*Kindling Friendship* Jo Elizabeth Pinto

Another wintry week has come to an end. Here in Salem, the weather has varied, showering us with sunshine one day, rainstorms the next, granting us even a brisk, blustery day of ruach– meaning both wind and spirit—my favorite kind of day.

Fortunately, today is just chilly with gray, gray skies as I usher author Jo Elizabeth Pinto into my home.

Me: Oh, Jo, welcome, how nice of you to drop by!

Jo Elizabeth: Thanks for inviting me into your home, Joan. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. Our mutual friend Patty Fletcher has told me a lot about you.

Me: Haha, nothing too outlandish I hope. And I feel I know you so well already. As we chat, would you like a cup of tea? Or perhaps coffee?And something to nibble–a cookie or maybe a piece of fruit?

Jo Elizabeth: I’d love a cup of coffee with a smidge of sugar if you’ve got some made, but tea is fine if you don’t. I love the way a warm cup feels in my hands on a cold winter day, don’t you? And those cookies smell wonderful; I think I’ll try one.

Me: I know what you mean about a warm cup on a wintry day…it’s one of my favorite things. The coffee is already brewed…so a smidge of sugar, and here you go…with a couple of cookies on the side. Now, where would you feel most comfortable: here at my kitchen table?
Or would you like a comfy chair in the livingroom?

Jo Elizabeth: Your kitchen table will be great. I love how the kitchen table seems to be the heart of most homes. It’s often where the most intimate conversations happen.

Me: That’s so true…Mmmm…ah,I’ve got my peppermint tea…now that we’re settled, tell me a little about yourself. What part of the country do you live in?

Jo Elizabeth: I was born in Chicago, but both of my parents grew up in Brighton, Colorado, a fairly small town north of Denver, and they got homesick and returned there while I was still a baby. So I claim it as my home town. I went to school there and, aside from a few years away at college, I’ve lived there my whole life.

Me: And how do you like it?

Jo Elizabeth: It’s sometimes hard living in the place where you grew up, where you’re middle aged and people still remember you as a giggling kid. But it gives me a sense of belonging, too, a sense of place. I hope I can pass that along to my daughter as she grows up.

Me: Is your writing influenced in any way by living there?

Jo Elizabeth: I’ve been very supported by my home town in my writing. I had a great kickoff signing at the independent bookstore when my novel was published, a positive review written in the local magazine by my former sixth grade teacher, offers to place my book in area stores for sale—but it took me a while to build up the confidence to say everything I needed to say without worrying what people would think of me. It’s a double-edged sword, being known on a first name basis by a lot of people, or at least having them acquainted with your parents and grandparents. It takes growing up into your adult self, your writer self.

Me: That’s so interesting. And what about your writing process, can you describe it for me? For example, do you have a certain time of day you find most productive? Or a special place where you find inspiration?

Jo Elizabeth: Not really. I have a busy life. I work as a freelance braille proofreader, and my daughter is ten. I better write where and wen I can, or I won’t write at all.

Me: Haha, I hear you there. What got you started writing?

Jo Elizabeth: I’ve known I wanted to write since I was a little girl, probably not even in school yet. I remember one night, my dad read aloud to me from a book about Osceola, the brave Seminole Indian chief who fought to keep his people in Florida during the 1800s when Native Americans were being moved west against their will. When he finished the book, I felt sad that the story had ended.

“We could turn the book around again and start at the beginning,” my dad told me. And right then, when I discovered that stories could be saved on the pages of books to be enjoyed over and over, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to write. Often during my school years, when I should have been studying spelling words or working math problems, I was busy scribbling down poems or composing the back cover material and title pages for books I hoped to someday write.

Me: Amazing. And what came of all those youthful scribbles?

Jo Elizabeth: My novel, “The Bright Side of Darkness,” began as a short story for a high school English class. The writing was amateur, as one would expect from a teenager, but I fell in love with the five tough-talking, risk-taking boys and the blind girl who refused to admit her own vulnerability. I put the story away in a scrapbook but never forgot about it. A few years later, when I needed to learn how to use a Word processor, I pulled out that story so I’d have a large chunk of text to type into the computer and practice on. The writing embarrassed me a little—it needed a lot of work! But I added and deleted text, moved paragraphs around, cut and pasted—and by the time I became proficient on the computer, the story had improved! From there, it grew into a novel.

Me: And then what?

Jo Elizabeth: I picked up my novel and put it down several times over the next fifteen years or so as life happened. I honed my writing craft, visited workshops, took editing advice from many people, and polished my book till it shone. Then in 2014, my mom passed away very suddenly. From the shock of that event, I learned that none of us know how long we will be privileged to walk on this planet. I decided I better publish my book while I had the chance. I felt that my message of mentoring, of how everyone can contribute to changing the world in a positive way, big or small, needed to be spread. So, in June of 2015, I published my book on Amazon and Kindle. The audio version came out in October.

Me: And I wonder, why do you write? I mean, if you could sum it up in a word or in a simple statement, what keeps you writing?

Jo Elizabeth: I write to speak for those who are seldom heard. I also write for the joy of it. I write because there’s so much wonder in the world I want to point out so people won’t miss it.

Me: Oh, I feel the same way. And now a few more “creative” questions, if you don’t mind, so I can get a better glimpse of you as a person:

What kind of fruit or vegetable would you say best expresses your personality? Why?

Jo Elizabeth: Hmmm. Probably a pineapple. I can be kind of prickly on the outside. I’m not much of a hugger, and I’m sort of a “we’re here, let’s get down to business” type when something needs doing. I tend to be more practical than spontaneous. But I’m pretty sweet deep down, once you get past all that.

Me: I get the sense that you are pretty big-hearted. And you’ll have to excuse me…I am a hugger, so, haha, prepare yourself.

What do you like to do on a rainy day?

Jo Elizabeth: Cuddle up under a blanket and listen to a good book or some music, or play a board game.

Me And what’s your favorite part of going grocery shopping? What do you think that says about you?

Jo Elizabeth: I don’t like grocery shopping much because of the crowds. I do enjoy finding bargains, though. Maybe I’m frugal—or maybe I’m a cheapskate. Either way, I’ve got a reputation for pinching pennies till old Abe Lincoln hollers for mercy.

Me: Would you rather vacation at the beach or in the mountains?

Jo Elizabeth: I love the mountains. I used to go to a camp there every summer as a kid, and I grew to adore the smell of the pines, the sound of running streams, the quiet serenity of nature. I’ve only been to the ocean once, and its power intimidated me. Now fresh seafood, bring it on!

Me: What is your favorite punctuation mark?

Jo Elizabeth: The question mark! I never stop asking questions, and I’ve encouraged my daughter to be a constant questioner as well, sometimes to the chagrin of her teachers. Life is all about learning and discovery, which begins with questions.

Me: You’ve got that right. So what role have children played in your life? How about in your writing?

Jo Elizabeth: When I was newly married, my first husband fell ill with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Although tragic, his illness and the poverty that came with it put the two of us in a unique position to be available to many vulnerable children and teens who needed stable adults in their lives. We provided meals, help with homework, life skills training, and listening ears, and those experiences eventually kindled the flame that helped me write my novel.

I had always wanted children of my own, but after years of trying, I was told that medically, it wasn’t meant to be. Then when I was thirty-five and well reconciled to the fact I would never be a biological mother, joy surprised me. Having my own daughter has been one of the most intense, emotionally stretching experiences of my life. My little girl has given me a wealth of material to think and write about, She has made me a much deeper writer and a better human being.

Me: Do you have a favorite fairy tale or children’s story?

Jo Elizabeth: I’m not an avid reader of fairy tales. Some of them are quite dark, and others are a little too sweet for me. And the ones with cruel stepmothers or mean sisters make me want to reach out and slap someone.

As for children’s stories, I love “The Little Engine That Could.” Talk about tenacity!

Me: Oh, I know you need to get back to your busy life, but before you leave, tell me a little more about your writing, won’t you? And where I might read your work?

Jo Elizabeth: “The Bright Side of Darkness” Is my award-winning novel, Available in Kindle, audio, and paperback formats.

I’d love for you to visit me on Facebook at

If you’d like to read my guest blog posts about parenting in the dark, please click here:

Me: Okay, get ready for a hug, Jo…thank you so much for visiting with me today. I hope you’ll come visit me again very soon.

Jo Elizabeth: It’s been great talking to you, Joan. Thanks for having me. And thanks for the cookies and coffee. Have a beautiful day.

The night wind pushes against me as I close the door after my guest, and I take a deep breath. Shabbot is at hand, the air practically tingles with anticipation.

Carefully I straighten the two candles standing ready on the mantle, then bring the waiting candlelighter to the wick. Flames flicker, and I close my eyes and breathe deeply once more.

Blessed are you, Beloved One, Who enables me to sanctify this moment, this day, by kindling the Shabbot lights.

I wave my hands above the flames,breathing deeply, drawing the light, the warmth, the peace of Shabbot toward me, into me; then reflect upon those I hold dearest in my heart, my friends, the world.

And let us say, Amen.

Friend or Buddy?

Many of you have followed this little blog long enough to know about Ari the WonderDog, commonly known as my Guide Dog, who has been retired for the last 2 years. You may even remember a post or two about his ongoing behavior review and other training.

Well just to catch you up…we’ve doubled the fun! 2 trainers, and 2 toy pals

Here’s what I mean:

Every morning after breakfast, Ari’s and ours, J and I usually spend about half an hour playing with Ari. But since he’s retired now, Ari is able to receive not only treats, but also training from J.

So after I hide his favorite toy, and ask, “Ayfo Chaver (where’s friend),” a couple of times, J steps up and does his part. He calls from one of the rooms down the hall, “Ari come,” or “Ayfo Chaver” and Ari jumps into action.

And lately, Buddy has also gotten involved.

Buddy is another of Ari’s favorite toys, a rather bulbous thing with tentacle legs—I frankly don’t know what he’s supposed to be—but Ari loves carrying him around and actually introduced it to our games.

It has taken quite a few small steps to get us here, but now Ari usually differentiates between Chaver and Buddy. And he even knows how to bring the specified toy to a specified person.

So I say: Ayfo Chaver.
Ari brings him to me.
I say: Chaver Daddy.
Ari takes Chaver from me and gives him to J down the hall.
I say: Ayfo Buddy.
Ari scurries around looking for Buddy, and brings him to me. I say: Ayfo Chaver.
Ari finds Chaver and brings him to me. Now I have both toys. I stand before Ari with one toy in each hand, and say: Buddy Daddy. Ari chooses Buddy and takes him to J.
J says: Buddy Mama.
Ari brings Buddy back to me.

I must say, sometimes the commands fly so fast, back and forth, up and down the hall, it makes my head spin. But for being an elderdog, Ari does a pretty nice job…and gets a lot of mental exercise in the process.

**So I’m curious: How do you Dear Readers keep your older pets active and learning? Can’t wait to hear!

*Kindling Friendship* David Faucheux


We are coming up to the sixth day of Hanukkah this afternoon, a sunny day of clear skies and brisk air as I open the door to welcome my guest, David Faucheux, author of “Across Two Novembers”.

Me: David, welcome, please come in…oh, it’s so cold this afternoon.

David: Hello, it’s great to get to visit like this.

Me: Here, let me take your coat. Would you like something warm to drink, coffee or tea perhaps?

David: Tea with cream and sugar is fine. Do you have Irish Breakfast Tea. Mark T. Wendell has an excellent example.

Me: I’ll have to look for that. How about a bit of chai and a cookie or brownie?

David: Oh, perhaps a cookie; one of the organic Golden Raisin Cardamom Oatmeal Cookies. They look delicious. Thank you.

Me: Well, how did you know? Here you go. Shall we find a comfy chair in the livingroom, or is this all right?

David: Let’s stay in the kitchen; less chance of a food derailment.

Me: Ahhh, Chai is one of my favorites..mmm. . Now David, won’t you please tell me alittle about yourself? Where are you from?

David: I live in South Louisiana. I have lived there most of my life. I attended LSU in Baton Rouge but now live in Lafayette.

Me: And does your writing reflect where you live, your surroundings?

David: Because my book was a journal, it does reflect the local culture. I particularly mentioned foodways.

Me: Interesting. And what about your writing process, do you prefer certain time of day best for writing? Or is a certain place more inspirational to you?

David: At times, I find the quiet of the very early morning to be when I am most creative.

As to my writing process, I am exploring podcasting. I once maintained an audio blog from 2004 to 2009 but moved on due to technical difficulties with the hosting company. I’d have to say I’m still discovering my writing process which seems to be more related to nonfiction.

Me: And how did you start writing?

David: A friend asked me to review her book, Occupying Aging, and I thought that this journal format might be one that I could explore as a kind of personal development.

Me: Journalling can certainly be a means of self-exploration. What keeps you writing?

David: I write to clarify my existence; I hope to also educate people and possibly entertain them. I want to share my love of and appreciation for the vast world of books with people. In fact, I am considering using a book-related name for my podcast; perhaps, Book Bytes or Bookbagging.

Me: Well keep me posted about your podcast project, it sounds quite interesting.

Now a few off-beat questions…you know to really look inside you.

What kind of fruit or vegetable would you say you most resemble, David?

David: Oh, back to food. I do relate well to food. Fruit or vegetable; well, it depends on my mood. At times I hope I feel as happy, sunnily golden, and rich as a pineapple, say a Kona Sugarloaf. Other times I want to be some rare and exotic item such as a unique strain of cacao berry or coffee bean cultivar. Maybe a lucuma or quince.

Me: Okay,haha, you’ve got me looking for my dictionary now…you certainly are knowledgeable about food.

David: I enjoy learning about new products or produce that is brought here by Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, having been purchased from fair trade producers. I enjoy the unique, the carefully crafted, the original, nothing from huge monoculture Big Agra factories. To be connected with the head buyer for Whole Foods would be a lovely dream; or even to just follow him or her and do an article. Guess it says I live to eat, enjoy learning about the rich variety in the world.

Me: And what is your favorite thing to do on a rainy day?

David: When it rains, I want to be tucked up somewhere with a good historical novel or even science fiction.

Me: Where would you most like to vacation, at the beach or in the mountains?

David: I would like a city near mountains so I might experience the urban environment but escape to cool slopes at times. And with an island, I could have that and even the beach.

Me: An island. Now that is the perfect solution.

Do you have a favorite punctuation mark?

David: I rather like the semicolon; it’s bizarre. The comma intimidates me because of its use in nonrestrictive appositive phrases and relative clauses.

Me: Haha…oh dictionary…where are you…haha

Do children play any significant role in your life, or in your writing?

David: I have several nieces and nephews and find them an interesting conduit to the youngest generations. I have not yet tried to tackle an idea I had for a collection of related short stories set at a residential blind school in the mid-1970s though it would basically be dealing with middle grade children from a time and place long gone.

Me: What about Fairy Tales? Do you have a favorite?

Cinderella always intrigued me. The magic of transformation, the mystery, the magic, and the romance. Who wouldn’t want a fairy godmother or godfather, for that matter?

Me: Oh, look at the time…this has been so enjoyable, David, but I’d better let you get back to your busy life. Please tell me where I might findyour writing.

David: Oh, yes, surely – you can locate my book and related
information including reviews at http://www.dldbooks.com/davidfaucheux

And thanks again for having me drop by.

And as I hug my guest good-bye, and close the door against the waning daylight, my hand automatically reaches for my trusty candlelighter. I carefully arrange the two Shabbot candles on the mantle, and place my menorah beside it, whispering.

Blessed are You Beloved One who enables me to kindle the Shabbot lights

, I pause, take one deep breath, then another, and turn to the menorah, first lighting the helper candle, the Shamash. From left to right, I light the smaller Hanukkah candles until six are ablaze, then say:

Blessed are You, Beloved One, Who is the Light of All, who enables me to kindle these Hanukkah lights. May they be for Peace, for
Compassion, for Acts of Lovingkindness, for Friendship.

And let us say: Amen


in the deepest well of winter
where all is cold and dark
a single flame
a splinter
and makes a spark

the next night
she arrives again
sweet essence withno name
and a neighbor just across the way
kindles his own flame

the third night mist appears
with prickly nips and bites
two neighbors flicker without fear
and look
a third ignites

on and on throughout the week
and one day more for cheer
like strands of fireflies in the night
each flashing bright and clear

one smile invites another
one hug
and soon there’s eight
expanding circles ’round the world
as they outward radiate

and we hold this moment sacred
as our hearts we dedicate
to Peace
acts of Love
–and with latkis we celebrate!

Holding hands with each of you on the fifth night of Hanukkah, Blessings of light and peace to all!

*Kindling Friendship* Robert Sollars

Oh, what a rainy week we’ve had! A deluge every day, and even thunder on Tuesday—a real treat for this Midwest-born gal whose favorite childhood memory is listening awe-struck to “angels bowling” during midnight summer thunderquakes. And despite this morning’s drizzle, there was real hope for a reprieve this afternoon when significant sunshine intermingled with a misty downpour.

Now, however, I am eager to usher my guest, Robert Sollars, out of another episode of rain and bluster, into the warm coziness of my home.

Me: Hello Robert, I’m so happy to meet you. Please come in–oh, let me take your wet things–and please make yourself at home.

Robert: Thanks for inviting me. I appreciate it!

Me: Would you like a cup of tea? Or coffee, perhaps? And something to nibble?

Robert: Coffee please, and I never turn down a cookie.

Me: And where would you feel most comfortable: here at my kitchen table? Or would you like a comfy chair in the livingroom?

Robert: Wherever I will make the least mess. Probably here at the table.

Me: Mmmm, I’ve got my pomegranate tea…now that we’re settled, tell me a little about yourself.What part of the country do you live in?

Robert: Well, I’ve lived in Missoura, North Dakota, and currently the Phoenix AZ. Area.

Me: Have you been there long?

Robert: 15 years as of this past May

Me: What do you like best and least about living there?

Robert: The heat in summer and how long it lasts. And least, probably the vastness of the valley. I grew up and lived in small towns my entire life until I moved down there, so the closeness you get with small towns is missing.

Me: Is your writing influenced in any way by where you live?

Robert: Nope,not at all. I probably get more information about my topics there, but I’m not really influenced by it. It is unfortunate, but my topic knows no boundries.

Me: Can you describe your writing process for me? For example, do you have a certain time of day you find most productive? Or a special place where you find inspiration?

Robert: I am usually at my computer by about 4:30AM and knock off around 4PM, after a break for the lunch news. I ain’t chained to the desk though, I am up and down all day unless something has really captured my attention and the words are flowing like the river. I usually find that first thing after sitting down at the computer until about 10AM and then again about 2PM I get into a groove and the words just gush out most of the time, not that they are all good, but…I also know when to stop. I also listen to music while I work and that helps the words…sometimes.

Me: Interesting. What got you started writing?

Robert: I started writing fiction for the fun of it more than 40 years ago in high school and now it helps me take a break from the death & destruction I normally write about with my books. While a lot of my fiction is dark and brooding, horror and dark sci fi, it livens my mood so I can write the really dark stuff about the real world.

Me: And what keeps you writing?

Robert: That is very simple, it’s all about saving lives and entertaining people with my fiction.

Me: Just for fun, if you don’t mind, here are a couple of offbeat questions so I can get a better glimpse of you as a person:

What kind of fruit or vegetable would you say best expresses your personality?

Robert: Why? That’s hard to say. Some days I’m a sweet red delicious apple and others brussel sprouts. It really depends on my moods and who is there to cheer me up…my wife, best friend, or my cat.

Me: Here’s a relevant one- What do you like to do on a rainy day?

Robert: Sit an cuddle with my wife, unless I’m working. Sometimes I just like to sit in the rain and enjoy it, with a cigar and something to drink, listening to music or watching Star Trek.

Me: Well sorry to disappoint, ha! And what’s your favorite part of going grocery shopping? What do you think that says about you?

Robert: Me go shopping (horrified look on my face). I usually only shop when I have too and never when I don’t have too. I don’t like crowds and never have, so I tend to stay at home, unless there is something special I need to get for someone.

Me: Would you rather vacation at the beach or in the mountains?

Robert: While my wife would say the beach I would be more of a mountain boy. I have always considered myself a hillbilly and just feel more comfortable in wide open spaces imagining themajesty of them at this point.

Me: What is your favorite punctuation mark?

Robert: It used to be an exclamation point but I realized I over used it so now it is either a comma, or a period.

Me: What role have children played in your life? How about in your writing?

Robert: As for my writing probably not at all. I have three kids of my own and I coached youth football,basketball, and bowling back in the day. I get along with kids and some of the stories I have written show that I can still think and act like one too, which is not a bad thing. When you can get inside the emotions of characters and animals, as I do, it is very freeing for the mind.

Me: Oh, I know you need to get back to your busy life, but before you leave, tell me a little more about your writing, won’t you? And where I might read your work?

Robert: I primarily write books and blogs on security topics but recently published a book on customer service. I feel an obligation to help protect people from workplace and school violence. I can’t lay a finger on it, but there is a driving need to protect people. You can read my blogs on those subjects on my website, http://www.robertdsollars.com and preview my latest 2 books on school violence prevention and customer service at http://www.dldbooks.com/robertdsollars/
Me: Thank you so much for visiting with me today. I hope you’ll come visit me again very soon.

Robert: Thanks for having me here, anytime you wish me to come by Joan, all you have to do is give me a shout and I’ll be here.

And with a friendly hug, Robert slips into his rain gear and steps back outside—back into the wind and rain and—what a guy…

I push the door shut tight against the storm, and sigh. Shabbot is coming. Shabbot, release from the weeks work and worries, sacred summons to focus on the present moment.

I find my trusty candlelighter, and arrange the candles with another grateful sigh.

Blessed are you Beloved One, who kindles this moment, who sparks my being, who is the Light amid this day’s darkness.

And let us say, Amen.


during These dark wintry days
light clings to the fringes.

holy by contrast
shimmers from The edge of storm clouds

splashes its singular message
along wind-blown alleys and dusty gutters

its vibrating glow
spreads from the corners of my prayer shawl

down my sleeves
into my hands

my fingers
igniting the words I trace

a single digit