Tuesday, December 31, 2013

For Auld Lang Syne



I'm wishing you health, happiness, and economic stability in the year ahead. For me, 2013 had some major good moments because two of my books were published. In 2014, Patriot's Heart is slated to be released in February. I'm a happy writer. :-)

In case you were busy this year and missed reading some of my blog posts, I thought you might be interested in seeing the ones that received the most hits. I thank all who stopped in for a look around. 
I appreciate the comments, too. 

1. With over 3,400 views My Thumb and the Synovial Cyst must have struck a chord with many readers. Or maybe a lot of people have the same problem. Check it out at the link:

2. Celebrating the Release of DADDY WANTED with a Contest received over 1800 views. I think that was due to the fact that it was a contest. It's nice to win something. However, that contest is over. If you want to enter another contest go here:

3. Sunday Scenes: KISS OF BLARNEY received more than 750 hits. You should read it if you haven't already done so.

4. I put up a fantastic guest post in July. Whatever Happened to Courtship? attracted a lot of attention.  If you missed it, you ought to read it now.

5. Mom's Secret Rice Pudding Recipe is great for those who love creamy rice pudding. Add this one to your recipe file.

6. My DIY Book Promo can help you get your marketing plan off the ground. 

7. Sunday Scenes: A RUSH OF LIGHT was another popular post. Must have been great for the lunchtime readers. :-) 

I hope you enjoy my most popular blog posts of 2013. Stop by in 2014. I'm sure I'll have something interesting to say. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Favorite Dinner Rolls


These are my favorite dinner rolls! I found the recipe a long time ago in the Better Homes and Gardens magazine. My precious clipping is encased in a plastic sleeve, but I found the recipe online when I went looking for it.

Try these. They are delicious and not much work at all. Besides, there is nothing like a yeast bread baking in the oven. It makes the whole house smell wonderful. :-)

Dinner Rolls Italiano

3-1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
2 packages active dry yeast
1-1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, plus 2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Combine 1-1/2 cups flour with yeast and Italian seasoning. Heat milk, water, sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, and garlic salt just until warm (115 to 120 degrees F.); add to flour mixture. Add eggs. Beat at low speed of electric mixer 1/2 minute. Beat 3 minutes at high speed. Stir in 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Add in as much of the remaining flour as you can stir in. Turn out onto a floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough. Shape into ball. Place in greased bowl. Cover; let rise in warm place until double in volume (about 45 minutes). Punch down; let rest 10 minutes. Shape into 16 balls. Dip tops into 2 tablespoons melted butter, then in remaining grated Parmesan cheese. Place rolls in two greased 8- or 9-inch round baking pans. Cover; let rise until nearly double in size (about 15 minutes). Bake at 375 degrees F. for 20 to 25 minutes.--Carol M. Gilley, Cookeville, Tenn.

Makes 16 rolls.




Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Blessing

May the peace and joy of Christmas live in your heart all year long.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sharing


This is a photo from Christmas 1953. That's me sitting on my mother's lap in the center of the photo. My brother is on the floor on the right. My paternal grandparents are on the left and I think the legs must belong to my uncle because I am sure my father took the picture.

I don't really remember the dollhouse or the baby carriage in the picture, but I'm sure I loved the doll my mother helped me unwrap. I enjoyed pretending to be just like Mommy.

Back in the fifties, gifts for children were always specific to gender. Fortunately for me, I happened to like "girl" toys. However, I was lucky because I had a brother close in age and I played with his toys, too. I got to run his trains, fill up his dump trucks with dirt, and shoot him with his own cap guns. :-)

Sharing is a good thing.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Magic

"Christmas Magic" was a winner in the 1992 holiday story contest sponsored by the Asbury Park Press. There are no cellphones in this story because at the time I wrote it few people owned cellphones. The story is actually based on an a real incident--but that happened during the summertime, not at Christmas. Still, if the little white-haired woman wasn't Mrs. Claus, she was certainly an angel in disguise. :^)

Beverly kneaded the satiny dough. With its pungent bits of candied citrus, this bread was destined to grace some elderly person's table for tomorrow's Christmas dinner.

Lucy, Beverly's 7-year-old, patted her own little mound of dough. "Why couldn't we go to a party like Daddy and Mark?"

"Daddy's office always has a party every Christmas Eve and Mark wanted to get together with his friends. They'll be home all day tomorrow." Beverly nestled each loaf tenderly inside the bread pans. "And I promised to make this bread."

A pout formed on Lucy's lips as she pummeled her dough. "I want to go someplace! This is boring!"
Beverly frowned as the phone rang. But Lucy scrambled off into the family room. She came back several minutes later smiling proudly.

"Mrs. Roper is sick. I told her it would be easy for us to carry a hundred loaves of bread with our minivan."

Beverly groaned. It would take 45 minutes to drive to the distribution center. One way. She glanced around. The tree, centered in the front window, twinkled merrily. All the presents had been wrapped and placed under the tree.

"Next time, ask me first." Beverly sighed.

Lucy's mood did not improve despite the heavenly aroma of 100 loaves of fresh baked bread in the car. She didn't even want to listen to her favorite tape of Christmas carols.

"Robert told everyone in the class yesterday that there is no Santa Claus."

A pang squeezed Beverly's heart as she drove. The nerve of that rotten Robert.

"Miss Jensen took Robert out of the room and talked to him. She was very angry."

"Did he apologize after that?"

"Oh sure. But then when we went outside on the playground he told us we were all a bunch of babies."

Beverly thought of the cookies and milk beside the fireplace. Did they have to lose the magic?

"What did you say to that?" Beverly's throat felt tight.

"I told him to stop." Lucy tilted up her chin. "I told him he should be ashamed of himself. He made Sara and Jessica cry. And anyway, he believes in Dracula."

But Beverly was afraid to ask Lucy if she still believed in Santa. So she didn't.

The car seemed to have a black cloud in it on the way home. Even the comforting smell of bread hadn't lingered on when all those loaves left. The country road had few streetlights, too. When the car's engine suddenly stopped, Beverly had a moment of panic before she saw a liquor store just ahead.

The minivan had just enough power to coast into the parking lot.

Beverly tried starting it again but it refused to kick over.

"Hey, lady. Sounds like you forgot to put gas in it." One of the liquor store's customers commented as Beverly got out of the car. Another fellow snickered in agreement.

"I have a half a tank of gas." Beverly informed them through her clenched teeth. She would let her husband know that male chauvinism was alive and well.

Beverly called home and left a message on the machine. She left a message on her husband's answering machine at work. She left another message on her neighbor's answering machine.
She decided to try starting up the car again. Maybe she had flooded it.

"I'm cold," Lucy whined.

"At least it isn't snowing--yet." Beverly glanced up at the black sky.

A battered Toyota pulled up beside them and a white-haired woman got out.

"Having trouble?" she inquired as she tapped on the glass.

Beverly rolled down her window. The woman had to be less than 5 feet tall.

"It just died in the middle of the road and it won't start up again. And I have plenty of gas in the tank."

"Try starting it up again." The woman ducked under the hood as Beverly ground on the starter again.

"Keep going!" The woman called out.

Maybe Beverly would ruin the starter or the battery or some other vital organ, but right now she wanted to get home. So she turned the key and held her breath.

The engine caught.

Beverly's thanks seemed so inadequate.

The white-haired woman wiped her hands on an old cloth hanky. "Carburetor. Better get it checked."

For a long time as Beverly and Lucy continued homeward, they both listened attentively to the sound of the engine.

Finally Lucy said, "That was Mrs. Santa Claus."

Beverly smiled. The magic was still there. "I think you're right."




Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Past


This photo was taken many years ago when my daughters were young. They were acting out the Christmas story. Daughter #3 was Mary, Daughter #2 was a lamb, and Daughter #1 was one of the Wise Men. Our daughters used to put on a small play or puppet show every Christmas. Sometimes, when their cousins were visiting, the cast became larger.

Now that out daughters are all grown up, they no longer put together a play to entertain us, but since they did it every year when they were children I know the Christmas story is engraved on their hearts and that they will always remember that Christmas is not really about the presents we give to each other, but the gift that God gave to us.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Paternal Grandmother

Styles have changed and I am so grateful for that fact. The gigantic bow on my grandmother's head is really wild. Then there's the long gloves and the dropped waist with a gigantic flower arrangement attached.

I have no idea what the occasion is for this formal portrait. My grandmother was not Catholic. Dad says she was Protestant. Since her family was German, I have assumed she might have been Lutheran, but I don't know. I was told that when my grandfather married her, the ceremony was conducted in the vestibule of the Catholic church. They were not allowed at the altar.

She was a quiet woman. Her parents had a chicken farm in Pennington and when my father was young, he spent his summers there on the farm. I've never seen the farm--only photos of it.

My grandmother died at the age of sixty-three. I did not get to attend the funeral because I was babysitting my younger sisters and my cousins. My brother did not attend the funeral either. He was overseeing the construction work being done on our house as two more rooms were added.

I wish I knew more about her. I know she made dumplings, which my father loved. I know her cousin, Pearl, lived upstairs in the two-family house in Jersey City. But that's about it. I wish she hadn't been so quiet.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Advertising Is Important

Pictured in the photo above are my three daughters along with a table full of unique and beautiful handmade items. My mother, Daughter #2, and I decided to go into business one beautiful autumn day. We gathered all our wares and set up a table at the flea market in Keyport.

Yes, once upon a time, in the dark ages before the internet, I thought I could make extra money by selling crocheted ornaments I had made. It took me at least forty-five minutes to make each ornament and then I had to stiffen each one. However, crochet thread was inexpensive. Though I knew I would not be making a decent hourly wage I was sure I would sell enough of my ornaments to make up the price of the materials. I believed my low, low prices would have everyone snatching them up.

My mother was a terrific artist. She always hoped to get extra cash selling her paintings. She hit upon a popular idea of decorating old saws with lovely scenes. She went to garage sales, bought old saws for next to nothing and turned them into beautiful pieces of decorative art.

Daughter #2 sewed doll clothes for the popular American Girl dolls. For a youngster, she had talent.

We did not advertise. At all. :-( Still, we expected hordes of delighted customers to show up at our table and purchase our exquisite handiwork.

A few people walked by. I sold two ornaments. It was very disappointing. If we had rent to pay, we would have been bankrupt on day one. :-(

I gave up crocheting ornaments. Now I'm trying to sell books. LOL! In 2011 there were three million books published. That's a lot of competition, but now we have the internet and social media marketing. I am doing my best to get the word out about my books, but it isn't easy. It does take time, but if I don't toot my own horn, nobody will know I exist.

I found a great link, SMALL BUSINESS MARKETING. It offers plenty of sensible suggestions for marketing your wares. I know now how important advertising is!

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Send a Real Card

Last night, hubby and I worked for a few hours signing our Christmas cards, stuffing the cards in the envelopes, and putting on the stamps. Years ago, I made the process simpler by printing out address labels. I also put together The Marzec Times, our annual newsletter, which briefly covers the highlights of our year. We slip the newsletter inside the card.

Sending out Christmas cards is one of the traditions of the season I love. I haven’t seen Marie since college, but I send her a card every year--and she sends one back. Our neighbors moved away twenty-seven years ago, but we still keep in touch at Christmas time. It gives me a warm feeling to think about them and to know how they are doing. We probably won’t get together and visit each other, but it doesn’t matter. We remember each other and wish each other well and hope that next year another card will come.

To me, the emotional connection is the most important part of the tradition.

Fewer and fewer people send out cards these days. Yes, the price of stamps keeps going up, but spending 46 cents once a year on an old friend is a far cheaper than buying them a drink.

Posting “Merry Christmas” or "Happy Holidays" on Facebook is nice, but it will soon be forgotten in a cascade of hastily posted greetings. A card in the mailbox is a special surprise, one that can be held and remembered for a long, long time after its delivery. A card is a gift, real symbol of your presence to someone else.

Over the years, I have removed people from my card list. I usually give them a few years, and then I reluctantly cross them off. However, I will often email the pdf file of our Christmas newsletter to them. I figure it is something they can print if they like—or send it to their ereader. It is my attempt to reach out and keep in touch. I find it very sad that in our modern society with all our amazing communication devices, all I ever get from many people are a bunch of forwarded messages that contain nothing about their personal lives and many of those forwarded messages are filled with hate, which is even more distressing.

Please touch somebody in a special way this holiday season. Send them a real paper card in the mail. Give them a memory.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Sunday Scenes: THE BEAST OF BLACKBIRCH MANOR


The Beast of Blackbirch Manor has two covers, the one on the left is the original version designed for the digital edition and is still in use at Barnes & Noble's online site. The cover on the right is the one you will see at Amazon for both the print and digital editions. 

The story is my take on a classic Gothic as well as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. The heroine, Victoria, was married by proxy to a cursed man, covered in fur and destined to become a wolf.  


The scene below is a dream sequence in which Victoria relives a horrifying moment in her life...

She heard the wail. It sounded more like the cry of a beast than a human. Searching though the long corridor in the basement beneath the manor, she shivered with only her thin nightgown to protect her from the chill. She loathed the basement where the dampness set mold to growing on the walls no matter how often the servants scrubbed it away and she feared the creatures that inhabited the darker corners. But she could not think about that now. Her bare feet made no sound as she hurried softly along the passage.

She cursed Paul’s stubbornness for refusing to have her mother put away. If he would only listen to reason! She wanted to be free--like other young women her age. She was seventeen! She wanted to go to parties and dances. She wanted to fall in love. But there could be no peace in Blackbirch Manor due to her mother. It was as if the old house had become a prison for them all.

Another animalistic howl sent ice tingling along her spine. An echo bounced off the solid stone walls. Stopping for a moment, she listened intently but heard nothing save the creaks and groans of the massive timbers as they bore up under the weight of the old dwelling. Her hands shook as she felt her way along the walls. She paused at the door to each storage room and barely breathed, waiting to hear the rasp of her mother’s labored gasps for air.

The darkness was complete. She could see nothing, but when she heard the singular creak of the heavy door that led from the basement to the kitchen stairs, she scrambled in that direction. The sound of her mother’s laugh, a wild cackle that seemed almost demonic, froze her heart. The hinge of the door that led outside squealed and she felt the draught of the wind rushing into the basement. Her heart quailed, for there could be no telling in which direction her mother would go once she escaped. If she ran all the way down the hill into Taylor’s Grove, everyone would learn the truth. That must not happen--no matter how much she resented caring for her mother. She did not want anyone to know of her mother’s madness.

Stumbling up the steps and out into the chilly night, she saw she had only a pale sliver of moon to guide her. She ran into the kitchen garden, but her mother was not there. From the corner of her eye, she caught a movement at the corner of the house. Taking a deep breath, she sprang in that direction for all she was worth.

More hysterical laughter echoed in the icy air as she rounded the corner in chase. An ache in her side slowed her, but she did not stop. Her mother must be headed for the gate! In despair, she wondered why no one else had come to help her. She tried to call for Paul and Ipsy and William--anyone--but though she formed the words with her lips, no sound came out.

Off to her right, she heard the crush of leaves in the underbrush and the snap of branches in the woods. Someone--or something--was nearby. Fearfully, she looked this way and that, but all she saw were the swinging their branches of the black birches in the nighttime breeze--shadowing the pallid moon to leave her in darkness so deep that the gloom became as dense as a thick velvet curtain. 
Again, she heard the sound and the smell of terror filled her nostrils.

Without any other warning, she was grabbed from behind. And then she heard the scream, the hideous screams that echoed on and on.

She woke and realized that the screams had come from her own lips. Her heart thundered as she stared up into the face of the Beast. He loomed over her, his powerful hands pressed against her shoulders, pinning her upon the mattress.