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.


A Thousand Drumsticks on the Hoof’

We’ve all heard of Old West cattle drives, but did you ever hear of a turkey drive?

If you raised turkeys during the early nineteenth century and wanted to get them to market in time for Thanksgiving or Christmas, there was only one way to do it; you had to walk them.

Before refrigerator boxcars and trucks, drovers herded turkeys thousands of miles to markets or railheads. They crossed mountains, plains and deserts. In 1863 Horace Greenley walked five hundred turkeys from Iowa to Colorado, a trek of six hundred miles.  His wagon was packed with corn and drawn by six horses and mules, but his turkeys grew fat by devouring grasshoppers.

Greeley wasn’t the only one with a long trek. It was once to a year for breeding herd to be driven from New Mexico Territory to California.  Some farmers hired boy drovers to help keep the feathered hikers in line, others used dogs.

Turkeys are temperamental birds, but they are fast walkers.  With no distractions, the wind behind them and a certain amount of luck, they can travel twenty-five miles a day.  They also have strange habits. One early drover complained that if his turkeys had a mind to, they would bed down at three in the afternoon and nothing or no one could change their minds.

Cattle had nothing on turkeys as far as stampedes were concerned.  A rifle shot, howling coyote or flutter of paper could put drumsticks on the run.  One poor drover herding his rafter of turkeys through town had to give chase when a streetlight turned on.

Turkeys liked to roost in trees, but roofs were favored, too, sometimes with disastrous results.  When a flock traveling from Vermont to Boston roosted on a schoolhouse, the roof caved in and the late-working schoolmaster barely escaped with his life.  Another flock flew onto the roof of a toll bridge and the drover’s profits went toward replacing the roof.

Turkey farmers have it easy today in comparison and, so for that matter, do we.  Now we can enjoy our Thanksgiving dinner without having to worry about the roof caving in.

Hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

Mind Yer Manners

Is it just me or have good manners gone the way of trail drives?   I have three grandchildren working part-time jobs and I’m appalled at the stories they tell about customer rudeness.

It didn’t always used to be that way.  Back in the Old West, manners ruled.  A cowboy might have been rough around the edges and whooped-it-up on occasion, but he also minded his Ps and Qs.  To show you what I mean, let’s compare today’s manners with those of the past.

Driving:  Navigating some of today’s roads is like steering through a metal stampede. It’s every man/woman for his/her self.  Cars ride on your tail and cut you off. To stay on the defense, today’s drivers must contend with drunkenness, speeding and texting—and that’s not all.  If thinking about this doesn’t make you long for the good ole days, I don’t know what will.

The Cowboy Way: A cowboy would never think of cutting between another rider and the herd.  Nor would he ride in such a way as to interfere with another man’s vision. Crossing in front of another without a polite, “Excuse me” would not have been tolerated.  As for riding drunk; that would have gotten a wrangler fired on the spot.

Please and Thank You:  Recently I saw a young man hold a restaurant door open for a young woman.  Instead of saying thank you, she chewed him out. Oh, me, oh, my. What is the world coming to?

The Cowboy Way: The first man coming to a gate was expected to open it for the others. Everyone passing through would say thank you.  Holding a door open for a lady went without saying, as did tipping his hat and saying a polite, “Howdy, ma’am.” A cowboy might have gotten a smile from the lady, but he sure wouldn’t have gotten a tongue-lashing.

Cell Phones: I could probably rattle on about poor cell phone manners, but for me, loud talking is the worst offense.  During a recent visit to the emergency room, I was privy to everyone’s medical condition and more. 

The Cowboy Way: Those early cowboys didn’t have cell phones, of course, which is probably a good thing; A ringing phone would have startled the cattle and maybe even the horses.  John Wayne wasn’t talking about cell phones when he said, “Talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much,” but that’s not bad advice.  Especially in ER.



A Kiss is Just a Kiss–or is it?

A kiss can be a comma, a question mark or an exclamation point. That’s basic spelling that every woman ought to know. ~Mistinguett

The question I ask whenever it’s time to write the kissing scene is what is the emotional source?  Is it love, attraction, curiosity or something else?  Is it a test, a challenge or a declaration?   What does he hope to prove?  What does she hope to achieve? No other kiss is quite like the first kiss.  Rejection is always a possibility and for this reason both parties are feeling vulnerable.  This is especially true of the hero who usually initiates the kiss.  The most important thing of all is this: how does a kiss change their relationship?  Ah, the heart flutters in anticipation—because we know that it will . . .

Now that you know a little about the fictional part of a kiss, here’s some facts about real kisses:

  • Did you know that kissing prevents wrinkles.? It’s true. Kissing uses twenty-nine face muscles and all that exercise helps keep your skin firm and smooth.
  • Kissing for a single minute burns 26 calories. Hitting the lips for an hour sounds like a whole lot more fun than hitting the gym.
  • The average woman kisses eighty men before she marries (Harrumph. Now they tell me).
  • On average, a person spends two weeks of their lives kissing. (I know I’ve spent at least the amount time writing about kissing.  Hey, it’s harder than you’d think.)
  • Men who kiss their wives before going to work live on the average five years longer than men who leave slamming doors.
  • Is kissing learned or instinctual? No one really knows for sure.
  • The film with the most kisses was Don Juan (1926). John Barrymore and Mary Astor share 127 kisses. Don’t believe me? Count them.
  • Kissing is good for the teeth. All that extra saliva. . . So if you want to save on dental bills, you now know what to do.
  • Kissing releases the same neurotransmitters in the brain as bungee jumping and parachuting. I’ll have to take their word for this because I’m great believer in keeping my feet grounded.

A Cowgirl’s New Year’s Resolutions

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 2018

  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.

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.