My daily rituals

  1. Wake up and fill a mug with coffee.
  2. Grab the paper from the front steps.
  3. Do Spanish. (Not a bad way to wake up.)
  4. Check emails, the blog, etc.
  5. Clean the coffeemaker and refill for tomorrow.
  6. Write, revise, whatever.
  7. Household chores plus yardwork and errands.
  8. Check the mail.
  9. Try to get some exercise in. Laps in the pool, a hike up the hill, that sort of thing. Maybe followed by a nap.
  10. Sit down together for a lovely dinner.


So much for the plans I’d set up for my retirement years. Extensive meditation, Bible study, copious reading?

What frames your days?

Trailings from a writer’s life

Random notes in no particular order:

  1. Consider each chapter a movie – beginning, middle, and end – conflict and some resolution. Boy meets girl etc.
  2. My characters don’t lie … it’s one of my defects.
  3. Any time it sounds like writing, cut!
  4. Always go for RIGHT BRAIN revisions
  5. Each book is unique, special, fragile in its own way. Honor it.
  6. Talk to your readers. Like in a smoky bar.
  7. Rereading an old favorite, only to realize how much my own standards have risen.
  8. Certainly, there is room for a range of Midwestern writing as well – and for recognition of the manifold subtleties among the smaller localities within that country. It ain’t as bland as you’d think.
  9. “Riotous complexity moving swiftly within a basic unity” (from How the Irish Saved Civilization) … not a bad formula for creativity, is it?
  10. What was I really hoping to accomplish, back when there were only 500 new novels a week?

Hops, as in beer

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state, where some of the world’s best hops are grown.

Did you know …

  1. The flowers (also called cones) are full of perishable resins that are dried and processed for use as a bittering, stabilizing, and flavoring agent in beer.
  2. Hops have a complex chemical composition leading to two distinct types. Bittering hops have higher concentrations of alpha acids and counter the sweetness of the malt base of a beer. Aroma hops, added toward the end of brewing, prevent the evaporation of essential oils, thus retaining and enhancing the taste.
  3. The choice of hops and techniques of hopping can give a particular recipe its unique taste, as today’s microbrewers are emphasizing. Quite simply, some hop varieties are much better than others in creating a distinctive brew. Think of the way wine lovers describe a bottle, and then apply it here.
  4. The vines (or technically, bines – vines without tendrils) are typically grown on strings or cables to overhead wires, maybe 15 to 20 feet in the air, and cut down for harvest. They’re loaded onto wagons and taken to the hop house for processing and packing.
  5. They grow best in a soil type that is also highly suited for potatoes.
  6. The United States is the world’s leading grower, followed by Germany, together accounting for more than four-fifths of the global hop supply. Despite its fame in the field, the Czech Republic is a distant third.
  7. Three distinct districts in the Yakima Valley, each uniquely different in their output, together produce more than 77 percent of the nation’s hop crop. Most of the farms are third- and fourth-generation family operations.
  8. Pollinated seeds are deemed undesirable for beer. Only female plants are grown in commercial fields. So much for sex discrimination.
  9. Harvesting is a labor-intensive effort, dependent on migrant workers.
  10. They’re in the hemp family, though I don’t know of anyone smoking them.



Some of my most memorable folk music events

I’m also quite fond of folk music. Here are some concerts at the top of my list.

  1. Peter, Paul, and Mary in Dunn Meadow, Bloomington, Indiana, 1968. Also performing were Phil Ochs, Tom Lehrer, and a raft of others.
  2. Bill Harley and friends at Friends General Conference, Kingston, Rhode Island. The friends included Sally Rogers and Reggie and Kim Harris.
  3. Joan Baez, St. Louis, 1964.
  4. Fiddler Lissa Schneckenburger. She blew us away when she sat in as a teen guest with the contradance band Yankee Ingenuity in Concord, Massachusetts, and later in concert, Rollinsford, New Hampshire, when she also sang.
  5. David Francey at Mill Pond, Durham, New Hampshire. Also on the billing were Bill Staines and bluegrass band Lunch at the Dump.
  6. Pete Seeger in Akron, early ’80s. Charlie King was part of the show.
  7. Peter Blood and Annie Patterson, sometimes just sitting down together after dinner at yearly meeting.
  8. Mike Seeger in a survey of the development of roots styles in America, Bloomington, 1969 or early ’70.
  9. Patty Larkin, Prescott Park, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Twice.
  10. In the chorus at the Revels equinox concert along the Charles River in Boston, five years, if I’m counting right. It’s impossible to describe the joy of working with Noel Paul Stookey, for sure.

Ten ancestors I wish I could meet

As a genealogist, I’m not alone in facing situations where key questions are unlikely to ever be answered. If only we could go back in history and ask the individuals themselves, hoping they might know. (Dealing with more recent situations, I’ve found three different people often have quite different recollections. Take that as a caveat.) And that’s presuming we could even understand each other, considering the differences in dialect and customs.

So, back to the ancestors. They had to be dead before I was born, right?

  1. George Hodgson, 1700/01-1774. I want details on the ill-fated ocean crossing, including the names of his parents and siblings, who perished on the trip.
  2. His wife, Mary Thatcher, 1712-1764. There are enough hints to make me suspect she was far more independent, even rebellious in the face of her tyrant father, than we might expect of a Quaker maiden. In addition, I imagine she would have much to add about their relocation to the Pennsylvania frontier, in what’s today’s Adams County, and then on down to North Carolina’s Piedmont region as one of its first English-speaking settlers.
  3. Someone on his mother’s side. For now, their neighbor Moses Harlan, 1683-1749, seems a prime candidate.
  4. George’s father himself. So far, this is the weakest link in taking the family back to Cumbria, England. I want confirmation for my circumstantial argument, or at least correction.
  5. Peter Ehrstine, . Who were your parents?
  6. Elizabeth Ehrstine, if she is indeed his mother.
  7. Pleasant Hodson, 1827-1908. I would especially like to his account of “bushwhacking” in the wild rather than serving in the Confederate Army.
  8. Pleasant’s mother, Delilah Britton, 1794-1883. She was born to an unmarried mother and apparently orphaned between 1800 and 1804, when she was recorded as 10-year-old and assigned to the Eleazor Hunt household. While her surname was often reported as Hunt or Rayle, I am left wondering about a child born before her marriage to George Hodson. Her father, meanwhile, was Matthew Rayle. She lived through a lot, including the Civil War.
  9. John Hodgson, buried 1675, Pardshaw Meeting, Cumbria, husband of Eliner. Apparently the first of my Quaker Hodsons, he could clear up much of the early line in England. Was he, in fact, the same John Hodgson was wrote, as a former Parliamentarian army officer, a Quaker tract addressed to other soldiers or the John Hodgson imprisoned for his faith in 1660 or 1664.
  10. My grandfather, Cecil Munroe, 1903-1945. From everything I’ve seen since turning my attention to him about 30 years ago, he was the affectionate, even artistic, male figure who was missing in my childhood. I suspect my life would have been much different had he survived beyond his early forties.


How about you and your roots?

As for the best newspaper editors

These are ten I’ve personally learned from.

  1. Hugh Macdiarmid, city editor, Dayton Journal Herald: A Princeton alum and former young flash at the Washington Post, he brought his own flair to the Midwest in the mid-’60s. I remember him standing at his desk at the head of the newsroom, a twinkle in his eye and a cigar in his mouth, shirt-sleeves rolled up (a then-trendy striped shirt, not the bland starched white like those folks at the rival Daily News), as he barked out orders to someone at a far-back desk. He went on to prominence at the Detroit Free Press as a political columnist.
  2. Jim Milliken, his right-hand man: Even handed and patient, he was insistent on detail, clarity, and class. He also seemed to preside at the midnight gathering after work at any of several nearby bars.
  3. Harry Perrigo, copy desk chief, Binghamton (N.Y.) Press Herald:  A veteran of the Journal Herald before moving to Upstate New York, Harry usually had a pipe in his mouth and a cool regard for the headlines being submitted by the copy editors sitting at the horseshoe around him. If they passed, he put them in a small clear-plastic canister and then the vacuum tube that whisked them to the Linotype operators. He was a stickler for the accurate headline, including a host of arcane rules of what was and wasn’t acceptable, and he hated puns. Standards have really slipped since.
  4. Russ Warman, sports desk chief in Binghamton: His approach was cornier than I would have preferred, but he was a great guy in an otherwise dour workplace. Someone else wore the title of sports editor, but the actual job was essentially all his.
  5. Doc Bordner, editor, Fostoria (Ohio) Review-Tribune: Retired Army sergeant hunkered down in a small town with a skeleton staff to cover five counties. It was a tough assignment, and he had his nose to the ground. His periodic columns, run on the front page, were always lively and often controversial.
  6. Steve Kent, managing editor, Yakima (Washington) Herald Republic and then the Dubuque (Iowa) Telegraph: A former Associated Bureau chief, he believed in hiring talent and running with it. He certainly turned Yakima into a sterling newspaper before the company brought in a chief officer who seemed intent on scuttling everything. Coming across a photo of Steve the other day, I’m surprised how young he was – and we looked to him as our older, wiser guide!
  7. Bob Mellis, executive editor, Warren (Ohio) Tribune Chronicle: Again, I was in a situation where we were in pursuit of quality, and Bob brought with him a solid track record at some big papers. He had been the lifestyles editor at one, and he moved me over into that role and all of his expectations.
  8. Bernie Hunt, city editor, Warren: A lively sparkplug from northern England, he rode herd on a mostly young crew, often with a humorous twist. He also had a fondness for beer after hours, which added to his following.
  9. Peter Swanson, Sunday Editor, New Hampshire Sunday News: Quirky, sometimes cranky, he took an aggressive stance toward covering the Granite State in an unconventional way, whenever possible, sometimes even with flashes of brilliance.
  10. Sherry Wood, night editor, New Hampshire Union Leader: Nobody could rival her for her calm under pressure or the range of skills demanded in the position.


Looking back, let me add that all of them were in high-stress situations.

If we were looking at the top tier nationally, I’d have to name paragons at the New York Herald Tribune in its final years or some of the outstanding pros I called on during my stint at Tribune Media Services.

Some Native names regarding the Cascades mountains

Many of the Pacific Northwest’s most prominent features are known by the names of Europeans or their descendants, rather than their earlier Native designations. Since the tribes on one side of the Cascade mountains had a different language stock than those of the other side, the names could be quite different.

  1. Mount Washington: Tahoma or Tacoma
  2. Mount Adams: Patoh or Klickitat
  3. Mount Hood: Wy’east
  4. Mount St. Helens: Loowit or Louwala Clough
  5. Mount Baker: Kulshan
  6. Mount Jefferson: Seekseekqua or Kuassal Teminbi
  7. Mount Shasta: Ako-Yet or Yeh te che na or Et ti ja na
  8. The Cascade Range: Yamakiasham Yaina
  9. Columbia River: Wimhal or Wimal, Nch’I-Wana or Nichi-Wanna, Swah’netk’qhu
  10. Bridge of the Gods: Tanmanhawis


There’s some rich mythology involving these names and their personalized characteristics. For instance, the brothers Patoh/Klickitat and Wy’east, after traveling down the Columbia River from the far north to resettle, entered into some heated rivalry for the fair maiden Loowit/Louwala Clough. Their volcanic eruptions of jealousy and earth quaking even resulted in the collapse of the Bridge of the Gods across the river, producing a series of rapids.

There’s plenty more, if you chose to investigate. Any to share from where you live?  


Some remarkable teachers I’ve had

No, the philosophy prof who wore the same suit to every class the first semester and another one for the second – he doesn’t count. These are ones who really shaped my thinking.

  1. Ethel McLennan, high school English teacher. She instilled a love of grammar I’ve relied on religiously the rest of my life.
  2. Vincent Ostrom, political science professor. He was keen on nurturing independent scholars who could critically assess a proposition and articulate their own position.
  3. Lavern Berry, high school student teaching summer workshops at the Dayton Museum of Natural History. He was a star who then vanished from sight. Still, his two-week chemistry course got me through a semester in college, and his advice about learning in general was something a kid like me needed.
  4. Professora Hughes, high school Spanish. The best.
  5. Jane Meyer, high school visual art. Much of what I learned in four years with her got applied throughout my career as a journalist when I designed pages and cropped photos.
  6. Harold Weiner, middle school visual art. Opened my eyes to modernism.
  7. Helen Rayner, third grade. I’m still fond of jack-in-the-pulpits.
  8. Miss Gillespie, sixth-grade English. She broke our hearts when she moved to a high school across town and again a bit later when we heard of her engagement. Did I mention she was beautiful and fresh out of college?
  9. Swami Lakshmy, Poconos ashram.
  10. Dick Allen, college creative writing.


Any great teachers in your past?

Words or phrases I overuse

All those years in the newsroom, I still tend to conditionalize everything, rather than strike for a bold statement.

  1. I think.
  2. I guess.
  3. Maybe.
  4. Would. (Example: It would seem that …)
  5. I hope.
  6. I fear. (Or worry.)
  7. I realize.
  8. That sucks.
  9. Are you sure?
  10. Martini. As in, Quitting Time.


What I find difficult to say is “I need” or “I want.” At least directly. I usually beat around the bush with soft questions.

How ’bout you?