If you'd asked me two years ago if I'd ever write another book, I'd have told you I didn't know. For two or maybe three years, I wrote weekly devotions for our church's Facebook page. Maybe I'd keep writing more, and one day go through them and create a book.
I'd be asked if I planned to add a third book to the Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast series. I didn't think so. I left the first sequel, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland, with more to come regarding Sam and her love interest. But I didn't know if I had another angle to tell. The books had satisfied my ache during my prolonged adjustment to the empty nest. I no longer felt passionate about a third visit to my beloved fictional inn.
Not far into 2020, I still had calls about providing book or writing programs. At this time one year ago, I was busy finishing up the planning with devotional writer and friend Debbie McCray on a devotions workshop at my church, I had been asked to provide programs for four other organizations in the months to come, and I was still working at the newspaper. It was plenty on my plate, along with some other personal hobbies and studies.
Then my brother, Tim, unexpectedly passed away in March, a loss I will always feel. I miss him so much. Tim was laid to rest on St. Patrick's Day. I think of that day also as the beginning of the pandemic. The realization hit me, oddly, when a masked face or two was spotted at the burial site, and there was no place to gather to visit with family and friends--the restaurants were closed to eat-in customers. The boys came back to our house and we had pizza.
The next day I went to work only to learn that we were all being sent home to work. No one knew for how long. I had no idea how I'd get it all done from home without in-person interviews or photos. But we learned and the paper came out every day it is supposed to with no blank pages inside.
As a feature writer, I had to find more to write about more than mask making, although I was happy for those stories. There was one about a nursing home resident who was more than 100 and who recovered from Covid. Things were scary and sad, and soon, I might not even be able to spare a square of toilet paper, but I needed to find a silver lining. I am a seeker of silver linings. So I started writing a series called Lighter Side of Isolation. Brian and I found projects around the house, or observations about being on the hunt for toilet paper, or Zoom, or changing out our lightbulbs for LED ones. We had most of the entire downstairs interior painted. We moved Ben from Indy to Carmel.
Then I told Brian I had an idea for cleaning out the attic.
The idea involved one tote a week. But what I found interested me so much that I looked forward to climbing those stairs once a week or even taking that hike several times a week as I got into the swing of it.
I started writing about some of the finds and more than the objects, the stories about why they were elevated to the lofty status of attic storage. I found things I thought were lost. (hello, Gladys Rude's original painting!) And got rid of stuff I once thought deserved saving (goodbye prom dresses).
I collected story ideas from those attic finds. If only I had time to write about them, this might be ... a book.
It was published last night and just like that, the Kindle version posted. I posted on Facebook a "life event." The night-owl friends started commenting ... and finally I just had to get to bed.
Earlier today the morning people chimed in ... and to my delight, some offers to host me at some meetings and banquets have presented themselves. This is what floats my boat! Soon I'll be out there visiting with people -- those in my hometowns of Brownsville and Liberty, and my career hometown of New Castle and other Henry County locations. Some new venues have also emerged, and I'm awaiting specifics. In case you're wondering, I'm fully vaccinated, to include the booster.
When I finalize dates, I'll start a calendar for upcoming programs, closed or open. And I'll be spending lots of time writing programs tailored to their (and maybe your) specs.
Meanwhile, here's the winter issue of the magazine I used to edit, now the charge of editor Katie Clontz. I'm grateful for the cover plug. It will be inside your Saturday New Castle Courier-Times and I'm sure they'll have extra on hand at 201 S. 14th St.
The books are up on amazon, and I'll be stocking them for sale on this end too.
From left, author and journalist Cathy Shouse, columnist and soon-to-be author Janet Leonard, national bestselling author Susan Crandall; ASAP Writing Services owner, author, and writer Susan Sparks, and yours truly. The Susan in the middle is also a lifelong friend of Janet's. Both hail from and live in Noblesville.
Our little band of writers meets monthly and each gathering leaves me stoked about our craft, fulfilled in a way I didn't know I would find in retirement. Writer Chicks Society had a special meeting on Tuesday.
We hosted Janet's lifelong friend and classmate Susan Crandall. Susan is a national bestselling author, revered for such titles as Whistling Past the Graveyard, and quite a few additional books. She's at work on a new one now, as well as doing regular-life stuff such as assisting with a family business, and babysitting twin grands.
If that makes her sound down to earth, it's because she is. Raised in and returned to Noblesville, she's not so different from us. Unless you count her tens of thousands, heck probably hundreds of thousands, of fans. Maybe more than that. Yet there she sat with us for hours at Janet's kitchen table yesterday, dishing on what it's like to be a Big Five author.
When we offered her an "out" to leave, deep into the afternoon after a long lunch, she said no, that she had been looking forward to hearing about our projects. And so she stayed another hour as we shared updates on what we're each working on, stumbling blocks we're experiencing, and yes, our guest even offered some advice.
But before all of that goodness--lunch.
It was a day I don't think any of us wanted to see end, but by 4 p.m. (or later), it was time. Thanks to everyone for such a great meeting.
It takes a village ... borrowed snowpeople of all shapes and sizes filled Ovid Community Church Saturday for the women's day retreat. Instead of spending money on decor, decorating chair Chrissy Quinn gathered snowpeople from committee members. The snowfolks took a field trip. When it was over, some of the snowpeople were seen peering out the backs of car windows heading home, still smiling. Willard looks a little uncertain, but cute all the same.
There are so many to thank for the day coming together so well, but Jill Brown is certainly one of them. She led worship songs, and gave her thoughts on "Perfect Harmony," as part of the morning session. She also led a make-it-take-it activity on making prayer journals, and make sure the techie stuff was covered. Special thanks to Ricky for his help with the technical end of everything, as well.
Grateful for all the speakers, which also included Delaine Wooden and Linda Mackey, as well as emcee Pauline Cox, and to everyone on the committee who took part to make it a great day. My favorite part of the retreat was sitting around a table in the atrium and hearing the happy buzz of women talking and sharing all around me, punctuated by laughter. The day, with the theme, "Where Friends Gather," served as an uplifting way to begin 2022 ... and to begin connecting and dreaming again ...
Here's the latest Next Chapter newspaper column.
I don’t know about you, but for me, 2020-21 merges into a single chunk of time. And here we are in 2022 as COVID remains the lead story most days, regardless the media outlet we choose.
Recently I celebrated something peculiar: “That’s great,” I told Brian. “A viral throat infection!”
Only in the COVID era (yes, I think we're officially in an era) could anyone applaud a throat infection. Yet I did because it meant that it wasn’t COVID nor that other C word. He had been to the doctor, tested negative for the dreaded coronavirus and strep throat. No scripts were prescribed; just ibuprofen, rest, and fluids. We could do that.
As the illness lingered, and Brian worried about getting his voice back, I assured him that he would.
"But if you don’t,” I added, “in a show of solidarity, I will never speak again.”
Hmm, wondered how that would work out.
I told him that he needed to avoid talking for a while though, to heal. I encouraged him to communicate through other creative means such as sign language, pantomime, interpretive dance, or a voiceless skit. I’m still waiting to see that interpretive dance.
I’m now one week into my second year of retirement; no longer able to use the term, “new retiree.” Maybe I’m at the age where I’m not new at much of anything.
Still. I celebrate much about 2021. On that day Dec. 30, 2020 day when I walked out the back door for the last time at 201 S. 14th St., New Castle, my immediate goal consisted of making it to the car without tears. I cleared that objective, a reminder that when life is hard, we need to simply just get through the next thing; and the one after that.
When last January arrived, my time, emotions, and prayers went into seeing Brian through his health issues. There were dark days, and difficult moments; there were tears, and even sobs. There were weeks when I wondered what awaited us, and how or if he would get better.
But thank You God! He got better, and by the time we put up the 2021 Christmas tree, Brian asked, “What do you think about rearranging the living room and putting the tree up somewhere new?”
I looked at him as though he were an alien from not just Mars, but from another galaxy. Who was this man? And where did he get the kind of energy to ask me that question? I didn’t have it regarding a room redo—but it was almost worth it for no other reason than he apparently did.
The shero (that’s the female version of the word hero; you’re welcome) of the year came in the form of a nurse friend who provided one small tip that became an immediate game changer for Brian’s medical situation. An angel among us.
By late summer, Brian’s first post-surgical cat scan returned clean, and it felt as though we had won the lottery! Not just the lottery, and a ticket around the world, and a lake house, and whatever else you think might make your heart sing. But I can tell you that a singing heart isn’t about material things. It’s about good health. Suddenly, we could laugh, joke, and make plans again.
What’s amazing are the other blessings that piled high in 2021. I not only finished writing the book I spent the year working on, but am able to connect with some kindred spirit writers who formed a small monthly group. When we meet for four hours, it feels like four minutes.
One tip I got from one of the writers moved my book project forward in ways I couldn’t have imagined—through the suggestion of a book designer. I’m not just talking cover typography, but an interior designer. Yes, every book has a specific interior look, much as does a home.
There were other joys: the support in prayers and deeds of people who care about us; the gathering of Brian’s aunts and cousins in October; watching our gutted and rebuilt bathroom emerge from a five-month wait after ordering materials.
There’s the service group I joined at church; the projects our life group has worked on this year; the delight of meals shared with friends, and the feeling three times a week of water in a pool at my exercise location.
This newspaper, along with those in New Castle and Shelbyville, allowed me to reimagine a column similar to the one that I wrote in Henry County for three decades—only through this lens of being a little older. Well, a lot older. I started it at age 30 and here I am, somehow 63. (I can't even describe myself as in my early sixties now, can I?)
While I have no idea where the years went, I also affirm that there is life after one’s main career. Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll have more to say this year. Thank you for reading. These days, my writing is done from a comfy recliner with a Boston terrier nestled beside me. Those too, are blessings.
Whatever unfolds for you in 2022, know that even in the hardest of times, blessings will show up.
Just ask the Good Lord to help you see them.