One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow

One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow

One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow by Olivia Hawker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Five stars – that means “it was amazing” on Goodreads. I have given out a lot of of 5 star reviews, so when something really amazing comes along there are no higher awards to show how wonderful it really is. One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow is so much more than most novels. The basic story is simple enough. Two families, two farms, live within sight of each other and twenty miles from any other neighbor on the Wyoming prairie in 1876. Ernest Bemis, out looking for a lost calf, comes upon his wife and his neighbor lying together on the banks of the river. Outraged and heartbroken, Ernest raises his rifle and kills his neighbor as the man growls a curse and tries to pull his trousers up. Then Ernest rides the twenty miles to town and turns himself into the sheriff.

It’s a tragedy for both families. Nettie Mae’s husband is dead. Cora’s husband is in jail. And the two women are left on the prairie with farms to take care of, children to feed, no man to help either of them, and a Wyoming winter coming soon. The two women have never really been friends, and now they both have every reason to avoid each other. But for the sake of the children, they are willing to do almost anything. The prose is beautiful, transporting the reader to the place and time. Perfect ending. This is my first Olivia Hawker novel. I will look for more.

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August March

The Astonishing Life of August MarchThe Astonishing Life of August March by Aaron Jackson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fun romp of a novel! I fell in love with the author’s voice before I finished the first marvelous tongue-in-cheek chapter. A starlet gives a breathtaking performance in a pregnancy-hiding hoop skirt, waddles off stage, gives birth alone in her dressing room, leaves the child in a basket of dirty laundry, and is back on stage for curtain call. She goes to an after-party with a clear conscience, thinking “someone will find the child and care for it.”

She’s right. An elderly spinster laundress finds the baby and cares for him. Sort of. She loves him, but not enough to take him home and disrupt her own life. He grows up in the theater. His astonishing childhood is the best part of this novel, although his further adventures as a New York street kid in the 1950’s, his teen years at an exclusive prep school, and his unconventional adult years held my attention through every page.

As I said before, it’s Aaron Jackson’s voice that makes the life of August March so astonishingly entertaining. The same story told in a slightly different way would be a tragedy, but Jackson allows not one moment of self-righteous pity or melodrama. Instead, we smile and chuckle as August March triumphs against all odds. The ending is perfect.

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Caroline Kelsey Paul

Caroline Kelsey Paul

This is my sister-in-law, Caroline Kelsey Paul. We were sixteen-year-old brides together, trying to grow up fast and learn how to be wives and mothers. We raised our children together through potty-training, trick-or-treat, and tempestuous teens. We became grandmothers together, then great grandmothers. I held her hand when her husband, my brother, passed away.

I held her hand again, this Easter Sunday, guided her away from the crowded room of strangers who made her uneasy. She doesn’t recognize many people now, but she still knows me. No one can say how long that will last, but I treasure her sweet smiles and hugs while it does.

D is for Dementia. 

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C is for Children in mental institutions

In the 1950’s, Fulton State Hospital officials heard frequent requests from distraught parents and community agencies about children with severe behavior problems. There was no place for these children to go.  There had been children at the hospital before, but nothing like the new numbers. By 1962, there were 175 children, between the age of six and seventeen, living in the old South Wards, a building that dated back to the Civil War.  Some were delinquents, but others came to Fulton because they were neglected, abused, abandoned, or could not adjust to foster homes.

One aide remembers, “We had retarded kids, autistic kids, kids with psychiatric disorders, kids with behavior problems . . all mixed together.”

The old buildings looked menacing from both the outside and the inside. One social worker remembers the kids taking advantage of their horror movie accommodations. “The kids used to go into the bathrooms and turn off the lights and scare each other.”

In 1971, the Warren E. Hearnes Child and Youth Center opened. The six building complex included a residential unit, a school, a gymnasium, a recreational center, and an outpatient center.  Children as young as three or four came to the outpatient center.

It was a brief experiment.  The school closed in the mid-eighties, and the last children left Fulton State Hospital in 1991.


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Five Lies (you probably believe) about your Brain

 You only use ten percent of your brain.FACT: The 10 percent myth is an old legend,  given new life by the plot of the 2011 movie Limitless, which pivoted around a wonder drug that endowed the protagonist with prodigious memory and analytical powers. In truth, the brain is highly active across its entirety just about all the time, even when we are spacing out or sleeping.


“Left Brain” and “Right Brain” people are different.
FACT:  The contention that we have a rational left brain and an intuitive, artistic right side is fable: humans use both hemispheres of the brain for all cognitive functions. The left brain/right brain notion originated from the realization that many (though not all) people process language more in the left hemisphere and spatial abilities and emotional expression more in the right. Psychologists have used the idea to explain distinctions between different personality types. But, recent brain-imaging studies show no evidence of the right hemisphere as a locus of creativity. And the brain recruits both left and right sides for both reading and math.

Brain damage is always permanent.
FACT: The brain can repair or compensate for certain losses, and even generate new cells.
People once believed that we were born with a finite number of brain cells, and that was it for life; if you damaged any of them you could never get them back. Similarly, many scientists believed that the brain was unalterable; once it was “broken,” it could not be fixed. Now we know that the brain remains plastic throughout life, and can rewire itself in response to learning. It can also generate new brain cells under the right circumstance.

Mental capacity is hereditary and cannot be changed by environment or experience.FACT: Mental abilities do have a genetic component, but they are also heavily influenced by environmental factors, and rely on adequate experience in order to develop.

Your brain stops growing as you age. FACT: For many years it was believed that once the brain fully matured by 30 years of age, there is no more brain growth. This led to the old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. False! One of the biggest discoveries in neuroscience in the 21stcentury was the fact that our brains can grow new neurons at old age. Many factors assist in nerve cell growth. Picking up challenging tasks, taking up new hobbies, novel experiences – all stimulate new nerve cells. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and aids in neurogenesis. Why is this important? Because the formation of new nerve cells and new nerve connections keeps the brain young and active. This protects against memory problems, cognitive decline, dementia, and the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease.

B is for Brain! Post to of the A-to-Z April Blogging Challenge

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A is for Psychiatric AIDE

In 1958, when this picture was taken, my mother, Myrtle Paul (left), and her friend, Ann Hall, were called Attendants.  They were two of the frontline caretakers of the mentally ill at Fulton State Hospital. My mother took months of classes to learn the responsibilities and skills required for her job. She brought home notebooks full of  medical terminology and anatomy, memorized names and doses of countless medications, and practiced giving injections.

She told me it was the on-the-job-training, not the classes, that taught her how to talk a patient down to defuse a dangerous situation.  And how to take him down when talking didn’t work.

This picture was taken on a sunny day near the old South Wards. Notice the narrow bars in the windows.

I’ve heard the new title is “Technician” instead of Aide.  Whatever the name, these are the people who make  the biggest difference in the day-to-day life of the severely mentally ill.



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The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis

The Boy from TomorrowThe Boy from Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a gobble-down book for me, read all in one session. It’s 2:30 am and I just finished it, never for a moment was I bored enough to get sleepy. It may have been intended as a young adult novel, but the story transcends age. And yet, it’s impossible to describe. One of my favorite authors, Diana Galbaldan, was once told her novels would have to be sold through word of mouth, because no review or publicity campaign could ever adequately convey how wonderful they are, or even what genre they fall into. Camille DeAngelis is in that rare category. The Boy From Tomorrow is a historical, fantasy, time-travel, coming-of-age, family relationship story. Yet nothing in it is anything like what Gabaldan (or anybody else) writes. Unique. Spellbinding. Trust me, you’ll love it.

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Sanity and Insanity

A-Z Theme RevealIn April I like to join a challenge called the A – Z Blogging Challenge.  Every day during April, except Sundays, I’ll write a blog post. The challenge is to stick to a broad theme and follow the alphabet throughout the month.

The first blog post must be about a subject that starts with A, and also relates to my theme. The second blog post must be about a subject that starts with B. And so on throughout the month.  A and B are usually pretty easy, but I have to think hard when I get to Q, and X, and Z.

This year they’ve asked us to reveal our theme during the last week of March. I’m writing a mystery novel, The Sanity of Strawberries,  set inside Fulton State Hospital. Since I love research even more than writing, I’ve learned a lot about mental illness, the hospital, and the history and theory of mental health treatments.

My theme for April will be Sanity and Insanity.

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James Hugh Paul, another Paul Family Tragedy

James Hugh Paul

James Hugh Paul

James Hugh Paul was born May 15, 1821, in Fayette County, Ohio. He was named after his grandfather and was called Hugh, instead of James. He was eighteen years old when his grandfathers household goods were auctioned off in Fayette County. Sometime during the next eight years he left Ohio and migrated to Illinois, along with many other members of the Paul family, including his father.

James Hugh Paul married Nancy Campbell Gillham on December 30, 1847, in Madison County, Illinois. She was 21 years old and he was 28. The Gillhams were a very prominent and well established family in Madison County.

James Hugh Paul and Nancy Campbell Gillham were married on December 30, 1847. Just three weeks later, on January 24, 1848, gold was discovered by James W. Marshall at Sutter’s Mill, in Coloma, California. News of the discovery soon spread, resulting in the ‘gold rush” of 1849 – 1850.

The newspapers of the time talked about gold nuggets lying around on the ground waiting to be picked up. It must have seemed like a wonderful opportunity to a young couple just starting out.

We don’t know how the gold mining went for James Hugh Paul. I haven’t found any letters or records of his time in California. All we have are the bare facts Nancy wrote in her bible as she listed, one by one, the birth and death of her children.

Name Born Died Place
Girl Child Aug 15, 1851 Oct 17, 1851 California
Boy Child Sept 17, 1852 Sept, 1852 California
Salitha Jane Feb 3, 1854 Fair Play, California
James Ryderus Jan 26, 1857 Fair Play, California
John Henry October 23, 1858 Madison County, IL
Madora Ellen April 10, 1860 Madison County, IL
Hughanna April 8, 1862 Madison County, IL

The time in California must have been heart wrenching for Nancy Paul. She  nursed and cared for two babies for a month or two, then had to watch them die. I haven’t been able to find anything to show why these babies didn’t make it. Conditions in the gold camps were harsh, but many other families had children who thrived.

From the birth records we can see that the family returned to Illinois sometime between January 26, 1857 and October 23, 1858.  They settled in Madison County near Nancy’s family.  The 1860 census shows them living on a 65 acre farm near Edwardsville, Ill. They had four horses and two cows and had raised a good crop of corn that year.

James Hugh Paul died June 19, 1862 when he was only forty-one years old. He left Nancy with five young children. Hughanna was only two months old. Two years later, on Christmas Day, 1864, James Ryderus died at the age of seven. Less than a year later, on November 12, 1866, Nancy Paul died. The remaining four children were orphans.

The children were split up and taken in by different family members. Hughanna, the baby, died September 25, 1868 when she was six years old. Salitha and Madora were raised by their uncle Henry Paul and his wife Catherine. They already had three sons, but no daughters.

John Henry Paul, my grandfather, was eleven,  old enough to work. I wrote about him last year: John Henry Paul.

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Stay Focused

I’m retired. That means I can do whatever I want to do.  Right?

Not exactly.

Since I’ve always wanted to write, I looked forward to retirement as the “write all day” time. It hasn’t worked out like that.

Even retired people, especially retired women, still have responsibilities. Meals still have to be cooked, dirty clothes still need washing, and that bathroom still needs scrubbing. Occasionally, a grandchild needs chauffeuring, or just a little extra loving. Life goes on.

These are the excuses I say to myself.

Excuses. Because I know what really eats into my writing time.  The minutes and hours disappear down the endless gaping maw of Facebook, chat forums, newsletters, and even online game sites.

I’ve tried to make myself stay focused on my writing. But that’s worked just about the same as my efforts to stay focused on exercise and healthy eating.

Recently I found a chrome plug-in to help me Stay Focused. It works from a list I entered myself and allows me 30 minutes a day for all the  sites I’ve identified as my personal block list.  Not 30 minutes for each. Thirty minutes for all of them put together.  When my thirty minutes are up, this picture pops up on top of my screen. Shouldn’t you be Working? it asks.   I can’t get back on Facebook, or Pinterest, etc. until the next day.

So, if it seems I never respond to your comments, it’s probably because I didn’t see them.

Sorry. Now I have to go write.

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