Sister Time

by Ruth Hartman


Every November, my sister comes for a visit. Though I wish she lived close by, it’s quite a trek for her to come to Indiana from Wyoming. (Garry and I make the trip to see her in the summer.) When she comes, the leaves are turning red and yellow, and the air is chilled. Perfect weather for putting on sweatshirts and taking a walk. And when we walk, we talk. A lot.Ruth - Author pic

Though we text pretty often, it’s not the same as face to face catching up. And let’s admit it, there are certain things you can only share with a sibling. Inside family jokes reach a whole new hilarious pitch when Chris and I get together. Giggles morph into laughs, which then turn into snorts. Loud ones.

We’ve always been close, though some might find that hard to believe since she is ten years older than I am. I have to say that she, as well as our two brothers, always looked out for me, making me feel loved and special.

When she left for college, I was only eight, so our time of actually living together wasn’t long. Shortly after she graduated, she got married and took off with her husband, living in various states and even a foreign country. The longest she spent in any one place was twenty-plus years in Alaska.

That might explain why I’ve been there seven times!

Though we always got along growing up, it changed for the better when I reached adulthood. The dynamics of our relationship and subjects of our conversations changed to reflect our more grown-up perspectives and mature natures.

Ha… that doesn’t go with the snorting, does it? Maybe we’re not so mature…

At any rate, we love our time together, not much caring what we do as long as it’s just her and me. We even go so far as to shop. Which we both hate. Somehow, though, having Chris along makes everything fun. Especially when we laugh so hard, store clerks give us the stink-eye. Which, of course, makes us laugh harder. Watching a terrible movie once, that was supposed to be serious, we found it so ridiculous that not only did other movie-goers glare at us, I’m surprised we didn’t get tossed out.

When I wanted to quit my job as a dental hygienist and write fulltime, she understood. And encouraged me. When I had a health scare, she was one of the first I told. Getting advice from her always gives me confidence and strength I wouldn’t have otherwise had.

This holiday season, make time for those who are important to you. Whether it’s a goofy older sister, or not.



Why I Like Thanksgiving Better Than Halloween

by Beppie Harrison


I just finished discussing this with my grown daughter, and I don’t think she entirely agrees with me, so let’s start with a mild objection from the wings.

Here it is, almost mid-October, and the Holiday Season is just about on us. I can feel the marching feet. This would feel more normal if it were colder outside, but we seem to be having a very warm autumn in New England. The trees are bravely beginning to produce a little of the bright color we’re famous for, but it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm when the temperatures have been in the 70s.

Even so, Halloween is coming. There are those who point out the big thing about Halloween is not having to fix an enormous dinner that takes all day to prepare and somewhere around 20 minutes to eat. That is not my point of view.


My point of view is somewhat different. Halloween (and I’ve raised four children, so I know) starts early in October when one’s offspring commence hassling you about costumes. Costumes and decorations. The decorations I can handle. Costumes? If we had been rich, then costumes would have been an easy matter. We would have trotted off to the nearest shopping emporium and listened to the inevitable argument about who was going to be whom (3 girls, none of whom wanted to be All The Same Thing but all of whom wanted to be a Princess or whatever that year’s equivalent was). The boy would have been a cowboy or a monster or Darth Vader. Fine. But we were not rich. Halloween had to be homemade. Me and my trusty sewing machine could cope with one cowboy, or one monster. Darth Vader I had to argue him out of. (Year after year after year.) Three princesses? Bear in mind that my seamstress skills are marginal. Some years we got closer than others. Then, because at that point we lived in Michigan, the end of October is COLD. So princess or monster, there had to be a warm garment over the top.

But that wasn’t the worst of Halloween. The worst was after Halloween. Candy wrappers, to be specific. I tried two techniques. One, urged on by neighbors, was to allow a one day eat-all-you-can. Then all leftover candy is discarded, preferably at some distance from the house. The children may get sick (which is also a disadvantage) but the day after Halloween it’s all over. I think I tried that one year and discovered rebellion and quite brilliant smuggling techniques in the ranks. My more ordinary course of action was to dole out the candy in small manageable numbers day after day (after day) in their bag lunches and as a getting-home-from-school treat. This meant that candy wrappers followed us all around the house until the end of November. Or even later, given the skills I had inadvertently encouraged that one year.

Thanksgiving? What’s not to like about Thanksgiving? There’s delicious food, and if you just invite some people over they are likely to bring some of it. Say, the pie? Then all you’ve got to do (besides turkey) is potatoes and veg. This method also provides company in the kitchen since mostly the people who bring food stay to fuss with it. There’s the table to set, but if you put little candy and nut cups by each person’s place, your children can have a wonderful time setting the table and filling those up, and all you need to do is provide roughly a third more candy and nuts than the cups will accommodate to allow for some wastage during the process. Roasting a turkey? Simple process unless you choose to get fancy. Open oven door, insert turkey (with stuffing in it if you choose or flavorful vegetables if that’s your choice), and leave it there for hours during which you can sit down with the company. No costumes, no candy wrappers. Just good food.


No contest. Thanksgiving wins!

Brabanters Warriors

By Máiri Norris


One of the things I love most about writing historical romance is that integral component of the subject, research. History is endlessly intriguing as one delves into cultures, customs, languages and habits of peoples who lived in times and places far different from one’s own.

As I study the refined societies of the ancient Brythons or those of the High Medieval period, I occasionally feel as if I’ve wandered, not into another time, but onto an alien planet. Amazingly sophisticated levels of knowledge and technology often coexisted hand in hand with bizarre—and sometimes deadly—beliefs.

One of the most gripping areas of inquiry is the art of war. Brutality and conflict have characterized humanity’s struggle for life from the very earliest of oral tradition and written record. There is an undeniable fascination in the study of the ancient methods of conquest.

An enduring aspect of the making of war throughout the centuries was the mercenary—that hardy soul, peculiarly of ‘foreign’ birth trained in the art of combat-for-pay. Also known in those early days by the various terms ‘mercennarios’, ‘solidarii’ and ‘stipendiarii’, the reputation of these warriors was such that they might be hated and feared or glorified and blessed, both at once.

However, more often than not their chosen profession was vilified by the general populace, but not, as is the modern viewpoint, because they owed loyalty only to the one who paid them. It was common practice of those days for knights and warriors to fight for coin [even Crusaders], once they had fulfilled their forty-day ‘duty’ to their lord. But the monarchs and noblemen who hired them understood their positions—and frequently their very lives—depended on these skilled fighters. They used them as extensively as their coin would allow.


Medieval Warriors2-Dreamstime

Historians agree mercenary armies in general were no more rapacious than regular troops. ‘Ravaging’ and ‘siege-craft’ were methods of warfare practiced by all armies. Kings routinely pursued the ‘scorched earth’ policy as a first step in launching war.

As specific units, there were among the mercenaries those with reputations as ‘honorable’ fighters, and those who became famous for their brutality, cruelty and excessive use of force. One particular band generally classed with the latter was the Brabanters [aka Brabácons, Cotereaux or Routiers (‘ravagers’)], so called because they originated from the area of Brabant located in what is now the Netherlands and Belgium. [Brabant was made a duchy of the Holy Roman Empire, c. 1190.] Later men of this affiliation were drawn from all areas of northern Europe.

The expense of hiring Brabanters was significantly greater than other early medieval troops, but they were among the elite warriors of their day. Unlike the regular armies composed of knights performing their required forty-day service, Brabanters willingly fought year round. Warfare was their way of life.

History records that more than one king owed his continued reign to the service of the Brabanters. One example was King Henri II’s successful use of Brabanter warriors in the Battle of Dol, Brittany, during the rebellion of 1173.

Among the most famous of the Brabanters was Mercadier, “prince of the Brabanters” and commander of the Brabanter forces in southern France. He fought in the Third Crusade. Later, his loyalty was given to Richard I, Coeur de Lion, whom he faithfully served until the king’s death (and after, when he captured the archer who shot and killed the king and had the man flayed.)

Brabanter archers—crossbowmen—may be the originators of the word “gaffle”. This was a steel piece on a crossbow that provided the leverage to bend the bow.

The Brabanters were among the most ruthless and brutal of the mercenary forces. Bloodthirsty and savage, they terrorized entire populations. As a result, the Third Lateran Council of 1179 condemned them en masse, directing that all who hired them be excommunicated.

Finally, the Magna Carta of 1215 banished all foreign mercenaries from England (which King John promptly ignored by hiring large numbers of Brabanter forces under the leadership of Walter Buc.)


Medieval Warriors-Dreamstime


Mercenaries of Brabant were first seen in England with William the Conqueror, though it was not until the time of King Stephen they appeared in significant numbers. King Henri II used them extensively, but for the most part kept them out of England (they served mostly in France). A little over a century later Brabanter mercenaries served in the Hundred Years War, fighting with the English armies in Cambrai and Tournay, France.

Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases. Christopher Coredon with Ann Williams.
Henry II: A Medieval Soldier At War, 1147-1189, 1189, John D. Hosler
Mercenaries in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, Hunt Janin with Ursula Carlson
Chivalry in Medieval England, Nigel Saul
English Historical Documents. 4. [Late Medieval]. 1327-1485, edited by A.R. Myers
Mercenaries of the Angevin Empire: Reputations and Royal Power, Andrew Rice, Florida Gulf Coast University
A Glossary; or Collection of Words, Phrases, Names and Allusions to Customs, Proverbs, Etc., Robert Nares
The Influence of Low Dutch on the English Vocabulary, E.C. Llewellyn


Remembering Where I’ve Been

by Beppie Harrison

I’ve been lucky enough to get to England reasonably frequently. Ireland as well, as it happens. My secret is a simple one: I married an Englishman who wants to go home as often as we can manage it. I don’t think he wants to live there—quite certainly not after Brexit!—but it’s home to both of us now, as the first years of our marriage were spent there and our first daughter was born there and the second adopted during those years.

Needless to say, we have lots of pictures taken over the years. The ones with people in them are relatively easy to identify, but the landscape shots are, shall we say, a bit more difficult. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong.

Take this one:

DSC_0099Now I actually posted this with the full conviction that it was a rural site in Ireland. Well, no. This summer with our Yorkshire cousins we drove past the spot and she pointed, saying, “Remember picnicking there?” Oh. Okay. So that was Yorkshire, huh? Well, it was a nice picture in a pretty spot, wherever it happened to be.

Or this one:


That is in Ireland. I’m sure of it. I just don’t remember where in Ireland. It wasn’t Dublin. Most likely it was somewhere in County Meath, which was the first area that the English really dominated. In fact, in early Anglo-Irish times, Meath was the central part of the Pale, where during the 15th century when Anglo/Norman government was weakened, the English authority was strongest. Which is where you get the phrase “beyond the pale,” which now generally means exceeding the limits of civilized behavior. Then it was the area where what the English considered the dangerous, barbaric Irish were rampant.

Wherever it is in Ireland, I was charmed by the contrast between the ancient stone hut built in 700 or so by one of the early saints and the communication tower rearing up behind. In later post-Henry VIII days, there was a tunnel made between this hut and the church across the way, so that Catholics could escape the concentrated attempts of the English to annihilate all traces of Popish loyalty.


Now this is one I do remember. Not only where, but when. That is our old house in Kew, just across the Green from Kew Gardens. It was built in 1850 or so, when Victorian London was expanding in all directions. Our house is the one by the car facing to the right. It was 14 feet wide, but very deep. We had two living rooms, a dining room, a big kitchen (that was a new extension: when we bought the house it had a kitchen 4 feet deep that had once been the outhouse and a sort of pantry by the side), bathroom, and three bedrooms. I loved that house. In 2015 when we were in London with our granddaughter we had some extra time and had a cab driver take us out to Kew. It took two hours. I was limping at the time (recovering from spinal surgery!) so we couldn’t take the Tube which would have been much faster.

But I loved seeing it again. The man with my husband (who has the camera) is the present owner of the house who’s lived there for 30 years. My architect husband was pleased beyond measure that he has kept all of the changes we’d made in the house: stripping the brick party wall and painting the bricks white, raising the floor level of the back living room, and keeping the circular staircase. It’s still wonderfully the same!

Is This Work or Fun?

by Ruth J. Hartman

About this time last year, my husband and I attended our annual family reunion. It changes location yearly, and it’s a slightly different crowd each time, depending on who can make it. Sitting there with my cousins, I looked around. Everyone there had hosted the gathering since we had. I counted back. Six years ago? Not good. Time for me to take one for the team and volunteer.

Usually, we make the trek from Indiana to Wyoming every summer to visit my sister. Knowing we’d be having lots of people at our house, we opted not to this year. Once we got home from the reunion, we looked around our old house through the eyes of future visitors.

Hmmm. Not good.

Projects we’d talked about completing for thirty years since we’d moved in, suddenly seemed important.

This needs to be done now!

Time to renovate!

What followed was an entire year of gutting a bathroom. Waiting for the plumber. Painting rooms. Waiting for the plumber. Stripping, staining and finishing two floors. Waiting for the plumber. And investing in a handmade bar for entertaining guests and new flooring in the kitchen.


Bathroom before-1


And waiting for the plumber.

My husband did a lot of the work, but didn’t have much free time due to his IT position at a local company. I write full time, but reasoned that I could push that aside for a little while as I worked on the house.

Did I say a little while? For months on end, I used a sledge hammer, screwdriver, paint brush, crow bar, and shop vac.

While I waited for the plumber.

Lots of smashed fingers, sore muscles, bruises and not a little bleeding later, we’d transformed five rooms into something we’d wanted for what seemed like forever.

The weekend finally came. Not everyone could make it, but we had a blast with twenty relatives on Friday night and Saturday until that evening. So, while we didn’t get to travel, the ones who attended reunion did.

And like everything we anticipate and strive for, the weekend flew by. The following day, we were worn out. And amazed that something we’d planned for and talked about for twelve months was over.

Even though it took longer, cost more, and was more challenging than we’d ever thought, my husband and I were thrilled with the fun we’d had with my family. But we’re kind of glad the manual labor is over so we can enjoy the renovations.

And not have to wait for the plumber.

Bathroom after-1


Never Enough Time to Explore

by Barbara Bettis

Like many people, I love to travel, although I don’t get to do it often enough. But one of my favorite trips a few years ago was to Scotland with overnights in London, coming and going. Our small tour group of five, including me, traveled by rail and did a lot of walking. The rail service is wonderful, but a little confusing for a first-timer. Fortunately. our leaders had visited Scotland many times and everything went smoothly.


newbattle abbey-1

Our base camp was Newbattle Abbey, a short distance from Edinburgh. It is absolutely beautiful. The abbey itself is breathtaking, but the grounds are even more magical. I loved roaming among the ancient trees, manicured gardens, and even a small cave across a tiny brook where the monks once kept things cool.

Unfortunately my own photos didn’t do it justice, so I’ve included a couple from the abbey’s website. If you’re planning a trip, I highly recommend it, if not for overnighting, at least for visiting. One of the attendants kindly showed me the only remaining part of the original structure, lengths of stone that are now parts of the flooring. Oh, and the abbey is not too far from Rosslyn Chapel and Rosslyn Castle.

newbattle abbey-crypt



I found everything on that first trip endlessly fascinating. It goes without saying that high on the list of fascinations were the castles. Of course, Edinburgh and Stirling castles with their history and treasures were great, but Linlithgow really caught my fancy. Although it fell victim to a fire in 1746 and is roofless, the rooms remain and tours are conducted. The Palace was the birthplace of James V and Mary Queen of Scots.

On that trip, we were able to see a variety of sights (and sites), but I long to return on my own, to explore to my heart’s content and take in more of the beautiful old castles. The list of must-sees is so long, I may be there for weeks on end.

The next journey, however, will be a longer one to England. All my medieval books are set around Nottingham, so I definitely want to tour that area. And in the interest of research, I must investigate the oldest inns in that city—apparently there are three which vye for that title: Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, Ye Olde Salutation Inn, and the Bell Inn.


Basically, though, I just want to explore and explore… And I welcome any suggestions on places to visit there!



The Magical Art of World-Building


“World-building”. To a writer, the very word conjures up excitement and anticipation, the opportunity to let the imagination soar into fresh skies, plunge into original environments, create a world that is absolutely unique—or only a little bit original—from our own. In world-building, one must “step outside the box”, think along paths that are strange. It’s a chance to stave off becoming stale in our writing by engaging in a mind-stretching adventure with all artistic weapons at the ready.

In meeting this challenge with my next novel, Winds of Carthanna, a low-fantasy medieval romance, I’ve discovered building even a slightly different medieval world is both fun and amazingly difficult. I want a novel world (the low-fantasy part), but in a setting that feels so familiar my readers will be at home there. Yet the effort required to step into the future or a place that doesn’t exist is truly daunting. It sounds simple. Just think up something new and write it, but the first thing one learns in world-building is that a new world means new laws by which that world must operate.

If one introduces what seems even a minor alternation, such as the sky will be amethyst instead of blue, it must be believable. Why is it amethyst? Although this information would never get into the story unless, e.g., the people of the world can control the weather, the author still must gain an idea behind what causes the change. (Magic? Thought control? Advanced technology? Unique cosmic circumstances?) But it ripples out from there. Each of those creates its own set of ever-expanding variations to real life, not to mention that a different color of sky will probably mean different vegetation, possibly differing climatic conditions. The people who inhabit the world may see a dissimilar visible color spectrum, or even hues unique to our real world – and that’s only the beginning. One question leads to ten others, which lead to… well, you get the idea. If one initiates a major innovation like some form of magic or an original race of beings, not thinking through the rules governing this alteration can lead to painting oneself into a corner very quickly — and then having to figure out how to write one’s way out.

What might seem a tiny bump along this road can become a pitfall (it required over an hour of work and uncounted permutations of a known word to generate a brand new word to describe my hero. In the process, I learned how much care an author must take when I discovered that the made-up word I liked the best turned out to be a real word that had a rather unfortunate definition in another language. Eek!)

It’s even difficult to decide how to describe my setting in world-building terms beyond “low-fantasy historical romance”. A “mirror” earth in a parallel universe? An alternate reality? Yet that shoves hard against sci-fi boundaries, and I want the fantasy kingdom I’m building to feel like it belongs to a distant time on our earth. After all, I want my knights to ride horses, but realistically, how many other worlds possess equine transportation? Yet my research indicates a fantasy kingdom within our world must have an explanation of how it can exist all unknown to us. So far, I can’t think of one that hasn’t already been dreamed up.

You might ask, is it worth it? Oh, yes.

Aye, it’s a challenge. I’ve got a list of about 150 questions to answer about my imaginary kingdom. Some are easy. Others are not. Aye, it means way more time and effort than normal research. But oh, it’s fun! It’s also invigorating to the creative process. When I return to the last two books in the Ballads of the Roses, I’ll be ready to tackle those stories with mind and heart refreshed.