A poignant journey

Having been in much need of some of what I call “dock therapy,” I gladly accepted the invitation to spend a day helping my friend, Ken, move his Hunter 33 sailboat 60 miles down river. Ken’s friend, Ray, a highly experienced sailor–and fellow yacht club member–had also accepted the invitation.

Morning at the marina.

Morning at the marina.

The weather was as mixed as my feelings about the trip. When I arrived at the marina, it seemed the clouds were breaking up as the sky grew lighter, but instead they hung out longer than we hoped. The first half of the day was overcast and chilly. I wore five layers on top, with a pair of jeans below–and sometimes wished I had worn long John bottoms, too.

However, as early afternoon rolled in, the clouds gradually thinned, until the mostly sunny sky made each of us smile in gratitude for the warmth and light.

Afternoon brought the sun and wind to make us smile.

Afternoon brought the sun and wind to make us smile.

Ray, Ken, and I took turns at the helm, motoring, sailing and motor-sailing as conditions warranted. Winds varied from 2KT to gusts of 30KT. For a good long stretch, winds were 16-17KT, punctuated by the 20-30KT gusts, which kept us on our toes. A particularly memorable moment was when the first 30KT gust hit the boat, while I was at the helm. PIXIE DUST rounded up [headed into the wind] so fiercely that it was as if she had a mind of her own. Though I had the helm hard over, it made no difference. I had never experienced that boat heeling over so hard, and was glad that I had thought to set down my mug of hot soup a few minutes before.

Another unique experience on this transit was having to avoid the numerous gill nets set to catch striped bass and white perch. These were laid in rows generally perpendicular to the shore, bearing small marker flags that were difficult to see. We wanted to avoid hitting them, particularly when the engine was running.

Ken had prepared a detailed itinerary that noted times that we should have been meeting particular marks, like the 301 Bridge and certain buoys. Sometimes, we were a bit ahead of schedule, others a bit behind, and Ken occasionally cranked up the engine RPMs to keep us on track. His son, Mike, drove down to meet us and was waiting to give a hand as Ken deftly backed the boat into her temporary berth.

PIXIE DUST settled in her temporary berth.

PIXIE DUST settled in her temporary berth.

While Ken and Mike tended to a small problem with the “land yacht,” Ray and I gathered gear and bags to put ashore, put covers on the electronics, and prepared the electrical for hook-up. Soon, we were on our way to a bountiful dinner at the local Driftwood restaurant, filling up on iced tea and seafood.

The original plan was to take PIXIE DUST to her final destination and turn her over to her new owner the following day. However, the forecast  for Sunday’s weather had changed, portending a “not fun” kind of day, so Ken decided to postpone the second leg until the following weekend. I am hoping it will work out for me to assist then, as well, but I may have already had my last time aboard PIXIE DUST.

Ken and Deb have owned PIXIE DUST for nine years, enjoying many fine adventures. They have been kind enough to invite me on several jaunts and races in the past three years, giving me many a wealth of happy PIXIE DUST memories that I will long recall with pleasure.



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To feel rich and young

P1070349When my children were young, I was pen pals with a Russian mother whose daughter was just a little older than my firstborn. I would send to Lena things that she could not obtain in the motherland, especially anything that she specifically requested. Most notably, she asked for a pair of blue jeans. I found a nice pair in Lena’s size and sent them off, hoping that they would go unnoticed by the Russian mail thieves. After she received the jeans, Lena told me that these were so expensive there that the only time people have them is when they are young and engaged to be married. Lena wrote that, because of my gift, “Not only do I feel rich, I feel young!”

Recently, I received a gift that did the same for me, a box of Phebo brand glycerin soap from Brazil, including eight bars of the rose scented kind–which I have hardly been able to find in the US. Before I even had the box open, I could smell that old familiar scent, the one that always takes me back to the apartment in Rio de Janeiro, where my mother and I stayed with an older lady who rented a room to us when we visited.

That rich rose scent brings back memories from my time in Rio: the green and blue tile on the bathroom floor and walls, the vent window in the air shaft, the view from the balcony outside our room, the smell of that luscious coffee in the morning and the scalded milk poured atop it, as well as the crusty bread and soft white cheese that our host served at each breakfast. Once I start to remember those things, many other memories tumble forth, making me smile as I recall the two weeks-long visits to Brazil, which were among the best times with my mother, and the most interesting days of my youth.

Thanks to the friend who sent the generous and meaningful gift, I feel both rich and young.

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Guest blogger Linda Johnston – Women’s History

Linda Johnston is today’s guest blogger from Write by the Rails – the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club‘s Endless Blog Tour 2014.  In the coming weeks, you will find here posts from additional guests. Enjoy!

Pub photo 2 copyThank you, Shay, for letting me be your guest today.  Today I am writing the second in a series of blog posts for Women’s History Month.

In researching my book on Kansas, I came across many wonderful historic tidbits, like the original documents from the founding of the Moneka Women’s Rights Association.

Boasting forty-two members from a population of two hundred, the Moneka Women’s Rights Assocation of Moneka, Kansas Territory, committed themselves early on to fight for equality for women. Chartered in February 1858, the group organized themselves in a town that had itself been founded in Linn County in eastern Kansas just the previous year. The group included several male members. The dedication of the membership to their cause showed the character of a community still struggling to provide the basics for its citizens.

Here are words from the Association’s Preamble:

Because, Woman is constituted of body and mind and has all the common wants of the one and the natural powers of the other

Because she is a progressive being ever out-growing the past and demanding a higher and greater future – or in other words,

Because she is a Human Being and as such is endowed by her Creator with the full measure of human rights whether educational, social or political . . .” 

The group petitioned the Territorial legislature to enact laws to protect women’s rights, including a woman’s right to retain any property that she possessed before marriage and a woman’s right to a “just proportion of the joint property of the husband and wife acquired during marriage.

One of the Association’s credos, adopted at the February 27, 1858 meeting, read:

Whereas women can not vote and yet feel the necessity of just laws, therefore Res. that every woman in Kansas who believes that equal rights belong to women should consider herself a committee of one whose duty it is to do all in her power to convert to her views at least one legal voter. 

Those legal voters to be targeted? Men, the only legal voters.

National Women’s History Month brings attention to many prominent women in our history. But let us not forget groups like the Moneka Women’s Rights Association who played an important part in the struggle for women’s equality.

Writer and artist Linda S. Johnston enjoys combining history, art, and nature in her writing.  She began reading reading pioneer diaries in 1986 and never stopped.  Her first book Hope Amid Hardship: Pioneer Voices from Kansas Territory, is a collection of pioneer writings about the happy side of life in early Kansas and includes watercolor sketches throughout.  To learn more about Linda and her writing, please visit www.lindasjohnston.com

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Gaming for Sanity – Guest blogger Tee Morris

Tee Morris is today’s guest blogger from Write by the Rails – the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club‘s Endless Blog Tour 2014.  In the coming weeks, you will find here posts from additional guests. Enjoy!

Gaming for Sanity

By Tee Morris

IMG_9026I’ve been (sorta) tight-lipped about my year up to this point. I know, it’s only March; and I had made a pledge not to allow a single event define the year for me. It’s a little frustrating, though, how that single event has directly affected Pip’s and my life. What has been a real blessing are the people in our lives who set aside to to game. Be it a board game, a card game, or a role playing game, friends who take the time to game—something that adults seem to lose touch with during their teen years—find a moment’s peace when things are rough.

Two such friends, Chooch and Viv, came over one Sunday night for dinner and “grown-up” time. What we got that night was a lot more than any of us could have expected.

Chooch and Viv, being the thoughtful people they are, brought with them something for dinner. What they brought was better than a bottle of wine or a four-pack of Dogfish Beer. They had brought with them a bag of games. The games were varied, but one I knew on first glance—Cards Against Humanity. If you’re not familiar with this game, here are three things you need to keep in mind about it:

1.    The more people playing, the wackier it is.

2.    If you are easily offended, you will want to brace yourself.

3.    No one is safe.

photo-2As far as gameplay, you have two kinds of cards: Questions (black) and Answers (white). The questions are pretty “pedestrian” in nature, a bit like the 1970’s classic game show, Match Game, where questions would be open-ended, allowing a player to play one or two of their answer cards. Sounds pretty safe so far, right?

It’s when you get to the Answers cards where you spiral down to the deepest, darkest depths of your soul. What is found on the White cards range from the random to the explicit to Did you just go there?! (Please refer to #3 of “Three things you need to know”…)

What occurred straight out of the box was the absurd, the disgraceful, and the inconceivable. What also happened during gameplay was laughter. Glorious, uninhibited,  therapeutic laughter. There were rounds when I snorted. There were rounds that my eyes ached. There were rounds I thought I was going to hyperventilate. And in most of the cases, it wasn’t the shocking answers that got me, but the idiotic and slightly puerile that had me on the floor.

Then, somewhere in the point of the evening, I asked myself How long has it been since Ive laughed like this? Looking at everyone else, it dawned on me that in playing Cards Against Humanity, you really don’t play this game to win. You’re sitting around a table with friends, laughing yourself silly. Pretty much, you are winning from the first round to the last. That’s what we were doing last night, and by its end we were all tired but lighter, perhaps the lightest we have felt in a long time.

And then Pip, without any sort of prompting, said, Its going to be okay. All four of us believed that, and still do.

Whether you are playing something as inappropriate as Cards Against Humanity, or something more thoughtful like Dixit (one we were introduced to), or a game of strategy like Ticket to Ride (one we want to introduce to Chooch and Viv), find the time to game. Yes, we were tweeting and posting photos from the various games, but we were for the most part unplugged, connecting with each other, and allowing ourselves some time to relax.

And in the case of Cards Against Humanity, just laugh the stress away.

It’s not a bad thing, taking a little bit of time out of the week with friends or family to enjoy a night off the grid, getting social around a game you know or one you’ve wanted to get to know. Does it solve the problems? No. Gaming does give you a hard reminder of what truly matters, and what will get you through harder times.

So game on, everybody. Looking at everything falling down around us, perhaps a timeout to game is in order. We have definitely earned it.

What about you? What are your favorite kind of games with friends? What was the last game you played?

Screen Shot 2014-02-13 at 3.48.41 PMTee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieter…that meant more time to write at night…) would pave a way for his writings.

Tee has now returned to writing fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. Their first title in the series, Phoenix Rising, won the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, while both Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair were finalists in Goodreads Best in Science Fiction of 2011 and 2012. In 2013 Tee and Pip released Ministry Protocol, an original anthology of short stories set in the Ministry universe. Now in 2014, following a Parsec win for their companion podcast, Tales from the Archives, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their third book, Dawn’s Early Light. When Tee is not creating something on his Macintosh, he enjoys a good run, a good swim, and putting together new playlists to write by. His other hobbies include cigars and scotch, which he regards the same way as anime and graphic novels: “I don’t know everything about them, but I know what I like.” (And he likes Avo and Arturo Fuente for his smoke, Highland Park for his scotch!) He enjoys life in Virginia alongside Pip, his daughter, and three cats.


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Front page news: Police neutralize active shooter during exercise scenario

P1070225Imagine sprinting in front of a team of storming federal police, the sound of gunshots echoing in the darkened hallway, the air thick with the smell of gunpowder, and  bloody “victims” screaming and running the other way. I found myself in exactly that place, after being invited to witness and write about an active shooter exercise at Joint Base Anacostia Bolling in Southeast Washington, DC.

The “incident” gave me a fleeting taste of the fear and disorientation invoked by a genuine situation. The scenario was so realistic that I kept feeling the urge to offer assistance to the people who were role playing the shooter’s victims.

As if a ghost in the scene, I stood to the side and watched the federal police subdue the man who played the role of shooter, and observed how they determined whether there was a second shooter as they secured the building. Afterward, I saw the EMTs arrive and take one of the “bloody” victims away by ambulance.

This was a fascinating and exciting experience, a glimpse into one of the innumerable ways that the US military constantly works to keep our bases safe. The article I wrote about it has been published on the front page of the Joint Base Journal. Read it online and see some of the action shots here: Police Neutralize Active Shooter During Exercise Scenario.

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My favourite tool – Guest blogger Pip Ballantine

Pip Ballantine is my tenth guest blogger from Write by the Rails – the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club‘s Endless Blog Tour 2014.  In the coming weeks, you will find here posts from additional guests. Enjoy!

My favourite tool

By Pip Ballantine

scrivener_screenshotAll kinds of jobs have all kinds of tools. Carpenters have hammers and saws. Seamstresses have threads and sewing machines. But what do poor ole writers have?

For the longest time it was Microsoft Word. That was it.

It is fine for writing in an office setting, but when you are working on a novel it is rather clunky. Moving long piece of text around is a tedious process of Cut and Paste. You have to have multiple files for everything which you have to flip between.

So when I discovered Scrivener it was a case of love at first sight.

Developed specifically for writers back in 2006, and it has a myriad of features that make my life much easier.

It isn’t even all that expensive ($US45 for Mac and $US40 for PC). You can find it at literatureandlatte.com

It isn’t just about the writing—it is a program for organising your writing project. There is a main writing window, but on the left hand side are folders for organising your work.

There are so many wonderful features of Scrivener it’s hard to talk about them all, so I will just settle for the ones I use the most.

Outside of the main writing window, everything is organised with notecards—the digital equivalent of the ones writers use to plot or make notes on. It gives Scrivener a very familiar feel and makes it pretty easy to handle.

Since I write steampunk and fantasy, on the left I have folders with notecards for characters, settings, magic. On each one you can import images. For example in my character folder each character has an image of what I think they look like. It’s easy to use images you run across on the internet in this way, and makes for a quick touchstone reminder as you are writing.

Also on the left hand side I have my references which are very important.

When I do history I particularly like the ability to import in webpages that are references and having them on hand—even should the webpage I am using change or disappear I will still have what I need within Scrivener. It’s like magic!

Each chapter I am working on appears in this left hand line of files too. This means I can color code them, mark them as in progress or done, and easily shuffle them around if I want to move scenes. (So much easier than in Word!)

Then when you are done you can compile your work into a huge variety of formats to share with your editor, your friends, or the world. Yep, Scrivener will compile your book right into epub format!

I haven’t used it in this way but I also hear it is great for screenwriters as well.

Writers don’t get too many tools, but without this one I would be lost. You can try Scrivener free for 30 days, and I would highly recommend you do so. It has certainly made my life a lot easier, and I am onto eighth book written using it.

Thanks to Shay for hosting it on her site. Don’t forget to check out Write by the Rails, which is full of a diverse range of amazing writers. You can find out more about our steampunk series the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences at our site, and me here.

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Getting Out of Your Own Way – Guest Blogger Stacia D. Kelly

Stacia D. Kelly is my ninth guest blogger from Write by the Rails – the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club‘s Endless Blog Tour 2014.  In the coming weeks, you will find here posts from additional guests. Enjoy!

Getting Out of Your Own Way 

by Stacia D. Kelly

Shay, thank you so much for participating in our Endless Possibilities Blog Tour with the Write by the Rails crew! We’re having too much fun visiting all 16 hops. For your readers, I thought I’d tackle the process of getting the Goddess Chronicles out of my head and onto paper.

Phyxe_GoddessofFire_coverart_digital_med (1)In 2004, I think that was the year, I tried to join up and do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time ever. I wanted to get back to my writing, to finish a full length novel, which was something I hadn’t done since high school. I wanted that part of my creative self back into my everyday life.

But that year, I was an emotional mess. Our son was only a few months old. We’d moved. I wasn’t sleeping, and a whole host of other things were going on, so there was no way I was in any state to get 50,000 words done in 30 days. Yes, some people ask how on earth one can do that anyway. Trust me, it can be done! But, not when you can’t focus. Trust me, I have over 36 manuscripts in various states on my hard drive, and they’re all calling at me to get them finished, especially since so many of them were half starts.

In November 2006, I’d finally gotten myself, my emotions and my environment stable. I was ready to dive back into my writing and thought I was going to start with Glacial, the Goddess of Water, from my Goddess Chronicle series which had been brewing in the back of my mind. Instead, I had the overwhelming sense of needing to write about Phyxe, the Goddess of Fire. She was taunting and tormenting me, throwing ideas out, itching to get out and fight.

It was an amazing ride.

I dove into fight scenes, crafting to make them real, shadow boxing at the gym to make sure she could dodge a hit or tumble just the right way. (It’s something I carry through all the books now too.) I worked on adding layer upon layer to each scene, working in textures and scents where I could. I’d actually written the entire original story with a broken collarbone and shoulder blade in about two and a half weeks. Yes, 50,000 words in about 18 days.

But, it took me years to edit it. I had to get out of my own way a second time. All that emotion and energy, plus healing was draining. It was also a lot of procrastination and fear. And, letting life get in the way.

Something clicked in 2012. Whether it was finding the Scrivener software, which I will never work without again, or having found a great cover artist who’d given me exactly the image I wanted—something switched in my brain and I wanted, no, needed, to get the story out there.

With much trepidation and fear, I hit publish on Kindle Direct Publishing on January 13, 2013. I haven’t looked back. I don’t watch the numbers or freak out about checks, instead, I’ve gotten out of my own way and continue to work on the next stories and series.

How else are the other 36 stories going to get off my harddrive???? So, what do you constantly let slide or talk yourself out of doing? What dreams do you want to accomplish?


Stacia D. Kelly, Ph.D., is the author of the fiction works, “Phyxe: Goddess of Fire”, “Ichi”, and the upcoming “Gaian.” Her non-fiction work includes “Reduce You”, “Muse”, and “Nine Months In, Nine Months Out.” Read more at www.staciakelly.com.

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Good Writing Needs a Great Soundtrack – Guest Blogger Nick Kelly

Nick Kelly is my eighth guest blogger from Write by the Rails – the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club‘s Endless Blog Tour 2014.  In the coming weeks, you will find here posts from seven additional guests. 

Good Writing Needs a Great Soundtrack

Catwalk_messiah_coverart_smallI’ve been told that my writing is very visual and experiential. Go figure. My lead sci-fi character was first released in comic books, and his whole environment is a future, failed version of Los Angeles that is constantly burning. My lead urban fantasy character swills black coffee and cranks classic rock. The point is that I want readers to feel like they’re riding shotgun when my guy decides to take on the bad guys and crack the case.

Writers have different feelings about their environment and what is or isn’t conducive to getting quality writing time in. One simple thing I love, and almost need, is music while I write. Not just any music, but music that fits the story I’m writing and the characters involved. Most of the time I prefer instrumentals, but I’m not averse to vocals if the lyrics and melody fit the mood, too. (I’ll explain one time that this backfired in a moment.)

Here are three quick examples of what I enjoy listening to when I write. For the first, let’s take a look at my first cyberpunk book, “Catwalk: Messiah” which was released in July 2013. This was one of the longest works in progress I’ve ever had, but the soundtrack to which I’d write didn’t change all that much over time. I chose futuristic music that featured a lot of electronics, but also really heavy guitar riffs. Some of my favorite artists to listen to while I shared time with Cat and his allies are the same ones who make you drive too fast, or get the most out of a workout. These include Celldweller, Blue Stahli, Paul Leonard-Morgan’s soundtrack to the film “Dredd”, Zeromancer, Project 86, and The Prodigy.

The second example is Detective Ryan Calder, my half of the lead couple in “Ichi”, Book One of the Urban Samurai series. Stacia Kelly writes Shia Ronin, the 1,000 year old samurai who fights the things that go bump in the night. Ryan is an analytical homicide detective who doesn’t believe in any of it until he starts seeing the demons for himself. Ryan’s only real friend is his 2015 Chevy Impala, where he spends hours on stakeouts and chasing down leads, cranking classic rock the whole time. Some easy examples include The Eagles, Boston, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, and Joe Cocker – who plays a very special role in the book.

My third example is one where music totally backfired on me. I was writing a paper for school, and to help me mellow out, I created a Mozart playlist on iTunes and started researching. About 30 minutes into it, one of the piano concertos faded out and I had a few moments of silence. Then…BAM! In comes the wall of voices that is Requiem. I swear I jumped up out of my seat and chucked my headphones across the office. When I finally got my heart to stop pounding like a Skrillex bass beat, I made certain to double check my playlists.

Do you have a favorite genre or artist when you’re writing? Does it change depending on what you write? I’d love to hear what fills your ears.

All the best,

 Nick Kelly is a musician, professional speaker, and an author. His works include the cyberpunk/sci-fi novel, “Catwalk: Messiah” (Book One in the Leon “Catwalk” Caliber series), and “Ichi” (Book One of the Urban Samurai series). Both are available on Amazon.


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From These Ashes – Guest Blogger Tamela Ritter

Tamela J. RitterTamela J. Ritter is my seventh guest blogger from Write by the Rails – the Prince William Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club‘s Endless Blog Tour 2014.  In the coming weeks, you will find here posts from eight additional guests. Tamela’s post is an excerpt of her novel, “From These Ashes.” Enjoy!

Tim and I walked for miles before we started to hear chanting through the trees. As we got closer, the smell of meat cooking and sizzle of fry bread being dropped in an oil skillet carried on the air. Entering the clearing, we saw a small tribe encircling a large fire. About a dozen women and children were dancing around the fire with arms raised.

“What are they doing?” I asked. I’d only seen people dance and chant at ceremonies.

“They are praying to the Great Spirit. Thanking Him for the food they eat, the land around them, and the people they love.”

I walked fearlessly straight up to the circle. The woman who had been leading the prayer moments before was the first to notice me.

“Who is this beauty before us?” she asked.

“My name is Naomi West, daughter of Virginia West, granddaughter of Naomi and Charles Lagueux, Chief of Salish-Kootenai Tribe of…”

Another woman looked passed me to Tim and said, “Oh, Silent Stream, did you bring this little beauty?”

“Why do they call you Silent Stream?” I asked him.

He struggled to answer, the struggle I’d watched him fight all my life. Finally he just shrugged and looked from me to the woman. I turned back to her. “Why do you call him that?”

“We call him Silent Stream because he flows through us quietly and sometimes his current is slow, and he stays for hours, and sometimes it’s fast and he’s here and gone in a blink. Like the stream, no matter how silent, has many fish that swim in it, so does he; no matter how silent, has many souls swimming through him.”

I instantly respected this tribe who looked at my brother and saw what I saw: the beauty that some saw as weakness, the heart that some didn’t see at all.

“Who are you?”

“We are the tribe Nopiinde,” the women answered.

“I’ve never heard of you. Are you a member of the council?” They shook their heads. “Where are you from?”

“We’re from here,” she answered.

“Here the Grand Canyon?”

“Here America. Nopiinde means the Tribe of the People. We are nomads. Most of us were not born in this tribe but found it when we were looking for meaning and direction to our lives that our own tribes, in these modern times, have not provided for them. Do you understand?”

I nodded.

“Would you like to meet her?” the woman asked.


“The Mother who names us all. Phoenix Daughter.”

“Yes,” I answered immediately.

She held her hand out to me. I looked back at my brother who nodded slightly, so I took it and followed her passed the row of tents that half circled the fire. Behind those were many more tents and teepees, a small village of people and activity, mostly women and children.

I was mesmerized. I had seen villages like this in books but never at any Powwow I’d ever been to before. Powwows were elaborate regalia brought out once a year, vibrant and immaculate teepees slept in on these occasions only. Powwows were not full tribes of people living the life every day in ordinary but traditional Indian attire.

She stopped in front of the only teepee that had any color. It was a vivid red with green, blue and orange shapes to represent the Earth, sky and fire.

She ushered me in. When I turned to thank her, she was gone.

“Step up child; let me see you.”

The old woman was standing in a fog of heavy smoke coming from the bundle of sage and juniper she waved all around her. She tore the bundle in two and put one half in a stand to her right and one on her left.

She put her hands palms up, and I instinctually put my hands in them.

She was tall but didn’t tower. She did not smile but radiated kindness. She was ancient with ageless eyes. Two long, grey braids hung over each shoulder and she was wearing a beautiful light purple dress and a white belt decorated with turquoise.

The room smelled strongly of sage, obviously, but I also smelled cinnamon for some reason, and I knew from then on, that would be the scent I would associate with Wise Women.

Before I knew what was happening, she had pulled me to her bosom with both her arms around me tightly. After my heartbeat slowed to match her measured rhythm, I realized I was being rocked back and forth. She was chanting a soft, mournful song. Without knowing the words, I found that I was overcome with an odd sort of peacefulness, yet was shocked to realize I was simultaneously shaking with painful sobs. She held me while I wept for things I couldn’t even name.

“You and your brother have the biggest hearts I’ve ever felt from outsiders. You both are very special,” she whispered in my ear.

I pulled away, feeling warmed from the inside out. “My brother talked to you, didn’t he?”

She sighed with a smile. “Yes, although I had to hold him to me much longer than you. The hurts run deep in him, but you know that, don’t you?”

“He feels the pains of both of us, and sometimes I think, for our whole tribe.”

“Yes, I feel that in him as well. I fear there is nothing we can do to ease the pains, but it’s up to the ones who love him to make sure he also feels the joys and pride of his tribe. Can you do that?”

I promised, and after a long silence where she simply let me cry, she asked, “Will you join me in the ceremony of name?”

I nodded.

She turned us around. “We face the East and acknowledge that today is a new day where we can be born again, erasing past hurts and pains.” We turned again. “We face the South as we ask the Great Spirit for what we want to be and need to accomplish.” Again we turned. “We face the West and ask the winds of the great waters to blow away the spirits that work against us.” Finally we came full circle. “Now we thank the Great Spirit for this new life and promise to honor the gift we have received.”

She faced me, dipped her fingers into the ashes of the burning herbs, and wiped my tears that refused to stop flowing. “No need for more tears. In the tribe of the Nopiinde, you will be known today and evermore as Soaring Fire.”

She put her hands on my shoulders, and I felt the connection between me and her, me and the earth, me and my people—all my people.

“Will I ever see you again?” I asked, clinging to her.

She rocked me back and forth, chanting. “If not in this life, then in the next.”

Tim was waiting for me. Without a word, I took his hand and we walked in silence; the only sounds our footsteps and the wind singing through the trees. “So, did you like her?” he asked.

I squeezed his hand. “No, I loved her.”

He squeezed my hand back. “Me too.”

“Do you think when we’re old enough to find our own tribe, we’ll find them again?”

He didn’t answer; he didn’t need to.

For years after that, every Powwow we went to, we would search for our lost tribe. They became our three ring circus; when we dreamed of running away, we dreamed of them.


Tamela J. Ritter was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, her debut novel From These Ashes was published in March 2013 by Battered Suitcase Press. She now lives and works in Haymarket, Va. You can find her on Twitter or on Facebook.


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The two kinds of luck

Leukemia Cup Regatta 2012. One of my shots of a great race day.

Leukemia Cup Regatta 2012, one of many great race days.

Luck may appear to be something that just happens to us, but we can often make our own luck, when it depends on opportunities seen or made and taken. For instance, I feel very lucky to have wonderful friends, but also, I have these friends because I carefully selected them over time. Those, who have proved worthy of deeper friendship, are my closer friends–and very few. Others are online friends, banter friends, fellow sailors, former colleagues and more. With quite a few I have strong connection; we help each other, and are there when needed. My friends have been a key source of support as I have gone through many experiences, and I believe I have been the same for them.

Recently, a fellow sailor asserted that I am lucky to sail as much as I do, to have the unique sailing experiences I enjoy. I replied that this had little to do with luck, and mostly with intention and courage. Since sailing is my passion, it is key component of my life, and I put effort into making it happen. I save up for it, make connections about it, stick my neck out and ask for it. Because of this, I sail more than most of my sailing friends who are not professional mariners. When I follow my bliss, the fun and magic happen, and I find myself in interesting and varied sailing adventures with wonderful people.

My luck has not been so good when it comes to things that are controlled by external forces, and I have faced some serious challenges. The trick to making it through those periods is to hold fast to hope, any hope, no matter how stupid, and to latch on to little pleasures and joys and moments–to grasp them tightly, for as long as possible. Often, plans for a sailing adventure were the promise I held onto, the dream that kept me going.

Every day brings its challenges and pleasures. I endeavor to meet them all with optimism and a smile, then sleep on the trust that, with determination and courage, things will work out well in the end, and usually, they do.

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