Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Of All Things to Be Thankful For

few years ago, I wrote a post about this season of Thanksgiving as it is particular to (and peculiar of) the United States. Throughout the world, the end of the year is seen as a time to reflect on what has happened and how we can approach the coming year. This reflective time is linked to human dependence on the cycles of growth and harvest.

Although we are no longer dependent on an agrarian society since growing periods are extended throughout the year with greatly improved transportation and methods of farming, we are intrinsically linked to an understanding of life cycles. 

Spring is activity. Summer is watching. Fall is harvesting. Winter is preparing.

In ancient times, the new year began in Spring, not the dead of winter. September was the seventh month, October the eighth, November the ninth and December the tenth—as the Latin origin of their names evidences.  Winter begins in December, with one solstice and ends in March with another.

The pace of our lives has accelerated to such a degree that we are increasingly impatient for the next big thing and our enterprise allows us to create the environment for “immediate gratification” to be a realistic expectation.

But what is lost?

In some of our lifetimes, the advances in human enterprise went from driving a horse and cart to the potential of a trip to the moon, from kerosene lamps to laser lighting, from newsprint dailies to online “nano-secondlies,” from celluloid film chemical processing to digital instant-view.

What have we lost through this immediacy?

That peculiar excitement of waiting for the wedding photos to come back from the photographer’s shop all set out in a white satin album; the months of being a newly acquired author before your book is released while you bask in the glow of success; the days spent travelling to a new location through territories you have never visited before, meeting people you will never see again but will always remember for their kindness or otherwise; the hours, weeks, years of effort to be able to buy your own home or pay off the mortgage; that childlike wonder of “Are we there yet?”


While I was still in college, one of my classmates advised her friends: “Have no expectations. That way you cannot be disappointed.” Even then, that seemed like very poor advice for anyone of any age and certainly not for the “Under Thirties.” Without expectation there is no need for achievement.

I am forever thankful that I rejected her advice. When I was fourteen, I ‘expected’ to live in Europe. I did, for thirty years. When I was twenty, I expected to be published. I worked hard on a short story and it was published and later broadcast on National Public Radio. At the age of twenty-nine, I expected to marry a Welshman I had known for two weeks. We’ve been married long enough to be enjoying grandchildren.

Good things come from expectation and anticipation is the delectable time of wishing, hoping and making it happen. Enjoy the time you wait for the good things, even more good things happen in the interim.

Disappointment is short-lived unless you allow it to be the sum-total of having no expectations. In that way, disappointment becomes a lifetime wasted.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Scents of the Season

That holiday time of year is upon us again and, even if we weren't aware of the calendar, the aromas in the air would remind us.

Nature starts the process. Here in northern California, some trees still have leaves although the process of "deciduating" has begun. (We have used this term ever since our brilliant five-year-old granddaughter decided to turn the word deciduous into an active verb. Why not? It fits.) The leaves on the ground, spattered by yesterday's light rain, smell like autumn--that light scent of mouldering that, at least in its early stages, is rich and vaguely herbal. While some trees still have leaves, my roses still have flowers which add their scent to the mix while the last of the lavender blossoms chime in, the underlying leaf scent mixed with deep, vivid florals.

This is the rainy season where I live and, this year at least, the weather is cooperating. (I'm secretly holding out hope that this will be the drought-breaker year.) When the breeze picks up, blowing out of the south, the scent of fresh water is in the air. As a side benefit, these mixed-weather days also provide us with heart-breaker sunsets, almost impossibly beautiful.

Holiday baking has begun in my kitchen and elsewhere, adding scents of pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, chocolate, yeasty breads, fresh-ground wheat and citrus. My husband has begun lighting his favorite holiday-scented candles, adding their hints of spice and pine.

Apple pie, the classic all-American favorite, is one of my favorites too, but enough work that I usually reserve its creation for the holiday season, that delightful time of year when the aroma of baking apples mixed with cinnamon and nutmeg fills the kitchen and diffuses through the whole house. Hence the visions of sugar plums that dance in our heads as we sleep.

Of course the stores have to get into the act. Each shop we enter has its own version of holiday scent to share. It's often said that scent is the most evocative of all our senses, calling to mind our past experiences with that same aroma. No wonder this scent-sational season fills me with nostalgia.

As I move through these coming weeks--cooking and baking, humming carols and swimming in nostalgic memory--I will be enjoying the sights of the season, but it's the scents that will bring autumn, Thanksgiving, and Christmas home. I will breathe deeply, smell, and remember with joy.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 novels, all available as e-books. She loves her northern California home which she shares with her husband of 46 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. When she can't be with her seven children, seven great kids-in-law, and 25 grandbabies, she loves hanging with her fictional offspring, the children of her mind. She also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at www.susanaylworth.com or find her @SusanAylworth, at .facebook.com/Susan.Aylworth.Author, or on Pinterest.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Cultivating Gratitude

I don’t know if the old saying that age brings wisdom is true, but the advancing years to seem to bring some deeper level of self-awareness. Is that the same thing? Probably not, but it’s what I’ve got. And now that I’m in my seventh decade of life, there are a few things I’ve realized that seem useful to share.

One of the great revelations of my life was the recognition that no one else could be responsible for my happiness. At one time I was seriously depressed, stuck in a job I hated because my family needed my income, so miserable that I wondered if life really was worth living. And then one day I realized that my family needed a healthy and functioning me more than they needed my income. I took a huge leap of faith and quit the job. Fortunately I found another one that made me much happier in short order.

That incident really brought home to me that I needed to take control of my own life. If things weren’t right, it was up to me make them better as best I could. I couldn’t wait for someone else to tell me to do what I needed to do for myself.

I’ve also learned that in most situations, I have a decision about how I want to view it – glass half empty or glass half full. Some things are irretrievably bad.  I’ve had family members die, pets die, serious illnesses, and other bad events. You go through the grieving process – the denial, the anger, the bargaining, etc. And eventually you accept. You can choose to continue in the grief or you can take a more positive view. It can be hard at times, but there is always something to be learned and gained from even the most awful events.

I’ve spent time I now regret being jealous of people who had things better than I did, people who were richer, more attractive, smarter, or more personable. It irritates me to think of the time I wasted on that.

Now, when I’m tempted by those things, I remind myself of how fortunate I am. By the standards of the U.S., I’m middle middle-class, but by the standards of much of the world, I am rich. I’ve never been completely without food or clean drinking water. My house is warm and water-proof. My clothes don’t have designer labels, but neither are they worn to threads or shreds.

I have family who care for me, and a few good friends. I’ve had some great experiences. In the most important ways, I am rich. I just have to remind myself of that fact every now and again.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Autumn: A glimpse from the water

By Fran McNabb

 Transition is a nice way of describing the months we call autumn. Summer has ended, school has started, football is rolling along, and winter is just around the corner. I have a love-hate relationship with the season.

I love the color change in the few trees that actually lose their leaves in the fall. I live on the Gulf Coast so we miss out on the breathtaking colors that our northern neighbors experience, but we have just enough falling leaves to remind us that we’re in a different season. Here on the coast fall fishing is fantastic, but with football we tend to have a conflict. Yes, that’s one of the things I dislike because I love to fish. My husband is an avid fan and attends every home game and a few road games for the university where we each attended.

The warm days of fall still offer quite a few boating days. Last week my husband and I took a short
boat cruise to one of the beachside restaurants. The wind had picked up making the ride a little bumpy, but it still was a gorgeous day. Not many boats were out so we had the waterways to ourselves. Warm sunshine and birds following the boat hoping for a morsel of food made the bumpy ride a minor inconvenience. I love being on the boat with my husband. He understands I’m a wimp and don’t like to be knocked around so he slowed the boat down, put on some music and together we enjoyed the afternoon. What better way to spend a beautiful autumn afternoon.

As I was enjoying the ride, I thought about all the pleasant days we spend together on the boat with each season bringing a different experience. Soon it will be much cooler and our days will have to be selected carefully for a boat ride, but today that wasn’t the case. From the channel through the bayou I enjoyed the changing colors of the wooded areas. We watched a bird, either an osprey or an eagle, soar with the breeze well above us. The wind created a rippling effect on the water catching the sunlight. My youngest son used to tell my mother that the sparkles were like diamonds on the water. He was right. Today there were diamonds all around us. I was rich in the beauty that nature was providing.

I use these coastal scenes in some of my books. It’s hard for an author not to include what she knows and what she experiences and especially what she loves. I’m glad to be able to share the joy I get from where I live.

Am I lucky? You bet. Will I be sad when winter gets here and I’ll have to look at the boat on the boat lift and wish I was out on the water? Again, that’s a “You bet.” Every season has its good parts. Autumn offers a lot to all of us no matter where you live. I hope your fall days are filled with the joys of the season.

FRAN MCNABB writes tender romances and uses the setting of the Gulf Coast in several of them. At present she has eight books available with her latest books being published with Montlake Publishing and The Wild Rose Press. Check her out at www.FranMcNabb.com or at mcnabbf@bellsouth.net



Saturday, November 5, 2016

How to Carve a Turkey and Other Essential Thanksgiving Tips

by Victoria M. Johnson

Well, it's that time of year when we put away the Halloween decorations and think about the Thanksgiving holiday and our meal plans.  Many of us are busy juggling work and children and other responsibilities and don't stress out over the big dinner until the last minute (two days before Thanksgiving).  Are you one of those who rush to the grocery store only to find gigantic frozen turkeys that need three days to thaw?  Or have you found the right size turkey but your mind is blank on what to serve with it?  There are plenty of details involved in serving a delicious and satisfying Thanksgiving meal, especially if you also have to prepare for guests. 

Fortunately, there are experts out there who are ready with tips and recipes to help us with all those details.  It doesn't matter if this is your first time hosting or if you've run dry from hosting year-after-year.  I've found ideas and inspiration to help make your dinner the best ever.

First things first.  Here's a short video to get you in the mood for turkey.

How to Carve a Turkey

Thanksgiving Side Dishes

For savory dishes like Lemon Pepper Green Beans, Southern Candied Sweet Potatoes, and Holiday Cranberry Sauce head over to the AllRecipes website. 

The Country Living website has ideas for 100 classic Thanksgiving side dishes such as Sweet Potato and Cauliflower Salad, Rosemary Monkey Bread Stuffing, and Apple Walnut Stuffing.
Wondering what beverage to serve with your feast?  Not to worry. The New York Times has you covered with this article: 

Where you'll find insight such as, "Do not worry if you don’t have enough stemware. Thanksgiving is not the time for these sorts of concerns. Serve wine in tumblers, if you like."

Thanksgiving Desert

For dessert, you can't go wrong with pumpkin pie.  Other pies work, too.  But why mess with tradition unless you want to surprise your guests with a scrumptious variation such as Streusel Topped Pumpkin Pie.  Or instead how about wowing them with Pumpkin Spice Donut Holes?

The experts even have recipe ideas for vegan and vegetarian menus.  Just visit the Serious Eats website for tasty options.
After all that preparation, cooking, and hosting, you should now sit back, enjoy your friends and family, and most of all, count your blessings.  That's what the holiday is all about.

Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma, (A 2012 Bookseller’s Best double finalist).  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at http://VictoriaMJohnson.com for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Thoughts on a Nice Autumn Day

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

Okay, it’s November already, so where is Fall? Admittedly the temperatures have fallen to bearable levels (meaning the sky has gone off of ‘broil’) but where are those lovely all-too-brief Autumn days? Not here… The sky is bright blue and that treacherous, nasty sun is glaring right where you need to see, no matter where you stand. It’s November, for Heaven’s sake! Why don’t we have the lovely grey and cloud-hung skies that are so emblematic of November?

Anyway, since it’s now fairly nice outside I decided to run away from the computer and its unceasing demands for words and do some yard work. Odd – when I was young and limber I lived in a condo and the only yard work I did was watering the potted plants on my balcony. Now that I am not so young and not so limber I have a house and a large yard. Sigh. And in the final irony, I have decided I like yard work. As long as the weather isn’t too hot. Or cold.

Today’s chore was one I should have done years ago. We have a lovely A-frame swing of teak or redwood (I think) which sits on our deck. Years of hot sun and cold winters have not been kind to the wood, so today – armed with teak oil, paintbrush and a plastic cup – I went out and started applying. I should have done it much sooner. The wood was so dry it just absorbed the oil – inhaled it might be a better term.

The swing is not large; neither is the frame. I worked for over two hours, but got less than half the frame done in spite of using the entire tin of oil, and even so part of what I did hardly shows any oil at all. Obviously it’s going to take several coats to get the wood back in shape, which indicates a quick trip to the hardware store for more tins of oil. Then it’s going to take a coat of something waterproof (I need a consultation with the expert at the store regarding this) to really protect the wood.

Then I weeded, and swept leaves, and did a lot of the other things a yard continually requires. (Except mow – we hire someone to mow.) It seems the yard, like the house and the word-hungry computer, is never-ending in its demands for attention. At last I was tired enough to go back to the computer and its continual demand for words. That’s my job, that’s what I do – put words in order, in books and articles and emails… all of which need to be written. It is my career, has been for many years, and I love it. But it is nice to get out every so often. When the weather is nice.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


The next generation in my large family, including my children, and my nieces and nephews, are having babies.  I watch their happiness, exhaustion and obsessiveness, and I remember.  In spite of it being over thirty years ago, I remember very clearly what those days were like.  What most clearly comes to mind is how I kept looking forward to the “next” stage, instead of enjoying the present.
My excuse was that, at least with my first born, I spent a lot of time alone:  I lived with my husband and baby in a place where I didn’t have friends—at least not at first—who had children.  None of my old friends did and they all worked.  My husband was at the beginning of his career so he was gone all day and often into the night.  He sometimes even had to work on the weekends.  There was a lot of alone time.
I loved my son.  He was a great baby.  But he wasn’t much company and certainly not someone I could talk to.  When he was about six months old, I did start making friends who had babies, but then we moved and I had to start over again—in December in the Northeast.  I spent the next three or four months either in the house or driving around the suburbs of New Jersey after my son woke up from his nap.  To this day I know more back roads in northern New Jersey than anyone I know.
I’m not sure if my experience would be repeated today.  The obvious solution, in hindsight, was for me to get a part time job.  Even if it were only a couple of days a week, it would have gotten me out of the house and with other adults. But thirty years ago was still a time when women were “fortunate” if they could stay home, even if they were lawyers. 
But besides getting a part time job, I’d tell myself to cherish the time I had with my son and then my twin daughters when they came along.  When I go through photographs from back then, I realize how young I was, as was my husband and even my parents and his.  We couldn’t imagine, my husband and I, life in the future when our children would be grown and gone.  But that day did come. 
Maybe that’s what being a grandparent is about:  we finally have the wisdom to enjoy the little moments and the quiet and the details of a young child’s life before they’re up and running. 
There was one additional positive impact from all that time alone.  I started writing.  Since I had no one to talk to except my infant, I started keeping a journal that morphed into a novel.  That first novel is tucked away in some draw in my office, but when it was done, I started another and then another after that. I was on my way.