So sorry about last week's failure to launch! Here we go again....
Alynn was met with cold rain, as well as her mother on a high-strung horse. The saddle’s girth was twisted and two holes too loose, and the seal-brown bay was making every effort to inform her oblivious rider.
Alynn grabbed the reins. “Mum, we ought to talk things out first!”
“What’s there to talk about?” Caitriona demanded. She grasped the saddle as the mare reared, nearly throwing Alynn off her feet. “Yer brother’s out there—”
“I know he is. Five minutes, Mum. We’ll make a plan, we’ll—”
“Leif will get us a ship,” Caitriona insisted. “Do you remember where Captain McMahon was headed?”
“Just get it as close as you can, Lynder. We’ll find him, I promise.”
Alynn closed her eyes. It sounded like skyr, she said to herself. Skare...Skey....“Skerray! Mum, ‘tis Skerray! He’s in Skerray!”
Caitriona spurred the mare on, ripping the reins out of Alynn’s hands as she set off at a gallop toward the village on the northern shore.
And she had taken Alynn’s horse.
Alynn stamped her foot before running into the stone-and-wood stable. Why, why did she have to be the adult in this situation? She ignored the cackling of chickens and bleating of sheep on her way to Lukas’s stallion, Honor. She threw a blanket on Honor’s snow-white back, then followed it with a saddle. As she tightened the girth, the stable door opened, and Lukas stepped in.
Alynn looked up at him, grabbing a bridle from its hook on the wall. “Are you coming with?” she asked.
Lukas met her gaze. “To the village?”
“Not at this hour.” Lukas shut the door and took off his hood. “I doubt ye’ll be coming back until morning.”
“Probably not. Do you want to come with us to Scotland? You’d love Tarin—you love everyone, but he’s special—and I know you don’t like being left alone—”
“Calm down, Alynn,” Lukas said. The sound of his voice, with his Highland brogue and his comforting tone, brought almost as much sanity into the situation as the words he spoke. “Don’t give a thought to me, I’ll take care of myself fer as long as it takes to find him. Just worry about helping yer mother. I was wondering if ye’d like to finish eating afore ye leave.”
Alynn smiled, putting the bridle over Honor’s head. “Thank you, Lukas, but I’m too excited. Faith, I wish Mum wouldn’t run off like that....”
“Does yer brother take after her?”
“Hardly.” Alynn turned, as if Lukas could see the lump in her throat. “He was—curious, sweet as honey, built like a freckled, redheaded fence rail. I always imagined that he’d grow up to be—quite a bit like you, actually. But—with hair.”
Lukas and Tarin didn’t look a thing alike, Alynn realized. Lukas had no freckles, his white hair had probably never been red, and he tanned every summer from working in the fields. But he still half-smiled at the comparison. “I’ll take most of that as a compliment,” he said.
Alynn smiled, kissed him goodbye, and disappeared on Honor’s back into the darkening forest.
I have no idea what happened to Monday's portion of Where I Stand. I'll repost it next Monday. Also, I can't remember if I warned anyone about spoilers before I started posting it. But I really should have.
Also, I swear I had a great idea for a blog post. But I can't remember it right now. I should have written it down. I'm a writer. You'd think I'd be better about that kind of stuff. But fortunately I have a backup idea, and I hope it proves just as interesting.
So our family has a friend. He's sort of an honorary uncle, one of my dad's best friends, and he's been staying with us for quite a while to help my dad finish a house he's been flipping. He's a school bus driver, and the kids on his bus call him Max Power. For the sake of privacy, that's what I'll call him today. Max Power.
Anyway, Max is quite a character. He's tall, large, and has a really weird voice. It's super scratchy, as if he's smoked for forty years. But that's just the way he sounds. He's been poked and prodded by doctors for most of his life, since everyone insists that his voice just can't be normal. But it is, and he's cool with it.
Anyway, he just seems like a normal guy. Before he drove school busses, he worked with my dad in construction. He's done roofing, carpentry, and carpeting, and probably plumbing. He knows his way around tools. But he doesn't strike you as the type of person to talk about anything besides typical grown-up stuff--cars and work and God and the state of the nation.
I never thought I'd be able to have a conversation with him about subatomic particles and parallel universes.
Aldi's sells something called Quark. It's a German yogurt-type thing that's always white no matter what it tastes like. It's healthier than normal yogurt, and since Max is pre-diabetic, we decided to put him on the same no-carb diet my dad's on. He inspected it and said to me, "You know what a quark is, in physics, right?"
"Of course," I said, recalling my high school chemistry course. "It's the smallest subatomic particle there is."
The other night, we had a decent chat about parallel universes. I've studied the parallel universe theory a bit, simply because I've got an idea for a sci-fi book that involves a time machine with a mind of its own. Max actually corrected a couple of my ideas.
I'm reminded now of the people who worked at Domino's with me. The music major. The future architect. An old classmate of mine is working at Walmart. He's one of the smartest people and fastest readers I know.
How many people do we look down on every day? We think that someone's less intelligent than we are simply because they work at a construction site instead of an office. We judge people on appearances. I do it, too. I don't trust girls who wear too much makeup and are always dressed to perfection, but apparently, my sister found a mentor in a girl like this.
Who do you know who's smarter--or dumber--than most people think they are? Let me know about them in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to check us out on Amazon!
Happy Independence Day!
As much as I'd love to write a blog post for y'all, between work this morning and the boatload of friends my parents invited over this afternoon, I won't be able to spend more than five minutes on a decent post. Oh well.
You really shouldn't be spending too much time on the internet today, anyway. Go eat some hamburgers and pork-'n-beans, get some mosquito bites, and watch some fireworks. Maybe blow off some of your own. Hang out with your friends. Wear some red, white, and blue. Review Where the Clouds Catch Fire on Amazon. But most of all, have fun.
Happy birthday, America!
Finally, Alynn glanced up at Lukas. She couldn’t tell if he was staring at her or past her, but she could see his mind working. “Alright, Lukas. What’s on yer mind?” she asked.
Lukas half-smiled and took another bite of cod. “Sigmund had some wonderful stories to tell from Hrafney. Seventy-eight souls were brought to the saving knowledge of Christ. He even translated the epistle to the Romans into Norse fer them, and he’s working on the Gospel of Matthew.” Excitement shone from Lukas like light from a candle. “The Lord’s doing a wonderful work there, just as He is here.”
Caitriona smiled. “That’s wonderful.”
“Who’s their pastor?” Alynn asked.
“They’re sending a young man to study fer the pastorate,” Lukas said. “He should be here afore the year’s out. But afore I forget, Alynn, Sigmund met someone who might be of interest to ye.”
Alynn lowered her spoon. Lukas was staring at her with a solemn gaze that she couldn’t help but return. Gravity settled in the air around them.
“Who was it?” she asked.
“The Scottish captain of a cargo ship,” Lukas said, glancing at Caitriona to include her in their discussion. “He and Sigmund struck up a conversation, and the captain asked if he knew of a girl who was fifteen, perchance sixteen, and had fallen off a ship in the area two Septembers ago.”
Alynn blanched. She had fallen off a ship two Septembers ago. She could still hear her little brother crying her name as she tripped over the ship’s edge. She remembered the shock of the water, the pain of the cold that nearly killed her. Her father’s hand reaching vainly for hers as it disappeared under the waves, never to rise again. She blinked and forced her memories aside. “The Scotsman—who is he? What’s his name?”
“Tamlane McMahon, captain of the Darting Swallow.”
Alynn let her spoon clatter onto her plate. “Tamlane McMahon,” she repeated. “Captain Tamlane McMahon? Are you certain?”
“Aye, I’m certain.”
Alynn drew in a shaking breath. The world was spinning.
“And his ship—the—” Caitriona drew a breath, as if she was afraid to speak what was on everyone’s mind. “It survived the storm? And the passengers?”
“The ship’s fine. Where its passengers are, I’m not sure, but Sigmund saw the Darting Swallow wi’ his own eyes.”
Caitriona blinked. “So if Tamlane...and the ship survived, then...Tarin...oh, praise God!” She flew from her chair and rushed headlong out the back door.
Lukas stood. “Caitriona—!”
“I’m going to find my son!”
The door slammed shut, and it barely moved Alynn from her stupor. Tarin. Sweet, quiet, curious Tarin—he’d be ten now. How long had they been apart? And him alive all this time? Where was he? Was he safe? Was he warm and fed and loved, taken in by a church or a kind family? Oh, she hoped so! She prayed so!
She could do better than pray. She could find him.
Lukas set his hand over hers. “Are ye alright, my dear?”
Excitement grew within her, and she grinned. “Tarin’s alive,” she breathed before running after Caitriona.
This week is a very important week at our church. I happen to go to a very large church that has thirteen locations, plus an online church that ministers to people all over the world. But every year, we take a few evenings and meet together. People fly in from different countries--last year, I met a woman from South Africa who didn't know what a burrito was--and we rent a casino's event center. We call it Jubilee.
Jubilee has been going on for over thirty years, but we've only been meeting at the casino event center for four years or so. But it's a good thing that we've upgraded, because there are literally thousands of people that attend. We fill up the auditorium with seats and still have to cram people into the bleachers. Once a few years ago, they asked young people to sit on the floor because they were running out of seats for everyone.
Anyway, yesterday was a very special night for me. The pastor who spoke was from Scotland.
Pastor John Donnelly is a wonderful man of God who pastors Glen Aros church in Dumfries, Scotland. I've had the honor of running into him at almost every Jubilee so far. Last year, I even gave him a copy of Where the Clouds Catch Fire. He was thrilled to meet an author and eagerly introduced me to his wife, Susan. This is us last year.
Pastor John usually starts off with a funny story. The first time I heard him, he had everyone in stitches by personalizing the "W.C. Joke" that had apparently been used on some sort of late-night show. (I thought it was a true story until I relayed it to someone who'd heard it before.) Yesterday, he told a story about being at a conference with Pastor Duane (my pastor) and Andrew Womack. He felt small compared to the giants of the faith he was surrounded by. Finally, a woman came up to him and inquired if she could ask a question.
Pastor John smiled, wondering why she was asking him rather than Pastor Duane or Pastor Andrew. He wondered if he had some sort of wisdom that they didn't have, or some fountain of knowledge they hadn't unlocked yet. Finally, the woman said, "Pastor John--Pastor John, how do you get your head so shiny?"
"It's the annointin' of God!"
He also cracks jokes about his accent. He's learned how to tone it down just enough for us Americans to understand it, but it still makes for a few good laughs. He mentioned "hillwalking," which is apparently the Scottish term for hiking, but sounds like "hell-walking." And since quite a few of his i's come out like e's, don't ask what happens to the number six when he says it aloud.
I hope to run into him again this Jubilee. He's been reclusive--I think he's been filming things especially for the online church, because I haven't seen him walking around like he has before. I'm working nursery tonight, so I won't be able to see him. And since I'm playing piano at three services this weekend, I'm not sure I'll make it to tomorrow night, the last night of Jubilee.
Speaking of this weekend, we have James Brown--who hosts NFL Today on CBS--speaking at our church this Saturday at 4:00 and 5:45. You can watch the service online at live.vl.church/ and, if you look in the far shadows of the stage, you might be able to see me playing the piano during worship.
Have you ever been to Jubilee? And since I'm not really a sports person, what do you think of James Brown if you've ever seen his show? Let me know in the comments below! God bless, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
The back door opened, and hurried footsteps sounded throughout the building. Alynn smiled as a brown-clad monk rounded the corner, praying under his breath and forgetting to shut the door. “Good evening, Lukas,” Caitriona said.
The monk pulled off his hood to reveal a halo of cropped, white hair. “Evening,” he murmured, hurrying past with hardly more than a glance. He and his Latin musings disappeared up the stairwell.
“You don’t have time for a hug?” Alynn called up after him. “Lukas?”
“Don’t pester him, Lynder, he’s a busy man,” Caitriona said. “Knowing him, he’s probably half-starved, too. Change yer clothes, will you? You’ll catch cold.”
Alynn stared up at the stairwell. She couldn’t remember all the times she’d watched Lukas’s mind drift back to earth after a round of silent prayers. It was as if life sprang back into his clear blue eyes, a silent gleam hiding in their depths. When she couldn’t pry a smile out of them, something was wrong.
It was nearly an hour before footsteps once again sounded down the stairs, but this time, they were unrushed and placid. Lukas peered at the boiling salt cod, stole a leaf from the watercress salad, and left to draw some water from the well. “Everything smells delicious,” he said.
“Thank you.” Alynn tried to fish the cod out of the kettle, but she splashed boiling water on the plain oat-colored dress she’d ripped during sword fighting practice earlier that day. Her frock covered most of the damage, but she prayed Lukas wouldn’t notice her leg peeping from the rip in the skirt.
“I’ll get that,” Caitriona ordered, taking the platter out of Alynn’s hands. “Sit down before he comes back.”
Alynn hid in a chair just as the back door opened and shut. She took the opportunity to heap her plate with skyr—a Norse cheese so soft it was eaten with a spoon. Lukas sat down and helped himself to the watercress.
“How was yer day, Lukas?” Alynn asked.
“Not bad,” he said, which was the highest he spoke of anything. “Sigmund’s returned from his missionary trip.”
“He has?” Caitriona asked, snatching a serving spoon from the cupboard. “How did it go?”
Lukas gave a halfway twitch of a smile, but he meant it with his eyes and his heart. “He said that it was very much a success.” He took Alynn’s hand, waited for Caitriona to sit, and took hers. “Lord, we thank Ye fer this day, and the chance to spend it wi’ friends and family. We thank Ye fer the miracles Ye wrought wi’ Sigmund on Hrafney, and I pray that many others would come to see Yer light.”
Alynn and Caitriona repeated the rest of the prayer with him— “Bless us, O Lord, and these, Yer gifts, we are about to receive, from Yer bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
For a while, no one spoke. Caitriona’s food was too delicious for that.
Everyone loved Disney's Frozen back when it came out. I've seen the movie exactly once. Not because I didn't enjoy it--it was cute, and the ending was perfect--but because we're not really a Disney family. In fact, I'm not much of a TV person. I watch YouTube more than is good for me, but if I'm going to spend an hour gawking at a screen larger than my cell phone, I'd rather be writing.
I made this realization a while ago, and now with Frozen 2 on its way to theaters, I'm ready to tell everyone why Hans was the stupidest villain in all of Disney history.
From any standpoint, Hans is a great villain. He seems like a great guy, and we genuinely like him until we find out he's evil. And his motivation is pretty solid, too. People have done terrible things to obtain power. And for a guy with twelve older brothers poised to inherit the throne of the Southern Isles, he's right. He has to marry into royalty somewhere if he ever wants to be king.
But there's a problem with that.
I can't take credit for this aspect of my theory. Other people online (notably SuperCarlinBrothers) have said that, if a man marries a queen, he doesn't become a king. He just stays a prince. Take Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. They've been married for a very long time, but Prince Philip is still a prince.
But...there's also another problem. One that, so far, no one on the internet has pointed out.
I don't know if Hans hadn't thought his plan out all the way through, or if he just had to roll with the plot as it unfurled, or if he was genuinely an idiot. I'd blame the scriptwriters, but I'd much rather find fault in this otherwise perfect villain. Because when he stumbles out of that bedroom, saying that Anna died after they exchanged wedding vows, everyone around him should have scratched their heads and said...
"Hold on, Hans, you never married the girl. No one witnessed anything."
Allow me to impress you with my knowledge of NSFW History. I've had to do quite a bit of research on Viking weddings, and one thing that surprised me was that a wedding wasn't considered legal unless at least six people witnessed the, uh, consummation of the marriage. And it wasn't just Vikings. Following the bride and groom home was popular in other countries like England, and especially wherever nobility was involved.
Since Disney obviously isn't going to want to put something like this into a children's movie (though they wouldn't surprise me if they did), they could have just mentioned that no one witnessed the ceremony. At least one or two people, in modern America, have to watch you sign your marriage license before you can legally be married.
Of course, most kids aren't Klaus Baudelaire and know nothing of nuptial law. So none of them--and few of the older viewers--picked up on the plot hole. But writers see plot holes the same way interior designers see mismatched colors. We notice. And, if given the chance to sit back and think about it, it bugs us. A lot.
Anyhow, I am excited for Frozen 2, but not nearly as excited as I was to see How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. And hopefully, while we're on the subject of sequels, you're excited to read Where I Stand, book 2 in the Clouds Aflame series. I'm releasing bits and pieces of the first chapter every Monday, and if you need to catch up on the first book, it's available on Amazon or by clicking the "Purchase" tab above.
What did you think of Frozen? What do you hope to see most in the sequel? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
“Alynn! Come inside, child! You’re crazy!”
A sixteen-year-old girl spun circles in the midsummer afternoon’s rain. “Mum, can’t you see the rainbow?” she asked, laughing as the raindrops tickled her neck. “It’s out above the ocean! I wonder who’s to find the pot of gold!”
The girl’s mother, Caitriona, sighed helplessly from the doorway of St. Anne’s Monastery. “You’ll catch yer death of cold. Come inside.”
Alynn filled her chest with fresh, damp air. “It’s rain worse than this I’ve been out in, and I’m fairly certain I haven’t died yet,” she said. Laughing, she flew through the yard and took her mother’s hand. “Come see the rainbow!”
Caitriona picked up her skirts and ran into the yard, ducking her head against the rain. Alynn smiled. She knew that her mother, somewhere deep within her, had a free spirit. It shone through her shamrock-green eyes and her smile as she looked up at the heavens.
Suddenly, Alynn slipped on a patch of mud. Her shoulder blade hit something wooden, and she landed hard. She looked up—she was sprawled in the vegetable garden, propped up against the pea trellis. Helpless with laughter, Alynn glanced up at Caitriona to find her laughing, too.
“Not the peas again, Lynder!” she exclaimed before tripping over a tussock and landing in a puddle. She looked at her ruined dress, then at Alynn, and laughed even harder.
Alynn beamed. She gazed at the heavens to see the rainbow, glowing like a smile from God. Truly, He was smiling—restoring in a moment of time the years that had been stolen from her childhood. Even Caitriona, her dripping golden hair hanging nearly to her knees, had returned as the mother Alynn remembered.
Caitriona helped Alynn to her feet and pulled her into a hug, whispering a “thank you” as she fingered Alynn’s strawberry-blonde tresses. Alynn smiled.
“I missed you, Mum.”
“Beautiful girl, I missed you, too.”
Even though it had been over two years since she and Caitriona had been reunited, there were times when Alynn still couldn’t believe it. The moments were rare when Caitriona was exactly as she had been before the Vikings took her, but when she was, Alynn was eight years old again.
Caitriona gave her a squeeze, then took her hand and led her back to the monastery. “Let’s get you dried off.”
She led her through an arched doorway, then the kitchen that was designed to feed a hundred monks. Alynn passed rows of unlit cooking fires on her way to the hearth. She spun before the fireplace, letting her blue dress drip-dry on the stone floor.
Caitriona snatched a rag and made Alynn stand on it. “Don’t slip,” she cautioned. “Did you finish lettin’ down the hem on yer Sabbath dress?”
Caitriona sighed, toweling her hair dry. “Child....”
“I’ve my plain dress.”
“It needs patched.”
“It’s still a dress.”
Caitriona handed Alynn her towel. “Hurry and change, then put some bread in the oven. I’ve half a day’s worth of carding to do.”
Working with kids is the best and worst thing that's ever happened to me. Week One of teaching summer school is completed, and I'm accumulating stories.
We send books home with the kids, along with a reading log so we can know how much they read. One kid forgot his book at home. I'd donated a copy of Where the Clouds Catch Fire to the bookshelf, so I grabbed it for the kid to read.
He looked surprised--it was quite a bit thicker than most of the books we had. "I like the name," he said, pointing to my last name on the cover. "Just take out the 'a,' and it's Pizza."
Yes, we get that a lot, I wanted to tell him. But he didn't know I'd written it, so I just smiled and told him to read to Page 8. He didn't get that far. Everyone was in high spirits (in other words, they didn't want to listen) and we were playing math games before long. Afterwards, I made the unruly ones help me clean up, and I waited twenty minutes after closing time for my last student to get picked up.
Maybe I should just collect quotes from my students. They say the darndest things.
I've gotten "You're not a real teacher" and "Why don't you work at McDonald's?" from a couple of boys. I've gotten "You're boring" and "Why can't we do anything fun?" multiple times (I'm pretty sure all teachers do). But I've also heard the kids tell an assistant from another classroom "You're not our teacher!" when she stepped in to help control the noise level. They wrote on the whiteboard, "Miss Micalah's Class and no one else's!"
Perhaps my favorite quote is from a younger child who isn't in my classroom: "I hate B.M.! Do you know what that stands for? Bad Mondays!"
During the spring semester, one of my boys came in upset. "Caitlyn broke up with me!" he said (to his friend, not me). "I gave her everything! I gave her chocolate on Valentine's Day! And she left me for Daniel? He's a loser! He's never done anything for her!"
Dude. You're in fifth grade. Relax a bit, I'm out of high school and still single.
It's good to know how kids work when you're a writer. After all, you never know when you're going to have a character with a twelve-year-old sibling, or you need a random fifth-grader to say something snarky at the public pool. Working with kids is one of the best ways to figure out what they're like.
Using relatives is okay too, but you won't get a representative sample of the age group. You only get the people who are the same kind of weird as you. My little sister left for camp this afternoon. I was on my way out the door with someone waiting for me, and my sister tackled me and tossed me on our stair landing.
"Get in my suitcase," she said. "And if you don't, I'll break all your bones so you'll fit better."
"Sis, get off of me, I have to leave--"
"Get in my suitcase!"
I left. Unfortunately. And now she's gone to camp, without a broken-boned teacher in her backpack.
What's the darndest thing a kid has ever said to you? And what's your favorite science experiment to do with kids? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.