All posts by lenleatherwood

I am a native Texan who has lived for the past 21 years in Los Angeles. I am a published author of both short memoir and fiction, a 2015 Pushcart nominee, a nationally award-winning writing teacher, an editor, as well as a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas. In addition, I am the mother of three grown daughters of whom I am extremely proud, a grandmother of two darling children and the wife of a man I still love after 35 years.

Our Family Gathering in Mississippi for our Beloved Cousin Jack Hammonds White

Ray and I just returned from a trip to Mississippi to attend the memorial service for my first cousin, Dr. Jack Hammonds White, who died in June. Jack’s lovely and gracious wife, Emilie, has been preparing for this memorial over the past several weeks and, with the aid of their parish priest, the Very Reverand Anne Harris at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Columbus, MS, they had a moving and meaningful service.  Jack was a singular human being, filled with passion and love for both life and learning.  He had a long and illustrious career as a college professor of English Literature as well as Director Emeritus of the University Honor’s program at Mississippi State in Starkville, MS. He received numerous honors over the years for his advocacy and innovation when it came to providing the best educational opportunities available for his students.  Here is a link to his obituary for any who would like to see his very impressive lists of accomplishments, which are too numerous to mention here:  http://www.cdispatch.com/obituaries/obit.asp?id=22285#.W3uhP5NKj-Z

As is the case with memorial services, I had the opportunity to see several relatives I have not had the chance to visit with in many years.  These included my first cousin, Claude Leatherwood, and his wife, Laura, from Houston as well as my first cousin once removed, Michael Maples and his wife, Lynne, from Arlington, Virginia.  I also had a chance to see my little brother Sam and his partner, Jaime, from Nashville along with my first cousin Lee Leatherwood and his wife, Elaine, who live in Austin. This was all quite a treat since I can never see these folks often enough.

Getting to see Mike Maples, who I haven’t laid eyes on since around 1971 was especially wonderful.  I met his wife for the first time and Ray and I sat for several hours with them and shared stories about our kids and our lives.  It was as though I’d seen Mike only a few weeks back rather than well over forty years ago. We also exchanged lots of information about our family history since Mike has devoted a fair amount of time to learn more about the Leatherwoods since his retirement.  I am hopeful that now that several of us cousins have reunited, we’ll make the effort to see each other more often.  I certainly hope so.

I also enjoyed spending time at Emilie and Jack’s lovely home in Columbus. Emilie is the quintessential hostess, able to keep everyone happy who is visiting while taking time to privately talk with each of her guests so they feel special.  She told me that she wanted me to know how much Jack had benefitted from knowing my mother. “Jack always credited Aunt Helen with igniting his intellectual curiosity,” Emile told me.  My mother was getting her Master’s degree in Sociology and her Ph.D. in Psychology when Jack was at a formative age. Emile told me that my mother gave Jack books to read and he would come back to her and discuss what he’d read. According to Emilie, Jack always felt that Mom’s encouragement was what fostered his own academic and intellectual pursuits. Of course, it was wonderful to hear such a sweet tribute to my mother. She did have a way of encouraging others to stretch and grow intellectually just as she was doing herself.

I am very happy Ray and I had the opportunity to travel to Mississippi for this important event to commemorate Jack’s life.  Jack was a close friend to all my older siblings: Leslie, John and Jim, plus also knew and loved George and Sam.  I have always thought of him as more brother than cousin so there was never any question we would be going to pay our respects to Emilie, his wife of 49 years.

The women of the church outdid themselves with a variety of tea sandwiches, cheeses and crackers, along with homemade cookies and other sweets.  The food was delicious.  I could feel the love emanating throughout the reception hall, which was a wonderful tribute to Jack and Emilie’s loving, generous spirits.

May light perpetual shine upon Jack’s soul and may Emilie be surrounded with white healing light as she continues to live a rich and full life in her community.

Here are a few photos of the reception at St. Paul’s.

My brother Sam and Jaime Schneider, his life partner, with Emilie White

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My cousin Claude Leatherwood and his wife, Laura, with Emilie White

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Michael Maples, Lee, Sam and Claude Leatherwood

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Laura, Elaine and Len Leatherwood

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Michael and Lynne Maples

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Jaime Schneider, Michael Maples, and Ray Beaty

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Repost from a Few Years Back: A Brush with Near Death

A few years back, my husband and I were traveling from California to Texas, and I was pulling a 1958 Buick on a trailer behind our 15-passenger Ford Van. This was my husband’s idea of love at first sight – that ’58 Buick – a car from his birth year that he hoped to restore just for the fun of it. We had picked the car up in Arizona and were speeding along in West Texas, trying to get to a reunion in my hometown, which was still at least six hours away. It was mid-afternoon and we had just filled up with gas in one of the many little towns that dot Highway 287 east of Amarillo. I have pulled many a trailer so this was not new for me. In fact, I was completely comfortable behind the wheel and was going at least 80 miles per hour once we were back on the open highway.

All was well until I decided to pass an 18-wheeler that was in the slower lane. I saw there was a slight curve in the road, but I didn’t think much about it until in the middle of passing, I felt a draft from the big rig, as if there was a vacuum that was pulling us towards it. The road straightened back up and I felt the trailer begin to rock back and forth behind us. I knew this was not good. The trailer with that car strapped on top of it was heavy and it was clear that I had to take control fast. I had a flash of faulty memory that said, “This is like black ice. Turn into the pull and you’ll be fine.”

“Straighten the wheel and speed up!” my husband yelled.

“Leave me alone,” I snapped. “I am handling this.”

Just at that moment, ten thousand pounds of metal began careening down the interstate and no among of speeding or braking or turning the wheel on my part made one bit of difference. I was out of control and all I could think about as that trailer and heavy car pushed the van into one ditch and then across the highway into the other was how that 18-wheeler I had just passed was most likely going to crash right into us. Time elongated in those seconds and I faced the likelihood that my actions were going to lead to the death of my husband and probably several other innocent people who were in our path. I figured I was going to die, too, but that seemed less important than my role as executioner to those unlucky enough to be near me.

At this point, the van again crossed the highway and then whipped back to the other side. We were headed for a tall red clay embankment at a high speed and I braced myself. This was where we were going to die, my husband and I, and just before impact, we exchanged a “This is it” look. I was struck by the calm acceptance on my husband’s face.

The van hit the embankment, headed straight up the wall, then abruptly stopped. We were at a forty-five degree angle, gas was pouring out of the engine, but we were not dead. Ray yelled, “Get out for the car!” and we both pushed the doors open – not easy since we were up in the air, and jumped six feet down from our angled position. The trailer with the Buick had jack-knifed and kept us from plowing at full force into the embankment. That action saved our lives.

I stood on the side of the road in a daze. Cars in front of us had stopped because they had been watching our out-of-control vehicle in their rearview mirrors. Behind us, the driver in the 18-wheeler I had passed pulled over to the side of the road then jumped out of his cab, ran towards me, gathered me up in his arms and pulled me close. “I thought I was going to watch you die,” he said, tears running down his cheeks. “I am so happy you are alive.”

I was touched, relieved, and grateful. Also, I was aware that I had just experienced profound grace. Despite my wrong choices, I was still alive and unhurt. I was extremely lucky and I knew it.

Since that accident, my life is different in some very real ways. First, I have a newfound respect for towing trailers. I am not likely to be cavalier in my approach to pulling a heavy vehicle at high speeds. In fact, I simply will not do that. I can drive slower with much less fear and much more confidence. That is a good thing for all people inside and outside of my car. Second, I trust my husband more. Not just because he was right about the correct way to pull out of a wobble, which he was. More importantly, he was kind in his treatment of my near fatal mistake. He forgave me even before we knew our fate; I could see that in his face. I have never received such a clear gift of love. Third, I now know that life is unpredictable and therefore precious. No time to dawdle when death might be lurking right around the next corner.

As for the ’58 Buick…my husband sold it. Perhaps it was too big of a reminder of our near-death experience. Or maybe he was afraid I might offer to tow it back across country. Whatever the case, I suspect deep-down he concluded it was unwise to tempt fate.

I can’t say I can blame him.

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The Saga of Ray’s New Tractor

Several weeks ago, Ray let me know that he’d driven by a house in Ojai where there was an old tractor for sale out front. Now, those of you who know Ray are aware that he loves old things, and he has a special place in his heart for old vehicles, hence our ownership of a 1964 Studebaker truck and a 1970 Ford C700 cab over blue truck. My question after a long sigh was, “Any chance it runs?”  Ray’s response, which is quintessential Ray was, “Does it matter?”  As an expert in Ray-dom after 38 years of marriage, I know this means, “Isn’t it good enough that it’s just so cool?”  I shrugged. “I’d really like it if it actually ran.”

Enough said.  Standoff.

Ray: “Would you like to see it?”

Len: “Sure. Let’s go.” (I figured I could at least do that much.)

I called and arranged to see the owner at 6 that evening. We went over to the house and saw the old tractor, which was a 1953 TO-30 Ferguson.  Yes, it was cool.  We went up to the door and knocked.  An older woman answered. “My husband’s not here now,” she said, “but will be here at noon tomorrow.”  We said, “We’ll come back then.”

The next day, the man was there.  He had a long white beard, bright blue eyes, and a body stooped from age. He introduced himself as Gary and hobbled out to where the tractor was. We looked it over and Gary told us there were accessories that went with it: a plow, a disc and blade, but they were at his friend’s house. We were now both excited. That was even better. We offered to buy it, but Gary looked hesitant. “I don’t want to sell the tractor unless it’s running.”  We looked at him, at each other and then back at him. I said, “Do you have a timeline in mind on making that happen?” Gary shrugged. How about next week?”  We nodded, surprised. “Okay, next week.”

We went home, drove by the next week, saw no progress on the tractor, called, left a message, no response. I went back by at Ray’s urging only to have Gary’s wife and daughter come to the door and say he was sick because he’d been working on the tractor out in the heat. I couldn’t tell them that I saw Gary in the far back of the house practically running out of the room to avoid me.  “Okay,” I said, “but please tell him we don’t care if it’s running.  We are very serious about wanting to buy it.”  (At this point, I was just ready for this to be over.) The daughter took my number down. I noted as I went back to the car that the tractor didn’t appear to have been touched.

Another week went by, then yesterday:

We drove by and saw the For Sale sign was off the tractor. 

Ray: “Would you mind calling and asking about the tractor just one more time?”

Len: “They have our number.  Maybe he took the sign down so we’ll stop bothering him.  Or maybe he’s one of those guys who doesn’t want to talk to a woman about mechanical stuff.  Maybe it’s better if you call.”

Ray: “Okay. Give me the number. I’ll call.”

Len: “Do you want me to try one more time?”

Ray: “Yes. Please.”

Oh, dear Lord…

I called.  The daughter answered the phone and I let her know I was the woman interested in the tractor.  (How did this happen? I didn’t want another piece of yard art.)

The daughter called her dad who got on the phone.  I said, “Could we come by again and talk about the tractor?” 

“It’s pretty late and I can’t get the accessories tonight.”

“How about we come by and pay you and get the tractor and accessories next week?”

“I’ll need cash money.”

“We’ll be there in fifteen minutes with cash.”  (I had accepted that this was a gift to Ray to make him happy.)

Gary chuckled, “Yes, that’s just fine.”

On the way over Ray said, “Maybe I’ll offer less since it’s not running.”

“Personally, I’d offer the full price and get the accessories he’s mentioned. That way we can get this thing done. But you do what you want.”

We arrived.  Gary met us at the door.  Ray said, “So, we’ll pay you the price you’re asking.”

Gary nodded and we headed out to where the tractor was parked. Once there, Gary slid the key into the ignition and turned it. The engine coughed a couple of times then started right up. We looked at each other in shock, then at Gary, who was smiling. 

“Oh, wow, “ I said. “I never expected you’d get it running! Your wife said you’d been sick.”

Ray grinned.  “I believe I need to shake your hand.” 

Gary shook Ray’s hand and mine, then said, “I just didn’t want to sell you a pig in a poke.”

At that point, Gary’s grandson came out.  “We aired up the tires this afternoon too. We’ve been working on it since we knew you were coming back.”

We chatted for a while about tractor parts, then arranged to meet up again in the next few days and drive the tractor back to the land. Gary’s going to work on the alternator between now and then.

As we are driving away, I said, “Thank god we called back. After all that work, they would have been so disappointed. And here I thought Gary was avoiding us.”

Ray laughed. “I think he’s just one of those old guys who takes pride in fixing things and doesn’t want to sell something that isn’t running.  He told me he’d worked as a mechanic all his life.”

“I, for one, feel better about mankind in general,” I said.

“Me, too,” Ray said.

Now Ray gets his cool tractor and I get one that actually works.

Hooray for Gary!

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Luna and Nico Heading Off to School

Tomorrow our oldest grandchild, Luna, starts kindergarten at the Jackson STEM Dual Immersion Academy in Alta Dena, CA. She will be entering a class where 90% of the classroom instruction will be in Spanish, 10% in English. By 5th grade, the English/Spanish instruction will be 50/50. She will also have the opportunity to be exposed to the STEM curriculum, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics. The kids start early in these subjects, plus there is music, art, cooking and gardening with a school gardener, who teaches the kids the science behind plant growth and the names of the plants in Spanish.  This is a public school but the Dual Immersion program is supported through a federal grant to the Pasadena School District and the STEM program operates in partnership with neighboring CalTech, JPL (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Side Street Projects and other programs.

Luna is excited to go to “big-kid” school. She is also excited to add to the Spanish she already knows. Tonight I asked her if she was nervous about starting school. “No, Grandma, all the kids are starting tomorrow just like me so it will be all of our first day.”  Quite a philosophical way of thinking about it if you ask me.  As I recall, my mother took me to kindergarten kicking and screaming and then let me stay home about half the time since I was such a Mama’s baby.  Of course, that was before kindergarten was officially part of elementary school.  I don’t recall being anywhere near as mature as Luna seems to be.

Still, I expect there’ll be some serious adjustments over the next week or two. After all, it will take a while before Luna and half her classmates can understand what their teachers are saying! Luckily, half of the class are already Spanish speakers.  I suppose this helps with peer-to-peer teaching.

Here are Luna and Nico tonight in their bath. I am the official bath supervisor when we visit. I exercise my “grandmother’s privilege,” so I get this special time with the little ones.

Nico starts two days a week at St. Mark’s Episcopal Preschool in Glendale on Tuesday.  He is excited to have his own school.  At 2 1/2, he’ll spend most of his time outside playing with a long nap in the afternoon. I expect he’ll love it. He’s a social little cuss.

Our babies are growing up.

Luna and Nico

 

 

High Temperatures and the Different Hats I Wear as a Writing Teacher

Written yesterday – today’s forecast is for temperatures to reach 94 degrees.

I am sitting with Riley, it’s quick write time.  Frankie is on the couch with Riley, Cordie is lying on the floor at my feet.  The windows are open, two fans are on, it’s 5:52 pm and it is currently 94 degrees, down from 97.  That means hot here in this asphalt jungle, folks.  And it’s humid, which is not something we Angelenos are accustomed to experiencing.  Yes, I know my Texas friends are rolling their eyes and muttering, “Babies,” but I’m telling you here in LA, the high 90s is very hot since we have miles of asphalt and many tall buildings that reflect the heat. I will admit we have the advantage of cool nights as a rule, but that does not diminish the misery of really hot days.   

I remember when we first moved here and the secretary at the elementary school described the 88-degree weather as “brutal.” I had to resist bursting out laughing. After all, I had just moved from a state where it could easily be 110 degrees in the summer with a wind from the west that felt as if someone had left the furnace on. I will consider the possibility that living in a place where 75 degrees is the average temperature might have made me a bit soft.  Okay, I will admit that, BUT we here, as a rule, don’t freeze to death in our air-conditioned homes and offices like some people I know a few miles east of here (or 1400 to be exact). No, we live in homes with only a room or two with window air conditioners since most of the year we don’t need them and they seem like a waste of money. Except on a day like today.

My daughter Rachael’s boyfriend, Ariel, works in Heating and Air Conditioning and this time of year, she barely sees him.  He is busy from dawn until late in the evening and every weekend. I guess that proves that more and more people are accepting they have to have air conditioning to even exist here. Not a good sign, folks.  This is supposed to be a Mediterranean climate, after all, not a hot box.

The timer is ringing. I will stop. That is exactly ten minutes worth of writing.

Written this morning for another ten minutes:

This is Riley, who begins sixth grade on Monday: 

Riley

Riley is the younger brother of one of my all-time favorite students, Aaron, who started with me in 7th grade and is now a junior at UCLA. I still help him with an occasional term paper. Riley is a jokester of the first order and has wormed his way into my heart with his wonderful sense of humor. He’s been coming to me since fourth grade.  He and I are buddies.

Just before this photo was taken, Riley had just read his quick write about his 6th-grade orientation where he’d been making lots of jokes. This prompted a short but forthright “talking to” from me on his opportunity to reset his focus since he is entering middle school. “You’re a smart boy,” I said. “Don’t give those new teachers a reason to be upset with you. Teachers love to laugh too but be sure and be respectful.”  He nodded.  “I may need to reconsider some of my friends,” he said.  “I have one who acts out when he feels criticized and I sometimes get in trouble just because I’m with him.”  Hmmm.  “Good insight,” I said. “You’re smart and funny and that’s great, but just be sensitive to what’s happening around you.”  We hugged when he left. I have my fingers crossed for that boy. He’s a wonderful kid.

As you can see, I wear a few different hats with my students – writing teacher/life coach/friend.  I end up becoming very bonded with these kids since many come to me for a long time.  This is one of the sweetest parts of my life, these students. I have developed some deep, longlasting relationships that I treasure. Of course, I have a few adult students who fall into this same category.  One woman, who I helped during her Clinical Psychology Master’s program and with her thesis, came to see me yesterday.  “I miss coming here,” she said.  “I think I need to write a book just so you and I can keep working together.” That is now in the works.

I could never have dreamed up this life.  I am grateful.

Okay, on that note, I’ll say so long.  I’ll be checking back in again tomorrow.  Until then, stay cool.  

Happy to Announce: Winner of “Hot Flash” Contest with Story Circle Network

I am very happy to announce that I was awarded 1st place and won a cash prize for the flash fiction story below submitted to the “Hot Flash” contest sponsored by Story Circle Network. 

Thank you, SCN, for this honor.

 

Lost and Found
by Len Leatherwood of Beverly Hills, CA

Theresa was tired of feeling lost. She went out to the porch of her house on the lake and stared at the dark night. She couldn’t help but wonder why she had been put on this earth, particularly now that she was out of a job, out of a place to live in the city she loved, out of luck.

The air was chill. She pulled her coat tight across her thin shoulders and was glad that she had plenty of wood already chopped. At least she would not be cold tonight.

A single whistle, long and shrill, came from across the water and she knew it was John, her childhood friend. He had been the first to welcome her when she’d moved back six months ago as a full-time resident. He was a grizzly bear kind of man who was so self-sufficient that all the neighbors called him Iron John. Yes, seeing him would cheer her up. She whistled back, long and low, and returned inside to put the kettle on.

Fifteen minutes later, John stood at her door, though she was surprised to see that his blue eyes, usually cheerful, were dull. And his voice — usually booming with excitement — was barely loud enough for her to hear his hello.

“What’s happened?”

He sat down heavily on the couch. “It’s Jenny. A drunk driver broadsided her out in Arizona and she died at the scene. Forty-three next week and a better driver than I am. I just can’t believe it.”

“Oh, dear Lord! I am so sorry.”

John put his head in his hands. “She was just about to get re-married. Her fiancé was in the car, too, but he made it out fine.”

Theresa had known John’s sister when they were all growing up together. Jenny had never pretended to be more than she was or seemed to need more than she had. Theresa sighed then went to the cupboard. “We’ll have a little supper and then you can sleep on the couch. This is not a night to be home alone.”

“It’s all right. Just let me stay for a little while. I’ll be fine. I have Marty in the truck. I know you don’t approve of dogs in the house, especially big ones like golden retrievers.”

“Suit yourself. But now, come to the table and have something to eat.”

The evening was quiet; the fire bright in the wood stove. Rather than talk, they played gin rummy and drank hot ginger tea. As the clock struck 10:30, John stood up and waved a goodbye from across the room. She watched from the window as the red tail lights of his truck bounced into the dark night.

Towards midnight, Theresa heard the whine of an engine on her road. She slipped her robe on over her gown and was standing on the porch by the time the vehicle pulled into her driveway.

John looked sheepish. “I’d like to take you up on that offer.” She nodded and they walked into the house. The hide-a-bed was already made up in the living room. John looked surprised. “How’d you know?”

“Go get Marty out of the truck. I’ve made a bed for him, too, right on the floor beside you.”

John wiped away tears with the sleeve of his jacket. “Bless you, woman.”

Theresa smiled as she watched him go outside. No longer did she wonder why she’d been put on this earth. For the first time in a very long time, she knew.


About the author:
Len Leatherwood is a transplanted Texan who has lived in Beverly Hills, CA for the past 24 years. She is an award-winning writing teacher as well as a published writer of flash memoir, flash fiction, and personal essay. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for her short fiction in 2015.

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A Few Reasons Why Writing Just 20 Minutes a Day Is Good for You

Next Monday I will be starting an online class for women through Story Circle Network that is entitled, “Writing 20 Minutes a Day for 29 Days.” I have offered this class for several years now and students who participate report that it is scary at first committing to 20 minutes a day for 6 days a week for a month, but that after the class is over, they wish it could continue since it helped so much.  How will 20 minutes of writing a day help, whether you’re a writer or not?  Well, let me just name a few reasons based on my 18 years of experience teaching students, ages 8 – 80.

  1. You will have a chronicle of your daily life, if that’s what you choose to write on.  Just a sliver of your life, to be sure, but one that later you will enjoy looking back on.
  2. You will find after a few days that all that difficulty getting words on the page is getting easier, and after a week or so, you’ll be writing as if that sludgy feeling that once plagued you never even existed.  In other words, your writing will have greater fluidity.
  3. You will find yourself less perfectionistic about your writing, which is a key to creativity.  You have plenty of time to go back and “fix” anything that’s not as you like it, but when you only have 20 minutes to write, you are outrunning that nasty critic that often holds you hostage with ugly words like, “What makes you think YOU have anything to say?” The ability to hold that critic at bay will increase with practice. That’s a good thing.
  4. You will find yourself more observant about the world around you.  When you know that you have to come up with something to write every day, then you actually start looking around for something to write about.  I often take photos in anticipation of my 20 minutes of writing so I have something to refer to when it’s time.
  5. You will have the chance to write about things that are important to you but that you never actually say to anyone.  For example, I wrote about my wedding ring for 20 minutes one day and my grandmother’s rocking chair in another 20-minute session.  I was happy to have a place to articulate how I feel about these things, just for my own enjoyment and satisfaction.
  6. You will feel a sense of relief that you’re actually writing if this is something that’s important to you to do. No more beating  yourself up with thoughts such as,  “I want to write, but just can’t find the time.” When you commit to just 20 minutes a day, you can actually find the time even if it’s in two 10 minute sessions or even four 5 minute sessions.
  7. You will find yourself breathing deeper, feeling more relaxed and having a sense of accomplishment just from taking the time to slow down and put words down on the page.  This can also be thought of as meditation time when you refocus your priorities and simply allow yourself to pour out your thoughts on the page.  This alone would be worth the effort since there is a multitude of research showing the benefits of slowing down and doing something that is calming in your day.
  8. You will feel that your life has more balance.  By taking that 20 minutes, you are whittling a bit of time out of your day that is solely for you.  This goes hand in hand with the meditative quality of this practice. You will soon find that you feel better about life in general and your life in particular.

This list is a reminder to you (and myself) why writing 20 minutes a day is much bigger than simply putting words on a page. It is about claiming a bit of your day just for yourself and thinking of this as a meditation practice as much as a writing process. Then your critic really has nowhere to go with complaints.  After all, you can simply say, “This is just me noticing more closely what’s happening in the world around me and inside my head. No room for a critic here.  I am just musing.”

This is not an advertisement for my online class for women, though if you are inclined, feel free to check out the link: http://www.storycircleonlineclasses.org/classes/leatherwood.summer2018.php

I’ll be checking back in with you tomorrow with another round of my 20 Minutes a Day of writing.  Have a good evening, my friends.

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