Summertime, Ghosts, Campfires & Stories

Today’s word prompt, ghost, was a timely one for me for a couple of reasons. One, I’ve been trying to write up a couple of ghost stories to be included in my middle grade novel, The Curse of the Anne Venture. And secondly, I’m preparing for a summer adventure that could involve some ghost stories.

Ghost Stories

My novel, The Curse of the Anne Venture begins with my three adventurers exchanging ghost stories with three girls. It becomes a sort of boy vs. girl contest as they each try to out do the other. I’ve struggled with writing these stories because I’ve never been one to listen to or tell ghost stories. Today, however, I made a little progress.

Because of the nature of the overall story, one of the ghost stories involves a ghost ship. I’ve based this story on the “Flying Dutchman” tale. I’ve done a little research trying to learn more about this story and the characters involved. I learned that there are two real life ship captains from the Dutch East India Company, Bernard Fokke and Hendrik Van der Decken, either of whom could have been the original inspiration for this ghostly legend.

The Flying Dutchman is a fascinating little tale filled with mysterious references to, and sightings of, the ghost ship. My task now is to retell this story as an eleven year old boy might tell it.

My second ghost story is to be told by an eleven year old girl. I went looking for a story she might tell and I decided to try and find one with a local attachment. My adventure novels are based out of a small town not far from where I live, so I began my search there. And I found bits of a story centering around an old, historical building which is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of an old man. I’m still looking into the particulars of this story, but I’m hoping to turn it into something interesting.

Summertime Campfires

The second reason this ghost prompt feels so relevant to me is that I’m preparing at this moment to take my family on a summer adventure. My boys are all excited to go camping, sleep in a tent, swim in a lake, and roast marshmallows over a campfire.

Ghost stories are a campfire tradition for many people, though I suspect there might be more singing around ours than storytelling. But idea of a little spookiness before snuggling into the sleeping bag is a fun one. My children are still quite young, therefore any ghost stories would need to be mild indeed.

I had hoped this morning when I learned of the daily prompt, to be able to actually share my completed ghost stories. I didn’t get them finished, nor did I get much done in the way of preparing for my own family adventure.

However, I did have some fun researching the stories, and I finally feel like I have a real sense of what to write.

Do you have a favorite ghost story? How about a favorite childhood memory of campfire stories? I’d love to hear about it!

Blackberry Pie

Each summer there is a blackberry bramble that climbs over our back fence from the neighbor’s. This summer the bramble has been more prolific than in years past, and my children have been enjoying the fruit immensely.

My oldest got it into his head that he didn’t just want to eat the blackberries. No. He wanted a pie. This little man of mine is about as bullheaded as they come. And when he gets an idea to do something, he does it. Immediately.

As a result, I have had apple trees, cherry trees, watermelons, sunflowers and pumpkins planted randomly across my backyard. These endeavors are usually forgotten once completed, and nothing has ever come of my strange backyard garden.

Not so the pie. My son has laboriously collected berries from the backyard bramble. Despite my best efforts to keep him grounded, he has stacked wagons and toys precariously in an effort to reach those glorious berries tantalizingly out of reach. He has refrained from eating them, carefully saving them up until he has enough to make a pie.

Tonight, then, with a few extra berries from a local farm store and a couple of frozen pie crusts my son and I baked our first ever blackberry pies.

Craving

Blackberries

Sexism & The Muse

The idea of the “muse” comes to us from the ancient Greeks and Romans who liked to assign to everything in their world a god or goddess. In this way, they established a sort of order in a chaotic environment of which they had little understanding, and less control. They assigned power to these deities that helped them explain the human existence.

The muse survives today as a largely female entity that serves as a source of inspiration to the creative individual. She is often described as fickle and capricious, undependable and flighty.

Until fairly recently, artists and writers who achieve any level of recognition were predominantly men. Women have often had to pretend to be men in order for their work to be taken seriously. Even in our own time, an author such as Joanne Rowling’s name was changed at the recommendation of her publisher.

Why is the muse a woman?

Men have historically been in the habit of shifting blame for their weaknesses off of themselves and on to women. Women have historically accepted this. We have accepted our inferiority, our weakness. And in so doing, we also have shifted the blame of our own failings off of ourselves.

To be fair, I don’t believe this is a “man” problem, or a “woman” problem. Rather, it is a human problem. And the creative arts are only one area where women have been historically undervalued.

Dove has recently released an ad campaign on Twitter, #MyBeautyMySay, attempting to redefine female beauty by looking at the way we speak to and about women athletes. This is only one part of the same cultural bias that exists against women and girls. It is deeply rooted in our history and only a truly honest, soul-searching evaluation of our inner thoughts can ever produce any significant change.

What should we do instead? I think what’s required is a complete shift in our thinking, a serious consideration of our thoughts and the words we speak.

Rather than shift blame, we need to own our own failings and weaknesses. They are a part of our identity. Whenever possible, we should work to improve and overcome those failings. When it isn’t, we should use our strengths to compensate for our weakness.

My “muse” is a part of myself, and as such, she is decidedly female. Yes, I can be flighty and capricious. Sometimes I lack self-discipline. But I can also work hard and aggressively pursue my ambitions. I will own my failings. I won’t blame my weakness on someone else, or some outside force.

When I sat down to write this post, this isn’t what I’d intended to write at all. But it seems, my fickle muse had other ideas.

Boys

My nephews are here. They came over the mountains for a brief stay, to attend my son’s birthday party. My house is full of boy noise. Between my sons and my nephews, there are six of them, ages four through ten. The toys around here haven’t seen so much action in months.

So far this morning, they are getting along, playing together in twos, threes, sometimes more. This makes all the noise fun to listen to. Brothers aren’t arguing with brothers. Cousins aren’t fighting cousins. Just regular, monster truck, Lego, building blocks, imaginary play sort of noise. And I love it.

Later, it will likely devolve into angry words, drama and tears. But for now, I will enjoy it.

World War Lego

This morning, my youngest son ran toward me, screaming in terror. Following close behind him was the biggest one trying to catch him and shouting angrily about something I couldn’t quite understand. I stepped between them in order to keep one from pummeling the other before I could determine the cause of the conflict.

I found out the crisis was over a Lego piece smaller than the tip of my smallest finger. The youngest had the right of current possession, but the oldest claimed a prior ownership. He played with it yesterday, or possibly the day before that. In his six year old mind, if he touched it once, it belongs to him. But of course, the three year old is of the opinion that he found it abandoned, and it is now his by right.

As a parent, this is an ongoing struggle as I try to show my children a proper response to conflict, to teach them the values of sharing and unselfishness. I am faced with resolving this conflict in such a way to impart fairness and justice. I must decide who the Lego now belongs to. Before World War Lego breaks out in earnest.

Any parent of more than one child knows the struggle of trying to mediate between siblings and settle the multitude of conflicts that arise on a daily basis. And we struggle to teach our children how to resolve their own conflicts. They learn this skill from observing us, the parents, in how we resolve our own conflicts.

What then, is conflict? And how do we resolve it? I found this description on livestrong.com:

Conflict is a natural, everyday occurrence between children.
(Conflict Between Children, by Barbara Sorensen)

In truth, it is an everyday occurrence even between adults. After all, as humans, we are born with the natural inclination to seek out self-interests, often in conflict with others. We are greedy, selfish and we lust after power and control.

When I went looking for a definition of human conflict, I found nothing that summed it up quite so well as that of James in his epistle to Jewish Christians of the first century:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:1-2 ESV)

In the midst of this crisis this morning, I realized it is in a way a microcosm for conflict on a much larger scale. On a global scale, even.

Take, for example, the triggering event of World War I. Though it was certainly not an insignificant event, in the greater scheme of things, it was a small event. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary sparked fire to the dry tinderbox that was Europe in 1914. Increased tensions and ongoing, unresolved conflicts turned a small, local event, tragic as it was, into a global mess.

This, of course, is only one example of many in a seemingly endless world conflict. Are we any better at arbitrating conflict as adults? Should we step into the middle of someone’s conflict in order to determine the cause? Can we truly decide on behalf of another what is significant and what is not?

I think that, no, we cannot adequately resolve conflict on any level if we are still at war within ourselves. Where there is greed and selfish ambition, conflict will inevitably arise. And compromise is doomed to failure unless both sides of a conflict can achieve a level of selflessness.

In my home this morning, World War Lego was averted. For now. Not without unhappy tears being shed by one party. And it is an uneasy peace, for where humans exist together, there will be conflict.

I Am Mom

In response to The Daily Post’s daily prompt, Sanctuary:

Arms and legs dangle over my chair. He’s too big really, but it doesn’t matter.
Tired bodies, scraped knees, angry tears from fighting with brothers.
Wherever I am, they will find me, climb into my lap.
A hug, a kiss, a snuggle, and all is well.
I am mom. I am a sanctuary.

On Gratitude and the Price of Freedom

Thank a veteran? No, I’m afraid I can’t.

At work the other day we had an Independence Day celebration combined with a day to recognize those among our coworkers who were veterans of the US armed forces. We were given the opportunity to say “thank you” and write our thoughts on an index sized card.

Though I am privileged to work with a number of former (and in some cases, current) members of all branches of the US military, I didn’t have anything to say on that day. Not because I’m ungrateful, or don’t respect the sacrifices these men and women have made. I just didn’t have the words.

It can be all too easy to get caught up in daily life, pursuing a career, an education, a family. Pursuing faith, the meaning of life, happiness. In shuttling children to school, going to work, paying bills, or folding the laundry. In doing all the things we have to do every day. Taking time for a simple kindness, is too often overlooked.

Then I look around and I see the pictures and read the stories of mothers and fathers hugging their children fiercely as they say good-bye for an extended absence. Of the parent left behind to do the work of two alone. Of parents, sisters and brothers rejoicing at their loved one’s safe return.

And I look at my own children and I think I could never be that brave. I don’t have that kind of courage. What amazing strength someone must have to take on the mantle of the armed forces. As I think of all of these things, I realize something else. Words are not enough. My gratitude feels empty and inadequate.

Instead, for your wife you left home alone, maybe I could be her friend. For your children, maybe I could be a source of compassion and encouragement while you’re away. For your parents, maybe I could be a neighbor, willing to listen or lend a helping hand.

Thank you can never be enough. But I will pray for you. I will pray for your safety while you are deployed. I will pray for your safe return. I will pray for your family to remain strong in your absence. Above all, I will pray for peace.

I will continue to pray for you on your return home. I will pray for you as you recover from injuries sustained. I will pray for you as you adjust back to civilian life. I will pray for you as you battle the demons left over from combat. Above all, I will pray for peace.