Category Archives: How To

The Color of Love Is Blue – By Maribeth Shanley

My favorite season is spring.  I love the smell of growing grass.  I love the trees that are budding and sprouting leaves.  I love that it’s warm during the daylight, and slightly chilly when the sun goes down.  As a homeowner, I especially love feeding, listening to and watching all the birds.

A little more than two years ago, Bob and I signed the papers to build a new house.  This house would become our last home.

We paid extra to have the house built on a lot where the backyard met the pond.  It was early spring the day we signed the papers and put down our earnest money.  After signing, we stopped at the lot and walked back to see it.  The first thing I noticed were the bluebirds flying around the pond.  I was thrilled.

I’ve been feeding the birds for as long as I can recall.  I’ve also always provided a few bird boxes for them to build a nest.  Except for our residence in Illinois, we’ve had bluebirds.

At each home we owned in the Nashville, TN area, I would religiously put up a bluebird box.  Our last Nashville home, however, one of the existing residents had already established a bluebird nesting box.  I was fortunate to attract the sweet blue colored birds with a brownish belly to nest at every backyard, except that home we last lived in before moving to South Carolina.

Each spring I watched as one couple would build their nest.  The box in that neighbor’s backyard was visible to me when standing or sitting on my back deck.  I knew I wouldn’t have the birds nesting. However, I thought, Maybe there’s something I could feed the bluebirds to entice them to visit my yard.  After all, the same neighbor didn’t feed the birds.  I was the only person who did.

So, on my next trip to the local Wild Birds Unlimited store, I asked the clerk what bluebirds ate only to discover they love mealworms.  The store kept live mealworms in a small refrigerator.  I not only purchased a large container of squirming mealworms, but I also purchased a bluebird box feeder.  I had a ton of other birds coming to my backyard to feed at the birdseed boxes I had erected.  I wanted the bluebirds to feel safe in my yard.

The wooden bluebird feeder looked similar to most ordinary bird feeders.  Like traditional feeders, the front and back panels were plexiglass.  However, the plexiglass wasn’t slanted inward like traditional seed feeders.  Instead, they were straight up and down, creating a more squared off effect.  Like other feeders, one section of the slanted wood roof was hinged enabling me to lift the roof and drop in the mealworms.

Unlike seed feeders, on either wood end panels of the bluebird feeder was an entrance and exit hole making it easy for the birds to enter the box on one side and fly out from the opposite side.  From that year on I was able to sit on my deck and watch the little birds fly in, eat and then fly out.  I watched for the eight years we lived in that house from early spring through the end of summer.  The presence of the box would also give me the pleasure of listening to their quiet conversations which were sweet and low.

Our first home in South Carolina had a small backyard that backed up to a natural runoff ditch that, when it rained hard would fill up with water.  There were trees on either side of the ditch, and the lot behind one next-door-neighbor was heavily wooded as well.  We had a lot of different types of birds that visited our feeders.  A raccoon and an opossum also visited.

I recall, one night, as I turned on the back outside light the opossum was inside the feeder that I had nailed to one of the trees.  He was eating the cracked corn I put in that feeder for the squirrels.  When I walked out the door, the opossum stopped and looked up at me.  Because I didn’t walk toward the box or move threateningly, he put his head back down and ate more corn.   Since the backyard was small, I didn’t put up any bluebird houses.  Instead, I put one up around the front of the house and in the landscaping next to the roll-up garage door.   The bluebirds found it and raised several broods over the two years we lived in that house.

Unlike most other wild birds, bluebirds can nest up to four times each year.  However, between broods, the box needs to be cleaned.  The female bluebird won’t lay her new eggs in an existing nest, even if it was where she hatched her last brood.

When we moved into our current house, we had immediate success.  The blue colored nesting box I put at the end of our yard and overlooking the pond was perfect for a bluebird pair.  They nested three times that first spring and summer.

The following year, I added a box that still sits just outside the office I share with Bob giving me the opportunity to watch the birds as they enter and exit the box.  Last year, a pair of bluebirds nested in that house once.  The female laid her eggs in mid-August.  By the end of August, I began to worry about the eggs.  The temperatures last year were, for the third year in a row, record temperatures.  August was a brutally hot one.  Although the female kept going into the box, I knew something was wrong.  The eggs never hatched.  I guess that the heat was too intense for the eggs.  When I finally pulled the nest out of the box, I broke open the eggs.  There was a speck of blood in each of them, leading me to believe that the hot climate air caused the box to serve as more of an oven than a nest.

This year, there’s been a flurry of birds trying to nest in our backyard.  The original blue painted box was taken over by a house sparrow pair.  I watched a bluebird couple compete for that box when, finally, the sparrows won the competition.  I bought another box and hung it on the square column on our downstairs deck which runs up to the roof of the deck just above the patio.  For a short time, it seemed the bluebirds might use that box, but the female lost interest in it.  So, I went online and ordered another bluebird box and pole set.

That same week, I noticed the bluebirds seemed desperate to nest.  Thus, instead of waiting for delivery of the online order to arrive, I ran down to the local Wild Birds Unlimited store and bought another box and pole setup.  When we came home, Bob helped me erect the house.  We placed it so that the box hole faced away from both of the existing boxes which now were occupied by sparrows.  We also made sure that there was at least twenty feet from either of the other two boxes.  The same bluebirds seemed interested at first. However, the female wanted to use the original blue painted box from last year.  Of course, I can’t tell if the pair are the original pair that nested last year or if one of them was born in the blue painted box. However, the female simply wasn’t interested in either that newly erected box nor the other new box now secured to the patio column.

I continue to feed the bluebirds with mealworms.  I no longer buy the live mealworms.  Instead, I purchase large bags of dried worms and order them from Amazon.  As long as the bluebirds come to the feeder, I feel confident they will nest.  Once the sparrow’s broods have left their nests, I can clean out the houses giving the bluebirds a choice of four boxes during the remainder of the spring, and summer months.

Yesterday, the box and pole setup I ordered online from Walmart arrived.  I had one more opportunity to help the bluebirds raise their first brood.  I wanted to place the house away from the backyard and the other boxes.  I was about to set it up on the west side of our house and intended to move the mealworm feeder to that side but far enough away so they would use the box.  Then I remembered how hot last summer was.

Knowing that this summer will most likely be another record breaker as will all summers going forward if the U.S. and the world don’t embrace that climate change is real and dangerous, I walked around the front of my house and walked down the east side of our house to find a spot for the birdhouse.  I put it close enough to the house where I know it doesn’t get much sun so that the box can stay cooler than the other boxes.  Also, the box is about forty or more feet from the mealworm feeder.  However, it’s a straight shot to the box opening.

Sure enough, the bluebirds discovered the new nesting box and have been on top and inside several times.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  The new box location will not only provide shade for the birds, but I will be able to watch the birds now through the end of their mating season since it sits just around the corner from the patio.  When sitting on the deck, I can watch from directly above.

Spring is here, and love is in the air.  The color of love is blue!

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Filed under How To, Maribeth Shanley

The Quest for Techies

The other day I received an e-mail from an organization that caters to seniors (of which I’m a member) and that has a 4 letter acronym as a title. This organization was offering a series of free classes in how to operate a smartphone, both android and iOS (Apple) phones. I immediately read further to get the particulars. I have an older android smartphone and my knowledge of its functions is basic to say the least. I can add and subtract people in my contacts, make calls, text, send a photo to an e-mail address and play with my Bitmoji app. That’s about it, so a class to learn more sounded excellent to me. However the letter also stated that our specific phones would NOT be addressed. We students would learn on a phone they would allow us to use during the class. I could just picture in my mind’s eye the chaos in a room full of seniors, all with “deer in headlight” syndrome, interrupting the instructor to ask how this lesson was different than on the phone they used. I had already experienced this phenomenon when I took a class in operating a late model camera and also when I attended a hospital lecture about AFib for which there are several different medications which all work differently.

The e-mail also said that two classes would be offered for android and two classes for iOS phones. One set of classes was offered in the morning and one in the afternoon for each, and these classes were available in St. Petersburg or Tampa. I live an hour north of each of these heavily congested locations. The next thing I noticed was that all the classes in the morning said registration was already full. I never even had a chance to sign-up for a morning class. And the afternoon classes concluded right at rush hour. Surprise, surprise! I wonder who was responsible for setting that schedule up?

I decided to call the number suggested in the e-mail for further questions and when someone answered they knew nothing about these classes. After fumbling around for a while, putting me on hold and coming back, they didn’t know why the morning classes were already full and they didn’t know why the afternoon classes were scheduled to get out at rush hour. They also didn’t know if any classes would ever be offered anywhere nearer me. Why was I not surprised? This sort of thing is so typical in today’s world. Some half-wit took a great idea and turned it into an idiot’s endeavor, by being too lazy or ignorant to figure out how to make these classes possible for people in this geographic area.

Some people have disdain for seniors, claiming they are too stupid or lazy to learn how to use a smartphone or other technology. Those who feel this way are not being fair. I am a senior and I love to learn new things, as do many of my friends. The problem is in finding a source for that learning. I’ve always been good at reading owner’s manuals or going to a store where I’ve purchased an item when I’ve gotten stuck. Owner’s manuals are no longer being printed. The manual that does exist is on the phone, but if one doesn’t know how to get to it, what good is it!!! And if by some miracle you do get to the manual, nothing is explained in detail. It’s assumed we are already tech knowledgeable. And phone stores don’t typically teach people how to use their phones. They upgrade!  The few classes I’ve seen offered are too basic for me. Talk about frustration! It’s laughable!

We seniors need patient young folks to offer instruction in operating cell phones!!! Other technology, too! We’re even willing to pay. Help!!!

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Filed under How To, musings

Well I’ll Be!

Although I live surrounded by neighbors, I don’t necessarily see them every day. In fact, sometimes I won’t see a single soul for maybe even a week. That’s not unusual since I’m retired and most people who live near me are younger and have jobs that keep them away during the day. And I’m the type who almost always has a project or two lined up to keep me busy, many times inside.

Since I live alone, I don’t always have someone to bounce ideas off of unless I use my phone or email, so I’ve become one of those people other people like to make fun of, because I talk to myself. Do any of you ever do that? I honestly don’t know why, but I don’t talk to myself out loud. I whisper, and only when I am alone. How strange is that?

Occasionally, when I’ve been out shopping or whatever, I’ve actually seen and heard people talking out loud to themselves, so I’m assuming I’m probably not THAT unusual, but I have no idea why I whisper. Maybe, my inner-self thinks it’s weird to talk to oneself, so if I whisper no one will notice? But if I’m alone…that doesn’t seem to make sense. I decided it wasn’t that big a deal and not serious enough to be concerned about so I just go about my activities as usual.

Often, my friends and family contact me via email, so I spend a part of each day conversing with them silently. However, my son makes it a point to phone me usually once a week or so. Most of the time these days, when my phone rings,  it’s a political ad, someone trying to sell me something, or someone trying to scam me, so if I don’t recognize the name on my Caller ID, I just ignore calls, and as a result, there may be days when I don’t speak with anyone.

I noticed the last few times my son called, my voice was hoarse and my tone was elevated and he asked if I was okay. I assured him I was fine, but started to be aware of my voice sounding differently. I also noticed I was having a little trouble swallowing and decided, since I had my annual check-up coming up, I’d run this past my doctor, just to make sure all actually was okay.

So, my appointment came and my doctor checked me over and asked if anything was different than before and I told him that I felt well except for the slight difficulty swallowing and hoarse voice. He said it was probably normal, but he’d recommend me going to see an Ears, Nose and Throat doctor, just to make sure. So long story short, I went to the ENT doctor, who did a thorough check and this is what he said, “I think you’re fine. It’s not uncommon for us, as we age, to get dry mouth, which you’ve told me you have, so my recommendation is to drink more fluids when eating. That will take care of the swallowing difficulty. And for the hoarse voice, I suggest you talk out loud to yourself during the day. That will keep your vocal cords warmed up and working for when you do need to say something to someone.”

Well I’ll be! Can you believe that? Have you ever heard of a DOCTOR prescribing talking out loud to yourself as a cure? This has become my favorite story to tell my friends. Hahahahaha!!!! Maybe those people I saw and heard talking to themselves were following their doctor’s orders!

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Filed under How To, musings

Rock of Stages

After moving into my house here in Florida I set about trying to decorate it to suit the eclectic diversity of my possessions. I’d traveled extensively for years and many of my memories were tied to those travels in the form of furniture, statuary, paintings, masks, tapestries, etc. The trick was to try to keep my home from looking like the hodgepodge it actually was, and not, too terribly tacky. I am generally pleased with the way it all turned out, but I have to say, one room in particular presented a huge challenge. My 14’ x 9 ½’ one-step-down sunken sunroom.

I have an open floorplan with cathedral ceilings so my main living area has a living room with an island bar separating it from my kitchen and breakfast area and the sun room is located at one end of my living room with the step down and triple sliding glass doors separating the two rooms.

Each sun room side wall consists of patio type sliding glass doors. One side leads to the breakfast room and the opposite one leads to my office. The fourth wall is the back of the house outside wall which has two, 4 foot-wide jalousie windows starting two feet above the floor and going up to the ceiling, a glass single door/screen combo and one more small window, also starting at two feet above the floor and going up to the ceiling. I explained all this so that you could realize that at least 90% of the sunroom “walls” are clear glass doors and I had no idea how I was going to place any useful furniture in it.

My dilemma was I needed more walls, but I also needed the light the sunroom provided to brighten up the surrounding living room, office and breakfast room. Part of the solution came when a friend gave me her no-longer-needed room divider made of knotted jute cord. And that idea started me looking for other room dividers that were see-through. I found two “curtains” made of 2” coconut shell discs strung with black cord. The two curtains together were the width of two of the sliding glass panels leading to the living room. If all the sliding panels were drawn back or open, the three panels stacked into a recessed area at the end of the wall. If closed or partially closed, the recessed area was a blank single-door-size wall.

I decided to close the panels of the living room glass doors and leave one width doubled and open to walk through and then faux paint the blank recess area to look like a rock wall. Having never attempted painting rocks before, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off, but I wanted to give it a try. I wanted the rocks to look stacked up and maybe cemented in place, but I was having trouble visualizing different rocks. My yard doesn’t have any rocks in it, so I roamed around the house searching for something that looked like a rock. I found what I needed in the kitchen. An Idaho potato! Don’t laugh; it really looked like a rock. Ha! So I got my paints out and started painting with one hand and holding and turning the potato with the other.

After my painting project was done about a week later, I placed my reading chair and a small table against the coconut shell curtain and sliding glass panels between the sunroom and living room. A fountain was placed in front of the “rock wall”, and a knurly tree that I made out of a fallen limb from an outside tree went in the corner at the entrance to my office. The rest of the decorating project fell into place after that. I placed a rustic-painted ice cream table against the glass doors going into my office. My friend’s knotted curtain acts as a backdrop, and I put a wicker storage bench below the jalousie windows and a wicker tower cabinet in the corner near the entrance to the breakfast room.

Rock Wall

Beginning Rocks

Rock Wall

Coming Along

Rock wall-whole - Copy

Recess #1 Finished, Coconut shells – left

After walking past that rock wall for years now, I’ve decided I’d like to try to make the rocks look a little more three dimensional by adding shadows in and under some of them and by darkening grout. I still don’t know how to do it, but I’d like to give it a go.  Anyone have any suggestions? I’ll follow up with more pictures later when I finish. Please cross your fingers for me. FYI, I have noticed that the grout and some shadows look darker in my photos than in real life. Hopefully, I can make them more real looking.

Sunroom

Sunroom Complete

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Filed under Art, How To

Writing Book Reviews: Purpose and Tips by Christine Husom

There are two basic purposes for writing book reviews: helping potential readers decide whether they’ll read a particular one, and letting authors know what’s good, or not, about their book. It’s an evaluation of the book from the reviewer’s perspective.

Book reviews should be helpful to both reader and author alike, written as objectively as possible. A good rule of thumb is to highlight what the author did well employing the basic elements of storytelling—genre, plot, characters, dialogue, pace, conflict, climax—and to offer suggestions of ways to improve the story, or the writing itself, if need be.

One thing to watch for is if you can’t write a review of the book itself—genre aside,—don’t. You may enjoy books from a genre, or sub-genre, and then read one in a genre you find you don’t like. It’s not good practice to write a review criticizing the genre itself. Most people who read your review are partial to those books.  If you read thrillers, historical romance may not be your cup of tea. If you favor traditional mysteries, horror may be too graphic for you. An evaluation of a book is meant to be just that.

Another thing to be careful of is viciously slamming a book or author. A review that reads like a personal attack is not regarded as valid, and will be dismissed as such. It makes readers wonder what vendetta the reviewer has against the author. This is a mildly-written example: “I am glad that this book only cost me a penny. Maybe I’ll donate it to my library…just so I don’t have to look at it anymore.” Or the person who left a 1-star rating on a book then wrote, “This is a book I did not order and have not read. I have no idea how I can review a book I don’t have.” What purpose did she have for rating the book, and posting her comment?

On the other hand, constructive criticism is valuable to both authors and readers. If there are a number of grammatical mistakes or typos, and that is noted in reviews, it alerts the author he needs a better editor, and perhaps a team of proofreaders. An author should know if reviewers think the characters need to be better developed, or if the ending seems to come out of nowhere, or if the pacing was too slow, or too fast. The following review gives the author something to ponder: “The author writes a thriller that is hard to put down, but her sentence structure needs improvement.” It’s not written as an attack. Instead, it is constructive criticism.

If you don’t like a book, but want to write a review on it, you can be thoughtful and honest without being cruel. Think of it as a personal critique to the author. Be respectful, and leave out any personal put-downs. When you evaluate a book and post it on sites, your review is out there for the world to see. People, in general, appreciate honesty served with a measure of decorum.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series.

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Filed under How To, marketing, writing

Things I learned about books and bookstores by Sheila Deeth

I run a local writers’ group. When I mentioned a free online seminar about getting books into indie and gift stores, one of the members suggested I take the class and report back. I suspect I wasn’t the right candidate for the lesson though, because in my other life I’m a mathematician. Still, it wasn’t all bad. Here’s my report:

  1. Sales are up at least 5% in indie bookstores. (Is this global, national, or average sales figures per store? Does the fact that many stores have closed affect the number?)
  2. Over 700 new indie book and gift stores have opened in 6 years (but how many have closed? And why does 100 a year sound such a small number to me?)
  3. Indie stores are where bestseller lists get their numbers from. (Great, but where do non-bestsellers go?)
  4. Indie stores hand-sell (as long as you can persuade them to read, stock and sell your book)
  5. People who look in indie stores often buy from Amazon afterward, thus raising your Amazon ranking (so much for hand-sold. I want to support indie stores!)
  6. Indie stores are community centers. People meet and talk. (Very true. I LOVE INDIE stores! Just wish I could sell my books in them).

Then came the really important stuff: Indie stores don’t exist to help you. You have to prove YOU can help THEM. Which you do by…

  1. Making the buyer’s job easy
    1. Easy ordering (preferably from a major distributor)
    2. Easy payment
    3. Easy returns
  2. Make sure the buyer can find the book and contact you
    1. Info sheet with your phone number
    2. email
    3. and address
    4. plus the book’s ISBN
    5. plus BRIEF info about it.
  3. Describe how YOU will drive sales to the store
    1. “I’m going to talk on the radio and I’ll tell everyone they can buy it from you.”
    2. “I’m going to bring the radio host to your store.”
    3. “I have tons of endorsements and reviews that you can quote from in shelf materials. The book will sell itself.”
    4. “I’m going to be featured in all these magazines.”
    5. (I think they missed the step about how I get the radio to interview me, how I get those endorsements and reviews if I’m still trying to find readers, how I persuade those magazines to feature me… Maybe all that’s in the not-free seminars I can’t afford to follow up on.)

Then came the mathematical finale…

  1. If 200 stores stock your book (200! My first novel was stocked in three)
  2. And sell 4 or 5 copies each per month (In 6 months I sold one)
  3. You’ll sell 1000 copies in a month, which pushes you up the lists and means
  4. More stores will stock your book
  5. Thus meaning more stores sell 4 or 5 per month (because, of course, those first 200 stores will continue selling it, won’t they?)
  6. And you’ll make a real-world salary, plenty to live on, in your first year!

Bumping straight back down to reality, the radio will interview me, magazines will feature me, and readers will look for me if I’m famous or have sold lots of books. Meanwhile the indie store closest me closed. I only sold one book. And pyramids are still pyramids, even when they’re made of dreams.

The best advice, of course, is to write a book that people will read, and I hope you’ll read mine.

Sheila Deeth is the author of Infinite Sum, recently released by Indigo Sea. If you think she suffers from low self-esteem after reading this, please improve her self-confidence by reading and reviewing her novel. And if you or your loved ones are weighed down by things that happened in the past, this novel just might help you understand.

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Filed under books, How To, marketing, Sheila Deeth

From Timid to Confident

For some time now, I’ve wanted to share with you readers just how much of an impact belly dancing has had on my life. As I look back over the more than twenty years of my professional dance career and time spent teaching my students, I can’t help but smile while thinking how changed I am from the timid, insecure person I was in the very beginning. Not just in dance, but in every aspect of my life, and I’d like you to imagine my words as an analogy for most any career.

Those who knew me as a beginning dancer probably wouldn’t say I was timid and insecure from their observations, because I was also enthusiastic and very much taken with the mystique of the dance. I, like most of us, suffered silently. I didn’t know many dance steps or how to transition from one to another. I felt my figure wasn’t ideal. I had no idea how to put a costume together or where to find the resources for costumes.  What about hair and makeup? There were so many things I didn’t know, and I couldn’t help feeling intimidated by all those dancers who were so good at their craft. Does this sound familiar?

Take heart. Perhaps if I tell you what I did, you may have similar results.

First of all, you must learn that it is all right to be timid in the beginning. In fact, that trait is helpful. It makes you try harder, want to learn more. If you live in an area where lessons are taught, take as many lessons as you can. Subscribe to publications, read articles and order catalogs that offer supplies. Attend seminars and conventions that give you the whole picture of what you have learned in the classes, and more.

As in any endeavor, networking helps. When I first started going to seminars, I took the time to write to the teacher or guest of honor, ahead of time, letting her/ him know how excited I was that they were going to be teaching and/or performing. That way, when I got to the seminar, there would be at least one person whom I knew, and it’s so easy these days with e-mail. I was always surprised when they remembered that I had written them, but you see, people love to be appreciated. Many famous dancers, I believe, are friends now, because I took the time to make their acquaintance. And the wonderful thing is that belly dancers are really great people. They are eager to teach you the things they have learned and to share their experiences and ideas. So there is really no reason to feel intimidated. Make friends with other students and with vendors, too. After all, your interests are the same.

The more you learn the more confident you become. The more confident you become, the more relaxed you are and the more you can enjoy this beautiful art form. I’ll always remember taking a seminar with the famous performer and teacher, Bert Balladine when he held his head high and told us that each one of us was a gift of God’s and we needed to dance as though we believed it. In the beginning, you may need to pretend you feel that way, (I certainly did), but as you master each challenge, it becomes easier to feel the beauty of the dance and feel beautiful performing it.

When you feel confident and beautiful in one area of your life, it’s amazing how that bleeds into other aspects of it. Because of my experiences in the world of dance and the wonderful people I have met through the years, I feel I have become more interesting, confident, sharing, and even disciplined than I would have been had I not had the courage to enter in with love, enthusiasm, and a willingness to try. So put on that smile, lift yourself up and start on your journey. You, too, can go from timid to confident.

With that said, see how you can take this “dance lesson” and translate it into advice for writing, or for artwork, or for music or science, or whatever your interests are. And have fun!

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

 

 

 

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Filed under How To, musings, writing

Medieval Brass Rubbings

Being a romantic, I’ve always had an affinity for the Medieval through Renaissance periods of Britain; roughly between the 5th–17th centuries. Some really beautiful artwork can be found in catacombs and tombs in churches and abbeys, particularly in England, in the form of monumental brasses, which memorialize burials of important people of the day. Brass plates were often etched in effigies of the deceased and sometimes included relatives, pets, armor, status, even occupation of the individual. For historical or artistic value, many people have sought to copy some of these brasses onto paper. I decided I’d like to do that too.

Medieval brasses date back to as early as 1015 AD, I was told, but most of the ones that have survived through the ages are from the 14th century on up to the present day. Many were lost during the Bubonic Plague or Black Death beginning in 1347 AD, building and reconstruction projects, and destruction from wars throughout Europe. Although, the largest collections of brasses are in England, others can be found on the Continent.

Much information can be gleaned from these brasses, such as style and fashion, occupations and status, genealogy, heraldry, the history of armor and even ecclesiastical history. In fact, one could spend a lifetime studying this subject. For me, though, I was interested in learning the craft of rubbing and having a couple pieces of history in my home as mementos of my trip. I have a room with a 6½ʹ tall x 4ʹ wide medieval tapestry and I wanted a couple of brass rubbings for that room, as well.

I lived in Germany at the time and researched for several months to find brasses of the right ilk and then headed for England. Unfortunately, many of the really old brasses are not available anymore for rubbing, because they have been worn down over time, but replica brasses have been made, many of which are exact copies of the originals and are available for rubbing. There are also miniature brasses for those who don’t have time to rub a large one.

To make my rubbing, I used a special black rag paper, a gold metallic, hard wax block and a smaller pencil shaped wax tool, and masking tape to affix the paper to the brass. Many people have thought that making rubbings would be easy, just like coloring. But I can tell you, if you want a really good rubbing, it takes time and patience and sensitivity in one’s fingertips to feel through the paper to the raised areas of the design in order to know where the edges are. The weight of pressing down with the hard wax tool one uses to actually rub is tricky and the consistent direction one rubs makes for a neat and attractive finished product. Achy fingers are a given, before a brass rubbing is completed, I can assure you, but the finished product, for me, was well worth it.

I now have three framed brass rubbings. A small one, I rubbed myself, which is about 26ʺ tall x 10ʺ wide, and a pair, each 3½ʹ tall x 16ʺ wide, of Sir Roger Bellingham, d. 1544 and his wife Elizabeth, d.1500 from Kendal, Westmorland, England; my knight in shining armor and his lady.

If you are interested in learning more about brasses in England you may wish to visit The Monumental Brass Society online. My brass rubbing are below. I also have some grave stone rubbings that I made here in the U.S. Have you ever done any rubbings?

P1020390             P1020400      P1020411

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Teaching Creative Writing to an Elementary Class by Christine Husom

I was invited to talk to a group of third, fourth, and fifth graders about the writing process and what goes into writing a book. This will happen tomorrow. Children are a joy to be with. It’s like they have sponges attached to their bodies, sucking in whatever information you give them.

I’ll start out by asking if they’ve ever lain on their backs and watched the clouds move in the sky, and ask them to describe what they saw, how they felt. Someone is bound to say some look like cotton. Then I’ll tell them how when it was snowing recently my four-year-old grandson told me the flakes were big and looked like cotton balls—the clouds were breaking and the pieces were falling to the ground. That’s a great concept for a children’s story.

A few years ago when I spoke to another class I made up large cards containing and explaining the elements of a story/book. We’ll touch on those.

Purpose; why do you want to tell the story?

Setting; what is the location, the time of the year?

Point of View; who is telling the story, is it in first person or third person?

Plot–Story; what are the key scenes moving the story from one point to the next and the actions of the characters?

Characters; how do you make them believable, what drives them, motivates them, what do they care about? What a protagonist or main character is, and what an antagonist is. That a character may be an animal, or a bad storm.

Dialogue; how does it help tell your story and things about your characters? I’ll ask them if their grandparents or teachers or friends all sound the same and use the same words. I’ll tell them it’s important to give their characters different voices.

Pace; what is the speed and rhythm; do you want things to move slow or fast?

Conflict, the heart of fictional plot; what is the struggle between your characters or forces? What is the bad guy doing that the good guy can’t walk away from?

Climax, or when the tension is at the highest, toward the end of the book.

I’ll show them what a manuscript looks like before and after it is published. How a big stack of papers turns into a book.

Then I’ll draw a storyboard:twelve boxes, three rows of four, or four rows of three. In the first box, write down the question the book asks. In the last box, write the answer to that question. The other boxes are the plot points that lead to the eventual answer at the end. Storyboarding chapters is a tool to create logical flow after you have determined what your book is about, and why you are writing it.

And then we’ll write a story together. I used the storyboard technique with a class a few years ago and they came up with a wonderfully creative tale. So, I best get my supplies together so I’m ready to meet my students in the morning.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago Mystery Series, set in Minnesota.

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Make Book Cover Pins

Want to try a super easy method of advertising your book? Make a book-cover pin to wear everywhere you go. It’s amazing how many people will ask you about it! Just be ready to have a clever one-sentence answer that will make them want to read your book. That may take you longer than actually making the pins, but will be worth the time spent.

I have a PC, so if you have a Mac, the instructions may vary. Before my book was published I got a photo of the cover from my publisher which I keep on file in my computer for guest blogging and other promotions. I made my pins 1 ¾” by 2 ¾” but you can make them any size you prefer.

So, go to Microsoft Word (I have Word 10) and click Insert. Find the picture of your book cover in your files, select it and insert it in Word. Resize it to 1 ¾” by 2 ¾”. Click on the picture and you will see Picture Tools at the top right-center of page. Click on that and directly below that will be Picture Border where you can select the thickness and color of your border. I picked a 4 ½ pt. border in black.

Go back to Word’s Home Page  (set the Page Orientation to Landscape) and right-click on your bordered picture and left-click on Copy. Go to a space to the right of the photo and click Paste. Then reposition it to line up with previous photo. Continue to paste across the page to total 5 covers. If you’d like, you can make a second row below this row, giving you ten book cover photos.  Now that you have your book covers all on one page, save it and print it on Glossy Photo paper.

I purchased a 9” thermal laminator at a local box store for around $30 and laminated the sheet of photo paper (just follow the instructions enclosed with the laminator) and then cut out each book cover pin. After a trip to the local craft store to get pin-backs the right size to glue to the back of the covers, I was all done!

I’ve had people ask me about my pin at the grocery store, while dining out, at book signings and talks, all sorts of places. If you wear a plain top in a complimentary color, the book cover will stand out better. Have fun wearing your new pin and give some away to fans, friends and family. If you have a contest for a give-away of your print book, include a book cover pin.

After you’ve made your pins, you can use the laminator for other purposes: for recipe cards to send as gifts, or announcements, special photos to keep in your wallet, etc. I’d love to hear some of your ideas how this project can be used! Enjoy!

Coco with Book Pin

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

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