Archive for the ‘Latest Posts’ Category

Fat Knights and Mummy Peepholes: Why You Should See The Cool Stuff at The Met Even if You Don’t Like Art

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

I’d been avoiding it for years. Every time I visited New York someone was bound to suggest that I should see The Metropolitan Museum of Art, known to most people simply as “The Met.” I’ve enjoyed visiting art galleries in DC where they are free. So why should I pay to see art that wouldn’t look any different to me than the art I’d been seeing for years?

But on my recent trip I finally gave in to the weight of public opinion.Kate Dolan writes about the cool stuff at the Met including the tomb And now I’m a believer.

I first started with the section of the museum labeled “Egyptian Art.” I had no interest in artistic merit—I just wanted to see a mummy or sarcophagus. And right away I ran into (almost literally) an entire tomb that was transported into a gallery. Very cool. I took pictures pretending I was at the Luxor in Vegas. Kate Dolan writes about the cool stuff at the Met including the Egyptian artThen I moved on in search of mummies. I found a lot of luggage belonging to a particular mummy.Kate Dolan writes about the cool stuff at the Met including the mummy peephole His baggage for the journey to the afterlife included piles of jewelry, a plate of severely dehydrated food and a mammoth jar of beer. Apparently the beer continued to ferment after his entombment and the pressure blew out the cork and knocked the jar on its side, so his afterlife encounter would have been even dryer than anticipated. (I had a similar experience once when I attempted to pack beer in a checked suitcase on an airplane. Beer does not travel well in this life or the next.)

The sarcophagus had eyes painted on one end so that the mummy could see out the holes. So I’d found a mummy peephole. But still no mummy. Then I saw a sign explaining that the mummy had been sent to the Museum of Natural History. When he comes seeking revenge for the mishandling of his baggage, I don’t want to be around.

After that I thought I was done with the Egyptian stuff, but while looking for a bathroom, I instead found an entire Egyptian temple that had been transported piece by piece.Kate Dolan writes about the Egyptian temple at the Met (Fortunately, treasure hunters did not steal the Temple of Dendur –it was given to the U.S. in appreciation for help moving artifacts that would have been submerged by waters from the Aswan Dam in the 1960s.)

This is definitely not something you find in your average museum. The Met was scoring high on the cool chart even without the mummy.

Next I started toward the collection of knights in armor (well, I didn’t expect to find the actual knights because they were Kate Dolan writes about the period rooms at the Metprobably at the Natural History museum too). In any case, I got sidetracked by the Period Rooms which were rooms that people literally sold out of their houses, paneling and all. It was apparently quite a common practice a hundred years ago for those with more history than cash in the family to sell off the most ornamented rooms to museums collecting decorative arts. The entrance to the period rooms is the entire two-story stone façade transported from another old building.

After the Period Rooms I was off to the armor. While looking around to find the oldest pieces in the collection, I noticed that one of the knights had a much more rotund figure than I was accustomed to think of as knightly. Turns out that the armor I was looking at was used by Henry VIII in battle late in his reign. I thought that by this point in the mid 1500s, most armor was ceremonial or used only in tournaments, so seeing field armor was a surprise.Kate Dolan writes about the cool stuff at the Met including Henry VIII's armor It was also surprising to learn that Henry VIII actually made it on to the field of battle, especially in his latter days when the weight and gout would have made leading by example pretty difficult.

Obviously there is much more to cool stuff at The Met than fat knights and mummy peepholes, but to my uncultured eye, those were definite highlights. I did see some amazing paintings, like the historically inaccurate “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” which is the size of a gymnasium wall. And despite my ignorance about art, I was impressed.

So on my next visit I might just have to go to the art museum to actually look at the art. I’ll have to check in with the mummy first, though, to see if he’s come back to wreak revenge for messing up his afterlife luggage.

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Do you like museums? I’d love to hear about your favorite, so drop me a line via Facebook or the contact page on my website. I keep a list of helpful resources here and am always happy to add new places to the list.

If you like to read about the trouble people can get into when their curiosity gets the better of them, you might enjoy my not-so-traditional Regency  romance “Love & Lunacy” stories featuring Helen Wright, who would rather study mold growth than shop for bonnets. She was so much fun and added so many unique observations to the stories that I ended up featuring her in every one and even gave her a “love” story of her own at the end of the series. She makes her fictional debut in A Certain Want of Reason.

Thanks for reading!

 

The Peggy Stewart Affair: Maryland’s Flaming Tea Party

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

Anyone who has studied American history knows about the Boston Tea Party. When a group of angry colonists protested British taxation by dumping chests of tea that belonged to the British East India Company, the British responded by closing the port and taking over the colony’s government.Kate Dolan writes about the Peggy Stewart Affair

Of course, the colonists in Boston weren’t the only ones who objected to the direct taxation by the British. And they weren’t the only ones who staged tea party protests (See my blogs about ten colonial tea parties and an annual event commemorating a tea party that probably never happened)

Today is the anniversary of Maryland’s tea party, known as the Peggy Stewart Affair. It was in many ways a more blatant protest than Boston’s event. Rather than dressing in costume and sneaking on board ship at night, the colonists involved in this protest on October 19, 1774 acted in broad daylight and insisted on not only destruction of the tea, but of the entire ship carrying it.

Why didn’t the British close the port of Annapolis in response? Well, most likely they didn’t care. Both the ship and the tea were owned by a private individuals. And by this time, so many locations were holding protests that this one may hardly have been noticeable.

It was a big deal in Annapolis, however, because it forced people to take sides. At issue was not only the question of whether the British government had the right to levy a direct tax on colonists or take control of colonial governments. Most were in agreement that the British had overstepped their boundaries. The bigger question was how far people were willing to go to assert their right to be free of this taxation and excessive control.

The Peggy Stewart was a small merchant vessel owned by Anthony Stewart and his father-in-law James Dick. In London, representatives from a rival merchant firm loaded tea on the Peggy Stewart but allegedly told the captain of the vessel that the packages contained linen. The captain suspected otherwise and just before the ship sailed, the customs documents revealed that the packages did in fact contain tea. Maryland colonists, like many others, were boycotting British tea to protest the taxation and the British treatment of Boston. So when the ship reached Annapolis, the captain knew there would be trouble.

The Peggy Stewart had numerous problems and contraband tea was only one of them. The ship leaked badly and barely made it across the Atlantic. And the main cargo consisted of 53 indentured servants sold into service in the colonies. Once the leaking vessel arrived in Annapolis, no cargo could be removed until the tax on the tea was paid, the indentured servants were considered cargo. The vessel was not likely to survive another Atlantic crossing—in fact it was in danger of sinking right in the harbor. So feeling that he had no choice, Anthony Stewart paid the tax.

This made him an enemy to every patriot in town, or at least the “grab your torch and pitchfork” variety that fueled their righteous anger with spirits and rhetoric at the ordinary taproom. After several days of negotiation, Stewart agreed to sign a paper stating he had behaved wrongfully and that the tea should be burned.

And then a mob set up a gallows and decided that maybe he should be hanged, too. Or maybe his house should be burned. Instead, they moved the party down to the harbor and demanded the burning of the ship. To appease the mob, Stewart eventually set fire to his own vessel. And so the Peggy Stewart burned as a symbol of patriotism. Or perhaps the power of mob mentality.

The Peggy Stewart Affair demonstrates that there are at least two sides to every story. Rarely, I think, does anyone take action from an evil motive. We may have motives that are selfish, but mostly I think it is when our motives simply differ that there is danger in being misunderstood. Too often we ascribe evil motives to what we simply don’t understand.  The result is destruction, anger and division.

The Peggy Stewart Affair was later looked back on as a moment of proud patriotic action. But at the time, I think it may have caused more harm than good. Neighbors who might have been able to agree on the nature of their protest were suddenly polarized and found themselves fighting each other as much as the British.

And they say those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

We can look back at the Peggy Stewart affair as a patriotic episode from the past. Or we can view it as a lesson about the dangers of political division in the future.

Your choice–thanks to our ancestors, it’s a free country.

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If you’d like to read more about The Peggy Stewart Affair, you might enjoy my historical novel Restitution. Set in Maryland in 1774, the story explores differing attitudes on the eve of revolution. Several scenes involving the Peggy Stewart Affair were based on events chronicled in the Maryland Gazette and elsewhere.   For a list of resources documenting the event, check out http://teaching.msa.maryland.gov/000001/000000/000030/html/t30.html.

Celebrating Halloween Doesn’t Make Me a Bad Christian –The Meaning of Halloween

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

I once saw a guy in my office printing out drawings of jack o’lanterns with a line through them. At first, I wondered what he had against pumpkins. How can any parent not like a smiling vegetable?Kate Dolan writes about the meaning of Halloween Then I read the message under the picture “Sorry, no trick or treat. This house is washed in the blood of the lamb.” While it might sound like they were unable to give out treats because they’d been visited by the gory villain from a horror movie, instead they were trying to say that they wouldn’t give out candy because celebrating Halloween violated their Christian beliefs. While I recognize that they’re entitled to that opinion, here’s why I think they’re wrong. I do not believe that Halloween is an anti-Christian holiday and in fact the meaning of Halloween can actually reinforce Christian truths.

First there’s the name. “Halloween” is a shortened form of All Hallows Evening. It is a the eve or night before All Hallows Day. This is a Christian holiday more often referred to now as All Saints Day and it is a time for remembering the most hallowed Christians. Many people think the word “hallow” has to do with the occult because of Halloween imagery or Harry Potter’s “deathly” hallows. But really nothing is further from the truth. Remember in the Lord’s prayer, we say “Hallowed by thy name.” It is a term of reverence and respect. So the eve of a feast honoring the saints is not a pagan celebration.

But, many are quick to point out, the Christian name All Hallows Eve was just pasted on top of a pagan celebration. And that is probably true. Celtic pagans celebrated the feast of Samhain near the cross quarter day which is halfway between autumn equinox and winter solstice. It marks the end of the bountiful harvest season and the coming of the dark winter months. Thought to be a time when the boundary between this world and the next was quite thin, the days were marked with feasts and offerings to spirits to ensure survival through the long winter.

Kate Dolan writes about Halloween decorationsWhen Christian missionaries tried to convert pagans to the Christian faith, they often found it difficult to encourage their converts to give up pagan celebrations. After all, most of us love a good party. So instead of cancelling the celebrations, they changed the reason for the celebration. And All Hallows Eve joins a long list of Christian holidays in bearing that distinction, including Christmas (winter solstice) and Easter (spring equinox).

The ancient Celtic druids may have believed that they were setting out offerings to ward off evil spirits. They may have carved jack o’lanterns and dressed as spirits to confuse unwanted visitors from the otherworld. They were not trying to invite evil or encourage it but rather survive the coming wrath of nature. In any case, these days people who dress in costume, carve pumpkins and put up scary decorations are certainly not trying to invite the damned into their homes. Most of us are just trying to add a little novelty into our lives and shake up the status quo a bit.

We live in a society that ignores death for the most part. We react with horror and sadness and then quickly turn away. Other societies have not been so fortunate, whether due to war, famine or disease, death was an everyday possibility. When we in our modern whitewashed culture put up skeletons and ghosts, we acknowledge that death exists and sooner or later it’s coming for all of us. It is the great equalizer. And it’s not pretty. The gore of Halloween reminds us that we can only ignore our mortality for so long. I think that’s a good thing.

Kate Dolan writes about Halloween as a ChristianAnd of course Christians can celebrate Halloween for other reasons. We have been freed from fears about death and fears of the dangers of evil spirits. We can celebrate that freedom and even make fun of our pagan past. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying evil doesn’t roam in this world. I’m just saying that we now know that carving a pumpkin or dressing as a spook isn’t going to drive it away.

So if you believe in the promises of Christ, I think you can celebrate Halloween with a clear conscience. Likewise, if you choose to stay inside and keep the candy for yourself, you’re free to do that, too. But don’t be afraid that a pagan lurks behind every Halloween mask, because that’s simply not true.

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Years ago, Christmas used to be the time when friends and family would gather together and tell ghost stories. Inspired by this, I wrote a story about a scary Christmas tale that starts to come to life in my Christmas novella Bride of Belznickel.

 

 

 

 

Perils of the Private Eye

Monday, September 25th, 2017

Remember the hard boiled private detective? The private investigator hired to save a client wrongly accused of some heinous crime was a staple of page and screen for many years. But in our casual-Fridays world, the detective who stood out for wearing a cheap suit is long gone. Characters solving crimes these days usually work in law enforcement or serve as consultants to the police.

So when I started writing Christian cozy mysteries, why did I decide to make my sleuth Karen Maxwell a private investigator? The obvious answer would be that I didn’t know what I was doing. But I prefer to think that I did it to challenge myself.

Here’s why it’s a bad idea to use a private detective in a modern mystery.

  • First of all, there is no such thing as a private detective. Detectives work for the police. “Private eyes” work for investigation firms, and most of their business consists of doing background checks. Clients often hire investigators to find who out who’s stealing from them, but they don’t hire them to solve murders. So if the lead character is a private investigator, she’s not going to be solving murders, and most people pick up a mystery expecting to find at least one or two dead bodies lurking in the pages. But this situation actually this works in my favor. I tend to write with a lot of humor and it just didn’t feel right to have characters snarking at each other over breakfast cereal while people are dropping dead all over town. So my cozy mysteries have dead parrots rather than dead people.
  • The second problem with using a private investigator as my fictional crime solver is that a competent investigator already has a pretty good idea “whodunit” by the time he or she goes out to a site to investigate. There may be a couple of suspects, but nowhere near the number of red herrings that are required to sustain a good cozy mystery plot. What’s my solution to this problem? I deviate from reality here and have my investigator spend more time “undercover” than a client would realistically pay for.
  • A third problem with using a private investigator as my fictional detective is that most investigation work these days is done on the computer. If I write a story where the heroine comes to the office and sits in front of her computer for eight hours, it’s not going to be much fun to read even if I have her associate turn the coffeemaker into a Feng Shui aquarium. My solution to this problem is two-fold. First, I skip over most of the computer stuff. Second, I would have Karen get even with her associate by doing something like covering his motivational posters with banana stickers and sardine labels. It may not advance the plot, but at least it’s a change of pace.

Of course, there are some advantages to using a private investigator. For starters, it gives my heroine a reason to get involved in the first place. I don’t have to make my character a busybody or know-it-all—she gets involved and starts asking questions because that’s her job. And because it’s a new job and she’s not very confident about either her abilities or her status in the firm, her insecurity creates a sense of tension. The job provides her sole source of income and a chance to rebuild her confidence after a disastrous divorce. So if she fails to solve the mystery, that failure would be devastating.  While the books are intended to be entertaining and share a Christian message, there is a serious undercurrent about a woman rebuilding her life and sense of self worth.

So while I would not recommend that other writers use professional private investigators as the main character in a cozy mystery novel, I think it works for my offbeat suburban soccer mom mysteries. I hope you agree!

Thanks for reading!

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The Karen Maxwell mysteries are available in ebook in all formats through a variety of online retailers. Book three in the series, Roped In, is also available in print through online retailers. The first two books are out-of-print but print copies are available through Authors Den. Click on the covers to learn more about each book:

K.D. Hays's Christian mystery George Washington Stepped HereK. D. Hays has a new cover for Worth its Weight in Old

 

 

Riding a 100-Year-Old Roller Coaster

Monday, August 14th, 2017

 

Kate Dolan writes about the 100th anniversary of the Wild One roller coaster“The Wild One” roller coaster at Six Flags America in Maryland is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, which is pretty amazing. During the course of its history, the coaster has been partially rebuilt several times and even relocated nearly 500 miles from its original site. But it still retains the iconic silhouette that appears on a postcard from its earliest days.Kate Dolan writes about the history of the Giant Coaster

When it was built in 1917, the “Giant Coaster,” as it was called at the time, was the tallest in the world with a initial summit stretching 98 feet into the sky. Although the speed back then may have been less than its current top speed of 60 miles per hour, it certainly was fast enough to wreak havoc on women’s fashions of the time.

Just think about it. While not as cumbersome as clothing from just a few years earlier, in 1917 women of all social classes wore full skirts, hats and gloves and many wore restrictive corsets, all of which could have made the prospect of squeezing into a roller coaster car quite unappealing.

Women might have been considered daredevils for even trying to ride. After all, safety regulations weren’t exactly stringent back then and some of the earlier coasters were ridiculously dangerous (and will therefore be the subject of a future blog!)

Kate Dolan writes about women's fashion in 1917

Popular women’s fashion in 1917

In 1917, the Giant Coaster hosted its first riders in Natasket Beach, Massachusetts as the showpiece of an amusement venue known as Paragon Park. It was created by pioneering designer John A. Miller and then after suffering damage in a fire, the coaster was re-created in 1932 by another pioneer, Herbert Paul Schmeck.

After entertaining riders for three more decades, the coaster again suffered fire damage in 1963. While park owners wanted to rebuild the coaster to the same configuration, they decided the cost was too high and they opted to basically cut out the damaged parts of the track and shorten the ride. In another cost-saving move, they purchased trains from another damaged coaster called The Comet and used those on the Giant Coaster without even bothering to repaint the name on the cars.

Despite the attempts at thriftiness, financial troubles caused the park to close in 1984 and the Giant Coaster rolled to a stop.

A small water park in Maryland made a surprise bid for the ride and won. Since the park was named, Wild World, they rechristened the coaster as the Wild One, rebuilt it to the earlier full-length design and opened it for business in 1986.

I had the distinct displeasure of riding the Wild One in 1989. The coaster rattled so badly I felt like all my bones had been shattered. We had no idea that The Wild One was so old, but honestly it seemed like the ride had shaken out all of its bolts and was liable to collapse at any moment.Kate Dolan writes about a 100 year old roller coaster

Fortunately, the coaster is now in much better health. The park was sold to a bigger company in 1992 and eventually rebranded as Six Flags. In 1997, the tracks of the Wild One were reconfigured slightly to make room for a new water ride and this change raised the top speed of the coaster from 53 to 60 m.p.h.

Since 1997, that “new” water ride has been dismantled and replaced by another coaster. Other rides and park themes have come and gone, but the Wild One remains, offering a pretty smooth ride with lots of “air time.”

This year, a new logo on signs and the train cars celebrates the coaster’s century of service. In an entertainment industry where the hottest trend is soon obsolete and ready for replacement, a hundred year run is pretty impressive.Kate Dolan loves The Wild One's 100th birthday

If you have the chance, take a ride on history this summer. The Wild One could be a museum artifact, but instead of looking at it behind glass, you can experience the ride just like thrill-seekers over 100 years ago. Opportunities like that don’t come along every day.

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For more information about early roller coasters, visit http://www.ultimaterollercoaster.com/coasters/history

 

 

 

Rule of Thumb Not as Creepy as I Thought

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Many women have been told that the term “rule of thumb” has its origins in ancient English law and that it was a rule limiting the thickness of a stick with which a man could use to legally beat his wife. I was told this by a professor of legal history at Cambridge University in England, so I saw no reason to doubt the tale.

Kate Dolan tests the rule of thumb

My husband seems to have found an acceptable switch!

If I’d read more recent research on the subject, I’d know better.

To begin with, the Oxford English Dictionary shows the first use of the phrase “rule of thumb” occurring in 1692. This is far from an ancient legal concept—in fact, for British law, I’d say it’s relatively recent. But in 1692 the phrase was not used with a legal connotation at all. (more…)

Six Ways to Save Money on a Cruise

Wednesday, 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. (more…)

When You Have Nothing to Say…

Tuesday, 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. (more…)

Our Biggest Waste of Money Ever?

Friday, 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. (more…)

Now You See It: The History of the Baseball

Monday, 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.”
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