Posts tagged with: Christmas

Merry Christmas, Banditas and Bandita Buddies!

The Romance Bandits want to wish all of you who celebrate Christmas the merriest of days! (And even if you don’t celebrate Christmas… be merry today.) Hope you’re spending the day with people you love. We’ll be popping in and out throughout the day to say hello. Be sure to post a comment below so you’ll have a chance to win today’s Grand Prize in the 12 Bandita Days of Christmas celebration!

The grand prize package includes…

  • From Christina Brooke, a signed trade paperback of the Australian edition of London’s Last True Scoundrel
  • From Suzanne Ferrell, Kidnapped plus Godiva Chocolates
  • From Anna Campbell, A Rake’s Midnight Kiss
  • From Trish Milburn, Out of the Night
  • From Donna MacMeans, The Casanova Code
  • From Jeanne Adams, a Rooster Mug and Saucer, plus a download of her brand new novella
  • From Jo Robertson, her Christmas novella, The Perfect Gift
  • From Christie Kelley, Enticing the Earl
  • From Caren Crane, Kick Start
  • From Tawny Weber, Nice & Naughty, Naughty Christmas Nights
  • From Susan Sey, Taste For Trouble (Kindle or paperback) and Talent For Trouble (upon January release, also Kindle or paperback)
  • From Joan Kayse, Kindle download of The Patrician
  • From Nancy Northcott, Renegade, Guardian, or Sentinel as download
  • From Kate Carlisle, A Cookbook Conspiracy and some cool Bibliophile swag
  • From Anna Sugden, A Perfect Distraction plus Cadbury’s chocolate
  • From visiting author Katie McGarry, her latest YA Crash Into You
  • From visiting author Natalie Richards, her latest YA Six Months Later

wrap1You know that I write a mystery series about a bookbinder, so it probably won’t surprise you to hear that I’m a fan of beautiful wrapping paper. (Understatement!) Sometimes when I get a gift, the paper is so lovely that I open it carefully, delicately, because hurting the paper would hurt my feelings.

A Brief History of Wrapping Paper

Gifts have been wrapped in paper for nineteen centuries in China. Gift paper was popular in Victorian England, but it was much thicker and more cumbersome than what we use today, and it was only affordable for the upper classes.

wrap2Modern gift wrap came into being by a quirk of fate. The year was 1917. Americans at that time mostly wrapped Christmas gifts in red, green, and white tissue paper, but a card store in Kansas City ran out of tissue paper. The quick-thinking owners remembered that they had sheets of French envelope-lining paper in back. They priced the decorative sheets at 10 cents apiece (about $2.35 in today’s money) and watched them fly off the shelves… and an industry was born.

That company is still in business today. Hallmark. And all because of poor inventory control.

Have you opened presents today? What made you smile?

Merry Christmas Quick Five!

ornaments 1Only a couple of sleeps left! Is everyone getting excited? Are you ready for the big day? Presents wrapped, house decorated, food ready?

Here at Chez Sugden, we’re all set – just got to pick up the turkey and dig up the veggies from our allotment, then we’re good to go! 

Now, we couldn’t have Christmas fun without a special Quick Five, so here is your Merry Christmas Quick Five!

1. Go to this site and find out what your Santa elf name is.

2. Favourite Christmas carol and song

3. Favourite Christmas movie

4. Favourite Christmas ornament

5. What you’d like to find under your Christmas tree or in your Christmas stocking


Ornaments 2Christmas Stuffed Mushrooms (makes 1 doz)

1 dozen chestnut or portobello mushrooms (ordinary mushrooms will do – just make sure they all have stalks)

1 heaped tbsp butter

4 heaped tbsp Philadelphia Light cream cheese (works with regular too)

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 tbsp chopped fresh chives

If you like garlic, you can also add 1 tsp of chopped garlic

Note: If you don’t have fresh herbs, you can use Philly with the herbs already in it!

Ornaments 3

Preheat oven.

1. Carefully remove mushroom stalks from caps and set caps aside on a baking tray

2. Finely chop mushroom stalks.

3. In a small saucepan, melt butter and gently cook, mushroom stalks, chives and parsley (plus garlic) until softened.

4. Add cream cheese and let it melt and mix, until creamy

5. Using a teaspoon, scoop the mix into the waiting mushroom caps.

6. Cook in oven for 15 mins.

These are delicious hot or cold!

One lucky commenter today will win an A Perfect Distraction mug and some Cadbury’s chocolate.

COME BACK TOMORROW FOR MORE HOLIDAY FUN WITH THE 12 DAYS OF BANDITA CHRISTMAS! LOOK FOR MORE INFO ON OUR BIG CHRISTMAS DAY PRIZE!

 

The Ghost of Christmas Past…a

Ah, Christmas.  It’s a season heavy with tradition–the songs, the decorations, the food.  

IMG_2747

Oh, yeah, the food.  

Now I’m a pretty traditional girl–it’s not Christmas for me without a big ol’ hunk of my mom’s Dutch apple pie.  It’s not the day after Christmas without a hunk of that same pie posing as breakfast, either.  

For my husband, it’s not Christmas without a giant pan of mac-and-cheese on the table.  (My mind boggles at the idea of mac-and-cheese for Christmas dinner, but whatever.  You marry a guy, you marry his traditions.)  

But on the very first high holiday we spent together as a couple, just the two of us, we went outside the box.  We made pasta.  

IMG_2756

Yeah, pasta.  By hand.  

Don’t ask me what we were thinking.  We were giddy with love & having an adventure.  We had no idea we were even getting married someday, let alone hatching a life-long tradition.   We just happened to both be family free for the holiday & decided to do something crazy.

Like make pasta.

By hand.

So, fast forward about fifteen years.  Throw a kitchen aid mixer with the pasta attachments into the mix.  Throw in a couple of kids & a few in-laws.  Cover the whole thing in flour, & you’ve pretty much got the pasta adventure we staged last Christmas chez Sey.   The pictures really do say it all, but here’s the basic recipe & procedure: 

IMG_2765

Basic Egg Pasta:

4 large eggs

1 tablespoon water

3 1⁄2 cups sifted all-purpose flour 

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

Place eggs, water, flour, and salt in mixer bowl.

Attach bowl and flat beater. Turn to Speed 2 and mix 30 seconds.

IMG_2777Exchange flat beater for dough hook. Turn to Speed 2 and knead 2 minutes. Remove dough from bowl and hand knead for 1 to 2 minutes. Let it rest for 20 minutes.

Divide dough into 4 pieces before processing with Pasta Sheet Roller attachment.

Okay, at this point, you’ll have four balls of dough.  When they say “process with the pasta sheet roller,” they mean to run it through the attachment on your mixer that essentially squeezes each ball between a couple of rollers that look like a mini-laundry mangle.  (Anybody old enough–or read enough historical fiction–to know what a mangle is?  I know I do!)

IMG_2781

This will get to you the point you see in the first picture where I’m dealing with an incredibly long, flat sheet of pasta.  At this point, I flour a bunch of parchment paper & cut the sheet of dough into noodle-sized lengths–maybe a foot?  I let them sit between layers of floured parchment while I switch out my pasta roller for my pasta cutter.  I like the fettuccine one.  I feel like this width cooks nicely.

So then you run the sheets through the cutter (as seen in picture #2) & you end up with…fettuccine!  It truly is like magic.  (Picture #3 shows some of the sheets waiting to be run through the fettuccine cutter, & some that have already been through.)

Drop each little coil of fresh pasta into boiling water, cook for about 6-7 minutes, & voila!  You have actual, honest-to-goodness, edible pasta.  

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It might look like a flour bomb went off in your kitchen, but you can deal with that after dinner.  

Just drain that gorgeous pasta, top with your favorite sauce–we went with pesto, though at least one of my girls went with just straight up olive oil & salt–and eat that deliciousness right up. 

And if you lick your plate, I’m not going to judge you.  

So how about you?  Have you ever done anything strange for the holidays, & had it turn into a tradition on you?  Share!

And to reward you for swinging by the Bandit’s 12 Day of Christmas, we’ll be gifting one lucky commenter with a copy of Susan’s last release TASTE FOR TROUBLE, kindle or paperback, winner’s choice!  (And you’ll want to read it soon as the follow up TALENT FOR TROUBLE is coming out in January!) You’ll also receive a fabulous Rooster ornament for whatever you choose to decorate this time of year!

A Gator For Christmas

Everyone has a gift.

parkingNot the type that comes wrapped in shiny paper with ribbons and bows (though plenty of those will be exchanged this time next week).  I mean the kind of god-granted gifts that some people come by naturally.  My husband, for example, has the gift to find a parking spot near the door of wherever we go.  This gift is particularly appreciated during the Christmas shopping insanity and in times of rotten weather.  It’s like he has a parking angel sitting on his shoulder.

 I just discovered I have a newfound gift, or maybe it’s a specialized shoulder angel. 

My husband and I went on a Northern Florida vacation the first week of December.  Our “unit” had a little deck and was located on a lake.  The first time we went out on the deck, my gator eyeshusband pointed out two little eyes not far from the shore.  I called out to the little guy and sure enough an alligator swam over to our unit, climbed out of the water and walked halfway up the distance to our deck.

 Yes.  I am a gator whisperer.  :lol:

two gators Everyday I would call “Hey Baby!” and the little guy would appear and climb up the bank.  One day, his older and bigger friend came up the bank as well.  (The older one is hanging back a little.  Actually, he originally climbed up next to the younger gator, so the younger gator came closer.)

My husband would call.  No response.  The gators would only respond to me.  Who knew?

Now, to be honest, I suspect a woman who stayed in the unit before me foolishly fed the alligators – something I did not do.  But I was tempted.  The one little guy was just so loyal.  He never opened his mouth.  I suspect my desire to toss him some food would be lessened by the sight of his sharp teeth.  But the way he lifted himself up, walked up the bank, then settled down made him seem friendly and almost smiling.

So in the tradition of the season, I’ve added a new ornament to the tree.  I love meaningful ornaments – ornaments that come with stories attached.  Check it out.Gator ornament

I also picked up a tin of chocolates in the shape of little alligators to share with my christmas guests. I think they’ll be particular attractive nestled amongst the christmas cookies :-).  Actually, I just wanted the tin.  I have this unexplainable love of boxes and tins and wanted this one…just because.  But we’ll enjoy the chocolates. 

chocolate gatorsCan you see the little alligator refrigerator magnet sitting on top of the tin?  I’m  sending that to someone leaving a comment today.  I wish he had a little Santa Claus hat for the season but the same commenter will receive the rooster ornament for our twelve days of Christmas celebration.  Talk about meaningful! :-) .

So do you have a talent, or gift, that you’d like to share?  How about a special ornament with a story to tell?  Would you have fed the gator?  Let’s chat.

Oh – and a recipe!

If there’s a prize for the easiest, most no-mess, and fun Christmas candy recipe – this one would win it.  The recipe came from a Facebook post.

Christmas lightbulb treats

There’s just two ingredients –  a bag of Mike & Ike candy and a bag of almond M&Ms (the ones with the almonds inside)

Step one:  Slice the Mike & Ike candies in two.  These will become the base of the light bulb.  A sharp knife will do fine, but if your knives are on the dull side – heat them up a bit.  The heat will make it easier to bulb candiesslice through the sugary candy.

Step two:  Select an almond M&M and hold it by the pointed end.  The hardest thing about this recipe is to decide which is the pointed end :-P  .

Step three:  Push the candy base onto the fat end of the M&M.  I heated the cut end of the Mike & Ike using the side of a candle flame so I’d get a solid attachment, but that’s not really necessary.  Just push it onto the M&M with some force.

Voila – you’re done!  For a cool presentation, swirl a line of gel frosting around a plate and position the bulbs so it looks like they’re attached.  

gator closeupNow add some chocolate alligators – hehehe.  

Have a fabulous Christmas everyone!!!

If The Stocking Fits

Ho, Ho, Ho!!!stockings

Welcome to the first of the 12 Days of Bandit Christmas!

Soooo many potential Christmas topics that could be covered: Trees, ornaments, trivia, carols, reindeer games (hmmmm) but I picked one near and dear to my cold little tootsies. The Christmas stocking!

The tradition of this is well known, associated with wooden shoes initially in the “Old Country” and St. Nick who finally got tired of trying to cram that pony into such a small receptacle and segued to wrapped packages. But habits die hard and so we continue to hand our stockings with care.

Now goodies stuffed into these stockings are often regional and filled with nostalgia. Oranges and hard candy anyone? It might even be filled with Dr. Scholl’s Odor Eaters depending on whose stocking it is :0

 But I imagine nowadays with gift cards, iPods and all manner of WOW items it’s a lot easier. Me? Well…I was raised in a simpler time. Here are my top five stocking stuffers:marshmallow

1. Chocolate Marshmallow Santa.

2. Ribbon Candy (Talk about nostalgia…THIS is the symbol of my 1960′s childhood. Sigh)

3. Puzzle books

4. Doll clothes

5. Chocolate Snowman (I sense a theme here)

candyThe Santa and Snowman are self-explanatory. I mean it’s CHOCOLATE, for gosh sakes! Now the hard candy? Those beautiful, colorful, fruity pieces of shiny sugar stacked in ribbon shape, with pretty little designs in the middle? Sigh. THAT’S Christmas!

Puzzle books were simple, easily and quickly done. The doll clothes though…those were BARBIE clothes! The pinnacle of fashion! My Mom made me lots of wonderful Barbie dresses. (Another nostalgia jolt…the pattern books at Woolworths) but to get a elegant gown with glitter? Santa, you rocked my stocking.

What about you? What are some of the stocking stuffers you’ve received? Anything unusual (Remember PG blog here ;) What do you like to give? Do you and your family still hang them with care? Is your stocking store bought or homemade? C’mon…Santa wants to know.

One lucky commenter will receive a Kindle download of THE PATRICIAN’S FORTUNE in their stocking :D

COME BACK TOMORROW FOR MORE HOLIDAY FUN WITH THE 12 DAYS OF BANDITA CHRISTMAS!!  LOOK FOR MORE INFO ON OUR BIG CHRISTMAS DAY PRIZE!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’ve Come A Long Way, Santa

When I was a little girl, Santa was a fat guy in a screaming red and white suit, with a white beard and a list.

Santa flipped

  That’s how he always looked.  

Sometimes his face looked mean—a little on the evil side depending on the depiction– but most of the “Santa” images were of a jolly, happy, kind-looking Santa, much like this one on the left. 

Doesn’t he look like a nice guy, laying his finger aside of his nose, about to nod his head and ascend through the narrow chimneSanta evily?

Back then, Santa’s  face was pretty much the only thing that varied.   Some of them looked absolutely evil.  This guy on the right isn’t too bad, but doesn’t he look like he has some mischief afoot? 

As a child, even into my teens, I didn’t realize that the “fat guy in a bright red suit” imagery was fairly new, or that it had evolved over a long, long time, and that Santa did not always look exactly like this.

But I nesanta traditionalver did much like that suit.

I suppose, even as a little girl, the beginnings of the Martha Stewart Mini-Me that I would eventually become…well…they were already in place.  I swear I don’t know where I got these tendencies.

I loved Santa back then.  But even as a little girl, when I looked at Christmas decorations in the stores, I just wasn’t into that red suit.  

Yes, I was an odd child.  I won’t deny it.

As I grew older,  I’d see those Santa dolls –you know the ones that are two or three feet tall, with fabric outfits–meant to be put out  as decorations either inside or outside, but I never wanted one for my house.  They just didn’t appeal.  santa 19-old-world-father-christmas-santa-claus-figure-with-burgundy-robe-and-gifts linens and things

Then it happened.

A few years after I was married, I was walking by the window of an upscale department store when I saw a Santa that made me stop and stare. 

He was not in a bright red suit.  He was in a robe.  Not screaming red.  It was deep dark burgundy.  The fur trim was off white and looked old. 

Now I know he’d be called an “Old World Santa,” but those weren’t around back then–or at least I hadn’t seen one.   This one on the right is not him, but he has the same look.   This is an Old World Santa from Linens ‘n Things.

After that, I started noticing more and more versions of Santa that were not the clownish guy I grew up with, but were based more on Father Christmas—the old world version of Santa. 

Santa woodland 3Not long after that, I was in another store and I saw “Woodland Santa” with leaves and pine cones in a wreath around his head, and a long robe of what looked like fur-trimmed burlap.  He had on snowshoes and there was a deer standing at his side.  In one hand was a staff made of a tree branch, and in the other, a lantern.  He had a rough knapsack over his shoulder.  His cheeks were still rosy and his beard long and white. 

It was just my style.  I love primitive antiques, log cabins, barns and woods. I had found my Santa.

I was in school at the time, and we were flat broke, so I couldn’t afford him.  Unfortunately,  I’ve never seen one  like him since, but I’d had my “Santa Awakening.”   This one on the left is similar.  It’s another version of “Woodland Santa”

Back then, all of these were “designer” Santas and were WAY too spendy for my budget, but I could still stare at them and imagine how they’d look in my future house, standinSanta woodland costcog on my future hearth beside the future fireplace.

Flash forward a few years.  Really cool Santas have come down in price, and now they’re available everywhere,  as common as Bright-red-suit Santa. 

Here’s another version of “Woodland Santa” on the right.  This one is available at Costco.  Doesn’t he look rugged and ready for some serious outdoor trekking?  Even if his sleigh breaks down, ala the movie “Elf,”  this Santa could still get where he needed to go.

FAther Christmas close up Now, thanks to the internet and shops like Etsy, there are doll makers who specialize in a zillion different versions of Santa Claus, like this Father Christmas in a fur cloak on the left. You can see the rest of him if you click on the link. He’s amazing.

Looking around the web, I found one particular doll maker whose work I absolutely love, and she was kind enough to give me permission to share her Santas with you here on the blog. 

Her name is Bona Lowery, and her Santas are stunning, one-of-a kind pieces of art, but many of them  cost far less than you’d think for such beautiful work.

If you click on the links, you can see the detail in these Santas in the bigger pictures.

Santa Cabin Bona LoweryThis is her  Cabin Santa on the left.   Cabin Santa is holding a little log cabin, and I love his fur-trimmed robe. 

On her site,  Santa Creations by Bona, she has a snippet about the history of Santa Claus. 

Pre-modern representations of the gift-giver from church history and folklore, notably St Nicholas and Sinterklaas, merged with the British character Father Christmas to create the character known to Britons and Americans as Santa Claus.

Father Christmas dates back at least as far as the 17th century in Britain, and pictures of him survive from that era, portraying him as a jolly, well-nourished bearded man dressed in a long, green, fur-lined robe.Santa fishing Bona Lowery

Okay so Santa was fat back then, and Santa is still fat.  Even  most old-world Santas and Father Christmas figures have a belly.  Every one of us feels the pressures of current fashion, but not Santa.   Santa is, thus far, immune.  

Thank goodness. 

I understand from my friends who write historical romance that centuries ago, having a little fat on you was a sign that you were well-off.  You could afford to eat all you wanted, regularly,  and you could eat yummy stuff that most people couldn’t get.   The common folk were lucky to eat at all, and worked off what they did eat.  So, not only was Santa doing okay for himself, he was also generous, especially toward kids.

Here are more Santas by Ms. Lowery.   That’s Fishing Santa on the right, complete with his tackle. 

Santa silver wreath bona lowery

  On the left is Silver Wreath Santa–less rustic, and more in keeping with the sparkle of the season.

Nowadays there are Santas with sheep, Santas with donkeys, and Santas with kittens.

  I’ve seen Santas in sleighs and Santas wearing snowshoes pulling their own sleds, Santas with huskies instead of reindeer pulling the sleigh, and one Santa I saw was riding a polar bear. 

None of them were wearing the bright red suit. I’ve even seen a “Green Man Santa”–the pagan version of Santa– with long gray beard, still carrying the traditional gifts, but wearing a wreath of leaves and sporting antlers on his head. 

Bandita Kate is like me–she’s a wine lover, and she’ll love this next Santa.  It’s a wine rack, anSanta Karen-Didion-Originals-Crakewood-Santa-Claus-5-Bottle-Tabletop-Wine-Rackd Santa is enjoying a glass of his favorite.

 The photo on the right  is of the Karen Didion Originals Crakewood Santa Claus 5-bottle Tabletop Wine Rack. 

I had not heard of Karen Didion, but she was all over the internet when I went looking for Santas, and I absolutely loved everything I saw of hers.  I think she’s brilliant.   I found her Santas at Wayfair.com. 

If you click on the link and  look at the photos, you see the Santa wine rack from all directions. Plus, the wire barrel holds wine corks.    Did I already say this Santa designer is brilliant? 

Santa Karen Didion originalsYes, she is.

 

Here’s another of her Santas on the left. Victorian Santa Claus.

Father Christmas dolls qvc

 Awesome Santas are not just from fancy designers.  They’re everywhere.  The Father Christmas Dolls on the right were from QVC.  

The one below, on the left, is from Lowe’s.  I *think* those are snowshoes strapped on his back, though I’m not certain.

Santa from Lowe'sBottom line? 

Santa is stylin’.

He’s no longer just a guy in a red suit.

I had a bit of an epiphany while I was writing this post and searching for awesome Santas.  If I fall in love with a Santa decoration, it’s probably because it looks nothing like the traditional guy in a red suit,  and everything like a Wizard. 

It seems the more Wizard-like the Santa is, the more I love it.  

I never thought of Santa as a Wizard before, but he does have the pointy, floppy hat.  And how else does he get up and down the chimney–and fly all over the world in one night?

Just sayin’.

What about you, Bandits and Buddies? 

What sort of Santa appeals to you?

Did you grow up with the “Bright red-and-white suit” Santa?

If you celebrate another holiday, what are your decorations like?  Do you like bright and sparkly?  Or do you prefer colors and designs that are more subdued for a holiday?

If you decorate for Christmas, do you choose Screaming-red-suit Santa?

Or do you like the old-world Santas better?

Do you have any Santa figurines or dolls like the ones in the photos?

What says “Santa” to you?  

It’s ALMOST HERE! Tomorrow is Day 1 of our annual 12 Bandita Days of Christmas!  Prizes every day, plus extra goodies for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.   Be sure to stop by the blog each day between now and Christmas and leave a comment to be in the drawings. 

O Plastic Tree, O Plastic Tree

I need help here. 

I’m going to say it.  Shameful as it may be, yes, I’ll say it, right here in front of God and everybody else.

Christmas treeI have a fake Christmas tree.

My house is 164 years old.  It’s partially restored but a long way from finished.  I’ll never forget the moment when I walked into the front foyer for the first time.  I looked up at the ten-foot ceiling, then I looked at the glass sidelights and transom that wrap around the glass-paneled front door, all original 1800s wavy glass panes, loose enough to rattle in the muntins, uninsulated, and leaky as hell, and I said,  “Think of the Christmas tree I could put in here!”

That’s half the reason I bought this ongoing-project-of-a house.

I love Christmas trees.

I love all of them, from the uber-chic designer trees to the tacky trees with ugly garland piled on a foot thick.

And falling somewhere on the upper middle of the Christmas tree scale, is mine.  I have a really gchristmas tree 6reat tree. 

Of course I can say that, because it’s always the same.  It’s a fake tree.

And okay, yeah.   I know.  That’s not nearly as good as a real tree. I know this because everybody around me has real trees and when I’m talking with somebody and I say I have an artificial tree, there’s a very brief, subtle pause, with just a slight lifting of both eyebrows.  You might not even notice it if you’re not paying attention.

Then they smile and nod, trying to hide the fact that they’ve just judged me.

“Oh,” they’re thinking.  “I thought she had better taste!  Bet she bought it at K-Mart.”

I could have bougchristmas tree7ht it at K-Mart.  Just two days ago I walked through their Christmas department and drooled over their awesome selection of really awesome artificial trees.

But I didn’t buy it there.  I bought it at an upscale Christmas shoppe. 

See?  There’s an extra p and an e on the end of “shop” which proves it’s upscale. 

Snork!  Ahem….

I don’t get a real tree for two reasons. 

First, I have an unusual attachment to trees. I feel a kinship with them.  I have such a deep love for trees that it’s almost painful for me to see one cut.  It’s a sad weakness.   I can’t enjoy having a cut tree in my house without wondering at what beautiful thing it might have become if I hadn’t cut it.  I just can’t do it.

Second, I like to put my tree up at the winter solstice, December 20th or 21st, and leave it up until  February 2nd, Groundhog Day.  Some of y’all remember a blog I did last January called Waiting For The Light To Come.  I confessed that I get clinical depression in the winter, and February 2nd is the point at which I can feel the season turning, spring coming, and hope renewed. So that’s when I’m ready to take down my tree and unplug its cheerful lights.

No real tree will last that long.

When I was a little girl, Daddy would take me out to the woods and we’d cut down a little cedar tree.  It was christmas tree redusually about six feet tall, and it smelled heavenly. 

Then a few years later we got a fake tree, and it was full and fluffy and perfect.  Every needle was stick-straight and the same shade of fake green.  I hated it.  From about a mile away you could look at it and say, “that’s a plastic tree.”  When I was little, fake trees were awful.

Things have changed.

Artificial trees come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and they’re beautiful.

Now my tree is nine feet tall, slender, and looks like a real evergreen, even up close. 

I wrap several strands of white lights in piles around the center “trunk” then wind many more lights through the branches.  I learned this technique from a book with a title I can’t remember, but it was probably something like “Martha Stewart rocks Christmas” or some such.  When I plug it in, with all those lights in the center, it glows like something from another realm.

But no matter how excellent my tree is, it’s still a plastic tree.

If y’all read the newsletter, you know that Marco, Paulo and some of the other guys on staff had some issues recently when they went out hunting for trees to decorate the various rooms here in the lair.   Christmas tree3

No fake trees here. 

So I did a survey in the lair about what kind of trees the Bandits get for their own homes.

Bandita Suz said, “We’ve always gotten a real tree since we got married. The Jazzman (aka, my hubby) loved them when he was small. Hated helping his mom put up the fake one.”

Bandita Nancy said, “We have a real tree.  We like the smell of it and the texture.

Yeah.  No love for the plastic tree.

Bandita Jo said,  “We generally like a live tree.  There’s something very satisfying and comforting about the smell of pine in the house.”

Yes. Yes, there is. *Heavy sigh*

Bandita Tawny said, “I love real trees, but both of my girls have really bad allergies. After a few sniffly, watery holidays I gave in and got an artificial tree.  Ours is about 8 foot, green and lit with whichristmas tree branchte lights.”

Finally, another artificial tree!

Small consolation though.  Tawny has a plastic tree, but she doesn’t like it.  “I miss having a live tree,” she said.  “The scent and feel of it is always wonderful.  But I do bring in a few boughs to decorate with, and we have a live wreath on the door.  Those don’t seem to send my kids into misery.” 

Okay she’s only doing this for the sake of her children’s health.  Hmmm..

I asked Bandita Trish what she had, and she said, “Fake. I actually have two, the smallish one I’ve had since college and a big one that I got when we bought our house because the front living room has a vaulted ceiling. I don’t like cleaning up after live ones, and knowing my allergies they would make me sneeze anyway.”

Hmmm…once again, allergies are the determining factor.

I’m still feeling like the odd woman out.

Joanie said, “Replica tree…yeah…that’s what I’ll call it…replica.  Don’t recall a real tree growing up as my brother suffered from allergies.”

Once again, it would be a real tree if not for the children’s health—or for the sake of the cats…“The artificial ones HAVE improved over the years, especially in assembly,” Joan said.  “I have a pre-lit one now about 6 feet tall that comes in 3 pieces. And I can tie it to the wall so certain kitty elves don’t topple it.”

Yes, the kitties do love to climb the Christmas tree.  Real or fake. 

Hey, at least Joanie tried to be diplomatic about it.

Christmas tree with white tipsBandita Caren said, “Our tree is fake. It’s a 6-foot Douglas Fir and is, naturally, pine green…We stick with fake because pine is the thing I am most allergic to in the world!”

Okay I’m getting a complex here.

Even my evil twin, Duchesse Jeanne, stands against me in this question.. “We always get a fresh tree, usually on my birthday,” she said.  “We’ve bought the kind you can plant before, but I’m running out of places in the yard to put them, so fresh cut it is.” 

Hmmmm.

Bandita Christina said, “We do a fake tree. Not many people have real ones where I live. It’s getting on in years now, probably needs replacing, It’s plastic, with dark green needles and it’s decorated with all the loChristmas tree2ve and tackiness we can manage.”

Yes, yes, YES!  Finally!  Apparently I would fit in better if I moved to Australia.  Ahem.

Bandita Anna Sugden, who lives in England now, said, “These days, a real tree – we always get a special “non-drop” tree (A Nordmann or a Norwegian Spruce, she says, which I’m assuming will not drop its needles) so that it’s safe for the cats…Have always preferred a real tree, but when we lived in NJ we couldn’t get non-drop trees, so bought a fab fake tree (which we still have in the loft), which looked very realistic!”

Yeah.  You can tell she’s just trying to make me feel better, can’t you? That’s the thing about the Bandits.  We always have each others’ backs, even if one of us is off in left field with regard to Christmas trees.  *heavy sigh*

Bandita Susan Sey said, “I Christmas tree fiber opticprefer real…In our on-the-road-for-Christmas years, we sometimes will buy a really small real tree (think Charlie Brown’s Christmas).”

I found a ray of hope, though.  She went on to say, “Sometimes, we just decorate my extremely tacky fake tree from Target.  It’s about two feet tall and comes complete with LED color-shifting lights built into the end of each needle.  It’s wicked awesome.  Like a disco ball/Christmas tree mashup.”

That’s the kind of tree that both my mom and my father-in-law have now.  Very space efficient.  And I’ve gotta say, they do rock. 

I remember a couple of years when my mom had a retro silver aluminum tree.  I hated those when I was little (when they were NOT retro) but now I think they’re kind of cool.  They reflect any colors around them and are Christmas tree vintage silver foiljust straight up fun.

Disco trees notwithstanding, artificial trees of all kinds  have come a long way.  I have to get up close to some of them–even touch them–to know whether they’re real or not.  

Still, it’s obvious that I’m outnumbered.  I’m thinking of applying for minority status.

My squeamishness about cutting down a live tree (or buying one that’s been cut down) is definitely in the minority.   With a fake tree, there’s no magical smell of evergreen that says “Christmas” any time you breathe it in.  There’s no “real tree in the house” energy about it.

But you don’t have to water an artificial tree.  And it doesn’t drop needles or turn brown. 

Just sayin.

Christmas tree purpleBandit Buddies, what do you do?

Is your tree real?  Or fake?

If it’s fake, what color is it?  How tall?  And do you miss the touch and scent of the real thing?

If it’s a real tree, where do you get it?  Do you cut your own?  If not, where do you buy it?

When do you put it up? Is there a special day each year?  Or is it whenever you manage to get to it?

If you don’t celebrate Christmas, do you participate in another festival or holiday this time of year? 

 

Watch for our annual 12 Bandita Days of Christmas, with fun and so many prizes Santa can’t carry them, coming in just a few days!

Who Covets More Is Evermore a Slave

Robert_Herrick_(poet)Okay, that quote in the title is by some dude named Robert Herrick. I had no idea who he was, but I looked him up because I liked the quote. He was an English poet (born in Cheapside) who lived in the late 1500s to late 1600s. During the English Civil War, he was ousted from the parish where he was vicar and had to survive on the charity of his family and friends. Obviously, Robbie knew a thing or two about coveting and how it could eat at the soul.

Friends, I am coveting these days. Normally I don’t want much that I don’t have or can’t get, but right now I am clearly in a fragile mental state. The Christmas catalogs started arriving last week and I have been bitten with the bug of covetousness. Since I probably won’t shake it for a while, I decided just to roll with it. Here is a list of things that, as of the past five days or so, I find it hard to live without.

Irish Walking Cape1. Irish Walking Cape – It is a blend of wool, cashmere and nylon. It is hooded. It is claret. That means RED ladies. And it is IRISH! Apparently, the hood doubles as a scarf or muffler. What?!?! I am completely in love with this walking cape. Sadly, it is $250, so I will not be getting it for Christmas. But I keep caressing the picture in the Acorn catalog!

 

old man tree planter2. Rustic Old Man Tree Planter – Okay, I have no need for another planter of any kind, but this one stole my heart. I think I would want him inside my house, though, where I would see him often. I think he would go well in my office that I don’t have yet but would love to establish in my older daughter’s bedroom. Isn’t he delightful? His face looks like that of an Ent from Tolkein’s The Lord Of the Rings trilogy. I would love to hang him on the wall and look to him for inspiration as I write. He might talk to me one day! I found him in the Bits and Pieces catalog. They also have a gorgeous Royal Peacock I am totally getting my mother for Christmas!

silently correcting your grammar3. Grammar T-shirt – In the Wireless catalog, there are many awesome t-shirts with pithy sayings. Some sayings ring true for others in my life and some for me.  The fun sayings involving calculus make me giggle and the Latin one that reads “Vetustior Humo” (Old As Dirt) is a hoot! They have a ton of awesome shirts, though, so choosing a favorite was tough. The one that emerged as my favorite reads “Silently correcting your grammar.” When I saw it I laughed and laughed! My husband rolled his eyes, because he thinks I do this out loud. He has NO IDEA how many corrections I keep inside my horrible, judgmental head. Poor thing. I decided at his eyeball roll that I must have it. I am not only covetous, but sometimes petty. :D

Shockaholic4. Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher - Wireless catalog also has autographed copies of Carrie Fisher’s new memoir. Not only is she an amazing and hilarious actress, she is a fine writer as well. I adored her Wishful Drinking (which, believe it or not, was a selection I read for my book club at work), so I would love to read this. Carrie Fisher is not only funny, but also honest, poignant and suffering from some pretty serious mental illness. It is fascinating to read her tales about herself and the labyrinthine relationships between her and all the (other) famous (and infamous) people in her life. I always enjoy books that are signed by the author, so this is kind of a perfect gift for me. Hint, hint, Mr. Crane!

Classic Musicals5. Classical Musicals: 50 Movies – Okay, my eyes and brain took a minute to synch up after I saw this listing in the Acorn catalog. It didn’t have much information about which 50 musicals were included on the 12 DVDs, so I went online to check. Now, I love musicals but I’ll readily admit I have seen only the Really Big Hits on this list. My cinephilic friend, the Incomparable Claudia Dain, would probably know many of these. I, sir, am no Claudia Dain! I think it’s worth investing the $29.98 to further my sadly lacking education, don’t you?

I have only received three Christmas catalogs and have already found about a hundred things I want to buy for Other People! Finding things I want for myself is much harder and rarer. I am insanely happy I have found things to covet, even if a certain poet said it consigns me to be “evermore a slave.” I’m a willing slave to that Irish Walking Cape, Mr. Herrick!

What about you, my fine and fickle friends? Has the taint of covetousness possessed you this year? Any Expensive Enticements or Maddening Must-haves on your list? Do tell us all about it. This is a Safe Space, after all, where no one will judge your deepest, darkest, most forbidden desires. (Unless, of course, you use improper grammar! Bwahahaha) :D

Games, games, games

It’s been something of a tradition in our house that our kids give my husband a game for Christmas.  

Now my kids are 6 & 9, so I’m using the word tradition lightly, but every year for the past few years–as long as they’ve been old enough to be conscious of Christmas & their role as gift givers–they’ve wanted to give my husband a game.  This is because Mr. Sey is a game guy.  If there are cards, dice, or playing pieces involved, he’s there.  He’s equal opportunity, too.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated.  He’s as happy with Connect Four as with a fierce game of chess. 

And he’s wonderful about playing games with the kids.  Which is probably why they give him games & me pajamas.  They have our personalities pegged.  

We have this game store nearby –Flight of Fantasy–that’s always full of geeky white guys about my husband’s age.  They’re inevitably engrossed in all kinds of games I’ve never heard of but they’re so stoked about gaming in general that they never seem to mind taking a break to talk to the clueless women folk invading their domain.  “What,” we ask them, “is the hot new game this year for dads & their girls?”

They drop their dice like hot potatoes & fall all over themselves to steer us in the right direction.  

A few years ago they pointed us toward this game called Blokus.  Have you seen it?  Here’s a photo.  It’s essentially a spatial reasoning strategy sort of game.  But it’s utterly beautiful.  Sometimes the girls take the board out & just put the pieces in at random because they’re so pretty.  We risk game pieces attrition this way but I allow it because it’s just so darn fascinating to look at. 

This year we were directed to this game called Ticket to Ride, in which the participants all compete to form railroad destinations all over the United States.  Evidently there’s an Asian version as well as a European one.  We played last night & tonight, & everybody from the 9 year old to the 70 year old played hard & was in the mix to win.  (Grandma took home the victory tonight but it was a squeaker.)

Once again, the game guys came through for us.  

What about you? Was there a game under the tree this year that rocked your world?  Share!  I’m always on the lookout for our next gift… 

Photos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.  Mouse over for artist attribution.

It’s the Best Time of the Year….for CAKE!!!

  Hello Banditas and Bandita Buddies!  Guess what day it is???

I’m betting you guessed from the picture….It’s my birthday.  Grins.

Now, I don’t usually make a huge deal out of my birthday.  In spirit, I am now, and probably will always be, an approximately 12-year-old juvenile delinquent.  Ha!  However, this is one of those OHHHHHHH!!!!  Birthdays.  You know, a decade birthday.

I was going to make people guess which one, but that can get downright embarassing.  heehee.  Also, I don’t look my age – thank you, darling mother, for those good skin genes! – and people invariably guess my age at at least a decade younger than it is.  It helps too, that I have young children.  (I was downright OLD for motherhood, or so my OB/GYN informed me at the time…grrrr!)

My aforementioned mother was also very young-looking for her age.  She also had children at a much older age than most in her generation.  Seriously.  Now a-days, no one even blinks when you say you waited till your thirties to have kids.  Back then, when my Mama was having kids, she refused to even tell US her age, as when someone found out her age the other mothers made terrible fun of her, in a mean-girl kind of way, for being so much older than most. 

Oh, and did I mention I was the youngest of four?  And the “Oh, my we cannot be pregnant AGAIN, can we?” baby.  Hahahah!!  So my Mama was heading for fifty when she had me.   She was born in 1918.  Yes, people, I’m serious.  Not long before she passed away, at 72, someone asked her when she was going to turn fifty. 

I love that, and so did she.

However, at some point, you have to admit to people that yes, you really are THAT age.

So, this year I decided to come clean and actually admit my real age.  When people have asked in years past - frequently guessing a much lower number – I just nod and smile.  Now, you, my darlings, get to know the big secret of the century….

Well, half a century.  Today, I turn fifty.  EEEEEEEEEEEK!!!!

This news has absolutely bamfoozled many of my friends.  Again, it may be because I have the sensibilities, goofiness, and appetite of a pre-teen boy, but virtually no one has believed me when I’ve confessed the true number.  The responses have been funny, and startling, and downright hilarious.

“You’re kidding, right?  C’mon.  You’re like, 37.   You’re my age.”  (Uh, no.  You weren’t born when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.  I watched it on TV.)

“Liar, how old are you REALLY?” 

(I wanted to tell her that I was 888, but only looked 41, just to see what she said, but she was having a coronary just accepting 50.  Also, I didn’t want to start any Nicholas Cage-type rumors.  Grins.)

“But…but…but…I just went to your 40th birthday party, like, a couple of years ago!!”  (Time Warp!!  Look at your daughter, dear friend…she’s nearly 10….) heehee.

One friend, alas, has had such trouble accepting that I could have been her babysitter (I was 12 when she was born), that she’s telling everyone she knows that I’m turning 50 and she just can’t believe it. 

Now, this is kinda like saying the baby’s ugly.  I can do it – tell my age – but don’t YOU go ’round blathering it to everyone.  :>  Leave them their illusions about my relative youth or age, please.  Snork!!!

Also, for some reason, everyone has decided that this milestone deserves cake.  Lots, and lots, and lots of cake.  The chocolate cake up above was presented, with singing, at Thanksgiving.  This one on the right, was presented to me at a committee meeting today.

Oh, by the way we interrupt this GORGEOUS cake, with it’s beautiful copy of the cover of my next book, (Thank you Lyndsay Llewellyn!) for a news bulletin I’ve been meaning to tell ya’ll….

Thanks to that damn hurricane ’round about Halloween, (you know, that wee breeze named SANDY), Deadly Charms is delayed until January or February.  My editor is in New York.  Yeah.  No power for three weeks puts things in a holding pattern.  (“I’m sorry, Ghostrider, the pattern is full…”)

Back to the cake…it’s red velvet cake.  It’s about 10 inches HIGH.  That is one BIG cake.  HUGE.  The edges are deckled like a book.  I was so moved by this.  These ladies are on a committee with me.  We’d never met until September of this year.  This had to be one of the sweetest things ever.

And I’m a sucker for my name on a cake, and on a book cover.  I got ‘em ALL on one cake!  WOOT!!

That said, my husband is throwing me a party tonight.  I had to discourage him from getting a giant sheet cake.  (What IS it about cake this year?)  Beloved that he is, he bowed to my wishes and got me pumpkin pie.  YES!!! 

He, thankfully did not attempt to make this a surprise.  Bless his heart, he also discovered the true irritant about a December birthday as he tried to make this a big occasion for me: December birthdays take second fiddle to holiday parties, concerts and plays. 

It may be a small group, but that’s okay, more pie for me!!  Bwahahahah!

Pie notwithstanding, I’ve done a LOT of thinking about this birthday.  What have I accomplished in my first half-century?  

I’ve gotten a LOT of things on that bucket list checked off.  Gone to France.  Walked on fire.  Rode bareback.  Won a Best in Show with one of my Dalmatians.  Found and married the love of my life.  Had two beautiful sons.  Wrote books.  Got them published.  Sang a capella in a choral group not affiliated with school.  Sang Messiah with a 300-voice chior (see Thursday’s blog!) Nearly got my black belt in Tae Kwon Do.  Drove a race car.  Shot skeet.  Saw wild dolphins.  Tried various weird foods.  Read LOTS of books including the Bible, Koran, Torah, and Tao Te Ching.  (I’m still confused.   SNORK!!!)  I’ve also accepted that I’ll never be a size 4 (my bone structure alone is bigger than a size 4!) even when I’m in the best of shape.  I’ve accepted who and what I am, and that if others don’t like it, they can lump it.  Grins. 

There’s a lot more, of course, big and small.  However, more importantly, what do I want to do in the second half-century? OH SO MUCH!!

SCOTLAND.  That trip has to be soon.  :>  Learn to speak Gaelic.  Remember French.  Get to Black Belt.  Go running again. See the rest of the 50 States  (I’ve seen 39 and counting.)  Visit Anna and Christine, Helen and Barb in Oz.  Go visit Anna S in England and KJ in Toronto.  Oh, and little things like “Hit the NY Times list”  and  “Have my book be turned into a movie”  and “ACTION FIGURES!!”  Grins.

I have gotten a start on this, by the way.

I’m back in Tae Kwon Do class and moving back up the ranks.  I’ll have that black belt before my NEXT birthday.  :> Watch out, Demetrius!!

I also run my first road race next weekend.  I’ll be stretching myself, for sure.  I’d gotten this App you see…(yes, there IS an App for that!  It’s called Couch to 5K and I recommend it!)  I got up to that “running a 5K” point.  Yeah!  My pals talked me into entering a road race.  We all thought it was a 5K.

Nope.  It’s 5 MILES.  Uphill.  Both ways.  Possibly with snow as it’s on Dec. 15.  *hyperventilating*

Okay, trying for calm here…I picked up my race packet tonight.  The Celtic Solstice Run.  My number’s 2880.  All those 8′s.  Love that.  Eight’s my lucky number.  Maybe I’ll survive this road race thing after all.  And hey, there’s a Celtic Sheep on my premium running shirt, and while it would have been more fun for it to be one of those long-horned Scottish cows I want to see in Scotland’s fields, this works for me.  More luck.  Grins.

There’s a lot more on that list of things “For the Next Bit” including the fact that I plan to be healthy and hearty up to 130, but I won’t bore you with the deets.

Of course in all this reflection and planning, there are also things I won’t ever do again:  Settle for less than my best, or less than I deserve.  Lie to myself about whether I’m happy doing what I’m doing.  Pull my own chain link fencing.  Jump out of perfectly good airplanes.  Re-insulate the attic.  Hang wallpaper myself.

I’ve been-there-done-that (except for the plane – I won’t even GO there!), and I’m old enough and wise enough to pay someone for the chores, and not delude myself about my mental state.  Grins.

So what about you, darling Banditas and Buddies? 

What’s on your Bucket List? 

What do you want do accomplish by the time you’re 50? 

Or if you’re beyond that milestone, you gorgeous thing you, what do you want to do before the next OHHHH! Birthday?

What daring thing are you going to challenge yourself to in this next wonderful year?  Finish the book?  Jump out of a perfectly good airplane (and if so, WHY, for heaven’s sake!?!)

What kind of cake do you love on YOUR birthday….or do you like PIE better?  (Yes, I know we talked about this during a pie/cake fight a year or so ago, but hey, I’m 888, I forget these things.)

 I’ve decided that I’m going to run a road race IN Scotland.  Somehow.  Before I’m 60.  Grins.  I’ll report back…

BTW, this is my new Author Photo…what do you think?  (Cassondra made me post this and ask.  Grins.)

Now…tell me about YOUR Bucket List!!

 ALSO…Be sure to come back to the Lair on December 13 when we kick off the annual 12 BANDITA DAYS OF CHRISTMAS! Prizes and recipes every day!! Roosters. Starbucks goodies. Books. Dragons. Books. Cookies. Godiva. Books!! (By Banditas and friends like Sabrina Jeffries, Liz Carlyle, JD Tyler, Deb Marlowe, Addison Fox and many more!) You know you want the cookies, for sure, so come home to the Lair for the Holidays! Who knows, you might win something, and you’ll be guaranteed to have fun!!

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