Monday, December 24, 2018

Happy Holidays from the Wild Rose Press!

Seasons Greetings from the Garden
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Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Power and Peace in Family Traditions

Growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, one of my fondest memories were of the holidays. I was blessed with an abundance of cousins on my father’s side of the family. One family had eight children, another had five. Being an only child, I was definitely outnumbered. Still the joy that we all shared when we were together more than made up for times when it was just me.

There were a number of “traditions” carried out by the family elders. More than once, I’m sure there was an eye-roll from myself or one of my cousins when my aunt would insist we participate. The older we got, the more eye-rolling. Yet, despite our rebellion, there was a comfort in those traditions, a surety that if we did things a certain way we’d likely reap the benefits of a good holiday.

Once I became an adult and had children of my own I attempted to begin new traditions, assuming my way would be better. I was wrong, or at least partially wrong. One of my many attempts at change revolved around food. Or, as my mother’s much smaller family insisted, the fact that the holiday “required” banquet-like meals. Often those traditional holiday meals would include two types of meat/protein: the traditional turkey lovingly basted in ginger ale, and a ham cooked in a sauce made from pineapple chunks and juice and brown sugar. Add to that, three types of potatoes (creamed, scalloped and sweet), two or three side vegetables, homemade rolls and biscuits, cranberry sauce (also homemade), and a gelatin salad (no dangerous greens for us).

Desserts were also important and included my aunt’s no-bake fruitcake, banana pudding, sweet potato pie, lemon meringue pie, and a coconut cake.

All I wanted was to pare down on the volume. It was an argument I lost right up until the last maternal elder was gone.

Grandma Kelley’s Sweet Potato Pie

·         1 lb sweet potato (1 large or 2 medium)
·         ½ cup butter, softened
·         1 cup white sugar
·         ½ cup milk (preferably whole)
·         2 eggs
·         ½ t nutmeg
·         ½ t cinnamon
·         1 t vanilla
·         1 pie crust (9”) unbaked (deep dish is best)

1.      Boil sweet potatoes in skin for 40-50 minutes or until done.  Run cold water over the potato until able to handle and then remove skin.
2.      Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
3.      Break potato apart in large bowl, add butter and mix well with mixer.
4.      Stir in remaining ingredients and then beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth.
5.      Pour filling into unbaked pie crust.
6.      Bake for 55-60 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.  Pie will puff up and then will sink down when it cools.
7.      Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Now here I am, the grandmother of five and insistent on a few “traditions” of our own. My tree still goes up on my oldest son’s December 16th birthday (also a tradition in his house). We subscribe to the three gift rule for the grandkids (one gift they need, one they want, one they’ll wear). We’ve definitely pared down the “feast” process but there are still requirements such as the banana pudding and sweet potato pie. The responsibility for those goodies now falls to me and I’m more than happy to carry on the tradition.

What I’ve discovered over the years is that there is a definite tranquility, a peace, which comes with repeating certain happy memories. There’s also a power, a sense of personal control over both your life and the happiness of others when you adhere to the familiar.

We still tweak the process, making changes where necessary, altering our food choices to accommodate allergies and likes or dislikes. However, once we’re all gathered around the tree or the table, the love and the peace enclose us and remind of us of all our blessings.

May that same joy and peace be yours throughout this holiday season.

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Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Christmas Cure by Cynthia Harrison

When I was growing up, Christmas was a mixed blessing. The night before, my grandparents came over, Grandpa roaring drunk, dressed as Santa and bearing gifts. Sometimes he went to the wrong house and distributed our gifts to the neighborhood children. But it was worth that distressful night, which usually ended in tears, because of what came next.

The morning of, I woke to a Shirley Temple dream of beautiful dolls and wonderful toys spread around the tree and all about the living room. There was no space where a toy was not, but my two brothers and I somehow knew our own gifts. Nothing was gift-wrapped and my presents were in the middle of the room, with my brothers’ to each side, so that probably helped them figure it out. As the only girl, I knew what was mine. The little kitchen table and chairs, the sweet easy bake oven, with real cake mixes. The dolls, the velvet dresses, the necklaces and bracelets and the box satin-lined box that opened to a twirling ballerina. In this space, I could lay my trinkets down for safekeeping.

That morning was always the best morning of the year. It’s why, despite knowing it’s not true, I still sometimes equate gifts with love, money with love, abundance with love. I tried very hard to duplicate those Christmases for my own children. Even when I was a single mother and had very little money for gifts, I tried my best. I went into debt, even. Debt doesn’t mean much these days, because I’m not poor anymore, but when I was, I could not afford to pay off my debt, so I stayed under its steady thumb, struggling to pay the outrageous interest.

Christmas is why I became a romance writer. When life is too stressful, too harsh, too much to take, I make another world. One that can be difficult but always ends with the feeling of Christmas morning and its beautiful treasures. I remember that feeling and it’s what I go for in my HEAs, every month of the year.

I’m a romantic and we live in an unromantic reality, but I have a Christmas cure for this, too. I watch Christmas movies, read Christmas novels, deck the halls OTT. There is absolutely nothing in my contract with life that says I have to remember the bad Christmases, like when my grandmother died on Christmas morning just before I reached her hospital room to find her bed empty, the room devoid of flowers.

Or the year my husband left me home alone so he could visit his family while I went to the cemetery. Or all those years I had to hand my children over to their father because we shared custody. Of course, I do remember them, though. And I know life is full of suffering much deeper than my own. Somehow, I managed to find that sweet spot, which is a feeling and not a place, and I know how to find it when, as happens many times every day, I lose it.

Psychology tells us that bad memories are easier to remember than good ones because they cut a painful impression with which sweeter times cannot compete. But I know a few ways to beat the rough hand with which life slap us. I write down the good memories, I create new ones, or discover those written by others and read them over and over. Eventually, they replace the bad stuff, which these days I am adept at kicking away before it stomps me down. 

People make fun of romance and romance writers, but that’s okay. I know many suffering Scrooges. I would rather be happy; reading and writing make it so. 

Cynthia Harrison

Friday, December 21, 2018

Christmas at Weedon’s Tavern by Diane Scott Lewis

Fredericksburg, Colony of Virginia 1773

Laughter from the taproom made Margaret Gordon smile. Business was good, even though the country was in turmoil. She poked her head out the shutters and watched several horsemen trot down Caroline Street. Her muscles tensed. Rebels, out to ride to the north, to add to the resistance?
The December wind swept up from the Rappahannock, ruffling her white cap, and she finally shut the window. The kitchen smelled like salted meat and acrid smoke—a smell that clung to her skin and hair.
She turned to the kitchen maid. “Clean high up in the chimney, make it good, and keep it that way. I have hankering to smoke a ham in there this Christmas.” A holiday that might be the last peaceful event in the coming storm.
Margaret tucked her neat gray hair under her cap and stared up at the blackened beams over her head. A widow, now, she still owned this tavern although her son-in-law managed the place.
Entering the taproom, where patrons sat on benches at the tables, their voices ebbing and flowing, she stopped the pot boy. “Put the Yule Log in the hearth.”
The lad did as requested amongst the chatter of “rebellion” and “tyranny”. It was December the twelfth, and the log would burn until January sixth, with enough left over to kindle next year’s Yule log. If they were still here next year.
“Mother Gordon, you look distressed. What say you?” George Weedon approached and slipped his large arm around her shoulders.
“Ah, ’tis a season for celebration; however, with much dangerous rumblings.” She smiled for her son-in-law, but wished the customers would keep their seditious words quieter.
“I know you back our cause, our disgust at England’s practices.” Mr. Weedon, a strapping man with bold features, had a nose that jutted like a ship’s prow over his determined mouth.
“I do. But I’d also like to preserve this establishment. The King’s men could enter at any time.” Margaret glanced around the narrow taproom, a place where her husband once prevailed: a bustling tavern on the corner of William and Caroline Streets in Fredericksburg, a tobacco town on the shores of the Rappahannock River.
Soon, the brick and wooden structure with chimneys on each end, small rooms and dormer windows, would be owned by Mr. Weedon and her daughter Catherine. With his marriage to Catherine, he intended to buy out his mother-in-law and become sole proprietor. He had already renamed the place Weedon’s Tavern from the previous Gordon’s.
Margaret fought a sigh and knew she couldn’t stop the changes swirling around her.
* * *

The spicy aroma of mince pies fresh from the brick oven built to the left of the kitchen hearth calmed Margaret. It was Christmas eve and she threw herself into the holiday preparations.
She instructed the new cook in the making of her specialty called a “stack” cake. They rolled sweetened, spiced dough into thin layers and cut slices with a dinner plate to make a perfect circle. After baking, the cake rose but little. They cooked dried apples and peaches separately, spiced and mashed them and spread this paste between the cake layers. “Now this will sit a few days to soak up the fruit into the cake and will be ready to enjoy Christmas day.” She breathed in the rich smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed with the cooked fruit.
“Mama, when you prepare the other cake, be certain that George receives the bean this time,” her daughter Catherine said at coming into the kitchen, her pretty dress brushing across the worn planks. “You remember how he sulked when Mr. Mercer had the honor last Christmas.”
Margaret chuckled. “I cannot guarantee Mr. Weedon will receive that very portion, though he enjoys the mischief.” Every year she prepared a cake with a bean baked into one slice. The person who got that particular slice became the King of Misrule. He would rule from Christmas day to Twelfth Night, performing various trifling acts to ensure good weather for the next year. Margaret only wished for the colonies and England to come to a peaceful agreement. “Now, Catherine, help me fashion our Christmas Bush.”
The women bound two wooden rings side by side; they added fresh cuttings of evergreen, boxwood and sweet William. Bright red apples, some rare lemons and pine cones were included for color. At dark tomorrow, Margaret would hang it in the taproom window.
Early Christmas morning, she made certain the ham was smoking in the chimney shaft. Ham was expensive, so a rare treat. She set the centerpiece, apples speared onto a wooden cone adorned with headless nails, on the long table in the taproom. She stuffed boxwood around the apples.
In her best gown, a crimson robe over a petticoat, she adjusted the tight-fitting sleeves trimmed with ruffles. Her laced-up leather stays almost gave her a girlish waist above the full skirt. She joined her family in the walk to attend church at St. George’s on Princess Anne, the next street over.
After service, Margaret returned quickly to the tavern to prepare for their company of family members and friends. She placed her punchbowl filled with tea, sugar, pineapple juice and rum next to the centerpiece.
Mr. Weedon bounded through the front door clasping two sprigs of holly. “These will ensure that I am master of my house for the coming year.” He waved about the holly before placing them on a hall table.
Dr. Hugh Mercer walked into the dining room then with Margaret’s other daughter, Isabella, whom he had married. Mercer owned an apothecary shop close by, where the servants purchased draughts for the tavern. His frock coat smelled of the cold wind outdoors.
In the late afternoon, the family sat. Everyone one said ahhhh when Margaret carried out the ham surrounded by sweet yams. A maid followed and set the cornbread on the table with a hunk of butter. Two roasted fowl competed with the meal’s delicious fragrances.
“An impressive feast, Mother Gordon.” Weedon raised his glass of punch. “To the brave men of Boston.”
“I must caution you, Mr. Weedon, I’ll have none of your political talk this day.” Margaret gave the younger man a pointed glare. “Let us enjoy our food.”
 “Keeping George from his opinions will be an impossible task, Mother Gordon,” Mercer said with a sly wink.
“Ah, it is true. We will not be able to avoid it, with what is stirring up these colonies, will we, Hugh?” Weedon gave Margaret a sheepish look.
Margaret shook her head and served cornbread to the men, hoping they’d stuff their mouths full.
“Too bad Washington couldn’t be here tonight, but he has returned to Mt. Vernon. I hope he does not enjoy his farming too much,” Weedon said archly. He slathered butter on his slice of cornbread. “He should take a leading role in our current ‘difficulties’.”
“That he will, I’m sure of it.” Mercer smiled with his small mouth in a broad face. “I may have to take a command myself.”
“Hugh,” Isabella protested.
Margaret clacked her fork. “Can we not talk of—”
Weedon went on, “When I served as Washington’s lieutenant in the French and Indian War, his leadership skills were unsurpassed.”
“George, please.” Catherine grimaced. “Don’t upset Mother.”
 “With what just happened in Boston, we will see tempers flaring. Dumping that infernal tea right into the harbor.” Weedon took a bite of ham. “Made me wish I had been with them.”
“England will retaliate against us for that, I have little doubt.” Mercer’s face beamed with admiration. “It was a fine show of courage. Taxing us to the hilt, they are. England should not get away with any more of these acts.”
“We won’t endure it much longer. The winds are howling for change. We’re ready for the fight.” Weedon poured two glasses of bumbo, a popular drink made with rum and sweetened water. “Let us toast a new beginning, if a bit early, for the next year. To a stronger resistance in 1774. No more taxation without representation. No more tyranny from the mother country.” The two men raised their glasses, clicked them together, and drank.
“And what should we women do to prepare for this uproar?” Margaret had lost her appetite. The men would not be deterred. She sipped the tart punch, which burned in her stomach. “Will you teach me to fire a musket?”
Weedon laughed. “I’m afraid you might use it to shoot at me.”

At nightfall Margaret placed the Christmas bush in the front window with a glowing candle at its center. The candle lit up the lattice panes, giving the room a festive appearance, the smell of evergreen sharp.
More people entered the tavern to eat, drink and toast the brave souls in Boston and their destruction of the tea. Other ports of call had started to do the same dumping of English goods. The men’s voices rose, carrying good cheer and vows to resist King George’s despotic treatment of the colonies. Many of the women joined in.                     As folk wandered in, shutting the heavy door against the cold wind outside, George Weedon would raise his glass. “Enter, my friends, everyone is welcome on this night.” He spread his arms wide as if he would embrace them all.
Margaret served coffee and cake. She kept glancing at the door, praying no redcoats walked in. She wanted her family safe.
“Rotten luck, George, I have found the bean!” Mercer held up his fork with cake remnants and the elusive little bean. “I am King of Misrule again.”
Weedon shrugged with a wink. “We are all under misrule, I daresay. A king who cares little for his subjects.”
Catherine patted her husband’s shoulder. Isabelle rolled her eyes.
The Rev. James Marye, Jr. approached the men. He’d dropped in to bless them on his way home. “I warn you to be careful with your words tonight, gentlemen. Ears and eyes are everywhere who might not feel the same.”
“As I’ve told them, good sir.” Margaret understood the issues, the anger, and now she might not be able to avoid the shift in her countrymen. Had England pushed too hard? She smiled wearily at the reverend who purchased his communion wine from the tavern for St. George’s. He nodded, donned his cocked hat and departed.
Outside, gun shots cracked, and she and Isabella rushed to peer through the window.
“Just a bit of celebration, I hope.” Margaret squeezed her daughter close. Catherine joined them, and they all held hands.
“Every able-bodied man may be called to arms, if matters progress,” Weedon said from the center of his chattering group. “The government in Williamsburg seethes with unrest against the unfairness of Parliament.”
“Any more treasonous talk and we’ll spend the New Year in the lock-up.” Margaret tried to make it sound light, but the impending threat shoved against her.
“Mother, we must be prepared,” Catherine said. “George speaks the truth.”
“Our lives are about to change forever.” Isabella nudged her mother’s shoulder.
“I’m proud my daughters are both brave.” Margaret took a deep breath. She gathered her strength. “We will be prepared for whatever might happen.” She kissed each daughter on the cheek. “This will be a Christmas we won’t soon forget. Shall we have musket practice tomorrow?”

Diane Scott Lewis

Twitter @DSLewisHF          

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Four-Legged Love

This has been a great year, with Fool Me Once, Book 1 in The Riverwood Series, released in August. Seeing it offered for sale on Amazon was a special and memorable day. Book 2, A Bitter Wind Blows, is a stand-alone sequel. It's under contract and in the process of edits.

Riverwood is a planned equestrian community, co-developed by Horse Country Real Estate agents, Ronnie Chandler, Ricky Ahlers and Andee Barton. It's underwritten by The Westlake Group, venture capitalists from Virginia. Yes, it's a Romance so a relationship soon develops between Ronnie and Luc Deschaines.

But the Riverwood series was never intended to be just a love story. It's set in the fictional town of Emery Pond, in Tennessee, and the characters ride in the very real Big South Fork National Park, acclaimed as "the trail-riding capital of the southeast" (for good reason). These are horse books for readers who love to read about horses!

Reviewers have said "the author's love of horses shines through in every chapter of every book" and "the author obviously knows her way around a barn." The stories are filled with the miracles and minutiae of horse ownership because the main characters all have horses…and the horses all have personalities. (Horse people most often have other animals and readers will enjoy meeting the characters' quirky cats and dogs as well).

The company of my animals sustains me all year but never more so than at Christmas time when I especially appreciate the gift of their unconditional four-legged love.

Happy Holidays
Linnhe McCarron

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Christmas Movie Magic by Melinda Rucker Haynes

Long ago and far away at the famous Pinewood Studios in England, my six-year-old son, Gregory, won a part as a "flying boy" in Santa Claus: The Movie. I was also hired has his chaperone or wrangler in movie-making terms. I was surprised that my son taken himself into the auditions held at his American School outside of London. When I asked why, he said he thought it would be fun. Me, too. And easy, since from the time he was four-years-old, my darling little redhead modeled for Seattle department stores and took direction really well. What he didn’t tell me was that he thought he was going to meet Santa Claus on the movie set.

In the movie, a runaway elf created magic lollipops from the sparkling dust that made Santa’s reindeer fly. Children who ate the lollies flew, too. Before we started rehearsal, Gregory had to take lessons with the famous flying unit that had done the Superman movies. We were both excited when they strapped him in the harness, attached the wires at either side of his waist, and the stagehands hoisted him.  His little body instantly zipped up fifteen feet in the air and tumbled head over toes, round and round. When they lowered him to the floor, the screaming stopped. Despite the flying unit’s adjustments and coaching, Greg proved to be too small to find his center and not spin on the wires but he wanted to keep trying. Of course, I discovered later that he believed he had to fly in order to meet Santa Claus.

Instead of torturing the boy further, the flying unit decided to lay Greg on his stomach at the end of an extending rod on a snorkel lift.  And with Christmas movie magic, he flew into a kitchen where he snagged a cookie from the jar his movie mother put on top of a cabinet and waved. After several takes, the director placed me on the floor at the movie mom’s feet where I wouldn’t be in the shot and could coach my flying boy. It was his real mom the flying boy waved at. Personally, we believe it’s the best scene in the movie. If you see Santa Claus: The Movie this Christmas, be sure to watch for the darling redheaded boy flying into the kitchen to steal a cookie, but who never got to meet the jolly old elf the movie was named for. He was filming on a different soundstage at Pinewood Studios.

Happy Christmas to All!
Author of Award-Winning Paranormal and Romantic Suspense
Black Rose ~ BITTEN: Confessions of a Menopausal Vampire Coming 2019
Crimson Rose ~ A BUSINESS AFFAIR (Mysterious Affairs Series) Coming 2019
Fantasy Rose ~ BREACH OF TRUST (Book 2, Soul Searcher Series) Coming 2019
                            THE ETERNAL TRUST (Soul Searcher Series) Audiobook Coming Soon
                            GHOSTLY ACTS  B, Paperback, Audiobook
                            THE HAUNTING OF JOSH WESTON (Escondido Magic Series) Audiobook Coming Soon

Christmas Strudel by Jana Richards

I’ve read that people are losing the skill of cooking. In this age of prepared, pre-packaged, pre-washed foods, a lot of the dishes our grandmothers made in days gone by have been lost to us. Nowhere is this more apparent to me than in the strudel I remember from Christmases past.
My great-grandparents and grandparents emigrated from Europe around the turn of the twentieth century, lured to Saskatchewan on the Canadian prairies by the promise of free land and a better life. They were Germans who had never lived in Germany, having been born in Galicia and Bukovina, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but now part of Poland and the Ukraine. They were simple farmers who arrived in Canada without much except a desire to own their own land and grow their own food.  Their desires were fulfilled on both counts.
In my childhood, Christmas was a time of church and food, with the emphasis on food. I remember gathering at my grandmother’s tiny house with my aunts and uncles and cousins on Christmas Eve. We’d arrive after the church Christmas concert to open presents and to eat. My maternal grandmother was a marvelous cook and took offence if every morsel wasn’t gobbled up. No one came away hungry from Granny’s table.
Christmas at Granny’s house wouldn’t be Christmas without two things: cabbage rolls and strudel.
Strictly speaking, cabbage rolls, or holubtsi, are thought of as a Ukrainian dish, but everyone in my family and community made them when I was growing up, even though we were of German descent. Though the Ukrainian version are often meatless and filled with rice, my grandmother’s cabbage rolls were made of a hearty combination of ground pork, long grained rice, diced onion and salt and pepper. The meat mixture was then rolled inside a leaf of sour cabbage and gently cooked until the rice was soft. Granny’s cabbage rolls were the best.
The Christmas strudel was usually made long before Christmas and then frozen until the holidays. Granny had a wooden table that could be extended with leaves to become eight feet long. I have memories of my grandmother, my mother and my aunts gently pulling the strudel dough across this table until it stretched from one end to another, all the while taking care not to tear the delicate dough. Once it was stretched to near transparency, my grandmother would cover the dough with slices of apple and bits of raisin, dot it liberally with butter, and sprinkle the whole thing with sugar and cinnamon. Then the painstaking job of rolling the strudel would begin. Each aunt would take her position at one part of the strudel and they would roll in unison until they reached the end. This long roll was then cut into sections and distributed among the aunts. When baked, the result was a flaky, fragrant, delicious concoction that melted in the mouth. I looked forward to it every Christmas.
When I give you the ingredients for Christmas strudel, it comes from my memory of the taste and what I remember seeing.  As far as I know Granny had no written recipe.  She could barely read and write, at least in English. I have no idea how that flaky, phyllo type dough was created. I know my mother never made strudel on her own after Granny passed away and as far as I know, neither did my aunts. When Granny died, the Christmas strudel died with her.
Fortunately, the cabbage rolls fared better. My mother and aunts, and now me, my sister-in-law and cousins, all learned to make our family staple. Like my grandmother, I don’t have a written recipe, instead preferring the tried and true method of mixing ingredients until it feels just right. This Christmas my daughters and I will get together around the kitchen table make cabbage rolls and debate who rolls the prettiest ones. It wouldn’t be Christmas without them.

Jana Richards

Laugh. Cry. Love. Feel the Romance

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Midwinter’s Feast in the mystical world of 13th century Scotland

(Photo of Urquhart Castle taken by my husband, John Morgan during our trip to Scotland last year)

Come journey with me as I whisk you away to 13th century Scotland for a Midwinter’s feast. We shall arrive at Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness. This is the home of the Clan MacKay—the Dragon Knights. Their bloodline is steeped in ancient Celtic mythology. Though they respect the new religion that has swept across their land, the Dragon Knights continue to honor the old ways. Midwinter is a celebration of light and warmth here within the walls. The doors have been left open for all to enter in peace. Once you step inside, you are drawn to the holly boughs with ivy, bay, crimson-berried yew and fragrant bunches of rosemary.

The torches cast a welcoming light as you proceed onward. As we enter the Great Hall, you are met with boisterous laughter and gaiety. A bard is recanting the tale between the aging Holly King (representing the darkness of the old year), and the young Oak King (symbolizing the light of the New Year). Some of the older lasses have chosen to weave a sprig of holly onto their gowns and they nod at you in passing.

Candles illuminate the hall in a soft glow as you make your way toward the feasting tables. The Dragon Knights and their wives are seated at a longer table near the hearth. Ale and mead are flowing, along with the tempting dishes you survey as you take your place. You are tempted by the trencher of wild boar stuffed with onions and cabbages to your right. Or maybe you would prefer the spiced apples and damson tarts.

The minstrels begin to play a lively tune and a few of the couples grasped hands to join in the merriment…

Onward they danced, twirling and swaying around the hall. Laughter filled Ailsa, along with Desmond’s touch. As the minstrels ended their song, she dipped a curtsy to all.

Fiona handed her a cup of ale. “You were wonderful out there. I’ve never witnessed my brother dancing. He’s good.”

“Thank ye.” Ailsa drained the cup, relishing the cool liquid.

Desmond returned holding two plum tarts in his hand. “By the Gods, these are delicious. Who made them?”

Fiona tried to snatch one from his hand. “Brigid. They’re a favorite of Duncan’s.”

He shook his finger at her. “Nae. I brought one for Ailsa.”

Fisting her hands on her hips, Fiona pouted. “But none for your beloved sister?”

“Ye wound me.” Handing her one, he added, “Ailsa and I will just have to share this one.”

Pleased with his gesture, Fiona kissed him on the cheek. Taking the offering, she was about to take a bite, when Alastair approached from behind her.

“’Tis good to see ye are eating.” He placed his hands around her waist.

She laughed when he nibbled on her neck.

“Come, Desmond. Let us eat our fare away from the lovers,” Ailsa suggested and tugged on his arm.

Snorting, he complied and followed her out of the hall and near the entrance. When he held the treat out to her, Ailsa took a bite.

Closing her eyes, she savored the sweet fruit and crust. “Mmm…”

“’Tis good.” He whispered softly.

Desmond’s tongue teased the edges of her mouth, and snapping her eyes open, Ailsa yearned to have him kiss her.

Blurb for A Highland Moon Enchantment ~

You first meet this warrior in Dragon Knight’s Axe, Order of the Dragon Knights, Book 3

Irish warrior, Desmond O’Quinlan has never surrendered his heart to any woman. He has no wish to have his soul tortured by love. Yet, the moment he locks gazes with Ailsa, his fate is destined for an adventure he never fathomed. He may have battled alongside a Dragon Knight, but his greatest challenge will come from within his own heart.

Ailsa MacDuff, a warrior among her clan, has no desire to have a man chain her to a life of obedience. However, that is before she meets Desmond. The temptation to allow this warrior inside her heart is a risk she dares to take, but one that could lead to a future of emptiness and sorrow. 

When betrayal looms from within, the battleground of love is no match for these two warriors. Can the power of a Highland full moon be strong enough to unite or destroy them?


2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped almonds
3/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk
2 pounds firm, ripe plums, pitted and quartered lengthwise
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Combine the flour, almonds, and sugar in a large bowl. Add the butter and the egg yolk. Mix by hand or with an electric mixer, until crumbly.
Press 1 1/2 cups of the crumb mixture in an even layer into the bottom of a 9 1/2-inch springform or tart pan. Arrange the plums in the pan, skin side down to form a flower pattern; begin at the outside and work your way in.
Sprinkle the rest of the crumb mixture evenly over the plums. Bake the tart for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it’s lightly browned and the plum juices are bubbling. Remove from the oven and cool for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and transfer tart to flat plate.
Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.
***Damson: A small fruit with vibrant, dark blue skin and a strong sour flavor. Damsons are similar to plums. They have a large stone (pit) and are often juicy, but tend not to be eaten raw due to the tartness of their flesh.

Mary Morgan

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

Santa's Boots by Starra Andrews

As far back as I can remember my family had a real visit from Santa Clause every Christmas Eve.  My aunt, uncle, and cousins would come over and after an elegant meal, we were sent to a back bedroom to await Santa’s visit.  They told us he could not come if little children were watching him.  Hence—the bedroom waiting period. 

Hushed voices could be heard and traditionally one of the older kids would read us Twas the Night Before Christmas while we waited.  With sizzling excitement we screamed, sang, and hollered through the reading of that classic story.  The preteen saddled with the arduous task of babysitting had to calm us down by constantly reminding that Santa would not arrive if we didn’t behave.

Finally, the shouts of adults welcoming Santa traveled down the hallway.  Ho Ho Ho and two mighty boot stomps held us in breathless anticipation.  Suddenly, the voices cheered and shouted “Goodbye Santa!” just before we ran free.  Presents abounded across the shag rug and almost reached the sliding glass door on the opposite wall.

But the best part was when the grown-ups led us to the fireplace and we gazed upon two large boot prints in the charcoal ashes.  Inhaling gasps of amazement and delight, I discovered years later that my Uncle Kenny made those boot prints each year and put on extra-large black boots just for the occasion.

Thank you Uncle Kenny for making one of my most cherished memories from childhood and I look forward to doing the same for the next generation.

Starra Andrews

Monday, December 17, 2018

A Miracle in the Meadville Liquor Store

Twas the afternoon before Christmas Eve, and I had to run last minute errands for the upcoming holidays.  My list was simple: wax paper, gift tags, wine.
            First I went to the Dollar Store for the tags and wax paper.  I didn’t think I’d need a cart or basket, yet I ended up loading my arms with red plastic tablecloths, gift bags, tissue paper, candy canes, and the needed gift tags.  I went down the Christmas decor aisle and remembered that our puppy ate our star tree topper. The only thing in stock that would match was a light-up angel whose face was more freakishly clownish than angelic, so our tree would remain topless. 
            I nearly forgot the wax paper, and after scanning rows and rows of aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and parchment paper, I realized they were out. No tree topper and now no wax paper. It was hard to shop for Christmas at the Dollar Store, but I didn’t want to battle the hustle and bustle of a larger venue. 
            Then my cell phone rang, and as I fumbled to pluck it from my purse, I dropped half of what wasn’t even on my list. It was my husband requesting whipping cream for the eggnog we’d serve the next day. Even though I needed to go to the grocery store for the wax paper, I confess my irritation because whipping cream was just one more thing for me to forget or drop.
            At this point, I became overwhelmed at how disorganized and unprepared I was for this particular Christmas.  I hadn’t even baked a cookie yet. Holiday cards?  I couldn’t fathom posing for the perfect picture then addressing, licking, and mailing envelopes. Bah humbug! Can someone get me a secretary for Christmas? For my career? For my life?  Ugh!  I am a procrastinator and it hurts me to the core when I’m forced to rush, rush, rush…
            I’m also unfocused, so I can’t even make sense of the disunity of this story which is about a liquor store miracle.  No, I didn’t learn how to turn water into wine, but let me try this again…
            I was frazzled by last minute Christmas dinner shopping.  I stood in the pay line at the dated Meadville Mall Dollar Store stressing about all I needed to get done. Then I was emotionally touched by the two ladies checking out in front of me. The first was distraught over splurging her $100, just enough for her grandkids’ gifts. The second was wishing for her adult grandson, in the opposite line, to say hello to her.  She pointed him out to her friend and whispered how she was afraid he was avoiding her. He held an empty picture frame and failed to look her way.  I just wanted to tell her to speak up or wave or tell him she was there.  Instead she screamed silence, and he left without acknowledging his grandmother whose picture would most likely not fill his frame. 
            It was my turn, and I emptied my arms laden with unnecessary items.  The cashier had a fun name, Timon, and a smile as wide as the meerkat character from The Lion King.  This Timon was also tall, slender, and caramel colored.  He made friendly small talk about the holidays and asked the usual, “Are you ready for Christmas?”
            I shrugged my shoulders and answered, “I’m a bit behind, but that’s nothing new for me. How about you?”
            He smiled a grin of a 101 pearls, and said, “Yeah, me too.  I told my kids it’s no biggie to wait a couple extra days to get Christmas presents.  Prices will be slashed then, you know?”
            I wanted to tell him how much I understood because I am Serbian Orthodox and celebrate The Nativity on January 7th and American Christmas on December 25th. Timon, not a Serb, couldn’t afford gifts until the post-holiday sales. He was upbeat about it though… Hakuna Matata, no worries. And there I was stressed about having a bare naked tree top.  I wasn’t about to tell him that I celebrate two Christmases, with two family feasts, two gift exchanges, two trees…
            I raced out of the Dollar Store with my Coach purse and Hunter boots not worrying about paying for Christmas but embarrassed that I could yet still be frazzled about “all the stuff I just had to do” to prepare.  Instead, Timon would smile and give his family love, safety, and shelter first and gifts later, when it was less burdensome.  
            I was relieved to escape into the brewing blizzard and jump into my reliable, warm SUV that I remotely started from inside the store. I thought about how many people downtown don’t even own a car.  People push strollers, pull wagons, and ride bikes in all types of Northwestern PA weather, not for fun but out of necessity. 
            Next stop, Tops Friendly Market, the closest grocery in the little, rudimentary Meadville plaza I chose that day.  I sped through the aisles for wax paper and whipping cream.  I paid with cash, which I rarely carry.  Behind me I noticed a petite elderly lady with a purple floral arrangement. The petals were bedazzled in silver and gold glitter and arranged in a festive winter pot. She also had a gallon of whole milk.
            The little lady quietly asked how much the flower was, and the cashier told her it was $5.97.  She slowly swayed her head back and forth. The cashier asked if she still wanted it and she shrugged, nodded yes, and opened her checkbook. She wrote “Georgie” in the memo. I could tell it was a hardship.
            I got my change and was all set to go, but something stopped me from leaving Tops, check-out-line seven.  I lingered to hear the golden gal’s final total, like one watching the Pennsylvania daily lottery.  I kept looking back at her, like a nosy stranger. 
            The cashier told her the total: $9.51. Yes! I needed a number under ten and had enough.  Before she stained the ink to the check, I handed the cashier the rest of my cash, a ten dollar bill, and murmured, “This is for her things.”  The cashier looked as if he didn’t know what to do with it. I sensed my lengthy presence was making the customer uncomfortable, and I suddenly felt awkward. I lowered my head and muttered, “Please use this for her purchase.”  I didn’t want her to notice me and sprinted out of Tops quicker than I did the Dollar Store.  I can’t explain it, but I felt ashamed. It was Christmas, and all I could do was give up a random ten dollar bill? 
            Yes, because I love to shop and buy things… things that clutter my closets, counters, and shelves. Things that waste my time to purchase and return.  Things that cost more than our middle class salary always covers.
            I needed to escape the overwhelming empathy that I didn’t want to confront at the time. I didn’t want to see the less fortunate, the lonely, or the underdog while haphazardly tying up my selfish Christmas bows. But there it was, in big red and green bulbs scorching my heart at the downtown mall. 
            I live mere miles away from poverty.  I have students without running water and electricity.  I like to tell myself the most I can do is educate people, hoping this will break their cycle of poverty, but there’s much more that I can be doing for others. 
            My brain ached and I hoped my last stop to Wine and Spirits would leave my heart alone. I picked out some wine, and when I saw Bacardi Rum on sale, I grabbed a shopping cart and filled it. Crown Royal and Captain Morgan were on sale too. I stood at the checkout with enough bottles to fill a big boozy box.  I justified this purchase, knowing I would share these spirits with friends and family over the holidays. 
            Rita, the sweet raspy voiced cashier, informed me that I qualified for a coupon.  She tore it off her stack, scanned it, and announced, “There you go.  You just saved ten dollars!”
            “How much?” I incredulously asked. 
            “Ten dollars,” she joyfully repeated. 
            With tears in my eyes, I said, “Get out of town, Rita!  I just paid ten dollars for a little old lady’s bill at Tops.  I bought her milk and a sparkly flower.”
            Rita shook her head with tears in her own eyes and said, “Isn’t it funny how the world works out like that?”  At that moment, I believe both Rita and I felt the grace of the Lord, the reason for the season.
            I asked what the coupon was for, and she explained that it was an automatic ten dollars off the purchase of two bottles of Bacardi, for a limited time only. The customer behind me commented, “Don’t question it.  Just accept it.” 
            It was as if the customer knew how much I question reasons big and small.  “I certainly accept the deal, but I think this discounted rum means more. I’ve just been shown a Christmas miracle in the Meadville State Store!”  The customer looked at me funny, like I’d already tipped the bottle, but in the context of that past hour, my sobering perception of humanity and my place in it evolved. 
            Rita reaffirmed, “It sure is somethin’ how the world works like that. Can I help you out to your car with all this?” 
            At that heart-glowing moment, I felt as strong as the Grinch when he lifted the Christmas he stole above his head to return it to Whoville. I walked out of the liquor store feeling lighter, energized, and blessed. I loaded the booze box into my trunk, looked into the sky, and said, “Thank you!”  Snowflakes bombarded my face and refreshed my spirit. 
            I drove away, sobbing.  It was a bizarre shopping episode filled with sadness for the needy, gratitude for having all I need, and faithfully blessed that I was given a thumbs up of how good it is to selflessly give, no strings attached.  My anonymous gift was almost instantly repaid, even though I didn’t want or expect reciprocation.  
            Lately, I’d been in a slump of feeling unappreciated, and this little miracle revealed how much better it can be to let go of entitled, expectant thinking that the ego fires within.  No one owes me anything, and I’ve been working on accepting that. With Trinity fingers, I crossed myself over and over.  Suddenly, I was sweating and my ugly devil inside was burning to get out. I needed a baptism of snowflakes, so I opened the sunroof, riding with peaceful hot tears and the pure relief of the heavenly winter. 
            When I got home, my husband apologized for forgetting the whipping cream.  I admitted to initially being annoyed then said I was sorry.  After all, he does the cooking and was preparing a big family Christmas Eve dinner. He is an example of a man who selflessly gives without expectations.
            I ended up crying again. “I’m so happy I was able to get you whipping cream and a liquor store discount.” At this point, our teenage daughters came to the kitchen to see what all the commotion was about.  I sniveled through my story and they laughed, hugged me, and affirmed I was indeed a part-time sunshine and a full-time kook. 
            Who knew running errands for wine, wax paper, and whipping cream could be so enlightening and filled with unexpected insights and miracles? God bless us, Everyone! 

By D.S. Lucas (a.k.a Part-Time Sunshine at