I’ve accepted the fact that my home is not my own.
Shining plastic eyes of a zoo’s worth of stuffed animals watch as I try to cross my living room unwounded by Legos and matchbox cars.
Bath toys attack from their shelf as I grab the disinfectant, and search for the source of that smell.
Even my kitchen is overwhelmed with school snacks, lunch boxes, and vats of peanut butter to sate the youngest’s cravings.
Since they’ve claimed most of the house as their domain, my littles are confused when I try to keep them out of my room. I can’t let my vigilance waver for a moment if I’m to keep those grubby little fingers (adorable grubby little fingers, which I love) out of the treasures I keep on my bedroom dresser.
My “treasures” aren’t things that would be of much value to any one else. Odds and ends cover the surface: a fabric lei a student brought me from Hawaii, a box of polished stones, a couple of glass beads a friend brought me from Venice…
…and a little bit of tangible family history.
My grandma gave me this handkerchief on my Confirmation day. She’d been given it by her mother, who received it from hers, my great-great grandmother, Anna.
Anna presumably brought this handkerchief from Sweden, along with a few other precious possessions, when she emigrated at 17.
I wonder, did she do the fancy stitching herself before she set sail?
Did she hold it, twisting it as she waited to hear from her friend who was to sail with her?
Did she use it to wipe tears when she heard that her friend was ill, that she’d be travelling alone?
Of course, it’s in pretty good shape after all of these years. Maybe it just sat in the dark bottom of her trunk, safe from the salt spray. Maybe she kept it as something pretty to make her new surroundings feel more like home.
I’d like to think that I inherited a little of her pioneer spirit. I can still feel the trembling, excited terror of finding out that my first teaching assignment was nearly 2,000 miles away from my Minnesota home.
Did she feel the same way? Probably more so, as she was leaving her country, her language, and her family. I could call home any time, and even book a direct flight. Maybe the only things I’ve inherited from Anna are this handkerchief, and the occasional craving for pickled herring.
Over the years, as more family join Anna in her heavenly home, I find myself clinging to these little bits of tangible history. These little reminders that the faces in faded photographs lived, and breathed, and made my life possible, are treasures.
If I can manage to save it from them, I look forward to passing this little bit of their history on to my children. If…
Your turn! If you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about any pieces of tangible history that you’ve held on to – family memorabilia, or other curiosities you’ve come across.
What goes on inside the writerly mind? Let’s sit down with Word Weaver Writing Contest 2nd place winner Anne Clare and find out. Anne Clare lives with her husband in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, where she spends her time chasing her three children, reading, writing, teaching, serving as a church organist and choir director, […]
It is my pleasure to present to you the second place winner from the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, Anne Clare’s “Dark Corners.” Anne Clare’s story was a blast to read. She hooked me from the opening and held me straight through to the end. Obviously, it was a fave of the celebrity judges, […]
Are you excited to see who won our March 2018 writing contest? I know I am. (Or was, I guess, because I know who won – and in a moment you will, too.) HERE COME THE WINNERS! As always, it was CRAZY hard to determine the best story out of so many amazing entries. So I […]
I’ve always believed in the importance of being honest with my husband. However, when it came to James Bond movies, honesty got me more than I bargained for.
My husband and I usually enjoy the same types of books and movies, so my dislike of the tuxedo-clad super spy took him by surprise.
“Well, which Bond movies have you seen?” he asked. I listed them, and he nodded, looking relieved. “Ooooh, you’ve seen the worst ones.”
We watched ALL 25 OF THEM. (This count includes the “unofficial” Bond movie starring Sean Connery, Never Say Never Again.)
There were a few bumps in the road. For instance ‘someone’ kept falling asleep at the end of Moonraker, so we had to repeat that final space fight over and over…and over. But, while I didn’t run out to buy any action figures when we finished, I had to admit that the franchise includes some entertaining movies. The hubby might even get me to watch most of them (not Moonraker!) again with minimal coercion.
I do still have a hard time taking the stories seriously when they include things like inflatable gondolas, invisible cars, and Mary Goodnight serving in ‘Intelligence’ – it’s all just a bit far-fetched.
Then again, true spy stories of the past are nearly as improbable.
Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat details a bit of World War 2 espionage worthy of a Bond film. (Fitting, as one of the plan’s originators was Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming.)
In 1943 the Allies had defeated Rommel’s Afrika Korps in North Africa, but the Axis still controlled Europe. The Allies already had plans for the “D-Day” invasions of France, but they needed more troops, time and materiel. They would not be ready for another year.
In the meantime, British and American leaders decided to target the island of Sicily. Taking Sicily would give the Allies free run of the Mediterranean and a stepping-stone into Italy.
Unfortunately, Sicily was an obvious target.
It fell to British Intellegence to convince the Axis that the Allied troops massed opposite Sicily weren’t actually going to invade the island, but were heading for Greece and Sardinia instead.
If they could manage this, the Germans would reinforce the wrong places, leaving Sicily vulnerable. If they failed, Sicily could be built up into a stronghold that would shatter the British and American invaders.
The job fell to RAF flight lieutenant Charles Christopher Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumly) who worked for MI5, and acting Lt. Cmd. Ewen Montagu, a former barrister working in Special Intelligence.
They planned to deliver sensitive documents “accidentally” via the drowned body of Major William Martin, floated ashore near the Spanish home of a well-known German spy.
The trick was, Major William Martin didn’t exist, nor did the sensitive documents.
Cholmondeley and Montagu needed to acquire a suitable body, create a history for him, generate documents for him to carry, and then find a way to transport him to the Spanish coast without the Axis powers discovering the plan…all while keeping him ‘fresh’ enough to be convincing as a recent crash victim.
This plan, Operation Mincemeat, required an eclectic team of medical men, drivers, scientists, spies and submariners. Macintyre’s sketches of the real-life characters are fascinating.
Of course, even the most elaborate deception might not make it past the suspicious eyes of the German Abwehr officers. Macintyre introduces the major players on the German side, and how greed and eagerness to produce results may have colored their acceptance of “Major Martin’s” intelligence. One name that caught my eye was Lt. Col. Alexis Baron von Roenne. Von Roenne was Hitler’s top Intelligence analyst. He was also a Christian and anti-Nazi conspirator. Von Roenne passed along the Mincemeat papers, vouching for their authenticity, though he likely realized that they were fakes.*
As I don’t want to give away the entire story to those who might be interested in the book, I’ll close by saying that Macintyre’s research and detail are excellent, and his prose generally easy to read. If you enjoy a good spy story (even one with no inflating gondolas) Operation Mincemeat is an interesting look at the ins and outs of espionage, and a unique slice of history. **
Many thanks for visiting!
*I did a little extra research into Alexis von Roenne. He not only (likely) helped conceal Operation Mincemeat, but consistently changed numbers of Allied troops in his reports. His false reports helped Allied Intelligence as they prepared for the Normandy landings, bolstering Hitler’s belief that the landings would be at Pas de Calais. In the end, von Roenne was arrested, tried and killed, not for his actual subterfuge, but for being friends with the conspirators who attempted to assassinate Hitler. When given a chance to defend himself at his sham of a trial, he “simply declared that Nazi race policies were inconsistent with Christian values.” (Macintyre pg. 235)
**Ewen Montagu also published his account of this story, The Man Who Never Was, in 1953. It was made into a film in 1956, in which Montagu played an air vice marshal, with another actor playing him.
December 7th, 1941 changed everything for the American people.
The Japanese surprise attacks on targets including Pearl Harbor ended the United States’ neutrality.
Isolationist voices stilled. Military enlistment skyrocketed. The people of the United States clamored for action.
The leaders of the US were ready to comply, but with the Second World War raging on many fronts, where should they begin?
President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met to discuss the order of the war. They concluded that winning the war against Germany would leave Japan overextended, while defeating Japan would not necessarily weaken Germany.
They also believed that holding off on full-scale war in the Pacific could work to the Allies’ advantage.
Churchill noted “The Japanese have naval superiority…The Allies will not have for some time the power to fight a general fleet engagement.” (Churchill 652)
Given time, the Allied fleets would grow stronger while Japan would “be compelled to nourish all his conquests and kept extended, and kept burning up his resources.” (Churchill 652)
Churchill had high hopes for North African gains under General Auchinleck while masses of Hitler’s armies were occupied, facing the Eastern winter and the stubborn Russian resistance.
The decision was made.
American, British and Free French troops would retake North Africa in 1942. A large-scale Allied invasion of Europe would take place in 1943. (Well, that was the initial plan. Reality intervened…but we’ll get to that another time.)
The first US troops came to Great Britain in January of 1942.
They came, armed for war, but also armed with information.While Britain and the US theoretically share the same language and some of the same roots, the military felt it expedient to produce a handy guidebook for its troops. (After all, there was no way for them to sneakily Google what a Briton meant when he said he was “chuffed” to see them. Not that I’ve ever had to do that. As far as you know.)
Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942 is an interesting snapshot of the time. They’ve reprinted it, so you can get your own copy on Amazon. Brian from Hardscrabble Farm was kind enough to let me share a few quotes from the copy he has on his site.
The US troops were reminded, first and foremost, that they were Britain’s guests, and ought to behave as such.
“If somebody looks in your direction and says, “he’s chucking his weight about,” you can be pretty sure you’re off base. That’s the time to pull in your ears.”
(Speaking of communication difficulties, how about that 1940s US slang? Consider my ears pulled in.)
” You can rub a Britisher the wrong way by telling him “we came over and won the last one.” “
“…remember that crossing the ocean doesn’t automatically make you a hero. There are housewives in aprons and youngsters in knee pants in Britain who have lived through more high explosives in air raids than many soldiers saw in first class barrages in the last war.”
The book also noted some important differences in culture and in attitudes.
“Be careful not to criticize the King… Today’s King and Queen stuck with the people through the blitzes and had their home bombed just like anyone else, and the people are proud of them.”
“If British civilians look dowdy and badly dressed, it is not because they do not like good clothes or know how to wear them. All clothing is rationed and the British know that they help war production by wearing an old suit or dress until it cannot be patched any longer. Old clothes are “good form.” “
And of course, in any travel there is the question of food and drink- will it be like home?
“The British don’t know how to make a good cup of coffee. You don’t know how to make a good cup of tea. It’s an even swap.”
If you have about 40 minutes, Burgess Meredith (who I will always remember as “The Penguin” from the old Adam West Batman program- POW! WHACK!) was featured giving similar advice in How to Behave in Britain. (See the link below.)
How to Behave in Britain expands on the themes from the original booklet, using humor and some really good examples of really bad behavior. (If you end up watching it, all I can say is, I hope no one actually behaved like Meredith pretended to over dinner!)
The film also addresses the fact that, while the United States was still deep in the grip of racial segregation, Britain was not. How were troops of different races to regard each other? The film’s brief interview with a US general had some positive things to say, as far as it went. “We’re all here as soldiers. Everything we do, we do as American soldiers. It’s not a bad time to learn to respect each other.” No, it’s never a bad time to learn that lesson, and it’s a lesson still worth remembering today.
The shared closing lines of book and film sum up nicely.
“It is always impolite to criticize your hosts;
It is militarily stupid to criticize your allies”
Many thanks to Mike at “A Bit about Britain” (http://bitaboutbritain.com/) for suggesting this topic! His site is an excellent resource to learn about Great Britain through its landmarks and history, and his humor makes the lessons anything but dull!
Thanks for visiting!
Note: All Winston Churchill quotes and background information on his and FDR’s planning comes from The Grand Alliance, the third volume of Churchill’s memoirs of the Second World War, copyright 1950 by Houghton Mifflin Co.
It never fails to surprise me when, in spite of my best efforts, typos slip into my writing.
I proofread my blog posts until my eyes won’t focus. I’ve proofread my longer pieces until I can’t stand to look at them any more.
Perfection still eludes me.
And that is where a good beta reader becomes invaluable.
A beta reader is a second set of eyes- someone who will look over my work and assist in the editing process.
Before I knew what a ‘beta reader’ was, I beta read for a friend’s self-published book. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had no idea what I was doing.
The teacher in me knew how to correct a student’s paper.
Critiquing the work of an adult peer, especially without the benefit of a hard copy and my trusty red pen, was a different matter.
Since then I’ve worked with several beta readers on my novel and shorter pieces, and served as beta reader for several friends.
The following are a few things I’ve learned along the way.
Cookies Work for Adults, Too.
The “Oreo Cookie” method of peer critiquing is a trick I gleaned from some-where-or-other and used with elementary school students. (No, it doesn’t involve bribing beta readers with cookies, though that’s really not a bad idea.)
This method gave students a simple framework for their Creative Writing peer critiques.
Tell something that you liked about the piece.
Give a suggestion for improvements. (The cream filling :))
Tell something different that you liked about the piece.
Of course I wouldn’t follow this exact pattern when beta reading for an adult, but I feel that it is important to remember to offer encouragement along with constructive criticism.
The best critiques I’ve received highlighted both the things I did well and the things I needed to work on.
Wait, Which Paragraph on Which Page?
As I mentioned above, my first run as a beta reader was likely not very helpful.
My friend’s book had some punctuation and grammatical errors. I responded with a loooooong email listing page and paragraph numbers.
I can’t imagine how tedious it would have been for her to use that list, if she even did!
My methods have improved. When I receive a document for beta reading, I do all of my editing in the document. I just use the highlight function to draw the writer’s eye to errors or questions, and make any notes in red. My friends who read for me do the same.
Everything is clear, everything is easy to find, and corrections are just a few clicks away.
Why make the writing process more complicated?
You Hate It, Don’t You?!
Writing is personal. It is hard not to take criticism, even the very kindest constructive criticism, as a personal slight.
However, if a beta reader doesn’t give any constructive criticism, they also can’t give any help.
I’ve learned to want my beta readers to find something to improve. When I’m the reader, I’ve become bolder in offering suggestions.
Choosing the right wording to offer suggestions can be nerve-wracking. Some of the tips from my Interpersonal Communication class come in handy, for instance using specific “I” statements when I give my thoughts.
Example: I really feel that your protagonist turning out to be an alien disguised as a dog is a bit confusing.”
Versus: “The end of your story makes no sense.”
It’s also worth remembering that a beta reader’s opinion is just that- an opinion. While it can be uncomfortable to have someone’s opinion contradict my own, it allows me to examine the work I’ve done with fresh eyes, and to determine if I want to stand by it, or not.
I Don’t Want to Bother You Again…But I Will.
I don’t like to tell my beta readers too much about my work before having them read. I’d rather they come in with an unbiased eye.
However, there are always things I wonder about. Did this portion make sense? Was that character likeable? What about this word choice?
If my beta reader doesn’t comment on one of my ‘wonders,’ I’ve gotten brave enough to ask specific questions after their initial assessment. After all, it’s difficult to catch everything when sorting through tens of thousands of words!
Mercifully, my readers have been patient with my questions, and I try not to do too many “What do you think about this?!” e-mails.
I’m Thankful for my Beta Readers!
After all, a person who is willing to take time out of his or her busy life to read through thousands of words of a rough draft, to offer critiques and encouragements, and to help me stay a little more sane, is truly worth her weight in gold- or at least cookies, or chocolate, or something nice!
Writers, I hope that these suggestions are helpful, but perhaps you thought of them long before I did! Do you have any other thoughts to share on making beta readings as valuable as possible?
Honestly? Simpler tasks that require no creativity, like showering, are hard.
Sometimes I catch myself focusing on the negatives of the journey- the sleepless nights, my disaster area of a living room, anotherdiaper going through the wash, the day’s plans out the window because someone’s sick again.
The joy gets buried in the details.
Today, I’d like to share some of the joys I’ve found in the balancing act of being a writing parent.
1. Treasuring Time
“I’m so busy!” I thought, back when I was single and childless.
Oh, if only I’d known the truth….
Granted, during those days when I ran on actual sleep vs. coffee, I bounced endlessly between teaching, music, volunteering and everything else. My schedule was full to overflowing.
This is the difference between then and now: I had control over my level of busyness.
When I didn’t get something done, (barring emergencies) it was because I chose to make something else a priority.
Once there was a baby on the scene, that semblance of control evaporated.
Oh, she was cute, a joy and a blessing that we treasured.
I just wasn’t mentally prepared for the fact that newborns eat every two hours.
EVERY. TWO. HOURS.
And between feedings are the diapers… and the housework…and maybe we should try to sleep…
I won’t go through the whole ‘learning to parent without going insane’ journey, but a journey it was, and it taught me a valuable lesson.
I learned to use my time.
Time with my baby was precious, and I wouldn’t give up those hours for anything.
However, when a spare minute materialized- she’s asleep! And I’m not holding her!- I learned to seize it and make it count. (Of course, then we went and had two more babies…worth it. 🙂 )
Those spare minutes gave me the title for my blog. I rekindled my passion for the written word during those stolen moments- moments that might have slipped by me if caring for my children hadn’t reminded me just how important and valuable they are.
2. Ideas, Ideas, Ideas!
On dull, gray, uncreative days, all I have to do is listen to my children play.
Elaborate plots and adventures full of twists and turns fill our living room, and I’m reminded of the excitement of story.
I’ve written before about the stories the kids and I create each year for Father’s Day. While I am the one who keeps some semblance of a plot, they’re the ones that keep the storytelling fun.
They keep me generating ideas and telling stories in another way too. I’ve found that one of the easiest means to stop sibling spats starts with the words, “Once upon a time…”
3. Reduced Risk of Over-Exposure to the Computer
There are all sorts of health risks associated with spending too much time on the computer.
Go ahead and take a moment to look them up on your favorite search engine if you don’t believe me. I’ll wait.
Ok, now that you’ve done my research FOR me (clever, huh?) I can tell you that being a writer who’s also a mom, my risk of all of those maladies is seriously reduced.
After all, the littles only let me stay online so long, and I’m a firm believer in the need for children to get outside and to make a mess somewhere that’s not in my house.
I’m forced to leave the screen behind, to play or move or find a new park for us to explore and get some exercise.
Parenting ALSO gives me the added bonus that I have a three year old chaperone to ‘force’ me to try out the swings and slides at the playground.
Breaking away from the screen for adventures rests, refreshes, and sometimes provides needed inspiration!
4. The Built-In Fan Club
My kids haven’t read any of the novel I’m querying, or any stories that I’ve written except for the Creative Writing pieces my class ‘published’ in 7th grade. (My grammar, at least, has improved a bit since then.)
Still, my eldest doesn’t miss much, and she was very aware of when I entered my novel in a contest in the fall of 2016. She watched me checking my e-mails, and occasionally, out of the blue, she’d tell me, “I hope you win!”
When I didn’t, and she found out, she was upset, even angry, for my sake.
It was a great teaching moment
We talked about how yes, I lost, but it was ok. I’d gotten feedback, and would make my story better. Someone else had just done a better job and won. (Modelling gracious loosing for my little girl was good for me too- it kept me from the temptation to wallow!)
She’s seen me keep at it, and, unknowingly, gave me some of the best encouragement the other day.
“Mommy, I’ve finally decided what I want to be when I grow up.”
“Really?” I quelled the temptation to tell her that, at 7, she’s not really running behind on this decision. “What are you going to be?”
“A teacher, AND an author.”
“Wow. Those sound like great choices.”
Yes, writing while parenting small children is hard some days, but then, most good things are.
There are many other joys, but I’ve rambled enough! Do you have any to add?