Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thoughtful About . . . What We're Remembered For

In recent weeks, there's been quite a hullabaloo over statues. It's started in the US and has even spread to the UK. Voices are raised. Blood pressure is up. People are shouting at each other from both sides.

On the news the other evening, I heard someone call for the removal of all statues of the founding fathers who were slave holders. And something inside me ached.

First let me say, I detest slavery. I hate that it was ever a part of our nation. I love the differences God put into His human creation, and I think they should be celebrated--not feared or hated or labeled. I was always quite proud to be a West Virginian--the state that formed in order to stay a part of the Union rather than the Confederacy (at least until I learned it was a political stance, in order to gain that statehood, and that the majority of my state's citizens in fact supported the Confederacy...). I don't think slavery should ever be glorified.


(Bracing myself)

But...I think it's wrong to boil people down to ONE stance. ONE opinion. ONE part of their lives and dismiss everything else they did because of it.

Many of our founding fathers were slaveholders. And many of the same recognized that it was an evil. They wanted the country to be rid of the institution. They knew it was wrong. But they didn't know how to expunge it from their society without ripping said society apart. And so, they left it for another generation to deal with, trusting that something so obviously wrong would die a natural death.

"I wish from my soul that the legislature of this State
could see the policy of a gradual Abolition of Slavery ...

"Not only do I pray for it, on the score of human dignity,
but I can clearly foresee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery
can perpetuate the existence of our union,
by consolidating it in a common bond of principle."
~ George Washington

It didn't die a natural death. Instead, people began to justify it. To say it wasn't evil at all. And finally to embrace it. To be willing to fight for it.

Does that make those founding fathers evil? Because of one stance they didn't take? Do we judge them according to their failures...or their successes?

Which would WE like to be judged by?

All these people calling for statues to be taken down, for these men to be erased from displays of history...should we judge THEM by their sins...or by their graces? For what they've done wrong, or for what they're doing right?

How can we in good conscience judge our forebears by a standard we ourselves would never want to be judged by?

Don't we frequently do things we know are wrong? Do we ever participate in something socially that we know isn't good for society? Do we take advantage of the tax system we think is warped? Do we use the insurance we didn't think should be passed into legislation? Do we laugh at the crude jokes that belittle others? Perhaps it's not on the same scale, but it's the same idea of rebelling against a culture.

Does it ever make you stop and wonder if all the good we work for, all the love we live out, all the victories we think we've managed will someday turn to dust because of those things we don't do right? The things we fail at? The places our love is weak?

That's what we're doing when we try to erase people from our own past. We're saying we don't care what they built, what good they did, what they had right--that it's all nothing compared to what they did wrong.

I'm especially saddened by the outrage focused on Robert E. Lee. He wasn't a perfect man, but he also wasn't a villain, as people today seem to want to paint him. He was never in favor of slavery--his wife and daughter even founded an illegal school to educate slaves in their area, and helped some gain their freedom. He wrote in a letter to his wife that "slavery as an institution, is a moral and political evil in any Country." He also wasn't in favor of Virginia seceding. So why did he fight for them? You might as well ask why a general in England who voted against Brexit doesn't move to Europe and join one of their militaries--Lee was a Virginian first, an American second. A position very typical of the time, though foreign to us today.

I could go on and on about what made Lee a great man, a great Christian, and one of the most vocal in the South after the war to encourage healing and love, to accept the freedom of former slaves as God-ordained and good, and to come alongside them as friends.

This is the man people today want to hate. Because they see only that he was a Confederate General, and they never ask why. They never ask what he actually believed.

Do we want to be judged as nothing but our jobs? One thing? One stance? One position?

I don't know about you, but I'm not so simple.

Why, then, do we expect our forefathers to have been?

Please, America. Please don't brand each other--those who live down the street or those who lived centuries before--as evil based on our failures, or on our perceived opinions of each other. Because if we are so quick to judge, to erase, to willingly forget...then what will we be remembered for?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Remember When . . . Food Was Scarce

As I write a series about the Great War, set in Europe, I keep being reminded of one of the hardships that goes hand-in-hand with total war: hunger. Within months of the German invasion of France and Belgium in 1914, lack of food became an issue. First in Belgium, where citizens were accustomed to buying nearly all their everyday food from abroad, and then in occupied France, where the locally grown produce was being requisitioned by the German army.

In A Song Unheard, my hero is from Belgium, though he's currently in Wales with an orchestra made up of other Belgian refugees. But his sister and mother are still in Brussels, and through the eyes of his little sister, Margot, we get a glimpse of wartime in an occupied country. The anxiety of realizing that there's only a few weeks' supply of food in the country. The reality of bread lines. The question of whether aid will come.

Something I found interesting as I was researching A Song Unheard--and which came up again in my research for the final book in the Shadows Over England Series, An Hour Unspent (due to my editor on Friday, eeep!)--is that the British were not happy with the idea of other countries sending food aid to Belgium and France.

Seems kind of strange, right? These were their allies. They obviously didn't want the people to starve. But they held an American ship filled with food for Belgium for months in a British port. Why?

Because they didn't want it to help the German army. And even if the rescue workers could guarantee all the food went to civilians, they still argued it would indirectly aid the German army, since it would mean less competition for what food was in the country. They'd blockaded German ports and wanted them to feel the pressure.

Eventually, the British government had to grant their approval to the aid. Hence began the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB), which took much-needed supplies into Belgium and Northern France throughout the war. Crossing front lines in both directions, allowed past blockades, and permitted to move freely through the war zones, the CRB was called, by one British diplomat, “a piratical state organized for benevolence.”

So naturally, they're going to have to play a small role in my stories. ;-)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Word of the Week - Tween

So this has been a debate in my house in recent weeks.

Xoe will say something about being/looking up pictures of/something geared at a tween. Rowyn will reply with, "I hate that word. It's not even a thing. I'm not a tween and I'll never be a tween."

To which Xoe will retort, "It is so a thing!"

Cue the "Mooooom!" shouts from both of them. I've already been called upon to referee this particular argument no fewer than 3 times, which neither ever being satisfied, LOL.

So, tween.

It's been a shortened form of between since around 1300, which is obviously not the way it's being use in the debate above. ;-) No, we're talking about "a child nearing puberty, between the ages of 9 and 12." Not quite a teen, but not always wanting to be grouped with the little kids. Well, this use can be traced to 1988, apparently--just a couple years before I would have been termed one, though I don't recall ever hearing the word until I was in my 20s. It's thought that this use is mostly linked to its nearness to the spelling of "teen," but it may also have been influenced by J. R. R. Tolkein using tween in The Lord of the Rings to refer to a period of irresponsible behavior in the Hobbit life-cycle.

Interestingly, before tween was used for this age group, there was apparently the word subteen used for the same, in the 1950s.

In earlier days, the word tween or tweenie was also used for a maid who served two others.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Back to School Sale!

With this being our first week of homeschool--and the third book in the Shadows Over England Series being due next week--I know I've been neglecting things here on the old blog.

But I've been cooking up a treat, anyway! (No, not brownies. Okay, so we made brownies last Friday. But I'm talking about something for you guys, LOL.)

How about a back to school sale on everything in my shop?!

From now until the day after Labor Day, you can get 25% off your entire purchase using coupon code BACK2SCHOOL.

That means 25% off signed copies of the new book. 25% off the fabulous library card tote bags. 25% off everything. Because fall is for reading. Right? (Of course, so is summer...and spring...and nothing beats a book and a hot cup of something while it's cold outside...)

So hie thee over to and see what must-haves are calling to you. I, meanwhile, will be plowing through the second half of the edits on An Hour Unspent so it's nice and shiny for my editor, and teaching my kiddos all about Elizabethan England.

Happy weekend!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Word of the Week - Eclipse

Figured I'd jump on the eclipse bandwagon today and talk about a part of it I haven't seen anyone else mention--the word itself! ;-)

Eclipse has been in English since around 1300 (since, you know, there was English), taken from French, which was taken from Latin, which is taken from Greek, all sounding like the original ekleipsis. But what did that original word assigned to the phenomena mean?

Quite literally, it means "an abandonment, a failing, a forsaking." Ek is "out" and leipein is "to leave." So when something abandoned its spot and went out, much like the sun and moon sometimes appear to do . . . there you go!

Are you planning on (safely) viewing the eclipse today? It's our first day of school, and we figured that was a pretty sweet science lesson for day 1. =) We bought eclipse glasses for the family last year when we were studying our astronomy unit and will be breaking those out today for sure!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Remember When . . . We Made Corn Husk Dolls

So after spending much of my birthday on Monday studying and getting the swing of making corn husk dolls, I figured I'd share my research and methods. =) I watched several tutorials on YouTube after first just looking at drawings on websites (so didn't help me, LOL), and just kinda picked my favorite methods from a bunch of them.

You can use fresh or dried husks for these, store bought or straight from the cob. I husked 5 ears yesterday and was using those. I just cut the stalk ends off the cobs and then peeled the layers of husk away, and the silk. Most of them I used on Monday, but then I put the remainder under a bookend overnight to keep them from curling up. If you're using dried husks, either steam-iron them flat (my mother-in-law's favorite method) or soak them in water for 10-15 minutes to make them pliable again (drying them off before use, of course).

So begin by assembling your supplies. You'll need the husks from 1 ear of corn (I didn't use all of it, but that gives you a good selection of thicknesses and widths), some twine or thread (Native Americans traditionally used sinew), whatever you want to use for hair (the silk from the corn or yarn), and a pair of scissors.

I personally think the hair is an important part of a doll, so I chose the method that incorporated it directly into the construction of the head and didn't require gluing it on separately. LOVE this! You can use the silk of the corn, and I did on one of the dolls, but I opted for yarn on this one--the plus of yarn being, of course, that you can choose whatever color you'd like. I've done blonde, brown, red, and black at this point. =) In this one, I chose black.

So you start by cutting your yarn. Keeping in mind that about two inches of it will be inside the doll, just measure it out as long as you'd like it to be, and as thick. I did this totally by sight. Once you've cut your yarn, tuck it inside 4 or 6 husks, with the ends up toward the pointy ends. Make sure you have an even number of husks. 

Once you've got them hugging your hair, cut off a length of twine (I usually cut about 6 inches) and wrap it about an inch from the pointed ends of the husks. 

Wrap it around and around until you've used most of the thread, pulling it as tight as you can. This will ensure your hair stays put!

Once you've done that, then start folding the husks down over the knot you just tied. This is creating the head, so shape it as desired--in this one I even balled up some bits of husks to round out the head a little more.

Then tie this off with another length of twine--good and tight again. This is forming the neck.

You now have a head and body. The next step is arms. Choose a husk and fold the tip inside it until it's the length you want, and then roll up the husk into a slender cylinder.

Tie each end with twine to form hands. Once you have that cylinder tied at both ends, it's time to insert it into the doll.

Divide the husks of the body evenly and just slide those arms right between them, positing it under the head, centered. Try to get it as far up the body as you can, as close to the head. Once you've got it where you want it, tie it into place.

So now you have a basic body, and if you like how it looks, you could pretty much stop there.

The next step, though, is to add shoulders and a bit of a bodice. For this, I chose thin, supple husks and split them to the width I wanted--about the width of my thumb. Position the square end at the waist (you can just trim off any hard pieces) and wrap it diagonally up the doll, over the opposite shoulder. Bring it around and take it over the end to hold it down. Make sure you leave enough of the wispy end to tie. Do the same thing on the opposite side, creating an X over the bodice of the doll. Tie this down with twine.

I very nearly stopped there, because I really liked how she looked. =) But since this was for instruction... Next step is the legs. If you're making a male doll or just want your girl to have legs, you can either divide or cut the husks below the waist into two groups.

I really liked the way that top husk was sitting, so I opted to fold it out of the way and preserve it for the skirt and just cut the husks into equal parts to form the legs. You could also just gather them into two sections. Tie at the ends for the ankles, and you can tie another spot halfway up for the knees if you want (which I meant to do but forgot). And voila! Legs!

If you want a nice full skirt, select some wider husks. I was running out of wide ones at this point (these were my leftover husks from Monday, remember), so mine aren't all that wide. You are working this step upside down and inside out, so it will look a bit strange.

But position the husks around her waist so that the side you want to show is against her body and the tip is pointing toward her feet. You might have to push her arms up out of the way, but layer them all the way around her. Once she's surrounded, tie the tips tightly around her waist. Then fold them down to form the skirt.

There you go! She's pretty much finished. Just trim the bottom of the dress to make it even.

Now, if you don't want the arms standing straight out, just get a bit of twine or yarn or ribbon and tie them down at the sides. Once the doll is dried out, the arms will retrain that shape.

To get fuller hair, I separated the strands of yarn, which makes it nice and curly and full.

Decorate however you wish! You can leave them natural or use fabric to dress them. On this one, I just added a ribbon to her hair thus far.

On Monday, Xoe and I had a blast playing fashion designer. We just used scraps and bits from our craft basket, some fabric glue, and a few dabs of hot glue here and there. I personally love how a simple circle skirt looks on them. I measured it with one of my small plates, cut a small hole in the center, and then tied it in place with another strip of cloth. A simple triangle of cloth can serve as a shawl, and voila! You have a simply dressed but lovely doll! (Or get fancy and make a bride. You know. Whatever.)

I think I'm ready to teach my homeschool class the art now! And have a new past time for evenings after we've had some fresh corn from my family's farm. =)

*Special thanks to the awesome Xoë, who not only manned the camera for me, but who donned my new super-high-heel shoes to give herself a better perspective. ;-)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Corn Husk Dolls

Not exactly a word of the week, I know. ;-) I'm giving myself permission to be lazy, since it's my birthday. But my "lazy" just means working on projects that are just fun, not technically work. Which today means corn husk dolls.

I just looked up how to make them yesterday, in preparation for a Little House in the Big Woods class that I'll be helping teach with our homeschool group this fall. Xoë and I had fun putting one together, but it doesn't seem exactly sturdy. (The image above is NOT ours, LOL. Ours looks more like this....)

Attempt #1. Falling apart, LOL.
Attempt #2, after watching YouTube videos. Muuuuuuch better!

I suspect that some of my readers have made their fair share of these fun little dolls, so I wanted to ask you guys if you have any tips or tricks for making them (using fresh [or dried] husks from corn on the cob, not store-bought husks). Is there a good way to keep them together? Any tricks for putting on hair? I'd love to have the kids make some to sell at our family farm's Fall Festival, so any tips are appreciated!

[Update: I found some awesome YouTube videos on this, and discovered a couple different styles to try out! Great fun! The second photo above uses this technique. I also want to try out the "sleeves" from this one.]

Friday, August 11, 2017

Fridays from the Archives ~ The Fly

Today we're glancing back in time a mere four years...and yet far more. Four years ago, you see, I was reminiscing about a day when I was maybe 10 or 11. One of those golden summer afternoons in the sanctuary of my church...where I had a run in with faith. And a fly.

I was a kid. I don’t even remember how old, probably about ten. My parents were in charge of the youth at our church, which meant I spent a lot of time there. My favorite thing to do? Slip into the quiet sanctuary and just be there. With no milling congregation, no dozens of conversations, no laughter, no music, no mothers calling for the little ones to come to their pew.

Just me. And that certain feeling that this was holy ground.

I grew up in church, I said my prayer for salvation along with the other kids in a children’s church service was I was, oh, five or six. And I meant it. Sure, it took me a lot of years to figure out what it was I had meant, ha ha, but there was never doubt. There was never turning away. There was never backsliding.

There were, instead, these quiet little moments when I brushed up against the divine and realized how much He loved me, in all the wackiest little things.

On this day, I’d meandered to the front of the sanctuary, where the much-disputed red velvet curtain hung on the back wall, a subject of heated debate among the board. My parents were also on the board, so I was aware of this debate. I found it so trivial that I just laughed over it. Take the curtain down, leave it up, what did it matter? Adults, I thought, got hung up on the weirdest things.

Me, I thought about more important things, ahem. Like the next story I would write, whether my mom would let me have Brittney over that weekend, and if my teacher would rearrange our desks soon because I was so tired of sitting beside those stupid boys who thought it was funny to mock everything everyone said. I made it a point never to laugh at them. Eventually they noticed and asked why. My answer? “Because you’re not funny.” Oh yes, brutal honesty from the tweener Roseanna, LOL.

The church was washed with the golden light of a summer evening. Kinda stuffy, as the air was turned off, but not too bad. It was only Sunday night, after all, it hadn’t had a chance to get really hot yet. I meandered to the front of the sanctuary, past the alter railings. Maybe I’d intended to go to the piano, who knew—I was known to trill out Für Elise any time I could.

But a buzzing of a fly disturbed my quiet. Have you ever noticed how loud one little fly sounds in a room with no other noise? So annoying. So there. And my first instinct, when it comes to a fly, is to swat at it.

That afternoon, though, I had a thought of, “No, I’m not going to kill a fly in church.” (Let it be noted I’ve never felt that particular conviction since, LOL.) Instead, I watched it buzz around the vaulted ceilings and land, eventually, on the alter table

I remember creeping closer, wondering how close I could get before it saw my movement and took off. One step nearer, two. At some point, I recall a strange series of thoughts running through my head. Something that mixed wonder with prayer. Something that made me stretch out in faith. Something that wasn’t exactly Peter walking on water, but which was stepping out nonetheless. I determined that God would hold the fly still, and I could touch it. Pet it. Stroke its wing.

And so I walked up to the table. I reached out. And I stroked its wing.

It’s a small thing. A simple thing. A silly thing. And yet as greater struggles of faith arise in my life, I sometimes think back on that fly. On a child who acted on faith, and who proved that her God heard the smallest, silliest thoughts in her head. And who didn’t mind touching His finger to a pesky little fly so that she could touch hers to it too.

Life is full of flies as well as hurricanes. Bumps as well as canyons. And oh, how nice it is to know that the God who cares about the one also cares about the other. That no matter my words, He listens.

Thank you, Lord.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Booksters Cast Their Votes on Covers...

Are you a member of the Band of Booksters yet?

If so, you get to vote today on new cover choices. If not . . . sign up here, request to be added to our Facebook group so you can chat with this amazing team of book lovers. THEN cast your vote. ;-)

Today's survey is deciding between two new styles for WhiteFire's first series. When Shadowed in Silk first released, thumbnail images weren't quite the King of Sales they are now (or at least, we didn't realize they were). Now that we know how important it is for title and author to be legible in that small size, we're giving the books in the series a facelift.

Remember these award-winning books?

We've come up with two new options for them. The first keeps the same models, but fades their face only into an Indian background.

The second version doesn't use photographs at all, but rather goes with a graphic style that focuses on the title and the color--choosing colors to correlate with the originals.

I won't be posting much more from the Band of Booksters on my blog, but as it's still so new, I want to give you a peek at what sort of thing you can expect, if you haven't signed up already. ;-) And if you have but didn't receive our newsletters last week, then check your spam folders and add us to your approved list! We'd love to have you join us on Facebook, where the discussions are already great.

Already a member, or have just requested to join? Then cast your vote for the covers!