Monday, August 31, 2020

Non-Fiction Review: Here If You Need Me


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Title: Here If You Need Me: A True Story
Author: Kate Braestrup
Publication Info: Little Brown & Co., 2007. 211 pages
Source: Gift from a friend
Publisher's Blurb:
Ten years ago, Kate Braestrup and her husband Drew were enjoying the life they shared together. They had four young children, and Drew, a Maine state trooper, would soon begin training to become a minister as well. Then early one morning Drew left for work and everything changed. On the very roads that he protected every day, an oncoming driver lost control, and Kate lost her husband.

Stunned and grieving, Kate decided to continue her husband's dream and became a minister herself. And in that capacity she found a most unusual mission: serving as the minister on search and rescue missions in the Maine woods, giving comfort to people whose loved ones are missing, and to the wardens who sometimes have to deal with awful outcomes. Whether she is with the parents of a 6-year-old girl who had wandered into the woods, with wardens as they search for a snowmobile rider trapped under the ice, or assisting a man whose sister left an infant seat and a suicide note in her car by the side of the road, Braestrup provides solace, understanding, and spiritual guidance when it's needed most.

Here if You Need Me is the story of Kate Braestrup's remarkable journey from grief to faith to happiness. It is dramatic, funny, deeply moving, and simply unforgettable, an uplifting account about finding God through helping others, and the tale of the small miracles that occur every day when life and love are restored. 

My Review: 
For my regular readers, it is probably obvious why my friend gifted me this book. In addition to the parallels to my situation (though thank heavens I have adult children, not small ones), there is the Maine connection--my husband and spent about 4 or 5 months out of the last 2 years in Maine. 

I was taken aback at first by the religious aspect of the book, but Braestrup is a Unitarian Universalist minister, not one to ram religion down anyone's throat (that may make her perfect for a position like hers, as chaplain to the Maine (game) Warden's Service). I can't agree with everything she says on that front, but her blunt explanations of what she does think and feel were at the least food for thought. More to the point, for me, were her thoughts on grief and loss, and on making a life after a catastrophic loss. On that score, I think she nailed most of it.

I'll just share one quote: "Death alters the reality of our lives; the death of an intimate changes it completely. No part of my life, from my most ethereal notions of God to the most mundane detail of tooth brushing, was the same after Drew died. Life consisted of one rending novelty after another" (p. 202). She also talks early on about the things you can do while crying, and I can relate, even as she made me laugh. 

There is another aspect to the book: the nature of her work, and the reason she does it, and the Wardens do it. There is a strong recognition that for some of us, nature is the place of healing, maybe at times the only place where a person can be made whole again. A lot of what she writes about the Maine woods, in summer or winter, resonates.

I don't agree with everything Braestrup says. But I think this is a helpful book for those who have suffered a loss--and maybe even more for those who wonder how to relate to someone who has suffered a catastrophic loss.

My Recommendation:

If any of what I said above strikes a chord with you, give this a read. I will note that I made a start a little too soon, and had to set the book aside for a couple of months. There was too much in the beginning, especially, that matched my own pain too well.

FTC Disclosure: I was given this book as a gift, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." 


Note: I have turned on captchas for comments, at least for now, due to a spate of annoying spam comments. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it seems the easiest way to prevent spam.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

WEP: Long Shadow



The WEP posts every second month with a prompt and a bunch of short stories or other creative writing. This month's prompt has inspired me to something a little less conventional, but I'm feeling ready to write a little about it. This is non-fiction, and personal.

 291 words; Comments only.


A small decision can cast a long shadow. The choice to go for an evening bike ride. Or how far back do you trace the decisions? A move to a new town? The refusal to give night rides after one accident? Or can we blame it on COVID? Because if not for the pandemic, we would have been deep in training for a strenuous July trip to the Swiss Alps. Or was May 8 too early to have shifted from bikes to trails? I can't be sure now.

The decision he made was to ride his bike after dinner, when it was a little cooler, and the sun was no longer beating down on everything. It seemed like a reasonable choice at the time. As far as I know, it was the last decision he made, and the shadow it cast will last the rest of my life, and our sons' lives.

The consequences of that decision reach out into every part of our lives, and the long shadow feels like a good metaphor for it. There is still life and love and joy, but everything is a bit dimmed by that shadow. At first, up close to the source, the shadow makes everything so dark you can't see anything else. Time moves us farther out, and the shadow thins, is less total, but it never goes away.

But there is another long shadow, that cast by the love and generosity and the giving heart that was stilled that night. The hundreds of lives he touched in a 29-year teaching career. All the people he listened to and cared about and swapped stories with all over the world. Some part of him lives on in all of them.

Every life casts a long shadow, and every loss casts a long shadow. The same metaphor, but almost opposite meaning: the gift of self, and the loss of half my self.

 All images and text ©Rebecca M. Douglass, unless otherwise indicated.
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Friday, August 14, 2020

Photo Friday: Antarctica #7: Remains of the Whaling Past

These reports from our trip are feeling more and more like glimpses of a distant past, both personally and in this world where no one is traveling anywhere too far from home. Certainly not internationally! It's good to look back and remember, and this post is the first of two where it's all about history. In particular, the grim history of whaling.
Mikkelsen Harbor was used first by sealers, then in the early 20th Century by whalers. It's not much of a place, and I think they must have mostly just done some basic butchering before hauling the blubber off to someplace else (like Deception Island--I'll get to that in a couple of weeks) to be processed.

Approaching the island in the harbor, where the whalers had what look like seriously inadequate shelter. (Photo by Dave Dempsey)

The skeleton of the whaling boat is poignantly set off by hundred of whale bones.

The animals rule here now. We tourists slogged a long way around through the mud when a large seal (out of sight behind the boat) took possession of the beach. Penguins hopped around on the bones of boat and whales alike.

Dave caught some wonderful views of a parent feeding its nearly-grown chick. As noted, the island now belongs to the animals.

Dave had his moment of communing with a curious gentoo penguin.

All images and text ©Rebecca M. Douglass, unless otherwise indicated.
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Writer's Wednesday

Somehow I missed my usual Monday post... again. Maybe it's not usual anymore. I'm kind of off reviews, so that doesn't leave a lot.

But this is Wednesday, and time to check in on the progress with the works in progress.

IWSG story: working my way through editorial suggestions--thanks Roland and Jemima for offering both suggestions and the encouragement to keep going.

Death By Donut: Progress on the edits got a bit shoved aside by the need to make real progress on the story if I'm going to make the Sept. 2 IWSG deadline. That's because we're off again at the end of this week, this time to take Eldest Son to Colorado to start graduate school.

If it seems like I'm spending a lot of time traveling away from home... that's deliberate (though this trip had to be made regardless, it didn't have to be extended with some backpacking...). I know in this time of COVID I probably shouldn't travel more than necessary, but I'm trying to stick to the wilderness as much as possible. Between the heat and the memories, home isn't a great place for me right now.

Still working my way through Chrys Fey's encouraging book, and the Emotion Thesaurus as well--and Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility, which is giving me some interesting thoughts on characters and emotions!

My biggest writing surprise has been that it's actually easier for me to lose myself in revisions than in new writing right now. Usually I struggle more with revising, but I think having something concrete to work with helps. 


Here are a couple of pictures that might have aliens coming in for a landing to encourage the writing of science fiction for the IWSG contest. Okay, actually it's four photos because I couldn't make up my mind.

All images and text ©Rebecca M. Douglass unless otherwise indicated.
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Friday, August 7, 2020

Friday Flash: The Space Explorer is back!

That's right--I'm back with a bit of new flash fiction after all these months, and it's everyone's favorite Space Explorer! It ran a little long, at 1175 words, including the title.

Xavier Xanthum and the Galactic Sandwich

Xavier Xanthum, Space Explorer, relaxed aboard his good ship Wanderlust. Kitty Comet hovered over his lap in the zero-g living space. For the moment, Xavier was content to let Larry drive the ship.

Comet mewed, and Xavier stroked the cat’s back, pressing it into his lap. Immediately the mewling changed to a roaring purr. Cat and spaceman alike relaxed, content.

“Captain, your presence on the bridge.”

Xavier groaned. The AI only got formal when something was wrong. Xavier set the cat gently aside and shoved off toward the control room. Comet continued to float in a curled position, drifting slowly with the air currents until she came to rest against the ventilation grate.

Xavier shot into the control room, which Larry had so grandly called the bridge. “What’s gone wrong now?”

“What do you make of this, Captain?”

Still with the “captain” thing. Xavier peered at the vidscreen. “It looks like… a sandwich?” He fiddled with the controls, zooming in on the strange object.

Not a sandwich. A holographic picture of a sandwich, projected from a nearby moon. Xavier was approaching an inhabited planet. That was according to plan. He needed supplies.

Suddenly, he also desperately needed a sandwich.

“’Bob’s Galactic Sandwich Shop,’” Xavier read from the holographic billboard.

“There is no such business listed in the directory,” Larry said. For an AI, he was pretty good at the doubt-filled voice.

“It’s new. How out of date must that directory be, anyway?”

“About three hours.” Larry’s voice went full artificial, as usual when Xavier was about to do something the AI considered foolish.

“Never mind. So this Bob fellow didn’t register with the authorities. Doesn’t mean he can’t make a sandwich. Take us down to the moon.”

“Redirecting.” The AI had little choice when Xavier issued a direct order, though Larry had been trying to get some new programing to allow him to stop Xavier from making big mistakes. He manifested, a pair of glowing eyeballs drifting around the room and pinning Xavier with a disapproving glare. But he obeyed orders.

Wanderlust shifted direction, bringing the billboard into better focus. The sandwich contained layers of meats, cheeses, and vegetables, though Xavier couldn’t name all of them. His mouth watered.

“What’s wrong?” Xavier didn’t like to be bossed by his own AI, but he knew that Larry had reasons for any opinion, voiced or not. After all, an AI couldn’t have hunches, so if Larry didn’t like the sandwich shop, something must be wrong.

“Why does this Bob advertise with an extra-planetary banner?”

“All the big outfits in the major ports do it.”

“Shiva isn’t a major port. It’s a minor moon around a modest colonial outpost.”

“I want that sandwich.” Which was all the answer Xavier needed to give.


They docked smoothly at the moon, which admittedly seemed a little too small and shiny to fit the usual run of extra-planetary orbs. Xavier had seen all kinds, but he’d never seen a moon-sized sandwich shop. The place was huge, and ships were docked at nearly all the fly-up portals.

It wasn’t until he left the ship for a closer look that Xavier began to share Larry’s unease.

There were no people about. All those ships, all those sandwiches… where were the customers? It was unnerving, but the smells of the roasting meats and toasted breads made his mouth water. Xavier wandered out in search of a menu. A gate closed behind him, cutting him off from return to the ship.

Xavier’s head jerked from side to side as he sought another route back to the Wanderlust, even as he cursed himself for not listening to Larry. He had a nasty feeling that he knew why he didn’t recognize the meat in that billboard sandwich. There were enough alien ships docked at Bob’s Sandwich Shop to provide a lot of unknown proteins.

He resigned himself to the loss of that imagined sandwich. Even if he got out of there, he wouldn’t be eating anything prepared on Shiva.

For the moment, the corridor was empty. Gates blocked both ends, and he made his way systematically down the hall, testing doors. If a knob turned under his hand, he planned to open it just enough to peek through before committing himself. Who knew what might lie behind an unsecured door in a place like this?

He needn’t have worried. Xavier found no doors that yielded to his touch. About to give up in despair, he heard a voice in his ear and whirled around. No one was behind me.

“It’s me, you idiot.” The voice came from his communicator, still clipped to his jumpsuit, and Xavier’s AI was annoyed with him.

“I'm trapped,” the intrepid space explorer whined.

“I know. I saw it happen. I’m scanning for a way out. Be patient.”

Be patient? Xavier didn’t see much future in that. How long before some machine came to turn him into a sandwich? He scanned the walls again, spotted a grate-covered opening midway along.

The ventilation system, Xavier reckoned. He moved toward the potential escape route, digging in a pocket for the tool kit he carried everywhere. Removing the screws should be a piece of cake, and then he just had to find his way back to the ship, with some guidance from Larry.

Heck, it wouldn’t even require tools. The cover had a latch and hinges.

“Don’t do it,” Larry’s voice warned.

“Don’t do it?” Xavier fought to keep from yelling. If no one had noticed him yet, he wanted to keep it that way.

“It’s not an air system.” Larry didn’t elaborate, which made Xavier think. He shuddered and headed as quickly as he could back toward the point where he’d entered the hall.

“Ah. I have it. I can’t raise the grates that block the hall, but I have unlocked the first door. It will take you through two more rooms, and a door into the hall by our docking port. I recommend haste, as I may have triggered an alarm.”

Xavier didn’t need urging. Xavier twisted the doorknob, ran through the next room, barely aware he scattered a couple of workers at desks and computers, passed through the second room the same way, and burst out into the hall as alarms sounded.

“Right ten paces, then left through your boarding port.”

Several clerks in hot pursuit, Xavier dove through his port just ahead of another gate, meant to block access. It caught his left shoe. He abandoned it, wriggled through Wanderlust’s port, and lay in the lock as Larry secured the doors and separated from the dock.

Only when the acceleration alarm sounded did Xavier manage to pull himself together and head to the control room. He strapped in just as the ship hit max pre-warp acceleration, and let Larry pick a new destination for a bit of R&R dirtside. One far from the deadly moon Shiva.

“Larry, make it someplace where they’ve never heard of sandwiches, okay? I seem to have lost my taste for them.”


All images and text ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2020, unless otherwise indicated.
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

IWSG: Writer’s Update

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! If it links to Google+, be sure to change it as Google+ is going away in January. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.   
The next posting day is August 5th. 

Sign up here.

The awesome co-hosts for the August 5 posting of the IWSG are Susan Baury Rouchard, Nancy Gideon, Jennifer Lane, Jennifer Hawes, Chemist Ken, and Chrys Fey!

My update:

It’s hard to believe it’s been 3 months, during which I have managed to write 3 not-very-good short stories—and about 12,000 words for my eyes only. It helped a little in my fear that I’m not a writer anymore, when I realized just how much journaling I had actually done!

Where things stand now as a writer: I wrote and on Friday will share on my blog another silly SF story about my favorite hapless, er, intrepid space explorer, Xavier Xanthum. I produced a very poor draft of a story for the IWSG Anthology, which I have some rather small hopes of being able to spiff up enough to submit in time. I have also resumed edits on my new Pismawallops PTA novel, and am finding that going much better than expected. I've regained enough focus to work for 45 minutes or an hour, and the editing at the front end of the novel is pretty simple, so it's soothing.  I have also worked on an exercise to try to write a character who accepts her feelings, rather than trying to hide/deny them as most of my main characters do. That one isn’t producing any kind of story, but it is good writing practice.

That leads me to a question I asked a couple of weeks ago about fictional characters who are good with feelings, and that’s sent me to start re-reading Jane Austin, but I also realized as I was relaxing with a new mystery that Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisy Dobbs is someone who is very much in tune with feelings, her own and others’. While she may not always show them, she at least doesn’t deny them to herself, which may be what we are really looking for. It’s not that one—or one’s character—needs to wear her heart on her sleeve, but that feelings should be acknowledged and accepted, not condemned as a weakness. I'm reading through The Emotion Thesaurus, and giving some thought to how my characters express emotion--and how they reveal it when not speaking of it, too.

That brings me to Chrys Fey's new book, Keep Writing With Fey. It's blog hop day for the book as well as the IWSG, and since the hop is about dealing with depression, burnout, or writer's block, my update is right on topic! I've been reading at this book, too, and considering what might help me from Chrys's many smart and thoughtful suggestions. So far, the big one for me is to do *something* every day--and celebrate having done so!

Hop around to get inspiration from the other writers participating in the hop, as well as to the other IWSG bloggers!

I’ll take a pass on this month’s optional question, but feel free to leave comments about genre or about your own struggles with writer's block, depression, grief, or anything else that you want to talk about.

Oh, and I'm out of the mountains, home for a couple of weeks. So here's a random pretty picture:

Monday, August 3, 2020

Repost: Create a Teacher's Guide...

... a great post from fellow Voyagers anthology author Louise Barbour.

Congratulations, you have written and published a children's book!
Now comes the hard part, promoting and selling your book.

          "My" Book ~ The Anthology Containing My Short Story
                                        "Dare Double Dare"
                                        The IWSG on Instagram 
                       Background Photo by Louise MacBeath Barbour

One way to do this is to create a user-friendly teacher's guide 
that you can use during school and library visits, in presentations
at conferences, or as an exhibiter at industry events.

Yes, it's fun to share your book with children, 
but make your book user-friendly for teachers  
and they will buy copies to use in their classrooms.
Also, parents who homeschool their children
will appreciate a good book with an easy-to-use guide.