Houston: Let a Tiny Spark Send You Rocketing!

With special thanks to Slice of Life for giving writers inspiration, space, and voice

Slice of Life Day 31 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)

Journeys through ordinary days lead us to extraordinary people and places.

In Atlanta, Georgia in 2016 while I was attending the NCTE Convention, I was doing what every other attendee was doing but never admits: numbering my preferred sessions in each time slot, then positioning myself strategically close to a door in case my first choice didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, praying in advance to not appear to be one of those rude attendees.

Dr. Sarah Donovan was moving through the conference room placing her contact cards on the chairs. I picked up the card and placed it as a bookmark in my conference catalog for my second choice session – just in case. But as she began her presentation, I was captivated by the way she engaged her audience.

I would not be sneaking out of this session seeking a second choice.

At the end of the session, she announced, “If you’ll look on the back of your card, a few of you have won a free book. Please come see me to get your copy.” I shook her hand and thanked her for my copy of Alone Together, unaware of the places it would take me.

The following spring, I pledged to write every day during #VerseLove at her site http://www.ethicalela.com to celebrate National Poetry Month. A host gave a prompt and a mentor poem, and participants wrote their own verses, shared them with the group, and everyone commented on at least three other poems.

When #VerseLove ended, I was hungering for the same manna that had fed me all of April when I hadn’t even realized I hungered for words and creative expression. I emailed Sarah to let her know how much the month had meant, and found that several others were also hoping for a more frequent writing community. Today’s Open Write was born from those seeds of need that bloomed and grew, all because Sarah listened and forged a way.

I’m grateful for all that Dr. Donovan has cultivated in her writing group. She is the reason that I write daily and have come to be a host for prompts in April that will now carry Slice of Life daily writing into the next month as I transition from prose to verse. I’m also grateful for Two Writing Teachers who broaden the spectrum of blogging, allowing tiny slices of life, concentrated moments, to create habits that drive me to stop whatever I’m doing in the midst of life and write what inspires me. Prose writing is sharpened and refined through verse writing, where every word, every form, every technique is practiced and woven into the fabric of other writing.

At the end of slicing through March last year, I took on the April verse challenge. At the end of April, I thought,I’ve written 1/6 of the year. I could do this every day. So I do.

I celebrated one full year of daily writing at the end of February all because Slice of Life and #VerseLove gave me a drive to be an ultramarathon writer – even just a few steps each day of my journey. I find a monthly theme is helpful, and I outline my plans at the beginning of each month so the well doesn’t run dry. i also reflect on my One Little (not so little) Word for the year: Listen. I learn a lot of lessons from Listen!

In 2017, the NCTE Convention was in Houston, Texas, home of NASA. The Space Museum lay under my feet on the floor beneath the session I attended with Sarah Donovan one year after I first met her, and I couldn’t help thinking of the past year’s writing and all the ways teachers launch rockets by inspiring others. That’s what Sarah and Two Writing Teachers and other similar groups do, and as teachers, that is what we do. We spark interests in students that take them to the moon and back and everywhere in between.

Thanks again to Two Writing Teachers for a month of inspiration, space, voice, and challenge for the March launch into Year 2 of daily writing.

Cheers for the journey!

The actual card

Habakkuk 2:2 

And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.

St. Simons Island, Georgia: Know the Tides

With special thanks to Slice of Life for giving writers inspiration, space, and voice

Slice of Life Day 30 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)

Kayaking Gould’s Inlet with Boo Radley, Summer 2018

On my childhood home of St. Simons Island, Georgia, occasionally visits include pleasant paddles through the marshes of Glynn County with my brother, husband, and dad. Gould’s Inlet is our favorite kayaking off the coast of St. Simons for all of its pristine beauty and abundant wildlife. Pleasant all depends on the season, the weather, and the tides.

And the compadres.

Knowing the tides and knowing the marshes, though, is key. Embarking on the course requires a guide – one who knows as well as the back of his hand the markers, the turns, the shortcuts, the quickest way back to shore from any given point.

Recognizing patterns is important along the journey. They indicate when to bail, when to paddle on.

Plans and preparations, too, are critical. Having enough (water, sunscreen, sunglasses, paddle, whistle, life vest, dog) but not too much is essential.

As in life. Sometimes we bail, but always we paddle on.

Psalm 89:9 

You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.

Home: Taking Time to Love My Husband

With special thanks to Slice of Life for giving writers inspiration, space, and voice

Slice of Life Day 29 of 31: Journeys

Fourteen years ago today, we got married. The journey of a marriage is unlike any other trip we’ll ever take in this life. Our journey began……well, with a wreck.

We met in church, set up by a triple team of his mother, his brother, and my college roommate. They predicted some hopeful chemistry between us.

One Sunday after church in April 2007, I saw him striding my way across the parking lot, smiling the smile of a happy man, his hand extended to shake mine and introduce himself. He had on the second most hideous tie I’d ever seen (the first being one made of rabbit fur by the wife of a deacon that had prompted bowed heads and averted eyes like witnesses to a train wreck when the deacon had turned around to face the congregation holding the offering plate after the Doxology). It was abundantly clear to me that with a tie like this with a pair of tigers emblazoned on it, there was no other love interest on the sidelines giving him any assistance on what not to wear.

The actual tie

But the confident smile and the way he carried himself told me I might want to meet him for lunch at Papa Willie’s Barbecue in Williamson, Georgia as he offered. Lunch turned into dinner before he asked if I wanted to go on a second date to ride through the rural countryside on his motorcycle to see the beauty of the county’s back roads. I reluctantly agreed, and just as I’d imagined, the second date was the cut point. My own fears and insecurities, inner demons I couldn’t ignore, shut all future promise down. I rejected a third date there on the concrete picnic table in Williamson as we drank orange Gatorade.

A week later, as my son’s graduating class threw their caps in the air, I got a text from a friend.

Have you heard about the wreck? Call me.

I had a four hour drive home that night, long enough to hear all about the car that had crashed through the Mojo’s Wings restaurant window and pinned his parents underneath it as they’d sat near the window holding hands across the table. The window had sounded like an explosion as it shattered, shooting shards of glass in all directions, cutting his face as he was placing his order at the counter. Miraculously, no one was killed, as horrific as it had been.

My friend and I organized our plan to bring a meal of raisin ham, scalloped pineapple, and sweet tea to the family as part of our church’s meal train once they were all home from the hospital.

He was staying with his parents, assisting them as they recovered, and avoided my eyes after greeting us and thanking us for the food. As I studied him, I saw a man, injured, taking care of his parents through a nightmare of a freak accident. A man who appreciated the beauty of the countryside so much that he had made it a date. A man divorced for sixteen years, whose mother had kept telling him that God would bring him the woman right for him- not to settle along the way out of impatience. And I knew in my heart I had acted irrationally by turning down that third date.

I got home and sent him a text asking if he wanted to talk. He did. So we talked on the phone late into the night – about the accident, about the graduation, about family, about aspirations and goals and dreams. And we planned a third date to the Griffin City Park, where we sat on the swing and talked all afternoon about more of everything. One thing was crystal clear: he communicated. A lot.

And so we continued going on the kinds of dates where we interacted- dinner, the aquarium, the park, long drives, festivals, dog walks, the simple places filled with beauty – not the kind where we watched a movie. We took an active interest in each other.

On that swing in the Griffin City Park is right where he proposed to me on February 16, 2008, with a smashed Cracker Jack ring I’d found in the parking lot of a Gordon Lightfoot concert. He’d somehow fished this mangled piece of metal out of my pocket without my knowing, resurrected it, breathed new life into something once twisted and smashed and flattened beyond recognition, and proposed with it- promising me a lifetime of love and commitment, telling me he wanted us to go together to pick out a better ring.

Resurrected proposal ring

Down on one knee in a royal blue button down shirt and a pair of jeans, he asked me to be his wife as a matching royal blue car (unplanned) drove past with a teenage boy hanging out the passenger side window, celebrating and fist pumping the air as I said “YES!”

And we married in a small church ceremony just over a month later.

I thought about that tiger tie long after I’d walked down the aisle wearing a pair of strappy sandals I’d spray painted to match the shimmery glitter in my gown, after I’d held my head out the window of the car to dry my hair on the way to the altar, where someone told me I needed lipstick before walking down the aisle. What free-spirited hippie wearing spray painted glittery wedding sandals with wind-blown hair and passing thoughts of lipstick can judge a tacky tiger tie? (A tie he still wears, a tie that has grown on me).

With glitter spray painted sandals, wind-dried hair, and passing thoughts of lipstick, who am I to judge a tacky tie?

Today, I’m grateful that at least one of us remembers it’s our wedding anniversary. Because on year ten, he sat bolt upright in bed when we were just on the verge of sleep, and asked, “Do you remember what today is?”

Genesis 2:24 

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Cozumel, Mexico: Find A Way to See the Reefs

With special thanks to Slice of Life for giving writers inspiration, space, and voice

Slice of Life Day 28 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)

I’ve done some traveling on foot, on bicycle, (attempted) unicycle, by motorcycle, by car, by bus, by plane and train, by ferry, by boat, by tram, by subway and trolley. But perhaps the most unique way I’ve ever traveled is by submarine.

Enjoying coral reefs of Cozumel, Mexico

We took my in-laws on a fiftieth anniversary cruise a couple of years before my mother-in-law died of brain cancer in February 2021, and at the time of the cruise, she had already begun growing unsteady on her feet. We had wondered, but we didn’t yet know why. We looked for ways to take excursions and still get the full benefit of enjoyment in Cozumel and Grand Cayman. We’d worn shirts identifying us as a family in celebration, and that’s exactly what we intended to do, despite the nagging fears that a far more difficult journey lay ahead.

Cozumel is known for some of the most beautiful coral reefs in all the world, and although we were not able to see them by snorkeling, we arranged a submarine tour to enjoy the sights beneath the surface of the clear blue waters. We’d earned fancy certificates with all the thrill of certified tourists who had braved the depths of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Certificate of Immersion

I reflect today on the life of my mother in law, who never met a stranger, who embraced life wholeheartedly and who instilled in my husband all the qualities of being the fine gentleman that he is. The truth is, the rest of us would have preferred snorkeling, swimming in the warm waters, the up-closeness of the beautiful fishes and colorful reefs. But on that day, we found a way to all be together and enjoy the scenery in an even more unique way – the way of a family in celebration!

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” – Exodus 20:12

Coastal South Carolina: Celebrating a Birthday!

With special thanks to Slice of Life for giving writers inspiration, space, and voice

Slice of Life Day 27 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)

Today my son turns 33. He’s my middle child of my octane trio, born in the years 87, 89, and 93 – the gas pump years. Today, we celebrate his annual journey around the sun.

Throwing the cast net

As a child, he wore his cowboy boots on the wrong feet and rarely took them off. He played with his toy horses for hours on end and was our little hoot owl who almost never slept. He rode his horse Slick in the Bluffton Christmas parade each year, sporting his chaps. And after long days of camping trail rides with his grandparents, he’d return to camp to barrel race.

He is not a connoisseur of foods outside the mainstream menu, once threatening to turn us in to the captain of a ship when he found out he had eaten a piece of octopus we had put on his plate.

My son is an athlete – a soccer player turned runner whose sport took him through college to meet the woman of his dreams. He married her on a mountaintop in Sevierville, Tennessee, under an arbor her father made from the trees on that land. Her grandfather and his grandfather, both pastors, tied the knot extra-tight. Three labs and four children later, they live a stunningly beautiful but simple life on the marsh in South Carolina, kayaking and fishing and spending time together in ways that matter. He builds houses, but knows the difference between a house and a home and makes his family his priority.

He once called me to ask my favorite Bible verse. “Hebrews 11:1,” I told him – “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

A few days later, he sent me a picture of his tattoo that says “Faith.” He is the last of my trio to be inked.

I’m so proud of him, of them. Behind every good man is an amazing woman – and oh, we are so richly blessed by her. She is beautiful inside and out, and we stand with her today as we celebrate our Marshall. Happy birthday, Son!

Married on a mountaintop in Tennessee

Hebrews 11:1 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Psalm 127:3-5 

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Juliette, Georgia: Eating Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

With special thanks to Slice of Life for giving writers inspiration, space, and voice

Slice of Life Day 26 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)

If you’ve ever read the book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg or seen the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, you may recognize the photograph below as the Whistle Stop Cafe in the tiny town of Juliette, Georgia.

The Whistle Stop Cafe, Juliette, Georgia – January 2021

Some of our favorite journeys we take are camping trips that are less than an hour from our home. Dames Ferry Campground is situated on Lake Juliette about 20 minutes north of Macon, Georgia and just over an hour south of Atlanta. Whenever we camp here, we like to watch the movie again before stopping in for a plate of fried green tomatoes (we still haven’t eaten Bennett’s Barbecue, but that day is coming).

After we’ve shared a basket of these, we ease on back over to the lake and put the life jackets on the dogs for an evening kayak paddle on the lake to work off our dinner. It’s one of the few fried foods we believe to be worth the indulgence.

With summer coming and the tomato plants going in the ground soon, you may want to try these delicious vegetables. Even if you don’t plan to be in Juliette, Georgia anytime soon, you’re still in luck. Amazon sells the batter mix!

And if you’re still in the mood for an even more classic Southern tradition, stop and get yourself a bottled Coca Cola and take a big swig. Then, pour in a half bag of salted peanuts and drink up! It’s the perfect storm of salty sweetness.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (with sweet tea in a Mason jar)
Early morning on Lake Juliette

Colossians 2:16-17 

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Berlin, Germany: Sharing Stories and Tips with Fellow Travelers

With special thanks to Slice of Life for giving writers inspiration, space, and voice

Slice of Life Day 25 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)

Travelers’ tales are classic Chaucer! Connecting with others by sharing about all the journeys we’ve taken, our traditions, our love of food and pets and family, and all of the deep points of connecting often occurs more naturally when traveling with complete strangers than with those we know in our own hometowns – at least it seems that way for me! I was thrilled to meet this group of educators, all training to be EF Tour Leaders, as we prepared to lead our own travel groups the summer before the world shut down during the Covid pandemic. Our proverbial wagon to Canterbury was rolling with travel tales as we sat around tables sharing meals and experiences we’d had throughout the world.

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On the steps of Sansoucci – Potsdam, Germany – May 2019
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EF Tour Leader Training, Berlin, Germany at the Brandenberg Gate – May 2019

Our Tour Guide each day was Silke, a native of Berlin who guided us through the city’s history and landmarks and shared her best travel tip for keeping large groups together in the context of our real time travels. All through the streets of the city, she held Squeaky high and squeezed it repetitively to keep us together. Where other guides used brightly colored umbrellas, we came to prefer the quirky duck because we could hear Squeaky better than we could keep track of an umbrella in the thick crowds no matter how festively it may have been decorated – plus, it was amusing watching crowd reactions and facial expressions to a grown woman squeaking a duck all through the streets.

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Silke with Squeaky, Berlin, Germany – May 2019

The subway was a prime example of Squeaky’s ability to keep us together better than an umbrella; when we couldn’t all fit in the same Subway cars, we knew how many stops to make and then we would hear the duck as we exited the train and made our way toward the squeaks.

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Berlin Subway Map
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Traffic Light Man is unique to Berlin, Germany
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Traffic Light Man
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Straddling the space where the Berlin Wall once stood – May 2019

The energy of enjoying life and making the most of it, the stories that happen along the way, the shared travel hacks, and the fellowship with others always keeps me looking forward to the next trip. I belong to several Facebook travel groups and frequently scan Pinterest for the latest travel ideas, but nothing compares to the heightened awareness of fully absorbing the details of the world like sharing our travel adventures with fellow travelers. Please join us at ethicalela.com throughout the month of April, and come share your own “quirky story” or travel adventure (or both) on April 11!

Judges 19:17

And he lifteth up his eyes, and seeth the man, the traveller, in a broad place of the city, and the aged man saith, ‘Whither goest thou? and whence comest thou?

Ketchikan’s Liquid Sunshine and Totem Village

With special thanks to Slice of Life for giving writers inspiration, space, and voice

Slice of Life Day 24 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)

I recently went to see the movie Redeeming Love, and an avalanche of memories of Ketchikan, Alaska came rushing forward from my week in May 1998 spent learning about life in the Gold Rush days of Alaska. Women did what they had to do to survive, and the lines were heavily slanted toward survival over living. Dolly Arthur’s house along Creek Street offered a sobering glimpse of life known to the women of those days in Ketchikan. We didn’t stick around this former red light district too long with the kids – we moved on to some G-Rated stories.

In the rainiest city in the state, we were pleased that our excursion to Totem Bight State Park did not get cancelled; we’d looked forward to seeing the totem poles carved by the Tlingit tribe.

The Liquid Sunshine Gauge in Ketchikan
Mallory and Marshall standing at the entrance to historic Creek Street in Ketchikan – May 1998

Each of the totem poles tells a story that you can read here, and there is also a map of the village as well.

Mallory stands below Raven at the Head of Nass

Pole 10 is Raven at the Head of Nass – a chief in a dance hat tops the pole. At the bottom is the chief, Raven-at-the-Head-of-Nass. Raven stole daylight from Chief. The small human figure represents ancestors of the Raven clan who were happy to have daylight. The space between the figures represents respect for the chief.

Marshall listens to the tour guide tell about Man Wearing Bear Hat

Pole 3, Man Wearing Bear Hat, is a man of the Bear Clan wearing a large
carved wooden hat with a bear’s head, its brim surrounded by painted whales. The hat was worn on storytelling occasions.

As we listened to the tour guide tell the totem stories, I felt a deep connection to the power of the oral tradition of storytelling. I thought of its impact throughout history and its importance to future generations. The preservation of stories through totems and monuments combines art and reverence for what is held sacred. The experience here in this Native American village was spiritual and moving.

I reflected on my recent afternoon at the Azalea Storytelling Festival in Lagrange, Georgia and the entertainment and messages that are so powerfully felt when a human voice is sharing lessons through story. What a gift – one I need to savor more frequently.

Matt 13:34

All these things Jesus said to the people in the form of stories; and without a story he said nothing to them.

Skagway: Lead the Pack Fearlessly!

With special thanks to Slice of Life for giving writers inspiration, space, and voice

Slice of Life Day 23 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)

“He was a newcomer in the land, a chechaquo, and this
was his first winter.” – To Build a Fire, Jack London

The coldest I have ever been in my entire life, by far, was in Skagway, Alaska on the side of a mountain on a Gold Rush tour in May 1998. Winds whipped bitterly from the snow-covered trees, stinging my nose, chapping my lips and cheeks, chilling my ears as if I weren’t bundled up in a coat, sweater, gloves and hat – or anything else – to keep out the cold. That was the day I became an honorary member of the Arctic Brotherhood and understood for the first time, for one fleeting moment, what cold meant. I was, as Jack London would say, a chechaquo.

Arctic Brotherhood Card

We left our stateroom A641 aboard the Sun Princess and set out on a tour of Skagway along Alaska’s Inside Passage. I was most excited about this particular port because it was the place where Jack London set out on the Chilkoot Trail for his Klondike quest that would become one of the greatest adventures in all of literary history. Plus, I love a good story with a dog as a character – and who more than Buck, whose spirit I felt roaming the streets. My heart skipped beats seeing the sleds in the Gold Rush Museum, where the provisions for sledders along the trail sent my mind spinning with all the things they had to take just to survive (one full year’s provisions).

Mallory on a sled in Skagway, Alaska – May 1998

As two of my children learned from a real gold miner lessons on How to Pan for Gold 101, I watched and listened, reminded of the hardships of the turn of the century that brought so many men searching for that one nugget that they believed would bring them security, and the risks they were willing to take to strike it rich. And I understood the primal need To Build A Fire and bask in its warmth in a way that had only ever garnered a half-hearted nod of agreement to London’s words on the page…..until I felt the paralyzing cold on the side of that mountain in Skagway.

Panning for gold, May 1998

Mallory at the White Pass Railroad, Skagway, Alaska – May 1998

Proverbs 27:21 

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise.

Juneau: Climb Every Mountain!

With special thanks to Slice of Life for giving writers inspiration, space, and voice

Slice of Life Day 22 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)

Juneau, Alaska is a state capital that cannot be reached except by boat or plane. No one gets there by car because no roads lead to Juneau. Another seldom-realized fact about Alaska is that the shortest distance between Alaska and Russia is only 2.5 miles – frightening in times like these.

I visited Juneau, Alaska in May 1998 while on an Inside Passage cruise with my family. Mendenhall Glacier was pristine and beautiful, and the salmon hatchery was educational. I learned to spot bald eagles when the tour guide told us to “look for golf balls in the trees,” and they would be the heads of eagles. It worked, every time!

Mallory and Marshall at Mendenhall Glacier – Juneau, Alaska, May 1998

But my favorite part of Juneau was a ride up the Mount Roberts Tramway, where two of our children enjoyed playing in a dusting of snow and watching wildlife at the top of the mountain overlooking the port of Juneau. We saw signs letting us know which wildlife species we were likely to see that day – among them, the red squirrel. We’d become proficient at spotting eagles, so we looked forward to seeing some other cold climate creatures – we just didn’t want to encounter any bears along the mountain trails, and thankfully we didn’t.

The perspective high above the port overlooking the city below was breathtaking, and I fully appreciated the majestic beauty of the “eagle’s eye view” in those moments. I also understood, standing on that mountain with my children playing in the magical snow and watching squirrels, why having my feet on the ground is equally as beautiful. The lyrics of Climb Every Mountain were belting out from my heart across the snow-capped Alaskan peaks as if I were standing in Austria singing with all of the passion and none of the voice talent of Mother Abbess……hence the video version below:

I do not own rights to this music but share for experiential purposes only on a non-profit blog

Snowball fight, anyone?
Red Squirrel in Alaska

Isaiah 52:7

7 How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”