Time Is Ticking

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I wrote a few weeks ago about preparing for the bar exam. I revealed in that post that my husband and I both passed, but I didn’t write about the difficulty of the exam itself.

In the summer of 1979, the Missouri Bar held the bar exam for aspiring lawyers in the state capital, Jefferson City, at the Ramada Inn. Candidates from all over the state converged on this town that had about 33,000 residents at the time (not counting politicians).

Most of the bar exam takers stayed at the Ramada, but my husband wanted to be able to get away from the craziness of hyperactive lawyer wannabes pumped on caffeine. So we stayed at the Best Western a few blocks away.

On the first morning of the exam, we drove the short distance to the Ramada Inn and found the huge bank of conference rooms where the test would be conducted. One room was for typists, and the others were for those of us who would write their answers in long hand. (Today, almost everyone takes the exam on laptops, but such devices didn’t exist in 1979.)

The room looked something like this. But no laptops.

The room looked something like this. But no laptops.

Each candidate was assigned a specific seat, two candidates to a table in a room filled with rows of tables. The test-takers were arranged alphabetically. Because my husband and I have the same last name, we were seated next to each other. Thankfully, there was an aisle between us, so we didn’t have to share a table. If we had, I think I would have worried about him as much as about the test questions.

We had stacks of blue books (remember blue books?) in which to write our answers. Everyone aligned their pens and blue books and water bottles, fidgeting and fussing with nervous energy, until time to start the test.

My husband has never worn a watch, while I always wear one set five minutes ahead of the actual time. But for purposes of tracking how long to spend on each question, my husband had with him a small alarm clock, which he set in front of him on the table, along with pens and blue books.

Palpable anxiety filled the room, in sighs and groans and squeaking of chairs.

At the appointed time, the first set of questions was distributed.

We wrote.

And we wrote.

Monitoring the minutes as they passed, to be sure we saved enough time to answer all the questions.

alarm-clock-ringing-6-cf8bumoxAbout two-thirds of the way through that first time block, the alarm on my husband’s clock rang. Loudly.

I looked up in astonishment. It wasn’t time yet, was it? Others in the room groaned, and the tension in the room grew twenty-fold.

Across the aisle from me, my husband fumbled quickly to silence the alarm.

“It was an accident,” he later told me. “I didn’t set the alarm. I swear.”

I didn’t know whether to believe him.

Oh, well. We both passed, so no harm done.

When has the unexpected made you more stressed in life?

Musings On My 250th Post

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wordpress image 2WordPress keeps excellent statistics for bloggers, and so I realized recently that today’s post would be my 250th post. This milestone seemed worthy of comment.

I’ve been blogging for about two-and-a-half years, for most of that time twice per week. I’ve written before about lessons I’ve learned blogging, and I wrote recently about the value of blogging. I won’t repeat what I said in those posts.

I will say, however, that blogging regularly for so long has taught me the difficulty of writing well consistently. I am very proud of some of my posts, but others feel like they were dashed off to fill the space. (And some were.)

Unlike with novels—which take months and years—or short stories—which take days or weeks—my blog posts get no more than a couple of quick rewrites after the initial draft. I need to have a theme for the post and tell the story almost right the first time.

Blogging has taught me to write quickly and to a deadline. I’d learned these lessons at other times in my life, such as when writing briefs as an attorney with a heavy caseload, or when editing employee communications with a fast turn-around time. But on this blog there is no one else to cover for me, to fill in when too many priorities compete for my time.

What I am most proud of is that I have kept to my blogging schedule despite deaths, illnesses, injuries, holidays, and the general frenzy of life.

I set out when I retired from the corporate world to become a writer.

Writers write.

I am writing, therefore I am a writer.

I have kept the commitment to myself to write.

And I appreciate you, as readers, coming back to greet me post after post.

It amazes me how readers find this blog. Some of you are friends, but some of you happened upon the blog after typing some odd query into a search engine.

lbffWordPress provides me with a list of queries that people have used to find my blog. Among the top queries WordPress reports—other than the to-be-expected query “theresa hupp blog”—are “little bunny foo foo origin,” “family pictures”, “banana cream pie history,” and “accidents on the oregon trail.”

Funny what people search for on the Internet, but all of these topics have been the subject of posts I have written. (Well, maybe not the history of banana cream pie, but I have written about making such a pie.)

Here are a few of the oddest queries that have recently led readers to me:

  • “name a tall tree family feud”
  • “tomboy with broken leg”
  • “leg xray copy indian”
  • “can i leave my husband when he is studying for the bar exam”

I can guess which posts these queries picked up, but I don’t really want to be known as a source of wisdom for women wanting to leave their husbands during the bar review process. After all, I stuck by mine . . . and he stuck by me.

Still, writers are grateful for readers, wherever they come from.

What led you to find my blog? Whatever it was, thank you . . . and please come back!

Honor in the Gold Fields in July 1848: Few Reports of Thievery

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Richard B Mason from SF MuseumAs I review my novel about the California Gold Rush with my writing critique partners, they tell me to put more violence and tension into the book. They’d like to see a bloody claim jumping or bushwhacking in every chapter.

A good novel must include a lot of conflict and tension, so I listen to my critique group when they tell me I need more conflict in the book. But I also have to be true to the times.

Despite what we’ve seen in western movies, the truth of the matter was that in 1848, there was little thievery in the gold fields, nor many disputes between the gold seekers and Native Americans.

By July of 1848, six months after John Marshall had discovered the gold at Sutter’s Mill, there were about 4,000 miners in the Sierra Nevada foothills panning for gold. Keep in mind, word of gold fields hadn’t even reached Oregon yet. Nevertheless, 4,000 men had already congregated to seek their fortunes.

In total, the miners were taking about $50,000 worth of gold out of the earth every day. Despite these rich finds—and new lodes were being discovered almost daily—there was honor in the gold fields.

The U.S. Army had taken control of California in 1846 when the U.S. conquered Mexico in the Mexican-American War. General Richard B. Mason, California’s military governor, visited the gold fields in July 1848. His report to the authorities in Washington, D.C., about his trip to the gold fields stated:

I was surprised to learn that crime of any kind was very infrequent and that no thefts or robberies had been committed in the gold district. All live in tents, or bush houses, or in the open air and men have frequently about their persons thousands of dollars’ worth of this gold.

(It might interest Civil War buffs to know that General Mason’s aide was Captain William T. Sherman.)

General Mason and his aides celebrated the Fourth of July with Johann Sutter. Sutter later wrote:

As we wanted to celebrate the 4th of July we invited the Governor and his suite to remain with us, and be accepted. Kyburg gave us a good Diner, every thing was pretty well arranged. . . . It was well done enough for such a new Country and in such an excitement and Confusion.

And so the settlement of the gold fields began—with celebration of the nation’s birthday and with honesty and good will among the miners.

The good will didn’t last, of course. It never does where human beings and riches are in close proximity. In later years of the Gold Rush, disputes over territory and robberies increased. So I did include some of these in my novel.

But I’ll need to find other sources of tension besides fights over gold for the early part of my book.

What impact has wealth or its absence had on people around you?

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

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  • Where mountains vie with evergreens for majesty

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  • 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

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  • Where subdivision streets resemble the forest primeval

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  • Where hikers leave stout sticks for followers to use

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

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  • 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?

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