I apologize for the blog delay. Aside from the yearly family vacation that I take with Dan, his daughter and son-in-law, and our two grandsons, I managed to come down with both a sinus and an ear infection. So, as the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men (and authors, too) often go awry.
But let’s hit the highlights of the trip, shall we?
How Many Hours Have We Been Awake?
We live on the East Coast of the USA. Specifically, we live in New Jersey, the butt of many jokes in America. Some consider us to be the armpit of the USA. Guess what? We don’t care. That’s right. We don’t care. Parts of our state have the population density of Mumbai. We live in a pressure cooker of honking car horns, impatience, and store and restaurant staff who’d just as soon ignore you as wait on you. Don’t ask us to smile. And don’t ask us to care about what you think in your pretty, perfect little state of smiling people who are always polite.
Okay. I’m totaling exaggerating. But New Jerseyans do have a bit of an attitude. Just sayin’.
Now, where was I?
Oh, yes, getting the heck out of NJ.
This is not easy. First you have to pack the car. Kristina and Mike (Dan’s daughter and son-in-law) have a nice-sized SUV, but when stuffed with six people and all their luggage, it converts into a rather close environment.
Your next hurdle is getting to the airport. This means traveling one of our major highways and attempting to navigate the rabbit warren of roads surrounding Newark Liberty International Airport. This is the point where you get to hear your GPS system spew instructions like, “Stay straight to turn right” or “go right to turn left.” I’m not kidding. This is a real thing.
Now all you have to do is park. You can go to EWR’s long-term parking lots and wait for a bus to pick you up to take you to your terminal. Or you can, as we did this year, park with an independent parking company and have them take you to your terminal. This year’s choice greatly reduced our stress. The people at the company were ready for us, friendly, and made getting to the terminal a pleasure.
Once you are inside your terminal, you need to go through the check-in process and through TSA. Sufficient it to say, it’s hideous and stressful.
The actual flight to Hawaii takes about 11 hours. If you have a layover, it’s longer. But since Dan and I are not exactly spring chickens, having a break during which you can stand up and walk around is helpful. Keeps us from throwing a blood clot!
We left EWR around noon (eastern time) and landed at Kona’s little airport around 7:30 p.m. (Hawaii time). Once we were safely ensconced in our giant behemoth of a rental SUV, Mike got behind the wheel and drove the 30-minute trip to Waikoloa.
As we staggered into our condo, Dan asked, “Does anyone know how long we’ve been awake?” We decided it was somewhere in the vicinity of 25 hours. Thankfully, no one had started hallucinating. The pink elephants and dancing hippos happily will confirm this.
The next morning, we woke up to this.
Hawaii has some stunningly beautiful scenery. The Big Island’s environment runs the gamut from a moonscape of lava fields, to areas reminiscent of dry California foothills, to forests, to tropical jungles. The side of the island where we stayed was the “dry side.” The more humid environment was on the other side, where Hilo is located. If you like variety and gorgeous sites, you’ll love the Hawaiian islands.
While Mike and Kris pack their vacation with lots of activity for themselves and the two boys, Dan and I usually are more laid back. But we also do several things as a family unit. Here’s one.
Hapuna Beach State Park
If you visit the Shore (our term for the beach in NJ), you must pay a per-person admission price to get on the sand and then you’re going to sit directly in the sun. It’s strictly a bring your own shade type of place.
Hapuna Beach State Park on Hawaii charges $5 per car for parking, has a large parking lot, restrooms and showers, food vendors and places to sit where there is natural shade. You need to get there early, of course, to get that shade (so you might want to BYO shade if you think you’ll be late). We staked out our turf under some trees and were joined on one side by a Chinese-speaking family and on the other by a local family of Japanese-Hawaiian descent.
By the way, Hawaii is intensely multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-racial. And it’s beautiful. I love it. Not only is the state itself that way, but you’ll find the same dynamic even among the visitors at a resort. Ours was filled with Americans of European, African, Hispanic, and Asian backgrounds, as well as with Japanese and Spanish-speaking tourists, among people from other nations.
So Dan and I sat in the shade at Hapuna enjoying the view and the ambience, while Mike and the boys jumped the waves in the ocean. Kristina joined them later. It is a great place for some old-fashioned family fun and picnicking.
Dan belongs to the Hilton Club in New York and always seems to have a gazillion Hilton points, so we stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa resort facilities, specifically Kohala Suites. The entire resort has plenty to do, including several swimming pools, places to dine, and activities for families. It is served by a shuttle bus that can get you to the various locations.
And, of course, sunsets. Absolutely gorgeous sunsets. These photos do NOT do them justice.
However, despite all the lovely facilities found at a resort, I recommend that you get out and visit the places where the locals go, too. It's well worth it.
On Monday (I promise!), we’ll go on a visit to the Kona Forest Reserve, take a trip partway up Mauna Kea, one of Hawaii’s volcanoes, where a controversy currently is raging, and end up in the town of Kona.
Until then – aloha!
This is just a short Squeaking Blog. Because I’m on vacation.
After a busy summer consisting of finishing the beta reader copies of A Good Community and sending them out, as well as my churchy duties (preaching twice while the pastor was away, overseeing Vacation Bible School, and helping at the church’s sandwich booth at the 4-H Fair), my family whisked me away to a remote location.
The California coastline.
The flight was smooth, but LONG. We guess-timated it was about 11 hours, plus a 3-hour layover in Los Angeles. And on the last leg of the trip, on the way to Kona, Hawaii, the plane was cold. Yikes!
Just a little philosophical note: Americans are terrible about giving their employees time off. My father always used to say that a person needed two weeks in order to feel rested before returning to work. I believe it, although our trip is only 8 days long.
If you can't relax here, you can't relax anywhere!
Still, if we want people to be productive, they need time off to rest and have fun.
But, of course, no one with any power is going to listen to me because, much like the nineteenth century, our contemporary powers-that-be enjoy grinding their workers into the ground until they’re all used up. That, of course, is just my opinion, but as a theologian, allow me also to note that God wants us to take a rest (that Sabbath on the seventh day thing, too).
Okay, I’m rambling. Have a good week, everyone. Enjoy the photos. I’ll be back next Monday with a bunch of shots and then will return to regular blogging.
CC0 photo from pxhere.com
Children are natural storytellers. Their play involves making up stories. Sadly, as they grow older, many lose the capacity for “make believe.”
But not authors. We look at the world around us and wonder “what if this happened” or “what’s that person’s life like?” Maybe it’s because most authors are introverts. We can be socially awkward, shy, or intimidated by groups of people. Instead, we have a lively interior world.
Me? Inside I’m an introvert, too. Inside I feel shy and socially awkward. I don’t enjoy being around big groups of people. And I dislike making small talk.
And yet… somehow, I ended up in ministry where I am around groups of people and have learned to make small talk.
It sounds crazy, I know. This introvert has been serving in churches for almost 30 years. How does that happen? Simple. I was called. For those unfamiliar with what “called” is, I’ll let Lins Mitchell, the protagonist and minister in Heart Soul & Rock’n’Roll, explain it:
“It’s an expression. It just means you feel that God wants you to do something. Of course, the deal is to figure out what that something is.”
On some levels, all of us are called to “do something.”
For me, I ended up serving in United Methodist Churches as a religious educator, assistant minister, or director of communications. My present position involves all three of those things.
I believe in God, I try (by God's grace) to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, and I belong to the United Methodist Church, even though I am righteously ticked off at its current rule forbidding local churches to conduct marriages for LGTBQI+ people and forbidding annual conference from ordaining LGTBQI+ people as clergy.
In my novels, the characters are a mix of beliefs or lack thereof, but my protagonists (Maggie and Lins) are Christian. Maggie is Methodist Episcopal, one of the larger Methodist groups of her time. And Lins is… undeclared, although if pushed, I’ll say she’s UMC like I am.
Authors often write what they want to read. And so it is with me.
Ah. So all that must mean I write Christian fiction. Right?
Wrong. I don’t write that genre. When I first started publishing, I did add “Christian fiction” as a genre to my books’ descriptive tags. But that was until it became clear the term for some people meant “safe” reading. Thusly defined, “Christian fiction” must have no cursing, very little violence, only a hint of sex, and Christian characters who stand strong against the big, bad world and come out on top.
I’m probably wrong about some of the previous paragraph. But I have received enough criticism from some readers to decide, “Bag it. I really don’t write Christian fiction.”
What I want is to tell my stories my way and not according to someone else’s predetermined list of “do’s and don’ts.” As a result, I now classify my Maggie books as a mix of historical fiction and women’s fiction genres. And Heart Soul is contemporary romance and women’s fiction.
Don’t get me wrong. Lins believes. In Heart Soul, she tells her story of how she was called into ministry. She views others as children of God and as such worthy of her attention and care. And so, she doesn’t ignore homeless vet Kenny Jameson when he asks her for spare change. Instead, she buys him a sandwich and a friendship starts – something that leads to Kenny getting a job and a place to live. Lins also loves rock and had fronted a band when she was in college. Upon meeting Neil Gardner, front man for a bar band, Lins finds him interesting, despite his antipathy toward religion. Does this mean she converts him at the end of the book? You’ll have to decide that for yourself, but I think she gives Neil a lot of space.
Maggie obviously is a Christian. The first book, Saint Maggie, contains a lot of Bible verses and theological rumination, and some people find that uncomfortable. But it needs to be there. Maggie is historically spot-on for a nineteenth-century, journaling Methodist who strives to live according to Jesus’ two greatest commandments: love God and love neighbor. All the rest is commentary.
In the 1860s, many Christians were involved in positive social reforms – everything from anti-slavery to votes for women to temperance and to later in the century to laws to improve conditions for workers and to protect children with child labor laws. Maggie’s desire to see people treated with respect and love puts her shoulder to shoulder with those Christians.
While Maggie’s belief system can and does pit her against those who don’t believe, she more often than not finds herself facing off against co-religionists, which is reminiscent of Jesus, who broke the rules when they hurt people or impeded healing and wholeness.
Sometimes I get asked why I write these stories. My answer: have you looked at the world around us? There’s so much anger and violence out there. I want to bring a little hope into the picture. With some luck, maybe the books will inspire folks to love others. Maybe they will want to be like my characters. Maybe. But even if all I do is pull people out of the dark for a few short hours, that’s something.
It could be that by writing this way I am just whistling in the dark. But what if inspiration actually counts for something? According to Merriam-Webster, inspire comes from the Latin word “inspirare (‘to breathe or blow into’), which itself is from the word spirare, meaning ‘to breathe.’” It also is related to the word spirit, “which comes from the Latin word for ‘breath,’ spiritus, which is also from spirare.” ( https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/the-origins-of-inspire)
So, inspiration literally is being breathed upon by something and given life. And that's good enough for me. Because where there’s life, there’s hope.
And that’s why I write.
I write to give myself and my readers hope.
Howeev****WARNING! THIS BLOG CONTAINS CURSE WORDS. I CAN’T HELP IT. ELI CUSSES!****
I have a friend who, when she wants a toilet break, says, “I need to go to the euphemism.” She’s joking, but most of us cannot bring ourselves to say, “I need to urinate” or “I need to have a bowel movement.” We generally say everything from “Excuse me” to “I need to go to the bathroom, go to the restroom, drain the lizard, take a leak, make a deuce…” We have a gazillion euphemisms for excretory functions.
But we’re not the only ones who do this. The nineteenth century was replete with euphemisms. Upper-and-middle class people were nothing if not polite and discreet, and sought to set the tone. Bodies and bodily functions were verboten in casual conversation and language policing became so extreme that sometimes the word “leg” was even too descriptive, and people would say “limb” instead.
Since I write about people living in 1860s America, I am accumulating a pile of euphemisms, especially since Maggie Beatty Blaine was raised in a well-to-do household. She is, though, married to Eli Smith, who is no stranger to cuss words and crude language. And so Maggie frequently tries to break him of this habit - to no avail, might I add.
One of the Big Cuss Words and Its Substitutes
The big nineteenth century swear word was “damn." It was much more powerful than it is now. Naturally, Eli uses it a great deal, to which Maggie almost always says, "Elijah, language." And It starts very early in Saint Maggie when the couple is newly courting.
Eli’s eyes flashed behind his wire spectacles. “Damn him, anyway!”
Maggie gasped. “Elijah Smith! And on a Sunday!”
To get their frustration across without offending delicate ears, people in the 1800s turned to euphemisms like dang, dern, blamed, gol, gol-derned, bell-fired, all-fired, and a multitude of others. Even Eli does it sometimes.
In a conversation with Carson about God, Eli uses one of the synonyms to explain how the Civil War is having a negative impact on what little faith he has.
Carson asks: “To what do you attribute your theological shift?”
Eli blinked his eyes to make sure he kept the tears at bay. “Ah, you know. Everything we’ve seen. I mean, what kind of a loving God permits this bell-fired mess?”
Eli is so distraught at this point, that he doesn't have the energy to cuss.
Maggie knows that Eli has his flaws, and cussing is one. And, as we can see from this exchange between the two in Seeing the Elephant, Maggie knows her husband will never change. But that doesn't stop her from reminding him when he goes astray.
“Elijah, must you use such language?”
“Darned?” he teased. “Blasted? Danged?”
She rolled her eyes. “You’re hopeless. Still, I consider myself fortunate.” Maggie kissed the tip of his nose. “There is nothing else I would change about you.”
Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby
Nineteenth century people also used euphemisms for sex and sexual activity. As I've said before, contrary to nineteenth century stereotypes, Maggie clearly enjoys her sexual relationship with Eli. However, propriety demands that she refrain from being too graphic when she speaks about it or when she writes in her journal. In A Time to Heal she uses an alternate term, "free," when writing about sexual activity in her journal, and yet it's clear what she is referring to.
I was taught the value of modesty, Journal. But having been married twice, I also learned the value of being free with one’s husband. Today Eli and I were free by the little pond on our property.
In the same journal entry, she also uses the word "pleasant" and the phrase "enjoy each other" to indicate sexual activity.
While it would not be prudent to give details of our afternoon, allow me to say that it was quite pleasant. The sun was warm, and we dried quickly after our swim. Then we enjoyed each other’s company while the birds called sweetly, and the cicadas whirred in the trees.
Later in A Time to Heal, Eli learns that Patrick and Frankie have spent a night together. Doing his step-fatherly duty, he has a manly chat with Patrick. One that has four synonyms for sex in it.
Eli fastened his dark brown eyes on the young man before him. “So … you and Frankie decided to spend some time in the hay.”
“It’s not what it seems –”
Eli’s eyebrows shot up. “That so? Well, it seems to me that you were answering the call to go forth and multiply. So, did you, Patrick? Did you partake in a little amorous congress with my stepdaughter? Some hogmagundy?”
The term “hogmagundy” is a very rude term and seems to have Gaelic roots in the Lowland Scots word "houghmagandie." The word was in usage in the United States during the Civil War by American soldiers and men like Eli to describe sexual activity. There is, however, some evidence that the term originally meant the birth of a child. Meanings can and do change over time.
With regard to reproduction, whenever Maggie or other women are speaking about pregnancy in the series, they usually choose alternate terms, such as “expecting,” "having a baby," or “in the family way.”
As a reminder to those of us who are older and perhaps new information for some younger folks, the word "pregnant" was taboo on American TV in the 1950s. In a famous episode of the classic TV comedy, "I Love Lucy," Lucy tells Ricky that she is pregnant. They too use the word "expecting" or the phrase, "having a baby." The episode's title was discreet. "Lucy is Enceinte" substituted an old term for the word "pregnant." The episode's original air date was 8 December 1952. (https://tv.avclub.com/more-than-60-years-ago-a-pregnant-lucille-ball-couldn-1798239435) My point is we're not that far removed from using alternate words to describe reproduction.
We still use euphemisms for these and so does Maggie. Predictably, though, Eli has no filter.
In A Time to Heal, Chester Carson comes to visit shortly after the Smith's daughter Faith is born. He asks Eli how things are going now that the baby has arrived.
Eli yawned. “Well, so far I’ve been pissed on and today the baby shat on me. It was her inaugural shit too. Guess I should be honored. But it was completely disgusting.”
When Carson has a similar experience with the baby (in Seeing the Elephant), he is disgusted and outraged. But being a gentleman, he chooses to load his objection with euphemisms, rather than taboo terminology. So the baby's bottom becomes her "derriere" and a bowel movement is "the mess."
“I have done far too many favors for you, Elijah, including babysitting your youngest child and changing the cloths on her derriere. You would not believe the mess she made today. I, sir, am no nursemaid!”
In an unpublished section from Seeing the Elephant, I found this scene in which Maggie once again tries to school Eli in polite terminology.
As Eli drew the diaper back he grimaced. “Egad! I thought I smelled something. Well, at least you’ll be clean for the night – or part of it, anyway. Maggie, would you please bring some soap, water, and a washing cloth, too? She just shat.”
Maggie sighed. “Eli, do try not to use that word.”
“What am I supposed to say?”
She set everything on the bed beside the baby. “Say she messed herself.”
Of course, Eli is of another opinion and explains why to their infant daughter, who is the one person on earth who doesn't care what he says.
Once Maggie left, Eli whispered to Faith, “Your mother is so proper! She’ll be wanting me to call your chubby little legs ‘limbs’ next. Can you imagine me adopting such dandyish talk? It’s blasted unmanly, if you ask me. I refuse to comply.”
Well, at least he used “blasted” instead of a full-blown curse. Not that it would have made any difference to Faith.
And so, the unrepentant Eli persists in his “manly” talk. But he makes a major goof in A Good Community after they and most of the town have been engaged in a long night fighting a fire in which Maggie has been away from Faith for many hours. Both husband and wife are sooty and smell of smoke, among other things.
With a little grin [Eli] added, “And you smell kind of milky. You must be leaking. You need to go home and let Faith milk you.”
She called up a tired smile. “I’m not a cow, Eli. Babies nurse. They don’t milk.”
He kissed the tip of her nose. “It’s just words.”
“Words are important, Mr. Editor-in-Chief.”
“So I’ve heard.”
Maggie sniffed and teasingly wrinkled her nose. “You smell of smoke, too, you know. And of exertion.”
He chuckled. “It’s called sweat.”
“Don’t be rude, Eli. Horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glow.”
“Oh, words again, ‘ey? Well, it all means the same thing and it’s sweat. Horses sweat. Men sweat. And so do women. How is it we never say what we mean?”
“Oh, you’re just terrible.” But she laughed.
While "breast-feeding" would not be an acceptable term for Maggie, "milking" borders on the offensive. However, by her weary smile, you can tell she's almost giving up on correcting Eli. In other places in the series, female characters sometimes refer to "nursing" as "caring" as in "Let's go into the parlor, so you might care for the baby."
As for "sweat," that word was a no-no, too. "Horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glow" probably arose during the nineteenth century. Sweating was a bodily function and one could not, in polite company, mention such things directly.
But, as we see in my series, not everyone adhered to the norms. In real life, nineteenth century people used different types of language and so they do the same in my novels. Therefore, be warned! The novels contain cussing - as well as violence and some semi-descriptive sex. Just thought you ought to know.
Interested in Reading More About Nineteenth Century Slang and Euphemisms?
These are two sources that I have found helpful!
Hadley, Craig, compiler and editor. “A Nineteenth Century Slang Dictionary.”
McKay, Brett. “Manly Slang from the Nineteenth Century.”10 March 2010. Last updated 17 November 2017]
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder