Recipes of the Family — an exercise in recylcing

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Does anyone else's family do this? Identify the pie by trying to carve a pic of the fruit into the crust?

Does anyone else’s family do this? Identify the pie by trying to carve a pic of the fruit into the crust?

 When this post was originally written a couple of years ago for my other blog, it was during the Easter season. But, it’s a food post, and I’ve gone from abusing my hands via typing to torturing my fingers with apple peeling, potato prepping and Turkey wrestling. I’m grabbing a moment between pies and jello molds, and dish scrubbing, lots and lots of dish scrubbing…

For me this post pretty much describes my self imposed martyrdom and pity wallowing induced by any and all food holidays…Have a happy Thanksgiving (and count yourself lucky if you don’t have to spend it at my house!)

Easter is just around the corner.  Last year was kinda fun, as my sister and I dragged out box after box of old family photos and held a full out scanner fest.  But as the Bunny fires up for egg painting this year, my nerves feel a bit jumpy already.  I will once again be challenged (expected, assumed. pressured) to bake the traditional Slovenian treat for our family…the Potica.  For those of you with no Balkan heritage…it’s “Po-teets-zah.”  For me, it’s a  Panic Attack.

Now this is by no means the first time I’ve made the Potica.  It’s been my job now for several years since my Grandma quit baking it.  Apparently this skips a generation, so my aunts and mom just crowned me Princess Potica and before I knew it…I was in charge.So,  I make it for each of the big family celebrations, and then, kind of like Jesus, I take a beating for it.  Let me clarify that ~  I make the complicated yeast and nut delight, and then sit back and listen to everyone else critique it, and wax poetic over the Poticas (the real Poticas) of days gone by.

How I haven’t spent a holiday in jail yet I do not know.

Oh, I get it.  I really do.  I understand why I am the one who is saddled with the honor of carrying on an old country tradition.  I can bake. And I am really good at it.  I had my own coffee house for several years, and baked everything that went out the door.  But the problem with Potica (and in your family it could be aunt Nell’s potato salad) is that there is only one right way, one right recipe, and one right presentation that can be accepted and deigned as perfect.  Unfortunately, no one who went before me actually wrote the damn recipe down for “the real Potica“, exactly as they made it “when it was perfect“.

Let’s revisit that last line:  I want you to experience it as I hear it each time I offer up a Potica.  Say it for yourself aloud

with your nose crinkled up,

as if you are chewing an adult aspirin,

and it is stuck to the back of your tongue and you only have scalding hot coffee available to wash it down with..

now say the words.. like the real Potica, when it was perfect….

Is there a tear in the corner of your eye as if you have just been deeply harmed and dissappointed?  Good.  You’re getting the general tone of voice they use for Potica critiqing.  We can continue now

When my oldest daughter was receiving First Communion, we had a little ceremony a couple of days ahead of time, where each family was to involve their child in baking a loaf of bread and then bring it to church with all their classmates and their families for a special blessing of the loaves.  For Caitlin, I thought it would be cool, and perhaps more special to her if together we made Potica.

Since this was a sort of last minute thing, I went to the internet and trolled for some recipes.  This was the first time I had actually seen the word spelled out.  Luckily, I hit a site where the pronunciation was spelled out phonetically so was close to how I had “searched” for it (this was way before Google).  I looked through until I found a recipe (in English) that sounded about right.  We sifted, kneaded, rolled, filled and baked with delightful anticipation.  The smell in the kitchen was heaven.

Blessing of the loaves day was probably a little traumatizing for Cait.  Many of my Mom friends had chumped-out (having never baked bread before) and had purchased the frozen, thaw and bake stuff.  Their loaves were glorious mounds with buttery gold crusts. The Pillsbury Doughboy bakes up like a champ every time.

To be safe we made two so we could choose the best looking one to show off at church. Unfortunately the better of the two looked like a pile hemorrhaging cinnamon raisin bagels glopped together.  Not stellar.

After that “experience” I started checking around within the family for a good recipe.  Oddly, no one ever seemed to be able to put their hands on one.  That was probably 20 years ago.  Eventually,having learned my lesson, I gave up asking. Clearly, some family things are strictly on a “need to know basis.” As the older women in my family line all began passing on to their reward, the Potica making pool got smaller and smaller.  When Grandma Jean announced that she would be taking up residence in a rest home, suddenly, the baking baton was passed on to me.  Sans the recipe of course!

The Official Point of Holiday contention, and badge of worthiness as a cook ~ The Potica

The Official Point of Holiday contention, and badge of worthiness as a cook ~ The Potica

 Luckily, my friend Karen gifted me with a well worn and dearly loved cookbook that had belonged to her Aunt Udi.  Udi had been the Potica maker for her family.  Karen naturally had no idea which of the more than 2 dozen recipes for the bread was Udi’s favorite, so I have been baking my way thru the book holiday after holiday.  With of course, all the feed back I can stand.

I’ll be on version #18 soon, wish me luck. Maybe someone should have written that down…

And then THIS HAPPENED!

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…so the little writer rode off into the sunset, knowing the warmth in her heart for finishing what she started, and probably lived happily ever after…in the sequel <3

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Thanks to all of you for your kindness, support and encouragement to run off and play “hookie” for the month of November. THIS HAPPENED…Hell ya it did!!!!!!

 

 

 

The Official State Legislature Approved Hoosier Pie

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Woman's Glory--the Kitchen  a publication of the Slovenian Women's Union of America. My gift from Aunt Udi

Woman’s Glory–the Kitchen
a publication of the Slovenian Women’s Union of America. My gift from Aunt Udi

This was originally posted on my other blog around Thanksgiving in 2012 as my son’s team was getting ready to head for the State Championship Football Game (which…spoiler alert….They Won!).

I am still Nano-ing my brain into a mush-state. I think I now officially have the “corporal tunnels” all the way up through my elbows, and on searing deeply into my shoulders. I believe the pains will eventually converge at the center point of my poorly postured, hunched over the lap-top back :). Next week will be (still November) and surprisingly also posts about food…..

But we all seem to be on a bit of a hungry kick, and I did owe a family story this week…so here goes

It’ll make you Famous!PD_0070

 

 

I am officially elbow deep in Thanksgiving Food Prep.  Yes, of course everyone comes to our house for the big Dinner Wing Ding.  This honor falls upon Mom because I am directly descended from two “Large Food” women.  Both of my Great Grandmothers were production cookers in their own right.  Grandma Fern cooked up huge batches of all sorts of stuff, put it on a wagon with the big harvest table, hitched the mules and drove it out to the fields for the “help” each day at “dinner.”

Diminutive Granny Kate (seen above) was a tiny women who was said to be so tough that she could “whip her weight in wild cats.”  I would have never questioned that.  She ran both a restaurant with a full serve tavern, and a huge traveling food concession on the summer fair and carnival circuit.  Grandpa couldn’t help much, he was busy running his Monkey Circus and other side show attractions.

As I slog my way thru a couple gallons of pumpkin pie filling, a mountain of potatoes to get peeled and a stupid Turkey that still isn’t thawed, I thought it would only be right to share a favorite recipe of mine.  It’s called Finger Pie (or Sugar Cream pie as it is known formally as the one and only Official Pie of Indiana).  Everyone loves this stuff.  It’s an easy, yet archaic recipe that you seldom see home made these days.  Why?  Because it will make you famous if you can eat more than one slice in a sitting and not trigger a cardiac event of some sort.

Being named after the wild cat fighter, I like it because it always kicks the @#$ of all the fancy desserts the in-laws bring over.  I’ve even taught my granddaughter so she can wear my food mantel some day.

Here’s finger pie (pay attention Darlene’s daughter-in-law!)

Into a pre-made pie crust (get the Pillsbury, no one is looking) pour in a cup and a half of white sugar.  Sounds good already! 

Add and gently fluff together to stir (with your fingers…derrr!)  3 Tablespoons of all purpose flour. 

Now for the fun.  Add a cup and a half of heavy cream.  Yep, I said it… the real stuff!  Slowly WITH YOUR FINGERS stir the cream and the sugar/flour mixture until the sugar no longer feels gritty.  You really do have to do it with your fingers.  Too much stirring will cause the cream to “whip”….word of the day… and your pie will be awful.  Also, don’t get in a hurry and make a mess, it’ll look bad.

Sprinkle a little Nutmeg over the top and carefully put into the oven (350…you knew that).  Bake the pie for about an hour.  It looks like a science experiment.  The pie actually bubbles and gurgles while you bake it.  Carefully remove it from the oven.  At this point it will still be pretty “sloshy” and hotter than you know what.  The top should have some caramely- brown color evenly across it.  Cool completely before cutting.

Ruling the Roost ~or~ How to Survive Childhood

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Angelic. Check out that hood ornament!

Angelic. Check out that hood ornament!

Who by this time has NOT seen the internet meme that doles out the list of what we kiddos of a certain vintage were able to “survive.” Stuff like playing outdoors until the streetlamps came on, cars without seat belts, saccharin laced Tab cola, red dye #5, and a plethora of other dangers, poisonous weaponry passed off as toys, and ways our mothers laid us down for naps.

I’ve come to task you with a challenge– to take a trip headlong down memory lane. This is one of those projects you can use either way. It can be left behind as a love-note to future family historians generations in advance, or you can do some digging and write about an ancestor’s point of view.

Today, tell your blank page about your childhood, or that of a loved one who also survived it. By childhood, I mean the insignificant daily doings that went on, that in retrospect were so damming that they could be titled “it’s a wonder the human race exists at all now.” Take a walk through your early years and recall the heady smell and creamy mouth-feel of a new jar of school paste. Were you the kid who ate the paste, or the one who sat watching someone else who ate it like it food of the gods?

I am up to my elbows in this Nanowrimo self-induced sickness. As I write this (and it IS SO LOVELY to take a break from fantasy and fiction) I have clocked just over 25,000 words so far. I have passed the half-way point for word counts, goals and calendar days survived under the heading of November 2014!  Woot Woot!  I just might make it after all. This is a bit like our writing topic for today–surviving in spite of all the little real or fretted snares lying about trying to kill us…

Here’s an excerpt from the Mom’s Book of Childhood I will share with you as and example. Maybe next month when my brain re-solidifies, I will post a Nano sample page for anyone who is interested in taking a peek behind the curtain in front of the alter of the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz…no wait…that was the movie I watched with Doll-baby yesterday. Boy, my brain is really past its own limitations at this point!
When i was about 5, my mom and dad built our house in the country. I loved this time in my life. To save money while the house was being built on a little spot between two bridges over the drainage ditches we called creeks, we moved in with Gramcracker temporarily.

Each day when my dad finished his day job as a house painter working on the Brady Bunch mansions and Tri-Levels that were smothering the woodsy north side of Indy, he zoomed home, picked up my mom and his sandwich and headed out to the country to “work on the house.

“I’m not really sure how he survived it. He left for his job before sun-up in the morning, and then together my parents  were rarely back from the country before my grandmother came home from 2nd shift at the Rubber Company around midnight. Being a kid of very few rules, I staid up as late as I wanted, watching old movies and “spook shows” with my great grandmother Kate who I knew as Granny. The highlight of my semi nocturnal existence was Gramcracker’s home coming each night. She always had a little “something” for me in her pocketbook. I had no understanding of money or origination…I just thought that the Rubber Company must have been the most incredible place in the world.

Arriving home, each night Gramcracker grinned, hugged me tight and called me Goldie. Then she would ceremoniously reach into her trademark large handbag and pull out a prize. Never failing to dazzle me with a treat, there was always something in that big purse for ME! Sometimes the prize from the rubber company was a small carton of chocolate milk, or orange juice. They looked just like the ones at the grocery, only these were so amazingly small… made just for kids, midgets, and Munchkins. Sometimes a pair of Dolly Madison coconut snowball cakes was my treat. A Popeye Pez candy dispenser was not out of the realm of possibility, and sometimes my own pack of Twinkies was the prize nestled next to her Zippo and Luckys. Anything available in the vending machines was open game for my nightly gift.

When i look back on this time with modern  adult eyes I am appalled that I was left alone in the house basically unattended night after night for 6 or so hours with only my Granny to watch me. She was completely immobile, could barely speak and mostly sat in her chair smiling at me, rocking, and never complaining when I stood between her and Gunsmoke on the television.

I’m not sure what kept me from burning down the house, running out into traffic or choking to death during those hours.

I don’t think this arrangement lasted real long though.  After a few months, my mom, pregnant with my brother, became too “big” to help with the “house.” Never mind the lead laced paint fumes, the open stairwell in the floor to the basement, or the 20 mile drive without airbags or safety belts, her tummy and my brother became just too “in the way.”

She started staying home with me and Granny, handing my dad his thermos and sandwich and waving goodbye from the porch as he headed off to Boone county. She headed off to bed of course around 9,

and I watched the spook shows and waited for my Grandma and her pocketbook with Granny…my life went on as usual.

So what moments of childhood can you point to as those survived only via providence of a skilled Guardian Angel? Laugh it up, have a cry, marvel at the terror in the rear-view mirror of life…whatever or however it was…

Maybe someone should write that down…

 

Thanks to You, We’re all Here

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Grandpa taking care to have all 3 kids in the Christmas photo

Grandpa taking care to have all 3 kids in the Christmas photo

 

This is my favorite photo of my “Pop” in the Army. He was stationed in Japan and couldn’t be home at Christmas with his family. In this picture, you see Grandpa holding up his Army photo. He is proudly including his son in the present opening and merriment of the day, even though he is half a world away.

Today’s post is what I call a “no-brainer.” Here in the US it’s Veteran’s Day. On the 11th day of the 11th month, at the 11th hour, it is our tradition to stop in our tracks, take a moment out of our daily lives and to use that moment giving thanks to the sacrifices of our protectors.

For better or for worse,we are the citizen army who serves the world. I am in awe of all those who step forward and say yes to this call. I admit to my own selfish Mom heart’s reaction to the events of 9/11. Growing up, I had older cousins and uncles and brother-in-laws to be who were serving in Vietnam. As a child I lived in constant fear of nuclear holocausts and mushroom clouds. But war as a state of living was not anything beyond a night terror.

It wasn’t real. It didn’t touch me.

When 9/11 happened, people from around the world were shocked and left reeling. Our parish held an emergency Mass to pray for peace the next day. It seems the spontaneous rainbow so many of us had seen the morning before wasn’t enough. It sprung from a rain-less sky, to assure us of providence, but we were so busy looking to our own patches of heaven for the next plane to drop, we didn’t notice.

At Mass on the morning of the 12th, I found myself bawling in public. Quite selfishly I will admit. All I could see before me were children who I loved, in grades K-8, and I knew from the depths of my sinking heart that the events we were living would cause many of them to say yes to the call to be soldiers, and sailors, warriors…people who were real, who I loved, who could be hurt or worse.

Today, I get it. Then, I didn’t.

I am still worried for the ones who have volunteered. But I know that their career is something they have no desire to say no to. They are truly called. They are made stronger by it, they are broken because of it, and they are completely remade too. Today’s world is not held captive by a violent threat shown in clips on the nightly news in black and white. It is all nearer than that. And somehow, I am less afraid knowing that so many of the children I have been a child with myself, the children who I room-mothered, the children of my family who grew up to be my ancestors all grew and still grow up to be so brave on my behalf.

It’s an admirable, amazing and incomprehensible thing that these people who I know and love step forward to do. They are not faceless characters in nighttime dreams, they are real, and my awe of them is real too.

Take a moment today to write about the Veterans in your life, your family, buried quietly alongside your relatives or perhaps lying unclaimed and lost into eternity on another land’s soil, or back at home in a world they could no-longer  feel like they were a part of. Write their story, honor them as persons–not memories or dreams–and do, above all, thank a Vet today <3

And so it continues...Son's best friend proudly displaying his new ROTC duds at college.

And so it continues…Son’s best friend proudly displaying his new ROTC duds at college.

It’s Not Where They’re Dead, It’s Where They’re Honored

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Where better to read Little Orphant Annie than atop his tomb from a bronze book  inscribed with the famous last lines

Where better to read Riley’s poem Little Orphant Annie than atop his tomb from a bronze book inscribed with the famous last lines

Taking kids to a cemetery for the first time can be a tricky business. I always wanted mine to visit their ancestors and loved ones, and I didn’t want them to be terrified and jumpy while they were there. I’ve always tried to put the emphasis on the grave markers as a way that we honor people, rather than a way to mark where their bodies are now.

Recently, I decided that my 1st grade granddaughter (I like to refer to her as Doll-baby) was old enough to be intro’d to leaf viewing at the graveyard with Grandmama. So, last week over her Fall Break from school, I resurrected (sorry, there are just too many terrible puns to resist on this topic) an old tradition from when her mommy was small. We loaded up the car, the dog, and ourselves and headed to the old city neighborhood surrounding Crown Hill Cemetery.

We passed through the brick and ornate iron entrance gates and drove by the Victorian era mourning station. For what seems like miles, the larger than life (haha) winged angels, obelisks, fancy tombs and little cave-like crypts are lined up in rolling winding rows. They look like randomly placed sculptures set in an outdoor gallery. The bleached white marble seems to glow against a backdrop of red and gold maples.

Crown Hill is a big place. Covering over 550 acres, and currently just short of a quarter of a million interned, the cemetery has 25 miles of paved roads within it’s gates. With no road signs and so much to look at, it is an easy place to get lost in. To find the way to our destination (the famous “Strawberry Hill”) we follow a white line discreetly painted along one of the of narrow lanes winding through the graveyard.

The hill is the absolute best place I know of in Indianapolis for fall color viewing. It is unofficially the highest point in the city. From here, the view of the downtown skyline and all the rest of the panoramic scenery is breathtaking.  And it ls from here that Mom begins her sneaky, slipped-in-before-they-notice-what’s-happening local history lesson. Doll-baby has expected to go trekking with crazy Grandma to see the pretty fall colors at the big city cemetery.

We are really there to soak up a little poetry and culture without getting spooked.

Here, scattered across the landscaped sections lie a US President, several “Veeps” all sorts of Senators and Ambassadors, a bunch of Union Generals, athletes, pillars of industry and society, gangsters (yep, over there that’s where ol’ John Dillenger is),the man who played Uncle Remus in Disney’s movie Song of the South, and even a Gypsy King and some race car drivers. It’s really quite the assortment at rest, eternally planted here together.

James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington, Kurt Vonnegut and that “Fault in our Stars” kid Augustus Waters are all buried here in our local cemetery (well, not Augustus really, he’s just a fictional character). I, like many of the “old timers” of Central Indiana, often refer to Crown Hill Cemetery merely as “out at 38th Street” and usually call the most swanky and coveted section of Crown Hill “Strawberry Hill.”

True, we are headed up the marked lane to see the city from it’s highest point, but we are also going to visit and leave a little gift for Mr Riley. It’s a tradition whenever you scale Strawberry Hill. And though I am not creeped out by graves and burial grounds, I sure would never want to get that way by snubbing tradition!

220px-Mary_Allice_Smith, _c_1863Famous for his poem about goblins who would come and get misbehaving kids, Little Orphant Annie was a poem often read to children around Halloween– or bedtime when ill behavior warranted.

Crowning Strawberry Hill, James Whitcomb Riley’s tomb has the best spot available out of every inch available in all of the massive cemetery.

“Annie” was a real girl who worked as a housekeeper and sort of nanny to the Riley children. She is pictured here in this photo from 1885. When her father went off to fight in the Civil War, her mother had already been dead for many years. When he was killed in action, little Annie was orphaned (or “orphant” in Hoosier talk).  Her name in real life was actually Mary Alice, and the poem written about her was to be titled “Little Orphant Allie” but it was misread during typesetting and became famous instead as “Annie.”

Amazingly enough, Mary Alice wasn’t aware she was the inspiration for “Annie” for several years, or that James (or Jim as she knew him) had spent many years searching for her. He ran numerous ads in Indiana newspapers trying to find her and reconnect. In about 1915, just before his death, “Annie’s” daughter happened upon one of the advertisements and contacted him. You can read about it in Mary Allice’s obituary.

If you are unfamiliar, you can click on the poem’s title above if you’d like experience the sort of dark humor Mom was raised with. Those who are not at least partially fluent in “Hoosier” as a language will probably have a pretty tough time understanding the written words. So, for your convenience, enjoyment, and usage if you ever find yourself in need of a way to snap those pesky grandchildren in line…here’s an actual recording of Mr Riley, the old coot himself, reciting “Little Orphant Annie” around 1912.

220px-James_Whitcomb_Riley,_1913The recording is also a bit tough to understand between the accent and the poet’s age when the recording was made, and likely his general condition. It seems that JW was an enthusiastic imbiber. So maybe he sounds a little slurry because he was a little sloshed?

I do recall times in my own childhood when by chance or by well planned attack, our Grandparents would somehow end up with all 9 of us grandchildren for the weekend. Occasionally things got a bit rowdy. I have flashbacks to scenes of our Grandpa  (ol George the Methodist aka “The Dog Nab”) loudly reciting the lines of the Goblin poem in our direction. Then he would shew all of us, still white faced and breathless up the terrifying narrow stairway to our beds. In present times, this would probably be considered emotional abuse enough. However, the real abuse started when the snarling, howling gasps and whistling grunts started to waft up the steep stairwell as he snored denture-less from the master bedroom below us.

 Sweet Jesus! We were all sure goblins and werewolves roamed those hallways at night!

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We ended up having a wonderful and educational day. We gathered loose change up from the car and participated in the Riley Tomb tradition. Doll-baby thought that was really cool. Her class was always collecting soda tabs for “Riley.”

The tradition? Well it seems that although Mr Riley was widely known, well published and dearly loved by children and adults alike, he died completely broke. When the children of the city heard that their beloved spooky poem writing favorite was buried without a marker, they began coin drives until one could be purchased. Funds poured in from around the world and in 1922 the cornerstone was laid on the Riley Hospital for Children, in no small part funded by the coin drives of his young fans. Today, the Riley hospital is a beacon of hope for the sickest children from around the nation. And that’s why the tradition of leaving coins on his tomb lives on today, a hundred years after his passing. The grounds crew gather the money each day and deposit it into the Riley Children’s Fund. 

Maybe those ol Goblins did more good than they could ever know!

So Write Like It’s Your Job

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Write like it’s your job? Who’s job? Mine? Yours? Maybe it’s just L. Frank Baum’s job to entertain us all. In his short career, Baum wrote just under 60 novels, 83 short stories and a couple hundred poems. He did all this within a 25 year time span. He created new worlds, wrote about politics, women’s rights, and all kinds of socio-political topics using friendly little characters and totally manual typewriters. He foretold some pretty awesome inventions and changes in daily living while selling the heck out of all these kiddy books!

So, what keeps you from sitting before your spell-checking, no white-out needed, multiple tab opening keyboard to write down a little story about Uncle Roscoe and his prize winning Blue Tick Hound Dogs?

If you follow along on the Mom blog here, you’ll know that right now I’m deeply immersed in NaNoWriMo. If that means nothing to you, the quick description is this:

Every November for many years (about 15 I think…wiser NaNo’s please feel free to correct me) writers can commit, totally on a voluntary basis, to writing 50,000 words, over the course of 30 days, yeilding 1 rough manuscript with room for 0 excuses. It is the Hell-dive we call National Novel Writing Month–NaNoWriMo  for short. So I’m doing that!

There are of course incentives for finishing early (like having a clear path through the house when all the relatives land expecting Turkey and all the fixins on November 28th!). To “Win” the NaNo, one simply completes the aforementioned task…get 50K semi-coherant words written down within 30 days. It’s a hoot. Or a form of self flagellation :) What I have learned from writing for many years with or without participating in the fall NaNo frolic is this…

In order to be successful, all you have to do is Write Like it’s Your Job!

I know, I know~ There’s that whole “life” and responsibilities thing. Well guess what? Try explaining that one to your boss and see how many buyers you get for the excuse you’re selling! If you want to write, need to write, feel it and believe it in your bones that you were born to write…you just have to make time to write. Or else no one, not even you, will ever know the difference.

How many blank sheets of paper go wanting and wasted by those who were meant to write the next great American novel? Who but you could give Alex Haley a run for his Roots? Nobody but you has walked in your moccasins Powhatan and Pocahontas, so get on that Memoir and let your story be known! Honor your own need to tell the stories, whether fact or fiction or fantastic vision or expose by taking control and managing yourself. Be the boss, look over your shoulder, reward a good day’s work, and don’t be too quick to forgive a lackluster performance or a string of uneventful and unnecessary “personal days.”

Is it a dry day? No way to start, nothing dazzling rearing it’s head, pushing your fingers to glide swiftly with flair across the cosmic keyboard?

Tough @#$%.

I like the old saying used in retail and restaurant work:

If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean!

If your day-job is that of a switchboard operator (do they still have those?) and you are scheduled and paid to work 8-5 Monday through Friday with one hour each day for lunch, it doesn’t really matter whether or not the phone rings. If and when it does, while you are clocked in, you better be chipper, proficient and professional when you respond to the chiming bell. Your dedication to writing needs to be revered in the same manner. On a day when nothing worth noting passes through your head to your empty pages, you need to side step the urge to “lean” and busy yourself with the opportunity to “clean.”

That’s the real life, real world, school of hard knocks truth of writing for any sort of long-term project. It has to have your full attention. You have to treat yourself like an employee, set expectations,  and work full speed to get the job done.

Any day where there is just not a word to say (and yes, those are real) is a day made for cleaning. Not literal–unless you make a pigsty of your work space–but cleaning up your prose. Do some edits, spend some time with Grammarly, catch up on your correspondence with distant cousins, seek out a nice map of the home town of your pilgrim forefathers, surf the web for museum collections of clothing common to a time period you’re working on. Re-read your stories and improve your sentence structure or descriptive word usage. Sort or scan photographs, do a little more research, go out to the closest family cemetery and walk around. Take some photos of former family homes, do some research on Aunt Zelda’s flatware that’s been handed down to you.

Like finding the base of your family heritage all the way back to the Garden of Eden, writing the story is a work with endless opportunities to be fuller, richer and more rewarding. 

Even if the only shift you can manage for your job as a writer is a scant 20 minutes per day, don’t squander the time with the equivalent of break-room chatter, laziness or habitual leaning like the perpetual “ne’r do well” (look that one up some day when there’s nothing to do). Use and cherish every opportune moment to get your Genealogy stories written and make them come dancing off the page.

Time spent writing stories down for those who come next is never wasted time or work unrewarded.

By the way, did you happen to notice someone missing on the photo above? I cannot seem to find my Lion finger puppet, he’s usually right here on the desk with the others. Maybe during my next break I’ll ask the dog…wpid-2014-11-04-12.31.55.jpg.jpeg

 

Blue Genes and Stories

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a dreamy shelf-full at the Biltmore gift shop of delight

a dreamy shelf-full at the Biltmore gift shop of delight

There is nothing more attractive to me than a blue and white table setting!  Flow Blue,Blue Onion, Blue Willow, Old Willow, Cobalt Glass…I love all of it! And oddly enough, this is a gene that I seem to carry from both my City and my Country families.

 Some set their table with Sterling, some with Silver Plate, and some with the lowliest of implements. But everywhere I look, in each ancient china closet I pry open, there’s a big stack of Blue and White. I can spend hours “pinning” photo images of lovely dreamy stuff to my Pinterest board “Life and Blue Willow” (you can click on it).

I think the only time I draw the line on blue-phoria is my stern dis-allowance of Blue Cheese at my table and Blue eye-shadow near my peepers.

Actual plate from the famed "Blue Plate Special" served up by my Granny Kate the Wildcat Whipper

Actual plate from the famed “Blue Plate Special” served up by my Granny Kate the Wildcat Whipper 

I believe that my Blue Willow obsession specifically is linked to the color Green. As in Greenbacks, Moolah, Money-Money-Makes-the-World-Go-Round, the Almighty Dollar, Cash.

I spent most summers of my formative years as the proprietor in training of my Grandmother’s never-ending yard sale. From as far back as I can remember I was at Gramcracker’s side either buying or selling “merchandise.” From her I learned my shark-like negotiating, change-making and selling skills.

On rainy days, she fired up her white Dodge Rambler (aptly named “Pearl”) and we went out “Junking.” We loaded up the trunk, the back seat and the all spaces available between the floorboard and headliner as we cruised our route of thrift shops. We bought in bulk. Sunny days we were open for business from early morning to late afternoon. There was no time for bathing or teeth brushing; only Popsicle eating and Root beer slugging. I was sugared-up and filthy for weeks at a time. It was bliss.

One day, as I was overseeing the long stretch of tables full of the “breakables” an elderly lady picked up a Blue Willow saucer from a mismatched stack (marked as ten cents each, or 3 for a Quarter). She asked whether or not I knew the story of the plate. Not wanting to admit that it was purchased on a soggy Tuesday as part of a boxed lot of 50 pieces for $1, I said

“it’s just been around for quite some time, I’m not really sure.”

 She smiled and explained that the images of the Blue Willow pattern told a story like a fairy tale. She held the plate ceremoniously next to her face with one hand, and then as if reading from a book, began pointing to the images and reciting the coolest poem I had ever heard.

I was so mesmerized by her “telling” and performance of the poem that I lost all attention to my duties at the breakables table. I could have been robbed blind and never known the difference.

Then, in an extreme act of generosity, the woman fished out of her pocket book an old, hand typed and permanently creased copy of the poem she had just performed. She handed it to me along with a dime and the cup-less blue and white saucer. She said “this is for you, my treat” and tootled back down to the sidewalk and went on her way.

Later that summer when my parents collected me in time for school to resume, I showed my mom the poem and performed it with my plate. I could tell she thought it was really cool, because she immediately took the paper to put away for safe keeping. I’ve never seen it since. She can’t recall where the “safe” might be. But I remembered it and have recreated it here as I recall seeing it on that creased sheet of onion skin. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and still do~

Tale of Ye Olde Blue Willow

unknown author

 

Have you heard the old story of such ancient date

That is pictured to us on the Blue Willow plate?

In a sumptuous house beneath a tall Willow Tree

Lived a fair Chinese maiden, the Princess Kongshee

She had fallen in love and had promised to wed

A young fellow named Chang, but her old Father said–

That a wealthy Mandarin could never on earth

Let his daughter marry Chang who was humble of birth

I've started decopaging a pair of my readers in the pattern...too far?

I’ve started decopaging a pair of my readers in the pattern…too far?

 

So he locked fair Kongshee in a wing in his house

Where she could not escape and become Chang’s spouse

Then he built a high wall around the whole place

So Chang could not see even his lady love’s face

And then to the rich Duke who had titles and land

He contracted to give the fair Princess’ hand

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Some “flow blue” and Willow nestled into my china closet

 

On the day when in pomp the Duke was to arrive

How to enter the house the bold Chang did connive

So he dressed himself up in some sort of disguise

And stole the fair Kongshee away for his prize

The couple made a home and were living in peace

yes, even my cellphone cover!

yes, even my cellphone cover!

 

When the Duke at last came their joy was to cease

The Duke murdered Chang, and Kongshee in her grief

Set fire to their house, so ’tis ancient belief

So they would perish together, at least that’s the fate

That is pictured to us on the Blue Willow plate

 

Dinner ware for many generations on both sides of Mom

Dinner ware for many generations on both sides of Mom

                                                                   You can see the two lovers into Doves now transformed

By the Gods who are keeping them ever unharmed

But the fate of these lovers we can never bewail

For the Duke met his punishment so goes the tale

Of these queer Chinese people of such ancient date

That is pictured for us on the Blue Willow plate

Have You Read the Paper Lately?

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So many little counties and Bergs have historical societies. And the “tails” they can tattle are often rather TITILLATING and odd…OK, these two are frankly disgusting and weird!

Yeah, well, I'm not really sure what this was about...

Yeah, well, I’m not really sure what this was about… Actually several friends have posted seasonal memes on their Facebook pages about protecting cats this time of year–especially the black ones. So imagine my surprise when this little diddy popped up on my Facebook feed!

Rather attention getting to say the least...

I’ve done the lightest bit of poking around trying to figure this one out. It was an advertisement and promotion that ran some time in the 1940s in a newspaper near my hometown.

Somebody must have had a rodent problem, a really big rodent problem!

Or, were the kitties doomed for wartime experimental lab work?

Were they returned after Saturday?

Was Cruella DeVil’s feline-favoring sister married to one of the Hortons?

Too many questions whipping around in the autumnal air!

The Boone County Historical Society  recently reprinted the following story from 1894 (which I believe was an archivists’ selection and retelling that the newspaper ran in the early 1960s). The man with the byline–Ralph Stark– had a regular feature something akin to our “Throw back Thursdays.” Ralph’s reprint appears below in its entirety. I was amazed when this came up on my Facebook feed about 120 years after the occurrence.

All stuff like this might be lost forever if it weren’t for the digging that Ralph did to find it for us in the 70’s and the lovely volunteers at the local Historical Society who make the effort to re-find and share these unbelievable stories today.

 Some day I would love to run down all the “rest of the story” on both the cat herding and the rather bizarre tale that follows. You don’t have to read the newspaper story I’ve copied and pasted here,

…but if you enjoy a good accounting of what it was like to be in the middle of a 19th century lynch mob, it would be well worth your time.

I would have loved to known what these reporters were thinking as they watched this story unfold and then typed it up this for the highly divided readers around town. And how the heck did all these people find out about this so quickly? This happened long before the county had telephone service in homes, let alone CNN or Twitter.

Right now there isn’t the time for me to go chasing it though.

Who knows, Maybe someone else has already written it down…

 Enjoy~

photo of the Lebanon Indiana courthouse accompanies the story retold and published in the Lebanon Reporter

Common Sense of a Few Lebanon Citizens Saves Suspect From Lynching 
By Ralph W. Stark
There were more than the usual number of early risers up and stirring about in Lebanon’s chill morning air on Monday, February 5th, 1894, but the customary hustle and bustle, and the sounds and noises ordinarily associated with the dawning of a new day were strangely missing. Men on the streets downtown seemed to no longer walk briskly and upright, but rather to slink furtively along, to slither with snake like grace as they moved about. Gathering in little knots of threes and fours and fives, they conversed in low tones, almost in whispers, accompanied with much nodding of heads charging, by their actions, the very atmosphere with the sinister and ominous portent that the next few hours were to be marked with such excitement, violence, madness and shameful, conduct as never before nor since seen, or experienced, in the theretofore peaceful and sedate little community.

Indeed, had it not been for the good common sense and the unflagging 
courage of some eighteen or twenty of the town’s sturdiest pillars who stood like hard granite columns throughout the long day against the lawlessness and disorder engendered by a bloodthirsty, vengeful gang of howling hoodlums, the evening sun might have set on the blackest period in all of Lebanon’s history.
As it turned out, by nightfall law and order had been restored. The one small group of level-headed, forthright thinking citizens, which included law enforcement officers, judges, lawyers, clergymen, and businessmen, had successfully thwarted the evil intentions of a large mob of would be lynchers to wrest a prisoner charged with a foul crime from the custody of the authorities and to hang him from the limb of a tree in the courthouse yard. By late afternoon, the accused had been found guilty on his own plea and sentenced, all in due process and the fullest majesty of the law and was safely on his way to the state prison.

Late in the night of the Saturday preceding Lebanon’s day of tumult and rioting, Frank Hall, a negro, forced his way into the home of the widowed Mrs. Mary Akers, living four miles east of town, and, after driving the children from the room, raped the white woman, so it was alleged. On leaving, the rapist trudged through the snow to the house of his stepfather, Levi Hall with whom he lived, about a mile distant from the Akers place. Early Sunday morning, Boone County Sheriff John M. Troutman and other officers, having been sent for, followed the footprints from the Akers home to that of Levi Hall’s, placed Frank Hall under arrest, and soon had him locked up in the county hostile.

News of the crime spread like wildfire, reaching far out into the county, and by noon the swelling crowd and the muttered threats against the prisoner so alarmed Sheriff Troutman that he took the man by train to Indianapolis, lodging him in the Marion County jail for safekeeping overnight, pending his being returned here on Monday morning for an appearance before Judge Stephen Neal in the Boone Circuit Court at 9 o’clock.

Hall was brought back at an early morning hour, but because of the incensed and unruly rabble milling around the jail, growing larger and more voluble and obstreperous with each passing minute, the hearing was postponed until 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

By midday, the excited throng numbered nearly a thousand persons, most of whom were merely spectators gathered about the hard-core mob composed of some fifty men and a few women. At the noon hour, ministers of several of the Lebanon churches, including the Rev. H. L. Kindig, Methodist, the Rev. J. A. Pollock, Presbyterian, the Rev. J. A. Knowlton, Baptist, and the Rev. Father H. A. Hellhake, Catholic, made impassioned speeches urging the aroused citizens to return to their homes. Earlier, Prosecutor Patrick H. Dutch had implored the people to desist from their lawless purpose.

These pleas, however, fell upon deaf ears. Promptly at 2 o’clock, in the custody of Sheriff Troutman, Marshal Charles N. Oden, Policeman James Caldwell, Deputy Sheriff Frank Daily, and others, Hall was brought out of the jail to be taken to the courtroom.

The little band and its prisoner was immediately surrounded by the mob, in the midst of which was a Mrs. Taylor, better known as Mrs. Van Benthuysen, who was aptly nicknamed, “The Vengence,” by newspaper reporters, because she carried a length of rope and kept up a continuous screaming of “Let’s hang him! Let’s hang him!”

Taking the prisoner from the jail to the north entrance of the courthouse turned into a battle royal. Sheriff Troutman’s drawn revolver was snatched from his hand and several attempts were made to knife the terrified Hall. Despite the fact that the small coterie of officers had been reinforced by George W. Norwood, C. F. S. Neal, W. H. Moler, and a dozen other men, the journey was a physical struggle every inch of the way.
Three times the ugly noose was slipped over the head of the prisoner, once over both his and Marshal Oden’s heads, but always some ready hand deftly flipped it off. On three other occasions the rope was drawn taut about the man’s neck, once on tightly that his eyes bulged and his tongue protruded, but each time a guard cut the hemp before serious injury resulted.

At last the interior of the courthouse was gained and with every entrance guarded by men with ready guns, the culprit was hustled into the courtroom. There, before Judge Neal, he dropped his protestations of innocence, and pleading guilty to the charge, was sentenced to a term of twenty one years in the Indiana state prison.

While the prisoner was held under guard in Judge Neal’s chambers, the Judge, Prosecutor Dutch, Judge Joshua J. Adams, and Mike Keefe addressed the rowdy mobsters, pleading with them to disperse. Some of the more weary followed the advice given, but enough remained to cause Sheriff Troutman continuing concern.

He quickly deputized a hundred of the calmer citizens, and late in the afternoon these men formed a compact hollow square at the west door of the courthouse and with Hall in the center, marched out into Lebanon Street and south to the Big Four Railroad depot.

Without further incidence, Sheriff Troutman and his prisoner, accompanied by a detail of twelve deputies, boarded the evening train bound for Indianapolis where Hall was to be kept in jail until he could be taken to Michigan City. The deputies were thought necessary because it was rumored that a delegation was waiting at Whitestown for the purpose of taking Hall off the train and hanging him there.

Unfounded though the rumor proved to be, it is needless to say that the engineer yanked the throttle wide open to roar through the Worth Township metropolis at top speed while the lawmen nervously fingered the triggers of their shotguns and revolvers. The trip terminated without further trouble and within a few days Hall was occupying a cell in the Northern Prison, as it was then called.

And so ended what was surely Lebanon’s most exciting, and at the sametime, most shameful day. Although law and order had triumphed and peace again reigned in the town and the adjacent countryside, the stirring several hours were not quickly forgotten, furnishing the basis for the recital of countless true accounts and innumerable tall stories for many following years. While the odious affair was in progress, Indianapolis papers and press associations rushed representatives to the scene, and Lebanon was bathed throughout state and the mid-west in the limelight of unwelcome embarrassing notoriety that papers later carried editorials congratulating the community its narrow escape from the adjudication of mob law and commending those citizens bravery and clear thinking kept the town’s good name and reputation from being and blackened by a lynch mob.

There may be one or two venerable Lebanonites reading this story who will recall as youngsters on that eventful day sixty eight years ago there were among the motley small boys and older youths coping ringside seats in branches of the maple trees on the courthouse lawn, witness to the stupid and hideous behavior of their elders. In his Lebanon Patriot February 8th, 1894, Strange Cragun editorially commented: “mob law is no law, and where it is indulged there is no safety for the property or lives of the people of Boone County, by the good sense of the best citizens, has decided that it shall not get a footing on our soil.”

Lebanon Reporter February 13, 1962

 

Praise the Saints and Dish Up the Dirt

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wpid-img_20140825_103611.jpg There’s always a black sheep in every family.

If there isn’t…well, somebody must have scared ‘em off long ago !

There was a certain aunt in my hubby’s family who was evidently removed from the planet at some point.  I stumbled upon her on an early census.  She lived at home with her parents and two brothers until she was about 20.  Then all of a sudden she is married, and widowed within about a year.  Hmmm.  His death certificate (signed by her) states his cause of death as homicide, fatal gun shot wound.  His body was claimed by his parents and I as far as I can tell, was hauled back to Tennessee.  See ya Robert !  That’s around the time that Aunt Mary walked off the face of the earth.  Poof!  Gone.

Now heaven knows, my bloodline is not Saint-laden.  I am probably descended from more than my share of bootleggers, moonshiners, batterers and hatchet murdering types than I care to claim.  A couple of them even got caught!

Honestly, one end of my gene-pool had a real “thing” for smacking others in the head with a hammer. I can’t imagine it was their fault. Maybe hammers were just laying around waiting in those days…maybe it’s what most women carried in their handbags…maybe they didn’t know how to “use your words” to settle differences. I’m not really sure, but as far as I’ve found, none of them ever seemed to have been ever proven directly fatal.

Some tales are a bit less violent, but illegal nonetheless. Like the bootlegger faction of the family who warehoused their stock on underground shelves dug into the sidewalls of the outhouse. Bathtub Gin was the (out)house specialty. When a buy order came in, one of the kids was lowered down the hole–yes, that hole–by rope to retrieve the merchandise.

I would like to think that the customers sat on the front porch  or maybe stood around on the curb chatting while their order was being filled from the “stockroom”. But, who knows, maybe they didn’t give a…

Well, you could guess where that was about to go!

So think aloud around the table today and dig up a few of your “less than suitable for Sainthood” stories. You could start by Googling some names of cousins or other “contemporaries.”   They could be more recent than you think!

Who knows what you may or may not find. But if it’s ‘juicy’…you know what Mom always says:

Maybe someone should write that down!

 

6 Things Every Writer Needs

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0171

In a departure from my norm on family storytelling, I’ve decided to share something that I think is a pretty big deal in any sort of writing. Recently in my Writer’s Group, we brainstormed an invaluable list:

 6 Things Every Writer Needs

The beauty of this compilation is that we are a highly diverse group writing everything from CNF (Creative Non Fiction) to Poetry, to Screen Plays, to Educational Materials, Memoirs, and on and on. Our voices and styles are vastly different (some lyrical, some concise, some babbling…me) But we were able to distill our lists down to six key elements, and then to start holding each other accountable for creating our own perfect environment for productivity while honoring our chosen genre.  We meet every other week and do a check in with the group over how close we are to honoring and providing for our writerly needs. In short, this has made a huge difference for all of us!

Now a word of caution before you peruse the list…This is not open license for dilly dallying and lamenting that you simply cannot write because you’ve made no progress past numbers 1-3 (yet). The idea is to have a vision of your perfect writing situation and to mindfully work toward that as you keep chugging along with less than ideal circumstances.

Shall I pull out the JK Rowling card? She was a single mom, on welfare, who loaded the babies up in the stroller, went to the corner coffee house and started writing down this big story thing that was in her head. There was no MFA, no Macbook, no Scribner, no editor, blog platform or fan base. There were only stolen moments when the kids were lulled to sleep for their naps by fresh air and the soothing buggy ride along the bumpy sidewalk. It seems to have worked out well for her, wouldn’t you agree?

*So here it is* Pay Attention* It’s for your own good* Do it*

1. Tools  Readily usable, reliable, in good repair, comfortable tools. I waffle between the soothing sound of a pencil skipping across paper, and the ease of spellcheck on my super light weight laptop. I also cannot leave the house without my smart phone and portable full page scanner. I’m picky about my pencils too. They either have to be all black, old fashioned wood with pink eraser #2s or a Pentel 0.5 mechanical. Why? Couldn’t tell ya…they’re just comfortable and don’t annoy me when I’m writing.

2. Inspiration What starts a story out for you? Is it a conversation with a cousin? Seeing old photos? A daily prompt from a book or webpage you like? How about your journal, or the writings or possessions of a family member–an heirloom that you admire in a case, or use everyday. For some it’s a place, a date or an occasion. Others write methodically from a task list. They have a neat outline of what they want to say and can go down the list working one subject at a time and feeling a great deal of accomplishment. Some look for contests or open calls for submissions and can write inspired by the given topic. Maybe it’s something you notice on the ground, the funny title of a book, or a childhood memory. Pinpoint your inspirations and gather them up.

3.  Space Oh this is one that’s a bee in my bonnet. The beautiful red cabin above is my oasis, nestled in a meadow of wildflowers, just at the edge of the woodland, a bit disheveled..OK…there are buckets all around to catch the drips when it rains…it is my land of sweet creative repose. My mind unwinds into dazzling sentences and the prose created while there, though lightly written, is unnoticeably heavy in deeper meanings and rich detail.  Or, maybe that’s my dream sequence and this is a photo from Lady Grace (click on “red cabin” to see more of her fabulousness) that she let me borrow and drool over as I patter away on my Chromebook, from the love-seat, in my family room, with an obese Golden Retriever hogging more than his share! Yes, space is my bugaboo.  Right now some of my best writing is done on a legal pad balanced on my knee under the steering wheel as I’m headed down the highway.

A little hint here…if you’re ever behind a grey Volvo on I-65, give it room!

4.  Support I could have easily called this community, feedback or cheerleaders. Don’t cringe. I know most of us who write are rather solitary by nature. We were the kids in the family who could entertain ourselves. But let me say this–Do not try to write in a vacuum! I know it sounds like you’ll have your ideas stolen and dreams quashed, but sidestep your shyness/anxiety/fear and join some sort of group to support you as you write! It could be as simple as a local genealogy club, a critique group, or a class series on creative writing. The blogging community is a great place to look for help too. For women (sorry guys) there’s a great group I belong to called The Story Circle Network. Having fellow writers (not relatives) critique your work and help you along the way is the best thing you will ever do as a writer. Doesn’t matter what your talent or experience level is…do it!

5.  Organization and Techno Savvy  It’s just a fact of our modern lives that we are busy, connected, constantly interrupted and short on time. To be serious about writing, you have to value the writing you do. I keep print outs of all of my submitted pieces, including blog posts and guest posts I do in binders separated by what they are. Some are Chapters for my book, some are short stories and essays, I even occasionally pop out an accidental poem. I keep a note on the printed page of where they are out for review, what the status is, and what my publication rights are, and what I was paid for it/ when it was rejected.  I have a big wall calendar too where I note submission deadlines and when mine was sent and how (electronic or mailed). But most importantly, everything I write gets saved in multiple ways. I copy all the docs onto Word, Google Docs, Google Drive, Drop Box, WordPress, and onto flash drives, and of course slip a hard copy into my handy dandy 3 ring binders.

6.  Accountability  Did I hear you mumble “Ouch!”? This is perhaps the biggest one of all…accountability. There’s an old saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” and I would add that the desk drawer is loaded with the empty pages we’ve never begun writing on! Writing can be quite self directed and introverted, and because of that…easily neglected. You must make it a priority in your day (you would be amazed at what you can get done in just 10 minutes with a kitchen timer ticking at you!). Accountability is also, across the board, mandatory in every one of the other 5 needs we’ve listed. You must set goals, share them with others, and be responsible for achieving them. Otherwise, your family history, your great american novel, your spy thriller, or your weight loss cook book will just pave the road…while you burn your favorite candle, sharpen those black pencils, and listen to Pandora.

Without “Accountability” I would loll around in my red cottage moving rain buckets and thinking about redecorating instead of tackling the book I’ve been assigned to review, the approaching column deadline, or the blog post I should care about. Let’s look at that cabin again ~ sigh…0171

Yep, I’m accountable to getting that too!

 

 

 

For the Love of What I’ll Never Have

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The most beautiful face in the world is the one I can only recognize across time

The most beautiful face in the world is the one I can only recognize across time

Today’s work is about what we have lost.  It’s a wish list of sorts, or maybe put another way, its a love letter to the ones we probably can’t have.  I don’t use real names in my posts to protect family privacy etc.  This photo is of my Grandmother a few generations back who immigrated from a small country in the Balkans. I refer to her in my blog posts as Grandma Urbanski.  I gave her this name because she lived and worked in the city (thus the Urban part of the name) and the” ski “just makes sense with the other surnames in the area.

I count her as one of my Lost because unfortunately, there is almost nothing of her left behind. Oh, I will never give up searching for more scraps of Grandma U, but the chances of finding anything more than her grave marker or this photo from her Naturalization Papers are pretty dim.

I am not ungrateful, having this photo alone is so very meaningful to me.  But, I wish that I could also see the face of her husband, of their 8 kids when they were young, or even another one of her.  The saddest part of this is that the artifacts of her life were not blown away in a storm or great calamity.

Her own children destroyed the entire contents of the house after Grandma and Grandpa Urbanski died.  Not out of dislike for them, but even worse it seems, out of the shame of them.

I know that they came here on a steamer ship, likely in the underbelly as 2nd or 3rd class passengers. They were young and newly married. How brave, adventurous and hopeful they must have been! They spoke no English and upon arrival and through the ends of their days they persisted in their “Old Country” ways.

What I would have found marvelous and fascinating about them, their own “first generation born here” children found insufferably humiliating.

These foreign born, huddled-masses parents who worked ceaselessly until the day they dropped were a complete embarrassment to their own children~the very ones they were working so hard for. I guess I would be angry at that generation of ungrateful offspring if it weren’t such a commonality across the board with all the “new Americans” and their children around that time.

Take some time today and write about who and what you feel is lost to your family.  Maybe it’s a story like mine. Maybe it is about the native tongue that you regret never learning. Perhaps you miss a certain food and don’t have any trace of the recipe. Or maybe you just miss your own Grandparents. Mine were all incredible and simply larger than life to me when I was a child. I was fortunate enough to know one of my Grandmothers, Gramcracker, well into my adulthood.  What an experience! To know her as a Grandma, and then, as an adult to know her heart as a woman.

I wish to know my lost Grandma “Urbanski” as well. I think she’s the one I’ll never give up on <3

 

 

 

Schmoozing and Boozing

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My, my…how fancy and devilish!

Schmoozing and Boozing

the Night Club my Grandparents owned

‘John Dillinger Drinks Here’ could be the subtitle on this old business card.  My Grandparents owned this bar, reportedly frequented by gangster John and his band of guys and their ‘Molls’ who were “Wild and Woolly and Full of Fleas.”


So who lives in your family tree?  Most of us don’t really have a famous relative, but you can bet that every branch has had a little brush with fame or scandalous rogues somewhere along the line! Think about that “one” story always itching to be retold. You know, the one that gets passed around the Thanksgiving Dinner table each year. Once the heavy carbohydrates and Turkey-tranquility begin to take effect, the stage is set for storytelling time. Waistbands get loosened, dessert is served with a second (or 5th) glass of wine. Guards are lowered and tongues start wagging…Have your pencil sharpened and in ready position!

 The movie star Frances Farmer used to come into my Aunt’s dry cleaning store. Imagine that–right here in the heartland of farm crops and auto racing. I wrote a bit about how Aunt Mitz did Movie Star cleaning and pressing in another post written about my Uncle Joe. Frances had her own whale of a tale in general. If you aren’t familiar with what this poor woman suffered in the wake of Hollywood glitz, read her biography. It’ll rival most nightmares Tinsel-Town could ever conjure.

And if it be nightmares you seek~ are there any connections between your family and a famous crime…

…or victim

or perpetrator…

…or unsolved “doing”

that went on near enough to your world giving you all the heebie-jeebies?

 A lot of my dad’s family was out working the carnival and county fair circuit with Sylvia Liken’s parents the summer the teen was brutally tortured to death by a woman they paid to watch over their daughter while they were working out-of-state.  Oh, and the real “kicker” if you aren’t familiar with the sad, sick tale was that Sylvia’s “caretaker” Gertrude also included  a bunch of the neighborhood kids in the crime. Gertrude invited them in to practice judo moves, do cigarette branding and urinate on the poor girl.

Moving Along…

Mr Penney (as in J. C. himself) once stepped in during a busy lunch time shopping rush and helped my aunt ring up customers.  When Steve McQueen was a kid he lived with his mom and grandparents around the corner from some of my kin.  And yes, John Dillinger hung out at and loved Granny Kate’s hot stew from her Wooden Shoe Tavern.

Abraham Lincoln and my Great Uncle Jimmy were law partners, or at least classmates in “lawyering school.”  Well, that’s how the story went for years until I started doing some math and blew that tall tale all the way to China. The truth can be a bitter, bitter pill for some. And of course, my husband’s birth-brood (along with every other old South family) is related to Daniel Boone AND Davy Crockett :)

Then there are the ones I haven’t chased down yet–Like our familial claim to Warwick Castle. Or the one about some sort of half Royal love child with Franz Josef Hapsburg, or maybe it was his heir Franz Ferdinand, you know, the guy with the whole Sarajevo/1st shot fired in WWI thing.

Why not shake up your Family Tree with a little something spicy and exciting? Take some time this week to recall the lore and to tell about the famous and the famous near-by. Those who you may claim as your own or those who may be mingled-in-with your ancestors can be a very juicy spit of a story. Big connection, made up, misinformed or one heck of a stretch, all of them are a thread in the tapestry of our own family story

 Maybe someone should write that down…

 

 

 

Dreaming I’m Naked at School (again)!

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1557540_282521591894983_1026699579_nThis dream that I’m naked at school is one that has haunted me off and on for years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago, I experienced one of those “nightmare come true” type of things.  Like everyone, I have a recurrent dream about high school.  I am in the halls, between classes, and utterly lost.  I’m not sure where I am supposed to be, which class is next, or what books I need to wedge out of my locker.  In fact, I don’t even remember which locker is mine.  When my favorite teacher Mrs Goodwin suddenly appears, I feel a bit of relief.  I credit her with herding me through the hallways when I was physically there, I know I can count on her in a dream.

BJ Goodwin was a feisty little women.  She kept a pair of old lady spectacles perched on the tip of her nose. If displeased, a spontaneous twitch would make the reading glasses hop. This in turn caused the dangling chain to flash like an angry snake’s warning.  Kids at my school were sure she was older than God Himself and had schooled him on the whole “wrath” thing.

Her knowledge of grammar and punctuation was above reproach.  After just one semester in her writing mechanics class, if she didn’t fail you for fun, one could fight to the death, certain of victory, over the uses of there, they’re and their respectively. Good old Mrs. Goodwin was the stern mistress of the Language Arts wing.  I concurrently adored her and feared her.

Meanwhile in my reliable dream:  I notice I’m missing more than my schedule, I’ve forgotten my clothes too.  Yeh, that’s right~ Mom is naked in the school hallway!

That’s where I usually wake up gasping in panic.  Phew! Just a dream~I check the clock to tether myself to reality and then I roll over and call it a night…until the next time

On June 23rd my nakedness nightmare crossed lines and came fully into the realm of the real world.   My silly-naughty-mess-method writing style was inadvertently put on display right here in the (virtual) school hallway.  It was as mortifying as any episodic public nakedness could be.  Both me and the oft-dreamt-of Mrs Goodwin were rightfully appalled.

I had a deadline...A couple of months ago I signed up for a tantalizing peer review workshop for new manuscripts. When I received notice that the session was full and that I would be wait-listed, frankly I just forgot about it.  I promptly put my fledgling novel aside and went on with Mom-life as usual.  On Sunday, three days before the beginnig of class I was notified that a seat had become open.  Along with my $135 fee, all I had to send in was the first 10,000 words of my work. Oh Crap.

With no time to waste, I was flying on the keyboard.  When I say flying, I mean that I was using barely coherent language, purely phonetic spelling and shards of sentences.Sequences of letters encrypted in a code only decipherable by me and fully lacking any graces of the English language…that’s the track I was on.  The ideas in the story were coming faster than the words could land onto the screen.  I had to get 10,000 spectacular words out of my head and into a readable format to be able to participate in the coveted workshop. And messy as it was, it was at least working until~

A nagging question and answer vignette with Mrs G began playing in my head:

Me:  Ugh~ why do you assign us  homework if you aren’t having a test? Why do I have to do all of this writing, no one is ever going to see it? What difference does a gerund make in my life? …and on and on

Mrs G: Because it’s for your own good…If you slack off and fall short of your potential  you’re only cheating yourself…  Homework isn’t for me, it’s for you…I may be able to push you to greatness but, I am sure as hell not willing to drag you there!

Yes, she would say stuff like this, she cussed in class.  Scandalous and titillating! This was, after all, in 1970’s rural Indiana…we didn’t have HBO yet.  Mrs Goodwin is still roaming about in my head to this day. I recall the slavish due diligence she demanded for a simple five paragraph essay…outline, topic sentence, thesis sentence and on and on.  Her rants were epic and known far and wide across the Language Arts hallway of our school.  Most famously she used to lecture us: Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell em, Tell ‘em, and THEN tell ‘em what you told ‘em…  Just thinking about those classroom bouts of deconstruction and cadence unnerves and exhausts me still.

And grading scale?  Well, if you were lucky, she didn’t like you.  If she didn’t like you, she deemed you unworthy of her time and countenance  (recall that she was old like Moses).  So, that meant that you could fly under the radar with nice solid papers written to mirror the rubric.  However, if she liked you…Katy bar the door!…turning in a paper was like leaning headlong into a shark tank.  My papers came back with grades like C- and D+ on generous days.   She decorated each assignment with red pen remarks like “pedestrian effort” or “the library has a thesaurus to lend.

In all fairness though, the grades she entered onto my report card and transcript were all A’s.

You see, Mrs Goodwin operated on two grading scales. There was the one for assigned classwork and the one that she set for individual ability.  She liked to mess with your head if she saw promise in your writing.  She loved my writing and abhorred my sloth-y attitude so it went pretty ugly most days in class.

The perfectionism of BJ Goodwin stayed with me for years.  My school essays were spot-on “A” winners every time. Often those essays got me in to places that my GPA wouldn’t have allowed. However, to sit down and try to write as I do today was unthinkable agony. Family stories have too many captions and side-notes to fit the formula for five perfect paragraphs.  So, for the longest time, I found the task so overwhelming that I would spend weeks grinding away at a single story to share on a special occasion, or give up without really starting.

Enter: NaNoWriMo

A few years ago, I took a leap of faith and tried my hand at the November writers’ ritual. In order to stay up to speed with the rigors of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) I had to let go of writing so “rigidly.” The best description I have for the method I slid into is that it’s sort of like writing War and Peace during a slow motion train wreck. It’s really simplistic and frankly a lot of fun.

I just write.

The first time I wrote “all crazy” like this, I understood how Brooke Shields felt in her Calvin Kleins….wow!  I do no punctuation, no tense checking, and pay no mind to pesky stuff like spell check flags.  I just type or scribble. I often catch myself figuratively talking Mrs Goodwin off of the ledge… I’m sure she would find the whole concept regressive and obscene.

The initial work I produce isn’t even remotely well written.  It feels raw and naughty! My only goal is to move the general idea of out of my head and onto the tablet (old school or electronic…I use both equally). Once one of these creative episodes I call “tantrums” has passed, I review the words I have gathered. I salvage a train of thought.  Most of the time it works out. Sometimes, even I have no idea where I was headed.

Mom note: Could this explain those ” I’m Naked at School” dreams?   Hmmm…

Personally my biggest writing challenge is keeping the subject train on the tracks. With my gnat-like attention span I can flit off into the sunset at any moment. So this “wilding” style of rough copy writing I have come to habituate works really well for me. What does happen consistently from this messy-writing thing I’ve adopted is this~ I end up with an edited piece that I can label as a story.  I also generally net at least one or two more “side stories” that can be brainstormed and fleshed out as well. Mostly I think it works out for me because I know nobody is looking.

Which rounds the corner to the point that I started out with…the “June 23rd incident of shame”

And so it happened that late last month while my fingers were having a happy party on the laptop– a slip occurred. I was really excited and on a roll.  I just knew I could get my pages wrapped up and polished before the Wednesday class.   After hours of writing, I decided I would have one last go at a character sketch before bed.  I opened the trusty Chromebook, took a deep breath, arranged the tails of my robe “just so” and went at it.

Silly, naughty, messy me… I didn’t notice that I had opened WordPress, not Google Docs.  With one fatal keystroke I inboxed a few hundred blog subscribers one of the most disjointed, random, ungroomed paragraphs ever seen by mankind.  I went to bed and waited for Mrs Goodwin to rise up from her grave and slap me with a big red F-

sigh…

life goes on

Here’s an excerpt from the whole mess (before I fixed it for my workshop of course):

So othat daywhen Annie Thomlinson pronounced my weiner dog Brut too fat, and further announced that for this and many other insufferable transgressions made by me by mere virtue of myexistence, all now valid reasons, that she could nolonger be my friend, the rest of the world went about their busiiness. The whole world, Inncluding Cindy , Sandy and for the most.part Zelda too.

And my belated apologies to those who were subjected to it.  By the time it got to peer review, it was kinda stellar.  If you found it in your inbox, sorry, my bad, it was a little shy of coherent.

So how about you?  What are your writing secrets?  Do you hold back by self-imposed perfection (I call that my inner Mrs G) or do you run loose and free and pick up the pieces later (my silly naughty mess method).  Do you simmer ideas and words somewhere in between?  Does your method serve you well…or do you need to try something new and daring? Most importantly …are you getting the stories of your loved ones and predecessors written down?

Come stand naked in the school hallway with Mom…Tell me ~what’s YOUR secret for getting the words onto the page?

My Grandpa from the Center of the World or Maybe Just Europe

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It just doesn’t get much more exciting or exotic than this!wpid-img_20140803_122550.jpg

Finally, after years, and I do mean YEARS of poking, searching and poodling around–I finally found my Weisz relatives on the other side of the pond!  Yeah Baby!  And they come from…where else?…the proclaimed Geographical Center of Europe!

Yes, we’re talking Kunesov (or Blaufuss) Slovakia.  Although if that’s all I had to go on during my exhausting search, this whole “middle of the world thing,” I could also have searched for them in about a dozen other places with similar central claims.  Yes, per Wikipedia and a few other sources I have consulted, there are roughly 15  places with claim to being the center of the world and/or the center of Europe geographically. There’s also a “Center of the World” town in the state of Ohio.  But my bunch came from a small gold-mining region of Slovakia, where there isn’t much more than a Church plunked on a plot in the middle of nowhere. Kunesov is said to be the place where both the Black and the Baltic Sea basins rise up to form the hill.  Said hill, or “crest” is responsible for officially dividing the entire continent!  That makes Kunesov rather like an out-y-bellybutton for all of Europe. The church was built in the 14th century and is named for St John the Baptist. Poor St John is also famous for his point of “division” in another way. The lonesome little building is adorned with white stone walls and a green onion dome silently adding a touch of East meets West.
Oddly, GGGrand-Papa is sporting a commonly Jewish surname while being christened there at St John’s Roman Catholic Church.

256px-Stred_EurópyI mention the surname twist, not only because it adds to what I consider the crazy ironic stew that I am made of, but also because of the implications.  Health implications.  In researching the spelling of this name (translated it means “White”) I find that it was a common surname given to Ashkenazim Jews who were fair haired and fair complected (ala “Mom”).  Health-wise, the BRCA genes which give one a high predisposition to breast cancers and some other cancers are commonly found in people who have an Ashkenazim Jewish linked heritage.  I have always said there was no way I would have that gene, my family is all Catholic or Protestant.  Looks like I was pretty much wrong, so maybe yes there was a reason I had breast cancer after all!

Nobody get sappy, I’m fine and dandy now…”only the Good die young…” the rest of us stick around forever tormenting out heirs ;)

  Well how’s about them apples? So, the thrill of finally pinning down Grandpa White was quickly tossed to the side.  Now I am obsessed with finding HIS parentage. I can’t wait to see why a nice Jewish boy (at some point in the history of “us”) jumped sides and became a nice Catholic boy (from there continuing the history of “us”).  I really cannot imagine that his parents were amused!  I’m going to bet that “her” parents were equally “un-jubilant” over the whole pairing.

 Juicy!  Can’t wait to find that one!

So, poor GGGrand-Papa White and his lovely wife Marija from Kunesov, Slovakia have been celebrated briefly (a quick Happy Dance around my ironically “Mid-West” family room) and I am on to “Next.

Isn’t that always the way though?  As soon as one is found and solved, the door to another volume of questions cracks open…and we the Family History Hounds are Off!  Sniffing out the next empty lines on the chart, anxious to find the next fascinating story to write.

Here’s a photo from the Slovakian Tourist Ministry of the official plaque and monument in case you care to think this center of Europe claim isn’t legit (what does Wikipedia know anyway?)SAMSUNG

So how about you? Have you ever bumped into a surprise like this one?  Are any of your relatives from somewhere as exciting as the Center of the Civilized World? Dish it up and share the story please!

You can take your time if you would like…I’m off to the backyard to erect a monument stating that my driveway is the official Center of the Universe :)

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