Funny thing happened on the way to the autumnal equinox…

Funny thing happened on the way to the autumnal equinox…
nasa equinox

Image courtesy of

Happy Equinox, everyone! Today is the day when the angle of the sun is straight on the equator, and the amount of day and night are nearly equal. In the northern hemisphere, this makes it our autumnal equinox (southern hemisphere has the vernal equinox). So for those of you who have been eagerly awaiting the “official” start of fall to decorate your yard with pumpkins and chrysanthemums, have at it!

photo by K.B. Owen

photo by K.B. Owen

On the equinox, some folks claim you can stand a broom on its brushy end or an egg on its pointy end, but that’s just an urban myth. (If it works, send me a pic!).

...a little salt was added to keep it upright. Pic by Hustvedt, wikimedia commons.

…a little salt was added to keep it upright. Pic by Hustvedt, wikimedia commons.

Here at K.B. Owen Mysteries, we like to give many of our posts a historical feel, so when I was putting this one together, I wracked my brain to figure out how I could make it historical. I turned to one of my favorite resources: the Library of Congress’s historical newspaper archive, Chronicling America. It’s a terrific source of U.S. digitized newspapers from 1836 to 1922. Here’s the link, if you’d like to do some searching of your own.

So I plugged in “autumn equinox,” and some date parameters (1880 to 1900, I think). Here are some of the fun items that turned up:

the Evening Herald, Shenandoah PA 25 Sept 1891

The Evening Herald, Shenandoah PA Sept 25, 1891

Wow…24 new ways to tie men’s neckwear, cheap cider, a scarcity of squirrels to hunt, and leaving couples by THEMSELVES? What is the world coming to?

fall clipart

I love the tagline for The Evening Herald, by the way:

Who could pass up a deal like that?

“All the news for one cent.” Who can pass up a deal like that?

The next article is quite poetic for what we’re used to seeing in a newspaper. There’s a little astronomy lesson, with some astrology thrown in. Didn’t know those two were compatible – except for the fact that I used to mix them up all the time.

Alexandria Gazette, 1 Sept 1892

Alexandria Gazette, 1 Sept 1892

Alexandria Gazette, 1 Sept 1892

Sometimes, what I find next to what I’m looking for is even more interesting, such as this ad:

Alexandria Gazette, Sept 22, 1893

Alexandria Gazette, Sept 22, 1893

Oh, the horror! Poor, slaughtered blankets. But hey, winter’s coming, so get yours while you can!


If the equinox isn’t enough occasion to celebrate, Sept 23 is also: National Checkers Day, and Dogs in Politics Day. This link explains.

Are you looking forward to fall? Ever try to stand a broom or an egg on its end? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,


P.S. – next week: cover reveal for the latest Concordia Wells mystery, Unseemly Haste!

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Grandparents’ Day!

Grandparents’ Day!

Yesterday (the second Sunday of September) was National Grandparents’ Day, first celebrated officially in 1978, when the proclamation was signed by President Jimmy Carter. We’re a little late, but grandparents are so awesome that I think they deserve an extra day of celebration, don’t you? 😉

Sadly, none of my grandparents are still living, but I was fortunate enough to grow up with a wonderful grandfather who lived nearby. Grandpop certainly had his own style, driving a Chevy Nova of army-staff-car-green that he called Betsy (he talked to it often), telling goofy knock-knock jokes and rhymes, and sharing his stories of working in the coal mines in upstate Pennsylvania.

One of his many peccadilloes was an aversion to ringing the doorbell when he arrived at our house. Instead, he would get out of his car and just start wandering around the front or back yard until someone noticed his car had pulled up or spotted him through a window and invited him in.

I think I was 12 years old in this pic.

Grandpop wrote in my “autograph” book.


Both my parents worked long hours, so he and I spent a lot of time together over the years. When I was 18, he lost his battle with lung cancer, the result of miner’s black lung and a lifetime of smoking unfiltered Camels. I miss him still.

Now that I’m a mom, I get to watch my own Mom and Dad play the role of grandparents to my kids. Both they and my husband’s parents have been awesome grandparents for our boys, though we lost my mother-in-law much too soon.

from right: my mom, dad, and mom-in-law, with their first grandchild

from right: my mom, dad, and mom-in-law, with their first grandchild

Grandpop to my boys...

The next Grandpop generation…

What are your fondest memories of your grandparents? I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,


P.S. – for more about grandparents, check out my post on Top 10 Reasons Why Grandparents Rock. I wrote it a few years ago (and talk about my grandpop there, too – you can skip that part), but the reasons still hold true today!

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It’s National Pollinator Week!

It’s National Pollinator Week!
Image from

Those agriculture folks know how to party…image from

I know, we almost missed it! If you think about it, though, we here in the northern hemisphere have the rest of the summer and early autumn to appreciate all of the birds, bats, bees, butterflies, small mammals, and other insects who pollinate our flowers and crops.

Some facts about pollinators:

  • There are more than 200,000 species of pollinators.
  • 75% of flowering plants rely upon pollinators for the fertilization necessary to produce fruit and seeds.
  • Pollinators make possible some of our favorite foods, spices, and flavorings, such as blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, chocolate, vanilla, and almonds.
  • Bats are the only ones who pollinate the agave plant, which is used to make tequila.
  • A teeny fly called a midge is the only species that pollinates the cacao tree, which gives us the cacao beans to make chocolate.
  • Honey bees alone are responsible for pollinating 15 billion dollars’ worth of crops every year.
  • Pollinator populations are dwindling because of exposure to pesticides, the decline of their habitats, and various pathogenic stressors.

What can you do to help pollinators?

  • If you have a yard, plant pollinator-friendly flowers, staggering the time the flowers bloom, if possible. Here’s a great guide, Selecting Plants for Pollinators, from Pollinator Partnership. You type in your zip code, and it compiles a list of beneficial plants that work well in your ecoregion. There’s even a free app on this page that you can download to your smartphone. Here are a few pics of my backyard, where plants, bird feeders and bird houses are crammed in a small space:

mid-June 2015 021mid-June 2015 023mid-June 2015 011

  • Reduce your use of pesticides.
  • Install a bat house on your property. Some species eat a lot of mosquitoes. A bonus!
  • Supply fresh water for birds, bees, and other pollinators.
  • Attend a National Pollinator Week event in your area. There’s something going on nearly everywhere. Check out this page for details.
Image via

Image via

  • Support your local beekeepers. Many sell their honey at farmer’s markets. Also, I found this cool Indiegogo invention that’s being crowd-funded right now. You have to check out this awesome device, whether or not you would ever do beekeeping. While the conventional harvesting of honey is a difficult process and stressful on the bees, this method is as simple as turning a spigot!

Source: Flow Hive: Honey on Tap Directly From Your Beehive | Indiegogo

Isn’t that amazing? There’s no way we could keep bees in our townhouse backyard, but it looks so cool.

How will you celebrate National Pollinator Week? Plant a flowering shrub? Eat some honey or chocolate? I’d love to hear from you.

Starting next week, I will be on a summer blogging hiatus, so that I can spend more time working on edits to the fourth book in the Concordia Wells Mysteries, and finish the first draft of the sequel to Never Sleep. I’ll also be spending time roasting marshmallows, star-gazing, listening to the crickets, playing boardgames, and hanging out with my family. I hope you enjoy your summer, too!



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Where my research takes me: American princesses, free beer, and hugging

Where my research takes me: American princesses, free beer, and hugging


Welcome to another installment of “Where my research takes me,” an eclectic mix of cool historical tidbits I’ve uncovered in the process of my book researches. Enjoy!

1. “From the Ballroom to Hell.”

That’s one way to get a sermon written up in the newspaper: load it with fire and brimstone.


*from The San Francisco Call, February 25, 1896.

Perhaps one cannot refute the “hugging set to music” claim – why else would we do it? – but “…the stench arising from the carcass of a hog”…that’s harsh. After all, they didn’t have deodorant back then.

2. “The streets flowed with beer.”

Instead of grabbing a tankard and celebrating, the neighbors “fled from their houses in terror.”


brewery accident

The Sun, Dec 3, 1889.

What an image: “Torrents of beer gushed from all the doors and windows, and, overflowing the gutters, poured into cellars….” The engineer who had to get into the engine room to fix the problem “had difficulty escaping a bath.” You simply cannot make this stuff up. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the engineer had shinier hair afterward. 😉

3. American princesses.

snippet from The San Francisco Call, October 29, 1899.

snippet from The San Francisco Call, October 29, 1899.

I love the subtitle to this: “Twenty American girls who by marriage have become princesses and therefore ought to be happy.” Either the writer was irony-impaired, or these gals’ corsets are on too tightly. Below are additional snippets from the same page. Except for one lady, they don’t look terribly ecstatic to me:


View the full newspaper article here.

So, have you ever dreamed of being a princess, or wading through a sea of beer? Do you consider dancing as “hugging set to music”? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,


Interested in exploring other “Where my research takes me” posts?

Having a blast in the 19th century (dynamite and bomb-making)

19th century health ads

Burglars, knitting, detective cocktails (and more)

19th century Pullman cars

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National Tap Dance Day!

National Tap Dance Day!
Photographer James Kriegsmann, 1946. Via wikimedia commons.

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, 1946. Photographer James Kriegsmann. Via wikimedia commons.

Did you know that yesterday was National Tap Dance Day? The reason it’s designated as May 25th is because that’s Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s birthday: May 25, 1878. Yep, it’s a real holiday, with the resolution being signed into law by President George Bush in 1989.

Since we were busy with Memorial Day yesterday, I think we can get an extension, don’t you? Pull out your dance shoes!

Or, if you prefer to celebrate in more sedentary style, here’s a terrific performance of Robinson’s from the 1935 Shirley Temple film The Little Colonel:

Have you ever tap danced? Do you think it could make a come-back? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,


P.S. – While you all are dancing out there, I’ll be busy doing a Skype author interview with Ms. Hartt’s 6th graders. Wish me luck! 😉

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San Francisco traffic, 1900

San Francisco traffic, 1900
California Street, San Francisco, 1900.  Wikimedia Commons.

California Street, San Francisco, 1900. Wikimedia Commons.

Ever wonder what it was like to navigate a city street back in 1900? In researching my fourth book (tentatively titled Unseemly Haste, due out in the fall), I ran across this little gem: a video of San Francisco in 1900.

There’s very little information on the video itself, but it looks like it was filmed while aboard a cable car. The street is a chaotic mix of pedestrians, bicyclists, horse-drawn vehicles, motorized cars, and cable cars, dodging each other, weaving around obstacles…and there some near misses. It reminds me a bit of the M Street corridor in Georgetown, LOL. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

What’s the worst traffic you’ve ever dealt with, whatever your mode of travel? I’d love to hear from you.

If you enjoy vintage video, you may want to check out another post of mine from a few years ago: Coney Island, 1905, which features a group of boarding-school girls from Miss Knapp’s Select School. Looks like the girls had a fun outing!

Until next time,


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19th century tourism: a Cook’s Tour of Egypt

19th century tourism: a Cook’s Tour of Egypt
Trade card, Wilson's Packing Co. Cooked Meats, 1900. Part of the Miami U. Libraries Digital Collections, via wikimedia commons.

Trade card, Wilson’s Packing Co. Cooked Meats, 1900. Part of the Miami U. Libraries Digital Collections, via wikimedia commons.

With summer nearly upon us (in the northern hemisphere), our thoughts turn to vacation planning. The Victorians liked to play tourist, too. One of the most popular tourism companies of the day was Thomas Cook and Son, Ltd.

Today’s post is a modification of one I wrote three years ago, when I was not as conversant in matters of copyright usage for photographs (which applies even to some 100+ years-old pics!), so I’ve corrected the issue here. Enjoy!


Ever wonder what the phrase “I’ll give you the Cook’s Tour” means?  You probably surmised that it was an actual tour company, and you would be correct.  It’s still in operation today, in fact.

The Thomas Cook Tour Company (British) began in 1841 with some modest day trips, but by the death of the founder in 1892 (his son took over), it had grown to be a formidable influence on the tourism industry.  One might say that it was the tourist industry.  In addition to what made this company successful, I’m going to focus on one of its most popular and exotic tours at the time: Egypt.

More →

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