Don’t Eat the…Daisies?

daisies eat

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!

 

nasturtiums
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

All That Glitters

sillhouette valentines

Valentine’s Day always made me nervous as a kid. What if none of my classmates gave me cards? Would the little boy who I had a “crush” on bring me one? A certain year that comes to mind must have been when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. Teachers at that time in our small Michigan town didn’t allow an entire afternoon of fun and games on that particular holiday. We waited in agony until almost the end of the school day to pass out our cards. With relief, I saw a reasonable number of valentines being deposited into my decorated shoe box and hoped that those I had given out were well-received.

I was a “walker,” living just a block from my school, and took a few extra minutes in the cloak room to look over my “haul” before putting on my coat and boots to head home. A little boy who had signed his valentine to me with just the initials “T.F.” sidled up close and said that he wanted to give me something else. He held out his hand, as did I. Into it he placed a golden ring with a clear stone that sparkled like glass. I’d been given rings by boys, before, remembering several that had purple or red stones and appeared to have come from the local “dime store.”

valentine box

This one seemed different, somehow, and I remember feeling kind of troubled by it. Sticking the ring into my coat pocket, I became rather speechless and doubt that I even said “thanks.” Arriving home, I put the valentine box on our dining room table so Mom could see my cards. It took me until that evening to get up my nerve and show her the ring. “This looks real,” Mom said. I didn’t even know what she meant. After asking who it was from, she went to our black telephone in the hallway and took out the phone directory, skimming her finger until she arrived at the “F’s.”

Mom returned to where I stood by the table in just a few minutes with a mysterious look on her face. She gently explained that I wouldn’t be able to keep the ring, since it was a diamond my classmate had taken out of his mother’s jewelry box! I felt very silly, but I suppose it was T.F. who really should have been feeling embarrassed. His mother suggested that I just bring it back to school the next day and evidently wasn’t overly concerned. If memory serves me right, she was no longer married to the boy’s father and may not have been all that attached to this particular reminder of the past. I looked the ring over one last time, and my mom placed it in an envelope for me to deliver back to “my admirer” the next day.

This wasn’t to be the last ring that I would give back to a boy or man over the years, but I HAVE managed to hang on to a few!          ~Becky

couple on bikes

 

 

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #3: Mapping the Months

December and January are common months in which to buy a new calendar or to receive one as a gift. I’ve saved several collectible calendars that were given to me over the years, including those bearing wonderful illustrations or photos from Norman Rockwell, Dick and Jane readers, and one of my favorite television shows of all time, Castle. While digging through the sale bin at a bookstore, in 1998, I found an excellent calendar marked 50% off, probably because we were already well into spring, even by Michigan standards. Why would I buy a calendar that late in the year? Besides the price being great, this calendar pictured a style of book that I’d already been collecting for years…the Dell map back!

map backs mine

Map backs (or mapbacks) were published by Dell, beginning around 1943. These paperbacks are often mysteries,  are numbered (over 500), and feature a map on the back that depicts a setting from the book. The three above are several favorites from my own collection. I love the cover of The Circular Staircase and the fact that it carries the price of 25 cents! Death of a Tall Man appeals to me due to the cat and because I’ve enjoyed many episodes of those campy Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries on TV. The middle book shows the map on the back of Through a Glass, Darkly, by Helen McCloy. This is a good example of how the maps sometimes show a small area, like a neighborhood or building, while others picture a larger geographic area, like a city or even country.

I’ve been collecting map backs for decades. My sister first introduced me to these often smelly old mysteries that wear such fun art work, front and back, although it can be a bit lurid, at times. As mentioned in a previous post, I had to part with many of my books when I moved from Michigan to Texas a few years ago. I kept my collection of about 50 map backs, however, and still search for additions to it whenever I visit a used bookstore or antique/collectibles shop. They’re usually quite inexpensive, and their conditions vary, of course. Until the day that I came across this map back calendar, I had never known that such a thing existed. What excitement!

calendar front resized

Each month features the cover of a different book with a smaller inset photo of the map from the back. The map grid page then carries some interesting phrases, such as, “Wouldn’t you like to know what the window cleaner really saw?” from this Hercule Poirot mystery by Agatha Christie.

calendar example 1 001 resized

Another favorite month shows this book, below, by C.W. Grafton. That writer was also a lawyer and father of the late Sue Grafton, author of the wonderful “alphabet mysteries” written about the fictional detective, Kinsey Millhone.

calendar example 2 001 resized

 

 

 

 

 

This last photo shows snapshots of all the months and is taken from the back of the calendar, which was published that year by Universe Publishing and distributed in the U.S. by St. Martins Press. I’ve never seen another one like it, have you? I’d love to read your comments, if you also own some of these books and enjoy “everything map back”!          ~Becky

calendar back 001 resized