"I write so that my handful of pebbles, cast into still waters, will create a ripple."

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Gifting "Rule of Four"




Strange the gifts that slumber in our memories. The recollection of opening a box to find something inside that hints of how we are regarded. A gift reflecting the depth of friendship, the wisdom of parenthood.


Sometimes the memory of a poor gift remains with us as well. This is why “regifting” can be shallow and thoughtless.

A gift is a contract between giver and receiver. I learned this when I gave a blue ladies razor to my sister the year she entered 8th grade. That I saw her as a woman meant everything. We became lifetime soul mates and confidants. And it was such a small gift.

Every year my kids would drive me crazy with their Christmas lists.

To keep Christ in Christmas, and to keep my kids from getting Santa Crazy, I always used the Rule of Four. They didn’t catch on until they were parents and now they use the same rules for theirs!   

The Christmas Rule of Four

  Something you Want
   Something you Need.
Something to Wear
Something to Read

The Want Gift—
This was on the kid. “Give me a list of five things you really want” shifted the onus. No whining afterward. No returning it to the store. The Want Gift determined what was left in the budget to spend on the other three—necessary back when we raised an entire family without a credit card. Sometimes The Want Gift was a wearable item, like a hoodie with a Pro-team logo. Cha ching!

The Need Gift—
Chef’s choice—anything from a Gillette razor for budding peach fuzz to new underwear. Never glamorous, but always appreciated. The gift you usually slipped under the sofa pillows so no one could see. But proof that Mama was paying attention.   

The Wear Gift—
The proverbial pajama was always a crowd pleaser, back in the day when houses were drafty and a kid owned a single pair of flannel PJ’s. Ditto slippers. Who didn’t love a soft new pair? And once in a blue moon—a new bathrobe!

In my teen years, that flat, rectangular box with the rustle of tissue paper was the gift that set my heart racing. Once, my mother bought me a red polyester suit. Man I loved that thing. I didn’t know at the time that I was a red girl, but I opened the box and was in love. One of my favorite all-time gifts. Sweaters, not so much. Not after the hardscrabble year we moved to the farm and the only money that could be spared went for a $2.99 Penney’s white bulky knit sweater. Hated that sweater. Hated the one that replaced it the following year. But hard years gave me something to look forward to. Some years my mother used the Rule of One. But better years arrived.

The Read Gift—
Sometimes a subscription to a magazine. Sometimes a classic, hardcover book that still graces the bookshelf a lifetime later. Sometimes a 69-cent copy of Black Beauty from the five-and-dime. One year a Bible with a shiny red cover. A reminder of our family values.

I often made one of the gifts. Doll clothes for the new baby doll, whatever. Maybe I just remember that I did. Or wished I had. But whatever, I tried.

So that was Christmas. No shuffling through the wrapping paper in a disappointed search to see if a kid missed something. Count them—one, two, three, four—down and out. Time to put the gifts away and get ready for Mass, the Reason for the Season.  










Sunday, August 25, 2019

What I Know About Being 70



I used to think age came in only two flavors—young or old. I preferred young. I dreaded being—old. But the years between 65 and 80 are starting to look pretty interesting. I haven’t experienced as much growth and change since I was a teenager.

I’ve discovered something. The decisions I made in my 40s are beginning to have consequences. When I was 40, I worried about the things I could control: Divorce or stay together. Lose weight or not. Send the kids to college or don’t. Take a vacation to Hawaii or stay home.

We made some good decisions back then that are paying off. The kindness I showed my husband, the interest we took in each other’s lives created friendship between us. We talk, we laugh. We share 50 + years of memories. The savings we tucked away as a nest egg is our play money today. The physical labor I did when I was younger makes my body strong and resilient

The 60s came in like a lamb and went out like the March lion. During our 60s, my husband and I were those happy people in cruise line commercials—smiling at the camera with our own teeth and hair, wearing stylish shoes and real make-up. We thought nothing of driving into Ashland to take in a show. Midnight and wine were still our friends. So was my chin. In good lighting I could pass for 58.  

By 68, I began to see life as an assembly line where some of our family and friends started dropping off. People we knew rode the conveyer belt on the last loop and weren’t there anymore. I wondered if I would be next. I thought it was my imagination, or my unlucky choice of friends, but my doctor told me that if I live to be 70, I’ll probably make it to 90. Wow. That’s good information.

I started making a Bucket List. I self-published a collection of short stories. Made a submission plan for the novel manuscripts. Added intentions to walk part of the Pacific Coast Trail. Learn to fish. Play guitar again. 

He bought the car he always wanted because it may be his last. And because the safety features will help him drive safely for another few years. Arranged to go elk hunting. Took his BMW on a few overnighter roadtrips. Got another dog.

I started giving things away—advice, clothes, a little cash to my children. This year we rented a vacation house in West Yellowstone and the kids and their families came from three states for a week of eating, cooking and sightseeing. We rode horses, fished, toured Yellowstone, picnicked, grilled and listened together. It was the best money I ever spent.

But everything isn’t fun and games. I started reading about senior abuse. I filled out an End of Life Directory, —just in case. I notice the clothes and shoes I’m drawn to in stores aren’t really that comfortable. I traded Not Your Daughter’s Jeans for a pair of stretch slacks with an elastic waistband. Hello Mom!  

So what else do I know about being 70?

I stopped watching TV because I don’t need 90% of the stuff they sell in ads.
The most important phone calls start with, “Hello . . .Mom?" or even better, "Hello, Grandma?”           
Listening to people complain about their ailments gives me a headache.
I share meals at restaurants and order water to drink. I think a 12 % tip is reasonable.
I post photos of my grandkids on the refrigerator and spend occasional long weekends at their soccer games and gymnastic try-outs. But I don’t even try to sit in one of those low beach chairs anymore.
I play with the grandkids because their parents are too busy working—and too serious about life. We eat ice cream sundaes. 
I am connected to God in a deeply spiritual way and relish the time I spend in prayer.
I keep a thought for people who crossed my path during their lifetime.
I make plans for the next ten years but live every day in the moment.

So that’s it. That’s what I know.




Saturday, August 10, 2019

All the Pretty Horses


Boots on the ground aren’t the same as boots in the stirrup. I was reminded of this on a recent trail ride in Montana where a part-time rodeo clown/dude ranch hostler led us off into the trees with a warning about the full-grown bear that had scattered trail horses and clawed a tent the day before. “What happens if we see one,” I asked. Clown Dude shrugged and grinned. “Then it’s every man for himself.”

So it’s been awhile since I sat a saddle and I don’t remember it being so hard—a bit like balancing a kayak in a moving stream. The trail wound around trees and recrossed a stream while my horse tried to nip the horse in front. “Keep away or you’ll have a fight on your hands,” Clown Dude warned after the first clash. “But stay bunched up.”

The two-hour ride seemed quite zen-like as I contemplated the possibility of bear at any turn. In retrospect, the ride turned out to be exhilarating, but I seriously don’t think Clown Dude cared one way or another. Another bear story would go down like aged whiskey on Saturday night for his rodeo pals. What made the day special was having my skills called to high alert. The trail through the trees was similar to ones I’ve ridden on a trail bike, but factoring in some horse attitude, an extra four feet of height and a novice perch made everything a rush.

Challenge is the stuff of life. The pioneers knew it. The astronauts knew it. Maybe Clown Dude, Monty, knew it too, and let me cinch my own saddle, so to speak.

Another great moment happened on the vacation. My daughters and their families were with us at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming. We wandered down to the kiosk with the Western Writers ofAmerica display. My granddaughter keyed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name in the search bar. I followed with Willa Cather. Someone searched for Craig Johnson. We were crowded around the interactive display when I entered my own name and watched my photo and bio pop up.

You know the saying, There was a moment? My family stood there contemplating what they were seeing. “That’s so cool,” I heard a son-in-law mutter. My daughter snapped a photo of me next to my display. I swear to God, I can die now. My life is complete.



Almost as good, Boy in theDarkness, my historical western novella set in the Wyoming plains released as #1 on Amazon new releases for Children’s Historical Western. Too cool—even though it’s not a children’s book at all. My family joined me in the happy dance. 


On the way home we stopped for breakfast at a little cafĂ© with a lot of cars parked outside. Took a seat near two tables waiting for their food while the harried waitress tried to keep up. The cook was putting out a plate every ten minutes. I had time to chat with locals and to photograph the cowboy hats hanging in a row around the room to honor deceased local ranchers. Five tables and an hour later the waitress brought our oversized plate of thick sourdough toast. I started around the room, offering cowboy toast to everyone still waiting. The waitress flashed me a surprised look, but I didn’t much care. The tension in the room melted as people spread jelly on their toast.

When we finished eating, the waitress passed us our bill with a note that the tab had been taken care of. If you’re ever in Lander, Wyoming, stop in at the Maverick. Great hat collection and a decent omelette if you’re not in a hurry. And take your kids on a tour of the West. It’s their heritage. Maybe encourage them to read a western historical  


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Farewell to You, My Trusted Friend


I’m waiting for a letter.

My friend, collaborator and former publisher wrote deathbed letters to his best friends, telling them what they’d meant in his life. He left them with his lady friend to be mailed after his death. I hope I get one.

He was one of a handful of friends who make up the short list of people I turn to for advice or to share the best and worst that life brings. The ones who will be with me until the end.

Our friendship was a touchstone of growth and insight. He was a brilliant man, stoically determined to remain an agnostic while countering my Christian beliefs with well-taken points that gradually changed me from being a card-carrying Catholic to a spiritual thinker increasingly uncomfortable with blind acceptance to a religion and pat beliefs about homosexuality and tolerance. He sent me an unexpected birthday gift once, a crucifix made of inlaid tiles, one of six he'd purchased from a down-and-out artist friend for $100 each. And he kept a Catholic crucifix on his office wall, covered by a hat. Hedging his bets, I told him. We both grew, but neither of us managed to change the other person’s core. Just as it should be, I suspect. 

I met him at a writing event. When he later asked me to edit an anthology he planned to publish, we embarked on a collaborative journey that spanned twenty years, my move to Oregon with my husband of forty-five years—and his to Canada, and after his divorce, to Santa Fe to become a screenwriter. Our first ventures included publishing my two memoirs with old-fashioned off-set printing. When the Fed Ex truck delivered three pallets of the first title, I was stunned at how much space 4,500 books took up in his garage. When he retired from publishing, I bought up the remainders for pennies on the dollar. I was expected to sell them, so I did. Over the years the pallets dwindled. Nineteen years later, I’m down to a single case of one title, a dozen cases of the other. I didn’t want to disappoint him so I became a speaker, a marketer, a writer.

He was fond of quoting obscure philosophers. I have a stack of Post-It notes with his pithy little sayings stuck in a box somewhere. I used to keep them on my wall, but now I find my own. As with, “A friend is someone who brings out the best in you and accepts the worst in you.” We’re lucky when we find such a friend.

His passing wasn’t a shock. He’d passed off his symptoms for a year before he finally went to the ER. By then the cancer had spread to his colon, liver and lymph glands. He endured the gamut of surgeries, chemo and their side effects with cheer and stoic resolve, determined to accept the consequences for his negligence. Or maybe he merely mustered his best self for our phone calls in the last months and weeks of his life.

My last package to him included soft, fluffy pajamas and a photo of our new church, built while he was undergoing his chemo. Armed with a black felt tip pen, I had climbed onto the unfinished altar and wrote his name on the center 2x6 steel girder, in bold block letters, so that every Sunday he’d be there under a layer of sheetrock and paint, in the space between the crucifix and the tabernacle. I touched up the photo with his name where it will remain for the next hundred years or so, and mailed it to him. He was moved to tears—by that and the candle I lit for his vigil, the week he passed. Not much else I could do from 1,500 miles away.

So I guess this is it. He wouldn’t want sorrow. But he promised me a letter. I hope it arrives.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Zina Abbott











       INTRODUCING A BOOK BLITZ 
       FRIDAY NOVEMBER 2

          
 Robyn is a fellow Women Writing the West member and an author who sets her historical novels in my part of rugged California. I hope you'll get to know this talented author during her book blitz today. 


           
              NISSA 

     by Zina Abbott 





 A widow with two small children, Nissa Stillwell was forced out of the mining  supervisor's house after her husband died in the mine disaster in Wildcat Ridge, Utah. She quickly learns before his death, he went heavily into debt. She leaves    what few possessions remain behind and contracts with the Ridge Hotel to do their laundry and live in the laundry shed and drying yard
next to the hotel. She is able to make ends meet—barely.

          Being left with only the furnishings and personal items that make up James Stillwell’s estate, Mortimer Crane goes after Nissa to pay the balance owed. She refuses, but he insists she work off the debt in his Gentlemen Only Salon.

          Rancher Dallin Walsh has been too busy building up his spread in the isolated mountains of western Colorado to look for a wife. He comes to Wildcat Ridge for a big horse auction. Between Crane and three drifters, he comes to Nissa’s defense more than once. Desperate to leave Wildcat Ridge, Nissa asks him to hire her as a housekeeper. Does Dallin want a housekeeper—or does he have something else in mind?

          Hal and Buck, two wranglers who work for Dallin, soon find most women in town are as eager to find husbands to move to Wildcat Ridge so they can keep their homes as they are to sell horses. A woman in difficulty captures Hal’s attention. Another woman finds Buck, but he definitely is not interested in a wife.

          Who will go to Colorado, and who will stay in Wildcat Ridge?





Introducing Author 

Zina Abbott




    
ABOUT THE AUTHOR


My name is Robyn Echols. Zina Abbott is the pen I use for my historical novels. I’m a member of Women Writing the West and Western Writers of America. I currently live with my husband in California’s central valley near the “Gateway to Yosemite.”

I love to read, quilt, work with digital images on my photo editing program, and work on my own family history.

I am a blogger. In addition to my own blog, I blog for several group blogs including the Sweet Americana Sweethearts blog, which I started and administer.

Facebook ~ Website ~


More info about Zina, giveaways and games at her official event today. Drop on over! 

To view our blog schedule and follow along with this tour visit our Official Book Blitz Page  for giveaways and more about Zina

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Rocking the Red Letter Days


In the past two months, four of our friends called us to share their diagnoses of late-stage cancer. One passed early in her treatment. Another passed this week. One is undergoing debilitating chemo that has stolen his energy and his body fat, but he's gritty and determined. Their suffering has been a reminder that our time is limited. We need to be grateful for each moment, especially the ones that lend a lift to our step, plant a smile on our lips and make evident the angels that walk among us.

I had a day like that yesterday—one to balance out the pencilled dates in my calendar for doctors appointment, septic tank clean-outs, juice fasts and trash days. Not that I hadn't planted seeds. It's just that the whole field sprouted on the same day. I want to give a sincere "thank you" to the Power That Be. A writer walks a tight rope between enthusiastic marketing and crowing, and sometimes we miss the nuances, as my dear sister might point out to me under the influence of too much wine. 

The important thing is to recognize the day. It's the first step in seizing it. Recog Diem!

Gratitude begets blessings. That's why writers have adventures that end up in their books. I know mine do. In fact, my boomer memoir is devoted to recognizing the red-letter days in a woman’s life of small steps. For me, living in a state of gratitude became a habit.   

Yesterday, an email from a publishing house started a chain of events that will occupy me for two years. A bookstore contacted me about an event in early September. I volleyed ideas with an editor over a novella that will be released next year. Granddaughters want me to go to San Francisco with them to see a play. My husband took me to Red Robin for $6.99 burgers and salads. We drove home the long way, through the dark woods, listening to the Garth Brooks Channel on Sirius and talking about things close to our heart. 

A Red Letter Day.

I'd love to hear about your RLD's. What can you teach us about gratitude? 

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

50 Years and a Rag-Tag Wedding Ring Story




Back in 1968, Steve and I were college kids, scrambling to get married before I “started showing,” to use the popular vernacular of the times. We counted our cash and scraped up a little over a hundred dollars between us. With a baby on the way and college to finish, we found a Columbia Merchandise Catalog and sent away for a ring with a diamond that looked, in the photo, like a cocktail ring Elizabeth Taylor might wear.

Ten days later, on a Saturday morning, Steve presented me with a parcel still wrapped in its brown shipping paper. I used my butter knife to cut the Scotch tape and opened the plastic case. Inside was a microscopic diamond in a 10-carat white gold setting. The engagement ring had a swerve to the band where the wedding ring would mate up. I glanced at the wedding ring; it looked like a fishhook or a beer can opener. With my girlish fantasies blown to smithereens, I tried to smile.

On our wedding day, my rings were blessed by the priest for a life of happy ever-afters. Joined, the set looked better together, but each ring had a difficult time settling in to marriage. They seemed awkward and self-centered, each wanting to do its own thing instead of working as a team. I visited a jeweler and had them soldered together.  

Eventually, despite fillings and repairs, the gold wore thin. On our 25th Anniversary, my husband bought me a white gold anniversary ring with a circle of small diamonds. I wore that as my wedding ring for the next fifteen years. When my husband’s tiny Portuguese grandmother passed away, I inherited her gold ring and had it cut and soldered onto my band. I thought my little ring family was complete. But life sometimes brings surprises.

Last year my mother passed. Among her jewelry was an assortment of gold and diamond rings, including a man’s pinkie ring. “It’s George Mort’s, I think,” my sister said.

Image result for art nouveau diamond ringGeorge and Loulla Mort were a colorful couple who drove into our lives on a hot summer afternoon in 1962, to inquire about renting my grandmother’s bunkhouse. George had been a riverboat gambler and Loulla a brothel madam, as close as we could tell. She had a son whom the county took away when he was a baby. They had traveled the country, making a living playing Five-Card Stud and various other side jobs. They rented from my grandmother, off and on, for a decade. When George died, Loulla traded his pinkie ring for back rent and Grandma let her stay on until she “lost her mind” as they used to say, and the county took her away. Grandma looked in on her at the nursing home until she passed.

I wear George’s ring now. It’s a platinum filigree art nouveau diamond ring with a beveled diamond that sparkles in the light. 

I smile every time I look down at the hodge-podge collection of memories on my finger. Fifty years will do that for a person; one ends up with a lot of recollections—and if you’re lucky, you get a good man, too. So this week is our 50th  Anniversary. Where did the time fly?