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One of the most important things when writing fiction is your setting. When you show your characters interacting and speaking with one another, you must describe to the reader what they are doing, and where they are doing it. Failure to do this leaves you with a certain boring blandness, sometimes referred to as “white space”.
When I write, the weather is like an extra man on the football field during the game. Technically, he is not supposed to be there but can affect the outcome of the game. I treat the weather as another character in my story. You can do so much with the weather to add color and depth. Do you want your character to appear warm and cozy in his log cabin? How about a snowstorm or a cold north wind, howling in the background?      Autumn weather brings the shortening of days, cricket chirps, cold drizzle, frosty nights, and warm afternoons. You can make a short walk to the mailbox seem like a journey to the arctic if your character must walk through drifts of blowing snow that cut at his face like sand from a sandblaster. Think of yourself as a painter, filling in the background and places where your characters must live, move around, and exist.
The following is a short excerpt from one of my new books yet to be published. I endeavored to use the weather as another character, a protagonist and antagonist to the person called Cadan:

  The sun was particularly bright that morning, and Cadan was thankful that it would be at his back for the duration of his ride. A stiff breeze raced down the hills in the distance his way, causing him to press his hat down snugly on his head. Baring something unforeseen, Cadan figured that with Jim’s gentle lope, he should have the hamlet of Refuge in sight within an hour or so.
  However, the late summer morning ride with blue skies, serenaded by the melodic twitters of meadowlarks perched on branches and bush, and kestrels hovering above, ready to stoop upon their prey hiding in emerald patches of meadow soon changed. Low dark clouds moved in from the northwest, and soon, gusts of cold wind began to blow, and large heavy drops of rain like silver pellets struck his hat and horse. —MLJ

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The title of this post is from a poem by Emily Dickinson, describing her encounter with a snake. I recently read an article about a Michigan woman bitten by a snake in her backyard, which turned out to be the species massasauga, a small rattlesnake indigenous to Michigan. It is somewhat rare, shy, and is not aggressive, but it evidently felt threatened and did bite this woman.  I have spent much of my life in Michigan, camping, hiking, exploring, etc., and have never encountered one, on purpose or by accident. This lady wasn’t so fortunate.
Another young girl near Detroit tried to pick one up and was also bitten. The lesson is, don’t “mess” with a snake if you don’t know what it is, especially in the Great Lake State. The following excerpt is from one of my books GRACE IN OLD SODUS, chapter FINDING GRACE:  
     As the rain fell steadily, Sam spun on his heels to find Karl and felt something strike against his right leg just above his boot line. A sharp, tingling pain, like a wasp sting or salty sweat in an open wound, stabbed him. Sam lifted his lantern and caught the glimpse of a small, dark snake hanging from the cuff of his blue jeans. Quickly grabbing it, he slung it away into the invisible darkness of the flowing river. Pulling up his pants leg, he squatted down on a wet, mossy log and held the lantern close. There was only one bite hole with a trickle of blood, but it was unmistakable. Sam was sure he had been bitten by a massasauga rattler, a small species of rattlesnake and the only venomous snake indigenous to Michigan. This swampy, undisturbed woods was just what it liked when seeking places to hibernate for the winter. Sam had never seen one in the flesh, as they were normally shy and bit only if harassed or stepped upon. Well, it seemed he’d stepped on this one.
     Sam felt his ankle for swelling but there was none, and the expected intense pain from the snake’s venom did not come. His head remained clear, and after sitting for several minutes, he was sure that the short-fanged snake had given him a “dry bite.” Rattlesnakes can control their venom and sometimes will bite for defense but not inject their poison. Pulling down his pants leg, Sam grasped the handle of his lantern and headed in Karl’s direction, thankful and hoping that Billy had not met with one of these “narrow fellows in the grass,” as the poet called them. –MLJ

THE GIBSON GIRL

I recently purchased a mint condition postage stamp depicting the image of the so-called Gibson Girl.  As indicated on the reverse of the stamp, “The Gibson Girl” was created by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. This iconic image and others like it set the “ideal” of what the perfect American woman should look like around the turn of the century (1900’s).
In my most recent book, THE NEW BADGE,  I mention this phenomenon in the chapter JUDITH, page 41:

Stopping in front of Granfield House, the driver opened the stage door and announced that hot victuals could be obtained at the hotel, which was a mere “stretch of the limbs” down the boardwalk. Hearing the driver say “limbs,” the word used in polite society in place of “legs” when ladies were present, Alice grinned. It would seem there was at least one woman aboard.
  Sure enough, a young lady not yet twenty years old, with blonde hair and a stylish hat, stepped out of the stage door and looked about her. She was fashionably attired with her hair done up in the latest updo reminiscent of the so-called Gibson Girl. Alice greeted her and asked her to take a seat inside and she would see to her trunk and room.  –MLJ

Many years ago when I was a lad of about seven or eight, my dad purchased an old sixty-acre farm on Meadowbrook Road in Pipestone Township. There was a red barn, a silo made of baked-clay blocks, and several outbuildings on the property. The only thing left of the old house was a set of concrete steps leading to nowhere.

My dad set out to build our new house on this same spot, and as a young boy, this gave me plenty of opportunity to explore the ancient treasures left behind by the previous owners, that in my young mind were just ghosts. I found an old wooden oxen yoke (which I still have) and other things, particularly an old wooden board about two feet square. It wasn’t just a board, but had been constructed with some skill, pieced together using mortise and tenon joints.

Not sure what it was, I showed it to Dad who promptly identified it as a breadboard. Some farmer’s wife of days gone by had apparently used it quite often to make her family’s bread. Stained with fat and oil, it had old flour in its joints and cracks that probably acted like plaster.

Coming from a family that grew up with good homemade bread, I can understand how the mere sight of “mom” taking this board out from behind the kitchen door and setting it on the table was enough to make mouths water in contemplation of hot brown loaves from the oven. Thick slices of steaming bread slathered with freshly churned butter went quite well with bowls of creamy tomato soup, fragrant with celery leaves.

Was this breadboard just another vintage kitchen tool to this farmer’s family or was it more like an “altar”, storing up many sweet memories to recall?  Bread baking was usually a weekly thing in those days, a duty and a charge like laundry and canning, done with the love of a mother for her husband and children. How many mountains of dough had been mixed and kneaded on this board over the years?

Do you have something in your home from days past that elicits dear memories every time you look at it?  Tell your kids about these things so they don’t just toss them out when you’re gone. Teach them the value of remembering.   MLJ

Many things have changed since I went to school as a young child. I was so privileged to be a part of the final days of the old one-roomed schoolhouse era, that at one time, was the standard for rural education in this country.
We had one teacher who taught all grades from kindergarten to eighth. There were fifteen students in our school and some of the grades only had one student. There was a large bell in the belfry on the roof and a long thick pull rope that hung down, used for signaling the beginning of school and the end of recess and lunch hour. It was considered quite the “thing” when Teacher gave you permission to ring it.
At recess and during noon hour we played softball in the cow pasture across the gravel road among the Holsteins. (I’m not going to tell you what we used for bases.)
We prayed before meals in those days and even had a visiting missionary from Rural Bible Mission come around once a month to tell us a Bible story. The students all stood up and pledged allegiance to the flag at the start of each day with hand over heart and then we sang a verse of “My County ‘Tis of Thee”.
Teacher was awed and respected and discipline was meted out swiftly in the cloakroom for those of a rebellious nature. It was a wonderful sweet time never to be seen again.—MLJ

The title of this short offering is from Proverbs 31:31. I know, not another Proverbs thirty-one message, you say (roll your eyes), to make a point about women.  Hear me out, though.

ELIZA JANE MOORE 5

ELIZA JANE JEWELL
in her 30’s and 70’s

I was recently looking at an old photograph of a woman standing before a wood burning stove in a crude kitchen (c. 1920’s or 30’s), preparing a meal, presumably for her large family. This put me in mind again, of just how different things are today. I have often said that we are in many ways, mere shadows of our ancestors, especially our mothers and grandmothers.  Could we have succeeded if we had lived back then? I’m not going to go on about no electricity, kerosene lanterns, wood burning stoves, gravel roads, horses and buggies, biscuits and gravy, etc. I just want to speak a few words to honor those amazing women that made it possible for me, and others of my clan to be here.  I am not able to mention each and every one but let me introduce you to my great-great Grandma Jewell.
Eliza Jane Moore was born in New York State in 1846, married  my 2 Gr Grandpa Printis Jewell in 1864 at eighteen, and died in 1924 when she was seventy-eight.  She was a godly woman, had a passel of kids, cared for my great Grandpa who was sick with the consumption (TB) from his time in the Civil War, and was widowed at age thirty-five. When she passed away, she was just skin and bones, and bore the visage of one who knew heartache and hard physical labor intimately.
She wasn’t a feminist but she was feminine. She took care of her family with pride and a sense of duty. Others looked to her and were proud of her for what she did. I know I am.
In this age of helpless “snowflakes”, thank God for those who went before us, and gave us life and a heritage, even if it was sustained on a diet of corn meal mush and biscuits made with lard. –MLJ

And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. Acts 12:2

   How unexpected it is to read in the Word of God that James, the brother of John was killed by King Herod, just as the New Testament Church began in its infancy. He was the second of the twelve to die;  Judas Iscariot, the traitor, being the first.
This was not supposed to happen, was it? James was part of the “inner circle” of Apostles along with Peter and John. He was privy to the special teaching and experiences from Our Lord. He saw Him transfigured, and speaking with Moses and Elijah. When the other Apostles were left behind to “stay by the stuff”,  he was invited along when Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, sought Our Lord’s healing for his daughter. The Scripture says: And when he came into the house, he suffered no man to go in, save Peter, and James, and John, and the father and the mother of the maiden.
James and John along with Peter were given the privilege of praying alone with Our Lord in the garden just before his betrayal:  And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
James and John’s father, Zebedee must have been quite a character. In Mark it is recorded: And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he (our Lord) surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder:   Zebedee must not have been one you wanted to cross. Perhaps he showed his displeasure when our Lord told James and John to follow him, right in the midst of a busy workday.  I love this passage because it shows Our Lord had a sense of humor.
Perhaps James wondered himself at his special treatment, perhaps thinking he was being set apart and prepared for some great ministry.  Maybe the other Apostles felt a tinge of envy and wondered why James was so privileged, thinking to themselves as Peter had done concerning John: “Lord, and what shall this man do?”
Our Lord told his half-brothers (Mary and Joseph’s other sons): “your time is alway ready.” Good people sometimes die inexplicably, even God’s children, and it pleased the Lord to take James home early in martyrdom.  Some might say, before he fulfilled his ministry, but I believe it was fulfilled. It was just as much the Lord’s will for James to be executed by Herod as it was for his brother John to be the last of the Apostles to die almost one hundred years after the Lord’s birth. A ministry is not measured by its length, but by other things like faithfulness—MLJ

Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.    Matthew 11:26