Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Fun Facts - 5/31/2013

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) This is an example of a pottery dish from the 18th-century Moravian settlement at Salem, North Carolina, dating from 1775-1785, during Gottfried Aust's tenure as master potter.  (Click on the photo for a bigger view.)  I like to think that it might be the very one that Roger and Bree saw in A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES:
"Aye, but what about clay?” [Roger] interrupted. “Did ye see that plate at Hilda’s wedding? The big brown and red one, with the beautiful patterns?”

“Yes,” she said. “Why?”

"Ute McGillivray said someone from Salem brought it. I dinna recall the name, but she said he was quite the big noise in potting--or whatever ye call making dishes.”

“I’ll bet you any amount of money she didn’t say that!”

“Well, words to that effect.” He went on, undeterred. “The point being that he made it here; it wasn’t something he’d brought from Germany. So there’s clay about that’s suitable for firing, eh?” 

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon,  chapter 6, "Ambush". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon.  All rights reserved.)

My mom and I recently went to see an exhibit at the NC Museum of History in Raleigh, NC, featuring many examples of 18th and early 19th century Moravian and Quaker pottery from the area around Salem and Bethabara (near what is now Winston-Salem, NC).  Some of the pieces are really quite beautiful!  Here's a PDF file with more information, including photos of many of the pieces we saw in that exhibit.

2) This is what yarrow (Achillea millefolium) looks like.  Click on the photo for a bigger view.  Claire frequently mentions yarrow among her medicinal herbs:
Willow bark, cherry bark, fleabane, yarrow. Penicillin was by far the most effective of the antibiotics available, but it wasn’t the only one. People had been waging war on germs for thousands of years, without any notion what they were fighting. I knew; that was some slight advantage.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 93, "Choices". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
According to this site,
Yarrow has a vast array of medicinal properties. The volatile oils work as antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and diuretic agents. The tannins are aggressive astringents. The alkaloids are both hypotensive and hypoglycemic. Yarrow even has coumarin in its cells which works as an anti-thrombotic to reduce high blood pressure.
For more information about the medicinal uses of yarrow, look here and here.

3) This is the opening theme from "Perry Mason" that was used from 1959-61.  Brianna would have been about 11-13 years old at the time.
She nodded, the memory of her own old room in the house on Furey Street rising around her, vivid as a vision in the smoke. The striped wool blanket, itchy under her chin, and the mattress with the indentation of her body in the middle, cupping her like a huge, warm hand. Angus, the stuffed Scottie with the ragged tam-o-shanter who shared her bed, and the comforting hum of her parents’ conversation from the living room below, punctuated by the baritone sax of the theme music from Perry Mason.

Most of all, the sense of absolute security.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 69, "A Stampede of Beavers". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
"Perry Mason" was a few years before my time (I was born in 1964), so I don't think I've ever actually watched it, but I always like the pop culture references in the books.  And I think it's interesting that Claire and Frank were evidently in the habit of watching this show together.  Despite the strains in their marriage, they did have a few things in common.

4) This photo shows what a Scottish wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia) looks like.
"Lord help us, it’s the young Scottish wildcat! I thought I’d dealt with you once and for all! Back healed after all, did it? And this is your wife, you say? Quite a tasty little wench, she is, quite like your sister.”

Still shielded by his partly turned body, Randall’s knife-hand swiveled; the blade was now pointed at my throat. I could see Jamie over his shoulder, braced in the window like a cat about to spring. The pistol barrel didn’t waver, nor did he change expression. The only clue to his emotions was the dusky red creeping up his throat; his collar was unbuttoned and the small scar on his neck flamed crimson.

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon,  chapter 21, "Une Mauvais Quart D'Heure After Another". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon.  All rights reserved.)

Here's a brief video about Scottish wildcats.  These beautiful animals are on the verge of extinction, due to interbreeding with feral domestic cats.

From Wikipedia:
The wildcat is considered an icon of the Scottish wilderness, and has been used in clan heraldry since the 13th century. The Picts venerated wildcats, having probably named Caithness (Land of the Cats) after them. According to the foundation myth of the Catti tribe, their ancestors were attacked by wildcats upon landing in Scotland. Their ferocity impressed the Catti so much, that the wildcat became their symbol. A thousand years later, the progenitors of Clan Sutherland, equally impressed, adopted the wildcat on their family crest.
Several different clans, including Sutherland, MacPherson, and Mackintosh, have wildcats in their emblems.

5) This famous 1822 painting by John Trumbull, which hangs in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, depicts the surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga, which took place on October 17, 1777.
October 17, like all the days that had gone before it, dawned dark and foggy. In his tent, General Burgoyne dressed with particular care, in a gorgeous scarlet coat with gold braid and a hat decorated with plumes. William saw him, when he went with the other officers to Burgoyne’s tent for their last, anguished meeting.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 69, "Terms of Surrender". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Click on the photo for a bigger view.  In the painting, British Lieutenant General John Burgoyne (in red) attempts to hand his sword to American Major General Horatio Gates (in blue), while American Colonel Daniel Morgan (in white) looks on.  If you look closely at General Burgoyne, you can see the plumed hat in his left hand.

Here is a key identifying each of the men in the painting.  We can assume that William is standing somewhere nearby <g>, along with the rest of the British troops.

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts, and please come back next week for more.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


This is the cover art for the upcoming DANGEROUS WOMEN anthology, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, which will include Diana Gabaldon's story, "Virgins", about Jamie and Ian as young mercenaries in France, before Jamie met Claire.

Click on the picture for a bigger view.

My immediate reaction:  at first glance, this cover looks sort of bland.  <shrug>  I do like the "barbed" look of the lettering used in the title, but I doubt that would make me pick it up, if I didn't already know that Diana had a new story in this anthology.  What do the rest of you think?

You can pre-order DANGEROUS WOMEN here ( or here (Barnes & Noble), but please keep in mind that the publication date is not yet set in stone.

Note to readers outside the US: I have no information yet about availability of this anthology in other countries, but we should learn more in the coming months.

In case you're wondering, Diana finished writing "Virgins" in March 2012.  You can see excerpts from the story (and links to #DailyLines about it) here.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend SALE on!

All products in my Outlandish Observations shop on are 15% off through Monday, 5/27!  Simply use the code 15OFFPRODUCT at checkout.

Here are a few of the products I have available.  I also have T-shirts, mouse pads, and more!  I will be adding more items in the coming days.

"Fuirich agus chi thu" Button

"I'm a fan of Diana Gabaldon" Mug

"OUTLANDER Addict" Bag

Thanks very much to those of you who have already ordered products from my Zazzle store.  I'm very pleased by the response in this first month.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Fun Facts - 5/24/2013

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) The snake that escaped during Roger's sermon in A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES was, from the description, most likely a scarlet kingsnake (Lampropeltis triangulum elapsoides), like the one shown above.
It was instinct, honed by innumerable lectures, that made him aware that something was amiss. There was some slight disturbance in the far corner, where several half-grown lads had congregated. A couple of the numerous McAfee boys, and Jacky Lachlan, widely known as a limb of Satan.

No more than a nudge, the glint of an eye, some sense of subterranean excitement. But he sensed it, and kept glancing back at that corner with a narrowed eye, in hopes of keeping them subdued. And so happened to be looking when the serpent slithered out between Mrs. Crombie’s shoes. It was a largish king snake, brightly striped with red, yellow, and black, and it seemed fairly calm, all things considered.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 58, "Love One Another". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon.  All rights reserved.)
According to this site, the scarlet kingsnake is fairly small -- the adults range from 14 to 20 inches in length -- and not venomous.

2) This illustration shows what a baby with achondroplasia looks like.  That's the same form of dwarfism that Henri-Christian has.
“He looks funny,” [Germain] said, and frowned a little. “What’s wrong with him?”

Fergus had been standing stock-still, as had we all. At this, he looked down at Germain, then glanced back at the baby, then again to his firstborn son.

“Il est un nain,” he said, almost casually. He squeezed Germain’s shoulder, hard enough to elicit a yelp of startlement from the boy, then turned suddenly on his heel and went out. I heard the opening of the front door, and a cold draft swept down the hall and through the room.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 35, "Laminaria". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's a photo of a newborn baby with achondroplasia.  And I like this photo gallery, showing a family living with achondroplasia.

Where did Diana get the idea of having a character born with dwarfism?  She explained it this way, in a post on Compuserve in 2008:
I'd had it vaguely in mind that we might have a child with dwarfism sometime, for quite awhile.  Several years back, I did an interview with a CBC interviewer named Anne Dawson, who told me--when we were just talking, after the interview--that one thing she particularly liked about my books was that I _did_ have characters with handicaps (it was Iain Findlay she was talking about), and that this struck a personal chord with her, because her daughter had dwarfism, and she so much appreciated the attitude that people with "defects" were real people, too.

Anyway, it just occurred to me to wonder--knowing Fergus's insecurities as I do--what it would do to him if the new baby was different.
It's become much more common to see "little people" on television these days (the Roloffs from Little People, Big World on TLC, and Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion in HBO's Game of Thrones, being probably the best-known examples), but it's rare to encounter them in person.  I had a friend in college who had this same type of dwarfism, but she's the only one I've ever met.

For more information about achondroplasia, look here.

Ashness Bridge

Ashness bridge

3) These photos show Ashness Bridge, in the Lake District of England.  (Photo credits: Maoli and knobby1000, on Flickr.  Click on the photos to enlarge them.)  Notice the mountains in the distance, just as they're described in VOYAGER:
It was late afternoon when they crossed the arch of Ashness Bridge and started down the slope toward Watendlath Tarn. The Lake District of England was nothing like Scotland, Grey reflected, but at least there were mountains here. Round-flanked, fat and dreamy mountains, not sternly forbidding like the Highland crags, but mountains nonetheless.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 14, "Geneva". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I've never been to the Lake District. Have any of you visited the area around Ashness, where Helwater is supposed to be located?  It does look like a beautiful place.

4) Here are a couple of examples of condoms made from animal gut, secured with bits of colorful silk ribbon.  The photo at the top shows a condom from Sweden, circa 1640.  The bottom photo shows a late-18th-century specimen from England.  I think these are similar to the ones Lord John saw in the apothecary's shop in PRIVATE MATTER:
“Those can be supplied with ribbons in regimental colors, sir,” Scanlon called, seeing him pause before a jaunty assortment of Condoms Design’d for Gentlemen, each sample displayed on a glass mold, the ribbons that secured the neck of each device coiled delicately around the foot of its mold. “Sheep’s gut or goat, per your preference, sir--scented, three farthings extra. That would be gratis to you gentlemen, of course,” he added urbanely, bowing as he tilted the neck of the bottle over Stubbs’s cup again.

"Thank you," Grey said politely. "Perhaps later."

(From LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 17, "Nemesis". Copyright© 2003 by Diana Gabaldon.  All rights reserved.)
Here's an article about the use of condoms in the 18th century.  Note that these condoms were intended to be used more than once (!)  No wonder they weren't very effective. <g>

5) The term "mast" refers to the fruit of forest trees, like acorns and other nuts.  According to Wikipedia,
The term "mast" comes from the Old English word "mæst", meaning the nuts of forest trees that have accumulated on the ground, especially those used as food for fattening domestic pigs.

The piglets shown above are rooting in chestnut mast, just like they did on Fraser's Ridge.  (Click on the photo for a bigger view.)
Within the month, it would be time to drive in the pigs that had been turned out to live wild in the forest, fattening themselves on the chestnut mast that lay thick on the ground. Some would have fallen prey to wild animals or accident, but there would likely be fifty or sixty left to slaughter or sell.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 86, "There's a Hole at the Bottom of the Sea". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon.  All rights reserved.)
According to this site,
One of the dominant trees of the Eastern woodlands was the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata), which made up as many as one fourth of all trees in some regions of the Eastern United States. Whole industries revolved around the magnificent trees, which produced excellent timber in addition to delicious nuts. The trees were such prolific nut producers that after nuts had been gathered and shipped out for human consumption in towns and cities up and down the Eastern seaboard, there was usually plenty left over for the pigs, and chestnut-fed pork was considered to be the sweetest and best pork by early American colonists.
Unfortunately, those American chestnut trees were almost entirely wiped out by disease in the first half of the 20th century.

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts, and please come back next week for more.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Are you fascinated by the details of 18th-century life that Diana Gabaldon describes in her books?  Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel back in time and live the way the people at Lallybroch or on Fraser's Ridge would have lived?

Scottish author Fiona Houston isn't a time-traveler <g>, but she's written a fascinating and very entertaining book called THE GARDEN COTTAGE DIARIES: My Year in the Eighteenth Century, that I think many OUTLANDER fans would enjoy.  Here's the description from
Challenged to prove her claim that an 18th-century diet was better than today's, for a full year Fiona J. Houston recreated the lifestyle of her 1790s rural Scottish ancestors in a basic one-roomed cottage, cooking from her garden and the wild, often entertaining family and friends, and surviving on her own resources. She learned lost crafts and skills, making nettle string, quill pens and ink as well as cheese and ale, lighting her fire from flints, and dressing in hand-sewn period clothing, with nothing but an old range stove and candles for warmth and light. This beautiful, quirky, illustrated title tells her extraordinary story and is packed with historical anecdotes, folklore, practical gardening info, seasonal menus, recipes, wildlife notes and more. Includes linocuts, photos and historic engravings.
If you've ever wondered how people coped with the mundane tasks of daily life in the 18th century, you'll find it in this book.  Everything from doing the laundry, to making candles, to the best method for airing out a wool-stuffed mattress, to cooking bannocks on a girdle over the fire, and much, much more!

Houston handles the challenges of 18th-century life very well, for the most part, though she occasionally "cheats", taking advantage of modern forms of transportation to visit family or friends elsewhere in the UK, for example.  At one point, overcome with frustration when her freshly washed sheets became soiled while hanging on a line to dry, she takes them back to her 21st century house to run through the washing machine.  I can't really say I blame her for that -- the temptation must have been too much to resist -- but I admit I was a bit disappointed on the rare occasions when she confesses to using some item of modern technology.

But that's really a minor quibble. I think anyone who enjoys the details of daily life in the 18th century as described in Diana Gabaldon's books would find this book fascinating. I certainly did! <g>

Thanks very much to MC on Compuserve for telling me about the book!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Going to Grandfather Mountain in July!

Are any of you going to the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games this year (July 11-14)?

I will be there, with my mom and dad.  This will be our second time at GFM.  I really enjoyed my first visit, in 2010, and I'm very much looking forward to going back!

Our current plan is to drive out there on Thursday, July 11th, attend the Games on Friday, and drive back Saturday morning.  If you're planning to be there, let me know.  It would be fun to see other Diana Gabaldon fans there!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Fun Facts - 5/17/2013

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) Have you ever wondered what it's like to write with a quill?  Here are some tips.
I chose a quill from the cut-glass holder on the desk, found a silver penknife by it, trimmed the quill to my liking, uncorked the inkwell, and set about the business, deeply aware of the scrutiny of the two men.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 92, "Amanuensis". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
This video, by a re-enactor from Alamance Battleground in North Carolina, demonstrates how to write with a quill pen and ink.

Baddesley Clinton - Priest Hole

2) This is the interior of a priest hole at Baddesley Clinton, a medieval manor in Warwickshire, England.  (Photos by jedi58 and Brownie_Bear, on Flickr.  Click on the photos to enlarge them.) You'll recall that Claire advised Ian to build a priest hole at Lallybroch.
[Jenny] followed him without comment, down to the stone-floored back hall that separated kitchen and pantry.

Set into the flags of the floor was a large wooden panel, perforated with drilled holes, apparently mortared into the floorstones. Theoretically, this gave air to the root cellar below, and in fact--should any suspicious person choose to investigate, the root cellar, reached by a sunken door outside the house, did have just such a panel set into its ceiling.

What was not apparent was that the panel also gave light and air to a small priest hole that had been built just behind the root cellar, which could be reached by pulling up the panel, mortared frame and all, to reveal a short ladder leading down into the tiny room. It was no more than five feet square, equipped with nothing in the way of furniture beyond a rude bench, a blanket, and a chamber pot. A large jug of water and a small box of hard biscuit completed the chamber’s accoutrements.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 6, "Being Now Justified By His Blood". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's an article by historical novelist Gillian Bagwell (Diana's friend and occasional collaborator in Late-Night Sex Scene Readings <g>) about the history of priest holes.

3) This photo shows a hand where the fourth finger has been amputated, just like Claire did for Jamie in ECHO.  (Thanks to my friend Belinda on Facebook, who sent me the link.)
It was a clean, neat job, but I felt a brief sense of sadness as I set the mangled piece of flesh aside. I had a fleeting vision of him holding newly born Jemmy, counting the tiny fingers and toes, delight and wonder on his face. His father had counted his fingers, too. “It’s all right,” I whispered, as much to myself as to him. “It’s all right. It will heal."

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 62, "One Just Man". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Jamie's hand would, of course, have more scars, including the one left by the nail that Black Jack Randall drove into his palm, but otherwise I think this is pretty close.  

4) Shinty, known as camanachd in Gaelic, is an ancient Scottish sport resembling field hockey, played with curved wooden sticks. Click on the picture for a bigger view.
"What on earth makes ye mention Letitia?” Jamie asked curiously. “I lived at the Castle for a year, and had speech of her maybe once that I remember, when she called me to her chamber and gave me the raw side of her tongue for leading a game of shinty through her rose garden."

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 24, "By the Pricking of My Thumbs". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's a brief video showing how the game is played today.

For more information about shinty, look here and here.

5) Rose madder is a red pigment made from the roots of a plant called Rubia tinctorum.  It has been used since ancient times to make red dyes, and in fact, rose madder was used to dye British soldiers' uniform coats from the late 17th century until about 1870.

I thought the use of it in DRAGONFLY was pretty clever:
And should any doubt remain, the madder-stained urine gave an absolutely perfect illusion of a man pissing blood as the smallpox attacked his kidneys.

“Christ!” Jamie had exclaimed, startled despite himself at the first demonstration of the herb’s efficacy.

“Oh, jolly good!” I said, peering over his shoulder at the white porcelain chamber pot and its crimson contents. “That’s better than I expected.”

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 23, "The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Men...". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I was surprised to learn that it is traditional in the country of Georgia to dye Easter eggs a deep blood-red color using rose madder, as shown in the photo above. 

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts, and please come back next week for more.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Happy Birthday, Jem!

 Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to Jeremiah Alexander Ian Fraser MacKenzie, otherwise known as Roger and Brianna's son Jem.

He was born on May 15, 1770, so depending on how you count his age, he's either 243 years old, or 41.  Either way, it's pretty mind-boggling!

The exact date of Jem's birth is not mentioned in the books, but the Timeline on Diana Gabaldon's website gives the date as May 15, so that's what I'm going with.  He's a Taurus, like his grandda. <g>

Poor Jem has had a hard time of it in recent years.  Tormented by his teacher at school for speaking Gaelic, kidnapped, then stuck down in a dark tunnel all by himself...where he's remained since AN ECHO IN THE BONE was published more than 3 1/2 years ago.

That's a long, long time for an eight-year-old boy to wait.  I sincerely hope that Jem gets out of that tunnel in plenty of time for his next birthday!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A special program for fans in Sacramento

Here's something that looks like fun, for those of you who live in the vicinity of Sacramento, CA.

I just got an email from Stephenee at the Sacramento Public Library, asking me to help spread the word about a special series of OUTLANDER-related programs they will be running from June 2 through November 3, called "How Outlandish! Step Through the Stones of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander".

See the library's website here for details.  And here is a link to the flyer describing the various programs.  They will be covering a wide variety of topics, and it sounds very interesting!

If you have questions about the program, please contact Stephenee Borelli at

Please pass the word to any OUTLANDER fans you may know in the Sacramento area.  Thanks!

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!  Here are a few of my favorite quotes about motherhood from Diana Gabaldon's books.  Hope you enjoy them!

1) Marsali, in an advanced state of pregnancy, and five-year-old Germain:
She leaned back a little and pushed a hand firmly into the side of her mound. Then she seized Germain's hand and put it on the spot. Even from where I stood, I could see the surge of flesh as the baby kicked vigorously in response to being poked.

Germain jerked his hand away, startled, then put it back, looking fascinated, and pushed.

"Hello!" he said loudly, putting his face close to his mother's belly. "Comment ça va in there, Monsieur L'Oeuf?"

"He's fine," his mother assured him. "Or she. But babies dinna talk right at first. Ye ken that much. Félicité doesna say anything but 'Mama' yet."

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 27, "The Malting Floor". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
2) I like the realistic depictions of breastfeeding in these books, even though I've never had kids of my own.  Here's Claire with Brianna, age three months:
Brianna burrowed into the front of my red chenille dressing gown making small voracious grunting noises.

"You can't be hungry again," I said to the top of her head. "I fed you not two hours ago." My breasts were beginning to leak in response to her rooting, though, and I was already sitting down and loosening the front of my gown.

"Mrs. Hinchcliffe said that a baby shouldn't be fed every time it cries," Frank observed. "They get spoilt if they aren't kept to a schedule."

It wasn't the first time I had heard Mrs. Hinchcliffe's opinions on child-rearing.

"Then she'll be spoilt, won't she?" I said coldly, not looking at him. The small pink mouth clamped down fiercely, and Brianna began to suck with mindless appetite. I was aware that Mrs. Hinchcliffe also thought breast-feeding both vulgar and insanitary. I, who had seen any number of eighteenth-century babies nursing contentedly at their mothers' breasts, didn't.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 3, "Frank and Full Disclosure". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
3) Jamie lost his mother at a very young age, but he hasn't forgotten her:
I had heard what he said to the plover he released. Though I had only a few words of Gaelic, I had heard the old salutation often enough to be familiar with it. “God go with ye, Mother," he had said.

A young mother, dead in childbirth. And a child left behind. I touched his arm and he looked down at me.

“How old were you?” I asked.

He gave me a half-smile. “Eight,” he answered. “Weaned, at least."

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 17, "We Meet a Beggar". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.) 
4) Bree's reaction on the night before Claire goes back through the stones, when she thinks she'll never see her mother again:
"It's like--there are all these things I don't even know!" she said, pacing with quick, angry steps.  "Do you think I remember what I looked like, learning to walk, or what the first word I said was? No, but Mama does! And that's so stupid, because what difference does it make, it doesn't make any difference at all, but it's important, it matters because she thought it was, and...oh, Roger, if she's gone, there won't be a soul left in the world who cares what I'm like, or thinks I'm special not because of anything, but just because I'm me! She's the only person in the world who really, really cares I was born, and if she's gone..."  She stood still on the hearthrug, hands clenched at her sides, and mouth twisted with the effort to control herself, tears wet on her cheeks.  Then her shoulders slumped and the tension went out of her tall figure.

"And that's just really dumb and selfish," she said, in a quietly reasonable tone. "And you don't understand, and you think I'm awful."

"No," Roger said quietly. "I think maybe not."  He stood and came behind her, putting his arms around her waist, urging her to lean back against him.  She resisted at first, stiff in his arms, but then yielded to the need for physical comfort and relaxed, his chin propped on her shoulder, head tilted to touch her own.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 22, "All Hallows' Eve". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
5) Roger's mother saved his life in the moments before she died in the Bethnal Green tube station collapse in March, 1943.
"She let go my hand,” he said. The words came more easily now; the tightness in his throat and chest was gone. “She let go my hand...and then she picked me up. That small woman--she picked me up, and threw me over the wall. Down into the crowd of people on the platform below. I was knocked mostly out by the fall, I think--but I remember the roar as the roof went. No one on the stair survived."

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 98, "Clever Lad". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.) 
6) And finally, here is my favorite Mother's Day quote from the whole series:
“Did I ever think to thank ye, Sassenach?" he said, his voice a little husky.

“For what?" I said, puzzled. He took my hand, and drew me gently toward him. He smelled of ale and damp wool, and very faintly of the brandied sweetness of fruitcake.

“For my bairns," he said softly. "For the children that ye bore me."

"Oh," I said. I leaned slowly forward, and rested my forehead against the solid warmth of his chest. I cupped my hands at the small of his back beneath his coat, and sighed. "It pleasure."

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 13, “Beans and Barbecue". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday Fun Facts - 5/10/2013

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

1) The medical term for the inability to hear music is amusia.  As Jamie explained to Claire in THE FIERY CROSS:
“I hear no music but the sound of drums,” he said simply. “I’ve the rhythm of it still, but the tune is gone."

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 35, "Hogmanay". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
This phenomenon has been recognized since the early 19th century.  According to Wikipedia:
In 1825, F. Gall mentioned a "musical organ" in a specific region of the human brain that could be spared or disrupted after a traumatic event resulting in brain damage. In 1865, Jean-Baptiste Bouillaud described the first series of cases that involved the loss of music abilities that were due to brain injury.

In this video, Dr. Oliver Sacks talks about what it feels like to live with amusia.  And here's an article with more information.

2) A marlinspike (also known as a fid) is a device for tightening and loosening knots in the ropes on a sailing ship.  Here are a couple of examples.  The top photo shows a marlinspike made of whalebone, from New England circa 1840.  The bottom photo is from Wikipedia.

It sounds like a very useful item, especially when you consider how difficult it would be to disentangle wet, tightly knotted ropes on a ship at sea!  And in a pinch, it might be used as a weapon:
A piece of wood showed among the rubble on the desk, the blunt end of a marlinespike.

[Bonnet] frowned, attention fastened momentarily on a knot in the string. She took two long steps and seized the marlinespike, yanking it off the desk in a shower of rubbish and clanging oddments.

"Stand back." She held the thing like a baseball bat, gripped in both hands. Sweat streamed down the hollow of her back, but her hands felt cold and her face went hot and cold and hot again, ripples of heat and terror rolling down her skin.

Bonnet looked at her as though she had gone mad.

"Whatever will ye be after doing with that, woman?" He left off fiddling with his shirt and took a step toward her. She took one back, raising the club.

"Don’t fncking touch me!"

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 102, "Anemone". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
According to Wikipedia,
Most marlinspikes are 6 to 12 inches long, but may reach 2 feet and more for working heavy cables and rodes. They are usually made from iron or steel, whereas fids, similar in shape and function, are formed from wood or bone.
Bonus fun fact:  the fish known as a marlin (which you may remember from Hemingway's THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA) actually got its name from the marlinspike.

3) This is a portrait of Flora MacDonald (1722-1790), by Scottish artist Allan Ramsay, from the Ashmolean Museum.  Many of you will know the story of Flora MacDonald's role in saving Charles Stuart in the aftermath of Culloden, but for those who don't, here is a synopsis.
[So] far as the people here knew, the MacDonalds had immigrated permanently.

But I had seen the tall memorial stone on Skye--where Flora MacDonald had been born, and would someday die, disillusioned with America.

It wasn’t the first time I’d met someone and known their fate, of course—but it was always unsettling.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 52, "Flora MacDonald's Barbecue". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Here's Flora MacDonald's grave on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Click on the photo for a bigger view.

4) Bitter cascara, more commonly known as cascara sagrada (scientific name, Rhamnus purshiana) is a laxative made from the bark of a tree called cascara that is native to the Pacific Northwest.  From Wikipedia:
Spanish conquerors exploring the Pacific Northwest in the 1600s came across many Native peoples using the bark of R. purshiana as a laxative. They gave it the name "Sacred Bark" (cascara sagrada) in honor of its effectiveness.
Given its extremely bitter taste, I wonder how Claire managed to ingest enough of it to make her violently ill without noticing it?
The pain increased once more, a vise squeezing my insides, and I gasped and doubled up once more. As it eased a bit, I opened my eyes and saw one of the ladies, her eyes fixed alertly on my face. A look of dawning realization passed over her features, and still looking at me, she leaned over to whisper to one of her companions. There was too much noise in the room to hear, but I read her lips clearly.

"Poison,” she said.

The pain shifted abruptly lower with an ominous interior gurgle, and I realized finally what it was. Not a miscarriage. Not appendicitis, still less a chilled liver. Nor was it poison, precisely. It was bitter cascara.

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 16, "The Nature of Sulfur". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
For more on the medicinal uses of cascara sagrada, look here and here.

5) The photos above show what a wild boar (Sus scrofa) looks like.
Jemmy had tight hold of the cloth with both hands. He was looking toward the wood.

“Pig, Daddy,” he whispered. “Big pig.”

Roger glanced in the direction of the little boy's gaze and froze.

It was a huge black boar, perhaps eight feet away. The thing stood more than three feet at the shoulder, and must weigh two hundred pounds or more, with curving yellow tushes the length of Jemmy’s forearm. It stood with lifted head, piggy snout moistly working as it snuffed the air for food or threat.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 108, "Tulach Ard". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's a short audio clip of what a wild boar sounds like.  It definitely isn't anything I'd want near a two-year-old child!

For more information about the wild boar, look here.

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts, and please come back next week for more.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

How would you describe the series?

Diana Gabaldon asked the following question on her Facebook page yesterday:
OK. We're starting to work on the flap copy for WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEARTS BLOOD. This is always tricky, because we have to come up with copy that will say _something_ halfway relevant about the book/series _and_ lure new readers into at least flipping the pages, _and_ do that in about 300 words. (Well, say 100 words to describe the series, 200 for the plot of MOBY.)

So I thought I'd ask: what would _you_ tell a friend that you wanted to hook on the books?
Here's my own answer to that question.  It's the best description I can come up with for the OUTLANDER series as a whole.
A highly entertaining roller-coaster ride through 18th-century history, with unforgettable characters, the OUTLANDER series is an epic adventure that touches on virtually every aspect of the human condition.  Whatever you're looking for -- history, sex, warfare, time-travel, medicine, murder, witchcraft, and much, much more! -- you'll find it in these books.  Diana Gabaldon’s prose is richly evocative, often lyrical, and filled with warmth and humor. She brings the past to life with fascinating historical details, intricate plots, and characters so vividly portrayed that they seem like real people.
What about the rest of you?  How would YOU describe the series, to someone who knows nothing about Diana Gabaldon or her books?

(P.S.  The photo above shows my own OUTLANDER book collection.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Great interview with Diana!

Check out this terrific interview with Diana Gabaldon on Barbara Rogan's blog, In Cold Ink.  I really enjoyed it.  Such a pleasure to read an interview where Diana has the opportunity for longer, more in-depth responses!

This is Part 1 of a two-part interview. 

[UPDATE 5/14/2013 6:45 am: Part 2 is here.]

I've known Barbara for about five years online.  She's one of the section leaders of the Writers Exercises section on the Compuserve Books and Writers Community.  (For those of you who don't know, that's the online forum where Diana Gabaldon hangs out, and I'm section leader of the Diana Gabaldon folder there.)  If you're an aspiring writer, or just a reader who's interested in how the publishing process works, check out Barbara's blog!

I would love to interview Diana here on Outlandish Observations, if I can come up with some questions that haven't been asked a thousand times before.  I've been thinking about it for a while.  It would be a lot of fun, I'm sure.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

OUTLANDER-related content on Pinterest

It's been about 15 months since I first started collecting OUTLANDER-related content on Pinterest, and I'm still enjoying it quite a bit.  I thought the rest of you might like to see my collection.

Click on the image below to go to my main Pinterest page.

Follow Me on Pinterest

I have 14 different OUTLANDER-related boards at the moment, with more than 900 pins:

Outlandish Observations - this is the main pinboard, for pictures relating to me, my blog, Diana's books, and OUTLANDER fandom in general.
From my Zazzle Store! - links to all the items found in my new Outlandish Observations store on
OUTLANDER: Historical Figures
OUTLANDER: Standing Stones
OUTLANDER: Men in Kilts
OUTLANDER: Gemstones
OUTLANDER: Food and Drink
OUTLANDER: Medicine and Surgery
18th Century Clothing
Scotland Pictures

You will find the vast majority of the photos from my Friday Fun Facts and other blog posts on these pinboards.  I add new content almost every week, so please come back from time to time to see what's new.

Feel free to look around and repin any of these photos for yourselves.  Hope you enjoy them!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Friday Fun Facts - 5/3/2013

Here are this week's Friday Fun Facts about Diana Gabaldon's books.

St. Margaret's Church, near Westminster Abbey, London

1) If you've read LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE, you'll recall the Church of St. Margaret's in Westminster Abbey, London, where Lord John's mother Benedicta married Sir George Stanley.  The church was consecrated in 1523.  (Photo credit: heatherpix26, on Flickr.)
On the 27th of February, the marriage of General Sir George Stanley and Benedicta, Dowager Countess Melton, was celebrated at the church of St. Margaret’s, the parish church of Westminster Abbey.

It was not a large wedding, but one done in the best of taste, as Horace Walpole, one of the guests, remarked approvingly. Olivia had had the church decorated simply with evergreen boughs, done up in ribbons of gold tissue, and the scent of pine and cedar lent a welcome freshness to the atmosphere of ancient wax and bodies kept too long enclosed. Composed in equal parts of military dignitaries, politicals, and social ornaments, the congregation shone nearly as brightly as the four hundred candles, a-glimmer with gold lace and diamonds.

(From LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 17, "In Which a Marriage Takes Place, Among Other Things". Copyright© 2007 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I have no idea if there really is a small alcove behind the organ, suitable for an emergency childbirth <g>, or whether that's something Diana invented for the story.

[EDIT to add:  Diana Gabaldon answered this question on Compuserve as follows: "Actually, Olivia gives birth at the foot of the stairs to the organ loft.  I have no idea what these look like, but if the church _has_ an organ loft (and I'm sure it does), there are certainly stairs leading up to it."]

2) Remember the scene in AN ECHO IN THE BONE where Brianna takes the photocopy of the newspaper clipping and folds it into a fortune-teller?  I had to laugh at that, because I remember these very well from elementary school.
He nodded at the bit of paper. “What is it, by the way? The shape, I mean.”

“Oh.” She picked it up and made the last few folds, quick and sure, then held it out on the palm of her hand. He frowned at it for a moment, then realized what it was. A Chinese fortune-teller, kids called them; there were four pockets showing, and you put your fingers in them and could open the thing in different combinations as questions were asked, so as to show the different answers--Yes, No, Sometimes, Always--written on the flaps inside.

“Very appropriate,” he said.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 21, "The Minister's Cat". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's a video showing step-by-step instructions on how to make a paper "fortune-teller" (also known as a "cootie-catcher").  You can download printable fortune-teller templates, if you don't want to draw your own.  Look here, for example.

The method this kid demonstrates in the video is exactly how I used to make them, back in the fourth grade. <g>

3) This is an example of a urethral syringe, from the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's flagship.  Click on the photo for a bigger view.  I think the one Dr. Fentiman had would have been similar.
"Ye do what with it?” Jamie had flinched slightly during my recounting of the tale of Stephen Bonnet’s testicle. When I reached a description of the penis syringes, he crossed his legs involuntarily.

“Well, you work the needlelike bit down in, of course, and then flush a solution of something like mercuric chloride through the urethra, I suppose.”

“Through the, er . . .”

“Do you want me to show you?” I inquired. “I left my basket at the Bogueses’, but I can get it, and--”

“No.” He leaned forward and planted his elbows firmly on his knees. “D’ye suppose it burns much?”

“I can’t think it’s at all pleasant.”

He shuddered briefly.

“No, I shouldna think so.”

“I don’t think it’s really effective, either,” I added thoughtfully. “Pity to go through something like that, and not be cured. Don’t you think?"

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 56, "Tar and Feathers". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I love that scene, although the thought of it makes me shudder a bit, too!

Spanish pride

4) This photo shows a herd of wild horses near Corolla, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  (Photo credit: Robert Och Photography on Flickr. They're known as Banker horses, and they've lived on the Outer Banks since the 16th century.  Brianna saw them when she was being held captive in Stephen Bonnet's lair in A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES:
A familiar sound came to her, and she craned her neck to see. Not much was visible from the window--only the white crushed shells and sandy mud that surrounded the house, and the tops of stunted pines. If she pressed her face to the side of the window, though, she could see a small slice of a distant beach, with white breakers rolling in. As she watched, three horses galloped across it, vanishing out of her view--but with the wind-borne sound of neighing, then came five more, and then another group of seven or eight. Wild horses, the descendants of Spanish ponies left here a century ago.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 107, "The Dark of the Moon". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.) 
Ocracoke Pony

You can still see their descendants today on Ocracoke Island, like the one shown above.  (Photo credit: slazebni on Flickr.)  Unfortunately, the horses on Ocracoke these days no longer roam freely.  According to Wikipedia,
Since 1959, Bankers on Ocracoke Island have been confined to fenced areas of approximately 180 acres....The areas protect the horses from the traffic of North Carolina Highway 12, as well as safeguarding the island from overgrazing.
Have any of you seen them?

5) This bizarre-looking fungus is called a chaga (Inonotus obliquus).  I had never heard of it before I read THE FIERY CROSS:
Trade was brisk, and by the evening, I had exchanged my stocks for quantities of wild ginseng, cohosh, and--a real rarity--a chaga. This item, a huge warty fungus that grows from ancient birch trees, had a reputation--or so I was told--for the cure of cancer, tuberculosis, and ulcers. A useful item for any physician to have on hand, I thought.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 82, "A Darkening Sky". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
For more information about chaga, look here and here.

I hope you enjoyed these Friday Fun Facts! Look here to see all of my Friday Fun Facts blog posts, and please come back next week for more.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Introducing my new Zazzle store!

I'm pleased to announce the opening of my Outlandish Observations store on!  It's just in the beginning stages, and I'm still figuring out how it all works.  But you can buy T-shirts and mugs, and I may be adding other products later.

In case you're wondering, the logo you see on these products is my own creation, based on the homemade OUTLANDER sign that I created in 2010. Thanks to Michelle Moore for her advice and assistance with the graphics!

Diana Gabaldon has given me permission to use this design on products for sale on  (Many thanks to Diana for emailing the Zazzle support team to assure them that I did indeed have permission!)

Note to those of you outside the US: if you have questions about international shipping, please contact customer support on  As far as I know, they do ship products overseas, but I have no details on how it works or how much they may charge for shipping.

Please help me get the word out to other OUTLANDER fans, by sharing this link.  Thanks, and I hope you like the products!

Happy Birthday, Jamie!

Happy Birthday

Wishing a very happy birthday to our favorite red-heided Scot, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, who turns 292 years old today!  He was born on May 1, 1721.

In honor of Jamie's birthday, I'm reposting the "ABCs of Jamie Fraser" list that I originally posted here in September, 2011.  I hope you enjoy these!

ABCs of Jamie Fraser

I borrowed this idea from a writer's exercise that was posted on Compuserve.  The idea is to list one word pertaining to the character for each letter of the alphabet, along with a brief explanation.  Here's my alphabet for Jamie Fraser.

All quotes from the OUTLANDER books are copyright © Diana Gabaldon, of course.

A - Ardsmuir. As difficult as those three years in prison were for Jamie, caring for the other men gave him something to live for.

B - Boats. Sheer torture, for someone who suffers from seasickness as acute as Jamie's.  "I hate boats," Jamie said through clenched teeth. "I loathe boats. I view boats with the most profound abhorrence." (DRUMS, Chapter 6, "I Encounter a Hernia")

C - Claire
, of course. And his children -- all of them, whether they're born of his blood or not.

D - Duty.
Jamie takes his duty seriously, even when it means doing things he doesn't want to do, like raising a militia company to fight against the Regulators in FIERY CROSS.

E - Eloquence.
Jamie's way with words takes my breath away sometimes. "And when my body shall cease, my soul will still be yours. Claire--I swear by my hope of heaven, I will not be parted from you." (DRUMS, Chapter 16, "The First Law of Thermodynamics")

F - Finger.
Jamie's much-abused fourth finger on his right hand, which caused him so much pain and trouble for years, and now lies buried at Lallybroch, with Ian. "I'll keep it safe 'til ye catch me up." (ECHO, Chapter 81, "Purgatory II")

G - God.
Jamie's Catholic faith is very important to him, even if he's rarely in a position to go to Mass or have a priest hear his confession. And sometimes God answers his prayers. ("Lord, that she may be safe. She and the child.")

H - Humor.
I love Jamie's sense of humor, especially when he teases Claire. "I'll gie ye the rest when I'm ninety-six, aye?" (FIERY CROSS, Chapter 40, "Duncan's Secret")

I - Intelligence.
Jamie is a very smart man, and a logical thinker. And he learns very fast!

J - Jenny.
Say what you will about her, but Jamie loves his sister as deeply as he does Claire. What will she make of her new life in America?

K - Killing.
Jamie kills when he must, in self-defense or in defense of his family or loved ones. But it bothers him. "I am a violent man, and I ken it well," he said quietly. He spread his hands out on his knees; big hands, which could wield sword and dagger with ease, or choke the life from a man. (DRUMS, Chapter 13, "An Examination of Conscience")

L - Lallybroch.
I don't think you can fully understand Jamie's character without appreciating how much Lallybroch influenced him. It's sad to think that he might never go back there.

M - Memories.
Will Jamie ever recall more of Culloden, and what happened with Jack Randall?

N - Nephew.
Jamie bonded with Young Ian when he was only minutes old, and they've been through quite a lot together.

O - Outdoors.
Where some of Jamie and Claire's most memorable "mmmmphmm" moments have taken place. :-)

P - Prestonpans.
The location of Jamie's fateful encounter with the sixteen-year-old Lord John Grey.

Q - QED.
Three letters that symbolize Jamie's short-lived career as a printer in Edinburgh. Will he take up printing again in WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD (Book 8), now that he's gone to all that trouble to retrieve his printing press?

R - Red-heided.
All teasing about "the nameless and abominable colour of his hair" aside, this is one of the things I liked best about Jamie from the beginning, because I'm also a left-handed redhead. :-)

S - Stubbornness.
"Jamie was a sweet laddie, but a stubborn wee fiend, forbye." Jenny's voice by her ear startled her. "Beat him or coax him, it made no difference; if he'd made up his mind, it stayed made up." (DRUMS, Chapter 34, "Lallybroch")

T - Tone-deaf.
One of Jamie's more endearing traits, in my opinion, and proof that he's not perfect.

U - Uxorious.
Roger refers to Jamie as "deeply uxorious" in ABOSAA. It's an archaic word that according to Diana means "a man who was clearly and obviously in love with his wife."

V - Vows.
The blood vow at Jamie and Claire's wedding, for one. Jamie's promise never to beat her again, for another. "I don't make idle threats, Sassenach," he said, raising one brow, "and I don't take frivolous vows." (OUTLANDER, Chapter 22, "Reckonings")

W - Will-power.
Jamie has an amazing strength of will. Whether it's submitting to rape and torture at the hands of Jack Randall without fighting back, or not reacting to the presence of a pair of naked Indian girls in his bed in ABOSAA, his self-control is impressive.

X - eXample.
Jamie doesn't lead by sitting back and giving orders. He leads by example, as when he takes the punishment for Angus MacKenzie's possession of a scrap of tartan at Ardsmuir.  No wonder his men will follow him anywhere.

Y - Youthful.
It's hard to remember just how young Jamie was in OUTLANDER, barely 22. Even in his mid-50's, he still looks remarkably good for his age.  As Claire remarks, "Do you know, you haven't got a single gray hair below the neck?" (ECHO, chapter 8, "Spring Thaw")

Z - Zippers
, and other oddities of 20th-century life that Claire has had to explain to Jamie over the years.

Happy Birthday, Jamie, and Happy Beltane to all of you!