Category Archives: Family history

SUMMER SPOTLIGHT: LUANNE CASTLE — Jill Weatherholt

Jill Weatherholt has been so kind to interview me for her blog! Please join us over there!

What is special about the place you grew up? The places of my childhood are always with me although I live almost 2000 miles away. I grew up in Kalamazoo County, which is in southwest Michigan. There are 101 inland lakes in the county alone, and we were not far from Lake Michigan. My mother’s […]

via SUMMER SPOTLIGHT: LUANNE CASTLE — Jill Weatherholt

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Filed under Blogging, Book promotion, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, Interview, Kin Types, Memoir, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

Family Histories: Kin Types by Luanne Castle

Adrienne at Middlemay Books allowed me the opportunity to guest post about family history, a subject close to my heart and that of Kin Types! Thank you so much, Adrienne.

Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Period Drama on Paper at Middlemay Farm

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

This weekLuanne Castle discusses how the exploration of family history has enriched her creative life:

By combining a passion for family history with my creative writing, I felt able to—for a brief moment—inhabit the lives of women and men from previous generations and imagine how their stories felt to them.

Family history as done by genealogy buffs only interested in filling in the dates and places of lineal ancestors miss the point. Everybody has ancestors. What becomes fascinating is that by recreating and listening to the stories of previous generations, we learn from the experiences of those who have lived on Earth before us.

Family history is a messy, complicated, and…

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Filed under Book promotion, Books, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, History, Inspiration, Kin Types, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing Talk

Sunday Compulsion: Luanne Castle (Why I Write) — O at the Edges

Thank you to Robert Okaji for interviewing me for his beautiful poetry blog. He made me think about one of the hard questions . . . .

Welcome to “Sunday Compulsion,” in which creatives answer one question: Why do I create? Here’s poet Luanne Castle: When I pondered why I write, my mind flipped the question to why I don’t write during so many fallow periods. There have been so many reasons over the years: school, work, social life, teaching, raising kids. It’s not that I […]

via Sunday Compulsion: Luanne Castle (Why I Write) — O at the Edges

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Filed under #AmWriting, Family history, Inspiration, Kin Types, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Poetry reading, Writing, Writing Talk

You Should Probably Read This: Kin Types

If you read Merril’s blog you know that she’s a historian and a poet. Here’s Merril’s first reaction to KIN TYPES. (Thanks, Merril!)

Yesterday and today: Merril's historical musings

So–this arrived last night. I left it on the kitchen table, and I just started reading it–you know, leafing through it the way one does–and I got sucked in. I had to force myself to put it down because I have work to do. It is a powerful, lyrical mixture of poetry and prose, tragic accounts of everyday life–stories from her family history. Well, at least that’s what I’ve read so far. I’ll return for more in a bit.

OK, back to work now!

Luanne Castle is an award-winning poet. You can read more about her here.

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Filed under Book Review, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, History, Kin Types, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

New-ish Cat and Brand New Book

I had a couple of requests for a Perry update, so as tough (hahaha) as it is to write about him, here it is.

We’ve moved way beyond the “give me your paw” trick. His next move was to head butt my face and rub against me when I was on the floor to feed him.

Soon after, he indicated he wanted me to scratch his cheeks. Then pet his sides and the length of his tail.

Now he has added in a squishy and slobbery nose rub and even a little kiss-kiss.

He also keeps rolling on his back and trying to get me to pet his stomach, but with those “natural length” claws of his, I am not that stupid. Gotta get those nails trimmed somehow, but I don’t want to spook him and have a setback.

My son and ND (new daughter or, as some would have it, daughter-in-law) gave me the sweetest little instant camera for my birthday. It doesn’t take the place of my iPhone camera, of course, but I can snap a cute pic of a cat and put the photo into a little frame within a minute. Those little pet frames always beg tiny pix, so these are just right at 2″ or so. I’ve been learning how to use it, and Perry is the model.

My first attempt with the instant camera: I had to learn to use the little buttons

Today is the day I have to take Perry’s poo in for the final check in the deworming process. If it’s negative, I plan to be paranoid and do it again in another week or two. That is because the first time I had it checked, it was negative and then look what I’ve gone through because that was just a lull in the worm cycle. Ugh.

If it’s negative, we put the gate up at the bedroom door so the cats can meet. I’ll try to feed him on one side of the gate another couple of cats on the other side–at the same time. Over the gate I will hang a sheet. That is enough for most cats: gate and sheet and they think they are stuck in there.

Kana and Perry did have a little meeting the other night though. The hall outside Perry’s bedroom was so dark I couldn’t see anything and when I opened the door, suddenly there were two cats in the bedroom! I thought I was seeing double. But Perry was running away and Kana was sniffing Perry’s toys. I picked up Kana, and she managed to graze her teeth on my hand because she was unhappy in the extreme to be removed. What a stinker. She is the trouble-maker of the house, for sure. That is why when I go away, she has to go into her bedroom for the duration. That’s ok, it’s my office and it is the nicest room in the house IN MY OPINION.

Since Perry is in the bedroom all the time, I have certain times of the day I spend with him. My daughter shipped me her old laptop so I can get some work done while I’m in with him.

Probably because he is young, Perry loves his dolls. Sometimes his teeth or claws start holes in the dolls and I have to take them away or stitch them, but that is just him loving them ;).

I’m not used to having a cat so young. It’s been many years since 17-year-old Pear was that young! Perry likes to shred tissues and other paper. That ought to be great when he’s got the run of the house with all our business and writing paper lying about (yikes).

 

I noticed the other day that Perry is now filling out. I suspect that means that the worms are gone and that he is absorbing his food better. He’s going to be a fairly large long-haired cat. And now that I am petting him, I can verify that his fur is super soft!

Perry and an interactive doll:

There was a speck on the lens that shows up in the video. Does anybody know how to remove something like that through Windows Movie Maker?

 

 

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KIN TYPES IS NOW AVAILABLE AT AMAZON! Copies should be arriving soon (I hope)!

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Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Family history, Kin Types, Lifestyle, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing

Time Warp

We’re back from a trip to Michigan. Mom had heart surgery in Grand Rapids at the heart center, and she did so well she was out of the hospital in 48 hours! So we were able to bring her back to Kalamazoo and get her set up at home. This was really a medical miracle because she had a 6th stent put in and a new heart valve without having to undergo open heart surgery. I am not impressed easily by modern medicine (though I probably should be), but this knocked my socks off.

While she was in the hospital, the gardener and I went for a drive one day and visited both Saugatuck and Holland. We really wanted to stare at Lake Michigan, so when we saw the sign in Saugatuck we started walking.

Walking without asking. Now, mind you, I have a reconstructed foot. This was a rare surgery done because of damage by a rare tumor. So even though I almost always wear my orthotic-adorned New Balances, I never know when the foot will start to hurt like crazy and I will have to stop walking.

Before we had gone too far I asked a woman who was passing by how long the trail was. “About a half mile,” she said. “But it’s very hilly.”

Yes, ma’am, it was very hilly. But it warn’t no half mile.

I looked it up afterward. 2.5 miles each way. HEH

I was lucky that my foot didn’t seem to mind and see where we ended up.

Worth it? MUCH.

A beach and a view with very few people.

After that we drove to Holland because the gardener had an antique store to check out, and I wanted to visit Windmill Island as I had as a kid.

Back to my Dutch roots ;).

These shoes would need some magical orthotics for me to wear them haha.

We found a restaurant the gardener could eat in without worry. Celiacs note: Persian restaurants are the next best thing to completely gluten free restaurants! Usually, only the bread, desserts, and a few appetizers have gluten.

Chicken koobideh and a rice dish with barberries.

My mother looked great after her surgery, and the only real hitch was when the discharge nurse told mom she can’t drive for a certain period of time. That made her really unhappy. Next day, she said she wanted blueberries from the blueberry farm. Which, of course, was way out in the country. And we had lots of errands and chores to get her settled in. She even pouted/whined a bit. “I can’t drive myself there.” Sniff sniff.

So we took her. When I walked inside, the smell of blueberries was overpowering. She bought 5 pounds and gave my brother and sister-in-law some of them.

The blueberries seem blurry, and I don’t know why. But we also walked around the farm a bit to give mom some exercise.

Yup, that’s me driving the tractor.

Last year we had Mom’s retirement community plant a plum tree in my father’s memory. We used to have a plum tree in our backyard growing up and Dad would take a pic every so often–as it grew and as we grew. So a plum tree seemed right.

The tree is on the outskirts of a woods that abuts the retirement community. The gardener drove us in Mom’s golf cart through the woods.

When we came out of the woods we saw the beautiful gardens planted by the residents of the community. Flowers and vegetables–so lovely.

It was also my birthday on the day we took my mother home from the hospital. My uncle, my dad’s twin, did what he did last year: called to sing “Happy Birthday” to me. That’s what my father used to do every year we were apart. I love that my uncle is carrying on the tradition.

The gardener and I checked out a few of our old houses, visited his parents’ graves (Dad’s is not in town and there wasn’t time), and appreciated the wild flowers (Queen Anne’s Lace, Chicory, Day Lilies, Ironweed). We left Kalamazoo 27 years ago, and at our last house, we noticed that they still have the same drapes in the living room. That was astonishing because those drapes were actually hung 32 years ago, and they are made of massive amounts of off-white sheers. I can’t imagine them lasting this long. But what I do remember is how much work I put into designing them and finding someone to make them–and how much I loved them! I wrote a poem about them and put it in the portfolio of poems I submitted to Western Michigan University for my application to the MFA program. The last stanza goes like this:

Through shadowed glass,

with guarded eyes,

my neighbors wait

for me to swoop my fingers

through the sheer

and clutch the volume

to my chest.

The poem is called “New Drapes,” though these are far from new, and none of the neighbors could still live there any more. Just one of the many time warp experiences I had.

And so it goes.

 

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Filed under Family history, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Food & Drink, History, Lifestyle, Liminality, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

Little Shoes

The other day the gardener and I were in California, on a solidly packed freeway, and a truck that pulled ahead of us on the right drew my attention. Hanging out of the back, one on each side, were two bundles of children’s shoes. They were strung together by a rope or perhaps laces, and they looked a bit like little herb pots hanging on the wall.

What I thought: they are shoes without the children.

These were not shoes being transported somewhere, but rather a decoration to the truck itself. The trailer portion of the truck was smallish, but not too small, and without windows.

Maybe somebody would look at those shoes and think how cool it was that a dad was hauling mementos of his children around. I, on the other hand, immediately thought of serial killers and their trophies.

I shouldn’t let my mind loose sometimes, especially since I prefer the lighter side of life.

At home, I dug out my own kids’ outgrown shoes for a little throw-back mama time:

Did they not have the sweetest little shoes? The print canvas shoes my son loved to show off, and the red Chinese shoes he wore with a white turtleneck and black velveteen pants with suspenders to his legal adoption (a few hours after he fell off the bed and cracked his head between his eyes ugh). My daughter’s little “running shoes” with pink interiors, and the white Mary Janes she wore to her special naming ceremony. The rubber Korean shoes sent with my children when they arrived from Korea. Lots of memories there.

Then I took a look at somebody else’s memories. My mother-in-law’s collection of the gardener’s out-grown shoes.

Because I wasn’t around when he wore these shoes, they hold no memories for me. Because they hold no memories I am free to create stories in my head. Kinda like I did when I saw the shoes hanging off the back of the truck.

Writing question: do you think it’s easier to write fiction if you have information but not specific memories? Or do memories feed your fiction?

Blogging question: when you’re writing non-fiction do you ever have leaps of imagination that try to send you into fiction? Like embellishment or even creating fictional stories for your blog?

I am going to close comments for this post, but I hope these questions give you something to think about for today!

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The poetry reading went well. It was a very small crowd because it’s summer in Phoenix (imagine that!), and many were gone or found it too hot. But I had a lot of fun, met some new people, and what a sweet little art gallery with coffee bar.

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Filed under Blogging, California, Family history, History, Inspiration, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing, Writing Talk

The Real Story of Tiny and Catharina

 

baby Tiny

Teeny Tiny: last summer

 

Remember Tiny the magpie? And the love of his life, Tina? And remember Catharina who patiently observed the pair and reported on their goings-on? Check out the story here if you missed that post.

After writing about Catharina and Tiny, I wondered what was going on with Tiny and Tina and would periodically email Catharina to find out.  You might have wondered yourself how they were faring.

Now you can read the whole story of Tiny and Tina and of Catharina, too, in Fly Wings, Fly High!.What you might not realize is that Catharina had a stroke (at quite a young age) and began her recovery around the time that young Tiny was trying to learn how to deal with his screwed-up wing.

MY REVIEW

Catherine Lind’s narrative about her recovery from a stroke is threaded with the story of a wild magpie Lind observes struggling to fly with a deformed wing. Tiny, as Lind names the bird that lives in her yard, works very hard at learning to fly. Lind is inspired as she watches Tiny for months as he keeps trying to fly–first a few feet, then from a little “jungle gym” Lind creates for him, and then to the apple tree to eat the fruit.

Lind finds that Tiny is ever hopeful and persistent. When he tries to land, he isn’t graceful and crashes over and over. Each time, he picks himself up and tries again. He is never downhearted, and he never gives up. But it’s not so easy for Lind who has always prided herself on her skill with words. They are her livelihood and her portal to the world. When the stroke knocks out half her vocabulary in both English and Swedish, she can only communicate by speaking a combination of both languages. Sometimes it seems as if she will never recover.

Watching Tiny’s determination and good spirits, Lind decides to follow his lead and work intensely on her skills by singing, hand exercises, and eventually, telling elaborate stories aloud about Tiny and his life. Reading Fly Wings, Fly High! taught me a great deal about what it is like to experience a stroke, and I was comforted and intrigued by the extraordinary tale of Tiny, whose influence on Lind’s life has been enormous. My life has been enriched by reading this charming story told by a very talented storyteller.

MORE INFO

Catharina’s book is short, like a novella—either a very short novel or a long short story. It’s available in paperback or for Kindle.

 

I so enjoyed the loving detail of the natural world and the animals found within. When I was a kid I loved books that paid attention to this world (Gene Stratton Porter and Louisa May Alcott both managed this accomplishment at times), but I’ve moved away from it as an adult. What a wonderful experience to inhabit that world again.

Additionally, learning about the effects of a stroke from the inside out was fascinating; I’ve never read anything quite like Catharina’s experience.

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Yesterday I washed sweet Perry’s bedding and a hairball fell onto the floor. It had WORMS coming out of it. Right after we began fostering him I took his poo to the vet and paid $ to have it tested at the lab. Must have been at a certain point in the life cycle where it doesn’t show up because this hairball is just jammed with worms. I am being so nice to you not to show it to you. Heh. My stomach is still heaving a little. But imagine how bad his tummy has hurt all this time!

I did work on the galleys for Kin Types. That was fun, but a little difficult with my cataracts. Sigh.

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Filed under Book Review, Cats and Other Animals, Family history, Inspiration, Kin Types, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Reading, Writing, Writing Talk

Book Trailer Decisions

Although I never had a book trailer for Doll God, I’ve since read that they are important because readers, like most people today, are used to videos and to receiving information in that format. So I am trying one for Kin Types.

I hope you enjoy it. It’s only 53 seconds long and you can either listen to the music or keep your volume off.

Do you regularly watch book trailers? If you’re a writer with a published book or books, have you used book trailers?

Unless you are experienced at making videos, it takes a lot of time to make a short little video about your book. Rather than waste time learning step by step, I asked my daughter who already makes memory video albums for people to make the video for me. I sent her links to book trailers and book trailer articles, old family photos, and the manuscript itself. After the video was completed, I learned a few things from her.

There are a lot of decisions that go into making a book trailer. The length is one thing. Sometimes short is best: if you keep it under 60 seconds you can share it on Instagram.  It’s also more likely to be watched. But you can’t put too much into 60 seconds.

A mistake some authors make is to try to give a complete synopsis of the book in the trailer, so she opted to give a flavor of Kin Types instead.

You have to make sure the music fits the book.

Do you want a narrator or just written text or do you want to showcase your own reading from the book? My daughter thought that for a short video, simplicity was best and used written text. That way, people don’t have to listen to the video if they are at work or otherwise unable to listen to audio without disturbing others.

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In case you are wondering how Perry, our unsocialized foster cat, is doing, I can tell you that he loves to play with Hot Pursuit, a game that spins a furry mouse on a stick. He’s also interested in the robot fish in a bowl of water, but Hot Pursuit is his passion. He eats Wellness chicken pate out of a bowl I hold in my hand and his nose and whispers nuzzle my hand. He sniffs and licks my fingers. But he still doesn’t want me to reach out and touch him. One day I touched his haunch, and he flinched and jumped back. Then he lay back down and tentatively touched my hand with his paw. Sometimes he lies in a cat bed on a bench in the sun and sometimes he sleeps underneath the bench or under the footstool. He’s only done two naughty things, which is pretty good considering that he is quite young. He chewed the tag off the lamp’s electrical cord. I hope he knows cords are bad to touch. He also peed on a pile of clean laundry I left lying in his territory. Oops.

Hope your week is a beauty!

 

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Filed under Book promotion, Books, Doll God, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, History, Kin Types, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Writing

RIP Dreamland

When I was born in Kalamazoo, my paternal grandmother was the head fitter of the 28 Shop at Marshall Field and Company department store in Chicago. This was the big building at the corner of State and Washington; it filled the entire city block. The first floor, where jewelry and cosmetics were housed, looked as elegant as a palace and at Christmastime, the decor helped create the dream of the holiday for children and adults alike.

Marshall Field and Company
Christmas decor
image by Senor Codo

Grandma was a wiz with a needle and fitted the designer apparel and better fashion lines to wealthy women and to celebrities. Her favorite was Imogene Coca who she felt was a very gracious lady. One of her stories I regret remembering imperfectly was that a very famous movie star had deeply pocked skin and her makeup hid her skin condition from the public. If only I could recall who that was.

When Grandma retired, one of the gifts she received was perhaps incidental to her, but to me meant so much. It was the history of Marshall Field and the department store, called Give the Lady What She Wants.  I grew up among retailers. My dad the luggage store, my grandpa the gas station, and my great-grandfather a fish market and, later, a soda shop. One branch of relatives, the Mulders in Goes, Netherlands, owned a shop selling “paint and colonial goods” for years. A few years ago (not sure if it’s still the case) you could still make out the name Mulder on the building.

When the gardener and I were 23 we opened a small retail store in a mall and stayed in the business until I graduated with my MFA in writing and we moved away for further schooling for both of us.

Although neither of us has worked in retail for years, we have fond memories. In fact, I feel as if retail is in my blood. Maybe it’s the Mulders (and others) in my DNA, maybe it’s from when I “played store” as a kid.

So watching the decline of retail over the years has been devastating to me. It’s a phenomenon rarely talked about by people. But it’s like watching a slow suffering death of a beloved family member. And yet, of course, it’s not. They are no longer beloved because these stores have (for the most part) been long ago taken over by companies called equity firms that are all about the bottom line and not the ART and CREATIVITY and PASSION that goes into building good businesses.

Because these businesses no longer care about their customers, their customers (ex, current, or no-longer-potential) don’t care about them. But I care about them as ghosts of what once existed.

Every city had its landmark department store. Even Kalamazoo had Gilmore Brothers. Think of the department store or stores where you grew up. If you’re old enough, you probably have some fond memories. They could be wonderlands to visit, even if all you did was window shop. Or whisper your wants into Santa Claus’s ear or watch the parade around the time of Thanksgiving. They were a sort of Dreamland for many of us.

When I was in grad school, I loved reading literature about young women who worked at these stores. Carrie in Dreiser’s Sister Carrie and the real life Maimie Pinzer of The Maimie Papers were two of these books.

Is it a coincidence that Amazon and other internet vendors have increased and taken over much of the business from department stores at the same time that these stores have been taken over by equity firms? Or are the two events symbiotic, as in they have both helped each other to their end goals, which (to my mind) is the death of the department store?

The other day I read an article that declared that Macy’s was closing all its department stores and reopening as a discount company. Macy’s has been a cannibal, gobbling up one department store and department store chain after another–even including my beautiful Marshall Field store on State Street.  You can read the article here and weep.

I am getting weary mourning the loss of something so vital to our sense of community and a place of beauty. Weary because this suffering has been going on for a long time now and every time I hear a sputter or gasp it breaks my heart a little more.

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Filed under Essay, Family history, History, Nonfiction, Writing