Texas My Texas …

For Christmas I was given a book about Texas, the state I was born and raised in. Although I’ve ventured away for short durations to live elsewhere, those times were little more than an extended vacation because I’ve always returned to the town where I was born. It’s been said that if you ever wear out a pair of shoes in Texas, you’ll never leave. I’m proof of that. I love Texas! And, anybody who knows me knows that I love our rich history and that’s the reason I write almost exclusively about the Texas Panhandle.  I thought I’d share some little known facts about Texas… from a true, blue Texan’s point of view.

Since Spanish explorers first “claimed” us in 1519, six different national flags have flown over Texas.

From 1685 to 1690, Texas was a French territory before reverting to Spain.

Texas was part of Mexico when that country won its independence from Spain in 1821.

We adopted our own Declaration of Independence in 1836 and became a separate republic after a brief war with Mexico.  Did you know that Texas had a Texas Embassy in London and Paris?

In 1845, the United States annexed Texas, making us the 28th state until we seceded to became part of the Confederate States of America.  In 1870, after the Civil War, we were then readmitted to the United States.

So, the six flags of Texas belonged to Spain, France, Mexico, Texas, the United States, and the Confederacy. Now you know where “Six Flags Over Texas” amusement parks got their name.

Here’s a fact, I didn’t know and probably wouldn’t believed it if someone had just told me about it; but, during the Civil War, camels were used in our deserts. In 1855, Jefferson Davis, then the U.S. Secretary of  War, convinced Congress to allocate money to field-test the beasts of burden. The animals excelled in carrying, enduring without water, and traveling long distance through miserable conditions.

By the end of the War Between the States, although camels had proven efficient for both sides, they fell out of favor. The animals smelled really bad, frightened the horses, and had horrid personalities.  Let’s just say, I don’t believe I’ve seen a herd of camels ever in Texas… not that they don’t exist.

The fact that a 10-gallon hat actually holds less than a gallon of water is NOT proof of a Texas braggart. It’s simply a misunderstanding.  It’s not a gallon, but a gallon, the word is Spanish for braid, the standard decoration above the brim of the iconic headgear worn by true Texans everywhere. There is also a theory that the Stetson hat company boasted that the tight weave of most Stetsons made them sufficiently waterproof and could be used as a bucket. Early print advertising by Stetson showed a cowboy giving his horse a drink of water from a hat. The truth, the Stetson company notes that a “ten gallon” hat only holds 3 quarts!

The famous Texas Rangers have a recommended dress code which states, “The Texas Ranger hat will be light-colored and shaped in a businessman’s style … commonly called the Rancher or Cattleman. Brims must not exceed 4 inches or be flat with edges rolled up. Hat excessively crushed, rolled, or dipped are not acceptable. Members of the Ranger Division (of the Texas Department of Public Safety) will own both a quality straw and quality felt hat. The appropriate hat will usually be determined by the weather or assignment.”

Throughout the history of the Republic of Texas, there were no chartered banks in the country.  When the first Texas state constitution was drafted in 1845, it prohibited the incorporation of banks.  Banking functions were performed by financial agents and other business firms.  After the Civil War, banks began to flourish in Texas … as did bank robberies.

In the 1920’s, in order to stop a rash of bank robberies, the Texas Bankers Association established the Dead Bank Robber Reward Program. Anyone who killed a bank robber caught in the act would be paid $5,000. Capturing a bank robber alive would not be rewarded.  Despite a number of cases of murders staged to look like the foiling of a bank robbery, the offer of reward was not withdrawn until 1964.

Our anthology “Give Me a Cowboy” was originally named “Rodeo” and we agreed that all four stories would take place over the 4th of July rodeo in 1890 in Amarillo, which was our setting for our first anthology,“Give Me a Texan”.  But, we quickly recognized a serious problem. The first rodeo, which is the official sport of Texas, was held in 1883 in Pecos. The closest rodeo to our area wasn’t held until 1888 in Canadian, Texas, so to be historically accurate, we changed to the fictional town of Kasota Springs. You might recognize the name from our “A Texas Christmas” because we returned to the town with some recurring characters during the 1887 blizzard.

The West of the Pecos Rodeo is now an annual event; however, the shebang lays claim to being the descendant of that first rodeo.  Legend has it that the whole thing came out of a contest between two ranch hands … Trav Windham and Morg Livingston.  Both had good professional reputations and people challenged them to see who was best cowboy.  Eventually, other talented cowboys who had originally come from all over the territory just to watch found themselves involved in contests of riding broncos and roping cattle.  Bullriding was considered dangerous; therefore, there was no official bullriding event in early rodeos.  But, there was a lot of money won and lost on the renegade event we now know as bullriding.

I hope you enjoyed my tour of some little known facts about Texas, and since I mentioned several of our anthologies, I will give away one commenter’s choice of an autographed copy of any of the six anthologies.

I’d love to hear about any of your favorite Texas experiences, if you’d like to share with us today?

Way Before the Cowboy Era…


Last month I had an amazing experience at our local Fossil Discovery Center, and while this topic goes a bit beyond my usual era, I wanted to share.  Especially for those who may live near my area and haven’t made the trek out to the fossil museum–you shouldn’t miss this! The center is fairly new, the one-year anniversary of the center is on the 13th of this month (National Fossil Day), and is located adjacent to the site where the fossils were found,  one of the largest fossil beds in the country–which also happens to be the Madera dump. Anyone remember the headline news from about ten years back when mammoth fossils were discovered in a California landfill? The mammoths were just the tip-of-the-tusk. Because this was a working landfill paleontologists had to cast and excavate fossils as fast as the massive machinery uncovered them. No time for  meticulous sediment removal and identification. They have enough fossil casts (plaster jackets) waiting to be opened and examined to keep paleontologists busy for the next twenty years–and they are nowhere near done excavating. They’ve already uncovered 39 different species, from snails and rodents to the large predators like the saber-tooth cats. I had no idea, and it’s practically in my backyard. I’d heard the Fossil Center was in our county but had no clue it was only ten miles away!

If I hadn’t been looking for a social/learning/volunteer outlet for my boys, I likely would have remained clueless. A huge benefit to homeschooling my teens–which, sadly, is NOT loads of writing time–is how much I learn in the process. One major drawback to their independent study program is a lack of social interaction. Not wanting to encourage the total hermit lifestyle I happen to revel in, getting my kids involved in a public program was important and I thought a fossil museum/discovery center would be perfect. I called and was told, “Sure, bring them out and we’ll put them to work.”  While visions of uninterrupted writing time danced in my head, my teenagers met that news with enthusiastic responses of, “Seriously? Do we have to? This is so stupid. Why are you punishing us?” Enjoying that chipper chorus all the way to the museum, I started to worry this great idea was going to go up in flames.

The paleontologist staff turned their grumbles into wide-eyed interest within ten minutes of stepping through the doors. Their enthusiasm for their work radiates like a palpable energy, and I think we were all a bit mesmerized by that energy and the massive scale of information and exhibits on display. After getting the grand tour, my kids were shooing me out the door, proclaiming four to five hours a few days a week would be great. A few weeks into it, they are just as enthusiastic, if not more so now that they are being trained to give tours and working with groups of elementary school kids who visit for field trips. My sixteen-year-old was telling me last week how he got the best feeling when a little girl running out to the bus stopped at the door and shouted back, “Thank you, Ethan!” Probably close to the happy feeling I got when he shared that with me–a moment that reminds you all your time and energy spent is worthwhile 🙂

I definitely recommend a visit to the Fossil Discovery Center or perhaps a similar facility in your area.  I was surprised to learn the fossil bed covers more than 40 acres, one of the largest. The fossils are from the last Ice Age in the San Joaquin Valley, the Middle Pleistocene Epoch, and are as old as 780,000 years. Little has been uncovered about this time period, making the site extremely valuable, and it’s rare to find a location with so many species available, giving a clear picture of life in their natural environment. The most common fossils found on this site are herd animals; ancient horses, camels, mammoths and giant ground sloths. The exhibits are definitely something to see!

Off for some R&R…

Okay, so neither the title or the picture are quite right since I walked about 15 miles today (not exactly REST or RELAXATION, but it was FUN 🙂 ) and someone forgot to pack the fishing gear. But at least we made it out of Dodge earlier this week, minus my cell phone (how is it that I pack for FOUR, and forget my own phone?? Although I did pack the charger 🙁 ), but such is the hazard with a spur-of-the-moment escape plan.

When I was whisked away to the coast I hadn’t yet planned a topic for my Friday blog day. So here I sit at midnight on Thursday, ever so thankful for the neighbor’s generous wifi signal ;-), racking my brain for a topic while trying to ignore the radiating heat of a sunburn…….hey, how about some vacation packing tips?!

  • Tip #1 – Sunscreen is a MUST. For all those pasty cave-dwellers like myself, REAPPLY sunscreen at noon. No matter how thick you slavved it on in the morning–REAPPLY.
  • Tip #2 – When heading to the beach, check to make sure he who said he’d pack all the beach/fishing gear actually puts said gear IN THE TRUCK.
  • Tip #3 – Always take a Swiss army knife—which has already de-slivered, de-twined and fixed a dental retainer emergency 😉
  • Tip #4 – Always pack a flashlight because power-outages happen everywhere….and they’re handy for hunting sand crabs in the dark 😀
  • Tip #5 – Doesn’t matter where you’re going, you can’t pack too much water, paper towel or zip-lock bags.
  • Tip #6 – Always pack a medical kit:
  • Solarcaine Spray
  • Tylenol, Motrin
  • Band-Aids/gauze roll
  • Ice Pack
  • Polysporin
  • Peroxide
  • Benadryl
  • Visine Eye drops

And, yeah, we’ve used about everything in that kit so far! Fun can be hard on the health 😉  But we are having a blast! After today’s marathon of adventure I’m wishing I’d packed a masseuse, and my over-baked, aching muscles are looking forward to spending Friday sprawled in a beach chair while the teenagers run amuck in the surf 😀

Wishing everyone fun & safe vacations and a Happy Friday!!


“Mad As A March Hare”

Having blogged last month about groundhogs and quirky associations to the month of February, my mind automatically turned to thoughts of the March Hare for this months post 🙂

The phrase “Mad as a March hare” has been bumping around in my head for as long as I can remember, but I never took the time to wonder “WHY?”. What is a march hare, where did he originate from and why is he bonkers?

Turns out this turn of phrase has everything to do with the crazy behavior of British bunnies, the European hare to be exact. A long-held view is that the hare will behave strangely and excitedly throughout its breeding season, which in Europe begins in March. This odd behavior includes boxing at other hares, jumping vertically for seemingly no reason and generally displaying abnormal behavior. Early observations of the boxing hares was believed to be between males fighting for breeding supremacy, but was later proven to be the defensive moves of females fighting off advances of overzealous frisky suitors.

An early verbal record of this animal’s strange behavior occurred in about 1500, in the poem Blowbol’s Test where the original poet said:

“Thanne þey begyn to swere and to stare, And be as braynles as a Marshe hare”
(Then they begin to swerve and to stare, And be as brainless as a March hare)

The March hare also has some association with our preferred time period of the 1800’s, as it was author Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865, that truly coined the phrase and popularized (and there by immortalized) the saying with his character March Hare, whom most will recognize as the friend and tea party host of the Mad Hatter. The phrase “mad as a March Hare” was a popular saying of his time and in the early illustrations of Carroll’s book the March Hare wears straw around his head, a common way to depict madness in Victorian times. Lewis Carroll’s most famous writings,  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, as well as the poems “The Hunting of the Snark” and “Jabberwocky“, are all examples of the genre of literary nonsense. He is noted for his facility at word play, logic, and fantasy, and there are societies dedicated to the enjoyment and promotion of his works. The March Hare is Atlantic Canada’s largest poetry festival. The March Hare initiated in the 1980’s and began as an evening of poetry and entertainment in Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and has evolved into an annual island-wide celebration of words and music. The festival took its name from the character in Carroll’s book. The name is also intended as a pun on the words here, celebrating a sense of place, and hear, since its focus is the spoken word.

So there you have it, the saying “mad as a March hare” originates from the crazy antics of horny Euro bunnies, an English idiomatic phrase which inspired the brilliance behind a genre of literary nonsense! Or is this more proof that love is what really drives us ALL mad? 😉

Wishing everyone a happy March!

Lavender: Then and Now with Lynna Banning

Have you ever traveled in Provence?  If so, you may have admired the purple haze of lavender fields.  Lavender (lavendula angustifolia), known as herb de Provence, is a small aromatic perennial shrub grown for use in sachets and soap and for lavender oil which is used both as a medicinal and as a perfume.  Fresh, crushed, or dried the herb is used as a tea and as a stimulant, sedative, antiseptic, linen-closet freshener and moth repellant; it’s also sprinkled  in bath water and used to treat burns and bites.  Wands of stems can be tied in bunches and burned as incense sticks.  There is even lavender-flavored lemonade.

Historically, lavender (from the Latin verb lavare, to wash) dates from ancient times.  Ancient Egyptians used it for cosmetics and for embalming; Tutankhamen’s tomb contained jars of lavender-scented unguents.  Greek philosopher Diogenes anointed his feet with lavender oil so that it “envelopes my whole body and gratefully ascends to my nose”.Lavender is thought to have been first domesticated in Arabia and, with the 7th century Arab conquest of the Middle East and Spain, the use of lavender spread throughout Europe.  Arab physicians and researchers such as Avicenna (980 A.D.) studied medicinal uses of the herb.

The plant can be propagated from cuttings or from seed, requires good drainage, likes chalky soil and lots of sunshine and needs no fertilizer.  Extracting the essential oil is by steam distillation, just like brewing whiskey in a still.  One acre of lavender yields 300 to 1800 pounds of dried flowers or 2 gallons of essential oil.

Provence is now the world’s primary lavender producer; prior to World War I, the French government (and perfume-makers) saw lavender production as a means of keeping people from leaving the area of southern France, so the almond orchards were cleared to plant lavender. 

In America, Shakers were the first to grow lavender commercially.  Later, when the founder of modern-day aromatherapy, Rene Gattefosse, burned his hand while working in his laboratory, he used lavender oil,  which stopped the pain and healed the burn with no infection or scarring.  Today, lavender farms thrive in California, Texas, Washington, Oregon, and even upstate New York.

Interesting historical uses of lavender include the following:
When Henry VIII dissolved the English monasteries, lavender culture moved to domestic gardens.  Traditionally, it was planted near the laundry, and washed clothing was laid over the plants to dry with an enticing fragrance.  Mixed with beeswax, lavender made furniture polish.

Queen Elizabeth I drank a lavender tea to treat her headaches and was so enthusiastic about the plant she encouraged the development of lavender farms.  Charles VI of France stuffed his cushions with lavender.  Glovemakers in France were licensed to perfume their gloves with lavender because it was believed to prevent cholera. 

Queen Victoria loved lavender!  She appointed a special Purveyor of Lavender Essence to the Queen, and lavender came to be fashionable among her ladies.  Street sellers in London sold dried lavender; it was then put into muslin sachet bags for use in wardrobes and between bedsheets.  Young women wore small sachets in their cleavage to attract suitors.

And in the Old West, young and old women did exactly the same.

Can’t you just smell the lavender? In honor of her new release, Lynna is offering TWO of her backlist westerns to TWO lucky winners! Just leave a comment for your chance to win.

Visit me at www.lynnabanning.com

The Merry Month of February

Okay, first off, before you read any further…what is the first thing the month of FEBRUARY brings to mind?  Your first thought, feeling or image?

Do you got it?

If you wouldn’t mind, type it in down in the comment section before peeking at the rest of the post, because I’d really like know 🙂

While rattling my brain for a blog topic my thoughts kept circling round to what month this is, ticking off points of possible interest and mostly coming back to my personal impression of the second month on our calender, which usually includes an eye-roll and the word *strange*. February has never made much sense to me, with it’s anti-phonetic spelling, disappearing dates, flying cherubs and schizty ground hogs…to me, February is the strangest month of the year, like Mad Hatter Month or something. And for some reason, I’m always surprised by how COLD it is in February–it’s like my mind thinks all the hearts and flowers associated with this month should heat the atmosphere.

So yeah, February has never made a ton of sense to me. To try and makes sense of these oddities, I did some fact finding for our fair month of February.

February was named after the Latin term februum, which means purification, via the purification ritual Februa held on February 15 in the old Roman calendar. January and February were the last two months to be added to the Roman calendar, since the Romans originally considered winter a monthless period. They were added by Numa Pompilius about 713 BC. February remained the last month of the calendar year until the time of the decemvirs (c. 450 BC), when it became the second month. At certain intervals February was truncated to 23 or 24 days; and a 27-day intercalary month, Intercalaris, was inserted immediately after February to realign the year with the seasons.

Under the reforms that instituted the Julian calendar, Intercalaris was abolished, leap years occurred regularly every fourth year (after a few years of confusion), and in leap years February gained a 29th day. Thereafter, it remained the second month of the calendar year, meaning the order that months are displayed (January, February, March, …, December) within a year-at-a-glance calendar. Even during the Middle Ages, when the numbered Anno Domini year began on March 25 or December 25, the second month was February whenever all twelve months were displayed in order. The Gregorian calendar reforms made slight changes to the system for determining which years were leap years and thus contained a 29-day February.

Historical names for February include the Anglo-Saxon terms Solmonath (mud month) and Kale-monath (named for cabbage) as well as Charlemagne’s designation Hornung. In Finnish, the month is called helmikuu, meaning “month of the pearl”; when snow melts on tree branches, it forms droplets, and as these freeze again, they are like pearls of ice.

Most pronounce February “Febyouary” or “Feberwary”. This comes about by a dissimilation effect whereby having two “r”s close to each other causes one to change for ease of pronunciation. As a kid I was sure some evil teacher had come up with the *hidden letter* spelling just to torture us spelling-challenged students 😉

Major events for the month include Ground Hog Day, Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day–Washington and Lincoln both being born in February. Did y’all know Ground Hog day goes back a thousand years? Some ancient traditions marked the change of season at cross-quarter days such as Imbolc when daylight first makes significant progress against the night. Other traditions held that Spring did not begin until the length of daylight overtook night at the Vernal Equinox. So an arbiter, the groundhog/hedgehog, was incorporated as a yearly custom to settle the two traditions. Sometimes Spring begins at Imbolc, and sometimes Winter lasts 6 more weeks until the equinox. Here in the US The holiday it began as a Pennsylvania German custom in southeastern and central Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Click HERE to see a video of this year’s prediction by Phil, our most famous ground hog in Punxsutwney, PA. Sort of confirms my thoughts that February is the strangest month of the year  😉

Here’s a list of holidays/events for February:

  • Parent Leadership Month
  • Aboliltion of Slavery in Mauritius:February 1
  • St Brigid’s Day: February 1, Ireland
  • Groundhog Day: February 2, United States and Canada
  • Imbolc: February 2
  • Chinese new Year: February 3rd
  • Independence of Sri Lanka: February 4
  • 1917 Constitution of Mexico: February 5
  • Waitangi Day in New Zealand: February 6
  • Vignesh kanna’s birth day in India:February 7
  • Slovenian Cultural Holiday: February 8
  • National Foundation Day in Japan: February 11
  • Abraham Lincoln’s birthday: February 12, United States
  • Lucia dos Santos died on February 13, 2005, at 97 years old
  • Valentine’s Day: February 14
  • Flag Day of Canada: February 15
  • Presidents Day (United States, third Monday)
  • International Mother Language Day: February 21
  • Independence Day in Saint Lucia: February 22
  • George Washington’s birthday: February 22, United States (often coincides with President’s Day, see above)
  • Flag Day of Mexico: February 24
  • People Power Revolution (Philippines) February 25
  • Stacey’s Wedding Anniversary 🙂  February 26
  • Dominican Republic Independence: February 27
  • Leap Day: February 29 (Every four years, with some exceptions)
  • Black History Month (Canada and United States)
  • National Day of the Sun (in Argentina)
  • National Wear Red Day (in the US and the UK)
  • National Bird-Feeding Month

Oh, and let’s not forget Super Bowl Sunday!  My inlaws are from Wisconsin so we’ll have a house full of cheese heads 😀

Hope I was able to add to your associations with this crazy month 😉  Whatever you are celebrating this month, I hope you have a healthy and happy February!