Monday, September 30, 2013

Word of the Week - Cucumber

I'm back! All settled in (mostly) at the new house, with internet up and running--if you heard the "Hallelujah Chorus" ringing through the air last night, that was just me when my angel of a husband got it all set up. ;-)

My search for a word of the week started with the last one I posted, "cool." I kept scrolling down through the listings at, and soon I learned something!

Cucumber is from the Latin cucumerem, and may even predate Latin, believe it or not--this is one ancient veggie! ;-) In the 17th and 18th centuries, English speakers often spelled it cowcumber, and that pronunciation apparently lingered well into the 19th century, though the spelling had, by then, changed.

But of course, what convinced me that this vegetable is worthy of a Word of the Week is the phrase "cool as a cucumber." That idiom came about around 1732. Ever wonder why? Well apparently folk knowledge said that cucumber fields were cooler than the air around them. Which would earn nothing but an "interesting...okay" except that in the 1970s scientists thought to question this old phrase. And what did they learn? That, indeed, the temperature in a cucumber patch is 20 degrees below the surrounding areas!

I had no idea. Honestly, I didn't even know where the phrase came from. Pretty neat, eh? 


For an upcoming article in the ACFW Journal, a friend of mine is running a survey at The Character Therapist on whether writers feel supported or unsupported by their spouses. The survey will be live at 6 a.m. CST today and will remain up for a month. If you're a writer (with a spouse, I suppose, LOL), do go take the survey, and pass along the link to your writing friends! 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thouhtful About . . . Moving

Over the next week, I'm going to be moving. Today is step one (kinda funny to call it so, given how busy we've been getting to this point, LOL)--we're moving my hubby's grandfather into the apartment my hubby and his parents built for him. Then we're tearing up the carpet in his house, which we'll be moving into. The result--we'll be there on his family's land, which we're all looking forward to.

Of course, it kinda cuts into blogging time. ;-) So if I'm quiet for the next week or so, you know why. This isn't a move-in-one-day deal, we're going to take it slow. Which is great on the one hand, but it does prolong the process. So I beg you to bear with me.

And in the meantime, enjoy the coming of autumn! It feels very autumnal here, with increasingly-colder nights but warm days, and I'm looking forward to the changing colors on the trees. =) Definitely one of my favorite times of year (if only it didn't end in winter, LOL).

Have a great one!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Remember When . . . They Met on the Rooftop?

Posting late this morning because, er, I totally spaced that it was Wednesday, LOL. We're in the middle of a move, and my schedule is all weird. So as I dried my hair and realized I'd completely neglected my blog, I scoured my mind for a topic. Any topic.

So this is what you're getting today. ;-)

Back in New Testament times, houses in Israel usually featured some traditional chambers like you might expect. Windows were few, and those there were, were often covered in lattice. Many homes abutted courtyards, or had one all to themselves. But another key feature of the home was the roof.
Herod's Temple - not exactly your typical Israelite house,
but it at least shows the flat top, LOL.
When I first wrote A Stray Drop of Blood, I had no clue about how important rooftops were in the day-to-day life of an average family. But when I rewrote it back in 2009, I figured it out. Which, you know, made sense with Jesus's warning about the end days and, "Those who are on the rooftops..."

These roofs were flat, with a small ledge for protection. They had no stairs to them from inside the house--the only staircase would be built against an exterior wall, so you'd have to go outside to get up there. Hence why Jesus's warning about those on the rooftops is that they won't take the time to go back inside.

Now, sometimes folks would start with the usual rooftop, but would then build up walls and put on a secondary roof. This, as you may already know, is what they would term an "upper room." Sound familiar? ;-) These upper rooms would therefore be completely separate apartments, so if someone needed to take in a boarder to make ends meet, it would provide the perfect setup. Tradition holds that the upper room Jesus and the disciples met in for the Last Supper was in the house of John Mark, who wrote the gospel of Mark.

As I'm working on A Soft Breath of Wind, I just included one of these rooms in Jerusalem. =) Not the same one Jesus was in, LOL, but I do also have John Mark in my story, given that his Gospel was written for the church of Rome during the same period my book takes place in. I haven't yet found anything telling me where he wrote the book, so I'm at the moment taking the liberty of putting him in Rome during its creation, which works well with my plot. He's reading the stories of Jesus's life to my characters as he writes them. =)

Meanwhile, my heroes are in Jerusalem, in that upper room, about to unwittingly bring calamity upon them all... (dun dun duuuuuuuuuuu.)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Word of the Week - Cool

Thank you, Rachel Koppendrayer, for the inspiration for this week's word in your comment last week. ;-)

So cool has quite a fun history! Its primary meaning of "not warm" has been around since Old English days. No surprise there. And has also been applied to people who are unperturbed or not given to emotional demonstration for just as long.

But of course, we're more interested in the slang uses. ;-) I had no idea that it's been around since 1728 in its application to large sums of money to give emphasis--i.e. "a cool million." And it's also meant "calmly audacious" since 1825--had no clue about that one!

It's modern meaning of "fashionable" is older than you might think, too, from 1933. It originated in black jazz circles but was in the common vernacular by 1940. Pretty cool, eh? ;-)

But not as cool as this--check it out! Whispers from the Shadows was apparently one of the freebies given away at lunch yesterday at ACFW! Big thanks to all my friends who sent me texts and pictures of its appearances at conference, from the placard on the Harvest House table to this:
Picture courtesy the fantabulous Susie Finkbeiner

Makes me feel like I was there!

Friday, September 13, 2013

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thoughtful About . . . The Fly

I was a kid. I don’t even remember how old, probably about ten. My parents were in charge of the youth at our church, which meant I spent a lot of time there. My favorite thing to do? Slip into the quiet sanctuary and just be there. With no milling congregation, no dozens of conversations, no laughter, no music, no mothers calling for the little ones to come to their pew.

Just me. And that certain feeling that this was holy ground.

I grew up in church, I said my prayer for salvation along with the other kids in a children’s church service was I was, oh, five or six. And I meant it. Sure, it took me a lot of years to figure out what it was I had meant, ha ha, but there was never doubt. There was never turning away. There was never backsliding.

There were, instead, these quiet little moments when I brushed up against the divine and realized how much He loved me, in all the wackiest little things.

On this day, I’d meandered to the front of the sanctuary, where the much-disputed red velvet curtain hung on the back wall, a subject of heated debate among the board. My parents were also on the board, so I was aware of this debate. I found it so trivial that I just laughed over it. Take the curtain down, leave it up, what did it matter? Adults, I thought, got hung up on the weirdest things.

Me, I thought about more important things, ahem. Like the next story I would write, whether my mom would let me have Brittney over that weekend, and if my teacher would rearrange our desks soon because I was so tired of sitting beside those stupid boys who thought it was funny to mock everything everyone said. I made it a point never to laugh at them. Eventually they noticed and asked why. My answer? “Because you’re not funny.” Oh yes, brutal honesty from the tweener Roseanna, LOL.

The church was washed with the golden light of a summer evening. Kinda stuffy, as the air was turned off, but not too bad. It was only Sunday night, after all, it hadn’t had a chance to get really hot yet. I meandered to the front of the sanctuary, past the alter railings. Maybe I’d intended to go to the piano, who knew—I was known to trill out Für Elise any time I could.

But a buzzing of a fly disturbed my quiet. Have you ever noticed how loud one little fly sounds in a room with no other noise? So annoying. So there. And my first instinct, when it comes to a fly, is to swat at it.

That afternoon, though, I had a thought of, “No, I’m not going to kill a fly in church.” (Let it be noted I’ve never felt that particular conviction since, LOL.) Instead, I watched it buzz around the vaulted ceilings and land, eventually, on the alter table.

I remember creeping closer, wondering how close I could get before it saw my movement and took off. One step nearer, two. At some point, I recall a strange series of thoughts running through my head. Something that mixed wonder with prayer. Something that made me stretch out in faith. Something that wasn’t exactly Peter walking on water, but which was stepping out nonetheless. I determined that God would hold the fly still, and I could touch it. Pet it. Stroke its wing.

And so I walked up to the table. I reached out. And I stroked its wing.

It’s a small thing. A simple thing. A silly thing. And yet as greater struggles of faith arise in my life, I sometimes think back on that fly. On a child who acted on faith, and who proved that her God heard the smallest, silliest thoughts in her head. And who didn’t mind touching His finger to a pesky little fly so that she could touch hers to it too.

Life is full of flies as well as hurricanes. Bumps as well as canyons. And oh, how nice it is to know that the God who cares about the one also cares about the other. That no matter my words, He listens.

Thank you, Lord.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remember When . . . We Searched?

Occasionally people say to me something along the lines of "I could never write historical fiction. It requires too much research!"

Well, it does, but a lot of it is small. And seemingly random, LOL. I thought it might be fun today to just share some of the crazy-ish Google searches that have come up for me recently as I work on A Soft Breath of Wind. Let's see if you can figure out what's going on in the story. ;-)

  • Latin for no
  • History of rivets
  • Mediterranean sharks
  • Latin for dove
  • Money in the New Testament
  • Ancient Roman names
  • Behind the Name: Hadrian
  • Romans 15
  • "Foot" measurement history
  • Ancient Rome witch
  • Legal age in Ancient Rome
  • How old was John Mark when he wrote the Gospel of Mark?
  • Apostle Paul timeline
  • New Testament marriage customs
  • The armor of God
  • Are there wolves in Italy?
  • Trees native to Rome
  • History of the caesarean section
Just a few. I could spend longer sifting through my search history, but it's taking a surprisingly long time, LOL. So that's it for today. ;-)

What are some random things you've looked up recently?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Word of the Week - Canteen

One of my historical writer friends asked about canteens a little while ago (namely, what they would have called them before they were canteens), which inspired me to look up the word.

Canteen is from the French cantine, which means "sutler's shop." Which I had to look up, LOL. Turns out a sutler is a person who maintains a store for the army, either by following them with provisions or having a shop within a camp. In this sense, the word entered English  in 1710. There's speculation that it's a sense of the Latin canto, which means "corner"--that it's a corner for storage.

The familiar sense of "container to carry water" evolved by 1744, also from a sense in the French, and used mainly by the military still, or campers. People on the move. The extended-from-the-first-definition sense of it being a "refreshment room on a campus or base" is from 1870.

Somewhat appropriate word choice today, as we'll be traveling to Johns Hopkins for the last (hopefully) follow-up appointment for the elbow my little girl broke back in May. Prayers appreciated!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Remember When . . . We Made Our Own Pens?

In preparation for my "Spies in Early America" class I'm teaching my home school group, I decided to get some quills. After all, if one is pretending to be a Revolutionary-era spy and will be writing secret messages in homemade invisible ink, obviously one ought to use a quill pen to do it! Right? Right. =)

The only problem is that, well, finished quill pens are a bit pricey. And since I listed my classes as "free," I wanted to keep costs to a minimum. As I perused the quill options online, something soon became clear--if I was going to provide quills to 12 students, I needed to buy them uncut, hence cheaply.

Sure. No problem. I could learn to cut quills. I mean, every person who knew how to write for centuries trimmed their own quills. This isn't a big deal. I'm a smart girl. I can figure it out. Right? Right?? LOL

So I ordered my nice set of a dozen black quills. And as I waited for them to arrive, I read up on the process online, visiting several sites to get the full scope of my project. And the more I read...the more I realized that 12 quills ordered for 12 students gave me absolutely no margin of error. Insert Roseanna taking a trip to Jo-Ann Fabrics.

I ended up with 6 colored quills for $2, the 12 black ones for $7, and a precision knife made by Fiskars. (Colonial folks would have used a pen knife. I, however, have not a pen knife. So I went with a sharp blade that still allowed for control.)

My Fiskars Precision Knife
Then I set up my area. I was working on my old wooden desk, which I didn't want to score with my blade, so I put a cutting board down. Then I got to work preparing the quills. The first step is to shave off excess feathers, as you can see from the mound of colored fluff in the above picture. The idea is to make sure it sits comfortably in your hand without the barbs annoying you. I have tiny hands, so I didn't have much to worry about. But men would have to shave off more, for sure. And most people from days bygone would have stripped the quill entirely. For ascetics, I didn't do that here.

See how the feathers hit my hand at first?
After trimming, the feathers don't start until after my hand.
You'll also want to shave the feathers from the middle section of the quill, where they're really fluffy. I actually found that with the feathers I was using, if I took off all the fluffy looking ones from middle and sides, that was a good rule for how far to shave.

Shaving fluffy feathers from inside the rib

 I then cut off all the tips of the feathers. This has to be done at some point, and one of the articles I read said to do it before tempering. Others said after. I see no big difference when you do it, so...whenever, LOL.

Quill with tip removed
Then comes the tempering--this is when you harden your quill. The quill wears away with use, so if you start with a harder shaft, it'll last longer. You can soak them overnight in water to really help the process, but since these are for recreational use, I went straight to the heat tempering.

For this part of the process, you fill a can with sand and pop it in a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes. Since I was doing so many quills at once, I used a cake pan. Once the sand is heated, pull it out of the oven and bury your quills in as far as they'll go.

Quills getting their heat treatment in 350-degree sand
Leave them in there until the sand has cooled. I did this part in the evening and left them until morning when I was ready to start working on them again.

Next comes the part I feared messing up royally--cutting. Getting out my handy-dandy precision knife again, I studied the diagrams and descriptions on the various websites and distilled it down to a few main steps.

1. Make a slice at an angle to take away about half the diameter of the quill.

The first slice.
2. Once you've opened the shaft, you can see that inside is a series of circular membranes. Get those out with the tip of your blade and, in the section beyond your cut, some little pokey thing. I used a cuticle shaper from a pedicure set, LOL.

Removing the membrane
3. Then you do the slices to form your nib. Start by making a slit parallel to the shaft and centered, from the tip up about 1/4 inch. This helps the ink flow to the point

Making the slit
4. Then you start shaping the point into a nib. Here are some pictures from various angles.

5. The final step is to work the point. I just pressed my blade to the tip, perpendicular to the shaft, to square it off. Then took it at an angle from both top and bottom to get the best edge.

As I practiced using them, I trimmed a bit here and there until I found the shape that made the ink flow best. And of course...

Monday, September 2, 2013

Word of the Week - Operative

Leave it to Roseanna to browse through the dictionary for fun on the weekend. ;-) Sunday as I was beginning to think about the Word of the Week, I popped over to and accidentally bumped the O section. Then thought, "Sure, go with it" and browsed through a few pages. Randomly clicked on page 11 and soon was learning something. =)

Operative as an adjective is from the 15th century, meaning "producing the intended effect." The weakened sense of "important" (i.e., "challenge being the operative word in the speech") is very new, from 1955. But it's the noun version that intrigued me. =)

Since 1809 operative has meant "worker; one who operates." Sure. No problem. But obviously the more interesting is its meaning of "spy." I'd never looked up this one before, but it's so right up my alley that I'm kinda surprised I hadn't, LOL. This meaning came about around 1930, directly from the Pinkerton Agency. They would refer to their detectives as "operatives," and since much of their work was undercover--spying--it was soon applied to any secret agent. Fun, eh?