Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cross-Quarter Days

Just as the Quarter Days mark the beginning of the seasons in England (see previous post), the Cross-Quarter Days mark the midpoints of the seasons.

The four cross-quarter days are:

Candlemas (Imbolc) February 1
May Day (Beltane)1 May
Lammas (Lughnasaid )August 1
All Hallows (1 November) or Samhain (October 31)

Notice the two names. The first names are the Christian names, which in time were layered over the older Celtic names.

The Church gave Candlemas its name for the candles lit in the churches to commemorate the presentation of the Christ Child at the temple in Jerusalem. The Celtic name of Imbolc (lamb's milk) arose because the date was the beginning of the lambing season. Another name was Brigantia, for the Celtic goddess of light, as daylight increased at this midpoint between the winter solstice and spring.

May Day, half way between spring and summer, was a day of feasting and joy as the crops sown soon after Lady Day began to sprout. In this season of new life advancing, May Day became the traditional date for young men and women to pair up. They would marry at the next cross-quarter day, after three months of seeing if they would suit. June weddings came about as impatient couples pushed up the wedding day.

Next, on August 1 is Lammas, the first festival of the harvest. The Celtic name is Lughnasaid, the day of the wedding of the Celtic sun god, Lugh, and the earth goddess, whose marriage caused the grain to ripen. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which dates from the ninth century, calls it "the feast of first fruits". The name "Lammas" may derive from the shortening of Lughnasaid or the term "Loaf-Mass", for on this day, the first loaves from the year's crop were brought to the church for blessings. Also, on or before this day, English landlords required their tenants to present them with the freshly harvested wheat.

And last is All Hallows Day and the evening before, Samhain. By All Hallows Day, the harvest is in and the year turns to the depths of winter. Samhain, the day before, was the death night of the old Celtic year. Its associattion with death and dying led to its transformation into our modern Halloween.

As so the year turns, from Quarter Day to Cross-Quarter Day and back again, in the never ending cycle of time.

Thank you all,

Monday, January 24, 2011

Guest Mary Lydon Simonsen: Fun in Regency England

Linda Banche here. Today I welcome Mary Lydon Simonsen, whose latest book is the Pride and Prejudice retelling, The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy. Here she talks about what Regency ladies did for fun.

Leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win one of the two copies of The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Mary will select the winners. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winners within a week of their selection, I will award the books to alternates. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

And the winners Mary selected are Judy and Dee! Judy, I've already sent you an email. Dee, please contact me at by February 3 or the book goes to an alternate.

Welcome Mary!

Thank you for inviting me to join you on your blog today. I was so pleased when my publicist told me that you wanted me to write about Regency Era books and what women did for fun—two nice, juicy subjects. Since The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy is a Jane Austen re-imagining, I thought I would try to give you a feel for Austen’s world (1775-1817), give or take a decade.

So what books did Austen read? We know that she read Henry Fielding’s rather risqué Tom Jones, Samuel Richard’s Pamela, and the writings of Dr. Johnson. She was also familiar with Ann Radcliff’s gothic novels, and not being a fan of that genre, she parodied the author’s The Mysteries of Udolpho in Northanger Abbey. By the way, Northanger Abbey was published posthumously in 1817. But by that time, the gothic novel craze had run its course, and Austen’s first written and last published novel was already dated by the time it was released.

Austen was an admirer of the novelist, Fanny Burney, who penned Evelina, Cecilia, and Camilla. Evelina is a witty epistolary novel about the unacknowledged daughter of a spendthrift English aristocrat. It is likely that Austen borrowed the title to her most famous novel from Miss Burney as the final chapter of Cecilia is titled “Pride and Prejudice.”

Sir Walter Scott’s novels were just appearing in print at the time of Austen’s death in 1817. She may have had an opportunity to read Waverly, but not his later novel, Ivanhoe. Scott was a giant of the later Regency Era, but two American authors were having their impact as well. James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, including The Last of the Mohicans, were bestsellers in Britain as was Washington Irving’s Sketchbook that included his two most famous stories, The Headless Horseman and Rip Van Winkle.

Your second question was what did Regency Era ladies do for fun. Like our famous couple, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, let us assume that we are speaking of the middle and upper classes. Although ladies did not run, they did walk and walk and walk. They might choose to visit the seaside and go sea bathing, changing into appropriate bathing attire before being pushed into the sea in a bathing machine. On a sunny day, two friends might engage in a battledore, the precursor of badminton, or play lawn bowls. In the winter, they could strap on their ice skates and go out on a frozen pond, most likely on the arm of a male relation or suitor. Riding was a year-round pursuit, but because horses were expensive to keep, this tended to be a sport for the upper class.

On a visit to London, a lady may choose to attend one of Sheridan’s plays at the Royal Theater on Drury Lane, purchase a ticket to the opera, enjoy an afternoon stroll in one of London’s pleasure gardens, or witness a balloon launch.

In a world lit only by fire, at home, Elizabeth and Darcy would have played cards, and there were so many games to choose from, including whist, casino, faro, just to name three. Charades, staging plays, and guessing at riddles were popular entertainments as was reading out loud. Furniture could be pushed to the perimeter of the room to permit a game of blind man’s bluff. But the preferred activity of most people of this era was dancing. This was one of the few opportunities where unmarried ladies and gents had the opportunity to actually touch, if only a gloved hand, as well as to engage in a conversation without their chaperones overhearing them. But even for those not looking for a marriage partner, it was a favorite pastime and the reason why an assembly hall could be found in any town of a goodly size throughout the kingdom.

Thank you so much for inviting me. This was a pleasure.


If the two of them weren’t so stubborn…

It’s obvious to Georgiana Darcy that the lovely Elizabeth Bennet is her brother’s perfect match, but Darcy’s pigheadedness and Elizabeth’s wounded pride are going to keep them both from the loves of their lives.

Georgiana can’t let that happen, so she readily agrees to help her accommodating cousin, Anne de Bourgh, do everything within their power to assure her beloved brother’s happiness.
But the path of matchmaking never runs smoothly…

Mary Lydon Simonsen’s first book, Searching for Pemberley, was acclaimed by Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and RT Book Reviews. She is well loved and widely followed on all the Jane Austen fanfic sites, with tens of thousands of hits and hundreds of reviews whenever she posts. She lives in Peoria, Arizona where she is working on her next Jane Austen novel. For more information, please visit and, where she regularly contributes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cravats and Croates: History of Men's Ties

Although men may have worn neckwear since ancient times, probably for warmth, the first neckwear is generally traced to the period of the Thirty Years War in the 17th century. Croatian mercenaries, fighting alongside the French, wore small knotted neckerchiefs, like the one pictured to the right. The Croatian word for Crotes was Hrvati.
Parisiennes, enamored with this unfamiliar neckwear, combined the French word for the Croatian nationality, Croates, with Hrvati, and the neckwear became a cravat.
The cravats started a new craze in Europe, and soon both men and women were wearing cravats. Men’s frequently were made of lace, held in place with cravat strings tied in a bow.
During the 18th century, cravats briefly fell out of favor, replaced with a stock, a folded piece of muslin wrapped around a shirt collar. Men wore their hair long, below the shoulder, and tucked the ends into black silk bags worn at the nape of the neck. This was called the bag-wig hairstyle.
In the latter part of the century, cravats again became popular. Around the turn of the century, different methods of tying the cravat came into play, and a book was published, Neckclothitania, which illustrated fourteen ways to tie a cravat. This book was the first to use the word tie in association with neckwear.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The birth of radio broadcasting

Hi there,
As I am working and going to school full time, I will not be able to blog much.
I am taking broadcast technology, so here is a blog I wrote after reading from chapter one of my text book.
Good night and Good luck.

In December of 1901, Guglielmo Marconi was able to transmit a wireless signal across the Atlantic a distance of more than 2.000 nautical miles.

Not unitl Reginald Fessednen was the human voice able to come over the air waves. At first, radio signals were only dots and dashes, like Morse code. The human voice could not be transmitted. Fessenden came up with a solution. He built a high speed alternator, using the idea of the Fleming valve.

He called it the audion. It was a device that looked alot like a light bulb. Within the 3 element vaccum tube were pieces working together to act as an oscillator, an amplifier and a detector. These three elements worked to create a continuous radio wave able to carry speech.

On Christmas Eve in 1906, wireless operators aboard ships were amazed to hear a human voice through thier headphones. Fessenden explained what was happeneing, then played the violin for them , read passages from the bible and wished all a Merry Christmas before signing off.

Radio took off over the years. Radio signals could be heard using crystal sets to detect waves. By 1910, Lee De Forest was able to amplify the radio waves.
Legal problems became a tangle of issues between inventors, until WW1.
the Navy was very intereseted in the ship to shore communications and all legal issues were put aside for the war effort.

Radio took America by storm and new legislation came about in response to the new media. Soon, millions were tuning in to local broadcasts on a regular basis, it had grown from point to point messaging to a form of mass communication, and the people loved it.

Fessenden commented "I have discovered an invisible empire of the air." in regard to his invention.
An empire still growing as of today.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Quarter Days

For societies located in the temperate latitudes, the turning of the seasons provide a natural division of the year into quarters. In Britain, the Quarter Days, used at least since the Middle Ages, mark these four major parts of the year.

The four Quarter Days in southern England, Wales and Ireland are:
Lady Day - March 25, Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the traditional day for hiring farm workers for the coming year
Midsummer - June 24, Feast of St John the Baptist, the midpoint of the growing season
Michaelmas - September 29, Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, start of the harvest
Christmas - December 25, Feast of the Birth of Jesus, high point of the year, when farm workers were paid for the year's labor

The Quarter Days originally referred to the agricultural cycle. But because they're easy to remember, they became the markers for other events and obligations. Servants were traditionally hired and paid on these dates. Rents were due then, giving rise to their other name of Gale (or Rent) Days. In England, leasehold payments and business premises rents are still often due on the Quarter Days. Since the dates were already associated with debts, other debts were usually also paid then, too.

The Quarter Days were also used for legal matters. At those times, justices of the peace discharged their responsibilities for dealing with taxes and the care of roads, and could order the constables to pay the amount of money owed the poor.

School terms remain loosely linked with the Quarter Days. For example, Michaelmas term at Cambridge runs from October through December, the Lent term from January to March, and the Easter term from April to June.

In the northern part of England and in Scotland, the four Quarter Days (also called Old Scottish Term Days in Scotland) are:
Candlemas - February 2, Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary
Whitsunday - May 15, Feast of the Holy Spirit
Lammas - August 1, Feast of St Peter’s Deliverance from Prison
Martinmas - November 11, Feast of St Martin the Bishop

Note that the days are different for England and Scotland. Both mark the start of the seasons, but according to different calendars. The English Quarter Days roughly align with the astronomical seasons, while the Scottish Quarter Days mark (more or less) the start of the seasons according to the Celtic calendar. These Scottish days correspond more closely, but not exactly, to the cross-quarter days, or mid-season days, of the English calendar.

More on the cross-quarter days next time.

Thank you all,

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Travel Channel: Mysteries at the Museum, Vols. 11 and 12

Linda Banche here. This week, a special treat for all you avid fans of Mysteries at the Museum. On Tuesday, January 11th, beginning at 8 pm E/P, The Travel Channel will air two back-to-back episodes of Mysteries at the Museum, Volumes 11 and 12. Tune in to learn about a crime of horrendous sacrilege, the "War of the Currents", the fantastic voyage of a golf club and many more.

Mysteries at the Museum: Volume 11 (Tuesday, January 11th at 8E/P)

Sterling Memorial Library: An old letter, accidentally discovered in Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library, describes a crime of horrendous sacrilege, purportedly carried out by a group of Yale students in the days of World War One. What unspeakable scandal does this letter describe and did the members of this Nation’s most powerful secret society actually pull it off?

Museum of Science and Industry: Inside the Museum of Science, a mechanical relic is also at the center of a shocking story. It’s a prototype of an early electric motor and it sparked a war between two of the world’s greatest inventors, each racing to become the FIRST to distribute electricity to millions of homes across America. Who won “the war of the currents”? And how did this motor utterly transform our world?

National Automobile Museum: One of the coolest cars at the National Automobile Museum of America, is an ultramodern sports car best remembered for its starring role in the 1985 Hollywood blockbuster, Back to the Future. But the real-life story of the DeLorean is more dramatic than any movie. How did one of the most anticipated, most hyped become one of the biggest blunders in automotive history?

Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum: The most interesting exhibits inside The Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum are related to this legendary warships own service at sea. In its collection are 4 mysterious objects. At first glance, they look like mere mechanical debris, but these are actually the twisted remains of one of the most dreaded weapons of World War Two -- one that nearly destroyed this very ship.

Museum of History and Industry: The Museum of History and Industry tells the story of Seattle’s rise to prominence. Of the numerous items on display, a simple 120 year-old pot played a bigger role in shaping Seattle’s history than any other -- but, in doing so, it had to destroy the city first.

The Henry Ford Museum: In Dearborn, Michigan, the Henry Ford Museum specializes in trains, planes and automobiles of all kinds. But one of the most important machines on display is an old wooden airplane called a Curtiss JN4. How did this primitive plane launch one of the most bizarre chapters in aviation history and help revolutionize air transportation along the way?

Mysteries at the Museum: Volume 12 (Tuesday, January 11th at 9E/P)

USGA Museum: Among the trophies and memorabilia at the USGA is an amazing artifact that took the sport of golf into a whole new orbit. A forty year old, one-of-a-kind club went on a fantastic voyage. Why did a NASA astronaut decide to pull off an extraterrestrial tee shot and how did a simple stunt become one of the defining moments for a space program in crisis?

National Museum of Crime and Punishment: A holster that once belonged to America’s best known outlaw, Jesse James, is in the Museum of Crime and Punishment. It is made of hand stitched leather and harkens back to a time of when gunslingers and desperados ruled the wild west.

National World War I Museum: In a desperate bid to end the deadlock in WWI, British engineers developed a revolutionary new kind of weapon – the armored tank. With the help of modern forensics, the museum can finally reveal the truth behind their star artifact: a battered tank which fought and fell in one of the most important battles in modern military history.

Museum of Flight: Amidst the legends of the air at the Museum of Flight, one plane soars above all the rest. The world’s first and only supersonic commercial jet, capable of transporting passengers at twice the speed of a standard aircraft is here. So what turned the aircraft of the future into an artifact from the past?

Fort East Martello Museum: Since his arrival at the Fort East Martello Museum in 1994, Robert has been associated with some very spooky phenomena and the strangest of these stories are from people who insist that this antique, inanimate doll is actually - alive!

Newseum: A sleek, high-tech facility chronicles the nation’s important headlines, yet one bizarre artifact on display here speaks of a story in which the news media itself played a critical role. A one room cabin, outfitted with a collection of shelves and cubby holes, is stained with the soot and grime from years of habitation. How did the occupant of this rundown shack strike terror into the hearts of an entire nation?

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Travel Channel: Mysteries at the Museum, Vol. 10

Linda Banche here. Tune in Tuesday, January 4 at 9PM E/P, as The Travel Channel presents Volume 10 of Mysteries at the Museum. Stories include the saga of the 1907 car that changed the way the world viewed automobiles, to the tragic tale of the Edmund Fitzgerald, shipwrecked on the Great Lakes. More below.

Mysteries at the Museum: Volume 10

Museum of the City of New York:
No story is bigger than the attacks of September 11, 2001. But 9/11 wasn’t the first time an airplane flew into a New York City skyscraper. Within the Museum of the City of New York, there is one artifact that tells the incredible and largely forgotten story of another incident that brought dread and destruction to this city.

National Museum of Crime and Punishment: At the National Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington, DC there is one particularly chilling artifact. It’s a plaster mould of a man’s face, made with impressive precision. It’s called a “death mask” and it was cast directly from the corpse of a notorious bank robber. According to the FBI this death mask is proof that they gunned down a man once known as “public enemy number one”… John Dillinger. But, to people that knew the elusive outlaw, the resemblance between the death mask and the man is no dead certainty.

National Automobile Museum: At the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada, there’s a beat up, old-fashioned car known as the Thomas Flyer. Its seats are perched high behind the steering wheel and there’s no roof, no windows and no windshield. This four-cylinder, sixty horsepower car traversed the globe in one of the most grueling car races ever conceived. In the process, this singular 1907 car shattered the way the world looked at automobiles.

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum: In Paradise, Michigan, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum displays artifacts from numerous ships that have been lost on America’s great inland seas. But, one artifact, a two hundred pound bronze bell that once sat on the deck of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, is a somber reminder of the greatest enigma in Great Lakes History. What exactly happened on the Edmund Fitzgerald’s perplexing and tragic final journey?

Sterling Memorial Library at Yale: In New Haven, Connecticut, the grand library of Yale University holds a surprisingly modest artifact. This simple metal pie plate inspired one of the most used, most loved and most widespread toys of all time, the Frisbee. How did a pie maker, a UFO fanatic, and some Yale students all come together to invent one of the world’s most popular toys and sports?

Gerald R. Ford Museum: Inside the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, some 18,000 artifacts celebrate Ford’s contributions as a statesman and US President. But, there’s one artifact here that haunted President Ford until the day he died. It’s a 15-foot high metal staircase and it symbolizes one of most controversial and tragic moments in US History – the Fall of Saigon. How did this staircase become a lifeline to thousands and close the door on one of America’s longest and most bitter conflicts?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Harps and Heroines

If you've read my books, you may have noticed that I have a thing for harps. A harp can be found in all of my books. In The Stranger She Married, I mention a harp standing in the corner of the music room. In The Guise of a Gentleman, a harpist plays during the wedding breakfast. In Queen in Exile, my heroine is a harpist. If I ever get Courting the Countess published, you'll see that the heroine is a harpist with performance anxiety.

So why the obsession with harps?

It began when I was about 12. I had just started a new school, and my 6th grade teacher announced that a harp teacher had offered to teach harp lessons to any student at the school who was already in the school band.

Something came alive inside me that day. Every cell in my body woke up. I knew then that I had to play the harp. Somehow.

After class, I went to the teacher and said, "I don't play in the band, but I really, really want to learn to play the harp." Which was incredibly bold of me. I didn't usually try to bend the rules back then, and I didn't usually talk much--to say I was shy was an understatement.

She said, "Go talk to the band teacher. Maybe you can work something out with him."

So I did. I told him the situation. He listened patiently, then asked me, "Do you know how to play any instrument?"

I shook my head, sickened that I might miss out on this opportunity. "The piano, but only a little."

"How long have you played the piano?" he asked.

"Less than a year."

He thought, and said, "Okay, you can play the keyboard in the band."

I think I must have yelped out loud, or as much as a painfully shy new kid could. This was my chance. I was now in the band. Which meant I was eligible to take harp lessons.

The harp teacher taught me harp lessons once a week that school year, and even let me borrow her Lyon and Healy harp a few weekends a month to use for practice. I loved it! I threw myself into it and even managed to perform in my first ever recital. Then I found out we were going to move out of state at the end of the year. I was heartbroken when I found out I'd be leaving my harp teacher. But she assured me Northern California was a mecca for harpists and that I'd find a new teacher easily. When we arrived, I pestered my parents into letting me continue to take harp lessons until they finally found a teacher and a harp to rent. I took lessons for years on and off, despite moves, family changes, and financial problems.

This picture is a Lyon and Healy Troubadour harp, much like the one I first learned to play.

Years later, I no longer play for weddings or in church. Writing and mothering has eaten into my practice time so I don't have 2 to 3 hours a day to play. However, I teach and I still love playing for my own enjoyment in the evenings. It relaxes me and quiets the noise in my head.

Here is a picture of the harp that I play, a Lyon and Healy 85 Petite. It's a little smaller and a lot lighter than a full-sized concert grand, but it has a lovely sound and fills my soul with peace.

Not coincidentally, when I write, I listen to one of three things: my cats purring, instrumental new age piano music, or harp music. There's nothing like it. It's almost magical.

Does music play a role in your life?