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.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Holiday Weekend in a Few Words and Snapshots

Wednesday night: Went shopping with Daniel for stuff to make poor boys and for kettle chips without sunflower oil. Rebekah made a couple of pumpkin pies. Yes, this is our traditional Thanksgiving Dinner, and we love it. Don't laugh.

Thursday: Holiday editor. After email and social media, we attended Divine Liturgy in Homewood to give thanks. Besides our 82-year-old pastor and us, two other people showed up. Breakfast in Mokena (boys' idea) at a place I don't remember. Back home to work. Timothy put up the tree and decorated. A lovely couple of hours with Timothy that night at St. Joe's to visit my ex-brother-in-law. The room was filled with family. After liturgy, this was truly the best part of the day. Dinner and a movie.

Friday: Two of my grandsons Ronnie and Caleb spent the day. While I finished social media for The Herald-News and the Morris Herald News, Rebekah and Daniel read to the boys. Then we made pirohi filling, did science experiments, colored, and had lunch. Caleb, Rebekah, and I took a nap (Caleb in theory, Rebekah and I in actuality), while Ronnie and Daniel hung out. Then we made pirohi and settled down to an episode of The Flying House. Caleb fell asleep.

Because of the custody situation, not sure how their mom feels about posting pictures, but here is one of the pirohi:

Saturday: Spent most of the day working on Before the Blood, but while on the quest for authentic candy canes for St. Nicholas Day, which we found, Rebekah and I saw this on a bench outside of Walgreens. Totally made our day.

Sunday: Most of the day was spent working on Tuesday's health pages and working with Sarah to finally complete the templates for a project begun two years ago for Joliet Area Community Hospice.

But during lunch in the small hall after liturgy, my good friend Eli, who's in his 80s, looked over the spread another member had hosted in memory of her son's birthday and asked, "What? No poppyseed?" We are hosting the St. Nicholas banquet next week, so I asked if he was bringing it then?

It's a standing conversation between us. My grandmother used to make the most delectable poppyseed coffeecake, but she died shortly after my seventh birthday and took the recipe with her. Once Eli learned this, he occasionally brings the most amazing iced poppyseed potica to share at church.

Eli then put his arm around me and whispered, "No, but I have some in the car for you." Here's what was left as of last night. Love this man! :)


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Not Your Typical Dinner Fare

So none of these recipes are in the BryonySeries fundraising cookbook, but they ARE authentically Victorian, France, to be exact, 1870.

And yes, horsemeat is part of the plot in Before the Blood.

For more interesting 19th century cuisine and to support a wonderful organization that helps kids, order our official cookbook: "Memories in the Kitchen: Bites and Nibbles From 'Bryony.'"

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

Friday, November 27, 2015

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, Nov. 22 through Nov. 27

A race against the clock. Two grandsons will be here shortly for a day of fun and pirohi and mess-making.

You can 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 (A & E), and Sunday (People) are also edited (texted and photos) by moi, but only the stories have bylines.

Chefy's in Joliet finds a new home at Fritiz's Pour House (VIDEO EXTRA)

This place has cheese sticks as large as sandwiches. Planning to try some. Their burgers and poor boys sound good, too.

An Extraordinary Life: Dedicated businessman also a passionate artist

Dick Anselmino ran a compassionate grocery store, but he also built a second home stamped with his creativity from timbers to decor.

New Lenox and Morris health specialist discourage overeating on Thansgiving Day
By Jeanne Millsap

Even one day of binge-eating can have consequences, something to think about before you reach for that second turkey sandwich today. ;)

Staff at Will Grundy Medical Clinic help Joliet woman find peace.

Abandoned on a sidewalk as a baby and living among half-truths, Jackie Mays found healing from compassionate staff that believed in her goodness.

Joliet artist recreates people, places, pets

Skip the Black Friday crowds today and give a gift of memory.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

One Way to Write Dissimilar Voices Among Similar Characters

This past weekend, I returned to some skipped-over scenes in Before the Blood, those that  feature the Munsvonille Society for the Humanities, which meets Thursday evenings in the parsonage parolor.

In a previous chapter, I had already established the men that attend by name and expertise. But because the scenes are sporadic (although very essential to building the plot), I needed to differentiate between these men in such a way that the reader can envision them, especially since three of them are simultaneously introduced at the meetings.

While the scenes are by no means perfect, this is how I tackled it:

1) In my notes, I kept the expertise of each man narrow, but elaborated in a few lines - very distinct to each expertise - on how each expertise might influence the character's viewpoints on a range of topics.

2) In each scene, I reintroduce each character by his full name at the first reference.

3) I use beats, gestures, and actions to call attention to physical attributes, to remind the reader the physical apearance of each man, and to quicken the scene.

4) I carefully crafted the spoken reactions to the discussion topics by referring to the men's expertise and viewpoints already established in my notes. This way each man responds in ways that are true to him, while using his dialogue to build tension, reveal pertinent information, show personality and intent, and move the plot forward.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Desperately Need New Home For Two Cats

I received the following email from a co-worker. Having been in this desperate situation with our cats, I totally get this. If you can help - or know someone who can - please message me at
If anything, they sure are cute! (and missing their owner...)
Hi fellow co-workers,

I have a situation that I want to run by everyone: My mother-in -law has Alzheimer's and will be going into assisted living this weekend. We have placed all of her very loved animals with the exception of her two cats, who are brothers. One is a Maine coon. They are 13 years old and have been together since they were born. They are EXTREMELY gentle with an unbreakable bond. Unfortunately we are having a hard time placing them with any shelter/animal rescue group because of their age. SAD because they are full of love and life and very healthy! They are lap cats, love their bellies rubbed and get along VERY well with other animals, including dogs and children...They would be great companions for anyone, even an elder with their gentle way- no trouble at all.

If you know of anyone that would be willing to provide them with Love and shelter that is all we are asking for, Joe and I would even be willing to provide a monthly sum of money for food and liter.

I know you are wondering why we don't take them, we would love to but our INN is full, with 5 of our own cats and two strays that we are currently taking care of.

If you know of anyone that would be willing to open their heart to these two or have suggestions, please let me know.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Happy Monday

Busy week ahead!

Since cramming a five-day-ish work week into three with early Thanksgiving deadlines is impossible, I've spread it out over the last few weekends, trying to get ahead. Still, as I glance at my schedule, an amazing amount of work still needs to be done. Strapping on the super powers!

The goal?

To concentrate on breaking news and projects without looming deadlines on Thursday, as I am the editor responsible for both newspapers on that day. The trade-off is that I get to spend Friday making piriohi with Rebekah and two of my grandchildren, while Timothy and Daniel put up the tree and decorate, and then enjoy a much-needed three-day weekend, which includes Before the Blood, of course.

I am so stoked! Watch out Munsonville, here I come!

Rebekah and I finished our St. Nicholas shopping on Saturday, well, except for regular-sized, regular-flavored (peppermint) candy canes, which seem to have dispppeared from shelves in favor of chocolate mint,  cinnamon, fruit-flavored, etc., blech!

Now that the kids are older and stretched across miles, we draw names of the adults and then names of the kids. We spend only $20 on the adults and $10 on the kids, and we do fill the stockings and not with useless junk, either. In fact, one year, Sarah had me and needed and extra stocking. We're that good!

Our family has recovered financially enough to once again host the St. Nicholas banquet at our church. Now that the congregation consists of a handful of elderly people plus clergy, no one is expecting St. Nicholas (Just about every man in the parish, as well as my sons, have filled that role over the years).

But I feel everyone needs a bit of surprise joy and magic in their lives. I received a donation of three boxes of lovely golden ornaments and, true to our form, am importing a St. Nicholas. Meaning, no one in our parish has ever met the man who is portraying the good bishop and distributing these lovely ornaments. Just in case a few do bring their grandchildren, we have extra ornaments, as well as gold coins...and candy canes, if can score any real ones.

Sorry for the scattered post, but that's the arrangment on my thoughts this morning. Time to put them to rights and get on it.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Darlene’s Hot Chocolate

In my section of the world, today is BRRRRRRRRRRRR...

Just the day to curl up in a chair with a book, blanket, and kitten, sipping the hot chocolate I've prepared for my family for over three deceades. In fact, it's exactly the way Melissa's mother makes it.

It’s hard to concentrate on homework when mourning the loss of one’s father, grandmother, friend, and even her dog. Melissa didn’t think a steaming mug of hot chocolate in her favorite purple mug could make a difference, but it did. Cuddling and talking with her mother, helped, too.

 Darlene’s Hot Chocolate
By Denise M. Baran-Unland

¼ cup cocoa
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Vanilla ice cream (optional)

Combine cocoa and sugar; add water and stir. Heat until mixture simmers. Add milk, stir again, and heat until sugar/cocoa mixture is dissolved. Remove from heat, add vanilla, stir, and serve. Good topped with ice cream. Yield: 4 servings.

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

Story Round-Up: Features in The Herald-News, Nov. 15 through Nov. 20

Endorphins still flowing from last night's annual WriteOn Open Mic night, which is good because I am sooo tired (and I'm teaching tonight, which always kicks the muse into high gear).  Cliched, I know, but a good time really was had by all.

This morning's burning question: Is Denise still making time each morning for an hour spent writing fictiion? And the answer is...sort of.

Sometimes it's an hour, and sometimes it's more like thirty or fourty-five minutes, depending how much email is waiting for me at 4:30 in the morning. (Ugh, right?). But the important thing, I'm consistently making time, and I'm consistently making progress.

Okay, now the "real" stories.

You can 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 (A & E), and Sunday (People) are also edited (texted and photos) by moi, but only the stories have bylines.

Or, basically, as my WriteOn cohort Tom Hernandez said last night when he introduced me, I write abotu 90 percent of the entire features section, which I love, so it's all good.

Will County Historical Research and Recovery Association members preserve local history

Read about the fun and higher purpose involved in metal detecting - and the joy beyond measure when detectors reunite owners with lost items. One of these stories where I wish I had a video - and hoping to add one later.

An Extraordinary Life: Morris resident was a prolific accompanist for many Joliet-area musicians (VIDEO EXTRA)

Hettie Wysocki was all about music. She met her husband when she accompanied two local vocalists when they performed at his restaurant. The videos show those two singers rehearsing for her memorial service. Poignant, indeed.

Pets of the Week

Is your next furry companion listed here? Check it out and see.

Crest Hill centarians and Morris doctor share tips for reaching that 100th birthday
By Jeanne Millsap

The centennial mark seems to be the new 50. Why is that? What does like look like at that age? And how can you attain that milestone, too?

Joliet church teaches retreat participants how to paint icons  (VIDEO EXTRA)

A personally fulfilling story for me - icons are part of my Eastern Orthodox faith tradition. I took one of my sons with me to the retreat and blessed us both.

Joliet rhythm and blues artist to play concert in England

Willie Newsome set aside his commercial success in the mid 1970s when he didn't reach the stardom he wanted. But what Newsome didn't know is that he's got some diehard fans around the world and quite the Northern Soul following in the UK. Search for his name online, and see what pops up. It's very cool.

This month, Newsome will receive the lauds he deserved. No video yet, but truly hoping to get one this weekend. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

BryonySeries Throwback Thursday: Guest Post by Thomas Meisinger: What Matters in Life

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Guest Post by Thomas Meisinger: What Matters in Life

What Matters in Life
By Thomas Meisinger
Originally published Saturday, October 10, 2014

Me: Do you ever feel like you're THIS close to having everything you've ever wanted?
Friend: No, I don't think it's possible.

I had this conversation with a mentor a week ago. Then I listened to this Christian author/speaker during one of my midnight siestas at my parent's house. Until 2 AM I stared at my childhood bedroom closet full of toys, clothes, and board games and thought about what really matters. As I spend this vacation reconnecting with my dad’s family and celebrating my Grandma Meisinger's 90th birthday, I've learned what matters most not disclose now if I want you to keep reading.

When I was twenty-three I was offered a job with better pay, better hours, and more responsibility. It was definitive advancement for my career. It was also in Fayetteville, Arkansas, home to U of A (Go Razorbacks!) and nothing else. In addition, the workplace gave off a Boy’s Club frat vibe. Why would I want to live in a place I would eventually hate once the extra money disappeared? Why would I spend fifty hours a week in a room of people I didn't trust? So I didn't.

So if money didn’t matter, what did? I didn’t have much of a social life in Joplin. I spent most of my evenings watching cable TV, writing, and drinking alone at bars. I had a few friends, but knew they contributed more to the relationship than I ever could. It destroyed my confidence and made me depressed. It wasn’t good for my health, faith, or mind. After much hesitation I turned to God and knew it was only going to get worse if I kept to myself. I vowed to move to St. Louis within six months.  Thirty-three days later I had multiple job offers and was looking at apartments.

I moved to St. Louis to have a social life and be closer to family. I was done feeling sorry for myself all the time. But before that could happen I needed to reconnect with my family and that didn’t happen right away. Instead, I attended almost daily happy hours and didn’t notice a change. I had an older co-worker tell me I couldn’t live on deadlines and expect things to happen. But that was also the same guy who once drunkenly told me advice was overrated.

I began taking better care of myself and lost thirty pounds in a year. Now I’m working out more than ever. Drinking helps me forget I’m “losing the game” when I don’t want to play at all. I don’t even want to be around people who want to play the game and I learned that from my last relationship. It didn’t bother me when it was over because the following day I woke up and knew I was THIS close.

I was THIS close to waking up before dawn to focus on my health at the gym. I was THIS close to daily counseling with a Christian friend sharing his view from one step ahead. I was THIS close to having a job where I start every day off by making sure everyone hears “Good morning!” I was THIS close to talking to family every day. I was THIS close to becoming an active member in my church. I was THIS close to learning there are no blueprints for a relationship. I was THIS close to actually listening to my coworker when they said, “You’re a smart, funny, good-looking guy! You have no reason to be shy!” I was THIS close to having all the confidence back and then some.

It's the confidence in knowing what matters most is those sitting around you. Asking my friend if he had ever had that feeling didn’t refer to owning a fancy house, having a powerful job, or traveling across the world. I was asking him if he knew what he wanted. I was asking him if it was time to put it back in the box.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Thomas Meisinger was born, raised and educated in Chicago's southwest suburbs. He began performing stand-up comedy in 2009 while in college. You may have seen him at The Comedy Shrine, Edge Comedy Club, and other establishments he doesn't like enough to give free publicity. If he spent as much time filling out job applications as he did writing jokes during his last semester, he would probably have a better paying job. Currently residing utterly alone in Missouri, he has since shifted his focus to writing.

He spent a year working on his first novel, The World Is Shallow; That's Why I Never Learned How to Swim, which is currently available on all major eBook retail sites. The humorous fictional autobiography has received rave reviews from family, friends, and stray cats wandering his apartment. Meisinger’s favorite hobby is people-watching at coffee shops but let's face it, he really just has a staring problem.

He currently writes five blogs: Penguins are Pretentious ( is a collection of Meisinger’s ideas, opinions and experiences. Bacon, Eggs, and Whiskey ( is life from a bachelor’s point of view. Spiritual Vitamin ( contains Christian-themed reflections. Dear Grandma Margie ( is a series of fictional letters Meisinger wrote to his real grandmother. The St Louis Laugh Report at is open only to invited readers, as is Bacon, Eggs and Whiskey and Dear Grandma Margie.

If you must, "Like" Meisinger's Facebook Fan Page, follow him on Twitter at #TomMeisinger., or check out his website at

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Using Scenes to Describe New Characters

Since its inception, Munsonville has been an "everyone welcome here" village. 

In the ten chapters that comprise the first part of "Bryony's Story," the village and the characters grow and develop while the plot lengthens through that development like a sneaky thread of mold.

Chapter seven, currently in progress, introduces three pivotal characters and shows the change in current ones. Instead of relying on description, I allow the reader to meet them through observation and the opinions of others, like this:

After services, as Bryony filed into the narthex with the chatter of the villagers bumping around her like molecules, she heard Mrs. Fisher's voice rise above the rest: "Twins, you say?"

            "Yes, Maybelle, Scandinavian, 'ccording to Teddy, and very, very reclusive."

            "Reclusive? Oh, my, what a thought! I just don't see how anyone in or near this village could possibly be reclusive, not when we have..."

            "The boys won't speak, and the father snaps if anyone approaches them. He talks only to Owen and only when necessary."

            "Oh, them! James didn't say they were twins, but he did insist that their fishing skills were unlike anything he's ever seen or heard. Why just last night, when we were sitting down to one of Clyde's excellent dinners of..."

            "Happy Easter, Bryony," Luther said, falling into step with her as Leo socked him on the shoulder and walked past, grinning. "That's a pretty bonnet. Is it new?"



            "...although, Sally, I once read that Scandinavians are quite naturally the most superior fishermen in the world. Do you know what Uncle Clyde once told us? The Pacific Northwest attracted so many fishermen from Denmark, Finland, Norway, and, yes, even Sweden that it was nicknamed Little Scandinavia. Why, do you know what James said..."

            Mrs. Fisher, who looked larger every time Bryony saw her, and Mrs. Bass, pretty as always, even though she was growing stout, too, walked outside, right behind Mr. Parks and Mr. Bass (who were discussing the latest fishing lures), taking the intriguing story with them.

            Twins? Real twins like The Prince and the Pauper, not simply a close resemblance, like eleven-year-old Leo and ten-year-old Luther with their matching brown trousers and suspenders and hair plastered in place?

            Bryony touched the brim, happy someone, even if it was only Luther,  noticed it. "Mrs. Parks sewed it for me, and Mrs. Pike made the flowers."

            The door opened, and Mrs. Hasset stepped inside. She wore a fitted coat that reached her boot tops.

            "Luther, let's go." She gestured with a gloved hand to the waiting carriage.

            The sheen of the coat's gray fabric and matching buttons reflected the natural light. Bryony stared, mesmerized at such lovliness, only half-hearing Luther say, "We're having Easter dinner at Mayor Pike's house."

            Reluctantly, Bryony turned her gaze away from the beautiful Mrs. Hasset. With a look of apology, Luther added, "I...I  wish you a pleasant day with Mr. and Mrs. Parks."

            "Thank you."

            "Where is your Uncle Orville?" An agitated Mrs. Parks was tying her bonnet strings and prodding Bryony to the door with her elbow. "I've looked all over for him?"

            "I think he's outside with Mr. Bass."

            "Those men and fishing! And on the Lord's Day of Days, too." Mrs. Parks held out her hand. "Come, Bryony."

            They walked in silence to the Parks' until Bryony asked, "Uncle Orville, who are 'the twins'?'"

            "Arvid Borgstrom's lads."

            "Who's that?"

            "New fisherman in town. Durned fine one, too."

            "Orville! Such language!"

            But Mrs. Parks' outburst couldn't dampen Bryony's curiosity. "Are the boys fishermen, too?"

            "Bryony, don't be so inquisitive. Orville, are you certain Mr. Griffith doesn't wish us to bring dinner?"

            "For the sixtieth time, Bertha, Ida is helpin' at the mayer's partee; Harv is goin' to Fisher Farm with Owen; and Gus jest wants to forgit about holidaze and celebratin.'"

            "He's not the same since Pearl's passing. I'm worried sick about him."

            "Gus is a growed man. Just let 'im be. And yes, Bryony, the boys fish, too."

            "Are they good fishermen, like Mr. Borgstrom?"

            "Dey git along."

            They had reached the Parks' small balloon-frame home, its maize-colored exterior, bright blue door and window sashes, and whitewashed trim a cheery beacon against the cold. Mason Woodrow's rockers, Mrs. Parks' broom, and a napping Puss were missing from the porch, but Bryony knew Mr. Parks would replace the items once the Arctic air departed, and Puss would reclaim her chair once he did.

            The trio headed to the back, as proper, per Mrs. Parks. Only company entered by way of the front. Bryony didn't mind. Extra walking no longer exhausted her, thanks to the magical power of meat.
            "I've never seen the Borgstrums. Where do they live?"

            "In yore parents' old cottage near the lake."


            "Bertha, tame yore feathers. The truth ain't gonna make Bryony brake like glasss."

            Mrs. Parks stomped up the steps. "When you're done chit-chatting, I need her assistance with meal preparation."

            WHAM went the back door. Mr. Parks, grinning, started for the barn, where Old Drew paced restlessly, hungry for Easter dinner. Bryony shadowed him.

            "Why is she mad, Uncle Orville?"
            "She ain't mad. She's jest protectin' you, like a Fisher Farm hen hoverin' round her chicks." He stopped and gently turned her to the house. "Now git in dere and help."

            Although the day grew sunnier and brighter, a lingering chill hung in the air, enough that Mrs. Parks interrupted dinner to walk through the house, shutting windows and griping.

            "So much for enjoying a spring breeze on Easter Sunday," Mrs. Parks said as she tucked her napkin back into her collar.

            "You'll soon be  complain' 'bout the heat," Mr. Parks liberally helped himself to more fish. "Now this is tasty. New receipt?"

            "Yes." Mrs. Parks still looked glum. "Soaked in vinegar."

            Mr. Parks looked long and hard at her. "Afore long, you'll be beatin' rugs and sweepin dust out the door."

            "Maybe." But she didn't sound convinced.

            Bryony spied the twins a week later, enroute to Mr. Drake's store. They had docked and were hanging fish, an amazing amount of fish, from rope attached to poles, much as Mrs. Parks hung laundry outside. The boys appeared identical: nearly fully grown and lanky, with a shock of blond hair falling over their foreheads. They worked in coordinated, rhythmic moves and spoke to each other in a language Bryony couldn't comprehend.

            "What would Mrs. Parks have today, Bryony?" Mr. Drake asked as the door clanged behind her.

            "Mace and cinnamon. She's frying crullers."

            Mr. Drake nodded to Addison. "The usual amount, boy."

            Addison slid off his stool to measure and package. Bryony drifted to the window and only half-heard Mr. Drake talking to Mrs. Betts as he added up her purchases.

            "Congratulations, Phoebe."

            "Fer what?"

            Two men had joined the teens. One was Mr. Munson and the other looked like the boys, except he was older, and his face twisted in a snarl.
            "The engagement of your son Paul to Ida Griffith."

            "They ain't engaged!"

            Somewhere a door banged, and a bell jangled.

            "Your order is ready, Bryony."

            She wondered from where they had come and why they had picked Munsonville to live and fish.

            "What has caught your eye?" a voice behind her said.

            It was Mr. Drake. Bryony pointed to the fishermen and looked back at Mr. Drake. His smile had fled.

            "Yes. The Borgstrums. Bryony, you must not delay Mrs. Parks' crullers."

            Bryony trailed Mr. Drake back to the counter where Addison handed her the paper sack. He had written the cost on the side eight dollars: four dollars for an ounce of powered cinnamon bark and four dollars for half an ounce of mace.

            "Thank you," Bryony said and moved toward the door, wondering all the way to The Munsonville Times office why Mr. Drake didn't like them. Thoughtfully, she pushed open the door.

            "Good day, Miss Bryony."

            At the sound Leo's voice rising over the clickety-clickety-clack of the typewriters, Luther, who was setting wood type on the cast iron press, glanced up. Beyond him, dark splotches marred the board walls.

            Mr. and Mrs. Hasset, as well as Lillian, looking very much like Mrs. Hasset with her hair put up, sat at the desks, studying shorthand squiggles while their fingers zoomed over the keys. The atmosphere, taut like piano wire, crackled with energy and smelled of ink and oil.

            "One copy of The Munsonville Times?"

            "Yes, please, Leo."

            He pointed to the stack on the counter. "That will be six cents."

            Bryony removed six pennies from her pinafore pocket, gave them to Leo, and then took a paper. He carefully counted the coins and added them to the register. Luther had resumed working, but he stole an occasional peep at Bryony.

            "It has the next installment of 'The Vicar's Ghost.' Mrs. Parks will like that."

            Bryony giggled. "If Mr. Parks doesn't find out first."

            The door burst open. Mr. Borgstrom stalked in, slapped six cents on the counter, snatched a newspaper, and stormed out.

            "That was rude," Bryony said.

            Leo shrugged. "Some folks don't have much to say."

            Bryony dawdled on the way back to the parsonage, contemplating the Borgstroms, the dozens of strung-up fish, the confident capability of the twins, and the impolite way Mr. Borgstrom had bought newspaper. She disagreed with Leo. Mr. Borgstrom did have much to say. He simply hadn't said it with words.

            "Heavens, child, what happened?" Mrs. Parks asked when Bryony trooped into the kitchen at long last.

            Bryony set The Munsonville Times on the table. "Other customers."

            Mrs. Parks tore open the spice package and quickly began measuring. "If I don't hurry, I won't see the paper until tomorrow."

            "What's the rush? You always read first."

            "Your father invited company to dinner." With loud exasperated sighs, Mrs. Parks crumbled butter and sugar together.


            "Children should be seen and not heard. Bryony, please knead so I can peek at the news."

            Bryony rinsed her hands and hurried to help, not at all surprised Mrs. Parks had yielded to temptation. Mrs. Parks was already at the table hunched over the newspaper, reading spectacles on, face cupped in her hands.

            "Leo said the next installment of 'The Victor's Ghost' is out," Bryony remarked as she rolled and pushed the dough.

            Mrs. Parks didn't answer.