Science Is Rewriting the History of President James Monroe

James Monroe portrait by William James Hubbard, ca. 1832.

James Monroe portrait by William James Hubbard, ca. 1832.

Recent excavations at Highland — the historic, Charlottesville, VA, home of our nation’s fifth president — are rewriting history. According to my old alma mater, The College of William and Mary, “The archaeology, combined with tree-ring dating, shows that the newly discovered foundation, not the modest home still standing on the property, was the Monroe (1799) house. The property is part of William & Mary and is the only U.S. president’s home currently owned by a university.”

Photograph of Ash Lawn - Highland, home of President James Monroe, in Albemarle County, Virginia. Taken on August 29th, 2006, by RebelAt.

Photograph of Ash Lawn – Highland, home of President James Monroe, in Albemarle County, Virginia. Taken on August 29th, 2006, by RebelAt.

As a historian, if not by trade, then by dabbling (and with my handy-dandy history degree from W&M), I find this interesting because of the longevity of our certainty of knowing Monroe and his home. Yet still, there is new information to be learned. And it was quite literally under our noses.

“We have made a stunning discovery. These exceptionally well-preserved remains are just beneath the ground surface in the front yard of the 1870s wing attached to the standing Monroe-era house,” said Sara Bon-Harper, executive director of James Monroe’s Highland. “This finding represents a breakthrough in how the nation understands Monroe and how he lived.”

Sometimes when researching historical facts for a novel (currently I’m doing so for a 12th-century medieval), one can come to think that all of history is already set in stone. As a researcher and writer, I usually assume I have to go along with the stated “facts” of how people lived. This recent change in how we view President Monroe has lifted the mantle of the sometimes strangling burden of historical accuracy just a little. If my 11th-century characters get married inside the chapel instead of on the steps as was custom, or if I allow my characters to drink water instead of ale and mead, it isn’t the end of verisimilitude as we know it.

Read more about how science is rewriting the past by clicking here.

On Birthdays, Fathers, and the Queen of England

“Oh My Ears and Whiskers, How Late It’s Getting!” At least, like Alice’s White Rabbit, I am consistent in running late. I’ve been trying to sit down and write this post for four days.

dad's 86th birthdayOn April 21, my father, James George Baily, would have turned 86. As I have done for a few years, I baked a drop-dead cake in his honor. It’s an ill-named, heavy pound cake, baked in a loaf pan, often made with raisins, though in deference to my current household, I made it with chocolate chips. Here it is, with a blue candle the color of my father’s eyes. It is often served with butter and jam or even clotted cream and jam. It is easy to make, takes an hour to bake, and is not too sweet. When I am stirring the ingredients together, tasting the batter, and baking the cake, I think of my dad and try to feel his presence. Sometimes, for no reason I can determine, the cake comes out not quite baked through in the middle. Not this year. This year, it was baked perfectly, which is to say dense and moist and delicious. He must have given me a helping hand.

Queen Elizabeth IIApril 21 is also the birthday of Elizabeth, II, Queen of England. She is going strong and turned 90 this year. She has seen a lot, lived a lot, and still seems to enjoy life, never looking weary. This unfortunately is not a photo of her on her and my dad’s birthday. This is a public domain shot from 2015. Still, she hasn’t aged much in a year so fast forward her to 2016 and you have her birthday photo; this year, she wore a pale green outfit.

In any case, growing up, we always appreciated the fact that my dad and the Queen had the same birthday, the cockney and the royal. As a story, it’s been done, but as a real life tale, it still gives me a little shiver to think of my grandmother and the Queen Mother on the same day a few years apart giving birth to their little royals. According to my aunts and uncles, my father, as the eldest boy in his large family of nine siblings, was in fact treated like a little prince by his mother.

Honestly, there was something about the man that just made one want to coddle and pamper him. Even as his daughter, I felt that. He never asked for it, and he was always very appreciative. And the cool thing about my dad was how he loved the simpler things as well as the finer — “tasting” a few grapes in the supermarket or sitting at the table waiting for over-medium fried eggs on buttered toast or eating a really good broiled chicken, they all brought him immense pleasure, as did a luxury hotel with a thick bathrobe and a fine Italian suit.

So I’m indulging in a little nostalgia this April and thinking of my wonderful dad, whom I miss every day. And I’m inviting you to cherish your fathers. Maybe bake him a cake, even if it’s not his birthday. You can always wish him a very merry unbirthday, as did Alice’s Mad Hatter.

Congrats to Smashwords!

four hundred thousand graphicMark Coker stated yesterday, “Smashwords on Wednesday surpassed 400,000 books published.”

Kudos to him and all the writers of whom he says, “You shared your wordy brilliance with the world.” I love that phrase, wordy brilliance! And thank goodness Mark used his business brilliance and his publishing brilliance and his distribution brilliance to help so many wordsmiths. He’s provided a phenomenal platform for writers and has reached many milestones in eight years, this being only one of them.

So congrats to Mark and all the writers who make up those 400,000 books. Keep on doing what you do.

March Madness

fur mustacheOne of my animals left this perfectly formed fur mustache on my carpet. Forget the fact that the carpet is hideous and that the animal was probably trying to improve its appearance. Still, it was uncalled for. (though it was put under the nose and above the lip of a couple of us humans just to see if it really looked like a mustache. It did.)


And now, because the responsible party, the canine prankster,perry needs to go out and do his business, I will cut short this March Madness post. Time to enjoy our crazy New England spring that feels like a summer day in March. No one is complaining!


To Eat or Not to Eat? That Is the Stress Question

Young man holding pizza

A modern day Hamlet, contemplating his pizza slice. A little too happy? (Photo by Stockimages, downloaded from

Maybe that wasn’t Hamlet’s big dilemma, but for many of us facing stress, food is a big deal. Recently, I came across an interesting site by Karen Salmansohn with a subtitle of “Self-Help for People Who Wouldn’t Be Caught Dead Doing Self-Help.” I poked around her post called “Stop Stress Eating: 29 Motivating Quotes,” which naturally led me to read other articles about stress eating.

Why? Because I, too, use food as a tool to handle stress though in a quite opposite manner to the majority. Where most turn to food to eat their feelings or because they associate food with comfort, I use it as a control issue if other parts of my life feel out of my control. My stomach rumbles but my brain says,

“Ha! You are hungry. Other mere mortals may eat, but you are powerful. You will not eat. Focus on not eating rather than on the problems causing your stress. Control your body and dominate your hunger and, above all, don’t eat.”

Yes, my brain tends to be wordy and to sound like a power-mad dictator at times.

Unfortunately, my body listened to my brain. By late in 2014 through most of last year, I stopped weighing what I’ve comfortably weighed since college. I wholeheartedly embraced the stress diet (also fondly labeled by me as the “Divorce Diet”) and dropped down to a weight that my body hadn’t seen since I was about 12 years old. The more I didn’t eat — the lighter I felt, obviously, and lightheaded and headachy — but more importantly, the more powerful I felt.

Breakfast? Cup of tea.
Lunch? Who needs it?
Dinner? More tea, and maybe some rice if I was feeling relaxed.

I was in control over one significant part of my life. No one could make me eat, including myself.  Ha! That’ll show who is boss. (Show whom, I never quite figured out.)

The noticeably thinner, painfully gaunt me had an issue. My friends, mostly female, who eat copiously and freely during times of stress, thought it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. While they added pounds of mac and cheese to their thighs, I bought skinny-girl jeans in a size 0. Eventually, however, everyone said, “You look a little thin.” Not “You look good” or “You look fit and healthy.”

What I’ve discovered: It doesn’t matter how you handle the stress diet, you need to get off of it ASAP. It’s a dangerous thing to use food as a tool, whether you chow down or seal your lips. A smart woman said to me (and I’m paraphrasing because I was lightheaded at the time she said it): Try not to give food any importance or significance other than a way to nourish yourself. Just eat for nourishment and energy. Don’t eat for comfort; don’t not eat for control. It’s only food.

couple making salad

No, neither of these people is me or anyone I know. But I like their spirit, the look of their salad, and their kitchen. (Photo by Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee from

She was right, but it took a long time for me to relinquish that measure of control.  My body needs to eat? What a pain in the ass! How weak. Eventually, after a year or so, I started to eat like a sane, healthy person again and to gain back 10 lbs. But I don’t see much about this on the Internet. I see a lot about overeating, binge eating, and eating your emotions.

So I am just putting this out there: that, for me at least, even though I was still feeding family members, still living a semi-normal existence, I was starving myself. It was easy for me to think I was gaining control by losing it, while losing myself in the process. And it was easy to do it under the regard of friends and family because, in our culture, overeating is seen immediately as a problem, but undereating is barely noticeable.

To those facing stress, I salute you. I sympathize. I empathize. And now, I eat.