Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Treatise on Bales of Hay by Liz Flaherty

I feel kind of cheated sometimes. Drawing ideas for columns from the news is something every columnist I know of does. Or used to. The only ones who can do that anymore are political or religious writers. They know they will have support from those whose beliefs coincide with theirs and will be called names and have their intelligence and education questioned by those whose do not. They know it going in, so that they won't be surprised when people they don't know talk mean stuff about their family members, pets, and how they voted in 1992.

Well, okay, that's the way it is. Sigh. But for people like me, whose ideas are limited to begin with, whose skins are too thin for name-calling, and who wants everyone to like her, it gets dang difficult.

So let's talk about hay.

I've been sitting here looking at the round bales in the field just west of the yard. They're framed by trees, and I have been enjoying the picture of them ever since they were baled a few weeks back. Their outer color has changed, losing its verdancy in a segue to gray that makes them less pretty, but no less attractive. 

It's like people age, isn't it? They lose hair color and sometimes hair, their skin loses elasticity, and their shapes get a little less...shapely. They're not as pretty as they were in their springtimes for the most part, but they're attractive nevertheless. They still look great in a frame.

Bales of hay probably aren't all that big of a deal to everyone. If you never played in the haymow with kittens...or hid in the haymow because you hated everyone and everyone hated you and you wished you were dead...or maybe spent some haymow time with the boyfriend of the summer...or shared confidences with friends (about the boyfriend)...well, chances are you don't see the charm.

But hay in the barn offered a place of privacy and quiet and sometimes even spirituality. If there was a rope to swing from, it was also a place of adventure and a possible concussion. 

Bales of hay are dusty and scratchy, but they smell so good--especially when they're fairly new--that describing the scent is a lot like answering when someone says what is love? It's different for everyone. 

Before hay is baled, it's cut and then left in tidy windrows to dry. Hay isn't the only plant that makes it into the bales. There are grasses and weeds and prickly things. There are other things, too, that I'm not going to go into here. You know, in case some cow is reading this and decides she's not going to eat that, after all. And leaves a mean comment here and calls me names.

I'd venture to say my little treatise on bales of hay won't change anyone's mind about them. If you didn't think they were interesting before--beyond possibly thinking when they're dressed in their white covers, they look like tractor eggs or steroid-filled marshmallows--you probably won't be too impressed by them now. If you liked them already, you're going to know what I've been talking about and you're going to remember spending some time in a hayloft. Or maybe you're going to itch. Either way, you'll like it.

This is how it needs to be if a columnist writes something drawn from what's in the news, isn't it? If you don't like it before, you probably won't like it afterward, either, but you haven't been hurt by it. You can argue its point without feeling the need to malign either the writer or what is written--no matter how intensely you may dislike bales of hay. If you do like it before, you will feel represented, something we all need, and maybe you'll say something nice. 

Have a great week. Be nice to somebody.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Ole Olsen Memorial Theater Presents Little Women by Debby Myers

As I sit here at the director’s table watching rehearsal with my assistant director, Anne Loy, I am still in awe after all these years of the talent within our small community.  I’m directing the opening show of the season for Ole Olsen Memorial Theater. After having to cancel last season due to COVID, I am anxious for patrons to be able to enjoy our live entertainment again.

I’ve been asked why I chose Little Women. It’s because I love to look at classic stories through fresh eyes. There are more than 50 translations of Little Women, so I wanted to add one more. Mine takes an adaptation written in 1998 and adds scenes from the 2019 movie screenplay plus pieces I wrote myself to run between scenes, because I don’t like silent awkward gaps in the show. I call it mine, but it belongs to everyone in my cast now. I’m a believer after directing 25-plus plays that casting is the key to an unforgettable show. I have a stellar cast! 

Liz is not only sponsoring our show but is letting me use this forum to brag on our “Little Women.” The four girls cast bring life to the March sisters in a way that should be admired watching as they interact and perceive their lines and characters in their own way and better than I dreamed. 

We are a few weeks into rehearsal and have impressed me with their commitments to Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March. There is nothing more rewarding for a director than seeing the girls work together, laugh together, and learn together. I’ve had friends say, “Little Women is boring. Everyone already knows that story.” While it’s true everyone knows it, it is far from boring. There are no two versions alike. These four girls, and the 14 other cast members we have will make you feel you’re watching it for the first time.                      

The oldest sister is Meg, portrayed by Autumn North. This is her first ensemble leading role. Having directed her before, I knew she fit in Meg’s shoes. Last seen in Terms of Endearment, Autumn was chosen because she brings a softness to Meg. Her voice inflections mirror those you would expect from the character. She gives Meg an elegance, remembering back when her family was wealthy, as well as a bitterness when envying her wealthy friends. Autumn’s smile is contagious, and I’m sure the audience will adore her in this part. 

The next sister is Jo, played by Kiley Stiers. Jo is the March sister that author, Louisa May Alcott, modeled after herself. Kiley started in Ole Olsen in 2014 as part of a team of actors and directors who developed our Shakespeare offerings. She is a talent that we acquired from MHS. She’s been dedicated to Jo since she was cast and is a true performer. Kiley’s portrayal brings energy and confidence. She will make you forget she is Kiley in her powerful performance as Jo March. 

After Jo came their sister Beth, and Sarah Bingham has the part. Last seen on the Ole stage in Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Sarah has been in theater since elementary school. She performed at MHS and at Vincennes University. She’s written, produced, worked backstage, and directed. I chose Sarah to be Beth when she cried real tears while reading parts in her audition. She instantly created the Beth I envisioned. Sarah is talented and her acting is genuine. Her performance will touch the hearts of all watching. 

Finally, the youngest of the “Little Women” is Amy, portrayed by Makenna Johnson. Almost 16, she has already been with Ole for ten years starting at age six. In roles like Gloria in Wait Until Dark, and Lucy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, she has become confident and comfortable on our stage. Makenna was an easy fit for Amy. Her sassiness and facial expressions as the spoiled baby of the sisters snagged her as our choice. She is a committed young upcoming actress in our theater. 

I have to give applause to our supporting actors who make the leads come to life even further by adding depth to their lives and the entire story. Gloria North plays the March girls’ mother, Marmee. Gloria makes her supportive, comforting, nurturing, and strong within. Newcomer Lori Petka is Hannah, the March family’s housekeeper. Lori has taken direction wonderfully. Hannah's bark is worse than her bite with the girls, but she is loyal and hardworking. There’s mean Aunt March portrayed by Tina White. She’s made the grumpy old woman fun to watch with some of the best scenes in the show. And Ethan Kimm as Theodore Laurence aka Laurie will have you rooting for him throughout. Ethan is a veteran to our stage, bringing all his emotions to Laurie. He is mischievous, but serious when the character calls for it.  Jordan Kenyon is playing John Brooke. Brooke is Laurie’s tutor and Meg’s love interest. Jordan will be directing Little Women the Musical in Kokomo in the spring. And our fantastic narrator and stage manager, Kilynn Wallace. 

Other actors include Kathy Bunker, Lily Peebles, Lynae Mast, Aubrey Denney, Doug Working, Todd Riddle, Bob Bryan, and Karter Gilleland.

Little Women relates to women and young girls, showing they have the right to dream and have ambitions of their own. In the 1860s when the story is set, women were kept on the fringes of society. It appeals to men too, and a wide variety of ages. Still today, approximately 1000 copies of the book are sold every month. Please join us for this show. Not for me, but for these “Little Women.” They are fantastic! 

Our dinner theater is being catered by the Hierholzer family. They will serve your choice of ham or turkey w/gravy, green beans w/onion & bacon, Irish potatoes, stuffing, apple walnut salad, blueberry popovers & your choice of pumpkin, cherry, or apple pie. You won’t leave hungry! Seats are limited so reserve yours today. The date is Thursday, September 23 at 6 pm.   

Performances are September 24, 25, October 1, 2 at 7:30 pm and September 26 and October 3 at 2:00 pm at Peru Depot. Go to our website – for tickets! I’ll see YOU at the theater! 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

There Are Places I Remember

In North Carolina earlier this week, writer Janie DeVos stood on the deck of her sister's log home and drew in a long, deep breath and absorbed the strength and beauty of "my mountains." She writes wonderful stories about the Blue Ridge, ones that make you feel what she feels and see what she sees. And, at the end of the day, her voice comes from that place she loves.

Spruce Pine, NC

On other writing trips, Nan Reinhardt and I have gone to Michigan. It's one of my favorite places in the world, but for Nan, it is the place. She loves  all the little beach towns that make themselves at home on its west coast and has learned their distinct personalities in the way natives do.

Grand Haven, MI

We are fortunate in this country, for many reasons--some of which are difficult to remember these days--but specifically for its individual places. And I have noticed in social media that even in the case of "where to go on vacation," there is a tendency toward divisiveness. Click bait for the "10 worst vacation spots in American" or "overrated tourist attractions" bounce around the internet. "Flyover country" is considered one large wheat field of no interest to anyone. Those articles are, like this one, opinion pieces, yet they are presented as absolute fact.

Having been to several of those 10 worst vacation spots and some of the overrated tourist attractions and having spent my entire life in flyover country, I call BS. 

Because we don't just look at places we love--we experience them. They activate all our senses, including the elusive common one, and fulfill needs we may not even know we have. They may not provide answers to painful questions, but they do provide an avenue for finding them. They don't have signs saying that "peace at heart can be found here," but sometimes it can; we just have to look and allow ourselves to feel.

I love a lot of places and am grateful for having been there and experiencing them--Johnny Cash songs in an Irish pub? You bet! At the end of the day, though, the one that holds my heart is available right outside my office window. It is in this "place I remember" that I find peace and joy and memories. 

Through the office window

Where are your places? I hope you share either here or on Facebook. Wherever they are, I wish you joy in them. 

Have a great week. Be nice to somebody.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Let's Talk... by Liz Flaherty

It is amazing the things that invite discussion, you know it? Tonight, sitting at a table with two other writers, we have tried to figure out what is making noise in the woods beyond the deck of the house where we're staying. So far, we still don't know what it is. 

This afternoon, one of the other writers yelled because something was on her toe. She didn't know what it was or what to do. It wasn't all that funny until she figured out it was cake icing. Now it's hilarious and it's up in the air whose book it will appear in first. How it got there to begin with? Well, that's up in the air, too, but I'm all about making things up.

Duane and I talk about things upon which we disagree. Because, you know, we're married. We talk about them, over them, around them, We raise our voices, we say let's just not talk about this anymore and sometimes we lapse into cranky and slightly childish silence. When we start the discussion again, we realize what we should have known in the first place--we're mostly in agreement; we just say so in different words.

A funny thing about discussion is the memory of it. Because the participants never remember it the same way. The discussion of a discussion can be as enlightening--not to mention horrifying--as the discussion itself. Only when it sinks to the level of, "No, you said...I distinctly remember. I didn't say anything" is it time to give over to talking about the weather. 

If you've discussed politics or religion and the language gets inflammatory, give it a rest. You can't un-call those names because no matter how often you say, "That's not what I meant," it's still what you said.

This morning, at this table full of laptops on this retreat in the mountains I'm sharing with writer friends, we've talked about being fixers and pleasers, about Facebook, about what kind of wives we were, and (incidentally) about the stories we're writing. We've talked about the books that most deeply affected us--Little Women; after all, I AM Jo March--about how long books have affected us and about books we haven't read and written yet. 

With discussion comes learning. Comes truth--although not always absolute, because subjectivity often rears its head. Comes gasping laughter and gut-wrenching grief. In Steel Magnolias, Truvy said, "I have a strict policy that nobody cries alone in my presence."

That is, I believe, what lies at the bottom of every discussion well. As long as minds and hearts stay open, talking about it will help most everything. (My husband doesn't agree with this, by the way.) But at the end of the back-and-forth meeting of opinion, you need to be able to share tears and laughter. 

It's something we're not all good at, isn't it? Maybe we should try harder. Have a great week. Talk to people. Be nice to somebody.

Commercial...don't forget Window Over the Sink, the book, is available from most online bookstores. Signed copies can also be found at Anita's Boutique and at Black Dog Coffee in Logansport. You can also order them from me at the following link. Thank you for your support, always!