Natural Egg Dyes and Seasonal Children’s Books: Secular and Spiritual

Imperfect Foods is my new favorite source to buy produce that is less-than-perfect or in surplus at a reasonable cost, in efforts to help reduce food waste. Boxes are delivered to the door according to the schedule you choose. On the company site, I found this article about natural egg dyes. I’ve used the turmeric and red cabbage methods in the past and know they work! ~Becky

And from Publishers Weekly,

One year into the pandemic, the holidays have not yet returned to their full festive scope, but there’s still cause to celebrate the coming season. The arrival of spring brings a parade of Easter and Passover titles, as well as books on baby animals. In addition, Margaret Wise Brown’s classic Runaway Bunny, illustrated by Clement Hurd, is hopping over to HBO Max in a musical adaptation. We’ve gathered a selection of new and noteworthy springtime picture books for young readers, both secular and spiritual.

Hoping for Snow?

children playing in snow
Becky and sister Terri

Growing up in Michigan, the opportunity to play in winter snow was always a given. Many years would pass, before living in the much different climates of North Carolina and now Texas, to understand how scores of children (and even adults!) maintain such strong desires and dreams for that white stuff.

In 2019, I wrote a blog post with the happy news about the anticipated publication of my story, “Welcome to Texas, Heikki Lunta,” which revolves around two children waiting for snow. To check out the history of Heikki Lunta in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, you can read that post here.

Today, I’m excited to share my full story with you, which was first published in U.P. Reader Issue #3.

frosty window

Welcome to Texas, Heikki Lunta!

Another winter holiday passed with no snow in sight. Not one flake. That glorious white stuff hadn’t fallen on Ella and Rae-Ann’s part of Texas in years. The sisters searched the sky when cold winds blew. They peered out the windows to see what was new. Nothing.  

“We had such fun playing in the snow that year,” said Ella, pointing at a framed photo.

“I only remember making snow angels when I look at that picture,” said her younger sister, Rae-Ann.

New Year’s Day came and went. The children said ‘good-bye’ to winter break and returned to their classrooms.

***

Mom shooed two dogs away as she sliced apples and spooned peanut butter onto plates for an after-school snack. Grandma sat in the kitchen finishing her coffee.

 “Y’all come to the table, girls. And don’t let the dogs get your food,” warned Mom. With a shiver, she turned the furnace up a notch before joining the others.

“It’s sure getting cold out there,” said Grandma. “I hear that Heikki Lunta might make a visit.”

“Hay-Kee who?” asked Ella, licking peanut butter from her fingers.

Rae-Ann’s eyes stole a quick look at the back door.

“His story’s rather long,” their grandmother said.

“Tell us,” the sisters begged in one voice.

“Well, you know I used to live w-a-a-a-y at the tip-top of Upper Michigan,” Grandma began.

“I sort of remember visiting you there,” said Ella.

“That was summer. You have no idea what it’s like in the winter.”

“Lots of snow?” asked Rae-Ann.

“Tons,” nodded Grandma. “The snowbanks grow taller than people. Schools sometimes close for a week at a time because of the blizzards.”

“Wow!” Ella exclaimed. The dogs cocked their heads to the side, listening.

“What does that have to do with this Heikki Lunta?” Mom asked.

“Quite a few families in Northern Michigan came from a far-away, snowy country called Finland,” said Grandma. “Many years ago, those who lived in Finland shared stories called ‘myths,’ just like most ancient people around the world.”

Scooping Snow in Finland (Pixabay)

“I learned about myths in school,” Ella said. “Those are made-up stories that explain how things work or got started. We read about how the elephant got its trunk.”

“Exactly,” said Mom. “And you’ve both seen a movie about Hercules, which is also a myth.”

“That’s right,” Grandma said. “Many of those stories include gods and goddesses. ’Heikki Lunta’ is like a snow god from Finland. People who live in Upper Michigan often talk about him in the winter when they’re hoping for snow. Hotels and restaurants looking for visitors to the area even put up signs saying, ‘Heikki Lunta, do your thing.’”

“Did you ever see him?” whispered Rae-Ann.

“He’s just pretend,” Ella reminded her younger sister. “Grandma, why did you tease us and say he’s coming here?”

Mom and Grandma exchanged knowing looks.

“The weather report says we might get a bit of snow tonight or tomorrow,” Mom answered.

Her daughters’ smiles reached from ear to ear.

Make it snow, Heikki Lunta, make it snow,” sang Grandma, when it was time for her to leave.

***

When Dad returned from work, the sisters rushed out to his red pick-up truck and told him about the forecast. After dinner, they drew pictures of their neighborhood covered in snow. At the bottom of hers, Ella wrote, “Please send snow Haykee Loonta.”

The girls welcomed bedtime that night. Ella left her blinds open in hopes of seeing some flurries. In another room down the hall, Rae-Ann was excited and just a little nervous. She peeked through long lashes at her bedroom door before falling asleep.

While she slept, Rae-Ann imagined someone like Hercules. He wore a heavy white coat with its collar turned up against the cold. Ella dreamed of a man with long gray hair and beard, who was dressed in a flowing blue robe. Wind and snow swirled around him. Heikki Lunta?  As the whole town slept, dark clouds gathered and delivered a bit of magic.

                                                                     ***

At the sound of Dad’s pick-up leaving in the morning, four eyes popped open wide. Rae-Ann and Ella ran to their windows and cheered at the sight of powdery snow on the ground and glistening flakes in the air. The time said 9:00. Why had their parents let them sleep so late?

“You’re taking a snow day,” Mom explained in the kitchen.

“School’s closed?” asked Rae-Ann.

“The roads are quite safe, according to the radio. We don’t get snow very often, so Dad and I decided to let you stay home and enjoy it.”

 “Yay!” both girls cheered, as they ran to get dressed.

“A warm breakfast comes first,” Mom yelled up the stairs. “Then we’ll hunt up our wooly hats and mittens. You’ll need to wear your snow boots and not just those ropers.”

***

dogs in the snow
Dogs Surprised by Snow

Light snow continued to fall throughout the morning. The three stomped trails in their backyard and built a small snowman. Ella and Rae-Ann lay down and flapped their arms to make snow angels. Their happy dogs rolled near them on the frosty ground. While watching their fun, Mom picked a torn section of blue fabric from a nearby bush.

“Maybe Heikki Lunta really did help us out,” Ella said with a secret grin, at the sight of the blue material. “Does Grandma know about the snow?”

“I’m sure she does,” said Mom. “Let’s pick her up for a snow ride.”

“What’s that?” asked Rae-Ann. “A car drive on the snowy streets?”

“It’s mostly melted from the roads. I’ll phone her to say that we’re coming, and then I’ll show you my idea.”

Ten minutes later, the laughing trio arrived at Grandma’s apartment building. When she slid into the front seat, she saw what was causing their excitement. Sparkling snowflakes floated into the car from the open moon roof.

Mom pulled back onto the street. People up and down the sidewalks turned in surprise. Echoes of four voices drifted through the winter air, “THANK YOU, HEIKKI LUNTA!”

snowman
Texas Snowman

Come to School with Me!

During the school year when leadership in the U.S. changed over from Dwight D. Eisenhower to John F. Kennedy, I was a 3rd-grade student on the top floor of the school pictured, above. Already outdated by standards of the day, my building held dark, steep wooden stairs leading up from the first floor and a bell rope hanging over the stairwell, for some lucky kid to pull and dangle from while announcing the start of the day. A chilly cloakroom stood at the top of the stairs, and the classroom was furnished with the old sleigh-style wooden desks, fashioned with inkwells where bottles of ink had once rested.

That same year, some changes had taken place in the leadership of our school, as well. We had a new teacher! Miss Spaude was special for many reasons, I am certain. But the most obvious difference her students noticed right away was that she was bald! This teacher is my favorite and most memorable from elementary school, and I have incorporated her into several of my written works. Happily, my rhyming story, “Miss O’Blair Has Lost Her Hair,” is now published at Storyberries! I hope you will enjoy reading it (for free) as much as I enjoyed writing it, while walking down “memory lane.”

I would like to thank Sue Clancy, writer and illustrator extraordinaire, for the information she generously shared on her blog about Storyberries.

I hope you enjoy the visit to my old school through this post and in the linked story. Just several years after my tale was set, a more “modern” brick building was erected next to this one, and my white frame school was leveled. I felt very sad about that, and I like to keep the memories alive through my writing!

Wearing My Editor’s Hat!

As many writers have found, just having more time to work during the pandemic doesn’t necessarily make one more productive. That’s the case for me. So, in efforts to stay busy and earn some money while I’m at it, I’ve taken on many editing projects. In fact, I’ve completed around 100 manuscript edits since March.

Many of my projects have been children’s picture book edits, while others have involved middle-grade fiction and short stories for adults. I found most of these opportunities through online platforms that match freelancers up with clients. The feedback I’ve received from my clients has been very positive, which I find to be quite rewarding. I’m also excited to say that several of the books I edited are now published, such as the following:

                                             

I haven’t given up on personal writing and still attend my critique groups online. I’ve also completed several writing projects through these freelance platforms, as well, such as non-fiction articles, blog posts, and children’s leveled readers. All of this has given me something to work toward each day, which you all know can be a struggle right now!

In addition to communication with family and friends, my balcony gardening (and the challenge of the intense Texas sun!) also keeps me grounded. I finally took the plunge and purchased a fountain for my small outdoor space, which I love dearly. It’s no replacement for the Great Lakes, Atlantic Ocean, or St. Mary’s River, but it’s my little piece of heaven.

Lovely Sounds of Water

Feeling Helpless in the United States? You Can Help to Get Out the Vote!

If you’re feeling helpless about the upcoming election, here’s an idea of something you can do to help! You can help to save democracy by hand writing postcards to Democratic voters in ten critical states to increase turnout in November. They send you the postcards for free. You provide the stamps and mail the cards in October.

Please note, this particular campaign may now be completed, but the website linked above offers additional options. In addition, other organizations are sponsoring similar projects. You can find those by doing a quick Internet search. Either way, it’s easy, won’t cost you much, and could actually get the right voters out to the polls!

Here’s one of my favorite songs by Iris DeMent. The message may be true of life in general, but we don’t have to idly watch “the sun settin’ down” on our country as we know it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncomfortable Truths in our Fiction (and the winner is!)

In my last post, I asked those interested in winning a copy of U.P Reader Volume 4, containing my memoir piece, “Much Different Animal,” to let me know in the comments. Out of a shoebox, I drew Maria Donovan at Facts and Fiction as the name of the lucky winner! Thanks to all who entered, and I’ll be sure to post the story as soon as the rights revert to me.

Meanwhile…here’s a fictional story that was published a few years back, which I first wrote about in my post, “Inspired by a Dream.” This tale was, in fact, motivated by a dream. It also contains some snippets of the truth from a much earlier lifetime. Hope you’ll enjoy it!

SLIP OF THE LIP

“You awake?” Soft breath tickled the woman’s ear.

“Wha?” Words failed to form in her mouth devoid of saliva. She spotted a glass of water on the nightstand and swallowed a gulp. Beyond the edges of the thick comforter, the room was frosty. She glanced over the bedside and saw a young, dark-haired girl gazing back at her. A somewhat older, fair-haired version joined them in the room wearing an expression of both joy and worry.

“We made you some toast,” the blonde girl said, raising a paper napkin holding more butter than bread.

“I don’t…” started the woman.

“The baby’s tryin’ to climb over the side of her bed,” the older girl continued. “Dad said he was goin’ to play basketball. I changed her diaper in the crib but didn’t know if I should take her out.”

“I better check,” suggested the woman, rising from the bed and noting she had slept in corduroy jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and thick white socks.

The woman brushed the walls with her fingertips to calm the swaying that assailed her, as they walked down a short hallway together. Upon entering a smaller bedroom decorated with bright wallpaper, the youngest child stood and shook the rail, light brown hair standing on end, as if electrified. “Mama-mama-mama,” she repeated with a wide, toothless grin.

The woman searched the oldest girl’s green eyes.

“Remember us?” the girl whispered.

“Don’t be silly,” the woman replied, lifting the youngest sister from a dark wooden crib.

“It seemed like you were gone for a long time,” said the middle girl, trailing the small group from the room.

“Just a little while can feel like forever,” the woman evaded.

Upon entering the kitchen, a snowy scene greeted her outside the large window. On a calendar hung low from the wall, dates leading to a Friday in December were each crossed out in a childish scrawl. A flyer for an arts-and-crafts show hung next to it on a corkboard. She placed the baby in a highchair, turned up a nearby thermostat, and walked over to inspect the refrigerator’s contents.

Breakfast was a confusion of canned fruit, toast, and cold cereal drenched in the remnants of a milk carton. They ate out of mismatched containers since most bowls and plates from the cupboards crustily decorated the countertops and one side of the sink.

The middle child chattered and regaled the woman with snippets about a series of babysitters, while the toddler banged with a spoon on the tray of her highchair. The oldest girl didn’t say a word and studied the familiar stranger at their table.

The awkward morning passed, even though complicated by details that remained beyond the woman’s reach. “Baba, baba,” the little one begged and placated herself by sucking on a bottle of watered-down apple juice retrieved from under a chair. After giving up her quest of navigating the living room, she plunked down on her diapered bottom with a wide yawn and soon fell asleep on the worn carpet.

baby-shoes-1814348_960_720

The oldest grabbed an afghan from a nest on the sofa, where someone must have slept the previous night, and with a motherly pat covered the dozing youngster. The woman agreed when the middle child asked if she could go down in the basement to ride her bike.

“I’m Tina, and that’s Linda, downstairs. The little kid’s Nora.” Seeing the slight nod of acknowledgment from the woman, the girl offered, “You told me, once, that you ended all our names with an ‘a’ because your mom’s name was like that.”

Seeing another flicker of recognition, Tina said, “Sometimes you liked lookin’ at our baby books and stuff from over there,” and pointed with a chewed thumbnail at a shelf. “I didn’t like it when daddy made you cry,” she added, before she headed down the stairs to join her sister.

Tears closed the mother’s throat and stole any possible reply.

The afternoon was a treasure hunt. She moved in slow motion, while sifting through folders in an organizer on the kitchen counter and drawers of a small desk, finding past-due utility bills and Tina’s school papers printed with care. When she came upon hospital invoices and insurance correspondence, she noted the designation, ‘Patient name:  Elizabeth.’

The woman opened a purse set on top of a free-standing kitchen cabinet, saw several dollars in the change compartment, and took a long look at a driver’s license resting alongside the money.

After removing several prescription bottles from another zippered section, she examined the labels and scanned her recent memories. She hesitated for a few seconds, dumped their contents into the kitchen sink, and watched the rainbow of capsules swirl and dissolve in a torrent of hot water. The medicinal odor reached her nostrils, and memories of a stark and lonely room surfaced. Bile rose in the woman’s throat, and she vomited into the basin watching the last of the pills circle the drain.

She then sat cross-legged on the floor and leafed through baby books filled with hope and family picture albums telling the story of another lifetime. Her brimming eyes stared into the smiling faces.

Returning to the room where her journey had begun that morning, the unmade bed offered temptation of surrender. She ached to lie down, close her eyes, and stop trying to remember. Instead, her eyes focused on the surface of a dresser. She lifted a rectangular wooden box that smelled of cedar and hunted for a tool to open the lock. After resorting to a paperclip, she opened the box and peered through small plastic envelopes at tiny, pearl-like baby teeth and glanced at greeting cards saved from long-forgotten occasions.

At the bottom, a slip of paper lay folded. ‘If you go to the game tonight, is Beth coming, too?’ It was signed, ‘Natalie.’ Natalie? More questions than answers.

Car tires sounded outside the house on a snow-packed driveway. She snapped the lock into place and returned to lengthening shadows in the living room. The tempo of her heart accelerated.

Upon entering the room, the man’s eyes slid away from hers. “Sorry about the dishes and laundry, Beth. I meant to do all that before you got home last night…”

“I need to get something from the store,” she interrupted. “It won’t take me long. Tina and Linda are playing with Nora in her room.”

“I’m not even sure you’re supposed to drive, yet, Beth, and it’s getting a little slippery out. I’ll do it instead,” he insisted.

“It’s okay. I’ll just go to the nearest place.”

“Let me at least make sure the driveway’s clear enough for you to get out,” he said and headed back outside.

With a flash of irritation, she scooped keys from the desk, retrieved her purse, and grabbed a hooded jacket and gloves from hooks on the wall. The moment he returned, she hurried out the door.

Beth held her breath, and the light car balked in the deepening snow when she tried to back from the driveway toward the street. She wasn’t surprised he hadn’t cleared the way, after all, and a shadow that appeared in a window of the house next door caught her attention for a moment. Rocking the vehicle between reverse and drive, she finally was free.

As Beth drove, her headlights cut through the escalating snowstorm, and she recognized passing streets and buildings as if awakening from a hazy dream. At a sharp curve in the road, she visualized the dark river beckoning from beyond a tall stand of pines. Driving past the first little shop with a flickering entrance light, she slid to a stop at the second.

Beth wore no boots and picked her way through slush in the small parking lot before entering the market. She soon returned and moved to place the container of milk on the front seat. Without knowing why, she stepped back into the swirling flakes and opened the trunk of the car.

There she discovered two handcrafted ceramic pots under an old woolen blanket. Beth removed her gloves to caress the pottery’s rough lines and noticed the vessels were room temperature. Considering her options, she decided to leave them in place and slammed the trunk closed. Mentally arranging the pieces to fit, Beth followed tire tracks through the snow, in return to someone’s life, if not her own.

“June’s on the phone,” Tina announced, pressing the device Beth had left behind into her hands when she entered the warmed kitchen. The woman placed the milk in the refrigerator with a pounding heart and took a deep breath.

Words from the other end could have cut, but instead sounded reassuring through the stress roaring in her ears. “Several people saw him with Natalie buying pottery at the arts-and-crafts show, of all places, today. You’re much stronger than you know, Beth.”

Her friend’s voice was familiar and treasured, like a song recalled from childhood. She envisioned many hours spent next door with June, sharing endless cups of coffee and personal revelations, with the children dancing around them.

“Thanks so much,” she replied into the phone. After ending the call, Beth glanced at her three daughters, who played amid a sea of building blocks in the soft, yellow circle of lamplight. Tina’s solemn eyes met her own. The man looked up from the television and blushed over what he guessed was a new disclosure.

The volume from a blaring sports event faded into the background. Beth’s field of vision narrowed, and she peered down a long, dark passageway. Accepting the truth, her view then brightened, as vague uncertainties rearranged into recognizable order.

She descended the basement stairs and picked her way between bicycles, roller skates, and piles of laundry on the cement floor. Beth found what she wanted high on a dusty shelf. He met her at the top step when she returned and followed her along the hallway to the room they had shared. She opened the large suitcase on top of the bed and then hesitated.

“At least you can take the kids with you, this time,” he said.

“I’m not the one who’s leaving,” she answered.

A memory spread before her with the same clarity as the moment it occurred. She had sat, folding laundry in a beam of sunlight that slanted through the blinds, while inhaling the warm sweetness of just-washed baby clothes. Her husband had come home from work in the middle of the day and claimed they needed to talk.

“I love you, Natalie,” he had mistakenly begun.

Leaders of the Pack

Lake Superior in Upper Michigan

While living in Upper Michigan, I had the opportunity to observe some rather unusual wildlife, including foxes and black bears. At times, the experiences felt a little too close for comfort!

An early spring walk near a Lake Superior beach offered one such encounter. A face-to-face meeting with an indeterminate species brought about a rather humorous situation, which I recently chronicled in my short story, “Much Different Animal.” I’m happy to say that my tale now appears in the U.P. Reader Volume 4!

The book has stories and poetry by authors who live in the Upper Peninsula or who, like me, have ties to that beautiful area. I asked those interested in winning a copy of this book to let me know in the comments. Out of a shoebox, I drew Maria Donovan at Facts and Fiction as the slip for the lucky winner! Thanks to all who entered, and I’ll be sure to post the story as soon as the rights revert to me.

Finally, with the title of this post, I just couldn’t resist the following video:)

Books in the Square

Little Free Library in the Square!

Almost two years ago, I shared an article about the passing of a man, Todd Bol, who began the Little Free Library movement. His story is very inspirational, so please check that out if you don’t already know about him!

At the time, I looked online to see if any Little Free Libraries were located near me, but found none. Time marches on, and now my “neighborhood” offers two! The one above appears to have more traffic and turnover in books. But the one below is located in such a picturesque spot, near the Heritage area that includes a museum and several historic buildings.

Another Little Free Library!

                                                                             

 

The museum, pictured in the middle, above, also sells books written about Texas history and this area of the state. A beautiful city library graces the Square, shown at the end of the street, in the drone photo, below. The library has now partially reopened, amid the pandemic, and continues to offer curbside book pickup.

The days are currently very hot, here, in Texas. My walks have been moved back to the early morning hours just as the sun is rising. I often stop by one or both of the Little Free Libraries to check out the offerings. Sometimes I take a few books I’ve finished reading to add. I’m also partnering with Violet’s Vegan Comics, by dropping off a few of the books they wanted to share with others. For example, the moving selection shown in the middle, below, tells about two pigs who find their freedom!

Not sure what I would do without books and writing, during these challenging times! Hope this finds you all well!                                              ~Becky