Monday, March 31, 2014

Names Again

This morning we sat watching the news and having breakfast – all comfy in our recliners – when a news anchor introduced an affiliate in Washington State where that big mudslide happened. “And now we go to Dominic for a report . . .” And just before the man began to speak I thought, “Hmm, an Italian name.” But the guy opened his mouth and spoke with a British accent. Not allowed! A name and an accent should meet my expectations. I wanted him to be saying "Ciao," not "Good day." But I had to let it pass because the guy couldn’t hear my protests what with my mouth full of granola and all. And that got my overactive brain thinking about no, not Dominic the Donkey, but names.

I like my name. The whole long thing is Susan Carol Bagger Sundwall. My nickname is Sue (who was this Nick guy, anyway?). Occasionally someone will call me Suzie or Suzer and my dad called me Susie Q on quite a number of occasions.

Naming characters in fiction is interesting, and I always wonder how other writers do it. Googling the most popular baby names in any given year is one way. Giving a character a name that sort of defines the way they look or act is another. Burt Large is a character on one of my favorite British series, Doc Martin, and the man who plays him, Ian McNiece, is indeed large. I once named a pediatrician Dr. Scary because I wanted the little boy in the story to relate to him. I know, I know, such faulty thinking, and my tale did not meet with commercial success. Some lessons are  hard.

Parents often name their children after other family members. Our #2 son was given the name Blaine – my mother’s maiden name. Like, from when she was a maiden; it was Bagger after that. Blaine’s first daughter was then named after my mother, Elaine, only with an ‘a’ on the end. We think that’s very cool. Other parents tip out a box of alphabet blocks onto the floor, shut their eyes, rearrange seven or eight of them, and voila! Claminda has a name like no other kid on the planet.

Place names are also fun to invent. Imagine the board room where some hyper Type A ad man shook his fist at his co-workers and exclaimed “We Are Toys, people! Embrace it! That name will be recognized by kids the world over!” And then some dweeby new hire named Russel piped up and said, “So – like – Toys ‘R Us?” It’s a legend in the industry that I just made up. But it’s my model for designing all the place names in my books. And such fun!

When God gave Adam the job – er – privilege of naming things He really started something. It makes me want to get out my alphabet blocks and just go crazy, but that could take all day, so I’ll spare you.

What or how have you named something or someone? Let us know.  

Image: digitalart                                                  Free Digital Photos

Friday, March 28, 2014

Baseball and A Hero

Several years ago I wrote this book review – I can’t remember for which publication (that didn’t publish it), but since baseball season is right around the corner, I thought it might be useful for any of you moms, dads, aunts, uncles, or grandparents wanting to find a story about a hero. This guy qualifies.

Roberto Clemente
Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates by Jonah Winter Illustrated by Raul Colon
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

With just two lines at a time, like gentle raindrops slipping from one tropical flower to another in his beloved Puerto Rico, the progression of the life of Roberto Clemente, and his fever for baseball, is laid out beautifully and simply for us by author Jonah Winter.

 As a biography the book doesn’t overburden with times, dates and place names but every essential fact of Clemente’s life as a great, perhaps the greatest, baseball player is presented.  We learn of his often imitated pre-game neck move and even how to pronounce his name properly “Roe-BEAR-toe Cleh-MEN-tay.”

 As an introduction to biography this is a good choice, especially for young boys. Clemente was the kind of hero parents only wish there were more of today.

The man let nothing overpower his love for the game. Like players of color before him he had to overcome the prejudice of the times by bearing the derision of an all white press. But his dazzling performance on the field contributed greatly to his team’s ability to  face down the formidable New York Yankees in the 1960  World Series—and win (I had to Google the date, it’s not in the book).

Raul Colon’s illustrations perfectly accompany the spare text, using watercolor, colored pencil, and litho pencil sketches. Clemente’s tragic, untimely, death is explained within the context of his desire to help the unfortunate victims of an earthquake, adding yet another dimension to the legend of the man who so proudly wore the number 21. 

Image: vectorolie                                    Free Digital Photos

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Glimpses of Heaven - From a Faithful Couple

I slid in next to her about ten minutes before the service was about to start. When I told her I was asking people about their thoughts on Heaven, her eyes lit up.

“Oh, I see a beautiful garden,” she said without further prompting. “With lots of flowers and colors.”

I smiled because it’s something I imagine, too. She went on.
“There will also be light,” she said pausing to raise her hands. “You know, like when the sun breaks through the clouds and the light comes pouring through. It will be just like seeing God’s glory.”

Wow, I loved this and completely understood the picture she was painting. God’s glory streaming through the clouds – like the picture in the corner there. And then she said something that is perhaps universally understood by anyone who contemplates our final living place.

“It will be as though a great weight has lifted – a load off of our shoulders.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Thank you, Marie

Her husband had told me a few things about what he’d like to find in Heaven, too. Or, I should say, who he’d like to find. His grandfather. Ed’s family goes away back into the old country, that being Germany. One of the goals of his grandfather had been to come to visit America to see his grandchildren, whom he’d never met. He was elderly – in his 80’s. 

One night, not too long before he was to cross the ocean, grandfather got up to use the outhouse. It was bitterly cold and the outhouse was a distance from the house.  The barn, however, was attached to the house so he decided to use a corner there instead. Unfortunately the old man frightened a cow who whipped out a hoof and clonked Grandpa a good one. He fell and broke a hip and he laid on the barn floor until he was found the following morning. He was taken to a hospital where he later died of pneumonia. Thus, he never made it to America. But hopefully he’s waiting in Heaven to greet the grandchildren (nine of them) he’d longed to see on earth. What a story he’ll have to tell at the banquet table of the Lord, huh?  

Image: Free Digital Photos

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Secret Life of Blankets

This is an ‘after the chaos’ moment that arrested my attention a few days ago. The chaos part was when four of the grandchildren made short work of the order I’d created in the living room just before they’d  piled in the door with moms and dads to enjoy supper at Grandma’s while Uncle Blaine (#2  son) was here for a visit.  I looked at the jumble of blankets and throws strewn across the floor and sofa. And there I saw . . .

The yellow, pink and blue granny square baby blanket my mother-in-law made for our youngest son, now 39.  I’d hauled it out of storage one day , stitched up a torn square and allowed that it could once again be used for babies. Plastic ones this time – the kind that don’t cry or poop. It’s a sturdy thing and can also be spread out like a picnic blanket (and Capri Sun washes right out). I remember the pride with which it was presented at a long ago baby shower. I think late MIL would approve as does her great granddaughter, Sierra. 

The plaid Woolrich blanket given to me by my friend, Karen, when she inherited some things from an elderly friend. It has one tiny hole, but that doesn’t bother me and the cat at all. It’s our favorite snuggle up and watch Masterpiece Mystery blanket. It’s a keeper.

The ‘quillow’ sent to me by one of my writing buds. Her name is Pam and I was beyond thrilled when I opened the package from her one day. She lives halfway across the country and it’s one of the sweetest surprises I ever got. It’s covered with small purple violets and folds all together into a pillow when I need it to be. Love.It.

Then there’s my $5 wraps- around- anything super soft throw I got on sale at Job Lots. It’s a funky green color and a perfect cover for cold tootsies or sometimes even a shawl for small shoulders should there be an impromptu fashion show going on in the aforementioned living room. Best five bucks I ever spent.

Many years ago hubby and I drove to New Hampshire to visit a friend. It was an overnight thing and the following morning we were in a local store where they sold wool blankets – like real cheap. He picked up a dark green one and said, “Hey, is this a good price?” It was. I think we paid $15 for it. It rests on the arm of the recliner to cover the legs and feet of the Lord of the Manor every cold winter evening since we brought it home. When I threw it into the wash the first time it hardly shrunk at all. Whew!

The last blanket I picked up was the one I made myself. I went on a tear about 25 years ago and made crocheted blankets for several friends. They were very plain and solid colored,and I used a simple chain stitch but with the added touch of satin ribbon woven through just above the knotted fringe. I didn’t ‘satin’ mine, but I’m so glad I included myself in the mix. I still love it.

Am I crazy to let a moment of picking up the living room spark all these memories? Hmmm. I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not the only one.

C’mon, fess up. What interesting little bits of  your ordinary day send you down memory lane?

Coming up – more glimpses of Heaven. Stay tuned. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Glimpses of Heaven

In the last few weeks I’ve conducted an informal survey among friends as to what they think Heaven might be like. I met with varying reactions. It’s something we don’t think of too often because the business of living here on earth is so – consuming. But I invited thought and shared some of the moments highlighted in the book Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo. I've gathered some amazing responses which I will post here in the weeks leading up to Easter (the Lenten season for some Christians). The following is by my dear – really dear – friend, Karen Lasher. Let her know what you think. 

For me heaven would be like:

A family gathering where all are in harmony with one another. There are no grudges. There is no envy.  Everyone has a role and feels needed, if only to entertain children or elders and no one has too much to do.  The elders are not so infirm that they cannot relate tales to the younger folks, get about on their own, and enjoy themselves.  This takes place on a beautiful day in a peaceful setting near water, perhaps a nice lakeside

Now, this family gathering could  become quite the amorphous group because I would want MY family there - the family I know or knew.  Who would they want there?  Would my grandmother want her grandmother and so on?  And would I know them even though many generations separate us?  Hmmm.

OR heaven would be like:

Women's retreat.  We gather at a beautiful spot alongside a lake in the mountains and if we are lucky the weather cooperates.  No television and its 24 hour news.  Delicious food prepared for us.  The women are all accepted as they come, whoever they are, whatever they do or have done.  All are of a similar mind, there for prayer, praise and thanksgiving to the living Lord.  And it's okay with the Lord if we have fun while we are there.

OR my weekly slice of heaven:

Saturday night Pinochle.    Dear friends who have known each other for many years gather in a warm, comfortable home.  We know each other's fine qualities and celebrate milestones and accomplishments.  We help each other in time of distress and with everyday tasks.  We mourn together.  We accept all flaws or quirks.  Weekly we share our joys and sorrows.  Food is laid out in abundance.  Conversation runs from family to farms, from war to weather, from pets to perfume.  Laughter is guaranteed.  The score is just a number because everyone has won by being there.   And we are all believers.

Thank you for these thoughts which I know come straight from your heart, Karen. 


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

What an Honor!

Today I’m inviting you to take a peek at Jenny Milchman’s blog, Suspense Your Disbelief. Why? Because I’m featured there in Made It Moments (I can hardly believe it). Jenny is a new friend, a terrific writer, a rising star, and has recently joined Mavens of Mayhem, the Albany chapter of Sisters in Crime to which I also belong.

Jenny is a wonder. She spoke last Saturday at our meeting and enlightened us on the unique journey she’s undertaken to promote her books. She travels the country (coast to coast!), by car, with her husband and children, visiting book stores and speaking. She “car schools” her kids – two adorable Munchkins who were there for the talk. Her husband is the tech guy, and what a rock  he is! Jenny writes while they travel and gets upwards of 2K words on her next novel written, mostly in the mornings. With all this she still has time to aid and abet other writers, and I’m dazzled to stillness to be one of them.  I’m telling you, folks, this is the stuff of which legends are made. Move over Jack Kerouak!  
Jenny’s books, Cover of Snow (excellent) and Ruin Falls (out in April), will have you on the edge of your seats. Highly recommended by yours truly. Jenny will be back in our area in April for the launch of Ruin Falls. The Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza will host the event. I'll keep you posted.

So without further nattering here’s the link 

Coming up

For the weeks leading up to Easter I’ll be featuring short essays on Heaven. First one this week is written by my friend, Karen Lasher. Don’t miss it!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Books Glorious Books!

I thought I’d whip out some book reviews today. This time I’m going to wander into the obscure – or maybe I should say less known. Yeah, books that you may not have heard of, but might want to know about.

Boo by Renee Gutteridge – What a different book this is! My friend, Karen, loaned it to me several years ago thinking I might find it intriguing. She was right. It’s a small town, quirky character, kind of book about a horror writer who becomes a recluse in the town of Skary, Indiana. The townspeople can’t figure out why their star citizen, whose status brought a small boom their way, has kept himself hidden away, and neither can we. There’s also a budding romance for the recluse with a surprising and gentle message about how conversion can affect a person and a whole town, for that matter. I appreciated that there was no clubbing-over-the-head religious aspects of the story.  There are two other books in the series, Boo Who and Boo Hiss (which I have not read, yet).   

Call the Midwife –Shadows of the Work House by Jennifer Worth – Because its was an Amazon “deal” I bought this book even though it’s the second in the series. I’d seen the PBS production and know most of the stories in the other books. This one offered, among other things, all the gritty details that help us understand the nature of the people, called paupers, who  had come out of the horrors of the work houses in late nineteenth and early twentieth century England. The characters the author chose to highlight from her very real experiences with them, pull thoughts and emotions from you that you might not realize you had. I especially enjoyed the protagonist’s, Miss Lee, relationship with the elderly Mr. Collett. A very good read.

A Fortunate Life by A. b. Facey – My son, Blaine and his daughter, Elaina, recommended this one to me. I’m so glad they did. Oh, my stars. If you ever thought you had it rough you’d have to think again after reading this man’s story. Born in 1894 in the West Australian outback, Mr. Facey takes us on a trip through his life that will have you glued to your seat with your hand at your mouth. His hard journey, alone, began at the age of eight when he was forced into hard labor at the hands of anyone who would let him do the work. He never went to school. I could scarcely believe some of the things that happened to this poor guy. He worked for one couple who wanted to adopt him and when permission was denied, the man beat him within an inch of his life. Cringe worthy reading and yet, in his later years, Mr. Facey still managed to call his life fortunate. Very humbling to read. His grandson wrote the introduction for the book, one that Mr. Facey had to be talked into writing. I’m so glad they did!

How about you? What  are you reading?

Image: digitalart                                                         

Monday, March 10, 2014

Minnie's Back in August!

Today I'm being interviewed here by the lovely and talented blogger and writer, Janette Dolores. She really knows how to ask telling questions. I answer them and tell about my new mystery, The Super Bar Incident, give a bit of sage advise to writers, and list some of my favorite children's books. If you drop by and leave a comment, we'll both love you forever.


Thank you.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Charity and Your Budget

This article appeared in The Dollar Stretcher a few years ago and I thought you might find it useful. Let me know!

How to be Charitable on a Budget

I count myself among those frugal types who are that way, in part, so that they may give to others. Frugal people are some of the most generous people I know and usually give without fanfare and are very creative in doing so. Here are ten ways to be generous to those less fortunate without breaking the bank.

1.    Roll your coins – and do it on a regular basis. Use half of what you roll to benefit someone else. Donate to the local animal shelter, disaster victim relief fund or whatever else moves your heart.
2.    Bottle returns – Where I live there are machines that gobble our bottles and cans. A return slip pops out when all the bottles are deposited. Why not leave the slip there? Whoever finds it will be so happy and it could make their day. I have also given my twenty bottles to someone ahead of me who has eighty. They’re always pleased to take them and I can go on my way knowing I’ve given a little something.
3.    Clothing round up – Sure, you give to the Salvation Army, the community clothing drive, or the women’s shelter. Each time you bundle up your contribution make it a point to put in one new thing. A pair of socks, a new t-shirt or a small toy. You’ll feel wonderful and the cost is far out-weighed by the tax write-off.
4.    Food pantries – Buy one get one free? But you don’t need two. Get that deal anyway and start a pantry box. When you’ve got five or six items piled up deliver it to the pantry collection point.
5.     Garden overflow – Last year we grew so many green beans we were sick of them by the time the last rows were ready to pick. I gave them away in bags and baskets at church, to neighbors and to one woman who was having a tag sale a few doors down from me. She was so pleased she let me choose some items for free as a thank you.
6.    Time – Yes, time is money. But it’s in short supply sometimes for young mothers, the elderly and volunteer groups. Commit one or two free hours a week to helping out. Rides to a doctor’s appointment, sitting with a two year old and coloring while Mom shops or taking a shift at the community center are worth their weight in gold to those with such need.
7.    Coupons – They’re all over the place and while you’re clipping yours why not clip for someone who might not have the time. Don’t need diapers? Clip the coupon anyway. Have enough pasta sauce? Maybe your neighbor doesn’t. Coupons also make a great tuck in for a birthday or get well card. Who wouldn’t want fifty cents off their Hall’s cough drops when they’re down and out with a cold?
8.    Plants – I have a philodendron plant that I’ve been taking slips off of for years. You probably have a Christmas cactus, some lilies of the valley or any number of other hardy plants that are worth sharing. Presented in a pretty paper cup along with a cheerful smile, they can be a welcome offering to shut- ins, teachers, the church tag sale, or to spruce up a dreary corner in your spouse’s office.
9.    Search Engines – will donate to your chosen cause a small amount for every search or purchase you make through them. From pennies to dollars – it adds up quickly!
10.  Your blog – Use the power of the Internet to call attention to various needs locally, nationally or globally. Don’t beat your readers over the head with it, but a mention in one or two of your posts about Little Dresses for Africa or Pennies for Peace will help in ways you probably won’t ever know about.

The Latin root word for frugal is frugalis meaning virtuous and is akin to frui to enjoy. I hope you are able to enjoy the virtue of giving to others even as you guard the economy of your hearth and home.


Monday, March 3, 2014


I hope you enjoy, and find meaningful, this guest post, written by my sister, Sharon. I’m the oldest and she comes next in the lineup of nine children Mom and Dad gave to the world. As you’ll see, the little girl she writes about is an awesome gift who landed in just the right family. Bless you for reading.

A Penny For Your Thoughts
By Sharon Wible

It is my privilege, once in a while, to take my four- year- old granddaughter for a walk. Penelope Rose, nicknamed Penny, is the adopted Down syndrome child of my eldest daughter Kari, and her husband, Robert. She enjoys walking after school because speech lessons and teacher’s orders can get burdensome. We do not venture far.

She needs a little help with descending the two steps of her front porch, as the steps are large. She smiles, knowing what’s ahead, and pauses to wait for her friend, Shadow. When Shadow is spotted, Penny begins to run.  It’s a joy to see who will be the fastest but they always arrive at their destination at the same time. Penny and Shadow have the same bouncy ponytail and Penny has such fun watching them fly in the wind.

We must run to the daisies because the big dog, black and anxious, barks very loudly. When the daisies are reached, Penny bends down for a sniff at the brightly colored garden.

The large tree near the fence is highly anticipated. The crunchy leaves are very loud under tiny sneakers. Shadow always gets lost under the tree so it is necessary to go back and find her where the flowers grow. When we arrive at the light pole we both must touch it or the walk will not continue. Shadow must touch the pole as well; Penny sees to it.

Halfway through our journey there is the “hill” to climb.  Another large tree has buckled the sidewalk and a two- inch rise in the cement poses quite a challenge for Penny.  She recognizes the spot and begins her trudge up the mound while groans and puffs of air escape her lips. My first reaction is to “help”. I want to lift her over the hill but a hymn invades my mind, ‘Leaning on the Everlasting Arms’. I decide not to assist but watch instead. She is not at all frustrated but seems to enjoy the hard work. Shadow, of course, drags along at Penny’s feet. 

“O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way. . .”  I sing as Penny doggedly takes the hill.

Penny descends with a very self satisfied smile but with a stroke of her hand and a loud “Eh” orders me to leave. I turn and she takes off like a shot crossing the big street all by herself.  Never far behind, I swoop in, catch her with one arm at her waist and run to the other side.  She is not at all surprised as I place her down on the other side.  She merrily continues along the path.

“What have I to dread, what have I to fear . . .”  I continue.   (She has blessed peace with her Lord so near).

We arrive at our next challenge, the sawed-off tree stump. Penny is delighted. She bends down and places her tiny hands on the side of the three- inch base and climbs to the “top” for the victory dance.

“O how bright the path grows from day to day . . . ” the hymn continues. 

Penny can see that Shadow enjoys the dance as well. A run through the green grass takes us to her own yard.

“What a fellowship, what a joy divine,” comes easily to mind. We are tired and thirsty. The Everlasting Arms carry us home where Penny, the Shadow, and I have some milk and cookies.

And now you also have Penny in your thoughts and, like me, a bit of happiness for your soul.