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Monday, December 28, 2020

Ever heard of Hogmanay?  Well, it is Scotland's New Years celebration.  The celebrating runs longer and has many traditions that find their roots in ancient times.  They echo back to the Twelve Days of Christmas, where you held Christmas Eve, Christmas and Boxing Day, and celebrated through Twelfth Night.

My family kept Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for family only.  On Boxing Day, we would get out the sleighs (used to be more snow back then!) and go visiting.  We took gifts to neighbors and friends.  I thought this day more fun.  Riding in the old-fashioned sleighs, and being welcomed into homes for eggnog or warmed cider to shake off the chill, were such wonderful memories.  Sadly, the sleighs haven’t been used for years, as we see fewer and fewer White Christmases.  Also, the family has scattered and finds it harder to come together like we used to.

With the end of Christmas, the celebrations in America basically slow.  Decorations are taken down and stored for another year.  On the other side of the Pond, amazing Hogmanay parties in Scotland are just getting underway, and in some instances lasting over several days.

The Hogmanay name first showed in written records around the early 1600s, but many of the traditions come from a time much older.  Some suggest the name stems from be old Norman French of hoguinan (New Years gift).  Since the Auld Alliance saw France and Scotland sharing trade and cultures it seems reasonable.  A more likely explanation is it could be a variation of Scots Gaelic og maidne (young morning).  Still, the Flemish hoog min dag (great love day) might also be the source.  Whichever, it shows perhaps several cultures developed the holiday along the same lines, and that it wasn't just confined to Scotland.  One has no stronger provable claim to the name than another.
There are many celebrations or simple street festivals, but also you can discover the great, awe-inspiring fire-festivals—of interest to people who love history, but also eye-opening to those unfamiliar with the ancient traditions.  These festivals still practice rites and rituals that go back to Pagan times, maybe thousands of years.  It’s not hard to find concerts, parties, fireworks and balefires, as well offer a wide range of Scottish fare to satisfy your culinary tastes.

First Footing is one of the customs I always enjoyed.  It was considered very unlucky for a redheaded man or women to cross the threshold after the final stroke of midnight.  Not wanting to start the year off on the wrong foot, it was hoped a tall, black-haired, handsome man would arrive at the stroke of twelve.  This leads to a wee bit of mischief, such as picking a likely lad who fits the bill, handing him a bottle of Single Malt, and sticking him outside, to cross back over at the appointed time.  After all, who wouldn't want a tall, handsome, black-haired man to come a calling on the stroke of New Years?

Redding the House is a tradition of a “clean sweep”.  It is easy to understand where this one aims—sweeping the house clear of influence of the departing year, and giving you a fresh start.  You sweep out the house and clean the fireplaces.  Taking out the ashes can see the practice of a scrying skill of Reading the Ashes, foretelling the future much in the manner of reading tea leaves.  You are sweeping away all the negative influences that have held sway through the departing year.  Once that is done, all brooms and brushes are taken outside and burnt.  Keeping old ones invites the negative back in, so you start the year with new hair bushes, mops, small sweeps and brooms.  Once that is done, you use lavender, cedar and juniper branches to purify the house, dragging these over windows and doors to protect the house and seal it away from evil spirits.  Then, you burn them in the fireplace, the final step to purify the chimney.  Thus, you start the New Years all anew.

The bonfires and fire-festival are rooted in Pagan Pictish, Celtic or Norse origins.  As reflected in the burning of the lavender, cedar and juniper clearing the air of negative influences, these fire-festivals are a purifying of the land.  When the fires died and the ashes cooled, they were spread on farmland.  In truth, this potash a fertilizer that helps keep the land arable, promoting good root growth and higher crop production.  As with many ancient Pagan traditions, there is a rite, but also a logical purpose behind it.  A newer celebration, but gaining more and more attention worldwide—is Up Helly Aa in the Shetland Isles.  What an amazing festival!  There is nothing like it!  However, you can still find fire festivals at Stonehaven, Comrie and Biggar, and even Edinburgh has added this element in their Hogmanay celebrations.

Do you sing Auld Lang Syne at New Years without truly understanding the tradition is Scottish?  All over the world every year people sing Robert Burns’ version of the traditional Scottish Air In Edinburg’s Hogmanay, people join hands for what is reputed to be the world's biggest Auld Lang Syne singing.

Another odd tradition is the Saining of the House.  You find this mostly in rural areas, a tradition that involved blessing the house and livestock with holy water from a local stream.  After nearly dying out, you are seeing a revival in recent years.  Not surprising since Annis, the goddess of wells and streams is one of the oldest Pagan deities in Scotland.  You still see her Clootie Wells dotting the landscape, wells dedicated to her honor (where wishing wells come from).  After the house, land and stock are blessed, the females of the house, once more, perform a purifying ritual, of carrying burning juniper branches inside to fill the house with the cleansing smoke.  Notice, the commonality with the Redding the House?  Once the house was filled with smoke, driving out the evil influences, the windows were opened and whisky would be passed around.

These festivals grew in popularity after the banning of Christmas  in the 16th and 17th centuries. Under Oliver Cromwell, Parliament banned Christmas celebrations in 1647.  The ban was lifted after Cromwell's downfall in 1660.  However, in Scotland, the stricter Scottish Presbyterian Church had been discouraging Christmas celebrations  as having no basis in the Bible, from as early as 1583.  Thus, even after the Cromwellian ban was lifted elsewhere, Christmas festivities continued to be discouraged in Scotland.  In fact, Christmas remained a normal working day in Scotland until 1958 and Boxing Day did not become a National Holiday until much later.  Slowly, people began to go back to memories of olden days to find ways to make merry and celebrate.  Thus, Hogmanay became a mid-winter celebration to chase away the darkness and welcome the light.

Wishing you a blessed 2021, Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward All

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr

(Happy New Year!!!)

Deborah Macgillivray write Medieval Romances -- the Dragons of Challon-- and Pararmoral Contemporary Romances - The Sisters of Colford Hall.  Her works have been published worldwide and in many foreign translations.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Favorite Danish Christmas Traditions


     Christmas is a magical holiday, especially for children. When I was young, I always looked forward to celebrating with my maternal grandparents, who incorporated traditions from their Danish heritage into our festivities. The Christmases in my novel, The Legacy, were inspired by these childhood experiences.


       My most vivid memories are of “dancing” around the Christmas tree and phonetically singing a song in Danish, "Nu har vi jul igen." At the time I had no comprehension of the words and little understanding of the meaning of the lyrics, but we laughed joyfully as we skipped and trotted around and around the decorated tree. Since I've begun studying Danish, I know the translation is “Now we have Christmas again.” And now, in 2020, we have Christmas (jul) again, and I am still fascinated with Danish holiday customs. 

     Winter brings long nights with many hours of darkness to the Nordic countries. Before the birth of Christ and the Christianization of the people centuries later, Danes had winter celebrations filled with feasts and superstitions. Many aspects of these pagan rituals found their way into subsequent Christmas traditions. One of these is the folklore surrounding  the Nisser. Nisser are similar to gnomes, short with long gray beards. They wear homespun clothes and bright caps, usually red. They are clever about getting around without being seen, but they do not leave gifts.

     A nisse (singular of nisser) expects a snack, usually of porridge on Christmas Eve. If not fed, he becomes cranky. Failure to leave a snack risks insulting a nisse.  A nisse is mischievous, but not evil. Some people believe a nisse is the spirit of an ancestor who comes around during Jul to see that the ancestral home is being properly cared for. The legends of the nisser vary by the source.


     Another tradition that carried over from pagan celebrations is the generous use of candles to light the darkness and bring warmth to the long winter.  In the Middle Ages, candles, food and money were given to poor people as charity. Today, Danes still refer to Christmas as the feast of the candles. An advent wreath of evergreens with four tall red or white candles is often hung above or set in the center of the dining room table. The first candle is lit the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Each week, an additional candle is lit until all are lit the last Sunday before Christmas.

    A very old Danish custom is to give farm animals and birds special attention during the Christmas season. The barnyard and stables are thoroughly cleaned. A sheaf of grain is hung out for the birds and livestock are given extra rations on Christmas Eve. A farmer who neglects his animals at Christmas will have bad luck in the new year. (I fill my birdfeeders on Christmas Eve. Does that count?)

     One of my favorite Danish traditions is sharing holiday cheer with family, friends and neighbors. Keeping homemade goodies, cookies, cakes and pastries on hand for visitors and delivering plates of them to neighbors is part of the fun.

    The traditional Christmas feast is usually enjoyed on Christmas Eve. The meal is followed by a dessert of Ris a l’Amande, a cold, creamy rice pudding made with vanilla and almond slivers. One (or more) whole blanched almond is mixed into the pudding. Traditionally, it is made the day before or in the morning and set out during the day to prevent nisser from playing pranks. When ready to serve, hot cherry sauce is poured over the top. If cherries aren’t available, raspberries may be used. The person who finds the almond gets a prize. Everyone must keep eating the pudding until someone finds the almond.

    These Danish customs found their way into The Legacy as they are some of my favorites.

     Do you have favorite Christmas traditions or memories?

Ann Markim

    Buy Links:      Paperback at Amazon    Amazon Kindle 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Lindsay's Christmas Viking - or how I was inspired for one of my romances

In the days before covid, when I would go to speak at Women's Institute meetings, I would often be asked, "Where do you get your ideas from?"

This blog explores where and how I develop my story ideas.

Where do I get ideas from?  Everywhere. But the main triggers are:

1. What if so-and-so happened? 

2. What happened next?

3. I tend to think in pictures and scenes, as if watching a frozen film. Sometimes a scene comes into my mind and won’t go away, and then I play with it and start from there.

4. I like to be interested in everything and everyone. As I write, I try to keep in mind that everyone has a story, that everyone can be a hero or ant-hero, even if they themselves don’t know it.

How I develop ideas.

1. Start with a scene, a frozen incident.

2. Develop characters I’ll enjoy writing about, often with interesting jobs.

3. Place the characters in a setting I can relate to.

4. Give them a plot that stretches my people.

5. Mix all these together in a chapter by chapter outline.

6. Write!

An example of this process is how I came to write my Christmas Romance, "Carrie's Christmas Viking." In this case, my inspiration came from an object, the figure of a Viking that had once belonged to my father-in-law. It was known in my husband's family as Eric, so I called him Eric, too.

As you can see from the photograph, Eric is wound about by a "chain", a silver-gilt necklance that was my mother's and that I playfully draped over Eric as a means of keeping the strands from tangling. Eric stood in my window for a long time and I knew I wanted to write about him, but had not found the driver of any story.

The chains of the necklace gave me an idea. A Viking bound, a Viking trapped, that was a powerful image, a heroic, romantic image. So my next thought was "Why is he bound? How is he trapped?"

The answer suggested to me was "Magic", and after magic, the craft of a witch. A witch whom Eric had angered for some reason. Since the witch in question was a good witch, my Elfrida from "The Snow Bride" "A Summer Bewitchment" and "One Winter Knight" I knew that Eric had tried to work against her and Magnus, her warrior companion. 

Those thoughts gave me the seed that became "Carrie's Christmas Viking," a story of romance and redemption.

To read it for free, see it on KindleUnlimited.

Or buy for just 99cents or 77p.

You can read "The Snow Bride" as one of six full length medieval historical romances in the box-set "One Perfect Knight." Only $2.99 for over 2000 pages, free with KindleUnlimited and just £2.25!

Happy Holidays!

Lindsay Townsend

Thursday, December 17, 2020

New Release -- One Perfect Knight: Six Full-Length Medieval Romance Novels

Your knight in shining armor is waiting to tell his exciting story in this new boxed-set release from Prairie Rose Publications! ONE PERFECT KNIGHT is a fantastic collection of SIX full book-length tales of beautiful medieval ladies and their dangerous men as they discover the magic of love! These exciting stories are sure to capture your imagination as you travel back in time to those romantic days of knights and ladies in medieval times! Handsome warriors, valiant knights, or valorous common men of the day—all will meet their matches with the daring and unusual women they happen to fall in love with, and you won’t want to put this boxed set down until you’ve read the very last story!

Authors Deborah Macgillivray, Lindsay Townsend, Cynthia Breeding, Linda Swift, Keena Kincaid, and Livia J. Washburn spin six incredible novel-length love stories filled with danger, excitement, and romance that will keep you turning page after incredible page until the very end. What could be better than ONE PERFECT KNIGHT? How about six fabulous stories of knights, warriors, and noblemen who want nothing more than to live happily ever after—in love—with the women in their lives?


Had the music stopped, or had she just ceased to hear it? All she could do was stare into the dragon green eyes. Drown in them. This man was her destiny. Nothing else mattered. Lost in the power, Tamlyn was not aware of the hundreds of other people around them or their celebrating. To her, the world stood still, narrowed, until there was nothing but the star-filled night. And Challon.


Beautiful Elfrida is the witch of the woods, and no man dares to ask for her hand in marriage until a beast comes stalking brides and steals away her sister. Desperate, Elfrida offers herself as a sacrifice, and is seized by a man with fearful scars. Is he the beast—or will he save her, as well as the other young women who have disappeared? Sir Magnus, battle-hardened knight of the Crusades, has finished with love, until he rescues a fourth 'bride', the red-haired Elfrida, whose touch ignites a fierce passion that satisfies his deepest yearnings and darkest desires.


The legend of Camelot is born and, with it, bold passions and forbidden desire. Fiery-tempered Gwenhwyfar is chosen by Arthur to be his wife and queen… Seared by the forbidden kiss of Arthur’s most-trusted warrior, Lancelot, Gwenhwyfar is swept into a world of passion, torn by loyalty and love to a husband who betrays her and a man she cannot have. But in a time where good and evil clash, where magic and chivalry reign, love will prove a weapon as powerful as any sword.


Wait for me… Malcolm Gray asks only one thing of Alice Wykeham when he goes to sea. But ten long years go by, and Alice is forced to marry an elderly lord who is eager to claim her dowry. Malcolm has been shipwrecked and severely injured, but when he heals, he remains nearby in disguise, too late to claim his true love. When Alice discovers the lord is involved in a treasonous plan to overthrow the king, she must do something—it could be the death of her, along with Malcolm, the only man she will ever love…


Abigail d'Alene has been in love with learning all her life, and she now has the means to indulge in her passion. Disguised as a boy, she heads to Paris and the abbey schools that will one day change the world. Shocked by the ineptitude of her masquerade, Alain of Huntly Woods takes Abigail under his protection until she recovers her senses. But her audacity and intelligence spark unexpected passion. When Alain discovers Abigail's uncle plots against the English king, Alain must choose between protecting his king or the woman he loves.


In the fire opals of an ancient treasure live two djinn. Once freed from the stones, these immortal spirits will serve this master's commands. But these djinn also have another purpose—to bring the wearer a true and lasting love… Can a reluctant bride find unexpected happiness with the dark knight, Sir Connor Warrick, she agrees to marry for the sake of honor and duty? The brilliant opals of the exquisite slave bracelet unlock a magic unlike any Lady Alura has ever imagined…and a love more rare than any jewel…

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Downing's Restaurant

When I lived in Washington, DC, I spent a lot of time on the mall, visiting the museums and attractions, whether I had company or not. It was a great way to enjoy our nation's history. I haven't yet been able to get to the latest addition to the national mall in Washington, DC– The National Museum of African American History and Culture. It opened its doors on September 24, 2016 after thirteen years of planning. Since from its opening day, tickets have been hard to come by, the Washington Post ran a series of articles on various people and artifacts contained therein. 

Photo Credit: Alan Karchmer


One of my good friends, who still lives in the DC area, called me at some point during this series to tell me how amazed she was to see an article about Downing’s Restaurant. This New York oyster restaurant first appeared in my book The Abolitionist’s Secret, the second book in the Cotillion Ball Series. It was the Fitzpatrick family’s favorite place to celebrate major and minor events over the years and has appeared in several other books in the series as well. 


So if even my best friend was unaware I had done my homework, and that I hadn’t pulled the name out of my imagination, I thought it was time I dug a little deeper into the men who owned Downing’s. 


Thomas Downing was the son of freed slaves, and lived in New York City, where he began a catering business that evolved into a restaurant. He specialized in oysters, and could be seen daily rowing out to the fishermen and hand-picking the oysters which would show up on his restaurant tables each evening. His was a first-class operation, opening in the 1820s, and featured a plethora of oyster dishes, including poached turkey stuffed with oysters, a holiday favorite. His growing wealth and his vital role in ending slavery earned him a lauded status in New York City’s black community. 

Thomas Downing


While his reputation as a restaurant owner grew over the years, what he did in private was what made him a natural candidate for inclusion in the National Museum of African American History. Along with his sons George and Peter, he provided a vital cog in the Underground Railroad prior to the Emancipation Proclamation. While the local wealthy and powerful enjoyed the food offered in the restaurant, Thomas’ son George directed slaves on the run to the basement of the restaurant, where they’d be safe from the bounty hunters, at least for the night. They helped runaway slaves get to Canada from 1825 to 1860. 


George Downing was born in 1819 in New York City. Thomas made certain George got a good education, sending him to a private school and then the old Mulberry Street school. It was at Mulberry Street where he formed lasting relationships with Charles and Patrick Reasoner, Henry Highland Garnet, Alexander Crummell and James McCune Smith, all of whom became active in the abolitionist movement. His abolitionist activities began while he was still underage, when he smuggled a young black man from jail. George was arrested and later released after paying for the slave. George and his father both lobbied the New York legislature for equal suffrage, and through their ties to men of influence politically from their restaurant and catering activities, became active both above ground and underground. 


In addition to opening his own restaurant, George managed the US House of Representatives’ dining room, which gave him unparalleled access to high-level politicians of the day. Once the Civil War ended, and the Underground Railroad was no longer needed, George worked on a variety of issues, most notably desegregation of the schools. 


Here are a couple excerpts from The Abolitionist’s Secret, to show how Downing’s Restaurant and their basement activities were woven into the story line: 



New York, April 1856


The hair on the back of Heather Fitzpatrick’s neck rose. She glanced around the opulent restaurant, trying to find the cause of her discomfort. Her eyes locked with those of a military officer sitting with two other men at a table across the room. A bolt of electricity ricocheted between them. Heather could not move for a moment, or break the contact. She finally forced her eyes away from him and placed the menu in front of her face.

“Whatever is the matter, dear?” Her mother asked. “Don’t tell me you are coming down with the same stomach upset that Jasmine has.”

“No, Mother, it’s nothing. I feel fine.” She placed a hand on her stomach, willing it to stop fluttering about. 

Thomas Downing, a free man of color and the owner of the restaurant, came to their table. “Mr. and Mrs. Fitzpatrick, how nice to see you again. And young Miss Fitzpatrick.” He nodded in Heather’s direction.

Heather’s mother, Charlotte, glanced up from the menu. “Hello, Thomas. We’re here tonight to sample some of your exquisite oysters.”

“Best in the city. You know, I row out every morning to the fishermen in the harbor and pick through their catch to find the finest oysters from the bay for my customers.” Thomas smiled, and white teeth flashed in his dark face. A bottle of chilled champagne sat in a bucket of ice. Thomas opened it with a flourish and filled the three glasses at the table with the bubbly pinkish liquid. 

 “The table setting is just lovely, Thomas,” Charlotte said. sliding off her long white gloves and touching the fresh flowers in the center of the table. “Your attention to detail is impeccable, as always.” 

“Why, thank you, Mrs. Fitzpatrick. That’s a mighty fine compliment, coming from you. Now, may I start you off with your usual appetizer?”

Heather’s father, George Fitzpatrick, answered, “I see no reason to break with tradition, Thomas.”

As Thomas departed to see to their appetizers, Heather said, “I love coming here. You know, my friend Mary Rose told me her family would not dream of coming to any restaurant owned by a Negro, regardless of the quality of the food.”

“Fortunately, we’re a bit more enlightened than that,” her father replied quietly. “We’ve known Thomas, and his son George, for a long time now, and we know the good they do for the cause. If, by us patronizing their restaurant, it enables them to help one more person, we are happy to come here.”

Charlotte turned her attention to Heather and George. “It’s so nice to have this quiet evening before we begin the season in earnest. Shall we toast to a successful Cotillion?” She raised her champagne flute.



              Looking over her shoulder before ducking into the dark alley, Heather followed her mother to the back of Downing's Restaurant. They both carried bundles in their arms. Charlotte knocked on a door that led from the alley into the restaurant. Mounds of oyster shells were stacked nearby. Heather wrinkled her nose at the pungent smell of rotting seafood as they waited for admittance. 

The door finally opened quietly and they hurried into the bright, noisy kitchen. Without a word, they were led to the downstairs rooms, which housed the offices of the restaurant staff. When Charlotte cleared her throat, Thomas Downing looked up from his desk. His face registered surprise as he smiled at them. 

"Ah, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, Miss Fitzpatrick, how nice to see you again."

"We wanted to bring you some clothes we no longer need. Perhaps you can find someone who might make use of them?"

They opened their bundles to show the array of housedresses, children's clothing and underthings. Thomas looked at them appreciatively. 

"Let me get my son, George. He will have more use for this than I will. I merely operate a restaurant. He runs the depot stop.”

Thomas hurried out of the office and down the hall. Quickly, he returned with George Downing, who glanced at the mound of clothing on the desk. “Thank you both. I do have someone in need of new clothing, so this will definitely help."

Thomas moved his gaze from the clothing to the women. “May I extend another apology to you both for having your dinner cut short last night? Those slave mongers don’t seem to mind destroying my restaurant’s reputation by interrupting business to find their missing persons.”

“Oh, Thomas, that’s quite all right,” Charlotte responded. “We know it was out of your control. However, we did happen to find something as we left that I think would be of interest to you and George.”


Heather stood on her tiptoes and held on to George’s arm as she whispered to the men. “We found what the slave mongers were looking for, in the alley near your back door,” 

George shut the door to the office before he turned to the women. Despite the relative privacy of his office, he still spoke in a whisper as he asked, “What did you do with her? And the babe?”

Charlotte replied, “We did the only logical thing we could think of, and took her home with us. She and the baby are staying in our carriage house until we can deliver them back to you.”

“You mustn’t bring her back here. The bounty hunters have gone on upstate, which is where she will head next, so she must stay put for a week or so, until her trail goes cold. And one person has stayed behind to watch for her here.”

“Whatever shall we do?” Heather asked. 

Charlotte seemed to be lost in her own thoughts for a moment. Then, she brightened and turned to George Downing. “I have it!” Charlotte said as she grabbed Heather’s hands in her own. “We’ll employ her as a lady’s maid, to help Colleen get you and Jasmine ready for the Cotillion. Since there are two of you to dress, she’ll need the extra help.”

“Yes, that might work,” George whispered back. “I need to speak to her, though.”

“Yes, well or course. That’s why we’re here.” Charlotte grinned at the men. “Since we missed dinner last night, we would like to place an order to be delivered to the house. Could you arrange it?”

Thomas replied, “I will personally see to it, and I’ll have George deliver it to your home in an hour. It’s the least we can do, to make up for last evening.” 






Monday, December 14, 2020

O Christmas Tree

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum, wie true sind deine Blätter!

Thus begins the famous carol to an evergreen tree. The origins of the Christmas tree are suspected to go all the way back to the use of evergreens and green palm branches in ancient Egypt and Rome. During the winter solstice celebrations, decorating with evergreen symbolized the return of spring and new birth.

Then a German clergyman—and protestant reformer--named Martin Luther started the tradition we know today. It’s said he was walking home one winter night when he stopped to marvel at the stars twinkling through the branches of the trees. He brought one of those trees home and secured candles on the branches in order to share something of the beauty with his wife and children.

The Christmas tree wasn’t present in America until the mid-1800s, in part because of our Puritan forefathers’ disdain for anything they considered pagan mockery of the solemn celebration of Christ’s birth. Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.” In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts went so far as to enact a law making any observance of December 25 beyond a church service a offense warranting jail time. Yes,  people were fined for hanging decorations. This continued until the 1800s, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy.

The tree as we know it today really took off in popularity when England’s Queen Victoria and her German prince, Albert, were sketched with their children in front of a decorated tree in 1846. That had everyone on both sides of the pond scurrying to copy the popular royal couple.

The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts.

By 1890, glass ornaments were arriving in the U.S. from Germany, and the advent of electricity brought about Christmas lights, and Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition.

As a point of interest, POTUS 26, Theodore Roosevelt, tried to ban Christmas trees in the White House, due to his concern that the cutting down of so many trees contributed to deforestation and he wanted to set a better example. His ban wasn’t successful, however, even in his own home – one of his sons defied him and set up a small tree anyway.

Lest you think the true meaning of Christmas was lost on this evergreen symbol, I invite you to consider that the shape of the tree, a triangle, represents the triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And the tree represents Christ and new life.

Merry Christmas!


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Sunday, December 13, 2020

Book review: One Hot Knight anthology


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Come join us for a medieval collection of wonderful romantic tales that take place during the hottest part of the year with ONE HOT KNIGHT! This unusual offering of summertime stories set between the medieval times of 1100-1300, of hot nights and even hotter knights, will keep you reading long past bedtime.

You’ll be entranced with these five tales of knights and their ladies from some of today’s top medieval authors, as well as some rising stars in this up-and-coming genre.

Lindsay Townsend, Deborah Macgillivray, Cynthia Breeding, Angela Raines, and Keena Kincaid offer you some of the best medieval-themed stories written, filled with romance and intrigue, laced with traditions and celebrations of this rich era.

Prairie Rose Publications is proud to introduce yet another wonderful collection of exciting tales for your reading pleasure. ONE HOT KNIGHT is sure to bring you hours of enjoyment as you read on to find out how these knights and ladies will find their very own "happily-ever-after" endings at this very “hottest” time of year!

My review:

I'm highlighting Deborah Macgillivray's Gambit, Check and Mate story.  

Hmmmm mmmm there's just something about the Dragons of Challon world that Deborah Macgillivray created that keeps me coming back to it and wrapping me up in the feel-goods.

This tale is about Cianna, the Lady of the Isle, finding herself trapped in the hands of Fate as she faces Iain Sinclair, the Black Lord of Dunnascaul (and he's as charming as his name implies), in a bid to save her people. Both have a need that they are drawn to desire the other to supply, however wariness and jadedness tarnish some of that trust. And oh the games and intrigue that follows, in words and in deed, and of the heart, just delightful! (in a I'm so glad I'm experiencing this through a story and not in reality kinda way! haha). I love their strength of character and spark-filled interaction with each other. And the fierceness that Cianna displays to protect what's hers - deep happy sigh - and the way Iain gives Cianna what she needs - beautiful (and fun!).  These two proved why they were the perfect match.

And when my (still pretty sure top) favorite Challon and his woman arrive on scene - cherry on top!

If you're a fan of the Dragons of Challon series, you definitely don't want to miss any of the short stories in the medieval anthologies Deborah Macgillivray is in - they're all based in the same world and just add that much more depth and beauty to it. Plus, even though they're shorter/novella length, they all pack a satisfying punch.

Purchase link:


Thursday, December 10, 2020

A quirky and wonderful tale and celebration in Cornwall -- Tom Bawcock's Eve

My friend Candy and I always celebrate a wonderfully quaint and quirky holiday in Cornwall, England -- Tom Bowcock's Eve.  It's our way of honouring her late sister, Dawn Thompson.  Many of her novels were set in Cornwall, so we remember her and a place she loved so well.

Tom Bawcock's Eve
 is an annual festival, held on 23rd December, in
 Mousehole, Cornwall, near Penzance, England

The festival is a celebration and memorial for legendary Mousehole resident Tom Bawcock. 
Cornwalls suffers violent storms called flaws, and they can wipe out crops, leaving a small, isolated village in dire circumstances.  During a time of famine in the 16th century, and with Christmas upon them, Tom risked his life by going out to fish during a great mid-winter storm, in a heroic effort to save the people of Mousehole from starving.  Braving the high seas, Tom launched his small boat, and to everyone's surprise, returned with enough fish to feed the whole village.  A true Christmastide miracle.

The legend even inspired a story, The Mousehole Cat available on

During this festival Stargazy pie (a mixed fish, egg and potato pie with protruding fish heads) is eaten, and depending on the weather each year, a celebration of a lantern procession takes place, with singing and dancing along the harbour.  It's simply magical!!!

Stargazy pie

2 1⁄4 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. mustard powder
12 tbsp. unsalted butter
6 tbsp. ice-cold water

6 slices bacon, cut into one inch pieces
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1⁄2 cup chicken stock
1⁄3 cup crème fraîche
2 tbsp. English mustard
2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper, to taste|
8 fresh sardines, cleaned, heads attached
3 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled, and sliced

Crust: Whisk flour, mustard, and salt in a bowl. Using blend butter into flour mixture, forming pea-size crumbles. Add water.  Work dough until smooth but with visible flecks of butter. Divide dough in half and flatten into disks. Wrap disks in plastic wrap; chill 1 hour before using.
Filling: Heat bacon in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat.  Cook until slightly crisp, 5–7 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Add butter and onion to pan.  Cook until golden, 5–7 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in stock, crème fraîche, mustard, parsley, lemon juice, half the egg, and salt; set aside.

Heat oven to 400°. On a lightly floured surface, roll 1 disk of dough into a 12” round. Fit into a 9” pie plate; trim edges, leaving 1” dough overhanging edge of plate. Arrange sardines in a clocklike pattern with heads resting along edge of crust. Pour filling over sardines; top with reserved bacon, the hard-boiled eggs, salt, and pepper. Roll remaining disk of dough into a 12” round; cut eight 1” slits in dough about 2” from the edge. Place over top of pie and pull sardine heads through slits. Pinch top and bottom edges together and fold under; crimp edges. Brush with remaining egg and cut three 1”-long slits in top of pie; bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 35–40 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

So, if you are ever in Cornwall before Christmas be sure to enjoy this wonderful time!

Happy Bawcock's Eve!!!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Poker and Card-Playing in Gambling with Love from Gambling on a Cowboy boxed set by Kaye Spencer #prairierosepubs #westernromance #westernromanceboxedset


Long about 2007ish, I entered an on-line writing contest sponsored by a book promotion company. It was a 3-Round competition. The first two stages of the contest were writing the first 1000 words of a two stories based on pre-determined story prompts. The third stage was to create a newsletter. At each stage, you posted your entry and readers logged-in and voted. Finalists went on to the next level. (FYI: I made it to the newsletter level with both of my story prompts, but I didn’t win. I think I placed third or fourth.) 

Anyway, Gambling with Love, which is included in the new boxed set from Prairie Rose Publications (released November 122, 2020) evolved from one of those story prompts. Here’s the prompt:

Character A is in law enforcement and must find and arrest Character B. These characters have a romantic history that went sour. Character A’s feelings are still strong for Character B. Write their reunion scene with the arrest in mind.

Gambling with Love is set in 1883 in Denver, Colorado against the backdrop of a high-stakes poker tournament. The heroine, Lainie Conrad (Character B) is a professional poker player seeking revenge against the gambler responsible for her husband’s murder. Her plans for revenge are compromised when U.S. Deputy Marshal Nick Foster (Character A) shows up to arrest and escort her back east to stand trial for suspected murder.

While I grew up in a card-playing family, I’ve never played much poker, although I’m comfortable with a friendly game now and then. In order to write the poker scene in Gambling with Love with historical accuracy, I needed to refresh my memory with the basic rules and etiquette and also research the history of cards and poker to put it into historical context. I was not disappointed in the plethora of websites, blogs, and books on both topics.

Here’s where I started:

  • Playing cards date historically from as early as 10th century Asia;
  • 14th century Europe saw a variety of playing card designs develop;
  • By the late 15th century, the 52-card deck was popular as the standard preferred deck even though many card games only called for 20-32 cards, which limited the number of players in a game;
  • 15th century England and France saw the evolution of  the four suits of Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs; and Court Cards—King, Queen, Jack—were influenced by English and French royalty.
  • Another interesting aspect of cards is the Joker, also called the Jack of Trumps, Imperial Trump, and Wild Card. This card may have evolved from an Americanized version of the European card game, Euchre, which required an extra card (called the trump card or Jack of Trumps). Consequently, in keeping with the royal court cards, the Joker came to represent the Court Jester or Fool.
  • The Joker has a paradoxical appeal because it carries special properties as the Imperial Trump or Wild Card and, in that role, can resolve problems and win “tricks”. The Joker is as powerful as it is insignificant. It can represent any card and yet it represents nothing without a purposeful designation.



Example of a trump/wild card
Image courtesy Creative Commons License


Taking the trivia-history of poker a bit farther...

Poker’s hazy origins are of some debate among those who study this sort of thing. There are arguments supporting its creation in the ancient Orient to the game evolving as a pirate’s pastime. However, there is some agreement that poker’s historical roots reach back to a French card game of vying, bluffing, and betting called “Poque” in which one said Je poque to open the betting.

 In America, Poque dates back to the French settlers of early 1800s New Orleans. As the game of poker spread northwards along the Mississippi River, it followed the expansion of the American frontier with the rush to the California gold fields in 1849 and later with the further opening of the west after the Civil War. “Brag”, a three-card British betting card game with a drawing component, influenced the rules of Poque and the “draw” was incorporated into the game. By the mid-1800s, the game was known by its American name, Poker, and was increasingly played with all 52 cards to allow for more players. The term “Draw Poker” was first recorded c. 1850.


Kaye’s copy of Hoyle’s Card Games Rules

  According to the Hoyle 1854 edition, these were the accepted hands:

  •  one pair
  • two pairs
  • straight sequence or rotation
  • triplets
  • flush
  • full house
  • fours

Apparently, Draw and Stud Poker rules appeared for the first time in the card games rule book, The American Hoyle, in the 1875 edition. The 1887 edition noted that four of a kind was the best hand when straights were not played. Interestingly enough, for many years, straights were not generally accepted poker hands.

 Hoyle’s rules stated that when a straight and a flush came together, it outranked a full house, but not fours. Until the 1890s, the highest possible hand was four Aces or four Kings with an Ace kicker (a.k.a. wild card, imperial trump or “cuter”). Not only was this hand unbeatable, it could not be tied.

Obviously, the player holding four kings and an ace couldn’t be beaten, however, a ‘cuter’ was a specific type of wild card in that it often bore a dangerously close resemblance to the ace of spades. More than one old west legend sprang up about gamblers losing high stakes pots to this clever imposter when they erroneously thought they held all four aces.

Why did I explain all of this? 

I incorporated a ‘cuter’, aka imperial trump, into the big poker game as a devious little plot twist in Gambling with Love to keep the players in the final Winner-Takes-All round of the card game between the heroine, Laine Conrad, and the villain, Ford Tolliver.

Here is a teaser from that scene.

It took Count Henri longer to pose for photographs than it had for the other gentlemen, and during those minutes of idleness, Ford stood at his place, stretched, and visited with his attentive lady-companion. A waiter refilled Lainie’s coffee cup. Camera flashes followed by applause signaled the game was about to resume. Larnéll assisted with arranging the chips she’d won from the last pot into her rack and, in doing so, a handful of chips toppled off the edge of the table.

As he gathered them, Larnéll whispered with some urgency, “The woman with Tolliver slipped him a cold deck. I would venture that a dealer accepted money in exchange for a used one in which Tolliver rightly assumed the same deck would be used in the championship game. The woman carried it so he wouldn’t be caught with it on his person should a search of pockets occur. Do you want to stop the game? I can have him ejected, and you will win by default.” Larnéll took his time arranging the errant chips into the corresponding rows of value in the rack.

Lainie’s heart pounded in her ears; heat rose up her neck. Damn him! Taking up the water glass, she sipped to cover the turmoil raging inside her. His daring to swap a deck he’d arranged himself in full view of this attentive throng of onlookers was incredible. His was an arrogant confidence she couldn’t fathom. She’d expected fancy finger work when he dealt, but had naively underestimated his nerve to ring-in a stacked deck. 

   She had to know how good she really was, and Ford was her ultimate test, both personally and professionally.

“No. The game continues.”

Larnéll nodded. “As the lady wishes.” 

Gambling on a Cowboy boxed set Available on HERE

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

Stay in contact with Kaye—

 Amazon Author Page | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | BookBub

Read about the history poker in the American Old West, refer to the Time-Life Books series on The Old West, specifically the volume devoted to “The Gamblers” or visit the innumerable internet sources devoted to the game of poker, which are too numerous to list here.