I am trying to keep moving forward with my writing, in spite of the pandemic occupying our minds lately. To that end, I spent some time this week researching WWI. The hero in the historical romance I am currently working on fought in the war, so I wanted to have a better idea of what he might have experienced.
In the course of my research, I learned several interesting things, some related to the fighting and some to the home front.
There you go. I hope you found these snippets of history as interesting as I did. Some of what I learned gave me ideas for future stories – something I am sure many writers can relate to. Until next week, stay safe and keep reading.
With so many people staying home currently, I suspect it won’t be long before some will be climbing the walls. I thought today might be a good day to make a list of fun things children (or adults) can do to stave off boredom. Some are old classics, some might be new to you, but all of them use materials you probably already have around the house.
Enjoy the activities, and stay well.
How to Play Children’s Card Games
How to Play Dominoes
How to Play Charades
Musical Instruments to Make at Home
How to Make Shadow Puppets
How to Make Paper Airplanes
Quiet Games for Children
More Indoor Games for Bored Children
I have been sitting here looking out the window, and thinking about the various indicators of spring. Anyone who lives in a place with four seasons knows what I am talking about – the little signs we look for, in a bid for reassurance that winter will end and spring will eventually arrive.
One of the first I notice was the group of daffodils popping up in our front flower bed. (Which also reminded me that we should have separated the daffodil bulbs last fall, but I digress.) The flower stems are quite tall now, and I can’t wait to see cheerful yellow blossoms bobbing on the stalks.
I also saw my first robin of spring hopping on our back lawn last week. Robins are a sure sign of warm weather coming. Of course, the robin sighting was followed a few days later by six inches of snow, which is another common occurrence. Seeing a robin doesn’t mean winter is over completely, but it does give us hope to hang on.
Even now, I am watching snow fall on green grass. I was thinking there was something not right about that particular contrast, and then it dawned on me why I found the sight so unsettling. Our grass never turned brown over the winter. It stayed a nice, healthy-looking green. If I were still in Wisconsin, one of the spring indicators would be noticing the brown winter grass turning green again, but not here.
Most of the signs of spring involve what we see out a window, but one of the biggest spring rites is done indoors. What am I talking about? Going to a fish fry. We recently discovered a church near us which offers a fish fry on Friday nights during Lent. I think we will check it out. A good fish fry will make me think not just of spring, but of home as well.
Do you have favorite authors? Is there someone you automatically reach for when you are tired, or had a bad day, or are celebrating something?
I have several favorite authors, but who I reach for depends on my mood at the moment. If I am not feeling any particularly strong emotions, I might stand in front of my keeper shelves and wait for something to jump out at me. If I am tired or worn out, and don’t want to read something which requires deep thought, I often reach for one of my old Barbara Metzger books. Her regencies, especially the older ones, are light and frothy and just the thing to take me out of my world for a short while. If I am looking for something to cheer me up, Janet Chapman usually does the trick. Her stories have enough meat to not be boring, yet also have a fun, irreverent attitude. If I want something with more depth and expertly drawn characters, then Jodi Thomas or Anne Gracie or Julie Garwood is a likely possibility.
I can read books by my favorite authors over and over again. I vaguely comprehend that some people exist who refuse to read any book more than once, but I cannot wrap my head around that concept. To me, it’s like having a good friend you choose to never speak to again. Why deny yourself the pleasure?
I have also discovered another benefit of re-reading old books. Some of the books on my keeper shelves have sat there so long since I read them, I don’t remember much about the stories. When I read one of those books, it’s like discovering a great story or author all over again. And it didn’t cost me a dime!
I feel sorry for anyone who has not discovered the joy of reading. Books can take us to so many other places or times or to meet so many interesting people. And when we re-read a book, it’s like taking a good friend along on the trip. I hope you have many similar good friends, and I wish you bon voyage on many pleasant journeys with them.
I learned something new today. Did you ever hear of “vinegar valentines”? I first saw a mention of them earlier today. While the sweet valentines we normally think of have been around for hundreds of years, the Victorians came up with the idea of vinegar valentines to send to people they disliked – anyone from a mean landlord to a spurned lover.
Sending valentines in general became more popular in the Victorian era because cards were mass-produced, cheap, and easy to send. While many of the vinegar valentines attempted to be funny, some of them sank to being cruel. I suppose it was the social media of the day.
I certainly don’t want to sour anyone’s Valentine’s Day. However, I thought some of the vinegar valentines were amusing, and offered an interesting historical perspective on how people thought at the time. I couldn’t resist sharing some of my favorites.
A new year often brings a surge in energy and optimism, and this year was no different. I shook off the holiday malaise, and found a renewed focus on my writing. Since it was the start of the year, it also seemed like a good time to get a little more organized with my writing.
As a result, I spent some time over the last few weeks developing a business plan for myself. I read a couple articles I had saved on strategic planning for writers, and looked online until I found a free plan template which looked as if it would fit my needs. The end result is not complete – not by a long shot – but it is helping to remind me of my goals and keep me focused.
As the articles suggested, I started with some big questions when creating my plan. First, I thought about my vision for my writing future. (Who do I want to be as a writer? How do I want to be described?) This was followed by my mission statement. (What I want to do as a writer? What do I want to achieve with my writing?) I also spent some time thinking about my values. (What traits are important to me, and what will I do – or not do – as I strive to make my vision come true?)
Then, it was time to think about my goals. These are the milestones which I will need to pass on my way to achieving my vision. I began with the larger, long-term goals. Though many people suggest creating five-year goals, that felt like too long of a time frame for me, so I developed three-year goals instead. After that, I created goals for the next year, the next quarter, and so on.
Based on my list of goals, I have plenty to do in the coming months! One of my goals is to get back on social media again, so you should see more activity from me in the coming weeks. Another goal is to be more consistent with posting a blog each week. I am still annoyed with myself for letting these activities fall so completely by the wayside in the last 1 ½ years. Yes, I moved twice in ten months, but I shouldn’t have allowed that to become such a long-term excuse. So…, new year, new commitment.
These are on top of my more writing-specific goals. Some of these you can probably guess – finish revisions on my current manuscript, get an agent, get my first book contract, and the list goes on. I have started taking some of the smaller steps toward being ready to query agents, and I will keep you posted on how that goes.
All of this has made me curious about something. Do other writers feel the same sense of renewal each January? Have any of you also spent time thinking about your goals and your vision for your future? If you have any tips or suggestions for how to approach this process, I am sure the rest of us would be glad to read them. Please leave your tips in the comments section below.
And in the meantime – back to my writing!
Since I just finished some revisions on the first story in my western historical romance series, it made me think about the early cattle ranchers in Colorado. I decided to see what the house of an early cattle baron might look like. Plus, what would would I hear if those walls could talk to me?
Alonzo Hartman was one of the earliest cattle ranchers in southwestern Colorado. He was a very young man when he arrived in Colorado. In fact, he was only about 18 years old and knew little about cattle when he was put in charge of the Los Pinos Indian Agency cow camp in 1869. This camp was a holding place for cattle driven up from Texas to feed the Ute Indians on a nearby reservation. When the Utes were moved to another location a few years later, Alonzo and his partner decided to stay on the cow camp land. They started a community (Gunnison) as well as a ranch which became one of the biggest in western Colorado. While Alonzo also diversified into other businesses in later years, he was first and foremost a rancher.
The included pictures are of the large house he built for his wife, Annie, after he became successful. The house was completed in 1894, when he was still a relatively young man in his 40s. The house was so large and ornate, it became known as the "Hartman Castle."
I find this house intriguing for several reasons. First, because it is the ultimate proof of a what a young, inexperienced person can accomplish with some cleverness and hard work. Secondly, because it must have hosted some interesting people over the years. Can you imagine the dinner parties Annie and Alonzo might have hosted over the years, and the influential guests who might have attended? While the house passed out of the Hartman’s hands in the early 1900s, it still exists today. How was it used, and who might have passed through its doors in the intervening years?
I will never know the house’s full story, but that is okay. Not knowing allows me to make up my own stories about what this house might say, If These Walls Could Talk.
Does anyone else remember making paper snowflakes as a child? Something – perhaps a Christmas movie I watched last night – made me think about them. Since I couldn’t remember exactly how to do it, I looked up some directions and decided to share them with all of you.
Have fun making paper snowflakes, perhaps with your children or grandchildren, to decorate your home. Merry Christmas!
Most of us are extremely familiar with the jolly, white-bearded man in a red suit. But where did he come from? I decided to combine history and Christmas this week, and explored that question.
Most historians agree that the original Santa was a monk, Nicholas, who was born around 280 A.D. in what is now the country of Turkey. He was revered for his kindness and generosity, and was made a saint (Saint Nicholas) by the church. Saint Nicholas was also known as a protector of children and sailors, and was the most popular saint in Europe. His feast day is on December 6th, the day of his death, which is why some people have a tradition of providing small gifts on that day.
Now fast forward hundreds of years. Dutch settlers arriving in the mid-to-late 1700s in what is now New York City brought their traditions for Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas) with them. Over time, this name was shortened to Sinter Klaas, which then over more time became Santa Claus.
The first known picture of St. Nicholas in the U.S. was a woodcut done in New York in 1804. In earlier years, there was not one set description of his appearance. His appearance – as well as specific holiday customs – varied based on a person’s country of origin.
Our current image of him started in 1822 when Clement Clarke Moore wrote a Christmas poem. Since he was an Episcopal minister, he almost didn’t publish such a frivolous piece. But he eventually did, and it became “Twas The Night Before Christmas.” This poem established Santa as a heavyset “right jolly old elf” who traveled in a flying sleigh pulled by reindeer and came down chimneys.
Then, in 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast created a drawing of Santa – inspired by the poem – which appeared in Harper’s Weekly. He was the first to show Santa with a white beard, wearing a red suit trimmed with white fur, and holding a sack full of toys. Oh, and Nast was also the first to depict elves and a Mrs. Claus in his drawings.
The Christmas holiday saw an upsurge of popularity in the early 1800s and Santa likewise became more popular. Stores started promoting Christmas shopping as early as 1820. Newspapers started including holiday advertisements in the 1840s, and often used images of Santa. The first life-size (though not live) Santa display was in a Philadelphia store in 1841. It was a huge success. Thousands of children (and their shopping parents) came to see him. It didn’t take long for stores to start hiring live Santas.
Speaking of live Santas, the Salvation Army first began using Santas as bell ringers in the early 1890s. They were short of funds to provide Christmas meals for poor families, so the Salvation Army paid unemployed men in New York City to dress up as Santa and ask for donations. The idea spread and evolved, which is why we now see Salvation Army volunteers ringing bells next to their kettles every holiday season.
So there you go. A brief summary of why Santa Claus is such an integral part of Christmas now. There are so many additional fascinating bits of Santa trivia I could have included (did you know in Canada he has his own postal code?) but I had to end this somewhere. I hope you enjoyed this fun trip back into history. And I hope you enjoy the coming days of the holiday season. For me, it’s time to wrap some presents and bake some cookies.
I had every intention of getting my blog out yesterday, and then I started looking for a particular photo to use with my blog, and ended up going down a rabbit hole looking at photos. It wasn’t a waste of time, as it was something I planned to do in the next couple weeks anyway, but it did take longer than I expected. The “rabbit hole” and my blog are somewhat related, since they both pertain to Christmas.
Now that Thanksgiving is over, I am ready to start preparing for Christmas. If looking at the calendar wasn’t enough to get me going, reading the letter my three-year-old granddaughter wrote (well, dictated) to Santa will do the trick. It was sweet of her to include a request from her little sister in her letter. And based on the number of lines on her capital “E” when she signed her name, she is pretty excited about the big guy. Take a look at the attached picture, and you’ll see what I mean. She is totally getting into Christmas this year.
Thinking about my granddaughters and Christmas was indirectly responsible for the delay looking at photos yesterday. It has been quite a while since I gathered photos of the girls to share with my mom, and I want to make sure I have some ready before Christmas. We are going back to Wisconsin for the holiday, so I will take some printed pictures to give her. Since the internet service in her rural area is abysmal, my mom has given up on using her computer for email or online, which means she needs to get pictures the old-fashioned way.
I am looking forward to the trip back to Wisconsin. Yesterday, I booked a house for all six of us to stay in while we are up there. The price was quite reasonable, and we all prefer a house to a hotel. There is more room for us to spread out, and we can prepare most of our meals at the house, which is much easier than going to a restaurant for all of our meals – especially with small children. Best of all, the lady who owns the rental house has graciously agreed to bring over some Christmas decorations and a small tree for us. I am very grateful, because it just wouldn’t be Christmas for our granddaughters without at least a tree.
Now that the trip planning is under control, I need to get back to some of the other holiday tasks which need to be done in the next two weeks. Two weeks! Yikes! I am not done with my shopping, and haven’t started making cookies yet. I suspect most of you understand the slightly anxious feeling I have right now.
But, I know that everything that needs to get done will get done. And the tasks are not as important as enjoying the holiday with my loved ones. I hope all of you will also find time to relax with friends and family during the holiday season. (And maybe some relaxing moments to sip some hot cocoa and listen to holiday music by yourself.) Hopefully, we’ll all remember that the holiday season isn’t about frantically scrambling to produce a “perfect” event. It’s about the love and joy and blessings wrapped up in that miraculous Christmas birth. So, enjoy the coming weeks. And Merry Christmas.
I write historical romances, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.