The Pony Express in Stamps by Robyn Echols


The Pony Express in Stamps

by Robyn Echols


As a retired rural letter carrier for the United States Postal Service, I feel a certain connection to the Pony Express riders of yester-yore. Although my “ride” was a right-hand drive surplus government jeep (later a RHD Subaru) instead of a horse, and my risk of being attacked came in the form of aggressive guard dogs instead of hostile Indians, I also rode many miles for long hours day after day to deliver the mail. I also developed a love for stamp artwork, although my personal collection is limited.

According to crazy and bizarre daily calendar posted by Brownielocks and the 3 Bears, August 31st is Pony Express Day. I have no understanding why that should be so since I was unable to verify it on any other online site. My research shows that the Pony Express began operations on April 3, 1860 and ended eighteen months later in October, 1861. But, in the spirit of things, I will share a few short facts about the Pony Express.

Pony Express 100th Anni- FDC 150dpi

The Pony Express was organized by the owners of Russell, Majors & Waddell, the overland transportation and communications service started in 1854 to supply military posts. They knew the Pony Express would be of short duration due to the rapid expansion of railroad and telegraph services, but it turns out it ended when the parent company went bankrupt in 1862. In the meantime, California was a new state in the Union. It was separated by miles of sparsely-inhabited territories. The Civil War loomed on the horizon, many residents in both California and Oregon had come from the South and advocated for slavery, and the railroad lines only went as far west as the Mississippi River. The Union (with its military forts) needed a speedy means of communication to keep tabs on what was happening on the opposite side of the continent from Washington D.C.

Pony Express riders wanted

Based on the advertisement for riders, Russell, Majors & Waddell understood this was a high-risk job. Still, it attracted 80 riders including fifteen year-old William “Buffalo Bill” Cody.
Pony express stamp 2

The route started in St. Joseph, Missouri and roughly followed the California/Oregon trail traveled by the freighting operation until it arrived in Sacramento. From there, mail was sent by steamer to San Francisco. Each rider rode approximately 75 miles per day between 184 stations set up into five districts. They were able to travel this route in ten days.



2012 01 Dinnie Camera 076bRobyn Hobush Echols has been writing since she was in junior high school. By choice, she spent most of her evening hours in her “dungeon”, as her mother called her downstairs bedroom, writing stories, only joining her family in front of the television upstairs when her favorite programs were playing. She has spent hours learning and teaching family history topics, and focuses on history from a genealogist’s perspective of seeking out the details of everyday life in the past. Several of her family history articles have been published in genealogy magazines. She also draws on her education, including training in Environmental Hazardous Materials Technology and her professional background of being a state-level union steward for a postal union, a position which required investigative, research and technical writing skills. Now Robyn resides with her husband in California near the “Gateway to Yosemite” and has fun researching and writing the books that she hopes will interest and entertain her readers.

Books by Robyn include:


ARescue Print Cover


Aurura Redress



World Elephant Day

From Christina: I’m guessing that most readers aren’t aware that today is World Elephant Day.  For author Devika Fernando from Sri Lanka, the majestic pachyderms are part of the culture. I was delighted when she offered to share a few thoughts about these magnificent animals. 

World Elephant Day

by Devika Fernando

The role of the elephant in Sri Lanka

Elephants were presumably brought to Sri Lanka by the first Indian settlers and left to their own devices. Some 5,000 years ago, the Sinhalese kings discovered their enormous potential and had them captured. The elephants were used as an advantage in wars and fights, had a ceremonial value during religious rites, and played an important role in construction work. During these times, if you killed an elephant you had to face death penalty. Sri Lankan elephants were considered so valuable that they were bought by rulers from the Indian mainland. The Sinhalese kings sold their best stock even to countries as far as Egypt or Myanmar. With the arrival of the European (especially English) colonial masters, the protection status on elephants was lifted and most animals were set free.


Elephant 1

Over the centuries, some of the magnificent beasts were hunted and killed for sport, others taken advantage of as mere sources for ivory. But to date, thousands of elephants roam the island. On top of that, you have those kept for official matters, with approval from the government. They are often bought and trained when they are still small calves, with ideally one mahout (caretaker) for a lifetime. The majority of the captive elephants do temple duty. During celebrations like the Buddhist New Year in April or the Esala Perahera in Kandy in August, richly caparisoned tuskers (male elephants that have tusks) are part of processions. With their colourful silk clothes and glittering sequins, they are a sight you will never forget.

Elephant 2

(Caparisoned elephant at the Kandy Esala Perahera)

As the Sri Lankan population grows and encroaches on the natural habitats of the elephants, conflicts abound. Often, you have lone bulls full of anger charge hapless humans, even injure and kill them. At other times, whole herds will destroy the vegetable and grain crops over night or wreak havoc in a village, trying to get to the stored food and grains and destroying houses as if they were cardboard boxes. Some people scare them off with loud noises and crackers, others resort to shooting, traps or poisoning. There is no feasible solution in sight.

The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

In all this, there is a light of hope shining brightly: Sri Lanka’s Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala. Allow me to let the heroine from my WIP “Saved in Sri Lanka” take the stage and introduce this marvel to you:

“Founded in 1975 by Sri Lanka Wildlife Department, the orphanage off Rambukkana has been a home to nearly 150 elephants up to now, some of them born here. The National Zoological Gardens reserves this sanctuary on 24 acres of land for wounded elephants, unprotected females with their offspring, orphans and the occasional troublemaker who has been caught and transferred to be part of this ever-growing family. Pinnawala also serves as a breeding place, and it holds more captive elephants in one place than anywhere else in the world. More than 60 elephants have been born here over the course of time, and the orphanage currently shelters between 70 and 80 elephants. Simulating conditions in the wild, the animals can roam more than 10 acres of grassland freely most of the time, adhere to a herd structure and are well-fed. Every day at 8 o’clock in the morning, the baby elephants are bottle-fed with special milk formula. There are two bathing breaks at 10 o’clock and at 2 pm, where the herd is led to the nearby river and washed for two hours.
The elephants eat unimaginably huge amounts of grass and leaves. They really love coconuts and bananas, too. Rice bran, corn, jackfruit, as well as the logs and branches of the kitul palm tree are also added. Altogether, they need to feed on about 75 kg of green matter daily, plus the rest of the food I have mentioned, sometimes with seeds and minerals added in for good health. As you will see in a short while, they are almost always eating—or sleeping. Sounds like the perfect life, doesn’t it?”

Elephant 3

(Bottle-feeding of a baby elephant at Pinnawala)

Thank you, Devika for sharing!

About Devika

devikaAlmost as soon as Devika Fernando could write, she imagined stories and poems. After finishing her education in Germany and returning to her roots in Sri Lanka, she got a chance to turn her passion into her profession. Having lived in Germany and in Sri Lanka with her husband has made her experience the best (and the worst) of two totally different worlds – something that influences her writing. Besides being a romance novel author, she works as a German web content writer and as a translator. When she’s not writing, she’s reading or thinking about writing. Her debut romance novel, When I See Your Face, is now available at Amazon, as is her newly-released paranormal romance, Playing with Fire.


It’s National Farmer’s Market Week!


By Mia Epsilon


It’s National Farmer’s Market Week! It’s time to celebrate those ‘little guys’ who mean so much to all of us. America, the UK and many other countries survive because of Farmers, yet next to Teachers (sorry, personal opinion and bias here) they are the most unappreciated and certainly lowest paid people in the world. Think about the food you eat. If it grows in the ground, either on a tree, bush, vine or dirt, you can thank a farmer.


So what exactly is a ‘farmer’s market’? The word is as familiar to me as my own name; I grew up in a rural area and my family was farmers. My summers were spent helping in the garden, sucking corn, picking beans and going on the hunt for blackberries which grew in abundance wild joyous freedom. Where I live now is the largest apple producing area in the state, second in the nation in production and first in the types of apples produced. ‘Apple Country’ has over two hundred different types of apples: from ‘pink ladies’ to Arkansas blacks’ to ‘golden delicious’. I also live in the state number one in production of sweet potatoes. Blackberries, strawberries and raspberries still, where unchecked, grow in joyous spreading freedom. I’m blessed.FW3

But I digress. A Farmer’s Market is where local farmers take their harvest ‘to market’. There are numerous types: small tables set along the road to huge warehouse type ‘stores’. But the one thing they have in common: everything is local grown, local produced and healthier than anything you will ever buy in a conventional store. I love my Farmers’ Markets here. And yes, that’s plural: we have several. There’s the ‘really big one’ near the only big town in these mountains, with over one thousand local farmers and growers, everything from corn and beans to flowers and herbs, organic to still picked by hand, livestock like cows and pigs to chickens and goats. It’s an almost overwhelming explosion of color, scents and sounds.FW4

Yet my favorite Farmer’s Market’s are the small ones. The ones where the farmers, their wives, and children see me coming and call me by name. These are the hard workers, the very backbone of any nation who keep us fed and happy. They show me the freshest, “just picked thirty minutes ago, hun” and the best deals “we’re doing two bundles because the fresh is about to go off” and don’t mind if I thump a melon to test it or pinch a carrot. I once bought fresh eggs and in my friendly chatting with the wife, I drove off without the eggs. The farmer’s son followed me for ten miles, flashing his lights until I pulled over and he could hand me the eggs.FW5

My favorite finds are Farmers’ Markets are the vegetables. And the fruits. But especially the flowers. I may not always buy the bouquets, but there’s something about seeing the happy faces of sunflowers or wildflowers which makes it impossible not to smile back. ‘Happiness Grows From the Ground Up’ is a sign hanging from the flowers’ farmer’s table. His name is Walter and he started growing flowers for his British wife because she missed her English garden so much when he married her at the end of World War 2 and brought her back to his home. She died ten years ago and now Walter sells his flowers to make other wives and sisters and daughters happy. How’s that for a beautiful story?


When my children were small, we had a huge garden in the backyard and we continued the family tradition of ‘growing your own’. For some reason rhubarb grows like crazy here, and I don’t like it. My neighbors beside me love it and they trade me all the rhubarb they want for all the sweet potatoes I want. My neighbor also makes the world’s most incredible applesauce and supplies me, to this day, with dozens of jars every fall. I used to joke it wouldn’t be fall without Marilyn and her ‘sauce’; she is older now, and I know the fall is coming where there won’t be her sauce to enjoy over warm gingerbread on a cold winter night. She knows it, too, because she shared her recipe with me and gave her permission for me to share it with you.


Pre Plowed and Planted Garden Spot

In addition to the garden, we raised chickens, turkeys, pigs, goats, bees and ducks. We also had a horse and rabbits. My graduation from college gift was twenty five baby ducklings from my neighbors. My kids named them all so they couldn’t be eaten. “If they have a name, they aren’t food”, my eight year old son reasoned. And Huey, Dewy, Louie, Sonny, Cher, Brittany, Madonna, King, Queen, Princess, U2, Nickelback, Donald, Daisy, Daffy and friends lived contentedly many years never in fear of a roasting pot. The turkeys were for the church Thanksgiving dinner; the pig was winter supplies, the bees gave honey and the chickens gave the fresh eggs a family of nine needed. The rabbits were pets and the goats gave milk. Behind our house and yard is an apple orchard where we ‘pick our own’. Yes, blessed.


I don’t consider myself an excellent cook, but I’ll gladly share a few recipes I’ve discovered from the Farmers’ Markets or made with foods from the there. Please note I say ‘to your own preference or taste’. I’m an experimental cook; sometimes this works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Food is all about what *you* prefer or your taste buds, so modify these to your own choice and preference. Visit a local Farmers Market and support a small farmer. They will thank you and so will your taste buds and body.



Vegetables (your choice, your favorites) cut into chunks (keep in mind big chunks roast slower and often ‘burn’ before the middle is tender; small chunks roast faster and need less time)

Olive oil (I could put an amount, but really, it’s preference

Spices (I use fresh ground garlic, thyme and oregano)

Roasting pan (I use a ‘cookie sheet’) lined with foil or parchment paper

1. Pre heat oven to 400 degrees (sorry I don’t know UK equals. What you roast meat at). I’ve found this to be the ideal temp; any higher tends to burn the veggies before they are tender.

2. Cut vegetables and toss with olive oil. Make sure all are evenly covered in the oil (not ‘dripping, but wet).

3. Place vegetables on the pan. I put ‘hard’ vegetables like beets and potatoes together and ‘tender’ ones like peppers and mushrooms together. Make sure they are spread out, not overlapping and the pan is covered.

4. Sprinkle with spices. (As a note, roasted beets sprinkled with just thyme and ginger are omg good).

5. Roast until tender. This will vary according to your oven, if it’s raining outside, etc. Figure for tender vegetables about 10-15 minutes and 30-45 for harder vegetables.

6. Let cool 5 minutes and dig in. These also freeze well and will keep up to a week in the refrigerator.

See? Easy.



Your Favorite Kind of Apples (she also uses ginger golds or red delicious; I use golden delicious). If using the slow cooker as I do, I find 8-10 medium to large apples is enough.

Spices: Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Ginger (It’s to taste and what you like)

Water (again, preference; she adds 1/2 cup for ‘thinner’ sauce. I don’t for thicker sauce)

1. Peel apples if desired and cut into bite sized chunks.

2. Place in slow cooker (I spray mine first with cooking spray or rub it with olive oil so apples don’t stick).

3. Sprinkle on spices and let cook on low 6-8 hours. I don’t recommend high because to me the apples taste ‘burned’. Your house will smell INCREDIBLE.

4. Remove and blender away chunks you don’t want. The apples should be tender and usually ‘melt’ but some harder types may not. I don’t mind the chunks but if you do, blender.

5. Enjoy! I love this over warm gingerbread. Also makes a great topper to baked potatoes or roasted pork.


Stir with a cinnamon and mmm mmm


* * * *

Mia Epsilon is a dedicated Farmers Market shopper and swears the taste difference between something local and something shipped in can be tasted by any dedicated tongue. She no longer has the ‘family farm and zoo’; but still enjoys growing many of her own fruits and vegetables. She lives in the gorgeous and fruitful area of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina, commonly called the Appalachian area.

Mia is the author of Wedding Belle Blues, a contemporary romantic comedy released in June of 2014 and Leave Your Hat On, a short story available as part of a limited hard cover edition of tales inspired by the classic story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Also look for the second and third books in the ‘Weddings by C & C series’ Take a Chance on Me and That Night coming Fall 2014.

Namesake Day by Devika Fernando

From Christina: I’ve taken to calling Devika Fernando my “younger twin” — much younger, in fact. We’re separated not only in age but by continents, too. She’s in Sri Lanka; I’m in the middle of the USA. Devika and I seem to think a lot alike, though. We’ve both taken many of the little internet “quizzes” that are passed around on Facebook, and time after time, we get the same results. We share many of the same hobbies and interests, and sometimes, it gets a little spooky. One thing we don’t share, is a name. From my midwestern-American perspective, her name is unusual. I’d never heard it before. But perhaps it’s more common than I’d guessed. 

Namesake Day

by Devika Fernando

Thanks to a fabulous online calendar a writer friend shared, I found out that the first Sunday in March is Namesake Day. This lesser known holiday is meant to make us explore the roots of our names. We could find out whether we were named after something or somebody in particular. That, in turn, might lead to us not only doing some research, but also connecting with others who do the same or share our name. This made me think. I’ve always been fascinated by names because we so readily take them to be somebody’s essence and identity.


As for my name, Devika means “little goddess” and hails from Sri Lanka as well as India. To ‘celebrate’ Namesake Day, I checked whether I have any famous namesakes.

Here’s a selection of Devika’s and Devi’s, apparently all of Indian origin:

  • Sri Devi – Actress
  • Devika Rani – Actress and producer
  • Devika Mittal – Freelance writer and NGO activist
  • Devika Rao – Dancer and arts teacher


Just this little bit of researching has made me get to know about interesting people, which is what Namesake Day really is about, I believe. 

Many of us are named after deities, heroes or famous people. Others are called like a relative, a friend of the family or a person that had great influence on their parents. Yet others had their name chosen because of its sound, its beautiful connotations or the way it fits into the family tree. Hardly any of us bear a name that was chosen by themselves – unless you take into account the phenomenon of adopting a pen name or pseudonym. Yet another aspect that underlines the importance of a name.

While this is fascinating enough, I want to focus my post on the importance of names in literature, or rather, in writing. Here are a few of my thoughts that influence the way I search for my protagonists’ names:

–          Is it easy to pronounce and will it stay in the reader’s mind, so that he/she will speak of the protagonist as of any friend or real person?

–          Do you prefer an exotic name because of the book’s genre or the character itself? This is especially useful if you write science fiction, paranormal romance or fantasy stories. Making up names that fit into the imagined language and life of the world you create can be endless fun and give the book some backbone.

–          What is the meaning of the name? It can be a fascinating detail if the power-hungry villain has a name that reflects exactly that trait, or if the gentle, shy heroine has a name that sounds like she acts or that stands for her values.

–          Something that I like to do and that I have seen others do successfully: Picking a name that starts with the same letter as another word of the title or the main theme of the story. Book titles like Love for Livy or The Lurid Lady Lockport have a special ring to them – but all this focus on alliteration can get out of hand and shouldn’t be forced.

–          Can you work with the name? By that I mean whether the name can for example be shortened for the hero’s / heroine’s friends to use, whether it can be transformed into a nick name and endearment that the lover comes up with, or whether maybe the protagonist can modify it to suit certain needs and change into somebody else. If you call the main character Elizabeth, will she be addressed as Liz or Lizzy or Betty or Eliza or Lizbeth?


There are many more factors to take into consideration when choosing a name. Does it fit the time you’re writing about and is it age-appropriate? Is the name overused and too stereotypical? Do readers automatically associate it with famous personalities and their feats as well as qualities?

I know that some writers rely on character naming resources like 20,000 Names from Around the World,or Behind the Name and that others just instinctively know how their protagonist should be called, without wracking their brain about possible meanings. I am found somewhere in the middle of both.

Many authors choose their character names wisely and even use them as the sole book title (sometimes with an explaining subtitle or additional words). Just look at powerful examples like Jane Eyre, Robinson Crusoe, The Vampire Lestat, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Diary of Anne Frank. Such titles make it perfectly clear that – rather than presenting us with multiple points of view, a whole complex world or a set of characters – we will get to know one particular person, see things from their view, and share their life.

Last but not least, on Namesake Day, let me recommend a book that I have enjoyed immensely and that has been adapted into a movie:

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri 


What does your name mean and where does it come from?

Do share in the comments section!

 Writing has always been part of Devika’s life, be it stories or poems or articles. After finishing her education in Germany and returning to her roots in Sri Lanka, she finally got a chance to turn her passion into her profession. Having lived in Germany as well as in Sri Lanka with her husband has made her experience the best (and the worst) of two totally different worlds – something that influences her writing.

She is currently finishing her first romance novel. You can find Devika on her blog:

Devika Fernando – Romance Author