A Gift of Time by Erin Farwell

IMG_3021_1Lately it seems as though I am simply surviving. I move from one task to the next with little ability or energy to plan beyond the next deadline or responsibility. I have been sick the last week or so, a cold that just won’t go away, but it’s more than that. I’m the one who plans for holidays and birthdays weeks or more in advance yet this Valentine’s Day I shopped for a little something for my daughter the night before. I don’t like living from one chore to the next but I can’t seem to get caught up enough to shift into a more thoughtful, intentional mode.

This issue has nagged at me for a few days because one of my closest friends, Jodi, had a birthday yesterday. We are celebrating together today and I want to do something to let her know how important she is to me. We met at the public pool when both of our daughters were around four or so. We clicked immediately and moved beyond the pool to having play-dates. It quickly became clear that while we were becoming friends, our daughters were not as compatible, so we ditched the kids play date but have made it a mission to have breakfast or lunch together one day a month during the school year. We’ve been doing this consistently since the girls started friendshipkindergarten, so it’s been about eight years.

Jodi is awesome because she supports me in everything I’m up to, gives great advice, and knows we can disagree on certain issues (mostly politics) without having it be personal. We both have busy lives and just knowing she’s there for me, as I am for her, is all we need. We don’t chat on the phone or spend lots of time together, but we know if we need anything, help, support, understanding, or just someone to say it’s okay, the other will be there – no questions asked.

For my birthday in September, Jodi made me a bag of gifts based on a blog I wrote. She filled it with several different things that she really enjoys and wanted to share with me. I was touched that she had read the blog but also that she put so much thought and effort into my gift.

And this leads me back to my issue of moving from one task to another. I want to do something as thoughtful for her as she did for me. CIMG1630This isn’t about a competition; I just want her to feel as special on her birthday as she made me feel on mine.

We are meeting at a French restaurant we like for her birthday lunch and I have purchased a few things that are “her” but they don’t feel special enough. I wanted something that was thoughtful and was a gift of effort as well as a “thing.” Then I knew what to do.

Yesterday I spent a good part of my time making home-made yeast bread. I used the recipe my paternal Erin_18AUG1977_Youth_Fairgrandmother baked almost every weekend and which she passed on to my mother. I earned “Best in Show” with a loaf I made from this recipe at the county fair when I was in High School. One of my best childhood memories is the smell of this bread baking in the oven. My own daughter loves this bread as much as I do, and can’t wait for it to cool before cutting a thick slice and slathering it with butter.

So, I am giving Jodi the time and effort that I used to make her something that’s both tasty and a piece of my history. I know she’ll appreciate the gift for all that it is and hope that it conveys what a gift she is in my life.

Some friends are just worth the extra effort.

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happy-birthday002This post by Jennifer Flaten

As I write this I am sitting at the dining room table, listening to the girls decorate my birthday cake.

All the kids love watching the Food Network, especially all the baking challenges. One year we even took a cupcake decorating class at the craft store. From that experience, I learned that I hate piping frosting. My kids, on the other hand, can pipe some nice rosettes.

Earlier the girls and my son held a confab and came up with a plan for my cake. After that, they banned me from the kitchen and broke out the mixing bowls. My son helped make the actual the cake, a simple box mix, but he wandered off prior to the decorating.

You wouldn’t think it takes much space to decorate a small two-layer cake, but the girls have commandeered every square inch of available counter space.

The decorating process has required, so far, two tubs of frosting, every single tube of food coloring, and about six different bowls.

The amount of mess on my counters is making me a bit twitchy. The kids are great at the creation process…not so great at the clean up.

Sure, they’ve promised to clean up, but I’ve heard that story before. These are kids after all. Just the other day I found two swipes of toothpaste on the bathroom doorjamb. After questioning the usual suspects I learned that one kid (who shall remain) nameless had toothpaste on her fingers and didn’t want to get a towel…..so ya, not holding out high hopes for the clean up.

That’s okay; I’m getting a cake out of it.

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Something Fishy

This post by Jennifer Flaten

My birthday is February 29, which makes me a Pisces. According to the astrology charts, I am a water sign, and adore all things aquatic. I do love seafood, sea horses and the color of the ocean. Actually getting into the water….eh.

In fact, one chart insists that Pisces love nothing more than to spend the day swimming.
That’s so not me. I do like water. I just prefer viewing it from a far while I sizzle like an iguana on the nice, hot, sandy beach.

I can be persuaded to sit by the water, and I would certainly jump at the chance tIMG_6757o enjoy the sea from a stunning yacht…but swimming, and getting wet….not so much.

I am less a swimmer and more a floater and I don’t even do that very well. I hate the back float (water in my ears) and do not intend to ever float face down in the water. I don’t even like getting my face wet in the shower.
When it came time to teach the kids to swim I had to rely on my husband and parents, all three are wonderful swimmers. Now thanks to their teachings the kids are excellent swimmers, who are always begging me to go into the water with them.

Usually, I say no and stay dry and warm on the deck of the pool, but occasionally I go in the water with them. I don’t know why, maybe so they can tease me because my idea of swimming is a half-hearted doggie paddle?

Most of the time I just stand shoulder deep in the water, gently moving my arms around, sort of like a bird testing the idea of flight, I am a fish testing the idea of swimming. After swirling the water around for a while, I declare myself tired (hey, the water offers a lot of resistance) and head for the shore.

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Reflections: Looking Back and Moving Ahead

Gayle_BozemanFamilyChristian_smallThis post by Gayle M. Irwin

Last week another year passed, and I turned 53. I recall being told antiques are things that are 50+ years old, so I guess I’m now an official antique!

I took a few moments on my birthday to reflect upon my life. Some memories weren’t the best: hurt from past relationships, including work-related associations, death of beloved friends and family … but other memories were wonderful: camping and fishing trips with my parents, walking the stage to receive my bachelor’s degree, visiting the ocean for the first time, listening to elk bugle on a September night in Yellowstone Park with geysers flaring toward a starry sky, sharing food and fodder with girlfriends, my wedding day with Greg… Then of course, there are the publications: articles in newspapers and magazines, stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul, and the books and booksignings as well as the school visits with Sage. Memories, good and not-so-good, can roll in like a tidal wave.

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Gayle and Mary at school.

My “special day” can be a bummer because Sage died the day before my birthday, two years ago. In fact, I remember feeling overwhelmingly sad last year, but this year, though I could have traveled down that same sad trail, I found myself in a classroom of kindergarteners with Mary, the springer spaniel Greg and I adopted last year. I talked with the kids about taking care of pets, about Mary and her story of losing her special person, and of Sage’s passing – then I read my book Sage Learns to Share. We talked about how special our pets are and how they help us. Even with Sage’s passing, she still impacts kids with lessons of friendship, courage, perseverance, and acceptance of differences … and I smile despite the fact I still miss her greatly. Having Mary helps, and I’m thankful she’s as good with kids as Sage was – the kids can learn from both dogs simultaneously, and I get to be part of that – what an amazing journey!

Friendship was evident in my human relationships as well last week, as many friends sent me wonderful greetings, and my colleagues at the office gave me roses and wrote encouraging words on a lovely card. True friendship is an amazing gift!

BDayRoses 2014My husband, too, gave me a beautiful card and made me a special dinner, and we watched my favorite TV show together with the dogs between us. My cup-of-life truly overflowed!

I called my parents and did something I’ve been thinking about for a long time: I thanked them for being such supportive, loving parents, for setting my feet on a good path, and for always being there to cheer me on and to catch me when I fall. The three of us were choked up as I hung up the phone. I give my husband credit for this part – he wrote his parents a wonderful, loving letter last fall to thank them for raising him (and his siblings) as they did. His words touched their hearts … and mine, and prompted me to do something similar. I thought a phone call on my birthday was appropriate – and I guess it was.

As we get older, we have more things to look back on – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful. Hopefully, we won’t dwell so much on the bad and the ugly, but instead will cherish the good and the beautiful. We can’t change the past, and we don’t always have control of the future, but we do have the present – opportunity to relish the blessings we experience, and when we do reflect, we can focus on those beautiful, good things in our lives.

Grandma Mardy2
Grandma Mardy at 91 years old.

My maternal grandmother’s birthday was exactly a week after mine; April 1 will mark 115 years since her birth. Grandma Mardy, a stout German woman, died at age 91. Like Sage, she lived a persevering life, surviving the Depression, running a store and then a farm, and living nearly 24 years longer than her husband. She took her first plane ride when she was 80 and her third, and final one, at age 85. She possessed a strong faith and a fierce love for her only child (my mother) and her only grandchild (me). We shared many dinners at home and in our Iowa town, and when she came west to visit, I was able to share Yellowstone with her. Wonderful memories of a great lady … and great times together! She didn’t get to see me walk across that stage to receive my bachelor’s degree in communication, she never saw one of my newspaper articles or books, nor did she ever meet Sage or Mary, but she helped me with school expenses and encouraged my passion for pets – and because of my Grandma Mardy I finished my degree and eventually became an author of dog books and stories.

My latest birthday is now in my rear view mirror, but my freelance career is just beyond the windshield … and I have many people, and circumstances, to thank – the good and beautiful as well as the bad and the ugly … I wouldn’t be where I am today without them all.

Gayle and Mary at KnowledgeNook

Gayle M. Irwin is writer, author and speaker. She is the author of several inspiring dog books for children and adults, including Sage’s Big Adventure, Sage Learns to Share, Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog, and Devotions for Dog Lovers: Paws-ing for Time with God. She is also a contributing writer to editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, to articles in Creation Illustrated and Our Town Casper magazines as well as the Casper Journal and River Press newspapers. Her future plans include creating newsletter and brochure content for businesses, writing more magazine articles, and authoring additional books. Learn more at www.gaylemirwin.com.

SageBigAdventureFront-small   SageLearnsShareFront-small  Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final   Walking_FrontCover_small

Beware the Ides of March!

This post is by Nancy Jardine
This post is by Nancy Jardine

Okay I admit it. I had Caesar Salad dressing on my greens last night. Was that a good choice on the night before the ides of March? Aha! Time will tell. As many good schoolboys and schoolgirls might know, the ides of March was not a great time for the ancient Roman named Julius Caesar, because things got a bit sticky for him on the ides of March – specifically a sticky end on the sharp point of a very sharp dagger. Make that many daggers.

It was very much a ‘dividing’ point for Caesar in that his assassination divided him from life to death on the steps of the Capitol in Rome. His assassins were Brutus and Cassius (not to mention the 60 or so others who stabbed him according to some ancient sources) many who had earlier professed to have been his friend. The English playwright, William Shakespeare, immortalised the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar in his play ‘Julius Caesar’ and forever thrust the phrase ‘Beware the ides of March’ into the public domain. Many people can quote nothing else of that play but they just might remember the ‘ides’ phrase. However, they may have no idea what ‘ides’ refers to.

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I confess to having absolutely no idea what the ‘ides’ were until I became 15 years of age. I was in my High School English class when it reared its amazing head. In my day, it was usual for every school in Glasgow, Scotland, to study the works of the English playwright William Shakespeare. It was also usual in Glasgow at that time, during the mid 1960s, that every single school followed strictly laid down programmes of work for all pupils. The Shakespeare plays we studied were selected particularly for levels of maturity of the students. In the first year of study it was the comedy -‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, since that was considered to be a nice little fairy tale suitable for 12 going on 13 year olds (actually it isn’t really but it was an easy work to study). In second year, it was ‘The Merchant of Venice’- also a comedy. By third year we were deemed old enough to tackle the tragedies- the ones with NO happy ever after endings. One of the third year plays was Julius Caesar.


The play made an impact on me for one reason only…

Zoom back with me to 1967. I’m sitting in my English classroom, some thirtyish pupils in the room. By third year, the English class was a mix of boys and girls, my first two high school years having had all classes segregated into girls only, and boys only classes. (Archaic? Probably but that’s how it was ) My English teacher of the time was the head of the department and a ‘classicist’. That means he had not only a qualification in English from University, but he was ‘of the old school’ who also had Latin and Greek qualifications. The man seemed as ancient as the old plays and books he taught us about, he was incredibly strict, but was also very knowledgeable.

 Dscn5414I can’t remember exactly, but I imagine that the week set aside to study ‘Julius Caesar by good old Willie S’ was probably the middle of March. I remember a cold dread as the soothsayer warns Julius Caesar ‘Beware the ides of March’ early on in the play. As we carried on reading-some pupils chosen to read the dialogue out loud to the others-the tension in the room escalated. Julius Caesar chooses to ignore the soothsayer who told his fortune and quips: “He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.”And Caesar carries on that night as normal.

But boys will be boys and are bloody with it (deny it if you will those males out there). My male classmates liked the idea of Julius Caesar having his comeuppance for being too much of a dictator in Ancient Rome and enthusiastically, if quietly, rejoiced in class when Julius Caesar is assassinated on the day following the soothsayers warning, on the steps of the Capitol in Rome, the forum below full of onlookers.

 Now why on earth should that be memorable to me? One of my lovely friends, probably one of the five I still keep occasional contact with, ratted on me. Someone made it public that the ‘ides’ of March, specifically the fifteenth, was my birthday. For some days, the corridors of my secondary school were not safe for me. I’m thinking you can imagine the amount of times I was metaphorically stabbed (and very noisily too) for the duration of reading that wonderful play by those enthusiastic boys whose maturity wasn’t actually all that well honed. There was no such thing in those days as harassment, or bodily harm-it was all great fun and any bruises encountered by me were not on show since they were hidden below my school uniform. It was called camaraderie!

So, what does the ‘ides’ actually mean? It doesn’t mean anything awful will happen but simply means the ‘dividing point’ of the month- the half-way mark. And the amazing thing is that every single month has one! *insert a very smiley face here* Nonetheless, I have never forgotten what the ‘ides of March’ means and the fifteenth has been a pretty good day for me for a long time… *wink, wink*

My historical romantic adventure series is set in Celtic Roman Britain but not in the time of Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar was the first Roman to venture onto the soil of the island the Romans named Britannia, but his very partial conquest was in 55 B.C. and his assassination in 44 B.C.

 New covers x 3

The era I write about is a bit later – the end of the first century AD 71-84. In only 10 days, the 3rd book of my series After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks will be officially launched. I’m not sure if I love writing about Celtic /Roman Britain because of my reading of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, or because I was already loving my history classes at school, but I like to think it was probably a bit of both!

What do you think?

Nancy Jardine: TOPAZ EYES-A finalist for THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE FICTION 2014 – Results end May 2014.  AFTER WHORL: BRAN REBORN Book 2 of Celtic Fervour series has been accepted for THE WALTER SCOTT PRIZE FOR HISTORICAL FICTION 2014- further updates in April 2014

You can find her books at:  Amazon UK author page   Amazon US author page  Barnes & Noble; Waterstones; W.H. Smith; Smashwords, Kobo and other major book retailers.

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 Have a lovely weekend!

No Birthday? No Problem

Jennifer Flaten


This post by Jennifer Flaten

I am a leap year baby. That’s right I only get a birthday every four years, thanks (or no thanks) to Julius Caesar (an interesting article can be found here). There are a lot more leap year babies than you would think about 5 million worldwide, according to the Honor Society of Leap Year Babies.

birthday cake
birthday cake (Photo credit: freakgirl)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve celebrated my birthday on the 28th. My mother on the other hand insists that since I wasn’t in this world until the 29th, I can’t officially have a birthday until March 1st.

Yes, even at soon to be *cough, cough* 41, whether I get an actually birthday or not is a big deal to me. Last year, I celebrated my 40th birthday and I turned 10 in leap years, the same ages as my twin daughters. Totally cool right? How many kids can say their mom is the same age as they are?

Having a leap year birthday means I never have to lie about my age. When I am 80, I can truthfully (and quite gleefully I might add) say I am 20 years old.

No birthday this year, but seeing as I love celebrating, I prefer to think of my non birthday as a reason to keep the festivities going as long as possible…and by festivities I mean shoe shopping and eating cake.

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