Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Making Toast

In "Bryony," eleven-year-old Brian Marchellis, the younger brother of Bryony's main character, seventeen-year-old Melissa Marchellis, has a unique way of making toast: crusts trimmed and both sides buttered.

I wonder what Brian would have thought of this Victorian method of toast preparation. This recipe first appeard in the 1860's "Miss Beecher’s domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplement to her Treatise on domestic economy."

To prepare Good Toast:

Toast the bread very quick, dip each slice in boiling water as soon as you have toasted it, and then lay thin bits of butter over. Cover and keep hot as you proceed. A tin bonnet is very useful for this. Make milk toast in the same way, keeping the milk at nearly boiling heart. It is better to spread the butter thin on to the toast after it is dipped in hot milk, than to melt it in it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

So, what's up with "Bryony?"

Hopefully, a book by October 14!!!

That's the date of "Vamp Fest: Travel Through Time With 'Bryony,'" a Bryony-themed fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties.

The event runs from 6 to 11 p.m. at Harwood Post, 705 S. Larkin Avenue, Joliet and includes "bites and nibbles" from our cookbook (also a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters), Bryony-themed vendors, a silent auction, 50/50 raffle, characters from the book, and live music representing the late 1890's and the 1970's, the time "zones" in "Bryony."

In the meantime, "Bryony" has been busy, busy, busy.

This past Saturday, Saturday, "Bryony" participated in the Three Rivers Arts Council's (TRAC) open house, as part of Minooka's annual Summerfest. Then on Sunday, I checked out two Bryony-themed pieces my architect-turned-home-inspector father is creating for Vamp Fest.

One is a large, fish-shaped sign welcoming people to the fictitious Munsonville (where Bryony's action takes place), and the other is a lighted "window" that overlooks the Simons estate (home of Bryony's lead vampire/pianist/composer).

"Bryony" has another pre-release event before Vamp Fest. That will be from 1 to 4 p.m. September 11 at the P. Seth Magosky Museum of Victorian Life, 206 N. Broadway Street, Joliet, the filming site of the soon-to-be-released "Bryony" book trailer and music video.

Not all the details of that afternoon are finalized, but it will include musem tours and music by James Onohan, Bryony's pianist and composer ( We hope to see you there!

If you haven't yet become a fan on Facebook, check us out at There you will find updates, photos, and quirky posts, all related to "Bryony."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Chat With Ed Calkins, The Steward of Tara

It had been some time since I had updated our Irish vampire about "Bryony," so yesterday at the warehouse, while Daniel and Rebekah counted out my inserts, I gave him a quick call.

The Steward was having a less than upbeat day. The previous day, he'd quit one of his jobs, and that happened immediately after his truck had been towed. Of course, Ed had no money to release his vehicle or to get home, which left him in a bit of a predicament.

Yet, what was uppermost in his mind was the future of his immortality, so this I was eager to share. He immediately began talking about pre-orders; he will need at least twenty books, but promised to email the exact amount.

Ed can't wait until October 14th's Vamp Fest, since the best part of the book's release, for him, will be signing books and letting people know where to find him between the pages, the best and most important parts of the story, according to him.

However, while I'm feverishly searching for a kilt (Ed outgrew his and gave it away), he has more pressing issues on his mind.

Like composing a limerick for the scoundrils that towed away his truck.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Anyone Know This One?

Sitting inside a double frame in our prayer corner is an old Passionist Missionary card. The front has a pticture of a little black lamb with a gold ribbon around its neck. The lamb is walking to a lighted, domed building in the distance, which is flanked by palm trees. One brilliant star shines above the building.

On the left is that same lamb, the star, and this text:

"They gave Christ frankincense,
myrhh and gold,
Not dreaming of the day
He'd put them all aside,
the better to enfold
A lamb that lost its way."

The credit is Virginia (something--can't make it out) Lowell.

I've always wondered if that was the entire text or part of a larger poem. Either way, I've always loved the art and verses on this card. I've searched online, but found nothing, so if you are familiar with this, please comment or contact me at

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Anyone Else Having Trouble With Blogger? (Whine)

All of a sudden, I can't italicize, add links, or share YouTube videos on my blog. That means, no piano hymns this Sunday and, to view James Onohan's Wednesday, you'll have to visit Bryony's Facebook page at

I'm hoping it's just a system problem, but I have my doubts because technology and I do not get along. I don't even understand my telephone, but my kids tell me it has a camera and a flashlight. If you text me, I'll answer only if a child is nearby and can text back the answer. At work, I'll be typing along, hit a wrong button, and POOF! my story is deleted, never to be seen again. When my oldest son Christopher, a self-taught computer whiz and the only person I allow to administer my computer, talks about memory and bytes, I just nod my head and sagely smile. No, I don't post pictures on Facebook. Heck, I didn't even set up my Facebook page or my blog. I joke that I need directions for a can opener, but seriously, if someone doesn't show me how to use it (and allow me to practice under a watchful eye), I'll forego the cans.

So, please, make my day. Tell me you're having trouble with Blogger, too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Directions for Cutting Up a Hog , Victorian-Style: Lovingly Dedicated to My Son, Timothy Baran

Yesterday, my culinary arts student, chef-in-training, and professional cook fabricated a finger instead of the carrot he was chopping. So after spending the better part of yesterday afternoon in a hospital emergency room, we are off to a hand specialist today, some couple of hours away from home.

In keeping in the spirit of our recent drama, it seemed like a good time to share how the cooks at Simons Mansion dissected pigs for kitchen purposes. First published in the 1860's "Miss Beecher’s domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplement to her Treatise on domestic economy."

Split the hog through the spine, take off each half of the head behind the ear, then take off a piece front of the shoulder and next the head, say four or five pounds, for sausages.

Then take out the leaf, which lies around the kidneys, for lard.

Then, with a knife, cut out the whole mass of the lean meat, except what belongs to the shoulder and the ham.

Then take off the ham and the shoulder. Then take out all the fat to be used for lard, which is the loose piece, directly in front of the ham.

Next cut off a narrow strip from the spring, or belly, for sausage meat. Cut up the remainder, which is clear pork, for salting, in four or five strips of nearly equal width. Take off the cheek, or jowl, of the head for smoking with the ham; and use the upper part for boiling, baking, or head cheese.

The feet are boiled and then fried,, or used for jelly. It is most economical to try up the thin flabby pieces for lard to cook with. (Editor's note: "Try" is not a typo).

The fat leaf try by itself, for the nicest cooking.

Clean all the intestines of the fat for lard. That which does not readily separate from the larger intestines, use for soap grease.

Of the insides, the liver, heart, sweet-breads, and kidneys are sometimes used for broiling or frying. The smaller intestines are used for sausage cases.

In salting down, leave out the bloody and lean portions and use them for sausages.

Except for the language, Timothy said that fabrication techniques have changed little through the decades.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Aug. 27: Two Bryony-Related Events (Plus More to Come)

From noon to 4 p.m. on August 27, "Bryony" will be part of the Three Rivers Arts Council's (TRAC) open house, as part of Minooka's Summerfest. TRAC recently opened a community center in Minooka's former fire station on Mondamin Road. We'll have displays, a photo slide show, and plenty of information to share. For more information, email us at

Then, at 6:30 p.m., James Onohan will play the "Curl Kids Fundraiser," a comedy dinner show, at Harwood Post American Legion, 705 S. Larkin Avenue, Joliet. Dinner/show package tickets are $25; while show package is $15. The event includes silent and live auctions. All proceeds will be donated to the Curl children.

Their father, a single father, was recently diagnosed with lupus coagulant, more formally known as antiphospholipid syndrome, which causes blood clots to form in arteries and veins. He also suffers from colon cancer. Please come support this worthy cause!!! For more information: 815-725-4333.

Then, from 1 to 4 p.m. September 11, James Onohan and I will be featured at the monthly Victorian Tea at the P. Seth Magosky Museum of Victorian Life, 206 N. Broadway Avenue, Joliet, IL. Tickets are $10 at the door and include a museum tour and refreshments. For more information: 815-723-3052.

Last, but certainly not least, "Vamp Fest: Travel Through Time With 'Bryony'" will be from 6 to 11 p.m. Oct. 14. Although this is a Bryony-themed fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties (, there is a very good chance that "Bryony" and its companion cookbook, will also be released by that date.

We orginally planned to take pre-orders, since the book would not be released until later this year, so cross your fingers that everything works out!

"Vamp Fest" will also include "bites and nibbles" from the cookbook, 1970s and classical-style piano music (thanks to teen band Street Worthy and James Onohan), and other members of the Bryony team offering Bryony-related and other product.

Stay tuned for details!

Monday, August 22, 2011

An Unexpected Blessing

Today, I received quite the blessing, which I was unprepared to receive.

The incidentals are unimportant, but it has left me feeling humbled and protected and, for now, staunchly prepared to face a financially uncertain future, confident that the God of the universe will continue to care for us, through the kind and generous people He places in our paths.

While I was absorbing this, a funny thing happened on the way to an important meeting. En route, I had lost my only pen, and I needed that pen. I had no means or opportunity to procure another. Then I stumbled upon a brand-new pen on the sidewalk.


For those who believe in God, we often praise His omnipotence, but worry needlessly over our daily bread. Today, I received a firm lesson that God knows our needs and provides for them, whether that need is for crumbs or for the entire loaf.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ten Facts About the Real Ed Calkins, Steward of Tara

1) He's real (or, at least, he thinks he is) and lives in Illinois.

2) His ruthless dictator persona was partly a coping method for dealing with bullies.

3) He knew very little about vampires until he became one.

4) He has written poetry, published his stories online, and is working on a trilogy.

5) He outgrew his kilt and gave it away.

6) He's scornful of the Roman Empire.

7) He loves Iirsh mythology, but he's terrible at remembering all the names.

8) He reaully does write limericks to insult people.

9) He's created a video game centering on himself.

10) His wife bought his trademarked stripe shirts.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Other Snow-White

My very favorite Grimm fairy tale is a lesser-known story: "Snow-White and Rose-Red."

I remember reading it for the very first time from an anthology of Grimm fairy tales I had borrowed from the Joliet Public Library. It was the day after Christmas, which was historically, "eye-doctor" day, and it was a day.

The process began early in the morning with sitting in a large, crowded waiting area and gradually moving from room to room as the day progressed. It seemed to me as if we spent an entire day there; it probably was only a few hours.

Anyway, to pass the time, my sister and I always brought books. "Snow-White and Rose-Red" is the story of two poor, but very good, girls who live with their widowed mother in the woods. (I always wanted to be Rose-Red).

One winter evening, a bear comes to their door, asking to warm himself by the fire. At first, Rose-Red is afraid, but the bear reassures her and soon, the bear becomes a regular presence at their home.

When spring arrives, the bear leaves, saying he must guard his treasure from an evil dwarf. What happens next is classic Grimm.

Many, many free online sources for reading, including wikipedia. Just type the title into your browser.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Where's the Chocolate?

While locating recipes for the "Bryony" cookbook: "Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles from 'Bryony,'" it occured to me that I hadn't found any chocolate recipes.

Oh, I saw recipes for chocolate drinks, but none for cookies, pies, cakes, pastries, etc. Sure, I didn't expect chocolate chip cookies and brownies, but I'm wondering when DID the Victorians start to prepare chocolate desserts? I can't believe John Simons, with all his clout, couldn't devise a way to serve chocolate at Simons Mansion.

Certainly, I understand Melissa's squeamishness about sampling the ancient fare set before her. You won't find me first in line for the boiled calves head.

Still, I think once Melissa realized that chocolate was not part of her bargain with vampire John Simons, she should have told him all bets were off.

When a vampire doesn't return your affections, a gal should at least have some chocolate for sorrow-drowning, instead of relying on an antique music box and an undead chaperone.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Oh, yes, it's Monday!

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines: three stories and a press release, one interview completed, and two more scheduled for this afternoon. Frantically playing mad catch-up from all our medical skirmishes last week (I'll spare the gory details). Suffice to say, nobody died, so it's all good!

Amongst the work-related duties, I've answered questions about Vamp Fest (the October 14, Bryony-themed fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy and responded to the generous individuals that pledged donations for the silent auction.

As I pen this, I'm sipping coffee that my fifteen year old son Daniel just brought me, while Faith, my calico, nibbles my arm, nudges my shoulder, and scrutinizes my typing. Too bad she doesn't check for typos!

On the down side, my oldest son's cat has developed a spraying problem (Alas, we caught him in the act), and Rebekah, seventeen, slipped off a ladder while moving items to the playhouse loft. An ice pack, a few hugs, and plenty of sincere, "Aw's," and she bounced right back.

But then Sarah Stegall, Bryony web administrator and cookbook coordinator, called me with exciting news. Because we're supplying our own art and cover, the cost to print the cookbook is far less than we had anticipated. Hurray!

I'm also trying to adapt to the new desktop (mine spontaneously retired last week, hours before my oldest son--and computer adminstrator--left town for a week. Yes, he bought and installed a new one first. Oh, colic was so worth it!) and worrying about whether or not my new laptop, which was accidentally dropped last week, will survive its tumble.

On the plus side, I won a bet with Rebekah about who could get a mountain of work done first (she lost), so she treated me to ice cream last night. Nothing beats a chocolate-dipped, vanilla ice cream, waffle cone and silly conversation with your kids.

We've recently discovered, "The Key of Awesome," so in-between crunches and slurps, we quoted from some of our favorite videos. Today, I'm yawning over my keyboard, but still chuckling at the Owl City and "Back to the Future" impersonations.

Troubles and challenges, those will come. I'm surrounded with God, family, friends, cats, and interesting work. Oh yeah, and the sun is pouring through my attic window.

Enjoy the day!

Friday, August 12, 2011

"Dead Serious," by Kristina Skaggs

For Michael Hudson, a routine doctor's appointment brings shocking news: he's not sick; he's dead.

But although being dead has some distinct advantages, before Michael will take the doctor's word, he needs confirmation.

Read "Dead Serious" at

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Meet Tommy Connolly, Matt Coundiff, and Kristina Skaggs!

Please welcome the two newest members of the Bryony team: Tommy Connolly, who will be assisting with marketing, and Matt Coundiff, the illustrator for the interior images of the official Bryony cookbook: "Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles From 'Bryony.'"

Tommy Connolly is a Chicago area actor, writer, voiceover artist, and comedian, who has appeared in such productions as "Chicago Code," "Shameless," "Contagion," and "Chasing Hollywood."

However, Tommy's passion is inspiring others. After 28 years of battling addiction and depression, Connolly shares his journey to recovery in his blog ( and in his book, "Soul Parole: Making Peace with My Mind, God, and Myself," which will be released in November.

Matt Coundiff is an illustrator, professional wrestler, and the manager and tattoo artist at A Thin Line Tattoo in Plainfield. He is also starting a T-shirt and design company. Matt's goals are to support himself with his art and to grow as a person and as an artist. For more information, visit

I'd also like you to meet writer Kristina Skaggs. Her short story, "Dead Serious," will be posted on the "Harold Masters Literature Class" page on the BryonySeries website ( will be the BryonySeries blog featured short story tomorrow. Be sure to check it out!

Kristina read this story at an event last night, and she impressed everyone with her humor and interesting twist on a normally serious subject.

Have a great day!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Get a Jump on Christmas Shopping....

....and bless a boy or girl from a single parent home.

Check out the wish list for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy County

Consider volunteering your time or donating an item that will foster healthy mentoring relationships. You will be assured of a gift that will be appreciated long after the tree is packed.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We Launch October 14!

"Vamp Fest: Travel Through Time With 'Bryony,'" a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties, will be from 6 to 11 p.m. at Harwood Post, 705 S. Larkin Avenue, Joliet.

The 1970's/Victorian theme evening will include appetizers based on recipes from our official cookbook, "Memories in the Kitchen: Nibbles and Bites from 'Bryony,'" Bryony-related product (more on this as we get closer to the date), live music from both eras, a silent auction, 50/50 raffle, Bryony-themed vendors, and appearances by "Bryony" characters.

Over the next few weeks, we will share more details, as well as introduce the newest members of the "Bryony" team. We hope to see you there!

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield

With the other members of her affluent family, young Laura excitedly asists with preparations for that afternoon's garden party.

But when a tragic accident ends in death for a destitute neightbor, Laura's perceptions of her family, her lifestyle, life, and even death itself are deeply altered.

First published in 1922. Read it for free online.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Play Day

Yesterday, I did something I rarely do. I took nearly an entire day off.

A few weeks ago, my mother mentioned something regarding the river walk in Naperville. I nodded politely, and she noticed, perplexed. So, I told her I’ve never been to Naperville, which is about forty-minutes from home.

Stunned silence from my mother, than a shocked, “What?”

I reminded her I spent the first half of my adult life broke and raising six home-schooled children, so our activities were family-oriented (with other families in the same boat) and very creative.

Then I spent several years working from home delivering newspapers and writing) as a single parent. I remarried eleven years ago, but still work many, many hours from home, generally seven days a week. Plus, I’m still home-schooling two teens. My world opens from the computer screen out.

Because my fiftieth birthday fell on a Friday (warehouse day), we delayed the official celebration for two days. Our pastor baked a raspberry cheesecake, and Rebekah baked a piano-shaped cake.

My old asthmatic, but power-walking, lungs blew out all fifty candles to a giant cloud of choking smoke. Then I retreated to the attic and deadlines. Rebekah brought a slice of cake to me. I ate it while I typed.

So my seventy-five-year old mother decided to celebrate my half-century mark with a day in Naperville for a nice lunch, a walk by the river, and the browsing in shops.

I ate chocolate, flipped through books, got some ducks going by quacking at them, and added a crayon picture of bryony vines to a bulletin board of children’s art in a spice shop.

While driving back, my husband Ron called and told us to go straight home; he had already cleaned the warehouse. Christopher had made dinner. Then while I was checking mail, Daniel did all the chores. All that was left was shower and bed.

The best part, is that my sister and her youngest daughter joined us for the day and booked me for another day next week off BEFORE we said our good-byes. We’re going back on Wednesday for a day at Naperville’s beach-like pool area.

My sister is smart, too. She not only asked me while I was there, she had confirmed it by email by the time I was online, before I could schedule interviews and stories for Wednesday.

It’s been so long since I’ve been swimming (and I LOVE the water), that I don’t even own a swimsuit, so my sister’s checking to see if she has anything in my size. I feel SO relaxed right now, I might do this again once or twice in the next fifty years.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Song # 4 Close Your Eyes and relax Romantic Piano - "Daydreaming" by Ja...

Rough Drafts Are IN!

Just saw a sneak peak of several the images from the Bryony cookbook. Awesome! I can’t wait to see more! The illustrator promised to send pencil sketches of them all before the week is out. That way, he can tweak them before he inks them.

Although Kathleen Rose Van Pelt, Bryony’s illustrator ( created the cover design for Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles from “Bryony,” (and the cookbook cover is just as gorgeous as the novel’s cover), previous commitments prevented her from also drawing the interior art.

So unbeknownst to me, Sarah Stegall, Bryony’s web administrator, went searching for a second illustrator.

For awhile, Sarah was “hush-hush” about his identity until he submitted some sample Bryony pieces. She unveiled her surprise in the very wee hours of my birthday morning, certainly an excellent way to greet the day.

In other Bryony news: the cookbook editing is nearing completion, plans are underway for the launch event, new members have joined the Bryony team, and James Onohan is playing a second event later this month.

Details for all of the above will follow in upcoming posts.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Housework: The Perfect Writing Aid

Some of my best writing occurs, not at the computer, but while scrubbing out the shower, sorting socks, and washing dishes. I have no idea why the words won’t sometimes flow while sitting before the screen, but five minutes into another task and PRESTO! I’ve the perfect lede for a feature’s story or press release.

The opposite is also true when writing fiction. Most of my fiction writing happens mentally, while power walking and listening to music, driving and throwing newspapers, and again, while performing household chores. When I’m stumped, I know it’s time to sit at the keyboard and pound that scene out.

I think housework and writing, for me, are complementary they’re both inherently creative. While that might be obvious when one can hear the clacking of the keys, there is also something stirring about tackling the mountains of clutter hiding the grime (mind you, that transformation from clean to yuck can happen within hours at my house) and transforming the chaos into serenity once again.

While that might sound marvelously poetic, the real explanation is, probably, more practical. It’s simply encouraging to know that sorting the jumble of random images and phrases in my head is awfully similar to the tasks I’ve accomplished elsewhere in the house. If I can succeed in one, I can certainly fulfill the other.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The BryonySeries Blog Is One Year Old Today!

And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years. Abraham Lincoln

When I first began the blog, I committed to daily postings, but worried about running out of material. How wrong I was! The more blogs I write and the more auxiliary material I find and post, the more the ideas flow.

In the last year, the BryonySeries blog has covered:

• the author’s various writing projects

• the inspirations behind the story

• the editing experience

• the marketing behind the novel

• updates on the auxiliary projects, such as the book trailer, music video, cookbook, and fundraisers for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties

• interviews and glimpses into other members of the Bryony team

• blog postings composed by one of Bryony’s characters, Ed Calkins, the Steward of Tara

• the author’s fictional, Irish genealogy

• informational postings, interviews, and/or video clips on topics related to Bryony: Arabian horses, bats, bryony (the weed), croquet, dandyism and foppery, dreams, fishing, food (Victorian and ‘70’s-style), all things Irish, the language of fans, leeches, leprechauns, limericks, memories, piano music, roses and the meaning of their colors, rowboats, vampires, and Victorian clothing.

We’ve also had a fair amount of guest posters (message us at if you’d like to guest post) and a contest to name the Bryony cookbook.

If you’re new to the BryonySeries blog, check out the tags for topics on past posts or simply select a month and start reading. For additional fun, “like” the Bryony Facebook page ( Each day, that page offers additional fun posts, up-to-date information, book quotes and book-related quotes, photos and more.

For those that have followed us the entire year (We’ve passed 11,000 page views), thank you! To the new fans: the fun is just beginning. Stay posted!