Expressive Writing: Part 2 of 3

I have a new workshop offered by Story Circle Network starting June 3rd, titled “Refresh Your Expressive Writing Skills.” We’ll talk about writing effective sentences and paragraphs, review the most common grammar problems, and brush up on essay writing skills.

As a warm-up, I’m offering a tip or two and publishing an essay by a participant in a previous version of this workshop, “Basic Writing Refresher” offered by Madison College last fall.

Week 2 Effective Writing Tips from Sarah

Sentence skills! Who thinks about them? And yet, how confident are you in your sentence-craft?

Here are a few of the most common errors I see, as an editor:

Failure to use parallel sentence structure: Parallelism is when words or sections of a sentence that are similar in function have similar grammatical forms. By balancing the items in a pair or a series so that they have the same kind of structure, you will make the sentence clearer and easier to read. Sentences that are not parallel are awkward to read and sometimes unclear. Nonparallel: My job includes checking the inventory, initialing the orders, and to call the suppliers. Parallel: My job includes checking the inventory, initialing the orders, and calling suppliers.

Fragments: Every sentence must have a subject and a verb and must express a complete thought. A word group that lacks these must-haves is a fragment. There are several kinds: Dependent-word fragments lack a complete thought. Example: “Jane walked all over the neighborhood. Trying to find her cat.” Easily fixed by joining the two sentences with a comma.

Run-ons: A run-on is two complete thoughts that are run together with no sign given to mark the break between them. Some run-ons have no punctuation at all. These are called fused sentences. Example: “The car stopped suddenly I spilled soda all over my shirt.” Easily fixed by adding a few connecting words –“The car stoped so suddenly that…”

Other run-ons have a comma, but a comma alone is not enough to connect two complete thoughts. These are called comma splices. Example: Joe told everyone to be quiet, his favorite show was on. Easily fixed, using one of three common tweaks:

  • Use a period and capital letter.
  • Use a comma plus a joining word (such as but, or, and, so, yet).
  • Use a semi-colon.

A final tip: To turn on your “sentence sense,” read what you’ve written aloud! This activates your natural language skills that come from speaking English.

Lorraine wrote the following essay in response to the same assignment as Betty Merkes’ essay last week: Write a personal essay drawn from life experience.


By Loriann Knapton

Author’s note: The essay reflects my thoughts and my mom’s memories of similar newspaper columns in her hometown paper. The Jen Kvidt and Martinius Kvidt families are real people and relatives of my mother’s. I created names of columns and other people, and imagined the events mentioned, to illustrate how these local news items were crafted.

Long before Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter were born; before Email, Messenger, or the World Wide Web were conceived, there existed critical social networks for the masses. These networks were as popular, as reliable, (or not), and as critical to sustaining human connection as any social media platform today. People called it the local newspaper.

Unlike major city newspapers, which focused mainly on national and state news with perhaps a society page with funeral and wedding notices tossed in, the rural weekly included news of specific interest to the community. Current local farm market prices, local disasters such as a barn fire or car accident, the baseball score of the American Legion baseball game, information on an upcoming church social or 4-H meeting, obituaries, hospital admissions and police reports often completed the bulk of the weekly paper. While some national and state news headlines might be printed, the primary purpose of the local rural weekly was to update community members on local events.

For example, in my Mother’s hometown, a small farming community in northern Minnesota, a column entitled, “Local Happenings” or something similar, (the titles sometimes changed depending on how creative the columnist was feeling that week.) was a beloved staple of the weekly newspaper. The columns were the first thing everyone turned to when the paper arrived in Wednesday’s mail with its content often the highlight of conversation at the dinner table on Wednesday evening.  

Far more popular than the weekly headlines or world events, the local news column was written by a community member, usually an older local farm wife with no children at home, to which people would submit their items of interest in the hope that their “news” would find its place in the local happenings section of the weekly. “Mr. and Mrs. Jens Nelson, visited the home of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Kvidt last Saturday night for supper,” one paragraph might read, “after a delicious meal of swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and Alma Nelson’s blue ribbon lingonberry pie, the men beat the women at whist two games out of three.” Other important information included notations on births such as “Mr. and Mrs. Alden Johnson welcomed a healthy baby girl on Thursday November 12, a much welcome addition after five boys. Mother and baby came home from the hospital last Thursday and are doing well”; engagements, “William Johnson and Lillian Nelson are delighted to announce their upcoming nuptials planned for later next spring after the crops are in.” or family visits from out of town such as, “Mr. and Mrs. Martinius Kvidt, hosted their daughter Anna and son-in-law Peter, all the way from Fargo, last weekend to help Martinius celebrate his 78th birthday. A special dinner was served for eight guests on Saturday night, including Mr. Kvidt’s favorite poppy seed cake.”

The local news column found in small town newspapers everywhere was an edited version of daily life. It kept isolated rural neighbors in touch by allowing them to focus on something outside of the grind of daily farm life while helping them celebrate the simple joys of living. The column kept neighbors up to date with each other’s lives, provided diversions from long summer days, and even longer cold winter nights, and gave folks something to contemplate, celebrate, or criticize, depending on their perspective.

In this writer’s humble opinion, Twitter and Facebook have nothing on “Local Happenings” or the rural weekly. In fact, technology aside, today’s instantaneous social media may not even be as effective. Because these days the ability to contemplate, celebrate, and criticize is available with one simple quick click. No thought or editor required.  

©  2021 Lorraine Knapton

Loriann Knapton recently retired from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction where she served as a child nutrition consultant and trainer. Although unpublished, she has been none the less a writer all of her life, starting with silly rhymes and short stories in grade school and moving on to countless poems, personal essays and eulogies for family members and friends.  In retirement she is delighted to finally have the time to work on completing a memoir of growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks” in the 1960s with a disabled dad. 

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Expressive Writing: Part 1 of 3

I have a new workshop offered by Story Circle Network starting June 3rd, titled “Refresh Your Expressive Writing Skills.” We’ll talk about writing effective sentences and paragraphs, review the most common grammar problems, and brush up on essay writing skills.

As a warm-up, for the next three weeks I’ll offer a tip or two, and publish an essay by a participant in a previous version of this workshop, “Basic Writing Refresher” offered by Madison College last fall.

Week 1 Effective Writing Tips from Sarah

How much thought do you give to composing a paragraph? It’s something we often do without a second thought, but that could benefit from a little conscious appreciation. With solid paragraph skills, our essays become much stronger.

A well-crafted paragraph starts with a topic (a controlling idea), contains supporting sentences that layer in details and evidence, and concludes with a sentence that wraps up what’s been said, driving home the point of the opening sentence.

A good essay does the same.

An essay begins with an introductory paragraph that advances a central idea, or thesis, that will be developed in the essay. This paragraph often includes a preview of the major points that will support the thesis, presented in the order they will appear in the essay.

Supporting paragraphs follow, making points that advances the thesis, paragraph by paragraph.

A concluding paragraph summarizes the essay by briefly restating the thesis, perhaps recapping the main supporting points. The conclusion should serve as a “bookend” to the introductory paragraph.

Betty Merkes wrote the following essay in response to an assignment to use these paragraph and essay skills to write a personal essay drawn from life experience.

The Saga of My Tin Music Boxes

By Betty Merkes

Over the years, I have been collecting tin music boxes to keep at my office. I have found them at garage and estate sales, and resale shops. I have received them as gifts, and I have also purchased a few. Whenever and however I received a new keepsake, I would  bring it to my office and add it to my collection.  Many visitors that came to my office commented on how nice they looked and how they added a personal touch to my office. My collection has grown quite extensively over the past 25 years.

It is now time for me to start thinking about retirement.  In my case, I say jokingly, “symbolically my retirement will be a kicking and screaming affair”.  But to start this inevitable process, I have gone to my office, packed up a few music boxes  at a time and brought them home.  This was accomplished over quite a few weekends with the help of my granddaughter.

WHAT, you ask, did I do with all these wonderful souvenirs now that they are at my home?  ANSWER,  I had glass shelves installed on both sides of the beam in my living room.  With the shelves installed,

WHO, you ask, would help me put all the keepsakes on the shelves?   ANSWER, two of my grandchildren did.  We grouped them by their theme.  However, some of the music boxes were too tall to fit on the shelves.

HOW, you ask, did I solve this dilemma?  ANSWER,  I put the taller ones in different places around my condo.  As my daughter and her children were leaving, she nonchalantly looked up at the shelves and said, “they sure would look terrific if a string of lights were put behind them. That would really set them off”!

WHAT, you ask, should I do now?  ANSWER, the coronavirus was now taking hold,  but I visited Michael’s  website, ordered three strings of lights, and used their curbside pick-up.  Now that I have the lights, I knew I could not put them up myself.   Physically I could not go up and down the step ladder that many times.

HOW, you ask, should I handle this new quandary?  ANSWER,  my grandson came over and intertwined the lights behind and around the music boxes.  The lights really made the music boxes sparkle!   “Whew”!   I thought I was done.  As my daughter and grandson were leaving, my daughter asked, “is there any way to put an outlet about four inches from the ceiling so the cord would not hang down the wall”?–I really must discourage my daughter from constantly coming up with new ideas.

WHAT, you ask, can I do about the cord hanging down the wall in plain sight?  ANSWER, it had to wait a few months, but I engaged a handyman, who put in a new outlet five inches from the ceiling.

Now let me reveal two wonderful shocking surprises.  I counted my keepsakes.  On each side of the glass shelf I had 13 music boxes. My lucky number has always been the number 13. I patted myself on the back and jumped up and down.  I sat down to recover from the shock and physical exercise.  Then I walked around my house and counted the rest of my souvenirs.

WHAT, you ask was the total number of keepsakes that I have?  ANSWER,  I have 42 music boxes.  Again,  I patted myself on the  back and jumped up and down. I sat down to recover from the shock and physical exercise. I knew I was on the right track.  The number 42 was my late sister’s favorite number, and she used to say, “42 was the answer to any question”.

I know the numbers are just a coincidence, but I am content with all my efforts.  Now when I retire, I will be able to lounge on the couch, eat bon-bons and look up and see my lovely legacy.

©  2021 Betty J. Merkes

Betty is a widowed senior citizen living in a condominium on the far east side of Madison, WI.   She has been on the Board of her condominium for seven years.  It was not in her plans to remain on the Board this long, it just happened and with no end in sight!   

She has been employed at the same company for 42 years at the end of April.  It is a small company, and she wears many hats.  She is the unofficial office manager.  She is the receptionist, bookkeeper, supervisor of the subscription database. She handles many miscellaneous jobs, even defrosting the small office  refrigerator.  She has a lovely office where she had all the beautiful tin music boxes from the accompanying story. She is tentatively planning to retire in about 18 months.  She wants to sit on the couch with her legs up, look at her tin music boxes (especially when those tiny strings of lights are on) and eat bon bons!  Boy, is she a dreamer!

She enjoyed going out and doing different activities with her friends but this has been temporarily delayed   due to COVID.  At home she enjoys doing word puzzles while watching TV. She has many different house plants that constantly need “tender loving care,” which she is happy to provide. Her grandchildren come over quite often and she enjoys the company of four of them who are senior teenagers with approaching maturity. She loves kidding them about just about everything. Her life is full, and she is grateful for all her blessings.

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Next Avenue Published My Essay!

My mother in her Happy Place, Olbrich Gardens.

While I was pursuing my Big MFA Adventure, learning to write a commercially-publishable book and build my platform to resemble that of a commercially-publishable author, we were encouraged to submit for publication. It didn’t matter what we submitted–book reviews, articles peeled from our book research, personal essays. The goal was a byline.

As a result, starting in late 2018 at the beginning of my second MFA year, I undertook a “100 Rejections Project.” Simply put, you celebrate rejections as necessary steps on the way to your dreams.

I began studying what kinds of small magazines (print or online) published the kinds of things I like to write. I began submitting–book reviews, articles peeled from my book research, personal essays. And guess what! I got more acceptances than rejections! Here we are 2-1/2 years later, and I still haven’t hit 100 Rejections yet.

My biggest “win” occurred a few weeks ago when a personal essay was accepted by Next Avenue, a national journalism service offering news, advice, information, and stories curated for people over 50, produced by Twin Cities PBS (TPT). This is “big” not just because of the reach of the platform (over 70 million!), but because it was my first personal essay to be published.

The essay incubated in me for more than a year, then spilled out in an hour on New Year’s Day. I read it to my First Monday, First Person group, and liked how it felt. I decided to submit it to the New York Times Well section and to Next Avenue. Never heard back from the New York Times, but immediately received a reply from the Next Avenue Health and Caregiving editor.

“I like the essay a lot. Would you consider adding a couple of expert voices to it?” A couple of phone calls, a couple of hours weaving in the interviews, chase down a photo… look Ma, I’m a Journalist! Published in a national platform! Which is really a family tribute, because my mother and father were freelance journalists, published in national magazines, in their day.

And now, without further ado, I invite you to read:

In Life’s Last Chapter, What Matters? A Room With a View.

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Memories of “Little Brother”

By Patricia LaPointe

Writing outside, a memory floats away and lands on a wind chime. It attaches so strongly that it clings to the words on it, creating an imprint: Nick Romito, 1951-2016

Although he was less than three years younger than me, I always referred to Nick as “little brother.” It is the many memories I have of our life together that come to mind.

The toddler who couldn’t quite pronounce my name. He called me Paprisha.

The little boy who would ride his hobby horse as he looked out the window, waiting for me to come home from school. And the day when his horse was too close to the open closet door, and his vigorous rocking caused him to sail into the hanging clothes.

The little boy who could play outside for hours and return home without a speck of dirt on him.

The little boy who sat patiently when we played school and I taught him the alphabet.

The pre-teen I comforted when Dad missed his Little League games.

The teenager creating many garage bands he was sure would succeed.

The teenager who would walk to my work and take my car without telling me.

The young man who railed against our mother when she threatened not to attend my wedding.

The young man who nearly died of meningitis while in the Marines.

Sitting in a waiting room for hours when the 40-something man underwent triple bypass surgery.

Supporting him through two divorces from women he tried to “save.” Reminding him that he wasn’t “Mighty Mouse” coming to save the day. Finally, he found a woman, Mary, who saved him.

Picking up the phone and hearing him ask “Have you heard this one?” Followed most often by a “dirty joke.”

His arms around me as we said our last goodbyes to Mom and Dad.

Holding his hand, telling him how much I loved him, as I watched the lines of his heart monitor go flat.

Closing his big, brown eyes when his soul had left his body.

And how I wished he had been there to see me reach under his body in the casket to retrieve pictures, placed there by a woman who nearly ruined his marriage. I couldn’t let her be with him, dead or alive. How he would laugh at the image of me, on my toes, saying “sorry Nick” and almost knocking the casket off its stand.

This story could not have been about just a memory or just a loss. This story of my “Little Brother” is not one without the other.

©  2021 Patricia LaPointe

Pat LaPointe, editor of Changes in Life, a monthly online women’s newsletter, is contributing editor of the anthology, The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys from Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment. In addition, she conducts writing workshops for women — both online and onsite. Pat’s essays and short stories have been published widely. Currently, Pat is completing her first novel, forthcoming late 2021.

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The Algebra Cheaters

By Marlene B. Samuels

At home, during dinner, I sit next to my father at the kitchen table. I tell him about my cheater classmates, about the ways in which they write on their arms, how much it disturbs me and how much willpower it takes for me not pick up my books and move to a different seat. First, he grimaces. A second later, his face is transformed by the  cynical smile with which I’m more than familiar. When his sleeves are rolled-up, I see his numbers and they, too, look as though they were scribbled on his arm. They appear to be a faded black — more like charcoal gray, and are followed by the geometric symbol of great significance. The symbol, a triangle, is a special code designating him as a Jew,  that triangle representing one-half of the Star of David.

In the decades since he was marked with them, my father’s numbers have seeped into his skin so deeply, they reach down into the very core of his soul. Unlike my cheater-classmates, he was anything but the master of his own skin-scribbles.

“So nu?” he asks me in his Polish-accented English, “Do you think for these boys who do such writing on their skin, they have answers? You know something what I learned?” He asks. “Maybe these boys will pass their algebra quizzes by their cheating, yes?”

I shrug my shoulders, not sure what my response should be and wonder if there is a correct answer to his questions. But my father continues. “What I want to know is if these boys, these cheaters, would be able to solve important problems if their lives depended on this? Ach, maybe but probably not, huh?”

I don’t really understand what he’s asking me, what he might say next, or where he’s headed with his seemingly disjointed comments and questions. One thing of which I am absolutely positive—my father’s talk is a lesson that will be tied to the five numbers tattooed on his right arm.  “You know my numbers?” He asks me. His question is rhetorical. “I passed such tests like what those nicht guttnick (no good) cheater boys never in their whole lives would imagine there could be! And you know something else?” He adds, “Still, I know nothing from the answers. Maybe you could say because of this, I’m also a cheater, huh?” He laughs at his last remark, inhaling with an airy little sniff that suggests he’s greatly amused by his own verbal cleverness.

“So, you know I never cheated in math, yes? But you know what else? For sure I cheated at death! Those boys what are in this class of yours? Do you really think that for eine sekunde (one second) their cheating would for them help if they had to pass the staying-alive tests like what I had to pass —every second of every day of every month for those four years when I was in hell?”

What I do come to realize, during our dinner conversation, is that in my next math quiz-day, whatever distress I may experience upon seeing the cheaters’ arms is likely to be replaced by different emotions. Maybe I’ll regard them as fools? Or will I feel pity for them? Because I now realize that their lack of awareness, lack of worldliness, and their naïveté about cheating versus knowing would, under different circumstances, surely be their death sentences.

© 2021 Marlene B. Samuels

Marlene Samuels earned her Ph.D. from University of Chicago where she serves on the Advisory Council to the Graduate School, Social Sciences Division. A research sociologist and instructor, Marlene is conducting research, with partner Pat LaPointe, for their anthology about female-to-female relational aggression. Marlene edited and coauthored The Seamstress: A Memoir of Survival, is author of When Digital Isn’t Real: Fact Finding Off-Line for Serious Writers, and is completing her book, Ask Mr. Hitler: A Memoir Told In Short Story. Marlene’s essays and stories have been published widely including in Lilith Magazine, Our Echo, Story Circle Network Anthologies, Iowa Summer Writers’ Anthology and others. Marlene divides her time between Chicago and Sun Valley, Idaho with her amazing, emotionally-supportive Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Ted and George. 

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Madagascar, 1967

By Marg Sumner

No one has ever accused me of traveling light. In August 1967 I deplaned in Madison, Wisconsin, carrying a train case, which every proper female traveler had in those days, but somewhere along the line I lost my white gloves, the other travel essential. I’d spent the summer in the island nation of the Malagasy Republic (aka Madagascar). I bore a valiha (a stringed instrument made from a 3’ hollow bamboo stalk), a souvenir spear (also 3’) and a raffia souvenir (3′, of course) ostrich. For good measure, I was wearing a 3’ broad sombrero. I got off the plane with some attitude as well. My best friend Carol was there, so good a friend that she sacrificed the final episode of The Fugitive to welcome me home. I doubt my homecoming gift to her matched her sacrifice.

Souvenir ostriches in the market where I purchased the one I carried home.
The zoma (market) where we bought food & souvenirs. Those heaps in front of the women are grated carrots, mixed peas/carrots, tomatoes and maybe some other vegetables. 

In June 1967 I left Madison on my first plane to New York, my first ocean liner to Rotterdam, followed by a bus trip to Paris, and another plane ride of 16 hours with a refueling stop in Djibouti, East Africa, landing in Tananarive. In 1967 were you familiar with even the words Djibouti, Tananarive, Malagasy Republic? Maybe you’d heard of the country’s actual name of Madagascar.

Ten weeks later I flew toward home via Kampala (another proper noun that didn’t enter our lexicon until Idi Amin began to slaughter his fellow Ugandans). We refueled in Malta and picked up white apartheid-spouting exchange students from South Africa. Then to Paris, New York, Chicago and Madison.

I went to Madagascar traveling light, but with significant baggage. I remember bringing popcorn (a huge hit) and an album of Mahalia Jackson, that powerful gospel singer, also welcome. I was a small-town good girl, good enough to be chosen by a community committee that gave me a recommendation strong enough to convince the exchange program staff in New York that I was substantial enough for their most challenging placement, the politically unstable country of the Malagasy Republic.

That was my facade. I was a teenage Potemkin village. My life to that point consisted of intense pressure to excel, to provide solid proof that my family was all that it portrayed itself, exemplary big fish in a small pond. And behind the Potemkin village? Thirteen years of emotional and sexual abuse. I was nothing; I was the color of oatmeal.

Senator Mitch McConnell could have been speaking of me when he said of a fellow annoying senator a couple decades later, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Madagascar filled me with primary colors, and they were everywhere. The view from my bedroom window was partially obscured by a poinsettia tree (a tree!) in full blood-red blossom. Bougainvillea bloomed everywhere. Thorny hedges deceptively softened by red flowers. Cloudless blue skies, mirrored in terraced rice paddies. Two-story ocher farm houses. Heaps of hell-hot peppers in the market. The fact of the colors I understood, but beyond that, what can I say? I drank in the new, the weird, the inedible and the edible, the incomprehensible, the unimaginable, all defined by their colors. Madagascar filled my soul.

I came home to resume my position as primary punching bag (literally), but I was no longer empty. I had color in me and a sense that I could achieve something. My life was red now; the oatmeal nothingness was banished. I haven’t achieve anything great, but I reached average. Of course there were soul-crushing expanses, terrible missteps, physical and mental catastrophes. Nevertheless, I persisted. Colors have never left me. I am a substance (slightly subnormal, to be sure), but I exist in color.

© 2021 Marg Sumner

Marg Sumner is retired from 40+ years of copyediting and proofreading other people’s words. The tables have turned and she now writes and suffers the slings and arrows of copyeditors. This is her first (and most difficult) piece in what she hopes will be a series of travel vignettes.

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My Circle of Life

By Elise Brooks

I had waited and waited, bringing up a family of my own first. Finally, at age forty, it was happening…

Mesmerizing pictures of animals and breathtaking scenery fill my screen as I scroll gazing in awe. I have wanted to see South Africa ever since mum told me about her home when I was only four years old. Goosebumps tingle my skin as I recall her voice.

I discover an organisation called Kuwantu looking for volunteers to work on their Big Five game reserve. In exchange they provide accommodation and food. Paperwork and applications complete, I pack my backpack and board the plane for a thirty-hour flight.

Stepping off the plane, daylight and heat smack me in the face. Port Elizabeth is a coastal industrious town. Vast mountains, bushland, and jungle can be seen in the distance, no rolling green hills and not a sheep or cow in sight. I am warmly welcomed by the staff at my accommodation, as soon as my head hits the pillow I’m out like a light I have not slept the whole trip.

A guide picks me up to take me to Kuwantu. Volunteers sleep together in dorm-style cabins on bunks. I wake to the most memorable wonderful sounds, birds of numerous varieties and insects chirping, my favourite the lions and tigers roaring. Temperatures reach over forty degrees during the day dropping to below zero at night. An elephant gives me the pleasure of visiting just over the fence behind our cabin. He’s a magnificent bull male with tusks protruding a meter out in front.

We set off on our first game drive. I am both amazed, scared and in total wonderment. I see a jackal first, then zebra, rhinos, springbuck, many birds— glorious sights ingrained in my memory. Next, we see termite mounds meters tall, wildebeests, giraffe, hippos, elephants with a baby calf, mongoose, buffalo, warthogs, peahens, and starlings with their vibrant jade and green feathers. We witness a herd of elephants pull an elephant out of a large hole she had fallen into.

In the rehabilitation shelter, animals recovering from injury or being bred are kept before being released back into the wild. White lions, tigers, and cheetahs are here and orphaned baby monkeys from Brazil. We got to hand feed them.

Elise Brooke in South Africa, with African elephant

Thursdays are spent at the local school feeding the children. Other work we do includes clearing fence lines of long grass, vegetation control (chopping down cactus with machetes), mending fences, tree chopping, and road maintenance (breaking up concrete with pickaxes). When needed, we plant plants from the nursery back into the bush, or help count the animals weekly. Fence clearing is frightening because we are amongst the lions roaming, and the electric fence must be disabled. Guides are trained to keep watch for any lions. At a moment’s notice a whistle meant “get your ass in the truck now or be the lion’s lunch.”

I enjoyed helping the local vet the most. We helped tranquilise and capture a lioness. After the vet darts her, it takes ten minutes before she goes down. We wait for the vet to check that she is asleep before loading her into a cage and onto the trailer to be moved to another part of the reserve, to even out the predator/game ratio. A very surreal experience, up close and personal with the Queen of the Jungle. Touching her rough fur and feeling her warm breath. She is much bigger than I expected; one of her paws is the same size as both my hands spread out.

 Nine lions from the pride, including a male, are hiding in the bush. I am very aware we are surrounded by all eyes of the jungle. Bones crunch under my feet as I walk across their feeding grounds to the safety of the truck.

My experience working with these animals, the change of pace, Africa’s way of life, the people I met, and conversations I had, all impacted on my thinking, changing my life from here on.

I had the space, quiet, and stillness to hear my heart. I felt happy and connected experiencing my mother’s homeland. I realized how happy I could be, It becomes obvious to me that I have not been happy for a long time. Africa showed me how short life is in the jungle.

Upon landing back in New Zealand I am determined to be happy now not later. I quit my nursing job of eighteen years, completed a Creative Writing Diploma, and went on to write three books about my life, fulfilling my dream of a writing career.

I absolutely recommend this experience to others. Do whatever it takes now to fulfil your dreams and never stop dreaming.

© 2021 Elise Brooke

Elise Brooke grew up in Hawkes Bay NZ and now lives in the beautiful east coast Gisborne. She has written and published two autobiographies in her book series, “The New Zealand Dream,” under the pen name Sheila. She wrote these books to inspire and give hope to others. Her passion is creative writing in the genres of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and online content. Her website is

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Travel Musings

I have just recently begun to allow myself to dream of real live travel again. In fact, I’ve put down a deposit on a tour of Italy next fall through Viaggi di Gusto. Will I go? Or will this be another year of “staycation”, desired or not? Let Linda introduce you to the joys of both. – Sarah



By Linda Lenzke

“You don’t have to go far to travel.” — Me

“If you lived here, you’d be home by now!” Firesign Theater


I often introduce reminiscences and musings with a quote or two. The same is true today as I muse about travel, or the lack of it. The first quote, I attribute to myself, “You don’t have to go far to travel.”  The second to a favorite radio and improv comedy troupe from my hippie days, Firesign Theater, when we traveled in our own imaginations with help from mind-altering substances, “If you lived here, you’d be home by now!”

Yes, both quotes capture my experiences with travel, or the lack of it, this pandemic year. To some degree I’ve been on an extended staycation. A staycation, defined by the Urban Dictionary is “A vacation that is spent at one’s home enjoying all that home and one’s home environs have to offer.”

I was laid off from my 12-year career on February 27th, 2020, the eve of the pandemic. I was told it was due to a company reorganization, not my performance. I suspected it may have had something to do with my age and/or progressive politics. Gratefully and very quickly I found a new position with an LGBTQ+ community center, employing my decades of work as an activist and a volunteer. Grateful.


Because of the pandemic my new half-time position, would not begin for a couple of months, so I had an unscheduled staycation. As I’ve aged and my travel budget has lessened, I’ve grown to like staycations. I usually take one in the spring wherein I still go to work, yet attend the Wisconsin Film Festival for 10 days, after work and on weekends. I get to travel again in my imagination, visiting people and places outside of my day-to-day life. I’m a lifetime cinephile and have had adventures since childhood sitting in movie theaters or my darkened living room.

In early fall, I usually take my second staycation, scheduling an extended period of time the waning days of summer, my favorite time of year.  While students return to school after their families unpack from vacation and pack those back-to-school backpacks full of brand-new school supplies, I take a break from my day-to-day work routines and make my “to-do only if I want to lists.”  

For me the essence of a staycation is to practice spontaneity (yes, I admit that I need to practice), sleep in if I want to, brunch at home or out with friends, attend movie matinees on weekdays, plan lots of coffee dates, stay in pajamas if I want to and take a vacation from showering for a day, and most importantly write, and edit, and write some more. I read too, essays and blogs, opinion pieces online, poetry and movie reviews and reread my journals.

To some degree, the latter describes the extended staycation I’ve been on during the lockdown, shelter-in-place at home. Even when I returned to work at my new job, due to the pandemic, I worked a hybrid schedule, two days at the office and two days at home. Though I skipped showers some days, added lounge wear bordering on pajamas to my daily wardrobe, I had to give up brunches and coffee dates with friends and movies in theaters. On the other hand, I added streaming subscriptions for more online content and Zoomed with friends, for work, to learn, and to practice my recovery. I traveled sitting at my desk in my writing alcove. I blogged and journaled a lot too.

Travel for Work

I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to travel for work over the years. When I worked for a children’s book publisher, my sales territory was the East Coast states. I would attend gift shows and book fairs, plus travel for a few days and visit my independent booksellers to introduce them to our new frontlists and write orders. I stayed in NYC at Times Square when I exhibited at the Javits Center.

I visited some of my favorite places, Boston, MA, Portland, ME, Providence, RI, and for library conferences in Portland, OR.  When I worked for Mercedes-Benz and other luxury car brands, I traveled to Germany for my first and only to-date international travel, and in the states, trips to Las Vegas, Chicago, and more. As much as I enjoyed the places I visited for work, I tired of the hotels and room service, the separation from home and my daily routines.

Travel for Pleasure

My favorite part of traveling for pleasure is in the research, pre-planning, and list-making before a trip, whether it’s a vacation to a favorite destination, mine is Provincetown, Cape Cod, or an extended stay in Door County. I prefer staying in Bed & Breakfasts, cabin getaways in Northern Wisconsin, or camping at my favorite State Parks. As I age, I might consider Glamping as an option.

I’m a car aficionado, so I enjoy a weekend road trip, especially during the changing of the seasons. Those tend to be more spontaneous and are impromptu adventures, whether discovering an antique shop, roadside diner, small town supper club, or nature preserve or park.

Future Travel Plans

On Friday, I received my second vaccination. In two weeks, according to the CDC, I’m good-to-go. My upcoming travel will consist of visiting family again, celebrating holidays that I sacrificed the past year, and a road trip to my friend Janet’s new home in Minnesota, who is Louise to my Thelma.  

In the end I must admit, I’m grateful. I survived a pandemic year. As an ambivert, I learned to lean into and enjoy my introvert habits. As an extrovert, I’m ready to hit the road again!

©  2021 Linda Lenzke

Linda lives in Madison, Wisconsin and has been writing poetry, prose, comedy, and spoken word monologues for the past 35 plus years. She’s a founding member of LGBTQ Narratives Activist-Writers, self-publishes poetry chapbooks, and blogs at Mixed Metaphors Oh My! Recently, Lenzke joined Madison Independent Filmmakers and is the creator and co-producer of a web series in production, Hotel Bar. 

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Finding Sanctuary in Turbulent Times

By Seth Kahan

Periodically I head to the wilderness with my dog, just the two of us, to clear my head and allow deeper stirrings to emerge. Alone in Nature, with a capital N, I have been able to find sanctuary. I have tried churches and synagogues and community centers to no avail. It is with trees, rain, mountain streams, bears, dirt, and campfires that my soul finds its place in the world.

In the summer of 2020 I headed into the Adirondacks, along the North Fork of the Bouquet River, with my companion, Sita. She is a 110-pound German Shepherd, and a soul mate if ever there was one. The two of us carried our packs into the northeastern forest, to spend five days and four nights alone along the trail.

I had been suffering. For almost four years. Bleeding inside as I watched our 45th president have his way with the country, enabled by 52 senior statespeople who stood by while he visibly abused his power and authority. It was the culmination for me. It reminded me of Hitler’s rise to power, enabled as it was by men in positions of authority. Our national leaders, the Republican Senate, did not have to explicitly come out and say what he said. They only had to turn their heads and allow him to say it. It had me in knots. So, off to the woods I went, looking for solace from non-humans.

Our time together in the Adirondacks was tremendous. Even the one day that rained from dawn to dusk, confining the two of us to our tent mostly, was a spiritual reprieve from the ordeals I faced at home. It allowed me to settle inside, to find my Center, with a capital C to accompany the capital N mentioned above. It happened slowly and dependably.

When Sita and I emerged from the wilderness I walked slowly, feeling the Earth give beneath my step. I was connected to the planet, literally grounded. I had the dirt under my fingernails and in the tiny ridges of my fingerprints to prove it. Each breath was a prayer. 

The car, big, shiny, and metal, was my bridge back to the world of humans. On the way down from the parking lot to the highway I hit a rut and dislodged a panel under my door. Fitting. The woods took one more part of me that appeared to the outer world as perfect and gave it a good, hard knock, whacking it out of its perfect position. I didn’t mind. It felt right.

Not twenty minutes on the road and it came up, like vomit, a surging anger buried beneath the peace.

It was the thought of children being torn from their families, used as a deterrent to immigrants, without regard for the psychological damage inflicted. The fury was stark against my peace, and I pulled over. What do I do? I was scared.

I knew that I wanted to be engaged, and to do that I needed to know the truth of the atrocities. How would I digest what was going on in my world and remain clear-eyed so I could take right action? Sustainable action that makes a difference, makes an impact, that was my goal. And already I had been knocked off balance. 

My quest was clearly defined. I needed to know how I would take care of myself, provide my inner world with the stability it required for me to gain clarity about my position, my assets, and my methods for disarming this looming corruption in human values. 

That’s when the second wave came, grief. It poured over me and I was a drowning man. Just a few years earlier I had basked in the glory of our first African-American president winning his second term in office. Never mind his accomplishments, his election was our accomplishment as a country. We, the people who had launched an experiment in representative democracy on the backs of slaves… we, the melting pot of immigrants who fought a war, brother against brother, to forge equality… we, the crafters of the 13th, 14th, and 19thAmendments to the Constitution embedding equality in our laws. It all washed away as I watched tens of millions of voters go beyond electing a white supremacist to organizing, speaking out, and perpetrating violence out in the open without repercussion. 

I fought for air. Coming up again and again on the side of the highway in my little car, with my trusted companion in the back seat watching in silence as I sobbed and heaved. I knew in my heart of hearts there was a way forward for me. But first I had to let go of what I thought was stable ground. I had to open myself to the horrifying reality of my nation and its citizens. I reached up and thankfully found something to grab onto.

It was nothing, really. 

Nothing literally.

It was the emptiness of my own being. The severely bare experience of life that I re-discovered in the woods along with the wolf-like creature who now panted in the back seat. There was something important that I had regained that was not dogma, nor was it ideology. It was a sense of my own life and the value I brought by virtue of my own existence. 

I remember the story of the Buddha being challenged while he was achieving enlightenment by the king of the demons. He was asked something like, ‘What right have you to have this experience?’ In response he simply put his hand on the Earth. That story zipped through my mind and reminded me that my experience of life is real, including my grief, anger, and desire to respond. Something deep inside anchored, not to the Buddhist tale, but to my sweat and tears, my grime that now felt holy to me. 

I took the time to waver and wobble until I finally came back to my position behind the wheel. I didn’t want to just start driving. I felt too raw. I was unsure of my response time as a driver. I sat there until the profundity of the moment began to pass. This, too, was part of my quest in the wilderness, this re-entry. 

I came back and re-engaged. Made phone calls. Reached out to friends. Organized responses. And important to me and my sanity, I set a date for my next camping trip with my canine companion. Here the balance swings for me: between the state of my society and the truth of wilderness. I am a pendulum. I have a pivot, that fixed point from which I swing. The pivot is my experience, my awareness. Simple as that sounds, for me it takes a good deal to keep it strong and healthy. Including regular trips off the grid with Sita. 

©  2021 Seth Kahan

Seth Kahan ( helps leaders identify, influence, and leverage emerging trends for business growth. But he can still hang out and tell stories.

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If You Give the Old Folks a New Trailer…

By Joan Connor

I happily bicycle up to my trailer, climb the three fold up steps, fix a meatloaf sandwich and wonder if I will go home tomorrow. Home to a house that holds me hostage to my stuff. Is this truly how I feel? Or will I breathe a deep sigh of thanksgiving for my belongings, pay the HOA fees for this month, and then quickly unpack the trailer of its perishables and dirty laundry. I don’t aspire to receiving another phone message from the HOA president, “When are you moving your trailer? We have rules and it has been three days. I am getting calls about it.”

As I munch the delicious meatloaf slathered in no-sugar ketchup, I count the RVs (recreational vehicles) out the windows of our very temporary site. Twelve units are within my vision, some motorhomes and some trailers. My nearest neighbor told me which ones were parked permanently, not just for the winter as in snowbirds coming south for the Texas sunshine. She meant year-round, including sizzling summers, in this Lakeway RV park northwest of Austin. La Hacienda is home for many.

Some spaces have garden-like plots tended to by their permanent proprietors. We are nestled within a shady grove of trees with trailers circled about like covered wagons around a campfire. Several residents have canopies covering the designated picnic table assigned to each space. BBQ grills dot landscapes that also claim four-wheelers, tow trailers, cargo trailers, baby swings hanging and wooden fenced decks. Bicycles lean expectantly along-side the campers. I pedal my cruiser on the parallel streets to check out the neighbors’ patio furniture and plant collections, pumping hard on the small inclines.

The outdoor rooms appeal to me – temporary gazebos housing comfy cushioned furniture. I cruise past the couple working on several motorcycles under their temporary gazebo. I admire the flowering red geraniums on the picnic tables. I view empty spaces soon to fill with folks passing through, parking for a night or two and visiting the area just as we are doing.

My husband and I are temporary occupants in this RV park taking our new 29 foot travel trailer on its maiden voyage. As seasoned RVers, we are familiar with hooking up the sewer hose, water hose, electricity and cable connection. Both of us are retired and finding great enjoyment spinning our wheels. Our previous camping expeditions were in a small motorhome I bought as a single woman. However, as we unhook the trailer from our 1995 Ford 150 we are quick to conclude that the 150 had to work hard to get us here. “Going up hills will be a process in slow motion,” Hubby remarks. If you “give” the old folks a new 7000 lb. trailer to pull, it is likely they will need a bigger truck for their next journey. The retiree’s version of If You Give a Moose a Muffin.

This trailer is definitely not going to be traveling the “off road” adventures that pull me to camping like the little box of colored magnets I had as a child. Traveling into forest service parks and onto BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) for boondocking, free camping with no hook-ups, might occur. However, with this “home on wheels,” we need to be more “on-road” as in black topped paths with no sharp curves. The boondocking set-up pleases me. I like the aura of camping as I place a propane stove on the picnic table, fry up the bacon and percolate coffee in the blue speckled enamel pot. La Hacienda is not conducive to such primitive behaviors. This is RV suburban lifestyle at its finest.

My mind conjures up new thoughts. What if I put a truck camper on the bed of the “new to us” bigger pick-up that we now must acquire?  Then we could leave the big trailer, go off into the wild woods for a night, and then back to the luxurious trailer with its shower, two recliners, all hook-ups and a queen-size walk-a-round bed. So if you give the old folks a new trailer, then they must acquire a bigger truck. If you give them a bigger truck then they will want a camper top to take into the woods. And if they have a new camper top then they will need sleeping bags because the bed in a truck camper is really difficult to make up.

And then, with all this stuff, we come back to the townhome with its HOA rules and limited parking. Is the truck camper considered an RV and not allowed in the driveway for more than three days? Guess we’ll find out, and no, I don’t want to admit that if you give the old folks too many toys then they must find a bigger driveway. 

Hostage to stuff? Surely not!

©  2021 Joan Connor

Joan is currently pursuing an MFA with Lindenwood University, Simultaneously she indulges in various online writing classes, painting by number (or not), learning the fiddle, and RVing with her very agreeable husband and furry four-paws, Ava. 

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