Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year, All Year

New Year, All Year

As Old Year draw closed, gifts displayed and art's posed,
T'is time for dear life's heart's reflection;
Let no quest go unwrought, Be as friend and let not
Your soul strive unfaithful defection.

Some friends be unconstant, but be thee undaunted.
Be true and full of heart.
Give though unrewarded, Thy resolution be awarded
By light's true work of art.

So as others tow their souls, bereft of charity's bowl,
and wander aimlessly through the night;
With each act of aid, and warm action laid,
Thy floating soul be their guiding light.

S.L. Bartlett
copyright 2010

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Fictioneers: Annie's Distain



Come up with a story, 100 words, more or less, based on the above picture

Annie’s Distain

I gazed at the pitiful thing for a few seconds. “Brroew.” What is this horror that disturbs my sensibilities?

The female human, my servant, gazed at the tree, admiring it. “Pretty tree, Annie?”

I looked up at her with my ears perked, my green eyes glaring. “Brrr.” A dog would pass on that branch as a toilet. “Rmeoowww.” It is not even fit for climbing.

The human female looked down, concerned about my emphatic complaints. “Are you hungry, kitty?”

I stalked off in distain. This was not a tree. Trees were for hiding in the branches, waiting for imaginary squirrels resembling shiny decorations to shimmy and quiver as I stalked them. This was a disgrace!

“Meeeoowwwwrrrrrrr.”Congratulations! You have completely destroyed Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Colonial Christmas Traditions: Part III

Hartwell Tavern
Unlike today, Colonial Americans (and even north in Quebec which, at that time, was basically all of Canada), had to rely on what they could gather from the bush and hunting, gathering wild berries, what the ships brought in as spices and fruit, and what they could garden. Venison, quail and wild bird, and rabbit were only some of the meat that was hunted even by the most prosperous of land and plantation owners.
Wild quail

Cooking, needless to say, was also primitive compared to what we are used to. Pots were often made of iron lead (and we know what lead poisoning was), and often meals were shared from a communal plate. Prosperous families could afford eating utensils, but modest families ate with hands or wooden spoons. Meat was generally broken apart by fingers and eaten. Bread was dipped in sauces & gravies, melted butter, or eaten unadorned.

Here are few more rustic, old recipes all dating from pre-Revolutionary or Revolutionary War society, and I focused on foods prevalent in 1775-76 Virginia. Enjoy!

HAUNCH OF VENISON ROASTED
12 pounds roast
Salt, pepper and flour dredge
4 cups flour
2 cups water  
1 tablespoon currant jelly.
Wipe meat carefully with wet cloth and cover with a large sheet of buttered paper.
Make a thick paste of flour and water, roll our 3/4 inch thick and lay over the fat side of the haunch.
Cover with three or four sheets of white paper and tie Securely with cord
Put in dripping pan and roast and do not .forget to baste often to prevent paper and string from burning.
A twelve pound haunch will take 3 hours to roast.
Half an hour before it is done remove from the oven cut strings, take off paste, and paper;
Dredge with flour, salt, and pepper
return to oven and roast to fine brown color
Serve with a brown sauce to which a tbs. currant jelly is added


1776 MOLASSES DOUGHNUTS
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour milk      
1 egg
1 tsp. Soda
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 cups flour or just enough to handle easily
Fry in hot fat (380). Turn once.
Makes about 2 dozen donuts.


MUSTER GINGERBREAD
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. Soda
1/2 cup shortening (chicken fat preferred)
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg beaten
l tsp. Ginger
1 cup molasses
1 tsp. Cinnamon
3 cups sifted pastry flour
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup boiling water
1/4 tsp cloves
Heat oven with control set for moderate oven ~ 350 degrees.
Butter and flour two pans 10x7 or 8" square if thicker loaf is desired.
Mix and sift flour, soda, salt and spices.
Cream shortening and sugar
add molasses and beaten egg.
Stir in dry ingredients.
Slowly add boiling water.
Turn into prepared pans.
Bake until it comes away from the sides of the pan, requires about 25-30 minutes.
It should be slightly and evenly rounded over the top, never cracked open.

PROVIDENCE CAKE
1 cup butter                  
3 eggs
2 cups sugar            
½ pint milk
3 cups flour              
1 pint raisins
½ tsp each nutmeg, cloves, orange rind
Heat oven to 325-350 degrees.
Butter loaf pan, probably 8"x4"x4".
Sift flour, salt, and spices along with soda, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
Add in beaten eggs and beat well.
Add flour, to which raisins have been added-just a little at a time, beating well after each addition.
When all the flour has been added, beat the entire batter until smooth and velvety.
Turn into prepared pan and bake 60 to 75 minutes

SYLLABUB (Soft custard pudding)
Syllabub is also classified as a rich eggnog type of drink to which brandy may be added, and often served with tea cakes
4 egg yolks                
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon flour  
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar    
1 pint whipped cream
Brandy or wine
Mix half sugar with flour
Bring milk to boil and add sugar and flour.
Cook in double boiler 10 minutes.
Beat egg yolks, add in other half sugar, and finally add this to milk mixture, stirring slowly.
Cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Remove from fire and add vanilla.
Let mixture cool.
When serving fill a tumbler half full of this custard

Thursday, December 8, 2011

'Twas a Redneck Night Before Christmas..."

It's at this time of year, now my children are grown, that my memories go back to the fun, chaotic times of Christmas’s past, when my children were quite impressionable.

By “impressionable”, of course I mean "easy to fool".

It was one year when my youngest were six and seven years old and asking questions. It showed me that they were beginning to doubt the existence of Santa Clause. Being one that loved to play head games with my kids, I was greatly troubled by not being able to think of an imaginative way to prevent this suspension of belief. I made the mistake of mentioning it to my husband in the presence of my oldest boy, Adam, who was thirteen at the time.

Now in a family such as my husband's, each boy eventually went through a "manly" right of passage. So when Adam suggested he climb up on the roof with my wreath that had loud bells, my husband enthusiastically embraced it as his oldest son's initiation into manhood.

As a mother, I was horrified at the idea of my son, my darling boy, climbing about on top of my house during a blizzard with high winds. I told him, "No! Absolutely not! Are you both crazy, sending a boy up there?"

Needless to say, during the worse storm I've seen so far that year, there was my teenage son getting prepared for the "Great Xmas Little Kid Fool" Mission. I was protesting strenuously, while my husband was snickering on the couch. The younger kids were already bathed and in their room, supposed to be sleeping. Of course, sounds of jumping and crashing were coming from their shared room, and I shuddered to think how it would look in the morning. It was Xmas Eve; any thoughts of sleep were far from their minds. It was a good thing that, as an established "Mother from Hell", I had impressed on them the importance of staying in their room when it's bedtime on pain of death, or at the very least, severe bodily harm.

Adam left out the back patio door and proceeded to climb up the tree, where its broad branches would allow passage to the roof of our 1-1/2 storey farmhouse, the wreath with Xmas bells clutched firmly in his gloved hand. I stood nervously by the back door, listening carefully for any sounds that would alert me to the instant death of my beloved oldest son, all the time murmuring, (loud enough for my husband to hear), "This is the stupidest idea you guys have come up with yet!"

"Relax, woman. The boy will be fine. You worry too much." My husband, lovingly known as “Himself”, now disavowing any responsibility, relaxed and watched TV, oblivious to any danger his son faced with this doubtful quest on this snowy night.

As I listened to all the outside noises with anxiety, I heard my son scramble onto the roof and crunching his way over the peak to the front end of the house. This was where my younger sons’ bedroom window was located. I followed the line of noises with my eyes on the ceiling, as if I could see his progress. Finally, the crunching stopped. Then I heard the bells ringing vigorously and a falsetto tenor howling out a hearty "Ho, Ho, Ho..." from the roof.

All destructive sounds ceased from my younger son's room. Then I heard Ryan, my No. #2 son, whisper loudly enough for me to hear, "What was that?"

I could almost see them both staring with wide eyes, listening again for the sound.

Then it came again, but this time with a distinctive difference. "Ho, Ho...HooooooCRAP!", and a suspicious sliding sound. I rushed into the room to see the boys staring fascinated out the window at a boot that was waving outside the window, swinging wildly on the other side of the pane and threatening to kick out the glass. The bells on the wreath were ringing frantically.

With horror, I realized that Adam was slipping off the roof!

Ryan turned to me with wide, brown eyes and whispered in awe, "I think Santa is falling." Chris, being the enthusiastic horror movie fan he watched with his father when I wasn't home, (definitely against my wishes), started to giggle.

"Santa's falling, Santa's gonna die," his stiff little arms wrapped around himself and rocking back and forth with glee. I was too horror stuck to reprimand him for his callousness. Instead, Ryan whipped his head around to him and snapped, "You know if Santa dies, you don't get any presents!" It was only then that Chris' greedy little mind grasped the consequences. "Oh yeah," he whispered, all delight gone at Santa's dilemma.

The boot was still weaving outside the window and scraping the siding off the house, and I knew my son was frantically trying to find a foothold.

I finally snapped out of my frozen horror and raced out of the room, skidded on the floor as I turned by the living room door and scrambled to the back door, quickly pulling on my boots. "What's up?" asked Himself in that irritatingly calm manner.

Trying to shock him out of his apathy, I snapped, "SANTA is falling off the roof."

"Santa's getting clumsy in his old age," was my dear, loving husband's only retort, smirking and returning his attention to the TV. Occasionally he glanced with curiosity out the front window, in case a body went flying by to amuse him.

Just as I was reaching for my jacket, not bothering to take the time to lace my boots, Himself decided to ease my distress, since that took less effort than rescuing his eldest son. "You realize, don't you, that there is six feet of snow on that side of the house. I'm sure 'Santa' will have a soft landing, eh?"

I considered and I had to admit I hadn’t thought of that. It did calm me a little. However, I also considered the possibility of smothering in that six feet of soft snow, so I continued to dress, though what exactly I was going to do I had no idea. After all, I wasn’t young anymore; climbing trees went by way of my 35th birthday. Just then, I heard Adam scramble over the peak and slide down the drainpipe as a shortcut route off the top of the house.

I heard later from Adam that he had managed to grab a foothold with his other foot on the evestrough, to stop from falling off the roof. Looking a few days later, there was a distinctive V-shape where his boot had bent it.

I gave a large sigh of relief as I noticed he wasn't dragging any broken limbs. He had even managed to maintain a grip on my favorite wreath. He stowed it quickly by the back door, out of sight, as the boys rushed through the living room and out to the kitchen, completely forgetting my rule about leaving their room in their excitement.

"Adam, Adam…you should have seen it! Santa was up on the roof, and he almost fell off, and we saw his boot, and we heard the reindeer rush to his rescue..." Ryan was babbling in excitement and expanding on the facts a little.

"Really? Santa, eh? Sounds kinda stupid to me," Adam said as he removed his coat, shaking it free of snow all over my clean kitchen floor and leaving puddles everywhere. "I don't believe in Santa. It was probably just a big bird." He winked at me, ignoring the glare I was giving him regarding the mess he was making everywhere. He tossed his coat on the floor despite the closet being a whole foot away, just so it would leak more snow on my floor.

"Birds don't wear bells, do they?" said Chris with scorn, always the sarcastic voice of reason.

"Bells? You heard bells?" Adam looked suitably impressed.

"Yes, there were bells, and hoof sounds from the reindeer, and ....and...everything!" That's Ryan; so eloquent.

Ryan continued to babble to Adam as my oldest headed for the stairs to his room, Chris toddling after with his particular sideways crab walk, a result of a broken leg and FOP that fused while it healed. Adam showed unusual patience towards his brothers, smiling indulgently at them as they recounted the whole episode to him. “Himself” merely smirked, the proverbial Christmas Grinch.

After the boys had recounted the whole adventure for the second time, Adam's patience, always thin when it came to his younger brothers and wanting to get back to his music, told them, "Well, I don't believe in Santa, so I think you're just making this all up."

"Tell him, Mom...tell him!" Ryan and Chris both looked at me appealingly. They both looked at Adam's retreating back as he headed up to his room.

Chris looked at me gravely after Adam had closed his door. He commented, "Adam's not going to get any presents this year!" Ryan nodded his head in sad agreement as I hustled them back to their beds.

This was the year that my boys, with their divergent personalities that too often caused conflict between them, all played a part in the elements that made this the perfect Christmas Eve, despite my moments of terror. My oldest, Adam, who had a mischievous sense of humour and would go to great lengths to pull off the perfect joke; Ryan, my No. 2 son, who is still impressionable but will be the happiest of my sons, because of his bright view of the world; and finally Chris, my handicapped son who has a sophisticated, intelligent sense of cynicism, but hides it well with all but his own family.

They still talk about that magical Christmas Eve, especially now that they're all grown up and have realized that as brothers, they have to stick together and be kinder to one another. You see, they know now that Santa isn't real, but they are also certain that their older brother's love for them, even though he was too often at odds with them previously, was so strong that he risked life and limb to keep the Christmas magic alive for them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Colonial Christmas Traditions: Part II

Good bread and good drink, a good fire in the hall
Brawn, pudding and souse, and good mustard withall:
Beef, mutton and pork, shred pies of the best:
Pig, veal, goose and capon and turkey well drest:
Cheese, apples and nuts, jolly carols to hear,
As then in the country is counted good cheer.”
Thomas Tusser (c. 1520-1580)

“Christmas is come, hang on the pot,
Let spits turn round, and ovens be hot;
Beef, pork, and poultry, now provide
To feast thy neighbors at this tide; 
Then wash all down with good wine and beer, 
And so with mirth conclude the Year.”
Virginia Almanac (Royle) 1765

These two poems were written far apart in years and distance, but it shows that many of the traditions you enjoy today were brought over by your former country-ruling patrons, the English. Many of these traditions in revelry, manners, dress and society kept true for about 200 years, especially in Virginia. Even despite the conflict that erupted in 1775 could not erase these memories of “home”, the mother land, England, with dancing and feasting the central part of the holidays.

Captain John Smith, whose life was saved by the young girl who loved him, Pocahontas (though she ended up marrying John Rolfe of Virginia), wrote in 1609 that he kept “Christmas amongst the Savages: where wee were never more merrie, nor fedde on more plentie of good oysters, fish, flesh, wild fowle, and good bread, nor better fires in England then in the drie warme smokie houses of Kecoughtan.” (Kecoughtan is now part of Hampton, by the way.)

Seventy years later, in December of 1680, twenty-one visitors entered William Fitzhugh’s home. A Frenchman was among them, who later wrote, “There was good wine and all kinds of beverages, so there was a great deal of carousing.” Fitzhugh provided for entertainment “three fiddlers, a jester, a tight-rope walker, and an acrobat who tumbled around.”

Here are two recipes you can try out this season, if you’re feeling adventurous. First, in the spirit of Captain John Smith who spent the winter with the native American people, I give you a recipe for wild rice that I have used myself. Wild rice was considered “a great gift” for the aboriginal people and it was treasured for its versatility, taste and nutritional value.

WILD RICE DRESSING
1½ c. Wild Rice
½ lb. cornbread, day old & cubed
1 c. Onions, (wild onions or chives if you want to be strict about tradition) chopped
1 c. root vegetables like lily roots and wild carrots, chopped, (or regular carrots and add celery)
½ c. animal fat (or butter if that grosses you out), melted
1½ c. partridge or wild turkey stock (or chicken), hot
½ tsp. Salt
½ tsp. wild Sage (Or domestic if you can’t find it

1. Prepare wild rice according to package directions.
2. Sauté root vegetables until tender in animal fat or butter.
3. Combine  with cooked wild rice and cornbread cubes.
4. Toss lightly with melted butter, seasonings and stock to moisten ingredients well.
5. Bake in uncovered pan at 350º F for 1 hour.
6. Use as a stuffing in pork chops, acorn squash or partridge bird (I have used cornish hens, not able to "hunt down" any partridge).

And here is a traditional drink carried over by those Colonialists who actually celebrated the holidays and to this day is still enjoyed by many, This is an ancient recipe dating from 12th Century England.


COLONIAL HOT CIDER PUNCH, AKA "WASSAIL"
1 Gallon heated apple cider
1/2 ounce brandy
1/2 ounce rum flavoring OR (even better) 1/2 quart light rum
3 sticks cinnamon
3 to 6 whole oranges
small bag of whole cloves
Simmer mixture with 3 sticks whole cinnamon to melt--DO NOT COOK.
Allow to cool, pour into punch bowl.
Separately stick whole cloves around entire surface of 3 to 6 whole oranges.
Place oranges into baking pan with 1/2 inch of water, and bake at 350°  for 45 minutes.
Place oranges into punch bowl
Serves 40
Serve with pound cake, nut cake, or cheese and crackers.

Enjoy!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Colonial Christmas Traditions: Part 1

“At Christmas play and make cheer
For Christmas comes but once a year”


Well, the tree is up, though in my opinion it’s much too early. However, my youngest son is home for a month from his assisted living facility, and he wanted the tree up and helped me decorate. When my children beg, it works wonders on this “Mother from Hell”; boosts the ego, you know.

I’m also starting the baking. Now when it comes to baking, I should have been living in the Colonial America times, I suppose. I hate store bought items, and try to use what we gardened or gathered as much as possible. We use the apples we “borrowed” from our next door neighbor for pies, along with saskatoons and blueberries we gathered from the bush, and our vegetables from the garden for Christmas dinner. We even get our turkey from a friend who has a farm (whom we graciously and generously allow to kill and clean the thing, too, before bringing it home). One year, when I was sick but still had the family coming for Xmas, I had the unmitigated gall to use store bought pie crust! Oh, the shame of it, according to my sons. It was ten years ago, and my oldest still asks me “Is it YOUR pie?” Of course, being the smart ass I am, I quip back “If I bought it, you bet it’s mine!” Then I have to listen to a tirade of how awful store bought crust is, blah, blah, blah. I finally inform him that yes indeed, I did make the pie, and the crust, and yes the blueberries are wild, etc. just to shut him up. I will never live down that one year that I tried to cop out.

When I think of how we celebrate Christmas here in Canada, which is basically the same as in the United States with a few slight differences, I go back to how they celebrated the holidays back in pre-Revolutionary America, and even for a short time after the war ended. In the process of researching for our novel, which is set in spring and summer of 1775 when hostilities broke out between colonialists and Crown, I found a few very interesting facts about how Christmas was celebrated, or more accurately, how it wasn’t.

In fact, many colonial celebrations were banned, including Christmas, claiming it was a pagan tradition based on Old English religions. In New England, the Puritans passed a law, particularily in Massachusetts, that punished anyone who observed the holiday, and the Quakers merely ignored it. The other denominations just went to church services, and that was the extent of their celebrations.  It was the Roman Catholics and Anglicans, mostly in the southern areas of America who started the observance of Twelfth Day, which started on December 25 and usually ended January 6, which was much different from our celebrations today. The traditions slowly migrated north through the late 1600’s and early 1700’s and it was a perfect excuse for the adults, with the children having very little to do with it, spent attending balls and parties and any other festivals that were an excuse to escape the harsh weather in the northern most climate of America. The children were relegated to the home fires in the care of elder siblings or servants.  There was no Christmas magic for them.

Some of the traditions we have today originated with the colonialists. Holly, laurel, and garland because of the availability of the materials, and that they look good during the winter, providing greenery in the dull of the short winter days. Mistletoe was also hung, according to the pagan belief of couples courting and spooning underneath it. In that, the Puritans had it right.

The wealthier plantations were decorated elaborately and large feasts were readied for everyone, even the slaves. The food was also similar in many ways, including ham, turkey or roasts, along with root vegetables which kept well all winter, and honey, nuts and apples were used to sweeten the pastries. It was a source of pride to put on as expansive a feast as money would allow, for that was how each plantation’s hospitality and prestige was measured.

Of course, Christmas trees was not part of a colonial Christmas, since it was a Germanic tradition that did not come to popularity until Queen Victoria adapted it from her German husband, Albert brought it from his homeland. Soon, all of England and most of Canada adapted the tree as part of their Christmas, which then quickly came to America in the late 1800’s. However, Christmas carols were sung and were mostly religious in word. “Joy to the World” was extremely popular in America, based on many historical records and letters found during this time. Gift giving was also traditional for those who celebrated, but not as we give them today. Instead, gifts were given to “dependants”, which means servants, apprentices and slaves, and in prosperous households, the children. It does seem the children were often afterthoughts, doesn’t it? And the “dependants” never gave gifts in return, nor was it an elaborate procedure. They would only receive one special gift and they were treasured and valued much more than they are today.

As more and more immigrants came to America, their traditions were often adopted and integrated into their own household celebrations.

The research I’ve done has inspired my interest in Colonial Christmas holiday traditions, and I’ll be writing more here as I draft more articles. I am especially interested in recipes and food traditions, so I’ll be elaborating more on those in the days leading up to our modern Christmas date. Stay tuned, especially if you’re interested in celebrating or adopting at least one or two of your ancestors Christmas traditions. Do you have any traditions that hark back to your heritage?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Did You Think the Pilgrims are Responsible for American Thanksgiving?

Americans generally think that the Pilgrims are responsible for Thanksgiving Day. Truth is , while Thanksgiving was (as written previously in this blog) a celebration shared by many countries, and for various reasons, two hundred years after the Pilgrims landed, Thanksgiving was generally forgotten, just another day of canning and preparing for the long, hard winter, especially in the northern most areas of Revolutionary America.
It took a woman, Sarah Hale, the poetess who gave us that famous child’s poem “Mary had a Little Lamb” to bring Thanksgiving back to the forefront of American tradition; Sarah and thirty eight years of lobbying with her mighty pen, starting in 1825.

Sarah was born in Newport, New Hampshire in 1788, only a few years after Britain surrendered its colonies to the fledging leaders, and grew up listening to her father’s tales of the Revolutionary War where he was wounded and disabled as a Captain. These tales were to make a deep impression on Sarah later, and was responsible for her commitment to National Unity.

Her parents were progressive thinkers, believing that education was important for both men and women, and to start that education at a young age. Sarah was home schooled, as most young people were then, along with her older brother who eventually went to Dartmouth. She became a schoolteacher, met her husband David Hale and married in 1813. They had five children in nine years, and when her husband died in 1822, Sarah wore black for the rest of her life, out of respect for him.

But this was only the beginning of the story that is Sarah Hale, widow and single mother of five.

Left with no husband and no income, Sarah began to write. She soon published a book of poems, and her book, “A New England Tale in London” was ground breaking, being the first American voice to speak out against slavery publicly. It was soon discovered by Reverend John Blake who, at the time, had started a new journal called “Ladies Magazine”. He immediately asked her to pack up her children and move to Boston to become his editor, another first for progressive thinkers of the time. Editing, and even writing such studious material, was thought of as a man’s profession, and certainly not one for a young mother of five children. Hale accepted, since it served to advocate her main goal, the education of women that was often ignored. Female education was just not looked upon as important. Even prosperous families refused to spend money to send their girls to school resulting in most women being semi- or fully illiterate. Sarah wanted to change that, saying “…woman’s first Right is to Education in its widest sense, to such Education as will give her the full Development of all her Personal, Mental, and Moral qualities.” It was in 1830 that Sarah published the poem that children around the world first learned as young children, originally titled “Mary’s Lamb”, based on an incident she had witnessed as a teacher years ago, and which, of course, later became known as “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.

When “Ladies Magazine” was bought out and the assets and personnel combined with “Godey’s Lady’s Book”, Sarah was absorbed with them. Again, she was kept as editor, and she stayed there for forty more years in that position, eventually becoming one of the most “influential people concerning women’s rights and tastes” in America.

In addition to women’s educational rights, in her capacity as editor, she was able to also lobby for employment for women, Unions, and various preservation projects including Mt. Vernon, the home of George Washington. She was also co-founder of Vassar College.

But all of this paled in comparison for her initial goal in life, and one that was the hardest won. From early on in her life, she strove to make Thanksgiving a National observance. Individual states had various dates that they observed this feast, if they observed it at all. Very few Americans, in fact, even remembered the event two hundred years previously that sparked it. Sarah Hale wanted it to become a holiday that unified a country.

Thus, the campaign of a National Day of observance was a lifelong endeavor for her. From day one of her career, she wrote letters and editorial articles, pushing for this goal. When that failed, she went right to the top; the Presidential offices.

Consistently, and with each new President, the answer was an emphatic “No!” From Taylor, to Fillmore, to Pierce, to Buchanan, all the same answers. They just didn’t feel it was important enough to consider passing any bill for a National Holiday of Thanksgiving. It was barely even remembered.

Until the Civil War broke out. Even the states that sporadically celebrated a minor version of it stopped celebrating. So far, Sarah had been working on the campaign for more than thirty-five years. Then Abraham Lincoln was elected, hostilities broke out, and Sarah saw this holiday as more important than ever, though it also looked more hopeless than ever, with brother fighting brother and a nation torn in two. How on earth can one forgotten event in a far distant past be the unifying element for a country?

Once again, Sarah, despite all the odds, wrote her usual letter to the new president elect, but this time the answer, unbelievingly, was an emphatic “Yes!” Apparently, it was her second to last line in the letter that influenced Lincoln; “A Holiday would not stop the War, but it could help bring the Country together.”

It still took time, but finally in 1863, Lincoln passed the Bill that made Thanksgiving a national holiday, and one consistent day that the whole country would observe in November. Not only that, but Sarah and Lincoln together brought back the Harvest Feast celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621, the original event behind it. True, a lot of modern variations exist nowadays, being added as time went on, but the initial idea still holds strong, brought back to remembrance by a very rare woman, and a progressive thinking President in the midst of chaos and conflict.

You can thank Sarah Hale for this American National Holiday of Thanksgiving; a persistent widow woman and single mother who did not even have the right to vote, and prolific writer of more than 50 volumes of work by the time she retired at age eighty-nine years.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Canadian Cocked Hammer that Triggered the American Revolution

Many Americans, quite rightly, consider the cause of the Revolution in America to be “Taxation without Representation”, and the often repressive legal policies of the Crown in England. However, and perhaps forgotten, is the fact that Americans in the early 1770’s enjoyed the lowest taxes of any of the English colonies, even counting the English subjects in Britain itself. It was the example of the Highlander Rebellions in Scotland, who faced far more severe problems with England, that got the illustrious leaders of this fledging nation to think of freedom from the yoke of English control.

But it was the Quebec Act, that greatly expanded the limits of that province, including all of Labrador to the east all the way west to the junction of Ohio and the Mississippi, that inflamed the American colonial settlers, prosperous land owners and farmers in America. Oh yes, the Boston Tea Party is fondly remembered as the signal for the colonists to rebel and take the day’s philosophical, rebellious writings to heart. It is only natural that a new nation would view this event, even in its day considered by most of the Colonial rebels as an act of useless vandalism committed by jokers in Indian costumes, later as a heroic act for the history books that triggered the later actions that resulted in ultimate victory. Even us Canadians ignore the fact that our Confederation came about by brawling, drunken Scotsmen intent on stopping the Northern Civil War Generals from invading our southern territories destined for annexation into the United States. We were just lucky that a half soused John A. MacDonald and his co-horts appealed to Queen Victoria who was still under the heady influence of her radical, idealistic husband, Albert and a council still stinging under recently losing many of its colonies. As a result of all these unlikely elements, Canada became the first nation in the world to still enjoy the comfort of being under the Commonwealth and Britain's protection, but still have the right to self-government, a radically new and experimental idea. But of course, in writing Canadian history, these rather embarrassing facts are often ignored.

The Quebec Act was in direct contradiction to the recently rejected bill in America to expand westward. The British found it expedient, especially after the intense French Indian Wars twenty years earlier as well as the lucrative fur trade, that prompted the act. The fur trade was a boon for the Crown, and they wanted to keep it and expand, with the help of the Quebec, Metis and the Indian trappers who were threatening to join the Rebels in America. So the Americans were naturally angry, thinking “Why do the French Canadiens get more land to roam and settle, who are natural enemies of the English, and not us?” The reasoning, of course was that this whole great sweep of British imperial territory could be more securely dealt with from a renewed and expanded Quebec base. It would now include inland country where French/Indian ties still clearly mattered, brought about by the strong bond of the French-Indian wars. Also, the fur trade would not endanger Indian land rights, so important with the natives threatening to join the Americans in their fight for Independence. In fact, the Colonists were counting on the Indians joining in the fight, ignoring the fact that their desire to spread west into Indian territory completely defeated any desire the natives may have had to join them. It came as a complete shock to the rebel armies that the Indians, at the last moment, decided on joining the English, based on the promises of land restrictions to the settlers. The British had also realized that American colonial desires to settle on native lands might only let loose new frontier bloodshed, and were determined errant settlers would be routed out immediately if any broke the law, which many were already doing, and established homesteads where they weren’t supposed to be.

The Act of 1774 became the trigger, the last, very large straw in a series of "Intolerable Acts" that led to armed rebellion against Britain. The colonists saw the West they had fought for but then been kept from occupying, now brazenly transferred to the keeping of Quebec, a French and Catholic province sitting north of them and still under "despotic" rule.

It was, indeed, this very policy that triggers my hero in the romance novel to help in the struggle and the repelling of British forces at Lexington and Concord, the initial outbreak of the war. Initially he had been reluctant to join in the fight, fearing reprisal from the Crown. I wanted Colton Rolfe to have real, concrete reasons to risk everything he held dear, instead of philosophical, idealistic reasons that many associate with so-called heroes. Colton is anything but idealistic. It was the hunger to expand his plantation lands, resting on the eastern most borders of Crown land designated as Indian land that prompted his reluctant participation. He had the attitude widely shared by most of the Thirteen Colonies, self-interested they may have been, who looked upon the Americas as naturally destined to them through their hard work and sheer will power of the last hundred and fifty years of extensive settlement, which in their view Britain had no part in. Bitter emotions and events now surged to open war in 1775, as it did for Colton and his neighbours, between rebel patriots and the colonial supporters of Imperial English Authority. It took a year before the leading rebel leaders of America issued its resounding Declaration of Independence, but then it took that long to become organized..

Canadian and American history have continually been intertwined before and since, though seldom with more telling effect than the cocked hammer of the Quebec Act and the resulting American Revolution.

Stay tuned for more interesting background about our thoughtful romance novel, “No Gentlemen is He”, as well as fascinating, perhaps little known facts of the link between the American Revolution and the sometimes unwitting role Canada played in it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Canada Was a Part of the American Revolution?

Now that my co-author and I are editing our novel, “No Gentleman is He”, based in Revolutionary America in the spring and summer of 1775, I thought I would give a few details about this exciting time in history.

You must be asking why this Canuck would deign to write about American history? In this case, perhaps we are more qualified than you may suspect. Also my co-author, Carley Bauer, is American and fascinated with this time in history.

Unbeknownst to a lot of Americans, Canada was a pivotal player in the proceedings. Both the British and the Patriot rebels were vying for Canadian support to their respective causes. The Patriots were also hoping that the disenchanted French Canadians would bring the Iroquois Indians with them to fight the occupying British forces with the backing of France. Earlier on in the 1600’s, Canada was primarily a French holding, and it was only later, in the early 1700’s, that the British invaded Canada and took over Crown management of this vast, rich land, disenfranchising many French occupants. France was a predominately Catholic nation, and had set about converting the native peoples and the European settlers to French political and religious control. Now that the Protestant English had taken over from the French government, many French inhabitants were bitter and afraid about their religious freedom. The American Patriots had every reason to hope that their rebel forces would increase with the promise of northern help and French funds.

With the impending release of our breakout romance novel, I will be adding little known and interesting details about the American Revolution over the next few weeks, many of which are probably not in your better known history books. This novel, while a romance, will also include historical accuracy for those discerning history buffs that enjoy their romance mixed with thoughtful, well researched facts. You should also know that this novel is the just the first in a series of American Revolutionary romances, all featuring fictional characters who have an active role in the Patriot cause for American independence.

I also want to introduce our main players. First of all is Cassandra Courtney Brooks, the beautiful and fair-haired daughter of an affluent English landowner, who ran away from England to America with the estate’s stable hand, Seth Brooks, to avoid a distasteful, arranged marriage to an elderly aristocrat. A year later, Cassandra found herself a widow, with the tatters of a dream and four beautiful horses, the start of a stable of exceptional Standardbred horses, destined to the breed of choice in America within a very short time. She was near desperate, and facing the loss of her late husband’s dream which she was determined to carry on.

Enter Colton Rolfe, descendant of the famous John Rolfe who was married to Pocahontas and started one of the first Virginia tobacco farms in America. Through a quirk of genetic nature, his distant ancestry showed up in swarthy skin, shiny black hair and flashing dark eyes, resulting in bigotry from neighboring plantation owners, with the exception of one childhood friend. Even his own father had rejected Colton, leaving a very lonely boy and later, a bitter man who had inherited the plantation and started his own breeding program for the beautiful Standardbred horses. When he meets Cassandra Brooks, he is immediately greedy for the four horses she possesses, and offers her a job as steward to his estate, against all social protocols of having a woman work in an exclusively male profession. He has full expectations that when Cassandra find the job too much for her, that will sell her horses to him and leave. But the desire to get his hands on her horses soon pales to the desire to possess their owner. Even the storm of war brewing, and Colton’s involvement in it cannot take Cassandra Brooks from his mind and his dreams, the power of his passion frightening both him and her with its intensity. It doesn’t help that Colton Rolfe already had a reputation of savagery, the destruction of one local woman’s reputation, and even murder. How could a refined, pampered and impoverished Cassandra from a loyalist family possibly overlook Colton’s past, even if this enigmatic man haunted her dreams, aroused unfamiliar sensuality and threatened her very existence?

I hope you stay tuned for more plot teasers, and interesting facts about the beginning of a new nation and how it tied into an equally colorful Canadian history.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Parent's Revenge: The How-To for Evil

At the end of the day, have you ever dreamed of horrible retribution towards your darling, loving, cute, sweet children? Before you put your hand over your mouth in shock and look at me as if I just transformed into a hideous monster, relax! We’ve all felt it, we’ve all thought about it, and we have all yearned for it. Just once, you want to see that look of terror you always wear when your teenager walks out the door to “go hang out”.

I’ll let you in on a little secret; Halloween is not merely an ancient pagan practice to celebrate the night the dead wander. It’s also becomes the night you can get your yearly dose of well-earned revenge for all the stomach-churning stunts they have pulled on you simply by being kids.

It has been a few years, but being as this is Halloween, I thought I'd share how I got mine a few years ago! Do you want to know how I did it? (insert evil, cackling laughter)

Okay, first of all, I recommend you wait until they are at least thirteen years old before you attempt this. I was able to hold off until they were fourteen, but it was hard, let me tell you. However, I needed that time to recruit a couple of partners in crime.

I suggested the boys put on a Halloween party, and I would host it. Now, you would think they would be suspicious right then, knowing me so well. But no, their bright, innocent eyes lit up at the thought of junk food, movies, and boisterous fun. The boys immediately started calling friends who already had rings coming out of every orifice in their bodies, and telling them they were having a “goth” party and to dress appropriately, all black with black kohl-rimmed eyes, blood red lips, the whole shebang. I asked, “But this is supposed to be a costume party, isn’t it?” They failed to see the sarcasm.

As those two huddled in the oldest boy room planning totally inappropriate activities for the night, I made my own phone calls. I simply said, “It’s on,” and then hung up to deep laughter coming from the other end of the line. Little did my little darlings know what was in store.

On that fateful night, everything was in place. I set up the mood as soon as they walked into our rural yard. The old, discarded mannequin I had found in a garbage dumpster in back of a city department store, hanging from a tree by its neck. There was a stuffed mask of a dead man lying on a tree stump that we used for a chopping block for firewood, complete with red theatre blood and axe, its blade imbedded deep right by the throat. I had also hidden an ancient cassette player in a tree with pre-recorded cackling laughter noises (which I do naturally, so it wasn’t a stretch when I made it) playing to set the mood. I watched them walk up the drive to the house. It was hard, suppressing my mirth as they stopped dead and then giggled nervously, walking to the back door with caution.

The mood was set. It was time to turn up the heat a little.

As they settled in and sat around, scoffing down the packaged chips, drinking the canned pop and ignoring my carefully prepared homemade food that even hinted at being healthy, I looked out the window to see two large, shadowy figures slink out of the neighbour’s house to the farmer’s field behind my house. I suppressed the smile and turned to announce, “There is a scavenger hunt scheduled in the farmer's field in back, so finish up your food and I’ll explain how it works.”

My youngest was excited as he told everyone, “Yeah, and Mom has great prizes for the winners.” Little did my dearest know that the prizes were simply camouflage; it was a lure. But it worked, teenagers being the greedy little creatures that they are.

I led my unsuspecting victims to the dark field rimmed in bush consisting of spruce trees and popular, forbidding in the dark. I made sure I took them down the pathway closest to the woods as I handed out the slips of paper leading them to further clues. Every once a while creepy sounds emanated from those trees, and glimpses of white could be seen slipping between the spaces of the bare branches.

I noticed the kids were becoming increasingly nervous, to the point of forgetting they hated adults within feet of them and started to huddle close to me.

Screams erupted from all around me as a white-faced man, with one arm gone and dripping blood suddenly broke from the woods and ran right across our path, followed quickly by the startling sound of a chainsaw coming from the forest wall, and then a crazed, heavily jacketed man with a white hockey mask ran after the first one, yelling angrily and brandishing the chainsaw. Two girls and all of the boys turned and fled, running as fast as they could back to the house, but one girl just stood beside me, frozen and whimpering, “I have to pee, I have to pee.”

I hurried the girl back to the house behind the others and she immediately went into the bathroom as the other huddled on the couches. “Was it real, Mom, was it real?” I was so tempted to lead them on, but I reluctantly told them it was part of the fake scavenger hunt. As they all settled down and I put on a movie, (of course, it had to be a Freddy Kruger movie), the next part of the plot was put in motion. Before slipping out of the house, I noticed the boys had happy grins with the girls arm-clinging and head-shoulder-resting to comfort themselves.

I placed the mask inspired by the “Scream” movie on my face and waited. I could just hear the progress of the movie through the window in the livingroom. Thank Heaven it was a warm night. Just at the right moment, I threw myself against the window, the mask plastered against the window in the spare shine of the porch lamp. More shrill cries of horror filled me with joy. The same girl ran to the bathroom again. I couldn’t help think as I wandered back into the house that her mother really should look into that girl’s loose bladder problem.

The kids turned off the movie early, insisting it was old, they had seen it, they knew how it ended, all the excuses that, by mutual silent consent they would all believe, and went down to the basement to the sleeping bags scattered on the floor. I had no worries about anything happening; they were all too scared to be thinking of romance, anyway. They were too busy checking each nook and cranny down there, making sure there were no more surprises waiting for them. Besides, they knew I would be lurking closely.  

My husband came in the back door as I poured the tea, traces of white face paint still clinging to his jaw where he had missed washing it off and his miraculously re-generated arm in the bloody sleeve. We settled on the couch and decided to watch TV and relax. After a few minutes, he asked, “So, how did it go?”

A sweet, content smile crossed my lips as I raised my teacup. “Quite gratifying. I see you and Dave managed to get the chainsaw working.”

“Yep. It turned out good, eh?” he grinned.

“Mmmm…” I hummed as I sipped my well-earned, honey-sweetened tea and watched as a lioness crept across the TV screen, teaching her young how to hunt.

“Next year, it’s my turn to watch the fun,” he informed me.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Explaining Canadian Thanksgiving

"O hushed October morning mild, 
Begin the hours of this day slow 
Make the day seem to us less brief." 
Robert Frost

Ah, I love three day weekends! Only bad thing is, I get stuck doing all the cooking. I’m such a sucker for ingratiating flattery like “No one makes dinners like you do”. Aside from the fact it’s probably true, they just don’t want to cook.

Not only is it Thanksgiving in Canada, but I also found out that it’s Columbus Day in the States. Who knew? So, no matter what side of the border you are on, this is bound to be a great weekend.

All I know is nothing touches my table that is not fresh gathered from our garden in the spirit of the harvest, and everyone contributes a little bit of anything that they grew or picked through the season and I cook it. Our turkey is free range and we get it from a friendly local farm family just down the road from us, the apples picked from the trees and the wild cranberries gathered from the bush in August and frozen, then cooked into sauce. We even fresh bake multi-grained breads, some plain and some savory.

For our American cousins who seem perplexed to find out other countries have Thanksgiving celebrations, here is a little history that may not be so surprising if you know anything about us Canucks. The origin of our Thanksgiving is much more diverse since Canada was primarily settled by English and French settlers, and thus two separate traditions were born. The French who settled in Quebec also had a great feast to give thanks called "The Order of Good Cheer" and gladly shared their food with their Indian neighbours, the Mi’kmaqs, even seating their chief at the head of the table. It was often the native peoples who provided the geese, venison, caribou and moose which were the main meat dishes served. In this case, I freely admit the French were probably smarter than us English.

It may, however, surprise you to learn that Canadian Thanksgiving is more closely connected with European traditions than they are to our neighbours on the other side of the 49th parallel. In fact, celebrations and festivals of thanks for a successful harvest have been going on for centuries and usually in the month of October. The first one in North America was when Martin Frobisher, an English explorer looking for the north-west passage (he was later knighted and had an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him; Frobisher Bay), wanted to celebrate his safe arrival to the New World in 1578. In fact, this shows that the first Thanksgiving was held 43 years before the pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts. However, it is generally reported that this celebration was held in Newfoundland, which came a surprise to me. First-hand accounts from those who sailed with Frobisher mentioned three actual voyages in 1576, 1577 and 1578, and nowhere was there mention of him landing in Newfoundland. Some of the ships were damaged or sunk by large ice floes before they reached their destination, while others were forced to turn back. George Best, a sailor with Frobisher, mentions sailing from England to Greenland and from there to locations in the Far North. State papers later report that the ship did drop anchor offshore in “A Newfound Land”. They also use the name Labrador, which is part of today’s province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Referencing the Canadian Encyclopedia, it mentions the Eastern Arctic as the location, not Newfoundland. On the other hand, the on-line version of the Encyclopedia Britannica claims the first Thanksgiving in North America was celebrated at Newfoundland. I suppose it’s up the reader who they want to believe; personally, I’ll go with the firsthand accounts of the sailors and our own reference material. But the date and the people involved are not in dispute.

It certainly is an enigma, isn’t it? Canadian history is often contrary and encompassed in mystery. There is much more to this, but why bore you even more than I have already?

And one more note which seems to be a point of confusion; it is held in October because it’s logical, since we follow the ancient Harvest Festivals; our growing season is shorter and in sooner in the Great White North. Our Southern counterparts, the Americans, have a longer growing season and also celebrate Thanksgiving for a different reason; the pilgrims first year of survival at Plymouth, MA.

To be fair, we did inherit our pumpkin pie (which I excel at making, by the way) and the turkey from Americans, during the American Revolutionary War. Some were British loyalists who escaped up to Canada, bringing these traditions with them and which we happily adopted. For a few years after that, we made it a national holiday in early November or late October until 1931 when Thanksgiving and Armistice Day was separated (we celebrated them together), and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day (November 11th). Then on January 31, 1957, it was declared by Parliament that the second Monday in October would from herein be "a Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the Bountiful harvest with which Canada has been Blessed."

Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated with foods fresh from the harvest, friends and family being central to the festivities. Many may not be aware of how we come to celebrate this occasion, but the day is meant to be thankful for every little thing that we are lucky to have, the bountiful harvest that this land yields, and the incredible freedom from strife that many of us take for granted.

If you are curious about a different culture, here is how you can experience a Canadian Thanksgiving:

Attend the religious services of your choice. Thanksgiving in Canada is, amongst other things, a semi-religious festival celebrating a bountiful harvest. It is similar to the Harvest Festivals held at many churches throughout Great Britain. It also has similarities to the Jewish Sukkot harvest celebration.

Go for a hike outdoors, or you could alternately go for a weekend camping trip. The three-day weekend that marks Canadian Thanksgiving is often seen as the last chance to get outdoors and enjoy the glorious fall weather before winter sets in. We have often done this, along with great fishing and less crowds. Have lots of firewood; you're going to need it!

Have a Canadian movie marathon. You can rent contemporary Canadian movies like "The Triplets of Belleville" or "Dragon Boys", old classics like "Rose Marie" with Jeanette MacDonald and singing Mountie Nelson Eddy, a new classic like "Gunless" (hilarious, by the way) and “Canadian Bacon”; TV shows like "Due South", re-runs of SCTV (especially Bob and Doug MacKenzie in “The Great White North”), or even cartoons like "Rocky and Bullwinkle”. It may even give you a bit of insight into our self-depreciating humour. And don't forget the onion rings and poutine (recipe available upon request).

Decorate the house with fresh flowers in autumn colors like reds, oranges and yellows.

Prepare a Canadian Thanksgiving feast. This may include traditional dishes well-known in the US. You can be sure to cook fresh cranberries into a sauce spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and pumpkin pie. You can also include some regional touches such as the French-Canadian meat pie called tortiere, or maple-apple crisp (again, recipe available upon request).

Watch a Canadian Football League (CFL) game on TV. In Canada, the games played on Thanksgiving Day are the only games played on a Monday apart from the Labour Day Classic.

To one and all...HAPPY THANKSGIVING!


Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Goodness...An Award

Receiving an award, no matter how modest, is always flattering and gives a person the drive to keep doing what they're doing, and to try to improve.


I want to thank Sue Anne Bowling at Homecoming for noticing this modest blog of a beginner. I'm giggling like a schoolgirl who got her first gold star, even as I struggle to figure out how to do links and such for this post. I invite you to go see her entertaining and informative blog.


As per the rules of receiving this award, I now have to list five things about me that not many people know (not sure if I can do this since I'm an open book to anyone who knows me, but I'll try), and to award five other blogs that I admire.


So, first the list:
1.  When I'm writing, I'm a slob. I mean, "dishes stacked on counter, dust bunnies breeding, piles of laundry piled on every chair" kinda slob. When I take a day off, I go nuts and clean like a maniac, only to see the mess slowly build over the days I'm obsessed.
2.  I kill houseplants. I'm merciless and insidious in my assassination, too. I do very well with gardens, especially with vegetable gardens, but houseplants are doomed as soon as they enter my doorway.
3.  I'm a baker; I love to try new recipes, and I've wasted a lot of money on really complicated ones, trying to get it right. I eventually will prevail after some false starts, and lately mine and my husbands favorite desert is Butter Pecan bundt cake with Butternut frosting. I'm sure that will change as soon as I conquer another recipe.
4.  I'm stubborn...as soon as someone says I can't do something, I'll do everything to prove them wrong. It has led me to downfalls and heartbreak on more than one occasion, but more often has led to the realization that I was capable of more than I thought. I have found I'm strong, despite myself sometimes.
5. And last but not least, I'm the "Mother from Hell" and damn proud of that title. In these days of trying to be your kid's best friend, I have never had that desire nor did I try. My kids have many best friends who often got them into trouble or fed them false information; they only have one mother, and I was going to raise them with guilt just as my mother did to me. Take my word for it...it works! They also provided me with endless fodder for my humour writing, much to their chagrin.


And now...ta da! The time has come to award this to five other blogs that I have come to admire, and visit frequently even if, on some, I rarely comment on them.


1. Blog of a Vet's Wife Nancy MacMillan writes about the problems of living with a soldier suffering from PTSD, and how it affects the people around them, even to affecting their loved ones with symptoms of their own. She is also busy marketing her book that addresses this problem.


2. Catherine Lanser's Cooking by the Box is a site I visit but have not commented on (me bad!). She writes about her adventures in cooking, and has a subtle humour in some of her articles that is endearing as well as informative. It makes me feel better when I try new recipes and sometimes don't get it right the first time, but always they turn out fragrant and enjoyable regardless. I love cooking blogs.


3. Catharsis; Not the Average Mommy Blog by Laura is hilarious. It strikes a cord with me because it's about raising boys, and that is so close to my own life as a Mom, having raised three of my own. Anything that combines laughter and kids makes me a fan. I love her irreverent humour and her views on child-rearing. If you need a good laugh when your own kids are driving you nuts, read her blog; I can guarantee you'll feel better.


4. Now here, I might be breaking the rules, but I'm going to award one to a blog that doesn't belong to "SheWrites" but should, since I think once you see it, you will count this one as a treasure. I normally don't read many parenting blogs, since my own kids are grown. But this one is well written with a gifted writer, though she may not know it, and it's a heartwarming blog of a normal American family who have had their share of misfortune and adventure and come out of them stronger as a family. I heartily recommend it. Alicia's Blog: Our LIttle B Words And I'd like to add, she's a gifted illustrator; the art on the site is hers. 


5. I would be remiss if I didn't award my online best friend, Carley Bauer, and her blog From Carley's Laptop, who is also new to blogging. She is still trying to find her niche, but her blogs (admittedly few in number) are well written and thoughtful, and like me, I'm hoping she finds this an encouragement to keep going since I really enjoy her voice. She's a lover of politics, and there are few enough women in this area of life. It's time we heard more from women on the issues that affect Americans (Yes, even me, a Canadian). She is set to private (why, I don't know, but perhaps you can ask her) but I think she should open it up since I haven't personally found anything offensive, and her subjects are ones we should all view and contemplate. 


Well, that's it. I hope you all visit these blogs. They are widely varied, as are my interests, and all worth at least a view. And recipients...remember you must list five things about yourself, and pass this award to five blogs you admire. And congratulations...you all deserve recognition.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Pet Peeve I Refuse to Pet

There are a few things that annoy me to no end. Now, I’m normally a disgustingly happy, perky person, except in the morning before my first two coffee, or when my grown children ask for money, and especially when the dog pees on my floor right after coming in from outside. But I digress…needless to say I’m not easily annoyed.

OK, people who know me; I see the smirk.

My number one pet peeve is the endless analysis of classical literature. All through my school years of the late sixties and early seventies (and yes, I’m aware I just dated myself), our English Lit teachers insisted on tearing apart wonderful literature by authors who truly knew how to write, trying to find hidden meanings and allegories behind the words, or even to psychologically analyze the authors.

Take one of my favorite authors, Samuel Clements, better known as Mark Twain. A humourist by inclination but writer and journalist by profession, he was a truly great storyteller. A frequent fantasy of mine is to be at one of his parlour gatherings, dressed in a charming gown, drinking wine and giggling while he extorts on some political or human societal subject of irony, He couldn’t resist telling stories at the least provocation just as a singer couldn’t help impulsively breaking out in song when they heard the first few bars of a favorite song. I know; I have that same weakness that I suspect most writers have.

Now to the point of this rant; my English Lit teacher in high school insisted that we write an essay about what or who Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer represented; his fear of homelessness, his anxiety about poverty and failure, or perhaps a childhood experience of abandonment?

Huh?

I’m sure many of you will excuse my ignorance when, as a teenager, as I sat and looked about me in a daze at my classmates. I noticed many were looking thoughtful or already picking up their pens and eagerly scribbling their profound thoughts.

Heck, I thought this book was about two boys with overactive imaginations and far too much time on their hands for their own good. Now, at the time I first read this book, I thought it was rather overdone, and that no two boys could possibly get into that much trouble. Recently, I re-read the book after having three grown boys of my own, and from personal experience I’ve changed my mind on that issue. I gave birth to my own neighbourhood terrorists, and I can testify they were perfectly capable of getting into the same trouble that Huck and Tom got into. In fact, I will venture to say that compared to my boys, Huck and Finn were bordering on angels who made minor miscalculations.

And so I wrote my essay, as required, but took the position that Twain was a storyteller, and he told the story of two boys, that they were perhaps modeled after boys he knew in his youth or even after himself as a boy. It was a story; a very enjoyable story, and the boys, the raft, Jim, all of it was nothing more than main subjects or props to the story. There were no hidden meanings, no allegories, nothing but a story that a writer wanted to write to entertain his readers. Nothing more.

Needless to say I flunked. I got a “D” with a notation on the sideline that I lacked imagination and foresight, and that the teacher recommends to my mother that I read more. It didn’t matter that my mother was already worried about my voracious reading habits, sometimes forgoing social dates with my friends to bury my head in a book instead. I was heartened to find my mother agreed with me. The problem was, the mark stayed on my school records, but I stubbornly refused to re-write the essay despite the promise of an improved mark if I only stuck with the program and tore apart this wonderful piece of literature.

I shudder to think that, if I’m ever successful enough to have my books read in a hundred years or more, they will be analyzed to the point that some arrogant English professor will conclude that I suffered from schizophrenic depression complicated by a fear of dust bunnies and was a secret ecstasy pill user that saw her dog as her God. Worse yet, the spongy minds of the young students will actually swallow that garbage.

Perhaps there are some writers who deliberately write allegories, and perhaps some writers have hidden meanings in their prose; however, for the most part, I’m sure I can be forgiven if I simply read a well written piece of literature and take it on face value; a damn good story to be enjoyed and discussed. I also hope others read my novels and see them as they were intended; ideas that haunted me to the point that I simply had to write them down and share with others who love to hear a good story.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reasoning with Aliens

 I recently went for coffee with a younger friend who had teenagers, and it was with a sense of déjà vous that I listened to her rants about the trials she was suffering. It hadn’t been that long ago that I too suffered what she was going through, the poor soul. It was all I could do not to snicker. Instead, and completely against character, I pasted on a sympathetic face.

We all go through it, and it starts early. You say it when they are six years old. You say it when your older friends went through it with their kids. And you say it when you witness the rolling eyes, the derogatory comments other teens fling at their parents and the stomping off into the cavernous holes they call their rooms where, I suspect, they sacrifice goats or other sundry farm animals. But you are loudest when they tell you, “Just wait! It will happen to you.”

“It will never happen to me. My boys and I understand each other,” I replied confidently.

Nope.

All those years, they have been setting you up for this moment. They know you have become vulnerable and complacent. It is a plot, a scheme, waiting to implement just when your life looks like it’s going smooth as fine-sanded wood. Slowly, insidiously, they start to mutate into swellheaded, selfish, gum-snapping, droopy trousered, argumentative creatures from another world. It’s subtle at first and you hardly notice anything, especially if you are a self-absorbed freelance writer. But slowly, the “Duh”s and the “No, Mom, you don’t understand” and eyeballs reaching for the sky are slowly sinking into your preoccupied brain. Then, the smugness emerges.

That is the ugliest part of this whole transformation. They have realized you are not the all-knowing, omniscient, God-like persona by whom they have been raised. Now you are the moronic, antiquated, attitudinal dictator who is totally clueless on what it takes to survive. If there really was a Jekyll and Hyde person, I’m sure he used teenage hormones as the main ingredient for his formula.

As a writer who had written her share of human interest essays and some psychological pieces, I was confident I could overcome this horrible disease my children had contracted. I researched, I conversed with them patiently and discerningly on the subjects that I knew concerned their undeveloped sense of self. I tried to show them that clothes, money and learning to drive are not the essentials to life.

That’s when I got the first sneer directed at me. They wiped it off as quick as they could, since I still have the frightening reputation as “The Mother from Hell”, but it was there, unmistakable and overt.

I was wretched. And to make it worse, my older friends nodded knowingly and exchanged sage looks.
You know deep down that these alien beings, that have replaced your beloved offspring, have been injected with a permanent dose of attitude and there is no antidote. All your suggestions, patient explanations and adamant curfews are greeted with apathy.

So, I tried to buy an attitude adjustment. Yes, I indulged in blatant bribery. I took my beloved boys on a shopping trip.

As we wandered the aisles, I picked up a pair of jeans. You know the ones. They are blue, have two tubes for legs, pockets in the back, belt loops and a fly and snap closure.

“These are nice, aren’t they?” I asked with confidence.

Rolling eyes.

“What’s wrong with them?” I asked.

“They’re geeky,” he replied, looking at some by his arm, hanging on a rack and were a horror of red dragons embroidered with skulls and death scenes running down the leg.

I quickly steered them to another aisle. When I turned around, they were out of sight. I found them in the skateboard section of teen fashions, the one with chains and satanic phrases on clothing that suggested to my angels where normal, law abiding people could go.

I cajoled them to the shirt section and held up a black, velvety soft suede-like garment and held it up to my second son’s chest as my eyes filled with love. How handsome he would look in this. “Do you like it?” I asked, foolishly.

“Uh,” he grunted and shrugged. Somewhere between the jeans and the shirt section, he had turned into a monosyllabic caveman. I could have sworn he could speak complete sentences only five minutes ago.

Strangely enough, the malady seemed to be viral, since my younger son, who adored his warped older brother, suddenly lost all ability to communicate as well.

We left with jeans that had chains but no devil worship symbols and a t-shirt with no obscenities but a slightly derogatory message on it. I had won a hard-earned compromise.

I had learned my lesson. No one is immune to this transformation of their children. When I met with my best friend a few days after this attempt at connecting with an alien species, a friend who had a child the same age as my oldest, I informed her, “I took the boys shopping and guess what we ended up with?”

She stared at me sympathetically and answered, “Nothing humans would wear.”

I nodded and slurped my coffee. She understood.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Battle of Wits: Unorganized Writer vs Vengeful Domestic Gods

I do not require an alarm because the damn magpies outside of my bedroom window regularly wake me. I was experiencing a dream in which various friend’s floating heads discussed what was going wrong with my life, novel, etc. I was trying to appreciate their input but wished they would go away, since I was perched in my underwear on top of my washing machine in my back yard and my house was missing. It was rather important to find said house, since I had to get dressed and fly to Oprah’s agent to sign a book contract.

I often wonder why anxiety dreams so frequently involve washing machines and underwear, but cannot come up with an answer before my morning intake of caffeine.

As a writer, I survive on coffee and background TV noise, so first things first. Upon waking and stumbling blindly downstairs, I turn on the TV to waste electricity and sit on my comfortable desk chair to turn on the computer just before I get the coffee going.

Immediately, the chair dies, dramatically and with loud splintering noises, my pyjama-clad body sprawled in a very unromantic pose, my fuzzy slipper feet pointing straight up. I don’t think it was me, though my “secretary’s spread” ass probably didn’t help.  But the chair was also supporting the weight of loads of unfolded laundry from yesterday.

I can immediately surmise that the Domestic Gods are upset with me, probably due to dishes littering my counters, dust everywhere and the unmitigated cruelty of un-watered and dying plants on the window sill. I gaze briefly at the pile of garbage that used to be my comfortable perch, and then sigh and head to the kitchen to get the second half of my daily requirement prepared…caffeine, more accurately called “Life Juice”.

I retrieve an ancient, dirty plastic lawn chair from the shed, plodding through three feet of un-mowed lawn jungle and getting clothes-lined by our man-eating ivy. I trip over the dog chain on the way back, precariously buried unseen in said jungle debris, enter the house and stomp flimsy slippers free of dirt and brown grass in my kitchen. Then I carefully prop the chair in front of my computer desk. I sit while the coffee machine burps and gurgles contentedly in the background, only to discover the lawn chair is several inches lower than my deceased chair. I add various cushions and pillows, turn to fetch the coffee and then glance back to discover the cat has spontaneously materialized on my chair, lured by the presence of cushions. After I get a coffee, overloaded with sugar and whitener, I remove the irritated cat and perch awkwardly on the chair. Then I proceed to stare moronically at the monitor screen.

As I suppress the desire to e-mail my editor and beg for reports of the progress of my latest submission, I remind myself I must not be a pain in the bum. The aforementioned editor has promised to keep me informed of any eventualities. But I sure wish some eventuality would… eventuate.

I rerun the last sentence in my latest article and I realize I am morphing into an unqualified politician, complete with statements that have no basis in fact but merely biased opinion. I guess I shouldn’t have watched Rick Mercer and W5 both last night. I will soon lose the capacity to answer a straight question or form a comprehensible, serious thought on paper, ever, except if I’m involved in wild shenanigans that frankly I have none to admit to. Sigh. I never leave the house to create any. Would life would be easier, or at least sexier, if I was a politician? But then I would only be running with three votes in the entire universe, my mother and two of three of my sons, and no seat to sit in.

I can’t help but wonder if the Domestic Gods are really that petty, or whether the continuous breakage of various household items is possibly pointing out the lack of consideration on basic motherly and wifely duties while I’m immersed in my journalistic world. Or maybe it’s the tendency to spend money on books, charity shop clothing and bath oils meant to inspire musing brilliance instead of on essential items of domestic equipment like food and laundry soap.

I know I should be concentrating on my current novel, but I have temporarily lost all enthusiasm for it. My central character is morphing into a whining, moody cow, far too closely based on myself at age fifteen. I’m still a bit whiny, but now it’s just mid-life crisis stuff.

I get up briefly to feed the cat and dog (the husband feeds himself, since he has fingers and hands), watch a fly hop in a distressed way across the hot coffee carafe, then return to the computer after that indulgence in avoidance. I manage to type out two lines of incomprehensible drivel in a state of semi-consciousness, and then decide I need more coffee. I return and nudge the cat off my keyboard, the result of which is strange letters and numbers on my script. Stupid animal.

I decide to cheer myself up by sneaking off for brief fling with a political-noir novel I am collaborating on with my alter ego, me but with more class in my fantasy world. At least it’s writing. It also requires a re-reading of Tom Clancy in order to achieve an appropriate dark, politico conspiracy tone. I dig out an ancient copy of “Hunt for Red October” and immerse myself. I wake up several chapters later, slouch behind the desk, pin a cynical sneer to my lip and pour metaphorical Canadian acid on the manuscript.

I wonder if this counts as “doing something useful”. I can only hope the Domestic Gods are appeased. I decide I should perhaps turn on the dusty, long un-used stove and actually cook gruel for my starving, long suffering husband, just to be on the safe side.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What's in a Name?

I have gotten a few inquiries about the name of my blog, “Romancing the Thrill Quill”.

I put some thought into it before starting it. A name, in my opinion, should reflect the aura of what you will be writing about, or what your genre is in your novels. In my case it is the simple thrill of writing after putting it off for years to raise my family. Now they are grown, I can indulge in the secret passion I have always had for the craft; the romantic meeting of pen and mind, if you will.

However, there is more to it. I have been a freelance writer for almost ten years, and now that I’m writing my break out novels, I wanted to focus on two genres that interest me; romance and thrillers.

First of all, the romance book, working title of “No Gentleman is He” is co-authored by me under the pen name of Lynette Willows, and Carley Bauer, a gifted and passionate writer of romance, after years of interactive writing with her. This book will be our premiere romance novel set in the American Revolutionary War of 1775-76, with two more book outlines already planned out in the series.

Back cover description so far (badly in need of editing): “Colton Rolfe is great grandson of John Rolfe who settled Virginia with the first tobacco plantation after marrying Pocahontas.  Born appearing dark and Indian, rejection by a racist father and scorn by other plantation owners has made Colt a bitter, temperamental man rumored to have his ancestor’s savage blood. When he meets the beautiful Cassandra Courtney Brooks, a recent widow, during the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in 1775, he hires the woman as plantation steward against all societal rules. Little does Colton know that Cassandra is the runaway daughter of an aristocratic and titled English merchant, the very class of noblemen responsible for the high taxation and Colonialist hostility. From the first, these two stubborn people butt heads, but in a very short time, conflict turns to passion, each denying their love for each other. Living in the same household, it eventually has to come to a head, especially when Colton is accused of murdering an innocent young girl. Cassandra is forced to wonder, is the dark and dangerous Colton Rolfe capable of such a horrible crime as most of the people believe he is?”

My political thriller is my lone authorship project, and one that has haunted me for years. The working title is “Red’s Hunt”, and the front cover blip goes something like this: “A minor story assignment by her editor to ambitious journalist Rowenna (Red) Stewart turns into a crisis of international importance, drawing a suicidal RCMP officer into the web. Could a Manifest Destiny conspiracy, engineered by a rogue faction in the White House, finally turn Canada into a territory of the United States of America?”

I have to admit, it’s taken a long time to write the political thriller. It doesn’t help that this genre is almost exclusively the arena for male writers, few females having delved into these masculine waters, let alone a Canadian woman! I’ve had to do plenty of research, and that takes time. Through this research, I’ve learned that the Americans had tried to annex Canada into the USA on several occasions in our history including during the Civil War and our Confederation. In fact, Canada has a far more exciting history than even the United States, but few know of it. Did you know we had at least two civil wars of our own? I wanted to use these exciting aspects to set up a series of modern political conspiracy novels starring Red Stewart, with "Red's Hunt" being the first.

I hope this answers the question of why I named my blog “Romancing the Thrill Quill”. Wish me luck!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Lesson in Rambling

Hello, all, especially visitors from my friendly She Writes neighbours! (Yes, as you noticed, I used the *gasp* Canadian spelling of that word, in case it shows up at a spelling error.) For everyone wondering what happened the last couple of weeks with no entry here, let me just say I got out of surgery, it's very unromantic, and leave it at that. I'm back.

I just figured I would put in a quick blog entry to welcome everyone new here from the Blogging Ball. A little about me; I'm a voracious reader and writer. I'll write about just about anything, which accounts for my poor kids embarrassment. I have frequently used them as the subjects of my articles, and I suspect they are seriously considering changing their names. I also never see much as tragic; in fact it only becomes fodder for my writing. As you will notice, if you browse through my entries here, that I tend to be a tad sarcastic. I rarely use satire against people. Rather, I prefer to fight against the fates by using sarcasm since they seem to see fit to be so with me. Everything that happens usually strikes me as ironic or downright funny.

Take this blog entry; I'm going to enter this by simply rambling like an idiot. It's a writing exercise I do when I'm striking a blank trying to come up with something to write. I will not edit this, nor proofread it. Yes, I will go back later and wince and cringe and probably regret everything, but somewhere in here, something will strike me as a great subject to write about later on. It's a great exercise to do, by the way, when you also hit a blank. Just sit down and type for five straight minutes without thinking much about it, then go back and read it. Through the all the drivel, ramblings and rantings, I bet you find something that will hit you as funny, sad, epiphany-type thing that will prompt you to write something more in detail, perhaps coming out as a major article. I have often done this when at a loss for a column assignment, etc. There is no such thing as a writer's block when you have this skill. I usually like to try it after staring blankly at my blinking monitor, it sitting there  tapping its computer foot in impatience, as if to say. "C'mon, c'mon, I'm waiting...I have better things to do than sit here staring at your stupid face all day." Very intimidating, by the way, those staring, blinking computer monitors. I need at least two coffees in the morning before facing it, or I'll end up doing a gross violence against it.

Anyway, now I'm done rambling, I'll post this, leave it for a bit, then come back and do all my cringing at how I could possibly post this hack crap on a public blog...but...here goes.

Oh, and have a great week, everyone!

Welcome to the SheWrites Blogger Ball!