Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bell Ringing - It's all in the Family

My brother started bell ringing for the Salvation Army about ten years ago. Dave is a friendly guy and has no problem talking to strangers, so it was an easy fit for him. Once he realized how much he liked it, he decided to have some fun and asked his wife to make him a Santa suit. He usually starts growing a beard in July so by the time the Christmas season rolls around he looks like the real thing—even the belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly is real.

But he didn’t stop there. He bought an elf costume for each of his two adult daughters, Becky and Katie, and at least one accompanies him on every shift.

Not only does Dave have a lot of fun, but by the time his shift is over, his kettle is full, too.

Katie, Dave and me at Cub Foods in Forest Lake, Minnesota
A couple years ago, he started asking me to help out and I promised that I would do it once I retired.  I am retired now and this is my second year of bell ringing. Our usual spot is in front of a busy grocery store. Our favorite shift is the day before Thanksgiving. Dave rings the bells (one in each hand) and I hand out candy canes to everyone who donates. I am amazed at how generous people are—many people stuff $5, $10 and $20 into the kettle. Some people hand us cups of hot coffee and others simply thank us for volunteering.

I can see why Dave likes it so much. On the upside, you meet a lot of interesting people while working for a good cause. On the downside, you’re on your feet for several hours, it takes perseverance when the temp drops, but all-in-all, it really is a rewarding experience.
USA Today bestselling author, Denise Devine has had a passion for books since she discovered Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder in second grade. She wrote her first book, a mystery, at age thirteen and has been writing ever since.
You can visit Denise at her website at or her Amazon author page at

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving Take Two- by Karen Rock

There are so many traditions surrounding Thanksgiving. Strangely, my favorite always happens after Gobble-Day. Nope. I’m not talking about a gluttony of shopping on Black Friday, although I never miss that either! I’m talking our family’s “friendly” competition on how to most creatively use Thanksgiving leftovers. Whenever one of us makes a new dish, we’re sure to tout it, looking for the praise, respect and the envy our cooking ingenuity surely deserves. lol. Since I was raised to believe that waste is a crime right up there with Murder One, my relatives and I go to extreme lengths to squeeze out every possible usage of what’s left of the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, rolls, gravy and so on. The more ingredients you can incorporate, the more impressive your recipe. Over the years, my sisters and I have swapped a lot of them, and here are a few of my favorites:

    1. Thanksgiving pot pie. Between two readymade pie crusts, mix the gravy, veggies, turkey and stuffing together. Add chicken broth if needed. This gets rid of a lot of the leftovers and it’s delish.

    2. Turkey soup. Even the turkey bones don’t go to waste! Boil them to get a rich broth and the scraps of meat that are impossible to pluck will fall right off. Win- win! Add the leftover vegetables and turkey along with pasta spirals at the end of cooking. Very filling and bonus points for using the carcass ;)

    3. Potato Pancakes. Cold mashed potatoes make the best potato pancakes when mixed with egg and cheese and shaped into ovals before frying.

    4. Turkey Stuffing Casserole. This will use up your stuffing, turkey, veggies, and turkey broth. Layer the turkey on the bottom with gravy, add veggies then spoon stuffing over it and top with grated cheese. Yum.

    5. Pumpkin Pie Casserole. To use up your excess slices of pumpkin pie, mix in rolled oats, maple syrup and other ingredients with chopped-up pumpkin pie and bake for thirty minutes.

    6. Turkey Tacos. Yes. My Mexican-food obsessed sister thought of these and they are really good. Shred the turkey meat and toss in frying pan with taco seasoning. This also works, though I haven’t tried it, with burritos or enchiladas… no plain turkey sandwiches for this bird!

    7. Cranberry sauce. Yes. Even this gelatinous goop has another role beyond bringing color to the holiday table. It’s actually really good on a peanut butter sandwich, the tartness giving the traditional dish something special. Also, if you mix the cranberry sauce with cream cheese and leftover roasted nuts it makes an amazing cracker or pretzel dip.

    8. Pumpkin Pie Milkshake. Okay. This is out there, but my brother-in-law, Kevin swears it’s amazing. You mix pumpkin pie with ice cream and a little sugar in a blender and top with whipped cream sprinkled with cinnamon or nutmeg.

    9. Vegetable Frittata. Everyone in the family will clean up the veggies if you bake them in a frittata. I am a witness!

    10. Stuffing. It’s my favorite part of Thanksgiving and I can waste a spoonful. Use it to stuff mushrooms and top with cheese for a great appetizer.

Who says Thanksgiving gets to be the best meal of the year?! I hope you enjoyed the leftover ideas. Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday season ahead ☺

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Traditionless - by Magdalena Scott

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

Okay, it's my second favorite after my birthday, but as far as national holidays, I love Thanksgiving best. That's because the day is not about stuff, but about gratitude, and I am a huge fan of gratitude.

Maybe my love of this holiday is what caused my freakishly high distress level when I found myself again this year, officially Thanksgiving Traditionless.

My life has changed so much in the last several years, and somehow Thanksgiving never got its own plan. Easter has a tradition. Christmas Eve has one, and Christmas Day.

But wonderful, blessed Thanksgiving was going to arrive without appropriate planning by me.

It does, you know. It arrives whether we're ready or not. Suddenly on the fourth Thursday of November, everybody is giving thanks, and--hey! That's it, isn't it? All I really have to accomplish is that. I've already eaten two big turkey dinners, one with family and one with church family. I've shared hugs and good wishes and listened to a fabulous choir song, and watched children play. I've touched base with people I had lost track of, and been blessed by those relationships.

On the official day this year, I will have dinner with another group of family. One morning this weekend I may go walking with a dear friend. Saturday I get to attend a baby shower, and my kids are coming over afterward for board games and biscuit pizzas.

Turns out my Thanksgiving tradition this year is Giving Thanks. Maybe by 2015 I'll come up with something more "set in stone," but then again, maybe not. Being flexible can add to the joy of the journey, when I realize it's a blessing.


USA Today Bestselling Author Magdalena Scott is the author of several books in the Ladies of Legend, Tennessee series, and recently published Small Town Christmas, the first story in her new Serendipity, Indiana series. She loves to connect with readers, and invites everyone to visit her website,

Thursday, November 27, 2014

We Give Thanks

As those of us in the United States pause to celebrate with our families and reflect on what we are grateful for, high on our list are the readers who allow us to pursue our passion for writing sweet love stories. While many of us would write even if the books never saw the light of day, having them enjoyed by so many readers gives us such joy. We are thankful for each and every one of you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Sweet Romance Reads Authors

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Thanksgiving question: Who’s your cake baker? by Ginny Baird

When I reflect on this past year, I’m intrigued by something that touched me deeply. It was a Facebook post by fellow sweet romance writer Kristin Wallace, with whom I’d participated in the Sweet Christmas Kisses bundle. She’d shared her wonderful news about becoming a USA Today Bestselling Author, and several of her author friends had baked her a cake. Brought champagne, even. How very lovely.

Isn’t that the kind of connection we all long for? People who will support us in good times and in hard, and who will be there when we need them? What can be more special than sharing an achievement with that sort of person and having him or her celebrate right along with us?

I suppose we’ve all had our “cake bakers” throughout ours lives. Maybe yours was a parent or a sibling? Perhaps a certain teacher, or a mentor of another sort? One thing I’ve learned is that none of us needs a passel, as long as we’ve got one solid someone in our corner. Even if, during those toughest times, we had to rely on a higher power, or be a “cake baker” for ourselves.

When I think of being grateful this Thanksgiving, I’m mindful of the family and friends who’ve stood by me during every step of my journey. No doubt you’ve had your “cake bakers” too. What a fitting holiday to acknowledge these individuals and all that they’ve given us over time. May the candles on your cake burn brightly, this season and beyond!

~ * ~

Ginny  Baird writes sweet romance and romantic comedies, often centering on holidays and those who’ve given up on finding true love. Her contribution to the Sweet Christmas Kisses bundle is Mistletoe in Maine, a story about a single mom who finds a new future in Maine. Find the USA Today bestselling box set Sweet Christmas Kisses: Fourteen Sweet Christmas Romances at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Kobo and Google.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Italian Christmas

I've recently researched how Italians celebrate Christmas for my Sweet Italian Christmas trilogy. The series idea sprang from a trip to Naples and the Amalfi coast fifteen years ago with my husband to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

We went just before Christmas. As we wandered the narrow, cobbled streets in the old part of Naples, we were enchanted by the street market dedicated to selling presepi, the nativity scenes that are such a feature of Christmas in this part of Italy.

Everywhere you go you see them, in shop windows and at the side of the roads. There are markets dedicated to selling the wooden structures, like dolls houses, that they use to display their nativity scenes, and the vast array of tiny figurines.

Traditionally, they have a presepe where we would have a Christmas tree. From my research, it sounds as though our custom of having a decorated Christmas tree is starting to spread across the country and in some places they have both presepi and Christmas trees.

I had the pleasure of reading up on the wonderful dishes the Italians prepare for their celebratory feasts. On Christmas Eve they have family meals composed of pasta and many fish dishes.

On Christmas day they may have a roast chicken or other roast meat and vegetables but they often also have fish and pasta.

In Italy, the Christmas holiday period lasts right through to Epiphany on January 6th, when the good witch La Befana comes in the night and fills the children's stockings with gifts.

Here is a recipe for some traditional Italian cookies that might be enjoyed at Christmas.


Almond cookies that are quick and easy to prepare. Wonderful with a good cup of coffee!

Makes 24 Cookies.

7 oz ground almonds
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees F
In a bowl put ground almonds, sugar, flour, egg whites and vanilla. Mix thoroughly by hand or with a hand blender until the mixture is combined to make a paste.
Form the mixture into balls about tablespoon size and place on a parchment-covered baking sheet.
Bake for 12 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown.
Cool on a wire rack before eating.
Store in an airtight container.

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 Sweet Italian Christmas trilogy is set in Naples and the Amalfi coast. Italian Christmas Proposal, Italian Christmas Baby and Italian Christmas Wedding. Find Helen on FaceBook and Twitter, or visit her website.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Professor Hero by Joanne Hill

The academic, professor hero! Wowee.

Not everyone goes for that intellectual type, of course, but he fascinates me. Super smart, devoted to his calling, and maybe a little distracted because of his brilliant mind.

My father-in-law was an academic, a university professor. He was charming, likeable, adored by his students - although not physically attractive in my book - and sure as heck not heroic. He was more than just flawed. He was a serial adulterer.

I asked him once why men cheated, why he'd cheated on his wives - usually, I gathered, with an adoring student - and he told me that it was because the attention was flattering. He had a wife, he had kids but he was surrounded by adoring females, young females, and his ego got the better of him.

While intelligence might draw you to someone, sometimes you just don't know what it is. It's the classic eyes meeting across a room, a zingy connection you don't understand, an awareness that leaves you confused. Quite delicious! Other times you know what it is. Wealth and power. Sporting success (would rugby player Ritchie McCaw be as gorgeous if he was installing fibre optic cable down the road?) Amazing singing and stage presence can really do it - I think of Michael Hutchence with INXS who on stage was just ... Oh. My. Gosh... He was amazing.

In "Dating Daisy," Dr Joel Benjamin, of course, will not be going out with any star struck student although there will be plenty of them. Neither will he get fat, lose his hair, and nor will he ever, ever, ever cheat on Daisy and she on him. This is a romance and like Shrek and Fiona, like Emma and Mr Knightly, like Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in all those movies, Daisy and Joel will be living the life of a romantic couple - there'll be ups and downs, they might even drive each other a little crazy at times, but you just know that one thing is guaranteed - they are going to live happily ever after. 

So how do you rate the professor hero in a romance novel? Any recommendations for us?

Joanne's current book is "Dating Daisy"  - now available from Amazon. You can follow Joanne on Twitter @joanneauthor

Friday, November 21, 2014

For Better or Worse: How Unconditional Love? by Milou Koenings

My friends and I were discussing this week how we could each work on being less judgmental.  Half-an-hour later, despite my best intentions, all my judgmental attitude came rearing up full-force as I heard someone I know being interviewed on a talk show.

Many years ago, the week after my college graduation, this man gave me my first job interview.  I traveled down to Washington, D.C., and he took me to a nice restaurant for our meeting.  

 It was all very impressive - the D.C. office with the senators casually dropping in, the fancy restaurant - but I decided not to take the job.  It was a wise move; two months later I found out that he had scammed some of my father's friends out of several thousand dollars. 

This seemed to be par for the course for this "gentleman" and years later he was arrested for masterminding one of the biggest frauds of the decade. He pleaded guilty and was imprisoned in a federal facility for many years.  He now has been released.

Why is any of this relevant on a romance blog?  When I heard this man being interviewed on the talk show, unrepentant of his admitted crimes and discussing life after prison, he mentioned his wife.  He was lucky, he said, because his wife had stood by him the entire time.  While all of his partners who had been convicted with him were divorced by the time they left prison, his wife was his biggest supporter.

It made me wonder, how far does love go, when the person we love lets us down?

It's one thing if your spouse forgets to pick up the dry cleaning, chronically doesn't pay bills on time or is always late to pick you up. 

What if you found out he had been scamming people out of their life's savings for decades?

That the Louis Vuitton bag he'd bought you for your birthday was paid with money stolen from a friend who'd scraped together what he had for his kid's college education and entrusted him with to invest it on his behalf? 

My first judgmental thought was to wonder if this man's wife is as equally lacking in morals a he is.  Perhaps she really doesn't care or think he did anything wrong. In that sense, he might have never let her down.

Then I thought she must have done it for the money and her kids.

Still pretty judgmental of me.

Then I wondered if perhaps she stood by him because, in a world where no one could be trusted - not even her own husband - she wanted to show that she, at least, would live up to her promise.

For better or worse.  There are lots of "worse" scenarios a bride might have in mind as she utters those words.  For most brides, though, her husband going jail is probably not one of them.  I'm going to guess it's probably lower on the list of worries than some other common failings.

I felt better, then, finding a noble reason for what seems to me to be an incomprehensible choice. But I don't know why this woman stuck by her husband, or even if she still will now that he's out of jail.  

It isn't really any of my business.

What's pretty clear is that I didn't succeed at not being judgmental about this. Instead, I'm glad to know that there are some things I really wouldn't stand in my partner, much as I adore him. And I'm pretty sure that he wouldn't stick with me if I was secretly bribing politicians or stealing from his friends!   

Maybe that means we do not unconditionally love each other, but that's part of the reason we do love each other.  The same things are important to us.

Don't look for heroes who are criminals in my books.  My heroines are idealists looking for real heroes, not crooks.

Then again, they say one should never judge someone else until they've been in their shoes. So who am I to say?

What are the limits and wisdom of unconditional love? I have no answers on this, just the thought that love and its many permutations remain as mysterious and individual as human beings and snowflakes.

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 novel, Reclaiming Home, A Green Pines Romance, is available at Amazon
You can find her on her website,, on Facebook, Goodreads or Twitter.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Siblings by Angela Benson

I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about siblings these days. I only have one — a brother — though there were many times growing up when I thought there were six of him. The boy was a holy terror, sometimes without the holy. 

I have the funniest memories of him growing up. Though he’s three years younger than I am, when he was around five or six, he used to beat me up. He did it because I’d never hit him back. Well, I woke up to that pretty quickly, and accidentally socked him one day. Guess what? My brother’s love of hitting me suddenly faded. 

My brother had a bit of a cruel streak.  He used to torture me with dessert. Like a normal person, I would eat my dessert immediately after the meal. Not my brother. He’d save his for later that night when I had none. Then he’d sit in front of me eating his, waiting for me to ask for a bite so he could deny me. I wish I could say I never asked, but I always did. 

As we grew older, I seemed to get the upper hand on my little brother. My mom worked two jobs when we were kids, so when I was old enough, she gave me cooking chores. My first dish was fried chicken. How hard could it be? I’d seen my mother cook it often. So I fried this chicken. It looked golden brown on the outside but I wondered about the inside. I wasn't sure it was done but I knew how to find out. I served my good-looking chicken to my brother. As I watched him take his first bite and saw the streams of blood flowing out, I concluded the chicken wasn’t quite done yet. Guess what? I never had to cook again. Why? Because my brother refused to eat anything else I cooked. That bloody chicken ended it for him. 

As we got closer to adulthood, things turned a bit more serious. I remember an incident that occurred when I was away at college and my brother was still home. He called me to share a secret about a problem he was facing. He made me promise not to tell our mother. Of course, I promised. Unfortunately, as soon as we hung up the phone, I dialed my mom and told her the secret. Now I love my brother, but there was no way I could keep that secret. To this day, I can’t remember what the secret was; I just remember feeling that it was too big for me too handle. It took my brother a while to get over my lack of discretion and share another secret with me, but thankfully he did. 

One of the dearest memories I have of my brother is the day I realized he’d become an adult with insights to help me with my problems. I remember pulling the phone away from my ear and looking it, while thinking, “When did my little brother become a man?” A very precious moment indeed. 

I cherish my relationship with my brother, as you can probably tell from these stories. Because we live 13 hours apart, we don’t see each other often, but we speak on the phone regularly.  He has a fairly long commute to and from work so very often I “ride” home with him via the phone.

I like to read about relationships that remind me of me and my brother. I love to read about people caring for each other, through the good times and the bad.  

It’s not surprising then that my stories have strong sibling relationships.  I’m waiting for the day my brother recognizes our relationship in one of my stories.  When he does, I’m sure he’ll want a commission.
Siblings. Mine’s a keeper. I hope you know yours are, too.

Siblings are pretty common in stories by Angela Benson. Francine and Dawn in The Amen Sisters. Preacher and Loretta and Barnard and Natalie in Up Pops the Devil.  Issac, Deborah and Michael in Sins of the Father.  Roxanne, Veronica, and Alisha in Delilah’s Daughters. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Black Friday, a Tradition by Raine English

Families have many traditions, especially around the holidays. A favorite of mine is one that I started years ago and share with my daughter—it’s our Black Friday outing. We look forward to it each year, and not just because it kick-starts the Christmas shopping season, but because it’s a time for just the two of us to have fun.

Each Thanksgiving evening, after we’ve stuffed ourselves with turkey and all the trimmings, we nap for a few hours, then hit the road so that we’ll be at the mall by midnight. We scour the stores looking for bargains but stay away from any that attract a huge crowd. Neither one of us enjoys dealing with that madness.

Around 3:00 A.M., we take a break from the stores to drink mocha lattes and review our purchases. Some years we haven’t had much luck finding gifts, and others we wind up getting most of our Christmas shopping done. But our outing isn’t really about that. It’s about being together.  I know there are lots of other things we could do besides wandering the mall in the wee hours of the morning, and I know there are those who might think we’re crazy for doing it, but we love it. And for me, having a mother/daughter event that I can count on yearly is very, very special, even though it leaves me exhausted for the rest of the day.

What’s your special holiday tradition?


USA Today bestselling author Raine English writes sweet small-town romances. She lives in New England with her family and her French bulldog, Bailey. 

Her latest release, Some Christmas Magic, is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. 

For information on all of her books, visit her website at

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Kissing Under the Mistletoe

Kissing Under the Mistletoe
By Margaret Daley

Christmas is around the corner—five weeks away, EEK!! I’m not ready—and one of the traditions that has been around for hundreds of years is kissing under the mistletoe. But where in the world did that tradition start. Why mistletoe in the first place? Mistletoe is a parasite, living off the trees it is attached to. The berries on it are poisonous. That doesn’t sound like a good candidate to romantically kiss someone special.

And yet, Washington Irving referred to the practice in his writing, Christmas Eve. The mistletoe was hung in the house and a young man could kiss a girl under it and then pluck a berry from the mistletoe. Once there were no more berries, the kissing had to stop. Obviously somewhere along the way, that part was dropped. Now we kiss as many times as we want until the mistletoe.

It goes back even further than Washington Irving’s time to an ancient Scandinavian custom of two opponents laying down their arms if they found themselves in the woods under mistletoe. The next day they could pick them back up. The custom goes back to a Norse myth about Baldur. His mother, Frigga, made every plant, animal and inanimate object not to harm her son. Except she forgot about the mistletoe plant. Loki talked another one of the Norse gods into killing Baldur with a spear made from mistletoe. After Baldur’s death, some felt it was agreed that mistletoe would bring love rather than death. An aside note here is that mistletoe was believe to be a fertility herb to the ancients.

Have you ever kissed someone under mistletoe?

Margaret Daley’s new release is Mistletoe Kisses (a collection of new novellas from Margaret Daley, Janet Trodstad, Lacy Williams, Camille Elliot, Lisa Mondello, Lenora Worth, Cheryl Wyatt and Pamela Tracy). Eight stories of inspiration ranging from contemporary romance to romantic suspense to historical romance. Until December 1st, Mistletoe Kisses will be on sale for 99¢. Buy links at Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.