Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Power of Thanksgiving

Did you know that the first official declaration of Thanksgiving day as a national holiday was done by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War? It must have been hard for families to conceive of a day of thanks when so much tragedy was ranging around them.  Later, Franklin Roosevelt tried to move the holiday up a week--primarily to allow more time for holiday shopping. However, a number of states ignored him.  Then during WWII, only a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Congress finalized the date as the fourth Thursday in November.  Interesting again that a day of Thanks was finalized in the midst of war.

Thanksgiving has power.  Even during war, economic downturns, and personal tragedy people seem to always find a way to give thanks. It is easy to give thanks during times of prosperity. But I think the power of thanksgiving is to be able to give thanks in times of difficulty.  It is then that giving thanks shows hope and belief that better times will come and that we understand what is truly important in our lives.

As a child, our Thanksgiving day tradition was to converge at grandma's house. Each family brought food to share. Of course there were specialties. My Aunt Donna was the pie maker. My Aunt Vickie was the green bean casserole maker. My grandmother spent the week before baking bread. My family usually brought the turkey. Others brought sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and a variety of snacks. I come from a large family (9 children) and in addition to my 11 cousins, both my grandmother and an aunt also took in foster children. Add to that the additional friends or other stragglers kids would bring and it was quite the crowd and more food than all of us could consume in a single day.

Before the meal was served we each had to say what we were thankful for that year. Each person had a turn, including the smallest of children who could understand and speak. Sometimes there were 50+ of us present so it took awhile. Once every person had given thanks a blessing for the food was given. Blessing the food was another tradition that also passed from adults to teens.

I still think of that tradition every year as Thanksgiving approaches and I am grateful to have it as my tradition. I still use this time of year to reflect on the many blessings I've had in my life. I think about the  friends and family I've loved throughout my life and how much they have influenced who I am and what I do. I give thanks for those who have died and for those present. I give thanks for those, like my friend Michele, who have given an important part of their lives to helping others. She is in the Peace Corp in Africa. She lives in a one room hut and is never sure if the village will have water that day or not. That reminds me to give thanks for the water I take for granted.

Giving thanks at this time of year may seem a small thing to do, or to some a silly thing to do. However, I find it keeps me grounded for the rest of the year. As I enter into the world of holiday food, shopping, and events to attend, I often feel overwhelmed by the expectations for my time and attention. When that happens I return to my simple thanksgiving and it puts it all into perspective. I am truly fortunate to be surrounded by people I love, to do a job I love, and even to have the opportunity to share these words with you.

What are some of the traditions you value for Thanksgiving?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

To Herd a Cat

By Danita Cahill

As a writer, I love words. As a menagerie manager, I also love animals. So, it only makes sense that I would appreciate sayings about animals, as well as the history behind those sayings.

Let’s take the saying, “Get your goat” for instance. It’s my understanding this phrase originated from the world of thoroughbred horse racing. In the olden days, owners or trainers routinely provided each of their prized thoroughbred race horses with its own goat. The goat would offer companionship for the hot-blooded horse, and act as a calming influence. When owners and trainers traveled with their horses to the racetracks, the goats went along, too, helping keep the horses mellow and quiet in strange surroundings.

Rivaling horse owners, who, of course, wanted their own horses to win the race, made it a habit of telling other owners, “I’ll get your goat.” They knew if they took a horse’s goat away the horse would flip out with worry, and would not keep its head in the race, thus giving the rival an edge.

Interesting, no?

Lately, I’ve found my mind often wandering to the saying, “Herding cats.” This saying is usually mentioned in a negative, sarcastic or derogatory manner. At a writing meeting I recently attended, one of my colleagues made the comment that she found organizing a bunch of writers to do specific tasks was like herding cats.

But the reason my mind has lately mulled over this particular saying is not because I’m a writer. And it’s not because the phrase was mentioned at that particular meeting.

No, it’s because I see “herding cats” in a literal sense on a daily basis.

I don’t know where this saying came from, but I am fairly certain the first person to utter the phrase owned both a Border collie and several kittens, as is the case at our house.

Border collies, as you probably know, are herd dogs. Working dogs. Dogs very serious about performing that work. If their owners don’t assign them a job – such as herding cattle or sheep – Border collies assign themselves a job. 

Our Border Collie, Zip, “helps” me daily. When I go out to feed our horse and alpacas, Zip races ahead to the fence and “holds” the animals in place while I fetch their feed.

The animals are used to Zip’s slinking motions and alert stance. They completely ignore her.
Inside the house, the only animals Zip has to “help” with are a lazy Labrador retriever, an ancient cat, two caged Guinea pigs, and three lively kittens. Zip takes her work as seriously inside as she does out. Since the kittens are the most active of the animals allowed in the house, Zip concentrates her efforts on them.

But even a hard-working, serious-minded Border collie like our girl, Zip, can’t make cats stay in formation or force them to go in the direction she deems appropriate.

I’ve included a visual to illustrate this point. In this photograph, Sophie, the kitten, was following me as I was trying to snap a picture. Zip thought she was responsible for herding the cat where she wanted it to go.

I went ahead and let Zip think that. After all, why burst her Border collie bubble?
After watching Zip’s ceaseless efforts to “work” the kittens, I’ve come to a conclusion: The inventor of the saying must have had a good, hearty laugh before first uttering, “It’s just like herding cats.”

If you liked this blog post, you might also enjoy my book Kids are a Crack Up: Humorous Stories from the Mouths of Babes. It’s available as an eBook from
Windtree Press
Barnes and Noble

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Concentration is Hard to Come By by Paty Jager

Concentration lately has been hard to come by. I tend to flit from one "to do" thing to the next and not "lighting" on the work in progress and adding words to it.

Part of this lack of concentration is the time of year. It is always harder for me to remain focused on one thing once the weather turns colder and I start thinking about the family gatherings for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The two families that are military are hard to pin down if they will be home or not. Then there's my mother-in-law who wants to know what we're doing for Thanksgiving. I'm waiting to find out if the local daughter and her family will be around. If they will be here, that makes a difference in who else we will invite. Some of the older folks we would invite don't do well around our ADHD granddaughter. But if our daughter's family are going to her in-laws then we can invite the older folks.

And Christmas this year will be in two parts because our daughter and her family who live in Kodiak will be here in December but leaving on the 23rd. So when do I have my brother bring my dad down?  And since my brother will leave my dad here for us to long do I want him to stay? With the Kodiak family headed home on the 23rd, when do we have their Christmas? What do we serve? Will we have the event at our daughter's who will have the large Christmas tree cut from her grandmother's yard or will it be at my house?

I know Christmas day will be spent at our daughter's.

And so with such family dilemma flashing in my head it's no wonder my writing is suffering.

What are your plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas?

Paty Jager

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Some Days...

There are days when the day job works. It pays the bills. There are days with the writing works. Saturday I wrote 5 pages at BN, seated at a table against the windows, not far from the romance isle. Monday I wrote one page. Somewhere in the middle of that page I decided to
change the title of my current WIP (work-in-progress for those of you who aren't familiar with writing lingo) from Dragon's Keeper to Dragon's Fire. Tuesday I wrote two pages before I started the day job. Before my first break, I wondered (for 30 seconds) if I should give up writing all together. The day job sucked. Wednesday (today) I didn't write, except for this blog.

This month is NaNoWriMo. Like many others, I'm participating. My goal is to finish the ugly draft of Dragon's Fire by December 31st, and perhaps complete the planning phase for the contemporary romance flailing in my head. It's a really fun story. Next year I'd like to write two dragon stories, and one or two contemporary romances. Ambitious considering the day job.

For the next few months, I'm ignoring social media (except Pinterest). Probably to my peril. Soon I'll launch a new website. It might even have a blog. On my 2014 calendar are two conferences, and one trip to Hawaii, and hopefully four writing retreats to the Oregon coast.

This is the life of a writer. Sometimes it's passionate. Sometimes it's spastic. Sometimes it works.

What aspect of your life are you most passionate about? What really works?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Shout Out to Veterans and Their Families

Tomorrow is Veteran's Day and it is always a special time of remembrance and thankfulness for me.  I have many veterans in my family, and others who have served our country and their communities in other ways that are equally as important. If you are looking for a place to celebrate Veterans Day, the U.S. government website has a nice interactive map with registered events.  Check it out for a place near you.

Our oldest son and his wife served during the recent Iraq war. He was in the Marines and did convoy duty, she was in the Navy. My grandfather served during WWII, and my uncle served during the Korean War.  In all of these service years, my relatives were fortunate to come home alive. Though both my grandfather and uncle have now passed, I feel privileged to have known them and known a little about their service.

I came of age during the Vietnam War. Many of my high school friends were drafted, some never came home. Some who came home were never the same.  So you can imagine when our oldest son went to Iraq I was scared to death--scared he would die, scared he would come home a shadow of his former self, scared he would come home okay but a cynic about life. 

Fortunately, none of those things happened. Did it change him? Sure. All wars cause change. One cannot watch a colleague die and not be affected by it or be filled with questions about life and death, responsibility and duty. Both he and his wife found a way to use their experiences--good and bad-- to move forward in life and to be thankful for those things they have at home like family and friends and the abundance we are so fortunate to have in our country.

I don't always agree with our country's decisions about going to war. I don't always agree with the choices our political leaders make in the direction our country should move or the way in which congress sometimes acts or doesn't act. However, I always admire those who serve our country and their families who wait behind and continue to support them.  It is a difficult mission on both sides, one that requires dedication and faith and hope.  I am honored to have known so many who have made these choices, and I am humbled by the strength of their families both while the service members are away and when they come home and have to readjust to civilian life.

I hope you find a way to say thank you tomorrow, whether at a public event or in private. It does mean something. Take a moment to show support.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


This past weekend I attended a book publishing conference and author event sponsored by KOBO. I left with my brain swimming in new to-do lists.

I'd already planned a digital makeover of my website, adding a third column, and updating my lists. Now I'll be adding indie booksellers, making good on my promise to start a newsletter, and overhauling the links. In addition, I need to continue building my sales over multiple sites.  Updating Facebook (adding buttons) is another one of those things on the list. All of this takes time. Time away from writing.

Like most writers, I'd rather be writing. That made me wonder, how do other authors prioritize their to-do lists between online career building and the day-to-day of creation of new work?

At the start of this month, my plan was to wrap and proof my two current projects and call it good for the year. The rest of 2013 would be spent housecleaning and reworking my brand. New photos et al! Except, in a moment of madness, I signed up for NaNoWriMo. And I'd really like to finish that new adult novel I've had in my head for the last year, which is now taking form. 


Jamie Brazil is the author of The Commodore's Daughter, and other novels. The Commodore's Daughter is a free download on KOBO this month with coupon code jansbooks.