Monday, December 28, 2015

From Southern Belle to Union Spy: Elizabeth Van Lew:

One of three children, Elizabeth was well educated, and according to her parents, the stubborn one in the lot. She grew up in Richmond where her father was a very successful hardware dealer and her mother was the daughter of Philadelphia's mayor. 

They lived elegantly and lavishly in town. They also owned a farm where crops were grown in fields worked by a dozen slaves owned by the Van Lews. 


     With her blue eyes and dark hair, Elizabeth was charming, opinionated, and not afraid to speak her mind--at least at home. She was frequently at odds with her father and very close to her mother. Elizabeth didn’t hesitate to openly protest the beliefs of Richmond society—namely the issues of slavery and secession. Yet to her dying day she denied being and abolitionist, whom she considered fanatics who would stop at nothing to achieve their goals. Her views were based not on politics or financial gain, but on what she felt in her heart.

slave auction, virginia, 1861, black history, slave trade
   When she was in her twenties, her father died, and soon after, she freed the family slaves. Some stayed on with the Van Lews, others took advantage of their freedom and made their own way in the world. She was so opposed to slavery, she spent her $10,000 inheritance on buying and freeing those slaves who were relatives of her freed slaves.

  After the battle of Bull Run, while delivering religious books to the camps, Elizabeth discovered the horrendous conditions the Federal prisoners endured at Libby prison. She begged, cajoled, wheedled and bribed guards with gingerbread and buttermilk to gain visiting rights. Helping Union soldiers, she was soon shunned by the townspeople, and lost friends and good standing in the Confederate community. The Union prisoners learned tidbits of information from their Confederate guards and passed the facts on to Elizabeth.  

  The town thought she must be demented, calling her Crazy Bet. She played upon this misconception, mumbling to herself as she walked the streets, and allowing her appearance and attire to take on a disheveled look. In truth she was very afraid for herself and her mother.   

            Elizabeth found employment for one of her former slaves (Mary E. Bowser) at the home of Jefferson Davis. Years before, Elizabeth had sent Mary away to be schooled in Philadelphia, she was very intelligent and could read and write. Mary was soon rifling though Davis' paperwork and relaying the information back to Elizabeth.

     One high-ranking official at Libby Prison, known as “Ross,” was considered by many prisoners to be the most vicious of all the guards. He openly verbally abused the prisoners and without warning would launch a physical assault. He would then have the individual removed, most thought to be further tortured, if not killed. In actuality, he would get the prisoner alone, give him a Confederate uniform, escort him out of the prison and send him on his way to Elizabeth’s house where she would provide cover in secret rooms and passageways until it was safe to move the escapee to the next safe house. 

    As General Grant moved his army nearer to Richmond, Elizabeth was able to communicate with him directly and on a daily basis. So perfected was her spy network, she was able to present him with a copy of the Richmond Daily Dispatch each day. As a reward, after the war, Grant named her Postmistress of Richmond. She lived out a lonely life, shunned by the towns people, yet unwilling to leave her home and the city she loved.

      She is buried in Richmond’s Shockoe-Hill Cemetery. The inscription on her headstone reads: “She risked everything that is dear to man—friends, fortune, comfort, health, life itself, all for the one absorbing desire of her heart—that slavery might be abolished and the Union preserved."

      General Sharpe, Grant’s Chief of Secret Service stated, “The greater portion of our intelligence in 1864-65 in its collection and in good measure in its transmission, we owed to the intelligence and devotion of Miss Elizabeth Van Lew.” 

Source: Ryan, David, A Yankee Spy in Richmond: The Civil War Diary of “Crazy Bet” Van Lew, Stackpole Books 1996

        See how Josie and Garrick survive the Crimean War in 

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   Disowned by her father and still mourning the death of her fiancĂ©, Josephine Posey joins Florence Nightingale’s brigade of nurses bound for the Black Sea. Thousands of British soldiers desperately await these angels of mercy and a new life awaits Josie. Amidst the chaos of death and despair, she finds a spark of hope, lighting the flame once more inside her soul.

    In search of the truth, Garrick Allen, one of Britain’s first war correspondents also journeys to the Crimean Peninsula. To him the soldiers seem all but abandoned by Queen and country, and as he smokes his cheroots and makes friends with a bottle, he writes his bold but honest dispatches for The Times.  Not wanting anything more than to finish his job and go home, Garrick is blind-sided by a nurse with attitude who offers him a new slant on life and a reason to love.


Sunday, December 20, 2015


    And Light shall overtake Darkness. 

  The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. Yet even as darkness triumphs, it gives way, and changes into light. 
                        We turn the Wheel to bring the light.
                     We call the sun from the womb of night.

The winter solstice happens every year when the North Pole is tilted furthest – 23.5 degrees – away from the Sun, delivering the fewest hours of sunlight of the year.

   The shortest day of the year often falls on December 21st, but the modern calendar of 365 days a year - with an extra day every four years - does not correspond exactly to the solar year. The solstice can happen on December 20, 21, 22 or 23, although December 20 or 23 solstices are rare. This year it falls on 12/22/15

    After Solstice night, we watch for the coming of dawn, rejoicing as the days begin to lengthen until the Summer Solstice. 

It is also the rebirth of the Oak King, 
the Green Man, the King of the Woodlands.

The term 'solstice' derives from the Latin word 'solstitium', meaning 'Sun standing still'. On this day the Sun seems to stand still at the Tropic of Capricorn and then reverses its direction as it reaches its southernmost position as seen from the Earth. 

                     Wishing you a Happy Winter Solstice
                        May this Holiday Season bring you 
                                  light and hope and humor.
                                                      picture by Anne Stokes

Monday, December 14, 2015

Victorian Dream by Gini Rifkin---Ranked 3,686 on Amazon!

                                 Murder, mayhem, 
               and a marriage of convenience 
    Free for Kindle Unlimited, or buy for only $3.99 

    Trelayne St.Christopher is a cossetted young English woman longing for adventure, like the daring females in her purloined romance novels. 

    Captain Walker Garrison, a Yankee sea captain, heartbroken after the death of his wife, is in need of comfort, but he seeks solitude. 

    Thrown together by necessary rather then need, their worlds collide, and the fun begins. 
Excerpt from Victorian Dream: 
   At the Crystal Palace: London,1851
   To her surprise, Walker tightened his grip on her elbow and urged her off the walkway and into the shadows. She felt light headed, and her cheeks grew warm with the unstoppable heat caused by his intense perusal. 
   “That’s some hat you’re sporting,” he said.
    His unexpected comment took her off guard, leaving her confused. “You don’t like my new hat?”
   “I didn’t say I didn’t like it, just that it was really something.”
   “That’s a bit vague. Something can mean good or bad.”
   He canted his head and studied her more thoroughly. “It’s unique, I’ll give you that.” He flicked a finger at the bright bow and scarlet ribbons cascading down one side of the creation. “And unexpected.”
  “Do you like surprises?” she ventured.
  “Not generally,” he admitted. “But I do like discovering new things, taking my time, savoring each revelation, wondering what will come next.
    Capturing her left hand, he toyed with the buttons on her glove. Entranced, she waited restlessly, conjuring naughty images of what he might try to discover next. One by one, he slipped the buttons free, splaying open the soft leather. Cool air slipped beneath the material as he rolled down the top, exposing her skin.
   The pulse in her wrist jump beneath the pressure of his fingers. Raising her hand to his mouth, he whispered something, but she couldn’t catch the words, only the feel of his breath on her bare skin. He lowered her hand, and little by little peeled the kid leather away, turning it inside out, sliding the softness over her knuckles, down her fingers, off the tips. She wished he would undress the rest of her just as completely and slowly—oh so slowly, one little piece of clothing following another.
   “Your fingers are cold, Trelayne,” he said, cozying her bare hand between his strong warm ones. “But I’ll wager there’s fire in your heart.”
   Speechless, she strangled the moan threatening to escape her. There was fire in more than just her heart, and it was near to burning out of control. Was it proper for a woman to ravish a man? For that was exactly what she wished to do.
   A hint of smile lingered on his mouth, but his eyes darkened, and there was nothing humorous about the way his gaze made her feel.
   She wished to speak, but words escaped her. Rarely at a loss as to what to do or say, she tried to recall what she’d been taught in deportment about keeping up lively conversation and witty dialogue. Nothing came to mind to cover a situation in which her body ruled her mind. All she could think about was what it would be like to kiss this man, make love to this man, be naked beside this man.
   “Fires can be dangerous,” she finally murmured.
   “Yes,” he agreed. “Especially the ones that burn long and slow and incredibly hot.”
   Illustrations from the books she read in secret seared across her mind—scandalous, wonderful imaginings.
   He leaned in closer. She swore he was about to kiss her, could feel his breath and the tiniest tickle of his mustache as his mouth hovered oh so near her lips. Then he straightened, his expression one of confusion, even consternation. He looked like a man delirious with fever, just come to his senses.
   “We should find the others,” he suggested, releasing her from the spell she was under. 
    It was the last thing she wanted. Couldn’t he tell, didn’t he know? 

   “Out of all the grand wonders here tonight,” he reassured, “spending time with you is what I shall remember most.”

Monday, December 7, 2015

Wassailing the trees

  I love trees, and was truly enamored at the thought of  singing (and drinking) to their health. The word 'Wassail' is derived from the Old Norse 'Ves heill', from whence came the Old English salutation 'Wes Hal', meaning 'Be thou hale'. As it stems from Anglo/Saxon, it is thought to predate the Norman Conquest. 

  Although it is a rather riotous celebration, it's taken quite seriously by those who depend on a good harvest for their livelihood. Especially in the English counties of Devon, Somerset, Dorset Goucestershire, and Herefordshire.

Reciting poems and singing to the trees was meant to promote their health and insure a good harvest for the coming year.

The chanting of incantations, banging on drums and pots and pans and even firing a volley into the branches was meant to drive away evil spirits.


 The wassail King and Queen lead the procession from one orchard to the next. Periodically, the wassail Queen will be lifted up into the boughs of the tree where she will place a piece of toast soaked in Wassail from the Clayen Cup (an earthenware vessel filled with cider) as a gift                                                                     to the tree spirits.  

I've always associated Wassailing with caroling during the Christmas season. The wassailing of trees, however, was celebrated on Twelfth Night (January 6, or the evening of January 5) or to be strictly correct on "Old Twelvey Night" (January 17) the true date before the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752.

 This year, why not extend your holiday festivities, and come January honor the trees that give us shelter and shade, bear fruit to be savored, and clean the air we breathe.

                    HAPPY WASSAILING 
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                 celebrate Christmas in the Crimea in1851        
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       Disowned by her father and still mourning the death of her fiancĂ©, Josephine Posey joins Florence Nightingale’s brigade of nurses bound for the Black Sea. Thousands of British soldiers desperately await these angels of mercy and a new life awaits Josie. Amidst the chaos of death and despair, she finds a spark of hope, lighting the flame once more inside her soul.

    In search of the truth, Garrick Allen, one of Britain’s first war correspondents also journeys to the Crimean Peninsula. To him the soldiers seem all but abandoned by Queen and country, and as he smokes his cheroots and makes friends with a bottle, he writes his bold but honest dispatches for The Times.  Not wanting anything more than to finish his job and go home, Garrick is blind-sided by a nurse with attitude who offers him a new slant on life and a reason to love.
                               Visit these sites for more 
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Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Turkey Named JACKIE

    For the past 15 years, rather than eating a turkey at Thanksgiving we have sponsored one. This year our special bird is...

According to the shelter she is curious and thoughtful and likes cooked squash and cranberries. 

    Jackie was one of 11 baby turkeys left anonymously at the Farm Sanctuary in New York. Her beak tip was seared off, indicating that she probably came from a factory farm. Turkeys like Jackie are debeaked, and sometimes detoed, so that turkeys, overwhelmed by extreme confinement don't peck each other to death, 

      Check out The Farm Sanctuary, they have all kinds of wonderful animals, and rescue stories. 



Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fun Facts About Wild Turkeys

Wild turkeys, which are native to North America, have been around for almost 10 million years and diverged from pheasants. The usual lifespan of a turkey is 10 years. A mature turkey has about 3,500 feathers. The heaviest male wild turkey recorded weighed 38 lbs.
Image result for pictures aztecs with turkeys   They were domesticated by the Aztecs long before they were introduced into Europe by the Spaniards. The King of Spain was so impressed by the new bird that he ordered every ship returning from the New World to bring along 10 turkeys in addition to the gold and silver that they looted. The popularity of the turkey soon spread throughout Europe replacing the peacock at banquets.

  Contrary to popular belief turkeys can fly, at least wild turkeys, their domestic counterparts are now not able to do so due to selective breeding. Wild turkeys are capable of flying at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour for short distances and can travel on the ground at speeds of 25 miles per hour.

In the wild, turkeys sleep in trees, furthermore they prefer oak.
Wild Turkeys forage for food such as acorns, seeds, roots, insects and wild berries. Domesticated turkeys weigh twice as much as a wild turkey, this is because they are fattened in factory farms and fed growth hormones and have no room due to close confinement in which to exercise. 

Dispelling the myth: Although there is no documented evidence of this, we've all heard the story of a turkey looking upward in a rainstorm and drowning. The behavior is a genetically-caused nervous disorder called tetanic torticollar spasms, which causes the bird to hold it's head at unusual angles. 

Turkey talk: They don't just gobble. But when they do, they can be heard as far as a mile away. However, turkeys have been known to have over 20 distinct vocalizations including “yelps,” “purrs,” and “kee-kees.” Turkeys can recognize each other by their unique voices.

   Turkeys are highly social, affectionate and love to play. They create long-lasting social bonds with each other and with humans. Turkeys love to be stroked, petted and cuddled. They will remember your face and if they like you, they will come up to you to greet you. Turkeys also love music and will cluck along with the songs.   

         If Turkeys were stupid, they wouldn't be so hard to hunt. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Poker Alice: Gambler, Dealer, Wife, and Mother

Poker Alice
At my age I suppose I should be knitting. But  I would rather play poker with five or six  'experts' than eat."
-- Alice Ivers Tubbs; aka: Poker Alice

    Born in Devonshire, England in 1851, Alice Ivers and her family came to America and settled in Virginia when she was still a small girl. Her father, a conservative schoolmaster made sure Alice attended an elite boarding school through her teen years. Then the family moved to Leadville, Colorado where she met Frank Duffield a mining engineer whom she married at the age of twenty. 

Image result for pictures gambling saloon
Gambling, almost unavoidable in the mining camps of the Old West, Frank became a regular player. Alice not wishing to stay home alone, often accompanied him. At first she quietly watched from a far, but having a sharp mind and a competitive spirit, before long she sat at the tables winning her share at poker and Faro.  

A few years into the marriage, Alice's husband was killed in an explosion and she was left with no means of support. There wasn't a school for her to teach in and other female occupations didn't appeal to her. Capitalizing on her gambling skills, she became a Faro dealer. A petite 5'4" beauty with blue eyes and silky brown hair, and dressed in the latest fashions, she was soon in great demand. 

     As she traveled from camp to camp, playing in cities all over Colorado including Alamosa, Central City, Georgetown and Trinidad. As a dealer and a player, she acquired the nickname "Poker Alice", and could often be seen in her frilly dresses while puffing on a large black cigar. She never gambled on Sundays, and carried a .38 revolver which she had no reservations about using. She was welcome everywhere as her presence always drew a crowd and was good for business. 

Expanding her horizons, Alice made her way to Silver City New Mexico. She won $6,000 a the Gold Dust Gambling House which prompted a trip to New York to replenish her fashionable wardrobe. 
Image result for pictures of bob ford

Later, in Creede, Colorado, she met and went to work for Bob Ford (the man who killed Jesse James. In 1890 she ended up in Deadwood, South Dakota, and met Warren G. Tubbs, a house painter from Sturgis. 

She saved Tubbs with her .38 when a miner pulled a knife on him. The couple married, moved to Deadwood to homestead on the Moreau river and raised 7 children. But luckier at cards than love, Warren contracted tuberculosis and despite her dedication to making him well, he passed away in 1910

After that, things spiraled downward. Gone were the fancy clothes as she enjoyed a good cigar. She ran a brothel and saloon in South Dakota, shot a man in self-defense, and after repeated convictions was sentenced to prison. However, Alice, 75 years old at the time, was pardoned by the governor.

At the age of 79 she underwent a gall bladder operation in Rapid City, but died of complications on February 27, 1930. 

In her later years, Alice claimed to have won more than $250,000 at the gaming tables and never once cheated. In fact, one of her favorite sayings was: "Praise the Lord and place your bets. I'll take your money with no regrets."