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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Ringing in the New Year


At the end of the year, we will ring in 2023 hoping for more peace, happiness and success than we’ve had in 2022. Toward this end we make resolutions to do things differently or to change our habits. But many of us have traditions which we observe as we makes these transitions.

In my family, we have two traditional soups that we associate Christmas and New Year’s. One is French Onion, and the other is my daughter’s specialty, Leek and Potato. Depending on who is cooking when, these recipes alternate between the holidays. This year it’s my turn to cook for New Year’s so we’ll be having French Onion Soup.

Here is my French Onion Soup recipe in case you’d like to try it for New Year’s or later in the new year.

French Onion Soup 

5 large yellow onions

3 tbsp. butter

1 tbsp. oil

2 – 13 ¼ oz. cans beef broth

2 tbsp. flour

½ cup dry white wine

Salt & pepper

6 – ½ inch slices French bread (I usually make more to use with leftovers as   

         I like   mine with lots of bread.)

½ - 1 cup Shredded Swiss cheese (again, I like it with lots of cheese.)

½ cup Parmesan Cheese


Day before: Peel and slice onions. Heat butter and oil; cook onions and 1 tsp. sugar slowly over low to medium heat, stirring often until soft and golden. (This may take an hour or more.)


Meanwhile, bring broth to simmer. When onions are done, sprinkle with flour and stir over low heat 2 minutes. Off heat, stir broth and wine into onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer partially covered for 15 minutes.


Lightly toast bread slices on a baking sheet in a 325 degree oven for about 20 minutes. They should get dry, but not necessarily brown. Store in plastic bag until ready to serve. Do ahead to here. Let soup cool and keep in refrigerator.


To serve: Preheat broiler. Heat soup on stovetop until hot. Taste soup, add salt and pepper if needed. Ladle hot soup into oven-proof individual serving bowls. Lightly butter toasted bread. Sprinkle with Swiss cheese the top with Parmesan. Place under broiler and keep a close watch until cheese melts and browns lightly. Serve at once.


Do you have any New Year’s traditions in your family?

Best wishes for a wonderful 2023!


   Ann Markim




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Monday, December 26, 2022

Two Literary Houses and an Interesting Museum with an amazing Treasure

 Recently my husband and I attended a family wedding. We drove from Yorkshire and stayed in a cottage in the village of Chawton in Hampshire, almost next door to the house where Jane Austen lived.

Chawton is a delightful country village, close to the market town of Alton. The manor house where Jane Austen's brother Edward sometimes lived lies a short walk away and Jane knew it well. Her sister and mother are buried close by,  in the grounds of St Nicholas' Church, and you can see their well-tended graves.

The cottage where Jane lived with her sister Cassandra and her mother and where she revised Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice and wrote Mansfield PartEmma and Persuasion, is airy and spacious with beautiful gardens. Inside you can see the tiny table on which Jane wrote her novels. Chawton itself was within walking or donkey-cart distance of Alton and a surprisingly bustling place in Jane's time since the main coach road ran through the village.

Four miles from Chawton in Selborne, the house of the naturalist Gilbert White is larger, with extensive gardens. You can see his study and writing desk. I would have liked to have walked up the Hanger on the path Gilbert White made but sadly could not - I had a chest infection and was too ill. But an interesting visit, nonetheless.

On one of my better days, when I wasn't coughing so much, we also visited Alton and Alton Museum. This is a wonderful place, full of fascinating exhibits dating from the Stone Age onwards. Being especially intrigued by the Middle Ages, I loved the Anglo-Saxon gold Alton buckle. This had obviously a much-treasured item, as it had been carefully repaired. [Picture from Hampshire Council's pages for Alton Museum.]

Here is an excerpt, in the viewpoint of the hero, Conrad, where he and others are considering a great golden torc. I had in my mind the Snettisham gold torc when I wrote my story, and you can see a photo of that find below.

Curious where he had not been greatly intrigued before, merely staying with Maggie to ensure she was safe, Conrad waited for the smoke of the priest’s spitting, damp torch to settle, and then looked for himself.
So much bright gold, was his first thought, while Richard, naturally stretched out sticky fingers to paw at the pieces and Earl John intoned, “Roman, or earlier, and fit for a king.”
"This is the holy moon torc of Saint Oswald!” snapped the priest, keen to put the church’s ownership beyond doubt, “Discovered in a pond near here by my great-grandfather!”
"I have heard tell of such sacred wonders before,” said Conrad, hoping to prevent the priest and earl from saying more in anger or gold-greed that they could not take back.
“It was a woman’s,” said Maggie softly beside him, glancing once at him to share her thought. 

Wishing everyone a golden holiday season and a bright new year.

Lindsay Townsend 

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Unusual Christmas Decorations from Around the World

 Unusual Christmas Decorations from Around the World

C. A. Asbrey

Christmas is something that has travelled around the globe, and every country, or culture, has made it their own. That has resulted in many unique and beautiful decorations that may seem strange to outsiders, but which tell us a bit more about their history and folklore.

Some of it may seem familiar to you, but to the rest of us, they're novel and delightful items. The first will probably seem commonplace to our American readers, but to my Scottish eyes looks very new.

The Weihnachtsgurke or Christmas Pickle

The Weihnachtsgurke, or Christmas Pickle, is popular in certain areas of the USA, and although it's rumoured to be a German tradition, but there's no evidence to support that it's anything other North American. No historic examples can be found anywhere in Germany, but it does seem to be something that's particular to German Americans.

One suggested origin relates to the Civil War in 1864, and a Bavarian-born Private John C. Lower was a starving prisoner of war. He begged the guard for food on Christmas Eve, and was given a pickle which he later credited for saving his life. The story goes that every year Lower hung a pickle on his Christmas tree and brought the family in to find it for luck. The tradition spread, and people started asking for them when Woolworths began carrying glass ornaments from Lauscha. Another suggestion is that the first ornaments were based on fruit and vegetables that could be blown in glass, but that the pickles weren't selling well. The theory is that a marketing decision was made to invent a history to move the merchandise, and as the German Americans were the second largest immigrant group in America, they had a decent demographic to appeal to.

They became so popular that they have actually started selling in Germany.

In a similar vein, many Scots place a robin on their tree—just one, and usually hidden in the undergrowth. The tradition is that children should find the robin without help from the adults and kiss it. The origins of this tradition are obscure, but likely are tied up with the Celtic superstition that robins are an intermediary with the other world. The saying, "When robins appear, loved ones are near" brings the comfort of a visit from dead loved ones for the holiday season.

I hide a robin in my tree every year, and always have done.

Ukraine is high in everyone's consciousness at the moment, and they also have a unique spin, quite literally, on Christmas decorations. They decorate with beautiful golden spider webs.

These are based on the old folk tale of a woman who had no Christmas decorations, and the spiders answered her prayers, and decorated her tree for her. The frost bejewelled the webs, and then a touch of magic turned them to gold and silver when the sun rose. They had the most beautiful Christmas tree, and were able to sell the webs afterwards, lifting them out of poverty. Some Ukrainians also add jewelled spiders, which are seen as lucky.

El Caganer

The Catalonians decorate with a figure called El Caganer. It translates as The Pooper, and has been found in Nativity scenes since the seventeenth century. Similar characters can be found throughout southwestern Europe, particularly in Murcia, Valencia, and Naples. The origins are unclear, but as there is a pooping figure carved in the cathedral of Cuidad Rodrigo which was built between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. There also seem to be cultural links with the Tió de Nadal Cachafuòc or Soc de Nadal which is a log that is presented to the children on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec 8th. The children are given the job of caring for, and feeding, the log until Christmas eve when it is placed on the fireplace and beaten with sticks until it defecates sweets.

The ancient links to these figures may come from the fact that they are also areas where ancient Celtic tribes had strongholds that were overtaken by Christianity. And in most such places, traditional elements have always persevered, although in a changed and evolved way. Some have conjectured that it relates to fertility, and is definitely associated with luck. There are many European superstitions connected to animal mess, be it being hit with bird poop, to standing in animal faeces - all considered counterintuitively lucky.

The rise of the use of the figure in the Baroque period might have been part of a culture clash between locals and the Council of Trent's counter-reformation pushing a doctrine that art "should be easily understood and strongly felt by common people with the effect of encouraging piety and an awe for the church." The fact that these figures appear in religious scenes, and undermine the awe to the point of inspiring laughter can't be just a coincidence. Couple this with the Catalonian saying, "Menja bé, caga fort i no tinguis por a la mort! ("Eat well, shit heartily, and don't be afraid of death!")". It shows a grab-life-by-the-throat kind of spirit, and one that doesn't take itself too seriously 

It was always traditionally a male peasant figure, but in recent years both male and female versions have become available, with a popular line in famous figures being sold to tourists. 

In Greece, they often don't have a tree at all. They have the Christmas boat or “karavaki”, beautiful boats covered in lights. When trees are put up, the children make pretty little boats to hang from the branches. The boats are then used like little baskets to hold sweets and treats. Where there are real boats, they are often festooned in coloured lights in harbours and on beaches.   


In Norway they weave little paper baskets to hang on the tree called Julekurver. These baskets are then filled with sweets. It is rumoured that Hans Christian Andersen started this tradition, but this can't be verified. These beautiful little containers can be made in a variety of shapes and colours, and increasingly the heart version has been taken up by crafters in the USA to be used on Valentine's Day. They are fairly easy to make (so I'm told. I've never tried, but they are so pretty I may have to start). If you are keen to have a go, there are numerous videos and instructions online.

Whatever you do for the holidays, however you worship, and whoever you spend them with, I wish you all a very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year. Happy everything to everyone!


She sighed, turning to him. “Oh, Nat. What a mess. What can we do?” “Do?” 

He leaned in inches from her face, his hot breath hitting her flesh. “We have another chance. We grab it with both hands.” 

“And do what?” Her eyes glittered with inquiring intensely. 

“I still won’t be involved with a criminal. I won’t live life on the run.”

He reached out and stroked her cheek, his smile slipping so easily into the feral. “But you’d be so good at it.” 

“I’m not joking, Nat. We both know there’s something deep here, but it’s not a relationship until we move things on. Falling in love is a big enough gamble as it is without making things more dangerous.” 

He arched his brows, his face lighting. “Love? You love me?” 

“One of us had to say it, and I’m no coward.” She tilted her head proactively. “You have all the missing pieces of my soul. The question is, do I complete the puzzle and accept them?” 

“Oh, neither of us have a choice in that. It’s whether we learn to live with it or fight it.” He rolled a hand into her hair, threading it between between his fingers as he grasped the back of her head and pulled her to him. His kiss was fierce, flooding her senses and causing the world to fall away beneath her. He pulled back staring straight into her with an honesty more frightening than his lies. “Which is it?” 

Her brows met in consternation. “I just told you I love you. Is that all you have to say?” 

The lights in his eyes danced, the way only his devilment could. “Abi…of course I love you. Haven’t I told you so in every breath since we met? Love isn’t only a word. It’s what we do.” His fingers trailed lazily over her cheeks and down to her neck. He brushed her earlobe with velvet lips, moving to her neck. Her head rolled back and her lips parted involuntarily as he toyed with sweet spot on her neck. He was playing with her, making her wait for the crashing crescendo to flood her senses. His mellifluous baritone floated in her ear. “Come with me, Abi. Let me show you more.” His fingers interlaced with hers and he stood, pulling her to her feet, embracing her like a dancing partner. “Let me show how much I love you.” 

She reached out and drew him into a sensual kiss, running her hands through his thick hair. His hand dropped to her hip, moving her inexorably toward the door. It settled there and pulled her close to his hard chest. She groaned, anticipating his next move. 

She slipped one foot behind his and pushed hard. Surprise crowded his face as he tumbled backward onto the floor. “What the hell—"

Her generous lips tugged into her lopsided smile. “You think I’m going to fall into your bed? Think again, Mr. Quinn. If you want to show me love, you can think of a way out of this mess first. Do something to show you deserve me." 


Sunday, December 4, 2022


 Post by Doris McCraw aka Angela Raines

Do you ever ask yourself why you are a writer or why you do anything on the creative spectrum? As the year closes out, perhaps it's time for reflection.

When I take the time to review my year, my whys, and my accomplishments it allows me to take stock of my creative life.

My goal this year had been to put out four pieces of work. I managed to get out three. By taking a look at how I was able to get done what I got done and what kept me from finishing my goal is a way for me to see what I need to change for next year.

I didn't do as much marketing as I've done in the past yet with the publications I managed to stay ahead of the curve.

Now you may ask why do I take the time to do this? I made the goal I just didn't finish it. Now here is where the WHY comes in. Why do I even write? Why did I leave music and theater where I was with other people to take up a solitary profession? All of this plays into the answers.

Photo property of the author.

Although I do love music and theater as time has passed I found that I enjoy my alone time more than I used to. At the same time, I have to be creative, it's a part of my DNA. Additionally, income does play a part in it. I made good money in the theater arts. The thing about the theatrical arts is it's not necessarily consistent jobs and incomes. As an author, I can make up a little bit of the difference in consistency by being responsible for my own output.

This takes us back to why I review my year. The 2022 review has pointed out the following:

1. Putting out four publications a year will keep my name in front of readers.

2. More focus needs to be put on marketing.

3. I will continue to add nonfiction work to my novel and short-story works.

4. Scheduling more time to share not only my work but the work of others is something that is important to me.

5. I still have a lot of stories I want to tell.

Do you know your WHY? Do you review your year? What are your end-of-year processes? I'd love to know.

Until 2023, have a wonderful rest of your year, enjoy the Holidays and keep on writing.

Doris McCraw

Thursday, December 1, 2022

New Release — The Millionaire (Friendly Creek Book 4) by Agnes Alexander


Dylan Abernathy’s tyrannical grandmother dies, leaving him her fortune—all amassed by deceitful and unsavory business practices. Even worse, he discovers she’s lied to him his entire life about his father, even conspiring to kill the man to keep Dylan from learning what she’s done. But with her death and Dylan’s new-found knowledge, he sets out on a mission to find his father—and see what kind of man he is.

Dylan, his housekeeper Redella, and his cook Bernice, set out for Friendly Creek where his father was last known to live—but the journey from Baltimore to Wyoming holds many surprises for the three of them. When they reach Friendly Creek, Dylan sets about righting the wrongs his vengeful grandmother caused. Finding his father leads him to discover there is much more to the secrets of his birth than he ever could have guessed.

When Dylan is almost murdered, he is cared for by a beautiful young woman, Tara Ramsey, who is a maid in his household. After his brush with death, he realizes how important Tara has become to him, and begins to wonder if they might have a future together, despite their very different lives. Dylan knows he must get to the bottom of the mystery of the would-be killer’s attempt on his life to have any hope of happiness with Tara.

Dylan and Tara search for answers together, both realizing that they have fallen in love with one another. But can a millionaire be happy with a maid? Despite their very different lives, can love be enough to bring the two lovers together forever?


It was a breezy, rainy day, three weeks later, when Redella came into the kitchen and found long-time cook, Bernice Atwell, sitting at the worktable drinking coffee. “I got rid of that Gleeson woman and her shy daughter.”

“I don’t know why they keep coming by. Can’t they understand that since the mistress is dead, there’s nobody else here to make Mr. Dylan marry that girl?”

“Obviously not. I guess she thinks things will happened just as she and Mrs. Abernathy had planned, and he’ll marry Suzette, and they’ll all become one big family.”

Bernice chuckled. “I see you didn’t say one big happy family.”

Amazon Link

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

The Great San Francisco Quake


Market Street, 1905

     On April 18, 1906, most residents of the San Francisco Bay area were still asleep. Those who were awake were already at work or preparing to begin their Wednesday activities.  At 5:12 A.M. there was a loud rumbling and the widespread shuddering of a foreshock. Approximately twenty-five seconds later, this was followed by violent shaking for about 42 seconds. This earthquake would go down as one of the worst natural disasters in history.

     People as far north as southern Oregon, as far south as southern California and as far to the east as Nevada felt the quake’s tremors. Bay area residents were knocked to the ground, thrown from their beds, or trapped under the weight of collapsing buildings. Even though the epicenter was two miles west of San Francisco in the Pacific Ocean, the earthquake was picked up by seismometers in Europe and Asia.

Market Street after the Earthquake

      Estimates of the magnitude of the quake range from 7.7 to 8.25, with the most widely accepted value being 7.8 on the Richter scale. The San Andreas Fault ruptured for a total of 296 miles, with varying degrees of impact along the length of the rupture, but San Francisco and the surrounding area sustained the most severe destruction.

     The force of the earthquake damaged and demolished buildings, tore gas lines open, snapped electric lines, and destroyed water mains throughout the city. Fires ignited by leaking gas, electrical sparks and in broken chimneys spread quickly without readily available water in many areas to fight them.  The police destroyed an estimated $30,000 in alcohol, in order to remove flammable materials from the path of the flames.

San Francisco on Fire

     In an attempt to stop—or at least contain—the fires, the S.F. Fire Department requested dynamite from the Army base at the Presidio. They planned to create firebreaks by demolishing buildings. Unfortunately, the fire fighters and the Army troops that helped them had little experience with using dynamite to fight fire. The Presidio sent black gunpowder, a highly flammable explosive, instead of nitroglycerine or stick dynamite. Consequently, the effort to establish firebreaks only created additional paths for the fire to spread by destroying buildings and walls that might have helped to stop the flames. Flaming debris created by the explosions ignited even more fires. Over the three days immediately following the earthquake, 492 city blocks burned.

     But the Army did provide many crucial services in the immediate aftermath. Soldiers patrolled the streets to help keep peace and discourage looting. They guarded government buildings. The quake itself and resulting fires left tens of thousands of San Francisco residents homeless. Initially, these displaced people established makeshift camps in parks and in or near burnt-out buildings. As the fires raged in the eastern part of the city, these people moved west in search of food and shelter. The Army assumed responsibility for feeding, clothing and sheltering the displaced men, women and children, housing 20,000 people at the Presidio and managing twenty-one of the city’s twenty-six official refugee camps.

Tent City - National Archives

     The refugee camps were small tent cities, arranged in street-like grids, with dining halls to serve meals. Some became organized like small towns, with residents establishing features of regular life, like children’s play groups and social events in the dining halls. The army oversaw the relief activities until July 1, 1906 when the city assumed responsibility for providing these services. More than two years later, many of the refugee camps were still in full operation. As new housing was built, residence at the camps gradually declined.

     Overall, around 75,000 people fled San Francisco, between 227,000 and 300,000 people were left homeless and more than 3000 people died as a result of the earthquake. Approximately 28,000 buildings were destroyed, along with the infrastructure to provide utility services to the city. Monetary damages from the earthquake and fires were estimated at $500 million. This would be more than $16.5 billion in 2022 dollars.

Post-quake Destruction - Library of Congress

      The San Francisco earthquake was the first major natural disaster to be extensively documented with photographs and moving pictures. Images of the city before and after the quake provide vivid evidence of the devastating destruction of a thriving modern city in the early twentieth century. It’s often said that “One picture is worth a thousand words.” In this case, that adage is clearly true.

  Ann Markim




Buy Links: Paperback at Amazon                     Amazon print or digital

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Monday, November 21, 2022

My Writing Process - by Lindsay Townsend

In thinking about how and why I write, I laid out my ideas in a question and answer form. I hope you find it interesting.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write about tender, realistic, developing relationships, set in the past. People in past times did fall in love and that's what I like to show. I also strive to show the non-noble, non-royal sides of history - how it felt to be a spear carrier, a slave, a medieval house-wife, a medieval hedge-witch or a serf. I like to explore the vital  role women played in history and how ancient and medieval women are different from people today because of the demands of biology (no reliable birth control) custom and religion. 

I write romance and adventure as do other writers in the historical romance genre, but these points: the celebration and evocation of the non-royal, the revelation of the true role of women, the way beliefs impacted on relationships, are, I think, what makes my work different.

Why do I write what I do?

I have always been fascinated by the medieval and ancient worlds. I like the 'epic' scope of the history and the great differences in beliefs between then and now. I enjoy transporting my readers back into the past with me and to take them on an exotic, exciting journey.

How does your writing process work?

 I tend to start with a picture or scene in my head and often a snippet of conversation. That’s where my medieval romance novel, “A Summer Bewitchment”, came from—a scrap of dialogue, “I am the troll king of this land and you owe me a forfeit” and the picture that gave me.

For my other latest, “Dark Maiden,” I had a mental picture of a tall dark woman with a bow and the idea of scent—that my heroine Yolande could smell the restless dead. That seemed apt, too, because of the medieval idea of the odor of sanctity—that the bodies of saints could give off a sweet perfume. I took that belief and developed it in a different way, so Yolande could also smell less saintly souls.

From those initial ideas I usually work to a rough outline. I jot down the stakes of the story and the romantic themes , conflicts and arcs I want to explore. Sometimes before I begin a scene I note down the time of day, weather, mood, what I want the scene to do in terms of moving the plot and the relationships forward.

I don’t tend to work to a detailed plan. For my historicals I often find that the research will give me ideas that are relevant to the story. In “Dark Maiden” the threat of the Black Death, with the natural fears that people had during that time that the end of the world was surely coming, gave me a powerful driver for the final conflict and climax of the novel. In “A Summer Bewitchment” I use medieval beliefs of magic and witchcraft to shape my story.

My romantic suspense and historical mystery books are a little different in that I do plan those out in detail. They are whodunits, so I need to have clues and mystery and suspects, and  some way of keeping track of them all.

I find with all my writing that I can often use aspects that I put into the story earlier and thread these  through and out later.

Sometimes the setting itself can give me wonderful plot ideas. I have used the city of Bath twice in my stories—once as the ancient Romano-British city with its shrine of Aquae Sulis in my historical romance “Flavia’s Secret” and once in a Medieval Whodunit, "A Widow of Bath." I used the idea of the bleak landscape of marshes and fens in “Dark Maiden”—there’s something about the mix of water and big skies that I find intriguing and appealing. The Scottish highlands and lochs gave me a wonderful setting for my Viking-Pictish romance, "The Viking and the Pictish Princess."

As readers, what inspires you? As writers, do you have particular triggers?

Lindsay Townsend 

Monday, November 14, 2022

Thanksgiving Will Soon Be Here—What Are We Going to Eat?

In just a few days—okay, eleven—here in the States we will celebrate our annual food and football orgy called Thanksgiving. I’m sure you know the history, or at least the history we were all taught about the origins of the feast. And I’ll readily admit, my family is no different than others. Our menu on this big day is the longest of any we ever do, except perhaps New Years Eve, but that’s a different blog.

As my mother, sister and I began listing the foods we wanted to prepare, it started simply enough: turkey, ham, sage dressing (my great-grandmother’s recipe), gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans. Ah, but how do we want the green beans? The way I usually do them, with bacon and chicken broth? Or in a casserole with creamed soup and French fried onions on top? We still haven’t settled that one. Then, there are the pies…

My point is this annual feast with family and friends must include our favorites. For me, it’s scalloped corn or corn casserole, and cranberry sauce. I use Alex Guarnascelli’s RECIPE.

When we were in graduate school, my husband and I usually stayed in town for Thanksgiving, rather than traveling the twelve hours home and twelve hours back. We issued invitations to our fellow music students who were also staying, and when they asked “what can I bring” I said ‘anything it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without.’

What’s you’re it-absolutely-cannot-be-Thanksgiving-without recipe?

Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!




Sunday, November 6, 2022

Dia de los Muertos

Post by Doris McCraw aka Angela Raines

Family Ofrenda 
from Wikipedia

I recently attended a local Dia de Los Muertos celebration at the local Fine Arts Center on November 1. It was a beautiful, celebratory, and meaningful event. There was a section where people could write down those they wished to remember along with both old and new art celebrating the day of the dead. There were also ofrendas, (alters) that were created by some of the local schools.

The most interesting thing to me was not only the remembrance of people but animals and places. Some of the school art with composed of photos and handcrafted figurines.

 For a bit of history of the day of the dead is a holiday where families welcome back the souls of family members who have died. This Mexican holiday is considered a blend of Mesoamerican, Spanish, and some European religious cultures. Some people celebrate it from October 31 through November 2 others celebrate November 1 and 2.

One legend says that on October 31 the spirits of children can join their families and November 2 is the time when adult souls join their families. The souls are allowed 24 hours to spend with their families.

From Wikipedia

The following is a story of La Calavera Catrina. A local artist had done a small replica of this symbol and he told me the background. This quote from encapsulates what he told me:

"the most prominent symbols related to the day of the dead calacas (skeletons) and calavaras (skulls). In the early 20th century, the printer and cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada incorporated. skeletal figures in his art mocking politicians and commenting on revolutionary politics. His most well-known work, La Calavera Catrina, or elegant skull, features a female skeleton adorned with makeup and dressed in fancy clothes. The 1910 etching was intended as a statement about Mexicans adopting European fashions over their own heritage and traditions. La Calavera Catrina was then adopted as one of the most recognizable Day of the Dead icons."

Taking part, even if it was a watcher, was a beautiful look into another culture. Will it become part of one of my stories? The experience was something that will stay with me, so it probably will.

I leave you with a link to a song that seems to fit this celebration: Hold on to Memories 

Until next time, keep smiling, writing, and enjoying life.

Doris McCraw

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

November's Explosive Historic Festival

November's Explosive  Historic Festival

  C. A. Asbrey

“Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot…” 

We all know that way back in 1621, America's founding pilgrims started a holiday tradition that is still celebrated today. Those same colonists would have already been familiar with a festival we still celebrate across the UK today. Both holidays are founded on a celebration of survival in very different ways, but one is a considerably more stark event than the other. In fact, it was the same culture of religious persecution and sectarianism that caused the pilgrims to sail for America in the first place. 

It would be difficult to understate how wide the toxic gulf between Catholics and Protestants had become in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It would be easy to blame it just on religious dogma, but in reality, it was also driven by wealth and power. Recusants were forced to lose property, political influence, and the right to hold certain offices, all of which dented their wealth and the future of their families. Further discriminations quickly became enshrined in law, and Catholic priests were forbidden from celebrating the rites of their faith on pain of death. Many were killed, but that didn't stop people from worshipping. Wealthy families had priest holes built into every nook and cranny: a kind of Elizabethan panic room where the priests could hide out in the event of a raid. And they did, some even suffocating or starving before it was safe for them to come out.   

A Priest Hole in Harvington Hall

It was into this poisonous era that Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido Fawkes and John Johnson, was born in 1570. His father's family were Protestant, but his mother's side were recusant Catholics. His father died when Guy was eight, and by the time his mother remarried several years later, the young Guy had been heavily influenced by the Catholics in the family. Some might even describe him as radicalised. Some say that Guy was heavily influenced by the Harrington side of his maternal family, as they had a history of hiding priests, one of whom accompanied Guy to Europe at a later date.  

Guy was soon heavily involved in the Catholic cause, fighting for Catholic Spain against the Dutch, and becoming involved in political intrigue in England, Ireland and Scotland. And although the Catholic King of Spain gave him a hearing, he refused to finance action in England. So it was up to Fawkes and his conspirators to go it alone. They met at the Duck and Drake Inn in London, and plotted to assassinate the king and replace him with his daughter.

They plotted to tunnel under the Houses of Parliament and stuff the cellars with barrels of gunpowder to blow the place up, but soon found a room that was the undercroft of a nearby house. It was situated directly under the House of Lords, and was deemed the perfect place to store their explosives. The threat of plague delayed the opening of the Houses of Parliament, giving the conspirators more time to stuff even more gunpowder in the cellar. In the end a total of fifty-six barrels were accumulated. A recent study by the University of Aberystwyth found that the resultant blast would have razed everything to the ground within a radius of about 40 metres. Within 110 metres, buildings would have been at least partially destroyed. And some windows would have been blown out even as far as 900 metres away. Nobody within 330 feet of the bomb could have survived. The explosion would have been visible for miles, and audible far further than that. Even if only half the gunpowder had gone off, it would have killed everyone in the House of Lords, and injured people for some distance.   

The Blast Area of the Proposed Explosion 

Whole books, and doctoral dissertations have been written about the plot, and learned historians have made it their lives work to unravel the complex knot of betrayal and counterespionage that led to the betrayal of the thirteen co-conspirators of The Gunpowder Plot. Some even claim that there were only twelve plotters and a government spy. Others allege that in an attempt to keep Catholic lords away from the explosion, warning were given, and that these resulted in the exposure of the the plan. Others say that the Earl of Salisbury invented the plot as an act of agent provocateur, and that the plot was allowed to go on as an attempt to discredit the Catholics in England. Whatever the truth, there is little doubt that the Catholics would never have been able to seize power, even if the King had been killed. The outrage would have been so profound that the Protestant majority would have risen up and slaughtered the Catholics, who made up no more than five percent of the population at that time. 

Eight of the Thirteen Conspirators 
However it was done, someone did betray the group, and they were arrested. They were quickly found guilty of high treason and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered in 1606. All of those arrested were tortured to expose others in the conspiracy, but when it was time for the execution Guy Fawkes broke his neck at the hanging part of the sentence. He thereby avoided the agony of being drawn down when almost dead, and "drawn backwards to his death, by a horse, his head near the ground. They were to be "put to death halfway between heaven and earth as unworthy of both". Their genitals would be cut off and burnt before their eyes, and their bowels and hearts removed. They would then be decapitated, and the dismembered parts of their bodies displayed so that they might become "prey for the fowls of the air."

The first ceremony related to the event took place the next year, primarily as a Protestant celebration of delivery from the Papist plot. Initially known as Gunpowder Treason Day, this thanksgiving gala soon spread, and developed into parades that ended around a bonfire where the evil 'Guy' was burned in effigy. People brought food and drink, fireworks were added and it wasn't long before it spread to the whole country. Raids could be mounted to rob the firewood from the rival bonfire, sometimes even ending up in public disorder. It suffered a ban under Oliver Cromwell, and his puritan rule, but was reinstated in the restoration, ending up as even more of a night of celebration than before.
Penny for the Guy

In true British style, it soon became an irreverent secular night of raucous fun, the religious overtones forgotten, and dismissed. In 1865 a police constable was killed in Guilford as the authorities tried to stamp out the worst excesses of drunken debauchery and restore public decorum. Although the origins were never forgotten, the anti-Catholic sentiments declined, and even ended up being celebrated by Catholics and Protestants alike—seen more as a triumph of a win of a terrorist attack, or just an excuse to watch a spectacle and get roaring drunk. It became a matter of neighbourhood pride to have a bigger bonfire than your nearest village, and by the 18th century children were pulling along a stuffed figure and begging for a 'penny for the Guy'. In later periods that money was used to buy fireworks, but in earlier periods it was used to buy food and was an aid to begging. The stuffed figure of the 'Guy' comprised of old clothes and a mask, but the term 'guy' became a term for a scruffy, or oddly-dressed person. It the cascaded down into the modern usage meaning a casual way to refer to a person of any gender.
Lewes Bonfire Night Parade

The tradition was carried around the world with the growth of the British Empire, but fell out of use in the USA after the revolutionary war, however, it carried on in Salem until 1817. Sometimes the effigy can be changed with the times with political figures being burned instead. Prime Ministers, terrorists, unpopular members of the aristocracy, and even Benedict Arnold have made the list. Lewes in Sussex has a huge parade and burns different unpopular figures every year.   
In modern times, people tend to forego the bonfires, although many are still burned. Most either attend firework displays, or release their own in their back gardens. Neighbours gather to enjoy a sociable evening with fare like baked potatoes, sausages, and burgers. 

An unfortunate politician who was caught with a lover becomes Lewes' effigy of the Year in Sussex

But the Houses of Parliament has never forgotten. Before the official opening of parliament, it became a routine to check the cellars, and that quickly became a ritual. Nowadays, there is, of course, a thorough search by counter-terrorist officers, but as part of the ceremonial aspect of the Opening of The Houses of Parliament, the Yeoman of the Guard (commonly known as Beefeaters) perform a ritual search in full uniform. Even though this is unseen by the public, it still carries on to this day as part of the pageantry of the occasion.
The Yeoman Searching the Cellars Under the Houses of Parliament. 


A firm hand grabbed his shoulder as a hoarse voice whispered in his ear. “Git your hands up and come with me.” 

Nat’s hands rose along with his hackles. “Why?” 

“’Cause I’m robbin’ you, you idiot. Why d’ya think?” 

Nat heaved a sigh of relief. Robbery was way better than the law. “You’re kidding. You’re robbing me? This is a joke.” 

“What’s with the questions? I’m robbin’ you, now git into that alley where we can work in private.” 

“We? What’s with the idea we’re a team? You can’t rob me.” 


“Never mind why. Just go away.” 

“No, gimme your cash. All of it.” 

Nat’s Irish rose to the fore. “Sod off.” 

“You ain’t listenin’, mister. Git over to the alley and hand over your valuables.” 


What d’ya mean, ‘why’? I want your money.” 

“Oh, I understand, but why do I have to go in an alley? You can take it right here.” 

The robber’s irritation seeped into the tense voice. “Fine. Give me your money here.” 

“No. Go away.” Nat felt the hardness of a revolver in the small of his back. ”You realize that if you shoot me now, people will pour out of every building the minute you pull the trigger. You won’t get ten feet before you’re cut down.” 

The robber paused. “Get in the alley.” 

“Now you’re repeating yourself. You haven’t thought this through. How do you know I’ve even got any money?” 

“Because you’re hangin’ around the best hotel in town.” 

Nat turned his head but the robber whacked his shoulder. “Stay still.” 

“You’re hanging around the best hotel in town, too. Give me your money.” 

“I ain’t got no money. That’s why I’m stealin’.”

“Well, neither have I. None I’m handing over to you, anyway. Maybe we should split what you’ve got?” 

“What kind of a robbery is this? You’re the most annoyin’ victim I ever met. I’ve got a good mind to shoot you for the hell of it.” 

“A good mind doesn’t do stupid things like hold up men in the street without a plan.” Nat could detect the growing uncertainty in the man’s thin voice. “Am I annoying enough to die for? That’s what’ll happen.” 

“I want your money. Hand it over or I’ll—” A dull clang cut the man off mid-sentence, followed by a thump as he tumbled to the floor. Nat swirled around, his eyes lighting with delight at the sight of the woman he was here to see not only wielding a spade, but raising it once more to slice at the robber’s right hand as it reached for the gun which had tumbled from his grasp. Nat drew his own weapon and pointed straight at the man’s head. “You’ve lost your gun, friend. Get out of here before you lose a hand, too.”  The skinny figure shimmied over the boards of the sidewalk before clambering upright and scampering off as fast as his feet could carry him. Nat grabbed the discarded weapon and thrust it into his waistband, tilting his head to keep his face in the shadow of the brim of his hat. “Thank you, Miss…? Sorry, who do I thank?” 

“You’re welcome. Don’t you want to go to the sheriff?” 

I don’t think so,” Nat holstered his own gun. “They might want to know why you were taking your shovel for a walk in the dark. It’s all a bit funereal isn’t it?” 

Her laugh tinkled through the chilled night air. “Funereal? Now, there’s a word I didn’t expect to hear in a cowtown,” she put the blade on the boardwalk and leaned on the handle. “The spade was over there. And I saw you were in trouble and stepped in. It’s none too clean.” He found the way her nose crinkled adorable. “I think someone has been clearing horse droppings with it.” 

He grinned. “So you thought you’d clean up the town? Hang around and they might give you a star to wear.” 

“A woman in the law? How ridiculous.” Her slim brows knotted in curiosity. “Where have we met before?”