” . . . each of us contains our ancestors and all the generations to come. When we free ourselves we are freeing all humanity.” The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho
I stood on the beach at a boat ramp near Vantage, Washington, US when the dam was drained for repair a few years ago. The Columbia River was as low as it had been before the dam was built. I could see the ancient Native American fishing site across the water. Rubbing a stone between my thumb and fingers that cool autumn day I felt as if it held an ancestor within. It asked me to carry it with me on my journey. And so I did.
On that sand, which is now again deep under water, I felt connected with the earth and earlier people. It’s not the only time, but it was special and I knew it. Who knows how long, if ever, until the river will be so low again? I wondered who had walked there long ago. My home was built just months before I bought it. Not many people were likely to have walked the ground there, remote in the Rocky Mountains. But imagine cities and highways and and airways or water ways, some more than 1000 years old. What did people leave behind in their foot prints? How long does our negative or positive energy linger? I didn’t bless that beach but I’ve often renewed the spirit of my home, especially before and after guests. I found this article from Daily Om inspiring and I think you may like it, too.
We can bless each space we enter leaving a sweet energetic footprint behind.
Physical space acts like a sponge, absorbing the radiant of all who pass through it. And, more likely than not, the spaces we move through each day have seen many people come and go. We have no way of knowing whether the energy footprints left behind by those who preceded us will invigorate us or drain us. Yet we can control the energy footprint we leave behind for others. In blessing each space we enter, we orchestrate a subtle energy shift that affects not only our own experiences in that space but also the experiences of the individuals who will enter the space after us. While we may never see the effects our blessing has had, we can take comfort in the fact that we have provided grace for those that follow after us.
When you bless a room or an entire building, you leave a powerful message of love and light for all those who will come after you. Your blessings thus have myriad effects on the environments through which you pass. Old, stagnant energy is cleared, creating a vacuum into which fresh and invigorating energy can freely flow. The space is thus rendered harmonious and nourishing, and it becomes a hub from which positive feelings are transmitted. Intent is the key component of the blessings you leave in your physical wake. If your intent involves using your own consciousness as a tool for selflessly spreading grace, your blessings will never go awry. Whether you feel more comfortable performing a solo blessing or prefer to call upon your spirit guides for assistance, visualize each space you enter becoming free of toxins, chaos, and negativity as you speak your blessing. Then imagine the resultant emptiness being replaced by pure, healing white light and loving energy. Even a quic! k mindful thought of love can bless a space.
This type of blessing is cumulative and will grow each time you bestow it. Try blessing every home, business, and office you visit for an entire week and observing the effects of your goodwill. Your affirmative energy footprint will help brighten your day as you contemplate your blessing’s future impact on your siblings in humanity and your environment.
Every autumn I look forward to lighting a bonfire and tossing onto it things that are no longer useful to me like an old rag rug Mom made that even the dogs won’t use anymore, and outdated income tax forms more than 7 years old, and a small note describing a relationship that is no longer helpful, or even a portion of the relationship that needs to stop. Smoke removes negative things and purifies them, and us, so the ancient stories tell.
Smudging is similar and it doesn’t require such a huge flame. It can be done indoors. I try to smudge the guest room between guests, even if I only burn incense. I felt it’s time now to really smoke the negative energy out of that room and my home so I studied up about crafting my own smudge sticks and took myself on a gathering walk outside my door.
For this smudging to remove negative energy I bundled a section of a mullein seed stalk with sage from my garden and dry pine needles. The sage was fresh and the mullein damp. I didn’t give the bundle time to dry so it was hard to keep it smoldering yesterday when I held it by hand and whooshed the smoke with a group of feathers. Today I initiated a rescued cast iron cauldron that Rusti Shilling discarded. I swear on a stack that’s her name.
My ideas was to kindle a fire and let it settle to coals to keep the smudge stick smoking. I collected some twigs from beneath a pine tree in my yard but they weren’t as dry as I thought. Crumpled gratitude notes from my gratitude jar flamed easily but not enough to keep the twigs burning. So let’s try 3 tea candles. Three is a good number and I shaped them in a triangle. That did the trick.
I got the smudge going outdoors on my deck then brought the cauldron into the guest room and set it up on an inverted iron pot to protect the floor, keeping it well away from bedding. I’ve washed sheets and bedspreads and I left all the bedding unfolded on top of the bed. I also opened the closet doors and the adjoining bathroom door, and opened the window a bit. All the while I was telling the unwanted energy and spirits to go away, they are not wanted, they are not useful today, they are free to go. Repeating it over and over as I walked and wafted the smoke through the area.
This method sustained a lot more smoke and I hadn’t thought to disable my smoke alarms ahead of time. I discovered how sensitive they are to even a little smoke not even in the same room and that’s assuring. I let a little smoke out of the guest room into the rest of the house and then closed the door so the smudge would work most effectively in the areas most used by guests. If you’ve been a guest, don’t take offence. This is something I do to prepare the room for the next guest and I prepared it for you, too. I like the energy of some guests so much I don’t smudge the room for a long time so I can feel the good vibes longer.
Finally I placed an inexpensive item on the smudge stick that was left by a guest who experienced a really negative energy, intense but brief, while staying here. I expected it to smolder and put out the tinder but instead it flamed up. For safety I took the pot outdoors and let it burn up most of the remaining elements.
I’m all about safety from fire at my place since I live out of town and no fire truck is able to get here in time to save my home. Rusti gave me this cast iron lid, too, which doesn’t fit the rusty pot but it worked wonderfully to smother the fire.
So now I have released negative energy from the new-to-me cast iron cauldron and my home. Tommorrow I will burn lavender, holy basil, rosemary, and mint to bring healing, protection and calming. I feel like this iron pot will be a handy and safe “fire pit” for me, and I like that it’s portable. Some years, like this one, I haven’t had a bonfire because it’s too dry and grass fire is still a danger. This year I’m starting a new tradition for smudging my home at least once every autumn.
I’ve been enchanted with the grotesque since I learned about gargoyles in my 7th grade French class. And I’ve always liked the humorous. Walking in Madrid in September I paused and clicked a few shots of this window decor while my friends advanced ahead of me, not noticing the window or that I was no longer keeping up. The skulls and rocks have been transformed to serve practical functions; they are no longer in their original forms. Go back and look closely and you will see what’s going on inside the room as well as reflections of street action. Let your mind feel the shifts in perception captured by the lens.
I met Richard Thomas when he was instructor at the Horror Writers Workshop Transylvania, Edition 2015, in Bran. One day on our way to write in a haunted castle we had lunch in an ancient cemetery. Richard made the original photo of this group of grave markers and I messed with it a bit to create this transmogrified image.
This was when the whole world measured time
This is when the light would turn around
This is where the past would come undone
and the spinning earth will mark a new beginning
Let’s go back in time, to when it all began
To the breaking of new dawns
Where moments bright with fire, would light the chanting song
Where pagans worshipped sun, and danced among the trees Wore strange masks of covered straw, and blessed cold ash with awe Wreaths hung upon the door against all spirit’s, dire
and when the winter’s grasp let go, the sun reversed the pyre
This was when the whole world measured time
This is when the light would turn around So that spring arrives, and seeds will sprout and grow
Oh, radiant sun, stretch the day, shorten night
Return earth’s darkness into light
This is where the light will turn around
And this was where the past has comes undone
Lauren McCarter is a watercolor artist living in Boise, Idaho. She generously gifted this art piece to me at a time when I needed a boost. Thank you, Lauren!
A photo of my focaccia bread on my FaceBook page got many “likes” and several requests for the starter and recipe. So I made starters from mine and promptly gave them away. Here’s the way to make your starter from scratch, care for it, and then make whole wheat sourdough bread that almost never fails me. Yes, I fail sometimes. Only the gods are perfect. My dad taught me to fail, to admit I fail, and to learn from the failure so I don’t repeat the same mistake. Some fails take a few repeats to really get it right.
To start with, you need a sourdough starter. I’ll give you my grandpa’s recipe passed down from his youth in about 1912 as the summer cook in our family’s sheep grazing camps in Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains. As a young man in 1927 he rescued the diamond drill bit for his mining company by mixing up a tacky dough and sticking it to the end of the drill, then lowering it down the shaft. The drill bit stuck to the dough and was easily pulled up. The mining operation was only briefly down that day. Here’s the story about the mine.
This is how Grandpa taught me to make a new starter. <!–more–> Boil a potato (we live in Idaho, right?) and save 1 cup of the boiling water. Eat the potato. Cool the water to room temperature. In a glass jar stir 1 cup flour with the 1 cup potato water. Cover it with a loosely woven towel to keep dust out but let microscopic yeast in. Leave it on the counter several days. It will ferment, get a lovely sourdough aroma and it may develop a grayish liquid hooch floating on top. Stir the hooch back in or poor it off, no matter. Here is a delightful version of the story.
The potato water has natural sugar and starch in it. Yeast lives in air, just about everywhere on Earth. It is a living organism that feeds on the protein in flour and multiplies. That’s how it expands or rises. It’s a process of fermentation. Yeast will find its food in the jar and dive in. After you’ve trapped the yeast all you have to do is keep it alive and you’ll be able to make bread that rises, no need to purchase dry or cake yeast. In 3-4 days up to a week, you’ll need to add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water to offer more food, stir it in, put a lid on the jar and store it in the refrigerator until you want to use it.
Another way to make your starter is to get some from a friend or buy a mix from a store. You can even put a cup of flour and a cup of water in a jar, cover it with a light cloth and leave it on the counter several days until it ferments. I did that in my classroom whenever we read a Jack Londong story.
Keep the starter thriving: You have to occasionally feed the starter to keep the yeast alive and active. For making bread and buscuits I use a much thicker starter. It rounds up on a table spoon. The theory and practice is that you start your sponge with less living yeast and more flour to feed them. They multiply better, don’t run out of food and stop reproducing, and therefore the bread and biscuits rise higher from the gas produced by the abundant lively yeast. Your bread will have nice high air bubbles in it and it won’t be a dense brick. For bread, reduce the amount of water you use when feeding your starter until you have it thick enough. Then, every 1 – 2 weeks stir in ¼ cup flour and 1/8th cup water to the starter to keep it fed. Feed more often if you are depleting the starter to less than ¼ cup. I keep only ¼-1/2 cup on hand. It only takes 1 tablespoon to make a sponge for bread so I don’t keep a large amount of starter ready.
Keep it capped in the refrigerator. Some cooks keep another jar of runny starter to use in pancakes and other recipes. If hooch (stinky liquid) forms on top, you can pour it off or stir it back in. This happens if the starter has not been fed for too long, no matter, it’s still good starter and you’ll know it wants to be fed.
Sponge for bread or biscuits: When you want to make bread you start by making a sponge, or getting the yeast excited and active. Mix a sponge the night before you plan to use it or early morning if you want to use it for dinner biscuits. I use the same 1/4 cup tool for all the measurements so instead of saying 1/2 cup, you will see 2/4 cups.
In a glass container or small crock mix gently
¾ cups flour (bread flour is best but all purpose if fine)
2/4 cups lukewarm water
1 heaping tablespoon starter (the thick starter)
Cover with light cloth or a loose fitting dish that lets a little air in. Let it stand (or sit) on the counter over night or at least 6 hours.
The sponge will increase its volume, rise higher in the crock, and then settle back down so you could see a line to where it expanded. That’s fine. It should look bubbly.
Note: If you leave the sponge too long the yeast critters will have eaten all the flour protein and start to die and lose strength for making bread rise. They will need more food so, only in this case, add 2/4 cups more flour and ¼ cup water and let it eat a couple hours longer to form enough gas needed for rising. If I added more flour in this case, I subtract it from the amount needed for my bread recipe.
The recipe for 1 big loaf of bread, no knead method. OK, so you know about the starter, how to keep it thriving, and how to make a sponge hours before making your recipe. Now, let’s make the dough.
1st evening: make the sponge (above). I use bread flour for this. 3/4 cup flour, 2/4 cup warm water (not hot), 1 table spoon starter.
Next morning: add 2/4 cups bread flour and ¼ cup lukewarm water, gently stir it in. Cover crock with a dish again and let it set out all day. Doing this really boosts the energy for making bread rise!
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2nd evening: With the flour you added this morning, the sponge has expanded and gas has formed bubbles like the photos above. Use the sponge now and mix dough. You want a total of about 2 cups flour. You have already added ½ cup to the sponge this morning so that counts as part of the total flour you will need. Now you need to add 1 and 1/2 cups to make the 2 cups needed. You can use all white bread flour or mix with whole wheat, oat flour, or other grains. The more whole wheat and other grains you mix in, the more chance it won’t raise well. The more white flour, the better it will raise. I am able to get half the flour as whole wheat, after learning from many fails. Try changing your ratio of white and wheat flours if you have trouble. Try your first loaf with all white flour for success.
In a large glass bowl, mix dry ingredients.
¾ cups whole wheat flour
¾ cups bread flour
½ heaping tsp. baking soda (makes it form nice big gas bubbles)
½ tsp salt
optional Add up to 1/4 cup wheat or oat bran or other grain and 1 T. flax seed. The more I add, the less rise I get. Experiment to see what works for you.
Mix wet ingredients into the sponge in its crock, gently. First, I start with the water in a glass measuring cup with a pour spout, and add the oil next into the water. Oil coats the spoon so molasses slides off easily. Add the molasses then stir with measuring spoon. Then pour it all into the sponge in the crock and mix gently. It doesn’t all mix in and that’s fine. The sponge will deflate a little when you stir it.
½ cup lukewarm water
1T. olive oil
1T. molasses (optional but I like its color and flavor and I feel it helps feed yeast)
Add wet mixture to dry ingredients in the bowl, stir to mix it, no kneading unless only slightly if the color is not mixing into the dough. The color doesn’t all have to mix in; it will eventually mix and come out fine. Dough will be quite wet and sticky, that’s a good thing. Cover the bowl with a dish or lid. I use a dish as the lid to my big Pyrex mixing bowl. Leave it on the counter overnight. You can put it in the fridge a couple days for a slower rise and more sourdough flavor. If you do that, just take it out and let it warm to room temp slowly before the next step.
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Stir just enough to mix. It will look uneven but it all mixes and rises overnight.
Next morning: Stretch, don’t knead the dough. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured counter or board. Yes, it’s wet and may be kind of runny. Sort of scoop it up in a pile and invert the bow over it. Set your timer for 15-20 min., I use 20. Go drink your coffee or do yoga and let it rest. In 20 min. lift off the bowl and stretch the dough gently on one side, then the opposite side, then one end, then its opposite end. Flour it and flour your hands as needed so you can handle it. It will resemble pizza dough. Fold one side onto the middle part of the dough. Fold its opposite side onto it forming a long pile. Then fold each end up the same way into a heap, turn it over onto the floured board, cover with the bowl and let it rest 15-20 min. again. You can look at some video examples below. Try not to let it tear, you are stretching the dough to let it form gas, those nice big bubbles we like in sourdough bread. If it tears a little it’s firming up. Do this for a total of 3 rests and stretches after the initial rest. After the last stretch, let it rest up to 20 min. before forming the loaf.
Scrape out of bowl, cover with bowl, rest 20 min.
Stretch, cover with bowl, rest 20 min.
Stretch, cover with bowl, rest 20 min.
Stretch, cover with bowl, rest 20 min.
You might like this video demonstration. This baker puts the dough back in the bowl between stretches and waits longer. I like my method better but I stretch the dough the same way. Each time I stretch it, the dough gets thicker and higher until it’s ready to form the loaf. Here is another video demonstration for stretching dough. His dough is as wet as mine often is, he uses a scraper, but he only stretches dough once for a different effect. Again, he starts with very small amount of starter. You really don’t need much.
Form the loaf: Shape the loaf and then put in into an oiled loaf pan or on an oiled baking sheet, and let it rise at least an hour or until double which may take a half day or longer. Whole wheat takes longer to rise. I use my 3 qt. cast iron sauce pan, oiled on bottom and sides all the way up. It usually rises higher than the sides of this pan. Or I use my clay bread loaf pan. Or I form a long baguette or Italian loaf or ciabatta rolls and put them on a baking sheet. Usually it’s the cast iron sauce pan, no lid. Cover with light cloth to rise. To avoid drafts I let it rise in the oven. No heat in summer oven but in cool seasons I heat my oven to 110 degrees, or as cool as I can, turn it off and let bread raise in the slightly warm oven. If the oven is too warm it kills the yeast so be careful. 110 is just right.
Baking: Remove bread from oven while preheating to 400. You can leave it in during preheating if you like but I don’t. Bread will have an “oven spring” usually, rising even more. Bake 20 – 25 min.. It should be nicely browned and sound solid when you thump it with your fingers. Cool on rack. Mine usually pops out of the pan without too much work. I run a butter knife around the edge to be sure it’s loose. “Completely cool it before cutting as it will keep cooking while it cools.” That rule never works at my house! We eat it warm, turned on its side to cut, with butter and honey. A round loaf gives you lots of chances for crusty heals.
I’ll post my recipe for focassia bread in a future post. Remember, if your bread turns out flat you can always call it flat bread, slice it horizontally for sandwiches or use it for dipping bread or thin crusts with spreads. When bread gets dry I make croutons or grind it for panko.
My favorite sourdough recipes are here. I’ve reworked and modified his recipe for 5 loaves to make the 1 loaf recipe you just read. The biscuits on his site are the best! Scroll down to find them in the link. Have fun and let me know how it works out for you!
I am making kites for props for a children’s theater performance, magical tales of the Chinese Monkey King. After cutting an old sheet to the measurements, I reached for my acrylic paints. A calendar of Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower paintings lay on the container. I had saved it for inspiration. I liked the center of this black flower so I painted it on a kite. I was thinking of a sea star while I painted. My mind wandered. Oops! I made it with 6 points instead of 5. And I added more colors for fun. When the 4 kites were painted this one just didn’t seem to belong with the others. It’s darker and abstract. The others are bright and cheery like this dragon kite. I took this photo of the dark kite, inspired by art, then painted over it attempting to create a kite that will look more the theme of the others.
Here is the flower center, painted by Georgia O’Keeffe that inspired me. When this project is finished I think I’ll make some kites for my family and friends that really are copies of favorite art. Wouldn’t that be fun to see in the sky?
It just happens that this week’s photo challenge is “Life imitates art.”. The idea is to find inspiration in a piece of art, and go further: imitate it. My painted kite is not quite what I think this theme asks for, but it was inspired by art so this is my entry for this week’s challenge. Oh, and when all the kites are secured on their frames and adorned with tails I’ll show you how they turn out. Please come back and look again.
I study round faces I found on masks and dolls and puppets in Sighisoara and Brasov, Romania last summer. Circles form the basic shape and eyes, nose, cheeks, and chin. Even eyebrows indicate circles. It makes a happy feeling. I’m ready to create masks and dolls and puppets, characters. Starting with painting circles appears easy, but will it be so? This little fellow’s hair grows around his face in a complete circle. What an enigma. I saw this hanging on a wall in a gift shop, just the face, nothing more. I think it would be a suitable face for Baby Brother puppet in a Baba Yaga play I am considering directing.
A bowl full of angels. So cheery! This artist has it down, the circles, the faces. I don’t want to copy, but I think it would be a good practice for me developing my own style, to let it flow and see where it takes me. I don’t have to make angels, maybe I’ll make witches or Yule Boys, those mischievious tomten-like brothers who lick your spoons and bowls and slam doors and peek at you through windows at Yule time. I’m happy to wander through the creative process. Painted faces, can they be as espressive as 3 dimensional sculpted ones?
So simple, yet so effective. I like the pipe cleaners for arms and legs, adorned with beads.
This cirlular emblem represents the Order of Dracul. I found it mounted on the wall in the house where Vlad Tepes, or Dracula, was born in Sighisoara, a town in Trnasylvania, Romania. Vlad’s father was the first in the Dracul order. In Romania adding “a” at the end of the name indicates the son of the original member. Only the first son adds the “a” and thereafter all the decendents use the name that way. So Vlad was the second in the Dracul line.
History about Dracula is interesting. I learned about him in The Horror Writers Workshop, Transylvania last summer. If you like horror literature, or want to explore the genre and visit inspiring places for writers, I highly recommend you take the week long workshop. For me, it’s unforgettable.
In addition to his title of “Impaler,” Vlad was also known as “Dracula,” which means “son of the Dragon.” Originally, this title came about because his father (also named Vlad) belonged to the Order of the Dragon, an order formed by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund for the purpose of defeating the Turks. The elder Vlad used the dragon symbol on his coins and went by the name “Dracul” (“dragon” or “devil”). Hence the diminutive “-a” on his son’s name, Dracula. As the younger Vlad’s talent for torture became known, however, the name Dracula came to be interpreted more and more as the sinister “son of the devil.” Read more about Dracula’s history here.
I’ve long wondered why so many family emblems are shaped in circles. Obviously they fit well on coins. But consider the circle, a line that continues when its end meets its beginning. Life is a cycle, a circle. It’s not perfect and they say no circle is perfect either. Today I will draft an image contained within a circle. It might represent a family or an order, or it might just be a fun exploration with cirles. Perhaps I’ll go out in my field in snow shoes and stomp circles in the snow.
Every winter I unpack the Tom and Jerry mugs and Grandma’s recipe. I don’t always make the warm drink but today I will. It feels like I should have a large group of family or friends to share the event. In our family tradition preparing and drinking this is a community event and even though it’s most often done at Christmas or New Years celebrations, I truly feel making and drinking Tom and Jerry is an event in itself and should be celebrated through all the cold darkish winter months.
It’s not simply tradition, it’s family revival, bringing to life again the warmth and friendship and security of times when I didn’t know the other edges of family life, the dark things family can do to one another. We need to revive the kind of nourishing memories we may have buried within us. We need to live in the light of loving experiences as often as we can. Tom and Jerry can do just that. If it’s new to you, think about starting your own family tradition or revival, if you will.
I remember asking Grandma for the recipe in about 1975 when I was visiting her. I was married and had 2 children by then and as a young home maker, I wanted to be able to share this recipe with my friends and carry on the tradition in my own home. She wrote it for me from memory, asking Grandpa for validation, and gave me the paper. I’ve kept it in my recipe box, and more recently in my trunk full of Christmas decor, until it has yellowed. Reading her handwriting is like hearing her voice, and her laughter, and breathing in the aroma of home and family.
I know there are other ways of making and serving Tom and Jerry’s but I like it this way the best. A recipe is not just what’s in it, it’s the way of preparing and serving the drink. As children Tom and Jerry is one grow-ups drink we were allowed, though I’m not sure we really had alcohol in ours until maybe we were teenagers, if then. Today I’m going to try to portion it down to serve 2, trying for 2 eggs. I wonder why Grandma used 11 eggs to serve 12 drinks. I’m sure my grandparents used their experience in determining the amounts for ingredients.
The mug bottoms are stamped “made in Japan”. Many types of pottery and mugs were made in Japan after WW2 when the US helped rebuild the nation we had feated. Imagine the artisans working in factories hand painting the gold guilded letters on each mug. I tried it once and I was far too unsteady to manage a small lettering brush on a rounded surface. Each mug in my set appears to be uniquely lettered, not stenciled or stamped. I may be wrong about that. I broke the punch bowl in clearly more than 100 pieces moving it from Idaho to Wyoming sometime in the 1970s. No matter, I use only the mugs anyway since I keep the yokes and whites in different bowls for Grandma’s recipe.
I’m always curious about were words or terms and names originate. I like this version found in an article published in “The Atlantic”:
“The Tom and Jerry’s origin is a bit of a mystery. Ted Haigh, author of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, says it was probably invented by Pierce Egan, a British journalist who lived in the 1800s and wrote the popular novel The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and His Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom (hence Tom and Jerry). Egan is said to have named the drink after his characters as a publicity stunt. Others hold that a famous American bartender, “Professor” Jerry Thomas, concocted the Tom and Jerry in the 1850s. The recipe credited to him calls for 12 eggs and is served with hot water rather than milk; yet another version suggests mixing the booze and batter with coffee. The only Tom and Jerry certainty is that there is no connection between the drink and the cartoon.
However it began, for about a hundred years, the drink was extremely popular in the United States. So popular that you could buy Tom and Jerry sets, with a large bowl for the batter and matching mugs with “Tom and Jerry” written across them in cursive gold. My family owns two of these and you can still buy the mugs on ebay. People could also order a Tom and Jerry when they went out: throughout the winter, bartenders would whip up a mug to warm a chilled patron.”
Here is another version of the recipe, one in which the yokes and whites are mixed together in the punch bowl before serving. This recipe uses a combination of brandy and rum mixed into the punch. I like my grandparents version instead. They let each drinker decide if they wanted whiskey, brandy, or rum and prepared each drink individually.
Do you drink Tom and Jerry? Please tell me your story and share your recipe.
I’m always delighted to see hand crafted masks and those I encountered in Romania were most impressive. Masks represent the strange symbolic world. They serve to protect the home by warning off evil or beckoning good wishes. Romanians hang masks on their homes, in the forest, and display them on mantles and walls. They create masks and wear them in ritual dances for life’s greatest passages like birth, marriage, and burial. As the year passes through time, masks worn in ceremonies ease the passage from one world of time, or season, to the other, especially at New Years rituals. I photographed the masks I saw on my tour with the Horror Writers Workshop Transylvania. But fear not, the faces I encountered were not all so scary. Some were downright fun. Petre Vlase tells about Romanian masks expertly here if you want to learn more about the tradition.
Our inn’s host Lorenzo at, Mamacozonacilor Pensuine in Bran set these on the mantle in the dining hall to scare off evil during our writers workshops and tours. These two were hand carved by an elderly man in Bran.
Lorenzo gave this mask to Richard Thomas, our guest horror author and instructor in exchange for Richard’s promise to return next summer. Richard took this protection home to guard his writing chair where he composes some wicked tales. Photo by Richard Thomas, enhanced by me.
Romanian masks aren’t all so frightening. These fiber masks hang on homes. The male head of the household wears one in a ceremony and asks for certain wishes or hopes for the home. I found these displayed on ancient homes that were moved from various sites in Romania into Herastrau Park in Bucharest. They are hand crafted from fabric, animal hair, fibers, dried beans, and other materials. The inside where you put your face is all black felt. In some mask wearing traditions the person wearing the mask goes into the void when putting it on, becoming the character of the mask. That’s why masks are often black inside. I don’t know if that’s true in Romanian tradition.
Many of these furry masks have something dangling off the nose. Most wear this sort of hat attatched.
The teeth are made from dried beans drilled and sewn in.
Fur can be real or otherwise.
These look to be more for display than wearing. They are macrame, probably hemp. Now here’s a use for wooden spoons.
No two are quite alike.
Owls see more than we can, so useful to display on the home.
These are the only old man masks I saw. They are at a souvenier shop at an ancient fortress we visited.
Rather absurd, don’t you think? This face is on the wall in Dracula’s birth home, now a bar and restaurant. I couldn’t hold the camera still. Yikes!
Some masks like this ceramic candle holder in a restaurant in Brasov are just decorative and plain old fun.
A mask on the wall helps set the tone of the place. Relax and enjoy a pipe
or whatever.Chilren are represented in some masks. The lighter side. It’s not all dark and scary.
Animals, too. This is not really a mask. It was made by a film crew that used the Bran Castle as a setting. Now that’s scary. It inspired a new horror story for me. You can’t miss this monster and rider as you enther the fortress.
We couldn’t figure out the meaning behind this but no doubt it means to be scary. This was at the top of the steep path to Bran Castle.
Figure out this one. It’s on a hill alongside the road in one of Transylvania’s most haunted forests. We were warned that wolves do live in this forest. If you were in the Horror Writers Workshop Transylvania, dont’ tell what we discoverd about this spooky sight.
I’m thrilled that as soon as I came home from Transylvania I was asked to direct a spooky play this fall. You can be darned sure I will use some of this inspiration for masks, props, and the set.
I am often happy to find accidental subjects that I’m not even hoping for on my field trips. Roxana from ABC Travel Romania, our official travel agent for the Horror Writers Workshop Transylvania , took me on the Bucharest subway to the Herastrau Park today. I wanted to see the village of original homes and outbuildings that have been moved here from around this country, sampling the architecture of home styles in Romania. Here are a few subjects that captured my interest.
“You know that part of your writing that you question – that’s weird and doesn’t fit neatly into a genre or a mold? Write more of that. Please.” Richard Thomas
I needed to see this advice, or permission, today. I wouldn’t say I have writer’s block, more like writer’s ennui, boredom. Fear of starting or moving the story or poem further. Fear of critics?! Eeeee gads! My local writers group convenes monthly to share our writing and “give and get support, constructive feedback”. I’ve decided to take a break from the group precisely because I am exploring writing that is weird, that doesn’t fit the mold, and – they don’t get it. They coach me to stay in the mold, don’t stray outside the familiar. To me, when I am exploring, I don’t want “moldy” writing. I’m not submitting my exploratory drafts to a publisher, for Pete’s sake. I’m just “messing around” with ideas, words, voice, style, and yes – bending genres and molds. My local writing group doesn’t advise me or permit me to explore. Today I use Richard Thomas’ words to give myself permission to explore. Advice to explore, even.
I’m bored with most of the structured traditional forms and content in the writers group, maintaining tight formula beginning, middle, and end, explaining everything for the reader so he or she doesn’t have to, or doesn’t GET to, imagine any details. Teaching literature and structured writing forms perhaps has shown me too much formula in basal readers that students can analyze and use as models for their compostions. Creative writing classes have diminished dramatically in American schools in the last five years.
That local group of writers may be right when they remind me that most people don’t want to think very much about their reading, they don’t want to reread a paragraph or section, even a sentence, to get the meaning, or deepen the meaning. Readers, they say, don’t want to imagine what Harv looked like or how he dressed. They want the writer to tell, or show, them details, details, details. I believe it. ELABORATION is the key to getting higher scores in state standardized writing assessments. And layering ideas is a bonus, too. I am happy to see the Common Core state standards across the nation demanding that students read literature with more complexity and stretch themselves with their writing. Sure, we still use models to teach reading and writing, but now we encourage readers and writers again to try writing “that’s weird, that doesn’t fit neatly into a genre or mold”, to find their voice. I taught verbally gifted or talented kids and I thought all kids should be taught to think about their reading and writing in more depth. To try out new ways of showing their ideas. All kids, all of them. All of us.
The local writing group has no tolerance for my writing where I ask the reader, or listener in storytelling, to use his or her own imagination, where characters and settings, like in Harv, are not always elaborated with details. Another reader, not in the group, said everyone knows a Harv. Don’t describe him, let us imagine the one we know. That’s storytelling, the oral tradition genre, using stock characters liked Raven, Coyote, Hercules, and Harv. Everyone has their own image for stock characters, whatever their names. My local group is uncomfortable with my writing where forms are not fully formed like the spirits emerging through the portal, through the veil from their mystical world into our mortal material realm in the beginning of my LaWrynn Stories.
Today is as good a time as any to write without questioning what’s weird and doesn’t fit a genre or mold. Edgar Allen Poe is known as the “Father of the Short Story” and Walt Whitman is known as the “Father of Free Verse or Blank Verse” poetry because they invented new literary forms, unfamiliar to their contemporary readers. Bram Stoker introduced the setting and mood in “Dracula” by showing the reader unformed forms in his beginning pages. It takes courage to read unfamiliar literary forms and more courage to draft it. tff
In the Depression Harv moved around. He didn’t have his own home. Harv stayed with different relatives. He’d stay on one ranch and help them out. Then he moved on to another kin’s place and helped them do chores and fix things. He tried to be handy, but he was more in the way than useful. He stayed a couple of months usually. He wasn’t always appreciated, but he was family, so folks let Harv live with them to help him out. For a while. Harv made the rounds living with one brother or sister, then the next, and that’s how he got by in those days. After several rounds of putting him up, Fred had had enough of his mooching brother . You see, Harv drank a lot and wasn’t at all helpful.
Fred liked to get up early and get at the chores. There was a skating rink in the town and Harv would go there every night and drink himself blind. He came home, Fred and Letha’s home, when the joint closed and slept it off until late in the morning. Every day. One morning when the shadowed edges were beginning to darken into things we know, Fred took Harv’s knife while he lay sleeping. He walked to the chicken pen in dim lantern light and selected a young hen. He twisted her head until he felt her spinal cord snap and then he cut her throat with the blade. Then he plucked out her feathers , dressed her out, and sliced her in pieces. He dropped the pieces in a pail hanging on the side of the hen house. He tossed the slick innards into the hog pen. And then Fred carefully slipped back into Harv’s bedroom and put the bloody knife back where he found it. Letha came humming across the yard to the hen house swinging a basket for fresh eggs, the way she did every day. She folded up the bottom of her apron forming a pocket and held it tightly in one hand. Then she picked up the bloody chicken parts and dropped them into the fold. She carried the flesh into the kitchen, rinsed them in the sink, and put the pieces in a bowl in the ice box next to the new eggs. They’d have chicken dinner tonight.
When the sun was well up, Harv sat in a kitchen chair waiting for his breakfast the way he did every day. Fred poured a cup of weak coffee for each of them and looked down at his brother. “Harv”, said Fred as he set the cups on the embroidered table cloth, “Were you at the skating rink last night?” “Sure I was” said Harv. “Every night.” Fred looked at Harv for a long silence. “Harv, the Sherriff was here this morning. He wanted to talk to you. Said there was a fight at the skating rink last night and a fellow got stabbed. He didn’t think he’s gonna live. Sherriff wanted to ask you if you saw the fight, if you know anything about it.” Harv looked at his steaming cup for a long silence. He didn’t remember any fight the night before. He didn’t remember much at all from last night. Harv left Fred and Letha’s ranch that day and he never came back. That’s the way Aunt Jewel always tells it about Harv.
About this story: Duree Shiverick, Eagle, Idaho, told me this story in her shop January 22, 2015 while she replaced the string attachment cord on my antique violin. I was wandering the shop examining imaginatively carved fiddle heads while she spoke. And then I sat on a beautifully upholstered chair opposite her while she worked and gave me the tale. I asked her permission to embellish the story and use it in my storytelling bag. Harv’s name is real but I created the others. After telling the story several times it will change. When I am telling stories to an audience, that’s often when the language emerges by itself and makes a better fit. Repetition of words and phrases like “every night” is common in storytelling. I tried to keep the language simple and straight forward. I am putting more dark or magic or mythical elements in my story making since taking a writers workshop last year in a http://www.mccallarts.org/cabinfever program sponsored by the McCall Arts and Humanities Council, and in anticipation of the Horror Writers Workshop in Transylvania this summer.
About this photo: Someone took this photo of my nephew on either his family ranch near Sweet and Ola, Idaho, or in Wyoming. I adjusted curves and gave it a shape blur in Adobe CS4. I think it gives a ghostly image illustrating Harv leaving that day, although it’s a sunrise shot. Memories and stories retold have a blurry quality, rather dreamlike and that’s the mood I was trying to capture in this photo.
I am thrilled to get to partcipate in the horror writers workshop in Transylvania this summer! I get to visit Bran’s castle and have a bite at Dracula’s house (lunch). I invite you to take up the challenge, too.
Horror is not my best writing genre, but then I don’t really know because I’ve only peered into it. This workshop will immerse me in the craft. The author teacher, Richard Thomas, is one of the best. (More about him in the link at the end of this.) I’ve been assured that exploratory writing will be just the ticket.
When I wondered if my writing is up to the challenge, the Program Director, an accomplished author herself, Tausha Johnson gave me this to think about. (She’s in the link below, too.)
“Writing a Horror Story
Every story is, in its tiny way, a horror story. Horror is about fear and tragedy, and whether or not one is capable of overcoming those things. It’s not all about severed heads or blood-glutton vampires. It’s an existential thing, a tragic thing, and somewhere in every story this dark heart beats.”
She said, “Yes, Kay, horror is very open and covers a lot of ground, such as dark fiction, dark fantasy, gothic, noir, psychological horror, weird, supernatural, surreal, grotesque, suspense & thriller, slipstream (crossing lines with sci-fi and fantasy), etc. Then there’s the horror I write which is more literary horror. Flannery O’Connor & Shirley Jackson often fall into this horror sub-genre. Whatever our style or genre of writing, there are elements to the genre that can help us create suspense and unique, original stories.”
In my LaWrynn stories (in the menu at the top of this blog) there is much fantasy and darkness. She arrives in our world from the other world, the Celtic idea of where we are when we are dead or where the enchanted beings live. She enters our world through a portal on Samhain, the Celtic celebration when spirits can enter our world for 3 days, then go back to their world. It occurs at Halloween time and celebrates the end of the old year and beginning the new with festivities and community bonfires. Once in our world, she lives in the dark underground, Badger’s hole, and encounters life on this side, including dangers and horrors as well as light mischief and fun. She’s trapped here for a year because she didn’t get back through the portal at the end of 3 days. Her horror is having to live in this world. There’s magic and fantasy and lots of room to add darker elements. LaWrynn is mostly living in a real notebook with me for now. I need to prod myself to get more of her stories into this blog. You can read the draft of her appearance here. https://skybluedaze.wordpress.com/lawrynn-stories-fantasy-and-celtic-lore/
And I have more ideas for dark stories. My new neighbor might be a pyromaniac and he’s obsessed with sealing wasps out of his house. For real! Wasps really scare me!They attack me every chance they get. I feel like their target. His house was abandoned for several years so wasps moved in and I don’t doubt ghosts abide there, too.
In my https://skybluedaze.wordpress.com/the-cat-rock-letters/, I plan to animate the stone formation, a cat that overlooks the river and section house where Frank lives. In Celtic lore rock formations have powers and can change and cause changes. But this set of stories is not so dark and maybe I’ll leave them as they are.
I like the ravine in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. I long to produce a play adapted from Poe’s “Mask of the Red Death”. I love Stanley Kubrick’s directing in the suspenceful movie “The Shining”. Nicole Kidman’s performance in the ghost story “The Others” convinced me. And I could not put down Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk even when the snow outside was the best ever on my vacation. He wrote Haiku in the story! Poe also wrote poems in his stories like https://skybluedaze.wordpress.com/2014/10/23/haunted-palace/ in “The Fall of the House of Usher”. Shakespeare’s stories showed ghosts and seers and tragedies. Mythology is full of tragedies. I got this!
If I never wanted to write horror, and never contrived a place I’d like to be when I write it, and people I’d like to be with…well sometimes I just need to be spontaneous and go with the demon when it stretches its claw toward me. With a generous scholarship offer from the workshop director, Tausha Johnson, I am 93% sure I am going to be in in Transylvania in July for the horror writer’s workshop. I’m looking at travel costs before making 7% more commitment. I’m sure I can do it! Just do it for no good reason. Going!
I’ve never traveled off the North American continent and I need a little guidance about making flight arrangements. If you can advise me, please reply! I can fly from Boise or SEATAC. Here’s where I need to go:
“We recommend that guests fly to Henri Coandă International Airport, Romania which is located 16.5km (10.3mi) northwest of the city of Bucharest. Once all travel arrival times have been confirmed, a shuttle will bring you from a designated meeting point directly to the hotel in Bran. Please be aware that travel time to Bran is approximately three hours.”
LaWrynn picked herself up and stumbled to hold her balance against the gusts. “Crap!” she thought. “If I had claws I could grip onto . . .” Thunk! Something slammed into her. She wobbled but this time she recovered more quickly. She reclaimed her space only a little further down the corridor.
“Not on the ground. Definitely not on the ground”, she muttered, sensing that there was no up or down in this blasting wind. She hovered for a moment, the best she could, and then stretched for the edge, any edge out of the way of oncoming forces. Incomplete forms whirled in circles, those unsettled souls so ungrounded they constantly twirl about as spirits, like they did in their lives. She needed to hang back and take stock of her situation.
She had been pushed before onto paths she wished she hadn’t taken, though she was glad for many of those wayward trails. This push felt more like a pull growing ever stronger, pulling faster and faster like a current in a rip tide. LaWrynn felt she was being sucked into a vortex she could not resist.
“If I can dodge thingamabobs that come hurling through this ruckus and keep myself steady, I’ll like to see where I can go”. She considered a new adventure. She felt the mightiest draw to jump back in and let the speed and danger dash her to the other world. She hoped this time for a chance to live in that tangible place again. She had peered at it many times before through thin veils between her spirit world and the world of mortality. But she doubted she would touch it once more. She felt she could not inhabit that world one more time. It was like looking through a window and not being able to join what she saw. And not certain she wanted to go there.
How long had she dwelled in the world of souls and spirits and sprites, of angels and demons, and things that were things and yet had no identity? An instant? An eternity? Time had no meaning, and all those things, including LaWrynn, had no form. It was what she knew and felt she understood.
She let go her grip. Now she tossed and thumped in a current she could not control. Thingamajigs heaved through space; things with shapes and substance.
Her world had no real forms. Material things simply were not present and not needed. Macaroni, socks, tea cups, bicycles, hammers – what need? No obstacles to being, just being, that was her reality. Her world was without surfaces and shapes and forms and weight; without bodies; without hunger, hurt, and hindrances.
Smack! “Ow!” The sensation of pain! Whack! She grabbed onto the spinning water can that had smacked her, lifted herself up its slippery round side, and clung to its handle loop. It was spilling water, real water, not the idea of water, the real stuff. She had seen water before but now she could feel it. Cool, wet, what a feeling!
LaWrynn rode the can in the flurry, wind tumbling with water, spinning too fast for her liking. She held tight with one hand and reached out with her other arm for a hold on the next open door in the passageway. “Get me outta here!” she screamed and let go of the handle to use both arms on the door jamb. She swung her leg out and pulled herself through the portal, away from the swirling force.
Dizzy, she lay in darkness on a cool damp mound of dirt. Ground! “On the ground? Definitely on the ground!” she assured herself, free from the disturbing uproar. She had poked through the portal, back into the world of humanity once again.
Washtucna, Washington, USA. We pulled over for coffee at the highway stop shop where they also offer a menu of hot dog dressings and sell antique dishes. Hot dogs on a road trip? Let’s see if we can find an interesting locals diner in town instead.
The welcome sign at the edge of town invited us to cruise Main Street and shop local businesses. The whole town was closed, many buildings boarded up, something like a ghost town! We spotted Sonny’s, the only place open in town, and determined it was not the cafe-tavern for us. The only people we saw were the two coming out of the tavern, a driver watching wild turkeys from his car parked by a stream in a park, and one woman in bright pink pajama pants who stood on her porch and yelled at us to get off unmarked private property, a scrubby deserted lot across the highway from her home. We didn’t even see a dog. But we did find plenty of subjects to photograph before we ate hot dogs and hit the highway again.
We drove to the not-so-far end of town and made our way back to Highway 26. Looks like population 100 or maybe less. Stark! Washtucna has at least 5 tiny parks, put in so they could qualify for a grant. Nobody we talked to at the highway stop remembered anything else about the grant.
We toured town in gusty wind, and then ate our hot dogs in the parking lot of the Sunflower Park next to the highway. There, four signs warned us that dogs are not allowed so we kept the German Shepherds in the van. After lunch I photographed the four signs and more. When I walked through the little grassy area I discovered why dogs are banned. And possibly why there are no dogs to be seen in this ghostly town, except hot dogs.
Here is my photo tour of Washtucna. Click the first photo to start the slide show. Look for silos in the background, signs of the grain industry that thrived here almost a hundred years ago. Today I get hints of a setting for a horror or sci-fi tale, or maybe an unlikely romance story. Zombies…and dogs…lots of dogs…
Look for stories with LaWryn on Sky Blue Daze’ blog, right here, emerging soon.
I started writing stories about a tiny fantasy spirit inspired by Lorie Davison’s fantastic image. Today LaWrynn answers the Proust Questionnaire. You can get a link to the questions and interview yourself of anyone you know or create. It’s at the bottom of today’s post. Enjoy!
LaWrynn answers the Proust Questionnaire
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
What a perfectly stupid question. There is never true perfection in anything. I feel happy when things are in harmony, in balance. No, wait, is that more like content than happy? There’s a difference.
What is your greatest fear?
I fear getting stepped on by a non-mindful range cow. I’m afraid The Great Horned Owl will swoop me up, too, when I am not being mindful. I’m afraid I won’t ever find the portal back to the other side and I’ll be stuck in this material world forever. Yuck! That’s my greatest fear.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Letting things happen. I can’t control everything, but I might try harder.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Which living person do you most admire?
Well, I don’t know very many living people so I can’t answer this, having only lived on this side for a little while. I admire a lot of people, spirits, really, on the other side. There are so many living people in the world to admire, so I’ve heard. What is the world population now anyhow?
What is your greatest extravagance?
How can I be extravagant? I don’t own anything. I did decorate the mouth of the mound I live in, so that might be extravagant. But I have to keep it camouflaged for protection, so even that is not really what I call extravagant. Perhaps the pile of leaves I sleep on is extravagant with the colorful fleece cover. I borrowed some hand dyed wool from the lady of the farm’s knitting basket. Really warm and pretty.
What is your current state of mind?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Cleanliness. Let’s face it, when you live in a badger hole how can you really be expected to keep your clothes and hair dirt free all the time? That would just take way too much time. So inconvenient.
On what occasion do you lie?
If I tell you, everyone will know when I am lying. Duh! (giggles till she snorts)
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My size. Being small enough to fit in a cow’s ear is a pain. People don’t take me seriously. And my feet are too big.
Which living person do you most despise?
There’s this deranged man that lives up the road from the farm where I nest. He’s just mean for no good reason.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Non-competitive loving sisterhood. Period.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Oh, man! Really? What’s that about? Right?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
You mean this life or a past life or the next one in line? I love roasting marshmallows. Right? (sniggers or snickers?)
When and where were you happiest?
I was happiest on the other side, always. Living has so much drama, annoying drama. On the other side, it’s all cool. We don’t have emotions there, we just exist, let it be.
Which talent would you most like to have?
It’s not really a talent, but if I could fly it would sure help. And I wish I could know things like how to get back to the portal I used to enter this side.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My size. Whose idea was it to put my spirit into such a small body? It’s just not working. Sheesh!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
In this life, I haven’t achieved it yet. I think it will be when I can find the portal to the other side again and get outta here.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Which time? I’ve been a fish, a dragon, a sunflower, a spider, an amoeba, and many more mortal life forms. I’ve been a human, and I never want that curse again. I’d be anything but that. So much drama. If I come back again, could I just be a cloud?
Where would you most like to live?
On the other side again, but if I have to live in the material world, I liked living in the ocean once. I like living on the farm at the edge of the woods. I don’t like living in the badger hole but it’s pretty safe.
What is your most treasured possession?
My smarts. If I didn’t have intelligence, I’d be dumbfounded living on this side. But for real things, like things, you know, you’ll find out when you read my stories. OK, a hint…I need a key and I need to find out what it unlocks. I need clues. There. Don’t tell anybody. Don’t ruin the stories.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Loss and extreme loneliness. Like you lost a relationship that was feeling good, and then it’s gone. You’ll never get it back the way it was. It’s like smashing a wine glass in a trillion jillion pieces, you can’t ever put it back as good as it was. Or someone you love, or a place you love, it leaves or you leave, or even someone or a pet dies and you are left here, in the finite material world to go on without it all your days and nights. That’s loss. That’s loneliness. That’s misery.
What is your favorite occupation?
What I like to do, to occupy myself, is go to a river bank and just be there. Look at what’s around me, even if I’m not at a river. Notice and pay attention to where I am in the present moment. That occupies me. If you mean occupation like a job, that pays people, I think I’d like to be a waitress at a ski resort.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I’d say my size, so minute. Others remark about my wild hair or my long pointed ears. I wish they didn’t stick out so far. If I could fly with them….And I have a nice smile. It just happens.
What do you most value in your friends?
Fun and loyalty. They have to be loyal, and they have to like to have fun.
Who are your favorite writers?
I like Kay Addington MacDonald. She’s the one writing this interview and my stories. I also favor A. A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh) and Lewis Carroll (The Walrus and the Carpenter) and Kurt Vonnegut.
Who is your hero of fiction?
Tarzan, for today. But he’s be nothing without Jane. Or Lemuel Gulliver (Gulliver’s Travels). He’s dorky.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Bridgette, my badger friend, and Mayhem, my Stellar Jay friend. You’ll find out why when you read my stories. Oh. Do you mean this life or those in my past and future?
What are your favorite names?
The names of emotions and good things to have like Hope, Faith, Happy, Penny, Treasure, Jewel, Summer, Autumn, Dawn, Wag, Mayhem. Like that. And Max. If I had a brother, I’d name him Max. But would that be up to me?
What is it that you most dislike?
Right now I most dislike how long this interview is taking. How many more questions are you going to ask me? And I dislike confrontation. I bet you couldn’t guess that.
What is your greatest regret?
Once, a long time ago, I lived in the material world, one of my lives. I had a swell beau and I let him go. Another girl snatched him away and I didn’t try to get him back. See what I mean about how I sometimes let things happen when I could take more control? I just hate the drama of life on this side.
How would you like to die?
Are you kidding? Really? Oh, man! What’s that about? Right? Who likes to die? I’m seeking a way to get back to the other side without the pain of death again. So, if I have to die again, make it not painful this time. And let me feel that the people I love know I love them. I just want to feel that it’s all good next time I die, whether it is or not. That’s a good way to die.
What is your motto?
Oh! Crap! I don’t have one. You mean like, “to infinity and beyond”? Ask me again after I’ve experienced a few stories about me. Maybe I’ll have one by then. You are going to read my stories aren’t you?
I found a book. It hasn’t yet been written. But it has begun. And I am the writer. After Mom died in 2006, I emptied her house and put it up for sale. She had tons, really tons, of clutter. Sorting took months. She kept everything! I found some treasures in the slow thorough process.
In her basement I uncovered her desk, the one she used for her church secretary work. It was heaped with papers and file folders and books, a knitting project, plants, and too much more to remember. Inside a deep drawer, in an unlabeled folder mixed with church papers, I found photocopies of letters.
They were written in 1918 and 1919 by my grandfather, courting my grandmother. I found the beginning of their relationship right up to the day he married her. I found the story of families living in the Pacific Northwest during World War 1, haying with horses, building the railroad, and joining the army. I found a book to write, based on the courting letters.
The letters document the influenza epidemic, boats stuck in the river by deep ice break ups, barn dances, a locomotive derailed by a mud flood and much more. Most importantly, they reveal human hopes and struggles, concessions, forgiveness, and celebrations.
The storyline moves along the tracks of the traditional plot diagram. It has complexity in its conflicts. The action rises to the turning point and ends with resolution. It’s so ready to write.
My problem is how to develop the details, how to bring the characters and setting to life for modern readers. How do I write the story so readers will care and get a deeper understanding of their own lives from the book? Each letter gives enough information to inspire creative writing. What is really the story behind the story? How can I tell it?
I am a storyteller, a performing storyteller. I know a lot about folklore weaving magic into tales. I teach writing, literature, and history. Now, I have a book to write, one letter at a time. I’m scared. Can I practice the crafts I teach? It’s a challenge I give myself, to write creative non-fiction. How do I even categorize the genre? Could it be a novel of poetry telling the story like Out of the Dust? Will I write chapters? How about short vignettes? How will I link the ideas together? How long will the book be? Will anybody be interested in reading the story, the little stories within the stories?
I have a lot of research to do. How did men work hay fields with horses when tractors were just emerging into the industry? What was the sphere of devastation by the influenza pandemic in the Pacific Northwest? What was transportation like then? The letters stand in place of telephones and texting.
How can I show, don’t tell, the depth of humanity revealed within the letters? I’m going to need a lot of feedback as I progress, a lot of help. I am asking you to follow my postings as I write this story. Please tell me what you think of my writing, what changes I should make, what’s written just as it should be. How is the story affecting you?