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Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Wee...

    I’m a sucker for the Christmas season. Always have been. Don’t know if it’s the deluded optimism the holiday thrusts upon us, or just a strange affinity for otherwise maudlin songs dressed up as cheerful seasonal chestnuts. I mean, let’s be honest, at any other time of year, who would actually listen wistfully to a yawner like “The Little Drummer Boy”?

    Whatever it is, I have always ensured that my family gets into the holiday spirit, starting with finding the perfect Christmas tree.

    When I was a kid, the search for the ultimate yuletide tree took us to the nearest gas station: hardly a romantic venue from which to choose the centerpiece of our holiday decor. We’d pile into the station wagon for the three-block drive to Buck’s Esso station, spill out onto the oil-slicked parking lot, mull over three or four already-netted spruce trees, and then dad would haggle down the price. End of story.

Ah, so I was determined to rewrite that tradition with my own family. Early in my marriage, we decided the most festive tree-acquisition could only be achieved by cutting down our own (plus you get the added benefit of the needles actually staying on the tree all month rather than littering the floor). Because we lived in citified Northern Virginia, the cachet of escaping to the “country”–i.e. the closest remaining patch of farmland untainted by greedy developers–only added to the allure.

    But one year, I found myself almost wishing for the chance to just pop down to the local gas station to buy a tree…

    That year, my husband and our three children, all under the age of four, trekked to the Clifton Christmas Tree Farm, where awaiting us were candy canes, hot chocolate, homemade wreaths and the typical abundance of forced holiday cheer that we craved.

    I had whipped my kids into a tree-chopping frenzy, and so they took their task quite seriously. For forty minutes, we foraged throughout the whopping half-acre “farm” until we found the perfect tree: seven feet of holiday splendor, as wide as it was tall, perfect to fill our cathedral-ceiling’ed living room and flood us with the Christmas spirit.

    The kids took turns on the ground with the saw while my husband supervised the chopping honors. Their excitement was palpable. We dragged the tree back to the cashier stand where the farmer’s son coiled the netting around our white pine. The kids stood by, sucking on candy canes, sipping hot cider and petting the farmer’s dog, who’d recently wandered over. I was just about to retrieve the car to load on the tree, when Fido lifted his leg.

    “Noooooo!” I shouted in what seemed like a frame-by-frame slow motion, as a steady stream was released onto our perfect tree.

    For a moment we stood stupefied, not knowing what to do. But we weren’t about to keep a tree covered in dog wee, so we grabbed the kids’ hands to head back into the wilds to hunt for a replacement one.

    Until our kids let us know in no uncertain terms, that this tree was the one, the only. They threw themselves on the ground, flailing and crying, thrashing and moaning, like something from a Greek tragedy. They wanted their special tree, and nothing else would suffice.

    Their wails did not subside until we relented, and agreed to load up the tainted tree.

    The farmer found a makeshift bucket, filled it from a nearby stream and doused the offending urine from the tree. We loaded it onto the roof of the car, and went home.

    I have admit, I sort of detached emotionally from the tree that year. Couldn’t quite get over the psychological hurdle of having a tree the dog peed on in my living room. Somehow it clashed with the whole festive notion.

    But for my kids, the tree was just about perfect, despite its incumbent flaws. And maybe that’s exactly why I like the holidays so much: because at this time of year, we’re all a little more likely to forgive the small things in order to see the bigger picture.

Here’s this year’s tree–note the nativity scene underneath it is Mary and Joseph (and Rudolph) made from toilet paper rolls, baby Jesus is a clothespin. My son made them in pre-school ;-).



Categories: News

Black Sheep Romeo is here!

On cloud wine…

Sometimes trouble seems to find Matteo Romeo whether he seeks it out or not. Long regarded as the black sheep of the famed Romeo winemaking family, he’s hardly surprised when he finds himself in yet another predicament, this time harboring an unauthorized farmhand who he’s discovered hiding in a tool shed just as the grape harvest gets underway.

Freespirited Lizzie Moretti has long prized her independence. Lizzie’s been wandering around the world, working odd jobs to earn just enough money to keep on the go. Forced to flee an aggressive host in the middle of a rainy night while working on a farm in Tuscany, she seeks the shelter of a tool shed until she can figure out a plan. Alas, it happens to be on the estate of the wealthy Romeo family on the eve of the coveted grape harvest, when strangers like Lizzie are most unwelcome.

She’s never put down roots. And he can’t seem to escape the roots that sometimes feel like they’re strangling him. They both walked away from family, but can they find salvation in the very family they’ve tried to run from?

Kindle   Nook   iBooks   Kobo

Categories: News

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hi all!

I don’t know about you but I’m gearing up for Thanksgiving—making my grocery lists, strategizing going very early in the morning so as to avoid the crowds, and I’m even making pies with my good friend who wants to learn how to make pies. Should be fun!

Not to be cocky but I do make a mean pie—no credit to myself, but thanks to my mom and my grandma, whose fabulous recipes I do my  best to replicate. And now to be honest, my pies aren’t always the prettiest—each time I make one I get a little anxious about how the crust is going to fall when I least expect it, or if I haven’t rolled off enough dough to have an adequate crust, in which case the contents will end up leaking all over the oven while the pies cook and ugh, do I hate cleaning that baked-on mess when it happens! (though truthfully I never get around to cleaning out my oven so it ends up smelling like burnt fruit whenever I use the oven thereafter ;-). I’m disclosing all of my dirty secrets now!

We always have Thanksgiving with my husband’s family but I then come home and replicate the entire dinner so that we have leftovers, so the pressure is off of me for perfection and having everything ready at the same time (impossible to do that with Thanksgiving dinner isn’t it?!). I like to cook my turkey pretty straightforward—no deep-frying for me (I’ve watched too many fried turkey flash fires on America’s Funniest Home Videos, thanks). I brine it for 24 hours in sugar, salt and water (I’ve tried it with lots of fancier recipes but don’t like my turkey taking on a lot of flavors, so this just helps to keep it moister). I always make a family favorite—rice croquettes, which has been in my family for several generations (if you read my novel Slim to None you can get the recipe!), and then, well, I’m not a mashed potato lover but I’ll make them for the few in my house who’ll eat them. Gravy, of course! And that’s gotta be homemade. Again, I keep it super simple—to me Thanksgiving isn’t one of those meals you play around with perfection ;-). 

And once Thanksgiving is over, I’ve got to hunker down with a December book deadline plus the release of Black Sheep Romeo—book 2 of my Royal Romeo series—on December 6. Hope you can check it out here! And I’ll reveal the cover for book 3—Red Carpet Romeo, which will be out February 17! If you want to start from the beginning of the series–which is a spinoff from my It’s Reigning Men series—you can start with Red Hot Romeo.


Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Categories: News