Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Celebrating the New Year—Open Book Blog Hop

This week on the blog hop, we're discussing  how we celebrate the arrival of the New Year.

It's been a long time since I've gone out on New Year's Eve. Frankly, I prefer to stay home and not risk my safety by sharing the roads with people who've had too much to drink. I'm happy enough sitting at home with my hubby and watching the ball drop on TV or looking out the windows of our house at the fireworks being set off in the neighborhood. I may or may not stay up until midnight local time, depending upon how I feel at the moment.

Of course, I enjoy New Year's Day because I don't have to work. Well, I don't have to get in the car and go to work anyway! I normally spend the day starting the task of putting away the Christmas decorations and returning the house to some resemblance of normal.

There is one thing I do almost every year—make home made ham and bean soup. We usually have ham for Christmas, and it's a great way to use the leftovers! It's a recipe I got from my mother, who got it from her mother. I have no idea how far back it goes, but I'm going to share it with you.

You can use either boneless or bone-in ham for this, but I prefer using bone-in ham. I think it deepens the flavor.

You'll need
     Leftover ham
     Navy beans
     Celery (about 3 stalks for a large pot of soup)
     Carrots (again, the amount you use depends upon how large of a pot of soup you are making. I use enough to give a good amount of "color" to the soup
     Bay leaves—3 or 4. depending upon their size

Cook the peas according to package directions. I use the quick start method, which involves bringing the beans to a full boil before turning down the heat. This allows you to decrease the over-all cooking time, as well as do away with pre-soaking the beans.

Allow the beans to cook for an hour at a medium heat. While they are cooking, remove your leftover ham from the bone and cut it into bite size hunks. I use a about two or three cups in a good-sized pot. If you have extra ham, freeze or refrigerate it. After the beans have cooked for an hour, add the cut-up ham and the ham bone to the pot. You should have enough water in the pot that the ham bone is mostly covered. If not, add more. You don't want to cook the pot dry.

Cover the pot and lower the heat to medium low, Allow the mixture to continue cooking for at least an hour. Check your heat level and water level occasionally. You want to keep the soup cooking but not at a high boil, Add water as needed (but you shouldn't need to if the lid fits well.)

About an hour before you plan to serve the soup, chop the celery and carrots and add to the soup. Also add your bay leaves.

You'll notice I didn't add any seasonings other than the bay leaves to the mixture. The ham has enough salt to season the soup, so you don't need it. (And any other seasoning you used on the ham originally will add additional flavor to the soup.)

Total cook time- 4 hours.

Before serving, remove the ham bone and bay leaves. Serve with warm bread, and you have a feast!

I have made one change to the recipe. I can occasionally find "cranberry beans." They have purple streaks, unlike the navy beans that are white. (No, not pinto beans.) I think they add a little extra "oomph" to the soup.

Tell us what you do for the holiday in the comments below, if you want to!

To find out what Lela Markham does for the holiday, head on over to her blog. HERE.  You can find her books on Amazon. Here's the book  description for The Willow Branch.

A healer must mend a fractured kingdom and bring two enemy races together before a greater enemy destroys them both.

Fate took Prince Maryn by surprise, leaving Celdrya to tear itself apart. A century later an army amasses against the warring remains of the kingdom as prophesy sends a half-elven healer on a journey to find the nameless True King. Padraig lacks the power to put the True King on the throne, yet compelled by forces greater than himself, Padraig contends with dark mages, Celtic goddesses, human factions and the ancient animosities of two peoples while seeking a myth. With all that distraction, a man might meet the True King and not recognize him

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Wednesday's Blog Hop

For those of you looking for my normal Wednesday blog hop entry, sorry, I gave myself the gift of the week off. Stay tuned, I'll be back next week. In the meantime, may the holidays you celebrate be happy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Favorite Christmas Songs—Open Book Blog Hop

Welcome to another week of the Open Book Blog Hop. I hope you're staying warm, or dry, or comfortable depending upon what part of the world you're in. Here in the American West, it's windy and snowing and I'm drinking a cup of hot chocolate as I type this. I'm not complaining—the snow helps me get in the Christmas mood.

When it comes to Christmas songs, I'm a total traditionalist. There's something special about several hundred otherwise bad voices joining together in a large old church and singing the songs of the season. Even though I'm far away now, the music resounds in my heart.

Silent Night is probably the first Christmas song I remember singing. Sure, i couldn't hit the high notes, but that didn't matter. Neither could any of my sisters. As I got older, My voice got better, and the song was no longer a challenge. Now that I've gotten really old, my voice has lost it's flexibility, and the song is again a challenge.

I was part of my high school chorus, and we always did special Christmas presentations. One of the hardest songs we sang was Oh, Holy Night. Our director had a hard time finding a male voice to handle the high notes. But here's a version of the song that I think is the perfect rendition.

Another favorite of mine is Joy to the World. Such a simple sentiment, but so powerful. I know not everyone is happy at Christmastime, but I'd like everyone to find one little piece of joy on the heart. And the song just expresses joy in its melody, even without the words.

But I also like non-religious songs. Who can resist singing along with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Jingle Bells?

But I think one of my favorite songs is one that's almost impossible to sing by yourself.  Carol of the Bells can't be done right by a solo voice.

Tell us about your favorite Christmas song in the comments.  And to find out what songs Kelly Williams likes, visit her blog HERE. You can find her books on Amazon on her author page K. Williams

Blue Honor :Blue Honor tracks four tightly twining families during the American Civil War. Each member is asked to sacrifice more than their share to see friends and loved ones through the terrible times. The only certainty they have is that nothing will be the same.

Emily Conrad is the bookish daughter of a wealthy dairy family from Vermont. Her indulgent father has educated her and bred ideas that aren’t acceptable to her more urbane mother, who thinks Emily needs to settle down with her longtime friend and town philanderer Evan Howell. The outbreak of war frees Emily from these expectations for a time, but a stranger soon arrives after the guns begin to blaze, threatening her plans more than societal conventions ever could.

Devoted to the young woman who healed her wounds, Henrietta has become part of the Conrad family, hoping that she may one day see her husband and son again. As a runaway slave, she’s been lucky enough to find this slice of peace in Vermont, but the return of Evan Howell and the man he brings with him portends great change that might see her locked back in irons, if not executed for what she’s done.

Evan isn’t as bad as his reputation has made him out to be. He knows his chum Emily will make the best doctor Vermont has ever seen, and he knows he’s not the man to marry her. With a little manipulation, he convinces his commanding officer, Lieutenant Joseph Maynard, to take leave with him and see the beauty of the north. He just doesn’t let on it’s not hillsides and streams he’s setting the man up for.

Joseph has both power and privilege as the son of a Baltimore lawyer, but neither can guarantee him the things he wants in life. His commission in the army is likely to lead to death, a sacrifice he was willing to make to end slavery in the States—that was until he saw Emily Conrad. Torn between duty and desire, Joseph struggles to stay standing for that which he once held strong convictions. War weary, they all march on to duty…

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

New release—The Donor

I'm tickled to welcome Stevie Turner to my blog, along with her new release. Her new women’s fiction novel ‘The Donor’ was published yesterday, and has a sibling rivalry / rockstar theme. Stevie usually writes about peculiar subjects that aren’t often covered by mainstream authors, and adds in a touch of humour here and there. To find out more about Stevie, please visit her website and check out her ‘About Me’ page by clicking on the link below:

Synopsis of The Donor:
When you know you have met the love of your life, the last thing you expect is for your sister to lure him away. Clare Ronson is faced with this scenario when her sister Isabel marries singer and guitarist Ross Tyler. To compound Clare’s jealousy and bitterness, Ross hits the big time and becomes a wealthy tax exile, relocating to France with his family. Clare cannot bring herself to speak to Isabel or Ross for the next 30 years. However, when tragedy occurs in 2002 causing Ross to arrive back in England at Clare’s doorstep, Clare must try to put the past behind her for her sister’s sake.
Goodreads review by LaDonna

LaDonna rated it 5 of 5 stars

The author provided me an ARC of this book for a honest review and to see if I felt it fit the criteria for "rockstar romance" for a blog I run dedicated to that genre. I felt it did, though it isn't your typical rockstar romance. This book will take you on an emotional rollercoaster, and admittedly most of those emotions will be of the darker kind.

Once upon a time, Clare is very close to her older sister Izzy, and adores/idolized her in that way that only little sisters can. As a very naïve you
The author provided me an ARC of this book for a honest review and to see if I felt it fit the criteria for "rockstar romance" for a blog I run dedicated to that genre. I felt it did, though it isn't your typical rockstar romance. This book will take you on an emotional rollercoaster, and admittedly most of those emotions will be of the darker kind.

Once upon a time, Clare is very close to her older sister Izzy, and adores/idolized her in that way that only little sisters can. As a very naïve young woman in 1970, Clare goes to a big rock festival. This American reader could really only tie it to the endless stories of Woodstock I have heard, being just slightly younger than that generation, but I realize festivals of the like were going on across the pond as well. Anyway, that is the picture I have in my mind of the festival she attended, and at the end of several days, Clare has lost her friends and is dirty, exhausted, hungry and broke. An Adonis of a man steps in and offers her an apple, and companionship back home. He is quite fond of the waif, and calls upon her to date whilst he is determined to make it in his band. He puts up with the obvious dislike of her father, and her virginal antics. She has quickly fallen in love with him, and he is quite smitten with her as well, until one night her sister decides to join them for one of his gigs.

To Ross' credit, he never had any intention of hurting Clare, but when he met Izzy, the stars aligned and he knew he had met his soulmate. Likewise, Izzy had never meant to upset her sister, but who can deny true love. No one expected Clare to be as hurt as she was, or to hold a grudge for so long.

Life goes on as it is apt to do; tragedies, joys, and all the other little moments that make up a life pass by. Ross' band hits the big time very quickly, as well as Izzy's first pregnancy and their marriage. Clare refuses to have anything to do with any of it, hanging on to hatred for her sister for having the life she was sure was destined to be hers. Clare does go on to marry a perfectly suitable man, has 2 children with him, and by all accounts a pretty nice life with him. She tells him early on that she has an irreparable rift with her sister, but never tells him the reason why.

Izzy has always tried to keep tabs on her sister but Clare simply has not allowed it, even turning away when they once ran into one another and Izzy tried to introduce her to her niece. 30 years go by, and tragedy forces Izzy to contact Clare. Clare's husband reads the note and encourages Clare to acknowledge Izzy's plea, but Clare tears up the letter and ignores it. Not until Ross arrives at her door does she consider listening and doing what her sister needs. Here is where the story really came together for me. The senselessness of hate and holding on to a grudge, not to mention basically a teenage dream, for all those years, to finally realized how quickly life passes us by and how many precious moments simply cannot ever be replaced. There are so many unexpected twists and turns after Ross arrives, and so much depth to the amount of lives touched by this rift that seems so silly in retrospect. This story touched me on so many levels, and I hope that you will give it a chance to soak into your heart and mind as well.

Very highly recommended for anyone that realizes life doesn't always hand us a happily ever after, at least not in the way we think it should.

CHAPTER 1 - 1970

Life as I know it is definitely starting to be a bit of a drag, due to the fact that I’ve been awake now for 3 days and nights on Desolation Hill. I am finished, kaput. Thank God it’s the last day, that’s all I can say.
I yawn for the umpteenth time and watch in a kind of stupor as the fences are torn down. Ruth jumps up excitedly and decides that she wants to try and get nearer the stage. I watch her treading unconcerned over zombie-like bodies lying comatose and frying in the heat of the late August afternoon, and try to summon up enough strength to follow her. But by then, hungrier and more tired than I have ever been, I am faced with the certainty that all I really want to do is to go home. Bands have started to merge one into the other, but I know I’ll have to face a ribbing from Ruth if I set off without first having tried to get nearer the stage if only to feast one weary eye on the hunk of masculinity that is Paul Rogers while there is still some good daylight left.
I force my body to move, performing a quick recce around what has transformed in three days from arable farmland into a nuclear fallout zone contained in some kind of human landfill site. I cannot see Ruth, but I stumble on regardless. Somewhere out there my friend has become lost in a sea of 500,000 faces; just another flower-bedecked hippie indistinguishable from the masses.
Far away on the horizon I can see a speck holding a microphone stand up above his head; Paul Rogers is holding the crowd in the palm of his hand, and I am missing it. Behind him on the low stage, long hair flying in the sultry air, Paul Kossoff, six string shredder extraordinaire, is ripping into the solo for ‘All Right Now.’
I cannot make my legs walk another step. I yawn. Infuriatingly I still seem to be on Desolation Hill as far as I can make out. Sighing with fatigue, I slump down on the grass where I stand, close my eyes, and listen to the hubbub around me. My long hair feels like a heavy blanket on my back; I desperately want something to eat, I need a bath, and I ache for my mum to be fussing around me like she does when I am sick.
“Hey babe, have some of this.”
I am startled by a voice very close to my ear. I open my eyes again and look to my left to see what only can be described as a bronzed, blond Adonis, with long fair curls stretching down over his shoulders. He is stripped to the waist apart from a small rucksack on his back, and wears frayed pale-blue Levi shorts and a pair of well-worn ‘Jesus creeper’ sandals. He squats down beside me and holds out a lighted spliff.
“It’ll take away the pain.”
I consider myself to be in extremis, soon to be engulfed in the Grim Reaper’s arms. There is no way out except death. I take a huge drag and retch as the sweet fumes of cannabis grab the back of my throat.
“Thanks.” I cough. “I think.”
“Woh!” Adonis laughs into the sun. “Easy! You’re not used to it, I can tell.”
“Is it that obvious?” I want my head to stop spinning. “I’ve come to the end of my rope. A spliff won’t do any harm now.” I take another drag.
“I think I’ll take it back actually.” Adonis prises the joint from my fingers. “Are you hungry?”
“Starving.” I nod, with eyes trying to close. “All I’ve got left is my hovercraft ticket back to Southsea.”
“And you can’t eat that.” Adonis attacks the spliff with expertise, puffing out a cloud of aromatic smoke. “I’ll see what I’ve got left in my rucksack.”
Keeping the spliff between the index and middle finger of his left hand, with one poetic swoop of his right shoulder he dislodges the rucksack’s straps, opens it up and looks inside, bringing out a slightly dented but still crisp-looking Golden Delicious apple and handing it to me.
“My mum’s always on at me to eat more roughage.”
Laughing, I feast my eyes on the apple, which in my famished state seems to have taken on the proportions of a gargantuan banquet.
“If you’re sure.” I cannot help but take it. “I’ve eaten nothing since yesterday. Somebody stole what was left of my food. It’s too far to walk to try and buy some, and anyway, I’ve no money left.”
“It’s every man for himself, here.” Adonis nods. “What’s your name?”
“Clare.” I bite into pure nectar. “Clare Ronson. How about you?”
“Hi Clare, I’m Ross Tyler.” Adonis holds out his hand. “I hitchhiked from Ryde on Friday with a mate from college, who was last seen yesterday trying to find somewhere private to take a crap.”
Juice from the apple runs down my chin and I wipe it away with my left hand, shake Ross’s hand with the other, and smile up at him.
“You’re a lifesaver, Ross. I came here with a friend as well, but maybe she met up with your mate. I haven’t seen her for a few hours now.”
“Looks like it’s us two against the world then.” Ross slings the rucksack back over his shoulder. “I’m on my way up the hill; going to hitchhike back to Ryde and get a chance on the hovercraft before this lot set off. Coming?”
I’ve had enough. My knight in Jesus creepers has materialised and is standing right in front of me. Not one for wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, and fortified by the sweet fruit, I nod and get to my feet.
“Yes; I want to go home.”
Paul Rogers is giving it all he’s got. Taking one last look at the stage and wondering if we would ever see the like of it again, I grab my saviour’s outstretched hand and we begin to thread our way between the bodies and mounds of detritus, back up Desolation Hill and over Afton Down, eventually descending onto the Military Road. Crowds of young people have the same idea, and we all saunter along amiably in the late afternoon heat, in no rush to get off the Island, and unaware that we are part of history in the making. In front of us are two girls holding hands; one is naked except for a pair of pink knickers, and the other is bare from the waist down.
“Looks like those two have fared worse than you.” Ross smirks.
I am stoned on cannabis fumes, lack of sleep, hunger, and a definite animal attraction for my new-found friend. It matters to me not one jot that female flesh usually kept under wraps is now exposed to the stares of all and sundry. Presently the girls slope off and join many other festival-goers, washing off the dirt from Desolation Hill in the choppy waters of Freshwater Bay. I smile at Ross as we trudge along Military Road, copying him and raising my thumb some time later as crowds begin to thin out and the odd car can be seen driving past us on the way to maybe Brook Green or further on into Niton or Newport.
“Who in their right mind is going to give us a lift?” I panic while wondering just how much further I can walk. “Look at the state of us. How many miles is it to Ryde from here? Can’t we wait for a bus?”
“About twenty.” Comes the cheerful reply. “I’m skint, the same as you. It’s hitching or Shanks’s pony.”
My affable, blond Adonis is prepared to traipse into the night to reach his destination. It’s all I can do to keep up with his long, loping strides. The buzz from the apple wears off around Compton Bay, and I want to cry.
“Cheer up, babe.”
Ross winks and puts his arm around me. The effect is galvanising and instantly spurs me on. I gaze up into his pale blue eyes, and his nearness causes a pleasant throbbing sensation in my groin. I have never seen such beauty in a man before. I am certain I haven’t seen him at Uni.
“Which University are you at?” I find myself looking down in the direction of his groin as we walk.
“Not Uni; Portsmouth Art College.” Ross holds his fist up and jerks his thumb at passing cars. “How about you?”
“The Uni; not far from there though. Reading English; I want to be a teacher. Do you think you’ll be a famous painter then?”
“Don’t know.” Ross shrugs and fondles the hair at the back of my neck. “But I’m having a ball finding out.”
It’s not until we walk past Compton Bay and head towards Brook Green that a van stops next to us. Ross is still pointing his thumb in the vague direction of Newport, but I have long ago given up, and am just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. I hear Ross speak to the driver who is on his way to Bembridge, and to my great delight he beckons us into the cab and agrees to drop us off along the seafront at Ryde. The van has three seats at the front. I let Ross go in first, who chats amiably to the driver most of the way I think. Me, I put my head on Ross’s shoulder and am asleep before the van has even pulled away.