Writing inspired by the places, people, culture and history of the Midwest.
October 11 is my 68th birthday. I’ve had – am having – a great life. Borrowing another idea from Laurie Buchanan, author of the soon-to-be-released Note to Self, and to recognize the years with which I’ve been blessed, I’m sharing 68 reasons why I’m grateful.
In no particular order, here they are:
- More than a house – a home
- My logical, practical husband who invariably has whatever I need
- My son and the happiness he’s finding in his life
- Two delightful granddaughters who give me so much joy
- Parents who loved me and gave me a solid foundation of values
- A lifelong love of education
- Hearing devices
- Living in an area with ready access to great medical care
- A positive attitude
- Readers who’ve supported my writing – and chosen to write and tell me what my stories meant to them
- Book club friends
- Bible study friends
- Lifelong friends and brand new ones
- My sister who’s living and another one I had for 58 wonderful years
- Good health
- The ability to travel
- The trips I’ve taken and the ones I see ahead
- The change of seasons
- My prairie and all the lessons I learn there
- Birds at the feeders and those in the trees
- The Percheron horses that pasture adjacent to our back yard
- The Internet and Google
- Libraries and librarians because Google doesn’t know everything
- Good editors
- The smell of lilacs
- More good memories than otherwise
- Green trees, green grass, green
- Nurses like my sister and her daughter
- Authors who inspire me
- Our service men and women
- The police
- Summer tomatoes
- A deep freeze full of the bounty of our garden
- My washer and dryer
- My hair dresser
- A “good stick” at the blood bank
- October and the advent of cool weather
- April and the return of warm weather
- Chocolate chip cookies
- Vanilla ice cream
- Being ‘old enough‘
- Good health
- The ability to walk easily
- Colorful sunrises
- Birkenstocks and Chacos
- All the colors of the rainbow
- Music of the 60’s and 70’s
- The breadboard my dad made me
- The smell of fresh-baked bread
- An appreciation for hard work
- My nieces and their families
- My smart phone
- Oakridge Neighborhood and all the places that help individuals, children and families in need achieve a better life
- A good bed
- Children laughing
- My writing buddies
- A wealth of ideas for what comes next
- Another birthday
What things are you grateful for today? Leave a note with two or three.
Recently, I felt the need to journal and reflect. But where to start? I recalled a social media post I read a few months ago that offered a list of questions. As usually happens, though, I couldn’t recall exactly when I read the post or the people involved in the discussion.
However, the list included the kind of questions Laurie Buchanan, a holistic health practitioner and transformational life coach, shares on her blog Tuesdays with Laurie. I took a shot and contacted her.
Laurie generously sent a list of 365 questions that form the core of one chapter of her soon-to-be-published book Note to Self. From the book cover:
Note to Self is about offloading emotional baggage – something that’s especially important when we realize that we don’t just pack for one, we pack for seven of our selves – self-preservation, self-gratification, self-definition, self-acceptance, self-expression, self-reflection, and self-knowledge. Each plays a vital role in harmony, overall health, and well-being.
Exploring one question
I chose this question from Laurie’s list: How old do you feel?
To begin, I catalogued my physical aches and pains of the last three years, including how breaking my wrist caused me to go from healthy to invalid. The transition occurred in my brain, since the wrist healed quickly, and I recovered full movement. The broken wrist became an excuse to exercise less, to question my balance, to move cautiously instead of with confidence, to begin to see myself as “old.”
Understanding I had no legitimate physical reason to feel old, the catalogue led to an exploration of what I’ve done to regain control of my health – from ears to feet to core strength to weight.
All this led to what society and the media have to say about age. What they say someone who’s nearing 70 years can and can’t do. The decidedly mixed societal messages caused me to affirm that how old I feel can be my own decision, not one imposed by others.
So then I journaled about what I want to be able to do with my life. A long list included things like playing with my granddaughters, traveling, hiking, riding bike, gardening, having enough energy to do whatever I feel like doing. All activities associated with good health.
Concluding that barring serious illness, “old” is a state of mind, I meandered into the positive sides of being “old.” I realized I’m Old Enough:
- to have enjoyed a good long career doing something I loved.
- to have made some good friends; to know what a friend means, and to value having and keeping them.
- to have figured out (finally) what I want to do while I’m still able to do it.
- to have made lots of mistakes, learned from them, and be young enough to make more mistakes, but maybe handle them better now that I’m old enough.
- to know I’m lucky to be as healthy as I am, to live where I do, to have the life I have.
While feeling old may be a physically-imposed reality, barring that, feeling old appears to be more of a state of mind. I don’t “feel” 68 any more than I “felt” 40 or 17. If I even know that that means. Some comparative measure against others, societal expectations or my own, I suppose.
After pausing to reflect, I realize I don’t feel any particular age.
I feel like me.
The result of reflection
What a journey, Laurie’s question inspired – journaling for three days and returning in thought to the topic repeatedly since. After pausing to reflect, I realize how much of age is perspective. Reflecting reminded me again to be grateful.
If even half of the questions unlock such self discovery, I’ll be journaling not for 365 days but for several years. I pre-ordered Laurie’s book Note to Self and I encourage you to check it out too.
How old do you feel? What impacts your attitude about age? What tools do you use to reflect?
We lost a grand old willow tree a year ago. Age and weather took their toll, and it finally had to be removed. Though losing the willow with all the associated memories was sad, the newly opened space made room to expand our prairie. As I’ve worked on this new project, I’ve seen many parallels to my writing life.
The idea of expanding the prairie has been simmering for some time. Yet, establishing the new area has not been as smooth as I’d hoped. Step one required killing off the grass. The herbicide we’d been using with good effect in other applications all of a sudden didn’t work. Ultimately, we invested in Roundup. One application and the grass was gone – along with all the prairie plant seedlings that sprouted in the spring.
Now that the grass is gone and new growth is coming on, I’m reminded of things I learned with my first prairie planting – and now must re-learn – with this new space.
- There are plenty of seeds waiting for their chance. Even though I killed off all the desirable plants that emerged in the spring, more emerged mid-summer. Some may even bloom this fall, though they’ll have to survive the deer who relish these tender shoots.
- Weed seeds are also waiting for their chance. Rounds two, three, and four of dandelions, pokeweed, and thistles keep popping up.
- There’s always something new to learn in a prairie. At this point, the difference between invasive and non-invasive plants. An invasive species pushes out and replaces a native plant. A non-invasive plant may move in but won’t take over.
Mullein, is one non-invasive plant. The new prairie is awash in these wooly-leaved plants. Even though they are plentiful now, I am not concerned that mullein will crowd the prairie next year for two reasons. (1) This season’s plants will not have time to seed before winter, and (2) Even though there were a dozen or more mullein plants in the old prairie last year, only one returned this year. Invasive plants like Queen Anne’s Lace will crowd out all else if you let it. Pretty though that flower is, I pull these out as soon as I see them.
Prairie & Writing Parallels
I’m at a point in my writing life where I’m looking ahead to what’s next. Looking at the prairie and my writing, I can make these observations:
- Like the prairie seeds, there are plenty of new ideas waiting to sprout. In only a few minutes this week, I recorded half a dozen ideas for writing projects ranging from memoir to novels to children’s books.
- As I work through editing my work in progress, I find weed seeds in the form of crutch words: “that,” “just,” “seem,” “very.” It takes diligent maintenance to root these out and keep them from marring an otherwise well written story.
- In the prairie and in writing, I’m always learning something new. If I took up the children’s book idea, for instance, I’d be learning an entirely new genre.
- Ideas for writing projects pop up and move on as do plants like mullein. In this case, however, I’m looking for that invasive idea – the one that will not let go of my imagination – the one that stimulates my writing passion. Unlike invasive weeds in the prairie, the writing idea with staying power is one I’ll nurture and grow.
Both prairie and writing take time and hard work. Both may yield beautiful results if I’m wise in choosing and have the patience to nurture.
So that’s what I’ve been thinking about – in the prairie and with my writing life. What’s going on in your creative life? And how does nature inspire you?
M.K. Tod wrote and indie-published two successful historical novels set during World War I. Her newest novel Time and Regret – published this month by Lake Union Publishing – stays true to Tod’s historical expertise while branching into new territory – mystery.
Writing in a new genre stretches an author, and as a fan of her historical writing, I’m pleased to report that Tod not only stays true to her historical fiction core but also does a fine job weaving in a mystery. To read my review, click here.
I asked her to share her thoughts on why mysteries are so appealing and how she worked that into her new novel. This is what she said.
The Mystery of a Mystery
by M.K. Tod
Attracted by the front cover, you take the book off the shelf, peruse the brief description on the back and decide, yes, this is my type of book. A mystery.
Mysteries conjure excitement, the thrill of danger, the nail-biting question of will they or won’t they solve it in time. And then there’s the thrill of sleuthing as you become the detective, the cop, or the amateur accidentally stuck in the midst of a crime.
My new novel – Time and Regret – is a mystery with multiple timelines and a romance to sweeten the deal. In writing it – my first mystery – I’ve had to think a lot about this genre’s enduring appeal.
What is it about mysteries that makes them so satisfying? Why do some people read almost nothing else? Author Melissa Bourbon Ramirez offers this opinion: “I think one reason people love reading mysteries is because they are a safe thrill, kind of like roller coasters when you’re a kid. They’re a safe adventure, as well. Just as in any other type of book, we get to visit exotic or interesting places. You can see the dark side of people, but you know that justice will prevail. Good will overcome evil.”
Author Nancy Curteman has a different take: “Mystery readers are intelligent people. The mystery story appeals to their sense of curiosity. They enjoy action. They love to analyze the psychological makeup and motivational drives of characters. Most mystery readers are as interested in how and why a crime is committed as they are in who committed it. Sifting through clues and red herrings as the story progresses adds challenge.”
Other reasons have been put forward: to understand the behavior of criminals and the criminal mind; to live the intense emotions involved in crime; to vicariously experience a world of suspense, secrets, excitement and danger; to create order out of disorder and justice out of crime.
And then there’s the detective—typically a flawed but heroic figure who overcomes major obstacles while often making a mess of his or her own life. We can see ourselves in this individual and we root for them to successfully solve the crime while resolving some of their own life problems.
Here’s the premise of Time and Regret.
Time and Regret: A cryptic letter. A family secret. A search for answers.
When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long buried secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determine to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and is suddenly aware that someone is following her.
When I set out to write Time and Regret, I didn’t fully appreciate the expectations involved. Gradually, I added more to the story: more subtle clues, more plot twists, more danger, more violence, more dead ends. I made my heroine more conflicted and gave her a difficult childhood and I added flaws to my other characters. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote the ending.
Does it work? Will it satisfy the needs of mystery readers? Readers will be the judge because another thing I’ve discovered is that no two readers are the same—and that is the biggest part of the mystery of writing.
Find Time and Regret on Amazon:
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.