Beth Fine

Educational Fiction Author – Serious Thinker – Child at Heart

Summer Reading II – Kids’ Viewpoint

Summer Reading - Kid's Viewpoint

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

Hooray, it’s summer. Time to kick off my shoes, wiggle my toes in the grass, go swimming, play outside, stay up late, read comic books, and…glare at a stack of books someone picked out for the dreaded summer reading program. After a school year of having to read two or three books per month, I’ve been told to digest two or three books per week?

Whoever invented the summer reading program idea maybe thought it a good way to keep kids out of trouble. What grown-ups don’t understand is most kids never dream about getting into trouble. We’re too smart for that. We’ve figured out that doing what’s right brings privilege, but doing what’s wrong brings punishment. Who wants to take that bumpy road?

Perhaps long ago, nice librarians and teachers decided to start a summer reading program. They weren’t sadists who hated kids but simply book-buffs who loved to read and hoped kids would also. But, when some tyrant decided to make the summer reading program mandatory, my enthusiasm for summer reading evaporated.

That’s strange because I used to love to read. I looked forward to Monday nights when the library stayed open for adults to check out books. While my mom looked for the latest best-seller, I went to see if a special bottom shelf in the children’s department sported a new orange biography. Those books had 200 pages divided into short chapters which reported the adventures of great Americans like John Smith, Pocahontas, George Washington, Ben Franklin, Abigail Adams, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Dolly Madison, Daniel Boone, Abe Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Louisa May Alcott and others.
It surprises me how I still remember their stories. Perhaps that’s because I got to choose the books for my own summer reading program. So, why hasn’t anyone ask me to make a list lately? I would have written down only books I’ve wondered about or that sounded interesting like the new mystery series called The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple. If so, I’d be as happy as I was when reading those orange biographies from the bottom shelf.

-Beth Fine

Author of a popular new mysteries series for middle schoolers, The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple

Reprinted by permission from Nashville Christian Family Magazine.

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 You can find more of Beth’s thoughts here on her blog 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


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.


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

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

Each Imasode Mystery Has a Nonsense Scene

In each mystery, Ímagine Purple encounters a scene comprised of pure nonsense such as the excerpt below. As twisted and serious as a mystery can become, before things get clear, they often get very muddy.

BACKGROUND: Ima has just escaped from Estonia and is ready for some rest from international intrigue. However, she instead lands in a world of London deceptive butlers, secret passages, and poisonous plants. For relief, she and her visiting buddy Cash Underground decide to take a tour of 1969 London. While they remain mostly listeners to the following comic exchanges, the tour guide Terence tries in vain to field impossible questions from rather uninformed tourists. This classic nonsense scene is typical of what a reader can expect from The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple


“Well, we’ve seen where the queen lives, not that I expected an invitation to tea this afternoon,” said a lady who acted in charge. “So, why not show us #10 Downing Street where the prime minister lives. Maybe he’ll at least give us a wave.”
“Strangely, almost all foreigners know two London addresses: #10 Downing Street and 221-B Baker Street,” said Terence.
“Baker Street is where Sherlock Holmes lives, right?” said a man up front.
“Well, that’s where he supposedly lived while solving his mysteries in the late 1800s; but of course, those stories are only fiction,” said the guide.
The driver continued a short distance before turning onto Victoria Street. When the guide pointed out the next sight, a great deal of nonsense broke out among the sightseers. The conversation turned into a free for all…a verbal exchange fit for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. The poor guide struggled to keep on topic:
“Next, ladies and gentlemen, we will pass Westminster Cathedral.”
“Oh, I will definitely go back to West-mi-ni-ster Abbey,” said Miss Know-It-All.
“I’m sure you mean WestMINSTER Abbey? There is no i before the s,” the guide corrected her politely.
“I thought the rule is i before e except after c,” said Miss Know-It-All.
“But there is no ‘c” in Westminster Abbey, and no minister in its name, and no minister in its pulpit.” The guide tried to humor the lady tourist.
“No minister? What kind of church is that?” she retorted.
“A minister has nothing to do with this. I’m only trying to help you pronounce the name correctly. It’s WestMINSTER and rhymes with SPINSTER.”
“So, there’s no minister here because it’s full of spinsters?” asked another woman nearby. “Oh, now I understand.   It’s full of nuns, and nuns are always spinsters; so naturally, no ministers would be there!”
“You mean to tell me that Westminster Abbey is a really a nunnery?” asked Miss Know-It-All.
“No, it is an abbey, not a nunnery,” said the poor tour guide looking baffled as to when exactly he lost complete control of his group.
“Didn’t Shakespeare say something like, ‘Get thee to a nunnery’? Well, Mr. Tour Guide. Here we are at one. Maybe this is the one Shakespeare meant,” said Miss Know-It-All. “So, please ask the driver to stop so I can take a picture?”
Despite the great exchange of ignorance, the tour guide forged ahead. “Well Madam, I would, except this is neither Westminster Abbey nor the nunnery Shakespeare mentioned. That one was in Denmark, but the Bard gave it no specific name.”
“How disappointing. I so wanted to see Westminster Abbey,” she said sadly.
Now quite exasperated, Terrence sighed. “Madam, we will pass Westminster Abbey soon. But right now in front of us, we have Westminster Cathedral.”
“You mean the one the Beatles sang about?” said a passenger in the rear.
“No, that was Westchester Cathedral!” said a man midway the bus.
“No dear, Dick Van Dyke lives in Westchester County on his TV show.”
“The song is Winchester Cathedral, like the famous Winchester rifle. “You need to clean out your ears,” replied the wife to her husband.
“Not if I’d have to hear you more than I do,” said the man in his own defense.
The tourist crowd sniggered at this domestic spat. Most likely they recognized that this husband and wife team surely neared the end of a month-long vacation and needed a week-long nap in separate rooms.
“Looky here. I’m visiting England so I don’t care about Westchester County or Winchester Rifle in America. What I want to know about is Westminster Cathedral.” Cash declared to the guide.
“Westminster Cathedral is the mother ship for English Catholics.”
“Well, then whose mother ship is Westminster Abbey?” wondered Cash, trying to bring the subject full circle.
“No one’s really! It belongs to the royal family who graciously allows the public in for short visits. It is more of a hallowed place than an active church. Private gatherings occur there. Special honors are bestowed there, and dignitaries get buried under the floors. By all means, tour it, if you have time.”
“So, this is where the Royal Weddings are held?” asked an eager tourist.
“Oh, I saw that old movie with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I loved when he danced on the ceiling,” said a mouse of a lady.
“Ginger Rogers was not in Royal Wedding,” Miss Know-It-All said, slamming the door on the mouse’s nose. “It was someone else. I can’t remember who, but it definitely was not Ginger Rogers.”
The guide continued, “The Royal Wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip took place in 1948 at St. Paul’s cathedral, the main church for the English Anglicans.”
“Well, this is all very ta-ta and highfalutin in my book,” someone up front said.
The tour guide had no idea how to field that comment, so he let it drop. He had had tough crowds before, but today’s took the cake. Soon, the bus paused at Westminster Abbey to let passengers take pictures and then pulled over to the Parliament building.
“Here we have the seat of government for Great Britain,” Terrance said.
“Is it true you are born to serve in Parliament just like the royals are born to rule in Buckingham Palace?” asked someone who had so far remained quiet.
“Partially…perhaps I can explain. Our House of Commons is the lower house of government, elected by our citizens. It proposes legislation, which only becomes law if the House of Lords gives its stamp of approval. To serve in this upper house you must be titled either through noble birth or deigned so by the Queen.”
“I think some American senators think they were born to rule forever. They forget we overthrew King George to get rid of such thinking,” said a lady rider midway the upper deck.
“Now, now,” said Cash, patting the lady’s arm. “We’re guests here and mustn’t insult our host.”
“At the end of the Parliament Building is Big Ben. He is aligned perfectly with Greenwich Mean Time, the standard by which the world sets it watch. As we travel over Westminster Bridge, I want you to look back quickly and catch my favorite view of Parliament. The complex looks much more expansive, even dramatic from the riverside.
“I highly recommend you take Gray Line’s night boat tour with dinner and dancing under lots of twinkling lights. Everything looks more majestic at night. Now, we are crossing the Thames, the longest river in England. I suspect it is the only English river any foreigner can name other than the Avon that runs through Stratford where William Shakespeare was reputedly born.”
“This side of the river is called Waterloo, but we’ll soon double back across the river on—”
“London Bridge?” asked one of the very verbal tourists.
“No, beyond that. To clarify history, there has always been a crossing called London Bridge. However, I can assure you, it is not ‘falling down.’ Everyone expects to see the story book version, but actually that is known as the Tower Bridge because it is so close to the Tower of London.”
The bus meandered close to the river, and then went across the picturesque medieval Tower Bridge every kid has dreamed about. Questions and comments rippled through the tourists:
“Did you ever hear of the Tower Bridge?”
“I think the guide has it all wrong.”
“The world knows this is London Bridge…falling down…falling down.”
The morning dragged on. When the driver paused at the Tower of London, Terrence recommended it worthy of a thorough visit. “Have no fear of being imprisoned or executed…unless you’re a political adviser or wife of Henry VIII.”
The busload chuckled. Cash felt a low chortle bubbling up in him. “So, what’s next? We’ve been to Waterloo. Aren’t we going to see Lord Nelson celebrate that victory?”
“Well, in a way. We’re headed to Trafalgar Square where Nelson died,” said the guide.
“Wasn’t it at Waterloo where Lord Nelson defeated Napoleon?” asked Cash.
“Oh, no…well yes…well sort of,” replied the guide. “Napoleon got defeated on land at a place called Waterloo in Belgian, not here in London and not directly by Lord Nelson. However, our glorious naval strategist Nelson did defeat Napoleon and his navies several other times…in Egypt and Copenhagen. The English navy simply had superior tactics and better-trained troops than anyone else on the sea.”
Traffic had turned onto Trafalgar Square. Like a five-points intersection, many streets joined. In the center, a statue of Lord Nelson ruled over a few ponds with fountains. Impressive government-style buildings surrounded the area.
A logjam of traffic forced the tour bus to pause unwillingly. The passengers craned their necks to take in this famous historical spot. Cash decided it deserved a second look later. When the bus headed for Piccadilly Circus, a few children on board got excited and asked, “Can we see the clowns from the bus?”
The tour guide chuckled. “London can be confusing with names for places which seem to make no sense. For instance, there is no hay in Haymarket, no flowered paths in Covent Garden, no lawyers at Royal Court, and absolutely no clowns in Piccadilly Circus.”
Patient parents tried to explain the name meant a circle where many streets converged like a roundabout. Around the circus lay a cornucopia of shops and bright signs, in fact the wildest, craziest, and busiest signs imaginable.
“This end of Piccadilly deserves a night tour. All the neon lights and mod clothes seen here are absolutely dizzying. We are also now in the heart of the West End Theatre District so you might want to take in a play or two. Theatre doesn’t get any better than in London. William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and Noel Coward all operated here at one time.
“There’s something for every taste. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is the longest running play here and remains a bit of fun if you like mystery. Also, may I recommend the current offering at Piccadilly Theatre behind the Circus? Starting this weekend, there is an extended engagement of Man of La Mancha with Richard Kiley playing Don Quixote, the role he created on New York’s Broadway.”
Since Lionel had not told Ima the bad news of his losing the lead part, she looked at Cash and said, “Something’s wrong. Kiley left, and Lionel was to take over.”
“Maybe the tour guide has old information. Why not we get off here, walk to the theatre, and see if we can take your father to lunch,” suggested Cash.

Today, I sent the manuscript for IMASODE VIII: Aunt Lottie’s London to the publisher. Still, I thought readers might like a preview. The book will be out in Spring 2016, so look for it then.

Do the issues from my junior & senior high school days differ from those of today?

Although the tag junior high school has morphed into a grade-rearranging-designation called middle school, the scary issues of those years may have gone unchanged, unresolved, and even intensified. Perhaps the lingo and reactions appear different, but early adolescent emotions still run high, especially in 8th grade, the year when kids seem to go bad. Although many believe that officials added the 12th grade to lengthen secondary education, they actually inserted the 8th grade in the 1930s. Yet the curriculum of that grade has always seemed weak, even made up.

For me, junior high demanded the hard work of balancing my persona with my integrity and dignity. No easy task there, right! Looking back on that period, I believe that stage of schooling resembled “realistic life” more than the “hurrah” of high school. It seemed intentionally designed to present lots of challenges but offered few programs to “help” us kids negotiate the maturing process. Perhaps adults employed the swim or sink philosophy!

Powers have unwittingly sexualized the delicate period of early teenhood. For us, the mention of “sex” came from a film in PE class or caused tittering from a nasty joke told in the bathroom. But of course such anecdotes seem old hat because being “kuhl” trumps all other matters. Sadly, “sex”has become not only the focus of discussion in classes from English to social studies but also experimented with in the bathrooms.

However, I remember more innocent times that offered positive growth. At 12, I saw my  insufficient reading comprehension skill kept me from good grades in social studies. That shock made me change how I studied. My first intellectual spurt began at 13 when I got a typewriter for Christmas. While learning the keyboard, I outlined the history of WWI and the Depression for my American History class taught by Miss Goodnight. I did not realize that my history outline had impressed her. I thought she didn’t like me because sometimes I dared to disagree with her. Five years later, she invited me to her Garden Club’s luncheon and handed me a $250 scholarship which in those days bought a trunk load of college textbooks. One never knows who is championing your development.


In 9th grade a shot of integrity hit me. I vowed never again to let anyone copy my homework or look over my shoulder during tests. I got kicked out of World History class for twice mentioning how God imprinted history. What a shock I got for standing up for my beliefs. That helped me beyond measure. I realized I might lock horns with unjust authority but would need to temper my times of resistance.

During that time, I stopped lumping kids into groups. Some popular kids were quite decent; others were simply weak get-along-at all-cost types. Strangely, I came to see popularity as envy, not as an evil altar upon which to sacrifice myself. Wanting popularity created an adolescent, altered-state-of-consciousness, a stage that I figured I would outgrow once I found out the value of the “real” me.

Simultaneously good things began to happen. A teacher cast me as the lead in my first play. I learned to like dancing with a boy…instead of pinning his shoulders to the ground to show my wrestling prowess. I began to pitch softball for two different teams and got accolades. When our student council bought a jukebox for the lunchroom, I got to monitor what records to play. Ah sweet tyranny! Good grades made for unusual rewards.

I recall great fun when our Spanish classes had a talent show. A friend and I did a parody of Homer and Jethro’s “Doing the Mambo.” Thank heavens, we preceded Virginia Flores and her authentic group that did the Mexican Hat Dance. No one dared to make a prejudiced comment when humbled by their expertise. Besides 40% of 9th grade class was Latino.

Junior high seem good training for the next stage of educaton. Upon entering high school at 15, I joined the debate team to argue that year’s resolution about Federal Aid to Education…an early drive to create student and school dependency on government. That same year I read The Communist Manifesto, a treatise that made me see the insidious nature of an obtuse, political philosophy.  Although our coach was extremely liberal, she let us devise our own cases which ended up being quite conservative. Being the only girl on the team, I had to participate in boys’ debate. My first debate was against the son of our city’s mayor. He called me a harbor-rat because I came from the poorer side of town. Although losing that debate, something inside said his personal attack was meant to throw me of balance. However, I saw that tangent did not address the debate issue nor advance his argument.

Many years later he ran for mayor himself. Attending a campaign event, I teased him for his rash assessment of me. We had a good laugh. Unfortunately, he was seriously maligned while in office to the point where he had to resign. Again, one never knows what negative events in your life or people sent to discourage you, actually bring wisdom. Lately, I have been quite surprised to hear Glenn Beck, a man often maligned, summarize similar tenets of “being strong” in the face of criticism.

To this day I believe some of my conclusions learned in debate came from my faith, a strong family, hours of studying at the  university libraries, and reading weekly news magazines. Also I was privileged to have mostly tough teachers who let me speak my mind without threatening to lower my grade average. Ah sweet freedom of speech!

Tenets learned at age 15 can last forever:

1. Pacifism lifts its head in difficult times, but human nature makes it an unworkable idea
2. Leaders like Woodrow Wilson loved the idea of a League of Nations but had his own agenda
3. Some American leaders are as impure as those we fear abroad. Citizens need to use discernment
4. Versailles Treaty cut Germany’s defenses, sending it into the arms of Hitler, a false messiah

5. In hard times, governments can’t resist expanding their power with or without voters’  permission.
6. When people feel oppressed, they let government make decisions that end up oppressing them more.
7. Governments are usually run by those no smarter than ordinary citizens.

Although my teenage-hood taught me to survive, I had a dreadful awakening that took years to accept:some kids didn’t want to learn, liked being bad, and got in trouble on purpose.

That unwelcome epiphany guided me to form the theme that underpins The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple: “You don’t have to be perfect to find effective answers to problems. So, trust your instincts in choosing companions or prepare to pay the price of fighting lots of alligators in the swamps of life.”

Will Changing Remedial Classes Bring Victory?

My graduate advisor warned me that teaching developmental English would affect my own writing and spelling. Later on I understood his point when I constantly had to look up words I had known forever. It grew harder and harder to read the daily fare of inane sentences: “The worst/best thing happin to myself was bacuz I have a abortion.” “My baby be the worst/best thing in my live.” “Me and my friends went to the mall to hang out.” “I saw sum cool close their in the stor winders.” “Last weekend, me and my friends partied but while their having fun, I know I should of studied, but its my weekend time to party.” My brain screamed with the conjugation of “I party, you party, he/she/it parties, we party, they party.”

Wondering how these remedial classes could ever solve the educational problems of these students, no matter how hard they or their teachers tried, I visited with the college’s president who had written the English developmental series we used. When I related how often I graded papers into the wee morning hours, trying to figure out a paper’s unusual syntax or to show ways a student might express his idea more clearly, he smiled and commiserated. I joked about making less than minimum wage by probably spending more time on each essay than the original writer had.

Seeking answers how to improve my classes, I returned to read several articles written by my writing guru Mina Shaughnessy. She believed that teachers needed to change, not students. Her philosophy haunted me and drove me to rework my assignments so the lesson sub-sections (Objective, Task Explanation, Grammar Skills, Practical Exercises, and Writing Assignments) would appear in the same format but would relate to different rhetorical styles. Only a few grasped this as a guide to follow as we approached each new assignment.

With many African American students in class, I read passages from Richard Wright’s Black Boy. to show how an expert writer used poor grammar and lower case letters as a vehicle to double the impact of his personal struggle. We discussed reasons why this helped Wright’s effectiveness but would not prove a successful way to communicate in business. The consistent misuse of “we be; he be” in papers led me to read passages from Shakespeare to build students’ self-esteem and understanding of why this verbiage might still persist. We discussed how slaves in the early 1600s were forbidden to talk outside their homes. Since they only heard their masters speak with fading British accents and subjunctive conjugations, slaves had little chance to practice the evolving American English. With that explanation, I still saw little obvious understanding in the affected students.

Because I had taught nonformal drama classes in community centers, and public housing filled with African-Americans and Latinos who learned quickly, I knew ethnicity had not caused the shape of the current pool of students. My young adult and nontraditional students had high interest in going to college but carried deep academic deficiencies. With critical thinking skills, study habits, and readiness seriously waning, they needed major intellectual reawakening to gain success in a classroom, much less transferable knowledge for a job.

The call for success, for which these students so longed and society had so whetted their appetites, had neglected to stress personal preparation and involvement required to win such success: persistence, discipline, hard work, daily attendance, and repair time. These omissions almost unwittingly created an illusion that education dropped from the sky and could answer all of life’s questions. I recognized that courses of study not attacked with determination or taken only to satisfy personal curiosity do not necessarily lead to future employment which was the bottom line for most of my students.

As far back as 1970 and in my own state in the 1990s, state governments began to legislate that everyone deserved a chance to go to college. However, equality of opportunity did not bring equal motivation, interest, energy, or output. Institutions geared up to handle the influx and to help prepare unaware young adults and nontraditional applicants for the rigors of higher education. These applicants often had no personal reasons to pursue this route but felt somehow obligated to apply. We sadly tagged this group, the 3Cs: folks with Checkbooks, Children, but no Clue to why they had come.

Despite our holistic evaluation process, ample curricular materials written or computerized, a well-trained teaching staff, and an enviable learning resource center with a director at the forefront of adult education, the task loomed large. If these students were not placed in basic skills training, we were charged with bringing them up to the 9th grade in a term of lower developmental English and then to the 12th grade level in the next term.

However, we had to get realistic about our own goals. The skills to do basic research and nuanced rhetoric needed to write papers for subjects outside one’s major (e.g. history, psychology, education, nursing) took these remedial students several semesters to acquire and master. Those who did not drop out often took two years to pass developmental courses. When we got reports that some had filled out employment forms and checked the box for two years of college (though they had only repeated remedial classes that long), it was obvious critical thinking had not yet germinated in students, even in our excellent program.

From sheer observation, we learned that students had to find inner reasons to buy an alarm clock, show up for class, think about their futures, master assignments, stay out of jail, forego funerals of distant relatives, and restudy subjects they often felt too elementary for their now maturer position in life. A sidebar: While in graduate school and doing research for an article on our state’s mandate for open college admission, I found students at a regional community college calling developmental courses, “Dummy English.” This mocking of the course I planned to teach, came primarily from white students and spread like wildfire in the area, discouraging students and teachers alike.

On the other hand, instead of showing disdain or resentment, some young Black adults in our community experienced strong cultural cynicism toward continuing their education. Typical case in point: A young mother wanted to register at our college and mentioned her plan to a neighbor who instantly shamed her for wanting to leave her baby just to take classes. Since her child served as the main motivation to better herself, the student went to register anyway. While waiting, she saw the same neighbor ahead in the line. That young mother landed in my class and by midterm wrote an insightful paper analyzing the transaction with her neighbor, concluding, “She didn’t want me to get ahead. That’s how we keep each other down.” Her unabashed candor showed her growth in wisdom and skill in using a rhetorical rule: Write through to the truth! Though she got a D for technical proficiency, she earned an A for content. A rare success for us both!

Another prime example of cultural bias came in a college sponsored women’s workshop. A newspaper editor told of a girl who resisted a boy’s flirtation by saying: “Don’t blow in my ear. I want to go to college.” Smart girl!

What’s Going On?

With the best of secondary programs, many states annually report high rates of graduating seniors still needing at least one developmental/remedial class before matriculating credit courses. Depending on the source, statistics vary from 20% at university to 60% at community colleges with 46% to 28% of those respectively finishing a degree or certificate. We have heard excuses, blame, and analysis; but something still seems dreadfully wrong. Although I agree with Proverbs 15:1a, “ A soft answer turneth away wrath,” some hard facts on how remediation of students has not worked on many levels, need almost ruthless scrutiny and challenge. I recently reread another old article by Mina Shaughnessy and decided a soft answer differs from a soft heart that keeps apologizing for our system’s failure. Who doesn’t feel dreadful about the seeming, insidious disease that has infected education?

Yet, constant tweaking it has not cured it. Lowering standards, framing greater remedial programs, and finding teachers trained to handle this malady, have all been proposed and tried. To prevent the negative graduation fallout, secondary education experts have returned to the drawing boards ad nauseum but continue to generate less than promising results. Each summer, supervisors and department heads far removed from the classroom devise clever acronyms for failed concepts or recommend comprehensive changes that will take years to implement.

Each fall, teachers jump through hoops to satisfy curriculum designers. Experts tout the answer of more test-prep which has yet to deliver the goods. A school year comes and goes. Children absorb the professional frustration of their teachers and waste months in test-prep instead of learning precepts needed for their futures, especially equipping them for higher education.

That leaves Adult Education to pick up the pieces, the field to deal with the wrung-out products of worn-out teachers. With all the money spent on education, schools dare not congratulate themselves over so many secondary students in dropout mode and college freshmen in remediation? These low performers have grim prospects except for menial jobs because employers have grown tired of hiring employees who cannot proficiently read manuals or adequately write end-of-shift reports. If we cannot agree on a view of such issues, how do we dream of a solution or of how to train future applicants for evermore complex jobs?

This conundrum has led the idealist to theorize endlessly or the procrastinator to freeze, waiting for the perfect idea with perfect content and perfect process. Thus, many who write procedures loyally plod on in a pet direction that only repeats blind failure, a result as hopeless in bringing concrete success as does constant, unnerving change.

Some tough issues to air on a practical level

It seems the more education ponders itself, the more it over-thinks the present goals and undervalues past avenues to success. I graduated in my class with 40% Latinos. By the end of the 1960s, I had African American friends, cohorts, teachers, and bosses. After such strides of minorities integrating into the mainstream, something began to deteriorate their hard-won success. Getting political or spiritual here might only anger readers. Suffice it to say, having lived through this demise, I am clear on why it happened and often hold my breath waiting for the other shoe to drop before common sense returns to schools.

These unheeded, urgent facts trumpet why America falls behind. Clinging to teach-to-test policies, allowing social promotion, and skewing grades to boost self-esteem have all backfired. Must education stick with research claims that remain a variation on the theme that Ben Yagoda used in a different context but fits here: “keeping useless things and discarding useful ones”?

Lowering standards may improve the ostensible statistics but not our nation’s educational product. While acknowledging that adult education departments often field fragile populations that have suffered various levels of unfairness, perhaps it’s time for us all to forget our sad stories (unless the world wants a list of mine to put us all on an even playing field). Instead of insisting that students of elementary, secondary, and post secondary institutions first understand our language, geography, history, politics, or economics, they are given a curricula laced with sociology that rehashes society ills, abuses, and victims.

If I had been given a steady diet of reading about the tragedies surrounding me before I had my bearings and equipment to handle them, even vicariously, I could have never pushed through to success or happiness. We could apply the wise principle that pruning branches promotes stronger plants, to curbing the early and constant study of societal ills. It defies logic to expect ill equipped people to solve the mammoth problems in society. Doing just that now for decades has overwhelmed the same population needing to be equipped. It has sent them into apathy, overwhelm, desperation, or the arms of social saviors and revolution fomenters.

In my opinion, to send students out into the broader world without even basic skills is a far worse travesty than back-stepping through injustices that we know are slow to cure, reiterate the obvious, and often inflame societal discontent. In grad school I felt shocked that one third of the students pursued master’s in counseling programs. I remember commenting, “Are we gearing up for a sick society?” Well, we’re there now: our society is having a nervous breakdown.

This may sound harsh! No one seems to say hard truths anymore or wants to call balls, strikes and fouls accurately. Much current social learning indoctrinates the less sophisticated and squanders their valuable readiness time. Once students have sufficient proficiency in reading and gleaning from a breadth of sources, they are free and ready to move the focus from their own goals onto critical matters. Or if they so choose, they can go from 0-100 mph in their own field of interest. My music teacher often said, “Your talent takes you as far as your interest, and vice versa.” I would reword the phrase to say to remedial students, “Your ability can take you as far as your persistence, and vice versa.”

Adding to all these suppositions, I believe state governments (and now the federal one too) have courted too many unprepared and uninformed people to seek higher education, making it appear as a panacea. From my own experience, I think many of these college hopefuls need directing toward the trades and jobs that can satisfy both personally and economically. Despite having two master’s degrees, I supplemented my teaching income by practicing a trade. If the truth be known, most office workers never earn the personal satisfaction and economic remuneration that tradesmen, journeymen, and craftsmen do.

Reviving the Teacher

Something is dreadfully wrong. Teachers have better training, higher salaries, oft-researched methods, and prescribed curricula but still cannot reverse persistently poor outcomes. Current results may defeat teachers’ valiant efforts but, in my opinion, should indict public and university education departments for their continued pedagogical experiments on each new generation, experiments which never seems to work corporately.

With restored autonomy, teachers might function better without constant advice and re-education. Teachers don’t need more ideas; they have little time to employ the ones they already have. When choosing to teach, they telegraphed their love of young people and their enthusiasm to learn how to teach them. But constant changes of curricula and techniques can smother that fragile enthusiasm.

If left alone, I believe primary/secondary/college teachers can transmit useful knowledge to form successful human beings even if the classroom lacks the latest technology or color-coordinated materials.

Being in a peculiar position to know which students to prod, encourage, or leave alone, real teachers practice an artful alchemy that awakens students to a lifelong love of learning. But if required to follow the latest research, teachers swallow their own instructional wisdom which damages their relational matrix with students. Demoted, the room’s captain has no proven map of uncharted waters and watches the ship founder on shoals of reality.

Frankly put, not all teachers chose teaching to be automatons or do social work, especially as standards, expectations, and discipline decrease. Some just quit for a more decent way to spend their lives. One teacher said she would retire from teaching when the crack babies hit her school or if forced to go to a low-performing school. She contended that someone had to groom the top kids as well. A long-time, tenured teacher friend of mine had a student come at her with brass knuckles. When the lenient vice-principal sided with the student, she left the classroom that day and became a truant officer, a reality-check job.

I recall a similar aggressive attempt on me by a rough female student. The next term, she registered for my upper developmental class. I said, “But you hate me,” to which she replied, “Yeh, but I learn lots from you.” Encouraged, I hung on for a few more years. When I had seniors just about to be certified as teachers, they said I was too hard. I responded, “Don’t you want an instructor for nursing students to be hard and insist they practice giving shots in an orange until they can do it perfectly?” They had no comeback except to complain to my dean. My heart hurt for them and their future students.

No wonder teachers elect to leave the classroom to climb a career ladder, out of the mire and onto the prestige of doing research, or so-called. The system of education now facilitates that. Instead of wanting people with a “calling” to teach, educational departments and districts have switched to enticing candidates into teaching by offering a “career ladder.” Candidates who bite must prove their worth by studying a “gnat’s hair” issue, perpetuating the myth of real research, and publishing their nonsense in order to get a better grade, a better teaching job, or a better promotion. Shallow research to get out of the classroom cannot satisfy as lifelong commitment to the classroom can.

 Research of Minor Topics

I have read or listened to research by graduate students who climbed the first rung of the career ladder by seeking advanced degrees based on a thesis or study of a dozen people. Too often such narrow papers blithely conclude that more study is needed, as if time and money had no limit. In the meantime, those being studied and hoping for applied results, continue lives on a fault line. This type of so-called advanced research, I find embarrassing. As a former writing teacher, I find such reports prove painful and almost unreadable in style. They use long noun phrases to announce their topics and must use interruptive documentation that defeats the flow of the logic.

My undergraduate thesis took extended involvement with 6 blocks in a totally Black neighborhood scheduled for relocation by an urban renewal project. To satisfy the thesis requirements, my cohort and I had to do continual primary research with the residents to calculate the residents’ financial and human cost. The study took a year of research methods: planning, polishing a questionnaire, mailing100+ copies of these inquiries to residents, correlating answers in the 50+ returned responses, interviewing those families before-and-after their moves, and dealing with the fallout of mostly older people dispersed randomly to available houses around the city. Sadly, no convenient place existed to regroup that many families, so the residents were located far away from the lifelong support of their next door neighbors. That was an undergraduate study.

For years, university education departments have researched every nuance of pre-school to post-graduate levels. Yet our national statistics still show dismal overall results. It is like the adage, “Motion does not equal action.” It seems universities are content to have a steady flow of tuition-paying, undergraduate students who plan to teach. Unfortunately, many leave the toughness of the classroom and return for graduate degrees to be supervisors, counselors, curriculum designers, or regulation writers. Once gaining those positions, few want to give up the prestige or pay. Educational departments or school district offices now bloat with a distant, elite stratum that goes to meetings to devise constant change that only burdens the average teacher trying to inspire unmotivated, unprepared, undisciplined, or even unruly students to learn enough to pass to the next grade.

A Glaring Truth

Some bold people strike out on independent paths rather than fight the albatross choking education. Others amazingly work within the tight fishnet to prevent students and teachers from slipping through. A brave principal in a Houston elementary did consult ample research but did what his gut told him. He began simply, first by introducing uniforms and standing at the door to greet students as they filed in every morning. Such courtesy formed within the school a new level of respect for others. Student self-discipline and eagerness to learn vibrated in the building. Student grades went up. Pride in the school glowed. Success and self-esteem came as byproducts.

My forever contention remains, boundaries help! Some old ways of discipline can work powerfully. I have long had this personal belief: “Giving a budding artist the canvas edges in which to express his idea can extrude far greater creativity than giving him a wall to draw on before he’s acquired the skill to do a mural.”