Reading, Writing, and Drawing: Summer Joys

Dear Friends,

I hope this post finds you reading, writing, and enjoying your summer days.

The season started a little slowly here in Oregon, but it finally arrived in late June, right in time for a summer pleasure, long-loved but little enjoyed due to Covid restrictions and my own poor health —going to a writing conference. This year I attended the Oregon Christian Writers 2022 Summer Cascade Christian Writers Conference in Canby Grove, Oregon. I opted for this particular writing conference, rather than Willamette Writers or SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), who both also host wonderful summer conferences, because I felt the need for both an infusion of writing passion and a shot of spiritual renewal. It provided both.

Summer Cascade Christian Writers Conference

For my three-day coaching class, I took a course on branding—so I may better serve you here at the Literate Lives Blog—taught by James Rubart, of Rooms fame. I also took in some one-hour workshops—a few that focused on writing craft, one on poetry—because poetry is so much fun, and another on social media for writers. I learned a lot and enjoyed meeting and making friends in the beautiful, wooded setting.

However, the high point of my conference experience came during an afternoon break. Due to severe plantar fasciitis, I could not go for a walk, as I would normally have done, so I took my sketch book and colored pencils and sat down beneath the shady trees beside the Mollala River where I could let my bare feet soak up the tenderness of the new grass and I drew. It was amazing! (And I’m not talking about my doodles!) The temperature was just right, the breeze gentle and soothing, and the sound of the moving water so refreshing.

It reminded me of many summers passed sitting in the shade of towering trees watching my kids swim in the South Fork of the Merced River in Yosemite, while reading, revising one of my novels, or drawing. Such bliss!

Picnics and Wooded Walks

Since the conference, I have enjoyed picnics with my husband, lunches out at our favorite old country inn, and gentle walks. To our delight, we discovered that the empty lots at the dead end of our street had been converted to a nature reserve with a beautiful, wooded path. I have been longing for a nearby place to get out into nature for such a long time, and now, God and the City has practically dropped one in my lap. I am so grateful!

Your Turn

I guess by now you can pretty much figure out my ingredients for a wonderful summer day. I hope you are enjoying some delightful days of your own. Please use the comments box below to tell me a bit about yours. Let’s share our delights and pleasures, and in doing so, encourage one another!

My Personal Public Service Announcement: My Journey toward a Cancer Diagnosis

Dear Friends,

I hope this post finds you well, because wellness is what I want to talk about today. I have been thinking about detailing the road to my cancer diagnosis for a long time, yet it is so personal—a difficult subject. However, I feel I must share my story, after all I consider myself among friends. This, in a small way, is my very own, personal “public service announcement.”

The entire journey from suspicion of cancer to a decisive diagnosis took about a year. It was preceded by my oldest son’s near fatal brain injury and my father’s death occurring within days of each other.

During this time, I pushed myself far beyond my physical ability, sitting all day each day with my son in ICU, rushing out of town to be with Dad for his very last days, and eventually trying to show up at work when I could between taking my turn companioning my son in his weeks long physical rehab. I ended up sick, very, very sick.

My doctor noticed, in addition to my fever and sinus issues, that my glands were swollen. I was also experiencing pain in my lower abdomen. She said I could either have Mononucleosis or a slow growing lymphatic cancer—Scary! —and sent me to a specialist. Mono was diagnosed. Whew! My husband took a photo of me after the appointment standing under a coincidental rainbow.

I convalesced for six weeks before I was at able to return to work. Even then, I was constantly tired, my glands were still swollen, and I was still experiencing the mystery pain.

At my recheck, my doctor said the abdominal pain could related to my bowels or, again, cancer. She ordered a CAT scan and (joy, joy—NOT!) a colonoscopy. The CAT scan located two very small masses in my lower abdomen, so we scheduled a biopsy. As the biopsy date drew near, I was notified it had been cancelled due to the target area being located too close to blood vessels to perform the intended procedure. Sigh. My doctor was sympathetic, however, another CAT scan assured us the masses were not growing, and so she suggested we wait for the results of the colonoscopy.

More time passed. The pain did not go away. I finally went for my colonoscopy and—good news!—all was clear! Yay! Yet, the mysterious pain was still there.

Despite the good news, I sensed something was wrong. This pain was not normal, mild though it was and small though the potential trouble spots might be.

I went back to my doctor and requested the appropriate type of biopsy. This involved outpatient surgery which was performed almost exactly a year from the date of my son’s accident. By the next day we had the diagnosis—Stage 1 Follicular Lymphoma.

I did some research and learned that Follicular Lymphoma is a “lucky” form of cancer if caught early. It is slow-growing, treatable, and will often go into remission for 5-10 years, after which it can be treated again. Most people with Follicular Lymphoma will simply have it all their lives and die of other causes.

At last I knew what I faced.

I counted myself blessed.

My treatment began a few weeks later with a month of weekly infusions, followed by bimonthly infusions over the next two years (which unfortunately stretched to two-plus years. However, that is another story.)

My word for you, dear friends, is this:

Know your body. If you sense something is wrong with your body, seek answers, and don’t give up until you know what is going on.

Although Follicular Lymphoma is slow growing, undiagnosed, it could have spread to other organs, where it could become a more dangerous problem.

I will write more, now and then, about my cancer journey. The experience most definitely changed my life in many ways, positively as well as negatively. Many of those positives I am eager to share.

God bless you, and please take care of yourselves!

Your Friend,

Debby

P.S. If you have your own “public service announcement” you would like to share, please feel free to use the comments box below. Let’s encourage one another!

National Poetry Month, 2022: Prompts and Encouragement

Dear Friends,

As I’m sure you already know, April is National Poetry month, and so I thought I’d round up some poetry writing prompts from the past for your reading and writing pleasure.

This first is my most popular poetry prompt. Years after I first posted it, it still shows up every month as one of my most visited posts: My Most Visited Writing Prompt Ever: The Essence of Summer Poetry Haiku – Debby Zigenis-Lowery’s Literate Lives (wordpress.com)

Here is a post reflecting on my first big poetry project: “aab…” Poetry Mystery Form–Try It! – Debby Zigenis-Lowery’s Literate Lives (wordpress.com)

This prompt is one I loved to use at the beginning of the school year when I was teaching. However, it’s self-reflective quality is appropriate for any time of year: Who am I? Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt #26 – Debby Zigenis-Lowery’s Literate Lives (wordpress.com)

Mother’s day will soon be here. This prompt can help get you in the mood: Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt # 11: “A Picture of My Mother” – Debby Zigenis-Lowery’s Literate Lives (wordpress.com). More writing prompts can be found here.

So, maybe you have written some poems, now what do you do with them? Revise, of course. (I love the writing process!) If you are looking for ideas for polishing up the gems you have written, check this out: Sound Effects in Poetry – Debby Zigenis-Lowery’s Literate Lives (wordpress.com)

And, if at this point you’re wondering what the big deal is with poetry, check out Colleen Story’s, 5 Benefits of Writing Poetry for National Poetry Month – Writing and Wellness. Story, a health journalist, blogger, and fiction writer, explains why a person might want to choose to spend their precious time writing poetry, this month or any time of year.

I have been writing poetry ever since I was a teen. I first appreciated the emotional outlet it provided. I have since come to love it for so much more—the concise way it can capture moments of my life, how it lends itself to celebration and appreciation, its sounds and imagery that lift it above the mundane, not to mention the intellectual challenge of writing to a particular form.

I have found great blessing and satisfaction in writing poetry. I hope you will find the same this national poetry month.

Your Turn

  • What are some of your favorite poetic forms?
  • How has poetry played a role in your life?
  • Did you try one of the prompts? Care to share?

Please make your responses in the comments below. Let’s encourage one another!

Image: https://pixabay.com/photos/pen-ink-pen-write-communication-1584239/

Meet My New “Meet the Author” Bio

Dear Friends,

As I’ve said before, I am working on upgrading the Literate Lives site. Here is a trial run for Step 1–my author “bio:”

Welcome to my author page! Let me tell you a story.

One dark and stormy night, after drinking way too much coffee, I met my dad for dinner, and he asked me what I wanted to do with my life.

Fumbling my fork with jittery fingers, I mumbled something about becoming a teacher. 

He suggested I should try to write a book, saying, “After all, you’ve read so many.”

My introvert soul was appalled.

But his words settled like a seed in my mind, time passed, and life conspired to make me a writer.

Majoring in English at the University of California, Berkeley, I studied as much folklore, speculative fiction, and medieval history as I could cram into my schedule. Occasional creative writing options were offered in lieu of critical papers, and I even summoned up the courage to write a couple of stories.

Children and an obsession with an idea for a novel preceded obtaining my teaching license. In no time, reading, writing, and raising my three children was my joy.

However, children grow. Eventually I earned a master’s degree in teaching and taught Reading/Language Arts to middle and high school students. At the same time, my folktale retellings began to appear in Cricket Magazine.

I am now a writer of folkloric fantasy novels for both middle graders and adults, an avid journal keeper, and a reader, always a reader.

Welcome to my home for encouraging reading, writing, creativity, and wonder. Please join me in pursuing this literate life.

So, what do you think? I’d love to read your comments, and if you have been working on your bio, please use the comments box share. I would love to hear from you!

Your friend, Debby

Best Books of this Winter 2022

Hello Friends!

I came down with Covid in January, and so have spent a lot of time engaged in the 3Rs–resting, recuperating, and best of all, reading.

Looking at my stack of books read since the beginning of the new year, I realized there were a lot of novels I really enjoyed. And so, I thought I’d share some titles and brief comments with you.

The Girl in the Gatehouse, by Julie Klassen. Klassen is one of my favorite Christian authors and so I often turn to her historical novels when I am in need of a treat. Covid, anyone? This, like most of Klassen’s novels is set in England’s regency era. It is about a young woman who has “shamed” her family been banished to an old Aunt’s creaky gatehouse, in the country with dreams of supporting herself and her old governess, sent to chaperone her, by writing novels like Jane Austen.

A Countess Below Stairs, by Eva Ibbotson is another historical novel set in England. Featuring a young countess, displaced by the Russian revolution who enters service as a parlor maid in an English manor house. On the first day all the staff are determined to shun her. Her courage, willingness to work hard and try new things, and determination not to give way to grief make her a likeable heroine. This was a fun and heartwarming read. However, themes of exile, displacement, and the growing popularity of eugenics give it a chilling foundation in reality.

These next two novels are oldies but goodies, however I must confess I had never read them–Dragonsong and Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey. I believe these two books were the start of her massively popular Pern fantasies. Menolly, a gifted, yet barely trained musician is rejected by her family and community and forbidden to make music. But Menolly must make music. So, she ventures out from their sheltered fishing settlement and encounters a world of magic and wonder, and of course, danger.

The last is The Kiss of Deception, Book I of the Remnant Chronicles, another fantasy series, this time by Mary E. Pearson. It is one of the best puzzle books I have ever read. Aside from Lia, a runaway princess, there are two male characters–one the prince she ditched on the day of their wedding and the other an enemy assassin sent to kill her. We get to see each of them once at the beginning knowing who they are, and then they show up in the distant village where she is building a new life and are introduced as Rafe and Kaden. As the novel plays out, it is up to the reader to figure out who is the prince and who the assassin. I had already read it once and been stumped, but my daughter said she figured it out right away. And so, I picked it up afresh….and was stumped again! Pearson has done a magnificent job throwing sand in the eyes of her reader and keeping them reading anyway.

I enjoyed all these books immensely and encourage you to try one, or try them all. What’s the next book I’m going to read? Book II of the Remnant Chronicles, of course! What are you reading, or looking forward to reading next? Please use the comment box to respond. I would love to hear from you!

Your bookish friend, Debby

Happy Valentine’s Day &Welcome Back to Literate Lives

& a Reading/Writing/Creating Lifestyle

Hello dear friends, or for those just discovering this blog, future friends,

“Why do I call you friends?” If you are still following me after my long hiatus, you are good friends indeed. For those of you who are new to Literate Lives, Hi! My name is Debby. I am an author, retired teacher, and joyous practitioner of a reading, writing, journaling, creating lifestyle, and I am so happy you stopped by. My purpose here is to bring inspiration, information, and pleasure to my readers. Through this blog, I hope to encourage individuals, parents, and teachers to embrace the joy of a reading, writing, creating life and to share it with others.

Those of you who have followed me for a while know my blog suddenly seemed to “blink out” mid-2018. That was the season in which I was diagnosed with cancer, follicular lymphoma to be precise, and began two years of treatment, which lasted even longer because of Covid complications in scheduling and other health issues. It’s been a challenging time. However, this cancer journey has changed my life in positive and powerful ways, and reading, learning, and journaling through this time has been a huge part of the experience. There is so much I am excited to share in the months to come!

If you are someone who revels in the wonder of words, the joy of reading, the satisfaction of crafting and creating, and the beauty of life, we probably share some common interests. While I am no “expert,” I invite you to join me on my continued journey.  

  • Do you like to write? So do I, and not just fiction. I love journaling in many forms, writing to friends and family, and capturing moments of my life in poetry.
  • Do you like to read? So do I…in multiple genres and on multiple mediums.
  • Do you love to craft and create? Me too. I enjoy drawing, Zen doodling, embroidering, making seasonal crafts, and more.

Does it bring you pleasure to encourage others to join you in any of these practices? A favorite part of my teaching career was the opportunity it provided to encourage students, and not just at developing their reading and writing skills, although as a Reading/Language Arts educator that was my job (and my passion). In anything they were working on, and especially in building confidence in themselves, I loved being able to support and encourage them. I welcome the opportunity to be an encourager to you.

Here is my thimble-sized biography: I am a wife, daughter, mother, and grandmother. I am a folktale reteller, folkloric fantasy author, poet, journaler, planner, former Reading and Language Arts teacher, and sometimes greeting card maker. Where else can I be found? On Pinterest , where I vicariously satisfy my desire to be a librarian, historian, museum curator, and professional crafter. Otherwise, I may just be lost in a piece of fiction or poetry I am working on, my journal, a novel, or in some fantastic realm in my head.

As my health remains somewhat iffy, I am going to start out aiming for 1 post/month, with the possibility of more. However, that will be a result of good health and God’s blessing.

Please subscribe to this blog if you would like to join me in my journeys, and of course, if you have not done so already. Literate Lives is a place to be honest, a place to be creative, and a place to be inspired.

I would be delighted if you would use the comment box below to share some of the things you are interested in.

*Silhouette Art from The Graphics Fairy

A Focus on Gratitude for November, Updated

A Focus on Gratitude for November, Updated, Debby Zigenis-Lowery, literatelives.com


I know, I know! Halloween hasn’t even arrived, but whether you are a parent, teacher, or someone who just loves spending time with kids, you know now is the time to consider seasonal activities for the upcoming month. And so, here are some ideas for bringing gratitude to the forefront this November.

Why Gratitude?

Studies have shown that people who are grateful tend to live happier, healthier lives. Since November culminates in the grand holiday of Thanksgiving, it only makes sense to build toward this crescendo by focusing on gratitude in the weeks leading up to it.

Activity 1: Thanksgiving Freewrites (I did this in the classroom, but you can also do it as a family at home.)

Set aside time daily for writing a paragraph of at least 5 to 10 sentences (depending on the age and ability of your participants) about one person or thing for which they are grateful.

Requiring multiple sentences will provide participants with opportunities to practice elaborating on their subject and develop fluency in writing.

In addition to setting a minimum number of sentences, require participants to choose a new topic each day. This encourages them to think in an increasingly broad way about their lives and their world, and to find pleasure and gratitude in a wider range of subjects than they may initially have been aware of or considered.

For further details about this option go here.

Activity 2: Thank You Notes

November is also a great month for young people to learn how to, and practice, writing thank you notes. (After all, the holiday season will be coming next., with gifts coming from long-distance loved ones who deserve to have their thoughtfulness acknowledged.) As a teacher, I liked to have my students write thank you notes to teachers, school staff, and other people who are important to their lives. But even if writing from home, we all interact with others in various aspects of our lives, and they are just as worthy of receiving a thank you note.

During my years at the Downtown Learning Center, I used the following template to teach writing thank you notes:

Dear Recipient:

Thank you so much for whatever it is you appreciate about this person.
Write one or two sentences explaining why you appreciate this.
Reword and repeat the first sentence.

Sincerely,
Signature

For more information click here

Activity 3: Gratitude Leaves

The Downtown Learning Center was located, you guessed it, in our city’s downtown shopping and business area, and so we had a large, storefront window that faced onto the sidewalk and street.

The first year we made gratitude leaves they were such a hit with the staff and neighbors that we applied the principle to other holidays throughout the year.

What are Gratitude Leaves? They are individual leaves in a variety of types and colors, cut from any kind of colored paper, on which students anonymously write one thing they are grateful for every day until the last break before Thanksgiving. All the staff participated as well. Each day we taped our written leaves to the window.

By the time Thanksgiving break arrived, our wide windows were a wonderful mosaic of yellow, gold, red, orange, crimson and even a few purple leaves that seemed to glow in the late afternoon light.

On the day before the beginning of Thanksgiving break, we had the students take them down their own leaves and provided paper plates around which each student could tape his or her leaves, making a Gratitude Wreath.

Activity 4: A Calendar Approach

This is an exercise I discovered in the Bullet Journaling community and is especially good for families with little ones who have not yet learned to write.

Set up a calendar grid for the month of November with date boxes a minimum of 1.5-2 inches square. Place holiday stickers on Thanksgiving Day or mark it in big, bold lettering, so it is easy to see the goal being worked toward. Then, each day leading up to the holiday, help your young partners draw or glue on a picture of something for which they are grateful. By the time Thanksgiving arrives, they, and maybe you too, will have a bright and colorful piece of art to treasure.

Activity 5: Gratitude Journal

If you do not keep a gratitude journal, November is a great month to start one. There are so many wonderful notebooks and journals you can choose from. If you’re not sure you’ll want to continue the practice after the holiday, even a spiral notebook will do. (I just love those tiny ones that fit in a pocket!)

Each day consider and record what you are grateful for. You can write about as many things as you want ranging from 1/day to “the sky’s the limit.” I write a sentence each for three items per day. I’ll talk about gratitude journaling more in the future, but for now, try it as a holiday practice.

Writing about these options for reflecting on how blessed we are and how much good there actually is in our lives has me so excited. Let those dark days of November come! I can meet them with gratitude.

Let’s Encourage One Another

How will you reflect on what you are grateful for this month? Have any additional ideas for how to do so? Please share your gratitude practice and any additional ideas for embracing this time of thanksgiving in the comment box below.

Late Spring & Early Summer Reading

Well, I finally updated my reading log and was surprised how long it has been since I last did so.

These few months have included some great reads.

First of all, I’ve been doing a reread of Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief series, starting with (what else?), The Thief. I have now read through The King of Attolia and am chomping at the bit to get some stuff out of the way so I can reach the bookshelf where sits the next book. I knew I loved this series, but I had forgotten just how excellent it is. The main character is skilled, unpredictable, and so very human! I will not say more.

Coincidentally, well not really coincidentally, I ‘ve read two books by Gillian Bradshaw and loved them both: Horses of Heaven and Render Unto Caesar. The first is set in the farthest eastern reaches of Alexander the Great’s empire shortly after his death and the other in Rome shortly after it became an empire. Both were fascinating. The plots and main characters were completely different from each other, and yet both novels were hard to put down.

So get thee to the library, and fast! (These aren’t the newest books.) Then crawl into a lovely, horrifying, richly exotic time capsule and read to your heart’s delight.

Philip Reeve’s Here Lies Arthur: A Story about Stories

Yesterday I finished reading Philip Reeve’s Here Lies Arthur.

I wasn’t sure when I started reading this novel that I would finish it. (Yes, I have finally learned to stop reading books I am not enjoying.) The portrayal of Arthur is very different than what one usually encounters, and I love that traditional image of a noble Arthur. However the main character, Gwyna, was interesting and Reeve’s crafting of descriptions quite intriguing, so I stuck with it. Here, for example, is a description of a setting:

“I remembered a villa in the hills, a Roman-ish place with…plump red cattle grazing the pastureland. Gorse popping in the sunshine as we rode to it along a white track, dust clouding from our horses’ hooves like smoke, and a hawk pinned on the sky high up.”

That hawk, pinned on the sky is one of many captivating images. What was not captivating was Reeve’s tendency to spread items of a series that should be separated by commas in one sentence out into a string of sentence fragments instead. It was clearly not done to create a singular effect, but rather his style throughout the novel.

When writing about Gwyna’s experiences in first person point of view, the tale is gripping. However, when Reeve shifts to Gwyna describing what has happened during scenes where she was not present, I found the narration jarring and a bit awkward.

What really grabbed me and kept me reading was Gwyna’s experiences and the thread that wove from the beginning of the novel to end. The title may say this is a book about King Arthur, but in truth it is a story about stories–how stories can color reality, refashion history, comfort, inspire, and enchant. Myrddin is the grand story weaver, but Gwyna proves herself a deft apprentice who would make her master proud.

Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve: A Story about Stories

My Best Christmas Read, So Far, December 2020

Every December I love to read some Christmas novels. Last night I just finished my favorite so far, No Room at the Inn by Melody Carlson. This was a novella with fun characters, plenty of Christmas chaos, and a beautiful theme. If you’re looking for something to read in this last week or so before, Christmas, I would highly recommend it.

My Best Christmas Read, So Far, December 2020