Posts tagged with: Holidays

A Lovely Haze

champagne meI’m going to channel my grumpy hero Jonas Merrick here. Those of you who have read SEVEN NIGHTS IN A ROGUE’S BED will know that Jonas spent a lot of his childhood in Italy and tends to break into Italian at moments when he’s moved – as he is quite often when he’s pursuing Sidonie!

Jonas would know well the wonderful Italian saying of il dolce fa niente which basically means the lovely art of doing absolutely nothing.

By the way, here’s a health warning for people currently suffering the awful cold temperatures that are afflicting those in the Northern Hemisphere. This program is rated HW (hot weather). There will be pictures of people basking in sun and enjoying warm temperatures. But I warn you no champagne cocktails were harmed in the creation of this blog.

Huh? Who am I kidding?

Of course champagne cocktails were harmed in great numbers! 

BD rogue2013 was such a flat out year for me and I reached the end of it feeling utterly exhausted. I usually try to take the week between Christmas and New Year off. It’s the middle of the Australian summer, nothing is happening (my father always said not entirely as a joke that if anyone wanted to invade Australia, they’d get from Cape York to Tasmania without striking an ounce of opposition if they decided to come on 27th December). The world seems to be made up of steamy weather, afternoon snoozes and crickets scratching their lungs out. Perfect break weather.

In 2011 and 2012, sadly I got hit with book revisions right on top of Christmas so my hopes of a decent bit of time off went completely west. This year, thanks to a very speedy response from my editor, I managed to get the revisions for Cam’s story WHAT A DUKE DARES, in before Christmas.

Which meant…downtime!

So much downtime that I renamed my house Downtime Abbey!

So for one delicious week, I just pottered around doing what I felt like. Surprisingly, while I did a lot of reading, I didn’t get through nearly as much of the TBR pile as I thought I would. Instead I seemed to be hooked on watching hours and hours of quite uneducational TV (OK, a hint of education snuck in now and again, but it was very much under the cover of darkness!). 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy parents had cable installed in the house before I moved up here and now I’m addicted to it. There’s something wonderfully comforting about watching LAW AND ORDER from back when Jerry Orbach was still investigating. Makes me feel immortal – clearly nobody ever dies in cable TV land. Apart from the victim in LAW AND ORDER, obviously! And even then, they have the comfort of knowing that the tecs of NYPD always get their man. At least on TV!

So I had a lovely time watching stuff on the Criminal Investigation Network. Strangely relaxing hearing about the pursuit of nasty people, no idea why. And a myriad of antique shows on Lifestyle. As some of you know, I’m addicted to people talking about secondhand stuff. Just give me ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, FLOG IT!, ANTIQUES ROADTRIP, CASH IN THE ATTIC, ANTIQUES MASTER, you name it!

Now I think of it, there’s a kind of immortality in Great Aunty Edna’s dining table. It kind of goes on forever too!

And a few other shows I just love. One of my guilty pleasures is JUDGE JUDY. I tell myself it’s research for my books – after all, life’s rich tapestry is displayed with all its clashing colors on JJ.

If I’m not working – as you’ve probably gathered by now, I wasn’t – I’ll also watch THE PEOPLE’S COURT too. I’ve no idea why other people’s loans to their boyfriends and nasty fights with their housemates are so compelling. But somehow they are!

header_judyAnd joy of joys, the Lifestyle Network had new ESCAPE TO THE COUNTRY episodes. I’m not sure if this BBC show is on in the States, but it features U.K. city dwellers who enlist the help of a presenter to help them find a wonderful place in the gorgeous British countryside.

The only real downside (rather than downtime!) of ESCAPE TO THE COUNTRY is that it makes me desperate to own a thatched country cottage in Somerset. Sigh. But nonetheless, it’s perfect lunchtime viewing.

So now I’m back at work, in spite of the fact that the weather is still horrifically hot and the crickets are still carolling in the new year and most other people I know are also having a break. Started a new book on Monday. Wish me luck. And those hours of guilty pleasure TV are but a memory.

EscapeSo what’s you must-watch TV show? Do you have any guilty pleasures when it comes to TV? Do you take  the week between Christmas and New Year off? If so, what did you do this year?

And it bears saying again, may you all have a wonderful 2014!

 

 

12 Days of Banditas Christmas – GRAND PRIZE WINNER!

BanditBootyThank you to all the wonderful readers who commented during the 12 Days of a Banditas Christmas! We had so much fun, and we hope you did, too. The grand prize winner, selected at random from among everyone who commented on Christmas Day is…

Teresa Hughes!

Congratulations, Teresa! I’m so happy for you!!! Please send your snail mail address to me at email hidden; JavaScript is required so we can get your prizes in the mail.

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

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?

At the Cottage…I mean Cabin….

Happy Memorial Day, everybody!

Susan-Ann cabin

Like many of you, I’m at the cottage this weekend.  Excuse me, I mean the cabin.  Not my cabin, let me be clear.  This is a friend’s cabin.  We’re lucky enough to have wonderful friends who own a cabin, and they invited us to spend the holiday weekend with them.  So here we are enjoying the lake in the north woods.  This is us above.  We’re watching the kids catch frogs & the men catch fish while we open a bottle of wine & discuss, well, everything.

We’re having a grand time.  And that was what I intended to write about when I sat down. 

Then I tried to title this post & got hung up.

Because here’s the thing:  we live in Minnesota, and the woods/lake we’re currently enjoying are in northern Wisconsin.  Therefore this structure I’m inside?  It’s a CABIN.  

Now I grew up in Michigan, where if you said “cabin” you were talking about Laura Ingalls Wilder stuff–a historical, pioneery thing build out of trees stacked up like Lincoln logs.  The little houses on northern lakes that we flee to when it gets too hot in the city?  Those are COTTAGES.

Also, we Michiganders ice fish out of shanties, not fish houses or ice houses like they do here MN/WI.  

And when a Michigander says ROOF or ROOT, she’ll pronounce the OO like you would in ALOOF or HOOT.  Minnesotans/Wisconsinites would pronounce the OOs like you would in GOOD or SOOT.    

Now I actually like this for the most part.  This is the upper midwest–we don’t actually have a discernible accent, & I’ve always wanted one.  So I kind of cherish these little regional difference in language.  Every now & then, if you’re really lucky, you’ll hear somebody refer to a drinking fountain as a “bubbler.”  I find this delightful.  

But the other day my kid came home from school and told me she’d been given “rut beer” at school for a special treat.   And I realized that she was growing up with a Minnesota accent.  And I didn’t know how I felt about this. 

On one hand, how fun!  An accent in the family (however tiny.)  Wheee!

On the other, my kid & I now look at the same word and think different things.  And that strikes me as…unsettling.   We’re family.  We’re blood.  We should speak the same language.  And mostly, we do.  Except for this tiny little point where we don’t.  And I just don’t know how I feel about that.

So tell me about where you live.  Does it come with an accent, or regionally-specific terminology?  Does your spouse/partner/kid have an accent that’s different from yours?  How do you handle the differences?  Are they invisible?  Amusing?  Cause for argument?  Share!

stockphotos courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

Fly Your Flag Proudly

A Cookbook Conspiracy by Kate CarlisleIt’s Memorial Day weekend here in the United States, a time to remember people who sacrificed their lives for the greater good. With the U.S. flag flying everywhere, the colors of the day are red, white, and blue. It started me thinking about how many national flags around the world use those same colors. England, Australia, and the U.S., certainly, all countries that are well represented here at Romance Bandits.

flag1The founding fathers of the United States rebelled against Mother England in many ways. We dropped the “U” from words like “colour.” We drive on the other side of the road. (I was going to say, “We drive on the right side of the road,” but I thought that sounded ethnocentric, even though I meant “right” in the sense of “not left” opposed to “not wrong.”) But we kept the same colors in our flag.

Red, white, and blue.

flag3According to Wikipedia.com – admittedly, a sometimes unreliable source – more countries use those colors than any other color combination. For our Canadian Banditas, red and white is the second most common combination. In addition to Australia, the U.K., and the U.S., there are at least 26 other countries that fly a red, white, and blue flag.

flag2I don’t know whether this is truly interesting, or merely interesting to me because I’ve been on something of an American history kick. My next Bibliophile Mystery, A COOKBOOK CONSPIRACY (June 4) features a handwritten, leather-bound cookbook/journal that is filled with secret codes from the American Revolution. I really got into the research for the book and learned a lot about the early days of spycraft, hidden messages, the freemasons…

A Few Fun Facts about the American Flag

  • flag4 Until 1912, the arrangement of the stars was left up to the person who made the flag. Each of the pictures I’ve included in today’s post shows a different layout of the 13 stars that represented the first 13 states. In 1912, Congress set a standard. At that time, there were 48 states.
  • Robert Heft, the 17-year-old student who came up with the current configuration of 50 stars, received only a B- for the project in school, but when Congress accepted his design proposal, his grade was changed to an A.

flag5

  • The U.S. flag is not supposed to be used on anything disposable. Clearly, that’s a rule that’s broken all the time.

Americans, how are you celebrating Memorial Day Weekend? Others, tell me what country you’re from and an interesting fact about your national flag!

The Boom Bandits’ Christmas Top Five

I’m here with Jeanne, my evil twin, and Nancy, the third Boom Bandit.  For any new readers, I should explain.  We have been so named because we like suspense, mayhem, and of course, blowing up stuff.

Blowing up stuff in our books.  Mostly.  Ahem…

 

Anyway, here we are, and we’re talking about our top five Christmas albums, and some of our favorite Christmas songs.

Tis the season, yaknow? 

Yes, I get it.  Some people don’t like Christmas music, don’t like being reminded that it IS Christmas, and would prefer not to hear about it.  In truth I went through a spell where I felt that way. I was sick to death of the crowds and the money mongering, all to the same melancholy musical backdrop that takes over radio frequencies from November until New Year’s Eve.  

 

Then I watched the film Elf, and something shifted.  Partly because in that film, for the first time ever, I heard the song, Baby It’s Cold Outside

I hear you asking the question. “How could this be, Cassondra?  How is it that you could live this long without hearing that song?”

I. Don’t. Know.

I started playing gigs all around the state (singing and playing guitar), when I was fifteen.  I started playing piano for money(all over the southeastern United States) when I was seventeen.  But that was mostly gospel and country.  I grew up in a fundamentalist church.  My whole childhood was swallowed whole by gospel, country, classical (checked out from the library)  and folk music (albums sneaked out of the attic upstairs, when my mom wasn’t looking).  Almost no jazz, or jazz-influenced music at all.  I got a hint of Big Band from the Lawrence Welk Show, but that was it.  That could be the reason I missed out on the jazzier side of Christmas.  The only Christmas music played around our home–or actually, around our town, that I remember–was the kind that centered on the religious.  Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…

Santa Clause was comin’ to town, but only in a church-approved sleigh, yaknow?

Granted, Christmas is  a religious holiday, for many.  But still…where were all of these songs I missed? Merry Christmas Baby, you sure did treat me right…

I have this one memory.  I think it was from fourth grade.  Each of us had to bring a Clorox bleach jug from home.  (For those of you who don’t know, these jugs are opaque white plastic, like the one on the right.  We cut the top off of the jug, just at the top of the label,  where that ridge is in the picture.  We removed said label, turned the bottom half of the jug upside down,  then cut holly leaves and berries out of construction paper and glued them onto the front of the upside-down jug,  to make a marching-band-style “hat”.  Then we had to wear these godawful abominations and stand on a stage, on risers in front of family and friends, while we sang really bad, really depressing carols at the Christmas program. 

It. Was. Awful. 

Maybe that’s what turned me against Christmas carols to begin with.

Honestly though, when you think about that Baby It’s Cold Outside song, and its real meaning, there’s no mistake.  It’s a romance novel in the making.  A really steamy one.  Our intrepid hero is working his butt off to get our heroine to stay for  the night.  She’s resisting in a rather ridiculous  must-play-hard-to-get fashion.   He’s hoping for wild monkey sex, right?

You know he is.  I mean, he’s a guy.

In case you haven’t heard the song, here’s one of my favorite versions, from one of the favorite albums I list, below.

 

My suspicion is that this song was considered inappropriate by a lot of people when I was growing up. Maybe there just weren’t a lot of recorded versions out there.  I dunno. It certainly would have been inappropriate  in MY house.  You know…because of the whole “potential for wild monkey sex” thing.  Nothing sexual about Silent Night.   Well, maybe the “round yon virgin” thing.  But I digress.

Flash forward to adulthood, and  to the movie Elf and Christmas music came alive for me again.  I started buying albums full of Christmas music from Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and their ilk. 

Jeanne grew up in a church-going area too.  She sang in the church choir when she was old enough, and of course, carols were the order of the day.  But mostly, her favorite thing about the season is that it’s COLD. Baby, it’s cold outside, dear Lord  LET IT SNOW in this winter wonderland.  This is where our twin thing diverges.  I’ll go to a nice warm beach, thanks.

Nancy had her share of carols and Christmas music.    About this formative experience, she said,  “I sang in Junior Choir. Considering I can’t carry a tune in the proverbial bucket, this was probably more fun for me than for my more gifted choir-mates. Enthusiasm counted for a lot, though, and I was enthusiastic. In high school, I went caroling with friends a couple of times, again hoping enthusiasm made up for being pitch-challenged.”

So for the three of us, carols were the order of the day.

But back to my (relatively) recent discovery of the NON-carol Christmas song…

Many of these songs have nothing to do with Christmas itself.  They’ve just become standards of the season. And yet, the newer music is, mostly, my favorite.  I still do love the traditional carols though, and I’ve figured out that for me to like them, they have to be upbeat and maybe even a bit jazzy. 

So to that end, we give you the Boom Bandits’ Top Five Christmas albums, which will end up being fifteen, since there are three of us.  Then again, Jeanne and I are the evil twins of the lair, so we may have some duplicates.   Still…although we have a number of evil twin crossovers, we do not always tow the evil twin line.

#5:

 Cassondra: Anything Manheim Steamroller because they just rock.  It’s feel-good music.

Jeanne: Windham Hill’s  Winter Solstice.  Because of the sheer musicality of it, and this amazing, ancient-sounding  stuff you don’t hear on common playlists.

Nancy:  The Roches~~We Three Kings.   This is a capella, beautiful harmony.

 

#4:

Cassondra:  Amy Grant’s Home For Christmas.  Just a really warm, easygoing, family-at-home, glass-of-cider album.

Jeanne:  Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas–It’s jazzy and fun and it’s got my absolute favorite, O Holy Night, with someone who can hit all the notes crisp and clear. 

 Nancy:  Joan Baez~~Noel.  Lovely voice.  Folk music delivery of various carols.

 

#3:

Cassondra:  James Taylor’s At Christmas.  This is from 2006. There is not a bad track on this cd. If I started naming my favorites, I’d name almost every one. I’d never heard In the Bleak Midwinter until this album.

Jeanne:  Anything Manheim Steamroller.  They just rock.  (Cassondra:  I see the evil twin thing starting)

Nancy: The Homecoming Orchestra~~Christmas Baroque.  This is brass renditions of traditional carols.  This was one of those bargain bin purchases.

#2:

Cassondra:    Amy Grant~~A Christmas Album (her first one).   I love most of the songs, but the top ones are Tender Tennessee Christmas, Breath of Heaven, Grown Up Christmas List, and Emmanuel.

Jeanne:  Amy Grant~~ A Christmas Album–Ahem…Notice the exact repeat of my evil twin’s opinion…verbatim….I love most of the songs, but the top ones are Tender Tennessee Christmas, Breath of Heaven, Grown Up Christmas List, and Emmanuel. And yes, I am serious.  We scare each other at times.

Nancy:  Manheim Steamroller~~Christmas Extraordinaire.  Fabulous Orchestral renditions of holiday favorites.  Heavy on brass. (Cassondra:  I’m getting the idea that Nancy likes brass. Hmmm..and we all like Manheim Steamroller.  Which is kind of cool.)

 

#1:

Cassondra:  Rod Stewart’s new Christmas album~~Merry Christmas Baby.  The songs We Three Kings and Auld Lang Syne are worth buying the album for, but you’ll like the others too.  Stewart is an icon for a reason.  And he has some wonderful duets on here. 

Jeanne:  Handel’s The Messiah–You just can’t beat the sheer magnificence of this choral performance. My  father loved opera, so he had  Handel’s The Messiah on the stereo a lot, and I grew up singing it.   It’s still one of my favorites.

Nancy:  Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra~~Christmas at the Pops.   I mean, come on. It’s Arthur Fiedler. It doesn’t get better than that.  (Cassondra admits that she has to agree, and likes this album too.)

 

Okay, okay…we can’t do this without some honorable mentions: 

Jeanne’s new current favorite is Blake Shelton’s brand new Chrismas CD.  In particular Oklahoma Christmas.  (Cassondra:  Just the name makes me want to buy it.)  A second honorable mention goes to BoyzIIMen’s Christmas Interpretations, and in particular, their version of Mary Did You Know.    The bass on that song is so deep and resonant. You just wouldn’t know they were that good until you hear this song. Third is Take Six’s He Is Christmas–I love this a capella group and their incredible sound.

 For Cassondra:  Anything from the Rankin Bass Claymation Christmas shows like Rudolph The Rednosed Reindeer, Silver and Gold–anything by Burl Ives. The soundtrack from The Muppet Christmas Carol.   Martha Stewart’s Christmas collection.  This is a compilation, of course, but it’s an easygoing grouping of jazzy favorites, and is perfect for fixing dinner with a glass of wine, or eating dinner with friends and wine, or relaxing by the fire with wine…ahem… 

Nancy: There’s this album my parents got as a gas station giveaway, back when gas stations had to care whether you bought your gas from them or someone else, but it’s on vinyl, so I never get to play it anymore.  :-/   It’s called This is Chrismas.  I really like the various artists and styles.

Cassondra:  OH…A favorite song I MUST mention is Trisha Yearwood’s version of Mary Did You Know.  It’s haunting, and like Amy Grant’s Breath of Heaven, makes you think about what that time must have been like for Mary and Joseph, outside of the idealized manger scene.  A pregnant young virgin, trekking cross-country and  the man who was taking care of her, who must have had some serious “are you freaking kidding me?” moments when he was taking the whole thing on faith, based on the word of some shimmery dude who poofed into his room out of thin air.  Bandits and buddies, now that’s a romance novel, complete with conflict, and if we tried to sell that story to editors, they’d say, “No way. That would never happen.”

 

So, Bandits and Buddies,

Tell us YOUR favorites.

Do you have a favorite Christmas Album? 

A favorite Christmas song?

Do you like traditional carols, or the newer, jazzier, FUN Christmas songs?

Or do you put on the dark shades and stick in the earplugs and listen to classic rock for six weeks, waiting for the whole thing to be over and done with? 

Do you celebrate Christmas at all? Or do you celebrate Hanukkah?  Or perhaps another holiday? If so, is there special music attached to the midwinter celebration or holy day that you love?

And as long as we’re mentioning the movie Elf, what’s your favorite Christmas movie?

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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 Dianne Love, Sabrina Jeffries, Marquita Valentine, Liz Carlyle, JD Tyler, Lydia Dare, 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!!

Cookie Exchange!

Tradition. Tradition!

LOL! Okay, now I have the song from Fiddler On The Roof running through my head. However, for me, and I dare say some of you, tradition plays an important part of the holiday season.

Thanksgiving at my house always has Turkey with oyster stuffing, Southern style green beans, corn casserole courtesy of Paula Dean, my mother’s cranberry relish, and pumpkin pie. For the past few years my daughters have added their touch to the meal with Alison’s crunchy pecan-topped sweet potato casserole and Lyndsey’s caramel apple pie. Both are now a tradition.

As soon as Thanksgiving is over, I traditionally start my baking. First, and foremost, is the making of Buckeyes! (Peanut butter and confectioner’s sugar balls dipped in chocolate to resemble the Ohio State symbol, the Buckeye nut.) This has been a tradition with me since…I was a teenager. The recipe makes 9 dozen and between my kids, their friends, and my co-workers there isn’t a one of these left after Christmas!

The next traditional cookie is Chocolate Mint cookies! (That’s them over there.) Here’s the recipe:

CHOCOLATE MINT COOKIES

I received this recipe while working at THE Ohio State University’s L&D unit. It became an instant hit with my family and a staple of every Christmas celebration from that time on.

Ingredients:

¾ cup butter

1 ½ cups firmly packed Dark Brown Sugar

2 TBS. Water

1 package semi sweet chocolate chips

2 large eggs

2 ½ cups all purpose flour

1 ¼ tsp. Baking soda

½ tsp. Salt


Directions:
Green chocolate mint wafers, (Andes). About 1 pound. 

1. Heat butter, sugar and water in a large heavy saucepan over low heat until butter is melted. Add chocolate chips, stirring until partially melted. Remove from heat and continue stirring until chocolate is completely melted. Pour into a large mixer bowl and let stand about 10 minutes until slightly cool.

2. With mister at medium speed, beat eggs in one at a time. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients, beating just until blended. Refrigerate at least one hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with foil. Roll tsp of dough into balls, place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake 12-13 minutes. Cookies will appear soft. DO NOT COOK ANY LONGER.

4. Remove from oven and immediately place mint on each hot cookie. Let soften, then swirl mint over cookies to frost. (You can use the tip of a spoon or a toothpick.) Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

 

We also make chocolate chip cookies, replacing the chocolate chips with red and green candies. Peanut Blossom cookies, Coconut Jam Thumbprint cookies, Iced Cookie Cutter Sugar cookies, and if my husband has been especially good, Mexican Wedding Cake Cookies, just for him!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today we started our baking and I had two little helpers with me. They help measure and mix. Then one of their jobs, (you can see them concentrating as they work) is to unwrap the mints that go on last. Hopefully, this will become a tradition they’ll pass on to their kids, too!

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So, what is your favorite tradition for the holidays? Your favorite Christmas Cookie? Want to exchange recipes?  

Have a Piggly Wiggly Holiday

Y’all know, by now, that I am a country girl.

Okay, yes, I am a coffin-sleeping, full-moon-worshiping, black-wardrobe-wearing, goth-Bandita country girl. But  still, y’all know that I love the country.

When Steve and I got married, we moved to the country as soon as we could. But I find myself a little spoiled by the present day, when even out here in the country, I’m not too far from what I want or need. I usually end up going to town once a day to pick up something.

When I was a little girl, that was not so. We lived on a farm, and my mom shopped at the Houchens grocery story in “town.”

“Town” was eight miles to the north. Eight miles was a significant drive back then. Even though my mom worked at a factory on the edge of that same town, she drove to work, and she drove home after work. No stops at a store on the weekdays. It just wasn’t done. 

“Town” was  a special trip.

We made the drive to town once a week, on Saturday, to wash clothes at the Wishy Washy, and to shop for groceries at Houchens. Sometimes we’d stop on the square at the Ben Franklin, and just every now and then, we’d go to the diner for a burger. But that was a rare treat.  The only other reason we went to town, was church on Sunday, or prayer meetin’ on Wednesday night.

Things have changed.

These days, the farmers around here drive into town every day for one thing or another, even just for breakfast or coffee. Families have more than one car. If someone decides she wants to fix spaghetti that night, and she’s out of pasta, she drives the ten or fifteen miles to the store and back, and doesn’t think twice about it. That’s what I do, but when I was a little girl, that would NOT have happened. If you forgot something, you usually did without it for a few days, until the next trip to town.

So although I  live further out now than I did then, the miles that separate me and the “town” seem far shorter now than they did when I was growing up.

When you live in Southern Kentucky, small towns punctuate the rural landscape the way ground black pepper spots good homemade mashed potatoes.

Just enough for what you need.

I’m happy to live in the country between two towns. One, to the north, is a big town. It has a university, two WalMarts, three Kroger locations (that’s the big grocery chain around here) and a mall. It also has a few liquor stores, which also sell wine, for which I am MOST grateful.

The other, to the south, is a small town. More like the one where I grew up. It has a town square. But it also has a WalMart, and just recently, a Lowe’s. It’s a dry county. No stores that sell alcohol.

But still, it has my favorite grocery store ever.

It has a Piggly Wiggly.

It’s small. The produce section is about the size of my kitchen table. It never has, and never will, stock fresh cilantro, fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, exotic mushrooms, or a spice like saffron, that costs a stupid amount of money per ounce. Because they don’t have room, and the people who shop there, generally, don’t buy that stuff. If they need that stuff, they shop at the WalMart, which has a huge (though not high quality) produce section, or if they want a higher quality ingredient, they drive to the big town 20 miles north, to shop at the Kroger.

I love Piggly Wiggly because it is everything a small town grocery should be.

It has all the stuff you absolutely need, and almost none of the stuff to fix a recipe from Food & Wine magazine. And for some reason I can’t entirely explain, I’m glad about that.

I subscribe to Food & Wine, for the record. But I know that if hard times came around again, I’d go back to my raisin’, and I’d eat just fine without those hoity toity ingredients. When I fix a Food & Wine recipe, the only thing I expect to get at the Piggly Wiggly, is the meat.

Because here on the upper edge of the buckle of the Bible Belt, nobody cuts meat nowadays.   I asked, last summer, for the Kroger meat department to grind some sirloin for a new meatloaf recipe I wanted to make. They laughed at me.

“If corporate caught us grinding meat here, my ass would be grass,” the meat man said. I looked through the window behind him. There was an industrial-size meat grinder bolted to the stainless steel table back there.

“What’s that for?” I asked. He looked behind him, then back at me. “We don’t grind no meat here,” he said, and walked away.

At that point, I realized that as far as Kroger was concerned, I could eat what they packaged, or I could starve. And they didn’t care which option I chose.

At the small town Piggly Wiggly, they have a real, honest-to-goodness meat man. Okay, it might be a meat woman, but although I am a feminist at heart, “meat woman” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it? Ahem…

The meat man understands meat. He’s worked as a butcher of some sort for years. He knows the cuts. He knows their challenges. He can discuss my recipes and what I’m after, and can make suggestions on how to cook the different cuts if I have trouble. And if I want a two-inch steak, if he has the sirloin in the back, he’ll mess up his clean equipment to cut the steaks I want for the company I’ve invited that night.  I am impressed that he is willing to do this for me.

At the Piggly Wiggly, young high school boys sack the groceries for me just as they did for my mom when I was a little girl. And they carry these groceries out to my car for me. I don’t know any grocery store anywhere that still does that. Those days are gone, same as having somebody around to pump your gas at the gas station. When I was a little girl, and my mom shopped at Houchens, they carried her groceries to her car.  Now, only at the Piggly Wiggly.

The aisles are narrow at “The Pig”, and the entire store is smaller than the homes of some of my friends. The lights are fluorescent. The computer system at the checkout counter is…well..we’ll just call it retro.

But I go back there, week after week.

In part, I return for the people who work there. They say hello to me and I know they actually recognize me. I’m not just the next customer in line. If I’m absent for a few days, they say, “haven’t seen you in a while. ”

At Kroger, they know I’m there only because there is some computer entry, somewhere, in some corporate office, that says my Kroger Plus Card has been scanned. I can call the Piggly Wiggly, mid-afternoon, and ask them to cut  four sirloin steaks, two-inches thick, so I can pick them up later, and they’ll do it. I don’t have to leave a credit card number. They cut the steaks, leave them in the fridge in the back, with my name on them, and I pick them up when I can get there that evening.

  

Once, many years ago, Piggly Wiggly was the “big” grocery in that small town. As big-box stores took over, and small-town squares turned into shells of their former communities, not many small grocery chains–or small anything else–survived.

There is a rumbling around here, that Kroger will put a store in that small town to the south. It would be a lot easier to shop there than driving to the big town to the north. But do you suppose they will actually be any different than the Kroger in the big town? The one where “you can eat what we prepackage or you can starve” is the bottom line?

I’m thinkin’ not.

I hope, even if the small town does get a Kroger, that the Piggly Wiggly survives.

I’m working on a series that is set partly in a huge city, and partly in small towns like the one where I shop. One of the things I’m using in the story is that contrast. The way a character deals with moving from the city to the small town, and how it changes her.

I love reading series that are set in small towns. It seems like the settings and characters stick with me, long-term, more powerfully than do most big city adventures.  I think it’s easier to get attached to small town characters because those “character communities” that authors set up seem to fit in small towns more easily, and I love those communities.

 I think some of what I get at the Piggly Wiggly is also what I get when I read a series set in a small town.  Of all book series, those are the ones that I tend to finish–I get every book–and when the author moves on to another series, I still want more.  I think it’s a connection to the people and the places in the books.

I was browsing the aisles of the Piggly Wiggly a few weeks ago, and came across a display of those thin children’s books like ones they used to sell in the Houchens when I was growing up. In the Houchens, I’d spend the whole time my mom was shopping, standing beside that circular, spinning rack, checking out those little books.

I was sad to see that Piggly Wiggly’s book rack was way up at the top of the magazine rack. Maybe to keep little fingers from tearing up the books when Mom isn’t looking. And maybe, because times have changed, it’s not safe for mom to leave the little reader alone to do her shopping. Bad people hang out in small towns too, after all.

Outside the Piggly Wiggly, there are boxes full of real estate magazines and the local “swap and trade” weekly. Beside those are some drink machines, a kiosk where you can trade your empty propane tank for a full one, and off to the side, there’s Thunder.

Thunder is a plastic horse, and if you pay your money, he’ll take you on the ride of your life. He’s a little faded from years of sitting there, waiting for the next rider, but even in 2012, you can still get a ride for a quarter.

 

 

Okay, confession time.

I didn’t know that this is Thanksgiving week.

I thought it was next week. I think of Thanksgiving as the 25th or 26th of November, usually. Which should be, according to my internal clock, NEXT week. Not this week.

I got home from West Virginia on Friday and I started cleaning up the house and yard. Then somebody reminded me, last night,that this Thursday is Thanksgiving. I panicked a little.

And I got in the car and went straight to the Piggly Wiggly. They had three fresh turkeys left.

So tell me Bandits and Buddies…

Do you live in a big town, or a small town?

What grocery stores do you have?

What is your favorite place to shop for groceries? Do they know you at “your” store?

Have the big box stores taken over where you are? Or do you still have small community groceries?

Do you live where there’s a butcher and a green grocer? I admit that I turn a little green, myself, with envy, when I think of food sold by a specialist, and the wider choices that might mean.

Or do you live in a place like I do, where you have to depend on whatever they have at the big grocery?

Does your grocery still have a little rack of those thin children’s picture books?

Summer Vacation!

All right, everybody, it’s August! 

It’s likely you’re aware of this already but I thought it worth pointing out, because in our house?  August means vacation. 

Come Monday morning, I’m tossing the kids into the van with five days worth of clothing apiece & taking off for a massive round of driving that won’t end until we’ve seen both the only walled city in North America (Quebec City, bien sur!) and celebrated my fortieth birthday in the state where I was born (Michiganders unite!).  

But when I’m not feverishly doing laundry & changing the oil in my van & checking off the days on my calendar, I’m thinking about other Augusts, other vacations.   Now I don’t often like to double-dip when it comes to vacation–there’s so much of the world to see and so little time/money–but here are a couple places I’d go back to in a red-hot minute.  

Kauai:  Mr. Sey & I left the kids with my folks & celebrated our tenth anniversary on Kauai.  Local ordinances decreed that no building could be taller than a palm tree, so buildings maxed out at about three stories.  It translated to this incredibly laid back vibe.  I don’t think I went into a single restaurant–no matter how expensive–that you couldn’t wear a swim suit to.  Which was nice because the beaches were spectacular.  I ate dinner in my bikini sort of a lot.  Plus the hiking was unbelievable.  And one of my very best friends just happened to be celebrating HER anniversary on Kauai, too.  (Honest to pete, it was a coincidence.  But a wonderful one.)  We’ve promised to go back for our twentieth, but we’ll take the kids.  Maybe we can afford to by then.  

Ireland:  Oh, Ireland.  I love that place.  We took our in-laws & went a few years ago to celebrate Mr. Sey’s 40th birthday.  I’d already been once–my mom’s from Dublin–but the instant Mr. Sey announced the cities to which bargain basement air fares would let us go, he didn’t get past Dublin.  We motored straight across to the Dingle Peninsula where I could happily stay for the rest of my life.   Though, all right, I’ll be honest–we stopped in Dublin for a quick pint at the Guinness brewery.  Possibly two pints.  My memory on this point is a little vague.  (Did I mention I’m Irish?  I cannot pass up a pint.)

So how about you?  Where are your favorite vacation spots?  Do you love revisiting special places?   Or are you a stake-out-new-territory sort?  Where would you love to go but haven’t managed yet?

The Coldest Place on the Planet (Plus Giveaway!)

An Innocent in Paradise by Kate CarlisleWelcome to the holiday season, everyone! Are you making your lists and checking them twice? Planning your holiday parties and marathon shopping trips? Or do you fantasize about escaping the whole season and running off to a tropical island somewhere?

There’s a strong fantasy element in writing for Harlequin Desires, which I love. I’m not talking about fantasy in the sense of dragons or faeries… I’m talking about fantasies such as marrying one of the richest men in the world, traveling to exotic, luxurious locations, never having to worry about money again. Of course the heroines are smart and savvy and can take care of themselves… but for readers (and me!), the fantasy of being able to pay your bills no matter what is pretty intoxicating.

My December Desire, AN INNOCENT IN PARADISE, takes place on the lush tropical paradise of Alleria. The Caribbean island is privately owned by the ultra-rich, handsome, and truly decent Sutherland brothers. These cousins of my popular Duke brothers possess the hero trifecta: money, looks, and a great sense of honor. Plus, hello, they own a gorgeous Caribbean island (just one of their many jaw-dropping real estate investments). I love these guys! Ah, Fantasy.

Cold Minnesota sceneAnd to make the fantasy even more delicious, I brought research scientist Grace Farrell to the island from a place that could possibly be the coldest place on the planet… Minnesota! Seriously – I read an article online from Christian Science Monitor that said that International Falls, Minnesota, is one of the five coldest places on earth. In January, they hit 46 below zero. Forty-six. Below. {{Shiver with me!}} They call themselves the Nation’s Icebox… as if that’s a positive thing. Who wants to go to an icebox?! (Not me! I grab my sweatshirt when the temperature drops below 70.)

It’s no wonder Grace can’t believe her good fortune. She’s about to step into a fantasy that’s beyond her wildest imagination. Here’s a quickie excerpt:

Glancing around the luxurious hotel room with its elegant white wainscoting, coffered ceilings and wide open view of the sparkling Caribbean waters, Grace allowed herself to revel in a moment of happy amazement. How in the world had she landed in such a beautiful place?

Romantic Caribbean hotel

Of course the question was rhetorical, she thought with a smile, since she knew exactly how she’d arrived. But it was remarkable that less than forty-eight hours ago, she’d been racing through the Minneapolis airport to make her flight. It had been difficult to run in her wool coat and thick sweater, heavy jeans, gloves and boots. What a difference between then and now …

The Temporary Mrs. King by Maureen Child I’m thrilled that AN INNOCENT IN PARADISE is coming out in December! And guess what. My good friend Maureen Child also has a book out this month with Desire – THE TEMPORARY MRS. KING – and it, too, has a tropical island setting. Talk about a Double Fantasy!

We’re both positive that December readers will be eager to escape to the islands, so to celebrate our double release, we’re each giving away a copy of our book to a random commenter today. That’s two winners today!

But even better, you can enter our fabulous contest for the grand prize in our Tropical Christmas giveaway! It’s a beach bag filled with lots of fun, beachy prizes to pamper you and make you smile. Click here to Enter: Tropical Christmas giveaway!

Tropical Christmas Giveaway from Maureen Child and Kate Carlisle

Have you ever been to the Caribbean or someplace else that’s tropical? Where did you go and what was the most memorable part of your trip? If you haven’t ever traveled to the tropics, do you want to some day? If so, where would you most like to go?

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