Wicked Wednesday — A Gift of Kindness

No act of kindness, not matter how small, is ever wasted. — Aesop

This time of year one’s thoughts are often on gifts. What is a gift of kindness that you’ve received? Did it come from a stranger, a friend, or a family member? How did you react?

Liz: I’m so blessed to have so many awesome friends. This question makes me think of last year when I was going through a tough time and my Wicked sisters and their significant others stepped up to help me in so many ways–with the blog, with holidays, with advice, and just always being there for me in every possible way. I will always be thankful to all of you for that and everything you do!

Sherry: Five or six years ago we met a friend of our daughter’s and her family at a hotel in DC. It was a really hot day so my husband dropped us off and went to find a parking spot. (The hotel parking was ridiculously expensive.) We had a great afternoon. Bob said the car was parked near the National Zoo so we climbed up the hill toward the zoo. He soon realized we’d gone to far so we reversed directions and started walking up and down side streets. Did I mention it was hot out? Elizabeth and I sat on a stone wall in front of someone’s house to take a break. A woman pulled up in her car and asked what was wrong. We explained the situation and she offered to drive Bob around to look for the car. She asked where we were from and when we told her northern Virginia, she laughed. She said usually lost people were from some place far away like Minnesota. They found the car and now Bob snaps a picture of a nearby intersection when we are out and about.

Barb: When I worked as a freelance title examiner my old law firm hired me to serve a supoena. Which was ridiculous. I don’t know why they asked me and I don’t know why I said yes. Anyway, the person I was supposed to serve lived in a brand new condominium complex back in the days when the idea of condominiums in the suburbs was very new. So here I was, this anxious young girl wandering around this complex where none of the streets were marked and none of the townhouses had numbers and there wasn’t a soul in sight. Then, a older mailman appeared out of nowhere and asked me if I was lost. “You lookin’ for one of them pandemoniums?” he asked. “I’ll show ya.” As we walked along he asked me why if I was doing this, I wasn’t studying to be a lawyer. I told him I didn’t want to be a lawyer, I wanted to be a writer, but it was very hard to do and very hard to make a living. “Don’t worry about that,” he said. “The cream will always rise.” Then he deposited me at the front door of the place I needed to be and walked out of my life.

Edith: Wow, Barb – and it did! Kindness: in 1998 I lived with my husband and sons, ages 10 and 12, in the capital of Burkina Faso in West Africa for a year. My husband had to go to Guinea for two weeks and there’s only one flight a week. While he was gone I came down with typhoid fever despite having been immunized and was the sickest I have ever been. I spent my days in the embassy infirmary. The mothers (one Dutch, one American) of two of my sons’ friends picked them up from the International School, fed them, brought them home to sleep, and took them for a weekend day, too. Our cook made me soup. And gradually I got better. Jeanine, the American mom, invited us for Thanksgiving dinner and I’ve never been more grateful. (And I have just reconnected with her on Facebook!) Below Jeanine now and me in Burkina Faso in 1998 with another Edith, an old friend from grad school days.

 

Julie: Well, my dear Wickeds, I am teary reading your posts. I have been blessed by kindness often in my life. On favorite writing memory was my first Sisters in Crime New England meeting. Hallie Ephron was president, and the meeting was at her house. I was a wreck. My friend Mary and I went together to the meeting, and sat in the car until a few people came in. I had seen Dana Cameron at Malice, and had read her first Emma Fielding book. I saw her in the line for food, and mentioned that I’d liked the book. She thanked me, and then asked me about my writing, and what my WIP was about. She made me feel like a real writer.

Readers: Please share your memory of someone being kind to you.

Restoring Holiday Joy — Welcome Back Guest Barbara Early

If you like holiday reads don’t miss Murder on the Toy Town Express a Vintage Toyshop Mystery by Barbara Early! Barbara is giving away either a paperback of Death of a Toy Soldier or hardcover of Murder on the Toy Town Express to one of our readers! Welcome back to the Wickeds, Barbara!

Something about the holiday season seems to just generate work. Maybe it’s because I’m not at the top of my game right now, recovering from a nasty bout of infections, five courses of antibiotics, and oral surgery. And trying to promote a Christmas book. Or maybe I’m just getting old. But thinking about all that “needs” to be done between now and December 25th makes me want to cuddle up in my warmest pajamas, climb into bed, and hide my head under the covers until January.

Notice the word “needs” in quotes? When I hit that word, I had a personal epiphany—and yes, I know I’m mixing my holidays. How much of my burgeoning to-do list literally “needs” to be done? Do I need to bake cookies? Do I need to put up all my decorations? Do I need to attempt every cute reindeer craft I see on Pinterest? Do I need to kill myself making the holiday just as magical, plus a little more, than any Christmas I remember?

Cue the “Hallelujah Chorus.” I’ve been emancipated from Christmas slavery.

I don’t have to do anything. I suddenly had a glut of free time on my hands. I could spend more with friends and family. Or I could make a cup of instant hot chocolate, prop my feet up, flip on the Hallmark Channel, and watch heartwarming holiday flicks right up until the big day. Or better yet, read a nice Christmas mystery. Sounded good to me.

But…

And when that little voice sounded, I knew I had to put down the remote and the e-reader and listen.

But…decorating the tree can be fun. And it was true. Putting all the decorations on the tree, making it pretty: it can almost become a form of creative play, much like coloring a picture at the kitchen table. I’ve always been a “Spoonful of Sugar” kind of girl, so stepping back and turning work into a game makes sense to me. Before long, the tree was up.

Because of a couple of very naughty cats, we’ve stored all our fragile and heirloom ornaments, and for the past few years I’ve been putting up a fun vintage toy tree, that goes with my Vintage Toyshop Mystery series. Here’s a video if you’d like to see it. https://youtu.be/ReiIUBYecb0

I still haven’t decided if I will do any more decorating, but I’m going to be careful not to put any the trappings (fitting word) of Christmas on my to-do list. I will not mark holiday success by check marks on a piece of paper. Instead, I can declutter my Christmas using the same one-question method people now use to declutter their homes: does it bring me joy?

For example, baking cookies. Does it bring me joy?

Okay, eating cookies brings me joy, so I might need to whip off a batch of my favorites. Seeing my husband’s face when he realizes I’ve made his favorite also brings me joy. And the smell of fresh baked goods in the house is cozy and comforting. But do I need to make all the different kinds I often make? I certainly don’t need to be eating them!

Setting up the Christmas village. Does it bring me joy? Some, but maybe not enough to warrant lugging three huge totes up the stairs, at least not this year. Maybe next year I’ll set them up in the shape of a Christmas tree. Oh, that could be fun!

Readers, what brings you joy during the holidays?

Bio: Barbara Early earned an engineering degree, but after four years of doing nothing but math, developed a sudden allergy to the subject and decided to choose another occupation. Before she settled on murdering fictional people, she was a secretary, a school teacher, a pastor’s wife, and an amateur puppeteer. After several years living elsewhere, she and her husband moved back to her native Western New York State, where she enjoys cooking, crafts, classic movies and campy seventies television, board games, and posting pictures of her four cats on Facebook. She writes the Vintage Toyshop series and the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries (as Beverly Allen).

http://www.barbaraearly.com/

https://www.facebook.com/AuthorBarbaraEarly/

https://twitter.com/BarbEarly

The Sound of Silence

by Sheila Connolly

Just back from a trip to West Cork in Ireland, where (in case you haven’t heard it seventeen times already) I own a small cottage, on a small plot of land. From anywhere on my quarter-acre property I can see a total of four houses, and one of those is a mile away. The ruined church up the hill where several generations of my ancestors married is almost exactly a mile, and I can see it out the back.

Coming back to “civilization” is hard after spending over two weeks in Ireland. The first thing you notice out in the country in Ireland is the absence of noise. It is quiet in my part of West Cork. By my rough estimate, based on agricultural reports, there are 542,000 people in County Cork, and 1,719,500 cattle. The cows don’t make noise at night. Most people don’t go gadding about at night because they’re exhausted from tending all those cattle.

Traffic past my cottage amounts to one or two vehicles per hour, including deliveries, milk and oil trucks, and school buses, as well as individual cars. There are no planes flying overhead. There are birds, of course, and when they squabble (most often various kinds of crows), their caws echo off the trees.

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The peace is lovely. You can feel your blood pressure dropping day by day.

Then there’s the darkness. Across the road in front of my cottage, at night I can’t see a single light anywhere. Turn off the interior lights during the dark of the moon and you can’t see your hand in front of your face. In contrast, during a full moon it seems almost as bright as day, although the light shifts across the sky faster. In winter you’re lucky to have eight hours of sun, dawn to dusk; in summer it’s more than sixteen hours. Those of us who live in suburban places have forgotten those rhythms.

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Silence and darkness seem to go together, It begins to make sense, why Simon and Garfunkel began their song, The Sound of Silence, with “hello darkness, my old friend.” Maybe they were depressed young men when they sang that, but that’s not true in Ireland. People have long memories, often stretching back generations. At the same time there’s a real curiosity about newcomers. Who are you? Where do you come from? And often, do you have people here? Their memory for recent events proves it: people I might have met once, a year or more earlier, remember my name and where I’m staying in Ireland. In some ways that’s unsettling, because it’s hard to be anonymous.

I’m not going to argue whether the silence of the countryside or the noise of civilization is better. I enjoy the energy of cities, at least in small doses. I’d seize the opportunity to visit a city I’ve never seen (especially if there’s a group of writers there!). But sometimes I need quiet, and a slower pace, as do most of us, I’m guessing. Would I go stir-crazy if I stayed in Ireland for good? I really can’t say, but it bears thinking about.

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There’s another quotation that keeps running through my head, and it fits too: “The World Is Too Much with Us,” a sonnet by William Wordsworth written in 1802. In it Wordsworth criticizes the world of the First Industrial Revolution for being absorbed in materialism and distancing itself from nature. It’s all the more true these days, and living pretty close to nature for the past couple of weeks has been eye-opening for me.

How about you? Does fresh air, sunlight and quiet drive you crazy? Or do you crave a dose of tranquility?

BTW, the sixth book of the County Cork Series, Many a Twist, will be released in January 2018, but things are not exactly quiet in the book. Plus the paperback edition of Cruel Winter will be out in a week, if you’re thinking of a nice holiday gift . . .

 

Thankful for Our Readers–Week Five Giveaway Winners

That’s right, folks, it’s the end of our fifth week of giveaways for Thankful for Our Readers, the Wicked Cozies all November giveaway. We used Random.org for all our drawings.

Drum roll please.

November 27, winner of one of Edith Maxwell’s books is Betsy Alspach! Please send your mailing information to edithmaxwellauthor@gmail.com.

November 28, winner of one of Liz Mugavero’s books is Jana Leah! Please send your choice of books and mailing information to liz.mugavero@gmail.com

November 29, winner of I Know What You Bid Last Summer by Sherry Harris is Gloria Browning. Please send your mailing information to sherryharrisauthor@gmail.com

November 30, winner of Yarned and Dangerous by Sadie Hartwell is Laurie Evans! Please send your mailing address to janehaertel at aol dot com.

December 1, winner of A Cajun Christmas Killing by Ellen Byron is Sally who posted at 5:17 pm! Please send your mailing address to sherryharrisauthor@gmail.com

Congratulations to all the winners and thank you readers for a great month!

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My Christmas Tree Obsession — Guest Ellen Byron

Thankful for Our Readers Giveaway:  For a chance to win a copy of A Cajun Christmas Killing by Ellen Byron leave a comment below.

Here’s a little bit about the book: Maggie Crozat is home in Cajun Country during the most magical time of the year. But the Grinch has come to stay at the Crozat Plantation B&B, and he’s flooding travel websites with vicious reviews. Maggie ID’s him as rival businessman Donald Baxter –until Baxter is found stabbed to death. With her detective boyfriend sidelined as a suspect, Maggie must catch the real killer or it will be the opposite of a Joyeux Noel for her.

Welcome back, Ellen!

I’m obsessed with Christmas trees. I’m such an inveterate ornament collector and crafter  that my husband once made me pare down my collection because I had a dozen boxes taking up an entire shelving unit in the garage. I got it down to six boxes… but I couldn’t stop collecting so I’m back up to twelve. (Shhh!! Don’t tell him!!)

I can trace this obsession back to when I was twelve years old and my mother announced that we would no longer have a Christmas tree. She’d begun working to help out the family finances and didn’t have the time or energy for it.  Give up the family Christmas tree?! Oh, hell to the no. I told my parents if they bought one, I’d take over decorating and un-decorating it. They agreed to this deal, and a Christmas Tree Commander-in-Chief was born.

I was so proud of my decorating skills that I occasionally submitted photos of the final product to Christmas tree contests in women’s magazines. I never won, which I assumed was because the contests were fixed; there was simply no way my talent with tinsel could go unrewarded. I kept trees up way past their expiration date. When I was in my twenties and living in Manhattan, I left the tree up for so long that by the time my roommate and I took it down the five flights of stairs from our apartment to the street for disposal, it had shed every single needle. That’s not hyperbole. It took me hours to sweep those stairs.

 

Ornaments are the perfect souvenir when you travel, so I collected them on every vacation. I made them, too. My last batch was a salute to my Cajun Country Mystery series and the state that inspired it.

 

Sometimes I still hang the Mardi Gras beads I caught in college – I went to Tulane in New Orleans – from the tree branches.

With college tuition looming and disposable income a thing of the past, I’ve cut back on both collecting and crafting. But I do have one project I can’t give up. It was a wonderful gift from friend and fellow needlepointer, Ruth Behling, who knows me so well.

 

It’ll make a nice ornament, don’t you think?

Readers, do you collect holiday ornaments? Comment to be entered to win a copy of my newest Cajun Country Mystery, A CAJUN CHRISTMAS KILLING.

Ellen Byron writes the Cajun Country Mystery series. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called her new book, A Cajun Christmas Killing, “superb.” Body on the Bayou won the Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery, and was nominated for a Best Contemporary Novel Agatha Award. Plantation Shudders, was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards, and made the USA Today Bestseller list. She’s written over 200 national magazine articles; published plays include the award-winning Graceland; TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, Fairly OddParents, and pilots. Ellen lives in Studio City with her husband, daughter, and two spoiled rescue dogs.

 http://www.ellenbyron.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ellenbyronauthor/

https://twitter.com/ellenbyronla

Readers: Do you have a holiday (any holiday) decoration that you are obsessed with?

 

 

 

Regional Traditions and a Giveaway

By Jane/Susannah/Sadie, who’s still not sick of turkey on the last day of November…

Thankful for Our Readers Giveaway: I’m giving away a copy of Yarned and Dangerous, book 1 of the Tangled Web Mysteries. Leave a comment below for a chance to win.

Sunset view from my cabin

I spent this past Thanksgiving, as I have most every Thanksgiving for the last twenty years, in Northern New York State , where I have rustic (don’t get jealous–I mean it when I say rustic) but comfortable cabin on a lake. On Thanksgiving day, my husband, son, and I trek out through the woods to, well, Grandmother’s house. Or at least my son’s grandmother, my mom.

Like most families, we have our traditional foods to go with the turkey (not all of which everyone actually enjoys): winter squash (usually Hubbard), sage dressing, green bean casserole, cranberry relish (click here for a recipe), crumb-topped apple pie, and of course pumpkin pie. I will leave it to you to figure out which thing on this list is almost universally disliked in the family, but which we have every year anyway because that’s the way it’s done.

But there are certain regional delicacies we have at every gathering, not just Thanksgiving: cheese curds and Croghan bologna (pronounce that “cro-gun bull-o-nee,” please). I would venture to say that most every family, and certainly any with roots deeper than three generations, in the North Country also has these items as appetizers before the main meal on special days.

So what’s a cheese curd? The North Country has a lot of cows and a lot of dairy farms, which means we make cheese. The curds are a byproduct of cheesemaking, and have a flavor somewhere between mozzarella and a mild cheddar, depending on what cheese they’re a byproduct of. When fresh, which is really the best way to eat them, these little misshapen lumps squeak when you chew them. They are usually eaten cold, but they can also occasionally be breaded and deep fried, or made into the French-Canadian, becoming-sorta-trendy treat poutine–french fries and cheese curds covered in hot gravy. Although most people don’t make poutine at home. It’s easier to order out.

Curds and Croghan on a Grinch-colored plate

Now, for the Croghan bologna. This is a type of ring bologna–more of a sausage, really–which has been manufactured in the tiny town of Croghan, NY at the Croghan Meat Market (click here for more information and for photos) for more than a hundred years. The recipe, which came with the market’s founder, Fred Hunziker, from Switzerland, is a closely guarded secret. This is always eaten cold, sliced into rounds about a quarter of an inch thick, sometimes on a cracker (it fits perfectly on a Ritz), or sometimes topped with a cheese curd or a bit of mustard. I suppose some people might heat it up for breakfast, or make it into a sandwich, but in general that’s a no-no.

If it’s Grade B, it’s for me!

The breakfast of choice for the day after Thanksgiving, or Christmas or Easter morning, is pancakes with local maple syrup. In the North Country, most of us like the dark syrup rather than the lighter, more-desirable-other-places amber. I don’t know that I have a particularly discriminating palate, but I can tell the difference between North Country syrup and Vermont. Sorry, Vermont, but I likes what I knows, and my syrup of choice will always be from New York.

For a chance to win a copy of YARNED AND DANGEROUS, leave a comment below, telling us about your favorite regional foods. If you don’t have any, tell us what you think that hated food item is that I reference in paragraph 4, above. You don’t have to be right to win, LOL!

 

Wicked Wednesday–Thankful It’s Over

Thankful for Our Readers Giveaway:  For a chance to win an ARC of I Know What You Bid Last Summer by Sherry Harris along with a glasses case and cleaner from Kensington Publishing leave a comment below.

Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Much as I reject the notion that the writing process itself can’t be joyful, or exhilarating, or inspired, I do have days when I understand how she feels.

That feeling applies to other projects as well. Wickeds, telling us about a project you just loved having “done.”

Edith: Cleaning my office? I dislike doing it so much I rarely really do a deep clean or even a superficial tidy. But I love it when it’s done, everything clean and clear and put away. Of course I love when a book is done. But it’s such a long process,  I love almost all the stages of the process, and I always have another book started, so it’s not such a finite thing to be glad it’s done.

Jessie: I love having finished a knitting project. I keep track of most of them on the social media website Ravelry and am always inordinately pleased with myself when I can post that I have completed a work in progress. Why I am eager to finish working on a pastime I love bafffles me but it is true every time!

Sherry: Jessie, finishing a knitting project must be so satisfying because you immediately have something to show for it. I’ll go with getting Christmas cards finished. First, I have to confess I haven’t sent any out for two years and that I hope to this year. It’s on the list with three writing projects I’m working on so fingers crossed. The cards have been in the back of the closest waiting for me to haul them out!

Barb: It won’t shock any of the Wickeds to hear the project I’ll be most thankful to be done with is–moving! My goal has been to be finished unpacking with everything set up and arranged by December 21, and it is going to be right down to the wire. The last room left is my study and that’s going to be huge challenge. Wish me luck!

Julie: I love teaching, but I hate grading. We’re in the final stretch of the semester, and I’m behind, which I hate. But the project I assigned is huge, so it is going to take me hours. Worth it in the end, but think of me this weekend.

Readers: Tell us about a project you loved having finished–or simply say hello.