Easter Vigil Mass: Katholische Kirche?


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Old St. Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco

Old St. Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco

One of the Easter vacations my family took when my kids were young was a trip to San Francisco. My husband was a Naval Reserve officer, and he got us into the Marines Memorial Club near Union Square downtown. It was a great location—convenient to many city attractions and to buses and cable cars.

I am usually lax about church attendance when we are on vacation. But not on Easter. It seems to me that Easter is the most important day of the year for Christians to recognize, and so I make every effort to get myself and my children to church on Easter. (My Methodist husband can fend for himself, but usually accompanies us on major holidays.)

But when we’re on vacation, I try to keep church attendance from interfering with our tourist activities. On our San Francisco trip, that meant going to Mass on Saturday evening—to the Easter Vigil service.

A Catholic Easter Vigil Mass is unlike any other Mass. It is scheduled after sunset and begins with the church in darkness. The new Paschal candle is blessed and lit, then deacons move around the church lighting the congregants’ candles until the dark church glows.

In yet another oddity, the service begins with seven readings, before the regular portion of the Mass even begins. In the typical Mass there are only three readings total.

Then, after all the Easter Vigil readings, new converts to Catholicism are baptized and confirmed. Only then does the typical consecration and communion take place, with the new Catholics joining the congregation in their first Eucharist.

Through all of this, there’s a lot of singing and incense.

As you might imagine, it all takes longer than a regular Mass—two hours instead of one.

I didn’t know any of this when I blithely led my reluctant family into the Easter Vigil Mass in San Francisco. My parents had never taken me to an Easter Vigil service, and my adult wanderings hadn’t either.

If I’d known how long the Mass would take, I probably wouldn’t have taken my grade school children, who were worn out from walking the streets of San Francisco. Of course, then I would have insisted that we spend Sunday morning in church, and they wouldn’t have liked that either.

I don’t recall which church we went to, but it was a grand old building near Chinatown, just a few blocks from the Marines Memorial Club. I think it was Old St. Mary’s Church, the original cathedral in San Francisco, originally dedicated at Christmas 1854.


Old St. Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco

I chose a pew, and my family and I filed in and sat. Soon a German family entered and sat next to us—parents and two teenage boys. I remembered enough of my high school German to understand a little of what they said as they talked quietly.

The service began in the darkened church. A procession. Readings. Lighting of the Paschal candle. More readings.

The German family began to fidget and to whisper among themselves. They grew more and more agitated.

Finally, the mother who was next to me tapped me on my arm. “Katholische Kirche?” she asked, clearly wondering if she was in fact in a Catholic church or had wandered into some strange cult. She must never have been to an Easter Vigil service either.

“Ja, katholische,” I responded in resignation, my rudimentary German sufficient to respond to her inquiry.

And both of our families stood and sat and knelt through the long liturgy.  All the while, this American cradle Catholic was as bemused as our foreign visitors at the solemn pageantry and ritual we experienced. But the solemnity accentuated the importance of the occasion—the reason I had shepherded my family to the Mass.

When have you found yourself in an unfamiliar situation you didn’t expect?

Hopping Down the Bunny Trail


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Photo by Ralph Daily, from Flickr

Photo by Ralph Daily, from Flickr

As I’ve written before, we didn’t spend many holidays at home when my kids were growing up. We typically went to grandparents’ homes to celebrate. And that was true of Easter as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Plus, my children’s spring break was usually the week before or after Easter. So many years, we traveled out of town on vacation instead of visiting grandparents. I got used to packing Easter baskets in my suitcase along with my clothes, managing somehow to keep the secret from my kids. The years we drove weren’t so bad, but when we flew across country, then I had a challenge.

When they were small, I hid away real baskets with candy and small toys to bring out on Easter morning. Once they were in grade school, I switched to gift bags. The bags were flat, and therefore much easier to stash in my suitcase.

But the fake plastic grass made a mess of my clothes. After a few years of picking green strips off my sweaters, I switched to tissue paper coordinated with the gift bags.

My children often groaned at my idea of fun Easter basket stuffers. “Socks, Mom!” my son would moan. I had rolled them up like an egg, so I thought they were very appropriate. Plus, he needed them.

He didn’t complain about the jelly beans.

“A toothbrush,” my daughter said. “How boring.” But she grabbed all the chocolate that her brother didn’t like.

The toothbrushes were a tradition my mother began when I was a kid. We got the usual assortment of goodies from Santa and the Easter Bunny, but we also got toothbrushes. And toothpaste.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen my daughter was in college, my husband and I went to visit her over a couple of Easter weekends. Her crew team rowed in a regatta the Saturday before Easter, and we liked to watch.

In my suitcase for our trip her freshman year, I packed a pink gift bag, tissue paper, candy, and a toothbrush. On Easter morning I pulled it out and gave it to her.

“Mom,” she said in disgust. “Don’t you think I’m too old for an Easter basket?”

The next year, she took my offering without comment.

Then one year after she had graduated, we met her in Utah for a weekend of spring skiing. I didn’t take her anything.

“Where’s my basket?” she asked me. “I was counting on you to bring me new toothpaste.”

No matter how grown up my daughter thinks she is, she still wants treats from her mother. And toiletries. Some traditions never die.

What unique holiday traditions does your family have?

Waterfront Walks in Washington State


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Liberty Bay, Poulsbo, WA

Liberty Bay, Poulsbo, WA

As I wrote recently, spring came earlier to Washington State this year than to Missouri. During my recent trip west, I spent two pleasant afternoons walking along waterfronts in Washington.

The first was on a boardwalk on Liberty Bay in Poulsbo, Washington. I had a little time to kill, and needed to work off a lunch of fish and chips.

Liberty Bay is an arm of Puget Sound on the Olympic Peninsula side. Tucked in behind Bainbridge Island, the bay is sheltered and almost always calm. It has tides, but no surf. At low tide the tip of the bay is a mud flat, but at high tide the water is clear as a mountain lake.

My parents have seen orcas in Liberty Bay, but the biggest wildlife I saw on my visit was a seal swimming amidst the cormorants in the marina. Unfortunately, my photograph did not show the seal’s head well enough to post for readers.

Seattle skyline, from Alki Beach Park

The Space Needle, as seen from Alki Beach Park in Seattle

My second walk along the water was at Alki Beach Park at the tip of Elliott Bay near downtown Seattle. Seattle is a port city, and ferries are a major means of transportation in the area, so many people spend a lot of time on or near the water. Nevertheless, it is hard to speak of Seattle and beaches in the same sentence, because the weather is cool and grey so much of the time.

But I was blessed with a sunny afternoon, cool and breezy, but bright enough that I wished I had a wide-brimmed hat with me. I was bundled from wrist to ankle in several layers, though some Seattleites thought it was warm enough for shorts.

Alki Point is Seattle’s best approximation of a beach resort. I walked along the path above the rocky beach (though allegedly at low tide there is sand on the beach) and admired the skyline across the water—as pleasant an afternoon as on any beach in California, albeit not as warm.

This time, I ate my fish and chips after the walk.

Lake Washington, from Madison Park at dusk, Seattle, WA

Lake Washington, from Madison Park at dusk, Seattle, WA

Later in the day, I also walked in some lovely parks on Lake Washington, a fresh water lake on the western side of Seattle.

None of my Washington waterfront walks were as warm nor as wild as what I encountered on my Florida trip. But they still count as days on the beach and add to my measure of a good year.

What experiences are making 2014 memorable for you?

A Northern Digression: The Seattle Museum of History and Industry


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On my recent trip to Seattle, I went to the Museum of History and Industry (called MOHAI by locals). And I realized how little I knew about the history of my native state.

I took the requisite Washington State history class in the ninth grade—it was a quarter or a semester long, I forget which. I learned the basics—Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, Fort Vancouver, the Whitman Mission, the importance of logging and railroads and salmon, Native American treaties made and broken and reinstated by the courts, the development of plutonium at the Hanford Reservation, and Boeing.

The state has not remained static since I was in the ninth grade. I’ve followed the progress of new commercial giants, such as Microsoft and Amazon, and the clean-up of Hanford. And disasters like the Mount St. Helens eruption and the recent Oso mudslide.

Arthur Denny, from Wikipedia

Arthur Denny, from Wikipedia

But I’d never really focused on the stories of people in Washington State. My recent research has been targeted on what I needed to know to write my novels. I can tell you a lot about Oregon City in 1847 and about the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill, but not much about early pioneers in Washington, other than Marcus and Narcissa Whitman.

I’ve read about some of the founding families in Oregon City, but I knew nothing of similar families who settled the Seattle area until I went to MOHAI.

Denny Way? I knew it was a well-traveled street in Seattle. But I never learned about the Denny family that founded Seattle.  I found out at MOHAI that the Dennys first emigrated to Oregon in 1851, but Arthur Denny and his brother David Denny moved on to the Seattle area and ultimately settled near what is now Pioneer Square.

Henry Yesler, from Wikipedia

Henry Yesler, from Wikipedia

Similarly, Yesler Way was named after another early settler, Henry Yesler, who arrived in Seattle in 1852. Yesler was a prominent businessman, and later became mayor of Seattle.

Yesler Way began as Skid Road, because logs were skidded down its slope to Yesler’s mill. It was from this name that “skid row” became synonymous with urban slum areas, though the term “skid road” dates back to log roads in Europe centuries earlier.

And I learned of later gold rushes in the West, well after the rush that caused the Forty-niners to travel to California. The Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 brought tremendous commercial and transportation growth to Seattle.

All miners really needed, according to the exhibit at MOHAI, were

a pan to wash gold, scales to weigh it, a ‘poke’ bag to hold it. And mittens.

Much the same gear as I gave my miners in my California Gold Rush novel, though I’ll have to go back and add in the mittens.

And advice given in Seattle at the time was to “mine the miners, not the mines.” Just as I learned in my research about the rise of businesses feeding off the California miners. Unlike many museums, MOHAI focuses on commercial development—the industries and businesses that made Seattle what it is today.

During my MOHAI visit, I marveled most at the engineering feats that shaped Seattle. Denny Hill (named after the same Denny family) was lopped off to change the Seattle skyline.

In Seattle’s early days, the only way to move by water from Puget Sound to Lake Union and then to Lake Washington was to portage along the creeks that led from one body of water to the next. Lake Union still has an arm called Portage Bay, where boats had to stop to be unloaded and carried up to Lake Washington.

Now, one can sail from Puget Sound through the Chittenden Locks to Lake Union and through the Montlake Cut to Lake Washington—all part of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The ship canal between Lake Union and Lake Washington wasn’t completed until 1916, and after it opened Lake Washington dropped nine feet to be level with Lake Union.

Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, with Mout Rainier in the background, from Wikipedia

Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, with Mount Rainier in the background, from Wikipedia

The first World’s Fair I was aware of was the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. My parents thought my brother and I were too young to attend, so we had to stay with a great-aunt and uncle while my parents went. I thought that was “unfair,” but had sense enough not to say so.

But it turns out there was an earlier fair held in Seattle in 1909, known formally as the Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition. The fairgrounds became the campus of the University of Washington, with its beautiful rose garden that points toward Mount Rainier (when the sun is out).

Exhibit from Museum of History & Industry, Seattle

Exhibit from Museum of History & Industry, Seattle

At every turn, I learned something new about my native state. While I soaked up new information about Washington history, I also gleaned tidbits to help my novels. Some of the women in my novels are pregnant, and MOHAI had a model in a maternity gown from the 1850s. I’ve researched early 1850 fires in Sacramento for my Gold Rush novel, but discovered that all of downtown Seattle was also destroyed by fire in 1889.

This post has digressed from my focus on stories about Oregon and California to capture some facts I learned on my visit to MOHAI about Washington. The museum gave me an opportunity to reflect both on how myopic I had become in pursuit of particularized knowledge for my novels, and also on how helpful it was to step back and see the connections between places and times throughout the West.

Pioneers in many places faced similar challenges throughout the 19th century—weather, water, fire—and developed in similar ways. They used their environment as it was and they changed and developed the land when they could. My novels tell just one small piece of the story of western expansion. There are many other stories to tell.

When have you had to step back from a narrow focus to expand your horizons?

Spring This Year . . . Maybe Twice

I left Kansas City in mid-March for a two-week trip to Washington State. It was still winter in Kansas City when I left, barely any sign of green in the lawn, and only the beginnings of daffodil shoots.

Azalea & heather in Pacific Northwest

Azalea & heather in Pacific Northwest

I arrived in Seattle to cherry trees in full bloom. The azaleas had blossoms, and even the rhododendrons were budding. I saw flowering plums, magnolias, daffodils, tulips—a cacophony of color against bright green lawns and trees. It was spring.

The showy displays surprised me. After all, Seattle is farther north than Kansas City. Shouldn’t we get spring first? But a long, cold winter in the Midwest trumped latitudinal lines. The Pacific Northwest has had lots of rain and a mild winter—causing the terrible mudslide in Oso near Seattle.

It has been a winter of discontent, one disaster after another. Problems with the healthcare launch. The Ukraine. North Korea. A lost airliner. A devastating mudslide.

We wait for good news. And we wait.

I returned to Kansas City this Monday to temperatures near 80 degrees. Surely this meant spring was here. But the grass is little greener than when I left. Few trees have leafed out. The neighbor’s forsythia has only a few flowers. And rain is predicted for the rest of the week (with a possibility of snow).

Still, my magnolia tree has some blossoms.

View of my magnolia this week from my office window

View of my magnolia this week from my office window

And when I went through my posts from last year, I discovered that last spring came late as well. It wasn’t until April 15 that I posted the picture of my magnolia in full bloom.

So once again, spring will come. If I wait.

And maybe this year I will experience spring twice. Worse things could happen.

What signs of spring do you see around you?


More on My Nook HD


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IMAG0632A year ago I wrote about my then-new Nook HD and my favorite app at the time—Flipboard. My Nook HD isn’t so new anymore, but I continue to love it.

Shortly after I got my Nook HD for Christmas 2012, Barnes & Noble opened up the Nook HD to non-Nook apps, so it is now essentially a 7-inch Android tablet device. In fact, for Christmas 2013, my husband gave me a Google Nexus 7 tablet, but I returned it. Other than a camera, it didn’t have anything to offer that the Nook HD did not. I have no reason not to like the Nexus 7, but I didn’t need another device, and my Nook HD is still performing fine.

Now that most Android apps work on the Nook HD, I read both Nook ebooks and Kindle ebooks on my Nook. With the Kindle Android app, there is no reason not to. I admit I felt guilty the first time I downloaded a Kindle book for my Nook, because I do feel some brand loyalty to Nook. But Barnes & Noble opened themselves up to my treachery by permitting Nooks to use the Android Kindle app.

Besides, some of my writer friends only publish their ebooks on Kindle. I have published for both Kindle and Nook, and I will continue to do so. Again, my brand loyalty. And a desire to keep Amazon from taking over the publishing and retailing world. But when I can get a free book through Kindle and not through Nook, I will download the Kindle version.

Plus, I still get most of my ebooks through my library’s Overdrive app, which works great on the Nook HD.

IMAG0633I still love the Flipboard app also. I browse the pages like I would a magazine and feast on the gorgeous images. But instead of having to rip pages out of the magazine to save interesting articles (then wonder where I put them in my haphazard non-filing system), I can post the articles directly to Twitter or Facebook or Pinterest or email them to friends. Then I know where they are.

I keep three Twitter accounts—one  in my own name (@MTHupp), one for my pseudonym, and one for a writers’ group known as @WriteBrainTrust. If you’re a reader, please follow my personal Twitter account and/or my Facebook Author page. If you’re a writer, please follow WriteBrainTrust on Twitter and like our Facebook page.

I don’t know what will happen to Barnes & Noble’s Nook business. It is having a hard time financially, and more bad news seems to come weekly. But in me they have one satisfied customer.

Nevertheless, I will survive just fine if Nook goes out of business. At that point I would probably buy an Android tablet such as the Nexus 7. But I’m in no rush.

I also love my new Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone (which I bought after I returned the Nexus 7). But that’s another post.

What is your favorite electronic device and how do you use it?

San Francisco Newspapers Report on Gold Discovery, and More Lodes Are Found


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Californian 3-15-1848 p2 gold find

Page 2 of the Californian issue for March 15, 1848 (article on the gold mine is at the bottom of the third column)

The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in California was first reported on March 15, 1848, in the Californian, a San Francisco newspaper. The article was buried on page 2 of the four page edition, and consisted of a single paragraph:

Gold Mine Found

In the newly made raceway of the Saw Mill recently erected by Captain Sutter, on the American fork, gold has been found in considerable quantities. One person brought thirty dollars worth to New Helvetia, gathered there in a short time. California, no doubt, is rich in mineral wealth, great chances here for scientific capitalists. Gold has been found in almost every part of the country.

Californian 3-15-1848 p2 close up

Close up of blurb on gold mine, Californian, March 15, 1848

It should be noted that this blurb was printed in the same column as another blurb on the need to bring fresh fish from the American River to the citizens of San Francisco, and yet another blurb on the importance of people settling in the area to farm, rather than speculating in land.

It appears that the newspaper editor was more interested in development of the area around San Francisco than in starting a gold rush. He wanted more settlement, not more speculation. Yet speculation is what the nation got after the news spread.

A few days later, the rival San Francisco paper, the California Star, reported on March 25, 1848:

So great is the quantity of gold taken from the mine recently found at New Helvetia, that is has become an article of traffic in that vicinity.

In a six-page issue, the discovery of gold merited a single sentence on page 4, with no headline.

Despite the prosaic attitude of the newspaper editors in March 1848 toward the gold find, men in San Francisco were eager for riches. They headed for the gold fields.

Meanwhile, in the area around Sutter’s Mill, miners were finding more and more gold daily. Sutter continued to lose workers to the gold fields.

Sutter told John Bidwell, his business manager, about the discovery of gold, and sent Bidwell to San Francisco with the gold samples to have them assayed. (It’s possible Bidwell’s trip to San Francisco alerted the newspapers to the discovery.)

Bidwell's Bar in 1854, from Wikipedia

Bidwell’s Bar in 1854, from Wikipedia

Based on the assay results, Bidwell decided there was probably gold buried all through the Sierra foothills. He soon found gold on the Feather River, about 80 miles north of Sutter’s Mill, near what is present-day Oroville, California. (Oroville is named for the Spanish word for gold—“oro”.)

The area where Bidwell found his gold came to be called “Bidwell’s Bar.” Bidwell’s Bar became one of the richest lodes in California. Now, however, the location is buried under Lake Oroville, due to damming of the Feather River.

In 1849, Bidwell opened a store for the miners flocking to the area, and made over $100,000 through mining and the store—a huge fortune in those years. Bidwell also bought the Rancho Arroyo Chico, and founded Chico, California. Then, as now, more fortunes were made in everyday commerce than through spectacular finds.

Would you rather have been a miner or a storekeeper during the Gold Rush? Or a newspaper editor?

Creative Listening in the Land of Dementia: Three Innovative Ways to Enjoy Repetition in the Caregiver’s Journey, by Deborah Shouse


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love-in-the-land-of-dementia_coverDeborah Shouse is one of my writer friends and mentors. For many years, Deborah has written and spoken about being a caregiver and advocate for Alzheimer’s patients.

She is the author of Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey (Central Recovery Press Nov 2013). Her blog, Deborah Shouse Writes, focuses on finding the gifts, blessings and connections in the care partner’s journey through Alzheimer’s.

Deborah has kindly given me permission to use one of her blog posts, which deals with the all too common problem of handling the repeated stories that Alzheimer’s patients tell. Anyone who has been close to someone suffering from dementia can relate to this issue. But few can handle it with the grace and creativity that Deborah shows.

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Creative Listening in the Land of Dementia: Three Innovative Ways to Enjoy Repetition in the Caregiver’s Journey

Pretend you are editing a story, acting in a play or practicing for a concert.

You go over the same material again and again, seeking nuances, sinking deeper into the art form, hoping to find additional meaning. You integrate the piece into your heart and mind.

Imagine what would happen if you could bring that same set of creative thinking to the story your memory-impaired father just told you for the 112th time!

Listen in a New Way

That was my task during a particularly repetitive period in my mother’s Alzheimer’s: learning to appreciate each telling of the same tale, knowing the story was an important part of Mom’s life and that later, the story might disappear.

My friends Meg and Jim helped me by saying, “We loved sitting by your mom and hearing her WWII stories. She was really courageous.”

I felt a flash of pride and a flush of shame; those were the very stories I was so weary of.

I decided to listen to her stories in a new way, seeing what I could learn about Mom from careful, loving listening. I challenged myself, asking these questions:

What does the story say about my mom?

As I listened anew to Mom’s story of serving as an Army nurse in Iceland, living in a Quonset hut and skiing over to nearby hot springs, I practiced seeing Mom as my friends had seen her—an adventurous, patriotic, curious, and caring person. I realized I had started taking these qualities for granted!

How can I use the story to build a conversation with Mom?

From studying creative people, I realized that embracing limitations can actually inspire creativity. “We need to first be limited in order to become limitless,” says artist Phil Hansen. Filmmaker Martin Villeneuve says, “If you treat the problems as possibilities, life will start to dance with you in the most amazing ways.”

There’s an art in coloring inside the box. I experimented:

  • How many times could I answer the same question in a different and interesting way?
  • How often could I ask a new question about a familiar story?
  • What unique comments might lead us to another conversation?

How can I use the story to connect Mom to others?

Sharing the story meant sharing the marvelous qualities of my mom and celebrating her rich history. I wrote down her oft-repeated story and sent it to my relatives. When friends asked me how Mom was doing, I told them and I added in the story. This widened and enriched our conversation, taking the focus away from Alzheimer’s and concentrating on my mom’s stellar qualities.

* * *

I highly recommend Deborah’s book, Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey (Central Recovery Press Nov 2013). To buy it, visit your local bookseller or favorite online retailer. Here are the links to the book on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble.

To learn more about Deborah’s work, you can also visit her blog, Deborah Shouse WritesOr follow her on Twitter: @DeborahShouse

Writing Creative Nonfiction: Objective Facts v. Personal Truth


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Slide1Readers who are not writers may wonder what “creative nonfiction” is. Many writers wonder also. How can nonfiction be creative?

I recently attended a program at The Writer’s Place in Kansas City on Creative Nonfiction. Our presenter was Kate Meadows, a freelance writer and editor.

The definition Kate used for “creative nonfiction” was “telling true stories in a meaningful way.” Under her definition, I hope this blog is creative nonfiction.

Creative nonfiction looks for the real story behind the facts. It is more than the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of journalism. Those are the facts.

In creative nonfiction, the story matters more than the facts. Creative nonfiction moves beyond the ostensible objectivity of journalism (is any journalist really objective?) to find and articulate the author’s perspective.

Many of my posts tell stories about my life and the people and places and objects in it. Other posts tell stories about historical figures and events. I try to craft these posts to give my perspective on my family and on history.

After I’ve written some of the family stories on this blog, I’ve had relatives tell me, “That’s not the way it was.” And that may not have been how it was for them. I tell the stories as I remember them and the truth as I see it.

That’s all I can do.

One of the important issues in writing creative nonfiction is the difference between fact and truth. As someone who has worked in the legal and Human Resources fields for many years, I understand that difference.

The words of the legal oath—in which witnesses are sworn to tell “the whole truth”—are impossible to satisfy. No one person can tell “the whole truth.” We can only tell our own version of the truth, the portion of the facts that we saw or heard, and what it meant to us.

In a conversation at work about an employee’s performance, for example, the words that a manager says to the employee are fact. The meaning behind those words, however, is truth. There is only one set of objective facts, but there can be many truths. The employee may believe “My boss thinks I’m no good,” while the manager intends to be encouraging—“Here’s how you can do better.”

Perhaps my experience is what has led me to want to write personal essays and editorials, though I’ve never wanted to be a journalist. I want to tell the story as I see it. I do not want to stick to the facts. I want to shape the story.

Authors of creative nonfiction use fictional devices to tell their stories. They craft scenes into a satisfying story arc, with beginning, middle, and end. Like short story writers and novelists, they use plot, dialogue, voice, selective description, and figurative language to get at the meaning of the story.

Kate suggested that as we write creative nonfiction we answer the questions:

So what?
Who cares?
Why now?

cropped-mc9001498821.jpgIntentional use of my personal perspective on the story I tell gives me the “so what”. Tales of the emigrants to Oregon in the mid-19th century fascinate me because of our ancestors’ courage in seeking a new life. I want to convey my awe to readers as well, and I hope that we all learn courage by hearing these tales of earlier times.

Almost by definition, if I’m writing about something, at least I care about it. As I tell a story, I try to point out universal themes that we all experience in our lives, and I hope that my readers then care as well. (And that more people come across this blog and are moved to follow it.)

And the why now? I often have a reason for when I time my posts, but not always. Sometimes it’s because it’s near a relative’s birthday or a holiday. Sometimes I just need something to meet my Monday/Wednesday posting schedule.

And sometimes it’s because I just attended an interesting workshop and want to pass along the tips I heard.

Writers, what does creative nonfiction mean to you? How do you honor the truth, when you know you only have a part of it?

Memories of Green and Orange on St. Patrick’s Day


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170px-Irish_cloverWe celebrated the major holidays in our family—Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, but we didn’t celebrate many minor holidays. Except St. Patrick’s Day. My mother made sure we celebrated that.

My maternal grandmother (Nanny Winnie) was half Irish and half Scotch. My Irish great-grandmother, Cecelia Ryan, died well before my mother was born, so my mother received no direct inoculation of Irish traditions. I don’t remember my mother ever talking about St. Patrick’s Day celebrations when she was a child, but Nanny Winnie must have marked the occasion in some fashion.

In fact, my mother talked about her Scotch grandfather, James Strachan, who could dance a jig while balancing a pillow on his head. That  impressed my mother as a child.

No matter how she received her education in Irish traditions, my mother never let St. Patrick’s Day passed without dressing all her children in green. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned only Irish Catholics wore green on St. Patrick’s Day. The Irish Protestants wore orange.

Theresa in 5th grade in ugly green and brown uniform jumper

Theresa in 5th grade in ugly green and brown uniform jumper

During my grade school years the wearing of the green was easy for me. I simply donned the green and brown plaid jumper that was part of my school uniform, as I did every other weekday.

My brother tried to resist the green paper shamrock my mother pinned to his sweater, but my threat to pinch him was usually enough to get him to comply. Some years he tried to claim that a band of green trim on his socks was sufficient.

We also drank green milk at meals and ate cupcakes with green frosting. Those were the best parts of our St. Patrick’s Day traditions. The milk with green food coloring was mostly for show—it didn’t taste any different than regular milk. But it did go well with cupcakes.

Dinner on St. Patrick’s Day consisted of corned beef, potatoes, and cabbage and/or carrots. I hated both cabbage and cooked carrots. I managed to choke down the corned beef and potatoes, then tried to hide the carrots and/or cabbage under a scrap of food. But my mother saw through my subterfuge.

The rule in our house was that you didn’t get dessert until your plate was clean. On days when we had cooked carrots, I could sit for an hour after the rest of the family finished their dinner trying to eat my carrots without gagging. Some nights I gave up. Some nights I managed to get dessert.

Green-frosted cupcakes were a powerful inducement to finishing my dinner. But if I were lucky, I’d had a cupcake in my lunch box, and could survive without another.

I still hate cabbage and cooked carrots. Carrots are such a vile orange color and taste just as disgusting. They always have and always will.

“They’re so sweet,” my mother said. But they don’t seem sweet to me. A green-frosted cupcake is sweet.

“They’ll make your eyes strong,” my grandmother told me. My eyesight was a lost cause by age eight. It would take a ton of carrots to make a discernible improvement.

One advantage of being my own cook now is that I can simply not prepare what I don’t want to eat. The only time I cook carrots is as part of a stew. Then I pick them out to give to my husband. And I never cook cabbage.

But I still wear something green on St. Patrick’s Day and think of my mother as I do.

What ethnic holiday traditions do you remember from your childhood?


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