Merry Christmas from Jeannie Watt

Do you remember Woolworth’s Stores? When my mom was a very young mother, she visited the Woolworth’s in Spokane, Washington to Christmas shop and she saw these very cute stockings with names spelled out in sequins. She could not work the cost of a custom-made stocking for her baby daughter–me–into her meager Christmas budget, but she was able to purchase a less expensive stocking and sequins and make her own. She did the same when my brother was born.

My stocking has hung every Christmas since 1957. It’s getting a little tattered, and truth be told, it isn’t often filled, but every now and again I find a thoughtful bauble in the toe. The last was a beautiful garnet ring. It did, however, always get stuffed to the brim when I was a kid and loved emptying it.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday, filled with lovely moments which will become equally lovely memories.

Merry Christmas!

Jeannie

 

IT WOULDN’T BE CHRISTMAS IF WE DIDN’T DO THIS…by Cheryl Pierson

Growing up, traditions in my house included putting up a live Christmas tree every year—very few people had an artificial tree “back then”—and of course, setting up our little nativity set. Mom always made fudge and she’d make divinity for my dad, and wait with fingers crossed to see if it would “turn out” like it should.

One thing we always had on our tree were the silver tinsel icicles—and back then, they were made of real aluminum—not this cheap plastic stuff you buy now! So, we saved those icicles from year to year and carefully placed them back on the cardboard holder as we “de-decorated” the tree. I thought we must be the only people who did that, but it turns out, that is a not-so-fond memory that many people my age have.

Our tree was usually not the best—when I wanted a nice, full Scotch pine tree, Mom would shake her head and frown. “Cheryl, those things cost SEVEN DOLLARS!” she’d say. We always got a “regular tree” that cost between $4-$5. I remember one year we paid $5.50, and that was the most I ever can remember paying for a Christmas tree. That was a LOOOONNG time ago!

My “smaller” tree–I downsized. I have a ladder with an elf and Santa climbing up on the side that has been a tradition since my kids were tots.

But our tree, though not “top of the line”, was decorated with love—and our traditional ornaments that had meaning. I inherited many of those ornaments, and I still use them, some that I made in kindergarten. Through the years, we’ve added ornaments made by our children, Jessica and Casey, and ornaments that we bought for them for their own collections.

Jessica, age 3, ornament made in Mother’s Day Out, and Casey age 1.

I’ve never had a “theme” tree. My theme is the same every year. Just memories that are so precious, through the preservation of the ornaments I remember as a child, and those that have been added since, each one with a special story of its own. Handmade items from school years, “our first Christmas” from the year hubby and I were married, a set of little cheap plastic bells and lanterns that my dad bought when I was little and loved the tree a bit too much. Those are special because he wanted me to be able to enjoy Christmas, too, and those were indestructible!

Plastic pink bell and plastic silver lantern–Dad bought these for me when I was learning to walk and loving the tree! Talk about antiques! 

Yes, I still use icicle tinsel. My kids roll their eyes, but to me, it wouldn’t be Christmas without it!

 

This is a small tree I bought a few years back when I was really sick with the flu before Christmas–it was all I could manage that year–the only year I didn’t have a regular tree with tinsel–and now I use it as a decoration on my old 78 record player top along with the ceramic train my mom made many years ago.

Another tradition that always is a must at our house is making fudge. Although we have to be careful about how much of it we eat, that’s the only time of year I make it. That always brings back great memories of home and growing up, for me, and I hope it will for my kids, too. There is no replacement for certain tastes and smells, is there?

Our first Christmas together–that was 42 years ago!

My third just “couldn’t, wouldn’t ever miss doing” tradition at Christmas is setting up our old nativity set. It’s the same one my parents bought before I was ever born. Oh, has it been through some rough times! But it’s so precious to me. I still remember how enthralled I was as a child with that cardboard stable and the figurines. The manger is cardboard too, with bits of straw glued to it. It’s not beautiful by any means. But it is to me, because of the memories.

This angel always goes near the top of my tree. My mom gave each of us girls one of these one Christmas–back in the ’70’s–and I always think of her when I put it on the tree. Another tradition I just couldn’t miss!

Sammy, directing the decorating and enjoying the Christmas ambience!

 

Do you have a tradition at your house that you just wouldn’t be able to do without at Christmas? Let’s hear about them!

Everyone have a wonderful Christmas and enjoy your holidays!

The Traditional Christmas Fruitcake – Western-Style

I don’t know about you, but when I think of fruitcake, I think of the currant version, with almost sickly-sweet candies instead of real fruit, soaked in enough sugar to make a person vibrate out of existence if they eat a slice.

So, when I was writing a scene for an upcoming book, A Sugar Plum Christmas, and I needed a good, honest-to-goodness pioneer sweet…fruitcake really didn’t top my list. Does it top anyone’s? I was skeptical until I started watching videos on how these things were made.

traditional fruitcake

Enter the Way-Back machine…

Firstly, historians aren’t wholly certain how far back fruitcakes go (is that really a surprise?). They know cakes like these were used as rations for the Roman Army, right around 27 BC. For all we know, those are still in existence. I kid…sort of.

Even then, the Romans knew that soaking the fruit, and the cake when it was complete, in alcohol, would make it safe for eating much longer than other breads. Plus, it’s calorie dense. I’ll skip the joke where I say it’s pretty dense in other ways…that’s just too easy.

From the Roman Empire to a Rancher’s Table

Well, like the Roman Empire, the Old West didn’t have many options for keeping food, especially sweets that weren’t hard candy, from spoiling. Age-old methods are tried and true and fruitcakes became the dessert of choice for Victorian homes during Christmas.

The cake was often made three months ahead of time, using the berries and fruits collected from the year before to make room for ones just collected. They would be soaked in whatever alcohol was readily available. Despite the feeling about alcohol now, feelings were different then, even children occasionally drank and women often used alcohol for homemade tinctures, so the ingredients were often right on hand.

fruitcake ingredients

Wherefore Art Thou, Orange

With the advent of the Transcontinental Railway in the 1880s, the one ingredient that might have been hard to come by, suddenly wasn’t. Oranges. The recipe calls for the peel of one orange and I can imagine that, prior to the availability caused by the railroad, that made the fruitcake taste much differently. Perhaps they found a way to dry and save the peels when they were more readily available during the summer months. I couldn’t find any site to confirm or deny that.

What’s interesting to me is that orange peel is one of the few items in a fruitcake recipe that doesn’t change. The spices seem to vary, the amount of flour fluxuates, what type of alcohol doesn’t matter, the types of fruits and nuts are loosey-goosey. But the orange peel is a staple.

Recipe Time

My mother-in-law has a recipe for fruitcake from her mother and she and her sisters have not shared it yet, but they do get together annually (barring weather or the illness that shall not be named) to make one or three. I do not have that recipe, but I hear it’s pretty good. The cake is usually gone by the time I hear about it. However, here is a fabulous recipe, that I might even try:
Cite: The Old Farmer’s Almanac

INGREDIENTS

  • 4-5 pounds fruit and nuts:
  • 1 pound dark raisins
  • 1 pound white raisins
  • 1/2 pound currants
  • 1/2 pound candied cherries
  • 1/2 pound candied pineapple
  • 1/4 pound candied citron
  • 2 ounces candied orange peel
  • 2 ounces candied lemon peel
  • 1/4 pound blanched whole almonds
  • 1/4 pound whole pecans
  • 1/2 cup Madeira
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: cinnamon, cloves, mace, and allspice
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 5 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Put the raisins and currants in a large bowl, add the Madeira and the rum and let stand, covered, overnight. Then add the candied fruits and mix well. Sift the spices and soda with 1-½ cups of the flour, combine the remaining flour with the nuts. Add all to the fruits, mixing lightly.

In another large bowl, beat the butter until light and cream in the sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and almond extract. Add the fruit and nut mixture to the batter and stir well. Turn the batter into a well greased tube or spring mold pan. A 10-inch pan will do for this 5-½ pound cake, or two smaller cakes may be made. Bake the large cake in an oven preheated to 275 degrees F for 3-½ to 4 hours, or until a cake tester inserted near the center of the cake comes out dry. The smaller cakes will take half the time.

Let the cake stand in the pan on a wire rack for half an hour, run a knife around the pan, if a spring mold, loosen it and remove the cake gently to a piece of heavy aluminum foil large enough to enclose it completely. Fold the closing double to seal the cake completely. Once or twice before Christmas, open the foil and pour a little additional rum or wine on the cake.

When ready to use, decorate the top of the cake with a wreath of pecans and maraschino cherries and thin slices of candied fruit.

A QUOTABLE CHRISTMAS by Cheryl Pierson

Hi everyone! Christmas always brings back wonderful memories of home and family, doesn’t it? One of the things I remember so well about my dad was how he could remember and call forth the perfect quote for just about anything and everything.   He always made Christmas a very special time of year around our house and was a true practical joker. He was a super-intelligent man with an IQ off the scale (I didn’t get that from him, sadly<G>) and as an adult, I understand why he was able to remember so many things and be able to say them at just the right time–as a child, it was a mystical thing. One of the things I’ve come to appreciate with adulthood is how hard my dad worked to provide for us. He loved to read and was an eloquent writer–I think if he could have made a living at it, he’d have given it a try himself. Thinking about him and his love for quotes prompted me to go in search of some heartwarming Christmas quotes.

I found some great quotes, published in ABOUT.COM, and wanted to share them with you.  Here’s a picture of my dear mom, El Wanda, and my dad, Fred,  when they were young newlyweds, back in 1944. Christmas is always an especially poignant time for me since my dad passed on December 23, 2007, and Mama followed him to heaven only 3 weeks later, on January 12, 2008.  I love Christmas because they both loved it so much. Raised during the Oklahoma Dust Bowl days, the Depression, and being so very poor, they made sure that Christmas was a “feeling” and a special time for family, friends, and abounding love at our house. 

There were so many of these–I just picked a few, but they are all great!

Edna Ferber, Roast Beef Medium Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling.
Bess Streeter Aldrich, Song of Years Christmas Eve was a night of song that wrapped itself about you like a shawl. But it warmed more than your body. It warmed your heart… filled it, too, with melody that would last forever.
Lenora Mattingly Weber, Extension Christmas is for children. But it is for grownups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chill and hide-bound hearts.
Louisa May Alcott The rooms were very still while the pages were softly turned and the winter sunshine crept in to touch the bright heads and serious faces with a Christmas greeting.
Charles N. Barnard The perfect Christmas tree? All Christmas trees are perfect!
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol But I am sure that I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round… as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.
W. J. Tucker, Pulpit Preaching For centuries men have kept an appointment with Christmas. Christmas means fellowship, feasting, giving and receiving, a time of good cheer, home.
Mary Ellen Chase Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.
Dr. Seuss And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?
G. K. Chesterton When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time.  Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?
Dale Evans Christmas, my child, is love in action.


Andy Rooney One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.
Hugh Downs Something about an old-fashioned Christmas is hard to forget.
Freya Stark Christmas is not an eternal event at all, but a piece of one’s home that one carries in one’s heart.
Marjorie Holmes At Christmas, all roads lead home.

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and that many of these quotes make your heart glad this Christmas season! Thanks so much for being a regular part of our lives here at Petticoats and Pistols! Do you have any special Christmas quotes or poems you love? PLEASE SHARE!

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL A GOODNIGHT!

Amanda McIntyre: A Christmas on the Prairie

We’re very happy to have bestselling romance author Amanda McIntyre visiting today. No one lives and breathes cowboys more than Amanda and her books are always at the top of readers’ lists. Please make her welcome and leave a comment to win a copy of Worth the Wait and The Cowboy’s Christmas.

 

 

One of my favorite book series growing up (heck, even now!) is the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Later, of course, I would become infatuated by the television show based on the books. For reasons I can’t explain, I find myself drawn to the struggles, the pioneer spirit, and the determination to carve out a life in a world ravaged by blizzards, windstorms, wild critters, and more. Nature could be brutal. Life was hard. Yet traditions in families were strong, humble though they might be.

At Christmas, I think how even the simplest of gifts were given or received with such profound and sincere gratitude. Granted, there was no Macy’s, no Amazon, or UPS back then. No long lines. No exchanges. No gift cards. Gives one pause, I think. And while I admire the stout-hearted women, men and children of days gone by, I wonder if I could survive in the same vein. (Though writing and publishing a book equates in some ways, I won’t lie!)

My upbringing in a small rural Midwestern town probably has much to do with my love for Wilder’s books, and perhaps the inspiration for a short story I would later write about a lonely, old cowboy, out on Christmas Eve on a cattle drive. “A Cowboy’s Christmas,” would later make an appearance as a beloved holiday story read by Jed Kinnison, the cattlemen patriarch of the Kinnison clan and the three young teens Jed raised alone and who would later take over his ranch in End of the Line, Montana.

End of the Line, Montana (fictitious name, best of my knowledge) has roots in history as well. Back in the early 1800’s, it was part of the gold rush and one of the many mining towns that popped up along with the westward expansion. It followed on the heels of places like Deadwood, Leadville, and Reno to name a few. Interestingly, I was fortunate to be involved in a multi-author “mail-order brides” project that introduces mountain man, Christian Ezekiel Kinnsion to the little town of Noelle, Colorado. An ex Union Army man, he follows his brother west to Noelle in search of finding their claim of gold. Christian and his wife, Genevieve, will eventually travel north and be one of the founding families of End of the Line, Montana.

Family, tradition, honor, perseverance, integrity are all components I weave throughout my three related series; The Kinnison Legacy, the Last Hope Ranch, and End of the Line.

In my current release, Worth the Wait, a woman and her two boys discover the kindness of the ranch and the people in town to help her realize the worth of opening your heart to second chances.

 

When Hank, an old friend rescues Julie from an abusive marriage, he becomes a knight in shining armor to her and her boys. After a year of starting life over at the Last Hope ranch, Hank is ready to set the date. Julie likes the way things are. Can love overcome the pain of the past and prove that it’s all been…worth the wait? I hope you’ll visit End of the Line soon and meet the folks at the Last Hope Ranch!

Amazon buy link Worth the Wait  http://bit.ly/WorththeWaitAMcintyre

Amazon Author Page: http://bit.ly/AmandasAuthorPage

Book Bub: http://bit.ly/AmandasBookbubPage

 

About Amanda: Published internationally in print, eBook, and Audio, bestselling author Amanda McIntyre finds inspiration from the American Heartland that she calls home. Best known for her Kinnison Legacy cowboys and Last Hope Ranch series, her passion is writing emotional, character-driven contemporary western and historical romance. Amanda truly believes that no matter what, love will always find a way.

Giveaway question:

What holiday traditions do you have for you or your family? * Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing.

Giveaway: An eBook or Print copy of WORTH THE WAIT with a bonus of *The Cowboys Christmas standalone print copy to have or keep as a treasured holiday story. (Print copies US only) *My own private copy of The Cowboy’s Christmas.

A Merry Cowboy Christmas!

Yes, I know we just had Halloween…

I know it’s only November first, but I am in that Christmas spirit because that’s kind of how publishing rolls, my friends and as the publishers roll… Well, so do the authors! And this author has some fun stuff to celebrate this fall…

First, my just released (non-cowboy!) book “At Home in Wishing Bridge“, the second book of my “Wishing Bridge” series, has been on the Amazon bestseller list for weeks and spent a lot of time at #1 so there is a reason to celebrate right there… and readers are loving it. And that makes authors the happiest of all.

And Love Inspired has re-issued this beautiful story from my “Kirkwood Lake” series. “The Lawman’s Holiday Wish is a story of old wrongs, quick judgments and slow healing… but when God gives us a whole new beginning… a beginning with three precocious five-year-olds… well, that’s the kind of Christmas dream we all love to see! Love Inspired doubled the fun by pairing me with Gail Martin and her book “The Christmas Kite”. You can find this on AMAZON, and in Walmart now!

But being a Western blog, let’s see if I can pull something out of my Christmas Stetson!

Yes!

🙂

First, we’ve got an amazingly fun duo with my good Western buddy Linda Goodnight. I was blessed to be part of a novella duo with her… Western-and-cowboy-themed…. and so I was able to add a “Shepherd’s Crossing” novella to my series set in Western Idaho. The “Shepherd’s Crossing” series brings three Southern beauties… real Steel Magnolias… to a sheep ranch left to them by a benevolent uncle. And there just may be some rugged cowboys who know a good thing when they see it and have the brains enough to keep these girls well above the Mason-Dixon line… despite the cold and wind and snow. Shepherd’s Crossing… where love conquers all. Eventually. 🙂

This beautiful story pairs a single mother with a cowboy who’s spent a bunch of years alone… but Christmas isn’t just a season of miracles. It’s a season of family… friends… and second chances. And Ty Carrington gets his second chance in “Falling for the Christmas Cowboy” my half “A Cowboy Christmas”! And today I’ve got two copies of “A Cowboy Christmas” to send out this week (it’s catch up week on the farm now that pumpkin season is over!)… so you can win it before you can buy it! This book hits stores in two weeks… and on sale for Kindle December 1st!!!  PREORDER HERE! (I can’t make it much plainer than that, can I, darlings???)

On sale nationwide in two weeks!

And then, for the historical lovers among us (of which I am one!) here is my historical novella Christmas collection “Christmas on the Frontier”.

This three-novella book takes you back to a simpler time… but faith, hope and love still ruled the day as we built this great nation.

Three great pioneer Christmas stories bring us back to a simpler time… maybe a holier time… a time before Christmas became synonymous with commercialism. A time when a baby in the manger was enough to make us bow our heads… take a knee… pray as one. A time to be grateful for the little things. A time when little was taken for granted because our very hold on life and liberty was tenuous back then and no one had the luxury to be jaded.

 

“Her Christmas Cowboy”, “A Town Called Christmas” and “His Beloved Bride” make up a wonderful collection from my heart… to yours.

I’m also giving away two Kindle copies of “Christmas on the Frontier” today…. to start your November off right.

Leave a comment about holidays below… what you love? What you don’t love! What makes you laugh or cry? Are you a Hallmark binge watcher? Or a binge reader? Are you Pinterest crazy? Or do you wing it with cookies from Wegmans or Harris Teeter and a Stouffer’s lasagna in the oven?

Because there’s value and joy in both ways!

Four winners today to kick off our Christmas season, then rejoin me in a month when we celebrate Christmas novellas here with the fillies… and I’ll be giving away copies again. Keepin’ it simple. Keepin’ it real. Keepin’ it prayerful in times of trouble…

“For unto you is born this day a Savior which is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign unto you. You will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Luke 2, 11-12

Oh, those shepherds! Those angels!

Can you even imagine what that must have been like?

And today I get to kick of this holy and happy season with you! Bring on the eggnog, my friends! And the cookies. (Who doesn’t love cookies?) And let us rejoice together!

 

 

 

Merry Christmas from the Witemeyers!

I’m not one of those moms who gets everyone dressed up in their Sunday best to take a family photo to be used in Christmas cards. In fact, the last several years I’ve been a complete slacker when it came to mailing out Christmas cheer. No cards at all. Not a one.

This year, I decided to kick that Bah Humbug to the curb and find some Christmas cheer. So I dug through my photo stream to find a shot of the family all together. Not as easy as you might think. Plenty of the kids. Not so many with hubby and I in there with them.

Then I found one! The day we moved my daughter into the dorm. We are all wearing matching ACU shirts (well, except the girl who is actually the student there – ha!) and we look fairly good. I photo-shopped some Christmas hats on to hide some of the been-unloading-boxes-for-an-hour hair and . . . voila!

Family Christmas card!

(Try not to notice how not-thrilled my daughter is. Ha!)

Maybe next year I’ll try to photo-shop Stetsons and cowboy boots on everyone.

May each of you have a wonderful holiday season filled with family, friends, fun, and fantastic fiction!

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 

Karen’s Big Christmas Giveaway Results

Congratulations go to:

  • Jazmine Collins – Autographed copy of Heart’s Entwined
  • Jackie Lyles – Autographed copy of Heart’s Entwined
  • Mary Wardlaw – Audio book CD set of To Win Her Heart
  • Brenda Dowdy – Audio book CD set of Heart on the Line

I’ll be contacting the winners via email this week.

 

Christmas on the Frontier

In 1849, California pioneer Catherine Haun wrote, “Although very tired of tent life many of us spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in our canvas houses. I do not remember ever having had happier holiday times. For Christmas we had grizzly bear steak for which we paid $2.50, one cabbage for $1.00 and oh horrors, some more dried apples! And for a Christmas present the Sacramento River rose very high and flooded the whole town!”

Now that’s a holiday to remember!

Celebrating Christmas wasn’t easy for those making their way in new territories, but upholding traditions was an important way of making these places feel like home. Often resources were limited and decorations consisted of whatever was handy—evergreen trimmings, berries, pictures clipped from magazines, popcorn garlands—and presents were often handmade, or ordered from catalogs, if mail service of that kind was available.

In Boise, Idaho, the community shared a tree in the 1860s and residents were invited to “communicate through it with their friends,” according to the Idaho Statesman. People could exchange gifts and there was a Christmas Eve party at the tree.

But what about those people who were truly in the wilderness on Christmas Day? Well, some of them couldn’t take time off from the important business of staying alive as this journal quote from fur trapper David Thompson attests:  “Christmas and News Years day came and passed. We could not honor them, the occupations of every day demanded our attentions; and time passed on, employed in hunting for a livelihood.”

Fort Clatsop

Lewis and Clark and spent several Christmases on the trail during their famous expedition. Christmas of 1804 was spent in Fort Mandan, North Dakota where the men were issued flour, dried apples and pepper to help celebrate the holiday. Clark wrote of this Christmas: “I was awakened before Day by a discharge of 3 platoons from the Party and the french, the men merrily Disposed, I give them all a little Taffia and permited 3 Cannon fired, at raising Our flag, Some men went out to hunt & the Others to Danceing and Continued untill 9 oClock P, M, when the frolick ended.”

In 1806, the expedition was stranded at Fort Clatsop on the Pacific Coast. This was more of a gift giving occasion, according to Clark: “Our Diner to day Consisted of pore Elk boiled, Spoilt fish & Some roots, a bad Christmass diner. I recved a presnt of Capt L. of a fleece hosrie Shirt Draws and Socks—, a pr. mockersons of Whitehouse a Small Indian basket of Gutherich, two Dozen white weazils tails of the Indian woman, & Some black root of the Indians before their departure.”

That “Indian Woman” was Sacagawea.

If you’re interested in learning more about Christmas in the Old West, check out Christmas in the Old West: A Historical Scrapbook, by Sam Travers. The information in this blog was adapted from that book.

Have a Wonderful Holiday Season and a Very Merry Christmas! I’ve loved spending 2017 with you, and look forward to 2018!

Jeannie

SILVER MAGIC–MERRY CHRISTMAS! by Cheryl Pierson

Cheryl Pierson

 

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. Grandmother 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.

This anthology is only available used now, but it’s well worth purchasing from Amazon and reading so many heartwarming Christmas stories from yesteryear! Hope you all have a wonderful, wonderful Christmas and a fantastic 2018!

 Christmas horses

The Magical Music Box

by Regina Scott

 

If you’re like me, you’ve already been queueing up the Christmas music. There’s something special about the hymns, carols, and jingles written to celebrate the season. But in the west of the 1800s, music was a precious commodity, at any time. There are tales of families sacrificing to bring a piano on the Oregon Trail, stories of stampedes averted by a cowboy with a calming voice. If you could play an instrument or sing well, you were instantly popular!

 

Perhaps that’s why music boxes were so prized. First developed in the early nineteenth century in Europe by watchmakers, some early specimens were tiny enough to fit inside a gentleman’s snuff box. The mechanism was much like what you may have seen in a child’s toy—a cylinder with bumps equating to notes and a toothed comb that the cylinder rotated against to “ring” out the song. You cranked the mechanism to tighten a spring, which slowly unwound and stopped the motion of the cylinder.

People were entranced by the sound, and demand grew. Music boxes grew larger, fancier. Some came in tortoiseshell cases, others encased in fine wood. Sizes increased to tabletop and even as large as a grandfather clock. Companies found ways to swap cylinders, so you could play more songs. The number of teeth “playing” across the cylinder grew to over 300, providing a range of octaves. More springs meant the box could play for hours without rewinding.

Catalogs allowed you to pick from a range of music, from popular tunes to classical pieces and hymns. One piece even mimicked the sound of a bird singing. Supposedly Beethoven was particularly enchanted with the devices and composed music with them in mind.

 

At first the price for these boxes was high enough that only the wealthy could afford them. But after the Civil War, more reasonable boxes became available. These used less durable components, such as wooden or even paper rolls. Coin-operated versions were placed in railway stations for the public’s enjoyment. Pocket watches became musical, playing chimes to mark the hour. And people on the frontier ordered the boxes and gave them to those they loved. My hero Levi Wallin gives one to my heroine Callie Murphy in this month’s His Frontier Christmas Family. Callie loves music, but her family circumstances have prevented her from owning any kind of instrument. The music box becomes her prized possession.

The advent of the phonograph and player piano toward the end of the nineteenth century usurped the popularity of the music box. But examples continued to be created long afterward. The round music boxes in this blog post belonged to my great-grandmother and her sister, both of whom were born in the late 1800s. One was used to hold face powder—the original powder puff is inside.

 

Perhaps, like Callie, they loved music in any form, even from a magical little box.

 

Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for an autographed copy of His Frontier Christmas Family, Regina’s new release.

 

Click to Buy on Amazon

Regina Scott started writing novels in the third grade. Thankfully for literature as we know it, she didn’t actually sell her first novel until she learned a bit more about writing. She now has more than thirty-five published works of warm, witty romance. She and her husband of nearly 30 years reside in the Puget Sound area of Washington State. Regina Scott has dressed as a Regency dandy, driven four-in-hand, learned to fence, and sailed on a tall ship, all in the name of research, of course. Learn more about her at her website or connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, or Goodreads.

His Frontier Family

After taking guardianship of his late friend’s siblings and baby daughter, minister Levi Wallin hopes to atone for his troubled past on the gold fields. But it won’t be easy to convince the children’s wary elder sister to trust him. The more he learns about her, though, the more he believes Callie Murphy’s prickly manner masks a vulnerable heart…one he’s starting to wish he was worthy of.

Every man in Callie’s life chose chasing gold over responsibilities. Levi—and the large, loving Wallin family—might just be different. But she can tell he’s hiding something from her, and she refuses to risk her heart with secrets between them. Even as they grow closer, will their pasts keep them from claiming this unexpected new beginning?