10 Mermaid Sightings Before 1800

mermaidhistoryBefore writing Between Land and Sea, I researched mermaid sightings. I expected to find only a handful of examples and was surprised by the lengthy list and vivid descriptions that emerged. So much so, that I’ve devoted several posts to this topic.

Today, I will focus on ten documented sightings before 1800.

1. First Century AD: Roman author, naturalist and philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote about the Nereids that were found dead on the seashore. He described their bodies as rough and scaly like fish and then went on to share other supporting evidence: “I have, too, some distinguished informants of equestrian rank, who state that they themselves once saw in the ocean of Gades a sea-man.”

2. Between 1040 and 1105: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki wrote about mermaids in the Talmud: “There are fish in the sea with which half is in the form of man and half in the form of fish, called sereine in Old French.”

3. During the same period, Moshav Zekeinim provided the following details about mermaids (Sirens) in a commentary on the Torah: “This refers to the creature in the sea which is similar in part to a person, from the navel upwards, and it is similar to a woman in all aspects in that it has breasts and long hair like that of a woman, and from the navel downwards, it is a fish. And it sings beautifully, with a pleasant voice.”

4. 13th Century: The King’s Mirror, a Norwegian educational text originally intended to provide King Magnus Lagabote with advice on various subjects, included the following description of a creature found off the shores of Greenland: “Like a woman as far down as her waist, long hands, and soft hair, the neck and head in all respects like those of a human being. The hands seem to be long, and the fingers not to be pointed, but united into a web like that on the feet of water birds. From the waist downwards, this monster resembles a fish, with scales, tail, and fins…This monster has a very horrible face, with broad bow and piercing eyes, a wide mouth and double chin.”

5. 1389: In his book, Eastern Travels of John Hesse, the author described the perils encountered during his voyages. He wrote: “We came to a stony mountain, where we heard syrens singing, mermaids who draw ships into danger by their songs. We saw there many horrible monsters and were in great fear.”

6. 1403: During a heavy storm, a mermaid drifted inland through a broken dyke on the Dutch coast. At first afraid but later intrigued, several local women and their servants befriended the mermaid. They took the mermaid home and tried to domesticate her, clothing and feeding her dairy products and meats. After a number of thwarted escapes into the sea, the mermaid resigned herself to her new life and died fifteen years later. John Swan, an English minister, described her story in Speculum Mundi, a book released in 1635.

7. 1493: After spotting three mermaids rising from the sea, Christopher Columbus wrote in the ship’s journal: “They were not as beautiful as they are painted, although to to some extent they have a human appearance in the face.” He noted that he had seen similar creatures off the coast of West Africa.

8. 1608: After two of his company reported a mermaid sighting, explorer Henry Hudson wrote in the ship’s journal: “Two crew members–Thomas Hilles and Robert Rayner–sighted a mermaid at 75o7’N (Russia) and shouted at the rest of the crew to come and look…From the navel upward her back and breast were like a woman’s, as they say that saw her; her body as big as one of ours; her skin very white and long hair hanging down behind, of colour black. In her going down, they saw her tail, which was like the tail of a porpoise, and speckled like a mackerel.”

9. 1614: Captain John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, reported a mermaid off the cost of Massachusetts: “The upper part of her body perfectly resembled that of a woman, and she was swimming about with all possible grace near the shore. It had large eyes, rather too round, a finely shaped nose (a little too short), well-formed ears, rather too long, and her long green hair imparted to her an original character by no means unattractive.”

10. 1797: While walking on the shore of Sandside Bay (Scotland), schoolteacher William Munro spotted a mermaid sitting upon a rock. In his letter to Dr. Torrance in Glasgow, he wrote: “…my attention was arrested by the appearance of a figure resembling an unclothed human female, sitting upon a rock extending into the sea, and apparently in the action of combing its hair, which flowed around its shoulders, and of a light brown colour…The cheeks ruddy, the eyes blue, the mouth and lips of a natural form, resembling those of a man; the teeth I could not discover, as the mouth was shut; the breasts and abdomen, the arms and fingers of the size in which the hands were employed, did not appear to be webbed, but as to this I am not positive.” The complete letter appeared in The Times of London on September 8, 1809.

Writers Have to Write

Welcome to my Second Acts Series!

Today, we have author Susan Coryell sharing a lifelong passion for writing and the long, winding road to publication.

Here’s Susan!

susancoryellWe writers know who we are; writers have to write. That about sums up my “Second Act” in life.

What happens when a full-time career/working mom knows she is a writer and feels the need to write with simply no way of making time to do so? I believe it was the late Erma Bombeck, a writer of humorous columns, who laughed at her own solution to the problem: “There is a lot of untapped time between midnight and five a.m.”

Not only was I an active working mother—I fancied myself the busiest mom in the East. Full-time public school teacher, department chair, soccer mom, Sunday school teacher, night-student in grad school, mother of three and wife of a small business owner (who worked 80-hour weeks)—to name a few of my titles. Oh, did I mention I was trying to write a novel?

Miraculously, I somehow completed what I now call my “Disney Novel.” The young adult mystery involved twin boys, one a pitcher and one a catcher, who telepathized their signals on the ball diamond. Though probably not publishable, the work proved to me that I could write a story consisting of 50,000 or more words—with a beginning, middle and end. You’d think I would have been satisfied, happy to prove myself and move on with life on Muppet Manor with my family. Right?

eaglebaitAlas, Doubleheader only whetted my appetite to write more, more, more. So, I began working on another young adult novel—this one an anti-bully book with a 14-year-old male protagonist. I worked only on my summers “off” from teaching—posting daily notices on my closed office door that suggested my kids should not disturb me unless they were “bleeding profusely.” It took three years to complete Eaglebait.

While sponsoring a middle school literary magazine at Columbia Press Scholastic awards (yes, I also was in charge of the lit mag at my school), I said to myself, “Hey, you’re in New York. Let’s try to find a literary agent.” Luck prevailed and on the second day at Columbia, I met a guy who knew about a great agency in Chicago for YA books . They took on Eaglebait, secured a contract with Harcourt, and my writing journey began to take shape. Or, so I thought.

Even though Eaglebait won some impressive awards, Harcourt pulled it after 14 months, with no explanation. And, though I had plenty of other writing ideas, I threw in the literary towel until retirement years later. It was just too difficult what with the children merging into teenager-hood.

But then…my Second Act!

Retirement to a lakeside cottage was a godsend for this writer. I mucked around for several years doing free-lance for a pittance and writing a lot of local press for nothing. Not that I was wasting my “talent,” but I longed to plunge into novel writing again. That’s where I am at my creative best. And so, I picked up on a mystery/Gothic idea I had contemplated some years back—adjusted the setting to fit my retirement locale—and I have never turned back. The Wild Rose Press published A Red, Red Rose in 2013 and the sequel, Beneath the Stones this past April of 2015. I am currently writing the third novel in the series—as yet unnamed. In between writing these cozy mystery/Southern gothics, I was able to update Eaglebait with cyber-bullying and publish it through Amazon in e-book format.

untitledbeneaththestones

If there is a moral to my story, I believe it would be: Since writers know who we are and writers have to write, we must never lose faith; the window for writing will open somehow, some way, some time. I found my muse in the loft of a lake house 20+ years after my novel debut—a Second Act, for sure.

My heartfelt thanks to Joanne for inviting me to guest on her awesome blog!

Bio

A career educator, Susan has taught students from 7th grade through college-level. She earned a BA degree in English from Carson-Newman College and a Masters from George Mason University. She is listed in several different volumes of Who’s Who in Education and Who’s Who in Teaching. Susan belongs to Author’s Guild, Virginia Writers, and Lake Writers. She loves to talk with budding writers at schools, writers’ conferences and workshops. Her young adult anti-bully novel EAGLEBAIT is in its third edition for print and e-book, updated with cyber-bullying. EAGLEBAIT won the NY Public Library’s “Books for the Teen Age,” and the International Reading Association’s “Young Adult Choice.”

A RED, RED ROSE, first in a cozy mystery/Southern Gothic series, was nominated for a literary award with the Library of Virginia. BENEATH THE STONES, the sequel, was released in April of 2015.

The author has long been interested in concerns about culture and society in the South, where hard-felt, long-held feelings battle with modern ideas. The ghosts slipped in, to her surprise.

When not writing, Susan enjoys boating, kayaking, golf and yoga. She and her husband, Ned, love to travel, especially when any of their seven grandchildren are involved.

Where to find Susan…

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Amazon

Joanne here!

Susan, thanks for sharing your inspiring journey. Good luck with all your literary endeavors.

Happy National Cheesecake Day!

I was delighted to discover a reason to celebrate (and partake of) my favorite dessert. But before doing that, I decided to delve into the origins of cheesecakes.

I was surprised to learn that cheesecakes date back to ancient Greece. Physical anthropologists have excavated cheese molds, dated 2000 B.C., on the Greek island of Samos. In Greece, cheesecakes were considered excellent sources of energy and served to athletes during the first Olympic Games in 776 B.C. Greek brides and grooms celebrated their nuptials with cheesecake.

ancient greece

An actual cheesecake recipe from 230 A.D. has been unearthed: Pound the cheese until it’s smooth and pasty, mix the pounded cheese in a brass pan with honey and wheat flour, heat the cheesecake in one mass, cool and then serve.

When the Romans conquered Greece, they modified the recipe by adding eggs. These ingredients were baked under a hot brick oven, and the cheesecake was served warm.

As the Romans expanded their empire, they shared their recipe with the Europeans. In England, Henry VIII’s chef cut up cheese into very small pieces and soaked these pieces in milk for three hours. Then, he strained the mixture and added eggs, butter, and sugar.

A fan of the New York Style Cheesecake, I decided to research its history. German-born Arnold Reuben (well-known for his signature sandwiches) was invited to a dinner party where the hostess served a cheese pie. Fascinated by the dish, Reuben experimented with the recipe until he came up with the smooth-tasting cheesecake we all know and love.

Over the centuries, different cheesecake recipes have evolved, reflecting the cheeses and preferences of each country: Italians use ricotta cheese, Greeks use mizithra or feta, Germans prefer cottage cheese, and the Japanese use a combination of cornstarch and egg whites. More daring chefs have introduced specialty cheesecakes that include blue cheese, seafood, spicy chilies, and even tofu.

manycheesecakeflavors

I’m willing to try almost any flavor, but I’ll pass on the chilies, tofu, and seafood varieties. When it comes to creating my own cheesecake, I gravitate toward the following easy-to-prepare recipe that actually calls for frozen blueberries.

Enjoy!

Blueberry Delight

Ingredients:

½ cup brown sugar
2 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
¾ cup butter
8 ounces cream cheese (at room temperature)
32 ounces sweetened whipped cream
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 ½ cups frozen blueberries

Procedure:

Combine brown sugar, graham cracker crumbs, and butter.
Press into the bottom of a 9” x 13” rectangular pan.
Bake for ten minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cool the crust.
Cream together the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice.
Add whipped cream and fold in blueberries using a wooden spoon.
Pour mixture into the pan.
Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Servings: 15

Any other easy-to-prepare cheesecake recipes out there?

Clean Jokes for Toastmasters

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Use one of these jokes at your next meeting.

*********************

On his deathbed, a miser asked to be alone with his lawyer, doctor, and priest. “I know I am going to die,” he said. “I would like to take my money with me, so I am going to give each of you $150,000. I want you to each make sure the money gets in the coffin.”

On the day after the funeral, the guilt-stricken priest confided he only put $100,000 in the coffin.

“I’m glad you brought it up” said the doctor, “because I’ve also been feeling guilty. I only put $80,000 back.”

“You people should be ashamed of yourselves,” stormed the lawyer. “Am I the only honest person here?” He pulled out his check book. “Look here. I wrote out a check for the full $150,000!”

*********************

Harry walked over to the Priest after services, “You know Father, I am really stuck in a quandary. I would like to attend church next week but I just can’t miss the big game.”

“Oh Harry!” said the Priest as he put his arm around Harry. “That’s what recorders are for.”

Harry’s face lit up. “You mean I could record your sermon?”

*********************

After sending their son Paul away to college, Susan and Joe would receive regular requests for money. After one late-night call, Joe agreed to send some money. Before hanging up, he added, “I notice that you left your Physics book here. Should I send it?”

“Uh, oh yeah, OK,” Paul responded.

Several days later, Susan discovered that Joe had sent $1100 and started to reprimand him.

Joe shook his head and smiled. “Don’t worry, I taped a $100 check on the cover of the Physics book and a $1000 check inside the cover.”


Men and Mermaids

menmermaidsWhenever I mention mermaids, I notice the emergence of Duchenne smiles on the faces of all the men in my circle.

What is a Duchenne smile?

Very simply, it is a smile that is characterized by the raising of the lip corners which in turn raise the cheeks and form crow’s feet around the eyes. French physician Guillaume Duchenne first recognized this smile while conducting research on the physiology of facial expressions in the mid 19th century. According to Duchenne, that distinctive smile is associated with a strong positive emotion.

duchennegeorgeAnd, of course, George Clooney.

My conclusion—21st century men are still intrigued by those Sirens of Greek mythology, preferring to focus on their physical beauty and enchanting songs. Male minds can easily conjure up images of wavy auburn tresses, mesmerizing green eyes and a curvaceous body.

So, when I describe the protagonist of Between Land and Sea as an overweight, middle-aged ex-mermaid, I’m not surprised to see a variety of facial expressions. The men usually laugh and joke about Isabella’s extra years and pounds.

At a workshop, an argumentative lawyer was very blunt in his criticism: “I don’t understand why your mermaid has to be old and fat.”

“Fifty-three is not that old.” I ignored the weight issue.

He persisted. “It is when it comes to mermaids. Why couldn’t you let her be young, thin and beautiful?”

Thankfully, the conversation was interrupted by the facilitator’s call to resume the workshop. A few minutes more and I might have lost patience with the annoying lawyer who couldn’t accept my vision of an older mermaid.

Very few men are as argumentative as the lawyer. My male friends and relatives want to hear more about Isabella of the Mediterranean Kingdom aka Barbara Davies and the international banker who dumped her. Several are amused by the concept of a mermaid carrying extra pounds, and one friend asked if the artist was planning to feature an overweight mermaid on the cover.

In The Coming of Arabella, the unexpected arrival of Barbara’s perfectly-preserved twin sister evokes more traditional responses (and more Duchenne smiles) from the men of Carden, Ontario.

How would the men in your circle react to an older, wiser mermaid?

Cool Treats for Non-Foodies on a Budget

coffeebananaThis coming week, we will be experiencing the dog days of summer in southern Ontario. As the Humidex soars beyond 30 and even approaches 40, I find myself spending more time in air-conditioned comfort and less time preparing meals.

Not such a bad thing for a non-foodie, but I do have to eat. With one book released in June (A Season for Killing Blondes) and another to be released in August (The Coming of Arabella), I need to maintain optimum energy levels.

And to satisfy my Frugalista nature, I also wish to do it on a budget.

Here are some of my favorite go-to foods while I’m in the editing and promotion caves.

Continue reading on the Story Reading Ape’s blog.