Saturday, December 28, 2013

Pinch Me

Pinch me, I'm a writer.

Don't pinch me because I'm a writer, pinch me because I want to know that this dream is real. For as long as I can remember, I have loved books. Story-telling is in my blood, my western heritage and was encouraged by teachers and mentors who led me down the path of writing stories.

Because of writing, I got through school despite being a poor student. Despite being a poor student, I eventually mustered enough courage to write an entrance essay and was accepted into a liberal arts college where I learned how to be a better student. That led to a BA in Writing which led to a career that used my writing skills in many different ways.

Store clerk, logging laborer, park ranger aid, waitress, road construction flagger, newspaper journalist, stay-at-home mom, Daisy troop leader, freelance writer, newspaper editor, advertising sales manager, insurance agent,  office administrator, marketing communications manager,  magazine columnist, web content writer, publications editor. And now--just a writer.

Just a writer with a dream I've harbored since penning those first stories--to write books, novels of beauty and hope. Writing career coach, Christina Katz, reminds us, "There are no writing career short cuts but there are plenty of opportunities available for those willing to work hard."

Silly to say that wielding a pen is hard work, but crafting a writing career is. Writing is a business and the same factors of professionalism, promotion and strategy apply. Yet it is also an apprenticeship and the writer must practice while doing business--not an easy balance. The overnight success of big name novelists did not happen in a night or even in a decade. They once apprenticed, made mistakes and wrote crap, too. But they learned and persevered and so will I.

Earning a living as a writer is not for the faint of heart. Three miles down the road, Samuels Corners is serving prime rib tonight. I'm fairly drooling at the thought of it, but I don't earn enough money as a writer--yet--to have prime rib when the craving strikes. But I earn enough to keep on writing. So I do, wiping drool from my chin.

And sometimes, along the way there come pinch-me-moments. Instead of worrying about the next word or dollar, a piece of the dream breaks through the clouds of doubt. Today is one of those days and affirmation came in threes--my favorite number.
  1. My NaNoWriMo "Winners" tee-shirt arrived in the mail along with two new garden seed catalogs. Woohoo! 
  2. A reviewer for the publication that I edit and write for sent me the following words of encouragement: "Just glanced at the newest issue and I LOVE it. Charli I don't know how you keep the newsletter growing and advancing - you must be constantly looking for new ideas." ~ P.L.
  3.  The very first contest I decided to enter accepted my submission for publication: "We reviewed your submission “Charli Mills, Country and Western Singer” and think it would be a good fit for a contest. We will schedule your story, as shown below, for a January contest using your name Charli Mills. A few days before the contest, you will receive an email from us of the contest preview video and another email on the Monday your story is published." ~D.B.
Each little step is one more closer to the dream! And I am so grateful for you--I cannot be a writer without readers!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas 2013

The tea kettle whistle is silent. No one is pounding at level 12 on my treadmill. And despite that the "Lord of the Rings Trilogy" musical score is forever stuck in my head, the television surround-sound no longer reverberates across the living room as elves, men and orcs fight epic battles.

The kids have left Elmira. Christmas with its perfect Grinch Cookies, peanut butter fudge and multiple Scrabble games has come and gone. The stockings stuffed full yesterday morning hang limp on the wall.

Good news is we have no holiday debt--something we don't buy into. My biggest shopping trip was to the Talache beach along the shores of Lake Pend Oreille where I found a perfect rock to stuff into each stocking. My kids all brought stocking stuffers, too, having found bargains at Goodwill. And our son brought each of us a regional taste from Wisconsin--Legacy Truffles for me and New Glarus Beer for Todd. We had extra oysters and black olives this year which felt decadent. Special without breaking bank accounts.

More good news is we have a porch-full of split firewood. Our son-in-law Drew is a master wood chopper. Not only that, but her shoveled our huge driveway twice. Before leaving, he even put away chairs and fixed my rocking chair. Yes, this is the Christmas I fell off my rocker! He and Allison are now headed to the Twin Cities to celebrate with his family and return Kyle to college in Wisconsin. I have their huskies in the meantime.

Having a Christmas celebration with all the grown children was priceless. It may be silent, but my heart is filled with joy. Christmas reminds us that there is always good news. Near or far, rich or poor, grand or simple, love knows no boundaries.

Enjoy a few memories of Christmas 2013 on Elmira Pond.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Regular Programming Interrupted

This regular blogcast has been temporarily interrupted to watch the Lord of the Rings (extended versions) marathon; to merrily drink nog-grog; fix scrumptious meals for all-kids-home; puzzling; gaming and cookie baking!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Silly on Sunday

Huskies Being Silly
Just Playing
We Are Playing, Too!
Silly Sisters
A is for Alli, Ticket is for Bug
It's easy to be silly when the dogs encourage us. Ilya and Jasper look fierce as wolves, but trust me...they're just being silly. Teeth barred, mouth wrestling out in the pastures along Elmira Pond. Dog silliness.

These two huskies are both rescue dogs, and belong to my daughter Allison and her husband Drew. Ilya was deemed "unadoptable" by a kill-shelter. Todd and I fostered him until Alli and Drew found it in their hearts to be his forever home.

Now he gets to be silly with his buddy Jasper who was rescued from a farm. Jasper only knew a life outdoors and even carries scars from a coyote fight. Both dogs now have a loving home. They get lots of training and walking. And moments to be silly.

We get to be silly, too. It's the Sunday before Christmas and all three kids have come home. It's a precious time and we are making the most of each moment, laughing all the way. The biggest laughs we get come from all the games we play. look at that table loaded with games. It's silliness waiting to explode. Magic Cards...
Scrabble...Settlers of Catan...Things.

Things is the newset game we have, maybe it's just us, maybe it's the coffee or the wine, but we laugh and giggle. And that came up in Things. The premise is to answer, "Things you shouldn't do..." Well, that's the beginning to a giggle-fest. We were even snorting by the end of the first game.

It's mostly just basking in the glow of being together, relaxing, playing, eating. So much to be grateful for and so much joy to share. The daughters are cozying up to each other, sipping from their favorite coffee mugs. Brianna has a mug to commemorate the speeding ticket she got as a teenager. We

Want to be silly today? Unleash the giggles and join Everthything Susan who had the silly notion to get us all laughing on a Sunday

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cinderella's Shoes

If I were a Disney princess, I'd be Cinderella. You know the old Disney tune the mice sung about this ash-covered princess, always busy:
"Cinderelly, Cinderelly
Night and day it's Cinderelly
Make the fire, fix the breakfast
Wash the dishes, do the mopping
And the sweeping and the dusting
They always keep her hopping..."
The only thing is, I have no step-sisters keeping me hopping. It's just me, all me. I keep me hopping. In fact, early in my marriage when my husband and I met with a counselor, he asked us about what we wanted to do on center stage. Everyone, he said, has a center stage. Think of it as your career or personal goals. What are you doing on the stage? Is is the role you were meant to lead?

Me? Well, he said, I wasn't even near the stage. I was off scrubbing the floors in the lobby. Somehow my sense of self-worth was that I had to be busy, busy, busy. If I wasn't doing something physical, there was something wrong with me. And reflecting upon the hard-working people I come from, that made sense. The only problem was, the role I longed for required education, thinking, reading. All the things my family deemed as lazy.

So I furiously cleaned to prove I wasn't lazy.

My roots gave me drive to get on stage, though. I did tackle college and graduated  Magnum Cum Laud with a BA in writing, all while raising three young children, waitressing, freelancing and interning with the State of Montana as a communications specialist. My professors dubbed me, "Super Woman." My career in the Midwest was fast-tracked by my drive, too.

But this is not necessarily a good thing. Because I was still wearing Cinderella's shoes. Busy, busy, busy. So busy I blew out my back three times. So busy I exhausted myself to the point of having anemia and not even knowing it. And when I'm stressed, I still clean as if the step-sisters are after me with a willow switch.

But God has given me the glass slippers. And that is my reflecting lens at which I can apply to writing. He slows me down by sending glorious sunsets to remind me that I am a human being, not a human doing. So I am learning, as Cinderella must have done, to wear the glass slippers elegantly and step boldly onto the stage to do what I was born to do.

Not dishes, not ashes. Not firewood, not mopping. But to open hearts and minds to the beauty God wants to show us all. So I sit down in Cinderella's new shoes and write.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Baby Wars

Grendel Gets Bunny Baby
Baby Wars Get Intense
Bobo Moves in for the Steal
Now It's Bobo's Until G-Dog Steals it Away
Babies can cause such violence. That's why the two we have were tucked away in a back cupboard, behind the dog food. Before you go calling the F.B.I on us, let me explain. Our babies actually belong to the dogs and are two stuffing-less fur dolls--one a gray raccoon, the other a brown bunny.

Our two German Short-haired Pointers, Bobo and Grendel, are as serious as 5-star generals when it comes to waging "baby wars." Strategically, each dog will lay within reach of one or the other. Sometimes, one dog will claim territory upon both.

If you want to see sleeping dogs come to life in our home, just shout, "Where's the baby?" It's energy expenditure on those cold days when we have all been confined inside. For us, it's exciting to encourage the chase; for them it's exciting to shake the babies at full gallop across the living room.

When the huskies visit, we have to put the babies away or the fighting turns gruesome. It's one thing to steal a baby from each other, but another to engage in battle with guests. The last time I put away the babies to avoid such violence, I forgot to give them back.

So the baby wars have resumed to the delight of the two GSPs on Elimira Pond. Until guests arrive, that is.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Warmer Than It Was

Bobo by the Fire
Hoar Frost
High in the Sky, A Patch of Blue
Blue Reflection in Driveway Pools
Mushy Pond
Southern Horizon
Bobo snuggles into her dog bed spread out before the wood stove. All that matters to the dog is a toasty bed as she sleeps sound as a stuffed teddy-bear. And wood heat is sufficient for that purpose.

But it is warmer than it was. Much warmer now that the early arctic front has lifted and the snow has ceased falling. It feels like a "cease fire" in the cold war that winter wages upon the land.

Hoar frost is the frozen dew that gathers ice crystals on pine needles. You can see the visible line on the mountain tops where dew becomes ice because the trees at that elevation are all dressed in white.

High above the rank of hoar frost, above the thick steel-wool of lingering clouds, blue sky shines through as brilliant as a stained glass window in a stone church. It feels reverent, a call to worship.

The patch of sky is so blue that it pools blue reflections upon the melting driveway. Two days ago, the snow hid all the blacktop and grass. The air warmed up so much that yesterday that it rained. Now patches of blue sky and brown grass smudge color where only white and gray had been.

Even Elmira Pond is looking mushy, its white frosting is thinning. Unlike the sky, though, no water pools. Without open water, the pond is passed over as a resting spot while 20 miles south of here Lake Pend Oreille receives hoards of wintering ducks and mergansers. That bigger body of water yet has open pools as shore-ice builds up in piles. Despite the warm spell, the pond remains closed.

The longest day of the year is nearing and the sun still skirts the southern horizon, refusing to stand tall at full zenith. The clouds have a silver lining to the south and I ponder what that means, what is our silver lining? A reprieve from the harsh cold? A melting driveway instead of one buried in drifts? These are things I can be grateful for today.

It is warmer than it was, but I crave the fire as much as the dog, knowing winter has only begun.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Trimming the Tree

Where Did We Think It Was Going to Fit?
Todd and Mini Tree
Grendel Guarding Ornaments
Unpacking Memories
Trimmed Tree
Literally. Trimming the tree. Because we drove into the Kaniksu National Forest with eyes bigger than our ceiling. I know that my daughters are petite, but my first clue should have been when I snapped their photo with our freshly axed grand fir. It towers over them at 12 feet tall.

Thus the first task of trimming our tree was to cut it down to eight and a half feet tall. It slides perfectly beneath our ceiling, and we got a bonus "mini tree." Neither the star nor the angel can cram into the microscopic space between treetop and ceiling, but it fits.

Grendel guards the ornaments as I carefully unpack years of memories--the crystal ballerina, the striped cat, the elementary school treasures, the nutcracker, the dog angels, the various Santas, the cradled baby Jesus shaped like a pickle.

The kid-made ornaments are my favorite, though I cannot say they are stunning. There's a one-eyed reindeer made of Popsicle sticks and several school pictures framed with faded construction paper or painted puzzle pieces. Somehow, over the course of 25 Christmases, the salt-dough heart ornament with my name and Todd's has survived. He says it's because I used my biscuit dough to make it.

It's been so long since a fir has graced my home as the Christmas tree. In the Midwest an eight and a half foot Fraser fir would have cost at least $150. Our tree permit cost us $5. The reason I love a fir is for the way my ornaments drip off each branch in elegance, especially my plastic, glittered ice-cycles.

And it smells like Christmas; the old mingling with the new. The lights twinkle among glass bulbs as a slight essence of fir fills the air.

The tree is now trimmed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Wheat Montana Flour
Possibilities in the Pantry
New Find
Home is the Heart of the Holidays
Flour dust floating in the air as Christmas cookies are crafted with care. Fantasy fudge for my college son flying in from Wisconsin, and Grinch cookies for my husband. The flour bag is yet full, newly purchased along with the season's assortment of specialty items.

Chocolate chips. Andes Mints chips. Almond Bark. Pure vanilla. Peppermint extract. Candy canes. Hazelnuts. Chopped dates. Sliced almonds. Peanut butter chips. Pretzels. Roasted peanuts. Cherry filling. Molasses. Powdered sugar. Brown sugar. Moonshine sugar.

The possibilities are endless, including moonshine. But I think I'll skip the moonshine and stick with platefuls of cookies, bars and candies. Maybe I'll make pull-taffy. Maybe I'll try one of those many recipes I've hoarded for years but never made before. Maybe I'll just stick to the classics, the family favorites.

That's the wonder of holiday baking. So many possibilities, so many new and old recipes to try or remake. One cookie make-over this year is the Russian Tea Cake recipe. Years ago, I tried a version that added dried tart cherries and pistachios to the basic recipe. This year those two ingredients were expensive, so I bought dried cranberries and hazelnuts instead.

A new ingredient find is Ghiradelli's Peppermint Bark. That sparks the creative cookie mind! And all three of my grown children will be home with plenty of days for us to all don aprons, dust our hair with flour and discover the possibilities waiting to be baked.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Snow Calls us to Hibernate
Storm Passing Through the Rockies
All Storms Clear
And the Sun Shines Again
We all need a few days of hibernation.

Time to tuck up, to lie low to contemplate. In our busy, fast-paced world with instant digital distractions, we have lost the art of being still.

Yet, there are reminders all around us. Falling snow calls us to watch snowflakes descend like torn tissue, flaking to earth. Flake after flake after flake. Time slows down as we watch.

Flames in the hearth smolder orange and blue above a bed or glowing coals. It takes half a day for a fire to burn down to coals and heat the house so thoroughly. Something an electric or gas furnace deprives us of with its instantaneous, push-button heat so easily regulated by thermostat.

After a month of daily writing to complete a novel draft, circumstances and season called a halt to my daily routine of computer commuting. A snowstorm blew out our fickle satellite Internet.

So I took time to hibernate until the sun came out again, sparkling upon all the fresh fallen snow as if it had become an altered world. A winter wonderland. Renewal.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Inspiration From My Pastor

(Proverbs 11:25) "A generous person will prosper, and whoever refreshes others will be refreshed."

In a moment of spiritual serendipity, I accidentally posted a draft. It wasn't even a draft, really, just an idea for one; something my pastor from Minnesota posted on his Facebook status. It inspired me, and I thought, "I should write about that."

And thus I posted the scripture from  my pastor and titled as a reminder of the idea I had. That was the accidental part. I merely meant to save it, not publish it.

The blessing came from one who read and commented, reminding me that scripture doesn't need an idea, photos or post built around it.

So, this holiday season, may you reflect upon this verse from Proverbs and find its blessing unadorned. Another way to read it comes from "The Message"--

"The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed; 
those who help others are helped."

Abandoned Horse Toys

October Not So Long Ago
Mangled Made Up Toy
The Ho-Hum Ball
It is that nebulous time of year when I'm not certain of the season. My calender tells me it is fall; the snow shouts winter. It was only a month or so ago that the horses were roaming the pond pastures in tall, browning grass. They are gone to winter shelter, the horses of Elmira. And they have left behind their toys.

Like kids, horses have a playful nature. In the spring, the brown gelding made sport of a discarded plastic bin. He must have found it in the barn. He smashed it up enough to ruin whatever it once was. It's now bent black plastic. Once destroyed, he would pack it around the pastures. I found it abandoned along the pond.

Thinking the horses would appreciate a store-bought toy, I purchased a horse ball pretty as a pink rose. But often as is the case with children, the made-up toys seem to be the favorites. The ball was greeted with ho-hum-ness by all three horses. The sorrel mare played with it once out of curiosity, and after she abandoned it, the ball has never moved.

Whether it is still fall or just winter, I  know that it is no longer summer! Thus the days continue to shorten and the horse toys cast shadows in empty fields.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


A Mess of Tracks
Seeking Solitude
Burrowing Tracks
Rabbit Tracks
Pond Iced Over
Train Incident in Elmira
Selkirks to the North
Following Tracks Home
The Stopped Train
Kitty Tracks

Dedicated to Uncle Roger Warren who enriched my life. He has gone home to the Lord today; a good and faithful servant. We grieve. We remember. We walk in the tracks he left behind.


A mess of tracks scatters in the snow around my house in Elmira. Some form a trail of sorts--boot-tracks to the garage, the pasture, the car. Others are more random like the finger painting of a kindergartener--the sweeping steps of dogs trotting this way and that in snow. One set of dog tracks peels away from the scatter-art to follow a set of cat tracks that meander around the west side of the house. The cat escapes into the forested pasture north and the dog turns back at the fence.

All of our activities can be read in the tracks we leave behind.

Snow crunches beneath my boots as I make  my own tracks to seek solace in the quiet of Elmira Pond. Like my husband just said to me, "Sometimes we need to just get out and look at something else." That something else is the blank canvas of fresh snow, now frozen beneath cold blue skies. Elmira Pond is etched in shoreline snow and glazed in smooth ice.

Curvacious tracks emerge from mounds of broken and bent grass. The tracks here speak of life beneath what looks battered by wind and snow. Mice are burrowing from clump to clump, probably feeding on  remnants of summer seeds, hidden from the eagles and hawks that hunt from above.

Along the south fence that cuts across two small intermittent streams that water Elmira Pond, a snowshoe rabbit has punched a trail in the crust of snow. At one point the trail crosses the fence to the Bluebird Ranch next door. He must be slender enough to fit through the wire squares.

No deer. No moose. Just a pristine pond-scape of frosted white. The tracks are well defined out here, but sparse. It is a holy place to pray my good-byes to Uncle Roger who went to his eternal rest this morning. I can feel the tracks he's left across my heart. Early on, he became an encourager of my dream to write. He never ceased for as long as he had breath. His tracks are laid out for me to follow--learn, teach, encourage, see, travel, love. Each step amounts to an incredible lifetime journey.

From across the pond, I can see the train on the tracks that follow Highway 95. Normally I like the trains, but the presence of this one has been heavy, like the burden of snow upon tender grass. It's been parked in front of our house for a week now. Last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, a 19-year old Sandpoint girl turned onto West Elmira Road where the tracks cross.

It doesn't matter what hits you in the end--pancreatic cancer or a southbound train. All tracks eventually cease. We didn't even know about the fatal accident until stopping in at Elmira Store yesterday to get coffee creamer. "What's up with that parked train," we asked, thinking an engine was broke down. After that, it felt like a death shroud. Odd, but now, after getting the news of Uncle Roger, it has left. The tracks are bare.

Out of wanting to know who this girl was, who died so near my doorstep, I look her up online. Her family has a Facebook page to her memory. She left many tracks across this world--friends, family, school, a missions trip. It made me think that it matters not our age at death, but in how well we used our hearts along the journey. What tracks did each leave behind--barely a woman of few decades and a man closing out his eighth.

Crunching back across my original trail in the snow, I realize that we need to make these solo tracks every now and again before rejoining the heavily trodden trails of our everyday lives. Make each step count.