Tuesday, January 29, 2019

For the Birds...

Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook knows that I’m—well, a bit of a bird nut.

How bird-nutty am I? I’ve got multiple bird-feeders strung up around my house, have a small pair of binoculars on my writing desk in the spring and fall to keep an eye on what migrating feathery friend might be hanging out in the crab-apple tree by my office window, and of course, maintain a list of birds we’ve seen anywhere around the house. Favorite visitors? Eastern bluebirds—just saw one yesterday on one of the suet feeders—cedar waxwings, flocks of wild turkeys, a tiny sharp-shinned hawk that we often see in winter watching the bird-feeders hopefully (they, ahem, like to eat smaller birds), and of course, the feisty ruby-throated hummingbirds that arrive as soon as my bleeding-hearts start to bloom. When I’m outside I talk to the chickadees; I do a good chickadee whistle, and can always bring at least one over to investigate.

It’s not just me; I’ve managed to infect my entire family with my rampant aviphilia. So I was hardly surprised when my husband announced a few weeks back, “I’m going to build an owl house.”

“That’s nice, dear,” I said.

So, we think owls are awesome. They’re fascinating creatures; their feathers have evolved so that they can fly pretty much silently (kind of important when you’re a night-time predator), and they can turn their heads through 270°—that’s three-quarters of a circle (a necessity, because they can’t move their eyes to track moving objects.) We listen at night for owls in the woods around our house (the record is three different owl species calling in one evening.) I’m personally predisposed to like them because they’re the emblem of my college (Athena and her owls, of course.) My husband is predisposed to like them because they eat squirrels and chipmunks—with which we are, unfortunately, well-supplied (I’ve asked the sharp-shinned hawk to step up and polish off a few chipmunks, but he hasn't obliged.)

The owl call we hear most often around these parts is that of the barred owl, so DH did some research on the type of nesting boxes that barred owls like, and came up with a hybrid design from a couple of different websites. He built it out of exterior grade plywood (it's a little over two feet high) stained to keep it from rotting, roofed it with leftover shingles, and installed a hinged bottom to make cleaning it out easier between tenants. Then he filled the bottom with wood shavings and some hay, and hung it in a tree out in the woods behind our house last weekend, about 12 feet up.

I'm not expecting guests quite yet; barred owls usually start nesting in March, but male barred owls are already scouting the woods, looking for likely nesting sites which they will claim and try to entice a lady barred owl to move in to. We'll be watching, though; evidently, the males decorate the areas around their nests with the corpses of prey to show females that they’re good daddy material, because nothing says “I love you” like a dead squirrel or two.

We’ll keep you posted! I made DH promise that if we get owls to nest in it this year, he will put in a webcam in next year, because owls tend to come back to the same nesting place year after year. How cool would that be?

Friday, January 25, 2019

Nineteenth Century Heroines: Standing in No One’s Shadow

I have written about Ezra Meeker before. He’s something of a hero in my neck of the woods, or at least he was when I was a girl. So I was delighted recently to learn that he wasn’t the only exceptional person in the family. His wife Eliza Meeker deserves as much recognition.

Eliza Jane Sumner Meeker was born in 1833. She and Ezra were childhood sweethearts in Indiana, their parents’ farms being located nearby. Where Ezra appears to have been the visionary, Eliza was the practical one. Ezra told her he wanted to be a farmer, and she agreed to marry him when she was only 18 so long as he agreed to own the land. That proved difficult for the young couple, who had little money. In less than a year, they decided to head west for Oregon Territory. A tiny woman just over four feet tall, she carefully prepared and packed their food for the trip. Unlike many on the Oregon trail, they never ran out, and nothing spoiled in their six-month journey. And Eliza started out the trip with an infant only 7 weeks old.

Ezra was nothing if not mobile. The couple settled first in St. Helens, Oregon, but staked their first claim across the Columbia River in what would become Kalama. But Ezra wanted more, better, and so they headed north, settling on McNeil Island across from the town of Steilacoom. Still not good enough. He sold their claim, which would eventually become the site of the McNeil Island Correctional Facility. He bought land in the south end of Tacoma, what is called the Fern Hill area today but went by the charming name of Swamp Place back then. Eliza managed the garden and orchard he put in. Still not enough. He had the brilliant idea of growing hops for beer, choosing a claim in the Puyallup Valley. And he made a fortune.

That was enough for Eliza. She asked for half the proceeds of the sale of their last land claim and used the money to build herself and their six children a house, in her name. Not just any house. The Meeker Mansion, which still stands today, cost an astronomical $26,000 then and took 3 years to build. Eliza allowed an Italian painter to live with them for a year while he painted the murals on the ceilings. The house was wired for electricity long before Puyallup had any. Eliza even picked out and arranged for the furniture to be shipped, some all the way from Europe. The year the house was finished, in 1890, she donated their old cabin and land for a city park and served as the first “first lady” of Puyallup when Ezra became the first mayor.

While Ezra was busy running things, Eliza championed the first Puyallup library and was an avid supporter of the suffragette movement. She even attended national meetings. Then a blight went through the hop fields, and they lost everything. Ezra decided to seek his fortune in the Yukon. Eliza had a better idea. She dried 30,000 pounds of vegetables, which Ezra took north to sell in Dawson City. To protect her beloved mansion from being sold to pay their debts, she sold it instead to her daughter Caroline and husband, with the provision that she and Ezra be allowed to reside in the house until their deaths.

Eliza died in 1909, leaving behind a family and a legacy that would not be soon forgotten.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Not So Shabby Chic?

More fun with 19th century fashion prints. 😍

Although I mostly collect prints from Ackermann’s Repository and La Belle AssemblĂ©e, I have smaller collections of prints from other publications, including the Lady’s Magazine, the Ladies’ Monthly Museum, and the French Journal des Dames et des Modes, which was published in Paris between 1797 and 1839.  I especially love the prints from the 1830s from that last magazine—the fashion prints are wildly over the top: dresses with absolutely enormous bouffant sleeves and flowing skirts that seem to involve acres of fabric, often exuberantly printed, and millinery that would stop traffic...and they often include fun background props as well—like this particular print, from the August 5, 1833 edition (the magazine appeared every five days—!!)

Here is what I am guessing is an afternoon dress, something suitable for paying calls or shopping. The two ladies so animatedly chatting are wearing the same style; this tĂȘte-Ă -tĂȘte pose was often used to show the back and front of a dress. Here are the large gigot sleeves, full skirts, and large bonnets of the time, along with an elegant black lace scarf and pleated bodice.  But what grabbed my attention about this print was the furniture.

Check out the chair in the foreground: it’s a wooden armchair, covered with a fabric slipcover that’s right out of a “shabby chic” photo shoot! Maybe I’m just being silly, but for some reason this tickled me. To stay in keeping with the illustration, all I can say is, plus ça change, plus c'est la mĂȘme chose...!*

*The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Art of the Cravat

You’ve read the descriptions. A gentleman in the early nineteenth century sports a snowy cravat, and all the ladies go into raptures. I had to become more acquainted with the cravats when I began writing Regency romances. But I didn’t really appreciate them until I created and wore one myself.

A cravat in early nineteenth century England was a square or rectangle of material, most often linen but occasionally cotton. I have seen mentions of silk versions, but I do wonder how well they would survive the maintenance process (more on that below). Cravats were wrapped around a gentleman’s neck, usually outside the shirt, forcing the points of the collar upward. You may have seen mention of gentlemen who piled up the folds so high they endangered their ears or eyes with their shirt points.

The color of your cravat was as important. This was an era of lye soap and hand-washing. Imagine trying to keep something snowy white. So, if you had a white cravat, it either meant you could afford a talented laundress or you were rich enough to simply throw the things away if they soiled. Then too, some gentlemen chose to wear colored cravats, particularly if they were a member of the sporting set. Famed boxer Jem Belcher preferred a patterned cravat, the print resembling peacock feathers. Everything I can find suggests his favorite was blue on navy, but the portrait of him in the National Portrait Gallery shows yellow on russet. Either way, he makes the case for colored cravats.

The laundry process is one of the reasons that I question the use of silk very often. The other reason is that cravats were heavily starched to hold up to the intricate folds some gentlemen preferred. You’ll see mention of valets who handled the cravats too roughly and made them limp, preventing the proper fold.

And you may well have needed a valet for assistance. Cravats are surprisingly long—up to five or six feet! Trying to fold, wrap, and tie it appropriately could not have been easy at first.

It certainly wasn’t for me. As I have mentioned, I decided to impersonate a Regency gentleman for a soiree of the Beau Monde, the Romance Writers of AmericaTM chapter for those who write Regency romances. [We never have enough gentleman for a dance set.] To prepare for the part, I made my own cravat. Mine, alas, isn’t as snowy white as that of Sir Carolus here (AKA the marvelous Cara King), but then neither is the shirt I found. I fold the cream-colored rectangle in half, wind it around my neck, then tie it so that a piece cascades down the front and is affixed in place with a cravat pin. I am invariably asked what my fold is called.

The graphic above was an 1818 satire on cravats, but the particular folds did appear to have names. I call mine the Incomparable, although I nearly called it the Incompetent because it’s so hard to tie!

For more information on how to tie a cravat, see the Historical Designs website or this tutorial by my friend and accomplished author, Kristen Koster

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Such Language! Part 22

Oh, the Rabelaisian buffet that is the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue! What’s your favorite word or phrase this time? Muckworm is soooo very evocative, as is old toast--can't you just picture a spry, dapper old gentleman? What do you think?

Arch Duke: A comical or eccentric fellow. (I see no reason why my younger brother should be called an arch duke just because he prefers gravy to whipped cream on his strawberries.)

Caudge-pawed: Left-handed (Being caudge-pawed made remembering which hand to use when being presented to the queen something of a nightmare for Lucinda.)

Gabey:  A foolish fellow. (Sir Arnold is enough of a gabey to think that his purple and gold waistcoat is the height of fashion.)

Slamkin:  A female sloven, one whose clothes seem hung on with a pitchfork. (To see her now fluttering her fan and swishing her skirts, you’d never suspect my sister Ermentrude was an utter slamkin before her come-out.)

Peccavi: To cry peccavi; to acknowledge one’s self in an error, to own a fault: from the Latin peccavi, I have sinned. (Ermentrude won’t cry peccavi, but I know she’s the one who borrowed my new parasol and left it at Gunter’s.)

Muckworm: A miser (That old muckworm Mr. Pauncefort must be rolling in his grave to see how open-handed and generous his young nephew and heir has been toward his tenants.)

Old Toast:  A brisk old fellow. (Great-Uncle Gilbert walks three times up and down Rotten Row each day, just to hear the ladies whisper about what a lively old toast he is.)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Live Like the Mountain's Out

Do you compose New Year’s resolutions or goals for the coming year? I usually do. I enjoyed many lovely things in 2018, including getting to spend time with my dear Marissa, Kristy J. Manhattan (my wonderful critique partner), and other friends. But in many ways, it was a difficult year. Shifting family dynamics and an overly ambitious publishing schedule combined to sap my strength. For only the second time in 45 books, I missed a publication deadline.

I don’t like doing that.

So, in case some of you are coming off a difficult year, I wanted to share a saying we have here in the South Sound and my goal for 2019.

Live like the mountain’s out.

You see, many of us here live in the shadow of Mt. Rainier. She’s a majestic peak, breathtaking actually, at one of the tallest in the U.S. And she dominates the skyline above Puget Sound.

When she’s visible.

You would not think a 14,000-foot mountain could play hide-and-seek, but she does. When it’s raining (and yes, it rains frequently here), storm clouds mask her. Even on bright sunny days, there may be nothing on the southwest horizon. When my father came as a young airman to what is now Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the winter in the late 1950s, he spent weeks without catching a glimpse. Then one day, he went outside and stared.

“Who put that pile of snow at the end of the runway?” he demanded.

Mt. Rainier comes out of hiding on the best of days, when the sun is shining and the air is clear. When birds are singing a welcome, and you can smell the scent of fir and salt water on the breeze. On those days, people leave work early, go outside. We climb hills, skim waves. We gather around fires: in rustic pits in our backyards, in fir-shrouded campgrounds, on rocky beaches. We tell stories about our best memories, make new ones. We smile and laugh and enjoy each other’s company.

Live like the mountain’s out.

This year, I resolve to do that. I want to smile, I want to laugh. I want to enjoy the company of family and friends. I want to write stories that celebrate the best of the past and uplift, encourage, and make you dream of what might be. Dark times come to all. We can be the light.

Live like the mountain’s out.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Regency Fabrics, Part 22

Here’s another post in our ongoing series on Regency fabrics.

As I have in previous posts, I’ll be examining actual fabric samples glued into several earlier editions of Ackermann’s Repository, samples supplied by the manufacturers and published by Ackermann in order to boost the British cloth-making industry at a time when exporting British goods to Europe was almost impossible because of the Napoleonic war. I'll give you a close-up scan of each sample, the published description if available, and my own observations of the color, weight, condition, and similarity to present-day materials, to give you as close a picture as possible of what these fabrics are like. So here we go!

Today’s four samples are from the August 1810 issue of Ackermann’s Repository (yes, we’ve gone back in time a bit, as I recently acquired this print.) The overall condition of my copy is very good: the page itself is almost free of foxing and toning, and the samples are in good shape as well, with perhaps a bit of brown spotting.

No. 1 and 2. A fast-coloured deep cerulean blue furniture chintz, calculated for the decoration of drawing-rooms, boudoirs, and sleeping-rooms. The linings best contrasted with this fashionable article, are, bright yellow, rose colour, or crimson, with variegated Chinese fringe. It is sold, with various other kinds of permanent chintz furniture, at Mr. Allen’s celebrated furniture ware-house, Pall-Mall.

My comments: This is a nicely weighty, close-woven, and deeply glazed chintz, in a lovely shade of blue. The printing seems a little off (look at the leaves in particular), and the design is a little less elegant than other Regency chintzes we’ve seen.

No. 3. An imperial fancy striped cambric muslin, calculated for frocks, pelisse wraps, and every kind of morning robe. Lace may be introduced in this article, although we very frequently see it made up plain, with double plaited trimming of muslin or scalloped lace, simply forming a border at its terminations. This article is sold by Edwards and Co. Hay’s-court, Newport-market.

My comments: Oh, so very pretty! This is extraordinarily light and airy fabric; the thread is very evenly spun which makes for a nice tight weave. The cable design (thinking like a knitter here) is nicely done as well. Of course it would have to be made with a lining, but is one of the prettiest muslins I think I’ve yet examined.

No. 4. A raised corded leno, appropriate to the evening or dinner robe. It is frequently worn over coloured sarsnet or satin slips, and offers a very pleasing change for summer wear. No lace or needlework can be introduced to advantage in this light article, except as a trimming round the bottom or bosom; and the under dress cannot (from the transparent texture of the leno) be composed of any article of an inferior order. It is also sold by Edwards and Co. Newport-market.

My comments: Although not as pretty as No. 3 above, this is also woven of very fine (in all senses of the word) thread and would indeed be very pretty over a colored slip—pale pink or blue, perhaps? Definitely debutante wear. J

Any thoughts on this month’s fabrics?

Friday, January 4, 2019

Nice Way to Start the Year

I style myself as an award-winning author, but the number of awards is much smaller than that of some of my sister authors (cough, cough, Marissa). So, when I hear that my books have made some list, I get rather giddy. Allow me to share that giddiness with you.

For the third year in a row, I am honored to have one of my books on Kathy’s Review Corner’s Gems list, this time for Never Doubt a Duke, the first in my Fortune’s Brides series. Kathy is a voracious reader, and I appreciate how she works with authors to showcase great books. She chooses her favorite books of the year to include on the Gems list. You might drop by for a visit. 

Never Doubt a Duke also graced the Favorite 2018 Books list at Hope by the Book. My thanks to Alysha Worthen and her blog, For the Love of Christian Fiction, for the nomination.

If you’d like to catch up with the latest of my Fortune’s Brides series, Never Vie for a Viscount was launched on December 28. Lydia Villers wants to leave behind her life as a social butterfly and pursue a career in natural philosophy. A shame the only scientist available to assist her is the man she had once hoped to wed. Viscount Worthington has been betrayed once too often, including by the bubbly beauty who now wants to work at his side. How can he believe Lydia’s intentions are true this time? With the help of Miss Thorn and her beloved cat Fortune, an enthusiastic young lady and a wary lord might just discover that only together do they make the perfect chemistry.

Here’s a little taste:

As the rest of the team murmured their goodbyes, Lydia went to set the pincushion on the shelves. Irritating, impossible man. How was she to learn anything when Worth set her at meaningless tasks? Was he trying to force her to leave?

She gasped, whirling. “You are! You want me gone.”

His sister Charlotte frowned. “I’m sure I never said any such thing.”

Worth had his hands behind his back, as if intent on hiding something. “If the work displeases you, Miss Villers, we will not hold you to your agreement of employment.”

Charlotte stared at him. Lydia raised her chin and looked him in the eye. The grey seemed darker, as if his thoughts were as dismal.

“I came here to learn more about natural philosophy,” she told him. “Nothing you have done, nothing you can do, will change that, my lord.”

She thought he might look disappointed, perhaps chagrined that she had caught him at his game. Instead, he stepped forward and offered her his arm.

“In that case,” he said, “may I see you home, Miss Villers?”

She wanted to refuse. He had disappointed her too many times. But he obviously had a hypothesis about her. She should let him test it, offer him evidence that she was more capable than he knew. If he spent time with her, learned more about her, perhaps he would come to understand why she was here and be more inclined to let her help.

She put her arm on his. “Very well, my lord.”

He escorted her to where she’d left her things in her tiny room, then led her back through the house and out the front door.

“I apologize,” he said as they walked along the pavement at the edge of Clarendon Square.

“For humoring me or for failing to accept the results of my experiment?” Lydia asked, voice pleasant from long practice.

“For upsetting you,” he said. “I dislike seeing you unhappy.”

Lydia stopped, forcing him to stop as well. “How extraordinary. Do you dislike seeing Miss Pankhurst unhappy?”

He cocked his head as if considering the matter. “I would like to think so.”

“Then you would allow her to commandeer your time with useless experiments.”


He had always seemed so open, so obvious in his thoughts, until he had sent that horrid note dismissing her. Could she believe him now? How could she continue to work in that house if she didn’t?

“Then why,” she asked, “did you do that for me?”

Again, his answer was swift. “Every natural philosopher has a right to test a theory. My approval, the application to my research, appeared immaterial in that moment. I wanted to know how you would go about testing it, your response to the testing.”

“So, you did have a hypothesis about me,” Lydia said, “and you were testing it too. What was your hypothesis, my lord?”

He colored. Truly, it was an amazing sight. The red climbed in his cheeks until it clashed with his auburn hair. “I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps I was merely curious.”

Curious, or wondering whether she’d behave logically? Of course, on hearing what he’d done, she’d all but stomped her feet and called him names, so there was that.

“Apology accepted,” she said, starting forward at a brisk pace.

He hurried to fall into step beside her. “Thank you.”

“However,” Lydia said, skirts sweeping the pavement, “I believe reparations are in order.”

“I see.” He nodded thoughtfully. “Flowers perhaps?”

Lydia clucked her tongue. “Nothing so common, sir. You wounded me deeply.”

“Should I apologize again?”

He sounded so perplexed, hands going behind his back once more. Was that what he did when he was uncertain? She could not doubt that she had disquieted him.

But she did not intend to encourage him.

“No,” she said. “But you could give me a greater part in the work.”

She glanced at him to find his head down, his gaze on the stone at their feet. “Alas, it would be unfair to Miss Janssen and Miss Pankhurst to take their work from them.”

Lydia stopped at the bottom of the stairs leading up to Meredith’s door. “Surely there must be something. Perhaps if you told me what we are working toward, I might be able to propose a role.”

His face closed, and he took a step back from her. “I’m afraid that must remain quiet for now. Good afternoon, Miss Villers.”

He turned and strode back the way they had come, for all the world as if she were chasing him.

You can find Never Vie for a Viscount in ebook at many fine online retailers and in print from Amazon:


Here’s to a great year, my dears. You know it will be amazing because, it’s 19!