Morning Coffee: A Royal Infatuation

If you’ve been watching the news this week, and even if you haven’t, you’ve no doubt heard the announcement that Prince Harry is engaged. Rakishly handsome, a member of the British armed forces, a champion for numerous charities, and the fantasy love of so many young women around the world. It is an American, Meghan Markle, who ultimately won the heart of the red-haired royal.

Disney has made a fortune on the fascination of young girls with princes; just spend a day at either Disneyland or Disney World and you’ll find yourself surrounded by little girls dressed like their favorite Princess, willing to wait in long lines to say hello and have her picture taken with her Princess of choice. And this fascination doesn’t end with little girls. It’s a common plot in romance novels; a young woman meets her Prince Charming, who turns out to be a real prince, and falls in love. Have you watched the Hallmark movie channel?

Many of us, and I include myself, are obsessed with the British royal family. One of my favorite stops on a trip to London was Buckingham Palace. I watched the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and would later set my alarm for hours earlier than normal to watch her funeral. She was beautiful, kind, humble, and her death was devastating. When their son William married Kate Middleton I was again glued to the television. Each photograph of a royal baby is more enchanting than the last. And now we will have a new princess to watch.

While Meghan Markle won’t actually be a princess, and with a husband who is currently fifth in line for the throne she will never be queen, she will still receive all the attention and fascination that comes with her upcoming marriage.

Not so many years ago, she would never have been an acceptable choice for a royal. (Harry had to receive his grandmother the Queen’s approval to marry.) Consider the case of Harry’s great-great uncle, King Edward VIII. He was forced to choose between the throne and his love, the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Yes, he was King and Harry is not, will not, be King, but the circumstances are not all that different. Meghan Markle is also an American and a divorcee. On top of that, she is an actress, Catholic, and biracial. The royal family has come a long way under Queen Elizabeth II’s rule.

Many of these changes have been forced upon her as what society now accepts as the norm have changed. Three of the Queen’s four children are divorced. Prince Charles, next in line to the throne, is not only divorced himself, but married a divorcee.

Don’t think she has thrown all the rules out the window. The etiquette of how to dress based on age, marital status, time of day, formal or non-formal, where you will be seen and with whom, are numerous. It was recently questioned why Miss Markle is always seen with nude nail polish…the Queen believes colored nail polish to be “vulgar”. Skirts are required to be hemmed below the knee and blue jeans are too casual. Perhaps this is why they have personal servants to help them dress. How else would they keep track of all the rules?

The nuptials are planned for May 2018. I don’t know the date yet but plan on watching. Harry’s bride should be another bright light in the royal household.  A California girl, she once said she “lives by the ethos that most things can be cured with either [sic] yoga, the beach, or a few avocados.” Let’s just hope the grammar issue with that statement was an error on the part of the journalist and not the bride-to-be.

Morning Coffee: “Missing My Heart” by Tina Susedik

Title: Missing My Heart
      Author: Tina Susedik         
Genre: Historical Romance/Mystery
Time: 1975. Place: Bourbonville
After the death of the grandmother Ellie Farrell had lived with since she was sixteen, she is tasked with the job of cleaning out the over-packed house. When Ellie begins to find love notes and money from a Burt to Randi spanning over four decades, she sets out to find out who these people are and what they have to do with her. An unexpected check for $100,000 dollars delivered to her house, ramps up the mystery – especially when death threats begin to arrive.
Patton Trullinger, an investigative reporter, comes to Chandler County to research bootleggers for a book he’s contracted for. As a Vietnam veteran, he’s dealing with PTSD. When he meets Ellie, he finds her mystery too good to pass up.
Who are Burt and Randi? Who is sending death threats? Will Ellie and Patton’s love bloom as the mystery deepens?
As a child, Tina Susedik always had stories floating around in her head, but had no idea those stories could be put down in book form as writing stories wasn’t taught in her classes. One day her brother (yes, her brother) introduced her to Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Flame and the Flower. Tina was hooked and a love of reading, and eventually writing romance, began. Besides her romances, she is also a non-fiction writer with seven history books in print. She also has written and published two children’s books. She also writes under a pen name.
Tina has been married for forty-four years and lives in Northwestern Wisconsin. She has two children and five grandchildren. After careers in accounting and teaching (not necessarily at the same time), she found her career in writing is what fulfills her the most. When not writing, she loves camping, hiking, photography, reading, and playing with her five grandchildren.
She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Wisconsin Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime
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Morning Coffee: Origin of the Thanksgiving Feast

RevisionsWe all grew up with an image of the first Thanksgiving feast between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans. In our schoolbooks it looked very much like what most of us will sit down to next week: turkey, potatoes, cranberries, bread, pie. But it wasn’t like that at all. A letter written by Edward Winslow to a friend back in England described the feast of 1621.

Plymouth Colony’s Governor Bradford sent men out to hunt wildfowl, most likely goose and duck. The Wampanoag Indians brought venison. Fish may have been included. While turkeys were also plentiful in New England in the 1620s, they were difficult to catch and the meat was tough and lean, so probably not included. If the birds were stuffed it would have been with onions and herbs. Cranberries were native to New England at the time and maple sugar would have sweetened the sauce. Pumpkins were also available, but there was no flour so there would have been no pie.

So where did the Thanksgiving feast ideal get its start? Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, editor of Godey’s Ladies Book, a popular mid-19th century women’s magazine, wanted to create an American tradition that would bring people together under the rural Protestant foundations that built our nation. She first described the Thanksgiving meal in her 1827 novel Northwood: A Tale of New England. “The roasted turkey took precedence on this occasion, being placed at the head of the table; and well did it become its lordly station, sending forth the rich odor of its savory stuffing, and finely covered with the frost of the basting.” Her ideal feast also included “a sirloin of beef, flanked on either side by a leg of pork and a joint of mutton…innumerable bowls of gravy and plates of vegetables…a huge plum pudding, custards, and pies of every description known in Yankee land.”

A feast table overflowing with abundance was the standard Hale upheld for the successful housewife within the ideal home. Every November her editorials in Godey’s included tips and recipes for the annual Thanksgiving feast. When the nation was divided by Civil War, she wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln petitioning him to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. On October 3, 1863 President Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to be the official “day of Thanksgiving and Praise.”

Over the years, the traditions have been modified to accommodate changes in food delivery and preparation. In 1912, cranberries, once too fragile to transport, were processed and canned by the United Cape Cod Cranberry Company under the name Ocean Spray Preserving Company, making them available nationwide and year round. In the mid-1900s pre-packaged stuffing mixes made the cooking of the perfect turkey dressing fast and easy for even the most challenged cook. In 1955, the Campbell’s Soup Company published the first green bean casserole recipe. Canned pureed pumpkin, along with your assorted canned fruit pie fillings, make pies much less time consuming. Now you can even buy pre-made crusts that you merely unroll and lay in the pie plate. Whipped cream can be bought in either the dairy or freezer section.

While how we prepare our Thanksgiving feast has changed over the years, we can thank Sarah Josepha Buell Hale for the blueprint of this ideal family tradition. We can also blame her at the end of the day after we have eaten far too much food. Unfortunately, our sedentary life styles have not kept pace with the evolutions of this celebratory meal.

* Research taken from the Saturday Evening Post, The Invention of Thanksgiving by Susan Evans, November/December 2016.

Morning Coffee: Thanksgiving Shake-Up

fallThanksgiving is in two weeks. For most of us this means the same dinner with the same people. We’ll drink the same amount of alcohol, roughly, and tell the same old stories, some of which will inevitably lead to the same old family fights. Are you looking to shake things up a little? But not too much? Here’s a favorite dessert recipe of mine to replace your familiar pumpkin pie. I don’t make it often because it takes a little work ahead and a while to put together…but it’s so worth it. I found it in Gourmet Magazine in November 2009. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle
For gingerbread
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
½ cup milk molasses (not robust or blackstrap)
¾ cup well-shaken buttermilk (not powdered)
½ cup hot water

For pumpkin mousse
1 (1/4 oz) envelope unflavored gelatin
¼ cup cold water
1 (15 oz) can pure pumpkin
½ cup packed light brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup chilled heavy cream
½ tsp pure vanilla extract

For whipped cream
1 ½ cups chilled heavy cream
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Make gingerbread: Preheat oven to 350 F with rack in middle. Butter a 13 by 9 inch baking pan. Line pan with foil, leaving an overhang at both ends, then butter foil.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, spices and salt. Beat butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in egg until blended, then beat in molasses and buttermilk. At low speed, mix in flour mixture until smooth, then add hot water and beat 1 minute (batter may look curdled). Spread batter evenly in pan and bake until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan. Using foil as an aid, transfer gingerbread to a cutting board and cut into 1 inch cubes with a serrated knife.

Make Pumpkin mousse: Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in a small saucepan and let soften 1 minute. Bring to a simmer, stirring until gelatin haw dissolved. Whisk together gelatin mixture, pumpkin, brown sugar, spices, and salt in a large bowl until combined well. Beat cream with vanilla using cleaned beaters until it holds soft peaks, then fold into pumpkin mixture gently but thoroughly.

Make whipped cream: Beat cream with sugar and vanilla using mixer until it holds soft peaks.

Assemble trifle: Put half of gingerbread cubes in 2 quart trifle bowl. Top with half of pumpkin mousse, then half of whipped cream. Repeat layering once more with all of remaining gingerbread, mousse, and cream. Chill at least 2 hours before serving. Optional garnish with chopped crystallized ginger.

Morning Coffee: Strong Women

fallEven when I’m totally engrossed in a book I’m still analyzing its structure. What did the author do to make it work…or, in some cases, not work? I’ve spent the last week reading books in my search for titles that are similar to my novel, “Mary Bishop”. If you read last week’s post, you know I needed to include a list with my agent queries. While reading, I was reminded over and over again how women gain strength through their friendships with other women.

Women’s friendships are emotional, supportive. Women want someone who will listen, maybe a hug. Women want someone who understands. Women are there for each other when they give birth, when they are ill, when there is a death. At a time when men had access to anything they wanted by right of birth, it was women who gave each other worth. While the laws on women’s rights have changed, the dynamics of women’s friendships have not.

In my novel, Mary Bishop is a strong woman. She finds her strength deep within herself when her husband, Earl, is unable. But when he dies and she is at her lowest, it is her friends Sarah and Frances who come to her rescue, lifting her back out of the darkness. Only they truly understand what Mary’s feeling, and only they can tell her when she’s being foolish by letting someone else undermine the truth Mary knows in her heart.

The books I chose to include with my submission were “True Sisters” by Sandra Dallas, “Caroline: Little House, Revisited” by Sarah Miller, and “At the Water’s Edge” by Sara Gruen. I highly recommend all three.

In “True Sisters”, a group of Mormon converts emigrate from England to America, a decision made by their men. It’s a long trip by boat across the Atlantic, then train to Iowa City, and from there they walked, pushing handcarts loaded with their barest worldly possessions, to Salt Lake City. Many died along the way. The men summed up each loss as the will of God. It was the friendship of other women that kept the women strong each time they buried a loved one. It was other women who recognized the pain each went through when another purge of their belongings meant another treasured possession left behind. It was women who attended births, illness, and injury along the way. The handcart parties were real and this book is a fictionalized version of the final party to make it across the mountains to Salt Lake City.

“Caroline” will be recognized by anyone who read “Little House on the Prairie”, except that this time the story is told from Ma’s point of view, rather than Laura’s, and is less romanticized. Caroline is pregnant with Carrie, Mary is five, and Laura is three, when Charles announces that he has sold their house in the Big Woods and they are going to Indian Territory in Kansas. While Caroline outwardly supports her husband’s decision, she knows what dangers lay ahead on such a trip, especially in late winter: the rivers they will have to cross, the wild animals, the Indians. She agonizes over the loss of her female support system with another baby on the way. She wonders who will attend her birth. How will she manage without her sisters? She knows she may never see them again. It isn’t until she meets Mrs. Scott from a neighboring claim that she regains that support. It’s Mrs. Scott who attends her birth. It’s Mrs. Scott who shows up at their door and stays as long as necessary when all but the baby fall deathly ill. Those familiar with the Ingalls’ story know there will be many uprootings in her lifetime as her husband searches for his dream, and each one will be a test of Caroline’s strength; as it was for so many women during the westward expansion.

“At the Water’s Edge” takes place at the tail end of WWII. A young socialite from Philadelphia who lives a frivolous, indulgent, and often reckless lifestyle finds herself on a freighter to Scotland with her arrogant unloving husband and his friend as the two men go on their obsessive hunt for the Loch Ness monster. Practically abandoned at a small inn, Maddie is suddenly immersed penniless in the unknown world of rations, blackouts, and air raids. Over time she befriends the two women who work at the inn and through them comes to realize she is strong enough to find her own way and leave her abusive husband.

“Mary Bishop” is historical women’s fiction and historically women have always found strength in friendship with each other. Mary’s strength grows with the support of her friends, as did the handcart women’s, Caroline Ingalls’, and Maddie Hyde’s.