All posts by Sonja Hakala

I have been a professional writer since 1987. I've written for newspapers, magazines, worked in the book publishing industry, and published novels and non-fiction books. In addition, I've guided numerous authors through the process of independent publishing, and offer workshops in that same vein. I'm the founder of the Parkinson's Comfort Project and over the course of six years, we gathered and gave away over 500 handmade quilts to people with Parkinson's disease.

Life Lessons: A Carding Chronicle

sh-life lessonsYears ago, in a conversation with a friend about families and family relationships, she observed that everyone should have a cool aunt or uncle in their lives.

A cool aunt or uncle is someone who understands your family’s dynamics, will listen without judging, and keep those conversations confidential.

In the Bennett family—Diana, Stephen, Will and Faye—the cool uncle role is played by Diana’s twin brother, Dan.

Something’s troubling the two Bennett teenagers so they’ve turned to Uncle Dan for advice.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. Carding is the small town (population 3,700 or so) that no one can seem to find on a map of the Green Mountain State. But you can find it any time, right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.


Dear Uncle Dan,

A month into the New Year and I’m already wishing we could fast-forward into next year. I hope your start to 2019 in New York has been better than mine here in Carding. 

Last weekend, I went to a party at the base lodge on Mount Merino with a bunch of friends for some night skiing and it turned into a nightmare. The ice around here has been bad (it seems like all we get is freezing rain) and I came home with a sprained wrist (I fell in the parking lot—can you believe it) and no boyfriend.

Actually, the no-boyfriend part happened first.

Sigh.

My wrist (it’s my left) is doing okay. I didn’t break anything but it sure is swollen. Right now I’m typing with one hand on the keyboard and the other wrapped in an ice bag. 

Mom thinks I should go back to school tomorrow but I’m arguing for a stay of execution for a couple of more days because my wrist starts to hurt—a lot—if I go for more than an hour without ice. Besides, Suzanna and a couple of other friends have offered to video all my classes and bring my homework here so I won’t miss much.

Plus I’ll be able to fast-forward through the boring parts of my English teacher’s lectures on Moby Dick. Whale killing is so not my thing. Plus, If I want to read about madmen chasing white whales, I can read the news.

So now I know that Brian Lambert is a rat and I don’t think my brother is much better. Brian and his family went over to Martha’s Vineyard to visit his grandparents for the holidays and while they were there, Brian looked up the girlfriend he had left behind when his family moved to Vermont and they started dating again.

Wil’s known about this for the weeks but he never said anything to me, his little sister, even after I asked him straight to his face if something was wrong with Brian. So imagine how shocked I was to walk into the base lodge and see him holding hands with another girl.

Suzanna tells me that the punch I landed bruised Brian’s cheek pretty good. But that’s a small consolation.

What he did to me was humiliating. That’s the real reason I don’t want to go back to school yet. Please don’t tell Mom that I’m being a baby. 

Sorry to cut this short but I can tell it’s time for more acetaminophen. I know I’m wallowing but sometimes I think that wallowing in self-pity is the only sensible response to life, don’t you?

I’ll be better soon, I promise.

But in the meantime, Brian Lambert and my brother Wil are rats.

Love,
Faye

*******

Dear Uncle Dan,

I know that my sister emailed you this morning because I saw it on her laptop. I’m hoping you’ll listen to my side of the story before making up your mind that I’m a rat (which is the nicest thing Faye has called me all week). I’ve never seen her quite this angry before and I could use some advice on how to calm her down.

I know she’s hurt and I don’t blame her for feeling that way. But I got caught between her and a promise to my best friend and now I know why Dad says that “no one ever thanks the person in the middle.”

Brian Lambert’s a great guy. We’ve been friends ever since his family moved to Carding last year. He and Dave Muzzy and I are making plans to travel after we graduate from high school. Brian wants to draw and paint and make art and Dave’s a math whiz. (We all figure he’ll be coding in some tech company sooner or later.) As for me, I have no idea what I want to do with my life which is why I want to travel with my friends for a while and figure it out.

Brian’s had a hard time of it ever since he moved away from Martha’s Vineyard. He was born there and all his family (except his parents and sister) is there (I think he’s got about a million cousins on the island) which is why he’s felt so lost since he came to Vermont.

I don’t know this for sure but I think he latched onto Faye on the rebound after breaking up with his girlfriend on the Vineyard. He likes Faye a lot but you know how ferocious she is and how smart she is. I’ve heard guys say that that kind of scares.

I don’t understand it myself but then I’ve always thought she’s one of the funniest people on the planet. If you just roll with her, you’ll have a good time.

Anyway, Brian’s been fighting with his father for months now over where (and if) he’s going to go to college. Faye’s been terrific about listening to him but she’s pretty blunt that Brian should just do what he really wants to do and just tell his father that.

As if that’s easy.

Maybe it sounds lame to say but I think Brian got back together with his old girlfriend—her name’s Sheila—because she always goes along with whatever he says. No pressure.

Brian told me about Sheila as soon as he got back to Vermont and made me promise not to say anything to Faye because he wanted to handle it himself. Which was fine by me. (Delivering a break-up message to my little sister was not high on my list of things to do, believe me). 

But Brian didn’t follow through.

Which left me caught in the middle because Faye figured out pretty quick that’s something’s different and asked me what was going on and I didn’t feel I could say anything.

To make matters even worse, Sheila showed up this weekend—SURPRISE!—and Faye caught her holding Brian’s hand at a party.

That’s when I became a rat.

It doesn’t do any good to say “shoulda-woulda-coulda” but can you tell me where I messed up? And do you have any advice on how to get Faye to stop hating me?

Okay, enough whining from me. How are you doing? Any chance I could come visit you in New York during spring break?

Love,
Wil

***

Dear Wil,

I’ve always thought your Dad is one of the most sensible people I know so his advice about never getting in the middle is sound. That being said, however, you got stuck between Brian and Faye when Brian failed to follow through on his plan to speak honestly with your sister. 

That doesn’t mean Brian’s a bad guy. Breaking up IS hard to do. But his cowardice turned short-term pain into something more harsh and unnecessarily humiliating for your sister.

Even though I don’t think you’re a rat, I can understand why Faye’s angry with you. 

This situation ended up making you both feelbetrayed—you by Brian and Faye by you. 

So I have a question to ask you: If you were far away from home and needed help, which of them—Faye or Brian—do you think you could rely on to stand by you?

I think you’ll find the answers to your questions in the answer to my question. From there, it should be clear what you need to do to remedy this situation.

In my experience, loyalty should never be blind. But over time, it should be consistently shared with the folks in our lives who have earned it.

You’ll figure this out, Wil. In fact, I believe you already have.

Love,
Uncle Dan

P.S. I would love to have you visit me in NYC on spring break.

***

Dear Faye,

Don’t be too hard on Wil. I believe he got caught in a situation before he realized it was going to be a situation. He’s figuring it out. Watch and see what he does and go from there. 

It is always a good idea to judge people by their actions, not their words. Actions are a more reliable indicator of a person’s character.

I think that Brian can be easily left behind to learn his own life lessons. Wallow in self-pity a bit longer if you must, but don’t let it drag on too long.

Love,
Uncle Dan


Remember, you can visit Carding any time by scouring the archive of older stories or by reading one of my four Carding novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, or Lights in Water, Dancing.

Thanks for stopping by.

Life Lessons

Years ago, in a conversation with a friend about families and family relationships, she observed that everyone should have a cool aunt or uncle in their lives.

A cool aunt or uncle is someone who understands your family’s dynamics, will listen without judging, and keep those conversations confidential.

In the Bennett family—Diana, Stephen, Will and Faye—the cool uncle role is played by Diana’s twin brother, Dan.

Something’s troubling the two Bennett teenagers so in tomorrow’s Carding Chronicle, they’ve turned to Uncle Dan for advice.

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. Carding is the small town (population 3,700 or so) that no one can seem to find on a map of the Green Mountain State. But you can find it any time, right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.

Hope to see you tomorrow.

sh-life lessons

Needing a Real Map in a GPS World: A Carding Chronicle

sh-real map in a gps worldAs many readers have guessed, eccentricity is woven into the fabric of Carding, Vermont. There’s a farm where you can buy magical Christmas trees.

Or so folks believe.

And a school (the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts) that preserves traditions that can be traced back to the 18th century.

Then there’s the fact that Carding cannot be found on a map of the Green Mountain state. Ever wonder why?

Welcome to Carding, Vermont where life always includes a dash of the unexpected. And you can find it any time, right here in the Carding Chronicles and in the four novels of Carding, Vermont, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, and Lights in Water, Dancing.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to subscribe to the Chronicle by clicking the link on this page. That way, you’ll never miss a story.


The following is a conversation overheard in Cooper’s General Store and Emporium, located in the heart of Carding, Vermont.

“Excuse me,” the harried man said as he approached Brenda, the head cashier at Cooper’s General Store. “Can you tell me where the Tennyson Farm is? We have a reservation for their AirBnB and the GPS on my phone has sent us all over the place.”

“Aah,” Brenda said, pointing at the digital device. “That’s your trouble, you see. Those things just don’t work in Carding.”

The man looked very confused. “What do you mean they don’t work? This is the latest phone on the market. It works everywhere.”

Andy Cooper, the owner of the store, shook his head as he looked over the man’s shoulder. “Well, I think Brenda may be right. It couldn’t help you find Tennyson’s Farm, could it? What you need is a real map.”

“This is a real map,” the man said.

A young woman appeared behind him. Her hat matched her jacket which matched her gloves. Her matchy-matchiness was a sure sign that she was “from away.”

“Honey, don’t they know where the Tennyson farm is?” she asked. She looked at the group with the stoic resolution of someone who’s sure she knows everything.

“Oh, we know where the Tennyson farm is,” Andy said. “The Tennysons are an old family here in Carding. We buy our Christmas trees from them every year. The problem is, you need a real map to get there.”

“You lookin’ for the Tennysons’ place?” Lydie Talbot asked as she joined the queue. Then she spotted the cell phone in the man’s hands. “Aww, no one ever finds the Tennysons using those things. You need a real map.”

The traveling woman’s eyes flitted from Brenda to Andy to Lydie and back again. She tugged on her companion’s arm. “Come on, Hef, let’s go. I’m sure we can find it on our own.”

“Not without a map,” Gideon Brown said as he joined the circle, a six-pack of Carding Cream Ale under his arm.

The harried man shook his head. “Look, this is a real map.” He shook his phone in the air. “If you could just tell me what street the Tennysons’ place is on, we’ll be on our way. That’s all I need to know.”

The Carding crowd looked at one another. “Well, the road to their place is off of Belmont Hill,” Andy said. “On your way up there, you should check out the ice formations on the trees next to the brook as you go up the hill. They’re pretty impressive this year. Best we’ve seen in a long time, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

The matchy-matchy woman rolled her eyes.

Then Andy turned toward the small crowd that had clotted around the cash register. “Do any of you know if the road up to the farm has a different name than Belmont Hill?”

Heads shook from side to side.

“So you really don’t know where the Tennyson farm is after all,” the woman said.

“Oh, we all know where it is,” Brenda said.

“Here, let me draw you a map,” Gideon offered. Brenda tore off a length of receipt tape from her register and laid it down on the counter with a pencil.

The man named Hef sighed, disgust thick in the sound of it. “Belmont Hill, you say.” He shoved his phone in his pocket. “What is with you people? What century do you live in?”

Andy laughed. “You do realize you’re standing in a town that’s not been on a map of Vermont since 1761. In a way, you’re trying to find something that doesn’t exist.”

“That’s impossible,” the woman said. “Every town has been mapped.”

“Not Carding,” Gideon said, and the crowd could hear the pride in his voice. “When the first definitive map of Vermont was drawn in 1761, it was done by a man named Robin Dutille and printed in Boston by people who didn’t know anything about our state.”

“Well, technically speaking, there were no states back then,” Brenda pointed out. Arguments about historical minutia were her specialty.

“So?” The young woman’s lips were now puckered white with irritation.

“Robin Dutille was an ornery man,” Andy said.

“History says that he always thought people were stealing his stuff,” Brenda added.

“To prevent that, Dutille put fake towns on every map he drew so that if someone plagiarized his work, he’d catch them,” Lydie explained.

“So?”

“So the mapmakers who followed him were pretty careful about copying his work. Dutille was still alive when the map of Vermont was revised in 1774 by Augustus Chapman,” Andy said. “Chapman was definitely copying Dutille’s work—everyone copied Dutille’s work back then—so to avoid trouble, he left off the towns he thought were fake.”

“How did this Chapman guy know which ones were fake?” In spite of himself, Hef was getting pulled in by the mapmaker’s story.

“Actually, he didn’t have a clue what was fake and what wasn’t,” Gideon said. “Some of the towns he left on the map never existed and some of the ones that did exist were taken off. He thought Carding was one of the fake towns so he left us off his map.”

“And we’ve never made it back on,” Brenda said.

Hef sighed again. They could feel the force of it in the back of the store. “Okay, can you or can you not tell me how to find the Tennyson Farm?”

Gideon picked up the pencil and placed its point on the register receipt that Brenda had laid on the counter. “Here, let me draw you a real map,” he said, wetting the tip of it with his tongue.


Remember, you can visit Carding any time by scouring the archive of older stories or by reading one of my four Carding novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, or Lights in Water, Dancing.

Thanks for stopping by.