Posts tagged with: Holidays

Days of the Dead with Gail Z. Martin

My guest today will be familiar to our regular visitors. Gail Z. Martin is the author of the urban fantasy Deadly Curiosities series set in Charleston, SC, three epic fantasy series, The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of the Necromancer series, and The Fallen Kings Cycle as well as a new Steampunk series, Iron and Blood co-authored with Larry N. Martin. A brand new epic fantasy series debuts from Solaris Books in 2017.

As though all that weren’t enough, Gail writes three ebook series: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures and The Blaine McFadden AdventuresThe Storm and Fury Adventures, steampunk stories set in the Iron & Blood world, are co-authored with Larry N. Martin.

Gail joins us today as part of her annual Days of the Dead blog tour, which has this cool graphic:

DaysofDead Banner V1 copy

Welcome, Gail! Why Days of the Dead as the name of your blog tour?

gailI write about a necromancer and plenty of death/blood magic plus Voodoo, hoodoo and undead monsters, and the blog tour is always the last week of October–which contains All Hallows’ Eve, Samhain, Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. So it’s kind of a perfect fit! This is the ninth year I think, and it’s always fun and different every time.

How does magic related to death figure into your work?

For a reasonably optimistic person, I seem to be a bit hung up on death. In my Chronicles of the Necromancer series, my main character is (spoilers!) a necromancer who is the good guy. So Tris spends a lot of his time learning to navigate between the realms of life and death and determining the moral boundaries of what he *should* do compared to what he *can* do and bargaining with immortal entities.

In the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga books, we have a secondary character who is a necromancer and Tormod plays a little loose with the morality of raising the long-dead as shock troops in battle and using necromancy as an offensive magical power. In the Deadly Curiosities series, we have a Victorian adventurer necromancer whose power is substantial, very constrained by his morality, but also a lethal weapon against certain kinds of supernatural predators.

IronBlood-cover-design-140x217In Iron & Blood, our steampunk novel, we encounter a witch who delves into darker areas of magic in order to combat killer ghosts and a very dangerous type of undead monsters. The new Epically-Epic Epic Fantasy That Cannot Be Named that I’m working on for Solaris Books to debut in 2017 takes yet another approach to death-related magic, but I can’t really talk about the particulars yet!

I think I’m drawn to the idea of blood magic and/or death magic as being the logical counterpart to Life/Light magic. The concept of a blood sacrifice of some magnitude (token or life blood) is extremely old and factors into all mythology. We fear the idea of resurrection even as we covet it, and anyone who holds that kind of god-like power would be dangerous and susceptible to strong temptation to misuse the magic.

Life and death (or creation/destruction or birth/entropy) are the ultimate primal forces, so there’s plenty of power to be drawn from. I also use other types of magic (herbalist, spell work, sigils and runes, divination, etc.) But I keep coming back to death/blood/necromancy because there’s such rich tradition to mine. Or maybe I’m a little bit Goth!

What led you to explore this?

I’ve been fascinated with cemeteries and ghost stories truly since I was a little kid. I have read books by paranormal researchers for years as well as ‘true’ ghost stories–can’t get enough. I watched Dark Shadows as a pre-schooler, and cut my teeth on Night Gallery and Alfred Hitchcock, as well as reading books on the Apocalypse, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and the Lives of the Saints (gruesome stuff, all of it–amazing what you can find in the church library). I used to grab all the back issues of my grandmother’s Fate Magazine as a kid and hole up reading them until I had to sleep with the light on.

I’m absolutely fascinated by the weird and obscure–things like the Mutter Museum, the ossuaries under Rome and the necropolis beneath Paris. I have dragged my poor family on cemetery and ghost tours all around the world. Hauntings intrigue me, and I tend to gravitate toward people with Gifts (although as far as I can tell, I have no psychic abilities of my own, or I wouldn’t lose my car keys so often). And I love mythology and legend, which of course focuses on the line between life and death, the power of blood to curse or atone, and the cycle of death and resurrection. I guess I’m a little twisted!

We’re about to dive into the year-end holiday blitz, careening from Halloween into Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year’s. Of those, which are your favorites, and how do you celebrate them?

For almost 20 years, we did a 20 hour round/trip car ride to Pennsylvania for all major holidays. That’s one tradition I don’t miss, although I wish extended family lived closer (or were still here to celebrate).

halloween3 We personally celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Decorating is a BIG thing at our place. We’ll have decorations up inside and out from Halloween until New Years. So for Halloween, we’ve got a 7 foot inflatable light-up dragon (with moving wings), a 6 foot tall stack of pumpkins, a 12 foot haunted castle archway, myriad light-up spiders and tombstones, plus a full-sized inflatable hearse driven by a headless coachman and featuring a vampire rising from his coffin in the back!

Inside, I’ve got all kinds of spooky-fun decorations with ghosts, witches, pumpkins, and skulls. Gotta have skulls.

halloween1

Many of our neighbors are Indian, so we get to celebrate Diwali by association, since fireworks are a big part of that celebration and there’s no missing the explosions in our neighborhood. Some of our friends decorate with strings of colored lights to simulate the fireworks, and then stick plastic candy canes in front of the bushes the week after Diwali is over and they’re ready for Christmas. Hey, it’s America–you can pretty much celebrate however you want!

For Thanksgiving, that’s a whole different set of decorations with a fall leaves garland at the front door, and inside, cornucopias, pumpkins, turkeys and pilgrims. Oh, and a big turkey tureen with matching turkey candle holders and salt/pepper shakers, which is the bane of my children’s existence. (I wanted one for AGES and finally found exactly the right set on EBay!)

We start decorating the Christmas trees (four large ones, plus smaller ones in the bedrooms) the day after Thanksgiving. It’s a multiple-day process. It takes me one full day just to put the lights on one of the trees, and it starts out pre-lit! One tree has ornaments that we’ve collected our whole lives. One tree is a bit more formal and themed. One tree has ornaments that the kids either made when they were little or that have a childhood connection–it’s also the fandom tree with the Enterprise, the Serenity and the Millennium Falcon. Oh, and then there’s the big silver tree in my office (shiny!) decorated with DragonCon badges.

And food! Larry and I both cook. UNC Daughter bakes. Now that we don’t make the trek to PA anymore since all of our parents have passed, our kids and their significant others come to our place. We cook, they play tabletop games and watch anime. Wassail is very popular, and so is Larry’s Southern Living homemade pimento cheese spread. I’m in charge of the turkey and stuffing. Good times!

How many series are you currently writing?

DEADLY-CURIOSITIES1-140x214It depends on how you count. Chronicles of the Necromancer, Fallen Kings Cycle, Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, Iron & Blood, Deadly Curiosities and the new Epically-Epic Epic Fantasy (I’m going to start calling it E3F for short). So that’s 6, but technically Chronicle and Fallen Kings are the same world/characters, so maybe 5.

Then there’s the Salvage Rat space opera proto-series that currently exists in three short stories but we have plans for novels. In various stages of proposal/development are a horror novel, a very dark second urban fantasy series, a different epic fantasy series that will probably be indie novellas, and a couple of possible tie-in series. So lots of stuff in the works!

What inspired you to develop the various series of short stories that tie into your novels, and which short stories tie into which novels’ universes?

I had more stories to tell than would fit in the books. Not all of the stories were big enough or complicated enough to be books, but they made good extra ‘episodes’. And I’m not contractually permitted to bring out additional full books in the series except through the publisher without getting messy, but short fiction doesn’t count.GZM_The_Shadowed_Path_205x330

The Deadly Curiosities Adventures tie into the novels Deadly Curiosities and Vendetta and happen before, during, between and after the books. The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures are prequels to The Summoner in my Chronicles of the Necromancer/Fallen Kings world. The Blaine McFadden Adventures are novellas that connect to the Ascendant Kingdoms books and fill a time gap in Ice Forged. Larry N. Martin and I co-write the Storm and Fury Adventures, which extend the Iron & Blood steampunk world. We try to bring something new out in one of the series each month!

You attend a fair number of science fiction conventions each year. What do you most enjoy about them?

I do 12-17 cons a year, and they are both social and marketing for me. Cons are where I meet readers and other authors and hang out with my friends. I went to cons before I was a pro, and love being on the other side of the panel table now! I really enjoy fandom, so every con feels like a homecoming. Plus cons are where I do business–selling books, getting invited to new anthologies and projects, meeting editors, coming up with collaborations with other authors!

Ice-Forged-cover-21-140x227Is there a particular place readers new to your work should start?

First books are always good starting points! So that would be The Summoner or Ice Forged or Deadly Curiosities or Iron & Blood. I guess you could also start with the short stories, but you don’t have to read them first.

Please tell us about the other blog tour you’re currently participating in, Hold Onto the Light.

#HoldOnToTheLight is a blogging campaign with over 100 sci-fi and fantasy authors sharing about how depression, suicide, PTSD, anxiety and other mental health issues have impacted them, their characters and their books. We want to encourage a safe, inclusive environment for fans who also struggle, and demonstrate that fandom takes care of its own. You can find links to all of the blog posts at HoldOnToTheLight.com

holdontothelight-fb-banner

Where can people find more information about that?

Links to all of the posts are up on HoldOnToTheLight.com along with related posts, and we also have a Facebook page at facebook.com/WeHoldOnToTheLight and a Facebook group at #HoldOnToTheLight, and the links to the blog posts show up on those places as well as other similar content.

What do you have on your slate for the rest of 2016, and what’s scheduled already for 2017?

I’m doing Atomacon in Charleston, SC in November along with the Carolina Renaissance Festival’s Time Travelers’ Weekend/Lit Festival. 2017 starts up again in January with Illogicon, then Coastal Magic, Capricon and Mysticon in February, the AZ Renaissance Festival in March and more!

How can people check out your work and maybe win some prizes?

Get all the details about my Days of the Dead blog tour here: http://bit.ly/2eC2pxP with several ways to win free books and ebooks plus other cool stuff.

Book swag is the new Trick-or-Treat! All of my guest blog posts have links to free excerpts—grab them all!

Creepy! Free excerpt from our Steampunk Storm and Fury Adventures short story Resurrection Day http://bit.ly/2efV7nF

TrickOrTreat w excerpt Baba Ali & The Clockwork Djinn by Danielle Ackley-McPhail https://www.wattpad.com/myworks/15195351-baba-ali-and-the-clockwork-djinn

Use your free @Audible trial to get my books! The Dread Audible https://amzn.com/B00740L9G8

TrickOrTreat DoubleDragonSampler#5 http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/sample/DDPSAMPLE005.mobi

You can also connect with Gail on social media:

Find her at www.GailZMartin.com, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on Facebook.com/WinterKingdoms, at DisquietingVisions.com blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, on Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/GailZMartin and free excerpts on Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin.

So, everyone, tell us–of all the upcoming holidays, which is your favorite, and how do you celebrate it? What’s your favorite ghost story or magic story?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the 9th Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …

9 delicious hockey hunks!

I could just stop there, couldn’t I? 9 delicious hockey hunks … yum! We could all enjoy them. Who needs anything more?

See you all after Christmas 😉

Ahem.

Okay, as I’m getting dirty looks from Sven, who wants a proper Christmas post in the Lair, I suppose I’d better do this properly. Jeez – just because Zach and the other hockey hunks pilfered one or two (or several) of Sven’s stash of festive bubbly after their latest win …

It’s great to be released from my writing cave, so I can spend time with you all. Missed you! In honour of the occasion I thought I’d give you some festive cheer in the form of some hockey teams showing us how to celebrate Christmas, followed by a special Christmas Quick Five.

First up, the Belfast Giants and All I Want for Christmas is You …

Thanks, lads!

Next up, the Sheffield Steelers took a different approach to a favourite English Christmas tune, Merry Christmas, Everyone …

Moving over to the NHL, the defending Stanley Cup champs have released a holiday album you won’t want to miss!

Heading north of the border, we have the Ottawa Senators’ rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas …

Ottawa Senators 12 Days of Christmas

Unfortunately, the Calgary Flames didn’t fare so well …

Calgary Flames Ugly Christmas Sweaters

And finally, that Christmas classic, The Night Before Christmas, from the Dallas Stars …

Dallas Stars The Night Before Christmas

As you might imagine, not all goes smoothly filming these videos …

St Louis Blues Outtakes

(I’m sorry the last four were only available on the NHL console.)

Cover2a-APerfectStorm All of which goes to show that just because these guys are hot on ice, they can’t be good at everything! 😉

 

And now, over to you for a Festive Quick Five. In honour of the season, I’m giving away a New Jersey Ice Cats Christmas Ornament and a complete set of my limited edition, Ice Cats’ short stories to one lucky commenter. Don’t forget, you still have a few days to download A Perfect Storm, my FREE December Ice Cats’ short story, on my website in the For Readers section here.

  1.  Christmas sweaters – yes or no?
  2. Are you a fancy wrapper, with bows, ribbons and all the bells and whistles or a toss it in a gift-bagger?
  3. Worst Christmas present?
  4. Favourite Christmas ornament?
  5. What would you like Santa to bring you?

 

Oh, I nearly forgot … a Christmas cookie recipe. This is for Lizzie’s Sweet Treats Shortbread Cookies. Lizzie appears in the NJ Ice Cats short story, A Perfect Party (which is still available for download on my website, in the For Readers section here).

Ingredients: (approx 12 cookies)Cover-APerfectParty

150g self-raising flour
150g salted butter
50g golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence (optional)
Cadbury’s Chocolate Buttons or any chocolate pieces (optional)
Cling-film or plastic wrap.

 

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F

  1. Add flour, sugar and butter (plus vanilla) to food processor or mixer and pulse until mixture is like wet sand.
  2. Lay out a large piece of cling-film on the counter and pour the mixture onto it.
  3. Using the cling-film to help keep the mixture together, press and roll, until you have a long, solid roll of dough, wrapped in plastic.
  4. Store in refrigerator for an hour.
  5. Slice dough into ¼” or ½” rounds and put onto a well-greased or sheet-lined baking tray.
  6. Cook for approx 15 mins. Note: timing depends on how thickly you cut the rounds.
  7. When cooked, use a spatula to slide onto a wire rack. Note: the cookies will be very soft when warm, so if they’re too fragile, it’s okay to let them cool on the tray for a few minutes to let them harden a little.
  8. (Optional) While cookies are cooling, add chocolate button to the centre of each cookie.

Note: If you don’t use metric measures, keep the flour, butter and sugar in the ratio of 3:3:1 (eg 6oz, 6oz, 2oz)

However you celebrate the festive season, I hope it is a happy, healthy and fun one for you and yours and that 2016 is a great year.

Thanksgiving Ramblings 2015

Well, delicious aromas are wafting from the Lair kitchen.  The cabana boys have the table set, and the gladiators and hockey hunks are hauling the Christmas decorations down from the attic.  Meanwhile, the banditas have scattered to spend the day in our own ways.

For me, Thanksgiving and Christmas are about family and friends.  This year fits that pattern. The boy is home from school, and some friends are joining us for dinner this evening.

Barcelona_LSF3Last year was different, though.  Last year, the boy was studying in Barcelona, Spain, where there is no Thanksgiving break. He wasn’t going to be able to come home. The dh had research he needed to do there, however, along with a grant to subsidize his travel, so he opted for taking his research trip during our Thanksgiving holiday. We flew to Barcelona and spent the holiday with our boy.

Here are my guys enjoying Antoni Gaudi’s magnificent (and yet unfinished) cathedral, La Sagrada Familia. Way back behind them is the altar.  Until we took this trip, I had no idea the dh had wanted to see this church as much as I wanted to see Westminster Hall.  Watching him marvel at it was one of the highlights of my holiday.

Barcelona_TvgDessertThe biggest thing for him and me, of course, was spending time with the boy, whom we hadn’t seen since September.  He’d checked with some of his professors about restaurants and found a nice one for us to have our Thanksgiving meal.  Turkey, naturally, was not on the menu.  I had yummy bluefish risotto and this really fabulous apple tart with cinnamon ice cream.  That’s the most un-traditional Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever had.

All of us look back fondly on spending that holiday together.  And just by the way, those are wing-to-wing TIE fighters on the boy’s shirt in the photo above. *g*

We had a great time, but I wouldn’t want to be away every holiday.  I know people, though, who head out every year to some interesting place.  They don’t have large families, and they welcome the chance to take a break.

Barcelona_LSF1Holidays are a time for remembering, too.  A time for thinking of people who’re no longer with us and places we’ve left behind and the good things that happened around them.  My family had 17 to Thanksgiving dinner when I was growing up–my grandfather, my mom’s siblings and their families, and our family.  I loved those big gatherings, but I also enjoy our small, low-key celebrations.

We’ve reached the stage in life now where our friends’ parents are passing away and, unfortunately, so are some of our friends.  Losing people makes us conscious of the parts of our lives they took with them and of how much the people who are still with us mean.  Today we’ll be grateful for all them, those who’re with us and those who used to be.

And of course there will be football.  I’ve heard mutterings from the guys in the Lair about the Green Bay Packers, but our family team is the Carolina Panthers, who play the Cowboys this afternoon. I figure I’ll probably have to go home to watch that since none of the Lair’s resident guys will likely vote for it.

The dragon is happily snoozing in her cave, and the Golden Rooster is, for once, making trouble elsewhere.  I’m sure he’ll be back in time for dinner, though.

Is Thanksgiving a holiday where you are? How do you like to spend your holidays, and has there been one that breaks your usual pattern? Are you watching any sports competition today?

Don’t forget, we’re hanging out here again tomorrow.  We’ll share shopping adventures, shopping aversion (that would be my style) and thoughts on the rest of the year. 

Gelati I Have Known…

IMG_9393Hello all! Happy New Year! I hope your 2015 is jam-packed with excitement and joy.

I’m back from a series of beach holidays–first to our usual stomping ground, a place called Coolum to the north of my home town of Brisbane, Australia. Gorgeous beaches, not too crowded, laid-back easy lifestyle. I could easily live up there if the sea air didn’t make my hair feel like it belonged on a Barbie doll.

The best gelato, too–Ferrero Rocher–Yum!

1242971316-oracle-33303Then we went to the Gold Coast south of Brisbane. The Gold Coast has a totally different vibe from Coolum. Lots of high-rises, lots of glitz, lots of tourists who have no idea about proper sun protection, or that you really are risking your life if you don’t swim between the flags on a patrolled beach!

We played tennis, swam in the pool, went to the beach as well as to my favourite art gallery for a window shop.

Also, there was gelato. Mango, another favourite! Mmmm. (Sensing a theme here?)

IMG_1241Lastly, we went camping on Stradbroke Island, which is the second largest sand island in the world. We had a ball, camping with four families. The kids went feral, the whole tribe of them running wild from dawn till dusk, attacking the waves and each other, climbing rocks, playing hide-and-seek and card games. Not an electronic device in sight. At night, the men would take them crab spotting on the beach and the female contingent would savour our G&Ts and gossip.

149On a visit to Noreen’s Seaside Shop we ladies all bought flowery mu-mus and wore them proudly. One well-prepared friend brought her espresso machine and milk frother and made us coffee every morning. We did the gorge walk and saw kangaroos, dolphins, manta rays, turtles. It’s a breath-taking place.

Not to mention that every day we went to an INCREDIBLE gelato shop. 🙂 The queue was 30 deep whenever we went but it was worth it. They change their flavours every few hours. There was Tiramisu, Nectarine, Strawberry pavlova, Hazelnut, Pina Colada, Boysenberry, Plum, everything you could imagine. The trick was eating them fast enough before they melted in the hot summer sun!

How was your holiday season? What’s your idea of paradise? Is there any particular food you associate with being on holiday?

The Year Jazzman Was In Charge Of Present Disbursal…

TreeWhen we lived in Florida, I was scheduled to work Christmas Eve night, something every nurse has faced during holidays. Now that meant I’d be gone when the kids were asleep and I’d have to leave the “scattering” of presents under the tree to the Jazzman. I’d made three piles in our bedroom of wrapped presents with the stockings stuffed for each child on top of them. I gave Jazzman strict instructions on waiting until the kids (all in elementary and middle school) had gone to bed, then he was to mix up the presents under the tree, and lay the stockings to one side. (We didn’t have a fireplace, so that’s as good as it got.)

Well, the next morning, I got an interesting story from the kids.

Apparently Jazzman went to sleep before putting out the presents. OH NO!

So my youngest daughter and son woke up at around 5 am and imagine this…NO PRESENTS UNDER THE TREE!!

Well, being the smart kids they were, they quickly figured out Jazzman hadn’t done his bit. So they knocked on the bedroom door to wake him, saying, “Dad, you forgot to put our presents under the tree.”

So, Jazzman hauls out the 3 piles and puts them under the tree. In 3 piles.

The kids: No Dad, you have to mess them up like this.

And they proceed to make a huge mess of the presents, mixing them all up. In the mean time, Jazzman has decided he was awake and started making coffee. The kids put a big kabosh on that.

The kids: No Dad, you have to go back to bed now.

Jazzman: Why?

The kids: Because we have to find our presents and try to figure out what they are.20131224_011416-1

Jazzman: What do you mean find your presents?

The kids: Every year while you and Mom sleep, we get up early and find all our presents. We make a pile, then try to figure out what each one is. Then we put them back in a mess under the tree.

Jazzman, looking sleepy and confused: But they were in neat piles. You two just made the mess.

The kids: Daddy, this is our tradition!

Jazzman gave up and crawled back in bed. He said he layed there with the door cracked, listening to the two of them giggle and rattle the wrapped packages. Finally, they went back to bed, too. When I came home, I had to wake everyone up to open their presents, unaware of their little tradition.

🙂

Close to the Fire final for Barnes and NobleI love that story. It’s amazing the traditions our kids pick up that we don’t even start, while others are intentional. I must make Buckeye candy every year, as well as chocolate mint cookies, peanut blossoms, coconut jam thumbprints and m&m cookies. I have to decorate cookie cutter cookies with the kids and now grandkids. We have to go to church on Christmas Eve just to hear my daughter sing O Holy Night. Everyone must get a stocking full of fun things and everyone gets warm socks. Oh yes, I also have to have a homemade cheeseball on Christmas Day for them to munch on while dinner is cooking.

So, dear readers, what is your favorite family tradition? Is there a food item you must have? Do you presents in a certain order? Does your family have something you must do every year in order to make the holiday a success? Since it’s holiday time, I think I’ll give away a copy of my newest book, CLOSE TO THE FIRE to one reader who posts a tradition today.

 

Holiday Recipe Share

Betty Lewis, 1950I always think of my mother, Betty Lewis, at this time of the year because she was such a traditional, old-fashioned cook, and I like using the recipes she handed down to me over the years.

One Christmas gift I cherish came from my sister-in-law who copied and framed one of my mom’s recipes in her own handwriting.  It’s a lovely idea and a special gift.

The holiday season is creeping up on us all too fast.  I’m not one of those who shops a little all year long, so at the last minute I have tons of crafts and gifts, decorations and food preparation.

One of the great treasures of this time of the year is sharing favorite recipes.  In remembrance of my mother and as a nod to my family, I’d like to share a few recipes from my files.

My husband’s mother was a meat-and-potatoes woman who overcooked everything, but no one could beat her in the homemade candy-making department.  Every Christmas she mailed us a package of her assorted candies:  fudge, divinity, caramels with nuts, and her famous penuche, Dr. Big’s favorite:

MABEL’S PENUCHEpenuche

Butter an8x 8×2 inch pan.  Coarsely chop and set aside 3/4 cup pecans.  Mix together in a heavy  2 quart saucepan 3 cups firmly packed brown sugar, 1 cup plus 2 TB milk, 1/2 t. salt.

Stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved.  Increase heat and bring mixture to boiling, stirring frequently.  Put candy thermometer in place.  Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until mixture reaches 234 degrees F. (soft ball stage — remove from heat while testing).  During cooking, wash crystals from sides of pan.  Remove from heat.  Set aside until just cool enough to hold pan on hand.  Do not jar pan or stir.

When cool, add 3 TB butter, 1 1/2 t. vanilla.  Beat vigorously until mixture loses its gloss.  With a few strokes stir in the chopped nuts.  Quickly candy #1turn into the buttered pan without scraping bottom and sides of saucepan and spread evenly.  Set aside to cool.

Note:  I love how Mabel gives these little added tips which are helpful for new candy-makers!  Also, I like a richer candy, so I use half and half or evaporated milk instead of regular milk.  I don’t think 1 and 2 percent milk was available back in the day.

 

 

BETTY’S SOUR CREAM CASSEROLE

  • 1 pkg frozen hash browns, thawed
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 8-oz. carton sour cream
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion
  • 1 can cream of chicken souppotato casserole
  • 2 c. grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 c. corn flakes

Mix all ingredients together, except 1/2 stick butter and corn flakes.  Pour into 9 by 13 pan.  Melt 1/2 stick butter with corn flakes and sprinkle on potato mixture.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Note:  This is a great side-dish and super easy to make ahead.

cookiesWhat are your favorite, go-to recipes for the holiday season?  Any ideas of what to make with the left-over turkey or ham?  I need some additions to my recipe file, so please share!

 

Letting Go

My daughter called me the other day to inform me she’d finally gotten to the ugly job of cleaning her kitchen cabinets.  That’s one of those tasks you swipe at when you’re doing dishes or cooking, promising yourself you’ll tackle the deep cleaning later.

kitchen cabinetOf course, like most of us, you wait until the job becomes THE NASTY CHORE.

While I listened to her complain about the cleaning job, how long it took, and how much elbow grease she invested into it, I took a quick look at my own kitchen cabinets.

For maybe a second or two I thought about tackling the same chore in my 30-year old house and concluded … nah, I’d rather spend my limited time doing something else.

I decided I can live with a lot of things that I categorize broadly as “letting go.”

I have a long list of things I have let go of; here are a few:mopping floor

          1.     I no longer mop floors on my hands and knees. If I can’t con someone (like Dr. Big) into doing it for me, I spray cleaner on the flooring and maneuver my foot wrapped in a rag to wipe up the dirt.

          2.     I no longer cook dried beans. Seriously, that’s what canned beans are for, and I promise you no one can tell the difference in your recipe.  My perennially favorite chili takes about thirty minutes to make instead of hours.

          3.     I no longer wear eye makeup. This was a hard one to let go of – vanity pushed me for a long time until I realized that wearing eyeglasses covers up most of my eyes anyway.  My “makeup,” when and if I use it, takes 20 seconds to apply.

eye makeup          4.     I don’t wash my sheets every week. This is not a nod to conservation (although I always pretend it is), but honestly, how dirty can sheets get when a person showers before bedtime?  Every two weeks is fine.  Oddly, the hard part of this chore is not the washing and drying of the items, but putting them BACK ON the bed!

          5.     I don’t send out Christmas greetings. This is a new “letting go” for my family.  Those folks I know and love most dearly keep in contact via phone, email, or text nearly every day – Banditas included, of course!  Why pressure myself with a tradition I no longer enjoy doing?

What about you?  In this terribly busy holiday season, what are you “letting go” of?  Xmas cardWhat shortcuts can you share with our readers?  How are you streamlining your life so you have more time for the activities you really enjoy?

 

TPG Final cover
I’d love to send a free download of my Christmas novella “The Perfect Gift,” to one commenter whose ingenuity about “letting go” tickles my fancy.

Holidays and Reading – Quick Five!

It’s a busy time of year. For the US Banditas and BBs, you have Thanksgiving next week. For the rest of us, who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, we edge ever closer to the big Christmas holiday!

I don’t about where you are, but the Christmas ads started appearing in late September and Christmas in the shops was around that time too! Now, I love Christmas, but really? It gets earlier and earlier every year and the sales even start before Christmas now! I went into one well-known shop and they were already playing Christmas music in September! I said to the check-out girl that she’d be sick of it by the time Christmas rolled around and she said she was already channeling Scrooge and ‘Bah, humbug’!

We’re traditionalists in the Sugden household and wait until December 1st to start decorating – though now that Doc Cambridge is retired, we do tend to get the decs up as soon after the 1st as possible. Also, we’re very strict about taking them down again before Twelfth Night — it’s considered bad luck to have them up after that — so I like to be able to enjoy the lights and baubles and Christmas spirit.

As for getting the presents, my friends and family fall into two camps – the ‘organised and have it all finished before the decorations even go up’ crew and ‘where can I buy that on Christmas Eve’ gang! As everyone has got older, it has become harder to find presents, so we’re definitely ‘buy it when you find it’ shoppers. We also try to be organised, because we have so many parcels that have to be posted overseas and the last posting dates are getting earlier and earlier! For our friends Down Under, it’s December 3rd! *gulp*

Tiny TreatsOne thing it’s never too early for is holiday reading! I can buy holiday reads all year round! This year, with writing A Perfect Party for Tiny Treats: A Holiday Collection, I went on a holiday read spending spree. I can see I’m going to have lots of nice reads for the next couple of months! Of course, I’m always on the look out for recommendations, so feel free to tell me about great holiday reads.

That said, the holidays are also a time when I get long periods where I can just sit and read – such a luxury! So I often save up books by my favourite authors to read then. Especially the ones I still by in hardback! They’re very rarely holiday themed, but I enjoy curling up in front of the fire and getting lost in their worlds. (Though since some of them are romantic suspense – not too lost!)

So, over to you

1. What kind of Christmas shopper are you? Are you a ‘buy it when you see it’ or a ‘last minute panicker’ or a ‘start on Black Friday and get it all done by Dec 1st’ or something else?

2. When do you put your decorations up? ASAP, after Thanksgiving, Dec 1st, as late as possible, Christmas Eve?

3. When you do start reading holiday stories? As soon as possible, any time, after Thanksgiving, after Dec 1st, just over the Christmas to New Year period?

4. Favourite all-time holiday read?

5. What are you looking forward to reading this holiday season? Any recommendations?

And don’t forget to download your copy of Tiny Treats – it’s FREE! Just click on the cover and it will take you through to Amazon.

 

Christmas with the Earl!

Earl low resIt’s a launch party in the lair!

But first, an apology!

I know it’s far too early to be talking Christmas – even when it’s only Christmas books. Please don’t take this post as a signal to run off and give your list to Santa! It’s still a bit over six weeks until the fat, jolly bloke with the facial hair squeezes down your chimney!

So having got that off my chest, let me tell you about my latest release, HER CHRISTMAS EARL: A REGENCY NOVELLA!

While it mightn’t be the time yet to wrap the gifts for under the tree, it’s definitely the time of year when it’s nice to have something romantic and short to read while the world goes crazy around us. I think novellas are really great when there’s Holidays everywhere and all the other end of the year madness. You get your romance fix and still have time and attention to deal with any crises that pop up!

Writing a novella at this time of year is almost a public service!

Haddon 2So given how chaotic things get in the lair in the lead up to the festive season, I thought we’d have a practice run so the cabana boys have everything down to a T when the real time comes.

But before I introduce your Yuletide entertainment, let me introduce HER CHRISTMAS EARL. Firstly, here’s the blurb:

No good deed goes unpunished…
To save her hen-witted sister from scandal, Philippa Sanders ventures into a rake’s bedroom – and into his power. Now her reputation hangs by a thread and only a hurried marriage can rescue her. Is the Earl of Erskine the heartless libertine the world believes? Or will Philippa discover unexpected honor in a man notorious for his wild ways?
haddon 1Blair Hume, the dissolute Earl of Erskine, has had his eye on the intriguing Miss Sanders since he arrived at this deadly dull house party. Now a reckless act delivers this beguiling woman into his hands as a delightful Christmas gift. Does fate offer him a fleeting Yuletide diversion? Or will this Christmas Eve encounter spark a passion to last a lifetime?You can read an excerpt on my website here: http://annacampbell.info/xmasearl.html

And all of that Christmassy Earlish goodness for the measly price of 99 cents!

Goodness, I think you should go and buy 10! Well, I would think that, wouldn’t I?

If you click on that pretty red cover at the top of this piece, it will take you right to Amazon (we like to make things easy for you!).

You can also buy HER CHRISTMAS EARL from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/486725christmas 2

The story starts on Christmas Eve during a country house party in Wiltshire – a good excuse for me to share a couple of favorite photos from beautiful Haddon Hall which is in Derbyshire but was very much on my mind when I wrote this.

So I asked the cabana boys to turn the lair into a stately home in Regency England at Christmas. But I fear they didn’t get quite the right idea!

Plastic Christmas trees in lovely Hartley Manor in 1823? Sacre bleu as the French chef there is fond of saying!
christmas 1And what about the  plastic reindeers that light up? It’s enough to send Wellington back to Waterloo in disgust! And Napoleon off for a nap!

So if you were arranging a lovely Christmas party in snowy Wiltshire for an Earl and his new bride, what would you do to make the house atmospheric and lovely? Mince pies? Carol singers? Roaring log fires? Lots of mistletoe for the earl and his bride to kiss under – not that they need much encouragement!

BanditBootyI have three downloads of HER CHRISTMAS EARL: A REGENCY NOVELLA up for grabs today to people who comment so get talking Christmas decorations! Good luck!

Anticipating the Holidays

…and not in a good way. A friend of mine was hosting a Halloween party this year. Awesome! Her party, however, fell the day after Halloween, on November 1. This was actually perfect, since it was a Saturday night and we “fell back” an hour last night/this morning as we left off Daylight Savings Time. A fun party plus an extra hour of sleep? Woo hoo!

pot brownieThis was a costume party, mind you. A costume optional party, but my husband and I thought it would be fun to go in costume for once. We are not “costume people.” Still, we were making an effort. Yesterday (the day of the party), I went to a craft store to look for a couple of things I needed to complete my costume (I was a pot brownie, he was Tim the Enchanter). While there, I noticed there was a lot of Anticipating the Holidays going on. Not only was all the Halloween stuff at least 75% off, but the Thanksgiving stuff was at least 50% off. Thanksgiving isn’t for another 25 days, people! For the mathy among us, that is 3 weeks and 4 days away. Practically a month! Yet they are so desperate to commit fully and completely to Christmas that Thanksgiving has already been pushed into one side of a single aisle and priced to move.

Tim the EnchanterI don’t care to anticipate the holidays quite that much. Heck, I have Veteran’s Day to celebrate and a 7-night cruise to enjoy before we even get to Thanksgiving! After that is my mother’s birthday, a sister’s birthday, a brother-in-law’s birthday, my sister-in-law’s birthday and my father’s birthday (he would have been 78 this year) before we get to Christmas. I don’t need to jump straight from Halloween to Christmas, craft store people. Thanks anyway!

How about you? Do you like to jump ahead and get an extra-early start on the holidays or are you content to let one pass before anticipating the next? (Confession, I have bought a couple of Christmas presents already.) I would love to know who is carefully crafting for Christmas and who still has turkey on her mind! 🙂

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