This week, I have found myself watching a surprising amount of wildlife here in the city - even more than I typically noticed in our prior country home. Dog-sitting for my son has added a fun fillip of excitement to the activity.
Since I do much of my writing while ensconced in one of the comfortable chairs in our den, I often lift my head whenever I see a flash of motion outside our patio doors. Sometimes, it’s a cardinal flying by or a robin hopping around on our yard. (Note to self: ask daughter-in-law for suggestions on types and locations of bird feeders when they return from vacation.)
Yesterday, I noticed my son’s dog was staring intently out those same doors, and caught a glimpse of a young buck dodging evergreen branches to rest under our neighbor’s tree. (The dog, Atlas, really wanted to go out and make friends. I’m sure that wouldn’t have gone over well.) I also spotted our neighborhood doe with two cavorting fawns in that same yard. (It’s probably just as well Atlas was sleeping then.) Later, I saw a bigger buck lounging under a different evergreen by the front corner of our house. It was a little disconcerting to see a deer with a large 8-point rack staring calmly back at me from about twenty feet away.
I know there is other wildlife on our block, too. Something has been digging small holes in our yard. Since my mother suggested that it might be skunks looking for grubs, I plan to stay away from them. Far, far away. Fortunately, skunks are not something I see on my walks in the neighborhood. But I did have a close encounter last week with a red-tailed hawk who swooped by at waist level directly in front of me. I was surprised to see that, like the deer, he apparently has lost most of his fear of humans.
And of course, there are the bunnies and chipmunks. It’s a good thing my son’s dog looks but doesn’t race after them if he sees one on our walks. Atlas is a mastiff mix, and could probably drag me off my feet if he wasn’t such a sweet dog.
Is all of this wildlife normal in the city? I suppose it is. Having lived in the country my entire life before this, it’s a novel question for me to consider. For many other people, the animals are likely common, part of the background we tend to ignore. At any rate, I am almost looking forward to winter, when I’ll be able to see all of their tracks criss-crossing a smooth, snow-covered lawn. Who knew I’d see more wildlife in the city than I did in the country?
It has been very hot and sticky here the last few weeks, which has increased my consumption of ice cream. As I was eating a bowl of butter pecan last night, I started wondering about the history of ice cream. What were its origins?
This morning, I did a little quick research to find out. The results were fascinating. Did you know it dates back to at least 200 B.C.? Alexander the Great reportedly enjoyed snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar in ancient Greece. According to Biblical references, King Solomon liked to consume iced drinks during the harvest. And the Roman emperor Nero is thought to have sent slaves into the mountains to fetch back snow which was then mixed with nectar, fruit pulp and honey.
The first dish which more closely resembled today’s ice cream was made by the Chinese during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) using heated milk, flour and camphor. Ice cream gradually made its way to Europe (with help from Marco Polo) and from there to the New World.
The first recorded account of it in North America was in 1744. The governor of Maryland served a dessert which, according to a guest’s account, was “a Dessert…Among the Rarities of which is Compos’d, was some fine Ice Cream which, with the Strawberries and Milk, eat most deliciously.” Ice cream quickly became very popular in America, numbering George Washington and Thomas Jefferson among its ardent admirers. In fact, George Washington is said to have spent $200 (a lot of money back then) for ice cream during the summer of 1790 and Thomas Jefferson’s personal recipe for ice cream is shown in the picture on the right.
Fast forward through the years, and ice cream continued to be very popular. The first ice cream soda (and soda fountain) were created in 1874. Interestingly, the ice cream sundae was invented in the 1880s because of religious strictures against consuming “sinfully rich” ice cream sodas on Sundays. So someone took out the carbonated water, poured some chocolate syrup on top, and voila, the ice cream “Sunday” was invented. Several towns have said they are the sundae’s birthplace. However, the two locations with the strongest claim are Two Rivers, Wisconsin and Ithaca, New York. These two cities are still politely arguing the point. (I have to vote for Two Rivers, being a Wisconsin gal myself.)
Ice cream even served as a morale booster during WWII. Though dairy products were rationed back home, each branch of the military served as much of it as they could to the troops overseas. It was such a uniquely American symbol at that point, Mussolini even banned it in Italy during the war. After the war, when the dairy rations were lifted, Americans eagerly risked brain freeze to dive into bowls of ice cream again – averaging over 20 quarts per person in 1946.
Today, in addition to the many forms of ice cream available in grocery stores, there are many specialty ice cream shops and restaurants to satisfy true aficionados. Which is a good thing. Because when it is hot and muggy outside, a big bowl of ice cream goes down really, really well. The only downside is choosing a flavor.
Happy Independence Day, everyone. While I hope you are enjoying the day with family and friends, I also hope you will take a few minutes to remember why we are able to enjoy this day in peace and freedom. We tend to think of the founding fathers on this day, and of the men who fought in the battles. And so we should. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence knew they were risking their lives and everything they owned as soon as they set pen to paper. The men who joined the militias left their farms and their businesses behind and endured extreme privations to fight for liberty.
But let us not forget all of the other unsung heroes of that time. When the men left to fight, they left their wives and children to carry on. Betsy Ross was one of the most well-known women of the Revolution. In addition to being a heroine for creating the first American flag, looking at her biography provides interesting insights into life for women of the time.
Betsy was born in Philadelphia as Elizabeth Griscom, the eighth of 17 children in her Quaker family. After she completed her schooling, she was apprenticed to an upholsterer. (At that time, upholsterers did not just make furniture cushions, but did many different forms of sewing.) She fell in love with another apprentice, John Ross. Since he was not a Quaker, her family and church cut her off completely after she and John crossed the Delaware River one night late in 1773 to elope.
Shortly after their marriage, John and Betsy started their own upholstery business. However, fabric became scarce and times were hard. John joined the local militia, and died shortly after a gunpowder cache he was guarding exploded in January 1776. Betsy was more fortunate than most widows in that she had a business to support her. She kept busy making flags for the Pennsylvania Navy and tents and blankets for the Continental Army.
In May or June of 1776, a delegation from the Continental Congress – George Washington (who attended her church), Robert Morris, and George Ross (her deceased husband’s uncle) – reportedly paid her a visit. They asked her to use her flag-sewing skills to create a flag for all of the American colonies. Interestingly, the six-sided stars in their original design were changed to the familiar five-sided stars after Betsy demonstrated it was possible to cut out such a star with one snip of a scissors in properly-folded fabric.
Betsy remarried in June 1777 to Joseph Ashburn, a sea captain. His ship was captured by the British in 1781 and he died in a British prison the following year. Betsy married a third time in 1783 to John Claypoole, who had been in prison with Captain Ashburn and visited Betsy to share the captain’s final message. John lived much longer than her first two husbands and died in 1817.
Betsy continued with her upholstery business through all of this, and did not retire until ten years after John died. After more than 50 years as an upholsterer, she moved in with one of her married daughters and died in 1836 at the age of 84.
Even though modern historians are not certain if Betsy Ross actually sewed the first American flag, her life was still amazing. She is a great example of a strong woman from that time who buried husbands, raised children as a single mother, ran a business, bought and managed property, and lived through a war being fought all around her. She is truly one of our founding mothers, and deserves our respect and admiration.
So while you are celebrating our Independence Day today, don’t forget how it all came about. And maybe whisper a quick word of thanks to people like Betsy Ross who made it all possible.
Research can take a writer in odd directions. This morning, I decided to spend a “few minutes” researching slang from the 1920s for the post-WWI romance I am writing. A good hour later, I had a lengthy list of words and phrases. Some were words I had heard before, but never knew when they originated. Some were a bit strange, and some were just plain fun. I also quickly noticed that because liquor and criminal activity were on everyone’s minds during Prohibition, much of the slang is tied to one of these. Regardless, they were all interesting.
I decided to share the bounty with you in my blog today. So here is a partial list of some of the slang I found. Some may sound familiar to you, some may make you scratch your head, and some may make you chuckle.
What did I tell you? If you’re like me, you knew some of these, but others were totally new. I think it would be fun to reintroduce some of these into general use. Which ones would you want to bring back?
After seeing a few photos of bird nests today, and because it’s been some time since I did a blog on “If These Walls Could Talk,” I decided to combine both for this week’s blog topic. In honor of the first official day of summer tomorrow (and because I think those nest pictures were telling me something) our house this time around will be – bird houses.
Take a look at some fun examples I found online. (The first photo is actually the final bird nest photo which pushed me into doing this topic.)
I’m not even going to try to guess what the walls of these birdhouses would say, if they could talk. I’m sure at least one of my siblings probably called me a birdbrain when I was young, but I couldn’t begin to imagine what – if anything – birds think about.
I suppose this could also be a topic on crafts and creativity. Because the sample bird houses above show that people can be very ingenious when it comes to designing them. A bird house can be as simple as a few scrap boards nailed together, or an elaborate bird condo complex. It can be a great starter project for someone learning basic carpentry skills, or it can be an elaborate, hours-long endeavor.
Whether the designs are simple or complicated, it is fortunate so many people take the time to build them for the many birds who would otherwise have difficulty finding a home. So come to think of it, maybe I do know what these walls would say if they could talk. I think it would be a simple yet heartfelt “Thank You” to the builders. That’s it. Simple and sweet, like summer itself.
I hope you enjoy these pictorial reminders of summer. See you next week.
It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog, so it’s good to be back in the saddle. Unfortunately, moving twice in less than a year (and buying a house earlier this year) kept me so focused on other things that many of my writing activities got put on hold.
Because we knew last year that we would be moving twice, most of our possessions stayed packed in boxes for nearly a year, until we moved three weeks ago into the house we (hopefully) will be in for a while. This included my many boxes of books.
So it felt really good to finally be able to unpack all of my favorite romance stories I collected over the years. I have mentioned my large “keeper shelf” in the past, I’m sure most of you aren't surprised to hear I had 15 bank boxes of romance paperbacks to unpack. (This doesn’t include the many other boxes of research books, writing craft books, and other types of fiction and nonfiction on bookshelves in our house. It also does not include the three boxes of cookbooks I haven’t unpacked yet because I do not yet have a place to put them. But I digress.)
As I said, finally being able to unpack my books was a milestone I eagerly anticipated. Even so, when the day came, I was surprised by how good it felt to pull books out of each box. It dawned on me that seeing those books again was like seeing old friends after a long time apart. And why not? They are old friends – friends who helped me through stressful times, celebrated with me during happy times, and who readily forgave me for ignoring them most of the past year. Like other true friends they were always there for me, patiently waiting until I was ready to open their pages and visit them again.
So here’s to friendship. Maybe it doesn’t matter who or how long or what type of friend any of us have. Whether human or pet or paper or digital, good friends are something to cherish. To someone who doesn’t love books, including books in this might sound odd. But I’m betting most of you are nodding and agreeing with the sentiment.
So thank you, my friends, for patiently waiting through my long blog absence. Now, I’m going to pick out one of my book friends and have a long conversation with it, one page at a time. I’ll be back to visit with you next week.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Before I get into that, let me apologize for not writing my blog the last few weeks. Life got in the way, and I didn’t plan for it as well as I could have. And today, I am trying to get this blog posted before we go tour some houses for sale.
Anyway, enough of stressful topics. Let’s get back to happier thoughts. Are you doing anything special for Valentine’s Day? My husband and I are watching our two granddaughters tonight so our son and his wife can have a nice evening. For us, it will be enough of a celebration to spend time with the girls. For my son and daughter-in-law, it will be enough of a celebration to spend a quiet evening together without having to watch two active girls. The younger one is eight months old now, and rolls all over the place. The two-year-old is pretty quick on her feet. But with two adults to wrangle two children, I think we’ll be OK! Either way, it will be fun.
What are you doing today? Anything special? I was just wondering if mine is the only perspective on Valentine’s Day which has changed over the years. When I was younger, flowers or chocolates were a nice gift. Now, while I wouldn’t turn either of those down, I’d rather spend the evening with my granddaughters. Has anyone else noticed the same type of transition? Does it mean we are getting old, or that, with greater wisdom, we simply appreciate different things? I prefer to think it’s the latter. Spending time with people I love is a great way to spend any day of the year.
When you think about it, it is really too bad we only dedicate one day a year to such a powerful and life-changing emotion. In all of its forms, for all of the different people we know, love is one of the greatest forces in our lives. There is a good reason why romance authors write their stories and why readers gobble them up. Most people recognize how bleak the world would be without love. It can literally change lives.
So, I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day. I hope it is full of the things which make you happy. Whether that be romance, chocolate, a night out, or simply some quiet time to read a good story by your favorite author. Or spending time with people you love. Happy Valentine’s Day.
I didn’t do much crocheting over the holidays, but realized I was missing it. Having a crochet hook in my hand while I watch TV in the evening allows me to still do something creative and constructive with my time. Further inspiration was provided when I flipped through the pages of a book of patterns I received as a Christmas gift. It was time to get back into the rhythm of the hook.
I found a cute pattern for a child’s hat which could be sized for a baby or a larger child. Below are the coordinating hats I made for my two granddaughters.
These were quick and easy to make, and a good project to get me started again. Plus, my two-year-old granddaughter’s excitement when she saw me working on them was beyond gratifying. (Though I am not sure if she was excited about the hats, or just wanted to play with the soft, squishy balls of yarn.)
Either way, it was a fun project to do. And who knows, perhaps someday I will pass this skill on to the girls. I firmly believe my central role as a grandparent is to love and support my granddaughters. Any additional skills I can pass along will be an additional bonus. If my husband can pass along some basic woodworking skills and I can pass along a craft or two, it will be time well spent for all of us.
Looking at this old house reminds me of a farmhouse I looked at recently while searching for a home to purchase. The house I visited was built in 1843. I am guessing it was one of the first wave of “nice” houses people built after they were ready for something better than the log cabins they quickly constructed when they first settled in the area. Whoever built the farm house clearly intended it to last, which it did.
Given its 175-year-history, I can only imagine the changes that house saw. What stories it could tell, if the walls could talk! It saw more people come to the area and build a village nearby. It saw soldiers marching bravely off to the Civil War, and the altered survivors limping home. It saw soldiers marching off to other wars. It saw people dancing through the prosperity of the Roaring 20’s. It saw other boom times and busts.
Ironically, it did not see much change to its own walls. When the house was built, people generally did not heat the upstairs of farmhouses – and that was never changed. There were no heat registers in the upstairs when I walked through the house. However, this simple farmhouse was built with closets in the bedrooms, which would not have been common when it was built. Even more surprising is that the original closets are still there – including the hooks to hang up the few clothes the family would have had. Unfortunately, the closets are too small to inside to retrofit for the hangers we use today.
While the structure did not change much, this house still saw many other changes within its walls. The children who first ran down the back stairs to the kitchen each morning grew up, and most of them moved away. Babies were born here, and some of them probably died here. Birthdays and weddings were celebrated. Deaths were mourned. The house could track the seasons by the never-ending farm work being discussed around the kitchen table each day.
Through everything, the house sheltered its occupants within its walls. It kept them dry and warm. While it could not do anything to stop hard times when they came, it continued to protect its people the best it could. Though the house I toured was not the right house for me, I hope new owners will respect its proud history and help the house stand strong for another 175 years. I am sure the house has many more stories it would like to tell, if its walls could talk.
Happy 2019, everyone. Turning over the calendar to a new year tends to make me feel reflective. Now that the holiday hoopla has settled, and I have recovered my from first New Year’s Eve in an urban setting (more on that later), I have been thinking about my goals for this upcoming year.
I jotted down a list of goals earlier today. When I stepped back and looked at it, I realized most of them were related to my writing career. (I also had the obligatory ones to exercise more and lose that stubborn ten pounds, but since I have those goals every year, I’m not sure they count anymore.) The goals which resonated the most for me all could be loosely grouped into one category: getting more serious about my writing. Our interstate move last fall derailed me for much longer than I anticipated, and it is past time to resume a regular writing routine.
So, not surprisingly, re-establishing the routine of writing for several hours each morning was one of the goals on the list. Another key goal was to get back to a serious hunt for an agent. I have done this in fits and starts over the years, but I haven’t looked to any degree for months because I was wanted to first finish a new story to submit. It’s time. Another goal I should add to the list is to review and refresh my social media strategy. Again, it’s time.
All of this should keep me busy in the coming months. I better get some good sleep each night!
Which leads me back to my funny story about New Year’s Eve. Let me remind you, before this year I always lived in the country. While old neighbors would occasionally get a little noisy celebrating holidays, they were usually far enough away that I didn’t really notice with the windows closed. So imagine my shock this past New Year’s Eve when I was woken up shortly after midnight (no, I didn’t even try to stay up) by the rat-a-tat-tat of what I thought was sustained gunfire! It sounded as though there was a old Western gunfight occurring just down the street! Luckily, after a few seconds of panic , I remembered it was New Year’s Eve. Someone in the dense cluster of houses on our street apparently rang in the new year with firecrackers. What a relief to figure that out!
I hope your New Year’s Eve was fun and maybe even exciting, but with no unexpected noises to startle you. And I hope 2019 will be good to you. Do you, like me, get reflective with a fresh year ahead of us? What are your wishes and dreams and goals for the coming year?
I write historical romances, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.