Morning Coffee: “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

DickensI’ve been trying to decide which holiday special/movie is my favorite, but the list is so long. There’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”, in black and white, of course. “A Christmas Carol”, again in black and white, starring Alastair Sim. Also, “White Christmas”, “Holiday Inn”, “A Christmas Story”, “Christmas Vacation”, and who doesn’t love “Christmas With The Kranks” and “Elf”. This doesn’t begin to list them all, but at the top there really is just one for me–“A Charlie Brown Christmas”. No other can melt my heart with just the opening notes like that one can.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” debuted on December 9, 1965. I was in first grade. The Peanuts cartoon strip had been fast-growing in popularity through the 1950s and 1960s when Coca-Cola commissioned Charles M. Schultz to create a half-hour Christmas special. This was a low-budget deal unlike any other project for television. The script was written over weeks and the animation completed in just six short months. Actual children were hired to do the voice-overs and, instead of the standard laugh track of the time, jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi was hired to write the sound-track. This unorthodox approach led the producers and network to predict it would be a disaster. Instead, it achieved high ratings and critical acclaim and would go on to win both an Emmy and a Peabody award. It has broadcast at least once every Christmas season since, the sound-track has sold millions of copies, and if you want to watch it more often, and not just during the holiday season, you can buy the DVD for your personal viewing pleasure.

Charles M. Schultz always knew growing up that he wanted to be a cartoonist. He was born in Minneapolis on November 26, 1922, and lived in St Paul with his German father (a barber) and Norwegian mother. Growing up, Charles was fascinated by cartoons and spent Sundays with his father reading the funnies in the local newspaper. When he was a senior in high school his mother encouraged him to complete a correspondence course in cartoon drawing through the Federal School of Applied Cartooning (now the Art Instruction Schools).

After a stint in the Army during WWII, he returned home to teach art at his alma mater and to publish the occasional single-panel cartoon in The Saturday Evening Post. For three years he had a weekly panel in the St Paul Pioneer Press. His first Peanuts cartoon appeared on October 2, 1950. He was 27 years old and it would be seen in seven newspapers nationwide. By the time he retired in December 1999, his strip would be syndicated in 2,600 newspapers world-wide and he had books published in 25 languages. Charles M Schultz died from complications of colon cancer on February 12, 2000, in Santa Rosa, California.

Charles M. Schultz had a dream. He wanted to be a professional cartoonist. He pursued that dream and look where it got him. I don’t believe there’s a single person in this world who doesn’t know who he is, who doesn’t recognize the characters of Charlie Brown and his little sister Sally, Lucy and Linus VanPelt, Peppermint Patty, Pig Pen, Schroeder, Marcy, and, of course, Snoopy (a/k/a The Red Baron) and his little yellow-feathered side-kick, Woodstock. We can all learn a lesson from him…believe in yourself, work hard, and anything can happen.


Morning Coffee: Mistletoe

ChristmasI’ve been busy decorating our home for Christmas and found myself wondering: why do we kiss beneath the mistletoe? When you think about it, it is a rather odd custom. Why mistletoe? Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that steals nutrients from the host and can harm some trees. Why not a more cheery and aromatic choice like a pine bough? So I went to my favorite source for “the history of…”,, and this is what I found.

Like so many customs, the power of mistletoe goes back thousands of years to a time when it was used to cure anything from menstrual cramps to spleen disorders. Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder, touted it as a balm against epilepsy, ulcers, and poisons. Mistletoe and romance goes back to the Celtic Druids of the 1st Century AD. Because mistletoe stays green year round the Druids believed it to be a symbol of vitality and used the plant to restore fertility in both humans and animals.

Mistletoe also played a role in Norse mythology. The god Odin’s son, Baldur, was prophesied to die. His mother, Frigg, the goddess of love, secured an oath from all the animals and plants not to harm her son. But she neglected the lowly mistletoe. The god Loki fashioned an arrow from the plant and used it to kill Baldur. An alternate ending to the story has the gods resurrecting Baldur. Overjoyed, Frigg then declared mistletoe to be a symbol of love and promised to kiss all who passed beneath it.

Mistletoe continued to be linked to fertility and vitality well into the Middle Ages. By the 18th Century it had become a part of Christmas celebrations. Scholars can’t agree on a reason for this jump from sacred healing herb to holiday decoration, but it’s believed the tradition of kissing beneath the mistletoe began with the English servants and then spread to the middle class. (Perhaps they were familiar with the Norse myth of Baldur and his mother Frigg; although that seems unlikely based on the limited education of the serving class.) Custom had it that men were allowed to kiss any woman caught standing beneath the mistletoe and refusing that kiss meant bad luck. A second version of the custom had the kissing couple pluck a single berry from the sprig for each kiss. They were to stop kissing when all the berries were gone.

I went to Wisconsin DNR’s website to see if mistletoe grows here in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the traditional “kissing” mistletoe with its large leaves and big white or red berries is not native to our state. You can, however, find the eastern dwarf mistletoe, a small and not very showy shrub not at all what you think of when you think mistletoe. It grows to a height of only a couple centimeters, making it the state’s tiniest shrub, and grows predominantly in the swamps of northern Wisconsin. You can learn more about it at


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.