Tea Party Winners: Carla Gade's winner is Becky Dempsey, Andrea Boeshaar's winner Caryl Kane, Gina Welborn's winner Jasmine A., Carrie Fancett Pagels' winners book copy -- Lynda Edwards, teacup and saucer -- Wendy Shoults

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


In November I posted about Marie Antoinette, who will appear briefly in Book 6 of my American Patriot Series, Refiner’s Fire. So today I’m going to follow up with a post on Versailles, the palace where she lived after her marriage to King Louis XVI, since it will be one of the settings in Refiner’s Fire.

The Palace of Versailles was the royal residence and center of political power in France for little more than a century, from 1682 until the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. Now a world-class museum, Versailles is famous not only as a building, but also as a symbol of the absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.

Before 1038 in the Charter of the Saint-Père de Chartres Abbey, Hugues de Versailles was listed as the seigneur of the insignificant village of Versailles, whose small castle and church lay on the road from Paris to Dreux and Normandy. The population of the village declined sharply after an outbreak of the Plague and the Hundred Years’ War, but in 1575 a Florentine citizen, Albert de Gondi, purchased the seigneury, and he invited the future Louis XIII on several hunting trips in area.

Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701
The young dauphin was delighted with the forest and meadows that surrounded the village and the abundance of game he found there. The location was ideally situated between his principle residence at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Paris, and after he was crowned king, he hunted there again several times, finally ordering the construction of a stone and brick hunting lodge in 1624. Eight years later, he obtained the seigneury of Versailles from the Gondi family and began to make enlargements to the lodge.

The king and his successors, Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI each renovated and enlarged the structure during their reigns, creating extensive gardens and adding numerous other buildings to the site until it became one of the most costly and extravagant palaces in the world. More than 36,000 workers were involved in construction, and when the building was completed it could accommodate up to 5,000 people, including servants. An additional 14,000 servants and soldiers were quartered in annexes and in the nearby town.

The short video below is a cool 3-D presentation showing the progression of the chateau’s enlargement and the development of the gardens and additional buildings. In all, about 37,000 acres of land were cleared to make room for tree-lined terraces, walkways, and thousands of flowering plants, with 1,400 fountains and 400 pieces of sculpture.

Versailles is most associated with the Sun King, Louis XIV, who personally took on the role of architect. He made the chateau the new center for the royal court in 1682, establishing all the power of France there: government offices and the homes of thousands of courtiers, their retinues, and all the functionaries of court. The nobles of a certain rank and position were required to spend considerable time there, which enabled Louis to solidify his control of the government by preventing them from developing their own regional powers that would compete with his. Thus the French government became an absolute monarchy. 

Below is a longer and very interesting video documentary about the history and development of Versailles. 

In Refiner’s Fire, Jonathan Carleton’s uncle le comte de Caledonne brings Elizabeth Howard to France to keep her safe from British General Henry Clinton’s assassination attempts. While there she will meet the American commissioners to Paris and be drawn into the intrigues at court. So in my next post, I’m going to offer an overview of what life was like at Versailles during the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

What attracts me to Versailles the most is those fabulous gardens! The works of art housed there are also a great attraction for me. Please share what fascinates or attracts you the most about this palace turned museum! 
J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 INDYFAB Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, releases April 1, 2017. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year.

Friday, January 12, 2018


One of the fun aspects of writing fiction is being able to incorporate meals into our stories. Just like everything else with historical fiction, it’s critical that the ingredients were available during the period and location, and that the methods of preparation are accurate. When I write about food, I can almost smell and taste it.
In the sequel to A Heart Set Free which is due to be released in early September, I included some ethnic dishes that have continued to be favorites throughout time, not only in the character’s homes and countries of origin but also in mine. I hope you will try and enjoy them as much as we do. 
When reading fiction, do you enjoy reading about the food the characters eat?

A Scottish favorite  Cock-a-Leekie Soup

12 lbs. frying chickens, cut up   ~   6 cups water    ~    2 medium carrots, sliced, sliced    ~  1 stalk celery, sliced  ~ 12 cup barley   ~   2 teaspoons salt   ~                                                14 teaspoon pepper    ~ 1 12 cups cleaned & sliced leeks & tops    ~ 1 bay leaf                     
In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat chicken in water to boiling. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove chicken from broth and cool slightly; remove chicken from bones and skin. Skim fat from both Cut chicken into 1-inch pieces and return to broth.
Add remaining ingredients Bring back to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.

 ~  ~  ~

           Swedish Sailor’s Beef Stew  Sjömansbiffgryta
This Swedish stew is a favorite, very simple, yet very tasty. 
It is best to cook it in an enameled cast-iron casserole because it goes into a very hot oven for quite a while. Most of the liquid gets absorbed and the casserole becomes a little crusty. You can deglaze the casserole with a bit of water if you like and pour it over the stew, which should be transferred to a serving bowl.
•        2 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
•        6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
•        2 1/2 pounds onions (about 5), quartered
•        2 1/2 pounds boiling potatoes, peeled and cubed
•        3 large carrots cut into pieces or baby carrots
•        Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
•        3 cups beer (lager) (Heineken has a can sold that is exactly that size - amazing)
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Toss all the ingredients except the beer into a large ovenproof casserole.
2. Pour the beer over the stew, cover, and cook until the meat is very tender, the potatoes are breaking apart, and the beer is absorbed-about 2 hours.
All alcohol is cooked out of the dish. It is for tenderizing and flavoring.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Giveaway of The Meadowsweet Shawl

I'm so excited about my new release in the Bouquet of Brides Collection. My story, In Sheep's Clothing, let me combine so many of the things that I love. It has history, fiber arts, and even sheep!

I've always loved history. I was blessed to grow up with a granddad who was a natural storyteller. He lived through so many changes, he knew so many interesting people - including Henry Ford, and although he never graduated high school, he was always well-read on current events. His stories captivated me from my earliest memories.

At the age of nine, I learned to knit in our local 4-H club. Using yarn to create loops and fashioning something both useful and artistic captured me from the start. I was sixteen and showing rabbits in 4-H when I met a lady who raised Angora rabbits. She came to a rabbit show with her rabbits ... and a spinning wheel. I was hooked. It took me a few months to save enough money to purchase my first spinning wheel, but it was worth every penny.

I was thirty before we had the land and opportunity to buy my first sheep. I started with a mixed flock but quickly switched over to registered Border Leicesters. Today, I have just a remnant of the original flock, but they still give me more than enough wool to keep my fingers busy.

To celebrate the release of this close-to-my-heart story, I'm giving away one of my signature shawls. The Meadowsweet Shawl is named after the lamb in In Sheep's Clothing. It's natural white Border Leicester wool raised right here on our farm. I raised the sheep, sheared the sheep, washed the wool, carded the wool, spun the yarn, plied the yarn, and then knitted the shawl. It's 100% made in Michigan. The shawl is crescent shaped with a raised back to keep your neck cozy warm. The front can be left to curl, as in the photo, or tied or wrapped to close the front.

To be entered in the drawing, subscribe to my newsletter by January 31, 2018. That's it! If you've already subscribed, then you're already entered to win.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Virginia's Powhatan Plantation Manor House by Cynthia Howerter

I love visiting historic houses, and was thrilled to spend time at the Powhatan Plantation Manor House near Five Forks in James City County, Virginia - not far from Colonial Williamsburg. As soon as I saw the house, I knew there was something familiar about its appearance, but couldn't put my finger on it.

Powhatan Plantation House

The Georgian-style house was built on a large tract of land about 1735 by its owner, Virginia architect and planter Richard Taliaferro (1705-1779), who spent most of his adult life there. Like many eighteenth century houses in Virginia's Tidewater Region, the exterior is made of brick in the Flemish bond style and has a hip roof with symmetrically-placed chimneys on the sides.

Powhatan Plantation's dining room

Upon Richard's death, his son and daughter-in-law, Richard, Jr. and Rebecca, inherited the property. They raised their ten children in the manor house and continued running the prosperous plantation. Rebecca survived her husband and lived there until she passed in 1810. Powhatan Plantation was sold at that time.

A drawing room in the Powhatan Plantation Manor House

During the Civil War, Union troops under the command of General George McClellan set fire to the house, ruining the interior. The building was restored in 1948.

Another of Powhatan Plantation Manor House's drawing rooms

While visiting Colonial Williamsburg several days after I'd been to Powhatan Plantation, I stopped dead in my tracks as I approached the Wythe House, located along the Palace Green. The reason the Powhatan Plantation Manor House had looked so familiar to me was that the Wythe House, which I've seen many times during my frequent visits to the eighteenth century town, was nearly identical to it.

After a bit more research, I learned that Richard Taliaferro designed and built the Wythe House around 1754. A comparison of the front of the houses shows the exterior similarities.

The Wythe House in Colonial Williamsburg

Powhatan Plantation Manor House

In 1755, Taliaferro's daughter Elizabeth married prominent Virginia lawyer George Wythe (pronounced "with") who was then serving in the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg. (Wythe later went on to sign the Declaration of Independence and helped frame the U.S. Constitution). Taliaferro gave the Williamsburg house to the newlyweds and it's been known as "The Wythe House" ever after.

Richard Taliaferro was described by one of his peers as a "most skillful architect" and was selected  to supervise repairs to the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg about 1750.

Today, the Powhatan Plantation Manor House is the centerpiece of "The Historic Powhatan Resort" owned by Diamond Resorts International. It is located at 3601 Ironbound Road, Williamsburg, Virginia.

All photographs ©Cynthia Howerter

Award-winning author Cynthia Howerter loves living amidst Virginia's rich history. She frequently visits historic sites, accompanied by her wonderful husband and trusty camera. She enjoys sharing her photographs in her articles, believing that topics are more interesting when one can see them.

Are you going through difficult times or know someone who is? Do you need encouragement to get through a tough situation? There's nothing like true stories from people who have been in your shoes and succeeded, especially when things look hopeless. You can purchase a copy of the award-winning non-fiction anthology book that Cynthia co-authored, God's Provision in Tough Times, from Amazon by clicking  here > God's Provision in Tough Times   Available in paperback and Kindle.

Friday, December 29, 2017

First Footing

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

The above words are likely familiar to most of us, as they have somehow become the official welcome to the new year, along with noisemakers, confetti and kissing when applicable.The words were first published in 1788 by the Scottish poet Rabbie Burns.

But I grew up (in the U.S.) with another tradition:  First Footing. Have you heard of it? What about Hogmanay?

The Scots' devotion to celebrating the new year with such intensity can be blamed on Presbyterianism. John Knox and his Reformation was adamant about revoking Catholic customs (the papists!) and this included the celebration of Christmas. In fact, it wasn't until the 1950s that Christmas became an actual 'day-off-from-work' holiday. To make up for it, they celebrated the New Year with exuberance (and superstition)!

You might see something strange about tossing one group of practices for another, but it wasn't easy to shake off the old ways!

The tradition of first-footing varied across Scotland, its isles and the north of England, but demands a visitor--preferably dark-haired male--arrive after midnight, bearing gifts. These were various tokens of good-fortune:   

a lump of coal, shortbread, a dram of whisky, 
coins, salt, black bun, and more. 

Preparation included taking out old things - like ash (Something I do daily this time of year--take out coal ash), sweeping the house, and even sending the head of the household out before the stroke of midnight.

The best scenario would be a dark-haired (and let's make him good-looking while we're at it!) visitor bearing gifts. Why dark hair? Those blond visitors known as Vikings brought nothing but bad luck in the seventh century!

Traditions change, and in some areas blond visitors are preferred, and the gifts are different.
Unfortunately, red-haired women were likely turned away!

When I was young, my grandfather would go outside, come back in and hand his wallet to his wife. Later on, we would just be glad if anyone came across the threshold. 

In Scotland, however, neighbors helped neighbors celebrate, and Hogmanay is bigger than ever!

I have no doubt that our colonial ancestors from Scotland kept this New Year's tradition of first-footing. But how often it is practiced now? I'm hoping to hear from those in the Carolinas, and east New Jersey where so many Scots settled, and find out who is still celebrating.

Have you heard of first-footers, and do you celebrate? 

So from me, and all of the authors at Colonial Quills, I offer this  blessing for your new year:

Go dtuga Dia deoch duit as an tobar nach dtrann
May God give you a drink from the well that never runs dry!

And some shortbread from my house to yours!

Visit Amazon to learn more about my Amateur Sleuth cozy set in Scotland,