Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pine Valley Days 2016

Pine Valley, California 

Today was our 15th Pine Valley Days celebration and the 46th year of this small town tradition. There's nothing like a small town festival to bring neighbors together...and to bring former neighbors back, plus a few friends from "down the hill," as we like to refer to the city and suburbs of San Diego.

You see, up here in a town of 1500 souls at, as our license plate frames state, "4000 Feet Above Care," we think differently than the "flatlanders." With the nearest Costco a 45-minute drive and the nearest WalMart half an hour away, we combine our trips "down the hill" and make a day of it. We depend on each other and help each other, whether it's an elderly widow who needs help with her yardwork or providing after school care for elementary and junior high kids.

Our town boasts two social "hubs" where we run across neighbors and friends on a daily basis. The first is the post office. In a town far too small for residential mail delivery, the trip to fetch our mail from our post office boxes is part of our daily routine. Our family is extremely fortunate as our "trip" to the post office is a quick stroll across the meadow; we can see the post office from our front porch, after all. Some stop by the post office on their way out of or into Pine Valley if they've been "down the hill" while others make a purposeful trip to the post office to pick up their mail; either way, we usually see someone we know, whether for a quick wave or a few moments' stop to catch up with each others' lives.

The other hub is the county library branch which is blissfully air-conditioned (and is where I've parked myself to work on my online Fan Fiction class every afternoon). Again, neighbors and friends stop by to pick up or return books and DVDs, to use the computers, for a meeting in the community room, or for one of the many programs available for preschoolers through adults. We never know what might be going on at the library or with whom we might "run into." When I worked there on Wednesday, I met up with a fellow book editor who gave me the scoop on her visit to Comic Con the previous week. (Someday I shall go!!) A henna tattoo artist was there on Thursday, so I took a break from my class work to get two (free!) tattoos, one on my left hand and the other on my right ankle.

We know we're in a small town when the parade announcer is our 80+ year old neighbor to the south, and the neighbor to the east comes over to ask me to type up and proofread the "press release" advertising Pine Valley Days which was written on a yellow legal pad. We also invited friends from the next hamlet over to park in our driveway so that they can walk across the meadow and watch their oldest granddaughter in the parade.

The Model "T" Club appears in the Pine Valley Days Parade every year....

It was stinkin' hot this year. The parade started at 9:00 AM, and Elizabeth and I were already dripping with perspiration. Fearing that we would get baked, we crossed the street to sit in one partially-shady spot in front of the port-a-potty (yep, just one of 'em) stationed in front of the veterinarian's office. A kind family offered me a folding chair (since ours are all in the back of the car that's currently at the mechanic), and Elizabeth stood.

Candy was thrown by people on floats, advertising local (as in within a few towns' distance) hairdressers, feed stores, the church (yes, we only have one in town), our winning AYSO soccer team, etc. Model T's are interspersed with Mercedes and Corvette convertibles with the pageant princesses (Miss Mountain Empire is one of my former writing students!) carefully seated so that their tiaras and crowns glint in the sunshine and their formal gowns sparkle. A fleet of John Deere tractors is followed by the mounted Border Patrol. And then comes my favorite...the bagpipes!

The parade continues with an alumni marching band from a "flatlander" high school, more horses, the ubiquitous Shriners in their little parade cars, Chinese dragons twisting and dancing from a martial arts school from Alpine (the medium-sized town (50,000 people) halfway "down the hill"), and then the piece de resistance:the final parade entry is our town fire truck. Living in a place in which wildfires are rampant and extremely dangerous (two people were killed in the recent Potrero Fire in June), we depend on our fire department not only to keep our homes safe but to also be our first stop for emergency care since the nearest hospital is over thirty miles away. We have one paid firefighter in Pine Valley, and the rest of the fire department is staffed entirely by volunteers. It's small town know-thy-neighbor and let's-pitch-in at its very finest.

Pine Valley Fire Department, County of San Diego

I have to admit to nearly tearing up a couple of times during this simple parade, watching the little ones collect the hard candy thrown to them by the various groups on the backs of trucks and trailers (as close to a "float" as we get up here), smiling at the clowns' antics, admiring the cars from the 1930's and '40's, waving at those we knew on the "floats," and clapping for our little fire department.

And late this afternoon, it rained--just a wee bit--as it so often does on Pine Valley Days weekend, the final weekend in July.

You see, we almost had to leave this town. I won't get into specifics, but we are waiting for final written confirmation that our loan has been switched over to a new lender (and a scrupulous one this time, thanks be to God!). It's been nine months of suspense, sometimes thinking that we would be forced to relocate out of state and sometimes thinking that all was well only to find that it was not. This week we received two verbal confirmations that our (prayerfully) former loan company has accepted the pay-off from the new lender. Just receiving a new loan is a miracle in itself.

So for now, Pine Valley remains our home, and we are so thankful, even for stinkin' hot days, sitting on the asphalt and watching the parade go by. That's one part of small town life that I shall treasure...always.

Warmly (well, more like hotly),


Saturday, July 23, 2016

As Yet Untitled Variation of Pride & Prejudice

As I mentioned last week, I have been writing a variation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Such variations can be read all over Amazon and seem to do quite well in Kindle form; I have also ordered a good many through our state-wide library system Links+.

As I do wish to return to writing, I thought that posting the beginning snippet of the first draft might compel me to keep writing. So here it is....

This variation picks up after Darcy has arranged for the marriage of Lydia and Wickham with Darcy and Bingley's return to Longbourn for the first time since leaving the neighborhood the previous November.

NOTE: The characters, the places, and the lines quoted from Pride and Prejudice (1813) are the imaginative work of Miss Jane Austen (1775-1817) to whom the world is forever indebted and for the creation of two of the most famous lovers in all English literature: Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet.

Chapter One

            "Lizzy? Lizzy, where are you?"
            Elizabeth Bennet sighed over her novel, closed it with reluctance, and unfolded herself from her favorite reading perch in the windowseat of the bedroom she shared with her elder sister, Jane. Elizabeth had been re-reading one of Mrs. Radcliffe's novels, but she had become distracted, unable to focus on the book in her lap nor on the early autumn scenery spread out before her window.
            Jane certainly had not been herself lately. Before Mr. Bingley had leased nearby Netherfield Park last autumn, Jane had been Elizabeth's chief confidant and Elizabeth hers; not a single secret had stood between the sisters.
            But now sweet Jane held her secrets in silence, her eyes the only key to the sadness she felt at Mr. Bingley's closing Netherfield and returning to London—never to return, according to the correspondence of his sister, Miss Caroline Bingley. Despite Jane's continued silence on the subject, Elizabeth knew that Jane's attachment to their handsome and genial young neighbor was the cause of her sister's capricious appetite, sleeplessness, and wandering thoughts.
            Elizabeth shook her head, partly in amusement yet also with heaviness of heart. With Jane in love with a worthy gentleman of considerable means, life at Longbourn, their modest estate in Hertfordshire, was in the process of altering forever. 
            “There you are, Lizzy!” huffed Kitty, the second-youngest of the five Bennet sisters, as the bedroom door flew open with an unladylike crash. “Your presence is required downstairs,” she reported before turning on her heel and stomping down the hallway to her own bedroom door which Kitty opened and closed with an identical reverberating slam.
            Standing a bit stiffly after being seated for such a long time with her feet beneath her, Elizabeth smoothed the skirt of her morning dress and replaced her novel on the bookshelf. Stopping in front of the glass, she deftly smoothed the curls around her face and patted her back hair into place before proceeding downstairs. Puzzled by the summons, Elizabeth thought that although she had not noticed guests arriving, she had been quite engrossed in her novel…well, in her thoughts, anyway…and may have missed the arrival of guests at Longbourn.
            Hearing the hum of voices in the morning room, Elizabeth opened the door but halted abruptly and awkwardly in the doorway, her hand still on the brass knob, as two familiar gentlemen rose to their feet and bowed to her. Automatically, she dropped a quick curtsey in response and entered the room, smiling at the blushing young gentleman who had been seated beside Jane.
            “Welcome, Mr. Bingley, to Longbourn,” Elizabeth greeted warmly before turning to the second, taller gentleman. “And welcome, Mr. Darcy.” The unsmiling man nodded in response as Mr. Bingley launched himself forward to return her greeting.
            “I can see that you are well, Miss Elizabeth,” Bingley enthused as he bowed over her extended hand. “Thank you for your warm welcome. It is wonderful to be back in Hertfordshire; I have missed it exceedingly.”
            “You are always welcome at Longbourn, Mr. Bingley,” smiled Mrs. Bennet, her eyes alight with satisfaction at having a young man of Bingley’s wealth once again calling upon Jane. “And I have not forgotten the family dinner you promised to attend upon your return; no, I have most certainly not. We shall fix a date for you to join us very soon, sir, indeed.” Elizabeth winced as Mrs. Bennet’s rudeness at utterly ignoring Mr. Darcy who was standing near the window, his lips folded in a thin line that Elizabeth took for disapproval.  
            Glancing quickly at Darcy, Bingley was discomposed at the invitation which deliberately left out his friend and guest. “Certainly, Mrs. Bennet. Name the day, and we shall be here,” Bingley replied. Elizabeth quite admired his gentle reminder to Mrs. Bennet of what was due his friend, but she also knew that her mother would disregard the “we” of Bingley’s statement and not accept the subtle hint.
            Bingley turned to Elizabeth. “We were just discussing the possibility of a walk to Oakham Mount; Miss Bennet has assured us that the view is lovely, and that you know the way very well indeed. And the weather seems quite amenable.” He sent her sister a warm look, causing Jane to blush prettily. “Would you consider joining us, Miss Elizabeth?” He turned politely but seemingly without expectation to the rest of the assembled Bennets, including Kitty who had rejoined her mother and sisters. “Mrs. Bennet? Miss Mary? Miss Catherine? Would you care to accompany us on this outing?”
            While Mrs. Bennet refused with effusive apologies while winking significantly and obviously at Jane during her speech, Mary indicated a preference for her book. However, Kitty elected to join the excursion with unusual alacrity.
            A glance at Jane assured Elizabeth of the necessity of her accepting the invitation, thus allowing Mr. Bingley the opportunity to speak to her sister without the presence of Mrs. Bennet. Yet inevitably she would be in Mr. Darcy’s presence, and she was uncertain of his wishes in the matter. Yet, an opportunity to tease must never be dismissed….
            “Are you quite certain that you desire my company, Mr. Bingley?” Elizabeth queried, her eyes glinting with mischief. “Mr. Darcy and Kitty will provide adequate chaperonage, after all.”
            But Mr. Darcy, who had remained standing since her entrance, stepped forward. “We would greatly appreciate the honor of your presence, Miss Elizabeth,” he agreed as he bowed politely.
            However, Elizabeth’s eyebrows rose with surprise at his reply. Mr. Darcy seldom spoke with those outside his party at Netherfield which had included Mr. Bingley and his two sisters, one of whom was married to Mr. Hurst. Although Mr. Darcy remained unsmiling as was his usual expression, Elizabeth noted warmth in his gray eyes which seemed much lighter this morning.
            “With such an invitation, how could I possibly refuse?” Elizabeth replied, smiling. After she, Jane, and Kitty had collected their bonnets and shawls from upstairs, Elizabeth followed Mr. Bingley and Jane out the front door and into the pale autumn sunshine, Mr. Darcy on her heels and Kitty protesting behind them.

There's much, much more to write, and I am purposefully leaving Anne Lamott's quotation in the sidebar as inspiration to make time for writing. After all,

"If you can't find an hour to write, even Jesus can't help you."

~Anne Lamott

If if that quotation isn't enough to compel me to pick up my pen and continue to write, nothing will!

Hoping to write more this week,

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Back in the (Writing) Saddle Again?

Image of journal (in German) and fountain pen. I wish I could write this neatly on unlined paper!
As I looked for a good quote for this week from among my nearly fifteen years of jotting quotations into my two volumes of Quotation Journals--known at Brave Writer as Commonplace Books--I came across one on writing that intrigued me. 

I have read little by John Piper, a well-known Christian theologian and author, who wrote the hugely inspirational book Desiring God...which, unfortunately, sits unread on my bookshelf. But his thought below on writing, which I copied down more than six years ago, is a truth that needs to be acknowledged.

And is perhaps the best reason we can have for writing, and especially for journaling.

Here's the quotation which I came across in Ann Voskamp's utterly revelatory book One Thousand Gifts:

"Writing is a way of opening our eyes to see what we otherwise do not see." 
~John Piper

As I am spurred on to return to writing again--something I have done in rare bits and snatches since hanging up the "On Hiatus" sign on the sixteen chapters of my unfinished novel, published serially on two different websites eighteen months ago--Piper's insights on writing really strike me as Truth. 

While I look forward to continuing to write two different stories--variations of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice which I have been obsessed with reading for the past two years--I also desire to spend more time "thinking on the page" which is the gift that journaling gives us. 

My current journal and my usual dip pen for writing in it each week
I have kept journals all my life, managing to write daily in small vinyl-covered diaries in my freshman, sophomore, and junior years of high school, and then journaling on and off since then. For the past few years, I've journaled about once a week--sometimes less--but on a regular basis, filling two journals completely and now well into a third. I tend to write on Friday nights, the one night I allow myself to stay up later than usual, with a quiet house beckoning me to write. Sometimes I light a candle, but I almost always write with a dip pen--sometimes a metal-nibbed quill--and bottled ink in sepia, midnight blue, or violet. Perhaps I feel more Austen-ish this way, but I know that if I go too long without writing in this manner, my fingers quite literally itch to hold that pen, dip the nib into the ink, and scrawl away.   

It's a peace thing--writing like this. I feel detached from life's current problems and stressors and write away about the events of my week, line after line in my faux-copperplate penmanship that I've worked very hard to develop over the years. I hate getting to the bottom of a page because not only is it more difficult to maintain neat handwriting, but it's also because my "space" is nearly gone. But often I push onto a second page, delighting once again in filling a page with events, ponderings, wishes. 

I received another journal at the Brave Writer Staff Retreat last month, a pale pink hardcover journal that I would never have purchased for myself as I prefer my journals to be old-fashioned in appearance, classic and preferably bound in leather. But this journal has a message printed on the front that stopped me in my proverbial tracks:

Don't let anyone dull your SPARKLE.

And then I began to think about those I allow to dull my sparkle, people around whom I cannot be myself. Right then I decided that this journal was going to be different. This journal was going to be Truth, not merely what I wrote in case someone read it after I left this earth, etc. And this journal was going to be about writing. It may contain some passages of original fiction or poetry, but it's also a place to plan, to dream, to wander and wonder. 

Most of all, it shall be a place in which I will not allow anyone to dull my sparkle as a woman, as a writer, as a thinking, creating being.

I just started teaching my Fan Fiction class at Brave Writer. I believe that this is the fifth summer I've taught it, and it filled up very quickly, the first time that this class has not only been full but also had a waiting list! I started writing fan fiction novels and stories in November 2010, and my work has become extremely popular on and, to a lesser extent, on On these two websites, my ten novels and stories have garnered well over 4 million "reads" (or "hits"). 
But now I wish to switch fandoms to write JAFF (Jane Austen Fan Fiction). I follow the uber-talented writers at Austen Variations and have read most of their books, many of which I was able to track down through Link+, a California-wide compendium of libraries. Others I have bought one at a time on Amazon for my Kindle, using my online essay grading earnings to fund my obsession. 

A manuscript page from Chapter 11 of Persuasion by Jane Austen
And this is the fandom I want to write this summer. Of course, I started both stories with a quill and bottled ink before finally setting aside the lined pages of faux-copperplate in order to type it all up into Word for editing and printing purposes. I've shared the first few chapters of one story with our local Writers' Workshop which meets the second Tuesday of each month at our county library branch, and thus far the response has been quite positive. 

But I have only had time to jot a wee bit here and a little there because teaching nine online courses of 4-6 weeks each at Brave Writer, teaching a year-long expository essay class to high school juniors and seniors through our co-op Class Days with Heritage Christian School, grading essays quite regularly with my Online Essay Grading Service, and home schooling our fourth and youngest child (well, he's turning 17 in December) who will be a high school junior in the fall and who has significant learning challenges pretty much gobbles up all of my time. In addition, I've been assisting an amazing Christian poet/writer with her first traditionally-published book called Sky Mesa Journal: social media, blogging, and editing/formatting/proofreading. 

And then I teach Fan Fiction at Brave Writer each summer, so I really only have August available for significant writing. At least next year I won't be teaching at Class Day since our youngest has finished taking all of his science lab classes for high school, so we'll socialize through our local Park Day here in our small mountain village rather than driving down into San Diego every other week. But I need to find a way to squeeze in some writing time at least on a weekly basis. And I'm going to figure out how, one way or another. 

Because, after all, John Piper wrote of the revelations that come when we write, and I simply cannot miss out on those. 

Writing with you,


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