Thursday, December 31, 2009

Good Wishes for the New Year!

A belated Merry Christmas to all, as well as Best Wishes for the coming New Year!

Where to start?

The kids and I have just returned home from a holiday journey South, to visit my parents in Georgia. My youngest sister came with us for the long drive. We also saw relatives in the D.C. area, and visited my grandmother in her nursing home. My husband flew down to join us, and we had cocktails one night with an old college roommate of his, whose parents also live in the same Savannah neighborhood. Oh, and my cousin stayed overnight with us on her way to Florida for a New Years' cruise...

Lots of family... lots of holiday cheer... a whirlwind of holiday fun.

And now we're home. After a long trip, isn't it just the best feeling in the world to wake up in your own bed? With your own pillow? Ah. A little slice of heaven in soft cotton.

Suddenly it's New Years' Eve, time to reflect on the year gone by as well as make resolutions and set goals for the coming new year. Not just any New Years, either, but the end of one decade and the start of another.

As you reflect back on 2009, what stands out?

For me, the highlight was the publication of my first book. But there were other milestones that make me smile - a child in their first play, another child's concert, becoming a magazine editor, birthday parties and get-togethers with friends and relatives, getting back in touch with old friends... it was a pretty good year.

As you think ahead to 2010, what do you wish for?

I'm hoping for peace in the world, and for in my own home as we head into another turbulent teenage year and look forward (!) to the start of the High School Years in September.
I'm hoping for good health for my children and family, as well as for all those who suffer (and I'm still hoping that Congress can figure out our national health care crisis before it's too late.)
I'm hoping for a rosier economic outlook - for the world, for the U.S. and for my own household.

And I'm hoping for more publishing successes for myself and for all the author friends I've made over the last few years.

Peace, Health, Prosperity, Success and Happiness to ALL!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Candy!

My sisters both came early for Christmas this year. One sister is coming on the trip with us to see our parents. One sister is in the hospitality industry and has to go back to Vermont and work through the holidays.

But last night, she turned my little kitchen into a candy making factory, teaching my daughter how to make all different types of toffee to give as gifts for the holidays. They melted the butter and sugar, and stirred and stirred and stirred.

They poured the mixture out onto parchment paper and added the "extras" - the crushed peppermint, the melted drizzles of chocolate, the toasted almonds... the whole house smelled yummy! And the results (my daughter insisted that I taste each batch) were scrumptious!

After visiting the candy factory last week, I was inspired to try candy-making on my own, but it was just one of those ideas - "Oh yeah, I should do that..."

Last night, it became a tasty reality. We're all still smiling sticky smiles this morning!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another Good Review for Christmas!

What do I want for Christmas? Peace on earth, the health and happiness of my children, and maybe another good review or two. I've already gotten one of my Christmas wishes!

I got word last night that Unfolding the Shadows was reviewed by the review site, Bitten by Books. And the reviewer enjoyed my novel, giving it 4 out of 5 "tombstones" (their equivalent to stars.)

I'm thrilled, and pleased that this reviewer didn't give away any plot points, except to say:

"Don't expect this story to run the course you expect; it won't. You really won't see where Jillian's life is going until close to the end. This is a good, old fashioned romance. It's all about faith, loyalty, and family in all of their forms, corporeal or not."

To read the whole review, click here to go to And feel free to high-five me the next time you see me! I'll be the one doing Snoopy's happy dance, still excited about my early Christmas gift!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ghost Tale for Tuesday

Have you ever used a Ouija board? Did you ever feel like you were connecting with someone - some spirit - while using it?

According to Wikipedia:

A Ouija board, also known as spirit board or talking board, is a flat board marked with letters, numbers, and other symbols, theoretically used to communicate with spirits. It uses a planchette (small heart-shaped piece of wood) or movable indicator to indicate the spirit's message by spelling it out on the board during a seance. The fingers of the séance participants are placed on the planchette, which then moves about the board to spell out messages. Ouija is a trademark for a talking board currently sold by Parker Brothers.

Ouija boards as we know them came into existence as a game in the mid-1800’s, when spiritualism and channeling were fashionable. The first historical mention of something similar to a Ouija board is found in China at around 1100 B.C.

Adolphus Theodore Wagner first patented Ouija boards, or “talking boards,” in England in 1854. In the patent, Wagner called his invention a “psychograph” and it was supposed to read people’s minds. By 1861, a Frenchman named Allan Kardac, was describing the Ouija board as a tool with which to open communications with the spirit world.

Modern Ouija boards were developed by inventor William Fuld, who sold his patent to Parker Brothers in 1966. The Ouija boards sold by Parker Brothers consist of a rectangular game board with an alphabet; the words yes, no, and good-bye; and the numbers 0-9. Also included is a heart-shaped plastic planchette.

When I was young, there was a Ouija board in the house we rented every summer at the Jersey Shore. We'd wait for the first dark and thunderstorm-y day, pull down all the shades for good measure, and try to contact spirits with the handy-dandy ghost communicator.

We always got a hold of someone. They answered our silly questions and tried to tell us things that we didn't want to hear. One time when we got too silly, a basketball flew off the shelf and bounced across the room, landing on top of the board. That was the end of it for the day, as you can imagine. But the next thunderstorm... we dragged it out from underneath the bed once again.

To this day, I'm not sure if it really worked or if Anne Weyman was teasing me by moving the piece around the board. But I was hooked.

By the time I got to college, I owned my own Ouija board and brought it with me. One of my roommates thought it was a goof on a Saturday night to Ouija after we came home from the bars downtown.

It was a small town. There were three bars. On two streets. That was the whole downtown. Drinking hard spirits and then trying to contact spirits. Not a whole lot to do in upstate New York. At least, not back then.

Two of the girls who lived down the hall from us were apparently very good at contacting spirits. One - Belinda Katz - told us she had promised her mother that she would never Ouija again. She said there was an "incident" when she was in high school. The Spirits got angry and threw the board across the room, breaking things.

The other girl, Nancy Walker, warned us of the dangers of talking to spirits. She was my guest one day for Ghost Tales, and if you read her post you understand why she was hesitant to "play" with the spirit world. Not all the ghosts Nancy met were benign presences. But we kept at it....

I no longer own a Ouija board. My kids have never used one, and I'm not even sure if Parker Brothers still makes them. But I've read plenty of spooky tales on the Internet to make me not want to buy one, and not want to initiate them into that particular aspect of the occult.

For a history of Ouija and an online Ouija board, click here.

And happy haunting!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Morning Christmas Crafts

We live next to the ocean, so it's only logical that our decorations and crafts should reflect our location, right? Or rather, let me wax poetic on the wonders of my hot glue gun...

My daughter is headed out to see the Nutcracker ballet today with friends - I'm dropping her off in her fancy dress and shiny shoes at noon - but she wanted to "do something Christmas-y" this morning as well. So we pulled out the ol' hot glue gun and played for a few hours.

I still have the hardened glue under my fingernails as I type this.

But we had fun. She only burned her fingers once. And she stuck with it for the two hours it took to puzzle all the shells together so that no Styrofoam showed through. At first we talked about who to give it to fro Christmas, but after the first hour we had pretty much decided to keep it.

For anyone inspired to make a similar decoration for their seaside home...

You will need:
About 2 hours of undivided attention
Styrofoam cone form
Circle of cardboard for base
Hot glue gun & a lot of glue sticks. A lot.
Newspaper to cover work space
assorted shells of various sizes: collected, soaked in bleach solution, dried thoroughly
sand dollar or starfish for the top of the tree

10 Easy Steps:
1. Sort the shells by size, type and shape (good job for small child)
2. Glue cone to cardboard base
3. Start at the base, going around the circle to fit shells together gluing on one by one.
4. Continue up the tree. Keep cursing to a minimum if working with small child.
5. Fill any gaps as you go or at the end, or both (as we did)
6. Let child help choose shells that fit from the size piles she/he has sorted.
7. Let child glue some shells, make sure there is cold water for when they get burned.
8. Let child glue star to the top of tree.
9. Argue about whether or not to paint the whole thing with gloppy glitter glue (I may still lose that argument)
10. Find a place to display new family heirloom!

Twelve More Days Until Christmas... !

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Trip to the Chatham Candy Manor

My Girl Scout troop visited the Chatham Candy Manor this week, where they make their own candy canes. They boil the sugar syrup up to 300 degrees, and then pour it out to cool the sugar down. After they turned off the heat on the kettle but before they pour it out, they add the flavoring. Today's flavor was cinnamon. I can still smell cinnamon in my nose as I type this.

Since they're a little candy shop (the kind that welcomes visits from Girl Scout troops) they don't have a cooling room or even a cooling shelf. They cool the sugar the old-fashioned way, by pouring it from one chilled and buttered sheet to another, until it's ready to set up.

Then they "hang and pull" it from a wrought iron hook hanging on the wall behind them. I am not joking. Fifteen pounds of candy. These women have great biceps.

When it's done being pulled, it's ready to ball up and add the stripes of color. Susan is holding the ball of pulled sugar. The scouts were quick to point out that it was much whiter now that it was cooled. Susan told them it was the oxygen that was added to the sugar which caused it to turn white, not paint as some of them had guessed earlier.
After the colored sugar stripes were added, Susan held the ball while Kim pulled and twisted it out into a rope.
As she drew out long enough chunks of rope, she would cut it with scissors and hand the strips to waiting helpers, that the scouts decided to call "elves."
And the last step in the process - the elves actually twist and shape the pieces of rope into candy canes! How cool is that? The whole trip was really quite fun for kids and grown ups alike.

If you're in Chatham between now and Christmas, I would urge you to check out one of their public demonstrations - I think they hold them every Saturday morning. They will certainly be making candy canes Friday night for the annual Chatham Holiday Stroll, and they also claimed to serve the best hot chocolate on Main Street for the Stroll as well.

Visit their website at

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas traditions

When my Great Aunt died a few years ago, a lot of her things ended up finding their way to my house. Not the valuable things, mind you. Those were divided up amongst the family. The tractor trailer that showed up at my house was filled mostly with the odds and ends of her life that no one else claimed.

Some of the things were old Christmas decorations, kitchy and plastic, but full of sentimental value. Like the mistletoe bell hanging in my living room doorway. Made in Japan right after World War II, when Japan was not the industrial powerhouse they are today.

I remember my mom having very similar ones in the hallway of the house where I grew up, but they didn't have the extra deluxe little elf sitting on the mistletoe ball. I remember kissing my first boyfriend under that mistletoe. Although he protested that it was only plastic and not "real," he still kissed me.

What decorations bring back memories of Christmas past for you?

Do you have ornaments on your tree from your own childhood? Or a snowman sculpture that your child brought home from preschool? How about the wall hanging of a wreath made out of child-size hand prints? And the photos of children crying on Santa's lap - those children who are now too old to believe in Santa but still enjoy the magic of the holidays? Do you have stockings hanging on your mantle that were sewn for each child on their first Christmas?

I have all of these things and more. I like surrounding myself with all the collected memories of Christmases past, remembering all the happy times we've had over the years. From my own childhood right through until today.

My sister makes fun of me, with all my "bins of Christmas" I keep in the attic and unwrap for the holidays. She just called to tell me about a friend of hers who has a special Christmas shower curtain. "There's something you don't have yet!" she cackled. And I'm sure I don't need a special shower curtain just for December.

But who knows? That might be the thing my kids remember most...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Ghost Tale for Tuesday

Have you ever taken a photograph, and found it had translucent Orbs scattered through it? I used to think that the guys at Kodak or CVS were just screwing up my prints. But now we all have digital cameras... and those Orbs still show up. What causes them?

There is lots of speculation that what we see in the photos are manifestations of ghosts or spirits. Ghost hunters spend time trying to capture these images on film on purpose, but many of us just "happen" to catch the Orbs dancing, without even meaning to.

I took the above photograph in the woods while I was on a Cub Scout camping trip at Camp Split Rock in Ashburnham, MA. (Yes, the weather is always bad when I go camping. Blizzard, Hurricane, name it, I've camped in it.)

The woods were absolutely still and silent (all the cub scouts were in the Dining Hall at the time.) I was walking down to the cabin on my own to get something that one of my sons had forgotten and took this photo of the path through the woods.

I found several web sites that talk about and show orb photographs, including:

On the one website - - the photographer was told that Orbs are just particles of dust caught in the camera flash. She and her husband experimented with throwing dust in the air to try to recreate the Orb phenomenon. She shows the results - the dust looks like dust.

The way I found it explained on another website was that the Orbs are Life forms that travel in groups and are believed to be the human soul or life force of those that once inhabited a physical body here on earth. Psychic claim to talk to them on a regular basis, and ghost hunters encounter them quite frequently."

So what do you think? Are Orbs a spirit manifestation or dust motes in the air? Have you captured some on film yourself? What's your theory on Orbs?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Time for Christmas Cookies!

Baking Christmas Cookies is one of my favorite things about the holidays. Ever since I was a little girl, it's been the thing that's made December extra sweet in so many ways. But it's always more fun to have a helper in the kitchen with you. Look at the Keebler elves. Are they ever baking alone? I think not!

My youngest sister used to help me bake cookies, right up until the point where the dough was all blended together. She'd eat some of the raw dough and then disappear, with no interest in finishing the baking or decorating. She just liked the dough.

When my boys were small, they liked to help - they'd even invite friends over to bake cookies! It was messy but a lot of fun. My oldest has a December birthday and had a Gingerbread Man theme party for his fourth birthday (his idea, I swear!) I made ginormous sugar cookies shaped like gingerbread men for the kids to decorate with oodles of candy and frosting... we played pin the giant M&M nose on the giant gingerbread man and threw cookie-shaped bean bags into Cookie Monsters mouth... there were other games, but you get the idea.

He's 14 now, so this year he and his friends are going to play lazer tag instead. *sigh*

My daughter still likes to bake with me, so there's hope. We can play the Christmas carols with the stereo volume turned up to 11 and get out the flour and rolling pin... One of our favorite cookies to make are the Holiday M&M cookies. Dangerous for me because I love M&Ms, but she doesn't like them at all. Go figure. But she does like to decorate cookies with them, so it all works out...

Holiday M&M cookies

2 sticks butter
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 large package of M&Ms, divided

Cream first four ingredients together. Add eggs, stir until smooth. Add dry ingredients, mix together until well blended. Stir in half of the bag of M&Ms, save the other half of bag in a bowl for decorating. Spoon dough out onto cookie tray in dollops, press at least 4-6 M&Ms in top of each dollop. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire racks.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Deck the Halls...and Windows...

My daughter and I have been putting the decorations around the house all week. We decided not to get a tree, since the kids and I are going to visit my parents (and my husband could care less if there's a tree or not, bah humbug) But the rest of the decorations must be unpacked! And we had to find creative ways to hang the ornaments (did I mention there's no tree?)

This year my Girl Scout troop made cinnamon cookie ornaments to sell at the Holiday Stroll. My daughter made a few extras for us to keep, as you can see in the above photo of my kitchen window. I'd first found this recipe when my oldest was still a preschooler, so they're good for any age group.

My daughter helped decorate them after they were dry, using fabric paints to look like royal icing and dots for m&ms. The cookies look cute and smell delicious, but aren't really edible. They're also fairly simple to make - just make sure to use simple shapes for the cookie cutters or they tend to break... all the lobster-shaped ones lost their claws and ended up in the trash!

Cinnamon Cookie Ornaments

3/4 cup applesauce
1 bottle (around 4 oz) ground Cinnamon

1. Mix applesauce with cinnamon to form a stiff dough.
2. Roll dough to 1/4-1/2 inch thickness. (thicker cookies are more durable but take longer to dry)
3. Cut with cookie cutters, using a straw to put a hole near the top.
4. Carefully lay on rack or waxed paper to dry - takes a few days to dry thoroughly, turning occasionally.
5. Decorate with fabric paint/puff paint (or glue on sequins, gems, etc. depending on shape)
6. Thread with ribbon or chenille stems for hangers.
7. Hang on your tree or give as gifts to smiling grandparents.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

White Rabbit, White Rabbit!

Happy December!
(in more ways than one!)

And congrats to all you NaNoWriMo winners out there, who plugged along throughout the whole month of November, or sprinted to the finish at the very end (like I did) We did it! We survived a month of having that constant nagging feeling of "I really should be writing now instead of vacuuming/doing laundry/cooking dinner/sleeping..." And it's over! (insert happy dance here)

We had a wonderful long Thanksgiving break, and hope you did too (although having yesterday as an additional day off from school was almost too much for me!) My middle child almost cried this morning to have to go back to school! The other two were excited for the new month to begin: my daughter has her first public Chorus Concert on Friday at the town tree-lighting ceremony, and my eldest starts a week of basketball team try-outs after school today.

Sorry there was no ghost tale last week, and no ghost tale this week either - my creative juices flowed in one direction only for the past seven days...into NaNoWriMo, of course. But, in related ghost tale news, my first real honest to goodness review of Unfolding the Shadows is now posted online at Romance Reviews Today. Click here to read the whole review - she makes it sound like an episode of Desperate Housewives with all the unanswered questions!

Here's hoping for a month of good friends, good times, good luck, good news, and good reviews to all! Happy Start of the Holiday Season!