For fun, I started each chapter with a quote about Christmas. The last chapter includes this quote: “The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its value.”—Charles Dudley Warner. In the final scene of the book, the hero gives the heroine an inexpensive gift that means more to her than all the gold in the world because the gift shows that he knows her inside and out.
Writing the book reminded me of the deeper meaning of gift giving. It’s not just an exchange of objects to delight and please our loved ones. The perfect gift is one that communicates the message: I love you. I know you. You are important to me.
In the course of writing the book, here’s what I discovered about choosing the perfect gift.
1) Decide what it is you want to say.
For example, what if you wanted to tell your loved one that you really appreciated what they did for you during a bad time in your life? Chose a gift that will show that appreciation. Let’s say they gave you a ride home after your car broke down. You could give them a gift card to a gas station.
2) Then ask yourself what can you give them that will communicate this message?
In other words, what specific item(s) could you purchase or make that symbolizes the message you want to communicate? Maybe you want to support a loved ones dream of being a musician. Guitar lessons might be the perfect choice.
3) Give from your heart, not your pocketbook.
It’s too easy to get caught up in spending when you’re bombarded with media advertising, but when you gift from the heart the price of the gift truly doesn’t matter. One of the favorite things my husband ever gave me was a straw hat he decorated himself with fishing lures that reminded me of a fly-fishing adventure we had in Yellowstone.
4) Take your time.
Take your time picking out the perfect gift. A perfect gift isn’t rushed. It takes thought and planning. A friend of mine, whose mother was going blind, recorded all her favorite recipes on audio, so Mom could listen to the instructions while she cooked.
5) Consider history.
When searching for the perfect gift consider your history with the person you’re giving the gift to or their personal history. A gift that reminds the receiver of a happy time and place stirs positive emotions in the moment.
One year, my mother-in-law squealed with delight one year when I got her Circus Peanuts because she’d once told me her father had given them to her every Christmas.
The benefits of taking the time and effort to chose a gift that perfectly fits that person, and what you want to say to them, is that ultimately you feel good about making them feel good.
And maybe that is the best gift of all.
What’s the best gift you’ve either given or received?.
Take a moment to chat and be eligible to win one of 5 copies of Christmas At Twilight, US residents only, your choice of print or e-book!
Welcome to Excerpt Friday! Each Friday we’ll be featuring excerpts from recent releases by our very own Fillies. So grab a cup of coffee and read on. And if you find you’re hooked by what you read (and we know you will be!) just click on the book cover to purchase the entire book.
From Author Mary Connealy – SOPHIE’S OTHER DAUGHTER (Part of the Hope For The Holidays historical bundle)
Laura McCellen rode her horse into the tunnel of doom.
When she’d told Beth she’d work for her—or rather when Pa lowered the boom—she’d never imagine she’d sink this low.
Visiting the Reeves.
Usually, she handled Pa perfectly but not this time.
As a rule, her pa never thought any man was good enough for her. But she’d turned down one he was mighty happy with and he said if she was determined to stay single it was fine but she needed to get a job.
Now she was nursing for Beth and Alex.
Laura didn’t want to be a nurse. And yet here she was checking on Grace Reeves, due to have her child any day.
And why a woman who popped out babies as easily as Grace needed a doctor, Laura couldn’t imagine. Beth said neither she nor Alex had ever attended a birth in Reeves’ Canyon and there’d been plenty of them.
The walls closed in around Laura as she entered the narrow canyon entrance. It was so tight it was hard to breathe. She shivered and it wasn’t because of the early December cold. Daniel got a wagon threw but it wasn’t a big wagon.
And there was something about this place that caught the wind and held it…and if there was snow in the wind, the canyon filled up and melted mighty slow.
Daniel had carved a path out over the canyon wall. But it wasn’t an easy climb. Even though most winters were fairly mild there was always the chance a cold snap and a heavy snow could seal the canyon. And Daniel reasoned it would be worse to be sealed out. Because of this, the Reeves family rarely appeared in Mosqueros during the winter. And it was especially rare in the years Grace had a baby on the way, that high mountain pass was hard enough when she wasn’t great with child.
More than most anything in the world, Laura didn’t want to end up spending the winter with the wild Reeves boys. She rode on anyway, knowing she was just looking for an excuse to bolt.
Then she was out of that smothering bottle-neck and turned loose in a mad house.
Not that any of the madmen were in sight right now.
She rode up to the house, which was a lot bigger than she remembered from her one and only visit here. Ma had mercifully learned to come visiting alone.
It stretched out so long she wondered if Daniel added on a room every time a child was born.
She tied her horse to the hitching post and knocked on the front door. A crash made her jump. Voices as loud and wild as a pack of wolves erupted and grew louder. She stepped back and it was a good thing because the door slammed open.
Here were the little lunatics now.
A little crowd of stair-step white-haired boys boiled out of the house, shouting and knocking against her as they rushed past her. She thought one of them shouted the word ‘snow’ but mainly it was just general screaming.
“Come in.” Grace Reeves, sounding calm and chipper. Laura had never figured out how the woman managed to remain so pleasant when she was surrounded by pure bedlam.
Laura stepped inside to find Daniel rising from the table and lifting a little bald-headed boy, from a high chair.
“Laura, thanks for coming.” Grace smiled.
Daniel frowned. “I asked for the doctor to come out.”
“Beth and Alex are both busy. A family east of town is down with a fever and they both needed to be there, so they sent me. They promised to come out as soon as possible. It will be a few days though.”
Grace rested her hand on her rounded stomach and sighed in a way that struck Laura as odd. Daniel didn’t notice and this wasn’t the first time he’d proved to be lacking in much sensitivity. Instead he scowled at Laura as if frowning enough would change her into a doctor.
I’ve hung a pretty wreath on my door, wrapped presents, and got my buggy decked out in Christmas finery. I might even put a bow on my durn mule before everything’s said and done! But, I’m not the only one using plenty of elbow grease. Every last one of the Fillies have been sweeping, dusting, and decorating everything in sight and some things that aren’t. Don’t rightly remember whenever I’ve seen Wildflower Junction this shined and sparkly.
December 22 – January 2 you’re all welcome to partake in our big celebration.
We’re gonna share some of our favorite holiday memories plus a whole bunch of other stuff.
If you’ll lean close, I’ll whisper in your ear….Santa’s coming!
Mark your calendars, dust the cobwebs off your wagons, and tie a string around your finger—whatever you have to do to remember to follow the trail to Wildflower Junction on Monday, December 22 to January 2.
I might even let you have a little nip of my cider to knock the chill off your bones.
Miss Lori Wilde will stop by Saturday, December 20.
I can’t imagine her busy schedule, but am downright thrilled for Miss Lori’s visit.
She’ll do some educatin’ about the art of gift-giving. Bet it’ll be fun as all get-out.
Plus…she’s going to give away FIVE copies of her book.
Oh my dear Lord, get your fannies over here so you’ll be in the drawing.
Saturday, December 20!
MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM My Cowboy and Me
Does anyone remember when we were panicking about all the computers crashing and like…planes plummeting out of the sky and hospital life support systems crashing…because of Y2K?
How in the world did it get to be 2015?
It’s not that long until children start looking at me with wide-eyed amazement and saying, “You weren’t even born in this century?”
That’s gonna pinch.
We just sold our calves, an every-December event. They sold very, very well and My Cowboy would like to take a moment to apologize for the price of hamburger.
My Cowboy is an avid water skier. He pulled a hamstring this summer. It took a while but it healed. I thought it was an injury that made him sound a little like a 22 year old football player. How cool is that? He wasn’t all that thrilled.
We went to San Antonio this year, such a great city. I had a conference so I didn’t get to look around as much as I’d like. My Cowboy did some great sightseeing. And later we went to St. Louis for yet another conference. Honestly it’s fun but just once it might be nice to go somewhere besides conferences. Surely there’s something out there to see!
I had my 36th book release this year. I’ve been writing a lot of novellas lately, in addition to two full length books a year. I’m learning the skill of telling smaller stories and I can salt a few of them in a year between my book releases. I now work ten hours a week as a GED Instructor and that’s keeping me plenty busy.
[In this space I write all about the accomplishments of my children. They have asked to please NOT be included in my blog post. No, not even if it helps their ever lovin’ Mama to sell books, the brats.]
My mom fell this year which caused her some trouble, but she is much better. So I’ve spent more time than usual with her this fall and I consider that a privilege. This is a picture of me and Mom last Mother’s Day.
I had the house decorated for Christmas this year in 20 minutes. And no, that’s not because I worked hard. It’s because I don’t do much. I have a Christmas tree that I store, with the decorations and lights all in place, in a bag in a bedroom closet. I pull out the tree, unzip the bag, stuck the tree on the table and plugged it in. There are a few other things in the same closet, they come out and get plunked in place and I’m done. I’m trying to feel guilty about this system but it’s pretty great.
I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a………….HAPPY NEW YEAR
God bless you! Love My Cowboy and Me
Leave a comment about your own holiday plans to get your name in a drawing for a $25 Amazon Gift Card. My Christmas gift to you.
One of the blessings of this festive time of year is sharing good food with family and friends. During the holidays, mothers and grandmothers everywhere retreat to the kitchen and don’t emerge until they’ve baked a pile of goodies imbued with generation upon generation of family tradition.
In that way, holiday life in contemporary America hasn’t changed much from holiday life in the 1800s…including life in the White House during the turbulent years of the American Civil War. Surrounded by carnage, then-President Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, and their sons probably took comfort in family traditions.
One of the traditions Mrs. Lincoln took to the White House with her was a cake she called simply “white cake.” According to Lincoln’s Table by Donna D. McCreary, the confection was created in 1825 by a Monsieur Giron to celebrate the Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to Lexington, Kentucky—the First Lady’s hometown. The dessert proved such a hit that the prominent Todd family somehow convinced Giron to share the recipe, and the cake promptly became a Todd tradition. Mary Todd made the cake for Abraham while they were courting and continued the tradition after their marriage. Reportedly, Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Cake was her husband’s favorite sweet treat.
The recipe survives to this day. Here it is. (Instructions in parentheses are modernizations.)
Mary Todd Lincoln’s White Cake
- Six egg whites
- 3 cups flour
- 3 tsp. baking powder
- 1 cup butter at room temperature
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup blanched almonds, chopped (in a food processor or blender) to resemble coarse flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
(Preheat oven to 350 degrees.)
Grease and flour a (10- to 12-cup Bundt) pan.
In a medium bowl, beat egg whites (with a mixer on medium-high speed) until stiff (about 4 minutes). Set aside.
In a separate medium bowl, sift together flour and baking powder three times. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar (with mixer on medium speed) until light and fluffy (about 2 minutes). Add flour mixture alternately with the milk, beating well after each addition. Stir in the almonds.
Stir in the vanilla, then fold beaten egg whites into the batter until just combined.
Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake about 1 hour (until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean).
Let cake cool in pan about 15 minutes, then remove (to wire rack) and let cool another hour before dusting with confectioners’ sugar.
Allow me to be frank: This cake is a lot of trouble to make, but the result is worth every bit of effort. It’s now part of my family’s tradition, as well.
May your family’s traditions bring you peace and joy that follows you through the coming year.
On December 24, children here in the U.S. will hang their stockings (or usually weeks in advance as my kids did) and put out milk and cookies for Santa Claus. Then, they’ll go to bed and TRY to sleep. That part was always hard because of all the visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Poor kids.
But what about some of the other countries?
HOLLAND – St Nicholas arrives a month early in November with his gifts. He is dressed in Bishop’s robes and journeys in a boat with his helper who is called Black Peter and wears Spanish clothes. The pair live most of the year preparing lists of presents and writing every child’s behavior in a very large book. Many people go to Amsterdam docks to greet him. He mounts a snow horse and rides through the streets in a great parade, amid many festivities. I’d really LOVE to see this!
SCANDINAVIA – A little gnome called Julenisse puts the presents under the Christmas tree in the night. The children leave a bowl of porridge out for him.
ENGLAND – One of their customs is mummering. In the Middle Ages, people called mummers put on masks and acted out Christmas plays. These plays are still performed in towns and villages. The English gift giver is Father Christmas and he wears a long red or green robe, and leaves presents in stockings on Christmas Eve.
GREECE – St. Nicholas is important as the patron saint of sailors. According to Greek tradition, his clothes are drenched with brine, his beard drips with seawater, and his face is covered with perspiration because he has been working hard against the waves to reach sinking ships and rescue them from the angry sea. (I’m sure this image would be very comforting. Not!) Greek ships never leave port without some sort of St. Nicholas icon on board.
IRELAND – Christmas lasts from Christmas Eve to the feast of the Epiphany on January 6, which is referred to as Little Christmas. Red lighted candles are placed in windows on Christmas Eve to guide Joseph and Mary who look for shelter. Irish women bake a seed cake for each person in the house. After the Christmas evening meal, bread and milk are left out and the door unlatched as a symbol of hospitality.
ITALY – The Christmas season begins eight days prior and is known as the Novena. On January 6, presents are delivered by a kind ugly witch called Befana on a broomstick. The children are told that when the baby Jesus was born missed the Star, lost her way and has been flying around ever since, leaving presents at every house with children in case he is there. She slides down chimneys, and fills stockings and shoes with good things for good children and leaves coal for those who are not so good.
GERMANY – Children leave letters on their windowsills for Christkind, a winged figure dressed in white robes and a golden crown who distributes gifts. Sometimes the letters are decorated with glue and sprinkled with sugar to make them sparkle.
FRANCE – On Christmas Eve, children leave their shoes by the fireplace to be filled with gifts from Pere Noel. In the morning they also find that sweets, fruit, nuts and small toys have been hung on the tree.
In addition to our normal traditions, what are some of your own that involve Christmas? Or maybe you heard a strange tradition that you want to share.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!
Several years ago, I had just sold my first short story to Adams Media’s Rocking Chair Reader series. I was on Cloud 9! This story, SILVER MAGIC, was the 2nd story I sold to them and would appear in their first Christmas collection, Classic Christmas: True Stories of Holiday Cheer and Goodwill. I want to share it with you here. This story is true, and is one of the most poignant tales I could ever tell about my grandfather–he died when I was eleven. I never saw this side of him, and I don’t think very many people did–that’s what makes this Christmas story so special.
SILVER MAGIC by Cheryl Pierson
Did you know that there is a proper way to hang tinsel on the Christmas tree?
Growing up in the small town of Seminole, Oklahoma, I was made aware of this from my earliest memories of Christmas. Being the youngest in our family, there was never a shortage of people always wanting to show me the right way to do—well, practically everything! When it came to hanging the metallic strands on the Christmas tree, my mother made it a holiday art form.
“The cardboard holder should be barely bent,” she said, “forming a kind of hook for the tinsel.” No more than three strands of the silver magic should be pulled from this hook at one time. And, we were cautioned, the strands should be draped over the boughs of the tree gently, so as to avoid damage to the fragile greenery.
Once the icicles had been carefully added to the already-lit-and-decorated tree, we would complete our “pine princess” with a can of spray snow. Never would we have considered hanging the icicles in blobs, as my mother called them, or tossing them haphazardly to land where they would on the upper, unreachable branches. Hanging them on the higher branches was my father’s job, since he was the tallest person I knew—as tall as Superman, for sure. He, too, could do anything—even put the serenely blinking golden star with the blonde angel on the very highest limb—without a ladder!
Once Christmas was over, I learned that there was also a right way to save the icicles before setting the tree out to the roadside for the garbage man. The cardboard holders were never thrown out. We kept them each year, tucked away with the rest of the re-useable Christmas decorations. Their shiny treasure lay untangled and protected within the corrugated Bekins Moving and Storage boxes that my mother had renamed “CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS” in bold letters with a black magic marker.
At the end of the Christmas season, I would help my sisters undress the tree and get it ready for its lonely curbside vigil. We would remove the glass balls, the plastic bells, and the homemade keepsake decorations we’d made in school. These were all gently placed in small boxes. The icicles came next, a chore we all detested.
We removed the silver tinsel and meticulously hung it back around the little cardboard hook. Those icicles were much heavier then, being made of real metal and not synthetic plastic. They were easier to handle and, if you were careful, didn’t snarl or tangle. It was a long, slow process—one that my young, impatient hands and mind dreaded.
For many years, I couldn’t understand why everyone—even my friends’ parents’—insisted on saving the tinsel from year to year. Then one night, in late December, while Mom and I gazed at the Christmas tree, I learned why.
As she began to tell the story of her first Christmas tree, her eyes looked back through time. She was a child in southeastern Oklahoma, during the dustbowl days of the Depression. She and her siblings had gotten the idea that they needed a Christmas tree. The trekked into the nearby woods, cut down an evergreen, and dragged it home. While my grandfather made a wooden stand for it, the rest of the family popped and strung corn for garland. The smaller children made decorations from paper and glue.
“What about a star?” one of the younger boys had asked.
My grandfather thought for a moment, then said, “I’ve got an old battery out there in the shed. I’ll cut one from that.”
The kids were tickled just to have the tree, but a star, too! It was almost too good to be true.
Grandfather went outside. He disappeared around the side of the old tool shed and didn’t return for a long time. Grandma glanced out the window a few times, wondering what was taking so long, but the children were occupied with stringing the popcorn and making paper chains. They were so excited that they hardly noticed when he came back inside.
Grandmother turned to him as he shut the door against the wintry blast of air. “What took you so long?” she asked. “I was beginning to get worried.”
Grandfather smiled apologetically, and held up the star he’d fashioned. “It took me awhile. I wanted it to be just right.” He slowly held up his other hand, and Grandmother clapped her hands over her mouth in wonder. Thin strands of silver magic cascaded in a shimmering waterfall from his loosely clenched fist. “It’s a kind of a gift, you know. For the kids.”
“I found some foil in the battery,” he explained. “It just didn’t seem right, not to have icicles.”
In our modern world of disposable commodities, can any of us imagine being so poor that we would recycle an old battery for the metal and foil, in order to hand-cut a shiny star and tinsel for our children’s Christmas tree?
A metal star and cut-foil tinsel—bits of Christmas joy, silver magic wrapped in a father’s love for his family.
I know Christmas is over, but this is a fantastic little anthology you might enjoy any time of year. If you’d like to read the wonderful stories in this collection, here’s the link at Amazon. This is a true “bargain” at only $5.18 for a new copy!