Monday, August 12, 2013


Last Days of Summer Contest 

The big yellow school bus, apples almost ready to pick, and catalogs with “fall preview” on their covers. All sure signs that summer is almost over. How does that make you feel? Happy that the super hot days of the season will soon be over or sad that the days will soon shorten and grow cooler? I want to know.

So, here’s the deal. Tell me something about summer’s end. Keep is short and sweet; it’s not a writing contest. Beginning with the first person to leave a word or two I’ll number each one as they come in. Then I’ll pick one from a basket – blindfolded – and declare a winner. How simple is that? I’ll have it to you before Labor Day.

Starts today. Ends Friday.

Oh – the prize. A gingham lined collapsible picnic basket with a bottle holder, a signed copy of The Red Shoelace Killer and Not Your Mother’s Book – On Being a Stupid Kid ( my story is one of them), a beaded bookmark, a jar of my own blueberry jam and a copy of  my poem The Last Picnic of Summer. Take a look. Thanks for entering!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

What Love Does

Her name was Marie, but it was easier to say Mimi when we were little. She was our favorite aunt, red haired, freckled. She loved us without conditions. She always had gum in her purse and sometimes she’d let one of us stay the night. She had two children of her own so it was an undertaking to have even one of us over.

At the time they lived in a small bungalow and I remember one overnight that lasted into the next day until mid-afternoon. That morning, after my uncle went off to work, Aunt Mimi piled her two and me into the car because she needed milk. I even remember the name of the place where she got it, Luken’s Dairy. She bought milk and then to our delight asked if we’d like Creamsicles. Boy, would we!  My mother, her older sister, never would have done that simply because she couldn’t afford it – not with seven mouths to feed. I felt like a queen as we drove away happily slurping my frozen delight. I couldn’t wait to tell my brothers and sisters and maybe gloat a little. At home that night I cried into my pillow because I missed my aunt. It was a strange kind of longing I’d never experienced before. Unconditional love does that to you even if you’re only a kid.

Aunts. What a delight they can be. Slightly like grandparents but not as old. Slightly like siblings but not in competition like a brother or sister. Aunts often come bearing gifts. Food treats and small toys or maybe a cute summer top. They treat you differently than your mom. They never tell you to go clean your room or quit hitting your brother, but ask instead about school or tell you your hair looks nice. It made the three hours preening in front of the bathroom mirror well worth it.

I have a friend whose granddaughter was just escorted through London and Paris by her aunt. A graduation gift. How cool is that? Yet another friend consistently remembers the birthdays and special celebrations of nieces and nephews who sometimes seem ungrateful. She’s absolutely wonderful to them. Another friend, never married, is the aunt dropped from heaven to her nephew. She’s helped him in every phase of his life and recently made his wedding cake. She’s extraordinarily talented with batter and frosting. My list of loving aunts is as long as my arm.

I regret that I’m not closer to my nieces and nephews. They all live on the west coast and here I am in the east, having married a sailor from New York and all. Fortunately they have aunts and uncles galore so they don’t miss whatever it is I would add to the mix. I keep up with them through Facebook and feel a little sorry for myself that I can’t be at their ballgames and dance recitals. I’m there in spirit and ask for the highlights from their grandmothers, my sisters.

My aunt Marie has been gone for many years. She died too young of a horrible disease. But I’m hoping to grab a seat next to her at the Great Banquet in heaven. I’ll remind her of how much I loved her sense of humor, her willingness to understand a dumb kid, the Juicy Fruit she shared – stuff like that. And I know I won’t have that seat long as many others will want to have a word. She’ll make room for all of us, I’m sure. ‘Cuz good aunts are like that – yeah, they are.  

Image: Stuart Miles                                                                             Free Digital Photos

Monday, August 5, 2013

Simple Treasures

How many times have you purchased something, doubted its usefulness, and then used it so much you can’t believe you didn’t buy two? Happens to me all the time. For instance:

See that carpet bag thingy in the picture? On one of my forays out into the retail world with my friend, Karen, she pointed them out to me at the Christmas Tree Shop. They were piled in a bin in the middle of the store all higgledy-piggledy and priced at five bucks. I hemmed and hawed. What would I ever use it for? Then over the course of the next five years I found out. It is the most excellent carry on bag I have ever had. I think it’s made out of Kryptonite or something. Nothing, not even baggage handlers, has done it any harm. And I can stuff all my “last minutes” into it including a change of underwear in case the plane crashes. Should that happen, as we plunge earthward, Stay out of my way while I’m hauling it out from under the plane seat. Even if you’re screaming and pulling my hair, I will NOT leave it behind. We’ll survive and I’ll have clean underwear.

Then there’s the mini spatula I bought at a Pampered Chef party. The dealer assured us it would become one of our most beloved tools in the kitchen. I had doubts, but it was cheap (do you see a pattern here?). It’s also made of Kryptonite and I love the thin edge. Cookies? Fried eggs? Pie? No problem. They all willingly leave the pan when this baby shows up. Doesn’t work too well on big honking hamburgers but that’s okay. It’s a treasure.

There are a few clothing items that fit this bill, too. Like my ratty blue sweater. As lovely and fashionable as it was when I bought it during the Eisenhower administration, it’s now at the bottom of the drawer getting ready to face another Fall season. I don it whenever I’m going to be home for the day. You won’t see me in it in the CVS, Target, or grocery store. No siree. But when the vacuum needs pushing or a toilet a scrubbing it’s ratty blue sweater all the way.

Among many other WIHT (wish I had two) items, I should mention the boat cushion. I can’t even remember where it came from. It’s a nice big white square, about three inches thick with sturdy black nylon straps on two sides. And do I use it when we go boating? I do not. I use it to sit or kneel on when I garden. The thing is indestructible. I drag it over rocks and rills, lumps and bumps – in a kind of lift and scoot fashion while I move through the weeds and crabgrass. I’ve used it for years and there’s not a single crack in it. One side is dirty and the other side, where I plop my bottom, is still nice and white. I keep it between the dryer and the wall in the laundry room.  Don’t even try to take it away from me. Things could get ugly.

So – there ya go. You’re doing a mental check of your own WITH items right now, aren’t you? 


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Small Things That Comfort

A few weeks ago on a sweltering July afternoon I sat right here in my computer chair with my two youngest granddaughters on my lap. We were looking for entertainment on You Tube. Sounds silly, but the room was air conditioned and we’d just done a book session on the king size bed behind us. I don’t know why this popped into my head but I asked, “Do you want to see some of the things Grandma watched when she was a little girl?”

“Okay, Grandma.” Melodi, at almost five, has a better appreciation for nostalgia than her two and a half year old sister, Sierra.

So I scrabbled around and came upon the opening for The Lone Ranger. The one I chose (and there were several choices) was a little scratchy and not the sharpest picture in the world, but as it played a flood of memories assailed me and I choked up a little. I saw my little girl self sitting wide-eyed in rapt attention as Clayton Moore and his horse charged up the hill to The William Tell Overture. Then into that mist came other old shows, Rin Tin Tin, The Little Rascals, Superman and a few others. Here were icons of days gone by, my days, and my heart was touched with the poignancy of being able to show them to my angels. After we’d gone through a few I was surprised at what happened next. They asked to see the Lone Ranger opening again. I suppose it didn’t hurt that I was bouncing them along and yelling “Hi Ho Silver!” as it played. Having a crazy grandma helped put a little zip into a miserably hot day for them – I hope.

At the time I was enduring childhood it didn’t seem as though anything that happened to my ordinary self would be worthy of tears this many years later. But back then I had many, many thoughts and dreams of how life should or eventually could be and most of them have turned to ash. Yet, drifting back to that kid world is a comfort. I wonder why.

There’s a fairly recent commercial for an investment company, I think, where an older man goes back in time to advise his younger self. Man, wouldn’t that be cool! Perhaps from a distance we gain insight from imagining the words of wisdom we’d impart if we really could do that. It would be way more than, “It’s going to turn out okay.” Some of it would be cautionary, like, “Some day you’ll understand why Mom did that,” to sillier fare like, “Standing at the unlit back porch pounding on the door wearing an old hat and coat so you can scare the bejeepers out of your sister while she babysits will not be your finest hour.” It was danged funny, but not fine.

We all know about comfort food. Yum! Mac and cheese, homemade bread with real butter and jam, Spaghetti O’s. But the reason they comfort is because of the memory attached. Right? My mom was not the best cook in the world so my comfort food has always been of my own making. No, for me, comfort comes in other forms; one of them, to my surprise, is a guy in a mask on a horse named Silver, a boy who yells “Yo Rinny!” and the two little blondes on my lap wanting to know about them. I’ll take it.

How about you?

Image: nirot

Monday, July 29, 2013

For Writers - Quarterlies

This piece sold to Writing for Dollars last fall. For my writer friends it might be a useful read to start your week. And I hope you sell!

Have You Considered Quarterlies?
By Susan Sundwall

A couple of times a year I give my submissions spreadsheet a good going over, looking for reprint possibilities and pieces that haven’t sold but still have potential. In a recent such move I noticed the number of quarterlies I’ve sold to and there were quite a few.

Many writers won’t consider quarterlies – or put them at the bottom of their ‘possible market’ lists – for the following reasons.

1.      Trying to remember due dates for various publications is bothersome.
2.      Issues are themed and some writers don’t like to be restricted by them.
3.      Too many quarterlies are literary journals.
4.      Pay is non-existent or low.

That’s why I never wrote much for them either. Then I took the bull by the horns and got some re-prints out there and – sure enough – three of them sold to quarterlies. For instance, The Lutheran Digest takes, even prefers, reprints and I sold to them. The editor took my essay about the family recipe box and that sale was number five for that piece. Another publication for reprints is Valley Living. The editor frequently takes my stories and always tells me to go ahead and sub it elsewhere as other markets rarely cross hers. So I do and sell many of them.

Themes can be a bane or blessing. The bane part would come in the limitations set by an established topic not of one’s choosing. The blessing comes with having a topic to tackle from the get-go. It saves you from having to guess what to write about. Or worse, writing so far out of the publications parameters that you totally bomb.  But you might find that quite often the theme is broad. When you read the guidelines try to read between the lines a little to determine if your enchanting article about where best to invest your lottery winnings would fit into a broader theme of ‘family,’ or ‘finances.’ You might be surprised what an editor will consider. Since many writers have an aversion to quarterlies, your chances of being accepted are greater, too. You’ll never know unless you try.

Literary journals and magazines can be tough. Many of them pay in copies and if you only want the prestige of having your piece in one of them – well, okay then. But there are those that pay and I’ve listed a few of them at the end of this article. Study the tone of each publication – study the tone. Very important.

Now, as for those pesky deadlines. Simply make a log for them. Look at it in the first part of each new quarter to determine when you’ll need to get your work in for consideration. Note which ones take reprints and which tend to be themed. Try color coding. Add new markets as you find them.

So, are quarterlies worth it? I think so. Of course they’re in the mix with everything else you write and probably won’t yield you buckets of money. But here’s a little math. You set a goal of submitting three pieces a month to quarterlies. If your ratio of sales to subs is three to one then you’ve sold twelve pieces in a year. If each of those pieces garners $50 to $100 you’ve made anywhere from $600 - $1200 for that time span. Not a lot all by itself, but a nice little chunk of change to add to your other revenue streams. And if some of those are reprints, you’re that much further ahead in the game. Same goes for your evergreen pieces.

Take a look at these markets for starters.

West Virginia Family – Pays $25 per article

The Lutheran Digest – Pays $35

Valley Living – Pays $35 - $50

Range Magazine – Pays $50 - $400 per article

North Dakota Horizons – Payment averages $.20 per word

Image: Free Digital Photos

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Learning how and when to say Bra! was part of our lesson. Of course, as Americans, we all got a big kick out of repeating the word because it brings something else to mind. But our Swedish cousin and lovely new friend, Ulla (pronounced Oola) was giving it her all. Bra in Swedish means “good.” Ulla stood with the Karaoke mike in one hand and her flash cards in the other all full of enthusiasm and eager to share words and phrases with us. Please don’t ask this old lady to remember them all although kör som fan, “run like hell,” stuck in my mind as I imagined a bear rearing up in the blueberry patch. Okay, I confess, I had to Google Translate this one partly because we don’t have those two little dots over any letters in our alphabet and partly because I remembered the English but not the Swedish words.

Perfect weather, canoeing, hiking, golf, howlers (the little tykes) and growlers (brown jugs of beer for the big ones), cavernous houses, and crummy hair (me) were the order of the day. I was in charge of the cooking and my menus were well received though not perfectly executed. The kitchen was awesome however lacking in equipment and my assigned sous chefs were at the ready for each meal. After all the food was on the table and devoured, I walked away. Cooking and not having to clean up has always been a dream of mine. Am I a simpleton or what?

Now imagine staggering, cup of coffee in hand, to the big kitchen picture window in the early hours of the morning and having to look at this:

Or the joy of baking four pies with blueberries as big as this:

Or sharing the Karaoke mike with a crew like this:

My sisters: Shari, Wendy, Stephanie, Liz, Pam and me. Fun!

After supper one evening several of us sat on the plush chairs and sofas in the hub house great room and asked Ulla if her experiences with Americans met her expectations. She didn’t answer right away but you could see the wheels turning. “I was surprised at how gentle Americans are,” she said. “Not arrogant like some other countries.” She puffed out her chest in a slightly bullying fashion as she said it. She also said it seemed like the people were satisfied with their lives here. She and her family visited Manhattan before they flew on to Oregon and even in the city she said, “The workers at McDonald’s seemed happy with their lives.”  It was so nice to hear!

I’m not one to blather on and on about a good time I’ve had to people who weren’t there and don’t care. But you’ve had wonderful times like this haven’t you? Times when you really, really wished everyone you know and love could be there having just as much fun, sharing the crazy stories of their lives, yukking it up at the antics of the kids, and chowing down because the food always tastes so much better when the good times are a rollin’. Yeah, I know you have.

For the 35 Americans and 4 Swedes who gathered at the Sunriver Resort in Sun River, Oregon last week it was bra times all around. Next time why don’t you come along? 

The Wennmans: David, Ulla, Amanda, Fredrika

Monday, July 15, 2013

I'll Be Back

There comes a time every summer when I have to go a'visiting and this year it's a family reunion in Sun River, Oregon. So, I'll be not blogging this week, but gatthering stories so that when I do get back to my musings you'll be amazed and enlightened. I'm giggling.

But, I'll miss you. And maybe you'll go back a few months and read some of what I've already written. I'll be thinking of you while I'm gone. Really.

'Til then - enjoy the week!

Image: digitalart                                                                        Free Digital Photos