Masonic Monday: French Chefs

A friend sent me this link recently. It’s an article that looks into the claim that all the best French chefs are Freemasons, and they keep non-Masons from advancing in the culinary field. It’s a good example of some of the rumors that abound about Freemasons. As the author of the article discovers (spoiler!), although some top chefs in France and around the world are Masons, many others aren’t, and some won’t say either way. Whatever their status within or out of the fraternity, it has no bearing on their culinary skill or whether they support those attempting to rise in the industry.

There are other theories about Freemasons that are a bit more ambiguous. For example, history-inspired friends have told me that after reading Little Lodges, they began noticing how many founders – of cities or counties, states, and even our country – were Masons. Sometimes they wonder if that’s evidence that Freemasons want to take over the world.

picture1Picture6.pngIt’s true that many founders belonged to the fraternity, but in a way that’s like saying, “Most of the founders had brown hair, so brunette men must want to take over the world.” During the peak of Masonic membership, most men did belong to the Lodge. It was an opportunity for working-class men to become acquainted and socialize with those who were powerful and influential. So belonging to that ancient organization was almost as common as having brown hair (among men, that is – no women allowed).

But in another way, it’s not entirely coincidental that Masonry counted in its membership so many men who were also men of power and influence. The tenets of the fraternity focus on improving society as well as self – ideals that one wanting to establish schools and law and other necessities of civilization would naturally be interested in. Add in the fact that a man beset with scandals could have neither joined the Lodge or advanced his career, and it’s not surprising that movers and shakers were often Freemasons – whether they had brown hair or not.


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.

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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!


Flotsam and Jetsam

Flotsam and jetsam / Bobbing chaos in water / Life follows no plan

My first attempt at haiku. (The Japanese write it in one line, so I did, too.)  Okay, so I don’t write good poetry. The point is, life has not gone according to plan lately, and that’s hard for this control freak to deal with.


There is more research to do on the Little House project but I’m not able to take the trips required to do it right now, so it’s gotten temporarily shelved. My coauthor on the aquaculture book has the opposite problem: too many trips to work, so not much progress on that front. I’m still writing the novel, but I need more than one project to work on. I can work on any one thing only so long before my brain freezes, and the only way to thaw it is to bring something else to it.

So, I started a labor of love for the girls: a book of our family’s secret Thanksgiving recipes. It didn’t make sense to have only those, so I added recipes for all the dishes needed – and then some – for a big dinner. Then I decided to add our families’ traditions. But there were other things I’ve always wanted to do, but for one reason and another never did, and I included those, too, in case they ever wanted to start new traditions.

An ideal Thanksgiving would have activities throughout the day, and a good playlist going in the background. These are finding their way in as well, along with stories, songs, poems, and the real history of the holiday. It’s now a compendium on Thanksgiving, and I’ve decided to publish it. October 1 is the goal date.

The rest of life is rocking on. Spent yesterday with my girl, sewing. She has a few things she wants to make, so I gave her my machine (it’s as old as she is but a Singer – still works great) and we got her set up on a couple of things.



My machine isn’t quite THIS old.

We’ve gotten record amounts of rain for August, and cooler temperatures (though still hot:  80s to 90s). I’ve been glad, because it’s easier to think about Thanksgiving in that kind of weather than it is on a sunny, triple-digit day.


“Wash on Monday,” Laura said, so I did. That and a few errands today, and more Thanksgiving. I won’t “iron on Tuesday” because I’m not an ironing kind of person. God bless whoever invented wrinkle-resistant fabric. That will leave more time for writing. And that’s always something to be thankful for.

Boost Your Creativity

“Turn that off until your homework’s done!”

When I was a kid, no one’s mother let them do homework while watching TV or listening to music.

These days, earbuds are every student’s constant companion. When questioned about it, they quote research that shows music actually helps concentration, memory, and creative thinking.

What they sometimes fail to recognize is that those studies have shown that a certain type of music—instrumental—has those benefits. Songs with lyrics actually cause your brain to spend part of its effort deciphering them, even if you aren’t conscience of the words.


It doesn’t really matter what the genre is. Some people like classical; others like bluegrass. Maybe you like to listen to something that evokes a certain mood, or is from a particular time or place, depending on what you’re working on. As long as it doesn’t have lyrics, music can help you create.

You probably already know that daylight inspires more creative thinking than artificial light. Try sitting in front of a window if it’s too hot/wet/etc. to go outside. If you can’t get enough sunlight, at least try to get lightbulbs that are full spectrum to get as close to natural light as possible.

Did you also know that people are (statistically) more creative when they work in a slightly warm room than in a slightly cool one? It’s more than just comfort: it also has to do with the energy your body uses to warm itself, which is energy the brain no longer has to do its thing. If you’re going to create in a chilly environment, don’t forget a sweater, and maybe some hot tea/coffee/cocoa.

Double duty! That hot tea/coffee/cocoa can also help by providing some caffeine. We all know caffeine gets the synapses firing, resulting in faster, clearer thinking and creativity. An excuse for your favorite beverage and some chocolate!


Triple duty! Just as using energy to warm yourself takes away from brain energy, so does energy used digesting a heavy meal. Plus, there’s that whole tryptophan thing, making you too sleepy to produce high quality work after a big meal. On the other hand, hunger is distracting, too. So a snack, like the aforementioned chocolate and drink, works perfectly.

 It seems that for maximum creative potential, one should play instrumental music, at a moderate level, outside, on a warm day, after a light snack including something caffeinated.

For Writers: Thoughts on Reaching Your Audience

A writer on another blog asked me about my marketing approach for Little Lodges on the Prairie. I’ve never considered myself a marketer, but the fact is that if a writer doesn’t engage in the practice, no one will even know their book exists, much less read it. (Yes, I know I just used a singular “they.” It’s legal now.)

Little Lodges is a niche book. It appeals to fans of Little House on the Prairie, and/or people interested in Freemasonry. As such, it was easy to find people who might like to find out more about Laura Ingalls Wilder (LIW) and her family’s connection to that fraternity: look for fan groups of LIW, and Masonic Lodges & their affiliates.

Even without such a well-defined audience, some of the things I did to help people find Little Lodges could be successful for writers of any kind of book. One of the most productive things I did: have bookmarks printed (I used postcardsRus. They were very helpful and easy to work with, as well as reasonably-priced, and the bookmarks were a high quality.) I started by ordering 1000. Since then (June 2014, when my book was released) I’ve ordered about 20,000 more, in batches.

There are two things to consider about this technique: what to put on them, and where to distribute them. Mine have a slightly-rearranged cover on one side, and a short blurb on the other, with the book’s website on both sides. If I’d had a puff (the term for a favorable quote from a well-known person to put on the cover or other advertisement), I probably would have included that. At the time I was too shy to ask for any, and now I’m too busy writing to take time to redesign the bookmarks.


Where have all these bookmarks gone? The majority have been put in goodie bags of conferences. I happen to know that every state’s Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter have a yearly conference. I called/emailed the person in charge, and asked if they’d like bookmarks to put in their registration packages. Since these are Freemasonry-related events, attendees are likely interested in my subject matter. Book shows also often have goodie bags; and who goes to book shows? Readers! I’ve never had anyone turn down something free to include in their bags, and I did it even if it meant mailing 2000 bookmarks across the country.

The year my book came out happened to be the 40th anniversary of the TV show Little House on the Prairie, and there were events related to that around LIW home sites. I attended many of those events, and my husband just went around handing out bookmarks (I was at my assigned spot, with books for sale). After these events, as well as after conferences to which I sent bookmarks, I saw spikes in sales.


This was my first signing, after a presentation. I ran out of books! Brookings, SD in July 2014. (I love how everyone runs away when the camera comes out.)

Whatever your book is about, there’s bound to be some groups interested in that particular subject. Even if your book doesn’t have a specific subject per say, even genres have fan groups, so find the mystery book clubs or whatever around the state or country. Or research book festivals/shows, where readers of all stripes will be found. You can approach more smaller meetings or fewer large conferences, but you’ll be surprised how quickly the bookmarks go and sales come.


The other most productive thing I’ve done to reach readers is contact organizations with an offer to give a free presentation, with a book signing afterward. Of course I’ve presented to groups affiliated with Freemasonry, and those interested in Laura Ingalls Wilder/Little House; but to others as well. It’s amazing what groups you can find to tie into a book. Here are a few ideas:

  • If you have a strong setting, any group local to that place
  • If your protagonist has a hobby, a group of related hobbyists (same for occupation)
  • If you write historical fiction, any organization interested in history (local historical societies, friends of the museum groups, genealogical societies, etc.)
  • Writers groups and book clubs, where you can share you process/experience/etc.
  • Check with your local Rotary Club or similar groups; even if you can’t come up with a direct tie-in, they might be interested in hearing from a local regarding your experience. These kinds of groups are often looking for new speakers.

What tie-ins can you think of? I’d love to hear them in the comments section.

The one drawback about selling books this way is that it won’t help your book or author ranking. Books you get yourself don’t count toward your totals, and you have to get them to sign and sell them. I’ve sold more books myself than through Amazon/B&N/etc. but the ranking doesn’t reflect that. This doesn’t matter to me so much, because I wrote this book to preserve and share the history of this little-known connection, not to make money or sales. But to some people, this could be a big deal, and I don’t know of a way around it.

One thing I did not do, but wish I had: actively ask for reviews. When I began this journey I wasn’t fully aware of how important reviews are to getting a book in front of readers. With my next book, anytime I send bookmarks, or give a presentation, or even mention the book in passing, I will include a note or comment requesting a review. This can’t be emphasized enough.

I hope these thoughts help you reach your audience, too. Oh, and one more thing: please leave a review for Little Lodges on the Prairie! J