Writing Through to the Truth – Serious Subjects Demand

Mid 20th century writing guru Mina Shaughnessy taught a maxim: “Write through to the truth.” Her words not only echo in my head as a published author but also haunt me when I have a serious issue to resolve. Along with her wise advice, I have fixated on another principle both in teaching and now in writing: “Lead the Reader.”

Whoever decides to read your work only gets a glimmer of its content from the headline. So hang in there with me. I want to lead you through my journey, from creating a story to building a concept.

For over 3 years I have been revising IMASODE IX: The Sovereign’s Sunburst Auction in Germany, the rudiments of which I started long ago. It has been a tough assignment but a satisfying process as described below.

In the 1960s, I bought a unique sunburst brooch at an Pujabi handcraft shop near where I worked in Manhattan. The piece looked ancient and filled with mystery. I gave it to my mom for Christmas but never forgot about it. When she died, I took it back as a memento. Decades later, I decided to build a story around it.

As my family’s 1999 Christmas gift, I invented an evening mystery with a group of characters to be played by my relatives in Texas. With this ploy, I hoped to work out problems in the plot line. After I handed out character biographies and background materials on the Sovereign’s Sunburst, we gathered again in the spring of 2000.

Everyone came costumed to the hilt! Yet, when I passed out a list of questions to ask other characters and actions to take when finding out details on what I tagged as an ancient artifact, a complete traffic jam occurred. The characters crisscrossed the room asking other characters about any secrets possessed about the curious item, secrets that might provide information to fit this evening’s puzzle.

Painfully they tried to figure out what I meant for them to do. However, their perplexity and confusion actually helped me to see the flaws and possibilities in my construct.

Setting that idea aside, in 2007, I began my middle school mystery series The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple and managed the list of adventures to include the Sovereign’s Sunburst plot line as a later offering. Because my books progress in complexity, both in story content and vocabulary used, this one I knew needed to be way down the line as readers matured into the series.

Transferring the story from a casual Texas evening to a formal weekend auction at a castle in Germany proved my first best step. That also gave me the idea to place German words and phrases into the story causing the reader to feel like an ESL student immersed in a new location. As a non-German speaker, I would not focus on grammar or syntax but would simply give the young reader a chance to see peculiarly spelled words sprinkled into the text. Those two decisions set the Imasode’s skeleton:

As a little child with German heritage and vague memories of family reunions, I recall some relatives who stood off, talking in German. When grown, I suspected they had discussed disturbing war issues. Setting my story in Germany caused me to reach so deeply into my uneasy feelings about WWII, I had to face my own weariness about the Nazi era. I became more aware of how WWI led Germany to an unsteady government ripe for a tyrant like Hitler to play savior. I reviewed more of his plans to annihilate Romany (gypsies) along with Jews. Although Hitler had positive ideas like the VW (Kdf car), city-planning, autobahns, and affordable radios, I could not dismiss the human deception of Aryan lies he fed to the Hitler Youth and common folks.

Since a Punjabi prince (introduced in IMASODE V) and his royal family would figure in as guests in the story’s device of a weekend auction, I researched possible Indian roots to the Sovereign’s Sunburst artifact and found a kaleidoscope of eras invading the story.

Since The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple is in the educational fiction genre, I thought this expansive storehouse of miscellaneous history could fit serious young fiction readers at this point of series because my two test readers (both home-schooled) had no problem with the difficult topics nor venue changes. In fact the boy test reader thought this book my best yet. I figured the wealth of incidental information in this particular Imasode could fill in gaps that public school revisionists have left out of student history books.

Therefore, set deep into the Palatine Forest full of castles and fairytales, this story lets the reader join the auction attendees as they bathe in research and suppositions on many topics besides German history:
• Mongols and Sultans invading India
• Punjabi Jattis becoming nomads (miscalled gypsies)
• Rome’ and the Middle East cross pollinating cultures
• Innocent III beautifying Rome
• Medieval feudalism lasting centuries
• Crusade soldiers (and serfs) serving as vassals to their lords
• Serfs becoming guilders who built towns
• Guilders forming a new middle class
• Christians following their noble’s beliefs began reform
• Protestant Reformation bringing a split from the Catholic Church
• East India Tea company giving rise to the English Raj
• Queen Victoria reigning in peace as Empress of India
• England giving India its Independence in 1947
• Dividing up Punjabi land & Hindus from Muslims formed Pakistan

You might wonder, how all of these issues can possibly relate to one story? Because writers depend on the imprint of their muse, I found fascinating the juxtaposition of such rich details and wanted to see for myself how my research could merge into a single story. Fiction allows such expanse.

For example, Just as we might be amidst a hurricane, an election, a holiday season, a riot, a war, or a job loss, we might make strong comments on such events or let them flow in and out of our conversations with varying levels of interest. But mostly, we would keep moving on in our lives as life in general whirled around us.

Look for IMASODE IX: The Sovereign’s Sunburst Auction in Germany, sometime mid-2017.

 

imamapixpfalzerwaldnew


Writing Workshop for Detroit Middle Schoolers at Elmwood Park Library

On August 18th, Elmwood Park Branch of the Detroit Public Library System held a workshop for young writers aged 10-14 to learn more about “How to Turn Your Adventures into Stories.” Beth Fine, Tennessee author of the middle school mystery series Picaresque of Ímagine Purple, taught the workshop.

Wanting attendees to grasp how observation is a writer’s main tool for capturing details and how details add authenticity to characters and settings, Fine gave a brief autobiography and a summary of a book she wrote in the fourth grade. The kids recognized story details that came from her real life as a Texas tomboy living near a bayou in the woods. Thus they learned a writer’s first rule: “Write what you know!”

Fine used a technique called wagon-wheeling to display the story’s major details and to explore some variations. For instance, when the main character disappeared, the class analyzed how the writer had set a mystery for readers to wonder if the tomboy ran away, escaped to a secret hiding place, got lost, drowned, or was kidnapped.

Then, some kids shared a personal adventure, wagon-wheeled it, and practiced borrowing outside hints to expand their own concept. Fine encouraged the children to resist a stiff, please-others attitude in their writing and to let their imaginations fly freely to release the story within.

Pat Walker, the juvenile/teen librarian, insured a successful workshop by inviting good readers and writers to attend. Knowing how to win over kids, she also provided juice and snacks at the half-time. That really helped because the building air conditioning had broken down. We all did our share of sweating but lost only one kid out of ten.

Those who persevered to the end received a detective’s magnifying glass, a Picaresque E-book, and a label of the mystery series motto: Have Fun. Get Smarter.™ Fine also held a drawing and gave away IMASODES I & II* to the winner. The afternoon proved Elmwood Park has kids eager to learn. http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/branch/elmwood-park

IMASODE I: Last Passenger Train Across Newfoundland
IMASODE II: Scary Ferry to Nova Scotia

 

 


Reading for Fun – Are you nuts?

KID: Reading for fun, are you kidding? Those words sound mismatched to me. I’d rather have a tooth pulled than read a book for fun.

NEIGHBOR: I hope you brush your teeth a lot so going to the dentist is fun for you.

KID: Not really. But, brushing teeth and going to the dentist are CRAZY things that only parents or teachers talk about, right?

NEIGHBOR: Maybe grownups say such things because we were once kids too and didn’t want cavities.

KID: Yeah, but I mean grownups also talk about such CRAZY ideas like “reading for fun.” They don’t have to deal with schoolyard bullies who’d knock out your teeth for saying that…so you’d end up at the dentist anyway.

NEIGHBOR: Man, the bullies in your school sound worse than when I was a kid. Back then at recess,  I proved the best at doing cartwheels through double ropes. The girls teased me mercilessly, mostly out of jealousy, I think. So, I decided to become the only girl on the boys’ ball team at recess.

KID: Aw, you’re pulling my leg. You didn’t do that?

NEIGHBOR: Sure did. I wouldln’t allow anyone to tell me how the cow ate cabbage because I was plenty good at sports.

KID: Still that’s not the same as saying you liked to “read for fun.” If any kid fessed up to that now,  some bully would beat him up.

NEIGHBOR: Sounds like kids today need more power to squash such trouble-makers. You know that bullies usually run when resisted. Maybe that’s what we discovered when growing up and reading for fun. Treasure Island and Huckleberry Finn challenged our fears so we could win against our enemies. Reading let us take mental vacations… meet new people… visit strange lands…even learn foreign words. Strangely, we began to feel smarter and more powerful…almost like superheroes in comic books. No one would dare stop a superhero from reading for fun…if that’s what he chose to do.

KID: Well, not me. I only read when I have to. Except maybe comic books. I do like those.

NEIGHBOR: Boy, I did too. On vacation, my parents let us buy comic books. Although most kids had boxes of Superman or Captain Marvel under their beds, I wanted to be different, so I always bought Plastic Man because he could stretch his arms around corners.

KID: Boy, I wish could stretch that far.

NEIGHBOR: Well, even if your arms can’t stretch farther than your reach, your brain sure can. Reading for fun can stretch it as far as you can imagine.

KID: Won’t that make my head hurt?

NEIGHBOR: Maybe a little, but what if it made you grow more powerful in class and on the school yard? That’s what the mystery series The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple is all about. You have a choice: Have Fun. Get Smarter.™ You can simply go along with Ima to solve the mysteries or follow hidden clues in character biographies in the back of the book.

KID: Back of the book! That sounds like school.

NEIGHBOR: Maybe a little, but what if it’s a new way for you to jump ahead and to discover secrets? If so, I figure by “reading for fun,” you can’t keep yourself from learning, either by accident or intention.

The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple by Beth Fine is an Educational Fiction, Middle School Mystery Series with teachable moments. The books are Grade Level and Age-Appropriate.


Summer Reading II – Kids’ Viewpoint

KIDS KORNER | Forced Summer Reading is For The Birds (from kids' viewpoint)

 


SUMMER READING CAN CHANGE KIDS (to adult audience)

Below is my article as published in Nashville Christian Family Magazine in April, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

COOL STUFF | Summer Reading Can Change Kids


Icebergs as Metaphor (repost from April 2012)

The Titanic, the biggest, most well-thought-out ship ever to hit the seas, struck an iceberg and sank one hundred years ago, today. Navigators knew icebergs formed a hazard, especially in the spring. But, somehow, even with all the safeguards of the latest technical equipment and the expertise of seasoned seaman, it still went down within hours of the strike. Mere hours. Forgive the pun… but this fact is chilling.

Last year, I drove up to St. Anthony, Newfoundland to see one of the best iceberg years in decades. One looked as a large as a shopping center or a short landing strip. Like a king of the smaller bergs, it edged its way to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. I had seen chunks floating in Cabot Straits before, but they were truly “chips off the old block.”

That set me to thinking: do contemporary Americans realize that the most blessed and well-thought-out nation ever to set sail is dangerously close to foundering because of the icebergs of group anarchy, corporate renegades, political corruption, and personal apathy?

Ignorance of our Constitution has turned the miracle of America into a shadow of European folly, the folly that began under kings wanting to regulate citizens’ freedom, religion, and enterprise. That very folly is what drove men and women, Protestants and later Catholics, to risk their lives on tiny wooden ships to escape such tyranny in the 1500s.

Together our forefathers formed this nation, a magnificent ship. Captains and crew would change, but each person at the wheel would be charged with guiding the ship safely along her course and using every means available to steer clear of danger. If they engaged in folly, or became lax in their real duty, they would imperil everyone and everything on board. Should they lose focus for only a moment, fail to correct course in time, they not only do irreparable damage but will also go down with the ship!

Contemporary ignorance of our real history and our miraculous Constitution indicts our public-cum-government schools. Ironically, as these schools began ignoring our government’s foundational principles, they began drowning in folly.

These institutions have produced feckless citizens who seem not to have been taught that only here, in America, did men freely submit –themselves– to each other and to the rules they all agreed to follow as a civil society under God. All the documents drafted by early colonists, founding fathers, and state constitutions declared and confirmed that leaders must be men of faith and morals…otherwise this great experiment would not succeed. For, the caveat prevails when men do not heed its warning.
About the author

Beth Fine Beth Fine is educational fiction author. Master’s degrees in humanities and literature complement her undergraduate work focused on theatre, sociology, and education. Beth has long been a writer of plays, music, verses, and stories. Her experience includes teaching fourth graders and adults. She is the author of a history/mystery series: The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple imaginepurple.com. You can find more of Beth’s thoughts here on her blog bethfine.com as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.  You can the Picaresque video trailers on Google+,  or on her Goodreads and Amazon author pages.


A Good Read Drives You to New Locations

A good read comes in different packages depending on a reader’s taste. For a good read, a reader will likely choose his favorite type of book.

A good read may be a beach book, a Harlequin romance, or even a self-help tome for the reader to scan while getting a tan. A good read may swoosh the reader away on a sci-fi trip like in Kurt Vonnegut’s Ice Nine or a fantasy space voyage such as in C.S. Lewis’ Perelanda.

With the recent successful run of horror offerings, a good read might even include Mary Shelley’s classic Gothic novel Frankenstein. If so, the reader could retrace the origins of the drool-cruel-gruel of the undead genre. But to this author, a mystery is the best and only good read. In fact, to me nothing satisfies more than an Agatha Christie mystery like Murder on the Orient Express.

Maybe you’d even enjoy another old train mystery called The Last Passenger Train Across Newfoundland, a candidate for a good read and the first episode (IMASODE) of a new mystery series called The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple. It is fun, wholesome, and sneakily educational. In fact, the main character Ima Purple is a teacher-turned-detective who now has seven more mysteries to her name. While taking the reader to different states and countries, the stories build accidental knowledge by gradually introducing more mature conflicts and more difficult vocabulary to use in your next essay. Won’t that surprise your own teacher?

Imagine a good read without zombies, wizards, or vampires…but with realistic villains who cause real-type dilemmas for real-type good guys that must struggle to escape or suffer real-type consequences. Such a good read mystery builds suspense in the story but requires critical thinking to solve it: a double-decker dilemma full of meaning.

The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple is a good read where there are no easy answers and which produces an endless storyline that unfolds like a soap opera with past characters popping up unexpectedly. You never have to wish that the book won’t end because there’s probably another Imasode in the works.

IMASODE   I:  Last Passenger Train Across Newfoundland
IMADODE II:  Scary Ferry to Nova Scotia
IMASODE III: Mary Jane of Canton, Maine
IMASODE  IV: Mayhem in Manhattan
IMASODE   V: Anti-Belle of Antebellum Atlanta
IMASODE  VI: Danger Starts in Detroit
IMASODE VII: Escapades in Estonia

IMASODE VIII: Aunt Lottie’s London (Spring 2016)

IMASODE IX: Sovereign’s Sunburst, an Auction in Germany (2016)

IMASODE X: From Piraeus to Paris to the Pyrenees (2016-17)


Why Educational Fiction Offers Stepping Stones to Success

The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple is an educational fiction mystery series with Teachable Moments, Grade Level Vocabulary, and Age-Appropriate Topics as the reader matures and progresses through the books.

An attentive reader of novels may prefer fictional stories from a wide range of sub-genres: romance, adventure, historical, fantasy. Although that reader may casually learn age-appropriate lessons from fictional characters placed in pretend-life situations, educational fiction actually aims at learning as a goal. Unlike Seinfeld which was undeniable fun but reveled in the fact that its story was about “nothing,” educational fiction is, on the other hand, about “something,” something “real” that can be fun or serious.

Perhaps more akin to historical fiction, educational fiction explores an imaginary narrative that looks through a particular glass and wrestles with particular dilemmas. Depending on the target audience, educational fiction offers age-appropriate books that explore a wide range of topics. It tackles these topics by guiding a reader through a cleverly designed plot that requires its characters to be curious, to seek answers to questions, and even to follow a mystery to its logical solution. Without forcing connections, its storyline manages a difficult issue by critique, not criticism. Such restraint lets characters freely comment from their own perspectives and lets readers experience their own epiphanies-cum-teachable-moments.

In his article “Education[al] Fiction–A Field Waiting to Be Explored,” George Korankye noted that Geoffrey Chaucer and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle both composed stories around an early understanding of medical science. Whether or not these men unwittingly invented the genre, readers have benefited from such ingenious grace of such literature. Other primary exponents grasped the concept of making a point with a story. Aesop used his fables for teachable moments by ending each tale with a moral. Jesus taught by parable, an instructive story that restricts itself to a single point. The shorter a narrative, the fewer the points can be made: the longer a story, the more items it can investigate and manifest to the reader. That describes the purpose and effect of educational fiction (now tagged “edufic” by some).

Others consciously set rich teachable moments into their educational fiction. Recently, I stumbled on a Grade 2-5 series called The Attack of the Chicken Nugget Man. Kumar Hathy has designed an age-appropriate story laced with common core standards for teachers to emphasize while in the story’s text.

Korankye sees this genre as a future “interdisciplinary” teaching tool that can “embrace a wide range of subjects and themes.” He reported on Gundermann and Mortell’s study that saw the future of educational fiction as a vehicle to change opinions of real people and/or issues when negatively portrayed. Though I liked the gist of Korankye’s ideas, I have reservations of “edufic” becoming the narrative form of docudrama because promoting awareness of a topic can easily turn into indoctrination.

I can honor Korankye’s idea of having a Bibliography only to an extent. In my own educational fiction series of The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple, I have Appendices of Clichés/Idioms, Lookup Suggestions, and Vocabulary mentioned in the story but meant only to give the reader a beginning place to do research on his own. To me, educational fiction is to stimulate further reading rather than to count on every fact as if it came from official documentation.

I disagree with Korankye’s suggestion that educational fiction should make “all its references… verifiable, and all its assumptions plausible in the light of current thought.” That not only could burden an author and restrict his insights, but also such an arbitrary requirement on content could distract the reader and kill the plot, making it subservient to an extraneous fact. For instance, I wrote a fictional play about an historical character living in Roman times. Digesting diverse opinions, I had to mash these together creatively to make possible any cohesive and authentic tone. My ethical stance is not to be slavish to facts but to give readers the flavor in a fictional piece. They can research any facts perceived as mistakes and be smarter for their effort.


Clandestine Christmas (Jõulud)

BOOK COVER – IMASODE VII – 9781682071458C – final

Click the above link to see Ima and Riina in a KGB jail portended by an ominous knock on the door at the end of this excerpt from IMASODE VII: Escapades in Estonia

BACKGROUND TO A CHRISTMAS IN ESTONIA:

Riina’s Uncle Eerik had become a Lutheran pastor as a young adult in the 1930s. Now, he resided in an atheistic communist Soviet state where defunct churches served as museums. No longer could he lawfully perform baptisms, confirmations, or any sacraments. Sadly, even Christmas, the favorite holiday in free Estonia, had to be celebrated surreptitiously behind curtains. He and his family had been relegated to live in the rectory’s attic so Russian soldiers and bureaucrats could occupy the other three floors of his house.

While Riina and Ima helped Liisu carry her prized tree up the staircase to the attic, Kris ran ahead to open the door.

“Vanaisa…Meil on mänd,” Kris said in Estonian and pointed down the stairs. “Jõulupuu!”

“Ei Kris. Mitte jõulupuu,” said Eerik. “We only used mänd for potpourri to make our house smell nice.”

Undoubtedly, the conversation from the attic landing had fallen down the stairwell loudly enough to make the old widow Mrs. Semper open her door. She peered out with wide eyes just in time to see the ladies pass her apartment dragging a tree. The old faithful informant now had the child’s announcement and evidence of a forbidden tree to report to KGB. The strange events of late and the strange people visiting made her question the sanity of the Rannet family members. She wondered if they had a death wish. Did they want to go live in Siberia? She could not wait to call Chief Pall.

When the ladies finally got the tree inside the attic, Liisu put a finger to her lips to indicate all should hush until she  closed the door. Then smiling and lifting her eyebrows with excitement, she said, “Jõulud.”

“Jõulud, dear Liisu,” said Eerik

“I knew it. I knew it. That’s why you wanted the straw,” said Kris, jumping up and down.

The old man had a twinkle in his eyes. “Every year, we repeat the same annual excuse of making potpourri so that we can sneak in a jõulupuu. Traditionally, we use a nulg or mänd. Most conifers work as well.”

“Even I know the Estonia words nulg and mänd from my parents’ chatter! And even I know that a fir tree always beats a pine for a Christmas tree; but in Manhattan, we take whatever we can get,” iterated Riina.

“Yes, here too,” said Eerik.

“So, Jõulud means Christmas. It sounds a bit like the French  joyeux noel or when we say joy to the world. It all means the same thing. It’s Christmas -the most joyful time of the year,” declared Ima, holding the pine sapling upright.

“Please, Kris, empty the straw from your pockets over where we usually put the crèche,” Liisu whispered excitedly in Estonian. “Then I have a little errand for you. No one but our family must know what I’ve planned.”

Everyone eagerly watched the simple process. Liisu quickly stripped a cluster of pine needles off a damaged branch and formed a little pouch from a clean rag. She twisted a piece of yarn around the pouch neck to secure its contents.

“Now Kris, you must be quiet as mouse. Take this little bag down to Mrs. Semper’s apartment. Knock on her door, hang this on the handle, and then dash back up here as fast you can. We want her to believe we are truly making potpourri pouches instead of decorating a—”

“Christmas Tree!” said Ima. “So, if this is your Christmas tree, am I the tree stand?”

“Oh no. Here, I’ll take it,” said Eerik, relieving her of holding the tree. “We actually attach our trees to the ceiling,”

“I think Germans hang a tree upside down,” said Ima.

“Maybe so,” he said and quickly wrapped some twine around the treetop and stabilized it on a large hook attached to a rafter.

Right then Kris returned, panting from his run up the stairs. “Since this is my favorite holiday, I did exactly as you instructed.”

“Did Mrs. Semper see you?” asked Liisu.

“No, but I put the potpourri bag on her door to prove I have been a good boy, just in case St. Nicholas might come. Then I dashed back up here so I wouldn’t miss out on anything.”

“Hmmm. Doesn’t if feel strange to have Christmas in late September?”

“Why not, Ima,” replied Riina. “Macy’s has a Christmas-in-July Sale every year.”

“Well, I thought why must we wait for December? We’ve not had relatives to visit us in so long. What’s to prevent us from celebrating the holiday a few months early? But, of course, it must be abbreviated,” said Liisu.

“Dear Liisu, thank you for this wonderful idea! It tops off a day that almost turned disastrous,” Eerik remarked cautiously.

“Why disasterous?” asked Ima.

“Although this may dampen your spirits a bit, I need to alert you all to the facts.”

“What facts?” asked Ima.

“What do you mean, Eerik?” Liisu asked anxiously.

“While you took a little trip to the collective farm in Rapla, the KGB came here looking for Riina,” he said.

“Why me? What for? Do they think I’m a spy? I haven’t even worn my trench coat yet.”

“No, they think you are the daughter of a man named Leo Finantsguul who killed two Russian soldiers in 1942. They plan to trade you for your father,” said Eerik.

“What a horrifying prospect!” exclaimed Ima. “You mean instead of asking for a ransom, they want to trade her.”

“KGB will lose that bet. It’s a long shot that my folks would trade me or pay a ransom for my sorry hide anyway. They’d just be happy to see their grown-up daughter finally move out of their apartment.” Riina sounded flippant in light of Eerik’s serious news.

“Oh Riina, don’t joke,” pleaded Ima. “This sounds really serious. Eerik, did you tell them she was born in New York in 1940? I could vouch for her. We both entered nursery school in 1942. I can’t even remember life before Riina.”
“I explained all that, but KGB calculates in its own way,” he said.

“What nonsense. My folks changed their name on Ellis Island in 1940. Lots of people did that to make themselves sound more American. Kuld Finantsid became Leo Feingold.

“I explained that as well.”

“But Uncle Eerik, Leopops, made up our name. As jewelers in Estonia, several in his family had the name of Kuld which means ‘gold.’ And since Finantsid meant ‘finances,’ he figured to make and sell enough rings to finance buying more gold to make more rings and so forth. Once in New York, he combined his naming ideas into Feingold because he thought it sounded good for a maker of fine jewelry.”

“In fact, that’s why I used to call her Ringa Fingergold,” declared Ima.

“At least that’s better than Ringa around the Tub or Ringa Brass Turns Finger-Green!” quipped Riina.

Everyone laughed at Riina’s little joke.

“I never knew the whole story,” said Eerik.

“Really, it’s a great story and a great name,” reiterated Ima. “Everyone knows her dad makes the best rings in New York. Soldiers get them for their sweethearts, and even movie stars have had him design special items. Some have their pictures on Mr. Feingold’s shop walls.

“Seriously, we all know that Leo and Marianna left in 1940 and then changed their names; but the fact is, Chief Pall of KGB has his own theory. He knows where you are, Riina, and could come back for you… anytime,” warned Eerik. “So Liisu, we better get this show on the road.”

“I agree, Eerik. You better get your toolbox and bring some tacks. Kris, go get the Christmas box with the lights and ornaments from under your bed. Girls, I need you to hold blankets over the dormer windows while Eerik nails them down.”

“Why on earth?” asked Ima.

“So, no one outside can see our colored lights,” replied Liisu. “Our neighbors know Eerik is a minister. Now they have seen you two come and go the last few days, and you saw how curious the neighborhood kids were about the tree tied to the cattle trailer and the straw falling on the street. Someone will put two and two together and conclude we have company and are celebrating Christmas. If so, it won’t be long until one of them calls militia or KGB to report us.”

“How can you live under constant surveillance and suspicion?” asked Ima.

“We’re used to it. Please know that not every Estonian is watched as we are,” said Eerik, returning with his toolbox. He took out some wallpaper hanger tacks and his hammer. Then he showed the girls how to stretch the blankets tight enough for him to nail them down.

“What else can we do?” asked Riina.

Liisu pulled candles from beneath the kitchen counter. “While Kris and I make sugar cookies, Ima, would you put these Advent candles on the piano and light them as if we’ve spent a month lighting each one.”

Kris returned with the box of decorations and began to open it.

“I feel like you did on our tour of Old Town when you wanted to be the one to tell the story of Vana Toomas? Remember you kept saying, ‘Let me. Let me.’? ” Riina teased Kris and mussed up his hair.

“You’re making me sound like a baby,” the boy said and blushed.

“Well, tonight I also feel like a little-me-too,” said Ima.

“What’s that?” Kris cocked his head quizzically.

“In America, that’s the same as the ‘Let me, Let me kid’ in Estonia,” added Ima.

The adults all laughed. Kris finally caught on and giggled.

“Now Kris, look in the Christmas box for the crèche and the holy family.

“That’s my favorite part.”

“Mine too. I want you to put the straw in the manger, but leave out the Baby Jesus figurine until later,” said Eerik.

“Let me. Let me. Let me… be the one to—”

“Of course, you’ll be the one,” said Eerik.

Soon everyone had a task, preparing for the instant holiday. Every time the hammer struck, they all clenched their teeth, hoping no one suspected what they were doing. Once Liisu had the dough ready, Kris helped his mom extrude sugar cookies through the cookie gun.

“I want to make mostly star shapes to put on the tree.”

“We’ll see, Kris. I’m not sure we’ll have time to put cookies on the tree,” said Liisu.

Then while Eerik strung the lights on the branches, Riina set up the manger scene because she’d grown up around all the Christmas traditions in America.

With an imminent need to hurry-up this holiday celebration, the family decided not to tie on all their favorite tree ornaments. Eerik decided the lights and the star on top would have to suffice for decorations.

However, the two young visitors wanted to add a few decorations themselves. Both had brought jewelry in case of a dress-up event. Riina took from her suitcase several big colored plastic hoop bracelets and threaded a branch through each one. Ima draped her pearl necklace in an upper branch and her brass chain belt lower down.

“Still we could make a quick garland,” declared Ima. “Liisu, do you have paper and scissors?”

“I’ve got scissors, but paper is quite precious here.”

“No matter,” she said pulling out the colorful travel brochures. “From these, we could make a short garland chain for the tree.”

“Maybe, but why not make small garlands for our heads? Wearing crowns was once quite customary at Christmas,” said Liisu.

“That’s a great idea… sort of like having English crackers for holiday parties,” said Ima.

“Let me. Let me. I want to help too,” said Kris.

“OK, I’ll cut the strips. You can bend them into circles and glue them as links in a chain,” Ima said in her teacher’s tone. “Let’s see how many crowns do we need?”

“Four in the family and two guests make six,” said Kris.

“Excellent. Now, Liisu, do you have paste?”

“No, I’m sorry.”

“Do you have any flour to spare for us to make instant paste?”

“Oh, yes. That would work,” agreed Liisu, scooping a tablespoon of flour into a bowl and adding a little water to make a good consistency.

“Ohhhh, I wanted to add the water,” said Kris sticking out his lower lip.

“Kris, if you had added too much, we’d have to add more flour; and that means less flour for cookies in the future,” Liisu said, in a mother’s tone. “But you can do the stirring.”

“Jah, Ema,” said the boy obviously trying to please on this happy day.

“I’m sure your mother will let you,” said Ima looking up from her cutting task.

“Anyone want to lick the cookie dough off the spoons?” ask Liisu.

“I do. I do. Let me. Let me, Ema,” Kris said.

“I’m sure your mother will let you ,” said Ima looking quizzically at the boy

“Did you ever see a boy so willing to help,” said Eerik winking at Ima.

While Kris scraped the bowl and licked the spoon, Liisu opened the oven and let out the smell of fresh baked cookies.
“As soon as this first batch cools, we can place them as decorations on the tree,” Liisu suggested, pulling out the first tray of cookies.

“Boy, do they smell good,” said Ima.

“You know Ima, sugar for cookies and fuel for the stove rank even more precious than paper. But, this splurge of supplies on you and Riina will make memories to last our family for years.”

“Thank you for your generosity. Riina said you would put on the dog.”

“What dog?”

“Liisu, believe me to explain American lingo would take longer than our visit,” quipped Riina.

“Suffice it to say that when Riina told me you would put on the dog for visitors, I thought she meant you’d put a dog on the grill…as if dog were a delicacy here in Estonia.”

“Oh, my, that sounds dreadful,” Liisu said laughing. “Our culture is not that different from yours.”

By the time Kris finished licking the spoon, Ima thought it time to paste the links for the homemade crowns. A few times she had to unglue his fingers that got stuck together with paste. “Kris, this reminds me of someone I knew who got her fingers all glued together with spray-on stardust for a Christmas play in America.”

Realizing Kris understood very little of what she had said, Ima just smiled and continued to help him link the loops to form small garland chains. When all were finished, Kris placed them around the dining table as placeholders.
With everything done, the family paced the floor, anxious for Kristjan to arrive home from choral practice. At six, they could hear him bounding up the stairs.

Kristjan opened the front door, smiled broadly, and sniffed eagerly. “What is this I see and smell?”

“Liisu brought a pine tree from the country… and planned a photo-flash Christmas,” said Eerik. “And I do mean flash… in case KGB returns for Riina.”

“What?” Kristjan scrunched his face at Eerik’s puzzling comment. “What possible interest can KGB have in Riina?”

“Well, to bring you up to date, while everyone was gone today, KGB showed up looking for Riina. Chief Pall thinks Riina is the child of a murderer and plans to trade her for Leo,” Eerik iterated his earlier concern.

“What an imagination KGB has,” Kristjan said and went over to the kitchen area. “Something besides pine needles smells mighty good,” he said and reached for a cookie.

“Don’t you dare,” Liisu said, rapping his knuckles lightly with a wooden spoon. “How did I end up with two boys this Christmas?”

“Can’t I have just one piece… of that broken cookie?”

“No. If you behave, you can join Kris and put this group of cookies on the tree. That way you’ll get to help prepare for the holiday preparation. The other cookies are for later.”

With everything complete, Eerik announced that Christmas had indeed started officially. He asked everyone to sit at the table and put on their crowns to celebrate the coming of the King of Kings. He asked Kris to put the Baby Jesus figurine into the manger. Then slowly the old pastor began the Bethlehem story from the Gospel of Luke. Even though he read the words from an Estonian Bible, both Americans clearly knew the story and nodded just from the sound of several verses.

Liisu brought out her violin, and Kristjan went to the piano. Together they quietly played and sang an old Estonian Christmas carol. Then everyone joined in on “Silent Night.” Although singing in different languages, no one could mistake the message “Kristus sündinud teil! Kristus sündinud teil!” Halfway through the third verse, the group got a bit boisterous. Eerik had to shush them. Even if they wanted to shout this song to the heavens, it was unwise. Just as their carol ended, the teakettle began to whistle.

“Perfect timing,” said Liisu. “Folks, I have no wine to mull. I hope coffee will do. Kris, take the plate of sugar cookies to our guests. Do you want milk?” she asked.

“Ei, mitte piim,” the boy said, scrunching his face like Kristjan had. “After seeing where it comes from at the dairy today, I may not want to drink piim ever again.”

The adults all laughed freely. The boy had faced a new reality of choice.

“Well then, because this is a special night with special guests, you may have coffee with the grown-ups,” Liisu said.
Soon everyone had a cookie in hand and held up their cups as if waiting for a toast. But Eerik saw this moment differently!

“My dear ones, this seems almost like communion. Let us give thanks to God who sent his Son as a gift for us at Christmas.”

Riina raised her cup. “Cheers… if that’s okay to say?”

“Absolutely. Eerik just gave the most cheerful news ever heard by human ears.” said Ima raising her cup and clinking with the others around the table. “Here-here.”

“Tevist,” said the Estonians.

“Cheers,” said the Americans.

“And thanks for sending us two Americans,” said Kris.

“Here-here.”

Everyone took a sip, including Kris.

“Blaaa-ug,” he said, sticking out his tongue. “It tastes like dirt.”

“Wait a minute,” said Riina, “I just remembered something. Not that this hot drink isn’t simply delicious… but-but… give me a moment.” She went to her suitcase and pulled out a pound of coffee and placed it in Eerik’s hands. “Leotaat said Estonians have a hard time getting coffee so he sent you some to enjoy.”

The adults “oohed and ahhed” as they passed it around and sniffed the rare package of coffee.

“I’m surprised Customs did not confiscate this also,” said Eerik.

“They were too distracted with pomms that weren’t bombs,” quipped Riina.

Then Ima slipped over to her valise and pulled out a bag of hard candy. “I meant this for a hostess gift, but what better time to share it than during our photo-flash Christmas.”

After another round of “oohs and ahhs,” the happy group held out their hands while Kris, who rarely got sweets, passed the bag. “Ema, may I have what’s left?” he asked.

“You’ll have to ask your mother,” replied Ima.

“Ima… he did ask his mother. Ema is the Estonian word for mother,” Liisu said, patting her guest’s hand.

“I wondered why he has asked my permission so often tonight.”

“Well, son, this is too much candy for us to eat in one day,” said Kristjan.

“Yes. Take a few pieces down to Mrs. Semper’s door. We’ll save the rest for another day.”

“Even though Christmas had almost ended, do I still have to obey?”

“Yes, Kris, go quickly.”

Kris went and returned in a flash.

“With our treats done and the room growing dark with night shadows, the time had come for the finale. “Drum-roll please,” said Eerik. Everyone turned his knees into bongo drums.

Before the “Ta-dum,” Riina interrupted. “Stop… wait. I have one more surprise.” She got the tambourine from her carry-on and handed it to Kris. “It’s not exactly a drum, but you can beat it almost the same way.”

The boy got so excited he began running around the room and beating the little instrument. “Shhhhhm Kris. Sadly, we must still keep our Christmas celebration a secret,” said Kristjan.

“Again, a very quiet drum-roll please,” Eerik repeated.

Kristjan picked up the electric cord, waved it with fanfare style, and then plugged it in. Instantly, the colored light bulbs flickered and then came on fully. Everyone gasped and clapped at the evening’s highlight! Then while staring at the colored lights, each one told the stories of past holidays. Finally, Eerik asked Ima also to tell hers.

“My favorite Christmas was when my father took my mother and me to London to meet Aunt Lottie. She threw a big party for us at her very big house. Carolers dressed in Victorian costumes serenaded us, and I got to stay up for midnight mass.”

“At my house, we have multi-flavored holidays,” declared Riina. “Because Leopops is Jewish, we have Advent, Chanukah, Christmas, and Epiphany. When I was little, it confused me; but now, I think I had the best of all worlds.”

“In Estonia we used to light the Advent candle around the first of December, but the season’s biggest day was always Christmas Eve,” recalled Eerik.

“We do still celebrate St. Nicholas’ death on the 6th of December,” said Liisu.

“Do you give gifts then?” asked Ima.

“We only give simple gifts… later though,” said Liisu.

“Our Christmas centers more on the gift God gave us than gifts we give each other,” said Kristjan.

“So, it’s Nix to St. Nick here?” Riina asked in her joking manner but rhetorically, not expecting an answer

“My favorite time, in the old days, was when we went to the big Christmas Eve service at St. Nicholas Church in Vanalinn,” explained Eerik.

“Some Estonians still secretly celebrate St. Thomas’ Day on Dec. 21st, and Epiphany on Jan 6th and some even honor St. Canute’s Day on Jan 7th as well. These holidays give us lots of opportunities to sing,” said Kristjan.

“Wow, that’s a whole month of celebration. Stores in America would love that,” said Riina.

“Because our customs meshed together for centuries, Christmas used to be a very busy time for us too, but in other ways. While Christians prepared for the birth of the Savior, the Pagans believed the birthday of the Sun fell on winter solstice. That’s sadly where we get our word Jõulud,” explained Liisu.

“Oh, that disappoints me. I thought it meant joyful,” said Ima.

Eerik patted his abundant waistline. “I’m afraid we still follow another old tradition. It seems the ancient peasants spent the season eating and drinking. They indulged themselves, hoping to influence the Fates to send plenty of food for the next year.”

“Also, Pagans believed all noisy tasks like grinding wheat should stop so good ghosts would not be frightened away,” said Kristjan.

“So, the tambourine would be also nixed,” quipped Riina.

“After seeing you practice your faith quietly, I realize how blithely I treat my freedom to worship. A shallow faith could never suffer the persecution you have,” admitted Ima with remorse in her voice. “With your brief ceremony planted in my heart, I think from now on, this Christmas shall become my new favorite one.”

Everyone tapped their fingers together in silent applause.

“And now, as brief… and as wonderful as this has been, I pronounce this Christmas ended! We must dismantled the tree, remove the blankets from the windows, put the lights and crèche into the Christmas box, and put the box back under the bed. Quickly everyone,” urged Eerik. “I suddenly feel a strong foreboding about tonight.”

Even with all the hints of Christmas hidden, a warm glow still shone about the attic. Music from an old vacuum tube radio gently lilted across the room. The family settled in to enjoying the rest of the evening in separate ways.

While Eerik sat with the Bible open in his lap, Kristjan and Kris stripped fir needles off a branch and into a bushel basket. Sprawled on the floor, Riina crushed the pine needles with the hammer and Ima cut old rags into tiny squares. Then they helped Liisu scooped crushed needles into these pieces of cloth to make more homemade potpourri bags. One would hold the bag, and the other twisted a piece of yarn at the neck of each bundle. This assembly line had happy workers after a very happy early Christmas.

Suddenly, a loud knock came on the attic door!

Buy IMASODE VII: Escapades in Estonia to find out how KGB Chief Pall and his officers interrupted this quiet evening. Tate Publishing has it available now. With its full release, the book can be ordered at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


As Halloween Nears, Christmas Deniers Arise

Each year the Pagans come out of their dark places to celebrate their special holiday of Halloween on October 31st.  Somehow their misguidance transforms into a season of wanting to deny Christians the right to use December 25th as Christmas, as if a certain group could not use that 24-hour period for a private meaning. And yet, each year Pagans seem to declare the whole winter solstice as their exclusive property. We know this about them and wonder what level of arrogance led them to such spiritual error over an annual cosmic event, an event is out of their control and which comes despite their devotion or their opinions. Just such a recent Facebook discussion stimulated my response.

The actual date is not the point. December 25th is a chosen day of celebration, not a confirmation of the date of Emmanuel’s birth. No one knows that date nor the day of His conception, the same as no one knows where Moses is buried.

Even so, some Pagans claim to be scholars but yet must make their case with condescension and insults. Don’t they know archeology continues to validate the Bible which holds only “those facts” needed to declare the truth about Christ, the path to God. The rest is in wind. Perhaps these self-proclaimed researchers have studied Arianism, Manichaeism, Pelegianism, or Gnosticism, all heresies bent on denying the divinity of Christ and even His existence. From time to time these heresies poke their heads up to stir unbelief. Still, Jesus’s life with its message of salvation from judgment of sin can’t be erased. It pervades art, music, philosophy, architecture, education, and missions. It has inspired life-risking adventures to distant lands and taught freedom-loving people to embrace others different from themselves.

The Age of Enlightenment tried to snuff Jesus from the pages of history but failed because its promoters never understood that the gift of faith comes from above and lands on the humble soul. Faith is a mystery that drops clues into the  hearts of true believers and brings a power that testifies to the truth that, “He that liveth in me is greater than he who lives in the world.”

There is nothing new about Pagans rejecting Jesus or wanting to deny the Christ-mass. They love to dredge up “A-ha” moments: the Crusades, unresearched or unreasonably bent and sympathetic toward Moslems; and the Inquisition, an admittedly corrupt era of the Roman church gone awry.  However, those moments do not represent the total of church history. In fact, the more shame or criticism heaped on from the other side, the more God’s true message stings unbelievers. “For in our weakness, He is made strong.” All unbelievers actually fulfill prophecy by their criticism, doubt, and desire to eliminate Jesus and Christians from the public forum. Ultimate success will not go to naysayers. Both Pharaoh and Belshazzar fulfilled prophecy, so scripture and history record their demises.

So, thank you Pagans for unwittingly falling into His plan. The more you gather in random groups standing in circles calling for more secret knowledge from the unknown dark powers to defeat Christians, the more you come under bondage of those dark powers. And to your dismay, the Light of Christ will shine brighter. I say these things not to offend you but to baffle you because they seem incongruous to logic. However, I’ve seen the hate of witches who came to my church to defeat what they hated. I’ve seen worms oozing from the legs of a witch and witnessed the seduction of weak people coming under witches’ grip. Pagans seem to suffer ignorance or feelings of exclusion from what they do not comprehend, feeling leading them to fear and hate goodness.

Christians invite all unbelievers to the joy, peace, glory, reconciliation, forgiveness, and freedom from error about Christmas. Thank God that Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World, does not reject the rejectors of His special day. May they enjoy Christmas on a new level; and may God bless them in their continued “honest” search and research of truth. “Ask and you shall receive…. Seek and ye shall find….” Search out God “with all of your heart, soul, and mind.” Selah (a word that means “Think on this”).

My next blog entry will describe Ima’s secret Christmas with Riina’s Estonian relatives who defied government rules against celebrating the forbidden holiday. IMASODE VII: Escapades in Estonia just went to press and can be ordered from https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/search.php?search=Picaresque+of+Imagine+Purple

The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple offers mysteries as a way for young readers to seek moral maturity and advanced literacy.