Writing 101: Size Matters

Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you?

Today’s twist: pay attention to your sentence lengths and use short, medium, and long sentences as you compose your response about the home you lived in when you were twelve.

**Author’s note** This prompt would do so well for a number of my fictional characters.  I will need to come back to do something like this again, for them, but for today we’ll stay with non-fiction.  Two days in a row!  My characters will think i’ve abandoned them.

Green and white metal covered the outside, but inside our home was as warm and cozy as the wood paneling that covered most of the walls.  It was the only house I remembered.  We had moved from one mobile home to this one when I was two or three years old, but I have no memory of that place.  This is home.  It was a home a shared with my mom and dad, two poodles and as many as fifty parakeets at a time.  I didn’t mind the birds.  Since I am an only child I enjoyed having playmates in my own house, even though they were the feathered kind.

Our home was a humble one.  The trailer had three bedrooms (I used two of them for my sleeping and my playing), two bathrooms, a dine in kitchen and modest living room. My world was centered there.  My bedroom was tucked away on the opposite end of the home from the one my parents shared.  I had been allowed to choose the color for my walls; a pale pink that matched the floral sheets and bedclothes I had also selected.  I missed the bunk beds I had been spoiled with when I was younger but I loved the white and brass day bed that had replaced them.  I felt grown up.  Maybe I wasn’t too grown up though, since I still had stuffed animals covering a fair share of my bed.

The best thing about where I grew up was my neighbors: grandma and grandpa!  Most of the time it felt like we all lived in one big house together.  I was there everyday.  I spent time baking with grandma, eating plums with grandpa and trying, but failing, to stay out of trouble.  Between our two houses, we had a yard that seemed to go on forever.  There was a huge garden too.  Every year I helped plant the corn and the vegetables.  I loved that we didn’t have to plant the strawberries every year.  They were my favorite.  I especially liked it when I was sneaking the fruit of the plants before anyone else knew they were ripe.  When we weren’t workign in the garden, my imagination took me everywhere in the world, though I never left those two plots of land.

At age twelve, I couldn’t have dreamed of living anywhere further than a few blocks from this home I’d always known.  It was my small bedroom in a small house in a small town and I loved it.  Sometimes I wish I could go back to the simplicity that I knew then.  I think I outgrew my imagination.


Writing 101: Happy (Insert Special Occasion Here)!

Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.

Free free to focus on any aspect of the meal, from the food you ate to the people who were there to the event it marked.

Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.


Author’s Note: Today we will be taking a brief pause in the love lives of our cast of characters to tell a story about yours truly.

As the daylight hours grow shorter and the temperature begin to fall, certain memories come drifting to us through our senses.  We hear and feel the cracking fire in our hearth and remember bonfires where you shared some drinks and laughter with your friends.  You see the changing leaves and think back to all the times you had to rake the yard and how tempting it was to jump right in the middle of the pile.  (And more often than not, you did). More than anything, for me, it’s the smell of pumpkin pie and celery, which brings me back to grandma’s house on Thanksgiving.

In my early childhood, I must have believed that meal was created by magic.  I remember I would come out of my bedroom sometime in the morning the smells of my own kitchen.  The room would be filled with the tangy smell of onions mixed with the sweet smell of brown sugar.  The first job I ever had in helping to prepare Thanksgiving dinner was adding the marshmallows to the candied yams during the last few minutes of the baking time.  Once these were done, along with the baked beans, mom and I made our way next door.

Perhaps it was the way the cool air felt after leaving such a warm kitchen, but it seems to me that every Thanksgiving Day was a mild one for late November in Iowa.  Many times, when I find myself outside on a sunny fall day and there is the slightest chill in the air I am reminded of that short walk of years past.  One year in stands out among the rest as the year in which no one wanted to tell me a secret, but not for reasons you may think.  This was well past my adolescent years so I was trusted to carry one of the hot dishes from mom’s kitchen to the table next door.  I gingerly carried the baked beans over the uneven bricks of the pathway between front doors and carefully made my way to the front porch. It was there that my careful approach ended.  As I moved to take the final step I fell forward, dish still in hand, and managed to spill only a few of the beans.  Unfortunately, those beans (of somewhere around 400 degrees) landed all over my hand and arm.  Throughout dinner, my family found it impossible to take  pity on my pain and continually found ways to bring up the fact that I “spilled the beans.”

My memories of those Thanksgiving dinners always make me smile.  I always think of the way it was when I was small and my uncle and cousins joined us every year.  I even remember when I was the only child there and still had my own table, which was actually a two-step stool.  I loved to sit on the lower step and use the top step as my table top.  Eventually I got old enough to move from the kid table to sit with the grown ups.  At that table, it seems we always had to wait for my dad to join us. He would tinker away in the garage until someone told him dinner was ready.  Of course, we had to tell him it was ready about fifteen minutes before we set it on the table so he would be there in time. When he showed up, I could always count on two things happening.  First, my mom would argue that she didn’t want to sit next to him (but she did) and second, he would ask my grandma if she had any beer in the fridge (but she didn’t).

Above everything else, there is one thing that brings me back to Thanksgiving at grandma’s house.  I don’t know it ever began, but we always had homemade noodles served in chicken broth with our meal.  Not chicken & noodles mind you, just the homemade noodles cooked in broth.  I thought it was a long standing family tradition with the recipe being handed down through generations.  I believed that during my teenage years and early twenties when I got to grandma’s kitchen early in the morning to help her mix up, roll out, cut and dry the noodles.  Finally the year came when I would be making a Thanksgiving Day feast at my own house.  I tried to find the recipe she had given me and failed. Desperately, I called her to get the recipe again.  All my thoughts of heirloom family recipes were shattered though when she told me to look on page 110 of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  Oh well, those are still tasty noodles.

My mom and dad now live in the house my grandma served those meals in.  Sometimes when I walk through that dining room I swear I can smell the pumpkin pies cooling on a rack or the fresh sliced carrots and celery placed between grandma and me.  Some memories stick with us through our senses.  Maybe that’s why whole milk brings lost loved ones to mind (along with a craving for turkey and corn casserole.)

**Along with attempting to write in the style of my speech, I also included a few comments in parentheses.  I use parentheses so much (literally in written word and by inference in spoken word) that I almost named this blog “Parenthetically Speaking.”



Writing 101, Day Six: A Character Study

Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?

Today’s twist: Turn your post into a character study.

The woman who sits before me is a stranger to me.  I have known her for more than a decade, but she is new to me.  Our relationship has changed and so has she.  Leah* and I were once considered close.  We spent time together on Sunday afternoons and I was something of a mentor to her two girls.  In turn, she was something of a spiritual leader to me.  At least, that’s what the world saw.  My eyes were opened when I saw through a crack in her armor.  I only saw it for a moment before she slammed the doors shut.  That was when I knew I wasn’t seeing the real Leah.

Sitting here now, more than three years later, I had a feeling I was going to see a lot more of the real thing than I ever imagined.  I had always seen her selfless dedication to her church and wanted to feel the same zeal.  I had, in fact, looked up to her as having attained a spiritual level that I could only hope for.  What I had not known then was how those days spent at church functions from sunrise to sunset was costing her family the bonding time provided by Sunday dinners and lazy afternoons.  I couldn’t see how the level of confidence she had bestowed on the leaders of the church had supplanted the rightful place of her own husband’s opinions in their household.  Most certainly, I did not see the way her acts of compassion were performed with the design of having a spotlight shine more brightly on her.

As my companion and I sit across the table before Leah at this trendy coffee shop, I try for small talk.  Something has to be done to break the ice.  She ignores my comment about her latte and slides into the seat furthest from me.  I am left out of the conversation for the most part.  I did not expect much more than this since I was only brought along as a mediator.  Her words reveal her in a way I’ve never realized before.  With her body language she dismisses me.  When she does refer to me it is only in passing and she can’t bear to look at me.  Even when I defend her point of view she awards me with hostility.  How can this woman whom I once believed my spiritual mentor carry so much pride and animosity?  I have hurt her, and I acknowledge my part in that.  This is not the time or place to bring out those hurts however.  We are here for the well-being of others.

I can already see that she believes her way to be the only way to God.  I can tell that her ideals and morals are the only ones acceptable.  I walk away from these meeting full of the impression that her character is primarily formed from narcissism and bitterness.  How can a woman who claims to speak for a loving God show so little of his compassion?

Later, I find myself continuing to reflect on these things.  For so many years, I looked to Leah and saw the way a Christian woman’s life should be.  I was envious of her time spent in prayer and the faith she put in her hands as they did works for Christ.  Today though, my eyes have been opened by a woman who is so much closer to the image of God.

Rachel* has been in my life for two years.  At first I was nervous about our church calling a female pastor.  I didn’t know how I would respond to her leadership.  Perhaps my thoughts were tainted by my experience with Leah.  Maybe I was holding to old-fashioned ideas of men being leaders over women.  All of my fears were unfounded, as I would gradually find out.

I wish I could say I saw how special Rachel is the first time I met her.  My own nerves as I reached out to her in planning my upcoming wedding would not allow it.  I quickly found myself caring for her well-being and her family though, and wanting to support her through prayer and friendship.  I look at her face when she stands before our congregation and see an earnest faith that doesn’t put on a show.  When she smiles (as she so often does) I see a true goodness and joy wash over her and into those around her.  And when she blesses us at the end of a worship service, I feel there is almost a tangible light emitting from her as she speaks over us.

I took the time to share with Rachel the way she touched my life.  Here are the actual words a wrote to her:

 I just want to close by saying how much I have enjoyed your ministry. You are a light that shines in a way that brings being real to our faith. I look at you and see a woman who is who she is all the time. You don’t put on a show. You are kind, joyful and someone people can relate to. I have meant to tell you for some time how much of an impact you have had on me. I can honestly feel the love of God when I think of you, and I say a prayer for you and thanking God for you every time I do.

The goodness I find in Rachel helps me to have patience and forgiveness for Leah.  I don’t desire to contend with or find fault in Leah.  I know our friendship will never be the same, but I pray each of us find ways to move past our hurts and failures of days gone by and become faithful women of God with true and god-like hearts.

*Leah and Rachel represent two very real women in my life.  For the sake of one if not all of us however, I have changed the names of those involved.