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Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Mandela’s Road from Prison to Presidency


     Nelson Mandela was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918 in a small South African village with no electricity or running water. His father served as a counselor to the Acting King of the Thembu people, most of whom lived in the Eastern region. When Rolihlahla was 12 years old, his father died and he became a ward of the Acting King. Under his tutelage, Rolihlahla learned the history of the wars of resistance including the Boer Wars and the bravery of his ancestors in the struggle against apartheid. This inspired him to make his own contribution to the fight for freedom.

     He was given the name Nelson in primary school, where the custom was to give “Christian names” to all schoolchildren. He was the first member of his family to attend high school. When he completed his coursework in 1938, he became one of a small number of black students in the country who attained a high school education.

Nelson Mandela at age 19

     Although he began studies at the University College of Fort Hare, he was expelled for joining a student protest before completing his studies. This infuriated the King, who threatened to arrange a marriage for Mandela. He ran away to Johannesburg instead, where he worked at several jobs and became more politically active in the fight against apartheid. While there, he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree through the University of South Africa. In 1944, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and co-founded the ANC Youth League. 

    That same year, he married Evelyn Ntoko Mase. Together they had two daughters and two sons.

     In 1943, Mandela began courses at the University of the Witwatersrand toward a Bachelor of Laws degree (LLB). He left without graduating, although he had completed his two-year credential in law. He was chosen National Volunteer-in-Chief of the Defiance Campaign. This was a civil disobedience movement against six laws the ANC considered unjust. For their part in the campaign, Mandela and 19 others were charged under the Suppression of Communism Act and sentenced to nine months of hard labor, but the sentence was suspended.

     Since Mandela held a Bachelor of Arts degree and had completed two years of study in law, even without graduating, he was allowed to practice. He and a partner opened South Africa’s first black-owned law firm, Mandela & Tambo.

      In 1958, Mandela divorced his first wife and married Winnie Madikizela. Together, they had two daughters.

      The South African government banned the ANC in April 1960. The movement went underground. In January 1962, Mandela left the country for six months to garner support for the ANC. In August, he was arrested for incitement and leaving the country without a passport. He was tried and sentenced to five years in prison.  There, he began studying law again.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Settings and how writers can create and use them. Lindsay Townsend

Function of setting.

1.  A well-drawn setting stops any story from taking place in a void. It gives a place, a view, a time.

2. Setting throws more light on characters by showing how a particular character reacts to a particular setting.

3. Setting can inform and illuminate a story’s character. An African may react differently or see different things in a setting, landscape or situation than an alien from out of space. Keep in mind your characters’ age, sex and culture when they react in a setting or are brought up in that setting.

4. Setting can suggest or heighten mood and atmosphere. It can add a contrast to your character’s inner or outer conflict or mood. It can symbolise a state of mind—so, for example, a man wrung out with guilt plodding through a stormy, bleak landscape. It can add poignancy to a moment by either addition or contrast. (Your hero/heroine feels like death and a butterfly has just landed on their hand and then fluttered off. A mother who has just lost a child watches other toddlers and mothers playing happily in a park.)

5. Setting can drive the action, adding conflict. A character can be stuck on a hillside with an avalanche underway or a lightning storm brewing or a big snow coming. Your hero/heroine may be being chased and the landscape itself is a problem— there is no clear track, it’s dark, dank and slippery underfoot, the terrain is relentlessly flat or severely  steep, while moonlight helps to show your people up like Christmas trees. The setting can add to their difficulties and at times become almost a character in its own right.

Use all senses to evoke setting and spirit of place, that is sight, sounds, smells and taste. Remember always to describe a setting through the viewpoint of one of your characters and to describe it in the way that your person would view it. For example, a wildlife photographer will notice the different creatures and plants in a setting and know their names. A small child may not understand the potential dangers in a landscape. A man who has already dragged himself through scrub and thorns may be vividly aware of his thirst and pain and little else. Keeping in mind your character’s interaction with the setting  will make the scene more alive to your reader and your character either more sympathetic or hateful. (If you have a noble watching a thin, ragged child tiredly washing clothes in a stream or tub and the noble is obsessed with how clean his lace is going to be when the child is finished.) 

Don’t have too many changes of setting or scene in a short novella or you run the risk of confusing your reader. Think about setting in stages. It might be useful to jot a few images down first and then feed these through the story as your viewpoint character feels and hears and reacts within the setting in which you’ve placed them. 

Points to think about when drawing up a setting.

1. What can your character see on the skyline? What’s in the distance? What are the distant sounds? Is there any wind? Do sounds or smells float on the wind? 

2. What time of day is it? If at night is there a moon or stars? What kind of weather is it? What season of the year? Are there any seasonal animals or flowers or any seasonal activities evident? 

3. What can character detect from middle-distance? Are there sounds? Sights? Both should be more distinct, firmer, perhaps more of a threat if the setting is adding to conflict.

4. Close-up sights, particularly colour and movement. Blaring sounds - or soft but thrilling sounds. Taste. Scent. Cold. Rain. Wind. Scorching sun. Frost.  Remember, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s people and living things that make a setting, not buildings. Go easy on the socio-political comment even in a political short story. Comment by symbolism and suggestion - show how characters are deprived or empowered. How they speak and react and dress will all show and add to setting. They too are part of a landscape.

When describing a setting, it’s not usually a good idea to blurt it all out in a big spill on the first page. (In ‘The Return of the Native,’ Thomas Hardy does it with Egdon Heath, where that landscape is a symbol and character in its own right, so a writer can do so, but it’s unusual in genre fiction.)  Thread it through the story, odd touches and gleams here and there, like a carving in a wood panel. Use adjectives and verbs that heighten the scene and mood and unless it’s a deliberate device, be consistent. So if you’re describing a tranquil setting, keep it tranquil till you want to grab the reader with a shock. 

Have your character doing something within that setting, something pertinent and interesting. Readers are charmed by ‘insider’ knowledge and by skill, so if your character can weave or smithy or line-dance or flower arrange or stargaze or gut fish or carve or shovel or knead and plait bread - any task that’s a bit different to filling a kettle and settling down for a cuppa or crossing a room for that ubiquitous sherry or whisky - will grab their attention and keep them engaged. Once ‘hooked’ you can guide them through the setting via your viewpoint character, pointing out whatever is relevant by way of plot or contrast or mood.

In this excerpt from my "The Snow Bride" I have my main female character, Elfrida, trying to use her witch-craft to recover her missing sister Christina. In this setting the harsh winter echoes Elfrida's bleak and desperate mood.

She is Beauty, but is he the Beast?






“She is the third!” Walter had cried out, beating his fists against the walls of their empty hut. “The third in her wedding garb, and the most beautiful: one black-haired, one brown, and my Christina!”

He had refused to say more, even when Elfrida had threatened to curse him, but his outburst told her what he and the elders had been hiding from the village women. The brute who had carried off Christina had kidnapped other pretty young girls, also dressed in their wedding gowns. He stole brides.

I will dress myself as a bride and return here with my own wedding feast, with food and drink in abundance. Let him think me a bridal sacrifice, his red-haired bride, left for him by the village. And, by Christ and all his saints, this time I will be ready for him!

It is a blessing I am a healer and have so many potions ready prepared. If I put sleeping draughts in the wine, food, and sweets, surely I can tempt the beast to take some? I can smear tinctures of poppy on my skin and clothes, so any taste will induce sleep.

Sleep, not death, for she had to know where he had taken Christina.

I will coax the truth from the groggy monster, and then the village men can have him.

Part of her knew she was being wild, unreasonable, that she should talk to Walter, tell the villagers, but she did not care. Talk would waste more precious hours, and they might even try to stop her. For her sister she would do anything, risk anything. But she must hurry, she must do something, and she had little time.

It was full dark before Elfrida was finished, midnight on the day after the start of Advent, two days after Christina should have been married. She shivered in the glinting snow, her breath suspended between the frosted, white ground and the black, star-clad sky.

She glanced over the long boulder she had used as an offering table for her wine and food, not allowing herself to think too closely about what she had done. She had lit a small fire and banked it so that it would burn until morning, to stop her freezing and to keep wolves at bay, and now by its tumbling flames she saw her own small, tethered shadow writhing on the forest floor.

She would not dwell on what could go wrong, and she fought down her night terrors over Christina, lest they become real through her thoughts. She lifted up her head and stared above the webbing of treetops to the bright stars beyond, reciting a praise chant to herself. She was a warrior of magic, ready to ensnare and defeat the beast.

“I have loosened my hair as a virgin. I am dressed in a green gown, unworn before today. My shoes are made of the softest fur, my veil and sleeves are edged with gold, and my waist is belted in silver. There is mutton for my feast, and dates and ginger, wine and mead and honey. I am a willing sacrifice. I am the forest bride, waiting for my lord—” 

Her voice broke. Advent was meant to be a time of fasting, and she had no lord. None of the menfolk of Yarr would dare to take Elfrida the wisewoman and witch to be his wife. She knew the rumors—men always gossiped more than women—and all were depressing in their petty spitefulness. They called her a scold because she answered back.

“I need no man,” she said aloud, but the hurt remained. Was she not young enough, fertile enough, pretty enough?

Keep to your task, Elfrida reminded herself. You are the forest bride, a willing virgin sacrifice.

She had tied herself between two tall lime trees, sometimes struggling against her loose bonds as if she could not break free. She could, of course, but any approaching monster would not know that, and she wanted to bait the creature to come close—close enough to drink her drugged flask of wine and eat her drugged “wedding” cakes. Let him come near so she could prick him with her knife and tell him, in exquisite detail, how she could bewitch him. He would fear her, oh yes, he would...

She heard a blackbird caroling alarms and knew that something was coming, closing steadily, with the stealth of a hunter. She strained on her false bonds, peering into the semidarkness, aware that the fire would keep wild creatures away. Her back chilled as she sensed an approach from downwind, behind her, and as she listened to a tumble of snow from a nearby birch tree, she heard a second fall of snow from a pine closer by. Whoever, whatever, was creeping up was somehow shaking the trees, using the snowfalls as cover to disguise its own movement.

A cunning brute, then, but she was bold. In one hand she clutched her small dagger, ready. In her other, she had the tiny packet of inflammables that she now hurled into the fire.

“Come, husband!” she challenged, as the fire erupted into white-hot dragon tongues of leaping flame, illuminating half the clearing like a noonday sun. “Come now!” 

She thrust her breasts and then her hips forward, aping the actions that wives had sometimes described to her when they visited her to ask for a love philter. She shook her long, red hair and kissed the sooty, icy air. “Come to me!”

She saw it at the very edge of her sight—black, huge, a shadow against the flames, off to her side, and now a real form, swooping around from the tree line to her left to face her directly. She stared across the crackling fire at the shape and bit down on the shriek rising up her throat.

The beast stepped through the fire, and she saw its claw reaching for her. She heard a click, off to her right, but still kept watching the claw, even as the fire was suddenly gutted and dead, all light extinguished.

Darkness, absolute and terrifying, smothered her, and she was lost.

Lindsay Townsend 

Monday, February 14, 2022


Conversation hearts, truffles of all kinds, and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are the symbols of Valentine’s Day for us. But where did this tradition come from? While the roots of Valentine’s Day go all the way back to Roman times and the springtime fertility festival called Lupercalia, candy-giving isn’t nearly that old.

Valentine’s Day is believed to be named for two different Roman saints, both called Valentine. Neither had anything to do with romantic love. The first mention of St. Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday appeared in 1382 in the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer. With the medieval period came a new focus on illicit but chaste courtly love, and a couple of the familiar images of the day begin to appear—knights giving roses to their maidens and celebrating their beauty in songs from afar. But sugar was still a rare item in Europe, so no chocolates. Yet.

The 1840s was Cupid’s heyday. In the Victorian period, the idea of giving elaborate cards and gifts fit their notion of courtly love. Into the fray came Richard Cadbury, of the British chocolate makers. Cadbury had recently improved its technique of extracting pure cocoa butter from whole beans, producing a much better drinking chocolate, the craze of the day.

But this process resulted in a lot of excess cocoa butter. Richard recognized a great marketing opportunity for eating chocolates made from all that cocoa butter, so he began selling them in beautifully decorated boxes that he himself designed.

It didn’t take long for the idea of adding Valentine’s Day images of cupids and roses to the boxes and marketing them as keepsakes. The boxes grew more and more elaborate until the rationing of sugar in World War II forced the making of chocolates to be scaled back.

Victorian-era Cadbury boxes are treasured heirlooms in many families to this day.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Thursday, February 10, 2022

New Release — The Rancher (Friendly Creek Book 1) by Agnes Alexander


When Adam Murdock leaves his post as an Army scout to save his grandfather’s ranch, he’s not sure if he just made the biggest mistake of his life. Not only is the ranch mortgaged to the hilt, but a questionable run of odd setbacks begins that has him wondering who is out to take everything his grandfather has worked for.When Adam Murdock leaves his post as an Army scout to save his grandfather’s ranch, he’s not sure if he just made the biggest mistake of his life. Not only is the ranch mortgaged to the hilt, but a questionable run of odd setbacks begins that has him wondering who is out to take everything his grandfather has worked for.

Adam’s younger sister, Wynona, has returned from school in North Carolina and moved in with their disabled grandfather to help him and Adam. How she wishes for her best friend from school, no-nonsense Blaire Hampton, to come set things right in Wyoming—but will she be able to come for a visit?

Blaire has just overheard a conversation between her uncle and her cousin that lets her know her life is in danger—and she must get away from them if she has any hope of staying alive! Inheriting a fortune is deadly with the greedy relatives she’s saddled with—and the only hope she has is to get away from them as far as she possibly can.

When Blaire and her maid, Violet, arrive in Friendly Creek, she feels safe for the first time since they left North Carolina—but that’s short-lived when Blaire’s uncle and cousin show up and have her kidnapped! This is one final, dangerous scrape she may not be able to get herself out of without the help of the man she’s fallen in love with—Adam Murdock, THE RANCHER.


“We can’t let Grandmother get away with doing this, can we, Father?”

“You ought to know I’d never do that, Perry. Since the will was read, I’ve been thinking of how I can get that money away from my hard-headed niece. I haven’t come up with a firm plan, but I do have an idea of what to do.”

“I hope you come up with something workable soon. You know how Blaire is. She’s apt to give most of the money away as soon as she knows it’s hers.”

Blaire saw her uncle shaking his head. “I’ve already thought about that. The girl’s too generous for her own good. Oh, I don’t mind giving the church a few dollars now and then, but I still fume when I remember how Blaire talked Mother into paying for the new bell for the belfry. That thing cost a fortune.”

“You know how Grandmother was. She wouldn’t often listen to you or me when we’d suggest she do something, but she’d go ahead and do anything her precious granddaughter asked her to do.”

“Well, that’s neither here nor there. I need to tell you the tentative plan I’ve come up with to get her money, and I’m going to need your help to do it.”


Wednesday, February 9, 2022

What do you wish you knew how to do? by Kaye Spencer #specialtalent #wishes #harmonica


There are many things I wish I knew how to do.

Some are unrealistically philosophical—end world hunger, poverty, and homelessness.

Others are frivolous and shallow—eat only junk food and remain ridiculously healthy and drink all the wine I want and not ruin my liver.

But to answer seriously, I came up with five things I really and truly wish I knew how to do. Here are the four runners-up: 

  • fly a helicopter
  • speak a language other than English fluently
  • paint/sculpt and have it be recognizable as ‘something’
  • draw better than pathetic-looking stick figures.

The Number One thing I wish I knew how to do is play the piano.

I was nine years old when I first started taking organ and piano lessons. Those lessons, collectively, ended up being as successful as teaching a pig to sing. It was mostly a waste of time, and it annoyed the daylights out of me and the teachers.

But I persevered. I was 14 when I took guitar lessons. I did manage to learn to chord enough to strum in rhythm with the country music songs I played on my record player.

And all along, I knew what the problem was.

I couldn’t read music.

I was, however, probably able to elevate the blood pressure of all of those worthy music teachers in their valiant efforts to teach me to read music.

I’m forever grateful that my musically talented maternal grandpa taught me to play the harmonica by ear. At least I have that little bit of musical skill.

Here's 45 seconds of me playing the harmonica.

This is my harmonica. Someday I'll buy a new one... Someday when I feel like $200 for a new harmonica isn't a frivolous purchase, when the one I have works just fine. ;-)

Are you musically talented? Anyone play the harmonica? What is something you wish you knew how to do?

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer
writing through history one romance upon a time

© Can Stock Photo / KathyGold (girl wishing upon a star)
© Can Stock Photo / balaikin (girl at piano)


Monday, February 7, 2022

Who Was John Stith Pemberton by Elizabeth Clements

Millions of people around the world may not recognize John Stith Pemberton’s name or even recognize his photograph, but they are devoted fans and consumers of his invention: Coca-Cola.

John Pemberton was born on July 8, 1831 in Knoxville, Georgia but lived most of his young life in Rome, Georgia. In 1848 he received his medical degree from the Reform Medical College of Georgia at Macon and in 1850, at the age of 19, received his pharmacist license. While there, he met Ann Eliza Clifford Lewis, a student at Wesleyan College, and they married in 1853 in Columbus, Georgia. Their only child, Charles, was born in 1854. Pemberton initially practiced medicine and surgery, but chemistry was his real interest and talent, and eventually he opened his own drug store In Columbus.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he enlisted in the confederate army and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. In April, 1865, during the Battle of Columbus, he was severely wounded in the chest. During his painful recovery from a sabre wound, Pemberton became addicted to morphine. Not wanting to be dependent on the drug, he knew he had to find a morphine-free alternative cure for pain.

This led him to falling back on his chemistry background to find a non-addictive painkiller. In 1866 in his lab, he began experimenting with painkillers, plants and toxins (no doubt experimenting on himself). His first recipe was “Dr. Tuggle’s Compound Syrup of Globe Flower”, in which the active ingredient was derived from the button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a toxic plant. He next began experimenting with coca and coca wines, eventually creating a recipe that contained extracts of kola nut and damiana, which he called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.

He advertised his medicine and it sold well. Then in 1886, temperance legislation was introduced in Georgia over “public concern about drug addiction, depression and alcoholism among war veterans, and “neurasthenia” among “highly-strung” Southern women.  Pemberton’s “medicine” was advertised as particularly beneficial for “ladies” and all those whose sedentary employment causes nervous prostration,” forcing Pemberton to adjust his formula to make it non-alcoholic.”  

Forced to adjust his tonic to comply with the new regulations, Pemberton collaborated with Willis E. Venable, a drugstore owner/proprietor in Atlanta. All reference to wine was removed and a sugar syrup was substituted for the wine. Venable helped Pemberton tweak and test the formula, which contained extracts of cocaine as well as the caffeine-rich kola nut. Ironically, in one of the tests, when Pemberton wanted to make another glassful of the tonic, he accidentally added carbonated water to the base syrup. He liked the result so much that he decided to sell it as a fountain drink.

Frank Mason Robinson, Pemberton’s bookkeeper and business partner, came up with the name Coca-Cola as alliteration was quite popular in medicine wine circles. He thought using the two Cs would work well together. He also wrote the logo in beautiful Spencerian script. It was used on all the bottles and in advertisements. Pemberton made “many health claims for his product, touting it as a “valuable brain tonic” that would cure headaches, relieve exhaustion, and calm nerves, and marketed it as “delicious, refreshing, pure joy, exhilarating and invigorating.” 

On May 8,1886, confident of his invention, Pemberton took a jug of his syrup to Jacobs’ Pharmacy in downtown Atlanta. With the carbonated water added, the beverage “was sampled, pronounced “excellent” and placed on sale for five cents a glass as a soda fountain drink.”  

Sadly, Dr. Pemberton didn’t have long to benefit from his new venture. Despite all his efforts, he was never able to overcome his morphine addiction (and his many experiments on himself no doubt contributed to his illness). Sick and facing bankruptcy due to slow sales and the business initially running at a loss, he began selling off some of his rights to the formula to his Atlanta business partners. He had a vision that someday his beverage would be worth a lot and wanted to keep his remaining rights for his son’s financial security.  Charles, however, just wanted the money now, and Pemberton sold away his remaining rights to his formula to Aza G. Candler. Candler eventually bought up additional rights and gained full control of the company. (Note:  While the Coca-Cola Company denies this claim, historical evidence shows that it is likely that, until 1905, the soft drink, which was marketed as a tonic, contained extracts of cocaine as well as the caffeine-rich kola nut. While cocaine wasn't considered illegal until 1914, according to Live Science, Candler began removing cocaine from the recipe in the early 1900s, and traces of cocaine may have been present in the famous beverage until 1929 when scientists were able to perfect the removal of all psychoactive elements from the coca-leaf extract.)

On August 16, 1888, at the age of 57, Dr. Pemberton died of stomach cancer. It's interesting and gratifying to learn that on the day of his funeral there was a huge outpouring of respect for him. All the drug stores were closed in Atlanta so druggists could pay their respects. “On that day, not one drop of Coca-Cola was dispensed in the entire city.” The following day a special train carried his body to Columbus for burial. The Atlanta newspapers called him “the oldest druggist of Atlanta and one of her best-known citizens.”

Excerpt from Beneath A Fugitive Moon

“Buy you a drink, purdy lady?” Mike asked the red-haired woman in an emerald satin gown. He held his breath, never having done the asking before.

          She turned with a phony smile pasted on her painted lips. Her gaze hit his chest and travelled slowly up until she reached his face. Her eyes grew bigger, but to his amazement, her ruby mouth widened into what looked like a genuine smile.

          “Sugar, anyone who calls me a lady, let alone a pretty one gets the best.” She looked at the bartender. “Henri, your special for Samson, here. And give him an extra squirt of the syrup.”

          “Qui, Mol-lee.” Henri said in a soft southern drawl. He reached beneath the counter, removed a fancy bottle and splashed a knuckle-length of whiskey into a tall glass, then held it beneath the spigot of a three-footed urn that had some fancy red letters written across it, matching the ones on the clock. It dispensed some caramel-colored liquid. He added a shot of something that looked like water with bubbles, gave it a stir and with a flourish, set it onto the shiny mahogany counter.

          Mike glanced at Molly. “Ain’t you havin’ some?” The last thing he wanted was to wake up in an alley. That is if he woke up. He’d been in fancier saloons.

          “I’ll have mine without the whiskey, Henri.” The man took another glass and repeated the procedure, minus the alcohol.

          Mike pointed at the dispensers. “What’s the other stuff?”

          “You’re a careful one, aren’t you?” Looking him in the eye, she picked up his glass and took a drink. The barkeep handed Molly her glass and she took a healthy swallow of it, too. “Satisfied, Sugar, we’re not gonna poison you?” Heat climbed his neck. “Well, damned if you ain’t quick and bold.”

          He shook his head. Still, not knowing what to expect, he took a cautious swallow, blinked and took another. And grinned. “Hey, what’d you put into this? It don’t taste like rotgut.”

          “Coca-Cola is all the rage in Atlanta,” Henri said proudly. “Very medicinal. Mixed with carbonated water, it sells for five cents a glass. Adding whiskey is my idea.”

          Molly winked at Mike. “Henri’ misses Atlanta, so he’s trying to bring some culture to the wild west.”

          Sure his shaking hands would spill his drink, Mike tossed it back in one gulp. He needed all the courage he could get. It tasted like more. He plunked another coin onto the counter. “I’ll take another one of those.” With a swirl of his rag, Henri wiped the counter and the money disappeared with it. 

Sunday, February 6, 2022


 Post  by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

I confess I procrastinate by heading outside
to hike and take photos. Photo property of the author

How many know the song 'Anticipation' by Carly Simon? Well, have you ever thought of substituting the word "procrastination" for the title of the song? Here's an example:

Procrastination, Procrastination,

Is makin' me late

Is keepin' me waitin'

It fits, doesn't it? The words even fit. 

Now, I confess, I've always been a huge fan of Carly and her writing. As I pondered what I'd write about this month, the song and the word just kept at me. 

The above is kind of 'tongue in cheek' but procrastination can be something that can stop us in our tracks. We think if we procrastinate we are bad. If we're not working we are lazy. Admittedly, it can grow into a huge wall in our creative lives. But, I would say it also gets a bad reputation.

In November of 2015, an article was posted online via Psychology Today about how "procrastination can actually improve your productivity and happiness."  Here is a short version of what I took from the article.

If you are an active procrastinator you probably do anything but what you need to do. Guess what? You are getting your 'to do' list done. The dishes, laundry, that letter you were going to write. Soon you just have that one thing you've been avoiding and guess where that can lead?

Sometimes when you put something off, you forget why it was important. If you re-evaluate it, you may decide it wasn't really necessary.

Have you ever realized that procrastination can help you focus on what's really important to you? Think about it.

For me, and probably for others, when a task (can we talk writing a novel here?) is feeling daunting, we put it from our thoughts. What is really happening, especially for me, is my subconscious is working out the logistics and when I do sit down the words flow a lot easier.

Big decision? Procrastinating on what you will do actually gives you time to reconcile your rational mind and intuition, especially if they are diametrically opposed. You are giving yourself breathing room to find what is really the right choice for you.

I loved this point. Procrastination can lead to a better apology. How you may ask? Well, if you put off the offering of the words of apology until after you 'cool off', your words are probably going to be more heartfelt and ring true to the listener.

Get lost in the possibilities
Photo property of the author

For those who would like to read another article "The Perks of Procrastination/" from a Harvard posting, here is the link:

Of course, none of this is an excuse to not get your story or your novel written. It doesn't excuse not following up with marketing, but it does mean, 'Don't be so hard on yourself"

As the beginning of the song says:

'We can never know about the days to come

But we think about them anyway ..."

For those who would like to hear the whole song, here is a link to the Youtube video:

Carly Simon - Anticipation

Just think about it, Anticipation/Procrastination

Until next month, be kind to yourself and keep those thoughts going and fingers moving. 

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

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Two Sleeps

 Two Sleeps

By C. A. Asbrey

It's often struck me, whilst researching my family tree, or history in general, how strange it is that some major things can be totally unknown by later generations. Sometimes, they are deliberately kept secret out of shame. Other times they are so mundane that people take it for granted that everyone knows about it, and nobody writes it down. A few generations later, it's easily forgotten.

The fact that our sleeping pattern has completely changed since the early 19th century seems to be one of those things. Biphasic sleep, where we sleep in two separate periods, began to disappear in the late 17th century, but lingered in some communities until the 1920s. Many relate the change to the industrial revolution, as the change coincides with the start of mass manufacturing and the use of machines in production. It's also around that time that cities really started to grow, changing the lifestyle from an agrarian, to an industrial one. Artificial light is also seen as factor, as people were able to stay awake for longer and compress their sleep into one longer rest.

Studies on modern-day hunter-gathers give us an insight into how our neolithic ancestors slept. The results were remarkably similar in very different cultures and continents. People tended to wind down, eating and talking until about three-and-a-half hours after sunset. They'd then sleep for roughly six-and-a-half hours before waking. In the Northern Hemisphere that would mean a bedtime of between nine to ten-thirty in the summer, and a waking time of around three to four-thirty in the morning(depending on sunlight). The sleeping periods were longer in the winter and shorter in the summer, so exposure to light was definitely a factor.

The break in the middle could be used in many ways: sex, eating, milking cows, feeding livestock, praying, or preparing food. There are records of it being used in the commission of crime too, but we'll come back to that one. Some even visited friends. This would last for around an hour or two, and then a second sleep of around four hours would take place.

When you look at the average time cows get their morning milk—4-5am— it's easy to see that the first sleep coincided with the animals' needs, so fitted perfectly with the natural rhythms of the farmers without being as onerous as it is today. Where I grew up, further north, the average time was 4am. We so often think that the milking was the start of the working day, but it's clear that in the past it preceded the second sleep. We never think of the farmer going back to bed afterwards nowadays, but documents show that's exactly what happened. Breakfast traditionally came later, after all the animals were fed—between 6-7am. 

Bear in mind that there was no demand for the milk to be processed, bottled and ready for the shops or delivery. It was simply stored and would be sold locally. Even I'm old enough to remember going to the local farm with a big jug to collect the milk for the morning. It was unpasteurised too, and tasted completely different to milk today. During the day milk was quickly turned into products with a longer shelf-life like butter, yoghurt, or cheese. Terracotta pots soaked in cold water, and kept in a dairy, could keep milk for several hours. There's evidence in early records from Gloucester, that the cheesemaking process was started overnight from the evening milking, also using what was leftover from the morning. Butter was made in the mornings. 

So where are all these references to the 'second sleep'? It's mentioned in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (written between 1387 and 1400). It's also mentioned in William Baldwin's Beware the Cat (1561) – a satirical book considered by some to be the first ever novel, which centres around a man who learns to understand the language of a group of terrifying supernatural cats, one of whom, Mouse-slayer, is on trial for promiscuity. 

In Charles Dickens' Barnaby Rudge (1840), he writes:  "He knew this, even in the horror with which he started from his first sleep, and threw up the window to dispel it by the presence of some object, beyond the room, which had not been, as it were, the witness of his dream."  

"Don Quixote followed nature, and being satisfied with his first sleep, did not solicit more. As for Sancho, he never wanted a second, for the first lasted him from night to morning." Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote (1615)

"And at the wakening of your first sleepe You shall have a hott drinke made, And at the wakening of your next sleepe Your sorrowes will have a slake." Early English ballad, Old Robin of Portingale

Roger Ekrich published a well-received paper in the evidence for biphasic sleep in 2001, and a book; At Day's Close: Night Times in the Past. It contains over 500 references to biphasic sleeping patterns from diaries, court records, medical books, and literature. The net is thrown as wide as Homer's Odyssey to the modern anthropological studies mentioned above, and there's a clear case made for people sleeping in two phases throughout the night when they reach adulthood. A doctors' manual from 16th century France even advised that the period  "after the first sleep", was best for conception, when "they have more enjoyment" and "do it better". The need for an afternoon nap is well-known for small children and the elderly.

And what about the criminal cases? The period between the two sleeps was called 'the watch' or 'the watching', and there are many references to prostitution. There are many instances of theft, cattle rustling, highwaymen, and the like, but one famous case took place on the 13th April 1699.  Jane Rowth told the court that she woke from her first sleep, and saw her mother greeting some men who arrived at the house. Her mother told her to settle back down, as the men were expected saying, "lye still, and shee would come againe in the morning". Mrs. Routh never came back and her body was found a few days later. The case was never solved.

The court transcript shows that Jane saw the term 'first sleep' as perfectly normal, and nobody in the court asked her to explain it. In other cases Jon Cokburne mentioned it in a dispute over unpaid work. Another murder case featured Luke Atkinson in The East Riding of Yorkshire, who used to the to commit numerous nefarious deeds. According to his wife he use 'the watch' to murder and steal. 

People would settle down for their sleep in shared beds, and there was a strict convention on sleeping positions. The eldest female child would sleep against the wall, followed by female siblings, with the parents—mother, then father. Then male children would either follow, or sleep top-to-tail at the other end, followed by extended family, or trusted servants. 

Apart from chores, visiting, sex and crime, the watch was also used by the devout to pray. In monasteries, Matins were said in the dead of night, and some devout people used the watch for their own observances. But I'm sure creative the writers amongst you will relate to the 18th century tradesman who found the time excellent for creative thinking. He invented a 'nocturnal remembrancer', a special pad with a horizontal opening in which to note down his nightly insights. How many of you use something similar?

The rich could always afford artificial light, where the poor depended on rush lamps, oil, or tallow. However, until there was a social cachet attached to staying up late, even the rich followed the same patterns as everyone else. As artificial lighting improved and became more affordable, more and more wealthy people stayed up later to socialise. The advent of street lighting in the 17th century meant that people promenaded in a conspicuous show of wealth, partied, and gambled as never before. The change began to our sleeping patterns as staying up later filtered through all levels of society, and it became more respectable.

The start of the industrial revolution really changed things for good. Using daylight hours for work was more cost effective than paying for artificial lighting.  Mass production demanded fixed hours, and it wasn't feasible to waste fuel stopping and starting engines and machines. A longer working day, along with a longer evening, meant that sleep was compressed, pushing it into a single unit. A medical journal from 1829 describes how parents should instil such discipled sleep in their children. "If no disease or accident there intervene, they will need no further repose than that obtained in their first sleep, which custom will have caused to terminate by itself just at the usual hour. And then, if they turn upon their ear to take a second nap, they will be taught to look upon it as an intemperance not at all redounding to their credit.

Where relaxing around in the middle of the night was once seen as natural and a virtue, it was now seen as lazy, and an unproductive use of time. In a world where work was no longer in the hands of the people who did it, there was no room for flexibility to fit around your personal rhythms.

It's interesting that the rise in sleep disorders arises around the same time. The necessity to compress all your sleep into a period which doesn't suit your own bodily cycles, coupled with anxiety about not getting enough sleep, became a recognised barrier to rest which caused people to seek medical help. However, despite very compelling studies showing humans as being naturally biphasic, most doctors still do not recognise that modern lifestyles may be a big part of the problem. Shifts have made the problem even worse.

Studies have been conducted in which sleep disorders were treated by emulating the conditions of the past: no artificial light, quiet, no wake up time. The same results were measured. People followed the same patterns. It took some time for sleep to change - up to a month. Then sleep self-regulated into a two-phase process.

Ekrich is keen to assure us that we don't have a lesser quality sleep than our ancestors, just a different one. We don't share a bed crammed with relatives, sleep on floors, or straw teaming with parasites. Nor are we alert for possible attack. We have excellent mattresses, central heating, and room to spread.

I think the one takeaway from all of this, is if you find yourself awake in the wee small hours, it may help you to think of it as perfectly natural and relax into it, sure in the knowledge that your second sleep will be along very soon.           




Almost everyone woke simultaneously, jolted by the sound of the brakes grinding, and the engine puffing and huffing in protest at an unscheduled stop. Jake’s hand reached for his gun even before he was fully conscious.

“No!” The cry came from Jeffrey, the younger steward, who staggered into the aisle in shock.

Nat strode out of the curtained area, fastening his trousers. “What’s wrong?”

“Mrs. Hunter,” Jeffrey stammered. “She’s dead.”

Nat dragged the curtain aside, revealing the tiny-framed woman lying in a pool of blood. He kneeled and scrutinized her. “Bring a lamp.” He reached out and touched her face. “She’s alive. She’s warm. Fetch Philpot. He’s a doctor.”

The Englishman wandered groggily forward. “I’m not a doctor. I’m a—”

“We don’t care what you are, Philpot,” Jake growled. “You’re the nearest thing we’ve got. You’ve got medical training. Get in there.”

Mrs. Hunter’s eyes flickered weakly open. “My moonstone. Miss Davies—she took it.” She fell back into insensibility.

Jake frowned and his keen blue eyes looked up and down the railway car at the passengers crowded in the aisle in various stages of undress. “Where is Miss Davies? Have you seen her, Abi? You’re bunkin’ with her.”

“No, she isn’t here.” Abigail frowned. “I haven’t seen her for ages. She wasn’t even in her bunk when I changed Ava.”

Malachi padded briskly up to the group, pushing various butlers out of his way as they milled around. “Oh, my goodness! The poor woman.”

Jake nodded. “Yeah, Philpot’s seein’ to her. She’s still alive. Why’ve we stopped? We ain’t at a station.”

Malachi quickly fastened a stray button. “I’m sorry, gentlemen. I have been informed that a rock fall has blocked the tracks. We will dig it out and be on our way as soon as possible.”

“A rock fall? So, how far to a station?” Nat asked. “We’re high in the mountains, miles from anywhere.”

There was another ominous rumble somewhere above them and the carriage shook. The roof thundered with the thumps and clattering of stones and gravel pounding the roof. Worried glances rose upward while Abigail hunched protectively over her baby. The noise gradually stopped, but for an occasional patter of settling gravel and stones shifting above them.

The head steward’s brow crinkled into a myriad of furrows. “I’d best go and check that out.”

Nat’s brows knotted into a frown. “We’re miles from anywhere? So where has Maud Davies gone?” 

“With the moonstone?” Jake strode over to the door and looked out at the huge feathery flakes drifting down from the heavy skies onto an expansive mountainous vista. “There’s nowhere to go.”