Thursday, December 31, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Celebrate New Year's Eve the Ed Calkins Way

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Celebrate New Year's Eve the Ed Calkins Way

Yesterday's chat with Ed Calkins, the Steward of Tara, was brief. While on vacation, he had caught a bad cold and could hardly speak, but he promised a follow-up in a day or two once the vocal pipes were back in shape.

His wife, by contrast, was jovial and laughing, so I've no doubt that, despite the ill health, they will celebrate a hearty New Year's Eve.

Now just what festivities will be part of their evening is anyone's guess, but if you'd like to keep the last day of the year as Ed might, check out the following link:

A blessed new year to you and yours!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Quick Prose Check

I've used it for checking typos when writing features, but I began doing this unconsciously this weekend when editing scenes.

Read your work backwards.

I easily picked out clunky prose, clumsy pacing, and dependency on certain phrases, cadences, and words. It also helped me quickly note areas where I needed particular detail (more of some of the five senses here or a personality trait there), to make a scene or person come alive.

Try it and see if it works for you, too.

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Good Time Was Had By All

The weather outside was frightful, but the time inside was delightful.

I spent my last vacation day of 2015 getting up early to work on Before the Blood, partake of a breakfast feast (homemade wildberry waffles and pancakes, sausage) prepared by Timothy and Daniel, followed by eight hours (more or less) of board games and UNO, in honor of Rebekah's twentieth birthday two years ago. (Don't ask).

We laughed; we argued; we laughed at each other: all hallmarks of good family fun. We even forgot to capture it in photos, even more of a hallmark of good family fun. Not even a selfie.

Last week, we had a scary health scare, which made for a partially horrible week (Christmas made up for it).

We've had a rough road the last few years, but we are thankful; we are blessed; and we are looking forward to the future and 2016 with joyful anticipation.

Just about sums it up, I think.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Three Words That Changed My Life

"Walk in praise." 

(Rev.Boris Zabrodsky, St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, Homewood)

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Start of Our Christmas Season

The start? Absolutely! Six weeks of fasting for just one day? No way! 

After liturgy and caroling at church, we finally brought connected Joshua's family (kids AND adults) with their St. Nicholas stockings and set up last year's four-foot tree for their children. Joshua made pizza and salad for dinner (When all of us work long weeks, that's how we want to celebrate!), and we had the cookies the kids decorated yesterday for dessert.

The leftovers from last night's Christmas Eve feast are still in the fridge (mmmm), and we will continue in festive spirits until our Christmas culmination on Dec. 7. 

Meaning any presents under our tree are still unopened, and those of us who will Christmas shop haven't started yet. No Black Friday for us and plenty of post-Christmas sales. We're no dummies!

Christ IS born! Let us glorify Him!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Paint By Number Approach to Writing

Some writers dislike outlines; others swear by them. If you don't have tons of time for writing (which is probably most of us), and you're frustrated at slow progress (especially when you DO have time to write, and ideas won't come), here's a trick that's working for me: I take the story and break it into manageable pieces, like this:

1) I title the story.

2) I decide how many chapters it should have and title them, and then open a file for each.

3) I add some notes in each file telling me what information goes in each chapter.

4) I write my first and last sentence for each chapter.

5) I break the chapter into scenes.

6) I summarize each portion.

7) I complete any research.

8) I fill in the blanks.

By the time I get to #8, I'm not faced with the daunting task of visualizing the entire novel, just the small task at hand. After step #4, I do mix things up a bit, but the premise is the same. And now I'm clipping along at a far more satisfying rate. I edit in a similar fashion, which I'll share in another post.

Try it. Maybe it will work for you, too.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Preparations

It's not what you think.

It's reevaluating, reprioritizing, and making room for One that fills my being with love and wonder and joy - and opening up space at the inn to receive it.

It isn't always God that closes doors. The marvelous thing about free will is that He allows other people in our lives to do so, too. 

What's so great about something that sounds really horrible?

Because while we butt our aheads against a door that won't budge because someone else has firmly locked it and walked away, God gestures to another door, perhaps even several doors, and invites us to turn the handle.

Taking a breath...

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Baked English Plum Pudding

The Munsonville Times was so impressed by the spread John Simons served for his Christmas Eve wedding to Miss Bryony Marseilles that the newspaper listed each item. Here is one of them.

Baked English Plum Pudding

Adapted from Miss Beecher’s domestic receiptbook: designed as a supplement to her Treatise on domestic economy

¼ pound suet
½ teaspoon salt
½ pound bread crumbs
½ pound stoned raisins, wet and dredged with flour
½ pound currants
½ pound sugar
3 ounces citron
6 eggs
2 nutmegs
1 tablespoon mace (see editor’s note)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
½ gill brandy

Chop suet and add salt. Pour enough scalded milk onto the bread crumbs to swell them; when cold, add the other ingredients. If it is too stiff, thin it with milk; if it is too thin, add more bread crumbs. Then add nutmegs, mace, cinnamon, brandy. Bake 2 hours.

Note: This recipe is unclear if the mace and cinnamon should together equal 1 tablespoon or whether to add 1 tablespoon each. Let the cook’s taste be the guide.

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2015

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, Dec.13 through Dec. 18

WriteOn Christmas party last night, the best fun I've had in a long, long time: plenty of animation, good cheer,   smiles and laughter. Came home too late, but had the best sleep I've had in two weeks and woke up with a smile. Can't beat that!

And now, the round-up.

Check out the health, faith, and arts and entertainment calendars. Three of them can be found at the link below. Gotta Do It, runs each Sunday and often stays on the home page through the week.

Feature briefs for Tuesday (health), Thursday (faith), Friday (Arts and Entertainment), and Sunday (People) are also edited (texted and photos) by the lady of this blog, but only the stories have bylines.

And if you do peek at these stories, to quote our editor Kate Schott, "Thank you for reading The Herald-News." :)

Joliet widow of ex-addict needs donations to continue Christmas party for at-risk youth (VIDEO EXTRA)

Donations are way down this year and Iris Pinnick knows exactly why.

An Extraordinary Life: New Lenox woman built successful career from her baking

She also raised six children as a single parent and was widowed twice. She also started a successful silk flower business. She also started an annual holiday bazaar from her home for her wares, an event that attracted hundreds each day. Amazing, amazing woman.

Pets of the Week for Dec. 14

Perhaps YOUR next four-footed family member is among them.

New Lenox woman shares her experience with early-onset preeclampsia

The mysterious and devastating syndrome is appearing more often and earlier in pregnancy than ever before. Find out how doctors and one Chicago-area clinical trial are addressing it.

Thriving food pastry at small Harvey church inspires Mokena man to join

This church truly keeps Christ in Christmas and not just in December.

Former Wilmington resident has minor role in NBC's "Telenovela"

Fame and fortune are not Alycen Malone's goals, but she is definitely thrilled with this opportunity.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

Since this was first published in 1902, it's not exactly Victorian, but close enough to Bryony'stime to be worth checking out.

Baum offeres a back story for the Santa Claus legend that has nothing to do with St. Nicholas. As a baby, Santa appears in the Forest of Burzee where a wood nymph raises him. There, Santa becomes well-acquainted with a variety of magical creatures including fairies, gnomes, nooks, ryls, sleep fays. light elves, sound imps, wind demons, and water spirits.

Eventually Santa encounters other humans and is dismayed at the evil they do, but discovers he has a knack for toymaking. Because the invisible Awgwas steal from children, Santa must perform his gift-giving at night and through the chimney, since he cannot pass through locked doors.

The story contains explanations for other Christmas traditions and a battle by the forces of good and evil. It's a full-length book, but if you're looking for unusual, Christmas-themed reading, this is it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

First Drafting Fun

As much as I harp on "most writing is rewriting" get that initial draft on paper can be exhilarating and frustrating, depending on the free flow of ideas.

At this point, don't be too concerned with character development, grammar, spelling, typos, plot construct, conflict, or what your next door neighor might think about the prose, etc. Just plug in your favorite muse enhancer (caffeine, music, daydreams, walks) and crank out those sentences.

Still stuck? Here's some ideas.

* Throw in something whimsical - Have a cow fall from the sky and land on the protagonist's best friend. How does everyone react? You might learn something about everyone involved. Then cut the cow and proceed.

* Throw in something impossible in your story's world - Equip someone with superhuman powers. Or shapeshifting abilities. Or even mathematical genuis in the neighbor's cat.

* Kill off someone - Does the story still work? Is it better? Can it be used to advance the plot?

* Throw a character a blessing and then remove it - How does he/she react? Can you make it something deeper? Is the blessing a disguised threat?

* Take something benign and  give it hidden meaning - The carnival goldfish Susie won on an outing with her parents is a trapped soul. Or leftovers from scientific experimentation that a sloppy lab assistant accidentally let slip out the door and is now highly radioactive, with detrimental effects on the entire family?

* Just ask "what if?" - What if Dad didn't come home from work, ever? What if the gardening sheers turned on Grandma? What if the school bus driver took a wrong turn, and everyone ended up in a time warp? You get the idea.

Happy writing! :)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Mental Calisthenics

The last couple months at work have been a tremendous editing workout. 

The sheer volume of information coming in regarding holiday events, along with the stockpiling of stories in anticipation for vacation days during Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year; and the tighter weekend editor rotation has stretched my brain and endurance in wonderful and frustrating ways.

It's a rare Sunday I even peek at Before the Blood, but maybe even that project should receive a day of rest.

I love the growth. I just don't always love the process. 

Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14

Paul, of course, is referring to heavenly matters, but during times of kicking the heat up a few notches and increasing the weights I lift, I cling to these words.

Anyway, these are my thoughts as I leave a working weekend behind and enter the new work week. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Looking for a Unique Christmas Gift?

Consider a copy of the BryonySeries' official cookbook, Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles from "Bryony."

It contains recipes that are authentically Victorian and typical of 1970s fare, as well those submitted by fans, from the collection of The Henry Ford, and from a Bohemian cookbook that is over a century old and still in print by the same Nebraska printing company.

All recipes harken back to Bryony. All proceeds are donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties.

Even if you don't like to cook (and not all recipes are appropriate for modern kitchens or consumption), it makes for fun browsing. Boiled calves head, tripe soup, or stuffed pigeons, anyone?

For more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties, visit

Friday, December 11, 2015

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, Dec. 6 through Dec. 11


That was this week. And that will be this weekend. And next week.

I remember Ron asking me once what EXACTLY do I do in my attic office all day? He reasoned that it didn't take fourteen hours to write two stories.


Check out the health, faith, and arts and entertainment calendars. Three of them can be found at the link below. Gotta Do It, runs each Sunday and often stays on the home page through the week.

Feature briefs for Tuesday (health), Thursday (faith), Friday (Arts and Entertainment), and Sunday (People) are also edited (texted and photos) by the lady of this blog, but only the stories have bylines.

And if you do peek at these stories, to quote our editor Kate Schott, "Thank you for reading The Herald-News." :)

Santa's Helpers in Braidwood make and give handcrafted items

THIS is one story I really wanted to videotape. A dozen or so elderly, kind and humble women just celebrated its twentieth anniversary of making and donating lap rugs and other apparel to anyone that needs them. This isn't a token operation. They are permanently set-up with sewing machines in a school and meet weekly. Furthermore, they participate in craft fairs to raise money for materials.

An Extraordinary Life: Joliet man never settled for less than his best

Don Cordano ran his own business, sat on multiple boards, taught,k wrote, and even led his own orchestra. He worked hard for eveything he ever had and showed others the way to success.

Pets of the Week

The puppy in the stocking will melt your heart.

Joliet hospital offers Watchman device to help prevent stroke in Afib patients
By Jeanne Millsap

In many cases, this means saying, "goodbye," to blood thinners.

Manhattan church's 'Travel to Bethlehem' recreates the events leading up to Jesus' birth (VIDEO EXTRA)

You really have to read and see it to fully grasp it.

Plainfield Dance Academy 9-year-old to play Clara in 'The Nutcraker' (VIDEO EXTRA)

This little girl is a confident and sweet artistic powerhouse. She dances, acts, plays classical piano and has a voice that will blow you away.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Only Throwback Today is to a Simpler Time

Meaning I woke up this morning to no internet.

I did what I could, then I woke up Rebekah to do what she could. Then Timothy woke up understandably annoyed that we had no internet. The kids have work and school stuff to do online, so it wasn't just me panicking.

After much time and aggravation later, communication with the online world was restored.

Running behind today, vampire fans. Somedays, I really dislike my dependence on technology.

Some days.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Since I've pledged to write some Before the Blood each day, I have.

Even when when inspiration doesn't come.

Even when I'm too tired.

Even when I'm too busy.

Even when the hour has become thirty minutes (or fifteen).

There's always something that can be done: a section to research, a character to invent, wrinkled prose to smooth, and some re-reading to nudge my memory and keep me connected to the story.

It doesn't sound like much, I know.

But like the tortoise, I'm making progress.

That, to me, is the biggest surprise.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Celebrating the Patron Saint of Giving

Once upon a time, when resources flowed heavier, my family used to coordinate two banquets a year for our church. One of those was in honor of the feast day of St. Nicholas, our church's patron saint, the patron saint of giving.

We actually own a costume for the great saint, one that we rented every year from the local costume shop, who sold it to us for pennies when it closed. The church also owns a simple version that's very old and bedraggled. Just about every man in our church had a rite of passage in wearing that costume and visiting the children. When we took over the banquet coordinations, we wanted to keep the mystery in the visit, so we imported a St. Nicholas from outside the church and procurred our own costume.

For each banquet, we spent an estimated $500 out of pocket where much of the food is served via potluck. The monies spent included the food we prepared, the stuff needed to make and freeze pirohis assembly-line style with the youth of the parish, the dressing of the tables, entertainment (although I was a  master at bartering this one) and so forth. I actually had full cabinets in my house dedicated to holding my banquet supplies.

Well, when our resources went away, we stopped hosting.

Then last year, I received a donation of the most beautiful ornmanents.

Back up. During the years we hosted and ran Sunday School and the youth group, people donated all kinds of stuff to us (because we had paid for nearly everything we did out of pocket, and that's too long of a story for here).

So this person, not knowing we had stopped, donated these beautiful golden ornamnets, stunning and light-catching. We toyed with the idea of hosting the banquet, but we just hadn't recovered sufficiently to do so.

You see, the once small and mightly parish is only a handful of elderly. Even our pastor will be eighty-three in January. As he is used to playing overseer, he often forgets what it's like to be the recipient of surprises. The youngest person is Daniel, at age 20. There are no children atttending our church, so no one thinks of actually having a St. Nicholas at our St. Nicholas banquet. Our banquets are glorfied weekly coffee sessions. Who knows how many of these people will still be with us next year?

And we do have a dollar store in walking distance of our townhome.

So we did it.

A very good friend and writing cohart very amicably agreed to be our St. Nicholas. We made sure he understood he was bringing magic to the elderly (who may not react to his presence), not children. He got it and did a wonderful job! :)

Rebekah and I spent Saturday running around buying stuff and making stuff: sausage, potatoes and kraut (me), fudge, poppyseed cake, and homemade dinner rolls (her).

We hung out at the dollar store buying things to dress the tables, from table coverings to centerpieces. We bought candy canes and gold foil wrapped chocolate coins for St. Nicholas to distribute with the ornaments.

On the way out of the dollar store, I saw a very small Christmas box. On impulse, I picked it up.

"One more item," I said to Rebekah, adding it to the rest in checkout.

She sighed, knowing me. "What's that for?"

"I'm going to fill it with gift cards and do a free raffle at the banquet."

"We're out of money!"

"I shall get donations."

Rebekah sighed again.

And I started texting people.

A few hours later, one friend responded. He dropped off three $10 IHOP gift cards in my mailbox. Thus fortified, I retexted. A friend had just donated; will you?

Timothy's boss at The Dancing Marlin donated a $25 gift card. Once more I texted and received a $25 Visa card.

We really wanted an extra $20 of something to give that box a $100 value instead of $80 , but it never happened. thankful for the $80!!!

Only one child was at the banquet, the grandchild of a parishioner. I passed out numbered strips of paper to every guest. The little girl didn't receive one because I told her she had the important job of calling out the winner.

She did, in her proudest outside voice.

The winner was our pastor.

And that little girl happily presented him with the box.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, Nov. 29 through Dec. 4

Coming into the home-stretch of a couple months of holiday hustle, features-wise, and I must say, I've learned to manage it much better than last year. Crazy, crazy busy, but love feeling so productive.

So for most of the hours of my day, what do I do?

Well, check out the health, faith, and arts and entertainment calendars. Three of them can be found at the link below. Gotta Do It, runs each Sunday and often stays on the home page through the week.

Feature briefs for Tuesday (health), Thursday (faith), Friday (Arts and Entertainment), and Sunday (People) are also edited (texted and photos) by the lady of this blog, but only the stories have bylines.

And if you do peek at these stories, to quote our editor Kate Schott, "Thank you for reading The Herald-News." :)

Mokena man's products sold across the United States

Frustrated with keeping his holiday lights safe and dry from the elements, this man now has an award-winning product, several patents, and a profitable business.

An Extraordinary Life: Joliet woman served with her hands, heart, and singing voice

She was the life of the party, according to her son-in-law, but not in an attention-grabbing way.

Xenex robot xaps superbugs at Edward facilities in Plainfield and Naperville
By Jeanne Millsap

Move over, R2-D2. Make room for Snap, Crackle and Pop.

New Lenox pastor's kids' book and coloring book raise funds to help children.

“Why did God make mosquitoes to suck my blood?”

Because every creature needs something to eat in order to live, was the Rev. Dave Hedlin’s ready answer. (All 22 questions are illustrated with local teen artists).

There's no place like gnome (the title in print)
Fresh touches mark '39th Annual Festival of Gnomes' in Joliet (VIDEO EXTRA)

Annual holiday show continually renews itself with old and new traditions

Thursday, December 3, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: WHAM

Monday, December 20, 2010


Yesterday afternoon, our family received a delightful nineteenth century Christmas treat from WHAM.

Five members of the Wheeling High Alumni Men's Chorus (They were Wham long before WHAM! with George Michael) in top hats, scarves and canes (they've outgrown the rest of their official lamplighter costumes) stopped by our deck and entertained us with their rendition of traditional carols, including Joy to the WorldGod Rest Ye Merry GentlemenThe First Noel, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

One of WHAM's members was participating in a fundraising event at the Billie Limacher Bicentennial Park in Joliet, and WHAM was singing in between performances. Our house just so happened to be on the way, and boy, were we glad!

Now it just so happened that our small mission church (so small we haven't told anyone about it yet--one of our goals for 2011) was celebrating old calendar St. Nicholas and the repose of St. John of Kronstadt (our mission's patron saint), so the chorus was the crowning point of an upbeat afternoon.

What began as a bit of Christmas fun back in 1975 (Bryony zig zags between 1975 and the late Victorian era; yes I had to get that in) with a dozen newbie high school graduates has morphed into a holiday celebration of spreading good cheer. With the remaining members scattered across the country, those who still live in the area also use WHAM as a reason to see each other once a year.

I'm hoping singing at the Unland house can become part of their annual tradition.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What Micro Writing Has Taught Me

Yes, I am still spending an hour-ish (sometimes only half an hour-ish) with Before the Blood each morning.

It's not the best time for research or getting immersed in the story. That's still reserved for Saturday.

But it makes good use of my time for trouble spots, editing, focused work on small passages, and even elimination of writer's block.

Because I'm writing on deadline (my own and self-imposed, but deadline nonetheless), I just get it done.

Judiciously applied, I have up to six additional hours each week, and I'm feeling the progress. For anyone frustrated with lack of writing time, this is a good method.

I read years ago that the key to productivity is learning to use small modules of time. I think anyone can spare an extra thirty minutes a day. It's simply a matter of planning for it.