As we decorated our Christmas tree the other day, I hung an ornament which is an engraved metal tube. Inside the tube is a small roll of paper printed with the text of the famous editorial response to a young girl’s question in 1897. I have always had a fondness for this historical editorial, known ever after as “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus.”
For those of you who might not recall the story, let me provide a brief recap. In the fall of 1897, a young girl, 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, was having an argument with some school friends about Santa Claus. Her friends’ claims that he did not exist worried her so much, she decided to write a letter to The Sun, a now-defunct newspaper in New York. One of the editorial writers for the paper, Francis Church, wrote a heart-felt response to Virginia, which was so popular, it became the most reprinted editorial ever. Here is a reprint of Virginia’s letter and the editor’s response:
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, VIRGINIA, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance, to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not; but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
"The most real things in the world are those that
You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, VIRGINIA, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
[From The Sun, September 21, 1897]
I hope reading this has helped you discover a child’s faith and joy this Christmas season.
I was wrapping some gifts earlier this week (no, I am normally not that organized, but I had a reason) and it made me start wondering about wrapping paper, and when we started using it. A quick internet search for the answer to that question produced an unexpected confluence with Christmas fun, romance writers, and relaxing movies.
I can almost see some of you scratching your heads.
Let me explain.
First, some interesting background on wrapping paper. As it turns out, wrapping gifts started in ancient Asia. However, it didn’t really catch on in the West until the latter half of the 1800s, after Christmas cards became popular. The Victorian gift paper was very thick and elaborate, often decorated with ribbons and lace, and quite expensive to buy. In the early 20th century, people began replacing this thick paper with red, green or white tissue paper, which provided a more cost-effective option for a wider range of people to use.
How did we get from there to where we are now? In 1917, a stationery store in Kansas City ran out of tissue paper to sell to their customers. Not wanting to miss out on potential sales, they brought in some lengths of decorated French paper they normally used to line envelopes in their card factory. They sold out of this as well, and sold even more the next Christmas.
So in 1919, the Hall brothers decided to produce and sell their own decorative wrapping paper. Yes those Hall brothers, as in the founders of Hallmark. In that moment, a huge industry was born.
And that confluence I mentioned earlier? Well, when not pondering wrapping paper, I have also been noticing lately that a growing number of my favorite romance authors are having their books turned into movies or TV series. I think that is wonderful! It is a good thing for them, for the romance industry, and for the TV viewers. Like many others, I enjoy taking a break from holiday business by watching a sweet Christmas movie in the evening. The experience is even better when it is based on a book I have read – extra points if it is an author I have met.
I think one could say that Hallmark is a major reason for the large variety of Christmas movies available on TV channels now. So from a personal standpoint, I am glad the Hall brothers ran out of issue paper 100-plus years ago. More and more, I prefer sweet movies with a HEA and a minimum of grimness to slog through. If the Hall brothers and their successors hadn’t become so successful and creating and selling cards and paper, they would not have been able to start a TV channel, and many of the shows and movies I watch might never have been born. And some great authors might not have seen their stories come to life on film. That’s what I call a win for everyone.
Now that I think about it, who says I have to wait for nighttime to watch a movie? The heavy snow falling outside my window right now has put me in the mood to curl up on the couch. Perhaps I’ll pop some popcorn and watch a fun, romantic Christmas movie. Care to join me?
In 1863, President Lincoln issued a proclamation establishing the fourth Thursday of November as an official national day of Thanksgiving. While there had been sporadic national and state occurrences of such days since George Washington proposed the first one, it was not yearly event and there was no agreed-upon day. Thankfully, President Lincoln heeded a letter written to him by Sarah Joseph Hale, a female magazine editor, urging him to establish a day of Thanksgiving as a means to help unify the nation. He established the holiday. While not all states celebrated the holiday during the war, it eventually became a day on which every state in the nation paused to express gratitude for the many blessings received.
I have included some of the text from President Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation below. Even though the Civil War was raging on at the time, these words in 1863 helped the suffering citizens to recognize that all of the many freedoms and bounty and opportunity provided in our country were still something for which to be profoundly grateful. While not perfect, they knew this exceptional country was worth the hardship they endured to reach it and to preserve it.
I believe President Lincoln’s words from 155 years ago still have meaning today. Has this been an easy year for all of us? Of course not. But it could be so much worse – and was in our nation’s past. Perhaps the words below will encourage us to pause and reflect on the many good things we do have.
By the President of the United States
The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God….
No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.
This coming Sunday is a milestone. It is not just Veterans’ Day, but is also the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.
Being perennially curious about all things historical, I started doing some research about the war. I was lucky to stumble across the website for the “United States World War One Centennial Commission” (https://www.worldwar1centennial.org/index.php). This organization has gathered information about anniversary commemorations around the country, but also has pages and pages of interesting background information about the war and its aftermath.
This was a war of many firsts. Many of these "firsts" had a huge impact on our country. You can find many sources describing the military and technological advances (wrist watch, anyone?) which occurred during the war. WWI also produced cultural firsts, including societal groups who were involved in a war for the first time. The U.S. “Doughboys” fighting overseas were a much more diverse group than in previous wars. Immigrants served next to blue bloods. Native Americans served next to the sons of settlers. Grandsons of Civil War soldiers served next to grandsons of slaves. ( Interestingly, one thing didn’t change. The average WWI soldier was about the same size – 5 feet 7 ½ inches and 141.5 pounds – as one of those Civil War soldiers, but a little shorter and lighter than a WWII soldier would be.) The additional details provided about the various segments of soldiers are worth a read.
In addition, while men have always served in times of war, this was the first U.S. war in which women served. According to the organization’s website, the new Army Nurse Corps counted 20,000 women in its ranks. This included 10,000 female nurses who served overseas caring for 200,000 wounded U.S. soldiers. Since many of the nurses were positioned near the front lines, they experienced artillery and gas attacks right along with the soldiers. When the influenza epidemic raged through Europe, 200 of these nurses died caring for sick soldiers.
Women served in other groups for the first time, too. The Army Signal Corps had about 400 women known as “Hello Girls” serving in France as telephone operators. The Navy had a tough time competing with the Army for the people they needed, so they recruited 11,000 women known as “Yeomanettes” to work in a variety of support roles. Not just clerical staff, these women also worked as electricians, mechanics, drivers, etc. The Marine Corps and Coast Guard recruited women to serve as well.
These numbers do not include the thousands of women who volunteered in other ways, such as for the Red Cross or the Salvation Army. And of course, with a large portion of the male population gone, many women backfilled their jobs on the home front.
Most of these women were expected to return to their “normal” life after the war. It must have been difficult for some of them. (There was a popular song to this effect right after WWI called “How Ya Gonna Keep’em Down on the Farm After They’ve Seen Paree?” which was surely directed at the returning soldiers, but must have resonated with the women as well.) However, their war service did have one unexpected benefit. It helped convince President Woodrow Wilson and other men in the US that these women who contributed so much during the war deserved the right to vote, thus setting up the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Yet another “first” resulting in part from WWI.
So I hope each one of us takes a little time on Sunday to reflect on the day’s meaning. It is always good to honor our military heroes on Veteran’s Day. As a first this year, perhaps we can also remember the day’s importance 100 years ago and the effect WWI had on our grandparents and great-grandparents.
As many of my regular readers know, I periodically like to include a blog based on the theme “If These Walls Could Talk.” Usually, it is an interesting picture of an actual house a person has actually lived in at some point. This time, I am featuring something different. I stumbled across a fun picture of a “house” covered in pumpkins, squash and gourds.
After some research, I discovered this is a picture of a structure at the Dallas Arboretum. Each fall, they host a festival called “Autumn at the Arboretum” with a different theme each year.
If I am ever in the Dallas area in the fall, I definitely want to check this out. From the pictures on the arboretum’s website, (http://www.dallasarboretum.org/visit/seasonal-festivals-events/autumn-at-the-arboretum) it looks as though they do an amazing job creating a spectacular setting for guests to walk through and enjoy. The display includes 150,000 plants and 90,000 pumpkins, gourds and squash.
Which gets me back to the photo. How cool would it be to have a building made of pumpkins and other assorted squash relatives? And how does one go about building such a structure, anyway? If these walls could talk, imagine the stories they could tell about the sweating, straining people trying to put all of the shells into place! Plus, can you imagine the conversations they might hold amongst themselves when no humans are around? Do they discuss the people they saw? Are there cliques or quarrels? Will the pumpkins even talk to the lowly squash? Do they both shun the gourds? The mind boggles!
If you live near Dallas or will be in the area, this sounds like a great place to spend a pleasant fall afternoon. The festival runs from September 22 – November 21 this year, and the theme is “The Adventures in Neverland.” There are several stops along the winding path where visitors can see recreations of locations featured in Peter Pan.
While you are there, try to guess what the fruit would be saying, If These Walls Could Talk.
This is the first blog I have written since my husband and I moved across the country. I am glad to be back blogging.
The move was a lot more work than I ever dreamed it would be, but it was still worth it. One of the reasons why is napping on our sofa as I write this. Our old granddaughter has a cold and couldn’t go to day care today, so she is spending the day at Grandma’s house. She recently had her second birthday, so she is at that age when children learn new things more rapidly than I can keep up. It was fun playing with her this morning and observing how she thinks, but I’ll admit, it was also exhausting. I’m glad she is sleeping now!
Our second reason for moving, our younger granddaughter, was four months old yesterday. She is a very easy-going baby, and also is seemingly a very deep thinker. Whenever I look at her, she has such a look of deep concentration on her face as she stares at something. I’m fairly certain she is redesigning her car seat in her head, or some such thing!
All kidding aside, while this move was a lot of work, it was definitely worth it. Being able to see our son and his family more than a few times a year is no small thing. So as I write this I am feeling not only joy but also a mixture of satisfaction and gratitude. The joy is probably obvious. Let me explain the others.
Satisfaction because all of those years of hard work and setting aside money paid off. It allowed us to move closer to our son when the possibility arose. We didn’t have to have new jobs in place prior to the move, which made it that much easier (and slightly less stressful.)
Gratitude because we have been blessed to live in a place where our skills and hard work could put us in the position to make such a major life change. And more gratitude because I know opportunity does not fade away when one reaches a certain age. I know that if I work hard and persevere, I can have a whole new successful career as an author, one which could last for many years.
So I guess I want to leave you with a thought which crossed my mind as I was writing this. It pays to have a life plan – and to work the plan. But don’t be afraid to change the plan. Be open to new opportunities. In the meantime, if you keep plugging away toward your end goal, you’ll be ready to take advantage of other opportunities which cross your path.
That’s it for this week. I guess writing my first blog in many weeks made me a bit reflective. Next week, I’ll lighten things up a bit. See you next week.
I was thinking earlier today about the continued importance of handwriting in this age of technology. More specifically, I was thinking about how valuable it can still be to writers, even though most of us do the bulk of our writing on computers.
Let me explain. Some of you may recall my mentioning in the past the large whiteboard mounted on the wall of the room where I do my writing. This board is invaluable to me when I am plotting out a story or fleshing out a specific scene. I have long noticed that when I write notes out on the board, the whole brainstorming process is just easier.
I have other friends who hand write story notes in notebooks. Another friend writes out the entire first drafts of her stories by hand on a legal pad. What do we all have in common? Writing things out by hand when we need to be creative.
As it turns out, this sense of greater creativity and productivity is not simply in my imagination. More and more studies are proving the connection between our hand and our brain. When we write by hand, it stimulates areas of the brain which lead to increased skills such as comprehension, problem-solving, and retention. Other studies have discovered that young children who learn their letters by drawing them manually instead of typing them on a keyboard, for example, learn much better and faster.
So as it turns out, I was being smarter than I realized when I asked my husband to mount the whiteboard on the wall. Each time I use it, I am strengthening the connection between my hand and my brain and am improving my writing.
If you don’t have the space for an oversized whiteboard on your wall, grab a pencil and a legal pad. This is what I used when I was problem-solving during my former day job as a business analyst, and I can attest to its success.
But if I have given you the urge to go-to-town with a large whiteboard and colored markers, then don’t spend buckets of money for the expensive (and smaller) versions sold in office supply stores. Get to your local big box store and look for white hardboard wall panels in the section where paneling is sold. You can purchase a 4’ x 8’ sheet of smooth, acrylic-coated wall panel (i.e., whiteboard) for less than $20. They are lightweight, and fairly easy to tack up. Some people even use glue or double-stick tape.
Or you can still find that trusty legal pad. Either way, happy writing and happy creativity.
As you all have probably guessed by now, I like history. I don’t just like to write about it, I also like to see it and absorb it. And not just about major events. To me, it is also fascinating to see everyday objects used in the past by everyday people.
One unexpected advantage to my upcoming move, I am realizing, is the opportunity it presents to experience history which is “new” to me. Or should I say “older” history?
What I am trying to say, is that we will soon be moving to an area which was settled much sooner than where I live now. This means there will be a treasure trove of new things for me to see and learn about which pre-date the history in my current region. Hence, things which are both “new” to me yet also “older” at the same time.
I am looking forward to exploring once we are settled. If I am lucky, I will find some old shops to wander through, where I can pick up old household items and wonder about the people who used them in the past. What stories could these objects tell from years ago? (After all, if walls can talk, why can’t other objects?)
The move will also provide history opportunities on a larger scale. We will be within driving distance of many interesting locations. I can only imagine the fun days I could spend wandering through old homes or on old battlefields. (Note to self: Be sure to wander around some of the historical locations where I am now before we move – the places I always thought I would go see “one of these days.” These days are numbered now!)
I am trying to hold on to this happy thought of new or different history as I deal with the craziness of the actual move. (And to also remember the other advantages which prompted this move in the first place. Living near our son and his family is the primary benefit.)
After all, once we are settled, the stress of the move will become merely a page in our own history. Then I can forget about the headaches and get back to enjoying the “new” history around me.
Summer is finally here, the weather is gorgeous - and I can finally post a new blog on my temperamental website. Life is good!
To celebrate, I am sharing a fun summer trivia quiz I found online a few weeks ago, courtesy of www.Playbuzz.com. The answers are given below the quiz.
ANSWERS TO QUIZ
I tend to call my progress toward a writing career a “journey.” I am realizing how apt is that word choice.
Trying to go from a newbie writing her first few lines of a story to a multi-published author is like taking a journey cross-country. With no GPS and an out-of-date road atlas shoved under the seat.
In both cases, I think we all start out in a haze of optimism. “It will be fine,” we tell ourselves. “It won’t take long at all.” We buckle in and start forward. About the time we finish the first chapter of our story or cross the first state line, we realize this journey might be a tad longer than we thought. “But that’s OK,” we reassure ourselves. “I’ll still have plenty of time after I arrive.”
Then we hit our first detour. It might not be too bad. Maybe a quick little jog on side streets in our car, or a pause in our writing to figure out a plot twist. “It’s still a piece of cake, though” we think. We’ve got this.
But then the detours and delays start cropping up faster than orange barrels in construction season. Or, when writing, we reach that slump around the halfway point of our first draft when it feels like we will never finish the story.
If we let these delays and slumps define our journey, then it can become an unbearable slog. Reaching the other coast or getting that first book sale almost doesn’t matter because we are too exhausted from the trip.
Unless we choose to look at our journey differently.
If we take the time to explore local features, visit little museums, discover out-of-the way diners to eat in, then the road trip takes on a whole new meaning. As we stop to admire beautiful vistas along the way, we realize we aren’t really in such a rush for the journey to end. It's become an adventure.
Likewise with our writing. If we take the time to celebrate milestones along the way, then it suddenly becomes a pleasant walk instead of a forced march. Each time we celebrate finishing a first draft or do well in a contest or cheer for a friend’s first sale it reminds us of why we started down this path. After all, we aren’t here solely because our writing muse lured us into it. We write because once started on this journey, we can’t imagine doing anything else . And we know that if we keep moving forward, then one day we will reach that wide ocean of writing success at the end of our journey. What an adventure!
I write historical romances, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.