Wednesday, December 25, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

 We writers understand that we need to be able to put ourselves into the minds of our characters to tell their stories authentically. Those of us who write for children have to be able to think like a child.

At workshops with Joy Cowley and Rich Wallace, they led us through writing exercises designed to help us get in touch with that child we used to be.

But there is another sure-fire method that will transport me back to my childhood in an instant. Christmas music.

Just a few bars of  "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" or "Frosty The Snowman", and I am in nursery school, sitting cross-legged on the floor waiting for a visit from Santa Claus. "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" will also take me back to those early years. Did you ever hear the flip-side: "Are My Ears on Straight"?
Kathy with Santa (front row, far left)

"O Christmas Tree" puts me at Grandma’s house, hearing her sing the words in German ("O Tannenbaum").

The music of  "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" or "O Come All Ye Faithful" (in English or the Latin version: "Adeste Fidelis"), and I am surrounded by my grade-school friends, wearing my blue-jumper uniform with a crisp white blouse, standing around the Nativity scene in front of St Ignatius School.

Alvin and the Chipmunks’ "The Christmas Song" reminds me of my brothers playing all our Christmas records on the wrong speed to make them sound like chipmunks, too.

"Winter Wonderland" will land teen-age me in the front seat of a Pontiac Bonneville on a date with a boy who can’t believe I never heard that song before.

And "Silver Bells" might find me at any age (child or adult), with my sister Reene, laughing and singing its verses in our not-close-to-melodic voices. The song has made us think of one another for so many years that whichever of us hears it first each holiday season will call the other so we can “sing” it together. This year we were together the first time we heard it. A special moment of sisterly sharing.

Kathy, right, with her sister Reene.

There’s another song that runs through my mind every year, though I don’t ever hear it on the radio, and it isn’t on any of my CD’s. It was an old British rhyme that someone recorded in the 50’s, and my mother had the record. I still know most of the words.

     Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat.
     Won’t you please put a penny in the old man’s hat?
     If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do.
     If you haven’t got a ha’penny, God bless you.

     Christmas is coming, lights are on the tree.
     Hang up your stocking for Santa Claus to see.
     If you haven’t got a stocking, a little sock will do.
     If you haven’t got a little sock, God bless you.

There’s another verse about singing carols. If you haven’t got a carol, a little song will do. If you haven’t got a little song, God bless you.

And now from me to you, no matter what you have or don’t have, no matter how you celebrate or don’t celebrate, no matter whether you believe in Him or not, God bless you!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Playing the Past

by Kim Van Sickler
Juniors at a Playing the Past badge event.

My daughter, Claire, is about an eyelash short of snagging her Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout can earn. It's roughly equivalent to the Eagle Award in Boy Scouts, but having assisted my son in earning his Eagle and my daughter in earning her Gold, I will say it is harder to earn the Gold. However, most people have never heard of the Gold Award.

We could get into a discussion about why that is, but that's for another post.

Claire just turned in her final paperwork for her project, which was restoring a community building, built in 1896, that was originally used by a local Grange organization, otherwise known as the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. As part of her project, she compiled a brief, reader-friendly fact sheet about the Maplegrove Grange and the building that used to be its meeting house. She also threw two community events: one was a Girl Scout badge-earning activity, the other an open house.

Her favorite part of the project was the badge workshop we held for Junior girls to earn the Playing the Past badge.

Girls had to attend, dressed as they might have looked in 1896. Some of us even came up with alter egos.
Girl Scouts dressed as our alter egos.

(From right to left) Claire was Samantha Johnson, a seamstress with a husband  in the Army. She helped sew Army uniforms as well as anything the town's residents needed mended.

Megan was Meg Winston, a single farm owner, ever since her dad passed away.

Carli was Cecil. Her parents were Italian immigrants. She helped her mother run the house, but dreamed of more for herself. She courted a man named Tim and was adamantly opposed to arranged marriages.

Nicole was Sarah Lee. Her father came from a long line of tailors. She grew up in Maine and lived in her beautiful family home until a year ago. It was then that she moved to Ohio with her soon-to-be husband, William James Tabin, a traveling salesman she met in Maine. For the last six months she has been working as a governess.

Nancy was Nora Nash, the local schoolteacher. Her parents were fruit farmers.

Tina (arrived after the picture was taken) helped Nora at the schoolhouse.

And the girls decided that I would be the local newspaper reporter.

It was an afternoon with a decidedly different feel to it. The girls baked Apple Brown Betty.
Preparing Apple Brown Betty.

They braided handkerchiefs out of strips of old fabric and made dolls out of yarn.
Making braided handkerchiefs and yarn dolls.

They played parlour games like "Button, Button" (The It person tries to figure out who is holding onto the button as the players continue to pass it around the circle behind their backs.)
Playing "Button, Button".
And all the while, songs like "Stars and Stripes Forever", "Yankee Doodle Dandy", and "Zacatecas March" played in the background.
This is the badge the Juniors earned.
It's fun to read about times gone by. We discovered it's also fun to try and re-enact them.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


by Kathy Cannon Wiechman

Tradition has always been a part of my life. My family had holiday traditions, vacation traditions, and even a lunch-with-my-siblings-every-week tradition.

One tradition which began even before I was born was the baptism dress. Ninety-seven years ago last summer, when my grandma was pregnant with her firstborn—my father, she made a baptism dress for the child she expected.

After my father was baptized in the dress, it was put away for his first sibling. Aunt Rita was the second baby baptized in that dress and a tradition was born. Dad ended up having eight younger siblings, and all of them were baptized in the dress. One of his cousins was also baptized in it.

That made a total of ten babies baptized in the family baptism dress. Until the next generation came along. Aunt Rita’s children, my brothers, Aunt Ruth’s first son, and then ME! I was the 18th baby to be baptized in the same dress my father wore.
Kathy in "the dress".

The list of my cousins and siblings grew and grew. After each baptism, Grandma’s instructions were to return the dress to her unwashed. She trusted only herself with the care of the garment that had carried a tradition through two generations of Cannons (41 babies). In the 1950’s, she re-enforced the dress’s yoke.

When I gave birth to my first child, my daughter became the second member of a third generation (Baby #43) to be baptized in the family dress worn by both my father and me. Grandma mailed me the dress with a letter telling me of its history and those instructions to return it unwashed.

When Grandma died, Aunt Rita took over the care of the dress. She also kept a list of every baby who wore it. The list grew longer and longer. My second daughter was baby #48, and my sons were #52 and #55.

My parents had seven children, and by the time we were having our own children, the dress seemed to spend much of its time in Cincinnati. At one point, when Rita sent me the dress for a Cincinnati family baptism, she included the list, written in her beautiful handwriting, and the washing instructions. “Don’t send it back,” she wrote. I had been made the new custodian of a valued—and fragile—family tradition.

I called for a vote at a family reunion about the future of the dress. Should we have it refurbished to keep it usable or put it away under glass? We were one vote shy of unanimous to keep using it.

When MY first grandchild was born, she became Baby #91 to wear the dress. It was recently refurbished again, and now in more than 97 years, it has been worn by 106 babies.

In a first for the dress, Babies #104 and #105 were baptized on the same day. Emma wore it for an 11:30AM baptism before the dress was handed off to her cousin Paige for an afternoon baptism in the same church.

I could tell you stories about the dress. There was the time a mail delay held it up and it didn’t arrive in time for the baptism. Or the time we felt fortunate that it was out of town for a baptism when we had a house fire. Or the time it appeared to be lost for several months before it was finally located.

But for now, I’ll just say I love traditions! And my big wonderful family, many of whom I still lunch with once a week. Because, after all, traditions are a part of my life.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dream Destination Blog-Hop

Lexa and Julie are celebrating the launch of their books Soul Cutter and The Ghosts of Aquinnah with this blog-hop
and 19 prizes to give away.
by Kim Van Sickler

Ever since I was a little girl I've dreamt of one particular destination over all others. Throughout the years it's been that prize that I was going to treat myself to when the time was right. I've always shied away from doing it before because I was waiting to grow up and celebrate something monumental.

Then I grew up, but as far as I could see, I hadn't done anything incredible enough to earn the dream vacation.

And then a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I decided it was finally time to do it. We've travelled to some pretty amazing places already, but why were we putting off my dream vacation any longer?

I mean, really! Wasn't it possible that if we wait much longer we'll never get there?

Spring 2015. That's when we plan to go. The only scary part is coordinating our trip with Mother Nature.

You see my dream trip is to bike along the canals and throughout the city and countryside of Amsterdam while the tulips are in bloom.

Pretty amazing, huh?

Where is your dream destination? Have you been there yet? If not, what are you waiting for?

If you haven't already, hop on over to Lexa's blog and Julie's blog for their generous prize giveaways!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Celebrating the Journey

by Kim Van Sickler

I'm thrilled to co-host Alex Cavanaugh's brainchild blogfest this month. There are far too many excellent blogs out there that I haven't seen yet, but I'm on my way!

During NaNoWriMo, while many of you were pounding out your 50,000 words, I wrote two short stories instead.

So I only wrote 6,800 words.

But as Lynda Young reminds us in her IWSG post of 12/2/13, completing those stories, and then submitting them to two contests, is still something to celebrate.

I went on a hike to celebrate getting my work done. (And then I celebrated finishing my 12-mile hike with some wine and pumpkin pie!)
During November we also had a major milestone to revel in here at Swagger Writers when Kathy Cannon Wiechman announced that her latest manuscript, Like a River, was accepted for publication by Calkins Creek! I do believe she's still celebrating!

Here's hoping that whatever writing journey you're on right now: whether it be cleaning up NaNoWriMo vomit, crafting short stories or poetry, or angling for an agent or publisher, that you are taking time to appreciate how far you've come. Commemorate reaching those milestones you set for yourself. And then brag to me about what you've accomplished in the comments below. I want to celebrate with you!

Alex wants us to remind you that the next IWSG post is 1/8/14 and that he's running a contest with awesome prizes this month, so hop on over here to enter.