Posted in Thoughts, writing inspiration

Holiday Movies, Stories and Baking…

My Favorite Holiday Things (part 2)

Holiday movies and stories, and seasonal baking competitions, these are a few more of my favorite things.

When I put away the Thanksgiving leftovers and start pulling out the Christmas decorations, I get in the spirit of the season by watching holiday movies, reading, or listening to Christmas stories, or turning on Christmas music. Over the years my favorites have changed but there are a few that will always put me in a holiday mood and they’re probably not everyone’s idea of a classic. 1) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2) While You Were Sleeping 3) Last Holiday 4) How The Grinch Stole Christmas 5) Santa Clause 6) Frosty, The Snowman 7) The Little Drummer Boy 8) Holiday Inn 9) Stage Door Canteen 10) Jingle All The Way 11) Miracle on 34th Street 12) The Christmas Carol 13) Hallmark Movies Collectively

This year I might have to add The Noel Diary, it had all the feels and was a little more than the traditional holiday movie.

I love Christmas and Hannukah stories. I prefer romantic comedies to lift my flagging holiday spirits, but occasionally I’ll choose a story with deeper emotions, action or maybe even a mystery. Over the years I have downloaded several holiday audiobooks, ebooks and even bought a few in print. Anthologies are another of my favorites during the holidays. Who has time to read a full-size novel when you have to buy Christmas gifts, write and send cards, bake, go to parties, decorate, and whatever else the holidays bring. 1) Christmas Revels Anthologies (regency) by Kate Parker, Hannah Meredith & friends 2) ‘Twas the Night After Christmas (regency) by Sabrina Jeffries 3) Kissing Under the Mistletoe (historical) by Suzanne Enoch, Amelia Grey and Anna Bennett,

This year I added a few new favorites. 1) Christmas at Copper Mountain by Jane Porter, be prepared to cry, 2) A Very Merry Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams, a fun story with the Bromance series characters, 3) It Happened One Winter by Christi Caldwell, not exactly a Christmas story but close enough and filled with romance, winter, kids, and hope, 4) Mansplainer by Avery Flynn, Book 3 finishes at Christmas but the whole series is leading up to Christmas and the last gift their grandmother left, 5) Highland Games by Evie Alexander, a funny twist on a Highland romance.

I love baking competitions but especially the holiday ones where everything is decorated with the spirit of the season. I also love to watch the holiday cookie challenge and the gingerbread competitions. The holidays are about warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and allspice. I love to bake cookies during the holidays. My favorite cookies are oatmeal raisin (or cranberry), ginger snaps, and cinnamon Snickerdoodle cookies. What are your favorite cookies? Do you like to bake or just eat?

Posted in Uncategorized, writing inspiration

My Favorite Things

These are a few of my favorite things:

I love the holidays from Halloween to Valentine’s Day this time of year is just so full of wonder and joy. I don’t remember ever decorating for Halloween or Thanksgiving when I was a kid, but Christmas the whole house got a makeover. From the doilies on the tables, the candles, and of course the tree, everything was dressed up for Christmas.

When my own children came along, we decorated with handmade ornaments. I often did a themed Christmas with all the decorations matching that year’s theme from a Native American Christmas tree where I cut my fingers carving tiny fetishes, to a Toys Christmas tree where we even hung some of the kids’ toys on the tree.

As the boys got older, they cared less and less about decorating the tree with me. It’s one of the saddest things decorating a Christmas tree by yourself. I love the movies where families get together to decorate but I guess I didn’t instill that love in my kids. Was I too much a perfectionist? I constantly move ornaments when I think they don’t look just right even when I place them on the tree myself. Did I hurt feelings or are they just not that interested? Whatever the reason, more and more I found myself decorating alone. I’ve learned to make the most of it. Put on a Christmas audiobook, usually a romance, and fix myself a drink whether it’s an adult beverage or something tamer, this year it was an iced Chai tea latte made with cinnamon creamer. The trick to making an iced Chai tea latte is getting the tea strong enough to withstand the ice and of course letting it cool.

My tree is not as themed as it once was. It is mostly red and white with a lot of penguins. Why I like penguins I’m not sure, but they make me smile. I also have a couple of Minions. They make me smile too. I have a few homemade ornaments from friends and family. Ornaments I’ve bought from the craft fair and special ornaments I’ve collected over the years or received as gifts. Having lost all of our old ornaments in the house fire, it’s bittersweet to remember those ornaments. My son’s college ornament, my other son’s Army ornament, ornaments to represent each of the children, some with photos, ornaments made by loving hands of those no longer with us, none of the ornaments were expensive but they were priceless. I am thankful for the memories and the love that went into them.

One of my favorite memories and one that makes my heart swell every year is when my husband hangs my Christmas lights. He’s not big on decorating for the holidays but he knows how much I love it and he does that for me. Coming home from work and seeing the snowflake lights on my porch and occasionally he’ll put out other yard decorations, it fills me with the spirit of Christmas like nothing else can.

What are some of your favorite holidays or celebrations? Do you have a favorite part? Do you decorate? Share some of your favorite things.

Posted in my books, promo

Christmas in July

How many of us love to watch holiday movies in the heat of the summer? Do you love the Hallmark Christmas in July movie month? How about reading holiday stories during the sweltering hot summer days? Does it help cool you off when you read about snow, Santa, and holiday cheer? If you love Christmas any time of year or if you’re just looking for a little relief from the heat, check out these holiday books in the Christmas in July Extravaganza Bookfunnel Promo.

After a YouTube Video ruined her career and turned her into a joke, the last thing Maddie Henries needed was a man. Especially if that man’s last name was Harrell, but Cole believed in her when no one else did. Can Maddie overcome her fears to learn to trust again? Thrown together to save her aunt’s century-old inn, Maddie and Cole find themselves working together to save Christmas for the people at Teach’s Island.

The Harrell Family Chronicles, #3.5 Can be read alone. It is part of the Harrell family world but not reliant on previous books.

FICTION / Romance / Contemporary
FICTION / Romance / Holiday
FICTION / Small Town & Rural
FICTION / Holidays
FICTION / Romance / Workplace

Posted in inspiration, my books, Recipes, Thoughts

Christmas Favorites Part 3

My mom, grandmother and aunt in upper photo. My mom and I in lower photo.

Holiday Treats

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a few delicious desserts, drinks or special meals. What are your holiday favorites? Do you cook them or look forward to a family member or friend bringing them to you? Do you give food gifts for Christmas? I’m listing some of my favorites linked to special memories, but they are in no way all of them. At close to sixty I’ve had a lot of Christmas treats and some are more about the person who is no longer with us than the food itself but remembering is a way of keeping them with us and when we eat or drink that special treat, we get to have them with us for just a little while, even if only in our thoughts.

My grandmother wasn’t a domesticated lady. In another time or situation, she’d have been a businesswoman, possibly a world traveler but instead she was the wife of a sharecropper. For any familiar with the term, you know they were poor. But in truth, I never realized they were poor. I knew grandma wore her house clothes until they were threadbare but when she went off, she dressed nice. I also enjoyed culinary delights that I couldn’t find anywhere else, when I was at my grandma’s house. She had homemade jam, sweet cream, biscuits and molasses. For Christmas she made sugar cookies, candy confections with pecans and coconut dipped in chocolate, peanut brittle that would yank all your fillings out and icebox fruitcake and applesauce cake.

I look forward to our local community holiday craft fair every Christmas because a local lady, Ms. Mary Jo makes peanut brittle even better than my grandmother’s. Sorry Granny. Hers melts on your tongue with just the right amount of sweetness.

When my children where little, I enjoyed baking sugar cookies with them using Granny’s recipe.

I still bake the applesauce cake every year because it’s not too sweet and it’s just the right amount of fruit and nuts and holiday spirit.

Grandma’s icebox fruit cake is another story. No one seems to be able to recreate hers exactly even using her recipe. Not sure what she did differently but ours are always too dry or too sticky, not enough raisins and pecans…something. Maybe we’re just lacking the love Granny put into everything she made.

Grandma told me once that she learned to do a lot of things not because she wanted to but because there was no other choice. As an adult raising six children, I came to understand that. We learned to do in order to make things better for those we love.

Grandma’s Ice Box Fruit Cake

1 box graham crackers crushed and pulverized

1 box raisins

2 cups pecans chopped

1 can sweetened condensed milk

Mix everything together if too dry add more milk, if too wet or sticky add more graham cracker crumbs.

Divide and roll into logs. Wrap in plastic and foil. Refrigerate until firm. Slice and eat.

I started using dried cranberries for a festive look and tart flavor.

Grandma’s Applesauce Cake

1 ½ cup self-rising flour

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon Allspice

½ teaspoon Cloves

½ teaspoon Ginger

2 eggs

1 can apple sauce

2 chopped apples

½ cup chopped pecans

1 stick of softened butter (if you use unsalted add a pinch of salt)

1 teaspoon of vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Grease loaf pans.

Mix dry ingredients first. Flour, sugar and spices. You can add your pecans too if you’d like. Flouring them keeps them in place.

Add eggs, softened butter, apple sauce, apple and vanilla. 

Bake 25-30 minutes or until no longer wet in the middle when you insert a toothpick to test.

Remove from oven and let cool. Makes great gifts.

You can substitute cranberry sauce for the apple sauce for a holiday twist.

It is difficult to diet during December. Between holiday parties and food gifts, oh my. I look forward to the special treats some of my friends fix for the holidays. Ms. Peggy’s homemade heath bars, Tina’s drunken chocolate covered cherries, Robina’s pomegranate cupcakes, oh my. I think I gained five pounds just writing about it. I can’t forget Ms. Helen’s fudge and Ms. Hix’s cookie assortment and candied nuts. Now y’all understand why I’m fat. I haven’t even talked about the real food and the drinks.

I’d never had eggnog until my youngest son was a teenager. He insisted we try it. It’s good but a little too rich for my taste. Working at the ABC store, I decided to try the alcoholic version and it’s better but still way to sweet for me. I like one glass every two or three years or so.

I enjoy apple cider when I can find good cider. I buy the unpasteurized kind, add it to my crockpot with orange juice, ginger ale and cinnamon hard candies. It’s a family favorite. You could add a little apple ale to perk it up or a splash of cinnamon whiskey instead of the hard candies.

One of my favorite holiday treats is the peppermint mocha iced coffees. Forget your pumpkin spice, give me peppermint and chocolate. If you want to adult it, there’s a great already premixed just add cold coffee or hot if you prefer. You can also make your own with cream liquor, peppermint schnapps, chocolate liquor and coffee.

My daughters-in-law introduced me to chai tea and iced chai lattes. Oh my goodness, Christmas in a cup. It is so good and my new favorite holiday drink.

My traditional favorite for Christmas dinner is roasted turkey with all the trimmings. For Christmas morning we’ve done waffles and ice cream or left-over chicken. We’ve done monkey bread, all ooey gooey and loaded with cinnamon, but most recently we’ve started doing a French toast casserole because we have such a large crowd. It’s a very simple recipe and feeds the masses. We get bags of old bread crusts make an egg and milk custard with vanilla, sugar and cinnamon pour it over the bread and put it in a pan in a preheated oven at 350 for about 30 minutes, topped with butter.

My mother-in-law does something different every year for Christmas Eve. We’ve had Mexican with tamales, hand rolled and bought from a lovely Mexican lady. We’ve done assorted Italian dishes, soups and sandwiches, and even quiches.
Posted in inspiration, my books, Thoughts

Christmas Favorites Part 2

Favorite Holiday Song

Okay, now we’re really getting into difficult territory because I love Christmas music both old and new stuff. I don’t know what it is about Christmas music, but it always touches my heart. I’ve even been known to sing it when it’s not even Christmas.

I have to break this down into categories because I truly love Christmas music

  1. Religious:

Oh Holy Night, I love to sing this song though sometimes I cannot get it just right. It was one played at church and is still one of my favorite songs. When a good soprano sings it, it can give me chills.

Go Tell it On the Mountain, another song I love to sing. I have great memories of doing this in church with the kids walking up the aisles of the church getting louder and faster as we neared the altar. It’s a joyous song to sing. I miss doing the Christmas programs. I started performing in the Christmas pageants when I was a little girl even before we moved to North Carolina, but afterwards I didn’t miss a one. As a young teenager I began writing or altering plays to fit our small church and later as an adult I wrote or assisted in the writing of the plays.

Mary Did You Know, when my oldest son and my niece sang this as a duet one Christmas it became my favorite. I wasn’t familiar with this song until I heard it at one of their band concerts, but it could not compare to this duet. His bass and her soprano were a beautiful blend. It’s a memory that plays on repeat in my heart.

What Child is This? I love to sing this song or hear it sung. I’d not heard it until I was a teenager, but it became one of my favorites.

Sweet Little Jesus Boy I remembered this one after I started this blog, I love to sing this song. I learned it for a program, it’s best done acapella.

Silent Night this is so pretty sung outside on a winter’s night under the stars with only a guitar accompanying. I loved going Christmas caroling and this was probably my favorite song to sing.

We Three Kings in a small church with very few boys or men to play all of the parts, one year I was a King. As a contraltro, I can sing in the lower register and sang with the guys on this song. My dad and I would often sing it together while my mom sang the higher parts.

Away in a Manger when my babies were little, I’d sing this as a lullaby not just at Christmas. This is one of the purest and sweetest songs. I can imagine Mary singing to Jesus and wondering what the future held.

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem we sang this often in church as a congregational song but I love to hear it sung with harmonies.

Beautiful Star of Bethlehem this is beautiful when done in the old bluegrass style. I love to hear my friend sing it with his bluegrass band, but I also enjoy singing it.

Oh Come Emmanuel the first time I remember singing this song, I was part of a choir in Goldsboro’s Adamsville Baptist Church. We did a human Christmas tree and I had to climb up several stories and stand on a small platform. At least I didn’t have time for stage fright being I was so scared of heights!

2. Broadway/Hollywood:

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen the first time I remember hearing this song a friend of mine was in a production of A Christmas Carol at the community theater. I wished I’d been able to be involved in theater, but we lived so far from the city.

All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey is younger than my youngest son but has already become a classic. It’s one of the most played Christmas songs on the radio and I think old and young, rockers and country lovers enjoy it. I know it’s one of my favorites and it lends itself well to the holiday romance genre.

Hard Candy Christmas I was surprised to learn it wasn’t written by Dolly Pardon but instead by Carol Hall. It’s from the musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Dolly played Miss Mona in the film version. My dad saw the movie before I did and embarrassed himself telling me about it. I’ll never forget his discomfort when he suddenly remembered I wasn’t his friend but his daughter.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas from Meet Me in Saint Louis, I loved it as a movie with Judy Garland I’ve never had the opportunity to see the play. I’m an old movie nut. My son and I love the history channel and the classic movie channel.  

We Need a Little Christmas the first time I remember hearing this was on The Facts of Life, I guess that dates me. I loved that show, and their holiday specials were always full of heart and music.

Baby It’s Cold Outside this song has been done and spoofed so many times it’s become a tradition in itself. I love to hear it and gladly listen to any of the new versions for a chuckle.

Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Here in eastern North Carolina, it rarely snows until after the new year but every once in a while we have a white Christmas. One I remember with my daughter-in-law Chanthou that was really special. We all played in the snow and made snow cream. Even though it’s doubtful we’ll get snow for Christmas, I cannot resist singing this song.

White Christmas Irving Berlin was one of the greatest song writers of all time. I love to watch the old movies White Christmas and Holiday Inn, and when I was writing my story, Only in My Dreams, I thought about all the WW2 era movies I loved to watch such as these. The title for my holiday WW2 novella is from the song I’ll be Home for Christmas, which I cannot listen to without tearing up.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas I sing this in the stores when the Christmas decorations come out, but I truly feel it after our small-town Christmas parade.

Snoopy and Red Baron I had this on a forty-five and played it over and over again until there was a groove in the vinyl. That and Alvin and the Chipmunks singing Christmas Don’t Be Late.

Posted in Thoughts

Christmas Favorites

The things that we care about say a lot about us. I’m a sentimental slob but my husband is even worse. I look like an old softy, but he looks like a badass biker dude, but he’s a cinnamon roll (think that’s the new term for layers of sweet gooey goodness.)

I would love to see or hear about some of your favorites. Feel free to send me a photo or comment about your favorites. I’d love to hear from you.

Favorite Ornament

I have too many favorites to name them all, but I will say anything handmade by friends or family members. I lost so many of those when our house burned down.

One of the first ornaments we received after losing our house was handmade nutcracker soldiers from my dear friend and prom date, Alice. She made soldiers representing each of our sons. With a son in the Army at the time, my husband’s love of nutcrackers and the fact that Alice made them, this is one of my all-time favorite ornaments.

Favorite Christmas Tree

I used to do themed Christmas trees. One year my sons and I did a Native American tree with hand carved fetishes, pewter charms, dreamcatchers and an Indian Angel. We used pinecones and gumballs to decorate the tree. It was one of our favorite projects and a lovely memory.

Favorite Decoration

Oh wow, when I started writing I was sure I knew what my favorite was but then I thought but what about… so, here is my three favorite decorations for Christmas.

Even though I no longer have it as it was lost in our house fire, my all-time favorite decoration was the ceramic village my husband’s aunt Nancy made for us. She gave us a new piece for Christmas each year and I couldn’t wait to add it to the others. It wasn’t always easy finding places to display the village, but it was an important part of our holiday and a memory I cherish. It was as beautiful as the lady who made them for us because like her, the village was about love.

After losing the house, my sister-in-law decided to replace my husband’s meager nutcracker collection with a massive one she collected throughout the year. We’ve added a few more to it over the years but it all started with one box of soldiers. I have to admit it’s not Christmas without the nutcrackers standing guard.

The other Christmas decoration that means so much to me is my outside snowflake lights. My husband surprised me with them one year and I didn’t want to take them down. I left them up until March that first year convincing my husband they looked like flowers.

I’d love to hear about your favorites.

Posted in Thoughts

A Rough Few Months

Holiday chaos: the true life of a busy writer-mom!

It’s almost Christmas and those of you who know me, know it’s been a rough few months. My mom fell and thankfully did not break anything, but she’s still had a rough recovery. At the same time, we lost a beloved friend and extended family member, and then the holidays struck. Oh, and did I mention two of my children were moving at the same time? Yeah, it was chaos but now things are returning to what passes for normal in the Hollister household which is somewhere between chaos and catatonia.

It took two weeks to decorate my tree, I am almost finished with Christmas buying and I’ve gotten a good start on wrapping. I’ve been moving things around to finish decorating and I hope I have all the Christmas cards sent out. At this point I can guarantee nothing, but I have food to cook and a place the kids can hang their hammocks. I’m hoping to finish cleaning and decorating this weekend so I can enjoy my family coming in for the holidays and my mom coming home. That in itself is a reason to celebrate.

Oh Crap, Christmas Tree! (after I cleaned up)

As you can imagine a lot of stuff has fallen by the wayside during this time. I did manage to get out both my holiday ebooks and create the print copies in time for Christmas, but I’ve been a bit slack about promoting them. I’ve also been lax in my duties with Heart of Carolina and Pamlico Writers, I’m so thankful for both of these groups and for the members who have graciously taken up the slack during this difficult time. I know that without these guys I wouldn’t be a published author. They and my mentor MK Graff, who hosted the North Carolina Writer’s Read for many years were instrumental in teaching me and giving me the courage to follow my dreams. My husband, best friend and my sister-in-law have been the ones to physically push and drag me to events and out into the spotlight. As this year ends, there are so many people to thank for making this year bearable and wonderful: my husband, family, friends, my writers’ groups, my Beta readers, my self-promo groups, the nurses at mom’s nursing home, her friends and family, and so many more. Even the people I work with, and my customers have been a great source of inspiration and courage during these rough months as well as a joy during the fun months. Thank you all for caring! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Back ground is the Murfree House in Murfreesboro, NC

Posted in inspiration, my books, Thoughts

Holiday Season

Ms. Lib’s Halloween window at A Cut Ahead beauty salon.

The holidays for me begin with Halloween and ease up after the first of the year only to be tossed into Valentine’s quickly followed by Easter, and May is a big birthday month plus Mother’s Day, then Father’s Day and suddenly it’s Fourth of July our anniversary, my birthday and before you know it Labor Day and the holidays start all over again.

With such a large family there are very few months we don’t have birthdays, anniversaries or something special going on, but Christmas, Christmas is the time of year when I try to remember each person in my life whether it’s with a card or gift. I want to let them know how important they are to me. Choosing the perfect gift isn’t always easy because let’s face it, most of us buy what we want throughout the year. No, the perfect gift isn’t always something expensive or even something asked for. The perfect gift to me is something the giver sees that makes them think of the other person, smile and say, “they will love that.”

What has been your most memorable gift?

I’ve been blessed by friends and family with some wonderful gifts through the years. Some of the best gifts I’ve received were not ones I’d even thought about: A book on Native Americans, a cheval mirror, a stuffed animal from my grandchildren. Gifts that came from the heart from people who know me. Somme of my most cherished are the anytime gifts, like when my husband or son brings me a coffee drink or one of my daughters-in-law are out somewhere and bring me home a cake or trinket just because they know I’ll like it. The best gifts are the gifts of time, sharing a moment with those you love whether it’s a phone call or a visit. Taking the time to say “I love you” is more precious than anything we can buy.

As I look back over this past year, the good and the bad, I know that I am blessed. We’ve known some heartaches, lost some friends and loved ones but at the end of the year I count more blessings than not. I hope you can say the same.

Wishing you all a Very Merry Christmas and a Joyous New Year!

Books make great gifts.

Posted in my books, promo

Holiday Romances for Less Than $1!

A YouTube video fiasco, a hurricane and the threat of losing her aunt’s inn leaves Maddie Henries with no choice but to trust Cole Harrell.

Cole isn’t a bad guy. He just has the misfortune of being kin to the man who her sister’s heart.

An enemies to lovers romance, this holiday story will make you believe anything is possible at Christmas.