Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Small Pleasures by Priscilla Brown

 

 

Struggling with a tricky assignment on an island inhabited only by her employer and a hundred sheep, journalist Jasmine's almost literal lifeline is the sexy ferry deckhand. 

 
 
My desk is in a corner of the room, with a window on each wall. One looks over the back garden, the other towards the front garden with a large veronica (hebe) bush growing against the window. I should prune this shrub but am reluctant to do so as it is a favourite bee cafe. I can be distracted from my work by the bees feeding on the purple flowers, moving from one flower to another as if each may carry a different taste or scent or appearance or whatever it is bees judge flowers by. For me, this is a regular small pleasure. I thought about other small pleasures I take for granted in my daily life, and consider myself lucky.
 
In my contemporary romance fiction writing, I take pleasure in finding the precise word or phrase to evoke for readers the information or emotion or mind picture that I plan and plot for their enjoyment, and to move the story along. Often this requires several drafts, use of the thesaurus and/or other reference books. I find if I leave the work for a few days, on return the crucial word/s become clear. Professional satisfaction, yes, and much pleasure - if I didn't get pleasure from it, I wouldn't do it.

Crimson rosellas (medium-sized parrots) frequent my garden. It always surprises me that it takes them only a few minutes after I've refilled their seed dish to fly in from wherever they were spending their day; watching them quibble for space on it is a pleasurable time-waster. Walking to the shops, I pause at the creek with its chorus of unseen frogs, vociferous after recent rain swelled their habitat.
I watch traffic on a busy road halt to wait for a duck family to cross, mum leading, eight ducklings, dad in the rear.  At this point, there is a road sign depicting ducks crossing, as if for some duckish reason this is a duck highway from the aforementioned creek to the sports field opposite. My pleasure comes not only from the ducks but also from the consideration shown by the drivers paying them attention. Then at the shopping centre, strangers smile at each other while waiting for the lift - a small pleasure helping along a busy day.

I'm not a good cook, and my cakes can suffer the sinking centre syndrome; overcoming the challenge of this heightens pleasure in the final eating. Add to this the aroma of freshly ground coffee, especially when I haven't done it myself! Which is now, so I sign off on wishing that 2021 may bring you many pleasures.

Stay safe. Priscilla.

 
 







Monday, December 28, 2020

Nevis Story for Alexander Hamilton's January 11 Birthday

 




Once upon a time, back in the 1950’s, I was a youngster. One, however, who was driven by the same interest in history that still brings me so much pleasure today.



Me, Charlestown, Nevis, 1958

Here’s a picture which I recently discovered in the attic. I remembered it, but didn’t know if it still existed. Old and color faded, it is framed in a way that tells me my mother had it somewhere in her last little home. It has survived our journey which took us from upstate New York, to the U.K., to the West Indies then back to America again. It also survived the fire in her house, one which she inadvertently set while heating milk one night. Plenty of things disappeared during that--books, furniture, pictures, and a good part of the roof. Other possessions were water-damaged or broken after the firemen came to save the house.

I'm very happy this picture has survived, because it was taken on one of those spectacularly good days--one of those days where wishes come true. There I am, sitting on the ruins of a sea wall on a black sand beach, with the remains of a fort behind me. This is Nevis in 1958 and my Mother had taken me to see the birthplace of my hero, Alexander Hamilton.  Besotted with Alexander as I was, this made me the weirdest kid in my school. The term "nerd" had not yet come into being, so what I was did not yet have a put-down label. That's what I was all the same, especially in a world where Elvis Presley reigned, teen heart-throb supreme.

Nevis today

The entire story of our trip to Nevis sounds improbable today, but jet planes were not yet "a thing." It took nine or ten hours to fly from Idlewild airport-now, JFK--to the West Indies. The trip was accomplished in jumps and layovers--to Bermuda, to San Juan, to Antigua, and, from there, hitching up with whatever "puddle jumper" between islands was heading toward your  destination. 

To get to Nevis in those days was not exactly easy. There were a couple of flights a week from St. Kitts, otherwise travel was by ferry. We'd flown into St. Kitts the day before, traveling north again from our base in truly tropical Barbados. 

St. Kitts surprised us. What we saw of it was nearly treeless, mountainous, and cold and windy too. I remember the wind howling around our hotel that night, and Mom and I searching for extra coverings for our beds. 

At the St. Kitt's airport the next day, we arrived to discover that the small plane in which we and two other passengers were to travel was in pieces in the hanger. Would we be able to leave today? Lots of head shaking was the answer to Mom's question. I sat on a bench in the open-to-the-elements waiting room and lost myself in a book. The book was, of course, about Hamilton. Published in 1912, the story was, I've since learned, mostly fictional, though the characterization still rings true. In those days, this used bookstore acquisition traveled with me everywhere.



Afternoon passed. As the sun began to go down, the plane was working again. At last we could start the flight over the narrow strait that lay between St. Kitt's and Nevis, although not without some trepidation about the plane's mechanical worthiness. By the time we arrived at the island, twilight was almost at an end. Our landing lights were men holding torches--kerosene soaked rags on long sticks held aloft.  After a bouncy light plane's landing on green turf, we were there at last.  

This looks a bit more formal than I remember.

We were tired when we reached the guest house Mother had booked in Charlestown. The soft light of kerosene lanterns lit the windows. We'd learn that electricity was a new convenience here, one that came on from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Past six, the power was gone and we were in an earlier age.

Charlestown in the 1950's

In the parlor, every surface --a maze of small tables --was covered with a Victorian level of clutter. All the upholstered chairs sported antimacassars. Here another trial lay in wait for us tired travelers. The landlady appeared, declaring that she'd had no idea I was a child--and that she NEVER allowed children in her guesthouse. "Especially not American children!

As you might imagine, my Mom reared back into her frostiest lady-of-the-gentry persona and replied to the effect that her daughter was a model child. Besides, she continued, we'd come here all the way from Barbados because of my interest in Alexander Hamilton and heartfelt desire to see his birthplace. At my mother's nod, I presented my ancient novel, and told the landlady how excited I was to be visiting Nevis, the place of my hero's birth. As much as my mother, I wanted a place to rest my head after a long day of anxiety and uncertainty, but knew I'd have to be as persuasive as possible.

After flipping through the book, the woman handed it back to me and said we could stay overnight. The next morning during a boarding house breakfast where I was careful never to speak unless spoken to and to say "please" and "thank-you," our hostess said she'd decided we could remain. Later in the morning, we went down to the broken seawall in the picture, wearing clothes over our swimsuits, and carrying our towels. In those days, walking around in just a bathing suite was "not done." And there I am, instead of my usual solemn, preoccupied self, wearing a big smile.  


I remember the overcast that often came in the afternoons, as clouds gathered around the volcano. There were black sand beaches which in those days we had mostly to ourselves. I remember bathing in the hot springs in town. Again, clothes over bathing suits, we made our way to the place, led by a tall man who was the caretaker of the ruin of the once famous spa hotel. It had been visited by many famous travelers in the 19th century, but now it had crumbled away to a wall here and there. Blue sky rolled overhead as we inched our way into the hot water. 

I also remember hearing drums, high up on the volcano on a Saturday, sounding down to us from beneath a wall of fog. This was the old time West Indies, before jets made a vacation "down de way" a mere jump from North America.


  Update the car in the background of this picture to a 1940's model, and this would have been a typical scene. The elemental roar and hiss of a gigantic field of cane on a windy day, I'll never forget. I've often wondered if Hamilton ever thought with regret of the tropical world from which he'd come, one so different in climate and vegetation from his adopted home, especially at a time when the earth was going through a cycle of extreme cold. How he must have suffered in those first years in America, just trying to acclimatize, wintering in places like Valley Forge and Morristown! 

So, Happy Birthday, Alexander! It's a bit early to be doing this before January, but here goes, anyway. I've literally spent a lifetime thinking of you.  :)


Hamilton ("Mrs. Washington's ginger tomcat") and me at work, early 2000's


~~Juliet Waldron

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It's National Chocolate Candy Day! Celebrate by Leaving Sticky Hand Prints Everywhere! By Connie Vines

 NATIONAL CHOCOLATE CANDY DAY is today. 


 For Chocolate Devotes, this is a Jackpot day, second only to Valentine's Day!

December 28th!

National Chocolate Candy Day offers an opportunity for us to polish off the last of the specialty candies we received as gifts. Celebrated on December 28th, the day points us to the truffles and chocolate oranges tucked into stockings. 

Remember to check those boxes of candy that may or may not have guides to help us choose cream-filled or ganache.  

The word “chocolate” comes from the word “xocoatl” or “chocolatl.” Mayan “school” means hot or bitter, and the Aztec “atl” means water. Chocolate comes from the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree. Cacao has been cultivated for at least three millennia and grows in Mexico, Central America, and Northern South America. The earliest known documentation of using cacao seeds is from around 1100 BC.

But before it was ever made into a sweet candy, it was ground into a beverage. In ruling class society, the beverage was used for medical purposes. 

In 1828, Dutch inventor and chemist, Coenraad Van Houten, developed a way to produce chocolate in solid form. His hydraulic press made it possible to remove the cocoa butter from the cacao. His invention leads to producing a powder opening the way for the first chocolate confections. It’s thanks to Van Houten we can enjoy the variety of chocolates we do today. 


Chocolate Facts


Whitman’s produced their first box of chocolate in 1842.

In 1847, British chocolate company J.S. Fry & Sons combined cocoa butter, cocoa powder, and sugar producing the first edible chocolate bar.

The invention of the conching machine by Rodolphe Lindt in 1879 ushered in mass production of the creamy treat.

The first chocolate Easter egg was made sometime in the early 19th century. In 1875 John Cadbury introduced his first chocolate egg.

When Allied troops stormed the beach of Normandy on D-Day, part of emergency rations and in soldiers’ packs included the D ration bar designed by Hershey Chocolate company for the U.S. Army.

Americans consume 12 pounds of chocolate each year (5.4kg per person). 

Australians consume 32kg of chocolate person person per year.

The British consume an average of 11kg per person per year (3 bars a week).

Canadians eat an average of 6.4 kilos of chocolate a year, which, based on an average bar size, is at least 160 chocolate bars per year, per person.

The Swiss were the top consumers per capita, with each person eating an average of almost 12 kilos a year. That is 26 pounds! Wow!! 

When someone says 'chocolate' this is what my mind locks onto:

Who doesn't remember, and still love, this classic "I Love Lucy" episode filmed at See's Candy? 



If you love chocolate, you may wish to join in on the celebration.

HOW TO OBSERVE #ChocolateCandyDay

There are so many different kinds of chocolate candy. 

What’s your favorite? 

Do you enjoy a piece or two or three? 

Do you have leftovers? 

How do you plant on celebrating National Chocolate Candy Day this year?

Are you hosting a family/ Social Distancing chocolate candy party? This is the perfect way to taste and sample all the varieties. A way to discover new favorites. 

Or how about a Zoom tasting event--that's one way to gauge the effects of a 'sugar rush' on your family, friends, and co-workers.

Here's a little known candy fact.  

Did you know the center of a Butterfinger Candy Bar contains melted Candy Corn, peanut butter, and finely chopped salted peanuts?  Yep.  I always ignore the Candy Corn during Autumn , 'cos I don't like/or eat candy corn (or so I thought) Butterfinger Candy Bars happen to be one of my faves!


I'm not a fan of marshmallows but this recipe is delicious. I pour it into a large Thermos and it will stay hot all day!  Perfect for an chilly outdoor adventure or sitting in front of a blazing fireplace.




I love to share jokes with my grands.

I've listed my favorites: 

1. What kind of candy is never on time?
ChocoLATE

2. What do you call Chewbacca when he has chocolate stuck in his hair?
Chocolate Chip Wookiee.

3. Why did the donut visit the dentist?
He needed a chocolate filling

4. I heard a joke about chocolate bars and it wasn’t that funny. So I just snickered…

5. What do you call stolen cocoa?
Hot chocolate

6. What is an astronaut’s favorite chocolate?
A Mars bar

 I hope your New Year is filled with blessings, joy, and a Reader chocked full of BWL novels!

Happy Reading and Happy National Chocolate  Day,

Connie




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Saturday, December 26, 2020

AMAZING WHAT OUR BRAINS CAN DO – by Vijaya Schartz


Fantastic stories of superheroes with great powers are the product of our imagination. But what if we could extend our natural abilities, by opening and using more areas of our brains? 


The consensus among scientific circles is that we only use 10% of our brains. Our brain can control our cells, tell them how and when to reproduce and regenerate. When we heal from a wound, we grow new skin and tissues to repair the damage. 

By using more of our brains, we might be able to regrow entire limbs, like lizards grow back tails. Or we could change our appearance, like chameleons change color and some sea creatures shapeshift and morph to mimic a specific background. 


Dolphins are very intelligent and friendly to Humans. They use 20% of their brain, and they developed a natural sonar system more sophisticated than what the US military can produce. 


We can program our brains to think positively, creatively. Prayer is known to speed healing. Focused meditation can also accelerate the process. Many cancer patients recovered faster than others when they use prayer or focused meditation. 


In the movie LUCY, an unwilling drug mule is contaminated with a mind enhancing substance that opens her brain. As she uses more and more of her brain capacity, she can manipulate her body, shapeshift, read others’ minds, manipulate matter, link with electronic devices, control time, etc. Farfetched? Not so much. 


Great minds of recent times, like Stephen Hawking, publicly acknowledged taking brain enhancing drugs to achieve greater understanding of the laws of the universe. Shamans claim to access other planes of consciousness and possibly contact with faraway entities, through focused meditation and the use of substances that open unexplored parts of their brain. 

Some abilities, considered as supernatural powers, could be achieved by conditioning our brains through meditation or other methods. By opening and using the regions of our brain we do not presently use, we could learn to manipulate the forces around us. Some people study and practice to master abilities like telekinesis, mind-reading, mind-to-mind communication at a distance, and levitation… abilities Tibetan monks already achieve through meditation. 


Some Tibetan Lamas also practice what they call the Rainbow ritual at the end of their lives. They meditate for a week straight without food, sleep, or water. During that time, their bodies shrink considerably and emit light, until they dissolve into visible rainbow light that ascends, which is the possible origin for the term enlightenment. They leave behind only a desiccated shell the size of a tiny child. 


In stories and movies, like Star Wars, enlightened beings, like the most realized Jedi, also dissolve into light as they die, with no body left behind. This is not as farfetched as you might think. It could be imprinted in our DNA. In nature, nothing is lost, it only transforms and recycles or transforms into pure energy… like fire produces heat and light. 


Science also might speed the process and make cyborgs of us, implanting electronic markers and communication devices directly into our bodies and our brains. Making connections directly from our brains to computers is not impossible. Some people already have imbedded electronics in their body. Amputated patients can control an artificial arm or leg with their mind.


Will all Humans have supernatural abilities in the future? Shall we attain quasi-immortality? It’s a distinct possibility. Science fiction authors already explore this landscape. In my stories, a few characters have natural or cybernetic abilities we cannot yet achieve. 

Here are a few suggestions for entertaining reads set in such a future.

Available from your favorite retailer HERE

Winner Arizona Literary Awards, Fiction, 2019

Something’s rotten on the angel planet. When Avenging Angels turn up dead, Urielle, their Legion Commander, suspects the handsome intruder brought unspeakable evil to Azura.

Maksou never met a woman he couldn’t seduce. He came to the forbidden planet to rescue his friends and get rich in the process, but the jungle crawls with lethal life forms… including a gorgeous warrior angel, who saves his life but keeps him prisoner and challenges his irresistible charm.

Urielle, sworn to protect Azura at all costs, has no use for a maverick who ignores the rules and endangers the planet… no matter how attractive. Especially when the Galactic Trade Alliance (GTA) wages a secret war to get their greedy hands on the priceless crystal at Azura’s core.

Find Akira's Choice HERE

When bounty hunter Akira Karyudo accepted her assignment, something didn't add up. Why would the Galactic Trade Alliance want a young kidnapped orphan dead or alive?

She will get to the truth once she finds the boy, and the no-good SOB who snatched him from a psychiatric hospital. With her cheetah, Freckles, a genetically enhanced feline retriever, Akira sets out to flush them out of the bowels of the Byzantium space station. But when she finds her fugitives, the kidnapper is not what she expects.

Kazmo, a decorated Resistance fighter, stole his nephew from the authorities, who performed painful experiments on the boy. Stuck on Byzantium, he protects the child, but how can he shield him from the horribly dangerous conditions in the lawless sublevels of the space station?

Akira faces the worst moral dilemma of her career. Law or justice, duty or love. She can't have it both ways.

"Wow! If readers want to see and feel and believe they are in deep space, then ‘Akira's Choice’ is the perfect choice! With a touch of romance, the vivid descriptions and beautifully developed characters masterfully presented by Schartz create a virtual world that invite the reader not merely to observe, but to walk amongst them and participate... This is a delicate art, and Schartz wields her weapons with precision and skill. Banzai!" 5 stars - exceptional - recommended read - Ind'tale Magazine

Vijaya Schartz, author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes, cats
http://www.vijayaschartz.com
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Friday, December 25, 2020

They do not make ‘em like they used to—Tricia McGill

https://bookswelove.net/mcgill-tricia/


I know movie makers have advanced in leaps and bounds in the past decade or so, and I would be the first to admit that there are some great movies out there-with all the trimmings of modern technology, but in my personal opinion and that of most of my contemporaries, we do like an old-fashioned classic. And one thing that annoys me like crazy is the ear-blasting music that suddenly backs up a scene these days that could well do without the interruption. And just why do we have to see so much of the actors’ flesh? I am far from being a prude and have nothing against nudism in the appropriate place but I do get sick of seeing it openly displayed in some movies these days.

What brought about this peeve was that I settled back to watch a movie the other evening that promised to be a romance, but within ten minutes quickly changed to soft porn. The female in question not only showed her fulsome breasts but within a few minutes of meeting the young man was boldly pushing his face into them—and in close-up. And not only her breasts, but her barely covered backside. 

I have taken to looking for the classics—and there are thousands of them to
choose from. I guess I am showing my age, but who can forget such classics as Gone with the Wind, The Sound of Music or Cleopatra. I’ve always loved musicals and have been trying to list my all-time favourites such as An American in Paris, Grease and Oklahoma. I could go on and on. During my teens, 
my sister and I went to the flicks twice a week at times and musicals were always at the top of my list of sure bets. I never questioned how or why the stars suddenly broke out into song or why they danced their way down busy streets.

Of course, at this time of the year we always have those Christmas classics that are shown annually. I have watched Love Actually almost every year about this time since it was first released. A new one that I think was released just last year is Last Christmas, a beautiful love story that has a surprising twist at the end that will bring you to tears.


All this proves that I am not too enamoured by some of the modern films, but one stands out for me from all the high-tech, gadget-ridden releases and that is Guardians of the Galaxy. So far, I have only seen 1 and 2 but look forward to the others that are in the wings. Chris Pratt is perfectly cast as Peter Quill Star-Lord, part alien/part human. He and his gang of idiots had me laughing out loud. I particularly like the tree and the raccoon who appears to be the most sensible—and most lethal one of this crowd of space travellers. And the sound track of 60s pop music played throughout via Chris Pratt’s headphones and his precious little gadget add a touch of the ridiculous when they are out there somewhere in the galaxy fighting off all kinds of evil extra-terrestrials.

As we near the end of this terrible year, the same wish is on everyone’s lips—next year has to be better.  I wish you all a wonderful 2021 and certainly a healthy one. And let us hope that next year brings some perfect movies to watch—no matter our preference.

Visit my Web Page for info on all my books




Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Wishes Coming Your Way by A.M.Westerling

 



If you're reading this, it means you've found a moment to yourself on this very busy day. I won't keep you but thought I'd share a few Christmas chuckles. And isn't the book tree above a wonderful idea?! Some very clever artistic person thought of that, I'm sure. Not me!







If by chance you received an Amazon gift card, do stop by the BWL Publishing website for a bit of shopping and find some amazing books to read, click HERE

Finally, I hope you're having a wonderful Christmas and wishing you all the very best for 2021!

******




Are you a fan of Regency romance? You might enjoy Sophie's Choice, Book 1 of my Regency series The Ladies of Harrington House, nominated for the November 2020 Book of the Month poll on Long and Short Reviews. 




You can find Sophie's Choice at your favourite online store HERE. Happy reading! It garnered a 5 star review, you can read the review HERE.


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A Short Story for Christmas by Victoria Chatham

 


All That Other Stuff


Ellie Harding rested her chin on her hand and stared out of the window across the valley, relaxing as she always did at the sight of the tall spire of the parish church surrounded by cozy-looking cottages nestling under their Cotswold stone roofs.

Her daughter-in-law, Lori, came in from the garden balancing a wicker laundry basket on her hip.

“I will be glad when Christmas is over.” Lori heaved a dramatic sigh. “It’s nothing but rush and fuss, and no one is ever satisfied. One week left, and I still have to mail cards, shop, clean and for what? Just one day. And as for peace and goodwill, hark at that lot.”

Sounds of discontent burst from the living room where twelve-year-old Matthew and eight-year-old twins, Molly and Hannah, were arguing over television programs.

“And not only that,” Lori continued, “David is due home from Singapore on December 22nd, and,” she paused for breath, “Mother and Dad are arriving the same day.”

“As David has been away for almost six months, isn’t that a bit inconsiderate of them?” Ellie murmured. She tried to keep the tone of censure out of her voice, but her brow puckered as an additional thought sprang to her mind. “I thought your parents were spending Christmas in Germany with your Aunt Sophie.”

Lori snapped a tea towel, making it sound like a flag in a strong wind. She folded it in half, smoothed it out with the flat of her hand, folded it again and added it to the growing pile of clean laundry on the kitchen counter.

“They were, but Mother fell out with Aunt Sophie over goodness-knows-what and decided she and Dad would come here,” Lori explained. “Oh, Ellie, what am I going to do?”

“We’ll have a cup of tea, dear.” Ellie, a staunch supporter of that particular beverage’s restorative properties, thoughtfully put the kettle on. As it came to the boil, her eyes began to sparkle with mischief.

“Park everybody,” she said suddenly.

“What do you mean?” Lori asked, plainly puzzled.

“I’ll take the children,” Ellie said. “That should give you time for everything you need to do. Book your parents into a hotel and yourself and David into another. That will give you one day to yourselves, and then on Christmas Eve, you can all come to my house.”

Lori’s eyes opened wide. “But I couldn’t⸺.”

“Yes, you could. Don’t think about it, dear, just do it.”

Between them, Ellie and Lori helped the children pack and loaded them and their backpacks into Ellie’s battered blue Audi. Matthew sat silently beside her on the drive out of town, plainly not in agreement with the plan.

“What are we going to do at your house, Gran?” Molly asked. “You don’t even have a TV.”

“I’m sure we can find something to do,” Ellie replied, keeping her eyes on the narrow, two-lane road where she had to stop for a flock of sheep passing from one pasture to another.



“We could do a nativity play,” Hannah said as she watched the woolly bodies crowd either side of the car.

“There’s only three of us, and we already did that at school.” Matthew sounded glum at the prospect.

“Yes, but did you design and make your costumes?” Ellie asked.

“Well, no,” Matthew admitted. “We just used the ones from last year.”

“Ooh, Gran, can I make a crown with sparkles on it?” Despite being restrained by her seat belt, Hannah bounced on the back seat with excitement.

“I’m sure we could arrange that, dear. You three will be the Wise Men, and everyone else can be shepherds.”

“And you have to be the angel, Gran,” chorused Molly and Hannah.

“Can we invite friends from school?” Matthew asked.

“I don’t see why not.” Ellie drove through her gateway, minus its gate, and pulled up in front of a solidly built ivy-covered stone house. “Who would you like to invite?”

“Well, Jamal, because he was new to our school this term and doesn’t know many kids yet and Oliver because he doesn’t have a dad.”

“And can we invite other people too?” the twins asked in unison.

“Yes, you can,” Ellie assured them. “Two friends each. The more the merrier, don’t you think?”

“Then I’ll ask Yasmeen and Adeera,” Hanah said. “I hope their parents will let them come.”

“Yes, and Susan Howell and Dawn Fry,” Molly added. Hannah nodded her agreement.

Ellie parked the car, and the children poured out of it and in through the front door. They hung their coats on pegs in the hallway and deposited their backpacks at the foot of the stairs.

“We’ll have hot chocolate with marshmallows,” Ellis said as she headed to the large kitchen at the back of the house. “While I make it, you can start designing your costumes.”

She took sheets of paper and coloured pencils from a drawer and put them in the table’s centre. In no time, the girls sketched outfits for the shepherds while Matthew, now warming up to the idea, designed crowns for the Three Wise Men.

Over the next two days, Ellie produced lengths of fabric, sheets of art paper, fancy buttons, glue and glitters, rolls of florists wire and strands of ribbon. On a brisk afternoon walk, with a light wind gusting from the south-west blowing the clouds inland over the hills, they collected sheep’s wool from the barbed wire fencing around their field.

“This will make the beards for the Wise Men,” Ellie said as she held out a plastic bag for the children to fill with wool.

“How?” asked Matthew.

“We’ll cut lengths of cotton fabric and stick the wool to it, leaving a gap for your mouths,” Ellie said. “Then we’ll cut lengths of elastic so that it fits your heads, sew the ends to each side of the fabric, and you can just slip them on.”

“That sounds pretty easy,” Matthew said. “I say, Gran, can I be in charge of the costumes?”

“You certainly can, dear,” Ellie agreed.

Her angel wings fitting filled an entire afternoon with the children measuring wire and fabric and calculating the best way to affix them to Ellie’s back.

“Donny Williams sat on Carrie Davis’s wings in class and broke them,” Hannah told her.

“Yes, and she cried,” Molly added.

“Well, after all this work, we’ll have to make sure we hang my wings where no one can sit on them,” Ellie said.

Together they draped and stitched fabric and, once all the costumes were made, Ellie sat the children around the table again and helped them write their invitations. Molly and Hannah decorated theirs with sparkles, both sure the recipients would be pleased with them.

The invitations were hand-delivered and, when Christmas Eve finally arrived, so did the rest of the family and all the guests, including Yasmeen and Adeera’s parents. After a happy and noisy reunion with their father, Matthew, Molly, and Hannah helped everyone into their costumes. Ellie couldn’t help but notice that Lori’s parents, Margaret and Richard, looked somewhat bemused to find themselves clad in tunics made from old bedsheets and cinched around the waist with frayed scarlet cords from thrift store velvet curtains. When everyone was dressed, Ellie clapped her hands, which made her wings wobble frantically.

“Quiet everyone,” she said. “Now, who can tell me what the Three Wise Men did?”

“Oh, Gran, I know, I know!” Hannah’s hand shot up as if she were answering questions in school. “They followed the star.”

“Indeed, they did.” Ellie nodded sagely. “Now, come this way.”

She took everyone outside and then clapped her hands again. From the dark at the bottom of the garden, a bright white light appeared amongst the old and gnarled apple trees. Its silvery glow illuminated the whole area. She watched the children’s eyes open wide in wonder and smiled as they stopped, in total astonishment, at the edge of the lawn.

There, its legs folded neatly beneath it, sat a camel. It turned its head towards them and looked at them from liquid-dark eyes from beneath long lashes. A small tubby man, sporting a large moustache and wearing a red fez, stood beside it.


“This is Fred,” Ellie said. “And this,” she patted the camel’s sinuously graceful neck, “is Harun.”

Margaret sniffed. “Don’t expect me to get on that filthy beast.”

Ellie hid a smile as she heard Richard say, “Don’t worry, Mags, only the Wise Men rode camels. You’re a shepherd. Here, hang onto your crook.”

Fred helped the children onto the saddle, showing them where to put their feet and where to hold on as Harun stood up. His spongy feet made no sound as he lurched and swayed across the winter-damp grass.

“Mother, how on earth did you manage that?” David asked as he caught up with her.

Ellie patted the hand he slipped into the crook of her elbow.

“Oh, a phone call here and a favour there,” she said casually. She clapped her hands once more, and the light in the trees winked out before appearing again further away in the paddock next to her garden.

“It’s over Mr. Donovan’s stable now.” Molly couldn’t keep the excitement out of her voice as she pointed over a gate set in the hedge.

Mr. Donovan, as bent and twisted as Ellie’s old apple trees, smiled at them as he opened the gate and ushered them all through it. The little procession, at last, came to a halt outside the stable. Harun obligingly collapsed his legs, and Molly, Hannah, and Matthew all but fell off him in their eagerness for what they might see. They pulled their friends forward with them, and all peered in at the stable door.

The sweet smell of hay assaulted their nostrils, and they heard the rustling of straw as they looked in on a cow contentedly chewing her cud, a donkey who flicked his long, fuzzy ears at them, and a ewe with twin lambs. A young woman wearing a blue robe smiled a welcome and invited them to sit on some straw bales placed in readiness for the visitors. Beside her, a tall, bearded man wearing a brown cloak welcomed everyone. Between them, laid in a wooden crib, a baby kicked its feet and gurgled happily.

“Oh, Gran, this is magic,” Molly whispered. She went to the crib and knelt beside it, staring down at the baby as if she couldn’t quite believe it was there. Hannah, Matthew, and their friends were more interested in the animals.

“Well, Ellie, I think you have surpassed yourself,” Richard said, still looking around and taking in every little detail with an expression of wonderment on his face. Even Margaret seemed suitably impressed.

“This is so cool, Gran.” Hannah looked up from the lamb she cuddled while Matthew and Jamal petted the donkey.

Matthew’s eyes opened wide as a thought struck him. “Christmas isn’t about what things we get, or what food we have. It’s all that other stuff, isn’t it, Gran?” His pre-teen voice had a croak in it.

Ellie nodded, adding softly, “That’s right, Matthew. It’s all that other stuff. Christmas is for loving and caring, sharing and,” she looked at Lori, “peace and goodwill.”




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