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Story Chat Y2 November: “Brooching the Subject” by Doug Jacquier

Welcome to our second month of story chat. Last month went great with so many coming to chat. We hope you’ll be back this month to broach this subject with Doug Jacquier and each other.

This short story may be sci-fi or even historic fiction but keep in mind that it is set in a different era with different norms of morality. As with history in any form, we can’t judge it through our current cultural eyes. What might have been acceptable or even praised in that time period, might be totally unacceptable now. Some things are never acceptable.

That’s for you to decide.

Now let’s take a look at a bit of sci-fi/historical fiction by Doug Jacquier that may or may not have happened in Australia sometime in the past or possibly in the future. Or maybe it’s happening now.

Brooching the Subject

by Doug Jacquier

We were sorting through Mum’s personal possessions before she moved into the aged-care facility and we’d come to her ornate japanned jewellery box. She carefully sorted the contents into two groups; one to take with her (and leave to me when she passed) and one for her favorite charity shop. In her personal pile, I noticed a cheap costume jewellery red brooch, which I thought was seriously at odds with her usual good taste.

Picking it up, I said, ‘Sentimental value?’

‘You could say that’ she replied, with a slight tilt of her head and a movement at the corner of her mouth. I was prepared to leave it at that, assuming it was a memory she’d rather keep to herself but then she began to breathe very shallowly and her already wafery skin turned to a shade of alabaster.

Deeply concerned, I said quickly ‘Mum, are you OK, do you want me to call the doctor? Can you speak?’

She seemed to return from somewhere else and her colour improved a little.

‘Sit down. There’s something I want to tell you that you must promise me you will never share.’

‘Of course, Mum.’

‘I mean it and you will understand when I tell you.’

I sat next to her, my mind shuffling through a myriad of possibilities; a secret affair, a love child, a theft …..

She began timorously but her voice gained strength as her tale unfolded.

‘During the war, life changed a great deal for women. Out of necessity, we took up trades, ran farms, drove heavy vehicles, and all the other things that men had kept to themselves. We were even shown how to use guns, just in case the enemy ever invaded.’

Somehow this wasn’t gelling with the bird-like, frail person in front of me and the home-body mother I thought I knew but I didn’t interrupt.

‘When the war ended and the lucky men came home to their families, they took all those jobs back and the so-called natural order of things gradually returned. But many of those men, especially the ones who’d spent time in POW camps, had changed in ways we could never have imagined were possible.’

Here she paused and began gnawing at her bottom lip. Again concerned I leaned forward to comfort her but she gestured me away.

‘Let me finish.’

In control again, she continued, gathering momentum with each sentence.

‘Some just sat in silence, some just sat and cried, some couldn’t hold down a job, some became drunks, some became gamblers and some became wife-beaters. There was no help for them or their families, beyond pulling up your bootstraps and getting on with it. Frightened, destitute families were in every town and suburb and there was no welfare safety net then. And so it began.’

For goodness sake, Mum, what began my mind was screaming but I said nothing.

‘Nobody knows, or has told, who started it but I remember at women’s gatherings and down at the shops back then a small number of women were wearing the same tacky red brooch you see here. Over a cuppa one day, I asked a very close friend if she had noticed it too. She had, she said, and she knew what it meant. It meant that the woman knew of a case.’

Impatient, I said, ‘What sort of case?’

‘A case of a man who could not be put back together again. A man whose friends and family had done all they could to bring him back to the human race but failed. A man who had beaten, raped, gambled, or drank to the point that the misery he was inflicting was no longer tolerable but society seemed unwilling or uninterested in stopping him.’

I blinked involuntarily and rapidly and said ‘So what happened to these cases?’

‘They were removed.’

‘What do you mean removed?’

‘Someone in the network with no other connections would remove him. A drunk might go to sleep on a railway track. A gambler might be found floating in the river and rumors spread of unpaid debts to criminals. A rapist might accidentally fall into a machine at work. A man’s gun might accidentally go off while he was cleaning it. There were ways.’

I could no longer hide my shock. ‘But Mum, that’s vigilante stuff! What if you got it wrong?’

‘Oh, we were never wrong. If a woman reported a case it would be thoroughly investigated by others before the removal was undertaken. That was part of the point of the network.’

‘But didn’t the police get suspicious about all these deaths?’

‘Oh, you make it sound like some sort of bloodbath. It’s not as if there were hundreds. Besides, there were police in critical positions to whom we could have a quiet word about not getting too enthusiastic about investigating further.’

‘So there were men in the network as well?’

‘Not in the network as such but, yes, there were men who were prepared to be helpful should the need arise. They’d also learned some new skills during the war.’

‘Is it still going?’

‘Haven’t a clue really but I haven’t seen that red brooch in public for donkey’s years. But I thought I’d put it in your pile in case it might be useful in the future. I mean I hear about some of these men returning from the Middle East … ’ and she trailed off.

The only thing I could think of was to change the subject so I shifted to my father, who had died not long after I was born. I asked whether there were any of his things that she would like to take with her.

‘Oh, no, dear, I got rid of those a long time ago. I truly loved him when I married him but he was never the same after the war.’ 

The briefest of pauses and then she said brightly ‘How about a nice cup of tea?’


Biography

Doug Jacquier lives with his wife, Sue, in Yankalilla. He writes stories and poems. He’s a father and grandfather, an avid cook, vegetable gardener and incurable punster, as well as an occasional stand-up comedian. He’s had over 30 jobs (including rock band roadie) and has lived in many places across Australia, including regional and remote communities. Doug has travelled extensively, especially in Asia, the US and UK. He’s a recovering social worker and former not-for-profit CEO and has now retired to the real world. He’s had his work included in several anthologies, including New Poets 21, Indigomania, Ship Street Poetry and On The Premises. He contributes regularly to writing blogs, including Carrot Ranch and Blog Battle. His aim is to surprise, challenge and amuse. 

Now it’s your turn!

Don’t be shy. Say what you are thinking and respond to the others taking part in Story Chat. You have three weeks to come back again and again before the summary post. Your comments make this Story Chat event come alive. 🙂

  • When do you think this story took place?
  • How do you think the narrator felt as his or her mother told her story?
  • How do you think the mother felt as the story unfolded?
  • How close to the truth might this story be?

109 replies »

  1. My eyes caught the word “brooch” in the title thinking this was going to be about things to pin on our clothing. I am so old-fashioned that I still LOVE to wear brooches, but alas, it’s about “broaching” as you clarified in the first paragraph! Still a great read, but now I think I’ll have to take pics of my brooch collection for a future post so thanks for the idea!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This was fantastic! Could certainly be true, and I do believe I will keep my eye out for a brooch. Wink. But in a real world thank goodness we understand more about PTSD and it is possible for them to get help. I think the mother would have felt pretty relieved as a chance to come clean with what she felt was right…and wrong. Wow. Captive audience here. Donna

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Hi Cee & Marsha. Thanks for another round.
    Good to meet you Doug and what a great story as my first exposure to your work.

    Okay, this really was very well told. I’m particularly drawn into stories told by fictional first persons. It’s more intimate than having a narrator — just as if I were sitting there with them, listening in on everything. I also love that a story told in first person opens the door to an imperfect, non-omniscient or even dishonest story teller, all stuff an omniscient narrator can’t get away with.

    So this story really pulled me in, and felt very much like mum wanted to get this history off her chest and have someone she knows and trusts to carry it further. The story did not tell, but the notes of her overall frail health could suggest that mum does not have much more time. Perhaps her body or her mind is failing and she wants all this said before she becomes an un-trusted witness when no one would believe such a testimony,

    I’m not seeing any clue about when this story might be placed, but I don’t think it needs a clear place in history. Except for the mention of guns and drove heavy vehicles, his kind of story could be soon after any modern war, say in the past 250 years. As it is, any war in the 1900s around the globe might suit as a backdrop, but I think I prefer it as it sits. The mind of the reader easily matches the scene with a suitable war, perhaps one after which they saw or have hear family accounts of how some warriors never found their way back home despite living there.

    The character of the daughter (most likely) was very well depicted. Who would not be astounded to have their mum spring such a hidden body of truth on them? How many of us would barely be able to believe that our quiet mother could have lived through such a thing, let alone participate as closing sentences strongly suggest.

    A couple of snag points:

    1) About the sentence that reads. “There’s something I want to tell you that you must promise me you will never share.” I could see this in my mind, but quickly wanted to ask the author “why?” Would there be concerns for criminal action being brought against those who were members or in any way enabled these actions? The story seems to suggest that it is not ongoing, but maybe mum just no longer needed to be a part and her husband was already gone. At her age, her options to assist someone in being removed would be limited. There might be a side story here, but there’s that word length thing to consider.

    2) About this sentence: For goodness sake, Mum, what began my mind was screaming but I said nothing. This reads awkward. I got lost on my first red of it. sorted out what it had to be saying and read it again, but still found it confusing and something of a speed bump in the flow. I think it needs to tell the reader right away that the daughter is thinking this, perhaps straining to not interrupt – but as it sits, we’re told too late that she’s only thinking this.

    3) “Oh, we were never wrong.” was strikingly audacious. Really? I liked how mum mentioned that the investigators were uninvolved with the “case” themselves but still – wow!

    4) Having the daughter change to topic to the father felt a bit contrived and broadcasted to me how this was going to end, but the end was so close anyway, the effect worked well. That transition might be softened somehow to not broadcast where this would end, but another commented the likely ending was easy to guess earlier and still was a very satisfying wrap-up to a great story.

    Bravo Doug
    I glad to have had this chance to enjoy your work.

    BTW – This story reminded me a lot of one I wrote a while back. I took 2700+ words but had some striking similarities. This made Doug’s story even more fun to read and learn from. If anyone would like a slightly longer and similar read, here’s the link.
    https://garyawilsonstories.wordpress.com/ribbons-and-remembrances/

    Cheers all.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Gary, this is an amazing analysis as we are growing accustomed to you bringing to the chat. I love how much thought you put into it. Thanks for including a link. I will be checking it out as well. He has another similar but very different story on his blog as well. I think you would enjoy following some of the links. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks for your in-depth comments, Gary, which I will take into account in any future drafts. In my head, the back story is set in WWII and its aftermath and hints about the impact of wars since. At that time, women had nowhere to go to escape, no income to survive on and precious little support from society in general. It is difficult for young people now to know what the pejorative label ‘single mother’ meant back then but they certainly know that the impact of domestic violence in all its forms still exists today.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It was amazing how resourceful women became during those years. No wonder the feminist movement followed in the next generation after daughters watched their mothers struggle. I don’t know that we feel the same widespread urgency today because we don’t have the widespread support and influence of the war. Covid is the nearest thing to a widespread disaster that we have had in my lifetime, and I’m sure that there will be changes in society for years to come just as there were after WWII.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I am so glad that I read this historical fiction based on a true story-
    and I know Marsha noted that the story writes about different times – but I think at some would say the forced “still experimental vaccination that is not fully tested nor inoculates like a proven vaccine” is JUST AS sketchy as sterilizing people with coercion – in my humble opinion it is – but this is not the place for that chat –
    let’s get back to the story chat
    Jacquier really let us feel the body changes and emotions with the grandmother and shares about the secret connecting to the brooch.
    It reminded me that the aftermath of war is long-reaching and I hope those coming back from recent wars get the help they need.
    Enjoyed this story very much

    Liked by 3 people

      • Also / I read and watched a lot of World War Ome and Two stuff this year – and enjoyed it immensely – but we don’t hear enough about soldiers and vet recovery – and makes me appreciate services we have now for vets / not perfect but have come a long way, baby

        Liked by 2 people

        • I am reading a book called Regeneration by Pat Barker. It’s about a British military psychologist during World War I. There seem to be a lot of private kinds of help for vets as well.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes. Not that it was an excuse for war because what is? But the revenge didn’t quite fit the penalty either. What a bunch of hard-headed, uncompromising leaders. If only they had our hindsight. We have enough problems of our own in this era.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Yes – and yes

            And I am really glad the whole world is not speaking German right now and feel grateful for those who serve and who have served
            🇺🇸♥️🤍💙

            Liked by 1 person

          • Hi – I did watch some of the episodes and agree that it could be addicting and wow – to the costumes and setting
            but some of the acting bothered me – mainly form the lead actress – and also it felt like the writing waned as the series went on –
            but my son watched it and that is how I saw some episodes
            oh and I think I remeber some occult like stuff and that was when I turned it off –

            Liked by 1 person

          • Series all seem to wear out and get a little weird, especially sci fi series. I don’t remember the occult stuff, but sci fi often dwindles down to that eventually, and I agree, it’s over at that point. But the what if, or the writers’ ideas of what if are interesting. As a history teacher, we sometimes had the students imagine what if situations. It is great for developing critical thinking skills.

            Liked by 1 person

          • the Regeneration trilogy is quite something though books two and three and not as good as book one; the focus on the damage poets is far more engaging I think (if you’ve finished book one you will have met Billy Prior whose war career is followed in books two and three – it’s difficult to warm to him on any level). I’m not sure we are much good at helping our vets, at least not as good as we should be. Working with homeless charities over the last dozen or so years has brought home how many vets end up homeless often following a term in prison… they start young, get institutionalised in the forces and then after their 12 years or whatever are pushed back into a society they neither know nor really understand; we are getting better but a lot of lives have been harmed by the lack of a proper transition

            Liked by 1 person

          • Have you watched the Amazon Series, Homecoming with Julia Roberts? Good intentions, not so great results. Of course, it is 100% fiction.

            I didn’t know you have been working with homeless charities. What do you do? That is such a challenge, probably like nothing else we face here in the US. Treating mental illness and treating those, many of whom want to be homeless. How are the charities you work with treating those with mental illnesses?

            Like

          • I started working with a charity called Crisis set up in the late 60s with the aim of ending homelessness following an iconic film calledCathy Come Home which shook up the country as it depicted the decent into homelessness and the cruelty of the system. Worth finding on YouTube if you can. It provides education and support for homeless helping people back into work via its Starlight cafes but most recognizably helping during 6 days at Christmas providing shelter 3 meals full health checks and support in large centres around the major English cities. I volunteer at one centre near me every Xmas and have done for 12 years now. I’ve also provided legal advice and helped with reading and maths programmes throughout the year. More recently I joined a smaller organisation called the 999 club (999 is our 911 for context) based near me. They provide some shelter and a Monday to Friday breakfast plus showers weekly health appointments help with housing applications and accessing benefits plus a clothing bank. I’m a general volunteer there doing whatever needs doing.
            All of this was stopped by covid but the government introduced its Noone Left Behind programme which provided instant accommodation in locked down hotels to all homeless. That had an amazing impact but of course since lockdowns have ended the spare space has gone. I’m waiting to hear when we can volunteer again in a client facing role which is what I want.
            Mental health is so hard to spot, acknowledge and help with. We do it terribly here, frankly, even if youre not homeless. But it is gradually being given levels of support it deserves. The thinking is much more joined up. My new outlaw – my daughter in laws father- is a GP in Derbyshire who coordinates the county’s suicide prevention team. Sohrab sees some improvements in funding and focus and sharing of best practice across the NHS but we all know the covid inspired backlog of chronic but not life threatening treatments means mental health, like social care will slip down thr national agenda. Always hope, never give up as my mum taught me so on we go doing our small bit to make a few people’s lives marginaly better. Sorry for such a long answer!!

            Liked by 1 person

          • Geoff, thank you for such a long answer. You exert an amazing amount of effort towards problems that no one has answers for. I get overcome by it all and do very little, right now feeling awesome to be able to take care of myself.

            Societies, (governments) at least since WW1 have tried genocide, institutionalization, sterilization, counseling, social programs, urban development, education like Migrant Education, where I worked for five years, and I’m sure many other “fixes,” and so far the problem only increases.

            Churches and charity organizations like CASA or Kiwanis, which I belonged to in Woodlake try to alievate small sections of the problems. Even big international organizations haven’t solved the problems. Maybe individuals treating individuals is the answer. In the end, people have to want help, and someone has to find them out of the thousands who don’t want help or can’t respond to help because of drugs or other problems. Lucky are the few that respond. Luckier are the many who try to help. It may feel like only a drop in the bucket, but we are not the ultimate judge. Thank you for your service, Geoff.

            Like

          • That’s lovely and touching but at heart I get so much out of it, I sometimes feel it is I who should thank them for the opportunities, only that feels wrong as it suggests I’m grateful they are homeless. As you say, we can but do out little bit, remain non judgemental and hope that it might help change maybe one life a little

            Liked by 1 person

          • Mom used to say something like that. She worked in the inner city in Indianapolis, IN with Head Start as a home teacher before it was a huge program. I would go with her sometimes.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Now this is such a readable piece. Unlike some, I thought it clear mum was a WW2 survivor esp the later reference to returning forces from the middle east hinted at Iraq. And the idea of those who were damaged reflecting that damage on others’ lives is eminently possible. This could be fact, fiction or a BOTS so well written is it.
    I’m intrigued by mum’s motivation to reveal this secret. Why did she feel the need to unburden herself; maybe it’s a religious thing, this urge to confess before meeting one’s maker. Maybe she just felt tired carrying such a burden. Maybe it was so long ago that, the memory triggered by seeing the brooch, it didn’t seem worth holding on to it any more.
    When my dad died and mum moved in a bungalow I thought it essential I sat her down and quizzed her about family because otherwise all those accumulated memories would die with her. It was fascinating and like the mum in the story she was more revelatory than I expected. She volunteered I had a cousin who’d committed arson, a great great uncle who had an incestuous relationship with his eldest daughter than produced another daughter who was ‘adopted’ by him and his wife to avoid scandal and a great aunt who because a ‘high class’ prostitute during WW1 and had to marry a Norwegian sailor due to her profession, again to dodge the scandal. So it could be in that sort of context too.
    I do take Gary’s point about the final revelation; it does feel a little contrived. Maybe I’d have just let the narrator keep the brooch and leave wondering why his mother had it in the first place. But it is a small gripe which does not detract from a well told and enjoyable story.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I couldn’t help but sense a sci-fi element in this short story. It was probably the word ‘Network’, yet when I read the story a second time, I wasn’t sure if there was a sci-fi element, and it was more a frightening underground drama. I saw it as the complete opposite to the movie ‘The Stepford Wives.’
    The story certainly had me thinking there was some kind of conspiracy in the background, which led me back to an element of sci-fi. It was like people taking action because a government wasn’t willing to help those who had fought for them.
    Of course, wars go on all the time, so I would imagine those brooches are still being worn somewhere, unless, of course, they were only used in one particular city/town. This leads to believe the story is set in the near future because we are already experiencing a lack of help for many of our veterans.

    Like

  7. Great story Doug. I thought it was pretty clear that she was sharing the story to pass on the idea and the possible help from the network should it be necessary to the narrator. For wars continue and domestic issues due to war damage continue. And the hint of how dad died… nicely done. The brooch is truly a family heirloom. The narrator has been inducted into the network and given a bit of family history.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As well as spotting mistakes, they told me about plot holes and what worked and didn’t work in each story. They also made suggestions to improve stories, but I didn’t take all their advice if I disagreed with what they said. After all, they’re my stories and characters.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I did use the valuable suggestions from my Beta readers, but when I sent my book to an editor, as right on as she was after I had spent weeks rewriting to her edits when I got back the second edit saying that I needed to rewrite the first half (50,000 words) of my story, I gave up. My story still sits unpublished along with another one that I’m afraid might meet the same end. Publishing is a scary experience. 🙂 Good for you to keep at it. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Not the most encouraging of anecdotes, Marsha. 🙂
        However, I hear you. The trouble I find is while my beta readers and small band of loyal followers and supporters (including you, bless you) find a lot to like about my writing, the overwhelming majority of web publishers and journals don’t seem to agree. It’s in no way sour grapes to say that I often look at what they do publish and shake my head in disbelief at the shallow and poor quality of what they seem to find appealing.
        I’m thinking of setting up a site called something like Writing Roulette, where stories are chosen by a random number selector, so at least some writers get published in their lifetime. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • You don’t have to go with everything your editor says. Sure, grammar and spelling mistakes, but when it comes to huge rewrites, if the beta readers like it, I’d stick with it, Marsha. However, it depends on how well you know your editor and how you get on with them. I always have good chats if I disagree with what my editor suggests, and we always end up meeting at a middle ground.
        But, as I mentioned before, it’s your story, and if you (and your beta readers like it), I say stick with it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • That was the problem, Hugh. I could see where she was right, but every time I started rewriting, it felt dull and lifeless. It was frustrating to admit defeat, but my perspective had changed and I lost the vision, I think. It was a great story for the time, and I think a relevant one because I’ve read books and seen movies that have a similar plot line. I’m not sorry I wrote it. It stretched me as far as I wanted to go.

          Like

  9. I came late to this one – I seem to have become sporadically invisible to both WP and Fb alerts lately. Or maybe I’ve just been too involved in competition entries.
    so it’s taken a while to skim through everyone’s comments. What is there left to say?
    I enjoyed the story. I’ve often wondered about the lack of acceptance of the existence of PTSD following both World Wars. Or perhaps I mean the lack of publicity for it. Given the situations in which this happens (my husband suffers from a mild form following an incident in his police career) It must have been widespread. and i like the idea of a women’s network dealing with the extreme damage caused.
    Women suffered in a different way from the men in the forces – from loss of loved ones, separation from evecuated children during the blitz, return of damaged loved ones post war and loss of newly -found independence. a whole generation of women never married (or remarried) because there weren’t enough men to go around. (There’s a novel written recently about tha tthat I mean to read when I can remember who it’s by).
    So I felt that Doug’s story was a well-spotted theme and beautifully conveyed.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m just hearing about this story chat. What an excellent idea and venue.

    I thought the story took place in the 90s but was referencing WWII.
    The narrator seems horrified but fascinated. I’m not sure he or she makes the connection at the end.
    The mother seems to have made peace with her actions and needed only to tell her child.
    I don’t think this actually happened but is close enough to reality that it’s not so far-fetched.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jump on in, Chel, the water’s fine. 🙂 Nailed it on WWII but a war bride aged 19 in 1945 would be looking at a nursing home in the 2010’s, as my Mum did.
      Although I doubt such a network existed (I write fiction after all), my mother towards her end at 95 started telling us all sorts of things she’d never shared before, including the tale of a particularly nasty bastard who had a dreadful ‘accident’ at the sawmill where he worked. 😉 (Not my Dad, I hasten to add; he’s just recently passed at 99.
      She also told my sisters that when they were cleaning up after she’d gone, they should carefully check any clothing and handbags because who knows what they’d find. They did as asked and in the process found thousands of dollars in cash hidden in various coats and bags. Nobody who lived through the Great Depression trusted banks. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

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Marsha

Marsha

Hi, I'm Marsha Ingrao, a retired educator and wife of a retired realtor. My all-consuming hobby is blogging and it has changed my life. My friends live all over the world. In November 2020, we sold everything and retired to the mile-high desert of Prescott, AZ. We live less than five miles from the Granite Dells, four lakes, and hundreds of trails with our dog, Kalev, and two cats, Moji and Nutter Butter. Vince's sister came with us and lives close by. Every day is a new adventure.

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