Book Review, The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a beautifully-written, detail-rich, atmospheric historical novel. Though the story’s setting in 1617 Finnmark couldn’t be more different than that of the 21st century, grief, worry, family, religion, curiosity, power, accusations, betrayal, and love are timeless. I wanted to delve deeper into characters’ motivations and personalities as well as find out the thing that makes us turn the pages–what happens next? I only have one critique. The portion of the book which describes historical events might have been placed before the first chapter. Knowing the research done ahead of time would give this novel even more gravitas.

Hon, have you read this book? What did you think of it?

The Mercies Book Review

After a storm has killed off all the island’s men, two women in a 1600s Norwegian coastal village struggle to survive against both natural forces and the men who have been sent to rid the community of alleged witchcraft.

Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Bergensdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the sea break into a sudden and reckless storm. Forty fishermen, including her brother and father, are drowned and left broken on the rocks below. With the menfolk wiped out, the women of the tiny Northern town of Vardø must fend for themselves. 

Three years later, a sinister figure arrives. Absalom Cornet comes from Scotland, where he burned witches in the northern isles. He brings with him his young Norwegian wife, Ursa, who is both heady with her husband’s authority and terrified by it. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa sees something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God and flooded with a mighty evil. 

As Maren and Ursa are pushed together and are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them with Absalom’s iron rule threatening Vardø’s very existence. 

Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1620 witch trials, The Mercies is a feminist story of love, evil, and obsession, set at the edge of civilization.

Goodreads

Quotes from The Mercies

“I remember once when runes gave you comfort, when sailors came to my father to cast bones and tell them of their time to come. They are a language, Maren. Just because you do not speak it doesn’t make it devilry.”

“But now she knows she was foolish to believe that evil existed only out there. It was here, among them, walking on two legs, passing judgement with a human tongue.” 

“This story is about people, and how they lived; before why and how they died became what defined them.” 

Goodreads
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Easy DIY Kids Activity in Honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Image source: thespruce.com

Last year, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my preschool class created Cheerios Birdfeeders. The kids enjoyed stringing Cheerios on pipe cleaners, hanging them up outside of our classroom, and watching for birds, but guess what? The birds didn’t eat them! (Maybe we should have used Honeynut Cheerios?–lol)

Instead, this week with Kindness as our theme, we’re going to create a different DIY Kids Activity–Pine Cone Birdfeeders.

Texture, scent, math, and fine motor skills were explored with the pinecones I collected in the Fall. You know what’s fun? Making pinecone prints by covering them in paint and then rolling them on paper. You never know what patterns will emerge.

Steps to Make Pinecone Birdfeeders:

1) Tie yarn or twine around pinecones.

2) Spread Sunbutter over pinecones (no peanut butter allowed in school, although pb, almond butter, or similar will do).

3) Roll sticky pinecones in pumpkin seeds (birdseed, sunflower seeds, etc. can be used).

4) Hang in bushes and trees.

5) Wash hands!

Tips on creating Pinecone Birdfeeders from The Spruce:

  • Work seeds in between the rows of scales.
  • Hang in cool, shaded area so peanut butter (or whichever butter is used–sun, almond, etc) doesn’t melt.
  • “If you want to make multiple pine cone bird feeders at once but don’t want to hang them out simultaneously, they can easily be frozen for several weeks. The feeders do not need to be thawed before hanging, and freezing them first can help them stay firm in warmer temperatures.”

I’ll let you know what the birds think of them!

Pinecone birdfeeder made by a preschooler.
Image source, BBSMI

This poem by Edgar Albert Guest is thought-provoking and meaningful.

Craft Cocktails & Mocktails, Elegant Lifestyles Magazine, December 2022

Craft Cocktails & Mocktails

For my second article in Elegant Lifestyle Magazine’s Winter 2022 issue, I was tasked with finding fun drinks for a variety of holidays. I admit it, hon, I didn’t know what making a craft cocktail entailed, and researched ingredients and instructions on how to create simple syrups before deciding which drinks to include. Craft Cocktails & Mocktails features recipes for: Cranberry Old Fashioned, Apple Cider Fake-Tini, The First Fruits Cocktail, Bread & Oil, and Cotton Candy Mocktails. Guess which drink sounds the best to me? Hands down…Bread & Oil. Why? It includes jelly doughnut holes!

Good things definitely come in small packages when the “gift” is made with fresh ingredients, tailored to the holiday, and presented in a unique and imaginative way. Craft cocktails, poured one glass at a time, usually include four or five ingredients, homemade syrups, freshly squeezed juices, and niche liqueurs. In a hectic season, creating and serving flavorful upscale drinks is a way to slow down and drink in the moment.

Naomi Gruer

Sorbet for the Soul, Energy

Energy is my buzz-word.

It’s the word people say to me (“You must have a lot of energy” referring to my four children) (“Where do you get all of that energy?” referring to my passions and interests) (“You’re high-energy, aren’t you?” referring to my aura, but not meant in a nice way).

It’s the word I use to describe how I raised those four children along with many other children–on snow days, half-days, and random days off. I filled my car and we drove to the beach, headed to a mountain to ski, rode the train to the city, invited kids to spend a vacation with us, and was “the house.”

And all along the way, I put my mental and physical energy towards writing Kidlit.

Over the last year, I’ve given a lot of thought to the word, concept and reality–where do we put it, how are we using it, is it going to our pursuits and passions, or are we squandering it on unimportant things? We must focus on health, family, and work, but where do we fit in, carve out time, and make a priority our pursuits and passions? Until they become a reality?

Hon, I’m working on it.

Sorbet for the Soul, Resilience

She was right.

A group of moms was catching up, and I said how proud I am of my children. One of my daughters recently moved into her own pre-war, one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan and I am so impressed by her ambition, hard work and determination.

Me: “She’s a rock star!”

Other Mom: “We should not be telling our kids that they’re rock stars!”

Me: speechless

Other Mom: “We have to teach our kids how to be resilient! Things will not always work out for them. There will be times they didn’t get that job or were passed up for a promotion because it went to the boss’s relative! Or they’ll have to live at home while they’re saving money! Or they’ll have health issues. Lots of things in life won’t go their way! We have to teach them how to deal with them!”

Me: thinkingThis mom has gone through a horrible tragedy in her immediate family so, although I was taken aback, I listened and said only

Me: “You’re right.”

After the gathering, I felt angry and indignant about Other Mom’s words. But they stuck with me.

The more I think about Other Mom, the more I realize she was right.

I know many things won’t go the way my kids had hoped for. As in the times they already haven’t, when they’re faced with disappointments, hard situations, heartbreak, health issues, and death, we’ll discuss how to deal with them, how to process feelings, where to get help, and the ways in which we can support each other emotionally and practically.

But, hon, I want to tell Other Mom that when things do go they way we hoped, dreamed, wished for and worked hard for, in that moment, it is okay to feel like a rock star!

Sorbet for the Soul, Memorable Moments

I always wear headphones when I run or walk, but often decide not to listen to anything. Same goes for music in the car. As, I’m sure, many of us do, my mind has to process, think, count blessings, and pray.

Outside, I listen to the wind whisper to the treetops until its message reaches the leaves at eye level and they turn to answer.

I’m trying to find out if I’m on the right path in my Kidlit writing journey. And when quiet and concentrating, I whisper my wishes to the leaves at eye-level and send them through the treetops so that the wind will gather them up and then let them go into the ocean-like skies and out into the universe.

I hear blue jays squawk, robins chirp, and woodpeckers drill. Rustling reveals chipmunks and squirrels scurrying and watching, and gobbling spotlights the harem of wild turkeys that lives on our road or the single tom turkey who digs by himself. In the quiet, field mice, groundhogs, raccoons, opposums, deer, foxes, coyotes, a black bear, bighorn sheep, and elk have crossed my path.

One of most memorable moments of quiet was the time Lucy and I were walking in the South Mountain Reservation and we sat down to watch a young male deer. Lucy didn’t bark, I didn’t speak, and the deer sized us up and kept on grazing. After awhile, Lucy and I continued on our walk, and when we came to the field where I let Lucy off-leash to run, guess who joined us? The young, male deer wanted to play! He ran and so did Lucy and I, playing a game of catch-me-if-you-can. Pure joy.

Hon, keep listening. I am.

Sorbet for the Soul, Giant Wishes!

There we were, hiking down a trail in Meyer Ranch, Colorado this summer, when we came upon a meadow with the largest dandelions I’d ever seen. It’s like the universe was saying, “Hon, writing and publishing Kidlit is such a herculean ask, you need wishes big enough, loud enough, and strong enough to be carried all the way from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast. Take a deep breath and blow!”

Turns out the palm-sized puffballs aren’t dandelions, but Western Salsify whose flowers looks like a yellow daisies. Soon after, we met the infamous llamas, Stardust and OnFire, and that chance meeting was even more spectacular than hiking in the Rockies, discovering golfball-sized dandelion lookalikes, listening to the click-click-click of a flying grasshopper, passing an elderly man hiking uphill with a cannula and portable oxygen, and saying hi to many happy dogs with their people.

Then, a week ago I was on a run and stopped mid-stride to take a pic. I asked the homeowner if he’d put “Don’t Give Up” out just for me and he said, “If that’s what you need…”

It is. It’s what I need.

So, in an effort to take a deep breath and blow my wishes and energy and thoughts and words and characters and layers and stories all the way from my imagination to the page to childrens’ imaginations, I’m posting a series called Sorbet for the Soul–photos and sentiments along with literal and figurative signs which beg for my attention.

Maybe if I take a moment to blow giant wishes and absorb messages and do the thing that informs my life–finding the extraordinary in the ordinary–my herculean ask will one day soon come to fruition.

Western Salsify flower, image source: Wildflowers of the United States.

Calling Dibs, Jinx, Shotgun, and Other Things No One Knows the Rules To by Theresa Julian

Humor Expert At It Again!

Theresa Julian’s newest book, Calling Dibs, Jinx, Shotgun, and Other Things No One Knows the Rules to is a natural third book in her series with the The Joke Machine and 101 Hilarious Pranks and Practical Jokes. Like the Joke and Pranks books, illustrated by Pat Lewis, Calling Dibs, illustrated by Kim Griffin, is a funny, punny guide on “who gets dibs on the last slice of pizza” and “who’s ‘it’ when two people call ‘not it’ at the same time.” The book was written with 8-12 year-olds in mind, but anyone who wants to connect with kids and nostalgic adults will laugh-out-loud at Theresa’s rules and game challenges.

Theresa, critique-partner, writer-friend, and fellow triplets-mom, is getting good press! Time for Kids magazine featured her “How to Write Funny” advice and Highlights for Children Magazine asked her to share some “tips and tricks of the trade.” So cool!

Published June 29, 2020

Connect with Theresa on Twitter @Theresa_Julian, Instagram tm_julian, TikTok @thefunnyu