Tales Found Abroad: Lead Laden Curses and Long Lost Gems

What have the Romans ever done for us?

This question reminds me of a scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”. “All right… all right… but apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order… what have the Romans done for us?”

Can you picture Romans, in their tunics and cloaks setting up shop in Somerset, England thousands of years ago and bringing with them all of the above? Well that is exactly what happened! They brought, with their knowledge of irrigation and engineering, exquisite spa baths to the city known as Bath today!

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The Romans were expert at blending cultures, with a heavy serving of their own added to the ones they infiltrated. The mineral springs at Bath were known prior to the Roman invasion.  It was said that a legendary Celtic King, Bladud was cured of leprosy in the 9thcentury BC by wading through the area’s warm mud. It wasn’t until the Romans arrived, though, that the baths gained true fame.

They developed the baths with Roman architecture and decorated them with Roman art, establishing a temple to Sulis Minerva there, a god they invented by merging the Celtic god Sulis with the Roman one, Minerva. The town was known as Aquae Sulis at the time and people came from far and wide to worship, bathe, exercise and gossip from 80 to 400 AD. When the Romans left, the site was abandoned.

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Over time, other cultures built up over top of the town and it seemingly disappeared, until…in the 1700’s odd and interesting artefacts started popping up as sewers were being dug for the town above. In 1775, some workmen broke through a layer of rubble and discovered the spectacular Roman baths intact and in almost as good shape as they had been 1300 years ago!

I had the pleasure of digging for stories in Aquae Sulis myself. I am a lover of the strange and unusual, of mysteries and puzzles, particularly historic ones. On my journey to excavate story tidbits I came across a multitude of inspiring details.

Here are but a couple that were found in the drains of the pools of Aquae Sulis: Curse tablets and long lost gems.

Curse tablets were small messages engraved on lead or tin plates and then thrown by either the author or a priest into the waters at Sulis, to be taken care of by higher forces. Most were cursing people for stealing, and written with such vehemence, one would NOT want ot be on the receiving end of one.

The lost gems were interesting because they were so small, ornate and detailed. They most likely either came off the wearer’s jewellery in the hot water of the spa or were left as offerings. In these tiny gems, are insignias and carvings, so tiny they are hardly visible to the naked eye, but each means something.

I am sure I can find a place for a curse tablet or a long lost gem in a story somewhere. Can you? What would your character inscribe on a curse tablet? Who would they curse and why? What secret could be found in a long lost gem? What clue could it unlock? Tickle our imaginations by leaving your thoughts in the comment section! Happy writing!

 

 

 

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Tales From Abroad: Gretta’s Ghosts

My close childhood friend, Gretta, lives in a small town in Oxfordshire, England called Harwell. Her home has a great deal of character and indeed seems to be inhabited by a few characters too.

Her house is over 400 years old and as you ascend to the third floor, the beams get increasingly lower and the wooden floors slant. As the uncarpeted and somewhat creaky stairs curl upwards, you have to duck a bit so as not to hit your head on the doorframes. It is absolutely gorgeous, spacious, comfortable and, well, as you might imagine…haunted.

No need for goosebumps though. Gretta’s home was once used as a schoolhouse, so any spirits there are benign, curious, helpful and respectful. They are not your typical troublemakers.

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I had stayed there before, but in a different bedroom, a floor below, one that I felt sure should be haunted, but there was no supernatural activity that trip, at least none that I saw or heard. This trip was different. Some say that ghosts will only appear on the level of the home or place where they died or spent most of their time in the human realm.

One evening at dinner, we talked a lot about writing, schooling and Margaret Atwood (who is all the rage with her new novel coming out). I gave Gretta, her daughter and my husband a taste of “Hungry for Arts” my next book to be published; a little dramatic, old style reading around the table, as people did before television and the internet. They played along when I asked them to dance the motions of the Whammy Roo. It was fun and energized.

Other ears must have been listening in. That night, I did not sleep well. Something kept drawing me from slumber. Something or someone (there were two of them actually, standing side by side), kept wanting my attention. Over and over the little one said, “I’m Daisy.” The taller one said, “And I’m Evelyn. That’s EEEV-elyn, with a long E, not with a short E.”

“Remember us.”

“Write about us.”

“Put us in one of your stories.” They smiled excitedly.

Both were dressed in long skirts with pinafores and wore bonnets. Daisy had long, blonde hair. Evelyn could have been her sister, but certainly took a protective stance over Daisy. They did not come into the room, but stayed politely in the doorway…but the chatter!

They did not leave me alone until I acknowledged that indeed I would remember them and write about them. Their parting words, were, “Oh, and mind the stairs.”

The next day, I told Gretta about the girls, that was, after I fell down the stairs and earned myself a bruise the size of my palm.  I had not ‘minded the stairs.”

I told Gretta about the two and that they had given me their names. She was not surprised as people had told her that her place was haunted before. When I pronounced Evelyn’s name, I said it with a short E. Gretta said, “You mean EEEV-elyn”.

“Yes. EEEV-elyn.”

Do you have goosebumps now? Well I certainly do because I have to find a place for both Daisy and Evelyn in a story. One must always keep their promises to the spirits.

Have you ever seen a ghost or felt the presence of a spirit? Was it in a creepy setting or a rather normal one? Share a tidbit of your otherworldly story or suggest a place where one might encounter a ghost in the comment section below! Think out of the box!

 

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A Harvest of Inspiration: Tales Found Abroad

I love travelling! It brings a change of scenery, a mix of new people, conversations, experiences and of course, inspiration that can fuel the details, conflicts and characters of stories both short and long.

I have just returned from a whirlwind trip to the United Kingdom which took us from Trafalgar and Piccadilly’s neon blinking, unevenly cobbled and vibrantly busy squares to thatched cottages and four poster beds down dark, quiet country lanes where we awoke to the cooing of morning doves and trays of home made jam and croissants and read Shakespeare and Shelley to one another.

It was my goal to find ‘aspects’ of a story or even a full story each day, to discover the fine details of setting, to expose myself to energies and artefacts that are not readily available ‘at home’.

My sensory bank is overflowing and there is an urgency, now that I am back to cash in on some of my experiences and find a venue for them. Where to begin? The various footsteps on the path below the bay window at our suite just off the shops on King’s Road in Chelsea? Some were slow and measured with a walking stick, others were more feverish, with a destination in mind and still others danced with the energy of a child walking one of the neighbourhood’s many wiener dogs. Should I begin with the tapestry of accents, the scent of a 400 year old pub? Should I describe the reflection in a London window, the taste of a Cornish pasty scalding out of the oven? Should I capture the feeling of being deep in the oak belly of Lord Nelson’s ship the Victory? Or reveal the conversations I had with a couple of young spirits in Harwell?

I didn’t have to look far for inspiration on this trip. England was a feast for all of my senses! All I had to do was look up, down and all around and most importantly…BOTH ways when I crossed the street. I’m sure they could tell I was Canadian by which way I chose to look first.

Stay tuned for more photos and blurbs in my autumn Harvest of Inspiration series! Leave a comment or share a story or a photo of what inspires you! Inspiration is a chain reaction!

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Summer Kickoff! A Couple of Hooray for Summer Poems.

School is out! Time for picnics, diving off docks, beaches, bike rides, mosquito bites, campfires, marshmallow roasts, shooting stars, holidays, outdoor concerts, baseball games, cut off shorts, running in the rain with your face turned towards the heavens, road trips and SPF 60. Summer conjures some of our favourite childhood memories and gives us the opportunity to create new ones. Summer is full of dog days…

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Did you know that the expression dog days originated in ancient Rome?  They called the hottest, most humid days of summer “diēs caniculārēs” or “dog days.” The ancient Romans associated the hottest days of summer with the star Sirius, also known as the “Dog Star” because it was the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog).

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So for all of you lovers of dog days and marshmallow roasts, here are a couple of summer poems composed by heading into grade 7 students Ivan and Andrew. Enjoy and don’t forget to try writing your own and leave it in the comment section!

Happy summer everyone!

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Summ’r,Thy Attributes Ye Shareth

By: Ivan Sun

Summ’r o summ’r,

thy bright blue sky,

thy shining stars,

glistening right by.

 

I adore thy warmth,

and plaited rays.

I visited the beach,

ye madeth so valorous,

I wast out of speech,

It wast marvelous.

 

The sunset ye provideth,

the beaming of lighteth,

on the tide,

the quite quaint sunset,

blasts of colour and lighteth,

 

On the beach,

the smooth, satisfying sand,

eating a peach,

listening to a night band with mine own cater-cousins,

staring at stars.

The days art longeth now.

Plenty of timeth to playeth,

 

The wind doth blow,

the summ’r day goeth.

I am nev’r blue,

lots on mine own mind,

I maketh the most out of the most wondrous summ’r!

Enjoying the attributes thee shareth with cater-cousins, and family!

 

Ode to Summer

By: Andrew Li

 

Oh summer oh summer
how lovely you are,
I’ve been waiting for you eagerly,

like a shooting star!

Chilling with best friends
No more work in mind
closing all my textbooks
what a wonderful time!

The grill slowly heats up,
cold drinks are handed out.
The aroma of steak rising,
a backyard party breaks out!

Oh summer oh summer
I wish your cousins were confined
My love is always with you
Your days dance in my mind

 

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You Need Space to Write Your Own Adventure

Have you heard that some authors, when writing, use different coloured sticky notes to plot out their stories? They jot down ideas then make a timeline all around their writing space. Imagine miles (or kilometres) of neon pink, yellow and orange squares snaking around the walls of your room!

Well, author Kris Yang had a similar experience when writing his choose your own adventure book called, “Triton’s Adventures in Minecraft”. Every week, he had to compose two different endings to his chapter, which then often branched out into two additional endings.

The only way to keep track of all of his plotlines was to print the drafts out and tape them together to see where they matched up and to make sure there were no holes or omissions. In the end, Kris’ story took up a lot of space, as it slowly spread across the room page by page.

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It took at least a year to complete his book. Kris’ advice to other writers is, “If you would like to write a book like this be mentally ready because it is quite a challenge.”

Kris kept himself busy with a variety of other writing during his choose your own adventure project. He researched and wrote a poem for the Royal Canadian Legion’s poetry competition taking several weeks to carefully compose it. The result…his poem won first place in the Junior Poetry Division both municipally and regionally. It went on to compete at the provincial level where it fared very well.

His poem is featured below. Research, diligence, old photographs, patience, paper, sticky tape, rhyme zone and the thesaurus helped Kris to achieve being both a winning poet and author of a unique choose your own adventure book within the space of a year. The teaser for his newest novel is, in his own words, “About a kid who goes to a new boarding school where ‘stuff’ happens.”

Paying My Respects

By: Kris Yang

Bodies never found

Maybe buried in a mound

Three thousand five hundred ninety eight

Took the hand of fate

On the ridge at Vimy.

Trapped in no mans land

Our heroes could not withstand

Seven hundred thirty three cut clean

They died at the scene

Battling at The Somme.

Raiding from the sea

They were ordered not to flee

Five thousand fought on France’s shore

Witnessed too much gore

On the beach at Dieppe.

Each year for one day

Our heartfelt respects we pay

To the warriors who fell for us

Whose bravery we discuss

On Remembrance Day.

I wonder what I’d do

If I were twenty-two

And had to face a war

Do things I might deplore

To protect my home.

As the bagpipes play

I silently pray

For those who bore the pain

So Canada could attain

Safety, peace and hope.

 

 

 

 

 

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Playful “Hungry for Science” Ideas for National Poetry Month!

It’s April and what better time to turn your thoughts to poetry as the cherry trees begin to blossom and people around the world experience an awakening as they sit, dreaming, their faces turned skyward under them. For my friends in Australia…well, you’ll have to wait a few more months…but enjoy the change in seasons all the same.

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April is National Poetry Month and to celebrate why not read, write or engage your senses with the language and lyricism of haiku, cinquains, sonnets, free verse…the list is enormous. Why not take it one step further, publish your work and hold a poetry café for a few friends and family?

Recently, at my Spring Break Camps at the VSO School of Music in Vancouver, we had the opportunity to publish some “Hungry for Science: Poems to Munch on” inspired writing.

Our young authors read “An Elephant in the Classroom” and then built accordian books to take home. They wrote and illustrated their own stories or poems. The process is easy and the materials simple, the result…a class full of proud and creative students, with 100 different approaches as to how to get the elephant, unstuck.

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Materials: Construction paper or paper that has a strong consistency

Scissors

Glue sticks

Crayons, markers, pencil crayons, pencils, erasers

Link to how to make accordian books: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGh7b-ABWRY

This is only one of the ways to make accordian books. My method is even simpler and has just a thicker paper cover, 8.5 by 11 paper folded in half (landscape style) and glued at the outer edges to create the accordian flaps. These papers are glued to the thicker paper cover and students write and illustrate inside. Extra hint, students can use a combination of collage and illustration to create pages in the book instead of just drawing them all.

This simple approach to publishing will have young writers and artists blossoming in no time!

For more details, give me a shout or send some samples of student publications, I am happy to highlight them!

 

 

 

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Planting Creative Seeds with “Hungry For Science” and the VSO School of Music

“All the flowers of all the tomorrows are the seeds of today.” Chinese proverb.

In one of the final days of Spring Break Camp at the VSO School of Music we gardened our minds and used our hands to create works of art for our windowsills.

Scary Mary, of “Scary Mary’s Garden Tour” fame made an appearance. The kids loved that her horticulture was a fun and colourful version of ‘horrific’ (thanks Peggy Collins) and wondered if they could also grow zombie faced roses!

We acted out the poem, becoming different kinds of sharp toothed plants in Scary Mary’s garden. We brainstormed symbols of gardening and drew them on the board. We talked about the children’s experiences in gardens and the importance of nurturing seeds and the things they need to grow.

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On to art! Using some of the symbols that we brainstormed, students used acrylic paint to decorate plant pots. You could even tie a math lesson in here (patterns). They were left overnight to dry, then we loaded them full of soil and some ‘secret seeds’.  I didn’t tell them what kind of plant would grow (mountain flowers), only that they would have to take care of them and see what popped up!

Materials: Terra cotta plant pots with trays, seeds (preferably fast growing), acrylic paint, paint trays or paper plates (for mixing paints), various sized paint brushes, water, cups, paper towel, plastic table cloth, if possible paint bibs,

What creative ideas will you plant?

 

 

 

 

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