Michaelmas and the Beginning of Autumn

By Barbara Bettis

 

I love Autumn or Fall. Growing up on a small farm in the Midwest, I always had plenty to do come September and early October, when the crops came in from the field and the garden. Our corn bin and silo filled up. Our kitchen still overflowed with late fruits and vegetables, canning jars and freezer containers. At least one hog and calf were culled to butcher. We kids picked up walnuts and pecans to be cracked and picked out during the long winter nights. (Ostensibly, we would. Dad usually did that while he watched his TV shows before an early bedtime). Our high school class made money for our senior trip by picking up corn left in the field after harvesting. And the rural communities had Fall Festivals and other celebrations.

Never once did I think about the history and traditions surrounding the end of growing season and those lovely celebrations featuring apple butter and jams and corn mazes and community cook-outs. When I was young, this time of year was fun…but it led up to the really fun time at the end of October—Halloween.

Not until later history classes in school did I learn about the autumn traditions that flourished in earlier periods. The Middle Ages, for instance.

medieval harvest

The end of the growing season and harvest was celebrated around the autumnal equinox. It was one of four ‘quarter days’ in Medieval England when debts were due, land purchased, servants hired—a settling up day.

It also marked the beginning of Michaelmas Term at Oxford and Cambridge. The Courts had a Michaelmas term, as well.

The medieval autumn celebrations combined many pre-Christian traditions marking the end of growing season and the preparation for the lean and often treacherous days of winter. It was a long time before the next crops would be mature enough to eat, and people didn’t have the luxury of canning their surplus. So whatever could not be cured or dried or kept deep in the cool ground couldn’t be retained for use over the next five months.  Even many domesticated animals would be headed for slaughter later in the season for the simple fact that there would be nothing for them to eat. Only a handful of necessary animals were kept as a beginning herd for next year.

This seasonal celebrations of plenty saw community gatherings with food, drink, bonfires, and other various interesting activities of the season. (Scotland saw horseraces.)

With the coming of Christianity, this autumnal equinox observation was tied to a Christian Feast Day—that of St. Michael. Thus Michaelmas (the Mass of St. Michael).

st. michaelSt. Michael, of course, is the primary warrior angel who is said to have driven Satan from heaven. He protects against the dark. And since autumn ushers in the season of shorter, colder days and longer, darker nights leading to winter, such an association is understandable. Bad things are more likely to happen in the dark, so people needed a strong defender against that darkness and evil.

 

 

Unfortunately, myths say, when Satan fell from heaven, he landed in a bramble or blackberry bush. He cursed it, spit on it, stomped on it, and…um…did something else to it that would make the berries inedible. So blackberries are not to be picked after Michaelmas Day.

 

devil spits(1)

In some traditions, a goose was eaten on that feast day (if one were wealthy enough to have geese—otherwise, chicken would serve.) In places, the day is known as Goose Day. Nottingham, England, celebrated a goose fair on Oct. 3. It still does.

In fact, the Nottingham Goose Fair is going on right now. It runs from Oct. 3-Oct. 7 this year. According to the Visit Nottinghamshire website, the “Goose Fairis one of Europe’s largest travelling fairs with a history that dates back more than 700 years.”

These days, Michaelmas is celebrated on Sept. 29. But before the change in calendars from Julian to Gregorian in the late 1500s, it was held around Oct. 10 or 11.

So as I look back on those days spent scalding tomatoes in huge pans on the stove and hand-sieving them for thick, smooth juice,(Mom was very particular—no food processors for her) or salting down pork in the smoke house at my great-grandparents’ farm, I realize I had it good. And history shows just how good that was.

I thought I was working hard. But I was making wonderful memories.

michaelmas daisy

 

 

Sources:

https://www.visit-nottinghamshire.co.uk/whats-on/goose-fair-2018-p358771

https://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/Michaelmas/

http://projectbritain.com/calendar/September/Michaelmas.html

 

 

One Last Time

By Jenna Jaxon

I already know the coming year will bring many changes for me because I’ve decided to retire from my full-time job as a university professor of theatre to pursue writing full time.

Last year was a very stressful one for me because basically I was working two full-time jobs at once. In addition to teaching a full load of classes, I also directed three theatrical productions, including a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which seemed to have a cast of thousands (actually 19 but felt like a lot more). change is coming curtainWhile doing all this, I was also writing two full novels and a short story, editing two other novels, and doing promotions for I don’t know how many books.

The upshot of it was I was frazzled beyond belief by the time this past May rolled around. With my writing career beginning to take off in a big way, I made the decision that the 2018-2019 academic year would be my final one. I expect the whole year to be bittersweet, each class I teach being the “last one” of its kind, the final production possibly the last one I will ever direct.

And the lyrics of George Washington’s song “One Last Time” from the musical Hamilton, keep resonating in my mind:

One last time
Relax, have a drink with me
One last time
Let’s take a break tonight
And then we’ll teach them how to say goodbye
To say goodbye
You and I

If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on
It outlives me when I’m gone
Like the scripture says:
“Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid.”
They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made
I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree
A moment alone in the shade
At home in this nation we’ve made
One last time

Next year will be hard in many ways because it’s always hard to say goodbye to something you’ve put a good portion of your life into. I’ve been at the school since 2001, hired five days before the world changed for good on 9/11. I’ve been happy there, hopefully changing the lives of my students for the better.

 

But now it’s time to move on.

To say goodbye.

One last time.

 

Dreams Do Come True

By Jenna Jaxon

This past June marked several anniversaries for me. My 27th wedding anniversary, the 22nd anniversary of my daughter’s birthday, what would have been my parent’s 70th wedding anniversary, and the two year anniversary of receiving my first print contract with Kensington Publishing.

The latter anniversary is forever present in my memory because it happened on June 21st, 2016 on my and my husband’s 25th wedding anniversary. We had gone to a lovely French restaurant in Williamsburg to celebrate and were just being seated when I got a text from my agent, the wonderful Kathy Green, who informed me that the Senior Historical Editor at Kensington had made an offer on the first three books of my Widows’ Club series.dct

And as quickly as that one text arrived, my dream of having one of my books release in mass market paperback came true.

I’d been writing for eight years, had self-published five novellas and had published two full-length novels through Kensington’s Lyrical Press ebook line and had just received a contract for two more ebook from them. Even with all those releases under my belt, the dream I’d had since picking up the proverbial pen in 2009 had not been realized until that moment.

It takes hard work and dedication to make your dreams come true. It takes getting up at 6am to write for an hour before heading into your day job. It takes time away from your family writing because you have a deadline. It takes receiving rejection after rejection from agents and editors (my first novel got 47 rejection letters before an editor at Lyrical Press accepted it).

But dreams can come true. I am here to tell you. If you persevere, they will happen. In April of 2016 I finally got the call from Kathy Green, who I’d been subbing to for years, and who wanted to represent The Widows’ Club series. Another dream come true.

Follow your dreams. Follow your heart. And my greatest wish is that they will take you to your happy place as they have taken me to mine.

dreams arrow (2)

Vacations Aren’t Always What They Seem

by Ruth J. Hartman

This summer, my husband and I will be traveling to see my sister. While many people are heading to Florida, South Carolina, or some other warm exotic location, we’re heading in a different direction. Literally.

Wyoming.

We’ve been there several times before, always having had a blast. Two years ago, I even got to cross an item off my bucket list when we drove four hours from my sister’s home to visit Mount Rushmore. What an incredible sight!

This visit, we’re doing something different. For part of our time with my sister and her husband, we’re driving an hour from their house to the Big Horn Mountains.

To camp.

When I was a kid, we camped every year in tents, and then my husband and I did the first few years after we got married, mostly because we didn’t have enough money for hotels. Honestly, I never thought I’d camp again. But my sister, who is an avid hunter and fisherman, loves it, and thinks we’ll love it too! I’m willing to give it a try. From pictures she’s sent, their campsite is in a gorgeous wooded area right next to a stream where they fly fish for rainbow trout. My husband is very excited about that part!

However, this camping trip will be a little different than others I’ve taken. There’ll be an outhouse, which I was used to, since our grandpa used one and that’s all he had when we visited. But, apparently, there aren’t any shower facilities.

At all.

Guess I was expecting the usual communal shower house that all the campers shared. Not that I ever loved that, but I was surprised when she told me this didn’t even have one of those.

Then, I realized that the parts of the trip that might be difficult for me (can you say, OCD?) will be small compared to what we’ll experience. Time in the quiet mountains, next to a stream. Wildlife. Cooler temperatures.  Making new memories. But most of all, time spent with my wonderful sister who I love more than I can say.

And that, is priceless.

 

Hurdles Are a Part of Life

by Cathy MacRae

 

Hubby and I are anticipating a move out of state in the next 8 to 12 months. That’s rather bittersweet, for we love the house we’ve lived in the past 3 years, he loves his job (of course, I do, too, but I can write anywhere, right?), and we’ve made good friends here. But life changes.

It was exciting for a while. We had a great time looking at houses online, wondering what (and where) we’d move into. Mountains? Desert? High Plains? Coastal views?

And then reality struck.

18_05_26_Rezso Freki Gunnar

We have a house to sell. What if his new job started before the house sold? Would I stay here until it did? We have 3 dogs. It isn’t likely he could care for them—he’d probably be living in an apartment until I could join him. So, just me and the dogs, then. (And the cat, but he’s an easy keeper).

18_05_04_Flowers moving

 

And I’d be giving up the gardens I’d nurtured for the past 3 years. Roses, iris, day lilies, a wispy shrub I love that enjoys the heat called Russian Sage. Tomatoes, grapes, blackberries, strawberries. Fresh herbs. I potted what I could and prepared to move them.

15_05_05_Front flowerbed W

After talking to a realtor, I realized being available for a house showing at a moment’s notice (or an hour or so, perhaps) was out of the question. Keeping the house sparkling clean for days or weeks on end was not going to happen. I’m a decent enough housekeeper, but it would destroy my sanity trying to polish and dust and sweep and mop ….. We’re a household of muddy paws, nose prints on the windows, and dog hair dust bunnies that appear when you’d swear you just vacuumed. Clearly not the best way to show a house to potential buyers.

 

So, we decided to take a year while hubby completes his job-hunting and rent. That seemed a relatively stress-free way to go. But it wasn’t.

Again with the dogs. Big dogs. Rambunctious, dig up flowerbeds, chew on the porch rail dogs. Realtors shook their heads.

Then, against the odds, we were offered a house. They even installed new flooring only days before we moved in. (Thank goodness! The carpet was terrible). The house has no flower beds to speak of (which made me sad) but that means the back yard is free from worry that the pup will dig up expensive plantings. And the dogs were shrugged off without comment. It’s only three blocks from hubby’s office, which beats the 40 minute drive he used to make daily. And though it’s much smaller than our other house, we’re learning the benefits of down-sizing.

18_05_03_Rezso new house on rug

We’re now waiting for our ‘old’ house to sell. But there’s a peace to know that when it’s time for us to move, we’ll be able to pull up stakes and head out. What will we find on the other end? We’re excited to find out!

Do-overs

by Beppie Harrison

Do-overs. What an ambiguous concept.

There are, of course, those things (there’s an ambiguous word!) that can be done over and those that can’t. For example, my sister was married at home. She fancied her procession to the living room would be down the staircase on our father’s arm. This would have worked better had she not missed her step and fallen down the last third. Fortunately she was not damaged, but she and our father had to retire to the dining room for her to get her hysterical laughter under control. By the time they came into the living room everybody else was laughing as well. No do-over possible there.

As it happened, the second the service was over (I think before the groom had a chance to kiss her) she turned to face us all and said, “I’ve never been to a funny wedding before!”

But as any writer knows, given a manuscript lying haplessly before you, that do-overs are not only common but practically inescapable. Sometimes it’s just a sentence or two that needs deleting and replacing with more splendidly crafted words, but all too often there is an entire section that turns out to have deviated from the plot into wild wilderness from which there is no way of returning.

The trouble with writers’ do-overs is that they seem to progress in defined stages. First comes the vague dissatisfaction with the way the prose is coming out. Second, re-reading and the sick realization that this will not do at all. Pause there, quite often, for bleak despair. Conviction that the writer is not a writer at all, but a charlatan who should concentrate on writing letters to Mother, all else beyond observable capacity. After suitable pause, which may last hours or years, it becomes apparent that x number of pages must be destroyed to get back to the point when the story had some life. Which is when the do-over begins. Do-overs commonly begin in hopelessness, but when successful lead to rapidly rising spirits followed by sheets of much more satisfactory manuscript being produced. Often these do-overs lead to successful completion but inevitably in some cases there are do-overs of do-overs.

Do not believe writers who claim this happens to them every single time. Nor should you believe anyone telling you that it never happens.

Do-overs or the possibility of a do-over are a gift of time. Sometimes the gift is a gift of gold, sometimes only marginally better than the first time. But do not dismiss the opportunity without thinking about it. Where would we be had Eve been given a do-over of that fatal bite of the apple?

 

Eve,_Cologne,_c._1450-1460,_stained_glass_-_Museum_Schnütgen_-_Cologne,_Germany_-_DSC00248

 

 

 

What Flowers?

by Barbara Bettis

We’ve had some wonderful posts here lately about Spring and the inspirational greening of trees and grass and the burgeoning of beautiful blossoms.

I’ve been inspired.

Yep, I recently purchased an azalea plant, two knockout rose bushes, and assorted other plants to be gently nestled into the earth.

My hope blooms….but my flowers likely won’t. Not if I put them in.

little gir with wilted flowers-1

I don’t know why I do this every year. I have no talent for growing flowers–or even the ability to learn, apparently. All those books and magazines and online articles that tell us, step by step, how to nurture fabulous flowers? I follow those instructions and still…I fail.

A few years ago, when I was strapped for time, my son volunteered to plant my annual sacrifice to Spring. Do you know that everything he planted not only grew, but flourished! In the same place I’d planted and failed, he planted and the flowers thrived.

After that, it became his ‘job’ to put out anything new every spring or fall. And he agreed to take care of the wonderful rose bushes that he’d nourished. (Forgot to tell you, when I cut back the rose bushes that I had planted, they died. He did it, same time of the year, they did wonderfully.)

 

Poor plant-1

So…last night I called my son and asked if he’d set out the new flowers for me. Of course, he said yes. (Don’t sons have to?) Now that I’ve moved into town, I don’t have room for a lot of new ones, but a few of my favorites, here and there, will make me happy.

I’ve finally conceded that there are some things I just can’t do, try as I might. I should have given up on growing green several years ago, when my sons were still in high school. One day, one of them looked at the ivy plant on our coffee table and said, “Mom, have you even considered silk flowers?”

 

wilting flowers-1

Happy Spring!