Friday, November 29, 2013

Holiday Shorts: The Prequel

Family and the Pumpkin Patch

By Danita Cahill

One late spring, when my daughter Alyssa was a first-grader, I planted a couple extra hills of pumpkins. I figured she and I could enjoy some fun activities together when the pumpkins were ready. Little did I know then that besides providing mother-daughter bonding opportunities, the pumpkin patch would provide story fodder for my brothers for years to come.

While the vines were growing, Alyssa and I daily strolled hand-in-hand to the garden to check the pumpkins for progress. We watched as the golf-ball-sized fruits grew, swelled, and finally turned orange.

In early October, she and I harvested the pumpkins. I let her help decide where we should arrange them for autumn decorations. We piled pumpkins here and there. We tied tall corn stalks to fence posts behind the piles, and topped each pile of pumpkins off with a few colorful gourds. We were happy with the festive, fall look. Later that month, I let Alyssa pick which pumpkins we’d carve into funny-faced Jack-o-lanterns. The rest she and I chunked up, boiled, peeled, pureed and carefully measured into freezer bags to use for holiday baking.

The day before Thanksgiving, I pulled a couple bags of the pumpkin puree out of the freezer to thaw. Thanksgiving morning I was out of bed early to prepare pies and get them in and out of the oven before we headed to my folk’s for dinner.

“Mommy,” Alyssa asked as I was scooping together the ingredients for piecrust, “can I visit with Kendra through the fence?”

“Okay,” I murmured, up to my elbows in flour. I watched out the kitchen window as my daughter skipped across the north field to visit with her young neighbor friend on the other side. The skirt of Alyssa’s blue and white dress bounced with each step. She looked so sweet and carefree. I sighed, imagining all the burrs I’d have to pick out of her knee socks when she got back home.

I was rolling out the piecrust when Alyssa and her friend burst through the back door. “Guess what?” Alyssa announced. “Kendra’s mom said she could come over for an hour.”

I sighed again, thinking my daughter should have consulted me before inviting a friend over. It was Thanksgiving. I was busy. I didn’t have time to run a daycare center. But, it was a holiday, after all, and I decided to make the best of it.

I put the girls to work.

I found out the hard way – it’s not easy to supervise two six-year-old bakers while in the midst of rolling out pie dough.

I tried to be a good overseer as the girls measured the spices. Somewhat patiently, I picked out the bits of eggshell after they cracked the eggs. They whisked the beaten eggs and canned milk together with the pumpkin. I poured the mixture into the finished shells and popped the pies in the oven.

Soon the ginger-spice fragrance of baking pies filled our kitchen. When a knife inserted in the centers came out clean, I pulled the pies from the oven. They turned out fine – or so I thought at the time – great smell, good color, the texture seemed right, and I felt proud that we’d grown the pumpkins ourselves.

I shooed the neighbor girl back across the field, picked the burrs out of Alyssa’s socks, and loaded her and the pies into our Thunderbird. We headed north to Mom and Dad’s.

It was a big gathering, as usual, and after my extended family had digested the generous, traditional Thanksgiving meal, we broke out the desserts. Grandma had baked blackberry pie, my favorite, so I opted for a slice of that, while my mom, aunt, and three brothers each dished up a piece of Alyssa and my homegrown pumpkin pie.

We all plopped on some whipped topping and dug in.

Grandma’s blackberry pie was heaven. And Mom and Auntie didn’t moan, groan or make faces while eating the pumpkin. Looking back on it now, I can’t believe my brothers ate their slices without complaint either.
On our way home that afternoon, for who-knows-whatever reason, I ran the earlier pie assembly through my mind – the egg beating, the milk pouring, the spice measuring. But…what about the sugar?

My memory blipped at that point.

This blip settled into a brain hollow and haunted me for the rest of the 45-minute drive from my folk’s house to mine. I didn’t have a cell phone back then, but as soon as I got inside the door, I called Mom on my land line.

The conversation went something like this:

“Uh, Mom, did you notice anything weird about the pumpkin pie?”

“Well…not really,” Mom said. She was always mindful of other people’s feelings, sometimes almost too kind. “Why?”

“Because I’m not sure your granddaughter and her friend put in any sugar.” Yeah, yeah. Let’s blame this one on the kids, shall we?

“Now that you mention it, the pie wasn’t very sweet.” There was a hesitation on Mom’s end. “I thought maybe you were trying a new recipe.”

A dessert recipe without sweetener? Interesting concept, Mom. “No.” It was time for me to stand up and face the band. “I just plain forgot the sugar.”

“It wasn’t so bad,” Mom hedged, “with lots of Cool Whip.”

Good old Mom.

My brothers, on the other hand, still give me a hard time about my baking skills, or, I should say, my lack thereof. For heaven’s sake – it was four pies. One mistake. Years ago. But brothers, bless their boyish hearts, are not Moms. Brothers thrive on family stories they can really sink their tease into.

A version of "Family and the Pumpkin Patch" was first published in HCI’s book The Ultimate Gardener. Similar stories will appear in Country Girl Confessions: Inspirational Stories of Living and Growing Up Rural, scheduled for an early 2014 release.

Danita Cahill is a multi-published, award-winning writer and photojournalist. She’s written and published more than 2,100 articles and columns in 10 different newspapers; a dozen magazine stories; a non-fiction eBook – Kids are a Crack Up: Humorous Stories from the Mouths of Babes; and two novels – Mist, a supernatural romantic suspense; and Love at First Click, a small-town contemporary romance, and the first in the Bellham Romance series.

To learn more about Danita Cahill, her books and her upcoming releases, check out her Amazon author page, or find her on Facebook.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Funny Girl Happened to Land on My Blog

I love to laugh. It's the best medicine and it has no side-effects unless you count having people look at you funny when you start chuckling at something you're reading. 

Melodie Campbell makes me do that. Her books have got me funny looks in doctors' offices, banks, and while reading in the car while my son is delivering papers. That's why I love to have her as a guest blogger... especially when she makes me think as well as laugh.

 WRITING MOB COMEDIES - You are supposed to love your family and support them. But what if your family is this one?

By Melodie Campbell

My first memory is of a family reunion at a rural farmhouse in Southern Ontario. I was not quite three, and tears were streaming down my face. I had just learned how to talk in English, and I couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying. Had I lost the ability to understand people?

All sorts of big scary uncles picked me up. They tried to console me by speaking softly. But I couldn’t understand them because they were speaking in Italian, or more specifically, Sicilian.

They would laugh now, knowing that was the reason for my tears. But all of them are gone now, and the world has changed so drastically, they wouldn’t recognize it.

Gone are the days when one uncle lived in glory at the huge bungalow on the lake. Later, when I looked him up, he was out of favour, living over a store in a small town. No longer do my distant cousins die of gunshot wounds ‘while cleaning their rifles.’

Often, I have wondered where the antique statues from Italy ended up. Back in the Italian churches from which I suspect they were taken during the war? I am hopeful.

These were the days of Brio and cannoli after mass on Sunday mornings. And gossip about other relatives, one of whom was a famous boxer. My Godmother’s friend, the singer (one of a group of sisters) who could not escape the clutches of a mob underboss in the States. He wouldn’t let her go. I remember the aunts clamming up about this, when I ventured into the room, looking for mom.

I was the darling of the family, with dark curly hair and big evergreen eyes. Later, when I grew up curvy and was tall enough to be a model, they doted on me. So my memories of growing up in such a family are decidedly warped.

They were warm and loving. Loads of fun. And massively protective.

In THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE, you will find a mob family that is funny and rather delightful. Gina loves them, but hates the business. She is always trying to put it behind her, and somehow gets sucked back in to bail them out. I wanted to show that ambivalence. You are supposed to love your family and support them. But what if your family is this one?

THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE is meant to be a laugh-out-loud comedy. But there is an adage that states the following: Comedy is tragedy barely averted.

Melodie Campbell got her start writing comedy. THE GODDAUGHTER’S REVENGE, a comic mob caper, was released October 2013.

THE GODDAUGHTER'S REVENGE and Melodie's other titles are available on:

Find Melodie at: Funny Girl Melodie

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Christmas Trivia Contest

1.  What did the soldiers use to decorate the Christmas tree in camp?

2.  Who celebrated Christmas more, the northern states or southern states?

3.  What did the southern women warn their children about?

4.  Why did President Lincoln ask political cartoonist Thomas Nast for a Santa Claus picture? (See left.)

5.  Which of these Christmas standards could not have been sung during the Civil War?
A - Silent Night
B - Jingle Bells
C - We Three Kings

We will announce the winner Sunday November 24th.

Answer the questions in the comments or direct message Kat or Alison on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

New Book Trailer

A Historical Romance 
Available in Kindle format on Amazon 

 "Both stories are very different, and show entirely different ways of life and the threat to their existence. I think the authors have a winner here, great characterizations and fascinating insights. A war story that is more about the people and family dynamics than fighting, though the tension is still felt. An unusual telling, but brilliant." - Amazon Top Reviewer

"I could not put Hazardous Unions down and when the story was over I wanted more... a huge thank you to Alison and Kat for writing such a beautiful story and for sharing with us!!! Truly a favorite new book of mine." - Amazon Reviewer

Friday, November 15, 2013

Author Interview with Paty Jager

Meet Paty Jager

With sixteen published books, three novellas, and an anthology, award winning author Paty Jager is never at a loss for story ideas and characters in her head. Her rural life in central and eastern Oregon and interests in local history and the world around her keeps the mystery and romance ideas flowing. She not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it. 
You can learn more about Paty at her blog;  her website; or on Facebook;!/paty.jager and twitter;  @patyjag.

Hi Paty. Your new book, Laying Claim, is set in the Yukon. Now, I can’t say much since I’m a Canadian who set her first book in Texas, but what attracted you to the Great Canadian North?

Hi Alison, Thanks for having me at your blog.

My book is set in the Yukon because two of our children and their families live in Alaska and we’ve made several trips. However, it was when we took an Alaskan cruise on our 30th anniversary that I became intrigued with the Chilkoot and White Pass. When the boat stopped in Skagway, we did the usual tourist thing and took the bus ride to what was called “Ragtown” and the train up the White Pass. We then went to the historical museum and saw the horrific photos of the horse carcasses and heard the tales. I knew when I read about that, I would one day set a book at the time of the stampede and mention the atrocity.
I've been on that cruise with my family and I know the tales you're talking about. Still, I imagine you had to do a lot of research in addition to what you learned there.

Yes, I read non-fiction and fiction books about the Klondike and Yukon and surfed the internet. Most important thing I learned…Of the thousands who made the long trip to the Yukon searching for gold only about a tenth of them actually made enough money to make a difference in their lives.

What was the coolest bit of information that you found but had to leave out? 

I don’t think I left anything out that I thought was cool. I don’t hit the reader over the head with the information I find, but I always find a way to get the “cool stuff” slipped into the story.

Are you one of those authors that dream cast your characters? If you are, who plays Jeremy Duncan and Clara Bixbee and why?

I watch so few movies, that I’m not sure I could do my characters justice with my picks but I’d say Amanda Seyfried for Clara and Kellen Lutz for Jeremy. (I’ll admit, I did a search for hot young actors and when I saw the photo of Kellen he looked like Jeremy in my mind.)

Amanda Seyfried did a great job in Les Miserables and I've heard that Kellen Lutz was good in the Twilight movies, so it looks like you made good choices.

Is this book a big departure for you? Are most of your books set closer to home?

Laying Claim isn’t a huge departure because Jeremy Duncan, the hero was a secondary character in the first book of the Halsey Brothers Series, so it was kind of like coming home which plays into the whole theme of the trilogy this book is part of: Halsey Homecoming trilogy. Laying Claim is the first book of this trilogy, which features young men who were brought into the Halsey family through marriages. Using an Alaska/Yukon setting was out of my normal setting range.

But to answer your question about my books set closer to home, my westerns are usually set in the Pacific Northwest in the U.S.A. However, my action-adventure books tend to be set in the Americas.

What’s next, Paty?

On the 18th, A Christmas Anthology I’m in is releasing. Christmas in Sweetwater Springs: A Montana Sky Short Story Collection. Ten other authors and I wrote Christmas stories that are set in Debra Holland’s fictional western town of Sweetwater Springs in the same year. The collaboration on this took lots of emails and adding each other’s characters in stories, because they all happened the same year in the same town. It was a feat but I’m proud of my little story in the book. You can pre-order it now. And if you do, you could be eligible for a $100 Amazon gift card. Go to our FB release party page and see the details.

I’m working on the third Isabella Mumphrey action-adventure, Secrets of a Hopi Blue Star. Isabella starts out deciphering a drawing on the walls of a cave in a Hopi village and ends up in the middle of a drug and human trafficking ring at the Arizona/Mexico border. This book should be available early 2014.

Then it will be the next book in the Halsey Homecoming trilogy, Staking Claim. That book will actually be set on a ship coming from England. So, a lot more research will be needed. Not to mention a bit about English history.

You've reminded me that I've got to get going on my WIP. Meanwhile, I better go get my copy of Laying Claim.
Jeremy Duncan commits to haul one last load of supplies across the great interior of the Yukon before heading home. But, he has to trade his pack animals for sled dogs and leave Skagway in the middle of a blizzard due to one strong-willed, business-minded beauty.

Determined to find her older brother, Clara Bixbee doesn’t care how she gets across the pass, as long as she does, and soon. Hiring handsome pack guide Jeremy Duncan seems to be her best choice. Especially after she saves a young girl being beaten by the local gang leader and needs to escape Skagway fast.

Nook Kobo

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lest We Forget

Lost but not Forgotten

Hidden in the back of a closet in the attic of my Aunt Ruth's house was a suitcase. It was found at the last moment of going through the house before putting it up for sale. Inside the suitcase was a mystery. Several mysteries, actually, in the form of photographs of unknown relatives.

Aunt Ruth might have known who they were. Grandma would certainly have known. Neither are with us to provide the answers. It was left to my cousin Arlene and I to piece together the puzzle using what we knew of the family and evidence from later photographs with often cryptic notes scrawled on the back. A work still in progress.

Among the pictures were men in uniform, portraits taken before leaving home for World War I. Thanks to the photographer's mark, we know that home was Manitoba. My great-grandmother, Ida Penfield, took her three sons (Hetley, Albert and Gurnell) west to live on her brother's farm after the death of her husband Robert Lloyd Penfield. She left her daughter, my grandmother, behind. But that's another story.

With the help of a Penfield genealogy page and Archives Canada I discovered that two of Ida's sons served in the Canadian Army. Their cousin Robert Lloyd Penfield also served. (This was a popular name in the family - my father's eldest brother was Robert Lloyd Bruce.)  A Nellie Penfield is also listed, but without attestation papers. Was this Gurnell?

Which of these photos depicts Hetley, Albert, Robert (and possibly Gurnell)? We have no idea. We need more pieces of the puzzle.

We don't know how they fared either. Hetley came back. Arlene met him as a child. Did they all come home? Or do I have great uncles lying in Flanders' fields?

The information is currently lost, but these young men are not forgotten.

"That's what it takes to be a hero, a little gem of innocence inside you that makes you want to believe that there still exists a right and wrong, that decency will somehow triumph in the end."
Lise Hand

"If we don't end war, war will end us."
H. G. Wells

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What Happened to October?

... it zooms

"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."
Albert Einstein

Time failed me in October. Everything did happen at once.

Some of it was bad, like my car's transmission going and my computer being infected with a virus. That made October busy and expensive.

Some was worrying. I don't think a week went by that me or one of my kids needed to go to the doctor.

Mostly there was work... and that's not a bad thing.

I finished editing one book for one publisher while promoting my latest book with another publisher. (I always wanted to be able to say something like that.) I've worked on a contract design job in addition to my two regular jobs. (Gees, I'm pretty impressive ain't I?) Even the dishes and some housework have been accomplished.

What I haven't done is blogged lately and, frankly, I miss it. For a while, right after the Hazardous Unions blog tour, I was happy to do anything but. Now? Well I better enjoy myself because I've got a new gig. Starting November 6, I'm posting on Pop Culture Divas every other Wednesday.

With any luck, things will calm down in November. Time will fly like a kite instead of a jet plane.