In My Blood

A Spring Favorite: Pulmonaria (Lungwort)

Gardening can be a pleasant diversion, economic necessity, motivating challenge, or even somewhat of an addiction. As mentioned in a previous post, my childhood was surrounded by lovely gardens that produced both beauty and bounty. In adulthood, I slowly grew into my own on the gardening front.

My Small Vegetable Garden in Michigan

All of this stopped short when I moved from my home in Michigan and chose a “temporary” Texas apartment with no personal outdoor space. I hoped to get more creative with indoor gardening and had no idea to what extent I would miss having a garden area beyond my windows. After about three years, my plans and hopes to change all of this have finally come together!

Indoor Plants in Current Place

A move just one floor down in my apartment building offers me the balcony of my dreams. I’ll miss the direct view of sunrise and many moons rising, as well, but by moving to the other side, I’ll have sunsets and a lovely view of the Square. On the second floor, I’ll also be closer to tree level and sounds of birdsong. What will I grow in my balcony garden?

View of Square from Balcony

My gardening experience in Texas is limited, so research is in order. To further complicate matters, I move in mid-November, which isn’t peak season. As we all know, climate is quite unpredictable these days, but I’m gathering resources about year ’round container gardening in Texas. I’d like to have something that flowers (pansies?) and herbs or other types of plants that might come in handy for cooking. I’d love to try leaf lettuce in the spring! Covering plants during the winter for protection during frost or even bringing pots inside shouldn’t be too much of a problem. I’m excited! Looks like my hardiness zone is listed as 8a. I’d love to read ideas in comments if you live in a similar area and have container planting ideas to share!

Pansies

This new activity will certainly be a pleasant diversion to get me away from the computer on occasion. This could even save me money that might otherwise be spent on fresh herbs, which can be pricey. I’m definitely motivated and intrigued by this new challenge. As for the addictive part, only time will tell. Gardening is, after all, in my blood. That phrase reminds me of a  song I love, “You’re in My Veins,” by Andrew Belle. Hope you like it, too, and will give it a listen!

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #5: Prolific Garis Family

One of my favorite activities is visiting used bookshops or resale stores that feature books. Often attracted to vintage publications, I’m typically drawn to those reminding me of something from my youth. I enjoy sharing these “fantastic finds,” hoping to spark a memory for blog readers, as well, or to create a new curiosity that leads down an intriguing avenue. Since I write for both children and adults, I have a vested interest in understanding what pulls people toward certain types of books.

Uncle Wiggily” was a popular board game when I was a young child. I remember having mixed feelings about playing with my family or friends and sometimes felt a bit of nerves during the game. Not sure if those related to some of the unsavory characters along the path of play, like the bad “Skeezicks” and “Pipsisewah,” or maybe I just didn’t want to lose! At the time, I was only vaguely aware of stories written about this rabbit, “Uncle Wiggily Longears.”

Hop forward almost forty years to the middle-aged version of me scanning the shelves at one of my favorite used bookstores in Michigan. There it was…a childhood memory in full color, also in rather tattered shape. It was still quite a steal at $8.00. The book, Uncle Wiggily Goes Camping, was mine! Written by Howard R. Garis, I decided to pursue details about the author.

                                            

Further research revealed that Howard Garis wrote thousands of Uncle Wiggily stories, which appeared in the Newark News for many years and in books; I also learned he wasn’t the only published author in his family. During the early to mid-1900s, he and his wife, Lilian, wrote hundreds of juvenile series chapter books. Some sported their actual names, while others were written under various pseudonyms for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, including Tom Swift books as “Victor Appleton” and the Bobbsey Twins series as “Laura Lee Hope.” As you can imagine, I needed more (books and information)!

                                    

 I purchased the treasure above, from the Melody Lane series by Lilian Garis, in a bookstore while living in North Carolina. It’s a former library edition and found its way south from a county in Pennsylvania. I was thrilled to come across it and love the art deco appeal of the cover. The frontispiece illustration and end papers with the dated library pocket (1946) are amazing.

Lilian and Howard had two children, a son, Roger, and younger daughter, Cleo. As a young man, Roger also wrote series books, such as The Outboard Boys. Cleo penned the Arden Blake Mysteries during that same period. The front of Missing at the Marshlands, shown below, isn’t very interesting without a dust cover, but the end papers are beautiful, and the overall condition is very good. This one was bought in a Minnesota bookshop that housed a wonderful vintage section.

                            

In middle age, Roger wrote a biography entitled, My Father Was Uncle Wiggily. I owned a copy, at one point, but gave it away as a gift, so that’s a stock photo, below. The book was a joy to read and has just the right combination of nostalgic family stories and other interesting tidbits, such as tales about Howard Garis being close friends with their neighbor, the poet, Robert Frost! I remember a few hints at some competition between the Garis elders and children, especially as time passes and incomes fluctuate. Roger also tells about his mother’s disappointment in her unsuccessful quest to move from writing for children to more serious works. Overall, the book is a very positive and enjoyable biography, and I didn’t question or care, particularly, whether every bit is true or written through “rose-colored” glasses. Enter the granddaughter, Leslie.Because of my interest in the Garis writing family, I occasionally do a quick internet search to see what I’ve missed. Around 2007, Roger’s daughter, Leslie, wrote House of Happy Endings: A Memoir, which was reviewed as being the story behind the fairy-tale. She recounts a difficult childhood watching her father’s struggle for success, independent of his parents, while he fought depression and addiction. In later years, Howard and Lilian had come to live with Roger, his wife, and three children. Leslie writes candidly about secretly observing much of the goings-on in the large house while hiding in the dumbwaiter.

The book is raw and difficult to read but feels very honest. It certainly dispels any ideas of a Garis utopian life. Not a happy book, but it does contain a certain feeling of hopefulness in the author’s attempts to understand the dynamics between her grandparents and parents, and to come to terms with some issues that follow her into adulthood and even affect her own child. I’ve never come across this memoir at a bookstore but couldn’t resist taking this post full circle. At the time of reading, I borrowed it through the interlibrary loan system. I’m not sorry to have read it, but the story is quite sad. I hope the author, Leslie Garis, has found a bit of her own happy ending.

Don’t Eat the…Daisies?

 

daisies
Daisies

Southern Living says that some of the best edible flowers are borage (taste like cucumbers), marigold (cheaper version of saffron), hibiscus (cranberries), pansies (grassy/minty), roses (fruity), violets (sweet), and nasturtiums (peppery). I’ve also read that many daisies are sweet to eat. In addition, not only are the blooms of nasturtiums edible, but the leaves also have a peppery flavor, and the buds may be marinated to make something like a caper! I’ve tried nasturtium leaves and like the flavor. I may have snuck a few of them into our salads that last summer I lived in Michigan. Shhhhhh…don’t tell!

nasturtium
Nasturtiums

For as long as I can remember, gardening has been important in my life. From childhood, central memories of my father feature him either gone to work or outside tending our grass and gardens. The lawn was lush, flowers gorgeous, and vegetables abundant. His mother was also an avid gardener, so he started young by helping her at home. As a teen, he cared for the yard of a local general practitioner and his wife, and Dad learned a great deal from them. Carrying his knowledge and love of things that grow into the future, he did his best to make sure that our own yard always looked pretty, even on a tight budget. As the years passed, my mother had more time and helped him a great deal, as well. It was a passion they shared.

 

baby Becky with flower fixed
Baby Becky ponders whether to sample a flower

When their three children were still young, they wanted to be sure we understood that all parts of growing things aren’t always edible. Yes, our giant rhubarb was amazing, but those leaves are poisonous! Toadstools in the yard were NOT mushrooms, and berries growing on bushes were best left for the birds. Occasionally, we helped with some of the weeding or harvesting and were told never to eat anything out of the garden without permission. This concept caused a bit of family friction at one time, I remember. My paternal grandparents lived a few blocks away and grew tall sumac bushes in their back yard.

sumac
Staghorn Sumac

One time we were at their house and Grandpa took us kids for a walk outside. While in back, he urged us to try some sumac berries. I hesitated, but was too shy to say no. Besides, he was an adult, so should know if it was safe. I remember the red berries tasted quite sour and not at all what I expected. When we showed up back indoors with red stuff around our lips, Mom was first worried and then started fuming. Dad tried to smooth things over and assured her the red variety of sumac was safe. Turns out, my father was right and had learned about the safety of that plant the hard way, through a humorous childhood experience of his own. That’s a story for another day!       ~Becky

Becky and Dad wheelbarrow fixed
Me and Dad

Critique Speak

critique group 4

Another year, another critique group? I’m pleased to say that I’ve joined a third, forming a wonderful triad. How is this one different? In this case, writers gather twice a month, which doubles the motivation to produce. Situated in a smaller room, our number is capped at six. That means we all share something for feedback most times. Attendees don’t read their works aloud but do send pieces in advance through email. Instead of evenings, this half-dozen meets in the cool of the library while the Texas sun is still high in the sky.

Although several other members also belong to multiple groups, each combination develops its own personality. One gathering is specifically aimed at writers and illustrators of children’s literature, and the other two attract those who write for various levels. We critique novel chapters, stories, poetry, songs, memoir, and other types of non-fiction. Want to know more about queries, summaries, or elevator pitches? These are also presented and analyzed. Most importantly, not only do we assess possible improvements, but point out the positives of what’s working in each piece.

Beyond the share/feedback cycle, all three configurations circulate information about upcoming events of interest, in addition to facts about submissions for agents and publishers. We celebrate, praise, and console, since this calling involves both highs and lows. I find the camaraderie among people with different backgrounds who all share a love of writing to be so exhilarating, interesting AND comforting. When I first started my journey, I had no idea how important this activity would become. If you’re a writer or illustrator and haven’t yet found just the right spot, I hope that you’ll continue your quest!

Feel free to share in comments what you like best about your critique group or what you would look for in your search!       ~Becky

book fest
FRISCO BOOK FEST: Fergal O’Donnell and Gary Thornberry (current and former presidents of Write Club); Becky Michael (founding member of Write 4 Kids)

Midnight Blues

 

raccoon

The junior high that I attended in 7th grade sat right across from my neighborhood elementary school and just a few short blocks from my house. It was close enough that I still walked home for lunches instead of eating in the cafeteria. I remember a day that spring when my mother had some sort of appointment around noon. She suggested that I invite my friend, Jean, to come home with me for a sandwich at lunchtime. Not sure if we ever got to the food, but we DID get into some makeup stashed away in the hallway cupboard.

The two of us had previously experimented a bit with foundation and a light touch of mascara swirled from those familiar red tubes (usually “sable brown” and only “velvet black” if we were feeling daring). This was the 1960’s when everything British seemed to be popular in the United States following the advent of the Beatles. Jean and I spent hours poring over magazines, admiring the exotic styles and appeal of not only the Fab Four, but those famous made-up faces like Patti Boyd, Jean Shrimpton, Jane Asher and Twiggy.

makeup vintage

During the minutes when Jean and I should have been building bologna sandwiches, we discovered a miniature red container of solid mascara, holding its own tiny brush. Water required and color, “midnight blue.” Dealing with that new format would have been difficult under any circumstance. Rushing to reach just the right consistency, applying the goop, and getting back to school in less than an hour was a horrible mistake. The key words here are “blue” and “clumpy.” There was no turning back, however, with not enough time to whip out the oily eye makeup remover for repairs. Besides, we were unconvinced that we looked all THAT bad.

The kids in Mr. Hickman’s science class that afternoon may have given us some sideways glances, but maybe they were just jealous? By the time I got home from school I looked like a bruised raccoon. My mother was appalled when I walked in the door.

The occasion seemed a turning point. I entered that difficult stage where many of us have been unwitting visitors. Still craving the safety of childhood, we were pulled into adolescence and gravitated toward the perceived thrill of adulthood. Mom was well-aware of my quirks and struggles with introversion and usually quite empathetic. We had some interesting years. Lots of tears, tons of worry, many mistakes, but happy times, too.

Strategies for dealing with sleep problems during my teens evolved from counting the numerous dolls on top of my dresser to leaving popular music turned on throughout the night for company. When my clock radio read midnight and problems grew too large for slumber, I sometimes crept down the stairs and stood in the hallway. If she heard me, Mom soon got out of bed and motioned me into the dining room. She clicked up the thermostat, and I settled next to her on the warming, cast iron radiator. Then we would talk.

~Becky

Baby Becky
Ella holding baby Becky; Terri and Philip
Three of Us
Terri, Mark & Becky (before the makeup bug bit!)

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #4: Northern Connection

Teenie Weenie small book

When I was a kid in Michigan, my father’s job required travel, and he was rarely home early in the evening for our nightly rituals. On the rare occasion that he was, however, Dad usually told us marvelous bedtime stories. We were especially enthralled by his tales about the Teenie Weenies. Not sure about my  older sister or younger brother, but I suspected that they actually lived under the large willow tree in our back yard.

I had no idea at the time that my father’s ideas came from comic strips and picture books about these characters, in addition to product advertising, like the examples below, that also contained short stories about these little people. His grandchildren remember listening to these entertaining adventures of the Teenie Weenies, as well.

Teenie Weenie poster

        teenie weenie poster 2

Years later, I found myself exploring the “nostalgia” section of a used bookstore near downtown Dallas, and there it was…a picture book that I never knew existed! The Teenie Weenies Under the Rosebush, written and illustrated by William Donahey, was not in great shape, but I didn’t care. Besides, it was marked $2, and I probably would have paid $20 for that memory.

That purchase prodded me toward more research about the author and his works. As luck would have it, not too long after the bookstore expedition, a weekend collectibles sale at a Texas mall turned up my charming Monarch toffee and peanut butter magazine ads shown above that each sport a story about the Teenie Weenies. It wasn’t until the advent of ebay, after I had moved back to Michigan, that I realized just how many vintage products besides books are out there wearing the likenesses of those intriguing little people…and often at a very large price tag!

The synchronicity doesn’t end there. I knew that William Donahey and his wife, Mary, who was also an author, were from the Midwest. In my internet research, I had read about a North Woods vacation cabin, of sorts, that the Reid-Murdoch/Monarch company gave the couple as a gift. It was fashioned after the company’s pickle barrels, for which Mr. Donahey had done some ads. The structure was made up of two sections, with the larger part rising two stories and connected to a shorter section that served as a kitchen.pickle barrel house old

Evidently the Donahey’s fame and popularity drew too many visitors to the vacation home, which became quite a headache for the pair. After about a decade, they gave the building away to a merchant in a nearby town and built a more private log cabin. What I didn’t know was that the location where the Pickle Barrel House ended up wasn’t far from where I had moved in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

A pleasant spring drive about fifteen years back ended up in the picturesque village of Grand Marais, on the shores of Lake Superior. Lovely bay with bobbing sailboats, silvery vintage diner near the Square for a fun lunch, and…what was that strange structure as we rounded the corner? A unique wooden building shaped like a barrel! There I am, below, holding my sweet dog, Boo Boo, in front of the somewhat peeling Pickle Barrel House. Since that day, the Grand Marais Historical Society has restored the house and made it into a museum. I regret that I didn’t make it back to see the results, especially since life finds me, once again, living in Texas.            ~Becky

pickle barrel house (2)

 

Heikki Lunta and Story Publication!

fantasy Heikki Lunta (2)

For many years, I lived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I wasn’t a native “Yooper,” however, and never heard of “Heikki Lunta” while living in the Lower Peninsula. In the past, people had come to the U.P. from many different countries to work in the copper mines. There’s still an especially recognizable Finnish influence in many areas.

Finland
Finland

When I first heard of Heikki Lunta, I assumed that it was a mythological Finnish goddess or god. I was on the right track, but not quite right. Ukko is a god of weather, and Vellamo is a goddess of storms. There was no supreme being specifically for snow, which seems surprising, given that’s such a snowy part of the world.

Fast forward to 1970. As the story goes, U.P. promoters for an upcoming snowmobile race were concerned because not much snow had yet fallen that winter. A record was aired on a local radio station in which the singers pleaded with “Heikki Lunta,” a snow god of sorts, to send more of the white stuff. The whole idea took off, or “snowballed,” you might say.

Heikki Lunta sign (2)

These days, businesses like this one on the right often put up signs asking that deity for more snow. By spring, there are sometimes signs asking him to stop! At least one town in the Upper Peninsula has named its yearly winter festival after Heikki Lunta.

What does all of this have to do with my story being published, you might ask. Now living in Texas, I’m struck with the fact that many of the children here (and sometimes the adults) wish dearly that it would snow!

A few winters back, we did get a pretty healthy dusting, here in the North Dallas suburbs. My two youngest granddaughters were thrilled, and my daughter let them stay home from school to play in the snow. That’s the day my idea for a meeting of reality and myth, in “Welcome to Texas, Heikki Lunta” was conceived. I’m thrilled to report that my fictional story for kids and families, alike, now appears in U.P. Reader #3.UP Reader #3

Texas snowman
Texas Snowman

cowgirl boots b&w