#Oyster Stew for a #Union soldier from MIchigan

Today it’s 15 degrees outside the walls of my warm home. It made think of my great grandfather and his years as a Union soldier during the Civil War. This excerpt finds his unit settling down in Newport News, Virginia, on a small chunk of land surrounded by the James River and Chesapeake Bay. The soldiers enjoyed a short respite from war as recorded by my great grandfather, Harmon Camburn. I’m amazed that this Michigan born and raised young man so readily went for oysters from the bay. This excerpt makes me yearn for oyster stew!

From Civil War Journal of a Union SoldierFinalCover (available on Kindle and in paperback)

February 15, 1863 – Early in the morning, the anchor was up, and we crossed the Roads to Newport News Point at the mouth of the James River. Here we were told we should camp for a time to recruit health, restore discipline, and improve drill. The surroundings are admirable adapted for these purposes. The point is high and sandy, widening to a level plain of considerable extent inland, and the James rolls seven miles wide on the southern side.

The 9th Corps camped upon the level plain extending along the James. The position of the 2nd Infantry was about two miles from the point, facing the river. The plain at this point is about thirty feet above the river, and although the river is seven miles wide, the air is so clear that objects can be seen very plainly on pleasant days on the opposite shore.

Two gunboats of the Monitor pattern were anchored in the river to prevent the enemy from coming down with vessels.

From our camp the spars of the sunken Cumberland could be seen where she went down, colors flying and guns booming, carrying with her dead, wounded and able bodied, the living sending up a lusty hurrah as she plunged beneath the waves, sunken by the Merrimac.

Newport News was not a village, not even a hamlet. It was a mere landing, with a dwelling or two near.

Fish and oysters are taken in abundance from the brackish water near the mouth of the James. With the advent of the camp, of course, the oyster made a regular landing and numerous board shanties sprang up where cooked oysters and fish could be had for a small sum.

As soon as our camp was located, with the drum major I visited one of these shanties, presided over by an “Old Auntie,” to get an oyster stew. Ordering a stew each, we were each soon served with a full quart of solid meats. Remarking to the “Old Auntie” that there was not much soup, she raised her hands and said, “Laud, love yer soul, honey! Oysters is what yer want – can dip up soup anywhere.”

As we had come here for general improvement, the first care was to provide quarters that would be healthy.

New A tents were issued, and these were placed on frames four feet high, two tents together while our poncho tents were used to enclose the frames below the A tents. This made a roomy tent for eight. Material for these frames was gathered from all sources. Some of us went some miles up the river and tore down a barn, formed the lumber and timber into a raft and floated it to camp. Working in rain or sunshine, we soon had the most complete quarters that we had ever had since our enlistment. The encampment was laid out into streets and parades with exact precision, and as soon as the tents were arranged, strict orders were issued and enforced regarding cleanliness and order, and for a month, this became a camp of discipline and instruction.

Each day went through the following programs: six o’clock, Reveille; six-thirty, clean streets; seven, breakfast; eight, guard mounting; eight-thirty to nine-thirty, company drill; nine-thirty to eleven, battalion drill; twelve, dinner; two to four, brigade drill; six, dress parade; eight, Tattoo, eight-thirty, Taps.

Although we had a full share of rain, a healthy location, good shelter, plenty of good rations helped out with oysters and fish, plenty of hard drill and discipline, we grew vigorous and the old 9th Corps fast gained its former soldierly appearance, and in our busy life, we soon forgot the gloomy winter camp.

This camp leaves a pleasant memory, yet there were few incidents worthy of note.

A human skull was the football of our regimental parade ground during our stay at this camp. Whence it came, no one seemed to know. Where, when, or how its owner’s life went out, no one seemed to care. Its shape would indicate that it was formerly worn by a Negro and on top the bone was more than a quarter of an inch thick. Kicked, hustled, and thrown about, it served as football, baseball, shuttlecock for the regiment and was never at rest only when the men were asleep. “To what base uses we may return, Horatio. Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander till he find it stopping a bunghole.” [From Hamlet by William Shakespeare]

Hazy is Not Spam

2FBHazy.jpgI call her Hazy; she calls me P.C. And we call each other friends.

Thankfully, she contacted me recently to ask me a question. She thought it strange that I had not been responding to comments she left on my blog. She knows me well and knew something must be amiss if I wasn’t responding. We finally figured out that her comments of the past few weeks were being sent to my WordPress spam folder, along with all the strange symbol-names and foreign-language comments.

Her likes appeared just fine, but for some reason, her comments did not. I featured Hazy on Author Wednesday a few months back, and her post received more spam comments than any other posts to date. We’re not sure if that’s what set off the spamming of her comments or not. Thankfully, I was able to pull her comments out of the dead-end file and respond to them in my usual manner.

I’m sending out this post for a couple of reasons.

  1. I respond to every legitimate comment on my blog. If at all possible, I respond within hours. I enjoy every single comment and want those who take the time to respond to know how much I appreciate them.
  2. I hope if you’ve left me comments, and I haven’t responded,  you’ll let me know so I can search through my folders.
  3. If you feel your comments to other blogs go unanswered, you’ll make the effort to ask why.
  4.  Finally, if you miss a regular commenter on your blog, you’ll check into the situation.

Thanks to Hazy for bringing this situation to light.



#Beach Life – #Sea Stars and Royalty

thorny starfish

thorny starfish

I came across this starfish while visiting Florida recently. Sometimes they are referred to as sea stars. There are hundreds of species of starfish, which aren’t “fish” at all. They are echinoderms and related to sea cucumbers and urchins. This fellow is a thorny starfish with five arms, but some species have nine arms. I don’t think I’ve come across one of those before.

If this critter feels threatened, it can escape by letting one of the arms break away. In one of those miraculous acts of nature, within a year the sea star can grow back the missing arm.

Sea stars are usually be found on Florida beaches after a storm during low tide.

Another thing I love about the beach are the variety of shorebirds that hang out there. Unfortunately, on most Florida beaches, they’ve become so accustomed to people they just hang out on the beaches hoping someone will drop some food, but please refrain from doing so if they approach you. They need to remain aloof from humans. Here’s a royal tern giving me and my camera a pose. I use a zoom lens for most of my photos of wildlife so I’m not as close as it seems in this photo. Please be aware that shorebirds nest on crowded beaches. It’s best to leave them be; any disturbance can cause them to abandon their nests.


I suppose on this strange February afternoon in Pennsylvania, I’m longing for spring. The walks on Florida’s beaches seem so long ago now.

How goes for it in your part of the world?


Milestones and Friends

Several momentous events occurred in my life in 2005, beginning with a month-long trip to Italy with my daughter, newly graduated from college. When we returned home, I moved to St. Augustine, ninety miles away, as a newly divorced fifty-year old, beginning life in a new city with a new job.

Feral cats roamed the neighborhood where I lived in St. Augustine. One of them remained aloof from the rest and began making her home on my patio. I eventually adopted her into my life and crowned her “Abby.” Abby, a long-haired black cat with green eyes, followed her own rules. She jumped on furniture, book shelves, and tables and didn’t flinch when pillows, books, and glassware went flying. When I moved to Tallahassee, I couldn’t take this still half-wild cat with me, so my friends, Joy and John, became her foster parents. Abby took over their home and Nico, their black lab. Nico lives in fear of Abby after seven years of cohabiting. I recently visited them, and noticed Nico wouldn’t go near his food dish when Abby was in the room. Today, my friend Joy discovered that Abby definitively declared herself the Queen of All Things. This photo says it all.


Abby in Nico’s food bowl

Another friend came into my life in 2005 as well, and she has achieved a milestone today by publishing her new cookbook, Cuban Rice Classics, on Amazon. Marisella Veiga is an accomplished author, journalist, and professor. When I moved to St. Augustine, I went to a woman’s networking luncheon. I was running late and thought all the seats were taken in the room full of one hundred women. There wasn’t an empty seat available, except next to a friendly woman with dark hair and welcoming smile.

“I’m Marisella Veiga, and I’m a writer,” the woman said.

“I’m a writer, too,” I answered. Out of all the people in the room, we were the only writers, and I’m certain something other than ourselves created that one empty chair next to Marisella that day.

I knew we’d be great friends. We were both new to St. Augustine. She’d recently married for the first time, and I’d recently divorced for the first time. We shared some of the same sarcastic, yet loving, views on life, despite our different backgrounds. She and her family left Cuba when she was very young, and they ended up in Minnesota, where the nice, but isolated people in their community thought the Veiga family were of African-American descent.

But what sealed our friendship that day was when she told me she’d just joined a group of women called, Vintage Surfers.

“But I don’t surf,” I said.

“I don’t either, but it’s a blast to watch the others try,” she answered. “I use a boogie board.”

I joined her, and we’ve “boogied” together ever since by the bonds of mutual respect and a weird sense of humor at life’s sometimes funny and sometimes bitter ironies.

So today, I celebrate the milestone of my fellow author and vintage surfer and friend. Using the traditions of her heritage, Marisella has pulled together a book filled with more than recipes. It contains the legacy and history of the Cuban people and their food, which ties together a culture torn apart by the tragedy of exile from one’s homeland.

Click on book cover for purchase link

Here’s to milestones and friends and laughter.

And here’s hoping Nico will one day regain his food bowl.Nico

Book Review Friday – Sewing Can be Dangerous

I don’t often reblog my posts from my blog Writing Whims, but I thought this book of short stories–all related in some way to sewing–might be of interest. I hope you enjoy this collection as much as I did.


SCBD_Cover_10-29_drop_shadow copy-1 I loved S. R. Mallery ‘s first book, Unexpected Gifts , for its rich and varied historical eras used in the setting and theme of the novel.

She continues that same talent in her collection of short stories, Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads. The thread that holds the stories together is a literal one as all the short stories employ some type of sewing or weaving of threads at the heart of the plots. The stories are set in important historical eras and are sometimes romantic, sometimes horrific, and always riveting. The life of immigrants who worked in the textile plants during the heyday of the Industrial Revolution are profiled in one of the short stories. It’s not only an indictment of the appalling conditions of the workrooms but Ms. Mallery also examines the yearnings of a young woman who wants to disappear from her cruel and…

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Book Blitz with Trails in the Sand

Trails in the Sand BannerIt came as a delightful surprise when Jaidis over at Juniper Grove Book Solutions wrote me an email to inform me I’d won a one-day book blitz. I readily accepted my prize, and now the big day has arrived. There’s a drawing for my Florida fiction and environmentally focused novel, Trails in the Sand. U.S. winners will receive a paperback edition and international winners an eBook. Eighteen bloggers signed up to host me. Check out their blogs and enter to win.

The Sexy Horseshoe Crab

Sunset Everglades

Sunset Everglades

I went down to the water’s edge to watch the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico and grabbed a few photos of the sun setting behind one of the tree islands in the Ten Thousand Island area off the coast of Florida. Something near my feet caught my eye. I turned my camera from the vista before me and snapped shot after shot of something I’d never seen before.

More than a dozen horseshoe crabs were crowding together on the small beach where I stood. A couple came up behind me, and I pointed to the huddling DSC03199masses.

“I’ve only seen them dead before,” the man said.

“They probably weren’t dead horseshoe crabs, but only the shell that they shed many times during their lifetime,” I said.

He took some photos, but his partner turned toward the sunset. I know the horseshoe crab isn’t one of the sexier beach critters. Probably not even close to the top 100, and would even fall further if folks knew they’re actually not a crustacean, but more closely related to the spider.

They’ve also been on earth millions of years before the dinosaurs. Their story is one I love about the connections in nature, but it also shows the fragility of our environment. The Delaware Bay’s horseshoe crab population began declining in recent years because of over-harvesting. They make great bait for commercial fishermen, and scientists have culled them for research because of their blue blood, which contain important antibodies.

File:Calidris canutus (summer).jpg

Photo by Hans Hillewaer

Not only did it endanger the horseshoe crab, but also endangered the species that depend upon their eggs, such as a little sandpiper known as the red knot. The red knot flies nearly 10,000 each year as it makes it way from the Arctic down to South America. Along the way, it stops in Delaware Bay to fill up on fuel–the old, unhatched eggs of the horseshoe crab.

Scientists discovered the dwindling population of the red knot in 2005, when its 100,000 population suddenly dipped to 7,500. In recent years, the harvesting of horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay has been halted or is at least highly regulated. Hopefully both populations of wildlife will survive.

If what I saw on the beach in the Everglades is any indication, the population may be doing all right these days.

“What are they doing here?” the man asked.

“I believe that’s called mating,” I said. DSC03201

His partner suddenly came back from watching the sunset to catch a glimpse of copulating horseshoe crabs.

Maybe these creatures are sexy after all.