Susan Craig Romance

Every story is a journey…

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Of Dawn and Solitude

view from fishing dock

Early every spring morning, barring Sundays, I wander down to our boathouse and throw my cast-net into the water near the bulkhead. Early on in the season, I most often get nothing or catch two or three shad—the small fish that anchor the catfish and bass food chain.

I keep two shad, bait my two catfish rods and sit around watching the sunrise over the lake.  It is a peaceful occupation, seldom interrupted by the need to deal with any fish but the bait. After an hour or so of solitude, I retrieve my lines, discard the remains of the shad, and having fed the lake turtles once again, head back up to the house to start the day’s work.

Then the weather changes. Seemingly overnight the damp, cloudy, cold weather turns soft and warm. As dawn blushes the sky, I cast my net and retrieve it full of glittering silvery shad. Now I keep more than just two—sometimes as many as six—and return the others to the lake. I get my lines in the water and wait… but not for long. Hungry, healthy blue catfish strike with regularity, and I am happily engaged, reeling them in, removing hooks, taking photos of the cats on the dock planks (an easy way to estimate size at six inches per plank), and then gently releasing them back into the lake. Generally I will stay out about an hour and a half, catching around four eighteen inch fish and running out of bait before I come in.

Some days bring surprises. Two days ago, I cast out my net and in addition to shad caught a beautiful, healthy carp. Some fishermen don’t like carp, but they are a prized game fish in Europe, and make good eating, with firm white flesh and a very mild taste. (You do need to know how to fillet these or you will find them bony.) When you hook one on light tackle, you are in for a fun fight.  Netting one is not so much fun. 

Carp and shad caught in cast net

In the first place, a twelve to fifteen pound carp adds considerable load to an already weighted cast-net. (Yes, I’m a wimp.) I braced myself, grunted a bit, and hauled net and fish onto the dock. Then I took a quick picture, knowing I would not want to delay returning the fish to the water once the net was removed.

It took some time to gently disentangle the carp from my cast-net. Sadly many of the shad netted with him expired during the procedure. Feeling sorry I could not have been quicker, I released all the survivors then took only a moment to admire the carp. He was a beauty, with scales as big as a large man’s thumbnail, each with a subtle rainbow of iridescence in the sunlight.  I returned him gently to the water and he swam off. Already satisfied with the day’s catch, I didn’t even put my lines in the water. Instead I sat and watched the sunrise uninterrupted, then, full of gratitude and contentment, left the dock to begin my work.

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Inspirational Quotations: Five, plus one

Image of pink wild rose opening in springtime.

Spring is a time of inspiration. As the seasons change and nature renews, we find ourselves wanting to change for the better as well.

Here are five quotes that inspire my changes. I don’t know where they came from—a few I may have made up myself—but they capture common wisdom in words that I enjoy.  I hope you enjoy them too!

Our choices, not our circumstances, dictate our future

Sometimes we feel SAFER with old problems
than with NEW SOLUTIONS

You will not be judged by what you start,
only by what you finish

When our dreams are too small, we dishonor God

Let your heart be filled,
every season of your life,
with the joy of Spring

And the plus one by Archibald McLeish:

To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold—brothers who know now they are truly brothers.

Image of earth surrounded by blackness of space.

Do you have favorite words that inspire you? Share in the comments, or if you’re on email, simply hit reply to share your favorites.

Until next time…
–Susan.

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Awesome Spring Break

The first week of March, granddaughter Sara and four friends stayed with us. They came down from Nebraska for their Spring Break, and the plan was to enjoy warmer temperatures, sunshine, jet skis and hiking. Sadly, the week was cold (by South Texas standards), gray, and rainy. But the intrepid five still managed to go to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, take the jet skis out one day, and go hiking another. They assured us that the temperatures were warm relative to what Nebraska was having and that it was a treat not to have snow on the ground. We had a roaring fire outdoors one night, and learned to make Mexican S’mores–which have no connection to Mexico except that they use flour tortillas. The five did makeovers on one another, played games, and generally just chilled out. They said they had a good time, and we certainly enjoyed having them here.

Naturally the next week was full of lovely warm, sunny days. Isn’t that some version of Murphy’s Law?

Here are the directions for my new favorite campfire treat…

Mexican S’mores
Take a nice, soft flour tortilla and spread it with peanut butter. Sprinkle on mini-marshmallows and chocolate chips. Roll it like a burrito and wrap in foil. Throw these in the embers of your fire for about five minutes, turning once if you can. Then pull them out and let them cool a while.
Unwrap and enjoy.

When these are perfect, the peanut butter causes the flour tortilla to get crispy. And we all know about marshmallow and chocolate goodness.

I love that they can be made indoors, ahead to time, if you have younger children. With the college students, we made them beside the fire, which is also pretty simple. And we made traditional S’mores as well… just because you gotta.

What’s your favorite campfire treat? Hit reply on your email, or share in the comments section below.

Have a wonderful Spring, and enjoy the “lamb” part of the month.
Until next time…
–Susan.

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Winter Writing Festival…completed!

The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood (a group of Golden Heart finalists) sponsors a Winter Writing Festival every year. This was my first year to participate. It is amazing how online chatting and encouragement can increase productivity. I prepared my trilogy for relaunch, revising all three books–one was extensively rewritten, and now I am waiting on things outside my control (like the new cover art) so I can do the actual relaunch. I also completed the first draft of my current work in progress, about a female scientist and a professor of 16th century poetry.

Long story short, I succeeded in meeting my goals for the entire 7 weeks of the festival–which means I was one of the winners!

This is the badge for winning in the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood Winter Writing Festival, 2019

What a great group of fellow authors!!

Now back to everyday life. Spring is coming!!
Until next time,
–Susan.

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Texas Master Naturalists: Twenty Years of Service

Naturalized Iris in Harris County, TX.

For the last twenty years, Texas Master Naturalists have been dedicated to the preservation and management of natural resources in Texas. This program, sponsored by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, trains volunteers who provide education, outreach programs and service in aid of the natural environment and native inhabitants of their local regions. The basic training program for Master Naturalist certification is 40 hours and usually includes both classroom instruction and field trips.

I was excited to learn of a local chapter of the Master Naturalists meeting in my area. It is one of forty-two chapters in the state, with more forming all the time. The local chapters provide a wonderful opportunity for learning and service within one’s local region. If you are interested in our natural world, and live in Texas, this is a wonderful group to join.

Many other states have Master Naturalist programs as well. Nebraska, Florida, Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maine, California, and Indiana each have a program, and most states have some kind of similar volunteer organization, perhaps under a different name. If your interests lie in that direction, I encourage you to get involved!

There is an excellent introductory video on the TMN site, click here to find it. Then let me know what you think. Did you like the video? Do you know of a similar group in your area? Spring is coming! It’s time to plan to get outdoors again!!

Until next time,
–Susan.

Bluebonnets in field, Harris County, TX

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Stuffed Animal Decor

Pink wooden box with vertical rope "bars" used for storing stuffed animals.
Stuffed Animal Zoo–Great idea!!

I have fond, and not-so-fond, memories of when my kids were in the stuffed animal stage. (As you may know, this stage can be really long, sometimes lasting until they move out of your home and into their own place!) But today I am thinking about storage decor and the childhood stuffed animal stage.

When I was a kid myself, and when I was the mom of toddlers, a child had one or two favorite stuffed animals and those lived on their bed. Not so anymore! Now children often have a whole menagerie of fuzzy critters to love and care for–which means parents get to herd, move along, and wrangle a dozen or (usually) more fuzzies on a daily basis.

The photo above from Pinterest shows one of my favorite solutions to this, just because it is so darned cute! I’ve also seen, and used, colorful laundry baskets, outgrown travel-style play pens, and smaller, lighter shopping baskets. I have seen these last mounted on the wall. Looks adorable, but my children would have pulled them down and left a hole in the wall in the process…maybe it works if your child is very young, or much more gentle than mine ever were.

Creative storage is always a challenge, and always fun. Kudos to whomever thought this one up!
Got a clever storage idea you use? Share with the rest of us in Comments!

Until next time
–Susan.

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Winter Writing Festival

This month and next I am doing something new–participating in the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood Winter Writing Festival. This online festival is similar to the November celebration of writing, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), only in that they both encourage author productivity. Frankly, having participated in both, I must say that the RSSWWF is as much fun as NaNoWriMo, easier to attend (it is fully online), and comes at a better time of year (after the holiday rush).

Much as I have enjoyed NaNoWriMo in the past, one has to live near writing friends to fully share the experience. With RSSWWF, I can participate from anywhere and still enjoy the camaraderie and support of my fellow writers.

If you are a writer, or just curious, I encourage you to check it out at Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood Winter Writing Festival.

And have a wonderful first month of 2019.
Until next time,
–Susan.


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Mid-Holiday Thoughts

mountains in Alaska-a holiday picture

Ten favorite quotations

I am a collector of quotations. To my mind they are the ideal collectible. They don’t take up space on your mantle or bookshelves, and they offer wisdom and encouragement when you take them out. Plus, they are easy and often useful to share. So without further explanation and in no particular order, here are ten of my current favorites:

  1. He that is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail. –Abraham Maslow
  2. I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance. — e.e.cummings
  3. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence , then, is not an act, but a habit. — Will Durant
  4. All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure. — Mark Twain
  5. Work is love made visible. –Kahlil Gibran
  6. There are some problems you cannot solve in a million years unless you think about them for five minutes. –M.L. Goldberger
  7. You’re never a loser until you’ve quit trying. — Mike Ditka
  8. When a man’s willing and eager, the gods join in. — Aeschylus
  9. Success is on the far side of failure. –T.J. Watson
  10. Doors are interesting. They open. They close. And the doors we open and close each day decide the lives we lead. –Flora Whittemore

May your New Year be blessed.

Until next time,
Susan

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Remember the Christmas Bird Count

Tundra swans on a foggy, snowy morning. Grand Island, NE.

Tundra swans on a foggy, snowy morning. Grand Island, NE

What is the Christmas Bird Count?

As Christmas draws ever nearer, I linger over photographs of snow and recall living in Nebraska and participating in the Christmas Bird Count there. The Christmas Bird Count is just what it sounds like–an annual event in which volunteer bird watchers identify and count birds in their local areas. The counting follows a strict protocol and has been done for over 100 years, yielding an accurate bird census that gives ornithologists critical data on species abundance over time.

The whole thing is administered by the National Audubon Society, with local organizers responsible for the count within their assigned area. The specific day of the count is determined locally, but must occur between December 14thand January 5th.

All over the Western hemisphere, the Christmas Bird Count sees volunteers spending all or part of the designated day tramping around outdoors, identifying and counting birds. Every year the information gathered is compiled, turned in to the National Audubon Society and added to a database containing over a century’s worth of avian census records.

Participating in the Christmas Bird Count

To participate in the Christmas bird count is a privilege that I enjoyed when I lived “up North”. There was something vastly satisfying about seeing for myself the diversity of wildlife that persevered in eastern Nebraska despite temperatures below freezing and the lack of abundant food that characterized the winter months.

My experience was in Nebraska, but yours could easily be close to wherever you live.  Find out more at the National Audubon Society webpage.  You will see that the number of areas surveyed is nothing short of staggering. North America has the greatest density of census “circles”, but there are are also circles in Central and South America.

Take a closer look at the map of 2018-2019 sites here. (The Audubon map is interactive. If you click on a circle, you will see the local organizer’s name and contact information.)

Whether you watch birds or photograph clouds, do make time this season to get outdoors and enjoy the wonders of nature in the winter, wherever you live.

Until next time,
Susan.

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Finding the Perfect Christmas Gift

Two approaches, Three criteria, One perfect gift

How do you find the perfect gift?

Two approaches

Wrapped Christmas giftsThere are two distinct ways to approach holiday gift giving, practiced by two different sets of people. In any given family, one approach or the other will tend to predominate. Perhaps it’s genetic. The two groups are the List-makersand the I-dunno-ers.

List-makers

Some families love lists. Their approach to gifting works like this: You write down a bunch of stuff that you’d like to have, covering a range of prices from small to semi-extravagant. Then, if you are male, you give it to your wife. If not, you pass it to the Keeper of Lists. Or simply mention the items on it as often as possible to anyone willing to listen. (The method used varies depending on the family in question.)

Sometimes List-makertradition can lead to conflict when a family member marries outside their gift-giving culture. Our family is entirely composed of I-dunno-ers. My older son married a lovely and energetic woman from a long line of List-makers. Those of us on this side of the family tried to provide her with lists. But coming, as she did, from a tradition where even men can produce decent potential gift lists, she must have been sorely frustrated by our feeble attempts at telling her what we want.

In her List-makerfamily, shopping was the name of the game. As a virtual non-shopper, I always found her ability in this area incredible. Her fun was not in receiving gifts. Due to her list, she knew she would get a nice selection of things that she wanted and could actually use. Her fun came from hunting for items to give others.

When I shopped with her, we went from store to store as she looked for specific items from gift lists. I mainly tagged along. When she spotted a really great deal on an item from someone’s list, the hunt ended. “Score!”

I-dunno-ers

By contrast, everyone in my family was an I-dunno-er. Our list-making skills were poor, and we lacked the shopping gene altogether. (Undoubtedly my fault.)

“What would you like me to get you for Christmas?” I asked my youngest son.

“I dunno,” he replied.

“How about a gift card to the home improvement store?” I thought this was a great idea. He and his bride had bought a fixer-upper.

“No.”

“Cash? Then you could spend it anywhere you want,” I encouraged.

“I don’t want cash or a gift card, I want a present. Something to unwrap.”

“Okay, I’ll try to think of something,” I said, discouraged. But if he wouldn’t help me with his gift, perhaps… “Any idea what I can get your Dad? He’s so hard to buy for. When he wants something, he just gets it.”

My son didn’t grasp the enormity of the problem. “I’ll help you find a present for Dad.” He promised easily. “You don’t want something he knows he wants. You want to find something he doesn’t even know he needs or wants until he unwraps it, but then he’s like: ‘This is just what I need’ or ‘It’s just what I wanted.’ Those are the best presents.”

‘That’s easy for you to say,’ I thought. But I kept my mouth shut. When in desperate need, it didn’t do to disparage those offering assistance.

Something you don’t even know you want until you unwrap it.

A great description of the perfect gift. (It wasn’t a lot of help three days before Christmas, but still, what a goal to shoot for.)

Well, for my loving husband I finally settled on something I knew he would like, but wouldn’t buy for himself. Earlier that year, he’d bought a new robe. Loved it. The first time we washed it, it was accidentally thrown in the dryer and shrank eight inches. He is six-three, so that was a big deal. He’d been making do ever since.

So, I found a new robe—that was easy, just asked my shopper daughter-in-law where to go. No muss, no fuss. But what about my son? What did he need that he didn’t even know he wanted? I had no clue.

Three factors to consider

Shopping with my son again the next day—only two days until Christmas—he and I discussed how he’d arrived at his gift choices for his wife. (He’s good at this, just not an early-bird.) Between us, we identified three basic factors to consider when gifting someone. I found them very useful guidelines. Maybe you will also.

First, the Fun Factor—Things you can play with are better gifts than things of a more practical nature. Thus, clothing often counts as fun for women, but seldom counts for men. And while new kitchen items rank well with the chefs in the family, those of us who don’t love experimenting in the kitchen… well, you get the idea.

Second, the Memory Factor—a gift based upon something you remember your giftee said, maybe in passing, once upon a time. These items show that you listen and that you care. A winning combination.

Third, the Recognition factor—something that shows you recognize the kind of person your loved one wants to be: sexy, outdoorsy, a gourmet chef, intellectual, a techie, whatever. Note that the Memory Factor and the Recognition Factor combine to make the Romance Factor…but for purposes of analysis, it is better to keep them separate.

Three primary factors, three bases if you will. If you can tag all three in one gift, all that remains is home plate… Will your loved one unwrap it and suddenly be aware he’s wanted it all along?

The perfect gift

I think my son hit a home run that year, plus bonus points for extravagance. He bought a pair of kayaks so he and his love could go out on the water together. Maybe he’s found another bonus—his gift carried the promise of time spent together. That’s important, and melds into the Romance Factor. Like I said, he’s good at this.

So I was supposed to find something—with no help from him—for Mister Gift-master. A tall order, but I thought I might have succeeded. Their fixer-upper had a huge backyard. He’s the outdoorsy, let’s-do-something type. So I got him a nice set of Bocce balls. (Since he is male, I figured I’d have the As-seen-in-a-Godfather-movie bonus going for me as well.) The next day, I found out how I’d done.

SCORE!!