Down a Delicious Writing Research Rabbit Hole

A couple of days ago, I was working on my book, which is historical women’s fiction set in 1868 Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a tough era to write about because not much detail about the way people lived during that time is readily available. To find what I’m looking for, I’ve discovered I have to go at it obliquely because so much of what I find out is buried in within other history.

That’s what happened when I was looking for a map of Charleston in 1868. What I ran across was this map of White Point Gardens in 1874. My two characters were strolling along the flagstones of the Battery, a seaside promenade, and I wondered what they would see where the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meet. So I started searching and found something I hadn’t known about. At the time I’m writing about, there was a two-story bath house connected to the peninsula via a footbridge. How cool is that!

View of the bath house before it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1874. Picture from the Preservation Society of Charleston

The public bathhouse had two floors, the first was the bath house, and on the upper floor was a cake and ice cream shop! Interesting for sure, but that information only made me curious to know what sort of cakes that shop might have served–just in case my characters decided to have dessert there.

I found some interesting cakes, one of which I plan to make. It’s called demon cake, a dense cake made with molasses, ginger, apples, brandy, and lots of spices. It’s just the sort of thing I love in fall. Here’s a picture of it from Food 52, one of my favorite cooking blogs. If you click the link, you’ll go to the recipe.

Demon Cake from Food 52

I also found out that Linzer torte is said to be the oldest cake in the world and is named after the city of Linz in Austria. Although the cake shop might have served Linzer torte, I believe it would have served more Southern fare, like pound cake and something called muster cake, which is now known by its more modern name of Election Cake and has the distinction of being the first American food associated with politics. Don’t know if that’s good or bad! You can read the fascinating history of that cake in the link above.

Election Cake (muster cake) photo from Food 52 and taken by James Ransom

The day I did this research I had a hard time not dropping everything to make one of thee cakes. I love baking. It has always been a huge stress reliever for me, and right now with covid19 still such a disruption, I really had to exercise self-control and keep my butt in the chair to make my writing goal for the day.

I wish I could say I do all my research BEFORE I start writing, but something always crops up that I need to know. I could put in a marker as some people recommend and do the research after I’ve written the scene, but that’s not how I roll. My curiosity gets the better of me and the details can sometimes change how the scene I’m writing unfolds, so I often research as I write. When I find out fascinating information like the above, I struggle to go back to my book!

Pirates Attack!

Today on a Facebook writing group I participate in, the moderator asked us to share some fun or funny lines from our WIPs. My books is rather serious, but there are some fun passages. The lines I chose today are part of a scene that includes two little boys playing pirate with Josiah Hamilton, the love interest of my main character. These little boys, Hank and Lawson, remind me of my own boys when they were little.

In the scene, Josiah Hamilton, the love interest of my heroine, goes to his best friend Henry’s house to ask Henry’s wife Charlotte a favor. Before Josiah even makes it to the piazza, the boys ambush him. What follows is from page 191 of my unpublished historical women’s fiction, Faith Can Move Mountains. Enjoy!

“Josiah was deep in thought before he reached the piazza of Henry and Charlotte’s house. As he set foot on the step, Hank and Lawson launched themselves at him and wrapped themselves around each of Josiah’s legs.

“Aargh, me hearty!” said Hank in a gravelly voice. “You be my prisoner now!” Hank wore a big smile framed on either side by deep dimples. His stick straight dark hair reached nearly to his dark brown eyes, one of which was covered by a blue serge eye patch.

“Suwender or we make you walk the Pwank!” Lawson’s face framed by ruddy curls was flushed and dewed with sweat. At three years old, he was fierce in his role as first mate to his brother, the captain of their pirate ship.

Josiah assumed his customary role as a privateer. “Unhand me, you brigands!” he bellowed. Then he began to walk up the stairs to the piazza with the boys attached to his legs as he climbed the stairs. They squealed and giggled as he stepped.

Henry stepped out onto the piazza. “Captain Hank, we’ve discussed this. You may not waylay visitors to my ship unless I give you permission.”

“But, Papa, he hathn’t paid the toll yet,” whined Lawson.

Josiah slapped his forehead. “I forgot the toll, but maybe I have something.”

Hank and Lawson let go of Josiah’s legs and stood looking up at him. “What did you bring?” Hank asked. He removed his eye patch to see better while Lawson pushed his hair out of his eyes.

“Let me see.” Josiah frowned and made a show of checking his pants and waistcoat pockets. “Ah! Now I remember where I put them.” He reached into his inside coat pocket and pulled out two, small, paper-wrapped packages. “Will these do?”

The boys each took one, but Hank was the first to get his open. “Gum drops!”

Hopes for Covid19 Aftermath

Although right now the pandemic that is covid19 feels like it will never end, I’ve been trying to figure out the good I want to remember from this unprecedented event in world history. I’m still learning and making sense of what is happening, but some things have caught my attention, and I’ve thought, “Yes! I hope people will remember this when this thing is over.” Here are some of them. I’d love to know others you’ve thought of.

  • Teaching children is hard work and those who do it well should be richly rewarded. Any time people are skilled in their professions, they make what they are doing look effortless. Teachers are the same. The effort is hidden beneath preparation and years of training and practice. Teaching is a science, yes, but it’s also an art. Good teachers are worth their weight in gold as many parents are finding out.
  • Doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers are underappreciated in the best of times and heroic, brave, and selfless in the worst of times. Don’t let anyone tell you that the government rather than private practice doctors should be in charge of our healthcare. Doctors spend years learning how to practice medicine. They know what is possible and what isn’t. They know which patients will benefit from particular treatments. They also have the knowledge to try new (or old) treatments to see whether they work. Can you imagine the governmental bureaucracy that would have kept the experimental therapies doctors are using to treat covid19 from being used? I sure can! Take a moment and thank God for all our health professionals.
  • Social media should be used for social connection and not for politics or tearing one another down. Can we make Facebook and Instagram fun, uplifting, and supportive places forever? During covid19, people have been witty, creative, and generally excellent to each other, and I, for one, have loved it!
  • People should always stay home from school, work, and worship if they are sick. If people stayed home for even minor colds, those who are vulnerable wouldn’t die from complications from viruses like the flu or the common cold or the novel corona virus we’re dealing with now. What is merely a nuisance for healthy people can become deadly for those with underlying conditions. Companies should remember this and offer PTO with this in mind.
  • We shouldn’t let work be the focus of our lives. Work is a gift from God that allows us to feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, but it can never replace our relationships with our families and friends. Work life balance was just a phrase before this virus. I hope it becomes a reality. Just because people can work from anywhere, doesn’t mean we should.
  • Walks–preferably outside–improve our health. Nature is a natural stress reducer. Just take a look at what this article from the American Heart Association says, “Whatever you call it – forest bathing, ecotherapy, mindfulness in nature, green time or the wilderness cure — humans evolved in the great outdoors, and your brain benefits from a journey back to nature.
  • Family and friends make life worth living. Full stop. Call your mom, your grandmother, your dad, your grandfather, your friend from childhood or high school you’ve lost touch with, or whoever you hold dear. Get in touch. Life is fragile and precious and lovely and meant to be shared.

We haven’t reached the peak of covid19 infections in the United States yet, but we’re all in this together. If you’re feeling sad, reach out to those you love or to the health professionals in your area or to a clergy member. They will help. In the meantime, know that you are a child of God and that you are loved.

Coping during Covid19

I’m sitting at my desk at the start of week 3 of the Safer at Home order in Wisconsin. Apart from an underlying uneasiness of this virus making its way into our towns and cities, being isolated and dealing with the unknown feels familiar. To be honest, the first two weeks of staying at home didn’t bother me too much. Many people don’t cope well when they’re isolated and can’t enjoy an active social and work life, but over the past 11 years, I’ve become used to those things.

At the beginning of the Great Recession, my husband lost his job and has been laid off five times since 2009. During that time, I was a public school teacher and was also laid off because of declining enrollment. We had two children in college, house payments, taxes, insurance, car payments, and many other expenses. To survive, we tightened our belts and learned to do without things that we had once taken for granted.

Now, all these years later, I’m working from home as a Beautycounter consultant, and he has once again been laid off. It seems like the uncertainty and layoffs will never end, and the worst part is coping with the unknown. When will he get another job? Will we have enough in our emergency fund to tide us over? How long will this time last? Now that the virus has become a reality, we’re all coping with those same questions.

If security seems like a thing of the past to you too because you’ve been laid off or closed your business because of Covid19, I’d like to help you think about ways to save money and maybe change your perspective from one of lack to one of possibilities and action. Here are some of the things that my family has done over the past ten years and will continue to do to get us through hard times.

Learn to cook from scratch. It’s better, cheaper, and healthier than going to restaurants. How? Crack open cookbooks or look on the internet for recipes, especially ones you can stretch with potatoes or rice. Cooking is a matter of following directions. If you can do that, you can cook most anything! And cooking is a great outlet for creativity! The recipe below is from Half Baked Harvest!

Homemade coconut milk braised chicken with naan from Aldi!

Pick up the sale flyers from your grocery store and plan your menus for a week or longer. To be as healthy as possible, avoid the aisles of packaged food and buy fresh produce, meat, and frozen foods that you can turn into recipes. I like to prepare big batches of soup, chili, barbecue, pot roast, and other things that freeze well. Use fresh foods that will spoil easily first.

Buy different items at different stores (use the information from the sale flyers to help you). For example, I often buy fruits, vegetables, olive oil, spices, and cheeses at Aldi. They have lots of organic foods and often their regular produce is cheaper than at other stores. If you drink milk, their half gallon organic whole milk is delicious! Make sure you check Aldi’s special buys too. They are often on clearance.

Get rid of cable TV. We have an antenna for TV or stream shows from the internet when we want to watch movies or other shows. Streaming offers many more shows than cable anyway. I also have come to love our local PBS stations. They offer commercial free watching and British television like Masterpiece Theater!

Homegrown radishes from my garden

Plant a garden. Plant flowers in pots, window boxes, or the ground. They bring butterflies, bees, and beauty into your life. Or grow your own vegetables! Eating what you grow is rewarding and far better than what you can buy at the supermarket. If you’ve never eaten a homegrown carrot, you’re missing out! If you don’t want to garden or can’t for some reason, make friends with your local farmers. Many offer CSAs or sell at farmers’ markets. They are happy to give you suggestions for how to cook unfamiliar vegetables too!

Be creative with your wardrobe by shopping your closet or thrift stores and learn to wear what you’ve already got in new ways. If you can’t afford to buy a whole new outfit, maybe you can buy a scarf or new earrings to make older shirts or dresses feel new. Also learn to mend what you have and keep your items fresh and clean. This includes shoes. If you’re really ambitious and crafty, teach yourself to sew or knit or crochet.

Make your own cleaning products. It’s easier on your wallet and the environment, especially when you have a septic system. To kill corona virus, however, you need to use something proven to kill the virus.

Use the internet to learn new skills such as meditation, yoga (I recommend Cole Chance Yoga and Yoga TX), cooking, sewing, or gardening. Also watch Khan Academy videos and Ted Talks, or listen to podcasts. They will keep you informed and busy learning something new and just might help you with home-schooling your children.

Exercise, especially outside! Go for lots of walks and reacquaint yourselves with nature. Being in nature is a stress reliever. As John Muir once said, ““And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”

Summer in Wisconsin

Rediscover board games and learn to play cards. Play with your families! If you don’t know how to play cards, you can find tutorials on the internet.

Read some great books! There are so many I have read and want to read. Here are a few. The first two I’m looking forward to reading. The last three I’ve already read. You and Me and Us by my friend Alison Hammer, Minor Dramas and Other Catastrophes by my friend Kathleen West, The Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell (there are about ten in the series and the series is The Last Kingdom on Netflix), A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer and its sequel, A Heart So Fierce and Broken, A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti, and anything by Katherine Center.

Use Facetime, Skype, What’s App, Google Duo or learn Zoom so you can meet with your family or friends for a virtual happy hour or for morning coffee. It makes the distance melt away when you can see each other in real time and talk.

Zooming with writer friends!

If you’re religious, or even if you’re not, trust that God will help you through this! Because He will. Tune in to services at Trinity Lutheran Church in Waupaca, WI or any other church that is broadcasting services right now. It helps to know that you can count on a higher power in times of stress and anxiety.

This virus won’t last forever, even though it seems like it will. There are many smart people who are working as we speak to invent a vaccine or reliable treatments for us, and isn’t that a wonder. Selfless doctors and nurses are taking care of people made helpless by this thing. There are too many people to count or name who are helping others in this crisis. I’m thankful for all of them.

I hope you can change your thinking from having to stay home to getting to stay home. I hope you’ll discover how creative and resourceful you can be as you keep your family safe. I hope you’ll keep a journal so that you and your children can look back one day and remember how you endured this pandemic with grace and strength. Before you know it, we’ll be buying normal amounts of toilet paper and canned soup at grocery stores and going out to dinner with friends. Until then, stay safe at home, rediscover how much you love your families, and read some great books!

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