Posts tagged ‘North Dakota’

February 4, 2014

Kindles, blogging and changes


Oh, how I have loved my Kindle. It’s been a companion for me for almost three years now, filling the gaps in my time while I sat in waiting rooms, the car, and, most often, here at home.

Imagine my distress when it didn’t power on last week.

Thankfully, it was just a low battery (I think). I’ve been careful to keep it charged since then, but it did bring to mind the fact that everything changes.

Even this blog.

If I remember right, I started blogging here in the spring of 2011, and I promptly took a really long break while my family moved and settled into our new home. I tried blogging again in late 2012 and followed through with some serious blogging until about April of last year. Then I took another long break, blogging only here and there for the past several months. All this after writing a blog about North Dakota for two years, and then setting that one aside for good…

BottledWorder has an excellent post about this sort of thing. To answer her questions–yes, I have taken several breaks from writing–and yes, I always miss it.  I always come back to it.

It does, however, sometime seem necessary for me to take a step back and re-evaluate what I’m doing, especially whether it’s fitting in with my overall life. I enjoy too many things too much to keep them all on the back shelf while I’m writing. This past year, my writing hiatus led to the idea of a no-deadline kind of lifestyle.

I’m now ready to report on that experiment. Except, I don’t really know what to say.

I don’t miss the stress of deadlines, especially the ones I place on myself.

I do miss the happy-busy-writing feel that blogging gives me. It’s a quick fix when I can’t get to my other works-in-progress.

I don’t miss writing by an editorial calendar (mostly because I tend to pack it too full of things I can never really get to, which means I have to keep revising my plan).

I do miss the surprising twists blog posts sometimes seem to take.

I don’t miss the moments when I’m scrambling for a picture I deem blog-worthy enough to attend my writing.

I do miss regular interaction with all my blogging friends. I’m sorry to say that if I’m not blogging, I’m not online enough to read other blogs, either. I’ve missed it, and it’s made me realize just how important other bloggers are to me.

So I guess the bottom line is this: I want to blog more. Again.

No promises on how much or when, but since I’m a work in progress, I guess this blog has to change with me.

I suppose that’s really part of the fun of it, anyway. 🙂




November 20, 2013

When writer’s block is a physical thing

frozen grass

Sometimes writer’s block can be a physical thing.

As I write this, I’m thinking back across the past twelve years of my life and the events that have both shaped and interrupted my writing.

There were new babies, changes in jobs, health challenges, visits from friends and family from out of state, summertime gardens and winter sledding excursions. Once there was an almost-debilitating legal battle with someone I had considered a friend, and two other times, my family and I moved across the country.

While these life changes have generally resulted in a more mellow me, there’s no denying this fact: a difficult new mental landscape can keep writers from their works-in-progress, at least until they learn new routines that allow them time to sit and write. Also, life changes don’t impact just the mental and emotional state of writers. They can have profound impacts on how and when the laundry and dishes get washed, when the bills get paid and even what kind of transportation writers use.

I’ve been lucky lately. I’ve actually made it to my desk every day this week, and each time, I make a little progress on my writing projects.

Not a lot. A little…some days, a very little…but the joy of writing is still joy, and I cherish those fifteen-minute segments. They’re often the highlight of the day.

Writing is always in my plans, and I hope as I navigate the current set of changes, I’ll find a way to move my beloved hobby further up the list of my priorities.

For the past few hours as I’ve contemplated my writing, I’ve had an image in my mind of tall grass poking out of the snow. I used to see this quite a bit in North Dakota winters, and the beauty of it always amazed me–especially on bright sunny mornings, when ice crystals clung to the grasses. Those were dazzling mornings of gold and diamonds.

I’m not saying that my writing is gold and diamonds–although, of course, I hope it is. I just appreciate knowing it’s still there, even though sometimes it has to winter over. It pokes its head up now and then, enjoys the sunlight and makes me smile.


September 30, 2013

Favorite scents to write to

My office scent-dispenser

My office scent-dispenser

I often see posts from other writers about songs that inspire them, but what about scents? Is there a favorite scent that sparks the imagination more than others?

Personally, I think I work quite well to the scent of clean. In my home, this seems to be a mix of citrus scents, light floral scents and an occasional very light whiff of bleach. I’m sure this is because I’m less distracted when my home is clean. However, I’m starting to wonder if there’s more to it than that.

Years ago, someone told me people think more clearly when they smell peppermint. If I remember right, it had something to do with helping oxygen cross the blood-brain barrier. I wondered about it for a long time, particularly after the school my daughters were attending started passing out peppermint gum for children to chew during testing situations.

More recently, I read about an experiment in Belgium where the scent of chocolate was studied as a way to aid marketing. The outcome was intriguing: sales in romance books or books related to foods rose 40 percent, while sales in other genres saw an increase of 22 percent.

From the article:

Researchers observed every fifth customer who came into the store, for a total of 201 customers. They observed “purchase-related” customer behaviors like looking at several books closely, reading the summaries of books, hanging out in the store, talking with staff and asking questions.


Overall, the researchers found that patrons were twice as likely to look at multiple books closely and read what they were about when the scent was in the air. They were nearly three times as likely to interact with personnel and ask questions after browsing the whole store.

I have two thoughts on the matter:

  1. Someone should invent chocolate-scented paper and/or chocolate-scented e-book readers.
  2. I stay at my desk and get more work done when my Scentsy-type candle warmer is on…could this be because I keep mint chocolate scented wax in there?

Hmmm. Food for thought…please pardon the pun.

Just for fun, I raided the drawer where I keep all my scented wax cubes to see what I use most. Here’s the verdict:

Mint chocolate still comes in first.

Scents with lavender are a close second, and then scents with cinnamon and/or vanilla. I also really, really like scents that remind me of the woods. I use white pine, spruce and Christmas-y scents, although not so much in my office—those are mostly used in other areas of my home.

I’m reminded of a friend who goes to the library to write, partly because with three children, it’s the only time she has to herself. When I think about it, I always remember the smell of old books. I think I could write to that, too.

I’m also reminded of a horrible incident where, unbeknownst to me, half a can of tomato juice spilled on a neglected stack of papers behind my office door in North Dakota. During this time, I was working twelve hour days covering the state legislative session for a local paper. Because I was so busy keeping up with the daily deadlines, I didn’t have time to look for the source of the smell until the weekend. By then, I couldn’t concentrate any more.

It was truly awful.

So now I have to ask: do other writers have favorite scents they write to? Or scents that make them unable to write at all?

September 29, 2013

Why Dad is one of my writing heroes

My dad as a young man

My dad as a young man

I’ve said several times I don’t try to impress anyone, but there are a few people in this world whose good opinion of me (and my writings) I treasure dearly. That’s been on my mind lately, and as I’ve reflected on the people that matter most to me, my thoughts keep flowing to my dad.

He and my mom are alike in important ways: they seek with all their hearts to serve other people, they make a point of befriending the friendless, they’re loyal to their families and kind to everyone they meet.

These examples have had a huge impact on my writing. I enjoy writing most when I know it’s going to cheer someone up or inspire someone or just help someone relax.

That said, there are some ways Dad has influenced my writing that I don’t think anyone else could have done.

  1. When I was young, Dad read fiction–mostly western novels by Zane Grey and Louis L’amour. Although I never really did get into western fiction, I picked up the books enough to get the feeling of the plots behind them. These are my first memories of thinking about and trying to understand plot structures. My thoughts were completely unsophisticated, but they deepened my curiosity. I learned to love learning about (and trying to create) a good story line.
  2. Similarly, my dad read a lot of nonfiction. Not because he had to–because he wanted to. For years, I didn’t understand that. Now I find myself buying and devouring more nonfiction books than fiction books (I downloaded about 20 textbooks to my Kindle for PC lately) simply for the joy of learning. I feel a deeper connection with my dad because of it.
  3. About a year ago, I took a difficult assignment that required me to compare North Dakota’s oil fields to the oil fields in another state (where, coincidentally, my dad used to work). He did something completely in character for him. In order to make my writing life easier, he spent an entire afternoon teaching me what he knew about the oil industry. That afternoon is a specially treasured memory.
  4. Most recently, Dad boosted my lagging confidence with a simple question: “What have you been writing lately?” And my heart soared; he cares about what I write, and that makes a lot of difference in how I view my own work.

It’s not that dad writes. It’s that he helped me love a variety of writing. Very occasionally, I even love my own writing now. I’ll always be grateful for his influence.


August 25, 2013

Bruschetta for writers

Homemade Bruschetta and string cheese

Homemade Bruschetta and string cheese

I have wonderful memories of cold winter days made warm by the company of good friends.

Once a week, we met together to talk, work on projects, watch chick flics and allow our young children to run around in the immense back yard of one particularly wonderful lady.  While they wore themselves out in the snow, we rejuvenated our minds and hearts.

Here I found willing readers for my first attempts at fiction, encouragement when I accepted challenging nonfiction assignments and dedicated discussions about books. We talked about books we were reading, books we loved, books we hated, plot lines and characters and what made certain books original. I found several new favorite authors this way.

A larger group of us met once a month for lunch. In the summer, we often picnicked at parks in and around the Bismarck area. During cold weather, we met at restaurants.

One February day, we met at Olive Garden, where one of my dearest friends introduced me to Bruschetta.

I’m busy chopping fresh garden tomatoes today, content with the idea of Bruschetta for dinner.  It’s like dining with a friend.

I’m inclined to believe that all writers need friends.

Author Janet Sketchley recently put it this way:

We may do the actual writing alone, even if we do it best amid the background chatter of the local coffee hangout, but it’s the writing community that lets us thrive.

I’m nodding my head here. Writers need a strong network, for emotional health if for nothing else.

I haven’t been able to attend a slightly geographically-distant critique group for months now, but the few times I was able to attend saved my sanity during some rough times.  I’m hoping to get back to it this fall. I loved it.

Likewise, I love the local writing group that I attend more regularly. I love chatting with my daughters about their own works-in-progress, and I love that some of my writing friends I’ve left behind will call me two or three times a week just to talk writing with me.

I do, however, think that writer’s friends can—and should—extend beyond other writers.

Like my Bruschetta friend from North Dakota, and my daycare-crib-keeper friend, my German party friends, my do-it-yourself home decorator friend, my librarian friend, my running friends.

Those friends are now joined by my dessert club friends near my non-North Dakota home—the one who takes in pets for the animal shelter, the one who creates beautiful beaded hair  clips, the one who knows how to make gum paste flowers for wedding cakes and the one who enjoys Dr. Who and Monarch of the Glen.

Every person is amazingly unique, and yet it seems like any time I get together with friends, we talk about stories of some kind. I learn something from each interaction with them. Usually, I learn something about myself.

I believe that transfers directly to my writing. It makes me both a better person and a better writer.

These moments with friends are like the basil in my Bruschetta—they make something ordinary like garden tomatoes into something completely wonderful, something worth savoring and worth sharing.

May 17, 2013

Growing pains

When she was just a year old...

When she was just a year old…

Something big happened this week. Something that, even though my family talked about it, I didn’t see coming, didn’t expect, wasn’t prepared for.

Finding jobs near where we live has become next to impossible for teenagers. A downturn in the local economy means that all the jobs youth used to take are now filled by adults struggling to take care of their families. As a result, my eldest daughter started looking for work elsewhere.

On Tuesday, we traveled to my parent’s home, hours and hours away.

On Wednesday, my daughter interviewed and was offered a job with a local fast food franchise. She accepted it.

That night, I left her in the wonderful care of my parents–for the next few months. She’ll come home to visit only a handful of times. We’ve both had some tearful moments. I imagine the rest of the spring and summer will be that way, and she’ll come home completely grown up.

For a few days, I was heartbroken enough to not want to write. At all. That hardly ever happens to me.

Thankfully, she seems to be settling in pretty well. Her co-workers seem to like her, she likes her job and she loves spending time with her grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. She has school work and her job, and she plays with her dog when she’s  not busy with school or work. Most likely the time will fly by.

It’s caused me quite a bit of introspection. Have I taught her the confidence she needs to face society without me? Will she find ways to be happy when she’s homesick? What tools have I passed on that will help her reach her goals? What bad habits that she’ll have to overcome?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit this week about life with her when she was tiny. She is one of the reasons I started writing. I wanted to be home with her, and with her siblings when they came along. I still needed a way to connect with the outside world, and I needed a way to help with finances, even if what I brought in was meager.

I wouldn’t trade it now for anything. I took her with me on all kinds of interviews. She traveled with me to towns I visited and wrote about for ND Business Watch. She came into shops with me, sat quietly in armchairs while I visited with people in their homes, followed me everywhere. We had fun. We still talk about the towns we saw, the museums we wandered through, the parks and the libraries and the rivers and the way tiny old shops on forgotten Main Streets became treasure chests.

Writing meant we were together.

Even during the hard times, the long days I spent away from home during legislative sessions, we were sometimes sneaky enough to find ways to eat lunch together. She pampered me on deadline weeks by sorting the laundry and starting the dishes, and I spoiled her when I could.

All in all, I think I got the better end of the deal. There’s nothing like just spending time with your child, nothing as wondrous as seeing them enjoy what you do.

And nothing is as difficult as letting them grow into their own thing when it’s time.

These are just growing pains. We may not be together all the time, but we have ways to keep in touch, and we use them often. As broken-hearted as I feel, I also feel that this is right. This is how it’s supposed to be.

I’m finally getting over the poor-me syndrome. I’m wanting to write again, and again, she’s a large part of my motivation. She’s old enough to really understand what it’s like to work, and I want to make her proud of me. It pushes me on.

I will always be grateful to her for that.

May 11, 2013

Friday Photo Poetry: Relief

An old grain silo at sunset, in North Dakota

An old grain silo at sunset, in North Dakota

As sun’s last rays fold colors into gray

and brightness into twilight’s solitude,

I stare down the scarce remains of Day

and gather all my strength, to change my mood.

Night-time is a song I love to sing,

so I find peace in every setting sun–

but deeper now, the solace Night will bring

comforts me. (I’m glad this day is done.)

Happy Friday, everyone!

April 5, 2013

A sonnet for three friends

It's a natural high. :)

It’s a natural high, in more ways than one! Three geese flying over Mandan, North Dakota 🙂

In hues of blue and pink, new day will rise

to send its gifts of joy across the snow.

Three friends will laugh aloud, take to the skies

and share delight in life where e’re they go.

They carry different burdens, different pasts,

and different eyes from which they view the land,

yet they fly on as long as friendship lasts,

flocking to new adventures. Understand,

The day will come when each must fly alone

into a sky as vast and wide as dreams

where they may battle foes as yet unknown;

They’ll never be as lonely as it seems,

because they’ve learned, together, how to fly.

Their strength becomes the world’s natural high.

This poem is for one of my daughters and two friends she grew up with. They’ve all taken different paths now–they live in different states and are at different stages in their lives, but I know the experiences they shared in earlier years built a tremendous amount of personal strength in my daughter. I will always be grateful for that.

March 29, 2013

Friday Photo Poetry: ballerina on a bison

Bison in North Dakota

Bison in North Dakota

My future’s guarding every road,

sharp points attending burly glares

as if to say, “Forget what glowed,

and just return to empty stares.”

I’m not afraid of what might be,

the pain and fear that I must ride,

if only I can pass and see

dreams, coming true, on the other side–

and if, perhaps, it comes to this,

my future is where I will stand.

En pointe, I’ll wave and blow a kiss,

riding into my promised land.

March 22, 2013

Friday Photo Poetry: When summer sweeps in

rose hips 2

There’s fruit now, where the roses have been.

The promise of life and the gift of snow

will bring the roses once again

when Summer sweeps in from the lands below.

This one is simply because it snowed…again…and I’m missing the sun. 🙂 

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

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