featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Holiday Blog Hop Starting December 11th

Holiday Blog Hop

Blog Hop begins December 11th. Click on the graphic above for a schedule and list of giveaways, including a $60 Amazon gift card.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

NEW YEAR'S EVE

Anastasia and her fellow editors wish to remind everyone to drive safely tonight and don't forget to appoint a designated driver if you plan to toast in the New Year with bubbly.
We want to see you all happy and healthy in 2014!

Monday, December 30, 2013

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--A CRAFTY CHRISTMAS MYSTERY BY LOIS WINSTON

If You’re Not Quite Ready to Let Go of Christmas…

Elementary, My Dear Gertie is the Christmas mystery novella sequel to Lois Winston’s award-winning Talk Gertie to Me, a story of an Iowa craft-maven mother, her daughter who has fled to New York, and the return of Gertie, an imaginary childhood friend with attitude.

In Elementary, My Dear Gertie, two years have passed since the happily-ever-after that isn’t doing so well. Nori Stedworth has moved in with the love of her life, Mackenzie Randolph, much to her parents’ displeasure. They’re coping as best as parents from Ten Commandments, Iowa can. They want Mac to make an honest woman of their daughter, and that means nothing short of marriage. Mac is all for exchanging I do’s. He’s even bought the ring, but before he can pop the question, an explosion hurls him and Nori right into the middle of a murder investigation, and Gertie, Nori's alter-ego, can't help but lend her acerbic wit to the twists and turns as yet another scandal envelopes the not-so-pious residents of Ten Commandments.

Here’s an excerpt:

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Nori pushing a baby carriage. As I stared at the words stitched on the needlepoint pillow, my cheeks burned. Leave it to my mother to transform Christmas morning into an Embarrass-Nori-Fest. Since arriving back in Ten Commandments, Iowa two days ago, I’d put up with non-stop innuendos, commentary, and sermons about my living-in-sin lifestyle and ticking biological clock. However, with the gift I’d just opened, Mom had gone too far. Way too far.

“Smile and say ‘thank you’,” advised Gertie, my childhood imaginary friend who’d come back to haunt me nearly two years ago.

“Haunt you? Hmmph! If it weren’t for me, you’d be pulling espresso shots at Starbucks or asking, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ Who’s responsible for you becoming the hottest talk-radio personality in all of New York?”

I glanced across the room to where Mac, my boss and significant other, sat wedged between my father and an overabundance of hand-made throw pillows, Mom’s latest craft du mois on her cable TV show. Mac wore a patient expression on his face and a hand-knit red and green striped tie draped around his neck.

Ties were September’s craft du mois. Thanks to Connie Stedworth, America’s craft maven and my mother—not necessarily in that order—males all over America opened gifts of knit, crocheted, painted, appliquéd, cross stitched, hand-woven, or patchwork quilted ties this morning. Unless they were Jewish, in which case they’d received their handmade neckwear ten days ago on the first night of Hanukkah.

Gertie interrupted my necktie digression with a shrill question. “Sure Mackenzie Randolph hired you, but who’s responsible for you meeting him? If it weren’t for yours truly, you’d have walked right past him and kept on walking.”

Highly unlikely, given the only available seat in Bean Around the Block that day was the empty one across the table from Mac, but Gertie’s a credit hog.

“I take credit where credit’s due. You’d have a hard time surviving without me, Honora Stedworth. Besides, who came crying to whom for help? I was doing just fine, thank-you-very-much, enjoying my hard earned and richly deserved retirement after dealing with your childhood and adolescence. Not an easy job by any stretch of the imagination, I might add.”

So what type of 401K plans are available to imaginary friends?

“Save the snarkiness for your listeners. It’s Christmas. Suck up your pride, and thank your mother. You’ve only got five days to go before you fly back to New York.”

I stole a peek at the anniversary clock fighting for space among a multitude of Christmas cards covering the mantle. Five days, three hours and forty-seven minutes if our flight departed on time, but who’s counting?

“Earth to Nori. I don’t suppose you’ve noticed that everyone is staring at you, waiting for you to hold up the gift and say something?”

Pushy, isn’t she? I gritted my teeth, plastered a smile on my face, and said, “How sweet. Thank you, Mom.” But I kept the pillow firmly planted in the cardboard box on my lap. No need to expand the Embarrass-Nori-Fest into an Embarrass-Nori-and-Mac-Fest. So far, Mom had behaved herself in front of Mac, reserving her innuendos, commentary, and sermons to times when he was out of earshot. I hoped to maintain the status quo.

“The pastel colors will work for either a boy or a girl,” said Mom.
 
Not that there was even the hint of a boy or a girl bun in the oven. And none planned. I folded the red and green tissue paper back over the pillow and reached for the cardboard lid.

Mom jumped to her feet. “What are you doing, Nori? Hold it up. Show everyone.”

By everyone Mom meant the two other people in the living room—my father and Mac—but I’m sure Dad had already seen Mom’s less-than-subtle needlepoint missive. Her message was aimed directly at me and my partner-in-sin.

However, in Ten Commandments, Iowa we were more like partners-in-absentia. Or maybe that should be partners-in-abstaintia. Mac and I had been sharing both an apartment and a bed in New York for more than a year and a half, but this was our first trip as a couple to visit my parents. We’d avoided a Christmas trek to the Midwest last year by booking a trip to Europe. I’d been dealing with the fall-out ever since.

So here we were. And although my parents were aware of our living arrangement in New York, they chose to ignore it, refusing to set foot in our apartment whenever Mom’s burgeoning empire brought them east.

Share a room with Mac under their roof? Never going to happen. Not until we’d exchanged I do’s in front of my uncle, the Reverend Zechariah Stedworth. And my mother had no qualms about employing every available means of communication to hammer that fact into me—including needlepoint. Frankly, I was surprised not to see a billboard directed toward me as we pulled into town.

“For heaven’s sake!” Mom strode through a floor of discarded wrapping paper and ribbons, grabbed the box off my lap, and headed toward Mac. “I spent hours stitching this for you. The least you can do is share it with your...your—.” She frowned at Mac.

Dad cleared his throat. “Significant other, dear.”

Mom glared at Dad, then shot a hostile nod in Mac’s direction. Identical round, red spots surfaced on each of her cheeks. “If he’s so significant, why aren’t they married? Or at least engaged?” She dumped the box on Mac’s lap and marched toward the kitchen.

So much for maintaining the status quo.

“Connie,” called Dad, “come back.”

Mom muttered under her breath, “If I don’t get that bird in the oven...and then there’s the cranberry relish...and the yams...”

Dad shook his head at both Mac and me before he hauled himself off the sofa and followed Mom into the kitchen.

I sighed.

Mac sighed.

Then he took a look at the needlepoint pillow and sighed again, this time more forcefully before he read the embroidered phrase aloud. “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Nori pushing a baby carriage.”

When God was passing out the Subtle genes, my mother was probably off faux finishing something.

A sheepish grin spread across Mac’s face. “And you were worried I’d be bored in your little hometown?”

“Bored and embarrassed. So which is worse?”

He laughed. “I’m definitely not bored.” Then he motioned toward the front door. “Think we can duck out of here for a while?”

Since Mom’s crafting talents didn’t extend to chastity belts (yet), she wasn’t satisfied with placing Mac and me in separate bedrooms at either end of the second floor. When we arrived, I was assigned my childhood bedroom, and Mac was relegated to a room at the Ten Commandments Inn, the only motel in town.

Mom couldn’t control what went on in New York, but she was determined a mile would separate me from temptation as long as Mac and I were on her turf. And given that the establishment was owned and operated by Mom’s second cousin Maude-Ann Krissendorf, I suspected an additional pair of eyes had been pressed into service to deter any possible hanky-panky.

“I’d better go make nice first,” I said.

“Good idea. Fill a thermos with coffee while you’re in there.”

“What for?”

“Knowing your mother, if we take the car, she’ll come after us with a shotgun. We’d better hoof it.”

I glanced out the window. Anyone who wished for a white Christmas had never lived in Iowa in December. An inch of fresh snow had accumulated since the plow had come down the street a few hours ago. More continued to fall, lightly but steadily. White windblown whorls danced in gusts down the empty street.

A perfect morning to curl up in bed, but the bed in question was a mile away, and Mac was right. Taking the car would set off Mom’s internal radar. My embarrassment over the needlepoint pillow would pale in comparison to having her barge in on us after she’d cajoled Maude-Ann out of a pass key. Or maybe she already had one stashed away for just such an emergency.

I headed for the kitchen while Mac grabbed our coats and boots. “We’re going for a walk,” I said, coming up behind Mom and pecking her cheek.

She stiffened at my touch, her hands freezing in mid-stuff of the turkey. Then her shoulders sagged, and the stiffness drained from her spine. She withdrew her hands from inside old Tom, gave them a quick rinse at the sink, then grabbed a dish towel. Finally, her hands still damp, she turned to face me and offered a weak smile as she tucked a few strands of my always unmanageable riot of strawberry blonde curls behind my ear. “Nori, I only want what’s best for you, dear.”

“I know, Mom.” I saw no purpose in pointing out that at twenty-eight years of age, I should be the one to determine what was best for me. We’d had this particular argument too many times. “We’ll be back in plenty of time for me to help you with the side dishes.”

“Isn’t it too cold for a walk?” asked my father, pausing in his yam-peeling duties.

I glanced over at him as I filled the thermos from the coffee pot Mom always kept simmering with fresh brew. Did he suspect we’d tramp a mile through snow and slush for a quickie? Would he spill the beans?

I never knew how to read Dad lately. He’d always been the more conservative of the two, but several scandals involving members of his family, along with Mom’s foray into the world of celebrity, had changed him. When Dad was forced to confront the fact that not everyone marches to the tune of his particular drummer, he abdicated his role as mayor and moral arbiter of Ten Commandments, not to mention the world.

Still, I knew it was difficult for him to accept that his only daughter was no longer as pure as that white stuff falling from the heavens.

I crossed over to the kitchen table and kissed the top of his balding head. “We’ll bundle up.” He eyed me as if he saw right through me but went back to yam peeling without saying another word.

“Wear your boots,” said Mom. “And don’t forget a scarf and gloves.”

“Of course.” Pushing twenty-nine by the calendar, still nine in my mother’s eyes. Some things would never change.

I met Mac in the front hallway. He slipped the thermos into a backpack while I shrugged into my parka.

“Desperate, aren’t we?” asked Gertie as Mac and I crunched our way down the road, being careful to dodge black ice and mounds of frozen slush.

Desperate didn’t begin to describe the jumble of emotions inside me. I loved my parents, but I loved them a lot more when they were in Iowa and I was in New York. After two days in Ten Commandments, I had a lot of pent-up frustration to burn off. I figured I had two choices: sex or matricide. I opted for the more pleasurable and less sinful of the two.

*
Twenty minutes later, after scoping out the grounds to make certain Maude-Ann was nowhere in sight, Mac and I skulked half-frozen into his motel room. “I hate snow,” I said, yanking the scarf from around my neck and tossing it onto the dresser. “I hate Iowa!” I continued, removing my coat and dumping it on top of the scarf. “And I really hate manipulative mothers!”

“PMSing, are we?” asked Gertie. “Maybe you need some chocolate.”

I’m not PMSing, and I don’t need chocolate. Mom’s actions, not to mention her gift, were ample justification to unleash my inner Terrible Two self.

And speaking of that gift, I turned in time to see Mac removing the offensive needlepoint from his backpack. “Why did you bring that?” I grabbed the pillow and hurled it across the room, missing by less than a millimeter the peeling finish on the faux brass desk lamp with its scuffed faux leather shade. The pillow ricocheted off the wall and skittered under the bed.

“For her next trick, Nori will drop to the floor, pound her fists, and kick her feet, while simultaneously wailing at the top of her lungs.”

I just might. “How could my mother humiliate me like this?”

“Could be worse,” said Mac. “At least she didn’t wait until later this afternoon when you’ll have a house full of company.”

He had a point. There were many degrees of humiliation. Keeping mine within the immediate family was benign compared to the same scene playing out in front of dozens of cousins, aunts, and uncles.

“So that’s why you brought the pillow with you? To leave it here?”

His face lit up in one of his Dennis-the-Menace grins as he bent into a sweeping bow and that one stubborn lock of chestnut hair that was notorious for not staying in place, fell across his right eye. “Your knight in shining armor to the rescue, m’lady.”

I curtsied. “Thank you, m’lord. Definitely one of your finer Sir Walter Raleigh moments. I will be forever in your debt.”

“I’m counting on it.” Mac dropped to his knees and sprawled across the god-awful orange shag carpet. I’d never had cause to enter one of the Inn’s rooms prior to this visit back to Ten Commandments. Apparently, Maude-Ann hadn’t upgraded the motel’s décor since she inherited the place from her parents back in the last century. With a grunt, Mac reached under the bed to retrieve the pillow. When he stood up, both the left arm of his sweater and the needlepoint were covered in gray dust bunnies.

Looked like sometime in the last century was also the last time anyone had bothered to run a vacuum under the bed. “So much for cleanliness being next to godliness,” I said. “I guess Maude-Ann missed that sermon.”

Mac swatted the dust off the pillow. “You’ve got to give her props, Nori.”

“Maude-Ann? For what?”

“Not Maude-Ann. Your mother. For chutzpah.” Mac isn’t Jewish, but like most native New Yorkers, certain ethnic words and phrases are a common part of his vocabulary. I lived in Manhattan all of a week before I learned that chutzpah means balls, and I’m not talking about the pink rubber bouncy kind. Having lived his entire life within the five boroughs, Mac is practically fluent in Yiddish, Spanish, and Ebonics. After living in the city since graduating from college, I’m not that far behind him.

Mac held the pillow inches from his face and squinted in the dim light cast by the low-watt bulb of the only working lamp in the room, the same lamp I’d nearly killed with my off-target pitch. I’d been aiming for the trash can. In a sing-song voice he reread the message stitched within a border of pastel colored hearts. “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Nori pushing a baby carriage.” 

I groaned. “Sorry about that.” As much of a nightmare being back in Ten Commandments was for me, it had to be a gazillion times worse for Mac. “At least there’s normally over a thousand miles separating us. Imagine if Mom had decided to establish her business in New York.”

Nearly two years ago, my mother suffered a menopausal meltdown, left my father, and showed up, with suitcases and craft supplies in tow, at my Greenwich Village apartment door. Within hours, Connie Stedworth, the pickled beets and decoupage queen of Ten Commandments, Iowa, had charmed the ultra-sophisticated New York veneer off Hyman Perth, my upstairs neighbor. Quicker than a glissando bibbity-bobbity-boo, Perth, an entrepreneurial Svengali of sorts, transformed Mom into the next Martha Stewart.

In the course of a few hours, the assistance of the Bergdorf Goodman spa and personal shopper, and my purloined American Express card, the woman who used to sport an Eisenhower era graying pageboy and wear dresses left over from the set of Little House on the Prairie, discovered John Barrett, Donna Karan, and Manolo Blahnik. Life hasn’t been the same since.

The former country bumpkin now heads a multi-million dollar enterprise that includes a line of home décor products, a monthly magazine, the aforementioned cable TV show, and her own army of groupies known as Connie’s Crafters. Luckily for me, she reconciled with Dad and moved back to Ten Commandments to establish her empire.

As busy as Mom is, she hasn’t given up on her quest for grandchildren. My future progeny are her Holy Grail, and as far as she’s concerned, I’d better get busy conceiving them because she’s already behind Leona Shakelmeyer seven to zip. Leona has been Mom’s arch enemy ever since high school, and she loves nothing more than flaunting her grandchildren in Mom’s face. That means Mac and I have to marry. Yesterday wouldn’t be too soon. Hence, the Christmas present from hell.

“You can’t throw it out,” said Mac. “She’s going to expect to see it the next time she comes to New York.”

“How? She refuses to set foot in our apartment.”

“That could change.”

“Expect hell to freeze over first.” I rubbed my palms up and down my arms. Even the heat of my anger couldn’t ward off the chill that permeated my body. I glanced around the room until I spied the thermostat. “Mind turning that a few degrees above sub-zero?”

“Can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t have the key.”

“Maude-Ann locks the thermostat?” This I had to see for myself. I crossed the room. Sure enough, a locked mesh housing surrounded the thermostat which was set at fifty-eight degrees. “Unbelievable!”  

Mac tossed the pillow onto the bed and opened his arms. “Come here. I’ll warm you.”

BOOM!

The next moment I was in his arms, but neither the frigid temperature nor my raging hormones had propelled me. And instead of being sprawled across a yucky gold paisley bedspread, we lay in a heap, covered in chunks of drywall, plaster dust, and what used to be a cheap pine dresser.
~~~

If you'd like to find out what happens next, Elementary, My Dear Gertie is available from the following ebook sites:

Friday, December 27, 2013

BOOK CLUB FRIDAY--GUEST AUTHOR MONA RISK

Mona Risk traveled to more than fifty countries on business or vacation. Eventually she left a scientific career to share with readers the many stories brewing in her head. She writes contemporary romances, sweet and not so sweet, with suspense elements or medical themes. Sprinkled with a good dose of humor, her award-winning stories are set in the fascinating places she visited. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

A Writer’s Inspiration
Of all the countries I visited, France has always been my favorite. Its rich culture and history appeal to me. I spent days and weeks touring the countryside, visiting chateaux, monuments, churches and museums. Being fluent in French, I feel comfortable in Paris and love strolling along the streets of Paris where several friends always welcome me.

A few years ago, my husband rented a car and we toured the Loire Valley. I was impressed by the magnificence of the chateaux. I visualized gallant aristocrats entertaining beautiful women in lavishly decorated galleries and plush gardens. Stories played in my mind. I don’t write historical romances but kept thinking about the settings.

A year later, while spending Christmas with my sister, my niece enthusiastically related her summer training in a French chateau. As an American student in Architecture from Harvard University, she was offered the unique opportunity to work on the restoration of a chapel in France. When I asked jokingly, “Was the owner a haughty old man?” My niece answered: “He was a young, handsome count and the five girls in my team had a crush on him. He dated my friend.”

Oh, oh. Chateau. Handsome count. Training on a historical chapel. Maybe looking for a historical statue. I had an epiphany. Here was my story premise. My muse supplied a budding romance. I could imagine my heroine, a pretty American architect, just like my niece. As for the hero, of course, he would be a gorgeous French count.

When I pitched my blurb to an agent at the RWA conference, she suggested I change the plot to make it a romantic suspense. I took her suggestion to heart and upped the stakes with a missing statue and the murder of a professor.

French Peril was born. It was first published in 2008. Recently, the title was changed to Her French Count and the novel became part of the box set, Foreign Lovers, that encompasses four novels: Her Greek Tycoon, Her French Count, Her Russian Hero, and Neighbors and More.

Foreign Lovers
Set in romantic or exotic international places, the romance novels in this box set are sizzling with passion, emotion, and sensual tension and sprinkled with humor.


Her Greek Tycoon (Her Greek Romance): A sexy and humorous Romeo and Juliette Greek style, set in Mykonos Island. Will Stefano be able to convince Ashley he's not the enemy anymore?


Her French Count (French Peril): A Da Vinci Code in a French Chateau. Count François has his hand full trying to protect the pretty American architect who's turned his life upside down.


Her Russian Hero (To Love A Hero): Clash of cultures and intrigues. On her first business trip to a Russian country dominated by male chauvinism, the beautiful American scientist finds more chemistry than she bargains for. But the man she's attracted to is a national hero admired by men and adored by women, the Major General of Belarus.


Neighbors and More: A contemporary romance novel with elements of suspense and humor. In a High Rise where so many neighbors live too close for comfort, the handsome Sicilian lawyer, and wealthy young divorcée, try to hide their idyllic romance. When a neighbor drowns in the Jacuzzi, life will forever change in the Blue Waves Building.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

TRAVEL WITH SERENA--THE FRENCH QUARTERS, NEW ORLEANS WITH GUEST AUTHOR PATRICIA PRESTON

Patricia Preston is an award-winning Southern author who writes historical and contemporary romance as well as humorous Southern fiction. Learn more about Patricia and her books at her website. Today Patricia stops by to share her love of the French Quarters in New Orleans.

Exploring the French Quarters: The Creole Townhouse

One of the most unique features of the French Quarters in New Orleans is the Creole townhouse. These lovely homes, with lacy ironwork balconies and courtyards, have come to symbolize the Quarters. On my trip to New Orleans in the fall, I was thrilled to get to see them and even tour one. 
The townhouses dominate the narrow streets of the French Quarters. In the early 1800’s, the residents of the French Quarters were of French and Spanish descent and were known as Creoles. France had colonized Louisiana and founded New Orleans. Later, Spain governed the city until it went back under French rule. Most of the lacy ironwork comes from the Spanish period. The earlier French houses in the 1700’s had wooden railings.
There are no front yards in the Quarters. What you see facing the street is the rear of the house. The front of the house faces a courtyard behind the house. The enclosed courtyards were the center of social activity for the Creoles. To access the courtyard from the street, houses had a carriageway, which was a brick tunnel that ran the width of the house.

At the end of the carriageway, there was a covered staircase leading to the second and third floors. There were no staircases inside the house and no hallways. One room led to another room. The kitchen was in a building behind the townhouse, usually in a wing that joined the main house.
I am including some pictures I took of townhouses while in the French Quarters. It is a great place to visit. The food and music are always terrific! As you are reading this, I will be (if nothing happens) en route to New Orleans. I am going on a weekend research trip and I will be staying in the Bourbon Orleans hotel, which has a great history as a former ballroom and a convent as well. It’s considered haunted, too. Maybe Lois will have me back again and I can let y’all know if I saw any ghosts!
 

I appreciate your comments, but it may be a day or so before I can respond because I will be on the road, but I will get back to you!



Almost an Outlaw

Rancher Austin Cade rides into Liberty looking for his old comrades, the James-Younger gang. He needs their help tracking down the horse thief who's stolen his prized mare. In town, the former gunfighter is reunited with Darcy, the first girl he ever kissed—and never forgot.

Young widow Darcy Branson owns a shop full of fashionable ladies' attire, but continues to wear mourning black so she won't forget her role in her husband's death. Austin stirs a passion inside her that has long been dormant, but can Darcy learn to believe in Austin—and love—enough to let go of her tragic past?

Time is rapidly running out... As a cousin to Jesse James, Darcy has attracted unwanted attention, thanks to her rumored association with the gang. Soon Austin and Darcy are faced with confronting not only their growing desire, but danger in the form of a deadly bounty hunter...




Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Cross stitch design by Lois Winston
featured in the December 2002 issue of The Cross Stitcher magazine

A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS
Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.



The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.



When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.



The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.



With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!



"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! On, Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!

Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"



As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.



And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.



He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.

A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.



His eyes--how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.



The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!



He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.



He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!



He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Monday, December 23, 2013

CRAFTS WITH ANASTASIA--CHRISTMAS QUILTS WITH AUTHOR BARBARA GRAHAM


Christmas Tree Quilt
Barbara Graham returns for a visit today. Barbara began making up stories in the third grade. Her motto is “every story needs a dead body and every bed needs a quilt”. A prize-winning quilter, she enjoys combining her fabric addiction with her predilection for telling tall tales. She continues to be intrigued by the problems and situations her imaginary friends manage to get themselves into and refuses to accept any blame for their actions. Learn more about Barbara and her books at her website. 

In my home, Christmas preparations begin the day after Thanksgiving with the hanging of the Christmas quilts. It is a tradition as firmly set as blowing out candles on a birthday cake. That’s just what happens in my home. The quilts themselves have stories. (Pardon the poor photographs)

The first quilt is homely. An experiment made by an inexperienced quilter. No matter—it’s a Christmas quilt. Slap it up on the wall. Always in the same place.

Wreath Quilt
The wreath quilt has some sparkly jewels glued onto the holly shaped leaves. Not bad, not good. It must hang near the tree. That’s where it belongs. No negotiation.

Snowman Quilt
Goofy snowmen march tirelessly over the couch. It was once a class project involving striped fabrics. Everyone else picked beautiful, elegant stripes, nope, not for me—snowmen.

And the last, the largest and the one that matters most is The Christmas Tree quilt. It hangs on the wall just inside our front door. It is always the background for holiday photos, the boys growing into men. The dog of the era. A procession of them. Add in a daughter-in-law, and later a grandbaby. It’s not the quilt that matters but the memories, both good and bad, that having it hanging there releases. Like the aroma of pine, there is a whiff of sadness. I worked on the holly shapes that form the branches for a long time but many of them on a trip my mom and I took after my dad died. Pushing the needle through the fabric by hand, trying to make nice sharp points—some better than others, grief and laughter combined.

And the laughter continues. I quilted it by hand and was teased mercilessly. It took me years because I only worked on it for a little while each year—October to December. I took it to quilt retreat every fall and my friends mocked me for bringing it so many times. I amassed a huge collection of jingle bells in all sizes, and colors; some I bought and some were donated to me by friends thinking I might not have enough. I did. I had enough to cover the quilt and still supply everyone in the state with a bell.

Like writing a book or making a quilt, the fragments are rearranged, some discarded, new ones added. The characters are growing older and new ones are added, but the quilt is loved, not because it’s beautiful, but because it belongs to a family. This guardian of tradition will, someday, hang in a different house, but for now it still welcomes the holiday in mine and waits until the end of January to be taken down and carefully folded, obliquely rather than in a tidy rectangle, and the bells jingle as it is returned to its home in the closet. Until Thanksgiving.

Murder by Sunlight: The Charity Quilt, book 5 in the Quilted Mystery series. Crimes heat up tiny Park County, Tennessee. A corpse in a tree signals the beginning of an onslaught of murder, mischief and mayhem. Sheriff Tony Abernathy and his small staff are overworked. His wife, Theo, a quilt shop owner, is drawn into the hunt for clues—not just the ones in her mystery quilt (pattern included).

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