On Halloweeen

Many historians accept that Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween), which marked the beginning of winter and their new year.

The Celts were an agrarian people, so preparation for the cold, dark season began weeks in advance. Homes and barns were cleaned and spoiled or unnecessary items disposed of to make room for the incoming harvest. The crops were brought in and stored. As winter drew closer, livestock was moved to more sheltered pastures or into newly-cleaned barns. If a person had more stock than feed for them, some were slaughtered for food. The theme was much like our new year: out with the old and in with the new, planning ahead and starting anew. These preparations culminated in the Samhain festival.

One aspect of Samhain was the Celtic belief that the souls of those who died during the year traveled to the “otherworld” on this day. That being the case, this was the time of year a person would most likely encounter the spirits/ghosts of the dead. So a big part of the Samhain celebration was devoted to the departed.

Bonfires and torches were lit in their honor to help them find their way. People left out offerings of food and beverages for the same reason. Stories were told and songs sung in remembrance of the deceased, especially one’s ancestors. People would try to call loved ones to them for one last meeting before the departed were lost forever to the otherworld.

But, just as all living persons are not nice, neither were all spirit beings. The fires also helped keep away the evil ones. For added protection, people carved scary faces in turnips and other vegetables to frighten away unwanted spirits.

Samhain began its transformation into the modern Halloween in the year 601, when Pope Gregory I instructed missionaries that instead of trying to abolish local beliefs and customs they should dedicate them to Christ, and convert pagan holidays into Christian feasts, to ease the transition to Christianity.

Since paying respect to the dead was a main feature of Samhain, the feast of All Saints was assigned to November 1. This feast honored every Christian saint. The church later instituted All Souls Day on November 2 to honor all dead, not just Christian saints. Celtic peoples could now continue their commemoration of deceased ancestors and still be part of the new church.

That Church did not, however, change its creed. It still maintained theological superiority, so the leaders of the Celtic religious practices (Druids) were branded as devil worshipers, and the Celtic otherworld became hell. If any spirits were about, they must be demons.

Still the old beliefs and customs lived on; they just assumed a new guise. Trick-or-treating is a carryover from the belief that the dead are out and in need of food and drink. Costumes became popular later when people began dressing as these ghosts and engaging in tomfoolery, sometimes asking for a reward. Jack o’lanterns come from the vegetables carved to scare away unfriendly specters.

I love the idea of a day set aside to remember those we’ve lost, to tell our children about those who came before, to consider where we came from and thus who we are.

And I understand that we can all, especially children, overcome fears by facing them. Just as getting comfortable with monsters on Sesame Street can ease fears of monsters under the bed, if kids see a friend dressed as a witch or a big scary dog, maybe they won’t be quite so averse to dogs or fearful of witches in the broom closet.

But I don’t like the gory turn Halloween has taken. When I was a kid, you’d see costumes of ghosts and witches, but not things like bloody, gutty, stabbed murder victims. Why does society feel the need to get more disgusting and gross and violent? Lots of people aim for the highest shock value possible…and we get more comfortable with it.

My belief is that we shouldn’t become at ease with violence any more than we should get comfortable with a racist trying to get more shocking in his portrayals. So maybe I’ll pass out candy (or eat it!). Maybe I’ll watch a scary (not gory) movie or read a ghost story. Maybe I’ll even dress up. But not as anything that promotes violence.

What do you think about Halloween?

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Glassblowing Fun

I’m a researcher. I do a lot of research for everything I write. But sometimes that’s just not enough. That’s when I employ what some call immersion or method writing. I just call it getting a little real-life experience.

One of the primary characters in one of my current WIPs is a glassblower. I researched it until I know the process pretty well, but still wasn’t sure about what a glassblower experiences: How does melted glass smell? Does the crucible crackle like a campfire? How heavy is a blow pipe or a rod?

Enter my wonderful, supportive hubby, who got me a one-on-one training session with an experienced glassblower. (Did you know there’s actually a degree for glassblowing? I didn’t. But I can just imagine many parents’ reaction when their kid comes home from college and announces that they’ve changed their major to glassblowing.)

Katie C. took me step by step through the creation of a Christmas ornament. Then it was my turn! With Katie’s help I gathered melted glass from the furnace, turned it in the glory hole, added color, swirled the design, the blew it out. I had to leave it at the glassblowing shop in the annealing oven, but they mailed it to me when it was ready. Isn’t the ornament pretty?

It was a fun experience, and I now have a much better idea of what my character experiences while he’s creating his masterpiece.

Banned Books Week

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. ~Evelyn Beatrice Hall (This quote is often misattributed to either Patrick Henry or Voltaire. It was actually written by Hall in her biography of Voltaire and was not meant to be a direct quote of something he said but rather a statement that conveyed his viewpoint of someone’s critical review of his writing.)

We humans learn by exchanging ideas. From the time we were small tykes, being taught how to hold a fork or a pencil, or zip our coat, we’ve gained information from other sources. If we’re wise, we try to plumb the depths of wisdom of many sources, and compare and contrast these viewpoints, sounding them out against what we know to be true and right, to arrive at our own conclusions.

What would our life be like if this were not the case? Think about countries that do (or did) not enjoy freedom of speech. In North Korea, the populace thinks of their leader as some sort of benevolent god providing for their needs. They believe this because without free speech there is no one to tell them otherwise. Without freedom of speech, no one may compare the luxury their leader lives in to the scarcity his subjects must endure. The people are not free to look up information from other sources, because both the putting forth and the taking in of information is dictated, not free.

Why were slaves in America – and other places also – not allowed to learn to read or write? Because this would give them too much information, and thereby power. The way to keep people submissive and trod down is to deprive them of knowledge which might provide hope and lead to action.

There are a great many things I wish had never been said or written, things I believe have led to harm against the innocent. But who would I trust to decide what things should or should not be expressed? The government? How long would it be before another McCarthy found fault with my – or others’ – unwillingness to give obeisance to someone with whom I disagreed? Religious leaders? Which ones?

Who would want to allow anyone to express any thought, idea, or belief at all, including things they disagree with and embarrassing stories about them and facts that would undermine their authority? Well, our Founding Fathers for starters. They understood that that’s what is necessary for democracy and freedom and progress.

And that’s also why I oppose censorship and celebrate Banned Books Week. There are many “banned” (or challenged) books that I won’t read. But that’s my choice. There are also many I have read, including Little House on the Prairie, Huckleberry Finn, the Holy Bible, and the Quran. I’m sure I’ll read others in the future. And I’m sure I’ll learn something from them. I hope you will, too.

Music for Writing

Back on my old blogging site, one post mentioned some superb musicians we heard while on vacation: “We heard some beautiful music at a concert by the Four Strings Trio, very talented ladies from the Polish Academy of Music. They don’t have a website yet, unfortunately, but I’ll be watching for it so we can get their CD. They played classical, of course, but also popular tunes, jazz, Celtic, and more.”

Good news! They now have a Facebook page and TWO CDs!

It’s a rare privilege to hear them in the US, as they live and play in Poland; but for a few weeks each summer, they board the NCL Pearl and delight cruisers with their magnificent performances. Sure hope I get another chance to hear them live.

Until then, I love to listen to their CDs as I write. The right music has been scientifically proven to help creativity – and this is the right music. If you’re looking for something to give a little extra spark to your art, consider getting a 4-Strings Trio CD.
(I’m not paid to promote them or get a kickback or anything. I just truly love their music – and that it’s good for my writing.)

A Different Kind of Project

The projects I usually post about on this blog relate to writing, researching, editing, and the like. Today I’m going to talk about a different kind: a kitchen remodel.

Hubby does lots of kitchen remodels. Sometimes I help. We just completed a job that I consider one of our top 3 kitchen remodels. This might be partly due to the fact that I love old farmhouses, and the client we did this kitchen for wanted her kitchen to look like an old farm kitchen. To that end, she had a list of specifics:

  • Wood that is fresh and new but looks old and like it’s been refinished several times
  • Mixture of natural wood and paint
  • A big farm sink with cut in drain-board
  • Countertops that look like old cement counters
  • A section of very tall cabinets together with small recipe drawers, reminiscent of old Hoosier cabinets
  • Drawers – lots of them. Big ones.
  • Decorative woodwork
  • A big island with a small bar
  • Another bar toward the dining room
  • A plate rack
  • A cubby for cookbooks
  • Old-fashioned hardware

Here are a few photos. How do you think we did on fulfilling her list? (These pictures were taken with an old cell phone, in a hurry, while talking, so they’re not great. Still, you get the idea.) Is this a kitchen you’d want?

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Island with bar. Other side has large drawers and a cabinet.

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Big farm sink. Notice the drainboard on far side, and the cute little drawers.

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Love the old hardware. They really complete the look.

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Gray countertop, big drawers.

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Hubby created every piece.

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Dining bar. Cookbook cubby on far end.

 

The Past 5 Months

Whew! In the past 5 months, I’ve worked on several projects, a couple of which were big, long-term deals. But I’ve completed them! You can see one project, a book I edited and formatted, here.

There are more projects in front of me, of course, but I love the feeling of completing something and moving on to a new venture. A couple of writing projects of my own need my attention, also.

But it hasn’t been all work and no play. Another LauraPalooza has come and gone. Here are some highlights.

Before the conference, the Barnes & Noble of Springfield MO hosted a multi-author signing event.

 

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Photo by Sandra Hume

 

There were many interesting presentations. One was a panel led by Bill Anderson of people who knew the Wilders, sharing memories.

 

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Photo by Lauri Goforth

 

In another, Laura Keyes demonstrated how many steps a woman had to go through to get dressed.

 

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Photo by Lauri Goforth

 

My friend Marie and I shared a table at the author’s reception. There were quite a few new books relating to LIW released over the past year. The ones I got at the conference were Mary Ingalls: The College Years; Little: Novels; Nonfiction, Memoir, or Fiction? Dissecting the Works of Laura Ingalls Wilder; and a door-prize ARC of Caroline: Little House Revisited. (No review of that one yet, as it has to be published before reviews can be posted. I’m also working on reviews for other books I’ve read in the past year. If you want to make an author happy, review her/his books. I can’t tell you how much difference that makes. Like votes, every single one counts.)

One evening my tribe had a birthday dinner

 

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Photo by our waiter, shared by Sheri Dieter

 

then got famous donuts for dessert.

 

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Photo by Lauri Goforth

 

No one got a tattoo, but we had to check out the former bookstore that had hosted LIW.

 

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Photo by Laura Whitaker

 

The conference ended with a field trip to Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Farm

 

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Photo by Lauri Goforth

 

and LIW’s home in Mansfield.

 

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Photo by a friendly fellow conference attendee, shared by Sherry Dieter

 

Julie got to play the organ, but no photos are allowed inside so we couldn’t preserve the moment, unfortunately. Other music was provided on Pa’s fiddle – yes, the very one.

 

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Photo by Lauri Goforth

 

The LIWH&M is trying to return Rocky Ridge to as close to the Wilder’s time as possible. They have apple trees and chickens, and brought in a couple of Morgan horses for the day.

 

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Photo by Sherry Dieter

 

As the perfect ending to a perfect day, Patty left flowers at Laura & Almanzo’s gravesite.

 

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Photo by Lauri Goforth

 

When I got home, a Frustrating Thing happened. I was transferring my photos from my phone to my computer, and something happened in the middle. It all of a sudden said “not responding” and erased all my photos. So all the pictures and the video on this page were generously shared by my friends. Thanks, y’all – you’re the best!

Happy Valentine’s Day

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Isn’t this a pretty valentine? It’s a handmade “puzzle card” from 1790, on display at the Postal Museum in London. The verse around the edge reads,

My Dear the heart which you behold
Will break when you the same unfold
Even so my heart with love sick pain
Sure wounded is and breaks in twain

But that’s not all of it. You can see where the heart unfolds. Here is the unfolded paper:

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Before printing became economical, greeting cards were made by hand, like the one above. The ancient Egyptians sent affectionate notes on papyrus scrolls; the Germans made woodcarvings; and the Chinese sent New Year blessings on paper, which they invented. Sending greetings on Valentine’s Day came along later, probably in the fifteenth century.

You’ve probably heard the story that this holiday celebrates a priest named Valentine, who was imprisoned for secretly performing wedding ceremonies of Roman soldiers who had been forbidden that act because it took their mind away from their duty. It’s a nice legend, but purely fiction. Roman soldiers were never forbidden to marry, so there was no need of secret ceremonies.

There were actually at least 3 Saints named Valentine (or Valentinus), but the most well-known was a Christian who was said to have passed out hearts cut from parchment paper, with Bible verses about God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation written on them. He was arrested and interrogated, but instead of confessing, he tried to convert his interrogator. For this he was sentenced to death; but, he supposedly performed the miracle of healing the blind daughter of his jailer before his execution, which caused her and 44 others to convert to Christianity. Legend says he had fallen in love with this daughter, and wrote her a farewell letter signed “from your Valentine.”

The earliest known reference to Valentine’s Day comes from a poem written by Geoffrey Chaucer (he of Canterbury Tales fame). The poem, titled Parliament of Foules (Assembly of Birds), was written in 1382 to celebrate the one year anniversary of King Richard III’s engagement to Anne of Bohemia. It describes a dream in which a man is taken into the netherworld, where Nature has assembled all the birds and they are choosing mates. The pertinent lines read,

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
(For this was on St. Valentine’s Day
When every bird cometh there to choose his mate.)

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Parliament of Foules

It ends with a separate poem welcoming spring which contains these lines:

Saint Valentine, who art throned aloft –
Thus sing the small birds for your sake –
Welcome summer, with your sunshine soft,
That this winter’s tempest does off-shake.

Three other poets mentioned birds choosing mates on Valentine’s Day around the same time as Chaucer, so it was evidently an established tradition; but, there is no record of how this idea began, although some claim that it dates back to the early Roman spring festival of Lupercalia. It was long believed that birds mated for life. Ma Ingalls even told her daughters that, as Carrie later related in a letter of memories. Today, we know that while a feathered couple may bond for a season or longer, monogamous mating for life is pretty rare among them.

The earliest known narrative of a Valentine’s Day celebration is in Charter of the Court of Love issued by Charles VI of France. It describes feasting, music, dancing, poetry, and jousting; but the highlight was the “court” held by royal females, who heard “cases” of lovers’ disputes and ruled on them. There is no official record of such festivities, and it is believed that Charles’ wife, Queen Isabeau, may have created the Charter from her own imaginings.

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Court of Love festival

The earliest known surviving valentine is a farewell letter written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The original is written in French. Below is the best translation I could find:

I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine,
Since for me you were born too late,
And I for you was born too soon.
God forgives him who has estranged
Me from you for the whole year.

I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine.
Well might I have suspected
That such a destiny
Thus would happen this day,
How much love would command.

I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine.

Personally, I think the “sick of love” (which is also often translated “tired of love”) would be more accurate as “love-sick” or “sick with love.” That may not be the literal meaning of his words, but there are entire books written about how Charles’ works and words are so stylistically unique that they are virtually un-translatable. Love-sick is defined as “missing the person one loves, so much that one is unable to act normally,” and that fits the meaning of the poem more, I believe.

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Charles writing in the Tower of London

The earliest extant English-language valentines are two letters written in February,1744 by a young lady letting her suitor know that she was anxious to marry him. Margery Brews wrote to John Paston,

Ryght reverent and wurschypfull, and my ryght welebelovyd Voluntyn…

I said it was English, but not that it was modern English. 😉 She goes on to tell him that she’s unwell from anxiety over him, and asks him not to leave her but to come settle the matter with her father, ensuring him that she would still want him even if he had only half his livelihood, and that she would always be true to him.

His reply to her letter is not preserved, but we know he did answer because her next letter, which begins, as before, to Right worshipful and well-beloved Valentine, thanks him for it, and for his promise to “have a conclusion” with her father. She writes that she would be “the happiest creature alive” if it “comes to effect,” but will be “most sorry and full of heaviness” if not.

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She also tells him to be prepared that her father will not increase her dowry: “I let you plainly understand that my father will no more money part with in that behalf,” but if he “could be content with that good, and my poor person, I would be the merriest maiden on the ground.” She begs her “good, true, Valentine” to be satisfied so that she may be his “true lover and bedwoman during her life,” and signs it “by your Valentine, Margery.”

Pretty forward for a fifteenth-century lady. Luckily for Margery, her Valentine did have a conclusion with her father.

Here’s another handmade Valentine, from about 1800.

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The note around edge says,

My Dear the heart which you behold
Will break when you the same unfold
Even so my heart with love sick pain
Sure wounded is and breaks in twain.

Like the first one in this post, this card also unfolds, and a pinwheel gives more love:

My dearest dear and blest divine
I’ve pictured here thy heart and mine

But Cupid with his fatal dart
hath deeply wounded my poor heart

And has betwixt us set a cross
Which makes me lament my loss

But now I hope when this is gone
That our two hearts will join in one.

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But wait – there’s more! Unfold further, and the following is revealed.

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The center verse, around the circle and ring of flowers, says:

My heart is true to none but you
My heart I hope you will pursue
The roses and the lillies twine
Since you became my Valentine.

Round is my ring and has no end
So is my love unto my friend

Think of the work it took to make this token of affection!

Here is the oldest extant commercially-printed Valentine’s Day card.

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From 1797 London, the verse (see it along the edge of the garland?) reads,

Since on this ever Happy day
All Nature’s full of Love and Play
Yet harmless still if my design
‘Tis but to be your Valentine.

I’ll conclude with this unusual way to let one’s beloved know of one’s feelings – a handkerchief, with love verses printed onto it. It was made in France in 1793.

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