Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Christmas 1986 with Emily Heebner


Christmas night 1986, I was lounging on the couch with my dear mother who was ill with cancer. She in her owl glasses, bathrobe and slippers reading a newspaper, I in worn out pajamas from my former bedroom upstairs. The tv was playing Albert Finney's "Scrooge," followed by Peter O'Toole's "Good-bye, Mr. Chips."

The rest of our family, consisting of Dad plus my two adult sisters, was scattered around the two-story five bedroom tract house in Williamsville, a suburb of Buffalo, a place I've grown to miss more and more.

The family home used to face a mile long stretch of fields and creeks with fushia sunsets and a seasonal ice rink, shallow and bumpy from winds. You could ice skate forever under a black sky bedecked by stars as bright as any rural night sky. Now houses, streets and lamp posts stand in for the fields. They dull the night sky.

Mom and I barely spoke as we snuggled on our ancient couch enjoying the cinematic Christmas myths. I was writing and rewriting a letter to a young man from D. C. by the name of Young, inviting him to visit me in New York in January to see a play I'd written. I had become "single" earlier that year, having exited a long term relationship, and now Albert Finney's Scrooge was singing about being "able to begin again."

"Dear Eric," I wrote in the first draft of the letter to this nice guy I'd met several times, "Please bring your adorable, lanky, radio-voice self to New York to see my play. I live alone so you can stay with me in my cozy apartment for the weekend!"

More proper version: "Dear Eric, Why don't you come to New York to see my play and stay over for the weekend?"

Most proper version: "Dear Mr. Young, you are cordially invited to see my play and sleep on my couch."

By this time Mom and I were mid-way through "Mr. Chips," and Petula Clark and the boys were singing the question, "Will I fill the world with love my whole life through?" Mother and I snuggled closer. It was to be her second to last Christmas on earth.
 
The following year, Eric Young and I were visiting my folks for Christmas with an album full of photos from our recent wedding in Buffalo. Mom had worn her own wedding dress, a copper satin tea-length frock that she'd been pleased to fit into. It had been a glorious day.

Now Eric and I are college professors in California where a friend of ours refers to Eric as "Mr. Chips." We did indeed begin our lives again as we're now approaching our thirty-second Christmas together.

A prayer for Christmas 2019: May we "fill the world with love our whole lives through."


Emily Heebner




Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Christmas Memories


My maternal grandmother wasn’t happy unless we cleaned our plates.  Actually, she wasn’t happy until we’d stuffed ourselves silly and could barely walk out of her house.  She showed her love by feeding us, and she loved us a lot.

Never did Granny show us more love than at Christmas.  In our family, cabbage rolls, tasty packets of ground pork and rice, seasoned with salt, pepper, onions and garlic, and stuffed inside leaves of sour cabbage, were staples at every function.  Depending on what had been raised the on the farm that year, we had turkey or goose for Christmas dinner, expertly roasted by Granny to crispy brown perfection.  The bounty of Granny and Grandpa’s gigantic garden the previous summer meant that we always had bowls filled to overflowing with fluffy mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables.  In the “not from the garden” category were salads made from Jell-o and canned fruit cocktail, or perhaps Jell-o, mini marshmallows, and other sweet ingredients.  Sometimes we’d have lettuce salad, but the quality of fresh vegetables in our 1960s small town store in the middle of a Canadian winter was hit or miss. 

Always accompanying the main dishes were homemade breads and buns that melted on the tongue.  The aroma of freshly baked bread filled Granny’s house, making this simple staple a highlight of the meal.  Next came an array of pickles from the extensive collection in Granny’s cellar.  There were always pickled cucumbers, preserved with dill, garlic and tiny chili peppers to give them a spicy bite.  Granny also pickled beets, pearl onions, carrots and beans in various combinations in a range from sweet to spicy.  If it grew in the garden, Granny pickled it, canned it, or froze it.       

And then, if we could expand our stomachs just a bit more, along came dessert.  The baking began weeks earlier with the fruit cake, stuffed with dried and candied fruit in a moist, dark batter.  Once baked, the fruit cake needed time to age and ripen.  Granny wrapped it in brown paper and stored it under the bed until it was ready.  There were cookies of all kinds including jam-jams, two layers of moist cookie with homemade raspberry or strawberry jam sandwiched in between.  Then came Granny’s famous butter tarts, a delicious concoction of butter, brown sugar, egg and raisins baked inside a flakey tart shell.  I have a memory of my cousin and I sneaking into Granny’s freezer and stealing the tarts she’d made for a special occasion.  We got into trouble but it was worth it for a taste of mouth-watering, sugary goodness.

But my favorite dessert of all was strudel.  The strudel was also made weeks before Christmas and required a team to assemble.  My mother, one or two of my aunts, and perhaps a neighbor lady or two, arrived and the work began.  Granny mixed up a batch of dough for the strudel, a kind of phyllo pastry that could be worked and stretched like a rubber band.  Despite its flexibility, the delicate strudel pastry required careful handling; too vigorous a pull would result in a tear.  Granny and her team gently stretched the pastry, slipping their hands underneath and carefully pulling and kneading until the pastry reached every corner of Granny’s dining room table, an area about six feet long and four feet wide.     

Sometimes I was allowed to help spread the pastry with chunks of peeled apple, generous sprinkles of cinnamon and sugar, and dollops of butter.  Once that was finished, I stood back and let the team begin the delicate task of rolling the strudel.  With one aunt on each end, one working the middle, and Granny supervising the whole operation, the strudel was rolled, jelly roll style, until it was a long tube consisting of layer upon layer of paper thin pastry with pieces of apple and sugar trapped in between.  Granny cut the strudel into family sized portions, giving several sections to her helpers and popping the rest into the freezer to be eaten at her own Christmas dinner.   

I looked forward to the strudel every Christmas.  It didn’t feel like Christmas until the strudel had been served. 

Our family followed the German tradition of celebrating on Christmas Eve.  After the Christmas Eve children’s concert at the church, in which my cousins and I recited our memorized parts and received a brown paper bag filled with candy and mandarin oranges for our efforts, we all congregated at Granny and Grandpa’s tiny house to open presents and eat.  Delicious cooking smells mixed with the cold night air as we entered the front door.  Pungent sour cabbage intertwined with roast turkey and cinnamon and apples.  Every window in the house fogged from the cooking heat and steam.  The house was filled to capacity with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents.  Though all the leaves had been placed in the dining room table, we still had to eat in shifts, the men and children going first and the women last.  Granny would hover over us through both shifts, refilling empty bowls, clearing dishes, and always exhorting us to “Eat, eat!”.  We did our best to comply. 

Granny’s been gone now for many years, as are my parents and grandfather and several of my aunts and uncles.  I live far away from the cousins I grew up with, and don’t see them as often as I’d like to.  Life now is far different then it was in my childhood, and so is Christmas.  It’s time to make new traditions.

My daughters and I have attempted to recreate Granny’s cabbage rolls, with mixed results.  They might not be as good as the originals, but the joy we get from making them together makes up for whatever they lack in taste.  We’ve replaced salads made Jell-o and tiny marshmallows for ones with lentils, beans, and arugula.  Apple pie is substituted for apple strudel, the recipe for my favorite dessert having died with my grandmother.

But one thing will never change.  Christmas means getting together with friends and family over a sumptuous meal.  For me, food is synonymous with love.  When I find myself telling guests to “Eat, eat!”, I think of Granny and smile. 


Jana Richards
Laugh. Cry. Love. Feel the Romance.



Monday, December 09, 2019

Christmas and the Chook


At Christmas time, we ate chicken. This was a rare treat for us. Not that we were vegetarians, far from it. In Australia in those days, meat was cheap, and we ate lamb chops and beef stews often, and had roast lamb or beef every Sunday. But a few days before Christmas, Dad chopped off the head of a chicken. He caught one from our coop, tied its legs together, then lay it on his tree- trunk chopping block and decapitated it.
The deed done, soon the “chook”, as we called it, was draining into a laundry sink full of cold water. Then Granny came out and plucked and gutted it. She was practical and matter-of-fact about this procedure, which we kids found disgusting. Our pioneer grandmother realized we were spoiled suburban children, told us so, and was not patient as she taught us her methods.
She muttered under her breath at my squeamishness as she attempted to demonstrate this essential housewifely skill.  I stood by her, gripping the side of the sink as I balanced on a wooden crate and leaned over, getting in the way as her reddening hands worked in the steaming water.  As she pulled the white feathers, I grasped one or two as they fluttered into the water. Despite the summer heat, Granny wore thick lisle stockings and black lace-up shoes. My prancing made the water slosh on them, but her apron kept her cotton striped dress almost clean as she prepared the so recently-alive bird and carried it by the legs into the kitchen to nestle it in the refrigerator. Later it would be stuffed with milk-softened stale bread, apples, onions, and herbs from the garden for our festive dinner.
Ironic how “organic” food has become the watchword today. I’m sure my grandmother would have appreciated a few labor saving devices – one of was not her prancing granddaughter!
My London-born grandmother showed grit and determination when she moved, as a young woman, to teach in Western Australia. When she met my grandfather they moved into the remote Outback, where goods we take for granted were in short supply. She was an amazing cook who brought up four children on food she and my grandfather raised. Her mastery of often-maligned British cookery was the inspiration for Camilla, my caterer protagonist in Lipstick on the Strawberry. Take advantage of the season and what’s to hand, and turn it into something delicious is Camilla’s motto, as it was my grandmother’s – and come to think of it – mine.
I’ll think of my grandmother these holidays, grateful for her teaching in more ways than one.
Wishing you all very happy holidays, full of memories past and made as you sit round the table.
Join me at www.margaretannspence.com - occasionally I share a recipe!




Saturday, December 07, 2019

Holiday traditions


Holiday traditions are big at the Henry Household. Especially Christmas. Whether it’s baking cookies with the grandgirls, making snowmen, snowangles, or having the whole family over for that special dinner.  Whatever the season, it gets celebrated at our house.

One tradition that I don’t even have to bring to my family’s attention, is that of bringing in the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving Day. Immediately following dinner, everyone makes out their Christmas lists as the tables are cleared. When it’s just about time to say our goodbyes for the day, everyone helps put the extra tables and chairs away (we usually have at least 20 for dinner, and we set up in our large living room), and then, without asking, they rearrange the room to make room for the star attraction before traipsing out to the shed to bring in the tree.  And lo, once that is done, the decorating begins.  Of course that includes decorating the tree immediately, so my husband can arrange his trainsets and villages on the floor around the tree—one of the highlights of the decorations.

Once the decorations are up, it cookie-baking day.  Each grandgirl gets to bake their own special cookie, so it’s not necessarily a unique holiday goodie. But we do sit down in the afternoon to have a sort of high tea in the dining room, where we discuss the highlights of our day with each other, and sample our tasty accomplishments. Of course everyone goes home with a basket of cookies to share with their family.

Although my latest book, Ciara’s Homecoming Christmas doesn’t have a cookie baking day, it does have my 4-year-old twin matchmakers, helping to serve cookies at the New Eden Assisted Living facility where they attended the Christmas Caroling event.  I know everyone is familiar with Chocolate Chip Cookies, but here is a new spin on the old familiar recipe that will make at least 10 dozen for that major event or cookie exchange you’re attending over the holidays, or any time of year.  It just might be a great tradition to add to your list.



Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies
By Carol Henry

Mix Dry Ingredients and set aside:
7 ¼ Cups Flour
3 Tablespoon Baking Soda
3 Tablespoon Salt

In Separate Bowl, Mix the following:
3 Cups Butter (softened)
2 ¼ Cups Brown Sugar (packed)
2 ¼ Cups Granulated Sugar
3 Teaspoon Pure Vanilla
6 Eggs

Blend well, until butter is fully incorporated.
Then mix in dry ingredients.

Add a 10 oz. packet of each of the following:
·         White Chocolate Chips
·         Milk Chocolate Chips
·         Dark Chocolate Chips.

Using a teaspoon, scoop out batter, roll in a ball, and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Bake in pre-heated 375 °F oven, for 10 – 12 minutes. Let set on cookie sheet to cool for a few minutes before removing. Makes about 10 dozen.  Enjoy.




https://www.amazon.com/Ciaras-Homecoming-Christmas-Deerbourne-Inn-ebook/dp/B07YRCJ5SJ

At a crossroads in her military career, coming home to Willow Springs, Vermont, is bitter sweet for Ciara Miller. Her parents have moved to Florida, her great aunt resides at New Eden Assisted Living, and her high school sweetheart is a widower raising twin girls.

Eight years ago, Tad Brownley, a lowly mechanic in his father's garage, felt he had nothing to offer Ciara, the love of his life, so he let her go to chase her dream to serve as a military nurse. Now she's back on leave and he still doesn't have much to offer or the time for a relationship no matter how fleeting.

Despite Tad's mother and Ciara's great aunt's matchmaking efforts, can their renewed romance sustain a long-term relationship? Or will her call to duty split them apart again?

Carol Henry
Destination: Romance—Exotic Romantic Suspense Adventures
Cairo Connection: #2 Best Romance Novel 2018 Preditors and Editor’s Reader’s Poll
Nothing Short of a Miracle: #1 Best Seller Amazon Encore Holiday Romance


Friday, December 06, 2019

Memories of Christmas past…


Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love the preparations—gathering greenery, decorating, sending Christmas cards, and baking. Many years ago, I would start my holiday baking in late September. Yes, you’ve read correctly. This was a tradition that began with my mother. All the goodies would be carefully sealed and tucked away in our freezer until the holidays. A truly magical time.

As a child, I can vividly recall the glimmering holiday lights my dad would string up around the house, the smell of a fresh-cut pine tree (and trying to keep the falling pine needles from scattering all over the place), and the aroma of baking thumbprint cookies. These are only a few of my treasured memories—ones where I saw the same wonder in the glow of my own children’s’ eyes. Seeing the radiance of the holiday through their gaze is a wondrous moment to witness.

But most of all, I loved celebrating Christmas with songs of the season. Music has always lifted my spirits and is a great source of inspiration with my own writing. I’ve often stated that music is my muse. Therefore, it only made sense I would eventually write a story about the holiday season. As a writer of medieval time-travel romances, I loved researching certain holiday traditions of the time for my Highland holiday stories. I center these tales around food, winter, and love. Three powerful ingredients for a magical story and ones I treasure.

However you celebrate this joyful time of year, I wish you blessings of love and peace.



Eggnog Scones

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut up
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup eggnog

Topping:
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg into a large bowl. Whisk ingredients.

Add butter and cut in with a pastry blender or rub in with your fingers, until the mixture looks like fine granules. Add sugar and toss to mix.

Add eggnog and stir with a fork until a soft dough forms. For dough into a ball, put onto a lightly floured board, and give 10 to 12 kneads.

To make triangular scones, cut dough in half. Knead each half lightly into a ball and turn smooth side up. Pat or roll into a 6-inch circle. Cut each circle into 6 or 8 wedges. Place wedges on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Topping: Combine 1 teaspoon sugar with 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg and sprinkle on wedges. Bake about 12 minutes, or until light brown on top.



Enjoy the holiday season in Scotland with this time-travel romance, To Weave a Highland Tapestry.

Patrick MacFhearguis, hardened by battles won and lost, desires what he can never have—peace within his heart and soul.  Yet, the ever-meddling Fae weave a new journey for him to conquer—a task this highlander is determined to resist.
When skilled weaver, Gwen Hywel, is commissioned to create a tapestry for the MacFhearguis clan, she embraces the assignment. While seeking out ideas, she finds herself clutching the one thread that can alter the tapestry of her life and heart.
Do they dare to unravel the past for a future of love?



Mary Morgan


Award-winning Celtic Paranormal Romance Author
Where history meets magic!

Thursday, December 05, 2019

The Kid’s Table of Yore



Merry Christmas


I was officially orphaned in 1999. Since then, my Christmas spirit has been spiked with the bittersweet taste of melancholy. While I celebrate the season with fervor, I can’t seem to quell the emptiness I feel in the pit of my stomach. I believe it to be caused by “the sense of family” that seems to have lessened since my parents have moved on to a better place. 
My sister and I 

My sister and I both admit we don’t cut the mustard in the family unity department. We barely graduated from the kid’s table before we were thrust into the position of matriarchs.  In our defense, we are geographically challenged. We have sisters, brothers, daughters, granddaughters, and cousins living all the way from Baltimore, Maryland to San Diego, California.
Mom and Dad with my daughters Kirby and Dustan 

I miss my parents, the glue that held the family together. Every Christmas, my thoughts always drift back Omaha, Nebraska, a time when all seemed right in my world. (Mom and Dad always bragged they made life-long friends in Nebraska. We all agreed that was the place we were happiest as a family.)  My lips curl up at the edges and my heart pangs with a combination of angst and joy when I think of the Christmas mornings of yore spent in our happy Nebraskan home.
     
     Every year, Dad made my sister and I wait impatiently at the top of the stairs holding back the dog while he set up his Super 8 camera. (Thank you, Dad, we still have the movies.) When he finally gave the word, we would run down stairs, tear open our bounty of gifts, and then hit the streets to compare toys with our many friends. 
      
     Feeling nostalgic as usual, and longing to open a window into the past when my family was intact, and Christmases were magical and my dreams were boundless, I hit the internet in search of one Nebraskan family that held a special place in my heart.

The T’s lived directly across the street. Mr. and Mrs. T had three children. I was eight-years-old when the twins, two adorable towheaded girls with ice blue eyes, were born, and nine-years-old when their equally adorable, sandy, brown haired sister Nanny came along.  I patiently waited for them to walk, and then dressed them in ballet costumes and taught them to dance.

     I took them trick-or-treating every Halloween. I snapped many photos, for which they eagerly posed. I starred them in my Super 8 movies and many, many theatrical basement plays. They were smart little girls, willing actors, and always adorable. (I still have the movies and the pictures.)

     I enjoyed the twins and Nanny’s company as much as they enjoyed mine. When I was twelve, I talked their mother into allowing me to babysit while she ran errands. And by the time I was 13, I was the T’s regular babysitter. Though, I’m sure Mr. and Mrs. T were comforted knowing Mom was right across the street. 

     The last time I saw the T girls, as I called them, the twins were 7 and Nanny was 6. I remember that cold day in November of 1974 as if it were yesterday. The early morning sun glistened off the dusting of the new fallen snow. I stood in my front yard knee deep, with a smile on my face and a lump in my throat, staring at the house I had loved for six years—a lifetime in my young eyes. 

    I felt emotions ranging from excitement to remorse as the moving men loaded the last box on the truck. I crossed the street to say goodbye one last time to the little girls I wished were my own. I still remember their smiling faces as they waved good-bye, them too young and me too naive to understand the finality of our words. And then, my family drove off, in our blue Chevrolet station wagon with woodgrain paneling, never to return.  

     My parents kept in touch with the T’s over the years. I believe I wrote a letter or two, but boys and teenage things got in the way and I moved on with my life. We all did. Although the three little girls, that I once wished were mine, were ingrained in the back of my mind.

      I began my Christmas Google soul-searches several years ago, locating one friend after another, but the T family remained a mystery. I almost gave up, when, like a Christmas miracle, two of the names of the little girls I once wished were my own, popped up on Facebook. 

      I consulted my sister, prior to pushing that friend request button. 

     She said, “You should definitely try, but don’t be upset if they don’t respond. You were older and you really loved them, but they were so young when we moved away they may not remember you.” 

      With butterflies in my stomach, I left a little note, enclosed a vintage picture, and sent out two friendship requests. Within a day, my requests had been accepted, and I received a message of acknowledgement from both. 

      And now, not only do I have the peace of knowing their family is well and intact, but to paraphrase Nancy, I also have this: “I remember you dressing me like a mouse for a Christmas movie. You had the moms come to see it, and you made cookie cutter sandwiches. I did that for my kids because of that memory.” 

    After reading Nancy's words, just like the Grinch, my heart grew three sizes. My mouth bowed into a smile, and something warm rolled down my cheek. I had forgotten about my basement production of “Santa Mouse” starring Nanny, and the cookie cutter sandwiches Mom taught me how to make.  Nancy's memory is one of my greatest Christmas gifts.

    I am elated we have reconnected, but there is one thing I am finding hard to fathom. The precious little girls that I once wished were mine, who have been frozen in time for forty-four years, are now beautiful adults with children of their own. I am slowly, but surely, getting used to the idea. 

     Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, and peace and love to all!

Susan Antony







Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Favorite Christmas Gift

For years I yearned for ice skates…not just any ice skates but I wanted the white ones, with white laces, figure skating ice skates.  I knew if I could have the white skates, I’d twirl and whirl like the Olympic figure skaters I loved to watch.  Looking back I’m sure my parent’s reluctance to buy me ice skates was mostly due to my growing feet.  From one year to the next my feet were changing size rapidly. I would imagine buying new skates every winter was not in our family budget.   

I did have my choice of hand me overs from my brothers….black and brown hockey skates. Sturdy and warm they kept me skimming along the ice of a nearby frozen pond. And then…

One Christmas morning, under the tree I found a heavy, square, box with my name on it.  After church and Christmas dinner we trooped out to the pond. In the Wisconsin cold and wind I felt nothing but anticipation for my first “real” skate. It was magical; my feet were so light, the skates brilliantly white, blades gleaming silver.  Not used to floating quite so much over the ice, I spent a good part of the first hour on my backside. Now it is a wonderful memory; a gift even better in reality then in my imaginings. 

Happy Winter Everyone! May you have joy on ice and anywhere else you happen to land!


By DeeDee Lane
Visit DeeDee on her website
https://www.deedeelane.com/