Friday, July 29, 2011

Where Love Is, There God Is Also, By Leo Tolstoy

An old shoemaker, whose family had all departed, felt sorry for himself and wished to die. But a friend chided him, insisting if one lived for God, everything in life became easy.

So the shoemaker applied himself to the Gospels and found himself irresistably drawn to reading more and more. One night, near bedtime, the shoemaker hears God tell him, "I am coming to visit you."

The shoemaker doesn't believe it, at first. But three visitors to his home soon prove otherwise.

Several sources offer the story online. Just type the title and author into your browser.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Victorian Ice Cream

Although the Bryony cookbook: Memories in the Kitchen: Nibbles and Bites from "Bryony," features three recipes for the homemade ice cream served at Simons Mansion, here's a fourth from the same time period.

Personally, there's far too many eggs in this version for my taste, but for the adventurous who enjoy a custardy ice cream, so different from modern commercial counterparts, this is the perfect recipe.

Philadelphia Ice Cream

(First published in from Miss Beecher’s domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplement to her Treatise on domestic economy, 1850).

2 quarts milk or cream (if you have it)
3 tablespoons arrowroot
8 well-beaten egg whites
1 pound powdered sugar
1/2 vanilla bean (optional)

Boil the milk, thicken it with the arrowroot, add the sugar, and pour the whole upon the eggs. If you wish it flavored with vanilla, split half a bean and boil it with the vanilla. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's direction.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Song # 3 Fall In Love Piano Music - "Only You" by James Onohan

Missing Midnight

No, not my adorable seven-pound black cat by the same name, but rather, my former rising time.

Since last August's surgery and subsequent hive flare-up, as well as the loss of my husband's job, my schedule has taken a subtle shift that has its pros and cons. I go to bed later and rise later (although I'm still delivering newspapers), but I'm missing the quiet, productive hours that came with greeting the new day at the stroke of midnight.

To be sure, the plusses are there. My children, now all teens and young adults, are leading more independent lives, so an early bedtime cuts shortens our dwindling time together. It also means a few helping hands for the housework (Choretime is now in the evening) which had increased proportionately after we added a few members to the house. Also, because of conflicting work schedules, some people can only be interviewed for stories in the evening, a previously impossible task when I'd hit the sack at four o'clock in the afternoon.

And yet...there was something subtly magical about the hissing of the coffee pot in quiet house, the sounds of the night floating through my office window, and the thumping of my cats as they scampered across the roof (My office is in an attic).

That was the perfect time for housework (no interruptions, and no family members making additional messes as quickly as I cleaned up), editing of the previous day's work, and writing vampire stories. Occasionally, now, I'll wake to dawn's early light with the sinking feeling I've wasted half the day.

I'm thinking there might be a way to compromise here. I just have to figure out how to do it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

So, What's on the Writer's Desk This Morning?

A whole bunch of half-started projects to finish, some from the Herald News, some for Adventist Midwest Health, one for Channahon-Minooka Patch, a couple of cookbook chapters to finish copyediting, and a series of blogs I'm helping to edit for one of the newest members of the Bryony team.

Actually, the Bryony team has several new members. That's for future posts, although I can't wait to share the news!

Woven between the writerly duties (which will probably take a good portion of the week to finish), the washer is broken, so a service call needs to be made; the dryer is acting up so a second service calls needs to be made; and my front tires are bald, so a third service call needs to be made (Alas, that one wasn't in the budget).

On top of it, Joshua, twenty-five, has a suspicious-looking mole, so we're off to the dermatologist tomorrow. The bank and grocery store are beckoning with unrun errands, as is a mountain of uncorrected homework from Rebekah, seventeen, and Daniel, fifteen. However, Rebekah's hand seems to be improving, so that's one demon down.

YIKES! Almost seems unreasonable to slide out for a walk, but out the door I go anyway, soon's as I post this blog. The walk does more than limber up this aging frame and keep the asthma at bay. It clears my mind, increases my energy, and gives me a chance to mentally write some fiction. (Yes, I keep a notebook in my back pocket when I write).

So where am I going with this? Nowhere in particular, except to give all you dear readers out there in virtual Munsonville a glimpse into my life and to wish you a blessed day. On this end of the computer, the sun is shining, the high humidty has broken, the cats are happily scampering around the yard (better there than in my office, kicking over papers), my desk is bursting with interesting work, my house is full of wonderful people, and my phone will soon be ringing with news of my four year old grandson's latest escapades.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Silent Invader

On July 7, we had just returned from dollar bowling and were getting ready for bed when Rebekah, seventeen, showed me a bump near her thumb, just above her wrist.

"Look," she said. "Something bit me."

I looked, but couldn't identify the offender. It sort of resembled a mosquito bite. I doubted a wasp could have nailed without her knowing.

"And it itches."

I yawned and shut off the computer. "Put some CORTAID on it and go to bed. That should take care of it."

The next morning, Rebekah again showed me the bite. It was raised, red, and hard, about a quarter-size around the original bump. A fine, thin line was moving from the site across the back of Rebekah's hand. I called our doctor and asked Timothy, twenty, to run her in. I had to take my husband in the opposite direction to another procedure.

A couple of hours later, Timothy called back. The nurse practitioner that saw Rebekah had hesitated at prescribing an antibiotic, but Timothy, per my instructions, had insisted, just in case. Should he fill the Bacrtim?

"Yes," I said. "Get that first dose in her."

After I settled Ron back at home, I met the kids at the distribution center to help stuff inserts. Because we had such a late start, we were worked until ten o'clock that night. In the meantime, despite the Bactrim, Rebekah's redness slowly traveled away from the original site. The time came for Dose Two. We gave it to her. With a pen, I lightly marked the edges of the wound.

"If the redness moves past it," I said, "I'm taking her to the ER."

But the red stayed confined to its area. The next morning, the swelling had substantially decreased, and the red was fading to pink. We had won.

Or so we thought.

The Bactrim made Rebekah so nauseous, she had difficulty keeping it down. Worse, she had saved up for a four-day cooking class at Joliet Junior College for the following week. By day Tuesday, Rebekah was vomiting. I called the doctor's office and left a message.

"Stop the Bactrim," came the decree from the pipeline.

"She still has more to go," I said. "Should she have different antibiotic?"

"Is it still red?" the voice on the other end asked.

"Not at all," I replied. "It was gone by Day Two."

"Then she's fine. Let us know if it comes back."

It did, late Sunday morning, just before Divine Liturgy began. I had a sore throat, body aches, etc., and had fallen asleep in my desk chair when Rebekeh woke me up to inform me that Fr. Joseph had arrived and was beginning Proskimedia prayers.

"Look," she said, holding out her arm.

The bump was back.

"What the...." I sat upright and pulled her arm closer, shaking my head and examining the silent predator. "I don't like this. If it gets red, we're taking you into Quick Care."

By the end of services, the bump was not only red, a pink line was streaking across the back of her hand. The doctor at Quick Care gave Rebekah a prescription for Keflex and instructions to return if it grew worse.

"This time," he said, "finish the antibiotic. If it makes you sick, we'll switch it. You should have finished the course the last time."

That's what we had thought, too, but that's hindsight.

Rebekah obediently swalled Dose One of Keflex, applied hot compresses in an attempt to localize the infection, but waves of pink pushed away from its home and headed for her wrist. She took Dose Two at eight  o'clock that night, and we drove to the emergency department.

There, a doctor lanced the wound, surprised at the scant amounts of pus it produced, and added clindamycin, with instructions to return if it looked worse. We tumbled into bed at nearly midnight (We had to first deal with an electrical problem at home, oh joy!) and set the alarm at two-thirty for Keflex Dose Three. We had to be on the road with newspapers at four a.m.

When the appointed time arrived, my oldest son Christopher yelled up the stairs. He had found us a sub and paid for it, too!!! Yes, months of colic was well worth it. I fed the cats and fell back asleep.

That brings us to this morning. The redness has now reached her fingers. I have two interviews; Rebekah has a much-anticipated swim lesson. Dose Four of Keflex is in her system, as well as Dose Two of the clindamycin. After her lesson, I'll recheck the wound. If it's still moving, back to the ER we go.

So, what does this have to do with vampires?

Bryony's lead vampire, as a proper vampire, does not reveal himself at once. For weeks, he slithers around Melissa's world, dropping only the merest hints of his presence. Once he's in, even after it appears he has left, he's in with a Herculean grasp on Melissa's heart and psyche.

But you already knew that, didn't you. Else, why have an entire series?

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Golden Windows by Laura E. Richards

The Golden Windows by Laura E. Richards (1850-1943) is the story of a poor farmer boy who, at the end of a hard working day, loved to sit on top of a certain hill and gaze at a distant house, intrigued by its golden windows.

One day, the boy sets out for the house only to find that the abode he admired for so long was only an ordinary home. The girl living said he had picked the wrong house. She then proceeds to show him the REAL house with golden windows.

Read it online.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

James' Performance

The Victorian Flavor Bible

The other day my mother surprised Timothy, my twenty year old culinary arts student, with a copy of The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg.

As Timothy flipped through the book and showed me its complemetary food combinations, I wondered how the Victorians paired certain foods. So I checked my 1860 copy of Miss Beecher’s domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplement to her Treatise on domestic economy and found the following suggestions:

*  mutton with turnips

*  geese and ducks with onions

*  boiled poultry with boiled ham or tongue

*  jelly with mutton, venison, roasted meats, and gravy used in hashes

*  fresh pork with cranberry or tart apple sauce

*  drawn butter and eggs with boiled fowls and boiled fish

*  pickles with fish

*  soy sauce and drawn butter with fish

And for garnishes:

*  sweetbreads, fried brown in lard

*  eggs (boiled or fried) on broiled ham or veal

*  lay greens and asparagus, well drained, on buttered toast. Surround with hard-boiled egg slices

*  hash, as well as pig's and calves's head and feet on toast. Garnish with lemon slices.

*  fasten parsley to the shank of a ham to conceal the bone

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Meet "Melissa" of the Bryony Book Trailer, Part 2

Wrapping up the interview with Rebekah Baran, who portrays Melissa Marchellis, Bryony's main character, in the book trailer.

6) How did you combat nerves during the night of the filming?

"Listening to K-Pop music and talking to my best friend Rachel."

7) What did you find challenging about filming the trailer?

"The mansion had no heat, and I was getting over a cold, so I was not a hundred percent up to it."

8) What was the fun part of filming?

"The middle parts, because I was into the character by then."

9) What did you enjoy about the novel?

"The intriguing storyline. It shows that vampires aren't sweet, kind, and sparkly, that they care for blood and nothing else."

10) What do you hope people think when they see the trailer?

"How good Bryony is, and that they want to read it."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Meet "Melissa" of the Bryony Book Trailer, Part 1

Weeks before filming of the Bryony book trailer commenced, Bryony filmmaker Stephen Tuplin had an actress interested in portraying novel's main character, Melissa Marchellis.

But when a scheduling conflict arose, Stephen approached my seventeen-year-old daughter, Rebekah Baran, about the role. Rebekah, Stephen said, resembled the image he had of Melissa while reading the book.

Now Rebekah is very shy, so I had doubts she'd accept the part. To my surprise, she enthusiastically agreed.

1) Did you have any prior acting experience?

"A little. I had done some acting in plays through my church and homeschool coop."

2) Why did you want to portray Melissa?

"I thought it would be fun to play her because she's not perfect like characters in other books. She was naive and didn't give it much thought before making a deal with John. And the director and my sister said I looked like her."

3) Was it hard to learn your part?

"Not really. The only hard part was learning how to sway properly."

4) What helped you rehearse?

"Listening to slow Super Junior music."

5) Did your brothers really heckle you?

"Yes. They poked jokes at me during practice so I wouldn't be nervous."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Limericks by Other Famous People

Other than whom? Why, Ed Calkins, Steward of Tara, of course.

Although the IVA considers Calkins the most renowned and most prolific limerick author, other writers have penned them, too.

These include, in addition to Edward Lear, Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, James Joyce, Lewis Carroll, Aldous Huxley, and George Bernard Shaw.

To read these limericks and more, visit

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Birthday of the Infanta by Oscar Wilde

This story is from a collection of Wilde's fairy tales, published in his House of Pomegranates in the late nineteenth century.

A Spanish princess is celebrating her twelfth birthday with the typical trappings of fairy tales: talking flowers, birds, animals, and scores of native children, all of which adore her.

Then an unusual creative also comes to pay her homage and entertain her. The story is worth the read to its chilling end.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In the Midst of Chaos... joy.

Staff changes, job uncertainty, financial woes, challenging health issues, housework back-up, and skittish technological devices. They clamor for front row life billing, but only because they scream so loudly, like a two-year-old in a tantrum fit.

Yet today has been full of sweet blessings: a personalized song link on Facebook, throwing newspapers to the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, a quick ride to the grocery store with my husband, a pleasant voice on the other end of the phone, a mid-morning chat with a good friend, a purring cat jumping into my lap for some loving (and another one, jealous, trying to edge her out), my grandson trailing after my fifteen year old youngest son and chatting away in his pretty toddler voice (and remembering how my son did the same to his oldest siblings), a hot cup of coffee, and a cold mug of ice water.

Life is good. Have a terrific day!!!
Have a wonderful day!!!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Have Flashdrive, Will Travel

Newspaper routes thrown, two meetings accomplished, voice mail, email, and Facebook messages checked, I read the thunderstorm warning in my News Feed from the Joliet Weather Center. I glance out my attic window. Humid, but sunny. By the time I finished one story on deadline and an interview, it would be too hot for a walk.


Timothy was driving Rebekah to a weeklong culinary class at Joliet Junior College and had just pulled out of the driveway when the sky blackened and the wind kicked up. I quickly called him. "Bad weather coming in. Be careful."

"Sunny skies where I'm heading," Timothy said.

Good. They would beat it. I opened "new document," typed the first letter and felt a huge blast through my window. Then all went black. We had no power. Great. Staff changes at the newspaper over the weekend meant my new contact's number had not yet made it into my cell phone. It was on my office phone, yes, but that one was dead.

After Timothy dropped Rebekah off at school, he called to let me know she had made to class on time. So, I asked if he could send email from his new phone. He could, but didn't really know how. So I called Bryony's web administrator, Sarah Stegall, who lives out of state.

"Can you email my editor?" I asked.

I gave her the address and a few bullet points, then called my mother who lived in the next town. She still had power and was more than happy to share her electricity and internet service. So I packed my notes and flashdrive and headed over.

After I met the most immediate deadlines, I spent a deligthful afternoon catching up on an editing project, free from phone calls, instant messages, texts, and compulsive checking of my news feed. Later, my parents invited me to dinner and even made sure Timothy and Rebekah ate when they returned from cleaning the warehouse. I called Christopher and asked him to buy dinner for everyone else. Daniel even assumed my household chores.

With an editor going on vacation and needing her upcoming pages filled before she left, the last couple of weeks were busier and crazier than usual. Then I learned my new contact would be on vacation next week, so she needs her stories stockpiled, too. Throw a few family emergencies in the mix, tack on several thousand extra sets of weekend inserts (It's vacation time  for newspaper carriers, too), and, although thankful for much work, my mind felt flat and body longed for a break.

It came today in the form of a power outage. Coincidence or providence?

You can be sure that God will take care of everything you need, his generosity exceeding even yours in the glory that pours from Jesus. Philippians 4: 19.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Griffon and the Minor Canon

The Griffin and the Minor Canon by Frank Stockton (1834-1902) was a story Bryony might have read growing up under the minister's care. The town church boasted a terrifying stone carving of a Griffin. When a Griffin living in the wild, who has also never seen his reflection, comes to view the statue, the town goes into frenzy.

Minor Canon was sent to call on the Griffin and couldn't seem to part with him once met. The higher priests in the church had fled upon the Griffin's arrival leaving Minor Canon to deal with the unpleasant situation. What happens after is surprising. Read it for free here:

Sarah Stegall

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Impatient and Stalling

Last night at dinner, my oldest son called dibs on the first copy of Bryony's prequel when it's done.

I laughed. I've barely begun it.

"I'll be sending it to you from the nursing home," I said.

He pointed his fork at at me. "So hurry up and write it."

If only it was that simple.

Much has changed since I wrote the first three drafts of the Bryony series. My schedule's tighter with paying jobs (a good thing), while my household assistances (i.e. children) are aging out of their understudy roles and into their adult lives. All the manuscript editing that accompanies a novel on its way to publication eats up plenty of time, too.

While those are good reasons (excuses?) for not spending entire weekends before my attic desktop in an over-caffeinated fictional bliss, a harder truth eyeballs me and says, "You're afraid to start over."

Not afraid, I argue back. But definitely hesitant.

It's been over a year since I completed Bryony's third book, which ends the series, but in the meantime, I've done a lot of editing and rejoiced in the polishing of my work. Once you've experienced the fun of entertaining someone with your words, it's hard to step back and write something really awful, but that's foundational nature of first drafts. That's why their called "first." And "drafts."

And while my writing assignments require I write first drafts all day long, the material, at its source, is not mine. It doesn't spring from my imagination. Digesting your own bad writing is truly a humbling experience, and one I've not had to face for some time.

When ideas overflow and spill out, I become impatient at a life that doesn't allow for spontaneous composing when the muse demands it. When I do carve out that time and creativity doesn't immediately flow, I can easily fill those hours with other writing projects and feel justified doing so.

The answer? Not sure, but I know one thing. I WILL eventually write it.

Because I have to.

Friday, July 1, 2011

"We Are Seven" by William Wordsworth

We Are Seven

By William Wordsworth 1770–1850

A Victorian poet wonderfully expresses my feeling of family and eternity.

———A simple Child,

That lightly draws its breath,

And feels its life in every limb,

What should it know of death?

I met a little cottage Girl:

She was eight years old, she said;

Her hair was thick with many a curl

That clustered round her head.

She had a rustic, woodland air,

And she was wildly clad:

Her eyes were fair, and very fair;

—Her beauty made me glad.

“Sisters and brothers, little Maid,

How many may you be?”

“How many? Seven in all,” she said,

And wondering looked at me.

“And where are they? I pray you tell.”

She answered, “Seven are we;

And two of us at Conway dwell,

And two are gone to sea.

“Two of us in the church-yard lie,

My sister and my brother;

And, in the church-yard cottage, I

Dwell near them with my mother.”

“You say that two at Conway dwell,

And two are gone to sea,

Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,

Sweet Maid, how this may be.”

Then did the little Maid reply,

“Seven boys and girls are we;

Two of us in the church-yard lie,

Beneath the church-yard tree.”

“You run about, my little Maid,

Your limbs they are alive;

If two are in the church-yard laid,

Then ye are only five.“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”

The little Maid replied,

“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,

And they are side by side.

“My stockings there I often knit,

My kerchief there I hem;

And there upon the ground I sit,

And sing a song to them.

“And often after sun-set, Sir,

When it is light and fair,

I take my little porringer,

And eat my supper there.

“The first that dies was sister Jane;

In bed she moaning lay,

Till God released her of her pain;

And then she went away.

“So in the church-yard she was laid;

And, when the grass was dry,

Together round her grave we played,

My brother John and I.

“And when the ground was white with snow,

And I could run and slide,

My brother John was forced to go,

And he lies by her side.”

“How many are you, then,” said I,

“If they two are in heaven?”

Quick was the little Maid’s reply,

“O Master! we are seven.”

“But they are dead; those two are dead!

Their spirits are in heaven!”

’Twas throwing words away; for still

The little Maid would have her will,

And said, “Nay, we are seven!”