Tag Archives: Winter Holidays

Remembering the Year

Remembering the Year

A Guest-Post by Scott Burtness, author of the horror-comedy novel, “Wisconsin Vamp.”

New Year’s Eve has always been one of my favorite holidays, but I also think it loses something when you turn twenty-one. While it can be a helluva good time, New Year’s Eve after turning 21 tends to be pretty myopic in focus. Forgotten are the experiences of the past year and the hopes and plans for the new one. Suddenly, it’s all about the amount of alcohol you can pack away in one night to justify the exorbitant cover charge you paid to get in the door and, if you stay just the right amount of not-too-drunk, that midnight kiss from a pretty (you hope) stranger. As goals go, those two aren’t particularly lofty and really do a disservice to what celebrating the new year should be about. What good is a New Year’s celebration if all you think about is that one single, solitary night?

After college, I moved from Minneapolis, MN to Chicago, IL. My first New Year’s in Chicago was about what you’d expect. I drank, danced, laughed, spent way too much money, cavorted on the train, threw up in an alley, and woke up with a massive hangover and cheap champagne stains on my shirt. The next year, I had landed a gig tending bar at a trendy joint in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, and was more than happy to work on New Year’s Eve. It kept me on the sane side of the bar, away from the craziness happening just a few feet away. For the next four consecutive New Year’s Eves, I watched people party 1999 style, kicked them out at bar close, cleaned up, restocked, counted my tips, grabbed a late-night gyro or burrito, headed home and passed out on my futon. I never spent much time thinking about the night itself. Rather, the thought that would go through my mind before slipping into sleep was, “I can’t wait until tomorrow.”

See, growing up, my family had a tradition. On the first day of the new year, we’d go out for dinner as a family. My parents were, um… Hmmm. I think ‘frugal’ is the polite way of stating it. We didn’t eat out much, but January 1st merited a meal on the town. That alone made January 1st a noteworthy occurrence. Some years, it was pure Americana – a Perkins or Denny’s or Embers. Other years, we’d go crazy-exotic like La Casita Mexican or the Dragon House for Chinese. Hey, cut us some slack. We’re talking about suburban Minnesota in the eighties and early-nineties, not the East Village in New York or San Fran’s Mission District. We did the best we could with the tools at hand.

We would enjoy a good meal, but any conversation was restricted to the meal at hand. There was no discussion of the previous night, the previous week, or any time prior to arriving at the restaurant. Only after we’d packed away our dinner would my dad let the real event begin.

“So…,” he’d say. “What happened this year?”

And that was all it took. My sister and I would climb all over each other trying to see who could remember more things – what grade we’d received in what class, the best school event or some particularly spectacular shenanigans with the neighborhood kids the previous summer. Meanwhile, my parents would chime in with memories of grown-up things. My dad starting his own business, my mom getting a job at the local elementary school. One year, it was the new car. Another year (the one in which I’d turned sixteen), it was the car I had crashed. If it was one of the rare years that’d we’d been able to take a family vacation, memories and stories from the trip would dominate the conversation. Yellowstone the year it was on fire. St. Petersburg, FL when I was thirteen. Tucson, AZ one Christmas when I was in high school and my parents were fed up with winter.

We’d go around the table, sharing memories, some big, some small, but all important or meaningful in their own way. If someone remembered something that the others had forgotten, the rest would oooh and aaah and then start to pepper in their own recollections as they came back. One-upping was highly encouraged and richly rewarded with approving nods and smiles, or even an, “I’m impressed you remembered that!” golf clap. Those New Year’s Day dinners and remembrances are some of my fondest memories from my childhood.

Years later in Chicago, I’d kick-out the drunks, close down the bar, grab my late night dinner, head back to my crummy little studio apartment, collapse onto my futon, and think, “I can’t wait until tomorrow.” See, I usually didn’t have enough money to travel home for Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years. There were more than a few years when I could barely afford to make it down the street on a city bus, much less make it back home, even for a holiday. But on January 1st, I’d call home. Dad would answer, we’d trade pleasantries about how crummy winter was, how my jobs were going. Mom would usually chime in from the background, asking if I was getting enough to eat. And then my dad would say,

“So, what happened this year?”

And that was all it took.

***

Wisconsin VampScott Burtness lives in Minneapolis, MN with his wife, Liz and their boxer-pitt, Frank. When he isn’t writing horror-comedy novels about a vampire that likes to drink beer, bowl and sing karaoke, Scott enjoys drinking beer, bowling and singing karaoke.

His novel, “Wisconsin Vamp” is available on Amazon.com:

For random randomness and updates on the soon-to-be-release second book in the Monsters in the Midwest series,

Follow Scott on Twitter: @SWBauthor
Find Scott on Facebook: www.facebook.com/SWBauthor
Read his “Not Even Remotely Helpful for Authors” blog on Goodreads: www.goodreads.coom/SWBauthor

… or drop by some bowling alleys or karaoke bars in the Midwest.

~*~

Scott is going to be the final participant in series of Winter Holiday-themed guest posts I’m sharing on my blog this year… not just because the year is up at midnight, but that’s a pretty good reason all by itself 🙂

Happy New Year everyone!

So, what happened this year?

A Very Virna Christmas

A Very Virna Christmas

By Virginia Carraway Stark

This short story is from my universe of Carnival Fun. Virna Grant is my alter ego, who I feel I would be if I gave into my every weakness and flaw. The Novel Carnival Fun has also been performed as a play and has received attention to be made into a movie as well.

It’s always hard to say what will happen in Virna’s world though and everything is seen through the twisted spectre of funhouse mirrors.

You can find out more about this and other worlds at www.starklightpress.com and www.gafmainframe.com as well as finding Starklight Press on Facebook and at www.ihavememory.wordpress.com

 

The cookies were definitely a little burned around the edges, especially the Christmas trees.

This was a consequence of trying to do things myself.

I had let the help off for Christmas this year. Well, Bruce had let them off. The truth wasn’t that he was doing it out of the goodness of his heart (although the bonus he gave them made up for his self-serving motives in my opinion), but that he wanted to have a party with Eric and their ‘alternative’ friends and didn’t want too much gossip to get around town after the brandy and eggnog started to flow and people forgot that they weren’t supposed to be couples.

I hadn’t thought twice about the idea when my husband had first brought up the idea and I was happy to brush off my dusty home maker skills to have a Christmas dinner and all the goodies made by myself. Eric had offered to help me with the baking but then he and Bruce had gone to decorate the sitting room and decorate the tree. The servants had brought the large Donner pine in before being dismissed for the holiday. They would return New Year’s Eve when they would orchestrate a more traditional and public party- and of course help us clean up from Christmas. By my calculations we should all be recovered from Bruce’s party but the house would doubtless still be a disaster.

Disaster wasn’t quite the word for my gingerbread cookies. They weren’t firm at the edges like how I thought they should be and they kind of trailed off in a vague way. The word ‘puddle’ stirred distressingly in my mind. The were Christmas tree puddles, and they looked like they had only barely survived a forest fire from the singes. Icing would cover it up and Bruce and Eric and their friends probably wouldn’t notice that they weren’t perfect if I brought them out later in the night…

Then it occurred to me.

I would be spending the entire party fetching trays, getting hot and sweaty and being utterly ignored by almost everyone. It was too much to bear and I felt my skin prickling with anger and my lips purse.

I stormed out of the kitchen and then remembered I didn’t have anything to drink and so I stormed back in and poured myself a small glass of cherry brandy and drank it. My skin prickling faded as the healthier flush of the booze took over. I steadied myself by pouring another glass. I searched through some drawers for some pills to take as a chaser.

I felt better as the warmth of the pills spread through me with the brandy and I stormed out of the kitchen with a clearer idea of how I would distribute my frustration at being so insultingly put into the role of servant to my husband and his gay lover. What was I thinking?

I hadn’t been thinking and neither had been Bruce and Eric. W were all just feeling frustrated by being so inhibited and wanted to be with some of the people who also hid their lifestyle choices to please their parents, get inheritances or just fit in with society. None of us had been thinking and now I was stuck with being the Martha of the Christmas party. I found Bruce and Eric adjusting a garland in the living room and I threw myself down on the divan with my drink, glowering at them while Bruce hopped down from the ladder and came over to give me a kiss on the cheek.

“Whatever you’re doing in the kitchen, it smells delicious, my dear.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing in the kitchen, I haven’t done anything except heat up soup in the kitchen or make some toast for about a year.”

“Well, it must be a nice change then to have the place to yourself.”

I pouted but I wasn’t quite up to throwing a full tantrum yet. Eric finished what he was doing and took my glass from my hand, sniffed it and then refilled it with more cherry brandy and kissed my forehead as he gave it to me. His eyes were filled with the knowledge of why I was upset even though Bruce was still happily oblivious to my potential tantrum.

That was part of the problem. I liked Eric. In some ways I liked him even more than I liked Bruce. We had conversations that would last all night sometimes while Bruce would be more interested in going out for a jog or playing sports or doing his own researches. Bruce was happy being Bruce and I was not happy being me and only Eric seemed to see anything of how I was feeling in all this.

How wonderful it had seemed to be given so much freedom in a marriage, to be able to give my affections to anyone I wanted, so long as we kept the gossip down to a minimum of course, to not have a husband who was interested in me physically but only in my intellect and my company and my presence on his arm. It was hard not to have someone look at me the way Bruce and Eric looked at each other. This soiree of their was making me even more of the third wheel that I really and truly was in this ridiculous parody of a marriage.

“The servants already gossip, who cares what they say. Call them back and make them do this. I don’t want to.”

Bruce looked at me in bewilderment and Eric studiously adjusted some ornaments in a box.

“Virna, you aren’t making any sense. We can’t have this sort of gossip going around town. The firm would be sure to hear about it and they might even take it seriously.”

I folded my arms. “Well, then call the party off. I don’t want a party.”

“Well, I do want a party and the invitations have gone out and the R.S.V.P’s returned.”

His tenderness had turned off like a switch and he was irritated with me. His mouth was doing that pouting thing that some days made me feel like holding him like he was my own small child and other times made me feel like punishing him into a less self-indulgent man.

Today was the a case of the latter.

Eric turned back to us. He opened his mouth and closed it. I wished he would just talk. He was often so shy and I knew that he was in an even worse position in many ways than I was.

Eric was a lawyer with another firm and while Bruce was secure as a married man, Eric was still a bachelor and older than Bruce. With his gentle manners and quiet voice he had only his dignity to stave off the gossip that inevitably circulated about unmarried men who weren’t frequently seen with pretty young things dangling off of their arms. He maintained an apartment where he ‘lived’ separately but he only used the place when he was forced to entertain. Eric didn’t really have a life of his own, he was more like me in that way, just a satellite orbiting Bruce’s life. Wee both only influencing the tides while he held us in his gravity.

I drank my cherry brandy and wondered how much I was willing to fight with Bruce about the party.

“It’s not really fair to expect Virna to handle all of the catering, Bruce. There were a lot more RSVPs than any of us expected. Perhaps we could ask Brian and Jeffrey to help out. They are more than sympathetic and they both love to cook.”

Bruce was annoyed with me and I could see that he had a moment of sheer rejection of the idea and then Eric put a gently hand on Bruce’s shoulder, one finger gently tracing along his hairline. I watched the tension drain from Bruce and he smiled and nodded.

“Sure, sure, give them a call, there’s no reason not to,” Bruce kissed my cheek and went back to his garland. Eric gave me a wink and returned to helping Bruce.

I finished my brandy in a swig and decided that I could still feel up to decorating the cookies when they cooled. I thought it would be a long stretch to see that I felt included but at least I didn’t feel ostracized.

I would call Brian and see if he and Jeffrey could help out. They were nice and I got along with Brian’s wife who was in a similar position to me but had been doing it for much longer. Anna had a stream of seemingly younger and younger men on her arm every time I saw her. I thought I’d be up to making some eggnog too- my own Mother’s recipe- she had had her cross to bear in life as well although it was much different from my own. I could still recall her serenely drinking it with pale hands that trembled even though her lips smiled.

Bruce and Eric were my family and it was Christmas. My own pale fingers trembled withn the cherry brandy and its small yellow chasers and the pent up tears that I had no right to shed. There were beautiful presents for me under the tree and my husband loved me, even if he had never loved me. Really, I had nothing to complain about as I made my face serene and stirred the nutmeg into the eggnog.

 

**

Virginia Carraway Stark is a Canadian author and screenwriter who lives in British Columbia, Canada. Her scripts have been made into movies (BlindEYE and Truth and Wine) and online podcasts (Candid Shots of the VPD). Virginia has written several dozen well-researched blog articles about cutting edge biochemistry and health topics for wellness websites and pubmed.com. In addition, she promotes the remarkable turnaround of the African country Rwanda with My Rwandaful Blog, where she educates readers about everything from mountain gorillas to murderous lakes.

Currently, Virginia is editor in chief at StarkLight Press, a leading Canadian publishing house devoted to science and speculative fiction. She promoted her new novel, Dalton’s Daughter, as well as her short story anthology Tales from Space, at VCON (Vancouver Science Fiction Convention) this year to great acclaim. In addition to introducing VCON audiences to her alien race the Gendlers, Virginia also picked up her Aurora Award Nominee Pin.

Both aforementioned works center around the Galactic Armed Forces Science Fiction Universe, the immersive and open-ended worldscape loved by fans all over the world. Virginia Carraway Stark is co- creator of this universe, and co-editor of its online incarnation the GAF Mainframe.

Virginia has also written stories for StarkLight Volumes 1, 2 and 3. These fascinating anthologies compile the winners of StarkLight Press’ short story contests, which are open to first time, fresh authors from all over the world.

In between writing projects, Virginia finds time to record excerpts from StarkLight Press’ catalogue on YouTube and runs online writing and poetry workshops. She resides with her husband in the country, where they are surrounded by several dogs, waterfowl and a small herd of goats.

Websites:

www.starklightpress.com

www.ihavememory.wordpress.com

www.myrwandafulblog.wordpress.com

about.me/virginia_carraway

www.gafmainframe.com

Our Annual Christmas Movie

This week for Fae-tastic Friday we’re going to do something a little different. For the month of December I invited friends and readers to share their favourite winter holiday traditions here on my blog. Fae contributor, Laura VanArendonk Baugh is one of the people who took me up on that offer. For Fae-tastic Friday this week, let’s learn a little bit about how she celebrates Christmas:

Our Annual Christmas Movie

by Laura VanArendonk Baugh

Photo credit: Wikipedia --> http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:It%27s_A_Wonderful_Life.jpg
Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nearly every year of my life, my immediate family has gathered on Christmas Eve, invited friends and pseudo-adopted family, eaten ourselves silly on shrimp and brownies and cheese balls and red and green M&Ms, and watched It’s a Wonderful Life.

“That old hack of a film? Really?” you ask.

If you asked it silently to yourself, read on, and I’ll explain. If you asked aloud, there’s the door over there. We don’t argue about It’s a Wonderful Life.

No, it’s not a perfect film, and yes, it’s been parodied so often that many people can’t see the original story for itself any more. That doesn’t matter. If you need a fresh perspective, go look at the complete miniature village of Bedford Falls all lit and sparkling near the tree. “Merry Christmas, movie house!”

It’s a story about a man enslaved to duty, bound to his family by love and his job by honor, feeling trapped and resenting not the people but the circumstances. It’s about finding the delightful and unexpected in the commonplace, where the girl you ignore on the street everyday can be the gorgeous girl of your dreams when you finally notice. It’s about giving up your youthful dreams and yet finding joy in the life you’ve made.

It's a Wonderful Life
On my mother’s Chistmas tree. (Photo credit: Melissa Heigl)

And it was allegedly Jimmy Stewart’s favorite film, too, and who can argue with that?

It was a relative flop, fairly unknown until its copyright expired and it became cheap fodder for television stations seeking seasonal filler — a miracle both in script and real life. The film slipped around the contemporary Hays Code (that #*&%@! Potter never gets punished), provided the names of friends Bert and Ernie for generations of happy Sesame Street fans, and managed to make a hero of a man who screamed at his children while smashing the house.

It's a Wonderful Life
It’s a Wonderful Life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s good for writers, that way — we see George Bailey save his brother’s life (losing his hearing) and the life of an unknown boy (taking a beating in front of the girl who likes him), give his college funds away, give his honeymoon funds away, and save the town’s only independent financial institution at the cost of his own dreams, so by the time he’s breaking stuff and shouting, we’re on his side, because we know what it costs him.

But who cares about story technique? We’re watching the movie. And it means Christmas lights and carols and food and friends and family, and while I’m not usually bound to tradition, this is one tradition I refuse to give up.

And if any philistines watch the colorized version, I shall banish them to Potter’s Field (the best-named housing development ever, I suspect).

There are other Christmas and seasonal movies I love, too, but It’s a Wonderful Life is our family’s signature film.

What’s yours?

***

Laura was born at a very early age and never looked back. She overcame childhood deficiencies of having been born without teeth or developed motor skills, and by the time she matured into a recognizable adult she had become a behavior analyst, an internationally-recognized and award-winning animal trainer, a popular costumer/cosplayer, a chocolate addict, and of course a writer. Find her at www.LauraVanArendonkBaugh.com

Merry Giftmas!

December 2014 issue of Niteblade. Art by Marge Simon, cover design by Jonathan Parrish.

Merry Giftmas!

I wanted to offer all my blog readers a gift of some sort today but I couldn’t decide what, then it came to me, the perfect solution. Niteblade!

Niteblade is only partway to our sales/donation goal. Once we reached that goal we would release the web-based version of the latest issue free for everyone to read… but if I were to release it early, well, that would be a gift for all my readers, all Niteblade’s readers and all the contributors to Niteblade whose work will be readily available to be read. Win/win/win!

So Merry Giftmas. On behalf of myself and everyone at Niteblade, I’m pleased to announce the latest issue is available to read online now. Enjoy! (Or, since it’s Christmas, maybe bookmark it to enjoy later!

Learning and Sharing Compassion

This year I invited people to share their Christmas traditions on my blog. Virginia is one of the contributors to this effort who went above and beyond in her sharing. What follows is an extremely personal story that may just touch your heart. I know it touched mine. Thank you for sharing it with us, Virginia!

My Christmas Tradition: Learning and Sharing Compassion

By Virginia Carraway Stark

Every holiday season I am very aware of the expectation of the holidays. Whether I am having a large Christmas or a small one, if I am on the road travelling, in a foreign country or in my own home, I am aware that it is the expectation that I have of compassion and sharing and togetherness that is of the prime import.

This is my own Christmas miracle that happened when I was a child. I try to pay it forward anytime I can to people I see struggling during the holidays. I’m not a saint but the belief in the kindness of our fellow humans is what we all really want to be at the heart of our holiday season.

I learned to have compassion for my mother’s failings during the events of one Christmas family dinner and I’ve tried my whole life to be aware that everyone has a story that explains their failings ever since. It’s become the heart of not only my holiday season but my approach to dealing with real life people and the people I write into reality as well. This is from my memoirs: ‘I Have Memory’ that is slowly being published on my blogspot: ihavememory.wordpress.com

There were a lot of things like that with my mother but the hard thing was the big incident that taught me how arms’ length I would have to be with her. It was only after I understood how she felt about her own abuse and her mother that I forgave her for that Incident. It’s easy to get confused with abuse and easier still to lash out at others and she didn’t have my ability to focus on the positive. She was the opposite of me in that way… to her the world was darkness and despair.

She had a good heart though, she had a wonderful openness to her and it was mischance and ill fortune that every choice she made with love in her heart went badly for her.

You see, she had wanted to get away from her dad more than anything else in life when she was a girl.

He wasn’t like my Dad- her father was unpredictable. My Dad had rules and if you obeyed the rules you wouldn’t be disciplined. There were a lot of rules but I took it as a challenge and I regarded it as a deep failure on my part if I was unable to remember them all or was physically unable to meet up with them. I would push myself to the point of unconsciousness rather than fail my dad while I had a drop of strength left in me.

Her dad, Dennis, was like a pot that’s on the back of the stove of life and is constantly boiling over. You could try to keep the burner set to low but the least little thing would set him off. I recall one family Christmas Eve going to his house, the table was set with margarine and butter. Dennis asked for the butter and someone (I think it was my brother) passed him the margarine instead.

I feel I should also mention at this point that both butter and margarine were unlabelled and were little squares of nearly identical yellow grease.

They were slightly different yellows and that was the only difference as they each sat on little cut crystal plates. Of course, for a normal person, getting the margarine instead of the butter would be the smallest of incidents, but not for my grandad.

He took the saucer, started to slice of a wafer of margarine and, muttering something that I think was, ‘that’s not butter’.

He picked up the outed margarine and threw it across the dining room and then threw the crystal plate behind him like a discus as he stood to his feet and hit the table with his rising lap and knocked over his chair behind him. He started to roar and rage. He ranted about ‘idiots’ who couldn’t tell the difference between margarine and butter while throwing plates and turkey around the dining room.

My Dad scooped me up in his arms and my mom grabbed my brother by the shoulders and they evacuated us as quickly as they could to the truck. My mom held onto my brother and my brother clutched me while our brave dad went back into the house amidst the sound of breaking china and incoherent ragings and extricated all of our presents.

The truck was full of presents and it was Christmas. We weren’t going to enjoy the tree, we weren’t going to have the rest of our dinner. Dad drove us to a motel and held my mom while she cried. I remember the two of them, sitting in the window of a cheap motel, him perched on the arm of the chair while my mom wept exhausted and ashamed tears. Dad helped her to the bed where she passed out and then he left without barely a word to my brother or me.

Leonard and I sat together in the window. He was kind to me that day, he was very impressionable and I noticed that he usually treated me as an exact replica of how he saw my dad treat my mom on a moment by moment basis. We talked a bit about what had happened but mostly we thought about all the presents in the back of the truck getting covered by snow. He held me the way he saw dad hold mom and we sat in the window watching the growing snowflakes until we fell asleep in the chair.

I’m not sure of when my dad returned, but when we woke up we saw a Christmas miracle.

There was a little scrawny Christmas tree on the coffee table in front of the window and the presents from the truck were mounded up around us to nearly fill the hotel room. Some of them were damp from snow but we didn’t mind. There was a little tinsel on the tree even though there weren’t any other decorations and there as the smell of fried chicken and cranberry sauce in the hotel room.

It wasn’t an ideal Christmas but it was the sort of magic that my dad could make happen when he wanted to. Sitting on the hotel bed as a family and eating take out food we all laughed at grandpa the way people always laugh at the monsters that scare them. Leonard had a bruise on his face where something grandpa had thrown had hit him and he imitated grandpa’s anger after seeing Dad do it. Mom and I laughed as the two of them mugged angry faces and stormed around the room, throwing the wrapping paper that we had left all over the room as though it were crystal plates.

We never went back to grandma and grandpa’s house for Christmas dinner ever again after that. It was a relief because you never knew what would happen.

Dad rescued us all from it by simply saying, ‘That’s not the sort of Christmas I want for my family’.

When I think about Mom and the fact that she grew up with that man and there was no escape for her, then I learned compassion.

You can find more of Virginia’s memoirs at www.ihavememory.wordpress.com

**

Virginia Carraway Stark is a Canadian author and screenwriter who lives in British Columbia, Canada. Her scripts have been made into movies (BlindEYE and Truth and Wine) and online podcasts (Candid Shots of the VPD). Virginia has written several dozen well-researched blog articles about cutting edge biochemistry and health topics for wellness websites and pubmed.com. In addition, she promotes the remarkable turnaround of the African country Rwanda with My Rwandaful Blog, where she educates readers about everything from mountain gorillas to murderous lakes.

Currently, Virginia is editor in chief at StarkLight Press, a leading Canadian publishing house devoted to science and speculative fiction. She promoted her new novel, Dalton’s Daughter, as well as her short story anthology Tales from Space, at VCON (Vancouver Science Fiction Convention) this year to great acclaim. In addition to introducing VCON audiences to her alien race the Gendlers, Virginia also picked up her Aurora Award Nominee Pin.

Both aforementioned works center around the Galactic Armed Forces Science Fiction Universe, the immersive and open-ended worldscape loved by fans all over the world. Virginia Carraway Stark is co- creator of this universe, and co-editor of its online incarnation the GAF Mainframe.

Virginia has also written stories for StarkLight Volumes 1, 2 and 3. These fascinating anthologies compile the winners of StarkLight Press’ short story contests, which are open to first time, fresh authors from all over the world.

In between writing projects, Virginia finds time to record excerpts from StarkLight Press’ catalogue on YouTube and runs online writing and poetry workshops. She resides with her husband in the country, where they are surrounded by several dogs, waterfowl and a small herd of goats.

Websites:

www.starklightpress.com

www.ihavememory.wordpress.com

www.myrwandafulblog.wordpress.com

about.me/virginia_carraway

www.gafmainframe.com

The Long Dark

This month I’m sharing holiday-themed guest posts. Today’s post is a bit of fiction courtesy of Vanessa Ricci-Thode. Thank you Vanessa! 🙂

The Long Dark

 by Vanessa Ricci-Thode

Shemmer awoke in the middle of the night, cold and shivering, and a little disgruntled about having been woken. At least when she was asleep she didn’t really feel the cold. She pulled the blankets tighter around her and pulled her hat more firmly over her head. She didn’t know how Summer did this for months on end with little reprieve. She almost understood why her friend was still dating a monster—at least she was warm around him.

Shemmer inched herself a little closer to Summer, huddling against her in the long dark—the longest dark of the year—and wondering if maybe it wasn’t cold she was feeling, but a physical manifestation of her friend’s misery.

Can telepaths project thoughts and feelings as well as pick up on them?

But she realized now what had broken her tenuous hold on sleep. Summer was whimpering in her sleep, and Shemmer wondered if she’d stopped crying at all this night. In the faint starlight, she could just make out the lump of her friend next to her, still clutching that damn stuffy she’d bought for Aurora, hoping for a Yule miracle.

Shemmer wrestled her hands out from under the blanket, and fumbled through her mitts to turn on the battery-powered lamp next to her. It was set to dim, but still pushed away the deepest of the night’s shadows so that Shemmer could see more than just a lump beside her.

Summer turned over, facing Shemmer and the light, and rolled right into Shemmer, bumping her.

“Aurora?” Summer asked, her voice thick with sleep and pitiful with hope. She squinted herself awake, the hope in her voice carrying into her waking expression, but when her shielded gaze found Shemmer, the light went out of her eyes. There was a beat so still it was like the whole of time had ceased, and then Summer began to sob.

“I’m sorry,” Shemmer whispered. “Just a dream.”

She slid her arms around Summer as best she could, all too aware that her small size only mimicked the child her friend missed so desperately. Part of her wondered if her presence wasn’t somehow worse. But she simply could not leave Summer to her despair.

“I don’t think this darkness will ever end,” Summer lamented.

Shemmer squeezed her tighter and wished there was something more she could do. She knew the little girl was the light of Summer’s life. She hadn’t seen the two of them together as much as she would have liked, but Summer always seemed to shine when she was with the girl. Losing her seemed to have snuffed out Summer’s very soul.

The cold night pressed in around them, and Summer finally stilled. Shemmer was certain her friend was simply too exhausted to cry anymore, and Shemmer settled in to sleep, just beginning to drift off again, when she felt Summer get up. She watched on as Summer walked out onto the balcony, still clutching that stuffy—the only gift the impoverished woman had been able to afford.

This could get interesting.

Shemmer climbed to her feet and crept out into the night to stand with her friend in the long dark.

**

Vanessa is an author and editor whose life seldom strays from the world of books, especially during winter hibernation. Even her volunteer work revolves around the literary world, with involvement in the Editors’ Association of Canada, Canadian Authors Association, and regionally for National Novel Writing Month. She’s the author of two fantasy novels: Dragon Whisperer and After the Dragon Raid, both released through Iguana Books.
When she’s not being bookish, she’s into astronomy, hiking, kickboxing, gardening, “collecting” stunning national parks across the continent, and being a massive geek. She loves Halloween and hates to be cold. Vanessa lives in Waterloo with her husband, daughter, and three crazy dogs. To learn more, visit www.thodestool.com

The Christmas Cat

Christmas Cat

Guest Post by Beth Cato

As I grew up, my dad set an absolute rule: no cats in the house. My parents were pretty consistent about rules and expectations, but on this point my mom disagreed. She let us bring our beloved cats into the house, and feed them, and let them generally have the run of the place. The vital thing was that all evidence—the cats included—be outside before Dad came home from work. Dad was very strict. There was a looming fear that he would take the cats to the pound if we broke his edict.

Our outdoor cats were extremely well-behaved in their brief time indoors, especially our cat Adventure. Adventure was more like a sibling than a cat. He was a gentlecat, the very definition of regal. He did not walk. He strolled. He welcomed us home from school and escorted us to the door. His purr could be heard from rooms away. He loved being carried like a baby, or perched on a shoulder, or cuddling in a lap for hours on end. In the summer time, with me and my brother home all day, Adventure truly ruled the roost.

Which leads me into my Christmas story.

I always set up our artificial tree the day after Thanksgiving. We were always excited for that Monday after, for the official “blessing of the tree.” Adventure would amble inside, sniff all the lower branches, perhaps attempt to gnaw on one or two. He would then make a perfect nest on the white cotton blanket beneath the tree. He was like a perfect tabby pillow, formed into a cozy circle. We took pictures of him like this some years, and always took care that we developed the film and Dad never saw it.

I have always loved Christmas. I often started making crafts and buying gifts early in the year, so once the tree was up, I had ready things to wrap and place beneath the tree. I made sure that there was a space for Adventure to make his nest right among the presents.

One day, Dad arrived home from work. I can’t recall if he was early, or if we had simply been doing other things. But right away, we realized we had a problem.

“Did you get the cat?” Mom whispered.

“Did you get the cat?” I asked my brother.

“No, did you?” he asked.

Dad had walked right in the front door, with the tree and sleeping cat not two feet away, and passed right on by!

Dad went to the bedroom to change out of his work clothes. My brother yanked a very surprised, sleepy cat from under the tree, and I held the garage door open so they could make a quick exit.

Our beloved cat, always a gift and blessing, had appeared as just another present beneath the tree. For us, that was very much a Christmas miracle.


Beth Cato is the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER, a steampunk fantasy novel from Harper Voyager. Her short fiction is in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Daily Science Fiction. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat.

 

(The photo associated with this post on the front page of my blog is from https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/213617428/christmas-pet-hoodies)

The Balancing Act

This month on my blog I’m sharing holiday traditions, mine and other people’s as well. Today Vanessa shares what the holidays look like in her family 🙂

The Balancing Act

by Vanessa Ricci-Thode

Celebrating the winter holidays in my family is often like doing acrobatics on the tightrope, as we mix and blend friends and family, old traditions and new, religious elements with secularism, trying to keep our holiday true to our atheistic roots without spoiling the magic of the season for our little one (or ourselves, when you come right down to it).

It starts with the holiday letter that I draft up and send out to nearly five dozen friends and family members. I like to spend time with people. Quality time with loved ones is the best gift I can receive, but we all have busy lives, and some of my favourite people also live the farthest away. So I send a letter to them all as a substitute, shining a light into my life, sharing in the family’s activities.

Then, in early December, the lights go up on the house—just a few—and we head out to the tree farm to hunt down our very own Christmas tree. There’s cider and hot chocolate, and crafts to buy, cookies to eat, and a hay bale pyramid for the kids and kids-at-heart to climb. We decorate the tree as a family—even the dogs will get involved—and don’t forget the TARDIS ornament! There are the usual holiday parties with friends and colleagues, and the obligatory picture with Santa for my daughter (and sometimes the dogs). We hang stockings, one for everyone in the house (yes, dogs too!) and everyone gets something “from Santa” to delight in on Christmas morning.

Holiday family time begins, usually, on Christmas Eve when we attend my in-laws’ holiday party in Hamilton. Sometimes things start a little sooner, if I have family arriving from out of town to entertain. This year will be particularly interesting as my mother has just moved to our city, so our usual traditions will need some tweaking, and there will be a lot more family around this year.

On Christmas morning we check out our stockings while breakfast is being made. We’re a house of cereal eaters, so we have bacon and eggs or pancakes as a special treat Christmas morning. Then we dive into the presents, stockings first (yes, yes, the dogs too), those of us with holiday pyjamas are wearing them. Pictures are taken, gifts are enjoyed, and we spend the afternoon playing with our new toys and watching less than traditional Christmas movies. My favourites are Die Hard, Bad Santa, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. And then there’s always the Doctor Who Christmas Special.

For Christmas dinner, we pack up and head to my in-laws’ again, bringing presents for our nieces and nephew, and the kids all open more presents there and play and eat and generally have an excellent time. Drinks all around for the adults, and plenty of treats for all.

We top off the year with a family-friendly New Year’s Eve party at my friend’s house. Sometimes watching more Doctor Who, always eating and drinking some very tasty things with excellently geeky company.

**

Vanessa is an author and editor whose life seldom strays from the world of books, especially during winter hibernation. Even her volunteer work revolves around the literary world, with involvement in the Editors’ Association of Canada, Canadian Authors Association, and regionally for National Novel Writing Month. She’s the author of two fantasy novels: Dragon Whisperer and After the Dragon Raid, both released through Iguana Books.

When she’s not being bookish, she’s into astronomy, hiking, kickboxing, gardening, “collecting” stunning national parks across the continent, and being a massive geek. She loves Halloween and hates to be cold. Vanessa lives in Waterloo with her husband, daughter, and three crazy dogs. To learn more, visit www.thodestool.com

Yuletide, Goth Music and Biscotti

Yuletide, Goth Music and Biscotti

by C.S. MacCath

I love Yuletide; the presents, the homemade things, the parties. My husband Sean and I buy or make an ornament for each other every year, and I bake things of various complexity (I make a mean vegan biscotti – recipe below). This year, we’re also hosting an all night Yule party on the winter solstice, which I hope will become an annual tradition now that we’re settled in Cape Breton.

I also love Yuletide Carols, the more fantastical-sounding the better. In addition to my library of traditional songs sung by masters like Bing Crosby, I have albums by artists like Enya, Loreena McKennitt, Blackmore’s Night, Jethro Tull, and Nox Arcana. This last band put out an album called Winter’s Knight several years ago, which sounds like it ought to be played at full volume in a crumbling, gothic church in Transylvania. It’s beautimous, and if my husband should ever tell you it makes him want to plod around the Yuletide tree in a self-flagellating ennui, you should definitely ignore him.

Seriously, the band’s Veni, Veni and Carol of the Bells are not to be missed, so I’ve linked them for you below:

Veni, Veni Emannuel
Carol of the Bells

Now for that biscotti recipe!

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Vegan Cranberry Almond Biscotti

2 ¾ cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
5 Tbs. orange juice plus ½ cup
4 Tbs. cornstarch
1 cup sugar plus 2 Tbs.
2 Tbs. canola oil
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup sliced almonds

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in bowl.

2. Whisk together 5 Tbs. orange juice and cornstarch in bowl; set aside. Beat 1 cup sugar, remaining 1/2 cup orange juice, oil and extracts until fluffy. Beat in cornstarch mixture, then flour mixture. Fold in cranberries and almonds.

3. Shape into 2 logs on prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake 35 minutes, or until light brown. Cool 15 minutes on baking sheet. Slice into 1/2-inch thick slices. Return slices to baking sheet, and bake 15 minutes more. Turn the cookies, then bake them a final 5-15 minutes, or until they’re golden brown.

That’s all I haz, except to wish everyone who reads this the merriest of holidays! May the Yuletide season bring you joy, and light, and love.

From a Grey and Chilly Cape Breton,
Ceallaigh (C.S. MacCath)

 

~*~

This month on my blog I’m sharing holiday traditions, mine and other people’s as well. This is one of those posts, you can find the first, entitled Giftmas Cards (and subsequent ones) by visiting the main page, here. Happy Ho Ho!

Holiday Traditions

A GiftThis month on my blog I’m sharing holiday traditions, mine and other people’s as well. This is the second of those posts, you can find the first, entitled Giftmas Cards (and subsequent ones) by visiting the main page, here. Happy Ho Ho!

 

Holiday Traditions

by Reb Kreyling

I’m in a unique situation with my family; I take blended to a whole new level. Not only am I a child of divorced parents but my mother remarried when I was a child and I have siblings from another country so we’ve adopted their traditions as well.

Little Christmas
When my mother was a child, her uncle lived in Japan so they began receiving packages long before Christmas. Her parents placed the presents under the tree and my mother and her siblings would see those packages every day. So my grandparents thought of “Little Christmas”. On the 23rd of December, my aunts, uncle, and mom were allowed to open one present. Then on Christmas Eve, they were allowed to open another present. The present they picked needed to be one from someone who lived far away, but other than that, they could open any present.

My mother started this tradition with me when I was a child since many of our family members lived far from us while I was growing up. As I was a child, I looked forward to Little Christmas Eve, not just because I got to open a present, but because my mom would let me choose a present for her and my step-mom to also open.

Christmas Trees
When my step-mom was a kid, her mom often baked all of their bread since there were eight of them. For Christmas, she made a special bread. It was a Norwegian sweet bread that I believe her mother made. As a special treat, she shaped it as Christmas trees. The bread was then frosted and decorated with candied fruit, sprinkles, and other sweets (gumdrops and the like). After opening presents on Christmas morning, we’d have a big breakfast with the bread as part of it.

Holiday Decorations
Special events—births, marriages, someone joining the family—is almost always commemorated with an ornament in my family. The weekend after Thanksgiving (unless something interferes like a move or something else), we begin decorating for the Christmas season. Our decorations are not taken down until after January 10th which was my grandfather’s birthday.

TET
My youngest siblings are Vietnamese so as a family we celebrate TET or Vietnamese New Year. We don’t do anything huge, but we do make Pho. We played games when the kids were younger and the youngest child (my little sister) got good luck money for the New Year.

 

Bio: Reb Kreyling is a life time writer. She’s been writing for as long as she can remember and always has a notebook with her for that next idea. In her free time, she enjoys listening to Irish music and also uses her writing skills to let soldiers overseas know people back home are thinking of them as part of Soldiers’ Angels. She’s just recently begun blogging at http://rebkreyling.wordpress.com/and is looking forward to self-publishing in the future.

The Magick of Yule

This month on my blog I’m sharing holiday traditions, mine and other people’s as well. This is the second of those posts, you can find the first, entitled Giftmas Cards (and subsequent ones) by visiting the main page, here. Happy Ho Ho!

The Magick of Yule

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner

MyFamilyIsDifferent

 

“What do you mean you don’t celebrate Christmas? Christmas is an American holiday for everyone.”

I get this a lot. No I don’t hate Christmas. It’s just not part of my faith. I know plenty of Atheists, Hindus, and Jewish people who go along with their own customs and the majority’s holiday in addition, but that’s not for me. Honestly, I support whatever makes people happiest this time of year. As a Wiccan I love honoring Yule.

“Yule? What’s that? That’s Christmas right?” …Wrong. Yule is the Solstice Celebration to honor the Gods. It has historic links to Christmas being that people have honored the changing of the seasons for thousands of years. Christmas took on a lot of customs to celebrate winter as it evolved through the ages. Yes these two holidays are similar, but not the same.

My husband and I are raising two little witches who are budding with respect for nature and love of the human race. Every year on the Winter Solstice we cast a circle around our Alter and perform a ritual in appreciation of the turning of the year, along with all of the gifts that the new season brings. We don’t often do spellwork because it is not to be taken lightly and we want our daughters to understand that using your personal energies to create change has serious effects. I cook a typical holiday feast: ham, potatoes, veggie casserole, rolls, corn, pie and cookies. Being a bit of a kitchen witch myself, I love making everything from scratch. To me there is no better compliment than my family enjoying my food and I often can’t help but pour my positive, loving energies into the dishes that I create.

We have a tree that we decorate in the backyard, much like a Christmas tree, but ours gets to keep its roots and continue to grow throughout the years. The four of us circle around it and sing. My oldest loves “Jingle Bells.” We actually have a playlist that I call my wintery mix. It has the 10 most popular songs that are typically considered “Christmas Songs” but don’t mention any of the specific religious aspects and are really just about winter and togetherness. We play that when we come inside all cold and ready to open a few gifts. My husband and I limit presents to try and keep the focus on the meaning of our holiday. No more than 3 gifts per person.

The extended family celebration is a bit different. My mom is Catholic, my sister is Atheist, and my dad was raised Lutheran. My parents are divorced and remarried so get togethers are always interesting. I usually host an all day event where one set of parents comes for lunch and the other for dinner so my sis and our families can stay in one place and not drag the kids all over. It is Christmas and Yule. If my sister or I had married a Jewish man it would be Hanukah too because we love and respect each other. In truth semantics don’t matter much because we just want to enjoy our holidays together and have a good time. That is not to say that we don’t have issues.

I have had to have many talks with my girls about different religions and customs. They are beginning to understand. It’s not always easy. My eldest is actually concerned about the fact that her friends’ parents lie to them and teach these unsuspecting children that Santa Claus is a real being. My husband and I have had to explain that St. Nicholas was a real person, that his spirit can be considered the spirit of giving, and that some parents wish to keep this spirit alive by pretending that he is still a physical presence. Teaching a young mind to respect that others have different beliefs and that we each have our own path to walk can be difficult.

This concept inspired me to write my first children’s book. “My Family Is Different,” is the story of a young Wiccan girl who realizes that her family celebrates a different faith than most. She questions her friends about their beliefs and learns that they all have their own religions. This teaches her that we are all different and that makes her feel good. My illustrator Laura Winship-Fanaei brought this tale to life with her colorful, imaginative, pictures and THG StarDragon Publishing released our story of acceptance and diversity this past September. It is available through amazon and can be ordered in any bookstore.

I’m just happy to have another teaching tool that gives my children, and maybe others, a simplified idea of how wonderful it is to be connected with a variety of ideas. Our society prides itself on our diverse culture, and this is the best time of year to really let it shine. Happy Holidays!

***

Bio: Jessica is addicted to the written word. She has previously published stories on QuantummuseHellfire Crossroads, and is to have a tale in issue #61 of Blood Moon Rising Magazine. In addition to fiction, Ms. Baumgartner’s articles and essays have been featured by The Witches’ Voice, Circle Magazine, the St. Louis Examiner, and Spirit One Magazine. Her children’s book about religious diversity and acceptance, “My Family Is Different,” was released by THG StarDragon Publishing this past September and has received much enthusiasm. You can find her blog here: jessicamariebaumgartner.wordpress.com