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

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #1

hattie

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 Corduroy fame. 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:

Don Freeman jpeg 001 (2)

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.

What is your favorite “find” from a bookstore?

~Becky

 

I’m a Guest at the Smorgasbord End of Summer Party…Join us!

 

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. […]

via Smorgasbord End of Summer Party – Brunch Meet Robert Goldstein, Victoria Zigler, John W. Howell, Becky Ross Michael, Jemima Pett, Marcia Meara, Luna Saint Claire and Anita Dawes — Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

Memory Won’t Fail if You Eat Your Kale!

kale with rabbit

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:

INGREDIENTS (amounts are up to the cook:)

  • Kale (chopped)
  • Red bell peppers and/or tomatoes (diced)
  • Okra (sliced)
  • Celery, onions and/or garlic (chopped/diced)
  • Bean choices – black, red, or even garbanzo
  • Corn, if desired
  • Vegetable bouillon cube or stock
  • Spice choices – pepper (black and/or cayenne), celery salt, paprika, thyme, oregano
  • Water and/or stock to cover veggies
  • Rice (optional)

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!

kale

 

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!

Cook Your Way to Luck in the New Year!

 

pickled-herring
Pickled Herring

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

soup-potOnion, 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!

Windows Open!

open windows pixabay no attribution required

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.

A Day for Prayer

 

okra
Okra

 

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.

          I’ve been praying all day.