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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Many of us are in agreement that we love bookstores. My favorite establishments are those that also offer used books and assorted vintage goodies, such as magazines, music and other miscellany. Although not widely traveled, I have wonderful memories of great bookshops spread from Duluth, MN, to Williamsburg, VA, with many in Michigan and Canada sandwiched in between.
As you can well imagine, I’ve made memorable “finds” in those visits. These items tend to fall into two groups: something specific I was looking for, or a totally unexpected piece. The coup that I will relate today definitely falls into the “unexpected” category.
Prior to my recent move to Texas, I had also lived and worked in this state for some years when my children were young. Before heading back to my home state of Michigan, I began studies toward earning elementary education certification and fulfilling my quest to become a teacher. Denton, Texas, being the home of two universities, is a logical place for a used bookstore, of course. Recycled Books, Records, & CD’s , at the time I lived there, was already bursting its seams at a small location, and is today housed in a larger spot within a former opera house in the picturesque town square.
That day, I had at least one of my daughters with me, and we were just scanning the small children’s section. An author’s name on a hardcover picture book caught my eye…Don Freeman of Corduroyfame. The title, Hattie the Backstage Bat, wasn’t familiar to me, so I decided to take a look. It was a former library edition, in good shape, with no tears or other visual damage. I then looked toward the front of the book to notice that it had belonged to the local, Emily Fowler Library, and at one time been sold out of the library’s used bookshop, before ending up at Recycled Books and priced at $1.50. Turning the page, I was astounded to discover this:
I can just imagine Mr. Freeman visiting the library during the year following publication of this book, meeting the eager listeners, and producing this original drawing for them right on the spot. Yes, Hattie’s blue hat did get a little smudged, and unfortunately an uninformed or overworked library worker stamped “discard” in the middle of her left wing. I love it, just the same, and will treasure this book always! As an added bonus, the story is charming, and I shared it (along with other Don Freeman titles) with countless children during my years in the classroom.
In doing a little more research on this author, who died in 1978, I find on a lovely website, run by his son, that he was not only an author and illustrator of children’s books, but also a painter and lithographer who “vividly portrayed the street life and theater world of New York City in the 1930s and 40s.” That site contains a wealth of information and images, so you may want to take a few minutes out of your day for a visit.
Welcome to the first of the end of summer posts this weekend. There are three meals today, Brunch, Afternoon Tea and Dinner this evening… and tomorrow Sunday Lunch. I hope that you will be able to visit at least one during your day. […]
The weekend has just begun, and I’m already thinking about Meatless Monday! Temperatures here in Texas have climbed way too high for the beginning of June, so I definitely won’t want to use the oven. Simmering a covered pot on top of the stove seems like a good option.
Did you eat kale as a kid? I never did, even though my father was a prolific vegetable gardener. Maybe it doesn’t grow well in Michigan? Not sure. After buying a bag of the green stuff a while back, I then had to figure out what to do with it. I settled on a vegetable gumbo that worked with other ingredients I had on hand, and it turned out quite tasty! My kale was the curly type, but I’m sure that tender baby kale would also work well and cook even more quickly. The texture of the end result would just be a bit different.
If you don’t know much about kale or haven’t tried it lately, you might want to consider some important health implications. This NPR article (also available on the site as a podcast) tells us that people who eat leafy green vegetables every day (like spinach, kale and collard greens) appear to have slower cognitive decline rates. That’s good news, and now we just need to come up with more interesting ways to eat them! Try the following recipe, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Make it as spicy or mild as you like:
Cook on high until the mixture starts to bubble, and then turn to low and simmer until the kale is tender. Add more water or stock during cooking if needed.
Serve over cooked rice…or not!
If you’re cooking for kids and haven’t yet convinced them about the wonders of kale, you might also try making roasted kale chips as a fun family activity. There are many recipes to choose from on the Internet!
With a few small changes to the previous year’s soup recipe, this is a repost from the end of last December…
I grew up in Michigan, with German heritage on each side of the family. Both of my grandmothers were good cooks and seemed to enjoy the process. I remember the wonderful aromas of “bread-baking day” at the home of my maternal grandma. My paternal grandmother occasionally offered foods that might not appeal to some children. Oyster stew, beef tongue and pickled herring come to mind. I liked two of those dishes, with the chewy beef tongue (no pun intended) being a definite “no.”
Although I enjoyed the stew with curly-edged oysters, I looked forward to herring the most. I remember a heavy crock so large that it barely fit into the refrigerator, where Grandma pickled her magic on those small, silvery fish. If memory serves me right, the end result was a light, creamy sauce, filled with thin rings of sliced onions and luscious, thick chunks of herring. Although I still have a few of her recipe cards tucked away in their hinged, wooden box, unfortunately, I don’t have that one. We ate it cold, on crackers, small rounds of pumpernickel bread, or on full-sized sandwiches.
My grandmother passed away just before Christmas when I was about ten. Every year after, my parents would buy a container of pickled herring at the market and we’d share it on New Year’s Eve. For years, I thought we just did that in memory of Grandma. Eventually, I learned that many people in Germany, along with other countries, often eat this delicacy at midnight as the year turns over, to help ensure a year of good luck and prosperity.
Another food for the holiday, black-eyed peas are displayed prominently on grocery store shelves these days. Although I’ve lived in North Carolina and now Texas, I had never tried this Southern staple that some people believe brings good fortune when eaten as the first meal of the New Year. The peas can be used in many different dishes, research showed, and I devised a recipe that works for me. The Texan variety is often seasoned with chili powder and hot sauce, but I came up with the following milder version in the form of a hearty soup:
Luck in a Soup Pot
Onion, shallot, scallion, leek, garlic, and celery (in any combination), sliced and sautéed in a deep pan.
Meat eaters, add bacon or ham (brown, or use pre-cooked).
Add approximately 4 cups of water and a bouillon cube (veggie or meat-flavored) to the pan. Adjust water for the amount of vegetables eventually used.
While that heats, chop a selection of greens: collard, mustard or turnip greens are traditionally Southern. I used what I had, which this year included cabbage.
Throw in the greens and any other soup vegetables you like. For color, I thinly sliced in a few carrots, and I also added several diced turnips. I seasoned with ground cumin and fenugreek, for my milder version. Bring it all back to a boil, then turn down to simmer until the veggies are tender.
I cooked my dried black-eyed peas ahead of time and added them into the soup pot near the very end to heat through. These “peas” are actually beans, a legume, and double as a protein and a vegetable, nutritionally. They’re also available fresh, canned and frozen.
If you like eggs, you might want to try a trick I learned a few years back with a clear-brothed spinach soup. Near the end of cooking, turn the heat back up and slide one egg at a time from a cup into the boiling mixture, spacing them out, a bit. They cook in place, much like a poached egg. Lift one out with a slotted spoon to check if they’re done.
Salt to taste. Serve with your favorite bread. Although cornbread may be most typical in the South, I plan to try it with pita, this year!
Wishing all of you a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2018!
In the Midwest, the invigorating change of the seasons was often marked by melting or returning snows, reappearance or disappearance of greenery and flowers, along with changes in the patterns of wildlife visiting the yard. In Texas, transformations related to precipitation, flora and fauna are much more subtle to the non-scientific eye. For me, the main difference is whether or not I can comfortably open my windows. With a twenty degree drop in the temperature since yesterday, today is one of those marvelous days to open the windows wide.
This may sound like such a simple and even mundane act, but it’s an activity that many Texans, who are accustomed to such high temperatures, often seem to overlook. Indeed, many of the local apartment buildings, including my own, do not include window screens. That presents a choice to be made: leave the windows closed at all times, open them and risk unwanted flying visitors, or add some sort of protection. During my first autumn here, I remembered a type of free-standing window screen from childhood that opened like an accordion to fit various sized apertures. Where was my handy neighborhood hardware store when I needed it? Impatience had a hold on me, and ordering through the internet would have taken too long. Surprisingly, I found several at Wal-Mart, after sifting through a pile where many seemed to be damaged. I was on my way to opening my windows.
The next issue was how to make sure the new screens didn’t fall out onto those passing below, since their fit into the window opening isn’t exactly fool-proof. I found articles posted by individuals on the internet about just this topic, with suggestions that involved carpentry (not for me), Velcro, and removable adhesive putty. I went with a white version of the latter, since I was familiar with its easy and mess-free use from mounting things on my classroom walls as a former teacher. Just one little wad on each wooden end piece, while leaving my window closed a little farther than the height of the screens, and I secured them in place. Depending on the configuration of your windows, this may not be an air-tight fit, and you might still need to be on the lookout for small insects. I would certainly avoid these types of screens if I had a curious pet or young child.
Today’s cool breezes feel glorious. I can hear light traffic noises, occasional bird calls and distant voices. When opening the windows, we also put ourselves out there and share somewhat personal snippets of our lives, such as escaping cooking smells, voices, and the sounds of our favorite music, television program or current audio book.
The act of writing is a bit like opening windows. In sharing memoir and personal essays, we reveal our beliefs, feelings and memories to the world. Even in fiction, we raise the sashes that protect our personal experiences on which plots and characters are often based. We take a chance on rejection, disregard, or disagreement when opening ourselves up to the public, whether we share through a critique group, blog, website, self-publication, or if we publish in a traditional format. The potential rewards are many. Other writers and the public at large often embrace our written ideas and may offer helpful feedback, as well.
As writers, we should try to avoid being fearful of the results, take chances, and open our windows to the world beyond.
I didn’t really consider going to church, today, but did feel an essence of spirituality while I spent some time at the community garden. I was all “alone,” surrounded by the noise of buzzing bees, chirping birds, and tall plants of okra brushing against each other in the breeze.
How can we be certain this lovely planet will be preserved?
All the sights, sounds and smells seemed magnified. Being in the outdoors has that effect on me, even more so, since I no longer own a personal piece of nature. My back had really started to tighten up by the time I finished some watering and weeding, though it has been feeling much better, most days.
Thankful I can still manage doing so many things.
A train rumbled past, just beyond the black, wrought-iron fence. I remember reading that when a tornado is headed towards you, it sounds just like a freight train. The thought gave me a cold chill, in spite of the hot sun beating down on me.
Grateful I haven’t seen any of those since moving to Texas.
What horror so many Texans must have recently suffered when Hurricane Harvey was upon them. And now to live with the destruction that’s been left behind.
Please don’t give them more than they can bear.
Back in the apartment, I worked at my computer for most of the day and ventured outdoors for a walk before dark. It was another beautiful evening, although warmer than this ‘northern girl’ prefers in September. Gentle wind all around, pink sun going down in the west, full moon rising in the east. People out strolling, alone or in couples, and some exercising their dogs on leashes. I felt the absence of mine. Person and dog.
Relieved I am learning to make peace with my loss.
As I drew near to the parking garage, I wondered if I would catch any of the ghostly saxophone sounds. No such luck, although I have heard the music on two separate occasions. Coming into the open, there was a full view of the setting sun on the horizon and a beautiful scene with the church silhouetted against the orb’s bright light. My heart felt full.
Please keep my loved ones safe.
Just as I finished that thought, the outdoor electric sconces of the church flickered on to begin their nightly vigil. Completing my route past the church, around the library, and skirting the burbling fountain, I experienced a dawning realization.
On steamy days like these, when the temperatures reach the high 90s, I wait until just before dark for my walk. The humidity hovers, and I have to push myself to reach my usual brisk pace. Water bottle held in one hand and phone in the other.
I pass familiar buildings, inhale the aromas from nearby restaurants, and check on the abundant brown rabbits that scamper in and out of bushes near homes and businesses. Happy to reach the halfway mark, I then turn.
Last evening, that change in direction delivered a clear view of the pinkish-orange platter of sun beginning its dip below the edge of the world. Even warmer on that leg of the walk, I then stopped for a swig of water.
Heading past a construction zone shut down for the day, I crossed the pavement and was met by a delicious breeze funneling along the street. The air was much cooler, and the rest of my walk would be easier.
When I stepped onto the sidewalk at the other side, I heard it. Saxophone music. It didn’t seem electronic, but more like a real person playing an actual saxophone. The notes, sounding like practice or scales, emanated from a four-story parking garage set in the block between a large church and library. I stopped, mesmerized.
Who could it be and why? Unusual acoustics. My senses strained on overload, while I looked and listened. Pastel fingers of sunset reaching from the horizon pointed at a slice of moon visible in the sky, above. The scents of miniature roses and squat rosemary bushes tickled my nose.
As I stood, imagining the musician, the casual noodling evolved into clear, plaintive melodies. One of those movies where lovers share dinner on a rooftop garden amid asphalt and skyscrapers came to mind. That song. I knew that song. Humming along, the words took shape in my head. “Fly me to the moon…hold my hand.”
Romantic, memorable and haunting. I try to forget, but thought about you, while I continued the journey back home.
The U.P. Reader, which includes my memoir piece, “Lonely Road,” is now available in print and e-book! This literary magazine is published by Modern History Press in conjunction with the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association (UPPAA). The publication also contains fiction, humor, poetry, history, and more.
When I read the call for submissions, my first instinct was to write a fictional story set in Michigan’s U.P., where I lived for many years. What about my own, personal tales, just waiting to be told? I decided that memoir was the way to go.
As Barbra Streisand sang in one of my favorite movies, “The Way We Were,” memories really can “light the corners” of our minds. But, when too much pain is caused by remembering, we often choose to ignore and wall-off those sections of our brains. Writing memoir can be like taking the partitions down and letting the light shine, once again, onto those remembrances. The act can bring questions, heartache, revelations and healing.
“Lonely Road” relates an evocative experience during my wintertime move to the Upper Peninsula, with the purpose of giving a faltering marriage one more try. The story is also a metaphor for the journey of life, with its pleasant surprises, difficult challenges, and safe havens. That “one more try” to stay together spanned several additional decades. Success or failure? Guess it depends on how you look at it. This was a very difficult piece for me to write because of all the emotions to which it gave rise. I would like to say that I felt better once I had it down. Saying it well and true did give me a sense of satisfaction. The sadness over our loss still remains.
I hope that you’ll consider reading about my experience, along with sampling contributions from other writers with connections to the Upper Peninsula, in the beautiful state of Michigan. The book is available from the publisher, through Amazon, and at several retailers in the U.P. Reviews are welcomed!
The Community Garden is looking quite bountiful these days! Cucumbers and zucchini are already producing. Today, I also spotted tiny green peppers and tomatoes. Giant sunflowers provide a lovely backdrop. My little plot contains huge marigolds and abundant basil. I’ve already taken several bags of the herb over to the food pantry. Basil is great in curries and salads. Pesto, anyone?
The rosemary is a bit on the small side, and I’m afraid the watering that’s helping the basil thrive may be somewhat of a negative for those plants, which often prefer drier conditions. They’re growing, though, and I snipped the ends to encourage even more growth. Did my molasses and orange oil concoction succeed in the fight against the fire ants? Yes and no. It worked well enough to drive them over to the other side of the little garden bed. At least they stay off the plants!