Saturday, January 18, 2020

Alexa, May I?

One game my friends and I played nonstop all those many, many years ago, was "Mother, May I."

Looking back through the lens of years, I'm wondering where in the world that game came from. We learned it at school, I'm sure, and adapted the rules to fit our circumstances in the side yard at home, but I wonder which teacher first stood before her class and laid out the rules. Probably a teacher who was determined we were going to learn our manners, come what may.

One person was assigned to be the mother. She stood at one end of the yard and we lined up at the other end. When our individual turns came, "Mother" gave us instructions we had to follow. Like "take two giant steps forward," or "hop like a frog three times." The object of the game was to be the first person to get to mother.

If we obeyed without asking "Mother, May I?" we had to go back to the beginning line. If we said, "Mother, Can I?" we had to go back to the beginning line. Sometimes we added the "please" rule, and that set us back even more. The mother in our games usually wasn't all that fair, either. I played with sisters who disliked each other and ordered "baby steps" when they saw each other winning. Life lessons there.

My childhood training in "Mother, May I" came in handy one day last week. I went to my volunteer job, opening the Red Awning Art Gallery where my books are for sale. I was alone and the building creaked as the wind howled, so I needed noise to off set all those imagined footsteps an author like me manages to create in her head. I plugged in the neon "Open" sign and leaned over to the music box and said, "Play music." Nothing happened. I said it again, "Play music." Nothing. I remembered the please rule and added that. Still nothing. I was defeated by a black circle. I felt like I was sent back to the beginning.
Alexa sitting behind some art work
on an antique desk at the gallery

Lightbulb moment.

"Alexa, Play music."

Music.

Who would have thought that some obscure game I played once upon a time would be a part of reality in this century!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Play Pretties







I'm starting a new project that takes place in, you guessed it if you know my past projects, the mountains of western North Carolina. In my research I ran across the term "play pretty," as in "taking a play pretty from a baby" or "like a play pretty on the end of a string." What a delightful way to describe a toy. The Dictionary of American Regional English lists several examples of this southern way of talk, including a map showing where the expression "play pretty" has been found. Yes, the mountains of western North Carolina were on that map. Yes, my research was on daily life in previous centuries, although I found "play pretty" in the more modern Urban Dictionary.
Fort Defiance, Lenoir
When my fourth graders went on a field trip to Fort Defiance, the restored home of our town's colonial namesake, General William Lenoir, the docent taught them about play pretties from colonial times. One was the game of Graces, where players use a set of dowels to pass embroidery hoops from one to the next. 
(Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1766027)

Another play pretty was a hoop from a barrel that children could roll down a path using a stick to keep it moving and balanced. I wonder if any of those children in the Appalachian mountains all those years ago ever considered rotating the hoop around the belly. By the time I came along, the hoop went around the belly. And the neck. And the wrist. Times changed! Play pretties changed.

Our play pretties were simple. We played marbles until our school's playground was paved. Even the grassed lots didn't work all that well, since we couldn't find any sand where we could draw a circle for a game. 

We had metal pointy thingamajigs called jacks that we picked up each time we bounced a ball, first one at a time, then twosies, then threesies, and so on. I was not so adept at those evil play pretties. I doubt I ever picked up sets of jacks beyond the sixes or sevens. That's why I wasn't a fan, that and the fact that they hurt like crazy to step on in bare feet.

We skated, using another play pretty that wasn't so pretty when I skinned my knees and the blood dripped down my legs. I had a key for my skates. I inserted it into the metal slide between the two halves of a skate in order to change the size. I stayed in my regular shoes to skate and clamped the metal skates to them. Those straps around my ankles kept coming undone and tripping me. What a fun childhood I had!
I could write a book!

But wait. I am writing a book and the play pretties children found to entertain themselves three generations ago is a part of this book. Stay tuned.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Character

As we start into this new 2020 year and dust off the leftover crumbs of the 2019 past, I'm taking with me a little reminder-to-self of the importance of character, not only in my daily interactions with others, but in my recording of history. How I write my books shows as much about my character as that of the person I'm writing about.
Last week I made a delightful Christmas visit to my mother's cousin, Lorraine. She is ninety-two years old and still the lively, active subject of our book about her, Called to the Mountains.
In the midst of our little two-person celebration, she dragged out a photograph she found while scrounging through her many stacks of photographs. "Could you help me figure out what it says on the banner?" 

A history mystery! A challenge.
She brought out a magnifying glass and we at least were able to decipher the date, 1928. Despite all efforts, we were unable to go further. "Who are these people?" I asked. They appeared to be college aged, all dressed similarly in Sunday best. Or maybe graduation best. She had no idea, not even an inkling of where she got the picture.

"Could I take this with me and I'll scan it and work with it? Maybe then we will figure it out." Oh, the joys of modern technology when a puzzle is upon me!
Between the zooming in and the color clarity manipulation, the results revealed enough for me to call Lorraine and announce the words I found on the banner: Character is the Cornerstone of Success 1928. Wow. The past speaks! Lorraine might be ninety-two years old, but her thirst for knowledge has not dimmed. She wanted to know more, and so did I.

I searched the internet to see who originated that saying, as it sounded like an adage worth claiming to me. The only direct quote I found with those exact words was on a fortune cookie, and that doesn't match the 1928 roaring twenties of this picture! 

Next I went to the reverse image search engine called Tin Eye that I have used several times when I needed to locate the origins of photos I wanted to use in my books. 
Struck out there. 

I'd like to say I found more information, but I didn't. The trail is cold for the time being, but maybe, just maybe, I will hit a clue somewhere down the 2020 vision line and discover more about it.

Meanwhile I can only look at the individuals in this picture and wonder how life turned out for them. They would be over a hundred years old if any of them survived into this new century. This was 1928, when the world was on the cusp of a Great Depression. Did any of them succumb to their own depression and jump off a bridge to end it all just one year after posing for this photograph? Who among them were killed in the Second World War? Who had children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren walking beside us now? Which ones took that Character is...banner to heart and made such a tremendous success of themselves that we could write glowing reports about them today?

The people in this picture were frozen in time under a banner heralding the key to success. Their life was still a promise of yet to come days. The question I can't help but ask, when we take our own character is photograph on January 1, 2020, what will people in ninety years wonder about us? 

Catch of the day,

Gretchen



Saturday, November 23, 2019

Art Appreciation for Dreary Days

Gray Novembers. Dreary Days. Gloomy. It's rainy outside, can you tell by my choice of words? So here I am inside an art gallery waiting for art lovers to brave the elements and appear at the door. Meanwhile I'm alone with only Alexa keeping me company.

Except for these critters.

Who could be lonely with my friends for today: a papier mache dragon and octopus by artist Carole King. Doesn't the dragon face just beg for attention...and company?

Today I'm surrounded by art. Tapestries. Jewelry. Wood sculptures. Wire sculptures. Glassworks. Textiles. Pottery. Watercolors. Acrylics. Charcoal. The minds who created them aren't here. They are home creating more. But I'm here with the beauty, perfect pick-me-ups to chase away the gloom.


Fortunately for me, the artist guild I belong to here at the gallery looks at writing and publishing as an art and have included me in their line-up. To think, my humble books surrounded by all this beauty. Here's the Christmas display for my books:

Check out those glasswork trout by Jim Burchett with my fly fishing book. How perfect the match of book and art. Yvonne Miller designs the gallery's presentations and she's the one who connected the two. She claims she's not an artist, but I disagree. She has the eye for fitting pieces of an art puzzle exactly in the right spot. Being surrounded by creative people is my joy of being a part of this whole society of artisans. I feed off them. Their art speaks to me in the silence of a dreary Saturday at the gallery.

Are you surrounded by art? You need to give it a try.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Leather Britches

Time was, back in the day, a floundering newly-wed bride could go to a granny to find directions on how to cook a meal. My mother-in-law was one of those go-to people. She didn't write her recipes. She just did them, and we daughter-in-laws watched and gleaned from her.

Now that I'm the granny...well...please, daughter-in-law, don't watch. I have no special skill to pass along that can't be found in the granny replacement called the internet. Look there.

So if Rebecca Boone, wife of frontiersman Daniel, planned to cook leather britches, she did so because she knew from her mother, who learned from her mother.

I have no such luck. Cooking something such as leather britches is a lost art, gone with the death of the last pioneer wife who toiled over a wood powered cookstove...would be gone, that is, if it were not for Granny Internet.
Once upon a day, there appeared at a club meeting I attended, a man with a bag of what he claimed to be "leather britches." Believe me, the leather britches in that bag did have the appearance of dried leather from whence the name is derived. These weren't strung together in the usual way, but glomped into a plastic grocery bag. Ha. A juxtaposition of modern and pioneer.

I had heard about leather britches, maybe even seen them hanging in pioneer replica museums. I read Laura Ingles Wilder with my fourth graders, and we learned they were green beans that had been strung on a thread in a homesteading way of preserving food for later use. Except that in the Ingles house, as in all pioneer homes, the granny taught not only how to string them, but also how to cook them. And there was my problem. How does one cook these, I asked the man. Alas. He had no granny to tell him either.

I resorted to the modern go-to search engine and voila, Smoky Mountain Living had the answer to How to Cook Leather Britches. The process is long (bless those pioneer women's hearts) and requires a watchful eye, so I set aside a long stay-at-home morning and commenced the grand experiment. I collected the appropriate ingredients, washed the beans, and started the cooking process using bullion cubes rather than the fatback of my mountaineer ancestors.
 They boiled. And boiled. And boiled.
 Until finally...finally...three hours later, I had reconstituted green beans with a most unique flavor.
Okay, so I followed the directions and added the full teaspoon of salt, and realized too late I should have nixed the salt in favor of seasoning already in the bullion cube. Easy fix. I pulled out a boil-in-bag of rice and conveniently (thank you modern life) neutralized some of the salty flavor. I'm glad I experimented, but I don't plan to do it again. Ever.

I can sort of imagine how Rebecca Boone survived without google in her life. I did, once upon a precomputer time. But a little deeper now, my food for thought question is, what are modern grannies good for if google has taken over that role?

Ha! I know the answer to that every time I text my granddaughters or hear a whistle on my cell that a new instagram photo has arrived from one of them. I may not be able to counsel them on leather britches preparations, but I am there for them in a way Rebecca could never in a million years have imagined, and I don't have to spend hours upon hours stirring a pot over a wood stove.

Ain't modern life grand!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Appreciating A Super Author

Few authors reach what I consider "super" status, but when they do, let me say, they deserve the royal treatment. As in a parade. As in a reception. As in a television interview in front of two hundred plus adoring fans. As in what happened in Hudson, North Carolina last weekend.
Jan Karon.

If you've never been to Mitford in your mind, then you don't know Jan Karon. If you have been to Mitford through reading her cozy novels, then you know her. You also know where she comes from. Here. Small town western North Carolina. Foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In her writing, she created a humble little village like I would find around where I live, populated with all kinds of fictional, but very real, friends of mine. Yes. I will claim them as friends and well known acquaintances, because the books in her Mitford series ooze with delightful characters that I feel like I know personally. I've met these people in my daily wanderings. 

Sort of. That's what great writers do, construct a setting so real you feel a part of it.

Last weekend, I discovered I'm not the only fan of hers. She has enough readers to deserve a parade in her honor.
Enough to mob her so those of us in the back can barely see.
To earn the key to the city from the mayor.
To be interviewed in front of the standing room only crowd by Carl White, executive producer and host of the award winning television show, Life in the Carolinas.
I attended it all. The parade. The brunch. The afternoon tea the next day with the live taping of the show and visits from some of her characters straight from the pages of her imagination.

And one more thing. I joined fellow readers in marveling at the delicious orange marmalade cake mentioned often in the series that had been made special for us attendees. Yum.

What a super weekend! What a way to celebrate an author!

Catch of the day,
 
Gretchen

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Outlanders R Us

Being an author has opened my life a wide variety of unanticipated experiences. One was yesterday at Leatherwood, a mountain resort here in western North Carolina. There's just something about being around passionate book lovers, in this case the Diana Gabaldon Outlander series set first in Scotland, and later in North Carolina. Here was my view: 
These kilted soldiers were in the process of returning to their encampment. A bagpipe's drone in the background sucked me back in time, much like the main character of these beloved books.
My tent was closer to the simple beauty of the flute.
And then later that of the harp.
None of my books cross paths with the time travel Scottish Highlander coming to America story of the Outlander series, but I did have books to offer, and these festival attendees were avid readers, after all. To those I met from Florida and Texas and Canada and Scotland (yes there were some who traveled across the Atlantic to this place in time specifically for the Fraser's Ridge Homecoming event), everything about the Appalachians was a draw. Reading for the love of adventure no matter where is the most remarkable phenomena ever! 

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

PS Check out the website for Fraser's Ridge Homecoming. You might have missed it this year, but next year's date has already been announced.