Things That Go Bump in the Night–Welcome to My Halloween

by Jenna Jaxon

Halloween is my very favorite time of year! I’m brimming with excitement right now, with the big day only five days away. At my house, we have always gone all out, although I’ll admit we were better about it when my girls were younger.

The big thing then was our Halloween party. I started a day or two in advance and made all these elaborate treats: Peanut butter cookie broomsticks, monster teeth (apples with candy corn and peanut butter), scary eyeballs (donut holes with M & Ms), mummy hot dogs, worms in dirt (chocolate pudding, ground up Oreos, gummy worms), and a gruesome green witch’s brew (lime sherbet with ginger ale). I just loved all the different ideas for the foods.



We also decorate outside the house and have everything from a stand-up witch, to a flying ghoul, tombstones (one of which laughs maniacally), paintings that change from people to corpses, spider webs with huge spiders. The list goes on.

Yeah, we do Halloween up right!

My eldest daughter and I just finished putting together our treat bags for this year. I’ve found treat bags easier in the long run to loose candy. This year we’re giving out treat bags with both hard candy and chocolate plus a bag of Halloween cheese curls. We used to give out Halloween popcorn mini-bags but I haven’t been able to find those in recent years. 😦



This weekend we’re making our trip to the pumpkin patch and will have a carving marathon. Each of the four of us gets a pumpkin to carve, although my daughter who’s at school out of state has hers carved for her but has to send her own design to us. I save all the seeds and toast them to make a great snack to eat while awaiting the Trick or Treaters.


This weekend we’re also going to Busch Gardens’ Howl-O-Scream. Not that I like to get scared. I actually go for the shows—particularly Monster Stomp at Ripper Row, the best show in the park. It’s Jack the Ripper themed (one of my pet interests) and it has fantastic props and costumes along with some good actors. If you’re in the area (Williamsburg, VA) I suggest going this weekend, your last chance for the fright of your life!Monster-Stomp1-550x350

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


Traveling on Silver Penny

By Ella Quinn

Ella Quinn 1Living on a sailboat was our retirement dream. And for the past three years my husband and I have lived on the sailing boat Silver Penny. We’ve traveled a lot. In many ways sailing today is like it was during the Regency, 200 years ago. The sailing routes we take having changed in hundreds of years.

Twice every year, we made off-shore passages either from the US, generally starting in Hampton, Virginia with the Salty Dawg Rally to the British Virgin Islands. Passages from north to south always (if one is smart) take place after November 1st until early winter. Then we made the passage back north again in April or May. Those trips usually lasted about eight days.

Ella-4-Pantry 2 March 15

Last year we decided to cross the Atlantic. The preparations took several months and a lot of research. Again, we decided to go with a rally. For those of you who are envisioning a group of boats sailing together, banish it from your minds. We may all start out together but within a day or two, other than the twice daily radio check-ins, you’re out there pretty much by yourself. Transatlantic crossings from west to east always take place between the middle of May to the middle of June. Why? That’s when the fewest people die. Before the middle of May one is still subject to storms out of the north. After the middle of June, hurricane season begins.

Provisioning (planning food and meals for everyone onboard for a month) was one of the most challenging parts of preparations. I had to make sure we had nutritious meals and snacks that weren’t boring. There is no running to the store in the middle of the ocean.Ella Quinn 2-Hampton to STT 2

Believe it or not, the actual passage is pretty unexciting, which is exactly what you want. Although, there are always those days when the winds kick up, and your sails are reefed (reducing the amount of sail you have up) or your weather router tells you to get south fast because there is a low coming. Some days you have very little wind at all. That’s the perfect time to clean the boat, enjoy the sun, and cook something more interesting.

Ella-5-Rough Seas 2

Depending on the boat and winds, the crossing will generally take between 10-16 days. We made it in fourteen. Other boats who decided to brave the 45 knot winds made in ten. The fun part was reaching the Azores and meeting up with the boats already there and greeting the incoming boats.

Ella -3-_HamptontoSTT4

Do you plan on traveling when you retire?

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On Taking A Writing Hiatus

 by Mairi Norris

Authors love to write.

One might think this goes without saying, and one would be correct. We write because we love it, because we need to write. From the romantic viewpoint, our souls starve without indulging in the creativity of transcribing the stories in our hearts onto the printed or digital page. On the practical side, it’s also drummed into us that the more books we write (and the faster), the better.

Why then would an author take a five month break from the craft they love so much? There are many reasons, but I took mine simply because I needed it and because my next book is a low-fantasy medieval romance requiring months of world-building. During that time, while my ‘creative juices’ quietly worked their way through everything from names and personalities for the characters to the new world’s science, technology, foods, morals, social structure, etc., my husband and I took some ‘time off’ and I worked to finish a major personal project.

 While we could not at this time take a true ‘vacation’, we did visit some nearby places we’d not been to before. These included Bacon’s Castle, a 17th c. plantation house associated with the rebellion of the patriot Nathanial Bacon, and the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond. These gardens are a place of utter magic. The Victorian style, domed glass conservatory enchanted me, especially the ‘butterfly house’ section. We bought lifetime membership and plan to make seasonal visits whenever possible.



The major project I worked on was part of my hobby, dollhouse miniatures, and encompassed the creation of a large antique mall in 1/12 scale [1”=1’] I’ve named Bygone Elegance. I’ve now completed most of the construction and interior decorating of the store. Filling it with miniature ‘antiques’ comes next – but not until after I finish my next book.


Yes, the hiatus from writing was needful and refreshed mind, soul, and spirit. Now I am excited and ‘champing at the bit’ to return to writing and the enjoyment of creating a new medieval fantasy world – but for those of you who love ‘real world’ medieval, don’t worry. The world I’m building won’t be all that different from our real world in the 16th century. If all goes well, the book will be ready for a Christmas release.

 So, if your favorite writer drops off the scene for a while, consider he or she might be indulging in a  rest from creating. Eventually, the need comes to all of us, but it usually results in even better stories for our readers.








Step Back in Time: Costumes and Biltmore Estate

by Katherine Bone

biltmore estateIn April of this year, I had the opportunity to visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, built between 1889 and 1895. George Washington Vanderbilt II brought his wife Edith to the 12,000 square foot palatial luxurious mansion-like castle, situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains, shortly after their marriage, and it is still owned by Vanderbilt’s descendants today. The sprawling grounds cover 8,000 acres, sure to rival any working European estate. Built in the Châteauesque style, the Biltmore is one of the most sought after romantic getaways in the southern US. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, and the home’s décor is arranged the way it would have been in George and Edith Vanderbilt’s day.

The particular day I visited Vanderbilt’s architectural masterpiece, I had the opportunity to experience the Historical Costume Exhibit. The exhibit consisted of clothes from historical films like Sense & Sensibility, Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice, Sleepy Hollow, The

kathy bone-Mr. Darcy's and Elizabeth's costumes in Pride & Prejudice

Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s outfits from                Pride and Prejudice                          


Golden Bowl, The House of Mirth, The Portrait of a Lady, Anna Karenina, Finding Neverland, Twelfth Night, Far from the Madding Crowd, and Sherlock Holmes, a Game of Shadows. I wasn’t disappointed. Being able to see the costumes up close filled me with a sense of wonder and awe. The detailed stitching made me appreciate the hours of artistry that went into creating each of the garments.

Another reason for visiting the Biltmore Estate was to stroll through its formal and informal gardens. The American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed the lush and large gardens that transport visitors to Tuscany. On the grounds, people can relax beneath old and twisted wisteria vines or appraise 250 varieties of roses planted in symmetrical patterns. If you’re a hiker, you can trek through 2.5 miles of lush forests, open meadows, and manicured gardens around the manse.  

kathy bone--Mia Wasikowska's costume from Jane Eyre

Mia Wasikowska’s gown from Jane Eyre


If you need sustenance, there are restaurants too. Need a shot of something more bracing? How about sampling vintage wines at the Biltmore Winery while observing spectacular autumn foliage? I got to taste up to ten wines, some new to me and discovered I love a red wine called Malbec.

It’s safe to say anyone who goes to the Biltmore Estate will find something to do and enjoy there. The Historical Costume Exhibit made my trip exceptional. And the icing on the cake was I got to experience it with several other historical romance authors too. We all felt as if we’d stepped back in time to witness how our characters might have lived when life was simpler and attention was paid to detail.


Kathy bone--The Biltmore Winery

from left: Samantha Kane, Katherine Bone, Ava Stone, Julie Johnstone


For more information or to arrange your romantic tour of the Biltmore Estate, click here.

If you’d like to see more photographs of the costumes I saw at the Biltmore Estate, you can find them on my Instagram page here.

Here are a few more costumes.

kathy bone--Emma Thompson's costume in Sense & Sensibility

Emma Thompson’s gown from                  Sense and Sensibility                          

kathy bone--Nicole Kidman's costume from The Portrait of a Lady

Nicole Kidman’s gown from                  The Portrait of a Lady              

kathy bone--Johnny Depp's costume in Sleepy Hollow

Johnny Depp’s costumes from                    Sleepy Hollow