owl in winter

owl in winter

Saturday, October 23, 2010

y (Why) write

Lately, I've been bothered about my lack of regular posting, and being rather ashamed about it, I sat down this evening and asked myself a question. How do you write? Why do you write?

Now, as you probably know if you follow me at all, I am part of a writers' group here in Springfield. If you know me even better, you will recognize that there is an awful lot of noise in my head. It's sometimes very loud and chaotic. I see you looking at me askance. The noise in my head, what is that. Well, it's ideas and supposings and I-wonder-how-that-works drama, and what if this happened or that happened, and what would be the outcome, who would be affected, AND if I were the heroine of that scenario, how would I react, what would I do, what would I say? And if I'm NOT the heroine of that scenario, how would the main character deal with all that and how is it right in the end?

As writers, we spend a lot of time in our own heads. There's a lot going on in there. In fact, at times it gets damned crowded. Our characters can be quite demanding.

So, how I do write. Well, I happen to be somewhat musically oriented. I was a pastor's daughter, after all, required to learn how to play piano, and my mother wanted her daughters to be good prospects for marriage in a Victorian sense, and therefore, I was required to learn another instrument,which turned out to be the flute. But, at some point in my young years, I discovered a reel to reel recording that my father made of a radio station somewhere in Wisconsin, and on that tape were songs I'd never heard before. Rock songs, love songs, sensual, pretty songs. And I loved every second of it. My love of music was born at the discovery of that scratch reel to reel tape. And so, from that point on, I wanted to hear something besides church hymns. Whenever I could, I filled my mind with music. Music is a fantastic catalyst for writing, mind you. Music can produce mood, can produce dialogue, can produce voice or setting, can push a story along. Music is a provacative force,which I use often; it can push, it can pull, it can expand but it never stands still.
On another note, sometimes the best ideas I ever get are when I am out walking my dog. Yes, how simple is that. It is simple, yes, but sometimes, walking, clearing my mind of clutter, is the best way to produce new ideas. Breathing in fresh air, pumping the lungs, moving the feet, it's so organic, all good.
I have a writing friend who endorses "Artist's Dates." By this, she means taking in something new, off the beaten path, taking time off to watch a movie, go to an art museum, try a new restaurant, take a class on whatever you want, watch the sun set (or rise, whichever). Go outside your comfort zone. Go outside your comfort zone. Very important. You never know what you can do until you stretch yourself to what to think you could never do. Seriously.

Now, why do I write. I write because I cannot imagine not writing. I cannot imagine a world without stories, without written accounts factual or not, of a happening, of love or redemption or victory, of surviving the odds, or eternal sadness. I just can't. It would be such a sad world without stories.
I hope you feel the same. In fact, tell me, how do you write and why?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Springfield Has a Castle?

Who knew? Apparently, not me. Having lived here since 1995, I must have been walking around with my eyes shut, not that I spend a lot of time thinking about the possibilities of castles existing in Springfield, Missouri, but anyway.

But yes, having said that, Springfield is home to a castle.

Looming large from a grassy knoll on 2.66 acres in northeast Springfield, Pythian Castle, once known as The Pythian Home of Missouri, sits quietly, the total monarch of all that surrounds it.

The place was built in 1913 out of huge Carthage stone blocks, and was part of a 53-acre tract, which was whittled away bit by bit until only 2.66 acres remains. Built by a mysterious secret order, the Knights of Pythia, it was intended to be an orphanage and retirement home for children who were direct descendants of the Pythians, and older relatives of the same. However, in 1942 it was acquired by the Army, and became a branch of the O'Reilly General Hospital, treating over 44,000 wounded. From that time forward, the land was sold off, once for a college to be built, some land was sold to contribute to other city needs, and then in 2003, it was purchased privately and the owner now lives in what was once the girls' dormitory wing.

Well, it being a castle, there are going to be stories. October seems to be a good month for stories, doesn't it.

Rumour has it, the place is inhabited by others.

I mentioned it was an orphanage. Well, not the kind of orphanage where kids are adopted out to loving families. Oh no, these children were placed in the home due to the Great Depression and their parents' inability to care for or support them. If and when the parents were once again able to care for their familes, the children were reunited with their parents. If not, I don't know what became of the children. Chances are, once they reached some level of adulthood, they were turned out to make room for other children and were forced to eek out an existence alone. As far as it being a retirement home, there were many elderly people living there, often suffering from dementia, or some other form of mental illness. There were two suicides, both of which were elderly people. One man shot himself due to the ravages and intense pain of cancer. The other slit his own throat in the showers and no one knows why. There are also records of the castle keeping prisoners of war from World War II. Italians, Germans and Japanese men were kept in the basement, in cells.

What I am told today about all of this is that children have been heard laughing, crying, or otherwise talking in the rooms. Boxes and crates are heard being shoved around on a regular basis. Supposedly, there is a presence in the tunnel that once connected the castle from its boiler room housed some distance away, and this presence doesn't want to be annoyed. On ocassion, someone calls, "yoo hoo!" and no one is there. Objects are arranged and rearranged. A presence routinely walks through the front door into the foyer calling, "hello! Hello!"

So, I took a tour. Beforehand, I felt some trepidation, not sure what I was in for. But once the tour started, I became completely relaxed. I did hear something like a heavy crate being shoved about in the boys' dormitory hall. I did feel a cold burst of air rush between me and another person while standing in the foyer. Other than that, nothing. Nobody "yoo hooed" at me, no one called, "hello!" There were no messages from beyond.

Whether the place is haunted or not, it's a beautiful building, full of lovely architectural details. I'm absolutely enthralled by it.

Will I go back again? You betcha.

Do you know of a haunted place? It's October, after all. Tell me about it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Easy Shepherd's Pie

This is a chill-chaser for those nights when you'd really like a fire to warm your feet and maybe your heart too.
Here are the ingredients and following, is what you do:
To begin:
1 onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
Kosher salt
Red pepper flakes
Extra virgin olive oil
Drop about 2 generous tablespoons olive oil into a large, nonstick skillet. Throw in the diced onions, carrots, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, drop in a few red pepper flakes. Once the onions and carrots start to carmelize, drop in the chopped garlic. Allow this to carmelize for about five minutes on medium heat.
1 red pepper, diced
1 TBSP Worceshershire sauce
2 lbs. ground chuck
Cream of celery soup
About 8 medium sized yukon gold potatoes
Peel potatoes, cube and drop into boiling salted water. Allow them to cook for about 16 minutes. Drain them when finished. Have a large bowl with 4 TBSP unsalted butter, seasoned with salt and pepper ready. Once the potatoes are drained, drop them into the bowl with the butter, salt and pepper. Use a potato masher or a hand mixer to mash up the potatoes, adding milk as necessary.
Preheat oven to 350°.
In the meantime, drop your ground chuck into the pan with the onions and carrots. Reseason with salt and pepper. Throw the red pepper in, mix it all up. Once the meat is brown, drain off the grease and drop some paprika, and the Worcestershire sauce. Mix one can cream of celery soup to a half can of milk, mix together in a separate bowl, throw into the beef mixture.
Once your beef mixture is finished, grease a large casserole dish. Maybe a 2-quart, maybe a 9 x 11, depending on what kind of bakeware you own. Drop the beef mixture in, smooth it out, and drop the mashed potatoes atop, sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake for about 25 minutes.
Serve with a hot loaf of crusty sourdough bread and a nice green salad.