Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Magic of Christmas

I've always believed in the magic of Christmas and never lost the desire to celebrate the simple joyfulness of this special time of year. On this my last post of the year, I'd like to tell you a story about something that happened to me several Christmases ago.

           The night is Christmas Eve. Everyone is fast asleep upstairs in their beds.

 I begin to ease the house into the dark night. I push a little black button that turns off the miniature train village and the front parlor’s Christmas Memory tree. How I love watching the electric trains encircle this special tree, filled with our children’s handmade ornaments from top to bottom, some over 40 years old. 

Next, with a quick tap of a tiny switch on an old wall, the white lights on the bushes outside go black. 

I peer out of an old window set into a green paneled door. My nose, with its warmth, clouds the wavy glass. No people, no cars on the road, just newly fallen snow that sparkles like diamonds under a moonlit sky.  

My slippered feet take me to the rear of our old house and its recent addition. I pass the kitchen where another switch is tapped in the new foyer controlling the lights in the driveway. 

After a whispered thank you to my Lord, I say goodnight to the 50-foot evergreen near our barn. Its multicolored light bulbs glow under a dusting of snow and feels almost like a blessing on our centuries old home. 

I hear the porch door, which faces the woods, open and close with a crunch from the ice that has formed on its threshold. My husband, Tim, lets Mac, our senior Beagle, make his last mark on the frozen ivy for the night.

The piney smell of an inside tree tingles my nose and draws my attention back into the living room. The elegant and mighty fir, decorated with over a hundred small ribbons touches the cathedral ceiling with a large red bow from long ago.  Silver glass balls hang near the bottom and antique ornaments from my childhood are delicately placed at the top.  Hallmark specials fill in the middle, all hung within everyone’s reach, so with the touch of other tiny buttons, Christmas Carols or silly sounds from Disney characters fill the air. Blinking lights complete this lovely Christmas image. But I feel my eyes closing and as sleep slowly creeps through my body I turn the tree lights off.

From my right comes the soft glow of a lone bulb that lights the wooden manger of the Baby Jesus. It’s the final click of the night. 

In the darkness, I inch my way to our bedroom where I climb into bed next to Tim and then under the thick blankets for a good winters sleep. 

It isn’t long, at least it seems quick to me, that I hear something on the roof. I glance at the clock; it’s 3am and way to soon to wake. I roll over, hug my pillow and try to catch another 40 winks. But the sound of a thump startles me once again and my drowsy eyes open wide. 

I throw off the covers. With me in my nightgown and feet without socks, I fly to the doorway only to see that all is still, bathed in the shadowy light from a cold winter’s moon. My heart races, my head becomes filled on this Christmas Eve with the thought of just one thing.  And yet, nothing makes sense at the moment, I question myself, what was that clatter…the outside shower door in the wind? a branch on the roof? 

Soon a smile grows across my face as I slowly turn back to bed. Once under the warm quilts, it doesn’t matter. I know in my heart it could only be, the magic of Christmas. Yes, it has to be Santa Claus. And for a split second I am seven again, giggling under the covers, anxiously waiting for morning to come. This was surely a gift from Santa, a reward for a faithful belief that I’ve carried all my life. And when I wake, I’ll be pleased to tell my tale to all who’ll listen so they too can share in this wonder. 

The moral or lesson to my story is simple, be childlike. Believe in Santa Claus, believe in his spirit, his magic and keep him alive. He’s not such a bad guy after all. Remember it’s not all about presents and gifts, it’s about family, memories, love, kindness, and the twinkling bulbs that light the night. For me, it’s about an angel sent by God to remind us that his son was born to save us.  Call him St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, or Santa Claus. He’s an angel true and true, one that makes our hearts lighter, our lives brighter and just happens to like the color red. 

 Merry Christmas and Happy Celebrations! 
See you next year!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Who was Saint Nicholas?

When I was a little girl, on the eve of December 6, my mother would always tell the family to put their shoes in front of the fireplace. If we'd been behaving, there would be an orange and some candy the next morning. If not, we'd receive a piece of coal or maybe nothing...but that never happened. Mom said these gifts came from Saint Nicholas. It was a test, to see if we needed to improve by the time Christmas morning came. I guess it was similar to the current 'elf on a shelf' craze.

Here's an image of Saint Nicholas. Notice the oranges and his red/green robe. Look familiar?

Here's what I found in my research.

Saint Nicholas died on December 6, 343 C.E. He came from a wealthy family, always giving away his money to the poor. He soon became a priest. After his parents died, he used his inheritance to help even more people but only traveled in the night, in secret. By the time he was made the Bishop of Myra, in the city of Denre in present day Turkey, his good deeds and saintly work had spread far and wide.

As centuries came and went, his reputation became almost mythical. Over 400 churches in the Middle Ages were dedicated in his honor. Because of his gift giving and evidence of miracles, people began celebrating and giving gifts to each other on his feast day.
Martin Luther, in the early 1500s, replaced the name Nicholas with Christ Child, or in German, Christkindl, eventually evolving into Kris Kringle. 

More legends sprang up, and in the late 1500s there was another name change–Father Christmas.

Along the way, the tradition developed guidelines. On the eve of December 6, parents instructed their children to hang their stockings by the fireplace or put their shoes out and they would be filled if they were good. They also had to go to bed early if they wanted anything because St. Nick only came at night to deliver his gifts.

The Dutch pronunciation for Saint Nicholas was Sinter Klass. When the Dutch settlers came to the New World and settled in New York, known then as New Amsterdam, they brought their St. Nick traditions. The name changed again from Sinter Klass to Santa Klass to Santa Claus. Which brings us to today.

We all know who this is!

On a side-note:

I still remember my brother and I coming down the stairs, dressed in our school uniforms, anticipating what was in our shoes for St. Nicholas Day. Then on the bus to school, we dreamed about what we would be receiving on the coming Christmas Day because our shoes were filled, signifying that we were being very good. My Mom collaborated with St. Nicholas  through high school, college, and even when we all moved away with our own families. What a treat it was when a St. Nicholas card arrived in the mail with a little money inside.  

Struna's St. Nicholas Day 1976

 I continued the family custom for my own children and so did my brother and sisters with their children. When my Mom passed and I moved further away from everyone to Cape Cod, I wanted to keep the observance of St. Nick alive, along with the goodness of my Mom. So every year I mail a St. Nicholas card to my nieces and nephews, filling it with a dollar bill for each member of their family.  Over the years, I hope they have enjoyed it as much I have. It's a simple reminder to be good and never lose the magic of the season.

I wish the same to you.

Friday, November 22, 2013

History of Thanksgiving

In 1621, the Plymouth Colonists and the Wampanoag Indians shared a feast that lasted several days. It was not called a holiday or Thanksgiving. It was simply a meal of gratitude because they had survived a year on a new continent. Of course, it only happened because  the Wamponoag Indians taught them how to stay alive and how to reap a good harvest over the summer. Most importantly, the Indians gave them hope that they could make it through another coming cold season.  Still sad that 42 of them had already died out of 102 pilgrims, either on the voyage, from the frigid weather, or sickness, the early settlers wanted to celebrate for the future.

Photo courtesy of Plimouth Plantation
According to Edward Winslow in a letter to a friend in England in 1621, he wrote, “And God be praised, we had a good increase…. Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling that so we might after a special manner rejoice together….” He continued, "...many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others."

In my research, I sometimes find the reasons behind historic events that are not necessarily taught in school. For instance, peace between the Indians and early settlers lasted only 50 years or one generation. After which, the decimation of the Native Americans began with earnest as more people came to the New World. The new pilgrim arrivals required more land and took it from the Indians, either by legitimate trade, purchase, or war. The survival of the Indians was not uppermost in their minds, their own well-being came first. It surely was a sad time in American history. If only our forefathers would have been more compassionate with the plight of the American Indian. I often think there had to be a way for both peoples to live side by side in peace. Let's hope that history will never repeat that era.

Here are a few more facts, but on the lighter side of Thanksgiving – people always celebrated a harvest but the festivities were never on a Sunday because that was the day of the Lord, so a weekday was chosen.

In the 1700s – 1800s, there were regional celebrations of Thanksgiving throughout the colonies and states but no set date.  In 1863 amidst the Civil War, Lincoln declared a day of Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

Photo - Cast of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" – 1938

Then in 1939 during the Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the holiday to the third Thursday of November. He wanted to stimulate the economy and give retailers more time for promoting Christmas sales. People didn't like it. They called it 'Franksgiving'. Reluctantly in 1941, President Roosevelt changed the day back to the fourth Thursday of November.

As far as the traditional food of the season as we know it, it was different by region throughout the 19th century. When the southern states finally joined in the holiday around the late 1800s, they brought with them some of our favorites, such as corn bread, ham, and sweet potatoes. In New Mexico, chilies and southwestern flavors appeared in stuffing. Crab was important on the menu around the Chesapeake Bay. Key Lime pie sat next to pumpkin pie in Key West. New England had a big influence on the Thanksgiving menu, adding cranberry sauce and probably scallops, especially here on Cape Cod.

There is no mention of Thanksgiving or Christmas in my historical novel, The Old Cape House because it was not celebrated as we know it today. The Puritans frowned upon dancing, singing, or pretty much anything that was fun. But every fall season around the harvest, I'm sure a thank you was on everyone's lips and in their hearts, happy that their cupboards and root cellars were stocked for the approaching cold season and that they would survive another winter once more. 

                                                              Happy Thanksgiving!

From our table to thankful for whatever good is in your life and wish the same to others. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Cape Cod – Maria Hallett

Many stories have been written and told about 18th century Maria Hallett. 

In my historical novel, The Old Cape House, I tell a story that has never been heard before.

According to legend and folklore, Maria was a poor, misunderstood girl who happened to fall in love with a handsome soon–to–be pirate. His name was Sam Bellamy, aka - Black Sam Bellamy or The Pirate Prince. He came to Cape Cod in the spring of 1715 on his way to salvage treasure in the West Indies.

A fleet of Spanish galleons wrecked in a hurricane off the coast of Florida in 1715 and all of its cargo sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic. Bellamy was determined to go there and find his fortune. He left Maria behind on Cape Cod and never knew she was with child. When he arrived where the treasure was, it was almost all gone. Not wanting to return empty handed, he went 'on account' and turned pirate.

The following winter, Maria was found in a barn with a dead child and no explanation came from her lips as to how she got into this predicament.

Given the century and its Puritan beliefs, townsfolk accused her of witchery and murder. She was eventually punished, shunned, and made an outcast. As time passed, the people of Eastham blamed Maria Hallett, aka - The Witch of Billingsgate or Goody Hallett for every sailor or ship lost at sea and any other problems they had in their lives. Her legend only grew bigger and more frightening to anyone who knew of it.

One day, many years ago, I visited the Whydah Pirate Museum in Provincetown and discovered the Bellamy/Hallett legend. I found it fascinating. But all the way home to Brewster, I couldn't keep my mind off of Maria's story. She was so young. How could this have happened to her? 

Then I thought of the Salem witch trials and how the religious leaders of that period kept their congregants in line. They taught that one must follow the church's law no matter what the circumstances. Any unexplained or bad occurrences are the work of the devil. They preached, " must be fearful of the Lord and be solemn. No dancing! No singing!"  They screamed, "if you indulge in these pleasures, you might become distracted, and a prime target for the devil to control you."  If you were slightly different from the others, harbored strange thoughts, had a child with a birth defect, or anything they couldn't was the work of the devil.

From that day, I kept thinking...what if the legend never happened the way the old salts of Cape Cod have told it? 

Fact #1  Sam Bellamy has been proven to exist in history and was a real pirate and he did visit Cape Cod in the spring of 1715. 

Fact #2  Sam Bellamy's body was never found after the wreck of his ship the Whydah off the coast of Cape Cod.

Fact #3  Maria Hallett has never been proven to exist. 

With these few thoughts I created a new story about Maria. One that will take you on an adventure back through time and forward to the present. 

You'll find history, romance, and mystery. 

Read The Old Cape House  available as an ebook or paperback.

Purchase from Struna Galleries
Receive an autographed copy, Bookmark, and a copy of a Cape Cod map showing 1700 and present day!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Things buried in the garden?

What would you do if you found a skull buried in your garden?
In my historical novel, The Old Cape House, that's exactly what present day Nancy Caldwell finds at the bottom of an old root cellar behind her barn. As the story unfolds, in alternating chapters between the 18th and 21st centuries, Nancy unearths other clues and connections that  link her land to the Cape Cod legend of the pirate Black Sam Bellamy and Maria Hallett.

The scariest thing I ever found on our property in Brewster was this gun. At first, I thought it was real; it felt heavy and looked deadly. After a few minutes of staring at it, I proceeded to slowly walk into the house, gently carrying it in the palm of my hand. Upon closer inspection and a quick search on Google, I realized, with relief, it was only a toy gun from the 40s or 50s. I immediately pictured a little boy playing outside, probably dropping the gun in the dirt, and then forgetting about it. The whole thing was so strange to me because I'd dug in that spot several times over the years and had never found anything.

Photo courtesy of Heather Struna

Our house was built in 1890 and from the moment I stepped across its threshold, I only sensed good things about it. But that's not always been the case with me as far as other houses. When we were looking to settle on the Cape, we visited several sites for purchase. One house on Route 6A in Barnstable was very different. As soon as I walked inside, I turned around and walked right out. I couldn't explain, at the time, why I had such foreboding feelings, all I knew was that I wanted to leave. Years later, when an article appeared in the Cape Cod Times about haunted houses on Cape Cod, that same house was designated as officially haunted!

Another time during the early years of our arrival on Cape Cod, I was gardening out back and found under ten inches of dirt a pattern of red bricks. It sparked my imagination and that unusual find was the beginning of my story of The Old Cape House.

I love to visit cemeteries – but only in the daytime. The Cape has wonderful ancient cemeteries scattered along old roads and main thoroughfares. This is the Cove Burying Ground in Eastham, located on Route 6 eastbound. Some of the graves date from 1605. Notice the power of nature as a tree grows around the old fence line.

And now to the contest... Here's how to win an ebook of The Old Cape House

Post a comment or send me an email.
Tell me in a few sentences about your most unusual Halloween experience.
I would prefer it to be true. After all, I think a true – real life weird experience is one of THE most frightening things that anyone could have. To be scared by a movie, book or television show is nothing compared to reality!

On October 31, at midnight, the contest closes and I'll email the winner an ebook of The Old Cape House!

If your entry doesn't get picked, you can always purchase the ebook or paperback on
Amazon  The Old Cape House

Barnes & Noble, The Old Cape House

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Halloween Blog Hop - What scares you?

Join me on a Blog Hop for Halloween!
Visit my blog on October 30 through Halloween, read something scary, enter to win a free ebook of my novel, The Old Cape House...then click on the list of other blogs participating in the blog hop for more treats and fun.
Blog hop starts on October 30 and goes through Halloween night.

What's a blog hop? A blog hop is a list of blogs that are shared on multiple blogs. You can hop from blog to blog for treats or gifts and meet authors and their books. Follow the directions on each blog to enter all the contests. Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cape Cod–A Walk in Nickerson State Park

Nickerson State Park - Ober Trail -Brewster

  The first thing I do if I'm feeling stressed or anxious is exercise or take a walk. Not many things bother me but when they do...I walk.

The anticipation to see my first novel The Old Cape House on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes, and actually holding it in my hand, is driving me nuts. So Tim and I walk away the tension.

The forest canopy above our heads is filled with the green of ancient pines. Our feet press and slide across its floor, blanketed with golden pine needles. I imagine myself in a Disney animated movie, like Snow White, as the path takes us through the woods in graceful ups and downs, twists and curves.

 Parts of the trail are closed for biking because of 'rough surfaces'. The tenacity of nature shows its force as the roots of these magnificent trees burst forth from under the asphalt. I've always thought it's a reminder for us to be careful and not intrude or destroy the natural order of our environment any more than we need and always make decisions with mutual respect for each other and our surroundings.

 There's an old cemetery in the woods on this path...

...with four gravestones.

The left stone marks John Crosby - Died August 7, 1843 at the age of 68.
The stone on the right reads Dorcas Crosby – Died July 14, 1846 at the age of 35.
There are also two small stones that I assume represent two children. In my research, I discovered that Dorcas was John Crosby's daughter, not his wife as was suspected.
Not much is known about these people and why they were buried by themselves in the middle of Nickerson State Park. Could it have been smallpox? Oftentimes these victims were segregated in death as they were in life when they took sick.

Here's a map of Nickerson State Park. The Ober trail is in the upper left hand corner. On this day we cut across the middle path that separates the Ober Trail from the Deer Trail to complete our explore.
It was a little sad to view the cemetery but as we returned to where we started, we came across a tree with a unique aberration that had grown into its bark. Can you see it?

Tim and I stopped, hugged, and thanked each other for the love that we share. You never know what you'll find walking in the woods on Cape Cod.

Coming soon...The Old Cape House

A historical novel that uses alternating chapters between the 18th and 21st centuries. The Old Cape House follows two women that are lifetimes apart to uncover a mystery that has had the old salts of Cape Cod guessing for almost 300 years.

Follow me for more information when available as ebook–paperback on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes
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Any day now...


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Oysters–Cape Cod

The delectable oyster is an eating delicacy for most people when visiting Cape Cod. But for me...not so much.
I know that these tasty, sweet, salty oysters are very fresh, but only according to my fellow Cape Codders who eat them. I am told they live free here in the cold, clear waters of Cape Cod Bay instead of in controlled environments, which gives them a distinct culinary appeal.  Some even go so far to say they are the perfect food. So I decided to find out more about these ancient treats.

Here's a copper plate engraving by Tim of Cape Cod Bay oysters. (see above)

It was on a Wednesday, a few weeks ago, that I took another walk with the Eastham Hiking Club.
The morning was beautiful and warm with a soft breeze blowing across the flats of Brewster Bay.
I could see a pattern of black squares ahead of us on the beach. To the novice, from a distance, the proverbial question in their heads would be, "What is that out there?" But as I walked closer, metal cages became recognizable and I realized that I was standing within an oyster farm. It was interesting to see them up close, lined up low to the exposed ocean floor. Each one filled with various sizes of oysters.

Seaweed covered the tops of some of the growing cages.  The owners, Dave and Diane Carlson were there to answer our questions. They have over 200,000 oysters of different ages randomly mixed throughout the cages. They buy seed(2–3 millimeters in size) from a hatchery in Dennis, place them in mesh bags and into the cages where they will begin to grow. Their growth depends on water temperature (warm is best), and the amount of plankton and salinity of the surrounding water. Because of the large tidal surges on Brewster Bay, the oyster gets the benefit of two feedings of nutrient rich water every day. In fact, the oyster can filter 3-5 gallons of water an hour, adding no toxins to its growth. They are able to harvest 15,000 to 20,000 oysters a season. In the dead of winter, oysters are removed from the ocean and put into cold storage where they lay dormant, then in March or April, back to growing on the bay. It all sounds wonderfully fresh but I still can't get my head around to eating them. Oh well, to each his own.

I lingered a bit too long and the hiking group I was with went further out to the edge of the water. I looked back quickly to catch a glimpse of the oyster farm. You can see it in the distance.

I tried to capture on camera how far away the group was – you can see the hikers walking parallel with the shoreline.

 As I hiked across the tidal flats, I came across these weird blobs of jelly-like substances. Another hiker said not to worry, their not poisonous. They're just a nuisance to walk over.

 Here's a close up of them. Without fear of getting stung, I just barreled across the sand, probably stepping on several. Does anyone know what they are?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fall Walking on Cape Cod

The heat of the summer is slowly exiting as we enter the Autumnal Equinox or season of Fall. A great time to walk the beaches, paths and old roads of Cape Cod. The sun holds strong in the sky favoring us with temperatures in the mid-seventies during the day and warming the air enough to give us cool nights in the moderate fifties.

Recently I walked with the Eastham Hiking Club to find some new views of the Cape. We began our four mile hike at Marconi Beach in Wellfleet with a beautiful view from atop the dunes.

  Then we turned around, walked a short distance, and then into the woods.

Our goal was to find the remains of the old Fresh Brook Village of Wellfleet, located within the National Seashore.
This ancient settlement near the Old Kings Highway began in 1730 in what was then called Eastham with a dozen fishermen and their families. With the incorporation of Wellfleet in 1763, it became a part of Wellfleet.

Image and map by Michael O'Connor
The red line on this aerial view shows our path. Marconi Beach is to the right and in the middle of the picture is a yellow pin to mark the old cellar from the house of the last resident of Fresh Brook–Asa Cole–who died in 1905.

The village, located on a portion of the Old King's Highway, was a quiet place where fishermen could access the bay using small boats. The houses were adequate and usually included enough land for a small garden plot. There was a store and Aunt Lydia Taylor’s tavern, where travelers using the stage along the old Highway might stop for refreshment. Children attended a one-room school house nearby. In 1872, with the building of the railroad, Fresh Brook was crossed over by a culvert restricting the size of passage under the tracks. The fisherman couldn't get their boats through to the bay, soon afterward, the families moved elsewhere. The long gray line on the left in the aerial view represents the railroad, it is now the bike path.
We stopped midway on our walk, to view a depression in the ground. The hole had a diameter of about five feet. A hint of gray from circular stones showed beneath a cover of brambles and green growth giving evidence that it was indeed an old cellar. One could envision a small house built on top of it.  We hiked farther into the woods following the meandering Fresh Brook River, returning through a thick woods. As we came to our starting point, some left for the parking lot of Marconi Beach. Others, like me, walked to see one more magnificent view of the ocean.

The path grew narrower as we climbed the dune but the sounds of the ocean kept us going–we knew it was close.

And there it was, a beautiful expansive ocean view.

The sea air blew our warm faces cool and refreshed us after such a long hike. The minor aches in my body were forgotten as my eyes enjoyed the mixed blues of the water and verdant greens of the ground cover.