Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Happy Valley revisited

Our long descent down the mountain road into State College PA fed my imagination, as it had in 1983 when I first visited. Mountains and forests rim the valley, dubbed Happy Valley by residents who consider themselves blessed to live there. Some go so far as to say the sun always shines there -- figuratively if not literally. Mt. Nittany presides over the glorious terrain that has been home to ancient Native American tribes, pre-Revolutionary War pioneers, and now modern inhabitants. In or near the Valley, visitors will see awesome stands of primeval forest, fast running rocky streams, caves, and other natural wonders preserved from times primordial.

But changes have transformed the landscape in the last two decades. State College is larger, with more people, houses, malls, businesses. Once picturesque wilderness areas have become housing developments. Slab Cabin Run, that wild creek coursing through a small farm with only one or two houses in view, is now lined with homes. The homes are beautiful, to be sure, but the creek is no longer an isolated place of quiet contemplation. Yes, the birds still sing and flitter happily from tree to tree. Wild creatures visit on occasion. But the pristine peace has been shattered by a four lane highway built nearby in recent years. Much has been lost in the name of progress. Day and night, traffic noise from 16-wheelers and pick ups and cars now forms a roaring backdrop to the peace my aunt and uncle once enjoyed along the creek. Gone is drinking coffee on the deck at dawn, basking in nature's quiet while watching mist rise from the creek. Muted conversations and introspective meditations must occur inside four walls now.

I live in rural Nebraska, far away from city noises and interstates. Miles and miles of pastureland and crop ground separate me from the nearest city, and that is just the way I like it. I love my aunt and uncle and cousins who live in Pennsylvania. I treasure memories of my visit. But now that my trip to State College is history, thoughts of blown up mountains, decimated forests, fractured peace, and noisy trafficways remain. Is it expedience, politics, or ignorance that prompts state and local governments to ruin paradise for taxpayers?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Lonely Canoli shines in Harrisburg

I'm home from my Pennsylvania trip and have many tales to tell with photos to share. The photos will have to wait until they are digitally available, but I could not wait to write about the Lonely Canoli. The Lonely Canoli is real. It is also a metaphor.

My relatives in Pennsylvania are beautiful, accomplished people. My last night in Pennsylvania celebrated life and captured the essence of what it means to be family. Cousin Russell Ford, his wife Barb, cousin Doug Ford, his wife Pam, and I gathered at a new Italian restaurant in downtown Harrisburg. Bricco is a dining experience and not simply a place to snarf a meal and run. It epitomizes to me the goals of the Harristown Development Corporation which has been renovating downtown Harrisburg for more than 20 years. Russell Ford is President and CEO of the H.D.C. so Bricco is a pet project of his.

It's been more than 40 years since I've had authentic Italian cuisine. The ambiance of Bricco's is aesthetically comforting, the staff friendly and helpful, and the Chef a creative gem. And oh, the wine list is impressive. I'm no connossieur of fine wines. Cousin Russell knows that about me, so chose a fruity white with a delightful name -- Menage a Trois. As a writer, many racy thoughts passed through my fertile mind while sipping that delicious wine, but I was wise enough to keep them to myself.

The meal itself was experienced in true leisurely Continental style through several courses, with a nibble of beautifully presented antipasto dishes first followed by entrees pleasing to both eye and palate. It interested me to see that Bricco includes ingredients from Pennsylvania in its menu, such as duck, combining two worlds with great results. The setting and service encourages relaxation, conviviality, and conversation, which was ideal because two activities my family enjoys are eating and talking!!

By now you may be wondering where the Lonely Canoli comes in. I have never had a canoli so could not wait to taste one. Doug, Pam, and I ordered a wonderful dessert with a demitasse cup of bittersweet chocolate with biscotti and canoli to dunk in said chocolate. WONDERFUL!! But Russell's wife, Barb, is more calorie conscious than I am so she ordered one canoli for the dessert course. Pam Ford immediately dubbed it "The Lonely Canoli" and thought that would make a wonderful title for a short story or poem if the writer among them cared to tackle such a project. But at that moment, my focus was on eating my biscotti and canoli drenched in chocolate. And metaphorically, I could not help but compare myself to this group of wonderful, beautiful people. I was the lone canoli, the not-so-beautiful cousin from the heartland, somewhat awed and tongue-tied in their presence. But they all love me despite my shortfalls and that knowledge put a shine on my last night in Pennsylvania -- the chocolate on my canoli, so to speak.

Any person reading this, if you live in Pennsylvania consider visiting Harrisburg and Bricco. Those of you from other places, Harrisburg has my highest recommendation as a destination. I'll share more memories of this Pennsylvania trip in later blogs when photos are available. The lovely meal at Bricco with my Ford cousins is only one of many highlights.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The literary Grandma Moses???

My Uncle Don calls me the Literary version of Grandma Moses because my creative writing career came, well, if not in my dotage then nearly so. Tomorrow I embark on my big adventure, a trip to Pennsylvania to visit Aunt Carol and Uncle Don in State College PA.

I've visited State College before. It's a beautiful place, deserving of the name enthusiastic Penn Staters call it -- Happy Valley -- with its mountains and forests rimming the town. This time a few new wrinkles have been added.

This time I fly the friendly skies from Lincoln NE to Chicago, where I change not only planes but terminals. Guess there are no such things as straight through domestic flights anymore, as there were when I traveled decades ago. From Chicago I proceed to Harrisburg PA where my cousin Russell will meet, greet, and whisk me away from those friendly skies. All this is dependent on the weather, which I hope cooperates until I reach State College.

I haven't seen my Pennsylvania relatives in years so am looking forward to this visit with enthusiasm. And here is where I bring back the Grandma Moses part. My aunt and uncle contributed many fascinating details to my latest book, My Name is Esther Clara. I plan to discuss that project with them, and maybe kick around a new book project too. I'm certain fresh ideas will flow during Happy Hour each evening, when they ply me with tasty libations.

On Feb. 23rd, I will be interviewed on the PBS station in State College, by the Producer, Patty Satalia. I've never been on TV before and this will be LIVE TV. So this Literary Grandma Moses better be on her toes if she wants to be a STAR!!

I'll be returning home Feb. 25th, refreshed and rejuvenated. I hope to bring back Paternoville t-shirts and Hershey's Chocolate. And some irreplaceable memories.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Love on Valentine's Day

I love Valentine's Day because love in all its forms has always fascinated me: the love parents have for children; the love of family; the special bond of friendship; the passionate devotion of lovers; and the unconditional love we all crave.

When I wrote The Alley of Wishes for my mother, I wanted it to represent the sort of sweet, sensual, trusting, devoted, unconditional, love she did not find in her marriage. If it were in my power to change time and circumstance, Mom would have had a husband like Beck and his father, men who didn't use fists as weapons or withhold love and tenderness as a punishment. Mom died before she got to read this paean to love -- my wish for her. But somewhere in the Universe I hope her spirit is smiling.

Happy Valentine's Day, Mom. I miss you.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

by request.....

Since numerous people have asked about the contents of My Name is Esther Clara, and I have not yet figured out how to post it on the Inside the Book feature of Amazon, here it is:

Table of Contents

Cast of Family Characters

Foreword from the Author

Part One: 1898 – 1916
Chapter One – A Bit of History and a Hard Lesson Learned
Chapter Two – Dead Goats and Drunk Roosters
Chapter Three – Green Geese and Gravy
Chapter Four – The Day the Hogs Got Sick and Cow Tails
Chapter Five – Corn Picking Season
Chapter Six – White Witchcraft and Second Sight
Chapter Seven – We Knew How to Work and Have Fun
Chapter Eight – The Bridegroom Didn't Come from Money

Part Two: 1917 – 1957
Chapter Nine – The Best and Worst of Times in Frankfort, Kansas
Chapter Ten – Bed Bugs and Blizzards
Chapter Eleven – Birds, Bees, Birth Control, and Carnation Milk Labels
Chapter Twelve – Pa Knuckles Under and Navy Beans
Chapter Thirteen – Dorothy
Chapter Fourteen – Memories of Fairbury, Nebraska
Chapter Fifteen – The Dirty Thirties
Chapter Sixteen – Setting Priorities
Chapter Seventeen – Our Life in Marysville, Kansas

Part Three: 1939 – 1989
Chapter Eighteen – Into the Next Generation
Chapter Nineteen – Dreams and Regrets
Chapter Twenty – My Favorite Holiday
Chapter Twenty One – Tippy and Trixie and Friends
Chapter Twenty Two – All Good Things Must Eventually End

Afterword from the Author

Discussion Guide – Optional

Websites You Might Enjoy

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Another notch on my techno-geek belt......

Any of you who read my very first blog know how insecure I was about doing anything technical. After more than a month of blogging, I will have to admit that Blogger takes most of the guess work out of it. Adding to the template is a bit of a challenge, but that is getting easier thanks to my technical advisors Aston West and Josh Sutton.

Well -- drum roll please -- today I tackled a new technical adventure. My Name is Esther Clara appeared on Amazon today. I wanted to post some photos on its amazon page and managed to post four. Granted, Amazon makes it easy but I was worried anyway.

My Grandma was adventuresome and loved a challenge. She would be so proud of her techno-dork granddaughter!! That's Grandma Esther Clara in the photo, by the way, with her life long sweetie Herb.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Road to Fame and Glory

As I mentioned in my last blog, Grandma's book is still not available on BN or Amazon, but a few people have ordered through my publisher. I got some nice feedback yesterday from folks who have read it. There's nothing finer to a writer's ears than to hear someone -- anyone -- enjoys the fruit of their labors.

A Sanow relative in Remsen Iowa emailed saying she was enjoying the book and brushing up on her German to boot. Grandma's dad does some plain and fancy cussing in German early in the book, so I'm not sure how practical those German lessons will be haha.

Every book I write, it seems I give away more books as gifts to relatives and friends than are ever sold retail. I'm not complaining, just saying that my poor beleaguered family and friends know by now they won't be getting exotic or expensive gifts for Christmas. They'll get one of my books whether that thrills them or not.

For most published writers, the road to Fame and Glory is long and deserted. We need to get our kudos where we can. I get mine from strangers, fans, friends, and relatives who continue to be amazed that this old country girl can create interesting stories.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Featured poet on Quill and Parchment

No, this lovely woman is not me. Her name is Sharmagne Leland-St.John and she is editor of a multi-faceted website called Quill and Parchment. I can't remember how I connected with Sharmagne, but a couple months ago she asked me to send poetry for consideration, with the possibility of featuring them on her website. As a result, she chose three of my poems for February and I was thrilled to learn she designated me featured poet.

Sharmagne has many accomplishments. She has an award winning website, is a poet in her own right and also a publisher. Scattered throughout each issue are mouth watering recipes from her kitchen so it's safe to add "cook" to her list of talents. Zara Wadington does the delicious art work on title pages and techie stuff for Quill and Parchment.

Those interested in reading this edition can use NAME: February and PASSWORD: Hug to sign in. I'm thrilled that Sharmagne featured my poems in the February issue, but this is not entirely shameless self promotion. If you check the archives, you'll see many poems far better than mine, including those written by Sharmagne. Give yourself a Valentine. Go check out her site. www.quillandparchment.com.

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I enjoy good writing by writers and poets who are not famous. My mother said I was born a hundred years too late. The older I get, the more I realize how right she was.

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