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Peer Critiques                                                        

I met my husband in 2001 and soon started telling him about a family saga story I carried in my head. I talked about the details often but concluded I hadn’t figured out how to tie the story together. Finally, in 2013, while listening to live music one evening, the idea appeared, the visions flowed, and I excitedly told him, “I figured out the common denominator for my novel.” He responded, “Then stop talking about it and go write.” Little did he know that’s all I would do and talk about for the next two years. I wanted to write and had my spouse’s backing, but I had no formal training. 

    During those two years, I joined the Rochester (NY) Veterans Writing Group and Lilac City Rochester Writers. When I mentioned I had no college-level writing experience, people told me it didn’t matter. I beg to differ because it was only then that I started learning about peer critique, head hopping, point of view differences, ellipsis, the various types of editing a manuscript needs, and multiple revisions.

    I finished the first draft of my very long novel and thought I was done. Yes, you may laugh, and I’m laughing with you. Talk about being naive, lacking understanding, or being ignorant. I remember giving a trusted writer-friend a dumb look when she asked me who I would have edit it and how much revision was I prepared to do. I had no idea at the time that I wasn’t “done” or that an author could rewrite anything another twenty ways before it sounds the best that it can. 

    In my Veteran’s group, we write memoir or call it historical fiction if our memory doesn’t recount exact details. When we were working on essays for the first book we self-published, we edited each others’ writing by saying, this doesn’t make sense, or if you switched these two ideas around, it would work better. We corrected punctuation and the use of whom versus who, and that versus who when referring to people. We didn’t change the writing but might have asked for more detail or emotions. We acknowledged what happened to the author and were happy to share the experience in story form.

    In Lilac City, we have three peer (fellow member) critique sessions yearly. A member is welcome to submit up to 2500 words per session. Each person who submits agrees to review everyone else’s work. The favored genre or experience of any author is not taken into consideration. Everyone “plays.” It’s been my experience that in this situation, the suggestions given tend to veer to the person doing the critique wanting the author to write the piece the way they would have. The storyteller ignores the fact a piece is plot-driven and pushes for character development. The plot writer generously takes the time to explain how to write an outline so someone can get all the information into a neater package. I have heard comments that a piece was “infantile,” not feasible in real life, too long, uninteresting, or the subject matter was not original. Each reviewer does all types of editing. Personally, I have found the process to do more harm than good because I am not good at letting go of the negative and looking for the positive. Most of us are writers, not trained editors.

    I recently backed out of a weekly ZOOM meeting called Inklings where participants read aloud their work and listeners offered suggestions for overall improvement. There were four “regulars” at the event and sometimes a new face or two. I did learn a lot in the beginning. Sometimes I can recognize a POV “problem” now, but I can also hear three of the people’s comments whenever I read any author’s work. I will say out loud to my husband while reading a novel, “This wouldn’t have made it through Inklings.” Charli attended one evening and decided, though she did get good feedback, that she could use those two hours more advantageously if she didn’t participate. I came to feel the same way.

    On a different note, it took the Inklings regulars about six months to accept and appreciate 99-word stories. When I started sharing them, the listeners wanted more detail, setting, and senses involved. I kept repeating, “99 words.” They finally got it, and I have to admit, they did help improve a few of my “babies” as we called them. In the end, I heard compliments about how I managed to have a beginning, middle, and ending in so few words. I like praise!

    When Charli visited me at the end of August, she explained to the members of Lilac City during a day-long seminar the different types of editors a manuscript should have. A developmental editor, which you can find through an association, looks at the big picture of your book, focusing on the organization of material and structure then recommends revisions based on pleasing the target audience. Next, a line editor addresses the creative content, writing style, and language used at the sentence and paragraph level, which is the “art of writing,” and another set of revisions is needed. Next, a copy editor tidies up the text for conciseness and polishes the information, so it is delivered to the reader clearly. And finally, proofreading is done on the final revision, which should be in the form of a galley copy, so the words can be seen on paper in the chosen printed format. Typos and “old maids” (one word on a page) are easier to spot when in book form.

    I’ve done so much editing and “peer” critiquing in the past eight years that I can spot the one typo in a David Baldacci book. Am I a friend or foe to my fellow writers when doing an honest critique? I’m not sure, but I try not to be a “dream stealer” and tell them they have no writing ability, or their writing ability hasn’t improved since I met them.

    What experiences have you had with “peer” critiques? Have they been helpful or a hindrance? Do you know how to seek out the correct type of critique “peer?” Share your experiences in the comments. And keep on writing, even if it’s only for yourself.


About the Author:

Sue Spitulnik was an Air Force wife from 1972 to 1979, living in multiple states and England. She now resides in her home state of New York with her husband, Bob, and lives close to her children and their families.

Sue has been a participant in the Rochester Veteran’s Writing Group since 2015 and is the current president of Lilac City Rochester Writers group. She has a story published in each group’s anthology. On her active blog, susansleggs.com, she publishes flash fiction written to the weekly prompt from Carrot Ranch Literary Community, where she interacts with fellow contributors. 

When she isn’t writing, Sue is creating with colorful fabric in her quilting studio, specializing in patriotic and t-shirt quilts.  

Active Reading for Writers

When writers read we’re not only escaping into an entertaining story, we’re honing our craft. Or we can do, if we pay attention to the scaffolding alongside the finished product. How do we do this? How do we read as writers without turning an activity we’ve loved since childhood into a chore?

Somewhere between a stark star rating and a polished review is the sweet spot where our critical eye and pleasure-seeking tendencies coincide. By considering some of the same elements we’d address in our writing we can progress beyond a simple hit/miss to feed our creative process. Here are a few ideas of how we might do this.

Read anything and everything

We need to become experts on the genre we write in but that’s no excuse to neglect other styles. Authors of literary fiction can learn about pace and plot from thrillers. Science fiction writers can see how to build tension into intimate relationships from reading romance. We can gain as much from books we don’t like as from those we relish, especially if the book we scorn is commercially successful. What makes it popular with readers? Can we apply that to our writing?

Notes in the margin

Simply reading with a pencil in hand or a readiness to use the highlight function on our ereader can help us galvanise our critic. Pick out choice words and phrases, analyse why some work and others fall flat. Notice the inconsistencies and repetitions an editor has failed to rectify. Notice when the text surprises us, what we’d like to emulate and pitfalls we’d want to avoid.

Consider the three act structure

Does the author pull you in from the opening sentence or does it take time for you to connect? How do they keep your attention through the middle section? What stops you putting this book down? Is the ending credible? Predictable? Satisfying? Approaching the end of a novel I am reading, I often ask myself how I would wind it up.

Create a checklist

Draw up your personal checklist of factors that you deem essential to a satisfying story and check the books you read against this list. For example, some might be willing to sacrifice character depth in favour of intriguing world-building or poetic language. Or take one factor, perhaps one you’re currently struggling with, and study how other authors tackle it.

Write reviews

Reviewing is part of literary citizenship but it does take time. I think it’s worth investing that time at least occasionally because transforming your thoughts into a blog post or similar can help you work out what you think. But short reviews, like the 99-word story, are also beneficial in striving to capture the essence of the book.

Enjoy

If these suggestions seem too simplistic, why not take a literature course for a deep dive into how stories work? If they seem too burdensome, then ditch them: the bottom line is to read, read and read some more. I know some authors worry about losing their own authentic voice by reading others’ but I’ve never found that. On the contrary, I often get ideas for my own WIP when I’m sitting comfortably in my reading chair lapping up the words.

What are your tips for reading as a writer? Comment below!

About the author

Anne Goodwin is the author of three novels and a short story collection with small independent press Inspired Quill. Anne reviews every book she reads and posts about reading and writing on her blog Annecdotal.

Participating in an Anthology Project

Collaborating to write an anthology can be very rewarding. Seeing your name in print one a story in a book is exciting if you’ve never been published before, even if you have. What does a project like this take to accomplish? That depends on who’s doing it, how it’s planned, and who cooperates.

In 2018 my local writing group, Lilac City Rochester Writers, held a short story contest with a specific word count required and deadlines. It was meant to be a money-making project so each entrant paid $8.00 per submission. I believe there was a group of four readers that decided on the winning stories using a point system. Three cash prizes were awarded. Most of the stories submitted were then organized and the group self-published the anthology.

The outcome was that a few people learned how to use Create Space, and the project netted little money for the group but we sure learned a lot. The book can be ordered from Amazon.


In 2019 the man who founded the Rochester Veterans Writing Group (RVWG) was unable to attend because he went back to college and then his work schedule kept him away. He had mentioned wanting to put our writings into an anthology more than once, so I proposed we gather our stories together, and even if we only had a folder of manuscripts, it would be a wonderful gift to give him. One of our guys went further and said he would do all the formatting so we could self-publish a book. “Book” talk started taking away too much time from our regular meeting format so a second monthly gathering was scheduled to work on the project. We worked as a team: voting on the title and its design, order of stories, dedication, and inclusion of bios with photos. We set deadlines that came and went, more than once. Members kept saying they wanted their works included, but they didn’t submit them. It came down to begging for the final submissions, but the project was completed and published in 2020. You can order this book on Amazon also. There are memoir stories from WWII through present-day and also home front experiences.

In early 2022, with the loss of our WWII vets in the past two years and the gain of new members, a vote was taken on whether we wanted to put together another book. The result was a unanimous yes. Currently, a different member from last time is working on collecting the personal stories for book 2. To show you our progress I’ll share his recent email.

Hello Everybody,

I have good news and bad news. The bad news ain’t so bad because each of you can help in turning that into good news too.

First, the good news:

I have compiled everything you and I have contributed so far—let me know if I’ve missed anything—into book-like form in one Word file. It comes to about 300 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 pages ( couldn’t for the life of me find a way to make the pages 6 x 9 in my version of Word, but I came close to matching the 6 x 9 formatting of the print on the pages).

I have given it all a pretty good first-time edit, and it should be in reasonable shape. I have not given much thought to the order of the stories nor filled in the Table of Contents. You’ll have to leaf through it yourselves to find what you want.

Now, the bad news:

177 of the 300 pages are occupied by stories from one Charles F. Willard and only 105 pages by everyone else. There is a clear imbalance here that badly needs remediation.

Here is the current story count by person:

Sue – 4, Joe – 3, Vaughn – 4, Suzanne – 1, John – 2, Lee – 5

Cindy – 1, Tim – 1, Dave – 2, Chuck – 28

By the way, in this file, I have included the stories from our 11/7/20 Eulogy to Bob Whelan. Your count includes those, so if you see a “1” after your name, that “1” is your only contribution so far.

I know you have more stories in you than the numbers above depict. Every month at our meetings, you show me that you do. (More bad news is: so do I!)  Convert all those stories you have to digital form and send them on to me. This is not a Willard memoir; it is an RVWG collaboration. So please get cracking.

To my fellow editors, Joe, Vaughn Lee, and Sue (Remember? You volunteered. Or was it I who volunteered you?) Please give this a look-see for any glaring issues. Also: Any stories you feel are not appropriate to include? If it’s one of yours, please send a replacement for it. We need content.

I know it is all a big time-consuming job, writing, and editing, so thanks in advance for your collective efforts. 

Here’s the file. Happy writing, happy editing.

Chuck

As you can see, Chuck is nicely requesting, cajoling, and even begging for cooperation. I’m glad there is a 4 after my name.

My suggestion if you want to put together an anthology with a group is to set deadlines and adhere to them. Or perhaps, say if there isn’t enough submitted in a timely manner, the project will be abandoned. It will save the compiler a lot of angst.

And, Chuck, he gave his family, and I as his “adopted” younger sister, a book about more of his experiences while a C-130 pilot in the Air Force for Christmas last year. I cherish it.

Please feel free to share your thoughts or questions in the comments.


About the Author

Sue Spitulnik was an Air Force wife from 1972 to 1979, living in multiple states and England. She now resides in her home state of New York with her husband, Bob, close to her children and their families. Sue has been a participant in the Rochester Veteran’s Writing Group since 2015 and is the current president of Lilac City Rochester Writers group. She has a story published in each group’s anthology. On her active blog, susansleggs.com, she publishes flash fiction written to the weekly prompt from Carrot Ranch Literary, where she interacts with fellow contributors. When she isn’t writing, Sue is creating with colorful fabric in her quilting studio, specializing in patriotic and t-shirt quilts.

Looking Back, Growing Forward  

We all are one, yet so different from each other.

Our present is shaped based on our past, and our choices shape today. Memories keep us company on dull days. They can either choose to make us edgy or excite us. 

All individuals have a story to tell. This story could be a laugh-out-loud incident or a tear-jerker one or inspire the listener. 

Either way, it’s unique since your emotions are entwined around it. 

Why don’t we give ourselves some ‘me-time’ and pen it down? 

Aah! the things writing can do!

  1. Overcoming Trauma
  2. Discovering your inner self: Dialogues with the Soul
  3. Journaling into a creative story

Overcoming Trauma

We are such intelligent souls that we faced the brunt when life threw lemons at us. Many of us got bruised along the way. 

No doubt, we got hit by the lemons, but eventually, we learned to make lemonade out of it and fought our battles.  

This applies to going back in memory lane and penning down our journey where we overcame a physical, mental or emotional trauma. Now, our fight could inspire many out there. So, with that mindset, suit up and go back into those dark, grimy lanes, which can make you nauseous. Surprisingly, when you pen down those details, you too will heal from it. Writing has such magical power that it can outlive a magic wand. 

“You learn more from failure than from success. Don’t let it stop you. Failure builds character.” — Unknown. 

Discovering your inner self: Dialogues with the Soul

The title was inspired by the poem, A Dialogue Between the Soul and the Body by Andrew Marvell. Here the poet describes the conflict between the human body and the human Soul. Each attributes its troubles and sufferings to the other. 

Now, I don’t want to highlight the exchange of words between the enslaved Soul versus the bolts of bones. 

Instead, let’s ponder the exchange of dialogues between our minds and the intellect when we deal with emotional, mental, or physical pain. 

Our mind is known as the pirate, which can cause turbulence within ourselves. Thank heavens’ our intellect takes over and helps with the reasoning for the latter to curb its thoughts. 

There must have been junctures in our lives where our intellect has had dialogues with the Soul. The consciousness then signals the body to act accordingly. And those are the turning points in our lives. 

Pen them! 

“Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.” — Will Rogers.

Journaling into a creative story

Every story has a sweet and a sour element to it. After all, it’s the life that all humans are living. 

You have been brave enough to dig up all your past’s emotional and mental debris. You can either choose to add a fictional character or give it your name. 

Give it wings and let it fly. 

Life has given us the tools to achieve wellness within and around us; however, it’s up to every individual how they can piece it together. 

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

― Maya Angelou


About the Author

Ruchira Khanna is an indie author and an energy healer. She draws inspiration from the issues that stalk our minds and she addresses them through her tales of fiction. Her characters undergo a contemplative arc she hopes her readers will, which is why they classify each of her novels as, “one that will make you ponder.”
http://explorereikiworld.com/

https://www.instagram.com/ruchira.khanna/
https://www.facebook.com/RuchiraKhanna01/

Table Talk

It happened on a day etched forever in my mind.

I had gone back-to-school shopping for my children at J C Penny’s. A small furniture display on the way to the checkout caught my eye.

No. It stopped me short in my tracks.

Heart racing, I rushed over. I ran my hand across the smooth, gleaming surface of the object before me. I had dreamed of this moment for years and years.

It was love at first sight.

I had to have it.

There it was, the dining table of my dreams.

You see, in my then ten years of married life, I had never had my own. I was a British mum of three married to an American. When I emigrated from the UK to California, my mother-in-law loaned us a green, glass-topped cast iron table, a ton in weight and meant for the garden.

A lifetime loan, it turned out: she didn’t want it back.

I covered it with a tablecloth made with blue, floral material and lace edging I purchased from another of my loves: Wal Mart’s fabric section. Pretty enough and a good-sized table, but it had its problems.

Not least of all, when a friend brought her little boy over to play and he bumped his head on the corner. He screamed, blood dripped (as head wounds do) and our friendship, if you can call it that, was never quite the same…

It had to go, but we couldn’t afford a replacement.

Until…

That table at J C Penney’s was everything I wanted: light oak and oval with a pedestal and removable centre panel. It had six matching chairs and a matching glass-fronted dresser. And best of all, when I dared glimpse the price tag, I could hardly believe it.

Two words and large letters in red danced before me: On Sale.

I enquired at the counter. They had an interest-free payment plan on offer. Numbers bounced around in my head. We could afford it, just, by my figuring. I had it all worked out and presented my case to my then husband.

‘You should be a lawyer,’ he said.

And so my beloved dining set arrived at our home and reported for duty.

Children’s birthday, tea, and Tupperware parties, baby showers, pancake breakfasts and pot-roast dinners, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the everyday of family life filled its chairs and space for years to come.

Kitty’s First Christmas

It hosted family games, silly and serious, a fair share of debates, good moods and bad and much rib-cracking laughter. Cheers with a raised glass of bubbly or two with those I have loved and always will.

And honouring those forever lost, remembered still.

My table has graced every one of my homes. It came with me to England when I left California many years ago. Sadly, and due to lack of room in one house, it sat in the garage for a few years.

My eldest son brought it out of storage for a brief time for his house share, post-university. It was already a bit rough around the edges by then, I figured a few more knocks wouldn’t hurt.

In fact, the thought of it with him brought me comfort.

My table came home when he moved again, none the worse for wear. Unlike a certain futon and mattress pushed around from son to son, leant to friends and like the bad situation where it landed, better left behind.

And when I moved house again four years ago, my table left the garage for a dining room once again. Thirty-two years since that star-studded day at J C Penney’s in California, and there it sits today in my home in England.

The top part of the dresser has long gone, damaged by its time in storage, but the lower part now belongs in my living room. It keeps candles, wine glasses and Christmas brandy.

Not only food and countless elbows have graced my table. A table is a table, after all. Kitty loves padding across it, especially this time of year. All those Christmas delights just for her, and a quick pose for her trouble.

She will have a wait this year, however. My table is presently loaded up with numerous kitchen parts as we undergo a major renovation.

But that’s the beauty of photos. They don’t show the clutter.

Which leads me to ask: if furniture could talk, what would my table say?

I think to you it would say Happy Holidays.

And to me, I hope, thanks for the good times.

Now let’s make some more.

Sherri’s non-fiction, flash fiction and poetry are published in magazines, anthologies and online at her blog. As a young mum of three, she emigrated from the UK to California and stayed for twenty years. Today she lives in England’s West Country with her family and two black cats. She is working hard to bring her debut memoir to publication.

An Activity a Day Keeps the Boredom at Bay

With the timing of this post on the last day of November, I have prepared a December Advent Activity Calendar for families (parents and children) to use in the lead-up to Christmas. There is one suggestion for each day until Christmas. In this article, I provide a brief outline of each activity. For those who want more, I have prepared a PDF with additional details for each activity which you can download free by following this link.

1. Put up the Christmas Tree

It is traditional for Christmas trees to be put up and decorated at the beginning of December. In my family, we try to do it on, or as close to, the 1st of December. If you haven’t put your tree up yet, perhaps it’s time to think about it.

I have provided the outline of a Christmas tree which can be cut, coloured and hung on the real Christmas tree. Write the year on it. On the back, write something you wish for yourself, something you wish for others, and something you wish for the world. Hang it on the Christmas tree. If you do the same thing each year, you can reflect on changes in yourself and in the world.

2. Make Paper Chain Decorations

Paper chains are easy to make and add colour to the tree or can be hung around the room.

3. Make a Gift Day

The 3rd of December is Make a Gift Day — perfect timing to remind us that personal handmade gifts are special and to be treasured. Children can make gifts for their parents, siblings, grandparents or friends.

4. Wildlife Conservation Day

The 4th of December is Wildlife Conservation Day. While you may not be able to visit a zoo or wildlife park in person, many are open for virtual visits.

At Explore.org livecamsyou can visit animals in their natural habitat, on farms, and in zoos. You can see dogs, cats, bears, goats, manatees — there are so many different animals and environments to explore. In the PDF, I link to ten more of the many other places also live streaming animals.

5. Play a Board Game

Playing games together as a family helps to bond family relationships. Many different board games are available and adjustments can often be made to suit most numbers and ages of players, and rules can be adapted to suit your purposes. While the main thing is to have fun together, there is a lot of learning going on too.

In the PDF, I have provided a board for playing Ladders and Chimneys, an innovation on Snakes and Ladders. To play, all you need to add is a dice and a button or token for each player.

6. Hour of Coding

The Hour of Coding is a great way to become more computer literate as a family. Many activities are available on the website, available for all different ages and levels of experience. They take you through a coding activity step by step. Children can do it independently or have fun doing it together as a family.

Jacqui Murray at Ask a Tech Teacher also has some great suggestions for the Hour of Code.

7. Read a Christmas Story

Reading together is another great bonding activity for families and has many benefits for children. In the hectic lead up to Christmas, it is important to ensure there is still time for a story or ten, every single day.

Of course, not all stories you read need to be Christmas themed, and it is important to allow children to choose which books they would like you to read for them too.

8. Explore the Local Environment

Spend time outdoors, experiencing what your local environment has to offer. Be in the present moment, be mindful, experience, wonder and enjoy.

Discuss what can be observed with each of the senses, for example what you can hear, smell and touch as well as see.

Whether in an urban, rural or natural space, there is always much to observe.

In the PDF, I include a template for writing a poem about the sounds you hear.

9. Take a Deck of Cards

There are many fun games you can play with a deck of cards. I’m sure you have a few favourites of your own.

Here are a few suggestions, to remind you of games you may not have thought of in a while:

  • Strip Jack Naked
  • Snap
  • Happy Families
  • Cheat
  • Old Maid
  • Go Fish
  • Memory

In the PDF, I provide a set of cards you can cut to play Memory.

10. Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day provides a good opportunity to take some time out from Christmas preparations to think of others who may not have the same advantages as you.

While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights may be a little heavy for young children to fully understand, they will be able to consider the Rights of Children.

Children may like to consider actions they can take to ensure they don’t hinder the rights of others, for example to be treated fairly, to be safe, or to play and have fun.

11. Gingerbread Decorating Day

Who needs an excuse to indulge in a little gingerbread from time to time? Christmas is a perfect time to make and decorate some gingerbread cookies for Christmas.

At the very least you could read or tell the story of The Gingerbread Man.

For some inspiration, visit Robbie on her Robbie’s Inspiration blog and watch her make gingerbread dough on her YouTube channel.

12. Prepare Christmas Treats

Children love to be in the kitchen cooking with a parent or grandparent, especially when they may get to be the taste-testers.

It doesn’t really matter what recipe you follow, there is always something for the children to learn, for example:

  • Social skills
  • Literacy skills
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Safety
  • Social Studies

13. Invite Friends Over

It is always fun to have friends visit at Christmas time.

Any of the activities suggested for families are great when friends are included too, especially playing games.

It is also good to have some special Christmas treats to share to make the day more festive.

In the PDF, I have provided a recipe for one of my favourite treats to make when friends are dropping over — pinwheel sandwiches. They can be made a few days in advance and kept refrigerated until needed.

14. Christmas Lights

In many neighbourhoods, people create amazing displays of lights and other decorations for Christmas.

Going for a walk or a drive to view the beautiful displays always helps build the anticipation and excitement for Christmas.

15. Tidy Room — Sort Toys/Books

With Christmas just 10 days away, now would be a good time for children to tidy their rooms in preparation for the big event and the new toys which may be added to their collection.

16. Sing Christmas Carols

Christmas carols are fun to sing. You don’t have to go door-to-door and sing for the neighbours. You can sing together as a family right in your own home.

Even if none of you are musical and no one plays an instrument, you can find plenty of carols to sing along with on the internet or radio.

There are some carols that I just can’t help but join in with. What are your favourites?

17. Quiet Christmas Activities

Sometimes, the lead up to Christmas can be rather hectic. There’s nothing wrong with taking some time out to relax or do quiet things to refresh and rejuvenate.

18. Prepare and/or Check Lists

If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to prepare and check your lists of last-minute things that need to be done or prepared before the big day.

19. Play ‘I Spy on the Christmas Tree’.

I Spy is always a fun game to play with children. It can be played anywhere, indoors or outdoors, at any time. But Christmas is the only time it can be played using the Christmas tree.

20. Charades

Charades is a fun game to play with family and friends. It requires no equipment and can be played with any number of people (well, perhaps more than four).

21. Have a Treasure Hunt

Treasure hunts are always a lot of fun. They don’t always need to lead to a prize but may involve looking for a toy or a book that is already owned.

22. Let’s Get Physical

Getting physical should not be something children need a reminder to do, but sometimes a little nudge can be required. There are many different ways of putting activity into the day. What are some of your family’s favourite ways of getting physical?

23. Track Santa’s Journey

Make sure you can access the NORAD Tracks Santa website so you can watch where Santa is travelling around the world On Christmas Eve.

Actually, you don’t need to wait until Christmas Eve. The website has lots of activities that can be accessed from 1 December.

24. Jolabokaflod

Jolabokaflod is a great Christmas tradition from Iceland. The word translates to ‘Christmas Book Flood’ in English.

In Iceland, books are popular Christmas gifts and, when they are opened on Christmas Eve, everyone immediately reads the books they have received. That’s a tradition I could certainly go for. (Thanks to Anne Goodwin of annethology for the reminder of this wonderful tradition.)

25. Enjoy Christmas Day!

I wish you all a wonderful holiday season, however you choose to celebrate it. Stay safe and well.

If you are still short of ideas, check out these other suggestions, all available free on readilearn (my website of teaching resources for the first three years of school). Some of them were written as part of this series of Learning at Home articles and presented as PDFs on readilearn for ease of access.

An A-Z of Holiday Activities for Families at Home

21 suggestions for maintaining reading momentum during the holidays

Let the children write! 20 suggestions for parents

25 ways to keep the children thinking mathematically during the holidays

Fine motor Christmas activities

Keep the children learning at home during lockdown

In addition to these, there are many other suggestions for parents in the Classroom Management — For Parents collection on readilearn.

There is also a new 30-page Christmas Activity Book which is available for just A$3.50 (that’s about $2.50 in the US.)

That’s it for now. Have fun!

Till next time, Norah

How To Pull Yourself Out Of A Writing Hole With A Little Help From Your Characters

Allow me to introduce you to Richard and Adrian. You may have already met them; then again, you may not, but did you know that they helped me get out of a writing hole?

I’m not talking about a physical hole I fell into while looking down at the screen on my phone, but a mental hole I hadn’t realised was there. I think many authors and writers fall into this hole, sometimes without knowing. However, Richard and Adrian helped me realise something was missing in my writing world. 

You may ask two questions if you’ve reached this far reading this post. 

  1. Who are Richard and Adrian?
  2. What the heck is Hugh talking about? 

Allow me to answer both questions. I’m referring to the lack of LGBTQ characters in my writing.

Where are all the LGBTQ characters? 

I feel pretty shocked about it. As a gay man, you’d think my writing would have many LGBTQ characters, wouldn’t you? Yet when I look back, I see hardly any sign of them. 

Where are they? Are they all hiding in the closet? And by closet, I mean the way some people refer to when somebody hasn’t told anyone about their sexual orientation. 

Maybe it’s because I’m reading the wrong blog posts or books or not following bloggers who write about LGBTQ subjects, but my email box and WordPress Reader are LGBTQ scarce.

Where I have noticed an increase of LGBTQ characters is on television and in movies 

Soap operas especially seem to have exploded with LGBTQ characters. I also recently read that James Bond’ movies made over 40 years ago had hidden gay characters. ‘Hidden’ gay characters? Why are they hidden? Are they still in the closet? 

I guess it was all to do with the sign of the times back then, but I do recall various open gay characters on television shows in the 1970s. And, strangely enough, I don’t remember there being much outrage about them. Most people welcomed them with open arms, yet as a young gay man, I was still terrified of ‘coming out‘ of the closet because of the consequences I may face. 

The day Richard and Adrian came into my life

Although I’ve had a light sprinkling of gay characters in my writing, they were what I call ‘one-offs.’ They appear in one story or piece of flash fiction, and that’s it. Then, on June 18th 2021, Charli published the following 99-word flash fiction challenge prompt – 

June 18, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features a solstice. What is the era and setting? Use the solstice as a celebration, metaphor, or talking point. Go where the prompt leads!  

I wrote and published ‘Edge Of Summer‘, which featured two gay characters, Richard and Adrian. The story went down well with readers and received lots of lovely comments. Some readers had already fallen in love with these two guys. 

A week later, Richard and Adrian appeared again in the 99-word flash fiction challenge, only this time, Charli’s prompt had led me to kill Richard off. Perhaps I didn’t like Richard as much as Adrian? But if I had killed off Richard, surely that meant the end of Adrian too? 

Richard and Adrian – are two short-lived characters. Or so I thought! 

At least they’d had more than one outing on my blog and at the Carrot Ranch. I was surprised when Charli’s following prompt inspired me to write about Richard and Adrian again.

Had I bought Richard back to life? No. Well, yes, but I had a good reason for doing so.

The boys took a break during the rest of the summer. But come September, they were back in my mind. They’ve now appeared in over twelve pieces of flash fiction. Not only do readers seem to still like and love them, but we’re beginning to build up a picture of their whole lives. 

I feel as if I’m in the process of writing my first LGBTQ novel 

The 99-word flash fiction prompts mean the life stories of Richard and Adrian are not in any particular order. One week we could witness the beginning of their lives, and the following week we could find ourselves towards the end. But that doesn’t seem to matter to those following their journey. 

It wasn’t long before I realised how fond I was of Richard and Adrian. Now, not only have I grown to love these two gay characters, but I realise how they have helped me write more about LGBTQ life than I’ve ever done before.

You know how much I like a twist, yes?

If you’ve read any of my fiction, you’ll know that I love adding twists to my stories. Imagine then, to my surprise, when I noticed that one of my true-story blog posts about gay life started taking off again one year after I first published it on my blog.

Screenshot showing the total n umber of views on a blog post over a 26 month period

I created Richard and Adrian in June 2021. Bought them back to my blog in September 2021, and they’ve been featured on my blog for most weeks since then.

I still can’t fathom why this particular post is suddenly getting lots of attention again. Something inside me wants it to be a real-life twist and tell you it’s to do with Richard and Adrian. Have they come to life and sent traffic to my true story blog post, or are they doing it from within the fictitious world they live in? 

All I can say is thank you, Richard and Adrian. You came into my life and the lives of my readers, have helped me out of a writing hole and are allowing me to share your life stories with everyone. Are you the reasons behind the surge in views on one of my blog posts about gay life?

Have you ever had fictitious characters come to life or help you with your writing? I’d love to know about them. Leave the details in the comments section.

Image showing some straight lines drawn by different coloured pens on a white background

If you missed my previous Diversity With A Twist posts, here they are.

Copyright © 2021 Hugh W. Roberts – All rights reserved.

***

Photo of the writer, author and blogger, Hugh W. Roberts

Hugh W. Roberts lives in Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.

Hugh gets his inspiration for writing from various avenues, including writing prompts, photos, eavesdropping, and while walking his dogs. Although he was born in Wales, he has lived in various parts of the United Kingdom, including London, where he lived and worked for 27 years.

Hugh suffers from a mild form of dyslexia but, after discovering blogging, decided not to allow the condition to stop his passion for writing. Since creating his blog ‘Hugh’s Views & News’ in February 2014, he has built up a strong following and now writes every day. Always keen to promote other bloggers, authors and writers, Hugh enjoys the interaction blogging brings and has built up a group of online friends.

His short stories have become well known for the unexpected twists they contain. One of the best compliments a reader can give Hugh is, “I never saw that ending coming.”

Having published his first book of short stories, Glimpses, in December 2016, his second collection of short stories, More Glimpses, was released in March 2019.

A keen photographer, he also enjoys cycling, walking, reading, watching television, and enjoys relaxing with a glass of red wine and sweet popcorn.

Hugh shares his life with John, his civil partner, and Toby and Austin, their Cardigan Welsh Corgis.

You can follow Hugh’s blog at Hugh’s Views And News and follow him on Twitter at @hughRoberts05.

Saddle Up Saloon; Howdy Ann Edall-Robson

“Kid, thought I told you ta bring some order ta the saloon! The stage is a mess. Look! Thet’s a mouse!”

“By gosh it is, Pal. Looks like the order I brung was Rodentia. Mus musculus, a house mouse. Course ya’d think it’s be Mus saloonacus.”

“Enough Kid, yer bein’ ridiculous. Git thet mus— mouse— outta here an’ git our guest in here.”

“Actually Pal, this mouse, Mus, is our guest. Mus is a character from one a Ann Edall-Robson’s children’s books, Mus; A Mouse Adventure. Thing is though, I’m not sure Mus’ writer or mother knows he’s here. He doesn’t always listen.”

“Hmmf. One a those characters. Well, when yer here yer a guest, so we’d best feed the little fella.”

“Way ahead a ya Pal. Pepe is in the back cuttin’ the cheese fer Mus.”    

“Ugh. Kid, I thought Ann Edall-Robson wrote poetry an’ fiction an’ sech that reflect her real life ranchin’ heritage.”

“Yep, an’ she also publishes non-fiction an’ photography that keep the old ways alive. An’ she writes children’s books!”

“Sure is versatile, thet one. I know I injoy her column here at Carrot Ranch, Quiet Spirits. Well, Kid, we best take good care a thet little Mus until Ann can come by an’ collect ‘im.”

“No problem, Pal. What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

“Cat!”

“Relax, Pal. That feline won’t make a beeline fer Mus. That’s just ‘nuther a Ann’s characters. Meet Barn Cat Buttons, aka Baby Boy Buttons.”

“Whoa. Thet cat character seems so real.”

“He is Pal. Ya kin hear Ann talk ‘bout him here.”

“Ya sure it’s okay ta have thet barn cat in here? He’s always pushin’ the edge; might cause trouble.”

“Barn Cat Buttons’ll be all right. He knows right from wrong.”

“Oh, jeez, Kid, now there’s a white face calf in the saloon. Ann’s?”

“Yep, that’s Norman. I’ll bet Barn Cat Buttons is responsible fer Norman bein’ here. Reckon Ann’ll be lookin’ fer him. Heck we’re all lookin’ fer Norman. That book should be out soon.” 

“I’m beginnin’ ta wonder about Ann Edall-Robson. Think it’s more’n coincidence thet her characters has got attitude?”

“Well, they also have common sense Pal. But whyn’t ya ask her yerself? Here she is now. Howdy Ann Edall-Robson!”

“Good day to the two of you. It’s so nice to see you again, Pal and Kid. Sorry I’m a little out of breath. I have been all over looking for this crew of mine. I see Buttons is involved, so that does explain a lot.

“Buttons. Buttons. Buttons.”

“Oh geez, you found us. You sound just like the Wise One when he’s about to tell me something ‘wise’.”

“How did you all get here?”

“Well, you see…”

“I don’t want a story Buttons, I want the truth.”

“Okay, okay. It’s like this…We were all hanging around the barn when the Wise One came along…How does he do that, you know just show up?”

“Buttons!”

“Right, how did we get here? Like I said, we were hanging around the barn and the Wise One tells us we are supposed to get ourselves in gear and head on over to the favourite watering hole to meet up with you so we can all discuss planning Norman’s shindig.”

“Miss Ann.”

“Yes Mus.”

“Buttons has been looking after all of us, even me. He even made sure my momma knew I was coming here with him. He’s real nice. Not like that cat I met that said he was my friend and wasn’t. You know, the one you told the story about.”

“I’m happy to hear that Mus. But it doesn’t explain why you are all here bothering Pal and Kid when you should be back at the ranch watering hole. Buttons?”

“Oh, that watering hole! The one down by the creek near the barn.”

“Yes Buttons, that watering hole. How did you end up here and not there?”

“Well, the Wise One said, ‘favourite watering hole’, I knew it just had to be this one. He’s talked about coming here to have a beverage while he reads what other writers have left on the Saloon shelf to read. And he said that Pal and Kid are real nice and welcoming.”

“Oh Buttons, of course this is one of his favourite places, mine too. But I don’t think it’s quite the place for characters to come in and make themselves at home.”

“But they can see us and they talk to us just like you do!”

“Mmmhmmm, yes they do. How about, if Pal and Kid don’t mind, we have a beverage and visit a bit about Norman’s shindig?”

“Does that mean you are going to do what I always hear you doing when we are at home?”

“And what is it you hear me doing at home?”

“Talking to all us characters while you make words and squiggly lines on paper.”

“That’s called brain storming.”

“Whatever you say, Miss Ann, whatever you say. I think you and the Wise One are a lot alike, except you’re here and he’s not.”

“Buttons, mind your manners.”

“Yes m’am.”

“Well, Kid, it looks like Miss Ann has got them characters a hers reined in. Let’s go see what she kin tell us ‘bout Norman, the latest book in her Barncat Buttons series.”

“I can tell you that  Norman is available to pre-order from Ann’s website until November 28, 2021, Pal. You can order either a soft cover or hard cover book. Pre-orders will be shipped by post by December 3, 2021. Norman will be available on Amazon starting December 1, 2021.”

“Why thank you fer thet Miss Ann. Jist in time fer the holidays, a gift fer the kids.”

“This Kid wants ta read it! Reckon that’s a load off, ay, Ann, gitttin’ that book out inta the world.”

“It is a great to have finally corralled Norman, Kid. But I am working on two more Barn Cat Buttons Series books. Hoping that one of them will be published in 2022.”

“Yahoo! Keep ‘em comin’.”

“Could I guess thet children’s books is yer fav’rite genre ta write?”

“You’d be half right Pal. My favourite genre, of the several that I write in, would be a tie for first place – Cozy Mysteries and the Children’s books. This might give a better insight as to why I write for children.” 

“Reckon stories is important fer ever’one. An’ you certainly write fer ever’one.”

“It keeps me busy! I have two more books that will be published in 2022, besides the Barncat Buttons book. One is the second Brandi Westeron Mystery, and the other is a workbook to do with Indi writing.”

“Jeez, Ann. Yer doin’ all thet, an’ yer column at Carrot Ranch, an yer flashes at Carrot Ranch… how do ya do it?”

“I like to write! I think everyone likes to write. They may not admit it, and they may not have a book in them, but perhaps, short versions of prose is the place to start. So I created the Five Word Sentence Challenge that uses one of my photographs as the prompt. It is meant to encourage everyone, not just writers, to interpret the picture. Who knows, it might be the beginning of a next best seller. Each week the challenge is shared to various FB groups, including Carrot Ranchers, as well as through a weekly newsflash I send out on Thursdays with the link. To participate, bookmark the link , sign up to receive the newsflash, or follow me on FB.”

“That sounds like a fun challenge! It’s worth checkin’ out jist fer yer beautiful photography.”

“Thank you Kid. Thank you both for looking out for my wayward characters and for the refreshments.”

“You and yours are welcome at the Saddle Up Saloon any time, Ann. Best a luck with all yer projects.”

“Yep. If folks ain’t poked aroun’ yer website an’ read some a yer books, they’s really missin’ out.”

Ann Edall-Robson relies on her heritage to keep her grounded. Reminders of her family’s roots mentor her to where she needs to go. Gifting her with excerpts of a lifestyle she sees slipping away. Snippets shyly materialize in Ann’s writing and photography. She is a lover of life and all things that make us smile. Edall-Robson shares moments others may never get to experience at HorsesWestDAKATAMA™ Country, and Ann Edall-Robson where you can also contact her. Books written by Ann Edall-Robson are available through her website, at Amazon, and various other online locations

If asked, Pal & Kid will deny that they spill from the pen of D. Avery. They claim to be free ranging characters who live and work at Carrot Ranch and now serve up something more or less fresh every Monday at the Saddle Up Saloon. If you or your characters are interested in saddling up to take the stage as a saloon guest, contact them via shiftnshake@dslayton.com.

Dignity For Life

     If you’ve been around the Ranch for any time and read the weekly flashes, you know I am writing a fiction serial about Michael, an Army veteran who lost both of his legs in an IED explosion in Iraq. I had him going about his day in a wheelchair by choice instead of using prosthetic legs. There have been multiple explanations as to why he chose the chair, but the truth is, I didn’t know an amputee I could interview to make sure I told the story correctly. That has changed. I recently spent two wonderful hours with Larry McKee, a Cold War/Vietnam-era Air Force vet and recent amputee due to health issues.

     A mutual friend introduced us. I owe her a big thank you. Funny thing, Larry got the idea I wanted to interview him because he was a vet, and I didn’t get the message that he was. As an ex-Air Force wife, I was fascinated when he started talking about his military years. He was thrilled I knew the terminology he used and where the bases were that he mentioned. It was probably forty minutes in that I said I wanted him to share with me the loss of his leg, the healing process, and learning to love his prosthetic leg. It looks real; just one type an amputee can choose. We had a good laugh about the mixed messages and eventually got on the same page. The time went quickly. I came away with information about his personal experience that he gave me permission to use as part of Michael’s story, and much more, a new friend. Who says research isn’t fun. 

     Larry joined the Air Force in 1963. After boot camp, he was assigned to Keesler AFB in Mississippi to study to be an Air Traffic Controller. His duties in the control tower would include monitoring and directing aircraft movement on the ground and in the air, issuing landing and takeoff instructions to pilots, transferring control of departing flights to other traffic control centers, and accepting control of arriving flights. It’s an intense and exacting job. Unbeknownst to Larry, the Air Force had a more specific job for him to do. One which needed a top security clearance. So while he was at Keesler, a thorough investigation into his life and psyche was happening in his hometown of Elmira, New York.     

     The military investigators interviewed his family, neighbors, and friends. They weren’t asking what Larry’s favorite colors and subjects in school were. They asked tough personal questions like; was he mean to animals, did he show signs of being aggressive when angry, was he honest, did he care about his fellow man, could he keep secrets, what was his personal hygiene like, and was he “kinky” in any way (any definition of kinky was included.) They looked into how he handled money, whether his family was in debt, if he had any family or friends in prison, or living in a foreign country, or if he had any traffic tickets. They even looked back a few years into the stability of his extended family. The process was intrusive and unnerving to the ones being interviewed.     

     Larry soon found himself stationed on the small island of St. Lawrence in the Bering Sea, southwest of Nome, Alaska. The now-closed NORAD (North American Air Defense Command) base of North East Cape, Alaska, was only 21 miles from the eastern border of Russia. He and 39 other Air Force members lived amidst the Alaskan native people, reindeer, and polar bears for a year, then they were transferred out, and another group came in. This was during the time we call the Cold War. Their job was to watch radar screens for any signs of foreign invasion by air. There was never an invasion, but what is known as posturing occured. Russian planes would fly into American or Canadian air space, and American fighters would be dispatched to gently but firmly escort them back into their own air space. It was a cat and mouse game.     

     One of the things Larry remembers vividly about living on the small island was how dangerous it was to get hurt. They did have a medic and nurse with them, but any need for a doctor or trauma team caused big problems because the injured person would have to be flown the 137 miles to Nome for any advanced care. The weather and temperatures made getting there in a timely manner questionable at best.

     Larry’s next assignment was at Dover AFB in Delaware. Now up in the control tower, in better weather, his view was very different. Military planes of all sizes and shapes took off and landed every day. The ones he remembers best were the ones bringing home flag-covered caskets from Vietnam. Any fallen US soldier returns to the US through Dover, and between 1964 and 1966, there were over 1,500 of them. That’s a lot of times to witness a dignified transfer. The visual, lack of sound except for the footfalls of the honor guard carrying the casket, and understanding the sacrifice the member has made never leave your thoughts. 

The link below shows a dignified transfer.

     I had read about the hours the honor guard practices to be able to walk in unison. Why would that be difficult? Because each person’s step is different, tall people have to decrease their step length and shorter people have to elongate theirs. It’s not as easy as they make it look to get the timing perfect. Larry explained there is also a timed cadence to closing the hearse door, which I didn’t know.

     Dignity was the word Larry repeated. Live your life with dignity. Treat others with dignity. Help anyone you can maintain their dignity, and you can handle this thing we call life. He also wanted to stress that if it weren’t for the sacrifices of our military members, the United States would not be the country that it is. A little mixed up at the moment, but still the country he loves. I couldn’t agree more.

                                                                        #

     I’m hoping you’ve never had a loved one come home in a flag-draped casket. If you have, I offer my condolences. And perhaps you’ve not heard of NORAD and their function in protecting the US, but I’ll wager you have heard of the NORAD Santa Tracker. Each year, the NORAD Tracks Santa Web Site receives nearly fifteen million unique visitors from more than 200 countries and territories around the world. Volunteers receive more than 130,000 calls to the NORAD Tracks Santa hotline from children around the globe. If someone in your family has made one of those calls please tell us about it in the comments, and share any other thoughts too.

                                                                 #

     In preparation to post this column, I revisited Larry so he could proofread it, and I took my husband, Bob, with me. The two men had been born in the same town 65 miles south of where we now live. Within minutes they figured out that Bob knew a bunch of Larry’s first cousins and had their numbers in his phone. Because of multiple changes in Larry’s life he had lost the contact information. Texts, photos and calls on speaker ensued. We stayed more than an hour enjoying the happy, reconnecting, “what are the odds” afternoon. All the result of research and networking.

Larry McKee and Sue Spitulnik

Larry McKee and Sue Spitulnik

     Sue Spitulnik is an ex-Air Force wife who stays connected to the military/veteran community through her membership in the Rochester (NY) Veterans Writing Group. The group has published an anthology of their military experiences, United in Service, United in Sacrifice, available on Amazon. She also belongs to the Lilac City Rochester Writers. Quilting fills some of her time as does her family. If you would like to contact her directly you can do so at sue222spitulnik@gmail.com.

Thoughts to Ponder

I live with one foot in tradition—and keep it there—while the other foot steps out to allow me to grow with modern technology. 

As I have watched the explosive growth of technology in modern society, my heart still acknowledges that the old ways are not so bad. Certainly, they’re different, but there are some things about the lifestyle we need to hang onto and share with the generations coming up. 

The ‘traditional’ era is when I started to embark on my life experiences. I didn’t know it then, but I was learning about consequences without being told that’s what they were, and I was testing the waters of life from a child’s perspective. Life was pretty dang good.

We played outside, even when the winter weather was below zero, and that’s Ferenheight. We made snow angels and dug caves in the snowbanks the grader had left when clearing the roads. We built fires to toast cheese sandwiches and melt snow in a can to make a hot drink. 

We walked to the two room elementary school until we were old enough to take the bus to a neighbouring town to attend high school. Contrary to stories that circulated about the hardships of walking to school, it was about a half a mile and it was not up hill both ways. We did not have professional days or teachers gong to conventions to deal with. We were expected to attend every day, regardless of the weather unless you came down with measles, mumps, chicken pox, or your meals weren’t staying in your stomach. That was about the only way to get out of going to school. 

We climbed trees and built forts in them. We played in the creek with bits of wood and leaves that were our boats. We played kick-the-can, hide-and-go-seek, hopscotch, and whatever else was inspired by our imagination. 

Hours were spent sprawled out on our backs in the grass, conjuring up shapes in the clouds our imagination let us see. At night, that same position let us gaze at the stars, finding constellations and watching for the satellites moving in and out of our view. 

Our patience was tested to the limits while we sat in the middle of a clover patch, without talking, waiting for the bees to come along so we could catch them in a jar. The challenge was to see who could catch the most bees in one jar before we let them all go and moved on to some other activity like running along the top rail of the snake fence that was part of the nearby fence line. 

We were young entrepreneurs, too. We dug worms at daybreak to sell to early morning fishermen on their way to the lake. Twenty-five cents a dozen for the worms was big money to us. When it wasn’t fishing season, we supplemented our income by collecting pop and beer bottles from along the side of the road. Those dabbles into self-employment provided the funds to buy jawbreakers and Bazooka bubble gum at the general store in town. 

When you hear someone telling a tale about knowing it was time to go home when it got dark, it really was like that. It was a good life. We improvised, we tested our parents, and mostly we had fun. 

I had chores to do, but my memory tells me that wasn’t until I was older, maybe after I was ten and my first horse arrived on the scene. That would also be about the time I learned to drive. There was no better place than a hayfield to put newly learned driving skills to the test. After my first year helping to bring the hay in, I was relegated to staying home to help with the cooking because my driving skills—or lack thereof—kept shifting the load of hay. Let’s just say It didn’t take Dad long to realize that a person who is about 40 inches tall should probably not be the one responsible for driving a truck with a clutch and four-on-the-floor gear shift while looking through the steering wheel, especially when hay fields with hills are involved. 

We had friends and relatives who depended on oil or gas lanterns for their lighting. Their wood stove not only provided heat to cook on, but it also heated their home and the stove’s reservoir heated water. Regardless of how hot the weather got, the wood stove was kept going to cook meals. Before bedtime, it was stoked to make sure there were hot coals in the morning to start the fire so breakfast could be made. That stove was also used for baking bread and canning preserves.

Indoor bathrooms were not all that common unless you lived in town, and even then, it wasn’t a necessity. The bathroom, a.k.a. known as outhouses, was either a one or two-seater. It was located out behind the house, usually not too far away. Nighttime visits to the bathroom were a chamber pot under the bed. 

My aunt and uncle’s ranch had no water in the house but had a water pump outside the back door. When I stayed with them, I loved pumping the water, but, like driving the truck, I was not big enough when it came to carring the filled pail into the house. 

A weekly newspaper told us what was going on in the world. The local diner where people gathered when they went to town kept us informed of what was happening in our more immediate world.

Our home had some modern amenity luxuries such as electricity and running water. I don’t remember us being without indoor plumbing, but I do remember an outhouse behind the house, and at the school. I’m guessing it was what we refer to nowadays as: it’s good always to have a backup plan. We had a crank telephone, our number was Fawn 3B, and our ring was a long and three shorts. The B & W television with one channel (and definitely no remote) arrived on the scene when I was about four or five. It was never turned on during the day unless you were sick because you had too many other things to entertain you that were mostly outside. The house was heated with wood-burning stoves: one in the living area, one in the furnace or mudroom, and a small air-tight heater in the bedroom area.  It was my twelfth summer when the oil furnace was installed, and the woodshed became redundant.  

Back then, it was acceptable to drop in for a visit if you happen to be driving by. No pre-arranged phone call or appointment was needed. Either people were home, or they weren’t. There was always fresh baked goods to be offered along with refreshments. The men might make their way outdoors to discuss mechanics, ranching, logging, and sometimes sample a glass or two of what was fermenting in a barrel in the shop. The women would get caught up on the area’s news while the woman of the house finished up whatever chore she might have started before company had arrived. The visitor would make themselves useful in any way they could. 

People helped each other without being asked. It wasn’t expected; it was just done. Births, deaths, emergencies, weddings, haying and harvest, building a new barn, garage or house, neighbours and family came from miles around to help in any way possible. You could be rest-assured that there was no lack of food when it came to these events, and it wasn’t the woman of the house doing all of the cooking. Anyone who came brought food. If the woman couldn’t make it, the man brought what she had prepared. It was called neighbouring. Unfortunately, neighbouring has become a lost art unless you live in a small or rural community. 

It is my understanding some of the things I talk about are now included in the new age era of roughing it. Something referred to as Glamping. I suppose if there is a want to learn about the old ways, that is one way of introducing them. I find it humorous to listen to those who return from days of Glamping. They talk like the experience is something new to the world. I suppose I shouldn’t judge, because for many, it is. 

I should probably touch on the modern technology a bit since it has become a major part of my life, especially when it comes to my writing and marketing. I have several social media platforms and enjoy using all of them. But I do not need to be plugged in, tapped in, conversing, and checking what’s going on with them all of my waking hours. I like to be unplugged. It throws my children in a tailspin because they can’t reach me when they think they should, but I am doing what suits me, taking a page out of my other time in life and reconnecting to my old ways. Of course, I embrace modern technology and will be the first to say I’m glad I don’t have to get the fire going before breaking the ice off the water bucket to make coffee first thing in the morning. 

The changes to those old-time traditions can be mind-boggling at times. Some think about that era as being simpler or less stressful, but were they? Back then, everyone was expected to show up and work at whatever they were doing in life. A saying often repeated about the mindset of people in that era is, “They worked hard, they played hard, and they showed up for work the next day.” 

Further education was not a given path for most teenagers. Those who drove in the family shared one vehicle. You planned when you wanted to go to the lake for a day. You planned if you were going to drive three hours to a big centre to shop. 

There was only one telephone, if you had one. It was on the wall, usually in the kitchen where anyone in the house could listen to your conversation. 

Communication came by way of newspapers, radios, and letters in the mail. Mail delivery might be once a week in the country. In town, it was Monday to Friday pick up at the post office. 

Stores were not open 24/7/365, but the catalogue that came in the mail could be browsed until the pages were ragged. Ordering online was not an option. One would mail their order along with the payment and wait patiently until the parcel was delivered, sometimes up to a month or more. 

Some doctors made house calls, but not every town had a doctor. The dentist might come to town every six months or once a year. The optometrist might come once a year. 

Again, I say: some think about that time as a simpler life, less stressful, but were they?

I leave you with some pictures and thoughts to ponder from another era.

Start from the beginning (again) when a mistake is made while typing a letter or document on a typewriter. Multiple copies required the use of carbon paper.
Listening to a private telephone conversation on the party line. It took place through a brown box that hung on the wall. Reaching friends, neighbours, and the outside world happened when you turned the crank handle on the side of the box to connect you with the operator at the telephone exchange.
The summer was spent cutting wood. The results would be used in the wood stoves to cook the meals and heat the house in winter.
Last night’s dinner leftovers were heated on the stove or in the oven. 
The grocery store, for the most part, was a large garden. Fresh produce full of flavours during the growing season. Canned and preserved for enjoyment during the winter. 

The sound of a tick, tick, tick with an intermittent gong was prevalent from the wind-up clock. Forgetting to wind it was not an option nor was it an excuse.
Businesses advertised in the newspaper with an occasional one-page flyer that came in the mail, by word of mouth and the radio. Social event announcements garnered a large part of a page of the newspaper. 
Documents and letters were sent through the mail, taking days and sometimes weeks to reach their destination. 
The sweet smell of laundered bedding that had been hung on the line outside to dry. Every shirt needed to be ironed. 

The list could go on and on.  

As you read the life and times of the old ways and looked at the pictures, there may be wonderment and thoughts of “Ya, right” floating through the brain waves. 

If the truth were known, there are a lot of people who not only remember, but also lived the life. 

Do you know someone who can tell you stories from their childhood? Maybe you are that person. We would love to hear the stories. 

Ann Edall-Robson relies on her heritage to keep her grounded. Reminders of her family’s roots mentor her to where she needs to go. Gifting her with excerpts of a lifestyle she sees slipping away. Snippets shyly materialize in Ann’s writing and photography. She is a lover of life and all things that make us smile. Edall-Robson shares moments others may never get to experience at HorsesWestDAKATAMA™ Country, and Ann Edall-Robson where you can also contact her. Books written by Ann Edall-Robson are available through her website, at Amazon, and various other online locations

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