Families, Families, Everywhere

by Carlton Hughes

This month’s blog topic is “Families and Children.” Wow, that’s a narrow, laser-focused subject, isn’t it?

Sorry blog-powers-that-be: sarcasm is my love language.

Seriously, it’s a broad topic but one of my favorites. I am definitely a family man, in varied ways.

For full disclosure purposes, I was raised as an only child. One of my favorite cartoons is titled “Only Child Problems” and features a boy yelling to his father, “Dad! I just hit myself!” It pretty much sums up a good deal of my childhood. However, I was blessed with a large extended family. Cousins, aunts, uncles—I’m rich with them. My cousins became my brothers and sisters, only without all of the sibling squabbling and rivalry. Even so, I always wanted a brother.

Fast forward in life a bit, and God showed His sense of humor. This only child met and fell in love with a lady who is the oldest of seven, and all of those siblings are boys. Built-in brothers!

We had our first son in 1996 and soon decided we didn’t want him to grow up alone. We made that decision the morning of my wife’s doctor’s appointment, when we found out another one was on the way. See above about God’s sense of humor. Our second son arrived two years after the first one. Life has been an adventure with two boys, and my wife and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I could go on and on about my wonderful immediate family, but I have also learned that “family” and even “children” can take many different forms.

I have been a teacher for (gulp) thirty years (Yes, I started when I was a mere child), and I consider my students my “babies,” even though they are high school and college students. Some have even followed me home and become like my own. If the students are like my children, my co-workers are family. We have been there for each other through the good times and the bad times—we laugh together, we cry together, we tease each other.

I am also a children’s pastor, so that gives my wife and I even more kids. Some of my former church children are now in college, but they know “Mrs. Kathy” and “Brother Carlton” will always have their backs.. My church family is also very special to me, truly my brothers and sisters in Christ.

There you have it—my take on families and children. What’s your story?

Click to tweet:  I am definitely a family man, in varied ways.

WRITING PROMPT: Think of someone at work or at church (or simply a friend) who is as close to you as family. How did you meet this person? Tell a story that sums up your relationship.

If You Give a Writer a Book . . .

by Carlton Hughes

Who is my favorite modern author? That’s a good, loaded question.

book-1840910_1280I have many friends who are authors, so, for the sake of my own protection, I won’t be naming any of them. They’re ALL wonderful writers who have written AWESOME books that I LOVE.

There, that should cover everyone’s ego.

If you’d asked me this question a few years ago, I would have named the author of the books that I was reading most often back then: Laura Numeroff. When my boys were younger, we loved reading her If You Give a . . . series: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Give a Moose a Muffin, If You Give a Pig a Pancake. I read those books too many times to count, and they put a smile on my face (as well as on my sons’ faces) each time.

My wife and I are empty nesting now, so I don’t read those books anymore. Sad and surprising, I know. When pressed to name my favorite modern author (other than my friends) of books geared toward adults, there is a clear answer: Joni Eareckson-Tada. No modern author has challenged me or helped build my faith like her.

gloriousintruderYou probably know Joni’s story: rendered a quadriplegic from a failed dive at 17, she went through the “valley of the shadow of death” yet learned how to live a fruitful, meaningful life for Christ. She writes from the heart, not afraid to share her experiences with suffering and her questions. She has taught me about dealing with struggles while celebrating the small joys in the Christian life.

When I first became a Christian almost 20 years ago, I found Joni’s book Glorious Intruder at the library, and it knocked my socks off. I was so young in Christ that I felt like I was stumbling in the dark, but Joni’s stories of finding God’s hand in everyday life encouraged me. I even wrote her a fan letter (a first for me), and her assistant sent me a lovely card with one of Joni’s paintings on the front—yes, she is also an artist!

On those days when I feel sorry for myself, I pick up one of Joni’s books. Reading a piece or two of hers always makes me feel better, seeing life from a different perspective. However, I discovered something while researching this post: Laura Numeroff has released If You Give a Mouse a Brownie. Laura’s writing and brownies—two of my favorite things! I may have to sneak back into the children’s section.

(Click to tweet) Who is my favorite modern author? That’s a good, loaded question. 

WRITING PROMPT: Imagine you are in your local library, and you wander into the children’s section. You spot a favorite book from your childhood (or your children’s younger years), and . . .

 

Weight a Minute

by Carlton Hughes

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Erma Bombeck, and it resonates deeply with me.

“In two decades I’ve lost a total of 789 pounds. I should be hanging from a charm bracelet.”

scale-403585_1280Yes, I am the person who greets each New Year with the resolution to lose weight. I’ve stuck to those resolutions with varying degrees of success, but I have my work cut out for me this year. The holiday treats were especially tasty and abundant at the end of 2016.

I’ve thought about this weight loss resolution that is so popular in our society and have decided to interpret it differently this year. How about looking at the Biblical weight reference?

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1.runner-802912_1280

That one hits me where I live. As much physical weight as I have to lose, there are many spiritual weights I need to release. Fear? It needs to go. Low self-worth? Out the door. Procrastination? Forget about it.

salad-652503_1280So, as I begin this year eating lettuce, carrots, and protein bars, and pretending to exercise, I will also pray about the spiritual weights and those doubts that so often sneak their way into my mind. I pray that you will do the same.

Writing Prompt: David opened his email, and there it was, staring him in the face—another rejection for his writing. Scrolling through his inbox, he noticed another message, one for a new writing opportunity. He thought for a moment, closed out his email, and . . .

Christmas Time’s A-Comin’

by Carlton Hughes

christmas-carI know my fellow bloggers have traveled to exotic locales for their posts this month, but I will be staying close to home. Christmas in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, where I’ve lived most of my life, is special, and, growing up, I loved spending time with my grandparents during the holidays.

I always knew it was the time of the season when my maternal grandmother Arietta broke out her 45 record (a small round thing, like a vinyl CD, for those of records-1223305_1280you who don’t know) of “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’” by Bill Monroe. We’d play it over and over, pour a glass or two of eggnog, and call my out-of-town uncles to make them homesick. If I was really lucky, she’d make a batch of her homemade gingerbread, which I slathered with peanut butter before devouring.

My paternal grandparents, Clarence and Dema, would put up a small tree in the family room, and aunts, uncles, and cousins gathered on Christmas Eve to exchange gifts. I would get chocolate pie, served up with my grandmother’s favorite drink—green lemon-lime Kool-Aid. The Hughes side of the family is musically inclined, so members would often bring their guitars and play and sing. Unfortunately the musical gene passed me by, as I can play the radio and not much else.

christmas-tree-83122_1280My grandparents have all passed away, but the memories are still fresh and fond. My wife and I and our parents have created new traditions with my sons. One particular year it snowed several inches on Christmas Day, so we were stranded at my parents’ house for a few days. At least we had my boys’ new toys to play with!

I could travel the world over and not find a better place to spend Christmas than in my Eastern Kentucky Mountains.


WRITING PROMPT: Recreate a Christmas scene from your childhood, recalling sights, sounds, and even smells.

 

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World Travel: Confession by Carlton

telephone-1055044__180By Carlton Hughes

Today’s Confession by Carlton: I am not a world traveler.

I did visit Canada once when I was a toddler, but I have no recollection of that trip, other than some photos my parents took.

I have experienced world travel vicariously through the media, and one theme has emerged over the years: I love England!

It all started when I was a teenager, and my local PBS station showed a slate of British sitcoms. I connected with that wry sense of humor and became a fan.

My senior year of high school I was assigned to write a short story. I concocted a tale about an American who visits England and falls in love with a princess who is trying to break away from the Royal Family.  Yep, I had a serious case of British fever. And a weird outlook on things, but we’ll save that for another post.

Several years ago I discovered Keeping Up Appearances, and I adore Hyacinth Bucket (It’s Bouquet!) and the crazy lengths she goes to impress people. I’d love to visit her and enjoy a waterside supper with riparian entertainments. If you haven’t seen the show, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about—look it up!

goddards-1577410__180My latest obsession is The Great British Baking Show. Oh. My. Goodness.

It’s a competition show unlike any I’ve ever seen. First of all, it takes place in a BIG TENT on the lawn of an English country estate. I mean, could it be more British?

The hosts are the comedy duo of Mel and Sue, and they embody that British humor that I fell in love with years ago.

The judges? Their names are Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. I did not make that up. Mary is evidently the Grande Dame of British cuisine and has the cutest name ever, and Paul is an expert baker with a glamorous moniker.

Contestants are put through a series of challenges, making biscuits (crispy cookies, not the fluffy things we Americans smother with gravy), puddings (still haven’t figured those out), meat pies, and more. They measure in grams instead of tablespoons. They have wonderful accents. Most importantly, they seem to truly like each other, with a prevailing spirit of camaraderie .

As Mary Berry often says, “It’s lovely.”

So . . . would anyone like to send me to England? You would be welcome to go with me, and we could sip tea, eat biscuits, and drive around until we find that baking tent.

tea-time

WRITING PROMPT: You have been selected for a reality show in which you switch places with a person who lives in England. What would your first day be like?

 

Do the Write Thing

by Carlton Hughes

In 2005, I attended my first writers conference.

frog-48234_1280Boy, was I “green!”

I had no idea what to expect and no idea about how to conduct myself. Editor appointments? Elevator pitches? One-sheets? All Greek to me.

My expectation was that I would meet a publishing representative, and he or she book-309822_1280would read my “book” (which I had printed out and put in a big blue binder) and sign me to a contract at dinner. Then the next year I would return to the conference as the keynote speaker, with my published book featured prominently in the conference bookstore.

Again: boy, was I green!

That book has yet to be published, but I have had several publication successes (along with numerous rejections) and have learned some things about writers conferences along the way:

  1. Relationship trumps everything. The contacts and friends you make at a writers conference are priceless. At that first conference, an editor from Thomas Nelson (Yes, you read that right—THOMAS NELSON!!!) agreed to look at my work. We hung out at the conference and developed a friendship. We kept in touch, and several months later he got laid off from Thomas Nelson. But the friendship remains, and we have helped each other through life’s ups and downs. I could fill several blog posts about other dear friends I have made at these events. Never discount the value of relationships forged at a conference.
  2. Your work IS important, so learn how to polish and pitch. I pitched that first book WAY TOO SOON! I cringe now at the work I initially submitted. Learn from the instruction at the conference and find out the right way to polish and then pitch your work. Don’t jump the gun and think you’ve created a bestseller right out of the gate (I resemble that remark).
  3. Have fun! At that first writers conference I found people just like me—people who like to spend hours talking to the imaginary characters in their head. I discovered that I am not alone in this endeavor. Writing can be a solitary thing, but at conferences you’ll meet people who share the same hopes, dreams, and computer problems as you.

My two favorite writers conferences are Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in Black Mountain, NC (held in May) and Kentucky Christian Writers Conference in Elizabethtown, KY (held every June). Check them out!


PROMPT: Write a one-sentence “pitch” for your Work-In-Progress or for a piece you are thinking about writing. Describe your work in a way that might attract an editor/publisher.


Bonus Pictures (slideshow) from the 2016 ACFW Conference in Nashville, Tennessee – Jennifer & Betty attended!

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Hanging with the Dogs

by Carlton Hughes

When I think of vacations, I think of family.

My wife, my two sons, and I have had some wonderful trips. In brainstorming for this blog post, I thought back to a small but memorable one.

It was my 39th birthday (a few weeks ago . . . just kidding), and we decided to take the boys to the zoo. I was a late bloomer, so to speak, so my children were seven and five.

prairie-dog-459458_1280We had a ball roaming the zoo and checking out all of the animals. One of the highlights was the prairie dog exhibit. This particular zoo has a tunnel under the exhibit, and you can crawl through it to end up in a big plastic dome in the midst of the super-cute critters.

gophers-850385_1280At the time, my wife had a serious hip problem, so I was elected to accompany the boys into the prairie dog tunnel. I folded my substantial 39-year-old body into the tunnel, crawling on my substantial belly to the dome. My boys were delighted to see the prairie dogs up close, and I thought it was pretty cool, too.

fire-engine-23774_1280Getting out was a challenge, and, for a few tense moments, I thought the fire department would get to celebrate my birthday with me by pulling me out of the tunnel. I eventually made it out, and, of course, we headed to the gift shop, where both boys went straight to the stuffed prairie dogs.

Since my sons were in a NASCAR phase, we closed the day with dinner at a racecar-themed restaurant, complete with kids meals served in cardboard cars.automobile-1299522_1280

It was only an overnight trip a FEW years ago, but I cherish the memory.

WRITING PROMPT: Imagine you are visiting the zoo, and something funny happens. Who is with you? What has happened? Write a paragraph or two with your story.

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