Category Archives: Education

How to Write Essays to a Prompt for Tests, Work, or School

Sample Prompt: Explain a complicated process that you can do well to someone who doesn’t know how to do it.

If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. Ernest Hemingway

Writing Is a Complicated Process                                         Do you struggle when you have to take a writing test, or write a report? As a teacher/consultant writing essays was my forté, yet writing to a prompt is a complicated task.  When I think about my professional life, I probably spent more time writing than almost any other single activity, either writing or grading essays for over 20 years.  Writing professionals have boiled essay writing down to a few steps which can be easily explained to someone who doesn’t write.  While most people THINK they know how to write if they can put words down on paper, they struggle to write even a simple five paragraph essay to answer a prompt.

Notice the blingy water.
Notice the blingy water.

Definition of an Essay

Commonly essays fall into four categories : expository, descriptive, narrative, and argumentative. Essays  convey information rather than tell a story, although they may use facts or short stories to persuade or convince readers to take action. An essay consists of three parts:  an opening paragraph, the body, and the conclusion.  Many teachers in our county use Step Up to Writing to teach this process to students and teachers alike.
  1. An opening paragraph restates the prompt stating three or more examples or facts.
  2. Body paragraphs expand on the three or four facts, one paragraph per main idea.
  3. The concluding paragraph points back to the opening paragraph and summarizes how the paragraph addressed the stated prompt.
PG and Pie
Ideas Matter: Brainstorm and Analyze  Before Writing 
Step Up to Writing  steps sound simple enough.  However, even though the process is simple, fuzzy ideas swim in the writer’s head and often come out jumbled.  Maybe the writer knows nothing about the prompt. Before I write anything I take a few minutes to ask myself questions about the prompt.  I usually jot down some notes in an informal list or outline.  If I can use the computer during the test or when writing for publication I search for a quotation and a definition or explanation of my topic. Most important: Make sure to answer the prompt.
  1. Analyze the prompt or break it into pieces.  Ask, “What DO I know about the prompt?  OR How can I relate it to something I know better and still answer the prompt?”
  2. Ask, “What can I write in a few paragraphs without repeating myself?”
  3. Consider, “Who is my audience?”
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Research , Research, Research
Writing to a prompt is difficult for many reasons.  An author who does not know much about the topic may cut corners and merely copy the prompt word and repeat it multiple times throughout the essay. Unprofessional essays often start and end with the words, “Today I am going to write about (prompt words)”  This might be acceptable in first grade, but beyond that writers need to display more sophistication in their writing.
  1. Wikipedia is fine for quick bits of information partly because each entry has a bibliography which the writer can also check. It is good to have more sources than just Wikipedia. I use Google, but there are other ways of getting information quickly off the internet.
  2. Books and articles provide detailed information. Digitized books allow the writer to mark what he or she wants to remember and to sort out unnecessary information.
  3. If time is not an issue, articles and scanned documents can be processed into searchable PDF documents using inexpensive or free downloadable programs.
  4. When writers don’t have these options, note cards work well. I always note the title, author and page number, so I can go back and check my sketchy notes. I don’t take time to write detailed notes.
  5. Highlighting works well on printed material that the writer can keep.
  6. Post-it notes allow the writer to comment on materials and books he or she needs to return. Writers can color code these by book or article, topic, time period or any category they choose.
writing, blogging, book reviews, New_Office04
Weed Out All But the Most Important Information
Essayists can’t use it all.  According to the brain laboratory at UCLA, people have more than 70,000 thoughts per day. One short essay can’t utilize all these thoughts, so the first step is deciding which thoughts are keepers. When I write under pressure on a topic, use these techniques.
  1. Brainstorm on paper. Lists, webs, and tables all work well.
  2. Move to an outline. Find connections between the list of words. Sort them into categories. Writers may do this mentally, but it is more effective if they write it down. I use the old fashioned outline because it puts my thoughts into a hierarchy, most important first.Manny's Trip to Spain
Match Writing Style and Vocabulary to the Task
Prompt writing is a formal process.  Vocabulary, spelling, and style become issues.  My blogging style is informal, uses simple vocabulary and sentence structure, and I attempt humor. Formal writing style differs in several ways. 
  1. It uses a more academic lexicon or vocabulary.
  2. Sentence structure varies.
  3. The tone is generally, but not always, more serious.
  4. Each sentence starts with different words.  For example, after I have written this essay, I will go back over it and circle all the initial words.  If I have more than two or three of the same beginning word, I will change one of them.  I will look at how many of the same words I use within the sentence as well.  Word processing programs and the internet have dictionaries and a thesaurus at the writer’s fingertips, so there is no excuse for repeating the same word constantly. If the internet is not allowed during an essay, use the scratch paper to free-associate synonyms.
  5. Spelling is most difficult for me if the internet is not an option. When I can’t remember how to spell a word, I substitute a word I can spell.
  6. Punctuation errors show up, and even though there are differences about how to punctuate. Study Strunk and White before you take a test, or take it with you.
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Keep the Conclusion Uncluttered
Students, test takers, or essayists who utilize these tips will have a passable essay for any project, exam, job application, or work-related report, and become an expert in writing to a prompt.
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Notes on Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – funniest book ever.  I can hardly get through this.  I’m 17% done.  I have written something since I was old enough to write.  No pressure to publish, just love to write.  Can’t help myself really.  It just flows out. Anne Lamott can tell you exactly what happens.

Marsha
What should I write today? the autobiography of my childhood, or a book about the history of – oh say – women?

 

“You sit down to write… what you have in mind is…a history of-oh say- say women. …Then your mental illnesses arrive at the desk like your sickest, most secretive relatives.  … After a moment I may notice that I’m trying to decide whether or not I am too old for orthodontia, and whether right now would be a good time to make a few calls, and then I start to think about learning to use makeup and how maybe I could find some boyfriend who is not a total and complete fixer upper, and then my life would be totally great… Then I think about all the people I should have called back before I sat down to work and how I should probably at least check in with my agent and tell him this great idea I have and see if he thinks it’s a good idea, and see if he thinks I need orthodontia-if that is what he is actually thinking whenever we have lunch together…”

Maybe you will be better at finishing this book than I am so far.  As soon as I start reading, I have to write the same thing that happened to me only in a different way.

So I’m trying to get through at least one more chapter without stopping to write any more of her funniness.

HOWEVER, I’ve been on a writing roll since 12-27, but husband told me yesterday.  I thought he meant 12:27, but that’s another argument. (minor, minor one folks)

The other day after rewriting Girls on Fire for at least four hours, I took a break to take the dog outside.  The good news is that I had dressed.  Many days I don’t change out of pajamas until I know I have to go somewhere, and now I hate to leave the house for any reason.  But that day, I did throw on some jeans and a t-shirt I’d been wearing for a day or two.

Retirement MMP & K

My hair was still rumpled in a way only women with hot flashes understand.  The straight bangs that used to be thin and straight are now fluffy in all directions.  The back of my hair sticks out about an inch from my head then falls limply leaving a huge part the size of my  hand in the back.

bing car

So I walked out on the front porch and waited for the dog, who I’ve ignored all morning, and who drives up but the Bing car.  Maybe you’ve never seen the Bing car.  It’s white with a black sign on the side that says Bing.  On the top is a 5 or 6 foot pole, and on top of the pole is a camera(s).  The Bing car drives down your road at about 30 miles an hour shooting pictures from all angles from the camera(s) perched on top of the car.  The result will be pictures you can zoom down to see your street at any angle.  I’ve always worried that one of these cars will shoot through the fence in the backyard when I’m skinny dipping at midnight so no one will see me.  So far, until last week I’ve been safe, but last week the Bing car drove down my street.

Road Trip
Road Trip Yes, it took plenty of gas.  

I wouldn’t worry as much, but the picture that is up on Google has been there since we had our GMC motor home, which was about 6 years ago.  So I’m obsessing that this horrible series of shots of my bad hair day will be up there for everyone to see for the next 6-7 years. What if I become famous?  Will newspapers pick this up and publish it?

Now do you see why I’ve only read 17% of this wonderful book?  You’d better read it yourself instead of waiting for a book review from me.

How are you today?

Images of America: Four Simple Steps to Edit a Pictorial History

Editing a picture book with 50 -70 word captions for each of 200+ pictures requires more effort than you would think, and grammar is not the hardest part to correct.

1.  Ask experts to read your manuscript.

McKay Point 2

I might have made the mistake of calling this a cement dam at one time.  But not after writing Images of America:  Woodlake.  Robert Edmiston corrected one entry explaining that cement is a part of concrete, but dams are made of concrete, an aggregate of cement and rocks.  No company in Woodlake makes cement.  In a million years I would not have corrected that mistake on my own.

This is the four room school built in 1912 or 1913, not 1923.
This is the four room school built in 1912 or 1913, and not in 1923.

2.  Ask experts to help you check pictures for historical accuracy.  This can be more difficult than you think.  Sources of pictures don’t always label their pictures.  Even libraries rely on the picture donors to date and label the pictures correctly.  Sometimes you can check facts using newspapers, but they are not always accurate either.  I used two or three references when possible to make sure I had names and dates correct.  Even then, my readers questioned me on several items.  Marcy Miller and I sleuthed through dates of the school buildings.  She had a picture of a building built in 1913, but several dates were attached to it.  I had thought it was the same building that is now the district office, but I had a date of 1923 on that building from an obscure reference in a book.  As we dug, we found that there were actually two different buildings.  We looked at the brickwork at the bottom of the building and compared it to another building picture we had from a newspaper.

Edmiston-29

3.  Ask experts to check names, double check them. If you are like me, you were not alive in 1860.  When a relative tells you that one family’s children were too young to attend school in 1860, you have to question the historian’s information, if possible.  In this case it was not possible because the historian passed away in 1971, and she did not have anything footnoted.  The mystery might have been solved because the woman from the family in question had children from a previous marriage that could have attended school in 1860.  Even though the children had a different last name than was listed in the book, the historian might not have realized that because the woman had remarried, and the children might have gone by the new husband’s name to make things more simple.  Some things never change!  But it is surprising how important it is even 150 years after the fact, to get the names correct.

 

Notice the search box at the top, and the name is highlighted.  The page number is also listed in the sidebar not pictured.
Notice the search box at the top, and the name is highlighted. The page number is also listed in the sidebar not pictured.

4.  Document your sources so that you can find where you got your information.  One fact in question came up about the name of one of the participant in the 1926 Pageant named in the picture. One elderly resident had seen the picture and told Marcy Miller that it was one person,  when in fact it was his brother.  The evidence was in the newspaper, and when I showed her the article, she said, “Well his memory isn’t always perfect.”  Expect people to question your facts, and do your best to keep track of them.  When publishing with  Arcadia books, the template doesn’t allow for footnotes or an extensive bibliography, but you almost need to include one in your own copy.  I spent a lot of time looking for the information source to prove my writing.  Sometimes I had it listed in the caption, but when I approached 70 words in the caption, I couldn’t include the information credit for publication.  As I neared the end of my research, I purchased a product, Wondershare PDF Editor Pro to make my PDFs searchable.  This helped me to find information faster.

Can you guess the year of this picture?  Clue:  Experts are alive today who can name most of those pictured.
Can you guess the year of this picture? Clue: Experts are alive today who can name most of those pictured.

In their author’s guidelines the publisher suggested that writers allow 2 weeks for editing using an expert reader.  They moved my deadline up a month, so I didn’t have that luxury, but they have been wonderful about accepting changes, and once I get the proof back, I will have another opportunity to proof read it once again.

I hope this has been a helpful process for you in your own writing.  :)

Find me on Facebook under TC History Gal Productions.

 

Images of America: Woodlake; Gathering and Organizing Images

 My 600th post! 

Woodlake parade  350
A Woodlake Rodeo Parade picture from an unspecified time period.  (A Bud Kilburn picture courtesy of Lisa Kilburn)

Arcadia Publishing has specific requirements for the photos in your Images book.  You receive a written guideline and an editor that answers questions promptly.  Your success is practically guaranteed – once your get the photos!

Edmiston-1R
The Edmistons (Courtesy of Robert Edmiston.)

Images of America books are not family history books, so even if you grew up in a community, you must gather pictures.  Multiple family’s pictures in the book are essential to telling the story.

Beginning Woodlake buildings labeled by Marion Legakes.  (Courtesy of Marcy Miller.)
Beginning Woodlake buildings labeled by Marion Legakes. (Courtesy of Marcy Miller.)

In the case of a small community, probably the library will not have enough images to fill your book.   You might have a small museum or historical society that stores pictures.  Even though our museum is not open, one woman has pictures in her home.  Here are the ways I started from 0 and gathered the 200+ pictures I needed for publication in 6 months.

Woodlake parade  351
A Woodlake Rodeo Parade picture from an unspecified time period. (A Bud Kilburn picture courtesy of Lisa Kilburn)

 

  1. Our local Kiwanis magazine put in a free ad for me. – 1 direct call and one referral from her
  2. I walked the streets of Woodlake and talked to business owners, City Hall and Woodlake Police. – 2 donors
  3. Talking to friends in the grocery store  – 1 prospect
  4. Following referrals from friends – 30 donors
  5. Cold calls to businesses – 1 potential donor who googled me to make sure I didn’t have a criminal record or wasn’t a sex offender before he called me too late for publication.
  6. Following referrals from referrals – 3 donors
Laura 112b
The community northwest of Woodlake called Elderwood in the 1940s. (Courtesy of Laura Spalding.)

Organizing was important, and took quite a bit of time as I processed the photos.  These are my steps.

  1. As I started scanning photos, I put the PDFs into files in my document folder labeled by donor’s names.
  2. Next I created a “Woodlake PDF” and put in all of the donor folders.
  3. Each photograph sent to Arcadia was a TIFF file, so I processed all most files, and put them into a separate file with the donor’s name inside a large folder that said, “Woodlake TIFF.”
  4. I didn’t write about every picture.  In order to write, I used an unpublished blog account, because importing each picture to a Word file made Word crash.  It is hard to write about a picture when you can’t look at it as you write, so the blog was perfect.
  5. However, that created another step.  TIFF files are huge, so I resized each photo I used (or thought I might use) in the book and saved it as a JPEG, and created another Donor file and put it inside – you guessed it – the “Woodlake JPEG” file. Then I could upload those files easily to my blog, and the ones I didn’t use in the book I could post to FB or in my  blog.
  6. Then I made files for the chapter titles and copied only the TIFFS into those files, numbering them for the book.
  7. Finally I copied the entire folder, “Arcadia,” onto an external hard drive.  I started to copy all of it to the cloud, but it was very time consuming.
  8. After I submitted the manuscript and pictures, I began copying the JPEG files only to Picasa.  I’m still not finished, and I hope it is worth the effort!  I have them organized by subject rather than chapter, and I have one folder for all the images used in the book along with the caption, so that if I do another book, I will use different pictures, or be sure to credit the book as well as the donor.
Inside the Bank of America circa 1936.  Courtesy of Woodlake City Hall
Inside the Bank of America circa 1936. (Courtesy of Woodlake City Hall)

That’s it.  That’s how I gathered and organized hundreds of pictures in six months.

Travel Theme: Belonging – Colonial Williamsburg or Not?

Jamestowne 003

Life is defined by belonging:  our family,  town, organizations, belongings, even the time into which we are born.   I attended a teachers’ institute at Colonial Williamsburg a few years ago.  That town preserves what belonged to another time period, so that we, of the 21st century could understand somewhat what it felt like as patriots and loyalists, all British subjects, clashed, and then hashed out new plans in the taverns, church, and legislature all situated on the mile long walk down the main street.

Williamsburg 007

Our trainers immersed us in the life of the time.  Four of us from Tulare County joined six others from California, a few from Pennsylvania, some from Georgia, one or two from New York, and we lived as a group for one week.  We belonged together for a week.

 

Williamsburg wed 175

Our guide, Bunny, embroiled us in an 18th century court case in which a Baptist minister was tried  as a criminal because he preached from a  Baptist pulpit, not from the one true church the Anglican Church.  “The law of the land from 1624 mandated that white Virginians worship in the Anglican church (Church of England) and support its upkeep with their taxes.” ( Religion in Early Virginia.) We had to decide his fate.

 

Williamsburg wed 191

One of our members, Jami Beck, volunteered to participate during the trial.

 

18 th Century Military Life 109

We learned how to fire cannons and muskets.

 

18 th Century Home Life 186

We danced, and sat around a properly set dinner table sharing the latest colonial gossip.

talk and pass plates

We visited with tavern owners who served George Washington on a regular basis.

 

Williamsburg wed 047

Slaves let us enter their farm-house, feel the tobacco they harvested, smell it hanging in the barn.  But in all the authenticity of belonging to that time period.  There was always something that didn’t belong.

 

18 th Century Military Life 137

Actually there were many things.  What do you think belonged, and what didn’t?

Oh My, What Have You Done?

Nothing is not the right answer.  Blogging is not it either.  I wish it were.

Branding Time

Do you get roped into things?  Do you sometimes feel like you’ve been branded as the girl who says yes to too many things at once?

Scan 27R

Sometimes I feel like I’ve kicked up so much dust, that a can of worms might be a good thing in comparison. Today I talked to our CPA and learned about 501(c)(3), and I hope we’ve filed all out paperwork.  I created a program for our Western Regional Breakfast that’s happening at the NCSS Conference in Boston next month.  I found out about awards for the program.  I learned about the Woodlake Rodeo.  I did laundry, made lunch and dinner, cleaned the kitchen, took a walk, went to the post office and mailed a letter to a 10-year-old P.O. Box and I hope to find the person who owns the bottom picture to get her permission to use it, so promise me that you won’t steal it.

CGA

I posted important stuff on Facebook for CCSS.  So the truth is that today, I’ve done a lot, but can I remember it when my husband comes home and asks me what I’ve done?  I do, but that was the wrong question.  Does he really want to listen to me list it all?  I think you know that answer.  That’s why I’m telling YOU – and guess what?  He’ll end up reading about it on Facebook tomorrow.  hehehe  :)

Mill Inn-6R sepia

Right this second I’m feeling a little light headed (yes, I did get my hair cut, but only about 2-3 people even missed the 5-6 inches I’ve chopped off) But that’s not why I’m light headed.  I’m dizzy with excitement because I’m almost finished with my book, Images of America Woodlake – 15,894 words out of a total possible of 8,000 to 18,000, and 192 pictures out of a possible 200. What I’ve learned cannot even come close to a limit of 18,000 words. That has been the hardest part. Collecting pictures from those whose names I get from friends, and of those, the ones who return my call or email. Those are the ones whose minute pieces of the story get in the book. Some people have given me hundreds of photos. Some only one. I have to leave out so much, and someone’s feelings are bound to get hurt when the book is published. There is SOOOOO much more to tell. But, that is not my story – at least not for this book.

IMG_3685R sep ps

So what did you do today?  Do you need someone to listen to your list?  Write it in the comment section.  There, doesn’t that feel better?  You really did do something today!

Every Day You Learn Something – Sometimes It’s New

“In three words I can sum up what I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”  Robert Frost

I’ve had an amazing week learning about our little town and the surrounding area.  There is only one book in the library about Woodlake, published in 1971.  I have a digitized copy of that book.   This week I had the privilege of thumbing through the original handwritten manuscript of that little book housed in a 1950s-style blue canvas three-ring binder.

Grace Pogue ~ Within The Magic Circle copy-1

I have the original manuscript of her other book, The Swift Seasons, in a little blue canvas binder as well, which I am going to digitize starting today.  I get excited about the little things I’m learning or at least surmising.  Yesterday on one of my interviews Robert took me outside to his back yard.

“Want to see the old Antelope School?” he asked me.  “This is it.  It used to be on Grandma Fudge’s property.  Then it moved to Blair’s property, and then they brought it on skids here.”

Antelope School

Robert and I shared information back and forth for several hours.  “This is so much fun!” he told me.

What I know about Antelope School is that it was first built in 1870.  Woodlake erected a new Antelope School in 1895.  So would this have been the new 1895 school, or the 1870 one?

Antelope school3

The builder didn’t date the school anywhere, least of all the floor boards, but look how wide they are.  Keep in mind that we cut down big trees back in the 1800s.  This picture came from Linda and Bob Hengst.

Hengst1-42aR

When I came back from Linda’s house, Vince said, “What were you doing all that time?  You were over there for three hours!”

In the evening I started the boring work.  It takes 30 seconds to copy each picture, but I have someone to talk to the whole time.  I copied about 45 of Linda and Bob’s pictures, and 75 from Robert. At home it takes about 1 minute to create a TIFF file for each picture, and another minute or so to resize it for my blog so I can see what I’m writing about as I write each caption.  Finally I pick which pictures I know enough about to caption for the day, and that takes at least 20 to 30 minutes to write 50-70 words.  You wouldn’t think it would take so long, but here’s the deal.

  1. I wasn’t there when it happened.  I don’t know the people, usually the place, because they aren’t around any more, or the time.
  2. Usually I just have a name to go by, if that on the picture – that’s about 2 words.
  3. Sometimes I have a little story.  That’s about 20 words, if I’m lucky.
  4. I have tons of books about things like trains and floods in Tulare County, Native Americans, and the general history of Tulare County.  I have an 1892 Atlas of each township in Tulare County with the names of all the property owners at that time.
  5. I have notes from all the people I’ve interviewed, and sometimes audio files.
  6. I have a few newspaper articles that are photocopied, but all the archives from the Woodlake Echo have been destroyed, so all those pictures and original articles are gone.
Hengst1-41R
What do you think Abe and Carl discussed? I’ll give you a clue. It has to do with college.

So every picture is a bit of a puzzle piece, and I do my best to sort through my evidence, and write the best 70 words possible for each picture.   As of last night I had finished 109 or about 60% of the required 180-200 pictures.  As I talk to more people, I’ll have to narrow it down, and throw some of them out, I’m sure.

A friend asked me what I do all day, and how much time I take writing my book (probably wondering why I hadn’t been calling her much :)).  It seems like I don’t do much, but I don’t seem to have much time to do tons of other things.  I have lots to talk about – as long as you are interested in Woodlake’s history.  Otherwise, I’m kind of dull.  I chose the think I’m focused.  :)

Marsha climbingcr

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough – Mae West

Travel Theme: Twist: Twisted Fourth of July

Setting up for an all city celebration traps workers into all kinds of twists and turns.

Twisted flagsUnfurling flags took hours.

Twisted3

Some workers didn’t stop until they saw stars!

Twisted2

Hope you had a memorable 4th!  Tell me about it!  :)

Crazy Women Don’t Blog, But What Do They Do?

Hi everyone,

It’s true, crazy people don’t write blogs.  I’ve been crazy busy these last few days.  We are changing staff people at CCSS, and I have answered emails, and tied up loose ends all week in the interim.

loose ends

I got my signed contract for the History of Woodlake book yesterday, and I’ve also been scanning pictures like crazy, and posting them on three different Facebook Woodlake groups.

4th Grade Bike Trip 4_RT

The pictures won’t win any awards, but when I post them on FB, people recognize their tia or tio (aunt or uncle), and other family members, and it’s a lot of fun.  I taught the fourth grade bilingual class in Woodlake in the early 90s.  Aren’t they adorable?

 

 

4th Grade Bike Trip 1_RT

The pictures show the last bike trip we took before the helmet law for bicyclists went into effect around 1993 or 1994.

 

4th Grade Bike Trip 3_RT

The goal was to get to location that hadn’t been disturbed by settlement, where a tribe of the Wachumna Indians, a sub-tribe of  Yokuts Indians, lived in this area.  The Yokuts, yes the ‘s’ is part of the name, was one of the largest tribes in North America.  Food was plentiful, nutritious and easy to gather or hunt.  However, not even missionaries or Spanish soldiers ventured this far east more than once or twice.  Settlers from South Carolina discovered this area in 1853.

 

4th Grade Bike Trip 7_RT

Kids enjoyed walking through a sort-of-cave and looking at the paintings left by the Wachumna.

 

4th Grade Bike Trip 15_RT

The owner of this property, who is in his 80s, remembers seeing them down by Cottonwood Creek.  It’s dry most of the year.  It probably was then, too.

 

4th Grade Bike Trip 10_RT

Wachumna women harvested the many oak trees in the area. Women of all ages sat around the large grinding rock and ground acorns.  You can tell who sat where by the size of the holes in the rocks.  Grandmas had very deep holes.  You can clearly see the deep hole on the back right.

 

 

4th Grade Bike Trip 2_RT

Too soon it was time to bike back to school.

4th Grade Bike Trip 13_RT

Drivers followed in trucks or vans to pick up stray bikes and bikers that broke down along the way.

 

4th Grade Bike Trip 14_RT

I biked behind them taking pictures and hoping that no one would have problems.  And no one did.  :)

Don’t Read Sad Books, Then Talk On The Phone

The Fault in Our Stars residing in my Kindle is Laurie’s fault.

LaurieShe read it and posted on Facebook how good it was.  When my friend Laurie says anything, I listen because she is smart and fun.  I immediately ordered the book on Amazon, and put it aside to read when I finished reading the boring book, Underworld a Novel.

The boringness of Underworld overwhelmed me on  Saturday. Then thought hit me that the day was too beautiful, and life is too short to EVER be bored.

The back yard 1

Saturday was one of those rare, partly cloudy, 85-90 degree, days in central California.  Vince and I sat by the pool and visited. When we ran out of words, I opened The Fault in Our Stars; he snuck off to take a picture.  The little blob by the pool slouched in the rocking chair with her legs spread apart like Grandma Morris, in her not-long-enough giant-flowered dresses exposing nylons that came up mid-thigh, is me.  In my defense I am wearing a bathing suit, so my thighs should be exposed.

Indianapolis street
I am driving up a street near our former home in Indianapolis, IN.

I’m laughing out loud at the audacity of this sixteen year old Hoosier (in the book).  I am a Hoosier (from Indiana), and it was great reading about a kid that attended my high school, North Central, and drove badly on streets near my home.  These three protagonist children all have cancer, but one of them is hot, hot, hot, according to the girl, Hazel.

Who names their kids Hazel?  Grandma Morris had a sister,  Great-Aunt Hazel, but really, does this author, John Green, know me or something?  It’s so Hoosier.

Hoosiers
Can you find Grandma Morris? Aunt Hazel is probably there, too.

In the book Hazel, age 16, has terminal cancer, and Augustus, the hot one, is cancer free after a leg amputation.  They meet in a cancer support group led by an old guy (probably 21 or so) who is cancer free after losing his testicles, which he talks about at every meeting.  The story bounces around from hilarious to sad, and I had just finished a particularly sad page when Melissa called. Melissa rarely calls me.

“You’ve got to call(a nameless friend of ours),” she orders.   “Her brother and sister-in-law are both expected to die within a few hours, and I can’t reach mom so she can call.  Could you please call her?”

My gut says, “This is not a good idea, Marsha Lee.  You’re crying, two people are dying, and you’re supposed to… say what?”

I’m the emotional one.  Melissa’s mom is the one who gets us out of our funk. I dial my friend’s number from memory.  She is not there.  I have to look up her cell phone.  She answers after a few rings.

“Where are you?” I ask, not knowing what to say, tears lurking in my voice.

“I’m in Utah.”

“Who are you with?”

This is the most eloquent thing I could think of to say at this point.  I’m off base because I know this “secret” about her brother and sister-in-law, but I don’t know if she is in on it.  Tears well up in my throat. I can’t think, let alone talk.  I wish I had listened to my gut.

“A couple of ladies from church.”

I’m at a complete loss.  Does she or doesn’t she know? She doesn’t give me any clues. By this point in the conversation, the pent-up tears wailed out a little.  It turned out that she knew.

“I’ll call you when I get back in ten days, and we can go to lunch,” she cut me short after I stumbled around some more.

“OK,” I replied and hung up.  I never felt dumber and more useless.

Moral:  When tears are in your eyes, wait to call.

Oh, and you’ve got to read The Fault in Our Stars.  It’s amazing.

Book Reviews: Peter Abrahams Collection

After I read Steven King’s, On Writing, I thumbed through his suggested reading list at the end of the book.  Granted he published his book ten years ago, so these are not the most up-to-date books.  Probably  voracious readers have already heard of Peter Abrahams, but I started at the top of the alphabetized list, so I started reading his books.  He does what I haven’t even come close to mastering.  He writes descriptions, metaphors newer and fresher than clean socks, similes as puzzling as a Sudoku, which I never work out correctly no matter how much scratching I do along the sides.  If I had to categorize Abrahams books, my guess is that they fit best as drama or mysteries.

Lights Out

In Lights Out Abrahams chose a wrongfully imprisoned, vengeful murderer as the hero.  This poor man’s mother neglected him.  His older brother set him up, lied to him and abandoned him, leaving “Nails” to serve his entire sentence in prison for something he never did.   Of course, he killed a few bad guys in prison that picked on him, which kept him locked up.  When he eventually emerged, looking younger and more fit than his outside colleagues, he looked for his errant brother.   Nails seemed dumb, but you had a feeling he would solve the mystery of why he went to prison, and get the good-looking woman in the end.  You wondered if his brother would get caught, and by whom. He did, but not in any way I would have expected, or chosen to read, for that matter, but it kept me reading.  No matter what he did, Nails’ brother got an appropriate comeuppance, but not one you’d wish on your worst enemy.

Revolution #9

Revolution #9, published in 1992, told the classic story of a smart woman marrying a man she thought she knew, and finding out on her wedding night that she didn’t even know his name, nor the people who came and took him away. The government thought they could close the twenty year old murder case when a counterfeiter blew Charlie’s cover in return for favors he would soon need again. No one had reacted with more surprise than Charlie when the bomb he had built and set under the building exploded, killing the eleven-year-old son of a professor at his college.

Running for his life, abandoned by the real terrorists, Charlie changed his identity, and took cover as a lobster fisherman.  He laid low until he accidentally fell in love.   When he married, news of Charlie’s reappearance twenty years later triggered many levels of events reaching into the depths of the government before the reader discovers the true perpetrators.  But did they get away with it, and let Charlie live?  Only those who read the book know for sure.

Oblivion

I also read Oblivion.  Such a title that might have clued me in to the surprise, but it didn’t.  It’s unclear by the end of the book if it actually has a resolved, happy ending.  It’s sort of happy, but because of the oblivious, I’m not sure.

Petrov is an investigator who wins court cases for his clients.  He’s dramatic and thorough, attacking each case with the tenacity of the locked door on my front loading washer. (That’s another story.)  Somehow along the way, he loses his way, and ends up in the hospital, falls in love with the nurse, and ends up head to head against his past and another love.  Abrahams packs more surprises into each chapter than I have had in my life.  If you read it long ago, you may have forgotten all the turns and twists, but I doubt it.

summer reading

If you haven’t read this trio of mysteries, treat yourself a few days of good reading this summer.  :)  What are you reading?

 

Book Review: Co-Operative Dreams A History of the Kaweah Colony by Jay O’Connell

Kaweah Colony

If you’ve never seen a tree so wide you can drive your truck through it, then you need to come to the Sequoia National Park.  The Kaweah River surges down from the Sierra Nevada, through the Big Trees, forming the Delta where big agriculture lives in Tulare County.

map

The huge forests that attract thousands of tourists world-wide today, might have been wiped from the map before their secret was discovered were it not for the drama that unfolded in the mountains in the 1880s.

I met author, Jay O’Connell, in the Pizza Factory in Three Rivers on the day Sally Pace and I made ad sales calls for the Kiwanis Magazine, “What’s Happening in the Foothills.”  I went home, and sure enough, I had his book, Cooperative Dreams A History of the Kaweah Colony, in my library, but to my loss, had never taken the time to read it.

Early tent colony where first Kaweah Colony residents settled.
Early tent colony where first Kaweah Colony residents settled.

“Three key issues of the nineteenth-century California history are illustrated by events at Kaweah.” The issues prominent in the 1880s, when the Kaweah Colony formed were: “land and its acquisition; labor and the organization of it; and conservation.  … They are personified by three major characters in the drama of the Kaweah.” Charles Keller found the land, and knew it would be perfect to start the perfect cooperative colony.  Burnette Haskell, son of none other than Eddie Haskell (not from Leave It To Beaver, but very much like him in personality) gave voice to the organized labor movement so prominent in those years.  Finally, Visalia’s own “Father of the Sequoia National Park,” George W. Stewart championed conservation so effectively that the results surprised even him.

More permanent dwellings afforded little protection from the winter weather.
More permanent dwellings afforded little protection from the winter weather.

What I didn’t know was that there was such a mysterious aura around the often-told story.  For fifty years even historians did not know how the park came to be included in a bill that originally reserved only a small portion of the trees for posterity.  Even more amazing was the reason for including the magnificent trees in the preservation act.

O’Connell gently unfurls the story, introducing each character, using primary sources including letters, newspaper articles, and interviews of survivors of the colonies conducted in the 1940s by Tulare County historical expert, Joe Doctor, to authenticate his narrative.

As a student of local history, I found this fascinating, but California’s history, its dream belongs to the world as did the settlers that came in the 1800s.

Reviews and Recommendations

A few weeks ago I read Breathing on Her Own published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas written by Rebecca Waters, a friend in a Facebook writers support group.  This book struck a chord with me because one of my friends in Visalia has gone through much of the same trauma.

Breathing on Her Own

Breathing on Her Own doesn’t sound like a lightweight romance, and it isn’t.  Waters walks us through the difficult healing process of a mother whose married adult daughter is paralyzed after a car accident.  WARNING:  Do not have unprotected sex if you think that parenting ends when your child leaves home at the end of… high school…  college… when they get married…

Molly Tipton, an active church-goer and Christian, battles God as she goes through the healing process after the car wreck.  Her daughter had been drinking, and the weather was bad.  Who got the blame for the accident?  God, of course.  It was HIS bad weather that made the road slick.  Well, maybe it was the “girlfriend” with Laney, she had always been a bad influence, but she died instantly, so it was hard to keep blaming her.

After the weeks Laney lingered in the hospital, Molly struggled through numerous changes and tribulations. That first night in the hospital watching her daughter struggle to breathe on her own, Molly never suspected that the caring officer, Officer Steadman, would later charge Laney with the manslaughter of one of her closest friends.  Molly and her husband, Travis, shared responsibilities for Laney’s children as the road to recovery wound around Obstacle Mountain.   When Laney left the hospital still unable to walk, Molly and her husband had hard financial decisions to make that threatened their retirement plans as they tried to help her daughter’s family cope with living with a disability.

 

Accidents are only a second away from any of us.  As she reached out to help , Molly discovered that her own life needed overhauling.

I recommend this book.  It’s an easy read, but then it’s not!

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A few days ago I told you that I switched to iPage. The switching procedure takes ended up being more complicated than I thought it would to switch, but I wanted to save $200 or so.  The service was great.  Eva called me, and answered my call.  However, I returned to WordPress because I had to transfer my own data to the hosting site.  Because my paid membership expired, I couldn’t do that and take my pictures.  I discovered that WP has a less expensive product to host the website, and give more room for storing my pictures.  I jumped on that train, and I’m back in business at WP.  For my simple purposes the $99 program is enough.  Just thought I’d share.

Book Review: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Writing the romance novel in November, ushered me through a hidden door from a room I thought I knew well, the Writing Room. My scores on tests throughout my training and career in education, convinced me I knew how to write, spell, and that my knowledge of grammar probably out classed Strunk and White – a good argument against multiple choice tests.

A romance site that helps new writers write the genre of romance recommended Stephen King’s book, On Writing:  A Memoir of the Craft.  I devoured every word, making more notes and highlights that I have ever made in my kindle.  I noted vocabulary and description.  He writes honestly without worrying who might be upset reading it, as long as it is true to character.

skonwriting

Stephen King started writing at about the same age I did, around age 10.  I entered a writing contest looking for new talent.  When the rejection slip came back, I wadded it up and threw it away.  Not Stephen King.  He began his lifelong collection of them.  He nailed them to his wall, and counted them as a step up to the next level of achievement.  What I learned from Stephen King is that you have to push yourself to publish.  Eventually you learn what you are doing wrong, if you keep working at it. I wonder what might have happened if I had kept trying to publish my writing.

Stephen King’s advice shot me right in the forehead.  In my first composing enthusiasm, I opened myself for the inevitable criticism that accompanies first drafts.  (duh) I was so excited when I wrote Girls on Fire that I sent it to anyone who was kind enough to take a look when it was fresh off my fingertips.  I discovered that it put one person to sleep, the grammar appalled another reader, and my main character had way too many character flaws.  That’s all good information, but there was more eye-opening to come.  After reading several books on how to write, I shudder because I know there are many MAJOR errors remaining after the fifth or sixth draft.  Master writer, King operates differently.  “Write with the door closed… When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story. … Once you know what the story is and get it right – as right as you can, anyway – it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.”

“Let’s say you’ve finished your first (fifth or sixth, in my case) … If you have someone who has been impatiently waiting to read your novel… then this is the time to give up the goods … if, that is your first reader or readers will promise not to talk to you about the book until you are ready to talk to them about it.” (p. 210)  Then he tells us impatient novice writers to let it sit at least six weeks before we start talking about it with the reader(s).  Finally, it’s time to do the real editing work, most of which has to do with character motivation.

King noted when to ignore your first readers.  “Some will feel Character A works but Character B is far-fetched.  If others feel that Character B is believable but Character A is overdrawn, it’s a wash” (p. 216).  Leave it be – yeah!  Another hint, “As a reader, I’m a lot more interested in what’s going to happen than what already did” (p. 224). “Everyone has a history and most of it isn’t very interesting” (p. 227) (No wonder my reader fell asleep!)

King’s wise words made my fingertips itch, and my brain dry up for the moment while I try to absorb his advice. In my humble opinion, every new writer, and some of us experienced ones, should read this book.

The Oldest Original Church Structure in the United States Still Used for Worship

Old Swede church 1

Spring arrived in Delaware coaxing daffodils and crocuses to bloom in the ancient cemetery outside Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.  Sun warmed my bare arms, and a light breeze rearranged my hair as we ambled among the crumbling tombstones towards the large stone church.

old swedes church 3

Colonial settlers may have built earlier churches, but those buildings fell down or out of use. Hal and I missed the 300th Anniversary Celebration at Old Swedes Church. This original stone structure, cemented together with crushed oyster shells mixed into the mortar, sprang to life in 1698.  The pattern of small stones, hand-carried by women parishioners, added strength and sparkle to the walls.  The pattern reminded me of ships or rafts in a fast-moving river.

 

old swede church2

Graffiti artists began working on the edifice in 1711 making it their own.

Some things never change.
Some things never change.

Calligraphers etched their marks in the door as well as the stone walls for over one hundred years.

old swedes church6

I couldn’t substantiate this 1697 piece of church gossip, on the internet, so it must be true.  In a church bustling with young life, when the new twenty-nine year old single pastor, Erik Bjork, arrived from Sweden, he began a building program.  Of course, he needed his own parking space.  We entered the church through what had been his reserved “barn door.”  He drove his carriage inside the barn door entrance to the church.

Old Swede church 9

According to our guide, his ride attracted the most eligible bachelorette in the congregation.  Other carriages drove under the front overhang, dropped off the riders, and drove on through.  Bjork stayed with his Christina congregation for seventeen years before returning to Sweden.

old swedes church 7

Inside the church, nearly one hundred years passed before artisans added stained glass windows.  This one attracts interest because young Jesus appears to carry a cross.  We approached the window so we could see the measuring marks along the t-square Jesus must have used as a carpenter’s apprentice.

Old swedes church 8

As we moved through the church, the guide fed us more facts that I could digest.  He and Hal discussed the abundance of eagles adorning Episcopal pulpits.

Old Swedes church10

“An ornamental eagle sales agent must have passed through all the New England churches in the early 1800s,” Hal suggested.

We stayed over twice as long as the 30 minutes needed to tour the church recommended by the Triple A Tour Book for Delaware and New Jersey.  We enjoyed many personalized stories we couldn’t read online.  We finished by meandering through the graveyard photographing crumbling tombstones of individuals who made history in early Delaware.  We wondered what made some famous, earning them shiny big headstones, and others remained obscure.  More questions drove us home to research in silence.

M.B. may have been the first person buried here, but no one knows anything about him or her.
M.B. may have been the first person buried here, but no one knows anything about him or her.

“Thanks to you, I learned a lot.” Hal told me at 9:30 in the evening.  Then he punched me in the ego.  “See what I found out about the new National Park in New Castle,”  he said as he handed me a new printout.

 

Flash: Old Ironsides is White Oak

I must be my father’s daughter since I can’t ever pass up the opportunity to get on board a ship, whether it goes somewhere or it doesn’t.

USS Constitution 1

The USS Constitution is still a commissioned ship manned by humorous navy docents.  I wonder if having a sense of humor comes as part of the package when one joins the navy.  Most navy vets I know tend to have a “dry” sense of humor.

uss contitution2

The first one told us about the upper deck and the construction of the ship, which is 10% original.  The second deck docent instructed us on the daily lives of 500 sailors living on hard tack and grog.

ussconstitution3

Some of the visitors had difficulty with the height of the ceilings in the “day of sail.”  These guys all adjusted in their own ways.

uss constitution4

Hope you are having a great weekend.  What are you doing this weekend?  My friend’s son, Matt, is picking me up soon, and driving me to see more sites outside of Boston.  :)

Reviewing Reams of Irresistible Romances

We visited the revitalized Visalia Electric caboose at Mooney Grove Park today.

Visalia Electric Caboose

Many of my Tulare County Historical Society friends asked me what I have done since I retired.

“Blah blah, and by the way I’ve written a book.”

“Oh, what kind?” Their eyes light up. (probably a history of something in Tulare County)

“A romance.” Their eyes unlight.  “How nice.”

Writing a romance is not easy – even for dummies.  I’ve read Writing Romance Books for Dummies book as part of my market research and learning process, and I’ve learned that there are so many different kinds of romances.  Additionally, I learned that most of the readers are well-read, well-educated, intelligent females.  “Jess!”  This book is a great place to start if you are serious about writing, and it will help you avoid the pitfalls I fell into as I wrote, then maybe you wouldn’t have to spend so much time rewriting.  I purchased a whole library of books for writers, but I’m not going to review them because, unless you are going to write books, you wont be interested in them.  Besides I haven’t read them yet!  hehe  :)

Here is the list of romances I’ve read in the last month.

Rating

1-10

Title & Author Review
7 Waking Up Married, Mira Lynn Kelly Connor meets and marries the girl of his dreams who spontaneously wore a tee-shirt with the words, “GOT SPERM?” sprawled across the font.   When Megan woke up in Vegas married, and throwing up the drinks from the night before,  she was ready to right the wrong immediately. However, Connor told her he wouldn’t give her a divorce until she tried the marriage.  This definitely can be categorized as a contemporary romance.
7 Hidden, Catherine McKenzie This suspenseful romance begins with the accidental death of husband/friend, and reveals the depths of the lives his death devastated. The reader plunges from one point of view to another.  It was confusing for the first few chapters because the author bounced back and forth in time as well.  Nonetheless, it was a page turner.  This definitely can be categorized as a contemporary romance.
5 Killer Cupcakes, Leighann Dobbs Lexy moved into her grandmother’s house right next door to a handsome investigator.  Unfortunately, she became the object of his investigation when her former boyfriend died as a result of poisoning after eating her cupcakes.  This definitely can be categorized as a contemporary romance.
5 Cupid’s Curse, Kathi Daley Zoe’s father falls in love with the wicked witch of the West, and when someone dies, Zoe steps out of her animal rescue business to help the police solve the murder.  She determines that the wicked witch, not only killed the victim, but that her dad is in danger as well.  The author keeps the reader guessing until the end to find out if her theory was correct.  This definitely is categorized as a contemporary romance.
6 Bang! You’re Dead, Debra Salonen With a heroine named Judy Banger, this can’t be anything but an erotic comedy.  Poor Judy is old by romantic standards, but brings home an really old guy who treated her with respect and concern. They have graphic sex, and he dies.  As much as this isn’t my kind of romance, if you could even call it that, it is very funny.  This definitely can be categorized as a erotica, but leans heavily into comedy.  It is contemporary as well.
3 Sneakers, Sandals, and Stilettos, Natasha Deen I had to stop reading this book in the middle, and I lost interest and never went back to it.  It might be great.
9 Chasing Fire, Nora Roberts This suspense romance spins two romances.  The primary romance blazes between daring, young, beautiful Rowan Tripp, lead “smoke jumper”  and a rookie “smoke jumper.”  The second, and less combustible romance develops around Rowan’s single parent/father, Iron Man Tripp, a retired “smoke jumper.” The nearly 500-page book moves swiftly through mishaps, murders, and near accidents.  Amazingly, I solved the murder successfully, which is unusual for me.  This definitely can be categorized as a contemporary romance.
7 Shotgun Bride, Linda Lael Miller Kade McKettrick needed marry to please his father and earn the right to inherit his property, so he ordered six brides.  By the time they arrived in early March, 1885, he had fallen in love with a feisty hotel clerk who worked for his sister-in-law.  The two of them fought through many rugged, wild-west adventures fighting off bad guys, and nearly getting killed.  This book had two other minor romances brewing at the same time, and several tragedies.  I never realized there were so many cowboy romances until I read the Writing Romance book.  This was my introduction to this genre.

About fifty percent of books written today are romance.  Romance sells, and even if the book is classified as a different genre, there is usually some romance woven into the plot.  The books listed above classify as romance first, and historical or suspense second.   I hope this ream of romance reviews helps you pick out your next good read.  But save room in your romance-reading schedule for Girls on Fire when it comes out!  :)

 

 

 

Boston Here I Come

I have the fortune to be going to the historic city of Boston on social studies business.  I’m extending my stay since I have never been there, and live in CA, so I’ll be there from April 1-8 then on to Philadelphia and Delaware from April 8-15.  Thanks to Google Images for all the pictures.

Boston at night2

I’ll be arriving at 11:00 p.m., so I’m sure the city will look beautiful. For me it will just be 8:00.  I’ll be raring to go!  However, I’m alone, so I’ll  get settled in my hotel, and maybe write a post or two with Manny.  The good news is that I’m going to get to visit blogger friend, Eunice at NutsForTreasure while I’m there.

I investigated a couple of blogs.  Free choices of interesting sights to see abound.  Many friends told me to walk the Freedom Trail which starts at the Visitor Information Center in the Common.

Boston Common

I must see the Mapparium, a walk-in, three-story-high, stained glass globe.

National_Geographic_Wallpaper_-_Christian_Science_Mapparium_display1

I’ll enjoy visiting the Museum of Fine Arts free on Wednesday after 4:00 p.m.  If I tour the Samuel Adams Brewery from 10:00-3:00 beforehand, will I have more fun, or fall asleep on the floor? zzz

Museum of Fine Arts

Maybe I should explore the Massachusetts State House the war ship, USS Constitution, and the Old North Church instead.  Most of them open at 10:00 also. I’ll have plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast while I get used to the three hour time difference.

Old-Massachusetts-State-House

If you have been to Boston, or lived here, what would you suggest for me to see, or are you a blogger friend who lives there?

Mom better not forget me this time!
Mom better not forget me this time!