Sunday, March 12, 2017

Commute Delight

I love my commute, and the main reason why is since I work part-time, I don't have to do it every day.
Even this lovely drive along what's literally called Scenic Highway would get old day in and day out. These pictures, taken out my car window, don't do justice to the beauty and diversity of my drive along the causeways and waterways, the mansions and hilltop overlooks,  the moors found in Milton. And right now, the azaleas are blooming everywhere. It's breathtaking.
 I'm not big on change. I like listening to the same songs in the same order when I run the same course, I like eating the same breakfast every morning (cheerios and cherries with soy milk -- weird, I know), and settling into writing with the same routine of computer games. (I wrote a short piece about my writing process, See the post here.)
On my drive to work, though, one of my favorite things to do is look for new things. One house has two dog statues that look completely real, but they can't be; they haven't moved in all this time. I've named them Liz and Eddie. During the holidays someone had a 20-foot blow-up of Rudolph's Abominable Snowman in their front yard. There's no telling what's going on at the gold house with it's fountains and Bentleys!
Although I'm watching countless home improvements and new construction, what makes me happiest are the little touches I notice. A new planting area, a tire swing from a tree, a holiday wreath on the door.This is a beautiful world because people are making it beautiful, and I challenge you to find that beauty along the roads you travel.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Bringing "The Existence of Pity" to Life

The setting of my novel, The Existence of Pity, comes from my youth. I grew up as a missionary kid in Colombia, South America, but I certainly didn't experience the conflict Josie faced. This is a picture of our house as it looks now. The current owner has made it more beautiful, but I miss the towering bougainvillea around the front door.

Cali's Baptist Seminary
Here is just one of many photo of the Baptist Seminary across the street. Although much of the land has been sold, the open fields and grand buildings make the place as impressive as ever. 
 What follows is an excerpt from my book about the Plaza de Caycedo:
Plaza de Caycedo

Cali's downtown streets swarmed with people as we headed toward the park to sit on thick concrete benches under towering palm trees. Some Colombians were dressed for work, moving quickly past us, while others relaxed with their friends in jeans and T-shirts.
"That looks fun," I said, pointing to a group kicking a soccer ball around.
"Yeah." Aunt Rosie leaned back and closer her eyes. "Do you realize, Josie, we could be anywhere in the whole world?"
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know; it just seems like people are the same wherever you go. Every city has a park for people to hang out in, and it usually has a statue of an important person in the middle." She opened her eyes and pointed to the bronze image of a man clutching a flag. "Who is that, anyway?"
"I'll go find out." I jumped up to read the plaque. Returning, I told her the statue was of a man who helped Cali gain its freedom from Spain. The park had been a public market in the 1600s.
As cathedral bells rang out, I looked around the old park with new eyes, wondering how much -- or how little -- had changed in three centuries. When the bells finally stopped chiming, I pulled out my camera to take pictures.
"I'm glad you like your new camera," Aunt Rosie said.
"Maybe I'll become a photographer for National Geographic one day." I took a picture of the statue with palm trees behind it, then one of the soccer ball flying in the air. "I'll travel the world, visiting all those parks."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Kiss From Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau died on February 12 of respiratory failure two days after retiring from his long and amazing career making beautiful music. He was 76.  His album Breakin' Away and its upbeat hit with the saxophone solo, "We're in This Love Together," had me buying my own sax at a yard sale. I love his music; his songs are still on my playlists after three decades. And one of my all-time favorite memories is meeting him on my twentieth birthday in New York City.
After my brother moved to the Big Apple, I visited him over Spring Break and saw the Twin Towers, the Saint Patrick's Day parade, the subway, Central Park, and Dave's speck of an apartment. When Dave's girlfriend, a page for NBC, happened to mention Jarreau was singing on "Saturday Night Live" I begged her to get me in. She couldn't get me a ticket, but she told me to just walk in like I owned the place and no one would care.
On Saturday the 17th of March, I gathered my birthday courage and, with my heart pounding out of my chest, walked down the long corridor in 30 Rockefeller Plaza slipping past a man standing at the door to Studio 8H. A talkative group of tourists distracted him, giving me the opportunity to grab a seat. I'd been warned there was a good chance Al Jarreau would be backstage, but I spotted him talking to someone in the audience. Keeping a low profile, I sneaked closer to him. When he finally turned his attention to me, I remember laughing with him, having someone take our photo with my little disc camera, and wishing the moment could last a little longer.
Photo by Natalie Zokan
Back at Baylor University, I had my little disc developed at the local H-E-B (a Texas grocery store chain), hoping my picture with Al Jarreau turned out. As you can see, the picture made my day, my year, my decade. He's kissing my head! I had no idea he was kissing my head and Al Jarreau is kissing my head!
Meeting Al Jarreau came about as a result of a series of miracles and a little moxie, and it reminded me that good things would come to my life. Every 20-year-old needs to know that. Thanks Al, for so much more than just beautiful music. I will miss you.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lottery Ticket Lucky

Thursday, January 19, was so lucky for me, I had to buy a lottery ticket.

First, I woke up to a 3x5 inch picture of my face on the cover of the Lifestyles section of my local Gulf Breeze News, and no, it's not a mug shot! Thanks to Lisa Newell, who told my town about The Existence of Pity. My daughter said people were congratulating her in the high school halls.

Then, at 2:31 pm, I got a message from The Book Doctors. They had written an article about me and put it in The Huffington Post. Yeah, you read that right, THE Huffington Post!

But my luck didn't stop there. My older daughter and I were traveling that day, heading to her home for six months in Virginia. (She's taking a gap semester and serving AmeriCorps at a beautiful state park.) On our way through North Carolina, we stopped at Red Adept Publishing and I got to meet Lynn McNamee, the woman who made my dream of publishing a book come true. Her dog Cody is adorable, and so is Louie!

Now THAT'S what I call a red-letter day, so of course I had to buy a lottery ticket. And guess what?? I didn't win. But I still feel so lucky, and grateful!

Once more with the links to the two articles: Gulf Breeze News and The Huffington Post.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Hurricane of Love at La Ermita

Built in 1678,  the small Catholic church called La Ermita (The Hermitage) was a simple structure on the Rio Cali. When an earthquake destroyed it in 1925, rebuilding it to it's current beauty took from 1930 to 1942. Now you'll find images of La Ermita in every montage, collage, or homage to the city of Cali. It's the jewel of Cali's crown.
This neo-gothic church is inspired by the Ulm Cathedral, Germany, although it's a miniature of the giant original.
On a visit to Colombia with my family two years ago, we stopped at the church and my daughter and I stepped inside while a service was in progress. We only stayed a few moments -- to breathe in the atmosphere and to feast our eyes on the beauty -- and in those few moments, the words of the kind priest pulled me in. "Let us offer the world a hurricane of love," he said. I've been through hurricanes. That's a lot of love.
La Ermita plays a pivotal role in my novel, The Existence of Pity. Here's an excerpt.

All my life, I had seen La Ermita in passing, and I had studied the gray and white spires that were so ornate they looked as thought they belonged in Europe. I smiled at La Ermita's elaborate steeple, which reached toward heaven, not one bit sorry for its extravagance.
"Venga, mona, we don't have all day," Blanca said, pulling me inside the sanctuary. "I still have work to do when we get home."
Photos by Chris Zokan
She opened one of the heavy doors, and the beauty of the church stole my breath. I took two steps in, admiring the stained-glass windows, the large statues, and the altars. Our Baptist church was nowhere near as beautiful. In our church, simple rows of wooden pews faced a pulpit and a pool to baptize those who wanted to be born again. In La Ermita, I could feel the presence of something greater than myself something that had been there long before me and would remain long after I was gone. Our church had love, but in the Catholic church was... majesty.  

Want to read more? Click on the cover of The Existence of Pity for your own copy.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

My Lighthouse Job

NAS Lighthouse, Chris Zokan's Photos
Albert Einstein once said that people who wanted to think should be given jobs that don't require a lot of physical or mental effort, "...the service of lighthouses and lightships come to mind." Workers would be engaged just enough so they are active, but not to the point of exhaustion. They could solve equations, come to a deeper understanding of human nature, or maybe plot a novel while they worked.

I'm a Retail Merchandiser for Hallmark, which means I take care of Hallmark cards in eight locations -- mostly grocery stores and drug stores. Each week I go to my stores, find my boxes in the stockroom, and put the products on display. It's definitely a part-time job because these are mindless tasks that take a few hours per store -- until Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and Christmas roll around.

But even in the busiest season, to a shopper walking by it looks like I'm just organizing cards. Actually, I'm off in my own little world, thinking about the next book I'm writing, the scene that hasn't come together yet, the characters who are telling me what they want to do. It's my lighthouse job, and the only problem I've come across is getting so lost in thought I've almost jumped out of my skin when someone tapped me on the shoulder. 

 I love my work. I love the beautiful cards, the forthright nature of organizing them, and the satisfaction of a job well done when I'm finished. I especially love the freedom to let my mind wander as I work. As of yesterday, all the Christmas cards are set. Come Monday it'll be time to put out Valentine's Day cards (I know, it's a travesty!), but while I work I'll be thinking about Josie and Tom in the sequel to "The Existence of Pity." 
Happy Holidays!
Here's a link to Einstein's thoughts on the service of lighthouses:

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

So Magnificent, So Deadly

The Chapecoense soccer team from Southern Brazil could've made history with its Cinderella story. They were rising stars, but their trajectories were cut short when their airplane crashed in the mountains of Colombia just outside of Medellin. Medellin, known as the City of Eternal Spring, is also known for its airport. High hazardous mountains surround it, and landing is dicey on a clear day, much less on a dark and stormy night.

Seventy-seven young men, journalists, and flight crew members died. Only six survived. Colombia and Brazil are still in shock as they grieve the tragic loss. Atletico Nacional, Medellin's soccer team, has made it clear they hope the South American Football Confederation declares Chapecoense the champions of the 2016 South American cup.

Hearing this sad news reminded me of two other memorably horrific accidents. In a post (on September 2014) about a trip to Colombia with my oldest brother, I write about one. "Soon we will see the Andes, and I push the tragic memory of Flight 965 carrying Ariel Felton and Catalina del Corral out of my mind. That flight, and those school friends, didn't make it over the mountains in 1995."

And there’s the crash in 1972, when a Uruguayan plane crash-landed in the Andes carrying a rugby team to Chile. Sixteen of the 45 passengers survived and were rescued more than two months after the crash.

 Here's an excerpt about it from The Existence of Pity.

 “Why did everyone on the plane cross themselves and clap when we landed?” Aunt Rosie asked, setting her bag down by the car.
Mom’s hand hovered over the handle for a moment before she opened the door. I knew what she was thinking: South Americans never took flying over the Andes lightly. A few years earlier, a jet had collided into the mountains, stranding the few survivors on the treacherous peaks for over two months before they were rescued.
“They always clap like that,” Aaron told her with a casual smile. “They’re just glad to be on land again.”
 “Well, I’m glad to be on land, too,” Aunt Rosie said.
I hated to admit it, but my brother knew how to smooth things over.

 The Andes, so magnificent, so deadly. A Chilean saying is, “The Andes don’t give back what they take.” My heart goes out to the loved ones of those who died, and to the soccer community as a whole. This team will be sorely missed.