Monday, August 31, 2009

The Bishop's Palace, Galveston

My girl cousins on the Riley side try to get together every summer for a weekend. This year we went to Baytown where one cousin lives. Her house sits on the bay and we enjoyed sitting on the deck drinking coffee in the morning and margaritas at night while watching the sunset telling tall tales. The last morning we were there we saw dolphins gliding through the water.

On Saturday, we drove to Galveston to tour the Bishop’s Palace, a castle like structure built by Galveston’s premier architect, Nicholas Clayton. Construction began on the Victorian building in 1887 and was finished in 1893. It stands proudly today, a survivor of the worst hurricane disaster in 1900 in this country’s history. The house cost $250,000 to build.

The home, first named Gresham’s Castle, was designed for Colonel Walter Gresham, a native Virginian, and his wife and cousin Josephine. Walter served in the Civil War earning the honorary title of Colonel. With the upheaval in Virginia during reconstruction, he moved to Galveston to begin anew.

A lawyer and entrepreneur, Gresham founded the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Railroad and was later instrumental in Galveston becoming the only deep water sea port west of the Mississippi. He served in the Texas Legislature. He died in Washington in 1920 while serving in the United States Congress. Josephine remained in Washington and the house in Galveston remained vacant. She died in 1933.

In 1926 Josephine sold the house to the Catholic Diocese for $40,500 as a home for Bishop Christopher C. E. Byrne. At that time it became known as the Bishop’s Palace. Though run by Galveston’s Historical Society, the house is still owned by the Catholic Diocese.

The home was the first ever to boast recessed lighting, a Clayton design. At the far end of the entry hall, a fireplace, combination gas and coal, has a flue below the fireplace, an oddity that no one knows exactly how it works. A beautiful solid oak staircase curves up and over the fireplace and has a Bishop’s pulpit where the Gresham children often observed party festivities of Galveston’s elite. Above the staircase is a rotunda with cooling vents in the upper windows. The house was lit with gasoliers, combination gas and electric lights. Can you imagine the fire hazard they must have been?

Josephine was a great entertainer. She loved to travel and did so extensively. On her travels she mailed post cards home to add to her collection. Many ladies in her circle also had collections and gatherings gave hostesses the opportunity to boast of the places they’d been. On display in the parlor is the box Mrs. Gresham had made to display her cards. At one end of the parlor is an alcove where as guests danced on the pine floors, musicians played behind hand-painted screens and palms. The entertainers were to be heard, not seen. It is in this alcove where after his death Bishop Byrne lay in state.

Mrs. Gresham was an accomplished artist and painted many of the murals on the ceilings. Some of her paintings remain on display. In the dining room, Lincrusta, a wall covering similar to linoleum is shaped to adhere to the curved area below the ceiling.

Fresh water was a commodity in Galveston. A drainage system allowed rain water to be collected and stored. In the master bathroom, the bathtub has three faucets—one for cold water, one for hot water, and one for rain water to wash the mistress’s hair.

When the house was built, the kitchen was located in the basement. There were three kitchens—one to cook breakfast, one for lunch, and one for dinner. During Bishop Byrne’s time, a modernized kitchen was installed in the warming room behind the butler’s pantry where the food was held until it was served. On display in the kitchen today is an old Crescent stove that used both wood and gas.

Many of the windows on the first and second floors open from the floor up to allow air flow and individuals to step out on the porch that surrounds the house. The house is filled with stained glass, Italian pink marble fireplaces, a hand carved mantle made of Santa Domingo mahogany that won first- place at the World’s Fair in Philadelphia in 1876, and another made of onyx, pewter, and silver that won first-prize at the New Orleans Exhibition.

Hand carved woodwork abounds in the house—light mahogany in the music room, black burl walnut in the library, dark mahogany in the parlor. The lower floor rooms have massive sliding doors with different woods on each side so they’ll match the wood of each room. In the library, the glass doors on the book shelves slide rather than open out and all of the windows have folding inside shutters. Of the beautiful woods used in the house, the most valuable is located in the servant’s entry area and staircase. It is long leaf pine, though cheaper in 1890, is very rare and expensive today. The servant’s stairs go up to the third floor. There are ninety-three steps. Women servants of the era wore corsets and long dresses. Off of this area is a cloak room with pegs to hold coats of guests. Though the servants didn’t live on site, they had their own bathroom complete with bathtub just off this area.

Mr. and Mrs. Gresham’s rooms, along with those of their three daughters, are on the second floor. The rooms are elaborate, many containing half-canopy beds with painted murals. The girls had their own bathroom, but it’s half the size of the master. The boy’s rooms were on the third floor. Though we were not allowed on that level, the guide explained the rooms were spartan compared to those of the girls. Boys needed space to run and play, decoration wasn’t important. They had their own toilet upstairs, the girls most likely wouldn’t have approved of sharing, but bathed in the girl’s bathroom or downstairs in the servant’s bathroom.

Mr. Gresham’s bedroom was converted into a private chapel for Bishop Byrne and remains as such today. If you have time to only visit one of the historical homes in Galveston, The Bishop’s Palace is the one to see.

I hope you've enjoyed this little bit of history from Galveston, Texas.

Linda LaRoque ~Western Romance with a Twist in Time~ A Law of Her Own, Desires of the Heart, My Heart Will Find Yours, Flames on the Sky10-9, Forever Faithful, Investment of the Heart, When the Ocotillo Bloom

Thursday, August 27, 2009


By, Roberta C.M. DeCaprio

I’ve often heard romance novels of years ago referred to as “bodice rippers.” After reading a couple, I fully understood why. Back-in-the-day, when the hero ripped the clothes off the heroine, it was considered “sensual,” “exciting,” and “romantic.” I find it more disturbing, especially because I am a very practical person and would hate to see a perfectly good piece of clothing destroyed. Then, of course, I have this thing about being cherished by a man, and prefer to be unwrapped like a precious gift, instead of stripped. However, different strokes for different folks and to each their own taste in literature. This blog today isn’t about the various ways romance is written, likes and dislikes in the style used, etc.; but about the clothing, especially the corset…..or bodice, as a corset was sometimes called. One wonders, the way the corset or bodice was made (with wool, whale bone and tons of laces), how it could be ripped that easily while two people are in the throws of passion. Being the curious and inquisitive sort, I decided to do a bit of research on the frontier women’s corset. This is what I discovered:

Women of yonder years were taught from an impressionable age to conform to society's norms via serious amounts of peer pressure. To deviate from the norm was to be considered less than a lady and no one wanted to be shunned for being less than a lady. Doing your best to look your best was important, and all who could afford it aspired to attain the latest fashions.
One of the measures of beauty for this look was to appear to have a small waist, one no less than 17 inches, and no larger than 21 inches. To this end, women constructed gowns to accentuate this feature. The jewel neckline and center front openings were universal. Arm seams went very low onto the arm, making the shoulders look wide and sloping, thus accentuating the smallness of the waist. Side and shoulder seams were moved to the back to make a smoother line to the waist. Sleeves were full at the elbow; to make the waist look smaller by comparison, as well as a full skirt. Fashionable skirts were as wide as possible; this width was accentuated with the support of hoops or multiple starched petticoats. Another way to achieve the “small waist” look was by wearing a corset beneath the dress.

A corset is an article of dress designed to support or modify the figure, worn to shape or constrict the torso. It dates to at least c. 2000 BC, when it was worn as an outer garment by men as well as women in Minoan Crete. Corsets, also called bodices or stays, were worn by European women from the 16th century onward into the 17th century and was worn to flatten the chest and was reinforced with wood. Some outer corsets were jeweled and elaborately embroidered. After 1660 they were shaped to accentuate the breasts. In the 19th century the corset, now reinforced with whalebone or metal, changed with the style of dresses, changing their form as fashions changed.

The over-all look of the undergarment extended to the hips, and triangular gussets accommodated these curves as well as those of the breasts, which they could direct sideways. The center front had a pocket where a rigid ruler-like "busk," often made of wood or whale ivory, was inserted top to bottom through the front of the corset and served to keep the posture erect. These corsets were important to the development of the new fashionable figure. Since corsets were designed and worn for the sole purpose of cinching in the waist, it’s obvious that they were worn for compressing the body into an hourglass shape. And to do that, the laces must be tightened considerably. Tight lacing was, in fact, common. However, over-tight lacing of the corset was blamed for numerous health problems.

What happens to the human body when it is compressed in a corset? The human skeleton-muscular system is in perfect symphony with a vast network of internal and external organs. Throw a wrench in the system, however, and this wonderful machine that was designed to serve reliably for many years begins to break down. Breathing, eating, digesting, waste processing, and other bodily functions are restricted and become dysfunctional when the internal organs are constricted and displaced. The muscles are weakened and the ligaments stretched, so posture is not improved but deteriorates as the body becomes dependent upon an external support mechanism. A full range of motion is not possible, so energy levels and fitness decrease.
Because the corsets were so tight, women were only able to fill the tops of their lungs with air. This shallow breathing resulted in the bottom part of the lungs being filled with mucus. This was characterized by a persistent cough, the body’s way of ridding the lungs of foreign matter. This may have been why doctors believed corsets were a cause of tuberculosis. Women were also known to faint because of the reduced lung function. This made smelling salts a typical household item. Another corset health issue was the compression of the internal organs, including: Liver, Stomach, Bladder, and Intestines.

In the early 1800s, after the French Revolution, fashionable women temporarily gave up their corsets (along with the other symbols of the aristocracy) for looser clothing that seemed to parallel new ideas of freedom in political life. But when the corset returned a few years later, it took forms that eventually led to concerns for women’s health. Two things changed. First, the corset accentuated rather than hid the woman’s natural form, producing the corset shape that most of us recognized as an hourglass figure, with tight compression of the waist. Throughout the 1800s, corset forms became more and more exaggerated, women’s clothing increasingly hugged the torso, and the corset squeezed in more and more of the body to create an ideal female shape from shoulder to thigh. Second, more and more women wore them, and mothers used them for young children.

Women wore special maternity corsets while pregnant. Women who had worn corsets since childhood or adolescence probably had weaker abdominal muscles and might have benefited from proper support, but maternity corsets were not specially designed for support. Instead, the corsets were designed to mask, even minimize, the size of the pregnant body.

Leigh Summers writes in Bound to Please:

The corset had been the subject of intense medical and scientific scrutiny since the 1860s. By 1880 both the medical profession and of course the women who wore the garments understood that the corset exerted tremendous pressure on the abdomen as well as the chest. Using a manometer on more than fifty women, Dr. Latou Dickinson had shown that ‘regular’ stays produced between 21 lb. and 80 lb. of pressure per square inch on the body. Dickinson’s work had been replicated and further publicized by Dr. D.A. Sergeant, who had shown that the corset reduced lung capacity by at least one-fifth. Their work was further supported by hideous animal experiments on dogs and monkeys. The animals were corseted and the pressure on their abdomens and chests were systematically increased until they expired. These experiments, argued defenders, attempted to replicate the conditions imposed by the corset on the human frame and were discussed at some length in Lancet. The experiments showed that heart damage, syncope, and death were related to tightly laced corsetry. Critics of vivisection by corset described these experiments as ‘horrifying and wanton cruelty’. This charge was disputed by doctors who claimed that the [anaesthetized] animals did not suffer, and that similar “compression of the abdomen and chest… [was] self inflicted daily by thousands of women in Great Britain without anesthetic’.

Summers also discusses how the corset was used as an abortion device:

Lionel Rose has briefly discussed several case histories of working- and middle-class women whose illegitimate babies were successfully concealed from families and employees in nineteenth-century Britain. Rose noted that these pregnancies were completely undetected until the accidental discovery of the infants’ bodies. In almost all cases these unfortunate women insisted the infants were born dead or died very quickly after birth. It would seem extremely likely, given that Dr. Latou Dickinson’s experiments showed that the standard corset exerted up to 80 lb per square inch of pressure on the torso, that corsetry was probably integral in the maternal deception and contributed significantly to the ‘concealed’ infant’s death. The tightly laced corset offered an expedient method of family limitation that was instrumental in avoiding the outrage of husband, family, employers, clergy, state, and even personal ‘conscience’. The extreme pressure of a tightly laced corset may have inhibited quickening and would certainly have obscured it from public notice. In reducing the effects of quickening, or forestalling the completion of pregnancy altogether, the corset allowed the pregnant nineteenth-century woman to convince herself, consciously or unconsciously, that no pregnancy had occurred and that bleeding after months of ‘failed’ menstruation was simply a case of cleared ‘obstruction’. Moreover, if the corset failed to procure an early miscarriage, the likelihood of an infant’s survival, after it had been corseted throughout its term in utero, were markedly reduced.
[Dr.] Alice Stockman noted that many girls gave birth to ‘frail scrofulous children’ because of ‘obstruction in the respiratory system’. These obstructions, she maintained firmly, were the direct result of the corset. The corset allowed ‘mother’ to ‘breathe enough to sustain her own organism in fair condition’ but it meant she did ‘not inhale enough oxygen to sustain an inter-uterine being.’ Stockham stated that ‘many still births were explainable to this principle’. When asked by a patient how far advanced a woman should be in pregnancy before she laid aside her corset, she replied that ‘the corset should not be worn for two hundred years before pregnancy takes place’. Stockham insisted that ‘it would take that time at least to overcome the ill effects of the garment which [women] thought so essential.

Even young girls were corseted. Below is the telling of how a child, as yet unbowed by societal pressure to be “feminine”, would outright reject the corset. Gwen Raverat, a young girl during the Victorian era, recalls enforced juvenile corset wearing in her memoirs Period Piece. She recalls that her sister Margaret, when put into corset at thirteen, “ran round and round the nursery screaming with rage.” Raverat herself reacted this way:

I ran away somewhere and took them off… [then] endured sullenly the row that ensued when my soft-shelled condition was discovered; was forcibly re-corseted; and as soon as possible went away and took them off again. One of my governesses used to weep over my wickedness in this respect. I had a bad figure and to me they were instruments of torture; they prevented me from breathing, and dug deep holes into my softer parts on every side. I am sure no hair shirt could have been worse to me.

So is wearing the corset “feminine", and is a man able to rip one from a woman’s body in the heat of passion? The natural female body is feminine: just look at the strong healthy natural woman in Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”. And unless a lover has a crow bar and metal snips handy, I doubt he’s going to get to the goods in a hurry. But there’s not much profit to be made in encouraging women to look natural . . . especially in those “bodice ripping” romances.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Finding The Trail

This year we decided to remodel our house, or at least my husband decided. We’ve been married for a long time, so I know when the mood strikes him, the hammer will start swinging. And I’m a fortunate woman, because I married, “a man who can do things” as my female friends refer to him. He was a carpenter when we first married, and I give the man credit, he’s an artist when it comes to wood, stone, tile and paint.

In February, when I had to tear my kitchen apart for six weeks, it seemed reasonable we’d manage to get through this project with as little pain as possible. Things went along just fine until it came time to put the dishes, pots, pans and various items used everyday for making meals back into the cabinets.

It seems there were not as many places to store things as in the previous arrangement of the room. I heard those dreaded words, “you’re gonna have to clean things out”. I’m not proud to admit I threw something of a hissy fit. I was absolutely convinced I needed every single item I had to prepare a decent meal. These items were precious, irreplaceable and necessary. We’d never eat well again if I was forced to discard any thing in those boxes we’d packed up several months before.

Then a funny thing happened, I started sorting through the various pans, dishes, and implements I thought I needed and realized that some things were still around just because I couldn’t seem to find the energy to get rid of them. I started to ask myself, “when was the last time you used this?” and by the time I finished, I had extra space in the new cabinets.
I realized I didn’t need all that excess baggage, and couldn’t believe how much better I felt just by getting rid of stuff. It made be begin to think about what I buy, why I buy it and how I could find ways to live a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle.

It reminded me of one of my Grandmother’s favorite sayings, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”. As a farmer’s wife in upstate New York, and the mother of thirteen children, that woman knew what she was talking about. She taught all her children and grandchildren how to be thrifty. It was time to review some of that knowledge.

As we moved through the house to put down wood floors, closet to closet, room to room, I discovered there was a lot of stuff I’d put away thinking I might need it, could use it, didn’t really want to throw it away. All good reasons for keeping things, but when you finally understand that you should keep only the things you really need, that are important to you or that are beautiful, there’s an incredible sense of freedom.

I started to think about the women who’d moved from the east to the west, searching for a new life, but finding it necessary to jettison the remnants of the old life along the way. I’ve considered the choices they had to make as they broke their lives down to the simple basics, and discarded the family heirlooms, coveted treasures and small luxuries of their old home to assume the basic austerity of the new, unknown future they faced at the end of the trail.

I think that’s what I’m in the midst of right now, as I search for the new territory of our closer to empty-nest home. I find the old haunts, like antique shops, thrift stores and flea markets no longer sing their siren song to me. I’m paring things down to the basics, and finding ways to shape a new life from the ashes of the old.

Change is hard, but change is also healthy and like a pioneer woman facing the unknown, I’ll be eager for the end of the trail, but also careful to enjoy the journey.

Have you faced a major life change in the past few years? How did you deal with it?

Deborah Schneider, RWA Librarian of the Year 2009
"Promise Me" coming January 2010, from The Wild Rose Press
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Journal Entry: Texas, 1835

Journal Entry: Fall, 1835, Brazoria, Texas

Today is my 16th birthday. Mama and I have prepared for this most wondrous occasion for two months. She wanted a beautiful, grown-up dress for me to wear to my party, so she sought the services of Miss Emilie Milam to create a very special gown. No longer shall I wear calico, nor style my hair in braids, nor run and play with my brothers. Ladies do not act in such a manner in our household, each member is born to a role, and best we carry out our duties or most likely face the wrath of Papa.

Secretly, I shall miss the days of riding my pony bareback across the coastal plains, through our plantation, chasing my brothers, for all four of them can out-race me every time. Ah, well, such is the lot of the female persuasion. Now, my brothers believe they have become my protectors, especially when young gentlemen look my way. Brazoria County fairly bursts with bachelors, young men, some wealthy, some poor, but each one seeks a bride to ensconce in his home.

One young man, a Mr. Randolph Long, nears my person at every opportunity, at church services, all-day dinners, and when Mama and I shop in town. Papa forbids me to speak with him alone; as a result, our conversations become awkward, as each of us stumbles on words we know perfectly well. After my party—of which he will attend!—I plan to speak with him as any grown woman may do with any gentleman she wishes.

Worrisome events have surfaced over this part of Texas. Papa hears tales in town, at the saloon, the community hall, and the warehouse, and he brings the stories home to share with Mama and my brothers. Of course, they all believe they have protected my delicate ears, but I listen and they do not know. It seems a crisis of some sort has arisen in Anahuac, a small place not far from our home. I am uncertain of its exact location, but the news is that General Santa Anna sent a small detachment of soldiers to Anahuac to enforce the collection of customs there and in Galveston. The merchants and the wealthy landowners—such as my papa—object to this unfair treatment, and when Papa speaks of the Santa Anna’s army and their ways, he becomes red in the face and begins to pound on the table!

Now, just before my party, he tells of a gathering of Mexican troops, more as the days go by. But the most frightening news comes from Gonzales, where Papa said a Colonel Domingo de Ugartecha, commander of troops in San Antonio, sent five cavalrymen to Gonzales to retrieve the six-pound canon that had been provided four years earlier for defense against the Indians. The Texan officer in charge hid the canon, telling the military he had no authority to give it up. He sent out dispatches calling for military aid.

Four hundred Texans, who worked in a loosely formed military troop, heard the call, turned from their original destination, Goliad, and marched to Gonzales. One hundred Mexicans soldiers were already there to seize the canon. But a Colonel Moore and one-hundred and sixty Texans loaded the canon with chains and scrap iron, and strung a banner across it inscribed “Come and Take It.” Then the Colonel and his men attacked the Mexican troops, forcing them to retreat to San Antonio. I wanted to cheer! However, I did not wish to reveal my hiding place from which I listened avidly of the exciting battles.

Dread fills my heart, now that I understand what is to come. Papa says we must prepare, put away our frivolous desires for the present, and do our part to secure Texas for ourselves. I can only pray the war does not last too long.
My party will go on, however, and I must end this writing to don my beautiful dark blue silk gown, adorned with a lovely inset of lace, and an ivory brooch at my throat. Handsome coils of braid divide the lace from the silk. Underneath, my pantalets are of the finest linen, and my petticoat is of a fine silk. Mama will arrange my hair atop my head, in a manner befitting a grown young woman. I do hope I look beautiful, or at least pretty, for a photographer will capture me in my new gown. Would it not be magical if someone two hundred years hence finds my photograph and wonders about me?

Signed--Elmina Ingram

Note from author: The sixteen-year-old young woman in the photo is one of my Texas ancestors, but I did not use her real name. I have no idea where she grew up or lived in Texas. I took the date from the photo, 1835, and used historical events of the beginning of the Texas Revolution. The story my ancestor writes, however, is fiction, a figment of my imagination.

Celia Yeary
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Wednesday, August 19, 2009


What is the most romantic room in a home? In our romance stories, it’s quite often the bedroom where the romance actually physically happens. Other rooms in our characters’ homes are romantic and meaningful to the hero and heroine for various reasons as well.

The room I think of as most romantic is one that doesn’t exist yet: the room addition.

How can adding on a room be romantic? Okay, first of all, let’s remember this IS make- believe! In real life, home construction or remodeling projects will cause the topic of divorce to be introduced into the loving couple’s conversation at some point. Over and over.

Two short rollers and a can of paint in a bathroom can break a marriage faster than an overdrawn bank account. But come with me to the world of fiction—historical fiction—where women are heroines and men are heroes…and the announcement of “needing another room” is a joyous occasion, and not just another “honey-do.”

The addition of a room most generally heralds the impending arrival of a baby, or the growth of the young family in some way. Because cabins were so small and were generally put up as quickly as possible to provide a more permanent shelter for a family, improvements often had to wait until time, weather, or supplies permitted.

In our historical romances, our heroes are always eager to do whatever is necessary to provide the best possible quarters for their families. You’ll never hear them say, “I’ll do it when the playoffs are over.”

All joking aside, I believe we find the room addition romantic for several reasons, the most obvious one being that our heroine is pregnant and there needs to be a room for the little one the couple has created. Most women can relate to that maternal instinct of preparing a safe, warm place for their baby to sleep.

The second reason a room addition is romantic, is that the hero is actually building something with his skill, knowledge and love to provide for his growing family. It’s his answer to the heroine’s maternal need. Generally, the delivery of the news that a baby is on the way and discussion of the room addition is a shock to the hero, but not an unwelcome one. It transitions him from “husband” to “family man” and gives him the opportunity to “show his stuff.” He proves himself by his reaction to the news. The action he takes toward following through with the reality of building on shows the heroine (and the reader) that he is our “dream man.”

The family unit, complete, is probably the most romantic reason of all. The room addition shows the reader that the heroine and hero have matured, grown in their love for one another and are able to look toward the future as a family unit now. In the child to come, they will see themselves and one another, and will risk everything for the safety, comfort and protection of that child.

And it all starts with…the addition of the extra bedroom for the new life they’ve created.

In the following excerpt from FIRE EYES, Jessica gives Kaed the news that they’re going to be needing a nursery. This is an especially poignant moment because of Kaed’s past, and what it means to him personally. He’s being given a second chance—one he wasn’t sure he wanted, but now is desperate to hold onto.


“Looks like we gave up our bed.” Kaed’s gaze rested on Frank and the two girls. Nineteen. God, he looked so young, like a boy, as he slept, all the lines of worry around his eyes erased. Nineteen. I remember nineteen. Just didn’t understand until now how young it really is.

“Twice now.” Jessica’s voice called him from his thoughts. She grinned and nodded toward where Tom lay talking to Harv. “Maybe by this time tomorrow morning we’ll get lucky,” she whispered, reaching up to kiss his cheek.

“Neither one of us is going to ‘get lucky,’ in any respect, until everyone’s gone,” he grumbled softly, letting go a frustrated sigh. “One thing’s for sure. When everything settles down around here, I’m gonna add on a bedroom. With a door that shuts.”

Jessica was quiet for a moment, then very softly she said, “Better make that two.”

“Two bedrooms?”

“Uh-huh. Ours, and a nursery.”

Kaed nodded. “For Lexi.”

“And the new baby.”

His gaze arrowed to hers.

“Our baby, Kaed.”

The blood rushed through his ears, pounding at his temples. Nothing existed but the woman standing in his strong embrace, her love washing over him in warm waves as her eyes sparkled into his.

“Jessi.” The words he’d spoken to her the day he left came back to haunt him. I just hope that maybe we got lucky. Maybe it didn’t take.
But it had. And damn if he didn’t feel like the luckiest man alive. A baby. He read the unasked question in her expression, and he bent to kiss her. To reassure her. To let her know a family was what he needed and wanted. He felt her relax beneath his hands.

“I told you I was working my way through it, Jess,” he whispered against her cheek. “I’ll be a good father.”

Tears rose in her eyes. She nodded, her hair soft against his stubbled beard. “You’ll be the best.”

“Better than I was before, that’s for sure.” The words slipped out before he could stop them. He took a deep, jagged breath as Jessica finally dared to meet his eyes. He looked away, his gaze wandering about the small cabin, finally returning to lock with Jessica’s.

“I can appreciate what I’ve got this time, Jessi. I took it for granted the first time, and I lost it. I won’t let that happen again.”

Jessica shook her head. “Promise—” she began, but he tilted her face up, putting his lips to hers once more in a gentle, reassuring kiss.

“I’ll never let you go, Jessi. And I’ll never hurt you. I want what we talked about, the family, the farm, maybe a ranch.” He stopped and moistened his lips that had suddenly gone dry. “But most of all, I want you.” He glanced across the room at Tom, who gave him a fleeting grin. After a moment, he returned his gaze to the fathomless pools of Jessica’s eyes. “None of it means anything without the woman I love, Jessica. You. Yes, I promise, sweetheart. I promise everything.”

Travis leaned against the kitchen doorjamb, fresh coffee in hand. “Guess we’d better start beating the bushes for a preacher-man, boys. Get it done up legal and right for Miss Jessi while Kaed’s in this mood. I never seen him like this. Never heard him talk so serious.” He took a drink of his coffee, his green eyes mischievous above the rim of his cup. “I do believe he means it, Miss Jessi.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Three Card Monte

I'm working on a WIP with a gambler as my hero. To be exact a riverboat gambler. While reading books on the subject of riverboat gambling and gambling in general I learned about a game I'd heard of but didn't know anything about and I've had my illusions of gamblers dashed. My character is a little like James Garner in Maverick. Only reading books about gamblers I learned, the natty-dressed, clean shaven, sophisticated gamblers of the movies were few and far between.

Gamblers didn't dress to impress or show their prowess at gambling. They dressed like the miner, the rancher, the farmer, or laborer whose money, gold, valuables they were trying to gain. From reading the books I've learned that gambling wasn't just about knowing how to play cards and play them well, it was about illusion.

Some gamblers carried game boxes. These held the equipment they needed for specific games: poker, euchre, brag, dice, and paper squares to form the layout of certain games where betting is done on marks. Or the ones that wanted to remain anonymous (no game box giving them away) could purchase a deck of card from a bartender on a riverboat. The riverboat captains knew boredom led to problems so they all ordered cards be available in the saloons to keep the passengers engaged.

Riverboat gamblers didn't operate alone. They stalked their prey and drew them into a game with one of the gamblers as the dealer and his cohorts filling the table using signals like cigar smoke, and scratching of ears, nose, and eyebrows.

Poker was played as well as faro, euchre, brag, crown and anchor, and backgammon, but the game that caused the most stir and used slight of hand was three card monte.

Three card monte wasn't really a card game it was a slight of hand game like the shell game. It used three cards, Two insignificant cards like fives or sixes and an Ace called the "baby". The professional gambler put the cards face down and shuffled them around on the table, mixing them. The other person bets on the location of the Ace. The dealer or "thrower" starts the game with a spiel:

"Here you are gentlemen; this ace of hearts is the winning card. Watch it closely. Follow it with your eyes as I shuffle. Here it is, and now here, and here, and now- where? It is my regular trade, gentlemen, to move my hands quicker than your eyes. I always have two chances to your one. The ace of hearts.If your sight is quick enough you beat me and I pay; if not, I beat you and take your money. Who will go me twenty? It is very plain and simple, but you can't always tell. Who will go me twenty?"

He goes slow the first few rounds allowing the bidder to build his confidence by winning. And with each game the "thrower" ups the bids. until they are up to $500 and possibly $1000. Then while the gambler pretends to be preoccupied and accomplice makes a mark on the ace that the bidder can see.This builds the bidders confidence and he starts bidding higher and winning. Then the dealer slips a low card in for the ace and when the bidder picks the marked card, he loses because it isn't the ace and he can't cause a riff because he would have to tell on himself for cheating knowing he had been picking a marked card all along.

I've also been reading a biography about a riverboat gambler. Gamblers were not heroic figures so the one I'm writing will definitely be fictional!

My source for this information was an interesting book: Gamblers The Old West by Time Life books.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tanya Hanson: The Olivas Adobe

The Olivas Adobe is a great way to “visit” Southern California’s Rancho Period first-hand. Not far from my home, this prime example of adobe (dried clay brick) architecture is unique with its two-story structure. Don Raymundo Olivas added an unusual second floor during the rancho’s hey-day in the late 1840’s, and the house has been restored to its original stature.

Don Raymundo was born poor in 1809 in the tiny pueblo that grew into today’s Los Angeles and joined the Mexican Army in California at 16. As a Lancer (cavalryman), he was assigned to the Presidio (fort) at Santa Barbara, about two hours north of L.A.

It was here in Santa Barbara that Raymundo met Teodora Lopez and married her in November 1832. In gratitude for his loyalty and service, Mexican Governor Juan B. Alvarado granted Raymundo and a friend 4,670 acres of land in today’s Ventura County. Raymundo began ranching this land while Teodora began bearing children. 21 total, eight girls and 13 boys.

When gold was discovered along the American River about four hundred miles north, Raymundo found his own "gold mine" and made a fortune supplying those Forty-Niner miners with beef as well as hides.

These were the golden years for the adobe, with its remodeling and additions and glorious parties. Raymundo’s family prospered until drought in the 1860’s destroyed the cattle empires. He survived by raising sheep.

His death in 1879 was the beginning of the end for the Olivas' fortune, and the adobe house was sold in 1899. Some of the ranchland has become a municipal golf course, some strawberry fields, some subdivisions. After passing through many owners, the adobe itself was purchased by Max Fleischmann, of the yeast empire, who restored the building in 1927. Upon his death, the adobe was given to the City of Ventura, and it opened as a museum in July, 1972. Docent-led tours are frequent.

We local folks enjoy the “Cowboys, Heroes and Outlaws: Passport to the American West” held every summer, with Western reenactors in full regalia as well as pioneer crafts for the kids.

In fact, many fourth-grade schoolchildren take field trips to the adobe for a hands-on two-hour program that brings to life the Rancho Period of California History.

And at Christmas, you can enjoy a holiday candlelight tour that showcases the tradition of Las Posada, where Mary and Joseph seek room at the inn.

It’s a great place to visit. Ya’ll come on down, ya hear?


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

History of the Appaloosa Horse

When writers use the breeds or colors of horses in their novels, I often wonder how much the authors know about these magnificant animals. Once an avid horsewoman, I was partial to the pinto (see July post), but the history behind the Appaloosa is facinating.

Appaloosa horse, although often recognized for its colorful coat patterns is a breed of horse, and not a color. In fact, not all Appaloosas have a colorful coat pattern but can come in solid colors as well. Coat pattern or not, there is much more to the Appaloosa than its color.

Appaloosas are very versatile having great endurance. Although they can be stubborn, most Appaloosas are extremely intelligent and have excellent dispositions.. Some physical characteristics that are shared by most Appaloosas include mottled skin, vertically striped hooves, a white sclera which encircles the iris, and a short mane and tail. Most appaloosas also have strong sturdy legs and hooves, and are generally very sure-footed.

History: The Appaloosa breed was originally bred in the Inland northwest of America by the Nez Perce Indians. Before the horse had been introduced to them, the Nez Perce were sedentary fishermen.The horses changed The Nez Perce's culture forever. The horses enabled them to hunt buffalo easily, and the Nez Perce soon became known throughout the Northwest for their hunting skills and craftsmanship. These new found skills allowed the Nez Perce to trade for goods and services.

The Nez Perce became excellent horsemen as well as the only Native Americans known to selectively breed their horses. The horses were bred to be strong, fast, sure footed, and intelligent mounts. A short mane and tail was bred into the horses so that they could not easily be caught in brush. Meriwether Lewis wrote the following of the Nez Perce's horses, in his diary on Feb. 15, 1806 : "Their horses appear to be of an excellent race; they are lofty, eligantly [sic] formed, active and durable…some of these horses are pided with large spots of white irregularly scattered and intermixed with black, brown, bey [sic] or some other dark color."

In the mid-1800s, settlers came to the Nez Perce reservation. The Nez Perce War of 1877 began when some of the Nez Perce rebelled against treaties imposed by the settlers.

The Nez Perce never referred to their horses as 'Appaloosas'. The name Appaloosa comes either from the Palouse River, along which the horses were abundant known to be abundant, or from the Palouse tribe, whose main village was on the Palouse River. The Palouse River flows through eastern Washington and north Idaho.When Chief Joseph surrendered in Montana in 1877, the Army confiscated most of the horses. The horses were then indiscriminately bred, and many of their unique traits were lost or severely diluted.

Settlers first referred to the horses as 'A Palouse Horse,' which was soon shortened to 'Appalousey.' The name Appaloosa was made official in 1938.In the late 1800s and early 1900s, because of its use in round ups and rodeos, people became more interested in the Appaloosa breed. On March 25, 1975, the Appaloosa was named Idaho's State horse.

Colors: The Appaloosa Horse Club describes five basic coat patterns: Leopard -- Large dark spots completely covering a white body, Snowflake -- a dark body with light spots or speckles, Marble -- A light coat covered in small dark speckles, Frost-- A dark coat covered in small light speckles, and Blanket -- White on hips and/or loins. Darker spots may or may not appear on the white blanket. However, some appaloosa's are 'solid,' meaning that they do not have any coat pattern. Height: 14.2hh upwardsUses: Appaloosas are a light breed used for showing and riding. Today they are used in a wide variety of sports, from rodeo and trail riding, to jumping, showing, and endurance riding.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Peacemaker

When writing My Heart Will Find Yours, I wanted my heroine to to fire a Colt. Someone asked me, do you mean a Navy Colt, or an Army Colt, known as the Peacemaker?

After some research and actually getting to see a Navy Colt, I decided there was no way my heroine could lift and hit anything with that long barreled pistol. I'd attended a workshop where they had one on display. I couldn't lift it with one hand. Though the 1851 Navy Colt was designate primarily for the Texas Navy, it was most often purchased by civilians and military land forces. A couple of famous users of the Navy Colt were Wild Bill Hickok, Ned Kelly, and Robert E. Lee.

The Army Colt, or Peacemaker, a single action revolver made in 1873, became the gun of the West, cowboys and the military. It was known as "The Great Equalizer" because it could be loaded and fired by just about anyone. Though the barrel is shorter than the 1851 Navy, it's not small by any means.

This is just a brief overview of the Colt .45. I'd forgotten today was my turn to blog so I've put this together in a hurry and didn't go into as great of detail as I'd have liked.

When my heroine, Texanna Keith, is transported back to 1880s Waco, TX, she's impressed to see what she calls a genuine Peacemaker, a real antique. Marshall Royce Dyson is flummoxed at her remark as his firearms are the most current available. Texanna participated in rifle competition in 4-H in school. When Royce learns what 4-H is all about, he wonders why Texanna didn't take to the cooking and sewing. The woman claims she doesn't know how to cook, sew, and certainly can't milk a cow.

I've posted the full first chapter of My Heart Will Find Yours on my website. I hope you'll take a look. And please drop by my blog. I give away and ebook each month.

Happy Reading and Writing!