Dear Santa….

According to Santa, one of the most popular items in recent years was the Apple iPad.  I couldn’t help but smile upon discovering that the most requested item in letters to Santa in the 1800s was an—apple.

The tradition of writing to Santa started in 1871 when Harper’s Weekly published a cartoon by Thomas Nest showing Santa sitting at his desk reading letters.

Fortunately, letters to Santa were often published in newspapers, giving us a look into the hearts of Victorian children and society as a whole.

The form of the letter hasn’t changed much through the years. Most letters include a testament to good behavior, although Santa might well shake his head today if he received the following: Dear Santa, I’m 12 years old and have been good. Please bring me cigarettes.  Your friend, Paul.

Then as now, girls generally write longer letters than boys and tend to be more social, asking after Santa’s wife or reindeer.

Sears was mentioned in many letters: Dear Santa, you can send me one of everything from the boys’ section of the Sears catalogue. But nothing from the girls’ section. – Kent

Many letters in the 1800s inquired as to Santa’s health. This puzzled me, until one letter writer cleared up the mystery.  It seems that parents unable to afford Christmas toys told their kiddies that Santa was sick and couldn’t come.

I was surprised by the number of girls asking for boy dolls.  I didn’t know they had boy dolls back then.   Since a popular way of celebrating Christmas was to shoot off fireworks, it wasn’t surprising to find a number of requests for roman candles and pop crackers—mostly from boys.  Trains, baby carriages and marbles were popular items.

Some children depended on Santa for ideas as this letter from Henry Ford’s son attests:

Dear Santa Claus:
I Havent Had Any Christmas Tree in 4 Years And I Have Broken My Trimmings And I Want A Pair of Roller Skates And A Book, I Cant Think Of Any Thing More. I Want You To Think O Something More. Good By. Edsel Ford

It was tempting at times to read between the lines: Dear Santa, I had an accident happen to me not long ago.  Please bring a rifle.  Your friend Amos

Then there was this: Dear Santa, I write these lines because my stomach is very empty and keeps flip-flopping; Please send a barrel of nuts, 14 pounds of candy, a small barrel of molasses and chewing gum.

Santa, it seemed, could do anything: One little girl asked for a cradle and washboard and a “sweetheart for my teacher, Miss Georgia.”

One thing that really stood out was the charitable nature of children.  Many letters contained pleas for poor children. In 1893, a little Texas boy named Louis St. Clair “bursted” his bank to send Santa twenty-five cents to give to the “poor little sick boy.”

Requests for teddy bears started popping up in the early 1900s and something called an Irish Mail.

Children didn’t always receive their heart’s desire, which probably explains the number of letters that ended like this: “And don’t try to fool me.”

A Pinch of This and a Dash of That

Have you ever noticed that some of those old family recipes never taste as good as you remember from your childhood?  Those early cooks didn’t waste a thing as anyone who inherited a recipe for giblet pie will attest. I also have a recipe that calls for one quart of nice buttermilk. As soon as I find buttermilk that meets that criteria I’ll try it.

I especially like the old time recipes for sourdough biscuits. Here’s a recipe from The Oregon Trail Cookbook:

“Mix one-half cup sourdough starter with one cup milk. Cover and set it in the wagon near the baby to keep warm … pinch off pieces of dough the size of the baby’s hand.”

Early cooks didn’t have the accurate measuring devices we have today and had to make do with what was handy—even if it was the baby.

If you’re in the mood to drag out an old family recipe this Thanksgiving, here are some weights and measures used by pioneer cooks that might help:

Tumblerful=Two Cups

Wineglass=1/4 Cup

Pound of eggs=8 to 9 large eggs, 10-12 smaller ones

Butter the size of an egg=1/4 cup

Butter the size of a walnut=2 Tablespoons

Dash=1/8 teaspoon

Pinch=1/8 teaspoon

Dram=3/4 teaspoon

Scruple= (an apothecary weight=1/4 teaspoon

Gill=1/2 Cup

Old-time tablespoon=4 modern teaspoons

Old-time teaspoons=1/4 modern teaspoon

2 Coffee Cups=1 pint

As for the size of the baby, you’re on your own.

– Weights from Christmas in the Old West by Sam Travers

Chuck wagon or trail recipes call for a different type of measurement:

Li’l bitty-1/4 tsp

Passle-1/2 tsp

Pittance-1/3 tsp

Dib-1/3 tsp

Crumble-1/8 tsp

A Wave at It-1/16 tsp

Heap-Rounded cupful

Whole Heap-2 Rounded cupfuls

Bunch-6 items

However you measure it, here’s hoping that your Thanksgiving is a “whole heap” of fun!

 

He Said/She Said

He: “Are you’re askin’ if your virtue is safe with me?”
She: Blushing, she refused to back down. The man didn’t mince words and neither would she. “Well, is it?”
He: “Safe as you want it to be,” he said finally.
                                                                                      -A Match Made in Texas

He: “I trust your…predicament didn’t cause you any inconvenience.”
She: “It did not.” She studied him. “Are you planning to use my jail time against me in court?”
He: “Should I?”
She: “A gentleman would not.”
He: “Perhaps. But a lawyer wouldn’t hesitate if he thought it would help his client.” He slanted his head. “You did say I could be as rough with you as I like. In court that is.”
She: “Yes, but only because I believed you were a gentleman.”
He: “Don’t feel bad, Miss Lockwood. I made a similar mistake in thinking that ladies didn’t end up in jail for assault. Or carry guns.”  -Left At the Altar

He: “Have you ever been kissed?”
She: Had he punched her in the stomach she wouldn’t have been more surprised. Of course, she’d been kissed, not that she went around bragging about it. “What kind of question is that?”
He: “A relevant one.”
Calico Spy

He: “I believe the lady has a few secrets of her own that she would prefer not to have known.”
She: She studied him. He couldn’t possibly know she was a Pinkerton detective. So, what did he think he had over her? She decided to call his bluff. “I have no secrets.”
He: “None?” He feigned a look of disappointment. “A woman without secrets is like a rose with fragrance.”
She: “We can now add bad poetry to your list of crimes.”
He: “And we can add evasiveness to yours.”
                                                                                      -Gunpower Tea

 

Clue:  Margaret’s favorite childhood book was Little Women.

LEFT AT THE ALTAR is a RITA finalist

I’m so happy to say that my book LEFT AT THE ALTAR is a Romances Writers of American RITA finalist. I’m so excited. This award is given to books that best promote excellence in romance writing.

The winners will be announced July at the conference in Orlando, Florida.  Wish me luck!

 

Fun Facts of the Old West

Though it’s hard to imagine the likes of Wyatt Earp or Bat Masterson bowling, this was actually a popular sport in the Old West.  According to True West magazine, one of the strangest bowling alleys was built in California in 1866. After felling a majestic Redwood, miners turned the flat, heavily-waxed surface into a bowling alley.

Speaking of sports, baseball was also a popular sport in the Old West. Even Wild Bill Hickok was a baseball fan and reportedly umpired a game wearing a pair of six-shooters.

We think of the old West as wild, but it pales in comparison to what’s going on in some cities today. From the 1850s to the 1890s, Texas held the title as the most gun-fighting state. But during that forty-year span, the state logged in only 160 shootouts.

The number of Old West bank robberies were also greatly exaggerated. During this same forty-year period, only eight bank robberies were recorded in the entire frontier. Today, yearly bank robberies number in the thousands.  California and Texas have the highest number of bank robberies. At long last, the west lives up to its reputation.

Some of the phrases associated with the Old West weren’t actually coined until the 1900s.  These include “Stick em up” and “hightail.”

The one thing outlaws feared was dying with their boots on.  To “die with your boots on” was a term that meant “to be hanged.”  Outlaws often pleaded with the sheriff to take their boots off so their mothers would never know the truth of how they died.

Before the days of GPS, it was the chuck wagon cook’s job to keep the cattle drives heading in the right direction. Before retiring, his last chore of the day was to place the tongue of the chuck wagon facing the North Star. This was so the trail master would know which direction to move the herd the following morning.

It might be hard to believe, but most cowboys didn’t carry guns while riding. Carrying a gun was a nuisance to the riders and firing it would scare cattle and horses.

Of the 45000 cowboys working during the heyday of cattle drives, some 5000 were African-American.

The tradition of spreading sawdust on saloon floors supposedly started in Deadwood, South Dakota. The sawdust was used to hide the gold dust that fell out of customer pockets, and was swept up at the end of the night.

A Cowgirl’s Resolutions for 2017

According to a recent survey 38% of us will go through the ritual of making New Year’s resolutions this year. Sad to say, only 8% of the resolutions will make it to January 2nd.  As someone once said, even the best intentions go in one year and out the other. That’s probably because we insist upon making resolutions that involve giving up something (smoking) or getting rid of something (weight, debt).

I don’t know what resolutions they made in the Old West, but I’m willing to bet that giving up or getting rid of something was not on anyone’s priority list.  It was more like getting something (land or gold).   Early settlers probably didn’t do any better than us modern folks in keeping their resolutions, but you have to give them credit: some died trying.

I plan to take my best shot at keeping my New Year’s resolutions this year—but dying is where I draw the line.  Having said all that, here we go:

A Cowgirl’s Resolutions for 2017

  1. Lose the extra five pounds on my hips.  From now on, pack only one gun instead of two.
  2. Make an effort to see the good in everyone.   Even barbed wire has its good points.
  3. Stop treatin’ suspicion as abs’lute proof.
  4. Be more generous.  No more keepin’ opinions to myself.
  5. Make exercise a priority—for my horse.
  6. Practice my quick draw with my gun—not my VISA card.
  7. Keep from taking sides during a shoot-out, especially shoot-outs involving family members.
  8. Avoid stampedes by shopping online.
  9. Limit time spent on the open range.  That www dot brand sure can waste a lot of time.
  10. Clean out closets.  Nothing (or no one) should hang that doesn’t deserve to be hung.
  11. And finally: Stop holding up shopping carts and forcing people to buy my book.

I’ve told you my resolutions, now tell me yours. Afraid you won’t keep them?  Not to worry.  I promise not to tell if you don’t die trying.

Wishing You a Merry, Happy Christmas!

We wish our friends and family Happy New Year’s, Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Birthday. So why do we say Merry Christmas?

Though the Merry Christmas greeting dates back to the early 1800s, Happy Christmas was the greeting of choice during the early nineteenth century.  Clement Clarke Moore even used it in his poem A Visit from St. Nicholas: “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Merry Christmas became more widely used following the release of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1843. “A merry Christmas to us all, my dears! God bless us!”  That same year the first commercial Christmas card was sent with the words “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to You.”

The fact that the British author made the term popular poses another question; Why does Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain wish her subjects Happy Christmas during her yearly broadcasts?

According to Phrase Finder, the word merry originally meant peaceful, pleasant and agreeable.  Dating back to the 1300s the word was used to describe such things as the peaceful month of May and gentlemen of an amenable nature. Through the years the meaning of the word changed to mean jovial, cheerful and sociable.  Eat, drink and be merry was even printed on tavern walls.

This brings us back to the current queen who, according to Patheos, is said to prefer “Happy Christmas” over “Merry Christmas” for one very good reason. “Merry” is interpreted to have a “connotation of boisterousness, even slight intoxication;” things that the queen does not wish to convey during a religious holiday.

So whether you choose to say Merry Christmas, Happy Christmas, or the all-encompassing Happy Holidays, I wish you the same.

I have a lot to celebrate…

My novella Do You Hear What I Hear? released on the 24th; my do-you-hear-what-i-hearbook Left at the Altar hit the stores on November 1st; and my office is clean (no small miracle).

Left at the Altar is the first book in my new series and I’m excited about it.  The second book A Match Made in Texas will release in the summer of 2017 and the third book How The West was Wed will follow soon after.

The idea for Left at the Altar came to me in a rather unexpected way.  We inherited several antique clocks and they all needed servicing.  My husband called a clock repairman to the house and the horologist was a writer’s dream.  He was full of fascinating stories about clock collectors.  But the story that really made an impression was the one about a client who owned so many clocks, the quarter-hour racket was deafening.  The horologist’s job was to turn the clocks off before each holiday so that guests didn’t have to compete with the cacophony of bongs and chimes during dinner.

Ah, sweet inspiration. Before I knew it, the town of Two-Time, Texas was born and the story of two feuding jewelers fell quickly into place.

The book takes place in 1880 before standard time.  Prior to 1883, the left-at-the-altar-2town jeweler usually determined the time. Trouble arose when a town had more than one jeweler and no one could agree on the time.  One town in Kansas reportedly had seven jewelers and therefore seven time zones.  Talk about confusion!

Just think, a person traveling from the East coast to the West would have contended with more than a hundred time zones. That wasn’t a problem when traveling by covered wagon, but it became a huge problem when traveling by train.  I was surprised to learn that some battles were lost during the American Civil War due to time confusion. When an order was issued to attack at a certain time, no one really knew what it meant. Was that Washington time or local time?  And if it was local time, which one?

Ah, yes, time.  It affects us in ways we might not even be aware of.  It certainly affected the two feuding families in my story.  A marriage was supposed to unite the families and turn Two-Time into a one-time town, but of course nothing ever goes as planned as this little excerpt shows:

The grandfather clock in the corner groaned and the wall clocks sighed. Seconds later the cacophony of alarms struck the hour of eight a.m. Only today, it wasn’t bongs, gongs, cuckoos and chimes that bombarded Meg’s ears. It was mocking laughter. Jilted bride, jilted bride, jilted bride…

Hope you enjoy the story as much I enjoyed writing it.

Stagecoach Rules for Readers

  1. Do not disturb the other passengers by laughing or weeping out loud.

  2. Never applaud, sigh or swoon while reading love scenes.

  3. Refrain from making verbal comparisons between male passengers and the hero in the book.  It will only make passengers feel inferior.

  4. Provocative book covers must be kept hidden beneath a plain buckskin wrapper.

  5. If you must show disapproval spit only on the leeward side of the coach.

  6. In the event of a robbery, do not insist upon finishing a chapter before raising your hands. Outlaws are not known for patience.

  7. Do not ask the driver to guard your book while you sleep.

  8. In the event of a runaway stage, avoid such comments as “Here comes the good part.”

  9. It’s best not to read by the window during an Indian attack.

  10. Anyone causing hysteria among passengers by revealing the end of a book will be tossed from the coach.

Glossary of Mail Order Bride Advertising Terms (And What They Really Mean)

My June release Undercover Bride is a mail-order bride story with a twist.  Some of the advertisements that appeared in the mail order bride catalogs were a hoot and it took a clever man to know how to decipher them.  Here’s a key that might have helped :

* Eager to learn—can’t cook; can’t sew; can’t clean

* Accomplished—can ride, shoot and spit like a man

* Modest dowry—poor as a church mouse

*Loving nature—keep her away from the ranch hands

*Traditionally built—you may wish to reinforce the floors

*Matrimonially inclined—working on husband number three

*Maternal—has six children and one on the way

*Possesses natural beauty—don’t be fooled by the false hair, cosmetic paints or bolstered bosom

*Industrious—give her a dollar and she’ll figure out how to spend ten

*Young looking—doesn’t look a day over sixty.

*And they lived happily ever after—AND THEY LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.