Returning to the Past

In 2014, I attended the San Francisco Writer’s Conference for the first time and I have returned every year since. It never disappoints and is always an amazing experience. In addition to the numerous informative workshops, lively panels, and opportunities to network with fellow writers and esteemed professionals, the conference is held at the beautiful Mark Hopkins Hotel in the Nob Hill area. Heaven for a history enthusiast who loves to travel back in time.

Priceline.com

From the site Historical Hotels of America: “The Mark Hopkins Hotel  was and continues to be part of San Francisco’s rich and colorful history. Royalty, statesmen, political personalities and celebrities with backgrounds as diverse as the places they come from have stayed at the Mark Hopkins since it opened, including five American presidents and heads of state from around the world. Locals and visitors alike come to visit the Top of the Mark, the 19th-floor sky-lounge atop the hotel, with its panoramic views of the ever-changing San Francisco Bay Area landscape.” (http://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/intercontinental-mark-hopkins-hotel/history.php)

Many celebrities and politicians have visited and continue to visit the Mark Hopkins Hotel. While here last year for the conference, my critique parter and I made use of the elegant Nob Hill Club Restaurant in the hotel to work on our manuscripts. Immersed in our novels with our heads bent over our computers, we became distracted when Governor Jerry Brown came into the restaurant and sat with a colleague at the table next to us. In the past, the Mark Hopkins’ guests have included US. Presidents, statesman, international royalty, and Hollywood celebrities. The history page on the hotel’s website mentions a frequent guest long ago, the actor John Barrymore, who often brought his pet monkey, Clementine. “Clementine was less welcome at the hotel after she climbed the curtains in Barrymore’s suite, shredding the brocade as she went.” (http://www.intercontinentalmarkhopkins.com/history.aspx)

Wikimedia.org

The history of the hotel is as fascinating as its guests. One of four founders of the Central Pacific railroad, Mark Hopkins dreamed of  building his wife Mary a grand home. When he saw the panoramic views atop the Nob Hill area, he’d found the ideal location. He built a 40 room gothic beauty which he named “Hotel de Hopkins.” The mansion was indeed grand, complete with spires and gables and one of the largest in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, he died before its completion in 1878.

Shortly after her husband’s death, Mary become enamored with Edward T. Searles, an interior designer from the East coast, thirty years her junior. The two married and moved into the mansion upon its completion. Their bliss was not to last and Mary died in 1891. She left the $70 million estate to Searles. Two years later, he donated “Hotel de Hopkins” to the San Francisco Art Association and they converted the palace-like mansion into a school and museum.

In 1906, the epic San Francisco earthquake demolished many of the beautiful historic buildings in the Nob Hill area. The Hopkins mansion survived only to be destroyed by fires caused by the quake. All that remained were the chimney stacks, the granite retaining wall and a 500,000 gallon cistern full of water. With the remaining solid foundation, the Art Association reconstructed a more modest building on the site.

In 1925, George D. Smith, a mining engineer and hotel investor purchased the Art Association building and then demolished it. He had grander plans for the panoramic hill top area. He built a large, luxurious hotel combining French and Spanish aesthetics and he graciously named it after the original site owner, Mark Hopkins. 

In December of 1926, the Mark Hopkins Hotel held it’s grand opening to the delight of San Franciscans who were immensely proud of its architectural perfection and luxurious accommodations. At the time and still today, the hotel is seen as representative of the best there is in modern hostelry.

A trip to San Francisco is not complete without a visit to The Mark Hopkins Hotel. While I enjoy visiting the city itself, and participating in this comprehensive and worthwhile conference, the experience is made all the richer by enjoying the timeless elegance of this stately hotel.

 

 

 

Beryl Markham – Horse Trainer, Aviatrix, Author

One of the best things about being in a book club, aside from the wine and good conversation, is reading books you may not have picked up yourself, or books you didn’t even known about. I am fortunate enough to be in a book club with some of the brightest women I know who are all very well read and have brought some outstanding reads to share. The last book we read was Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain, about Beryl Markham. I was a bit surprised that I hadn’t yet heard of the book, or of Beryl Markham, because she is exactly the type of empowered woman I like to read (and write) about.

Alchetron.com

Circling the Sun is historical fiction based on the life of Beryl Markham, a British woman who grew up in Africa in the early 1900’s, became the first woman race-horse trainer in Kenya, and also the first woman pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. She also wrote a memoir about her aviation adventures called West with the Night. Pretty amazing, right? Surprisingly, this fascinating woman’s history lived in obscurity until her rediscovery in the early 1980’s.

In 1905, Beryl’s father Charles Clutterbuck, a prominent race horse trainer in England, moved four-year-old Beryl, her older brother Dickie, and her mother Agnes to colonial British East Africa. There he purchased a farm in Njoro, near Kenya, to breed and train race horses. Beryl’s mother had difficulty adjusting to their new life and shortly after arriving in Africa, took the couple’s son and returned to England, leaving Beryl with her father. As an adult, Beryl often made it clear that she’d never really forgiven her mother for the abandonment, but also spoke of taking immense pleasure in growing up in the freedom of the wild African landscape, with the children of the village of Njoro as playmates.

Alchetron.com

Following in her father’s footsteps, Beryl had a knack for working with horses, and became the first licensed female racehorse trainer in Kenya at the age of 19. Her success at the track, as well as her determination, grit, and beauty led to Beryl’s renown among Africa’s bohemian and eccentric European social circle, known as the Happy Valley Set. Beryl married three times and had a son named Gervase with her second husband, Mansfield Markham, who moved Beryl to London before their son was born. When the couple’s marriage began to deteriorate, Beryl longed to return to Africa, but Markham would not let her take the young Gervase because of serious health issues.

In addition to two other marriages, Beryl had numerous affairs, including an openly public affair in 1929 with Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, son of George V.  She also became enmeshed  in a love triangle between her friend, the Danish writer Karen Blixen, and famous big game hunter and pilot Denys Finch Hatton. Blixen, who lived in Kenya to manage her family’s coffee farm outside of Nairobi, would later become famous for her novel Out of Africa, which she wrote under the penname Isak Dinesen.

Libros Más Vendidos

During her affair with Hatton, Beryl became infatuated with flying and began taking flying lessons with British pilot Tom Campbell Black. After Denys was killed piloting his own plane, Beryl sought solace in her flying lessons and also in her flight instructor, starting a long term affair with Campbell Black which ultimately led to her divorce from Mansfield Markham.

For a short period of time, Beryl worked as a bush pilot for safari companies, spotting game animals from the air and signaling their locations to the parties on the ground. Never satisfied with mediocrity, Beryl decided to set a flying record of traveling solo non-stop from Europe to New York. No one had ever succeeded the westward flight, and many died trying. She set off from Abingdon, England in September of 1936. Twenty hours into her flight, her plane’s fuel tanks froze causing her to make a crash landing in Nova Scotia, Canada. She had fallen short of her goal, but she became the first woman and first person to make it from England to North America non-stop from east to west.

 In 1942 Beryl publisher her memoir, West of the Night, an autobiographical account of her many adventures on the ground and in the air. The book did not sell well and quickly went out of print. In 1982, George Gutekunst, a restauranteur, stumbled upon a collection of Ernest Hemingway’s letters, one of which mentioned Beryl Markham’s memoir, and Beryl herself, in interesting terms. “But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers … it really is a bloody wonderful book.” This backhanded compliment so struck Gutekunst that he read the book. Enamored with it, he championed it to a California publishing house, North Point Press, and the book was re-issued in 1983. Beryl, at age 83, still resided in Africa, and quite impressively, still worked training race horses. The re-issue of West with the Night became an instant best-seller and allowed for Beryl, who lived in near-poverty conditions, to retire and enjoy a little fame. She died three years later.

If you haven’t yet picked up Circling the Sun, or West with the Night, I highly recommend them. Better yet, if you aren’t in a book club, these two books are a great way to start. Get some friends together, have some good wine, good food, and good conversation about a woman who lived life just as she wanted.

 

 

Why Do You Want to Write?

Writing is an emotional endeavor. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, want to educate or entertain, the end goal is to stimulate an emotional reaction or response from your readers. The fastest and easiest way to do this is to understand your own emotions and what brings you to the computer or the notebook to put your thoughts, emotions, knowledge and stories on the page.

So, I challenge you: What is it? Why do you want to write?

dreamstime_m_17667455For me, from a very young age, I loved hearing and reading stories. Some of my earliest memories are of my father reading to my brother and me before bedtime. Once I learned to read on my own, my dad made sure I had a number of books to keep me occupied. The Nancy Drew Mysteries, The Orphalines, Black Beauty, and The Black Stallion were among many. I read biographies, books about art, history, and world events. I fell in love with immersing myself in another world, living other people’s experiences and realities, and traveling to different settings, either real or imagined. I found myself wanting to provide that kind of experience for others through my own creative imagination and started writing stories and poetry as early as the third grade.

My favorite things to write are historical and contemporary mysteries, along with my own blog, because I want to educate and entertain. I also want to lose myself in a world of my own creation with characters I’ve created from my imagination, or from people I have met and known, or from famous people in history.

My agent, the wonderful Paula Munier, once told me that people love to read and write mysteries because they love puzzles. They want to create and make order out of chaos. She also wrote this in her book, Plot Perfect. I had never thought of it before, but when she said it, it made perfect sense to me.

Once I started to understand what emotionally motivated me to write, my passion for it grew even more. Sometimes we need to sit down and think about what really makes us tick before we can take the big leap and commit to such an ambitious endeavor. Writing a book can be many things. It can be liberating or healing, it can be exhilarating and fun, and it can be daunting and overwhelming, all at the same time. But for whatever reason it is that you want to write, it helps to understand why you want or sometimes need to be married to a project for weeks, months or even years. I use the word “married” because writing takes the kind of commitment required for such an emotional experience and sometimes life-long journey.

In February, I am teaching an online course called, “So, You Want to Write A Book?” along with clinical psychologist Dr. Benjamin Perkus at The Aroma Freedom Academy. The class uses the Aroma Freedom Technique (AFT) to help people break through the emotional blocks that are preventing them from achieving their goals and dreams. The course is presented as a workshop to help people who want to write a book but don’t know where to begin, or those who have started the process, but got stuck somewhere along the line, or for those whom, for whatever reason, have not achieved their goal of writing a book. The first lesson we will take students through is discovering why they want to write a book. We will also be working on a non-fiction book in conjunction with the course and are looking for people’s stories of transformation, either with writing or other life experiences, to include in the text.

If you are interested in the course, have a story of transformation, or just want to discuss why you want to write, please feel free to contact me!

I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

Can Using Essential Oils Really Help You Write A Book?

dreamstime_m_41746526Oh, if only it were that easy—kind of like taking a pill to lose weight or making money without really working for it. Essential oils can’t do the work for you, but they can certainly help with the emotional process of writing a book.

Have you ever wanted to write a book? Many people do, but many people often don’t know where to start, how to go about it, or how to finish. Like anything else, the first thing you must do is educate yourself. Take writing classes. Do workshops. Go to writer’s conferences. Like playing piano or creating a piece of artwork, you aren’t going to sit down and create a masterpiece – no matter how much natural talent you have been blessed with. First, learn something about the craft.

Reading what you want to write is also paramount to becoming a good writer. If you decide you want to write an historical mystery, but only read romance and have never done any kind of research, you are going to have a problem. The same can be said for writing to the market. Paranormal might be selling well, but if you’ve never read one, why would you write one? Writing from the heart and from your passion is never a bad idea, and if you can find a way to make it fit to what is selling—well done, you!

dreamstime_m_63202754Once you have done your homework and know why you want to write, what you want to write and how you are going to write it, then you must face the music—or rather—the page, and sit down to write it. But what if you don’t know enough? What if you don’t know how to start? What if no one would want to read it? These, and more negative, useless thoughts are all thoughts writers have experienced at one time or another. This emotional tug of war between feeling like you are brilliant and have pearls of wisdom to share with the world and feeling like you are stupid and no one cares what you write, can be exhausting and defeating. That is where essential oils and the Aroma Freedom Technique (AFT) can help.

What are essential oils? As I mention in my blog article “A Brief History of Essential Oils,” (https://karibovee.com/a-brief-history-of-essential-oils/) essential oils come from the liquid extracted from flowers, seeds, leaves, stems, bark and/or roots of trees, herbs, bushes and shrubbery that is also referred to as the “essence” or “life blood” of the plant. The liquid is steam extracted or cold pressed and then distilled to produce the oil.

Essential oils have been used for medicinal and religious purposes for centuries. Hieroglyphics and manuscripts found from the Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Chinese cultures indicate that essential oils were used to heal the sick and promote health. There are over 150 references to essential oils and anointing oils in the bible. “Anointing” which means “to smear with oil” was to make a person sacred and elevate them to a higher spiritual purpose.

The aromatic properties of oils can be just as effective as absorption into the skin or ingestion through the mouth in treating many physical and emotional ailments. Our sense of smell is the most primitive sense we have and our reaction to smell is immediate and uncontrollable. The aroma of the oils penetrates deep and fast into the limbic system, the area of the brain where we process emotion. The sense of smell can also trigger memories, good and bad. As clinical psychologist, Dr. Benjamin Perkus, the creator of AFT, mentions in his book: “The experience is so well known it has been named the ‘Proust Phenomenon’ after the literary example given by Marcel Proust in Remembrance of Things Past.”

imagesIt is this integral relationship between smell, memory, and emotions that is the basis for the Aroma Freedom Technique. Through the 12-step process of strategically designed memory exercises and smelling a unique mix of oils, negative thoughts, belief systems and inner blocks are interrupted causing a shift in our mind set. You might be wondering how in the world this applies to writing a book. It can apply at any point of the process from coming up with ideas, to freeing up the creative process, to developing discipline and goal setting strategies enabling writers to actually finish their books. I often use AFT if I am stuck in a scene or trying to figure out how my protagonist solves the crime.

Essentially, AFT is one more tool that enables us to more effectively control our own destiny. Like the old adage says, “If you put your mind to it, you can do anything.” The only person who is stopping you from living your dream of writing and finishing a book is you. AFT can help you find the courage, the drive, the discipline, and the direction for sitting down and writing your masterpiece. Dr. Perkus wrote his book The Aroma Freedom Technique, Using Essential Oils to Transform Your Emotions and Realize Your Heart’s Desire, in a staggering 15 days using AFT every morning before he sat down to write. It’s not something I would recommend, but it is certainly impressive and gives me great hope of becoming as prolific as I can possibly be.

If you have dreams of writing a book, what is stopping you?

If you’d like some help and like to learn more about the Aroma Freedom Technique (AFT) and how it can help you live out your dream of writing and finishing a book, join me and Dr. Perkus at the Aroma Freedom Academy for our 12-week intensive course “So You Want to Write A Book.” You can learn more by clicking here: http://aroma-freedom-academy.thinkific.com/courses/so-you-want-to-write-a-book

C’mon, I challenge you to write that masterpiece! I look forward to seeing you in class.

 

Interesting Facts About “Black Beauty” – A Timeless Classic

My father traveled a lot for business when I was a child. This created a great deal of anxiety for me as I feared the plane would go down and I would never see him again. To ease my angst, he always told me he would bring me something from his trip. It worked because instead of worrying about my father, I had something else to think about. Of course I prayed every night he was gone that he would come home safe and sound, but I would go to sleep with positive thoughts on what he would bring me when he returned. To my delight, it was usually a book. One of my favorites was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. This may have started my life-long passion and love of horses and writing, something that I am sure my father did not intend, but that he and my mother ended up wholly supporting during my youth and beyond.

First Edition Black Beauty (Wikipedia)
First Edition Black Beauty
(Wikipedia)

I was so young when I read the book that some of the lessons it provided were forgotten. We also moved several times during my growing up years and my copy of it must have gotten lost along the way. It wasn’t until I started researching books about horses that I happened upon Black Beauty again. I’ve just ordered a new copy and look forward to scouring it from cover to cover.

Here are some interesting facts about Anna Sewell and her book:

  • Anna Sewell spent six years writing the book. It was published in 1877 when she was 57 years old, 5 months before her death.
  • It was her first and last book.
  • It was an instant best-seller and has to date sold 50 million copies.
  • A signed first edition sold for $18,133 in 2015. The copy she signed for her mother sold in 2006 for $50,693.
  • Anna’s mother Mary Wright Sewell was a best-selling author.
  • Anna and her family were Quakers and believed in kindness to animals.
  • Black Beauty was the very first novel ever published written in an animal’s point of view.
  • It was based on her childhood horse, Bess. The Sewell’s considered Bess one of the family—not a very common philosophy in those days.
  • Anna’s ankles were injured in an accident at age 14 and she never regained full use of her legs again. She spent much of her time in a horse-drawn carriage where she thought about the plight of the working horse.
  • The book was never intended for children, but for adults to reconsider the treatment of horses.

    (http://www.lexiqueducheval.net/images/attelages/checkrein_AAdam.JPG)
    (http://www.lexiqueducheval.net/images/attelages/checkrein_AAdam.JPG)
  • Sewell’s description of the “check rein” or “bearing rein” caused its demise in Victorian England. The “check” or “bearing” rein is a rein extending from the bridle to the harness of a driving cart that is used to pull the horse’s head up and back. In Victorian times it was fashionable to have this rein pulled tight, causing an unnatural backward bend in the horses’ neck, making it difficult to pull correctly and even to breathe. This caused detrimental effects to the horse and many had to be retired early or actually died from the effects. There are varying opinions on the use of “check reins” still today. Natural horsemanship adheres to the idea of a horse being able to move “naturally” without any bodily limiting devices.
  • The social practices regarding the use of horses in Black Beauty also inspired legislation in many states of the U.S. during the Victorian period that would condemn abusive practices towards animals.
  • The novel has been compared to Uncle Tom’s Cabin in its influence on social outrage and protest action in society.
  • It has inspired many other books concerning animal cruelty.
Anna Sewell (Wikipedia)
Anna Sewell
(Wikipedia)

We live in a time when in order to be a successful author, one must be incredibly prolific. Anna Sewell never had the opportunity to be prolific, but Black Beauty, her one and only novel, did the job. More than just a story about a horse in Victorian England, the novel is about treating all of God’s creatures with kindness, empathy and respect. A theme we can all relate to and want to read about.

I rarely worry about my dad going down in a plane anymore. Time and age have added other, different concerns for both of us, but my dad still gives me books. And rarely a birthday or Christmas goes by without me giving him one in return. It is something we have always shared. If you haven’t come up with a new year’s resolution yet, maybe you should consider giving loved ones a good book on gift giving occasions or just because. Maybe one of the classics like Black Beauty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Origins of Christmas Traditions – 5 Things You May Not Know About Christmas!

#1. Jolly St. Nick:

National Philoptochos Society
National Philoptochos Society

Much unlike the stories of Santa Claus who resides at the North Pole, the history of the beloved “jolly old elf” actually has its origins in the Mediterranean in the 4th century. St. Nikolas of Myra, now modern-day Demre, Turkey, was a Greek Bishop known for the many miracles he performed and also for his benevolence toward children. One tale recounts that he saved three young girls from a fate of prostitution when he had 3 bags of gold secretly delivered to their parents. Another story tells of Nikolas entering an inn whose inn keeper had just murdered three boys, sliced them up, and pickled them in barrels. Somehow, Nikolas sensed this horrific crime and resurrected the three boys. For these miracles he was deemed the patron saint of children. Nikolas, eventually named Nicholas, is also the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant theives, children, brewers, pawnbrokers and students in various cities and countries around Europe.

#2. Oh, Tannenbaum:

http://www.historic-uk.com/assets/Images/victoriaalberttree.gif?1390899961
http://www.historic-uk.com/assets/Images/victoriaalberttree.gif?1390899961

By the middle ages, the legend of Jesus’ birth had grown. Although the bible doesn’t state exactly when Jesus was born, ancient peoples associated his birth with the winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year. After the Christ child was born, he gave new light to the world and it is said that all of the trees throughout the world shook off the ice and snow that had settled on their branches revealing new shoots of green. Many ancient peoples used evergreen branches to decorate their homes, and in the 16th century people started setting up Paradise Trees—associated with Adam and Eve’s Day, December 24—laden with fruits. During that century, some say the first person to bring Christmas Trees into the home was the German preacher Martin Luther. In fact, the Christmas Tree has  strong historical roots in Germany with the medieval German Mystery or Miracle Plays that were acted out in front of churches on Christmas Eve. Decorated trees were paraded around town to advertise the play. Christmas Trees became more popular in the Victorian period when the German Prince Albert and his wife Queen Victoria of England erected a Christmas Tree in Windsor Castle for their children. In 1848, a drawing of “The Queen’s Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle” was published in the London News. In December of 1850 the illustration was published in Godey’s Lady’s Book, Philadelphia, giving rise to the popularity of Christmas Trees in America.

#3. Away In A Manger:

Nativity - http://www.dominicansmacau.org
Nativity – http://www.dominicansmacau.org

The Nativity Scenes that we see all over different countries in churches and homes has its origins in Italy in the 13th Century. In 1223, St. Francis of Assissi made a pilgrimage to Bethlehem. While there he visited the historical cave that housed the rustic stable where Jesus was born. It is believed that Francis was so moved by the place that he was inspired to recreate the scene for a special Mass on Christmas Eve. He held this Mass in a cave in Greccio, Italy, where he set up an empty manger or feeding trough and brought in a live ox and a donkey to more accurately recreate the first Christmas night. He is said to have wanted to do something so that people would remember the simplicity and poverty in which this child had been born, and for his people to remember the true reason for Christmas celebration.

#4 Itsy Bitsy Spider:

Ukrainian Spider Web Christmas Ornament - https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com
Ukrainian Spider Web Christmas Ornament – https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com

I don’t know about you, but I have never associated Christmas with spiders. However, tinsel for the Christmas Tree has its origins in spider’s webs and is reported to have come from legends in Northern European countries such as Germany, Ukraine, Finland and Scandinavia. Most of these legends center around a poor family who cannot afford decorations for their Christmas tree, which in some tales grew from a pine cone in their house and in others was brought in by the family. When the household goes to sleep, a spider housed in the tree, covers it with intricately designed cobwebs. By the time the family rises in the morning, the spider’s beautiful webs have magically turned to strands of silver and gold. Some people believed that St. Nicholas’ magical powers turned the web to precious metals and others say it was the magical powers of the light of the sun. Apparently, it is considered good luck in parts of Poland, Germany and Ukraine to find a spider or spider’s web on your Christmas tree. Spider’s Web ornaments called ‘pavuchy’ (little spider) made of paper and silver wire are very popular in those countries.

 

#5 God Bless Us Everyone:

http://f.tqn.com/y/classiclit/1/L/q/q/2/4_scrooge.jpg
http://f.tqn.com/y/classiclit/1/L/q/q/2/4_scrooge.jpg

One of my favorite Christmas stories is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Like many of his works, Dicken’s A Christmas Carol was written as a commentary on specific social issues of the day, particularly the plight of the poor and the brutality of child labor. When Charles was 11, his family was imprisoned in Marshalsea debtors’ prision in Southwark, London because of his father’s mounting debts from living beyond his means. It was up to young Charles to leave school to help pay the family’s debt and he was soon employed at Warren’s Blacking Warehouse where he worked 10 hours a day pasting labels on pots of boot blacking. When he first set out to work on the project that was to become the beloved story we know today, he intended for it to be a pamphlet entitled “An Appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child,” but decided that he could reach the hearts of more people by telling the story symbolizing the harshness of government and the rich in Ebenezer Scrooge toward innocent families and children in the lovely Cratchit family. It was a decision that produced an immediate and timeless best-seller, followed by print, stage and theater productions.

I hope you have learned something new and heart-warming about some of these Christmas traditions. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and joyous Holiday season!

 

Sources:

“Christmas in Italy,” Christmas Around the World—Why Christmas.comhttp://www.whychristmas.com/cultures/italy.shtml

“Why Do We Have Christmas Trees?” Edwin and Jennifer Woodruff Tait, Christian History, December 2008 http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/december/why-do-we-have-christmas-trees.html

“Saint Nicholas to Santa: The Surprising Mr. Claus, Brian Handwerk, National Geographic, December 20, 2013 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131219-santa-claus-origin-history-christmas-facts-st-nicholas.html

“Pagan Roots? 5 Surprising Facts About Christmas,” Stephanie Pappas, Live Science, December 22, 2012 http://www.livescience.com/25779-christmas-traditions-history-paganism.html

“The Real Reason Charles Dickens Wrote A Christmas Carol,” John Brioch, Time.com, http://time.com/4597964/history-charles-dickens-christmas-carol/

 

A Born Rebel – Belle “La Rebelle” Boyd – This Month in History

There is something very endearing about women in history who defied social norms and stepped outside of the boundaries the world imposed on them to fight for their causes, their faith, their family, or their beliefs.

Belle Boyd is one such woman. This month in history, on December 1, 1863 Belle Boyd, Confederate spy, was released from prison in Washington, D.C. She was only 19 years old.

Belle Boyd Education & Resources - National Women's History Museum - NWHM
Belle Boyd
Education & Resources – National Women’s History Museum – NWHM

I am always scouring the internet for interesting stories about empowered women in history. Belle’s story caught my eye because I also write about a confederate spy in my novel, Dead Eye Dame—the fictionalization of Annie Oakley as an amateur sleuth (now being marketed by my agent for publication.) My spy is not as crafty and endearing as Belle, nor is he female, but he shares the same rebellious and cause-driven nature.

Belle’s story begins in 1844 in Bunker Hill, VA (now West Virginia) where she was born to Benjamin Boyd, a tobacco farmer and shopkeeper, and his wife Mary Boyd. In 1855 the family moved to nearby Martinsburg. The oldest of 8 children, Belle seemed to come out of the womb a rebel. At the age of 10, Belle defied her social status—and the law—by teaching Eliza Corsey, one of her family’s slaves, to read and write. Belle and Eliza had become fast friends growing up together, and Belle wanted Eliza to enjoy some of the rights denied to her because of her color. She later states in her memoire Belle Boyd, in Camp and Prison, published 1865, “Slavery, like all other imperfect forms of society, will have its day, but the time for its final extinction in the Confederate States of America has not yet arrived.”

Always quick witted and bright beyond her years, at age 11, it is reputed that Belle, in rebellion to being denied attendance at one of her parent’s parties because of her age, rode her horse into the family’s living room during the party. She is said to have stated, “my horse is old enough, isn’t he?”

At 12 years old, Belle’s parents sent her to the esteemed Mount Washington Female College of Baltimore. After graduating at 16, Belle enjoyed a life of dancing and parties as a debutant in Washington, D.C. This must have been when she honed her skills as a flirt and expert communicator. After a season, she returned to her life and family in Martinsburg.

Martinsburg was a town supported by the Union cause, but Belle’s family were true southerners and devoted to the Confederacy. Her 45-year old father enlisted in the Virginia Infantry under Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Belle and her mother supported the cause by sewing clothing and raising funds for the Confederate soldiers.

In July, 1861, Union soldiers captured Martinsburg, invading homes and businesses. When a group of drunken Union soldiers tried to hang a Union flag over the entrance to the Boyd’s family home, Mary, Belle’s mother, intervened. When one of the soldiers accosted Mary, Belle grabbed a Colt pocket pistol and shot him dead. Thus began her career as a “rebel spy” at the tender age of 17.

Realizing her feminine power, and having mastered the art of flirting, Belle knew that she could fly under the radar of suspicion and through family connections began gathering information from Union soldiers. With the help of Eliza, Belle would send the information to the Confederate side. When one of her letters was intercepted, Belle was arrested, but managed to get off with a warning for a crime that was usually punishable by death.

belleboydcivilwar.weebly.com
belleboydcivilwar.weebly.com

Undaunted, Belle ramped up her support for the South by becoming a messenger for Confederal generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Belle used her feminine wiles to steal weapons from Union camps and smuggle precious quinine, a medicine used for malaria, across the Potomac River to secessionist towns in Maryland. One of her most significant missions was to obtain crucial information that would allow Stonewall Jackson’s forces to recapture the town of Front Royal.

In society, Belle became known as the sort of girl a boy wouldn’t want to take home to mother. She worked at seducing both Confederate and Union officers and was considered the lowest form of “camp follower” around. Not a beautiful woman, Belle had a confidence that made her looks secondary to her charms. She also had no qualms about impersonating Confederate soldiers to further garner information from Union officers.

Whether dressed as a man or a woman, Belle never wavered from her devotion to the Southern cause and that transparency became a part of her persona. It was only a matter of time before Union officials saw Belle as a potential threat. Shortly after her contribution to the recapture of Front Royal, Belle was again arrested and sent to Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. where she spent a month in prison, and then subsequently spent another five months in prison after yet another arrest. After several more arrests, Belle met and married one of her Union captors, an officer named Samuel Hardinge. The two were married and had a daughter. Although unable to completely convert Hardinge to the Southern cause, he did serve time in prison for giving aid to Belle.

Belle eventually made her way to England where she wrote her memoir and launched a career as an actress. Several years later, Belle returned to the United States and married twice more, had four more children, became estranged from her oldest daughter, and spent time in a mental institution. She died in 1900, during a performance on stage in Wisconsin.

Although Belle’s life did not end on a happy note, in her later years she learned that her efforts had not been in vain. Women all across the South had taken to impersonating her, claiming to be Belle Boyd, the “Siren of the Shenandoah” or the “Cleopatra of the Secession.” She had become a symbol of feminine empowerment and an inspiration to future generations.

Sources:

National Women’s History Museum https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/belleboyd/

Bio. http://www.biography.com/people/belle-boyd

“The ‘Siren of the Shenandoah'” by Karen Abbot, New York Times, May 23, 2012 http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/the-siren-of-the-shenendoah/?-r=0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Brief History of Essential Oils

dreamstime_m_79528864This time of year makes me want to hunker down in my office with my essential oils diffuser, a delicious pot of loose-leaf herbal tea, my cats, and my latest writing project. Some of my favorite oils to use while writing are frankincense, lavender, and a blend from Young Living Oils called Envision that really helps me to focus.

I got into essential oils about a year ago. I learned about them through some of my equestrian friends who use them with their horses, their other animals, and on themselves. I started using the oils on my own horses and was so impressed with their reactions both emotionally and physically that I decided to take this new wave of essential oil popularity seriously, and of course, started to research the history behind the oils.

First, I wanted to know exactly what essential oils are and where they come from. The oils come from the liquid extracted from flowers, seeds, leaves, stems, bark and/or roots of trees, herbs, bushes and shrubbery that is also referred to as the “essence” or “life blood” of the plant. The liquid is steam extracted or cold pressed and then distilled to produce the oil.

dreamstime_m_18598290Pure essential oils are highly concentrated and very little is needed to reap the benefits. To produce 1 lbs. of rose oil–one of my absolute favorites–5000lbs. of rose petals are needed. It is no surprise that a 5 ml. bottle of pure rose oil can cost up to $200. In my research I have found that for inhalation, ingestion, and absorption of the oils into the skin, it is extremely important to use products that are 100% pure therapeutic grade. According to Cynthia Foster, MD (drfostersessentials.com) many of the oils sold in grocery stores and health stores today are useful for aromatic purposes and perfume, but are commonly adulterated with solvents such as propylene glycol, acetate or alcohol. Only therapeutic grade oils are the purest and can help with physical, mental and emotional ailments, without harmful side effects.

Essential oils have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. Hieroglyphics and manuscripts found from the Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Chinese cultures indicate that essential oils were used to heal the sick and promote health. When the Egyptian Tutankhamen’s tomb (carbon dated 1500 B.C.) was opened in 1922, 50 alabaster oil jars were found. The oils had been emptied from the jars some time ago, thought to have been stolen. The fact that gold jewelry and artifacts had been left behind and only the oils stolen indicates the extremely high value of oils at that time.

dreamstime_m_70847963Oils have also been used for spiritual purposes throughout the centuries. As a practicing Catholic for all of my life, I’ve always enjoyed the aroma of incense during certain spiritual celebrations, and have participated in sacraments where oils were used, but never really understood why they were used or where the tradition came from. After researching I’ve learned there are over 150 references to essential oils and anointing oils in the bible. “Anointing” which means “to smear with oil” was to make a person sacred and elevate them to a higher spiritual purpose. Many religions use frankincense in its resin form and burn it to release its aroma to encourage deeper spiritual contemplation and liberation. Many cultures use oils for meditation to promote emotional and mental calmness and to reach heightened states of enlightenment.

In Christianity, the Bible tells a story of preparing a sacred temple with aromatic oils to help stop a plague that was infesting a city. In the New Testament the story is told of the three kings coming to visit the Christ child with gifts of frankincense and myrrh—both oils—and gold. “Gold” in this case, according to some historians, was actually balsam oil and was referred to as “liquid gold” during that time period.

In my own experimentation I have found that many of the oils are wonderful for physical ailments such as pain, allergies, sore muscles and skin irritation. I have also incorporated essential oils into my skin care regimen and diet. A few months ago I became a certified practitioner of the Aroma Freedom Technique (AFT), a new energy technique that utilizes the aromatic properties of essential oils to release inner blocks and resistance we have built in our minds that prevent us from moving forward and realizing our goals and dreams. Since I have been using essential oils and practicing AFT on a regular basis, I notice that I approach life with a little more calm, a little more joy, and a lot more confidence. I’ve gained clarity in how I want to proceed in my career and with my relationships.

Essential oils and AFT will not cure all your ills or magically give you everything you want in life, but they can have an effect on how you see things, and can help you to be more proactive in your own health, career, and quality of life. If you haven’t already gotten on the band-wagon of using essential oils, you might give them a try. You never know what goodness life might offer you!

dreamstime_s_79374916

If you are interested in learning more about the Aroma Freedom Technique or essential oils, please feel free to contact me. Happy oiling!

The “Gentle Ghost” of Santa Fe

Halloween is again upon us and so closes my series of ghost stories for October. I hope you have enjoyed reading about some of the ghosts of Hawaii and New Mexico. I have saved my favorite ghost for last.

Julia Schuster Staab was the wife of Abraham Staab, a Jewish German immigrant, who came to New Mexico in 1846 to establish himself as a merchant on the Santa Fe Trail. After Abraham became a wealthy businessman, he went home to Germany to find a bride. He found Julia Schuster, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from his home village of Ludge. Having come from the same small village, it is thought that perhaps Abraham knew Julia’s family before he left to find his riches in America. With great expectations he brought Julia back to his new home in the high desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1865.

Young Julia Staab and Julia & Abraham
jwi.org

Completely out of place in the village of Santa Fe with its mud houses and arid landscape, Julia had been accustomed to more a more elegant lifestyle and grand home. Eager to make his wife happy, Abraham built Julia a beautiful white mansion. The Staab House, a Victorian masterpiece with a large ballroom on the third floor, suited Julia’s excellent taste.

Original Staab House Jewishbookcouncil.org
Original Staab House
Jewishbookcouncil.org

The couple had seven children, but at the death of their eighth, Julia changed both physically and mentally. She became sad, depressed, chronically ill and inconsolable. It is said her hair turned grey overnight. Her grief took a toll on the couple and they slowly grew apart. This did not help Julia’s situation and some say she went insane. She spent most of her latter days locked in her bedroom until she died in 1896, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Rumors of Abraham’s extramarital affairs and Julia’s possible murder or suicide were never proven.

In the 1920’s a fire burned through the Staab house, destroying the third floor. When the house was rebuilt as a stuccoed, Pueblo-style hotel, the builders simply built around the remains of the mansion and then added charming casitas across the 7-acre plot as additional guest rooms.

Although she died in 1896, Julia’s ghostly presence had not been reported until the 1970’s. A janitor at the hotel stated that he saw a translucent dark eyed woman in a white Victorian gown, with white, upswept hair standing near the fireplace. From that moment on, more sightings of the same woman were reported. Staff and guests alike saw her wandering the hallways, lounging in a chair in the downstairs sitting room or standing near the fireplace.

The excerpt below is from the book American Ghost by Hannah Nordhaus, great-great granddaughter to Julia Staab. The book is an enthralling read and I highly recommend it.

“Strange things began to happen in the hotel. Gas fireplaces turned off and on repeatedly, though nobody was flipping the switch. Chandeliers swayed and revolved. Vases of flowers moved to new locations. Glasses tumbled from shelves in the bar. A waitress, not known for her clumsiness, began droppings trays and explained that she felt as if someone were pushing them from underneath. Guests heard dancing footsteps on the third story, where the ballroom had once been—though the third floor had burned years earlier. A woman’s voice, distant and foreign sounding, called the switchboard over and over. ‘Hallo?’ ‘Hallo?’ ‘Hallo?’”

One guest decided to test Julia when he and his wife requested to stay in Julia’s room. Hearing that Julia’s ghost was very particular about things in her room, he purposely left the top dresser drawer opened. Later that night, he and his wife were awakened by the sound of the drawer being slowly closed.

Entrance to Staab House from La Posada lobby www.10best.com
Entrance to Staab House from La Posada lobby
www.10best.com

I became fascinated with the story of the La Posada Hotel after our daughter decided she wanted to be married there last year. She, her fiancé and I took the hour long drive to Santa Fe to stay the night in the hotel and speak to the event planner who worked there. As luck would have it, the engaged couple was put up in one of the casitas, and I was assigned to a room on the second floor of the mansion—the room right next door to Julia’s. I had heard some stories that the hotel was haunted, but at the time, I didn’t know Julia’s story. Which is probably a good thing. Fortunately, the only thing that kept me up that night was the rowdy party in the bar at the foot of the stairs to my room.

La Posada Hotel today View from the garden
La Posada Hotel today
View from the garden

Months later, after our daughter and her new husband’s stunning wedding, I wandered into the lobby and saw Nordhaus’ book sitting on the concierge’s desk. When I asked the woman sitting at the desk about the book, she proceeded to give me the highlights and told me some of the fascinating stories other staff and guests had told about Julia’s ghost. I asked if she had any similar experiences and she said she hadn’t, although she wanted to. After her last chemo treatment, she and her daughter decided to celebrate with a weekend stay at the hotel. They requested Julia’s room in hopes they would get a visit from the familiar “gentle ghost” and sat up all night waiting for her. In the wee hours of the morning they fell asleep and slept undisturbed. The concierge believed that Julia was too shy to make an appearance when someone was expecting her. She said she’d rent the room again sometime.

That concierge is braver than I am. Now that I know the story, I’m not sure I’d request to stay in the main house again. In fact, I would definitely request one of the casitas.

If you ever get to New Mexico, a stay at the La Posada Hotel is a must. Even if you don’t get Julia’s room.

Ghosts in the Land of Enchantment

Having been born and raised in New Mexico, I grew up hearing stories of New Mexico’s history, its multi-cultural legends and its haunting ghost stories. Infused with lore from the Mexican, Spanish, Native American and Anglo cultures, I can tell you, New Mexico’s past is alive and well, even in the modern age.

Perhaps the most famous ghost of New Mexico is La Llarona (The Weeping Woman). We share her with many states in the southwest and even in parts of Europe and Latin America. Texas, Arizona and New Mexico all claim La Llarona as their own, and we will probably never know where she actually originated, but her story is no less haunting, no matter where she came from.

llorona1
livepuntamita.com

Some tales say she was an Aztec woman named La Malinche who became the lover of Hernan Cortes, the Conquistador who came to the Americas in the 16th century to help Spain gather new territories and build a new empire. La Malinche had two sons by Cortes and the couple was reputed to be very happy. However, as one story goes, the King and Queen of Spain feared that Cortes would attempt to build his own empire and they demanded he return to Spain. When he refused, they sent a very rich and beautiful Spanish lady to the Americas to seduce him and bring him back. The ruse worked, but Cortes would not leave without his sons. On the night of his departure back to Spain, La Malinche, crazed with jealousy and grief, took back her sons, stabbed them in the heart and threw them in the nearby lake. This particular story says she lived another ten years, but throughout that decade was seen on the beach of the lake moaning, “Oh, hijos mios!” (Oh my children)

The first documented appearance of La Llorona after La Malinche’s death occurs in Mexico City in 1550 where she is said to wander the streets in a white dress on nights with a full moon, wailing and looking for her children. Sightings of La Llorona spread throughout the Americas, with each town or city claiming she is local to their area.

Other tales claim that La Llarona was a woman named Maria who fell in love with a noble man of Spanish descent and had two children by him. When it came time for the man to marry, his family would not accept Maria, so he refused to marry her. He would often visit with his new wife to see his children, but he would pay no attention to Maria. Angry and jealous, Maria drowned her children in the river and then drowned herself, full of grief and regret for her act. Since then, she wanders the banks of the river crying for her children.

Acquecia near the Rio Grande
Acquecia near the Rio Grande

I grew up with the latter tale. Our house was built next to the main irrigation ditch that flanks the Rio Grande. When I heard wailing cries in the night, I’d run to my parent’s bedroom. My father would explain that the sound came from the packs of coyotes that ran the ditch banks, but to this day, I’m pretty sure it was La Llarona crying for her lost children.

Many of New Mexico’s old hotels are said to be haunted. One of the most famous is the St. James Hotel in Cimarron. The St. James, once the Lambert Inn, was built in 1872 by a Frenchman named Henri Lambert. Lambert, personal chef to President Abraham Lincoln, decided upon Lincoln’s assassination to move west in search of gold. He first settled in Elizabethtown, New Mexico, but ended up in Cimarron where he built the Lambert Inn, a saloon for cowboys, traders and miners. The saloon became so popular that Henri decided to add guest rooms and made it one of the most elegant hotels west of the Mississippi River.

Many famous guests came to stay at the hotel including Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Doc Holliday, Billy the Kid, Pat Garret, Lew Wallace, and famous author Zane Grey. Other distinguished guests included Buffalo Bill Cody and, one of my favorites, Annie Oakley. The first three books of my Annie Oakley mystery series do not feature Annie Oakley in New Mexico, but I suppose there is always room for a fourth. Perhaps she could team up with Wyatt Earp to track down the notorious criminals and murders that were have said to stay at the Lambert Inn. Back in the late 1800’s law and order were in short supply in New Mexico. It is reported that over 26 men were shot and killed within the Inn’s adobe walls. When Lambert’s sons replaced the roof in 1901, they found more than 400 bullet holes in the saloon’s ceiling. A double layer of heavy wood prevented the guests upstairs from harm.

St. James Hotel, Cimarron, New Mexico TripAdvisor.com
St. James Hotel, Cimarron, New Mexico
TripAdvisor.com

Many of those gunslingers are said to still haunt the place. In fact, the spiritual activity of the hotel is so well known, it has been featured on the television shows Unsolved Mysteries and A Current Affair. Psychics who have visited the hotel have identified the strong presence of at least three restless spirits inhabiting the hotel today. One of them is the ghost of Thomas James Wright who bled to death from a gunshot wound in Room 18 of the hotel. Reportedly, Wright had just won the rights to the hotel in a poker game and as he made his way up to his room, someone shot him in the back. He continued to the room and died there, but apparently he hasn’t left. One former owner said she often saw an orange light floating in the upper corner of the room and was once pushed down while cleaning the room. Room 18 now remains locked. Rumors have flown about a number of mysterious deaths occurring in that same room before it was permanently inaccessible to guests.

Henri’s second wife, Mary Elizabeth has been said to haunt Room 17 since her death there in 1926. Staff and guests have reported the aroma of Mary’s rose scented perfume and an incessant tapping on the window occurs if the window is open. Once it is closed, the tapping stops.

Objects from many of the rooms and the common areas have turned up missing only to be found in an area where they don’t belong. This is supposedly the work of a little “dwarf-like” man who has also been seen at the hotel. The staff have nicknamed him the “Little Imp.” Once while two of the former owners stood in conversation in one of the rooms of the hotel, he was said to have tossed a knife, it’s blade point landing in the wooden floor between them.

Cold spots, lights turning on and off, electrical equipment behaving strangely and items falling from walls and shelves have also been reported at the hotel. I have not yet been to the St. James, but now that I have potential plans for a fourth book in the Annie Oakley mystery series, I may have to investigate. I wonder if there is a Holiday Inn next door?