Baby Names

Have I mentioned that we are expecting our third grandchild in March 2019?  Sarah and Gregorio will be having their third child very near Ray’s mid-March birthday and this little bundle of joy will be a baby sister for Luna and Nico. Names are still very much under discussion between Sarah and Gregorio. We’ll just all have to wait and see.  At the moment, this little girl is called Sparkles.

Ray and I always waited until after our children were born to name them.  We had a short-list, of course, but we both felt that the baby had to match her name. We tried our favorite names out on each girl for a few days and then made a decision after that time.

Sarah’s name was down to Sarah or Sydney.  We named her on the way to the midwife’s office ten days after her birth since the midwife told us that she had to file the necessary paperwork. I continue to be glad that we picked the name Sarah since that name suits her personality completely.

Elizabeth was Elizabeth pretty much from the get-go, but we were very attached to the name Kate as well. Of course, common sense won out in the end since we knew our little girl would go through life as Katy Beaty if we named her Kathryn and called her Kate. I mean, really, who could have resisted calling her Katy Beaty?

We called Rachael both Aaron (Ray’s mom’s maiden name) and Rebecca for a few days then decided on Rachael.  Aaron just didn’t feel right and Becky Beaty would have also been a name that we would never have been able to fight even though I would have always called her Rebecca. While we were deciding, just for fun, we told everyone we had decided upon Brenda Lurleen. There were more than a few shocked faces…

Alas, we ended up with our beloved Sarah, Elizabeth and Rachael, and these names suit our girls to a T.

I’m sure Sarah and Gregorio will come up with a perfect name for little Sparkles. After all, they did a great job with Luna Isabella and Nicolas Ignacio.  Of course, I’ll continue to throw in my 2 cents worth just in case I hear a name I think is especially pretty.  After all, as we all know, that’s a grandma’s prerogative.

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10 Minute QuickWrite: My Day Today

My student on the telephone is writing for 10 minutes so I thought I’d take this opportunity to write a few words of my own.  He is writing an essay to submit to the University of Calfornia schools and I can hear the clicking of his computer keys as he works away.  He lives in Palas Verdes, which is south of Los Angeles, and would be an impossible commute to see me in person. We have met several times, but work primarily on the phone with a shared google doc. This is what I do with all of my long-distanced students and it works very well.

Earlier, I worked with my beloved nephew Eli, who is the grandson of my deceased sister, Leslie. Eli and his family live in Salt Lake City, Utah where he is a senior in a science academy there.  He and I have had the chance to work together on his college essays this year and I must say this has been quite a treat for me.  I have had the chance to spend quality time with this darling boy via the airwaves and also help him write both his Common App essay plus a supplemental essay for the University of Washington.  I believe we’ll have a few more short essays to write before we’re done, but, as of today, he is all set to apply to the University of Washington, Seattle, whose deadline is November 15th. We finished tonight and I could hear the relief in his voice when I said, “Okay, I think this is really good.”  Yes, a real treat indeed to get to spend time with my sweet Eli. It’s even better to know that next week, he and his family will be driving to CA to spend Thanksgiving with us at the orange grove.

I have two minutes left, so I better wrap this up.  Today has been a day of nervous texts and emails from my many students who have a November deadline for the UCs.  “Are we going to finish?” “Are my essays good enough?” “When can we get together to go over the application?” are all questions I’ve had and with each the answer it, “We’re going to make it.” “Your essays are great.” “I will definitely see you before you send in that application.”

The truth is all the essays are exceptional this year.  I am proud of that and pleased.  I believe there will be a number of kids who are accepted to their first choice UC school in just a few months.  That makes my job very satisfying.

Oh, there goes the timer.  So, this is what 10 minutes of writing looks like for me.

Happy Tuesday, folks.  I hope you’re all doing well.

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Writing Prompts: What You Like about Yourself and Love about Your Life

Dear friends,

I’m sorry I’ve been out of the loop. This is my busy time of year due to helping students with college essays and I have been snowed.  But I had a cancellation tonight – yeehaw – so I took the time to answer two prompts from my Story Circle Network e-circle writing group.  Thank you, Judy. These are good ones, and not nearly as easy as they might seem on first glance. 

Here are the two prompts:

List 10 things you like about yourself:

1) I am open to life and willing to try new things.

2) I have a deep capacity to love my family and my friends.

3) I make the assumption I will like most of the people I meet.

4) I l love to learn.

5) I am trustworthy.

6) I love writing (both the noun and the verb).

7) I genuinely like hearing about other people’s lives.

8) I believe in a power greater than myself, aka God.

9) I am enriched by literature, music and art.

10) I love being physically active and relish physical work.

List 12 things you love about your life:

1) Having a life that is rich and varied.

2) Having a deep connection to my family and close friends.

3) Having a church home that serves as an extended family for me.

4) Working with my writing students, which is enriching, both personally and intellectually.

5) Having a husband who pushes me to grow and also accepts me just as I am. 

6) Having the opportunity to restore several historically interesting houses, including our beloved Victorian in Texas.

7) Owning an orange grove in Ojai. CA, where we get to live outside much of the time and eat the sweetest oranges around.

8) Having the chance to live close enough to my kids and grandkids so that I get to see them on a regular basis.

9) Having people in my life who I trust and who trust me.

10) Having a writing life and writing friends, who share my passion for the written word.

11) Having a deep spiritual life that nourishes me on a daily basis.

12) Having a wide-ranging social network of friends who keep me optimistic about life and this world.

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Repost: The Wisdom of Letting Go or Getting Off that White Horse

I have had the occasion over the past few days to talk to several people who are in pain. In one case, a parent is worried about an adult child who is having serious issues; in another, a friend is worried about another friend who is terminally ill. Worry is the operative word here.

Worry is defined as “giving way to anxiety or unease.” Often, when situations are beyond one’s control, it is natural to feel anxious and uneasy. Who doesn’t want to fix a problem that clearly needs a remedy? Who doesn’t want to step in and make it right again?

The rub is, of course, life is often comprised of problems that are not that easy to tackle. In fact, in the two cases above, the parent of that adult child and that friend of an ill friend simply do not have the power to make everything okay again for these people. These issues are out of their sphere of influence. They can be concerned; they can care, but they can not fix it. The situations are too complex. In fact, in the case of the terminally ill person, the truth is the situation is unfixable. This person isn’t going to become miraculously well just because someone who loves her doesn’t want her to suffer.

In Alanon, which I have attended in the past since I am from an alcoholic family, one of the primary concepts that is discussed a lot is recognizing the tendency to jump on a white horse and go in to fight the battle. One of the most powerful phrases I’ve ever heard is called the 3 C’s: “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.” This is an invitation to step off the horse and to recognize one’s need to turn the problem over to a Higher Power. That is great advice whether or not one is dealing with alcohol or drug issues. In fact, with the parent of that adult child and the friend of the dying friend, the 3 C’s apply. Neither of these people caused the problems that their loved ones are facing; they can not control the problem, nor can they cure it. Again, the primary invitation here is to admit one’s powerlessness and to turn this over to a Higher Power, whether that is God, Nature, the Universe, or whatever else makes sense depending on personal belief systems.

At this point in my life, I need a reminder of the 3 C’s in reference to problems that are outside my sphere of control. I still want so badly to get the saddle down, toss it on that white horse and head off with a battle flag flying. I often erroneously think that I have better answers than those who are actually facing the problems. I am working on that misconception. That is called co-dependency. It is not only detrimental to the other person, but also to myself since I will take on someone else’s problem rather than dealing with my own issues.

I am aware that aphorisms can be annoying and some people find the AA and Alanon slogans to be a little worn out. The difference is, however, that despite sounding a bit hackneyed, these phrases are true words of wisdom. They invite a different way of tackling problems; they encourage a surrender of control and the development of trust that individuals have the capacity, with the help of a Higher Power, to deal with their issues themselves.

So, here are a few of the Alanon words of wisdom that I have found helpful over the years. I hope my friends will find them helpful, too. After all, we all face problems that we can’t fix. Sometimes it’s great to have a short phrase to keep life in perspective.

Happy Thursday.

TOP 10 Al-Anon Sayings

THINK is it..?: Thoughtful. Honest. Intelligent. Necessary. Kind.
“If only I can learn to quiet my mind before I speak! I do not want to act with impatience and hostility, for I know it will react on me. It is a mistake to think this requires self-control; patience can be acquired by learning to let go of self-will. Jonathan Swift said: “Whoever is out of patience is out of possession of his soul. Men must not turn into bees who kill themselves in stinging others.” (One day At a Time in Al-Anon pg. 20)

HALT if you’re… : Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired.
Be aware when these four physical or emotion conditions arise. When these do arise we are in a vulnerable position to have a severe emotional react.

FEAR: False. Evidence. Appearing. Real.
“In Al-Anon, the answer to “What if? Is: “Don’t project! Don’t imagine the worst; deal with your problems as they arise. Live one day at a time.” I cannot do anything about things that haven’t happened; I will not let the past experiences make me dread the unknown future. “It is a vain and unprofitable thing to conceive either grief or joy for future things which perhaps will never come about.” (One day At a Time in Al-Anon pg. 193)

HOPE: Happy. Our. Program. Exists.
“The first gift a newcomer receives from contact with Al-Anon is hope. Seeing how other rise above their problems, listening to situations worse than their own, absorbing the atmosphere of love and goodwill, send them home with a new lease on life.” (One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.94)
NUTS: Not. Using. The. Steps.
“When I read a step and think about it deeply, I find it opens the door to new insights. When I read that same step again, it reveals new spiritual ideas. They seem to dig into our consciousness and unearth for us the wonderful potential for good in all our relationships with life.” One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.141)

DETACH: Don’t. Even. Think. About. Changing. Him/Her.
“How can I best help the alcoholic? By not interfering when he gets into difficulties. I must detach myself from his shortcoming, neither making up for them nor criticizing them. Let me learn to play my own role, and leave his to him. If he fails in it, the failure is not mine, no matter what others may think or say about it.” One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.29)

HOW: Honest. Open. Willing.
Honesty, open-mindedness and willingness are the three primary principles in laying down a solid foundation for recovery. Honest with oneself. Being open to Power Greater than our selves and willing to take certain steps.

STEPS: Solutions. To. Every. Problem.
“If we have Al-anon, there is no need to stand in our own light and try to solve our problems in darkness. The ways and means that Al-anon offers have lighted the way for so many thousands of despairing people that no one can question their power. “When I am faced with a problem that seems impossible to solve, when I feel trapped in a situation and can see no way out, let me ask myself whether I am standing in my own light. I must find the vantage point where I can most clearly see my difficulty as it is; then answers will come.” (One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.297)

QTIP: Quit. Taking. It. Personally.
“When the guilt of the alcoholic explodes, I must realize that it is always aimed at those nearest, and often dearest. I want to remind myself that such outbursts only reveal the drinker’s own unhappiness. I will not make the situation worse by taking seriously what the alcoholic says at such times. (One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, pg.55)

LOVE: Let. Others. Voluntarily. Evolve.
“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our image. Otherwise, we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” (Thomas Merton: No Man Is an Island)

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My First Teleseminar

I will be presenting my first teleseminar this Friday at 11 am Pacific time to members of the National Association of Memoir Writers. I met NAMW’s founder, Linda Joy Myers, at the Story Circle Network national conference and she invited me to make this presentation. I am looking forward to sharing my love of flash fiction and flash memoir with the NAMW membership. Wish me luck!

Here is the link: http://namw.org/2018/10/the-joy-and-craft-of-flash-fiction-and-flash-memoir/?fbclid=IwAR0YRSQw3T-ZBlUCaysSnLW0FvPCIhxw44Jck0qczqxAQ-sE1ZdAJ0A-Q4Q

Member Teleseminar
Len Leatherwood
October 19, 2018
11 am PDT | 12 pm MDT | 1 pm CDT | 2 pm EDT

Flash fiction and flash memoir pieces are everywhere these days. Just today I read three flash fiction stories featured in The New Yorker magazine.  “Flash” is characterized as writing that contains no more than 1000 -1200 words. Editors both online and in print are recognizing the power of this compressed form of storytelling and, as a result, the market for flash is growing steadily stronger. This teleseminar will explore the fundamentals of flash fiction and flash memoir and also present a specific method to add both clarity and resonance to your writing. We will also discuss the benefits of writing “short” for longer pieces of fiction and memoir.

Those attending the teleseminar will learn:

1) A brief history of flash
2) The fundamental elements of flash fiction and flash memoir
3) How to use literary elements to deepen flash stories
4) Where to go to learn about publishing opportunities for flash
5) The benefits of writing flash for both short and long pieces

Writing flash fiction and flash memoir is both gratifying and fun.  You get a lot said in just a few words and are able to finish a piece and submit it much faster than with longer forms of writing. Come learn what flash is all about!  I think you’ll find it quite intriguing.

Len is a published writer of flash fiction/flash memoir with pieces appearing in flashquake, All Things Girl, Real Words for Real Women, True Words Anthology, Provo Canyon Review, A Cup of Comfort Cookbook and numerous other literary journals. She was a nominee for a Pushcart Prize in flash fiction in 2015. She is also an award-winning writing teacher, who has been teaching students privately in Los Angeles for the past 18 years. In addition, she serves as both a teacher and the Online Classes Coordinator for Story Circle Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to women telling their stories. Over the past decade, Len has been presenting writing workshops at national conferences. She blogs at 20 Minutes a Day, lenleatherwood.wordpress.com, where she has been sharing her daily thoughts on writing and life since 2012.

 

The Kindness of Strangers

I recently reposted a blog about the power of a smile.  This one is about another chance encounter with a stranger that touched my heart. 

 

Many of you know that I wrote recently that my friend Peter is dying. What I didn’t tell you was what happened right after I found out about this news.

The gist is this: My husband Ray withheld from me for two days the news of Peter’s terminal illness. I was working long hours with several students on their final college term papers and Ray waited until the last paper was turned in before sitting down and telling me. He knew I was going to be very sad about this news so in his words, “I didn’t think waiting two days to tell you would make a huge difference in the big picture.” I understood his logic and appreciated his sensitivity to my work situation, but I also felt terrible that I had not yet called Peter or his partner, Jan.

I immediately telephoned Jan and got the lowdown on the situation. The diagnosis was terminal with Peter having less than 6 months to live. Jan is a hospice nurse by profession so this information was relayed in a calm and emotion-free voice. I asked about calling Peter and Jan said, “By all means. He’ll be happy to hear from you.”

Once I hung up the phone, I sat for a minute absorbing the information and steeling myself for my call to Peter. Vowing to stay calm, I dialed his number only to get an automated voice mail message. At the beep, I said, “Peter, I’ve heard the news.” At this point, much to my chagrin, I burst into tears and cried for at least a full minute. I didn’t want to do this or mean to do this. After all, I am aware that my phone call was supposed to offer comfort, not cause distress. I told Peter in the message that I loved him and he was in my prayers, then left my return phone number and hung up. As soon as I was off the phone I started kicking myself. How could I have done that crybaby thing? Peter needed strength, not a meltdown. I was extremely annoyed with myself that I went straight to tears instead of keeping myself together.

A few minutes later, I heard the ding on my phone that meant I had a text.

The text read: I am so sorry you are sad. However, I am not Peter. You dialed the wrong number.

I was horrified that I had left that pathetic message on a total stranger’s voicemail. How awful. But I was secretly relieved that poor Peter had not heard my message.

I immediately texted the anonymous person back and apologized for his having to hear my distressing message.

He wrote back instantly and said, “I am deeply sorry for your loss. No problem at all.”

At this point, I had to laugh. What a nice person to absorb all my pain with not a shred of malice. I screwed up my courage and re-called Peter, this time verifying his number very carefully.

“Hello, Peter,” I said, “how are you doing, my friend?”

“Aw, Len, so good to hear from you.”

I must say that it almost felt as if there was a bit of divine intervention when it came to my misdial. I am glad that my actual interaction with Peter was straightforward and calm, nothing like my emotion-soaked message.

There are those who would say that it wouldn’t have hurt Peter one bit to hear the sadness I was feeling. After all, he might actually have appreciated knowing how much he is loved by me. This is unarguably true, it probably would have been all right had my call gone directly to him. However, my experience with those who are dying is that they regard the dying process in extremely practical terms, and overwrought emotions are seen as an irritant, not a great help.

Luckily for Peter and unluckily for the anonymous recipient of that message, I was able to purge my emotion before actually speaking to Peter.

As for that man who texted me back, his sensitivity was laudable and also greatly appreciated.

He clarified for me that there are truly good people out in the world.

Thank God for the kindness of strangers.

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Flash Fiction, Memoir and Essay

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