Sunday, August 31, 2014

Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers

To Melissa, pickles meant dilled cucumbers on hot dogs and hamburgers, but the Rutherfords picked everything in sight. First, the spiced vinegar for pickling:

Spiced Vinegar for Pickling

3 gallons vinegar
1 tablespoon alum
1 teacup salt

Pickling hints: Never allow vinegar to cool in copper, bell metal, or brass vessels, as it is poisonous. Keep pickles only in wood or stone ware. Do not keep pickles in common earthenware, as the glazing contains lead and combines with the vinegar. Anything that has held grease will spoil pickles. Stir pickles occasionally, and if there are soft ones, takes them out and scald the vinegar, and pour it hot over the pickles. Keep enough vinegar to cover them. If it is weak, take fresh vinegar and pour on hot. Do not boil vinegar or spices over 5 minutes.

To Pickle Peaches

Take ripe, but hard, peaches, wipe off the down, stick a few cloves into them, and lay them in cold, spiced vinegar. In three months they will be sufficiently pickled, while retaining much of their natural flavor.

To Pickle Peppers

Carefully remove seeds from green peppers, so as not to mangle them. Soak them nine days in salt and water, changing it ever day, and keep them in a warm place. Stuff them with chopped cabbage, seasoned with cloves, cinnamon, and mace; put them in cold spiced vinegar.

Pickled Walnuts

100 nuts
1 ounce cloves
1 ounce allspice
1 ounce nutmeg
1 ounce of whole pepper
1 ounce race ginger
1 ounce horseradish
½ pint mustard seed, tied in a bag
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons salt

Wipe the nuts, prick with a pin, and put them in a pot, sprinkling with the spice as you lay them in; then add  salt; boil sufficient vinegar to fill the pot and pour over the nuts and spices. Keep for a year in a covered jar, then pickles will be ready for use. The vinegar makes an excellent catsup.

Fine Pickled Cabbage

Red cabbage
White cabbage
2 spoonfuls whole black pepper
The same quantity of allspice, cinnamon, and cloves, in a bag
2 quarts vinegar

Shred cabbages, spread it in layers in a stone jar, with salt over each layer. Scald pepper and spices in vinegar and pour the vinegar over the cabbage, and tightly cover for two days.

Pickled Beef Tongue

Beef, pork, tongues or hung beef
4 gallons water
1 ½ pounds sugar or molasses
2 ounces saltpetre
6-9 pounds salt (depending on storage time)
2 ounces sugar
½ pound salt

Mix the meat in water, sugar or molasses, and saltpetre. If it is to last a month or two, put in 6 pounds of salt; if you wish to keep it over the summer, use 9 pounds of salt. Boil it all together gently, and skin, and then let it cool. Put the meat in the vessel in which it is to stand, pour the pickle on the meat until it is covered, and keep it for family use. Once in 2 months boil and skim the pickle, and throw in 2 ounces of sugar and ½ pound of salt. When tongues and hung beef are taken out, wash and dry the pieces, put them in paper bags, and hang in a dry, warm place. In very hot weather, rub the meat well with salt before it is put in the pickle, and let it lie 3 hours for the bloody portion to run out. Too much saltpetre is injurious.

From "Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles From 'Bryony'"

All proceeds benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties.

Order the cookbook at

Saturday, August 30, 2014

While Ed Calkins is Silent, Let's Have a Little Throwback

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Candy Canes and Irish Vampires

Yes, Ed Calkins, Steward of Tara, dressed in an Old World Father Christmasy hat and carrying a bucket of candy canes, was already making his jolly rounds when I, huge mug of coffee in MY hand, arrived at the distribution center at one o'clock this morning.

It's been over a year since Ed last worked at this particular location and just several months since I've stopped delivering newspapers, yet the return was a joyful one for both, especially me, since I'm still in withdrawel. I have these moments, suppressed, of course, where I want to ride around at night--windows down and radio cranked up--throwing things (ideally newspapers) out of windows.

Ed and rival supervisor Dan resumed their plans to take over certain countries with insulting limericks, and one female carrier entered to the loud cry from Ed she (mistakenly) assumed she'd never hear again: "All, hail, Audrey the Magnificent!"

Of course, Ed showed the proper respect by virtue of his former nickname for me (Newspaper Goddess), by genuflecting, head bowed, to offer me a candy, the very pose assumed every day when he brought me my route book.

Now, having immortalized him and all, my nickname is Mistress of Immortality or MOM. Yes, I know it doesn't match, but Ed is horribly dyslexic, so it works for him. FYI: Any blog postings he sends are thoroughly edited by me, keeping in mind my copyediting skills are less than stellar.

Saturdays are a notoriously slow day. Carriers, the ones that still run on Saturdays, arrive late and leave late. Ed still had to drive an hour back to HIS distribution center to run a route. Still, I sold, and he signed, a few books. To catch the attention of sleepy carriers pushing grocery carts full of inserts back to their tables, Ed would stop them and point to his picture on page one hundred and ninety-three.

Periodically, he would stop, grinning, and excitedly say, "We're really doing this. Remember when we only talked about signing books at the center?" Before I could do more than smile and nod, Ed was showing a carrier where his name appeared in Bryony, then add the exhortation to look for the parade in his honor some thousand years hence.

I chatted to a couple of carriers who were a little envious--in a good way--of my having completed an entire book. One, a musician, is writing his autobiography, but got stuck one hundred and fifty-five pages into it. The other, a former Chicago teachers, has an idea for a screen play, but can't get the words out.

Both marveled how I, with homeschooled kids, other writing assignments, and throwing papers at night, managed to write an entire book. I told them my lap goes with me everywhere I go.

"Oh, so you wrote it all the computer?"

Well, yes, eventually. I also wrote bursts of inspiration on backs of old envelopes, margins of books, and myriads of tiny notebooks, really any form of paper within reach. I also had to utilize random bits of time, which is the way I really dislike to write, but when it's the only available time...well, that's when you have to stay true to your goals.

Ed then told me a story about how is granddaughter is beginning to not believe he is REALLY Santa Claus and wondering if his credibility will be shot if he tells her Santa is also a vampire.

"Especially the first Irish vampire," Ed said.

One of the supervisors, who is generally quiet and whom I did not expect to wander near our make-shift work station book "store," spent some time flipping through the Bryony, noting the research, and asking me how long it took me to compose it.

Even better, he made a couple allusions to the distribution center being "one of the seven levels of hell." Later, he referenced something back to "the library of Alexandria." Now my curious was piqued, and I hope an opportunity for conversation with him the next time I bring my teens down to stuff inserts. There's so much more to people than meets the eye, right?

And yes, he bought a book.

Ed took five back with him for family Christmas gifts this weekend and is coming back for twenty more next week. These will be a huge surprise, he said. Although he's told everyone in his large extended family that he is in a book, when you identify yourself as a ruthless dictator and create Celtic myths about yourself, your family tends to dismiss your other claims.

I jubilantly waved a book before him. "And now you have the proof."

He laughed. "Yes, now I have the proof!"

At three-thirty, Ed packed it up, worried about making HIS deadline, then paused.

"Can I hug you?" he asked.

LOL! Why, of course! Merry Christmas, O Ye Steward of Tara!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Short, Sweet, and to the Point

A third proof copy of Staked! greeted me when I returned home from work last night.

First glance: The cover is perfect! THANK YOU, Christopher Gleason (front cover design), Sarah Stegall (back cover design), Cal Graphics (spine, assembly, and size adjustments) for something that is so unique, it draws me in...

Second glance: The interior art is far more dark than the interior art in Bryony and Visage, a decided and interesting contrast to deceptive brightness of the cover and the hilarity the protagonist seems to bring to the story. I say "deceptive" and "seems" because Staked! has more death than the other two books combined and has an uneasiness darkness below its surface. Well done, again, Christopher!

Third glance: I saw at least three pages where the formatting is still off, including one place where correct formatting is crucial. This won't delay the release too much. I'll mark the places, ask Sarah to fix them really fast, and then submit the files again to Createspace. I won't order another proof. Once Createspace approves the files, I'll release the book.

Unless I'm surprised by pestilence, frogs, and floods, we will have a book within the week. Thank you, vampire fans, for your patience.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Return of Family Chores

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Return of Family Chores

Up until a couple of years ago, when I began hiring other people to roll my newspapers, everyone in my household rose at midnight, ate breakfast, packed a lunch, and then departed to the distribution center.

When you have six kids, it's a simple, although highly organized process, to get fifteen hundred newspapers out the door seven days (nights?) a week. So even as my children grew up, moved away, married, etc., younger ones readily filled the gaps, that is, until Timothy began college, and the work crew began to thin out.

For a long time, midnight at my house resembled the early morning rush at others. Dishes clattered; the vacuum hummed; I was shouting to make sure everyone had been through the bathroom so I could clean it; lunch coolers and coffee thermoses were packed; and litter boxes were scooped. If it was winter, the van was warming up.

Not only did we have to get out the door when the rest of the world had comforters pulled up tp their noses, we had to complete all household chores first, since writing deadlines and homeschool assignments would be awaiting our return. Besides, few things are more demoralizing than braving the elements to throw hundreds of newspapers only to arrive home to a dirty, messy house.

As schedules shifted, I became the only one still tumbling out of bed at midnight. Even though Ron now brought my bagged papers home, I kept the routine, just in case someone called off, and I'd have to come in.

Besides, with the world asleep, the witching hour was the perfect writing time, since I wasn't fielding phone calls and emails (although my publicist and I had some incredibly productive three-thirty a.m. phone chats). I did the chores alone, reveling in the blissful quiet and the jotting down of mental notes for whatever story was on the monitor at the time.

Lately though, that routine has once again begun to shift. The last paper cut (Get it? Paper cut? Knee slap and chuckle) forever altered our paper carrier ways. We no longer could afford to put two large vans on the road, and the few newspapers Ron still delivers hardly feels worth his effort, not compared to the money it takes to run them. Still, even Ron is rarely up at midnight, although I still enjoy many hours of silent darkness before the rest of the world greets the new day.

Between working as a banquet cook and negotiating a full schedule as a culinary arts student, Timothy is coming home later and later, and Rebekah will get a taste of this schedule for the Spring 2012 semester when she embarks upon a four-hour cookie class. The candlelight breakfasts and noon hour Bible studies over farm-style dinners have morphed into Bible study over lighter candelight dinners, with chores following.

Now I would rather do housework at the top of my day, even if it is two a.m., than at the end of it, when I'm uncaffeinated and dragging, yet the advantages of tackling it at this hour exceed my natural inclination to ignore the clutter and proceed to shower and bed, and this is why.

It gives us an opportunity, as new ones outside our home increasingly beckon, to move together as a unit for a common purpose, and to delight in each other's company and the conversation that naturally ensues when hands and feet are occupied. Yes, we have our fair share (and then some) of grumbling and arguing (which can be accompanied by loud and strong language), for our days our long, and we are weary.

But there's something invigorating with moving about each other's orbit for an hour or so, before we again pull back into our individual rooms for the night. We're able to greet the new day with the house in order, no undone work staring you in the face, and knowing it was the combined efforts of the people that dwell together under one roof that accomplished it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Character Development Through Dialogue and Circumstances

In "real" life, how do we get to know people?

We spend time with them, and part of that time consists of conversation, in situations that feel natural and unstilted. We may or may not reflect on what we are observing and hearing, depending on the people involved and the unfolding events. That is what it means to "show" the reader and not "tell" them.

Consider the two excerpts from Before the Blood. One sets a plausible stage; the other provides the enlightenment.

  The following June brought bad news. Auntie Eleanor sent a telegram that Mama Prudie had suddenly died and insisted Lucetta and John be dispatched on the next train to New Haven. Abbott shared the news with John over breakfast the next morning.

   John choked, hastily set down his coffee, and slid the napkin from its porcelain ring.

   "You never told them?" John said, when he regained his breath.

   "No reason to tell them." Abbot sliced into his ham, raised a forkful to his mouth, noticed John's indignance, and lowered it again.

    "Fine, I did mention she was ill and under the care of New York's finest physicians." Abbott reached for the peppermill and gave his omelet a generous sprinkling. "Do you think me a scoundrel? I can't fix it; they can't fix it. It's kinder this way."

   "So I'm staying home?" John returned to his breakfast. Nurse had retired to her sister's Boston home early in the spring, so even that option was not available to him.

   "No, you're leaving tomorrow. Helsby will accompany you."

  (FYI: His tutor, Mr. Andrew Helsby from lower Manhattan, a foppish sort in corduroy jacket, well-coiffured tower of scented curls, and  homespun breeches tucked inside a sturdy set of boots...). 

   The next day, standing on the bustling terminal, John had to remind himself that the reason behind the journey was a grim one, so elated was he at freedom from Maestro's obsessive admonishments. Beside him, Helsby carried the lunch box in one hand, the large water jar in the other, and the morning edition of the New York Gazette under one arm.

   Gazing happily around him, Helsby puffed out his chest, inhaled deeply, and exclaimed, "What a perfect day for an excursion!"

   The locomotive responded with a loud hiss of steam. John glanced at his tutor. Helsby's eyes were dancing as they roamed about the platform. John couldn't understand such animation for a simple four-hour jaunt until a sudden thought came to him.

   "Ever ride on a train, Helsby?"

   Still smiling, Helsby bent close to John's ear.

   "Never." A giggle escaped Helsby lips, and he quickly masked it with a cough. "First time."

   "Well, man. pull yourself together," John whispered, looking around with a sharp eye. "It's undignified."

   But Helsby's fascination continued as they boarded the train. He bowed at everyone he passed and ran his hands over the chair fabrics once they had settled in their seats. They had barely left New York City when Helsby assumed the role of town crier.

   "Master John, listen to this. The attorney general has asked the treasury for accounts Brigham Young filed twelve years ago."

   John said nothing. He'd read that item in last night's evening edition.

   "Illegal trading with Indians, it seems." Helsby turned a page. "Railroad laborers are considering striking."

   John stifled an irritated sigh and turned his attention to the blurring tracks.

   "Wages cut again."

   "I heard."

   A rustling of paper, silence, and then Helsby's voice rang out, "Edison's done it again, invented a machine that talks."

   "I know."

   He nudged John's shoulder and then held out the newspaper for John to see. Perplexed, John read, "Officials in Washington want to offer Sitting Bull immunity?"

   Helsby's face fell, and he impatiently tapped an advertisement.

   "This one," he said.

   John began again. "Grand concert by the celebrated Gilmore Brass Band. Every Sunday afternoon. Free admission.'" He pushed the newspaper away. "Who cares?"

   "I care. I can take my girl."

   The insult John was ready to level against the celebrated Gilmore and his Brass Band died on his lips. Domestics had a separate life outside their service to the household? The concept was one he had never fully considered. Stunned, John regarded his tutor with this fresh insight.

   "You have a girl, Helsby?

   "I do. And her father lets me see her every Sunday afternoon."

   "Well, good for you," John said with a short laugh. Imagine that. Helsby. In love. With a girl.

   "Thank you." Helsby turned another page. "'A Pictorial History of the World. Six hundred and seventy-two fine engravings.' How I long to own this book."


   An image rose in John's mind of the library at home, a large room with thousands of titles. It had never occurred to John to actually buy a book. When he wanted one to read, he just walked to the west wing and selected one.

   "What do you mean, 'why?' I like to learn things. Don't you?"

   "I should think you'd want to abandon the schoolmaster's role for a spell."

   "It's not about a role. It's curiosity about the world. If I had the money, I'd send for a copy straight away."

   "So do it." John once again turned his attention to the window. "My father pays you generously."

   "I couldn't possibly, not in good conscience."

   "Why not?"

   "My pay goes to Mums. Father ran away six years ago, and she's not in good health."

   Stunned again, John faced Helsby. "You're supporting a family?"

   "Only until my younger brother is old enough for charity school. Then Mums will return to Rhode Island. She still has family there."

   "You say that so casually." John thought of Lucetta, alone in her chambers, talking to plants, and the fact that he would no longer take a trip under her care. "Won't you...?"

   "Miss her? Certainly, but it's preferable to her dying in a tenement."

   Truth, as John knew truth, was peeling back its layers to reveal another truth, stark and blunt. How astounding that beneath the worn clothes in the adjacent chair lived an actual man, one with hopes and dreams and longings and aspirations. John reflected on the financial empire Abbott had built and the musical one he was constructing. He couldn't imagine applying Herculean effort toward teaching.
   "But...tutoring? Why Helsby?"

   "The money, of course...and a natural aptitude for it, I suppose. Before working for your father, I actually served as headmaster for a small school in Cooperstown."

   Helsby folded the newspaper, slid it down the arm chair, and then reached for the lunch tin on the floor.

   "Well, I'm famished." Helsby opened the box and tipped it toward John. "Sandwich?"

Crest Hill studio teaches yoga to seniors
By Jeanne Millsap

Twists, contortions and magnificent feats of limbs is not just for the young. When modified, yoga possess great benefits for the over 50 crowd (like me!), too.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dibs and Dabs

A second proof copy of Staked! is ordered and on the way. If the formatting is correct this time, we will release the book. Hoping!

Work and family obligations prevented any substantial fiction writing until mid-Saturday afternoon, and, even then, much of it was research. The prose never started flowing until nine o'clock that night, so actual writing time was less than hoped. Still, the research is a crucial component of the story and cannot be ignored.

Church, work and family obligations ruled on Sunday, too. However, Rebekah and I did manage to sneak in an episode of Once Upon a Time.

And that, folks, was my weekend. Crunching week ahead with Labor Day weekend deadlines.

Readers, I hope your weekend was fantastic and the next seven days even more so.

An Extraordinary Life: Caring, loving, merciful - Channahon teacher, farmer exemplified her Catholic faith

And she did it by following key advice from her father.

Local residents support national petition against confining animals in vehicles

Illinois already has laws in place - as do 14 other states - but this petition calls for action in all 50.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Not Your Typical Picnic Fare

One afternoon, as Melissa stepped into the hallway following another dreadful tea, John strolled from the music room and ordered Bryga to pack a supper basket

“I’m taking Mrs. Simons on a picnic,” he said. “We won’t return for dinner.”

Bryony, Chapter 24: "It's No Uuse"

Melissa is thrilled when John finally invites her to a picnic away from the mansion, just the two of them. Of course, John feels Bryga packed enough food to feed them for a week, but even that careless remark couldn’t completely dampen Melissa’s excitement of being alone with John.

Cold Beef Stewed with Apples

Beef, cut into thin slices
Apple, sliced fine
Onion (optional)

Rub a stew pan with butter and put in sliced beef with pepper, salt, and apple; some would add a little onion. Cover it tight and stew until tender.

From 'Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles From 'Bryony'"

All proceeds benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties.

Order the cookbook at

New Lenox man hopeful for heart transplant

Yes, the six-month vacation is past, but hopefully that means good things for Robert Strilko

And the earlier story...

Friday, August 22, 2014

Guest Post by Ken McGee: Summertime In Sunny Severnaya

A member of WriteOn Joliet, this was Ken's rendition of an assignment for a topic simply called, "summer."

        Summertime In Sunny Severnaya
By Ken McGee

Taras Arkady rubbed his permanently stained dirty hand through his matted heavy black beard. He lay on his back under a thick goose-down comforter. The smell of freshly brewed coffee reached his nostrils. He absentmindedly reached out and felt Marat, his Siberian husky, lying next to him. When the sizzle of frying salo reached his ears, he moved out from under the comforter and sat on the edge of the thin mattress on the wooden bed frame. Marat jumped down and trotted into the cooking area only ten feet away on the opposite wall of the windowless, one-room dwelling. Taras groaned as he stretched his arms over his head. He turned back and forth in a vain effort to loosen the stiff muscles of his back. His neck cracked audibly as he bent his head to the side. He slipped his insulated boots over his thick woolen socks. The bed frame groaned as he lifted his 250 pounds and stood to his full height of six and a half feet.

Daria Zakhar turned around and waved her iron spatula at Marat. “You will get your share, but only after we have eaten.” Her breath hung in the air like a cloud of frozen dust.

Marat barked once, then sat on his haunches in strict obedience.

“This is the last of the coffee, Taras.”

“That it has lasted this long is indeed a surprise.” Taras grabbed his Mickey Mouse mug from the wooden shelf above the coal-fired stove. He poured a cup of the thick brew. He swallowed half of it as he put an arm around his six foot tall blonde companion. “I suppose I will have to make a trip into Severnaya soon.”

“It cannot be avoided much longer. We are down to our last bottle of Double Blow.”

“We cannot run out of vodka! Coffee I can live without, but not my vodka.” His laughter filled the room. “I will be back in a moment.” He grabbed his gloves and fur-lined parka.

“I tried to make it to the coal shed yesterday, but it was still blocked.” Daria held her hands over the stove in a futile attempt to keep them warm. “I could see most of it though.”

Taras opened the door and peered into the bright sunshine. He took ten steps into the wind. He looked around, then spat at a pesky weasel. His face registered surprise, so he spat again. He traced his footsteps back inside.

“Daria, I have good news.” His face beamed.

“What is it, Taras?”

“It must be summer because my spittle did not freeze until it landed on the snow.”

And catching up...

Fermenting an interest in beer

Lockport librarian home brews, presents educational programs

Joliet ex-drug addict isn't letting cancer stop his foundation work

He's hosting his fifth annual Back to School fair tomorrow, despite battling stage four lymphoma and stage two lung cancer.

Hopstring Fest to feature regional as well as local talent

Except for the headliner band, everything is local: The other thirty bands, the food vendors, the beer suppliers, the sponsors, the charity recipients.

Beer Geeks host fourth Midwest Brewers Fest for charity

Over 200 different beers to try, including some rare beers and cask ales. Whew!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Throwback Thursday: So Let Me Tell You About My Freak "Bryony" Accident

Thursday, August 9, 2012

So Let Me Tell You About My Freak "Bryony" Accident

On Thursday evening, Sarah Stegall, Bryony's online administrator, and I exchanged the following texts:

Me: "I just had a very Bryony accident.

Sarah: "You fell down the ladder." (I have an attic office, accessible only by ladder).

Me: "Oh, very good. No, I just got hit in the head with a piano."

Sarah: "Is your neck crooked?"

Me: "No, but Timothy's screen is smashed."

Sarah: "Does his come with a lifetime warranty? It should."

Me: "No. One year, he thinks."

Sarah: Doesn't Channahon Computer Repair cover that?"

Me: "Unfortunately, no."

Sarah: :(

Me: "I'm concerned about all this concern for a PIANO."

Sarah: "You said your neck wasn't crooked. What else is there?

Me: "My head hurts." :(

Sarah: "Oh, sorry." :(

Me: Lol! Trying to make light of it. Might make a good blog post."

This is what happened. While surfing YouTube Tuesday for a particular video, I came across a rare interview with a very young Jack Wild. After I shared it with Timothy and Daniel, for comparison, I began searching via Timothy's laptop for one of Jack's last appearances, after cancer had claimed his tongue, and he could no longer speak.

As I was doing so, Timothy's very large, very heavy paino keyboard fell off the wall and clocked me in the side of the head, knocking me to the ground. Timothy blamed Daniel, who blamed the piano, and I staggered away for ice.

I thought it was little weird that the piano hit me on one side of the head, and I felt discomfort on the other, but since I otherwise felt fine, I refused Timothy's offer for a ride to the emergency room, and instead went to bed.

He awakened me at three o'clock in the morning, to be sure I did indeed awaken, and then I returned to sleep. The next day, I just felt "off." My brain was foggy; my head hurt more; my stomach felt unsteady, as did my balance; and all I wanted to do was sleep. So, I took that trip to the hospital.

One neurological exam (which I passed) and CT scan later, I learned I had a mild concussion (no surprise there) and some whiplash (a nod to Snowbell, after all, despite the lack of torticollis). I returned home to my assignments, but although I plodded along, concentration proved daunting.

I gave it up early, which means I am now behind schedule today. I'm sure the day will be an alternate of taking the whip to my back and making allowances for my slowness. At any event, I DID get a blog post out of it, so that's one story accomplished today. Onward to the next project!

And since you're probably curious, here's the clip that started the whole incident:

Excuse me while I grab an ice pack....

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

One Good Trick for Jump-Starting Your Muse

"A little provoked, she drew back, and after looking everywhere for the queen (whom she spied out at last, a long way off), she thought she would try the plan, this time, of walking in the opposite direction." Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Ever finally carve out some time to work on the masterpiece, only to find the prose stopped up? Try this solution: Procrastinate.

Yes, procrastinate.

I started planned procrastinating years ago, when I first started writing on deadline couldn't think of anything brilliant fast enough and panic didn't work. In those crucual moments when inspiration takes a holiday, it's sometimes better to let it do just that.

A tired muse doesn't produce very good material. So allow it to rest. It will be back. What do I do in the meantime, especially while at work, and on deadline?

I catch up on email.

I take a walk.

I return phone calls.

I post something extraordinary to Facebook.

I reheat my coffee.

I review my notes, to that story or to another.

I edit soemthing else.

But while I'm doing this, my muse regains strength. However, when it awakens from its power nap, although it may be rested, it may still feel a bit sluggish. Go slowly; build gradually; and you may soon find the muse running full speed toward the finish line.

"Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder." Henry David Thoreau

Good writing sometimes works like that, too.

Grundy County employees combat the negative effects of sedentary jobs
By Jeanne Millsap

Betcha their muses got back up and moving, too.

Monday, August 18, 2014

This Past Weekend, from a Monday Point of View

Tired, for one.

Some people catch up on sleep on the weekends. I am (generally) not one of them, since I hate to lose any fiction-writing time by sleeping or indulging in naps. The delicious exception, as I found out during the Fourth of July weekend, is a a block of three days, where a nap on one still leaves me with more time than a block of two. Make sense? Nevertheless, I'm thinking less caffeine and more sleep might be a wise choice. Not sure if I'll feel the same way come Friday.

Number two: Waking up a stubborn muse can be hard to do.

   Mine took until four o'clock on Saturday, extremely frustrating when large blocks of fantasy writing must be reserved for the weekend. After a combination of walking, scanning, researching, trying different music combinations, art prompts, and re-reading past chapters, said muse finally got in the spirit of things and started producing...and was still producing nearly twelve hours later, not cool  when Divine Liturgy begins at ten-thirty forty miles away. I did get insight on preventing muse laziness, which leads me to number three.

Number three: A satisfying writing weekend isn't necessarily good for the novel.


   No, really. Last week, I started Monday feeling so good. I'd finished the fifth chapter in John's story and was looking forward to beginning the sixth. I do a lot of mental writing on my power walks, but that just wasn't happening this past week (the ideas, that is. The walks almost always happen.), a bit of a stumper, since I was really sailing high from my productivity.

 Turns out, the productivity was the problem.

   By wrapping up the previous chapter so neatly AND stopping there, I'd left no seeds to start the next garden. No ideas took root, no scenes began blooming, the plot line went dormant, and the characters stood around like extras on a movie set waiting for something to do.

   I learned this Sunday morning on the way to church, with hoardes of ideas inside my head clamoring for keyboards and computers. A few found their destination later that afternoon, but the rest will have to wait for Friday night, unless I have the opportunity to wrap up chapter six one night this week (Doubt it).

   Thus frustrated, those ideas will have nothing else to do this week except be fruitful and multiply. My overtired mind helped them get in the mood by taking my notes for chapter seven to bed with me. They can thank me later.

Quick Staked! update:

New cover is ready to be uploaded. (Still) waiting for Sarah Stegall to uploaded format-corrected manuscript. Getting impatient? Nudge her along at

An Extraordinary Life: Joliet woman shied limelight, served family and church

The amount of service she accomplished behind the scenes is truly inspiring

Heat: not the only summer hazard to pets

Betcha there's at least one here you didn't consider. Some were revelation to me

Sunday, August 17, 2014

My Favorite Dinner Salad in the Whole World (served also at Sue's Diner)

House Salad
By Timothy Baran
A handful of Romaine lettuce, chopped
½ of a tomato, small diced
½ of a peeled cucumber eight cucumber pieces-sliced thin, the rest small diced
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Poppy seeds
1 lemon, juice only (You may not need the whole lemon)
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Put greens on plate. Thinly slice part of the cucumber into 8 pieces; small dice the rest. In a bowl mix, garlic powder, onion powder, poppy seed, and pepper. Add sliced cucumbers and gently shake the bowl so that the cucumbers become LIGHTLY coated, then place them around the rim of the plate, standing up and leaning against the salad. Grate broccoli heads. In a bowl, mix tomatoes, cucumbers, grated broccoli, lemon juice, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper. After it is well mixed place in the center of the salad. LIGHTLY toss with oil and vinegar. Yield: 1 salad.

From "Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles From 'Bryony'"

All proceeds benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties.

Order the cookbook at

Friday, August 15, 2014

Short and to the Point of What We Do

Quite randonly, I read something the other day that has just stuck.

I can't remember the entire quote but it read something to the effect that many (granted, not all) problems are caused by communication that isn't honest and clear, both on the part of the do-er and the hear-er of the words.

Can you imagine communication that is totally lacking in prejudice, back-pedaling, back-biting, self-justification, and totally untinged with past experiences? Because when it is not, we end up with

*  slander

*  libel

*  misunderstandings

*  resentments

*  distrust

*  hostility

*  separateness

*  confusion

*  defensiveness

By the way, "clear and honest" doesn't mean jabbing someone in the heart with your words. I think whether communication is face to face, via text, email, blogs, novels, or any broadcast media, the communicator should strive for "clear and honest" in a way that is respectful of and present to the listener.

And vice versa.

If everyone did this, - my God! - the possibilties...

And catching up...

Frankfort partners with Jaycees and Lions to serve up amateur rib competition for charity

A samply of the contestants and why they compete.

Minooka girl delays college for missionary work

Which won't happen if she doesn't raise another couple thousand by Aug. 18. If you're able to help, please do.

Varieties of activities planned in Mokena for 10th annual farm and barn fest
By Jeanne Millsap

From blacksmiths to corn steamed in a vintage engine, the fest offers plenty to see and do.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Good Samaritan Revisted: A Recipe for Building Fellowship in the World via Facebook

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Good Samaritan Revisited: A Recipe for Building Fellowship in the World via Facebook

Last week, a most pressing engagement was unfortunately rescheduled in favor of a more pressing need: our water heater, just several months past its warranty expiration, had ceased functioning.

Now, I often unintentionally land in hot water, but when it’s unexpectedly dried up at its source with no tangible resources for quick replacement (especially when the dishes are stacked to the ceiling and a line is forming at the bathroom door for evening showers), it’s a miserable situation. So, fully trusting in God for wisdom and provision, I prayed and posted a double entendre on Facebook to amuse my family.

Someone I know only on Facebook responded with a silly comment, to which I added a one-sentence summary of our situation. She immediately messaged me and asked for a longer synopsis. I provided a brief sketch of our bleak financial situation and thanked her for the concern. In desperate moments, compassionate words are truly soothing. Rebekah proceeded to boil water for dishes and hair washings.

"I feel like Little House on the Prairie,” she said.

By next morning, this Facebook angel had located the lowest price for water heaters and solicited a family member to install it after he clocked out of work for the evening; would after six o’clock be convenient for us? When I offered to thank her in person, with a copy of Bryony in-hand, she postponed the suggestion  because she was fighting a virus.

As I emptied my scant savings, the bank teller, who knows of our situation, became a little chocked-up. I’m humming to the rendition of Winter Wonderland piping through the lobby’s speakers.

"It’s okay,” I told her. “It’s Christmas.”

The kind fellow who performed the installation, who had family at home waiting for him and who had to be on his feet again before dawn, stayed until ten o’clock, long enough to guarantee the glue had dried, nothing leaked, and that the new unit was properly heating water. Timothy connected well with him, so to speak, as he played both host and assistant while I hid in the attic and pounded out assignments.

With all the news stories about the dangers of the internet, online predators, identity robbers, and the like, as well the usual moaning of how texting and email have destroyed authentic communication, it’s heartening and humbling to know that social networking is just that, a means of connecting in a very rich and rewarding way with the other humans on this planet.

In this case, two people went out of their way to help me, at personal discomfort to themselves, not because they knew me or liked me, but because their characters are solid gold. I, for one, am humbled and grateful for their kindness and generosity, which made my world, not just my water, a little warmer.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Using a Critique Group to Your Advantage

So you like to write; you're wondering if the stuff you've composed is "good enough;" and you're contemplating getting some feedback. (other than from your mom and best friend, who's totally impressed and in awe). I know, you think. I'll join a critique group.

Now if you're in the Joliet area, I can recommend a fantastic one (, and short of finding such a group near your hometown, you can always begin one. Now while some people shy away from a a critique group for fear of hearing their worked verbally shredded - My former co-leader said one newcomer declared he'd never be back because the criticism was brutal - if one approaches the group with the idea that the opinions declared are just that, the writer can walk away with valuable information.

1) Realize that the group - no matter how large or small - is composed of readers and writers with diverse interests.

   The romance writer might yawn at westerns. The Christian children's writer might cringe at your porno sex scenes. The prolific blogger on trout fishing may never have read a dystopian novel. When absorbing   criticism - such as overuse of cliches - keep in mind who is offering it and take it with a grain of salt.

2) Realize that the group - no matter how large or small - is composed of writers with diverse writing abilities.

   Novice writers might not recognize orphan dialogue, sagging middles, or prologues that really should be first chapters. Experienced writers might forget what it's like to be a new writer and start expounding on complex-compound clauses while you're trying to remember subject-verb agreement.

3) Realize that the group - no matter how large or small - is composed of writers with diverse commitments to their craft.

   Reading the 20,000 well-crafted words you've written since the last meeting might spark jealousy amongst the less verbose members - whose idea of writing is talking about it on Facebook - and their feedback with reflect that. Or your piece might really suck. Gather opinions, step away for a day or two, and then examine all comments objectively.

4) You'll learn how your selection resonates with a slice of the general public.

   Guaranteed: You'll neither receive a standing ovation or a chorus of boos. Some will love it; some will hate it; and some will text their friends under the table about their weekend plans just as you come to the dramatic part.

5) Positive feedback doesn't always mean something is working.

   People may soft-pedal comments to prevent hurt feelings, especially if you have a reputation for becoming defensive. Or the supporting character or plot twist might appear stable and compelling in said selection and then completely fall apart in subsequent chapters, which the other writers will not know.

6) Conversely, negative feedback doesn't always mean something is not working.

   Maybe you simply need to strengthen a character or premise or dialogue to fix the problem. Or maybe your felllow writers might have expressed a different opinion had they read the previous three chapters. It's okay to offer additional details and then see if their comments remain the same. Also, people are human. If you are writing gripping hunting scenes and a member is a vegan, those personal views may color the feedback.

7) Don't be afraid to ask for more information.

   Why does this character seem underdeveloped? Why are you saying this is "telling" when I think it's "showing?" Why does this dialogue appear weak? And so forth. Keep in mind, though, a critique group is not your editor, so don't treat it as a free one.

8) Don't be afraid to cry.

   At home, right before you get over it and begin revising.

9) Remember that you're only reading a sample. It's impossble to make an "all or nothing" pronouncement on a sample.

    Ask people to write down their comments. Review all of them against the work as a whole. Not every suggestion is gospel, but it's likely you'll find some of them vital to the health of your story.

10) Do unto other writers as you would have them do unto you.

   When it's your turn to critique, recall what was helpful and what was less so and then deliver it in a manner that is respectful of the other writer and his masterpiece. Because that's what his work-in-progress is to him.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What I learned from a Good and Bleak Weekend

Counterbalance. The End


I had a thoroughly productive weekend, writing-wise, which generally leaves me upbeat, satisified, and ready to switch writing styles in anticipation of the new work-week.

Instead, I'm somewhat depressed (and I'm rarely depressed) and blah. Broken sleep followed by nasty nightmares last night and heavy rain this morning that's threatening to cancel my early morning walk didn't help either.

So, what gives?

The weekend certainly started off on a high note, John Simons style. I finished the Friday festivities in a goodly time and sailed out the door, ready for an Italian beef from Jody's, a work-out, Family Guy with Daniel, all before I'd settle at the computer with a fresh cup of coffee to finish the final scenes of Before the Blood: John's Story: Chapter 5: Post-Graduate Studies.

My first clue should have been walking back to work to retrieve the forgotten haluski in the refrigerator. Still, since that provided extra conversation with Rebekah, even that bit wasn't totally unpleasant. I then proceeded into the above activities and all was well.

The coffee gave out two-ish, but I was back in the nineteenth century by eight, a sure sign of a happy weekend. Prose and research rolled along at a steady rate until I had to run an errand. Let's just say that intentional meaness combined with poor customer service and bad handling of the two on my part started the downward spiral.

Generally, I have tougher hide, so I'm not sure why I couldn't easily shrug it off. Feeling a bit slapped down, I returned home to my chapter. This is where the lesson of counterbalance begins, as the writing, instead of distracting me, enhanced the hopeless mood.

For, you see, those scenes were all in nineteenth century slums. I spent the rest of the day reading about that lifestyle, viewing many photos of it, and writing about some of the most despairing situations one could imagine. If I'd been more aware, I would have skipped over the rest of this chapter and worked ahead on a happier scene. Instead, a dark quicksand sucked me in.

I did, however, finish the chapter around  two o'clock in the morning, a good thing. Really.

The next morning, with a gray gloom hanging about me, we drove up to St. Nicholas in Homewood. A general confession service before liturgy temporarily and somewhat heightened my mood. During fellowship hour, I telephoned one of our matriarchs who has been absent since July, a strong, independent, never-married, retired nurse, perfectly lovely, never sick woman, who had battled some nasty virus last month, became dehydrated, and hasn't quite gotten her strenght back. I wandered around the parking lot, talking (I think best while walking), but it became clear to me that, because she lives many miles from church, she may never again be the full-time presence she once was.


Still emotionally dragging, I then spent the afternoon helping my ex-husband fill out paperwork regarding disablity and adding a few touches to said chapter five. Towards evening, the eureka moment occured.


One of the reasons, I believe, that artists are so skilled at their craft is because we are keenly and acutely aware of impressions -color, line, shape, emotions, nuanced human behavior - which we then transmit into a work for others to enjoy.

The problem, of course, with absorbing all those impressions is that we don't quite easily shake them away with the same ease non-artists do. I think that, had the chapter I'd been writing been a joyous one, the earlier incident, however unpleasant, would have faded into the walls once I began writing. Instead, I became steeped in dreariness.

Lesson learned: Follow up depressing writing actions not with depressing reactions, but with opposite and totally upbeat actions that have nothing to do with the storyline or passing negative life events. Dismal, no matter how real it appears (whether it is my creation or a creation of another's imposed on me) is not reality.

Reality, for me, is 1 John 4:8: God is love.

And it is in this reality I choose to live today, even though the meh mood is hanging about me like mist from Simons Woods.

The End.

Dog rescue group hosts fundraising luau

Cute and photo-heavy

An Extraordinary Life: Not as good as Great-Grandma's

Bessie Frederick was, first and foremost, a mere homemaker, but, oh, what a homemaker.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Screaming (on the inside) for Victorian Ice Cream

Ice cream was John Simons’ one, particular culinary weakness. Each lunch at Simons Mansion ended with a dish of it.

First published in Miss Beecher’s domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplement to her Treatise on domestic economy

Strawberry Ice Cream

1 pint ripe strawberries
1 pint cream
4 ounces powered sugar

Rub strawberries through a sieve, add cream, then sugar. Freeze.

From Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles From "Bryony"

All proceeds benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties.

Former addicts work at Joliet treatment and recovery center

Meeting with an interviewing these two women was the highlight of my week last week, truly an honor.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Newspaper Jokes for Timothy's 17th Birthday

Along with the discarded novella version of Bryony, the jokes below were part of the birthday package.
Yes, I know number four is missing, deleted on purpose, a bit insulting (aka Ed Calkins), not fit for print. 

Anyway, these are just another example of my re-entry into creativity after many decades, before I went completely to the dark side. ;)

1)      Q: On Sunday, why did Timothy stuff more papers than anyone else?
            A: He was on a roll.

2)      Knock. Knock.
Who’s there?
Sun Times.
Sun Times who?
Sun Times I just don’t want to deliver papers.

3)      Q: Why did the daily bags not mind papers being stuffed into them?
A: They were hooked.

 5)      Q: Why did Ron get old fast by delivering papers?
A: Because he worked for man-agers.

6)      Q: What kind of bags are good to eat?
A: Sundae bags.

7)      Q: What kind of a raft will not keep one from downing?
A: A paper buoy.

8)      Q: When business got bad for the newspaper company, what did it do?
A: It folded.

Italian American Cultural Society hosts annual religious and food festival

It's this weekend, so if you're in the area, and even if you're not religious, the food sounds absolutely outstanding!

Pastor to retire from active ministry

He came into a parish with financial difficulties and fixed them. He addressed the HIV/AIDS issue at a time when few would not. He offered a holistic philosophy before that term became chic. AND he's hanging onto one portion of his community service, one he feels is extremely important to the community's future.

Joliet church now has a Little Free Library

Take a book, leave a book. Drive-through doesn't get better than this. Easy on the body, but a feast for the mind.

Joliet girls use STEM principles to build derby vehicle from used refrigerator

And they will race it around The Field Museum in Chicago on Aug. 23. The public is invited to watch.