Category Archives: Blog

CONTEXT: Writing and Waiting

Time Photo7/14/16 I photographed my calendar and wrote this blog post the second week of  May, and set it aside to wait to see how I should end it– which totally depended upon someone else, and now I know.

In the winter of 1838-39, the 600 or so citizens (records differ) of Quincy and/or Adams County, Illinois, took in 5000 Mormons who had been expelled from Missouri by Executive Order of the Governor. When I learned that a publisher was buying books for a series for adolescent girls in which something historic happened in a specific place and year, I wanted to write about that.  So began a decade of fascinating research on the beginnings of Mormonism.

I finished the book, only to be informed that the last book in the series had just been purchased.  So I used my research to write another one.  A publisher and an agent have seen the first few chapters of it, and said they loved it; but one was afraid it might be too controversial, and the other wants me to develop a “platform” for my writing before she will represent it. Last week another extended an invitation to submit a full proposal for it with a complete manuscript.

I had written, and rewritten, and rewritten again, and saved each edition of each chapter in Word files, but I had never before put all 30 chapters together into a whole book.  Last week I edited each one word-by-word and saved them in one gigantic file, and Saturday night I submitted it.  I feel like I’ve been grieving ever since.  Isn’t that peculiar?

Maybe not.  The research and writing occupied most of my discretionary time for a decade, and now it’s done. The end of the process is a really good thing–I completed it!  But suddenly not having the motivation and the reason to write THAT book feels like a gigantic loss of direction in my life. Many agents and publishers issue the caveat that a writer should wait 60 or 90 days to receive a response, and if none has come by then, the agent isn’t interested. The author doesn’t know if the agent ever saw it, saw it and can’t decide, or loved it and is taking it forward for purchase.

7/14/16 Now 60 days have passed, and I never heard back.

CONTEXT: Observations in My Garden #3 Know Your Weeds

IMG_6893  I could hardly wait to see how my gardens were going to look when we returned from a trip to Minnesota. The vegetable garden on the east side of the 4′ high woven metal fence was doing great–tomatoes, peppers, and several kinds of greens for salads were all small, but thriving. Squash plants were pushing through the ground. Many of the 90 onion sets had begun to grow a little. That done, just a day or two before we left, I had planted a whole garden of zinnia seeds on the east side of the fence, and watered it well. The packets said they would germinate in 10-12 days. Then we left.

My last two posts have been about the sorry showing of zinnias–only a few here and there, and more weeds than flowers. None of the ones in the flower bed were more than about 4″ high, and certainly none of them was boasting a bloom. The weeds had to go.

But about 5′ over, on the east side of the fence, smack dab in the middle of a row of onions, was a lovely, tall, robustly healthy, BLOOMING zinnia! I certainly didn’t plant one there, and zinnias are annuals, so a seed should not have survived over the winter out there. Where did it come from? I don’t know.

I tackled the unwanted weeds. The salad garden was beautiful–a row of leaf lettuce, a row of mixed greens with kale, a row of Bibb, a row of black seed. Cauliflower and broccoli. Quite a variety!  But there were some strangers in the rows, too–volunteer tomato plants that had sprouted from unharvested fruit last year. I’m very sympathetic to volunteers in any context, so I let them grow. Now they have virtually taken over the salad garden.

So is my blooming zinnia in the onion row a weed?  Are the tomato plants in the lettuce bed weeds?  Nope. They are good things–a zinnia and tomato plants–in unusual places. I must make the choices about them, like in the rest of my life. Sometimes something is fine when it is where it is expected to be, and fits in properly. There’s nothing jarring about its presence. Habits, things we believe, even friends are like that. But that same something might be quite surprising and appear completely out of place and inappropriate in an unexpected setting. Does that made it a “weed”?  I don’t think so. Just like in my garden, it’s up to me to make choices. I have the responsibility to tend the “garden,” whether it is composed of dirt or life.

This summer, I appreciate the beauty of the zinnia blooming in the onion row more than I value having a “perfect” row. And I’m looking forward to harvesting unexpected tomatoes from where they volunteered to grow long after the summer heat has made the lettuces too bitter to eat. There will be more to share than I even planned! Next year, however, I may opt for symmetry, beauty, and only intentionally planted flowers and veggies. I need to be willing to make the choices for my garden and my life, and accept that what’s best for me and for my garden this June might be quite different next June–and that will be just fine.  God put some spontaneity in nature to remind us not to get too set in our ways.




CONTEXT: Observations in My Garden #2 Weeds and Good Examples

IMG_6894 (1) This flower bed that should have had four rows of three different varieties of baby zinnia plants poking their heads through the ground when I returned from our trip…didn’t. More than half of the vegetation was weeds, the few little zinnia sprouts were struggling, and the ground was as dry as sand. You may recall from Observation #1 that the only thriving zinnia was in the onions, in the vegetable garden on the other side of the fence.

So I pulled all the weeds, then I bought a few already established zinnias in pots and set them out among the dry, wilted, pathetic little flower sprouts–a little encouragement by example, you know. ;-D  Then I hauled out the hose and set the sprinkler to R..A..I..N  for several hours, twice. Today–just three or four days later, this is what it looks like!  See the little plastic store tag in the left photo?  That brave little model I bought and planted in the middle of the garden is BLOOMING–what an example for the others! ;-D

Sometimes when we’re floundering a little, we need to figure out which things are the flowers in our lives and which things are the weeds.  Then we need to get rid of the weeds, even if they appear to be bigger, stronger, and more attractive than those timid little flowers that aren’t even big enough to bloom yet. They may be just filling up space now, but they will take over if left unattended. Encourage the flowers with some good role models and lots of water of the Word,  and the sunshine of care and attention.  It might not be long at all before those flowers are just reaching toward heaven on their own, and popping out new leaves and buds all over the place!

Please Like if you like, and please reply.  Can you think of any weeds you’re tempted tolerate in YOUR garden?  Who is your “flowering example” that encourages you to bloom?

CONTEXT: Observations in My Garden #1–Zinnias

IMG_6894 (1)

God sends completely unexpected encouragements in the middle of discouraging messes. 🙂

I haven’t posted to this site for weeks, because my computer crashed and took down with it my wifi, dedicated external hard drives, and network. I tried to fix it, and so did experts, and whenever I just couldn’t deal with it anymore, I gardened: I planted 90 onion sets, rows of four kinds of peppers, two kinds of tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini, five kinds of herbs, strawberries; a bodacious salad garden of three kinds of lettuce, four kinds of greens, cauliflower and broccoli; and a flower garden of three different heights of zinnias, just like the one that was so spectacular all along the fence last year. Planting two gardens full of so much promise was very hopeful and therapeutic.

Then my husband and I needed to take a trip 600 miles from home for a week. Back home the rains had come and the sun was hot, and I just knew my garden was thriving. Then we had car trouble and our return was delayed almost another week. In June. When the sun is hot and the rains come.

When we got back home, my gardens were lush and green, but only because one particular weed had virtually carpeted them both and grown to about 18″ tall. I had to part paths in the vegetation to find the squash and zucchini plants that had emerged from the seeds I had planted. The shade-loving lettuce was thriving under the umbrellas the weeds formed. The zinnias? Not so much (See photo above). From hundreds of seeds, there were only a few spindly little sprouts a few inches tall.

But when I started clearing those weeds from around the rows of onions down the middle of my vegetable garden, look what was there–one perfect, fully grown zinnia, blooming like crazy! IMG_6893

We might have good ambitions and plans and execute them nearly perfectly, laying the groundwork for future outcomes. Then even while we’re doing good works, the plans might seem to be
overrun by things that are undesirable and out of our control. The exact plan we had anticipated so eagerly is overwhelmed, overruled, dwarfed, minimized, or even dead.

Maybe God just intended for that particular dream to be planted and growing all by itself, in a little different setting with others not one bit like itself, where it can really shine, like my zinnia in the row of onions. He can do that. Sometimes we just have to leave things alone for a little while and allow ourselves to be pleasantly surprised.

CONTEXT: Small Changes

Dogwood red from stairs 4-18-16

Some of us don’t like change–note the “us.” Even accepting small changes can be a challenge. There’s an unnerving sense that something isn’t right.  A subtle disequilibrium persists while you wait for an outcome, even if the answer doesn’t really matter at all in the great scheme of things–like whether my dogwood that has always been pink will forever after be subtly red like it is this year.

The Holy Spirit is designated in the New Testament as the paraclete, the One who helps–the Helper Who comes alongside and counsels as we go. G. Campbell Morgan loved to quote one phrase from Deuteronomy 33:17 in sermons:  “…underneath are the everlasting arms.” Sometimes when things are changing around us and we don’t know how they’re going to turn out, and we think we’re not going anywhere, just waiting, that’s okay, too.  God’s all-powerful arms are there for support, His Spirit has come along side, whether the change is big or small, or the result is temporary or permanent.

I suspect that thinking about the significance (or lack thereof) of the small changes helps us accept them, and more importantly, be less panicked and more willing to wait and see what in the world God is going to do next, when the big changes come.

Are you expecting a change in your life soon?

CONTEXT: The Old and Familiar

Squirrel outside office 3-12-16 My desk in the new upstairs office I’m slowly creating is the mahogany dining room table I knew as a child.  When I sat at it then, it was in the center of the room, and my focus was on what was on it.   When I sit at it now, I’m at eye level with the branches of a massive dogwood tree outside the window and my attention is often drawn to what I can see outside. Today there is a squirrel in that dogwood tree whose “dining room table” has almost certainly been my yard for generations of his family.  And now we’ve made eye contact and surprised each other, me looking out, him looking in.

I think my old mahogany table/desk is to me what that dogwood tree is to him.  Both vantage places offer the security of the familiar, and allow us to feel emboldened to pause and study things we’ll never get to physically explore because they’re too foreign, too dangerous, too far away in distance or time, or simply incomprehensible to us.  The squirrel has no understanding of my desk, and never will, and I can’t climb to the top of a tree, and never will;  but unlike him, my ultimate exploration will be a “forever” instead of a “never.”  The Bible says,”Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for him.” Someday, the secure support of the old and familiar won’t be needed anymore, and as much as I enjoy it now, I won’t mind at all!

CONTEXT: What’s YOUR Biggest Hat?

People commonly speak of “wearing different hats,” indicating playing different roles in different contexts. I might describe myself as a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, pianist, retiree, gardener, artist, singer, author, or writer, depending upon what I was doing at the time. My business card says “Research and Writing Consultant.”

Many years ago, I collaborated with someone who had a doctorate in history to write a high school US history textbook for a major publisher.  He resigned from the project before it was finished, and the senior editor combined that man’s contribution and mine, and added a great deal of her own, and published the book with no authors, just herself as editor. I felt slighted at the time, but she was right–for that book, I was a researcher, not the writer. Later, personal experience articles I wrote were published in Guideposts and elsewhere with my tag line, and academic articles were published online and in professional journals; but none of the six or eight books I’ve written has been published–yet.  🙂

So do I have a writer’s hat or an author’s hat? Does it depend on what I’m writing, or if it gets published or not?Red hat 5-7-16

I don’t know, and I don’t know if it matters.  I just need to make sure I show up with the right hat at the right place.  At 11:27 last night, I sent off a 99,968-word manuscript of a novel I wrote, to be considered by a publisher.  At that moment, I felt very much I should go out and get a hot fudge sundae and wear my author’s hat.

But today is Mother’s Day, and I’m happily calling myself a mom. Get out the biggest hat!

What are you doing when you “wear your biggest hat”?

CONTEXT: The Message

Flags at Knapheide 1-30-16 IMG_5791  A writer has a story to tell, or something to say.  She may have a burning desire to share information she thinks is important, or he may want to bring the spine-tingling anticipating that comes with reading a good mystery.  Maybe a new insight came that was so startlingly enlightening, that just claiming an “Aha!” moment isn’t enough–it must be recorded for future consideration.

A few days ago I read a post that challenged the readers (who were writers) to consider WHY they (we) write.  Perhaps we are not finding the type of success we envisioned because we are not writing in a way that suits our purpose.  The idea tickled away in my consciousness and subconsciousness.

Last Saturday I was grateful to be stopped by a traffic light, because it gave me a perfect view of the wall and the flags in this photo I took.  That wall and the flags are large–VERY large, and dominate an intersection where a busy road crosses a multi-lane highway.  But its message is unmistakable, isn’t it?  The large but privately-held company that owns the property devoted great amounts of time and resources to make one particular message clear:  “In God we trust,” proclaimed with nine American flags.

I thought about how many other ways they might have made that statement:  On stationery?  In their advertising?  On a billboard?  How much more private and limited the audience would have been!

I’m challenged to make sure I’m writing to say what I think is truly important, and in a way that will reach the audience for whom it is intended, in a way that represents me as a writer with integrity of purpose. I never would have thought of doing it with a wall and nine flagpoles.


Joseph_Smith,_Jr._portrait_owned_by_Joseph_Smith_III     Mormon Peep Stonedt.common.streams.StreamServer   Mormon Smith Home on Stafford Road           Jo. Smith, Junior                     Jo.’s Seer Stone                 Smith Residence south of Palmyra, NY

How was it possible for Jo. Smith, Junior, to become the prophet and leader of a religion with tens of thousands of followers–Mormonism, and also a candidate for the Presidency of the United States in 1844, when he only lived to be 39?  I really wanted to know! This is the second post in the series.

Like many families at the beginning of the 19th century, Jo. Smith, Junior’s family of 11 struggled economically and continued a generational pattern of moving west to seek better opportunities.   By the time Jo. was 10, his family had moved from Vermont to the Palmyra/Manchester area of Western New York. Personal journals, published records, and newspaper accounts of the day are abundant, and because of his eventual fame and the lasting quality of the religion he founded, others have dug deeper into Jo.’s past and continued to publish what they learned.  It is fascinating!

Jo.’s father and brothers farmed, and Jo. helped as well, but it is evident from many sources that his heart wasn’t in it.  Early on, Jo. was a dreamer, a dabbler in the mystical, and more interested in finding treasure than finding farm work. A mystical worldview was not uncommon. As first-time settlers moved west of the Appalachians, they discovered and plundered hundreds of Indian mounds that sometimes revealed caches of ancient pottery, silver, copper, and other valuable artifacts.  Stories were spun to explain who had built the mounds and what had happened to them.  Stories of buried Spanish gold and Captain Kidd’s pirate treasures abounded, as well. Many who practiced respectable professions also dabbled in treasure hunting.  Others chose it as a profession.

About 1830-31 a traveling treasure-finder named Walters who used the paraphernalia of a fortune teller appeared in Palmyra and was paid $3 a day by local farmers to identify the right places to dig for treasure. Records suggest that Jo. soon chose digging for treasure as the profession to earn his income, as well. He used a “peep stone” or “seer stone” to discern where various kinds of riches were hidden and people hired him to look for them.  Jo. later also used a seer stone to “translate” the Book of Mormon.  In August, 2015, the Mormon Church released the first official photo of it (See above).

Using his seer stone for guidance, Jo. would specify the location of the treasure, the time of night the digging had to be done, and the incantations and sometimes blood sacrifices required to insure success.  (It was noted that Jo. kept the sacrifices.) The diggers would do just as he said and dig until they hit something hard with their picks or shovels.  Then Jo. would stop them and say that the devil or his spirits had moved the treasure deeper.  Once he assured them that the wood they splintered off was from a treasure chest that was then spirited away. To the diggers, the fact that the devil himself would oppose Jo. only contributed to the strength of his powers and to his credibility.

But everyone was not impressed.  Best-selling biographer Fawn Brodie, in her epic work, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, documented the records of Jo. being brought to trial in Bainbridge, New York, when he was 21, charged with being disorderly and an imposter. He freely admitted to practicing magic and seeking treasure.  He was found guilty of disturbing the peace.  Surely at the time, no one had any idea of how much peace Jo. Smith, Junior, would disturb in his short life, nor the impact his use of a seer stone would have.

Brodie, F. M. (1975).  No man knows my history:  The life of Joseph Smith.  New York: Vintage Books–Random House.

Joseph Smith.  LDS Media Library.

Joseph Smith Farm Welcome Center [Web site].!1s0x89d12b01d1d48b8d:0x697a78c6c50c7583!2m5!2m2!1i80!2i80!3m1!2i100!3m1!7e1!4s!5s+-+Google+Search

Joseph Smith–History.  Extracts from The History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet [Web site].  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Log Home of Joseph Smith Sr. 843 Stafford Rd., Palmyra, NY 14522.  [Web site].

Mormons Release Photo…Associated Press, August 4, 2015  [Newspaper].

Stack, P. (August 4, 2015).  Mormon Church Releases Photos… Salt Lake Tribune [Newspaper]. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer.




CONTEXT: Sunshine or Shade?

FullSizeRender  Several years ago, the spectacular 4-1/2′ high by 8-1/2′ wide hostas on either side of the walk between our house and the public sidewalk weren’t there:  the lawn was uninterrupted on our entire corner.  The hostas lived next door, on the shady east side of  the beautiful little front porch of our neighbors.  My dear friend there had planted a lush garden beside that sheltered nook her family often enjoyed.  But the hostas got too happy there, and grew, and grew, and GREW.  They crowded each other and everything else planted in that flower bed. The holly bush appeared to be appealing for help! She decided they had to go, and asked me if I wanted them.  I didn’t even have to think about it. YES!  I love large, exuberant plants!

I had no idea where the hostas would go, so we planted them beside our carriage house/barn, and they survived the hours of sunshine they received there every day, but they didn’t thrive. Leaves crinkled and turned brown  before summer was half over.  So finally, I decided that the beautiful, shady sidewalk intersection under the century-old maple trees out front would become a pair of corner shade gardens.  My husband dug up the plants and dug the new holes and helped me move the hostas; and I added hydrangeas, columbines, colorful little shrubs, ajuga for ground cover, and other smaller varieties of hostas.  I loved it, and everything there thrived.

Then, on July 13, 2015, the unprecedented windstorm that decimated our city and its trees felled the maple tree that had sheltered the hostas and the plants that shared their corners. I have watched for five weeks as the giant hostas have begun to crinkle and turn brown.  I water them–oh, okay, I have probably have even talked to them on occasion, but they don’t have it in them to tolerate as much direct sun as they get now, without the shelter and shade of that beautiful old maple tree, conversation or not.

So I’ve begun a large shade garden under the dogwood tree that stands between our house and our neighbor’s.  I plan to divide and move, or transplant, the hostas into the shade that in the best place for them to live.  If I don’t intercede, I don’t think they will survive a full summer of direct sun.

Remember when Jesus challenged us to appreciate how lilies are clothed, and how birds are fed, and apply that to our own contexts?  I think we’re a lot like my giant hostas, too.  Like them, we do best in the optimum surroundings, don’t we? We might enjoy crowding in the context of peaceful collaboration, and just spread out and enhance or overcome everything else in the environment.  We might be isolated and have too much focus on us to be comfortable in another place, but do our best anyway. Then we might be relieved to subsequently find ourselves  occupying a spot in which we can participate with others in a non-threatening context, and thrive.

We might accept being moved to a different location, and enjoy being the biggest “thing” in the space; then the context of that location changes, and we struggle along, trying to make the best of it, looking and feeling less than enthusiastic, while the less conspicuous ones around us adjust and do well.  We might put up with a little more direct (spot/sun)light than our comfort zones will accommodate for as long as we possibly can, because we’re used to where we are, and see no way to change; but eventually, we have to accept that if we get moved yet again, it will be out of our control, but for our own good. We can thrive again.

I hope I can trust like the lilies for how I will be clothed, and like the birds for how I will be fed, and like the hostas for context in which I will thrive. How about you?  How difficult is it for you to happily “find a new place to bloom”?