Simple Pleasures — Coffee with a splash of nature

When I first read romance author Trish Milburn’s post about her effort to gather authors together in a group (Upbeat Authors) to write positive upbeat posts, I hesitated to join. What could I possibly offer that would be inspirational to others? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that’s exactly what this project is for—turning negative thoughts to positive, turning my negative thoughts to positive.

I signed on, and thus I write my first post, about a simple pleasure I might enjoy, Trish’s topic for this week.

Weather permitting, I enjoy taking my morning cup of coffee out to the screened porch and letting nature start my day without the hassle of having to travel to a nature trail.

I first began doing this in Florida many years ago when my mother was ill in a nearby hospital. I stayed at her condo so I could bring her the things she wanted while she was hospitalized. But, during those two weeks as the inevitable revealed itself, and the four weeks afterwards, returning to her condo became emotionally difficult. I hated it, dreaded every moment of returning to the place where there was so much of her.

But I soon discovered she liked to take her coffee out on her screened balcony. She never told me about her habit, but I figured it out from the existence of certain items on the tiny patio table next to the most comfortable chair on the balcony. Shaded by a huge tree, her second floor condo location put her balcony just about in the tree. It was a tree house with a screen.

So, one morning, I took a cup of coffee out there, and I sat in her chair and listened to the birds, and the rustle of the wind through the leaves, and the rattle of the flapping palm leaves. And I closed my eyes and let my mind wander, and the quiet soothed my hurting soul and gave me the strength to do what I needed to do as my mother’s eldest child.

Nearly twenty years have passed since her death, and to this day I still enjoy taking my morning cup of coffee out to the screened porch at home. And as I rock softly in an outdoor chair, I enjoy the warmth of the eastern sun on my face, the birds calling to each other in the trees, the soft rustle of the wind through the leaves, and the incessant chattering of an army of squirrels.

Oh, I can still hear traffic from the nearby four-lane highway, and the whir of lawn mowers down the fairway a piece, and the occasional beeping of a truck backing up, but I tune these out and concentrate on the nature part, on the quiet and not so quiet of God’s creations. I can then start my day feeling the calm and the peace I’m so lucky to have surround me. #upbeatauthors

For more information on Trish’s post –…/

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A Rose by any . . . .

What does an historical romance novel and an upcoming super delegation visit to Cuba have in common?

The title, To Cuba With Love.

Or it did until I changed the book title last year from To Cuba With Love to The Captain’s Temptress in order to more clearly target historical romance readers.

Yesterday, I discovered that the activist group Codepink will be hosting a delegation of 150 people to Cuba in a venture called To Cuba With Love to mark the easing of travel restrictions between the U.S. and the island nation.

TCT WEB PROMO smallThe Captain’s Temptress is a steamy, swashbuckler sea adventure set amid the life and death perils of the approaching Spanish-American War which freed Cuba from Spanish control. Samantha Ethridge, an adventurous lady reporter, talks her way onto a ship of gunrunners bound for Cuba, and proves to be more than a mere opportunistic reporter to Captain Sean Nolan—perhaps even a first mate.

If you’re interested in an historical romance set in this period of Cuban/American history, The Captain’s Temptress, is available at:

Barnes & Noble,

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Cuba and The Captain’s Temptress

The President gave me a huge Christmas present by normalizing a relationship with Cuba and bringing that country into the media lime light. My book, The Captain’s Temptress, was originally released under the title of To Cuba With Love. It’s an action adventure historical romance set in 1895 just prior to the Spanish-American War in which Cuba won its independence from Spain.

Havana homes

Many of Havana’s homes and apartment buildings are painted in colorful hues.

Did I know the U.S. would change its more than fifty year relationship with Cuba when I wrote the book? I had an inkling based upon my research of current public opinion on the subject, but never in my wildest dreams thought it would happen so soon.

When my characters Samantha Ethridge and Sean Nolan sailed to Cuba from Fernandina, Florida in 1895, Sean had agreed to carry guns and ammunition to Cuban freedom fighters aboard his family’s steam yacht in a lucrative contract he desperately needed. Samantha, discovering the clandestine plot, maneuvered her way aboard ship to interview the fighters and write news stories on their efforts. Along the way these two headstrong people find they can’t keep their hands off each other, and ultimately fall in love.

Cuba and Florida proximity

Cuba is only sixty miles off the coast of Florida.

Though The Captain’s Temptress is first a romance story, it depicts a stormy period in Cuba’s long fight for independence and America’s relationship with the island nation.

After the U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, the U.S. declared war against Spain. Fought on two fronts, Cuba and in the Pacific, the Spanish-American War resulted in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines changing hands, the latter declaring itself an independent country a month later. Cuba remained an independent country despite the opinion of some in the U.S. at the time that it should also be annexed.

Although one of our country’s shortest—four months—and most forgotten wars, historians agree the Spanish-American War highlighted America’s emergence as a dominant world power on the heels of the industrial revolution. Fueled in part by the sensationalism (“yellow” journalism) of newspaper reports, the war also spotlighted the emerging role of the media in shaping public opinion.

If you’re interested in an historical romance set in this period of Cuban/American history, The Captain’s Temptress, is available at:

Barnes & Noble,

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Potato curls and other good stuff

potatoThis morning I’m looking at my list of blog subjects for something that strikes my fancy on this gloomy day, and find this one—how to peel a potato in one long curl.

Don’t laugh. I put this in my book, The Captain’s Temptress (formerly To Cuba With Love).

My heroine, Samantha Ethridge, is mad at the hero, Sean Nolan, and she’s in the ship’s galley, peeling potatoes with the ship’s cook. She peels her potato with a paring knife so that the skin comes off in one long strip. Now that’s hard, but Samantha is so clever with the knife she’s daydreaming that she’s peeling Sean’s scalp away with each twist of the vegetable in her hand.

You’re laughing. But I really did write it that way. Peeling a potato in one long curl is an art. I even wrote that the cook complimented her on her manual dexterity.

So I decide to write about potato curls—how to make ‘em, what to do with ‘em, etc., etc. I know I’ve seen this done before, but I’ve never done it myself. Too impatient. But I’d like to write about it. Maybe even learn the art, now that I’m older and have infinitely more patience to, you know, learn things to wow my grandsons with my cleverness. (After all, I was the one who taught them how to make perfect holes in their salami slices without ripping the sides!)

But first I have to find out how to do it—how to hold the knife, exactly where to start, how wide to make the strip, how to hold the potato, etc., etc. I wrack my brain. Where have I seen it done? Maybe a movie, or tv. I don’t remember.

So I go to Google, the place where all interesting (and time sucky) searches begin, and type in “how to make potato peel curls.” Up pops some interesting recipes I might try someday, and everything I’ve ever wanted to know about peeling potatoes.

The modern way.

For that I could have asked my daughter, the chef. But she’s too busy running her restaurant and I don’t want to bother her anyway.

I go back to the Google list. I find two youtube videos describing a method of peeling potatoes I’d never heard of before. Both showed scoring a ring around the potato skin with a knife, boiling the potato, dunking it in ice water for 10 seconds, then gently working off the two halves of skin with your fingers. Clever! I’ll try that the next time I make mashed potatoes or potato salad.

But those videos show nothing that remotely looks like peeling skin off a potato in one long curl.

A demonstration video from Rada Cutlery shows me how to use their paring knife to cut slices of peel off the potato lengthwise, but nothing about cutting skin off of a potato in one long curl. Close, but no cigar.

A website tells me five things I can do with a potato peeler—shave chocolate, peel fruit, shave Parmesan, thinly slice vegetables, and peel other vegetables. But not how to peel a potato in one curled piece.

Then I find it. The 21st Century version of the ancient art of potato peeling—a machine that does it for you. The darn thing looks like an apple peeler/corer. In fact, it is. It does both. Peels both potatoes and apples, and cuts and cores them.

Cool. Only it’s a machine. Not that they didn’t have potato and apple peeler gizmos in the 1890s when my story takes place. They were probably the ones with a crank handle you find in the Country Store catalogs. You know, the ones that clamp on the underside of the counter or table. I think I had one of those myself when we had apple trees in our yard and I baked apple pies every few days from August through November.

But I digress.

Well, the long and the short of it is, after spending much too long looking for something that doesn’t want to be found, I’ve wiped my hands of preserving the historic art form of using a simple paring knife and setting it to potato in gentle, measured strokes. Such unique and entertaining kitchen endeavors shall remained consigned to the imaginations of those of us who write historical novels. And remember seeing demonstrations of how to do this, but not remembering where.

Samantha Ethridge, may your delicate kitchen talent live on in The Captain’s Temptress.

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Is “yellow journalism” dead?

YELLOW JOURNALISM, the scourge of the late 19th century American press, is alive and well in the 21st century, thanks to modern media and 24-hour news coverage.

What is “yellow journalism,” you might ask? The Oxford dictionary defines it as “journalism that is based upon sensationalism and crude exaggeration.”

Wikipedia explains it this way: “Yellow journalism, or the yellow press, is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news, and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism. By extension, the term yellow journalism is used today as a pejorative to decry any journalism that treats news in an unprofessional or unethical fashion.”

As I said, yellow journalism is alive and well in the 21st century.

ORIGINALLY COINED for newspaper activity in the period leading up to the Spanish-American War—the era of my newly released book The Captain’s Temptress  (formerly To Cuba With Love)—the topic of yellow journalism seemed a natural choice for a blog post.

Yellow journalism influenced the actions of my heroine, Samantha Ethridge, a society reporter who wanted to become a news reporter. Among other reasons for blackmailing her way aboard a ship carrying contraband weapons to Cuba, Samantha wanted to see for herself what was happening in that country and write the truth.

Yellow Journalism headlines of the New York Journal encouraging war on Spain over the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor, Cuba. Scientists have proven the explosion was an accident. (A Wikipedia photo)

BUT THE MORE I thought about what I wanted to say in this blog, the more furious I became.

You see, I am a journalist. I belong to the profession I’m now standing on a soapbox about to preach against. I earned my Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, one of the toughest and finest schools of journalism in the country. I’m proud of that. I worked hard for my education, and spent the better part of a thirty-five-year career as a journalist, adhering to all of the tenets of fair and honest reporting I was taught.

But I think the teachers of my journalism ethics class would roll over in their graves to learn that what passes as news reporting today is considered nothing but muck-racking by many old-school journalists like myself.

It used to be that when a newsworthy event occurred, there was the initial story, then a second day story, and possibly a third day story if the event was still unfolding. And then the story would disappear, or be buried on page 20, or dropped to the status of a one or two inch mention in a side column for follow-ups.

TODAY, YOU HEAR about it ad nauseam from this angle and from that angle, by this analyst and the guy or gal who thinks he or she is an analyst. The story is repeated every hour by newscasters who never fail to interject their opinion through words, voice inflection, facial expressions and the very nature of how a question is asked.

A journalist is supposed to be impartial, supposed to deliver the news without anyone having the slightest inkling of the reporter’s own opinion. Neutral. Back in the day, when I wanted to interject my opinion, I wrote an editorial for the editorial review board, or an analysis clearly marked analysis, or an opinion piece clearly marked opinion.

Today reporters are often asked for their opinion in the middle of presenting a factual report, and are more than willing to give it in the guise of unbiased reporting. Yesterday I heard a news reporter on a 24-hour-news channel, which shall remain nameless, flat out state that the mayor of Toronto is addicted and should take time out to get himself sober. It was her opinion, stated clearly after giving us a factual update on what had happened to the mayor that day.

AND THE LINE is blurring between factual reporting and the dissemination of rumor and innuendo. It used to be that if you couldn’t confirm a fact by at least two or more people, you left it out. “When in doubt, leave it out” was the mantra.

Today, it’s okay to say, “we have an unconfirmed report that . . .” Never mind that whatever is reported could ruin the life or the livelihood of an innocent person. Never mind that the rumor could be unsubstantiated gossip by a person bent on maligning someone else.

The public has a right to know, after all.

Well, in my opinion—and it is my opinion I’m stating here—the public doesn’t have a right to know something that might possibly not be true. That’s wrong, morally wrong. And the public doesn’t need to have stories, that twenty years ago would have been non-stories, rehashed, blown up into circus proportions, ground-up and spit out with every reporter’s opinions and spins plastered to it.

What happened to the mandatory journalism ethics class in those so-called “communications/journalism” schools of today? Gone, I’m afraid. Out the door in a budget cut. Or reclassified as an elective. Or worse, deemed irrelevant.

I COULD WAX on about the current state of journalism, but I won’t. Suffice it to say yellow journalism of the 1890s started a war—the Spanish-American War, and yellow journalism of the 21st century started the Iraqi War.

Spin. Gossip. Innuendo. Untruths and lies. They are all alive and doing as well today as they did in the 1880s and 1890s.

I’m so glad I’m writing historical romance novels.

What do you think?

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Mansion yachts: big boy’s toys

BOYS WILL HAVE their toys, and the boys of the Gilded Age were no different. Only, their toys were behemoths, and cost a small fortune.

The captains of America’s Industrial Age poured as much money into their toys as they did into their “castles.” No one single toy exemplified the era’s “keeping up with the Jones'” spirit of ostentation than their yachts. In this, as in their homes, bigger was better.

Not much is known about these giant “floating mansions.” The family pictures of outings and excursions of the most notable Gilded Age capitalists are just now seeing their way into archival libraries, where they are being made available to experts and authors for research.

Ross MacTaggart, author of The Golden Century – Classic Motor Yachts, 1880-1930, and Millionaires, Mansions and Motor Yachts – An Era of Opulence, is one such expert. Both of these volumes, classic coffee table picture books with researched commentary, provide an insight into the world of lavish lifestyles of the late Victorian era.

Built for ocean going excursions to Europe and other continents, as well as coastal entertainment jaunts,  these vessels contained all the luxuries of home—a very rich man’s home. Ice rooms, hot and cold running water, tiled baths and mahogany paneling, soft, sumptuous upholstered furniture, and electric lights were commonplace. After all, these families wouldn’t think of going abroad on a scheduled steamer of the day.

Jay Gould's Atalanta

Jay Gould’s Atalanta (Library of Congress photo)

One of the most famous ships, and most opulent, was the Atalanta, owned by Jay Gould, rail and Western Union magnate. Built in 1883, the 235-foot, 3-masted steam yacht boasted a crew of 52, including three cooks and six servants. MacTaggart writes, “Blessed with a long life, Atalanta was eventually sold to the Venezuelan Navy until dropped from Jane’s (Fighting Ships reference book) in 1950, ancient at sixty-seven.”

Many of these super yachts of the era ended up as war vessels for the U.S. during the Spanish-American War and WWI, or sold as warships to other countries.

In 1886, the even longer 285-foot luxury steam yacht Alva was launched. Owned by Alva and William K. Vanderbilt, grandson of transportation tycoon Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the original Alva outstripped Gould’s Atalanta, J.P. Morgan’s Corsair II (233 feet), and William Astor’s Nourmahal (233 feet), according to Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, author of Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Mother and a Daughter in the Gilded Age.

William K. Vanderbilt's Alva  (Library of Congress photo)

William K. Vanderbilt’s Alva (Library of Congress photo)

The yacht had “a piano, a library with a fireplace, seven guestrooms and a 10-room suite for the Vanderbilts,” and quarters for a crew of fifty three. In 1892, the yacht sank in a collision off the coast of Massachusetts on the way from Bar Harbor, Maine to Newport, Rhode Island.

I’ve often wondered what taking an ocean voyage on one of these ships might have been like. Oh, I’ve cruised before, but cruise ships are nothing like these private luxury yachts.

Unfortunately, my own boating experience is limited to small outboard motor boats of childhood fishing trips, a few fishing excursions on Lake Michigan, and an occasional Sunday afternoon trip off Chicago’s lake shore aboard the single-masted sailboat of a friend.

Despite the ups and downs of the economy over the years, the luxury yacht business is alive and well today among the nation’s wealthy. One summer, while ending a Sunday afternoon sail, we discovered the luxury yacht of Wayne Huizenga, founder of Waste Management and Blockbuster, taking up the entire main dock of the Chicago Yacht Club. And last winter, my husband and I had a bird’s eye view of many other luxury yachts making their way through the channel between Palm Beach Island and Singer Island.

Sailing in one of the Gilded Age’s “floating mansions” is a major part of my new book, The Captain’s Temptress set in 1895. My hero, Sean Nolan, is the wealthy heir to a shipping empire, which is about to collapse financially. He accepts a lucrative, but illegal, contract to bring guns and other war contraband to Cuba aboard the family’s yacht, the Raven, in exchange for cash.

James Gordon Bennett's Namouna

James Gordon Bennett’s Namouna

I’ve based the Raven, loosely on the Namouna, a 227- foot steam yacht owned by James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald, and son of the newspaper’s founder, James Gordon Bennett, Sr. Gordon Bennett, as James Gordon Bennett, Jr. called himself to avoid confusion, lived in France and used the posh Namouna for entertaining in European waters. The ship was sold in 1900 to the Columbian Navy and replaced by an even larger yacht.

Since there were few descriptions of the Namoura’s interior beyond line drawings, I drew inspiration from the photos of other ships in MacTaggart’s books, and the descriptions of the Raven in my book are the result.

For more information about The Captain’s Temptress a steamy historical romance novel available now on Amazon, click here.

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Fernandina: A Victorian town

TAKE A WALK in Fernandina on Florida’s Amelia Island, and you’d swear you were back in the 19th century.

Located on Florida’s northernmost barrier island fifty miles from the Georgia border, Fernandina at one time was called the “Queen of the Summer Resorts.” Wealthy residents of New York and other East Coast cities flocked to the island to enjoy its ocean breezes and leisurely southern lifestyle.

Once the East Coast’s southernmost deep water seaport, the island relied upon shipping, shrimping and tourism to shape its economy after the Civil War. The Mallory Steamship line and the train brought thousands of northerners from New York to enjoy the Florida climate.

The building boom that followed the prosperity of the Gilded Age, attracted the scions of industry like the Vanderbilts, the DuPonts and the Carnegies, who often arrived aboard their own floating mansion yachts. Many of these wealthy families built elegant homes here.

The Bailey House

OVER THE YEARS, as other seaports developed along Florida’s coasts, and Henry Flagler’s train extended southward, the economy of the island faltered. It became the land developers bypassed, leaving a wealth of preserved houses and buildings that foster the tourism industry of today.

Modern transportation didn’t intrude upon the island until 1948, when a wooden bridge was constructed at the south end of the island linking it to Rt. A1A, a roadway running along Florida’s coast with few interruptions. In 1978 a concrete bridge at the northern end of the island was constructed to provide easy access from I-95. In 1999, the 50-year-old bridge at the south end was replaced with a safer, concrete structure.

On any street in Fernandina today, you’ll find rambling Victorian homes, wide verandas, lovely gardens and moss-draped live oaks  that form the basis of a grand historic district of 50 blocks, replete with 400 National Register historic buildings.

My husband and I discovered the island about fifteen years and we’ve been “snowbirding” here during the winter ever since. Each time we drive across the main bridge to the small 13-mile-long island, we feel as though we’ve entered another era of America’s history.

DURING THE GOLDEN AGE of Amelia Island, 1870 to 1910, many of the country’s wealthy built elegant Victorian houses here. We delight in bringing our guests to view the many grand old Queen Annes, charming Victorian cottages, bungalows and other Victorian houses found all over Fernandina, some still owned by descendants of the sea captains, merchants and businessmen who built them.

Many more of these lovely old Victorians are now bread and breakfast inns, their many historic rooms painstakingly restored to their original beauty by their owner-innkeepers.

It seemed natural for me to want to set an historical romance novel on this beautiful island setting. After some research in the Amelia Island Historical Museum library, a germ of an idea grew and flourished. The result is The Captain’s Temptress, a steamy swashbuckler action adventure romance, which opens in Fernandina among the fabulously wealthy who might have been among its seasonal residents in 1895.

SEAN NOLAN, the son and heir to the shipping empire of a Boston Beacon Hill family, has taken his parents to their winter home on the island aboard the family schooner steam yacht, the Raven. A 230 foot, 3-masted vessel, the ship would have easily melded into the milieu of huge yachts of the day found at the wharf or anchored out in the Amelia River or Cumberland Sound. With the telegraph in place, it wasn’t that difficult to operate a shipping empire from Fernandina for a few short weeks.

It is here in his father’s study, Sean learns of the financial crises facing his family’s 100-year-old business, forcing him to accept a lucrative, but illegal, contract to deliver war materials to freedom fighters in Cuba. Complicating his perilous journey is the appearance of Samantha Ethridge, a newspaper reporter, who overhears his illicit contract negotiations, and blackmails her way onto his ship.

While the larger part of this dangerous journey takes place at sea and in Cuba, the beginning chapters are grounded in Fernandina’s history and the lifestyle of those who might have lived here at the time.

The Fairbanks House

For the Nolan home, I chose the Fairbanks House, originally owned by George Rainsford Fairbanks, editor of the Florida Mirror, in Fernandina. Oddly enough, Samantha Ethridge is the daughter of the editor of the Fernandina Sun in my book. Though I’ve never been in the Fairbanks House, my descriptions are based on what I imagined the house might have looked like, and not upon actual fact.

The Captain’s Temptress is currently available for the Kindle and Nook and will be available in print soon. Click here for more information.

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