Hawthorn trees are among the most magical in European folklore – and also the most conflicting. Good luck or bad luck? Friend or foe? It depends on who you ask and when. But they’re gorgeous trees either way, with their pink or white blossoms and their trunks that get furrowed and gnarled with age. The most famous hawthorn is probably the Glastonbury Thorn at Glastonbury Abbey. It is said to have sprung from Joseph of Arimethea’s staff when he arrived there bearing the Holy Grail. Interestingly, the Glastonbury Thorn (or its current descendants) blooms twice a year – once in spring, like most hawthorns, and once at Christmas.
Hawthorn trees were supposed to be particular favorites of the Fair Folk, often guarding the entryways into Elfland as well as ancient holy wells. For this reason, it’s bad luck to cut them down. There are roads in the British Isles that were redirected to go around old hawthorn trees, and some buildings there are said to be cursed because a hawthorn was removed to make way for the building. The Fay are very jealous of their trees.
On the other hand, it was traditional to cut branches of blooming hawthorn for May Day celebrations. So, perhaps this is the one time it’s permissible to disturb the tree? Maybe it allows the Fay to join the celebrations. One should never bring the hawthorn branches or flowers inside, though. That might invite the Fair Folk’s attention (Branches from the Glastonbury Thorn supposedly decorate the queen’s table at Christmas, but maybe she gets a special dispensation).
Some people felt it was good luck to have a hawthorn growing near (but not too near) their house, while others didn’t want the Fair Folk that close. If you decide to plant a hawthorn, it’s a hardy tree with spring flowers, an informal growth habit, and tiny red fruit in the fall-winter (edible in most species but not tasty). Paul’s Scarlet, the one in these pictures, was discovered in the mid-1800s and has double pink flowers (wild European hawthorns, including the Glastonbury Thorn, are usually white), but it often loses its leaves early in the summer. Crimson Cloud is a pink-flowered European hawthorn that keeps its leaves until fall, and American hawthorns or maythorns also make nice yard trees. I haven’t found any stories associating American hawthorns with the Fair Folk, and I guess you can decide if that’s a pro or a con.
I’ve been working on this project for a long time, and I’m excited that it’s finally in the world. I love history, and I love real-life mysteries, so I’ve combined them in a book for ages 10 and up. It’s appropriate for tweens, but my adult readers have enjoyed it as well. Lost treasures, missing people, unsolved murders, and a ghost story that people swear is true, plus lots of lesser-known historical stories from the Old West.
It’s been just over two years since the pandemic shut down our lives and caused all of us some level of trauma. I went into 2020 working on a series of books set in WWI, which is a time period I find very interesting, but as school moved online, lockdowns disrupted our plans, and stores ran out of toilet paper, I developed a case of brain fog. I wanted to write with the “extra” time the lockdowns gave us (haha, all of us who have kids in school know it wasn’t extra time at all), but WWI felt too heavy to deal with when life was presenting plenty of its own dark moments. (I was going to blog more, too, but a look at my blog history shows how well that went.) I had wanted for a while to write a Regency fantasy series with dragons, so The Dragons of Mayfair was born – much more lighthearted and, for me, a good escape from the dread of the daily news.
I’m excited now that the third book in the series is live. Though I wanted each book to have a self-contained arc (I dislike cliffhangers), there are some threads that ran through all three books and are tied up in this one. I hope to do a couple of spin-offs in the future, focused on side characters, but a Subtle Dragon wraps up the main series. And if you haven’t read book two, An Elusive Dragon, and want to catch up, it’s 99 cents this week on Kindle.
About the book:
It was a Tuesday the first time someone tried to kill Lady Amelia Chase.
Lady Amelia is resigned to enjoying one last London Season before her family declares her hopeless and banishes her to the countryside. She doesn’t expect to catch anyone’s attention—and especially not that of a masked man intent on killing her. Her unwelcome pursuer brings her attention of another sort from the sly and mysterious Earl of Blackerby. Lord Blackerby deals in secrets, and Amelia has a few of her own she’d rather not share. But she’ll have to decide whom she can trust because with the anti-magic Luddites plotting a bold gambit, the fate of England and its dragons hangs in the balance.
Find it on Amazon or request it at your local bookstore or library.
Guardianship has been in the news lately as singer Britney Spears successfully fought to be freed from hers. The term “ward” wasn’t used to describe her, but that’s essentially what she was. I think before Britney Spears, the most famous ward was probably Maid Marian, sometimes said to be the ward of King Richard and/or Prince John in the Robin Hood stories. So, if the term “ward” makes you think of a singing animated fox in a pseudo-medieval gown (like it did for me), that’s not surprising, but it disguises a long and ugly history of wardships that continues today.
The medieval and Renaissance ward in England was a young nobleman or woman whose father had died before they reached their majority (21 for men, 14 for girls). Because the young person’s holdings reverted to the crown on their father’s death, the crown claimed guardianship of the ward and their holdings until they were old enough to take charge of it themselves (for men) or be married off (for girls). Generally, the crown didn’t really want to take care of all those children, so they would auction the kids off to the highest bidder – a guardian who benefitted from the lands of the ward and usually arranged the ward’s marriage to the advantage of the guardian (such as marrying them to a family member). Note that the mother or other family members might still be alive but would have to fight to be the guardian of the child and seldom succeeded. This was a financial arrangement for the crown and the best interest of the child rarely came into it. I found this both interesting and horrifying, and I wrote about it in Wishwood. This form of wardship was so frustrating to English noble families that it was one of the practices decried by insurgents in the British Civil Wars of the 1640s, and when the monarchy was restored after the war, medieval wardships were not.
Wardship in the English-speaking world didn’t end with the Restoration in 1660. There were and are situations where a person needs a guardian because their age or health makes them unable to care for themselves, either temporarily or permanently. Children might be wards of the court or wards of the state if their family is not able to care for them. Adults can also enter a guardianship or conservatorship if they are deemed unable to manage their own affairs (as Britney Spears was at the start). We would hope that, in our modern system, guardians are selected who care about their ward and that we’ve left the abuses of the past in the history books, though.
Sadly, this is not the case. In the US, guardianship rules vary by state, and some states make it VERY easy to put someone in a guardianship. As in, a practical stranger can have you declared incompetent and take over all of your financial affairs, up to and including putting you in a group home and selling your house and possessions to pay themselves for the trouble. In some states, there is a lucrative industry revolving around this practice and involving lawyers, judges, and long-term care facilities. Your family will have no say in the matter. And neither will you, because the horrifying part of guardianships is that the ward, being declared incompetent, essentially loses their personhood. They can’t go to court without the approval of their guardian who, obviously, is not going to let that happen. For a tale more terrifying than any ghost or horror story, read about how this has played out in Nevada (a state I would NOT recommend retiring to until they fix this!), then find out what the laws are in your state and if there is a way to protect yourself from this medieval practice that needs serious updating.
Caroling is a popular Christmastime activity in many parts of the world, harking back to the European wassailing tradition where people would go door to door singing in exchange for hot drinks (wassail) and food, especially during the Twelve Days of Christmas between Christmas and Twelfth Night (January 6th). But in Wales, the twist is that a horse skull called the Mari Lwyd may come with the singers – and challenge you to a rhyming contest. But don’t worry: If (when) you lose and the horse skull comes inside, it will bring you good luck for the New Year.
The origins of the Mari Lwyd (pronounced like “Merry Lew-id”) are obscure. Even the exact meaning of the name has been lost, but many people think it comes from “Grey Mare.” The Mari Lwyd could have its origins in the pre-Christian Celtic veneration of the horse. It also could be related to the sixteenth-century fad for hobby horses in Morris Dances and other holiday celebrations. Or possibly both. Similar traditions exist in Cornwall and in other pockets of the British Isles. The tradition almost went extinct in the 1800s when it came under attack by preachers as superstitious, but it survived in a few places in South Wales and is now enjoying a resurgence.
So, if a group of singers carrying a horse skull comes to your door this Christmastide, enjoy the rhyming and the good luck that comes with it.
I missed getting a post up for Remembrance/Veterans’ Day, but since I’m thankful for the service of our soldiers past and present, this will have to serve for both holidays. But this post will be oddly specific since I’m writing in particular about very short soldiers.
The minimum height for soldiers in the British army during WWI was five-foot-three, with the average being five-five, but many potential recruits were turned away for being too short. I’m five-four and often have to ask for help reaching things on the top shelf at the grocery store, so these fellows who were turned away were pretty short!
Unfortunately, WWI dragged on, and the war machine demanded more men to be fed to the trenches.
In Britain, this led to two things: first, the formation of “Bantam Battalions” (referring to smaller breeds of roosters/chickens) for shorter soldiers, and second, a national push to improve the health care and nutrition of British children so they could grow up tall enough to fight. In fact, some young men grew as much as two inches in training when they had three square meals for perhaps the first time in their lives, which shows just how dire their nutritional situation had been.
I was curious if a similar situation existed in the United States, which entered the war late and never had to dig quite as deeply for recruits. Only about 25 percent of US men entered the military in WWI, and their average height was about 5’7″, which would have been tall for a British soldier. Was this because American men were taller, or because US military recruiters could afford to be more picky? I’m not sure. But it wasn’t until WWII, when a much higher proportion of the male population became involved in the military, that the US government realized that many Americans were suffering from malnutrition (especially following the Great Depression) and took an interest in improving the health of American children for the sake of national defense.
I wonder if this lag in interest or awareness on the US government’s part is also why our health care coverage and availability lags behind most other wealthy, industrialized nations.
If you’re curious, here are several other statistics about American soldiers in WWI versus WWII:
The average age was 25 versus 26 (the “average” WWII soldier was married with at least one child; I don’t think that was the case for most men serving in WWI).
The average height was 5’7.5″ versus 5’8″
The average weight was 141 pounds versus 144 pounds (both groups tended to gain weight after enlistment and regular meals).
In WWI, 25 to 37 percent of recruits were rejected for being unable to read or write, while in WWII, the illiteracy rates were lower, perhaps 5 to 10 percent, and due to the need for soldiers, the military instituted literacy training for illiterate men.
39 percent of WWI soldiers were immigrants or the children of immigrants. Also, many of the Native Americans who served in WWI were not considered citizens and could not vote. I cannot find an equivalent statistic for WWII, but over a hundred thousand immigrants gained citizenship by serving in the military, and we cannot forget the amazing courage and loyalty of the first-generation Japanese Americans who enlisted to fight, sometimes from the confines of internment camps – the all-Japanese-American 442nd Infantry Regiment became one of the most decorated units in US military history.
The WWI armed forces were 10 percent African American versus 11 percent in WWII (Native American, Asian American, and other minority groups/people of color definitely played an important role in both wars, but I don’t have exact statistics).
The life expectancy for men in WWI was 47 years versus 63 years during WWII.
We all hate daylight savings time, right? The “fall back” one isn’t so bad because we get an extra hour of sleep, but we pay for it when we have to “spring forward.” Even my dog was cranky today because we wouldn’t feed her at what she knew to be dinner time, since we were all pretending it was an hour earlier. And Hawaii and Arizona don’t even bother with the time change, though the Navajo Nation lands within Arizona do, which just makes everything even more confusing.
I knew that daylight savings time started in World War I as a way to save fuel (an extra hour of daylight in the evening meant less fuel used to light homes). This was in the US and also in some European countries, many of which also still practice daylight savings today. Only a few cities in Ontario, Canada had experimented with it prior to WWI.
What I didn’t know was that we’ve been getting rid of daylight savings time and bringing it back on and off for the last 100+ years. The first round of daylight saving time ended with WWI. FDR brought it back for WWII and called it “war time.” When WWII ended in 1945, so did war time.
For a while, some parts of the US practiced daylight savings time, while others did not. So, a city might change its clocks while the surrounding countryside stayed on standard time. We can imagine the chaos this would have caused for businesses, travelers, and pretty much everyone.
It was the 1960s when we got saddled with daylight savings time on a more permanent basis to settle the confusion. This was popular with sports equipment manufacturers, who hoped that people would play more sports if they had more daylight hours in the evening, and who continue to lobby for the continuation of daylight savings time. Some workers liked having more daylight time after work to spend outdoors or with their families, but for the most part, it remains unpopular with parents, teachers, farmers (who find that cows don’t adjust their milking schedule to daylight savings time), and pretty much everyone else.
During the energy crisis of the 1970s, the US and many other countries experimented with making daylight savings time permanent in the hopes of saving energy, but that caused problems with workers and school children having to leave home in the dark on winter mornings. Also, though daylight savings time does accrue a very small amount of energy savings in lighting, it may actually cause an increase in fuel use because of people driving more to evening activities. So, we moved back to the clock switching.
The days we spend on standard time are shrinking, though, moving late enough in the fall to allow trick-or-treaters to enjoy the extra hour of daylight and earlier in the spring (perhaps to avoid major religious holidays like Easter?). Maybe we’re heading toward doing away with it once more – this time for good.
If this time of year has you hankering to curl up with a spooky book and a cup of cocoa, then this giveaway is for you! Enter for a chance to win a suspenseful middle grade or young adult novel, including The Bone Map and The Haunting of Springett Hall, or a $100 Amazon gift card at https://www.revellopress.com/spooky-giveaway/
And if you want something to read in the meantime, Wishwood and Moon Hollow are great Halloween reads!
I’ve always been both fascinated and terrified by ghosts stories. I’m skeptical of the ones that claim to be true, but then I hear one that sends those goose prickles dancing up and down my spine, and I might not get much sleep that night (There’s a reason my Gothic books are more “cozy horror” than anything truly dark and twisted). I find it interesting that my ghost-ish stories tend to be my more popular books, though; I guess a lot of readers share my horrified interest in them.
With the days getting shorter and the stores stocking their Hallowe’en candy, I’m starting to plot out another Gothic tale for after I finish my light-hearted Regency dragon fantasies, and I thought I’d share one of my own spooky experiences that makes me, if not a believer, at least open-minded.
After high school, a friend and I had a chance to go backpacking in England. One of our stops was fourteenth-century Powderham Castle in Devon. We took a tour with a small group, enjoying the various ancient and sumptious rooms. My friend and I ended up at the front of the group, and so we entered one particular room first. We both stopped dead. The windows let in the sun, but the room was dark, like the light couldn’t push the shadows away. The air felt heavy. Bad. Now, I’m a religious person and admittedly easily spooked by eerie things, but my friend is a devout athiest, and she felt as creeped out as I did. We turned to get out of the room, but the tour group pushed us back in, and the guide closed the door.
“This is our haunted room,” he said.
No kidding! I thought.
He went on to tell us that during renovations, they found that one of the walls was hollow – and inside rested the skeleton of a woman and baby who were presumed to have been bricked in alive. No one knew who she was or why she was killed and hidden so callously.
If that wasn’t creepy enough, he also told us a story from WWII. Powderham Castle is home to the family of the Earl of Devon, and during the war, they blacked out the castle windows to avoid being spotted by German bombers. During one air raid, the family made sure all the lights were out and then ran outside where it was safer. When they looked back at the castle, the blackout curtains had been torn from the window of the haunted room, and a light glowed through the glass.
You can choose to believe the story or not, but standing in that room with the dark, wrong feeling about it, I was convinced, and I practically sprinted out when the guide opened the door for us. I wonder if the ghost wanted the castle bombed as revenge on her ancient persecutor, or if she simply longed to be remembered by someone. Or, is it just that dark events leave a mark on a place that others can sense later? What do you think?
This morning, I had the opportunity to attend the retiring of a faded, wind-battered US flag. When it was unfurled to be saluted one last time, I couldn’t help thinking of what day it is today and about all the people twenty years ago who went out to do their jobs, many for one last time. Some knew they had a dangerous job to do that day. Rick Rescorla, a Cornish Vietnam vet and Morgan Stanley security officer in the World Trade Center, had drilled the employees under his charge for emergency evacuations, anticipating the possibility of a terrorist attack. Thanks to him, many of those employees survived the attacks, despite being near the top of the building. Some of Rescorla’s last known words were, “As soon as I make sure everyone else is out.” He was last seeing running up the stairs one last time.
Many other people did not anticipate what that day would bring, like those on United flight 93. It’s obvious from reading the words of Todd Beamer in his last known conversation (below) that he did not want to die. I think it would be fair to say it scared him. But he was willing to do the job before him, his family in the forefront of his mind, probably hoping it would end well while knowing it likely would not. He completed his task on September 11 over an empty Pennsylvania field. He stood up for himself, his family, and the community of strangers who make up his country one last time.
For many others, though, the heroic work and the struggles went on for weeks and even years after that day, sorting through rubble or misinformation or lingering trauma. They got up each morning knowing they had to face it again – one last time over and over. I’m sure there were days they didn’t want to, but their fight wasn’t over. Like the worn flag, they were there day after day, collecting battle scars visible or invisible. I would guess that those who met their one last time on September 11th had similarly been there for the daily grind, facing the daily battles they believed worth the struggle, however imperfectly, until that fight was a part of them.
That’s what I hope I (and we) never forget – that even though our nation and the world have problems, we can be brave enough to face them, whether it’s the rare “one last time” or the slower but equally as heroic step by step, day by day fight for something better, something worthwhile.
*Transcript of Todd Beamer’s last phone call – I wasn’t able to verifty that this is authentic, but it matches all the information I’m able to find about his final conversation. Also, I don’t who if anyone owns the rights to this; please let me know if this is a copyright infringement, and I will paraphrase instead.
Todd: Hello… Operator…listen to me…I can’t speak very loud. – This is an emergency. I’m a passenger on a United flight to San Francisco… We have a situation here…Our plane has been hijacked…can you understand me?
Lisa: (exhaling a deep breath to herself) I understand… Can the hijackers see you talking on the phone?
Lisa: Can you tell me how many hijackers are on the plane?
Todd: There are three that we know of.
Lisa: Can you see any weapons? What kind of weapons do they have?
Todd: Yes… they don’t have guns… they have knives – they took over the plane with knives.
Lisa: Do you mean…like steak knives?
Todd: No, these are razor knives…like box cutters.
Lisa: Can you tell what country these people are from?
Todd: No… I don’t know. They sound like they’re from the Mid-east.
Lisa: Have they said what they want?
Todd: Someone announced from the cockpit that there was a bomb on board. He said he was the captain and to stay in our seats and stay quiet.He said that they were meeting these men’s demands and returning to the airport… It was very broken English, and… I’m telling you… it sounded fake!
Lisa: Ok sir, please give me your name.
Todd: My name is Todd Beamer.
Lisa: Ok Todd… my name is Lisa… Do you know your flight number? If you can’t remember, it’s on your ticket.
Todd: It’s United Flight 93.
Lisa: Now Todd, can you try to tell me exactly what happened?
Todd: Two of the hijackers were sitting in first class near the cockpit. A third one was sitting near the back of the coach section. The two up. front got into the cockpit somehow; there was shouting. The third hijacker said he had a bomb. It looks like a bomb. He’s got it tied to his waist with a red belt of some kind.
Lisa: So is the door to the cockpit open?
Todd: No, the hijackers shut it behind them.
Lisa: Has anyone been injured?
Todd: Yes, they… they killed one passenger sitting in first class. There’s been lots of shouting. We don’t know if the pilots are dead or alive. A flight attendant told me that the pilot and copilot had been forced from the cockpit and may have been wounded.
Lisa: Where is the 3rd hijacker now Todd?
Todd: He’s near the back of the plane. They forced most of the passengers into first class. There are fourteen of us here in the back. Five are flight attendants. He hasn’t noticed that I slipped into this pantry to get the phone. The guy with the bomb ordered us to sit on the floor in the rear of the plane… Oh Jesus… Help!
Lisa: Todd… are you ok? Tell me what’s happening!
Todd: Hello… We’re going down… I think we’re going to crash… Wait – wait a minute. No, we’re leveling off… we’re ok. I think we may be turning around… That’s it – we changed directions. Do you hear me… we’re flying east again.
Lisa: Ok Todd… What’s going on with the other passengers?
Todd: Everyone is… really scared. A few passengers with cell phones have made calls to relatives. A guy, Jeremy, was talking to his wife just before the hijacking started. She told him that hijackers had crashed two planes into the World Trade Center… Lisa is that true??
Lisa: Todd… I have to tell you the truth… it’s very bad. The World Trade Center is gone. Both of the towers have been destroyed.
Todd: Oh God —help us!
Lisa: A third plane was taken over by terrorists. It crashed into the Pentagon in Washington DC. Our country is under attack… and I’m afraid that your plane may be part of their plan.
Todd: Oh dear God. Dear God… Lisa, will you do something for me?
Lisa: I’ll try… if I can… Yes.
Todd: I want you to call my wife and my kids for me and tell them what’s happened. Promise me you’ll call.
Lisa: I promise – I’ll call.
Todd: Our home number is __________… You have the same name as my wife… Lisa… We’ve been married for 10 years. She’s pregnant with our 3rd child. Tell her that I love her… (choking up)…I’ll always love her…(clearing throat) We have two boys. David, he’s 3 and Andrew, he’s 1…Tell them…(choking) tell them that their daddy loves them and that he is so proud of them. (clearing throat again) Our baby is due January 12th…I saw an ultra sound…it was great…we still don’t know if it’s a girl or a boy…Lisa?
Lisa: (barely able to speak) I’ll tell them, I promise Todd.
Todd: I’m going back to the group—if I can get back I will…
Lisa: Todd, leave this line open…are you still there?…
Lisa: (dials the phone.) Hello, FBI, my name is Lisa Jefferson, I’m a telephone supervisor for GTE. I need to report a terrorist hijacking of a United Airlines Flight 93…Yes I’ll hold.
Goodwin: Hello, this is Agent Goodwin.. I understand you have a hijacking situation?
Lisa: Yes sir, I’ve been talking with a passenger, a Todd Beamer, on Flight 93 who managed to get to an air phone unnoticed.
Goodwin: Where did this flight originate, and what was its destination?
Lisa: The flight left Newark New Jersey at 8 A.M. departing for San Francisco. The hijackers took over the plane shortly after takeoff, and several minutes later the plane changed course – it is now flying east.
Goodwin: Ms. Jefferson…I need to talk to someone aboard that plane. Can you get me thru to the planes phone?Lisa: I still have that line open sir, I can patch you through on a conference call…hold a mo-
Todd: Hello Lisa, Lisa are you there?
Lisa: Yes, I’m here. Todd, I made a call to the FBI, Agent Goodwin is on the line and will be talking to you as well.
Todd: The others all know that this isn’t your normal hijacking. Jeremy called his wife again on his cell phone. She told him more about the World Trade Center and all.
Goodwin: Hello Todd. This is Agent Goodwin with the FBI. We have been monitoring your flight. Your plane is on a course for Washington, DC. These terrorists sent two planes into the World Trade Center and one plane into the Pentagon. Our best guess is that they plan to fly your plane into either the White House or the United States Capital Building.
Todd: I understand…hold on…I’ll…I’ll be back..
Lisa: Mr. Goodwin, how much time do they have before they get to Washington?
Goodwin: Not long ma’am. They changed course over Cleveland; they’re approaching Pittsburgh now. Washington may be twenty minutes away.
Todd: (breathing a little heavier) The plane seems to be changing directions just a little. It’s getting pretty rough up here. The plane is flying real erratic…We’re not going to make it out of here. Listen to me…I want you to hear this…I have talked with the others…we have decided we would not be pawns in these hijackers suicidal plot.
Lisa: Todd, what are you going to do?
Todd: We’ve hatched a plan. Four of us are going to rush the hijacker with the bomb. After we take him out, we’ll break into the cockpit. A stewardess is getting some boiling water to throw on the hijackers at the controls. We’ll get them…and we’ll take them out. Lisa… will you do one last thing for me?
Lisa: Yes… What is it?
Todd: Would you pray with me?
They pray: Our father which art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses As we forgive our trespassers, And lead us not into temptation But deliver us from evil For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory Forever…Amen. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the still waters, He restores my soul, He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.
Todd: (softer) God help me…Jesus help me…(clears throat and louder) Are you guys ready?… Let’s Roll!