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Friday, December 30, 2011

The Writing Life

I read a blog today that discusses the creative writing lifestyle (www.writingforward.com/creative-writing/creative-writing-lifestyle).

Author Melissa Donovan nails it when she says "We get excited over things that put other people to sleep...".

I spent some time thinking about what excites the writer in me. First and foremost it's the story. I've learned to constantly listen and observe, to understand that - to me - the real story is always in the person, and to open my thoughts to what motivates that person. Because I respond to surroundings, I consider the setting of many stories as one of the characters.

It's a revolving door. The more I write about people, the more I want to learn about them. The more I learn about them, the more I want to write.

Writing is the gift that keeps on giving. I've become more aware of my surroundings, people I meet. stories I hear and other writers' voices. I find myself more tuned in to the world around me.

Visit www.smashwords.com to download a free copy of my e-book, Colors of Kindness, which contains seven short stories about people or stories that have touched me.

I love everything about writing from the computer keyboard to pencil and paper, from random ideas to researched topics, from readers and fellow writers to bookstores, book signings and presentations. I think many of the writers I've met are among the world's most fascinating people and I admire their creative spirit and benefit from their knowledge and energy.

I love reading as much as writing. In fact, one of my 2012 resolutions is to find more reading time. I attended several conferences last year and I learned from each. I'm always amazed at the talent that others so willingly share.

For all the readers and writers out there, I wish you a 2012 filled with fascinating stories, the motivation and discipline to read or write, and a year-long burst of creative energy and intellectual curiosity.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fort Scott, Kansas

“Let’s meet for lunch in Ft. Scott (KS),” my brother called to make plans to meet before Christmas. “How about El Charro’s?”

“Sounds good,” I said. “We haven’t been to Ft. Scott for awhile.”
After a lunch with good company, good food and an exchange of Christmas gifts, we drove through down town Ft. Scott and marveled at the beautiful architecture of this small town of approximately 8,000, situated in southeast Kansas where Hwys 69 and 54 intersect.

The town, first established as an Army post in 1842, prides itself in its history. When settlers displaced Indians in the East, the government promised them a “permanent Indian settlement” west of the Mississippi. The fort was one of several established to enforce the promise.
At one time, Ft. Scott was one of the largest towns in the Kansas Territory. Like most of the Kansas-Missouri border, it saw its share of violence as the country moved toward the Civil War. Dubbed as “Bleeding Kansas” by the media, the fight over free-state vs. slave-state roared violently through the area long after Kansas entered the Union as a free state. Ft. Scott’s strategic location made it an ideal district headquarters for the Army during the war.

After the war, it became one of the largest cities in eastern Kansas, a major railroad center and home to a brick manufacturer. Both the Indianapolis Speedway and the Panama Canal used Ft. Scott bricks.
The town’s charm today includes miles of brick streets, beautiful Victorian homes, a rehabbed business district and the restored 1842 Frontier Fort, now the Fort Scott National Historic Site.

Add to that, the fun fact that as of July 2008, Ft. Scott residents hold three Guinness World Records: laying the fastest mile of pennies in the world in 2 hours, 23 minutes and 1 second; a local resident eating the most McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Cheeseburgers in 3 minutes; and laying continual lines of coins stretching for 40.32 miles. Sounds like a fun group of folks, doesn’t it?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The WWII Generation Enriches Our Lives

Tuskegee Airman Harvey Bayless
and my husband Everett
I’m immersed in WWII. For the past few weeks, I’ve thought of little else, except Christmas shopping.

Rudy Rudolph
I have several simultaneous projects and they all involve WWII. I’m finishing a book about John Bax, who spent his youth in Belgium under Nazi occupation. I’m beginning a project helping Rudy Rudolph tell his experiences as part of the 45th Army Division that fought at Anzio, on the shores of southern France and on up into Germany. I’m writing two articles for the Veteran Family Network magazine; one about the Tuskegee Airmen and another about Jack Myers, a bombardier with the 15th AF in Italy. Added to that, I’m reading Unbroken, the best-seller about Louis Zamperini’s experiences in the Pacific Theater.
I am fascinated with the stories people share with me. I admire these men and women and am grateful that as a generation, they sacrificed so much to protect their country. Whatever their role, their lives were defined by the war. From school children to adults and from Europe to America and the Far East, every person lives with memories of events that shaped their lives then and now. What an impact they had on their world and that of future generations. Society changed because the war demanded new and different roles, blurred gender lines and opened the door to educational opportunities and future racial equality.

The war impacted my life because of my parents and my children’s lives because of me. I’m struck by the chain of events caused by a generation’s actions and by the knowledge that one generation's existence is dependent on the previous generations. I’m lucky because the WWII generation showed the strength and courage to do what was necessary to ensure their children’s futures.
Most of all, I’ve grown to care deeply about the people I’ve met and written about. When they share their stories, they become like family and I am blessed by the gift they give me.

If you are fortunate enough to share your holiday season with someone from the WWII generation, ask them to share their story. You’ll bless them and they in turn will bless you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sometimes We All Need Comfort Food

Regardless of our diet and lifestyle, we all long for comfort food now and then.

A few weeks ago, I met with Rudy and Peggy Rudolph to help him get his WWII story into book form. “Come around lunch time. We want to take you to lunch,” Rudy told me.
“Rudy said it’s a neighborhood café,” I told Everett, my husband. “He said they like to eat there.”

After Rudy gave me boxes of research materials and photos to scan, he suggested it was lunchtime. “We’ll follow you,” I told him.
It wasn’t exactly next door and rather than a neighborhood café, it was the Neighborhood Café in downtown Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

“New owners took it over earlier this year,” Peggy said. “Three guys. They all work in the restaurant.”
No sooner had we sat down at Rudy’s favorite table than a plate filled with hot cinnamon rolls appeared at the table. “Try one,” Rudy pushed the plate toward me.

“They smell wonderful,” I assured him as Everett and I each put one on our plate. Rudy had a big smile as he waited for us to take that first bite.
“Scrumptious!”

“I knew you’d love them,” he said as he helped himself to a roll.
“Rudy always eats one here and takes one home,” Peggy said. “Get anything you want. Everything’s good.”

“We really like the chicken fried steak and the sweet potatoes,” Rudy said. “Just tell them what you want and they’ll fix you up.”
Everett ordered the chicken fried steak and I chose chicken fried chicken. With real mashed potatoes, gravy and a vegetable, we received a meal of generous portions.

“You’re right,” I told Rudy and Peggy. “The food is delicious.”
“Everything is home-cooked. They make the rolls and their own pies.”

“How often do you come here?”
“Pretty much every day; sometimes twice a day,” Peggy laughed. We joined in.

“My picture’s on the wall in the other room,” Rudy said.
We walked in the room to see one wall filled with photos of veterans from Lee’s Summit and two walls covered with historical front pages of newspapers. “It’s like a museum with all the history here,” I turned to Peggy. “I’d love to read them all.”

After we found Rudy’s photo and left, we thanked them. “We’ll come back again next time,” Rudy smiled.
“Sounds good,” I said.

As we walked to the car, Everett said, “Probably not good for me but I enjoyed every bite.”
Enough said! If you need down-home cooking, the Neighborhood Café excels.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Missouri State Penitentiary's Most Infamous Escapee

James Earl Ray photo
from www.missouripentours.com
Mention the name James Earl Ray and most Americans know that he was the man who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

Because fate smiled on Ray one day in the Missouri State Penitentiary, King died.
Ray was convicted for a 1959 robbery and sentenced to twenty years in prison.  While incarcerated in the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, he made several unsuccessful escape attempts before he achieved success in April of 1967.  Ray worked in the prison bakery and on April 23, he hid in a large shipping box. Along with the bread, he was loaded onto the delivery truck, escaped the prison and became a free man.

Less than a year later, he achieved an infamous place in history when he assassinated King. He confessed to the murder, was convicted and sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison. He made two more escape attempts. In both cases he was caught.
Although Ray admitted guilt, he later recanted, proclaimed his innocence and sought a retrial. However, he died of liver failure in 1998 as an inmate of a Tennessee prison and the retrial never took place. Today questions regarding his guilt and King’s assassination remain unanswered.

The Missouri State Penitentiary and the Department of Corrections listed James Earl Ray as an escapee until his death even though he spent most of the time incarcerated in another prison.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Defeating cancer one person at a time

Today I had my annual post-thyroid-cancer body scan. It’s a time for me to write about the importance of doctor visits and checkups. I’m not offering any breakthrough news, just encouragement to have a physical.

Although I’d had blood tests to check my thyroid levels, I never suspected I had a problem. When I had my annual physical, my doctor felt my throat, discovered a small nodule and ordered tests. After two months, various tests and a biopsy, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and advised to have surgery.
My son helped locate a doctor in Kansas City. I had two consultation appointments: the first doctor suggested we treat it aggressively with immediate surgery, the second suggested we take our time.
I am thankful I chose the first doctor because cancer had taken over my entire thyroid and several of my lymph nodes. While it's scary to know that cancer invaded my body, it's fantastic to know the doctor cut out those deadly cancer cells.

Since my surgery eighteen months ago, I’ve taken Synthroid every day. With it I’ve lost weight, have more energy than ever and I believe that the cancer is gone – at least for now. We all know that once cancer is in your body, it can rear up in other places at another time.

The moral of this story: go to your doctor, make sure he or she really checks you and if something is wrong and a solution is offered, take advantage of it.  If follow-ups are ordered, follow through.
Although we have much to learn about cancer, we’re lucky to live in a time of continuing medical advances. My mother-in-law died of thyroid cancer twenty-six years ago. I wish she would have had the treatment options offered today. I suspect she would have lived a lot longer.

Find out what medical issues you have and be aggressive in treating them. It’s your life; protect it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor and War Horse

It seemed appropriate that I would attend a screening of War Horse on the eve of Pearl Harbor Day. Different wars but the same results: many people died and many others lived their entire lives with the pain and memories of war.

As the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor approached, I thought about the survivors I’ve met over the years. For those in Hawaii in the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack snatched away any prospect of ordinary lives. I’ve tried to imagine what people must have felt that morning when the first bombs fell; the disbelief, fear, chaos, shock and the surge of adrenaline that must have flowed through their veins.
Some never lived past the first emotions while others survived to find those emotions etched deep in their souls. That one morning defined their lives.

The movie War Horse brought that home. The Steven Spielberg film, adapted from the novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo, brings a reality to war through the story of a young man and his horse. Raised in rural England, young Albert trains the horse he names Joey. When they are parted by war, we follow their separate journeys.  Through them we experience the horror and tragedy that the war brought to both sides of the conflict. Amidst the destruction, we witness man and animal’s love and friendship.
In remembering Pearl Harbor, we pay tribute to the men and women who died and those who lived through that momentous moment in history. We try to understand the friendships and lives torn apart that morning and throughout the war.

War brings the same results to those involved no matter the time, the place or the participants. My hope is that we always remember and pay respect to those who have served their country, especially those whom fate placed in combat situations.
For my review of War Horse, visit http://www.examiner.com/veterans-in-national/steven-spielberg-s-war-horse-brings-wwi-to-life

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sarah's Key

Cover from Amazon
I usually read a book before I see the movie. However, last night we rented Sarah's Key at our local Redbox and now I plan to read the book.

Kristin Scott Thomas stars as an American journalist married to a Frenchman and living in Paris. She is assigned an article about the Vel d'Hiv in July, 1942, where the Nazis ordered the French police to round up the Jews who were ultimately taken to Auschwitz.

Meanwhile she and her husband plan to move into the apartment that his family has owned since August of 1942. She learns that a Jewish family lived there until they were taken by the police. She discovers a family secret that changes her life.

As she researches her article, she finds that her life becomes entwined with the lives of the Jewish family, the Starzynskis. The film moves effortlessly between the past and the present. She learns that only Sarah, the 10-year-old daughter, survived.

The movie captured our attention from the beginning and we sat in dreadful anticipation of what would happen to members of the Jewish family.

Afterwards, I researched the movie and found that it was based on a best-selling novel written by Tatiana de Rosnay. This fictional account of an historical event recounts the history of Jews in Paris under the Nazi regime.

I had never heard of the book and now I can't wait to read it. It's available in print and ebook formats. I certainly recommend the movie to anyone who likes history and stories about human relationships.