One Brick at a Time

Did you ever have one paragraph of a book jump out at you, giving you immediate direction for the path ahead? That’s what happened to me as I read Dinty W. Moore’s book, Crafting the Personal Essay, a Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Nonfiction.

Making clay bricks for a new wall:
He says writing a book is like building a clay brick wall. Each story in the book represents one brick. He imagines digging clay out of the ground, forming bricks from it and baking them. He suggests making each one as well as possible and then stacking them off to the side. Soon he has several piles of them, but he doesn’t know for sure what his wall is going look like in the end. (p. 91)

Oma’s Camp “Bricks”
Spurred on by that image, I began making “bricks” for my new book, Creative Grandparenting. The first “brick” will show how I made pajamas for all eight of the grandchildren and myself out of happy face material. I designed a funny instruction booklet to accompany each set.

Back: Caitlin (10), Oma holding Vincent (1), Amanda (8)
Front: Melanie (5), Alyssa (5), Ashley (2), Nicholas (6)
The Happy Face Pajamas (2001)

One brick might be about taking the grandchildren to the ocean; another may tell how I taught them Spanish during one of my “Oma’s Camp” sleepovers.
I’ll show “Oma’s Sewing Camp,” where five grandchildren from ages six to fourteen sewed their own pajama bottoms. At “Oma’s Writing and Illustrator Camp,” I taught them how to write stories and then edited them. I invited a real illustrator to teach them for a day. Those sleepover stories will all go into one pile.

IMG_1731

2011 Photo of Oma’s Scribbler Squad at Writer and Illustrator Camp
Alyssa, Ashley, Oma, Vincent, Melanie

There will be a pile of bricks with lists of games we play, music we listen to and fun activities we do, like writing in secret code, going on scavenger hunts and making candy necklaces.

The Mouse “Bricks”
Another pile will contain the mouse stories I’ve written for my grandchildren over the past ten years. Three stuffed toy mice, Sniffy, Nibbles and Twitch, sit on Oma’s shelf. When she’s not looking, they come to life and go on wild adventures together—rafting, fishing and surfing on the ocean. They go trick-or-treating, have a birthday party, and generally cause havoc in their little world. I imagine other grandparents will want to read these stories to their own grandchildren.

Four Mice

Characters in my mouse stories
Nibbles (girl aged 6), Louie (boy aged 3), Twitch (boy aged 4), Sniffy (boy aged 8)

Envisioning the finished “wall”
Making bricks is hard work. It’s messy, it’s exhausting, and it’s discouraging some days. But I envision what a sturdy “wall” it will become when I’ve placed all my “bricks” in position. My critique group will help me improve each story. I’ll let friends read them and see how they respond. Then I’ll rewrite and revise and rewrite some more. My goal is to make each “brick” as perfect as possible before assembling it.
I’ll need help putting my final “wall” together—an editor, a cover designer and a publisher. I hope it will one day be an inspiration to many grandparents and the special little people who have brought so much joy to their lives.

I Love U

I wrote and illustrated this alphabet book for my granddaughter Rylie when she was in Junior Kindergarten. I also made one for each of the children in her class. It’s my first attempt at illustrating with Adobe Illustrator.

 

I Love U Cover

Alphabet (I Love U)     I Love U 3        I Love U 4I Love U 5

 

I Love U 6     I Love U 7

 

I Love U 8     I Love U 9

 

 

I Love U 10     I Love U 11

 

 

I Love U 12          I Love U 13

 

 

I Love U 14          I Love U 15

 

 

I Love U 16          I Love U 17

 

 

I Love U 18          I Love U 19

 

 

I Love U 20     I Love U 21

 

 

I Love U 22     I Love U 23

 

 

I Love U 24          I Love U 25

Disastrous Morning

Here is the first chapter of my novel. You can now purchase it here on my website from the “Online Store” using PayPal.

There are nineteen reviews of my novel on Amazon.com at: http://www.amazon.com/Blemished-Heart-Girls-Escape-Freedom/dp/1486606954/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420151180&sr=8-1&keywords=fern+boldt. Check it out!

CHAPTER ONE

Disastrous Morning

The walls of our rickety, drafty, two-storey farmhouse couldn’t resist the howling winds. Our family lived near Howells, Nebraska in the early 1950s, where my father worked as a farm laborer. He and my mother looked after my siblings and me––older brothers Clyde and Jimmy, and our little sister Molly. The cramped and cluttered downstairs had a living room, a kitchen and my parents’ bedroom. A narrow, creaky stairway led upstairs to where the boys slept in one bedroom and the girls in the other.

The enclosed back porch held a pile of split logs, a bushel basket of corncobs for the kitchen stove and a place for the family dog Buster to lie down. Along one wall, Dad had pounded in a few nails to hang our coats. A strip of farm machinery belt, eighteen inches long, two inches wide and a quarter of an inch thick, hung on one of these––the strap.

I slept above the living room. Every morning of my eight years, I woke to the crash of my dad firing up the potbellied stove before going out to milk the cows. Shaking the grate to loosen the ashes from the preceding day’s fire made enough racket to wake the dead. He wrapped a few corncobs with newspaper, doused them with a bit of kerosene and lit them with a match. I listened for the “woof” sound as they burst into flames. He added some chopped wood to the fire and bundled up to go out to the barn.

Before he left, he hollered up the stairs, “Clyde, git yourself down here. It’s time to go milkin’.”

“It’s too dang cold to milk them blasted cows,” Clyde grumbled. But he soon dressed and went downstairs. No one disobeyed when Dad called.

I checked the thermometer I had sneaked into my bedroom. It had shown 12˚C at bedtime, but this morning it had fallen to 1˚C.

I glanced out the window to see if it had stopped snowing, but I couldn’t see a thing. A thick layer of ice covered the glass. I scratched my name, Lizzy, into the frost. I didn’t have to be up for another two hours, so I tucked myself back under the covers and fell asleep while the house warmed.

I woke to Mom calling, “Jimmy, Lizzy, it’s time to git up for school. Breakfast is almost ready.”

I hesitated before leaving the warm pile of blankets. I grabbed a fresh set of clothes from the dresser, flew downstairs and started to dress behind the potbellied stove in the living room. I didn’t own a pair of pajamas, so I slept in the dress I had worn the day before.

“Git out of here! I’m dressin’,” I shouted. My brothers would have to stay in the kitchen for a couple of minutes until I finished. Then they would take their turns.

As soon as I dressed, Mom put me to work. “Keep this stove stoked with cobs, so the fire don’t go out. I have to help Dad run the milk through the separatin’ machine before breakfast.”

I crossed my legs. “But I have to pee, and it snowed last night.”

“Well, you can use the night pot. But hurry, ‘cause I need help,” Mom said.

We didn’t have an indoor bathroom, only an outhouse. It had three sizes of holes in the seat board, large, medium and small––for the different-sized family members. I always chose the small one so I wouldn’t fall through. That would be a disaster.

We couldn’t afford to buy toilet paper so we used old newspapers or the dull pages out of the Sears and Roebuck or ‘Monkey’ Ward catalogues. The shiny ones with pictures didn’t work well. If I crumpled the page and rubbed it together for a few seconds, it became softer. If we had no catalogues or newspapers, we could always use a corncob. We had a whole shed full of those.

Tromping out in the cold through a foot of snow—especially when I needed to hurry––presented a challenge. However, we did have a solution for that: a small pail with a lid on it, that we kept in the back porch, where we had no privacy. We were supposed to use it for going “number one.” Woe to the person who happened to leave the lid off, especially if some “idiot” hadn’t obeyed the previous rule.

I quickly peed and started stoking the fire. I tried to be careful not to burn myself, but that morning I touched the scorching hot lid and hollered, “Ow! That’s hot!”

Mom took a quick look at my hand. “Be more careful there. We ain’t got no money to take you to a doctor.”

Between stokes of the fire, I pumped water from a little hand pump by the kitchen sink and poured it into the reservoir on the end of the kitchen stove. The health department had deemed the water unsafe to drink from the cistern, but we could use it for baths and laundry. Otherwise, we had to bring in all our water from a well out by the barn.

When Dad and Clyde came in from the barn, they ran the milk through the separator and put things away. Then they came to the kitchen table. Clyde, Jimmy and I sat on a bench on one side of the table against the wall. Dad and Mom sat on the other side, with my sister Molly between them in her high chair.

Dad read a few verses from the Bible and prayed the same prayer every morning, even yawning on the same sentence each time. Then Clyde, Jimmy and I took turns saying, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed.” Then we could dig in.

We usually ate oatmeal for breakfast, as it cost little to make for a family of six. We always had lots of milk to drink. It didn’t take long to scarf it all down. Soon we would have to leave for school.

Whoever nailed the bench together put the leg boards too far in from the end, which made it tip easily. Clyde waited until Jimmy left the table, then he quickly jumped up off his end and sent me flying. He gave me an evil smirk.

Mom saw me sitting on the floor. “You’re so clumsy, Girl. Hurry up and put your coat on. It’s time to walk to school.”

“Walk? Ain’t you goin’ to drive us? It’s cold today.”

“No, Dad has to feed the cattle. Molly had another seizure last night, so I can’t take you neither.”

“Oh, poop.”

“Clyde and Jimmy will walk with you. It ain’t but two miles.” She lifted Molly out of her highchair.

“Can I wear my snow pants?”

“Yeah, but make sure you take them off when you git there. You know Dad won’t let you wear them at school.”

“Yes, Mommy.”

I put on my coat, but couldn’t find my mittens or hat. “Where’s my stuff?” I hollered. “I put them in my coat sleeve yesterday, so I could find them this mornin’. I’m gonna freeze on the way to school.”

Clyde tossed them at me. “Hurry up, Dummy. We’re gonna be late.”

“Where’d you hide my things?”

“None of your business.” He smacked me on the back.

By the time I finished putting my boots on, I felt frazzled, and my burned hand hurt. I didn’t relish the idea of walking to school on such a dreadfully cold, snowy day. I wondered if I would be able to keep up with my brothers, and what Clyde would do to me, if I didn’t. I had no choice, so I grabbed the one-gallon Karo syrup bucket that contained my homemade bread and jelly sandwich, and faced the long trek to District 11.

My baby is here!

Front cover

I started writing my story on January 6, 2014. It went public on Amazon on October 6, 2014. That’s exactly nine months––that’s my baby!

Go to my “Online Store” for a copy by paying through PayPal. It is also available on Amazon.

Mom’s poor chicken

Here’s a scene from my book, which will be coming off the press soon.

When Jimmy turned fourteen, he bought himself a pellet gun with money he earned picking up corn off the ground for a farmer the fall before. We practiced shooting tin cans off a fence post. I could shoot more accurately than he could, but that didn’t offend him. One day as we sat behind the house, a flock of Mom’s chickens meandered by and Jimmy took aim.

“You ain’t gonna kill a chicken, are you?”

“Naw, I can’t hit the broad side of a barn.”

He took aim. “POP!”

One of mom’s laying hens fell over and started twitching.

“Now, don’t that beat all? I hit it.”

“You killed a chicken. Now Mom’s gonna kill you.”

“What should we do with it?”

“I don’t know. We’re in big trouble.”

We ran over to the chicken and watched it twitch its last. Jimmy took off his hat, placed it reverently across his heart and bowed his head for a moment. “Thank you, Hennie, for all those eggs you laid for us.” He donned his hat again.

“Maybe we should quick dig a hole and bury it.”

“She’ll miss it though. She knows how many she has.”

“Maybe we could say it got hit by a car on the road.”

“That’s a good idea.”

He picked up the lifeless hen and took it to the house, dangling it by its feet, to show to Mom.

“Now what’d you go and do with that chicken?”

“Nothin’,” he said. “Mr. Anderson whizzed by in his red pickup and ‘Bam!’ He banged right into it.”

“You know we ain’t got many hens left to lay eggs.”

“I’m sorry Mom. Maybe we could fry it for dinner and it won’t be wasted.”

“I s’pose so.”

She took the dead hen over to the woodpile and chopped off its head. Then she boiled some water and dipped the chicken in it to loosen the feathers before she proceeded to clean it. Jimmy and I sneaked the dismembered head behind the chicken barn and checked it. It was a bit bloody, but Jimmy examined it carefully until he felt something hard. Sure enough, the pellet had struck it right behind the eye.

I nearly barfed. “Poor Hennie.”

“I’m a purdy good shot,” he said.

“Yeah, but maybe you should stick to shooting tin cans from now on.”

The fried hen for dinner tasted a bit tough, but we ate it heartily. Jimmy and I exchanged mischievous glances. While thinking about how our dinner had died, I hoped we could keep a fit of the giggles away.