Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Not quite a new coat of paint

Years ago, a guy I knew had a pretty cool car. It wasn’t the first cool car I’d known this guy to have, nor was he the only guy I knew who had a cool car, but I digress here. 

Back to the story…

One summer, the guy with the cool car decided he could make the car even better, and when he did, he’d be even prouder of the vehicle on which he’d spent more than a lot of his hard-earned money and a bunch of elbow grease and love. 

He took that car – a 1962 Impala, if memory serves me right – for a brand-new paint job. When he got it back, it looked as if it had just rolled off the assembly line, and he was as proud of it as a new dad is of a first-born child. 

Back then, I’d never had a vehicle of my own or worked so hard to have something look just so, so as the teenager I was, I didn’t fully understand the pride he had in his vehicle or the care he took to keep it looking good. 

It’s funny what the years will do, the way your perspective changes – on life, on hard work and labors of love. 

I don’t have a classic Chevy, though don’t think I don’t get a bit nostalgic when I see one. 

Another labor of love

I do, though, have a blog. 

It’s my labor of love. 

Just as that teenaged boy put a lot of hard work and caring into his car that summer, I’ve been sprucing up my blog. 

If you’re one of my newspaper readers, reading online through The State Journal-Register or The Register-Mail, you may have missed some of my early blog posts and the landing pages on my blog, where I share the stories behind why I write about the things I do.

This week, I took a little time to “put a new coat of paint” on my blog. I went through all of the articles I’ve written over the past few months. 

Now, when you select a specific category on my blog,, you can find all the stories I’ve written related to that category. And, yes, you’ll find some posts in more than one category, because my interests, my passions, my experiences overlap. 

What you’ll find

Wonder what you’ll find there – what my interests are?

I’m a reader and a writer, so if you like books or writing or reading about writing, you may enjoy the stories in “A book is perking,” “Books worth reading” and “Wanna be a writer.” 

I love life – little moments, big dreams, and words from others that capture joy and inspire people to soar. Musings along these lines normally fall into “Been thinkin’,” “Found a quote” and “Simple things.”

Born on the prairies of Illinois, I loved my native state, yet trips to Missouri, which my grandfather left for the Land of Lincoln nearly a century ago, always left me with a pull to its hills and lakes and relaxed lifestyle. As I traveled from one state to the other off and on for more than 20 years, often on the interstate highways or railroads along Route 66, the Mother Road, its history and its slower pace called to me and led me to the musings which birthed this blog. You’ll see my affection for these two neighboring, alike yet different states and the road which ties them together in “Inspired in Illinois,” “Mother Road” and “Missouri Minute.”

There are two other things at play in creating the me I am today – I, like 79 million other Americans, am a Baby Boomer. And, as are all humans, I’m who I am because of the people who have crossed my path – in my case, many incredible, inspirational, courageous souls. Boomers, you’ll probably relate to my “Boomer Banter” stories. And, may you all cross paths with and feel the touch in your lives of “Sensational Beings.” I can’t wait to have you meet some of the ones in my life. 

Come and sit a spell

If you like what you read in my newspaper posts or online, and you wonder about the rest of my words, stop by the blog, dig around a bit, leave me a comment if you’d like.

I think I’m a bit like that guy I once knew. 

I spruced my blog up for me. It makes me feel good to think it’s all nice and shiny. 

But I did it for you, too. 

You can’t tell me that guy didn’t like it when someone walked past and said, “Wo, cool car.” 

I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t admit I hope you say, “Cool blog posts.”

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

 (Image via)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Jennifer Niven does it again with ‘Becoming Clementine’

I first heard the name Jennifer Niven back in the early ‘90s, about the time her mother Penelope Niven’s nearly 900-page biography of Carl Sandburg was published.

In a lecture at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Ill., Niven shared a story of her young daughter, growing up with a mother “obsessed with a dead guy” as the elder Niven studied the prairie poet.

I’m not sure if it were the mother’s pride, her storytelling abilities, or her optimism, but I was convinced that day that not only the elder Niven, but the younger one, too, were to leave marks on the literary world. 

My suspicions were correct. 

Today, Sept. 25, is the release date for Jennifer Niven’s latest novel, “Becoming Clementine.” 

Jennifer’s name was splashed across a page – a screen, actually – shortly after her mother’s Sandburg biography was published. The daughter’s first work was an Emmy award-winning screenplay, “Velva Jean Learns to Drive.” 

Jennifer followed that with a non-fiction arctic adventure story, “The Icemaster;” the biography of an Inuit adventurer, “Ada Blackjack;” a memoir of her own high school years in the big hair days of the 1980s, “The Aqua-Net Diaries; “ and two novels, “Velva Jean Learns to Drive” and “Velva Jean Learns to Fly.” 

It seems as if life itself is an adventure for Jennifer, and it shows in her books. A diligent researcher, Niven leaves no pebble unturned, yet gifted storyteller, she knows how to weave a tale without threads that go astray. 

In “Becoming Clementine,” Jennifer continues the story of Velva Jean Hart, the character who endeared herself to us in the first two novels. In the series, the author invited us along with the young girl from the mountains of North Carolina as Velva Jean learned to drive, to sing, to fly a biplane, to serve her country as a pilot. 

The latest novel adds to the adventure in ways most of us would have never expected when we first met the young girl. In a quest for her missing brother, the pilot Velva Jean finds her way to Europe.  Once there, as she enters the field of espionage, it may seem as if we’ll lose our Velva Jean when she becomes Clementine Roux.

Yet, be she Clementine or Velva Jean, the adventurous spirit we grew to love remains ever determined, gutsy and inspirational. Just as she’s done in each of her previous works, Jennifer Niven holds her audience spellbound from the first page to the last and sets the stage for Velva Jean’s next adventure.  

What’s that? 

How does 1940s Hollywood grab you? Guess what Velva Jean wants to be next.

Isn’t Jennifer lucky that she can help make Velva Jean’s dreams – and her own – come true and keep us entertained in the process?

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

 (Image via)

Galesburg’s native son celebrated on PBS special tonight

About a year ago, while I was still living in Central Illinois, my husband and I drove one evening from our home south of Bloomington to Champaign for a long- anticipated viewing of filmmaker Paul Bonesteel’s documentary, “The Day Carl Sandburg Died.” 

A student and enthusiast of Sandburg’s work for several decades – one who has two Sandburg Days trivia contest trophies to prove it – I’d eagerly awaited the film since I first learned of Bonesteel’s work on the six-year project. My husband, not a Galesburg native, became a new Sandburg enthusiast that evening, thanks to Bonesteel’s magnificent rendering of the poet’s life and legacy.

Tonight, Monday, Sept. 24, at 9 p.m. Central Time, you, too, can see this film. 

At the Champaign screening last year, Bonesteel announced that he’d just learned the film would be featured on PBS’s American Masters, something the filmmaker had hoped for since he first began work on the project chronicling the touch of the Galesburg-born poet, author and Lincoln biographer, and troubadour. 

Sandburg, the son of Swedish immigrant parents, born near the railroad yards where his father worked dawn to dusk seven days a week , captured a great deal of Galesburg history and the story of his early years in his autobiographies, “Prairie Town Boy” and “Always the Young Strangers.” He also captured the living, breathing soul of early 20th Century Chicago and its people in his poetry. 

Early morning walks across Galesburg’s Knox College campus, home of an 1858 debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, where he’d stop “in winter sunrise, in broad summer daylight, in falling snow or rain, in all the weathers of a year” to look at the plague commemorating the debate, aroused an interest in the 16th President so strong that it led Sandburg to write a six-volume Lincoln biography.

And I’ve only touched upon the man and his work…

Whether you’re a Sandburg enthusiast as I am or know as little as my husband did before our trek to Champaign last year, you won’t want to miss the film this evening. 

Paul Bonesteel is also a lifelong Sandburg enthusiast, one with roots not in the prairies of Central Illinois, but in the mountains of North Carolina, where Sandburg made his home for several decades at a home called Connemara. The large Civil War-era estate where Sandburg did much of his later writing is a National Park Service site with trails, mountain overlooks and goats descended from Sandburg’s wife Paula’s herd. It’s a delight to visit.  

What impressed me most about Bonesteel as he worked on this project for more than six years was his diligence, moving ahead with the project though he didn’t have a stamp of approval, commitment or funding from any major network, capturing interviews with creative legends such as Studs Terkel, Pete Seeger and Norman Corwin, connecting with Sandburg’s grandson John Carl Steichen, who shared never-before-seen family video footage. 

What impressed me once I saw it was Paul Bonesteel’s gift as a filmmaker, his ability to put a storyteller’s story on film with a depth of detail, passion and artistic talent that parallels that of the Galesburg-born poet we both admire. 

“The Day Carl Sandburg Died” airs tonight, Monday, Sept. 24 on PBS at 9 p.m. Central Time. Watch the trailer and learn more here:

The film is sure to create a new appreciation for Sandburg and his work. 

Don’t miss it.

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

(Image via)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Immersed in words

Ever feel as if you were drowning in something, anything, but that whatever was drowning you was a good sort of immersion? 

That’s how it’s been for me recently. On the Friday before Labor Day, after working together at my home all week on the news site we produce, my co-editor and I took a road trip to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, Mo.  Though we didn’t read that day, other than book covers, museum wall plaques and the skimpy menu at a luncheon stop we’ll not include on another trip, or write, it was, nonetheless, a literary adventure. 

Honestly, how can you be surrounded by Little House memorabilia and not feel connected to words, to storytelling? 

The following week, I was off on my own adventure—embarking on a homecoming to the region where I lived for more than four decades, sifting through old family books and papers at my parents’ home, and taking my first biplane ride. I couldn’t wait each day to do my own storytelling, and I whipped up a number of blog posts to capture the joy of the experience.

Back home again, I spent a great deal of time keeping in touch with members of a different family—one I’ve never met, kindred spirits who share an admiration for the author Richard Bach and an appreciation for the magic he makes with words.

Just as Richard and his more-real-than-fictional character Donald Shimoda gathered around a campfire each evening, I’ve enjoyed time spent catching up with Richard’s family of readers who, like I do, miss his blog as he spends time in one of his least favorite places, a hospital,  after an Aug. 31 plane crash.

Instead of manuscripts and blog posts, we’re using our words to comfort each other, talk about Richard’s touch on our lives and the stories we all hold dear. 

But, I can’t be around literary spots, literary sorts, and not feel that tug that’s pulled at me since I was a child—that of a good book, so I’ve read, more than usual. 

A friend led me to the work of Andy Andrews. If you haven’t read “The Noticer” or “The Traveler’s Gift,” I recommend them. They help to remind us of the things that are most important in life, provide a roadmap for our adventure here.

And, because of an online bookseller’s mailing error, I received my copy of “Becoming Clementine” early. It’s the third book in Jennifer Niven’s series about a can-do-anything woman named Velva Jean. If the last name sounds familiar, it’s because Jennifer’s mother, Penelope Niven, wrote a 700-page biography of Carl Sandburg, the most comprehensive look at his life ever. 

Jennifer, though, is not riding on her mother’s coattails. With a nonfiction arctic adventure  story, a biography, a memoir and three novels to date, she’s an author worth paying attention to. She’s got a lot more up her sleeve—and it all promises to be bestselling material.

So, yes, when that book arrived on my step, I took it as a sign that I should stop everything and read it.

I did. It was worth it—more on that in another post.

Last Saturday was Wilder Days in Mansfield, so I was back on the road again for another dose of Laura. I had the privilege that day of meeting William T. Anderson, who has done a great deal of research and written or edited a number of books about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. 

You guessed it! I am now immersed in Wilder. 

These two women could take everyday happenings across three generations—Laura’s parents, hers and husband Almanzo’s, and Rose’s—and turn them into something enchanting, educational and entertaining. 

Pull a dictionary off the shelf, open it to any page and what will you find? Words—standing alone, waiting to be called upon.

But put them in the hands of a gifted writer, be it Laura or Rose, Richard or Andy, Jennifer or Penny, or William Anderson and what do you get?  Wonder, adventure, inspiration.

Oh, words—the magic they make when woven well. 

Tis no wonder I get immersed in them so. 

© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012  

(Image via)