2014 in Review

When the year starts out, as 2014 did for me, there is precious little expectation for the rest of it.  You see, that was the day of my mother’s funeral.

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The following week my oldest dog, nearly seventeen, died — another sad goodbye.

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As if that wasn’t enough, I tore the MCL on one of my knees on the first day of February.

Friends were asking me what it felt like to be Job — referring to the Biblical character.  It felt like life had turned a dangerous corner for me and nothing good was ever going to happen again.

But that couldn’t have been further from the truth.  I signed with a publisher, The Wild Rose Press, for my first novel — Acquisition.

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My knee healed — slowly — without surgery but with a lot of exercise and physical therapy.  I am super thankful for that, although I don’t think I’ll be running anytime soon.

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Then I joined a prestigious group of writers at the Noepe Center for Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, bookending the trip to the island with a few days in Concord, Massachusetts before, and Boston after.

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Acquisition was released on November 7 and I left for Italy on November 8 to join up with another group of writers studying Monastic Writing in Orvieto.  (You’ll want to check out reneejohnsonwrites.com for an interview with the instructor, Justen Ahren, and my experiences — both coming in 2015.)

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Sprinkled in between these writing events were wedding celebrations for my son and his wife.  They were married on December 13.

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If you are thinking this has been one incredible whirlwind of a year, you would be correct.

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And it caught up with me over the Christmas holiday, leaving me tired, drained, and with a bad case of stomach flu which arrived pre-dawn Christmas Eve and is still nagging me.

Hopefully, by New Year’s Eve, I’ll be feeling up to celebrating with friends and toasting 2015.  I must say that I will be looking back with a mixture of sadness and elation.  The new friends I have gained are priceless, the experiences immeasurable.  But the losses and grief and sadness have also been overwhelming.

Perhaps we cannot truly enjoy the victories without learning from defeats.  I’d like to give it a shot in 2015 though.  And that is what I wish for you all — a wonderful year of triumphs and successes without any failures or heartbreaks.

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Happy New Year from Writingfeemail!

 

 

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum…

Please play the youtube song while you read this post.  It is the soundtrack to this Roman adventure!!

To quote the musical with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and inspired by the antics of playwright Plautus (251-183 BC), a funny thing did happen to me on the way to the forum.

(Incidentally, I’ve always wanted to use that line, but it had to be authentic.)

Rome Renee with forum behind

I was in Rome, Italy, following a Monastic Writing Workshop in Orvieto — more on that later.  And I was on my way to the Colosseum and the ancient Forum where Julius Caesar walked, ruled, and is buried.

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There was an unusually large number of policeman and military milling about, at least it appeared larger than normal, helicopters circling overhead, and there had been a train strike the previous day.  Traffic was halted along the del fori imperiali and a parade of Italians began, bearing their red, white, and green flags.

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As best I could decipher, it was a labor issue and the Sindaco di Roma – Mayor of Rome — Ignazio Marino, with a Pinocchio nose had become their main focus.  Apparently, he had misrepresented himself to the voters, and now refused to negotiate with the labor unions.  Imagine that!

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The demonstration was well-ordered, only becoming ‘unruly’ when staging a shot with the photographer who had run into the street and asked for some action.  To make sure he captured them in an angry run, they were happy to back up and do it again.

Small flat-bed trucks hauled additional protesters and the roadside was lined with loud speakers as they shouted, “Basta Marino.”  The occasional blast of an air horn being conducted through the speakers for magnification of sound could be heard, while some kind of machine generated green smoke.

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So where is the funny part?

It was what happened next.  The theme song for this demonstration was one I knew and could sing along with them, which I did.  “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones.  And yes, they sang it in English!

For a moment I just sang without thinking about it.  Then it dawned on me.  I was in Italy.  This was an Italian labor march about an Italian work force issue.  And their theme song was in English!

I wanted to call people and let them hear it — experience it — with me.  But it was 11:00 a.m. in Rome so it was 5:00 a.m. at home.  Oh well, I’d just have to laugh to myself and capture as much in my memory as possible while singing along.

Have you ever experienced something in another town or city that you just couldn’t wait to share with others?

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FREE HOLIDAY COOKBOOK

Just in time for the holidays The Wild Rose Press and its authors have assembled a cookbook full of delicious recipes for you.  And the best part is that you can download it for FREE! 

Of course, if you’d rather have the print version there is a cost involved, but download a copy today and its free of charge!

Just their little way of saying “Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays”!

And check out page 5 for a recipe from me.  Yay.

Grab it quickly.  There might be something you could use to help you survive Thanksgiving in the kitchen.

And while you’re there, pick up a copy of Acquisition for yourself or as a gift.

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Have you got a favorite recipe to share?

 

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Let’s Celebrate the Big Day!

As most of you know, I maintain two blogs; this one for random thoughts, travel information, photographs, and ReneeJohnsonWrites which documents my path as a writer seeking publication.

Normally, I keep the two blogs separate.  But today, I am asking you to help me celebrate an important milestone.

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My first novel is being released tomorrow — November 7, 2014 — through The Wild Rose Press.

ACQUISITION

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Get your copy here!

I’m hosting a blog party through tomorrow night over at ReneeJohnsonWrites.  Please stop in to help me celebrate.  This is so exciting!

Hilton Head glass of champagne and 2 strawberries

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I Have a Crush on Boston, Massachusetts

IMG_1526  This was my first trip to Boston, Massachusetts, and I can’t figure out why it took me so long to get there!  Boston is fabulous!!

It is a beautiful city, with a lot of the traffic redirected to underground tunnels to make room for lovely gardens and parks.  IMG_1529 IMG_1579 IMG_1654 IMG_1537 IMG_1535

Tour guides dress in colonial costumes and if you buy a paper from Gary, he’ll pose nicely for you!  Thanks Gary!IMG_1546

And of course, there’s the really fun stuff — like going to the Cheers Bar!  I mean, who can resist right?  IMG_1510 IMG_1515 IMG_1564    IMG_1516

Or you can go to the cemetery, a normal haunt for me!  (Haven’t I included gravestones in almost all of my travel articles?)

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But with names like Franklin, Hancock, Revere, Adams — so many heroes — paying homage just seems right.

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Whether by day, or by night, October was a lovely time of year to visit.

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Since I was on the final stop in my Massachusetts tour, I splurged on a hotel, The Taj, which turns out to be on the corner of Arlington and Newbury.  Pretty nice real estate in the Beacon Hill area, close to almost everything I wanted to do, fabulous shopping, and straight across from the park and commons area.

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Expect to see more posts on Boston.  The theater has so many wonderful shows and events in Boston, the flight from Charlotte, North Carolina is just under two hours, and I have the lay of the city down.  So look out Norm and Cliff, I’ll be back at Cheers!

Have you been to Boston, or finally made it to a city you developed a crush on?

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Pictures from Concord, Massachusetts

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We’ll Always Have Paris…

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This weekend I am celebrating the marriage of a dear friend — with other dear friends in a sleepover all-girl pajama party with tons of food and wine and movies!

And yes, because we are all mostly southern women, we still refer to ourselves as ‘girls’. It’s our right. (Don’t try to interfere by pointing out the obvious.)

Going around the table starting at the left (your left) is Paula. Beside of her is Leila, the rascal who took off without giving notice. Laurie is next, then yours truly with the long hair and giant smile. Beside of me is Susan, and then Karen back at the right edge of the picture.

There are more of us and I might be persuaded to publish pictures of the event with them included. That will depend on what we are doing when the evidence group is photographed. *wink*

I have to say, these are some of the best people I have ever had the privilege to call friends and I am looking forward to getting together with them over the weekend.

This trip to Paris was so much fun. I don’t think we stopped laughing and I can vividly recall how much my face hurt at night from the constant grinning and giggling. I imagine it will again by Sunday afternoon!

What is one of your most memorable moments with your friends?

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Where Does Disappointment Go?

Where does disappointment go when it is done with you?
When all of the hurts and pangs of the unrealized
have stripped you of joy and rendered your eyes red and raw,
where is its offender? Where is it?

Disappointment, like so many emotions,
renders the king among us
as low as the plowman.
It buckles us, knees on floor.

There is no undoing, no going back.
We can’t unsay the words, become unhurt.
Disappointment takes its toll,
demands its payment.

Left barren, a bit less than before,
disappointment has taken something away.
It absconds with a little piece of the soul,
snickering over its shoulder as it trots away, unseen, on its dark horse.

The shadows fall long and thin.
The world dims, daylight less bright.
We realize we will never be as whole as we once were,
in the moments before it claimed us.

We can’t give as much, we haven’t it to give.
The cistern empties, too low to share.
Even breath is shallow.
The taking of it a reminder of the thing missing.

And people ask what is wrong,
but they don’t really want to know.
They want a simple answer,
something quickly mended.

They don’t want the sharp,
shards of truth stabbing in the eye.
They want to see something fixable,
not the pallor of disappointment.

For when disappointment finds us,
It leaves no trace of its presence.
The scar is internal, no ridge on flesh.
No bandage is visible, nothing to pull away.

Where does disappointment go when the well is dry
and the barren tree has no more fruit?
It goes into the heart, a borer worm,
And eats away at hope daring to bloom.

Poem by Renee C. Johnson

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Remembering D-Day, June 6, 1944

It’s been seventy years since the most famous D-Day in history, the day America and the Allied Forces stormed the beaches in Normandy, France to secure freedom for the occupied European countries. I can’t imagine the courage it must have taken to run head-long into battle, surrounded from above, or parachuting in with no certainty as to the landing.

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I wish I had paid more attention to the stories flying around the huge dinner table in my parent’s house when I was a kid. More than that, I wish I could use one of J.K. Rowling’s time-turners to go back and hear it again from the perspective of an adult. 005

Both sides of my family had participated in World War II. They were stationed in England, Germany, and yes, France. Horrific injuries had been inflicted on most of them; everything from being shot to being poisoned.

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It was a common occurrence to be surrounded by men, and even women, who had served during WWII. My grandparent’s neighbor, a soft pudgy woman by the time I was born, had been a nurse in England. My church was full of men with limps, hearing aids, scars–internal and external.

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One of these men–a handsome, kind, gentle, soul–who was hard of hearing, had been among those storming Normandy’s beaches. His twin brother was also there, only he didn’t make it out alive.

This man was my ‘heart brother’ one year, a tradition the young women’s group I belonged to had of selecting an elderly person and surprising them with little tokens and cards on Sunday morning. It was important to remain anonymous until the Christmas reveal.

I bought him a book once, Dave Barry’s. I don’t recall which one, but he loved it, enjoying the humorous take the author had on life. It was in communicating this that he opened up for a brief moment about his ordeal in France.

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I knew him to be a rather quiet man, as most are about the horrors of war. But what he experienced during that time held him captive to silence for more than two years. Severely wounded, grieving the loss of his twin brother, he could neither hear nor talk.

For a while it seemed he might never speak again. They were close to just writing him off as ‘catatonic.’

Reliving the hell of the surging water with the thunderous splashing of men headed into gunfire, mud and blood exploding together due to shots from the cliffs above them was nearly too much for him in his late seventies. I could tell by the glaze over his eyes he was returning to that French beach, June 6th.

But something he did, as did the others, and all of my relatives, was to wear the American Flag pins with pride. They knew their sacrifices had been for good–selfless devotion to the ideals of Freedom throughout the world. There was no gain for them–for us–except to know America had acted with honor.

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Uncle Dwight sitting in field during war

It was a nearly impossible task. General Dwight D. Eisenhower–who would later become President–addressed its difficulty. Click here to hear the audio version of his address. The numbers are staggering: 5,000 ships, 13,00 aircraft, 9,000 killed, and a force of more than 100,000 marching into the theater of war across Europe.

There are very few of these brave men and women still among us. I am saddened by so many untold stories left to those shores, unfinished lives cut down in their beautiful youth. But I am honored by their sacrifices and the knowledge of what they accomplished there.

June 6, 1944. D-Day. May we always remember.
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Mothers I Admire

This is a new year for me. I am facing Mother’s Day without a mother.

My first thought was to ignore it altogether. But if you are within a thousand yards of television or any form of media, you know that is impossible.

So instead of sticking my head in the sand, I’ve looked around for a couple of mothers to admire. It wasn’t hard really. I found one on the front porch.

“What is motherhood save Nature in her most gladsome mood?” – Balzac

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Baby birds

Baby birds' mama

This mama works tirelessly to keep her babies fed and warm.

I found another at the pond. She had the aid of her mate, always ready to attack us, quick with a hiss. I didn’t even know geese hissed. I had heard plenty of honks, been nearly flogged, but hissing? Yep, they will do that too.

Goose mama on nest

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He normally stands guard behind her, watching in all directions. I love that about this pair of geese.

So my nod this year is toward Mother Nature and her precious wee ones who have to build their own houses and find their own food, while avoiding prey themselves.

Here’s a link which will take you to a showcase of the absolute most adorable babies and mamas in the animal kingdom. So adorable. Horses, bears, squirrels, tigers, buffalo, koalas, and more.

Do you have a special mother in nature you’ve been watching?

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