Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Adventures in Setting up for Christmas

Setting up for Christmas at the Park home is always an adventure, especially with infants and young children. First we retrieve our artificial, prelit, 7½-foot pine tree from storage along with all the other boxes containing Christmas decorations. From lights and ornaments to stockings and various Christmas statues, it all gets piled into the living room and deboxed. We place a Christmas CD into the stereo and commence playing jolly holiday tunes. The tree is pulled from its coffin, the misshapen branches mashed and bent at odd angles from its year long rest in the box. It takes a good 30 minutes to place the three pieces of the tree together, straighten the branches to give it some semblance of a real tree, and connect the outlets and cords in the right order so that all the lights come on at once.

We allow our 4 and 7-year-old girls to hang the ornaments on the outstretched limbs. The only stipulation this year: The ornaments must start at least three feet up to prevent our 1-year-old from pulling them off and destroying them as only a curious tot could do with a slobbery mouth, tiny pulling fingers and little stomping feet. This leaves the entire bottom portion of the tree bare. The tree is invariably decorated more on one side than the other, but as the task was given to the kids, I don’t interfere or correct the peculiar spacing. Though the snowflake ornaments lose a pound of glitter to my floor each year, they never seem to run out of the sparkly particles. I vacuum the floor three times before giving up on removing every bit from my carpet.

The nativity scene is strategically placed above the entertainment center, reminding us of the true reason for the season, the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Other statues and holiday d├ęcor are also set around the living room, kitchen and dining area.

My husband heads up the construction of the train tracks around the base of the tree, propping the branches up so the battery-operated Thomas, Arthur and Rosie tank engines won’t derail when passing underneath. The tracks don’t last five minutes in their completed state, however, as they succumb to the crawling infant’s inquisitive touch. We allow her to have her fun, and then rebuild the tracks after she goes down for a nap. I fear, however, that this pattern of destruction and rebuilding will be a daily ritual for the next five weeks.

The final touch of Christmas in our home is in the dividing up of the bag of cinnamon scented pine cones around the house. Knowing the cinnamon oil on the cones is strongest when warmed, we lift the heating vent covers upstairs and place two pine cones in each vent. Downstairs we hang a cone beneath each ceiling vent. As expected, the spicy aroma of cinnamon wafts through the house each time the thermostat signals the air to turn on, creating a truly festive atmosphere.

I never look forward to the work involved in setting up for the holidays, but seeing the finished product after its done, I always feel joyful as I anticipate another merry Christmas.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thrift Stores ROCK!

Two months ago I bought a bunch of t-shirts for my husband for $1 apiece at the local thrift store. One of them had a Hostess Twinkie on the front that said "It's what's on the inside that counts." Little did I know that the Hostess company would soon close it's doors and that today the same Twinkie shirts would be selling on e-bay for over $35 each. I love thrift stores! *HUGE GRIN*

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


From Page to Knight
A future knight started training at age 6 as a page. A young page was often sent to a knight’s castle for training. As a page he learned simple household skills and basic fighting skills with wooden swords. He served the lord and lady of the castle. Some learned to read and write as part of their training. At about age 14 the page became a squire. He often lived in a group with other squires and learned to use real weapons. They often got used the heavy armor by running around in chain mail. Squires looked after the lord’s horses, practiced swordsmanship, hit targets with lances, and helped dress his lord in the heavy armor, which could sometimes take up to an hour.

Full knight training, from page to knighting, could take as long as 15 years to complete, depending on how well the participant learned and applied his training. Generally after age 21, they could be knighted, though some could be knighted earlier if they fought well, especially during times of war when fighting men were in need. Only the king or another knight could knight another person. Upon being knighted, a knight was given a sword and spurs (spurs were worn at the knight’s ankle). These were most always worn as symbols of his knighthood. If his knighthood was ever taken away for disloyalty or other reasons, so were his sword and spurs. After a knighting, celebrations including tournaments, feasts, dancing and music took place, sometimes lasting for days. Some squires were knighted quickly without ceremony before or after a battle for showing great courage.

At first, anyone who had been trained, and could afford the mount and armor, could be a knight. Later in history, only important men of title could be knighted. This ensured loyalty in high places as well as continual funding. A knight’s armor, being very costly, could only be afforded by rich nobles, a wealthy sponsor, or as an expensive gift from someone. Some squires remained squires because they lacked the funds to buy the required horse and armor.

Armor, Weapons and Tournaments
Heaviest suits of armor weighed about 50 pounds with the chain mail weighing about the same, but the mail seemed heavier because it hung on the knight, but the plate armor sat on the waist and was more evenly distributed over the body, so it seemed lighter. Each type of armor was generally considered a separate suit for different battle tactics. Chain mail might have seemed heavier, but it allowed for more movement than plate armor. Full chain mail and full plate armor were not worn together, but pieces of each could be added to the other to create a hybrid suit for efficient protection and mobility. Example: Plate armor was sometimes placed over the mail at the shoulders and neck area for added protection. Since stainless steel didn’t exist at the time, chain mail rusted easily, so it was regularly rubbed down or rolled in sand to keep it clean and free of rust.

A garrison consisted of a team of knights and other soldiers protecting a castle. Knights (soldiers on horses) only made up about a 5th of a medieval army, with the rest being soldiers on foot using bows and arrows, crossbows, lances, pikes, axes, maces, flails, etc. Some knights thought archers were cowardly because they shot from a distance and it was safer, but I’m sure there were other knights who didn’t think so and were quite good with the bow and crossbow. Bow archers could shoot at a rate of about 12 arrows per minute (1 every 5 seconds).

The size of warriors’ shields, from full body length to the size of a man’s torso, grew smaller with the advancement of sturdier armor.

Most knights had about three horses: One for battle, one for carrying his gear and one for traveling on. A knight’s war horse was specially bred and weighed almost twice as much as an ordinary horse.

Firing stones and iron balls with cannons and gunpowder weren’t widely used until the 1300s. Trebuchet’s (giant catapults) and giant crossbows were more widely used.

Medieval enemies sometimes got into a castle by bribing a guard to open the gate or by climbing up the drains. Through the plumbing? Ewe! Stinky bad guys!

Tournaments were a way for a knight to practice and sharpen his skills with sword and lance. A decree from King Edward I stated that tournament blades and lances must be blunted or protected at the tip to prevent serious injury and death. No use killing off his army of good knights and soldiers during practice. Edward once banned tournaments for a time because knights were participating in those rather than fighting in Edwards battles with the Scots.  During long sieges, knights sometimes held tournaments with enemy knights to relieve the boredom of waiting.

God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900
People expected knights to stick to high standards of conduct: Bravery, loyalty, generosity, and being truthful. This was the code of chivalry. They also treated noblewomen with great respect and were expected to be completely devoted to the lady he loved. Sometimes ladies tied a scarf or ribbon on a knight at a tournament. His wearing it showed the dedication of his performance to her.

Knights killed enemy knights without reserve, unless an enemy knight surrendered, then the surrendered knight was treated with respect, and not thought less of for having surrendered.

A knight loved to hunt and did so for entertainment, sport and to provide meat for the family. He hunted large prey on horseback with the use of dogs, and smaller animals on foot with the use of birds. Sometimes he paid peasants to run ahead and make noise to scare the animals out of hiding.

Coat of Arms
Medieval Times knights line up
The surcoat/surcote that went over the chain mail or armor was decorated with designs and pictures that represented the family or region in which the knight was from. This was known as the coat of arms. The coat of arms was also painted on shields and often made into a cover that was placed over the horse as well. This allowed people to recognize the knight. A son could wear his father’s coat of arms while the father was alive, but had to add an extra symbol to indicate the son’s place in the family. Upon the father’s death, the eldest son could remove his indicating mark and fully inherit the father’s coat of arms. If a man had no sons, the daughter could inherit his coat of arms and she’d be known as a heraldic heiress. Sometimes women created a coat of arms by combining her father’s and husband’s symbols.  These coats of arms were often bisected with a different symbol represented on each side.


Knights began to be phased out around the mid 14th century as kings began hiring year round mercenaries working for a wage instead of knights to fight their wars. Many knights also preferred to stay at home and look after their estates. Even as early as 1300, knights began to lose their advantage on the battlefield as technology and weapon engineering became more powerful, such as the cannon, longbow shooting arrows right through armor, the use of pikes that forced a knight to dismount and have to fight on foot, and different tactics used by foot soldiers. With the ascent of more powerful and wealthy merchants, kings looked to them for financial and political support rather than knights. Kings even began to knight the merchants, though this was more of an honorary title than anything, for they weren’t expected t fight. Some countries today still knight people as a reward for a service rendered to their country.

(Tidbits taken from a great young-readers book, Knights, by Rachel Firth with wonderful pictures and illustrations by Lucy Owen

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Trying My Hand at CREEPY for Halloween Contest!

This was my short story submitted to a Halloween contest hosted by Jolly Fish Press:


By Elsie Park

The taxi sped away, kicking up gravel behind it. Nelly sputtered and waved a hand in front of her face in an ill attempt to keep dust from her eyes and mouth. Turning from the road, she viewed the small farm house. She recalled the creepy story her late father told her of Great-Uncle James Patterson who'd lived here. No one had entered the place since James brutally murdered his wife, Matilda, 50 years before. Upon arrest he was dragged away yelling, "I didn't kill her! It was THEM! It was THEM! Why won't you believe me? We must destroy them or they'll run wild!" No one heeded his ranting, though for thirty years on death row he never changed his story about demons in his cellar. He was executed by lethal injection.

Stories emerged between then and now from children sneaking about the property. Eerie sounds and scurrying footsteps could be heard from inside the house at night. Most townsfolk chalked it up to wild animals inhabiting the vacant building.

Ridiculous, Nelly thought as she ran a hand through her short brown hair, people getting spooked over a dilapidated home with a less than perfect history.

Nelly picked up her luggage and squared her shoulders before turning to face the infamous two-story house. Peeling paint exposed the weathered, gray boards beneath. Window shutters barely hung on or were missing completely. She could see how peoples' superstitions were fed by such a sight, but she wouldn't call the place haunted. If fact, she now called it home since the house was handed down to her from a line of relatives who wanted nothing to do with it.

She stepped to the door, unlocked it and swung it wide. 

Entering the dark interior, the putrid smell of dead animal immediately hit her. She gagged and stepped back. Rummaging in her luggage for a bandana, she tied it around her mouth and nose. It helped to dull the stench. She reached for the light switch inside the door and flipped it. Only a hollow click met her ears. Darn it! No electric hook up yet. She'd get with the electric company tomorrow. Luckily, it was only ten o'clock in the morning. She'd have the entire day of sunlight before needing her flashlight.

Dust, cobwebs . . . and BONES? . . . covered every inch of the place. The old furniture was torn apart and broken, as if wild dogs had used them as scratching posts. An animal must have been living here. She hoped by now it was long gone. She needed to clean the house before her own furniture arrived tomorrow. For tonight's stay, she'd brought a foam pad, sleeping bag, pillow and something to eat in addition to some extra clothes. 

She walked to the kitchen and turned the faucet on. She was rewarded with water, albeit brown, but it was something. Searching the cabinet below, she found an old rag, stiff and crusty from its last use, and set to work cleaning her abode.

Nelly worked until the sun began to set, starting from the second floor and making her way to the first. She'd gathered and dumped so many bones into the yard that the white skeletal fragments covered most of the dead lawn surrounding the house. She never found the animal responsible for the assault on the home. She hopefully never would. 
With only the living room and kitchen pantry left to clean, she eyed the wood burning stove in the living room corner. The setting sun shined red light into the room, illuminating something beneath the stove. Lying between its four squatty legs was a black book, the word "JOURNAL" written on the cover. She pulled it from its 50 year-old bed and blew it off. Opening the old binding to the first page she read the yellowed title. "Journal of James Patterson, 1962." That was the year James was arrested for murder. Her curiosity peaked, she flipped to the last entries:
October 29, 1962—Had a 6.5 earthquake today. No damage to the house as far as I know. Before bed, Matilda said she heard scratching sounds somewhere in the kitchen. I didn't hear anything, but as Matilda is blind, her hearing is more acute than mine. Probably a stray animal spooked from the quake. Matilda has a soft spot for homeless animals, much to the strain of our finances as she gives them more meat than we see on our table. Just a week ago, I tried to put my foot down on her charity, saying she couldn't feed the strays our good meat anymore. I don't know if she'll heed my words, however, her having such a big heart.

October 30, 1962—A tragic day! As I passed the pantry, I heard Matilda's muffled voice. Who was she talking to? I peeked in. The cellar door at the back of the pantry was open. I crept down the stairs. Matilda's voice grew louder with each step. At the bottom, I stood by the door frame that enters the cellar room, just out of sight, and I finally made out her words.

"There you go, sweeties, there's some food. That's it, eat your fill."

I could hear loud chewing, like dogs eating raw meat. Were these the strays she'd heard last night? Was she hiding them, knowing I'd be mad she was feeding them our good meat again? I rolled my eyes before peeking around the doorless frame into the earthen room. I expected to see dogs, or cats, or at least something ordinary. Instead, what I saw horrified me to the core. Matilda sat on the dirt floor feeding raw beef to five hideous creatures, the type of which I still don't know! Though light from the bulb dimly lit the room, it was the luminescent green emitted from their eyes that shed an eerie glow over the area. They reminded me of the black-skinned demons portrayed in ancient drawings, with large pointed ears and razor-sharp teeth. The fangs dripped dark green saliva. The beings were vile. Evil. My skin crawled and my heart pounded. What were these monstrosities? And where did they come from? Matilda's compassion for homeless animals was admirable, but this was ludicrous. With her lack of sight, she didn't seem to know they were frightening creatures clearly not of this world, the world above ground, anyway. Though they seemed only interested in eating, I wanted to jump in and grab Matilda away. But I hesitated. If I startled them, who knows what they might do.

A jagged hole in the dirt floor, about 3 by 4-feet, loomed in the far corner. It hadn't been there before. The quake must have torn the ground apart, opening the way for these monsters to surface. In support of my conclusion, another revolting beast pulled itself up from the depths with skinny, black arms. It skittered across the floor on all fours to join the feeding frenzy.

"Yes, little one," Matilda cooed, "come and eat what I have left, for I'm nearly out."

As she gave the last chunks to the newcomer, the others sniffed around for more. When they found none, they hissed and advanced on Matilda. Before I could react, they had her in their saliva-laden mouths. They tore and pulled at her flesh with such brutality that it was only seconds before she was gone. There was nothing I could do, and if they found me, my fate would be the same.

I scrambled back up the stairs while they were occupied with feeding, but before I reached the pantry, two of them came around the corner and hissed. They bounded up the stairs and I threw myself into the pantry. Risking a glance back I found that my pursuers had stopped advancing and instead, slunk away, shielding their eyes from the light of day. They shrank back to the dark cellar and I slammed the door, locking it tight.

I was safe for the moment, but oh, my poor, poor Matilda. I had to find a way to close up the hole and kill the unholy fiends before more people became victims. I could only think of one warning to others: Beware the scurrying feet; they search for flesh to eat. I've taken the time to write this in case I, too, fall victim to the demons, and no one will know the truth without my journal entry.

October 31, 1962—Had a sleepless night thinking about destroying the monsters. Since I didn't know how deep the hole was, the only thing I could think of was dynamite to collapse it. I gathered ten sticks from the shed, left over from my war years, and tied them together, before stashing them in the chimney. Until I know if the police will believe my story, I won't expose my plan. I told the police something terrible happened to Matilda and to come at once. I didn't think they'd come if I told them the truth out right, probably thinking it was a practical joke.

Oh, here they come now. When they see the creatures for themselves, they'll help me destroy them.

James wrote no more, but Nelly knew the rest from old police records. The authorities had followed James to the cellar, but the only things found were bits of Matilda's torn body. The creatures were nowhere in sight. The police thought James made up the "demon" tale to cover his crime, and they immediately arrested him.
Shivers raced up Nelly's spine. She felt in her heart that James' words were true. Something demonic took place in the cellar. She opened the wood burning stove and reached up inside the chimney. Sure enough, ten sticks of dynamite were wedged into the cylindrical metal shaft. She pulled them out and stared at the letters reading TNT. The sticks were tied together and had one long fuse for the entire group. A pack of matches was taped to the bottom. 

The sun finished its decent and the room darkened. Dusk.

Nelly's breathing quickened at the thought of being in this place now. The creatures could still be alive and venturing out each night to feed. If she stuck around, she'd be their next meal for sure. Should she run from this nightmare house and never look back, or use the dynamite to finish what James had started 50 years ago? Yes, she knew she must try to destroy the evil gateway. It was just barely dark. Was there still time to do the deed before creatures began climbing out of the wide fissure? 

Though fear gripped her heart, she illuminated her flashlight, grabbed the dynamite pack, and crept her way to the pantry.

The door stood ajar, though only a few inches. She pushed it wide and the strong odor of rotting flesh escaped into the kitchen. She pointed the flashlight to the rear of the pantry. A dark entry to the stairs awaited her. 

Listening for sounds, but hearing nothing, she took a deep breath and moved forward into what might be her tome. 

Step by agonizing step, she stole down the stairs, hearing the crunch of bones beneath her feet and forcing herself not to turn and run away. She paused every few seconds to listen, but other than the bones, no other sound met her. She came to the doorless frame and peeked into the earthen chamber. Bones littered the floor in such mass that she couldn't see the dirt beneath. 

She swept her flashlight side to side, wondering if she'd catch a green-eye looking at her, but nothing appeared. Were all these bones from years ago and by some strange fate, the creatures were now gone?
She stepped into the room, her heart's rapid beat pounding in her ears, and crunched her way to the far corner where the ominous hole sat. Pointing the beam of light into the chasm, she couldn't see its bottom. It was dark. Everything was dark. Though no creatures were present, she couldn't take the chance they were just late coming. She dug a hole in the bones with the end of her flashlight and stood it up so the light struck the ceiling. She took the matches from the TNT pack before setting the sticks near the edge of the hole.
Taking a deep breath and holding it, she made to strike a match when she heard scuffling sounds deep inside the hole. She recalled James' warning words, "Beware the scurrying feet; they search for flesh to eat." Gazing into the fissure, she distinguished a faint greenish glow rising from the darkness. 

They were coming.

Her trembling hands dropped the match and she fumbled for another. Before Nelly could light it, a hissing 50-pound monster launched itself from the hole, its boney hands gripping her leg in a crushing grip. Barbed teeth viciously bit into her thigh. Nelly screamed and kicked with all her might, flinging the beast off and back into the hole. It screeched as it fell down, but Nelly heard more fiends scrambling up the tunnel. 
Ignoring the searing pain and blood oozing from her accosted leg, she kicked and sent hundreds of bones pouring into the shaft, hoping to slow their assent. She struck the match and lit the fuse before limping backing to the doorway. All at once, four black skeletal forms sprang from the hole and scrambled after her. She kicked and punched as they bit into her flesh. She somehow shook them off and shambled up the stairs. She fell into the pantry and kicked the door shut, as black fingers reached through. She smashed them between door and door jam. Piercing screeches echoed on the other side as Nelly stood and pushed at the door with her shoulder. The fingers retreated and she turned the lock. Though nearly out of breath, she sprinted from the house.

Five steps off the porch her body was thrown forward from the power of the explosion. She landed sprawled on her stomach several yards into the forest edge, pieces of house and soil raining down around her. Pulling herself up with effort, she looked where the house no longer stood. A crater took its place. The dry grass and trees around it burned red against the night. She limped to the crater and peered into it.

No fissure. 

Success. All was safe again. 

She sighed and sat down on the ground. She examined her torn flesh. The bites on her legs, arms and torso felt tingly, but didn't hurt much anymore. A strange sticky substance, like dark green sludge, oozed from every bite. Looking closer, she noticed the skin around her wounds turning black. Grabbing a mirror shard beside her, she glanced at her face in the reflection and gasped.

Her former brown-eyes had turned an incandescent green. They glowed back at her and she suddenly had the irresistible craving for raw meat.

Beware! Beware the Scurrying Feet

Beware! Beware the scurrying feet,
They hunt and search for flesh to eat,
Ensure it's not you, so hide from their view,
Don't make a sound, or they'll come around!

Beware! Beware the fissure wide,
Its gaping mouth is tough to hide,
Take heed of the lure, where darkness is sure,
'Tis demons' abode, where evil is sowed!

Beware! Beware the bright green eye,
The glow will draw you as a fly,
Though fear of sun's ray, may keep them at bay,
Night makes them bold, can no longer hold!

Beware! Beware the poisoned drip,
It hies from tooth designed to rip,
Absorb this phlegm, you'll be one of them,
Spurn if you might even one tiny bite!

Beware! Beware the scurrying feet,
They hunt and search for flesh to eat,
Ensure it's not you, so hide from their view,
Don't make a sound, or they'll come around!

Saturday, November 3, 2012


I recently discovered a literary work with the same title as mine, Shadows of Valor. I knew other books existed, however, that had duplicate titles on them, and that it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence. Here are a few examples I know of:

-Labyrinth by A.C.H. Smith from the 1986 movie, and Labyrinth, the medieval France tale by Kate Mosse
-Twilight by Stephanie Meyer and two others of the same title by Meg Cabot, and Elie Wiesel.

There are even books (probably more so) with similar enough titles to cause some confusion:

I could go on, but that would be boring since there are oodles of examples. I knew it was no one’s fault the books shared titles, as in my personal situation. Sometimes the coincidences just happen. A title can make or break a book, or movie for that matter. Just look at the film “John Carter.” Abundant reviews stated that the action-packed, sci-fi movie would have done better at the box office had it simply been given a different name. Some people may say, “Who cares about the title?” or “It’s not that big a deal,” but it really is . . . to an author, anyway. Some authors spend hours, days, months, even years, rolling around different titles until deciding on the “one” they feel will attract and appeal to readers, making them pick the book out from countless others, turn to the first page and be hooked until the end (or so authors hope). Such was how I felt about my title, “Shadows of Valor.” I LOVED IT, and still do. I also believed it was unique and distinct, something no one else claimed. Until recently.

This situation of dual stories claiming a single name opened up a slew of questions for me to consider as well as deciding on one of two options: Change my title or leave it alone. Should I keep it the same and hope people don’t get the two books mixed up? Would changing the title lose some of my fan base? Should I add a subtitle to my original, thus keeping it basically the same? Do I change it completely so it retains NO remnant of the original, distancing it as much as possible from the other author’s work? Do I just change one word in the title, keeping half of it the same? Would that be equally confusing? And thinking of the work involved in just amending the title . . . I’d have to change it with my publisher, on my manuscript, in any announcements made, on my music, e-mails, Facebook, blog, biographies, twitter, and share it word of mouth. HEADACHE!

With all this said, and after tireless thought and consideration, I’ve decided to keep my original title, SHADOWS OF VALOR, even though it now shares the name with another.

Patricia Hamill’s “Shadows of Valor” is a 142-page self-published story on Amazon/Kindle, and mine is over 300 pages being published by Jolly Fish Press. Hamill’s book is of the sci-fi/fantasy genre as opposed to my historical fiction. Hamill’s plot and story content don’t match mine in the least, so there is much to differentiate them by. Even though Ms. Hamill’s book came available in October 2012, mine was announced by Jolly Fish Press June 1, 2012. I mean no disrespect or degradation to Ms. Hamill for these comparisons. I merely mean to separate our books for those searching the title. I’m sure she wouldn’t want her fans mixing her story up with mine either. Who knows, maybe this situation of twin titles will benefit us both in some way or another.

SHADOWS OF VALOR, a medieval fiction by Elsie Park (that’s me *smile*), is slated for release September 7, 2013 from Jolly Fish Press.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Thankful for Schools in the U.S.

WHAT I AM THANKFUL FOR: Having a SCHOOL SYSTEM in the United States.
There are people who complain about our school systems, and yes, they are not perfect, but I'm THANKFUL to even HAVE schools at all! ANY school system is a GOOD THING. Some countries don't and their sweet people are illiterate and struggling. Yes, there are some teachers who have lost the fire and desire to teach and don't seem to care anymore, but there are still educators (a good majority) who go above and beyond their "job" and truly help their students learn. Teaching, like so many other careers, is often a ridiculed and thankless one. So I'm saying "thank you" to those teachers who still teach with a desire to educate and uplift our growing generation. On that note, the responsibility of education should NEVER be placed ENTIRELY on the schools. A parent's involvement in their child's education is paramount to them learning and learning WELL. Where a school may lack in teacher effort or poorly funded curriculum, the parent needs to make up for at home through TIME, TEACHING and EXAMPLE. The home is the first classroom.