Happy February!

The shortest month of the year, February can be challenging. While many look forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day (February 14th) and participating in winter sports, others may be struggling with the blues.

Millions of us living in Canada and United States like to join in the fun and anticipation surrounding Groundhog Day (February 2nd), hoping our respective groundhogs will predict an early spring.

Here are 10 interesting facts about February…

1. February was added to the Roman calendar in 713 BC. The length of the month changed over time and, at one time, it had as few as 23 days. When Julius Caesar remade the Roman calendar, the month was assigned 28 days during normal years and 29 days during leap years. The next leap year will be 2020.

2. The month is named for the Latin word februum which means purification.

3. February has been designated as Black History Month, American Heart Month, Chocolate Lover’s Month, National Bird Feeding Month, and National Dental Month.

4. The symbols of February include the amethyst (birthstone) and primrose (flower).

5. People born between February 1st and February 18th were born under the star sign of Aquarius while those born later in the month are under Pisces. Aquarians are considered to be original and progressive thinkers with strong humanitarian instincts, while Pisces are often very compassionate and artistic.

6. The Super Bowl, the largest American sporting event of the year, is held in February. The game is scheduled to be played on February 3, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.

7. Family Day is observed on the third Monday of February in Ontario, New Brunswick, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. Family Day was created to give people time to spend with their families. It also provides a day off between New Years Day and Good Friday as they are approximately three months apart. Popular Family Day activities include skating, playing hockey, snowboarding, skiing, and attending winter festivals. In 2019, Family Day falls on February 18th.

8. February’s full moon is commonly known as the Full Snow Moon in Native American cultures. The ancient tribes named this moon after the way trees cracked in the cold, or how people had to sit shoulder to shoulder around the fire for warmth. The Full Snow Moon is also known by more sinister names, such as the Bone Moon. In 2019, the full moon occurs on February 19th.

9. The following historical figures were born in February: Rosa Parks, February 4, 1913; Laura Ingalls Wilder, February 7, 1867; Thomas Edison, February 11, 1846; Charles Darwin, February 12, 1809; Galileo Galileli, February 15, 1564; George Washington, February 22, 1732.

10. This quotation, from Much Ado About Nothing, is the only time February is mentioned in a Shakespearean play: “You have such a February face, So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness.”


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Happy Family Literacy Day!

In 1999, ABC Life Literacy Canada, a non-profit organization, introduced Family Literacy Day to “raise awareness of the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family.”

This year, ABC Life Literacy is encouraging families to take 15 minutes out of their day to prioritize learning.

Here are ten suggestions on how to achieve this goal:

1. Start reading aloud to your newborn. Children become attuned to the sound of your voice and the tones of the language you speak as their hearing develops.

2. Ask older children questions about the story to ensure comprehension.

3. Encourage oral storytelling by providing prompts: “What did your doll or teddy bear do today?” “Tell us a story about the Christmas/Halloween/Valentine’s Day party at school?”

4. Record or write down your children’s stories. Use an app to convert them into a book, animation, or slide show. While read or watching the end product, point out new words, story structure, and grammar.

5. Turn off the television and use that time to read together.

6. Organize a children’s book club in your neighborhood.

7. Make regular visits to the local library. Check the events calendar for more information about activities and crafts offered.

8. Keep teenagers reading by providing magazines and newspaper articles that appeal to their interests.

9. Invite children to participate in activities such as making shopping lists, sending e-cards, or checking directions on Google Maps.

10. Volunteer your time in local literacy groups. You could read to children, tutor adults, or help with administrative tasks.

Find out more information about ABC Life Literacy Canada here.


How to Manage Your Writing Process

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

A long-time fan of Canadian mystery author Gail Bowen, I was happy to discover she had written Sleuth, a hands-on guide for anyone thinking of writing a whodunit. I highly recommend this informative and entertaining book chock full of solid tips and examples.

Here are ten tips on how to manage your writing process:

1. Write every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes or to jot something down in your notebook or to do a quick edit on your work from the day before. Day-by-day engagement with your work keeps the connection alive and the juices flowing.

2. Never leave your writing in a bad spot. If you know a quagmire awaits you, the temptation not to go back to your laptop can be almost irresistible. Some of my best writing moments have come after I’ve gritted my teeth and stayed at my laptop till I’ve worked through the problem. Ernest Hemingway said, “Always leave the pump primed.” It’s good advice. And novelist Jodi Picoult tartly observed, “You can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.” If you’re in what a writer friend refers to as “suck mode,” then the process will be painful, but take a few breaths and forge ahead.

3. Many writers, and I am among them, believe that two quiet hours at 5 a.m. equal four hours of regular work time. Ignore this advice if you are a night owl.

4. When you’re stuck, leave your desk. Go for a walk. Make tea. Play with your dog or cat. Meditate. Whatever you do, don’t start surfing the net, don’t make a phone call, and don’t get together with friends. If you do, other people’s words will pour in where your words should be. Create a space. Be patient.

5. Use the Pomodoro Technique. Work for twenty-five minutes. Give yourself a five-minute break, and then get back to work. I’ve been doing this since I started writing. Until a couple of years ago, I had no idea this particular strategy had a name, but it does, and by any name the technique works.

6. Trust your instincts. If a character begins to surprise you, follow him to where he takes you.

7. Trust your instincts even when you don’t want to. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a character is lifeless, a plot line is limp, a symbol is leaden, or horror of horrors, your whole manuscript has the vitality of a long-dead mackerel. Give that draft of the manuscript a decent burial and start again. Try some creative recycling of the characters and plot points that didn’t work in the first draft. You might be amazed at how they snap, crackle, and pop the second time around. Remember P.D. James wise counsel: “Nothing is ever wasted.”

8. Never give up.

9. Learn to be your own editor. I begin every day rewriting the last page or so I wrote the day before. I always find something to shift or change. And working on the familiar material helps me to reconnect with the manuscript and gets the juices running again.

10. E. L. Doctorow said that writing “is like driving a car at night: you can never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Keep the faith.

Source: Sleuth by Gail Bowen, pp. 40-42


Embracing Winter

The winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year, as well as the official start of winter. While winter can be a challenging season—especially for those of us living in northern climes—there can be moments of beauty and majesty during those months.

Prepare yourself for winter by reading these inspiring quotes:

“While I relish our warm months, winter forms our character and brings out our best.” — Tom Allen

“Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.” — Pietro Aretino

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” — William Blake

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, ‘Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.'” — Lewis Carroll

“People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.”
— Anton Chekhov

“Snow was falling, so much like stars filling the dark trees that one could easily imagine its reason for being was nothing more than prettiness.” — Mary Oliver

“A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky, unbidden, and seems like a thing of wonder.” — Susan Orlean

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for a home.”
— Edith Sitwell

“Winter is a season of recovery and preparation.” — Paul Theroux

“The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination, a time of pain and withdrawal that produces something joyfully inconceivable, like a monarch butterfly masterfully extracting itself from the confines of its cocoon, bursting forth into unexpected glory.” — Gary Zukav

Happy Winter Solstice!


10 Interesting Facts about Mary Allerton Cushman

I’m happy to welcome author Noelle Granger to the Power of 10 series. Today, Noelle shares interesting facts about Mary Allerton Cushman.

Here’s Noelle!

Many of you know I am writing a historical novel called The Last Pilgrim, about the life of Mary Allerton Cushman. She was the oldest survivor of the passengers on the Mayflower, who became known as the Old Comers. I have become truly lost in the history of the Pilgrims (not given this name until a very late and passing reference in William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation, 1620-1647.) The Old Comers and many who followed were Separatists from the Church of England.

So here are some facts, of which there are very few as it turns out, about Mary.

She was born while the Separatists were living in Leiden, in 1616, daughter of Mary Norris and Isaac Allerton.

She sailed on the Mayflower with her parents, a sister named Remember, two years older, and a brother, Barthomew, eight years older.

Mary’s mother was pregnant aboard the Mayflower and gave birth to a stillborn son. She died, still aboard the Mayflower, in January of 1621, before suitable housing was built on the site of chosen for their settlement.

Bartholomew returned to England around 1630 and insofar as is known, Mary never saw him again.

Her father married to Fear Brewster, daughter of Elder Brewster, the religious leader of the colony, in 1627. Her half-sister, Sarah, daughter of Isaac and Fear, died as a child. Her half-brother Isaac graduated from Harvard.

Around 1636, she married Thomas Cushman, who had come to Plymouth in 1621 at the age of thirteen on the ship Fortune with father Robert Cushman. Robert Cushman was a prominent member of the Separatist congregation in Leiden.

Thomas and Mary had a prosperous family; seven of their eight children survived to adulthood and married.

She had at least fifty grandchildren!

Her husband, Thomas, took over the position of Elder of their church when Elder Brewster died.

She lived in the Plymouth Colony until her death in 1699, and was buried on Burial Hill in Plymouth. The site of her grave is unknown, but she is mentioned on the memorial erected to the Cushman family.

Burial Hill, Plymouth, MA

Cushman Memorial

One side of the Cushman Memorial

Side of the Memorial mentioning Mary

This is basically most of what is known of Mary Allerton Cushman, with the exception of the names and dates of births, marriages and deaths of her children. I don’t know what she looked like, because there are only a few portraits, painted largely from imagination, of the colony’s male leaders. Thus I’ve had to create her from whole cloth, but I want her life set against the real background of everything that is known of the Plimoth Plantation history and life there. Much of this comes from Bradford’s book – how much poorer we would be without it, but it is hard to read and understand! I also glean from information provided by the Plimoth Plantation historical recreation in Plymouth. This venue is about four doors down from the house where I grew up and I was a tour guide there when it first opened. I also use records, online sources and other books. The latter two have to be vetted for their veracity, since there is a lot of misinformation floating around!

Statue of Elizabeth Tilley Howland, who came on the Mayflower at age 13. She had 88 grandchildren. The Pilgrim women were prolific. I played her in a Pilgrim’s Progress when I was a teen.

I recognize that women in the early colonial days were basically servants – did you know they were not allowed to speak in church except for singing psalms? – but you know they had thoughts, memories and opinions of their own, and I am trying to give life to them.

Wish me luck!

Noelle’s Books

Where to find Noelle…

Blog | Book Site | Twitter | Facebook


Happy Bodhi Day!

Today, we celebrate the transformation of Siddhartha Gautama into the spiritual leader we know as the Buddha.

A bit of history…

Born a prince in Nepal, Siddhartha lived a comfortable and sheltered life. While he could easily have enjoyed those circumstances, he traveled about the country witnessing the misery of old age, sickness, and suffering. Profoundly affected, he chose to leave his palatial home and seek the meaning of life.

He spent six years living the life of an aesthetic and served six teachers. Still unsatisfied, he tried different disciplines, among them surviving by eating only one grain of rice each day.

Frustrated, he vowed to sit under the Bodhi tree until he had answers. After fasting and meditating for an entire week, he woke up on the morning of the eighth day and experienced enlightenment. Those realizations became the basis of modern-day Buddhism.

Here are ten of my favorite quotes from the Buddha…

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.

The mind is everything. What you think you become.

You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.

Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought.

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.


Five Times Two—Elephants & Meerkats Share This Billing

I’m happy to welcome author Missye K. Clarke to the Power of 10 series. Today, Missye shares interesting facts about elephants and meerkaats and her novel, Jersey Dogs.

Here’s Missye!

The McGuinness cousins, Casper and Logan, have Andrea Pedregon and Katherine “Rocket Dog” Jones in their hearts they’d lay their loves down for. Part of a solid supporting cast in the Casebook series, you’ll learn how Andrea adores elephants and Katherine, mother to twin daughters, discovered she shares a nickname with a lead meerkat family a documentary series followed for four years. Read on . . . and you may grow to love elephants and meerkats as I do.

5. This Ain’t Your Granny’s Trunk! The elephant’s trunk, when full grown, alone weighs 400-500 pounds, contains around 100,000 different muscles to move, and has finger-like appendages at its tip, making it possible, if need, to hold a single blade of grass.

4. Two Knees Good, Four Knees Better. The elephant is the only mammal on the planet with four working and forward-bending knees. Unlike us, however, if one’s blown out, we can get it replaced, but they can’t, and will die, since the other three cannot support the animal’s weight to move properly with their herds and constantly seeking a fresh water source.

3. Go, Southpaws! Like you prefer using one hand over the other—Casper McGuinness and I write and play acoustic left-handed, but I digress :)—elephants are “righties,” “lefties” or “ambies” (ambidextrous) with their tusks. Whether fighting other elephants, picking things up, or bark-stripping of trees, like you prefer doing tasks with one tusk over the other. This is why, in seeing photos of these grand animals, one tusk is shorter than its twin over time.

2. Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow. Baby elephants, called calves, have hair fuzzies covering their bodies when they’re first born, but diminishes as they age. The hair acts like a cooling aid to their forms, which is suitable for the severe hot climates of Africa and Asia, even when sparse in an elder elephant’s years.

1. Move Over, Puss-Puss and Fluffy! In addition to the trumpeting sounds we’ve all familiar with in elephants, they purr much like big and domestic cats do.

In Memorandum. When an elephant crosses the great rainbow bridge, the living mammal pay homage to the bones of their dead by touching the skulls and tusks with their trunks and feet. If an elephant is walking by a dead elephant, it’ll stop in its tracks especially if a loved one had died. This silent respect for their own goes on for several minutes to as long as an hour.

Many thanks for Andrea Pedregon giving me these incredible elephant facts. And mark your calendars for every August 12th—that’s known as World Elephant Day. I don’t usually offer a pitch for anything else but shamelessly plugging JERSEY DOGS, but if you could find a worthy elephant conservation charity to donate your time and funds to, that would make my day, restore severely endangered African and Asian elephant numbers, and Andrea’s heart soar. We both thank you so much.

Onto the meerkats!

5. “Hey . . . I Thought I Heard You Calling Me!” Know how you’d recognize your friend’s and loved ones voices in a minute? Like emperor penguins and elephants, meerkats can recognize their friends’, siblings, and children’s cries, calls, and shouts, too. But unlike meerkats, who can hear these sounds upwards to a mile out, or emperor penguins, which can pick out a specific call from over 100,000 birds strong, I’ll bet you can only know your friend’s and loved ones voices from a much shorter distance and in a far smaller crowd.

4. Strength In Numbers. Sometimes referred to as “mobs” or “gangs,” meerkat clans hunt in a collaborative effect. Several spy for the prey as another section of the mob act as lookout for natural predators to meerkats: vultures, owls, another enemy clan—or some within their own with a grudge to settle. When danger’s been spotted, the lookouts either release a bark or a whistle.

3. Meet Donna “Rocket Dog.” Slightly larger than their counterpart males, meerkat clans are matriarchal, and alpha females don’t co-lead their spots, even in direct lines (mother-daughter, sister-sister, aunt-niece). Generally the mob’s built around the couple, but it’s the alpha female to whom that mob’s meerkats, male and female, answer to. If another female within the clan becomes or is pregnant, she’s either exiled or plays wet nurse to the alpha female to get back into her good graces—ifshe or her pups aren’t killed first.

2. “It’s a Bird . . . It’s a Plane . . . Take Cover!” Meerkat pups are so frightened of birds, if they even see a plane or a bat, they’ll run for the safety of their burrows.

1. More Murderous Than Humans? Depends on Motive. According to a 2005 study in Live Science, meerkats are the most “murderous” mammal known to science. Considering they kill prey in mob fashion in clans some 30-60 strong, that’s not out of bounds.

Bonus: While streaming Netflix over a decade ago—and roughly the lifespan of a meerkat in the wild—I came across Animal Planet’s ratings blockbuster documentary series, Meerkat Manor. One of the top females in the two clans being followed, tracked, and documented, was an alpha female named Flower. Her daughter was Rocket Dog. At the time when I drafting my 2ndCasebook mystery, I knew Logan’s love interest would be a strong supporting cast member, but I had no idea what her name would be. While watching an episode of Manor, if memory serves, “Rocket Dog’s Day,” I knew that nickname was perfect for Katherine Jones. If it’s good enough for another mammal, it’s good enough for a human :).

I hope you liked this “Power of 10” segment. Thank you to Miss Joanne for graciously permitting me to share this post. Please reach out via email to maroonsclue@gmail.com for questions, personal notes, or just to say hey. And please enjoy this chapter of JERSEY DOGS. For your own copy, it’s available at a fine e-retailer near your favorite reading device.

The following contains mature content and is not suitable for younger readers. Discretion is advised.

You can read the full chapter here. An excerpt is provided below:

Excerpt

“You guys know it’s almost nine,” Bobby admonished when we arrived home.

After hugs and assuring us she’d make her calls, Nana Grace loaned her Mazda3 to Jay Vincent. He let the other McGuinness drive to decompress, especially when headlights tailed us five minutes after we’d left Nana Grace’s and losing them within an hour of maneuvering Borough Park’s maze of streets. We said maybe ten words during the ride. The bomb my cousin dropped dampened his driving thrill and our moods, and despite my blooming unease, I somehow catnapped across the backseats.

The following contains mature content and is not suitable for younger readers. Discretion is advised.

“Upstairs for a few, Gramps,” Logan said, his tired tone hinting not to alert the de Franciscis of our discovery.

“Right.”

Bobby inspected his hair in the hall’s oval wall mirror. “Meant to ask you, how’d the first day go? Did you know Idrove the truck home when I couldn’t find you for the keys? You weren’t answering your phone, so Triple A had to rescue me with a spare set. Pops is epic pissed.”

The urge to tell Enzo Senior and Bobby to fuck off waned when I considered the littlest de Franciscis might be in earshot, so I settled on “Not now, runt” while I leaned on the hall closet’s doorjamb to toe off my boots. How did Logan learn our biologic mothers had been murdered? How would westay alive if the text wasn’t a sick threat? Both worries were hamsters on a wheel in my thoughts, and yet I noticed an inconsequential thing like an ogre’s morning breath unable to compete with my reeking, urine-stained socks.

“Pops knows about the fight, too. He was gonna figure it out anyway, given that ink stain on your eye and your shredded clothes.” A broad smirk scrunched Bobby’s eyes half-closed after he locked the front door. “Just sayin’.”

Mitchell called it. The second boot hit the closet’s back wall with a muted thunk. “One guess I know who the stool pigeon is.”

“Aw, that hurts, McGuinness.” Bobby feigned devastation. “I mean, shoot, Mom blew up my phone looking for you two. Especially with news about some loser tits up on campus? Pops and Junior are on a new gig in Jersey City, it’s dirty, they’re tired, and you know how Mom gets when they’re in vicious GWB traffic . . .”

I’d deal with this ass-kissing weasel later. “Ever the conscientious one, aren’t ya, Giovanni?”

Bobby’s cheeks shone bright pink through the stubble. “Take that back!”

“Sucks to be you being named after your moonshine-swillin’ granddude.” I patted his face once before he yanked himself away. “You’re overdue for a Paul Mitchell treatment, soy-boy, your five o’clock’s on the rise.”

“CASPER! LOGAN!”

Bobby smirked fresh at his father’s bellow. He saluted me with a single finger and whistled as he strolled from the entryway.

No chance for a pee break or to change clothes, I walked through the living room-dining room, past the kitchen, a right turn down the short hall, and entered Pops de Francisci’s home office. Logan in my wake, Mom shut the door behind us.

buynow

Bio and Links

An imagination too vast for conventional media and fueled by her father’s cold case homicide, Missye K. Clarke loves mapping her Casebooks and Threesome of Magic Mysteries, drafting haikus, and finding rare, original plots and storylines to craft flash fiction. The transplanted New Yorker, and creator of Maroon The Sleuth Books LLC imprint, resides in central Pennsylvania with her husband and son, a senior-but-still-rumbustious Australian cattle dog, a “Jackson 5” clutch of cats, and an occasional groundhog drop-in. JERSEY DOGS is available on Amazon, BN, iTunes, Kobo, Scribd, and most fine e-retailers near you.

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