Monday, October 31, 2011

Cold Run Creek

courtesy of

The first hot day of summer always meant a trip to Cold Run Creek.  In Illinois, the word ‘hot’ was a simpler way of saying: stinking, muggy, miserable, too-hot-to-work.  Going to Cold Run “Crik” was the only way to spend an afternoon until the sun moved behind the tall maple trees to the west.

The creek was spring-fed, straight from the bluffs that hovered over the creek.  Water from the springs was clear and icy cold; it rolled over smooth pebbles, and under towering trees.  Very little sun made its way to the flowing creek.

slow flowing, cool water

We would clamber down from the ’56 Ford pick-up bed, and run across the rocky slopes.  Pausing long enough to throw off shoes and lay the towels over the rocks, we raced into the frigid water.

“I was first!”  “No, you weren’t!  I was!”  Then there would be a splash war.  When our legs were numb from the knee down, we allowed ourselves to leap into the deeper water.  How deep?  Not too deep, maybe three feet.  None of us could swim.  There was a deep drop-off under a willow tree, and it was maybe five or five and-a-half feet.  We all knew where it was, where to stop walking. 

Mom and Dad would go over there, and the willow branches hung over them like a sheer curtain.  They could see us, but we could not see them.  I always wondered about that.

One time when I was new to the lay-out of the creek, I splashed over to them, and stepped off into the deep.  My dad grabbed my floating braids and pulled me up.  They all laughed, so I couldn’t cry.

I wonder how many generations enjoyed Cold Run Creek.  How many children thrilled at that first jolt of spring-cold water on a roasting hot day?  How many lovers knew about the ‘deep part’ where the willow tree sheltered and hid them? 
Those are the unanswered questions that float around the world of Cold Run Creek.

If you are hitting a wall for writing ideas, go here! 

Friday, October 28, 2011

The First Kiss

A girl dreams about her first kiss.  The moment hormones appear, she begins imagining that very special first kiss. 

I was no different.  Mainly I wondered about the mechanics of the kiss.  Am I supposed to hold my breath?  What if I sneeze?  Is the kiss straight on, or does one person have to angle the head slightly?  I mean, the nose can get in the way.  So many logistical questions, and I had no answer. 

So the day came: the day of my first kiss.

It was almost 45 years ago to this very day, October 28.  In 1967, I would soon be 15 years old, and as yet un-kissed. 

My brothers were going hunting, so our Uncle Leo drove from the city to our farm with his son, my cousin Preston.  They were going hunting, a manly thing that all the men in my family seemed to enjoy.

I had not seen Preston since the previous Christmas.  He was my age, younger by weeks.  Something had happened in those months since Christmas.  

 Preston was tall and had shoulders.   

He now shaved because he had obvious manly stubble.  When he smiled at me, his eyes twinkled in a way never noticed before.   

Handsome—that’s the word.  Preston was now handsome.

He had not seen me either.  Apparently I had also changed somewhat.  Things had settled in the right places and my face was that of a young lady.   

When I laughed or smiled, Preston glowed and beamed back at me. 

I watched as the men sauntered to the mud-splattered pick-ups, their shotguns in the worn cases tucked under their arms.  The way they carried the guns, so casual and confident, stirred something primal within me.

As they hoisted themselves up into the pick-up, Preston turned his head and smiled, just enough to let me know that he knew I was watching.  

 Sigh.  Be still my beating heart.

Soon they returned, a boisterous band of successful hunters.  They had gone into the wild, hunted for the good of the tribe, and returned with meat for the table.  

 The guttural roars of triumph and the jesting about missed shots brought us womenfolk outdoors to welcome the menfolk back from their foray into the forest.

I made a bee-line to Preston, breathless and eager.  Why, I didn’t know.  This was all new to me.  With pride, Preston held up his rucksack, declaring his skill as a provider.  “Come on over here, and I’ll show you.” 

We walked a few feet to the barn yard, by the stone wall.  Preston opened the rucksack, and pulled out one of his kills.  
This is not Preston, but a photo that captures the thrill of the moment.

It was a squirrel, a brown squirrel.   “One shot, I got him in one shot,” Preston told me as I gingerly touched the soft fur.  “Wanta help me skin ‘im?”  he said as he laid the dead squirrel on the stone wall.

Romance was in the air that day, let me tell you.

I did not cry or gasp in horror.  No, this was the farm, after all.  Although feminine, I was made of farm-tough stuff.

With his handy well-used hunting knife, I watched as Preston began the initial cuts.  It was clear to me that he was experienced, he knew what he was doing.

Then he leaned over and kissed me.  Just like that.  Kiss. 

We both giggled, and I believe I blushed. 

While we felt the glow of new kissing, Preston instructed me on how to separate the fur skin from the red muscles of the squirrel.  How to ease the pelt over the little squirrel paws without tearing the pelt. 

It was magic.  I don’t know how else to describe my first kiss, except to say I have never been kissed like that before or since.  


 Many thanks to Arlee Bird for his leadership!

If you are curious about recipes for squirrel entrees, this appears to be a great site! Bon Appetit!

p.s.  My mother cooked up squirrel the next day for dinner. She soaked the meat in brine for 24 hours.  Rinsed it and par-boiled it in seasoned water.  Then dredged it in flour and seasonings.  She browned the meat in an iron skillet; covered the skillet, lowered the heat, and let it braise until tender.   Can't remember how it tasted.  I was still in a state of kissing euphoria.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cast of Characters!

Welcome to the "Cast of Characters"!  I elected to reference previous posts, which are chock-a-block with photos and such.  I hope you don't mind the extra work.  Thanks for popping over to check out my characters!  Susan Kane

Go to Carrie's blog to see what is happening there!

Book:  In Preacher’s Creek

Setting:  1950s, rural Illinois, farming community, small town of Preacher’s Creek: Pop. 627

Main character(s):  Ellen Jo Carter, age 4 ½ yrs., and brother Kent James Carter, age 6 yrs.

Interview with M/C:

This interview was fun to do.  Ellen Jo is very introspective and strong in her loyalty.  This interview reveals some of her characteristics.

This site is where the collage of photos put into a blender would produce the characters of Preacher’s Creek. 

The back story of this book follows;

At the bend of the creek where the water bows and sweeps over smooth rocks, a small town was planted by some either very brave or very weary pioneers.  These travelers had come from all over Europe and Scandinavia seeking a better life than had been theirs in the old country.  At the shores of the Atlantic, travelers followed other bends in other creeks, climbed over hills and mountains following animal paths, and wondered where their new home would be. 

By the time this particular bend in the creek had been met, the wagons sagged to the ground and the oxen started grazing.  One person, Annabelle Lister Johnson, made the decision.  “This is where you’ll be born,” she told the child inside her rounded womb.

Years pass, the settlement grew from a few rough cabins to a town with mud streets, true houses, a school and a dry-goods store.  Eventually, four churches popped up around the school, politics in the form of the town council joined in the growth.  The town survived smallpox, measles, several water-born diseases, a Civil War, and a name-change.  Originally called “Bow Town” after the Bow Creek, the town now was “Preacher’s Creek”. 

Towns evolve.  Disasters and successes, births and deaths—all mix together in a small town.  The names that started the town are still strung all over the population and through the blood of the town.  New names joined in over the years, and family lineage blended with the town’s history. 

This is the story of Preacher’s Creek, population 627 on any given day.  The time period of this story is the 1950s, after World War II.  The men who survived have returned to their hometown and have picked up their lives.  Some returned to the family farms, some learned trades and set up businesses, and some found jobs in the surrounding communities.  The women who waited for these men are now wives and mothers.   This is part of the booming economy during which the infrastructure of current America blossomed.

Among those men and women is the Carter family, Joe and Louise Carter, with a growing family.  Preacher’s Creek, being a close-knit community which knows each and every resident by name and by ancestry, is the kingdom in which Ellen Jo and Kent Carter hold court.  Or reign terror, either one. 

In Preacher’s Creek is the story of a town, its people, history, and struggles, as seen through the eyes and words of these children.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sunshine and Self-Control

“I don’t know what came over me…I couldn’t help myself…I don’t know…I don’t know…indistinct sobbing”  (Chorus Line)

Sunshine is our five-year old granddaughter.  Sunshine is free spirited.  She dances when she hears music.  Sunshine speaks her heart.  She gives hugs freely, and cares when others are hurt or sad.  Sunshine thinks everyone is kind and loving, just like she is.  But, oh my, Sunshine, Sunshine.

Lately, we adults have been looking into her glistening blue eyes and hearing these words, spoken over and over in various combinations. (Chorus Line)

Yesterday Sunshine was so happy about the lasagna and fresh French bread, that she hugged that soft loaf of bread nearly in two. (Chorus Line)

At school, Sunshine wrote her name on her own desk.  She wrote it very well and very hard with her pencil.  Sunshine had to stay in from recess to scrub it clean. (Chorus Line)

Mommy went into her bathroom and found two straws floating in the toilet.  The first 1 ½ inches of each straw was fill with a smelly brown substance.  Mommy yelled, “Sunshine!”  She replied, “It was a science experiment!” and then... (Chorus Line)

Sunshine found a Sharpie™ marker and wrote on Mommy’s nice bedroom end table.  She wrote all over it.  Then she moved onto the foot of the bed.  (Chorus Line)

This was on, but Sunshine draws like this.

There is so much more in the Sunshine file, but this is all I care to reveal.  It is enough. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Samuel vs. Ginger

Thanks Pam and Dawn! See*Photo*Write

Heavy rain pelted the Old Church door and Samuel coughed.  It was a wet cough followed by yellow goo from his nose.  Misery was running high.

The Mommy had cleaned him up, wiping his nose again.  ‘Just let it flow, woman!’  Samuel had already found the sofa and chairs useful enough. 

The doorbell rang, and Aunt Tammy came whooshing through the door.  An irritatingly cheerful woman, “Oh, whittle Sammie Whammy has duh sniffuls?” as she scooped him up.  “Oh, who’s duh cutest…” 

Samuel let loose with a full-bodied sneeze right into her open mouth.  ‘Just for you, Tammy Whammy!’

The Mommy carried in a gift from Tammy’s car:  a round fish bowl with a deep-red fish swirling around, its fins fluttering in clear water.  Setting it on the table, she wiped Samuel’s nose again and took him from the retching Aunt Tammy.

Putting Samuel down by the table, the Mommy called, “Here’s some tea!”  Tammy stumbled, retching all the way to the kitchen, leaving Samuel.  Eye level with the fish bowl, Samuel considered it.

Ginger-the-old-fat-tabby appeared on a chair next to Samuel.  Their eyes met, thoughts were exchanged, and challenges made.  Who is faster?  Who is better?  Who will win this battle?

Samuel saw only one way. Giving it his all, Samuel screamed and cried, “Whaaaa!  Mommmmmmammmmmmaaa…”

The Mommy came, saw the crying child pointing at the cat, and grabbed the Ginger.  She scolded the old cat all the way to the front door.  Ginger and Samuel exchanged looks.  ‘So this is the way it is to be,’ Ginger glared through slitted eyes.

Time enough.  Just time enough.  Samuel grabbed the fish bowl between snotty hands, pulling it to the edge.  ‘Be free, my friend.  Be free.’  The bowl dropped.

1st Writes

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Building of (a) Character

Characters in stories have to be as tangible and consistent as would a real person be:  believable, and evolving and growing as they face down life.  All those things.  The characters are defined by how they react to situations, the internal processing of events, the words that come out of their mouth, and the atmosphere in which they move.

It is not easy to create a character, unless the writer starts at the skeletal level.

As I write, I must first capture the general person in the physicality of their presence.
My mother with her mother, 1970

My mother was 5’6”, medium build, slim and muscular, and pretty.  She had hazel green eyes and brown hair.  She worked hard all her life and was determined, even stubborn.  This formed the baseline for “Louise”, the mother in my book, In Preacher’s Creek. 

With the physical baseline, Louise acquired characteristics, much like a jigsaw puzzle.  Since I am a veteran people watcher, I observed bits & pieces of a stranger’s personality, and mentally noted the ones I wanted Louise to have.  Over time, Louise incorporated those ‘pieces’. 

I wrote character sketches for each character for In Preacher’s Creek.  These 3,000-5,000 word ‘portraits’ helped me to define who the character was, what he would do or how would he react, all around a stressful time in the small town life. 
My mother with her fiance', my dad

Louise had to face the responsibilities of being a mother at age 19, running a house and working on the farm with her husband, and having more children rather quickly. 

Louise also had to fight for her son, Kent, when it is discovered that he is nearly blind at one year of age.  The time period, the 1950s, limited options for a child with physical or learning disabilities.  Louise will have to be ‘Warrior Momma’ for Kent all his life.  This is part of her character portrait, as it is part of Kent’s own character sketch.

There are constant litmus tests I run for each character, to keep consistency and remain founded in their character.  For Kent and Ellen Jo, one litmus test was:  “They came to the huge crack in front of Old Mr. Parson’s house.  It had grown even since they had moved to Preacher’s Creek.  Should they jump over it?  Should they stomp on it, even though the nursery rhyme says, Step on a crack, break your mother’s back?  Or, should they kneel down, find a sharp stick, and dig for bugs?  

 True to their characters they will kneel down and scour for bugs and possibly treasures.  When Old Man Parsons yells, “Get outta here!”, they will take off like the devil himself was chasing them. When they get a block away, their weak bravado will allow Kent to yell something back. 

As for Louise, the phone will ring and she will hear Barb-the-telephone operator’s voice, who tells her what a neighbor heard Kent say.  When the children get home, Louise will respond to Kent’s actions consistently, according to the jig-saw pieces that have formed her. 

I know, I know.  Writing 3,000 words that will or may never be used for anything other than my own understanding seems like a waste of work.  For me, it puts the character firmly in my mind, a painting that moves, and keeps that person almost solid enough to touch.

That is what I want for each character.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Craft of Writing

Lately I have been reading several blogs about the art/craft of writing, and have been fascinated.  JE Fritz writes so well about etymology.  You are one smart lady, JE!   

Another blogger (name lost in brain fog—sorry) wrote about character development, and what drives it.  Another blogger wanted suggestions for names for the M/C, S/C, and sidekick.  I selected Dakota and Skylar (from a great list with name meanings) for the first two, but drew a total blank for the third name.  I may have suggested ‘Loki’.

This has led me to write about my own methods of character development. 

I have been writing all my life, literally.  Reading and then responding to literature were hand-in-hand for me.  That is how I taught every student, that is how I write.  There is a great series, Great Books, using ‘shared inquiry’ and ‘guided discussion’.   

Go to this site for further information.

Teaching writing also forced me to examine, and I do mean really examine the how and why of my own writing.  The most effective teacher of writing is a teacher who writes.
I was blessed enough to pursue improving my writing by interviewing with the San Diego Area Writing Project at UC San Diego in La Jolla, CA.  I was chosen to participate in an in-depth, in-your-face, no-holds-barred writing program called SDAWP.  

 Every day, at least six hours a day, I wrote. Oh my, I wrote so much.  Other teachers wrote.  We shared and critiqued others’ writings.  We also taught each other about writing. 

It was humbling to stand in the front of a room filled with 25-30 talented and gifted teachers, and to teach them about my own passion for writing.

Go to this site for more about the program:

So, I will write more on this, tomorrow.  

p.s.  I hope the YouTube link thingy works.  I am dismal at stuff like this.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Samuel Returns

Time passes, and Samuel found himself in a high chair with a small cake on the tray.  Two candles had been lit, and he was surrounded by adults singing with silly smiles on their faces.  'Okay, fine,' he thought. 

Samuel blew out the candles and obliged his worshipers by squishing the cake beyond recognition.  When Grammie came close, he lobbed a big chunk straight at her.  'In your face, Grammie! Heh, heh!'

The Mommy then scooped Samuel up and took him to the master bathroom for a bath. She stripped him naked and hosed him down.  After the Mommy dried him off, she introduced him to ‘pull-ups’.  He knew what they were, sure.  Easy on, easy off.  'Heh, heh.'

The phone rang.  The Mommy answered it, leaving Samuel to roam around the bedroom.  Now very mobile, Samuel could get up a good head of steam when he wanted. 

That was when he saw the bed.  'A tree?  In here?' He wondered.  Walking around and eyeballing the brown posts and brown leaves, Samuel thought a bit.

Easy on, Easy off.  Samuel went to one post, took perfect aim, and watered it with yellow water.  He watered it soundly.  'Drink deep, tree.  Drink deep!'

The Mommy screamed.  Yanking up his ‘pull-ups’, she scolded him.

'Dammit, woman!'  He eyed her coldly.  'It needs fertilizer, too!'

I want to express thanks to Pam and Dawn who weekly discover awesome photos and post them for writing prompts.  I would love this bed.

Go to See*Photo*Write

Who the heck is Samuel?  Go to:
Just who the heck is Samuel? 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Crazy Goose

That crazy goose
The crazy goose who never left
It was a cold November that year.  Snow moved in early, and my father was glad to have the crops in and the livestock secure.  He had watched the sky for more snow, and saw the last of the snow geese moving down from Canada.  The week before the sky had been full of them, and now there were isolated gaggles in their V-formation.

The following morning Dad moved the Farmall tractor with a trailer of hog feed through the gate.  Perched up on top of the feeder was a snow goose, its wing clearly wounded.  They glared at each other for a minute until the goose gave up and fluttered down to the ground.   Dad filled the feeder and speculated what the hogs would do to this lonely injured goose.

It didn’t take long for his question to be answered.  The hogs rushing in for their chance at the feeder were held back by one very obnoxious aggressive, albeit injured, goose.  Hissing and nipping at their snouts, the goose was the first at the trough. 

This would be the way of the goose and the hogs for the next few years.  During the coldest nights, the goose always found a perch on a pile of warm hogs.  At every feeding the goose was at the head of the line.

When Dad herded the hogs to be sorted for market, the crazy goose insisted in going into the sorting chute.  Getting it out back to the hog lot took a lot of effort.

Then another November day five years later, the goose disappeared.  Dad thought it might have heard the overhead geese calling and decided to join them. 

The next day Dad found feathered remains in the lot.  ‘Well, it had a good life, a long life,’ Dad thought. 

pigs on farm
Let's take a few minutes to pray for the soul of our departed friend, the crazy goose....

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


A John Deere combine sits at the end of harvest.  It's been cleaned up and is ready for next year.

My father spent a lot of time at this place.  Retired farmers don't really retire.

The Methodist Church is surrounded by golden trees in the fall.

Log cabins are never allowed to crumble into pieces.  They are reworked, added to, and made into a home for the next generations.

These homes are down by the railroad tracks, next to broad fields.  Harvest is done, so it is much quieter, and has less corn-dust.

This lovely home always, always has a seasonal display with an American flag.  I have seen this home for more years than I care to confess, and every year it is lovely.

I wish I owned this trike.

These owners are such talented gardeners.  From Spring to Winter, their yard has color.
Migraines have robbed me of several days.  So I will instead share some autumn photos of my mother's hometown.  It is a 'pictures and a thousand words' sort of thing.