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

Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday Fun

It’s Friday and finally we have a little less heat and humidity. Makes me positively giddy. So – I thought you might enjoy reading and learning from some little tidbits I’ve discovered over the years. Oh and there’s a trivia quiz at the end.

1.      The smallest country in the world is Vatican City. It has 800 citizens and is a whooping .2 miles big. Who knew?
2.      Major League Baseball and the National Football League each have a team with the nicknames Cardinals and Giants. No wonder I get confused!
3.      A Barbie doll cost $6.99 when it was first introduced in 1959. Ten years later  you could get into Woodstock for $6.00 but I don’t think these two bits of info have anything to do with each other.
4.      The only letter not used in the spelling of any of our 50 states is “Q.” Interesting.
5.      There are more red stripes than white on Old Glory. Um, that’s our American flag if you didn’t know.
6.      Paul Revere’s horse was named Brown Beauty. Ha! Bet you didn’t know that.
7.      Chickens can fly but not very far. The record is 542 feet and record air time is 13 seconds. Gosh, I do better than that every time I see a mouse.
8.      Neither Bill Gates of Microsoft fame or Steve Jobs of Apple fame ever graduated from college. Gives people like me a boost. Sort of.
9.      Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest avocado eating day in America. Cinco de Mayo is the first. That last bit is a no brainer.
10.  The first U.S. born president was Martin Van Buren. His home is just down the road from us in Kinderhook, New York. But we don’t let it go to our heads.

Okay, Quiz Time (no peeking at the answers unless you’re totally stumped)

1.      What’s the name of the chicken on the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Box?
2.      What candy is named after a horse?
3.      What does the term GI stand for?
4.      Are there squirrels in Australia?
5.      What is a fear of ghosts called?

Answers (sorry, I can’t print them upside down)

1.      Cornelius
2.      Snickers
3.      Government Issue
4.      No
5.      Phasmaphobia

Have a great weekend my trivia loving friends!

Image: Salvatore Vuono                                                                      Free Digital Photos

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Things That Grow Us

Last night it was almost too hot to breathe. It’s been hot, humid, sticky and buggy for the last few weeks. I really hate it. I won’t go outside when it’s like this so I stay where it’s cool and try to be useful. I wander around in the few air conditioned rooms we have, check my e-mail every few minutes, play spider solitaire, and listen to some tunes on You Tube.

I found this  I think I was guided to it. I’ve never heard of this man, but I’ve heard of the hymn. I know the story behind it and thought I didn’t need to learn anything else. Wrong. By the time Wintley Phipps finished talking and singing I was in tears and there was Grinch-like moment where my heart grew a little. Please watch.

I read a lot and trust other veracious readers so when my friend, Beegee, recommended The Invisible Girls I bought the e-book. About halfway through I said to myself, “Don’t you EVER complain about another single ache or pain.” In this true story Sarah Thebarge intermingles her battle with breast cancer and the six Somalis (a mom and five little girls) God sent to help her see Him again. I was so moved I wrote a review on Amazon. It’s one of the newest and I post as Susanwords. I would highly recommend it to you especially if your faith is failing.

And then yesterday morning, along with family, friends and fans, I trundled off to the Little League baseball field to watch the Northern Columbia team battle the Saugerties team. Each had a win and this was the determining game. Now let me say this about baseball – I never got too excited about it. Throwing, hitting, running. Big Whoop. But stay with me here.

As a youngster I did baseball with the neighborhood kids. We played the old fashioned way. One ball, one bat, a few gloves, a few rules, and boys who were much more invested in the game than the girls. Okay, we girls played because the boys were there. When I got a little older our church youth group went to a L.A. Dodger’s game where Sandy Koufax pitched a no-hitter. I was only vaguely aware of how momentous an occasion that was and probably was more concerned about how my hair looked than anything else. Disgraceful – I know.

Then there was a lapse of many years until we had boys of our own. Our oldest played the game with the most fervor and then there was another lapse until . . .

Sam. Son of fervent son and our only grandson. NOW I have some skin in the game as they say. He just turned eleven and he has the fire. A Sandy Koufax in the making. Yesterday he pitched so well. The crowd was with him.

“Hey, Sunnywall.” The young boy sitting next to me shouted his encouragement. A bank of white/gray clouds hovered over the field providing relief from the hot July sun. About halfway through the game the score evens up. Saugerties to that point was way ahead of us. The crowd went wild as the scoreboard lit up 5/5. Moms paced near the dugout. Grandparents gripped cameras with monster lenses. Brothers and sisters super sucked ice pops. Oh, the glory.

They play six innings in this division of Little League. The unofficial score keeper, Sam’s grandpa, sits next to me with his Father’s Day gift real deal score pad. He’s laser focused on recording every move those kids make. I lean over at intervals to ask the score and shake my head as he yells over and over, “Rock and fire, Babe, rock and fire!” at the grandson who’s pitching a pretty darned good inning.

And yet, with all that, the cover of the clouds and support of the crowd, the wonder of getting this far in the tournament at all, the supreme effort and overwhelming desire to win – we lost. By one run – 5/6. Heart. Breaking. And as the players came out of the dugout we watched their faces, wanting to protect and coddle. Brave boys trying to hold it together. Some in tears and some punching air. Our sympathetic mumblings and false cheer did little to soothe them. Sometimes you just have to wallow in loss for a while.

John Newton, Sara Thebarge, and Sam Sundwall all have this in common with the rest of us - sometimes we’re losers. We just don’t make the grade despite our will, our prayers and our talents. You and I may never pen a hymn like Amazing Grace, or battle an epic disease at the tender age of twenty seven, or pitch a perfect inning. But without realizing it those who are blessed with loss and come up on the other side whole affect the rest of us in profound ways.

They grow us.

Image: Free Digital Photos

Thursday, July 4, 2013

We Celebrate!

I wrote this poem years ago for a children's holiday program book at Standard Publishing. I thought you might enjoy its simple message. Have a super Independence Day!

Grand Celebration

By Susan Sundwall

High waves the flag
Over people and nation
A red, white and blue
Grand celebration

Remembering the freedom
Hard fought for and won
By the valiant and brave
For each daughter and son

Sweet Liberty’s song
Rang joyous and clear
Defying oppressor
And beating back fear

Deep in the battle
From hillside to sea
They kept close to God
So we could be free

With each step you take
On the soil of our nation
Recall what it took
To secure it’s creation

Go—send up your rockets
And midst the red glare
Pray God that our freedom
Will always be there

Image: nirots                                                                     Free Digital Photos

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Oh Boy, Canning

Right after I write this post, well – really after lunch – I’m going to be in the kitchen canning. It’s that season again. I can’t even tell you why I do it. I mean beets aren’t that expensive and neither are frozen peas. But I was bit by the “putting food by” bug way back in the 70’s. We lived in New Jersey then. Our crops of tomatoes were phenomenal. They don’t (or didn’t) call it the garden state for nothing. That’s where I learned to make tomato ketchup. I’ve been hooked every since.

There’s something about having a store of food you’ve put up yourself that’s satisfying on the same level as having a safe full of jewelry or a cask of gold coins under the bed or a whole new box of crisp white envelopes in your desk. Uh – wait – scratch that last one. The office manager in me escapes every once in a while and it’s so embarrassing.

Anyway, this year I’ll have beets and green beans to put up along with pickles and any number of tomato-y things. Like Peruvian Sauce. Bet you don’t know what that is. I found it in an old Ball Blue Book of canning that I’ve had from the onset of my obsession. It’s a relish that uses tomatoes and apples. I know, I know. Yuck – right? But those blue book people wouldn’t have put it in there if it wasn’t good so I gave it a shot. There are spices and other things in the mix and the first time I made it my kitchen smelled like heaven. Oh yes it did. And the sauce is so good a recent visitor cleaned the bowl I’d put on the table for our supper. He piled the last two tablespoons onto my awesome garlic bread and wolfed it down. Made my heart glad.

I guess that’s why I do it. It happy’s up my heart to go down to the basement and see all those jars full of food beaming back at me. People who quilt, run, bird watch, whip out a camera every time they think they see Johnny Depp, or read long into the night will relate. We’re the glad-hearted ones who are out there doing it and loving life.

So, off I go. I’ll turn the radio on and listen to Rush – yes I listen to Rush, get over it – while I scrape and boil and fill those jars up with the garden. My Grandma Blaine would be so proud.   

See that picture up there? It's just a foretaste of the things to come. I may need stamina prayers.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Just when you think it’s all going south . . .

...your grandson  pitches his heart out playing his part to help win the baseball game. One more on the way to the championship.

I’m like any one of you. I watch the news. I hear people say and watch people do awful things. I moan and groan and wonder what the world is coming to. But the Pollyanna in me doesn’t take long to surface and I vow to keep my sense of North as in . . . maybe it’s not all going South. Someone is constantly reminding me to keep my eyes and heart open for the amazing.

For example. My shopping buddy, Karen, and I were sitting in the Cheesecake Factory for lunch one day not too long ago. That place packs them in and right next to us about a foot and a half away sat three young people, a guy and two gals. Karen and I chatted, the kids ordered, and the wait began for the yummy lunch this nifty place would bring to our tables. The kids were served and just as I was about to make a profound point about – good grief, who knows? – Karen gave me a nod and mouthed “look.” And I did. The three young people had bowed their heads for a quiet grace. Astounding. I reached over when they were done and told them how encouraged I was by that prayer.

And another. It’s almost five o’clock and I’ve become a dishrag from trying to keep two little girls entertained all day. Melodi is on my lap – it’s hot. The floor is covered with toys and I’m wondering what the devil I’ll fix for supper, the last chore of the day. I look at the clock. Five O One. Sigh. I probably need to check her sister’s diaper, too. I love my grand kids, but the old bod gets tired, ya know? Suddenly Melodi turns her baby blues on me, takes my face in her hands and kisses my nose. “I love you, Grandma,” she says real quick like. Just then, as I melt from her sweetness, I notice I’m not so tired after all.

And one more. It’s early, I’m in my jammies at the computer wondering if anyone will come to my book signing. Nerves are jangling about it. This book promotion stuff is wearisome but necessary. I know that and I’m hanging in there. The phone rings. It’s Barb, someone I haven’t heard from in a long time, but I’d sent her an invite to the signing anyway. “I’ve already read your book and loved it. I can’t be at the signing, but I’d like one for my daughter.”  I told her I have some in the trunk and we arrange for her to pick it up the next morning. While she stood in my cool morning kitchen we had a nice chin wag. Just delightful.

People can be awful and every day we’re tempted to wallow in gloom and despair. But if that’s all we look at the whole world can seem like 100 shades of black and gray instead of blue and pink and yellow, too. I think, for the most part, I’m going with the rainbow – like the double one that appeared after it rained on the ballfield last week where Sam pitched his awesome inning.

Next I’m expecting The Prize Patrol to pull up in the driveway, balloons all over the place, and a dapper fellow in a suit to come grinning towards me with a big cardboard check. For 5 Million.

Okay, okay. Even Pollyanna can’t pull that one off. Guess I’ll just stick with looking up, looking North, like Someone would have me do. Oh – and I’ll keep my eye out for Handsome Harry with that check in his hand.

Image: Free Digital Photos

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Clean Swept Floor

This essay was first published in Prairie Times in early 2012. I hope you enjoy and can relate.

The Beauty of a Clean Swept Floor
By Susan Sundwall

Several years ago I traveled east with my family to visit an old Shaker village. If you know anything at all about the Shakers you know how clean their communities were. In fact, cleanliness is next to godliness was a dictum they strove mightily to live by. As we wandered through the various old buildings, the meeting house, the school rooms and kitchen, I was particularly taken by the clean swept look of the floors. Of course no one lives in these places now, but one gets the distinct impression that the floors were always clean and cleared of clutter back then. I despaired when comparing them to my own floors.

I had this exact visit in mind the following spring as I vigorously swept winter from the patio. I was appalled at the crud lurking beneath the mud and leftover autumn leaves. But while sweeping I glanced back at intervals to view my handiwork. Nice. The patio seemed to be glad of the lifted burden and gleamed back at me all tidy and ready to face the sun again. Naturally that begged the question of when the patio furniture would be set out, what flowers would be planted along the patio border and whether the grill would need a good scrubbing before it came out of hiding. But those were thoughts I didn’t trouble myself with right then. I just kept sweeping and then gave in to the call of the fresh cup of coffee I’d set to brewing before the sweeping began.

Mother was the kind of housekeeper whose regimen demanded the floor be swept after the supper dishes were done every night (we kids were the dishwashers). Make supper, set the table, eat supper, do the dishes and sweep the floor. In that order. Like setting the family’s evening ritual into a comfortable old picture frame and it felt good to get it done. When the kitchen light went out everything was in order. I confess that discipline often escapes me now and I don’t always sweep the floor at night. I know, I know – I should and hereby resolve to be more vigilant in that area.

In case you think this is a big deal about nothing, consider the economic angle. Visit the home appliance section of your favorite discount store and view the stunning array of mops, brooms, dust bunny busters and vacuum cleaners. You can swiff, steam, buff, spot clean, foam and special tool your floor like crazy with all the equipment you find there. And the info-mercials! My stars, what they don’t go through to let you know the power of their product for keeping your floor spotless and eat off of clean. Probably the demos are rigged, but it sure sets up a lust in the heart for clean floors.These savvy marketers know what a great first impression a clean floor makes and more importantly, how to keep it that way. I’d love to know their annual sales figures, especially for that little robot guy that does the work all by itself. Genius.

Remember spring cleaning? Modern technologies have made it possible for us to have top to bottom clean homes year round. Most of us don’t have soot from the wood stove or cow manure from farm boots to clean up like our grandmothers did. But maybe we should again relish the prospect of throwing open the windows in April to let the spring sunshine in. That bright light sweeping into the rooms shows us the task ahead and fills us with vigor for the job. And then months later when autumn rolls around and the windows must be shut up again against old man winter, it’s a comfort to think that the rugs are all thoroughly shaken, the broom has been applied to all the spider-webbed corners and the fireplace is swept and ready for a log or two. Bring on the mulled cider!

Yes indeed, those Shakers were on to something. Their common saying, hands to work and hearts to God, hovered over their daily tasks and are still an inspiration to us today. A clean swept floor is tantamount to a well ordered life and a mind free of chaos. A beautiful thing.

Image: lamnee                                                                          Free Digital Photos

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Little Flag Waving

We hopped into the car, anxious to get going, to yet another ballgame. We have three outstanding young athletes in the family and try to get to every game. The other night on our way to one of them, we passed two kids on bicycles. I was instantly transported to a place in my mind where somehow boys on bikes make me think of what a great country this still is. The bikes were not fancy. Nope, they looked like they could be hand me downs. You know, kind of wiggly, maybe in need of some paint. The boys? Jeans, t-shirts, and crew cuts. Does it get any more Americana than that? I’ve seen similarly dressed boys walking, fishing poles over their shoulders, on their way to the bridge in Niverville that crosses over the outlet for the lake. Like Tom and Huck. So cool.

One town over, in Kinderhook, there’s a People’s Parade on the 4th of July. Folks put red, white, and blue bandanas on their dogs and kids. Radio Flyer wagons are festooned with crepe paper and little flags for the toddlers to be pulled along in. Small marching bands and the local Elks club pull out all the stops rousing the crowd with their music and courage. And when the parade is over, right there on the village green, the Declaration of Independence is read while everyone munches on hot dogs, yells at the kids, settles the dog, or listens with quiet intensity. Quite awesome.

Today I’ll be in the strawberry fields picking with my daughters-in-law and the grandkids. Shortly thereafter my kitchen will become a jam factory. We all ran out of jam way too early from last year’s efforts so we’re going into overdrive this year. We’ve done this for the last many years and it’s a glorious chaos of kids running around, fingers red from hulling fat berries, and someone calling over the noise “what do you want on your pizza?” when the men venture into the kitchen later looking for food. We’ll make them go and pick it up, too. I love that there are acres of strawberry fields, jam filled Mason jars, slamming screen doors, and pizza around the corner in my life.

Every time I sing The Star Spangled Banner, go to a church supper, hear the crack of a bat against a baseball, gab with a neighbor at the grocery store, zip by a field of corn reaching for the sun, or dip my toes into Kinderhook Lake, I feel grateful. Silly, sentimental woman that I am.

How about you? What are some of the simple ways you enjoy this land where we  live?  

Image: Free Digital Photos

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

For Writers

Today I'm posting an article that originally appeared in Writer's Weekly about two years ago. I wrote it shortly after my mother died and I felt the will to write take leave of me - for a while.

There have been so many deaths this year and at least three of them that I know of were for people too young. Why should an infant die, or a young man of only twenty one years, or a "beautiful man" as the young pastor, only 44, was called at his memorial service? The eternal question, I guess. For you who are writers take note; here's what can happen.

When Your Muse Gets Mugged

Death stops everything. And I don’t mean just in the person who’s died. It stops normal activity for however long it takes those involved to recover. It’s especially hard on the creative mind because like it or not, for those of us who count on imagination to survive, there’s often a high price to pay – like no productivity for months.

My 84 year old mother died recently. In the months before, she had been failing, but my sisters (all five of them) and I planned our first big trip together anyway. We had everything in order, the house rented, the plane tickets, the rental car reserved, restaurants chosen – and then Mom, who had rallied so many times, trumped us all by passing on to her reward. Needless to say I did precious little writing in the time when this all happened and didn’t even want to. Eventually, though, I had to wonder if my muse would ever return to sit on my shoulder after the awful mugging she’d endured.

Many people hammer out their grief in writing. I wrote a poem and a short eulogy piece that, combined with those of other family members, was read at Mom’s funeral service. I discovered that this cathartic manner of writing can lead us down paths we didn’t know were open to us. Writing in the moment can begin the healing process, but it may take a while before you feel you can present that writing to the world. Bear in mind, however, that your personal essay or poem may be the springboard for helping others whose muse seems also to have abandoned them.

Thinking about subject matter, consider first the children. Have you learned anything that might help young people cope with the loss of a close relative or friend? You may even have some tips about children and funerals. Four of my neices and one nephew spoke at Mom’s funeral and they were all under the age of 12 – quite amazing. Magazines devoted to the care and keeping of children may welcome your findings.

Sometimes we’re not as emotionally involved in the grief process but understand the problems others face. These may include funeral planning, wills, memorial services, insurance policies, death certificates, cremation vs. in ground burial and any number of other factors. On this, more practical level, there are also opportunities. A few years ago while attending my brother-in-law's funeral I noticed the large number of teens who were there. His children were young and their friends had come for support. It occurred to me that for some of them this may have been their first funeral so I wrote “How to go to a Funeral,” and sent it to a teen magazine. I covered every aspect from first hearing of the death and what to do and say, proper attire for a funeral, and how to conduct  yourself at the grave side and reception.

In additon, anyone who bears the responsibility of seeing to the guests who come to the home after the service might need some direction. Wouldn’t they welcome some practical ideas on what to serve or how to create a memorial picture board as my nieces did for my Mom, their grandmother? When you feel your muse once again at your side, reward her with some writing from the gut. There are many who need to read what you have to say.
A tender word of advise, though, be kind to yourself. Take as much time as you need to get back on your feet.  Your readers will understand and then welcome the writing that then comes from an older, wiser you. 

Image: Free Digital Photos

Monday, June 17, 2013


Years ago my husband and I traveled to Washington State to visit our son and his family. One of the the most interesting things we did was a trip to the Johnson Ridge Observatory, located in the heart of the blast zone at Mount St. Helen's - the volcano. Many of you remember the last eruption there in 1980 that blew down or scorched  230 square miles of forest. Yikes. Anyway, we learned much and one thing in particular piqued my interest; a phenomenon known as "the silent zone."

It intrigued me to the extent that when I got home I wrote an article, geared towards children, and attempted to sell it. Never happened. But as I perused my files this morning I came across it again and thought it might interest you. Let me know. Oh - if you have kids or grand kids they might be interested, too.

An Eerie Silence
By Susan Sundwall

When you think of the eruption of a volcano, do you think – silence? Probably not. Most likely you’re thinking – BOOM! So imagine living near Mount. St. Helen’s in Washington State on the morning of May 18, 1980, when the volcano blew its stack. You watch the whole side of the mountain being torn away but you can’t hear a thing. It seems impossible, but a ten-year-old girl named Darcy Mitchem had it happen to her. At the time she lived with her family about twenty air miles from the volcano. “We saw the blast, but heard nothing,” she says. “It was like an eerie silent movie.”

There were many reports from other people who had the same experience. Hikers and climbers on Mount Adams as well as nearby Mount Hood and Mount Rainier also saw, but couldn’t hear, the astonishing volcanic eruption. When Mount St. Helen’s blew, the energy released was equal to ten million tons of dynamite. So why couldn’t some people hear it? It’s because Darcy and the people on those other mountains were in what scientists call the sixty-mile “silent zone.”

Way Up and Back Again
In order for you to hear a sound, sound waves must travel through the air and into your ear canal. The sound bumps against your eardrum signaling your brain that there’s a sound. The sound waves from the Mount St. Helen’s volcano blast rose so high and so fast that there was nothing for the waves to bounce off of until they reached the upper atmosphere. The atmosphere acted something like your eardrum, bouncing the sound waves back. But the objects they hit back on earth were sixty miles away from the center of the volcano. People many miles away heard the noise, but people in the silent zone couldn’t hear a thing. How weird is that?  

Since the day of the big eruption there has been other activity on the mountain. From October 2004 to late January 2008 there were four explosions blasting steam and ash up to 10,000 feet above the crater. This was scary, but not like the big explosion in 1980 when the eerie silent zone occurred.

Volcano Visiting
If your family is planning a trip to the Northwestern part of the country you can visit the Johnson Ridge Observatory to see and learn more about the volcano. Each year, over 10,000 students travel to Mount St. Helens and check out the dramatic effects of the 1980 eruption. You’ll also find out how local plants and animals have responded

I hope this has added a bit of obscure, but interesting, information to your carry-all this Monday. And thanks for reading!


Photo: Teddy Bear [Picnic]                                                              Free Digital Photos