2021: The Year of Decluttering

That title up there? I like to call it “Double-click Bait”

Because you might have opened this post to figure out how I could possibly get the year so wrong,
or because you thought, “Ooooo, more hints on how to declutter!” Or both.

Decluttering, as everyone knows who watches TV, reads books, or keeps up with social media, is the new national religion.
It’s the current mania.
Our version of 1999’s biggest trend—stocking up on survival skills for when Y2K crashed the world.
It’s replaced determining our love language, and developing habits to be a Highly Effective Person.
It even nudged out learning to dance the Macarena.

Any time there’s a trend everyone is doing, and everyone is telling me I want to do it, my contrary nature and stubborn Dutchness exert themselves.
I dig in my heels and refuse.

So far I’ve bucked the infatuation with decluttering. But it’s so widespread that no matter how fast I scroll past ads and accolades for it, I at least know we are supposed to ask ourselves this:
Does my stuff bring me joy?

This is my answer.
You betcha.

For the sentimentalist, (of whom I am chief) every three-dimensional object has an invisible hook. Attached to the hook is the memory of a person, place or event. Ditch the item and the memory disappears with it.

But, here comes The Big But.
My son and highly organized, uncluttered daughter-in-law invited me to see their newly remodeled basement playroom. Along one wall, an army of plastic bins sat on rows of shelves and on each bin a label was plastered and on each label was written, in my daughter-in-law’s neat penmanship, the contents. It all looked neat. And clean, and spacious, and pleasant.

A strange desire kindled in my heart. A desire for less stuff and more space.
Before the tiny flame could die, I flew home to begin my journey to unclutter.

Where to begin? Start small, Anita.

With this Avon tin.

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This over-half-a-century old container that used to be filled with “Lady Skater” talc.
It has that invisible hook on the side.
Attached there is the memory of my little brother and sister, who’d saved their pennies and bought it for me as a Christmas gift.
THAT memory is linked via a long chain to the one wrapped around my entire childhood—we were only a few pebbles removed from dirt poor. My dad felt called to teach in small, struggling Christian schools. Mom worked every possible job to keep us from bankruptcy and there weren’t a whole lot of toys, trinkets, floo-floobers or tar-tinkers.

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The two littles in our family

So when a gift from the two littles in our family showed up under the tree one Christmas, I was charmed and delighted and smelled like Sweet Honesty powder for a solid year.
About a decade ago I showed the tin to my sister, thinking she—also a sentimentalist—would be impressed I’d kept it. But she had no memory of giving it to me. Therefore she saw no hook, and was aghast I still had it.

Filled with zeal and a desire to be trendy, I hauled the tin out of the ‘miscellaneous” Christmas bin. That’s where I keep all the decorations I don’t set out but can’t throw away. They either have memories hooked to them, or show great potential for the hypothetical craft project of my dreams.
I held the tin before me and set my face like flint toward the garbage, trying to disentangle the joyful memory from the hook as I walked.

You know where this story is going, don’t you?

Whether by accident or subconscious intention, I took the path leading past my Dickens-style Christmas decorations.
Newton’s first law kicked in and the body in motion (me) was compelled to change her action (dumping a precious-memory holder) by an external force (the gladsome comprehension that Avon’s little Currier and Ives tin would look perfect tucked into a corner by the cricket on the hearth and the Christmas Carol carolers.)

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See my Dickens shelf? Carolers, the Cricket on the Hearth and the Goose getting fat? The shelf below has a Norman Rockwell Dicken’s print next to Samantha, who is only slightly anachronistic in the display.

The tin has moved from “miscellaneous” to the “Dickens” bin, waiting—Lord willing—to join Christmas festivities 2020. Come 2021 we’ll revisit the Avon Lady Skater and see if she still makes me happy.

An epic failure to be one of the cool, decluttered in-crowd. But I comfort myself with this:
By keeping those memories hooked on tangible objects, my brain stays more organized and less cluttered. What could possibly bring more joy?

Merry Monday with Penelope Marzec

Merry Monday! And in spite of the light-speed Christmas is galloping toward us, we still have time to put feet up and read some good, entertaining, and enriching Christmas novellas. Maybe have a cookie or two.
May I recommend “Clear as Ice?”
Won’t take you long.
Neither will reading my interview with the author, Penelope. Marzec. I’m so glad to have her visit the Prude today! (and isn’t this cover great???)

Here is the blurb: When Ethan’s prayers for his mother’s life go unanswered, he abandons his faith, tossing it out with his mother’s Christmas ornaments. The loss of his hope leaves him empty and he begins to shy away from relationships, but when his dog Rufus, a rescue from a shelter, develops a fondness for a woman skating on the frozen lake behind his house, he’s annoyed. Not only does he resent her using his pond, he doesn’t understand her fear of dogs.

Haylie, once an Olympic figure skater, is afraid of more than just Ethan’s dog. She lives in constant fear due to threats from a stalker, but one day Ethan’s dog chases the danger away, so Haylie decides to try to lose her fear of dogs…But then the stalker’s plans expand to include revenge toward Ethan as well. If they are to remain safe and live to see a happily-ever-after, Haylie and Ethan must put aside differences and learn to trust each other. This Christmas season promises to be the most challenging and the most meaningful of their lives.

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Penelope, welcome! Jumping right in to the intersection of reality and fiction: Do you know as much about ice skating as Haylie does?

I never took formal ice skating lessons so I don’t know as much about skating as my character in Clear as Ice. I watched the other kids on the ice and imitated their moves. The girl who lived across the street from me was considerably older, but she was the best in the neighborhood so I tried to do what she did. I fell all the time, but that’s one way to learn.

Do you have four seasons where you live?

Yes, New Jersey has four seasons. It gets bitterly cold here at times during the winter though in general it is not as prolonged since the ocean tends to moderate the temperature. Small lakes freeze over quickly. However, despite the fact that most of the rivers are tidal estuaries, they, too, will freeze solid if the temperature remains cold long enough. Then the ice boats come out of storage to race. If the freeze continues, the ferries to New York City stop running. Sometimes we get a lot of snow, and sometimes not too much. But we have a snowblower so we are prepared.

Rate the seasons in order of your preference.

Fall is my favorite season. Next is spring, Then winter and last comes summer. Summer is too hot and there are far too many mosquitoes. The mosquitoes are vicious.

Why is No. 1 on top? (Fall is my favorite here in the Midwest, too)

The temperatures in the fall are ideal in my opinion. Most often, autumn contains a wealth of sunny days—unless there’s a hurricane. But then we get nor’easters during the winter, which are just as bad as hurricanes. After spending my career teaching, I still think of fall as a time of new beginnings—new faces and new challenges, too.

As a writer looking for inspiration all the time, I wonder what gave you the idea for “Clear as Ice?”

The idea for Clear as Ice came to me from a convergence of events. One of my daughters went through a stalking experience, another daughter was an EMT for a time, my granddog needed a story, and seeing turtles underneath the ice in suspended animation is quite amazing. Also, I would love to go ice skating again, but with my wonky knees it’s not going to happen.
There is a lot of loss and heartache in “Clear as Ice” (although it also is filled with hope). Why did you choose to put these issues and the pain the cause in the story?

I wrote the story because everyone needs hope.

My brother died a few days before Christmas while he was in the Air Force. His plane, an F-111 crashed. He was only twenty-five. I was twenty-four. It was a difficult, sorrowful time, but no one in my family lost their faith. However, I have known others in similar situations who stopped believing due to the loss of their loved ones. When horrible things happen, some people decide there is no God because if there was, they assume such tragedies wouldn’t occur. This indicates to me that they don’t understand the Lord’s promises or they would not have lost their faith. The world is a very, very sad place without hope.

Oh Penelope. So sorry to hear about your brother. So glad you could stay leaning on the Lord.  And glad you have the dog, Rufus, in this story. He is pretty appealing! Are you a dog person? Cat? Both/neither?

I am a dog person. Cats are too aloof and independent to my way of thinking. When I was five years old, our family got a dog we named King—such an original name. He was part Husky and who knows what else. He lived outside—as most dogs did in those days—but we brought him inside the house during hurricanes and blizzards. In my early twenties, I bought a full-bred German shepherd who I named Orion. He was delightful and smart, but died at too young an age and broke my heart. My youngest daughter now has a dog—our granddog. Rufus is based on my daughter’s dog—at least in looks. I think Rufus is a bit more intelligent than my granddog, but not by much.

Describe your perfect Christmas for us.

For me a perfect Christmas is a family gathering on Christmas Eve with a nice dinner, followed by going to church. Afterwards, everyone opens gifts. It’s a simple schedule. It was different when our daughters were little. We still had our nice dinner along with attendance at church, but the gift opening happened early in the morning.

Nowadays, I like to stay in bed on Christmas morning.
I hope you get your Christmas wish! How about a favorite Christmas Carol?

There are a gazillion wonderful Christmas Carols. I really enjoy many of the ancient ones—like “Good King Wenceslas” and “The Holly and the Ivy.” After years teaching young children, I am fond of many of the secular songs, too, like “Up On the Housetop.”

Favorite Christmas movie and/or TV special?

Hubby plays the accordion so his favorite Christmas movie is It’s a Wonderful Life because there’s a scene at the end with an accordion. I have seen It’s a Wonderful Life just about every year. So I think it became my favorite Christmas movie by default. One of hubby’s accordion friends bought an accordion from him because it looked very much like the accordion in It’s a Wonderful Life. That man then donated the accordion to the museum in Seneca Falls, New York, which many believe was the inspiration for the town in the movie.
We watch It’s a Wonderful Life every year too! Thanks for the extra information on the movie. (And my dad played accordion, hearing accordion music makes me happy.)

One last thing before you go. If you could have any Christmas wish for your readers, what would it be?

I pray my readers will cling to a strong faith so they will continue to believe in the Lord’s promises and never lose hope.

Amen! Thank you for visiting. Readers, Penelope is also a musician, artist, a crocheter, and probably many more things that I don’t know. A delightful lady. I hope you get to know her through her books!

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Bio:

Penelope Marzec grew up along the Jersey shore. She started reading romances at a young age and fell hopelessly in love with happy endings. Two of her inspirational romances won EPIC’s eBook Award and another was a finalist in that contest. Her paranormal, Irons in the Fire, was a nominee for a Romantic Times Reviewers Choice award. Visit her website at penelopemarzec.com for more information.

Purchasing Information:

Pelican Book Group: https://pelicanbookgroup.com/ec/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=37_73&products_id=1344

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Clear-Ice-Christmas-Holiday-Extravaganza-ebook/dp/B07YSXW85Q

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/clear-as-ice-penelope-marzec/1133984962

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/clear-as-ice

Apple: https://books.apple.com/us/book/clear-as-ice/id1482927078

Merry Monday at Crazy Creek

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Merry Monday, everyone! The holiday festivities begin in earnest this week, as I make food and do laundry in preparation for that most important and glorious Opening Day of Deer Hunting. Not me! My menfolk! I shoo them away and spend the weekend reading etc.
I won’t, however be reading “Crazy Creek Christmas” by that excellent author Lisa Lickel because I ALREADY READ IT! Here she is, talking all things Christmas and her latest book.

Welcome Lisa! Let’s jump right in with a pressing hypothetical situation. Your entire area has been temporarily quarantined because someone believes they saw a UFO. You can’t go home but the Center for Studying Strange Sightings will pay for you and your entire family to go anywhere in the world—make that universe—for Christmas. Where will you go and how will you celebrate?
Well we have to go visit Stella and her family (from Parhelion) on their secret Tau Ceti planet they escaped to after nuclear war threatened to destroy Earth. If we went for a little while, we’d be fine. Just for Christmas. Tau Ceti isn’t too different, but we’d have to get used to the chlorine-scented everything. Does pine and cinnamon cover that? We’d have our traditional caroling passed around in the bespeaking voice Ceticians use, as well as out loud. And food, of course—always must have a great meal after the meeting for worship. We can bring a ham to go with salad. Christmas and Christmas no matter where you go.

Ha! Did I ask the right question there, or what? For those of you who don’t know, “Parhelion” is Lisa’s science fiction novel. So there would be ham. Any other favorite dish to make for Christmas?
My new favorite is watching my daughters-in-law make Grandma’s crepes on Christmas morning while I play with their children.

Bless those daughters-in-law! Not everyone has ideal family situations. Leah and Noel have both come out of difficult and/or tragic family circumstances. How they handle what life handed them is completely different. What role does faith in a good God, or the lack of it, play in their transformations?
Good question. Leah is a nice person, just naturally a sweetheart but she wasn’t raised in a family of faith and never really thought much about church or salvation. She wouldn’t hurt a fly despite being taken advantage of, so she’s ripe for hearing the Word. It may take her a while to truly accept the gift of grace, but she’s already in tune with God when her new ranch family helps her understand what she’s missing. Noel was raised in a family that practiced charity and regularly attended worship services and youth group. Yet he ran from all of that. I think he believes that leaving the ranch also means shedding everything about his former life. When the chips are down and he has choices to make, though, the depth of his character formed through well-practiced faith shines through and it doesn’t even occur to him to blame others for his problems. His remorse proves he’s never outgrown or run far enough from doing the right thing.

Yet in spite of these heartbreaking circumstances, the story isn’t depressing! How do you walk the line between hope and melancholy?
That’s nice to hear. I don’t want my stories to be downers, but conflict has to rise from somewhere. I think the fact that the main event heartbreak takes place before the story begins, and the tragedy that Noel suffers are handled within the Kingdom of Hope and Possibilities by people who understand that God loves them no matter what helps a lot. It’s okay to have a pity party for a while, but how we rise above what happens is the real story.

Introduce us to Leah and Noel.
Leah is a daughter given up for adoption under circumstances which always eluded her. She was raised in a pleasant but busy foster home and when she aged out after high school took jobs waitressing and kept moving west until meeting a kindly couple running a diner in Crazy Creek, Wyoming. They had a heart for a special family of ranchers south of town and helped Leah hire on. Noel is the driven kid who just didn’t want to be a farmer like his dad. His sister loved their family ranch, so Noel lit out for the big city to become a property developer. He thinks that by selling his family ranch to a horse tourism outfit he’ll solve everyone’s problems. Little does he know he’s the only one on his side. Even the new cute cook thinks he has a stone for a heart.
It’s funny—last week I interviewed Susan Baganz, whose female protagonist in “Sugar Cookies and Street Lamps” is named “Noelle.” And this week I welcome you and “Crazy Creek Christmas”—whose male protagonist is named Noel! Yet depending on which syllable you emphasize, it is a very feminine or very masculine name. How much thought do you put into names of your characters?
Susan thought that was funny, too, and we didn’t collaborate. Last year three of us had Mistletoe titles. Names are important to set a particular tone. I also happen to think Noel Coward was a groovy playwright and actor and I’ve always had a secret yen to use that name.

You titled your chapters! I love that! Not too common anymore. What made you decide to do that?
It just seemed like a fun thing to do. I didn’t have numbers at first, but someone else made an executive decision. Quite often I use a little phrase describing a chapter to keep me on track when I’m writing, but this story came together so fast I didn’t even have time to think about it. I wanted to offer the reader a little glimpse of what to expect.

Who in “Crazy Creek Christmas” is your favorite character after Leah and Noel?
I’m honestly trying to answer, but every time I try to pick one, I think of something about one of the others that was fun to explore—Jorge’s children, Manny’s “love ya,” “Gil’s soulful woundedness, Tom’s contemplative silence, and Marty’s cantankerousness; even Sister’s patience, and of course Cupcake’s name.
Favorite Christmas song? Or, if you really like Christmas music, feel free to share more!
I do, I do like Christmas music. I love both old and new, and cry for different reasons. I have Amy Grant singing “Love Has Come” sparkling in my head—thanks a lot. That’s gonna be an all-dayer. Steven Curtis Chapman’s Christmas album is a fav, and “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” Don’t why know.

Will you write more about the Rocking J Ranch and Crazy Creek?
So, you’re the third person to ask me that. I guess, if one more person asks, I’ll consider it. I sort of even have the start of an inkling of a possible potential plot.

Actually I think three times is a charm…Would you like to live on a ranch?
It’s a place I think would be nice to visit, but I’m past all the enormity of being involved in an operation like that.

How much are you like Leah? Different?
How about Noel? Men and women are obviously different but also are similar in many ways. Any characteristics you have in common with him?
I’m from the Midwest, and I enjoy cooking, and if someone plunks me in a house with dust, I have a compulsive itch to clean. But other than that…nope, this little plump short grandma has little in common with Leah, other than I, too, dislike interrupting. Something about Midwestern values. Noel? He’s got a big chip on his shoulder, doesn’t he? He really wants to help, he just stumbles around trying too hard. He needs a good helpmeet. I guess I like to “help” too, which doesn’t always fly in the right direction.

Sister is a pretty appealing horse. Do you like horses? Ride much?
I love to look at them from a distance. My neighbors use horses in their work and pasture them around us, but I agree with Leah: they are awfully BIG.

And the burning question: do you decorate for Christmas before or after Thanksgiving?
After, of course! My prudish Pilgrim people decorations would frown at my opulent mink-coated Santa. They might not even appreciate the ceramic Santa kneeling at Jesus’s manger.

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Pelican Book Store https://bit.ly/2MVnYLj
Barnes and Noble https://bit.ly/2BpBRfl
Amazon https://amzn.to/2MYmoYW

Blurb
Crazy Creek, Wyoming saves Leah Hanes’s life. Running on fumes and bald tires, she thanks heaven for Cookie and Jeanette Wimmer who send her to the Rocking J Ranch as a winter cook. Leah arrives to discover the ranch and the people need more than a cook.

Noel Johansen, heir of the Rocking J, happily left for the big city years ago. When he loses his family in a terrible accident, the best thing for everyone is to sell the place, ditch the memories, and move on. But his brother-in-law has other plans, and the beautiful new cook they’ve hired for the season threatens Noel’s desire to remain detached.

The ranch represents Noel’s future and selling it becomes more important than ever when one more tragedy leaves him with nothing. But memories can’t be bought and sold, nor can a broken conscience heal itself. Home, heart, and future are irrevocably tied in Crazy Creek.
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Bio
Lisa Lickel is a Wisconsin author who loves books and dragons, she writes inspiring fiction. Besides writing inspiring fiction, she also writes short stories, feature articles, and radio theater, and loves to encourage new authors through mentoring, speaking, and leading workshops. She is an avid book reviewer and blogger, and a freelance editor. Find more at LisaLickel.com.

A Wednesday Recipe from the Tuesday Prude

Here they are. One of my top ten favorite cookies. Maybe top twenty. I do love cookies.

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And here, almost right away, before I tell you how much I love these cookies and the history behind them and why molasses is so good for you it may offset some of the superabundance of sugar—here is the recipe:

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They really are different than a regular ginger snap. No snap, lots of chew. When it says don’t over bake, it kids you not.

I would tell you about the history, and how I ran across this recipe, but that memory is lost in the mists of time. It was some time during my college years. Before the days when I subscribed to every Country Woman, Taste of Home and Quick Cooking magazine. All of those were just a twinkle in their creator’s eye when I ran across this recipe for Molasses Sugar Cookies.

The last line is part of the original recipe and I always include it because it’s a winsome little line. Since I have 50% sloth blood in me, I didn’t feel like typing out the recipe. So I took a photo from the Mulder Family Cookbook. Now you know why I don’t hyphenate my name.

If you ever make these, let me know what you think. And Happy Wednesday from the Tuesday Prude!

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(I just noticed the 3 little holes in the cookie on the right. It mystifies me. Too late for another photo. The cookies are long-digested.)

The Ratio of Ick to Glory

 

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I live in one of the American States in an area vaguely designated as the Upper Midwest. It’s not so northerly to suggest all Paul Bunyan all the time. And not mid-westernly enough to call up images of cornfields, wheat and the occasional soybean.

My state has so much to commend it!  Rolling hills. Picturesque farms. Colby Jack cheese. And many bodies of water.

The problem is this:
There are only two months of the year during which I can fully, without encumbrances, enjoy and participate in the Great Outdoors.

June is one. Many folks remain outdoors for the 30 days June hath.
With good reason. We seldom need buckets of citronella, pallets of Deep Woods Off
or thousands of dollars of homeopathic insect repellents. But that day comes soon enough.
Because a primary function of some bodies of water making my Upper Midwest state so appealing is mosquito hatcheries.
They perform it admirably, and from July through September, my fellow statesmen and I don Deet, erect screen houses, engage in the state dance (The Mosquito Swat, Slap and Sidestep) and cower indoors after dusk like the residents of Transylvania avoiding Count Dracula. Because often, mosquitoes don’t depart till October.

Speaking of October, it is the other month that beckons us upper Midwesterners
with open arms. “Come outside,” this tenth month calls. “Leave behind your insect repellent, your Uggs, your mosquito netting and your fuzzy mittens.”

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Isn’t October pretty?

Like June, it compels us to spend the entire month outdoors.
Because we know that the months of November through May often bring this:

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We are either anticipating the above dump of white, living through it, or cleaning up after it in those 7 months.

But we endure. Because we anticipate June and clasp memories of October to our hearts.

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Friends who may consider a move to the Upper Midwest, know this:
The ratio here of ick to glory is 10:12. That is 5/6th of a year we can’t head outside without layers of outerwear or layers of insect repellent.
Is it worth the struggle?  Mathematically the odds are against us.
But aesthetically it can’t be beat.

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Up ain’t pretty

Here’s one of my new life mottos:
Smug goes before the grunt.

In its expanded version the motto goes:
If we’re smug because we can sit down cross-legged on the floor at our age, (60+), we’re sure to be humbled to the dust when we grunt getting up.

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Oh yes. Once, maybe only a decade or so ago, my fellow 60+ers and I were able to perform a feat of beauty:
We could rise from a legs-folded-and-tucked floor position and STAND UP by merely rising. No arms needed.
Note: In our less culturally and politically woke days, this seated position was known as “Indian style” (but whether from Native Americans or Indian swamis, I can’t say).

Apparently, once we hit late middle age, this graceful upsweep of levitation has become more complicated for many of us.
As our cracking and creaking days increase, rising can involve several steps, including but not limited to:

flexing, shifting, rotating, bending, hoisting one’s backside, and praying. And grunting.
Sometimes all limbs, including both hands, AND a piece of sturdy furniture get involved.

Up ain’t pretty.

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People my age should build an additional forty seconds into our estimated time transitioning from the floor to wherever we’re headed after the floor.

To be fair, the process isn’t always this complicated. I can often go from cross-legged to a squat to a stand using only one hand for support. A sort of flash-tripod move. (Usually only accomplished with speed and precision when there is no one around to witness my two-step triumph.)

I say this not to brag but to encourage. Another of my life’s mottos is: If I can almost do it, almost anyone can.

To be fairer, just last winter I witnessed a woman— a scant 30 some months younger than I—perform the single-sweep elevation. But she’s a vegetarian, so there’s that.

I, however, am an omnivore, I’ll never see 60 again, creakiness is in my DNA, and I never remember to regularly take my glucosamine and chondroitin.

Right now I’m going to enjoy the fact that I can still sit on the floor. Great things happen there. Stories with grandchildren, circle songs, a direct view of lost items cowering beneath the sofa.

And if up ain’t pretty, it is still up. A good place to be.

Slashing Syllables

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That tears it. When not one, not two, but three to five friends tell me I use a lot of big words in my books, I have to throw up my hands and fess up.
I am a big-word fiend.
Not a big word SNOB.
Don’t think I mean to make you think I am smart.
I’m not, you know. Smart, that is.
But words are SO GREAT.
Some are JUST RIGHT.
Why not, I think, use one big word if it fits? If it says what I want to say?

Now I know why. Folks don’t like the big words. At least not the way I use them. Not in the light weight books I write about love and crime and snow and dogs.
I hear you.

So as of this date I turn o’er a new leaf.
I vow to tone down the length and breadth and width of the terms I use in the books I write.
I shall look at each word.
If it won’t pass the snob test I pledge to slash and burn. To pare down to words that make the heart glad of each gal (or guy) who reads my work. Words that don’t tax the brain past where it wants to be taxed.

Of course, I would not have known how vexed folk can get, had not I asked some of those good folks to proof read my tales (those not yet in book form). They seemed to think I have a poor chance that these tales get put to print lest I cut the fluff of out sized words.

So it starts. I wrote this blog post to work on my vow to toss those big words. Only one beat per word. Feel free to proof read. Did I miss some long words? Are some still so big that you must clap twice or more as you read each one?
Give me your feed back. Please. Feel free, too, to use words with more than one beat. ‘Cuz it is quite tough to keep those beats down to one. Trust me on that.

(I made free with the name of this post. A two beat word and a three beat word. At times, one must be kind to ones self.)