Category Archives: Holidays

Happy Mothers Day

This may clarify a few things about me. What life lessons did your mother teach you?

10 Things Mom

 

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The Dearest of Friends: John and Abigail Adams

OR, A Plethora of Love Letters

cropped-cropped-dewy-pink2In 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.)

john-and-abigail-adamsMr. and Mrs. Adams had already forged their marriage into an equal partnership, surprising not only because of the era, but because of the nine year difference in their ages.

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 and quillLetter-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.

OldJohnandAbigailThe 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?

 

Further reading:

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 New Year

RING!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,

LSU Student Union
LSU Student Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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?

Bring on 2012!

AMNH --- Maya Stone Calendar

I don’t care if the Mayans thought the world would end this year. While 2011 was a wonderful year for me professionally, I was not sorry to see it go. In my private life, 2011 was a year of freak accidents, the loss of a pet, the near-loss of two relatives, and was just generally a pain in the rear. Buh-bye and good riddance!!

My own theory about why the Mayan Long Count stopped in 2012 is that they got tired of carving all that stone. Of course, I also believe that Stonehenge was actually a prehistoric shopping mall. (Come on, am I the only one who is reminded of a food court by that open circle? If any scholar would like to discuss the possibility that the monoliths served as the entrance to  Og’s Mastodon-Skin Creations and the Bluestone Boutique, please contact me.)

End of the world or not, I am going to try to make 2012 a good year. I hate to use the word ‘resolutions’, so I won’t. But ‘goals’, ‘good habits’ and ‘wishes’ are all okay. Here are a few simple habits I am implementing to improve my life this year.

1. I need more sleep. I’ve had insomnia of varying degrees since I was a kid. Stress over the last few months made it worse, and I got tired of being tired. There are a lot of things I’ve tried, short of medication. Mind you, meds work wonderfully for many people, but they’re not ‘me’. What helps my brain slow down and turn off is an hour or so of television and needlepoint. This must be why I avoid having the TV on during work hours 🙂

2. Order is our friend…or at least a frenemy. Much as I hate housecleaning, neat surroundings do lead to clearer thinking. I have a high level of clutter tolerance, but eventually it gets too much even for me. Plus I married a neat freak. Am I going to start scrubbing the house down every day? Um, no. But I can set aside 30 minutes a day for straightening/basic chores. Big jobs can wait for the weekend, when they won’t cut into work time.

3. Organization can be fun! Last year, I discovered the joys of using a desk calendar to track page counts and each day’s accomplishments, as well doctor’s appointments, deadlines and birthdays. I can’t recommend this enough — it’s amazing what we actually DO get done in a day, and reviewing the calendar each week (or more often) is a morale boost. Mine shows a week over two pages. I can look at it and know if I’m doing well or slacking off. Desk calendars with fun or pretty pictures are still on sale!

4. I want to go on field trips. Or as Julia Cameron describes them her excellent book, The Artist’s Way, ‘Artist Dates’. She suggests taking time each week to do something just for us, to keep our souls alive. Once a week is not feasible for me, but once a month should be. I already found one fun outing for January: a lecture on the history of tea at a local library over lunchtime. Yes, I know most of you read that and immediately felt the urge to snooze. But I live for arcane knowledge like this!

How would you like to make your life better this year? Healthier habits? Save more money? The trip you’ve always dreamed of? I’d love to hear from you!

Philadelphia Memories

Yesterday, America celebrated the 235th anniversary of our formal declaration of independent status from Great Britain. Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays. Usually we spend it with family and friends, enjoying favorite foods and lighting off fireworks. In between the burgers, Chinese coleslaw, watermelon and fireworks, though, I try to take a moment and remember the reason for the day.

Despite the imperfections of the U.S. government, the members of the Continental Congress risked disgrace, imprisonment, financial ruin and a traitor’s death as soon as they signed the Declaration of Independence. The likelihood of defeating Great Britain, then the most powerful nation in Europe, seemed a distant dream. So did the hope of establishing a united government among 13 colonies who each guarded her privileges jealously against the others. (The U.S. Constitution came about after the Revolutionary War, by representatives empowered only to improve the Articles of Confederation.)

Despite the odds against them, the delegates took a breath and a leap of faith, and signed.

My family had a chance to visit Philadelphia a couple of years ago, and we took great pleasure in spending the day at Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell museum and historic center of the city. The exterior of Independence Hall and the room where the Continental Congresses met are familiar images, but our tour included the other rooms and floors as well.

Besides serving as a civic meeting place, the colonial public court met across from the Assembly Room. This picture shows part of the elevated bench where the justices sat, and the stand where witnesses were interviewed by counsel. The clerk sat at the small table to the right of the witness and immediately front of the judges so that he could hear and transcribe the proceedings.  Still, the high point for us was to see the room where founding principles of our country were debated and voted on.

On the next floor, the Long Gallery is set up for a banquet, with the tables set up along one side.  The rest of the floor would be cleared for mingling or possibly dancing to music provided by a harpsichord at one end. John Adams once confided to his beloved wife Abigail his hope that future generations would mark Independence Day with “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” I’d like to think that some of those celebrations were held at Independence Hall, the building where America was truly born.

Shrove Tuesday, or the Festival of Pancakes

Several stacks of silver dollar pancakes
Image via Wikipedia

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?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The sexy Scot hero of my next book has an interview at SOS Aloha in honor of Valentine’s Day! Kim is giving away some fun prizes as well, so stop by and read what Kieran has to say!

An American Queen of Hearts

As readers of historical romance can tell you, beneath the buttoned-up corsets and coats of the Victorian era beat some very passionate hearts. Valentine’s Day as we know it originated in 19th century England. Before then, it was a date to commemorate feelings for loved ones, but it was not widespread or particularly elaborate. Printers in England developed cards varying from sentimental to bawdy in honor of Valentine’s Day, which quickly caught on with the public.  The idea of sending cards to loved ones spread to America mid-century, thanks to a teenage girl with a shrewd head for business.

Esther Howland was born in Wooster, Massachusetts in 1828.  The daughter of a prosperous bookseller, little is known of her life until 1847, when an associate of her father’s sent her a Valentine’s card from England.  The folded bit of paper intrigued her, less for its sentimental value than as a source of income for the family business.

I must digress here. Southward A. Howland, her father,  must have been a remarkable man for his era. Not only had he sent his daughter to Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now known as Mount Holyoke College), but when Esther suggested that she design a line of new merchandise for his store, he supported the idea. At a time when most men insisted their wives and daughters stay within the domestic sphere, he encouraged Esther to live up to her potential.

However, back to Esther herself.  After convincing her father to import paper lace and other materials to make the cards, her brother took up the task of selling them, armed with a few samples she had created.

She hoped for $200 in sales. He came back with $5,000 worth. This was more than she had bargained for, and she recruited friends to help her. Although Henry Ford would not conceive of the assembly line for decades, Esther divided up the process of making each card and assigned one person to each task: Cutting out and sorting pictures, cutting out backgrounds of different colored paper from a template, embellishing the backgrounds with paper lace, adding floral decorations and verses. The process eventually took over an entire floor of the family house, but a tradition was born.

Eventually, Esther’s sideline outgrew the house. Her New England Valentine Company would gross over $100,000 a year — in Victorian dollars. In modern dollars this is the equivalent of between 1.5 and 2 million dollars.  She took advantage of her income to indulge in facials and fashionable clothes, but she also paid her predominantly female workforce a decent wage. Ironically, the Queen of Valentines never married. The reasons are unclear. She was considered a handsome woman, but she may have been reluctant to give up a business she loved, as would have been expected of her at the time. She may have simply never fallen in love.

In 1881, she did sell the company to a competitor and devote herself to her father, whose health had deteriorated. She died in 1904, having brought pleasure to thousands through her cards.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

As the rush of activities for Christmas slows down for our family (and I hope for you), I turn on some Christmas carols and look around at my home and loved ones.  I’m typing in view of our Christmas tree, filled with beloved ornaments.  A cup of tea is steeping that I will enjoy soon.  My oldest is home following her finals and my youngest has only a half-day of school left before her vacation starts.  Ah yes, the joys of hearth and home during the holidays….

My carols are competing with two televisions, the buzz of texts to a boyfriend, and a discussion between a sixteen-year-old and a twenty-one-year old about the likelihood that an American equivalent of Hogwarts exists. Dirty laundry waits for its turn to go into the washer and dryer by the basement door, because its owner is watching one of the aforementioned TVs. The decorations in the entryway are competing for space with a book bag, shoes, and boots while I ponder whether the Christmas dinner I planned will include enough food for the boyfriend and my aunt and uncle, invited to join us by my mother (thankfully, she informed me of this before Christmas Day itself).

The pile of cards needing stamps catches my eye, as does the cat snoozing in a previously cat-hair-free spot on our tree skirt.  There’s some additional baking to do as well. And I just realized that I can’t remember where I put some of our gifts. Wrapping paper and ribbons cover the basement floor because the last person that used them didn’t put it away.

Oh, and I just realized that I need to research the British East India Company for my WIP, possibly resulting in some major rewriting.

The most wonderful time of the year? YEAH, BABY!!!

Tomorrow is Veterans Day!

I posted a bit info about the day’s origins and some of my thoughts about the men and women who have served at Authors by Moonlight — stop by and tell us about your military service or that of someone you know!