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Sunday, December 20, 2015


 I’m not embarrassed to admit it. Christmas morning is for family, and my family is my cats. For several years, my husband and I have celebrated with love and fur. The joy of watching a beloved kitty open his present under the tree cannot be surpassed.
Wait! you say.
Open his present? you say.
Yes! Why not?
It took a little imagination the first time we tried to get our cat to open his present by himself, but over the years, trial and error has brought us a technique that works well with most cats. Check it out it and let me know what you think.
1. The presents that work best are catnip-based, like a pillow or mouse. If it isn’t a catnip toy, rubbing the wrap with catnip or spritzing with catnip spray may do the trick.*
2. The toy should be very loosely wrapped with tissue or thin wrapping paper and unbound or bound with a single piece of untied ribbon or twine.


3. Wait until you’re ready before bringing the present out of hiding. (Cats are even worse than kids for getting into things before Santa Claws gives the go-ahead.) Then make a comfortable place on the floor, gather cat and present and see what happens next.
4. Get your coffee, your camera, sit back and enjoy.

*Not all cats react to catnip, so those will need another attraction, such as dangling a string toy or Da Bird over the present to get them interested.

*Sometimes kitty will need a little help or encouragement. If kitty isn’t in the mood, you can help him along or even wait until later. Moms and dads need to be sensitive to kitty’s moods.

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Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Mollie, Jim, Little, Red, and Tinkerbelle.

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Loving memory of Dirty Harry, who has crossed Beyond.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Nutty About Fruitcake

Personally, I like fruitcake. Unfortunately, it also likes me and chooses to stay with me—on my hips, on my thighs, on my waistline—which is why I don’t make it every year.

Fruitcake means something more to me than the traditional bad joke about the unwanted Christmas gift. My mother’s side of the family has a tradition of serving a groom’s cake at a wedding. And, a groom’s cake is—you guessed it—a fruitcake.

For years I did not know the origin of the groom’s cake. Since my mother’s line is 100% English—not Irish (except for a 4th or 5th great-grandmother reportedly born in Dublin), not Scottish, not Welsh—I supposed the tradition came from there. (More on that in another blog post.) All I knew was, once I announced I was getting married the first time, my grandmother, who was still living at the time, assured me that although it was the wrong time of year (September wedding) to easily find all the right ingredients, she would have my groom’s cake made at least a month ahead of time and shipped out so Mom could get it frosted to match the bride’s cake.

When I married the second time, we set our date six days before Christmas. Since we married two months after our first date, that didn’t leave me much time from the day we made the decision to get my groom's cake made. Both my mother and her mother were gone by then, so if I was going to make the traditional groom’s cake out of my grandmother’s recipe, I had to get busy.

The problem was, I did not have my grandmother’s fruitcake recipe. When I had asked her for it while she still lived, Grandmother refused to give it to me. Her reasoning was this: although we came from pioneer stock that had sailed the Atlantic, crossed the plains and settled in Utah for the sake of their religion, she had not stayed all that active in her church. But, she knew that as a teenager I had embraced the religion of my ancestors, which meant I was involved with their spirit of giving and sharing. Her fruitcake recipe was her specialty and a closely-guarded family secret. If she gave it to me, she just knew I would share it with all the Relief Society sisters at church and then everyone would have her good fruitcake recipe. She was having none of that. (And people wonder from whom I inherited my orneriness…)

With only a little over a month until I planned to marry and no traditional fruitcake recipe for a groom’s cake, what to do? I dug out my mother’s old recipe box I had inherited in hopes that grandmother might have sworn her to secrecy and trusted it to her. Eureka! I found a fruitcake recipe. Reading it over, it didn’t look like grandmother’s, but there was only one way to find out. I baked it up.

The recipe called for soaking the candied cherries in brandy overnight. I knew my grandmother wrapped her fruitcake in a cheesecloth soaked in some kind of spirits—she assured me when I was a child that the alcohol evaporated out before we would eat itbut she used it to help preserve the cake during the month that it needed to "rest" in order for the flavors to blend. So, even though I am a good Latter-day Saint that does not believe in drinking alcohol, I took a deep breath and purchased the brandy. I wanted my groom’s cake to be made from my grandmother’s traditional recipe.

I not only baked enough for a small ring-shaped groom’s cake, but I baked an extra pan on the side to sample. I wanted to make sure I had gotten it right. I wrapped the cakes tightly and let the sample rest a few days before I tried a slice. As soon as I took a healthy bite, including one of the cherries, I realized two things: (1) This was not my grandmother’s recipe, and (2) If I served this at my wedding reception, I risked my guests, including my six children, getting tipsy off the fruitcake.

I was back to square one. My last hope was my aunt. Perhaps grandmother had given her the recipe. If nothing else, my aunt still lived in Utah and it was her family who cleaned out my grandmother’s home when she died. 

My aunt not only had the recipe, but she gladly sent it to me.

I share this next tidbit at the risk of getting my ear chewed off by my oldest daughter. She was a teen as she observed all this fuss over something called a groom’s cake. She had never heard of such a thing until I insisted it was a family tradition and I planned to have one at my wedding. That is when she asked me where the tradition came from and what it was all about.

Her question flummoxed me. I had no idea why we had a groom’s cake, only that my grandmother

By Katya Creates, photo courtesy D. Ramey Logan

insisted it was traditional for our family. So, using my “massive” powers of reasoning and deduction, I came up with an explanation off the top of my head. I told her I believed the traditional bride’s cake was supposed to be white to represent purity. The groom’s cake was a fruitcake full of nuts and fruits probably to represent God’s admonition to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth. I had no idea if that was symbolism behind the fruitcake, but it sounded good to me.

My daughter thought about it for several seconds, twisting her forehead by raising first one eyebrow, and then the other. Finally she said, “Okay. I get the part about fruits. But what’s the deal with the nuts? Is it because that is how men get after they’ve been married awhile?”

How did a fifteen year-old girl come to understand so much about marriage?

My grandmother’s recipe made a HUGE amount of dough. I not only had more than enough groom’s cake for my wedding to my current husband, but my children who are not big fruitcake fans quickly grew tired of me offering to bring a plate of sliced fruitcake to family get-togethers for the next several years. Since I don’t particularly care for rum or brandy flavoring and I have a freezer to keep my fruitcake from growing green stuff, I don’t wrap it in cheesecloth soaked in alcohol. And, as each of my children announced their plans to marry, I discovered the best way to get a grimace out of them was to announce that I would start gathering the ingredients for their groom’s cake.

In honor of my maternal grandmother who would turn over in her grave if I were to share her special fruitcake recipe with you, I will continue to keep it a closely guarded family secret (one that will no doubt fade into the oblivion of time considering how well my children like fruitcake). However, I will share the recipe I found in my mother’s recipe box. If I ever make it again, it will be without the brandy.

1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 eggs
1 wine glass full of brandy (optional, substitute water)
1 pound whole dates (or half dates, half raisins)
2 cups pecan pieces (or half pecans, half black walnuts)
1 cup Brazil nuts cut in half
1 box (16oz.) candied cherries, whole
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 scant teaspoon salt

Soak cherries overnight. Combine flour, baking powder and salt, mix through fruit. Beat yolks, add sugar and vanilla, beat again. Add to fruit. Add nuts. Combine. Fold into well-beaten egg whites.
Line three small loaf pans with wax paper. Bake in 300° oven for one hour, longer if needed.


 Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. Her novelette, A Christmas Promise, along with the first two novellas in the Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 series, Big Meadows Valentine and A Resurrected Heart, was published by Prairie Rose Publications.

The author is a member of Women Writing the West, American Night Writers Association, and Modesto Writers Meet Up. She currently lives with her husband in California near the “Gateway to Yosemite.” She enjoys any kind of history including family history. When she is not piecing together novel plots, she pieces together quilt blocks.

Please visit and follow the Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page by clicking HERE.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Li'l Tom, Cat Detective, and a Holiday Giveaway

Last month, I talked about the inspirations of the fall season.  In continuing with this theme, I would like to talk about the inspiration for my first novella, Li'l Tom and the Pussyfoot Detective Bureau: The Case of the Parrots Desaparecidos.  I will also be giving away a free signed copy!  This book is a cozy cat detective mystery set in the streets of San Francisco.  Li’l Tom is the Sam Spade of cat detectives and prides himself on always getting his man.  He was the runt of his litter, so although this could hinder his investigations, he tries to use his size to his advantage.  When some of the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill disappear, Li’l Tom is hired to take the case.  With the help of his lovely sidekick calico cat, a homeless rat, and an unbalanced Chiweenie dog, he sets out to rescue the exotic parrots.  But will they get there before it’s too late?

So what inspired me to write a book about a cat detective?  My husband and I moved to San Francisco in 2008, and a couple of our favorite areas in the city were North Beach and Telegraph Hill.

Telegraph Hill has about 400 steep steps, and every once in a while when we were feeling energetic, we would make the trek over these steps from the Embarcadero side over onto the North Beach side.

It’s kind of like walking through an urban rain forest with all the flowers, plants, and trees.

In all the foliage and nooks and crannies of the houses that are built up the side of the hill, we would see cats kind of hidden away and watching us.

For some reason, that’s the only place in the city we would see cats - maybe they stay inside in most areas of the city.  Another thing I came to love about the city was the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill.

These red-crowned conures have been in the city for decades and are said to have come from pet parrots, originally from South America, who escaped.  You can always see them around this area and can hear their unique squawking while they fly about in a large flock.  Out of these experiences, Li'l Tom was born.

Li'l Tom would make a wonderful holiday gift for the mystery, animal, and/or San Francisco lover in your life!  To enter to win a free, signed copy of the book, leave a comment below.  Happy holidays to you and yours!

Angela Crider Neary is an attorney by day and writer by night.  She is an avid mystery reader and especially enjoys reading novels set in interesting locales.  She was inspired to write her first mystery novella, Li'l Tom and the Pussyfoot Detective Bureau: The Case of the Parrots Desaparecidos by one of her favorite areas in San Francisco, Telegraph Hill.  To learn more, visit her on Facebook and Amazon.

Monday, December 7, 2015

#NewRelease -- SANTA NICK by Diana Tobin -- #Giveaway

Merry Christmas to all!  My name is Diana Tobin and I love this time of year.  For many years I collected so many ornaments and decorations I could’ve put a certain card store out of business; or, perhaps, I kept them in business.  I also spent a lot of time painting a ceramic village, which my granddaughter now sets up each year, complete with Santa in his sleigh flying overhead.  Not any easy task, trust me.  Over the years my family’s traditions have changed and grown along with the change and growth of the family, as well as changes and growth in the valley we call home.  What never changes is the magic of Christmas.  I believe in magic and miracles, especially when powered by love, and while it can happen any time of year, it is strongest now.

Wanting to share some of the fun and excitement of our traditions, a Christmas story seemed the best way.  You can get a peek at some of the happenings around our town, while sharing in the joy of love.  And, who better to bring about the magic of Christmas than Santa, or in this case, Nick St. Clair in SANTA NICK.

Blurb:   With Christmas on the way six year old Faith Reynolds is determined to get the very best present ever for her widowed mother – a new husband – but one that would be a nice daddy, too.  Though Faith’s mother, Jenny, is not a big believer in Santa, a chance meeting with handsome high school teacher Nick St. Clair might just change everything.

Nick portrays Father Christmas at the yearly holiday celebration in nearby Jacksonville. When he hears Faith’s heartfelt Christmas wish, he makes one of his own – and Santa Nick gets what he wants!

But Jenny’s heart has been betrayed by her deceased husband, and she’s not sure she can ever trust again.  Can Nick bring the joy of Christmas and a loving relationship into Jenny’s life?  Making Jenny and little Faith his own family could be the Christmas magic they all need!

Nick slid his arm along the back of the bench behind Jenny, turning to speak to her and Faith.  “You don’t have your Christmas tree yet?”
Jenny could feel the heat from Nick’s body and had to stop herself from leaning into him.  “We’re going to look for one this afternoon.”
“My uncle has a tree lot.  If you can wait until I finish out here, I’ll take you out to get one,” Nick offered.
“You mean we can chop one down,” Faith asked with excitement.
“Usually we take a saw,” Nick said on a chuckle.
“Won’t it be too dark by then,” Jenny asked.
“I think we can close the North Pole early today.”
“Oh, puleez, Mama.”  Faith bounced up and down on the seat as she clung to Jenny’s arm.  “Can we go cut down our own tree?”
Nick put his lips near Jenny’s ear.  “It’s something she asked for,” he whispered.  He felt her shiver and hoped he was the cause, not the weather.
Jenny moved closer to Faith before turning toward Nick.  She didn’t meet his gaze, looking just beyond his shoulder.  “Are you sure it will be all right if you leave early?”
“I’m sure of it,” he stated.  “Especially if I find a replacement elf for our ailing one.”
Faith stood up to ask more questions of the driver giving Jenny a chance to speak some what privately with Nick.
“Did she really ask to cut down a tree?”  She turned her head and found her face much too close to Nick’s.  If she leaned forward just the tiniest bit her lips would be on his.  She could see, for the first time, what it was like to kiss a bearded man.  Realizing where her thoughts were going, she faced forward, gazing at the brick building across the street as if she found it mesmerizing.
Nick leaned a bit closer, letting his chest touch her shoulder, but keeping his lips to himself.  “It was one of her wishes,” he said quietly.   “I can’t tell you what else she asked for.  At least, not till after Christmas.”

I hope you enjoy SANTA NICK.  I wish you all the joy, love, and magic of the season! 

What is your favorite Christmas decoration?  Comment and you just might win a free ecopy of Santa Nick.

BUY LINKS    Barnes and Noble     Smashwords     Kobo     itunes


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Gift of Words

Hi everyone, Isabella Norse here. It’s hard to believe that a month has passed since my last post! As we enter this holiday season, I have gifts on my mind.

Ernest Hemingway is credited with saying “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” While few authors still use typewriters, there is still much truth in that quote. You see, a book is far more than just words and paper (or pixels, as the case may be). Every book ever written contains a bit of the author’s heart and soul.

We write when the words come easily. We stare at our laptops, mumbling to ourselves when the words don’t want to come at all. We write in the evenings after a full day at work, after the kids are in bed, and after the elderly parents have been checked on. We write when we should be doing other things, such as exercising or balancing the checkbook. We laugh when our story amuses us and cry when a beloved character dies. We experience the magic that occurs when our characters say and do things that we never imagined. (What do you mean you want to be a missionary? You’re supposed to be a hairdresser!) We agonize over book titles and character names. We wonder if anyone will ever read our words and hope that if they do, they will laugh and cry in all the right places. We tell ourselves that we must be thick-skinned, that we must not read our reviews. Then, we read them anyway and curl up in a corner with a box of tissues, five pounds of chocolate, and at least one cat while we cry over the mean-spirited ones.

Mostly, we write because we have to. We have been given a gift of words. Not using that gift leaves us feeling incomplete. So, the next time you pick up a book, be it a paperback or ebook, remember that you are holding more than just a story. You are holding a magical gift that not only transports you to a new world, you are holding a tiny piece of the author as well. Handle it with care.

In the spirit of the gift-giving season, I will be giving one lucky commenter a signed copy of the Nine Deadly Lives anthology. So, sound off in the comments. I’d love to hear from you and who knows, you may win a free book. ;-) Good luck and until next month, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!