Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Lucia's Promise


Lucia’s Promise

By Mary R. Davidsaver

Not a bad turnout for the Saint Lucia festival of lights. Crisp night air and a couple of inches of snow makes it pretty and not too difficult for those who dress warm. There are always the few naïve, impetuous teenage girls who come with bare legs. Bishop Hill has never been kind to vanity.

The store is crowded, packed at times, but we are managing quite well. I’m handing out cheese samples, smiling, answering questions, and looking forward to a break. Sophie comes by to relieve me and I’m free.

As I’m straightening my apron and otherwise getting myself in order, a girl comes up and shoves something at me saying in a small voice, “Hold this for a minute.”

Suddenly I have a bundle in my arms: it’s cold, heavy, and warm all at the same time. I’m startled. I frantically fumble to keep from dropping it. I look down as the cover slips away and I see a tiny sleeping face. Looking up I see an ocean of coats and hats, but nothing of her.

This is great. Only a few free minutes on the busiest night of the year and I’m stuck babysitting for a stranger. I have all the luck.

Ok, I’ll give her 10 minutes, but only if there’s no crying. All bets are off if there’s noise or odor.

So, I’m standing, rocking, trying to get back my pleasant looking “people face.” I scan the crowd, searching for the girl. What did she look like? I can’t remember. Her coat? Blue. Maybe? It was way too fast, and I have a spotty memory even under the best of conditions.

“Be patient. Be patient,” I drone soothingly to the child, and myself. “She’ll be right back.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve even held a baby. I don’t have the knack with the little ones; they usually cry when placed in my arms. I like them older and talking.

Studying the baby’s face, it doesn’t look right somehow, too small, too splotchy. I can’t recall the last time I saw one like this.

I will myself to keep calm, look natural, smile, when it comes to me—I’ve seen a face like this before, in a hospital—this is a newborn.

Crazy. Just plain crazy. Why would anyone hand so tiny a baby to a stranger?

I don’t like what I’m thinking next. Could it be? Did she just abandon her baby?

I’m so paralyzed with fear that nothing comes out of my mouth. This can’t be real. I can’t make this kind of decision. No one trusts me enough to handle something like this. It’s too big. I could be wrong. I tell myself, I’m probably wrong.

Why? Why here? Why now? Crowds? She’s lost and wants to stay lost?

What should I do? Pray? Beg? Plead to Saint Lucia for a miracle?

I’m looking around when I see her; we make eye contact. She’s coming my way.

She’s not alone this time; there’s a young man with her. Man, hardly, they’re both just kids.

They make it through the crush of bodies to where I’m standing, still rocking the baby.

“Thank you,” she whispers as she reaches out.

I hesitate. Stiffen. I wonder if it’s the right thing to do. I give her a stern look and utter a low-pitched demand, “Don’t ever do this again.”

She nods.

“Promise.” I glance at the tiny face and back to her, “Promise.”

The young man takes a step forward.

She halts him with a small gesture. The strain on her face softens and disappears. She vows, “I promise.”


Copyright 2009-2024, Mary R. Davidsaver



One of the last events for a typical Bishop Hill tourist season is St. Lucia’s Festival of Lights. Our version of Lucia Night’s is held on the Friday and Saturday evenings on the weekend closest to Dec. 13, the traditional day it’s observed in Sweden. After dark, buildings are illuminated by a single candle in each window. Some use real candles for this. The sidewalks around the village park and along Main Street are also glowing with candles burning in white paper bags set out by anyone who wants to add to the magic of the experience.


My story, “St. Lucia’s Promise,” came to me as I was walking home from one Lucia Night. I had gone past the Colony Store and by the time I turned the corner by the Bjorklund Hotel, I had all the essential elements in place. It was my first work of fiction during a time I wrote mainly for newspapers.


St. Lucia’s Promise was first published as part of Winter Worlds: Three Stories in 2017.


Tuesday, November 21, 2023

AI and the Author


Ever wonder what would happen if you asked an AI chatbot if it has read your book?

Well, recently such a question was posed of Google’s Bard, “Are you familiar with the book ‘Clouds Over Bishop Hill’?”

Here was Bard’s response:


”Yes, I am familiar with the book Clouds Over Bishop Hill by Mary R. Davidsaver. It is a mystery novel set in the small town of Bishop Hill, Illinois, a former Swedish communal society. The story follows Shelley Anderson, a young woman who is trying to escape Bishop Hill and go to college. However, she is drawn into a mystery when she discovers a long-lost painting by the folk artist Olof Krans.

The book is well-written and suspenseful, and it provides a fascinating glimpse into the history and culture of Bishop Hill. Davidsaver does a great job of developing her characters and creating a sense of place. The book is also full of interesting details about Swedish folk art and culture.

Clouds Over Bishop Hill is a great read for fans of mystery novels, historical fiction, and books with strong female characters. It is also a good choice for readers who are interested in learning more about Swedish culture and history.

I hope this information is helpful. Please let me know if you have any other questions.”


It’s polite, flattering, and obviously an edited mixture of the back cover blurb and a few quotes.

I wouldn’t have expected the AI to have read my work with enough care to offer up digested thoughts and views of any depth, but this was competently done and even in present tense. Heaven knows I’d be hard pressed to write something about myself that came off so nice.

The kicker for me was the tag-end cautionary warning:

“Bard may display inaccurate info, including about people, so double-check its responses.”


Not being able to leave well enough alone, I had to pose a similar question to Microsoft’s Bing.

Here was that response:

Yes, I have heard of Clouds Over Bishop Hill by Mary R. Davidsaver. It is a novel about Shelley Anderson, who wants to escape Bishop Hill, a former Midwestern Swedish communal society, by earning her college diploma. However, a reckless driver sends her off the road and into the mysterious past of folk artist Olof Krans. Drafted into finding Krans’s last painting, her only clues are an old woman’s dreams and an uncle’s guilty conscience. Shelley navigates between museums and restaurants trying to determine if the old woman’s cloud-inspired dreams of Krans’s 1915 studio are real. She’s not the only one on the hunt for the lost Krans. After 93 years, how dangerous will it be to actually discover it? 12

If you have read the book, I would love to hear your thoughts on it!

Again, that’s straight off the back cover with a little bit of editing. But what about the last bit? The invitation for further engagement?  Who’s it after? The author? The reader? More training info for its database? Your guess is as good as mine, and with all the current turmoil centered around ChatGPT one does have to wonder how things will shake out.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Yolanda J. Ortega 1948-2022


The first casualty of the Covid-19 pandemic for me was losing touch with my oldest friend, Yolanda. She had a birthday in early March, and I had plans to drive down to Aledo to meet her, share some old memories, and have a snack of some sort. Early March of 2020 was when the news of Covid-19 and the emerging pandemic emergency got serious. I agonized for days and days over whether to cancel my trip. There was too much at risk for her and for my husband and me. I canceled my visit. It would be well over a year before I saw her again. The decision still haunts me.


Yolanda and I met when we were both twenty-somethings working for the University of Iowa. I was a clerk third-class filling in time while trying to decide if I’d go back for my B.A. degree or not. She was two years older, a Knox grad, an art major who was hired as a graphic artist. Her cubby-hole office was barely visible from my workstation in East Hall. The attraction was immediate, I just had to find out how a real artist operated. So yes, I was a pest who became a friend over the time we worked in the same department.  


I was there when she, as a single woman, bought a cute little bungalow not all that far from my grandmother’s house. I helped at her housewarming party when she made French onion soup for the whole neighborhood as well as for friends, family, and co-workers. She had a fantastic memory and a wide range of interests. We shared discussions about science, printmaking, and her trips to England to visit her pen pals over cups of black Oolong tea sweetened with honey. I was there when she adopted her first cat. Or perhaps the cat, pregnant as it turned out, sensed an easy mark, and adopted her.


She stayed in Iowa City while I moved away first, to marry and have children, but came back to visit as often as I could. She taught me the invaluable lesson that friendships never really have to end. That time and distance apart didn’t matter; we could always pick up right where we left off.


Years later she would move to Bishop Hill and enticed my move there by encouraging my dreams of living the artist’s life. We both invested time and money in properties from Bishop Hill’s colony past. Unfortunately, her house, a rural colony-era structure in dire need of saving, was in much worse condition than my post-colony one. Her grand plans for restoration and repurposing the house all too soon outstripped her resources and her health. The last few years of decline brought her to a rehab facility in rural Illinois.


She died on the morning of Halloween one year ago. I didn’t find out about it until a mailed greeting card was returned to me. I can’t help but speculate that she, with her fine-tuned sense of anglophile humour, would have found a way to make her passing funny, interesting, or even a little prophetic. I felt her sparse obituary left out the essence of her spirit. It failed to flesh out a life that was lived the way she wanted. A life filled with books, art, poetry, genealogy, and a whole lot of rescued cats, neutered for the most part, and one rescued dog. On this one-year anniversary I stop to ponder the void that was left behind. And raise a cuppa tea in her honour.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Review for Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge


I thought this felt like a YA book in the early pages with the young Libertie learning about her situation, unique for that time period in US history, as a freeborn negro. Her mother was respected as a doctor, healer, and a landowner. All that turned into teenage angst when the mother’s expectations for a daughter clashed with Libertie’s feelings of inadequacy and her desire to choose a different path. It later turned into anger as she got older and more rebellious. It lasted pretty much for the rest of the book with little change until the very end when she was about to give birth to twins and had found aid in escaping her marriage to a husband who couldn’t keep his promise of equality for his wife.

I didn’t have a grasp of location until much later in the book when it was finally mentioned they lived south of the East River in Brooklyn. I didn’t know of any historical black community in that area. I guess creating the small-town feel was more important. I found out about Weeksville before reading the end notes. I was impressed at how the author used historical facts for the book. The 1863 Draft riot that turned into a race riot was very poignant and developed more than I’d been exposed to in other books and movies.

I’m a bit concerned that it may have not totally benefited the character development of the protagonist. She came off as stubbornly whiney. More willing to run from her problems than confront them. Not first-class, story-grade heroine behavior. However, the end notes say that’s what the author was after, a kind of everywoman.

The writing style was better than average with plenty of insightful passages, but I had problems in following dialog on several occasions and had to reread a few long complex sentences to find their intended meaning. All cases of falling out of the narrative.

I liked the inclusion of letters for plot development and appreciated that they were readable (in a different font?).

The ending left me wondering if it is a setup for another book that will continue Libertie’s story.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Review for Monarchs and Milkweed by Anurag Agrawal


When my husband gifted me a corner of our new urban yard to use as a garden. His Valentine’s Day surprise was removing the sod and working the soil. My dilemma, what to do with it? It didn't take long to settle on growing milkweed for monarchs. I'd witnessed the fall migration passing through Austin, Tx, and had an overnight roost of butterflies in our trees in Bishop Hill, IL. I was sold. Getting my neighbors on board took a little more time. Now I get compliments on the sweet aroma of flowering milkweed and the pleasant sight of fluttering adult monarchs.

Along the way I've had many years of learning the ins and outs of raising several types of milkweed and how to manage some of the dangers that lie in wait for monarch caterpillars. Everything about these experiences has been enlightening, from discovering the existence of parasitic flies and wasps to witnessing the metamorphosis to adult monarch, over and over again.

Now, I have to include Anurag Agrawal's book, Monarchs and Milkweed, as an amazing discovery for my education. I've gotten new information on nasty pests, the mysterious OE, and tips on butterfly behavior. I've had several of my thoughts, based on my observations, confirmed. I have a new outlook on moving forward due to the interplay of a toxic plant and an insect as herbivore that Agrawal has provided.

There's a treasure trove of information and the science to back it up. Yes, there were times when I had to make myself keep reading. It was worth it to get a better understanding of the chemical interplay of the pertinent toxins, cardenolides, and the monarch's defensive adaptations. A chemical arms race is not a bad analogy.

The quality of the printed hardcover book was impressive. As were the photos. Who couldn’t love the photo of a Blue Jay barfing after eating a monarch? Agrawal and his crew of supporters have created an important and lasting contribution to monarch research for years to come. Five stars is not enough.


P.S. Citizen Scientists.

This is the part of the summer season when foster parenting monarch caterpillars, helping them survive to adulthood, is the most rewarding--the great migration south is coming up.

In Monarchs and Milkweeds, Anurag Agrawal, goes into the history of how the secrets of the monarch’s migration were eventually revealed. Discovering the details of the routes north and south was a process that spanned decades and involved recruiting “citizen scientists” to help with a butterfly tagging program to figure it out and ultimately find the main overwintering site in Mexico.

Now there is another push for “citizen scientists” to help researchers. The call this time is to gather dead butterflies, moths, and skippers to send in for testing.

I missed out on the original tagging program because I was too young. I’m going to miss out on this call because I don’t live in any of the target states of Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. Still, I like the idea of butterfly enthusiasts contributing to finding answers.

NOTE: There is a Nov. 1 deadline for sending specimens in to the USGS LRC. Find out more at: