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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Ringing in the New Year


At the end of the year, we will ring in 2023 hoping for more peace, happiness and success than we’ve had in 2022. Toward this end we make resolutions to do things differently or to change our habits. But many of us have traditions which we observe as we makes these transitions.

In my family, we have two traditional soups that we associate Christmas and New Year’s. One is French Onion, and the other is my daughter’s specialty, Leek and Potato. Depending on who is cooking when, these recipes alternate between the holidays. This year it’s my turn to cook for New Year’s so we’ll be having French Onion Soup.

Here is my French Onion Soup recipe in case you’d like to try it for New Year’s or later in the new year.

French Onion Soup 

5 large yellow onions

3 tbsp. butter

1 tbsp. oil

2 – 13 ¼ oz. cans beef broth

2 tbsp. flour

½ cup dry white wine

Salt & pepper

6 – ½ inch slices French bread (I usually make more to use with leftovers as   

         I like   mine with lots of bread.)

½ - 1 cup Shredded Swiss cheese (again, I like it with lots of cheese.)

½ cup Parmesan Cheese


Day before: Peel and slice onions. Heat butter and oil; cook onions and 1 tsp. sugar slowly over low to medium heat, stirring often until soft and golden. (This may take an hour or more.)


Meanwhile, bring broth to simmer. When onions are done, sprinkle with flour and stir over low heat 2 minutes. Off heat, stir broth and wine into onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer partially covered for 15 minutes.


Lightly toast bread slices on a baking sheet in a 325 degree oven for about 20 minutes. They should get dry, but not necessarily brown. Store in plastic bag until ready to serve. Do ahead to here. Let soup cool and keep in refrigerator.


To serve: Preheat broiler. Heat soup on stovetop until hot. Taste soup, add salt and pepper if needed. Ladle hot soup into oven-proof individual serving bowls. Lightly butter toasted bread. Sprinkle with Swiss cheese the top with Parmesan. Place under broiler and keep a close watch until cheese melts and browns lightly. Serve at once.


Do you have any New Year’s traditions in your family?

Best wishes for a wonderful 2023!


   Ann Markim




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Monday, December 26, 2022

Two Literary Houses and an Interesting Museum with an amazing Treasure

 Recently my husband and I attended a family wedding. We drove from Yorkshire and stayed in a cottage in the village of Chawton in Hampshire, almost next door to the house where Jane Austen lived.

Chawton is a delightful country village, close to the market town of Alton. The manor house where Jane Austen's brother Edward sometimes lived lies a short walk away and Jane knew it well. Her sister and mother are buried close by,  in the grounds of St Nicholas' Church, and you can see their well-tended graves.

The cottage where Jane lived with her sister Cassandra and her mother and where she revised Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice and wrote Mansfield PartEmma and Persuasion, is airy and spacious with beautiful gardens. Inside you can see the tiny table on which Jane wrote her novels. Chawton itself was within walking or donkey-cart distance of Alton and a surprisingly bustling place in Jane's time since the main coach road ran through the village.

Four miles from Chawton in Selborne, the house of the naturalist Gilbert White is larger, with extensive gardens. You can see his study and writing desk. I would have liked to have walked up the Hanger on the path Gilbert White made but sadly could not - I had a chest infection and was too ill. But an interesting visit, nonetheless.

On one of my better days, when I wasn't coughing so much, we also visited Alton and Alton Museum. This is a wonderful place, full of fascinating exhibits dating from the Stone Age onwards. Being especially intrigued by the Middle Ages, I loved the Anglo-Saxon gold Alton buckle. This had obviously a much-treasured item, as it had been carefully repaired. [Picture from Hampshire Council's pages for Alton Museum.]

Here is an excerpt, in the viewpoint of the hero, Conrad, where he and others are considering a great golden torc. I had in my mind the Snettisham gold torc when I wrote my story, and you can see a photo of that find below.

Curious where he had not been greatly intrigued before, merely staying with Maggie to ensure she was safe, Conrad waited for the smoke of the priest’s spitting, damp torch to settle, and then looked for himself.
So much bright gold, was his first thought, while Richard, naturally stretched out sticky fingers to paw at the pieces and Earl John intoned, “Roman, or earlier, and fit for a king.”
"This is the holy moon torc of Saint Oswald!” snapped the priest, keen to put the church’s ownership beyond doubt, “Discovered in a pond near here by my great-grandfather!”
"I have heard tell of such sacred wonders before,” said Conrad, hoping to prevent the priest and earl from saying more in anger or gold-greed that they could not take back.
“It was a woman’s,” said Maggie softly beside him, glancing once at him to share her thought. 

Wishing everyone a golden holiday season and a bright new year.

Lindsay Townsend 

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Unusual Christmas Decorations from Around the World

 Unusual Christmas Decorations from Around the World

C. A. Asbrey

Christmas is something that has travelled around the globe, and every country, or culture, has made it their own. That has resulted in many unique and beautiful decorations that may seem strange to outsiders, but which tell us a bit more about their history and folklore.

Some of it may seem familiar to you, but to the rest of us, they're novel and delightful items. The first will probably seem commonplace to our American readers, but to my Scottish eyes looks very new.

The Weihnachtsgurke or Christmas Pickle

The Weihnachtsgurke, or Christmas Pickle, is popular in certain areas of the USA, and although it's rumoured to be a German tradition, but there's no evidence to support that it's anything other North American. No historic examples can be found anywhere in Germany, but it does seem to be something that's particular to German Americans.

One suggested origin relates to the Civil War in 1864, and a Bavarian-born Private John C. Lower was a starving prisoner of war. He begged the guard for food on Christmas Eve, and was given a pickle which he later credited for saving his life. The story goes that every year Lower hung a pickle on his Christmas tree and brought the family in to find it for luck. The tradition spread, and people started asking for them when Woolworths began carrying glass ornaments from Lauscha. Another suggestion is that the first ornaments were based on fruit and vegetables that could be blown in glass, but that the pickles weren't selling well. The theory is that a marketing decision was made to invent a history to move the merchandise, and as the German Americans were the second largest immigrant group in America, they had a decent demographic to appeal to.

They became so popular that they have actually started selling in Germany.

In a similar vein, many Scots place a robin on their tree—just one, and usually hidden in the undergrowth. The tradition is that children should find the robin without help from the adults and kiss it. The origins of this tradition are obscure, but likely are tied up with the Celtic superstition that robins are an intermediary with the other world. The saying, "When robins appear, loved ones are near" brings the comfort of a visit from dead loved ones for the holiday season.

I hide a robin in my tree every year, and always have done.

Ukraine is high in everyone's consciousness at the moment, and they also have a unique spin, quite literally, on Christmas decorations. They decorate with beautiful golden spider webs.

These are based on the old folk tale of a woman who had no Christmas decorations, and the spiders answered her prayers, and decorated her tree for her. The frost bejewelled the webs, and then a touch of magic turned them to gold and silver when the sun rose. They had the most beautiful Christmas tree, and were able to sell the webs afterwards, lifting them out of poverty. Some Ukrainians also add jewelled spiders, which are seen as lucky.

El Caganer

The Catalonians decorate with a figure called El Caganer. It translates as The Pooper, and has been found in Nativity scenes since the seventeenth century. Similar characters can be found throughout southwestern Europe, particularly in Murcia, Valencia, and Naples. The origins are unclear, but as there is a pooping figure carved in the cathedral of Cuidad Rodrigo which was built between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. There also seem to be cultural links with the Tió de Nadal Cachafuòc or Soc de Nadal which is a log that is presented to the children on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec 8th. The children are given the job of caring for, and feeding, the log until Christmas eve when it is placed on the fireplace and beaten with sticks until it defecates sweets.

The ancient links to these figures may come from the fact that they are also areas where ancient Celtic tribes had strongholds that were overtaken by Christianity. And in most such places, traditional elements have always persevered, although in a changed and evolved way. Some have conjectured that it relates to fertility, and is definitely associated with luck. There are many European superstitions connected to animal mess, be it being hit with bird poop, to standing in animal faeces - all considered counterintuitively lucky.

The rise of the use of the figure in the Baroque period might have been part of a culture clash between locals and the Council of Trent's counter-reformation pushing a doctrine that art "should be easily understood and strongly felt by common people with the effect of encouraging piety and an awe for the church." The fact that these figures appear in religious scenes, and undermine the awe to the point of inspiring laughter can't be just a coincidence. Couple this with the Catalonian saying, "Menja bé, caga fort i no tinguis por a la mort! ("Eat well, shit heartily, and don't be afraid of death!")". It shows a grab-life-by-the-throat kind of spirit, and one that doesn't take itself too seriously 

It was always traditionally a male peasant figure, but in recent years both male and female versions have become available, with a popular line in famous figures being sold to tourists. 

In Greece, they often don't have a tree at all. They have the Christmas boat or “karavaki”, beautiful boats covered in lights. When trees are put up, the children make pretty little boats to hang from the branches. The boats are then used like little baskets to hold sweets and treats. Where there are real boats, they are often festooned in coloured lights in harbours and on beaches.   


In Norway they weave little paper baskets to hang on the tree called Julekurver. These baskets are then filled with sweets. It is rumoured that Hans Christian Andersen started this tradition, but this can't be verified. These beautiful little containers can be made in a variety of shapes and colours, and increasingly the heart version has been taken up by crafters in the USA to be used on Valentine's Day. They are fairly easy to make (so I'm told. I've never tried, but they are so pretty I may have to start). If you are keen to have a go, there are numerous videos and instructions online.

Whatever you do for the holidays, however you worship, and whoever you spend them with, I wish you all a very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year. Happy everything to everyone!


She sighed, turning to him. “Oh, Nat. What a mess. What can we do?” “Do?” 

He leaned in inches from her face, his hot breath hitting her flesh. “We have another chance. We grab it with both hands.” 

“And do what?” Her eyes glittered with inquiring intensely. 

“I still won’t be involved with a criminal. I won’t live life on the run.”

He reached out and stroked her cheek, his smile slipping so easily into the feral. “But you’d be so good at it.” 

“I’m not joking, Nat. We both know there’s something deep here, but it’s not a relationship until we move things on. Falling in love is a big enough gamble as it is without making things more dangerous.” 

He arched his brows, his face lighting. “Love? You love me?” 

“One of us had to say it, and I’m no coward.” She tilted her head proactively. “You have all the missing pieces of my soul. The question is, do I complete the puzzle and accept them?” 

“Oh, neither of us have a choice in that. It’s whether we learn to live with it or fight it.” He rolled a hand into her hair, threading it between between his fingers as he grasped the back of her head and pulled her to him. His kiss was fierce, flooding her senses and causing the world to fall away beneath her. He pulled back staring straight into her with an honesty more frightening than his lies. “Which is it?” 

Her brows met in consternation. “I just told you I love you. Is that all you have to say?” 

The lights in his eyes danced, the way only his devilment could. “Abi…of course I love you. Haven’t I told you so in every breath since we met? Love isn’t only a word. It’s what we do.” His fingers trailed lazily over her cheeks and down to her neck. He brushed her earlobe with velvet lips, moving to her neck. Her head rolled back and her lips parted involuntarily as he toyed with sweet spot on her neck. He was playing with her, making her wait for the crashing crescendo to flood her senses. His mellifluous baritone floated in her ear. “Come with me, Abi. Let me show you more.” His fingers interlaced with hers and he stood, pulling her to her feet, embracing her like a dancing partner. “Let me show how much I love you.” 

She reached out and drew him into a sensual kiss, running her hands through his thick hair. His hand dropped to her hip, moving her inexorably toward the door. It settled there and pulled her close to his hard chest. She groaned, anticipating his next move. 

She slipped one foot behind his and pushed hard. Surprise crowded his face as he tumbled backward onto the floor. “What the hell—"

Her generous lips tugged into her lopsided smile. “You think I’m going to fall into your bed? Think again, Mr. Quinn. If you want to show me love, you can think of a way out of this mess first. Do something to show you deserve me." 


Sunday, December 4, 2022


 Post by Doris McCraw aka Angela Raines

Do you ever ask yourself why you are a writer or why you do anything on the creative spectrum? As the year closes out, perhaps it's time for reflection.

When I take the time to review my year, my whys, and my accomplishments it allows me to take stock of my creative life.

My goal this year had been to put out four pieces of work. I managed to get out three. By taking a look at how I was able to get done what I got done and what kept me from finishing my goal is a way for me to see what I need to change for next year.

I didn't do as much marketing as I've done in the past yet with the publications I managed to stay ahead of the curve.

Now you may ask why do I take the time to do this? I made the goal I just didn't finish it. Now here is where the WHY comes in. Why do I even write? Why did I leave music and theater where I was with other people to take up a solitary profession? All of this plays into the answers.

Photo property of the author.

Although I do love music and theater as time has passed I found that I enjoy my alone time more than I used to. At the same time, I have to be creative, it's a part of my DNA. Additionally, income does play a part in it. I made good money in the theater arts. The thing about the theatrical arts is it's not necessarily consistent jobs and incomes. As an author, I can make up a little bit of the difference in consistency by being responsible for my own output.

This takes us back to why I review my year. The 2022 review has pointed out the following:

1. Putting out four publications a year will keep my name in front of readers.

2. More focus needs to be put on marketing.

3. I will continue to add nonfiction work to my novel and short-story works.

4. Scheduling more time to share not only my work but the work of others is something that is important to me.

5. I still have a lot of stories I want to tell.

Do you know your WHY? Do you review your year? What are your end-of-year processes? I'd love to know.

Until 2023, have a wonderful rest of your year, enjoy the Holidays and keep on writing.

Doris McCraw

Thursday, December 1, 2022

New Release — The Millionaire (Friendly Creek Book 4) by Agnes Alexander


Dylan Abernathy’s tyrannical grandmother dies, leaving him her fortune—all amassed by deceitful and unsavory business practices. Even worse, he discovers she’s lied to him his entire life about his father, even conspiring to kill the man to keep Dylan from learning what she’s done. But with her death and Dylan’s new-found knowledge, he sets out on a mission to find his father—and see what kind of man he is.

Dylan, his housekeeper Redella, and his cook Bernice, set out for Friendly Creek where his father was last known to live—but the journey from Baltimore to Wyoming holds many surprises for the three of them. When they reach Friendly Creek, Dylan sets about righting the wrongs his vengeful grandmother caused. Finding his father leads him to discover there is much more to the secrets of his birth than he ever could have guessed.

When Dylan is almost murdered, he is cared for by a beautiful young woman, Tara Ramsey, who is a maid in his household. After his brush with death, he realizes how important Tara has become to him, and begins to wonder if they might have a future together, despite their very different lives. Dylan knows he must get to the bottom of the mystery of the would-be killer’s attempt on his life to have any hope of happiness with Tara.

Dylan and Tara search for answers together, both realizing that they have fallen in love with one another. But can a millionaire be happy with a maid? Despite their very different lives, can love be enough to bring the two lovers together forever?


It was a breezy, rainy day, three weeks later, when Redella came into the kitchen and found long-time cook, Bernice Atwell, sitting at the worktable drinking coffee. “I got rid of that Gleeson woman and her shy daughter.”

“I don’t know why they keep coming by. Can’t they understand that since the mistress is dead, there’s nobody else here to make Mr. Dylan marry that girl?”

“Obviously not. I guess she thinks things will happened just as she and Mrs. Abernathy had planned, and he’ll marry Suzette, and they’ll all become one big family.”

Bernice chuckled. “I see you didn’t say one big happy family.”

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