Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reading The Summer of the Great Grandmother

I had read The Summer of the Great Grandmother by Madeleine L'engle several years ago when she was the writer in residence for Victoria magazine.  I decided to reread it after reading a few of her novels earlier this summer.  Madeleine's insights into dealing with an aging mother are both comforting and devastating now that it is happening in my own family.  To see someone who was always the matriarch: intelligent, commanding, and  immaculately organized failing physically and mentally is very painful.  It helps to walk through it with Madeleine even though our paths are diverse.  At times I pause and just marvel at what an exceptional writer she was.  At other times I wish she had been more consistent in her writing instead of meandering off into her own religious theories.  Madeleine's religious symbolism is very meaningful to me in her novels, but it seems if she didn't comprehend something spiritual that she rationalized it until it became something she could accept.  This seems a little dangerous to me but I look beyond it because of the fine writer she is.  I then read an older article in The New Yorker that portrayed her life very differently than her books.  It made me realize that authors can be destructive to their families by what they write.  That adds a whole new context to being a writer.  It is not worth the cost of alienating those you love.  Yet, if she hadn't written, we wouldn't have A Wrinkle in Time.  What a loss that would be!  There must be a compromise that one can meet to have both worlds but I see now that isn't an easy road.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Flight  (noun randomly generated by Word Generator)


I stood on the brink of adulthood
Ready to take flight
Or so I thought
I even had a Bible passage to inspire me
That I was taking out of context:
And you shall know the truth
And the truth shall make you free.
Free of adult supervision,
free of their rules and stipulations
free to follow my dreams…
So  I took flight
but I had the wings of Icarus
and flew too close to the sun
and quickly fell to drown in the sea.
There is no place of freedom
life has a structure and form
we must follow.
The only way to be free
is to live within that structure:
enter and follow a flight plan.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday Quick Write

This week, I had a dream that everyone in Teachers Write (like a thousand of us!) took a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with the assignment to write a poem in response to any piece of art we loved. (I was in line for-EVER buying special exhibit tickets for everyone, but after that it was great fun!) If you’re itching for a writing prompt today, why not try it? The Met’s collection is online here – choose something you love and let it inspire a poem if you’d like. Kate Messner

Report from Rockport (Stuart Davis)

Squiggles and snippets
bursts of color
bright color springs forward as
paler ones recede
geometric shapes capture
a jazzed up town
pale yellow Main Street leads to
the local garage
where even the gas pump and nozzle
become funky art forms
the vitality of urban life
becomes music to my eyes

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thursday Quick Write

Think of the place that is home for you. It might be where you live today, or perhaps where you grew up. Wherever you choose, be sure to pick a place that you know well. Take one minute to write down every detail about this place that you can think of.

Done with the first part? Now we’re going to twist it around. Take the rest of your time to write about three changes that would make this place utterly altered for you–changes that would mean it was no longer home.

What sort of changes? That’s entirely up to you. Perhaps you’ll change how home looks, or smells, or  where it’s located. Or maybe it’s the people there who make it home.

This prompt aims to help you draw rich details from familiar settings into your fiction, and to also see how they can be altered to be something entirely different for your stories. Think of it as taking a favorite pair of pants to the tailor and coming home with a pencil skirt!
The cottage is ramshackle with a musty smell as you open the door.  Spiders spin their webs in the windowsills undisturbed in all the seasons but summer.  A Franklin stove in the corner warms up cool mornings or toasts marshmallows on cool evenings.  The cottage is really one big room so you never have any privacy, but it is this togetherness that makes vacations memorable.  The kitchen with its tin brown cupboards, working at the 50's stove with a view of the lake while you cook, the old farm table where we gather for meals or to play cards in the evening, the overstuffed, rough fabric chairs and couch for lazy afternoons.  The cottage was built by my husband's grandpa in the 1940's and has never lost the feel of those times:  a slower time, a world known only to me from books.  It has an outhouse out behind that we now use as a shed that definitely brings to mind earlier times!
Twist:  The new "cottage" is complete!  The three story mansion overlooks the lake with beautiful views out of the picture windows and patio doors.  The state of the art kitchen has every feature a gourmet cook could wish for.  We gather in front of the massive stone fireplace for a family meal under the rustic chandelier.  The smell of fresh pine emits from the new wood throughout the building. The cottage is built so that each family has its own sleeping quarters, so everyone can go their own way.  During the day we hardly see anyone, so each person can pursue their own interests and only join the group when it suits them.  There is a sauna and a whirlpool bath in each sleeping area, with windows that overlook the lake or surrounding woods for a peaceful, relaxing reverie.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Monday Morning Quick Write

Monday Morning Warm-Up:

Think of someone you love or have loved (or detested, that can be fun too!) and make a list poem like the one above, describing all of the traits that made that person special, unique, memorable, frightening (you get the picture). Try to avoid clich├ęs. Instead, give us specific tidbits that show how the person's eyes sparkled rather than say they did--don't fail at it like me! :-) Once you have your list, circle your favorites. Think about why you like those the best. Now try to use similar ones to describe the characters in your works in progress. Give them their own particularities that might reveal something deeper about their personalities. But mostly, as I said last week, try to have FUN!

 My Grandma Ungemach
She loved to spoil us with all kinds of treats
even though my parents had asked her not to.
Because she had six living children
she had nineteen grandchildren
but each one was special to her.
She worried about me if I was pale
because once I had to be taken to the emergency room from her house,
I had stopped breathing because I had severe bronchitis.
She brought me a little red fur doll when she visited the hospital that I treasured for years.
She would like to sneak us a piece of Wrigley spearmint gum during the offering in church from her vast and bottomless purse.
She had a comfortable matronly figure and always kept a handkerchief in the opening of her dress for needed times.
She lived in a large rambling old house down by Lake Michigan,
so the house had musty smell I still think of today if I catch a whiff somewhere.
She was a Gold star mother because her son disappeared during a bombing raid during WW II.
She never got over his death but the benefits she rec’d allowed her to live comfortably for the first time in her married life.
Grandma was a German American farm girl from Freistadt, Wisconsin.
She came to the city with her sisters to work as a nanny for a wealthy family.
She met my grandpa at church and they were sweethearts while he fought in WW I.
He gave her a beautiful ruby ring before he left and we have love letters that she wrote to him then in her spidery handwriting.
When he returned they married and had seven children, losing one to spinal bifida.
Her life was difficult with my grandpa because he drank too much beer like so many others of his generation, but her love for him never wavered.
Her son, my father, said of her in his old age, “She was the most wonderful woman that ever lived.” (Which is quite a tribute because he (and his brothers) are somewhat curmudgeonly.)
Her children went so many different directions, some successful, some dysfunctional but she loved and supported them all through everything.
The week before she died we went on a picnic at Petrified Springs and she talked of her life and I was so mesmerized that I forgot to go play on the playground.
She entered the hospital for a non-life threatening issue but made my aunt take her purse because she knew she wasn’t coming home.
After her funeral the family gathered for a meal and began to celebrate her life, but I couldn’t.  I couldn’t understand how they could laugh and go on with their lives with her gone. 
I had her in my life for 12 blessed years, and I have lived with her memory in my heart for 42 more years.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Teachers Write Assignment

Today we were supposed to make an outline for a piece we are working on:

The History of Parfrey’s  Glen:
1816-Robert Parfrey is born in England
1846- a series of sawmills to process timber and grist mills for grinding grain are built in the glen area, a Scottish word that means a rocky narrow gorge
1865-Robert Parfrey inherits land that includes grist mill and he works the mill both to grind grain and refinishing the millstones
1876- Parfrey moves to Minnesota
1882-So many people picnic and  in the area that rumors abound that a hotel will be built in the glen
1937- Norman Carter Fassett becomes curator of UW-Madison herbarium
1947- The state of Wisconsin acquires the glen to preserve it under the direction of Norman Carter Fassatt, chairman of the Natural Areas Committee
1952- Parfrey’s Glen is named a Wisconsin Natural Area
2008- Terrific flooding damages the glen
2010- Another flood brings devastation to the glen

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pewit's Nest: and Parfrey's Glen:

The Pleasure and the Pain of Writing

This past week I took part in a Teachers Write Camp and this spring I wrote every day for A Slice of Life for a month.  It made me realize how much I missed writing, but it also made me realize I have always written out of a need to express myself, not for an audience.  It hurts to put writing out there and to be ignored when it has been a soul sharing experience.  On the other hand, the sincere comments from a few people really meant a lot.  It almost seems that it is a bit of a popularity contest instead of a true sharing experience with feedback.  Some writers already know each other and so they joke and gush about their writing and other writers go comment free. (not just me)  So its like a clique, that some of us don't get into, and even at my advanced age that doesn't feel good. I am very particular about what I read in fiction:  Rumer Godden,  Josephine Tey, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlins, Wilkie Collins, Dorothy L. Sayers, Daphne DuMaurier and I realize these writers are all from a different era.  I also enjoy witty writing from my 2nd and 3rd graders though, so I guess I just march to a different drummer than the typical online writer.  I'm not sure I can share any more of my writing for a while, but perhaps just keep it here for myself.

Week One of Teachers Write Camp

Today we are to list how we did in week one:
1.  I met my goals of writing and submitting.
2.  The lowest point is putting work out there and fretting about it.
3.  The high point is the snippets of feedback that show others are really looking at what I write and noticing details.  That is huge.
4.  This week my goal is to be brave in posting my writing, to write a little more, and to not fret about receiving or not receiving feedback by others.
This has been a wonderful learning experience already, but not in the ways I thought it would be.  Totally worthwhile though, regardless!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Teachers Write Assignment #2

A student walks into the library/media center at lunchtime.  What is she/he thinking?  Worried about?  Dreading?  Hoping or wishing for? What are the risks/stakes for him/her? Show us in a paragraph or two.
I hid out in the library at lunch because I had no one to eat with.  Being shy, it was terrifying to walk up to a table of people and ask to sit down.  It also was painful to sit alone and I felt like such a loser.  Even though hunger gnawed at my insides, I went to my refuge to find comfort.  I  always felt at home among books and soon my anxiety began to fade away.  I searched for the latest Madeleine L'Engle book and found Meet the Austins.  I opened it and was pulled into the story immediately...awkward teenaged girl, can relate to that...  I settled into a weathered leather  chair by the window overlooking the courtyard garden.  My hunger pangs subsided as I was pulled into the story.  When the bell sounded I gathered my things together ready to face the world again. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Parfrey's Glen

     It takes a long walk to get to Parfrey's Glen, you must hike down a gravel lane in the hot sun for about half an hour.  Then suddenly, everything changes:  there are thick green woods with a scent of pine and moss,  a  clear, tumbling stream, and gray boulders larger than life.  This is what I imagine the Garden of Eden to have looked like... lush, cool, emerald green with moisture in the air.  There are the sounds of nature as you walk through: birdsong, insect buzz, the splash of water... unless you happen to be there on a day when other tourists are enjoying it as well.  My favorite time is to be there with only my family.  We pause at the end of the trail to stand in awe of the beauty of nature and it is difficult to turn around and leave this place.
      A few years ago there was extreme flooding that washed out the original beauty of Parfrey's Glen.  That year it was closed to the public and I grieved for what was lost.  When it reopened it was transformed, all the hiking paths were gone, old beauty was washed away.  The power of water was there for everyone to see in the devastation.  Yet there is a new beauty to Parfrey's Glen, it is wild and untamed.

Slice of Life Tuesday

Inspired by Teachers Write Summer Camp and my daughter's desire to read stories I wrote as a child, I searched through all my old boxes of stories, trying to organize and sort through them.  What a feeling to read words in my handwriting that I have no memory of composing.  I should mention that I wrote the stories in 1970!  I was ahead of my time in using mentor texts.  Every story sounds like the books I loved:  An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott.... or... Ginnie and Geneva by Catherine Wooley.  I always had a problem finishing the stories, most of them just kind of fizzle.  The few that actually ended did so with a flourish.  Two of them had illustrated covers which also made me smile:  very much in the art style of the 70s.  To see these efforts is very humbling, but it is also a treasure.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Monday Morning Warmup-Childhood Kitchen

My grandma Laura's kitchen is something that comes to my mind every so often.  Her kitchen was special because she was the very embodiment of love, and she loved food.  Her kitchen always smelled of dark, rich coffee and if I get a whiff of that anywhere, I am instantly back in her kitchen.  She always had a European style cherry kuchen in the oven with the door ajar.  When there were extended family meals there was always a ham, and many kinds of olives set out to accompany it.  She had a warm Old World kitchen with old fashioned gadgets and interesting things to look at.  When she moved to a smaller, newer house as she aged I grieved at first...but her new kitchen took on the persona of the old one.  It was her, and her love, and the food she loved to share with us that made her kitchen memorable.

Making Time to Write

When I was growing up I would have thought it amusing that now I have to make a plan to write.  Writing and reading were like breathing to me, something you do without even thinking about it.  This lasted all the way through college until I was out on my own.  Now I had time:  I set everything up at my kitchen table...and nothing.  I couldn't write.  Part of my writing life was having life going on all around me in my large family and college dorm.  I was so lonely on my own I couldn't focus enough to write anything.  My writing dwindled to poetry and then to nothing.
So!  I will write every morning in my quiet time here in my busy house before everyone wakes for the day.  It is a beautiful peaceful inspiring time to write and then when everyone wakes and the bustle begins...I can write because I'm not lonely anymore.