Category Archives: Holidays

Happy New Year

RING!Happy 2013! I hope you are blessed with something wonderful to look forward to this year. My family will have our first wedding, with our oldest getting married to wonderful young man in the fall! Yes, that’s her ring pictured. Clearly he has excellent taste. (Duh, he fell in love with our daughter!)

Our youngest has fled the nest and is happy at Louisiana State University. Granted, I would be happier if LSU wasn’t a two-day drive from home,

LSU Student Union

LSU Student Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

but she loves life without snow. She is doing an outstanding job of keeping her grades up, making friends and finding activities, and earning a stipend with work/study. We are extremely proud of her! Except of course for developing a football allegiance to the Tigers.

That, however, is a subject for another post. ;)

The year’s biggest challenge will be time management, but that’s always a challenge for me. :p In the face of a new job and some unexpected, but welcome, freelance work, my main goal for 2013 is: Protect the writing time! On the bright side, I spent November working out the plot of a new book that I can’t wait to get started on, so there’s something to fill up the writing time.

New Year’s resolutions have never worked for me, so I try to focus on goals, personal and professional. Also, I know myself well enough to understand that my brain goes on the fritz as soon it sees a long ‘must do’ list. It’s best to keep the goals few and simple.

In 2013, I want to drink a glass of water for every glass or cup of caffeinated beverage. Believe it or not, this is a challenge. I’ve never been someone who can just down a glass of H2O, but the benefits are more than just staying hydrated. Water will help cut down on caffeine, which keeps me awake at night, plus according to WebMD, it’s good for the skin, helps make a person feel less hungry, and keeps the kidneys and bowels in good working order.

As mentioned above, my most important professional goal is to protect my writing time. This means adjusting my daily schedule so that there is always a block of hours to spend at the computer. I don’t do change well — just ask my family — and I’m going to have to start with something truly drastic: not hitting the snooze button. I make no promises, but I’ll keep you posted on how well I succeed (or sleep in).

So those are my 2013 goals for now. Short and laughably simple, but both chosen because they’re doable, they’ll have benefits on more than one level, and neither is something I do now. (Or rather the snooze button is something I do too often.)

This year, I want more sleep at the start of the night, and enough time to write. What about you? What do you want out of life this year? What steps are you going to take to get it?

4 Comments

Filed under Celebrations, Holidays, New Years

Bring on 2012!

AMNH --- Maya Stone Calendar

I don’t care if the Mayans thought the world would end this year. While 2011 was a wonderful year for me professionally, I was not sorry to see it go. In my private life, 2011 was a year of freak accidents, the loss of a pet, the near-loss of two relatives, and was just generally a pain in the rear. Buh-bye and good riddance!!

My own theory about why the Mayan Long Count stopped in 2012 is that they got tired of carving all that stone. Of course, I also believe that Stonehenge was actually a prehistoric shopping mall. (Come on, am I the only one who is reminded of a food court by that open circle? If any scholar would like to discuss the possibility that the monoliths served as the entrance to  Og’s Mastodon-Skin Creations and the Bluestone Boutique, please contact me.)

End of the world or not, I am going to try to make 2012 a good year. I hate to use the word ‘resolutions’, so I won’t. But ‘goals’, ‘good habits’ and ‘wishes’ are all okay. Here are a few simple habits I am implementing to improve my life this year.

1. I need more sleep. I’ve had insomnia of varying degrees since I was a kid. Stress over the last few months made it worse, and I got tired of being tired. There are a lot of things I’ve tried, short of medication. Mind you, meds work wonderfully for many people, but they’re not ‘me’. What helps my brain slow down and turn off is an hour or so of television and needlepoint. This must be why I avoid having the TV on during work hours :)

2. Order is our friend…or at least a frenemy. Much as I hate housecleaning, neat surroundings do lead to clearer thinking. I have a high level of clutter tolerance, but eventually it gets too much even for me. Plus I married a neat freak. Am I going to start scrubbing the house down every day? Um, no. But I can set aside 30 minutes a day for straightening/basic chores. Big jobs can wait for the weekend, when they won’t cut into work time.

3. Organization can be fun! Last year, I discovered the joys of using a desk calendar to track page counts and each day’s accomplishments, as well doctor’s appointments, deadlines and birthdays. I can’t recommend this enough — it’s amazing what we actually DO get done in a day, and reviewing the calendar each week (or more often) is a morale boost. Mine shows a week over two pages. I can look at it and know if I’m doing well or slacking off. Desk calendars with fun or pretty pictures are still on sale!

4. I want to go on field trips. Or as Julia Cameron describes them her excellent book, The Artist’s Way, ‘Artist Dates’. She suggests taking time each week to do something just for us, to keep our souls alive. Once a week is not feasible for me, but once a month should be. I already found one fun outing for January: a lecture on the history of tea at a local library over lunchtime. Yes, I know most of you read that and immediately felt the urge to snooze. But I live for arcane knowledge like this!

How would you like to make your life better this year? Healthier habits? Save more money? The trip you’ve always dreamed of? I’d love to hear from you!

2 Comments

Filed under Goals, Holidays, New Years

Philadelphia Memories

Yesterday, America celebrated the 235th anniversary of our formal declaration of independent status from Great Britain. Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays. Usually we spend it with family and friends, enjoying favorite foods and lighting off fireworks. In between the burgers, Chinese coleslaw, watermelon and fireworks, though, I try to take a moment and remember the reason for the day.

Despite the imperfections of the U.S. government, the members of the Continental Congress risked disgrace, imprisonment, financial ruin and a traitor’s death as soon as they signed the Declaration of Independence. The likelihood of defeating Great Britain, then the most powerful nation in Europe, seemed a distant dream. So did the hope of establishing a united government among 13 colonies who each guarded her privileges jealously against the others. (The U.S. Constitution came about after the Revolutionary War, by representatives empowered only to improve the Articles of Confederation.)

Despite the odds against them, the delegates took a breath and a leap of faith, and signed.

My family had a chance to visit Philadelphia a couple of years ago, and we took great pleasure in spending the day at Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell museum and historic center of the city. The exterior of Independence Hall and the room where the Continental Congresses met are familiar images, but our tour included the other rooms and floors as well.

Besides serving as a civic meeting place, the colonial public court met across from the Assembly Room. This picture shows part of the elevated bench where the justices sat, and the stand where witnesses were interviewed by counsel. The clerk sat at the small table to the right of the witness and immediately front of the judges so that he could hear and transcribe the proceedings.  Still, the high point for us was to see the room where founding principles of our country were debated and voted on.

On the next floor, the Long Gallery is set up for a banquet, with the tables set up along one side.  The rest of the floor would be cleared for mingling or possibly dancing to music provided by a harpsichord at one end. John Adams once confided to his beloved wife Abigail his hope that future generations would mark Independence Day with “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” I’d like to think that some of those celebrations were held at Independence Hall, the building where America was truly born.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Holidays, Independence Day, US History

Shrove Tuesday, or the Festival of Pancakes

Several stacks of silver dollar pancakes

Image via Wikipedia

I don’t have a problem with Mardi Gras. Between the fact that New Orleans is American and my mother-in-law is French, why not celebrate it? Laissez les bons temps rouler and all that. But the most recent immigrant up my family tree is my great-grandfather from Yorkshire, England. Between that and my lifelong membership in the Episcopal church, when I grew up, Mardi Gras took a back seat to Shrove Tuesday.

By now, you may be asking yourself “What the %*#* is a shrove?” I did for years. It is neither a specialized pan nor a gardening tool. ‘Shrove’ comes from ‘to shrive’, which in the Middle Ages meant to confess one’s sins to a priest and gain absolution. One would not wish to die, or enter the holy season of Lent, unshriven.

However, let’s talk about the traditional food served on Shrove Tuesday: Pancakes. Like the fried foods associated with Mardi Gras, Carnival and Fasching, pancakes used up fats, eggs, milk and sugar, all traditionally forbidden during the Lenten fast. They have been around in some form since at least the 15th century, when legend has it that a housewife in Olney, Buckinghamshire got so caught up in making them that she nearly missed getting to church. In her haste, she ran to the church, pan and cooking pancake in hand.  Olney commemorates her with an annual pancake race, held since 1445. Several other towns in Great Britain have their own pancake races, but only Olney (say that 10 times fast) competes internationally, with the residents of Liberal, Kansas.

I’m not sure how good a pancake tastes after being flipped several times in chilly air. My own requirements for the golden brown delicacies include being hot out of the pan. I eat mine with butter and maple syrup — real maple syrup, not the corn syrup substitutes so popular these days — and preferably accompanied by bacon or sausage.  I’m not ashamed to use the fast recipe on the side of the Bisquick box, but if I’m feeling really ambitious, I will make use the following recipe, from my trusty Joy of Cooking, 1975 edition:

Pancakes, Griddle Cakes or Batter Cakes

Sift before measuring: 1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour

Resift with: 1 teaspoon salt, 3 Tablespoons sugar, 1 3/4 teaspoons double-acting  baking powder

Combine: 1 or 2 slightly beaten whole eggs, 3 Tablespoons melted butter, 1 to 1 1/4 cups of milk

Mix the liquid ingredients quickly into the dry ingredients. Heat the griddle and test it by sprinkling a few drops of cold water onto the hot surface. If the water puddles before evaporating, it’s not hot enough. If it sizzles away immediately, it’s too hot. You want the water drops to bounce and dance around on the pan before you pour in the batter.

Pour the batter on the properly heated surface, then wait for bubbles to form on the upper surface. (Note: this is the upper surface of the middle of the pancake.) This should take 2 to 3 minutes max. Before the bubbles break, flip the pancake only once. The second side takes only half as much time to cook.

I like to serve mine hot from the pan, with any of the following: Butter and maple syrup, powdered sugar and fruit or jam, sugar and cinnamon.

I understand that Scarborough, Yorkshire has a half day holiday on Shrove Tuesday. (Anyone from Scarborough around to confirm or deny that?) And Ashborne in Derbyshire celebrates the day with the Royal Shrovetide Football Match, played over two days. It sounds more like a mob playing rugby than anything else, but I will admit to not knowing the fine points of the game. But what I want to know is: Do they have pancakes?

Do you celebrate Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival or Fasching? If so, what special activities or foods make the day special for you?

3 Comments

Filed under Celebrations, Holidays, Shrove Tuesday

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The sexy Scot hero of my next book has an interview at SOS Aloha in honor of Valentine’s Day! Kim is giving away some fun prizes as well, so stop by and read what Kieran has to say!

Leave a comment

Filed under Contests, Romance, Valentine's Day, Victorian

An American Queen of Hearts

As readers of historical romance can tell you, beneath the buttoned-up corsets and coats of the Victorian era beat some very passionate hearts. Valentine’s Day as we know it originated in 19th century England. Before then, it was a date to commemorate feelings for loved ones, but it was not widespread or particularly elaborate. Printers in England developed cards varying from sentimental to bawdy in honor of Valentine’s Day, which quickly caught on with the public.  The idea of sending cards to loved ones spread to America mid-century, thanks to a teenage girl with a shrewd head for business.

Esther Howland was born in Wooster, Massachusetts in 1828.  The daughter of a prosperous bookseller, little is known of her life until 1847, when an associate of her father’s sent her a Valentine’s card from England.  The folded bit of paper intrigued her, less for its sentimental value than as a source of income for the family business.

I must digress here. Southward A. Howland, her father,  must have been a remarkable man for his era. Not only had he sent his daughter to Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now known as Mount Holyoke College), but when Esther suggested that she design a line of new merchandise for his store, he supported the idea. At a time when most men insisted their wives and daughters stay within the domestic sphere, he encouraged Esther to live up to her potential.

However, back to Esther herself.  After convincing her father to import paper lace and other materials to make the cards, her brother took up the task of selling them, armed with a few samples she had created.

She hoped for $200 in sales. He came back with $5,000 worth. This was more than she had bargained for, and she recruited friends to help her. Although Henry Ford would not conceive of the assembly line for decades, Esther divided up the process of making each card and assigned one person to each task: Cutting out and sorting pictures, cutting out backgrounds of different colored paper from a template, embellishing the backgrounds with paper lace, adding floral decorations and verses. The process eventually took over an entire floor of the family house, but a tradition was born.

Eventually, Esther’s sideline outgrew the house. Her New England Valentine Company would gross over $100,000 a year — in Victorian dollars. In modern dollars this is the equivalent of between 1.5 and 2 million dollars.  She took advantage of her income to indulge in facials and fashionable clothes, but she also paid her predominantly female workforce a decent wage. Ironically, the Queen of Valentines never married. The reasons are unclear. She was considered a handsome woman, but she may have been reluctant to give up a business she loved, as would have been expected of her at the time. She may have simply never fallen in love.

In 1881, she did sell the company to a competitor and devote herself to her father, whose health had deteriorated. She died in 1904, having brought pleasure to thousands through her cards.

4 Comments

Filed under Holidays, Romance, Valentine's Day, Victorian, Victorian era, Women's History

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

As the rush of activities for Christmas slows down for our family (and I hope for you), I turn on some Christmas carols and look around at my home and loved ones.  I’m typing in view of our Christmas tree, filled with beloved ornaments.  A cup of tea is steeping that I will enjoy soon.  My oldest is home following her finals and my youngest has only a half-day of school left before her vacation starts.  Ah yes, the joys of hearth and home during the holidays….

My carols are competing with two televisions, the buzz of texts to a boyfriend, and a discussion between a sixteen-year-old and a twenty-one-year old about the likelihood that an American equivalent of Hogwarts exists. Dirty laundry waits for its turn to go into the washer and dryer by the basement door, because its owner is watching one of the aforementioned TVs. The decorations in the entryway are competing for space with a book bag, shoes, and boots while I ponder whether the Christmas dinner I planned will include enough food for the boyfriend and my aunt and uncle, invited to join us by my mother (thankfully, she informed me of this before Christmas Day itself).

The pile of cards needing stamps catches my eye, as does the cat snoozing in a previously cat-hair-free spot on our tree skirt.  There’s some additional baking to do as well. And I just realized that I can’t remember where I put some of our gifts. Wrapping paper and ribbons cover the basement floor because the last person that used them didn’t put it away.

Oh, and I just realized that I need to research the British East India Company for my WIP, possibly resulting in some major rewriting.

The most wonderful time of the year? YEAH, BABY!!!

Leave a comment

Filed under Christmas, Family, Holidays

Tomorrow is Veterans Day!

I posted a bit info about the day’s origins and some of my thoughts about the men and women who have served at Authors by Moonlight — stop by and tell us about your military service or that of someone you know!

2 Comments

Filed under Vetarans Day

Happy Twelfth Night!

No, not the play by Shakespeare, though it is named for the holiday.

Starting in the Middle Ages, Twelfth Night referred to the last of the twelve days that make up Christmas.  You know, like in the carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas.   It is celebrated January 5th, the Eve of the Epiphany, or on Epiphany itself, January 6th.

The holiday ended two weeks of revelry and role reversal.  Led by a Lord of Misrule, often someone of low status within the household, servants dressed as their masters.  Both men and women cross-dressed.  Songs and mummery entertained the wealthy, and everyone feasted.  Cooks prepared special food and drink, such as wassail and a King Cake.  In England, a bean and a pea were baked into a ‘plum cake’.  (This sounds like a precursor of the plum pudding of Dickens’ day.) Whoever found the bean won the title of King, while the recipient of the pea would be Queen.  If a woman found the bean in her slice, she was allowed to choose the King, and a man who found the pea chose the Queen.

Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Mexico have versions of the King Cake, with coins, tokens, or beans hidden inside.  There are references to Twelfth Night cakes in English cookbooks in Victorian times, and my mother-in-law speaks fondly of the King Cakes eaten during her childhood in France.

Although To be Seduced opens shortly after Twelfth Night, there is no mention of the holiday in the book.  My heroine was raised in a Puritan household, and they did not celebrate any part of the Christmas season.  As the Bible does not mention that the early Christians commemorated the birth of Christ, they considered it unseemly to acknowledge it.  And they objected strenuously to the secularization of Christmas — some things never change!  Under Cromwell, celebrating Christmas was outlawed.

My family’s Twelfth Night dinner ends with a cake of whatever flavor takes the cook’s fancy, with a quarter baked in. When my youngest was a toddler, I figured the quarter would be easy to find and hard to swallow!  As it is, the poor child didn’t get an uncrumbled slice of cake till she was about eight.  Whoever finds the coin is King or Queen and gets to (read: must) wear a paper crown for the rest of the night.  And our tradition is rippling outward now.  My oldest started throwing Twelfth Night parties in high school, and one of her college friends has asked about plans for the 2010 party.

Remember, if you decide to try a King Cake, TELL EVERYONE TO TAKE SMALL BITES!!  (Seriously! I almost choked on a penny when I was a kid!!)

Here is a link for a modernized version of a medieval King Cake.

And here is an eighteenth century recipe that looks like a plum pudding.

Twelfth Night,or King and Queen

Now, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where Bean’s the King of the sport here;
Beside we must know
The Pea also
Must revel, as Queen, in the Court here.

Begin then to choose,
(This night as ye use)
Who shall for the present delight here.
Be a King by the lot
And who shall not
Be Twelfth-day Queen for the night here.

Which known, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurg’d will not drink
To the base from the brink
A health to the King and the Queen here.

Next crown the bowl full
With gentle lambs-wool;
Add sugar, nutmeg and ginger,
With store of ale too;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Give then to the King
And Queen wassailing;
And though with ale ye be wet here;
Yet part ye from hence,
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.
- Robert Herrick, 1648

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Christmas, Family, History, Holidays, Poems