Monday, December 28, 2009

Locating a Loved One in an Emergency

Imagine this: You live in the State of Washington and see vivid news coverage of a huge wildfire in California’s Orange County. Your son and his family live there! You’ve tried to phone them, but calls aren’t getting through. What can you do?

Contact the American Red Cross, or better yet, go to the Safe and Well website, Click on “Getting Assistance,” then on “Contacting Family Members.” You will be prompted to give specific information such as the victim’s name and address or phone number. If the victims have registered, you will be given their specific messages.

What if you’re the victim and must leave your home? How can you let everyone know you’re okay? Go to and list yourself as safe and well.

This is how it works. The Red Cross assists displaced families to communicate from the disaster area with loved ones outside the area. Victims register themselves as “Safe and Well” by selecting and posting standard messages for family and friends that indicate they are safe and well in a shelter, hotel, or another home, and will make contact when possible.

The 14 standard messages include:
– I am safe and well
– Family and I are safe and well
– Currently at a shelter
– Currently at home
– Currently at a friend/family member/neighbor’s house
– Will make phone calls when able
– Will e-mail when able
– I am evacuating to a shelter

The victim checks as many boxes as are appropriate.

Because of privacy laws, no location information is publicly displayed on this website. The results of a successful search only displays a loved one’s first and last name, the “as of” date, and the Safe and Well standard messages they posted.

When disaster victims register at a Red Cross shelter or go to Red Cross feeding and distribution sites, they are encouraged to contact family members to let them know they are safe and well. If Internet is not available, the Red Cross has a Registration Form that can be completed by hand and which in turn will be entered into the Safe and Well computer system by Red Cross volunteers.

The American Red Cross works closely with many organizations to provide communication during times of emergencies. Contact Loved Ones voice message service,, 1-866-782-6682, can be accessed by either victims or by concerned family members outside a disaster zone.

If urgent or emergency personal contact between a person in the Armed Services and their family is required, the Red Cross is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to send emergency communication to a deployed service member, a member in training or stationed far from home. In an emergency, call your local American Red Cross chapter for assistance with their Service to Armed Forces program.

The American Red Cross knows how important family contact is during an emergency, for both victims and for their loved ones. The Red Cross has long served in this capacity, but has recently streamed-lined its process through the Safe and Well website.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Secret to a Merry Christmas: Skip the Stress

As your life spins into the busy holiday season, how can you avoid the stress of "holiday blues?" One way is to avoid the tyranny of the "shoulds" and take time to do what you enjoy. Keep the season's purpose in mind and stay within the guidelines of common sense.

Remember to take care of yourself. Holidays often bring attitudes of over-indulgence and then later, feelings of guilt. Eat and drink sensibly─you'll feel better at the time and not have to deal with the consequences afterwards. When things get hectic, take time out for a brisk walk. It's amazing how this clears the head and gives you a fresh outlook. Indulge yourself a little─get a massage, take a hot bath, turn off the television and all those Christmas commercials and curl up with a good book. Give yourself a gift.

Simplify your celebrations by setting up realistic time and money budgets and sticking to them. Limit scheduled special events so that something isn't going on every night of the week. Stay home and enjoy your decorations with family and close friends.

Decide ahead of time how much you should spend for Christmas and then stick with it. To avoid the stress of overspending, make a list of those you buy for and keep track of the presents you've bought. It's easy to forget what you've already purchased when you're in the thick of Christmas shopping. Don't worry about what others are giving, stay within your own financial means.

Some people enjoy the scramble of last-minute shopping. But if waiting until the last minute makes you frantic, do something about it by buying gifts gradually, throughout the year.

If you're giving a party, consider making it pot-luck or at least asking for help. You don't have to do everything yourself and a party doesn't have to be flawless. Remember parties you've attended? Probably some of the best ones were spontaneous.

Not everyone is thrilled with the holiday season. For some, it is a sad, unpleasant time of year. Try to understand their depression and be especially understanding of their needs.

For many, giving of yourself is key to a happy and satisfying holiday season. There is no greater joy than knowing you've contributed to someone's happiness during this time of year. Every community holds charitable Christmas programs. Get involved in whatever way you can within your own time and money constraints by giving food, a new toy or clothing to a needy family. How about driving an elderly person to a mall? If you bake, nothing lights up people's eyes like a plate of homemade Christmas cookies. And be open to receiving another's gesture of love to you.

Above all, avoid the trap of striving for "perfection." Nothing is perfect and trying to make it so only brings on stress and frustration. Settle for a little imperfection and you'll have a more relaxed, carefree holiday.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Don’t be a Target for Carjacking

According to insurance company statistics, 30 percent of carjackings occur in December.

Carjacking has risen dramatically in the last few years, perhaps because more people have equipped their cars with alarms and anti-theft devices. Now carjackers often wait until the car is unlocked and then take it by force from the owner.

Most carjacking occurs while the victim is either coming from or going to the car, usually at a parking lot or gas station. United States Department of Justice estimates that in about half of all carjacking attempts, the attacker succeeds in stealing the victim’s car.

Tips to avoid carjacking while in parking lots:
– Always be alert to what is going on around you.
– Shop at grocery stores that employ people to take your grocery cart to your car.
– Park in well-lit areas or in attended parking lots.
– When returning to your car, have your key ready to unlock the door, get in the car as quickly as possible, and lock the doors behind you.
– If you are in a parking lot, or if you are getting into or out of your automobile and are accosted by a carjacker, let him take the car. Your life is more valuable than your car.

Tips to avoid carjacking while driving:
– Many carjacks begin with a minor accident, one the carjacker has staged. The victim gets bumped from behind and gets out of the car to investigate. The carjacker flashes a weapon and orders the owner to give up the car. If you are involved in a minor automobile accident, particularly at night when no one else is around:
1) Remain in your car.
2) If necessary, draw attention to yourself by honking your horn.
3) Motion to the other driver to follow and then drive to a well-lighted place with plenty of people around. If it's a carjacker, he will likely give up and drive away. Try to get his license number and report the incident to police.
– If being followed by another car, drive to a police station or some public place.
– In traffic, leave space in front of you for a "getaway."
– Have your cell phone handy so that you can call for help when necessary.

Tips to avoid personal harm from a carjacker:
– When driving and stopped in traffic, if you are threatened by someone on foot you must think very quickly what to do. Whether or not you have a passenger, such as a small child in a car seat, adds considerably to your concern.
– You must protect yourself -- and your child -- from personal contact with a carjacker. It is better to surrender your car than take a chance with your or your child's life.
– You can't depend on a carjacker giving you enough time to remove a child from a car seat; he's interested only in a quick get-away. You must try to avoid the dangerous situation of the carjacker taking you or your child in the car with him. Authorities say women and children abducted under these circumstances are in extreme danger. The best solution may be to duck down in the seat (while still able to peer over the dash to drive), honk your horn, and start driving. Drive immediately to a police station or somewhere safe where you can report the incident.

Remember, to avoid a crime, it’s always better to eliminate the opportunity.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Scam Proof Your Life

Scams are scary and scammers are getting to be more sophisticated. The culprits could be your own bank. We need to stay one step ahead of them.

Have you ever heard of "negative option" marketing? It’s when a merchant or institution sends you some kind of notification either by telephone, mail or e-mail for some charge, such as bank-branded insurance. If they don’t hear back that you do NOT want the service, they will begin automatic premium withdrawals from your account.

We received such a charge. We had sold a piece of undeveloped property and payments came from a collection agency. After many years of regular payments, there suddenly appeared a charge for "buyers insurance." I called and asked what that was and learned that the charge was for investigation to see if the buyer had insurance on the property he bought from us. I remembered seeing that offer in the mail, but I didn’t care if he had insurance or not so I discarded it. They took that as a "yes" and proceeded to charge for the investigation. I called the customer service number and told them to remove that charge and never charge me for anything without my permission. I’m sure I was talking to someone in India, but he could speak and hear English adequately. In any event, that charge was removed and there were no more charges.

Unfortunately, these practices are legal in many states as long as certain notification rules are followed.

One way we can combat charges of this nature is to carefully examine what most of us consider "junk mail." But who has that kind of time?

I think the most practical way to ensure you don’t get unwarranted charges is to take a few minutes to carefully go over every single item on your credit card bill, checking account, or any account where a financial institution has the ability to charge you.

It’s a good idea to save all receipts so that you can reconcile your bank or charge account statements. A few receipts might get by you, but at least make sure you recognize the store and assure yourself that a purchase at that establishment was possible.

Merchants and financial institutions are counting on you just looking at the total amount due and paying it. Let’s not play their game.

Once we received an item on our charge account for shoes bought in Wisconsin from a Canadian account. We called and said that was not possible and the charge was removed. Again, it paid (literally!) to carefully go over our bill.

Another, more scary time, I noticed three charges for the same place for an amount totaling $750. Their 1-800 phone number was listed and I called and listened to a recording with the message to leave my phone number and credit card number! I don’t think so. Their website was also listed on the bill, so I went to that and found it was a foreign video store. I promptly called our credit card company and had those charges removed. Because it appeared our account had been compromised, we had to go through the hassle of opening a new account.

Then there’s a more recent scam we need to watch for. A caller identifies himself as a representative from a credit card company. He has all your information–name and credit card number but needs the 3-digit PIN numbers shown on the back of your card. He claims it’s for security reasons, to make sure you have your card and that it hasn’t been stolen. Don’t give out this number! The only time you need this number is when you’re making an Internet or phone purchase.

Here are some scam-preventive suggestions:

– Save all charge/debit card receipts
– Match your credit card charges with receipts, or at least be able to recognize the store where items were purchased
– Use your credit/debit card only at reputable stores
– Carefully reconcile your bank statement each month to justify every check and charge
– If you have an unsolicited charge, immediately call your bank or credit card company. Customers only have 60 days to dispute charges on mailed statements
– Beware of free offers–they are often negative options
– Insist on a written contract before agreeing to buy anything on time.
– Only give out your credit card number and the 3-digit PIN when making an on-line purchase.
– When you no longer are using a charge account, formally close it. Just not using it any more still leaves the account open.

If you believe you’ve been scammed and want to file a complaint, go to the Attorneys General website,

Monday, November 16, 2009

Living a Long and Healthy Life

Not every one wants to live to the ripe old age of 100. To tell you the truth, I’d only want to live that long if I could still be healthy and productive. In the October, 2009 monthly issue of U.S. News & World Report, Deborah Kotz’ article "10 Tips for Living to 100" in the Health & Lifestyle section, sums up how living to be a centenarian is indeed attainable.

Centenarians tend to share certain traits in how they conduct their lives. How do they do it? Following are 10 tips that make sense. The tips themselves are quotes from the article, the explanations are para-phrased or are my own words.

1. Don’t retire. We’ve all heard about it–someone retires and before you know it, he’s gone. Stay active after you retire from your regular job. Become a volunteer, actively garden, be involved in your community.

2. Floss every day. What? How did that sneak in there? Well, it’s true, according to a 2008 New York University study that showed that flossing every day reduces gum disease-causing bacteria in the mouth. That bacteria is believed to enter the bloodstream and trigger inflamation of the arteries, a risk factor for heart disease.

3. Move around. Studies have shown that exercise improves every aspect of your life, your muscles, bones, mental clarity, your outlook on life. Even 30 minutes a day makes a significant difference.

4. Eat fiber-rich cereal for breakfast. Eating whole-grains first thing in the morning helps to maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day, thereby reducing the chances of diabetes.

5. Get at least six hours of shut-eye. Sleep is imperative to regulating and healing cells.
Centenarians consider sleep a top priority.

6. Consume whole foods, not supplements. Eat the real thing, not pills or capsules. Go for dark whole grains, colorful fruits and vegetables and avoid over-processed foods, such as white flour and prepared meals.

7. Be less neurotic. Try not to internalize worries or stress, or dwell on your troubles. Go with the flow.

8. Be a creature of habit. Try to maintain a routine, get up at the same time, go to bed at the same time, eat the same kind of diet and maintain regular exercise. It’s a good way to avoid weakening your immune system.

9. Live like a Seventh-Day Adventist. Members of this denomination have a higher life expectancy than the average American. Adventists treat their body with respect which means no smoking, alcohol, or overindulging in sweets, sticking to a vegetarian diet based on fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts. Plus, they focus on family and community. We can use their example in our own lives, possibly not all aspects of their regimen, but use this lifestyle as a model.

10. Stay connected. Regular contact with family and friends is key to avoiding depression, which often leads to premature death. Being involved helps us stay alert. Regular involvement also encourages people to observe you and to make helpful suggestions, such as suggesting you see a doctor.

I think these are good tips to live by, even if we don't make it to 100.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Interview: Ruth Rymer, Author of Susannah, A Lawyer, From Tragedy to Triumph

It is my pleasure to have as my guest Ruth Rymer, author of Susannah, A Lawyer, From Tradegy to Triumph.

Welcome, Ruth. I’m so happy to have this opportunity to talk to you. First of all, I want to mention how much I enjoyed Susannah, A Lawyer. It appears you are especially qualified to write a novel with such legal depth. Please tell us a little bit about your background.

Thank you, Mary. I practiced family law from 1971-2000, had an enjoyable career, but wanted more in depth knowledge about nineteenth century divorce law and women's rights. I achieved that goal when I obtained my Ph.D. in 1995. My dissertation was: Alimony and Divorce: An Historical Comparative-Analysis of Gender Conflict. I was ready to write a novel about a late nineteenth century protagonist--one who had a big fight to join the legal profession.

It's always fascinating to read about women's subordinate role in our country's early years. Susannah is a work of fiction, but your research must have uncovered exceptions such as your protagonist, Susannah Reed.

Freedom, individuality and self-determination was the norm, for men only, from the instant our country emerged as the best hope for mankind. Women's break from our subordinate role is a process that continues today. Some woman was the first in everything: the first doctor, dentist, Congresswoman and the first lawyer, historic Myra Bradwell. The latter made an ideal mentor for fictional Susannah.

Saying the book starts out with a strong hook is an understatement. The violent attack Suzanna suffers is a terrifying scene. But even more shocking is the manner in which she continued to be victimized. In your research, did you uncover an injustice such as this?

No, I didn’t encounter any identical situations. However, nineteenth century literature is full of further victimization of women who engaged in sexual activity whether voluntary or violently involuntary as in Susannah’s case–from The Scarlet Letter to An American Tragedy. As Susannah lamented, "How could I descend from princess to prostitute in ten minutes?"

Some writers feel that writing a book that features many characters is more effective in third person. Susannah, A Lawyer, however, is written in first person, yet you manage to share many points of view through your protagonist. Did you find writing the novel in first person limiting or difficult?

I wouldn't have considered writing in other than first person. It permits the author to delve more deeply into the character of her protagonist, both as a narrator, and by italicizing her thoughts. The limiting factor is that other characters must speak for themselves. Susannah, as an attorney, helped them articulate who they were and what they wanted.

Without the book becoming bogged down, you manage to cover in great detail the period's apparel, social mores, family dynamics, and customs. Tell us about your research along these lines.

Susannah is the culmination of my life's work, experientially as a lawyer and as a researcher for my doctorate. Additionally, to prepare for this novel , I read almost everything that I could find about 1875 upstate New York and Chicago, including especially valuable novels written during the period.

Okay, final question. Can we look forward to a sequel of Susannah, A Lawyer? Tell us about your current work-in-progress.

Yes, maybe I'll do a sequel. The Hay Market riots in 1884-85 were another American Revolution - that of the labor movement. Perhaps Susannah will represent a fictional rioter who was badly treated.

Thank you, Mary, for this opportunity to talk about Susannah, A Lawyer, From Tragedy to Triumph. It's available at from bookstores and

Monday, November 2, 2009

Creative Marketing

Authors normally have a ready market in book stores. My local independent book store, Snow Goose, in Stanwood, WA willingly carries my books, Rosemount and McClellan’s Bluff. A number of times I have been invited to be a guest author with a nicely arranged table set up for me in a convenient location in the store. What a blessing! I appreciate their recognition and support.

Another splendid opportunity has opened up locally, Brindles Marketplace. Brindles at the Camano Commons, has been a special-interest store and more recently a restaurant, and has now invited local artists, and others with crafts, quilts, baked goods, fresh produce, cheeses, etc., to sell their goods during the holiday season. Sounds like a good place for books to me! I’ve rented three shelves for my books. My husband Bruce created a poster for each book, giving my work a special look in this creative market. Shopping for a unique gift at Brindles not only saves a trip to a distant mall, but it supports local vendors. A win-win for the community.

In addition to writing fiction, I also write destination articles, mainly for RV and travel magazines, and also articles of interest to homeowners. We combine research with camping trips, using our truck and camper, making the trips a vacation, fodder for articles, photographic opportunities for Bruce, and book marketing possibilities for me.

Not every town has a book store, but in our travels to rural areas, we’ve found ready markets in drug stores. Many small-town drug stores actually have a book section and are eager for new material.

Gift stores is another potential market. Often, when a gift store buys my books, I also give them book holders, a way to show off my products to their best advantage.

Since my books have a western flavor, I’ve also found interest at feed stores, western apparel and tack shops.

Many of our trips take us to eastern Washington and Oregon. We like the atmosphere of wide open country, or remote mountain landscapes. Stopping at small towns along the way is a wonderful way to appreciate the area, to get a feel for how the locals live. Most often, we find their lives run at a much slower pace–a nice change for us.

These trips are our vacation, time off for Bruce from his job and time off for me from writing and from my volunteer job with the Red Cross. If I’m wearing sweats or shorts, I don’t let that stop me from calling on a potential customer. I refuse to make these calls a dressy event–I wouldn’t call that a vacation. I’ve never had a store owner look askance at my apparel. Sometimes I’ll mention that we’re camping in the area and they’re pleased to share their part of the country and suggest places of interest to visit. Often, they’ve given me tips on who else might be interested in my books.

It’s common for me to sell 100 or more books on a two-week vacation, all accomplished at a very casual pace. I’ve signed my books in advance and adorned them with appropriate stickers, such as "Signed by Author," "Local Author" and McClellan’s Bluff’s "EPIC Award Winner." Store owners love stickers.

One advantage of non-book store markets is that most often they pay up front, rather than on consignment. In distant towns, bookstores will often pay up front, too, knowing that we won’t be stopping by frequently.

Locally, I’ve participated in fairs or other events. Sometimes I’ve shared space with another writer. That way, we can split the booth cost and we have each other for company. For these events, we sell each others’ books with as much enthusiasm as we sell our own.
I know there’s a huge market on-line, but I haven’t had that much success with on-line sales. My books are registered on many sites, I have a website and this blog. E-books are catching on so that market might open up more on-line sales.

In the meantime, I keep watching for opportunities to reach customers in unique ways. I’d welcome comments about how creative marketing has worked for others, either as a seller or a buyer.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Book Review: A Flickering Light

Jane Kirkpatrick’s novel, A Flickering Light, was inspired by her grandmother’s life and characterized by the author as biographical fiction. The author’s typical attention to detail and thorough research make this a story to remember.

Jessie Ann Gaebele’s love of photography dominates her life. Nothing pleases her more than to roam the countryside with her camera to capture Minnesota landscapes. Boys her own age bore her; homemaking is nothing but a series of chores. What could be more fascinating than finding just the right angle, telling stories with her images? At nearly sixteen, Jessie is through with school, but must find work to contribute to her family’s finances.

Jesse applies for a job as a photographer’s assistant. Luckily, the job suites her interests more than some jobs she’s held, though for her, portraits were not as satisfying as the spontaneity of nature photography. Soon though, she finds her niche in the shop, and under the guidance of her employer, Mr. Bauer, shows unusual talent for studio photography. Usually considered a man’s profession, photography in the early 1900's had toxic hazards with explosive powders and darkroom chemicals, including mercury, that could cause serious and recurring illness and even death.

Ms. Kirkpatrick has an extraordinary ability to draw readers into the world of her characters. In A Flickering Light, we recognize Jesse as an emerging young woman, dedicated to her unusual profession, but who soon realizes she can’t control her attraction for Mr. Bauer. We sympathize with Mr. Bauer’s struggle dealing with his children whom he loves, his effort to appease sour and often ill Mrs. Bauer, and the guilt he bears for the tenderness he feels toward Jesse.

Not only is the author adept in drawing us into this complex story, we also are brought into the world of photography, not only its creative nuances, but also the challenges and mechanics of the profession in the early 1900's.

A Flickering Light by Jane Kirkpatrick is an amazing novel, one I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a book you want to savor and don’t want it to end.

A Flickering Light, ISBN 978-1-57856-980-9, is available at your favorite bookstore or through A sequel, An Absence So Great is due to be released March, 2010. For more information about Jane Kirkpatrick, visit her website

Monday, October 19, 2009

Getting Your Name Out There

I had the honor this past week to speak at a writers’ conference. My hosts, Skagit Valley Writers League, in collaboration with Pacific Northwest Writers Association, provided an excellent forum for attendees.

Among the speakers were Jane Alynn, award-winning poet; Liz Adair, novelist and family historian; Lindsey McGirk, bookstore online marketing specialist; Chuck Robinson, co-owner of Village Bookstore in Bellingham, WA; and myself, non-fiction and fiction writer.

My session, "Writing for Pleasure, Marketing for Profit" delved into the nitty-gritty of selling non-fiction. I covered such topics as where to find magazines and other publications to buy your articles. We discussed what to include in query and submission letters.

I stressed the importance of knowing the type of rights to sell, such as all rights, first-time rights, reprint rights. As an example of reprint rights, I mentioned that I have had more than 400 articles published in magazines and newspapers. Many of these articles previously appeared in publications, then were resubmitted as reprints to other magazines. This allows me to reach a broader audience and at the same time get more revenue for my work.

We discussed the importance of a "hook," both in a query letter and in the article itself, something to grab an editor’s attention in the first paragraph. Submitting images is essential to sell most articles, even if the publication chooses to use their own or stock photography for the published article.

Many times research for one article will branch out into other articles. For instance, we went to Molokai, Hawaii for our 25th wedding anniversary. While there, we risked our very lives, riding mule-back down one of the highest sea cliffs in the world, the steep, 26 switch-back Kalaupapa Trail to Father Damien’s leper colony. From that one Hawaiian trip, I wrote two different articles to submit to two different magazines.

I wrapped up my presentation discussing the importance of record keeping, keeping track of submissions and following the process to its conclusion: query, submission, acceptance, publication, getting paid.

It’s fun being a part of a writers’ conference, talking with people eager to learn from successful writers.

Being a presenter at a conference is also a way of getting your name out there. Name recognition is important for a writer. Also, we writers lead a solitary profession–it’s gratifying to mingle with other writers and like-minded people.

I thank my hosts for this great opportunity. For additional information on Skagit Valley Writers League, please visit

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Review: A Gift of Dogs by Carolyn Wing Greenlee

The dog carries herself proudly. She has a mission and her alert no-nonsense attitude tells everyone they encounter–don’t distract me, I’m busy. I’ve got a job to do, a person to guide safely. This is serious business–my person is counting on me and she needs all of my attention. After reading A Gift of Dogs, these will be my thoughts when I see a person with a service dog.

Carolyn Wing Greenlee’s book, A Gift of Dogs, is a remarkable compilation of twelve stories from San Rafael Guide Dogs for the Blind November/December class of 2008. It’s a book precious for its insightful depth of what it means to be blind and that its definition is as different as the individuals involved. Each chapter depicts a unique solitary journey, but everyone featured in this book has one thing in common: each has been blessed with a guide dog.

Because I know Carolyn Wing Greenlee from our association with the writers group, Women Writing the West, and treasure her as a friend, I was most interested in the chapter of the book which deals with her own blindness. Although she and I had discussed her visual impairment, I hadn’t known of the sheer terror of her sight slowly but surely closing down with RP–Retinitis Pigmentosa. She speaks of her mother’s fatal illness and the thing they held in common: they both shared a deterioration and woke each morning with less.

Carolyn is a writer and a professional photographer with shows at museums and galleries. She is Lake County’s third Poet Laureate and is expected to perform public readings. How could she pursue her career? She felt her life spiraling downward.

A flyer from Earle Baum Center for the Blind came in the mail and she could make out from the large letters that a dog event was happening. She called to inquire and one thing led to another and her world began to offer glimmers of hope. For one, she met a specialist who connected her to technology that would read to her, enlarge and project her work on a computer monitor. She received counseling to help her understand the sorrows, depression and frustrations associated with blindness.

After a four-hour home visit to test suitability, Carolyn was accepted at Guide Dogs for the Blind at San Rafael, California, recognized as one of the best guide dog schools in the nation.

At the school she found herself surrounded by people who understood her limitations, who offered one-on-one training, trips to fascinating places, comfortable accommodations. The program lasted 28 days. Carolyn says that it was barely enough time to learn what she needed to know.

When Carolyn first met Hedy, a small female black Lab, it wasn’t love at first "sight." Hedy, like many Labs, had a stubborn streak and tested Carolyn to the limits. The dog seemed to love her first trainer more than Carolyn. But gradually, Carolyn learned to give clear directions and follow the guidelines of persistent alpha leadership. Hedy was totally managed by Carolyn–feeding, grooming, exercising, working, playing, cuddling. Eventually, Hedy and Carolyn bonded. Through the school’s guidance, they learned to trust one another and become a team.

"It’s everything I wanted and more than I could have wished," Carolyn says, speaking of the privilege of having Hedy. "I have something I could never have had if I were not the way I am, and it makes me feel vibrantly whole."

This is a worthy book that answers questions most of us could never ask in person. A guide dog is priceless to its owner and institutions devoted to the support of this effort are to be applauded. Because of the arduous training of dogs and their handlers, people who were home-bound can now enter the workplace, visit places they would have never dared to go, and become an independent and vital part of our society.

A Gift of Dogs, by Carolyn Wing Greenlee, ISBN: 978-1-887400-40-4, may be purchased directly from the publisher, Earthen Vessel Productions, 3620 Greenwood Drive, Kelseyville, CA 95451, or through their website, Please indicate if you’d like to have an autographed copy by Carolyn and/or a paw print stamp by Hedy.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Time of Renewal: Women Writing the West Conference

Carolyn Wing Greenlee with guide dog Hedy and Mary at UCLA

It’s a spiritual experience, our Women Writing the West annual conference. Seeing old friends and making new ones is enriching beyond words. Among these women, and a few men, too, we make friendships bound through our love of writing. We share writing experiences, our successes, our hopes and dreams.

This year’s conference was held on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, a departure from previous conferences.

Throughout Friday and Saturday, inspiring panels and workshops broadened our world of writing as we learned what agents are looking for, what makes publishers notice our work, a wonderful session on the evolution of transportation in the west and the role women played. We learned about California’s untapped treasures, we were given the latest in marketing techniques. We all dream about having our work appear on screen and we were given practical approaches in presenting our work to producers. And finally, we were introduced to refreshing creative writing skills.

As we normally do each year, registrants have an opportunity to have one-on-one 10-minute appointments with agents, publishers, marketing specialists and a books-to-screen specialist. This year I coordinated that event. Again, I was reminded of the old saying, "the more you put into something, the more you get out of it." Working on the logistics of this task forced me to learn and work with spreadsheets beyond what I had previously learned. I worked with a great team and was gratified by their dedication and enthusiasm.

My own appointments with several of these experts helped refine my strategies for when my next book, Tenderfoot, is released within the next few months. Today’s marketing is so much more technical than when my last two books were published. Public appearances are still important, but marketing on-line is a vital piece of the process now.

Delightful speakers are always a part of the conference: the Friday evening buffet, Saturday luncheon celebrating the 2009 WILLA Literary Awards finalists, and Saturday dinner celebrating the WILLA winners.

Two tours were offered as "extras." I participated in the Friday morning bus tour of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. What fun! I couldn’t go on the Sunday tour–Getty Center Exhibition–because of my early afternoon flight home.

Many among the membership are successful writers with several books published, others have only one or two, some have never published a word. Yet all are welcomed with the kindness and warmth of a true sisterhood.

My heartfelt thanks to this year’s committee for a memorable conference. For more information on Women Writing the West, please visit

Monday, September 28, 2009

Business Cards: Marketing That Works

Successful marketing requires presenting the right image. A business card not only provides contact information, it introduces you, your book, product or services. It reflects who you are.

At a minimum, a business card should have name, address, phone number, e-mail address and website URL. If your business has a logo, include that, too. Some writers have their book’s cover art on their cards; other writers have several writing interests and want to present a wider image.

You needn’t be flamboyant, but like all marketing tools, you want to make an impression to help the contact remember you. Look at other business cards and define your likes and dislikes. Your business card defines you–make sure yours is the quality you want to impart.

When you design your business card, make sure the printing is large enough to comfortably read. If you design and print your own business card, use an appropriate card stock weight. Business cards printed on skimpy stock give the wrong image.

Two-sided business cards allow space to show your wares–perhaps a book cover with ISBN, etc. Of course, the more extras you have adds to the cost.

Brian Jud, marketing specialist, emphases the importance of business cards. "Your business card can be a portable, affordable and versatile marketing tool." Jud, author of "How to Make Real Money Selling Books" offers these tips on the use of business cards.

1) Never leave home without them–keep extras in your car, purse, and briefcase. Store them in a card case to prevent damage.
2) Insert a business card with all correspondence.
3) Use proper business card etiquette. Take a moment to study a card when it’s handed to you.
4) Be generous–hand them out at trade shows, personal presentations and networking meetings.
5) Have a professional card with complete, updated contact information in a readable type size.
6) Consider a magnetized card to place on a refrigerator, a daily reminder of your book.
7) Give one to receptionists after your media events to reference when listeners call later to ask about you.
8) Make notes on others’ cards to remember what you discussed and when/how to follow-up.
9) Give people a reason to hold on to your card–write a personal note on the back or a code to receive a discount when ordering.
10) Place them on bulletin boards at local restaurants, supermarkets, libraries, your gym and other public places.

For more marketing ideas, visit Brian Jud’s website:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Careful Planning Can Ease Effects of Disaster

After a disaster we can usually count on local officials and relief workers to be on the scene, but they can’t be everywhere at once and, depending on the type and scope of disaster, it could take days before help arrives. In most areas we’re used to the efficiency of 911 assistance, but remember, telephones are often knocked out by disasters, along with roads, water systems and electricity.

In a large disaster you likely will be responsible for your family’s safety and well-being for an extended period of time.

In addition to your Disaster Supplies Kit (discussed in my 8-30-09 blog) prepared and stored in convenient places, other important steps should be considered:

Utility turn off Teach every responsible family member how to turn off water, electricity, and gas. If you smell gas after an earthquake, shut off the main gas valve. Keep a wrench attached to the gas meter with a wire. Do not light a match; use a flashlight if electrical power is out.

Plan how your family will stay in contact Consider three possibilities:
– Agree on a location a safe distance from your home in case of fire
– In the event you can’t return home, agree on a location outside your neighborhood
– Make arrangements with an out-of-state relative or friend where family members can call to "check in." Many times local lines are out of order or jammed, but you can still make long-distance calls.

Discuss what to do during an earthquake Discuss and practice with the whole family earthquake and other emergency procedures. If indoors during an earthquake, duck under a sturdy table or desk. "Drop, Cover and Hold" is the slogan to remember for indoor safety. Cover your face and head to prevent injury from glass and debris. If a table is unavailable, move to a major wall or doorway, away from windows or objects that could fall.

If outdoors, move to an open area, away from falling objects and utility lines. If you’re near a body of water, move to high ground. If in transit, stop your vehicle away from buildings, bridges and utility lines and stay inside the vehicle until the shaking stops.

Ensure that your home is structurally safe Make sure your home complies with local regulations. Strap upright hot water heaters to the wall, bolt bookshelves to the wall. Go through your home, room by room, with an eye toward safety.

Learn First Aid and CPR There’s no question–First Aid and CPR training saves lives. Contact your local American Red Cross to sign up for these classes.

Remember, it is not difficult or expensive to be prepared, but it is up to you. If a real emergency should strike, your family’s safety and well-being will depend on how adequately you have prepared for them. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the task to be done–just take it one step at a time.

It’s impossible to plan for every potentiality, but your contingency plans will eliminate much of the confusion and inconvenience resulting from a catastrophe. What could be better than the peace of mind this preparedness will give you?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Review: A Heart for Any Fate

Suzanne Lyon’s A Heart for Any Fate paints a vivid picture of the life of Hannah Allison Cole, an ancestor of the author. Though a work of fiction, Lyon draws on her impressive frontier lore expertise to fill in missing pieces of this extraordinary woman’s life. The story portrays the life of a young woman from her 1790 wedding day in Southwest Virginia to her 1843 death in Western Missouri.

Although many facts are known of this remarkable woman, Lyon has given Hannah dimension through speculation based on research and woman’s intuition. The author shows meticulous attention to the period’s customs and attitudes.

Sections of the story unfold in the journal Hannah keeps, written in the form of letters to her husband’s cousin, Dolley, who later becomes the nation’s first lady, Dolley Madison. Although the letters were never mailed, the journal brings to life woman-to-woman details of a strong marriage, but a marriage of challenge, heartbreak and fear.

True to the time, Hannah follows her husband to migrate west, leaving her comfortable home and family to uncertainty and disasters, yet with hopes and joys. Hannah’s brother-in-law marries her sister, and strained relationships fuel a turbulent attraction of forbidden love.

Wonderfully vibrant, A Heart for Any Fate weaves our nation’s early history into a story filled with emotion, hardship, and most of all, enduring love.

A Heart for Any Fate, originally published in 2005 by Five Star, may be purchased through the author’s website or ordered by e-mail

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Assembling a Disaster Supplies Kit

In recent years our country has experienced some serious disasters–hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, mud-slides, wildfires, earthquakes, terrorist attacks. We know it can happen. How prepared are you if any of these catastrophes should it happen in your neighborhood?

Keep in mind that in a large disaster first responders and assistance organizations will be overwhelmed, meaning you likely will be responsible for your family’s safety and well-being for an extended period of time.

Preparedness isn’t difficult and needn’t be expensive, but it takes time and planning. Take the steps now to ensure your family’s safety in an emergency. The American Red Cross urges every household to assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit with enough supplies to last three to five days. This kit will help provide your family with the necessities should you need to evacuate, or to be confined to your home.

Consider these items for your Disaster Supplies Kit:

WATER. Water systems are often damaged during disasters, allowing harmful microorganisms to contaminate water supplies. You must have clean water available to survive and it is a simple matter to have water on hand.

Empty bleach jugs make ideal water containers, but any clean, sturdy plastic containers will work. Keep in mind that an active person needs at least two quarts of water a day, more with intense physical activity. You should store at least a 3-day water supply. For example, a family of 4 should have a minimum of 6 gallons of water on hand.

A water shortage could exist beyond three days. According to the U.S. Department of Health, there are three alternatives you can take to provide clean water for your family: If available, obtain water from a safe source, such as bottled, sterile water; another option is to boil water for three to five minutes, which is possible only if you have fuel for boiling; or, you can treat water adding unscented, liquid chlorine household bleach.

Disinfecting with bleach may be more practical than boiling. Follow these simple steps furnished by the Department of Health, State of Washington, to help ensure water purity for your family:
– Add 8 drops of chlorine bleach to one gallon of water. If water supply source is cloudy, double the amount of bleach.
– Let mixture stand for 30 minutes prior to use. Waiting 30 minutes is very important, because the chlorine needs this time to kill harmful organisms.
– Chlorine bleach treated water should have a very slight chlorine odor; if not, repeat the dosage and allow the water to stand for an additional 15 minutes. If the chlorine taste is too strong, expose it to air when possible, or add additional water.

FOOD. Store at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable food. For food storage, use covered pails, or other containers that can be easily carried and stored. Consider foods that are ready-to-eat or that take very little cooking, such as canned prepared meals, powdered milk, and high energy foods (granola bars, peanut butter, etc.).

If after one year you haven't needed these goods (and let's hope you haven't!), replace these items with a fresh supply. Even canned goods have limited storage life and you want to be sure your emergency food is absolutely safe to eat. Warning: Never use cans that show signs of bulging or corrosion.

FIRST AID KIT. Assemble a first aid kit for your home and for each car. A plastic tool box or tackle box works well for a kit. Include adhesive and rolled bandages, antiseptic, cleansing agents or soap, and other standard first aid supplies such as aspirin, ant-iacid, and anti-diarrhea medication.

TOOLS AND SUPPLIES. If you are campers, you will have most things on hand for emergency tools and supplies. Keep your RV, camper, or tent in ready condition to be used as temporary housing. In your emergency supplies, include dishes, cookware, and stove, plus emergency stove fuel. Include flashlight and batteries, ABC type fire extinguishers, candles and matches.

It's a good idea to keep your car's fuel tank at least half full at all times. In the event of disaster, service stations may be unable to operate their gas pumps, so it's a good idea to keep a can of fuel stored in a safe place at your home.

CLOTHING AND BEDDING. Include at least one change of clothing and bedding per person. Include sturdy shoes, hats, gloves, and rain gear.

SPECIAL ITEMS. Remember special needs, such as for infants or disabled persons, medications, eye glasses, and entertainment items such as reading material, games, and cards. If you must evacuate your home, remember to take your family documents such as medical records, insurance policies, and wills.

Cash is another special item to have on hand. Without electricity, ATM's will not be available; your credit cards and checks won't work either. During an emergency, banks and stores might be closed. If stores are open and electricity is off, much of their equipment will be inoperable. It's a good idea to have on hand a supply of cash in small denominations so that you can purchase necessary goods.

LIST OF EMERGENCY SUPPLIES. Make a list of your supply categories and where they are stored so that nothing will be overlooked in the event you must suddenly evacuate your home: water, food, first aid kit, tools and supplies, clothing and bedding, and special items including cash.

Assembling a Disaster Supplies Kit will give you confidence and peace of mind should disaster strike. If you need to evacuate your home, or be confined to home, you will have the basic supplies you need. Act now to protect your family. For additional emergency management information, visit

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Review: Lucy Shook's Letters from Afghanistan

Lucy Shook’s Letters from Afghanistan, edited by Shook’s daughter Liz Adair and granddaughters Ruth Lavine and Terry Gifford, is an amazing chronicle of an American woman’s view of Afghanistan from 1965 to 1970. Serving with the United States’ Agency for International Development, Lucy’s husband, Jim, works in agricultural development while Lucy oversees their life in an Islamic country she describes as "2,000 years behind the times."

Shook soon finds that running a home staffed with servants isn’t fully utilizing her capabilities and she takes on the responsibility of a Staff House, a respite for visitors. Along the way, she becomes involved in the lives of those who work for her. She endears herself to these hard-working people of grinding poverty, people who are capable of such love and dedication that she is often moved to tears.

In the course of business or pleasure, the Shooks travel throughout Afghanistan, taking the reader along on camel rides, desert markets, and the oddities of doing business in a third-world country.

Shook successfully manages both her home and the Staff House and becomes known as an expert hostess. Indeed, she frequently manages two or three events in a day, often honoring dignitaries with 150 or 200 guests in attendance.

During their tenure in Afghanistan, Lucy suffered a severely broken leg and several environmental illnesses; Jim recovered from a heart attack and also had sundry illnesses. But they forged on, bolstered by their strong Mormon faith, relying on the love for family, and gathering strength from letters from home.

Shook’s letters to her children reveal great compassion for life and for doing her very best with materials at hand, all with honesty and openness to her own short-comings. Her witty and loving approach to her fellow man endears her not only to those she served, but to her readers as well.

On a personal note, as a former Peace Corps volunteer (1979-1981, The Gambia, West Africa), I appreciated her involvement with the Afghanistan volunteers. Living at the other end of the spectrum, Peace Corps volunteers don’t usually have much in the way of luxuries such as air conditioning, a balanced diet, even opportunities to carry on a conversation in English. Being invited to the Staff House must have seemed like heaven on earth to those volunteers.

Afghanistan has now become a household name, yet I doubt if the people have changed that much since the Shooks lived among them. I highly recommend this book for a look at a country few of us understand; at a people fierce, yet loyal to a degree we seldom see in America. Books can be ordered through Liz Adair’s website is

Friday, August 14, 2009

In the event of my death....

We’ve all heard the sad story of a beloved parent passing away, leaving the sorrowful family without a clue as to how to take care of the estate. Sometimes, when there are no directives, disposition must be decided by a court. It’s a sad enough time, but when left with the burden of "cleaning up" the deceased’s property and personal affairs, it’s really helpful to have things in order.

My husband Bruce and I tackled this job a few years ago. Our oldest daughter has been appointed the executrix of our estate. We have provided information for either the surviving partner or, in the event of our simultaneous deaths, the executrix to finalize the particulars of our estate.

You don’t have to have an attorney to prepare these papers, although depending upon your situation, it may be wise. There are good forms available for the various documents recommended. However, you should have the documents signed by two witnesses in the presence of a notary public. Following are documents you should consider:

– Individual wills - a legal document declaring a person’s wishes regarding the disposal of their property when he/she dies
– Durable Power of Attorney - documents appointing one another as Attorney-in-Fact, or an executor/executrix if neither survive
– Community Property Agreements
– Living Will - A Directive to Physicians regarding life-sustaining procedures you wish to have
– Directives regarding Funeral and Burial, or Disposition Authorization for Cremation
– Other directives such as whether or not you want to have viewing of bodies, scattering of ashes, traditional funeral or celebration of life, etc.
– Stipulate whether you are organ donors

If you keep important papers in a safe, make sure the executor knows the combination. If you keep things in a file drawer, make sure the executor knows exactly where to look. It’s good to have copies of these documents someplace other than in the home in case of fire or other disaster.

In addition to the documents listed above, another document with the following information will assist the executor or surviving partner in taking care of the many details that present themselves.

– Social Security Numbers, Birth Dates, Driver’s License Numbers
– Cars - makes, models, license numbers
– Insurance: life, cars, house, health. List policy numbers, agents to contact
– Financial/Investment information with name of bank or institution, account numbers and contact information. Include credit/debit card information. Indicate where statements from these institutions can be found so the executor knows how much money is involved.

It’s a good idea to go over all of this with your appointed executor/executrix ahead of time. Grief is tough enough without having to figure out complicated business issues.

It took us quite awhile to gather this information into one document. Imagine how difficult it would be for someone else to do it!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Protect Your Investments with a Household Inventory

We learned the hard way the benefits of having a household inventory. Years ago my husband and I returned home from work and found our home had been broken into. Anger, feelings of violation, disappointment in our fellow man and anxiety followed–the usual gamut of emotions. Our bedroom was such a mess with clothing and personal possessions strewn about that it took us quite a while to determine what was missing: an antique handgun that had been in my husband’s family, and two pieces of jewelry.

A household inventory can save you big money--and headaches--should tragedy strike, such as theft, fire, or other disasters. An inventory will help you keep track of everything you own, documenting your losses, and assist you in determining the cash value of your possessions. Also, a household inventory is valuable when establishing the value of your personal property for insurance purposes.

The aftermath of a disaster is confusing and frustrating enough without trying to recall the particulars of your possessions. For items destroyed in fire or flood, a household inventory will help you remember what you had. Insurance adjustments are expedited more efficiently when information can be gathered from current documentation.

Creating a complete and accurate inventory is easier than ever with tools most of us already have. Here are some pointers:
– Create a spreadsheet or table that lists every room in the house. Don’t forget the garage and items in your cars.
– Calculate the value of each item, date acquired and the cost. When appropriate, list serial numbers, particularly for electronic equipment, household appliances, etc.
– Calculate the total for each room and the grand total of your home’s contents. This is valuable information for establishing an insurance claim.
– Take video with commentary or digital images of items of worth–jewelry, appliances, electronics, etc. Pictures help to determine the full magnitude of your loss. Take pictures of entire rooms in addition to individual items. When possible, take close-ups of the model number/serial number label.
– Print out a copy and keep it, together with the pictures, in a safe place, but keep the original file on your computer so that it can easily be updated. It’s a good idea to keep a copy of the inventory someplace other than your home–perhaps at work or at a family member’s home.

When possible, engrave your driver’s license number and your state’s abbreviation on as many items as you can–especially electronics and appliances--to ensure a greater chance of recovery of stolen items. This is especially true with today’s law enforcement computer networks. Engraved items are more difficult to sell; therefore, marked items lose their appeal to thieves.

Your inventory will also help you establish how much insurance coverage is right for you, and identify any items not covered by basic insurance that may need a special endorsement or rider to your policy.

Over the years, you have invested in your home and possessions. When you add up all the personal items, furniture, and appliances you own, you will probably be amazed to find how much money is involved. Should you suffer a loss, time spent today in making a household inventory can be crucial in safeguarding a speedy recovery.

For more information, visit

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Review: Walking Nature Home By Susan J. Tweit

In Walking Nature Home, A Life’s Journey (University of Texas Press), Susan J. Tweit takes us on the remarkable sojourn of her life. Through her eyes we see the night sky’s constellations and learn how they link life to the universe. We learn the value of not only human love, but the love of nature and the connection to all living things.

Tweit takes us back to her childhood, privileged with loving parents who took the time to teach the author and her brother the lessons of nature, lessons that she drew on and enhanced as she matured.

Diagnosed with a life-threatening autoimmune disease, Tweit learns to harmonize her life with the universe, to draw on strengths found in nature’s cycles. She dares to leave the conventional–of both medical treatment and lifestyle–to pursue a life filled with spirituality, knowledge and love. As a naturalist, she shares her inspiring perception of the constellations, of birds, of affinity with her beloved Colorado with its wild and raw landscape, and of working with the land to coax sustenance from it, one small patch at a time.

Walking Nature Home is a moving story of courage and determination. At times fighting even to breathe, Tweit slogs on, working toward a life of harmony. She finds enduring love and learns the give and take of unconditional commitment between man and wife and of family. The book is a remarkable memoir of intuitive wisdom and personal triumph of this woman’s journey toward healing power.

For more information about this inspiring writer, please visit her blog:

Friday, July 3, 2009

Honor Our American Flag: Fly It Properly

The sight of the American flag billowing in the breeze stirs feelings of freedom and of pride. Our flag represents continuity, something that we, as American citizens, can depend on. It represents what we stand for and who we are. To give the American flag the honor and respect it deserves, it should be displayed according to the current Federal flag code.

When flying the flag, it should never touch the ground or the floor. The flag should never be drawn back, but always allowed to fall free.

The flag can be flown every day from sunrise to sunset and at night if illuminated properly. The flag should never be flown in inclement weather except when it is made of all-weather material.
When the flag is displayed in a public place from a pole, it is always hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously. The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point when a number of flags are grouped and displayed from staffs.

If the Stars and Stripes is displayed with another flag against a wall with crossed staffs, the American flag should be on the flag’s right (the viewers’ left).

When the flag is hung over a sidewalk on a rope extending from a building to a pole, the union stars are always away from the building. When vertically hung over the center of the street, the flag always has the union stars to the north in an east/west street, and to the east in a north/south street.

When the flag is used to cover a casket for display, the union stars are placed over the head and left shoulder. It is never lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.

The flag should not be flown upside down except as a signal of distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

On Memorial Day, the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon then raised to the top of the staff. When a person or group of distinction dies, it is also common practice to fly the flag at half-staff. The flag is first hoisted to the peak for an instant, then lowered.

When a flag becomes tattered and is no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be disposed of in a dignified manner, preferably by burning.

Let’s show pride in our country and respect by displaying the American flag properly.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Live Your Dream: Make It Happen

Photo by Bruce Trimble: The road ahead.

You can live your dream. Let's look at some ways you can make it happen.

First of all, look at your dream realistically. Is it something you really want to do, or is it just a fantasy? Are you willing to make sacrifices to make it happen? Will it be in your best interest to have this dream fulfilled?
Pretend it has already happened. Although we can't always visualize just how a fulfilled dream would be, we can come close. Be realistic--drop the romance, the rosy glow that usually accompanies dreams. Acknowledge the challenges that are bound to happen. Does it fit? Can you see yourself there? Is your dream worth the tough times? If so, see yourself overcoming the obstacles.

For us, our dreams, among others, were going to Africa and cruising the South Pacific. Although we’ve had to make sacrifices to make them happen, we’ve never regretted our decisions to act on those dreams and turn them into reality.

I still dream of going places and doing exciting things. One way I've found to fulfil that dream is by volunteering with the American Red Cross locally and nationally. So far I've responded to 38 major disasters and have been able to help victims of fires, hurricanes, mud slides, floods, tornados and terrorism. It hasn’t always been easy. At times I’ve found myself in situations way past my comfort zone, with more adventure than I bargained for. But at the end of an assignment, I’ve felt great satisfaction that I’ve met another challenge and at the same time have helped others in distress.

Traveling with our camper also fulfils our sense of adventure. Our destinations are often out-of-the-way places, such as the Yukon or camping on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land with no amenities, sharing the land with wild habitat.

After our cruise to the South Pacific (See Live Your Dream: Sailing the South Pacific, below), I dreamed of becoming a professional writer. I’d taken a few creative writing classes in the past and then began attending writing workshops and conferences. My first submissions were to boating magazines, destination articles and specifics about off-shore sailing. Later, as we became interested in overland travel, I submitted to RV magazines. Several months passed and although I'd submitted articles to many magazines, I had no luck in getting published, only in collecting a discouraging pile of rejection slips.

I wondered, "Is writing what I'm supposed to be doing?" I seemed to be taking the necessary steps. I spent all my spare time at my computer. Though I did meet family commitments, I usually turned down most activities that didn't point toward fulfilling a writer's dream of being published. Still, no success.

I prayed for a sign that I was on the right track. "Please," I prayed, "give me some sort of sign that I'm pointed in the right direction." Then, in the month of March of that year, three different magazines published my work, articles that had been submitted over a period of several months. I took that as a positive sign, one that I accepted as a go-ahead. Since then, I've had more than 400 articles published in magazines and newspapers, plus two books published with another to be released this year.

How do you know if your dream is worthy of the work it takes to turn it into reality? One sign is that if it's all up-hill, if things eventually don't fall into place, take a second look. Maybe you're dreaming someone else's dream. Or, maybe this dream needs to happen at another time in your life. If your dream becomes a struggle and that struggle makes you unhappy, regroup and pray for guidance.

How do you make dreams happen?

Stay out of debt. Buy on credit only the absolute necessities. Debts can control your life. To be in control, make the sacrifices necessary to keep out of dept. You'll find a wonderful freedom and increased options.

Let go. Let go of the trappings often associated with success. Acquiring possessions is all right if that's all you want out of life. But if you want to fulfill a dream, let go of the extras.

Get rid of clutter. Eliminating the clutter in your life paves the way to move on to other goals.

Simplify! Learn to savor simple foods. Reduce your wardrobe. Learn to enjoy long walks. My husband and I have found that most of our dreams have been planned on our daily three-mile walks. Keep activities to only those you enjoy. Eliminate parties you really don't want to attend or being with people you would just as soon not see.
Make yourself available for opportunity. In order to fulfill a dream, you must be ready. You never know how a dream's realization will manifest itself and open doors to opportunity.
Take action. Go beyond the planning stage. Take steps to make your dream happen. Take classes, attend lectures, research on-line and communicate with people who share your interests. Ask lots of questions. Set the stage for your dream to take shape. Taking action can steer you in the direction of your dream, and you will find the pieces falling into place.
Take care of yourself. A simple lifestyle is a healthier way to live. Many of the issues I've mentioned here help to keep us centered and free from unhealthful mental clutter and anxiety.

Pray for guidance. Is this the right goal at this time in your life? Ask for help in recognizing opportunities and overcoming obstacles.

Remember to live for today. Having dreams and working toward them is good, but living is a present state--not the future and not the past. Find ways to enjoy life now while working toward the future.

Go for it. In my father's basement work shop a small plaque hung on the wall quoting Dr. Samual Johnson, 1708-1784. It says, "Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome." The plaque now hangs in my home office, and reminds me not to wait until everything is perfect before I act. Some obstacles can be ironed out as they occur and many of the problems we anticipate never happen. So, when most circumstances point toward success, make your move. Go for it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Live Your Dream: Sailing the South Pacific

Photo by Bruce Trimble. My t-shirt reads "Escaped Mom: Don’t tell anyone where you saw me"

Eight years after we fulfilled my dream of going to Africa, the adventure bug bit again. This time, my husband's dream was calling. He had always wanted to own a sailboat, a real, ocean going vessel, and cruise around the world.

This dream would be expensive. We wouldn’t have incomes and, as anyone who’s owned a boat knows, a boat is a hole in the water into which you throw money. We formed a five-year plan and worked toward that goal. Surprisingly, in two years we could see our way clear to set sail.

Again, we sacrificed in order to make our dream come true. We found a suitable used sail boat, a forty-foot Bristol, and began the work and expense of outfitting it for ocean cruising. We altered the dream by agreeing on a more realistic South Pacific trip, rather than circumnavigating the world. By limiting our journey to the South Pacific, we could sail at a more leisurely pace and stay longer at each port-of-call.

To prepare, we rarely bought anything not directly related to the cruise--no unnecessary clothes, no expensive trips, no major home improvements.

We dried fruit and vegetables from our own garden as we stocked a two-year food supply. Close to the time of departure, we held a garage sale to eliminate all the extra stuff we'd accumulated over the past few years. Since we didn't want the complications associated with renting our home, we sold it. This was traumatic for me, more so than for my husband, but our focus was this trip and that's what it took to get it done.

We lived on our boat for six months before departure, taking short, local sailing trips, then cast off for the South Pacific, traveling 13,000 miles in 14 months.

Although sailing for 14 months might sound leisurely, it is far from it. When at sea, someone must always be on watch, to make sure the boat is traveling on course, to ensure that a freighter isn’t bearing down on us, to watch for weather changes that might entail changing sails. At sea, our watches were four-hour shifts: four hours on and four hours off, around the clock. Therefore, when making passages, we never got more than four hours sleep at one time. With just the two of us on board, we never could sleep together while at sea.

Cooking at sea is challenging. While the boat is rocking and rolling with the motion of the sea, the cook tries to hang on with one hand and put together a meal with the other. I was the primary cook and managed pretty well, but it wasn’t easy.

Bruce’s expertise with rigging sales, his self-taught celestial navigation skills and his intimate knowledge of all the working parts of our boat, kept us safe and on course.

But, oh, the exhilaration of being at sea! The stunning sunsets with absolutely no obstructions, the closeness of the stars at night, the delightful porpoises as they accompanied us into ports. Once we acquired the correct heavy-duty equipment, fishing for our dinner was commonplace. There’s nothing to compare with fresh albacore tuna, straight from the sea.

Cruising, while it certainly holds its glorious moments, can also be demanding, dangerous, and exhausting. But the landfalls make it all worth while--to actually feel and smell the warm tropical air of the French Marquesas, to hike to the pointed tip of Mount Pahia in Bora Bora, to experience the blue pristine water in Tahiti, to ride the funky buses in Samoa to sparkling white beaches, to dive among the underwater coral gardens in the Kingdom of Tonga. Going to market brought much joy and offered ways to taste paradise. We made delightful friends among the warm, friendly people of the South Pacific as well as with other boaters like ourselves.

At sea we found new and different strengths. We learned we could depend on each other in good and in hard times. When at sea, you can go for days, weeks even, without seeing another living soul. On one leg of our journey, 21 days passed before we spotted another boat on the horizon. It isn’t uncommon for shipmates to part company at the first land-fall after such close togetherness, but we didn’t experience that sort of strain. We found joy in sharing books, in dreaming about what we’d do next with our lives, and thrilled together as we approached landfalls.

Yes, we’d taken a chance on this venture. It was tough and it was expensive. But we’d fulfilled another dream and have lasting life-time memories. We returned with a solid sense of accomplishment and a strengthened attitude about life. We could create our own destinies.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Live Your Dream: Fulfilling a Dream of Africa

Bruce and I met while SCUBA diving. We love adventure. After we'd been married a year, we yearned to do something different. What about the Peace Corps? We checked into Peace Corps opportunities.

I can't remember a time when I hadn't dreamed of going to Africa. We learned that as Peace Corps volunteers we could fulfill this dream and at the same time help meet desperate needs in a tiny West African country, The Gambia.

In order to make our dream of going to Africa come true, we had to sacrifice. We both gave up good jobs. We had no debts except our mortgage. We rented out our home for the two-year term of service and the rental income paid our mortgage with a little to spare. (Peace Corps volunteers receive no salary but receive a modest living-expense allowance.)

Living in an African Mandinka village 250 miles from the capital city and 120 miles from the nearest paved road was fascinating, but it wasn't easy. Our home was a mud-brick hut with a grass-thatched roof. Temperatures soared to 115 degrees. We had no running water but drew our water from a United Nations well, thankful it was pure. Our latrine, which we shared with another African family, was a hole in the ground, surrounded by a flimsy woven fence in a corner of the compound.

We had no car and walked wherever we went locally. For more distant travel, we took a bush taxi, a small pickup with wooden benches in the back and a canvas roof, reminiscent of a covered wagon.

Bruce worked with a United Nations well-digging unit, providing reliable wells for villages where traditional wells were drying up during a long drought.

As a "health volunteer," I reported to work at a bush hospital, a 32-bed facility that also held well-baby and ante-natal clinics. I'm not a medical professional, but my record keeping skills were welcomed in organizing a system to account for patients seen and medications used. I was the only non-African working at the hospital.

At first I cringed at this medical center which appeared to be so unsanitary. Due to shortages in fuel to operate the generator, we were often without electricity or running water. Flies were everywhere. Food for patients was prepared in large kettles cooked over open fires on the ground. Laundry was done by hand. But eventually I could see that we were accomplishing something--lives were being saved and, through inoculations, diseases at least partially controlled.

I had only heard of many of the Illnesses commonly seen in The Gambia, such as polio, tuberculosis and leprosy. I witnessed several deaths caused by tetanus, snake bite, and countless cases of horrible skin diseases and infections. Still, the majority of deaths were the result of water-born illnesses, especially among the very young and the old.

For two tough years we served in The Gambia, and gained a profound awareness of life at a basic level. To trim away all the extras and live a plain, simple life was to learn new truths about ourselves. We were tougher than we thought--than we ever imagined we could be. Living simply brought great satisfaction.

We both believe we made a contribution in our host African country, but it didn't compare with what we brought home--lasting memories, feelings of accomplishment and dreams fulfilled.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Live Your Dreams:Get Rid of the Clutter in Your Life

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."

You can live your dream. One powerful way to make your dream a reality is to get rid of the clutter in your life. At first, this seems a daunting task, but once you get into the swing of it, you’ll find that eliminating the clutter around you frees your mind, your space and your energy. It can even save you money.

Sometimes it seems as though we spend all our time and energy getting ready to live, but we is a present state, not the future and not the past. We tend to overlook the moment of now. We're constantly rearranging our belongings to fit our current situation, dragging along things from previous lifestyles. We spend precious time and space on "things" that no longer have meaning to us. Basements, garages, drawers, closets and mini storages are filled with clutter, stuff we'll probably never need or use again. Is that accumulation of stuff valuable enough to put up with the clutter, and even expense, of hanging on to it?

Several years ago my husband and I purchased a 40-foot sailboat and realized our dream of sailing throughout the South Pacific. When we returned from our fourteen-month cruise, we sold the boat. Some of our friends were aghast. "How can you bear to sell that boat?" Because we no longer needed it.

Marinas are full of boats that never go anywhere, year after year. Because the boats at one time were important, people can't bear to part with them and as a result they use precious time and pay expensive marina fees and upkeep on something that's become a burden. We did what we set out to do and it was time to go on to other pursuits.

With some of the money from the sale of the boat, we bought a camper and for the last several years have thoroughly enjoyed overland travel. Over time we’ve upgraded our camper, getting a larger one to accommodate our needs. As long as we're using the camper, we'll maintain it, pay the license fee, and enjoy it.

It has been our experience that after the fervor of thoroughly enjoying an interest, such as scuba diving, which we did for several years, we move on to other activities and rarely return to that particular hobby.

The idea that we'll get back to that scuba gear or that old ham radio equipment encourages us to hang on to this stuff. But the reality is that if we should want to return to that particular hobby, we're going to find our equipment archaic. With technology as it is today, yesterday's state-of-the-art is almost antique now. When I see scuba divers enter the water today, I marvel at the difference between the equipment they carry and what we used a few years ago.

Here are a few tips on freeing your life of clutter:

-- Learn to let go. Give magazines you’ve already read to schools or convalescence centers. Give all but your really special books to book drives that collect them for a cause. Give clothes to thrift shops or to shelters. Dig deep–you’ll be surprised when you discover you don’t even miss those things.

-- Start with one room and clear out all the stuff you don’t need. Make five piles:
1) Throw away
2) Give away
3) Sell
4) May need to keep
5) Need to keep

Ask yourself these questions as you sort through these items: Do I still need this? How long as it been since I used it last? As you toughen up, you’ll find more and more items fit in the first three piles. Go from room to room–you’ll be amazed at the wonderful sense of freedom this will give you.

-- Selling items can be rewarding in more ways than building your income. Don’t use the money to buy more "stuff" unless it’s something that will add significantly to your life. Tuck the money away to help make your dreams come true. Sell items through:
1) Garage sales – either your own or jointly with neighbors or community groups
2) Place ads in the local paper or a classified ads paper
3) On-line through a website such as Craig’s List

-- Curtail your spending. Sooner than you think, the items you feel you must have today are tomorrow’s clutter. Before you buy, give yourself at least a one day "cooling off period." More often than not, you’ll reconsider making that purchase.

Clutter, the accumulation of old stuff, holds us back. It dictates where we live, what we do with our time. It gobbles up our money in storage fees, or even in housing requirements--we could live in smaller, compact homes if we didn't have so much stuff. Or, we could enjoy the luxury of larger more spacious feeling without a lot of clutter. Just imagine--without all that clutter, you could park your car in the garage! What a concept.

Cut through the clutter of your life. It takes a little determination, but the rewards are great. You'll find it tremendously freeing. With a critical eye, check your home, look around your storage areas, and see what can be eliminated. The newly created space, the freedom from clutter, will be its own treasure.

Now that you have less clutter in your lives, can’t you see your way more clearly to realizing your dream?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Heidi Thomas: Growing Up in Rural Montana

Jordan Dormitory alumni: Heidi’s Dad, class of 1942; Heidi, class of 1968

It is my pleasure to have Heidi Thomas as my guest during her blog tour. Heidi’s coming-of-age novel, Cowgirl Dreams, a story about her grandmother, has met with wide acclaim. At one time she mentioned to me that during her high school years she lived in a dorm during the school week, since their family ranch was too far from school for a daily commute. I find this fascinating and have asked her to tell us more about that part of her background.

What do you do when you live 150 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart (or K-Mart, etc.)?

Actually, when I was growing up on a ranch in eastern Montana during the 1950s and ‘60s, there weren’t any of those ’Marts, so I didn’t know what I was missing! The nearest town of any size was Jordan, population about 200.

You might say that I lived a life that was rather similar to that of my grandmother’s in many ways. So, in that respect I feel like I could identify with how she grew up.

We did live a mile and a half from a little country grocery store and Post Office at Sand Springs, so we could go there for groceries. But many people lived 30 to 50 miles farther from the main highway and they would take their big cattle or grain trucks in to a larger city in the fall to stock up for the winter. If it was a long winter with a lot of snow, we might not see them for four or five months!

So, because there was no bus service, when I attended high school, I stayed in a dormitory during the week and came home on weekends. About 60 out of the 150 students in high school, lived in the dorm, a two-story building across the street from the school.

Boys lived on the first floor and girls on the second and we had a no-nonsense dorm matron who made sure we adhered to the rules. After school hours, we were required to sign out and in, we each had chores assigned for a month at a time, we had to be present for meals, and we had a 9 p.m. curfew. The exception to that was the one or two nights a movie showed at the local theater. If the movie ran longer than 9 p.m., we were excused.

Because of the “baby-boomer” generation, the dorm was filled to capacity during the four years I lived there. Most rooms housed three (some had four) girls. Can you imagine that many teenagers sharing one tiny closet? We tried to pack clothes for a week at a time, but it was still a little on the crowded side. We shared a communal bathroom, with one shower stall.

Dorm life was something I had in common with my dad, who lived there during his senior year in 1942. He told me out of 109 students in high school, only three had their own cars, so more students stayed through the weekends during the winter.

My parents often took me to school on Monday mornings and picked me up Friday afternoons, or I sometimes rode with neighbors. I did have my own car when I was a senior.
Extra-curricular activities were few in those days. Some kids “cruised the drag” (Main street was about two blocks long), some boys were involved in basketball (no girls team and no football team). I was involved in chorus, band and the school newspaper.

I returned about 20 years later to do an article about the dorm for Montana Magazine. By that time, residents had dwindled to fewer than 20, because of a decline in the general student population as well as added daily bus service to the outlying areas.

In many ways, the landmark founded in 1936 had not changed much. The rooms were spartan by most teen standards. The bunk beds of the ‘60s were dismantled into single beds and some of the rooms were empty. But each still reflected the personality of its occupant.

The Jordan dorm was the last public high school dormitory in the United States when it closed in the mid-1980s.

Thank you, Mary, for hosting me today, and thanks to all of you for joining me on this blog stop. Come back tomorrow for an interview on Teens Read Too and an article on “Connections” on the Women Writing the West blog