Friday, March 22, 2024

"Dreams" by H. H.

Post by Doris McCraw

aka Angela Raines

It is no secret I love poetry. Not just reading but also writing it. In my journey with Helen Hunt Jackson, I've had the privilege to read and recite her poetry. She inspired my journey of three years of writing Haiku and posting it with a photo. I eventually published a book of Haiku and Helen is the reason.

One analysis is that the poem is satirical in nature. I can see that, but for me, it is about our actions and how they affect what we dream. Her last line: 'we forever choose what we will dream!' reinforces that idea. 

Below is the poem. How do you see it?


Helen Hunt Jackson

Mysterious shapes, with wands of joy and pain,

Which seize us unaware in helpless sleep,

And lead us to the houses where we keep

Our secrets hid, well barred by every chain

That we can forge and bind: the crime whose stain

Is slowly fading ’neath the tears we weep;

Dead bliss which, dead, can make our pulses leap—

Oh, cruelty! To make these live again!

They say that death is sleep, and heaven’s rest

Ends earth’s short day, as, on the last faint gleam

Of sun, our nights shut down, and we are blest.

Let this, then, be of heaven’s joy the test,

The proof if heaven be, or only seem,

That we forever choose what we will dream!

Much like poetry, the words we write may have special meaning to us, but our readers might see or feel something else. For me, that is the joy of writing, touching the emotions of the reader. It is my goal that they finish and have a sense of being a part of the story they've just read. 

How do you see your writing?

Amazon - Kindle Edition

For anyone interested, I have a monthly substack newsletter: Thoughts and Tips on History if you wish to read or subscribe.

Until Next Time: Stay safe, Stay happy, and Stay healthy. 


Thursday, March 7, 2024

Carpetbags and Portmanteaus by Zina Abbott

Originally, as people traveled, they carried knapsacks, bindles and other loose bags as they walked or rode horses. However, as travel and migration patterns expanded, people needed a means to pack a larger quantity of their belongings—something more portable than carrying large items in a wagon or cart.

By 1596, the Oxford English dictionary added the word “luggage.” The word meant “denoting inconveniently heavy baggage” and came from the verb “lug.” However, it was not until the 19th century that travel became prevalent enough that new means of carrying personal belongings—particularly on trains—began to make their debut.

In my most recent book, my heroine does ship some heavier things ahead using a small travel trunk instead of a shipping crate. However, she needed to be able to carry most of her belongings by herself in containers durable enough for travel, and suitable enough to protect her clothes and other items. She chose two.

1860s style carpetbag

The first item was a carpetbag—considered essential for any discerning female traveler.

 Made from carpet material, they came in a variety of colors from subdued to flamboyant. 

1850s carpetbag used by traveler from New Z

Some, made of leather, actually more closely resembled small portmanteaus.

In fact, carpetbags were widely used throughout the nineteenth century due to their relatively lighter weight, their durability, their relatively lower cost, their flexibility—which allowed its owner to stuff an unimaginable amount of clothing and personal items inside—and its ability to be locked, which provided a small measure of security from casual snoopers.


The second item she chose was a portmanteau. Similar to what many today think of as a suitcase, a portmanteau is defined as a large trunk or suitcase, typically made of stiff leather and opening into two equal parts. One did not lay it flat on one side and pull the top half up, as in suitcases developed at a later time. One set the bottom on a surface and pulled the two side halves open at the top—more like to today’s duffle bags.

Here is another definition from  Raymond Malewitz, Oregon State Associate Professor of American Literatures: “A portmanteau is an old-fashioned suitcase with a hinge in the middle that can hold equal amounts of luggage in its two storage compartments.”

Is a portmanteau the same as a valise? A valise is defined as “a small piece of luggage, usually made of leather, that can be carried by hand, used to hold clothing, toilet articles, etc.; suitcase; traveling bag.” Often, valises were cylindrical in shape. Although they could be carried by hand, they were originally designed to be carried behind the saddle of a horse. The operative word here is “small.” Generally, a valise was not as large as a portmanteau.

To see an example of a cylindrical valise from earlier times, please CLICK HERE


Here is an excerpt from Jocelyn’s Wedding Dilemma:

             Jocelyn jostled her carpetbag and the portmanteau outside—the portmanteau being wretchedly heavy due to her having packed her lap desk. She noticed the eastern sky already turning a faint gray. Still too dark to see clearly, she hoped her eyes adjusted enough to the dim light so she did not trip over her feet. Setting her baggage on the back stoop, she faced the house as she noiselessly eased the door closed.

            “Miss Wolcott? What are you doing out so early?”

            Upon hearing Homer’s soft voice behind her, Jocelyn jerked upright and grabbed the handrail on one side of the stoop to keep her balance. Licking her lips, she slowly turned and descended until she stood on the ground. “I was unaware you started your day this early, Mr. Cottingham.”

            “I seldom leave our apartment so soon. Mrs. Cottingham started boiling water for tea. However, she’s out of biscuits—the kind you call cookies. She sent me to the kitchen for the supper rolls left from last night plus a jar of jam to get us by until time for our breakfast.”

            “I see.” Jocelyn’s stomach rumbled. That does sound good. “Please don’t let me keep you. I’ll….um…”

            “It appears you plan to travel somewhere, Miss.” Homer studied the carpetbag and portmanteau.

            “Yes. I decided on a surprise visit to…family.” Jocelyn bit her lip. She knew her words were deceitful, yet not exactly a lie. At least, in a week or ten days, they would be truth.


Jocelyn’s Wedding Dilemma is now available for sale and at no additional cost with Kindle Unlimited. To find the book description and purchase options, please CLICK HERE






Le Moniteur de la Mode, 1876, No. 1348 Toilettes de Mme Morison, RP-P-2009-3650

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Helen & Me, the journey continues

Post by Doris McCraw 

aka Angela Raines

Photo (C) Doris McCraw

I recently had the opportunity to speak on the subject of Helen. It was liberating to speak about a person I  was passionate about instead of being Helen in a costume.

You may ask why this was liberating? When you are speaking as a character you can only speak about what the person would possibly know. It's like writing in first person. 

When you speak about someone you can add all the extra details, the people who knew them, what they thought of them. Even though I am not a fan of making assumptions, in the case of Helen, I feel I can make some educated guesses.

For example, Helen used to go out riding in her carriage on Sunday mornings. I've been studying her for over twenty years and while she may have had a twinge of hurt at what people said about her not going to church, I feel confident in saying she preferred her worship to out in the outdoors. Her love of nature would make this a safe assumption.

I feel privileged to have spent so much time with this amazing woman, even though centuries divide us. Even today there are pieces I want to explore. One example, her mentor Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson was said to be a stoic. Did this philosophy rug off on Helen? I shall be exploring.

For those so inclined, I would enjoy having you subscribe to my newsletter, which is free (for now) Thoughts and Tips On History

Until Next Time,

Poetry Inspired by

Monday, February 5, 2024

Nineteenth Century Heating in North America by Zina Abbott

About four years ago, my husband decided his days of cutting wood for our woodburning stove were over. It took three years plus a few months to use up or stockpile. After a few weeks of shivering next to an electric oil-filled radiator-style heater, for our Christmas and anniversary present, we invested in a pellet stove. We still heat with a flame generated by wood, but the technology has moved into the twenty-first century.

For my current work-in-progress, I needed a means for a snoopy mother to be able to eavesdrop on her children. The children soon learned how Mama seemed to know things, and they took steps to prevent being overheard. This carried forward, even when they both grew to adulthood. My first thought was Mama listened at a vent as sound traveled through the heating ducts. During the time of my story, was that even possible? Here is what I found about home heating, particularly in North America.

Medieval kitchen

Fire has been a primary source of heat for centuries. It is hard to believe it was not until the twelfth century that the chimney was invented. Before then, most fires for both cooking and heating were on an open fire or, inside a structure, a hearth beneath and a hole in the roof to draw smoke outside. With a chimney came the fireplace with a firebox and hearth and often a mantle.


Courtesy Virginia State Parks

Through the end of the seventeenth century, the fireplace remained the primary source of heat and cooking. However, once Europeans arrived in North America, they discovered many regions winter weather could be much harsher than where they came from. Necessity is the mother of invention.

1744 – Benjamin Franklin invented the “Pennsylvania Fireplace.” It included a grate to burn wood, sliding doors to control draught, and required a fourth of the amount of wood compared to a fireplace. It would be housed inside a large fireplace or used free-standing in the middle of the room as long as it was connected to a chimney. It became widely popular in North America.

Rumford Fireplace

1795 (about) – Anglo-American physicist, Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, as part of his investigations on heat, developed the Rumford fireplace. The back wall of the firebox is one-third the width of the opening to reflect more heat into a room. Also, its streamlined throat reduces turbulence, allowing smoke to be carried away with minimal loss of heated room air.

Early 1800s – the potbelly Franklin stove evolved from the earlier Franklin stove.

During the majority of the nineteenth century, wood provided the primary source of fuel for fireplaces, stoves, and other forms of heating devices. Especially east of the Mississippi River and most of its tributaries, wood was plentiful. It was the English who primarily brought the fireplace technology to North America. German immigrants brought the iron stove for heating living spaces.

1820 – 1830 – Coal became increasingly popular as a fuel, particularly Anthracite, or “hard” coal.  Adams explains, coal was quickly becoming a dominating fuel type. Stoves that could burn either wood or coal became popular.

1833 – Eliphalet Nott invented the first base-burner stove for using anthracite coal. 

1834 – Dennis Olmstead was the first to use the term “radiator” in a patent for a heat exchanger which then radiated heat.

1840s – The White House and Capitol building were outfitted with steam heating systems in the 1840s.

1855 – The heating radiator as we know it was invented by Franz San Galli, a Kingdom of Prussia-born Russian businessman living in St. Petersburg. by the late 1800s, the technology made it way to North America. To lower costs and expand the market, companies, such as the American Radiator Company, promoted cast iron radiators over the previous fabricated steel designs.

The use of boilers, radiators, and steam or hot water to heat homes became more popular after the Civil War. Large commercial and public buildings often used steam, but most homes were equipped with lower pressure hot water radiators because they were considered safer.

1883 – Thomas Edison invented the electric heater.

1885 – Coal became the most predominant source of fuel to generate heat. Carts and later trucks would deliver loads of this fossil fuel to basements around the world for the next fifty years or more.

1895 – Ernest Bryant and Ezra Smith, two businessmen, shared their plans for an  furnace using riveted steel for the heating surface with David Lennox. Furnaces at that time were made of cast iron, which tended to warp and crack after extended use, causing smoke and coal gases to escape into houses. After the three signed an agreement, Bryant and Smith lost their financial backing. Lennox took over their patents and reworked their design. He then successfully marketed the natural convection furnaces under his own brand name.

1919 – Alice Parker patented a central heating system. Prior to that, a lack of electricity for fans meant that heat was transported through the ducts by the process of natural air flow. With the addition of an electric fan connected to a network of ducts, a furnace could supply warm air more uniformly throughout a house.

Unfortunately, this research answered my question regarding whether or not being able to listen through the ductwork of a heating system was possible, even in the upscale houses of the 1870s or 1880s. The answer was no.


Jocelyn’sWedding Dilemma
, the second book in the series, The Matchmaker and the Mother-in-Law, is currently on pre-order and scheduled for release on March 5, 2024.

To find the book descriptions and pre-order link, please CLICK HERE