Hallowed Ground


A line of cannons at Manassas

On Memorial Day weekend, my family and I visited two Civil War battlefields. I am fascinated with history and going to a place where history happened always makes it come alive for me. You can almost feel the life, death, and valor around you. That is especially true in the two I visited, Manassas and Gettysburg.

Manassas was the site of two separate battles, both of which ended in a victory for the Confederate forces. During the first battle, early in the war, people actually came out to watch the battle from what they thought was a safe distance. Many of these watchers got caught up in the Union retreat. The second battle, like the war itself, was larger and bloodier.

The battlefield now consists a lot of grassy fields and pleasant walking trails. There are cannons, monuments, and a wonderfully rebuilt stone bridge.


Gettysburg is the iconic battlefield of the Civil War. It was a turning point that changed the course of history. It is also home to perhaps the most famous speech in American history, the Gettysburg Address.


The view from Little Round Top in Gettysburg.

Sometimes when you visit a really important place, it doesn’t live up to the hype. Gettysburg, however, exceeded my already high expectations. The National Park Service has worked hard to preserve the battlefield as it was in 1863. The place is massive and filled with memorials to the troops that served. As you drive through the park, you get a sense of what it was like to fight there so long ago. You can almost hear the cannon thundering and the shouts of the men. It is remarkable.


Site of the “high water mark” of Pickett’s charge. Where Union forces turned back the advancing confederates and won the battle.

One thing that stands out when you visit these places is how peaceful they are. That is especially true of Manassas, which was less crowded. For a brief, terrible moment, they were home to hatred, death, and destruction, but now once again they are fields and flowers as they were before. Not exactly as before, though, because now they are hallowed ground where people fought and died. They carry a special significance for all who visit.

Happy Independence Day!


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Be A Hobbit

IMG_2741 I got my first copy of the Lord of the Rings when I was about twelve years old as a Christmas gift from an aunt. Although I read a lot as a child I didn’t read much fantasy. The covers intrigued me and so some time that spring I started in on The Hobbit. I was hooked immediately and I’ve been a fan ever since. As you can see those books have seen some use.

Like a lot of other fans I enjoyed Lord of the Rings movies. For the most part I think Peter Jackson and company did a good job adapting the books into film. Most of the things they changed made sense when switching to a new medium. I think those same instincts served him poorly for the Hobbit. They took a fun self-contained adventure and turned it into a poor copy of the Lord of the Rings.

That aside, I was watching the Return of the King a few weeks ago, and something struck me that I hadn’t thought about before. Hobbits succeed primarily because they don’t give up. Tolkien is beloved for his ability to show ordinary little creatures exhibiting unexpected bravery and intelligence. His hobbit characters do exhibit these traits, but perhaps their most important trait is persistence. Hobbits just refuse to quit.

Frodo is the most obvious example of this. He continues on his quest to destroy the ring in the face of obstacles and the fact that the ring itself is trying to destroy him. When Frodo falters  his friend Sam is there to help him carry on, at times literally. Middle Earth would fall without the persistence of hobbits.


Bilbo exhibits this same characteristic. He refuses to give up in the riddle contest with Gollum, and he refuses to stop looking for the keyhole on Durin’s Day. He also refuses to give Thorin the Arkenstone. Once again the quest only succeeds because of a Hobbit’s persistence.

So be like a hobbit. Whatever your quest, whatever your endeavor do not give up. Keep going against all odds and never stop. Perhaps you’re not the biggest, or the fastest, or the strongest, but you can persevere. You can be a hobbit.

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Learning From Merle


Merle Haggard passed away yesterday and I found myself feeling pretty melancholy. His music has been a part of my life for as long as I’ve been around. I can remember my father singing his songs and I sang them to my own children when they were just babies. His status as a legendary singer and songwriter is undisputed and his music will influence other artists for generations. I will let other people write about that. What I want to talk about is what writers can learn from the Hag. Songwriters are storytellers and though their medium is different we can learn a good deal from them.


All writers aspire to create memorable characters and readers love them. Merle was great at creating characters in his songs that you connected with immediately. For example when he sings, “I raised a lot of cain in my younger days and my mama used to pray my crops would fail,” you know everything you need to know about the character and his mother. One simple phrase helps us invest in the character. It really shows how powerful it can be to provide a little information at the right time.


A big part of creating great characters is empathy. If the reader can relate to the character he or she will connect to the story. Merle excelled at this. He usually wrote about people who were down on their luck, or in bad circumstances. Sometimes it was due to their own actions sometimes just bad fortune. Either way you never got the feeling that Merle looked down on these characters. In fact, you find yourself rooting for these people. When he sings, “I turned twenty one in prison doing life without parole,” you feel like you’re right there in prison with him. You feel the regret and sorrow of a man who knows he put himself in this situation. Even though you may have never been to prison you can relate to this character.


Authenticity earns the writer trust from his or her readers. If the reader trusts the writer, they will follow the story almost anywhere. It seems strange to speak of authenticity when talking of fiction, but even in fiction readers can tell if an author is faking it. Merle’s songs are authentic. He wrote out of his experiences. He did actually turn twenty one in prison after all. So when he sings about life it doesn’t feel forced. This authenticity gives him latitude to sing about all kinds of things. Whether he’s singing about getting drunk or the problems with America we listen because he’s being honest with us. Maybe you don’t agree with him or maybe you do, but you know he’s being honest and you appreciate it. Now I wouldn’t suggest going to prison to write about prison, but try to infuse your writing with  authentic experiences and reactions. This will provide the readers with a connection. If it feels real, they will appreciate it.

These are some of the many things we can learn from Merle Haggard. I struggled a long time with what song to share here, but eventually I decided on one that I sang to my children as I rocked them to sleep. What are your memories of Merle?

Click here for “Mama Tried.” 

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I’ve Got an Agent!!!

I could not be more excited to announce that I now have an agent! That’s right, I can finally say those words, “wait, I need to call my agent.” I am thrilled to announce that I am represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Agency. In honor of this fact I thought I would share a bit about how it came to be.

I’ve been querying agents for a while and my pile of rejections is a rather large one. Fortunately, it’s a virtual pile so it only takes up a folder on my computer. One way I found to keep up my spirits during this process is to always be working on something new.  I began a new manuscript in November of 2014. A month later I had a novel written. That is, I had a first draft finished. After several months of editing and revisions I was finally ready to send my fledgling story out into the world. I decided its first foray should be at Pitch Wars.

Pitch Wars is a contest run the by the amazing Brenda Drake who donates a huge amount of time and effort to run several online contests for writers. I’ve entered this contest before and although I never won anything I’d received great feedback that helped me improve my writing. With that in mind, I submitted my new work and waited. One of the judges that Brenda recruited to help her was S.P. McConnell a great artist, writer and human being. Although he did not pick my story for the contest he told me he thought it was good and suggested I submit it to his agent, Terrie Wolf. I wasted no time at all in taking his advice.

After another time of nervous waiting, Terrie called and informed me that she was interested in representing my new novel. After about two hours on the phone, I did a small awkward happy dance then agreed. Now I’m looking forward to see where we can take this novel. I want to thank all those people in the writing community who have encouraged me over the years. You know who you are, and I want you to know that I’m grateful for your support. I look forward to interacting with you for years to come.

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Through the Veil Blog Tour

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Title: Through The Veil (The Aisling Chronicles, #1)

Author: Colleen Halverson

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Release Date: February 22, 2016

Publisher: Entangled



Elizabeth Tanner is no Tinkerbell, and her life is no fairy tale. Broke and drowning in student loans, the one thing she wants more than anything is a scholarship from the Trinity Foundation. But after the ancient Irish text she’s studying turns out to be more than just a book, she becomes their prisoner instead. And when Trinity reveals Elizabeth is half-Fae, she finds herself at the center of a plot to save the magical races of Ireland from a brutal civil war.

As Commander of Trinity’s elite warriors, Finn O’Connell isn’t used to having his authority challenged. He doesn’t know whether to punish or protect the infuriating young woman in his custody. When he discovers the Dark Fae want to use Elizabeth’s abilities to control the source of all power in the universe, he’ll risk everything to help her.

At the mercy of Trinity and enslaved to the Dark Fae, Elizabeth finds herself alone on the wrong side of an Irish myth thousands of years in the making. Refusing to be a pawn in their game, Elizabeth has to fight her way back to the man she loves, but to do so, she must wage her own war against the magic that binds her.

THROUGH THE VEIL will be available February 22nd 2016 through Entangled Publishing.

Book 1 of the Aisling Chronicles Series

Order your copy today!

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Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Barnes And Noble | IBooks | KOBO


It happened so fast, I barely had time to breathe. One moment I was standing in front of Finn and the next moment his hands gripped my shoulders, his lips pressed against mine. The blood rushed in my ears, and my heart pounded as he deepened the kiss. Every nerve in my body fired with desire as he drew me closer. I sank in to him for a brief second, letting the heat of his skin draw me in, but then I remembered who he was, his oaths, his allegiances.
With a cry of protest, I wrenched myself free, panting and heaving, trying to ignore the hot ache settling in my abdomen. God, I wanted him. Stupid Elizabeth. Stupid.

He stared at me in shock, his fingers on his lips, as if he wasn’t quite sure what had just happened.
I took that moment of confusion to swing my hand around and slap!
His head jerked back, and a palm print bloomed bright on his cheek.

“What the hell are you doing?”
He took a deep breath and paced the room. “I-I’m sorry,” Finn stammered, straightening his jacket and retreating to the door. “I don’t know what came over me, I—”

“You should really ask first, you know?” I bit my bottom lip. In spite of the stinging sensation in my hand, a part of me felt drawn to Finn, a hot, spellbinding gravity luring me to him. I took a step forward.

“I’m sorry.” Finn fumbled with the doorknob. “I’ve made a horrible error in judgment. Please forgive me.”

I snorted. “You know, if kissing me is so terrible, why do you keep doing it?”
Finn whirled around. “That’s not what I mean, Elizabeth. Your kiss is…perfect. You’re beautiful, you’re…”


I took two steps forward, caging him in. “Then what is it?”
Finn’s warm breath brushed my cheek. “I can’t…I can’t control myself around you,” he said in a strained voice.

“Is that what you want?” I raised my eyes to meet his dark gaze. “Control?” I traced my fingers against the back of his neck, my hands seeking his scalp. Finn’s body relaxed, his invisible armor crumbling beneath my touch. Heat emanated from his body as I moved in closer.

“Elizabeth,” he said. “We shouldn’t.” But his voice was soft, and his lips brushed my ear, and I tangled my hands in his hair, silky strands running through my fingers.

“Kiss me,” I whispered against his jaw.


I pushed my hips against him, and he groaned low in his throat.

“Do it.”


“Ye—” But I didn’t even finish the word as his mouth covered mine, hot, wet, and hungry. His arms slid down, and he grabbed my waist, his fingers traveling down the whispering green silk until he pulled my hips against him. His tongue darted between my teeth, shifting his weight so I could feel his desire through his trousers.

“Oh, God, you’re not…you’re not dead inside…” I said, my fingers grasping onto his suit jacket.

“Do you feel that?” He thrust again. I gasped, my knees growing weak until I thought I would collapse to the floor.


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About The Author


As a child, Colleen Halverson used to play in the woods imagining worlds and telling stories to herself. Growing up on military bases, she found solace in her local library and later decided to make a living sharing the wonders of literature to poor, unsuspecting college freshman. After backpacking through Ireland and singing in a traditional Irish music band, she earned a PhD in English with a specialization in Irish literature. When she’s not making up stories or teaching, she can be found hiking the rolling hills of the Driftless area of Wisconsin with her husband and two children.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads


Swag Pack

One signed copy of Through the Veil
One Book of Kells Coloring Book
One Tree of Life Pendant
One Tree of Life Journal
One hand-painted one-of-a-kind Tree of Life scarf

a Rafflecopter giveaway love-p



Posted in Other Writers, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Through the Veil

Hey everyone, today (Feb. 22nd)  is the release date for Through the Veil by Colleen Halverson. Colleen is a great member of the writing community so I am excited that her release date is here. Show her some love and check out her book. There’s a giveaway and everything.

ttv release banner

Title: Through The Veil (The Aisling Chronicles, #1)

Author: Colleen Halverson

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Release Date: February 22, 2016

Publisher: Entangled



Elizabeth Tanner is no Tinkerbell, and her life is no fairy tale. Broke and drowning in student loans, the one thing she wants more than anything is a scholarship from the Trinity Foundation. But after the ancient Irish text she’s studying turns out to be more than just a book, she becomes their prisoner instead. And when Trinity reveals Elizabeth is half-Fae, she finds herself at the center of a plot to save the magical races of Ireland from a brutal civil war.

As Commander of Trinity’s elite warriors, Finn O’Connell isn’t used to having his authority challenged. He doesn’t know whether to punish or protect the infuriating young woman in his custody. When he discovers the Dark Fae want to use Elizabeth’s abilities to control the source of all power in the universe, he’ll risk everything to help her.

At the mercy of Trinity and enslaved to the Dark Fae, Elizabeth finds herself alone on the wrong side of an Irish myth thousands of years in the making. Refusing to be a pawn in their game, Elizabeth has to fight her way back to the man she loves, but to do so, she must wage her own war against the magic that binds her.

THROUGH THE VEIL will be available February 22nd 2016 through Entangled Publishing.

Book 1 of the Aisling Chronicles Series

Order your copy today!

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Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Barnes And Noble | IBooks | KOBO


I turned the corner and took in the large man towering over Candace’s shiny blond head. Tapping his foot and muttering something about being “late for another meeting,” he shot her a menacing scowl. He clutched the edge of the desk as if he might overturn it and swallow our intern whole like a mini eggroll.

Candace bit her lip, her big brown manga eyes wide with bubbling anxiety as she fumbled with some files.

I hated a bully. Being an army brat with a new school almost every year, I could spot one a mile away.

“Can I help you?” I threw back my shoulders and tried to make myself appear taller.

The man puffed his linebacker chest. “Finn O’Connell. I’m with the Trinity Foundation. I have an appointment with Dr. Kevin Forrester.” He had a crisp Irish accent, his consonants cutting through the shafts of afternoon light spilling into the room.

“I’m sorry, but Dr. Forrester is out.”

Where are you, old man?

I stepped forward, pasting a confident smile on my face. “Is there something I could help you with?”

Mr. O’Connell stalked over to me, and I fought the urge to step back. Six foot five and no problems with invading personal space, the man from Trinity emitted waves of heat, and his body hummed like a pulsing engine shrouded in gleaming black chrome.

My heart raced as I tilted my head up and up to meet a pair of intense gray eyes that made me forget my last name. Gritting my teeth, I steeled myself, crossing my arms. Never show fear: rule number one for managing the bullies in your life.

“Dr. Forrester recently acquired a new manuscript—”

The Book of Arranmore!

Finn tilted his head, trying to make sense of the jumble of consonants I had just vomited. “Excuse me?”

“Um, yes. The Book of Arranmore. Sorry.” I twisted my mouth into some semblance of a smile, but inside my stomach knotted, thinking of the changing pictures, the shifting text. “It’s a wonderful new addition to our collection.”

Finn glanced down the hallway toward the archives. “Would you mind if I take a look?”

“Um…” I curled my fingers into my palm. “I think it might be best if we wait for Dr. Forrester. If you would like to come back later—”

“No, I would not like to come back later. My time is precious, Miss…?”

I raised my eyebrows, bristling at the Miss. “Tanner. Elizabeth Tanner.”

“Miss Tanner,” he said. “As a contributing member to this institution, I think I am entitled to a small preview.”

Entitled. Only certain kinds of men could throw that word around. Men in Burberry leather trench coats, dry-cleaned, pressed shirts so white they glistened like morning snow. Men with large checkbooks. Men, who, with the flick of a lazy, indecipherable signature could decide the destiny of my academic career.

“Of course, Mr. O’Connell,” I said. “We have it in the back here, if you would like to follow me. I was just working on it.”

Finn rode my heels, and I hurried to keep some distance between us. Opening the door and crossing the reading room, I darted to my workspace, leaning against the desk to establish my territory. I raised my chin, but inside my stomach fluttered as Finn took in the mountains of scattered notes I had amassed over the past few weeks. A messy desk is the sign of a true genius, right? Judging from the scowl on the Irishman’s face, he didn’t seem to think so.

I took a deep breath and was about to open my mouth to wax intellectual on The Book of Arranmore when my hand slipped over the computer mouse. AC/DC screeched across the wood-paneled walls, elaborating on the calamitous effects of American thighs.

I let out a squeak, whirling around and fumbling to press pause, my hands shaking violently. The music stopped mid-scream, and then silence.

“Interesting taste in music, Miss Tanner.”

His words burned hot against the side of my neck, and I gasped. Finn stood a mere inch behind me. He stared down at the computer screen, the blue light flashing on the teasing smile spread across his face. Heat bloomed in my cheeks, and I clicked on the tiny X to close out the program.

“Oh, that wasn’t mine!” I brushed my hair out of my eyes. “These dang undergrads. I mean, who listens to AC/DC, right?”

Finn’s smile faded, his dark stare replacing the brief lightness in his features. I chewed on my lip, arrested for a moment by the impossible length of his eyelashes.

“Is this it?” Finn turned and planted his fists on the table, caging the manuscript with his arms.

“Yes.” Closing in on Finn, I breathed in the clean, leather smell emanating from his long coat. Warm and intoxicating, he smelled like a mix of fresh laundry and badass.

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About The Author


As a child, Colleen Halverson used to play in the woods imagining worlds and telling stories to herself. Growing up on military bases, she found solace in her local library and later decided to make a living sharing the wonders of literature to poor, unsuspecting college freshman. After backpacking through Ireland and singing in a traditional Irish music band, she earned a PhD in English with a specialization in Irish literature. When she’s not making up stories or teaching, she can be found hiking the rolling hills of the Driftless area of Wisconsin with her husband and two children.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads


Swag Pack

One signed copy of Through the Veil
One Book of Kells Coloring Book
One Tree of Life Pendant
One Tree of Life Journal
One hand-painted one-of-a-kind Tree of Life scarf

a Rafflecopter giveaway love-p


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fifty Shades of Plaid

DSC_0684The dryer made a satisfyingly loud clang as it tumbled off the truck into the mound of scrap metal. Much to Cale’s surprise, though, it didn’t break. He wiped his hands on his jeans and looked at Roy.

“Thing held together better than I thought it would,” he said.

“Guess they finally made something you couldn’t break.” Roy slapped the old washer. “Let’s get this thing out of here. I’ve got stuff to do.” They grabbed the washer and waddled it toward the back of the truck.

“What do you have to do that’s so important?” Cale grunted as they slid the washer to the edge.

“We got to swing by the Hanson House and pick up some papers or something for Allie.” With a tremendous heave, they toppled the old washer from the tailgate. It landed upside down in an ungainly hump next to the dryer.

“Looks like you diving into a pool,” he added.

“Wait, I though you guys broke up.” Cale ignored Roy’s comment.

“We are. I’m just doing her a favor.” Roy jumped lightly from the truck.

“So we’re going to spend our Saturday night doing favors for your ex?” Cale leapt, not lightly, down next to Roy.

“As opposed to spending our Saturday night dumping old appliances for your cousin Cheryl.” Roy buttoned his coat. “Let’s go. I’m freezing my butt off out here.”

The Hanson house was an old rambling Victorian home that had been swallowed up by the university campus sometimes in the 1970’s. The university had bought the house and turned it into a place for campus organizations to meet. There was, of course, no parking available.

“Wait here in the truck while I run in and get the stuff.” Roy stopped in front of the fire hydrant. “Don’t get distracted by some girl and get me towed.”

“Oh, I think the girls will be distracted by me.” Cale grinned.

“By your smell, maybe,” Roy said and slammed the door. Cale scrolled through his phone while Roy ran up the creaky wooden stairs and into the house. Five minutes later Cale’s phone buzzed with a text message.

“Still waiting,” it read. Cale sighed as he watched the car in the parking lot in front him leave. How long did it take to pick up a paper anyway? Were all of Allie’s friends as flaky as she was? He slipped over to the driver’s side and pulled the truck into the empty spot. They didn’t need to pay on Saturdays and now he could go inside and use the restroom.

Roy stood in what had probably been called a parlor when the house was in its prime. His face looked a bit like the angry emoji that people used on their phones.

“Why did you leave the truck?” he demanded.

“Calm down, Nervous Nellie. I found a spot for it. We will not be towed.” Cale inhaled the wonderful smell of baking meat. “Wow, what is going on here?”

“How should I know?” Roy grumbled. “Is that what brought you in here, the smell of food? I should have known.”

“I got to take a leak, actually. Where’s the stuff or whatever?”

“The dude isn’t here yet. He should be here soon.” Roy’s face somehow got even redder. Cale decided not to tease his friend.

“Okay, well I’m going to find a restroom.” He wound down the narrow hall that went past the stairs, following the sound of clanging pans and the delicious smell until he found the kitchen. His stomach growled as he opened the flimsy wooden door.

Four people bustled around the too small kitchen and pots bubbled on every burner of a small stove. Steam rose up and dissipated in the light of a single naked bulb that hung down over a small table. Cale stood in the door watching the spectacle in wonder. A girl with fiery hair and a trace of freckles on her nose looked up at him.

“Are you just here to stare or did you come to help?” she asked, but her smile added kindness to her words. Cale took one look at her green eyes and knew there was only one right answer.

“I’m here to help.” He stepped forward. The bathroom could wait.

“Good.” Her smile got bigger. “Do you know anything about haggis?”

“Haggis?” Cale couldn’t hide the surprise in his voice. “It’s Scottish, right? There’s a sheep stomach or something.”

“He knows as much as we do.” A tall, balding man laughed. He towered over the stove, stirring something in a pot.

“At least we have the Internet.” A short brown-haired girl looked up from some dough she was kneading. He should get Roy, Cale thought. That girl was definitely Roy’s type. Any girl that made bread was all right with Cale.

“Can you help me a minute?” the red haired girl asked, and thoughts of Roy, or anything else, disappeared from his mind.

“Absolutely,” he said. “What do you need?”

“Can you get those pans up on that shelf?” She pointed. “We need to cook Alyssa’s bread after the haggis is done.” She smiled as he handed her the pizza pans.

“You don’t need bread pans?” Cale asked.

“What, are you a chef?” She laughed. “I don’t know, she just told me she needed these.” Cale laughed too. How was it possible for anyone’s eyes to be that green?

“So is this your first Burns’ supper?”

“Uh, yes, uh, yes it is.” Cale wasn’t sure if she’d said burnt supper or Burns’ supper. Nothing smelled burnt and he was an expert on burning his food, supper or otherwise. Burnt supper didn’t make sense anyway.

“I’m Blair, by the way.” She dropped her pans next to Alyssa. “This is Alyssa Gonzales. She’s making scones.”

“I’m Cale,” he said. “I’m a big fan of scones.” Alyssa laughed and wiped her forehead, leaving a smudge of flour.

“Do you know how to make them?” she said. “Because this the first time I’ve tried it.”

“Sorry, I can make cookies, but that’s about it.” He looked at Blair. “Are cookies part of a Burns’ supper?” He mumbled the “burns” part because he still wasn’t sure what she meant.

Blair shook her head. “I think as long as you have haggis you’re okay.” She looked over her shoulder at the tall man.

“What do you think?”

The tall man shrugged. “I don’t think it matters that much. I’m sure Robert Burns would enjoy any sort of cookie.” Everything clicked for Cale then. They were talking about Robert Burns, the poet. That certainly explained all the Scottish stuff, including the tall man’s kilt.

“We’re not going to have anything if you people don’t get to work,” a stocky middle-aged woman said. She did not look up from the onions she was chopping. At that moment the door opened and Roy stepped into the kitchen. Cale watched the scowl on his face disappear as he looked at Alyssa.

“What you doing there, Cale?”

“Helping with the Burns’ supper.” Cale tried to emphasize Burns, but Roy made the same mistake Cale had.

“You’re helping burn supper? Why?” He grinned, and surprisingly, Alyssa laughed. It was a pity laugh, Cale thought. Blair rolled her eyes.

“You will be relegated to setting the table if you keep making jokes like that,” the tall, kilted man said. The stocky woman did not bother acknowledging Roy’s presence.

“Seriously though, what is a—” Roy stepped further into the kitchen.

“Hey, did you get your paper?” Cale moved quickly in front of Roy.

“Uh, no not yet.” Roy gave Cale a quizzical look but didn’t say anything else. “I was looking for you.”

“I just thought we should help out a bit since we’re early for dinner.” Cale tried to use his eyes to tell Roy to roll with it. Roy looked around the kitchen, his eyes finding Alyssa.

“I suppose we should do our part,” he said. Both of them pitched in so eagerly that their mothers would have been proud. Of course, their mothers never could have gotten them to work so heartily. Six people proved more than the little kitchen could handle and so they quickly found themselves setting the table.

“What are you doing?” Roy asked when they were alone in the dining room.

“Getting us a free supper with some pretty girls.” Cale went on to fill Roy in on Robert Burns and what little he knew of a Burns’ supper.

“That’s all well and good, Wikipedia Brown, but what side does the knife and fork go on?” Roy put the last plate in its space. Cale had no idea either, but after several Google searches they managed a halfway decent job of it. Roy even arranged some fake flowers tastefully as a centerpiece.

Guests arrived shortly after they finished. They shrugged off heavy coats complaining about the cold. Roy thought about pointing out that wearing kilts in January was stupid, but decided to hold his tongue. Instead he went to the kitchen to help Alyssa with the scones while Cale helped Blair put the finishing touches on the haggis.

“So you made this from scratch?” he asked her as he dropped some garnish carefully into place.

“Oh no,” she said. “It came prepared. I just had to cook it. Hopefully I cooked it long enough. I don’t know.”

“I’m sure it’s fine.” Cale donned the oven mitts. “What could go wrong with sheep stomach?” Blair held open the door and he carried the steaming haggis into the dining room. The assembled crowd cheered as he placed it gently in the middle of the table.

“I see you wore your plaid on top.” A portly man pointed at Cale’s flannel shirt.

“I suppose I did.” Cale looked around for Blair but she’d disappeared somewhere. He hung back while the odd assemblage of people found their seats. There was barely enough room in the dining room for all of them, and Cale saw immediately that there weren’t enough chairs for him and Roy.

A moment later Blair reappeared, dressed in a plaid skirt and white blouse. She looked like Cale’s idea of a Scottish princess as she smiled at the compliments on the haggis.

“Cale helped me,” she said placing her hand briefly on his shoulder. This earned him a scowl from a big blond guy. Was that her boyfriend or just somebody who wanted to be her boyfriend? A moment later, Roy and Alyssa appeared, and the shortage of chairs became plain.

“Just use the piano bench from the back room,” an elderly lady in a feathered Scotch bonnet suggested. Cale scurried to the back room and in a moment found himself seated next to Blair on the piano bench. This development pleased him greatly and earned him another dark look from the blond guy.

The boys both enjoyed the prayer that thanked God for the meat. Any meal that started out thanking God for meat had to be good. After that a broad-shouldered old man rose from his chair.

“Welcome, welcome, honored guests, expected and unexpected.” He shot a meaningful glance at Roy and Cale. “Now it’s time to address the haggis.” He pulled a scrap of paper and put on reading glasses. Cale’s phone buzzed with a text from Roy as the man read off the paper.

“What is he saying?”

“I don’t know. It’s Scottish,” Cale sent back. The man finished and cut into the haggis. Blair leaned forward and Cale could feel her nervousness.

“A triumph.” The man brandished his knife. Blair smiled.

“Good job,” Cale whispered and she patted his forearm in thanks. The man sliced up the haggis as the rest of them passed the other dishes around the table. Everyone got a piece of the haggis.

“I don’t know about this.” Roy jabbed the haggis tentatively with his fork.

“Just try it,” Alyssa said. “It’s not that bad. You might actually like it.”

“You know what they make it out of, right?” Roy sliced off a small piece.

“You eat hot dogs. What are they made of?”

“Good point.” Roy popped some haggis in his mouth and swallowed it with a smile.

“See, I told you,” she said.

“You’re right.” Roy nodded and sliced off another piece. When she looked away, though, he fed it to the tiny Scottish terrier who sat on the elderly woman’s lap. Cale ate the haggis with gusto, earning smiles from Blair and making the blond guy glummer. The man at the head of the table produced a bottle of whisky.

“You’ve got to show me you’re 21,” he said, “and only two for our toasts. The university would frown upon me getting you people drunk.”

“That’s why I brought my big glass.” Another bald and kilted man put a comically large glass on the table. Everyone laughed. Cale was glad about the drinking limits. He’d never been much for whisky, and he didn’t want to look weak in front of Blair.

“I’m only twenty,” she said, and that made him feel better. At least she couldn’t outdrink him.

Several toasts and poetry recitals followed, and the man who’d brought the big glass grew louder with each round. His red face betrayed that he’d started his toasts earlier by himself. Cale saw him sneak a third refill during one of the poems. At last the leader rose to his feet again.

“Now, Dr. Bern will favor us with a tune from the bagpipes.” Dr. Bern, the red-faced man, got to his feet. He wobbled a moment and then made his way to a dresser, where a deflated bagpipe lay like a sleeping animal.

“Give me moment,” he said. A high-pitched squeal filled the room as he inflated the bag and blew a few notes. Roy’s eyes went wide at the sound, but everyone waited patiently.

“Okay, I’m ready.” He put his hand on Cale’s shoulder. “Could you pull that chair over for me?” Cale complied, and after another brief wobble, Dr. Bern stood on the chair. Somehow his face got even redder as he played “Scotland the Brave.” About halfway through the song, Dr. Bern’s eyes closed, and he tumbled sideways off the chair like a plaid tree.

For a brief panicked half second Cale watched him falling straight toward Blair. He jumped forward and grabbed Dr. Bern around his ample waist. They crashed together to the floor with Dr. Bern on top of him. The bagpipe let out a dying groan as Dr. Bern’s weight deflated it. People screamed and leaped from their seats.

“Is he okay?” someone asked. Cale gasped for breath and looked up from the floor. Dr. Bern’s kilt had flopped up over his back, revealing the fact that he was a traditionalist when it came to wearing anything under his kilt. Cale turned his horrified eyes to Blair who put her hand over her mouth.

The little terrier, which had been so quiet, launched himself from his master’s lap, yapping and whining. He vaulted across the table and landed with all four paws on Dr. Bern’s exposed backside. It worked better than any smelling salts. Dr. Bern sputtered, coughed, and lunged to his knees.

“What? What?” he shouted. Cale slithered out from under him, trying to purge the horrifying images from his memory. Chaos reigned for some time after that, and Roy and Cale decided it was time to go. Blair stood next to Cale as he slipped his coat on.

“I guess I should be honest with you,” she said. “I, uh, I was just using you to make my ex jealous.”

“The blond dude?” Cale said, already knowing the answer.

“Yes.” She looked at her feet. “I’m sorry. It was stupid and you’re such a nice guy.”

“And I kept the piper from falling on you.”

She laughed. “Yes, you saved my life.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek.

“Ae fond kiss and then we sever?” he said.

“Aye,” she said, and kissed him on the lips.


“Quite a shindig, huh?” Roy said as they pulled away in the truck.

“Could have done without the piper.” Cale laughed. “But I got a kiss and Alyssa’s scones.” He held up a small bag.

“Good for you,” Roy said. “I got her number.”






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Annabelle Lee

Here’s a short story partially inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s poem Annabelle Lee. Hope you enjoy it.


Annabelle Lee

by Silas Champion

Everything smells unpleasant today, Annabelle thought, but no one else seemed to notice. They chattered about the upcoming party as they folded origami ravens. She sniffed the air again. Something definitely smelled musty, but she’d always had a sensitive nose.

“The decorations look wonderful,” a bubbly voice sounded behind her. Annabelle turned to see Gwen holding a tray of elaborate cupcakes. Each cupcake had a small black bat perched on orange icing.

“Thanks.” Annabelle pointed at the cupcakes. “Those are cool. Did you make those?”

Gwen laughed. “Oh no, I got these from Sweetcakes. I could never make anything like that.” She laughed again. Gwen laughed too much, but she was a sweetheart. Those cupcakes had to be expensive. It wasn’t like the Library Club had a big budget. Annabelle decided to let it go. Sometimes it felt like she was the only one who worried about this stuff.

“Just put them on the table over there.” She pointed. Gwen giggled and scurried away. Annabelle watched Portia walk toward her with a bag in each hand. Her long brown hair bounced on her shoulders that were covered in a perfectly puffy sweater. All she needed was a pumpkin-spice latte and she would be a walking cliché.

“Annabelle!” she called. Portia always sounded excited, even when she made a shopping list. “Everything looks great!” She waved at the decorations covering the library meeting room.

“Thanks, Portia,” Annabelle said. “Did you get the prizes?” Portia’s bubbly smile changed to a frown.

“I got some.” She held up the bags. “But not as much as we hoped.” Annabelle stifled a sigh. The prizes were the only way they raised any money at this event. The old people ponied up for those prizes.

“What happened?”

Portia shrugged her perfect shoulders. “I don’t know. I went to the same store as last year, but they were mostly sold out. Sorry.” Her voice regained its customary perkiness.

“It’s okay.” Annabelle forced the irritation from her voice. “We’ll figure something out.”

“Where’s the tables?” Portia asked.

“Oh, Allie’s boyfriend is bring them in his truck.” Annabelle searched for a solution to the prize problem. She didn’t need a bunch of angry senior citizens. At least you could distract children with candy, but candy would mess with the seniors’ blood sugar. She faked a smile.

“Why don’t you put your prizes over there and help the others with the decorations?”

“Okay.” Portia joined the other girls with her usual cheery hello. Annabelle tamped down a curse. Would anything go right tonight? A chilly blast of wind told her someone had opened the side door. Hopefully the tables had arrived.

A moment later, a burly guy lugged a table into the conference room. He stopped in the doorway and blinked in the glare of the lights. Annabelle blinked as well. She’d never seen someone that young wearing flannel without a trace of irony before. This guy was Allie’s boyfriend? He looked like the Brawny Paper Towel guy’s son. The table clanged against the doorframe as he stepped inside. Everyone turned to look at him.

“My bad.” He grinned. “Where do you want your tables?” Everyone looked at Annabelle.

“Over here.” She stepped forward. “Thanks for bringing them.” He lugged the table toward her and she met him halfway.

“No problem,” he said. “We got a bunch more.” He sat the table on the floor and leaned it against his legs.

“I’m Annabelle Lee.” Annabelle extended her hand.

“Nice to meet you.” He shook her hand. “I’m Cale.”

“Hi.” What kind of name was Cale? Was he really named after a vegetable?

“So it’s nice to meet finally Allie’s boyfriend.” It wasn’t that nice, but she needed something to say.

He laughed. “Oh, wow, no, no, no.” He shook his head and laughed again. “He’s still outside.” The relief in Cale’s voice made Annabelle laugh with him. She liked Allie, well, kind of liked Allie, but being Allie’s boyfriend had to be difficult.

“Just put the table over there.” She pointed at a large empty area.

“Okay,” he said. “What is this anyway?”

“Oh our club does a Halloween bingo night here every year to raise money.”

“Got you.” Cale picked up the table. “So are you in charge?”

“Kind of,” she said. “Allie and I organize it together.” Together, in this case, meant doing whatever Allie wanted.

“Oh,” he said, and the way he said it meant he understood about working with Allie. He carried the table across the room as another guy came through door with a table of his own. A battered cowboy hat perched precariously on his head and a black shirt hung on his lank frame. He didn’t look like Allie’s type either, although she might like the novelty of a cowboy thing.

“Thanks for your help,” she said to him. “I’m Annabelle.”

“No problem. I’m Roy,” he replied. “You want them all over there?” He pointed his hat to where Cale was unfolding the legs of the table.

“All but one. We’ll put it in the kitchen for the extra snacks.” Annabelle looked down at her buzzing phone. It was a text from Allie telling her why she was late. Annabelle didn’t read it because Allie was always late. Instead she typed her own text.

“Portia couldn’t get the prizes. What can we do?”

After a moment her phone buzzed. “I have no idea.” Six frowny face emojis followed. Annabelle gave Cale a fake smile as he walked past her to get another table. Then she went to check on the snacks. Of course, nobody had bothered to mix the drinks, so she called Portia over and the two of them mixed lemonade and instant tea. Annabelle did her best to follow Portia’s bubbly conversation, but her mind returned to the problem of the missing prizes.

“Is this the one you want in the kitchen?” Cale interrupted her thoughts. The two boys stood holding a long table between them.

“That would be great. Follow me.” She led them through a narrow hallway to a cramped kitchen. The smell got worse in here. What was that anyway? She jumped as loud clanging filled the room. Turning she saw Cale’s face turn crimson and three empty pans rolling on the middle of the kitchen floor.

“Sorry,” he said.

“Watch what you’re doing, boy,” Roy said. “You scared the poor girl to death.”

“I was.” Cale turned to look at his friend. “You just rammed it through the door like you’re in a hurry.”

“I didn’t ram it through. You’re just a bad driver.”

Cale snorted. “Like you’re one to talk about driving, Mr. Mailbox Destroyer.”

Roy didn’t respond but looked past Cale at Annabelle. “You’ll have to watch Cale, he’s likely to destroy this place.” Cale started to say something but then he shrugged.

“I can’t argue with that.” He grinned. “Sorry to scare you.”

“Hey, it’s almost Halloween, right?” Annabelle’s heart rate was slowly returning to normal. “I’m okay.” Cale picked up his pans while Roy wedged the table into the corner of the kitchen.

“So people pay you guys to play bingo?” Cale nestled the pans onto the stove.

“Yes, they can win prizes,” Annabelle said. “At least, they were supposed to win prizes.”

“What do you mean?” Cale asked. He checked the leaning tower of pans before stepping back.

“We don’t have enough prizes this year. I don’t know what we’ll do.” She wasn’t sure why she was telling two strangers her problems, but she needed to tell someone. They looked at each other, and then Cale spoke.

“What kind of prizes do you need?”

“Little stuff.” Annabelle shrugged. “Like knick-knacks. Stuff old people like.”

“Oh,” Cale said. They looked at each other again. Roy gave the “sorry nothing I can do” shrug. He was ready to go. Annabelle sympathized and wished she could leave as well.

“Wait.” Cale held up a hand. “What about all that crap Vance brought in yesterday?”

“Hmm, maybe.” Roy nodded.

Annabelle raised an eyebrow. “You make it sound so tempting. How can I resist?”

“No it’s good stuff,” Cale said. “Well, good for your purposes. Not really good. You know what I mean.”

“Not really. What do you mean?” Annabelle said.

“One of our roommates goes out and buys stuff from people. Like antiques and stuff.” Cale looked at the pans again, obviously still unsure if they would stay put.

“Buys junk mostly.” Roy looked up from his phone.

“Anyway, he brought in this huge box yesterday and it’s full of like little animal statues and bird clocks and stuff.”

Annabelle’s spirits lifted. “He doesn’t want it?”

“No, he had to take it in order to buy something he wanted. So he’d let us bring it.”

Annabelle glanced at her phone. She didn’t want to text Allie again. Hopefully, these guys had good stuff. If not, it wouldn’t really hurt anything. Why not have them bring it and then see if it would work? It was better than what she had now which was nothing.

“Can you get it?” She looked at Cale, then Roy. “It’s a lot to ask, I know. I understand if you can’t.”

“Oh, it’s no problem.” Cale stepped forward. Then he looked back at Roy who was doing his best to hide his emotions. He looked from Cale to Annabelle and she knew it was his turn to stifle a sigh.

“I guess, maybe.”

“Let me text Allie our plan.” Annabelle knew he couldn’t say no once she involved Allie. She typed hastily into her phone while the two boys remained silent. Allie responded immediately with several happy face emojis.

“Allie is all for it,” Annabelle said. Roy’s eyes tightened, but he kept his smile in place. Cale’s grin got bigger.

“Okay,” Roy said. “I’ll leave Cale here to help you set stuff up. I’ll be back in a bit. Just keep him away from breakable objects.”

“I’ll keep him away from the fine china.” Annabelle smiled. Nice play, Roy, she thought. Leaving your friend here to flirt with me as punishment. At least Cale could carry the heavy things. Roy stepped out the door leaving her alone with Cale in the kitchen. Cale smiled and she cleared her throat.

“So what do you need me to do?” he asked. Annabelle licked her lips. She hadn’t really expected him to do anything.

“Why don’t you help Portia decorate the tables?” She handed him a long, orange roll of paper tablecloth.

“Okay. Which one is Portia?”

Annabelle picked up two pitchers of lemonade. “The bubbly one with dark hair and white sweater. You’ll know her when you see her.” That should keep him occupied. Though Annabelle found Portia a bit too much, she had to admit she was pretty.

“Okay.” He sniffed and furrowed his brow.

“It stinks in here, doesn’t?” Annabelle almost grabbed his arm.

“No, it’s fine,” he said.

She smiled. “You don’t have to lie. It’s not my house.”

“Well, maybe we should find a candle or something.” He grinned.

“I’ll look for that. Get the tables ready.” She stepped aside so he could go out of the kitchen. It took no time at all for him to find Portia. Annabelle meant to find the candles but got sidetracked by the million other details. There was only half an hour left and Allie still wasn’t here. Annabelle glanced over once and caught Cale looking at her. He looked away quickly and she did her best not to look over again.

When she couldn’t stall any longer, she went over to inspect the tables. Portia had wandered off, but Cale remained looking pleased with himself. Annabelle had to admit they’d done a good job. Black bats and the origami ravens dotted the orange tablecloth and the candy was scattered nicely. One table stood out from the rest. A crudely constructed cardboard castle sat in the middle, surrounded by tiny plastic fish.

“What is this?” she asked.

“This is for your kingdom by the sea.” He grinned.

She shook her head. “So you’ve read the poem.”

“Yeah.” He was still grinning. “Are you surprised?”

“No,” she lied. “You really did all this just for that joke?” Usually people would say something immediately if they noticed that she shared a name with a famous Edgar Allen Poe poem. Cale had taken it to the next level.

“To be honest, it wasn’t that much work.” He adjusted a tower on his lopsided castle.

“I can tell,” she said. Cale laughed. He had a deep, rich laugh that made you want to join in.

“So your parents were big Poe fans?” he asked.

“No. I don’t think they read much Poe in Hong Kong where they grew up.” She watched the first of the bingo players shuffle through the front door of the library. “They would never have named me after someone who dies young like she does in the poem.”

He nodded. “That makes sense.”

“How about you?” she said. “Your parents eat a lot of kale?”

He laughed that laugh again. “No, I don’t think my dad has ever had it. I spell it with a ‘C,’ by the way.” That didn’t explain anything.

“Okay,” she said. “Have you ever eaten kale?

“I’ve had it.” He chuckled. “Once, anyway.”

“I knew it.” She laughed and adjusted his castle. Why was she teasing him? He was going to think she was flirting. Anyway it was time to start. The door opened and Allie finally waltzed through the door, her dark brown hair bouncing with each step. Roy followed behind her, carrying a cardboard box.

“Oh hey, Allie is here, right on time.” Cale’s tone told Annabelle that they shared the same opinion of Allie. More pressing concerns came to her attention as a burning smell assaulted her nostrils.

“What is that smell?” she asked.

“Oh, the cookies.” Cale raced for the kitchen.

“The cookies?” Annabelle trailed after him.

“Yeah, I put some cookies in the oven to cover that smell.” He looked over his shoulder. “I found the dough in the freezer.”

“Well, you covered that smell for sure.” Annabelle grimaced. The burning odor got stronger as they got closer.

“They haven’t been in that long,” Cale said. They rushed into the kitchen where smoke wafted from the oven door. Cale grabbed an oven mitt and jerked the cookies from the oven. Smoke billowed out as he opened the door. Annabelle reached around him and shut off the stove. They stood coughing and looking at each other over a pan of half-baked cookies.

“They’re not burnt.” Cale brandished the pan to show it wasn’t his fault.

“Must have been something in the stove,” Annabelle said.

“Sorry.” Cale put the pan on the stove. “I guess I screwed everything up.”

“It’s okay. At least the smoke alarm didn’t go off.” It had been a good idea and he was just trying to help.

“I guess it’s broken. Maybe we saved lives with this little incident.”

Annabelle chuckled. “Okay, superhero, let’s close the door and hope for the best.” They left the kitchen door closed tight and returned to the open area. The smell lingered but was not as strong. She braced for the shriek of the alarm, but it never came. Cale must have been right. It really was broken. The old folks settled into their chairs while the girls passed out bingo cards. Portia would call out the numbers. Her perkiness was perfect for these activities.

“What’s that smell?” Allie asked.

“It’s the smell of good intentions,” Annabelle said. “Just don’t open the kitchen door.” Allie gave her a puzzled look but didn’t ask any more. She walked away to chat with the bingo players. Annabelle glanced around the room. Roy and Cale were scattering the knick-knacks onto the prize table. The girls mingled among the players chatting and laughing. For the first time that night, Annabelle relaxed.

Two hours later, the prizes were gone and the bingo players slowly filtered into the night. Annabelle finally opened the kitchen and cleaned up the cookies while Roy and Cale hauled the tables away. When she finished, she left a note about the fire alarm.

“Everything is cleaned up,” Cale said. “Do you need any help in there?”

“No, I got it,” Annabelle said. Allie and Roy sauntered over.

“Everything turned out great.” Allie gave her a thumbs-up. “Thanks for all your work, Annabelle.”

“No problem.” Annabelle would like to thank her, but Allie hadn’t really done anything. “So you got all your stuff?”

“We’re all set to go,” Roy said. Allie nodded.

“So are you sure you don’t need any more help?” Cale asked. “I feel like I should clean the kitchen or something.”

“It’s fine, don’t worry about it.” Annabelle realized that Cale was going to be a third wheel riding with Allie and Roy. That had to be awkward.

“You just want to eat the cookie dough.” Roy clapped his friend on the shoulder. “Don’t make up stories.”

“Not after whatever was in that oven,” Cale said. “I’m sworn off cookies for at least five minutes.”

“Do you need a ride home, Cale?” Annabelle surprised herself with this question. The relief on everyone’s face told her she’d made the right choice.

“Yes, that would be great.” Cale grinned. “Uh, we could stop for, you know, uh, food if you want.”

Why not? She was hungry. “Okay, but no cookies.”


If you’d like to hear a modern version of Poe’s poem click on the link.

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The Front Porch


I’ve always liked front porches. Something about a big front porch makes a house feel more welcoming. It’s like the hospitality of the home spills outside beyond the walls. The house offers you chairs even before you open the front door. It’s like it can’t wait for you to sit and visit.

The porch is an intermediary between the private sanctity of the house and the public square of the street. You are still at home, but you can engage the world around you. Maybe that’s why front porches can be so relaxing. The world is there but you don’t have to leave home.

Perhaps it’s the idea of leisurely visiting that makes front porches so attractive. In today’s society we rarely have time to just sit, much less sit and visit with friends. Oh we sit a lot. We sit at our desks working, we sit and watch television, we sit and scroll through our social media. Porches invite you to sit just for the sake of sitting. They ask you to watch the world pass by the house and wave at it. Or maybe call out to your neighbors. The porch was the original social media.

As the weather cools for autumn find a porch. Chat with a friend, wave to a neighbor, scratch the ears of a dog or a cat or an alligator. Do whatever relaxes you. Put down the phone for a bit and watch the world go by.

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Getting Gothic

I had a very gothic summer. Let me explain. One of the most famous pictures in the world is American Gothic by Grant Wood, and I got to see it this year.  I also visited the house in the background of the painting.


The house sits in a tiny town in Southern Iowa called Eldon. I grew up about forty-five minutes from Eldon and have driven through it countless times. Never once, though, did I visit the house. This summer, I decided to finally make the journey. It sits in a small park off the main road, and I am using the term “main road” very loosely. For being so famous, the house is much smaller than you expect. When we pulled into the parking lot, my kids both said, “That’s it?” The house is well-preserved, though, and there is a nice visitors’ center and plenty of wildflowers.

They only do tours of the house on certain days, and the day we arrived wasn’t one of them. The visitors’ center has a nice display about the artist and his work. They also have clothes and pitchforks so you can stage your own version of the painting in front of the house.

The painting resides in the Art Institute of Chicago. It, too, was much smaller than I expected, but it was nice to see it after seeing the house. It is supposed to be of a father and a daughter, which surprised me. I’d always thought them husband and wife.


Seeing the painting and house got me thinking about how works of art become something much bigger than first envisioned. Perhaps I expected them both to be bigger because of the importance of the artwork. It is sometimes seen as a parody of rural life, but Wood didn’t intend it this way at all. He meant it more as a tribute. Interestingly, the painting has been parodied in almost every way imaginable. The particular feel of the painting survives even if the subjects are cats or aliens or famous celebrities.

Perhaps it’s the human spirit that comes through in the painting and lends itself to the parodies that have followed. In spite of all the silliness, we still feel connected to those two simple people in the original painting. All the hoopla is grounded by the intimacy of their small, simple setting. We find a bit of ourselves reflected back in their eyes.

A link to the Art Institute’s page about the painting is here.

A link to a website for the house is here.

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