The Scottish Lowlands

Fandango’s one-word challenge for today: GUEST
As my response I’ll tell you about a travel book I once read:

My Heart’s in the Lowlands – Ten days in Bonny Scotland
© 2007 by Liz Curtis Higgs, published by WaterBrook Press.

“Let’s go, shall we? Just the two of us?”

With this opening, Liz invites the reader to be her guest and travelling companion on a jaunt through the Scottish lowlands. This is the place Liz loves to visit, the setting for her novels.

Through her vivid descriptions, she allows us to experience the sights, the cuisine and the ambiance of Dumfries and Galloway. She tells of castle ruins, ancient churches, Bobby Burns’ favorite haunts,  local attractions, bed & breakfast accommodations, shops and customs.

Liz has written a number of historical romances set in the southwestern part of Scotland and has made a number of trips to the region in the course of researching her stories. This makes her a great tour guide; you’ll enjoy the role of  a good friend as she chauffeurs you around and explains the history behind the places you’re seeing.

I enjoyed this book very much when I read it the first time but when I discovered later that my Vance ancestors came from Galloway, the travelogue took on a whole new meaning for me. I’d love to visit the area from which my great-great grandfather, the widower Joseph Vance, set off to seek his fortune in the new world.

He left Scotland around 1835, traveling with his young son and his three brothers. En route to their future home in Ontario these four brothers passed through New York, where Joseph won the hand of Miss Sarah Allen, daughter of Samuel Allen, originally from Vermont. Joseph & Sarah settled in Oxford County and produced a family of six boys and one girl, Sarah Jane. My great-grandfather, Samuel was one of the youngest.

As I read Liz’s book, I realized what a contrast the tall maple forests of southern Ontario would have been from the windswept moors the Vances left. What brave souls they were!

Even if you have no family tree roots in this area, do take the tour with her if you can get your hands on a copy of her book. She’s such a pleasant travelling companion; I’m sure you’ll find it a pleasure to be her guest for a few hours of reading enjoyment.

 

HOPE: Our Life’s Anchor

Fandango’s one-word  prompt yesterday was ANCHOR.

When I saw that word I sat down and let my mind — and fingers  — contemplate the subject. I came up with this writing before we left for church, thinking I’d have time to post it sometime during the day — but then our day turned out quite full. Anyway, here are my thoughts.

And now I can work in Fandango’s latest one-word prompt: FRAGILE,
An anchor cannot be a fragile thing. It hooks among the seabed rocks close to the shore and holds on for dear life. The anchor, and the line that holds it to the ship, are responsible for the lives of all those on board. Anchors and ropes are tested to be sure they’ll stand the strain.

When I saw the word ANCHOR, I immediately thought of that line in the old hymn, Whispering Hope.
“Hope, as an anchor so steadfast….”

Isn’t that the truth! Often the quality of our life is wrapped around HOPE:
the sick live with the hope of better days ahead,
the depressed carry on in the hope of brighter times to come
the poor live in hope of finding financial stability
the destitute live in hopes of a home, or at least a safe location
those who believe in a merciful Creator hope for an eternal reward
the grieving embrace the hope that their loved ones are in a better world now, or at least no longer suffer
and almost everyone lives in hope of finding and maintaining love, friendships, family ties.

Like an anchor keeps a ship from drifting off course in a storm, so hope keeps us heading in the direction of our life-goal, keeps us from being blown off course by gales of circumstance.

Hope anchors most of our actions; without it our days turn into a pointless, emotion-driven meander. Should our hope be a fragile thing, should it break as soon as adversity comes, courage usually fails and our ship might be tossed on a wild sea before we land in a quite spot again.

In extreme cases depressed people curl up in a fetal position and die. Mentally, people crawl into a shell when they’ve lost hope. Physically they cease to take care of their bodies and often fall into substance abuse.

An ANCHOR we need in this turbulent world
— and HOPE is a vital part of that anchor.

When Jesus walked this earth, He offered this promise: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls…” (Matt 12:29) He knew that finding this “rest for your souls” — peace of mind, freedom from guilt and fear — is one of humanity’s greatest needs. One of the best anchors in life.

He didn’t come to offer a guilt-riddled set of rules. (For some reason we humans naturally tend to gravitate towards religious systems that offer heaps of Dos and Don’ts.) Neither did He come to promote the freedom to do whatever we want, without conscience, using and stomping on other people to fulfill our own desires.

On second thought, He did give us some rules:
Turn the other cheek. Go the second mile. Forgive. Don’t hold grudges. Freely give. Respect your elders. Show kindness to the widows, orphans, and strangers among you. Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t make rules for other people that you can’t even keep yourselves.

Most people seem to know that these are good rules. that they’ll give folks a happy, stress-free life such as we all hope for.

One more thing about HOPE: It’s one of those beautiful “multiplying” qualities: a person can freely offer their hope to others without diminishing their own supply.

Has someone shared HOPE with you lately? Have you shared yours?

The Song of Enough

by Edgar A Guest

I’m getting along, with a bit of a song
and a bit of a smile for my neighbor.
I’ve managed to grin, with the little I win
day by day as the bit from my labor.

Time was in the past I stood often aghast
as the storms of despair swept around me
but my ship, although small, bravely weathered them all
and nothing I’ve dreaded has downed me.

I’ve not had the luck which some others have struck;
I’ve neither been famous nor wealthy,
but I’ve always had meat when I wanted to eat
and I thank the good Lord I’ve been healthy.

Some things I have missed on the millionaire’s list,
but the friends I have made have been true ones;
I have always had suits, shirts and neckties and boots
though I couldn’t afford many new ones.

I’m getting along , just as one of the throng.
Day by day I have worked for my money;
but in spite of the care and the burdens I bear
I’ve supped of life’s nectar and honey.

My house isn’t large, but love has it in charge
and in peace and contentment I dwell there,
and all men I defy to be happier than I
when a friend puts his hand to the bell there.

I’m getting along, with a bit of a song
for I’ve learned what I knew not at twenty,
that enough for each day—with a bit put away
for the cares of my old age—is plenty.

I have eaten and slept, and at times I have wept,
I’ve done all that the Lord lets a man do;
I’ve made friends on the way, and I venture to say
that is all that the richest man can do.

From his book, The Light of Faith
©1926 by The Reilly & Lee Co.

Sharing the Blooms

We’ve reached that time of year when our outdoor flowers are looking rather weary. The petunias in my planters haven’t frozen yet, but the sensitive marigolds around the edges wilted at the first hint of frost. Their brittle leaves don’t add much to the esthetics anymore.

I know we’ll have to start pulling up and tossing soon, but we’ve enjoyed the colorful display this summer and I was happy to learn one evening that we were sharing. At dusk I was standing on the deck when I noticed a hummingbird moth in the petunias, zipping from bloom too bloom, enjoying the sweetness of my flowers. I’ve seen it half a dozen times since — one evening I saw a smaller version, too.

Thinking of sharing good things, I found this little story somewhere and will share it with you, hoping this thought will inspire you, too, this morning.

A lady who was a great lover of flowers had set out a rare vine at the base of a stone wall. It grew vigorously, yet she saw no blooms. Day after day she cultivated and watered it to coax it into bloom.
One morning as she stood disappointedly before it, her invalid neighbour whose back lot adjoined hers, called over and said, “You can’t imagine how much I have been enjoying the blooms of what you planted!”
The lady who owned the plant looked, and on the other side of the wall was a mass of blooms. The vine had crept through the crevices and flowered luxuriantly on the other side.
So often we think our efforts are thrown away because we do not see their fruits. We need to learn that in the service of God our prayers, our toils, and our crosses are never in vain. Somewhere they bear fruit, and hearts will receive blessings and joy from our efforts.

–Author Unknown to me

When Two Adjectives Go Walking…

As I wrote in my last post, I’ve spent a fair bit of time this past week over at Critique Circle reading and commenting on various stories posted there. Of course this brings thoughts about improving one’s writing — which will now spill into this post.

I’ve posted my own story and gotten seven critiques. WONDERFUL! Being critiqued has been good for me. For one thing, I’ve had to go back to grammar books and other published authors to study up on the acceptable use of commas. Tricky little things. When it comes to separating clauses, there seems to be no uniform rule of, “Yes, one here,” or “No, none there.”

One of the things I often note in my critiques is the overuse and/or duplication of adjectives. Some genres tolerate more descriptive adjectives than others, but I do like the advice I once heard from some well known writer:
“Imagine you’re buying your story words for $1 each. You won’t want to buy more than you need.”

If you had to pay for words, you’d want to make sure each word is doing its job. You won’t want to pay for a bunch that need others to lean against because they don’t say enough on their own.

Mark Twain: “When you see an adjective, kill it.”

I’ve modified this bloodthirsty ink-thirsty version and adopted this maxim:
“When two adjectives go walking, flatten one.”
A little less gruesome, don’t you think?

Last year my husband enrolled in the Jerry Jenkins School of Writing and we both benefited from his lessons on “Becoming a Ferocious Self-Editor.” He gives demonstrations along with explanations, taking the first page of someone’s story and hacking it to pieces showing how it can be tightened.

When it comes to adjectives, he quotes another writing guru — sorry, I forget who — saying: “One plus one equals one-half.”
The idea being: when you use two adjectives, you weaken the effectiveness of both. Choose the most powerful and cut the other.

For example: The neat, tidy little cottage sat at the edge of a tenebrous, spooky forest.
I’d go with tidy, which means neat. A cottage is automatically little, so cut that, too.
Tenebrous means dark or murky — and dark murky places usually are spooky. Spooky places are usually dark and shadowy. Pick one or the other — preferably the one most people will understand.

Tom was a pompous, dictatorial boss who loved nothing better than ordering his cowering underlings around.
Dictatorial means ordering others around. Don’t throw this word away, though. Chances are, it will fit in nicely elsewhere.

Raiva was a loquacious chatterbox, always running on at the mouth.”
Here you have not only and adjective repeating the noun, but an adverb clause saying the same thing.
I’ve cut loquacious. Erudites like big, fancy words but the average reader may get a bit (cut qualifiers, too) ticked off if they have to stop and look up loquacious in the dictionary. A few fancies may be okay, but don’t make a practice of throwing in humongous, supposedly-impressive words.

I just read a piece which included the word pulchritudinous. My first thought was “ornery” but I decided to look it up and be sure. According to vocabulary.com:
“Even though it looks (and sounds) like it would describe a disease or a bad attitude, pulchritudinous actually describes a person of breathtaking, heartbreaking…beauty.”

Most readers will guess. They’ll read “Joe had a contentious nature.” And they’ll think, hmm… Sounds like content. Must be Joe’s easy-going.” If you do use an unusual word, give the reader a clue in the context.

But I digress. Let’s get back to Raiva the blab. Cutting the excess, all we have left is, She was a chatterbox. Or, Raiva was always running off at the mouth.

Instead of telling this fact, we could show it like so:
Pam and Bev sat in Bev’s living room drinking coffee when they saw Raiva coming to the door.
Pam nudged Bev’s arm and said, “Here comes Miss Mouthpiece.”
Bev rolled her eyes. “Gossip, her specialty.”
(Or, “Advice her specialty,” depending on which impression you want to convey. And check if it needs a comma after Advice. Or not?)

Of Fall and Fine Details

This morning from my kitchen window I noticed three birds clinging to a leafless branch on a treetop, the sight of which inspired this haiku:

how brave those three
birds still clinging —
facing autumn’s gale

Much as we might wish to cling to summer, autumn has definitely made its appearance in our land. The crops are coming off and the golden brown straw left to hold the soil in place; the maple trees are golden already. Nights are cool, and during the last few days we’ve gotten the rains we wanted.

Hopefully now the Fire Ban will be lifted in our township. For a few months now we haven’t been allowed to light any fires outdoors, including in BBQ pits and such. This month local volunteer firefighters have been called out to several grass fires started by balers as farmers were harvesting hay. Sunday Sept 2nd some of our firemen left straight from church, responding to a fire east of here. About 150 acres — half of it in standing wheat crop — burned, along with four round hay bales.

The hummers left us a couple of weeks ago. Last week the second batch of barn swallows came out of their nest to enjoy the clear blue skies. For the first few days the three newcomers played in the air above our yard, then ventured farther, touring the woods and coming back to roost at night. I was out just after supper together with the cats, and the swallows came buzzing around us. Obviously they weren’t happy seeing cats so close to their residence.

It’s been awhile since I posted anything significant but I decided that if I didn’t get something written I might develop chronic blog-atrophy.

It’s not that I haven’t been writing. In fact, I’ve spent hours at the computer this week commenting on other writers’ work. Last weekend I was investigating the possibilities for having my own short stories critiqued and came across a site called Critique Circle. It It looked interesting, so I signed up and started writing comments on the stories posted.

Basically, anyone may join, and post a story they’ve written once every two weeks — but first they must critique others’ stories. In fact the system works somewhat like that old song about working in the coal mines: you do one days’ work and the company store charges two days’ pay for your groceries. 🙂 I’ve gotten .5, 1, 1.5, and 2 credits for doing various critiques, but it cost me 3 credits to post my story. So participants need to keep writing critiques (of 300 words or more) if they want to post anything.

Which is quite fair, really. I’m not griping. This approach keeps people from “taking” without putting anything in. (And it suits me because I enjoy doing editing. 😉 I do try to be gentle, though.) The “rules state that “critters” shall be encouraging and helpful to new writers as well as more experienced ones. No “Your story is blah!” comments.

I’ve posted one flash fiction story already. The first critique I received dealt mostly with grammar and punctuation — some of which I would contest. The second was an overall “Liked the story.” The third one was worth its weight in gold! It was written by a fellow who’s had a number of short stories published in literary magazines and such. He really knows his stuff and pointed out half a dozen things I SHOULD HAVE seen myself.

The stories I’m working on now are for my upcoming book of flash fiction. And now that I’ve registered it and gotten the ISBN, I can post the cover I’ve chosen (from unsplash.com.) What do you think?

The next design issues: choosing a font style and “outside border or no?”

Abstract cover.all

No Space To Grieve

A pigeon, newly dead,
on the shoulder of the highway,
slaughtered by a passing car.
The bloody heap, still warm,
sprawled on the pavement
while its mate flutters about.

Wanting to be sure,
to give one farewell caress.
The fierce flow of traffic
chases her away repeatedly,
yet she keeps coming back.

How cruel that she gets
not one moment of peace
alone with her lost mate,
no space to grieve.

My response to the Ragtag Daily Prompt today: Bird