Monday, February 27, 2012

Paper, Not Paperless, Thank You

I wasn’t hunting this book, and I never meant for Eunice Richardson to take over my life for a few days. But as happens, I was looking for a certain book at the public library when this volume jumped out at me. I love true stories and brought it home.

History researcher Martha Hodes became fasciintated with Eunice when she met her in a dusty letter collection of Lois Wise Richardson at Duke University. Here Hodes found stacks of letters from Lois’s daughter Eunice and her other children. This was a family hammered by hard times and living through the changes of the 19th century. The letters captured action from New England to the South to the Cayman Islands and back to New England again.

The first chapter of the book includes the details of letter writing in the times. How it cost three cents to post a letter, and the mail often never arrived or took a long stretch of time to arrive at its destination. Writing tools for the middle class were paper (often hard to come by), pencils, pen, and ink that came in a powder that was mixed with water. Once a page was filled, it was often turned 90 degrees and written over again, new lines covering the first news. Letters were saved for rereading or maybe passed on to another family member.

Eunice lived a hard life, had watched her father desert the family, married a man who could not support her, had a husband who served in the Confederate Army against her Union brothers, lost husband and brother in the war, married a man of color, and died in a hurricane. The story of how this unfolds was gleaned by Hodes from the family letters. It is the story of a family, of an era, of both class and race struggles, and it is a fascinating glimpse into history.

I have to wonder what researchers in another hundred years will find from our own times. Will emails be saved somewhere? Will text messaging develop a new feature for history storage? What will Facebook say about our culture and society…other than playing Farm games was a chosen pastime?

Recently paper and technology combined have given me a chapter in my own family story. I knew two great aunts had been nuns in Missouri. So I wrote to an archives employee of the Sisters of Mercy for help; I wrote by email I confess.  He was in North Carolina but went right to work. He found two pages of a personael log and mailed it to me. Oh, what a find! It told me that Sister Mary Teresa and Sister Mary Loretto has been born in Lebanon,Missouri,  that their father (my great great great grandfather) had been born in Dublin when I only knew of Ireland and how he spelled his name (I had the wrong version). I learned his wife’s name was Laura Curran, with maybe a middle name of Lavinia. An image of the  woman who I had no idea existed began to take shape. I began to see a wee glimpse into Thomas and Laura Lawders’ life.

Another detail was that one of the nuns had worked in St. John’s of Joplin in the 1920s. Amazing…the hospital is once again on the Mercy line. Another worked teaching in a Catholic school in Marshall, Missouri where my good friend comes from. Of course, it was before her time, but I loved the connection anyway. Then one day a lone picture of Sister Loretto came which was a real prize for me. It was in her later years, and she wore a simple and almost non-habit compared to the wimple and rosary tied robe I am sure she must have worn in the 1920s and l930s.

Their nephew (my grandfather) was to marry into a non-Catholic family from Oklahoma but with Missouri roots too. These Brashers were Democrats but so distressed when JFK, a Catholic, was running for president that they changed their political party preference. In time, they would change their attitude some, enough to hang a JFK portrait in the matriarchal home.

Oh, wouldn’t I love to find a box of letters from either or both sides of my family! How I wish I could “hear” their own voices from the page. It is amazing how we come to be who we are…I think a pile of paper letters might help us all!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Centus/Chair of Distress

I slept well last night which is a bit unusual here. I came to at 5:30 but still did not want to face daylight. I went back to sleep until 7:30, a real oversleep for me! The sun was brilliantly bright coming through the window glass, but the outside air was cold. The tea kettle burbled while I checked in at Saturday Centus.

Jenny says today’s prompt of “the chair dominated the small room…” is more traditional and I agree. She allows pictures this week to go with the prompt and 100 words, but I will pass on that. I want words to paint mind pictures, and for the reader to not be influenced by the visions of others.

For more Centus stories, many with pictures I know, and full rules to write Centus, go to Jenny’s blog at:

                                                    Chair of Distress

Two silent men, armed muscled like canon barrels, escorted him to a new place.

He could smell an odd odor hover in the air as he was guided down a shadowy tight hallway before being shoved through an open doorway. In a hazy light, the chair dominated the small room. Wires, manacles, chains, and gadgets hung around the chair like bling on a floozy. Behind him the door shut and a gorilla of a man stood up from the shadows.

“So, Jim, are you ready to tell us what we need to know?”

Please excuse the mismatched fonts. Blogger said it was this way or no way this morning. Blogger needs to sit in Jim's chair a while!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Blurb Friday/The Preacher Murders

Lisa over at is celebrating a full year of Friday Book Blurbs. They are fun and mentally challenging. Visit Lisa's blog for full rules to play and how to do this 150 word writing assigment. I have fallen off from writing the book blurbs, the mircofiction, and Centus only because life intervenes!

Even now I am racing to get out of the house, to get the day started. My blurb isn't my best one, but it sure is better than nothing-I hope! Maybe when March comes in, I can get back on my writing track, do better.

The Preacher Murders

No one in Ridge Corners could figure out any reason or explanation for the sudden rash of deaths in the village. Seven people had died in the last year of various causes, and one just plain disappeared.
Then at cranky old Olivia Hussing’s wake, Reverend Josiah gave an impassioned prayer service the night before her funeral. It was Bill Tuttle who noted Olivia couldn’t have been helped into Heaven any better than if a choir of angels escorted her through the pearly gates. One by one, the local citizens began to count up when the deaths started, and they seemed to happen only after Rev. Josiah came to preach for them in the steepled white country church.

Who wouldn’t want Rev. Josiah to sing and wale for them, his tenor voice rising to the rafters. He put on a good burial. But could he be keeping himself in business?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sun, Warmth, and New Folks

Unbelievable! The weather that is! At 5 a.m. this morning a couple of song birds were singing their hearts out. They had no idea it was February and not April. The temps have pushed 70 for two days in a row. There is a little breeze but very tolerable one, and the sun on my face warms me clear down to my toes. DH and I even had a coatless sandwich lunch on the deck today.
I have painted a little flower bench a nice minty green, and I have bought a few yard things. Oh, I know it is way too early to get serious about fixing up deck and yard. Besides we have another problem to handle first about the yard and that is CATS!
I am an animal lover, but the cats are making me feel nasty. At the moment I have no pet of my own and yet my yard smells like an unattended outhouse at a highway rest stop. The neighbors have two cats with a cat door and assure me they stay at home. Who are they kidding? With the cat door, they jaunt over here for a poot! We find flower beds dug up and piles of dung at our south deck steps. GRRRRRR.
The only bad side effect of the weather is that I write my best on long, dark winter days. I have not been writing much new material this winter, and even my reading suffers. A friend brought me a book this morning and I moaned because it looks so good. But…I have four started already and have stacks more waiting after them. I find I can’t concentrate on anything, spring fever maybe, and if I do concentrate heavily, I get sleepy! It is a no win situation.
A good thing happening right now though is there are new members coming to the Writers’ Guild. Yippee! There are about five young women from various stations in life who are interested in the group. They have diverse interests such as fiction, poetry, fantasy and technical writing. Yesterday I met with Camille who has recently moved from St. Charles, Missouri. She is a bright gal with a sweet and agreeable demeanor. She plans on coming to visit the guild, and I hope she will become a member. After living so close to the St. Louis writing guilds and critique groups, I think our group might measure up a little short. But already, one cup of tea later, I know she will add something to our group and maybe help bring us to a higher level of writing.
Speaking of which…I have never attended or heard of a local writers open mic night around here. I wonder if I should make this happen? Any advice for a novice about how to do this?
So back to my list of things for this day… I have exercised twice, taken a load to post office, done lunch, but still one more meal for today remains along with a colossal laundry to be done, bills to be paid, letter to be penned, meeting notices to be created and well, some books to be read if I can get the chores finished soon.
I hope you all have sunshine in the last week of February.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Reading with Jim, Stephen, and Louie

I loved reading James Michener years ago and miss seeing his books in bookstores now. Okay, sometimes he was criticized for churning out books that were considered less than literary, but the man told a good story and that is the important thing, right? He wrote sweeping epics like Hawaii, Centennial, and Chesapeake along with books like Sayonara which became a popular movie in its day. This story of infidelity taught a young, sanctimonious Midwesterner that a person could be in love with two people at the same time; I never forgot the lesson nor how painful leaving a love could be.

And there was his Fires of Spring that I toted home from the public library when I was about thirteen. My mother picked it up and told me it was not a recommended read for a young girl. I noted that she read every page before she took it back to the library herself.

Michener said every writer needs one great asset which was a good wife to handle the rest of his life. I seem to be short in that department!
Louie L’Amour was a prolific writer, hammering out westerns faster than a fraternity goes through beer cans. One of the most interesting things I learned about the man was that he started keeping a reading journal when he was very young, filling page after page with a variety of subjects. I followed his lead in 1999 and started my own reading journal. I keep only the book title and author’s name while some rate their reads or note what the book is about. If you are more interested in an online type storage, go to Here you can list your reads, review them, and read suggestions and favorites of other readers. If you open your own page there, look me up!

Stephen King advises if one wants to be a writer she needs to do two things: “read a lot and write a lot”. Sounds easy, but there are so many books to get through and so little time to do it! King says he reads about 80 books a year. Wow, I average between 50 and 60 a year, and my family thinks that is too much reading time.

Stephen King also says that morning is his writing time. In the afternoon he naps or writes letters. Evenings are spent with his family, reading, and sometime a revision. Hum, I notice he has not scheduled food preparation, mopping the floor, laundry, vacuuming the rugs, mowing the grass, grocery fetching, or swishing toilets. He must have one of those wives Michener talked about!

How many books a year do you read?
What is your first choice for a reading genre?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Stphen King and Writing

I have a whole shelf of writing books, but they are a lot like diet books. They don’t make you a writer unless you take the time to write. Diet books don’t make you thin by seeing the covers, and writing book don’t make you a writer unless you do the work and practice.

Although I was surrounded by books and had chores calling, I picked up Stephen King’s On Writing yesterday. I liked the book years ago and always meant to reread it. As I scanned the first pages, I was hooked and read the book like it was an entirely new one for me. King’s language can be crude, but his story is fascinating. He came from humble beginnings, had no leg up from anyone, and got his toe in the publishing door by his work. The rest is history. The first third of the book is his memoir and includes details about his winning the battle against alcoholism.

I have never been a King fan because I wasn’t crazy about his genre. I do admit he is a fascinating writer. When my son was in junior high, there was some parental discussion about having King on the shelves. I had tried to steer my son to literature, but like other kids, he was hiding Stephen King in his locker. I asked him to bring it home so I could see what he was reading as I had never read King. It was a collection of short stories, and while it had sexual references and some vile language not suitable for kids, the writing was so good I could see why the kids were reading King’s work. I read one story, “The Raft” I think it was, that scarred the bejebbers out of me. My palms sweat and my heart raced. In the end, the community balked at King and had him removed from school library shelves.

 I later read a King novel about a Buick that I also found frightening. An engrossing story, but I think it was my last King until his book on writing.

King recalls that he wrote as early as second grade in a primary tablet. His mother encouraged him, and he wrote stories and sold them for a quarter a piece. Having someone believe in you helps you value your own work at any age. I loved words, learning, and knowledge from the get-go, and I remember one of my dad’s cousins giving me a great feeling about my putting pencil to paper. I was probably in second or third grade when I started “keeping facts”, research for future writing.  I wrote important things like how long the Nile was, how a volcano worked, and what a Morgan horse was used for on pieces of paper and kept them in a folder. No one paid attention to me except Clara Marie who was single at the time, worked as the Farm Bureau secretary, and sometime slept on our couch. When night meetings of Farm Bureau directors kept her in town late, she avoided the rather long country miles home in the dark by sleeping on our couch.

One day she asked me if she could type my “book” for me. She made it all orderly, put the pages in a manila folder and stapled them together into a book of sorts. Oh, I was so proud of my writing! I kept that little folder until well into adulthood; I wish I had it now.

Yesterday I got a contract from True Story for use in the coming May issue. About two years ago I wrote a story and peddled it to every romance/confession market I could find. It came back faster than I could send it out, and I never knew what was wrong with it. I stuck it away. When I heard Dorchester’s call out for Mother’s Day stories, I remembered the story and pulled it out. There were new editors now; would they read the story differently?

I guess they did because in ten days, they responded with acknowledgement that they received the work (wow, this courtesy was something new—and nice!), then yesterday they sent me a contract. It is already signed and back in their hands. So another lesson in not giving up, leaving no stone unturned. It was worth a try to submit again because the worst they could do was say NO, a word I am familiar with for sure. This time it paid off. So I am sure King would agree to not giving up in any phase of the writing/publishing arena. A rejection doesn’t always mean the work is unworthy, just that the manuscript landed on the wrong desk. Keep sending...

Now excuse me as I want to finish this Stephen King book, again.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Baby Snow and Tea

Local weathermen said last night that snow would begin to fall at 3 a.m. So at 4:00 a.m. my eyelids flew up like a venetian blind that would not go back down. Was it the soft silence caused by snow sounds that brought me awake? Sure enough, snow was falling and beginning to gather under the street lights. Each flake refused to hold hands with the others. This is the first snow of our winter and will only be a couple of inches they say.

No matter how many years that mount up between my own school days (and I am not counting!) or teaching days, I will never lose my love for a snow day! So I guess the excitement of a snow day held my sleep hostage. By 4:30 I was brewing tea, setting up my books, and watching the snow fall, resulting in that distinctly muffled noise on the streets!
A couple of chapters about the Cherokee Trail of Tears in a book by Diane Glancy, a first cup of tea, and two miles of an exercise video were finished by 6:30 and time for more tea. It seemed the right day for the snowman tea cups, although there would not be enough snow for building a snowman. Yet the thrilling thought was still in place. A strong Yorkshire brand black was strong enough to meet the cold house at that hour, and the fiber muffin was a healthy, hearty side for this snow day.

Now a chicken is in the oven and potatoes rumble in a pan on the stove. Yesterday’s homemade croutons wait for a salad; lunch will be soon. The tea this time will be St. Dalfour Lemon. And after lunch, I will have my work cut out for me: I need to edit a story and to NOT fall asleep.
I don’t want to miss a minute of this snow day!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Are You Sad Today?

This has been one crazy winter. It doesn’t feel right, and some of us feel worrisome about what real spring will be like. No one feels up to facing spring turbulence again…nor the devastating heat and drought of last summer either.

A friend tells me two pairs of doves have returned, and DH saw our pair on the roof again this week. People have spring flowers popping up…too soon, too soon. One friend has already planted her garden lettuce!
Despite the mild winter, the many days of bright sunshine, I had a major case of S.A.D. on Thursday. A week of bad lab reports, wrangling with pharmacies and insurance companies set the week up for a crash. I knew when I got up that I ached, moved slow, felt lifeless. I stepped to the door and saw the blankety blank squirrels had finally managed to knock over my favorite statuary of a fairy girl reading a book. It landed on the concrete and busted into a jillion pieces; then the tears began. I couldn’t believe it, but there is was—S.A.D. reaction. Although early in the year, it was like my body knew it was February even though there had been no gray days with zero temps or twelve inches of snow.
Unless you have had S.A.D., you can’t imagine what it feels like. It is a physical/mental pain that nothing alleviates. People say, “Oh, you are depressed, shake it off.” “Take a walk, eat some chocolate, count your blessings.” Yes, all of those sound good, but hard to do when you feel like you are down for the count.
I went on to Tai Chi that morning and tried not to say much for fear what might come out of my mouth. A couple of ladies noticed, said I looked sick. Well, I was. I made it through, and went on to Book Club in the afternoon and made it through that. A couple of Advil finally in late afternoon helped some of the back pain and then mental clouds lifted slightly.
I did not know I had S.A.D. because when I was young, it had no name. I only knew that spring semesters at school were the roughest. The year I had a horrible Shakespeare class was in the spring semester. My roommate thought I would implode from dealing with old Will before spring and summer came. It was about that time I began to watch the calendar and noticed a yearly pattern! Late February and March were hard months squeezed in between a reading January and a blooming April.
Finally late in life I learned more about the whole syndrome that I thought was just me being peculiar! Some people start feeling the effects as early as August. That is when the rays of the sun take a weaker tilt. As one moves into fall, the urge to store up goods and fill cupboards takes over. Sufferers often buy stacks of toilet paper, powdered milk, and canned soups. The body and mind begin to prepare for winter like a squirrel storing nuts. The body craves heavy carbs, another preparation of storage for winter. Metabolism slows and weight increases. Sufferers are urged to use a full spectrum light to trick the body into thinking it is sun time.
I did not use my light this year, thinking it was unnecessary. The days were warm and bright. Just going to the store or post office should have been enough extra Vitamin D. It might have been a mistake. I don’t write this here to whine, but to inform. If you know someone who is lethargic, fatigued and withdrawn even, it is not necessarily a depression or health issue other than S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder). It is real, it is painful, but it will pass!
**************If you have an Alzheimer patient in your life, you might want to read the blog Stealing Mother at Here Kathleen writes about her care giving and her mother’s illness. It is sad but others might not feel so alone if they read Kathleen’s trials.

Also welcome to new follower Chris at!
Blogger is being testy again and won't let me control my own spacing, so time to leave today!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Who Painted "No Egg Found" at Crystal Bridges

I just loved the detail in this colonial farm woman's dress. This is a detail from the painting "No Egg Found", but I forgot who the artist was. Does anyone know? I loved this painting but particularly this dress. I wish you could see the colors and pattern more clearly than shows in a photo.

Other favorites  at Crystal Bridges were paintings by Mary Cassatt. I love her use of blues, her soft women and gentle moments. The woman reading here portrayed a well-to-do woman of her times because she had the leisure time to sit and read. Do you feel rich when you sit and read?

One other special painting to me was 'Autumn Harvest, 1940".  I loved the soft hues, the billowing smoke, and the grain shooting from the shocks of wheat. My great-grandfather owned a threshing machine that he pulled around Crawford County, Kansas. Of course, I never knew those years, but I would love to experience them briefly in some kind of time machine. The crew was called The Cold Potato Threshing Company. When I asked my dad once where that name came from, he looked at me in wonder. He had no idea but said he guessed it was because they ate cold baked potatoes for their lunch. Now I suspect there was a famous threshing crew meal cooked by some farm wife somewhere, but maybe the men carried had a cold potato in their pockets for snack?