Monday, December 31, 2012

Hiding Behind the Christmas Tree

Josh, Mom, Dad, Nathan, Casey.
I don't want this month to end. After working so hard to "win" NaNoWriMo, I really needed some time "off." I have always been a lover of all things Christmas so the timing was perfect, especially considering all the changes that are taking place in my family. My eldest son is moving from Atlanta to Los Angeles in January; my middle child is transferring to Georgia State University and leaving home for the first time. Also, my parents had decided to make the trip from southern Illinois to spend Christmas with all of us here in Atlanta. Realizing it might be a long time before I might have the opportunity to have the people I love best under my roof all at the same time, I elected to make the most of it.

I bought a fresh cut tree and trimmed it with all my favorite ornaments. I set the pictures from my boys' first Christmases on the mantle and hung the mistletoe from the ceiling. I shopped online and ordered handcrafted baubles from Etsy. I beaded and knitted and sewed. I wrote a Christmas letter, printed the photo of my kids at my birthday, and tucked them into cards. I wrapped gifts, baked dozens of cookies, and mailed packages. I taught my piano students holiday music and went to Celtic Christmas and Nutcracker. And I didn't miss a single party. 

Yes, there were moments I was tempted to slip into the "woe is me" mode. "There is so much to do I will never get it all done. I am so tired. This is so much work." Whenever I felt myself falling into that trap, I shook myself metaphorically and changed the self-talk. "Nobody is making you do anything, Pam. Do what you enjoy and let the rest go. Get some rest. Then get up again and play." 

That's why half my Christmas ornaments and household decorations are still in the boxes, two of my handmade gifts didn't get finished, and the Chex Party Mix is still unmade. It's also part of the reason why this was truly my best December ever.

My parents arrived safely at my brother's house the evening of the 22nd. We had Italian food at my house on the 23rd, opened presents at my brother's house on Christmas Eve, and shared Christmas dinner back at my house on the afternoon of the 25th. We ate and drank and talked and laughed and took hundreds of pictures. It all went by too fast. But I am left with wonderful memories and lessons learned. 

Now it is New Year's Eve, a time to reflect upon the previous year and make plans for the months ahead. More about that tomorrow. Because there's going to be a shindig at my house tonight. I think I'll whip up a couple of batches of that Chex Party Mix, after all.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Last First Date

My short story Last First Date is featured today over at Petit Fours and Hot Tamales (click HERE). Leave a comment at the end for a chance to win a handcrafted beach-themed necklace from The Wishing Box at Etsy. Then come back and leave a comment here with the bartender's name for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card. I am looking forward to hearing from you! Happy reading!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Family Favorite Holiday Recipes

Styrofoam Santa has hung on my parents' front door at Christmas time for as long as I can remember.
I am blogging over at Petit Fours and Hot Tamales today about some of my family's favorite holiday traditions. When I was a little girl, my mom spent hours in the kitchen baking cookies and making candy, then serving it all up on huge serving platters and letting us all munch to our heart's content. Here are a few recipes that have become family classics.

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup Crisco
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cream butter, Crisco, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar. Stir in egg. Sift together dry ingredients and combine with liquid ingredients. Chill dough. Roll into balls the size of large walnuts. Place three inches apart on lightly greased baking sheet. Flatten with fork dipped in flour; crisscross. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes until cookies are set but not hard.

3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons milk or cream
1/4 cup sweet red wine
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups chopped pecans
1 pound candied fruit
1/2 pound golden raisins
1/2 pound chopped dates
Mix until all ingredients are even. Drop by teaspoons on slightly greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. These are still moist when done.

1st layer: Melt 6 tablespoons butter; mix with 1 cup graham cracker crumbs and spread evenly in 13 by 9 inch pan.
2nd layer: 1 cup chocolate chips
3rd layer: 1 cup chopped pecans
4th layer: 1 cup flaked coconut
5th layer: 1 can sweetened condensed milk
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.

3 1/2 cups Cheerios toasted oat cereal
3 cups Rice Chex
3 cups Corn Chex
16 ounces M&M's plain chocolate candy
2 1/2 cups salted mixed nuts
2 cups small pretzels
2 (11 ounce) packages white chocolate chips (Ghirardelli brand preferred)
Dump the cereals, M&Ms, nuts and pretzels in a large bowl.
Melt the white chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler. Melt very slowly, stirring occasionally, being careful not to burn the chocolate.
Dump melted chocolate over the rest of the ingredients and fold over and over until you have well-coated hunks and chunks.
Spread the whole mess out on parchment paper and set in a cool place until it sets up, then break it into pieces.
Store in zip-top bags or air-tight containers.

Finally, for my snickerdoodles recipe, click HERE.

What are your family's favorite holiday recipes? Leave a comment below and feel free to share the ingredients and directions. I am always on the lookout for something new!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Caging Christmas Humbug

If you frequently give yourself permission to doodle, wander, and be totally unproductive, Pam , and you actually relish such interludes, I can guarantee that your genius, creativity, and productivity will increase exponentially.
~ The Universe

It's a great day when I find Note From The Universe in my email box. One of last week's messages, quoted above, was very timely.

After my marathon writing effort to finish NaNoWriMo, I was exhausted. Other than a bit of journaling, I haven't done any writing since. I have spent time with my kids, gotten the house ready for Christmas, experimented with a fruit cake recipe, finished my holiday shopping. I have kept up with my piano students, shipped a few orders from my Etsy store, promoted Seasons and Seashells. I have eaten well, exercised a bit, gotten plenty of sleep. I have read a little, watched some television, planned some holiday craft projects.

As a matter of fact, when I'm not fretting about what is not happening, I am having the time of my life. But those nagging reminders about the credit card debt and all the repairs that need to be done around the house and the extra fifteen pounds I am carrying around and all those unfulfilled dreams run like a ticker tape through my head, looping and repeating, taking me out of the present moment and robbing me of my joy. So I decided to do something about them.

I got out a pad of paper and wrote all the negative stuff down. Then I folded up those three sheets of college-ruled paper, tucked them into an old wooden box, and shut the lid. I even went so far as to retrieve an old lock from my boys' scouting days, latch it to the front of the box, and turn the key. In January, after the celebrating is finished and the decorations are put away, I will release the monster from its cage, make a plan, and get to work.

In the meantime, there are cards to write, packages to wrap, cookies to bake, gifts to make, events to attend, and friends to visit. I will do the simple things that mean the most to me and leave the rest to Martha Stewart.

I hope you are having a happy holiday season. Don't miss a single precious moment.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Last First Date

For the past several years, the Petit Fours and Hot Tamales bloggers have joined forces to give their supporters a free read during the holiday season. This year, our offering is an anthology of short stories entitled Seasons and Seashells. Scheduled to run December 17-28, each of our stories tells of a beginning and an ending and features seashells in various contexts.

"Our" stories? Yes, my short story Last First Date is a part of the anthology. And I am pleased to announce that the entire collection is currently available in various e-book reading formats at Smashwords (click HERE). Best of all, Seasons and Seashells is FREE! I hope you will download your digital copy immediately, and then share it with your friends everywhere. And let me know what you think!