Paper, Pens, and Post-Its


Backpacks for a new school year

Book stores top my list of pleasant stores to visit. Office supply stores come in second. Yesterday I stopped into Office Depot to buy a medium spiral notebook, the size that fits in my purse. A helpful young man directed me to Aisle 13 where I found a 3-pack with red, blue, and black covers. Of course, I couldn’t check out yet. What if I’d forgotten something? Better to refresh my mind. So, I strolled other aisles, as I’m prone to do. Good thing. I soon recalled I hadn’t yet picked up my donations for Project 1649, Rock County’s organization that helps homeless youths. I kept roaming but with a new purpose. I wandered, analyzing, choosing.  Backpacks, pens, pencils, highlighters.

From an early age I’ve loved school and office supplies. I guess it’s how I roll. In first grade I had a box of Jumbo Crayons. In those days, the eight colors came in a heavy, flat cardboard box with a lift-off lid. I recall placing the colors in a special order. Purple and orange were always in the center. They were the royalty, the king and queen. Brown and green were on each side, the courtiers. And on. Not sure why I did this, except for my enchantment with stories my mom read from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. As I arranged the vibrant colors, I’d think of the stories. A daydreamer.

Vintage ad for Nifty Notebook

Vintage ad for Nifty Notebook, 1963

The appearance of the Nifty Notebook in about 5th grade awed me. It had a such a cool, sleek look with it’s two top holes, and magnetic pencil box. A vintage ad from shows it on sale for $.98 with filler paper at $.69. It was a bit pricey for a large family in the early 1960’s. I knew if I wanted such a cool notebook, I’d have to buy it myself with earned money. And I did. I saved and bought a lovely green version. Although I only used it for a year or so, I held on to it for ages, buried in my bottom dresser drawer, then in a box. Memories.

August is the month to hunt for and buy school supplies. Shopping for them, or even just strolling through the stores brings back the excitement of Back-to-School. Backpacks, three-ring binders with fresh packages of notebook paper, colorful pocket folders, pencils and pens, erasers, rulers, scissors, index cards, composition books. And who can forget the fragrant smell of a new box of crayons?

IMG_4830 I recall shopping with my sons for their supplies when they were young. It was a fun time, bursting with anticipation for a new school year, a year to be filled with learning and creativity. Using their brand-new supplies, they learned printing, handwriting and telling stories. They painted and colored. They wrote spelling words and numbers. They made images from their growing minds.

I’ve been a student, a mom, a secretary, and a writer.  In the wonder and joy of each profession I’ve needed these supplies. They’re the tools used to communicate and to create. Of course, I haven’t touched on the technology that first came in my sons’ middle years. The wonder of that is for a different post.

Winter Muse

I’ve always been fascinated by winter. I’m not sure why.  Maybe because I was born during the month of January.  It could be because my parents were from northern Minnesota or that their ancestors all hailed from northern Europe.  From my Wisconsin childhood, I recall snowbound winters and a few temperatures of 30 below, not wind chill. Whatever the reason for my fascination, even though I most enjoy the crisp, colorful months of autumn, I feel most at home in winter.

This year I should be ecstatic.  Winter has walloped the land with blast after blast of vicious storms.  The wicked weather has caused schools and highways to close. On ice-coated highways cars crash, and trucks jackknife.  Downed power lines send tens of thousands into the black, cold night of an earlier time.  Not good, but I never said that I liked winter, simply that it fascinates me.

I grew up hearing stories about the deep snows and blizzards of Minnesota.  My grandparents and great-grandparents were farmers. In their youth on the northern plains, they had no central heat. Indoor plumbing consisted of a kitchen sink with running water. As a child, my mother attended a one-room schoolhouse where they warmed wet mittens and cold lunches on the wood burning stove. Imagine the smells created by that steamy mixture.

Maybe its because of these true stories that many of my own fictional tales are mainly set during the winter months.  To me, the season signifies a time of change, and of conflict.  In historical works especially, life is a continual struggle. While the primary trouble in my stories is always between people, winter provides a great background.  It adds conflict to an already conflicted tale.

Weather of any kind helps to set a mood in stories.  It adds to the realism.  It can be the gentle touch of a spring rain, the glaring heat of July’s sun, or the whipping winds of winter.  Generally, winter works best for me.

Writers, think of your own stories.  Do you have a recurring season that inspires your work?  Please share. 

Spring 2010

It was a long winter. Outside, heavy snows blanketed trees and bushes as blizzard followed blizzard. Schools and highways closed with only emergency vehicles allowed.

Inside, on the worst of the days, our family huddled together. While the winds whipped the willows, within our kitchen’s warmth we sipped hot tea and savored bowls of chili.  Grateful to be safe from the treacherous roads we chatted, cherishing our time together.

Snow days can make for good memories. For those who can stay inside, they are a true gift.

I didn’t accomplish much this winter. I haven’t for a long while. It’s been months since I’ve blogged. Months since I have read.  Or written.  Months since I’ve done much of anything except life’s bare essentials – my job, laundry, minimal housework (not that housework has ever been a priority 😉 ). For a long time, I’ve felt tired. Fatigued. Nothing concrete enough to push me to seek medical help, just tired.

I’ve only had one major illness in my life. I’m not prone to seek medical advice for myself. But late this winter a lingering infection sent me to the doctor. I’m glad I went. After a series of blood tests, they found the underlying cause of my fatigue.

I believe that a diagnosis, whatever it might be, changes a person. One starts down a different path.

For me…my values have re-awakened.  Nutrition habits have changed. I’m on meds.  Temporarily at least, the doctor’s office is now on my speed dial. I will become healthy again.

I am a winter child. My whole life I have been happiest in winter.  This year, as the snow melted and lilac leaf buds burst forth from seemingly dead twigs, I’ve come to see the relationship between winter and spring in a new light.   A new road opens ahead.

It has been a long winter for us all, but spring has come. 


I love seasons. They bring a natural change and order to life. Spring blossoms into verdant summer. Autumn gold fades to brown then gray and winter white. As the snow melts, new life springs forth again and renews the cycle.

writing-blog-0051Changes are a part of life but how often we resist them only to find ourselves bogged down in the mire of monotony.  A prime spot is in our personal lives.  Recently, taking a lesson from nature, I made a few changes in my life.  Small ones but, in subtle ways, they’re making a big difference.

My first change was something I don’t often do.  With my husband’s help, I re-arranged some furniture – our television, a table and lamp, a few chairs.  What a result!  It opened up the room making it feel larger, allowing us to see the windows in the next room.  Now, there’s a homier feel when we sit there.  Who would have thought?

Early Saturday evening, we’ve started turning off the lamps and TV. We light writing-blog-0122some candles and, seated together in our rearranged family room, we listen to Garrison Keillor and guests on A Prairie Home Companion, an old time radio favorite. For a few hours we relax in a different time with the only commercials aired of the Powdermilk Biscuit variety.

I’ve made other changes, little ones.   I’m cutting back on coffee, and sampling varieties of tea instead.  Because of this, I’ve discovered the refreshing flavor of Bigelow’s Earl Gray.  I’m also trying various brands of chocolate.  Ghiardelli is now a favorite.   And finally, I’m dedicating one hour a week to creating a new character or a new story – something not part of my current wip.   This simple exercise helps stimulate the mind.

→What changes are you making in your life in this still fresh New Year?  What changes would you like to make?  Big or small, change can invigorate the soul.  Try it.

Preparing for Christmas

We bought our Christmas wreath today. We’ve had an artificial tree for nearly two decades, but each year Christmas Wreathwe drive up to a tree farm at the base of the Pocono Mountains to buy a real wreath. Oh, I love the piney smell that oozes from a real tree indoors. A wreath hanging outside in the cold doesn’t give off such a scent. But that’s how things have developed in our home. We trim a fake tree hauled up from the basement, and hang a real wreath hauled down from the Poconos. It’s now a tradition.

This year’s wreath is smaller than last year’s. Most everything about this year’s Christmas will likely be smaller. No matter what a person’s income, it has become impossible for anyone to ignore the country’s current economic condition. And who knows what 2009 might bring?

Across America, banks are foreclosing on houses. Factories and plants are closing their doors. Those still employed wonder – am I next? Layaway plans are making a comeback and frugal living blogs abound. Rampant worry over the publishing industry has published authors encouraging others to buy a book to give this Christmas. Hey, a book is a great gift anytime!

Our giving this year leans heavily toward the practical, and the personal. Our sons are now on their own. They’ll find useful gifts under the tree. For geographically scattered siblings, I’ve created a newsletter blog. For others, I’ll give gifts from my kitchen.

But how does this influence our writing? The industry has realized that we’re in a recession. Publishers are laying off employees and downsizing books. For aspiring authors, is it practical to maintain professional memberships? What about next year’s conferences? Can we hope to sell? But in the grand scheme, does it matter? Life, after all, is a cycle. Shouldn’t we simply keep writing?

And shouldn’t we rejoice in the spirit of the Christmas holiday? This year can again be a time of profound beauty, if we prepare.

Will the current state of the economy influence how you celebrate this year and, if so, how?

Summer Blues

Today the sky is a brilliant blue, the sun a radiant yellow. Outside it is 82 degrees. Not much humidity. The lazy days of summer beckon. Through the open door, I smell the fragrance of late blooming flowers and freshly mowed grass. As my husband steps out onto the deck, a warm breeze caresses my skin. I ache to join him there, to bask in the glorious warmth of this last day of August.

But I’ve played too long. The book must be finished. I must return to it.


So I take a deep breath and close the door. Nudge up the air conditioner. Turn the blinds. Then I plant myself in the chair and mentally handcuff my wrists to my laptop.

I shut my eyes. Project myself back…back into a time of no computers, no electricity. Back into a 19th century Midwestern winter blizzard. The air conditioner kicks in but, in the distance, I imagine it is the howling wind. I shiver. Almost there now. I reach for my cup of coffee to warm my cold hands. Almost.

When I write my next book, I must figure out how to better coordinate the seasons.