Tuesday, September 24, 2013

31 Days to Happiness

I received a copy of 31 DAYS TO HAPPINESS: HOW TO FIND WHAT REALLY MATTERS IN LIFE by David Jeremiah from Thomas Nelson via BookSneeze.  I love these kinds of books that bring history into our everyday lives.  The book delves into the life and times of King Solomon, and transforms him into a real character the normal person can relate to. 

Some people I know dislike “self-help books,” but I don’t see them as a “fix-all.”  Usually, I take away one or two thoughts that I get to mull over, and hopefully, they improve how I look at the world.  I read this book while considering the things that happen that keep me from “happiness.”  Work, being busy, the long drive home, the challenges that cause people to look down on me, the projects I don’t have time for, the projects that keep me away from my boyfriend…  With those written down, I set to work on 31 DAYS TO HAPPINESS.  Chapter 15, Employment without Enjoyment, stood out to me the most.  Which one stands out to you?

I recommend this not only for people looking to improve their lives, but for those seeking a new perspective.  I’m passing this book on to my friends and family.  

The First Presbyterian Church House

I am obsessed with ghosts.  Two of my favorite television shows include A Haunting and Haunted Collector.  I may not actively seek out ghosts, but I’ll eat up any true ghost story and read any novel on the subject that crosses my path. 

Enter: the ghosts that haunt the Church House of the First Presbyterian Church on Genesee Street in Utica. 
My friend, Stephanie, volunteers at the Oneida County Historical Society, also in Utica.  She mentioned to me that a fellow volunteer was a member of the First Presbyterian Church and had mentioned that the house – rightly, a mansion – attached to the church was haunted.  She loves the world of the paranormal too, and he offered to give us a tour.  Of course we brought our families along. 

Any good old-fashioned ghost story deserves to start with the facts.  Robert MacKinnon owned the house first, back in 1898, then known as 435 Genesee Street.  You may dream about living in a mansion, and the MacKinnon life was one of extravagance and glamour, but it isn’t a fairytale with a happy ending like Annie.  Robert MacKinnon lost his fortune in 1910, going from millionaire to very poor in a short amount of time.  I can’t imagine what that must have been like for him. 

Before Robert MacKinnon lost the mansion, he helped raise three daughters and two sons.  You might drift back into the fairytale mindset, where all that glitters is gold, but again, there lies a shadowy undertone. 
One daughter, Mollie, disappeared.  She had been engaged to a man who was said to be of upper class background, but who was really a lawyer from California who left that state in a cloud of uncertainty.  Once she was married, she discovered something about her husband that was so shocking she could never again face her family.  She vanished and was never seen again. It was only recent years that her burial place in a Long Island cemetery was discovered.  She had died of tuberculosis in the charity ward of a New York City hospital.

Another daughter married a Jamaican plantation owner and died within a year of her marriage.  Her death certificate indicates she died of a complication from pregnancy, which was at the time untreatable.
Charles Borst took over the mansion in 1911.  Owner of the Clinton Hermatite Mines, he died in his office in Clinton in 1918.  His wife, Grace Borst, tried to keep the mines going, but eventually sold the house to investors who intended to turn it into apartments. One of the Borst daughters, Carlina, passed on in an untimely manner.  She became an actress and died of tuberculosis in New York City when she was just 33.  When her husband died a few years later, her sister, Beatrice, became guardian of her children.  In 1942, she wrote a novel based on her life in the Utica mansion.  Although names and places were changed, the descriptions of the rooms are clear to those who know the house.

Stepping into the mansion, you can feel the history in the air.  The downstairs has been refurnished into elegant meetings rooms and offices, with a professional, dignified atmosphere.  When you get upstairs, you experience the decay of the years.  Without being fixed up to proper standards, the remains of the past decade whisper into your ears.  You can imagine what Mollie’s coming out party in 1905 had been like in the ballroom, and you can picture the servants hanging their sparse clothing in the attic closets.  The dormers, flooded with light from outdoors while carpeted with interior darkness, leaves a chill down your spine.  From the exquisite tile in the bathroom to the sparkling fireplaces, you can experience what a grand life the occupants must have lived.  It is the perfect type of home you long to live in, and when you close your eyes, you imagine what it might have been like back then, in the early 1900s. 

George Abel, one of the church members, gave us the tour of the rooms, complete with commentary.  He explained the history and pointed out locations where people have witnessed paranormal activity.  Mollie MacKinnon is the most popular ghost for the mansion.  If you believe it is her spirit haunting the grounds, you can imagine she returned to her home, a place where she felt safe, after her unfortunate demise.  Stephanie and I snapped photos with our digital cameras as we followed him.  When we got home and reviewed our footage, she didn’t see anything in hers.

In three of mine, however, I spotted what might be ghost orbs.  Of course, I would have much preferred a full body apparition or a face in a mirror.  One orb appeared over a fireplace.  The white ball was very transparent and small, and in the brightness of the room, it could easily be called dust.  Another orb appeared when I snapped the inside of a closet.  That one, too, could be called dust, since the air felt heavy and the closet was cluttered. 

The third orb sends chills down my spine, and I can’t call it dust.  It appeared in the upstairs sitting area near the stairs where people have claimed to see Mollie’s ghost.  The orb is in the upper right-hand corner of the photograph and seems to be moving.  It is much brighter and whiter than the other orbs captured on film.  It also seems to be moving, with a bit of a streak or tail following it.  You decide: ghost orb, dust, or a speck on the lens?  Nowhere else did a light like that appear on the photos, and I’ve never seen it on another photograph I’ve taken anywhere else. 

The house has been the site of multiple ghost hunting experiences, as well as part of the 2013 summer tour for the Landmarks Society of Utica.  Keep your eyes open for an opportunity of your own to tour the expansive grounds and maybe catch a glimpse of the ghost, or ghosts, yourself.  The church can be reached at http://www.fpcutica.net/

If you know of a haunted area you’d like me to tour and write about, or something else you’d like me to write about, you can contact me at SignedJori@gmail.com.  Happy adventures!

Sunday, September 15, 2013


With joy, I received another book of Amish Fiction from Bethany House.  This one is THE SECRET KEEPER by Beverly Lewis, the third book in her
Return to Hickory Hollow series.   I always enjoy Beverly Lewis’s
books, so this one was a treat, and I look forward to discussing it
with my mother once she reads it.

Of course, as with any book, there were good and bad points.  For one
thing, Beverly Lewis never describes things well.  I love how she
captures the Amish lifestyle, but I can’t picture the people or places
– I’ve even vacationed at Bird-in-Hand, one of the main locations.
Beverly Lewis also uses a lot of telling sentences, rather than
showing what’s occurring.

THE SECRET KEEPER involves Jenny Burns wanting to become Amish.  My
favorite part of the book was that topic.  Most of the Amish novels
involve a young Amish woman falling in love with a young Amish man.
Sure, that was involved, but the main focus was how Jenny adapted to a
new lifestyle.

Another great aspect was that Katie Lapp returned, first introduced in
THE SHUNNING.  Jenny stays with Katie’s parents while she strives to
prove her worth to the Bishop and be welcomed into the faith.  I
recommend this to anyone who enjoyed the trilogy about Katie Lapp, and
for anyone interested in the Amish ways.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Anyone who knows me well knows I am obsessed with books.  Reading, writing, collecting, sharing… books are my hobby and my obsession.  Actually, you don’t need to know me well to see my joy in the written word.  I always have a book with me to whip out of my purse.  I’ll read anything, but one of my favorite genres happens to be mystery.  I suck at figuring out who did it, but I enjoy witnessing the clues unfold.  Hence, I was thrilled to receive a copy of DEATH ON LINDISFARNE by Fay Sampson from Lion Hudson via Kregel.  It is the second book in the Aidan Mysteries series, the first being THE HUNTED HARE.  I’d read that one in the past and found it riveting, so I was excited to dive right in. 

This book transports you to Lindisfarne, an actual island off the coast of Northumbria.  That in itself had me hooked.  I love reading about real lands.  Aidan, a photographer, and his daughter visit the retreat center there, which turns into a site of murder.  Welcome characters both suspicious and heart-warming.  Every page grounds you deep in the action, realism, and the beauty of the island – despite the dead body on the beach part.  My favorite part had to be the descriptions of the old buildings.  I’m a sucker for the history rooted deep in old architecture!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Rebellious Heart

My hands trembled in anticipation as I opened the package that had come in the mail to discover another novel of historical fiction.  I can’t get enough of historical fiction.  There’s nothing so calm as sitting back in the living room chair with the yellow glow of the light beside me, a steaming cup of tea on the table, and slip away into another time period.  This one involves Massachusetts in 1763. 

I received a copy of REBELLIOUS HEART by Jody Hedlund from Bethany House, one of my favorite publishing companies.  In it, Susanna Smith fights for an education even though she’s a woman and Benjamin Ross fights for a better world.  They make a great pair, and the romance between the two really vibrates off the pages.  Ben is a true hero.  Many of the things he did made my heart flutter.  What gentlemen we had back then! 

 I enjoyed all of the characters (even the bad guys!) and this new world, so to speak, kept me entranced.  I’ve read other books by Jody Hedlund – UNENDING DEVOTION stands out in my mind – and can recognize that she’s a strong writer.  I look forward to what she comes out with next.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Plain Disappearance

I received a copy of A PLAIN DISAPPEARANCE by Amanda Flower from B&H Books.  It’s the third novel in An Appleseed Creek Mystery series.  For those of you who follow my book posts, you know I read a lot of Amish books.  My mother is, well, obsessed with the Amish lifestyle and can’t get enough of the literature.  I read them too, so we can discuss the stories.  I bet you can guess who will be getting this novel now that I’m done with it. 
A PLAIN DISAPPEARANCE is definitely different from what the “normal” Amish books are like.  For one thing, this is a mystery, rather than a romance – not just a mystery, but a murder mystery.  The books usually are sweet and heartwarming.  I’m not saying this one isn’t, but it has that dash of danger. 

The world of Appleseed Creek becomes so real, you feel as if you could drive to the next valley over and there you would be.  I was on the edge of my seat through the whole thing, and I finished with a huge smile on my face.  I recommend this to fans of Amish fiction (this is definitely something unique to the genre!) and mystery lovers.  

A Writing Space

There are so many different aspects to writing.  The first one that comes to my mind is deciding what tense to use.  There’s another important aspect, especially for me – the writing space.  Sadly, I don’t have a writing lair, even though it’s something I crave.  Come on, what writer doesn’t want a hole-in-the-wall space to call his or her own? 

I’ve done 90% of my writing at my grandmother’s house.  She has dementia, so when I looked after her, I would spend my time writing, in between cooking and reading poetry to her.  Here are the essentials for my writing “space”:

A white desk. That’s old.  And falling apart. By falling apart, I mean that the cabinet won’t shut anymore, and it’s not because the contents are spilling forth.  The drawer has completely fallen out.  I know, because it landed on my foot.  Now one side of the drawer is cracked.  It’s still lying on the floor so I can use it to hold pens. 

A broken printer.  It sits atop the desk in the corner.  I can’t remember the last time it worked.  The roller-thing won’t grab the paper and when you try to jam the sheets in, they get stuck, or miss paragraphs.  How awesome!

A postage scale.  I use it to know how full to stuff my pen pal letters.

A clock.  It hangs by a piece of yellow yarn from the top of the desk.  Sometimes the clock is right; other times, it jumps ahead five minutes. 

Tissues.  I have horrible allergies and typing will usually stir dust.  I type a few sentences.  Achoo!  I type a few more.  Achoo!

Papers.  These consist of pen pals letters, notebooks, and photographs.  I love to look at the people I love when I’m writing.  It comes from how my dog, Amy, would lay at my feet whenever I typed.  All of my early stories will be dedicated to her, because she got to hear me read them aloud.  She offered moral support.  Not once did she tell me I couldn’t succeed. 

Pictures.  If I find a picture that inspires me, or makes me think of one of the manuscripts, I’ll print it out and keep it handy.  You never know when you need an extra boost of inspiration.

Jewelry.  Lots and lots of jewelry.   When I come home from work, I go right to the desk, and as I start writing, I get more and more comfortable, which means more and more comes off.  Bracelets, earrings, necklaces, headbands…they make a nice little pile by the keyboard.  Some clothes come off too, but those go on the floor, and don’t worry, I’m alone when I type.

Computer.  I do my best writing on a computer.  If I try to hand write my stories, I can’t get the words out fast enough.  Plus, if I’m rushing, my handwriting is worse than atrocious.  The computer here, at my grandmother’s, is at least 10 years old and still has dialup because anything high speed is either unavailable or super expensive. 

To help paint the picture in your mind, I should add some descriptions of the room I’m in.  I love private spaces where no one can interrupt me.  Instead, this computer is in the living room.  To the left, I have the front door.  People walking on the sidewalk catch my attention through the glass.  To the right, I have the back door (within touching distance if I reach for it).  That, luckily, isn’t so see-through.  That’s because I have a cardboard cutout of a skeleton and one of a life-size pirate hanging over the window. 

The attic is above.  Sometimes, I can hear mice scurrying by, or the harder sounds of squirrel feet.  I love animals, so it’s not a freak-out sort of sound. 

That’s my story zone.  What’s your writing space like?