The Devil’s in the Details

I just took my last prednisone tablet. I came down with a bug on Christmas day.  I finally went to the doctor who put me on prednisone and an antibiotic.  After three weeks I was still sick so the ENT put me back on prednisone.  I can’t tell you what all this does to a diabetic.  I am waiting for Mr. Hyde to knock on my door.  I’ve already experienced the Cinderella syndrome– my diamond-studded coach turned back into a pumpkin, my ball gown turned to rags again, and my feet have swollen so much that I’ve lost my glass slipper.

Prednisone/cortisone is a MIRACLE drug.  I know how it has helped people fighting life and death circumstances.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on it for allergies and sinus issues, but I can remember the first time an ENT put me on a corticosteroid. I felt wonderful–it took  care of my sinus pressure and knee pain.  I became Doctor Jekyll; I danced, I sang, I swooned.  Then I crashed hard the day after my last pill.  No one darkened my path.  Eventually, the black turned to gray and the gray turned back to a lovely sunny day, but I wish someone had told me back then what I’d experience during the “after-effects.” Seems like most drugs contain a little poison even with the promise of a medical cure.

This paradigm of either/or has become all too real for me, especially in some of my ventures that I entertained.  I wanted to wear the hat of a teacher–I did so.  I loved teaching literature, teaching students that best stories delve into the truths about the human condition. But I hated, as most teachers admit to, working with helicopter parents or those who blamed me and other teachers for their children’s inappropriate behaviors. I hated assigning C’s or D’s to struggling students, but more so, hated assigning a C- on a student’s report card  –especially when I expected a confrontation from he/she/ and parents who thought their child deserved better.

Part of my job included being school newspaper adviser, following another childhood dream to become a journalist.  I loved instructing students about the 5 W’s and H (who, what, where, when, why, and how) and how to dig for a good story. Yet,  I hated holding them to deadlines.  I also hated  when I found typos that appeared in the students’ columns ONLY after publication.

I worked harder on my writing as I closed in on retirement so that I’d have something to keep me busy in my later years. I had completed my nine year project of writing Scruples & Drams, and while my husband and I were put up in a tiny apartment for the summer by his company, I wrote Passages, a book of faith-based poetry

I’d experienced the highs and low  of being published before, but I had no idea what it meant to take my role as author seriously. If I wanted to sell books, I would have to put myself out on the street corner and turn into saleswoman.  Not an easy task for this insecure introvert  who wants to write and hide behind my computer screen.

January 1, 2017, I  finished my fourth book  since I retired in 2013, the  sixth since 1996. The last ones are central to Clearwater, Minnesota, my hometown that is rich in history and female protagonists. I love the research and bringing to life those people who lived during the late nineteenth  and early twentieth centuries.  Unfortunately, it seems like I gave up the last two Christmases to meet my personal deadlines.

Which brings me around to computers…..I have this love-hate relationship with them.  I now can’t write long hand–for a number of reasons.  First, years of writing on the black and then white boards, correcting literally THOUSANDS of essays, and now arthritis has caused my pen to make sloppy strokes.  But I also think faster with the keyboard–we have become almost one–scary, I know.  But learning the newest and best programs, or apps, caused my brain to become a cobweb of attachments.  These near human beings–the computers and Internet (always capitalize this, the former English teacher says–another contradiction) can make mistakes and it takes a real human or many humans to correct.  My latest online newspaper bill proved this.  The company quadrupled the price each month.  Finally, we are promised a computer-derived refund.  I could go on about the many problems we have faced because of the need to go paperless.

This brings to mind  one of my favorite 50’s/60’s singers who died last year, Bobby Vee. He, too,  experienced his highs of achievement.  He was literally “found” in 1959 after the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper crashed in Clear Lake, Iowa, but died in the lost world of Alzheimer’s.

Which also brings to mind that almost every time I turn on cable news, any of the channels, I receive conflicting or contradictory news between have/have not’s, the wants/want not’s etc., those seeking power and those who want to keep them from power. Some people believe we’re  living in miracle times while others believe it’s mayhem personified.

It seems like our country is really a house divided. Maybe it is my age…but I’ve never seen so many people, even in my own family, pulled in different directions concerning the path we think our country should take. Instead of a balance of power, it seems like we are on a roller-coaster  of contradictions and hypocrisy.

The title of this blog, “The Devil’s in the Details,” is a twist on the original phrase, “God’s in the Details.” To me it takes FAITH to walk on this planet.  I have a gravitational pull to the center because I hate teeter tottering–maybe, because I am the middle child, but I also have trouble solving difficult problems because I’m often riding in that gray area or fence-line.

I want to believe that truth can still be found in the values that I learned from my parents, grandparents, teachers, good literature, and ministers. I want to walk in the long shadows of my role models. There in that safe spot, I know I can find wisdom and peace of mind.

I realized from a friend’s word of wisdom over my feelings of doubt about where I’m going in this retirement gig. My review:  Like Bobby Vee’s “Rubber Ball” that comes “bouncing back to me,” it takes faith and action to get that ball in the air. Once it stops bouncing around, it takes faith and action again to keep it frolicking along.  It also takes direction and  a wide target–which is my biggest problem–again trying to find some direction in the little details.

As I wind down this blog, longer than I’d hoped for, I just had another round of cortisone–this time in the form of a shot in the knee to prolong my “WHEN, NOT IF” need for knee replacement. My blood sugar spiked almost immediately so I’m sure my Jekyll/Hyde personality will soon follow. Bobby Vee’s  song, “Devil or Angel, ” illustrates that all of us are often caught up in a dichotomy of decisions or indecisions, ups and downs, likes/loves, dislikes/hates.  All I can ask is WHO WILL I BE TODAY?






Yes, Virginia


I wrote the following poem many years ago when I was reminiscing about Christmases past.  When I was young, I and the rest of my Frank family lived by the shores of Warner Lake in Minnesota with beautiful Plum Creek running toward the Mississippi.  My sister was very young, and I was a grumpy pre-teen.  Because we always went to our grandparents on Christmas Day, we celebrated our family time the night before.

A couple miles from Clearwater, our little idyllic setting provided me many opportunities for adventure and fun–swimming, exploring the woods surround the house, and riding bike up and down and around the circle driveway–in the summertime,.  Winter had its own special glow.  What I remember the most at this specific Christmas Eve was the dark, starry sky, the mounds of sparkling snow, and the glassy lake.

Yes, Virginia

Navy-blue, crystally winter’s night.

Glittering sifted snow, icing topped lake,

evergreens muffed in white. I plodded

as Becky pulled me down the glossy road.

A bundle of blue, she sometimes followed,

sometimes led, sometimes jumped over my feet

as she chattered about baby dolls, Santa’s snack—

star-shaped cookies, his tummy and our chimney.

Late autumn’s whispered secret unmasked the man.

a grown up woman of ten, I played my part

for my younger sister that Christmas Eve,

although I no longer believed.

Carolers sang, “. . .won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

I grumbled, “It’s time to go home.”

As I turned, my eye caught a wink of light

dashing across the blue-black sky.

Becky and I tumbled through pockets of snow.

The yard glowed—lit house and trees.

I blinked.

Who’s that hunching in the shadows?

Mom, traditionally dressed in pink flannel gown,

pulled off our coats and pushed us into the living room.

Becky ran to a diapered doll and teddy bear.

I gazed at a white-veiled Barbie,

Betty Crocker Bake set, white fur-topped boots.

On the floor lay the empty green 7UP bottle

and a plate of cookie crumbs.

I ran to the window. Cupped my hands around my eyes.

No reindeer, no sleigh.

But on that navy-blue, crystally winter’s night,

I decided to believe for another year.

What special memories do you have of Christmas? How about those around Clearwater or your home or around another village?  Bring them with you to share at the Navy-blue Crystally Christmas Tea  in Clearwater, MN, at the United Methodist Church  on Saturday, December 10, from 1:30-3:30.  We hope to start a Lyceum-like tradition of telling local stories.

Jennie’s Corner products and Cindy Stupnik’s books will make great Christmas presents and will be available to purchase.  Please check out or   for all my available books.

P.S. Just because a tea sounds like it is only for women, men and children are invited too.

If you are unable to attend, I wish everyone a MERRY CHRISTMAS and wonderful New Year!


Fall Back

I love this time of year when the trees are a multitude of colors– orange, gold, green, and red–the nights get longer, the air is cooler, and a pot of vegetable beef soup simmers on the stove. Even though my husband continues to mulch leaves, in order to have the lawn  neat and clean before snow blankets it,  I love the feel and crunch of fallen leaves under my feet. I love that on a certain Sunday morning, I get an hour more of sleep.   It’s also a time to turn back the clocks, ease into winter, change wardrobes, and sometimes shuffle down different paths. I’ve recently re-learned that it is sometimes important to step back before I fall back.

Like the many bends in the Mississippi where I live, my life has taken a few twists and curves lately.  When I first launched Scruples & Drams, I had no idea where the publishing world would take me.  In 2015, I had to learn how the ebb and flow of bookkeeping.  I learned that I can write but I can’t always count sales or books, so my husband took over. (Yay! Hard to believe in my first life, I was a bookkeeper, and I was good at it–the fastest 10-key- adding machine operator in Minneapolis. LOL!)

After a few more months of research followed with my nose pointed toward the computer for six months writing  Around Clearwater, I deepened my next story about Maude Porter, the oldest original settler in Clearwater. Once Around Clearwater went off to publication, I started working hard on Pins and Needles, (Maude’s story) which will be the second in the Minnesota’s Main Street Women series.

I promised myself and the publisher I’d have Maude’s book to them by November 1, but had no clue what my schedule would be like promoting Around Clearwater. My sister and I also took on creating  Jennie’s Pure and Simple face and body products that Jennie Phillips, the village druggist from 1894-1940 and the protagonist of Scruples & Drams, might have createdThey are wonderful, I might add.  I’ve always had sensitive skin and have tried all types of lotions, creams, sun products, and have had varied results.  What I created are simple and made with coconut, almond, olive,  Vitamin E and other natural ingredients.  Becky’s soaps are simple as well. For the first time, I have no rash nor itch from a facial and body lotion. We had them available for the launch of Around Clearwater in August and they became a good sell.  We had more for our occasional sale, and will have some to sell at our Christmas Tea, Dec 10, from 1:30-3:30 at the Clearwater United Methodist Church.

Even though I promised the publisher I’d have Jennie’s sequel ready for the November deadline, I realized it was going to be  tough  because of all the events I would be at this fall.  From Little Falls to St. Joe to Brookings, SD, and back to Clearwater, I was busy and on the road a lot selling books.  This gave me little time to get my first draft done.  I soon realized I wouldn’t be able to meet my deadline.  While I finished the first draft a week before November 1, I realized my expectations were unrealistic to get it edited and turned in on time.

Disappointed, I had to re-evaluate my  writing future. Even though I  wanted the sequel ready for a 2017 publication date,  I had to be realistic.  I asked myself: Do I want it fast or do I want it right?  Of course, I want it right.  Heaven knows there are always mistakes once the book is in publication, but I want to avoid as many as possible.  I knew that I could get it ready for  for January’s due date, so I am aiming for an early 2018 publication date.

I won’t be hiding in 2017 though.  I will be attending a  number of events and probably publishing a second edition of Passages.  I will be teaching a class and trying to get my “brand” with Jennie’s Pure and Simple products going as well as my Minnesota’s Main Street Women’s series on a stronger platform. I also have a couple “irons in the fire” as well.  I’ll let you in on that later.

I learned a few good lessons through all of this.  I couldn’t keep going at the pace I was going.  We all know that sometimes we take on more than we can chew.   On top of everything, Frank and I have been blessed with another granddaughter.  Our oldest son Todd, the one who has played guitar at my launches, and his wife Joyce had a beautiful baby girl two days after the launch in August.  Who wants to write when I can hold, kiss, and cuddle that little charmer?  We now have four grand-girls, and grand they are.  From six years down to three months, these wonderful gifts are pure love.

So Fall has been a time for reflection for me, and a long, beautiful fall it has been. I’m already wondering who will be the third in my series so that I can continue to research once I put Maude’s story to bed.  My research for Around Clearwater is paying off. I can’t even begin to communicate the ties that the village had to bigger cities –from Minneapolis to the East Coast to Canada to Europe.  I don’t want to get it wrong so I’ve decided to step back before I fall back and take the time to tell a few more good stories.









The fruit of the vine

As soon as I looked at this picture that my sister took on the banks of the Mississippi at Clearwater below a good friend’s house, I thought of a title for my next blog.  Unfortunately, “Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine . . .” came to mind first.  I couldn’t remember the rest of the song. When I found the lyrics, I was a  bit shocked.  I had no idea back in the ’60s I was dancing happily to someone’s struggle with alcohol. Like music, time and circumstances change everything and everyone.

I had a chance to visit Albersweiler, Germany, (Südliche Weinstraße meaning, “Southern Wine Road”) from where some of my ancestors came.  I stood on the same soil and probably in the same vineyards where they raised their prized Burgundy grapes for which Pinot Noir and Burgundy wines get their start. I learned that too much water or not enough and large variants in temperature  can ruin a crop (even making the juices smell like the barnyard) while a good, better, best grape needs cool temperatures and just enough water to bring it to harvest.

Like the grapes’ relationship to the wine, writing strong, believable characters in a story depends on so much. Someone I might have written about way back when I first started writing may have had a sunny disposition,  but after I’ve  matured more into life and researched that same person, he or she could now be a villain or at least a crank.

For instance, I grew up loving  and reading  all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books over and over again. I loved her romantic and adventurous views of homesteading in the Midwest. Later, even though I still continue to love Laura’s writing as well as other homesteading stories, I’ve learned what it took to survive in these harsh atmospheres.  My 20th-21st century self would have died having to deal with all the hardships (seriously, I had pretty tough childbirth experiences and probably would not have lived through either of them), and all those wild animals crawling in my dugout?  I jump on the nearest bed if someone says a mouse has entered the house.

I’ve also read all the biographies people have written about the Ingalls/Wilder families. I included Laura’s work in my comparative thesis, Harvesting Their Stories: South Dakota’s Writers’ Perspective on Pioneering Women, 1870-1900 where I  explain that some male authors of the nineteenth century like Ole Rolvaag and Hamlin Garland developed women as weak individuals who suffered greatly helping their families homestead in the Midwest.

On the other hand, female authors of the twentieth century like Wilder, Willa Cather, and lesser-known, Rachel Calof, show their same sex as strong enough to help establish the west.Without Ma’s steadying hand on the reins of the covered wagon, Pa wouldn’t have settled down until he reached California, or maybe Alaska. In her Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder depicts this hard-working, musical, intelligent, and dynamic character who is well-respected wherever he goes.  He did what he could to help his family survive in the toughest times like during the Long Winter when he, his family, and everyone in the DeSmet, Dakota Territory area, nearly starve to death. Yet, Laura tells us through the many biographies written on her and her family that Pa was a wanderer.

Laura’s portrayal of  Ma as this calm, religious, educated (she was a teacher), and gentle woman who loves her children and husband changes over time as well. She he puts up with Charles’ wanderlust for awhile. After leaving Lake Pepin in Wisconsin, he roams the country until Ma finally pulls on the reins in Dakota Territory. She and her children have suffered enough for his weakness–that look in his eye that sees how green the grass is somewhere further west. Ma has become stronger from all the suffering she and her children have experienced.In so many words Caroline says enough is enough and tells Charles her children need to become established in a community with a church, school, and community.

Time changes some perspectives on what we all read too. Laura  is honest in her showing Ma’s fear and dislike of Indians, which has caused her work some consideration. Like Twain’s Huck Finn due to the author’s references to Jim’s race and  calling him the “N” word,  Wilder’s works like his and others have been banned from some libraries and bookstores.

Wilder’s biographers  have written different accounts through oral reports from neighbors, friends, and other historians of Ma showing that as she aged, she was a bit cranky.  After Charles died, she and Mary (still blind, unlike Michael Landon’s  programs) lived together in the home Pa built in DeSmet, South Dakota. The two kept to themselves, and apparently, Caroline ran young children out of her yard more than once, one time for running through her just washed clothes on the clothesline and another time for taking water from the pump outside.  This gives us a different view, three-dimensional,  of  Ma Ingalls.

Characters, like real human beings, can change for the good, better, best or sometimes the more interesting worst.  I love creating women like Livy Powers Paisley for my Minnesota Main Street Women’s  series in Jennie’s story, Scruples and Drams,  as well as Maude’s story, Pins and Needles, hopefully published next year.  I have experienced enough manure in my life to pull this bigoted, snoopy, and critical woman together.

Yet, I have to remember, and I taught my students in lit class  that even the worst criminal on death row wasn’t 100% villain and probably loved his mother, father, or rose petals.  They have to have some dimension to be believable, to expose some human truth–like when a good grape turns bad  if  all the wrong elements are there –the not-so-right  temps,  moisture, and cloud cover or sun.

Somehow I have to get Tom Paxton’s song, “Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine,” out of my head. I know many writers used drugs and alcohol to help them with their writing, but won’t be one of them. I understand their challenges that brought them to this need to create.  Instead,  I think I’ll pour myself a glass of Burgundy, settle in for the night, and toast some of the best characters I ‘ve read and hopefully will write.











I will probably go to bed humming the tune even

Hiding under the vine

My five-year-old granddaughter Matea came to visit my husband and me for a couple days.  She is inquisitive and bright, and I must say beautiful.  She helped me cook, set the table, and look over and pick vegetables in the garden.

I have to admit, I’m not an expert nor the best gardener.  For years, I felt guilty because of my weeds.  Each summer, I try to be diligent about cleaning up the garden once a week or so.  Then I get bored or busy and forget it. This year, when she came, we went out to look at everything, but soon she said,  “Grandma, this is a jungle,” because vegetation and weeds had grown tall and strong, and sometimes intertwined.

So when she and I started picking the beans and tomatoes, we were astonished with our first harvest.  I must explain:  my husband and I don’t grow the typical bush bean.  His mother grew pole beans, and we followed suit especially after visiting his relatives in Slovenia who sent us home with a bag full of their pole bean seeds.  Since then,  our garden is full of green plastic poles and tomato cages, all lush with delicious green and red vegetables.  This summer was no exception.

After emptying our bowls in the kitchen from the first round of picking, we returned to the garden to search for more.  We weren’t disappointed.  We picked another bowl of tomatoes, large for BLTs, canning, or freezing,  and small for salads or pop-in-your-mouth treats. I thought our harvest was plenty until I lifted one large bean leaf.  Hiding underneath, the long, green beans hung in handfuls.   We realized we had to get a larger container to gather our bounty. Matea is short enough to get to the bottom of the poles and excitedly found so many that it turned into a competition of who found more. I let her win.

Later, on my ride home after I returned her to her parents (God knows there’s no time to think of anything but having fun with this little girl or just keeping up with her vitality and stamina),  I excitedly thought of returning to my writing.  I thought about how I hone my craft.  Sometime, I stare at the obvious, like the beans I can see on each plant.  But many times I search for more depth to add to my stories by researching at home or in libraries. I’ve learned that wherever I look,  on the Internet or in old newspapers on microfilm, the stories and facts are ripe for the picking.

For instance, when I wrote Scruples & Drams, I read in the Clearwater News that Thomas Porter, one of the early settlers in the Clearwater, found a bag of tools hiding in his hay pile.  I couldn’t have made that up because it would sound hokey.  Yet, like I said in the introduction of my book, it really happened, and this little article in the “Local” column fit in well with my story about the town burglaries that took place during the summer of 1895.

Another example is how I dealt with the murder of the Irish girl in Lynden Township, Minnesota, in 1893.  I went to the local history museum and found the girl’s name in their files.   I also found article after article dated May to September of 1893 about the rape and murder of the sixteen year old.  Then I traced her family and some of the people she was associated with as well as people mentioned in the article on census records and through Ancestry and  I realized that two important suspects escaped, one to Canada, another to Washington.  The case was eventually dropped and forgotten about.  My mom, who died in 2009,  was still alive at the time and had a couple visitors who were descendants of the girl’s aunt who had lived in the vicinity at the time of the murder.  Apparently, their mother often talked about ghostly encounters others in the area of Lynden Township had had and how many heard a child’s cry down by the Tamarack Swamp where she was murdered.  Of course, again, I couldn’t have made up that bit of information, and for me, it added another layer to my story.

I’ve learned that my garden grows whether I weed or not.  I know all the facts about how weeds steal nutrients but, you know, it isn’t my thing even if I love the produce.  I’d rather be inside the house writing, away from the mosquitoes and humidity. This year my husband built a higher and somewhat darker fence around it, to keep out deer and rabbits he said.  But I say the fence hides the weeds and keeps me from fretting over my slovenly gardening techniques.

Interesting that I take the opposite approach when I am writing.  I work hard, sometimes using the delete or backspace keys to erase piles of weeds that bog me down in my “jungle,” making me start all over again. And because I want some form of historic accuracy in my  novels, I dig deep to find it so I can bring believability and depth to my writing. It’s amazing the harvest I find when I search for what’s hiding under the vine.