Tuesday, July 18, 2023

She's Always Ready to Play Jenga.

Image by Susan Foster.

I sometimes participate in a monthly six-word photo story challenge on Medium. When I saw that "play" was the prompt for July, the idea for this photo and the following two-sentence "story" came to mind.

The tower falls. We try again.


These six words do tell a story, but they leave out the details of why and how this came about. 

During a long, cold winter when temperatures were well below zero, I tried to think of ways to keep our dog entertained. So I taught her some tricks. 

One of which was how to play Jenga.

She caught on much more quickly than I anticipated. Almost right away, she got the concept of taking just one block from the tower.
Image by Susan Foster.

She doesn't like to take turns, but the "wait" command helps out with that.
Image by Susan Foster.

Most difficult of all was getting the main objective of the game across to her ... that the blocks must be removed gently from the stack so that none of the other blocks fall. Sometimes she does this. But often her enthusiastic approach causes the block tower to fall. 
Image by Susan Foster

We're still working on that. We stack them up and try again.

When we finish playing, she helps me put the blocks back in the bag. This cleanup effort requires lots of prompts, but I've seen toddlers be less cooperative.
Image by Susan Foster.

I was not the first person to teach a dog to play Jenga. I got the idea from this video on Instagram that features a dog named Secret, probably the best canine Jenga player, ever. Secret and Mary, her human, set the bar for the rest of us pretty high! I doubt that we will ever get that good, but it's fun to try.


In addition to the original small blocks, there's even a giant version of the game of Jenga, with jumbo blocks that stack to over five feet high, I wonder what our dog would think of that!


One word of warning: Jenga blocks used with canine players may become riddled with tooth marks. It's pretty tempting for a dog to occasionally chomp right down on them!

This blog post contains affiliate links for products I believe in. This does not affect the price of items purchased, but I may receive some compensation. 

Have you ever seen a dog play Jenga? 

Friday, June 23, 2023

Do You Read More at Certain Times of the Year than Others?

 Is There a Reading Season?

set of old red reading primers on a shelf
Image by author, Susan Foster

Some people think of summer as the time for reading novels. Their favorite time to read is at the beach, on an airplane headed to a vacation destination, or maybe even during a long car ride, if they're traveling as a passenger and not prone to motion sickness!

Other people may be more likely to pick up a novel during the winter and read curled up by the fire or cuddled under blankets in bed, spending the long dark evenings under the spell of a book.

Me–I read fiction any season, anytime, and as much as I can. I have always loved books. Maybe that's why, instead of just reading fiction, I now write it, too.

What I'm Reading Now

I just finished Rock, Paper, Scissors by Alice Feeny, and it kept me up quite late a couple of nights. It was a real page-turner, the kind that really keeps the reader guessing.

Next up, I'm going to read The Bird Cage, a novella by Krista Lynn White. I've met Krista through the Women's Fiction Writer's Association, and I really can't wait to read this book. I't gotten wonderful reviews and for a limited time–RIGHT NOW (June 23-25, 2023)–it is FREE on Amazon!

How about you?

  • When do you like to read?
  • What books have you enjoyed lately?
Leave a comment and let me know if you read either of the books I've recommended today.
And hurry and grab your free ebook of The Bird Cage before the price goes up!

Happy reading!


Saturday, October 22, 2022

12 Things to Do Before Winter Arrives

Winter is Coming

A view of blue sky and fall foilage from a patio under a pergula
We've had an unusually long season of warm autumn days and beautiful fall colors this year.

Today is October 22, 2022, and we have had a spectacular, unusually long autumn in Montana. It is about to come to an abrupt end, as this weekend is rainy, temperatures are plummeting, and precipitation will likely turn to snow by this afternoon or evening.

Thanks to the weather app on my phone, I realized our fall season was nearing an end and I began winterizing this past week. I reviewed a blog post I once wrote about chores that should be completed before freezing weather sets in, and I’m happy to report I’ve accomplished most of the tasks on my list.

It is a handy guide, so I’m sharing sections of that old post here with you today. I hope you find it helpful.

Snow covering a fence post in Montana

October 6, 2015: 
The weather recently reminded us that winter in Montana is almost here. On Saturday the temperature never climbed above 40 (Fahrenheit), it was damp and overcast, and the wind was fiercely cold. At one point there were even snow flurries, and icy bits hailed down. I was wishing I had remembered to wear long underwear under my jeans, as I watched my son's team play soccer.

Much of this week is supposed to be sunny, with temperatures in the 70's during the day. I am happy we will still have some warmer weather, however we have been fairly warned - the snow will soon fly and temperatures will plummet. 

I came up with a list of 12 things. Perhaps you should consider doing some of them as well.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

What Can You Be the Best at in the World?

Daughter, Find Your Purpose: A short story.

I haven't written much this past month or so, but I've always found a writing challenge to be a good motivator to get me back in the writing habit. The "Ask Yourself Empowering Questions" writer's challenge has done just that, and I have been working through the list of ten prompts. 

Rather than explore and write about my own “best gift,” I answered prompt #7 “What can you be the best at in the world?” with a short piece of fiction.

The main character's talent fits well with the theme of this blog, making the most of every moment, so I've decided to share this story here. Enjoy ... 

Image by author, Susan Foster

Daughter, Find Your Purpose

The king stared hard at his daughter. She was 14 and floundering. It seemed she had no purpose. Life as a royal had made her soft. When he was her age, a commoner not yet married to the queen, he had worked hard to survive. He chopped wood, hunted, fished, and foraged for his family. He cared for his younger siblings and often counseled his widowed mother. All of these responsibilities taught him decision-making and leadership. He knew those traits made him a good leader. But, what was his eldest daughter even good at? It was time, he decided, for her to find out.

“Daughter, I am giving you a task. You have one week to figure out what you can be the best at in the world. Once you do, I want you to tell me about it. Together, we will decide how this will affect your future. It is time you found your purpose.”

His daughter, Maribeth, gazed at him with love in her eyes. “Yes, father. I would like to do that. Can you tell me how?”

“No, dear daughter, discovering your gifts is something you must do by yourself. Now, off you go, and find your skill.”

Deep in thought, Maribeth wandered towards her chambers. Her path to her room was not a direct one, however, as was so often the case. In the hallway just down from her bedroom, she encountered Jane, her lady-in-waiting, struggling to carry a heavy load of bed linens. Kindly, Maribeth took part of the burden and carried the sheets to the laundry tub for the maid. On the way back, she stopped to steady a ladder while the lamplighter replaced a high candle.

Once finally in her room, Maribeth sat with quill in hand at her desk, staring at a piece of parchment upon which she had written 

Things I am best at:
#1. …

Maribeth was stuck. She couldn’t think of even one thing to add to her list. 

As she sat there, her thoughts were interrupted by a tapping sound. Following the whispery noise, she realized a moth had become trapped behind the heavy drapery over her window. Carefully she lifted it and released the poor creature into the open air.

Sighing, she thought perhaps a ride would inspire her. Maribeth changed into her riding habit and walked down to the stables. It took a while, because en-route, she retrieved a ball that had been kicked by two small children over a wall; played fetch with one of the dogs that guarded the castle; helped the gardener weed a patch of the flower garden; and directed a merchant the kitchen door so he could sell his basket of produce to the cook.

Upon arrival to the stables, Maribeth realized the grooms were frantically busy getting ready for the upcoming hunt. She told them not to worry, she could curry and saddle her own horse. Before doing so, she grabbed a pitchfork and cleaned the stall, so they would have one less task to do. 

Towards the end of her ride, Maribeth came upon one of the castle’s barn cats, with a badly injured paw. It appeared to have caught its foot in something, perhaps a snare, and the cat had injured it pulling loose. Gently, she scooped the cat into her skirt, climbed back into her saddle, and rode home cradling it in her lap, soothing it with her voice. Once there, she cleaned and bandaged the wound and brought the cat to her bedroom for surveillance and further care. The feral cat seemed to know she was helping it and didn’t try to scratch or bite her, even though it was clearly in pain.

Throughout the week Maribeth’s days continued much the same. She added writing, cooking, needlepoint, playing piano, painting, and singing to her list, but then crossed off each one. Although she was competent in all these skills, she knew she was far from the best in the world at any of them. In addition to English, she could speak French and German, but neither as fluently as her sister. Maribeth was good at her lessons but didn’t know enough science or arithmetic to consider herself a scholar. She began to wonder if she even had a gift or a purpose.

Just before the two weeks were up, Maribeth’s lady-in-waiting found her in the garden, crying. “My lady, whatever is the matter.”

“Oh, Jane. Remember I told you father tasked me with discovering what I am best at in the world, and gave me one week to do so? Well, this afternoon I must report to him, and I can’t think of anything I am best at. How can I be so worthless?”

“Worthless,” Jane scoffed. “You are the least worthless royal I have encountered in all of my days. “Worthless -pffishh. No, my dear lady, what you are, actually, is worth your weight in gold. You are a gem.”

“WHaaaat? What do you mean?” Maribeth sniffed and rubbed her tears on her sleeve.

“My lady, your gift is your heart. You show others compassion and caring every chance you get. No creature, be it butterfly or maid, is unworthy of your attention. You make life easier for everyone around you, every single day. You have a healing touch and a compassionate soul. Your gift, dearest m’lady Maribeth, is the gift of love.”

Maribeth stared at her, wide-eyed. “But, Jane, surely others are no different from me. I need to find something I am the best at in the world. The things you have mentioned are so easy to do, anyone could do those things.”

“Anyone could, my lady, but not everyone does. Go tell your father I said these things, and he will recognize them in you, too. Your father is a good king because he has good leadership skills. As queen, one day, you will be an equally good leader because you are so well-loved.”

Maribeth gave Jane a quick kiss on the cheek and thanked her for her insight. With her head held high, her heart bursting with humble pride, she went to find her father.


As you now probably realize, Maribeth finds joy in making the most of everyone else's moments. Do you think her father will consider this a worthy talent?


If you are needing some writing inspiration or want a place to publish your own work, I highly recommend checking out the website Medium and the thought-provoking “Ask Yourself Empowering Questions” writer’s challenge. See details here.


Links to some of my other writing challenge responses:

Prompt #1: What Does it Mean to Be Human? Why are we all suspended on the side of a spinning ball in a vast universe?

Prompt #2: What experience do I want to create now? Is a Bountiful Harvest Still Within Reach?

Prompt #3: What is your worst flaw and why are you keeping it? Why Would Anyone Refuse to Give Up Their Worst Flaw? 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Delight in the Moment: Focus on the Positive

Wow - it's been over a month since I've published here. I've been beating myself up about neglecting this blog again, but some sad, happy, and time-consuming events sidelined my writing.

Here's some of what's been going on:

  • Our 18-year-old kitty became very ill and required quite a bit of care and attention in his last days. Grief over the loss of him has been real and catches me at unexpected moments. 
Kitty sleeping on a towel, wearing a diaper

  • My son graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. Fortunately, we were all fully vaccinated and COVID restrictions had eased up, so my husband, daughter, and I (with our dog!) drove to Oregon. We spent the weekend of my son's virtual commencement ceremony celebrating graduation with him and a few of his friends and their parents.
German Shepherd running on a sandy beach

  • Our "6-week" home renovation project (now in its 8th month) finally finished up enough that, upon returning from Oregon, we were able to move our belongings back upstairs. I'm enjoying having a kitchen to cook in once again!

  • The third week of May, Mother Nature gifted us with somewhere between a foot and 18 inches of snow. After a few days, it all melted and temperatures warmed up. Suddenly all the outdoor spring/summer tasks were screaming for attention! 
A snowy scene, dated May 21st.

A blow to my self-esteem

For Mother's Day, my husband gave me the book The Woman With the Blue Star, by Pam Jenoff. She also wrote The Lost Girls of Paris, which he knew I enjoyed. I learned from her author bio on the book cover that, despite being a mother of three children and a law professor, she still has managed to publish eleven novels, including several best sellers. 

This was a bit of a blow to my ego – if she could manage all that, why do I let life events prevent me from writing and spending time at my computer?

A poetry prompt made me feel better

I'm always vowing to set up and adhere to better writing routines, but I came across a poetry prompt that gave me a bit of a different perspective. It reminded me of the value of delighting in the current moment. Instead of just berating ourselves for what we haven't done, it is important to celebrate our accomplishments. 

I wrote a few lines that describe my experience at the time when I read the prompt:

Delight in the Moment  

For the first time in a few days, the breeze is chill.
I’m warmed by a cup of coffee and sunbeams from the east.
I watch my dog as she stares up the hill,
ears at attention, her eyes riveted on a bunny.
A word from me holds her in place
but she does not break her focus.

Her thoughts are only of the rabbit.
Her ball and her bone both are momentarily abandoned and forgotten.
I wonder if I should adopt this habit,
of simply concentrating on only one thing until it is complete.
Once the bunny moves on, it will be forgotten and
the dog will entertain herself a different way.

Prior to this moment, I was in a fret.
I’m overwhelmed by all I need to accomplish and my long to-do list.
I’m frustrated by self-expectations recently not met,
but I try to remind myself of all I have been doing.
Can I exchange my disappointment and my angst
for my dog’s single-minded attentiveness?

I contemplate the promise of the rising sun.
I resolve to adjust my mindset and give myself the grace I would give others.
Rather than worry about all that’s left undone,
I will enjoy and celebrate every achievement of the day.
My dog as my mentor, I will try to remember to 
embrace the present and delight in the moment.

A dog with a focused look and ears at attention.

Focus on the positive

I hope that if you (like me) have been irritated with yourself for anything you have not accomplished, my attempt at free-form poetry will remind you to celebrate your achievements and delight in the present.

Happy summer everyone!


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

A Onomatopoetic Conversation (A Word Prompt Fiction Story)

 I'm trying again. I posted this story here last week and two hours after I published it, it disappeared! I have no idea if the cause was something I did or something Google did. I wonder if perhaps the previous title I created (using some of the word prompt words) sounded a little smutty (not intentionally!) and perhaps Blogger flagged the post as inappropriate content (it's not!) and took it down. I've contacted them but have had no response.

Moral of this story, ALWAYS keep a copy of your work!

Anyway, I rewrote it as best I could and I am sharing it again today, using a different title. Hopefully, this time it will stay up long enough for you to read it!

I wrote this piece of fiction using word prompts. See below for more details.

An Onomatopoetic Conversation

Sooo.” My mom crooned, in a soft persuasive murmur, “Are you going to help me?”

Mmmmm.” This sound came out of my full mouth garbled and non-committal–I uttered it both as a platitude and a moan of pleasure. The piece of steak I was chewing was so rare I almost heard it moo before I put it in my mouth, just the way I like it. 

My mother was not placated. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!” Her tone rose to a shriek. “Egad. Were you even listening to me? Did you even hear a word I said?”

Still working on my steak, I took a big schlurppp of my wine and swallowed. I tried hard, but I couldn’t suppress the impulse to giggle at her expletives, and I let out a big guffaw.

Hmph.” My mom’s state of annoyance came surging through the phone line. You know my car is in the shop this week. I need you to run some errands before we all congregate tomorrow.”

I asked, “Hm… What do you need me to do again?"

“Grrrphhhh. Grrr.” No one can growl quite the way my mother can. The sound of it made me jump. I accidentally dropped my fork, and it landed on the steak with a SPLAT and splattered the bloody juice all over my shirt.

“Just a minute, mom!” After listening for the barely audible clink, indicating I had switched the phone to mute, I then set it down. I walked over to where the light was coming in through the window over the kitchen sink and examined the stain on my shirt. I squirted a little dish soap on it and tried to rub it out. The friction of the fabric sounded like the whoosh of a bird’s wings when it takes off in flight.

Before unmuting my phone, I nostalgically said to myself, “onomato-PEE-AHHHHH.” Many years ago my brother and I had created this word, to describe the way our mother often used onomapeia when she spoke. Suddenly, I was looking forward to the dinner, when I would congregate with my siblings and reminisce about our childhood.

Eager to avoid the hazard of my mother’s wrath, I apologized for my lapse in listening to her earlier in the call.

I said, “Yoikes! I’m sorry I wasn’t paying proper attention to you earlier. Please tell me exactly what you need.”

“As I said, I’d like you to go to the market and pick the groceries for our family dinner. I’d also like for you to buy me a peasant skirt.”

"A peasant skirt," I squawked. "Why on earth do you need a peasant skirt?" 

Mom explained, “My women’s club meets this weekend, and we will discuss the painting Return from Market by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and a poem Eavan Boland wrote about it. I plan to go in costume and imitate the woman in the painting. It seems like a good way to add some zing to a meeting that could otherwise be sort of boring.

“Oh, Mom,” I said. “Where would I even find a peasant skirt? Are they even in style anymore?”

“Don’t worry, honey. I called around, and the boutique on 5th Street has just the skirt I want. You can just pay for it and pick it up.”

“Ka-ching!” I rolled my eyes at such a frivolous purchase and then immediately felt glad we weren’t on a video chat. Eye rolls always angered Mom! 

“Mom, everything in that store costs a fortune. But if you want me to, I will buy the skirt for you.”

I then told her about the bloody steak stain on my shirt, and (of course) she offered to get it out. She said I could drop the shirt off to her upon my return from the market when I delivered her the groceries. Although she was originally very irritated with me, before we hung up Mom told me to be prepared — she planned on giving me a hug and a great big smooch.

Two separate challenges supplied the prompts. 

To write this story, I used the prompts from both the 4/28/21 Words for Wednesday Challenge and a challenge from writer, Micheal Burg, MD (AKA Medium Michael Burg).

The First Challenge

The Words for Wednesday weekly writing challenge prompts were provided this month by Wisewebwoman on her blog. I encourage you to go to the comments there and read the other stories writers have posted.

The prompts she supplied this week:
~ An image of a painting and two lists of words taken from a poem about the painting, written by Eavan Boland:

  • Congregate, Impulse, Market, Peasant
  • Wine, Surging, Light, Hazard
  • “Back from Market” a painting by Chardin.

The second challenge: 

Michael Burg provided a list of prompts in his post, A Fun Onomatopoetic Prompt. He solicited the favorite “sounds” of other writers, then complied those in a list and challenged his readers to write a story using all of them. 

Here is his list of words:
(Spellcheck complained a lot about these! 😉)

hmph, sooo, clink, Hm…, Grrr (growl), SPLAT, Mmmmm, whoosh, 
Ka-ching!,onomato-PEE-AHHHHH, murmur, egad, Guffaw, Schlurpppp, Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!, Moo, Yoikes!, Giggle, Grrrrphhhh, zing


Just for fun

I added a few onomatopoeic words of my own. Did you spot them?


Saturday, May 1, 2021

Do Other Writers Have These Thoughts?

When my insecurities woke me up one night, I wrote them down.

bed and bedside table with a light
Image by Susan Foster.

A Writer's Doubts.

Are the hours I sit in my chair in front of my computer time well spent?
Should I be doing something else instead?

Hours go by, and all I do is write.
Is this a worthwhile effort? 
Should I be doing something else?

Do other writers feel the way I do?
Do they have feelings of uncertainty and doubt,
as they write the minutes of their lives away?

Are the words that spray out from my pen ever any good?
Are the thoughts I share just commonplace or are they brilliant news?
Do people read my work because it draws them in?
Or do they read only out of loyalty to me or, worse yet, obligation?

Have other writers found my work because it’s too good not to read, 
or simply because I left a comment on one of their own stories
and they want to return the favor?

What would I be doing if I wasn’t writing?
Should I be spending such vast quantities of time on this?

Perhaps these questions are of a futile type.
I’m not sure there’s anything I can do but write.

I’m not sure there’s any way I cannot write.

Do other writers have thoughts like this?
Or are these concerns and doubts uniquely mine?

Do you ever get up and record your own thoughts at night? If you do, are you then able to go back to sleep?

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Life is like a Box of Chocolates–and a Bowl of Pistachios

Shelling pistachios taught me a lesson about life's challenges.

bowl of unshelled pistachios

Forrest Gump’s insight on life was a little incomplete.

Tom Hanks, while acting as Forrest Gump, was right when he said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” But he would probably agree that dealing with the challenges we face is a lot like shelling a bowl of pistachios.

I thought of this as I was snacking on a bowl of unshelled pistachios. I kept picking up and putting down the ones with the shells that were the toughest ones to crack. After eating all the easily shelled nuts, I turned my attention to trying to crack the rest. It occurred to me that we tend to deal with life’s tough problems in quite a similar way.

We usually crack the easy nuts first - but should we?

I think it’s human nature to tackle our easy tasks and problems first. We often procrastinate and put the harder chores aside, to work on after other ones are complete. Time management advisors frown on doing this; they say you should tackle tough issues early in the day when you have the most time for them. In her article, How to Stop Procrastinating And Start Accomplishing, Caroline Castrillion points out, 

“The more challenging the tasks are, the more energy and concentration we need to complete them.”

Sometimes it’s ok to leave the tough nuts until last 

Do the hard stuff first is good advice… but, think about that bowl of nuts. Would you methodically pick out all the barely open pistachios and work at cracking all of them open before you enjoy the others? Of course you wouldn’t, unless someone offered you a challenge or told you that was what you had to do.

What this says to me, is that we can choose to do the hard things first, but it takes a lot of discipline. I’m not saying the experts are wrong, just pointing out that their advice can be hard to follow. Their way might be the best way, but it’s good to keep in mind that it's not the only way.

Trying to shell tough nuts (or complete tough tasks) can become less frustrating and less daunting once you’ve already had success with the rest.

Shelling a tough nut may seem more impossible than it is 

A pistachio nut may initially seem impossible to open, but after practicing on the easy ones, you may have learned patience and some new techniques. You mastered the skill of twisting the shell open but learned your fingernails are not strong enough to pry some nuts apart. 

If you use a knife blade as a fulcrum, from your experience with the easily shelled nuts, you’ll know just where to insert the point and how to twist to open this one. 

 One advantage to doing easier tasks first is they may show you difficult ones are not as hard as you first thought, because you’ve figured out a different way to do them.

scattered, partially shelled pistachios

Not all nuts can be cracked

Most importantly, I think, my bowl of pistachios taught me that not all nuts can be cracked. In a bag of pistachios, you will encounter a few nuts that have no discernable seam down the middle. Short of bashing them to pieces with a hammer, there is no way you can open them. 

Some tasks in life are like that too. Sometimes we have to just give up and leave them in the bowl … or find someone better trained or skilled (to act as a hammer) to do the task for us.

Life is full of surprises and challenges

As Forrest Gump said, life is just like a box of chocolates and always full of surprises. We never know just what will happen next. 

It is also full of challenges of varying difficulty. It is good to remember that, like a bowl of pistachios, sometimes we have to find different ways to deal with them, but almost all our challenges can be successfully dealt with, even if we sometimes have to get some help.