Tag Archive | writing retreat

Progress

imagesLast week I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare in Wisconsin Dells again for a 4-day, solitary getaway. I packed heavier than usual this time. It took me 9 trips to bring everything from the car into the condo. I had one small suitcase with a few clothes, 3 briefcases full of books and notebooks, my computer, my piano keyboard with its ironing board-like stand and folding bench, a step stool so I can reach the top shelves of the kitchen cupboards (where the wine glasses are kept), an ice chest, and a bag of groceries. I’m not a backpacker when I travel. I like to have everything with me that I might “need.” Needless to say, I make myself comfortable in my 1100-square-foot timeshare.

I spent most of my 4 days sleeping, reading, working on my latest writing project, and going for walks when it wasn’t raining or snowing. I had a nice, relaxing time, and I made good progress on my writing project.

fullsizeoutput_2052Several months ago, when I stopped blogging weekly, I defined my next major writing project to be a daily devotional book that will be reflections on 365 of my favorite hymns. I started the project last fall by creating a list of all my favorite hymns and sorting them into the most appropriate month for each hymn.

By October, I was ready to start writing about the hymns for November – mostly hymns related to All Saints Day and Thanksgiving. I did my research on the background of each of those 30 hymns, and I contemplated my personal reasons for liking each hymn.

I designed a 2-page spread to follow for each hymn. The left page will include the hymn title, the tune name, the author of the hymn text including a brief bio of the author, the composer of the tune including a brief bio of the composer, the scripture the hymn is based on, and finally the story I want to tell about the significance of the hymn – what will make the book a devotional rather than just an annotated index to hymns I like. The right page will be a lead sheet for the hymn. I plan to create these lead sheets myself using Finale music writing software in order to address copyright concerns.

I have done most of this thinking, organizing, and writing during a few 2- or 3- day writing retreats at Christmas Mountain over the last several months. At home I’m too busy with other things to focus on such a big project. Over the past 10 years, most of my Christmas Mountain getaways have involved some writing – either writing blog posts or working on bigger projects like this.

fullsizeoutput_2051Late last fall when I had about a quarter of the November hymn devotions drafted, I decided to jump ahead to December’s hymns.

When I was about half done with December’s hymns, I decided to jump ahead to January’s hymns.

When I finished writing all 31 of January’s hymn devotions, I decided to change my approach. Rather than organizing the hymns seasonally, I decided to come up with 12 themes or styles of music, and to organize my favorite hymns within those 12 categories.

Each month will have a particular focus, rather than just being a collection of 30 or so separate hymns that loosely relate to the time of year. I’m currently envisioning this project as being twelve 68-page, self-published booklets. When they are all written I’ll decide whether or not I want to re-publish them as a single book.

My 12 themes, subject to change, are:

  1. Psalms
  2. God’s Love
  3. Lent
  4. Easter
  5. New Life
  6. Nature
  7. Classic Hymns
  8. Spirituals
  9. Gospel Songs
  10. Contemporary Styles
  11. Thankfulness
  12. Christmas

Obviously, many of my favorite hymns could fall into more than one category. Maybe I’ll incorporate cross references in the introduction to each section.

fullsizeoutput_204fI decided to start with Psalms because that’s where church music has it’s beginnings. In my “Introduction” to the Psalms booklet, I wrote:

God loved us so much that God gave us the ability to express ourselves through music. And God told us to use that gift. We are supposed to make music. The Bible is filled with examples of how to do that.…

The book of Psalms is often referred to as the hymnbook of the Bible. It consists of 150 poems set to music. Many of them are songs of praise addressed directly to God. Others are laments, sometimes blaming God for the sorry state the singer is in. Some of the Psalms plead with God for help. All the Psalms can be viewed as tools that can help us express our feelings to God, all kinds of feelings, both good and bad, or maybe it’s better to say happy and sad, peaceful and frustrated….

Over the years, many of these Psalm-based hymns have become favorites of mine. I can identify with the words, and the music helps me express the feelings within my soul….

I started the Psalm booklet with what is perhaps the most widely sung song throughout the English-speaking world today, Psalm 100, “All People That on Earth Do Dwell.” This well-known paraphrase of Psalm 100 was written by William Kethe for the Anglo-Genevan Psalter, published in 1561. The hymn has been published in more than 1,000 hymnals since that time. It is usually sung to a tune called “OLD HUNDREDTH,” composed by Louis Bourgeois in the mid-1500s.

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But this isn’t the only hymn out there that’s based on Psalm 100. About a hundred years later, Thomas Ken, an Anglican priest, wrote another paraphrase of Psalm 100, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,” often referred to as the “Doxology.” This hymn is also sung to the “OLD HUNDREDTH” tune. (This is the hymn we sang every Sunday while the ushers brought our offerings to the front of the church in the Methodist church where I grew up. We also sang it as the blessing at potlucks.)

About the same time this hymn was first being sung in England, Joachim Neander, a German Reformed Church teacher, wrote a much looser paraphrase of Psalm 100, and adapted a German folk tune to serve as the music for “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” This tune is now referred to as “LOBE DEN HERREN.” Two hundred years later, Neander’s paraphrase was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth. Her translation of this hymn has been published in more than 300 hymnals.

Over the centuries, many other hymns have been written based closely or loosely on Psalm 100. One of the most recent hymns that falls into the “loosely” category is “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah” written by prolific contemporary hymn writer Marty Haugen. He used a Caribbean folk tune to carry his joyful hymn.

The first 8 pages of the Psalms section of my devotional hymns project are devoted to Psalm 100, as expressed in these 4 hymns.

037615d43a4eb23542337b122c5d54d1The original song writer of Psalm 100 must be delighted to know how far and wide this Psalm has spread, especially considering that the Psalm begins with the words, “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands! Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing…” [Psalm 100:1-2 KJV] Millions of people have been singing this song of praise for thousands of years. I’m delighted to be counted among them!

That’s why I’m committed to undertaking this large writing project. I want to become even more aware of how valuable God’s gift of music is, and I want to share that awareness with others.

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The Magic of Books

 

Welcoming guests during our B&B years

Welcoming guests during our B&B years

Three years and three and a half months ago I started writing a book on hospitality. Last Wednesday, 1200 days after starting the project, I signed off on the book with the publisher. In a week or two I should hold the first copy of the published book in my hands.

Why did I want to write a book on hospitality? I guess it’s because I think I know something about the subject. Forty years ago Mim started to teach me everything she knew about hospitality. Then we learned new things together about being hospitable. The more we learned, the more we were ready to begin new adventures – like having both short-term and long-term roommates, turning our home into a B&B, and then caring for people who are dying in our home.

Besides learning about hospitality from trial and error, we also were curious about whether or not God had any instructions for us in the Bible about being hospitable. Needless to say, we’ve done our homework on the subject of hospitality. That’s why I felt ready and able to write a book on it. I also felt driven to do so because I think hospitality is so important.

 

Come Lord Jesus FRONTBut now it’s done. After 1200 days, writing the book is no longer on my to-do list. How do I feel about that? Strange. I guess it’s the “empty nest syndrome.” My baby has left home. I went to Christmas Mountain again for a few days last week. That’s where I wrote a lot of the book over the last few years. It seemed strange not to feel that I had to focus all my attention on writing or revising the text yet one more time. The last version, number 13(!), is the last. The book – Come , Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest: Adventures in Hospitality – is finished.

So what’s next? I hope it’s not writing another book – at least not for a while. I have about 1200 books I want to read first. As British novelist Angela Carter said, “A book is simply the container of an idea – like a bottle; what is inside the book is what matters.” I guess that means I have about 1200 more ideas to explore. That’s the magic of books. They provide a means of exploring new ideas. Fortunately, now it’s time for me to do some more exploring. Maybe I’ll write another book later, when I can’t help it. I’ll let you know.

 

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Time to explore some new ideas.

 

Making Progress

Holding Glasses over BibleFor thousands of years, from Abraham to Paul, God has been trying to teach us about hospitality – both by example and by instruction. From my mom to Mim, God has been teaching me to pay attention to all of these lessons. My second book, Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest:  Adventures in Hospitality, is my attempt to put everything I’ve learned about hospitality all together into one long, meandering story. There are many twists and turns in the story. Each episode tells about an event that happened in my life, that in retrospect, I can see – “Aha! That’s how God wants me to treat people.” Or – “Oh, that’s NOT what God wants me to do again.” Each episode begins with a Bible verse in which God may be saying, “See, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you in My Word.” Here’s an example of one of the shorter episodes early in the book.


WELCOMING THE FRIEND OF A FRIEND

Be kind to one another …
[Ephesians 4:32a NRSV]

I moved into Mim’s apartment in Chicago on February 1, 1973. I decided to get adjusted to my new job before I started to look for an apartment of my own. That was fine with Mim. We quickly learned to share the space, the food, and the expenses.

And we learned each other’s habits. One of Mim’s habits was inviting people into our home. One day she received a call from a college friend. A friend of this friend was taking the bus to Chicago. Mim’s friend asked her if she would take this young woman “under her wing” to be sure she was safely oriented to the city. Of course Mim agreed to do that.

greyhound busThe evening of this friend-of-a-friend’s arrival, Mim and I took the “el” down to the loop to the Greyhound Station to look for a young woman who would be looking for us, but none of us had a description of the other person. Eventually we figured out who was who, connected, and took the “el” home together. We gave her maps of the public transit system, described the safer and less safe areas of Chicago, let her sleep on our couch for a few nights, and then she was on her own.

Did we keep her safe? Did we help her out? I don’t really know. But I was beginning to think a little more about how we should treat strangers. With the same kindness you would treat your best friend, or Jesus himself, I guess. We need to “be kind to one another.”

—–

This week, I’m at Christmas Mountain for my last of three writing retreats I’ve taken over the past three months to complete the writing and revising of this book. Then I’ll begin the publishing process. If everything goes as planned, the book will be available in both paperback and e-book format by summer.

Last week, I tried to make the final changes to the third (and hopefully final) round of proofs on my first book, Listening for God:  52 Reflections on Everyday Life. Remember, this is my “learning curve” book. I’m learning quite a bit about the publishing process, which was my goal. Previously, I’ve never thought about whether or not I cared if the long tail on the drop-cap on the first word of each chapter actually touches the second letter of that word. Am I being too picky? Or, does that really make a difference in the readability of the text? Or does it make a significant difference in the overall appearance of the page and whether it looks inviting or sloppy? I’ll be glad to be done with this process. This isn’t the fun part of writing a book! Fortunately, the end is almost in sight, I think. I’ll let you know when the book becomes available.

One big thing I’ve learned already about writing and publishing books – I’d prefer to be doing just one book at a time! My mind gets too easily confused about what applies to each book. Pretty soon the first book will be done and available on Amazon.com. Then my mind can relax. Maybe…

The earliest picture I have of me thinking really hard about something - probably keeping 2 storybooks straight...

The earliest picture I have of me thinking really hard about something – probably keeping two storybooks straight…

The Price of Kindness and Gas

Christmas Mountain Village in Wisconsin Dells

Christmas Mountain Village in Wisconsin Dells

About noon on Friday I left Christmas Mountain in Wisconsin Dells to drive home for the weekend. I’ll return today (Monday) for three more days of my 10-day writing retreat. I’d made the reservations for this writing retreat a couple months ago. Since then a few things have come up for the weekend that required me to go back home. Fortunately, the drive is only a little over an hour. But on Friday, it was closer to two hours.

After I’d been on the road about twenty minutes my cellphone rang. It was Mim. She wanted to know if I remembered where I had put the music for “Mary Had a Baby.” One of my reasons for going home for the weekend was to play the piano to accompany Mim. She was going to sing “Mary Had a Baby” for a Scandinavian Christmas Hymn Sing at East Koshkonong Lutheran Church on Saturday afternoon. (“East” is one of two churches where I’m half-time organist.) I told Mim where I thought the music should be, but it wasn’t there. I suggested a few other places she could look – but the music wasn’t in any of those places either. Finally I thought, maybe I had taken it to Christmas Mountain with me to practice on my keyboard. I decided to take the next exit off I-90. I pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot to check my briefcase in the back seat of my car, just to be sure the music wasn’t there, before driving back to Christmas Mountain to look for it in the timeshare condo I was using for ten days.

As I got out of my car a man, probably in his thirties, walked up to me. He said he hated to ask, but he didn’t have quite enough gas to get where he was going. Could I give him a dollar or two to help him buy more gas.

US Currency - small bills 2The situation took me by surprise. When I lived in Chicago and worked in the Loop, people on the street asked me for money almost every day. I usually ignored the requests. Back then I rationalized that giving generously to churches and social service agencies instead would help more people. Today, I’m not so sure I made the right decision about that. I wasn’t being kind to the person in need right in front of me.

I moved to Wisconsin twenty years ago, and a stranger asking me for money here is a rare occurrence. On Friday, the guy sounded sincere. He was driving an old white Chevy with plenty of rust. There were a couple other men waiting inside his car. Maybe I was being conned, but I really didn’t think I was. I pulled out my wallet to see what I had – a twenty, a couple tens, a five, and several ones. I gave him the five. He was very appreciative, said “Thank you, Ma’am” several times, flashed a big smile, and walked back to his car.

A beautiful arrangement of "Mary Had a Baby" is in this songbook.

This is the lost (and found) songbook. A beautiful arrangement of “Mary Had a Baby” is in it.

I went back to looking for “Mary Had a Baby” in the back seat of my car. The music wasn’t in my briefcase, so I got back on I-90, headed toward the Dells instead of home. A few minutes later Mim called again. She had found the music. It had been mixed in with the non-Christmas music on the shelf. So, I took the next exit to get headed back home again.

As I was driving, I thought about this little incident. Maybe it was meant to be that I should meet that guy and give him a few bucks. I was feeling good about that rather than being upset by the roundabout route I was taking to get home. But then I thought, how much gas can the poor guy buy with the measly five dollar bill I gave him. Why didn’t I give him the twenty so he could buy almost half a tank?  Why wasn’t I more generous? That bothered me.

Then my thoughts turned to wondering why this whole incident happened. Sure, Mim needed to find the music, and the guy needed gas money. But I also needed to learn more about being generous to someone in need. I must listen a little more closely to what the need is before I figure out how I can help.

I’m glad God’s still trying to teach me lessons!

 

Christmas Cookies 2ON ANOTHER NOTE: Next Sunday, December 16, 2012, is the last hymn sing currently scheduled at Whispering Winds. We’ll sing lots of Christmas carols, eat lots of Christmas cookies, and simply enjoy having a good time together. Everyone is welcome. It’s free. Just show up at 3:00 Sunday afternoon prepared to have a good time. Whispering Winds Retreat Haven, 201 Highland Road, Cambridge, Wisconsin. Call me at 608-212-6197, or email me at MarianKorth&Gmail.com if you have any questions.

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven - 201 Highland Road, Cambridge, Wisconsin

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven – 201 Highland Road, Cambridge, Wisconsin

Salty Cookies, Burnt Cereal, and Learning Curves

 

My mom worked in Madison during most of my growing up years.  She compensated for not being around home to supervise me as much as she would like by suggesting projects for me to do by myself, especially during the summer.

One project was learning to bake cookies. One of the first times I baked cookies all by myself, I must have misread “teaspoon” and “tablespoon.” I made some very salty oatmeal raisin cookies. Another time I forgot to take all the cereal boxes and crackers that were stored in the oven out of the oven before I preheated it. When I smelled smoke and saw a black cloud drifting out of the stove, I ran to the barn to get my dad. Together we ran back to the house. He put on thick work gloves, and pulled all the hot black smoldering boxes out of the oven. Fortunately, there were no flames.  Then my dad went back to the barn and I went back to mixing up the cookie dough. I was able to bake the cookies just fine in the well-preheated oven. When my mom got home from work, she was a little surprised at all the damage I had done by simply baking a batch of cookies, but she was pleased that I had run to get my dad before doing even more damage. She was also pleased that I had finished making the cookies. At least we had some good fresh homemade chocolate chip cookies to eat, even if we no longer had any cereal and crackers. There was a learning curve for baking cookies, but I mastered the skill well before I was in high school.

Over the years, I’ve learned that there is a learning curve for just about everything I’ve learned to do – from riding a bike to driving a car, from playing the piano for Sunday School to playing the organ for church, from designing a brochure to building a website. As a general rule, regardless of how good I may think my first effort is, the second time I do something is always better. That’s the learning curve.

The learning curve I’m currently mastering is writing and publishing a book. I’ve been writing a book about hospitality for a couple years. I’m very excited about this book. It’s based on the experiences Mim and I have had in being hospitable. We have welcomed literally thousands of people into our home – some as friends and family, others as bed and breakfast guests, assisted living residents, and seekers on spiritual retreat. The Bible says a lot about hospitality, and we’ve learned a lot about hospitality in our life experiences. The purpose of the book is to put all that knowledge together into a coherent message about the importance of hospitality in our lives.

Last year, as my book on hospitality was beginning to take shape, it suddenly dawned on me that I’m at the beginning of a new learning curve – the one for publishing a book. I decided I should try to gain some experience along this new learning curve before I actually publish my book on hospitality. The message of this book is very important to me. I want it to be the best book I can possibly make it. That means it shouldn’t be the first book I publish. The absolute law of learning curves has convinced me of that.

So, what should I publish as my first book?  I want it to be something good even if it is the first project along this learning curve. I quickly realized that there was an obvious answer to what should be my first book. I’d already written most of it. I’ve been writing a blog post every Monday for the past couple years. I have nearly a hundred reflections written. The theme that’s common to most of these reflections is finding messages from God in everyday life.

With the help of a friend, I selected 52 of our favorite reflections – one a week for a year for anyone who wants to read them at the same pace as the readers who have followed the blog.  I grouped the reflections around common topics like VALUES, PRAYER, MUSIC, JAIL, and a few other topics, to accommodate readers who would prefer to read a whole section of the book in one sitting. I tried to edit the reflections so that they flow smoothly from one to the next. Finally, I added a title and subtitle – Listening for God:  52 Reflections on Everyday Life. Currently, the same friend who helped me select the reflections is doing a final edit of the book for me. She hopes to complete her editing this week.

While she’s doing that, I’m deciding which independent publisher to choose to publish the book. Should I go with the independent division of a major publisher in the Christian book market, like Thomas Nelson or Guideposts? Or, should I take a more do-it-yourself route and do almost everything, except the actual printing of the books, by myself?, I went to a couple publishing seminars at the University of Wisconsin this past summer to help me make this decision. I’m learning all kinds of things about publishing – book cover design, interior page layout, e-book formatting, distribution channels, ISBN numbers, US copyright registration, and lots more. This is a fun learning curve to be on!

This week I hope to decide on the publisher and email my book to them. In two or three months, my first book will be published – a paperback of about 200 pages and an e-book for people who prefer to read books on their Kindles and Nooks.

I’m moving along the learning curve. Soon I’ll be able to get serious again about completing the first draft of my hospitality book. I’ve already set aside the second week in November for a week-long writing retreat at Christmas Mountain. I want to complete my first draft of this, my second book, while the publisher is finalizing and publishing my first book. Then I can study all the mistakes I made at the beginning of this learning curve, so that I don’t repeat them in publishing my second book. Anyway, that’s my plan. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

I’m sure there’s still a lot for me to learn along this latest learning curve, but I think I can safely say I won’t burn the cereal and crackers again. Each learning curve is filled with new adventures.

Great Expectations for this week – 7 of them!

For several weeks now, a friend of mine has been posting a list of three things she’s thankful for each day. Usually the lists are just that – three words or short phrases in a simple list format – just a quick statement of things she’s particularly thankful for that day. That practice got me thinking in lists. Today I made a list of some “Great Expectations” I have for this week. There are seven items on my list. I’m not nearly as concise as my friend, but here’s my list of “Great Expectations for this Week.”

  1. An inspiring and productive Writers Week at Whispering Winds. This week has been designated on our retreat calendar as “Retreat for Writers.” Several writers will be coming to Whispering Winds for a day or two to write, to be away from their distractions at home and to focus their energy entirely on writing. I expect each writer to have a wonderfully inspiring and productive time here.
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  2. Safe travel for weekend guests. This coming weekend a couple guests are coming to Cambridge for the wedding of a friend. One is coming from the east coast. The other is coming from Europe. I trust each guest will have safe travels, joyful celebrations with their friends, and a relaxing and refreshing time at Whispering Winds.
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  3. A good time of reflection at the women’s worship service at the county jail.  Reading Scripture, giving testimonies, singing hymns, and praying together with the chaplain and several inmates is a truly special time of sharing deep thoughts and feelings with each other and with God. I always look forward to playing the piano for these services and being invited to participate with the group in their sharing activities.
  4. Playing the pipe organ at Messiah

    Finding just the right organ music for next Sunday’s church service. As a church organist, I usually try to find a prelude and postlude, and sometimes other special music, that reinforces the main theme of the Scripture for that day. As I study the lectionary readings for Sunday, and flip through the pages of organ arrangements, I trust that just the right music will jump out at me. Almost always, that’s what happens. Sometimes the process takes an hour. Sometimes most of a day. My expectation is that the prelude will help people get in the right mindset for the message of the day, and that the postlude will help people remember what God is saying to them through the Scriptures, the sermon, and the hymns.
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  5. My brand new great-great-nephew and his mom will go home from the hospital early this week. Ethan is the 2-day-old son of Christina and Josh. Christina is the daughter of my nephew Terry and his wife, Eng (originally from Cambodia). Terry is the oldest son of my sister, Nancy, and her husband, Clark. Family connections are wonderful – especially the longer they get. Just think of all the people who are rejoicing over the birth of Ethan – literally all around the world – because of how we all are connected.
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    Marian’s grandfather plowing with horses.

  6. A smooth implementation of all the changes I just made on our website. Lots of new pictures. More information about the thread of hospitality that can be traced from the beginnings in 1908 when my grandparents bought the farm, through all the uses of the farm in the 104 years since then. Ending with some conjecture about how the farmhouse will be used next… Here’s a direct link to the new Past & Future section, http://whisperingwindsretreathaven.com/pastfuture.html.
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  7. That this blog post will prompt readers to ponder and be thankful for their own expectations for this week.