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Country School Christmas Programs and Santa Suits

Country School Christmas Programs and Santa Suits

Country school Christmas programs were a big deal and still are where country schools still exist. That’s why preparing for the Christmas program plays a major role in See Jane Sing! In fact, the progress of the program is a device I use to drive the story’s sense of urgency. Jane wants to solve mystery before the Christmas program as the morning after the big show she will go to her parents’ home in Iowa for Christmas break.

But enough about that.

The purpose of this post is to focus on the Mr. and Mrs. Santa costumes in the above picture. But first, a word about the amazingly adorable models, Shawn Burghduff and Mary Philippe, who were third graders when they nabbed their starring roles in that year’s program. The picture evokes equal parts joy and sorrow when I see it. Joy to have been their teacher for three years and sorrow over Shawn’s death due to a freak illness when he was not yet thirty. When See Jane Run! is released, it will be dedicated to him.

Give me a minute to stop crying.

Okay, I’m back with some fun facts about the Mr. and Mrs. Santa costumes.

  1. I made the costumes. Except for Mrs. Claus’s striped apron and Mr. Claus’s black belt. Their parents supplied those.
  2. When we moved to Iowa, the music teacher borrowed the costumes every year for the third grade Christmas program.
  3. Before the first borrow, I made a white, ruffled apron and matching mob cap for Mrs. Santa.
  4. My daughter wanted to be Mrs. Santa Claus for Halloween when she was in second grade. I bought granny glasses, washed and ironed the costume, and boom, it was ready. She was adorable, and my propensity to save costumes was vindicated.
  5. I still have the costumes. They’re too big for my grandkids, ages 2 and 4, but that doesn’t stop them from playing dress up in them.
  6. Every time the costumes come out, I think of Shawn and cry happy tears.

Give me another minute to find a tissue.

Okay, I’m back with one last observation related to fictionalized scenes about country school Christmas programs. They take me a long time to write and use a lot of tissues.

Go figure.

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Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

Once a teacher, always a teacher.

Those words were ringing in my ears today as I created a sequencing activity to send to my Wisconsin grandkids, ages 8 and 5. It was precisely the sort of thing I often set out for my country school kindergarten through second grade students in the 1980s.

Because once a teacher, always a teacher is absolutely true, I’ve created virtual version of the activity for Gravel Road readers. Below are 7 pictures of our home addition construction taken on 7 different days. See if you can put the pictures in numerical order from first to last. Each picture has been assigned a letter to make the process easier. Those who leave their answers in the comment box below will be given a virtual smiley face sticker.*

Like I said, once a teacher, always a teacher. And this teacher knows that students of all ages love stickers.

Picture A:

Picture B:

Picture C:

Picture D:

Picture E:

Picture F:

Picture G:

*If any of my former country school students complete this activity by themselves or with their own school-aged children, they receive not just 1, but 2 smiley face stickers.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

 

East River, West River, and More

East River, West River, and More

East River, West River is a phrase familiar to past and present citizens of the Dakotas. Everyone else in the world is most likely oblivious to East River, West River talk. If you’re among the oblivious ones–a group that included me until my husband and I moved to South Dakota–this  quick tutorial is designed to enhance your understanding of a concept foundational to See Jane Run! and its sequels.

  1. The river referred to is the Missouri, which divides South Dakota into two neat halves. My spit spot Mary Poppins nature has always been grateful to have lived in South Dakota rather than in North Dakota, where the divide between east and west is messier.
  2. East River refers to counties east of the Missouri. West River refers to those west of the Missouri. Pretty simple, right?
  3. East River has farms. West River has ranches. Always remember that the words “farm” and “ranch” are NOT synonyms.
  4. East River is populated by farmers. West River is populated by cowboys. DO NOT confuse the two.
  5. The cultural divide between East and West River is far wider than the Mighty Missouri.

Last week I met with an editor who’s interested in publishing See Jane Run! and future books in the series. Exciting, yes, but all I can say until a contract has been signed is that things look promising. One reason is because the editor has an affinity for the region of the country where See Jane Run! is set. He has lived in both Dakotas and Montanas, so he gets the whole East/West, Farm/Ranch, Farmer/Cowboy business. Upon reading the manuscript, he immediately identified the culture shock experienced by Jane, the book’s protagonist and amateur sleuth, as a crucial element of the story.

Something we discussed in our 2 hour virtual meeting was how to communicate that element effectively. One easy way, I realized as we talked, was to change the series’ name from “The Tipperary County Mysteries” to “The West River Mysteries.” Not only does the change magnify the cultural divide, it also expands the setting from a single fictional South Dakota county to anywhere west of the Missouri River. Oh, the possibilities!

Whether you live East River, West River or up a creek without a paddle, I’d love to hear what you think of the change. Also, I promise to make a big announcement with all the juicy details once a book contract has been signed.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

Hear Jane Sing’s Author Is Singing for Joy

Hear Jane Sing’s Author Is Singing for Joy

Hear Jane Sing's author is singing for joy, and for good reason. Once you read this post, perhaps you'll want to join in the celebration.

Hear Jane Sing‘s author is singing for joy and for good reason. I should know since the author is me. The reason for all the singing, which some people at my house consider more caterwaul than music, is warranted because the first draft of Hear Jane Sing! is finished.

Yup.

The rough draft of second book in the Tipperary County Mystery series is done. It began several years ago with some jottings on page 95 of an old composition notebook. The writing of it was delayed for many reasons: revisions to the first book in the series, See Jane Run!, contracts for non-fiction books, a busy speaking schedule, and family stuff. But when the pandemic led to the cancellation of spring and summer speaking engagements, the time was right for turning the ideas in the composition notebook into a first draft.

Which, as may have been mentioned before, is done, DONE, D-O-N-E!

Once the last chapter was finished, I put the manuscript away for a week. Partly because there were other things that needed doing. Partly to create some distance between it and me before launching into revisions. And partly because I was afraid to reread the draft and discover that what I’d written was absolutely terrible. A few days ago, I screwed up my courage and opened the first draft. Like all first drafts, it was bad.

But it wasn’t terrible.

That realization gave me the courage to write this post. To let readers know that the project is moving forward. To strengthen my resolve to find a publisher for the Tipperary County Mystery series. To continue the revision process. To jot ideas in my notebook about the third book in the series. To sing for joy because the first draft of Hear Jane Sing! is done, DONE, D-O-N-E!

Even if it sounds like caterwauling. Care to join me?

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.

Winter Is Not All Bad

Winter Is Not All Bad

Winter is not all bad. That was my mantra a couple days ago when a surprise storm dumped 9 inches of snow on our town in a few hours. It was very pretty coming down (good news) and half of it had melted by evening (even better news). If all snowstorms were like that, I’d be a big fan.

Winter is my least favorite season. My reasons begin with cold and dark and snow. They end with 25 years teaching elementary school, during which I spent 4-5 months of every year supervising kids who at least 6 times a day were either putting on or taking off hats, scarves, mittens, snow pants, coats, and boots.

However, winter is not all bad. Kind of like fictional characters, who need to be a mixture of good and bad, like real people. For instance, the protagonist of See Jane Run! has good characteristics such as caring for kids and seeking justice by catching the bad guy. And the bad guy, who shall remain nameless, is bad. But not all bad. He reinvented himself after a bad break. And he’s a good listener.

But what, you may be wondering, is good about winter? The answer is soup. By my way of thinking, soup season begins with the first snow, so this year’s soup season will be longer than usual. To celebrate this goodness, here are links to my favorite soup and stew recipes. Except for Mom’s Chili, they entered my recipe bank after we moved to Iowa.

  1. Mom’s Chili
  2. French Stew
  3. Minestrone
  4. Crock Pot Bean Soup
  5. Slow Cooker Chicken Thai Soup
  6. Turkey Tortilla Soup

Do you have a favorite soup or stew recipe? Please share it in the comments below and leave a link to the recipe if you can.

Sign up to receive website updates and See Jane Run! book news on Gravel Road’s home page right under the picture of–you guessed it–the gravel road.