a children's Christmas book

'Twas the Evening of Christmas, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Elena Selivanova, written for children, aged 4-8 years old.


This story shows (haha, see what I did there? Show don't tell) the birth of Jesus. It is written in poetry reminiscent of the rhythm of Dr. Clement C. Moore's, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. 

It's a beautiful book. I highly recommend it. 

introverted extrovert

winter art.jpg

November is done. And so is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I did not officially enter but I had a writing accountability partner, Lawrence. He made his goal of 50,000 words!! Whoo hoo for Lawrence!  I did not have a goal but I wrote 28,000 words! Most of my words went towards a daily devotional but, when I was absolutely stuck, during my third week, I started a short story.  

And isn't that a misnomer? Starting a short story but not finishing? Especially when it only needs to be 3,000 words maximum! 

The daily devotional focuses on the month of November. May for the Southern Hemisphere. I wanted to deal with the issues of short days, cold days, and days that might feel hopeless or hard for some people. It's a difficult time of the year when the sun hides more than it shines. 

I often find November invigorating but I'm an introvert and a writer! I enjoy spending time alone. And it's especially helpful for me because I am a pastor of a local church and pastors, by the nature of their vocation, are called upon to behave as extroverts.  

When I take the Myers-Briggs assessment tool, my results place me near the middle of the Introversion-Extroversion continuum.  But I digress!

The daily devotional is 30 days long and focuses on the themes of letting go, falling, death, and unexpected as I take cues from the leaves of the trees during this time between the Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice.


a short blog post during NaNo

It's NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I'm not officially signed up to NaNo but I am working on a new project, day by day.



My novel, in its fourth draft, is still out with a couple (one-and-a-half to be exact) beta readers and I'm giving it a rest as its opening chapter is not working. I need to let it sit and think about it from afar.

My new Work in Progress is non-fiction. My first book, Disturbing Complacency: Preparing for Christmas, is a book of daily devotions for the Christian season of Advent. 

I always thought I should do Lent and Easter next. It makes sense, right? And I have one started, many years ago. But only a couple of devotions, a couple of days are done. I have no enthusiasm for the project yet. 

However, I became really excited with the thought of writing a daily devotional for the month of November (or the month of May for people who live in the Southern Hemisphere). There's just something about the darkness and the short days and the blusteriness of this month, that grabs me.

And...better yet! I have an accountability partner. We facebook message each other at the end of the day with our word counts. What a blessing. 

Are you NaNo-ing? 

A witch, a pocket dragon, and a poetry reciting bog monster

I just read the most fantabulous book, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. It received a John Newberry Medal and is written for young readers.


I'm in love with the cover. 

The cast of characters contain a child, a witch, a pocket dragon, and a bog monster who recites poetry.

The child, taken from her parents when she was a baby by the government of the walled city, was left in the forbidden forest as part of the annual sacrifice to keep the mean and evil witch away.

But the witch has been rescuing these babies for decades, taking them on a journey to the other side of the forest, to place them in new homes. Since that journey is long, she feeds the babies with starlight.

With this child, however, the witch accidentally feeds her moonlight. And that creates all sorts of problems.

Rituals and Formulas

Today’s post was inspired by KM Wieland’s blog post: Four Ways to Prevent Formulaic Story Structure.  


As I read through Wieland’s article, it reminded me of conversations I've had about worship rituals and some of the codifications and objections that a community of faith will have about their specific rituals. She asks a couple of frequently asked questions, including,

Indeed, won’t story structure inhibit your creativity by forcing you to conform to a preconceived format?
— KM Wieland

A similar question can be asked about ritual, “won’t the same ritual, performed each week, inhibit our ability to connect with God because we are asking God to meet us on (or conform to) our terms?

Rituals, within the context of a community of faith gathering, have a structure, some set pieces within a certain order. Speaking as a United Church of Christ pastor, our rituals go roughly along the lines of:

  • Lighting of candles/Gathering song/Welcoming Guests/Announcements
  • Call to Worship
  • Opening Song
  • Prayer of Invocation or Confession or People's Concerns and Joys
  • Passing of Peace and/or Children's Time
  • Theme Song that relates to Scripture passage or sermon 
  • Reading Scripture passage from the Bible
  • Sermon/Reflection/Meditation
  • Prayers-Pastoral/Concerns and Joys/Silence/Lord's Prayer
  • Collecting the offering of money and Prayer of Dedication
  • Closing Song
  • Being sent out with a blessing or a commission

Other denominations within the Christian tradition will have their own specific rituals. And Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists all have their ways of gathering in community to honor the Higher Being, the Holy One.

Ritual or story structure does not have be rigid, following a particular path. Instead, ritual and story structure provide a framework, that allows connection with the Divine or a flow of creativity.

The trick is that we need to have the formula or ritual so deeply ingrained within us that it lays underneath our writing or our worship. As Wieland writes,

Rather, with the strong basis of that structure underneath you, you have the security to try as many new and interesting things as your imagination can dream up.
— KM Wieland

Take the Lord’s Prayer. It is something that is said during every worship service within many Christian church worship service, as noted above. After a while we say it by rote, by memory. When I taught confirmation to youth, some of the youth complained about the boredom of saying the Lord’s Prayer. And it is! Memorizing and stating something each Sunday, without thinking about it is tedious.

But if we take time to study the words, something happens. I remember reading a commentary about the Lord’s Prayer several years ago, that remains with me to this day. That author wrote that if we had any consciousness at all about what we are praying for, we would not enter the church unless we wore hardhats, ready for a rollercoaster ride. Because we are asking for God’s kingdom/realm/community to come on earth…as it is in heaven.

For Christians who believe that God created all things for good, we have strayed a long ways from our Biblical role as stewards of the earth itself and all the sentient creatures who inhabit this planet.

Whether we are writing or worshiping, we have a process to create great stories or an inspiring community of faith. It’s a process that involves:

  • becoming aware of and desiring involvement or participation in the craft of writing or in a worship ritual
  • learning the foundation of story structure or of faith rituals and why the foundation is used
  • intellectual memorization, repetition, boredom
  • more learning
  • an internalization of the foundation of structure or ritual that, in crafting story, allows us to be truly creative and original and, in our faith life, allows an opening in our hearts for the Holy to find us in the most unexpected of places.

A quiet stillness

It’s October. A time for wood-burning candles that pop and snap, for steaming cappuccinos (decaffeinated please), and entering the threshold into the dark time of the year.


The streets are littered with yellow and orange leaves. There’s outdoor work to be done but most of it will wait until next year—painting the other two sides of the shed, painting the deck floor, digging up the patch of dirt to plant tomatoes.

And for the writers among us, we are 15-days away from NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

I’ve not yet participated in NaNoWriMo. Writing 50,000 words in a month that holds a couple of birthdays, the Thanksgiving celebration, and a fun but frenetic day of Christmas candy making is too intimidating. And I’m still working on my first novel.

However, I am there in spirit. There’s something about the barrenness of November that lends itself to the pursuit of a creative endeavor. Even with the revising of a story. There’s something about going ever deeper into the lives of our characters, of polishing the plot, of shining the light brighter on a certain scene That’s enthralling.

A couple of years ago, I took a week of vacation to go to a retreat home. An acquaintance who owns a second home in a small village, situated mid-hillside, overlooking the Mississippi River. I stayed there three nights. And I couldn’t get online with my computer although I could read my writing blogs via my phone. I’ve refused to access my various emails and facebook pages through my phone). And there was no television. Only the big window which overlooked the river to watch the eagles and the barges.


That disconnect? That silence? Broken only by a wood-burning candle or Advent songs I had brought along? A balm to my soul. 

Although these short days are hard, especially when they are grey and cloudy, they are blessed days. A time for mystery. A time for the dark soils of our souls to be fallow, to lie still, and gather energy for the spring that always follows.  

Book Review


This story, My Name is Lucy Barton, written by Elizabeth Strout, ©October 2016, has several time-braids in it.

  • We see Lucy as a young girl living with her family in an uncle’s garage, and after he dies, in his small home, and learning at school that she is different, shunned, because a life of poverty doesn’t teach social skills.
  • We see Lucy in the hospital in New York, a young married woman and mother, needing an extended stay after a routine surgery and the relationship that exists between her and Mom.
  • We see bits of Lucy as a newly married, adjusting to life in New York, and developing the odd friendships that she’s able to manage.
  • We see allusions to issues of abuse and neglect, family dysfunction and loneliness.
  • And we see references to Lucy’s future self, a published author, from which this story is told.

It’s a slender book, a complex story that in some ways remains elusive. There is direct naming and there is that which is not said, which is not spoken

But there are times, too--unexpected--when walking down a sunny sidewalk, or watching the top of a tree bend in the wind, or seeing a November sky close down over the East River, I am suddenly filled with the knowledge of darkness so deep that a sound might escape from my mouth, and I will step into the nearest clothing store and talk with a stranger about the shape of sweaters newly arrived. This must be the way most of us maneuver through the world, half knowing, half not,

The book stirred feelings in me: curiosity first, wondering if this author could keep my interest. Then gradually, I was caught up in Lucy’s life. Sometimes I would be deeply immersed in Lucy’s point-of-view and then other times the camera lens backed away and distanced itself from knowing Lucy too completely.

The focus of the story is Lucy’s relationship with Mom. We read of tenderness, of half-asked questions, and we witness love in all its faultiness expressed through human limitations.

Senior Bus Trip

No. I'm not over the age of 65. But my parents went on senior bus trips and had formed friendships with several couples who also regularly took these trips. And, this being Mom's first bus trip as a widow, she invited me to come along. I was delighted as they would be exploring Minnesota's North Shore.

 Lake Superior, looking west from Split Rock Lighthouse

Lake Superior, looking west from Split Rock Lighthouse

We met the bus at 7:00 am and Mom's friends had saved seats for us to sit near them. Our luggage went beneath the bus and just a bag or purse went on the bus with us. Within two hour of leaving, we were in the Twin Cities, northward bound on the freeway. The travel agent and her helper were serving a continental breakfast when all of a sudden...

You knew I had a story, right?

And speaking of stories, I finally finished my novel! Today!

Revision 4 is completed and formatted to send off to a couple of beta readers. I'd anticipated being done in the spring. Then I thought I would finish by the end of August. But my 1939 story braid derailed when I found a picture of a WWII Sunderland Flying Boat over what I thought was a sleepy quiet village. So I researched and added in pertinent events. 

With the story done, for now, I'll clean up my files so I can be ready to work on Revision 5 in December. 

And now, for the rest of the bus story:

The travel agent and her helper were serving a continental breakfast. The agent was in the aisle near us with a glass of juice in hand. All of a sudden the bus driver stepped on his brakes. She flew forward (yes, we were horror-struck, bus aisles are not meant for falling bodies) and her cup flew up.

I don't know where the cup landed but the majority of the juice landed on the front of my t-shirt. But that wasn't the immediate concern. After a short while with everyone holding bated breath, the agent figured out she was fine, just juice spattered. One of the men helped her up. 

Now remember we're on a bus with seniors. And the narrow aisles and bus seat arms are not helpful for getting someone up off the floor.

Someone made a comment and when the agent laughed and thanked the man, relief and humor started flowing through the bus again.

And now that we knew she was ok, I thought about me! Good thing I had a tank top underneath my t-shirt.  And Mom had an extra sweatshirt in her bag as mine had received some fallout from the splat on my t-shirt. Though I didn't need her sweatshirt. That bus was warm!

We did not get to our hotel rooms until 9 pm that night. Along the way we stopped at the train museum in Duluth and had lunch, rode a vintage train to Split Rock Lighthouse, toured the lighthouse and the old homes of the lighthouse keepers, and then drove to the city of Tower in dusk.

That night, at 9:30 pm, Mom and I sat across from one another at a restaurant. One other table had customers. And boy-howdy, did that cream of wild rice soup and those chicken wings taste mighty fine. And the waitress was superlative in her hospitality.

Being baptized with cranberry apple juice? Now that's a vacation to remember! 


It's autumn

Finally it feels like autumn. Last week, it was difficult to watch the leaves fall and the fall-ish rays of the sun, and step outside into 85+ humid weather. Not typical for this area.


Now I'm ready for apples from our tree! Applesauce, apple crisp, and apple pie (with ice cream, of course). And stews and roasts and chili, tomato beef chili and white chicken chili.

And soon, I'll be heading on a mini-bus tour with Mom to see the fall colors. I'm looking forward to it. We'll be seeing Duluth, touring Split Rock Lighthouse, and seeing a Bear Center! Then in the evenings when we relax from our day trips, I'll work on my story. Two more chapters and I'll send it off to a couple of beta readers.  

Are you able to take time to appreciate autumn?

I forgot!

Janet Reid, literary agent extraordinaire, held a flash fiction contest over Labor Day weekend. And I forgot to post about it. Because, yes, I did get a mention in her comment column on the Monday, when she determined who was the winner.  I was not a winner. Not even on the short-list or the long-list, but getting a mention is superlative!!  

The prize? Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to be in this Book) by author Julie Falatko and illustrations by Tim Miller.  



We were to write, once again, a 100 word flash fiction story. What five words were we required to use?  Snap, gator, ask, tie, iron!

And here's my story: 

She dips a wee brush into the miniscule lavender paint-pot, her slouchy red chef’s hat askew.

“What?” she snaps, “You never seen an artagator in her natural environs?”

Bemused, he responds, “It’s such an unusual…trade. How’d you first know you wanted to be a chocolatier?”


Ah. Grandfather. That explains her tetchiness upon their entry into the thatched shop.

Artisanal chocolates pose on glass shelves. Dark sweet squares, smooth as a mirrored loch, display miniature likenesses of heather or thistle. Velvety surfaced truffles fortify fillings of liquid whisky or bramble habanero cream.

Between the chocolates and grandfather, she’s a keeper.