Category Archives: My non-writing life

My post Downton Abbey party report.

Loved the beginning of Downton Abbey season six. A few minor threads started and resolved and even more began!

And the party–splendid!

Laurel Wanrow in Victorian Steampunk costume.

My husband was told he looked like like Mr. Mason…but who was I? I’m claiming I’m Violet in her younger, Victorian years. LOL. I love Maggie Smith’s Dowager character!

fitting into the show

We had a show of hats, including a Lady Astor felt hat.

Lady Astor felt hat

Dressing for dinner, complete with long gloves.

Dressed for dinner

As for my English dish…I would do things a little differently next time. A few shots of the process…

Sausages for Braised Bangers

Adding the cider to Braised Bangers

I cut my sausages because I wanted smaller servings for the party. However, this meant some apple chunks inside escaped during the extended braising, and burnt. In the future I would cut the sausages after cooking.

Cider and Honey Braised Bangers

Despite the unappetizing-looking charred bits, the flavor was good, if a little sweet, due to the mild sausage I used.

So what did other folks bring?

Downton Abbey party

We had sausage pockets,

sausage pockets

pork and mushroom pasties (my favorite!)

Pork & mushroom pasties

and Shepard’s Pie.

Shepard's Pie

One of the sides was presented on a turn of the century plate.

Turn-of-the-century dish

And for dessert, a traditional Victorian sponge,

Victorian sponge cake

and a beautiful vanilla cake with Elderberry liqueur in the icing.

vanilla cake

A splendid time was had by all!

Watching Downto Abbey

Are you excited for Downton Abbey?

I am so looking forward to the new season, and a bit in mourning for this series ending. Tonight, I’m attending a season premier party. We’re encouraged to dress in British garb and bring an English dish to share.

Of course I have my Victorian/ steampunk outfit I put together this autumn. Not at all the Edwardian period of the series, but it’s easy to grab and suits the spirit of the gathering.

I scanned through my Pinterest board–English Victorian Food–and looked through a few of the dishes and then websites. I particularly liked the site The English Kitchen and have selected a newly posted recipe, Cider and Honey Braised Bangers. Pop over to Marie’s fabulous site to check out the recipe and yummy photos, while I attempt my version for the party.


My sausages are not ‘traditional’, but I like these mild Aidells’ chicken & apple sausages, which I believe will go well with the cider. I need to get braising, so will let you know how they turned out and hopefully post other English fare from the party.

In other news…

Congratulations to Alaina, winner of a paperback copy of The Twisting in my Goodreads Giveaway.

I have a lovely new review for The Twisting up on Amazon and Goodreads!

The Twisting keeps the series going by answering some questions brought up in the first book and bringing up more to be answered in future installments. Heroine Annmar Masterson is coming into her own and learning that sometimes power needs to be limited from within. Hero Daeryn is finding out what he can and can’t influence. For me the highlight of the book is Annmar’s development as she is further transformed from a prim young Victorian young lady into a wielder of magic as she learns about her past. The romance is slow, steady, and sweet. Can’t wait for the next one!

Thank you, fellow steampunk author Cecilia Dominic! The second in Cecilia’s  Aether Phychics series released mid-December, Light Fantastique, which I have caught up with on her blog, but not my Kindle…yet!

Brief update on gypsy wagon / tiny house construction

Back on September 4, I shared photos of the beginning stages of constructing a gypsy wagon or tiny house. As a next stage in the planning and design, our master craftsman put together mock ends to help the owner determine the window sizes and locations.

Gypsy wagon : tiny house 1

The feel of being inside them was very real. Because the side ‘windows’ were movable, they got rearranged for the best views on this river property.

Gypsy wagon : tiny house 2

It may have taken a little time to go through this exercise, but I think it was worth it to gain an end product that everyone will be happy with.

gypsy wagon : tiny house 3

And here’s my Victorian costume put together!


photo by Kimberly Shorter, BBF photographer

Laurel Wanrow, photo by Kimberly Shorter, BBF photographer

I think my outfit came together pretty well. The most fun I had was watching my fellow writers do double-takes upon realizing who I was. Replacing my regular glasses, with their square purple frames, sure made a difference, not to mention just dressing up for a change.

Laurel Wanrow at Maryland Romance Writers BBF tentI could not keep my short hair pinned, and when I mentioned this (the Victorian fax-paux of having my hair loose!) on Facebook, fellow author Rowan Worth who does Civil War reenacting suggested a snood, and thankfully included this Victorian hair snood link! Basically, it’s a hair net, and Mrs. Button’s Vintage Corner did this accessory justice in her article ‘In the mood for a snood.

I hosted at the information table for the Maryland Romance Writers’ tent, but also listened to several panel discussions.

Maryland Romance Writers stage at BBF

And also had a fun day hanging out with author friends, including fellow indy-publishers Rebecca Rivard and Leslye Penelope.

Rebecca Rivard, Laurel Wanrow and Leslye Penelope

The event continues through Sunday, Sept 27, and Maryland Romance Writers is hosting a full schedule from 11 am to 7 pm each day.

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 1.29.52 PM

Another highlight for me, as a self-published author whose books are POD rather than available in bookstores, was seeing my print copies shelved with others in the book sales area.

The Unraveling shelved by Ukazoo Books

More photos are at the Maryland Romance Writers Facebook Album Baltimore Book Festival 2015.  Thanks for sharing my costume crafting journey!

Dressing up like a Victorian lady, Part 2: Acccessories

Dressing properly isn’t just the clothes; the accessories must be right to make a correct historical presence. I have a few more things to prepare for my Victorian costume to be ready for the Baltimore Book Festival.

Anyone and everyone going out of the house in Victorian times wore a hat. During the time The Unraveling is set, men wore top hats, boys and working people might wear caps. Women had more choices in head wear, from ruffle-, ribbon- and bead-decorated silk, cotton or felt, to plain straw and cloth bonnets. I took a few liberties with hats in my more casual hidden realm, but decided my costume would be incomplete without a hat. Along with my blouse and split riding skirt, I bought my hat from Historical Emporium. A riding hat.

Riding hat

I figured that fit, but I’m worried how that trailing veil will hold up.

No properly-dressed Victorian adult went out without gloves. Again, because my characters live and work on a farm, I took liberties and forgo gloves except when they are in the Derby. However, like the hat, I decided I needed them…unfortunately after I had placed my order. It’s darned hard to find plain leather dress gloves these days. I considered using my lace fingerless gloves from my steampunk costume.

FIngerless lace gloves

I could wear a ring with these, but frankly, they don’t look right. Another option is cutting down a thin pair I found in the Halloween section, or wear a fleece lined pigskin pair I have from long ago.

Pigskin gloves

Not quite the right color since most of my outfit is black. Tomorrow I’m calling around to try to borrow a pair.

I needed stockings to wear with my boots. But what kind? A search of Victorian stockings turned up Kate Tattersall‘s (Victorian Adventuress Extraordinaire!) fabulous website. In addition to Kate’s adventures (due out in January 2016), author R.S. Fleming has posted many well-researched articles, including on silk hose, colourful stockings & socks. From this essay, I learned stockings are the longer ones–up to the thighs–and socks the shorter. I decided knee length would be appropriate, a knit style in wool. I was dreading spending too much more money at REI, where I know knee high wool socks are plentiful, but Target is closer and I found both thin and thick versions for half the price.

Wool stockings

I’m leaning more toward wearing the brown boots, but need to have a trial period of walking around the house now that I have the socks!

Dressing up like a Victorian lady

When I first decided to attend the Baltimore Book Festival, I also decided to dress Victorian, the era my series The Luminated Threads is set. I already knew it’d be fun because I put together a steampunk costume for a RWA conference a few years ago.

Dressed as a Steampunk Astronomer

But that was fantasy and easy–I could collect up and wear anything I liked, which I did and won second place in our fantasy chapter’s annual contest. Putting together a Victorian look involves more preparation than going to your local retailer or party supply store, and this time I wanted to be a bit more correct…but not completely correct. I only had the funds to dedicate to what people would see, not the underthings. If you want an entirely correct version of dressing Victorian, please see Victoriana Magazine’s How to Dress 1860s.

Also, I wanted to dress like a character from my 1868 series, but not the heroine. Annmar enters the story wearing a mourning outfit, and one more formal because she works with business clients, drawing advertisements for their steam machines. Because I’m more of a jeans and t-shirt wearer, I chose to dress like the owner of the farm Annmar goes to work for, Mistress Constance Gere:

A woman strode along an avenue created by rows of fruit trees. She was tall, her lean figure dressed in the style Mrs. Rennet wore, a ruffled blouse topped by a suit vest styled for a lady. But unlike Mrs. Rennet, this lady had on a split skirt, the kind worn by women who rode horseback. She would most certainly be holding a sword when she rode—

I’d seen this split skirt online in Historical Emporium. I’ve trolled their site along with other research sites, and they seem the most reasonable and easily accessible, unless you go to a con or DIY. Also because of finances and figuring out what I want to do in the future, I decided to reuse my vest-style corset. The black Brush Twill Riding Pants would work perfectly. Unfortunately, even though I carefully took measurements, the size was too big, so a replacement is on the way. They seemed sturdy and not too long, which was a concern because I am only 5′ 4″.

Historial Emporium Brush Twill Riding pants.The blouse was a simple decision: The Victorian Ladies Blouse in white.

Victorian ladies blouse with stand up collar

The collar is the correct stand up one, the sleeves are nice and full. I like the fabric and the fit.

Boots…my old ones looked and felt great, but the sole cracked after only a half-dozen wearings. I ordered the Victorian Ankle Boot, tried them on–they fit fine–and my husband said, “What are you thinking? You’re going to sprain your ankle. Again.” Uh, right. I do have a issue with weak ankles and lengthy sprain recovery. And getting around any festival or conference is no walk in the park.

Victorian ankle boot

But they’re so cute. sigh.

With a week to go, I was running out of time. I scoured the internet for likely substitutes with Victorian low heel boot and found Payless had something that would do, and in stock locally! I ran over and voila:

Black low heel lace up bootsBrown low heel lace up boots








Now I have a decision to make. The black boots will likely go unnoticed under the black riding pants. However, Mistress Gere is a farm owner and likely to be wearing rougher work boots, the kind Annmar sees the other farmworkers wearing:

“May I borrow a pair of those boots in the back hall?”

“The Wellies?” Mary Clare frowned. “They’d be huge on you. Try my work boots.” In a thrice, she had them off.

Annmar laced the leather boots and stood. These fit better than the ones last night. And walking— “Much less sloppy,” she told a grinning Mary Clare. Her sore feet and the rough ground slipped from Annmar’s mind a few steps into the orchard.

I also envision Mistress Gere needing to carry a few items out to the fields, which would be much easier if she wore a belt and hung things from it…clearly I have more work to do this weekend!

And on to the next weekend…

I wanted to share a few photos of my adventure with helping on the construction of a gypsy trailer…or tiny house, as they are being called. But the week has flown by with the pics off the camera at least, but not into the world. I have however, gotten through my copy edits on Volume Two of The Luminated Threads, and seen the second mock-ups of the cover art!  So exciting week for me.

Here’s the short version on the gypsy wagon… and the photos if anyone is interested in the step-by-step process of construction, like I am. A group from church is working on two of these tiny houses on a lovely river property.

gypsy wagon

interior of tiny house

One gypsy wagon purchased by the landowners is already on the floodplain property. It’s a nice way to ‘camp’ at short notice and still be close to nature.


The property floods, so the solution to having sleeping ‘cabins’ available for a few folks who might not be able to tent, is to have portable structures that can be moved when–when, not if–a flood event occurs.

floodplain property

This was not the first workday. The army surplus wagons are already set up and a deck built between them. The flooring was laid down last spring with hardware cloth rodent prevention and foam insulation.

marking the flooring for

Our goal for the one workday was to frame in the three sides of the beds with studs on 16 inch centers, and prepare a level surface for an overhanging edge to widen the inner dimensions a bit. The trailers still have to be a width to be transported on the highway to higher ground.





One wagon had side supports that needed to be worked around by cutting notches with a jigsaw–a little detail which required a lot more measurign and cutting. Something to keep in mind if you have the option to choose a wagon style.


The extension boards fit nicely around.

edge boards

We finished mid afternoon and were able to enjoy the evening on the river.

sharing meals

We have a creative crowd, both for construction and meals!

Hope I’ve given you a few takeaway hints!

What does author Laurel Wanrow do when she’s not writing?

In the last few days I have read two articles advising authors to write more blog posts about what they do IRL—when not writing. True, life cannot be all fantasy and romance! So…I take photographs.

My 20 year-old can’t figure out why, and I can’t explain it. It’s either something people do or they don’t. I’ve seen the world through my camera lens since I was ten, and with digital I have far more photographs than anyone will ever see, particularly nature photographs. For years while I worked as a naturalist at various National Parks and nature centers, taking photographs was an essential part of my job. Think slide shows, exhibits and brochures; I did all that.

My favorite subject is wildflowers, but I shoot anything that catches my eye, and a lot of my photographs make it into my nature blog, The Squirrel Nutwork. I must admit that when I am busy or away, a friend who is even more of a nature enthusiast than I am sends me photos for the blog.Laurel Wanrow

I’ve been away a lot this summer, and because the nature blog features nature in suburban D.C., most of the recent photos are not mine, and my photos cannot be used. Being prompted to reveal my ‘other life’ gives me the perfect opportunity to share a few.

Since May, I’ve been at a family cabin in Colorado. It’s quiet, and I get a lot of writing done, but the last 22 months our township has been recovering from flood damage that occurred September 2013. I spent this spring and summer splitting my time between releasing my first novel and replanting a berm along the reconstructed creek. At times this was frustrating, because the crows and ground squirrels were determined to grab their piece of the action–my seeds. And once the plants had a foothold, the flower buds!Laurel Wanrow

But then I learned why this golden-mantled ground squirrel was so persistent!

golden mantled ground squirrel

Golden mantled ground squirrel

Laurel Wanrow nature photography

Laurel Wanrow nature photography

Yep, four young!Laurel Wanrow

And they weren’t the only ones setting up nurseries around my cabin.

A pair of wrens built a nest in a coffee can my parents put up fifty years ago. Unfortunately I returned east for most of their nestling-rearing, but upon my return in July, a pair of Olive Flycatchers had claimed a spot on the porch beam.

Laurel Wanrow nature photography

They twittered enthusiastically one day, alerting me the eggs had hatched, but a week passed before I finally saw three little heads. Fuzzy ones!

Laurel Wanrow nature photographyIt seemed like weeks passed, but it was only six days before I noticed they three were close to fledging.

Laurel Wanrow nature photography

Sure enough, the next day, one flew past me and landed. I ran for my camera.

Laurel Wanrow nature photography

I didn’t see that fledgling again, and two days later the others left, leaving the nest empty…and my porch, too! Fortunately, I’d been putting out a hummingbird feeder the entire time, so had the hummers for consolation for the remainder of my visit.

Laurel Wanrow nature photography

Thanks for reading and letting me share!

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