The Difficulty About Lima Beans… and Story Detail

When I was a kid, I remember having lima beans once in a great while. When my own children were little, I’d buy the package of frozen mixed veggies with lima beans in them. The boys always pulled the lima beans to the sides of their plates, “saving” them for Mommy who loved them. Finding lima beans was like a treasure hunt just for me. With no one else eating them, I’ve never bought an entire bag of the beans.

So this week, I went out to harvest my first-ever full crop of lima beans. The deer ate down the first crop. I know I replanted a bunch, but only four plants continued on. From those four plants, I reaped a whopping twelve pods. Trying to remove the seeds within reminded me once more of a lima bean hunt. Those pods are hard to split! I don’t know if there’s a trick. I first used a serrated knife and cut the pods width-wise, hoping I would miss the precious seeds. I later squeezed the two edges together, making the pod split up the middle. That second method worked much, much better, by the way. Within each pod, I found only two to three seeds, but it’s enough for a home-grown lima serving. Yum. Can’t wait.

Recently, my husband and I watched a BBC mystery. From the very beginning, there was a concern about flies and sanitation. Throughout the plot, the flies and sanitation kept coming up. I knew there was some significance, and I was right. The flies actually tied everything together. Now I’m wondering about doing the same with lima beans. I’m not quite sure how the beans can become a major plot point, but the thought intrigues me.

So my writing challenge to you this week is this: Think of an inanimate object (not an ancient weapon or key; they’ve been claimed too often before) and weave your object throughout your tale.

Details. A good story is all about the details. (Well… a lot about them, anyway.) Happy writing.

When There Were Woods — Writing Exercise

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When we lived in the woodlands, there was a patch of 3′ by 5′ bit of sunshine which made its way throughout the summer day from the west side of our backyard to the east. We had birds then, lots of birds, and great variety of birds. There were cardinals … Occasionally, a flock of 15 morning doves would roost on the nearby redbud tree, nearly camouflaged in the same color as the branches, except there were “lumps” on the branches. Sometimes the finches would take over the feeders and simply roost on the feeder pegs. Today, around the same feeders, we have the occasional cardinal or morning dove. I saw a finch once this season, too. Instead of the variety, we have a flock of 20 sparrows at a time who can eat up half the seed in 20 minutes. We also have bluejays and grackles and red-winged blackbirds. In other words, we have open field birds coming to the same feeder. Our squirrels are pretty much gone, thanks to our neighborhood hawks, who also easily spot birds near our once-hidden feeder, but are incredible animals to watch. Although, our chipmunk population has exploded.

Writing related…

Take your MC from her beloved woods and place her in unfamiliar territory– a large city, an island, a vast and open prairie. What are the visual differences? The other sensual differences? Her emotional change? Is she curious about her new environment, or constantly longing for her previous?

Happy writing.

Storm Anniversary Post, Third of Three

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The worst part of a catastrophe is the people element — tragic injuries and deaths associated with the storm, and the slick, greedy folk coming into hard struck areas with their lying lips and stealing hands.

The best part of a catastrophe is the people element — neighbors coming together, family and friends near and far offering to help and asking about our welfare (material and emotional) months after the damage.

Lessons from my storm: Things can be replaced. Even if a house is swept off its foundation, even if sentimental or prized furniture is burned or broken, a catastrophe forces people to think about priorities. Playing the blame game is never helpful. Do what you can with what you are given. Cling to those things which are important — life, purpose, family, friends, neighbors. Make whatever you do count. Life is short and can have unexpected surprises. How will you act or react? Where do you find your strength to carry you though the bad times as well as the good? Where do you seek your purpose to reach out to fellow humans? Seek and find.


Storm Anniversary Post, Second of Three

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With the one-year mark in the hindsight, I turn to reflections about what my husband and I went through when our house and yard was damaged.

The temperature changed from cool to near 100 degrees, with no electrical power (or Internet) for a week. Neighbors and their relatives swarmed upon our neighborhood. Chainsaws sang out from dawn to dusk. Tree removal  companies from around the states arrived.

We didn’t know much of anything. We called our insurance emergency number, but got a recording with a “we’ll get back to you.” A couple of years ago, a single tree fell in Neighbor Mark’s yard,  brushing some of his gutters off.  With the same insurance company, Mark gave us a different number, and we talked with a live human who gave us a claim number.

The awesome emotional shot-in-the-arm for us was our son in Milwaukee driving out on Monday and Tuesday. My husband and I were still walking around in zombie-like shock. We are on well water. Without electricity, there is no way to pump water to our sinks. Neighbor Mark across the street kindly let us pull 8 gallons of water a day from his city-water spicket. Our son willingly washed sweat and brushed his teeth from a bowl of water. It was NOT similar to camping. What we had hoped our son to help us do in those two days, he finished in the first few hours of his stay. He’d finish one project, find us working elsewhere, place his hands on his hips and say, “What next?” What a blessing!

Heavy machines making ruts in our yards and all sorts of sawing machines rumbled our neighborhood for weeks. Following the storm, the silence of the saws at night was taken up by window-rattling generators. Our dog rescue neighbors a few doors down said their dogs’ medical bills were over $1,000, mostly from stress-related. There was no place to escape the noise, day or night.


Garbage rotted in our refrigerators and on the curbs. The garbage truck couldn’t make it down our street from the fallen trees and both sides of the street lined with tree removal trucks. They didn’t come back – not until I called, several times over the next few days.


Things take on different priorities during recovery. It’s not even like camping, nor even like working on mission trips in very poor locations. In normal situation, I would have been appalled if someone put filthy work gloves on my kitchen counter. Yet, in this new situation, I often found things in odd places, like my own filthy work gloves laying on the kitchen counter.


For four months, while our master bedroom was repaired, my husband and I slept in the guest bedroom, on the twin beds our boys grew up on. We never realized how short those mattresses were. It took us a month of attempting sleep in the fetal position before we thought to simply move the top mattresses out four inches from the headboard.


I remember writing angrily a year ago about tricksters coming into storm-damaged areas and taking money from storm-shocked victims, and never seen again. It wasn’t until months later that I realized our own local (Kalamazoo) contractor had done similar things to us. (I don’t even want to talk-write about what he did even at this date. Still too angry, and not able or capable of letting it go.)


With live-as-usual just a couple blocks from our neighborhood, people didn’t stop their demands on us Carlsons. (I could also list things people required of us, un-storm-related, but again, it would be an angry write. When I’m able to release the emotion from that time, I hope to write about it.)


As I write this, I realize there are still some unresolved issues. I know that some of them will never be resolved, but that some day I must simply be able to release them. Otherwise, I know that by holding on to those ugly feelings, I will turn into a bitter old lady. I do not want to turn into a bitter old lady.


(I promise that tomorrow’s post will be lighter – with reflections about our new and improved life, post storm recovery.)


Storm Anniversary Post, First of Three

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At 4:29 p.m. on Sunday, May 29, 2011, 110 mph straight line winds sent two old oaks through our house and knocked down thousands of trees in our neighborhood. When 4:30 p.m. passed us a little bit ago, even with threatening skies overhead, my husband and I released a glad sigh for surviving one year since the storm.

We chose this house, and this particular neighborhood, because we’ve been campers and hikers all our lives. We love the woodlands and the privacy it provides. Eight years ago when we bought it, our yard looked like a shaded park along with wooded lots on two of our four borders. The lawn was 1/3 moss because grass was so difficult to grow under the trees. If we wanted to see sky, we had to drive to find it. Since there was only one little patch of sunlight which moved across our backyard through the summer day, I had a sun-garden plot a mile away in a church community lot. Sunday, May 29, 2011, all that changed. Today is the anniversary date of the storm which changed our lives. This Tuesday is the anniversary date of the storm. I will write reflections of that event and aftermath over the next three days.

My husband heard the siren go off. Usually it’s me who hears it first. It’s not that I didn’t believe him, but I paused at the top of the basement steps just to listen for the confirmation. It was very soft. Once down the steps, coming through our chimney opening, we heard what sounded like a host of screaming banshees — or what I imagine they would sound like. Our house shook. Two huge thuds rocked the walls. The power went off. Then, three or four minutes later, silence. All we could do was stare at each other for a while.

We finally ventured up the stairs, not knowing if it was safe, nor what we would find there. A gentle rain fell outside. Leaves plastered our windows — BETWEEN the screens and the windows. I still don’t know how they got there. Two ancient oaks had smashed through either side of our house, one through our garage and one through our master bedroom. In a matter of minutes, we went from a 90% shaded yard to 90% open-skied yard, with no way in or out of our neighborhood because of the thousands of downed trees across the roadways.

I no longer tremble when there are dark clouds overhead. I also don’t keep my purse and a change of clothes in the basement overnight any more. But I have not passed through the “alert stage.” I am ever-mindful of winds and weather. Two blocks away, people experienced only some downed branches or tree litter in their yards. That Memorial Weekend, friends were camping just ten miles away at Fort Custer; they hardly experienced a breeze. Others who have lived in Battle Creek their whole lives say it is still a shock of unrecognition when passing into this once-wooded neighborhood.

In less than five minutes, our lives were changed forever. We’ve learned that life is fragile, and that things in this world are temporary. But life still goes on.

10.5 Months After The Storm

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It’s been nearly a year since 110 mph straight line winds knocked trees into our house and tore up our yard. The house was repaired after five months. Our yard remains needy.

Today was a windy day, but I no longer sleep with my purse and change of clothing in the basement. I’m still on alert for potential sirens, but no longer fearful. Flashlights and the hand-cranked weather radio remain downstairs. Windy or not, today was a good day. All morning, I spent in revision mode. All afternoon, I worked in our backyard. This evening, after my DH returns from his ever-persistant meetings, we’ll probably relax to a mystery, where the bad guys always get caught. Yay! Good day.

I recently decided that I was tired of our neighbor promising to remove his three trees root balls from our backyard — upon one you couldn’t even see our chain-link fence buried in the overturned dirt. The bottom of the fence was pulled over the top bar, and six-foot root branches of 1″-4″ diameter stuck out into our yard at face and chest level. I think of myself as a somewhat patient person, but I wanted my fence back. I wanted my yard back. I was tired of the gaping holes in the ground.

Spring brought the desire to start planting more grass and to replace my border garden. (My east side Children’s Garden is coming along, too.) Two weeks ago, I’d called for a fence company to come. During the wait, I started filling in the 5′ holes left from the overtuned trees, chipping away at the ball roots myself with shovel and handsaw. This afternoon, the fence guys came. (Whoo!) While they worked cutting away the fence and hacking more of the roots — even a Bobcat couldn’t budge the smallest one — I planted four of the five Arborvitae trees which I’d bought last week. I am SO pleased! Sure, the five trees barely go above the top of the chain-link fence, and sure, I can still see seventeen houses out of our livingroom picture window (v.s. parts of only two houses before the storm), but there is just something soothing about seeing a living green wall, even if it’s short.

The fence guys will return in 3-4 days, after the cement dries around the posts. In the meantime, I’m to dig and saw away at the fenceless roots so the men can replace the fence. I only need to clear 8″ from the fenceline. When they are done, I will cut back the remaining roots sticking out of the 5′ tall mound and sow grass seed upon it. Our neighbor can continue promising each month that he’ll take care of them, but in the meantime, the tree mound will look pretty-green from our picture window.

I have been so green-deprived since the storm. Things are looking up. Things are looking green.

Our Catastrophe Saga Continues… Contrasts

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Today at 5:23 p.m. WE GOT INTERNET!  *dancing, dancing, leaping and giving myself a high-five and landing on my face*

It will take me a long time to catch up, but I “needed” to get out a post today. Still partial power in our house (for most likely months), but we also have running water (more dancing). The irony of having the Internet up and running is now being able to see the storms coming this way over the next couple of days. I’m not saying I’m a worry wart, but…

I’ve found this storm and recovery full of contrasts.

Remember how the day before the tornado, I walked about my yard picking up a couple handfuls of 3-4” twigs, and the next day trying to figure out how to pick up the trees from my lawn?

Well… Yesterday, I decided after 11 days without rain, and with most of our yard chopped up by falling timber, tipped root balls and stumps, trucks, bobcats, etc, that I would water this one section out near the road. It looked so pretty this morning. The grass perked right up, a lovely, beautiful, healthy, living green.

This morning we came back from prayer meeting (we can use all the prayer we can get these days), to find a tree crew from a nearby city (Charlotte) taking down our leaning hickory tree.

Backstory: As it was only 3’ from the road, and as I’d “heard” that if a tree is within 30’ of the center of the road, it was city property, last week I’d called our city Tree Foreman to find out if the city would take it down, or if it was our responsibility ($$$). I never heard back from him. I suppose he was a mite busy this past week with a few thousand other trees and the fact that Battle Creek only has four men working in the tree department.

But when we came home this morning, there they were, those wonderful guys from Charlotte,  cutting down that 100’ tree right where I’d watered the night before. (Hopefully I’ll put photos on my FB page tomorrow.) They told us that Battle Creek “had a doozie” for them to remove today. They were professional and skilled and awesome. Their extended chain saw from their fully extended cherry picker only reached about 30’ from the top of the tree.

It was difficult to take my eyes off of them as 200 pound chunks of trunk thunked deep holes into our lawn. I felt rather giddy – not about the bit about our beautiful green lawn with huge dents in it, but the thrill of it 1) falling such a great distance and 2) the sound of the landing and ground shaking even from up near the front porch and 3) not killing anyone in the process. I thought how those little orange hard hats wouldn’t make a hoot of a difference if the cherry-pickin’ guy up in the sky lost control. He didn’t. Everyone was safe. It was still a thrill, although not so much for my poor lawn, nor for my jealous neighbors who drilled me on how I got the city to respond. Of course, I told them the truth: you have to be an hysterical damsel in distress about a city-owned tree, leaning at a forty-five degree angle threatening power lines which were only recently restored. Wish I could have given them more helpful advice. It worked for me.

Now… on to some more normal life of luxury (a home-cooked supper and maybe watch some tv, ’cause, we got tv when we got Internet *dancing*).

More Tornado Stuff

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We’re still without internet — 11 days and counting. This is killing me. It’s difficult not to be able to communicate in my normal, daily way, using my normal, daily workspace. Right now, I’m using my husband’s work computer while he is off on a staff retreat. Which reminds me, thanks to the many people who have offered their homes for my internet communication addiction.

Before I speak about yesterday’s events, I want to say how furious I feel towards thieves, especially thieves who take advantage of tragedy victims. Strangers are canvasing our storm damaged neighborhoods, asking for down-payments for tree removal ($500 to $2,000), and then never returning. I knew of things happening like this from after Hurricane Katrina. I thought everyone knew that. Maybe not. Maybe it was just because I’d helped out down in Mississippi, and therefore heard lots and lots and lots of stories. But this I know, if any stranger comes to our door asking for a down-payment before work, he’d better have his cell phone ready for a 911 call because I’ll be all over that guy! (Actually, our trees are now off the house, and the rest in process of being removed, so these thieves probably won’t bother knocking on our door. Oooo. But if one does…)

Yesterday (Tuesday), three major things happened.

1) Our official insurance claims agent came out and spent three hours assessing our damaged property.

2) Garbage. I need to back up this story two days, to Monday. I called first the disconnected number in the phone book, let City Hall’s number ring 15 times, then called the number to ask for a dumpster, figuring they could direct my call. I was dead-set on speaking to someone about our missed garbage collection. I learned for the first time in living here seven years, that this job is outsourced, out-of-town. I was put on hold  for 45 minutes (not letting that wiggling fish at the end of the line get away this time), waiting, waiting, waiting, with no speaker phone. Four days previous, half of our street was collected. I can only assume tree removal and construction trucks blocked their way on our regular garbage collection morning. But with homes in our neighborhood having cleaned out our refrigerators, and after four days in 90 degree heat (visualize waves of stink rising from each driveway end), and animals starting to dig into the bags, not only did the 8′ piles of tree debris on our lawns block our view of the pavement, but  the garbage piles made it tricky to pull out. 45 minutes later, and then grilled for details, like my waste management number (didn’t even know we had one) and exactly how many bags did I have out there, I was told they would pick it up the next day. They did. My neighbors call me “The Garbage Police.”  I call me desperate.

3) At noon, with the temperature hovering at 90 degrees, one of the many still-leaning trees around here took out a transformer box, leaving hundreds of homes and businesses in my area without power. The lights flickered on and off about eight times before they went off entirely.

It got me thinking about different people (and therefore character) reactions. (This IS supposed to be a writing blog, after all.) My sister would have said, “Let’s get out the flashlights.” My father would have said, “What the &%#@!” and then gone to check our fuze box. My mother would have sighed, then looked disgusted. Another may have stared at the light, blinked, and then waited for his spouse to tell him what to do. Others may have said, “Oh, well,” or “Here we go again.” (This is a great writing exercise, by the way: take any situation, and then have each of your characters respond/react to it in their own way.) My reaction to the this incident? I know it was still daylight. I knew we had gallons of tap water for flushing, and bottled water for drinking. We’d just gone through six days without power, and knew all the what-to-dos. But, actually, that was the point. We’d JUST gone through six days without power, and only had it on for three days. While the light in our hallway flickered, I went from ut-oh mode to hope each time it flashed back on. But then, when it went off for good, I tried not to burst into tears in front of our insurance claims agent, continuing business as usual. It was only off for four and a half hours, but somehow, I was still rattled — cool, calm, collected me, rattled at a daylight loss of electricity.

Well… I may not be doing the novel revision work I’d planned on doing this week, or this month, but I sure am gathering writing fodder for future stories. I have 71 journal pages (mostly random thoughts and facts) and counting, and that doesn’t even count my blog words.

I hear rain and wind storms are coming the next couple days. Why do I feel shaky when I think about that?

Tornado Cleanup — 7th Day After

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I finally posted some photos on my FB page (link). Peter had posted some from his stay earlier. Believe me, I have TONS more, including of the neighborhood damage, but those will come (perhaps) later, when we actually have internet from our house.

As mentioned earlier, at 1:15 p.m. yesterday, our house finally got power. We in our neighborhood see this as a miracle, for even yesterday morning, we were all chatting up that we didn’t expect it to be hooked up for weeks. It is actually only partial power, because of the hole in our home from a fallen tree – master bedroom and den (Jeff’s home office) are without power, and will be so for who knows how long.

There is SO much I can be writing about. Over these past seven days, I wrote over 30 pages of notes (some nearly unreadable) in my journal. I’ll write about some of that later, and maybe other of it never. For this post: 4 things.

1) I felt like I’ve been on a week-long missionary trip, working from sunup to sundown in 90 degree (plus) heat. Although, I must add that it’s only been in the 90’s for three of those days, including today.

2) Because we’re on well water (v.s. city water), when the power went, so did our water supply. Now that we have water flowing in our house, I feel euphoric. The big problem is what to use the water for first? My initial inclination was “Me! Me! Sweaty, stinky, dirty me!” But with several hours to sundown last night and humidity high, my veggie garden, strawberries and grapes got first priority. Oops. Thinking back, it was clearing and cleaning our two refrigerators which happened first. And that took hours.

With the tree removal guys working till sunset (and we are getting close to the summer solstice, you know), Jeff and I had a European meal at 9:30 p.m. There are clothes to wash, floors to wash, dishes, counters, bathrooms. Today I did five loads with more to do. Plaster went everywhere when the wall crashed. Then there is sweaty, stinky, dirty me.

3) My poor, poor yard. I’d already spread (before the tornado) 2 huge bags of peat most and 2 large bags of grass seed over our lawn. It was going to be gorgeous this year. Then came the bobcat and chipper and trucks and trailers pounding our lawn flat.

You must realize that I am the gardener/ lawn care person of the family. I hand-pick dandelions, and I aerate the lawn with a pitchfork – seriously! Yep, it takes a long time, but it does a great job. Thinking about “what do you need,” perhaps we should have a pitchfork part at our house after the machines are all gone from our yard. Oh, yeah. There will be a dumpster there for a while during reconstruction, along with affiliated machinery. (Heavy sigh)

4) The only thing I wish for now is that the city would pick up our garbage. They are three days late in collection, and with all that stinking, rotting refrigerator food bagged out at the curb, I’m just waiting for animals to have a feast.

BUT, we are safe, and WE HAVE POWER! (and water!) Life is good.

Battle Creek Tornado, Post #2

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On Sunday, I wrote four pages of observations on notebook paper before deciding to write tonado-related things in my pen and ink journal, including important phone numbers, notes, priorities, and even scattered half-phrased thoughts. I’m now on my 25th tornado page in that journal. I figure, as a writer, someday I’ll return to those pages for future stories/articles. For now, it’s simply a central location for stuff my brain is too shaky to retain.

Five points to today’s post:

1) We still are without power and water. Yesterday, there were still 31,000 people without power, with the plan to have everyone restored by 11 pm tonight. Even so, our wires are pulled away from our house and under a large oak, so unsure of when this applies to us.

2) Son John had his own tragedy happen a week before ours. A drug-crazed stranger threw a 50-pound boulder through his car window, then proceeded to rip apart the dashboard before threatening John’s life. Far away carless John is in his own survival mode, but wishes he could help as well. There will be stuff for him to do later. No worries.

Monday, Jeff called Son Peter, who lives 5 hours away. As soon as he found out the extent of the devastation, he drove here with a chain saw, lots of bottled water, tarps, and nails. We had a list of three major things he could help us with during his overnight stay. They were all accomplished two hours after he arrived. It was like Jeff and I were taking baby steps in shock, while Peter comes in as a triathlon athlete (which he is, actually). He whipped through a project, then said, “What next?” His time was not only a physical boost to us, but definitely an emotional boost.

3) Our yard went from 90% shade a week ago to 90% sun this week. Sunlight comes through windows which hasn’t seen sun in our seven years here.

Related to that: With downed trees all about, it took Peter four attempts to get to our house. Even so, the neighborhood looks so different, he started to drive past our house when he saw us out front. Yesterday, Friend Francie, who was out-of-town during our storm, drove down our little street (a whopping 20 or so houses), and became confused when she realized she’d reached the end of the street and had to of have passed our house.

4) People keep asking what we need. This morning I broke down for the first time and cried with “Cuz” Dale called from Mississippi, saying how she touched she/they were when members of my church and I went to help with Katrina clean up, and asked “If there is anything at all I can do–” I answered, “Dale, you already have.” It’s the care and concern and compassion, and being a friend — that is the BEST thing anyone can do for us. Just be our friend. Thank you.

5) Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to work on some photos at home to post on FB tomorrow. Hopefully. It’s hard to plan things more than a few minutes ahead of time.

Love to you all. We sure feel it coming at us from you.