.

 

Then it’s time for my morning activities that include checking social media and the news, reading Sue Grafton’s last mystery, Y is for Yesterday, and going back and forth from the balcony to the living room.

This continues, in a delightful way, until it’s time to go out for lunch, our biggest and most planned-out meal of the day. We go to a new restaurant each day, usually one with a water view. Sometimes it’s just Sue and me; other days, we meet up with friends or relatives who are in the area. Each day I order a different kind of seafood or fish, working my way through grouper, crab (cakes), salmon, and flounder. It is all amazingly fresh and delicious. This was the view from our table one day.

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Some days we stop for provisions on the way back to the condo. If we do, we make it quick because we can’t wait to return to the ocean and our books. In the afternoon we also may work on a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle that completely covers the table.

About an hour before sunset, we head down to the beach. It’s a good thing it’s a quick  walk from our building and down a short boardwalk because we are carrying our folding chairs, light jackets, and sippy cups of wine (no glass allowed). We aren’t alone on the beach, but the few people there on a weekday are all a distance from us—a benefit of coming before spring break. I walk across the clean white sand to the edge of the water. I don’t dip my feet in because it is still too cold. Then I return to my chair for a sip or two of Chardonnay. We watch the sun duck behind and between clouds as it slowly touches the ocean and sinks from view.

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Then it’s back to the condo and a simple, light dinner with another glass of wine. We end the day watching the Olympics, working on the puzzle, reading, and chatting. The sound of the waves and the wine relax me, until finally the effort of staying awake becomes too great. I head off to bed, where I sleep more deeply and peacefully than I ever do at home.

If I am very, very lucky, my vacation is not over yet. I get to wake up the next morning and do it all over again.

 

Mapping My Family Home

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Blogging / Mostly Musings

 

Today’s assignment is to write a post based on a map. I am doing that, but you will have to read for a while before we get to the maps.

 

It was, I don’t know, maybe 2013 or -14, a late afternoon, when my phone rang.  I didn’t recognize the number that came up, but I knew the 319 area code.  It is for eastern Iowa, where I was born and raised.

A family friend was calling to tell me that our old farmhouse was on fire. In fact, it was engulfed in flames shooting up into the sky. It was a planned burn, he said, by the latest owners who apparently found it the easiest way to get rid of the house.

His words were a punch to the gut. Granted, I hadn’t lived full-time in that house since I had left for college 40-some years earlier. My parents had sold the farm in the early ’70s when they moved to Colorado Springs; their buyers had also sold it, as those owners possibly did also. I had lost track of how many owners there were. Later I would learn that the last ones had bought the property for the land and the other buildings. They did not intend to live there.

Two or three years after that phone call, Mom died. On the day that my brother, his wife, and I went back to bury her ashes, we drove by the old place. The house was not only gone, but there was no sign it had ever been there. The foundation had been removed, and the lawn was repaired. We couldn’t get close enough for a good look because a locked gate blocked the driveway.

It’s just as well, I guess. Now the home, and the farm, can be however I want to remember them. And I choose to remember them as being grand.

The house was very old, even when I was growing up. How old? I’m not quite sure. Mom told me when I was young that it had been built in the 1840s, but I can’t verify that.

However, from studying the deeds in her scrapbooks, I know that the farm came into her family when Johannes Hagen and his wife bought it in 1884. From then, it was sold from parents to children through the generations, always for the price of $1. When it came to my parents in 1936, the recording fee was higher than the selling price.

This is a photo from my scrapbook, showing the house as it looked in 1947, when my parents brought me home from the hospital.

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•••••••

 

All right. I’m ready to get to the maps now. Last week I was cleaning a closet and came across this musty old book, printed in 1966.

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Let’s look inside it and zoom in on my family farm. First, here’s the map of Iowa, showing where our county, Scott, is located.

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Within Scott county, here is our township, Sheridan.

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And within the township, the red box marks our farm.

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So that is the exact location of the farmhouse that no longer exists.

Except that, of course, it most certainly does still exist. In Mom’s scrapbooks, in my photo albums, on the memory quilt that my sister-in-law stitched for Mom’s 90th birthday. And in the hearts and memories of those of us who ever lived or visited there.

Tweet, Tweet

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Blogging

Today’s assignment calls for me to “mine my own material.” This means that I search my writing in places other than this blog for ideas. So, for example, I might use something I’ve written on other social media sites or in journals or, really, anywhere. I’ve ruled out Facebook posts because too many of you reading this blog are FB friends, which means you would be reading re-runs. I’ve also ruled out the journals that I kept from ages 22-24 because I’m appalled at how trite my heart-felt ramblings now sound. So I’m going to “mine” my Twitter account.

As I scroll through my Twitter feed, the first thing I notice is how much of it is not content that I have created. I retweet other people frequently. Also, all of my blog posts appear on my feed, thus duplicating the articles you find right here. That said, here are a few of my original thoughts, all conveniently condensed to 140 characters or less (a Twitter requirement until recently).

 

Finally, a couple of closing thoughts about Twitter. Friends have asked why I am on both Facebook and Twitter. Aren’t they about the same thing?

No, they’re different, at least for me. I use FB to stay in contact with people that I personally know—friends, people from the past, former students and colleagues. On Twitter, I follow famous people, like entertainers and athletes, and I follow news and politics.

If you have read this post and still think you might like to follow me on Twitter, be warned: you will read more about my political beliefs that you might want to. If that still hasn’t scared you off, my Twitter name is Caryldier.

 

 

School Shooting, Number Gazillion

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Blogging

I.

April 20, 1999:  It was a Tuesday, the end of a normal school day. I packed up the papers I was taking home to grade and locked my classroom. That year, due to a student enrollment that had outgrown our building, I was teaching in a mobile classroom on the front lawn of Woodstock High School. It was a short walk across the street to the parking lot and my car.

I started the engine, turned on the radio, and found myself listening to the middle of a breaking news story. From what I could gather, there had been a mass shooting in a high school in suburban Denver. Multiple students were dead; many others were injured. “But where is the shooting?” I shouted at the radio. “Which school in which town?”

My brother and only sibling worked in the IT department of a large school district in the Denver suburbs. His job usually took him out of the office; he could have been working in any one of a number of schools that day. I needed to hear the name of the city.

My niece was a fire-fighter/paramedic in another suburb of Denver. Was she working at the scene of the shooting? Even if it wasn’t in her district, surely many extra first responders had been called in to help.

It was an endless wait—possibly the longest two minutes of my life—until I heard the words Columbine High School in Littleton. Neither Craig nor Tina worked in Littleton. But my fear didn’t subside until I was able to speak to him on the phone and learn that neither of them had been at Columbine High School.

Before that day, I had never felt unsafe at work. After that day, I never again felt completely secure at school. If a shooter were to come, my students and I might be his easiest and accessible targets out on the lawn. My world had shifted.

II.

Today, January 23, 2018:  A person opened fire inside a rural Kentucky high school, killing one and injuring nine others. [Note: while I was writing this post, the numbers rose to two dead and 17 injured.] Police led a suspect away in handcuffs and said there is no reason to suspect anyone else in the nation’s first fatal school shooting of 2018.

Hundreds of students ran for their lives out of Marshall County High School, jumping into cars and running down a highway, some not stopping until they reached a McDonald’s restaurant more than a mile away.

“They was running and crying and screaming,” said Mitchell Garland, who provided shelter to between 50 and 100 students inside his nearby business. “They was just kids running down the highway. They were trying to get out of there.”

A half-dozen ambulances and numerous police cars converged on the school, along with officers in black fatigues carrying assault rifles. Federal authorities responded, and Sen. Mitch McConnell sent staffers. Gov. Matt Bevin rushed from the Capitol to the scene. Parents left their cars on both sides of an adjacent road, desperately trying to find their teenagers.

A Road Not Taken

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Blogging / Mostly Musings

Today my assignment is to take two published posts on a common theme, combine them, and make them into something new. The posts—For Sale: My Abbey and My Abbey, Still My Sweet Home—tell the story of my unsuccessful attempt to move to a different home in the Maples.

 

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March 2016. When I moved into my Abbey in October 2010, I told everyone, including myself, there would be no more moves. It was my dream home. I planned to stay there until I died or was carried out.

And I meant it. I meant it so much, I would have staked my life on it.

When I started this blog, it was so easy coming up with the name Home Sweet Abbey. Since then I’ve written, and many of you have read, lots of posts describing how wonderful my home and Maples at the Sonatas are. And I have meant every word of them.

But I had forgotten two crucial truths: Never say never. And things never stay the same. So…

It has now been three months since I first walked into the home that I have come to think of as the Palazzo on the Pond. It called to me; it sang my name. It is a dream of a stand-alone home in Phase 3 of our community.

The whole thing began as a day dream. I had to convince myself to take a chance and try to make that Palazzo mine. There were a number of hurdles, and there were many times I was sure I was reaching too high. One huge problem—I was almost positive that I couldn’t afford it. But after asking lots of questions, I learned that the financing could work out if I could sell my Abbey first.

Rather than reassuring me, that knowledge scared me half to death. Just because it was possible, did I want to do it? Did I really want to go through the stress and hard work of packing up and moving again? Did I really want to uproot myself and my two elderly cats from a home where we were so happy and comfortable? Did I really want to start over with decorating?  Most of all, could I even break the strong emotional attachment I have to my Abbey?

When doubts would overwhelm me, I would go back to the Palazzo, walk through the rooms, look at the views, take a lot of deep breaths, and eventually say, Yes, I do want to do this.

And that is why, on Friday morning, I signed a contract to buy the Palazzo on the Pond, contingent on the sale of my Abbey.

•••

April 2016. Yesterday I signed another sheet of paper, and one of my biggest adventures came to an end. A new buyer had fallen in love with my Palazzo, one whose cash offer trumped my contingency. So I had no choice but to officially void my contract.

Certainly, I knew all along it could happen. The problem is, for four months I have allowed myself to live in a bubble of false security.

Do I regret those four months? Not at all. It was quite a trip while it lasted, and I’m grateful for the experience. Perhaps most importantly, it reaffirmed the support I am blessed to receive from my friends, neighbors, and the Wilcox staff.

I am further blessed to still have my Abbey, the home that I was always reluctant to leave. With it off the market now, I can fully relax, reclaiming it as a private home rather than a property to market.

It’s time to start a new chapter.

•••

January 2018. It has been 21 months, and I’m not totally convinced I have started that new chapter. Do I still think about the Palazzo on the Pond? Sometimes, especially when I drive or walk by it.

When Mom passed last year and left me an inheritance, I thought about it again. I didn’t receive enough money to buy a Palazzo, but it was enough to make a very nice down payment. However, the timing did not work out. Is that because it wasn’t meant to be? I don’t know.

When a new Palazzo goes up, I wonder if I could like this one as much. So far, I have found a reason why I don’t. It doesn’t have the water view. It’s not as upgraded. But that also means it’s more affordable and more possible and … I don’t know.

I’m still extremely happy where I am. The older I get, the more comfortable I am.

But if I could EVER make a big decision AND. STICK. TO. IT., it would be a miracle.

 

 

A Post about “The Post”

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Blogging

Today, again, I am combining two assignments into one post. In the first, I am to write about a place where I have spent time observing my surroundings. In the second, I am to critique a piece of artwork.

 

On Friday I had the pleasure of seeing The Post at the Woodstock Theatre—Classic Cinemas. I arrived early for the 11:25 a.m. show so that I could watch, listen, and soak up my surroundings for this assignment. It was a pleasure to spend time in this recently renovated and expanded theater. Like other buildings in our town, it maintains its historic charm while using renovations to stay current and comfortable.

Woodstock Theatre has not jumped on the bandwagon of recent changes that may or may not be popular with movie-goers. Unlike some chain theaters, it does not make you select a seat when you buy your ticket. You can walk in, look around, and sit where you please. And the heat is actually turned up. You do not have to keep your coat on throughout the movie; your feet stay warm. The seats do not recline but are new and cushiony.

There were more movie-goers present than I expected on a Friday morning. The majority of us appeared to be of retirement age. Some, like me, sat by themselves but looked unconcerned about being there solo. Others were in pairs, quietly chatting. We didn’t have to be told to silence our phones or to be quiet during the movie. I had the impression that we had all come, not to kill a couple of hours, but to experience this particular film.

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I looked forward  to seeing The Post when I first heard about it, and more so after seeing the trailer. I love newspaper movies, at least partly because I used to work part-time at a community newspaper. This is not to imply that The Woodstock Independent is much like The Washington Post. But my time at the paper strengthened my appreciation for our First Amendment rights, which lie at the heart of the film. Though the  events took place in 1971, I expected the film to speak to our current times. And it did. Having two of my favorite actors, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, lead the cast was a bonus.

So I was prepared to love this film, and I most certainly did. All of the clichés apply. I laughed and I cried. At times I had to remind myself to breathe. Occasionally, I wanted to call out, “Don’t believe that. It’s a lie.” I thought that I remembered the events of 1971. But I had forgotten some details and did not appreciate the significance of others at the time. The film entertained me while it educated me, from its opening scene in Vietnam to its closing scene, with its great irony.

I was so engrossed in the movie that I forgot I was supposed to be observing my surroundings for an assignment. There was one time, though, that I did glance at a woman, a stranger around my age, sitting near me. It was during a scene of protestors demonstrating their support of our First Amendment rights. I thought her face reflected my feelings—a grim satisfaction at seeing people standing up for a just cause.

On our way out of the theater, she turned to me and said, “I wish that everyone would see this movie.” And that is exactly my conclusion. If you have an opportunity to see The Post, I hope you will.

Need more convincing? Here’s the trailer:

 

 

 

 

A Letter to the Past

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Blogging

Today’s assignment is to write a post in the form of a letter. I am writing to my maternal grandmother, Hilda Hagen Hahn (1892–1957).

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My Dear Nana,

You chose to end your life in 1957. I was 10, old enough to understand some of it, but not as much as I do now. Craig was 7 and has only vague memories.

Though it was 60 years ago, I remember our phone ringing early in the morning. Your next-door neighbor kept an eye on you because you lived alone. She was calling Mom, worried that lights were on in your house when she woke up very early. Mom and Dad rushed Craig and me off to school and then went to check on you. I worried about you all day at school.

When I got home and asked Mom if you were okay, she looked rattled and said, “Why do you ask?” Then she and Dad sat Craig and me down and told us that you had died. I don’t remember her specific words, but by the time she finished, I knew that they had found two notes from you on your kitchen table. The one on top looked like it had been scribbled in desperation. It read, Don’t go down to the basement. How do I know that? They showed me the note. I saw it.

Mom and Dad told us that sometime during the night, you had hanged yourself in the basement. When I asked why, I learned for the first time that you were not feeling well and had been tested for cancer. Mom was going to take you to the doctor to learn the test results that day.

Even at 10, I knew that didn’t make a lot of sense. Why kill yourself if you weren’t even sure you had cancer? Mom and Dad didn’t know. It was then that Mom read me the second note. All I remember is the way you repeated the words I don’t want to be a burden on you. You didn’t talk about your fears of pain and death. You made it sound like you killed yourself to spare us from the difficult job of caring for you while you became sicker and then died.

What you apparently didn’t consider was the aftermath of your suicide. It would have long-ranging effects on your family. Your funeral was the first one Craig and I ever attended. It was the first time I ever saw my father cry. Mom showed your suicide notes to the pastor who performed the service. He cried too.

One day shortly after, I came across Mom crying as she sorted through your jewelry box. She wiped her eyes and told me that one day I would do the same for her. Thinking of Mom dying too scared me so much. Luckily, it was 59 more years before that time came.

But here’s the thing. After a couple of months, Mom stopped talking about you entirely. A small photo of you stayed on a table in the living room, but you were not mentioned. Dad, Craig, and I didn’t say your name because we thought the memories would hurt her. Later Mom rewrote the story of your death. She told anyone who asked that you had died of cancer. Maybe she had convinced herself.

Following Mom’s example, I didn’t talk about you either. I didn’t have to. I was carrying you with me, buried as unfinished business in my head and my heart, though I didn’t realize that until much later. I had learned your unintentional lesson all too well. I interpreted your suicide as a sacrifice for your family — I don’t want to be a burden to you. Your example showed me that you have to sacrifice yourself for anyone you really, truly love. Otherwise, you don’t really love them.

If literally laying down your life wasn’t required, other huge portions of your time and your happiness might be. And I wasn’t willing to do that. I had my entire life ahead of me. I wanted to live it, to enjoy it. I knew feeling that way made me terribly selfish, but I couldn’t change.

I believed the only way to avoid giving up large parts of myself for others was to avoid taking on loved ones. I would do my duty to my parents when they needed me, but that was all. The rest of my life would be for me. Never did I consider the possibilities of compromise, of two people both willing to give up a lot for each other, so that things balance out to the benefit of both.

If you had lived, you might have been able to teach me that. But you didn’t. I don’t mean to blame you for my not having a husband and family. It’s more complicated than that. And I have had a good life. But I can’t help thinking it might have turned out better, or at least very differently, if you had chosen to live.

Rest in peace. I love you.

Oprah Speaks Her Truth

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Blogging

Today’s blogging assignment asks me to respond to a tweet. Since I am pretty much a Twitter addict, this will be both fun and a challenge. I have “favorited” 252 tweets over the past few years. How could I choose only one? I ended up not using any of them but going with a timely one posted last night.

When I began this blog, I had two self-imposed rules: don’t get too political; don’t get too personal. I think I have, for the most part, followed those rules. In order to continue to, I’m going to have to bite my tongue —or I guess, my typing fingers—as I write today.

In accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes last night, Oprah gave a speech that many in her audience were hungry to hear. She did what she encouraged us to do: she used the most powerful tool at her disposal by speaking her own truth.

Ms Winfrey is a very wealthy, very powerful person, yet she seems to remember that she has not always been either. She used her own intelligence, drive, and courage to earn all that she has acquired in her life. And I admire her for that.

I also admire her desire to make the world a better place for girls who begin their lives like she did. And, of course, doing that would make the world a better place for all of us, despite race, gender, economic class. I applaud her vision and compassion.

Her words remain in my memory. I woke up this morning happier and more at peace for having heard her speech last night.

Brushing Up My Shakespeare

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Note to my readers: I’m finding that creating a post worthy of publishing every day is more time-consuming that I expected. So I am going to spread out the assignments and take some days off. Today I’m going to take another liberty and combine yesterday’s topic, which was to write about a photo, with today’s, which is to write about a quote.

 

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You are looking at an original copy of the First Folio of the plays of William Shakespeare, printed in 1623. Scholars consider it one of the most influential books published in the English language; I think of it with a reverence second only to the Bible.

Last year, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. toured some of its First Folios for display in all 50 U.S. states. I was able to see this book in a small display located less than an hour from home, in a park in Wauconda, IL.

The First Folio was amazingly approachable. There was a short line to stand before the book in its clear protective display case. I was allowed to photograph it, though without a flash.  I was only inches away, close enough to read these pages from Hamlet. The book was open to Act III, including one of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and, by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub.
For in this sleep of death what dreams may come…”

I love the poetry of this passage. And I like way the reader feels Hamlet’s painful place in life, that he is desperate enough to consider taking his own life. I like it even more when he makes the courageous choice to live rather than die. In the end, he does die, but bravely, on his own terms, and not by his own hand.

“Good night, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”

Andrea’s Choices

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Blogging

To my readers: Today’s assignment is to pick one word from a list of six and to write a post inspired by the word. I selected the word choice, but I’m not going to apply it to myself. Today I’m writing about Andrea Jackson, the main character in my new novel. Note: There will be NO spoilers in this post.

 

Andrea’s choices in Teaching Mysteries 201: The Strike

Andrea, a high school English teacher in a small Northern Illinois town, begins the third year of her career with a huge choice hanging over her head. A teachers strike is looming. Will she choose to take part in a strike, risking the job she has grown to love? Her parents don’t want her to. Her boyfriend, a police officer, tells her that striking is illegal. Her conscience asks if she would be turning her back on her students. But she knows she must decide for herself, and she knows how much is at stake. What should she do?

Andrea has been dating Tom for nearly three years and is hoping the relationship will progress. But when she gently nudges him, he says he is not ready yet, that he is happy with things as they are. Should she accept the status quo and hope that the relationship will grow more serious in the future? Or should she choose to move on?

Andrea has learned a lot of about the art of teaching during her first two years. But there is always that ONE kid in THE class to contend with. Andrea has to choose how to handle the discipline problems presented by a rude, disruptive student, as well as the friends who encourage his antics and the parents who claim he can do no wrong. How can Andrea keep the peace in her classroom?

A good friend of Andrea’s asks her a huge favor, one that could jeopardize her romance with Tom and her standing with her principal. Should Andrea choose to put friendship above all else, or should she consider her own needs first?

Another close friend and a fellow teacher has made a risky choice. When Andrea finds out what he is up to, should she keep his secret, confront him, or turn him in?

All choices come with consequences. Andrea has her hands full making decisions and living with the aftermath. It’s a good thing she is a resourceful young woman.

Note: Anyone who would like to read this novel will find it for sale here. If you live in my area, you will also find it at Read Between the Lynes and the Woodstock Public Library.

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The View from 70

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Blogging

 

 To my readers: I’m continuing my blogging class with today’s assignment of writing a list.

Things I like about being 70

At 70, when I meet someone new, I no longer get suspicious glances when I tell them I’m retired. That was not always the case when I retired at 55. If I uttered the R-word 15 years ago, faces looked at me with a combination of surprise, envy, and resentment of my good fortune. Or at least, I imagined they did. Then if people found out that I was a retired teacher, their smiles disappeared completely as they realized that their taxes were helping support me while I enjoyed my leisure. This leads to my next point…

At 70, I no longer care as much what others think of me. I would like to say I no longer care at all, but that isn’t exactly true. It’s just that I waste  less time agonizing over whether something I say or do will annoy and alienate others. I can’t spare the time or energy on such worries.

At 70, my age is a built-in excuse for not doing many things that I don’t want to do. Want me to bring 4 dozen home-made, hand-decorated cookies for a holiday exchange? Gosh, I’m sorry, but my (insert any real or imaginary ailment here) won’t let me do things like that any more. Nor can I drive you to the airport during rush hour, clean your house when you’re sick, go garage-sailing all day long, walk your dog in snowy/icy weather, or anything else that doesn’t appeal to me. It’s not that I’m not willing to. No, certainly not that; it’s that I’m too old to.

At 70, I also have a selective memory. I may forget to do things that I don’t want to do. But let someone casually offer me a glass of wine, and I’ll show up at their front door, maybe even months later, to collect.

At 70, I get to do things at my own pace. I’ll decide when I get the Christmas cards in the mail, if at all; I’ll drive any speed at which I feel safe, though I promise to stay in the right lane; I’ll sleep as late as I want; then I may waste the rest of the morning drinking coffee, checking Facebook and Twitter, and petting my cats.

At 70, I will cheerfully agree that I am old. But I’m not totally ancient yet, and that thought consoles me. So does this poster, which is the desktop picture on my computer.

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Why I Write

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Blogging

To my readers: I am beginning the new year by taking a class on blogging. For the next three weeks, I will be writing responses to daily assignments. This WordPress icon will identify posts that are part of my coursework. Today’s topic: Why I write.

 

I write because I like the challenge of pulling an intangible thought from my brain and recording it in tangible form, whether on paper or a screen.

I write because I enjoy wrangling words into sentences. I like all of the steps: first, capturing the idea in any written form; then, editing and improving my sentences to make them say what I mean; finally, of grinding away the rough edges to make the words flow in a pleasing manner.

I write because I value communication. I believe it is key to solving the problems that we as individuals and societies face. Talking to each other is good, but writing down thoughts can be better because it is more intentional. Writing forces us to refine our ideas and emotions.

I write because I love to read. Hasn’t everyone who adores books at some time wanted to write one? The process can be long and arduous, not always fun at all. But there is no greater satisfaction than holding a book in your hand, knowing that you created it.

I write because I enjoy receiving feedback on content I have shared. I love it when a reader offers a comment, or better, begins a conversation.

I write because the process clarifies my confusion, eases my pain, and teaches me what it means to be human.

 

 

Not Too Late

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Holidays / Woodstock

It’s New Years morning.

In my imagination, I’m standing on a bridge passing from 2017 to 2018. I can see both from here. It’s a time for reflecting, for planning, for living in the past but dreaming of the future. Beginning a new year, with all of its promise, is always exciting.

Yet I have a few regrets about 2017, mostly of opportunities not seized rather than those that I did. It’s too late now to go back and pursue most of them. All I can do is to keep my eyes wide open so as not to miss as many in 2018.

Once in a great while, though, we are allowed a do-over. Occasionally, an offer is extended long than you might expect.

Here is a perfect example. The Christmas season is very special in Woodstock. In particular, our town square is a place of beauty and magic after the sun sets. The lights are much, much prettier in person, but here are a few photos I took last week. You have to stand there, shivering, and take it in to get the full effect.

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With the holidays officially ending today, you might think you have missed your chance to see it–or to revisit it. But you haven’t. In this case, there IS a do-over. The lights stay on until Groundhog Day. (Don’t ask why. It’s a Woodstock thing.)

The Square at night is a wondrous sight to begin a new year. Come visit us if you can.

Now For Some Shameless Self-Promotion

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Coverbk2You are invited to a Book Signing for my new novel, TEACHING MYSTERIES 201: THE STRIKE. This coming Sunday, Dec. 10, from 1 to 3 pm, I will be talking about the book and signing copies at Read Between the Lynes on the Woodstock Square.

This is a busy time of year, but if you have a few minutes and care to stop by, I’d love to see you. If you can’t make it Sunday but would like to read the book, it will remain on sale at the bookstore. It is also available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats.

Want to know more about it? Here’s the summary that appears on the back cover:

In this sequel to Teaching Mysteries 101, we return to Hancock High School, where the 1972-73 school year is beginning under the threat of a teachers’ strike. Third-year English teacher Andrea Jackson ultimately decides to risk her job by participating in the unpopular strike. Then in the midst of the chaos, a murder takes place.

Is the death connected to the strike? Will Andrea succeed in clearing a friend who is suspected of the crime? Will her sleuthing spell an end to a promising romance?

Find the answers in this novel set in a small Midwestern town during the tumultuous early ‘70s, a time of mini-skirts, peace symbols, rock music, and the anti-war movement.

And here’s a little more info: Last month I posted about the process of writing the book. If you’d like to read that again, you will find it here.

Thank you, everyone, for your interest in this project.

Remembering My Dad, A Would-be Veteran

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Holidays / Mostly Musings

Editor’s note: I usually don’t believe in rerunning posts. Perhaps I should say, it’s fine for others, but I prefer to come up with something new for my own blog. But… it’s Veteran’s Day, and I want to acknowledge it.  Because I haven’t come up with anything I like better, here is the post that I published four years ago today. I hope you’ll like it.

 

My father, Carl Dierksen, tried very hard to become a veteran. And I guess he technically would qualify as one, though he never claimed the honor.

He was 22 when he and my mother married in 1940. The following year, during World War II, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, both to serve his country and to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.

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Dad reported to a base in Florida, where he had completed several weeks of basic training when he received the news that Mom’s father had died. As bad as that was, it got worse. Mom was an only child, and with her father gone, there was no one to operate the family farm outside of Davenport, Iowa.

Dad was given no choice. His commanding officer told him that his country needed him to be a farmer more than it needed him to be a soldier. He was given an honorable discharge and sent home.

So Dad, who grew up in town as the son of a house painter, became an instant farmer—without the benefit of any basic training. He would spend the next 30 years of his life as a farmer and a family man. He was good at both.

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Dad was a humble man. He knew that a few weeks of training had not earned him any recognition on Veterans Day.

flagIf he were still alive, Dad would be flying the flag today. He would be the first to shake a veteran’s hand and thank him or her. Dad might still be wondering if his life would have been different if he had been allowed to stay in the Air Corps.

He never forgot his dream of flying airplanes. When he was in his 50s, he earned his private pilot’s license. A few years later, he bought his own small plane.

Dad lived his last seven years in Woodstock, where he and Mom were my neighbors. I wish he had lived to see my Abbey and Maples at the Sonatas. He would have liked helping me move and doing projects around the house. And he would have always wanted to walk down the street to the place where you can still see a farm in the distance.

Happy Halloween 2017

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Holidays / Just for Fun

Trick-or-treating is underway at the Maples. Every year that I’ve lived here, we’ve had more costumed kids stop by. And each year it has been more fun.

One of the most creative groups I’ve seen tonight came over from our next-door community, The Sonatas. It’s cold, so one of the dads rigged up a heater on the golf cart that carried the parents while the kids ran door to door.

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Many of the costumes are menacing this year, but the children are delightfully friendly and polite.

Then there was this guy, who said he was going to make Woodstock great again.

 

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Can’t say I agreed with his politics, but then I wasn’t convinced that he did either. It was his giggling that gave him away. And certainly, he wasn’t as scary as the evening news that I returned to after he left.

Happy Halloween night to all!

My New Novel

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Blogging

Maybe 7 is a lucky number after all.

It was 7 years ago that I moved into my new Abbey, which eventually led me to begin this blog.

It was also 7 years ago that I began the first draft of a new novel that I expected to be quick and easy to write. After all, it is a sequel. I already had developed most of the main characters, the setting, the genre (cozy mystery). I already knew the steps in the procedure: write, write, write, revise, revise, revise.

My second biggest surprise is that it took so very long to reach this point. And where is this point? Almost to the finish line.

My biggest surprise is that I finished the book at all. There were so many times that I put the project aside, only to resume work after months away from it.

Yet here is the awesome cover, created by Mark Lobo, the genius designer that I worked with at The Woodstock Independent and, later, at Indepth Graphics and Printing.

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The cover is ready to go, and very soon the interior of the book will be too. My genius editor, Kelly McNees, is finishing the copyediting this week.

From there, the manuscript goes back to Mark for interior design and then off to be printed. I’m hoping the book will be available for readers before the end of the year.

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If you are on Facebook and you’d like updates on my novel, visit the book’s page, Teaching Mysteries 201: The Strike.

 

 

Watch Us Grow!

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Construction / Growth/Sales / Pictures

This isn’t the end, but you can see it from here. Work has begun on Phase 4, the final phase, of Maples at the Sonatas.

I know it’s too soon to get all nostalgic about this. So I will spare you those posts until later in the journey. For now, I’ll just share a visual progress report.

Here we are—Maples at the Sonatas—from the air. Three pictures taken from three small airplanes in three different years. All of the photos were provided by homeowners.

First, we have this photo, taken by Barb’s son-in-law in 2011.

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And here we are in 2014, in a picture taken by a friend of Tom D.

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Finally, here is a picture taken this past weekend by our resident photographer Ken.

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The empty area in the red box is all the space we have left. If you are hoping to join us, keep this in mind.

It has been an amazing transformation from an empty plot of land to the beautiful community that more than 110 of us now call home.