Nannies, Servants & Such

Recently, through the wonder of Netflix, we discovered a captivating program that first aired on BBC in 1998. berkeley-square Set during the time of King Edward VII’s coronation, London 1902, Berkeley Square tells of three nannies and the wealthy families they served.  As we watched the first few episodes, we were reminded of the Masterpiece Theater classic Upstairs, Downstairs and its revelations of the British upper class and their servants’ lifestyles.

Although nannies were among the more privileged of servants, their lives were wholly dependent on their employers. Berkeley Square touches on some social issues not often seen in popular film – child neglect, the use of laudanum and baby-farming.  The depiction of children and their caretakers was both thought-provoking and sad.  The movie shows strong visual images in the costumes and settings.

As a writer of historical romance, I’ve long been fascinated with newport-ri-0171servants during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Two years ago, my husband and I toured a few of the summer mansions in Newport, Rhode Island.  We especially enjoyed seeing The ElmsThe tours – both of the main house and the special behind-the-scenes servants tour – revealed two different worlds.  The contrasting tours were like entering the kitchen of an exclusive restaurant; we saw both the glamorous facade and where the potatoes were peeled.

Studying how people lived – cultural history – helps to better rwa-national-2008-sf-0114 create and shape our characters.   That’s what I find most valuable in my writing research, discovering what folks wore (both day and night), what they ate, how they dressed, and what they valued.  Last year’s History Conference at RWA National included workshops on dressing our characters, a Regency period Soiree, and samplings of foods from different time periods.

Movies.  Books.  Websites. Conferences.  Old house tours.  Civil War re-enactments.  They all reveal needed details that breathe life into our characters.

→ Have you seen Berkeley Square?   What movies, books, or other events have helped you to enrich your knowledge of cultural history?

Valentine’s Day

How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? To me, the most special gift ever is giving one another time…together.

valentine-heartsOne perfect start to the day would be making him breakfast in bed.  Or maybe going out for some waffles and steak and eggs at a down-home diner. Weather willing, how about a leisurely walk, hand-in-hand?   In the evening, turn off the TV, put on some music and just cuddle.  Or talk…and listen. Good ol’ back rubs are always nice.  Maybe bake some cookies together, or mix up a from scratch cake.

Here’s a recipe from my childhood, one of my husband’s all-time favorites.  I bake it only once or twice a year.  This Saturday – Valentine’s Day – will be one of those days.


  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 2 oz. red food coloring
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Hershey’s unsweentened cocoa
  • 2-1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Make a paste of cocoa and food coloring.   Cream shortening and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time, beating after each.  Add red cocoa mixture and blend.  Combine sifted measured flour with salt.  Add vanilla to buttermilk.  Combine flour alternately with buttermilk to creamed mixture.  Fold in vinegar and baking soda.  Pour batter into 3 (8-inch) layer pans that are greased and lined with waxed paper.  Bake at 350º for 25 to 30 minutes.  Let cakes cool in pans for about 10 minutes before removing.  Frost with Seven Minute frosting.


  • 2 egg whites
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

In top of a double boiler, combine egg whites, sugar, water, and cream of tartar.  Beat with electric mixer at high speed for 1 minute.  Place over simmering water, cook 7 minutes beating constantly with electric mixer at high speed until soft glossy peaks form.  Remove from hot water.  Stir in vanilla.  Makes 2 cups.

Wishing you a lovely VALENTINE’S DAY!

RWA National 2009 – DC

It’s early February but July seems just around the corner. Despite the economic downturn, I hear excited buzzing from fellow writers.  marriott-wardman-park Maybe it’s because we’re sick of winter cold and ache for summer heat.  Or it could be because this year RWA gathers in Washington, DC.  I live on the East Coast and, I’m going. 😀 During my lunchtime internet browsing, I find myself pouncing on every scrap of info I find.

Registration for the RWA National Conference opened January 20th. To reserve a room at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, where all events occur, members must first register for the conference. After that, members arrange for a room through RWA National. Planned roommates must register within 30 days. omni-shoreham-dc1Concierge level rooms sold out early prompting rumors of an overall hotel sell-out. I don’t think that’s true–yet.  But they say those coming into DC before the conference may have trouble getting a Marriott room.  Note–there’s a lovely overflow hotel, the Omni Shoreham,  just a block away.   I believe the same rules apply for registering.

Mystery/Suspense (Kiss of Death) Chapter members are looking forward to the annual members’ tour on Tuesday, July 14. With the national capitol setting, this year’s tour should be intense. As in prior years, members need a current Passport to register for the tour.  Homeland Security requirements. All KOD events, including the tour and annual Death by Chocolate Party, will open for member registration in March.

rwa-national-2008-sf-032Other RWA Special Interest Chapters , including From the Heart Romance Writers, also use National to hold general meetings, parties, and get-togethers.  Lots of planning and arrangements!  Some chapters hold a conference within a conference.  Last year’s Historical Conference sponsored by the Beau Monde and the Hearts Through History Chapters ran all day Wednesday, culminating in a costumed evening soiree.   A highlight for all of us history lovers!

The 2009 Conference speakers have been announced – Linda Howard (Keynote), Eloisa James (Awards Luncheon), and Anne Stuart (RITA & GH Ceremony).  🙂  Sensational choices!   Workshops will soon be announced.   RWA Literacy Autographing, Moonlight Madness, Volunteering, Annual General Meeting (aka/AGM), Agent and Editor Appointments, the RITA and Golden Heart Awards Ceremony, networking….and so much more awaits July 15-18, 2009.

Want to go but just don’t have the money?  Valley Forge Romance Writers is sponsoring their 2nd Annual Writers’ RafflemaniaGo to RWA National for free! Or you can start saving for a future RWA National Conference (This link lists RWA conferences through 2016.)   The ladies of The Writing Playground offer a practical article titled Penny Pinching Your Way to RWA.

I’ll report updates as I learn of them,  now through July 18th.  I look forward to your comments and shared info.  For now, I need to get back to writing the book.  That’s what it’s really about.

Are you going to RWA National this year?  What other conferences or workshops do you plan to attend in the near future?  What do you appreciate most about conferences?

**P.S. I’ve added a section to my sidebar – to the right between “Blogroll” and “Essentials” – called “Blogs & Info About 2009 RWA National.”  It includes several links to other blogs on National, including a few workshop speakers.  If you are blogging on National, let me know so I can add your name to the list.

Good Movies

As a writer, I love a good movie. Appealing characters bounce from the screen.  Relationships develop and conflicts ensue.  Setting can become a character.  Music transports us through scenes.  Filming enchants while edits provides pacing.  Later I sometimes wonder, using only words how would I write those scenes or that character into a novel?

Since the holidays I’ve seen three movies at the theater.  All have sparked my thoughts into a bright blaze.

Gran Torino, directed by Clint Eastwood, screenplay by Nick Schenk and storygran_torino-poster2 by Dave Johannson, is about Walt Kowalski, a curmudgeony Korean War Veteran who can’t get along with his children, his grandchildren, or the Hmong immigrants who have taken over his middle class Michigan neighborhood.  Kowalski responds to the changes in an intriguing way, yet remains true to the man he is.  This strong story touches our beliefs, our brains, and our hearts.  Side note–while the ad poster is technically accurate, Gran Torino is not a shoot ’em up action flick.  I guess even Hollywood legends can get bad covers. 😉   The Rotten Tomatometer for Gran Torino reads 77%.  I’d rate it higher.

Frost/Nixon, directed by Ron Howard and written by Peter Morgan, tells of the frostnixon32511977 televised interviews between British talk show host David Frost, and former U.S. President Richard Nixon.  The beginning focuses on Frost, apparently in exile in Australia.  Watching Nixon’s resignation from the Presidency on TV, Frost becomes intrigued by the “numbers.”   So begins his three year quest to interview Nixon.   The movie is the story of two very different men, each wanting something from the interviews.  Only one can win.  It’s a classic plotline.  Watching it unfold on the screen is captivating.  The Rotten Tomatometer for Frost/Nixon reads 91%.  An appropriately high rating.

Milk, directed by Gus Van Sant and written by Dustin Lance Black, tells the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California.  The film begins with Milk milk_movie_poster1recording a tape in his kitchen, “to be listened to in the event of my assassination.”  It is 1977 and he is 48.  In a brilliant blend of flashbacks and real news clips, we see Milk and his partner move from New York  to San Francisco where they open a camera shop in The Castro.  With persecution all around, Milk is pulled into politics and becomes a fiery voice for gay rights.  He forges alliances and urges gays and lesbians to come out to their families and friends so the straight community will see them as real and, as Roger Ebert writes, will “stop demonizing an abstract idea.”   On so many levels, Milk works.  It is warm and thought-provoking.  I left the theater with a sad smile.  And, as a writer, I wondered.  Using only words, how would I write such a remarkable man’s journey?   The Rotten Tomatometer for Milk reads 93%, calling it “Triumphant.”  I agree, and hope you see it.

→Have you seen any of the above movies, or any other really good movie recently?  Please share your experience and thoughts.