Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Harvest Decorations

From Victoria:
A cache of well-hunted finds—from rustic Americana to polished Old-World antiquities—captures the sentiment of gracious entertaining so often attributed to the season. The gracefully distressed pine hutch, showcases a medley of English blue-and-white transferware collected by way of many treks to Texas’s famed Round Top Antiques Fair. (Read more.)

Zeugma’s Mosaics

Ancient Roman mosaics are found in southern Turkey. From Archaeology:
It wasn’t good policy that saved ancient Zeugma. It was a good story. In 2000, the construction of the massive Birecik Dam on the Euphrates River, less than a mile from the site, began to flood the entire area in southern Turkey. Immediately, a ticking time-bomb narrative of the waters, which were rising an average of four inches per day for six months, brought Zeugma and its plight global fame. The water, which soon would engulf the archaeological remains, also brought increasing urgency to salvage efforts and emergency excavations that had already been taking place at the site, located about 500 miles from Istanbul, for almost a year. The media attention Zeugma received attracted generous aid from both private and government sources. Of particular concern was the removal of Zeugma’s mosaics, some of the most extraordinary examples to survive from the ancient world. Soon the world’s top restorers arrived from Italy to rescue them from the floodwaters. The focus on Zeugma also brought great numbers of international tourists—and even more money—a trend that continues today with the opening in September 2011 of the ultramodern $30 million Zeugma Mosaic Museum in the nearby city of Gaziantep. 

But Zeugma’s story begins millennia before the dam was constructed. In the third century b.c., Seleucus I Nicator (“the Victor”), one of Alexander the Great’s commanders, established a settlement he called Seleucia, probably a katoikia, or military colony, on the western side of the river. On its eastern bank, he founded another town he called Apamea after his Persian-born wife. The two cities were physically connected by a pontoon bridge, but it is not known whether they were administered by separate municipal governments, and nothing of ancient Apamea, nor the bridge, survives. In 64 b.c., the Romans conquered Seleucia, renaming the town Zeugma, which means “bridge” or “crossing” in ancient Greek. After the collapse of the Seleucid Empire, the Romans added Zeugma to the lands of Antiochus I Theos of Commagene as a reward for his support of General Pompey during the conquest.  (Read more.)

More HERE. Share

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Place Settings

 Some great ideas from Southern Living.


On the Radio with Dorothy Pilarski

A few weeks ago I was interviewed by author and radio host Dorothy Pilarski of Dynamic Women of Faith. To listen, click HERE.The interview was about my new novel The Paradise Tree, available on US and Canadian Amazon, as well as all the other Amazons.

Then I remembered that Goodreads has a page with recordings of some of my other talks, HERE. The talks are about Marie-Antoinette. Louis XVI and the French Revolution, as well as the sufferings of the Irish in the penal times. For more information about my novels, please visit my Amazon Author's page. Share

Changing Constellations

From The Atlantic:
Not only does Space Time reveal that in the 1800s B.C., when the Babylonians were first developing the star charts that the Greeks later adopted and passed down to us, the stars were in slightly different places. And when anatomically modern humans arose in the form of Homo sapiens 200,000 years ago, the stars were in vastly different places. Should we humans manage to not destroy ourselves in the coming 200,000 years, our ancestors will look up into the sky and see not a scorpion and a bear, but a totally different arrangement of stars. The constellations we see today (which already, if we’re honest, don’t actually look like bears or scorpions or any of those things) will be even harder to identify (Read more.)

Monday, November 24, 2014


I always thought the gown in this picture was green. It seems I was wrong.  It is blue. The shimmer of the moonlight makes it iridescent. Below is a recreation of the gown:


Dealing With Dietary Restrictions

Some holiday advice from Southern Living:
In the South, good manners are passed down like a treasured family recipe for pecan pie. However, unlike the formula for a favorite after-dinner treat, guidelines to being well-mannered are changing with the times. With the abundance of social gatherings the holidays bring, many of our etiquette conundrums surface, and we are left feeling confused about how to be a gracious host or guest. Each week during the holiday season, Erika Preval of Charm Etiquette school in Atlanta, will answer a question that helps us navigate the grey area of modern etiquette.


Over the years, food choices have been guided by various lifestyles or beliefs. For some, that allows freedom to enjoy a wide variety of fares. For others, it means sticking to a very specific and restricted diet. While dietary choices can be a matter of personal preference, there are times when they are the result of a doctor’s recommendation. We certainly have to consider your optimal health as you navigate holiday gatherings with your new diagnosis.

Please know that a host’s first priority is the happiness of their guests. Don’t hesitate to make your host aware of your restrictions, upon RSVP, and offer to bring a dish that fits those parameters. Doing so will allow the host ample time to ensure that your addition fits into the overall planning of the meal. Yours should be sharable and ready to go straight to table: requiring minimal re-heating and in a clear glass dish that will match any tablescape.

A note for hosts: The comfort of your guests is always top of mind when entertaining. While you should take into consideration your guests’ dietary preferences, the expectation is not to craft an entire meal around said restrictions. A simple solution would be to offer a vegetable-only salad. This is something that falls within the parameters of most diets including vegan, gluten-free, low-calorie, and the like. You’ll find it easy to prepare and most appreciated by your guests. (Read more.)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Aunt Ellen

Over the course of many vacations, when going to the lake in Ontario where my uncle had his summer cottage, we would watch for Long Point Farm where my great-grandfather had been born. Across the meadow could be seen Aunt Ellen's house and the Saddle Rock, a huge boulder on which rested a stone saddle, carved by nature. Her house was then no more than a ruin, but it had once been very charming. While perusing my Uncle Ferg's memoirs, he, my grandmother and their siblings also watched for Aunt Ellen's house as children:
Aunt Ellen's house was seen, across the field as we drove down Ellisville Road, before we saw the farm house and Dad was always informed by the chorus when the house was seen. It was directly across from the barn where her horse and her cow, usually a Jersey, were kept with the other farm animals. She knew where the best berries were around the farm and many landed in her cellar for winter consumption. Her cow was a tea milk cow. This was the cow whose milk was saved for the house. (From Because You Asked For It by Dr Fergus James O'Connor, p. 107)
Aunt Ellen was long dead when I used to watch for her house, and her livestock gone. But because of the stories I was told, it was not difficult to picture her walking across the fields, always with a pail of cookies for the children. She was the maiden aunt of the O'Connor family, the only one of old Daniel's seven daughters not to marry. Many families in those days had such aunties who were not called to either matrimony or religious life, but to live the single life in the world. Not that where Aunt Ellen lived can be considered "the world;" in some ways she was a bit like an Irish anchorite of old.

Two of the other sisters, Lottie and Annie, married late in life; Aunt Ellen's house was originally built for the three of them. Uncle Ferg describes it as a "great little house" with a loom house behind the kitchen, and a cellar "deep enough so that it was cold but frost free. The front lawn was beautifully kept. Lilac trees typical of all early Ontario houses. Peonies, narcissus towards either side and other flowers but I do not remember the types." (O'Connor, p 107)

Aunt Ellen (or "Eleanor O'Connor of Long Point" as she signed her name in her sister's autograph album) was born on the old homestead in 1839, the third child and second daughter of Daniel and Brigit Trainor O'Connor. She and her brothers and sisters were educated by an old Scottish professor named Duncan Cameron Horn whom Daniel hired and he boarded with the O'Connors. Horn had allegedly been one of Napoleon's guards on Saint Helena but otherwise would not tell much about his past. He wrote poetry to one one of Daniel's daughters; in The Paradise Tree I have him writing to Joanna, the eldest. He was very learned and instructed the whole family; it was as close as they ever got to a university. All but two of the children became schoolteachers, including Ellen, who was known for her correct and precise manner of speaking.

At one point, when she was a young woman, Ellen went to work in upstate New York, probably as a domestic or even as a governess she she was educated. All we have from that time is an undated letter from Daniel to Ellen and her younger sister, Mary O'Connor Desmond, who had married and was also living in New York state. Daniel was quite concerned about his maiden daughter's virtue, as he expressed in the letter.
My dear Ellen, as your lot is cast among strangers by practicing this precept as you have been taught by the church and by your parents, you will gain the respect and esteem of those who can appreciate virtue. You know it is the duty of servants either man or woman to obey their employers in all lawful actions. If however, they solicit you to commit sin in order to do anything wrong or sinful do not then, but resist all evil. Consider the family you work for as your own, look to their interest, let nothing go to loss that is under your care. I hope you will keep Sundays holy, shun every dangerous party, and also associates who are addicted to immoralities of any kind. (Letter from Daniel O'Connor to two daughters)
Ellen returned from New York with her virtue unscathed, and lived for the next six decades in her little house on the family farm. Her youngest brother Charles and his wife Emily built a house down the road from hers and they saw each other daily. Ellen sometimes annoyed Charles, as he records in his diary on December 8, 1906: "My birthday and a Holy Day. Ellen here for the day but she always casts a gloom on my day by recalling 'poor father died on your birthday.'" Nevertheless, they all saw each other through the many trials and labors that were part of living on the farm. Charles and Emily's son, my great-grandfather Fergus Joseph, described winter time on the farm in his memoirs:
Winters on the farm were rather dreary yet were possibly the busiest days and nights of the year. So much had to be prepared in the winter for the summer season....One of the main resources of the farm itself was the production of wool and woolen goods. During the summer time the sheep were shorn and the wool was washed and taken to the carding mill and was returned to the farmers in strips of wool....These strips all had to be spun on the old high wheeled spinning wheel into yarn...all through the winter the women of the house were busy doing this sort of work. Then, of course, the yarn was made into socks and mittens and into underwear....
Another task was the preparing of apples for keeping into the spring time. We'd peel the apples....then the apple was cored and the pieces split into various sizes and and strung on a long string.. Every house and every kitchen had two or three hooks inserted in the kitchen ceiling....from these hooks strings would come down and...the apples dangling would be left there to dry....Those apples would be used in the months of April, May, June right up until the fresh apples were free. (from Grandfather Remembers by Dr. Fergus Joseph O'Connor)
Pumpkins were also hung up and dried, and pumpkin sauce and pies were practically a staple. There was the loom house, where old rags were dyed and woven into rugs, as well as quilting. At the end of the winter would be the sugar-making out in the woods. It was a self-sufficient life of many and varied never-ending tasks.

In the photo to the left is Aunt Ellen (seated in the front center) surrounded by some of her brothers and sisters. Considering how hard life was then, it is amazing that they all lived to be ancient. Aunt Ellen entertained a great deal. Friends and relatives often stopped by for tea. She was famous for keeping her Christmas fruit cakes soaking in a crock of rum for years. Uncle Ferg recalls eating a five year old cake at Aunt Ellen's "as perfect a cake as possible." (Because You Asked For It, p 107) At my grandmother's seventh birthday, Aunt Ellen showed the children how to braid daisies into chains to decorate the table. "A beloved old aunt" is how her niece Madeline O'Connor described her.

The unmarried vocation, however, has many challenges, as Aunt Ellen certainly found. In her journal, written in her flowing, meticulously even script, she often penned the words "all alone again" after visitors left. She obviously had the battle with loneliness that is part of the celibate vocation. In her diary are poems copied from the English Catholic poetess Adelaide Proctor.
Only to rest where He puts me
Only to do His will

Only to be what He made me

Though I be nothing still.

Only to take what He gives me
Weak as a little child
Questioning nought the reason
Joyful and reconciled.

Only to look to Him ever
Only to rest at His feet
All that He sayeth to do it
Then shall my life be complete.
Aunt Ellen may not have lived in a convent, but she was certainly a consecrated soul, one of those unknown souls whose prayer and humble life had an impact on those around her. She remained in her little house into her nineties, when she finally went to live with one of her younger sisters in Gananoque, where she died in the 1930's. Her house is no more, but in her diary are printed the words PER PACEM AD LUCEM, followed by this verse by Adelaide Proctor:
For one thing only, Lord, dear Lord, I plead
Lead me aright
Though strength should falter and though heart should bleed
Through peace to light.