One Dollar Glasses

girl with a smile wearing one dollar glasses
A small invention that sheds a whole new light on things.

The other day, I got my first pair of reading glasses. All of a sudden, reading, computers, knitting–even the fine print at the store–is SO much clearer. I’ve had regular glasses since the third grade, so you’d think I wouldn’t be surprised, but it’s easy to forget how much difference a new pair of glasses can make.

When I went to pick them up, I saw a brochure for One Dollar Glasses with lots of happy people sporting new glasses. Here’s the link to the English version of the website that has fewer photos.

My optician told me he’d been to a workshop to learn to make a pair of glasses out of one piece of wire. It was challenging even for people trained to make glasses. You only get one shot.

But it doesn’t need electricity and it means people don’t have to wear glasses that almost work because they’re someone else’s old glasses.

The raw materials for each pair cost one dollar which means the sales tax from my recent glasses would pay for 30 pair.

It makes me happy to think that 30 people could finally see what they’re looking at! Hope they have good books to read! 🙂

If you’d also like to help someone see what they’re missing, here’s the donation information. (PayPal, credit cards, and direct bank transfer all work).

Thanks for reading!

Laurel

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If we start now, can we IMAGINE a really wonderful, peaceful 2018?

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if we are spending our imaginations in the wrong direction. My husband suggested that it was about time for something really, really good to happen. How about a peaceful reunification of North and South Korea?

As a writer of fiction, I know that imagination is a muscle. The more you use it, the longer it works and the stronger it is. Whenever I talk more than I write, the muscle atrophies a little.

I mean, if you could imagine any wonderful thing coming to pass in 2018, what would it be? Is it hard to come up with a positive suggestion? It’s so much easier to complain about things that need to be fixed.

In Berlin, there’s a fascinating and, I think, even-handed exhibit about the pain and hope in Sweden, Korea, Tanzania, and the U.S.A. after the Protestant Reformation.

It’s called Der Luthereffekt: 500 Jahre Protestantismus in der Welt. 2017 is a year for celebrating Martin Luther, so the exhibit is called “The Luther Effect: 500 years of Protestantism in the World.”

The exhibit is a mixture of amazing historical artifacts– like

  • the moose leather tunic the King of Sweden wore while miraculously surviving a battle in 1627,
  • an amazing rune stick/sword sheath,
  • a traditional wedding crown for a Sámi bride, the Laplander culture in the far North of Sweden,
  • and eyewitness accounts from people all over the world about how their lives have changed over the last 500 years.

One of my favorite discoveries was the Peace Train that traveled from Germany to Korea via Russia in 2013 to peacefully demonstrate for reunification. Here’s a post about the Peace Train in English. A lot of people used their imagination to come up with this one.

A Freedom Train was established in 2014 that travels right to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. One bridge is broken and the other is newly repaired. It’s a powerful image of something that wants to be completed.

This pair of bridges reminds me so much of the abandoned underground train stations between East and West Berlin. As an exchange student in Germany, I spent countless evenings listening to fellow students argue about whether Germany could ever be reunited.

Guess what? There are still scars, but Germany is one country now.

Is it naive to believe that good is possible? The stories we tell ourselves matter. Imagination is a muscle that we can build. What if we all imagined something good–together?

Here’s to a wonderful, peaceful, hopeful 2018!

DMZ Train
Imjingak
May 21, 2014
From Seoul Station to Dorasan Station
Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
Korean Culture and Information Service
Korea.net (www.korea.net)
Official Photographer: Jeon Han
—————————————————————
평화열차 DMZ Train
임진각
2014-05-21
서울역-도라산역
문화체육관광부
해외문화홍보원
코리아넷
전한

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Beauty and an Escape from Death

October vineyards in Mayschoß in the Ahr valley, Germany. ©Jan Decher, 2017.

People look beautiful and shiny to me just now. When I look at families pushing baby strollers or see young couples deciding how to spend their money in the grocery store, or older couples making careful choices, I’m struck with how “temporary” they  look.

A little more than a week ago, I almost lost my husband to pulmonary emboli* while we were standing on the sidewalk, waiting for the light to change. Thanks to the quick first aid work of our youngest, a passing doctor who stopped, and a kind person who called the ambulance, my husband got almost immediate care.

The whole thing feels impossible. No set-up, no foreshadowing. The week before we were hiking for hours in the sunlit Ahr valley.

We’ve been given another chance. It’s tantalizing to know what to do with it because it feels like a “temporary” awareness. My brain keeps trying to tell me I imagined the whole thing: “There’s no need to change anything now.” But I want to remember long enough to benefit from the experience. It’s a gift that we are still here together.

The next day, I stumbled over this Bible passage in the daily reading:

19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden,
The God who is our salvation. Selah.
20 God is to us a God of deliverances;
And to God the Lord belong escapes from death.

Psalm 68:19+20. New American Standard Bible (NASB)Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

I underlined it in my Bible years ago, but I had forgotten it. It makes me think about all the people in dangerous places, escaping with their lives.

We were just standing on a street corner and people came to help us right away. Humbling.

Thank you to the EMT‘s Notfallsanitäter from the Bonn Feuerwehr and to the staff at the St. Peter’s hospital, the Petruskrankenhaus!

*Public health note on pulmonary emboli: I’m an epidemiologist not a doctor, so this is my population-level view. 🙂 Basically, a thrombus or a blood clot–often in the legs–cuts off the circulation at a fixed point, causing swelling and sharp pain. Some people don’t appear to have this warning or misinterpret it as something else.

A pulmonary emboli is like a rogue assassin. It breaks free from a thrombus somewhere and gets stuck in the lungs, causing shortness of breath and sometimes collapse and death. Blood thinners can be given to prevent pulmonary emboli if you know you are at risk. See your doctor. 🙂

If you want to know what puts people at risk for deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, this nested case-control study from the Mayo Clinic gives a good list: Surgery, trauma, hospitalization or nursing home confinement, cancer with or without chemo, pacemaker/catheter, superficial vein thrombosis, neurologic disease with partial paralysis. Varicose veins are a stronger risk factor for younger people (45 years) than for older people.

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Life’s soundtrack should be big: Rossini Opera Festival makes a splash

Front door of Rossini Theater with palm tree and poster for Rossini Opera Festival

The Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, Italy was over the top! I love watching live orchestras and this one had 5 string basses. 🙂 And the audience was as fun to watch as the opera!

I didn’t expect a fashion event. Of course people are well dressed at a fancy cultural event, but there was so much creativity in people’s outfits. Italy takes fashion seriously.

La pietra del paragone was set in a wealthy Duke’s house, complete with swimming pool on the stage. In the opening scene, the cast sang while wearing 1950’s swimming suits in bright colors.

How can you sing, fall into a pool, come up dripping, and sing some more? Don’t people have to breathe?

The comedic characters were dressed in ever more extreme fashion with amazingly clashing shades of salmon and mustard. Of course, the hero and heroine got more and more elegant.

I’ve always enjoyed the comedy of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and accessible operas like Carmen and The Magic Flute. This performance made me feel that singing at the top of your lungs is the only way to live.

Things are going on in the world. Make a noise! Belt it out! Articulate at top speed! And dress up. 🙂

Is what we mean by catharsis? I thought the “sense of relief from extreme emotions” only applied to tragedies. This wasn’t one.

When my mom was getting chemotherapy years ago, she listened to Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle. At the time, I wondered if that would ruin the music for her. But I think it was a way to give a heroic backdrop to a life and death battle.

Life is ridiculous and tragic and heroic. Opera with a swimming pool is just the ticket.

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Forgiving yourself for what you did “on purpose”

Window with six panes looking out on a street with church and palace towers in the distance.
Forgiving yourself can change your perspective. Image: View of yellow palace housing University of Bonn from Greek/Latin library. © Laurel Decher, 2017.

Whack! The little girl smacked her tiny rainbow umbrella down on the restaurant’s marble table with an unexpectedly loud crack. No one was hurt; nothing was damaged–or even knocked over–but her eyes widened in horror.

“But I did it on purpose!” A storm of tears followed and she hid her face against her mother. I wanted put an arm around her and say, “We’ve all done things on purpose. I’ve felt exactly the same way. And so did St. Peter.”

When we see the shocking results of something we’ve done “on purpose” we’re dismayed. Sometimes we hurt someone we love and that makes it even worse. But sometimes a “small” failure horrifies us needlessly. We send ourselves off into a spiral of critique and hurt ourselves most.

This morning, I’m trying to start work on the umpteenth revision of a particularly stubborn work-in-progress. Instead of an umbrella beating a marble table, I’m beating up on myself. The familiar inner critic’s comments show up right away: I made this mess of a draft, I did it to myself, it’s my own fault.

A classic case of I-failed-and-I-did-it-to-myself.

I only know one remedy. Go somewhere private–like the middle of the forest–and confess my limited-ness out loud:

I can’t do this by myself. I need help. I tried and I failed. Forgive me for my shortcomings. Forgive me for my ludicrous resentment of the shortcomings of others. Let me hide my face for a while.

It always surprises me. As soon as I stop making myself the center of the universe, I can show my face again. Relief! I’m not the boss. I can start again with a lighter heart.

It’s so deceptively simple and it saves so much heartbreak.

What helps you when the critical voices threaten to shut you down?

Resources:

Carolyn Kaufman’s excellent blog posts:

Defeating Your Inner Critic Part 1

Defeating Your Inner Critic Part 2

Brené Brown’s TED talk on shame and vulnerability is a good intro to her work on living a whole-hearted life.

An inspiring conversation about courage with Brené Brown and Oprah Winfrey

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The Good Earth: International Gardens

Orange-y dirt fluffed up for the garden year, path in the middle.
Paydirt. The classic rich soil of the Rhineland. © Laurel Decher, 2017

A landmark. The day before yesterday, I was given my first garden plot since we moved to Germany. Turning over the soil stirred up surprising feelings.

It’s an International Garden so the invitation was in German and in Arabic. My fellow gardeners are from Egypt, Eritrea, Afghanistan, and Germany. People were talking about melons, chilis, peas, and pole-beans. I’m very curious to see what will grow.

And what will work. We had a lot of animated conversation in several languages while we got the garden beds ready. The way people grow food is as much a part of their culture as the way they eat it. Several gardeners had advanced training in agriculture in their home countries, but everyone dug right in.

First-class dirt. Some of the most fertile in the world. I also learned a new word for dirt. 🙂 Löss (German) and loess (English) refers to the kind of yellow-brown clay-ey soil that is typical of the Rhine and the Mississippi.

In Pearl S. Buck’s classic novel, The Good Earth, the land has the power to bring riches and a new life to a poor farmer. (And, of course, new troubles because a novel is about the way we deal with the challenges, right?)

What will these new gardens bring into our lives? Fruits, vegetables, flowers, barbeque parties, cake, friendships, and maybe a few more roots to this new home.

Is your garden still buried in snow? What are you planning to grow this year?

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Hero at the Bus Stop

Bronze of hero Garibaldi on horseback.

This year, my husband gave me a Page-a-Day calendar to learn Italian. Today’s page was a dialogue between two men at a bus stop, getting ready to go to work. One said his boss was nicer than his colleagues. The other said his colleagues were nicer than his boss. [*cough* We’re learning vocabulary here. Cut us some storytelling slack.]

My youngest went off to a new job today and I went along for the new, complicated, commute. At one bus stop, there was a woman dressed in lots of black fabric pushing a stroller with one little boy and holding another boy’s hand. They spoke a dialect I didn’t understand and the hand-holding boy was moaning. Tears were running down his face.

The littler boy in the stroller contorted himself to look up at the woman and got her to agree to something, reluctantly. He pushed the release button on the shoulder straps and jumped up out of the stroller.

He went all the way around in a way that made me–and his mother, who reached after him with her free hand–think he was going to end up in the street. But it wasn’t a ploy for freedom. He came up behind his moaning brother, smiled, and touched him on the shoulder.

The mother helped the bigger boy into the stroller and fastened the straps. The boy’s head still turned from side to side, and he was still moaning, but the tears stopped.

That’s when I realized the younger boy had given up his spot in the stroller for him. He seemed much too young to show such thoughtful and active compassion.

He gave me hope for the future. A person who can smile and help someone else will be an excellent colleague or boss.

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Peace on Earth, Good Will to You All!

Soft dolls in a nativity scene. Mary, Joseph with dreadlocks, angel, felt palm tree, and smiling camel with red saddle. © Laurel Decher, 2016.
I think this camel is pleased about the new saddle. Mary, Joseph, the Angel, and a smiling camel, waiting for the baby Jesus. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

A year ago, I wrote about our “rastafarian” Joseph and the challenges of writing about other people’s cultures: Skin-colored Felt: Doing other people’s cultures wrong. It feels like we’ve gone backwards in trying to understand each other this year.

Our rastafarian Joseph still leans to one side. (He still needs that navy bean transfusion.) Our angel has wings, our camel sports a new saddle and Mary looks much fresher without the excess glue. They look hopelessly naive in the face of so much pain. But the camel makes me smile every time I walk by.

Joan Bauer’s HOPE WAS HERE is a middle grade story about how much bigger hope is than we think. She wrote it in an apartment overlooking the smoking remains of the Twin Towers in New York City. When she started it, she had a tiny pillow that said “Hope”, but when she finished, she said that little pillow of hope was as big as a couch.

We can grow more hope.

See you in January!

Peace on Earth, Good will to all!

If you’re looking for gift ideas for young readers, try this list of recommended books on The Winged Pen. These are the middle grade books I’ve read and enjoyed most this year.

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Writing Gratitude Countdown (5): The Gift of a Deadline

lamp post with four feet and very knobby knees outside the Zwinger Museum in Dresden.
Need a leg to stand on? Try one of these contests to get a little more support for your writing. © Laurel Decher, 2016. Zwinger Museum, Dresden.

This is the fifth post in my Writing Gratitude Countdown. I keep finding more things to appreciate about the writing life.

It’s sometimes easier to be gentler with other writers than with yourself. But being hard on yourself for too long dries up the words. Gratitude is a wonderful oasis from ambition.

Gratitude also seems to be a writerly re-set button. Remembering all the people who took time for me is humbling. Humility and gratitude make it easier to give myself time to grow as a writer.

(You can find earlier posts here: 1. The Gift of Attention , 2. The Gift of Permission, 3. The Gift of Hospitality, 4. The Gift of Feedback)

5. The Gift of a Deadline: the value of markers in the sand

Even after a manuscript has been re-written and polished, there are so many steps to work through before it can be sent out into the world. Gratitude helps my writing motivation and so does a solid deadline.

Fortunately for writers, the publishing community has a generous selection of contests that help great stories come to light. Here are a few of the ones that have helped me:

a. Get your pitch** ready. When I first heard about Twitter pitch contests, I didn’t get it. How could it help to describe your manuscript in 140 characters?

But Twitter pitches aren’t just a catchy sales technique to find an agent or editor. Writing a Twitter pitch for #PitMad helped me identify my story’s core.

**Read all about pitches and find dates for upcoming contests at The Winged Pen.

Thanks to Authoress for organizing all the moving parts of so many pitch contests! I’m very grateful for the deadlines! Check out all of her contests here.

b. Get your query ready.

Michelle Hauck offers several contests that require a query letter: Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street, Sun versus Snow, Picture Book Party, and New Agent. I got great feedback in the New Agent contest.

Thanks Michelle Hauck for organizing these great opportunities!

Thanks Wade Albert White for your excellent feedback on my query and first 250 words and a even a synopsis! (Talk about over and above!) His middle grade book is available for pre-order on Amazon: THE ADVENTURER’S GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL ESCAPES. You can add it to your GoodReads list here.

c. Get your first page(s) ready.

  • Secret Agent Contest Submit the first 250 words of a completed manuscript. Monthly except June and December. While you’re at Authoress’s website, Miss Snark’s First Victim, check out her other contests.

The other contestants weigh in on the entries, so you’ll get lots of feedback even if the Secret Agent doesn’t comment on yours. And the feedback I got from superagent Linda Epstein made me say: “Oh, that’s what they mean by tension!” Invaluable.

Thanks again, Authoress!

Thanks Secret Agent Linda Epstein!

Kathy Temean’s contest lets you submit 250 words to a different agent each month. If your entry is chosen, you get specific agent feedback on your page.

Thanks Kathy Temean for organizing this monthly contest and for interviewing new agents every month! Sign up for her excellent newsletter here.

Thanks to YA author and literary agent, Marie Lamba, for her insightful feedback!

d. Get a once-over for you first 50 pages. Or your whole manuscript.

Believe it–writers are generous people. #PitchWars is a contest where over 100 authors volunteer to read submitted manuscripts and fight over the privilege of working with their favorite over the next three months. For a taste of what these generous writers are like, check out my fellow Winged Pen mentors here.

Some mentors even offer feedback to manuscripts they didn’t take on. I really appreciated hints I got back from my almost-mentors that my story was starting too late. It’s easy to write a few more chapters for the beginning once you have feedback like that.

Thanks for organizing this amazing event every year Brenda Drake! I don’t know how you do what you do. You’re always thinking up new ways to fish writers work out of obscurity.

Add these books published by #pitchwars authors to your reading list.

If, like me, you didn’t get into PitchWars or you missed the deadlines for these contests, there’s no need to despair. There’s more generosity going on all the time. I’ve seen a number of charity auctions offering great writerly prizes to raise money for colleagues, help refugees, or to celebrate a writing anniversary.

For example, here’s one that was organized by middle grade author, Shannon Hale. Auctions are often announced on Twitter.

I was fortunate to win a 50-page critique from Jackson Eflin in honor of Ava Jae’s Blogoversary.

Thanks Ava Jae!

Thanks Jackson!

This post is getting too long again now, so I have to stop. But there are always more opportunities to help and be helped as a writer. If the contests above aren’t quite the kind of deadline you’re looking for, the Sub it Club does a contest round-up every month.

Feel free to mention your favorite writing contest below in the comments. I’d love to hear about your experiences of generosity.

Happy writing! Happy submitting!

So that’s my fifth installment of gratitude for my writing journey. (The earlier posts are: 1. The Gift of Attention , 2. The Gift of Permission, and 3. The Gift of Hospitality, and 4. The Gift of Feedback.) More to come!

If you’d like to share about people who helped you see your own work clearly, please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear about it!

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“Sharing: A Practice of the Heart” at The Mudroom

Interior castle courtyard. Half-timbered houses nestled together for safety.

In medieval castles, people traded living space for protection. What will you trade for the life you want? Eltz Castle, Germany. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

This month, I’m over at The Mudroom blog writing about Simplicity, Intentionality, and Living Small. That’s their theme for August. Here’s a taste of my essay:

Sharing: A Practice of the Heart

How do you decide to voluntarily limit the space you occupy in the world?

When I moved to Germany four years ago with my family, I thought we’d live the romantic European life. An apartment instead of a house and garden, string bags for the daily grocery shopping, errands by streetcar, vacations by train, and fresh vegetables from the market square.

Read the rest of the post over at The Mudroom.

Thanks for reading!

Laurel

 

 

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