Sailing Along


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Image from Sailboats To Go

A few years after we moved to Kansas City, my husband bought a sailing canoe. You have probably never seen a sailing canoe—they are rare, for good reason.

A sailing canoe is a regular canoe to which a mast and a keel can be attached. Ours looked something like this picture, though the canoe was yellow and the sail plain white.

But as a sailing vessel, it is a compromise. The keel is not weighted, so the boat sits light on the water, leans easily and is therefore swamped with little notice. The mast makes the boat top-heavy, further increasing the chances of capsizing.

My husband, a lover of both canoeing and sailing, thought our boat was the neatest thing since sliced bread. He had always wanted a canoe and a sail boat, and now he had both.

Shortly after he purchased the canoe, he figured out how to mount the mast and sail. Then the two of us headed for the closest county lake one sweltering summer day in Missouri.

We spread all the pieces out on the beach and finally got the sail on the boat, ready for its maiden voyage.

“You’d better stay here,” my husband told me. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

Well, he was right. I’m not an experienced sailor. But I didn’t think it was very nice of him to point it out.

Still, in the interest of marital harmony, I kept my mouth shut, and pushed him out to sea, so he could try it out on his own.

He sailed out into the middle of the lake, tacked a couple of times, and then the boat tipped over.

There my sailor was—a Naval Academy graduate, no less—his vessel upside down, mast dragging into the mud at the bottom of the lake. He dove under the boat, freed the sail and mast so they floated beside his swamped canoe, and wondered what to do next.

After some time, a motor boat came along and towed him back to shore, where I waited patiently, sipping lemonade to combat the heat and humidity of a Missouri summer afternoon.

We packed up the pieces and headed home.

It is a tribute to my good sense that I never told him he didn’t know what he was doing any more than I did. (Until now.)

We took the sailing canoe out on future trips, and managed to keep it upright, though we also swamped it again several times. It was never a good family boat, because only two people could sit in it comfortably. And “comfortably” was a specious description, because you had to sit in the bottom of the boat, which always had a little water in it, making for a damp seat.

Ultimately, when my husband took up rowing and bought a single scull, he sold the sailing canoe. He has swamped the scull also, but that’s another story. And at least the scull is a single, so I don’t have to participate.

What activities have you endured for the sake of a spouse or friend?



A Summer Short: On the Value of Blogging


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Frustrated Woman at Computer With Stack of PaperThere are times when I wonder why I keep posting on this blog. Some months I’m pleased with the readership, and I watch the statistics climb day after day. Other months, the numbers plummet, and I wonder if I’m so boring no one will ever read what I write again.

Some weeks the ideas pop into my head effortlessly and my words flow freely. Other weeks, every sentence comes painfully, and I write and rewrite until I finally think I’ve said something . . . but maybe not.

It is in the nature of writing to be a solitary occupation, one fraught with self-doubt and angst.

And then, on a day when my writing has come particularly slowly, I see an old friend who tells me, “I love your blog! It’s so fun to keep up with what you’re doing.”

Or someone posts a comment, then a few days later, the same person posts another. And in a few weeks’ time, I feel like I have a new BFF.

Or I read something in another blog that touches my heart, as I wrote about last week from Baby Boomers and More.

Or I sell a revamped post to Chicken Soup for the Soul or another publisher, and I make a little money. Someone wants to pay me for what I write!

Or someone asks me when I’m finally going to publish my Oregon Trail books. (I don’t know, folks. The drafts aren’t as good as I can make them yet. But they will get published.)

Some social media experts say blogging is a form of marketing. Some call it “building your author’s platform.”

I call it forcing myself to write to deadline . . . and hopefully to find some companions along my journey.

I call it an opportunity to reflect on my world and the people I encounter.

And so I’ll keep writing this blog a while longer.

What do you do because it’s “good for you”?

A Summer Short: Sights on the Olympic Peninsula


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I recently returned from another visit to see family on the Olympic Peninsula.

It’s a place:

  • Where picturesque villages line ocean inlets


  • Where mountains vie with evergreens for majesty


  • Where Mount Rainier can be seen from the Wal-Mart parking lot (look through the cart rack)

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  • Where wildflowers grow as profusely as gardens


  • Where subdivision streets resemble the forest primeval


  • Where hikers leave stout sticks for followers to use


  • Where large swaths of grass get beaten down, perhaps by the deer that wander the roads


  • Where neighbors warn each other about bear sightings.

Thank goodness I don’t have a picture to share on this last point!

But my first day, the neighborhood association sent out an email on what to do if confronted by a bear. And on my last day, the next door neighbor informed us that she’d seen a bear in her back yard in mid-morning.

Where have you seen an abundance of nature’s glory?

Liberation and Independence


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MP900227556One of the joys of blogging is finding other writers who touch your heart and soul.

My last post was about my mother’s death on July 4. That night I was unable to sleep. The Independence Day fireworks screamed and popped throughout our suburban neighborhood, their celebratory bursts incongruous to my grieving mind. I wondered if I would ever be able to watch fireworks again without thinking of my mother’s death.

Because I couldn’t sleep, I skimmed through posts from other WordPress bloggers I follow. I happened upon the July 4, 2014, post on Baby Boomers and More, by Irene, in Redmond, Washington, a town not far from where my family members have lived off and on since 1979.

The post was titled “Nancy’s Independence Day.”

Irene’s sister-in-law died of Alzheimer’s on July 4, 2012, two years to the day before my mother. They had both lived for something over four years after being diagnosed with the disease.

Irene’s post captured the feelings I had on learning of my mother’s death. She wrote of her sister-in-law’s “liberation” from the physical and mental ravages of the disease. She wrote that though her brother would have been glad to continue his caregiving, he too could celebrate his wife’s release from Alzheimer’s.

Irene’s post gave me new words for how I felt about my mother’s death. I can now think of her as being liberated from her Alzheimer’s Disease, independent once again. Perhaps thinking in these terms will give me new joy on the Fourth of July, rather than facing the holiday with grief.

We think of the Internet as anonymous, but it can bring people together in ways unimaginable just a decade or two ago. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, World English Bible)

When have you been touched by someone you know only online?

Memories of Mother


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My mother as a child

My mother as a child

A few weeks ago, my family started hospice care for my mother. She had been hospitalized, and when she returned to her assisted living facility, she had great difficulty eating and swallowing—a typical progression of Alzheimer’s Disease.

She passed away on Friday, July 4, 2014.

Needless to say, these recent weeks have been a time of reflection, of waiting, of grieving. No matter how anticipated, death comes with a finality for which we are not prepared. It is a new loss, no matter how much we have lost already.

And in the face of death, we turn to memories and stories.

My mother before a high school date with my father

My mother before a high school date with my father

Just before she died, my father, sister and brother were gathered at her bedside. I called, and found them telling family stories—about me, apparently, which is only fair, since I have written about all of them in this blog.

My mother giving me an early reading lesson

My mother giving me an early reading lesson

We had a good chuckle about my shenanigans as a toddler. I like to think my mother heard them tell the stories, though she seemed to sleep.

I’ve been thinking of other stories as I have helped my father find pictures representing my mother’s life and plan her funeral service. And I have turned to this blog to jog my memory and to find inspiration.

Here are a few of the posts about my mother I reread in the last few days:

My mother, Mary Claudson, rest in peace

My mother, Mary Claudson, rest in peace

What helps you when you are grieving?

Oh, Say, Can You See . . . ?


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J's flag picture in Amsterdam

Last year on the Fourth of July, my son was traveling in the Netherlands. He walked past the U.S. Embassy in The Hague. Overcome with patriotism, he took this picture of the American flag waving proudly above the outpost of U.S. diplomacy.

He wanted another picture, one with the Stars and Stripes unfurled to greater dramatic effect. So he loitered across the street from the embassy, waiting for the breeze to catch the flag.

The Dutch police decided he was a threat. They pulled him aside and questioned him.

He was apparently able to convince the local authorities that he was not a terrorist (though he does sport a beard), and was merely a homesick American celebrating his nation’s birthday. At least, I assume he was persuasive—he never called me from a Dutch jail.

What are some of your memorable Fourth of July celebrations?

Harrison, Idaho, and Summer Parades


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Marina, Harrison, ID, on Coeur d'Alene Lake

Marina, Harrison, ID, on Coeur d’Alene Lake

I’ve written before about the idyllic summers I spent during my teenage years on Coeur d’Alene Lake in Idaho. Some of my memories are of boating to Harrison, Idaho, a small town across the lake from where my parents’ cabin was.

Harrison had the most accessible Catholic church on the lake. We could drive to the town of Coeur d’Alene at the north end of the lake or boat across to Harrison. Most Sundays, we boated to Harrison.

Our Lady of Perpetual Hope, Harrison, ID

Our Lady of Perpetual Hope, Harrison, ID, where we usually sat outside on the grass

Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Harrison had a small congregation during the winter, but in summer Catholics from all over the lake streamed into the marina and trod up the hill to the church. The Catholic crowd swelled so much that the congregation had to sit outside on the grass. It was better than kneeling. Except during rare rain storms.

On the Fourth of July Harrison had a parade. An old-fashioned cowboys and horses, sheriffs and cheerleaders parade. It ran the short length of the main street through town. The parade itself only lasted about half an hour, but to get a prime spot, people had to be there about an hour early.

We were rarely that early, but we got there in time to get bored before the parade.

The weather was hot and the kids cranky. Noses got sunburned, and we all wanted soda pop. Then bathrooms.

Harrison, ID

Harrison, ID, without the parade

I’ve never really liked parades. I thought they were tiresome and uncomfortable. Maybe that’s why I only took my kids to a couple when they were growing up.

If she reads this post, my daughter is probably thinking, “What do you mean a couple? I don’t remember any parades!”

My response to her: “Don’t you remember the Santa Claus parades the day after Thanksgiving in Marshall? You got candy.”

But if she doesn’t remember the Santa Claus parades, she got her fair share later in life—she lived in New Orleans for three years. Now New Orleans knows how to throw a parade. Many of them. Mardi Gras lasts for weeks in New Orleans.

Call me a curmudgeon, but I don’t see the fascination with parades. The time is spent waiting for something to happen, watching animals and vehicles you can see any day, and cheering for minor celebrities like the mayor and prom queen.

Give me a good book and an air-conditioned room any day.

What festivities do you enjoy? Which do you find boring?

Life Changes in California, June 1848


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Abandoned ships in San Francisco Bay, from

Abandoned ships in San Francisco Bay, from

By the beginning of June 1848 there were around 2,000 miners in the Sierra Nevada foothills above Sutter’s Mill. Most of these men had been in California when gold had been found, as the news was just reaching the far edges of the territory.

San Francisco practically emptied in the weeks after Sam Brannan ran through the streets yelling, “Gold! Gold! Gold from the American River!” By the middle of June, around 600 of the 800 residents of San Francisco had rushed to the mines, abandoning their homes and jobs.

Among the businesses that had to fold were the newspapers. The staff of The California Star left for the gold fields, and its last edition was June 14, 1848. The editor reported in his last issue that

A paper cannot be made by magic, and the labor of mechanism is as essential to its existence as to all other arts. . . . Our agencies are broken up, the methods of conveyance destroyed, and no one can define the locus in quo of his neighbor.

The alcalde (the local governor—like a mayor and magistrate combined) office in San Francisco also closed. In addition, crews of arriving ships deserted, leaving vacant vessels lining the harbor. Throughout the month of June more miners streamed into the gold fields from Monterey and Santa Cruz. As one historian wrote,

“One minute Monterey was the capital of a Mexican province called Alta California, and the next its lanes were deserted, the sounds of barking dogs echoing off the walls of empty adobe buildings. One minute the redwood forests up behind Santa Cruz were filled with the sound of saws biting into the redwood and the next the woods were quiet, trees left half-sawn and piles of bright pink redwood abandoned on the beaches. . . . What happens to a place when every able-bodied human up and leaves?”

All That Glitters: An Argument in Support of Commemorating (and Lamenting) the California Gold Rush, by Sandy Lyon, Santa Cruz County History Journal, Issue 4, 1998. Lyon answered his own question:

“The immediate effects of the exodus of the able-bodied were a steep rise in the price of labor and a sharp drop in the real estate market. . . . Laborers who stayed behind could command wages of up to $15 per day, but gold fever often overtook them before they could complete any task.
“The absence of a dependable supply of labor bedeviled the Monterey Bay Region for the next two decades. It was difficult for anyone infected with gold fever, even those who had no success in the mines, to return to the drudgery of day-to-day work.”

The exodus from other locales to California began in JUne 1848 also. A Hawaiian newspaper reported on the gold discovery that month, and ships began to leave the islands (then known as the Sandwich Islands) with men seeking their fortune.

So James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in January 1848, and he and Johann Sutter tried to keep it secret. The news leaked slowly at first, and then the reports became an avalanche.

Wherever the word did get out, the lives and fortunes of individuals and of communities were changed forever.

When has your life been changed irrevocably? Were any of these changes due to significant public occurrences?

Politics: Some Things Never Change


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I deliberately keep this blog away from politics. I’m told that writing about a hot-button issue is a sure way to increase blog traffic, but I’m not sure those are the readers I want to reach.

I am bemused, however, as I do historical research, how little things have changed over the years. We think our politicians today are so polarized and so unable to compromise that they can do nothing to try to resolve the major controversies of our day. Of course, the first “do nothing” Congress was the Eightieth Congress, so named by President Harry S. Truman in 1948.

But a century earlier, in the 1840s and ’50s, things were even worse.

In December 1849, Representative Robert A. Toombs of Georgia called the Thirty-First Congress of which he was a member, “the worst specimens of legislators I have ever seen . . . . There is a large infusion of successful jobbers, lucky serving-men, parishless parsons and itinerant lecturers among them who are not only without wisdom or knowledge but have bad manners, and therefore we can have little hope of good legislation.”

That same month, Representative Richard K. Meade of Virginia and Representative Joseph M. Root of Ohio started a fight between their supporters on the floor of the House, which the sergeant at arms had to break up by swinging a mace at the combatants.

Foote/Benton fight in U.S. Senate. Picture from

Foote/Benton fight in U.S. Senate. Picture from

One might think that was enough for our august legislators. Unfortunately, just a few months later, in April 1850, the Senate showed it was no better than the House.

Senator Henry Foote of Mississippi launched a verbal attack on Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri. Benton went for Foote’s throat. Foote pulled and cocked a revolver and pointed it at Benton. Other senators tried to intervene, but Benton just dared Foote to shoot. Ultimately, Foote gave his weapon to another senator, and the crisis was averted. Foote was never punished.

And just a few short years later, across the nation in California, a fight between two politicians ended in a duel. In 1859, David S. Terry, the chief judge of the California state supreme court and David Broderick, U.S. Senator for California, fought a duel on a lake outside of San Francisco. Both men were Democrats, but Judge Terry was from the South, and Senator Broderick from New York, and they disagreed over slavery. Terry shot Broderick, who died three days later.

lrichards coverAt least our politicians today don’t fight duels over their differences. Yet.

There is an old French saying, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”—“The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Politics is one of those things that really never changes. Nor does human nature.

(I found these incidents described in The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War, by Leonard L. Richards (2007), which contains many good stories about the development of California from the 1840s until the Civil War. It’s well worth reading, if you’re interested in U.S. history. The audio book is well done also.)

When have you been struck by the similarities between historical events and the events of today?

The Tao of Writing, of Geography, and of Clutter


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Tao of writingWhile browsing in my local library recently, I saw the book, The Tao of Writing, by Ralph L. Wahlstrom. I don’t know much about Taoist principles or philosophy, but I thumbed through the pages, and it looked interesting. Anything that might immerse me more deeply in the writing life I am trying to craft would be worth considering, so I checked the book out.

After reading the book, I can attest that the “twelve principles of the Tao of Writing,” as Wahlstrom denominated them, are worth thinking about.

But he lost me on page 41 when I read the line “When Mount St. Helens erupted in Oregon in 1980 . . . .”

Mount St. Helens, picture from Wikipedia

Mount St. Helens, picture from Wikipedia

Wait a sec! I said to myself. Mount St. Helens is in Washington. I’m a Washingtonian; I know this. My dad almost got trapped in the ash cloud driving from Richland on the east side of the Cascades to the Seattle area on the west side the Sunday morning when the volcano blew.

After I saw Wahlstrom’s geographical error, I read everything else in his book with some skepticism. What else might he have gotten wrong?

His mistake reminded how important it is for writers to be absolutely accurate in what they publish. When I am working on my historical novels, almost every day I have to stop to look up date or fact. If I can’t verify what I want to say, I cut it out of the novel.

Even so, I get caught occasionally by my critique group—particularly by the guys in the group when I’m writing about gun battles, or by the horse lovers when I’m writing about riding.

Still, I fought through my bias against Mr. Wahlstrom’s geographical sloppiness and read the rest of the book.

His twelve principles of the Tao of writing are:

  1. Writing is natural
  2. Writing is flow
  3. Writing is creation
  4. Writing is detachment
  5. Writing is discovery
  6. Writing is change
  7. Writing is unified yet multiplied
  8. Writing is clarity
  9. Writing is simplicity
  10. Writing is personal
  11. Writing is universal
  12. Writing is open-ended

All good points for writers to think about.

I won’t reveal any more about Wahlstrom’s book. You’ll have to read it yourself to see what he means by each principle and how he connects the Tao and writing.

My desk, as I write this post. Note how I file on the floor. It's worked for me for 35 years.

My desk, as I write this post. Note how I file on the floor. It’s worked for me for 35 years.

Wahlstrom also has a section on writing activities designed to foster creativity and provide some momentum to your writing. This section is also useful for writers who are experiencing writer’s block or who want to develop new ways of working.

And he talks about feng shui. In the chapter promoting a neat work space (“the Tao of tidiness”), he lost me again. It’s not that I believe offices shouldn’t be neat, it’s just that I’ve never been able to achieve the order he advocates.

Clutter may be extremely bad (“shar chi”) for a writer, but I’ve learned to manage it. I don’t even see it most of the time, as my husband would attest.

What principles do you use to set a path for your work?



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