Observe/Opine/Inspire

"People's minds are changed through observation and not through argument." ~ Will Rogers

Focus on Poetry: “The Elk”

The icy, cold gray post-holiday winter season can be made so much more warm and beautiful with a cozy blanket and a powerful, gracefully written poem. To that end, I bring you “The Elk”, a brand new, original poem by my husband David Davis, who goes by Harley Davis. It’s a fine example of using alliteration and lilting rhythm to conjure up a serene, wild setting and a frozen, magical moment in time. I love how the final stanza brings the reader into the ‘now’, almost making one wonder, did it really happen or was it a dream?

 

Bugling elk in Yellowstone

“The Elk” by Harley Davis

The breaking of crusting snow
and the chill of rushing wind
the clatter of brittle leaves below
I pulled my wrap tighter in.

The frozen moisture of my deep breath
obscures my stealth uneasy walk
it forms a veil upon my chest –
like a winter scarf where warmth is not.

I steal around the weathered wood
too close as a snag takes my arm
now gray from days it has long withstood
in the woods near my grandfather’s farm.

The snag gives a snap and me a start
and a jabbing finger is the thump in my chest
adding threat upon threat to my now racing heart
and angst in this challenging quest.

Yet I find the majestic creature there
and my deep breath is held within
while a snort from the beast parted the air
as a loud unpleasant din.

He raised his massive head my way
I raised my lens to meet his glance
and shuttered to think would spook him away
and lose my stealthy wooded chance

to capture the beast and there mount him
on the wall in the hall of my home
but I shifted my weight on a weathered limb
and at once stood in the deep woods alone.

He sprang into life and targeted me
as the clattering shutter fired on
the view in my finder of him running free
as my words condensed on the air, “he’s gone”

I put two fingers between my teeth
and placed my tongue the way I was taught
the shrill whistle arose beneath
and stopped the beast where he did not

advance deeper into the thicketed wood
and spoil my last and rarest and best
I took aim again and frozen stood
brought the lens slowly down on his chest

and fired the trigger that shattered the air
with shutter-clatter that day in the wood
when I stole the creature’s majestic heir
the image is silent but the memory was good.

That memory now hangs in the hall on the wall
of my cabin near the home of my kin
the beast still reigns and bugles his call
inviting me to come back again.

 

Keeping It Simple

Nativity card

Do you feel, as most seem to feel this time of year, especially harried and overwhelmed with all the tasks and activities you think you’re supposed to do to feel the peace and serenity of the season? “Are you ready for Christmas?” we are all asked several times a day. The question probably spurs you to consider such things as shopping, gift wrapping, card sending, baking, and a thousand other et ceteras. I ask you, if you’re celebrating the birth of the Savior and all that that means to us, what do all of those activities really have to do with the price of cheese in China? Christmas will come regardless of any preparations you make. The sun will continue to rise and set, and believe it or not, you are the main one who will notice what you didn’t do.

Take, for example, the time I was in charge of planning games for a homeschool children’s holiday party. We expected around a hundred children, all ages from toddlers to teenagers. I researched fun games online, tried to consider what would appeal to such a mixed group, and carefully planned what all I would need to prepare and bring to facilitate the playing of each game. The kids were excited for the party, but it was difficult to get them to line up and listen to the instructions and play the games. It felt too structured. (And isn’t that partly what we were trying to avoid by homeschooling in the first place?) Then one of the moms showed up with several large plastic bags filled with dozens of blown-up balloons. Forget structure! The entire room of kids, all ages, went for the balloons. For the next hour there were kids running around and around and balloons being hit and floating everywhere. It was the longest and the most fun all of the kids had at the party. Maybe the balloons had been meant for decorations—I don’t even know. But I do know, if the balloons had been taped up anywhere to decorate, I doubt they would have been appreciated or even noticed.

I’m not saying not to do anything for Christmas, or to pretend it’s just another day. I’m saying to let it happen naturally. You are not in charge of the occurrence of the holiday. Stop with all the structure, unless you happen to be one of those six people worldwide who thrives on holiday stress. We don’t even do much gift buying, and certainly not for family outside the immediate family. They don’t expect it, and they all survive just fine. Here’s a secret: Kids don’t naturally expect numerous, expensive toys. They have to be taught, and that happens by experience. You know how it goes for one-year-olds at their first birthday party? How they receive all these cool gifts but end up playing with the boxes instead? So why aren’t we just giving them boxes? Because the adults want to give the fancy things, thus instituting the expectations of the kids in later years. Our family laughs when we remember one of our sons, when he was around five or so, asking Santa at the church Christmas party for a DYMO label maker, just because he liked to punch out letters and label things. You can bet he got one too!

For me, I love baking so I look forward to trying several Christmas cookie recipes. I love looking at Christmas lights. Our family recently drove around an area we hadn’t been to before looking at some very high-class light decorations. It was a totally unplanned, spontaneous evening, and it was fantastic. The whole family declared it a memorable night, and it didn’t require any scheduling, invitations, shopping, decorating, cooking, or cleaning.

I love the short, one-page inspirational Christmas stories we receive from various places. I keep them all. I think this year we’ll celebrate the twelve days of Christmas by choosing one each night to read aloud. I love to listen to Christmas music on the radio. I love watching Christmas shows on TV.

So if this is a stressful time of year for you, start thinking outside the box and relax so that you can answer the big question like I do, “I am ALWAYS ready for Christmas.”

What Every Editor Wants to Tell You

proofreading

Be forewarned—I’m on one today. But I bet anyone who works with Joe Q. Public will silently nod in agreement at this. I get lots of queries on a daily basis about editing. I answer every one as briefly and quickly as possible because, as they say, time is money. 🙂 That’s what they say anyway. So I thought maybe I could answer some queries ahead of time with this post.

And now, for your reading enjoyment, here are my pet peeves:
1) Authors who don’t read my Eagle Eye page and ask for services I said I didn’t provide.
2) Students who ask me to do their assignment for them (refer to #1). Stop wasting Daddy’s money and get yourself educated so in the future you don’t have to deal with…people like yourself.
3) Students (and some business people) who had the assignment for weeks but waited too long and expect me to put them ahead of others in the queue and edit their project in the next six hours. (Refer to #2 part B).

And if you’ve read this far, rest assured, I love you all!

Heavenly Help for Homeschool

School books

Some moms who are thinking of homeschooling their children are stymied by a lack of confidence and question their ability to succeed, maybe forgetting that, for the Christian, there is infinite heavenly help available for all righteous desires. Certainly my uneducated self (at least on paper) has benefited on a daily basis from divine inspiration in my task, to the point that it’s become fun to watch for all the miracles. Even my boys have learned to often recognize God’s help in our homeschool.

When Taylor was younger, he wasn’t very good at writing. He answered questions on paper with as few words as possible, and he was better at expressing himself through drawing pictures than writing words. In some subjects I saved his papers, where he answered end-of-chapter questions, as answer keys for his younger brother Tristan, but Tristan usually writes more detailed answers where Taylor was very brief and/or illustrated his answers, for instance, drawing a chart of the water cycle instead of describing it. But Taylor has since turned out to be quite a good writer. David and I saw a couple of his college papers from his first semester and were amazed. “You really wrote this yourself? You didn’t plagiarize this?” we asked him. (Great confidence builders, aren’t we?)

Only in hindsight was I able to see that God’s inspiration to me during Taylor’s high school years had produced an effect I hadn’t expected. It started before his eleventh grade year when I shopped online for high school literature textbooks. I wanted to do American lit first, then English lit for twelfth grade. Everything I found was much more expensive than I was willing to pay, or just didn’t suit me. Then God showed up. “Shelly, you numbskull,” he said (yes, God talks to me that way), “use what you have.” You see, for years I’d shopped the thrift stores and secondhand bookstores for paperback copies of the classics for fifty cents or a buck, then tossed them into boxes in the basement. “Those books are meant to be read, not just bought,” the inspiration continued.

Well, hot diggity dog! This got exciting! I dug into my boxes and picked out several books by American authors and more by English authors. As he read each book I assigned papers for each one. First he researched and wrote author biographies, learned and wrote about the context of the story (its background, how it related to the time period, its impact on society). When he finished reading, he wrote a synopsis of the story and then a critique in which he addressed thematic elements, pace and flow, prose, what made it a classic. We didn’t have time to read all the books I might have liked, so in some cases, we did a “quick study”, where he learned about the author and the plot and read excerpts from it. I also assigned him two other books, The Train-of-Thought Writing Method and Wordsmith Craftsman, which taught story structure and essay writing respectively. By the time he’d graduated he’d written so many bios, synopses, analyses, critiques, and essays, it made an impressive collection.

I was elated when he scored a 35 (out of 36) on the English portion of the ACT test. He was just accepted to his university’s theater and media arts department. He isn’t sure what he wants to do in the field of filmmaking, but he’s mentioned screenplay writing as a possibility he might want to try. At one time I wouldn’t have thought that possible. That’s what homeschool (and for that matter lifelong learning) is all about, not being great at everything, but uncovering what you are great at, what you’re interested in, and running with it. And a big thank you to God and the heavenly homeschool angels.

And if you’d like to know some of the books we read or studied excerpts from, here are a few:

Of Plymouth Plantation:  Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement 1608-1650

The Scarlet Letter

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Huck Finn

To Kill a Mockingbird

The 5,000-Year Leap

Pilgrim’s Progress

Hamlet

Oliver Twist

Emma

Silas Marner

The Screwtape Letters

Animal Farm

Frankenstein

Sherlock Holmes

Around the World in 80 Days

 

Don’t Underestimate the Value of the Insignificant

Mountaintop

One of the most common problems people facing trials encounter is feeling like their bad situation is permanent, like everyone else will get to move on in life but not them. But take heart–even a small change in perspective is a magical thing.

When I first moved out of my parents’ house when I was 21, into a nearby apartment by myself, I was very homesick for the first weeks. It was depressing and I wondered if I would ever get used to it. I liked my childhood and my home and wasn’t in a rush to leave it. One Monday evening I attended the church young single adults activity. It was a fun game that we played all evening long. It was well-attended, and we laughed so hard all evening. I came back to my apartment happy that night. I thought the homesickness would return. After all, the game night had no connection to my moving out into my own apartment. But it never did. From that night forward I never experienced that sadness again. I still don’t know why one event would make such a difference, but it did, and the memory of that has really helped me at times. It is possible for one good success to kick our problems to the curb and change our perspective permanently.

Never stop looking for your seemingly insignificant but successful moment. It’s there, closer than you imagine.

George Washington: A Father for All Time

Brass bookends

We revere George Washington as a great military and political leader and “father of our country”. However, not much is mentioned about his stepson, whom he raised, John Parke Custis, and understandably so, as the young man just didn’t seem to have the genes of leadership and accomplishment in him. He played around and largely squandered his educational years and dropped out of college, despite George’s constant attempts to inspire him to apply and better himself. They say hindsight is 20/20. Can you imagine what John Custis might think now if he could see, from the perspective of history, who he was so fortunate to be related to, and what opportunity he missed?

John Custis did get himself elected to the Virginia General Assembly in 1778, but it seems George was not impressed with his legislative showing. The latter wrote: “I do not suppose that so young a senator as you are, so little versed in political disquisition, can yet have much influence in a popular assembly, composed of various talents and different views, but it is in your power to be punctual in attendance.”

Sadly, Custis died of illness at the age of 27, leaving a wife and four living children (out of seven born to them). But to his credit, he showed great maturity by showing respect for his stepfather by writing to him in 1776: “It pleased the Almighty to deprive me at a very early Period of Life of my Father, but I can not sufficiently adore His Goodness in sending Me so good a Guardian as you Sir; Few have experience’d such Care and Attention from real Parents as I have done. He best deserves the Name of Father who acts the Part of one.” And in 1781, six months before his own death, Custis named his youngest son George Washington Parke Custis. A fitting tribute indeed.

Tea Time Poetry for Valentines

Rosebud

By David Kimball Davis

Butterfly wings gently flutter, filling spring with softness

Sweet lips of lovers lustre in the shining sun

The taste of honey sweetens a savored kiss that’s left

A pounding in my heart and a joy that’s never done

Gentle breezes brush my face, filling my chest with freshness.

The wisp of clouds hush the hues of a brilliant sky.

Beneath the waving tips of trees I watch them passing.

Everlasting, as with love for her lying there nearby.

A smile that brightens cloud-filled skies

That lightens hearts and fills me with hope and gladdened eyes

Enabling me to see beyond eternity

To a place we will share all of our joy and all of our time and all of our love

A gentle voice that shares golden words falling from lips speaking

Only choice thoughts, and reaching

with tender kindness that I am glad to be familiar with

I hear them echoing far into my heart

I hear them coming from her sweet smile

The gift so freely given I have willingly returned all the while

And as the sun sets this day

It will ever and always be this way

Warm winds caress my heart and remind

me of holding you beneath the Eiffel Tower

A gentle breeze wafts through and fixes my

memory of Paris, an Autumn love.

One carefully placed kiss in a quaint room

on the Auteuil was passion-filled and

enriched my thoughts of forever with you.

Oh, we anxiously await another day, a day

that is yet to come, where our hands will

swing as we stroll along the Seine.

Paris is only Paris, if it is Paris with you.

Books and Movies I’ve Loved

My son who is currently a student at Brigham Young University is in the process of applying to film school. One of his requirements is to list ten books/music/movies/TV shows that have had some effect on his life. Naturally, I began to come up with my own list of such that has had a major effect on me. In fact, it became an obsession—that’s just how my brain works.

You can really get to know a person by learning about the factors that have influenced them most. It’s an icebreaker, a little window into their personality, and with authors, it can give you a clue as to what informs their own creative expression.

Without further ado, here are ten things I came up with that have been the most significant creative influencers for me, not in any particular order. I bet I could easily come up with ten or twenty more.

The Little House book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – I already loved reading when I hit fourth grade, but it was my teacher’s practice that year of reading aloud a chapter a day from novels that really set me on fire for reading, and eventually, writing. Her reading of Little House on the Prairie was my first introduction to Laura and her stories of mid-19th century pioneer life. I devoured the rest of the series, several times, and many of her descriptions of things like small prairie towns, textiles used for women’s clothing, and commonly eaten foods have informed my own western stories.

Native American potteryBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown – I’ve been through this tome twice, and for me it remains the single most knowledgeable and powerful description of the tragedy of the American Indian.

The Jackrabbit Factor by Leslie Householder – This quick read was my first introduction to the Law of Attraction and the power of positive thinking. I’ve read many things since which have completely changed my perspective on our own potential, and goals and how to achieve them, but this was what started me on the path.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis – Been through this one twice too. (I’d rather read a good book twice than a mediocre one once.) I loved Lewis’ humorous and thought-provoking take on human nature, temptation, and how to recognize and guard against evil.

The 5000 Year Leap and The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution both by W. Cleon Brass bookendsSkousen – I include these together because I studied them simultaneously as part of a course. These gave me a real in-depth understanding of the U.S. Founding Fathers and the principles they studied which shaped their ideas on freedom and government, and I gained new appreciation and awe for the Constitution.

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? by Richard J. Maybury – A good, simple-to-understand explanation of the principles of sound economics, a subject I feel is very important to learn about currently, but which I always had trouble understanding before.

The music of Johann Strauss Jr. – When I was a girl, my father bought a collection (of LPs, remember those?) of all Johann Strauss music…and I was in heaven! It was my first real introduction to classical music, and to this day my heart thrills to hear “The Beautiful Blue Danube,” “Tales of the Vienna Woods,” “The Emperor Waltz,” and so many other majestic and beautiful pieces.

Dances With Wolves – In my humble opinion, the greatest movie ever made. No other film since 1990 has ever captured my imagination like this one. As a lifelong fan of the Old West, this film made me feel, for the first time, that I was truly there and could feel the spirit of it.

Antique store picture & bottlesLonesome Dove – Where Dances With Wolves gave me the Native American view of the Old West as it was, this 1988 miniseries did the same for the cowboys’ view. Its characters are so memorable, our family has quoted them for years.

The Harry Potter movie series – How did that get in here, right? Okay, it’s true I’ve never been a big fan of fantasy, but my reason for including this is quite different than my other entries. For two summers in a row, my two sons and I have watched all eight movies. We call it a marathon, even though we only watched one movie a week. It’s the memories of that activity with my boys that I so treasure, and will my whole life as they grow up and move on in life. What fun that was, and you know what? I loved the movies too, and J.K. Rowlings’ brilliant concept.

Well, there it is, 10 things, and I didn’t even get to Who Moved My Cheese? or Mark Twain’s Huck Finn, or the movie Glory or…

But I’ve got more reading, listening, and watching to do. Bye for now.

 

“Remember to say ‘Rabbit'”

Easter candy

That’s what our family says on the last evening of every month. It’s a little-publicized tradition that seems to have English roots, but which has been passed down in my mother’s family. What happened was, on the first day of every month when we woke up, or anytime after midnight, the first word we spoke had to be the word “Rabbit”. If you remembered and did it, you were supposed to be able to expect a gift that month, from somewhere. You had to be able to creatively look for it and recognize it when you got it, a great exercise in practicing gratitude.

Now not everyone played along. My dad would purposely say, “Turkey,” “Squirrel,” or other various and sundry animals. It didn’t seem to affect his gift-getting one way or the other, but as a lover of staid traditions, I have carried it on in my own family. The kids and I make an honest effort to remind each other to say it each month. (My husband follows in the footsteps of my dad. What’s with you guys anyway?)

Don’t laugh, but this is what we do on New Year’s Eve. We count down, saying “Five, four, three, two, one, RABBIT, HAPPY NEW YEAR!” Who couldn’t use a gift in the long, cold month of January, y’know?

Well, whether you subscribe to help from bunnies or not, I wish all my fans, friends, and readers of the Eagle’s Quill a most healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year 2014. The Eagle’s Quill is now one year old and I appreciate all your support.I have some exciting posts planned for 2014 as we explore books, writing, and musings together.

The Great Christmas Card Contest

ID-100154717Although we love Christmas, my family doesn’t have a lot of unique traditions. But here’s one that we’ve done for years, and it never gets old. I guess it’s actually a New Year’s Day tradition. We display our Christmas cards as they arrive throughout December, and then on January 1, the day we put away all of the holiday decorations, we hold a Christmas card judging. Everyone in the family gets to vote. The way it works is, the cards are all laid out and each is assigned a letter, A,B,C, etc. Each person in the family has a ballot and votes for their first, second, and third favorite cards. When the votes are tallied, cards are given three points for each first-place vote, two points for each second-place vote, and one point for each third-place vote. Then all the cards are ranked according to how many points they have.

It is entirely possible that a card that didn’t get any first-place votes can still win the grand prize, say, if everyone voted it second place, it would get more points than a card which was rated number one by only one person. It’s not very scientific, but it’s created a lot of fun for us as we challenge extended family to get their entry mailed as soon as possible. And when grandparents send money in their card we tease them about trying to bribe us and influence the results! ID-10051962

Each of our family members has different tastes. I like cards with Victorian-era pictures, and cozy fireplace scenes. But I’m usually outvoted by my sons and their taste for cartoonish designs. It is fun to see what everyone’s first, second, and third-place choices are afterwards.

It’s a good way to have some simple fun. You can even offer a prize if you want to. If you find, as we are, that less people are sending cards these days, you might want to put the word out that anyone who sends you a card for your contest will get a card from you in return.

Let’s keep the Christmas card-sending tradition alive!

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