Saturday, August 31, 2013

One more week to send in photos!

I've received 65 entries so far in the 2nd Annual OUTLANDER Photo Contest!  Thanks very much to everyone who's sent in photos so far.  It's going to be a great collection, and I promise you'll love it. <g>

If you're thinking about participating but you haven't yet sent in a photo, time is running out!  The deadline for entries is midnight Eastern Time on Saturday, September 7.  (One week from today!)

All you have to do is send a photo containing one or more of Diana Gabaldon's books, along with a brief description, to Please use the subject line "OUTLANDER Photo Contest", and be sure to let me know if it's OK to share your photo online, after the contest is over.

If your photo is chosen in the random drawing, you'll win your choice of one of the following books in hardcover, signed by Diana Gabaldon:
  • Any of the OUTLANDER or Lord John books (excluding WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD)
  • THE EXILE (graphic novel)
  • The OUTLANDER 20th Anniversary Edition
Here are a few photos of my own that might give some of you a little inspiration. 

Here's Diana signing my OUTLANDISH COMPANION, at an appearance in Columbia, MD, in September, 2009.  This was the first time we met in person.

I took this photo in the gift shop at Glenfinnan Monument, in Scotland, in July, 2012.  (For more about my trip to Scotland, look here.)  I was impressed that such a relatively small shop had all seven of the OUTLANDER books on display.  Someone who works there must be a fan! <g>

This is my OUTLANDER first edition hardcover, that I found on in February, 2013.

And finally, here's a photo of my OUTLANDER bookshelves that I took last year.

Look here for more details about the 2nd Annual OUTLANDER Photo Contest.  I hope you'll consider sending in a photo!  If you have any questions, please email me at, or leave a comment here.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Fun Facts - 8/30/2013

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

1) The photo above, from Wikipedia, shows borage (Borago officinalis), also known as starflower.
We took a different way down, crossing the roof to an outer stairway that led down to the kitchen gardens, where I wanted to pull a bit of borage, if the downpour would let me. We sheltered under the wall of the Castle, one of the jutting window ledges diverting the rain above.

“What do ye do wi’ borage, Sassenach?” Jamie asked with interest, looking out at the straggly vines and plants, beaten to the earth by the rain.

“When it’s green, nothing. First you dry it, and then--"

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 24, "By the Pricking of My Thumbs". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
According to the description in A MODERN HERBAL (published in 1931, and one of Diana Gabaldon's main reference sources), borage has been used since ancient times "for the comfort of the heart, for the driving away of sorrow and increasing the joy of the mind."  It acts as a demulcent (good for sore throats) and a diuretic (promoting increased kidney function).  Borage is also an edible plant, high in omega-6 fatty acids as well as other nutrients. The leaves are said to taste like cucumber.

For more information about the uses of borage, look here and here.

2) Remember Claire's letter to Bree in AN ECHO IN THE BONE where she describes visiting Wall Street?
I am at the moment sitting in an ordinary at the foot of Wall Street, and neither a bull nor a bear to be seen, let alone a ticker-tape machine. No wall, either. A few goats, though, and a small cluster of men under a big leafless buttonwood tree, smoking pipes and conferring head-to-head. I can’t tell whether they’re Loyalists complaining, rebels plotting in public (which is, by the way, very much safer than doing it in private, though I do hope you won’t need to make use of that bit of special knowledge), or simply merchants and traders--business is being done, I can tell that; hands shaken, bits of paper scribbled and exchanged.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 72, "The Feast of All Saints". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The image above, from, is a modern artist's depiction of the Buttonwood Agreement, signed on May 17, 1792, which marked the founding of the New York Stock Exchange.

You can see a copy of the original document here. I love the idea that Claire saw men doing business under that very same buttonwood tree, some fifteen years earlier.

American Sycamore Tree

This is a buttonwood tree, also known as an American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis).  Photo credit: ixploration, on Flickr.

Yorktown, VA

3) This is an abatis at Yorktown, VA. (Photo credit: jerryfi_99, on Flickr.)  It's not exactly the same as the one Jamie encountered in ECHO, but it looks similar:
The redoubt itself stood fifteen feet high, a packed earthen wall with a palisade of logs built atop it--and between earth and palisade were abatis, logs sharpened to a point and flung down pointing outward.

Balls were spattering the field before the redoubt, and Jamie ran, dodging bullets he couldn’t see.

He scrabbled with his feet, clawing for purchase on the logs of the abatis, got one hand through a gap and onto a log, but lost his grip on the flaking bark and fell back, landing bruisingly on his rifle and knocking out his wind. The man beside him fired up through the gap, and white smoke spurted over him, hiding him momentarily from the Hessian he’d glimpsed above. He rolled over and crawled fast away before the smoke could drift off or the fellow decide to drop a grenade through it.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 65, "Hat Trick" Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
What exactly is an abatis? From Wikipedia: a term in field fortification for an obstacle formed (in the modern era) of the branches of trees laid in a row, with the sharpened tops directed outwards, towards the enemy.
The purpose of an abatis is to keep approaching enemy forces under fire for as long a period of time as possible.  Abatises have been used by armies since Roman times.  Here is a page about abatises from THE ELEMENTS OF THE SCIENCE OF WAR, by William M├╝ller, published in 1811.

The Abatis of Fort Ticonderoga

Here's another example of an abatis, from Fort Ticonderoga. (Photo credit: Rob Shenk, on Flickr)

4) I've lived all my life in the suburbs, and I know very little about horses. I had never heard of horses eating bran mash before I read THE SCOTTISH PRISONER.
"Horsie eat dis?” Willie leaned curiously over the mash tub, sniffing loudly.

“Aye, they do. That’s good food--not like nails. No one eats nails.”

Willie had clearly forgotten the nail, though he was still holding it. He glanced at it and dropped it, whereupon Jamie picked it up and tucked it into his breeches. Wlie promptly stuck a small hand into the mash and, liking the sticky feel of it, laughed and slapped his hand a couple of times on the quivering surface of the molasses-laced grain. Jamie reached out and took him by the wrist.

“Now, then,” he said. “Ye wouldna like it if Deke put his hoof into your dinner, would ye?”


“Well, then. Here, wipe your hand and ye can help me put the mash out."

(From THE SCOTTISH PRISONER by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 5, "Why am Not I at Peace?" Copyright© 2011 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
From Wikipedia:
It was once a common practice to give horses a weekly bran mash of wheat bran mixed with warm water and other ingredients. It is still done regularly in some places. While a warm, soft meal is a treat many horses enjoy, and was once considered helpful for its laxative effect, it is not nutritionally necessary. An old horse with poor teeth may benefit from food softened in water, a mash may help provide extra hydration, and a warm meal may be comforting in cold weather, but horses have far more fiber in their regular diet than do humans, and so any assistance from bran is unnecessary. There is also a risk that too much wheat bran may provide excessive phosphorus, unbalancing the diet, and a feed of unusual contents fed only once a week could trigger a bout of colic.
Here are some tips on making bran mash for horses.

5) The photo above shows what blowfly larvae (maggots) look like.
I picked one of the small white grubs out of the stinking scraps of rabbit meat and inserted it deftly into the gaping slit.

Roger’s eyes had been closed, his forehead sheened with sweat.

“What?” he said, lifting his head and squinting over his shoulder in an effort to see what I was doing. “What are you doing?”

“Putting maggots in the wounds,” I said, intent on my work. “I learned it from an old Indian lady I used to know.”

Twin sounds indicative of shock and nausea came from the bedhead, but I kept a tight hold on his foot and went on with it.

“It works,” I said, frowning slightly as I opened another incision and deposited three of the wriggling white larvae. “Much better than the usual means of debridement; for that, I’d have to open up your foot much more extensively, and physically scrape out as much dead tissue as I could reach--which would not only hurt like the dickens, it would likely cripple you permanently. Our little friends here eat dead tissue, though; they can get into tiny places where I couldn’t reach, and do a nice, thorough job."

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 66, "Child of My Blood". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Here's a brief National Geographic video about maggot therapy. (Warning: not for the squeamish!)

For more about the use of maggot therapy in modern medicine, 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.

Please note: if you'd like to participate in my 2nd Annual OUTLANDER Photo Contest, the deadline for entries is Saturday, September 7th!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

OUTLANDER casting: Angus Mhor and Mrs. Fitz!

Two more cast members have just been announced for the OUTLANDER TV series, according to this TV Guide article.

Stephen Walters will play Angus Mhor, and Annette Badland will play Mrs. FitzGibbons.

Note that the article says, "Walters will play Angus Mhor, whose role in the books was much smaller, but will be expanded for the series."  It will be interesting to see how that develops.

I have no further details beyond what it says in the TV Guide article.  Anybody know anything about these two actors?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Outlandish Observations is 5 years old!

Five years ago today, I started Outlandish Observations!

I had two goals in mind when I started this blog.  The first was simply to learn about blogging.  The second was to create a central repository for news and information geared toward OUTLANDER fans, a place where people could go to find answers to commonly asked questions, links to other OUTLANDER-related sites, and the latest information on Diana Gabaldon's new and upcoming releases.

To say that this blog has succeeded far beyond my wildest imaginings is a severe understatement!  In the beginning, I never expected anyone to visit my site except a few dozen of my friends from Compuserve and LOL.  I didn't talk about it on Compuserve for the first couple of years, because I was very reluctant to draw attention to it where Diana could see -- which seems silly in retrospect, but it's true.  Suffice it to say that I did get over that shyness, eventually. <g> Diana regularly visits my blog to check out the latest collection of Friday Fun Facts.  (She's called them "consistently entertaining", which is extremely gratifying to me, as you can imagine!)

Special thanks to all of my followers on the Outlandish Observations Facebook page! Last year at this time I had 773 followers on Facebook.  Today that number is 4,195 (!)  I'm amazed and delighted that so many new people have found my site in recent months. Welcome, and I hope you take some time to look around and see what else is available here.

The 2nd Annual OUTLANDER Photo Contest that I'm currently running is intended as a celebration of this 5th anniversary.  I hope you'll consider sending in a photo if you haven't already!  The deadline for entries is midnight Eastern time on Saturday, September 7.

Many, many thanks to all of you who've visited the site over the past five years. It's been an amazing journey, and I'm so glad you've come along for the ride.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

ABC's of Claire Fraser

While we're all waiting to hear who's going to be cast as Claire in the upcoming OUTLANDER TV series on STARZ, I thought this would be a good time to repost my "ABC's of Claire Fraser", which I first posted here in October, 2011. I got the idea from a writing exercise posted several years ago on Compuserve.  The idea is to list one word pertaining to the character for each letter of the alphabet, along with a brief explanation. 

All quotes from the OUTLANDER books are copyright (c) Diana Gabaldon, of course.

A - Adaptability.  This is one of Claire's greatest strengths, in my opinion.  Many of us would have a great deal of difficulty adjusting to life in the 18th century.  Claire adapts relatively quickly, and we rarely see her thinking about missing the conveniences of the 20th century.

B - Bravery. "Ye were always bolder than was safe; now ye're fierce as a wee badger." (A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES, Chapter 20, "Bees and Switches")  Whether it's killing a wolf with her bare hands in OUTLANDER, or surviving the ordeal of being abducted and raped in ABOSAA, Claire never, ever gives up, and I find much to admire in that.

C - Cat.  Adso, to be precise. <g>  Claire loved that wee cheetie, and the scene in ECHO where Claire says goodbye to Adso was just heartbreaking.

D - Diagnosis.  Joe Abernathy called her the "best diagnostician I ever saw".

E - Eyes.  One of Claire's most striking features.  "They're the color of verra fine whisky, wi' the sun shining through them from behind.  I thought this morning they looked like sherry, but I was wrong.  Not sherry. Not brandy.  It's whisky.  That's what it is." (DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, Chapter 6, "Making Waves")

F - Face.  Claire's "glass face" -- her inability to hide what she's thinking or feeling from other people -- often gets her into trouble.

G - Garden. "Daddy always used to say it, when he'd come home and find Mama puttering in her garden--he said she'd live out there if she could.  He used to joke that she--that she'd leave us someday, and go find a place where she could live by herself, with nothing but her plants." (DRUMS OF AUTUMN, Chapter 43, "Whisky in the Jar")

H - Hair.  Claire's wild, unruly hair could almost be considered a character in its own right.  It reflects her personality extremely well, and it's one of the things Jamie likes best about her.

I - Intelligence.  Claire has a quick mind, and doesn't suffer fools gladly.  (She's much like Diana in that respect, actually.)

J - James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. <vbg>

K - Knitting.
  One of the very few things that Claire does not do well with her hands.

L - Lallybroch.
  Claire felt she'd found a home there, for the first time in her life.

M - Mother.
  Not just to Bree, but also to Faith, her stillborn first child.  "You are my baby, and always will be.  You won't know what that means until you have a child of your own, but I tell you now, anyway--you'll always be as much a part of me as when you shared my body and I felt you move inside.  Always."  (VOYAGER, Chapter 42, "The Man in the Moon")

N - Nurse. 
Also surgeon, midwife, physician, herbalist, conjure-woman -- Claire is a healer, first and foremost.

O - Outlander
, or, as the Scots say, Sassenach.  "He liked the strangeness of her, the Englishness.  She was his Claire, his Sassenach." (FIERY CROSS, Chapter 18, "No Place Like Home")

P - Practicality.
  Claire is perfectly willing to cast aside society's conventions of what is considered proper attire for a woman, in favor of something more practical.  "I am improvising a brassiere," I said with dignity.  "I don't mean to ride sidesaddle through the mountains wearing a dress, and if I'm not wearing stays, I don't mean my breasts to be joggling all the way, either.  Most uncomfortable, joggling."  (DRUMS OF AUTUMN, Chapter 13, "An Examination of Conscience")

Q - Quentin Lambert Beauchamp.
Claire's beloved Uncle Lamb, who raised her from the age of five.

R - Ruthlessness. 
I think this is one of the qualities that makes Claire a good surgeon:  "[The] detachment of mind in which I could balance on that knife-edge between ruthlessness and compassion, at once engaged in utmost intimacy with the body under my hands and capable of destroying what I touched in the name of healing." (AN ECHO IN THE BONE, Chapter 62, "One Just Man")

S - Stubbornness. 
Claire is at least a match for Jamie in this respect, and gives as good as she gets.

T - Time-travel.
  The catalyst for this whole amazing adventure. <g>

U - Unladylike language.
  Claire's use of expressions like "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ" and "bloody f*cking hell" frequently scandalizes the 18th-century people around her, but to me, this is an integral part of her character.

V - Vitamins. 
"Well-nourished, is what I am," I retorted.  "Half the people on your estate are suffering from mild scurvy, and from what I've seen on the road, it's even worse elsewhere.  It's vitamin C that prevents scurvy, and apples are full of it."  (DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, Chapter 36, "Prestonpans") 

W - White
.  Claire's Indian name is White Raven, and she's been called many similar things over the years, including the White Witch and La Dame Blanche ("White Lady").  I'm intrigued by Nayawenne's prediction that Claire will come into her full power when her hair turns white, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see about that. <g>

X - eXperiments. 
From home-grown penicillin to gallberry ointment for the treatment of malaria, Claire is always experimenting with new ways to help her patients.

Y - Youthful.
  Claire looks much younger than other women her age in the 18th century, owing to the influence of genes, hygiene, and good nutrition.

Z - Zero.
  The number of times Claire has traveled though the stones using gemstones for protection.

As you can see just from these brief examples, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser is a remarkably complex, multifaceted character.  I'm not really surprised that it's taking the STARZ people a while to find the right actress to portray her!

If you liked this list, check out my ABC's of Jamie Fraser.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Fun Facts - 8/23/2013

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

1) A hussif (also called a "housewife") is a portable sewing kit.  I had never heard the term until I read A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES.
Jamie checked his saddlebags once more, though he had done it so often of late that the exercise was little more than custom. Each time he opened the left-hand one, he still smiled, though. Brianna had remade it for him, stitching in loops of leather that presented his pistols, hilt up, ready to be seized in an emergency, and a clever arrangement of compartments that held handy his shot pouch, powder horn, a spare knife, a coil of fishing line, a roll of twine for a snare, a hussif with pins, needles, and thread, a packet of food, a bottle of beer, and a neatly rolled clean shirt.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 25, "Ashes to Ashes". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The photo above shows what an 18th-century soldier's hussif looked like.  For more photos, look here.

According to Kathryn Kane of The Regency Redingote,
Hussifs for soldiers tended to be smaller than a woman might make for herself. Inside would be found a selection of replacement buttons, for both the soldier’s uniforms and his civilian clothes, a packet of needles, a paper of pins, usually a thimble, and a notched length of wood or cardboard with a selection of threads wrapped around it in the notched sections. A small pair of scissors might also be included, though this was less common, as many soldiers carried a pocket knife which would serve the purpose of cutting threads. All of these items would be placed in the pockets of the hussif, then it would be rolled up, tied shut and slipped into the soldier’s pocket or his haversack.
If you want to try making your own hussif, there are step-by-step instructions here.

2) Aloe vera has been used for thousands of years for the treatment of minor burns and skin abrasions. (Photo from Wikipedia.)

Here's a close-up view of the juice of the aloe vera plant.
The afternoon sun was hot on the white limestone rocks, casting deep shadows into the clefts and hollows. I found what I was looking for at last, growing from a narrow crack in a giant boulder, in gay defiance of the lack of soil. I broke a stalk of aloe from its clump, split the fleshy leaf, and spread the cool green gel inside across the welts on Jamie’s palm.

"Better?” I said.

“Much.” Jamie flexed his hand, grimacing. “Christ, those nettles sting!”

“They do.” I pulled down the neck of my bodice and spread a little aloe juice on my breast with a gingerly touch. The coolness brought relief at once.

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 29, "To Grasp the Nettle". Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
For more about the medicinal uses of aloe vera, look here and here.

3) When I first read VOYAGER, I was baffled by Claire and Roger's conversation about an old fairy tale:
‘See’st thou this great gray head, with jaws which have no meat?’ ” Roger quoted. “You know the story? The little tailor who spent the night in a haunted church, and met the hungry ghost?”

“I do. I think if I’d heard that outside my window, I’d have spent the rest of the night hiding under the bedclothes."

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 22, "All Hallows' Eve". Copyright© 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The story they're referring to is called "The Sprightly Tailor", by Joseph Jacobs (1854-1916). You can read the full story here.

4) You may recall from ECHO that Claire speculated that Emily's difficulties in carrying a child to term were caused by "an Rh problem":
“If a woman’s blood is Rh-negative, and her husband’s blood is Rh-positive,” I explained, “then the child will be Rh-positive, because that’s dominant--never mind what that means, but the child will be positive like the father. Sometimes the first pregnancy is all right, and you don’t see a problem until the next time--sometimes it happens with the first. Essentially, the mother’s body produces a substance that kills the child."

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 35, "Ticonderoga". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The photo above, from, shows the abnormal blood cells of a newborn infant from Iraq,
a full term male with severe RhD HDN [hemolytic disease of the newborn]. The baby died few hours after birth. Baby blood group is O RhD positive Mother blood group is O RhD negative....The OB/G specialist expected that this may happen, but as there is no intra-uterine transfusion in Baghdad, the baby had no chance to survive.
For more about RhD incompatibility, look here and here.

5) Claire tells Roger in VOYAGER that the creature she saw in Loch Ness was probably a plesiosaur, a type of aquatic reptile that supposedly died out 65 million years ago, along with the dinosaurs   This drawing, from Wikipedia, is an artist's recreation of what it might have looked like.
A great flat head broke the surface not ten feet away. I could see the water purling away from keeled scales that ran in a crest down the sinuous neck. The water was agitated for some considerable distance, and I caught a glimpse here and there of dark and massive movement beneath the surface of the loch, though the head itself stayed relatively still.

I stood quite still myself. Oddly enough, I was not really afraid. I felt some faint kinship with it, a creature further from its own time than I, the flat eyes old as its ancient Eocene seas, eyes grown dim in the murky depths of its shrunken refuge. And there was a sense of familiarity mingled with its unreality. The sleek skin was a smooth, deep blue, with a vivid slash of green shining with brilliant iridescence beneath the jaw. And the strange, pupilless eyes were a deep and glowing amber. So very beautiful.

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 19, "The Waterhorse". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Here's a National Geographic video (about 45 minutes long, but very interesting) about the Loch Ness monster and various theories about it.

Not everyone is convinced by the plesiosaur theory; here's a rebuttal. But whether you believe it or not, it's fun to speculate! <g>

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, August 22, 2013

Photo Contest update!

Thanks to everyone who's sent in photos for my 2nd Annual OUTLANDER Photo Contest!  I've received 49 entries so far, and I think they're terrific.  It's going to be a great collection.

There's still time to enter the contest!  The deadline for entries is midnight Eastern Time on September 7, 2013.

All you have to do is email a photo containing one or more of Diana Gabaldon's books, plus a brief description, to, with the subject line "OUTLANDER Photo Contest". Be sure to let me know if it's OK to post your photo online as part of the collection, after the contest is over.

If your photo is chosen in the random drawing, you'll win your choice of one of the following books in hardcover, signed by Diana Gabaldon:
  • Any of the OUTLANDER or Lord John books (excluding WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD)
  • THE EXILE (graphic novel)
  • The OUTLANDER 20th Anniversary Edition
Look here for more detailed information.

(Note to those of you who entered the contest last year: if you want to submit the same photo again this year, that's fine with me.)

Please help me spread the word to other OUTLANDER fans. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

OUTLANDER to air on Showcase in Canada!

Good news for Canadian fans:  The OUTLANDER TV series will be on Showcase in 2014!

Here's the official announcement, from's blog: 
Shaw Media picks up time travel series Outlander, slated to air in 2014 on Showcase. Sam Heughan (Batman Live) will star in the lead role of Jamie Fraser in the series adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s international best-selling books. Executive-produced by Emmy® Award-winner Ronald D. Moore, the 16-episode series begins filming in Scotland this fall.
Thanks to Robyn Harney (@IamRobynNicole) on Twitter for letting us know!  Robyn is a publicist for Sony Pictures TV who works closely with the OUTLANDER production team.

(Note to those of you outside the US and Canada: We still have no information about the availability of the TV series in other countries, but I'll post updates here as soon as I hear anything.)

For more information about the OUTLANDER TV series, see my FAQ page here.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Heughan's Heughligans fundraiser

OFFICIAL Heughan's Heughligans Shirt, the fan-site for all things related to Sam Heughan and his role as Jamie Fraser in the upcoming OUTLANDER TV series on STARZ, is raising money to fight blood cancer.

Proceeds from the sale of "Heughan's Heughligans" T-shirts, like the one shown above, will go to Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research (LLR).  According to this site,
The official charity for Heughan’s Heughligans is Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (LLR). This is a charity that Sam has supported and raised money for several times in the past, and we are happy to be able to continue this beneficial campaign through #Heughligans. Sam and LLR are very excited that we will be working with them to raise money for a great cause!
Click here for more information.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Fun Facts - 8/16/2013

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


1) The photo above was taken on August 13, 2013, during the annual Perseid meteor shower. Click on the photo for a bigger view. (Photo credit: Mark O'Neill, of Digital Noise Photography, via Flickr.)  You may recall that Lord John watched the Perseids with his father when he was a boy, as we saw in this bit from the Duke of Pardloe's journal:
…watched the Perseids fall before the dawn twilight this morning, with V. and John. We lay upon the lawn, and counted more than sixty meteors within the space of an hour, at least a dozen very bright, with a visible tinge of blue or green.

He repeated the sentence to himself, making sure he had it word for word. That was the only sentence on the page Hal had burned that mentioned himself by name; a nugget of gold.

He hadn’t remembered that night at all, until the casual record brought it back: cool damp from the lawn seeping through his clothes, excitement overcoming the pull of sleep and the longing for his warm bed. Then the “Ah!” from his father and Victor—yes, “V.” was Victor Arbuthnot, one of his father’s astronomical friends. Was Arbuthnot still alive? he wondered. The sudden jerk of his heart at sight of the first shooting star—a brief and silent streak of light, startling as though a star had indeed fallen suddenly from its place.

(From LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 3, "Pet Criminal". Copyright© 2007 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
What causes the Perseid meteor shower?  According to this site,
Every year, from around July 17 to August 24, our planet Earth crosses the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle, the parent of the Perseid meteor shower. Debris from this comet litters the comet’s orbit....The bits and pieces from Comet Swift-Tuttle slam into the Earth’s upper atmosphere at some 210,000 kilometers (130,000 miles) per hour, lighting up the nighttime with fast-moving Perseid meteors.
Here's a collection of Perseid photos from last week's meteor shower.  If you missed it, don't worry, there's always next year! <g>

2) This illustration shows the parts of an 18th-century musket. Click on the photo for a bigger view.

Here's Brianna's first try at firing a musket, in DRUMS:
He let her fire the long musket when she asked, showing her how to load a new round: swab the barrel, patch the ball, ram home ball, patch, and wadding with a charge of powder from the cartridge; pour the rest of the powder into the priming pan of the flintlock.

“You’re no a bad shot at all, lass,” he said, surprised. He bent and picked up a small chunk of wood, setting it on top of a large boulder as a target. “Try again.”

She did, and again, and again, growing used to the awkward weight of the weapon, finding the lovely balancing point of its length and its natural seat in the curve of her shoulder. It kicked less than she’d expected; black powder hadn’t the force of modern cartridges. Twice chips flew from the boulder; the third time the chunk of wood disappeared in a shower of fragments.

“Verra nice,” he said, one eyebrow raised. “And where in God’s name did ye learn to shoot?"

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 42, "Moonlight". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I recorded this video on a visit to Guilford Courthouse Battlefield in 2011.  It shows a re-enactor firing a musket.

From Wikipedia:
The phrase "lock, stock, and barrel" (which means "the whole thing") refers to the three main parts of a musket. The stock is the wooden base. The barrel is the tube where the musket ball (or other ammunition) accelerates and exits the weapon. The lock is the mechanism that causes the weapon to fire.
For a detailed explanation of how a flintlock musket works, look here.

3) This photo, from, shows a man with swollen lymph glands as a result of mumps.  From Wikipedia:
Mumps viral infections in adolescent and adult males carry an up to 30% risk that the testes may become infected (orchitis or epididymitis), which can be quite painful; about half of these infections result in testicular atrophy, and in rare cases sterility can follow.
You can see why Claire was so worried about exposing Jamie to the disease:
"Is it a terrible thing, mumps? I thought only weans got it.”

“Well, normally it is a child’s disease,” I said, wincing at the touch of the soap. “But when an adult gets it--particularly an adult male--it’s a more serious matter. It tends to settle in the testicles. And unless you want to have balls the size of muskmelons--”

“Are ye sure ye have enough soap there, Sassenach? I could go and find more.”

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 35, "Ticonderoga". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
According to the CDC website, mumps is highly contagious,
spread by droplets of saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose, or throat of an infected person, usually when the person coughs, sneezes, or talks....In addition, the virus may spread when someone with mumps touches items or surfaces without washing their hands and someone else then touches the same surface and rubs their mouth or nose.
I've never had mumps myself, but my older brother came down with it on his 8th birthday in 1969.

4) This photo, from Wikipedia, shows what gum arabic looks like.
I opened the jar of gum arabic and, scooping out a bit into the palm of my hand, dribbled water into it and set about fashioning the resultant gooey ball into a roughly cylindrical plug, which I wrapped in a scrap of yellow calico printed with honeybees, finishing it off with a neat twist at the top.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 31, "A Guided Tour Through the Chambers of the Heart". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Gum arabic comes from the sap of the acacia tree.  It is produced today mainly in the Sahel region of Africa, particularly in Senegal and Sudan.  Its widespread commercial use (as an ingredient in soft drink syrups, candy, and watercolor paints, among other things) makes it a valuable commodity.

This photo by Charles Cecil shows gum arabic on a branch of an acacia tree.  For more information about gum arabic, look here.

5) Remember Roger telling Bree about the time he spent on a herring boat as a teenager?
"Come the summer I was fifteen, the Reverend signed me up on a fishing boat, and sent me to sea with the herring fleet. Couldna just say whether he did it to improve my character, keep me out of jail, or only because he couldn't stand me round the house any longer, but it did work. Ye want to meet hard men sometime, go to sea with a bunch of Gaelic fishermen."

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 6, "Ambush". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
The photo above, taken in 1952, shows one of these boats, known as "drifters", from Kirkcaldy, Scotland. (Photo credit: Jack Harrison)

Here's a documentary from 1947 about the Scottish herring fleet.  The first part of this 15-minute video shows what it was like to work on one of those boats.  As you watch this, imagine Roger, circa 1955, age fifteen or so.

You may be familiar with the song "Shoals of Herring", which is about those same Scottish herring boats. Here is a version I found on YouTube, sung by Robert Lawrence. I like the photos interspersed with the video.

You can see more photos of 1950s-era herring boats 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.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Update on the OUTLANDER Photo Contest!

Do you have a favorite photo of your OUTLANDER book collection?  Why not enter the 2nd Annual OUTLANDER Photo Contest?

All you have to do is email a photo containing one or more of Diana Gabaldon's books, plus a brief description, to, with the subject line "OUTLANDER Photo Contest". Be sure to let me know if it's OK to post your photo online as part of the collection, after the contest is over.

If your photo is chosen in the random drawing, you'll win your choice of one of the following books in hardcover, signed by Diana Gabaldon:
  • Any of the OUTLANDER or Lord John books (excluding WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD)
  • THE EXILE (graphic novel)
  • The OUTLANDER 20th Anniversary Edition
Look here for more detailed information. Contest ends on September 7, 2013.

(Note to those of you who entered the contest last year: if you want to submit the same photo again this year, that's fine with me.)

Many thanks to those of you who have already sent in photos.  I've received 26 entries so far and I am hoping for many more before the contest ends on September 7. Please help me spread the word to other OUTLANDER fans. Thanks!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A wee giftie for Diana!

Here's Diana Gabaldon holding a wee giftie I sent her recently: a plaque that says "Fuirich agus chi thu!"  (That's "wait and see" in Gaelic, one of Diana's favorite phrases.)  Many thanks to Diana's husband Doug for taking the photo, and to Diana for sending it to me!

I sent her this plaque as a way of congratulating her on the big news about the OUTLANDER TV series.  We have so many questions, and most of them can only be answered at this point with "wait and see".  So I thought it was appropriate. <g>

If you'd like a plaque like this for yourself, just click on either of the photos above.  For more OUTLANDER-related products, visit my Outlandish Observations store on

Friday, August 9, 2013

Friday Fun Facts - 8/9/2013

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

Polecat - Mustela putorius.

1) The photo above shows a European polecat (Mustela putorius).  (Photo credit: Lorina Dean, on Flickr.)

I love the scene in DRUMS OF AUTUMN where Jamie and Ian learn the difference between a polecat and a skunk:
"Ian,” I said, taking refuge behind Jamie. “Call off your dog. Skunks are dangerous.”

“They are?” Jamie turned a look of puzzlement on me. “But what--”

“Polecats only stink,” I explained. “Skunks--Ian, no! Let it alone, and come inside!” Ian, curious, had reached out and prodded the skunk with his poker. The skunk, offended at this unwarranted intimacy, stamped its feet and elevated its tail.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 10, "Jocasta". Copyright© 1997 by Diana Gabaldon.  All rights reserved.)
From Wikipedia:
In the British Isles, the polecat historically has had a negative reputation. References to the polecat in early English literature are often vilifying, usually being synonymous with prostitutes and generally immoral people, as is the case in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor: "Out of my door, you witch, you hag, you baggage, you polecat, you runyon!" In some rural areas, the belief persists that the polecat chews off the ears of sleeping sheep and can paralyse or kill men by jumping on them from behind and biting their necks.
For more about polecats, look here and here.

2) Here's an example of what an 18th-century man's wig might look like.
MacDonald’s red coat was spread over the back of a chair to dry, steaming in the heat. His wig, damp and disheveled from Rollo’s attack, hung on the cloak peg above it. I got up hastily and possessed myself of the wig, receiving a look of puzzlement from the Major, and one of green-eyed hostility from Adso, who plainly considered it low of me to hog this desirable prey for myself.

“Er...I’ll it somewhere safe, shall I?” Clutching the damp mass of horsehair to my bosom, I sidled outside and round to the pantry, where I tucked the wig safely away behind the cheese with the phosphorus.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 111, "January Twenty-First". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon.  All rights reserved.)
Why did men in the 18th century wear wigs?  According to this site, the custom dates to 1655:
Louis XIV was only 17 when his mop started thinning. Worried that baldness would hurt his reputation, Louis hired 48 wigmakers to save his image. Five years later, the King of England--Louis’s cousin, Charles II--did the same thing when his hair started to gray (both men likely had syphilis). Courtiers and other aristocrats immediately copied the two kings. They sported wigs, and the style trickled down to the upper-middle class. Europe’s newest fad was born.
This illustration from Denis Diderot's Encyclop├ędie (published in the 1750s) shows a number of different styles of men's wigs.

For more examples, see this page from the Colonial Williamsburg site.

Tryon Palace

Tryon Palace

3) This is Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC. (Photos by Marcus Orr, on Flickr.)
They’d finished the place, and very nicely, too. William Tryon, the previous governor, had built the Governor’s Palace, but had been sent to New York before construction had been finished. Now the enormous brick edifice with its graceful spreading wings was complete, even to the lawns and ivy beds that lined the drive, though the stately trees that would eventually surround it were mere saplings. The carriage pulled up on the drive, but we did not--of course--enter by the imposing front entrance, but rather scuttled round the back and down the stairs to the servants’ quarters in the basement.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 92, "Amanuensis". Copyright© 2005 by Diana Gabaldon.  All rights reserved.)
Built in the late 1760s for then-Governor William Tryon, the palace served as the official residence for North Carolina's governors.  According to Wikipedia:
In May 1775, when the American Revolution began, Governor Josiah Martin fled the mansion. Patriots seized the Palace and converted it into the State capitol building. The first general assemblies were held there and many of the furnishings were auctioned by the newly-formed state government....After Raleigh was founded as the capitol in 1794, the Palace was used for many different purposes, including a school, boarding house, and a Masonic lodge. A cellar fire started in 1798, consuming the Palace proper. Only the Kitchen and Stable Offices were saved.
Tryon Palace was completely restored in the 1950's.  I've never been there myself, although I've been meaning to visit for some time. Have any of you been there?

4) Have you ever wondered exactly what a hogshead is? The photo above shows some hogshead barrels in Joppatowne, Maryland, which was a major colonial seaport.  (Photo credit: Josh Rubin)

According to this site, a hogshead was a standard unit of measurement, equivalent to 64 gallons of liquid.  A tobacco hogshead was even larger.  From Wikipedia:
A standardized hogshead measured 48 inches (1,219 mm) long and 30 inches (762 mm) in diameter at the head (at least 550 L or 121 imp gal; 145 US gal, depending on the width in the middle). Fully packed with tobacco, it weighed about 1,000 pounds (454 kg).

This illustration from Jamestown, Virginia, shows the size of a hogshead of tobacco.
Sitting down on a keg of tar, I leaned back against a big hogshead of tobacco, yawning and wondering idly why it was called that. It did not appear to be shaped like a hog’s head, certainly not like the head of any hog I knew.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 31, "A Guided Tour Through the Chambers of the Heart". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon.  All rights reserved.)
So where did they get the name "hogshead"?  This article offers one explanation:
Most sources agree that the word hogshead dates to the Late Middle English period (1350–1469). Reasons behind the construction of the word remain less clear. One common theory focuses on the shape of the barrel, which resembles a hog’s snout. Another theory revolves around the word’s development and progression through different languages. Names for casks in several Teutonic, or Germanic, languages include oxhooft, oxehoved, and oxhufvod. It is, therefore, possible that the word originated as “oxhead.” The current word might have come from mispronunciations of the original.

5) This photo, from Wikipedia, shows a child rolling her tongue.  Until I read THE FIERY CROSS, I had no idea that some people can do this.  (Everyone in my family is flat-tongued. <g>)
[Jamie] stuck out a rolled tongue and wiggled it, demonstrating, then pulled it back. “Everyone can do that, surely? Ian?”

“Oh, aye, of course.” Ian obligingly demonstrated. “Anyone can.”

“I can’t,” said Brianna. Jamie stared at her, taken aback.

"What d’ye mean ye can’t?”

“Bleah.” She stuck out a flat tongue and waggled it from side to side. “I can’t.”

“Of course ye can.” Jamie frowned. “Here, it’s simple, lass--anyone can do it!” He stuck out his own tongue again, rolling and unrolling it like a paternal anteater, anxiously encouraging its offspring toward an appetizing mass of insects.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 109, "The Voice of Time". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon.  All rights reserved.)
Despite what Claire tells Jamie, Ian, and the others in this scene, it turns out that the genetics of tongue-rolling are not as straightforward as you may have learned in biology classes in school.  Several studies have concluded that tongue-rolling is not actually a dominant trait after all, since identical twins do not always share the ability to roll their tongues.  One influential study of the genetics of tongue-rolling, published in 1975 in the Journal of Heredity, stated,
We must conclude that most of the variance in these traits arises from the specific environmental influences and chances that affect the individual.
You can read the full article here.  (It's worth noting that Claire is not a geneticist, and her medical knowledge is limited to what was known in 1968, so she wouldn't have seen that particular study in any case.)

What about the rest of you?  Can you roll your tongue, or are you like Bree and Roger and me, unable to do it?

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, August 8, 2013

Tobias Menzies as Frank and Jack Randall!

More casting news for the OUTLANDER TV series! British actor Tobias Menzies (pictured above, from IMDB) has been chosen to play the dual roles of Frank Randall and Jonathan (Black Jack) Randall.

Some of you may know Menzies from his work on "Game of Thrones", where he played Edmure Tully.  I know him best as Brutus in HBO's "Rome".  I thought he was terrific in that role, and I can't wait to see what he'll do with Frank/BJR.

The official press release is here.  For more about the OUTLANDER TV series, see my FAQ page here.

[UPDATE 8/10/2013 7:20 am: You can see Diana Gabaldon's comments about Tobias Menzies on Compuserve here.]

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My quaich

Some people were talking about quaichs yesterday on Compuserve.  A quaich is a two-handed drinking bowl, used in Scotland for centuries.
"We are honored by your offer of friendship and goodwill,” said Colum clearly. “We accept your obedience and hold you in good faith as an ally of the clan MacKenzie.”

There was a lessening of the tension over the hall, and almost an audible sigh of relief in the gallery as Colum drank from the quaich and offered it to Jamie. The young man accepted it with a smile. Instead of the customary ceremonial sip, however, he carefully raised the nearly full vessel, tilted it and drank. And kept on drinking. There was a gasp of mingled respect and amusement from the spectators, as the powerful throat muscles kept moving. Surely he’d have to breathe soon, I thought, but no. He drained the heavy cup to the last drop, lowered it with an explosive gasp for air, and handed it back to Colum.

“The honor is mine,” he said, a little hoarsely, “to be allied with a clan whose taste in whisky is so fine."

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, Chapter 10, "The Oath-Taking". Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon.  All rights reserved.)
Quaichs come in a variety of different sizes and styles, and I thought you might like to see mine.

This is the quaich I bought in Inverness last summer.  (I spent a week in Scotland on the Celtic Journeys OUTLANDER Tour.  You can see my blog posts about the trip here.)  It's about four inches in diameter.  The clerk in the shop said the yellow stones in the handles are probably colored glass, but they remind me a bit of topaz, which is my birthstone.

My quaich is filled with an assortment of small colored stones.  I like to pretend it's my own small cache of gemstones, ready in case I need to time-travel on short notice. <g>  But really, I just like the way they look.

Do any of you have quaichs?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Sale on T-shirts and bags at! is having a sale on t-shirts and bags through midnight Pacific time on Wed., August 7.

Buy any T-shirt or bag and get 50% off the sale price when you use the code SHIRTBAGDEAL at checkout.

"OUTLANDER Addict" Bag

"I'm a fan of Diana Gabaldon" T-Shirt

These are just two examples of the styles you can choose from. Check out the rest of my OUTLANDER-themed products in my Outlandish Observations Zazzle store.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Photo Contest update

The 2nd Annual OUTLANDER Photo Contest is off to a good start! I've received 13 entries so far, and I'm hoping for many more.

For those of you who may have missed last week's announcement, here's a brief summary:

All you have to do is email a photo containing one or more of Diana Gabaldon's books, plus a brief description, to, with the subject line "OUTLANDER Photo Contest". Be sure to let me know if it's OK to post your photo online as part of the collection, after the contest is over.

If your photo is chosen in the random drawing, you'll win your choice of one of the following books in hardcover, signed by Diana Gabaldon:
  • Any of the OUTLANDER or Lord John books (excluding WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD)
  • THE EXILE (graphic novel)
  • The OUTLANDER 20th Anniversary Edition
Look here for more detailed information. Contest ends on September 7, 2013.

(Note to those of you who entered the contest last year: if you want to submit the same photo again this year, that's fine with me.)

Please help me get the word out to as many of Diana Gabaldon's fans as possible.  Thanks!

Saturday, August 3, 2013


I just found out about a new site,, which is a Wiki page specifically devoted to all things related to the upcoming OUTLANDER TV series on STARZ.

The site will eventually include an episode guide, information on all the cast members, etc.  It looks like it will be a great resource for viewers of the TV series.

From the site's main page:
The Outlander television series is an adaptation of the Outlander novels but will deviate from them in some areas. In addition this wiki is meant for the enjoyment of television viewers who do not have any knowledge of the books. For this reason, spoilers and events from the books are not permitted on entries in this Wiki. Information from the books can be added to entries once the TV series has reached the same point in the story.
Please take a few minutes to check it out!