Tuesday, July 29, 2014

7:30 BELLS: The Bells of Finally Now

For two years, I’ve fostered a secret dream, an idea for a new art form I want to create. Previous professional obligations and ongoing crises with my aged parents (91 and 87) have slowed me from exploring this new direction.

But they haven’t stopped me. In snatches of time, I gathered materials, tools, a work space, reference books--everything needed to take this new art form out for a trial spin.

The time is Finally Now. At last I’m making what I dreamed of making, giving this idea its chance in the light. Will it hold up in reality? Will I love doing it as much as I think I will?

I’d thought these two years of waiting were wasted, but the opposite is true. All my slow gathering, all my snatches of time, prepared me now to soar. And that I persisted through many obstacles tells me how much this means to me. So with great gladness I can tell you that the bells are ringing fiercely, joyfully—in the Finally Now.

Gather your dream in snatches of time
and the bells will ring

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday
 of every month. Join me on August 12 for a guest post with 
Crystal Kite winning author Kim Baker.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

7:30 BELLS: The Great Expectations of Trees

Yesterday, seeing the delicate green tips of new growth on this tree made the bells ring. Not because the new growth and trees are beautiful. Not because they frame the waterfall and pond in magnificent Point Defiance Park. No, the bells rang because they showed me what truly “great expectations” are.

This summer I am taking a personal sabbatical to reflect on new directions for my life and work. At the pond, I was fretting because summer is half over, and my progress seems lamentably slow. When I noticed the delicate new growth on the tree, I had to laugh at myself.

Think how mighty evergreen trees are! Think of their longevity and age. And yet, they only grow a few inches each year. They don’t fret over this or expect to grow ten feet in one sunny summer. Rather, they expect to change slowly, deliberately, taking their time. They expect growth to come from how they live in the sun and wind and air, not from what they do.

These are the truly great life expectations. I find great comfort in them and peace with my own small steps. So if I end the summer with my thoughts a little brighter, my imagination a little fresher, if I learn in even a small way to let doing flow from being, then I will have fulfilled some very great expectations indeed.

Adopt the great expectations of trees
and hear the bells ring.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday
 of every month. Join me on August 12 for a guest post with 
Crystal Kite winning author Kim Baker.

Monday, July 21, 2014


A fiery inferno driven by 105 degree heat and twenty-mile an hour winds roared through the beautiful Methow Valley in Eastern Washington last week. My father-in-law’s orchard, which we call the Farm, is in the valley. It inspired my books AFTER THE RIVER THE SUN and EVA OF THE FARM.

My characters Eckhart and Eva loved the canyon behind the Farm. They discovered their friendship there and often met in their “Perilous Chapel” so named after the one in the Arthurian Legend. In last week’s fire, the canyon (pictured above) and all the hills around the farm, burned. 

At the end of AFTER THE RIVER THE SUN, Eckhart faces a terrible fire. Alas, that fiction became fact. 

On Thursday, my father-in-law received the Level Three evacuation order (Get Out Now). He could see flames burning 300 feet up the canyon. The entire southern horizon toward Pateros (the high school burned down and many houses) and Billy Goat Mountain was ablaze. The fire toppled the power lines feeding the valley. So my father-in-law could not rig irrigation lines (as Eckhart had) to try to save the house and buildings.

Miraculously, though only fifteen feet from the burning hill, the building housing the tractors survived. So did the house. The orchard, like most orchards, was so heavily irrigated it was only scorched around the edges. He was fortunate. People for twenty-five miles up and down the valley lost homes.

Now, four days later, a race is on to find a generator to power the irrigation, for the apple and pear trees will die in the summer heat without water (power may be out for weeks). This year’s crop is probably already lost.

My heart is saddened by such loss to a place that is sacred to me. And the fire , dubbed the Carelton Complex Fire, is still burning at the time of this posting. 

"The Carlton complex wildfire in Central Washington, which by Saturday evening had expanded to just over 215,000 acres, or about 336 square miles, is still blazing nearby."  The Seattle Times

Next spring, the black hills will green as grass grows around the black skeletons of the sagebrush, bitter brush, and ponderosa pine trees. But the devastation to the scenic beauty will take decades to recover.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

7:30 BELLS: What I Never Dreamed I Could See From My Window

This week the 1910 house where I have lived for twenty-two years offered a new viewpoint on the world. In my upstairs office, a skylight sets in a slanted wall. Although the skylight is large and fills my office with light, it is too high to provide a view of anything but the sky.

Last winter, to better use space, I moved a big cabinet beneath the skylight.

Six months later, during our current Pacific Northwest heat wave, I open the skylight at sunset to let in cooling breezes. One evening, I suddenly realized I could sit on top of the cabinet, lean against the bit of wall the skylight is set into, and have an instant window seat view of the world. With one arm propped on the sill, I look out and out.

And what a splendid vista! Above the ugly power lines crisscrossing every side of our house, I look out on tree tops near and far, out at an open view of the northwest sky. (The photo above shows only half the view.) How the bells rang at this new way to see my world. And no remodeling required. 

How little it sometimes takes to change everything. Now this is my evening perch, where I read, write, and reflect during my personal summer sabbatical.

Last night I watched a thunderstorm. When the rain began, I didn’t need to close the skylight. The long sweep of glass over my head sheltered me. And I had this thought. The glass above me allowed me to see rushing the black clouds, the lightning nets. And yet, that same glass sheltered me from what I saw. 

This is often true of our lives, I think. Seeing clearly may show something hard, something we would rather not see.  But the very act of seeing clearly, also shelters us from the storm.

So always look. And don't forget to rearrange the furniture.

Look out your window in a new way 
and the bells will ring.

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday
 of every month. Join me on August 12 for a guest post with 
Crystal Kite winning author Kim Baker

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

7:30 BELLS Guest Post: SOMEPLACE DIFFERENT by Dori Hillestad Butler

The adventurous Dori Hillestad Butler, Edgar Award winning author, shares what makes the bells ring for her in this month's 7:30 BELLS Guest Post.

I’m a Midwestern girl. Born and raised in southern Minnesota. My mother still lives in the same house I grew up in. When I was a kid I used to ask my parents if we could move. Not because I was terribly unhappy where we lived. I just wanted to know what it would be like to live someplace else. Someplace DIFFERENT.

My husband and I have moved quite a few times during our 28 year marriage. We started out in Fridley, MN. Then we moved to Shoreview, MN…Richfield, MN…Rochester, MN…Cedar Rapids, IA…and finally, Coralville, IA, where we stayed for 14 years. While each of those cities felt different to me, they really weren’t all that different.

A couple months ago, we made a BIG move. To the Seattle area. Seattle is DIFFERENT. (I finally got my childhood wish.) So far, I LOVE it here. I love the city, I love the mountains, I love the weather. But I think what I love most is meeting new people. I miss my Midwestern friends, but I’ve met some fun and interesting people that I never would’ve met if we hadn’t moved. Each one has expanded my world in new and sometimes unexpected ways.

I think Dia was my first new friend here. She showed me Alki Beach and we had a lovely walk along the water and through the woods as we started to get to know one another. She told me about her solo trip to Venice a couple years ago and how she sat on the terrace and listened to the bells ring at 7:30 pm every night and what that was like for her.

It reminded me of time I spent in Washington, D.C. shortly after my husband and I got married. He was at a conference during the day, so I explored the city on my own, wandering in and out of museums and up and down the Mall at my leisure. When I got to the Lincoln Memorial, something unexpected happened. As I stood there on the steps, goose bumps dotted my arms. I didn’t want to move on. Eventually I gave in to whatever was going on inside me. I sat down on the steps, pulled out a notebook, and just started writing. I ended up staying for two hours… sitting…dreaming…writing. Just like Dia did in Venice.

Dia would say the bells were ringing. And maybe they were. But do you know what really makes the bells ring for me? It’s making a connection with a new friend…that “hey, it’s not just me” feeling that I get when I really connect with someone.

Thanks, Dia, and everyone else who has been so welcoming to me since I moved here. Thanks for connecting, thanks for expanding my world, and thanks for making the bells ring.

Connecting with new friends
 makes the bells ring

Thank you so much, Dori, for this lovely post. You have expanded my world, too. Dori Hillestad Butler is the author of more than 40 books for children, including The Buddy Files: The Case of the Lost Boy, which won the 2010 Edgar Award for best juvenile mystery. Look for her new chapter book series, the Haunted Library, which launches August 2014. Dori grew up in southern Minnesota, spent the last 19 years in Iowa, and has just recently moved to the Seattle area. She is on a quest to do an author visit in all 50 states (14 down, 36 to go!). Learn more at www.kidswriter.comwww.kidswriter.com

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday
 of every month. Join me on August 12 for a guest post with 
Crystal Kite winning author Kim Baker

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

730 BELLS: The Secret Irony of Creative Play

Walking along the waterfront, I spotted a man building these whimsical rock towers, bridges, and figures. He told me he was an artist. His work on a piece in his studio wasn’t going well, so he'd decided to get out and do something different to clear his mind.

His idea of doing something different was building ephemeral rock sculptures.

Sensible people (praises and hallelujahs that I will never be one of them) would say this was a waste of time. The man was building something that wind, tide, or most likely kids would soon knock down. But the ephemeral nature of the rock sculptures was one of the things that made them startling and wonderful.

The making, the creating, was the entire point. This fits well with what I’ve come to believe with my whole heart. Work done without thought of results, work done without thought of where it might lead or what it might get you, work done without thought of how it might be received by the world— is the best attitude to adopt when making things.

It isn't easy. We are raised to achieve and produce, produce, produce concrete, measurable (in sales, awards, approbation) results. But the "best" is not always measurable.

The secret irony is that usually work done without thought of outcome turns out better than work done with thought of outcome. I believe the reason for this is because when we are completely engrossed in making something, we are also completely alive and present, and that focus leads to better work. And it makes the bells ring and ring. Creative play opens new places in our imaginations.

This also resonates with my idea that how I want to live, be, and act in the world is more important than what I do. And I highly suspect that living this way will ultimately lead to my doing better work, because that work will be authentic and right for me. More on that next week.


Creative play makes the bells ring

7:30 BELLS Posts run every Tuesday.

7:30 BELLS Guest Posts run on the second Tuesday
 of every month. Join me on July 8 for a guest post with 
Edgar winning author Dori Hillestad Butler.