A Different Sort of Contest

551197_337037406382696_1891785269_nOnly two more weeks until the Poetry For Their Freedom Contest closes. First prize is $100 and no entry fee.

Submit a poem on human trafficking and victims’ restoration of hope. Raise awareness and promote freedom for the 27 million enslaved around the world and in our own backyard.

Please consider sharing if you know any writers and poets. From some of the cover letters and background stories we’re getting, let me tell you, it confirms that human trafficking is way too alive and well in our country.

The Volunteer

Photo: courtesy of njaj/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo: courtesy of njaj/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So, I’ve been reading Erma Bombeck’s work. Love her humor. One of my favorites is her piece on volunteers. Have you read it? She talks about a dream she had where all American volunteers become disillusioned and set sail for parts unknown. At first, she’s happy to be done with committees, casserole concoctions, saving particular items and peddling baked goods. But then, she realizes the quiet left behind in places like the hospital, the nursing home…how those in need lift their arms, but no one’s left to comfort them or offer a hand.

She ends with, “I fought in my sleep to regain a glimpse of the ship of volunteers just one more time. It was to be my last glimpse of civilization…as we were meant to be.”

This is from 1975 and still timely as ever.

It’s a good one, isn’t it? Do you have a favorite Erma story?

Books That Make A Difference

So many books, so little time…

Are you like me? Do you have multiple pages of wish lists for books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and “To-Read” shelves on Goodreads and Library Thing?

I know this will come as a big surprise to you, but I have an especial interest in books that highlight aspects of humanitarianism and social justice.

Two of my upcoming reads:

Strength in What RemainsStrength In What Remains by Tracy Kidder

This is a non-fiction story about a man from Burundi who comes to the U.S. after surviving civil war and genocide. He arrives with practically nothing, but through the kindness of strangers, finds his path to healing (and a medical degree from Columbia).

All That is Bitter and SweetAll That Is Bitter And Sweet by Ashley Judd and Maryanne Vollers

This is Ashley Judd’s memoir that stemmed from diary entries written during her humanitarian journeys around the world. It details individual stories of survival as well as her own personal struggles.

Have you read either of these? If so, what did you think? Do you read books like these? Why or why not?

If you know of an inspiring book I should add to my list, I’d love to have your suggestions!

Drop A Meal

Take Them A MealA good friend of mine from Georgia has a rule: “Whether things are really good, or things are really bad, always bring food.”

I laughed at the time, but those few words, spoken almost flippantly, have stuck with me. My friend is a matriarch of Southern hospitality, complete with pearls and Mary Janes, but also just as comfortable in her fraying Georgia Bulldogs ball cap. She’s right though; taking meals to friends and family during the ups and downs of life is important. Food is the Grand Poobah of comforting gestures.

Have you ever received meals from friends and family during a time when cooking was just not feasible? Say after a loss? Or a surgery? I’m part of a small group that routinely cooks meals for a family with a young child with severe medical problems. (Full disclosure: except that I forgot a couple weeks ago and had to scramble to make it up to them.)

As my friend says, food is also great for happy occasions like the birth of a baby. (I have to take a moment for a personal shout out. This past Sunday, some good friends had a baby daughter. Welcome to the human race, Baby McKenna!)

So, guess what? This morning, I received an email from my Georgia friend about meals for McKenna and her new parents, with a link to a website that helps you coordinate food delivery called (appropriately): Take A Meal. Thought you all might be interested in case this is one of your ways to volunteer or give of your time (and hopefully, for the receiving party, utilize your excellent cooking skills). The site offers a place for central scheduling as well as recipe ideas if you’re coming up blank or trying to minimize the number of tuna casseroles your friend receives. It also provides email reminders, which considering my mess up a couple of weeks ago, is a great feature.

It’s obvious the people at Take A Meal have done this once or twice. They even provide a great list of logistical questions to ask the receiving party prior to food showing up at their house…all the way from available freezer space and food allergies…to secure drop-off locations and hours.

This past winter, my husband did a tour of duty overseas, so we were out of the country for a while. I came back ahead of him, and let me tell you how nice was it to find my formerly-stark fridge laden with BBQ pulled pork, Southern mac n’ cheese, salad, homemade quiche, berry fruit medley, bagels, OJ and milk. Oh…and on the counter, Girl Scout cookies and a bone for my dog. Do I have some super friends, or what?

The little things truly do make a difference. They truly do warm the heart, serving as reminders that we are not alone in this life. Others are there to support and celebrate with us.

What have been your experiences with taking/receiving meals during the good and bad times?


LiebsterThanks to Jadi Campbell for nominating me for The Liebster Award that’s intended to recognize up-and-coming blogs! I so appreciate how bloggers support one another and graciously offer introductions to new people. Personally, I’d be lost…slogging in the blogosphere without the help of friends’ recommendations.

Okay, I’m doing an abbreviated version of the rules. The official rules are:

  • Post 11 facts about yourself (I’m going for 3)
  • Answer the questions of your nominator. (Okay, yes…I’ll answer all 11 since she went to the trouble to ask them)
  • Pose 11 new questions. (I’m posing 3)
  • Post a copy of the badge on your blog
  • Nominate 11 other blogs. (I’m nominating 3)
  • Notify your selected nominees, and include links to the originating blog, as well as to new recipients.

ViandenThree Facts About Me

  • I’ve been lucky enough to travel to 33 countries
  • I just got back from 3 months in Germany. Brrr. It was cold! (I live in Charleston, SC, don’t forget)
  • One of the top countries still on my Wish-To-Visit list: Ireland

My Answers to the Questions Jadi asked:

1. Do you want to live to be 100?


2. If you dream that you can fly, where are you flying to?

Well, if I can fly, I’d go to all kinds of places.

3. What is ‘your’ song? Bittersweet Symphony

4. If you could climb in a time machine, where would you go?

2005. (I have my reasons)

5. Do you need a private space to write, or can you write anywhere? I can write most anywhere. When I have a mind to, I can block out serious levels of hubbub.

6. Are there foods you absolutely refuse to eat? Not that I’ve come across so far. But… the combination of herring, onions, mayo and pickles, common in the Netherlands…that might qualify.

7. Do you have a book you reread over and over? I tend to reread sections rather than reread entire books. But one that I did read more than once? Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett

8. What person or past experience makes you sentimental? My father learning all the words to “Con Te Partiro” in Italian and singing them to me for the father-daughter dance at my wedding.

9. What is the best vacation you’ve ever had? Ooh, that’s rough. I’ve been blessed with a lot of them. A few of the top? Italy; Brugge, Belgium; Normandy, France; Scotland; Kenya

10. Do you believe in reincarnation? Nope. God’s too merciful to do that to us.

11. If yes, what do you hope (or worry) you’ll come back as? If no, what do you think comes next? Heaven…across a sea of silver glass…into a far green country. (Anyone get the reference?)

My Blogging Nominees: 


A Dangerous Question

Cornwall Photographic

Question markQuestions For My Nominees: (I’m sticking with my blog theme here)

  1. What cause are you most passionate about?
  2. Why does that cause matter to you?
  3. How do you plan to volunteer for that cause this year?

Actually, I ask these questions of everyone reading this. Let’s hear it!

The Frasier Contest: A Cut Above

MBT frasier logoAs a writer who lacks stashes of cash, I obsessively research which writing contests to enter. And I mean obsessively. One of the suggested ways to lift yourself out of literary obscurity is to enter contests…along with attending conferences, purchasing memberships to writing organizations and subscribing to services like Publishers Marketplace. The choices can be overwhelming and pretty pricey, so I pro and con my way to my best value options.

A contest that stands out? I’d have to say the Frasier—an annual contest for unpublished authors conducted by My Book Therapy (MBT), a writing craft and coaching community for novelists. It’s open to any fiction genre (and even non-fiction, if that’s your specialty). What matters most is how well you can tell a story.

Last year, I entered the Frasier and I rate it with 3 out of 3 stars. Why? Because it excels in the following value-added categories:

1.  Feedback: A contest that provides feedback is worth its weight in gold, silver or any precious stone of your choice—especially thoughtful feedback.

Nothing is worse than sending out your work and hearing…NOTHING. Unfortunately, that’s how it is with most contests. You enter—and if you don’t win…ah, well, better luck next time. That’s it. You’re left with all the same questions. …Did they not like my story? Do they not find the lives of intrepid humanitarian aid workers interesting? …People who risk so much to try and make the world a better place? Did they not like the writing? Do I use too much dialogue? Do they not like smarty-pants heroines? It can’t be true they’re only attracted to books set in NYC. What’s wrong with Guatemala? It’s exotic. Do the romantic elements come out soon enough? Did it hurt my chances that I don’t have a cat in my story? Or that I include military characters and some cool airplanes? 

You see? I could go on and on. I’m a writer; I can have entire conversations in my head. Lucky for us, the Frasier lets you know what the judges think of your work—and not just with a numerical figure. They actually comment!!

2.  Prizes: All entries reaching the final round will be judged by Susan May Warren, the founder of MBT who is an award-winning, multi-published author; literary agent, Steve Laube; and Shannon Marchese, senior fiction editor for WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. These are high-value eyeballs to have review your work. If they take an interest, you know where this could possibly lead! Additionally, the winner receives a scholarship to an MBT coaching retreat, valued at $500. As writers, I believe we should always strive to learn more about our craft. In my view, if you stop learning in life, you’re dead…literally. Wouldn’t it be nice to be part of a team from which you can learn, bounce ideas off of and pepper with questions…and even better—in person? Which leads to point #3…

3.  Community: Writing can be a lonely profession. Have you ever felt like, as a writer, you were out in the snow, freezing your bohunkus off, peeking in the window at shelves lined with published books, where everything seems warm and cozy? Well, the folks at MBT have a way of pulling you inside, seating you next to the fire, and shoving a mug of hot chocolate in your hands. When everyone takes a seat and the telling of tales begins, you realize you’re no longer alone in the difficult endeavor of writing a book.

As Susan May Warren, the founder of MBT says, “…we’re your friends, cheering you on.”

Entries for the 2013 MBT Frasier Contest will be accepted through Sunday, March 31, at 11:59 p.m. The contest is open to Voices members, which is FREE to join. For more information, FAQs and to enter, visit www.mybooktherapy.com or click on the Frasier picture above.

For any of you creative types, what do you look for most in a contest or arts community? What have been some of your experiences…good and bad?

Modern-Day Good Samaritan?

Uganda signsIf this had been you, what would you have done?

You’re in rural Uganda, in a convoy of 4 vans, packed with 15 people each, on a 4-hour drive from a remote town to a more remote, dangerous town to offer humanitarian services for the day. You’re traveling over roads of packed clay, pocked with divots deep enough to jar your teeth. You share this one-and-a-half-lane road with walkers, bikers, dogs, pigs and oncoming traffic. Oh, and there’s actually a steer (with the sharpest, biggest horns you’ve ever seen) right outside your window. You pass flipped cars in ditches strewn with trash and fear you understand exactly how they ended up there.

To get to your destination, the van bumps along, down into the Rift Valley. The mountainsides, green with forest, gradually give way to tall savannah grass. You think you see a woman lying in the grass on the side of road among the trash. But the van is traveling about 40 miles/hour through a series of switchbacks, so you’re not completely sure. No one else seems to have noticed. Plus, people on the road are walking right by. Surely, if someone were there, they’d stop.

The van continues on its way. You arrive in the small town of Buliisa on Lake Albert and are immediately overwhelmed by close to 1,500 people needing medical attention (50% of Ugandans don’t have any access to any medical care). More people are crossing Lake Albert in paddleboats from the Democratic Republic of Congo—the border somewhere in the middle of the lake. They’re coming to see you, too

After a long day, you’re on your way back to your bigger remote town. It’s dusk and it’s raining. The van slows at one point. A group of baboons sits in the middle of the road. They only grudgingly move off. There! It really is a person lying in the grass. A woman. Not just a pile of clothes. Several others see her this time, too.

The baboons are very close to her. Waiting.

Lots of people spill out from the vans to take a closer look, all while keeping an eye on the baboons that aren’t known for their friendliness. One of the bus drivers translates what he has been told about the woman by a local passing by. “She’s crazy.”

The woman lies there, unmoving in the grass. She’s wearing lots of layers of clothes although it’s muggy and hot. She appears to be between 20-24 years old. She’s twig-thin, her clothes like tent material. The van drivers shake their heads. No room in the vans. Already packed in like playing cards. Also, the woman might have a contagious disease. Who can tell?

Several people run back to the vans for food bars stashed in backpacks in case the need for a quick energy boost arose during the long day. But the food bars can’t be left beside her. The baboons will be drawn to them. Water is given instead. The woman moves slightly—just enough to accept the water.

The van drivers look around, frowning. Darkness is coming. Nighttime is dangerous here. It’s time to go.

This is based on a true story.  I promise to give you the details and what happened, in my next post. But for now, what would you do in this situation? What do you feel right now?