Sunday, July 18, 2010

More From The Regency Lady's Cosmetic Shelf

As I mentioned in my last blog, when I was researching The Bricklayer’s Helper (Aug, 2010, The Wild Rose Press), I needed to find what a Regency lady would do to repair her skin after years of abuse by sun and hard work. While ladies during the early years of the 19th century eschewed the use of makeup, they were just as interested in the care of their skin as we are.

It is interesting to me that lemons have always been used to lighten brown spots and achieve highlights in the hair. When I was a girl, we used lemons a lot for both purposes and they worked pretty well to lighten our blonde hair.

As for Sarah, my heroine, she is desperate to find that elixir that will dissolve years of sun damage from her face. And while Sarah is entirely fictional, she was based upon a real Regency woman who, after being orphaned at an early age, decided it was better to live as a man and find honest work, then become a prostitute--one of the few jobs open to women without money or families to care for them. Both women lived hard lives that left the inevitable marks upon their hands and face. So after working for thirteen years as a bricklayer, Sarah finds herself in the awkward position of wishing to make herself more attractive to a man she’s falling in love with.

So, what would she do?

Well, then as now, the sun’s rays can wreck havoc with the complexion. There were many recipes, or receipts as they were called, to help ladies deal with brown spots and other skin issues. And frankly, ladies were better off making their own solutions than buying bottled mixtures from the local pharmacies, which frequently included a number of near-lethal ingredients. The ladies’ magazine, La Belle Assemblée, had recipes in it for skin lotions and tinctures. Herbals were also full of natural remedies. Some, like rose water, are still in use today by those who enjoy making their own beauty supplies.

The following are a few recipes Sarah might have used to make herself more beautiful to her handsome hero, William.

Crême de l’Enclos

Use this every morning and night to remove a tan.

Take half a pint of milk and mix with the juice of a lemon and a spoonful of white brandy. Boil and skim of all scum. When cool, it is ready to use.

Wash for the Hair

Beat the whites of six eggs into a froth and work through the hair. Leave it to dry. Then wash the hair with a mixture of rum and rose-water.

This will clean and brighten the hair, and is best used in the morning.

Paste to “Lift” the Face

Boil the whites of four eggs in rose water. Add sufficient alum and beat to make a paste. When applied, this will firm the skin.

Rose Water

Take two pounds of rose leaves, tie them in cheese cloth, and submerge in a basin of hot water. Place a dish of cold water on them to keep them down. Keep the hot water hot and change the cold water as it warms. This will produce a quantity of oil of roses that can be easily skimmed from the surface.

Virgin’s Milk

There are actually several different recipes for this. The name comes from its appearance, which is milky-white. Regency ladies frequently resorted to this to reduce uneven skin tone, brown spots, and blemishes, and brighten the skin. For purposes of this blog, I’m going to “update” the recipes slightly for our modern audience.

House-Leek--based Virgin’s Milk

Pound some house-leek (Sempervivum or the plant known as “Hen and Chicks”) in a marble mortar and force through a sieve to obtain the juice. When ready to use, add a few drops of spirit of wine. The mixture will curdle and the result is reported to be useful for rendering the skin smooth and removing blemishes.

Benjoin Virgin’s Milk

Take Benjoin gum (resin of the plant Styrax, now called Benzoin, the plant is grown in Sumatra, Java and Thailand) add spirits of wine, and boil until it becomes a rich tincture. Pour a few drops into a glass of water and wash face with this mixture. It will import a beautiful rosy glow to the cheeks.

Interesting note on Benzoin: it is often used now as a disinfectant and local anesthetic to promote healing. It can also be added to boiling water to produce a steam which can have a soothing effect on the lungs and bronchia to help recover from the common cold, bronchitis, and asthma.

In future blogs, I’m hoping to add even more natural recipes that have been used for centuries and offer more natural alternatives to pre-packaged lotions and potions.

Enjoy and have a lovely summer!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

On Being a Writer- Playing the "What If" Game

The "What If" game was the best thing I ever learned while exploring the ways to become a competant writer.  I started out playing the game in the traditional way-- seeing a person and "What iffing" him or her into a whole story. 

For instance, an older man stands waiting outside an office building, an impatient look on his face.  Suddenly, a beautiful young woman approaches, her very high heels emphasizing the shape of her long legs, and she throws herself at the man, who embraces her.  

Now, this scenario can be played out in several ways depending on what type of book you want to write.  If it's a thriller, what if the man is a spymaster and the woman an enemy agent who has fallen against him on purpose to inject him with a slow-acting poison.  She will then push herself away, apologize profusely and go on her merry way. 

In a second scenario, the man awaits the arrival of the young woman with anticipation.  They embrace and then he places a tender kiss on her forehead.  They walk away, arm in arm, towards a taxi.  As they depart, the woman's sweet voice drifts back, "Hey Pops, let's hurry.  I can't wait for you to meet Bill."  A father and daughter meeting in town for lunch with the girl's boyfriend?  Perhaps, what if he is an older bank robber and his young accomplice going to meet a new recruit for a bank robbery?  This beginning could go in many directions-- a family relationship saga, a bank caper, a straight romance.  The ending can be as varied as the number of writers who attempt the game.

In a mystery writer's mind, what if the man is an aging Lothario who is meeting his sexy lover for a lunch date in the hotel room that they have used every week for a year.  This day, however, is different, for the man's wife is waiting for them to meet, planning to follow them and end the affair today with a snub-nosed .38. 

Last but never least, a Romance writer might envision the man as a self-isolated man about to have the love of his life fall into his arms.  What if he then spends time finding out who she is and setting up ways to get to know her and convincing her that she wants to spend the rest of her life with him?  Or visa versa? 

Life is full of such scenarios and playing the "what if " game can make them come alive into full fledged plots.   At times a single "what if" can be all that is needed, and at others, multiple "what ifs" are required throughout the story.  Just as we each must make choices in our everyday actions based on how we, or others, might react, playing "what if" within your story might help your characters make the right cloices in their lives.  Selecting the correct "what if" can keep the actions of your characters consistant throughout the book and keep your readers happy. 

Last, but not least by any means, an apology for missing my posting date for the past two months.  Real life sometimes intrudes and fills your mind to the exclusion of all else.  Serious illnesses for both my husband and myself have been resolved on his part and adjusted to on mine.  On top of that, I have checked and rechecked my pre-galleys and galleys and think I am finally done.  So, until this book comes out I'll be busy playing the "What If" game with my next western novel.  Happy writing!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Never-Were Creatures

In the last few years I've become interested in writing more paranormal stories, remembering back when no  editor who would buy a historical  with even a little paranormal twist. Now anything paranormal is popular, in any time period.

I always thought it was hard to write anything in a medieval setting and ignore the mythology and superstitions of the time.
Supernatural beings were so real to the people of  Medieval England that they planned for them in their lives. They left out offerings to the house fairies so they would stay around and bring good luck to the family, avoided places inhabited by ghosts and water where dangerous spirits lurked. They included supernatural beings in prayers, asking blessings on the good ones and deliverance from the evil ones.

So I decided to set my paranormal historicals in a world where the medieval supernatural beliefs are actually real.

Some of the beings I've found most interesting are the fantastical beasts like dragons, griffins and wyverns. Although I haven't put any of these more widely known creatures into my books, I've enjoyed making them a subject of dialogue. In my most recent, still-unfinished book, the heroine encounters a giant snake, not knowing it was conjured by a sorcerer. The hero didn't see it,and doesn't believe her. It must have been a fallen tree branch in the fading daylight, he tells her, or maybe a dragon, because there are no six-foot long snakes in England. It would have made perfect sense to him, because everyone knew there were dragons. Giant snakes belonged to places people visited on Crusades, not in England.

Kelpies, or Water Horses, can be dual-natured, sometimes helpful to man,  but mostly malicious. Every area seems to have its own version of dangerous water spirit, and Kelpies are often found in streams where they trick children into going into the water where they are drowned and eaten. In may areas a person drowning would not be saved because it was believed the water spirits were only claiming their due.

Legend had it that a clever person could capture a Kelpie by grabbing its bridle, and force it to work on land, where it could accomplish the work of ten horses. But in most of the legends the Kelpie eventually outwits the farmer and drags him back into the water where he is drowned.

The beasts that interest me most, though, are almost too normal-  the Black Dogs, which are not necessarily black. big as a calf,  with eyes of evil that sometimes glow red or yellow, and have long, shaggy coats (rough or row, hence the name Row Dog).  -Haven't we seen dogs that are almost like that? What about wolves, which were still found in England as late as the Twelfth Century? It's no stretch of our imagination to envision the darkness of night enlarging the creatures in the mind of the weary, unsuspecting traveler who suddenly encountered a hungry stray dog, perhaps one that felt threatened. Even our lovable, oh-so-domesticated furry couch potatoes, have a touch of the wild streak in them that we occasionally glmpse. Enough to make us wonder...

Row Dogs, or Black Dogs, are reported from all over England and Wales. They're known as Moor Hounds near Exmoor, where one should take great care not to encounter them at night, for they foretell one's death. In other places such as Yorkshire, they run in packs and will chase and devour any traveler they meet, leaving nothing but the bones. Yet there are other stories of a huge Black Dog giving aid to a lost traveler and escorting him to safety.

In some places, they are shape shifters, beings belonging to the fairy world.  In one of my unfinished stories, this came in handy. My heroine, who is mortally afraid of all dogs, has no conscious memory of why. When she returns to her ancestral home where only an old caretaker and his wife live, she is frightened by their small dog, Duki. She hears Dukey, and thinks nothing of it, until she learns du ki is Cornish for Black Dog.  The dog is brown and white, and very small. She's heard about the Moor Hounds, a.k.a. Black Dogs, but she shrugs it off, knowing people are not always sensible about their pets. She should have followed her suspicions, and begins to realize it when a huge dark dog appears in her bedchamber every night and stays till dawn. But not to worry- Duki is the good dog. The evil ones are still out there, beyond the walls...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tanya Hanson: The Legend of the Yellow Ribbon

I never liked the song much, Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree, but that doesn't mean I can't sing it at will all these years later! And I remember wearing a yellow ribbon during the Iran Hostage Crises of 1981-82. These days, I see frequent reminders to pray for our troops on yellow-ribbon car magnets.

But not until a recent visit to Old Sacramento, California, did I learn the origins of the yellow ribbon. For almost 150 years, displaying a yellow ribbon is a sign of loyalty to family, friends and loved ones far away from home in difficult situations such as war or captivity.

According to legend, the custom of a yellow ribbon showing support for a loved one far away began during the Civil War. At this time, the United States Cavalry wore yellow piping on their uniforms. Women who were married or promised to a Cavalryman wore yellow ribbons while waiting for their soldiers' return. Supposedly the practice kept prospective suitors at bay as well as warned of reprisal by the soldier if his lover was harmed.

Another version of the custom traces its origins to the horrific Andersonville Prison. Officially known as Camp Sumpter, Andersonville was one of the largest, most notorious Confederate prison camps. During its 14 months of operation, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined, 13,000 losing their lives from disease, malnutrition, overcrowding, and exposure.

Supposedly a member of the Ninth Ohio Cavalry who had been a Confederate prisoner there for several years, wrote to his wife with the suggestion that, rather than wear her ribbon, she tie it to a signpost near the train station so he could see it upon his return. The tale soon became part of Civil War lore.

The following song spread throughout the North, its words set to an old British drinking song:

Around her neck she wore a yellow ribbon

She wore it in the Springtime and in the month of May.

And if you ask her why the hells he wore it,

She wore it for her soldier who is far, far away.


Far away, far away..

She wore it for her soldier who is far, far away

During the 1991 Gulf War and following 9/11, the yellow ribbon symbol has gained widespread popularity as it sends our service members the message that they are never far from our hearts.

Sincere thanks to the Old Sacramento School House Museum for this information.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chewing the Fat and Other Interesting Facts

Most people grow up hearing old adages from their grandparents. For example: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, or don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

The following is the origins of familiar old sayings dating back to circa 1500 and beyond.

Baths consisted of a large tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of being first to enjoy the clean water—then came all the adult sons and other male family members, then the women and finally the children. Last of all came the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!”

Houses had roofs thatched with straw and with no wooden support beams beneath the straw. The roof was the only place for animals to bet warm, so all the cats, dogs and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained, the straw became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

Poor people lived in houses with dirt floors. Hence the saying, “Dirt poor.”

In the days of yore, people cooked in a large pot that always hung over the fire. Because meat was scarce, the people mostly ate vegetables. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight. The next day, more vegetables were added to the pot. Sometimes the stew had food in it that had been in the pot for up to ten days. Hence the rhyme, “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.”

If a homeowner was lucky, he might obtain a small portion of salt pork. When visitors came, the homeowner would hang up his bacon to show off his little bit of wealth. Hence the saying, “Bring home the bacon.” The homeowner would cut off a little to share with his guests. They would sit around (talk) and “chew the fat.”

Tanners used the acid in urine as an agent for curing hides. To earn money, families would urinate in a pot, then once a day take it to Tanner and sell it. People who did this to survive were considered, “Piss Poor.”

But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot. These people were considered the lowest of low because—“They didn’t have a pot to piss in.”

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, a family got the middle of the loaf, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

After sailors had crossed the Atlantic to the West Indies, they would take the native women on board the ship and have their way with them in between the cannons. Some of the women the sailors left behind would have boys, who were called sons between the guns, or son of a gun.

Wet Your Whistle: Many years ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim or handle of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used to blow the whistle to get some service.

A bird in the hand is worth…This refers back to mediaeval falconry where a bird in the hand (the falcon) was certainly worth more than two in the bush (the prey).

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Aesop started this saying way back in 570 B.C. when he wrote his fable "The Milkmaid and Her Pail". Meaning: Don’t spend your money before you make it.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Destiny's Hero, Major Jack Travis - A Tribute to the Cavalry

Call in the cavalry! My Civil War historical, Destiny, features a cavalry officer tasked with a most unusual mission. When I plotted the story, I needed a hero capable of undertaking an unorthodox assignment – he had to be able to think on his feet, possess reconnaissance ability, know his way around a variety of weapons, and he had to be a skilled horseman. It seemed only natural to make my hero a cavalry officer.

A common image of nineteenth century warfare is that of soldiers charging into war on horseback, hooves pounding, sabers at the ready. This is the legacy of the cavalry. The U.S. Cavalry was a branch of Army service known for their skill as horsemen and soldiers. Cavalry soldiers played many important roles in warfare throughout this country’s history. During the Civil War, cavalry officers on both sides of the conflict assumed key roles on and off the battlefield.

In earlier conflicts, cavalry soldiers were used for offensive actions. Massive cavalry charges were used to overwhelm infantry formations. As weapons became more accurate at longer ranges, the effectiveness of cavalry charges diminished. A horse and rider were easy targets for rifles accurate to 300 yards or more. The cavalry’s role in offensive actions shifted from cavalry against infantry offenses to the type of cavalry against cavalry action seen during the first Battle of Bull Run.

Cavalry soldiers were often tasked with defensive actions to delay offensive attacks and to carry out long-distance raids. Famed Confederate cavalry officer J. E .B. Stuart’s raids against the Union Army of the Potomac in 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign and the Maryland Campaign brought him renown in the South, while Union General Benjamin Grierson’s long-range raid in Mississippi offered strategic support to Grant’s army in Vicksburg.

During the Civil War, cavalry soldiers assumed a key role in reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance. With their mobility and speed, the cavalry served as the eyes and ears of Union and Confederate generals. They were also utilized to raid enemy lines of communication, supply storehouses, railroads, and to conduct guerilla warfare.

Destiny’s hero, Major Jack Travis, is a cavalry officer tasked with an extremely unusual mission: protect the runaway daughter of a Northern senator by beating her would-be abductors to the punch. Jack Travis is an expert horseman, a crack shot, and an experienced raider who’s none too happy about his new roles: captor and bodyguard. He should be in the field, not stealing a runaway bride from a train to keep her out of the hands of her father’s enemies. The by-the-book officer finds his captive is anything but the plain, mousy woman he’d been told to expect. Emma Davenport is beautiful, intelligent, feisty – and forbidden. He’ll risk his neck to protect her, but how can he protect her from himself?

The real-life soldiers of the United States Cavalry were my inspiration for Destinys hero and his partner, Steve Dunham – who finds his own heart on the line in the sequel to Destiny, Angel in My Arms, due to be released in November by The Wild Rose Press. Cavalry officers fought valiantly, provided crucial intelligence, and were often viewed as a first line of defense against opposing forces…all of this, while exposed to enemy fire on horseback. These brave men were real American heroes, regardless of whether they wore blue or gray.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Starting at the Right Place

I had an epiphany over the fourth of July. Years ago I submitted a manuscript and it was rejected. It didn’t start at the right place. Hmmm, what did that mean?

I was a bit under the weather on the fourth, lying on the couch with a case of summer crud and found “The Force of July.” One of the cable channels was showing the Star Wars Saga, all six episodes.

My favorite of all six happens to be The Empire Strikes Back. There was so much in that one. Luke trains with Yoda, he and Han Solo seem to be locked in a struggle for Leia’s affections, and, of course, who can forget the best hook line of all times... “Luke, I am your father.”

As I’m sitting there it really hit home how important it is to start in the right place.

George Lucas started with Episode 4: A New Hope. Back then I remember thinking Part 4??? Who starts with 4? What happened to 1-3?

So I imagine trying to sell Parts 1-3.

“Okay- I’ve got this six part saga about a war in space, and it starts with this kid who we follow through Jedi training and then...”

“He saves the world?”

“No, not exactly, he struggles with authority of the Jedi council, falls in love with this senator, they secretly marry, she becomes pregnant with his child, and he’s afraid she’ll die in child birth, so he turns evil.”

“And she turns him back to good?”

“No, she dies.”

“And he turns good?”

“No, he’s burned up, but kept alive by his hatred. He’s put back together by an evil Sith Lord, but now is more machine than man...”

“...but the universe is saved?”

“No, it’s the beginning of decades of war.”


It may be odd to relate Star Wars to romance but it all clicked for me. Start at the Right Place!

*If he’d started with 1-3, we wouldn’t have a clear hero

*There wouldn’t have been all the mystery at the beginning.

*You would know Leia was Luke’s sister!

* “Luke, I am your father.” Would never have been so crushing. I remember my sister coming home from the movie almost in tears. Darth Vader is Luke’s father...he just can’t be.

By the end of Episode 5, your interest is piqued. Who is this Darth Vader, and in Episode 6, The Return of the Jedi, Vader, as Sith lord, doesn’t take an apprentice, but removes the mask and once again becomes Anakin, the Jedi. Not only does the Jedi order return, but Anakin the Jedi returns.

Starting in the right place gave a stronger, identifiable hero and heroine, more resolution and intrigue to the story, and the best hook of all time (IMHO)

And since it happened a LONG, LONG TIME AGO... its history. :-)

Friday, July 2, 2010

He Called It Macaroni

Yankee Doodle went to town,
A-Riding on a pony;
Stuck a feather in his cap,
And called it macaroni.

Macaroni? He named his feather after pasta?

I'm American, and I've sung this song all my life. But I never understood what Yankee Doodle's feather had to do with spaghetti.

The verse sounds odd to our ears, but made perfect sense to English people in the mid 1700's, when the song was written.

At that time, a "Yankee" (from the Dutch Jan Kees, or John Cheese) was an inhabitant of New England, a pejorative name bestowed by the urbane New York Dutch on their rustic Connecticut neighbors, and by extension, to all Americans. lists several possible derivations here.

The word "doodle" first appeared in the seventeenth century, from the German word for "simpleton" or "fool".

From my last post, "macaroni" was an extreme of English male dress, circa 1760. The style's most salient characteristic, a large, ungainly wig, caused "macaroni" to become a synonym for foppishness. Put the two words together, and a "Yankee Doodle" was a derisive term for a backwoods American fool so unsophisticated he thought decorating his cap with a feather was the height of fashion.

Historians generally credit Doctor Richard Shuckburgh, a British Army surgeon, with creating the song sometime during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). The date is in dispute, given in various places as 1755, 1756 or 1758.

The New York State archeologist, Paul Huey, believes he has narrowed the date to June, 1758. At that time, a large British force had mustered at Fort Crailo near Albany, New York, to prepare for the attack on Fort Ticonderoga. The ragged, ill-equipped and ill-trained New England militiamen who joined the expedition provided a stark contrast to the well-dressed, well-drilled British soldiers. Dr. Shuckburgh wrote the first set of lyrics mocking these ragtag troops. The tune apparently comes from the nursery rhyme Lucy Locket.

Something about the song resonated in colonial America, and Yankee Doodle took on a life of its own. Many sets of lyrics exist. If you’re curious about all the verses (and there are a lot of them), you'll find a list here:

Everyone sang Yankee Doodle. British soldiers often sang it as a marching song. The American colonists sang it, too, but with different lyrics.

As the tension between England and America escalated, the Americans took up the ditty, complete with feather and macaroni, as a badge of honor. By the time of the Battle of Concord and Lexington (1775), the Americans had claimed the song as their own.

Yankee Doodle lives on to this day.

Archibald MacNeal Willard's most famous painting, The Spirit of '76 (c. 1875), (picture above) is popularly called Yankee Doodle.

Yankee Doodle Dandy, a version of Yankee Doodle, is the tune to a famous song-and-dance sequence in the 1942 James Cagney film of the same name.

And last, but not least, Yankee Doodle is the state song of Connecticut. I'm from Connecticut (yup, a real Connecticut Yankee), and I didn't know that.

July fourth is Independence Day here in the United States. On that Yankee Doodle-est of days, here's one Yankee Doodle saying "Happy Fourth of July" to all my fellow Yankee Doodles.

Thank you all,
Linda Banche
Enter My World of Historical Hilarity