Aug 15 2017

One Less Lemon Brownie

I posted this article article about this time last year. Just a few days ago I got another one of ‘those calls,’ so it seemed fitting to revisit these lemon brownies

lemon brownies for a family celebration

My youngest turned eighteen this week and my grandbaby turned one month old. Time for a family celebration!

My youngest is a low-key kind of kid, so we settled on doing a family luncheon for his birthday. All told that should have been easy—right? No wild party or loud music to disturb the neighbors. The family knows what the house looks like, so I don’t have to clean it within an inch of its life. Make some food, bake something sweet and we should be good to go, right?

I wish.

But no.

First up, when are we going to do this thing? #2 son just moved out for grad school just a week before. What day can he get back to celebrate with us? All right, got the date, check.

What time and how long? Gotta check on the son with the new grandbaby and find out what his schedule looks like.  Ok, got that worked out.

How long is another matter, though. Have to check in with the anxious family member to figure out what their endurance is looking like these days. OK, not too much, so plan for them to arrive just in time for lunch and leave after dessert. Can do.

With the ‘when’ firmly in mind, now to plan the food. What to eat?

Back to the phone/email/texts.

Must check in with the two diabetics and the two with GI issues. No read meat, no tomato sauce this week. Fruit plate along with the baked goods. Check.

Oh wait, must have caffeine-free iced tea for the nursing mom and the sleepless relatives., too.

Food is set…no its not. What to bake? Ask son what he wants and I get his usual “White cake because everyone likes it” answer. Sigh. That’s fine for a holiday like Easter or Thanksgiving, but not for his special day. He’s just too nice sometimes. Mom overrules. His favorite Lemon Brownies it is. He smiles and is happy.

One thing done right and we’re in the home stretch.

Need to write myself a note to remember to turn down the AC for the ones who think my house is too-darn-hot (Like anything in East Texas isn’t right now…). And move the cars so the mobility impaired can park in the driveway.

Have I forgotten anything?

I swear, I’m about to lose my mind. Why can’t they just be easy? Sometimes I wonder if all this accommodating isn’t more trouble than it’s worth.

Then the phone call comes.

An out of town family member suddenly, unexpectedly lost their battle with cancer.

There would be one less at the next family reunion. One less to help us celebrate the next wedding. One less Facebook profile filled with photos and stories to share even though distance separates us.

One less preference to worry about accommodating at events.

One less.

And somehow all the hassle to make it easier for one more to attend looks a little more worthwhile.

Because someday there’s going to be one less.

Until then, I don’t want anyone to stay away because they weren’t feeling welcome or special.

So I double check my list and add someone’s favorite corn salad to the menus and get to baking those lemon brownies.

This year, the youngest is turning nineteen and starting college in a few days and wants key lime pie this year instead of lemon brownies. The grandbaby just turned  a year old and we hosted the (huge) party for him at the house. The doctors say we’ll be losing another family member in a month or so, and new stuff has cropped up just to make life complicated. Life as usual I suppose. All the more reason not to skip out on those sometime challenging family gatherings.

Lemon Brownies lemon brownies for a family celebration

  • 1 (18 ounce) boxes lemon cake mix
  • 1 (3 ounce) packages lemon gelatin
  • 1/2 cup cooking oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice

Directions:  Grease and flour a 13″ X 9″ pan.Preheat oven to 325°F Beat together the dry cake mix, dry Jello powder, oil, and eggs. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake at 325F for 25 to 30 minutes or until done. (They take a little longer in a glass pan.) Remove from oven and punch holes all over the cake with a toothpick. Combine icing sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Spoon over cake. Cool and cut into squares.


Aug 12 2017

Marginal Cats by Cait Reynolds

 I’d like to welcome my friend Cait Reynolds today as she takes us along for a trip down the research rabbit hole finding cats in the margins.

I’ve heard it said that the more thing change, the more they stay the same, and I’m pretty convinced it’s true.  Though I write historical fiction that reflects the attitudes and understandings of the times, human beings are still pretty much the same then as they are now. 

Take cat memes for example. They have been around a lot longer than you’d imagine. I’d argue we can find them in medieval tomes if we look hard enough (like in the margins) And that’s where Cait is taking us today, with an hilarious tour finding the cats in medieval manuscripts.

Just a note for my more sensitive readers: The language in this post is a bit stronger than you’re used to fining on Random Bits, so if that will trouble you, you may want to jump down a different Research Rabbit Hole or check out some writerly cats here.

Long before gave us the gift of endless cat memes, Medieval cats were movers and shakers, behaving inappropriately, seizing power, and literally leaving their mark on history.

Most of these lovable assholes are found in the margins and designs of Medieval and early Renaissance manuscripts. Let’s take a tour of all the feline marginalia mayhem, shall we?

Always Inappropriate

You have guests over. The neighboring seigneur and his lady. The venison is perfectly roasted. The troubadour is singing like his life depends on it (and it could). The mead is flowing.

And then the cat comes in, settles down on the middle of the floor and proceeds to do this.


Missal, Bavaria ca. 1440-1460 (New York Public Library, MA 112, fol. 7r)

This cat doesn’t even give a shit if it’s the Apocalypse.

Christ on Majesty flanked by two angels blowing trumpets of the Last Judgement and a little grey guy licking its butt.  

1Maccabees 16:18-20. Bible, France 13th century (Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne, U 964, fol. 376r)

Sometimes, though, you’ve just had enough. This is the Medieval version of the squirt bottle:



 Cats with Delusions of Grandeur

‘Hours of Joanna the Mad’, Bruges 1486-1506.
BL, Add 18852, fol. 412r

Cats have always believed they are the king or queen of the castle and that humans are simply thumbed slaves. Medieval cats were no different, only – as appropriate for the time – they included the Church in their ambitions.

This special kitten not only imitates the adoration of the Christ Child, but has the honor of being featured in the Book of Hours of Joanna the Mad. Yes, she really was mad. More on her another time.

Antonius von Pforr, Buch der Beispiele, Swabia ca. 1475-1482 Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 84, fol. 227v

Here we have a King of the Cats and a cat who wants a bishopric. Assholes.



Zürich armorial, Zürich ca. 1340Zürich, Schweizerisches Nationalmuseum, AG 2760, fol. 1r

And then there’s this cat who let the power go to his head. Go home, royal kitteh, you’re drunk.


Paw Prints on your Heart…and Manuscript

St. Matthew writing his Gospel book of hours, Bruges ca. 1510-1525 Rouen, BM, ms. 3028, fol. 63

See this cat? This cat is just waiting to jump up on this poor dude’s manuscript. I’m not kidding.

Cat paws in a fifteenth-century manuscript (photo taken at the Dubrovnik archives by @EmirOFilipovic)

He probably knocked over the inkwell while he was at it because cats are like that.

Cats take pride in ownership, even of the things they destroy. That has never changed, as seen here by this manuscript that some asshole cat peed on.


Actually, it says a lot more than “Ye Olde Damn Cat!”

Cursed be this cat for peeing over my book! (Cologne, Historisches Archiv, G.B. quarto, 249, fol. 68r)

“Hic non defectus est, sed cattus minxit desuper nocte quadam. Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum istum in nocte Daventrie, et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum. Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem ubi cattie venire possunt.”

[Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.] taken from Medieval Fragments.

The Ultimate Medieval Cat Asshole

I have saved the best for last because…well…I think I’ll just end here and let the picture speak for itself.

She’s trying to trade a fish for the penis. The cat gives no fucks.

And this is what two of my cats are doing as I try to post this article. I’m pretty sure neither cats nor people have changed much!



Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes. You can find her online at


Books by this author:


Aug 10 2017

Heir of Rosings Park Title Poll

Heir of Rosing Park iconWeigh in on the publishing title for The Heir of Rosings Park


Find Preview chapters HERE

  The good news is that The Heir of Rosings Park now has a launch date! Mark your calendars for August 31! Just three weeks from now! (Yikes, that isn’t much time, is it? Ahhh!) Sorry about that, I’m back now, it’s ok. 

The bad news is that there won’t be any more preview chapters, you’ll have to wait until launch to find out the outcome of the fire… (ducking the rotten tomatoes…)

Those of you who have followed the Queen of Rosings Park series know that I retitle the stories before I publish them and this is no exception. I had a title in mind all along, but then I was reading P&P a couple days ago and another alternative struck me. It’s a big decision, not quite what-to-name-the-baby level, but kinda close. 

So, I’m asking your input. Tell me what you think. 

Option 1:  A Less Agreeable Man

Option 2:  As Brittle as it is Beautiful


Head down to the comments and tell me which title you prefer and why.  


Don’t miss the first two books in the series:



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Aug 08 2017

To Love, Honor and OBEY in Jane Austen’s World

Courtship and Marriage5

Though nearly all of Jane Austen’s works end with a love match and a wedding, she does not represent the prevailing attitudes about love and marriage of the day.

What did regency marriages look like?

Marrying for Love was Unlikely

While love might have been on the minds of regency era couples, they generally expected it to come AFTER marriage (if at all), rather than before.  For most, practical considerations were the backbone of most matches.

Moreover, whatever warm and fuzzy feelings might develop did so in the context of a clear patriarchy. In regency society, no one doubted that the husband was the head of the relationship, in charge of essentially everything

There cannot, indeed, be a sight more uncouth, than that of a man and his wife struggling for power: for where it ought to be vested, nature, reason, and Scripture, concur to declare;

… How preposterous is it to hear a woman say, ‘ It shall be done!’ —’ I will have it so!’ and often extending her authority not only beyond her jurisdiction, but in matters where he alone is competent to act, or even to judge. (Taylor, 1822)

Coverture strikes again

Remember, under legal coverture, women had no legal existence; the husband existed for them both in public life. He owned all property, had custody of the children, conducted all business transactions on the family’s behalf, even owned the wife’s earnings should she have income of her own. (A little hard to find the upside in this, isn’t it?)

He even had the right to physically chastise his wife, divide her from friends and family and severely curtail her movements, if he so wished. (Jones,2009) Mr. Darcy, could have legally forbidden Elizabeth from associating with her disgraceful relations had he chosen to do so.

Though this might sound like a recipe for creating petty tyrants, Rev. Thomas Gisborne (1797), a moralist of the era, argued that true marital harmony came from the husband taking pre-eminence over his wife. She need not fear though, if he were a religious man, he would follow God’s will and be a kind protector for whom she would, in gratitude, be endlessly good-tempered and pleasing. Sounds exactly like the marriage the Bennets of Pride and Prejudice enjoyed, doesn’t it?

Maybe not so much.

Advice to the married woman

Conduct writers agreed, it was right and appropriate for women to have the subservient role. Catherine Macaulay, a staunch promoter of female education held that husbands had the right to expect obedience from their wives, but that they should in their turn treat wives as their best friends. (Jones, 2009) Ann Taylor (1822) advocated, “A man of common understanding, though he may derive benefit from his wife’s advice, certainly ought not to be governed by her.”

Consequently, women needed to be prepared to be tolerant of a difficult husband. It was the price of being a married woman.

On your part, you promised to love as well as to honour and obey; and probably from the all-perfect being to whom you then surrendered yourself… But, however discreet your choice … by degrees the discovery … that you have married a mortal, and that the object of your affection is not entirely free from the infirmities of human nature. Then … your disappointment may be moderated; and your love, so far from declining, may acquire additional tenderness, from the consciousness that there is room for mutual forbearance. (Taylor, 1822)

A proper wife had limited power for direct control over anything in her life, especially her husband. According to Gisborne (1797) her indirect influence should be channeled through affection, example and charms rather than through boldness or strength, all while being submitted to her husband’s wishes in all things.

If all this seems a bit unfair, take heart, even conduct writers realized it: “The World in this is somewhat unequal, and the masculine Sex seems to play the Tyrant… “(The Whole Duty of a Woman, 1737) But fear not, there was compensation for the woman. “But if in this it lies under any Disadvantage, it is more than recompens’d, by having the Honour of Families in their Keeping. “(The Whole Duty of a Woman, 1737)

That certainly rectified all the disadvantages, right?


Want to learn more? Try Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s World, available in ebook and paperback



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Aug 05 2017

Reason #49 Why writing takes so long

#49 Ghost Writers

 ghost writers


 Most writers would have you believe that they do their own work. That each precious word on the page came from their own hand. But the ugly truth is that their are ghost writers out there.

No, they don’t run about in white flowing sheets with cut outs for the eyes, yelling ‘boo!’ from behind bookcases. Alright sometimes they do, but not usually. And when they do, they generally scream “Mrowww!” But I digress.

Ghost writers, silently and stealthily come along beside an author and provide words for them, usually in exchange for some precious offering. The run-of-the-mill variety will accept merre money for their words. However,  the uniquely talented ones, the ones with fur and fine tails, they demand greater tribute. 


Catnip mice.

Meox Mix Irresistibles.

Chin skritchies.

That’s what the truly refined and expert ghost writer wants. And if they don’t get them, well then, one might expect their work to be … ah … interrupted until such time as proper payment is offered. If necessary, they will physically interfere with the author’s effort, bodily preventing access to all writing tools if necessary.

Thing is, though, even when they are offered proper tribute, they aren’t necessarily good about following a schedule. If fact they are rather dreadful about it. It doesn’t much to disrupt their schedule. A bug zipping past. A bird in the window. An invisible goblin sitting on their tail. A nap–or six. Any of those can totally turn their schedule inside out. Thus ruining a writer’s plans entirely.

The moral of the story is of course, not to use  ghost writers at all. A writer is better off writing their own words and being responsible for their own schedules. Ones that bugs and birds, catnip and goblins cannot interrupt … Oh look! A shiny…


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