Tuesday, April 24, 2012

From Whence We Came

My past has come to me in snippets and phrases recently in a way I have never known it before. Not the past of my own lifetime, but the past of those who came before me. Great-grandparents I never considered before suddenly seen in tinted black and white photos, great-great-grandparents revealed through obituaries or obscure signatures on censuses from centuries past.

Grandma Mary

If I’m honest, I have rarely given my ancestors much thought, other than to be grateful for their decisions which led to my existence. Occasionally I’ll be on the boat with hubby or shopping for a new pair of shoes, and I wonder what my depression-era great-grandparents would think of me and my lifestyle, so vastly different that their own. Would it be with pride for my accomplishments, or with censure for the frivolousness?

But recently, my sister and my aunt have begun sharing the fruits of their family-tree-building labors, and all of the sudden, the past is becoming real. My father’s mother, sporting a pageboy and giggling beside her sister . . . perched atop a huge motorcycle, adventure and challenge lighting her eyes . . . posing confidently in a daring bikini, her smile lighting her whole face. My father’s father, standing tall beside a plane, his lean frame hearty and hail . . . in his military uniform, straight-backed and full of pride . . .

And for the first time ever, I saw a photo of my paternal grandfather’s father. He looked oddly kind in the picture, unusual for the stoic photos of the era. He looked like the sort of man who would welcome his wife’s interruption of his work day, and slip peppermint candies to his grandchildren when their parents weren’t looking.

But the most striking of all of my family tree discoveries were about my great, great-grandmother, Cecelia McCrea Kelly (my mother’s mother’s father’s mother). Memorialized in the obituaries of her local paper in 1934, it was immediately clear that she was something special. She was well-known and well-loved in her community, universally referred to as Mother Kelly. She was “sought for advice in practically all births and illness. These services was (sic) from her kindness and benevolence to her fellowmen, and not for any material gain, which she never accepted.”

Great, Great Grandma Kelly

I read and reread the words, awed by the respect and love my ancestor had garnered. She wasn’t royalty, celebrity, or even wealthy—she was merely giving of her time, heart, and talents. The swell of pride I felt at having descended from such a fine woman was palpable, and I was inspired to somehow be sure that she would live on. But what could I do?

The answer came to me as I plotted the Christmas novella that I'm working on. Mother Kelly's gift may have been in healing, but mine is in writing, and as such, I have decided that Miss Cecilia McCrea wasn’t just a hero—she shall be my heroine :-) So keep your eyes out this November when my Christmas novella comes out. I do hope I’ll be able to do Cece justice! And more than anything, I hope that my great, great-grandmother would be pleased by my small gesture, and that she'd know how proud I am to be her great, great-granddaughter!

What are some of the surprising finds you've discovered in your own family tree? Who would you memorialize as your hero or heroine if you had a chance?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


My Fun-filled Writer’s Retreat, or

How Five Women Bonded Over Salted Chocolate Caramels, Near-Death Experiences, and Late-Night Evictions, and Decided to Name Our Next Heroes Bob

By Erin Knightley

So, with the Romantic Times Booklover’s Convention being held in Chicago this week, me and four of my writer friends decided it would be fun to meet before things got started and have a mini writer retreat of our own.

I know – brilliant idea. You’re jealous. Five woman sharing a gorgeous four bedroom condo in trendy downtown, chocolate and cocktails flowing freely while we put our heads together to come up with the next big thing, each of us destined to end up on the NY Times Bestseller list.

The first night was made of awesome. We laughed, we ate fabulous lasagna, we sat around the kitchen table and plotted like fools. We stayed up way too late, forgot to tell our families goodnight, and went to bed with visions of perfectly plotted books dancing in our heads.

Day two started off well enough. Coffee, cereal, orange juice, and fruit were quickly consumed before we got down to business. The first part of the morning flew by in a flurry of brainstorming genius until, all at once, our heads jerked up.

“Do you smell that?”

The unmistakable, cloying scent of gas slipped around us, impossible to pinpoint but nonetheless present. We jumped into to action, opening windows and doors and calling the landlord. By the time the landlord arrived, we had effectively aired the place out. He looked at us, we five educated, intelligent women, and saw a passel of overreacting females. No matter how much we tried to convince him otherwise, he assured us that it must have just been the smell of the heat kicking on, and to call him if we have any more issues. (insert his barely contained eye roll here)

Skip ahead hours later. We’ve had an awesomely productive day, with lots of great ideas bandied about. We’ve had a few more very light hint of gas, but nothing like that morning. Then, out of nowhere, a strong whiff of gas has us all jumping from our chairs. By now the temperature outside had dropped to around 45 degrees, but even so we opened all the windows and doors, and called the landlord once more. He didn’t answer that call, nor were the calls to the ‘after hours emergency line’ picked up. After some debate, we decided to call the gas company directly.

Now, at this point we were concerned but not freaked out. But once the gas company told us to leave the premises immediately, being sure not to flip any light switches or do anything else that may cause a spark, we were well and truly worried. Grabbing our purses and laptops, we headed into the cold night, crossing the street to wait for reinforcements.

We must have looked like a bunch of refuges, lugging our computer bags, our shoulders draped in blankets and huddled together for warmth.

And then, like something out of a movie, we watched as the next door neighbor came out onto his porch, popped a cigarette in his mouth, lifted his lighter and—


He nearly dropped his lighter as five hysterical women screamed, arms waving, yelling for him not to light his cigarette. Eliza was the only one who thought to clarify, shouting, “I don’t hate cigarettes, but there’s a gas leak!”

This would, of course, be the exact moment that the gas company shows up. One look at their faces make it clear that they witnessed the five unkempt (who needs showers, make-up, or real pants when you’re writing??), hysterical women with blankets on their shoulders screaming and gesturing wildly to strangers fifty feet away.

Let me just tell you how eager they were to take us seriously. These two didn’t even bother to conceal their eye-rolls as they exchanged looks, gathered their equipment, and headed to the condo. Closing the doors and windows, they started in the kitchen. We got our first taste of justification when they found a tiny, barely detectable leak at the stove connecter. We got our second taste when the fireplace was found to be leaking like a sieve. The little meter doohicky sounded like a tornado siren by the time he stuck it next to the logs.

Then he went upstairs. From below, all we could hear was muffled, “Oh, no. No, no, no. No, no, NO!” When he finally descends, he’s shaking his head. “You have nothing here going good. We’re shutting off the gas to the whole place.”

In the words of Eliza Evans, what sweet, terrible vindication!! Having realized that we are not just a bunch of panic-stricken females, the gas guy is quickly becoming a friend. Had he not just saved us from blowing up? After learning about all the illegal things going on with the (*leaking*) furnace and water heater, we’ve decided we must dedicate out next books to Bob. By the end of the night, he leaves with two signed books, a handful of bookmarks and post-it notes, and a reader gift bag.

And we leave as well – heading to the conference hotel a day early. On the way, I leave a voicemail for the landlord that still has not called us back. “Dear landlord. The gas company has found four separate leaks and three code violations. They have shut off the gas to the condo, and having no heat, hot water, or stove, we are headed to a hotel. Feel free to call me tomorrow if you need to know where to send the refund. Love, the non-delusional, wholly vindicated, justifiably irritated renters from Apt. 2B”

Side note: We made a pact to check into the hotel and hightail it to the room as fast as possible, not wanting to be seen in all our grungy, make-up-less glory. Which is why, of course, I saw every person I have ever known hanging out in the lobby that night, lol. Thank goodness I’m not yet published, so there were no readers who could recognize me… unlike the talented Heather Snow, who had just that happen. :-) Seriously, I’m still laughing just thinking of the look on Heather’s face when the reader came up to her.

(If you would like to see a play-by-play account, we used the hash tag #gasleak12 to document the whole debacle)

Moral of the story? It’s trifold

1) Never underestimate a woman's mental capacity (or five women, as the case may be)

2) Always brush your hair, even if you don’t plan on leaving the house. You never know!

3) Never cross a writer – you’re bound to end up the scullery maid or rat-catcher in their next book! (I’m talking to you, Mr. Landlord!) On the flip side, if you’re nice, you may end up with a dedication. Keep an eye out, Bob the hero – you, sir, shall be immortalized in my next book!

If you could immortalize someone – be it for something good or bad – who would it be? Why?

Well, in honor of the most awesome dessert cocktail ever that we ordered at the hotel, here is a recipe for Godiva Chocolate Martini’s!

1 1/2 shots Godiva chocolate liqueur
1 1/2 shots crème de cacao
1/2 shot vodka
2 1/2 shots half-and-half

Chocolate syrup

Whipped Cream

Mix all ingredients in a shaker with ice, shake and pour into a chilled, chocolate-swirled cocktail glass. Top with whipped cream and enjoy!

Read more: Godiva Chocolate Martini recipe http://www.drinksmixer.com/recipes/302/#ixzz1sJk9ZYIN

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I'm So Excited - and I Just Can't Hide It!

It's a very big, very exciting reveal for me today at the Lady Scribes blog!! I hope you'll stop by and share in the fun - and get a free download in the process!

Click Here

I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Of Easter Eggs and Colored Memories

Ham . . . potato salad . . . deviled eggs . . . pasta salad . . . baked beans—the Easter feast will soon be upon us. As I filled my cart this weekend with all the ingredients necessary to bring our feast to life, I blithely passed right by the candy aisle, the basket and fake grass display, and the stuffed bunny tower—those things weren’t for us, sophisticated thirty-somethings that we are. But while I was pushing my cart down the baking aisle, I caught sight of one of those Paas egg coloring kits, and couldn’t help but smile.

My earliest memories of Easter involve two things: getting to wear a pretty Easter dress for church, and coloring eggs at the kitchen table. Come Saturday night, the table would be covered in newspapers and the freshly chilled hard-boiled eggs would emerge from the fridge and be set before we three eager kids. Dad would mix up the vinegar and dye tabs, the pungent scent wrinkling our noses and filling us with anticipation.

Two spoons would be laid out beside the little metal egg holder that came with the coloring, and inevitably we would all lunge for the coveted holder. One way or another, I swear my brother would always end up with it and would wave it in the air above his head – a victor with his spoils.

And then, the real work would begin. Kara approached the task as she did all things, carefully and with exacting standards, creating little eggy works of art with crisp lines and intricate patterns. She would sit patiently, holding the spoon just so, ignoring my brother and me completely as she worked her masterpiece.

Andy would take a decidedly different approach, dropping his egg in, waiting all of three seconds, then yanking it out and tossing it in the next color. His were always easy to pick out; muddled, pastel colors with murky lines and the occasional fingerprint marring the ugliness. Not that he saw them as ugly—no, he would laugh and hold it up for us to admire, proud of his distinctly male design.

I would fall somewhere in between, not quite having the patience and care of my older sister, but done with a much more artistic eye than my brother’s. I’d try for stripes, and plaid, and the occasional electric blue egg. I remember laughter, and colored fingers, and the exclamations of delight from my parents every time we proudly held aloft our finished product.

The next morning, the very first thing I would do after opening my eyes was shove my hand beneath my pillow – and there it was! My very best egg from the night before would be waiting for me, the first of the hunt. The rest of the morning we would scurry around the house, unearthing our colorful trophies from between couch cushions, behind books, and in light fixtures. At the end of the hunt we’d find our baskets hidden in the most clever of locals: in the oven, under the kitchen sink, in the greenhouse window above the sink.

Afterwards, we’d dress in our new finery and head to church, high on sugar and excitement. That afternoon would bring juicy ham, forbidden potato chips and dip, carrots, green beans, pasta salad, and slightly dyed hard-boiled eggs. By the end of the night, we’d be tucked into bed with our new stuffed bunnies, kissed goodnight, and left to our chocolate and jelly bean dreams.

All those memories of decades earlier brought a nostalgic smile to my face, right there in the baking aisle of Target. On a whim I claimed the egg-coloring kit and tossed it in my cart. There is much to be said for the whimsy of childhood traditions, and this year, I think I’d like to have a few tinted deviled eggs for Easter dinner. After all, we are never too old for smiles :)

What are your favorite Easter memories? Did you color eggs, or use plastic ones? Did you have a traditional meal?

Now, I've given this recipe here before, but for my newcomers, I thought I would post it again. I give you, the world's best carrot cake!

Carrot Cake
Deliciously moist, perfectly sweet cake that is perfect for any occasion. Slightly modified from the recipe found here.
- 3 cups grated carrots
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 and 3/4 cups sugar
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 and 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup oil
- 1 and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup crushed pineapple in own juice, lightly drained
- 3/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Grease and flour either a 9x13 pan or three 9-in cake pans
In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix (carrots, sugar, flour, baking soda and powder, salt, cinnamon. Stir in eggs, oil, vanilla, pineapple, and nuts, and mixed until combined.
Bake 23 to 28 minutes (9-in pans) or 30 to 40 minutes (9x13), or until center comes out clean

Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 8oz package neufchatel cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
1 lb powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Cream butter and cream cheese, add vanilla, then slowly incorporate sugar until well mixed. Spread over completely cooled cake and ENJOY!