Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Happy Valentine’s Day


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:

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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


Wilder Wednesday a Day Early

Because this year February 7 is on a Tuesday.


This is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the ever-popular Little House on the Prairie books. There are celebrations planned at libraries across the country, and of course at her home sites.


Laura was born on this day in 1867 outside of Pepin, Wisconsin to Charles and Caroline Ingalls. She was just a wee thing, knee-high to a grasshopper, when the family moved to “Indian Territory” (that’s Kansas to us). Many moves followed, until she finally settled with her husband in Mansfield, MO.


We in the twenty-first century often romanticize the time that Laura lived in. Her books paint pictures of a family always pulling together, poor in money but rich in other ways, always able to make do and find joy in simple things. It’s hard not to long for such simplicity in our harried, modern times.


But they worked hard. Really hard. Up at the crack of dawn, chopping wood and hauling water; growing every vegetable your family ate; preserving all that wasn’t eaten fresh; caring for the animals that provided dairy and protein – and then butchering them and preserving all the meat and making soap and candles; making three meals a day entirely from scratch, including every slice of bread; sewing all clothes, curtains, and quilts by hand; washing all of that by scrubbing each item, bit by bit, over a rub board; trying to keep clean an unsealed home. Now add in caring for and educating your children.


I lived among some old-order Amish & Mennonites once upon a time, and experienced the life. I can do all the above except the actual butchering (yep, even making soap, rubbing laundry, and home-educating. Oh, but my home was sealed.) I actually enjoy doing all that, but that’s because my livelihood never depended on it, as Laura’s did. If I didn’t preserve enough food to last through the winter, we just went to the store. She didn’t have that luxury.


I recently read The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Sharon McCartney. It’s a book of poetry in which each poem is the voice of a different character or item from the Little House books. Most of the pieces bring together the simplicity and the hardships of pioneer life to contemplate life, and McCartney is very effective at this. For example, “Covered Wagon” begins remembering the weeks on the trail, “singing my wheel song in the grasses…companionship, something to do, inhabitants all around…” but now has “Dust in my axles, fractures in my spokes, the beginning of a breakdown.” If you can’t relate to that at all, you’re still young.


One of my favorite poems was Ma’s Green Delaine Dress:


The delaine was kept wrapped in paper and laid away. (Little House in the Big Woods)


The sugaring-off, liberated from the trunk,
how I whirled and twirled, sweat-gilded,
skirt flirting insatiably, whalebone stays
taut with glee. One sweet odyssey of display,
a chance to be worn, to adorn, after such
loneliness, confinement, wrapped in stiff paper.

Why don’t we dance every night? Flounced
and ruffled, trimmed with ribbon, fashioned
for pleasure. What makes her pack me away?
Misguided notion that joy must be rationed.

In darkness, fear unfolds. A finite future—
she can’t see my seams are weakening, how
my tucks and gathers fray. Styles change.
Before she knows it, I’ll be passé, fodder
for the dressmaker’s scissors, revamped—
or worse, remade into curtains, an apron,
common workaday pieces, a rag
to wipe greasy lips on.


Let’s take the lesson of the green delaine to heart. Celebrate life. Every day.

And today, you might want to add to your celebrations a whisper of birthday remembrance for Laura Ingalls Wilder, a woman who has inspired generations.










A Very Bad Poem for a Very Good Cause

Today is World Cancer Day, a day to educate people about the disease; teach them how they can lower their own risk; explain ways to provide care and support to loved ones who contract the disease; and press governments and entities in positions of power to take action.


It’s hard to find anyone who hasn’t been affected by cancer, directly or indirectly. In my own family, my grandfather, two grandmothers, mother, and several aunts/uncles have or are battling the disease. I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinomas of the cervix a little over a decade ago.

Something unexpected happened when people found out about it. Although I had many great friends who supported me wholeheartedly, others were judgmental. Cervical cancer, after all, is most often spread by sex. All of a sudden, I was viewed as a loose woman – or at the very least, one with a sordid past, to be viewed askance.

At that time, I was not a practicing writer. And I have never been a poet, at all, ever. But the way cervical cancer victims are often treated surprised me so much that I wrote the following down one evening.

Scarlet Letter

It used to be
Cancer was a dirty word,
A punishment.
Spread by
Some unknown sin,
It was fairly reaped.
Other afflictions
Told of familiar sins,
Judgement clearly due.

Aids for the homo,
STDs for the straight,
a blazing, scarlet A.
Rape or consent
Or innocent,
It’s all the same to some.
You’re suffering’s the price
Only the guilty would pay—
Or so they say.
Cancer’s not a dirty word
Anymore —
Saints can get it too.
But don’t get one
That can come from sex
Even if yours did not.
Today that letter
May be invisible
But they see it just the same.


fight-cancerI’m sharing it today not because it’s any good (I know it’s horrible – typing it out just now made me wince several times) but because I want to do my part to spread awareness and support.

The fact is that about 75% of all unvaccinated adults – even those who have had only one sex partner – get an HPV virus at some point. The virus can be spread by skin-to-skin contact. There are several strains of the virus; not all of them cause cervical cancer. And, not all cervical cancer begins with HPV.

If you know anyone with cancer – ANY form of cancer – they need and deserve support, not judgment. If you’re unsure how to do that, check out,,, or

What Am I Celebrating Today?

Are you gullible? Or skeptical? A freethinker or a conformist?

Each of these labels is often considered an insult. If you say to someone, “You sure are — (insert any of above),” you’ll most likely get a denial in return. That’s because those characterizations, and others like them, are boxes that none of us fit into all the time.

However, I think we all fit each of them at times. I know that’s true for me. There are some people that I will believe anything from, and others of whom I feel the need to verify their every word. Sometimes I think conventional wisdom has it right; other times I have to figure things out on my own. Still, I mostly consider myself a freethinker.

That surprises some people because the term “freethinker” has taken on a connotation beyond its definition; some people equate it strictly with die-hard atheist. That’s not accurate, though.

Merriam-Webster defines freethinker as “a person who thinks freely or independently : one who forms opinions on the basis of reason independently of authority : one who rejects or is skeptical of religious dogma.”

 Or as Bertrand Russell said, “What makes a freethinker is not his beliefs but the way in which he holds them. If he holds them because his elders told him they were true when he was young, or if he holds them because if he did not he would be unhappy, his thought is not free; but if he holds them because, after careful thought he finds a balance of evidence in their favour, then his thought is free, however odd his conclusions may seem.”

 I mostly stay out of religion and politics on this blog, so many of you are probably not aware that I was raised in a cult. It took some serious free thinking to disentangle myself from it. That experience taught me to keep an open mind, to listen to everyone, uncensored, and weigh what they say against the evidence. And so I say today, “Happy Freethinkers Day!”

 January 29 was chosen for this holiday as it is the birthday of one of the most influential freethinkers in history: Thomas Paine. Paine was a Deist with strong opinions on the role of government. His persuasive arguments in his booklet Common Sense heavily influenced the American Revolution, and his The Rights of Man did the same in France. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin drew on Paine’s philosophy when crafting the Declaration of Independence. Paine was also one of the first to advocate strongly for the abolition of slavery and equal human rights for all people.

 How does one celebrate Freethinkers Day? By “challenging arbitrary authority, questioning the status quo, and constructing logical and reasonable arguments against engrained behavior.” In other words, think about something you do simply because that’s the way you were taught and you’ve always done it that way, and see if you can figure a better way. Or better yet, do the same thing with an opinion or belief that you hold.

 I’m going to try to figure out a way to better way to live in harmony with my natural circadian rhythm yet still be able to function in society’s arbitrary parameters. My sleep-wake cycle is not meant to be in sync with an 10-11pm to 6-7am night and 8am to 5pm workday; but those are the hours we are all expected to keep.

 I’m also going to try to find more common ground with those on the “other side” of the political aisle. We all have to live in this country; let’s find ways to work together to achieve our shared desires of peace and prosperity for all. (At least, I hope we all share those desires.)

To conclude, here are a few Thomas Paine quotes:

“Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.”

“The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”

“The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.”

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

 “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

 And here three more quotes about using our own minds from other freethinkers:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” ~Albert Einstein

“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” ~Gen. George S. Patton

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” ~Henry Ford

Welcome to 2017!

Hope you were able to welcome in the new year in the way you wanted.

We had a nice walk just before midnight on the eve, and a restful day today.

 Are you a resolutions person? There was a time I did that, but not so much anymore. These days, it’s more about evaluation of the past year and using that to set goals for the new one. I have quite a bit on my plate this year, so in an attempt to be more organized I created a planner. Hopefully it will keep me on track.

Untitled- 4.jpg

I made one for each of the girls, too,


and even put one (more generic – room for folks to put their own goals, schedules, etc. instead of mine) on Amazon, just in case anyone else needs a good planner for 2017.


 Among my goals this year is one to be more regular posting on this blog. You’ve heard that before, and it’s possible that this year will be no better. But I put it in my planner, so maybe there’s hope. I’ve even listed a topic for each week this month. Now if only all the other things don’t take more time than I’ve alotted…

 Each month has specific things to focus on. For January: prepare and deliver a presentation I was invited to do for the National Sojourners, a couple of editing jobs, and get the tax package ready for the CPA – plus a couple of personal items.

 May your new year be full of goals reached and dreams fulfilled.

On Propaganda

This is a repost from a couple of years ago, but it still seems relevant.

Is propaganda ever acceptable? I’ve been thinking about this the past several days, as I prepared a presentation I was asked to give for Veteran’s Day.

The word “propaganda” originated in the Catholic Church with a positive meaning. In 1622, Pope Gregory XV appointed a committee of cardinals to organize and oversee a system of establishing missions to “propagate the faith” to the heathen. The committee was called the propaganda. Eventually, the word came to mean the spreading of a message, instead of the spreaders themselves. Later still, the word began to have a negative connotation of spreading false information. 

The presentation I gave was about General Douglas MacArthur and his activities in Japan. The Japanese people, for the most part, hold the General in high esteem for his accomplishments there. He did get a lot done, especially considering that he was working in a country American had just atom-bombed as an enemy. But it’s one thing to change systems (he rebuilt infrastructure, restored the economy, abolished monopolies, democratized the government, reassigned land…) and another to change hearts and attitudes. General MacArthur did both. He used written materials to accomplish the latter.


The Allied Occupation, under the direction of MacArthur, censored all published material in Japan. They decided what could and could not be printed. All books that made the cut portrayed the idealized American way of life. The first book put out under the Occupation was The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. (Why, yes, I do tie everything in to LIW. Why do you ask?) The rest of her books followed, along with such titles as Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, the Nancy Drew mystery stories, and Gone with the Wind. The Little House books were most popular.

There were boys’ and men’s and women’s books, too, but most were girls’ books. Why? Because “the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” MacArthur knew getting the young women who would be mothers of the next generation on his side was key in establishing a friendship between Japan and the U.S. He was right, and it worked. The outcome was positive, helping establish peace and friendship where enmity had existed. Did the end justify the means?

My old Webster’s Dictionary defines propaganda as “information, especially when biased in nature, used to promote a particular cause, and especially a political or religious view.” Logic informs us that any information used to promote a particular cause is by definition biased in nature, whether the cause is good or bad, and whether the information is true or false. So really, anytime we speak positively about something we like, or negatively about something we don’t, we are spreading propaganda. (Kinda makes me stop and think about what I’ve been spreading…)

So is it ever acceptable? My personal opinion is that true information is always acceptable. But that means the whole truth – not just the cherry-picked good parts we like. And since people don’t always agree on what’s true, everyone should be able to make up their own minds, from all available information. So I don’t have an issue with MacArthur distributing books promoting American values. The part that bothers me is the censoring of any other materials. What do you think? Did the end justify the means, or not?


Announcing the release of my newest book, Thanksgiving Joy: A Cornucopia of Stories, Songs, Poems, Recipes, and Traditions.

 It contains everything you need to create a memorable holiday, whether you are hosting for the first time or are a seasoned pro looking for a few fresh ideas.


·       Classic Thanksgiving recipes – along with a few new ones – to prepare a feast appropriate for the day

·       Blessings from many cultures

·       Music, readings, and activities to enhance the festivity

·       A history of the holiday, including differing perspectives of the Puritans and the Native Americans

·       Customs from around the world to inspire a celebration that reflects your own personal style

 Get a head start on your Thanksgiving preparations with Thanksgiving Joy, for less stress and more joy in your holiday!