Friday, May 31, 2013

The Wonder of Rain

Texas native and WWW member Chris Bradley shares a post from her Practicing Wonder blog on water, the Texas Hill Country and what incites our wonder and writing. (Don't forget to complete the writing prompts at the end of the post!) 

Mexican hat, also called prairie coneflower

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water. --Loren Eiseley

Here in the Texas hill country on this May Saturday morning, it’s been raining off and on for the past thirty hours or so. The forecast for the next few hours is for more thunderstorms, so I zipped outside just now during a break between showers to take the photos pictured here.

Scabiosa or pincushion flower
These pincushion blooms are beaten down by the rain but will perk up even stronger when the sun returns.

Limestone pitted by the rain holds water naturally.
A limestone step holds rain while mother-of-thyme luxuriates in the moisture.

Blackfoot daisy
A blackfoot daisy holds onto raindrops.

I had to chuckle when I read the following line from the National Weather Service forecast for our locale:  Weather conditions will improve significantly this evening into Sunday.

Really? The weather can’t get any better that what it is right now.

My birth occurred at the end of the seven year drought in this part of Texas in the 1950’s. My parents were part of a generation who came of age during the Great Depression, served the United States during World War II, and then, during the early years of their marriage, scratched out a living farming and ranching for those seven years of drought with practically no precipitation.

(If you want to read a brilliant and literary description of the difficulties of that era in Texas, read Elmer Kelton’s novel The Time It Never Rained. During the time of that drought, Kelton worked as an agricultural reporter and said he spent seven years trying every day to think of some other way to write, “Still dry.”)

So it isn’t surprising that my parents were experts in making do, building from scratch, and doing without. And they impressed those values on their children.

One of Daddy’s favorite jokes was: “You can never have too much rain or too many white-faced baby calves. We almost had too much rain one time. [Here he paused before the punchline.] There was three feet of water in the courthouse.”

We’re in a drought right now that compares in scope and severity with the extremely difficult years that so influenced my parents and their peers. Today’s rain is a only a move in the right direction, not the end of overall dire conditions, but it rejuvenates my spirits as it perks up the plants in my garden. They're tough (like my parents), selected for our often arid heat, but they love the rain. I can almost hear them singing.

It’s heartening to see water do its magic.

Writing Practice:

Complete the following: If there is magic on this planet, it _____________ .

Complete the following: My parents were of a generation who _____________.

For quite a few years, Chris Bradley taught English and creative writing to high school students in the Texas hill country. She now has time to travel, garden, ride horses, and mountain bike, but she still misses those discussions with students and continues to be thankful for all the lessons which they taught her.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Four Brides and Their Dresses

Student of history and past-WWW President Pamela Tartaglio writes about what wedding dresses of the past reveal about the brides and their lives, as revealed by "I Do, I Do" an exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of History.

In 1890, Bertha Supnick married in a practical bridal gown, a colored dress she could wear after her wedding.  Although she wed in the wealthy winter resort of Pasadena, California, Bertha was a member of the working class and would later be employed at Pasadena Steam Laundry.  Born in Germany, she married a fellow immigrant, Andrew Hansen of Denmark. 
Historians call this a "best dress" wedding gown.
Bertha’s rust-colored bridal gown looks homemade, not polished and complex.  She may have sewn it herself, excited to get married to Andrew, of course, but also to own a dress of rich moiré taffeta with sequined trim and Juliet sleeves.  She would wear it after she became Mrs. Hansen, on special occasions such as parties and Christmas.  

Susie Markham's pleated silk chiffon gown
Susie Markham was the niece of a former California governor. Although she did not move to her home near Pasadena’s Millionaires’ Row until several years after her 1901 wedding, her dress represents those worn by fortunate brides in that town.  Susie’s gown is of pleated silk chiffon, visible near her feet, but mostly covered by net with large linen appliqué.  The net below her neck and above her wrists is dotted with faux pearls.  A detachable belt and cuffs are decorated with faux pearls in a geometric design.  There is a lace panel over the train.
Close-up view of Susie Markham's gown with faux pearls and fancywork
Two of the wedding dresses at the Pasadena Museum of History belong to a mother and daughter in the Giddings family.  Museum visitors are surprised to learn the location of the Giddings farm.  What is now a commercial area was a twenty-acre farm a century ago, the “end of the line” for streetcars, which turned around in front of the Giddings’ family home. 

Joshua and Jennie Giddings on the 50th wedding anniversary
In 1930, Jennie and Joshua Giddings celebrated their 50th anniversary, and Jennie, a mother of six, wore her wedding dress.  Fit as a fiddle. 
Blanche Giddings' graduation portrait
Their daughter bought a white cotton and lace dress to wear to her high school graduation.  White dresses appropriate for formal occasions were available ready-made in the early 1900s.  She autographed this graduation portrait, “Lovingly Yours, Blanche Giddings, June 1908.”

Blanche's graduation and wedding dress
Blanche was a practical young lady who wore this graduation dress when she married a year later.  She had her wedding reception at a shady spot on the family farm, where they set the tables, brought out the tiered wedding cake, and took a photograph.  Also pictured are Blanche and her groom George Brown with their wedding guests.
Blanche Gidding's wedding reception, outdoors on the family farm
Blanche Giddings' wedding party and guests

I Do, I Do, Pasadena Ties the Knot 1850 – 1950,” at the Pasadena Museum of History, features 42 wedding gowns and closes on July 14. The museum’s 1906 Fenyes Mansion is open to the public.

View more bridal gowns from the Gilded Age on Pamela Tartaglio’s blog, Past and Present with Pamela.  Upcoming posts will feature more wedding dresses from the exhibit, from beaded flapper dresses of the Roaring Twenties to streamlined silk dresses of the 1930s.  Pamela is a volunteer at the Pasadena Museum of History as well as 2013 Past President of Women Writing the West and Chair of its WILLA Literary Awards.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sneak Preview: 2014 WWW Catalog of Author's Books Cover

For those who eagerly wait to see what titles are advertised in the annual Women Writing the West catalog of books, here's a sneak preview of the vibrant cover of the 2014 catalog.

WWW members, head over to the Member News page for details on submitting books, ads and listings for your writing-related services. But act quickly, because the deadline is just two weeks away: June 1st!
Cover design by Jenny Hancey, guided by WWW Catalog Editor Dawn Wink

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

WWW Heads for Kansas City October 11-13 for The “Write Way West”

The Missouri River loops through Kansas City.
This year’s Women Writing the West conference takes its theme from Kansas City’s rich western heritage, particularly its role in the great westward migration. The long trek was endured because of the hope of reward at the other end, though for each traveler, that reward was uniquely personal. And so it is with this year’s conference. We’ve built on the path charted by the conferences of years past, while adding a few new twists to make the journey fresh.

A new twist this year has us previewing two short films. "In Pursuit of A Dream," produced by OCTA, won the 2011 WWA Spur Award for best Western Documentary. "Meet the Past – Willa Cathe"r is a production of the Kansas City Public Library and KCPT, and features local actress Jan Chapman interviewed as Willa Cather, discussing her personal and literary history.

The Friday morning tour takes us to the Steamboat Arabia Museum, a unique experience.  More than just a history of the steamboats that plied the Missouri in the early 19th century, the Arabia is an active archeological project and features thousands of items excavated more than 130 years after the Arabia was wrecked.

And of course, outside the conference, we want you to come and enjoy a bit of Kansas City, and this year we’ve come up with a new way to get you excited about your conference trip. The Conference Facebook page offers conference updates as well as links to local history, attractions and all things Kansas City to tempt and intrigue you. Like those travelers of yesteryear, we want you to come to Kansas City, and leave feeling excited and ready for the West that lies in your future, whatever that may be.

For more details on the 2013 Conference, see the WWW News page

LaDene Morton is the 2013 Conference VP for Women Writing the West, after having previously served as Catalog Editor for the prior two years. Her novel, What Lies West, was a finalist for the 2009 WILLA Award. Morton writes historical fiction and nonfiction from her home in Kansas City, Missouri.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Katie Takes to the Air at the Women in Aviation Conference

Katie & Sarah with Women in Aviation volunteer studying sectional chart.
Editor's note: This week we venture our of our usual west-of-the-Mississippi territory with Sarah Byrn Rickman in a post that demonstrates the power of sharing women's stories.

I raised two sons, so learning to groove with my granddaughter Katie has been a challenge, but we've become buds. We have things in common. I supply her with horse books — a love she and my 10-year-old-spirit share. I also supply her with books about Amelia Earhart, my first aviation heroine. Accomplished women role models are so important. Katie’s into softball. So was I. We play catch in the backyard. She’s got a pretty good arm.

In first grade she needed to do a report on a famous Black person for Black History Month. “How about Bessie Coleman?” I asked, ”first Black American  — man or woman — to earn a pilot’s license.” She liked the idea. I bought her Reeve Lindbergh’s book (yes, Charles’ daughter) about Bessie. After reading Nobody Owns the Sky, with some adult help, Katie was ready. Wearing the pink flight suit I had bought for her at a Women in Aviation conference, a borrowed flying helmet and goggles, Katie headed for school with Brave Bessie in her head, her heart and her hand.

This year, for her fourth grade class’s celebration of Women’s History Month, she chose Nancy Love, Her source: Gramma’s biography — Nancy Love and the WASP Ferry Pilots of WWII.  Then, on Friday March 15, she joined me at Opryland in Nashville for her first Women in Aviation Conference.

My military fly girl buddy Air Force A-10 pilot Col. Jill Long spoke to the 50 girls ages 10 to 17 attending, their pilot moms, grandmoms and aunts. Her message: “Never give up.” Katie ate it up.

Next we took in several specially designed activities. Using the Air Traffic Control simulator, Katie learned how to bring two airplanes, flying in crowded airspace, in for safe landings. She was pretty good at it. The conference is about the many careers in aviation.

She flew a Cessna 172 simulator; made a bracelet out of aviation wire and several paper airplanes. But what really caught her attention was learning to read a sectional chart. That’s what pilots use instead of maps. With some help from a volunteer, she answered all the questions on the quiz and had fun doing it.

The final activity took place on the conference floor. Find and interview several types of pilots. Katie aced it! At the Women Military Aviators booth, between retired AF pilots, now airline pilots Peg Carnahan and Barb Garwood, and retired Coast Guard Commander and helicopter pilot Claudia McKnight, she got every question answered.

My son says she’s already talking about coming to next year's Women in Aviation Conference.

Sarah Byrn Rickman is the author of four books about the WASP, the women who flew for the U.S. Army in WWII. She is a licensed pilot. A retired journalist, Sarah earned an M.A. in Creative Writing from Antioch University in 1996. She served as WWW president in 2005 and WILLA chair in 2006.