Monday, August 31, 2015

My Garden of Earthly Delights - by Denise Devine

For me, the Minnesota State Fair signals the end of summer. It’s ten days long and ends on Labor Day. I love the fair and look forward to going each year, but it’s bittersweet because it means that summer is officially over. I love fall and the beautiful colors, but it seems to go by so fast, doesn’t it? You just get used to fall and suddenly it’s Halloween. Then you’re putting away your decorations and pulling out Thanksgiving décor.

My garden is winding down, too. I still have plenty of flowers, but it won’t be long before one frosty night takes them all. Even though I’ve been gardening for 30+ years, I still learn something new every year. This year I started a path through the woods behind my house using mulched oak leaves. I didn’t get very far, but I plan to finish it next spring, adding a stone bench and trail markers. I’ve been looking through the woods and found some interesting wild flowers that I didn’t know I had, like a giant Jack in the Pulpit.

Wild Blueberries
I also found a lot of wild blueberries. I’d like to cultivate a large patch someday, but it’s a lot of work and you have to find the right spot, so that is one of those “someday” projects. They grow well in oak forests because they like acidic soil.

Here is a wild columbine that simply grew out of a crack in my retaining wall.

Here are some gardening tidbits I would like to pass on to you:

Cardinal Flower
If you want to attract a lot of hummingbirds into your yard, plant a cardinal flower. I planted one last year, in the fall, and it was really small, fit into my palm. It is now about 5 feet tall and 3 feet around! The hummers fight over it all day long. So you can bet I’m getting another one this fall to put somewhere in my yard.

If you want to attract a lot of bees and butterflies, coneflowers and blazing stars are your best bet. Coneflowers are hardy and come in a lot of colors. I currently have at least five colors and am looking for more, but the bees seem to like the pink ones best. Blazing stars (especially the wild variety) attracts butterflies, including monarchs.

One thing I learned this year (by accident) is that if you want to attract a lot of orioles, you need to get a jelly feeder. They don’t seem to care too much for the nectar feeders but they love grape jelly. I didn’t get many Orioles until I ran out of the cheap jelly and had to use Welches. Yikes, the Orioles were fighting over the feeder six birds at a time! So we went strictly with Welches and Smuckers and our results have been fantastic.

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Denise Devine is a USA TODAY bestselling author who has writes sweet romantic comedy and inspirational romance. You can visit her at She is currently writing two series, Forever Yours (Inspirational) and Counting Your Blessings (Christmas romantic comedy). Merry Christmas, Darling is the first book in this series.


Hey, it’s party time! Join us tomorrow, September 1st, at the Sweet Romance Reads Café for the kickoff party of our 2015 Sweet Christmas Kisses2 boxed set. The fun begins at noon (EST). We’re giving away a lot of great prizes so see ya there!


Saturday, August 29, 2015

It's Never too Late to Learn by Karen Rock

It's Never too Late to Learn by Karen Rock

I brought my daughter, Danielle, to college this week and learned a few things without attending a single lecture.

1.       1. An empty nest doesn’t have to be negative. Think of it as an opportunity to fill it with new and wonderful things. My sister and I are joining a cake-decorating class at Michael’s and I’m excited to bring home new gadgets to try out in my kitchen. (Pssst. Don’t tell my husband ;)

2.       Being a parent doesn’t end when your child is eighteen. Danielle still needs advice and help. The only difference is that I offer it when she asks rather than jumping in and taking charge or assuming I know best. For example, bees kept coming into her dorm room (which we have nicknamed The Apocalypse- lol) and my husband talked her through the right channels to take care of the problem. Our job as parents may change, but it’s never done- and thank goodness for that!
3.       My identity is still the same. I don’t have to be a hands-on mother to be me. If anything, having this time on my own is giving me a chance to get back in touch with myself- my new self- who is older, wiser, and eager to meet the future rather than dwell on the past.
4.       Just as ice is still water, a separated family, though reconfigured, is still a family. That is a constant I can count on no matter the time or distance.

5.       I haven’t lost a child, I’ve gained an adult whom I’m so proud to have raised. No mourning the “loss” of the kid she was. I’m celebrating the person she’s becoming. There are lots of ways to contribute to society and raising a compassionate, respectful and conscientious person is giving the world a great gift.  At the end of the Steve Hawking movie THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, he and his ex-wife look at their children playing in the palace gardens and he types: Look what we made. It was such a poignant moment because even a man as great as Steve Hawking knows that raising amazing kids is a far greater achievement than even solving the origin of our universe.
6.       I can master new technology. For example, I now know Skype isn’t some complex technology only 35-year-olds and under can comprehend. It’s just an app on my computer that lets me see and talk to my daughter every day. And yes- Danielle got a big chuckle when she helped Greg and I bumble through setting up our account. But now, I have added three cousins, both of my sisters and a friend from high school to my new Skype list and can talk to them, too! So happy to have learned this and renewed and strengthened connections with other loved ones.

7.       Change is frightening but, survivable… even something to be celebrated. There is no milestone or Hallmark card to acknowledge or congratulate us on having successfully reared a child, yet there should be. This is a big transition and one worth some kind of shout out… so I’m giving one, right here in this post, to all the moms and dads of adult children. Let’s be proud and happy about all that we’ve done and will continue to do.

I hope these new lessons help you as much as they helped me! Remember that just because you aren’t as directly involved in your child’s daily life doesn’t mean you are less of a parent. If anything, your child’s growing independence says one thing: “Job well done, mom and dad!”

What are your thoughts about the “empty nest”, whether it’s in your future, present or past? If you have a chance, I would love hearing from you in the comments section below. Thanks!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Be Happier? ~ by Magdalena Scott

Due to interest in my posts concerning minimalism, I thought I’d touch on the subject again this month. (Quick background: in 2012 I became a widow, sold our house and most of our furniture, etc. at a huge auction, and moved into a studio apartment. I went from 3,000-ish square feet to around 500.)

I recently read a blog post listing 21 benefits of owning less. I completely agree with, and relate to, 20 of them, including Less Spending, Less Stress, More Freedom, Easier to Clean. The one that stopped me—and when I clicked the reference link I was still shaking my head—is this one: Be Happier.

Don’t get me wrong. I am happier with less, but I’m not certain this is a realistic guarantee. If I lived alone in our big house as the curator of all our possessions, I’d be miserable. I’m guessing that each time my son and daughter-in-law came to visit, I’d try to foist something off on them.

Another fact to consider is that each of us may have our own definition of minimalism. A bit of guidance I use is this, by William Morris: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”  

Happiness is never guaranteed, but if you’re interested in dabbling without committing, here are some ideas:
  • Box stuff up that you don’t love, and see what your place looks like when it’s streamlined. (It’s important to ask yourself What do I want to keep? instead of What do I want to get rid of?)
  • Use your favorite dishes, pack the others up for donation (but don’t donate yet), and see if you miss what’s no longer in the cabinet.
  • Put your seldom used clothing, shoes, handbags in the back of the closet, or another closet, and experience a smaller wardrobe for a while. (Confession: I still haven’t conquered my wardrobe!)
  • If you have grown children whose belongings are still in your home, invite said children to come and pick them up. Perhaps they will, or perhaps those items are just there because nobody’s had the heart to re-home them. (Warning: this work is not for the faint-hearted. It can be quite an emotional drain.)
  • Live in a smaller portion of your current home and “try on” small space living. (Hint: Windows help the small space seem larger.)

Owning fewer things and renting a small apartment has set me free to travel (photo above is in San Francisco this month), do the work I love, and donate to charity. I like to help spread the word about this lifestyle, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup—or dozens of cups, with matching saucers—of tea. You get to decide.

Magdalena Scott


Magdalena is a USA Today Bestselling Author, and writes sweet romance and women's fiction with small town settings. Connect with her and read about her books on her website:

Recent Release: Book Two in the Serendipity, Indiana series, Emily’s Dreams. Emily Kincaid is recovering from an auto accident, and sheds her past—emotionally and physically—in order to move toward her future. Stories in the Serendipity, Indiana series always have a surprise ending, and I think you’ll love the resolution of the nudging voice Emily hears throughout her journey.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Once Upon an Addiction by Susan R. Hughes

If you have Netflix, you also need self-control. I’ve got one and not the other. I’ve been binge-watching the first four seasons of Once Upon a Time. It’s taken me all summer to get through all eighty-nine episodes. Last week, I finally reached the last episode, just in time for the new season starting in late September.

All it took was one episode to get me hooked. Perhaps the show resonated with me because, with small kids, I’ve watched so many Disney movies based on fairytales. The show is not appropriate for young kids, but within its storylines are themes of family, courage, loss, sacrifice, forgiveness, the power of true love, and discovering that home is where the heart is (or in this case, a town in Maine populated by storybook characters transported into our world by an evil queen’s curse).

The central character is Emma, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, who has grown up in our world in the foster care system and doesn’t believe in magic. The young son she gave up for adoption, who was raised by the evil queen, finds Emma and brings her to Storybrooke to save the town from the curse that is keeping them trapped there, unaware of their true identities.

The premise might sound preposterous, but it doesn’t take long to find yourself ensnared in the plot. Each episode flips between events in the past and present, with a theme linking the two parts, and characters who have depth beyond their animated counterparts. The heroes have strength and heart as well as human weaknesses, and the women aren’t helpless princesses waiting in towers to be rescued; Snow White knows how to wield a sword and vanquish a foe. Even the villains win our sympathy with backstories that explain how their hearts turned dark. The struggle between good and evil within the individual becomes the focus of many of the storylines.

I find it fascinating the way the writers weave diverse fairytales together into an intricate plot, including not only classic tales like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, but also Frankenstein, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan (who knew that Captain hook could be sexy?). Throughout the seasons, new details and revelations keep us guessing and craving more.

The show is its own curse, eating into my reading and sleeping time. I’ve spent too many evening sitting up late, glued to my TV set, telling myself I’d watch just ten minutes more and go to bed (fat chance). Now I need to wait a month for my next fix. At least I won’t be able to binge-watch anymore – I’ll have to watch season five once a week as the episodes are broadcast on ABC. Can’t wait!

Do you have a favourite show that’s become an addiction?

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Susan R. Hughes writes contemporary and historical romance novels. Want to keep up with news from Sweet Romance Reads authors? Sign up for the SRR newsletter today. Like chatting about Sweet Romance? Join the authors of Sweet Romance Reads in our cyber Café!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Summer Gazpacho by Ginny Baird

One thing I love about summer is the wonderful selection of fresh fruits and vegetables available at our local farmers market.  As summer winds down, I’m striving to take advantage of things still in season, like juicy, red summer tomatoes. 

Like many cooks, I often use other recipes as guidelines then create my own unique version of a dish. Last summer I tried my hand at making Gazpacho, and it was delicious! I stored the batch in a dozen mason jars and was able to give out several as gifts. It also kept well in the refrigerator and made for a tasty light lunch or simple supper, served with its array of condiments. I added fresh bread, Manchego cheese, Spanish olives and Spanish almonds as compliments, along with a glass of wine. Olé! There it was: the perfect, healthy summer meal.

I look forward to making a new batch later this week to enjoy during these last lazy days of summer. I wonder if any of you will join me and give this recipe a try? If you do, please let me know how you like it.

Ginny Baird’s Gazpacho
 4 cups tomato juice
½ cup extra light olive oil
2 tbsps. Red wine vinegar
2 tbsps. Lime Juice
Salt and Pepper to taste
Hot Sauce to taste (if desired)

2 lbs. ripe tomatoes
2 medium cucumbers
1 large zucchini
1 large green pepper
4 stalks celery
½ large red onion
3 cloves fresh garlic

avocado for garnish (optional)
croutons for garnish (optional)
fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)

Dice vegetables setting aside small portions (about 1/2 cup each) of fresh tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper and onion for garnish. Blend remaining vegetables with liquid ingredients and seasonings in electric blender or food processor. If you have a standard size blender or food processor, you may need to blend portions at a time, stirring the final product together in a large container. As long as you balance liquids with solids, you can combine any of the ingredients in any batch, since it will all get blended together in the end. Mixture should not be too finely pureed, but have texture – midway between a salsa and a bisque.

Once mixing is complete and/or batches are combined in large container, stir gently and adjust salt, pepper, hot sauce (if used) to taste. Chill at least two hours before serving. Offer garnish selection of diced tomato, cumber, green pepper, red onion, avocado, cilantro, croutons, as desired. Makes 12 8 oz. cups.

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New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Ginny Baird writes contemporary romance novels and novellas. Her anthology A Summer Grooms Selection (Books 1 – 3) is currently on sale for $0.99 in e-book format. Find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and iBooks. Special runs through Labor Day (September 7th). Want to keep up with news from Sweet Romance Reads authors? Sign up for the SRR newsletter today. Like chatting about Sweet Romance? Join the authors of Sweet Romance Reads in our cyber Café!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Do You Have a Green Thumb? by Helen Scott Taylor

Hubby and I have tried to grow different sorts of vegetables over the years and we’ve come to the conclusion that neither of us has the gift! The veg fairies do not like us, or most of them don’t.

My husband is great with all other aspects of the garden. We have a thriving wildlife meadow area, a beautiful woodland full of bird boxes that always house nesting birds each spring, a pond full of water lilies and fish and many healthy shrubs and flowers. But the veg patch is not a huge success.

In the UK, one of the staple plants in every vegetable garden is runner beans. Instead of the healthy climbers that most people grow, ours turn into sad spindly plants with few beans—and to be honest the beans aren’t very nice either. Too stringy. But that might be because I picked them late.

We do have some successes, though. Courgettes as we call them or zucchini to you in the US, are always a success. This year we’ve also grown patty pan squash, and they have thrived as well, giving us lots of flying saucer shaped summer squash—enough that we have them for just about every meal!

We are also growing winter squash, and they seem to be coming along okay, although the jury is still out on them. Peas are usually a success and so are the tomatoes we have in our greenhouse.

To be fair to us, this year the weather has been terrible in the UK. A cold spring that held everything back gave way to a wet, dreary summer. Even our friends who are a whiz at growing vegetables have had less success this year.

What about you? Do you grow vegetables? What are favorite things to grow?

Helen lives in South West England near Plymouth in Devon between the windswept expanse of Dartmoor and the rocky Atlantic coast. As well as her wonderful, long-suffering husband, she shares her home with a Westie and a burmilla cat. Helen's latest project is a boxed set called Christmas Pets and Kisses, full of wonderful stories about love and pets. Her book in the boxed set is Golden Christmas. Find Helen on FaceBook and Twitter, or visit her website.

Golden Christmas 

Two wounded hearts are brought together at Christmas by a trusty golden Labrador and an adorable golden retriever puppy.
Every Christmas Vicky hides so she doesn’t have to celebrate the date she lost her husband and son. She doesn’t want to see anyone but when she finds a dog’s lost ball she meets Jon, a wounded ex-soldier who’s struggling with his own problems. This brave man touches Vicky’s shattered heart and makes her realize she can’t hide forever. With his support, can she find the strength to love again? 

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Literary Love

Literature has always provided readers with an amazing, intimate look at great love stories. We cheer and cry for our couples when they finally make their great confession of love, because we’ve lived their trials along the bumpy road of life with every page turn.

There are different kinds of literary couples, though. You have the nearly perfect, madly in love hero who spends all his time trying to win the heart of our heroine. There is the cocky type of hero who confesses his love in a more colorful gesture, but the heroine, equal to his strength, challenges him at every turn. There are also couples with a mad secret between them, keeping them apart until the end of the story.

Let’s take a look at our first type of couple, the sweet, nearly perfect hero type in Anne of Green Gables. Okay, maybe he wasn’t so perfect in the beginning. The love story between Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables all started when Gilbert had the nerve to wink at Anne and call her “Carrots.” Talk about a set-up for their entire relationship. This one moment led to many hours of Gilbert gazing from afar. Eventually, he makes a romantic gesture when he steels her dance card, something Anne doesn’t believe Gilbert would ever do since he wasn’t romantic enough.

It only intensifies from there as they grow up. The scene where he rescues her from nearly drowning opened the door for them to move to the next level of their troubled relationship. He makes romantic gestures repeatedly trying to win her heart when he asks for an Encore after she performs for a charity event, and when he gives up a post for school so that she can watch after her home and farm. In the end, Anne finally realizes she loves him. I don’t know about you, but I cried when she sat at his death bed reading the inscription from her first published book. J

To Gilbert, Who inspired me with the idea in the first place.

It’s not always a sweet romantic gesture, sometimes our hero plays a little game with our heroine. You all have to remember one of the most famous scenes in Gone With the Wind. It occurred shortly after Scarlett’s husband died. It’s a marriage proposal, but nothing like Gilbert Blythe’s constant sweet courtship of Anne. Nope, Rhett is a different type of romantic hero. When he proposes, she says no to Rhett at first, but then he kisses her and the answer changes. ;)

Say you’ll marry me when I come back or, before God, I won’t go. I’ll stay around here and play a guitar under your window every night and sing at the top of my voice and compromise you, so you’ll have to marry me to save your reputation.

In Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester doesn’t only propose to Jane once, but twice. The first proposal is a little sketchy, though. It also can’t happen, because he has a wife already locked in the attic. L Let’s take a look at the first proposal.

"Come to my side, Jane, and let us explain and understand one another."
"I will never again come to your side: I am torn away now, and cannot return."
"But, Jane, I summon you as my wife: it is you only I intend to marry."
I was silent: I thought he mocked me.
"Come, Jane — come hither."
"Your bride stands between us."
He rose, and with a stride reached me.
"My bride is here," he said, again drawing me to him, "because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me?"

In modern romances, we might not have the same sweeping prose, but we still enjoy the grand gestures of the heroes winning the hearts of our heroine.

What are some of your favorite classic or modern romance books? What romantic gestures still remains in your heart days, months, years after reading a story?

Ciara Knight writes ‘a little bit of edge and a lot of heart’ with her bestselling young adult speculative fiction and romance stories. Her books have secured four stars from RT book reviews, awarded Night Owl Top Picks, five stars from InD’Tale Magazine and Paranormal Romance Guild, topped the Amazon charts, featured on USA Today Blog, and named book of the month by Long and Short Reviews.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Dream Reading Spaces

My husband and I are currently in the midst of building a new home. I've worked in marketing for a home builder for over ten years, but this is the first time we've gone through the process of choosing all the details of our own home. While browsing through photos for ideas, I've come across some pretty amazing home libraries and reading nooks.

I love how cozy this one is:

This one would be perfect for kids:
My home won't have anything this elaborate, but it's fun to dream! Which is your favorite? What is your favorite spot in your own home for reading?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Out of Season by Milou Koenings

Holidays have their dates on the calendar.  They also have their scents, their auras, their feelings – tactile and emotional – and their flavors.
gingerbread heartThink Halloween, and it’s the crunching of orange leaves beneath my boots that comes to mind, the crispness of the air and pumpkins, alight or in pies.  Fourth of July – the sulfur that hangs in the air after fireworks, mingling with the smell of barbeque, sticky ketchup fingers and grass stains on clothes.

Smells, tastes, feelings – they all have their season.  

It’s a strange way of living, though, when you’re out of season with everyone else.  As an editor for a magazine with a three-to-six month lead time, I had to become used to “living” Easter while the rest of the world was still Christmas shopping; planning May gardening issues, when the rest of the world was planning what to do on Valentine’s Day.   By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, it was so passé – I was already on to the New Year’s Day issue, discussing resolutions, interviewing psychologists about “the ten best ways to change a habit” or some such timely topic, and editing stories awash with hope of self-improvement.  Mention holiday to me then and instead of turkey and stuffing, I’d say, yes, I know, Saint Patrick’s is coming up, maybe we could do a “green” issue.

It’s even more pronounced when I’m writing, rather than editing.  Writing a story for me is like living it in a way.  I have to see it, feel it, breathe it, taste it before it reads well on the page.  So this summer, it’s been Christmas in July.  And August. 

I’ve been working on a Christmas-themed novella that I’m very excited about. So not only have I spent summer writing about the winter holidays, I just had to dig out my favorite Irish sweater, the one I love cuddling up in when spending an evening in front of the fireplace.  Even though the rest of the world outside my window was going through the worst heat wave in five years, with temperatures up to 106.7 degrees (41.5 Celsius), in my attic office, I was stranded in a blizzard, with the wind howling outside.   I had to hold in my own two hands that mug of hot cocoa my character longed for. I had to bake pfeffernusse, my grandmother’s Christmas cookie recipe.  

It’s probably a good thing my children were off for two weeks visiting their grandparents. They might have been a little confused.  If they’d been gone any longer, who knows if they mightn’t have come home to a tree in the living room!  

But now that the book’s done and soon to be released, and the rest of the world is heading back to school and ready for fall, I think that instead of racing ahead, I might try, for a change, moving backward in time and steal a day at the beach.  Even with pfeffernusse in my picnic basket, I might get lucky and catch a last lingering day of summer.

Milou Koenings writes romance because, like chocolate, stories with a happy ending bring more joy into the world and so make it a better place. 
Her sweet romance, Reclaiming Home, A Green Pines Romance, is available at Amazon

You can find her on her website,, on Facebook, or Twitter.
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