This may clarify a few things about me. What life lessons did your mother teach you?
This may clarify a few things about me. What life lessons did your mother teach you?
OR, A Plethora of Love Letters
In August 1774, a Massachusetts lawyer wrote to his wife of ten years, “I must intreat you, my dear Partner in the Joys and Sorrows, Prosperity and Adversity of my Life, to take a Part with me in the Struggle. I pray God for your Health – intreat you to rouse your whole Attention to the Family, the stock, the Farm, the Dairy. Let every Article of Expence which can possibly be spared be retrench’d.”
The lawyer was John Adams, newly-appointed representative to what is now known as the First Continental Congress. Attending this assembly risked his ability to support his family, not to mention his neck. He could have been tried for treason against the British crown, but he and his wife Abigail both agreed he should go.
(To their friend, Dr. Joseph Warren, he wrote, “I am at a loss, totally at a loss, what to do when we get there…” So much for images of a juggernaut of patriotic feeling.)
As a child, Abigail had not been permitted to attend school. Her mother feared too much learning would ruin her health and sully her mind. As an adult in 1774, she could not legally act in her own interest, for the law did not recognize her as a person separate from her husband. She had not permitted the repressive atmosphere of the era defeat her. Thanks to the books in her father’s and grandfather’s libraries, she was well read. When 14-year-old Abigail Smith first met 23-year-old John Adams, he described her to a friend as “quite lacking in tenderness”. Always forthright, teenage Abigail refused to curb her tongue for the benefit of a pudgy lawyer.
Within a couple of years, however, he was writing flirtatious letters to ‘Miss Adorable’ or ‘Diana’ and she replied in the same vein to her ‘Lysander’. (Presumably she referred to the Shakespearean lover.) After their marriage in 1766, their mutual salutation became ‘My Dearest Friend’, and deep-seated expressions of love replaced flirtation. As a lawyer, John had to ride a circuit of Massachusetts courts to make a living, which required him to leave Abigail and their growing family for days or weeks.
Letter-writing was the only way to communicate over long distances, and in the 18th century, people considered it an art. Abigail, conscious of her lack of formal education, often apologized for poor handwriting, spelling and punctuation, once going so far as to ask John to burn her correspondence. He wrote back “You bid me burn your letters. But I must forget you first.”
Over the decades of John’s public life, they would exchange over 1200 epistles, not counting those that didn’t make it through enemy lines during the Revolutionary War or otherwise go astray.
Their correspondence ranged from brief notes when government or diplomatic business took up most of John’s time, to long letters composed over several days. Both the Adams must have found writing therapeutic, for at different times, they referred to it as a way to soothe inner turmoil.
Separation meant their disagreements also had to travel back and forth between Braintree and Philadelphia and eventually, across the Atlantic. Many involved the education of their sons and surviving daughter. And when John made the mistake of writing to Abigail how much he admired the cultured ladies of the French court, she retorted with a sharp complaint about how American girls were routinely mocked when they showed off their educations.
In her jealousy, she might have forgotten her effusions on meeting George Washington in 1774. “You had prepared me to entertain a favorable opinion of him, but I thought the half was not told me. Dignity with ease and complacency, the gentleman and the soldier look agreeably blended in him. Modesty marks every line and feature of his face.” In the parlance of an 18th century New Englander, this was total fangirling. John couldn’t have enjoyed her description of the tall, charismatic, and charming General.
Even during disagreements, they were still ‘Dearest Friend’ to one another. In February of 1779, toward the end of his first diplomatic appointment to France, John lamented that he dared not write to her of political matters: “…I know you can keep a Secret as well as any Man whatever. But the World don’t know this. If…the letter should be caught, and hitched into a Newspaper, the World would say, I could not be trusted with a Secret.”
She had been his sounding board for years at this point; he trusted her more than any other advisor. John returned home later that year, where he was named to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in Cambridge, the body responsible for writing the state constitution. John wrote the first draft of the document, reading it to Abigail when he returned to Braintree at the end of each week. He also discussed the assembly’s debates with her, which gave her a grasp of issues of the day. His draft was accepted with minor changes, and is still in effect. It is the oldest state constitution in continual use.
In September of 1779, John was named minister plenipotentiary to France by Congress. The position gave him full power to negotiate a peace treaty Britain, along with fellow ministers Benjamin Franklin and John Jay. To Abigail, this meant another separation. John guessed the peace talks would take six months, and then he would come home to her. Instead, the couple would not set eyes on one another for five years.
After the War of Independence ended, Abigail could travel to Europe without fear of being captured or sunk by an enemy ship. She met John in France in 1784. When Congress selected him as the first American ambassador to Great Britain in 1785, they moved to London. The following years brought John to two terms as vice president under George Washington, then to the Presidency. While Abigail did not always move to Philadelphia or New York with John, she was the first First Lady to live in the White House. Together or apart, he sought her opinion on policy, though at times her devotion blinded her, such as when she supported him on the Alien and Sedition Acts that contributed to his political downfall.
The deaths of their daughter Nabby and their second son, Charles, marred their old age. John and Abigail took consolation in their grandchildren; Nabby and all three of their sons had married and started families. As a grandfather, John spoiled the youngsters with sugar plums while Abigail was the disciplinarian.
When she died in 1818, he was at her side. To their niece Lucy Cranch Greenleaf, John said, “I wish I could lay down beside her and die too.” He later eulogized his wife as “The dear Partner of my Life for fifty-four Years and for many Years more as a Lover.” Truly they deserve to be remembered not just on Presidents Day, but on Valentine’s Day as well.
John and Abigail Adams are fascinating both as a couple and as individuals. Do you have any favorite ‘Valentine couples?
John Adams, by David Mccullough
Abigail Adams: Witness to a Revolution by Natalie S. Bober
My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams, Margaret C. Hogan and C. James Taylor, editors
Happy 2013! I hope you are blessed with something wonderful to look forward to this year. My family will have our first wedding, with our oldest getting married to wonderful young man in the fall! Yes, that’s her ring pictured. Clearly he has excellent taste. (Duh, he fell in love with our daughter!)
Our youngest has fled the nest and is happy at Louisiana State University. Granted, I would be happier if LSU wasn’t a two-day drive from home,
but she loves life without snow. She is doing an outstanding job of keeping her grades up, making friends and finding activities, and earning a stipend with work/study. We are extremely proud of her! Except of course for developing a football allegiance to the Tigers.
That, however, is a subject for another post. 😉
The year’s biggest challenge will be time management, but that’s always a challenge for me. :p In the face of a new job and some unexpected, but welcome, freelance work, my main goal for 2013 is: Protect the writing time! On the bright side, I spent November working out the plot of a new book that I can’t wait to get started on, so there’s something to fill up the writing time.
New Year’s resolutions have never worked for me, so I try to focus on goals, personal and professional. Also, I know myself well enough to understand that my brain goes on the fritz as soon it sees a long ‘must do’ list. It’s best to keep the goals few and simple.
In 2013, I want to drink a glass of water for every glass or cup of caffeinated beverage. Believe it or not, this is a challenge. I’ve never been someone who can just down a glass of H2O, but the benefits are more than just staying hydrated. Water will help cut down on caffeine, which keeps me awake at night, plus according to WebMD, it’s good for the skin, helps make a person feel less hungry, and keeps the kidneys and bowels in good working order.
As mentioned above, my most important professional goal is to protect my writing time. This means adjusting my daily schedule so that there is always a block of hours to spend at the computer. I don’t do change well — just ask my family — and I’m going to have to start with something truly drastic: not hitting the snooze button. I make no promises, but I’ll keep you posted on how well I succeed (or sleep in).
So those are my 2013 goals for now. Short and laughably simple, but both chosen because they’re doable, they’ll have benefits on more than one level, and neither is something I do now. (Or rather the snooze button is something I do too often.)
This year, I want more sleep at the start of the night, and enough time to write. What about you? What do you want out of life this year? What steps are you going to take to get it?
I don’t have a problem with Mardi Gras. Between the fact that New Orleans is American and my mother-in-law is French, why not celebrate it? Laissez les bons temps rouler and all that. But the most recent immigrant up my family tree is my great-grandfather from Yorkshire, England. Between that and my lifelong membership in the Episcopal church, when I grew up, Mardi Gras took a back seat to Shrove Tuesday.
By now, you may be asking yourself “What the %*#* is a shrove?” I did for years. It is neither a specialized pan nor a gardening tool. ‘Shrove’ comes from ‘to shrive’, which in the Middle Ages meant to confess one’s sins to a priest and gain absolution. One would not wish to die, or enter the holy season of Lent, unshriven.
However, let’s talk about the traditional food served on Shrove Tuesday: Pancakes. Like the fried foods associated with Mardi Gras, Carnival and Fasching, pancakes used up fats, eggs, milk and sugar, all traditionally forbidden during the Lenten fast. They have been around in some form since at least the 15th century, when legend has it that a housewife in Olney, Buckinghamshire got so caught up in making them that she nearly missed getting to church. In her haste, she ran to the church, pan and cooking pancake in hand. Olney commemorates her with an annual pancake race, held since 1445. Several other towns in Great Britain have their own pancake races, but only Olney (say that 10 times fast) competes internationally, with the residents of Liberal, Kansas.
I’m not sure how good a pancake tastes after being flipped several times in chilly air. My own requirements for the golden brown delicacies include being hot out of the pan. I eat mine with butter and maple syrup — real maple syrup, not the corn syrup substitutes so popular these days — and preferably accompanied by bacon or sausage. I’m not ashamed to use the fast recipe on the side of the Bisquick box, but if I’m feeling really ambitious, I will make use the following recipe, from my trusty Joy of Cooking, 1975 edition:
Pancakes, Griddle Cakes or Batter Cakes
Sift before measuring: 1 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
Resift with: 1 teaspoon salt, 3 Tablespoons sugar, 1 3/4 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
Combine: 1 or 2 slightly beaten whole eggs, 3 Tablespoons melted butter, 1 to 1 1/4 cups of milk
Mix the liquid ingredients quickly into the dry ingredients. Heat the griddle and test it by sprinkling a few drops of cold water onto the hot surface. If the water puddles before evaporating, it’s not hot enough. If it sizzles away immediately, it’s too hot. You want the water drops to bounce and dance around on the pan before you pour in the batter.
Pour the batter on the properly heated surface, then wait for bubbles to form on the upper surface. (Note: this is the upper surface of the middle of the pancake.) This should take 2 to 3 minutes max. Before the bubbles break, flip the pancake only once. The second side takes only half as much time to cook.
I like to serve mine hot from the pan, with any of the following: Butter and maple syrup, powdered sugar and fruit or jam, sugar and cinnamon.
I understand that Scarborough, Yorkshire has a half day holiday on Shrove Tuesday. (Anyone from Scarborough around to confirm or deny that?) And Ashborne in Derbyshire celebrates the day with the Royal Shrovetide Football Match, played over two days. It sounds more like a mob playing rugby than anything else, but I will admit to not knowing the fine points of the game. But what I want to know is: Do they have pancakes?
Do you celebrate Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival or Fasching? If so, what special activities or foods make the day special for you?
‘Her Scottish Groom’ hits the shelves today! After the butterflies and nerves I wrote about last week, today I get to celebrate the release of my second book. It’s the first day out, but I’m fortunate enough to have a couple of 5-star reviews up at Barnes & Noble‘s site already. Thank you Harriet and April!
The time between submitting a manuscript and releasing a book can be a year or even longer. This may be a good thing, as it allows an author to forget the stress of finishing that particular book by deadline, or in the middle of a family flu epidemic, or whatever roadblock the universe decides to throw at her. And believe me, there’s always something. It’s sort of like giving birth: once you have the baby, memory of labor (eventually) fades, enabling you to consider going through the agony again.
I can’t describe the sense of accomplishment gained from seeing and holding my own book. I hope I never take that for granted! I’m not high enough in the writing food chain to think that just because I’ve been published, future sales are guaranteed. We all have to strive to be better. But today I will pat myself on the back, look at my pretty cover and acknowledge what I did.
Everyone needs to take the occasional day to savor the fruits of their labors, large or small. It doesn’t have to be a book. A good test score, an outstanding review at work, the culmination of months of hard work on a project, starting the new art class you’ve always wanted to take — what is important to each of us differs, but we all deserve to pause, take a deep breath and say “I did that!”
How do you celebrate your triumphs, large or small?
I am appearing as part of Monica Burns’ Pleasure Me Blog Event today, and hope some of you might want to stop by! Come by and read about why It’s the Little Things that Count! Leave a comment and you might get a free signed copy of HER SCOTTISH GROOM.
I turned another year older in September. Although I think attaining another year is always worth celebrating, especially when you notice that they’re starting mount up, ahem, this one was pretty quiet. A number of family members have been hospitalized for various ailments this month, so there wasn’t a lot of motivation to hold a big party. Besides, last year I pulled out all the stops & spent the day with a girlfriend who treated me to a day in a gorgeous spa.
I did feel guilty about such indulgence, but only a bit. After spending four years either at or driving home from a figure skating competition with my oldest on my birthday, I felt entitled to some pampering!
My friend and I had a blast. We got mudwraps, which sounds disgusting but which felt like being brushed with a thick layer of warm chocolate. We got facials. We got manicures. It was just marvelous! Much as I’d like to, I won’t be celebrating other birthdays in such sybaritic luxury in the foreseeable future, but I will always treasure the memories of this particular one.
In honor of my birthday month, September, and the arrival of the cover for Her Scottish Groom, I’ll give away up to 5 copies of my current release, TO BE SEDUCED, this Friday! I’ll draw names from among commentators to this post, so tell me how you feel about birthdays and which ones were your most memorable.
And don’t forget to check out Authors by Moonlight tomorrow, when I’m unveiling the cover of HSG!
I had a lovely afternoon on Saturday, February 13th, at the Bookworm in Omaha!
The Bookworm, an independent bookstore , graciously offered to set up a book signing after I queried them late last year. Manager and part owner Beth Black set up a table and plenty of chairs in a well-lit corner and even provided a much-needed bottle of water for this nervous author. I don’t recall having such a severe case of dry mouth in my life! I hoped Beth wasn’t too optimistic — while I knew several people planned to be there, the chairs outnumbered them.
I should have known better! At least half my wonderful critique group came, some with friends or family; so did members of the Heartland Writer’s Group, one of my RWA chapters; and members of my church. I am still touched at the support offered to me by family, friends and colleagues. Cheryl St. John took pictures for me, and even Victoria Alexander stopped to chat with me a few minutes. These are two wonderfully supportive authors! My mentor and president of the Nebraska Writer’s Guild, S. J. Walker, took valuable time out from her horrendous deadline to cheer me on.
I did a reading, talked a bit and answered questions without embarrassing myself too much. Meanwhile, the Bookworm sold out of their two dozen copies of To be Seduced! That’s why the stand at my elbow is empty, lol. Pictured with me is Cheri LaClaire, a member of the Heartland Writer’s Group. Yeah, I know — I’m looking down. Really, this is not much of a loss. And I look so industrious!
The signing ended (on my part anyway) awash in relief, triumph and a sense of blessings bestowed. Thank you to everyone who attended. I appreciate each and every one of you!
TO BE SEDUCED is scheduled to be released today! So how am I celebrating? DH is taking me out to dinner and mentioned a chilled bottle of champagne to enjoy afterward. My oldest posted a message of love and support on my Facebook wall and I have no doubt my youngest will acknowledge the day when she gets home from school, as she understands the importance of celebrating life’s milestones better than anyone else I know. Truly, God has blessed me with wonderful family and friends.
But till tonight? Well….I’m writing. First this post, and then at least a page of my WIP before I visit area bookstores. I’m not what one of my mentors calls a ‘gotta-be’ writer yet, but it’s safe to say I am officially past the ‘wanna-be’ stage. I am a writer. I was a writer before I was an author, and I will be a writer if I never sell another book. (Although I do want to sell more books! Judging from the voices in my head, lots more!)
I had no way of knowing when I entered a contest that it would lead to this day. I am humbled by the support and kindness of others, not just those around me, but those who I know only through the internet and over the phone. I am humbled by the opportunity given to me, and hope I can live up to it.