Nobody said it was neat.

Not long ago, I went looking for a thank you card in the cabinet over my computer where I saw notebooks and journals standing on their edges on the right side along with several greeting cards. I hadn’t looked at them for quite some time, so I pulled them out to see what wisdom I might encounter.

Perhaps the most wisdom was found in two journal books that were completely blank. (I used to buy nice journals and then was reluctant to sully the pages with drivel, so they remain virginal and in the dark.)

There was one that I had begun (maybe twenty years ago) while reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I started doing morning pages in response to her prompts, although most of my entries began with an apology for not writing in the morning.

One entry, written to the prompt, “Time Travel,” was about a memory from many years before. I wrote about my Creative Writing class in college. I had gone into the class hoping that I would learn something about the creative process and liberate the smoldering writer inside of me.

Sadly, that didn’t happen. I found myself surrounded by a clique of bohemian, hippie wannabes and a professor who was their cult leader. (This was in the early 60’s, after all.) Dr. S. was a rebel and a non-conformist who got into trouble with the administration and the public because, in his literature classes, he taught books that (gasp!) had the F-word in them—and also for partying with the students. His creative writing class was designed to showcase the considerable writing talent the students were expected to bring with them to the room. 

Since I was neither an accomplished poet nor a hippie wannabe, I occupied the fringe in the classroom. I suffered the agony of listening to poems (which was the only form of creative writing he encouraged from the class) that were often “beat” gibberish—poems that expressed non-conformist philosophy and resistance to “the man” through heavy symbolism and blue language. (Don’t get me wrong, even then I loved some of the beat poets and their work, but there was no Lawrence Ferlinghetti among my classmates.) It seemed to me that the less sense a poem made, the better it was. I listened closely to those readings, applauded politely, and wished mightily to be invisible.

Dr. S. did not teach me much. He failed to open up any creative avenues for me; mostly he taught me how unworthy I was to be included in the academic and social circle that had developed in the classroom. I didn’t join them at off-campus parties; had I been invited (not that they ever would have), I would have declined because I would have felt as out of place there as in the classroom. Plus, I just wasn’t into drinking and smoking pot. 

I wrote nothing in that class that I kept or that I even remember. Writing for the class became a painful chore, something to turn in to meet minimal requirements. There was never any follow-up or constructive criticism. No suggestions for revision. Every piece of writing by every student stood on its own merit (whatever merit there might be). I got a C for a final grade, which in such circumstances translates into failure. At least it didn’t have a big effect on my grade point average, although I didn’t make the dean’s list that semester. 

In the years since then, most of my writing has been non-fiction associated with a forty-plus year career as an educator. I have successfully published some of that work to pretty good reviews, even if I say so myself. I worked hard at trying to open creative avenues for my students, and I still have some of their best work among the papers I have kept from my teaching days. 


Uncovering potsherds during a dig.

That said, the smoldering writer inside of me still wants to be set free. To that end, I’m working on a novel, The Clay Remembers, which I hope to release before the end of this year. In general, it was inspired by my fascination with archaeology and with a site not far from where I live.

It is the story of Anna Robinson, an archaeologist who runs away from her abusive husband and finds an affinity for the desert and the mountains that surround her refuge in the southwestern city of Tucson. She participates in the excavation of the site, which has both prehistoric and historic significance. In unearthing artifacts from both periods of habitation, Anna finds spiritual connections to the women who lived there in the past and whose presence provides her with the strength and determination to survive on her own terms even when her husband comes after her.

The novel is fully drafted and in the revision and polishing stages now. It’s a great story that i’m hoping I can tell in a memorable way. The title is from a story by Byrd Baylor called “When Clay Sings.” in which she says, 

There are desert hillsides where ancient Indian pottery still lies half buried in the sand and lizards blink at other dusty lizards that were painted on these pots a thousand years ago…They say that every piece of clay is a piece of someone’s life…They even say it has its own small voice and sings in its own way…Indians who find this pottery today say that everything has its own spirit—even a broken pot.They say the clay remembers the hands that made it.

I know what that means. I took a number of archaeology courses and participated in field activities as a means of learning what I needed to write the story of the women who had lived at the site. The first time I picked up a potsherd, I was focused on the exterior surface and the faded design that was painted on it. When I turned it over, I realized my thumb was resting in the thumbprint of the potter. At that moment, I felt the presence of the woman who had made the pot more than 900 years ago. It’s a feeling that many archaeologists admit they, too, have experienced. And in that moment, my character, Anna, was born.

I plan to begin introducing my characters and some of the events in the story here in my blog.  








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Chicago, Chicago, That Toddlin’ Town . . .

I guess that title will tell some of you how old I am and others will wonder what the heck a “toddlin’ town” is. If you’re curious check this out. In addition to New York, Sinatra sang about Chicago.

2014-07-06 11.51.50The Windy City was the first stop in the “My Health. My Body. My Voice. . .Learning to Live Summer Book Tour.”  Her appearance at the International Museum of Surgical Science on July 5th was very well received. She did a fantastic job and the audience was interested and enthusiastic. The museum was fascinating–lots of interesting historical information and displays about medicine.

We arrived in Chicago in time for the Fourth of July weekend, so we had the time to look around and see some of the sights.

2014-07-06 13.39.10-1 2014-07-06 13.42.34-2  2014-07-06 13.42.34-1

2014-07-03 20.37.34One of the real highlights of the trip was having dinner at Graham Elliot Bistro. Cristy is a huge fan of Master Chef and she and Graham have been Twitter friends for some time. We were excited about going to the Bistro and Graham was the consummate host. And the food! You can’t beat it. There’s no doubt he is one of the best.

2014-07-07 12.29.26

Never saw one of these before, but I’ve discovered they are in many cities across the country: Sprinkles’. Cupcake ATMs. That’s right. You can buy a cupcake at an ATM designed especially to dispense cupcakes. They offer a variety of freshly baked cupcakes. Just slide your credit card, select a flavor (even one for Fido) and the machine goes to work and dispenses a delicious cupcake.

Chicago was definitely a fun city.

Visit the 5 STEPS Advocate website for more information on our programs and offerings.

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Dr. Cristy Kessler and 5 STEPS Advocate Book Tour | Indiegogo

Gearing up for a very important event. We’re taking Cristy’s book, 5 S.T.E.P.S. to Being Your Own Patient Advocate, on the road in July and are in need of funding to help out. Right now, it’s all out-of-pocket expenses, but it is definitely a worthwhile project as the whole concept related to her book has generated a new venture. More about that in a moment. Take a look at her video from the IndieGoGo crowdfunding site.

To learn more and to contribute, go to Dr. Cristy Kessler and 5 STEPS Advocate Book Tour | Indiegogo.

Now, for the “more” I promised to add.

In telling her powerful story, Cristy discovered a passion for helping others use the strategies she developed over a lifetime of health care to become her own best patient advocate. We are developing a project called 5 STEPS Advocate, which is a promising company that provides health care education through books, workshops, webinars, podcasts and consulting services to individuals and organizations concerned with illness, wellness and recovery.

Our plan is not only to publish additional books (with workbooks) to serve a broader community of patients, caregivers, and medical professionals, but also to provide personalized service through workshops and one-on-one consultations, teaching patients and their caregivers how to open doors that have been shut by conventional healthcare systems.

It’s an exciting venture involving Cristy, me, and two other very talented women.

5 STEPS Advocate

  • teaches patients and their caretakers to embrace the 5 STEPS Principles*  and recognize that Knowledge is Power;
  • teaches patients and their caretakers how to open doors that have been shut by conventional health care systems and how to move forward when fear and societal expectations promote inaction;
  • creates an environment of hope for individuals with chronic or severe illness and their caretakers and we empower all people to advocate for their health care needs.

*The 5 S.T.E.P.S.are Sensibility, Teamwork, Education, Patience/Perseverance, Sustainability. They are based on the following principles:

  • ŸWe know what our bodies are telling us about our well being and we need the tools to communicate that clearly to our physicians.
  • ŸWe, along with our doctors and our network of family and friends, collaborate and work as a team for the most effective medical outcomes.
  • ŸWe do our own research regarding our medical issues and share our learning with team members who reciprocate with support and the sharing of knowledge.
  • ŸWe are patient with our bodies, ourselves, and others; we persevere regardless of setbacks and obstacles we encounter.
  • ŸWe recognize that our overall well being depends on sustaining not only the body, but also the mind and spirit.

More details coming soon regarding the book tour. In the meantime, any contribution, no matter how small, is appreciated.


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Five Steps Blog: Cristy’s Mistake

Cristy, like so many others who have been through a dangerous health journey and came out on the other side, explains how her current wellness contributed to her failure to do something she must do to maintain and sustain her health after her stem cell translplant.

I Made A Common Health Mistake

PictureI made a mistake. It is a common mistake, especially when I feel so darn good. But nonetheless, I made a huge error. This mistake is one that others make frequently, too, because when we feel healthy we don’t think we need to do routine blood work and urine samples. But guess what, we do!

You see, on March 21, 2014, I celebrated 3 years post-transplant. And life has been good to me since returning home from Turkey in 2011. In the beginning I was still seeing my quarterback, Dr. Uramoto, once a month for check-up appointments, lab work, and general physical exams. I would go for my lab work, usually a day or two prior to our appointments, and Dr. Uramoto would review the results with me during my office visit. I would then scan and email PDFs copies to Dr. Gulbas (my other quarterback and leader of my transplant team) in Turkey. Both doctors would review the results and let me know if there were any reasons to be concerned. For the most part, all of my lab work (blood and urine) were always on track with recovery from a peripheral stem cell transplant. It took well over a year before my red blood cell count was back in the normal range, but it happened and I progressed as well as could be expected. Occasionally, well more frequently than any of us wanted, I would get an infection of some sort. What helped in making sure I nipped these infections in the bud was my regularly scheduled lab work.

I have standing orders at the local diagnostic lab. I have had these standing orders since 2007. That’s right, 2007, a very long time when it comes to being sick. Prior to my transplant, I went through a period of time where my labs were drawn every two weeks. So it was easy for me to remember to get the labs done, it was just a part of the routine prior to each office visit with my quarterback.

. . . .
Read the rest of Cristy’s post here.



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The Pants of Shame | Kristen Lamb’s Blog

The Pants of Shame


The Pants of Shame are rumored to have been forged in the black bowels of Hell, created by the most unholy of unions–the Knitting Needles of the Damned and the Yarn of Infernal Intent. No one truly know the origin of the POS, we just know their powers can be used for great good or great evil. Currently, a religious sect of highly caffeinated writers known as the Cult of #MyWANA are in possession of The Pants, harnessing their powers to help writers focus on their WIP lest they be forced to gaze upon the Pants, which have been known to cause temporary blindness and permanent insanity.

via The Pants of Shame | Kristen Lamb’s Blog.

To learn more about POS, visit Kristen’s blog and weigh in on your thinking about how these pants came to be.

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The “Hemingway App”–an Interesting Exercise

I recently ran across the Hemingway App, an app designed to make you write “bold and clear,” in the manner of Ernest Hemingway, whose prose was spare and stripped of fluff.

I copied a piece of my entry from October 10, “I Wasn’t Expecting It,” to see what it might tell me about my writing. This particular entry was initiated by a prompt given by my journal writing group, so I had little thought about where it might one day lead. I may return to it sometime to see what follows.

For now, though, it served as a good example to check against the Hemingway standard. This is what I learned. (The colored fonts indicate the Hemingway standard that is violated.)

I wasn’t expecting it. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but that certainly wasn’t it.

I had a very definite destination. I had things to do, people to see, and I didn’t have time for any distractions. Damn it, there was just too much to do.

It was an ordinary street—houses on either side with neat little yards and pretty painted shutters. Windows darkened so you might wonder what is happening inside. Children’s toys in the yards, a pink tricycle overturned on the front walk of a house that on closer inspection wasn’t as neat as the others. I briefly wondered what that meant. Did the child drop it and run inside when mama called her to dinner, or did mama come outside and drag her by the arm off the tricycle and into the house with a swat on the butt. I wondered about that little girl.

I had paused in front of that house and stared, my destination forgotten for the moment. The house had nothing to say. I wondered why I had been so drawn to it and cursed myself for having stopped. I had things to do; get on with it.

I turned the corner into the next street, determined to avoid any additional distractions, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.

Green vines and leaves cascaded down from the top of a wall that stretched out along a broken sidewalk. A fragrance floated on the breeze from the masses of leaves and vines. I looked for the flowers that must be there, but there were none—at least none that I could see. I moved closer to the wall and lifted one of the pale green leaves. A succulent. I squeezed it, allowing the juices to run down through my fingers. That was where the fragrance came from. Sweet, somewhat spicy, soothing.

The entire entry was truncated, so this is where it stopped. On the webpage, they highlighted certain sentences and words and used the following key to explain their analysis. So I think, for this writing, I didn’t do badly.

. . . .
Grade 6
Good (aim for a grade level less than ten for bold, clear writing, so I did well there.)
Paragraphs: 6
Sentences: 24
Words: 308
Characters: 1346

Please note that since the highlighting shown on the webpage did not copy into the text here, the font color distinguishes the categories as specified by the app:

3 of 24 sentences are hard to read.
0 of 24 sentences are very hard to read.
2 adverbs. Aim for 2 or fewer.
2 words or phrases can be simpler.

0 uses of passive voice. Aim for 0 or fewer.


Interesting. I expected to be somewhere much further from Hemingway, as I am inclined to writing long sentences and using adverbs a little too freely.

The website offered a link for a desktop version of Hemingway. When I clicked on it, a small window opened asking if I would be willing to pay $5 for a desktop version. This was a means of testing demand the window explained. When I clicked No, it simply said “Thanks,” and I had to “x” the window. When I clicked “yes,” a page opened asking for an email address to be notified when the desktop version is ready.

It’s an interesting kind of app that many writers may find useful, remembering that we are not all Ernest Hemingway and that his style of spare prose is not always a measure of excellence. Given the choice, though, I prefer Hemingway over Henry James, who could write a sentence that filled multiple pages. (I once tried to diagram a James sentence and was nearly committed to an asylum!)

It’s an interesting approach to evaluating your writing. I’ll keep my eye out for it. You may find it interesting as well. Let me know if you try it and how it works for you. What do you think? Is Hemingway the standard we should be following in the 21st century?


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Revisiting Why Boxelders and Blackberries?

One of the first entries I wrote when i started this blog in 2009 related to the title. This is what I said:

The big, old boxelder that grew in the side yard at my house when I was growing up became my sanctuary when I needed privacy or just someplace to get away from it all. It had a double trunk that split into two directions about three and a half feet off the ground. It was just perfect for climbing into and then climbing one trunk higher until I could be hidden in the foliage. I often took books along with me and spent hours hidden among the dappled shadows, pretending the characters in the books were my own friends or family, dreaming myself into other worlds.

Blackberry picking is one of my favorite memories of childhood. My brothers and sisters and I would come home with buckets of the sweet, dark berries, our faces smeared with purple juice, and our arms scored with red streaks of honor and bravery. Blackberry brambles are wickedly protective of their bounty!

When I think back to what I wrote then, I think it barely captures what that tree meant to me and doesn’t say enough about those blackberry brambles.

My life at home was not always a happy life. The memories are often told in the stories that populate this blog. “1945,” tells about a very young child’s introduction to racism; “Of  Trees, Tubs, Queen Anne’s Lace, and Silence” describes the view from the boxelder tree; “Caught in the Wringer,” is about washing clothes with an old wringer washer and trying to escape the violence surrounding Maggie Jean; “Freedom Riders 50th Anniversary,” recounts my little contribution to history; and “Prelude to a Not-So-Ordinary Day” and “Horse Latitudes” tell about an extraordinary (and dangerous) experience I had with my horse.  The tragedy of my sister’s life (and death) is told in “Why Didn’t You Catch Me?” There are others here that tell my story.

Some are told in the first person; others are told from the point of view of little Nellie Quinn, awkward Maggie Jean, thoughtful Sheila, or my own grown self. Whomever is the POV character, she is always me as I have tried to find my voice in the cacophony of a chaotic world. Nellie is my childhood self; Maggie Jean my adolescent self; Sheila my grown self; and in the other stories, I suppose, I don’t skirt my identity.

I realize now that there are no stories about the blackberry brambles (yet), but I am confident they will emerge.

What stories do you have? How do you tell them? Are you comfortable admitting they are your own stories, or do you hide behind a fictional persona?

I’ve never really seen Nellie or Maggie Jean or Sheila as personas to hide behind. In fact, I’ve never pretended that they are not me. When I’ve shared these stories with writing groups, they always understand I’m telling my own stories. Somehow, I think, writing in the third person is easier than first, especially when dealing with painful memories.

How do you deal with that? I’d love to hear your comments, thoughts, and practices.

Posted in Dysfunctional Families, Fiction, Freedom Riders, Horseback Riding, Meanderings, Meanings, Memoir, Memories, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seasons of Our Lives Memoirs

Just about a yAd-SCN-Seasons-of-Our-Lives-Spring-Coverear ago, I published a blog post called “1945,” a memoir piece starring my childhood alter ego, Nellie Quinn. Then, a little less than a month ago, I announced that it had been published in an anthology of women’s memoirs and was available at Amazon. There are four anthologies available with a variety of women’s stories; each story is followed by a “takeaway,” or a memoir writing lesson based on what the author of that particular piece had done.

Here is the takeaway that Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett, editors of the series, wrote about “1945.”

The author has done three quite interesting things with this piece that are worth considering. First, she has the thoughts of an adult . . . “fight their way into the stanchions” . . . but accurately reflects the language and actions of a small child . . . “she climbed down the steps, turning backward so she could hold on to one step while her feet found the one below.” It takes a strong writer not to confuse readers, but Sharon Miller has pulled it off. . . .

Second, did you notice that she wrote the story through the voice of a third-person narrator? That’s how she accomplished the seamless melding of adult understanding with the words of a small child. We think this makes it a charming and effective story. . . .

And third, she has strong character and visual descriptions. Notice what she writes about Friz:

  • tall black man
  • deeply lined face
  • salt and pepper, close-cropped hair, easy smile . . . .

There’s more, but I’ll leave it to you to explore my story as well as others included in the four anthologies. Read on to find out how to get all four anthologies at a special price.

Today, February 1, Seasons of Our Lives, 4 memoir anthologies are in Amazon’s Kindle Store for the launch price of just $ .99 each. Now you can get all four for less than the regular price of 1.

Why do you want them? Seasons of Our Lives (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) include 100 award-winning stories and 100 takeaways or mini-lessons on examining our lives and writing our stories in powerful ways.

Interested? Here are the links:

SEASONS OF OUR LIVES: SPRING           http://amzn.to/1dCV07E
SEASONS OF OUR LIVES: SUMMER         http://amzn.to/1fdnRnQ
SEASONS OF OUR LIVES: AUTUMN          http://amzn.to/1aU3Z4o
SEASONS OF OUR LIVES: WINTER           http://amzn.to/1cdviuw

Additional details are available at the WomensMemoirs blog.

Posted in Meanderings, Meanings, Memoir, Memories | 1 Comment

“1945” has been published

The blog entry from February 9, 2013, entitled “1945,” has been published in an anthology of women’s memoirs called “Seasons of Our Lives: Spring” and is available on Amazon at this link.

You might want to check out the website for these memoirs. There are lots of opportunities to share your stories as the editors, Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler, do seasonal memoirs each year and it is a great opportunity to get your stories out there. (Are you paying attention, Betty Anne????)

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5 S.T.E.P.S. to Being Your Own Patient Advocate

ImageGuest Post by Cristy L. Kessler

In Mid-November the eBook version of 5 S.T.E.P.S to Being your Own Patient Advocate was released and on December 1, the print version was released. It has been an exciting time for me to watch this process unfold.

In July 2013, Liz and I made our annual trek to Europe. This particular trip would include visits to Brighton and London in the United Kingdom and, what now has become a part of this annual trip, to Turkey to visit my transplant team at Anadolu Medical Center. It was during this year’s visit that I finally was able to voice to the feelings I had been having in terms of what I hoped to do with my new-found healthy life. I wanted to work for Anadolu, or at least help to make others in the world aware of this first-class medical facility with world class doctors and patient representatives/advocates. As I continued to toss the idea around, the idea for the book came into focus. I would use my own story to help others understand how to navigate their own medical journey.

5 S.T.E.P.S. to Being Your Own Patient Advocate is a guide for patients and a peek into my own life. When I say guide, it is just that. The book is a framework that others could use in whole, or part, to help empower themselves to navigate what sometimes can be a very winding road. When I say it gives you a peek into my life, I use snapshots from my medical journey to provide the reader with real-life examples for each step. The easiest part of writing this book was that I found my writer’s voice almost immediately. I didn’t have the writer’s block I had had in the past, it all just seemed to flow. I also impressed myself, even if I do say so myself, that I was able to project my sense of humor in my writing. And when the first draft was finally on paper, I realized I do have something to say that is grounded in years of actual experience.

From the time I was twenty-four years old (1995) until age forty (2011), I had nine major procedures, three major treatment plans, which involved lengthy out-patient administration at the hospital or training from specialists at the hospital, and two visits to major health care centers where I spent a week meeting various doctors of different specialties and having further testing done: the first to see if I was a candidate for a stem cell transplant, and the other to confirm what my rheumatologist diagnosed in Hawaii. I had been to eleven different hospitals located in three different states and two in foreign countries. All of this in sixteen years.

That’s a lot of medical stuff. I don’t care who you are. Wink, wink. But what still amazes me when I see this list, this number of health events, is that I was able to get the end result I needed, a stem cell transplant. I really hope the numbers mentioned above have peaked your curiosity enough to want to read my book. I can assure you, for those that do know me, I wrote this just like I would be having a conversation with you. My sense of humor is spot on so I know if nothing else, you will find yourself laughing at some point. Maybe it will be the impatient patient wanting to be bald, or maybe it will be the story where I agree that one of my health issues was truly “just in my head.”

I hope you pick up the book and walk through the snapshots of my life with me. Both the eBook and/or the print version are available at nearly all online outlets: Kindle, Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Scribd, theCopia, Sony, iBookstore, eBay

If you buy your print copy from the CreateSpace eStore, enter Z3UCRCM9 for a 10% discount.

Mahalo Nui Loa, Cristy

Visit our website for more information.

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