A Writer’s Really Bad Day

Some days should never happen, like those days fate conspires to reek havoc with your plans. Enter May 5, 2018. I was on my way to a Volunteer Recognition Luncheon for the Palm Springs Writers Guild. From there I would go to the Guild’s monthly meeting where I was on the agenda to give awards to three contest winners, and do a reading of a winning memoir piece of 3500 words. The Guild was also recognizing high school essay winners and the Guild”s Monthly story winner. I was running early, ready for a leisurely drive to a nice event.

About five miles from home on this so-called relaxed drive, a red light appeared on the dash of my Jeep – not the Tire Pressure Monitoring system, not the Seatbelt Reminder Light, not the Oil Pressure Warning Light, but the Engine Temperature Warning Light. My heart stopped, well almost. I’d once continued driving a vehicle while its red dash light warned me the car was overheating, thinking I could get to a gas station. I did major damage to the engine.

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The culprit was the gauge on the right. I watched the indicator drift farther and farther toward the “H.” (Image courtesy of offroadvegan.com)

 

I pulled over immediately, close to an intersection and in the bicycle lane. After rummaging through my purse, I found my wallet and dug out the AAA card. Hallelujah.
I grabbed my cell and placed the call. A female voice and I connected. The first thing the voice asked was, “Are you safe?” I told her I was. Fortunately, I hadn’t stalled in the middle of the road or something worse. I didn’t add, that although I was safe, I was ticked and uncomfortable and hungry, anticipating lunch. Ah, poor me.

I told her my Jeep needed water. It was overheating. She informed me that the AAA does not take care of that but she’d be happy to send a tow, to arrive in about 45 minutes. I live in the desert. Sitting in the car, in the sun, with no air conditioning, and the car overheating is the stuff of nightmares. I mumbled something and she determined my location.

2012 Jeep Liberty Arctic

I love my Jeep, even though it decided to have a bad day. I tried to think of snow as I sat in the hot sun. (Image courtesy of digital dealer.com)

 

I developed a plan. I’d have the vehicle towed to Jeep in Cathedral City, Uber from there to the Fisherman’s Restaurant in Rancho Mirage, grab a ride to the meeting, and then Uber home. With any luck, I’d make the luncheon, at least dessert. I quickly installed the Uber App on my phone. With a plan ready, I soon saw the tow truck on the other side of the road. It did a u-turn and pulled in behind me. The driver listened to my scheme and smiled. “It’s Saturday,” he said. “The car’s only going to sit on the lot in the hot sun the rest of the weekend.”

Nothing left to do but tow the ailing Jeep home, garage it, and deal with its problem(s) on Monday. Holy c__p. While the tow truck driver put the car up on the flatbed, I arranged with Uber for a home pick-up, and called the restaurant, asking to speak with someone, anyone, in the Writers’ Guild. I wouldn’t make it to the luncheon. If things rolled smoothly and quickly, I’d make the meeting.  I seemed to be placed on terminal hold. I stared at the cell phone, willing things to get moving. I didn’t want to let my associates in the Guild down. It takes about 25 minutes to read 3500 words, which would leave a gap in the program.

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Well, I missed the Volunteer Recognition Luncheon … (Image courtesy of Taste of Summer Rancho Mirage)

A friendly female voice I recognized finally came on the phone and, after I explained, she said, “No problem. I’ll come pick you up.” What? That’s a trip from Rancho Mirage to the outback of La Quinta and back again. “I’ll pick you up at your house,” the voice repeated. “Forget Uber,” she added.

All right. Great! At least I had a chance of getting to the meeting in time to do the reading. I pulled myself up the high steps into the truck cab. As I fell in, grace and aplomb evidently left the building. The driver took one look at me and said, “No worries. I got this.”

But now I had another problem. I had to cancel Uber. A lucky break, finally. Because I was such a novice with the app and, while I thought I’d arranged for a pickup, I hadn’t completed the process. No Uber driver was ever engaged. Whew!

The story had a happy ending. My friend picked me up, I did what I had to do, and she brought me home from the meeting. On the following Monday, I had the car towed to Crystal Chrysler Jeep to learn the vehicle needed a water pump. (I wouldn’t recognize one if I met one.) Fortunately, things were soon squared away. I didn’t realize writing and its special events could be so traumatic. Many thanks, Danielle, for picking me up! (I took her flowers the next day.)

 

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Coffee and a Muffin

It was a Tuesday morning. I’d just left my writers’ critique group which meets in our local La Quinta Library, thinking about all the SLJ’s I had to do when I got home. i.e. change the bed, do some wash, pay the bills. Given this scenario, I wasn’t exactly of a mind to rush back to the abode.

Plus, I was freezing. The temperature this day in the conference room where we hold our meetings made a meat locker seem like a Florida beach. I had to put on a long sweater and a scarf, a la Nanook of the North, for the duration of our two hour meeting from 10 to 12 pm. Outside, the desert weather was sunny and warm, but pleasantly so, a brief break from the high temperatures late April and early May can bring. This day was the kind that sells desert real estate.

In my cold and bundled up condition, and not feeling particularly chatty, I drove over to Old Town Coffee located near the library. I needed something to warm up. I claimed an outdoor table before going into the shoppe for a cinnamon muffin and a latte – decaf, nonfat, single shot. Around me people wearing shorts, cotton tops, flip-flops and sandals were busy enjoying the food and coffee that make this local establishment popular.

The place smelled like fresh bakery and hot, dark Sumatra. I took a moment to banter with the barista. Wait a minute. I wasn’t feeling that chatty. Another customer, a woman, helped me find the black plastic knives and forks hiding in plain sight by the napkin dispenser. A brief chit chat ensued about trying to juggle a coffee, a muffin in a basket, a purse, utensils, and napkins. I thought I wasn’t feeling chatty.

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I sat at the table on the far left. Of course, at the time it was unoccupied … Image courtesy of TripAdvisor                    

After I sat at my patio table, I realized two things: the air felt balmy, clear, and inviting, and … I needed to shed my scarf and sweater, which I did. I sat in the sun, feeling a slight breeze. A sparrow patrolling the cement, moving in its jerky, halting manner, scavenged for food, its tan, gray, and brownish/black feathers glossy in the light. He came very close to my foot. I found myself studying his techniques.

A female duck strolled near me, also scavenging, making a friendly cheeping sound, not bothered by people. A dove joined the sparrow. I had a regular aviary at my feet. They didn’t seem to mind my scrutiny.

A large brown dog appeared on the patio, leading its owner. The birds I’d been watching  literally took a walk. The woman and I soon chatted about her dog’s human qualities and the comfort he gives. My Great Dane, Davidson, rest his soul, would have been right at home. The dog exerted an extra hard pull and the woman smiled and moved on.

As the sun warmed my shoulders, I realized I felt quite at peace. The muffin seemed to have become the best I’d tasted in a long time. The latte slipped ever so gently down my throat, also the best I’d tasted in a long time. Several sighs escaped my lips. The world seemed to be moving slower, feeling less daunting, less mundane.

At some point, I put my head back, allowing the sun to warm my face. I knew two things. I could easily sit here all day, at peace, and just let life happen. Or even, better, I could just fall asleep. There I was … warm, fed, and cocooned in a feeling of well-being.

But. All good things come to an end. I glanced at my watch. I took my time walking to my Jeep to then make the 20 minute drive home. But life was good and, somehow, the SLJ’s didn’t seem like much of a problem at all. I just needed a moment to “reset.”

Of course, life’s problems may be way more daunting than not feeling like doing the necessary chores associated with daily life, as described in the above, and that “boo-hoo, poor me” thing we all get sometimes, whatever the reason. Sometimes it’s way more than that. May is Mental Health Month. Here are some thoughts on how to stay mentally healthy or seek help, as reported on the Skimm .

Thanks for stopping by. Just a little post to remind ourselves to take the time to do a “reset.” It’s a good thing.

 

 

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An Odd Purchase at the Museum Store

A local museum sent out a mailer announcing a Native American pottery show.  It looked enticing plus I’d wanted to own a pottery piece for some time. I find the artwork calming and soothing, intricate and pleasing. I like its tradition, history, and connection to nature. For my first purchase I pictured a vase or a pot or a bowl with a pleasing design, modest in size and price. One day I’d graduate to a piece by the well-known artists at Mata Ortiz.

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Mata Ortiz Pottery – this piece by Nancy Hera de Martinez

My husband and I arrived at the show to find several artists at work, painting designs  with intricate strokes aided by fine-bristled brushes, patiently forming curved lines, straight lines, geometric shapes, and animal images. Painstaking work and very beautiful.

We were only there a few minutes when the piece below leapt into my hand like it was drawn to me and vice versa. Obviously a strange looking vase. Obviously, the farthest from my thoughts was a turtle. What was going on? I came to buy a vase, but I knew this turtle was going home with me.

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My first purchase of Native American art pottery 

What could possibly be the rationale for buying this sweet turtle? As I thought about it later, only one connection came to mind. It brought back a memory of being with my father. This was important because I don’t have too many father-based images from when I was a little girl. He worked, little kids were seen not heard, I played outside. I don’t recall my father being that much of a participant in my upbringing. As an adult we shared quite a few memories and experiences, but as a little girl, no.

He did teach me to roller skate and ride a bike. He put books in my hands. He took me ice skating once. I was given an American Flyer sled and a toboggan. But our experiences together were not numerous.

One day when I was about eight I did go with my father while he checked on a work site. He owned a plumbing, heating, and air-conditioning business and ran a small fleet of trucks with a number of employees. I loved to go with him, to be with my dad. But I always had to remember, he was working on these trips and rather engrossed.

One day we were driving along a rural road on the way to a custom home site. The road was wooded on each side, a creek not too far away. Suddenly he stopped the truck.

“Look, Carol.”

I looked through the windshield. What was I supposed to see? Then I saw a turtle with a shell about 8″ wide moseying along the roadside. My dad pulled to the shoulder.

“Quick,” he said. “Get the lunch out of the back.”

While my dad got out, I hopped out, reached behind the seat and grabbed the lunch my mother had packed. Were we going to have a picnic? My dad removed a sandwich from the paper bag and unwrapped it. The aroma of ham with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise escaped into the air. He removed some lettuce from the sandwich and pointed to the turtle.

“Here, give this to him.”

I looked from my dad to the turtle. Unsure, I took the lettuce and placed the piece in front of said turtle and he ate it. He seemed a gentle soul. My father joined in the feeding. The turtle soon took pieces of lettuce from our fingers. We tried some pieces of bread. The turtle ate. We tried some pieces of tomato. The turtle ate. We tried a little piece of ham. He ate that, too. We lingered with the turtle until my dad said we had to move on, minus most of a sandwich.

This happy, unexpected interlude never left me. My dad and I laughed together, watching the turtle enjoy a first class ham sandwich. I think the turtle that found my hand at the pottery show must have been an ancestor of that lucky little fella crawling along the roadside so many years ago. Whatever karma occurred, I thank a pottery turtle for reminding me of a special moment.

I did buy my new turtle a companion.

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A companion piece

The museum I mentioned is not too far from my home. If you’re ever in the Palm Springs area, you’ll want to visit this unique place. It’s called Cabot’s Pueblo Museum in Desert Hot Springs. It’s where I went to buy a small vase, but bought a turtle instead.

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Lucky Seven and Writers

I’d never seen the word shichifukujin until I read author Dan Brown’s thriller Digital Fortress. Granted, there are many words I haven’t seen or read, but this one intrigued me. Brown simply revealed the shichifukujin were the seven deities of good luck, although perhaps not for one of his characters named Numataka. Curious, I wanted to find out about the seven deities. I looked them up at this site: www.ancient.eu. They seem pretty happy in the picture below. Good luck is evidently good for the soul.

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Shichifukujin image courtesy of ancient.eu

Just what kind of luck do these gods oversee? If these happy fellows are on your horizon, here’s what you can expect, by name:

Ebisu will bring you luck in your work. He’s depicted with a fish, suggesting bounty in the fisherman’s work. Let’s add success in a writer’s work.

Daikoku will bring you wealth and prosperity. He’s a patron of farmers, sitting atop bags of bountiful rice. Works for me.

Benten, playing a lute and the only female, is the goddess of love and reasoning.

Bishamon is the god of happiness and war, an odd combination. You can identify him easily.

Hotei is the patron of thrift and philanthropy although his big belly and laid back look are deceiving. I guess the moral is save and share.

Fukurokuju is the god of wisdom and longevity as signified by his very high forehead.

Jurojin is also a god of wisdom and longevity. He has a long white beard and wears a scholarly hat.

Having two gods of wisdom and longevity, suggesting both common sense and scholarly learning, hints at the idea that the longer we live, the wiser we become and that we can’t have or be blessed with too much wisdom. I’ll take a double dose of wisdom on any day of the week and consider myself very lucky. And I hope it carries over into my ability as a writer.

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Image courtesy of Reference.com

And then we have the seven dwarfs from the fairy tale Snow White. When the Grimm Brothers wrote this story, they didn’t give the dwarfs names. It wasn’t until 1912 and a Broadway play of Snow White by Winthrop Ames that the little fellas were given names: Blick, Flick, Glick, Plick, Snick, Whick and Quee. Oxford Dictionaries.

Clever, yes, but it took Disney with his film Snow White to immortalize them with the names Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Dopey, Bashful, and Sneezy. The number seven coming to life as seven little characters brought great luck to a couple of authors, a playwright, and a filmmaker.

Let’s give these seven deities a chance to usher in good luck in the writing department as we put story on the page, and let these seven little people remind us to create characters that readers enjoy, love (or maybe hate), remember, and care about.

As a final touch, let’s add a rainbow, a classic symbol of good luck and hope, which happens to have seven colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue,  indigo, and violet. A pot of gold at the end certainly helps.

It’s up to us to add the work and perseverance we know it takes. Happy writing!

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Marketing Your Book

The marketing of a book is an ever evolving, actually, never ending process. As writers, we’re always looking for more and different ways to present our work. My associate and I, after creating All Ways A Woman, explored locations, organizations, retail settings, and gatherings like Girlfriend Afternoons and book groups. We kept our eyes and ears open for new venues, trying always to think beyond the usual.

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The ongoing process took (takes) contacting organizations, talking to people, visiting sites, texting, emails, letter writing, and … talking to people. (Did I already mention that?) And after presenting our work a few times, we received invitations and referrals. There are no guarantees in this process. Some events will be highly successful, some moderately successful, and others, not so much. But always your work is out there.

It’s wise to be affiliated with a local writers’ organization, always a source for networking, referrals, contacts, ideas, education, and events. The Desert Writers Expo, sponsored by the Palm Springs Writers Guild, happens to be the next event on the itinerary for All Ways A Woman.

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In our constant quest for venues, we’ve compiled this list of places where we’ve presented and sold our work:

  1. Champagne book signings in private homes

  2. Book talks and readings at book clubs

  3. Book talks and readings at museums

  4. Book talks and readings at libraries

  5. Book talks and readings at local organizations and women’s clubs

  6. Book tables in retail settings e.g. Pottery Barn and The Wine Emporium

  7. Book Expos

  8. Art Shows (In its tribute to women, the book combines art and poetry.)

  9. Book talks and readings at galleries

  10. Book stocked in retail stores e.g. The La Quinta Museum Store

  11. Online on Amazon

  12. Facebook All Ways A Woman page

The important idea is to keep putting your book out into the public flow of events. We’re always open to and looking for new ideas. Maybe you’ve found one or two here you can use. If you’d like to share what you’ve found successful with your work, we’d love to hear about it! And as always, happy writing and happy marketing.

 

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When Your Story Setting Chooses You

You may have visited or lived in a place you knew would become a setting for a story you had yet to write. A place that spoke to you in not only a visceral, emotional way, but also in an intellectual, reflective way, causing you to look deeper into yourself and the world around you.

As opposed to a story setting which acts merely as background music and a place for your characters to interact, I had a place like the one referred to above, a place I felt could reverberate through the action and characters like a symphony reverberates through an audience and concert hall. A setting to become almost a character, the elephant in the room. I had a location just waiting for its moment.

As an intern teacher, my first assignment, after a semester at the Campus School at Buffalo College SUNY, was to an elementary school in the city of Niagara Falls, New York. (I lived midway between the cities of Niagara Falls and Buffalo, a commuter student.) Each day of the week, I drove to Niagara Falls for my assignment, each day of the week I experienced “the Falls.”

I never tired in the course of my drive of seeing the wide, serene Niagara River turn to rapids then divide and drop over a precipice of about 180 feet known as the American Falls and the nearby larger Canadian Falls named the Horseshoe Falls. The majesty and power of the scene burned into my memory. Whenever I had a moment, I’d park and, with the many tourists, stand at the rails to look, becoming both awed and introspective.

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The American Falls courtesy of nydailynews.com

During that time, I saw the Falls not only from behind a safety rail, but from the Cave of the Winds, where clad in yellow slickers curious people like myself could walk behind the tons of dropping water and experience the natural wonder up close.

I also saw the Falls years later from the air. One memorable flight occurred on a chartered plane with the Northern Illinois University football team. My husband and I flew with them from the Chicago area to Buffalo International for a game with the University of Buffalo. When the female pilot announced we would soon be flying over the Falls, an air of expectancy filled the plane followed by expressions of awe from the players when the sight came into view. For a special moment I witnessed the effect on these young men. Everyone seemed struck by the wonder of it all, the beauty, the power.

Time passed. Then a few years ago a character by the name of Nick Ferrelli popped into my head. (My husband’s Italian.) As a gelatinous plot wriggled into my thoughts, I knew Nick, a good guy, would be pulled into a torrent of events bigger than himself. I knew just where I wanted the action to take place. Yep. Niagara Falls. The story became “Ferrelli’s Fall.”

Niagara Falls has been the setting for many a book (e.g. The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates) and film (e.g. Niagara starring Joseph Cotton and Marilyn Monroe), but now they were Nick’s to experience for the first time. Nick, on seeing the Horseshoe Falls …

            Nick lowered the car window. The roar of fast moving water thundering over the precipice of the Canadian Falls and crashing onto the rocks below exploded in his ears. Fine mist rose into the sunlit air, falling like gossamer rain back into the Falls, onto the road, onto the adjacent park. Tourists held jackets or umbrellas over their heads or, bareheaded, allowed the mist to shower down on them. A fragile rainbow hung in the fine spray.

            In a crowded parking lot, he jockeyed his car into a spot just vacated by a jeep with Quebec plates. He hurried across the highway toward an iron safety rail where sightseers crowded along the fence, a cacophony of water hurling onto the fallen rocks below, deafening him. He edged between a tattooed biker and a blond man with a backpack slung over his shoulder.

            The biker turned to Nick, his voice a shout. “Folks used to go over them falls in a barrel. That’s some kinda crazy.”

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The Canadian or Horseshoe Falls courtesy of wild.com

In another scene in a local bar called The Falls Inn, Nick experiences the Falls in another way. He meets a character by the name of Captain Jack MacGregor, a former captain of a vessel known as The Maid of the Mist which plies the water below the Falls, enabling tourists to be close to the tumult. Nick asks,

“Tell me, Captain, what’s it like to be in those waters?”

            “It’s a roiling cauldron, son. Never dull. Gotta know where the rocks are. They’re tumblin’ all the time.” Captain Jack finished his drink, smacked his lips, waved to the bartender for another. “Always somethin’, like when I was all set to perform a weddin’. The groom suddenly went missin’. My mate found ‘im in the galley. Hidin’, he was. Said he’d changed his mind. The bride-to-be tossed her bouquet overboard and told the guy to get lost. A sturdy little lass she was.”

            Nick gave a short laugh. “I’ve been a little commitment shy myself, or so I’ve been told.”

            “Take your time, mate. Take your time.” The Captain wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Also had a pretty little lass, in her twenties she was, try to jump over the rail. Kept yellin’, ‘Get away! Let me go!’ My mate and I pulled her back.”

            “Poor kid.” Nick thought about Maggie, the night she stormed out of the condo. For good. He knew all about life’s unexpected turns, all about its sad turns.

            “Yep, these waters, these falls draw ‘em all, more than just honeymooners or jilted lovers. The suicides and loonies flock here like gulls to dead fish.” Captain Jack scratched his chest, peering at Nick with watery eyes. “Ever want to kill yourself, son?”

Through the course of writing the story, I not only drew from Niagara Falls and its considerable imprint on me, but I also had a challenge – exploring characters and moral codes set against that backdrop. The whole piece, on the cusp of a novelette of about 7,000 words, will be in a collection of short stories, slowly coming together. The present working titles for the book are Racing from the Dark or Racing from the Night. Which do you like? Members of my critique group want more of Nick. We’ll see.

 

Posted in Authors, blogging, Books, Creativity, fiction writing, Finding Ideas: The Creative Process, Inspiration, Looking for Inspiration, Reading, short story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

When Your Book Gives Back …

It’s always gratifying as an author to receive feedback and validation about your book. I’m speaking of a compliment, an award, a good review, a referral, a speaking engagement, a book signing, recognition by your peers. These are definitely “feel goods.” Recently, my associate Lynn Centeno and I received a different kind of feedback – a most unusual and heartfelt kind – as a result of our book All Ways A Woman. 

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A book to celebrate and inspire women.

By way of background: Our purpose in doing the book was to honor, celebrate, and inspire women by depicting a woman’s journey, universal yet personal, via original story poems and watercolors. A few weeks ago, a social media post and an email came across my computer screen that made me think, our book is right on. Let me explain.

We’ve all heard of the human response “fight or flight.” A Facebook post which I highlight below came into my feed – a quote from Rebecca Solnit’s book The Mother of All Questions. It states that women won’t necessarily choose the above response but instead will seek the support of other women, particularly in times of stress. It reinforced parts of our book’s content. Quote:

For a century, the human response to stress and danger has been defined as “fight or flight.” A 2000 UCLA study by several psychologists noted that this research was based largely on studies of male rats and male human beings. But studying women led them to a third, often deployed option: gather for solidarity, support, advice. They noted that “behaviorally, females’ responses are more marked by a pattern of ‘tend-and-befriend.'” (Thank you to Iris Anderson for sharing Anne Hathaway’s FB post.)

Then I received this email from nybookeditors.com titled “Your Guide to Writing Women.” This post was addressed to authors on how to create a strong woman character without her simply being “a dude wearing a skirt.” Their first premise? Women like to feel safe and will seek or create a place of safety. Their second premise? Women desire to serve in strong roles, not in a subservient way, but from a place of power: mothers, teachers, doctors, leadership roles, volunteerism. For women, ego does not seem to be the driving force.

Our book depicts a woman’s journey and culminates with ideas mentioned above. The second last poem in the book speaks to the desire to serve in a non-subservient way. The piece is called “A Woman’s Hands.” The last poem in the book, “The Gift of the Gathering,” speaks to the female response of  ‘tend-and-befriend.’ It addresses how women gather together and gift each other with support.

It was gratifying to know we had done this work by instinct and intuition only to have these two sources – one scientific and one literary – reinforce our thoughts. A serendipitous happening. And validating.

But a final reward was yet in the offing. A friend who had recently lost her husband and was in the throes of this very deep loss, came to one of our events held last year on Valentine’s Day. She purchased several books, one of which was given to a special girlfriend of hers. A year later, my friend called to tell me she had something she wanted me to see. I stopped by her home full of curiosity and was stunned. She had been gifted with the beautiful quilt shown below created by the friend to whom she had given our book. The quilt had been inspired by their friendship and our creative work.

The quilt celebrates a lovely woman, a supportive friendship, and a true love. This is “tend-and-befriend” at its best, at its most inspiring. It’s also our book giving back to us in a way never imagined. We’re humbled.

Thank you to my friend Eleanor for sharing this beautiful gift. And thank you to her friend Lydia for her quilting artistry and heartfelt way of supporting her friend.

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The images are in the tone and feeling of those in All Ways A Woman. A true fabric find!

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A lovely woman.

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A true love.

When your book gives back … it’s truly special.

***

And if you’re in the desert on March 14, we will be presenting at the Palm Springs Library at 6:30 pm. Thanks for stopping by.

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