Saturday, December 27, 2014

In which tall folks didn't always have an advantage over small fry.

I think I've always known this story--it's a traditional tale often shared with children here in the Swampland.  As a little kid, I always thought that I'd have done just fine with the sky the way it used to be...but I also always figured that when I got big enough, it would have been a problem.  

Alas, I never did get that tall.

This version is most like the one I've always heard, and was collected from the Snohomish Tribe.

Pushing Up the Sky – (Snohomish Tribe, North America)

Creator and Changer made the world.  Creator started in the East, and travelled to the West, making new lands and new people as he came.  To each group of people, Creator gave a new language.  When he got to the Puget Sound, Creator stopped making more land, but he still had a lot of languages left over so he scattered those up and down the coast.  That’s why there are so many languages there.

The people there did not like the way Creator made the world.  The sky was too close to the ground.  Tall people bumped their heads on it, and some of the wicked people would climb up trees to spy on the Sky World.

Finally, the wise people of all the tribes had a council to see what they could do about lifting the sky.  They agreed that all the people should work together to push it up higher.

“We can do it if we all work together,” they said.  “All of the people and all of the birds and animals will help, and we can push the sky up higher.  But how will we know when to push?  We live so far apart, and we speak different languages.”

At last one of them suggested that they all use the same word to signal the time for pushing up on the sky.  “When the time comes for us to push, when everything is ready, let someone shout ‘Ya-hoh!’  That will mean it is the time to lift together.”

The people of the council told all the people and birds and animals what to do.  Everyone made long poles from fir trees to push.

The day for sky lifting came.  Everyone raised their poles up to the sky.  Then, they shouted, “Ya-hoh!” and everyone pushed at the same time.  The sky lifted up a little bit.

“Ya-hoh!” they shouted again, and everyone pushed again.  The sky lifted a little bit higher.  All day long, they worked together, shouting and pushing on the sky until it was as high as it is today.   Nobody ever bumped into it again, and nobody has ever climbed into the Sky World again.

Now, three hunters had been chasing four elk during all the meetings, and did not know about the plan. Just as everyone was about to lift up the sky, those hunters and those elk came to a place where the sky and the earth are close together.  The elk jumped up into the sky, and the hunters followed them.   When the sky was lifted, the elk and the hunters were lifted up too.

In the Sky World, they all became stars.  The three hunters became the tail of the Great Bear, and the middle hunter has his dog with him—it is now a tiny star.  The elk became the body of the Bear, and they are visible in the night sky even now.

And when people work even now, it’s good to have a word to help the work go together.  When people say “Ya-hoh!” together, it makes them stronger.

Friday, December 26, 2014

In which there's a story about an unusual prosperity

I'm absurdly fond of root vegetables.  Not just potatoes and sweet potatoes, but also rutabagas and parsnips and TURNIPS!  So, here's a story about that.

The Enormous Turnip (Russia)

The grandfather had had been looking after animals and growing vegetables for his whole life - but he had never known a harvest as bad as this one.

'Our cabbages, potatoes and turnips - they've all been ruined by weeks of rain,' he sighed. 'We'll have nothing to eat during the harsh winter.'

But the grandmother knew something that the grandfather did not.  She took him through the mud to the furthest corner of the turnip field. 

Under a tree in a corner, a bunch of green leaves were sprouting tall and proud from the top of a giant root.

“See that?” said the grandmother.  “It’s the answer to our problems.  This turnip is big enough to feed us through the winter, all by itself.  We need only pull it up.”

The grandfather took hold of the greens, and he pulled.  

He pulled and he tugged, and he tugged and he pulled, but the turnip didn’t budge from the mud.

The grandmother came to help.  

She grabbed the grandfather by the hand, and together they pulled. They pulled and they tugged, and they tugged and they pulled, but that enormous turnip didn’t budge from the mud.

The grandson came to help.  He grabbed the grandmother by the hand, and together they pulled. They pulled and they tugged, and they tugged and they pulled, but still, the turnip didn’t budge from the mud.

The granddaughter came to help.  She grabbed the grandson by the hand, and together they pulled. They pulled and they tugged, and they tugged and they pulled, but still, the turnip didn’t budge from the mud.

The big goat came to help.  

He grabbed the granddaughter by the apron strings and together they pulled. They pulled and they tugged, and they tugged and they pulled, but still, the turnip didn’t budge from the mud.

The sheepdog came to help.  

She grabbed the big goat by the tail, and together they pulled. They pulled and they tugged, and they tugged and they pulled, but even now, the turnip didn’t budge from the mud.

The barncat came to help, and the barn mice came too.  

They all pulled and tugged, tugged and pulled, but that turnip didn’t budge from the mud.

At long and at last, a tiny cricket came to help. 

Nobody thought a cricket would be much help, as small as she was, but she grabbed a barn mouse by the tail, and one last time, together they pulled.

They pulled and they tugged.

They tugged and they pulled.

And finally, the enormous turnip came out of the mud.

It was so big that the grandfather and grandmother had plenty to eat from it all winter.

It was so big that the grandchildren had plenty to eat from it all winter.

It was so big that the goat and the dog and the cat and the mice and even the little cricket had plenty to eat from it all winter.

It was so big that the whole village ate well from the turnip all winter long.

It was so big that the whole county ate well from the turnip all winter long.

It was so big that all of Russia ate well from the turnip all winter long.

And if the grandfather hadn’t lost the seeds, the whole world might still be eating turnips, all winter long.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

In which this year's season of stories begins with a very large Frog

This story happens in the before-the-beginning days that the Aboriginal people of Australia call the Dreamtime. Things were still getting invented and changed and fixed in the Dreamtime.  Stuff that was small then is big now, and things that were big then are small now.  

It's a good place (and time) to start off a series of stories, I think.  Enjoy!

Tiddalik the Frog (Australia)

Long ago in the Dreamtime there was an enormous frog known as Tiddalik.

Tiddalik awoke one morning with an overwhelming thirst.

At first, Tiddalik started drinking the water from a mud puddle.  But he was still thirsty.

Next, Tiddalik drank all the water from a nearby creek.  But he was still thirsty.

Then, Tiddalik drank all the water from the lake.  But he was still thirsty.

Finally, Tiddalik drank all the water in all of the world.  And then he was not thirsty any more.

But then there was no more water for everyone else.  Soon, the animals and plants were sick and thirsty because there was no water.

The animals held a meeting to decide what to do.  The oldest and wisest of the wombats told them that, if Tiddalik could be made to laugh, all the water would flow out of his mouth and back into the world.

The animals gathered by Tiddalik's resting place and tried for a long time to make him laugh, but it was in vain.

The kookaburra told his funniest story, but Tiddalik didn’t even smile.

The kangaroo jumped over the emu, and did tremendous leaps and spins in the air.  Tiddalik smiled a little bit, but did not laugh.

The lizard waddled up and down on two legs making his stomach stick out, and all the animals laughed at him.  Tiddalik’s mough curled up at the corners, and two drops of water came out.  But that was all.

Finally, when the animals were in despair, Nabunum the eel began to dance. Nabunum wriggled and twisted himself into all sorts of knots and shapes, and finally, Tiddalik started to laugh.

His mouth opened wide in laughter, and as he laughed the water gushed out from his mouth and flowed away to replenish the puddles and creeks and lakes and all the water in all the world again.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

In which this story isn't really finished, but it will have to do

I didn't have a "homemade" Skookum story written for the holidays this year.  

I wanted to have one, but none of my story ideas would cooperate...until this one showed up, unbidden, at bedtime last night.  

And, not unlike the stray dog in the story, it needed help. My help. My immediate help.

Normally, I would write a few drafts of a story like this and then put it away, preferably for a few months to mellow and mature.  

But (again, not unlike the dog in the story), this one set a rather prompt release date for itself.

It's likely that I will write a few more drafts of this story and then put it away for a while.  Maybe I'll polish it up and post it again next year, when it works better.

But for now, it will do.

Happy Merry, all y'all.


O Little Town

A big old cottonwood tree, weary from years of rainfall and wet roots, fell over onto the town’s main electricity transformer at 6 pm on Christmas Eve.

Jo Carpenter gazed down at the little town of Skookum in the valley below, lit by a few candles and flashlights as a folks prowled around their dark homes, trying to make everything ready for the impending holiday.

Up on Library Hill, all was dark as well, but the Skookum Public Library bookmobile driver wouldn't be hanging up her lone stocking at home until everything was secure.

She backed the big vehicle into the garage, yanked on the crochety parking brake, and jiggled the headlight knob down-up, down-up.  Without the jiggle, she knew, the lights might come back on again hours later when nobody was around, and drain the battery completely. 

As she gave the knob the final necessary twist to shut down, she saw the reflected glint of the dog’s eyes.

Jo had been trying to capture the stray dog for weeks, luring it closer to the bookmobile garage each night with tempting bowls of canned dogfood mixed with kibbles pieces.  The dog would almost come close enough to be touched now, and Jo could see ribs and hips jutting out from under the dirty fur. 

“Come on in, little girl,” she called softly to the dog.  “Come on in out of the rain and get some dinner.”

The dog’s tail waved hesitantly, hopefully, as Jo pulled a headlamp from the glove box, grabbed up her coat from behind the driver seat and stepped carefully down the steep bus doors into the dark garage, automatically pulling the folding door closed behind her. She gave three strong tugs, and secured the latch.

With the headlamp strapped on over her stocking hat and lighting the space in front of her eyes, Jo continued talking softly as she pulled two clean bowls from a shelf, filled the first with fresh water from the garage tap, and spooned dog food into the other.  The dog watched from a respectful distance, with one eye on Jo and the other on the open bay door.

Jo set both bowls down and said “Okay,” before backing up a few paces to allow the skittish animal to eat.  Each night, she had put the bowls a little closer to the dog, and backed away a little less.  She’d originally envisioned herself at home in the evenings before Christmas with the little dog, bathed and fed, at her feet. 

But the dog had apparently envisioned something else.

“Tonight,” she promised herself, “tonight I will touch her.”

The dog dove into the bowls with quick, tidy bites and not, Jo noted, without manners.  She didn't splash water from the bowl or scatter kibble on the concrete garage floor.  When she was finished eating, she sat down and began to lick rainwater from her paws. 

“May I touch you, little girl?” Jo crouched down and asked the dog in a soft, sing-song voice.  “May I read your collar?  There’s something there, but I can’t quite see the letters.”  She reached out, and the dog watched warily, tense and poised for flight.  But when Jo’s hand finally touched the rough fur, all tension seemed to drain from the little dog, and with a barely-suppressed groan, the bony body crowded in close, clearly craving the touch of a gentle hand.

Jo had called the animal shelter when she’d first spotted the dog lurking around Library Hill, and learned that they had no reports of a lost dog like her skinny friend.  The worn red nylon collar, she saw now, bore the name “Mariah” in faded hand-printed black letters.  No tags.  Jo ran her hands over the scrawny body.  Scraped and bumped up, and far too thin. 

A closer exam revealed something else, as well.

Jo jumped to her feet, startling the dog into a momentary skittering retreat.  Jo coaxed her back with a few soft words, and then rubbed the dog’s belly again to verify what she had felt there.  Then she returned to the bookmobile. 

It took only few moments of searching to locate the book she wanted.    

Jo settled down on warm floor of the vehicle with her back against the picture book shelves and the skinny dog panting heavily beside her and flipped through the index of the Merck Manual of Pet Health to find the page she needed.  The first paragraph of the “maternity” chapter confirmed her suspicions, and she yanked the cell phone from her pocket and dialed a number from memory.

Doctor Angela King, DVM, picked up on the fourth ring. 

“I hope you’re calling to tell me that you made sugar cookies before the power went out,” the voice on the other end said by way of greeting.

“Angie, this dog is pregnant,” Jo answered without preamble.

A long sigh whistled through the phone speaker, followed by a longer silence.

“Of course she is,” Angie said, finally.  “How could you possibly find a stray dog on Christmas Eve that wasn't pregnant?” 

“I mean, she is really pregnant,” Jo said.  “Like, tonight’s-the-night, pass-out-the-cigars, puppies-any-minute-now pregnant.”

“Can you get her to the office?” Angie asked. 

“I don’t think so,” Jo told her.  “She finally let me touch her tonight, and maybe only because she’s anxious about the pups.  Anyhow, my car is in the shop, I’m walking this week.”

“And we all know how my husband feels about client animals in the Volvo,” Angie said.  “Where are you?  Can you hunker?  What’s she doing now?”

Jo looked around the familiar space.  “We’re in the bookmobile.  She’s panting, and trying to crawl as close to me as she can get.  I can feel lumps in her belly, and she’s got milk already,” she said.  “Can you help? What do I need?”

“Of course I’ll help,” Angie told her.  “But I can’t come right now. Santa comes tonight, you know, and a certain pink bicycle for a certain young lady is still in pieces on the living room floor. 

“If she’s panting and crowding you, there’s still some time.  Can you make a whelping box for her? Something she can huddle in without being too cramped?”

Jo considered the contents of the bookmobile garage, which the library staff used to squirrel away everything that wasn’t busted beyond repair.  The old canvas book drop bin would be about the right size, she figured.

“Yeah, I think so.  What else do we need?”

“Towels.  Lots of towels.  Food, if she will eat.”

“I just fed her.  I have the thrift shop blankets we throw over book carts when we make deliveries on rainy days.”

“Those will work.   Do you have a heat lamp?”

“I--I don’t think so.”

“Okay, I’ll find somebody to bring that,” Angie said.  “Just keep her warm and quiet for now, okay? Line your box with the blankets and see if you can get her to settle into it.  I’ll bring my kit when I come over.  Do you need anything for yourself?  It might be a long night.”

“I think I’m good,” Jo told her.  “I have plenty of books here.  Maybe I’ll read to her while we wait.”

“Not a bad idea,” Angie said.  “I’ll make a few phone calls to the neighbors and cope with the pink bike.  Call me if anything changes.”

“Right.”  Jo clicked off the phone, and got busy.

By the time Peter and Anna Shepard arrived with armloads of supplies, Jo had assembled a cozy nest for Mariah in the canvas book drop bin, lined with soft blankets.  The dog cowered when the Shepards appeared in the doorway, but was readily soothed by Jo’s hand on her back. 

“Heat lamp, more towels, and a thermos of coffee,” Peter said, setting everything down near the makeshift nest.  Jo popped the bookmobile hood to access to the engine battery, and within a few minutes, a soft glow shone down on the panting dog, warming the cold air of the winter garage.

There were many visitors to the garage that night, drawn by the light mysteriously shining at the top of the dark hill.   Most went away and returned with gifts:  more coffee, some sandwiches, some extra towels.  Some stayed a while, talking softly with Jo as she kept her anxious watch over Mariah. 

The rain slowed, and finally stopped.  All was quiet when Angela King showed up around midnight, veterinary bag in hand. 

“She’s close, all right,” Angie told them.  “Tonight, for sure.  I guess I’d better pull up a chair.”
The sky cleared and the stars were shining when Mariah delivered her first pup, followed quickly by two more. 

Finally, it was time to sleep. Jo curled up on an old bean bag chair that smelled vaguely of library paste and mice. Angie covered them both in a clean blanket from her car before driving home to her own family. 

At daybreak, the power came on with a whoosh and a whir of lights and fans.  The garage radio blared “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and Jo and Mariah raised bleary heads in surprised unison.  The puppies slept on, oblivious to the racket. 

Jo turned everything off except the heat lamp, and went back to sleep.

An hour later they awoke again to the sound of joyful pandemonium.  Mariah yawned hugely and jumped to her feet when the garage door flew open and the three King children, clad in pajamas and rubber boots, ran inside to hug Jo.  Angela King and her husband, wrapped in bathrobes and bearing a picnic basket between them, followed close behind.

“They wanted to bring their gifts up here to share with the puppies,” Angie explained.  “So we brought you breakfast.  Now, you three,” she directed the children, “keep back from that dog until she gives you permission to touch those pups!”

From the Skookum News Journal, January 1st edition:   “Tidings of Joy”
LIBRARY HILL: The staff of the Skookum Public Library welcomed new citizens to town on Christmas Eve, when a stray dog unexpectedly gave birth to three puppies in an abandoned library book drop bin, assisted by longtime bookmobile librarian Jo Carpenter and Doctor Angela King, DVM. 

The pups, christened “Glory,” “Hallelujah” and “Rudolph” by Dr. King’s children, will be available for adoption in a few months.  The mother dog will live with Ms Carpenter following her confinement.

In which I tell a story that is mostly true, and partly not true

I tell the story every year, about how, long ago, I hated Christmas.

Not just Christmas, either:  I hated the stupid music, the annoying lights, the fattening food, and more than anything, the expectations.

I tried to bail out of the holidays entirely that year, but my mother is wiser than me.  "Don't worry about the presents and all the other stuff," she told me over the phone.  "Come and have soup with the family on Christmas Eve."

I love my family.  And I love soup.  Especially my mom's Carrot-Cauliflower Soup  (the recipe is at the bottom of this post).  

So I agreed.  

I wrapped up the only present I had gotten that year--a cookie jar for my brother with the Starship Enterprise on the outside.  It made the transporter sound when the lid lifted--awesome, right?  I'd found it at a garage sale back in July, before I hated Christmas.

For the rest of the family, I had nothing.  And that kind of made me sad.  Because I love my family. And I like giving my family presents.

But I had nothing to give:  no money to buy stuff, no food in the house, nothing.  

In a fit of desperation, I fired up the computer and printed out a story for each person.  Except for my brother--he was going to get the cookie jar.

That night, I was happy to see my family.  The soup was wonderful.  And when it was time to pass out the gifts, my family graciously accepted the folded up pages that contained stories.

All except my brother.  He got the cookie jar.  

They opened the stories. 

They read them out loud. 

They passed them around.

Except for my brother.  He opened the cookie jar.  It made the transporter sound.  Awesome, right?


"Don't I get a story?" he asked.

From that day forward, I have always given stories as holiday gifts.

About ten years ago, I started binding up a bunch of stories into little booklets, so that everyone could have lots of stories.  And when I started blogging, I started posting them here:  stories, poems, songs, and other funny little things.  If you want, you can go find all the stories from past years:

2009 stories BEGIN HERE
2010 stories BEGIN HERE with a poem
2011 stories BEGIN HERE with an original Skookum tale
2012 stories BEGIN HERE with another Skookum story
2013 stories BEGIN HERE

And 2014 stories begin...tomorrow!

Meantime, maybe you should make up a nice big pot of soup, yeah?  Here's the recipe:

Carrot-Cauliflower Soup
Cut into chunks about 1" square:
  • some carrots
  • an onion
  • a cauliflower
Sautee all these in butter until the onion is clear. Then, dump the vegetables into a soup pot with
  • some broth (chicken broth or vegetable)

Let the ingredients cook together over a low heat for at least an hour.  Then add in
  • some cream or half-and-half or milk
This will cool the soup down a bit.  While it's cool, run the entire thing through the blender until it is a smooth, pretty orange color.

Heat the soup back up gently, and add any of the following just before serving:
  • cilantro
  • fresh grated ginger
  • parsley
  • dried dill

Serve warm, preferably with fresh bread and butter, and a glass of nice wine. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

In which I participate in a meme, and invite you to join me

I borrowed questions from this "year end meme" from Dom over at Madcap Escapades (I skipped a bunch of questions that weren't relevent, though).

If you'd like to play along, answer the questions on your own blog or in the comments!

What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before? 
Had surgery, my first ever.  I still have my wisdom teeth, my tonsils, and my appendix.  

My left hip: not so much.
My cane was needful at the beginning of the year.  I don't use it at all anymore!

Did you keep your New Year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year? 
I don't usually make New Year's resolutions, but my ongoing goal is to have more fun.  In 2014, I started out not having much fun because of the pain thing.  Later in the year, yes, fun, yes yes yes.

The Usual Suspects:  I lurves dey!

Did anyone close to you give birth?
Still waiting patiently (!) for Funder's blessed event.

We are all hoping that her child will inherit Funder's hair

What countries did you visit?  What states?
Canada!  Oregon!

What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014? 
A little more cash would be handy.  Maybe I could finish editing the novel so we could publish it finally?  That might be nice.  

But seriously?  It's just so cool to be able to walk (and ride!) again, I don't care about much else.

What date from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 
March 3.  
Who knew that surgery would be so amusing?

What was your biggest achievement of the year? 
Riding 50 miles pain-free.
Well, as pain-free as 50 miles gets.

Whose behavior merited celebration? 
Santa and the Usual Suspects.  I couldn't have done anything this year without them. And my mom.

Aren't they adorable?

Where did most of your money go? 
Mortgage.  Horse.  Life.  In that order.

What did you get really, really, really excited about? 
Going back to Renegade--and not being broken.

Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? Happier.
ii. thinner or fatter?  Fatter.  Sigh.
iii. richer or poorer? About the same.

What do you wish you'd done more of? 

What do you wish you'd done less of? 
Taking pain meds.

What was your favorite TV program? 

Where were you when 2014 began? 
Home, asleep.

Who were you with? 
Jim, Luna, Roo, Puzzle

Where will you be when 2014 ends? 
Probably the same!

What was the best book you read?

Contemporary adventure with dragons

What was your greatest musical discovery? 

What did you want and get?
New camera!  I didn't actually want to lose the old camera, but since it did get lost, I needed a replacement so I bought a nicer point-and-shoot than I've ever had.
NOTE TO SELF: do not lose this one.

What did you want and not get?
I can't really think of anything.

What was your favorite film of this year?
My favorite film always:

Twuu Luv

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I went riding.  (Big surprise?  No, not really).  And I wrote a blog post about it.

And so, this is fifty!

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
There were a lot of pajamas.  And later in the year, a lot of riding breeches, interspersed with my librarian costume.

Who were the best new people you met?
Well, I re-met up with an old friend:  Rosemary!

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014:
Let. Friends. Help.  Dammit.

What are your plans for 2015?
Think I might ride my horse some.

And maybe write some stuff.

Might read a book or two.

And then I might go riding again.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

In which it's as dark as it's gonna get...more light from now on, hooray!

Sunrise today:  7:55 am
Sunset today:  4:20 pm

Walk, trot, gallop.

8 hours, 25 minutes, total.

It ain't much.  But it's all we get.

Tomorrow we get less than half-a-minute more.  By the 21st of January, we'll add another half hour.

At the summer solstice, we get about 16 hours of daylight.

At least for now, for the next six months, we're heading in the right direction.

Halfway up a galloping hill, she remembered that she hates galloping,
and slammed on the brakes.  Ow.  But then we went  
forward again.
So:  progress!

Sing Hallelujah, all y'all.