Friday, August 22, 2014


I’ve been absent lately. We were on vacation! I’d share some nice pictures of our adventures, but somehow the memory card in the camera did not remember them. However, thanks to Wiki Commons, I can show a couple of the things we saw.

My first ever loon. 

We don’t have loons in the Texas hill country, and somehow all our trips have been to the wrong place or at the wrong time or something, and I’d never seen - or heard - one before. But doing a little fishing, we got surprisingly close to a few. And they were very vocal. If you want to hear their calls, check out AllAboutBirds. I imagine that if you could hear longing, it would sound like a loon’s wail. We also saw eagles and grouse, among other things. (The grouse picture was taken with my phone.)

Speaking of fishing, we got some walleye and pike. We love fresh fish! Which is a good thing, since we’re trying to not eat any other kind of meat.

The Blue Angels. Always love to watch them.

We heard some beautiful music at a concert by the Four Strings Trio, very talented ladies from the Polish Academy of Music. They don’t have a website yet, unfortunately, but I’ll be watching for it so we can get their CD.  They played classical, of course, but also popular tunes, jazz, celtic, and more. 

Now we’re getting ready to head west, back to South Dakota. Holy Terror Days at Keystone (think Mt. Rushmore) is the first weekend of September, and we’ll be there. The next weekend will be Pepin, Wisconsin, followed by Mansfield, Missouri. Then it will be time to head south and see the family. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Research Help

It was interesting when researching for Little Lodges on the Prairie to see how various places treated their artifacts or old documents.
It used to be that white gloves were requisite for any handling of any old item, including paper items. This was done to protect the artifact from the residue oils left behind from human skin. No matter how well you wash your hands, and how dry (or even dried out) they seem, there is still oil that is left on anything you touch. There are many places where it is still the rule to wear white gloves.
Other places, however, have concluded that the tearing, fraying, and other damage caused by trying to turn pages with gloves on is far worse for the document than the skin oils. Some of those have tried to continue to protect the paper by still requiring gloves, but at the same time worked to mitigate the fumbling damage by using tighter latex gloves, like a doctor might wear. It is easier to turn pages wearing these gloves than those of cloth, but it is still not as easy as bare-handed.
After trying both types of gloves, some repositories have done away with gloves altogether. Asking for them earns a frowning look of disgust, and a lecture on the merits of oil over the damage of clumsy groping with gloves.
I say all that so you won’t have a fit when you see the picture below, which was taken at one of the no-gloves locations.

Here is how I got most of the copies used in the book:
The letter being scanned in this picture was written by David Swanzey, husband of Carrie Ingalls. You can see it in the book Little Lodges on the Prairie: Freemasonry & Laura Ingalls Wilder.
 I love my Magic Wand! Small and lightweight, it goes anywhere. It wirelessly transmits copies to my iPad automatically as I scan, so I don’t have to do that separately, later. You can scan books without having to press them flat like you would on a scanner bed, so there’s less damage. The only drawback is that is uses lots of batteries, especially if you scan in color and doubly especially if you use high resolution. But that’s a small price to pay for the ease and convenience.
I do not own any stock in whatever company makes Magic Wands, and I’m not getting paid to write about it. I just thought other researchers might like to know how much it has helped me. Maybe it will help you, too.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


     Here’s a little bonus for Little Lodges on the Prairie: Freemasonry & Laura Ingalls Wilder  readers: from the minutes of a meeting of Bethlehem #13, OES in De Smet. The actual note to which these minutes refer is reprinted in the book. You can order your copy from the link above or Amazon.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

When Writing

There seems to be quite a lot of discussion among various writers I know about their writing process, and much of it seems to revolve around music. Some writers always listen to a specific kind of music, no matter what they are writing. Others prefer to play something that evokes the mood they are trying to capture. Still others turn on tunes that correlate to the action of the scene, or the time period, or some other aspect of the piece on which they are working. And, of course, some don’t like any music at all, desiring either some other type of noise - street noise, television, nature sounds, or white noise - or just silence.

When working on a fiction piece some time ago, I discovered that Celtic Woman radio on Pandora worked terrifically. I seemed to be able to produce more, and better quality, writing when I played that, even though it had nothing at all to do with what I was writing. But when working on Little Lodges on the Prairie, that same station did not help at all, and in fact several times when trying it, I had to turn it off in frustration. I also tried playing Pa’s Fiddle music, since that seemed to go with the subject, and several other things, but never found a music source that worked well. For that book, I preferred a low to moderate level of street noise or television.

Now that I am again working on a novel, I’m experimenting with several things. Celtic Woman is back. I wonder what it is about that group that helps me write fiction, but hinders me writing nonfiction? Strange. Other sounds are okay, too. As long as they’re not too loud or have too much of a bass beating, I’ve found I can work with just about anything right now. One thing I can never do, though, is play my favorite music. My brain just wants to sing along, and not concentrate enough on my work. 

Aside: Another strange thing I’ve discovered is that if I am getting sick or getting a migraine, a song with a particular beat will play over and over in my head. The way I can tell the difference between a regular earworm and a “getting sick” one is that a normal one is normal. If I’m getting sick, the tune keeps getting faster and faster, like a round of Three Blind Mice, even though (so far, at least) the song itself is not supposed to increase in tempo that way. So far, the only way I’ve found to stop or even slow down a migraine earworm is to play True Love over and over. Why that song? I have no idea. It’s not on my list of favorite songs; I rarely ever even think of it. But when I’m getting sick, I crave that song, and that song only.

Other things that affect creativity: lighting and temperature. You probably know that daylight inspires more creative thinking than artificial light. Did you also know that people are (statistically) more creative when they work in a slightly warm room than in a slightly cool one? It’s more than just comfort: it also has to do with the energy your body uses to warm itself, which is energy the brain no longer has to do its thing. For the same reason, working on a full stomach is not as productive as being less full (not to mention to whole tryptophan thing). Of course, hunger is distracting, so that’s not good either. 

It seems that for maximum creative potential, one should play generic music, at a moderate level, outside, on a warm day, after a light snack.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Here is a bonus peek at one of the documents included in Little Lodges on the Prairie.
This page is from the minutes of the very first meeting at which Laura served as Worthy Matron of the Mansfield Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star (an office which is explained in the book). Notice that it is also the meeting at which Almanzo petitioned to join the Order. Yes, he was not only a Freemason, but also an Eastern Star along with Laura.

There are many more such historical documents in the book. I'll be posting a few of them here in the next several weeks. If you are interested in seeing them, you might want to consider following the blog so you don't miss any. You can order the book from
Do you like this? Do you have any questions about it? I'd love to hear your comments!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Little Lodges on the Prairie - Coming Soon!

Welcome to my (revised) blog!
If you’ve been here before, you will notice that I have removed almost all of my previous posts. That’s because, for a while at least, Hen Scratches will focus more on the hen’s scratches than on the hen.
One of the few remaining previous posts is the announcement of the upcoming Little Lodges on the Prairie.

Little Lodges has been my primary research/writing project for the past couple of years. I’m excited to be able to give you an update. Biggest news: it will be released this month!

The subtitle of the book has changed, to “Freemasonry & Laura Ingalls Wilder.” The book focuses on more than just Laura, which is why I chose the original subtitle, but after receiving much feedback that having Laura’s name on the cover is essential, I have taken heed of the advice. As implied, the book chronicles the connections of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family to Freemasonry. Although it has long been known that Laura was an Eastern Star, and her father and husband were Masons, few other details have been documented. Little Lodges on the Prairie provides those details. One of the records included is Charles Ingalls’ original petition to the Masonic Lodge. Another is Laura’s report to the Grand Chapter of Missouri, Order of the Eastern Star, as District Deputy Grand Lecturer. There are lots more; I hope readers will enjoy seeing these documents, and come away with a new perspective of Laura and her family.

Check back here, or at, to learn when the book is available. I’ll be having some sneak peeks and bonus documents posted regularly, too, so check back for those as well.

Now that Little Lodges is complete, what will become the hen’s primary scratches? I have long been intrigued at how some people see the hand of God in everything from butterflies to the Holocaust, while others experience the same events, both joyful and tragic, and see them as evidence that no god could possibly exist. My next book - currently about a third completed, and still untitled - is a work of literary fiction that explores faith and reason in our lives. I’ll be posting more about this in the future, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

In development: a book based on the life of my ancestors. Set in mid-1800s Texas, it will tell the story of how my Comanche g-g-g-g-mother was taken from her tribe by a Texas Ranger (my g-g-g-g-father), and how she dealt with life as a native woman in a white (mostly man’s) world.

My first three books: a nonfiction, a literary fiction, and a historical-western-memoir. This reminds me of when a new friend visited my home for the first time. He went immediately to my bookshelves, saying, “You can tell a lot about a person by their books.” After browsing through for a few minutes, he turned to me and said, “This is a very eclectic collection; you’re still an enigma to me.”