Six Ways to Save Money on a Cruise

June 7th, 2017

Vacationing aboard a cruise ship offers a way to relax and sample a variety of exotic locations while keeping within a fixed budget–or so it would seem. After all, you pay up front for your lodging, transportation and meals, so you don’t have to worry that you’ll have blown your food budget by day four and be forced to starve for the rest of your trip.Kate Dolan writes about saving money on cruises However, extra expenses on a cruise can accumulate like barnacles on the hull and provide a nasty shock that overshadows the great memories. There are ways to reduce some of these expenses and save money on a cruise, so if you’d like to keep your trip on budget, try some of these tips. Read the rest of this entry »

When You Have Nothing to Say…

May 23rd, 2017

I’m crammed in the middle row of an ultra-economy micro airline seat on a transatlantic flight and instead of indulging in escapist movie offerings I’m attempting to write while my laptop keeps sliding off the seatback tray. Why? Good question. Because I have nothing to write about. The blog I’d started yesterday stalled out when I realized that the research I’d collected and then lost couldn’t be reproduced with a quick online search. And while I knew that I’d unearthed some fun facts, all I could remember is that they were fun, not what they actually were. Since that’s really not the most useful bit to be remembering, I guess I should be grateful that I ever made it through first grade, let alone law school. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Biggest Waste of Money Ever?

April 28th, 2017

As I write this, I’m sitting in the car on my way to Ft. Frederick State Park in Western Maryland. My husband is driving, and the fact that I’m not is a luxury. For so many years, we needed two cars for this trip.Kate Dolan's kids explore the Ft Frederick Market Fair

We’re headed to the 18th Century Market Fair to camp — reenacting the past with some modern conveniences thrown in. When I first made this trek sixteen years ago, I just dressed in my not-very-accurate colonial best, grabbed some money, and hit the road. I had no idea what to expect, but the new friends who’d told me about the event would be camping there, and I thought there was a chance I might crash with them overnight. So I brought a toothbrush and a contact lens case.

I would never travel that light again, not by a long shot.

After I parked, paid my entrance fee and walked up to the entrance, I found myself suddenly surrounded by acres of white canvas tents and thousands of people who looked like they’d never seen a cell phone, running water or even a train. I was overwhelmed–both thrilled and a little horrified at the same time. Read the rest of this entry »

Now You See It: The History of the Baseball

April 3rd, 2017

On Opening Day, lots of people will be paying attention to the game of baseball. But not too many will be paying attention to the ball itself. We take it for granted that the little leather-covered sphere will curve when it’s supposed to and fly out of the park when it’s smacked hard enough.

But that wasn’t always the case.Kate Dolan writes about the history of the baseball

In the early days, pitchers usually made their own baseballs, winding yarn around a rock or walnut in their own distinct patterns to confound batters. Even when the balls became more standardized in the late 1870s with a rubber core and a leather cover cut in the traditional figure eight pattern just like balls today, the early baseballs would usually fall apart by the end of the game. They also differed from modern baseballs in that they were considered “dead.”
Read the rest of this entry »

Molly Bannaky – The Amazing Woman Who May Have Existed

March 25th, 2017

There is no doubt that Benjamin Banneker was a remarkable man and I argued in an earlier blog post that he should be considered among the Founding Fathers. Since March is Women’s History Month, I thought it would be great to write about his grandmother, Molly Bannaky. Her story was memorialized in a children’s book published about 18 years ago. She was a milkmaid in England convicted of theft because of a spilled pail of milk. Fortunately, she was able to avoid being hanged for theft because she knew how to read, and therefore she was eligible to be transported to the American colonies as an indentured servant.Kate Dolan writes about Benjamin Banneker's grandmother Molly Bannaky

She arrived in Maryland in 1683, worked as a laborer for seven years until her indenture was up, eventually started her own tobacco plantation, bought slaves, married one of them named Bannaky, and in time became the grandmother of Benjamin Banneker. Overcoming hardships on her own with no training and no support and then turning her back on “white” society to live with her husband’s disadvantaged culture would make Molly a remarkable woman.

The problem is that there’s not much hard evidence that she ever existed. For instance, legend has it that she taught Benjamin to read. But he never mentioned her. Her story comes down through time via oral traditions that may have been embellished or entirely fabricated.

This makes her a great candidate for historical fiction. I’ve been reading a master’s thesis by Sandra Perot that argues against the validity of many of the myths around Molly. As someone accustomed to making things up, I can fabricate a lot of scenarios that could make the myths reality, or at least much more plausible.

Writing the story of what Molly might have experienced will require a great deal of research so I haven’t yet delved into it, but I hope to start before too long. In the meantime, we can salute the women in Benjamin Banneker’s life who helped mold him into the remarkable man he turned out to be, whoever they were. Like so many remarkable women, their names may be lost, but their legacy lives on.

Today, as we commemorate Maryland Day, the day British colonists landed to found the colony of Maryland, we should remember that many of those early settlers did not come here by choice. Nevertheless, they worked hard and the colony would not have succeeded without them.

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Molly’s story, as I originally learned of it in the children’s book Molly Bannaky by Alice McGill, provided the inspiration for one of the characters in my first book, Langley’s Choice. Like Molly, my character rejects white society to be with a negro slave, and she faces the possibility of severe legal punishment for miscegenation, the “crime” of being in a mixed race relationship.

The master’s thesis I’ve been reading is “Reconstructing Molly Welsh: Race, Memory and the Story of Benjamin Banneker’s Grandmother” available online here: http://scholarworks.umass.edu/theses/210/

The photo above is from the reconstructed cabin at Banneker Historical Park. For more information, visit https://friendsofbenjaminbanneker.com

Irish Whiskey Has a Surprising Past

March 15th, 2017

For some reason, the other day I had to look up Irish whiskey to see whether it was spelled with an “e,” and while I was checking the spelling, I learned about the history of Irish whiskey, too. It was interesting enough to inspire me to share (the knowledge, not my stash of liquor. I’m not that generous.)Kate Dolan writes about the history of Irish whiskey

Irish whiskey is one of the very oldest European distilled spirits. Legend has it that monks took the knowledge of distilling perfume from Mediterranean culture and altered the technology to create ardent spirits sometime around A.D. 1200. The name “whisky” even comes from the Irish branch of the Gaelic language –  uisce beatha, which roughly translates as “water of life.” Those monks knew they were onto something.

Early records of whiskey distilling in Ireland are scarce, but there was enough of it going on that the English Parliament felt a need to pass a law in 1556 restricting distillation to “gentleman” unless the distiller had a license. This law was promptly ignored. In 1661, Great Britain instituted a tax on whiskey distillers, but registering to pay the tax was voluntary, and not surprisingly, few volunteered. Finally, in the 1761 started to get serious about collecting taxes from producers, and whiskey was then divided into two types – “parliamentary whiskey” and poitín (often spelled “poteen”) small pot-stilled liquor produced and sold illegally.

The popularity of the drink grew phenomenally fast and by the the end of the 1700s, the whiskey sold better in Ireland than rum, brandy and gin combined. By the 1820s, the distilleries in Dublin were among the biggest in the world and for a time Irish whiskey became the most popular spirit worldwide, far surpassing Scotch whisky.  Irish distillers even added an “e” to the word to differentiate their product from the inferior version produced in Scotland.

But this popularity didn’t last. Changes in distillation processes and aggressive moves by Scotch distillers cut into the market. Then the market virtually disappeared as Ireland engaged in a series of conflicts with it’s biggest market, the U.K., then engaged in civil war with itself, and then saw its American market plowed under the blanket of a ten year prohibition. By the 1930s, there was virtually nothing left of the booming industry and the decline continued until there were only five distillers remaining by the 1950s. When those consolidated, there were only two left in the 1970s-and they were both owned by the same company.

Frankly, I think if it hadn’t been for Irish coffee, the world would have forgotten about Irish whiskey.

But fortunately in the late 1980s, the trend slowly started to reverse. A new distillery opened for the first time in 100 years. Others followed and the market share has been steadily growing. However, it’s hard to imagine it will ever catch up to Scotch whisky, which today sells 15-16 times better.

But who knows? America is a big market, and we don’t hold huge drinking festivals to celebrate any Scottish saints. So maybe it’s just a matter of time until Irish whiskey regains its title.

I know I’m doing my part to make that goal a reality.

Slainte! And Happy Patrick’s Day

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Much of the information about the history of Irish whiskey came from Masters of Malt (https://www.masterofmalt.com/blog/post/irish-whiskey-everything-you-need-to-know-part-1.aspx)

If you enjoy reading about fictional characters who drink a lot of Irish whiskey or whatever else they can get their hands on, you might like my 18th Century historical stories Restitution, Langley’s Choice and Avery’s Treasure (although the pirates in that book drank far more brandy than whiskey.) And the characters Jack McCready (Restitution) and Edward Talbot (Langley’s Choice and Avery’s Treasure) both happen to be from Ireland as well.

The Term “Self-Published” is Misleading

March 5th, 2017

Some of my books are offered for sale on Smashwords, an ebook distributor that specializes in independent books. In other words, the books offered directly on the Smashwords website are considered “self-published.” And for many readers, that label translates to “not-worth-it.”

But the industry has changed so drastically that fewer of the self-published books are truly self-published these days. Authors are recovering rights to their older, out-of-print titles and re-releasing them on their own through platforms such as Kindle Direct and Smashwords. These are books that major publishers invested time in editing for content as well as grammar and the other fine points. These are not amateur productions, although when the authors create their own covers, it may look that way. (I’m pointing the finger at myself here!)

Again, because of changes in the industry, authors who have published numerous titles with publishing houses are now deciding that they would prefer to release some projects on their own. Knowing the value of good editing, these authors usually hire or trade professional editing services to bring their manuscripts up to professional standards. These new books, too, would not be amateur productions in my opinion. A professional writer and professional editor can put out a professional product even without a professional publisher.

This change took about ten years longer than I thought it would and that was good for me because it gave me the chance to work with some fabulous editors at different publishing houses. Now those publishers are all either out of business or have cut the series that I wrote for, and I’m on my own with a stack of previously-published works to put back out however I see fit. George Washington Stepped Here by K. D. Hays

I’m not going to suggest that they’re fabulous. But the content in them is no less than it was when they had a publisher’s name imprinted on the cover. In fact, often self-published older titles are often better than the original because authors frequently undertake revisions before re-releasing their older books. And every day, more and more of these previously-published titles hit the metaphorical shelves of independent publishing platforms.Christian Mystery George Washington Stepped Here by K.D. Hays

So if you’re looking for something to read, don’t cringe if you see that a book is “self-published.” That label carries less meaning with every passing day.

Smashwords has designated the week of March 5-12 as “Read an Ebook Week.” Since they sell ebooks, this would seem to be somewhat self-serving. However, they encourage authors to deeply discount their books. I’m offering my first mystery for free during the week. Of course, this is not an altruistic move on the part of Smashwords or myself. We both hope that when people read the first book for free, they will want to come back and buy the other two. Since the other two in the series are priced at $1.99 and $3.99, even if readers gobble up all three, no one is getting rich.

For myself, I’m hoping a few people enjoy reading my work. I hate the idea of spending much money on a bunch of computer coded words (an ebook) so I’ve never wanted my ebooks to cost more than a few dollars. Even $3.99 seems a bit high to me, but I do hope to recoup the costs I’ve invested in editing and promotion, if nothing else.

Anyway, the bottom line is that this is a good week to try out some new authors on Smashwords. It won’t cost you anything but time.

Happy reading!

George Washington Stepped Here will be available for free from March 5-12 here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/category/1/newest/1

You can learn more about this cozy mystery and my other books at http://katedolan.com/george-washington-stepped-here-by-k-d-hays. The drawing above shows artwork from the publisher while the book was in production. The new cover at the bottom was created for me by a professional artist, Henry thor Straten. My comment about amateur covers refers to some other titles, some of which will be making their re-debut soon.

Benjamin Banneker, a not-so-famous Founding Father

February 20th, 2017

One of my hometown’s best claims to fame is its association with Benjamin Banneker, often referred to as “America’s First Black Man of Science.” In 1737, Banneker’s father, a former slave purchased 100 acres of land in what is now considered the western part of Catonsville.Kate Dolan writes about Benjamin Banneker He made his son Benjamin co-owner so that the property could pass to him without any legal requirements. This also helped ensure that his family would maintain their free status in a state where slavery was common.

Banneker was fortunate in being able to attend a small Quaker school during the winter months with a few other local children, both white and black. His grandmother, a former indentured servant from England, had already taught him to read and write and he was known in his student days as a child who would rather read than play. After he was old enough to work full time on the tobacco farm with his father, his former schooling ceased. But he never stopped learning. Read the rest of this entry »

Remus Adams Left More Than Old Stones

February 1st, 2017

For years, I’d seen the picture of the old stone blacksmith shop owned by Remus Adams, but only recently did I learn a bit of the story of the remarkable man who owned the business that once stood on the main street of Catonsville.Kate Dolan researches the man behind the blacksmith shop at 615 Frederick RoadThe picture is old and grainy, which is not surprising. The shop was torn down well over a hundred years ago to make room for a new school. Now, of course, that school is old, and some people want to tear it down, too. But that’s another story.

The blacksmith who owned and ran the shop at 615 Frederick Road would not have been able to send his children or grandchildren to that school because he was African-American, and the new school would only be open to white children. Read the rest of this entry »

Smallwood’s House is Now a Retreat for Us

January 15th, 2017

Smallwood’s Retreat sounds like a battle maneuver, but it’s actually the name of the historic house in Charles County. We discovered the house while we were camping in a park named (not surprisingly) Smallwood after the original owner of the property. General William Smallwood was the highest ranking Maryland general during the Revolutionary War. I’d never heard of him.

Kate Dolan describes a visit to Smallwood's Retreat

We came across the red brick house while hiking the “Generals Walk” which was the only real trail in the park. (And when I say “hiking,” I’m making it sound more adventurous than it was, but when you walk two miles on a path that isn’t paved I think you get to call it “hiking” without cheating too badly.) Smallwood’s Retreat is not a large house, but the brickwork is quite handsome. It of course wasn’t open when we walked up. But we asked about it at the park office and were told it might be open on Sunday.

We didn’t get our hopes up. But on Sunday as we were hoisting the canoe onto the car, a member of the park staff drove up to our campsite. We immediately wondered what we’d done wrong. (Actually I didn’t wonder—I was thinking of the empty beer bottles in our screen tent. Maryland State parks don’t allow alcohol and I thought we were busted.) But it turns out we weren’t in trouble after all. (Well, now we will be since I just confessed to a crime.)Smallwood portrait 2 “Are you the ones who wanted to see the Smallwood House?” she asked. “I’ve been driving all over trying to find you. The house is open now.”

Well, that was unexpected service. So the canoe had to wait while we headed over to Smallwood’s Retreat.

General William Smallwood commanded the Maryland battalion during the Revolutionary War. Not long after the war ended, his neighbors elected him Congress and at the same time, the Maryland General Assembly offered him the position of governor. He took the latter job and served for three years before returning to his Retreat to manage his estate and help restore his church.

While he was pretty good at serving his country, he was not so good at managing his finances. Like many southern planters, he mortgaged future crops to fund the current year’s production on the plantation. When he died, he was so heavily in debt that his dwindling estate was sold to pay off the creditors.

Smallwood houseAnd I know this because the reenactor who gave us the tour of the small house also offered to give me a 30-page book on Smallwood when she saw that I was interested enough to ask questions.

What I thought was the most wonderful part of the tour was that at the end we learned that our guide was a collateral descendant of the general.

The other thing that struck me was the general’s portrait. While he was described by teen journalist Sally Wister as “tall…well made” with a “truly martial air,” I don’t think he considered himself attractive by any means. He ordered his portrait artist to “make me look more like George Washington,” the rock star of the day.

Compare this portrait to the one above. I think the artist succeeded in making Smallwood look like commanding officer

Compare this portrait to the one above. I think the artist succeeded in making Smallwood look like commanding officer

Smallwood’s Retreat was rebuilt from ruins in 1958 so the inside is only a conjecture as to layout of the rooms. I liked the “warming room,” which is not often seen in 18th C houses but probably existed in many of them as a place to reheat dishes brought in from the separate kitchen building. And the fact that Debbie Sharek, the woman posing for a picture in the warming room, is related to the original owner was probably the most charming feature of all.

The site advertises itself as being “40 minutes south of Washington,” but I think you’d have to drive in the middle of the night to make it there that fast. While it’s not worth driving hours to see, it was interesting and makes a good side trip while visiting other sites like Mallows Bay and Port Tobacco. Plus, the countryside is so quiet and removed from the congestion of DC that it feels like you’ve traveled to a truly distant place or even another time. Smallwood’s Retreat is still a retreat, but now it’s open to all.

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If you enjoy visiting 18th Century sites and learning about colonial history, check out my book Restitution, which explores some of the feelings and activities associated with the beginning of the Revolution in Maryland. To learn more about the parking and camping options, visit http://dnr2.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/southern/smallwood.aspx.