The writer’s journey isn’t completely composed of making characters and places and worlds out of thin air. That’s a very big part of it. But to create a book—any book—a writer needs to research.
Typical research involves reading first- or secondhand accounts of things. Wikipedia is nice. So are books, but I’d rather pull up a website on the computer I’m already using than take a trek to the local library. (Especially since my local library is undergoing renovations. The temporary building has eight parking spaces and is about the size of a double-wide trailer.)
But I’m not here to tell you how to write a research report. We’re talking about novels here. We’re talking about life-altering, mind-consuming, soul-exciting books. I’m not basing all of my research on other peoples’ work. I’m sure as heck going to go overboard.
And looking back at my pair of nalbound mittens and my handmade spindles, I’m sure as heck I have gone overboard.
Let me explain.
Extreme research isn’t for everyone. Not all authors can visit the cities their books are set in, or learn their characters’ accents, or take up recreational woodworking because their protagonist is a carpenter. Not at all. But I’m pretty sure that most authors, at one point or another, have tried to do something their characters do on a regular basis.
And I’m not just talking about book writers. I’ve been told that the people who work for Pixar tried walking in tennis shoes nailed to boards while animating Toy Story to learn how the toy soldiers would walk. Disney animators also donned skirts and walked through knee-deep snow before making Frozen, and everyone who worked on How to Train Your Dragon got flying lessons. I’m pretty sure that some of the animators even went skydiving. I’m glad I’m not an animator.
And looking back at all those people, I’ve convinced myself I’m not crazy after all.
My own Extreme Research started with hopping down stairs. I wondered what it would be like to hop down stairs on one foot, and I tried it. For three steps. Then I almost missed one, and my life flashed before my eyes, and I decided to stop researching before I killed myself.
My next step in Extreme Research was a little more time-consuming, but a lot less dangerous. I wanted to know how to make oatmeal without oats. More specifically, how not to make oatmeal without oats. I tried grating potatoes and cooking them with garlic and onions, and it actually tasted pretty good. I still haven’t gotten a hold of parsnips yet, but when I do, I’m boiling them with yarrow and onion. I hope it tastes terrible.
And then came the nalbinding. See, I’ve always loved crafting. My grandmother taught me how to crochet when I was six, and I’ve been creating things out of yarn ever since then. In my research, I stumbled across an ancient Norse technique of yarn-crafting called nalbinding. It’s actually quite simple—easier than knitting in my opinion—and the only drawback is that you have to use wool yarn.
So guess what? After watching three or four different YouTube tutorials, I taught myself how to nalbind.
And now that I’ve come into possession of a bunch of wool, you can bet that I’m going to learn how to card and spin it.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve done in the name of research? Do you know how to wash, card, or spin wool? And do you want me to tell you how it turns out? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!
Someone rapped on the door. Alynn didn’t bother looking up from chopping vegetables for soup. “Tarin, will you open the door?” she asked.
Tarin didn’t answer. Alynn glanced up and, not seeing her brother in the house, opened the door herself. It was raining, but that often didn’t stop Tarin from playing outside. Alynn couldn’t blame him. It was raining inside, too.
Fiona was at the door when Alynn opened it, and she pranced inside, shivering and babbling. “How are you gettin’ on, Alynn? Faith, it’s fierce freezin’ outside! I suppose it’s October, and it’s some cold weather we’re due for. Anyway, I’ve brought you some milk. I’m feared it’s got rain in it.”
“No matter,” Alynn said. She smiled and took the pail of milk from Fiona. “Thank you.”
“Not a bother. Mum says you can bring the pail to work tomorrow. Where’s Tarin?”
Alynn shrugged as she dipped out three glasses of milk. “Probably playin’.”
“In this weather?”
Alynn bit her lip. She didn’t want Tarin to come inside with his wee fingers and toes red and swollen. But she didn’t want Tarin to scold her for telling him to stop playing, either.
“You’re right,” she decided. “I should call him in.”
Alynn took her plaid from her shoulder and put it over her head to block the rain. The wind was bitter and the sun was setting, and Tarin was nowhere to be found.
Alynn scanned the yard. She couldn’t see so much as a footprint in the yard. “Perchance he’s with Father,” she said. Surely he couldn't be anywhere else.
Fiona went with Alynn to find Rowan. The girls shivered as the wind whipped through their dresses. Finally, they found Rowan in the tiny smithy their landlord owned, hammering out horseshoes.
Rowan looked up.
"Is somethin' the matter, Alynn?" he asked, his voice sharp. Alynn knew how much he loved making horseshoes, and she almost wished she hadn't interrupted him. But she still couldn't see Tarin.
"Is Tarin with you?" she asked.
"I've not seen him all day. Why?"
Alynn shivered harder. "I lost him," she said. "It's not hard to watch him. I'm sorry, Father, I should have--"
Rowan set the horseshoe aside and took Alynn by the arm. "When's the last time you saw him?" he asked.
"A few hours ago. He was sittin' on the floor, playin' with Monika, and then he...disappeared."
"Stop cryin' and help me look for him," Rowan said. He threw his plaid around his shoulders. "Ye two stay together and look in all the outbuildings. Fiona, have you seen him in town?"
"I haven't, Mr. Rowan. But you can ask my Da. He's been in the shops all day."
"Keep yer head," Rowan told Alynn as he left. Alynn rubbed her face. She hadn't even realized she'd been crying. Suddenly, she was afraid--afraid of everything that could happen to Tarin, afraid of not knowing where he was, afraid of losing him just as she'd lost her mother.
Alynn looked up for a hug from Rowan, but he was already gone.
"You needn't worry, Alynn!" Fiona said cheerfully. "We'll find Tarin and everythin' will be grand again."
"Is he alright?" Alynn asked no one in particular.
"Sure he is. Boys take care of themselves. Come. He's probably lookin' at the horses."
Alynn clamped her mouth shut. Tarin had lived in fourteen houses during his five short years of life, and he'd always been careful not to wander where he wasn't welcome. The girls visited one outbuilding after another, calling Tarin's name and searching high and low for a glimpse of his red hair.
Finally, in the last outbuilding, the girls stopped.
"We can always ask St. Nicole to pray for us," Fiona suggested. "Da says she's the patron saint of lost family members. Or perchance St. Anthony. Or both. Do you want to pray, Alynn?"
Alynn looked around. The rain was pouring. If Tarin was wise, he'd have come back to the house by now. But then again, Rowan had made shelters in the woods that leaked less than the hovel.
Tarin had always loved going camping while the family was between houses. He hadn't been too upset to trade a drafty shelter for a warm house the night they'd moved to Barrigone, but that had been four months ago. Normally, they'd have moved again by now.
Alynn grabbed Fiona's hand and ran. The rain soaked them. Alynn's plaid stuck to her face, and her bare feet ached with wet and cold. Her hair was dripping. She kept blinking raindrops out of her eyes.
"Where are we going?" Fiona asked.
Alynn didn't spare breath to answer. She was running faster than Fiona, dragging her as she ran, hoping and praying but not daring to believe that she was right.
They shot past the hovel and ran into the nearby woods. Twigs and rocks cut Alynn's feet. She looked everywhere, shouting Tarin's name.
Fiona put her hands on her knees, gasping. "Where...where are we...."
Winter has finally arrived to Texas! I love long sleeves and cozy quilts, and the excuse to wear my handmade mittens. And then there's the fact that my birthday is in the second week of December. One of the sadder things about getting older is that you know what everyone is getting you, either because you don't want much or because you went shopping with them to buy it, and my mom flat-out asked me if I wanted a pair of skinny jeans to wear with my boots.
Everyone, or at least all writers, have heard the phrase "write what you know." And that can make for some pretty interesting stories. I mean, everyone, even if they live in the boring suburbs with quiet neighbors and an unchanging routine, has seen some unique things in their lives.
Everyone has strange skills and experiences. My dad can figure percentages in his head. He's also allergic to cats, dogs, and pine trees. My mom belongs in the vocal group Celtic Woman and my sister is the master of making faces. She can also make one side of her nose twitch in an adorable, bunny-rabbit way.
I've lived through some interesting experiences as well. I've thrown up at a church potluck, owned a dog-walking business, crocheted seven afghans (three of them were baby-sized), moved cross-country, and attended a homeschool co-op.
Think about it. Yes, our normal day-to-day lives might be boring. But when we think about it, we can find some pretty interesting things that we know and can therefore write about with excellence and authority.
Let's take the homeschool co-op I went to. Classical Conversations. History sentences, timeline cards, and skip-counting. I still hear the lady's voice on the "CC-CD" singing "two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen...."
It gets better when you're up to squares and cubes. "One, eight, twenty-seven, sixty-four, one hundred twenty-five...."
And yes, everything was put to music. Several things had hand motions to them. Like the history sentences--and the time our teacher had to kick the air to "expel" Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, and her shoe flew off and hit the ceiling.
And then there was Latin. We never learned much actual Latin--we'd focus more on grammar and worry about vocabulary when we got to high school. That was important. You know how verbs conjugate in English? Latin does the same thing with their nouns. It's annoying, but it means that word order is much freer.
And with the little bit of Latin I knew from grade school, I was able to create a character fluent in it.
Obviously, I'm not fluent in Latin. I can't even piece together a sentence I haven't previously memorized. But with a basic background in how Latin works and my handy Collins-Gem pocket dictionary (which I found at a women's crisis center for $.25) I can generate a few things that really add to Lukas's character.
Let me rephrase that. I could make up things that add to Lukas's character, if I knew what being bilingual was like.
What's a funny experience you could write a book about? How many people do you know with birthdays in December? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
Alynn didn’t want to get out of bed, but she didn’t want to be late to work. In a whole month of working for Colum O’Shaughnessy, she hadn’t been late once. Twice she’d caught herself racing through town as the church bells were tolling the hour of Terce, but every time, she’d ran through the door of the spinnery just as the last note sounded.
And even though she was cold all over and her wrists ached, and she felt as tired as if she hadn’t slept at all, she wasn’t about to be late for the first time.
She shivered as she made the morning stirabout, and she sliced the block of cheese unevenly. She’d take the smallest piece. She wasn’t hungry, anyway.
Rowan came inside with the bucket of wash-water. “There’s more wood in the woodpile outside,” he said. “Is the stirabout ready?”
“Five minutes.” Alynn’s voice was thin and tired, and Rowan seemed to take notice.
“Are you feelin’ alright, Lynder?” he asked.
Rowan took her pink face in his hands. “You should rest today,” he said. “Yer face is warm.”
“I’ve been in the kitchen. Of course it’s warm.”
“I’d still like for you to rest.” Rowan hugged her, and then woke Tarin up. Alynn stirred the stirabout and washed her face. The coolness of the water was wonderful.
As soon as breakfast was over, Alynn took Tarin’s hand and led him groggily through the town to the spinnery. Her wrist ached, and she kept changing her hold on Tarin’s wee hand to make it stop.
“Yer hands are warm, Lynder,” Tarin said.
Alynn said nothing. The church bells were beginning to toll, and she walked a little faster.
“Mind yer manners, Tarin,” Alynn murmured as they reached the spinnery. She sat at her spinning wheel and loaded the distaff. Her fingers didn’t want to work right.
“Morning, Alynn!” Fiona’s bright voice called. Alynn blinked and murmured a “morning” back. Fiona cocked her head and looked at her.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“Mum, something’s wrong with Alynn!”
Alynn glared at Fiona, but then she felt Kiva’s deliciously cool hand on her forehead. “Go home, dear,” she said. “You should be in bed.”
Alynn slid off the seat of the spinning wheel. She felt too miserable to argue.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Fiona asked. “I can sweep and weed yer garden and—”
“You needn’t do that,” Alynn said, finding a smile somewhere within her. “Thank you.”
Once again, Alynn took Tarin’s hand and led him through the streets. “I can go in the woods and find some milfoil, Lynder,” Tarin said.
“Not by yerself.”
“Please don’t argue.”
The tiny hovel had never seemed more dirty or depressing. Alynn took her yarn and her shepherd’s-knitting hook and sat at the table. She was trying to make a quilt, but her wrists ached with every stitch she took. Tarin fascinated himself with Monika, the rag doll.
Suddenly, the door creaked open.
Alynn looked up, wondering why Rowan was home in the middle of the day, to see Kiva O’Shaughnessy. She stood in the doorway with her two-year-old daughter her hip, quietly staring at the buckets that caught the drips from the roof and the furniture that looked ready to fall apart.
“Good day, Miss Kiva,” Alynn said in a small voice. She began to stand up, but Kiva took her by the hand.
“I’m here to take care of things,” she said. “Go to bed.”
Alynn didn’t know what to say or think, but she gave Kiva a hug and, despite herself, began to cry. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Kiva’s hug was warm and wonderful, and almost as loving as Alynn’s mother’s had been. “What else are neighbors for, dear?”
Soon, Alynn was tucked snugly into Rowan’s big bed, sipping milfoil tea and watching Tarin play carefully with little Ceili. Kiva sat sewing next to a fireplace that had never seemed to glow more cheerfully.
And as Alynn slowly fell asleep, she knew that with neighbors as good as the O’Shaughnessy’s, she didn’t have a thing in the world to worry about.
Today is the last day of November, which means that many people are either celebrating the completion of their NaNoWriMo goals or scurrying to catch up. But not me.
Why, you ask, didn't I participate in National Novel Writing Month? Well, to answer that question, I have to tell you a story that takes place back when I was a freshman in high school.
I was going to a private school for the first time since preschool. Luckily for me, this school only had 30 students in it, and the high school had five students including myself. But since the school was so small and my best friend was in 8th grade, I was able to hang out with the younger kids.
I was scared. Understandably so. I'd been homeschooled since kindergarten, and now I had to stay trapped behind a desk for eight hours a day with strange people. I was changing curriculums for the first time. (Honestly, the worst part was the diagnostic testing.) I missed the entire second week of school after I had a bike wreck and got a concussion.
And on top of all of this, my almost-fourteen-year-old self decided to do NaNoWriMo.
I had the sense to only aim for 30,000 words instead of 50,000, which was the established word count for a NaNoWriMo novel. It was tough enough trying to write 1,000 words every day. The good thing about this particular school was that if you were diligent and got all your work done before pickup at 3:30, you didn't have homework. At all.
Another interesting thing about the curriculum we used was that you decided how much work you did in a day. You set goals for yourself on a 4x6 card, which was aptly called a Goal Card. We'd pin them to individual corkboards at our desks and cross off each goal as we came to them. (Except that we didn't have corkboards, so we just used ceiling tiles covered in fabric. Mine looked like a quilt.) If you didn't finish a goal for a day, you brought it home as homework.
On one particular day, as pickup time was drawing nearer and I was working frantically to get my goals done, my goal card fell down when I tried to re-pin it to my ceiling tile. I reached behind my pencil holder to pick it up. I re-pinned it. It fell down again.
I started to cry, and someone noticed.
"What's the matter?" they asked me.
"I can't have homework today because I'm behind in NaNoWriMo and I really need to finish my word count and other people are writing 50,000 words this month and I can't even write 30,000--"
We got an adult, and I got a hug, and we found out that I'd been accidentally assigning myself too much work. So I got all my unfinished goals brought down to the next day and I was ready to go home, homework-free.
In case you're wondering, I was indeed able to write 30,000 words in 30 days. By December, I had the rough draft of Where the Clouds Catch Fire finished. (And don't worry, the final draft of the book is over twice as long.)
I'm a very task-oriented, performance-driven person. If I fail at something, I beat myself up about it. Since I don't enjoy that feeling, and since writing 1,000 words every day doesn't leave any time for church, family, or physical exercise, I might not do NaNoWriMo again for a while--at least until I've graduated college.
Have you ever done NaNoWriMo? Did you succeed? And please, since I need help with a college project, do you know how to make a PowerPoint presentation? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
“Tarin, hold still,” Alynn muttered through clenched teeth. She yanked the comb through Tarin’s tangled hair again, and he jumped.
“It would hurt less if you’d stop movin’!”
“No fightin’ on Sabbath,” Rowan said. He looked very nice with good tunic and well-combed hair, but he seemed rather out-of-place. At least his forest green and navy blue plaid was draped over his left arm as it always was.
Alynn had a Sunday dress, too, but any confidence it gave her was stolen by the plain rope she had for a belt. She’d just as soon wrap herself in a bedsheet and hide in the rafters.
Tarin looked like he’d been washed, dried, and starched. “Is this a fancy church, Da?” he asked.
“It looks fierce nice, so ye’ll have to be on yer best behavior,” Rowan said. His eyes were sharper than any threat of a whipping, so Alynn and Tarin both nodded with an obedient “We will, sir.”
Alynn secretly dreaded the first time she went to a new church. There were always the sideways glances, the murmurs of “I wonder where their mother is,” and the upturned noses at the patched and threadbare clothes. The services were usually stuffy, with Latin prayers and just enough kneeling, sitting, and standing to keep people from falling asleep.
Alynn ran the comb through Tarin’s hair again before they left for St. Paul’s. The church-bells began tolling just as they walked up the grand stone steps, and Alynn was caught up in a rush of people and fancy clothes.
Every time she entered a new church, Alynn marveled at it. She would gaze at the stained-glass windows and the high ceilings that didn’t leak. She’d join Tarin in staring at the statues of saints. And finally, right as the opening prayers were being said, Rowan would hustle them into the sanctuary, and there would be whole new sights to look at.
There were more stained-glass windows, and a grand pulpit that could only be reached by a flight of stairs. The pews gleamed, as if their wood had been oiled as well as sanded. Everything about St. Paul’s was rich and beautiful. Alynn wished she could hold her breath so she wouldn’t spoil anything.
“Lynder, what are they saying?” Tarin whispered after the second Latin hymn. Alynn shrugged and looked at Rowan.
“I’ll tell ye once we’re home,” he promised. “Now, whisht.”
Alynn bowed her head in silence and listened to the rest of the service. There were lectors who stood and read Scriptures that no one could understand, and the priest gave a short sermon. It was the only part of the service that was in Gaelic.
As soon as the service was over, the derision began.
The McNeils were often the last to leave church. It was better than spending the whole afternoon in their hovel. Rowan would often speak with the monks, or with someone who had children roughly Alynn’s and Tarin’s ages. Today, Rowan fell into a conversation with an elderly man. Alynn and Tarin stood in a corner, waiting for disparaging comments.
“Poor little church mice,” one woman said.
“Take a gawk at those culchies over there,” a boy said to his brother. “The girl isn’t even wearin’ a decent belt!”
“State of them,” the brother sniffed.
Alynn longed for the day she could endure comments like Rowan. He’d always listen to them with his arms crossed, then politely ask them to mind their own business. Or else he’d ignore them. He was very good at ignoring things.
Alynn looked up to see Fiona. She looked beautiful in her Sabbath dress, even if it did look like a hand-me-down from an older cousin. “How are you gettin’ on, Fiona?” Alynn asked.
Fiona grinned. “I’m grand. This church is wonderful, isn’t it? Da says it’s been here for a hundred years. And there’s so many statues. Do ye want to see them all?”
“I do!” Tarin cried. “Is there one of St. Thomas and his spear?”
“There is, he’s right next to St. Mark with his Bible.”
Tarin’s eyes lit up, and he took Alynn’s hand as he pranced after Fiona.
The three went all over St. Paul’s, gazing at the candles and the windows and the vaulted ceilings. There were statues everywhere—mostly of the Apostles, and of course Mary with the infant Jesus. And afterwards, Fiona suggested they see if any food had been left out in the kitchen.
“But isn’t it stealin’?” Alynn asked.
Fiona stopped and thought, her face distorted in ways that made Tarin giggle. “Well, they just said in the sermon that it’s more blessed to give than to receive, didn’t they?”
“Then the church will be blessed if they give us their food.” And with that, Fiona popped into the kitchen and came back with a smirk on her face and a loaf of bread in her hand.
“It won’t be missed!” she said. “Here, take some!”
A pang of guilt struck Alynn, but when she watched Fiona and Tarin eating, she decided it must have been alright. So she quickly took a bite. It was worth it.
Happy Thanksgiving to all my wonderful readers! I hope you enjoy a day full of friends, food, and family—and realize how much we all have to be grateful for.
I’ve always enjoyed Thanksgiving—especially that time my mom made the gravy explode (I’m still not sure how she did that). We’ve never had huge Thanksgivings in our family. It’s always my parents, my sister, and my grandparents—six people—eating so much food we can hardly think straight. Dad and Papa would always watch football while I helped Mom and Grammy in the kitchen. And my sister—well, historically she’s set the table, but recently she’s been helping with the food. She’s making pecan pies this year.
Several years ago, my sister and I made Thanksgiving trees. They were just little foam trees, and on every leaf, we wrote something we were grateful for. (It wasn't this fancy, but here's the general idea:)
I was thankful for my dolls, my dog-walking business, and my books.
Nicole was thankful for Pokie (her little green stuffed porcupine), her food, and her soccer ball.
Neither one of us put “my sister” on a leaf, until Grammy told us to.
Today, I’m thankful for my family and God’s blessings in our lives. I’m thankful for my home, my church, my job at a nursery, and all the books I’ve read and written. (And I’m very thankful for you all, my dear readers.)
But this Thanksgiving is going to be a bit different from our previous Thanksgivings. It started back on Sunday, when I got a phone call at 7:15 A.M. I was still in bed, but I hardly ever get phone calls, so I answered it. And I was glad I did.
It was from my mom. She was in the hospital with my dad. He was having a heart attack.
No one was expecting this. My father is about as strong as a horse. He eats healthy, and while he doesn’t get much exercise, he’s still pretty strong. In fact, he’d just spent all of Saturday digging holes for fence posts.
The next few days were rather hectic. I’d drive my sister to the hospital every morning and do school in the waiting room, because the Wi-Fi was faster there. People dropped by. One family brought pie. They are now my favorite family ever.
My father ended up having two stents put in. He never lost his upbeat personality, and God’s blessed him with peace. He’s given all of us peace, actually. I knew my dad was in good spirits when he asked me to bring his hairbrush from home.
At first, it was a little strange to see Dad lying so still in a hospital bed. But today, he might as well be at home, sitting in his red recliner, watching football. He looks great, and everyone is very thankful that he’s alright.
What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving season? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving day…and don’t forget to like us on Facebook!
Alynn awoke at the same time she always did, halfway between Prime and Terce, and right before the sun turned the clouds from black to grey. She could hear Rowan chopping wood outside, and she rolled over to see Tarin sleeping peacefully. She dressed quickly and ran a brush through her hair. She wanted to look nice on her first day at work.
While the stirabout was cooking, Alynn swept the floor and tucked her bedroll under the bed. Tarin woke up slowly, rubbing his eyes.
“Are we still in Barrygone?” he asked.
Alynn took Tarin’s clothes off the nail on the wall. “We are,” she said, plopping Tarin’s clothes next to him. “Rise and shine, Tarin! I’ve got work today.”
“Did you tell Da?”
Alynn bit her lip. Rowan hadn’t come home from work until well after dark. Tarin was already in bed, and Alynn had nearly nodded off waiting for him. He’d eaten his soup in silence, then halfheartedly kissed Alynn’s head before he fell asleep, murmuring about horses.
“Not yet,” she said.
Tarin yawned. “I think you should. Has he brought the wash-water in yet?”
“Yay! I don’t have to wash my face today!”
“Just because we’re poor doesn’t mean we have to be dirty,” Alynn scolded. She ran a comb through Tarin’s hair as he put his socks and boots on. “You don’t want people to look at us like they’re better than us, do you?”
Tarin scowled. “I don’t.”
“Then wash yer face.”
Rowan came inside with an armload of firewood, set it near the stove, and left for another armload.
Alynn’s eyes stayed on the closed door as if she half expected Rowan to open it again and smile and say, “I forgot to tell ye good morning, didn’t I?” But the door didn’t open, and Alynn sighed.
“Stack the firewood, Tarin, while I tend to breakfast.”
Rowan didn’t say his good-mornings until after he’d prayed for the watered-down stirabout, and he ate without hardly saying a word.
“If I come home early enough, could you mend my trousers?” Rowan asked. “I tore the leg yesterday.”
“Thanks.” Rowan gave each of his children the kiss on the head that they coveted every morning, then left for work. Alynn smiled. She washed the breakfast dishes and was at the O’Shaughnessy’s house by the time the church bells rang the hour of Terce.
“Alynn, you’re here!” cried Fiona. She was already perched on the seat of a spinning wheel, the delicate machinery whirring at her fingertips. She waited for the wheel to stop before she bounced off and hugged Alynn. “Oh, this will be grand! I’ve never worked with anyone my age before. You don’t know how to use a spinning wheel, do you?”
“That’s alright, I’ll show you. This is the distaff, where you put the fleece. And the yarn goes through here, here, and under here, and it ends up on this bobbin here.” Alynn’s eyes tried to follow Fiona’s pointing finger, but nothing worked. “Does that make sense?”
“Just spin the wheel, and the rest is like a drop spindle,” Fiona promised. “It’s easy once you learn it.”
“What do I do?” Tarin asked.
“What you’re doing, lad, is comin’ with me!” said Colum, who had just finished inspecting the wheels for damage. “It’s market day.”
Tarin beamed and skipped after Colum. “Be careful,” Alynn called after him.
“I will!” Tarin promised. The door shut, and for a moment, Alynn was worried for him.
But then, she sat down at the spindle, and excitement pushed out all her worry. She spun the wheel to get the feel of things, then loaded the distaff and started working. Fiona sat beside her and worked the wheel like a seasoned veteran, talking all the while.
“Perchance tomorrow you can eat breakfast with us,” she prattled. “Is it lonely, not havin’ a sister to talk to? My sister Agnes is only nine, but she’s still fierce nice. She understands me better than Seamus. But Seamus is six, and Mum says that if he and Agnes switched places, I’d like him better. I still can’t imagine livin’ without Agnes. And then we have Ceili. She’s two.”
Alynn smiled. “Do you like havin’ a baby sister?”
“I do, but she’s loud and she cries a lot still. It was fierce terrible while she was teethin’. Mum says she’s spoiled because she’s the littlest, but I still think she enjoys actin’ the maggot.” Fiona finished spinning all the wool on her distaff, and she looked at Alynn. “Do you wish you had a sister?”
“Do I count?”
Alynn smiled. Her eyes were focused on her work, but she could still see Fiona’s eyes sparkling. “We’ll see.
For many people, a love of words starts early. I was one of those people. When I was just three years old, my mom would sit with me in a big, red armchair and read Little House in the Big Woods to me.
It wasn’t long before I was old enough to read the books for myself. By the time I was seven or eight, I’d read the entire series—and I didn’t stop. I continued with Roger Lea MacBride’s tale of Laura’s daughter Rose in Little House on Rocky Ridge. I remember idolizing Rose’s friend Paul Cooley. In my eyes, he was fifteen. He could drive a wagon all by himself, and he was practically a grown-up. I was surprised to look back a few years later and realize he was only ten.
I recently picked up one of the Little House books again--On the Banks of Plum Creek to be exact—and I realized just how much they’d shaped my childhood.
I loved the Little House series because it was simple. There were no fancy gadgets or devices. People talked with each other instead of texting friends. And on the cozy winter evenings, they’d sit in front of the fireplace, and Ma would sew and Pa would tell stories and play his fiddle.
Yes, they had their share of problems—and then some. But with hard work, sacrifice, and determination, they got through them.
I’m far from being a pioneer. I enjoy using electronic devices, I can’t knit, and I’ve never played volleyball with a blown-up pig’s bladder. But I learned some things from the Ingalls. I learned that families who stick together can get through anything. I learned that it’s okay to take responsibility and do more than your fair share of work. And I learned that even pioneer siblings didn’t always get along, either.
It took me a while to realize how much I’d actually gleaned from the Little House series. In Where the Clouds Catch Fire, I describe a blizzard. Have I ever seen a blizzard? No, but Laura has. She described them in great detail, and I was able to give that much more authenticity to my own writing by learning from her.
Laura was a great describer of details. She probably learned that from describing things to her sister Mary after she went blind. In the books, she describes sunsets and kittens and so many dresses that I got tired of reading about what everyone was wearing. I didn’t understand most of the words for fabric—words like “cambric” and “fawn-colored” and “gingham” and “muslin.” In fact, I always read the word “cambric” as “ceramic” and figured it must be a very stiff material.
But alas, all good series must come to an end. I moved on—I read The Chronicles of Narnia and Charlotte’s Web and The Crittendon Files, and more recently I’ve read The Scarlet Letter. But one of these days, I should dust off the old set and start off at the beginning, with Laura introducing us for the first time to Ma and Pa and Mary and Carrie and Jack, the brindle bulldog.
Have you read the Little House series—or do you prefer the TV show? What’s your favorite book series! Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers—and don’t forget to like us on Facebook!
“When’s Da going to come home?” Tarin begged. His face was blackened with soot from cleaning the fireplace, and the rest of him wasn’t much cleaner. “I’m hungry.”
“We’re all hungry,” Alynn sighed, closing her eyes. She’d lie down on the floor if it wasn’t still so dirty and wet from the leaking roof. Three days’ worth of cleaning hadn’t made too much of a difference on the tiny hovel. She’d spent four hours scrubbing the walls, and she still couldn’t see much of a difference.
“I want cheese,” Tarin said. “And bread and soup and carrots and a big cup of milk!” He spread his tiny arms wide, smiled, and looked up at Alynn. “Can I have some cheese?”
“We don’t have any.”
Tarin’s face fell, and he went back to cleaning the fireplace. “Is this good enough, Lynder?”
Alynn looked at the fireplace. Only half of the fireplace was noticeably cleaner, and streaks of soot were everywhere. “Let me touch it up,” she said.
“You never let me finish!”
“You’re not old enough yet,” Alynn snapped. “Go pick dandelions.”
“But it’s rainin’!”
“You said you’re hungry. Go outside and pick dandelions.”
Two tears slid down Tarin’s soot-streaked face, and he stormed out of the house. Alynn sighed, then scowled as water dripped from a leak in the ceiling down the back of her neck. If Tarin were older, she’d send him up on the roof to patch it. It was almost as rainy inside as it was outside.
Alynn took all the buckets, mugs, and bowls she’d placed under leaks and emptied them into the soup kettle. “At least we won’t be fetchin’ water for a while,” she muttered.
Someone knocked on the door, and it creaked open. The latch was broken.
“Can I come in, Alynn?” asked the voice of Fiona O’Shaughnessy.
“Sure, you can,” Alynn sighed.
Fiona had visited the hovel only once before, but she skipped inside as if she was visiting an old friend. She looked up at the leaky ceiling with a wry smile and found a dry patch to stand under.
“You’ve done a grand job of cleaning,” Fiona said. “How can you stand not havin’ a fire going?”
“Can you help me finish cleanin’ it?” Alynn asked.
“Sure, I can. I should have brought my brother Micheal with. He’s eight, and what he’s got is more energy than the rest of us put together. He doesn’t enjoy cleanin’ much, though. He likes runnin’ errands with Da. What is it you like to do?”
“I don’t know,” Alynn said.
“Of course you know. Everyone likes somethin’, don’t they?”
“I suppose I like gardening,” Alynn said. “But we haven’t had a garden since I was nine. We’ve moved too much.”
“That’s a fright.” Fiona scrubbed the stones deftly. There seemed to be magic in her touch that made dirt fly away. “I like cleanin’, but it’s cookin’ I like best of all. I’m still terrible at it. I can spin, though. Da pays me sometimes to spin for him. Do you like spinnin’? I’m sure Da could pay you, too.”
Spinning yarn wasn’t Alynn’s favorite chore, but she didn’t mind it. She enjoyed watching the fluffy rolags of wool turn into soft yarn. And she was willing to do anything to get out of the hovel and earn an extra shilling for food.
“I’d love that,” Alynn smiled. “Do you truly think he would?”
“Of course he would! As long as yer da’s alright with it, that is. I can teach you to use the spinnin’ wheel.”
For the first time in a long time, Alynn felt hope and excitement. It was Christmas and Easter and the first day of harvest all wrapped into one. “I’ll tell Tarin,” she said, “and I’ll meet you at yer house!”
“A job?” Colum asked quizzically, letting his spinning wheel come to a stop. “You’re a wee bit young for a job, aren’t you?”
“But she’s my age, and I’m twelve, and twelve is a grown-up, right, Da?” Fiona asked. She looked at Alynn. “You’re twelve, aren’t you?”
“She’s not!” cried Tarin, who had tagged along.
Alynn shrugged, trying to look unconcerned. “I’m close enough.”
“Is yer father alright with it?” Colum asked. “You’ve talked with him?”
Alynn nodded, and her conscience stung for lying. “I have—I mean, I will tonight. If he comes home for tea, that is. Sometimes he doesn’t get back from work until after Tarin’s gone to bed.”
“And he’s always too tired to play with us,” Tarin said.
A friendly look came into Colum’s face. “Well, lassie, you can work from Terce to noon, every day except Sunday, and I’ll give you five shillings a week. Tarin, you can come and help me run errands, and I’ll give you yer own shilling if you’ve earned it. How’s that?”
Alynn’s face lit up, and she gave Colum a hug. “Thank you, Mr. Colum,” she smiled. “Thank you so much. When do I start?”
“Come on Monday, if you’ve a mind to.” Colum smiled, and Alynn skipped off to make dinner. Hopefully, it was the last time she’d have to make do with oats and wild greens
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.