Apparently our town has a large proportion of individuals with Scottish and Irish origin. Why else would we have our very own Celtic Festival every March?
I guess it helps that we apparently have a fairly large proportion of nerds. Driving up from Dallas is the Black Wolf Society, a group of Viking reenactors who stage battles, make crafts, and answer pretty much any questions you have for them. Another group was there representing Iron Age Ireland. Apparently the Choctaw Nation sent financial aid to the Irish during the Potato Famine, so a bunch of Native Americans were there. There's even a vendor with a white beard who makes his own penannular cloakpins, drinking horns, cast-iron spoons, and even hnefatafl boards. Well, they weren't boards. They were just squares of fabric with glass pieces that he wanted $30 for.
"Hnefatafl was the most common Viking board game until chess came around," I explained to my friend who had come with. "That's the king in the center of the board. He wins by getting to one of the corner spaces. The offense--that's the pieces here along the sides--they win by capturing the king. But since defense usually wins, people played two rounds. Whoever got the king to the corner in the least number of moves wins." I turned to the vendor's assistant. "Can I get a discount for my knowledge?"
Ten percent of thirty is three, subtract...I'm not spending twenty-seven dollars on a fancy handkerchief and some pretty pebbles. "Thanks, but I'll probably make my own." I want a solid version anyway. I can probably repurpose a checkerboard.
This was my city's third Celtic festival, but my second. So I knew what to expect. I also had plenty of time to prepare a costume--two of them, actually.
I made this costume after the first Celtic Festival. The head-scarf is just a fabric remnant from JoAnn's. The green frock is also, actually, a fabric remnant--I was lucky to find one that was twice as wide as most fabric. I also made the belt through a process called tablet weaving, which was a fun experience but probably not something I'll end up doing regularly.
At any rate, it ended up too hot to wear the brown dress--the only part of my costume I purchased ready-made besides the socks and shoes--to the festival. I picked a short-sleeved shirt instead. Viking outfits are well-suited for the Nordic regions, but not for Texas.
My goal was to be mistaken for one of the Viking reenactors. I think it worked!
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to sell any books at the festival. The group of local authors I belong to wasn't able to secure a vendor's booth, and I lack the funds to set up an independent booth. But maybe next year will be different. And maybe I'll have actual brooches, so I won't have to wear the ends to a can of cinnamon rolls (which I added to the straps of the dress after the above picture was taken).
Have you ever been to a Celtic Festival or another kind of cultural celebration? What was your favorite part? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to purchace Where the Clouds Catch Fire on Kindle!
Most of Brook's earnings go towards food. I can't blame her. Her client's spread the word, so now she has three or four dogs at the assisted living place that she walks. Sometimes she gives me cash, sometimes food, and she helps me wash cars whenever she has a spare moment.
Usually, she keeps her backpack with her. She keeps that note in the Ziploc bag in her backpack at all times and never lets me see it. I try to respect that. If I had something from my dad, I'd keep it safe, too. But I'm curious. When I find Brook's backpack in the dumpster when I come home for my ten-in-the-morning nap, I give in and rummage through it.
She doesn't have much in there. Some clothes, some toiletries, a tiny New Testament. Finally, under a tank top, I find the Ziplock bag. Opening it, I pull out a note. A note that looks even more torn and stained up close. It's been ripped and taped together quite a few times, so much that it's halfway laminated.
Dear Brook, it reads, I hope you weren't too frightened by everything that happened. I didn't mean for those men to frighten you. I did, though, ask them to take you away from me. I'm tired of being with you. The grape juice was the last straw for me. You have a new mama now who loves you more than I ever did. Obey her better than you obeyed me. Don't ask if you can come back, because you can't. You have a new home, and you will be well taken care of. Love, Vivan.
I read it again, just to make sure I got it right. What kind of sicko--
Quickly, I refold the note and return it to Brook's backpack. Why does she keep this? I'd burn it the first chance I got. I thought my mom was bad--turning to drugs after my dad was killed, bringing my little brother and me with her to meet dealers in parking lots, passing out and leaving me to take care of things--I guess that was pretty terrible. But this? Throwing your kid away for no good reason? Dang. I guess I'm not the only one out here with a crappy life.
I leave the dumpster and walk around a bit. The trees block the sunlight; a pair of birds fight over something stupid in the bushes. Normally, I like living in the woods. Some days, they're warm and welcoming, smiling and sending sunbeams to greet you. Then there's days like today, where they don't really care who you are or what you do or how long you've lived there. You need sunlight? Sorry kid, so sunshine for you. Or anyone who comes into these woods. We don't discriminate.
The birds fly off, and I glance through the woods to see a wolf coming towards me. I jump before I remember that wolves aren't typically found in Detroit. No, this is a husky.
Doesn't Brook walk a husky?
This husky has a collar on. There's a leash attached to it. The rabies tag says that his name is Checkers.
And there's blood on his nose.
I grab his leash and run.
As I struggled to find out which door was unlocked, I went through a list of excuses I could make to being late. My dog got loose right before I had to leave. I was going to let my parents find her, but she found me on my way out of the intersection and I had to bring her back home. I'd never driven to Durant by myself before. It was a forty-five minute trip, most of it barreling down the highway at seventy-five miles an hour. I'd only been eighteen for a month. I was still getting used to this whole "adult" and "having-my-own-social-life" thing.
Instead, I just said, "Sorry I'm late."
"That's okay," a brown-haired lady told me as she handed me a green folder. "We're just introducing ourselves to one another. You missed these first two people, but hop right in. Here's an empty seat."
I looked around at the group of people. There were twenty people; I'd only seen two of them before, and that was just in passing at church. Everyone else was either from another campus or Charis Bible College. I pulled my crochet out of my purse and listened as everyone introduced themselves. The introductions took up most of the meeting. It makes sense--I wouldn't want to go to on a missions trip to the Oklahoma City Dream Center with a bunch of strangers.
Out of the twenty people going, six of them were ten or under, and two others were teenagers. Due to the abundance of children, we wouldn't be doing much actual ministry. Instead, we'd just be serving people. I was hoping that, after a whirlwind couple of months filled with college, church, and my first two jobs, I could re-learn how to serve people. I'd gotten out of the habit. And that's pretty much what happened.
The drive up to Oklahoma City wasn't bad--but neither was it necessarily good. Oklahoma drivers are apparently worse than Texas drivers when it comes to speed. I had to come home early for school, so I took my own car--a red Corolla that I call The Charlotte--and caravanned with the church busses. The speed limit was 70. My mom reads my blog, so I won't say exactly how fast we were going, but suffice to say, it was a bit faster than 70.
I expected to be nervous, but everyone at the Dream Center made us feel right at home. We girls set up our air mattresses in the children's church room and settled in, while the boys had a computer lab, complete with Legos, to call home. Good for them.
And then we served.
We went to a nursing home, two churches, and a spring break camp to help out. It was great being able to step out of my comfort zone, even just a little bit, to interact with people I normally wouldn't and do things I'd normally never think of. Like handing out clothes to homeless people at the Church Under the Bridge. That was my favorite part of the trip.
Will I go on more missions trips? Hopefully. But you don't even have to leave your house to serve. Do the dishes for your mom. Clean the bathroom without being asked. Help with dinner or laundry, or fix that faucet that's been leaking for a week.
Have you ever been on a missions trip? Where did you go, and what was your favorite part? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
"Alright," I tell Brook after her first couple of days with me, "it's time you stopped leeching off me."
She looks up from the crumpled piece of paper she's been reading. It looks like it's been stained, cried on, ripped, and taped back together. Her eyes are distant. "Hmm?"
"You need a job. Remember, I mentioned dog walking?"
"Oh. Yeah." She folds the piece of paper, puts it in a Ziploc bag, and shoves it back in her backpack. "I was just thinking that I need fliers or something. And a phone number."
"If I'm going to look like a reputable person, I'll need a phone number."
Sighing, I stand up and motion around us. "If you haven't noticed, kid, we live in a dumpster. We eat out of trash cans, we drink out of public water fountains. How the heck do you think we'll be able to afford a phone?"
Brook groans. "I need a job. It's a catch-22."
I flop out on the grass and think. "How much are you going to charge?" I ask.
"The going rate for a commercial dog walker is ten dollars for a half-mile walk. I figured I could charge seven, then two dollars more for each additional dog."
"You did some research?"
"I went to the hospital. They have computers you can use there."
I shiver. I used to love hospitals. After I watched my dad die in one, I hate them. "Go to the library next time, kid."
"I know, but there you need a library card, and they ask for your contact information--address, phone number, stuff like that."
"Make something up," I tell her, picking a blade of grass and splitting it in half lengthwise. "You know they'll never actually use it."
"Do you have a card I can borrow?"
I roll my eyes. This kid can't do anything by herself, can she? "You have to be eighteen. Don't you know anything?"
"Thanks for your help, Yank," Brook says. I can't tell if she's being sarcastic or not. What do I care? She'll get a job, she'll find a nice place to stay, then she'll forget all about me. I'll keep washing cars and eating out of dumpsters until I die. It's how the world works.
I look up to scold her about it, but she's already gone.
I've gotten used to washing cars with Brook by my side. Now that she's gone, everything's lonely. It's a good day--I make fifteen dollars, and I only get stiffed once--but I enjoyed having her help. She'd do the parts of the windshield that I can't reach. Now, there's always that stubborn streak up the middle that my arms refuse to reach.
Between car washing and dumpster diving, I don't see Brook again until past midnight. And when I do, she's smiling through her exhaustion. "I got a job," she said.
"I went to the assisted living place, and there's this sweet older lady, Melva, that can't get around like she used to. And she's got this huge husky, beautiful dog named Checkers. I walk him Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays--that's twenty-one dollars a week!"
I'm too tired to hear most of what she says. "That's great, kid," I tell her, crawling into the dumpster and burrowing into my blankets.
"Oh, never mind. I'll tell you in the morning."
We go our separate ways, Brook walking dogs for old people, me washing cars and getting flipped off and cussed out half the time. I seriously think of changing careers when Brook comes home on Friday night with fifteen dollars and two combo meals from Wendy's.
"Melva told all her friends about me," she said happily. "I've got three clients now. I figured we could celebrate."
I dig into my hamburger. It's still warm; I can't remember the last time I ate something warm. I eat slowly, relishing every bite, and it fills me up so much I save my fries for breakfast.
"Thanks, Brook," I tell her.
She smiles. "Don't mention it."
I made a mistake in last week's blog. Remember how I said that Where the Clouds Catch Fire would be available on Amazon Kindle for only $.99 on St. Patrick's Day? Well, due to a technical difficulty (or my failure to read Amazon's terms and conditions, I'm not quite sure which), Where the Clouds Catch Fire will be available on Kindle for FREE. No shipping and handling. No charge at all.
I recently saw How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World in theaters. Twice, actually. I enjoyed it both times, and I can't wait for it to come out on DVD so I can watch it again. In my opinion, it's much better than the second movie, and almost (if not) as good as the first. I've been hooked on the series ever since my friend got me hooked on it when I was...my gosh, probably ten or eleven.
I remember the first time she told me about the film. "What kind of name is Hiccup?" I thought. "And what's the deal with Toothless? He has teeth."My perspective changed once I saw the movie. It was amazing. In fact, all three movies, all the short films (except "Dawn of the Dragon Racers," I didn't really enjoy that one) and all the TV series have been wonderfully scripted, acted, and animated, with a great musical score to boot.
I only have one problem with the second movie.
Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon 2 as much as anyone else did. The animation was cutting-edge, and the scenes where Hiccup's parents were together brought so much heart and emotion into the film. My main problem is the villain.
For those of you who haven't seen the movie, or haven't seen it in a while, Drago Bludvist is the main antagonist of the film. He believes that he alone can control dragons, and he uses them as weapons of destruction. But...why? He says that dragons destroyed his home, killed his family, and took his arm when he was a boy. It makes sense that he'd want to kill all dragons, or maybe imprison and torture them if he's the kind of sadistic maniac the film makes him out to be, but...building an army comprised of his worst nightmares? That's a stretch. And I hoped DreamWorks would have a villain a bit more original than a Viking Hitler bent on world domination.
It's a good lesson for us writers: motivation is key. Yes, some people are bent on world domination, but most aren't. Characters should always want something for a clear and valid reason. They should have something at stake; a certain prize they win or stand to lose forever.
For example, in Where the Clouds Catch Fire, protagonist Alynn McNeil has moved twenty-three times in the past four years. When St. Anne's Monastery becomes her home, she'd rather die than lose it. And, if she doesn't die, she'll be sold into slavery--the worst fate of all in Alynn's mind, as she'd watched Vikings kidnap her mother for the slave trade.
Villains have to have even more believable motivations. The antagonist of Where the Clouds Catch Fire, the Norse warlord Konar the Mad, believes that St. Anne's Monastery is filled with riches and smart young men (the kind that make the best slaves). As a slave trader himself, he's looking forward to making vast sums of money.
Even Grimmel the Grisly, the villain of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World has a decent motivation. He "lives for the hunt," as one character puts it. I'm a Texan. There are multiple taxidermized animals at our local Walmart. I know that hunters take their hobby seriously. Throw in a hint of sadism and/or narcissism and you've got a pretty strong villain with a clear goal: kill things for the fun of it.
Who is your favorite movie villain? And what do you think of the How to Train Your Dragon series? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
Brook brushes out her hair until it shines. Dang, her hair is long. It comes almost down to her waist. I want to ask her about it, but I'm too busy trying to figure out what to wear to Texas Roadhouse.
Which shirt did I wear last time? I try to switch things up so they don't figure out what I'm doing. I pick a red polo shirt that's a bit too big on me and tuck it into my only pair of jeans. I should really invest in a new pair--when's the sale at Goodwill? I'll figure it out.
"What sorts of clothes do you have?" I ask Brook, emerging from the dumpster a new person. Even my hat's been stowed away in my backpack. I look like a stereotypical Asian schoolgirl, bangs, pigtails, and all.
Brook rifles through her backpack and pulls out a pair of jeans, a few long-sleeved shirts, some underthings, toiletries, and a white blouse. "Wear that," I say, pointing to the blouse. "But wear it over what you've already got on."
"Why? Won't it show through?"
I eye the red T-shirt she has on. "Do you have anything else you won't mind getting dirty?"
"Then do it."
Sighing, Brook slips the blouse on over her head and goes into the dumpster to put on her jeans. Then, she follows me down the street and a mile and a half to Texas Roadhouse.
Even though it's late, it's still busy--of course it is, it's Friday. Brook glances around nervously, but I go straight up to the waitress-lady staring at us. "We're here to meet some friends. Mind if we go try to find them?"
We get in, and I smile. I whisper to Brook, "Follow my lead."
There's peanuts everywhere. There's buckets of them on every table, in troughs attached to walls here and there. I grab a handful and pocket my prize. Brook does the same. There's a table nearby, abandoned, with two rolls left in the basket. I hand them to Brook, and she puts them in my backpack. We scour the restaurant, stuffing our pockets and mouths with peanuts and shoving abandoned rolls in my backpack. Finally, we blend into a group of people and leave unnoticed.
I hand Brook a roll, and she devours it. "When's the last time you've eaten?" I ask her.
"Yesterday, I got a hot dog around noon," she says with her mouth full. "You know how you don't realize how hungry you are until you start to eat?"
"Yeah, I hate that feeling." We scored five rolls; I figured we could split the fifth one, but she can have all of it. "We're just going to chill until eleven or so, then run through all the Starbucks dumpsters. Do you think you could take a nap?"
"Sure. Do we head back to the dumpster, or...?"
"Do you feel like walking an extra three miles?"
"Didn't think so. Come on."
There's a bus stop on the corner of Fifth and Evergreen. I take Brook there, and we settle down on a bench. The world will think we fell asleep waiting for our bus, which happens every once in a while. I put my New York Yankees cap back on, the brim low over my eyes, and lean back.
"What are we going to do at Starbucks?"
"Dumpster dive. They throw out a bunch of good food every time they close. Muffins, scones, bliss bars, you name it. Sometimes there's even sandwiches."
Brook doesn't answer.
"You want a sandwich, Brook?"
She's asleep. And soon, I am too.
Before we dive into our blog today, I'd like to let you know about a couple of awesome things coming up. First off, St. Patrick's Day is right around the corner, and I decided to honor Alynn's heritage by making Where the Clouds Catch Fire available on Amazon Kindle for only $.99. That's right. For only ninety-nine cents, you can get a book that took me nearly four years to write. But it'll be on sale on St. Patrick's Day only, so be sure to drop by and get your copy before the sale ends!
Secondly, Spring Break is upon us, and I've been thinking about doing another Facebook live stream. I loved the question-and-answer session we did last time, and I'd love to do the same thing again--can you jump on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/dontraidmymonastery) at 1:00 Sunday, March 10? If you're worried about not making the live stream, put your questions in the comments below, and I'll answer them on the live stream. I'll put the link in my next blog.
I messed up last night. I finished the last of my school yesterday morning--I somehow got an A in my Texas Government class despite only making an 84 on the final, so hallelujah for that--and I decided to celebrate. After church, I hopped on my computer, opened Quora, and scrolled through my recommended feed until 11:30.
What was stopping me? I didn't have school the next morning, and I didn't have work until 1:30. I could sleep in. I could stay up late. It was spring break after all! So I found myself in bed ten minutes to midnight, my hair still braided, my shower postponed.
And then my brain decided it was a good time to have a panic attack.
I've dealt with these little buggers before. I know panic attacks are different for everyone; mine usually involve thinking I'm going to throw up, followed by a post-workout heart rate and shaky legs. For whatever reason, especially when it's late at night, I tend to shake. Violently.
But by dint of experience, I made that panic attack stop in its tracks and was asleep by 12:10. How? I'm glad you asked.
This is where religion kicks in. I was raised Christian--you can probably tell if you've read Where the Clouds Catch Fire--and my parents taught me what to do when you're scared. You pray. Not just any "Thank-you-for-my-house-and-family-et-cetera" prayer. There are specific Bible verses that help drive away fear. Psalm 91 is a great place to start.
It's also scientifically proven that fear and gratitude can't coexist. So I incorporate thanksgiving into my prayers. "Thank You, God, that Your perfect love drives out fear. Thank You, God, that I have the mind of Christ. Thank You, God, that You are my confidence, and You will keep my foot from being caught. Thank You, God, that You will keep me in perfect peace, for my mind is stayed on You, and I trust in You."
At this point, the main part of the panic attack is past. I don't feel like I'm going to throw up anymore. I'm just shaking under my blankets and a bit frazzled, wondering if the fear is going to come back. Then, I bring in the numbers.
I love numbers when I'm freaking out because they never change. You can pronounce the letter A in about three different ways--without even blending it with another vowel--but one is always one, never more, never less. I couple numbers with deep breathing to help settle down. Breathe in, count to four, hold your breath, count to four, breathe out, count to eight, wait for a minute, count to four, repeat. Better? Almost?
As a last resort--or if you're driving or in public when panic strikes--start playing a song and try to find the rhythm. Try to count, one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four, or one-two-three, four-five-six if that doesn't work.
What are your tips for stopping a panic attack? And what are some questions you'd like me to answer on our next Facebook live stream? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
The sun starts to set, and thank God, the world starts to cool down. I'm able to put my short-sleeved shirt back on over my tank top without feeling like dying. I'm hungry. Seven o'clock comes and goes, rush hour dies down, and still, I'm standing there with my cardboard sign.
Yank's Car Wash, still open.
The brown-haired girl--Brook, I guess--comes back. I'm guessing she's acting more like herself now. She holds her head higher, she walks faster, and she seems more sure of herself. Being heatsick can really mess with you. Ask me how I know.
"You doing better?"
"Yeah. Thanks." She hands me a dollar and seven cents. "Where do you live?"
I shrug. "I've got a base of operations in the park. Wanna see it?"
"I'd love to."
"Come on, then." I put my clothes under my arm, pick up my sign and my bucket, and start walking. "It's a decent hike. Don't complain."
I glance at Brook-I-Guess. She seems helpless enough. She definitely hasn't been homeless long enough to get caught up in a gang or make many enemies. In fact, I might well be her first friend. "How long have you been on the streets?" I ask.
"This was my fourth day."
"The first few months are the hardest. And winters."
"Don't you have a family?"
This girl's sweet enough to give anyone a toothache, but I guess she deserves an answer. "My dad's dead, my mom's either in jail or in drug rehab, all my aunts and uncles still live in Japan, and God knows where my brother is. Probably still in foster care. You?"
She sighs. "Long story."
"Longer than the one I just told you?"
"Okay. My parents live in Toronto, my mom got tired of raising me, so she shipped me off to live with some--I guess friend, relative, college roommate or something--over on Armistice Street, when I was six. So now I've got my quote-unquote 'mom' Jetta St. George and her kid Sophie. Sophie's not bad. She'll be sixteen in a few days. It was Jetta I couldn't stand."
"Let me guess. They called you something other than Brook."
"They called me Christa."
"Jetta sounds like a witch."
"I guess. She drank a lot, but she just got silly when she was drunk. It was when she was hungover that life was miserable."
We stop at an intersection and wait for traffic to clear. A gust of wind nearly blows my hat away, but I grab it just in time. "One of the cool parts about living on the streets," I tell Brook, "is that you get to pick what everyone calls you. You think my parents named me Yank?"
"I guess not. What is your name?"
"It's Yank, as far as you're concerned."
We finally cross the street, and I lead Brook into the patch of woods right behind the park. There's a dumpster there that everyone's forgotten about. I turned it on its side and propped the lid up with sticks, lining it with a discarded mattress, providing me with a decent shelter. I even grabbed a toilet off the side of the road and put it behind some plywood. All in all, I've got a sweet little house.
"You got living arrangements yet?" I ask Brook.
"If I let you stay here, can you follow some ground rules?"
"The laundromat is a once-a-month deal, but sponge baths are daily here. You get lice, you get your hair chopped off. Also, I do not waste money on shampoo. Wash your hair with regular soap or brush the oils out of it, your choice. If you've got extra clothes, put them under the mattress. When we're not home, the dumpster is closed. When you scavenge, fruits, vegetables, and baked goods are your safest bet. Meat, cheese, and egg products can and will give you food poisoning. Should you contract food poisoning or any other gastrointestinal ailment, you are not allowed in the dumpster unless you feel like cleaning the mattress and blankets yourself. You're cool with that, Brook?"
"Great. Now, fix yourself up, and bring some clothes you don't mind getting dirty. We're going to Texas Roadhouse."
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.