Thursday, October 28, 2021

Halloween...A Time for Romance?! - by Jo-Ann Roberts

Up until I did research for a Halloween scene in an upcoming book, I never knew that the perennial holiday wasn't always so scary. In fact, it was once less about fright and more about flirtation and romance. Romance?!  How did I live all these years without knowing this?

More than one hundred fifty years ago, rituals and superstitions about Halloween celebrations emphasized love. Newspaper reports from states and territories in the mid-19th and early 20th century recommended parlor games and traditions that promised to reveal romantic fortunes, with many offering a peek at what the future held.

According to Daniel Gifford, a former Smithsonian National Museum History director,

 "Halloween in the early 20th century had far less emphasis on blood, gore, and scary monsters, and much more emphasis on courtship, romance, and the opportunity for love. In fact, the image of Cupid was often interspersed among the more familiar black cats, witches, and jack-o-lanterns."

Games of Love

As in modern times, apples played an important role in many Halloween romantic traditions. One game, Snap Apple, challenged guests to use only their teeth to bite an apple suspended from the ceiling by a string. The first to succeed would be the first to marry. But modern Americans may be more familiar with a similar activity...bobbing for apples!

Oddly, cabbages also figured in the world of Halloween romance. A news story from Ironton, Montana in 1888 noted, "just what occult power a cabbage possesses is not known. Yet, it is found that these innocuous cruciferous plants have a rough time of it at Halloween". The article went on to describe a Halloween pastime where a young woman would pull up a cabbage. If copious amounts of earth came up with the roots, she took it as a sign that she would be married to a wealthy man with a year!


Accounts of a Halloween ball, gatherings with cards and dancing, or a "candy" pull in which party guests competed to grab apples or candy suspended from the ceiling with their teeth would show who would have a successful year. A Los Angeles newspaper printed an account of mirror gazing, burning of chestnuts, and carrying the candle. Most of these activities involved young women attempting to divine their future husbands or arranged marriages.

Another old custom called for cutting a long strip of apple skin and tossing it over one's shoulder. The shape of the peel was said to resemble the first initial of a suitor.

In 1905, at a party in New York's East Side Settlement House, young women blew out lines of candles, with the idea that the flames that remained lit signified the number of years she'd remain "unhitched".


Another party game involved a young woman throwing a ball of yarn out the window, watching it unroll while repeating the Lord's Prayer, at which she would then be rewarded by the sight of her future husband.

An article featured in a Philadelphia newspaper called for a participant to walk backward in bright moonlight while staring into a hand mirror and reciting a chant. If done correctly, the face of his or her future spouse would materialize in the mirror. 

Another game involved burying a ring, a dime, and a thimble in mashed potatoes. The food was then served to guests at a party. The guest who received the ring would marry in the near future; the one who received a thimble would remain a spinster or bachelor; and the guest who got the dime would reap riches and fame. 

Nut Crack Night

By far, the most common Halloween premonition involved nuts or chestnuts. In the Arizona Territory, young women were encouraged to build a "ghost fire" to find out who they were destined to wed. Chestnuts thrown into the fire would pop, and the girl's whose chestnut popped first would see her future husband's face rise up from the flames. A variation on this custom stated that a man and a woman would place two nuts in the stove. If the man's jumped or cracked, he would prove fickle, but if the two nuts "cuddled up to each and burned brightly", the couple would marry and live happily ever after.

Another superstition featured a walnut tree. According to a 1914 article in the Evening Public Ledger in Philadelphia, the rules were rather clear. On a moonlit Halloween night, circle the tree three times while chanting "Let him that is to be my true love bring me some walnuts."  Following the chant, the participant would see his or her future spouse picking walnuts in the tree.  

Though romantic, these Halloween customs began to fade and lose their appeal to the public by the 1920s.

Women, the traditional party hosts and targets of such games, were becoming more confident in their roles both in society, at work, and at home. About the same time, a figure emerged in popular lore: the powerful witch. And unlike commercial depictions, she was alluring.

As Mr. Gifford noted:

"The beautiful witch possessed power and beauty...she could use both to make her own decisions about...the future of her love life."

Like the strong heroines we create, and the women of today, the witch needed no fortune-telling skills; she would create her own destiny.


Marrying the Major

October 31st Release Date

The War Between the States has ended…but for Kit and Will their battle had just begun.

As the daughter of a prominent judge and well-bred mother whose roots could be traced back to before the War of Independence, Katherine Lambert had been the belle of Adams Mill. Her upbringing her schooling and her privileged world had revolved around the latest fashions, picnics, parties, and a host of beaus and friends.

She was expected to raise children; not her voice.

Until she defied her family and the Rebel cause by doing the unthinkable...falling in love with a Union cavalry officer.

The moment the very elegant very beautiful Katherine Lambert turned around to look at U.S. Major William Chandler was the moment she marched off with his heart. Though he always planned to carve out his own destiny, to marry and raise a family, he never expected love to find him in a small Southern town

Encountering opposition at every turn, he remains undaunted, determined to court and marry Kit and see who took serious objection.

They'd hoped their love would mend and heal the wounds of a splintered family, but someone else had other ideas.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Were Cooks More Instinctual in the Past?


For the story I finished this week, Ginger Cake by Glynna, I showed my character in the kitchen a lot--after all, she owns a bakery in 1876 Astoria, Oregon. She’s also the third generation in the family to run it, so the business has been around a while. One facet of cooking and baking that we in our current time take for granted is standard utensils for measuring.

From reading cookbooks of the era, I knew teacups and thimbles were listed in recipes. But think of teacups you’ve seen or might have in your cupboard. They are not a standard size. My paternal grandmother cooked by feel and sight. She always used the same mixing bowl and had been making certain recipes long enough that she just knew what the right amount of flour was supposed to look like in the bottom of that bowl. One time I asked to be taught to make her from-scratch egg noodles. She talked me through scooping out enough flour, using a big spoon, and measuring the salt in the palm of my hand. But after I broke the eggs into the bowl and was ready to add the water, I was nudged aside because she said the amount of water varied and it was based on the feel of the dough while mixing. Needless to say, I did not learn to make Grandma Mary’s noodles. In later years, when I attempted a recipe from a cookbook, they didn’t taste the same.

image from wikimedia

But I did learn that utensils used as a standard for measured ingredients weren’t “invented” until 1896 by Fannie Farmer. As director of The Boston Cook School and author of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, she saw a standardized measure for dry ingredients as an essential tool in the kitchen.  She is credited with inventing measuring cups and spoons.  (Although interesting this fact didn’t help me in my 1876 story)  A standard measurement for liquid was even more distant from my setting because Pyrex wasn’t invented until 1910. My solution came from another field altogether.:)

image from wikimedia

My conclusion is that all those 19th-century women cooking meals and baking bread in sodhouses or on farms, ranches, or in city row houses had a good instinct for the ratio between dry and wet ingredients to produce the desired dish. I also think a lot of experimentation went on. So go pull out the drawer that holds your measuring implements and take a moment to appreciate Miss Fannie Farmer and what she devised that makes preparing our meals easier.

BLURB for Ginger Cake by Glynna, book 7, Old Timey Holiday Kitchen releases 10/25/21

Baker Glynna Shaughnessy wants to bolster sales for her struggling bakery almost as much as she wants to revive her drab personal life. A baking competition in commemoration of the city’s incorporation offers a chance at making the shop’s name known…until she’s accused of cheating. According to the competition’s sponsor—a roguish man who sets her heart aflutter—Glynna can only remain a contestant if she invents a brand-new recipe…something she’s never done before.

Hotel manager Ritter Anton has six months to boost patronage at his grandfather’s Anton Grand Hotel. He accomplished success with the family’s Cheyenne hotel and he’ll succeed here then move to the next. The baking contest he invented sparks controversy with the entry of a baker who others claim has an unfair advantage. Ready to reject her, he can’t say no when the auburn-haired beauty pleads her case. How will he remain neutral as a judge when all he can think about is Glynna?

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Wednesday, October 20, 2021




Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

So you may wonder why I chose ‘Some Thoughts on History’ as the subject of this post. Quite simply, I’m constantly in awe of what I find as I research and write. What history has to share with those who look is priceless. 

Perhaps the thoughts of thinkers, who also have their own ideas on the subject, might be of interest to you. While we may not always agree on interpretation, to know history is to know ourselves.

9-10-2011 end of season trip 136
Photo property of the author

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” Winston S. Churchill

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ” Michael Crichton

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” George Orwell

“History, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an atmosphere of imaginary brightness.” James Fenimore Cooper 

“Study the past if you would define the future.” Confucius

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” Carl Sagan

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?” Marcus Tullius Circero

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”  Rudyard Kipling

“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” Winston S Churchill

“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”  Elie Wiesel

2-19-2013 023

Some quotes are funny, some thoughtful. and others controversial. All are important, for history is who we are, and to delve into that well of knowledge is something that is precious to ourselves and those who will follow after. 


I used history as a backdrop for my novel "The Outlaw's Letter". Below is an excerpt.

"Well young lady, if you'll take it easy, and do as I and Maudie say, I think you're going to make a full recovery.” Then turning to Maude he added, “At this point, I don't see any reason for me coming back until next Monday."

Hetty nodded, saying, "Thank you, sir, I appreciate all you have done."

The doctor patted her hand and after a quick examination of Hetty's head walked with Maude to the door giving her instructions. He waved and headed back to town.

Just before he left, he whispered to Maude, “Take care, try not to let her get upset. She doesn’t know what went on, and I leave it to you to break it to her gently.”

Maude gave Doc a smile, “I’ll do my best. Poor thing, but she may surprise us. Think she’s stronger than we realize.”

Maude waited until the Doctor was out of sight, then taking a deep breath, headed back inside. She found Clover sitting next to Hetty’s cot, telling her about their new milk cow and the cream and butter they sold in town.

Maude started to say something, but Hetty gave a slight shake of her head, then turned her attention back to Clover.

Happy reading, and enjoy your own form of creativity for you are sharing your history with the world.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

Monday, October 18, 2021



Let’s Talk about Time

By Annee Jones

          In conducting the research for my upcoming book, A Child’s Faith, Book #16 in the Keepers of the Light series, I became curious about the history of timekeeping, as the father of my main character is a clockmaker.  I found this subject also quite “timely” for a Christmas story, especially since the archetype of Father Time has played so strongly in classic literature set during this time of year (consider Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, for example).    

          In early civilizations, farmers sectioned time into quadrants for planting, growing and harvesting.  However, the actual day or hour was not important.  As communities grew and life became more complex, the need for order increased.  Egyptians realized the parts of day could be marked via the positioning of obelisks and the shadows they cast.  Other early methods of keeping time included the hourglass, water-powered devices, and candles that burned at a fixed rate.

          Early modern clockmakers were master craftsmen who designed and built clocks by hand.  Clockmaking was considered the most technically advanced trade throughout the 15th to 17th centuries.  Thus, the best clockmakers also often built scientific instruments, since they were the only ones trained in the fabrication and assembly of precision mechanical apparatus. 

          Clocks were first brought to the American colonies in the early 1600s. Owning and displaying a clock or timepiece was considered a status symbol, an indication of wealth and relative importance in society.

          The standardization of working hours and train schedules that were hallmarks of the Industrial Revolution brought about the need for ever more precise timekeeping.  By the 19th century, wooden casings and individual clock parts were beginning to be mass-produced in small factories. The skilled work of assembling and synchronizing the parts, however, still had to be done by hand by master clockmakers.  

          By the 20th century, interchangeable parts and standardized designs allowed the entire clock to be assembled in factories, and clockmakers have since only specialized in repair.

          Because early clockmakers had to fashion all the intricate parts and wheelwork of clocks by hand, they developed specialized tools to help them.  Some of these include the following:  

Balance Truing Caliper: This device was used in fashioning the wheels and gearwork of the clock, to make sure the wheel, particularly the balance wheel was balanced and circular. The pivots of the wheel were mounted in the caliper. An index arm was moved next to the edge and the wheel was spun to see if the edge was true.

Die/Screw Plate: The die plate was used to cut threads on small screws. It had a number of threaded die holes of different sizes for making different threads. A piece of wire was inserted in a hole and turned to cut a thread on the end. Then a head would be formed on the other end of the wire to make a screw.

File: Hardened steel files were used to shape the metal before it was used to make and fit wheels or plates. There were many variations of files.

Rivet Extracting Pliers: Made of brass or steel, rivet extracting pliers were used to remove rivets from assorted clock parts.

Jeweler’s Piercing Saw: The blade of the saw was released by undoing the thumbscrew adjacent to the handle. To start an interior cut, a hole was drilled and the blade was inserted and reattached to the saw. This device was popular among clockmakers to repair the ends of clock hands.

Staking tool: An iron vertical plunger was used with an array of stakes for placing rollers and balanced wheels on staffs.

Turns: The "turns" was a small bow-operated lathe used for furbishing parts and for working gear blanks to size. During use, the device was clamped in a vise and the worker held a cutting or polishing tool on a tee-shaped tool rest with one hand, and shifted the bow back and forth to spin the part.

Cross Peen Riveting Hammer: The flat end of the tool was for general use, whereas the radiused peen end was used for flattening rivet heads. This tool was used for forging, riveting, striking steel, etc.

    Watch for more books from me next year featuring clockmakers and the theme of time! 

About Me:

Annee Jones is an inspirational romance novelist who enjoys sharing her heart and imagination with others.  She is passionate about writing stories that offer hope and encouragement and likes to think of her books as “romance filled with faith and a sprinkle of fairy dust!”

Professionally, Annee works as a disability counselor where she helps her clients navigate through complex medical and legal systems while rediscovering their wholeness in Spirit.

Annee also enjoys professional freelance writing for Publishers Weekly in the genres of faith-based fiction and Christian living.  

Connect with Annee here:

A Child’s Faith









Thursday, October 14, 2021

Spice Cake and a Giveaway


Since Santa brought me an Easy-Bake oven when I was six, I've had a love of baking treats for family and friends. 

Over the years, I've collected many cookbooks and perused many recipes. 

Recently, my husband's aunt sent me a hand-written cookbook his grandmother had made goodness only knows how many years ago. The covers are both missing, but it made my heart so full to see Grandma Nell's recipes written in her hand. (And it made me miss her, too). She was always so good about sharing her recipes with me, and her cookbooks! 

My mom was another one who greatly influenced my joy of baking. And I learned so much about cooking from watching her churn out one delicious meal after another. 

In honor of the women who shared their love, and love of baking, with me, I thought I'd share an old-fashioned spice cake recipe with you today. 



1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, room temperature
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cold milk
4 cups powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8 x 8-inch pan.
Whisk together flour, spices, salt, baking powder, and soda. Set aside.
Cream butter and sugars together until creamy. Gradually beat in oil. Add eggs, one at a time, beating  after each addition.
Stir buttermilk and vanilla together then add to batter, alternating with flour mixture. Mix until just combined. 
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack.
Once cake is just barely warm, make frosting. Beat butter and cream cheese together until no lumps remain. Mix in vanilla, milk, and powdered sugar on low speed. Once combined, increase speed to medium and beat until fluffy.
Spread frosting cake. Serve.
Makes approximately 16 servings.

Also, I'm giving away an autographed copy of my A Cowboy Christmas cookbook. Just click on the button below to enter for a chance to win! 

If you'd like to purchase a copy of the cookbook, all book sales (this includes ANY of my books in ANY format) now through Christmas Eve help the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund. 

I donate ten percent of my profits to them in support of a fabulous organization. You can learn more about my Read A Book, Help a Cowboy campaign here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Staying Dry At Sea by Zina Abbott


Oilskin Jacket
Once I started writing my book, Lighthouse Escape, I quickly realized I was no longer dealing with gold, silver, dirt, grass, horses, cows, buffalo, and cowboy gear. I was dealing with seamen. Whether the men worked on a river steamboat or one that plied the ocean, they were around water ― a lot. Not only was there water beneath them and river or ocean spray that blew up on them as they sailed and worked, there was often plenty of rain. Especially in the cooler climes, what did mariners in the nineteenth century wear to stay both warm and, hopefully, dry?

My first mental vision involved a yellow slicker with what is known as a Sou’wester hat. A little research revealed that the classic yellow oiled cloth neck to ankle coat and its accompanying hat with the back brim wider than the front was not developed until the end of the century. My book was set in 1881.

For starters, seamen in Ireland, Scotland, and other northern European countries have relied on wool clothing to keep them warm. An additional benefit was that the natural lanolin in the wool acted as a water repellent. Many fishermen and other seamen from colder climes wore heavy, tightly-knit pullover sweaters for that very reason.

Waterproofed cloth garments were in use from the late 1700s. Various methods of waterproofing were used over the years. Seamen also relied on cotton clothing coated with melted wax. Early innovations for foul weather gear was to wear oil-treated cloth jackets which used resin or fat to repel the water and keep their woollen clothing dry underneath.


Crab fisherman wearing Sou'wester hat

Some early Sou'Wester hats and rain capes were handmade of sailcloth waterproofed with a thin layer of tar. Traditional black or “tarred” Sou’Wester hats were developed in the 1800s. The tar was eventually replaced with linseed oil and lampblack.


Fisherman with Sou'Wester Hat- Vincent Van Gogh

Other methods involved canvas duck. Canvas duck, as opposed to regular canvas has threads that are more tightly woven. The term “duck” comes from the Dutch word for cloth, doek. This canvas was then coated with multiple applications of linseed oil and paint. These garments, although waterproof, were heavy and did not “breathe.” As dying processes became more available, many foul weather garments were made from yellow, orange, or red fabrics which stood out more should a man fall overboard.

Both of these methods of waterproofing. Although quite durable, did not possess the breathable qualities of the process developed by New Zealander, Edward Le Roy, in 1898. He used a mixture of linseed oil and wax to coat the fabric several times. Garments created using this process were called oilskins.

However, I know from reading numerous historical sources that oilcloths were made as early as the eighteenth century. Historically, pre-19th century, oilcloth was one of very few flexible, waterproof materials that were widely available. For some families, it was a home industry. Also known as enameled cloth or American cloth, its base was a close-woven cotton duck or linen fabric which was coated with boiled linseed oil to make it waterproof. The linseed oil was boiled with lead and manganese salts, known as metal salts. (Personally, now we better understand the toxic nature of lead, I’m grateful for my plastic tablecloths.) Sienna and umber pigments were used to create a cure more resistant to humidity.

With this understanding, in my story I referred to a oiled tablecloth my hero’s mother made into rain hats for her husband and sons who worked on the water. Here is an excerpt from Lighthouse Escape:

           John next found his yellow oilcloth cap with its down-sloping brim attached around the crown. He shook it to snap it into shape.

              “Bright yellow, huh?”

              John paused and his gaze met Jacko’s. “Before her death almost two years ago, yellow oilcloth hats from an old tablecloth were the last items my mother made with her Singer sewing machine. All four men in my family have one. Her belief was, people usually get injured or fall overboard in bad weather when fog and rain washes out the surrounding color. She decided that bright-colored hats would make us easier to spot.” Still holding the brim of the yellow hat in one hand, he pulled his watch cap snugly over his ears.

              Jacko cocked his head and lifted a shoulder. “Makes sense.”

              “Her other oilcloth tablecloth was yellow with red roses printed on it. We were grateful she did not sacrifice that one for her project.” John rolled his eyes and shook his head. “So, until the captain finds the lighthouse, we just follow the shoreline?”

              “Not that easy. Due to it being high tide, there’s a cluster of reefs—mostly submerged rocks surrounding that spit of land that holds the lighthouse. Some of them barely show above the surface when the tide’s out and the water’s calm. When the waves get this high, they can do a disappearing act, only to show up when we’re on top of them. A few have bell buoys anchored to them, but sometimes it’s hard to hear them in a storm like this. Besides, it’s what you’ll find several feet below those rocks that we worry about most.”

              “Sounds like a good place to avoid.” John donned his waterproof hat over his knit cap and tied the straps under his chin.

              “Didn’t figure you’d be this prepared.”

              “Rains on the river, too.” John pulled on his leather gloves. 

To find the book description and link for Lighthouse Escape, please CLICK HERE.

You might also wish to check out my other recently-published books on my Amazon account.




Wikipedia regarding oilskin, canvas, oilcloth, Sou’wester, and waxed cotton