No Sweat for This Fantastic Friday

This Fantastic Friday look back recalls a favorite Family Camp memory and showcases the Jolly Green Giant on a mountaintop.This Fantastic Friday post looks back at a favorite camp memory…four generations of family enjoying a magical evening on a houseboat. Though that was our one and only houseboat adventure, my camp job is still photographing the week’s events while other people sweat and toil on logging, construction, and cooking crews. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

Camp Photographer, No Sweat!

Though we’re not at Family Camp any longer, I wanted to share a photo taken during Friday night’s jumping-off-the-top-deck-of-the-cruis-boat-highest-cannon-ball-splash-contest. I took hundreds of action shots, hoping to get a few good ones, and ended up with this one of the Jolly Green Giant crouching on a mountain top.

One of the pillars of Family Camp is a couple hours of hard work for everyone, every morning. Some people do sweaty and generally disgusting work like digging trenches, insulating walls, hanging sheet rock, mudding seams, logging, or hauling rocks from the river. Others do fun but complicated work like fixing three meals a day for 30 – 40 people.

A couple years ago I was asked to be camp historian and photographer. “So,” I asked by way of clarification while stilling the little flutter of joy that comes with being excused from sweaty, disgusting work and kitchen duties, “you want me to take pictures and write commentary about people doing sweaty and disgusting work and the cooks in the kitchen?”

“Yes,” the boss man said. “That’s what we want you to do.”

I waited for him to say, “Fooled ya’. Grab a pick ax, sucker,” but instead he said, “Have fun,” and walked away. I jumped on that order like a tick on a dog’s back and have been wielding my camera and computer ever since. But guilt has plagued me all along, when cool, clean and sweat free, I record the hard work and play of others.

But this year the guilt evaporated when I started running a slide show of each day’s pictures after supper. People smiled and laughed and remembered as the pictures floated by. And I finally understood the boss man’s wisdom in rustling up a camp historian. The construction and preservation of memories, while not sweaty and disgusting, is as necessary as cabins and meals. The record of our time together is shelter and food for our souls.

Thanks, Tom, for knowing what our hearts need and allowing me to provide it. I’ll do it again next year, no sweat.




Absurd Airport Announcements for a Fantastic Friday

Airplane adventures from years past in this week's Fantastic Friday post.Today’s Fantastic Friday post was easy to choose after my recent overseas airport adventure. The adventure featured in this look back occurred in July of 2011. Not overseas, but right here in the United States. The Man of Steel and I are off to Idaho tomorrow, and we’re hoping the warnings to parents regarding the whereabouts of their children continue to be heeded and only baggage is to be seen on the carousels this trip.

Keep Your Children Off the Baggage Carousel

After an entertaining and/or character building (depending on your perspective), virtually un-re-create-able travel adventure, we are finally home.


Perhaps the deer that darted onto the busy highway between Sand Point and Coeur d’Alene in front of our driver’s car was an omen. But since the car missed the deer or the deer missed the car (depending on your perspective), we blithely continued onto the Spokane airport and arrived there with time to check in and eat lunch. We even snagged a free pizza since whoever ordered before us never picked up theirs.

Buoyed with the anticipation of snarfing down free pizza once we landed in Denver and ran to catch our connecting flight, we blithely walked to the gate and waited to board our Southwest Airline flight to Denver. Maybe strange overhead announcements were an omen of what lay ahead, but we and the other passengers only laughed harder as the warnings progressed:

ANNOUNCEMENT #1: It is against safety regulations to allow children to sit on the edge of a baggage carousel. Please do not allow children to sit on the edge of Baggage Carousel #2.

ANNOUNCEMENT #2: It is against federal safety regulations for children to sit on the edge of a baggage carousel. When it starts moving, they could be injured. Parents, be sure your children are not sitting on the edge of Baggage Carousel #2.

ANNOUNCEMENT #3: This is the third warning about allowing children to sit on the edge of the baggage carousel. It will start moving in 2 minutes, and they could tip onto the carousel or lose fingers when it starts moving. Please remove your children from the edge of the baggage carousel immediately.

ANNOUNCEMENT #4: Parents, this is your third warning. (Apparently, the announcement maker had lost count.) Get your children off the edge of the baggage carousel immediately. The luggage will be arriving soon. Remove your children immediately.

We were still chuckling about the announcement 2 hours later on our approach to Denver, but the laughter dried up when the pilot mumbled, “The Denver airport is closed due to a severe thunderstorm, and we’re being rerouted to Amarillo, Texas.”

Amarillo, Texas?

No one was laughing fifty-five minutes later when we landed in Amarillo. No one laughed when the pilot continued his mumbling. “The storm has moved out of Denver, so we’ll get gas and go back. All your connecting flights have been delayed, so there’s a good chance you’ll be able to make them.”


Except that half of the 200+ passengers were in line to use the 2 tiny airport potties, and  the good news went right over our heads. The other half were staring out the windows at the oddest looking aircraft we’d ever seen.

“Looks like a dolphin,” said the young woman next to me. “And it has NASA printed on it.”

“Or it could be Shamu,” I suggested. “Who knew there was a Sea World on the Amarillo, Texas airport? Or we’ve been rerouted to a hush, hush NASA site for flight training.”

Pretty soon, we were on our way and arrived in Denver just in time to board our connecting flight to Omaha, snarfing free pizza as we ran.


That flight was uneventful, as was our late night drive home and our arrival at 3:30 AM. We were asleep in our beds by 4:00 AM. Our luggage, which did not make the connecting flight is supposed to arrive tomorrow. And I cleared up the NASA Shamu mystery with a little online research. It revealed that our NASA Shamu is really a NASA Super Guppy. Which leaves only two loose ends to wrap up right here, right now.

To the person who ordered and forgot to pick up the Hawaiian pizza at the Dave’s House of Pizza Kiosk: It was delicious. Thank you so much for sharing your supper with us.

To anyone who was in the vicinity of Spokane Airport’s baggage claim area between 2 and 4 on Tuesday afternoon: If you know what happened to the kids on Baggage Carousel #2, please leave a comment. We could use some closure and a final hallelujah!


Checking Items Off My Bucket List

Workshop Speakers                                                  Bottom row: Gail Kittleson, Jolene Philo, Anne Fleck Middle row: Jean Vaux, Cherie Dargon             Standing: Mary Potter Kenyon, Sue Schuerman, Tamara Clymer, Mary Jedlicka Humston, Chris Pesek


I’ve never made a bucket list, though my list excuses for not doing so is quite extensive.

Too busy.
Too busy with family.
Too busy enjoying friends.
Too busy reading books.
Too busy writing.
Too busy planning the Wonderfully Made Family Camp (WMFC).
Too busy living to plan how to reach the end of life without regrets.

But despite the busyness, I recently checked 2 items off the bucket list I never made.

The first check mark happened at WMFC. All the members of the planning board, myself included, wore green tee-shirts so we were easy to find when questions arose. That, in itself was pretty cool, even though I usually had to refer the questioners who approached me to someone who could actually answer the question. But, in addition to the green shirts, the members of the planning committee were issued…

…drum roll please…WALKIE TALKIES…

…second drum roll please…with HEAD PIECES and MICROPHONES.

So I was able to fulfill my childhood dream of commanding thousands of people–or in this case more than 100. But who’s counting?–using honest-to-goodness spy gear. Or at least a walkie talkie and head piece generously donated by Scheel’s. (They donated 12 sets, valued at over $500. Cool, huh?)

Grand as that event was, it pales compared to what happened over the weekend.

For the first time ever, my daughter and I co-presented a workshop at the Cedar Falls Christian Writers’ Workshop. The topic was What a Manuscript Editor Can Do for You, and the workshop sprang from our mutual editing of each other’s manuscripts last summer. We discovered that each of us made the other’s writing better, and that we enjoyed doing it. Probably because Anne has a talent for spotting writing weaknesses and suggesting ways to shore them up. And I have a talent for weak writing that needs shoring up.

It is a match made in heaven.

The match is turning out to be much more than me being able to fulfill a lifelong dream of speaking or acting with one of my kids–another item from the bucket list I never made that has now been checked off. The match may turn out to be the start of a new professional partnership between Anne and me to offer book coaching services, such as manuscript editing and book proposal assistance, in person and online. (More on that this fall at

We’re in the dreaming stage at present, but who knows what the future holds?

For now I am grateful that in the busyness of life, God touched my days with not only the childish joy of using a walkie talkie, but also a mother’s joy in partnering with my adult daughter who has become a talented, determined woman.




Fantastic Friday at a Writer’s Conference

This Fantastic Friday, I’m at the Cedar Falls Christian Writing Conference once again. This time my fellow author and editor, who also happens to be my daughter, will be co-presenting a workshop about What a Manuscript Editor Can Do for You. With that in mind, what could be more fitting than this June 16, 2015 post for another Fantastic Friday?

Top Ten Things About Going to a Writers’ Conference

The bags are packed and I’m ready to head out for the Cedar Falls Christian Writers’ Conference tomorrow. Here are 10 top ten reasons to attend a writing conference, in Cedar Falls, Iowa or anywhere else one is held.

10. They’re a great opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of other writers and to see if your inner insecure writer’s envy-o-meter readings are going down or up.

9.  Writers’ conferences are a wonderful place to make new friends.

8.  And they’re a place to reconnect with old friends, too.

7.  A good writers’ conference will provide information and concepts to challenge your comfort zone, stretch your thinking, and conceive new ideas.

6.  Each conference should offer confirmation that God created you to be a writer…or not.

5.  They offer time to reflect upon where you are now as a writer and where you want to be in the future.

4.  They also offer time to step back and see God’s hand at work in and through your writing.

3.  Somehow, unexpected doors for your writing will open in unexpected ways and under the most unexpected circumstances.

2.  Someone else does all the cooking and cleans the bathrooms.

1.  At a writers’ conference you are with like-minded people who think your obessions with reading, composition notebooks, ballpoint pens, and mechanical pencils are absolutely normal.

Have you ever been to a writers’ conference? What’s on your top ten list?

Sometimes, You Can Go Home Again

IMG_0800Last week. I went home again. Actually, I went to my hometown to participate in the presentation of the first Roger Hallum Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship was created to honor Roger Hallum, who led the LeMars Community Schools drama and theater department from 1969–1975. Erica Urban, a senior who will pursue a degree in creative writing at Grandview College, won the scholarship. During a delightful visit with her after the awards assembly, it was obvious she was the right recipient.

In addition to meeting Erica, I was able to spend a lovely spring afternoon with Mr. Hallum’s children, Randy and Kourtney. We stopped at the house the Hallums built during their years in Le Mars. We toured the church they attended, which happened to be the church I attended, too. And we stopped by the high school where Mr. Hallum worked his magic: his classroom, the Little Theater in the high school and the larger theater in the junior high school.

“Do you remember how we called your dad on stage after the last night of The Great Cross Country Race?” I asked Randy as we stood in front of the junior high stage.

“I do,” Randy said. “And I remember how reluctant he was to go up there.”

“That’s because he’d given us strict orders N-E-V-E-R to do that. But it was our senior year and our last show with him. We loved him too much to let him stay in the audience.”

I looked at the stage and saw Mr. Hallum, surrounded by his students, a forced smile on his face as he held up the tortoise and hare cookie jar we gave him as a cast gift.

“Dad had that cookie jar in his kitchen until he died,” Kourtney said. “And the director’s chair, too. He cherished both of them, and the scrapbook your Thespian troupe gave him, too.”

With those words, I was back on the stage. Seventeen. Wearing my hedgehog costume. Crying. Thinking that my relationships with friends and Mr. Hallum would soon end. That I would never see these people again. That they would never think of me again.

But Mr. Hallum thought of his students, just as his students thought of him over the decades. Our gifts graced his house and became part of his children’s memories. Our memories melded as we toured the town. At the scholarship awards program, Randy even wore a polyester suit in honor of his dad.

IMG_0797By the end of the evening, we were fast friends. It was hard to say good-bye.

IMG_0796Hard, but not impossible. Because that day I learned–thanks to a cookie jar, a director’s chair, a scrapbook, and memories–you can go home again when you’re heart’s been touched by a dedicated, talented teacher who cared.

Mrs. Pollifax on a Fantastic Friday

As it turns out, the protagonist of my current work in progress matches the qualifications set out years ago.Next week, I’m flying to McLean Bible Church’s Accessibility Summit. That upcoming event combined with mystery novel that’s my current work in progress makes this post from 2011 quite timely five years later. Before you read, you should know that the protagonist of the new series wears sensible shoes and underwear, contains her cellulite, and has absolutely no accent. At least not where I come from.

It Worked for Mrs. Pollifax

I am in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia (just outside Washington DC) for the Accessibility Summit at McLean Bible Church. To be accurate, the Summit begins later today, and I’m hanging out in the hotel business area because a new heater and AC unit is being installed in my room. My theory is that the CIA has hidden cameras in all hotel rooms in these parts, so they decoded my mutterings when the noisy heater woke me repeatedly in the night. Who says our government isn’t responsive?

The longer I sit here and people watch, the more glaringly apparent it becomes that I’m not in Kansas (yes, I live in Iowa, but please work with me) any more. Even though I read plenty of David Baldacci thrillers, Lisa Scottoline legal mysteries, Mrs. Pollifax CIA romps, and other fiction set on the East Coast to prepare me for this culture shock, it didn’t work. This midwestern gal is jaw-droppingly agog at the accents (this morning’s mix included British, Australian, Jersey, New York, and perhaps German), not to mention the fashion show that began in the Chicago airport yesterday and shows no sign of ending any time soon.

The most noticeable fashion statement thus far is the knee high, calf-hugging boots with three inch heels. Sported mostly by younger women who don’t yet realize “Bunion Builders” is the CIA code name for these boots, they look – well – really expensive, uncomfortable, and positively anti-midwestern.

The second most noticeable statement has been skin tight leggings, sometimes worn with bunion builders, sometimes under baggy, flowing shirts, and sometimes with short shirts and presumably thong underwear since no one had unsightly pantie lines. Apparently, fat jiggles are not considered unsightly in this neck of the woods. This is also anti-midwestern. In that part of the country, there are more fat jiggles per capita, but their owners tend to keep them well hidden.

I’m coping with the culture shock as well as can be expected. So far, I’ve resisted the infrequent urges to buy a pair of bunion builders, squeeze into leggings, or purchase thong underwear. Quite a feat of self-control for this midwestern, former school teacher who holds the door open for strangers, wears flat shoes and khaki pants, and knows better than to hug a Lutheran.

Just to be on the safe side, I’m making a list of anyone who looks like they work for the CIA, starting with the guys installing the heater in my hotel room. Once I get back home, I’ll mail it to the agency with an instructive note about how to make their spies blend in a little better, possibly by hiring midwestern women with sensible shoes, contained cellulite, sensible underwear, and absolutely no accent.

It worked for Mrs. Pollifax.
It could work for me.
Ya, shure, you betcha!

Happy to Be Alive on this Fantastic Friday

This Fantastic Friday post recalls a near death experience 5 years ago that showed my work on earth is not yet done and left me happy to be alive.Five years ago this month, I survived an exciting adventure on a snowy night. This Fantastic Friday celebrates the anniversary of an evening when God made clear that my work here on earth is not yet done. Though much has happened–good and bad–in the five years since, I am still happy to be alive.

Happy to Be Alive

Today, I could be bummed because of last night’s thick, wet snowfall which put a damper upon spring’s steady progress. I could be grinchy and grumpy because daylight savings time kicks in this weekend and will make me wait an extra hour for the sunrises I crave each morning. I could lament the steady drain on our checkbook when car licenses, property taxes, and Hiram’s birthday all arrive in March, also one of the two most grey and dismal months of the year.*

But I’m not bummed.
I’m not grinchy and grumpy.
I’m not lamenting our meager checkbook balance or March’s parade of grey days.

Instead, I am happy to be alive this morning after a snowy, treacherous drive home from Clive last night.

The problem wasn’t that it was snowing hard.
The problem wasn’t winds and drifting.
The problem was a sticky, heavy, wet snow that made it hard to see the side of the road.

I was only going 35 when the car veered toward the shoulder. The bump caused the car to fishtail. It went across the road and almost into the ditch. Then it slid to the other side and almost into that ditch. When it finally stopped moving, the car was pointed south in the northbound lane. I moved into the southbound lane and found a place to turn around.
On the slow trip home, I passed one car being pulled out of the ditch. So I drove slower, thinking about how God chose to answer my frantic prayer as the car and the steering wheel spun out of control.

“God, be with me!” I said.
Whether I ended up in the ditch unharmed or injured,
Whether I made it through without a scratch or in the hospital,
Whether I lived or died,
I knew he would answer that prayer.
He would be with me.

Why did he answer by keeping me out of the ditch, without a scratch on me or the car? Only one explanation comes to mind. His purposes for me are not complete. He has work for me to do. So as the mundane duties of this day unfold, I am happy to be alive, uninjured, and able to to accomplish them.

I am happy to fold underwear,
happy to edit more chapters of my book,
happy to cook and wash dishes,
happy to agonize over what color to paint the bathroom,
happy to watch my husband create another remodeling mess,
happy to see the daffodils poking through the pesky, wet snow,
happy to be alive.

*November is the other one of the two most dismal months.

Wanted: Special Needs Family Camp Volunteers

card back_edited-1Snowstorms. Ground blizzards. Below zero temperatures. They’ve been the constant companions of Iowans for several weeks now. The bad weather makes me long for spring and look forward to summer.

But I’m looking forward to summer for another very good reason, too. Central Iowa’s very first Wonderfully Made Family Camp will debut at Hidden Acres Christian Center June 10–12, 2016. I’m part of a non-denominational planning committee that’s been meeting since October. We’re trying to make the camp a reality for kids with special needs who aren’t able to attend other summer camps, for their parents who need respite and pampering, and for the siblings whose needs are often put on the back burner.

Fareway (a regional grocery chain) has already committed to providing much of the food. A local businessman has given $25,000 for sidewalks so the camp will be wheelchair accessible. $3,000 of the $15,000 in donations has been raised so 35 families and the 1-on-1 volunteers who will accompany the kids to all daytime activities. Most importantly, though our advertising campaign has barely begun, 15 families have already registered for the camp. Obviously, the need for the camp is real.

Now do you see why I’m looking forward to summer? To tell you the truth, I’m also shaking in my boots because we were expecting–perhaps naively–only 1 child with special needs family. But many of the families have multiple kids with special needs. One family has 5. That’s right, 5. So we need more 1-on-1 volunteers than expected.

Which is what today’s post is all about–recruiting volunteers. Volunteers to accompany kids with special needs during the daytime hours. Volunteers to help the regular volunteers at the swimming pool, rock wall, horse barns, and elsewhere. All volunteers must be at least 16 years old, and they must go through background check and sexual offender screening. Volunteers with special needs or medical training (teachers, teacher associates, nurses, EMTs, doctors, therapists, etc.) are especially needed.

If you’re interested in volunteering, donating, or registering your family to attend camp, visit the Hidden Acres website. You can download forms there, too. Or leave a comment below, and I will get back to you as soon as I can to answer your questions.

The Goodness of Light for this Fantastic Friday

For this Fantastic Friday, a much needed reminder that light is stronger than darkness even in the dead of winter.This week’s Fantastic Friday post comes in the form of a poem written in January of 2012 when the weather was cold, the morning dark, the moon brilliant and full. The perfect antidote to the winter blues both then and now.

Light Stronger Than Darkness

In winter, the extra hours of darkness
Weigh upon my shoulders,
Press upon my eyelids,
Make me groggy and slow and stupid.

Still last week, when the moon was full,
And the air was winter-warm,
I took my camera into the darkness
As the sun waited patiently to start her day
Until after the moon went to bed.

The darkness was too thick
And my hands too shaky
To capture the glory of the moon,
And finally I quit trying,
Trudging home with shoulders bent,
Eyelids drooping in a darkness
That lingered until yesterday
When I finally looked at the pictures.

Disappointments, all of them but one,
Where the bright moon waited
In the blue-black sky.
Not behind bare black branches
As it was in reality,
But in front of them,
Eclipsing them,
Engulfing them in silver light.

Looking at the picture,
My shoulders straightened,
My eyes opened wide,
When I saw the truth.
Light is stronger than darkness,
Waiting patiently to be found by those who seek it.

Tiny Town, Gigantic Heart for a Cold Fantastic Friday

An article in The Nation's Center News, "Julia Davis Benefit Is An Incredible Event," describes an amazing fundraiser held recently in Camp Crook, SD.

State Highway 20 west of Camp Crook, three miles from the Montana border. State Highway 20 west of Camp Crook, three miles from the Montana border.

Iowa’s been in the deep freeze all week. This week’s Fantastic Friday post warmed hearts 3 years ago when this story of a tiny town with a big heart first went live, and I hope it does the same now.

Tiny Town, Gigantic Heart

Long time readers of this blog have been subjected to posts about Camp Crook, SD where the man of steel and I lived from 1978 after we graduated from college to 1985. This post subjects you to another story about Camp Crook. It boasts a population of about 62 and is not far from the McFarthest Spot in the contiguous United States. It is very remote town in one of the most sparsely populated counties in South Dakota. It’s a town full of cowboys and cowgirls, college and professional rodeo stand-outs, and people with gigantic hearts.

How gigantic?

I’m glad you asked. A recent article in the county newspaper, The Nation’s Center News, gives an idea. The article, Julia Davis Benefit Is An Incredible Event, describes a fundraiser held on Friday, December 28, 2012. Julia and her husband ranch about 10 miles south of Camp Crook. She’s also the secretary in Harding County’s State’s Attorney office. Julia has had surgeries throughout her life for a congenital hip defect. In 2012, surgeons in Denver replaced her hip joint with an artificial one. But Julia developed a stubborn bone infection, and the only course of treatment left was amputation of her leg at the hip.

So her friends organized the Julia Davis Benefit to encourage and support her.

The night of the benefit, the streets of tiny Camp Crook were double-lined with 250–350 vehicles. Over 500 people from South and North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming crowded into the Community Center for the pot luck supper and auction. Over 200 items were donated for the silent auction. During the live auction, ten spotters helped the auctioneers keep up with the bidding. The benefit was a tremendous success.

How successful was it?

I’m glad you asked. The people in this tiny town with a gigantic heart–where many of the same people raised $1500 to defray our son’s medical costs, a substantial sum in 1982–outdid themselves in 2012. The big-hearted people in the town we’re proud to have  called home for 7 years raised over $73,000 for Julia and her family.

You read that right. $73,000.

I read the article in the paper and told the man of steel about it when he got home from work. His eyes grew large. He thought for a moment and then said, “There’s power in that place.” I nodded in agreement. Neither of us could keep the silly grins off our face during supper. And every time I think about the benefit, the silly grin comes back. But when I think of Julia, who’s leg was amputated on January 14, the grin fades and I begin to pray.

Oh Lord, wrap your arms around Julia and her family as she recovers and learns to walk and cope. May the gigantic hearts in that tiny town lift her up in the months and years to come. May your presence be the power in the place. Amen.