Space Waves from the Dog Star


Daily Prompt Final Trio For our final trio prompt of the year, write about any topic you wish, but make sure your post features a bookcase, something cracked, and a song you love.

The sun barely up but bright red behind the black branches of the bare trees, Augusta resigned herself to another no-sleep night. Dressing — the house was cold — she walked out to the kitchen, pressing the stereo’s “on” button as she passed by. Crack, crack, wop, zing, crack, quietly, in the background of the usual coffee making. Wooooo, crack, buzz, buzz, the tuner searched.

“You guys hungry?”

Mindy T. Dog, the big (and formerly VERY overweight) Australian shepherd began dancing around and jumping into the air, amazing feats even given her new, relatively svelte fluffy form.

“Hmm, guess so.” Augusta grinned at the dogs. No way in the world could she imagine living without a houseful of them. “OK. Me first, though, right? You guys are D-O-G-S.” She put her smoothie together, took her supplements and then, far, far away, as if broadcasting through time, radio waves from long ago, lost in space…

“I saw mommy kissing SANTA Claus…”

“Oh God, please no. What? HOW????”

The big Aussie jumped around some more, seeing the cup of dried kibble in Augusta’s hand. “…underneath the Christmas treeeeee…”

“That can’t be happening,” thought Augusta.

“Here baby,” she poured the food into the dog dish. “OK, you guys, your turn.” She fed the big black dog, Dusty, who had once been described as, “Eight different breeds in there.” Then the fractious yet sweet, blind, deaf and arthritic old Siberian husky, Lily T. Wolf. Behind everything, ever more insistently, “…SANTA CLAUS underneath the Christmas TREEEEE!” coming from the speakers on the bookcase.

She went out to the living room. Ahhh. So some dog had hit the buttons. The stereo was on “FM.” Augusta corrected her ambient electronics and breathed a sigh of relief. Dogs fed, coffee ready, smoothie prepared, she sat down to write the Daily Prompt while her stereo played one of her favorite songs.

“That’s more like it,” she said to Dusty. “You want some coffee?” She’d finished. It was always a race to drink it before it cooled off in the morning . “Here, sweet boy.” She set the all-but-empty cup on the floor.

(No Pingbacks, so far…)

A Year of Ups and Downs

Happy Anniversary!

A Leper’s Christmas


Daily Prompt Getting Seasonal The holiday season: can’t get enough of it, or can’t wait for it all to be over already? Has your attitude toward the end-of-year holidays changed over the years?

Christmas Eve morning, Brother Hugo spoke to Martin, “Come with us. We are going to the forest to cut a tree and boughs to decorate the sanctuary. The Preceptor arrived last night.”

Martin had no interest in the chapel though all around him saw it as a great boon, a sanctuary for those banished from all others, but his habit had become simply to go along. He followed Brothers Hugo, Lothar and Heinrich outside the gate where a peasant waited with a sled. The sun had finally risen, though fog- bound and dim.

The four lopsided men in long black tunics followed the sled across the frozen fen and into the wood, the ice-covered pine needles clinking like crystal as they passed. Martin felt the forest’s magic pull and filled his lungs with the open air, cold though it was. “Take care, Brother; you are not used to this. You’ll catch your death,” warned Brother Hugo.

They stopped in a small clearing surrounded by pines. With a sharp saw, the peasant cut branches, while the four lepers looked for a fir the right size for the Paradise Tree.

“Will this one do?” called Brother Heinrich a few yards away.

“We may find nothing better.” Brother Lothar was anxious. He and Brother Heinrich were assisting at the mass and he feared they would not return in time.

After a few strikes of the peasant’s axe, the tree fell in a cloud of fresh snow.


Martin and Brother Hugo lay the pine boughs around the base of the altar and set high candelabra and large candles throughout the chapel to light the dark corners. The peasant made a stand for the tree, and Sisters Regula and Ursula tied apples and candles to its branches. For this day, the sisters had sewn a new altar cloth of white linen embroidered in white silk thread, with symbols of worship and the Lazarite cross entwined with grapevines. Benches were set near the front for those who could not stand or kneel. Minutes before the midday mass in which the chapel would be consecrated, the dark room had been transformed.

Martin stood in the back against the wall.

Brother Lothar entered first, swinging a censer to purify the air. He wore the white cape with the black cross of a Teutonic Knight. Brother Heinrich followed, in the black robes of the Knights of St. John, Hospitaller. In one hand, he held a branch of hyssop and in the other a silver dish from which he splashed holy water to cleanse the way.

The Master General entered wearing a sword and carrying an ornate silver cross. On the left shoulder of his black woolen cloak was appliquéd the cross of the Knights of St. Lazarus. He knelt before the altar, then stood to remove his sword and lay it upon the altar. The sword lay beside the gleaming silver chalice, reflecting the light from dozens of candles. At first, Martin could not tell if the Master General were a leper, but the wrappings on his hands answered Martin’s questions.

The Master General then stepped to one side, and the ritual was repeated by the Commander who served as Deacon. Brothers Heinrich and Lothar helped the Commander to kneel and then lifted him to his feet. He removed his sword and laid it on the altar, and made again to kneel. The Master General, who had seen his difficulty, motioned him to remain standing. The Commander bowed to the crucified Christ and said his silent prayer. Brothers Heinrich and Lothar, in their turns, laid their swords on the altar.

Asperges me,” said the Master General to the Commander who, in reply, dipped the hyssop twigs into the holy water and sprinkled the Master General. “Domine hyssopo et mundabor; lavabis me. . .”

The lepers spoke, together, those who were able, wheezing and hoarse many of them, “Thou shalt sprinkle me, Lord, with hyssop and I shall be cleansed; thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. Amen.”

The hyssop was used in the Bible, yes, Martin remembered, for cleansing lepers, but these were the words of Mass when all of God’s world was cleansed of the accumulating filth of human life. “Everyone is unclean,” had said the wandering priest of the Zürichberg.

“Have mercy on me, Lord, have mercy on all,” responded the Commander.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.”

Expecting no mercy from God or man, Martin crossed himself in an automatic gesture of pious anonymity.

The Master General offered the Host as a sacrifice to God, and asked for God’s forgiveness. All those around Martin responded, “Amen.”

Ejus divinitatis esse consortes, qui humanitatis nostrae fieri dignatus et particips Jesus Christus Fillius tuus Dominus noster…

Martin had heard this in every Mass since his boyhood, that Christ was God humbling himself to participate in the bitter, confusing struggle of man. Martin wondered if being human were not more difficult than being God.

The Commander waved the censer over the chalice to purify it before this first communion, purifying it for lepers. No clean lips would ever drink from it.

The air grew heavy with incense, the scent of fresh-cut pine, wet wool and human breath. It took a long time for the lepers to take their communion, and Martin stayed, kneeling on the stone floor, head bowed, eyes closed, his mind dragged through time on the voices, the singing, the words and the smoke of the incense. Confusing present and past, he listened for Michele’s pure Latin accents. The sun broke through the clouds and sent a bright flash through the chapel’s east window, the body of Christ. Startled by light pressing his eyelids, Martin lifted his head. He opened his eyes, but the sun was gone, and he was surrounded not by bright paintings, but by bare rock. Memory and hope collided, and he crumpled unconscious on the stone floor.


This is an excerpt from my novel, Martin of Gfenn.  If you like it, you can read more at In those days, people did not have Christmas trees as we know them, but they did put up what they called “the miracle tree.” It was an evergreen tree with apples tied to it.

Drivers License, Part Two


Daily Prompt In Due Time What’s your next, most pressing deadline? Are you excited, stressed, or ambivalent about it? What’s the first thing you’d like to do once you’re done with it?

The drive to Alamosa was beautiful wintry and uneventful (yay). The DMV was ridiculously easy to find. The words DRIVERS LICENSE were written in bright blue letters on a yellow background on a sign facing the street. The rules of the game were clearly posted on the door. You must have proof of mailing address. You must have verification of identity. You must take a number. I entered and took my number; 94.

A man was at the counter updating his drivers license. Two little kids were waiting on two of the four hard plastic seats. The man behind the counter was patient and helpful. They finished and my number was called, somewhat absurd as I was the only person there until just that moment when a friendly young man came in and pulled number 95.

I had more documentation than I needed. It seems that people in the San Luis Valley forget things because he never asked for verification of car insurance (kind of important, right? I mean in California they ask that FIRST before you’re even allowed to sit on the hard plastic seats and stare at the blue screen!). “Did you ever have a Colorado drivers license?” he asked. I said I had and remembered how hard it was for me to give that up in my first trip to the DMV in San Diego, the one on Park Ave, not so bad back in 1984. “You might be in the system still.” I actually think I was, but he didn’t say.

So, after about 15 minutes I was out of there and back on the road, through the silvery December light of the San Luis Valley. That’s it. That’s the last thing I had to do, and now I am officially living here.

Drivers License


Now that I’m in Colorado, I need a new drivers license. I’m in a new state and my old license is going to expire on my birthday (3 weeks away!) Yesterday I made it my project to collect everything I need to prove residency and identity, and when I couldn’t find my birth certificate, I ordered a new one for $80. Naturally, minutes later, I found it… Kafka?


Eve's Diary, Mark Twain, Illustrated by Lester Ralph

“Yeah, of course. ‘What did you learn from the experience? How would you do things differently next time?’ There’s no ‘next time.’ This is LIFE. It doesn’t happen twice.”
“You seem down, Lamont.”
“No, not at all, but…”
“Surely you’ve failed at something.”
“A lot of things. So? Berthold Brecht said it right, ‘Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better.’ In a way everything we do is rehearsal for the next thing…and then we die.”
“Rather bleak view.”
“Accurate, though. :-)
“Are you going to write to this prompt or not?”
“I don’t like this kind of prompt although it’s definitely well written and will lead to some interesting posts. I just don’t like navel-gazing. I think this is. In any case, one thing in my life I never got right is luv. Marriage and marriage-like-things never met my expectations. A failed painting or story is just a lesson, practice. Failed luv sucks out a person’s soul and steals time one can never get back.”
“You had expectations from luv?”
“Well, yeah. No one enters into those things without expecting to be happier, to have a friend with whom to share the dark and light moments of life, a travel companion even (dare I say?) a soul mate. I see those marriages, too. They really do happen and yeah; I know people ‘work’ at them, yadda yadda. I worked at mine, too, but they were uniformly abysmal.”
“I do not think I was designed for a close relationship — I mean a day-to-day relationship — with another person.”
“Maybe with the right person it would have gone differently?”
“Yeah, that’s possibly true. And I don’t dispute I never found the ‘right’ person.”
“What if you had?”
“But I didn’t. So there might be a ‘glitch’ in my ability to choose, or in the people who ‘chose’ me. Anyway, it’s something I hate thinking about. Most other ‘failures’ are redeemable, but not that one. It just didn’t happen.”
“You’re not dead yet. It could.”
“Really, Dude? Can you see that? I can’t see that. If I learned anything from these truly nightmarish experiences it’s to avoid the whole thing.”
“Not going there, Dude. You and WP can prod all you want, but THAT, or those, bits of personal history really are personal. What did Mark Twain write in Eve’s Diary? That book is a pretty good description of male/female relationships as I’ve known them. And, as Eve said, ‘The burnt experiment shuns the fire’. Eve sees herself as an experiment, God’s experiment. I always loved that. Here’s an excerpt…”

I had created something that didn’t exist before; I had added a new thing to the world’s uncountable properties; I realized this, and was proud of my achievement, and was going to run and find him and tell him about it, thinking to raise myself in his esteem—but I reflected, and did not do it. No—he would not care for it. He would ask what it was good for, and what could I answer? for if it was not GOOD for something, but only beautiful, merely beautiful—

So I sighed, and did not go. For it wasn’t good for anything; it could not build a shack, it could not improve melons, it could not hurry a fruit crop; it was useless, it was a foolishness and a vanity; he would despise it and say cutting words. But to me it was not despicable; I said, “Oh, you fire, I love you, you dainty pink creature, for you are BEAUTIFUL—and that is enough!” and was going to gather it to my breast. But refrained. Then I made another maxim out of my head, though it was so nearly like the first one that I was afraid it was only a plagiarism: “THE BURNT EXPERIMENT SHUNS THE FIRE.”

( )

Amish Update…

It’s been a while since I posted anything Amish, though I continue researching their early days in this world and now I live in an Amish Paradise. By that I mean there are Amish here and for me it’s Paradise.

Encounters with Amish are few and far between for a couple of reasons. They’re not all that social and neither am I. But this did happen.

I was at the Post Office a couple of weeks ago. I’d just dumped Christmas cards into the outgoing mailbox and gone to m PO Box to clean it out. It was full of stuff, most of it trash. As is my custom, I went to the beautiful turn of the century glass table across from the PO Boxes and began sorting and opening my mail. Believe me, there was a big pile AND I had a couple of Christmas presents I was going to mail after this chore was accomplished. I took up most of the table.

I felt the presence of another person and realized I was hogging the whole space. I finished opening and throwing out the piece of mail in my hand, and turned to move my stuff over so the person could have some room. There was an Amish woman, about my age. She had snow white, hair carefully parted and under her cap. She was the same height as I am, wore glasses as I do. It was freakishly like looking into a mirror and seeing a sudden Amish transformation. She was using a three inch edge at the very end of the table. I was right to feel bad.

“Hi!” I said, “Sorry about that. I don’t need the whole table.”

“Hi,” she said.

That was it. I felt somehow like I’d landed on the planet and made contact with a benign life form that bears an uncanny resemblance to me.

Here’s the article (very interesting) from the Denver Post from which I took the photo above:



Daily Prompt The Language of Things You have to write a message to someone dear to you, telling that person how much he/she means to you. However — instead of words, you can only use 5-10 objects to convey your emotions. Which objects do you choose, and what do they mean?

If you think humans communicate primarily in words, well, you’re mistaken. For most of the 200,000 years we’ve been around, we’ve communicated with things. In a way, words are one of the things we’ve devised to speed up communication. Enduring words are found on “things.”

Long ago (1959) my mom tried to communicate with me with this thing. This thing is an old trunk (duh). When I first met it, it was in my grandmother’s cellar and it was filled with books. Cool books, too. My mom’s books from an earlier, more dreamy, period of her life. One of those books had a huge impact on my life, and I wrote about it here. As time passed, the trunk came to our house and my mom started trying to figure out what to “do” with it. She thought of using it as a planter and had a custom metal box made to sit in the top instead of the old and broken wooden one (I don’t even know where that metal box went — but here’s the wooden one, where it’s been for well over 100 years). She got some Formby’s (the furniture refinisher of the day) and cleaned all the paper covering off the outside. She tried to repair the hinges in the back (they are still broken — unscrewed from the old wood, permanently, I’m afraid).

This thing. “You’ll inherit your grandmother’s sewing machine and the trunk.”

“What,” I thought, “will I do with that? I’m a world traveler, not an acquirer of stuff!!!”

Everyone acquires stuff, and this is my stuff now. I don’t know exactly what my mom was trying to say with the trunk. I know she felt it was important. I know she believed it belonged to my grandmother’s grandmother, one Phoebe Copenbarger. It could have come with my grandmother’s father’s mother, a Stober. My grandmother had HER Stober grandmother’s first name (Harriet).

All this leads to the question — who WERE these people and why should they matter to me? They didn’t matter to me much. All of that was so long ago, a dim past and memories that even my mother didn’t have…

My mom was convinced, however, and often said, “It came with Phoebe Copenbarger from the old country.” She didn’t even know what “old country.”

But I do…

Now that I’m writing a novel that is a VERY fictionalized account of the actual people in the actual old country I look at this trunk and wonder what influence it’s had on my life. My mom was interested in her “roots.” We went chasing after them when I was a kid. It was a lot more difficult back in the 60s to find out anything (and, in a way more interesting since it could involve travel and going to newspaper offices and libraries, not just sitting in front of a lap top and typing something in a search bar). Her work actually added something to the known facts of these obscure people. On a distant second cousin with whom I used to work has posted photos of our family that she got from my mom. Phoebe is the VERY old lady in the lower right corner…


So, the trunk. It could have come from the “old country” but Phoebe didn’t. She came from Virginia. The “old country” was four or five generations away from Phoebe. She is the daughter of the last person in my ancestry to have the name “Snavely” or “Schneebeli” — the name of a family from Affoltern am Albis, many of whom emigrated in the mid-18th century from Switzerland and the Alsace. I don’t think it’s very likely that the trunk came with the Schneebelis.


The hand-painted lithograph in the lid doesn’t say much — but my experience studying and writing about Godey’s Lady’s Book, and looking at thousands of images throughout the 19th century, puts it in the early-mid 1800s. Phoebe Copenbarger could have used it — but where. Maybe just to come west. I will never really know. I am sure, however, that when my grandmother, grandfather and their little family came west from Iowa to Montana in the early 1900s, grandma used the trunk.

I wish I knew the true story of this trunk. In any case (ha ha) it’s gone from being an annoying burden to tote around for the sake of “family” to an interesting relic that has been, maybe this whole time, trying to tell me something.

An Ode to Ordinary People


Daily Prompt Unsung Heroes We all have our semi-secret, less-known personal favorites — a great B-side, an early work by an artist that later became famous, an obscure (but delicious) family recipe. Share one of your unsung heroes with us — how did you discover it? Why has it stayed off everyone’s radar?

I write historical fiction and wish, all the time, that there really was a “Way-bac” machine since research is difficult even though it’s also, always, very interesting. I wish I had the machine because I’ve learned that history wasn’t made by the “names.” It was made by the “B-side” — the “ordinary” people who for all their varied reasons did their deeds, acted their acts, sang their songs.

At one point a couple of years ago I was sending queries to agents trying to get representation for Martin of Gfenn. I was really enthusiastic about the possibility that one particular agent MIGHT take on my book. The agency — and the particular agent himself — seemed to be everything I would want and I got the impression from my research that they would want my book. I wrote the query and in it described how it is the story of an “ordinary person” from the 13th century, not a prince or hero, just a talented person who’s hit upside the head by fate. The response I got was, “Why would I be interested in a book about an ordinary person?”

My reaction was, “Because YOU’RE an ordinary person, douche-bag, and so are your readers. This is a book about the heroism of the ordinary guy who faces his fate and does something with it that affects the lives of others.” Of course, I followed convention and kept my peace.

To me, this is the real heroism, the real “A-Side.” I’m not the only one aware of this, either. Aristotle called it “A vast chain of dancers” — each of us holds hands with the next generation and shares with it the little treasures of culture and human survival that we know. Aristotle, of course, was definitely an “A-Side” but THAT fact is (I’m sure) partly related to the fact that his work was not completely lost to time (and fire). Survival is not just of the fittest; it’s also survival of the LUCKY.

Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard
Thomas Gray

…Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d,
Or waked to ecstasy the living lyre.

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll;
Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village Hampden that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest…

(This is an excerpt; here’s the entire poem)

This thought echoed by George Eliot:

“Her full nature … spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” George Eliot, Middlemarch

I’m interested in those “mute inglorious Milton[s]” more than I’m interested in Milton. These are the people who populate my novels just as they populate my world. The cute waiter in the VERY elegant hotel restaurant in Del Norte who is, in real life, a cowboy and a wrangler. The woman running the B&B whose story is one of the saddest I’ve ever heard and yet whose eyes sparkle because now she’s living out her dream. Most of my friends whose names will never be A-Sides but whose lives have touched the lives of others in beneficial ways.

I guess you could say that the B-side is MY “A”-side.

Here you can meet Mr. Peabody, see how he adopted Sherman (because every dog should have a boy) and understand how the Waybac really works. It’s possible that Rocky and Bullwinkle has been largely forgotten, but that doesn’t make it a B-side.