Where have all the Polish-Americans gone?: Guest Post by Donna Urbikas

MSM cover art

Lately, and surprisingly, there’s been much in the news about Poland, not all very encouraging if you are a student of democracy.  But what about Polish-Americans like me?  What news of us?  Have we all assimilated so quietly and deeply into American culture that our Polish heritage and culture has given way to nothing more than football, hot dogs, and peanut butter?  Shame on us if it has.  Most Americans (defined by their family’s American longevity and multi-ethnic blood) with whom I talk about my book, My Sister’s Mother:  A Memoir of War, Exile, and Stalin’s Siberia, don’t know much about what happened during World War II in Poland, and why it matters in today’s political climate.

For most Americans, World War II began in 1941 with the attack on Pearl Harbor.  By then, Russia or the Soviet Union under Stalin, known as “Uncle Joe” by Americans, was already an ally of America, Britain, and France.  Little attention gets paid in American history books to the crucial fact that it was not only Nazi Germany who attacked Poland in 1939 at the real start of World War II, but also Communist Soviet Russia, only two weeks later.  My mother and sister were caught up in all that when they were deported from what was then eastern Poland by the Soviets to a Siberian labor camp.  The book is also about what it was like growing up with a mother who talked non-stop about her wartime ordeals, my trying to assimilate into American culture, and coming to terms with the fact that I would never have the same bond with my mother that my sister had.

My Sister’s Mother is about that immigrant experience, what it was like growing up Polish-American, accepting the fact that one is never completely at home in the world when war and exile has imposed itself.  What does “home” mean to us Polish-Americans, often with one foot in American culture and the other in Polish culture, stubbornly clinging onto what our parents, grandparents, ancestors experienced?  Those from earlier waves of immigration, before the world wars, whose identity is wrapped up in vestiges of Polish culture tied to church, community, food, and music cling to that almost forgotten identity.  What does “home” mean to any immigrant?  How do we identify?  Who are real Americans?  In the current world developments those questions have taken on a new urgency and challenge our commitments.  It is my desire and hope that some of those questions are answered by the story of our family described in My Sister’s Mother:  A Memoir of War, Exile, and Stalin’s Siberia (University of Wisconsin Press, 2016).


DonnaUrbikas 72 dpi FullColorBorn in Coventry, England, Danuta or “Donna” Urbikas immigrated to the USA with her parents and sister, the subjects of the book, in 1952, settling in Chicago, Illinois, and growing up in the Polish community.  After attending Catholic grade schools and a public high school in Chicago, she graduated from the University of Illinois—Chicago Circle with a degree in biology and began teaching high school biology.

In 1976, she took her first trip to Poland to meet relatives and explore her parents’ home towns.  On the cusp of the Solidarity Movement, her movements were restricted by the Communists and the trip became a significant life experience.  Later, she graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Illinois, with a Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering.  The author has published her thesis, technical articles, worked as a teaching and research assistant and served as president of the Society of Women Engineers in Chicago, participating in numerous public speaking engagements.  She went on to work as an environmental engineer and project manager in charge of water and wastewater compliance at coal and nuclear power plants and as an industry spokesperson.

The author is a cancer survivor, currently working as an Illinois Licensed Real Estate Broker, community volunteer, and writer, living in Chicago with her husband. My Sister’s Mother is a finalist in 4 award competitions: Chicago Writers Association, Society of Midland Authors, The Midwest Independent Publishing Association, and Foreword INDIES.


Facebook URL:  https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008391876134


LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/pub/donna-urbikas/12/1b2/1b3

Buy link for My Sister’s Mother Amazon:


Barnes & Noble:





Health Check Up v.3

health check up v.3

It’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these! Lots of things have been going on, so let’s get right to it:


I’ve lost about 15 pounds! How crazy is that? We’re having a weight loss challenge at work where we pay in to lose 10 pounds and keep it off. If we do that, we get our money back. I’m determined to get it back. I can feel how my body is reacting to my healthier choices and I really like it. I’m able to climb stairs easier. I’ve started to enjoy working out. I willingly signed up to walk a 5K next month. The old me wouldn’t have done that. I’m really enjoying the new me.


I’ve seen my doctor and I’ve recently been diagnosed with PMDD (premenstral dysphoric disorder). The easiest way to describe it is more intense PMS symptoms with major mood swings, anger outbursts, violence, and suicidal thoughts. I don’t experience all of these symptoms, but enough to warrant a diagnosis. I’ve been put on antidepressants and I can honestly say I feel so much better. I wish I would have talked to my doctor sooner about all this.

The Plan

I’ve been meal prepping more, and I think it’s really helping me stay on track with my calories. I want to prep more. Feel free to share some healthy recipes! What I really need to work on is working out at home. I feel this “mommy guilt” where I know exercise is good for me, but I feel guilty that I’m taking time for myself when I could be spending it with my son. It’s something I really need to work on.

Fingers crossed I can get to my goal weight soon! Only 30 more pounds to go!

A Hard Drinking Era: Guest Post by Eleanor Kuhns

devils cold dish v.2

Spirits or distilled liquor were consumed so enthusiastically during the 1790’s (and before and after) that tourists and important men alike began to decry the habit. The U.S. was a nation of drunkards. George Washington, a whiskey distiller himself, referred to the heavy drinking as the ruin of half the workmen. And John Adams complained about the length of time it took to get something built. One day’s work earned a man enough to stay drunk all week so they worked one day out of seven. Women, of course, were never supposed to be seen intoxicated.

How did we get into such a pickle? Well, part of it was cultural. Cotton Mater (of Puritan fame) declared,  “Drink itself to be a creature of God.”

Water tended to be dirty. It was frequently contaminated and just plain unappetizing. In Natchez water from the Mississippi River had to be set aside so the sediment could settle. (ugh!) Milk was unpasteurized and if the cow ate something like jimson weed the milk would be poisonous. Alcoholic beverages made with boiled water were safe. This was not only true in the United States. Throughout the Middle Ages and continuing onto the eighteenth century, just about everyone drank beer. Even children. They drank ‘small’ beer with an alcoholic content of 4% or so. (Without modern controls, the alcohol content fluctuated wildly. I saw beer being made as would have been done in the 1700s in Colonial Williamsburg. They are not permitted to sell it because the results vary so much. The alcohol content ranged from the 3 or 4% range all the way up to 8 or 9% or more.)

In times where the food supply could be erratic at best, beer – and other alcoholic beverages – supplied a significant portion of the day’s calories. Unfiltered beer especially has a higher nutritional content than leavened bread, more protein and B vitamins and fewer phytates (chemicals that bind to minerals such as calcium and prevent them from being absorbed in the intestines).

Also the cereal grains from which beer and whiskey could be transported from the western frontier (like Pittsburg in 1793) to the east in the form of whiskey and sold for more than four times the price for the grain itself and without adding to the cost of transportation.

Everyone drank. Ben Franklin is quoted as saying if God wanted men to drink water He would not have given him an elbow to bend a glass with. Toddlers were put to sleep with alcohol or the sugary residue at the bottom of the glass. (This makes my hair stand on end.) In the early days of the 1700s, the favorite drink was rum, sweet and alcoholic. Rum was made from molasses. Part of the triangle trade (slaves, molasses and rum) it was distilled at first in Maine and Massachusetts. Later the distillation was moved to the West Indies to be closer to the sugar cane. After the Revolution, however, it was not patriotic to drink rum. Whiskey, especially rye whiskey, was all-American. The grain was grown in the United States and it was distilled into whiskey here as well.

Early opposition to drink came from the Quakers. By 1777 they were ordered neither to distill nor to sell distilled beverages. The Shakers (i.e. the Shaking Quakers) practiced restraint and drank mainly water.  They were, however, famous for their cider and it went from ‘kind’ to ‘hard’ very quickly in an age before refrigeration. The Methodists saw drinking as a barrier to purifying the church and society so they joined the crusade. A number of doctors also spoke out against the perils of heaving drinking. Dr. Benjamin Rush, a doctor famous for his work during the Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793 was a leader.

So what about Will Rees, my detective? He doesn’t drink whiskey or rum. His favorite drink is coffee. (After the Boston Tea Party, tea was considered unpatriotic.) Lucky for Rees, coffeehouses, popular in England especially after 1660, crossed the Atlantic to the Colonies. Like the taverns, they were very important to the War for Independence. The rebels met in both coffeehouses and taverns to air grievances and to plan strategy. Coffee became a popular drink and was widely available. To this day the United States is the leading consumer of coffee.


EKuhns credit to Rana FaureEleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel. A lifelong librarian, she received her Masters from Columbia University and is currently the Assistant Director of the Goshen Public Library in Orange County New York.



Website URL: http://www.eleanor-kuhns.com

Blog URL: http://www.eleanor-kuhns.com/blog

Facebook URL: http://www.facebook.com/Eleanor-Kuhns

Twitter: #EleanorKuhns

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/eleanor-kuhns-36759623

Does Time Really Fly?: A Guest Post by Judy Alter

At lunch one day recently a friend said, “The years fly by, but some days sure do drag.” The more I thought about her words, the more profound they seemed. My oldest grandchild is graduating from high school this spring. No, can’t be! She’s still that darling four-year-old with curls and dancing eyes. Wrong. She still has the curls and the dancing eyes, but she’s eighteen now. I have no idea where the time went, but it flew.

I think this saying may be especially true for authors on those days when the words won’t come. Some days, they simply leap on to the page, and I barely know where they came from. Such days pass by in a flurry. But other days, when I’m stuck in the soggy middle of a book, I struggle for a single sentence. I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I stare out the window, telling myself I’m thinking about it, but I’m really wondering how long it is until lunch time. Two hours yet? Can’t be true.

Occasionally there’s a day when I am caught up on enough that I indulge in pleasure reading—for me, almost always a mystery. Much as I love to get lost in a book, a day of reading, with no phone calls or contact with the outside world, also drags.

I think age comes into this. The past has flown by because we’re looking back at it, and our memories of twenty years are sharp and clear (if we’re lucky—it’s yesterday’s events many can’t remember). And the highlights stand out as our memories search backward—we don’t remember the days that crawled by.

I heard somewhere that the older we get, the less likely we are to have high points in our days. We have less going on in our lives. Not so true for those of us who retired to a busy career or a hobby that consumes waking moments. A day without a phone call or visit with a friend or some other peak moment counts to me as a day without a high point, and it can seem long.

What can you do on those days that seem to drag to vary the pace of the day? Stop whatever you’re doing, and do something completely different. If you’re at a desk, get up and move about—take a walk, work in the garden, cook something. Pick up the phone and call someone. Sometimes taking a shower is enough to break the pattern.

There’s an irony here though. The more you keep your days full of activities so that they don’t drag, the faster time will go by. And then you’ll say, as I do, “Where did the last year go?” Or perhaps you’ll say with the 17th-century poet Andrew Marvell, “But at my back I always hear/Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”

Seize the day! Carpe diem.



An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of several fictional biographies of women of the American West. In The Gilded Cage she has turned her attention to the late nineteenth century in her home town, Chicago, to tell the story of the lives of Potter and Cissy Palmer, a high society couple with differing views on philanthropy and workers’ right. She is also the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series. With the 2014 publication of The Perfect Coed, she introduced the Oak Grove Mysteries.

Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and the WWA Hall of Fame. http://judyalter.com/

Blog URL: http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com

Facebook URL: https://www.facebook.com/judy.alter

Skype: juju1938

Buy link for Murder at Peacock Mansion:


Buy link for The Gilded Cage


Dam Witherston: Guest Post by Betty Jean Craige

Dam Witherston coverv.2

Dam Witherston is the third of my Witherston Murder Mysteries. The others are Fairfield’s Auction and Downstream. They are all set in a fictive town in the north Georgia mountains where everybody knows everybody else and few people are bad. However, even in this idyllic community of four thousand souls somebody is murdered every year or so, and Mev the police detective, Aunt Lottie the online columnist, and Mev and Paco’s teenage twin sons Jaime and Jorge and their friends collaborate to identify the murderer.

After Black Opal Books accepted Downstream for publication and took on the series I learned that I was writing “cozies.” A “cozy mystery” is a category of crime fiction in which the characters, often eccentric or comic, are well developed, their actions involve little violence or explicit sex, and the events take place in a closed environment. The author tacitly agrees to play fair with the reader by giving appropriate clues to the crime’s solution—not so many as to lead the reader to guess what happened early on, but enough to enable the reader to figure it out by the end of the novel if he or she thinks hard. And the reader must have fun participating in the detection.

In my mysteries I provide information about the events not just through the narration but also through an online newspaper called Witherston on the Web, locally known as “Webby Witherston,” to which Lottie, the boys, the police, and other folks in town contribute. Webby Witherston includes Breaking News, Announcements, Editorials, Lottie’s “North Georgia in History,” Cartoons, Letters to the Editor, Police Blotter, and the Weather.

Why do I enjoy writing cozies? Because I like creating a puzzle for readers to enjoy solving. It’s a game we play together. I only wish I could hear my readers laugh, or at least say, “Aha!”


BJ Craige and CosmoDr. Betty Jean Craige is University Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia. She has lived in Athens, Georgia, since 1973. Betty Jean is a teacher, scholar, translator, humorist, and writer. Her first non-academic book was Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot (2010). After retiring in 2011, she published a column about animal behavior in the local paper titled “Cosmo Talks” and began writing fiction. Her Witherston Murder Mystery series includes Downstream (2014), Fairfield’s Auction (2016), and Dam Witherston (2017).

Buy links:

Dam Witherston  https://www.amazon.com/Dam-Witherston-Murder-Mystery/dp/1626945985/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487542092&sr=8-1&keywords=dam+witherston

Downstream http://www.amazon.com/Downstream-Witherston-Murder-Mystery-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B00OSXPV4A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1458158780&sr=8-1&keywords=downstream+craige

Fairfield’s Auction http://www.amazon.com/Fairfields-Auction-Witherston-Murder-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01AXN3546/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1458158803&sr=8-1&keywords=fairfield%27s+auction+craige

Bookish Podcasts

As you might know from previous posts, I love listening to podcasts. Usually I listen to true crime podcasts, but sometimes I branch out into different genres…mainly book-related podcasts. Here are the main bookish podcasts I listen to, as well as a few that I might need to start listening to in the future.

wsirnWhat Should I Read Next is the show for every reader who has ever finished a book and faced the problem of not knowing what to read next. Each week, host Anne Bogel interviews a new person and finds out their tastes. Then, she makes recommendations about what to read next.

I’ve been reading Anne’s blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy, for a while now. Truth be told, I think that MMD is what this blog wants to be when it grows up. When I saw that she was launching a podcast, I knew I had to subscribe. I have found so many books to read thanks to this podcast. I have a whole spread of TBR books in my bullet journal (post about that later), and I’m so excited to check them all off soon. The first one I’m trying is Still Life by Louise Penny, and I’m glad I finally picked it up. Thanks Anne!


overdueOverdue is a podcast about the books you’ve been meaning to read. Join Andrew and Craig each week as they tackle a new title from their backlog. Classic literature, obscure plays, goofy murder mysteries: they’ll read it all, one overdue book at a time.

I love the tone of this show. It’s just two guys talking about books they’ve read. It makes you feel like you’re sitting in there with them. I jump around with the episodes. I only listen to the ones that feature books I’ve read. There are plenty of books that they cover that I want to read, but I don’t want to spoil them for myself. My all-time favorite episodes are the 50 Shades episodes (numbers 50, 100, and 150). They’re absolutely hysterical.


hpatstWhat if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts? What would we learn? How might they change us? Harry Potter and the Sacred Text is a podcast reading Harry Potter, the best-selling series of all time, as if it was a sacred text. Just as Christians read the Bible, Jews the Torah and Muslims read the Quran, we will embark on a 199-episode journey (one chapter an episode, to be released weekly) to glean what wisdom and meaning J.K. Rowling’s beloved novels have for us today. We will read Harry Potter, not just as novels, but as instructive and inspirational texts that will teach us about our own lives.

I love the idea of this series. I know that the Harry Potter series is important to many people on a personal level, and I like the experiment of reading the series for something more. Vanessa and Casper provide such great points and personal stories throughout their analyses. Not really a spoiler, but at the end of most episodes they try to do a reading activity. Usually it’s picking out a random quote from the chapter and viewing it through the podcast topic’s lens. I’ve tried that on my own, and I think it helps me get more involved with my reading. I want to do it more often!


pcJoin PotterCast in a continuing adventure through J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. For eleven years PotterCast has remained your trusted source for discussion, celebration, and interviews with creators and actors from the Harry Potter Universe.

If I can get the backlogs of all the episodes, I’ll think I have died and gone to heaven. Eleven years of Harry Potter podcasts?! Oh man, sign me up! I’m really excited to hear from the actors and see what their experiences were like on set.


rgDo you love books? Want to learn how to make the most of your reading life? Join hosts Brea Grant and Mallory O’Meara every week as they discuss tips and tricks for reading better on Reading Glasses! Reading Glasses is a podcast designed to help you get more out of your literary experiences. As professional creatives and mega-readers, Mallory and Brea are experts on integrating a love of reading into a busy lifestyle. Reading Glasses listeners will learn how to vanquish their To-Be-Read piles, get pointers on organizing their bookshelves and hear reviews on the newest reading gadgets. Brea and Mallory also offer savvy advice on uniquely bookish problems. How do you climb out of a reading slump? How do you support authors while still getting books on the cheap? Where do you hide the bodies of the people who won’t stop talking while you’re trying to read? Mallory and Brea engage in a spirited weekly half hour discussion geared towards all kinds of book lovers — nerds, avid bookworms, comic fans and science fiction geeks, literary fiction readers, book hoarders, library users, people who prefer the company of words on a page to a crowded party and casual readers who want to read more.

Based on this description, it sounds like something I would create! I know this is a relatively new podcast (I think there’s only 2 or 3 episodes out), but I’m definitely going to check this one out!


tholEnthusiast Jacke Wilson journeys through the history of literature, from ancient epics to contemporary classics. Find out more at historyofliterature.com and facebook.com/historyofliterature.

I love fun history. When I was in college, the introductory lessons at the beginning of literature units were my favorite, because I loved learning the history of the time period and the writing. Now there’s a whole podcast about it! This is right up my alley.

Do you have any bookish podcast recommendations for me?

How’d You Sleep? 

If you’re anything like me, you value your sleep. I know I do, now more than ever. I’m actually writing this as I’m wide awake with my son (it’s 3AM where I’m at). Did you know that about 68% of Americans struggle with sleep at least once a week? That’s around 164 million people. Glad to know I’m in good company! I bet all of us try to squeeze in sleep where we can, but sometimes it’s hard.

In my college days, I was the nap queen. I would take naps after every class. There were a lot of all-nighters pulled so I could finish assignments. I’m pretty sure that contributed to my sleep being terrible. Before I was pregnant, I had the roughest time falling asleep. There were many nights that I would be awake most, if not all, of the night. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying; I blame my insomnia genes I inherited from my dad. I’d try to use the time wisely and read as many books as I could, but mostly I would just lay awake, staring at the ceiling. During my pregnancy, I had the best sleep ever. I’m not even kidding. As long as I slept on my right side, I was golden. I think it was my body stockpiling sleep for the future. Enter now: I’m wide awake with my son, who’s snoozing away. When I put him in his crib, he wakes up. I also know that if I try to sleep, I won’t be able to. The joys of motherhood, am I right? I definitely try to sleep when he sleeps. Most weekends, he and I nap together.

Do you know what your body does while you sleep? Depending on how long you sleep, a lot! Leesa, an online mattress store, created this awesome infographic to help explain what goes on while you sleep. I now realize that I usually wake up within the first 10 to 20 minutes, and that makes sense. I also know that my naps with my son have to last at least an hour, otherwise I’m going to feel terrible for the rest of the day.


Throughout the years, I’ve tried a couple different sleep aids. One that I used on and off for awhile was melatonin. It usually works fine…as long as you get at least 8 hours of sleep. If you get less than that, be prepared to feel groggy the next day. Another thing I’ve tried is aromatherapy. I used to spray lavender on my pillows to help me sleep. I’ve been researching essential oils, and I think I want to try them with my son. Best case scenario is that they will work and he will sleep through the night. Worst case scenario is that they don’t work but his room will smell nice. The best thing that’s worked for me was actually getting a new mattress. Now I can lay on my back and sleep without pain! It’s pretty amazing.

Tell me: do you get enough sleep? What are some tips and tricks to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.