Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas letter 2007

I didn’t get to send out a Christmas letter last year, for the reason that we had a couple early arrivals – Serious & Starlet (their nicknames) weren’t due till January 23, but their birthday ended up being December 3!

Being two months premature meant they needed to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for two weeks, while I stayed in the nearby Ronald McDonald house, visiting them four to five times a day to deliver tiny bottles of milk – just about the only thing I could do for my babies the first week. I wasn’t even allowed to hold them the first week because they were being kept within isolettes (incubators, basically), and breathing with the help of respirators.

By the second week they were doing much better, breathing on their own and I could hold them for a few minutes at a time. Grace had a heart condition that is common with premature babies, but fortunately medication worked to improve it and over the next few weeks her heart had caught up to her early birthdate. There were many other babies in the NICU that were not faring so well. Babies as early as 23 weeks, as small as my hand, encased in tiny oxygen tents. At the Ronald McDonald house, we met the parents of a one month old baby that had just had a heart transplant. We met other parents with children with cancer and children on dialysis waiting and praying for organ donations. Everyday we realized how blessed we were with our healthy babies, that just needed a little extra time to catch up.
The second week my mother-in-law, Joy, came to stay with me at the Ronald McDonald house so B. could go back to work. In the meantime my parents had been taking care of our older girls, Blaze and Dreamer, for three weeks while I was on bedrest and in the hospital. The girls were finally able to come down and stay with us. The Ronald McDonald house was like a vacation for them! It had lots of play stuff including larger-than-life, fully-furred statues of two of their favorite Disney monsters, Sullivan and Mike.

Volunteers would come over two or three nights a week to make dinner for all the residents and set up special activities for the kids (making gingerbread houses, playing games, etc). Before leaving the Ronald McDonald house, we were showered with donated Christmas presents for all five of our girls (even my stepdaughter). We could hardly fit all the presents in our van!

By Dec 19, two weeks after their birthday, we got the much anticipated permission from our insurance company to transfer the twins to the hospital in Laramie – which meant we could finally go home for Christmas! (A side note: the cost of transferring two babies on the same ambulance 150 miles was almost $10,000, PER BABY! Even though the transfer was pre-approved, we still spent the next 9 months fighting with the insurance company to get the amount paid).

The twins spent another week and half in the Laramie hospital, learning how to eat (babies born before 34 weeks gestation do not yet have the ability to nurse or take a bottle). Even when we brought them home from the hospital, Grace still had to be hooked up to oxygen for another couple weeks to handle Laramie’s high elevation and thin air. Up until then we’d had nurses taking care of them round the clock, and now we had to take over. They had to be fed every three hours, and feeding both of them could take up to an hour! B. is my hero for taking the 3 am feeding every night for a month. Fortunately Serious and Starlet gained weight fast and were actually sleeping through the night by three months. The twins were basically quarantined at home because preemies are more susceptible to sickness, in fact Grace spent three days in the hospital again with pneumonia. I couldn’t have survived those first few months without tons of help from my parents, B.’s parents, neighbors and friends bringing us meals, my Aunt Margie coming for two weeks to help (and giving me time to catch up on some sleep), and the help of a part-time nanny so I could keep my sanity by getting out of the house every other day!

We’ve come a long way… Serious and Starlet are already a year old, crawling all over the place and starting to cruise. It’s kind of like having little gremlins in the house, you never know where a baby is going to pop up, usually in some kind of mischief. They have completely different personalities. The doctor’s comment about Serious when she was in the NICU was that “this one doesn’t know she was born early; she’s ready to go.” She has always been a little ahead of her sister – the first to sit up, the first to crawl; usually the first to cry, too. She is always exploring, and loudly vocalizing her opinions about the world. She is also likes to crawl over her sister (why go the long way around?), and will often pause to pummel her sister in the process. Don’t feel too sorry for sensitive, wide-eyed little Starlet, though. On many occasions I have seen her steal her sister’s pacifier. She is good at pulling her sister’s hair too.
Blaze is six now, loving kindergarten, and taking after me with a passion for “writing” books. Actually, she dictates the stories to me, or to Grandma H, we write them down for her, and then she illustrates them. She adores her baby sisters and pitched in helping with them right away, doing just about everything but changing their diapers (we let her try that once, but she hasn’t volunteered since).
Dreamer is three years old and loves to play dress-up and copy everything Blaze does. She does pretty well with her baby sisters except sometimes she tells them they are being too noisy. For a while she thought their car seats were her own personal play toys. I have found various dolls and toy horses strapped into the car seats, complete with blankets tucked in around them.
My stepdaughter, Stars, is about to turn 13 years old and is already better at walking in high heels than I am. She still plays a good mean game of monopoly with me when she comes to visit (except we play a version called horseopoly). Blaze and Dreamer can usually talk her into playing Candyland with them too – and even better yet, she’ll fix their hair fancy for them. Stars and I frequently trade books and whenever we finish a good book we call each other and tell all about it (except the ending, of course).

I am still working part time (going to my office is almost a vacation for me, so quiet and peaceful compared to all the noise at home). I still manage to find time to ride my horses once in a while and go hiking in the mountains. B. is still running large machinery, moving lots of dirt and occasionally the extra special treat of getting to tear down a building.
He is also doing a lot of plumbing on the side and is in the process of partnering up to start a new plumbing business. He still doesn’t care much for the plumbing business, but we decided we like the money it makes well enough to give it another go. As if that doesn’t keep him busy enough, he is working on his degree again, taking two classes a semester, and he started two new hobbies this year as well: rebuilding wrecked trucks for re-sale, and team roping.
For those of you who have never had the pleasure of going to a rodeo, team roping is where two guys on horses chase down a steer, one of them ropes it around the horns and the other ropes one of it hind legs. When he first started out, B. wasn’t very good at roping steers so he would practice roping my horse, Rebel, or one of our barn cats, or any other moving or stationary target, including small children. The kids don’t mind though because whenever it snows, their dad will put a rope on their sled and pull them behind his horse (at speeds that make their mother a little nervous).

When B. got pretty good at roping this fall, he decided he needed his own steers to rope, so we are now owners of two calves. At first I threw a fit when he moved them in behind our barn. But they are so cute, I softened up (we only get to keep them for a few months, anyway, then they get moved to the ranch down the road from us).

Many blessings to you all for 2008.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas letter 2005

Following last year’s tradition, this year’s Christmas letter is another collection of little stories and moments from our lives. B., Blaze, Dreamer and I visited my parents in their timeshare in Hilton Head for winter break. We had lots of long relaxing walks on the beach and much fun watching Blaze chase waves and sandpipers, and watching Dreamer learn how to crawl. The big adventure however was flying home with the two girls by myself (B. had flown back a week earlier). I managed to come down with the flu the day before, so the 4 hour plane trip with Dreamer on my lap the whole time was quite a challenge. At one point I was aching so much I had to put Dreamer down. Excited to be free, she crawled up and down the aisle grinning while everyone pointed and laughed as she went by. Even the flight attendants tolerated it, though one of them commented: “do you know how dirty that floor is?” There comes a point when you just don’t care anymore…

This summer the girls had great fun seeing Grandma and Grandpa B. and all the aunts and uncles and cousins in Kansas and South Dakota. Blaze got a little confused and started calling Norb her “Uncle Grandpa.” Stars and her cousin Taryn loved riding the horses, Miss and Rebel, and when it got too hot to ride, they’d come into the house and set up a “jump course” in the living room (laundry baskets, foot stools, pillows, you name it) and then they’d talk me into “judging” their jumping competition. A highchair wasn’t available for Dreamer , so we set her on an overturned pot on a chair and it worked okay for a while till she figured out that she could crawl right up on the table! We caught her a couple times halfway down the table pursuing someone else’s plate.

B. & I have given up trying to get away for our anniversary on the 4th of July – too much going on then! From now we’ve decided to celebrate in the fall instead. Mom and Dad babysat the girls so we could take a weekend trip to Yellowstone in September. It was a bit chilly but a perfect time for viewing golden aspens and snowy mountain scenery, and lots of wildlife. Once we pulled over for a closer look at two bison right beside the road. They passed so close to the car we could have reached out the windows and touched them. Which gave B. the idea that he’d like to pull a bison tail and so could I drive up to the bison again, and then drive away quick before the bison figured out what had happened to him? (I declined).

Hunting season always adds new funny stories to B.'s repertoire (he is great story-teller!) Last year it was all about his cooking at the hunting camp (some disaster involving jalapenos). This year the hunting misadventure involved his poor borrowed horse, who somehow ended up impaled by a branch sticking out of a log. The horse recovered quite well, fortunately, but he’s no longer borrowed – B. felt so bad about his injury, he ended up buying him! My favorite hunting story is from when B. was about 14 or 15, out bow hunting. He hid himself near a pond, and a big old buck came out to drink. He started shooting arrows at the buck, but the animal was such an old pro that he didn’t run away; he just calmly side-stepped each arrow, waiting patiently for the next one to come till B. ran out of arrows. Then B. did a great imitation of the buck shrugging “well, that’s over,” continuing on his way as if nothing had happened at all.

Funny moments with Blaze: at a friend’s birthday party at the city pool, Blaze got so excited when it was time to go swimming that she couldn’t wait to be escorted to the changing room; she started stripping down to change into her swimming suit right in the middle of the party room!

Once when I was leaving for work, I called out as usual to Blaze, “Bye honey, I love you and be careful.” Blaze responded to me, “Bye Mom, I love you too. Be careful and don’t drive too fast.”

Blaze was being too quiet in her room one day, so I peeked in to check on her. She was lying on a blanket on the floor, her hands folded on her chest, looking peacefully asleep. It wasn’t her nap time, so I was curious. “Are you awake, Blaze?” “No,” she replied, without opening her eyes. “I’m playing Sleeping Beauty.”

Our year has been full of fun, especially with our three girls, but there have been times of frustration and discouragement too. I had my usual battle with seasonal depression during the winter, but this year for some reason it went on much longer, well into May. B. has had many struggles with his excavation business, resulting in a decision to sell out and look for another job. It is often easy to lose sight of all our rich blessings when faced with some of these issues. But B. & I try to remind ourselves that there is a greater purpose in these times of trial, for God works all things for the good of those that love Him. We pass our love on to all you, our family & friends, and wish you many blessings this Christmas season – and that we all keep “looking at life through heaven’s eyes” (one of my favorite movie lines).

Christmas letter 2004

2004 has brought us darling new little girl, Dreamer (her nickname), who is nearly seven months old already. Blaze is 3 years old now, and she adores her baby sister. It has been an interesting and challenging year with Blaze, learning to talk (and talk back!), discovering Barbies (oh woe is me), potty-training and all sorts of other adventures. Instead of writing a traditional Christmas letter, I thought this year I would try something new, and share a few “vignettes” from the past year.

Stars spent Easter with us this year – sent her and Blaze on a treasure hunt all over the house to find eggs, each egg with a clue about where the next egg was hidden, with their easter baskets as the grand finale. After Stars left to go back home, we’d ask Blaze where Stars went, and she’d say, "up in the airplane." We think she thinks Stars is permanently up there, just flying around, until it’s time for her to come down and visit again.

Mom and Dad’s favorite restaurant in Laramie is called Elmer Lovejoy’s and it’s down by the railroad tracks: we love watching the trains go by while we eat (Blaze especially loves the chu chus). We are also fascinated by one server who works there, who has Viking runes tattooed on her back. One evening we saw a train go by carrying hundreds of army tanks, a grim reminder that we are at war.

My grandmother, Alfaretta Smith, celebrated her 100th birthday this year in March. I’m so thankful I was able to make it to her gala birthday party. At first she didn’t recognize me because I was six months pregnant! She passed away in May, just a couple weeks before Dreamer was born. I will always treasure memories of her reading me fairy tales, and dancing with me with silken scarves swirling around us. “Grandma, are fairies real?” “Of course they are.” She was so firm about this that to this day I still kind of believe it, myself.

Stars is 9 years old now and is no longer interested in playing with her Barbies, so this summer she gave them all to Blaze. She likes to make beds for them with the washcloths in our bathroom vanity and tuck them away in the drawers and under the sink. One afternoon I heard her heard her sigh, oh so romantically, and exclaim “Oh where are you, my son Barbie?” Her son?

B.'s Dad, Norb, stayed with us for a couple weeks this fall, helping us remodel our bathroom. To avoid confusion between two Grandpas, I told Blaze to call him “Grandpa B.” Except one time she called him Grandpa Beer by accident (or on purpose? He does like to relax in the evenings with a bottle of beer in hand!)

Went down to the county treasurer’s office to get B.’s truck registered, and noticed that there was a nun working in the office, dressed in a black habit, complete with a white wimple. Well isn’t that neat, I thought, a nun working at the office and she still dresses the old-fashioned way. Then I saw another nun come out from a back room, and then another one down the hall. Boy did I feel silly. It was the Friday right before Halloween.

At church one Sunday I was proudly holding my beautiful little baby girl, all dressed up in pink and frills with rosy cheeks, as cute as cute can be. And then right when the pastor paused during his sermon, Dreamer let out a belch that only her Daddy could be proud of. Everyone turned and stared at us, and I never felt so red and embarrassed in my life!

On a cold, snowy day in November I let Blaze go outside in the backyard to play, all bundled up in her winter clothes. Distracted for a minute (Dreamer had just spit up all over herself), the next thing I know is that my father-in-law is calling to me, “your daughter’s running around outside naked.” She had found her little wading pool in the backyard, and a watering can with water that hadn’t frozen yet, so she dumped the water in her pool and proceeded to strip down to go swimming.

Thanksgiving day – 27 members of B.’s family all crammed in one house. We spent the evening doing what every family should do on the holidays – killing each other in a friendly game of “Mafia”. Whoever draws aces get to be the mafia, jacks are cops, everyone else just plays along, hoping not to get killed before they discover who the killers are. Some creative deaths in this round: 7 year old Briana was licked to death by puppies; 15 year old Danielle was killed by a barrage of basketballs after a basketball game; Navy seaman Nathan was hung off his ship and drowned; I was killed by my horse; B. was knocked into a hole he had dug, and buried in dirt with his own excavator!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

lame excuses

This is really sad... I haven't written at all since Nanowrimo. My excuse is, okay, last December I was down in Denver either in the hospital awaiting the birth of my twins, or in the Ronald McDonald house, waiting and praying for my twins to be out of the hospital. I didn't get to go to any Christmas parties, put up any Christmas decorations, listen to my favorite songs... yadayada. So THIS year, I've already been to four Christmas parties (with another yet tonight, and another on Friday night, and another Sunday night), and three Christmas concerts, plus a Christmas tree auction.

But, my conscience nags me. And, I get writers' groups emails and newsletters in my inbox that nag me too. Like one newsletter with an interview with a recently published author. He had some good stuff to say, so I'm pasting it in here, so I can re-read it at leisure for inspiration.

Also, discovered several more writer's life blogs. When you're procrastinating at writing, a good thing is read about other writers who are also procrastinating! Or faithfully plugging along.

Excerpts from the interview:

What was the best advice you ever received that helped you reach that next level of success?
The best advice I've ever received as a writer was to be willing to accept criticism and change things. It's always a lot easier to see what's wrong with someone else's book than it is to see what's wrong with your own, which is why I think it's very important to find reviewers you can trust. They'll spot the flaws in your story a lot more easily than you will.

What's been the best part of your career so far?

The best part of my career so far? Walking into Barnes and Noble the day my first book came out and buying a copy right off the shelf. I get goosebumps just remembering that.
Do you have any suggestions for our readers on how to pitch to an agent?
When it comes to pitching an agent, I suggest pitching the characters rather than the story. There are only about a dozen stories out there, but there are millions of characters. Characters are what make books unique. So, rather, than highlighting the quest or the love affair that's central to your book, talk up the protagonists instead. I know quite a few writers who found agents, and subsequent sales, that way.

Any last words of wisdom?

Last words of wisdom requires having said something wise before this, so I'm not sure I qualify. But, just in case, I'd have to say that writers need to learn patience above anything else, especially novelists. It takes a year or so to write a good book, and then it takes a year or two to find an agent, and then it takes another year or two for the agent to sell the book, and then it takes another year or two for the publisher to put the book out. By which point you've probably written three or four more books. And even if you don't publish the first, or the second, or the third one, you have to keep trying. Reiffen's Choice came out 29 years after I wrote my first novel, and was the sixth novel I'd written (and the 9th I'd started). So be patient. And persevere.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Back in the real world again

The National Novel writing month (November) is over now, and I am slowly catching up on my sleep. The challenge was to write 50,000 words, approximately 150 pages... and I managed to achieve 38,000. I was doing really good until week 3, Thanksgiving week. My stepdaughter spent Thanksgiving with us, and we spent many evenings staying up late talking - so my daily word count dropped from 1600 down to 600-800 words. No problem, I knew I could still catch up during the final week. I didn't want to miss out on the time with my stepdaughter because for the first time ever, she was really interested in and asking questions about the Bible, about different religions, and spiritual matters. She has been going to a Christian youth group with a friend of hers from school, even went to a weekend Bible camp. I gave her a "teen study Bible" and she was really pleased with it because she said she'd been trying to the read the Bible, but a lot of it was confusing to her. The teen study Bible includes questions teens frequently ask and Biblical applications for problems teens frequently face, so she really liked that. I am thrilled! It is so exciting to see her interested in spiritual matters and searching for the Truth. I wish she could have stayed longer so we could have talked some more.

But after Thanksgiving I had almost 5000 words to catch up on, and only a week left! If I averaged in those extra 5000 words, my daily word count needed to get bumped up to 2100 words a day. I was excited though, because I'm the type that can really perform when the pressure is on... and if the pressure is only for a short period, like a week. Writing like crazy caused my imagination to go into overdrive, and my novel was really taking shape... by week 4, I was in the homestretch, with about 90% of the novel behind me, just a few chapters left to go!
Then, I got sick!! The nasty stomach virus thing caught up with me, plus I was already running on severe sleep deprivation... my motivation to meet that 50,000 word goal quickly evaporated. I ended up only writing less than 1,000 words that last week.

But despite the disappointing end, NANOWRIMO was an incredible experience, and I'll definitely be trying it again next year, plus I'll be trying to talk all my writing friends into trying it, as well. The NANOWRIMO organizers would send out great motivational emails every week, plus lots of tips and tricks to "keep writing" and make your daily word count goal. One tip was to get together with a writing buddy and have "word wars". That's where you race against a stopwatch to see who could produce the most words in say, a half hour. Then you do another word war, and another, till 2 hours have passed and you have miraculously written over 2,000 words (even though your buddy still beat by typing 2002 words, so what? You just exceeded your word count for the day).

I have promised myself I'm not going to look back over what I've written until I've finished the book. I only have a few more chapters to go. FINISH IT! Then I will take the time to go back and start editing it. When you are racing to create vast quantities of words in a short period of time, there is sure to be lots of junk that needs to edited, or perhaps even deleted. But right now, I'm still in production mode. I'll save editing mode for 2008. And, hopefully sometime in 2008, I'll be able to get a good start on my NEXT novel. (and finish it by November, thanks to NANOWRIMO).

Now... I need to reaquaint myself with my husband and my kids and my poor neglected horses... oh yeah, and my poor neglected vacuum cleaner.

Monday, November 5, 2007

exhausted, but inspired

Five days into November... and I'm officially at 6,786 words out of my 50,000 goal for November (National Novel Writing Month). Whew. The first night was the hardest. I hadn't slept much the night before, and by 9pm when everyone was in bed I soooo wanted to go to bed, too. Writing 1667 words seemed as impossible as running a marathon.
Now I promised myself (and God) that I wouldn't write without devotions first, devotions being "time devoted to God" - reading the Word and praying. So here's my first dilemma: I was so tired, it seemed like one or the other. If I do devotions, I won't have time to write, I'll be too tired. If I go ahead and write, that's breaking a promise. So I spent time with God. If He wants me to succeed at this crazy writing contest thing, He'll have to provide the energy. And He did. I started writing at 10 pm and by 11 pm I had written 1010 words! Not quite the 1667 daily average, but absolutely amazing considering that last week it took me 2 1/2 hours to write that amount. When you ask God for help, boy does He give it!
Same scenario the following night. Even better: 1212 words. I don't know if what I'm writing is any good, but I'm on a roll, now. It's exciting. Ideas are flowing. I'm starting to think I can actually do this... actually FINISH my book by the end of November. (NaNoWriMo web pages warns newbies about this first flush of exurberance... they say by week 2 we won't be quite so optimisitic)
The next day it hits me: I'm 1000 words behind already, and another 1667 to add to that to stay "caught up" - wow, it's going to be incredibly easy to fall behind in this venture. So, pray about it first. I wrote during naps. I wrote while the kids watched movies. I wrote till midnight, and I finished at 2,685 words.
Last night I managed another 1859 words, finishing at 11pm (but that's with the time change in my favor). My mind is in overdrive: even after I stopped writing and made myself go to bed, I couldn't shut my brain off. I'm not sure how long I can keep this up, physically. I had to take an hour nap this morning while the twins took their nap, and it wasn't enough. I know from past experience that when I don't get enough sleep, I get grumpy. I get short with the kids (not to mention my husband, who thinks I'm insane to try to write the equivalent of 5 pages every night: he's dreading the 8 page paper he's got two weeks left to write). It's tempting to think: so what if I'm a little grumpy for the month of November. It's just one month in my life, and one month out of the 144 to 204 months that my kids have left to put up with me. My kids probably won't even remember the Month Mom Went Nuts by next year, or even next month (especially since next month is Christmas).
But God will know.
Need to keep checking in on Him about this. At what point does it switch from being a great motivator to write, to being a vain pursuit of selfish interests?

Monday, October 29, 2007

limping along

Well, my track record for this week has not been good. Only managed to type out 1077 words since last week ... that's not even one day's worth according to what I'm supposed to be producing, an average of 1667 words per day for the month of November!

There still might be hope. I fully expected the kids to get sick sometime during the month of November to distrupt my writing goals, but they actually got sick this past week... so does that mean that now I can reasonably hope for a month free of stomach flu, colds, and teething?

I may not have accomplished much "warming up" for the month of intense writing yet, but I have been doing better as far as "spiritual warm-ups". I have been praying more, a lot more! And doing a little better with Bible reading, too. I find it is so much easier to accomplish goals if I first take the time to pray about them, rather than just jumping in... and then quickly burning out. Prayer is definitely the "power bar" to keep you going for the long haul.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I signed myself up for NaNoWriMo (good grief)

Took my revised chapter 1 from last week to writer's group and had my three sympathetic writing addicts read it outloud. There is something about having someone else read your work outloud that really shouts at you, "this is good!" or "this is crap!" Unfortuately, I'm afraid it came out sounding somewhere in between - sophomoric, perhaps. Fluffy, almost. I really need to start out with something with more bite. Yeah, it's a story with talking animals, so that means no matter what it'll be marketed for kids, but I'm NOT writing for 6 year olds here. I am writing for kids who will most likely have read Harry Potter and want something a little edgy, with touches both of light and dark.

Read this in one of my writing newsletters and was intrigued enough to waste a couple hours on the website, culminating in signing myself up:

Yes we're drawing nearer and nearer that wonderful, creative, neurotic month where we celebrate, we laugh, we cry, and wemanically write until our brains melt out of our heads. We spend all night at the computer screen, and the next daytrying to shut off an overactive imagination long enough to accomplish our responsibilities. We struggle with time and energy constraints, over caffeination, sleep deprivation, and sometimes the frustration of a blank space where our thoughts should be. For the writers in the audience they know what I'm referring to. It's the month of frenzied writing. It's the month where we type until our fingers are numb. It's the month we ignore the garish marks of the spell checker telling our inner critic to shout at us, so that we will stop and edit. It's the month we push forward with one goal in mind: 50,000 words in 30 days. Which breaks down to roughly 1,667 words a day give or take a few. Yes, you guessed it. I'm referring to NaNoWriMo - (National Novel Writing Month). NaNoWriMo was founded in 1999 as a way to encourage everyone who wants to write a book, to do that very thing. Why? Becuase it's tons of fun!

Tons of fun? Well, in theory, I can agree. In practice... well, just to see how much I really *COULD* write in one day, I stared writing Friday night at 10:00pm when every one was in bed, and 2 1/2 hours later when I could push myself no further, I had just barely squeaked out 1,011 words. That's still 600 some words short -- and I have to acknowledge there's no way I can stay up past midnight every day of the month of November and still treat my family with any degree civility. But -- hey, even if I only manage to write 500 words a day, or even 200, that's still more than I'm accomplishing now. I did finish section 43 this week (my goal), largely thanks to that intense writing session Friday night.

I know should have prayed about this endeavor before signing myself up. Story of my life: leap first, check in with God later. Fortunately God's still in control, no matter which direction I go galloping off in. But He did make it very clear to me: if you're going to make a commitment to write every day for the month of November, you're also going to make a committment to Me: you're going to pray and read the Word every day, too - BEFORE you start writing. After all, I'm much more likely to succeed (and succeed in not having the rest of my life fall apart during this time, as well) if I'm in direct communication with the Creator of the universe, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A good week

The good news: by Tuesday last week I had not only finished section 42, but also went back and rewrote my first chapter, really working on developing the friendship (and tension) between my two main characters, Selty and Arrasin. N.L., my main critiquer and writing buddy, had said that the friendship between them was not believable; and it was true. This may likely be my 12th version of chapter 1 (or more), but even more likely it won't be the last version. The first chapter has GOT to hook the reader.

The bad news: I haven't written anything since last Tuesday. A little weekend getaway to Glenwood Springs, with my laptop, was supposed to yield much creativity... but instead I got sucked into reading "The Island" by Victoria Hilsap. That book was way too good (now I want to go to the Greek isles). Oh, and it was written in omniscient perspective. Classic storytelling. I'm so envious... why are all the great books, the bestsellers, in omniscient perspective? They tell us newbies to stick to close 3rd person. I guess we're just not ready to handle ominscience yet!
Goal for this week: start & finish section 43 (that's 43 out of 80 outlined sections, roughly 40 chapters. I used the Marshall plan to outline my book)

Monday, October 8, 2007

Time for me to get serious about writing again

The twins are 10 months old now... they are starting to play together, (sort of. Does hair pulling count?) Anyway, time for me to get serious about writing again. Renewed my membership with online writing group. Dusted off the laptop. Looked over my outline. Opened the last chapter I finished and grimaced (but time for revisions, later).
Possible writing times: 6:00 am-7:00am (but, I am not a morning person)
10:00 am 11:00 am - babies' morning nap (if I can avoid the temptation to make the bed, do the dishes, laundry, or any other pressing chore)
2:00-4:00 pm - babies' afternoon nap (might be problematic when kindergartener gets off the bus at 3:00 and wants to tell me all about her adventures)
9:00 pm-11:00 pm - everyone else is in bed. I would like to be in bed, too. But, I am a writer. I can do this!
Today's goal: finish section 42

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Last updated March 2012

I was one of those kids growing up who was always begging her parents for a horse. Unfortunately, I was a city kid (downtown Buffalo, NY), and it just wasn't practical to keep a horse in the backyard or at the expensive city stables. But, I did get riding lessons, and finally when I was 22 I was able to buy a horse of my very own, Rebel. I still have him, in fact, and I consider myself very lucky because over the years Rebel has been transported from his native New York to South Carolina, then to Wyoming, to South Dakota, and finally back to Wyoming. He is very old now (27 years) but he is still my favorite horse to ride.

He is a small mixed-breed, probabably mostly Quarter Horse, but some people have said he looks like he has some Morgan in him, and other people have asked me if he is a Mustang. He is only 14 hands tall, a beautiful golden bay color, and true to his name, he has a bit of stubborn streak in him.

Here's a picture of Rebel from 2006, with two of my daughters and two of their cousins... he's a great kids' horse.

I grew up riding English and showing in hunter classes, transitioning to dressage and eventing in my twenties. I haven't shown since I got married in 1999, but absolutely one of my most favorite things to do is trail-riding, which I can do a lot of since we moved to a house on the edge of town, with lots of open space. Now I'm transitioning again due to my husband and daughters' interest in Western sports like team roping, barrel racing, and Western pleasure. Here's a video of Blaze chasing cows (February, 2009)

A couple years ago I bought a yearling filly here in Wyoming, and I named her after a fictional horse, Jewel, in one of my favorite books, Mary O'Hara's "Green Grass of Wyoming" (a sequel to her famous "My Friend Flicka").

Jewel looks a lot like Rebel - same bay, same size - but she actually is a genuine Wyoming Mustang. She was completely wild when I got her and was a lot of fun gentling her and training her.

Here's picture of her, from 2007, with my stepdaughter, who helped train her.

My husband also loves horses. He started out as a bareback bronc rider in high school rodeo, but he's currently into team-roping and penning. He likes to train young horses and then sell them as finished ropers (he's sold three so far and we have another one ready to sell) but there's one horse, Ally, that he's getting really attached too - it's going to be hard to sell her, especially since she's really good with the kids, too.

Here are some of my posts about horses:

Horse shows, and a ride by moonlight (June, 2009)

The Character of horses and humans (February, 2009)

Are the toys (and horses) in heaven? (March, 2009)

Blaze barrel-racing (July, 2008)

This is a really sentimental flashback - me riding Rebel back in 1997, right before
my parents sold our farm in West Falls, NY and moved to South Carolina

Monday, July 16, 2007

The details and quirks of everyday life

Last updated May, 2009

One of the traits of a writer is that no matter where they go or what they do, they are almost obssessively writing things down. I've had one friend shake her head at me, in amusement, or frustration? - and say to me, "stop writing everything I say down!" (Sorry, K.A.)

Sometimes what somebody just said sparks an idea; sometimes it's completely unrelated but I just had a great idea for a new story, or a way to develop a character, or enhance a setting, or a funny event I might be able to work into a scene that needs a little bit of a humorous facelift.

But a lot of times I jot things down just because I want to remember them. "Life is in the details" - forgot who that famous quote is attributed to; but I love all the beautiful, funny, quirky, bizarre things that life throws at me, and I love digging out my old notes, or scanning my journals every few years or so and laughing at the memories.

Recently I discovered a new note posted on the office door of one of the many, many offices I walk by everyday in my work building, on the way to my own office. I love it when people put cartoons or pictures or other fun stuff up on their office doors. This one said:

Don't make me get my flying monkeys!

This has amused me for weeks, everytime I walk by it. I even borrowed it once as a status update on my Facebook page.

I love reading Beth Moore's blog because she gets the same kick out of little moments that I do. For instance, here's a couple recent gems from her:

I dig airports. Great people watching. I've been sipping on my Starbucks and taking it all in. I just love watching people walk through the terminals with their neck pillows still on. It brings me a ton of joy.

To this day, Travis Cottrell still brings up the fact that I made him help me stuff a piƱata with Scripture verses written on little pieces of paper while we were driving from the church to the restaurant. I didn’t even realize it was weird until our next speaking engagement when he laughed until he cried and had to hold his side.

A few more examples...

Christmas, New Years, Weddings, Hanging Beds, Parrots, Drinking Games, and other assorted adventures (January, 2009)

Fist deep in cake (December, 2008)

Thing 1 and Thing 2 (February, 2008)

Are there toys (and horses) in heaven? (March, 2009)

Two birthdays, two haircuts, and a broken arm (May 2009)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

True love, and why that means conflict

Last updated April, 2009

I didn't find my soul mate until I was almost 29 years old, and it was a long wait… I often wondered if I’d ever find true love, or even if there was such a thing as true love. It certainly didn’t come in the package I expected! I knew B. for about a year before he asked me out, and I never considered him as a "possibility"- after all, he was divorced, and he had a little girl. We were also complete opposites. I'm an introvert, a writer and voracious book reader. He is outgoing, a gear-head, and not interested in reading anything except headlines. We had only two things in common: we were both followers of Jesus, and we both loved horses.

We’d only been dating four weeks by the time I knew without a doubt I was falling in love. I’d fallen in love with his daughter too (for more about my stepdaughter, see this blog about my daughters.)

These are the things I love about him: He makes me laugh all the time. He’s a wonderful father (I got to see that part of him ahead of time: one bonus with marrying a guy that already has a kid). He writes wonderful love notes and occasionally, even spontaneously, he will buy me chocolates and flowers. He’s a cowboy (not professionally, but he does own cows, and he does regularly chase them with his horse). He can twirl his Colt into his holster like a pro. He can fix anything. He cries at the sappy parts of movies. He’s a great story-teller (one of my favorites is the one about the b-b gun he had when he was a kid and what he did to the bulls on the neighbor’s ranch. Or maybe it's the one about he and his brother peeing on the ants). We agree on everything important: faith, how to raise kids, even things like how much money to give to church, and what kind of dream home we both want. He was also really honest and open about his previous marriage and why it failed. He didn’t try to shift all the blame to his ex-wife: he admitted his failings, too.

Okay, there’s a few things I don’t like about him, I admit. I’m sure he can say the same thing about me… like, I’m really, really grumpy in the morning. And when I’m not grumpy, I’m moody. And if I’m not moody, I have my nose stuck in a book or in my laptop. Sometimes he has to tackle me and hold me down on the floor to get me to talk to him!

We’d been dating six weeks when he asked me to marry him. I didn't hesitate to say yes (in fact, I think I said “yes” three times). A few people gave us hard time about getting engaged so soon - and then setting a wedding date so soon - we were married within 6 months (July 4th, 1999. It’s great always having fireworks on our anniversary).

I certainly wouldn't recommend such a fast process for most people – it takes time to get to know someone. It takes time to get to know yourself well enough to be able to fit in with someone else. I think it worked for us because we were both older, we both knew exactly what we wanted, but most importantly we both have a very strong faith. We believed that when we faced conflict in our marriage, that we could turn to the Lord to help us work through it.

And we have had conflict, oh boy! (Someday I may blog about the Saleen Mustang incident, or the snowmobile and ketchup incident). But who doesn’t have conflicts, I ask? That’s just the nature of putting two human beings together and making them share everything! I believe that conflicts in marriage can either force you apart, or drive you closer together. The question is, how do you work through it so you end up closer? I’ve shared a few of my (our) trials and errors here in my blog.

Love & Respect (April, 2008)

Encouragement from the strangest place (April, 2009)

Monday, May 28, 2007

An Insatiable Reader

Last updated February, 2013

"To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries."

What I'm Currently Reading

Seven Words to Change Your Family, James McDonald
Made to Crave, Lisa TerKeurst
Jesus Lives, Sarah Young
Kisses from Katie (about a girl who moved to Uganda and adopted children there)

Recent Recommendations

A Sacred Sorrow, Michael Card (Reaching out to God in the lost language of lament)
Jesus Calling, Sarah Young (devotional) 
Crazy Love, Francis Chan (this is one of the most directly challenging books I've ever read)
Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me about Meaningful Work and Service, Mary Poplin
Heaven is For Real,  Todd Burpo
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: what I learned while editing my  life, Donald Miller

Wonder, RJ Palacio
The Archived, Victoria Schwab
Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Reinventing Rachel, Alison Strobel
Beauty, Robin McKinley
Pegasus, Robin McKinley
The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley
Lady in Waiting, Susan Meissner
When Sparrows Fall, Meg Moseley
Fairer than Morning, Rosslyn Elliot
The Help, Kathryn Stockett
Blink, Ted Dekker
Holes, Louis Sachar 

So Long Insecurity, Beth Moore
Still Life, Mary Jensen
Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis
Perelandra, C.S. Lewis
A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis
Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis
The Weight of Glory and other essays, C.S. Lewis

I'm still pondering these two:
The Gospel According to Jesus, John MacArthur Jr
The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning

These two books are almost on opposite extremes of Christian thought on saving faith and grace. The difference is a matter of perspective - an author who is a Bible scholar and a "squeaky clean sinner", and an author who's hit bottom not once but several times but loves God all the more because of it. Notice that both titles have "Gospel" in them; but only one has "Jesus" in the title. One really delves into what Jesus taught; the other only touches on a few verses and majors on a lot of personal experience and quotes from other writers. Both books have flaws (only the Bible is perfect, after all!) and both books have some worthy insights. I love the compassion shared by Manning that MacArthur doesn't have. Sometimes it feels like that lack of compassion translates to lack of humility; MacArthur starts to sound as if his own words are infallible because he's studied Jesus' words so much. But the flaw of Manning's book is that it is more centered on human experience rather than centered on the whole teachings of the Bible.

Books I've blogged about
My Heart in His Hands (Ann Judson of Burma), Sharon James 
Open Season*, C.J. Box
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
Twilight, Stephenie Meyer
Love and Respect, Emerson Eggerichs 
Time Traveler's Wife*, Audrey Niffeneger 
Believing God, Beth Moore
Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis 
A Mother's Heart, Jean Fleming 
Plan B: Further Thoughts on Grace*, Anne Lamott
The Sparrow*, Mary Doria Russell
Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, Joanna Weaver
Einstein's Dreams, Alan Lightman
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller

* means the book has one or more of the following: swear words, violence or sexual content

My all time favorite books and authors
(I have read all of these more than once, some of them many, many times)
1. My Friend Flicka, Mary O'Hara
2. Thunderhead, Mary O'Hara
3. Green Grass of Wyoming, Mary O'Hara
4. Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
5. The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
6. Meet the Austins, Madeleine L'Engle
7. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
8. Bambi, Felix Salten
9. The Earthsea series, Ursula K. LeGuin
10. The Black Stallion series, Walter Farley

My favorite Christian novels 
1. Voice in the Wind, Francine Rivers (love stories set in ancient cultures, Roman times is my favorite)
2. At Home in Mitford, Jan Karon (the whole series)
3. Stepping Heavenward, Elizabeth Prentiss (an old book, but timeless. Amazing insight into human character).
4. While Mortals Sleep, Jack Cavanaugh (about overcoming fear and trusting God during the Nazi regime; starts out slow, but it's well worth it for the noble and happy ending).
5. The Arena, Karen Hancock (a science fiction allegory of the Christian walk, much more exciting than Pilgrim's Progress but with many of the same allegories)
6. This Present Darkness, Frank Peretti (made me realize that even ordinary life, as it may seem to us, is a great epic of spiritual warfare. The danger with this book is falling so much in love with the noble angels that we lose sight of the majesty of God)
7. The Scarlet Thread, Francine Rivers (intertwining stories of a pioneer woman and her great great granddaughter, struggling with similar issues in life and love)

Best books about Following Jesus
1. Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis
2. Passion and Purity, Elisabeth Elliot
3. Blue like Jazz, Donald Miller
4. The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom
5. Crazy Love, Francis Chan
6. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney
7. Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby
8. The Green Letters (Principles of Spiritual Growth), Miles Stanford
9. Living Beyond Yourself, Beth Moore
10. My Utmost For His Highest, Oswald Chambers

11. Finding Calcutta, Mary Poplin
12. Evidence Not Seen, Darlene Deibler Rose

Best books on parenting
1. A Mother's Heart, Jean Fleming
2. Shepherding A Child's Heart, Tedd Tripp
3. To Train Up A Child, Michael and Debi Pearl
4. Five Love Languages of Children, Gary Chapman

Best books on marriage
1. Love and Respect, Emerson Eggerichs
2. Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas
3. Created to Be His Helpmeet, Debi Pearl
4. Lies Women Believe, Nancy Leigh DeMoss

 My favorite classics
1. Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
2. Jane Eyre, Chalotte Bronte
3. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
4. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
5. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
6. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
7. Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier
8. Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell
9. Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
10. Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
11. The Trumpet of the Swan, E.B. White
12. Dracula, Bram Stoker
13. White Fang, Jack London

Favorite non-fiction (non-Christian)
1. Bird by Bird*, Anne Lamott (on writing)
2. Operating Instructions*, Anne Lamott
3. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard
4. Desert Solitaire*, Edward Abbey
5. Rising From the Plains, John McPhee (I call it "a geologic romance of Wyoming")

6. The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, Evan Marshall

Novels that are just plain fun to read

Anything by Robin McKinley (The Blue Sword, Beauty, Pegasus, etc)
Twilight, Stephenie Meyer
Riding Lessons*, Sarah Gruen
Flying Changes*, Sarah Gruen

Open Season*, C.J. Box
The Island, Victoria Hilsop
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling
The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
Snow Crash*, Neal Stephenson
The Hunt for Red October, Tom Clancy
Fool on the Hill*, Matt Ruff
The Matarese Circle*, Robert Ludlum

Girl At Sea, Maureen Johnson
Anything by Dick Francis

Novels that make you think

Time Traveler's Wife*, Audrey Niffeneger
A Painted House, John Grisham
A Thousand Splendid Suns*, Khaled Hosseini
Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis
Dune*, Frank Herbert
The Stand*, Stephen King
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
Zen and the Art of Motorcylce Maintenance, Robert Pirsig
I, Claudius*, Robert Graves
The Winds of War / War and Remembrance*, Herman Wouk
Talk Before Sleep*, Elizabeth Berg
Diary of Anne Frank
The Hearts of Horses, Molly Gloss
The Thornbirds*, Colleen McCollough
The Clan of the Cave Bear*, Jean Auel

Interview with a Vampire*, Anne Rice
Watership Down, Richard Adams
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle

Julie of the Wolves, Jean Craighead George

Other notable books I've read, (but they depressed me!)
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
Catch-22 - Joesph Heller
Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
His Dark Materials (series) - Philip Pullman
The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison
The Color Purple - Alice Walker
The Stranger - Albert Camus
Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein
Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
The Chosen - Chaim Potok
Thread of Grace - Mary Doria Russell
Jacob I Have Loved - Katherine Paterson

Other books I plan to read: 

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken
Feathers from My Nest, Beth Moore
Things Pondered, Beth Moore
The Yada Yada Prayer Group, Neta Jackson
Rebekah, Orson Scott Card
Christ the Lord - Out of Egypt, Anne Rice
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Republic, Plato
Divine Comedy, Dante
Middlemarch, George Eliot
A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Nicholas and Alexandra, Robert K. Massie
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon
A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
My Antonia, Willa Cather
The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
Romey's Place, James Calvin Schaap

Reason in the Balance, Philip Johnson
Finding Darwin's God, Kenneth Miller
That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis
The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Why I am a geographer

I don’t think anybody plans on being a geographer. When you’re a kid, you don’t go around saying “I want to be a geographer when I grow up, I can name the capitol cities of every country in the world.” Please, if you run into someone like that, don't let them call themselves a geographer; that's toponymy, not geography.

So, I wanted to be a biologist when I grew up. Specifically, a marine biologist. I had visions of swimming with dolphins and discovering how to communicate with them. In reality, my first job as a biologist was collecting mouse urine and analyzing it. My second one wasn’t much better: collecting gypsy moth caterpillars and dissecting their infected, decaying remains. I just couldn’t see doing stuff like this for the rest of my life.

Fortunately, during one of my biology classes, a professor had the good sense to mention a computer system called a “GIS” that was the latest technology for natural resource management and forestry and a host of other planning applications. I’d already decided at this point that I preferred working with computers than with microscopes, so I signed up for a GIS class to fill one of my last electives my senior year in college. I loved it. “GIS” stands for Geographic Information Systems, and in it’s most basic form it is making and manipulating computerized maps, but it is so much more than that, too – spatial modeling and analysis of everything from hydrological networks to wildlife habitat to finding the best locations for new Starbucks franchises.

So I asked my advisor, what do I need to do to get qualified for a job as a GIS analyst? Turns out (at least back then) it meant I would have to go back to school for a Master’s in Geography.
Geography? I groaned. Good grief. All I knew about geography was the agony of memorizing state capitols in fifth grade. But, I did like maps. (So did J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings. One of my favorite quotes is from him: “I wisely started with a map”.)

I’d just come back from a cross-country road trip with a college friend – we hit just about every National Park west of the Mississippi – and I’d had my nose stuck inside our road atlas for most of that 12,000 mile journey. I was experienced folding quite a few National Park trail maps, too. A nice bonus was when I discovered that one of the top Geography departments in the country was right in my backyard – at the State University of New York at Buffalo. So I signed up for a couple geography classes (without even applying for grad school, at that point).

I quickly discovered that I loved the interdisciplinary nature of geography. Why limit yourself to marine biology, when you can dabble in areas as diverse as wildlife management, sociology, climatology, and archaeology – all areas that I’ve used GIS as a framework for analysis.

To shamelessly quote from Wikipedia, geography is the study of the Earth and its lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena. A literal translation would be "to describe or write about the Earth". Modern geography is an all-encompassing discipline that foremost seeks to understand the Earth and all of its human and natural complexities-- not merely where objects are, but how they have changed and come to be. Geography has been called "the bridge between the human and physical sciences”. Geographers study the spatial temporal distribution of phenomena, processes and feature as well as the interaction of humans and their environment. As space and place affect a variety of topics such as economics, health, climate, plants and animals, geography is highly interdisciplinary.

A quote from William Hughes (1863): "...mere names of places...are not geography...knowing by heart a whole gazetteer full of them would not, in itself, constitute anyone a geographer. Geography has higher aims than this: it seeks to classify phenomena... of the natural and of the political compare, to generalize, to ascend from effects to causes, and, in doing so, to trace out the great laws of nature and to mark their influences upon man. This is 'a description of the world'—that is Geography. In a word Geography is a Science—a thing not of mere names but of argument and reason, of cause and effect."

After almost 20 years now in this field, I can shamelessly admit to being a geography geek of the highest order. Framed historical maps adorn the walls of my house. I frequently consult my world atlas when I hear about new places on the news, or on nature shows - because I like to see where places are, and how they relate to other places. I've used my GIS software to map and analyze good trails for riding our horses in the National Forest behind our house. (By the way, GIS is NOT the same thing as GPS. GPS just collects raw data on locations. GIS is used to analyze GPS data).

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Comparing worldviews: challenge me

I have always been fascinated by different worldviews, and my own changing perception of how I see the world I live in. A worldview is basically all the presuppositions that influence your outlook on life ( A worldview has been compared to a lens which alters the way you view life and how you perceive the world you live in.

There are many factors that can influence worldviews: culture, race, religion/philosophy, history, geography, language, war and other conflicts, to name just a few. I'm most fascinated by religion, philosophy and geography (I am a geographer by profession).

Philosophy and religion address the question "what is truth?"

I do not believe truth is relative, and there are plenty of compelling arguments at to support this; but at the same time, one of my favorite quotes is:

Do we believe we hold the truth? No, the Truth holds us… (

So, while I believe Truth is absolute, and is found in its most complete, uncorrupted form in the teachings of Biblical Christianity, I also believe each individual's understanding of the truth is limited to their experience and perception, which should be constantly growing and changing as we learn more and exchange more ideas.

The following blog posts are comparisons of my worldview to other worldviews as expressed in books, movies, or other mediums. I welcome any insight or challenges in regard to my conclusions. Also, if you take the time to read about my worldview, I'll certainly return the favor if you leave a link.

Worldviews part 1: the truth is we need help

Worldviews part 2: What about suffering?

Why Tolerance Isn't Enough

Some thoughts on Avatar and why it is so appealing

Friday, March 16, 2007


A native of Buffalo, NY, I have lived in Wyoming for 15 years now. When people find out I'm originally from New York, they always ask me what brought me out here. The short answer is, "a job" (see story below). But it was also the beauty and rugged wildness of the Rocky Mountains that drew me, and the wide open spaces. This is a picture of the Laramie River Valley, about 30 minutes from where I live.

I wanted to live in Wyoming ever since I was about 10 years old, and read Mary O'Hara's classic book, "My Friend Flicka", which is set on a ranch in Wyoming. Actually, it's a ranch just 20 minutes away from where I live now in Laramie, and they even have a website: check out the Remount Ranch. I fell in love with the adventures of ranch life, raising and riding horses, mountains lions in your backyard...

Here is a picture of me backpacking through the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming.

There are many beautiful places in the world, and there are other places I have fantasized about moving to, but after 15 years Wyoming continues to fascinate me. Here's an article I wrote for my family newsletter, back in 2002, and it captures some of the unique aspects of living in Wyoming.

What’s Different in Wyoming

I had just graduated from the University of Buffalo and was checking out the job listings on the internet (still a very new thing in 1994, and not many jobs listed yet!) when I came across a year-long research assistantship at the University of Wyoming. It didn’t pay very much (Wyoming’s pay scale is nothing to boast about) but I was intrigued by the notion of living in Wyoming for a year – a state where the antelope outnumber the people.

Wyoming has the smallest population of all the 50 states – about 500,000 (that’s less than the population of the city I grew up in). There’s about 100 towns scattered around Wyoming, and some of them have a population of only 5-10 people. You can drive for hours and never see a sign of humanity other than the road you’re on. I pictured myself dating cowboys and riding the range. Sounded like fun, for a year! Little did I know that I would end up living there much longer – and that I would end up marrying one of those cowboys I thought it would be fun to date!

Laramie is the 3rd largest city in Wyoming, at 26,000 people, and boasts an elevation of 7,200 ft. I moved there in late March, and when I left Buffalo things were already greening up for spring, but in Laramie there was still snow. My first big disappointment was that spring didn’t come until late May, and only after several snow storms. In the Rocky Mountains I soon discovered the weather can be sunny and 70 degrees one day, and snowing with a 0 degree windchill the next day.

You never know what to expect for weather here, and you never go anywhere – even in the summer – without a sweater just in case. You can expect snowfall anytime of the year (though I haven’t seen any in August yet). But, on the plus side, you can get a lot of warm days in the winter and sunny days over 300 days a year.

We also get lots of rainbows in Wyoming. Many times it’ll be raining on one side of the street but not on the other. We have very few trees, except in the mountains (another big adjustment for me). You have to actually visit here or Montana to truly appreciate the term “big sky country.” The sky is BIG. The ground in Wyoming is plain and boring – dry plains with scattered sagebrush – but the sky makes up for it with all its fantastic moods.

The sky isn't the only spectacular thing, of course. Here's a picture of Aspen Alley in the Sierra Madre Mountains.

The mountains are pretty amazing, too. This is SquareTop Mountain, overlooking the Green River.

The high elevation and dry climate also means frequent nosebleeds and more huffing and puffing when you climb stairs (thinner air). It also means we have no fleas, chiggers, termites or other annoying pests – except for one – the mosquito, which we have in great abundance during the month of June.

For me the hardest adjustment was the thin air – it took me about three weeks to be able to climb the stairs to my office without feeling like I was going to pass out, and about a year before I could run even just a half a mile.

The climate out here may be a bit of a shock, but the culture is not that different at all. People are very friendly, laid-back, and wear blue jeans to work and church. You can tell a true cowboy from a “wanna-be” not because they have bowed legs but because they NEVER wear shorts or short-sleeved shirts, no matter how hot it gets.

Wyomingites like to play a few tricks on “outsiders” such introducing them to Rocky Mountain oysters and telling stories about hunting jack-a-lope (a mythical hare with antelope horns). Everyone knows how to drive a stick shift (I eventually learned, as well) and all true Wyoming men own a pick-up truck. Everyone keeps tire chains and a shovel in the back of their car or pickup, just in case. They like to tell swap tales about the moose or elk they saw in their backyard and the mountain lion they saw while hunting last year (these stories are usually true, unlike the jack-a-lope). I have not yet seen a mountain lion myself, but I have seen fresh tracks! The mountains here are beautiful and there are many interesting places to visit near us...

Here's a list of some of my favorite places in Wyoming:

  • Vedauwoo and Happy Jack recreation areas- right outside of Laramie, our favorite place to go horseback riding, camping and rock-scrambling. Huge, house-sized boulders all jumbled together into fantastic shapes, like castles and giant turtles.
  • Popo Agie falls (pronounced Poe-poe-ja). This is just outside of Lander, Wyoming, in the Wind River mountains. Most of the year there isn't enough water to make this waterfall very remarkable: but for a short time during spring snowmelt, the entire hillside is covered with cascading water.
  • Pinedale, Wyoming - Fremont Lake overlook. This short drive up into the mountains gives you a spectacular view of Fremont Lake, as well as a beautiful panaroma of the high peaks of the Wind River mountains, including Gannett Peak, our tallest mountain (13,700 ft)
  • Green River lakes and Square Top Mountain. A long drive on a rough road to get there, but well worth it. Square Top Mountain is as memorable a sight as Devil's Tower.
  • Jenny Lake Trail and Hidden Falls, Grand Teton National Park. I saw my first bear on this trail - way too close for comfort.
  • Tower Falls, Yellowstone. Just about any place in Yellowstone is amazing -it's hard to pick a favorite place.
  • Aspen Alley, Sierra Madre mountains - peak aspen color is around the last week of September/first week of October
  • Route 14 over the Bighorn Mountains. Wildflower heaven in June. I saw my first moose along this road, too.
  • Crazy Woman Canyon - near Buffalo, Wyoming
  • Chimney Rock Road - another pretty drive just outside of Laramie

Friday, February 16, 2007

My daughters

Last updated April, 2009

I am an only child, and I was definitely what you would call a "loner" when I was growing up - perfectly content to play by myself. As a result, for a long time the term "children" could give me chills: children were completely alien and uninteresting to me. I like to joke that I didn't even like kids when I was a kid.

Therefore I find it ironic that I am now a mother to four girls, five counting my step-daughter. I certainly didn't plan for my life to turn out this way, but make no mistake, I love it. I may sometimes wish I had a little more time, a little more space, a little more quiet; but I wouldn't trade being a mother and stepmother for anything.

Usually when a young, single man shows up at a church, he is quite the topic among the single women at church. But when my future husband showed up, I hardly glanced at him: he was divorced and had a little girl. Even a year later when he asked me out, I had a lot of doubts. Several friends told me "he was worth getting to know better", but I figured I could never, ever, consider a man with a child. I had always assumed that I would, because of biological wiring, love my own kids - but loving someone else's kid - never!

But then I met my stepdaughter, Stars (my nickname for her, after one of the first conversations I had with her, about the stars, and heaven). I think I may have fallen in love with her first, before my husband. She had just turned 4 years at the time, and she bonded with me right away. B. brought her along on our second date, and she was sitting on my lap chatting with me like I was her best buddy before the dinner was served; and she fell asleep in my arms on the drive home that night.

I don't mean to say that being a stepmom is idyllic. It isn't. It was an extremely difficult adjustment for me, and it continues to require big adjustments as she gets older. But I never doubted that she (or her dad) was worth it. If I could share one piece of advice to other stepmoms it is this: have the attitude that she is important to you as your own daughter, but always remember that you are not her mother or any sort of replacement for her true mother. My stepdaughter is 14 years old now, and I love her more than ever. I really like the new stage we've reached - adult conversation. (For the most part).

My first daughter, Blaze (her nickname) was born August 5, 2001. I had experienced two early miscarriages before Blaze, so I struggled with a lot of worry during my pregnancy.

After Blaze was born I also struggled with a very unexpected bout of "baby blues" - not quite postpartum depression, but bizarre episodes of crying for no apparent reason, and wondering why I wasn't experiencing the idyllic joy of motherhood. Blaze was also very colicky and for the first four months she cried non-stop for hours at a time every evening (or so it seemed). But after that, it turned into bliss.

When Blaze turned 2 years old, I started missing the little-baby stage (not that the toddler years weren't adorable). This time I didn't have any problem getting pregnant or staying pregnant (though I admit to lingering in denial for months after the doctor said "I think it's a girl" at my ultrasound).

Dreamer (her nickname) was born May 17th, 2004, five weeks early. Other than being a very sleepy baby, and slow to nurse (because she was a little premature), she was blissfully easy, after all the crying that Blaze had put us through!

B. and I talked on and off about trying to have another child after Dreamer - we were really content with three kids, but we were still tempted to try for a boy. Either way, we weren't in any rush to get started, so it came as quite a shock when I discovered I was pregnant again right after Dreamer turned 2. Then it was another big shock when we discovered at the first ultrasound that we were having twins. A third big shock, at the second ultrasound, when we discovered we were having 2 more girls!

I did cry over the "injustice" of the odds of having 4 girls (and in B.'s case, 5 girls!), but honestly, the idea of having my own family of "little women" (like Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy from Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women"), was something of a comfort, and then an inspiration.

And if my little Serious and Starlet (nicknames for the twins) ever wonder if they aren't loved as much as the older girls, then let this put that doubt forever to rest: truly the very happiest moment of my life was when I got to hold both of them together, for the first time.

They were born December 3, 2006, almost 8 weeks early. They spent their first week in isolettes in a neonatal intensive care unit; I could only touch them through a barrier. So it was the most precious thing for me to finally be able to hold them in my arms. Here is a Christmas letter from 2007 that I posted to give some more details about the twin's early birth. And to be fair to my other girls, here are some Christmas letters from 2004 and 2005 for more pictures and funny stories about Blaze and Dreamer.

After each daughter was born, I had planned to quit my job and become a full-time mom, but each time – even before my maternity leave was up – I discovered I was eager to go back to work part-time. I could never work full-time - I don't know how other mothers manage it. Then again, I don't know how full-time stay-at-home moms do it, either. In my case I've found that I'm more patient and kind with my kids if I have a few hours a day to be away with them, and have my own space and time for my own thoughts. It would be different, too, if I didn't have a job that I truly loved, and was also conveniently flexible.

I truly believe that my little women are my greatest accomplishment in my life: and my greatest contribution to the world. I'm proud that I went to an Ivy League college, and graduated with honors, and have a master's degree, and I am proud of my accomplishments at work, and my writing (even though none of it is published yet). But my greatest source of pride and fulfillment, absolutely, is my family - my husband, stepdaughter, and my four little women.

January, 2009