Why I Cut My Husband’s Hair

For longer than I can remember, I am the one who cuts my husband’s hair. This is not because I am trained (you should see the dolls I have stored away that were victims of my earliest cosmetologist adventures), but he doesn’t seem to mind an occasionally bad hair day. Or week. Or however long it might take to grow out what can only be described as sheer ugly. Once, when I was finished, I bowled over with laughter and told him he looked like Sgt. Vince Carter from the old Gomer Pyle television show.

Why then would he let me near his hair with a pair of scissors? Maybe it’s because his father was a barber, and the convenience of getting one’s hair done in the privacy of their own home remains attractive (unlike some of my haircuts).

Yet for all my mistakes, he’s never once suggested I shave his head.


Which brings me to the topic of the tonsure, or a shaved head with only a crown of hair remaining. This style of haircut has religious significance and can be worn by a monk or a priest, someone who is ordained, or someone on his way to becoming ordained. For anyone interested in the stories I write, you will read about Franciscan “frays,” “friars,” or priests who have their heads thus shaved.

Prior to the Sixth Century, the time when tonsured heads became popular with clergy, this style was the mark of a slave. The correlation between slavery and sin is replaced by the decision to become a slave to righteousness, and thereby, free. To better understand the Christian scriptural context, I suggest you read from the Bible and the book of Romans, chapter six, verses sixteen through twenty-three.

Basically, regarding the tonsure, there are three styles:

1) Roman, or St. Peter – all the head is shaved save for a ribbon of hair that circles the head

2) Eastern, or St. Paul – the entire head is shaved

3) Celtic, or St. John – the only hair that is shaved is a patch over the forehead

How the Bishop Became a Barber (or The Ceremony of Tonsure Begins)

The first hairs cut are five snips in the form of a cross. After that, the remainder. It is said that the wider the circle of hair, the closer one is to priesthood. Therefore, an ordained priest could have a ribbon of hair as wide as the circle of the wafer of the Eucharist (bread used in commemoration of the Lord’s Supper).

This cut signifies a love of all things pertinent to the church (prayer, for example), a deliverance from worldly ambition, and a visual of the person’s dedication to these things.

Buddhist’s, Hindu’s, and others also practice tonsure as proof of their renunciation of the things of this world.

The tonsure is only one of many outward forms of inward transformation. My husband, while he does not sport a tonsure, is a man of integrity and devotion. He is the strength of our family, a patient father, and a diligent provider. If, however, it appears he does have this haircut of sacrifice, it is only because of my questionable cosmetology skill. It’s no wonder he never leaves me a tip!

When Will the World End?

Ever heard of Joachim of Fiore? This Twelfth Century Italian theologian came up with a dispensation theory, or a distribution of world history, that fell into three periods–each one associated with a person of the Christian Trinity.

1) The time of God the Father was all time before the arrival of Jesus Christ, 2) the era of God the Son was after the birth of Christ to somewhere around the middle of the Thirteenth Century, and 3) the age of God the Holy Spirit was thereafter.

Fifteenth Century Roman Catholic missionaries to the New World had a slightly different interpretation. They coordinated the end of the era of God the Son (2) with the discovery of North America. In their view, the third–and final–period of time had begun. This meant that God the Holy Spirit was readying the world for the millennium, or thousand year reign of Christ that would precede the end of all time.

The End Will Not Come Until Everyone is Saved

Augustine taught the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. His argument inferred that although pagans may possess goodness, they have no right to claim the benefits of being good.

Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage said that there is “no salvation outside the church.”

Observant Franciscans (not meaning simply aware, but this is one of many types, or Orders of Franciscans) believed that once the last Native of the New World was baptized, the Second Coming of Christ would follow.

The Jesuits, another Roman Catholic Order, had strict rules regarding effective communication. Therefore, with great intention they followed the instruction to learn the Natives’ language. Even so, symbolism and other cultural barriers clouded the conversation.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

How does one convert another if they can’t understand the language? Many friars sought to demonstrate their faith through the example of Christian love, and Missions became centers for cultural change, the idea being “if one is to be civilized, one must be Christianized.” But lifestyle evangelism takes a long time. When the Natives did not embrace the faith quickly enough, the friars performed mass baptisms.

Even so, the end did not come.

Of course these Renaissance missionaries did not grasp the entirety of world geography.

Today, an organization called The Joshua Project estimates that 85% of unreached people (or people whose knowledge of the Christian religion is negligible/null/void–just like the Native Indians our Fifteenth Century missionaries sought to baptize) are in something called the 10/40 window. This rectangular region has many hard to reach areas, both geographically and culturally.

When will all the people in the 10/40 window be reached? Fifteenth Century friars of the New World project, if they were still alive, might have something to say about it. But they’re not. However, you are.

Can we know anything for certain? Yes.

If You Are Reading This, The End is Not Yet Come!

The idea of end of the world continues to ignite the imagination. It inspires books, movies, sects . . . the theories themselves seem unending.

I don’t understand everything about eschatology (the study of end times), nor do I know when the world will end, but the motivation behind the friars of the Old Spanish Missions is clear.


“If we beheld a soul after baptism with the eyes of faith, we would see angels taking their watch around it.”

~ Elizabeth Ann Seton, Collected Writings




Preserving Our Past

My father is 84 years old. His mind is sharp, his memories vivid, but the photographs he stores in a shoebox on his desk are in bad shape. Since digital programs are available to repair the cracks of age, I decided to scan a few pictures and return them to their original glory, but when the original glory itself is less than desirable (blurry, badly positioned, etc.), there isn’t much one can do.

Yet I did manage to crop images and put them into a single family photo.

Here’s a sample:

Severe water damage.

Severe water damage.

Repair work begins.

Repair work begins.

No Text

The finished product includes aunts and uncles, five sons and one daughter (my dad is the last on the right).

To insert my uncle on the far left also required a bit of creativity since he was not front and center in the original. After cropping him, I also flipped him. It’s one of only a few pictures of him I have ever seen.


Can you find my uncle?

A photograph is a lot easier to repair than a building.

One of my favorite things to do is visit the ruins of Old Spanish Missions, prehistoric Indian sites (like Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico), protohistoric sites (there are Ute prayer trees, or trees that have been culturally scarred, only a few miles from my home), and historic architectural sites that have been restored (someday I hope to visit Restoration Hardware‘s Boston store).

The saying “nothing lasts forever” relates to buildings for sure, but even mountains erode (the Appalachian Mountains are “softer” than the newer, and therefore harder, or rugged Rocky Mountains ). Thankfully, some sites have been sheltered by ingenious means, protected from sun, wind, rain, and the like.

For example, the hilltop ruins of a Baroque church in the Spanish city of Corbera d’Ebre has an armature that covers the building while still allowing for lots of natural light (another wish-list place to someday visit ).

Until I am able to visit the glass ceiling in Spain, I am content to remain closer to home. And why not? It is easy to be captivated by beauty–even (especially?) in the ruins.

Visiting Tumacácori Mission ruins in AZ

Visiting Tumacácori Mission ruins in southern Arizona

Itchy Underwear

In the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve realized they were naked, “and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons” (Gen 3:7 KJV). What isn’t mentioned is what they used for thread. What do you think?

Fig leaves began the trend, and today, recycled soda bottles are included in the array of fabrics that clothe the human body. (By the way, if you are imagining a dress made of empty water bottles, while that would be artistic, it would also be impractical. The fabric I’m talking about is rubbish that has been chemically transformed into polyester.)

Whoda Thunk?

The notion of creating textiles from things like crude oil or wood chips is ingenious. Fabric can be made from all kinds of things! Interested in what they might be? A visit to the American Textile History Museum will have you in stitches when you find out.

But you don’t have to go to Massachusetts to recognize that textiles have undergone quite an evolution. Just look at old photos of sporting teams and you’ll see for yourself.

From Buttons to Bras

University of Innsbruck archeologist Beatrix Nutz discovered 15th Century underwear that was made from coarse linen. The bras from back then are not very different from those around today.

As I research what fabric a medieval monk might wear, the pious ones often wore hair shirts, or shirts made from . . . wait for it . . . hair. Not the soft horsehair used in luxurious upholstery, but hair shirt fabric that was itchy to an extreme. Some nuns are believed to have covered their bodies with pig skin, the hair of the animal still intact and the hairy part on the inside (as did the founder of the religious Order of St. Clare). The more common fabric was made of horse hair, specifically hair from the tail and/or mane.

The mane [sic] reason religious people wore coarse animal fibers against their skin was for self-mortification. My understanding is that self-mortification is used to train the body toward something. A soccer player may, for example, work out regularly and refrain from eating junk food while training for a game. This denial achieves a greater end than the suffering of saying no to chocolate cake. Religious people who deny themselves are also in training, but for spiritual reasons. Often, medieval religious inflicted bodily pain as a companion to denial, both regimes focused on the goal of sanctification (a topic I’ll leave for theologians).

In medieval stories, self-flagellation, or personally administered punishment, cannot be ignored because it was a common practice. A truly repentant soul would have performed their punishment in private. It is said that fray Daniel, a friar on the Vasquez de Coronado expedition, wore a coat of chain mail under his tunic just for this purpose–hot weather or cold, all the better if he had to walk far–chain mail is heavy. A hair shirt made from a goat was especially agonizing.

Time to Zip It Up

Would I want to wear sack cloth, hair shirt, horse, goat, or pig? No thank you please! But I cannot condemn those who think differently from me, especially in the light of centuries gone by. And while I would not wear an itchy item for the purpose of sanctification, I do see the need to remain close to the essentials and not think of myself as better than anyone else. How to do that isn’t difficult. Volunteering to help people who have a need greater than ours often reveals our own great need.

There is a lot more material I could cover, but that’s enough for now. I suddenly feel a strong urge to clean out my closet.

When California was an Island

Imagine your own island in the sun. What amenities might you enjoy? Tropical birds that sing sweetly and lull you to sleep? Luscious fruits that fall gently in a tropical breeze? Bugs that keep to themselves? Native inhabitants to care for your every whim? … wait … what? Now hold your horses (except that there weren’t any horses on California Island, or anywhere in North America–until after European expansion).

Who Said California’s an Island?

Enter Spain and Hernán Cortéz. He conquered the Aztecs, destroyed their civilization, took their wealth, their temples, their society, and their lives, yet those things were not enough. While his motivation may have been fame (mission accomplished) he might have been a Renaissance Workaholic.

Row Row Row Your Skiff

Well, maybe something bigger than a skiff. But never fear, swashbuckleer; we’ll clear the pier with a naval engineer. Hear-hear … okay, I’ll stop now.

Beautiful Black Women

King Carlos V ordered Cortéz to find a shipping strait through North America, so in 1532-33 the ship’s captain, Fortún Jiménez, sailed to a bay which he believed was an island (we now know he found the tip of Baja peninsula). So intriguing was this island, 16th Century author Garcia Ordoñez de Montoalvo published a romance novel about an island inhabited only by beautiful black women (and he didn’t even read the opening questions of this post).

Who Proved Jiménez Wrong?

After spending years as a captive, veteran conquistador Cabeza de Vaca was found alive and brought to Mexico City around 1536. His reappearance and reports aligned to substantiate rumors of wealth in the northern interior (places like Arizona and New Mexico). It piqued Cortéz’s interest. As unscrupulous as he was, his desire to head an expedition was thwarted by the first Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza. To stay in the game, Cortéz delegated Francisco de Ulloa to investigate the Pacific coastline, and it is this man who is credited for discovering that California is not an island but a land mass with a peninsula. However … apparently the idea of beautiful black women was more appealing, and the idea of California as an island stuck.

It Takes a Jesuit

Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino rode thousands of miles across the desert to build Missions for the Catholic church. He was one of the good guys. It is said Father Kino gave the natives all he had, and spent his time feeding, healing, and teaching as well as introducing them to new foods. In 1702, he climbed a mountain east of the Colorado River to admire the sunrise. From his lofty position, he saw that the sea ended at mainland. This was proof that Baja California was not an island, but a peninsula. From then on, the padre received his supplies from ships that crossed the river.

And as far as anyone can tell, California is still a part of the mainland.

Exploding Eucalyptis

A wildfire is a fire that’s uncontrolled … until it is controlled. Or contained at increments that indicate how much or little progress has been made in taming the beast.

To see a global firemap, click here.

Containment is the progress made by establishing a fireline around the perimeter of the fire. This fireline is a trench or other barrier that keeps the fire inside the lines; the trench is often made with a tool called a pulaski tool (named after the 1911 invention of assistant ranger of USFS Ed Pulaski). Unfortunately, if the winds pick up and the fire jumps the line, containment can go from 70% back down to 20%.

San Diego, CA Fire Storm

San Diego (Hispanicized form of Santiago or St. James, patron of Spain), was the epicenter of multiple 2014 springtime wildfires. As of May 19, nine fires had burned over nine thousand acres, and brush fires scorched over 27,000 acres.

What, if anything, does the fragrant eucalyptus have to do with the southern California firestorm?


We interrupt this blog post entry for a quick history lesson.

The San Diego Historical Society credits Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno with naming the city after another Spaniard, Franciscan friar Didacus of Alcalá,O.F.M., otherwise known as Diego de San Nicolás). Click on the provided links for a plethora of information that history buffs will relish! And yes, there is a Mission!

Thank you. We now return to explosive reporting.


Eucalyptus is Not Native to California

Neither did it enter Europe until the year 1774. (The Mediterranean basin does, however, have myrtle trees, also an evergreen. It has edible berries and health benefits since the leaves and twigs can be made into tea and wine).

So where did eucalyptus originate? Some say it may have come from Brazil, but the eucalyptus we know is native to Australia.

Transplantation Highs and Lows

Fast growing, tall and dense, the tree is suitable for wind breaks. That’s good. But then the evil twin jumps the line and pops the nirvana bubble. Eucalyptus are also known as gum trees because they exude sap and, subsequently, oils—good for insecticide, bad for dry climates. Because the oil is flammable, fire lit trees have been known to explode!

Even the Australian Blue Mountains are shrouded with volatile haze—that won’t keep me away!

But there’s more. Eucalyptus trees need lots of moisture and guzzle water to grow. Plus, these bad boys litter. Their heavy branches can fall without warning. This prompts the warning against sleeping underneath (if that sounds like a real kick, you may enjoy reading Seven Little Australians).

There is much more to read about the eucalyptus, and as always, I encourage you to research, research, research. Be sure to include eucalyptus health properties as you do.

As an author, my motto is Linking Yesterday to Today. Often, the link reveals a cautionary tale. An Audubon magazine article, America’s Largest Weed, is worth reading.

No matter the cause, my heart breaks for anyone who suffers devastation of any kind. God be with you.



“Down at the foot of the grass hill there was a flame-coloured sky, with purple, soft clouds massed in banks high up where the dying glory met the paling blue. The belt of trees had grown black, and stretched sombre, motionless arms against the orange background. All the wind had died, and the air hung hot and still, freighted with the strange silence of the bush.”

~ Excerpt from Chapter XXI of the Seven Little Australians, by Ethel Turner, 1894, Ward, Lock and Bowden







The Key to Naming Sixty Saintly Cities

The Real Key to Naming a City is to Know the Gender of Thy Saints

What do Florida, Texas, California, and New Mexico have in common? Spaniards looking for spices, riches, and slaves conquered these places sometime around the fifteenth century. Evidence of who subjugated  the land remains today in local directories and on maps.

A Holy Tradition

Franciscans and Spanish soldiers often named New World missions and provinces after saints or places in Spain.

Consider San Juan Capistrano. When I hear that name, I think of swallows nestling in the namesake Mission. Fray Lasuén named this outpost after Giovanni da Capestrano. Born in 1386, Giovanni came from a region of Italy called Abruzzi, specifically the town Capestrano. Giovanni (Italian) and Juan (Spanish) are translations of the English name John. Thus, San Juan Capistrano means Saint John who is from Capestrano.

The Church believed they should expand the territorial boundaries of Spain by evangelizing the Natives. Introducing them to canonized (officially recognized) saints was a good way to begin their instruction. Also, the Franciscans believed in a literal translation of Matthew 24:14, which says, “And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached through the whole world for a witness unto all nations, and then the end shall come.” But what they didn’t know was geography and the fact that the world was a whole lot bigger than they knew.

Attribution Distribution

Or, why some places begin with Santa and not San

Santa is feminine, Santo is masculine but San is a fine substitute, much like St. which means the same thing as saint. That being said, below is a list of sixty cities sans (sorry) attribution (such extraordinary vocabulary, but this is, after all, a blog post about words). See if you can ascribe the correct honorific (put the right title) in front.


Ana pueblo
Fe Springs
Clara Pueblo
Clara village
Domingo Pueblo
Felipe Pueblo
Juan Bautista
Juan Capistrano
Luis Obispo
Ildefonso Pueblo
James city
Jon Village
Ysidro Village


The answers are intentionally not provided. Research the name and you may find interesting tidbits like I did while exploring the history of San Juan Capistrano. I hope you’ll share what you learn about Saint Bruno!

Two Views of Slave Labor

Men of historical renown, writers and great thinkers alike, Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) would have liked the Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas (1484 – 1586 AD). They both believed in teleology, or goal directed activity. Here is an example of a teleological argument: if you wanted to make a case for creation science, you could say there is evidence of deliberate design (activity) in the making of a viable and life-sustaining planet (goal).

Using this argument, Aristotle would say the creator was supreme over the creation, and likely Bartolomé de las Casas would agree. These men might then have enjoyed an extension of the conversation.

Aristotle: Do you see that squirrel chewing through the acorn (activity) to get to the nut (goal)?

Bartolomé de las Casas: Yes. It is a perfect example of the squirrel’s superiority over the nut.

Aristotle: Quite so. And a natural order, like humankind over animals, men over women, masters over slave. After all, not everyone is capable of leadership and some are better off ruled by others.

Bartolomé de las Casas: Come again?

Aristotle wrote positively about slaves as “a sort of living piece of property; and like any other servant is a tool in charge of other tools” (The Politics, Book 1, Chapter IV).

Bartolomé de las Casas had another idea. Yet he did not come to his enlightened way of thinking until after he had the advantage of utilizing one hundred native laborers on the Caribbean. Afterwards, he returned to Italy and was ordained. As the priest of a Spanish expedition to Cuba, he witnessed the brutal massacre of indigenous Americans. Thereafter, he preached against slavery and devoted his life to the protection, freedom, and property rights of the natives.

His campaign helped create the New Laws of 1542, which outlawed slavery of indigenous Americans and established mechanisms to protect them (in reality, the rules were difficult to enforce).

A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, written by las Casas, remains available on virtual sites or for purchase.

A final word on Aristotle: This Greek philosopher and scientist continues to inspire intellectual discourse, contemplation, and creative pursuits. My admonition is to take snippets of information you find on my blog and others and test them. Research. Learn.

That’s how I got started in writing historical fiction. It’s an interesting world I want to experience and share. And, in words of Aristotle,

“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.”

The Longest League

Historically Speaking

When the Spanish came to explore the New World, they calculated distances in leagues. This unit of length is no longer officially used by any nation. Today, we use metric or US standard, sometimes called imperial. (Need to convert metric to standard or the other way around? Click here.)

Originally, a league was calculated by how far a person could reasonably walk within one hour. Different countries had varying results. Persia, Rome, Bolivia … you can imagine the difficulty a foreign visitor would have in understanding how far it was to the next happy meal. Standardization is the inevitable outcome.

However, China, which officially adopted the metric system in 1984, still uses the term li to describe distance where the Great Wall of China is the ten-thousand-Li-wall, or wall of immeasurable length. And in Mexico, the term league is still used to explain how far one can expect to travel in a mountainous region versus flat terrain.

Far Away

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, a league is three miles. That’s a fair estimate of the truth.

As I research topics of European expansion, since I am familiar with standard measurement, I use a quick mental calculation of 2.5 miles per league. Again, it’s a rough estimate, not an exact measurement, but this helps me visualize approximately how far the explorers would have traveled. To be more accurate, multiply one league by 2.6 miles or 4.2 kilometers. To be precise, use a conversion service or comparison website.

Other Leagues

A nautical mile measures length by time and arc, and is primarily used in polar expeditions, aircraft travel, and, as the name implies, travel by sea.

Then there’s the definition of league as an association of people interested or involved in a similar pursuit, such as a sports league or League of Women Voters.

But for my purposes, when I read that a river is two leagues wide, I think about the distance I have to travel to go grocery shopping: about five miles.

The Origin of Hot Chocolate

Xocolatl (pronounced sho-koh-lah-tuhl) is the Nahuatl (Aztec) word many connoisseurs use for chocolate, but it actually means “bitter water.”

The first drink produced from the cacao tree was not hot chocolate. Anthropologists from the University of Pennsylvania analyzed ancient pottery from Honduras and found residue of an alcoholic beverage fermented from the pulp of the cacao pod, not the bean.

Chocolate in History

Cacao beans were used as currency in early Latin America (600-1500). It’s been said that one bean could buy a fresh tamale, but 100 could purchase an entire hen.

It is not news that chocolate, correctly manufactured and in small amounts, is medicinal. The Aztecs claimed it curative powers, and modern science agrees.

Former chocolate buyer for the famous Fortnum & Mason London department store, Chloe Doutre-Roussel, published a delectable book, The Chocolate Connoisseur: For Everyone with a Passion for Chocolate. Apparently, she knows her stuff since she claims to have grown up eating Nutella and dark chocolate thins. She tells the gruesome tale of Aztecs in line to be sacrificed being served cacao laced with the blood of previous victims.

Another story relates how friar Thomas Gage banned the consumption of hot chocolate during religious services. It is said that he died while drinking the same beverage tinged with a bit of poison.

Frothy Yummy Goodness!

The chocolate beverage served by Aztecs and Mayans was not a sweet use of the bitter bean. To enhance the flavor, they might add chillies, honey, vanilla, and flowers. The liquid was mixed with a wooden frother (a molinillo) to make it light and airy enough to be inhaled as well as sipped. Remember, the more froth there is, the more love will respond.

However, when Montezuma kindly offered conquistador Hernan Cortés a cup of chocolatl, he returned the favor by killing the Aztec Emperor and taking over the empire. In 1528, Cortés brought cacao beans to Spain.

Make Your Own Cup of Love

To create your own authentic hot cocoa, you could purchase xocolatl or use Mexican chocolate tablets. Typically, you must grate the tablets but this is unnecessary for xocoatl. Regardless of which you choose, whisk the chocolate with hot milk. Or you could do it like the Mayans and pour the liquid from one vessel at about shoulder height into another vessel resting on the ground. Such fanfare! Maybe they make it the same way at the Chocolate Academy (locations worldwide). You’ll have to let me know.

Because I watch my sugar intake, I make my own dry mix hot chocolate and store it in a glass jar in my pantry. It’s easy to make and luscious to drink.

Mix together:

3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder, 1 cup dried goat milk powder, 2 tsp. cornstarch, 2 tsp. salt, and 1 & 1/2 cups of sugar-free sweetener.

I usually fill my mug with 1/4 cup of this mixture and add boiling water, but as with all chocolate, the amount you need is definitely up to you.