Celebrating with Eau de Tap

0.0000704225353521126761 cents per word. More or less.

Amazon pays bonuses to authors who publish their books on Vella. The amount depends on the number of pages read. I just received a notice about my May 2022 bonus. Ten dollars! Woo-hoo! For a book that’s about 140k long.

How shall I spend this windfall? Go to Bali? Go to Capri? Buy an original Van Gogh?

Can’t even afford a glass.

This is not the first bonus I’ve received. It’s just the smallest one because someone read seventy-nine pages of my book. I received bigger monthly bonuses when my kind cousin-in-law, and maybe somebody else, was reading A Home for an Exile’s Heart. I think the highest bonus I got was sixty bucks.

Mostly, it’s my own fault. I haven’t done enough to publicize my novel. My efforts have been pretty sporadic at best. I don’t want to do PR. I want to write but when you self-publish, you don’t have much choice. Even traditionally published authors have to do a lot of their own book promotions. Fortunately, I just found out that one of my friends on Facebook publicizes books on her site. She urged me to send her a blurb and a link to A Home for an Exile’s Hearts Vella page. I did so but I don’t know what she will do or when. I’d love to leave it all in her hands but I’ll have to do my own PR, too.

When you self-publish, you also have to design your own cover. Even with millions of stock photos available for free, it’s hard to find exactly the right one. On a $0.00 budget, I had to settle for “close enough” images.

This was my first choice. My main character, Līvija (Lee-vee-ya) Galiņa (Guh-lyñ-ah) an exile from the Soviet invasion of Latvia in 1944, is walking home from work on the snowy evening the day after Thanksgiving, 1952. Even without houses, this scene could pass for a street on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. There’s a park on the hill so she could be walking past it. However, this image was too small and busy to look like anything but a vague mess in the cameo frame it has to fit into on Vella. I had to find a more simple image.

Courtship is a dance of love, intriguing and seductive. In one chapter my characters, Līvija and her hero, Cameron Quinn, a former fighter pilot who saves her from an out-of-control car on that snowy night, dance the tango.

Not a perfect match but it will have to do.

One of these days, I will have to turn my novel into a paperback. More nitpicky work I’d rather not do but I don’t have much choice. I have to wait for my book to have been available on Vella for thirty days before I can offer it as a paperback. When will that be? Who knows? I have yet to finish revising the last chapter in order to publish it. Since so few people have been reading Exile I haven’t been motivated to wrap up that final chapter.

The last chapter may not be ready to go, but I have a tentative design for the cover.

If only I were an artist, too.

It’s time to stop lollygagging and finish that chapter, publish it, and start publicizing my book. Writing it was a labor of love but it was hard work nevertheless. I can’t let it all go to waste.

World Refugee Day

My family and I were refugees from Soviet Russia’s invasion of my parents’ homeland Latvia. My heart goes out to all refugees, particularly those who have had to flee from Ukraine because of the invasion of their homeland. Very little has changed in the last 78 years. For that matter, too little has changed since the Bolshevik Revolution that happened in Russia in 1917. Different dictator, same brutality.

This poem, by Latvian poet, Velta Toma (1912 – 1999) speaks to the soul of a Latvian refugee. To refugees anywhere.

This diaspora happened in the same year Ms. Toma composed her poem.

This is the fate from which Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians fled three years later. Germans drive the Red Army out in 1941 but the Reds invaded again in October of 1944,

Aiz manis tumsā zūd ceļi,
deg mājas, un sagrūst tilts.
un visi dzīvie kļūst veļi.

Kā vēju vajāta smilts
es klīstu pa svešām vietām
bez darba, dusas un cilts. 

                    - Velta Toma, (1944)

The translation is my own. 


Behind me, the road fades into darkness,
my home burns, the bridge collapses
And all we living become ghosts.

Like a wind-driven grain of sand
I drift through foreign lands
without work, without rest,without kin.

An Explosive Anniversary

On May 18, 1980, after two months of earthquakes and steam blasts, Mt. St. Helens in Washington state, USA, erupted at 8:32 on a Sunday morning. The eruption spewed ash 80,000 feet (24 km; 15 mi) into the atmosphere. The eruption went on for nine hours and reduced the height of the mountain by 1400 ft. (426.72 m) The ash was deposited in over eleven states as well as parts of Canada. I was 156 miles (approx. 251 km) north of the mountain. Since it was the weekend, I was sleeping in and knew nothing of the eruption until much later. In my area, all we got was a light layer of ash on our cars. The mountain exploded laterally so Eastern Washington got the worst of it.

Mt. St. Helens on May 18, 1980

But this isn’t an article about the eruption, the lives it took, or the damage it did. I’ve blogged during other Mays but have never felt inspired to write about the eruption. It seemed that everybody already knew about what happened or if they didn’t would learn about it every year in the days leading up to the anniversary.

What inspired this post was a comment by someone on social media about Harry R. Truman who lived with St. Helens for 52 years during which time he owned and ran the Mt. St. Helens Lodge. When it became apparent that the volcano would erupt local officials tried to evacuate Harry. The old man refused to leave. He was one of the more than fifty people the eruption killed. The woman on social media called Harry a science denier. So, I have to defend Harry. He was a rascal and an independent old coot but even though I never knew him, I have no doubt that he never questioned that the volcano would erupt. The huge bulge in its north side would have been a major clue even if the earthquakes and steam eruptions hadn’t been.

Harry R. Truman.

Even though I’m only speculating, I can understand why Harry refused to leave his beloved mountain. He was 84 years old, twice divorced, and once widowed. He had only one child. He’d lead an unconventional, independent life. He was a WW 1 veteran having served in France. On the way to Europe, his troopship was sunk by a U boat. Later in life, he was a bootlegger, a poacher, and a thief who stole gravel from the Forest Service and fished on Native American land with a bogus license. He was never caught in any of these acts. Before moving to the mountain he ran a service station. Though he may have been a rogue, I seriously doubt that he was a fool.

Mt. St. Helens and Spirit Lakve beore the eruption.

I can’t blame Harry for not wanting to leave this gorgeous area or live to see the devastation he must have known the eruption would cause to the splendid place where he’d spent more than half his life there.

Harry wasn’t fond of old people. I’m sure he’d rather have this guy for a neighbor.

At his age what would Harry have done and where would he have gone if he left his home? Give up his cantankerous independence? Go to a nursing home? Become a burden on his only child? Sit around and rock, waiting to die? The mountain was his life. Better to make a spectacular exit than to give up the only life he’d known for fifty-two years.

I hope Harry was sitting on the porch of his lodge, drinking his favorite cocktail, whisky and Coke when the mountain blew.

The death toll isn’t certain. A couple of people were reported missing but turned up alive. It’s not certain if the people who were found later were the missing individuals or people with the same name.

White Tablecloth Festival: Celebraint Lativa’s 2nd Independence Day.

(Thank you to my friend for allowing me to use her photos. She prefers to remain anonymous. You know who you are)

On May 4th, 1990 the Supreme Council of the Latvian SSR adopted a resolution “On the Restoration of the Independence of the Republic of Latvia”, turning a new white page in the history of Latvia. The White Tablecloth Festival celebrates the anniversary of Latvia’s renewed independence after decades under Soviet rule.

A clean new page is understandable but why a white tablecloth? The cloth was chosen as a symbol of national pride, unity, and self-confidence. On feast days tables are traditionally set with a white linen tablecloth. Latvian friends, neighbors, and families all over the world, those in Latvia and the Latvians of the Diaspora in their adopted homelands are encouraged to gather together as one family to celebrate Latvia’s renewed independence with reverence and joy.

The white tablecloth also symbolizes that Latvia’s break with the Soviet Union was achieved relatively peacefully through diplomacy with the occupying power.

Except for social media I’ve been out of touch with my local Latvian community. I’m not even sure if they’ve adopted the White Tablecloth Festival. I learned about it just the other day when a friend in Ohio shared photos of her Latvian community’s celebration of this anniversary.

It’s about time more attention was paid to this important holiday which usually gets little notice compared to Latvia’s original Independence Day. November 18th has been celebrated by Latvian exiles in their new countries. During the years of Soviet occupation, such a celebration was illegal in Latvia.

Buffet at the Latvian Center in Cleveland.

Whenever Latvians gather to celebrate there is always lots of food. On this special occasion in Cleveland, there were also speeches (hardly a unique occurrence) recitations of poetry, shared memories, and stories about what it means to be a Latvian. They also saw a video about the dedication of a monument to a Latvian freedom activist who died shortly before renewed independence became a reality.

Intricate drawnwork (Dresden work) embroidery.

The day before the party participants were invited to bring heirloom tablecloths that were handmade by their mothers and grandmothers to be displayed on the walls of the Latvian Center.

Crewel embroidery on a linen tablecloth.
Textile works of art. Some might even have been brought along when fleeing from the Soviet invasion of Latvia in 1944.

Of course, human nature being what it is, especially Latvian human nature, not everyone is eager to embrace the White Tablecloth Festival. Some people think it’s silly because white tablecloths are used for every celebration that involves feasting (all of them) Others prefer the name Renewal of Independence Day. I think White Tablecloth Festival is more of an attention grabber.

Glory to Latvia!

Whatever it’s called, May 4th is a day to celebrate the restorations of freedom.

As we celebrate we are all hoping that there will soon be a day for Ukraine to celebrate renewed peace and freedom.

Glory to Ukraine!

To clarify any misunderstanding. I am not collecting money for Ukraine. I prefer to leave that to long-established and respected organizations such as CARE, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, and other charities. The donations are compensation for me for my work on the blog, researching, writing, and illustrating. I apologize for not making this clear.


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Song on May Morning

We’ve had the third coldest April in forty-five years in my little corner of the world. The thirteenth coldest since records have been kept. On the fourteenth snow came down thick and fast for maybe a half-hour. It even stuck to the grass. Then it was over as if it had never happened. Usually, the Pacific’s breath keeps our climate mild, even in mid-winter but this isn’t the first time it snowed in May.

We’re all hoping that May will be more like the month described in John Milton’s poem.

The pale primrose stopped blooming weeks ago.

John Milton – 1608-1674

Now the bright morning Star, Dayes harbinger,
  Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
  The Flowry May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose.
  Hail bounteous May that dost inspire 
  Mirth and youth, and warm desire,
  Woods and Groves, are of thy dressing,
  Hill and Dale, doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early Song,
And welcom thee, and wish thee long.

Cowslip, not cow’s lip. A European flower of the primula family.

Happy May Day!

In 1889 labor activists turned May Day turned into Labor Day in some parts of the world to commemorate the Haymarket riot in Chicago. It was a terrible event but I wish they’d left the joyous celebration of Floralia, to honor Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers alone, and been content to commemorate workers on the first Monday in September. I guess American influence has its limits.

May Pole

May first was once considered to be the beginning of summer. A time to dance around the May Pole and for children to surprise friends by bringing them flower baskets, leaving them at the door or hanging them on the doorknob, knocking or ringing the bell, and running away. What a lovely surprise for the recipient.

Lilies of the Valley


WIPs: Too Much of a Good Thing.

& A Sneak Preview

Writing doldrums can show up for any number of reasons. Sometimes because I have no idea what to write next. Sometimes because I have too many ideas and it’s hard to decide which one to work on next. Sometimes because I can’t imagine anyone wanting to read anything I write, not even the people who follow my blog.

Sometimes the ideas pop up like popcorn. Too many at once. Tasty tidbits along with some old maids.

My current issue that’s stymying me is having too many works in progress (WIPs) I have a magpie mind. I like the next shiny new thing. The next story or essay idea that I want to work on at the cost of other projects that are waiting to be completed. Too often I love my stories too much to want to let them go. I get persnickety and no matter how many times I’ve been over a manuscript, I keep finding new errors. I could go on editing forever.

I have a lot in common with this bird.

My three weightiest WIPs are my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart; a collection of essays from Come, Follow My Blog, titled, Latvian Lore, and a second collection of blog essays titled, Latvia, Despite the Soviets.

Even though none of these books is finished, a friend, who is also my writing mentor, has been helping me design covers for them. Colleen loves designing covers and has experience creating designs for many of her own traditionally published books. She loves helping people. She hasn’t said so but perhaps she also eagerly helps design covers for my self-published books in hopes of inspiring me to finish the darn things.

A Home for an Exile’s Heart. An earlier version that needs a bit of editing.

I thought A Home for an Exile’s Heart, my novel about Līvija Galiņa, a Latvian refugee who, with her family, flees her homeland when the Soviet army invades in 1944 and finds a new home and a new love-interest, former fighter pilot, Cameron Quinn in Seattle in 1952 was finished. I re-read the last chapter and decided that I don’t like it. Re-writing it has proven to be more of a hassle than I expected. Too sweet. It needed a touch of tartness. Just because it’s Christmas Eve doesn’t mean characters can put aside such strong emotions as jealousy and resentment. Yet, I don’t want to be heavy-handed. It’s a sticky wicket.

Latvian Lore is a collection of Latvian myths and traditions. The problem with that one is not having enough essays published in my blog to make a decent-sized book. I need to write and research more. There’s so much information to include that it’s hard to know what to include and what to leave out. I might even include family recipes. All that is to be decided later.

This is the photo I picked for the cover of Latvia, Despite the Soviets.

After A Home for an Exile’s Heart, the project that’s closest to completion is Latvia, Despite the Soviets, a memoir about a trip I took to Latvia for a Song and Dance Festival when it was still part of the Soviet Union. Some of the chapters are essays from Come, Follow My Blog, the rest is new material. I’ve also included chapters

to give my memoir historical context that some people may not be familiar with. I need to read my manuscript from start to finish to decide what needs rewriting, revising, and if I need to add new material. It is emotionally difficult material to write about. I need a break from it before continuing. 

So what did I do? I started a new story. Flash fiction that I want to submit to a literary magazine. Caw! Caw! Shiny new object! Let me add it to my collection of WIPs.

A Concert for Ukraine

Ukraine’s National flower

It’s been a month since Russia’s savage, brutal invasion of Ukraine. It strikes close to home because of Latvia’s history of invasion by the Soviet Union and nearly fifty years of occupation. And because Latvia also shares a border with Russia. Unlike Ukraine, Latvia is a member of both NATO and the European Union. It’s the same with the other Baltic States, Estonia and Lithuania. If Ukraine falls none of the countries in Eastern Europe can feel safe. Maybe not even the rest of Europe.

So many countries, so vulnerable.

All our hearts are broken. We can all too easily imagine what the Ukrainian people are going through. Our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents went through the same thing. We were robbed of our country and families who were unable to flee or who thought the Red Army would soon be driven out by the World War II Allies. Those who succeeded in escaping expected to be able to go back. They were mistaken. Nobody wanted to prolong the war.

I feel compelled to check on President Zelensky and to see how the Ukrainian people’s fierce resistance is going. I cry for them every day. So do many of my Latvian friends. Music tugs at our heartstrings, as music is meant to do.

This video shows a concert for Ukraine’s freedom that was held in Rīga, Latvia during the early days of the invasion. The song is called, “For the Country of My Birth” composed by a popular Latvian composer, Raimonds Pauls. Lyrics by Jānis Peters.

This song debuted in 1973 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first National Latvian Song and Dance Festival.

The lyrics reference the year 1905 when Russian army troops opened fire on demonstrators in Rīga killing seventy-three and injuring two hundred people.

The translation is my own. To me, the castle of light symbolizes hope.

Then came the fifth year, rain of blood fell
Destroying the tallest trees.
Let's become soldiers, our song will sow a storm.
Forever a castle of light rejoices from the hill.
The countries of Eastern and Northern Europe aren’t the only ones close to Russia. Alaska is 53 miles from Russia.

Looking for Latvian Roots?

Deciphering Latvian names

A small country with many regions.

This is not a lesson on how to do a genealogical search but the following information about Latvian names may be helpful in your search. Today’s post is longer than usual as the subject of Latvian names is pretty complicated. Don’t let that discourage you.

You most likely won’t find a family tree that looks like his. My cousin in Latvia sent me a family “tree.” It was just a list of names and relationships on my father’s side.

When Latvians emigrated to other countries, either they or immigration officials might have Anglicized their names. Some people, like my father, lopped a syllable or two off the family name long before he had to flee his homeland.

Today a woman from Australia was looking for relatives in Latvia and not having much luck. She had only a few names to go by. One of the people she was looking for was named Helmut. That’s an anglicized spelling. In his homeland, his name would be spelled, Helmuts.

The Latvian alphabet does not include the letter “W.” If you’re looking for someone with “W” in their name, try substituting “V.”

Men’s names, both first and last, have “-s,” “-is,” “-š,” or “-iš” as suffixes.

Women’s names, first and last, end with “-a” or “-e.” If she is using her father or husband’s name the suffix of her last name assumes the feminine ending. Which noun becomes the suffix depends on the spelling of the last name. If a last name ends with “-s” or “-š” the feminine suffix becomes an “-a.” Mr. Kalns’ wife or daughter’s last name is spelled Mrs. Kalna.

Most, but not all, married women in Latvia use their husband’s name.

If the man’s last name ends in “-is” or “-iš” the feminine version of the name ends with an “e.”  On the other hand, if the man’s last name ends with “-is” or “-iš” his wife or daughter’s last name is spelled with an “e” at the end. Mr. Cālītis’s daughter would be Miss. Cālīte. Latvians have no equivalent to Ms.

This is not a hard and fast rule regarding suffixes. Sometimes both the man and woman’s last name ends with a vowel as in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Timma.

A keyboard capable of inserting diacritical marks would be a timesaver.

Letters in the Latvian language have only one pronunciation, unless they are modified by a diacritical mark, which makes them critical (!) Search engines and genealogy sites may not find the correct name if the diacritical mark is missing. This is where Google comes in handy if you don’t have a keyboard with that function. Google has a version for the Latvian language, Google.lv. There’s a tiny icon of a keyboard in the search window, click on that and a larger version pops up which includes diacritical marks, click on the mark you need and the correct letter will show up in the search window. However, if the next letter in the word does not have a mark, be sure to close out the keyboard or you’ll get the wrong letter. The letters on the virtual keyboard are not in the same as on your real keyboard so it will take a bit of searching to find the right one.

The lady mentioned above was also looking for a relative whose name was Jacob. That’s an Anglicized spelling. The correct Latvian spelling is “Jēkabs” because in our language a “c” is never pronounced as if it were a “k.” The name Veronica is spelled, Veronika. A name like Veronica would be simple to change but figuring out the Latvian spelling of a name like Jacob can be a puzzler. If you don’t know the correct spelling of the name you’re looking for check an online Latvian Name Day calendar. You may have to go through all 365 days to find the right one.

Diminutives can also complicate your search. The suffix “-īte,” (pronounced “ee-teh”) is used with feminine nouns (all nouns have gender-specific suffixes) to show affection or small size. As Latvians say, “The smaller, the dearer.” Usually, such endings are not used for women’s first names. Except that sometimes they are.

Mārīte is the diminutive for the name Māra and is generally used as an endearment by family and friends, whether the female in question is a woman the size of a female sumo wrestler or girl, a tiny elfin creature. But some parents give their daughter the name Mārīte as her legal name, a permanent term of endearment. The diminutive for a woman named Sarma is Sarmīte. Both are used as legal first names. If you know of a relative named Sarmīte but can’t find her in any database with that name, try looking for Sarma instead. Bitīte in Latvian means “little bee” but I know of no woman named Bite (bee) That doesn’t mean some woman isn’t out there whose moniker is Bite. 

Men’s first names can also be turned into diminutives but I’ve never known of a man with a diminutive as his first name. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

The Latvian alphabet that is currently used is based on Latin orthography. However, if you’re searching for pre-1922 records they could well be written in German orthography which was used at the time.

Older records may be written in an alphabet that looks like this.

Not confused enough? The Latgallain (Latgale) dialect will remedy that. The Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais is from Latgale (Latgola) In standard Latvian, her last name would be spelled Apaļais. Unfortunately, I can’t offer much help if you’re looking for someone with roots in Latgale. Try to find someone from the region to help you, perhaps someone in a local library or on a Latgaliešu (Latgalian) social media group.

I hope I’ve succeeded in making your search for Latvian ancestors a little less confusing.


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Latvian Vocabulary: Bizdings

Being stalked online.

Bizdings is not a plural word. In Latvian plural suffixes are often the letter “i.” Zirgs, is a horse. Zirgi are two or more horses. But some plural words do end with an “s.” Māja is the word for house. Two houses are mājas. “Let’s go home is, “iesim mājās.” A diacritical mark is necessary on each letter “A” to indicate “to home.”

Bizdings galvā

Galva is the Latvian word for head.

Galvā, with the diacritical mark, means in the head. Or on the head.

Bizdings is exactly what it sounds like and is pronounced pretty much the same in English as in Latvian.

Something buzzy.
Something going ding-a-ling, on and on.

Bizdings galvā something buzzing and dinging in the head. In other words, a ding-a-ling. Nutty. A bit cracked.


I thought of the phrase bizdings galvā today because I was being stalked on a social media platform by a woman who had a headful of buzzy-ding-a-lings. She wanted to talk. She wanted to make friends. Even though I might chat with someone on the elevator or in the checkout line at the grocery store, I have little interest in talking to strangers. So we didn’t talk.

Ms. Bizdings and I had been friends for quite a while. I don’t remember for how long. She never posts anything that I’ve seen. She never comments on my posts. She wanted to talk one other time, a year, maybe two years ago. Or longer, for all I know. That’s how much she cared about being friends. Today she must have been off her meds.

Today the Bizdings woman didn’t give up so easily. When I asked what she wanted to talk about, she said she wanted to talk about “life.” I told her I’m not good at talking to strangers, that she should get to know me first by chatting on messenger. That wasn’t good enough for her. She called twice. I declined both calls. I told her she was being pushy. I had to translate the word, “uzbāzīga.” She agreed but kept persisting.

We’ve talked before, she claimed. Don’t you remember? No, because we’ve never talked. Oh, yes we have, she insisted. We talked about your novel. It’s about a pilot. Yes, there is a pilot in A Home for an Exile’s Heart, but my novel is not about him. He’s the love interest of my protagonist, a widowed Latvian refugee. That information is available on Twitter and in several Latvian Facebook groups. What must have seemed like the clincher, to prove we’d talked, she said she’d told me about the Latvian tradition of giving bouquets consisting of an odd number of flowers. Bouquets with even numbers of blossoms are only for funerals. Why she thought that was relevant to anything, I don’t know.

I didn’t count the flowers.

After admitting that she’s pushy, she gave me the thumbs up. I gave her the thumbs down. She thought that was rude. I unfriended her. Thank goodness she lives on the other side of the world.

This is what happens when we put ourselves out there on social media. I want people to read my book so I’m going to keep putting myself out there in hopes of attracting an audience.

I didn’t make a friend, but I got a blog post out of it. That’s something.

Ancient Latvian Folk Dress

From the 11th to the 14th centuries, CE.

The colorful folk costumes most Latvians are familiar with may seem to have been around forever, but they actually date back only as far as the 19th Century.

“Modern Latvian National Costumes”

Photos of archaeological folk costumes were used with permission from the Latvian National Cultural Center.

These are the garments worn by the peoples from the various tribes that came together to form modern Latvia. The folk costumes, decorations, and jewelry were recreated from fragments found in archeological digs. The clothing shown here is very similar to that worn by other Nordic people.

The word Nordic derives from “nord” meaning “north,” which would include the people of Northern Europe who live along the Baltic Sea.

I love the subtle colors of these costumes, especially the different shades of blue.

Map of Latvia’s different regions.

The regions of Latvia where these folk costumes were worn. Courland. Senigallia. Livonia. Vends, a county by the Venta River. Selonia. Latgalia.
11th Century Livonian (Lībiešu) folk dress.

The woman’s wool cloak is decorated with braided bands and fringe around the edges. She’s wearing a narrow belt that’s the precursor of elaborately woven modern belts of the 19th Century. On her belt, she is wearing small chains that hold tools, such as keys, sewing needles, and amulets. Modesty required that married women keep their hair covered. Rings were made of bronze or an alloy of lead and tin.

The information from the Cultural Center doesn’t specify how the blue color was achieved. However, it was most likely woad, Isatis tinctoria, which was used throughout Europe until the 17th Century. Crafters in our century also use dye from the Isatis tinctoria plant.

11th Century Livonian (Lībiešu) warrior’s tunic.

Decorations on men’s clothing are minimal, except for embroidery at the neckline which is fastened with the same style horseshoe-shaped brooch. He’s wearing a leather belt with a tooled scabbard for his dagger.

11th Century Livonian folk costume for a 2-3-year-old child.

Children were adorned with more jewelry and their clothes were more elaborately decorated than clothes for adults.

The mantle is studded with woven-in bronze studs. The linen shirt and wool shawl are fastened with horseshoe-shaped brooches, a design that is still used in Latvian jewelry. Her torc necklace is decorated with metal tassels that are used to this day in Latvian jewelry design. My mother once has a silver bracelet like the headband the model is wearing.

Unmarried women wear headbands or coronets of flowers, metal, or fabric that are embroidered and decorated with beads and crystals. Each region has its own characteristic designs.

An interpretation of a 12th-13th Century Couronian (Kuršu) simple and practical warriors clothing.

The outfit consists of a shirt, trousers, tunic, and cloak. In the days before buttons brooches were used to fasten garments. The warrior’s status in society was indicated by his weapons–helmet, sword, and shield.

14th Centurļļy Latgalian (Latgaļu) recreated costume.

The Fourteenth Century brought many changes to clothing. The mantle is more ornately woven of wool and linen in more intricate patterns and decorated with fringes and fiber tassels, instead of metal ones. The bracelets are more delicate. The coronet is decorated with yellow glass beads.

Photos by Mārtiņš Cīrulis


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Love at First Sight. For Real?

Love at first sight, followed by happily ever after, is a popular trope in romance novels but is it something that can only happen in fiction?

The two main characters, a World War II Latvian refugee and an American fighter pilot, in my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart fall in love at the first touch of their hands as they gaze into each other’s eyes and sparks fly. My Latvian beta reader thought that was unrealistic. In fiction, it happens all the time but can it happen in real life? I told my reader my favorite anecdote about a true life love at first sight story. This is how I remember hearing it so my words may not be exact but the facts are.

They made beautiful music together may be a cliche but it can happen.

Internationally famous Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich was being interviewed on a radio show about his marriage to opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya.

Host: “Mr. Rostropovich, I understand that you and your wife married a week after you first met.”

Rostropovich: “Yes. It was a big mistake.”

Host, taken aback, stammers, “A m-mistake?”

Rostropovich: “Yes. We wasted a whole week.”

I love this story. Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya were married for fifty-two years, until his death. Though it may be rare, love at first sight, followed by a happily ever after does happen in real life.

The flowers may fade but not the love.

Most of the time, it seems to me, a declaration of love can be premature. Some guy I once dated said that he loved me way too soon. I was not enchanted or bowled over. I said that he hardly knew me so how could he possibly love me? We hadn’t had any deep discussions or revelations of the secrets of our hearts. But he kept on declaring his love. Ove and over and over. Bleh. Maybe if he’d been the right guy I’d have been more receptive, even delighted. My advice, don’t date someone just because you’re lonely, bored, or depressed. Under such circumstances a “happily ever after” ain’t likely. If you meet a gem like Rostropovich or Vishnevskaya, go for it. Don’t settle for a rhinestone.

Life’s a bowl of cherry pits but at least the beer’s not flat.

How do the love birds in my novel know they’ve found someone they can love forever? There’s an immediate sense of familiarity as if they’ve known each other forever. During their first evening together, they spend hours just talking. They open their hearts, tell each other things they’ve never told anyone else, things that reveal character.

As Shakespeare said, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” It certainly can’t in a novel, so it doesn’t in A Home for an Exile’s Heart.

A toast to love.

Latvian Love Words

Valentine’s Day is known among Latvians as Sirsniņdiena, which can mean Sweethearts Day, as in lovers, but also anyone you love. My mother called me, Sirsniņa. My aunt called me, Sirds, which means heart, as a term of affection.

For my Valentine’s Day post I’m writing about the words Latvians use to express love. These words are used much more conservatively than the terms of endearment I wrote about before.

Latvians are a reserved people. It used to be, and maybe still is in some circles that Latvians’ idea of a proper public display of affection was to go to church and get married in front of God and the congregation of family and friends. Latvians don’t say the words “love” or “I love you” lightly. People don’t generally use such expressions as, “I love this pair of shoes” or “I love pizza.” They like the shoes. They like pizza. “I love you” is reserved for spouses or fiancées/fiancés. They’re not even used for one’s parents, children, or other family members. 

An embrace like this should probably be kept private even when married.

I remember overhearing a parent criticize an in-law for saying “I love you” to his young daughter. It’s not a phrase I remember hearing around my house when I was growing up. It should be enough that love is demonstrated by providing food, clothes, and a roof over one’s head. Some might say such an attitude is outdated, Things have changed, the world has changed. But I got criticized in a Latvian social media group for saying people should say, “I love you” much more often. That happened not only in this century but as recently as last year.

Here are those very exclusive words.

Mīlestība = Love

Es mīlu Tevi = I love you

Mīlulis = loved one

Mīlīgs = lovable

Mīļošs = loving 

Mans Mīļiotais = my lover 

These next diminutives are okay to use with adults, children, and even pets.

Mīlulītis = my little loved one

Mīļumiņš = my little loved one (smaller and thus more dear)

Sieva = wife (the diphthong “ie” is pronounced like the “ea” in “ear.”

Sieviņa = my dear little wife. It can be used affectionately, but depending on context can also be belittling.

Vīrs = husband (veers)

Vīriņš = dear little husband. Most likely used only in private. The word could also refer to a little old man.


Mans = (pronounced “muhns”) My. Masculine. But it refers to the subject,  not to the person who is speaking. e.g. “Mans vīrs” is what a woman would say when introducing her husband.

Mana = My. Feminine, also refers to the subject. A man introducing his wife would say, “Mana sieva.” 

A Latvian friend and I had a discussion about whether a declaration of love should include the word, “es” (pronounced like the letter “S.”) meaning “I.” He said that “es” = “I” is understood, so it’s enough to say, “mīlu Tevi.” Technically, in English, the word “I” would also be understood nevertheless people say, “I love you.” To me, just saying “mīlu Tevi” sounds abrupt, like you’re eager to get on to the next thing, maybe “What’s for dinner?” This rule could be a familial difference or a regional one.  My choice would include the first person singular pronoun,

Have fun with these loving words. Use them however you please on Valentine’s Day or any other day you want to tell someone you love them. Some rules are meant to be broken. 

Hearts can break when they don’t hear these words. And stay broken even though hidden.


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Candle Day: Latvia

February 2 Sveču Diena, affectionately known as Svecīšu Diena

February 2 is a cross-quarter day. It’s the day that marks the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Depending on which hemisphere you’re in the cross-quarter day could also fall on February first. In the northern hemisphere, it means that winter is on its way out and spring is just around the corner.

Halfway to spring. Winter is going.

In Latvia, February second is called Candle Day. In fact, all of February is known as Candle Month. I’m not sure why maybe because it’s a dark month requiring more candles to brighten things up.

For many centuries Candle Day was a day for making candles out of wax or tallow. I imagine that by the time winter was half over the store of candles had been used up and needed to be replenished. Candles that are made on this day are supposed to burn bright and last long.

Flames can assist with meditation.

Candles are symbols of warmth and light. A flame is magical; it bears the powerful energy of light. It can calm and cleanse, but it can also destroy.

Candle Day traditions and practices vary from region to region. 

The most important thing is to be jovial to laugh and sing so you’ll be jovial happy, and full of laughter all year. To help the jollity along one must drink a great deal of beer and eat a lot.

Spending lots of money on this special day means you’ll be prosperous for the rest of the year.

Weather forecasting on this day in Latvia doesn’t involve rodents.

Dripping eaves mean a lovely spring.

A hard freeze means don’t expect a warm spring.

Fog on February second indicates that a rainy summer is in store.

Frost on trees predicts a bountiful summer.

Some of the information I found was consistent across more than one site. Other information was unique to one site. I admit I didn’t check all sites, there were many too many.

Don’t blow out the candle to get your wish. When you make it imbue it with positive thoughts.

A handmade candle is a special gift to make a special friend happy. The person who makes the candle should hold her hands over the wax and concentrate on the positive things she wishes the recipient of the finished candle to have–happiness, well-being, prosperity, love. These positive thoughts should continue while pouring the melted wax into the mold. When the candle is finished the maker should hold it in her hands while continuing to think of positive wishes for the recipient.

The candlemaker should tell the recipient of the positive wishes that the candle brings with it that way when he lights the candle he will think of her and the positive things she wishes for him. Sounds like a bonding ritual.

The candle should be lit naturally, that is with a match, not a lighter.

The flame is not to be blown out because you might blow away all the good wishes. Instead, it should be pinched out with moist fingers or with a snuffer.

Candle-makers were supposed to be in a good mood while at their task. That’s where feasting, beer-drinking, singing, and laughing come in. If the candle-maker is in a bad mood the candles will sputter and burn with a dim light. Another example of sympathetic magic.

There is so much candle lore it’s hard to fit into one blog post and still publish it on February second.

Happy Candle Day. dear readers. Be sure to eat, drink, sing, and laugh.


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“A Pocketful of Kitten”

While I was editing my historical romance, A Home for an Exile’s Heart, I’m pleased to say that my children’s story went live on Amazon’s Kindle Vella.

Vella offers the first three chapters of books as free samples. Since A Pocketful of Kitten is less than seven hundred words long there is only one episode, making my story a freebie. I hope you’ll check it out and if you like it, give it a “thumbs up” or even write a review.


30th Anniversary of Barricades in the Streets of Riga

In January 1991 the Soviet military attempted to force Latvia back into the USSR. Latvia had declared its renewed independence the previous year. The siege lasted two weeks from January 13 to January 27th.

Copied from the Embassy of Latvia post on Facebook.

Today we pay tribute to the efforts of people in Latvia to protect their newly-regained freedom in 1991. That month, leaders of the USSR in Moscow decided to mobilize security forces to restore Soviet order in the three Baltic countries. Upon realizing this, people of all ages and backgrounds rushed to Riga – they brought trucks, tractors, and heavy equipment to build barricades around government buildings. They spent days outside in the freezing cold of January. The face-off culminated on January 20th when Soviet special forces initiated a gun battle and temporarily seized the Ministry of the Interior. Several people were killed. But the barricades held! Pro-democracy forces prevailed and went on to restore full independence. In honor of these events, today is marked as the Commemoration Day of Defenders of the Barricades in 1991. We thank and honor everyone who stood up for freedom and joined the barricades! 🇱🇻

Riga is 820 years old but Latvia has known freedom for only a fraction of those years.

Latvian Stuff: A Hiatus

Writing about Latvian culture, traditions, and eccentricities has been a great deal of fun. My posts have received lots of attention, comments on social media, and even a bit of money. It’s also been a lot of work writing my essays, editing, and illustrating them. It’s not that I’m out of ideas, I have plenty more but blogging isn’t the only writing I do. During my six-day streak (today’s day seven) I’ve neglected my other writing.

“Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it inflames the great.”
― Roger de Bussy-Rabutin

My novel in progress that needs editing and rewriting. As Wind to Flame is a historical romance that is set during the mid-19th Century, so it requires a lot of research, which is also fun. My heroine, Thea Lowell starts out as a bumptious girl and ends up as a nurse during the Civil War. Along the way, Thea falls in love with a rancher’s son, Adam Hastings.

My exiled heroine’s Bārta’s folk costume which shows up at a critical junction in the story.

The first two-thirds of A Home for an Exile’s Heart is available on Amazon Vella. The next chapter is finished but needs more editing before I can publish it. Exile is also a historical romance but it’s set in Seattle, Washington in 1952. The heroine is a widowed Latvian World War II refugee. Līvija Galiņa’s leading man is dashing former fighter pilot Cameron Quinn. I’ve left my readers waiting too long for the next chapter.


Today I published a story for children called, A Pocketful of Kitten. Currently, it’s under review on Amazon Vella but should go live pretty soon.

“A Pocketful of Kitten.” A freebie read on Kindle Vella.

Did I mention that I also write short stories? I did. Not in this post, but in earlier ones. Anyone who’s interested can check under the category “fiction.” I’d like to write more short stories but my ideas have a way of growing like the magical beanstalk.

Then there are such minor annoyances as cooking and eating. I have the ingredients for borscht but who knows when I’ll get around to making the soup.

Oh,  look! I’ve managed to procrastinate on that pesky chapter of Exile. And I’ve been sitting at my computer so such a long time that it’s gotten painful. I need to break for chocolate.

A short story.

Diminutives Controversy, Part 3

My posts on Latvian diminutives have stirred up a tempest in a teapot.

Latvians use a lot of diminutives, not just for family members and friends. Not just for humans but also for animals and inanimate objects. A few people have objected to such usage. They feel diminutives should be used only for loved human beings. These objections are nothing new. Years ago I read a verse by a Latvian writer who made fun of the indiscriminate use of diminutives. Other blog readers felt that employing diminutives in such a manner shows warmth, kindness, and compassion.

To some extent, I agree with both points of view. Diminutives applied willy-nilly can come across as saccharine. Even pukey. But the objectors seem to have overlooked the fact that diminutives aren’t used just to express affection but also to indicate size.

“Vista” is the word for a hen. The diminutive is “vistiņa.” One lady said she objects to eating a “vistiņa.” To her, it felt like she’d be eating someone’s pet. Farmers are far more practical. They can be fond of their chickens, even give them names, but eventually,  cook them up in a stew. For all the woman knows, the “vistiņa.” could be a bantam hen or other small breed of chicken.

The lady with objections has a dog. I don’t know if she speaks to him in Latvian, as many Latvian pet owners, including me, do. If she speaks Latvian to him does she call him, “sunītis” or “suņuks,” “šunelis,” or other diminutives for the word “suns”?

Doesn’t this sweet little critter deserve a pet (!) name?

My late great kitty (!) went by the name of Mincis, a Latvian word meaning, kitty cat, so she had a term of endearment for her proper name. Yes, I know the name has a masculine suffix but the suffix is used for both male and female cats (and people and other critters) Male cats would be called “runcis,” or “runcītis” or “runčuks.” Heaven forbid that someone might call a pet “mīluls,” (loved one) “mīlulītis” or “mīļumiņš.” Those terms of endearment should be reserved for humans. Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not one to judge.

My Minčuks

Not just domestic animals, but wild animals too get diminutive, e.g. “stirna” a.k.a. “stirniņa.”

A dear deer.

Diminutives are used for the names of body parts. Mostly in regards to children, but also adults, who can be fond of their own body parts. It’s okay. “Acs,” eye, becomes, “Actiņa” or “Ačele.” Hair = “mati” (pl) diminutive, “matiņi,” Hand, “Roka” = “rociņa” = “roķele,” and so on. This also goes for people you’re fond of no matter their age. As Rodolfo sang in “La Boheme” to a young woman he’s just met and is falling in love with, “Che gelida manina.” “What a cold little hand.” “Cik auksta rociņa.” Lovers are a whole other story.

Inanimate objects aren’t left out of the affection/size equation. The same lady who objected to “vistiņa” also had issues with things such as spoons, “karote” (s) “Karotīte” and books “Grāmata” (s) = “Grāmatiņa,” Some of us are more fond of our spoons and books than others. Of course, spoons and books come in various sizes. I don’t recall my parents, who learned the

language while living in Latvia, using diminutives when speaking of spoons, books, or other household objects. Their use of the diminutive suffixes for these things was indicative of the item’s size. That’s how I’ve always spoken of most inanimate objects. But as always, there are exceptions to the rule and people’s personal preferences.


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Becoming a Bilingual Reader Latvian & English.

For many people being a bilingual reader is no big deal. Nothing to blog about. They do it all the time. These days, with so many distractions, reading in just one language can be an issue. With all those audiobooks and videos online, why bother to read?

Reading doesn’t bring the same joy to everyone as it does to me.

One of my fond memories is sitting in my mother’s lap while she read to me from a book that I was going to take to a party and give to the birthday girl. I wanted the book but it had to go. Getting it read to me was the next best thing to keeping it.

Kriksis, the star of four books beloved by many Latvian kids. He was better than Lassie and Rin Tin Tin put together. Here Kriksis meets Tomiņš. They’re both Latvian refugees in Germany.

We were poor refugee immigrants who had to pinch pennies. Until I was ten my uncle lived with us. For a while, we lived communally with my uncle and my godmother, and her family in order to be able to afford rent. Nevertheless, we always had books in the house. I had lots of children’s books in Latvian and later in English. My parents bought Little Golden Books for me and even let me get comic books. They didn’t much care what I read, as long as I read.

“World of Wonders.” A book of fairy tales by the author of the Kriksis books.

During my early years in Tacoma, we lived only a couple of blocks from the library. My father and I would walk there to get books. When we moved to a different neighborhood farther from a library branch, we’d drive there together. In those days the local library system issued library cards in two different colors, yellow ones for adults, blue ones for kids. My little blue card was a proud possession. My dad would let me use his yellow card to get any book I wanted. I don’t recall reading anything shocking.

Unfortunately, I don’t have memories of my father reading to me the way my mother did. Was she the only one to read all those kids’ books to me? Both my parents probably read aloud.  When I learned to read well enough my father and I read Latvian books to each other for several years.  He’d read one chapter aloud to me and I’d read the next chapter aloud to him taking turns through the whole book. Most likely we got into this habit because I saw no reason to learn Latvian. We lived in America now and more than anything, except for a horse, I wanted to be an American. English was language enough for me. My father would have none of it. He insisted that I learn Latvian. The most fun way to do so was to read to one another.

This practice probably ended when he picked a translation of a Swedish book,  Black Horses, I think. A book about horses? YES! I want to read it. We read happily until one of the main characters got his eye put out. That was enough for me. I didn’t want to read any more of that book. By then, the habit of reading had been well established in me.  From then on, I chose my own books and read them silently to myself in my room.

An illustration by Alfreds Plīte-Pleita. “Herta is reading.”

Every year, the Latvian newspaper, Laiks, (Times) printed coupons called, “Book Dollars.” Still on his campaign to make sure I learned Latvian (I was a Latvian school dropout) my father let me use all the coupons to order any book I wanted from a Latvian publishing company called, “Grāmatu draugs” (Friend of Books) Tētis paid for the books. They were my gift for successfully completing another school year. When the books arrived from  “Grāmatu draugs” it was like Christmas in summer. As a result of my father’s generosity, during those years I read many novels by popular Latvian authors who’d immigrated to the US. The publisher who’d founded  “Grāmatu draugs” in Latvia in 1926, escaped the communist invasion in 1944, and resumed publishing, under the same name in Brooklyn, New York in 1951.

An illustration from “World or Wonders.”

I can still read Latvian, just not as well as I used to. There are too many books in English that I want to read, including ones written by Latvians.

Thanks to my father’s diligence in encouraging me in every way he could and demonstrating the importance of books and reading by doing his own reading, I learned to love reading in both languages.

My father wasn’t alone in promoting reading. I remember watching a TV quiz show aimed at teens. I can’t remember who their guest was, some academic, I think. When asked what the best way to get into college is he said, “Read, read, read.” I don’t think that necessity has changed, nor will it any time soon.

* **

I do intend to get back to Latvian diminutive but I had to write something different for a change.


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A Bit of Latvian Whimsy

What I heard on Radio Latvia 2. Latvian pop, which tends to be cheerful and bouncy. There’s lots of chatter, too. I’m listening to it as I write. Here it’s evening, but in Latvia it’s morning. Everything’s in Latvian but you can scroll down and find a list of English language broadcasts.

It was kind of mind-blowing to hear one of the announcers whose voice sounded exactly like the voice of a guy I used to date. He also sounded like another Latvian who lives here in my state.

This is one of the songs I heard on Radio 2, along with my crude translation.

""Mīlestība karsta putra
Nelej māla podiņā.
Podiņš plīsīs, podiņš juks,
Mīlestība ārā spruks!"

"Love is a porridge hot,
Don't pour it in a clay pot,
The pot will shatter, the pot will break,
And love will escape."

Sad to say, I've poured my love into an unworthy vessel more than once. But at least I didn't marry my mistakes.


Clarification re: Diminutives

In case I confused anyone.

Yes, diminutives are used as terms of endearment, but they are also used to indicate size. A multi-tasking word.

The blue slice is a small piece of pie chart: “mazs gabaliņš.”

I’ve spent quite a few hours at my computer the last few days. Even though I’ve enjoyed writing, editing, and illustrating my essays and have more to say about diminutives, I’m not sure if I’ll write a blog post again today. I have other projects to work on, too. A couple of them also call for sitting at the computer. I may not work on them, either.

You’ll be hearing from me again soon.

The Latvian word for ladybug is “mārīte.” It’s also a woman’s name, as well as a diminutive for the name Māra. All the tiny insect gets is the diminutive. It’s too small for anything else.

Latvian Terms of Endearment, part 2

As a couple of readers pointed out, the use of endearments is a cultural thing. In college, the brother of one of my American friends lived and worked in South America for a while. His wife was of the opinion that Spanish speakers were childish because they used so many diminutives in everyday speech.

Years later, I still remember one of my Spanish classes where we were required to think up a sentence, using a diminutive, and speak it out loud going in turn around the room. The translation of one student’s sentence was, “My Mamacita is five feet tall.” She didn’t understand that a diminutive doesn’t just refer to something or someone small. Your mother can be six feet tall and weigh three hundred pounds, but you still call her Mamacita because you love her, not because of her size.

In Latvian the word for mother is “māte.” pronounced, maah-te. Common diminutives are, mamma, mammīte, mammiņa, and māmmuļa. I hate the latter; to me, its associations make it seem saccharine. A couple of my relatives called their mother mammsis. I sometimes called my mom mammele. (nothing to do with mammals, as auto-correct would have it.) Mammukiņš is another option. Families have a way of coming up with their own variations.

Dacīte un (and) Mammīte,

The word for father is “tēvs,” pronounced, tehvs. Fondly known as tētis, tētuks or tētukiņš. However, tētiņš means “little old man” so not necessarily an endearment. Some Latvians call their father “papa” but that word comes from German. It, too, has its diminutives, “papiņš” among them. My father was a stickler for using the Latvian language instead of borrowed words so he was tētis, not paps (German for “pop.”)

Dūdiiņa un tētis.

The word for “little old man” is “vecītis.” It’s sometimes used as an endearment, too. Latvians call Santa Claus, Ziemassvētku vecītis.(Little Old Man Winter Holiday) Yeah, it’s turned backward, but works better that way.

Grandfather is vectēvs but that’s too formal. Affectionately he’s known as vectēiņš, a.k.a., granddaddy. Opa, opaps, opiņš also come from German.

My vectēiņš, Mārtņš Francis. Despite the way his first name is spelled, it’s not a diminutive, it’s Latvian for Martin.

Grandmother must not be left out. More formally, she’s known as vecmāte. She’s also called, “vecmāmmiņa.” That’s a long word for little kids so she’s often called, oma, omi, omīte, omamma.

Mana (My) Omīte, Marija France (in the Latvian language the woman’s names, first and last are given the feminine suffixes “a” or “e.”

Going through the whole family tree would make for a very long post. I thought I could handle this topic in two posts. Who am I kidding? At least one more will be required.

No doubt readers will come up with their own family terms of endearment.

And, yes, as in any language, there are exceptions to the rules. English speakers know this weird rule, “I” before “e,” except after “c.”


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Latvian Terms of Endearment

A Plethora of Diminutives, part 1

Latvian Terms of Endearment

Dacīte and her kaķītis, Tincis, which is not included among the nicknames but is the main character in a Latvian children’s book that I loved.

The other day I was editing a chapter of my novel, As Wind to Flame. One of the characters is named Louisa. Rereading the chapter reminded me of the time I read it to my critique group. They wanted to know who Lu was. Who was Lulu? Since there were only three characters in the scene, one of them a guy and the other Louisa’s sister, Thea. It seemed obvious to me that when Thea said Lu or Lulu she was talking about Louisa. I had one character call Louisa “Baby” because the girl is Thea’s younger sister and often behaves like a baby. I was the only one to whom the nicknames seemed an obvious reference to Louisa.

Too many different nicknames was the group’s consensus opinion. Only three nicknames were too many? I felt sorry for the members of my group. Such a paucity of nicknames. Unlike other European languages, English has a shortage of diminutive. I’m a Latvian. Multiple nicknames are common among us. Over the years I’ve had many nicknames. I counted a total of fifteen terms of endearment that people who are fond of me have called me. The poor Americans had only one, maybe two nicknames.

Some of my nicknames are diminutive variations of my first name, Dace. Dacīte and Dačuks. Both are common variations. The “-īte” suffix is a common way to turn a name into a diminutive for girls and women whose names end with an “e.” One friend came up with his own original version, Dacele. I thought that was kind of sweet. The diminutives for women’s names that end with an “a,” as in Ausma, the suffix becomes, “-iņa,” Ausmiņa. The “N” with the “tail” is pronounced like the Spanish “N” with a tilde.

Men’s names, both first and last end with an “-s” or an “-is.” Diminutives follow the same rule. I have a half-Latvian friend with an Anglo name, Scott. He was pleased when I gave him the Latvian nickname, “Skotiņš.”

(note: Unless they have a diacritical mark, letters in the Latvian alphabet have only one pronunciation. Since in the name Scott, the “c” is pronounced like a “k” that’s how it’s said and how it’s spelled in Latvian. The Latvian “c” is pronounced almost like the “ts” in tsar.)

Back to terms of endearment.

Dūda is a popular nickname for girls and women. It derives from the word, dūdo, the cooing sound made by doves. I guess that to parents Dūda must have seemed like a fitting endearment for cooing baby girls. I’ve been called by every single variation of Dūda–Dūdele, Dūdiņa, Dūcītis (yes, sometimes masculine suffixes show up in girls’ nicknames) and Dūc. My cousin and I were both called Dūda by our mothers. It’s sad that neither of us has a mother to call us Dūda and other endearments anymore.

Dūja, a dove.

Oops! I left out a couple of variations of my name. The rule for diminutives is, “the smaller, the dearer.” Dačuks is small. Dačukiņš is even smaller and thus more dear. Dacele could become Dacelīte. 

I’ve lost count of the various variations.

Some nicknames are the same as the ones Anglos use. For instance “Kitten,” which becomes Kaķītis, and also Mincītis, Pincītis, and Incītis. My mother called me Kaķītis and Mincītis. I once knew a Latvian woman called, Pelīte, little mouse. The names of birds also come into play. Dūjiņa, little dove. Cālītis, little chicken. Pūcīte, little owl for when a child is being a crosspatch. I guess to Latvians owls look grumpy.

Pūce. Owl. It does look kind of cross, doesn’t it?

Yep, I’ve been told not to be such a cross little owl.

When I was a baby I must have had pink cheeks because I was known as apple blossom ābeļziediņš and čupčiks. I don’t know where čupčiks came from. Maybe it came from the Kewpie doll-like tuft of hair I had on top of my head. At least that’s what I imagine.

After I posted on Facebook about my many nicknames some of my Latvian and half-Latvian (fractional Latvian) friends wanted me to give them Latvian nicknames. So I did. I hope they enjoy their diminutive Latvian names of endearment. 

If you want to give yourself, your spouse, child, or another loved one a Latvian nickname, you now know where to begin.


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Does Writing Ruin Reading?

This is how reading fiction is supposed to make you feel as if Pegasus is carrying you aways on his back to some magical realm. And not just fantasy books. Any book.

Lately, I’ve been disappointed in the books I’ve been reading, even with books by favorite authors, people I’d always thought were very good writers. Is it because I’ve gotten more impatient as I’ve gotten older? Or is it because I’ve been writing more and editing my own material? Being a nit-picky writer has turned me into a nit-picky reader.

Now, I pay more attention to such cliches as “She kept her eyes on the floor.” (Be careful not to step on them) Worse yet, “She raked him with her eyes.” (I didn’t know eyes have claws) Eyes do all sorts of unlikely things in books. Substitute “gaze” for eyes to make the prosed less absurd.

“I hate it when people breathe dialogue,” she breathed. Period, after dialogue instead of a comma. But don’t people breathe all the time?

Even the best writers use the annoying, nonsensical description, “He felt, rather than saw.” “He felt, rather than heard.” Why not just, “he felt” without “saw” or “heard”?

I love books that have include a rich tapestry of details. It’s the sort of thing I write myself. I have to rein myself in so as not to overdo it. It’s hard to know when there is too much detail when charming becomes annoying. I recently read Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth for the second time. The first time I loved the book. It contained the sort of information that I loved in my class on Medieval and Renaissance art, which I thoroughly loved. Years later, not so much. A cast of thousands in Pillars, along with their detailed storylines, didn’t help

Thinking to find a book by someone who’s a graceful writer, whose other books I’ve enjoyed, I ordered Geraldine Brooks’s Year of Wonders, based on a true story about an English village that quarantined itself during the Black Plague. As expected, the book has some gruesome details. Considering the subject gruesome could be expected. But then she throws in a gratuitous murder, turns a saintly character into a sociopath, and writes a totally off-the-wall ending. This time the fault is in the writer, not an overly-critical reader.

My current aggravation is with a book by Philippa Gregory, another writer whose books I’ve enjoyed. Were her historical novels always this tedious or is it me? She has chosen an odd way to write The Constant Princess about Henry VIII’s first wife. Some scenes are written in first person, present tense from Katherine’s point of view. These scenes are printed in Italics. A couple of pages or even a paragraph later, Gregory switches to third-person, past tense, printed in regular font. Back and forth all through the book. ARGH! It does not make for immersive reading. If this book had been her first, instead of her ninth, I doubt that it would even have gotten published.

Editing is stressful, so is being edited, especially if you’re doing it yourself.

Maybe I should switch to reading books that were written when editors actually edited. Books by authors such as Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald whose I manuscripts were edited by editor par excellence, Maxwell Perkins. I could use an editor like Perkins myself. The publishing world could use more editors like him.


Rental Hell

My image of rental hell, even though my apartment building looks nothing like this.

Why would anyone run their bathroom fan all night or for hours at a time during the day? Are they cooking meth or crack? Are they trying to block out radio signals from outer space because their aluminum foil hat no longer works? Or do they think they can blow the coronavirus out of their living space by keeping the fan on? Those are the things I wonder about whenever I hear that fan growling on and on.

Must be someone sending evil messages from space. Right?

What’s the big deal you might think? It’s only a bathroom fan. You must be over-sensitive to noise. It’s true. I am sensitive to noise, but it’s not just me. I live only about a dozen miles from a military base. From time to time a chopper flies by. It doesn’t make as much noise as the fan, which sounds as if the helicopter had landed on the roof of my building. I can hear the fan in the living room, in the kitchen, in my own bathroom. In bed, while wearing earplugs and with the bedroom and bathroom doors closed. 

These things don’t make as much noise as that fan. And they fly away quickly.

Last night I had to drug myself to sleep with melatonin ( a naturally occurring hormone that helps induce sleep) and Tylenol. I managed to get four hours of sleep. Today I had to take two naps. I don’t feel like eating. I can’t concentrate on anything. While up during the night I got online and emailed management. Silly of me to expect a response. In the seven years, I’ve lived in this apartment, I don’t think I’ve ever had a response to my emails. Going to the leasing office in person when this sort of thing happened before was no help.

One of my friends is a lawyer who specializes in real estate law. I contacted her to ask if it’s true that management could do nothing about the noise, which sometimes includes doing laundry at midnight, which I can also hear. My friend explained that it’s not indifference on the part of management. This is “normal noise,” unlike throwing loud parties, that management can do nothing about. Perhaps the tenants work swing shift and do their laundry when they get home. Absurd! There are twenty-four hours in a day, people have days off. NObody needs to do their laundry at midnight. What’s normal about running a bathroom fan for five or six hours at a time in the middle of the night? I’ve worked second shift and never did laundry when I got home because I have neighbors and don’t want to disturb them. I guess I’m just weird.

I didn’t call courtesy patrol last night because there’s several inches of snow on the grounds, which at three a.m. was no doubt frozen. I didn’t want to call someone out in such conditions. Tonight, if the fan roars on, I’m not going to be as considerate.

I wish I could afford to move to a house.

Can any of my readers think of an explanation for why someone would run a fan at all hours of the day and night, especially when temperatures outside are in the twenties? (-3 to -6c)

Weird, seemingly unrelated images show up when I search stock photo sites. One of the tags for this photo was “depression.” It came up when I searched for apartments. Maybe it’s not so unrelated after all. I’m not a guy, but this photo perfectly depicts how I feel when I hear that relentless fan.

All images from Pixabay.

It Ain’t Always What It Seems

Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” But not always. Maybe she’d never seen a Rose of Sharon bush, which is not a rose at all. Several plants have been called, “Rose of Sharon.” 

Pretty, but not a rose. Hibiscus has also been called, “Rose of Sharon.”

Misleading names are common to many things, including food.

Most of us know that french fries are not really from France.

I’d like some french fries right now.

And that there is no ham in hamburgers.

But how many folks know that “Rocky Mountain oysters” are not seafood? They’re actually the testicles of a bull. Yes, people cook and eat them.

Once, in my younger years, I made a dish called “Welsh rabbit.” No bunnies were sacrificed. The variation I made was a cheese sauce seasoned with mustard and served over toast. The name is probably a derogatory implication that the Welsh are too poor to be able to afford to cook a real rabbit. The name seems to imply that they’re also too poor to buy a gun to shoot rabbits and not smart enough to make a snare to catch them. In the term “Welsh rarebit” the latter word is a corruption of rabbit.

Variations of this dish are called Scotch rabbit and English rabbit. They all sound like grilled cheese sandwiches to me.

Another food with a deceptive name that I once made is steamed pudding. It’s not the creamy, custardy dessert that you’d expect. Instead, it’s more like a very moist, delicious cake. 

Steamed pudding, all dressed up for Christmas.

So what’s with all this writing about things that aren’t what they seem? Because a few Latvians are still arguing about the proper meaning of ķūķu or is the word ķūči? Or is it the same word declined?

Some people insist that the dish is a porridge. One source I found said that ķūčis (singular) is a dish made of grain, without defining it further. Cakes are made of grain. Yet another source claimed that ķūčis is a dish made with pig’s ears. So which is it? Go figure.  

Latvians make a dessert called “debessmana,” mana from heaven. It’s made out of farina, which is a form of milled wheat, You whip the heck out of it as it’s cooking until it turns into a fluffy, mousse-like substance that’s served with milk. No one that I know of calls it porridge. Of course, that doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t call it porridge.

Gruel is the name for a thin porridge made of oatmeal or other meal. So confusing. 

Turns out that ķūķu cliffs are an outcrop of Devonian rocks on the banks of the Gauja River in the Cēsis district of Latvia.

It’s been fun researching this information and learning something while I’m at it.

Cake Controversy

Someone’s bound to say this isn’t really a cake. It’s stollen” a German baked good. Latbians make them in the shape of over-sized pretzels and call the “klinģers.”

It seems that I’ve stirred up a bit of a squabble with yesterday’s post in which I called Christmas Eve in Latvia “Cake Evening.” I made the mistake of posting the link to a social media Latvian food group.

“I never heard of that!” exclaimed a couple of people.

If you’ve never heard of the star, Aldebaran, which is 65 million light-years from the sun, does that mean Aldebaran doesn’t exist?

For a small country, Latvian has many regions and many different dialects, and very different names for the same thing. The Latgalian dialect, spoken in Latgale, is quite different from standard Latvian if there is such a thing.

Please bear with me, I’m going to include a little history to show that Latvia and the Latvian language are more diverse than would seem at first glance.

The Baltic people have lived on the shores of the Baltic Sea for more than four thousand years. Does anyone know what their ancient traditions regarding the Winter Solistic during their entire four thousand-year history? Okay, so they probably didn’t have cake for the first couple of thousand years or so. But we don’t know for sure that they didn’t. Cakes have taken many different forms over the centuries.

Despite the hole in the middle, it’s still a cake.

Before Latvia united as one country it was made up of tribes of Couronians (Kurzemnieki) Latgalians (Latgalieši) Zemgalieši (Semgallians) Sēļi, and many smaller tribes each with their own language and traditions.

To add to the confusion, over the centuries, Latvia has been occupied by Swedes, Russians, Poles, and Germans. Many words from those languages have entered the Latvian language. One of my mother’s uncles was married to a Russian. My mom scattered many Russian words into her speech. Half the time I didn’t know if a word she used was Latvian or Russian. French and German words also snuck in.

As an example of the differences even in modern Latvian is the word for “kitchen.” Many Latvians know it as virtuve. But my mother grew up calling the room, “ķēķis.” Two very different words for the same thing. Both words are Latvian but from different regions. There are many such examples. 

So, when I researched my “cake” post, did I miss seeing the little diacritical mark under the “K” in “ķūķu” for “kūku” i.e. cake? Possibly. But round cakes, symbolizing the sun, are a part of the special, magical foods served on Christmas Eve, which is a celebration of light. Some would call it The Light of the World, a term that means different things to different people.

“Cake Evening” is more catchy than “Nine Foods Evening” and more fitting for a celebration of the sun, a holiday observed in winter for thousands of years by many different cultures.

Latvians call this a “torte.” Is it still a cake? I call it delicious.

Cake Evening: A Latvian Winter Celebration

This is a mocha torte similar to the cakes that were served at Latvian gatherings during my childhood. They were baked by Latvian ladies. The frosting on the sides had fancy swoops.

I have to admit that I did not know that in ancient Latvian tradition, Christmas Eve was also known as “Cake Evening.” Until I started researching my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart, serving nine special foods on Christmas Eve was a part of the celebration. Each food has a magical meaning. Considering that feasting is a major part of holiday traditions everywhere, “Cake Evening” and nine special foods conveying sympathetic magic should come as no surprise. 

1. Peas and beans, so you don’t cry. 

2. Pīrāgi, so you’ll always have a nice surprise. They’re little bacon buns filled with diced bacon, Canadian bacon, onions, salt, and pepper. These days there are vegan variations.

Pīrāgi can also be made with ground meat (beef, maybe) so you can still enjoy a Latvian treat, even if you can’t have bacon.

3. Beets and carrots for good health.

4. Pork for good luck.

5. Poultry for success. Would that be because hens cackle to announce their success in laying an egg?

6. Sauerkraut in order to be strong. Rinse and squeeze before cooking in bacon fat, butter, or even olive oil, with or without onions, sliced thin. Some people like to add shredded carrots. Add caraway seeds and brown sugar to taste. You don’t use much liquid. The fat is mostly to give it flavor. There’s enough liquid in the kraut to cook it until it’s a light golden brown.

7. Fish, so you’ll always have money. The scales resemble coins.

8. A round cake. Its shape symbolizes the sun.

9. Piparkūkas, so you’ll always have love. The literal translation is “pepper cakes,” but many other spices go into them, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom. Usually, they’re just little brown cookies with a slice of almond pressed in the middle but they can also be decorated with icing.

The little nut-like thing is a cardamom pod. I remember grinding the seeds with a mortar and pestle before cardamom was available already ground.

I don’t know why piparkūkas symbolize love. The dough is rolled out thin. Many are cut into heart shapes, but they’re also cut into star, bell, Christmas tree, and ginger people shapes. Or maybe the cookies symbolize love because baking them is a labor-intensive labor of love. Perhaps because spices are expensive, so the cookies are baked for those you love and traditionally only at Christmas time.

It was July when I visited Latvia for the first time. I went to a public event I no longer remember. I do remember the piparkūkas that were offered to guests. I took a cookie shaped like a bunny, decorated with pink, white, and green icing. Instead of eating the cookie, I took it home in a little cough drop tin. I kept it for years, but somehow, during one of my moves, it got lost. Bunny tears.

Because this is a celebration of light, whatever its symbolism means to you, candles are included in the decorations.

The Sun in Latvian Mythology

A Benevolent Mother

Winter sun reflected on ice, Snake Lake.

The sun, Saule, in Latvian mythology is a female. A mother goddess. Her husband is the moon. Their children are the stars. She is reborn on the 22 of December. 

Saule has the attributes of a mother, a protector, a comforter, someone who warms you. She ensures the fertility of the earth and the humans who dwell on it.. Not surprisingly, considering the duties of mothers, she is the symbol of perpetual motion. Saule symbolizes honesty, compassion, inner strength, and vitality. She is the guardian of the helpless and unfortunate, especially orphans and young shepherds (in Latvia the duties of shepherds fell to children)

Those of us who live on Earth live under the sun. The souls of the deceased pass beyond the sun.

Sun symbols appear on all sorts of Latvian objects–clothing, jewelry, ceramics, wood engravings, and on the tools used by women. When a young woman marries she is supposed to present her groom with a pair of mittens, which she has knit, that incorporate the sun symbol.

The simplest of the sun symbols is a circle. Because of the sun’s importance, there are many variations of her symbol, each more ornate than the other. Some are so fancy that it can be hard to recognize them for what they are.

Saules zīme — teorija. Vizuālā māksla (Skola2030), 1. klase.
These are all sun symbols
The eight rays of the sun symbol represent the annual holidays: the summer and winter solstices at the top and bottom, the equinoxes from left to right, and in between the cross-quarter days which fall midway between an equinox and a solstice. February 2, Candlemas, is an example of a cross-quarter day.
These are sun symbols, in white, on a weaving I got in Latvia
The sun symbol on a sash that goes with a Latvian folk costume, like the ones in the Solstice video and also in my blog’s logo.
This is the photo from my laissez-passer, a passport issued by the UN to stateless persons. I am wearing a sun brooch made by my father in the DP camp where we lived.

Welcome Winter Solstice

At dawn in winter, the sun peeks over the right shoulder of Mt. Rainier. Today it begins its journey back north.

Winter Solstice

Winter arrived in the Northern Hemisphere today with a veil of white–fog–rather than a blanket of snow. It’s been so blah outside that the day reminds me of Thomas Hood’s poem, “November,” which I posted in an earlier blog.

Today may be the beginning of winter, but that’s not how it looks like here. This is aphoto from last February.

I looked and looked for a poem to share with you, but found nothing that pleased me. Poets wrote about “bleak December,” breaking boughs, blowing winter winds. Not even Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” conveys what I have in mind. 

For me, the Winter Solstice is a time to celebrate the return of light. We are approaching a time of new beginnings, a time to put behind us the mistakes, sorrows, and bad thoughts of the old year. I turned to my Latvian heritage to find what I was looking for.

In Latvia, this is a time for reflection. A time to look into yourself. It’s a calm, quiet time of year. A time to seek inner peace and to connect with nature. It’s the time of the rebirth of the Sun Goddess. A fire festival. A flaming wheel of straw is rolled down a snowy hill as a symbol of the sun’s journey.

For centuries Latvia has been an agrarian society. As in the other seasons, the fertility of the land and people was essential. Work for the season was over, so there was time for young people to meet, visit, and get acquainted. If a girl went to bed hungry, she was bound to dream of her future groom. Presumably, someone who would be able to ensure that she and their future children would always be fed.

In the olden days, evil spirits were presumed to roam the earth during the darkest time of the year. To scare the evil spirits people dress up in costumes portraying creatures such as cranes, foxes, the devil, etc. The mummers (budēļi) 

roam from house to house, raising a ruckus, the more noise the better. In return, they expect to be served food and drink.

These are only a few of the many traditions and rituals with which our Latvian ancestors welcomed the return of the sun. Soon green growing things will also reawaken.

Some plants don’t go dormant and keep winter from being so bleak.

This is the spirit of revelry and celebration I was looking for. I can watch this video over and over. This is a fine way to welcome the sun and longer days. “Kaladu” is simply a nonsense word like “tra-la-la.

Latvians are a singing and dancing people even in snow at this cold, dark time of year. This video is worth sharing again and again.

Mummers celebrating the arrival of winter.

The woman in the green shawl is wearing a necklace of “barankas.” They’re like a cross between bagels and pretzels. On a string like this is how “barankas” are sold in Latvia. When I visited my relatives there and told my uncle how fondly my mother used to reminisce about gnawing on “barankas” he brought me a string of them the very next day.

Those are sashes the dancers are leaping over. Normally they’re worn with folk costumes, wrapped two or three times around the waist (depending on the girth of the person) and tied in front.

Tweeting Agent Pitches

Is it for the birds?

This fellow’s much cuter than the well-known logo.

Today was #PitMad day, also known as Pitch Wars. These are quarterly events during which unagented writers are invited to pitch their finished, polished novels on Twitter using only 280 characters. Agents and publishers search the tweet pitches for something that interests them.

Adding to my stress today was losing my internet connection for a couple of hours. ARGH!!! It took me a while to figure out how to get it back. It was a simple fix if you know that modems have a reset button. I didn’t. Once I found it and pushed it my connection didn’t resume until maybe an hour later. ARGH!!! At least my modem hadn’t died.

I’ve pitched A Home for an Exile’s Heart for at least a year now without one nibble from an agent or publisher. Today I pitched my other novel, As Wind to Flame. The only folks who paid attention to that tweet were a few fellow writers who re-tweeted my pitch. I re-tweeted a few of theirs, too.

Let me tell you about my book. Telling a friend or two is not enough.

I’m terrible at promoting my writing but I’m trying to do better. So, before PitMad began and now that it’s over, I’ve posted a few tweets about As Wind to Flame. The story is set during the mid-Nineteenth Century. My main character is Theodora (Thea, Tay) Lowell. The inciting incident is the death of Thea’s mother when Thea is ten.

Since I’m promoting myself, I might as well include my tweets. The more exposure, the better, right? Who knows who might be reading my blog or my tweets? Just because the #PitMad pitch event is closed doesn’t mean agents and publishers aren’t still looking for stories.

This is how self-promotion should be done.

Promo Tweets

#As Wind to Flame, trilogy
1841- Boston
Adam age 6 meets Thea
She - 1 hr old

They’re parted, reunited, and parted again & again.

He never dreamed she’ll grow up to be a tough, resilient, beautiful woman who will save his life and steal his heart.
* * * * *
 #AsWindtoFlame, trilogy

Thea’s 10, her mom dies.
Dad is lost in grief. Thea is like a mom to her dad. Everything in Boston reminds Daniel of his wife.
He takes the family to CA to be close to his best friend, Adam’s dad.
With Adam as her minder, Thea can be a child again.

* * * * *

Thea age 15 kisses Adam
Adam age 22 Don’t do that
She I love you
He You’re just a child
She I know a girl of 13 who’s engaged.
He That’s so wrong
She You’re a prude
He I love you too. You’re not the sister of my blood, you’re the sister of my heart.

Thea could’ve wept

* * * * *

#AsWindtoFlame trilogy
1852, CA

He’s 18
She’s 11
He’s her minder
She’s his fierce defender
To him, she’s like a little sister
+11 yrs of love & adventure & heartbreak
He’s her only love
She’s an ex-Civil War nurse
He has a bullet wound & is engaged to her sister.
The nurse
 has a knife...

The next PitMad event will probably be during the first week of March.


Can’t Stop Editing

Yup. Fits me. No doubt there are others out there who are also insecure perfectionists. Or just insecure.

Probably one reason for my inability to stop editing is that I have a slight (?) case of dyslexia. Someone who is even more of a fussbudget informed me that what I have is dysgraphia–a writing disability. Because of it, my high school typing class was sheer misery. I couldn’t even type a mailing label correctly the first time or the second. Anxiety dos not help matters. Thank goodness for word-processing programs.

Printing out your material and reading it out loud, with red pen in hand can help.

E.B. White was the author of the children’s books, Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and Trumpet of the Swan. He wrote for The New Yorker magazine and was one of their contributing editors. And he was the co-author of The Elements of Style, a book that was a must for English majors. I once had two copies, which I read, but never memorized.

I don’t remember where I read the two anecdotes I relate here; it’s been ages since I came across them. I don’t know if they’re apocryphal, but they’re sure memorable.

Not White’s post office, but it could have looked much like this one.

E.B. White is said to have mailed a manuscript to his editor and promptly went to the postmaster in the small Maine town where he lived and begged to get the ms. back. He’d thought of some edits he could make. I can identify with that. 

I remember these pre-wordprocessor deleters.

One thing about publishing your novel on Amazon’s Kindle Vella is both good and bad. You can take down a chapter any time and do some more work on it. That’s what I’ve been doing the past few weeks even thought I have other stories to write. A  friend and I signed up for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November. I started writing a new novel, got about a quarter of the way through, and stalled. I didn’t care enough, I guess.  A Home for an Exile’s Heart called me back and I answered the call to edit it some more. I can’t believe I thought it was finished.

Writers aren’t the only ones who can’t stop editing. 

I have no idea which of his paintings he was touching up.

A shocked museum guard once came across a man who’d gotten behind the velvet rope and was touching up a painting handing on the wall.

“Sir. stop! You can’t do that!” The dismayed guard exclaimed. “Don’t you know that’s a painting by Picasso?”

Man with palette and brush, “I am Picasso and it’s not finished!”

Whether it’s true or not, and I hope it is, I love this anecdote. I don’t recall if the artist in question was Picasso, but it seems a Picasso-like thing to do.

Would White have been able to write more books if he hadn’t been such a fussbudget? We’ll probably never know. No unpublished manuscripts have turned up.

For Picasso, who was a ceramicist, sculptor, printmaker, and stage designer, as well as a painter, that episode in the museum must have been a one-off. During his lifetime he created fifty thousand (!) works of art. Obviously, he knew when to let go and go on to the next project. The fact that he started to paint in his childhood and lived until he was ninety-one surely made a difference, as did being a genius.

Those of us who lack the confidence of geniuses have a harder time stopping editing and submitting our work to a publisher, or taking our portfolio to a gallery have a harder time figuring out when something we created is good. Or, if we had the gumption of Snoopy and wrote to the publisher to come get our mansuscripts.

Stop correcting and mail that manuscript. Most of us use email, but I had to post this photo because the mailboxes are so cute.

Throw in a Little Murder.

Comments about The Giver of Stars, part 2

After months out in the weather, in the forest where wild animals roam, the body is still recognizable.

When I wrote my previous post about Jojo Moyes’s book, I hadn’t finished reading it. Now I have. I enjoyed her book very much until I got to the murder, then my eyes started rolling so much that it was hard to finish reading.

People who are not mystery writers should not write mystery novels. If they want to change genres, fine, just learn something about the genre first. It seems to me that Moyes wrote herself into a corner and did not know how to finish The Giver of Stars, so she threw in a murder. A totally preposterous murder.

Spoiler alert.

A book as a murder weapon supposedly used to bash in the back of a man’s head. Little Women, wielded by a woman. I supposed it could happen with a 759-page hardback book. And then this smart woman goes off and leaves the book behind to incriminate herself. Uh-huh.

We’re supposed to believe that a backwoods hillbilly wanted to read Little Women and when he finished it, conscientiously set off on foot, on a snowy, icy day, set off to return the book to the library. Never mind that the story is about packhorse librarians who not only deliver books to people living in the hills of Kentucky but also pick them up a week or two later and return them to the library. Then this dedicated reader slipped on ice, fell over backward, and cracked his skull on a rock, the book flew into the air and landed on his face leaving bruises.

A murder weapon. Really?

Months later, when the body is found, the now pregnant horseback librarian is arrested and held in jail for months where she eventually gives birth and months after that is put on trial. The motive for the murder is supposedly a blood feud that has lasted for generations and was started by the victim’s “descendants” (you read that right) that’s lasted for generations.

Wouldn’t the crunch of hoofs on an icy trail have alerted the victim? A question never asked.

I hate it when writers, for the sake of not spoiling their story, make smart characters behave stupidly. I’m a layman but I could have presented a better case for the defense than the lawyer in the book. Anyone could have been out in the woods. Anyone could have wielded the blunt instrument. The woods are full of rocks. But does the lawyer make that argument? Of course not. The book would have ended a hundred pages sooner if he had. No dramatic childbirth in the county jail. No heroic librarians striving to save their friend. No self-sacrificing suspect sending away her baby and child so they won’t be tainted by association with her.

 I won’t reveal the outcome of the trial, but you can probably guess.

There’s a very broad hint that the murder victim committed incest and impregnated his own daughter. Talk about a motive for murder, but that’s glossed over. Both his daughters are too mousy to commit homicide.

Will I be reading any of Moyes’s other books? I’m not sure but probably not. There are real mystery writers out there whose books I enjoy.

Moyes isn’t the only author who’s fallen into the trap of thinking that including a mysterious death in her story is a breeze. Elin Hilderbrand fell into the same trap in two of her books, The Castaways and The Perfect Couple.

The Castaways is the most annoying of the two. A married couple drowns under mysterious circumstances. They are part of a group of friends who are so irritating that I figured that they must have drowned themselves just to get away from these people. In between long, overly-detailed narratives about the history of these relationships, the local Nantucket cops investigate the deaths. The case comes to nothing.

The same cops investigate the drowning in The Perfect Couple. Once again, the case comes to nothing but the reader has wasted hours trying to figure out which of the annoying cast of characters “done it.”

Not that talented mystery writers don’t mess up. They do, especially if they’ve been writing best-selling books for years, have run out of ideas, and are now too big to edit.

It pays to read the blurb. Read reviews, not just newspaper reviews. As far as I know, there are no more Dorothy Parkers, who wrote things like, “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” Read reviews by fellow readers. Don’t read just the five-star reviews. Read the one and two-star reviews. They can save you time and money.

Poem: Amy Lowell

American poet. 1874 – 1925

The Giver of Stars

Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.

Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.

“The Giver of Stars” is also the title of a book by British author, Jojo Moyes. It’s in those pages that I found the first verse of this lovely poem.

Wiki describes Ms. Moyes as a romance writer. Since I’ve read only half of The Giver of Stars, and a summery of her first book, Me Before You, I can’t say for sure that I would agree with that description. Based on what I’ve read of “Stars” I can say that her books are most likely not what Americans would call romance novels even though she has twice won the Romance Novel of the Year award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The Giver of Stars seems more like women’s fiction, the story of friendship between five women.

The novel is based on the true stories of women who were traveling horseback librarians who, during the Depression, carried books to people who had no other access to reading materials.

The novel is set in rural Kentucky’s coal country. The main character is Alice Wright, a young English woman who marries a handsome American not just because she’s fallen in love with him, but in order to escape an unhappy home life. Her marriage proves to be a disappointment–a seemingly indifferent husband and an overbearing father-in-law with whom the young couple lives. Seeking escape from her suffocating new home, Alice volunteers to be one of four horseback librarians.

The Giver of Stars is an interesting book for its descriptions of life during the Thirties in rural Kentucky, the lives of the librarians, and the land they live in. Some of the details don’t seem all that believable to me. I’ve caught more than one anachronism. But, after all, this is fiction, not a textbook. The story is good enough for me to overlook minor mistakes. To me this seems like a gentle book. Yes, brutal things happen, but so far they are described innocuously.

Besides the inherent interest of the story, I’m also reading The Giver of Stars to learn why Ms. Moyes’ books have been translated into forty-six different languages and have sold eight million copies. I’m hoping to learn something from her that I can apply to my own writing.

“No-vember” Poem

Thomas Hood, English Poet and Humorist 1799 – 1845

Today is very Novemberish, as describe in Thomas Hood’s poem. It’s wet, drab, and foggy. My aparment building is on a knoll from which I can usually see trees, houses, commercial buildings, hills, and mountains. Today I can’t even see across the small valley.

A foggy view from my balcony.

No sun — no moon!
No morn — no noon —
No dawn — no dusk — no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member —
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! —

For me this verse is no more than a bit of hyperbole. I’m lucky enough to live in a state where even in mid-winter it’s never really bleak. The sun makes an appearance, even if a brief one, almost every day. My state’s nickname is the Evergreen State for good reason. Not only do we have conifers, we also have madronas which never lose their leaves. The fog is never so thick that we can’t see anything. But even if things are never as bleak as Hood describes them, it can feel that way when it’s been raining without a break for days on end.

However, for Hood living in London during the Industrial Revolution his poem was most likely an accurate description of how things were. Coal was the chief source of energy. Contemporary writer Hugh Mill writes about “the lurid gloom of the atmosphere that overhangs it” (the city) and its “innumerable chimneys.” The smog used to be so bad that it entered buildings, homes, theaters, concert halls, among others. Add November’s gloomy weather and it must have been more gloomy than we can imagine. Is it any wonder that Hood died so young?

Costume Time

All the World is a Stage

18th Century gentleman’s coat.

Since this is a costume time of year, I thought it would be fun to post photos of some costumes. However, these costumes aren’t for trick or treaters though they could be worn to a masquerade party.

These outfits are from the University of Puget Sound Theater Arts Department. When the card catalogs at Collins Memorial Library were removed and replaced by computer stations in a different location, the area where the card catalogs used to be was turned into a display space.

Even though I love my old college this isn’t an ad for Puget Sound or the Theater Arts Department, but I would recommend the school to anyone. Some of my best years were spent there, not as a drama major, but as an English major. While going to school and afterward I attended many plays at the university. The Theater Arts department is very good. They’ve put on some ambitious productions. I love theater and used to go see pretty much anything that moved on stage. Movies are fun, but theater is more fun. 

19th Century lady’s dress.

Theater Arts students sew the costumes.

I was fortunate enough to take part in a London Stage and Concert Hall tour sponsored by the University of Washington. What a blast! Two weeks of plays, concerts, and opera. Sometimes there were three performances a day–early afternoon, late afternoon, and evening. Extreme culture saturation. We even went to a music hall performance; it was kind of like vaudeville.

This could be a costume from Caesar and Cleopatra, but actually, Babes in Arms.
Imagine the work that went into creating such detail.

I copied this information from the Puget Sound Theater Arts department website.

This is what students can learn:

  • To be collaborative, informed, imaginative
  • To make, understand, and evaluate theatre events
  • To speak and write persuasively and honestly
  • To manage long-term projects and bring them to fruition
  • To create and execute public events

This is what students could become

  • Actor
  • Playwright
  • Event Planner
  • Producer/Project Manager
  • Stage Manager, Stage Technician
  • Artistic Director, Managing Director

These skills could also come in handy for newscasters, lawyers, and politicians. I’m sure no one here thought these folks were genuine. Actually, none of us are. If we were, we would not be admitted into polite society. Genuineness is overrated. If we were, we’d all go around in our genuine birthday suits, burping, scratching our hindquarters, and armpits, taking anything we want. squatting behind a tree to…

As Shakespeare said in As You Like It…

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.  (You know, the natural look--geniune_

Cool looking, but none too comfortable to wear.

To Autumn

John Keats, English Poet, 1795 – 1821

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
   Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
   Steady thy laden head across a brook;
   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Autumn’s bounty
Keats doesn’t specify what’s on the vines that grow around the thatched eaves, but the first things that comes to my mind when I think of vines is grape vines.
Late flowers add to autumn’s vivid color-scape.
The other day I saw a skein of birds flying southwest. In Scotland this V-formation of birds is called a skein. Just like a skein of yarn. The reason for the name remains a mystery.

Under the Weather

Missing in Action

For a while now I’ve been under the weather and unable to focus on much of anything, especially not writing. Couldn’t muster the focus. Couldn’t muster the motivation. Every idea I had seemed stupid. Not worth writing, Not worth anyone’s time to read. I know I’m not the only one who’s ever felt that way. That does not make it any better for me.

A good day would be followed by a not-so-good day. Some miserable nights when I’d have to get up and then not be able to get back to sleep, so I’d get on the internet. Social media. Nights I’d be afraid to be away from my phone, even though I’m not the sort of person to sleep with my phone under my pillow. Lactose intolerance shares symptoms with other, more serious conditions. Add in anxiety and I’d be a real mess. Eventually, I’d feel better, realize I wouldn’t die just yet, and go back to bed. Sometimes I’d be able to get two or three hours more sleep, other times only an hour or so. Every time I thought the sun was going to come out, I’d get another downpour the next day.

It took a while, which was made longer by denial and experimentation, to figure out that I’ve developed lactose intolerance. To figure out what triggers it and what does not. It’s a yucky process. There were times when I thought I’d never be able to eat anything but crackers and white rice without causing my system to rebel.

Even though I now know what the problem’s been, I’m not quite back to so-called normal. I’ve been mean to my tummy and it’s getting its revenge for things such as, coffee, black tea, dark chocolate, salsa by the spoonful (who needs chips?) oranges, hot spicy veggies juice, plus other insults. And that’s not even the dairy products. It seems that everything good is acidic or comes from cows.

Rats! Depressing.

I thin I finally have a handle on it. This time for real, though it’s going to take time to heal completely.

Stay tuned.

I hope this is the light at the end of the tunnel and not just an illusion brought on by wishful thinking.

Writing Outdoors

The last day of summer. Cold weather will be setting in sometime soon, but not yet. Today it was in the low seventies and sunny with a gusty breeze. I sat at the little tray table on my balcony and wrote in my journal. I love to write outdoors. Except when the weather was too crummy–too hot one stifling day in Jun, too wet a couple of days in September I wrote outdoors every single day all summer. I also wrote outdoors almost every day during spring and plan to continue writing on my balcony all through fall and even in winter, weather permitting.

View from my balcony, but only if I’m standing. Days like this can be very mild.

My balcony is on the second floor of my apartment building, it has two walls and a third-floor balcony for a ceiling, so I’m protected from the weather unless it’s raining hard or if there’s a too-stiff breeze.

I have pleasant company on my veranda–fifteen plants in their containers. That would be an awful lot for a small balcony if it weren’t for a spiral wrought iron stand that holds three pots, two railing containers, and a small table that hold four fuchsia cuttings in four-inch pots.

Two of my favorite balcony companions. The lawn where they coyote roams.

Besides my botanical friends, I have views of sky, clouds, trees, and Mt. Rainier. Down below is a swath of lawn, bordered on the far side with a blackberry patch and plants I can’t identify.

I have visitors. Bunnies play on the lawn. A coyote sometimes tiptoes by in broad daylight. Butterflies flit around the blackberry patch. The “Blue Flash,” a.k.a. Steller’s jay flies front tree to tree. A snobbish little hummingbird adores my hosta’s blossoms, tolerates my petunias, and snubs my million bells. One time a white cabbage butterfly flew into my balcony space and sat on a hosta leaf long enough for me to take its picture.

Cabbage butterfly on a hosta leaf.

Human neighbors also turn up on the lawn from time to time. My favorites are a guy named Bailey and his yellow dog. Sometimes the family cat follows along. Bailey runs a little robocar for his dog to chase.

I recond all these antics.

My balcony isn’t the only place I write outdoors. I’ve written at sidewalk tables at Starbucks. On the terrace of the Student Union Building at my old university. The campus is are like a park. My purse always contains a little notebook, just in case I’m somewhere interesting, or boring (bus stop) where I can pass the time while writing. When I had a car it contained a car notebook. I used to sit and write and listen to music during my lunch break at work.

Gig Harbor, Washington, USA. Another setting for my outdoor writing.

Other than it being a pleasant way to spend time, why do I do it? I’ve never written anything sensible while outdoors. I’m too busy describing what I see–trees, sky, mountains, birds, bugs, passersby. My feelings of bliss at being out in the fresh air go in my notebook. Sometimes I fantasize about writing a From My Balcony version of Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek, but I’m not sure my observations are acute enough, detailed enough, interesting enough for anyone to want to publish them. Most of the things I watch I can’t identify except as, “tree,” “bird,” “bug.” Once I look them up, they could add color to my fiction. Thus far, the only idea I’ve had during my outdoor writing sessions is for a flash fiction story about a woman on her balcony. Started, but not finished. Maybe soon. Maybe never. I do have a market in mind for it when, not if, I finish it.

“They,” whoever they are, say that a daily writing habit is important for writers. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you write. Most days I have that habit, but none of it has translated to either of my novels. Oh, well, you never know when it might. 

The last few weeks I’ve been might laggard about writing little essays for my blog. Feeling wonky in both mind and body. Not wanting to whine in public about my wonky sensations. At last! Results from writing outdoors–this blog post. Bonus, I feel a lot less wonky.

On my balcony, with a hot beverage, on a chilly day. I knit myself a pair of fingerless gloves so I can keep on writing on my balcony even when the weather’s a bit on the cool side.

Quote: Blaise Pascal & a Little More

Pascal, 1623 – 1662 was a French mathematician, philosopher, physicist, inventor, writer, and a Catholic theologian

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.

Hearts want what they want. Both characters in my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart, former fighter pilot Cameron Quinn and Latvian refugee, Līvija Galiņa have unruly hearts which are impervious to reason.

In 1944 war widow Līvija and her family, unwilling to live under a brutal tyranny, escape from Latvia ahead of the invading Soviet army. After six years of drifting through Europe, like flotsam on the tides of history Līvija washes ashore in Seattle, Washington, USA.

Līvija has been living in Seattle for nearly a year when on the snowy day after Thanksgiving she is nearly run down by an out-of-control car that skids on an icy street and jumps the curb. Her neighbor, dashing fighter pilot, Cameron Quinn pushes her out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, saving her life.

Their attraction is immediate.

To read their story you can go to Kindle Vella. I’ve published only twenty-two chapters so far. If there’s sufficient interest, I’ll publish the rest of the chapters. The first few “episodes” are free.

When Truth Doesn’t Belong in Fiction

We’ve all heard the saying, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” Examples of how accurate that saying is are all over the media. They prompt me to do some quick fact-checking–could this really have happened or is someone messing around with the facts, provided there are any facts to sensationalize. But how many of us have heard the saying, “Just because it happened doesn’t mean it should go in a story”?

When I was writing my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart, I questioned friends and family members whose relatives had also been refugees fleeing the Soviet invasion of Latvia. Did any of them have anecdotes they could share, something that would add drama to my novel and express the desperation of Latvians to escape the Red Army? Our people knew from long experience the horrors that would follow when the Soviets took over.

One friend, whom I’ve known for decades told me of an incident that involved her aunt; let’s call her Velta.

Velta and her family were departing the Latvian port city, Liepāja by ship. Velta was standing at the rail, for a last glimpse of her homeland, as the ship started to pull away. Down on the dock, a desperate woman, who had not been able to get on board, threw her baby to Velta, who succeeded in catching the little girl. Velta and her family treated the baby as if she were their own. Later, the mother was able to track down her baby in the Displaced Persons camps in Germany. Mother and daughter were happily reunited.

Liepāja, Latvia. The city and the steeple of St. Joseph’s Cathedral was the last glimpse of home that many Latvian refugees had.

Wow! I thought. What a great true story. So illustrative of this terrible situation, how a mother would do anything to keep her precious child from having to grow up under the Soviet rule of terror. With my friend’s permission, I decided to give Velta’s story to my heroine, Līvija Galiņa.

My Latvian beta reader objected. “This scene is not believable,” he said. But it really happened, I replied. “That may be so, but it’s still not believable,” he insisted. “However, you’re the author, so it’s your decision.”

Writers have many tricky choices to make.

After thinking it over, I realized that he was right. The incident really happened. It was related to me by a trusted friend. But it didn’t belong in my story. Fiction though it is, I want my novel to be plausible. Including the story of Velta and the baby she saved would be an unnecessary distraction from my narrative. I don’t want readers thinking, “Nah, this can’t have happened.” Or, “This is preposterous.” Or, have the detail-oriented, over-thinkers like me, who read in my author’s note that I’d based this account on a true incident, wondering, “How far was the ship from the dock?” “How fast was the ship going?” “Was the mother a basketball player?”

Striving for believability, I took the story out. Other incidents in my novel that involve the Latvian refugees are based on true stories, but this one does not belong.

The link to my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Hart. Available on Kindle Vella. The first few chapters are free to read.

Some Honeymoon!

The Beginning of a Refugee Journey

Today would have been my parents’ wedding anniversary.

They got married during World War II. At the time Germans were occupying Latvia. Two months after their wedding they were having breakfast when a German soldier knocked on the door and warned that the Soviet Red Army was invading Latvia. If they didn’t want to live under Soviet rule, they must flee immediately. They did.

My mother was from Limbaži, a town in the Vidzeme region in northern Latvia, not far inland from the Gulf of Rīga.

This is probably a school photo of my mother.

My father was from Alūksne in the northeast of Latvia. Too close to the border with Russia.

I don’t know when this photo of my father was taken.

They met in Mālpils, a small town that’s also in Vidzeme, but a bit farther to the south, closer to the capital, Rīga. My mother was a pharmacy assistant and my father was the postmaster. He would go to the pharmacy for prescriptions and she’d go to the post office to buy stamps. Other than that, I know nothing of their courtship. They were married at my maternal grandparents’ home and then returned to Mālpils. During wartime in an occupied country there was probably no opportunity to take a wedding trip.

The pharmacy in Mālpils.

 My mother had no wedding photos among her belongings.ī

 Taking the warning seriously my parents fled on bicycles. Someone must have carried their possessions in a wagon or maybe a truck. Their household goods included linen sheets and pillowcases. Towels that my mother had embroidered for her hope chest. These items made it all the way to America. Decades later when I visited my mother’s childhood home, where her younger brother and his family still live I was surprised and delighted to see a handwoven coverlet on my uncle and aunt’s bed that was identical to the one I have at home.

It’s hard to believe and embarrassing to realize how incurious I was about my parents’ marriage, their early years together, and how they got to Germany. My mother spoke very little about that time, my father not speak of it at all. How terrigly traumatic it must have been to leave behind everything they knew and loved, their families, their country, their professions, their entire way of life.

Two of my mother’s three brothers made it out of Lativa; her younger brother stayed behind with their parents. Only one of my father’s three brothers was able to escape. The other two brothers, his sister, and his parents never made it to freedom. Since they weren’t living in their hometowns when they left Latvia, they were unable to contact loved ones and  probably had no idea what became of them

I don’t know by what route my parents got to Germany. I never had to ask why they went to a war-torn country where all sorts of horrors were happening. What I do know is that most Latvians would have fled into the maw of hell in order to get away from the advancing Soviets army.

My parents in the Bavarian Alps.

My folks wound up in Berlin when it was being bombed. They found shelter in a five-tory brick schoolhouse. My mother said a bomb cut the building in two as if with a knife. I don’t know how my parents survived.

Eventually, they made it to the Hochfeld Displaced Persons Camp in Augsburg in the American-occupied zone, the German state of Bavaria. I’m not sure how long they were there, four or five years probably. Augsburg is where I was born.

My parents’ story and those of friends and relatives provided inspiration for my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart. Our first two refuges in the USA were Pennsylvania and then Delaware where my parents worked to pay back their sponsors for bringing us to America. Like my heroine, Līvija Galiņa, our ultimate desitnation was Western Washington. One of my mother’s cousins, her son, and her mother found a new home in Seattle on Capitol Hill where Līvija lives with her family. Where she meets her destiny.

The link to my novel on Kindle Vella.

Vella: 132K Words=$1

Yep. One buck.

To clarify, Vella does not buy anything. It’s a free platform for writers to self-publish their books in serial form. Amazon takes a cut of royalties.

This is a depressing piece to write.

Of course, my chapters have been “live” only since July 14. It takes time to build an audience. It also takes promoting, promoting, promoting. It takes readers who are willing to buy 200 tokens for $1.99 and up to $14.99 for 1700 tokens. 

Marketing is not much fun. I hate it.

I’ve published only twenty-two chapters of my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart. I have more chapters I could publish, but why should I bother if no one but one of my relatives is willing to spend a few bucks to read more chapters? He’s the one responsible for that one buck, for which I thank him.

 Amazon is offering 200 free tokens, which in the case of my novel takes readers through chapter nine. It might help if they went back to their original plan of offering three free episodes to entice readers. Because of those two hundred fee tokens, they’re not getting their cut and I’m not getting mine.

As far as I can tell, Amazon is doing little to promote Vella stories. The Vella banner does not automatically show up whenever someone visits their site. Readers have to know to click on the drop-down menu and scroll to Kindle Store; not everyone knows Vella books can be found in the Kindle store. If potential readers are not looking for a particular author or title, they need to just hit “enter” and thumbnail cover illustrations in their little circles will pops up. Some of the stories have star ratings, others do not. On the far right side, “see more” shows in a tiny font. You can get a list view or a grid view of titles Big deal. Writers have to educate their readers. One person on Facebook wanted to read my story; he couldn’t find it, so I sent him the link.

A screen shot of Vella instructions for readers. I couldn’t find it again. The site’s not exactly user friendly.

I have the Vella page bookmarked. It shows favorite stories and trending stories. I don’t remember how I got there. That’s why I bookmarked it; I knew I wouldn’t remember. 

Self-publishing on any platform requires the writer to promote like mad or to pay retail juggernaut Amazon to do it for them. That goes for KDP, too. I don’t know if Amzon expects payments in order to promote Vella books. I could also create a Facebook page for A Home for an Exile’s Heart. The page would be free, but people would only find it if they happened to stumble on it. Facebook would be glad to “boost” the page for me, but since Zuekcerberg must be broke, I’d have to pay to get my page “boosted.” I think it’s thirty dollars to boost a page, but don’t know if that’s monthly or for a year or what.

I’ve done only a little promoting. Writing about my novel here is one way to publicize it. My Word Press account is linked to Twitter, Tumblr, and LinkedIn. I can click on the “F” icon on my Word Press page to share my post on Facebook. I haven’t succeed in linking it.

 Because my heroine is a Latvian World War II refugee, I’ve also posted links in several Latvian Facebook groups. People have congratulated me and clicked on “like” but seemingly no one cares enough to read even free chapters. Those who’ve read my chapters haven’t given Exile a thumbs up. I may have to post the link again with the screenshot.

I’m not sure it would be worth the money to pay Facebook to boost a page dedicated to my novel.

Maybe Exile doesn’t belong on Vella in the first place. There are no categories for women’s fiction or mainstream fiction. None of my characters are billionaires, Highlanders, or werewolves. Exile’s not paranormal, a fantasy, or a mystery. The Latvian refugee and the dashing fighter pilot live in non-dystopian Seattle in 1952. It didn’t even have the Space Needle back then.

What next? I guess I’ll leave A Home for an Exile’s Heart on Vella for the time being, but I will not publish any more chapters. I have no reason to. And I’ll go back to querying agents.

BUT, depressing as it was to report this stuff about Vella, it was writing. Writing is what I do. I feel better for having written.

Quote: Albert Camus

(1913 – 1960)

French philosopher, author, and journalist. Author of The Stranger, The Plague, The Myth of Sisyphus, The Fall, and The Rebel.

Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957

For years the only part of this quote that I knew and loved was the part about invincible summer. Recently, I was delighted to find the entire quote.

I have many snow scene photos, but I chose this image because it better shows how bleak winter can feel.
A perfect way to spend a summer day, reading in the Rose Garden at Point Defiance Park.
Glorious summer roses at Pt. Defiance.
Images to carry in your heart when it’s winter.
Soft and delicate, but resilient.
Brightness emerging from the dark.

How to Make a Creative Happy

The other day I succeeded in delighting a photographer. He’d posted a photo on a social media site of a road surrounded by towering trees as it curved around the rim of a deep gorge. Others besides me loved the photo; they called it beautiful, awesome, gorgeous, etc. One-word reactions such as this are the norm. I made similar remarks, but I also commented on the splash of golden sunlight shining through the leaves. The photographer’s response was effusive to the point of gushing. His response delighted me. It made me happy to make him happy.

Even art photographers sometimes risk their necks to get a good shot.

This isn’t the first time I’ve pleased a photographer by looking closely at his or her work of art and commenting on details that I find especially outstanding or evocative.

As a writer, I know what other creatives like, what tickles them to the point where their socks fly off, like Charlie Brown’s when he’s knocked off the pitcher’s mound by a fastball.

It’s wonderful to get responses such as beautiful, awesome, breathtaking, but they don’t tell the artist very much. The same goes for writing. I like hearing, “good story,” “nice,” “interesting.” These are all instantaneous responses that require little thought. Creatives want to know why you like their work. What makes it special?

To photographers, I say such things as, “I like your framing.” I like the contrast of colors and texture.” “The way your captured the light is magical.” “I love the composition.”

Writers also like to know what you like about their story.

“Writing is easy. Just sit down at a typewriter, open your veins and bleed” or variations of the same have been attributed to more than one writer.

One of the best responses I once got from a reader was, “I felt like I was there with your character. I felt what she was feeling.”

That’s what I want to know. Do my characters come alive? Have I made you feel what they feel? Are my settings so vivid that it seems as if you’re there? Are my images, metaphors, and similies memorable? Can you visualize what I’m describing? If my writing made you get misty or gave you a chuckle, I’d like to know that, too.

The kind of reactions I’ve described require a bit of thought, not just a knee-jerk reaction. Yes, it takes a bit of time, but the creative has put hours of time and much effort into their work. I think they deserve a thoughtful response.

I have to admit that I don’t always know what to say, either. Even though I took several art history classes in college, I feel I don’t know enough about art to make apt comments. It’s why I avoid going to opening receptions at art galleries, just so I don’t have to talk to the artist, I’m afraid that what I say will be banal, cliched. That’s more about my own ego, to not seem ignorant. But even if the artist has heard the same comment a hundred times it’s okay. Creatives like to know their work has been seen and appreciated, not matter how naive the comments..

Wishy-Washy About Vella

Vella is Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing’s (KDP) serialization platform. It’s strictly online and does not result in an e-book.

This is a screenshot of what Amazon’s homepage looks like on my computer. Previously where it says”Kindle Store,” it used ti sat, “Kindle Vella.” Before KDP put up this banner I searched like crazy for Vella and couldn’t find it. My book is under “historical romance.”

Even though I’ve published six chapters of my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart on Vella, I’m still not convinced that it was my best publishing choice. Vella seems pretty slap-dash, like the staff is still trying to figure out how to set it up and what’s required. 

I found out about Vella because I’ve already self-published several stories on KDP and they sent me an email about Vella coming soon. “Soon” being no more specific than in “several months.” That was back in May. Even though the date was unknown, KDP writers were urged to publish on Vella anyway. I published two chapters, got sick of waiting for further news, and looking in vain for my chapters, which were supposedly “live” I unpublished them. In the meantime, I queried a few agents and publishers about my novel, with no success.

I was still toying with the idea of setting up a premium block on WordPress and serializing my book here. Setting up a “donations/tips” block yielded me exactly nothing. As a friend pointed out, people who use Amazon go to the site expecting to buy things, not get them for free. Of course, there’s also Amazon’s huge number of users, which convinced me to go ahead. Even if only a fraction of them buy my book, I’d have a good size audience.

Another thing that gave me pause is the fact that “for now” Vella is only available in the USA and many of my potential readers are Latvians who live in the UK, Canada, Australia, Latvia, and other places all over the world. But, as the same friend reminded me, I want a much wider audience than just fellow Latvians. When Amazon first started out, it, too, was available only in the USA and now it’s worldwide.

Just because it’s beautiful and I hope to eventually get a few readers outside the USA>

Early in July, I received another message from KDP that the Vella store would be available, “next week.” How silly of me to expect that they’d specify what day. But I published six chapters anyway.

What’s to like about Vella.

It’s easy to use. Enter your name, pick a cover illustration, write interesting tags and a short, descriptive hook, and upload your chapters one at a time.

You can edit your cover illustration and edit chapters at any time.

A large potential audience.

Creative control.

The longshot possibility that an agent or an editor from a traditional publisher will find it. Probably no greater a long shot than trying to find an agent or editor yourself.

What’s not so likable.

Finding the Vella store seems to be a problem for some people. I’ve had Amazon bookmarked for ages and the Vella banner didn’t show up. I unbookmarked it and bookmarked it again and the banner was there.

Creative control is limited. No choice of fonts. The cover photo shows up in a small circle, so the design has to be clean and simple. My first choice for a cover photo looked great when I downloaded it from a stock site but was a confusing mess in the Vella cover photo. Too much detail.

This was my original choice for a cover photo. In the first scene the protagonist is walking home on a snowy day.

Having to wait an unknown time before Vella is available globally.

It’s a popularity contest, but then so are the bestseller lists. I’m not sure a story like mine will ever make the list. No vampires, no werewolves, no Highlanders.

Although their “faves” list includes 250 titles, they’re not categorized.

Every time you edit a chapter or the cover illustration it goes to “review” and is not available to readers. The process is pretty quick, though.

No one has made clear how payments to the author work. Since I set up a payment method when I published my KDP stories, I’m guessing that Vella payments work the same way. I do like that I don’t have to figure out how to set up a payment block.

As with all publishing, it’s a matter of wait and see.

The new cover photo.

A link to “A Home for an Exile’s Heart.”

The Deported: 15,424

Today Latvians are commemorating the anniversary of the deportations.

This map belonged to my parents.

Deported by the Soviets from Latvia in one night, the night between June 13 and June 14, 1941. There was no due process, not really, not when you consider that the government of Latvia at the time had not been democratically elected, but was forced on it by the Soviets.

Among those loaded onto cattle cars and shipped to Siberia were men, women, and children, some as young as one.

What crime could a one-year-old child have committed? Being born to parents who were considered enemies of the people. Guilt by association. These enemies were government officials, educators, journalists, cultural figures, anyone who had the prominence and respect to influence others to oppose the Soviet regime. It didn’t matter whether they had done so or not. Their positions in society meant that the possibility existed. Preventive arrests for things people might do.

The link I’ve included is to an interactive map provided by the National Library of Latvia, which makes it possible to look up the deportations from any town or civil parish. Click on the green dot by a town’s name and scroll through the list of names to look for relatives and friends.

I searched for names on the list for my mother’s hometown, Limbaži. I didn’t find the names of any relatives on the list of sixty-six deportees, but I found the name of my mother’s high school sweetheart. He was twenty-four when he was sent to Siberia. Eventually, I don’t know how many years later he was able to walk back home. He lived long enough to see Latvia regain its freedom, but died not much later.

I don’t know how my maternal grandfather escaped being arrested. He was the deputy mayor of his hometown and the editor of the local newspaper. Just the sort of person who’d be most likely to be rounded up. It was probably sheer luck. The arrests and deportations were pretty much a hit-or-miss thing. The NKVD had such a long list of people to arrest that if an individual happened not to be at home when agents came knocking in the middle of the night, they went on to the next name on their list and never returned.

Town Hall

My father’s hometown, Alūksne had 167 victims. None of my relatives appeared on that list, either. But my father’s older sister and her husband were arrested and sent to Siberia in the second wave of deportations in 1949. They, too, managed to return, probably after Stalin’s death in 1953.

Lake Alūksne

Some of my mother’s relatives lived in the capital, Rīga. I didn’t look for them. The number of deportees from Rīga was more than four thousand. My mother’s family was practically a tribe. Great-granddad was married three times; my mother had cousins even she couldn’t keep track of. I don’t know what towns they might have lived in in 1941. I don’t know how many if any of them were deported. People don’t talk about such things. The memories are too terrible.

If you’re a Latvian reading this post and want to look up a relative, don’t worry if you can’t read the language. It’s not necessary. You just have to be able to recognize the name of a person or place. Pagasts means civil parish; their names are included on the list. 


Born Stateless

This is a revised version of an essay I posted in November of 2020. It’s not just sad, but horrible that not only have things not changed in that time, they’ve gotten worse. Putin, a Stalin-wanna-be has brutally invaded Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians have fled, thousands have stayed to fight for their country, and too many have died. My heart aches for them. I read the headline, watch video clips and cry. I hope the refugees can all go home soon and none of their children are born stateless.

A Photo Essay

Refugees have been on my mind lately, even though the refugee crisis on the southern USA border has been pushed out of the headlines by the pandemic and the presidential election. I’ve also been reading about refugees and their desperate plight in books by Erich Maria Remarque,  Flotsam and The Night in Lisbon.

Flotsam is defined as the debris from the wreckage of a ship or its cargo. It’s also defined as people or things that have been rejected and are regarded as worthless.

Isn’t that perfect? We were human flotsam from the World War II wreckage of Europe. At best refugees were regarded by natives of the countries they fled to as “unwanted guests,” at worst as “the scum of Europe.” How sad that so little has changed.

I’ve also been thinking about refugees because for the past two years I’ve been writing a novel about a Latvian refugee, Līvija Galiņa, and her family, who after years as flotsam in Europe have finally found a safe haven in Seattle, Washington, USA. There, one snowy evening, Līvija is nearly run down by an out-of-control car, which has skidded on an ice street and jumped the curb. Her life is saved by a dashing former fighter pilot, Cameron Quinn. Writing my novel has been an all-consuming, delightful, frustrating, agonizing journey–hours of writing, followed by more hours of re-writing, editing, and more editing, doing my best to make my story captivating and readable. Hoping readers will find my characters as engaging as I do.

Here are a few photos of my family’s time in the Hochfeld Displaced Persons camp in Augsburg, Germany.

This is what Latvians were running from

This cattle car is not loading Jewish people to send them to concentration camps. This cattle car is loading Latvians to take them to Siberia. Thousands were deported. Most of them never returned. They died of starvation or overwork in forced labor camps. Or because it was so cold that even vodka freezes during a Siberian winter.

The man in the middle is my mother’s brother.

Nikolaijs lost his leg in WW II. He and his friends are posing outside a hospital. My uncle was in the Augsburg DP camp with us. He, my other uncle–my father’s brother, Alfons, my parents, and I all lived together. I think we had two rooms. A separate room for my folks and me and another for the unmarried uncles.

The maternity hospital in Augsburg, Germany where I was born.
Me, in my grand carriage. I was born in Augsburg.
My folks and I in a park in Augsburg.
Mr. Ohaks, my uncle Nikolaijs, and yours truly.

I have no idea how this picture got taken or why Mr. Ohaks is in it. He was the “elder,” the supervisor, I guess, of the DP camp building where we lived. He was no relation to us. Perhaps he was my uncle’s friend, or as the elder, maybe he was everyone’s friend. I have no idea where that ball came from. It could have been in a CARE package from America.

My other uncle, my dad’s younger brother, Alfons, and his special friend.

My uncle never talked about her. I never knew her name. I only know about her from what my mother told me. The girlfriend had a husband who had stayed in Latvia. I don’t know how they got separated. Was he a soldier who’d been reported killed in action? While in Germany she learned that her husband was still alive. She went back to him, leaving my uncle devastated. In her absence, her husband had married someone else. The girlfriend was not allowed to leave Latvia again. Alfons never married. I based events in my novel on real-life incidents.

This is my uncle, Alfons, leaving for Bremerhaven, Germany to get on the boat that would take him to America. The promised land. He’s wearing a tag on his coat as if he were a parcel in the mail. All refugees wore them as they departed Germany.
My mother, her brother, Nikolaijs, and me on a street in Augsburg.

The uncles left one by one as they found sponsors in the USA. I’m upset because Nikolaijs was my favorite uncle. I believe the buildings on the right are the ones where we all lived. Many refugees did not have such elegant accommodations. Some had to live in root cellars.

The photo for my laissez-passer

A laissez-passer is “a diplomatic travel document issued by the United Nations” to stateless people. Refugee who’ve lost their homelands.

The USNS General A.W. Greely.

The Greely was the navy transport ship that brought my family and other refugees to New York.

I remember very little about the trip. I was only three and a half. My mother and I had an upper bunk in a cabin with other women and children. My father was in a different cabin with other men. Everyone but me was seasick.

On the Greely was the first time I remember seeing a Black man. He was a steward and very nice. He gave me an orange. Oranges were such a rare commodity that in the camps they were Christmas gifts.

The nice steward also brought me a dish of red Jell-o. It was the first time I’d ever seen such a thing. I called it kustelīgais (wiggly)

Playing dress-up with a borrowed doll carriage.

Our first stop in the USA was Pennsylvania where my parents worked on the corn farm that belonged to our sponsors to repay them for bringing us to America. We also lived in Delaware for a while.

After a year of working for their sponsors, refugees were free to go wherever they wished. My folks hated the heat and humidity of East Coast summers. Alfons had completed his tenure working on his sponsors’ farm in South Dakota and moved to Tacoma, Washington where he had friends. He wrote to my father saying how nice it was in western Washington and urged us to come to live here. I may be prejudiced but I think he couldn’t have picked a better place.

A safe haven in Tacoma, Washington. Refugee kids at a Children’s Christmas party. I’m the one front and center, bow and all.

(More installments of Latvia Under the Soviets will follow)


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