Category Archives: Christmas

Christmas is a time when you get homesick — even when you’re home. ~Carol Nelson


As evident from this family photo of me and my three siblings, I was a big Christmas lover as a kid. ***Note. Hum Somewhere in My Memory from Home Alone as you read this.

From age three until not quite six, I lived in Taiwan with my parents and younger brother, John, where my mom and dad taught English at Tunghai University. Christmas gifts were hand-me-downs from other Missionary families, which John and I were ecstatic to receive. We knew no better than gently used toys, until our family returned to America and we discovered modern toy stores, television, and were bombarded with commercials. The stupendous merchandise wowed us, and we were ardent believers in everything Christmas.

My grandmother, called Mommom, prepared for the big day all year long and was a devotee of the holiday. She made Christmas a mystical blend of the Nativity and Santa Claus, which worked for me. The generous old guy in the red suit was equally devoted to Christmas and a great boon to a family with limited funds. However, I learned Santa could be touchy and kept a naughty list. I hoped he had absentmindedly omitted my name. Fortunately, I also learned the Christ Child forgave sins, and prayed Jesus gave Santa a heads-up on the forgiving Beth thing. A miracle transpired because I never got switches in my stocking as my ancestral Uncle Gus was said to have done. That horrifying tale struck fear into his descendants, and I was super good those last few days before Saint Nick’s timely arrival.

Visiting Mommom and my aunt, uncle, and five cousins at the old Virginia homeplace for Christmas was like being part of a Hallmark movie. Nothing could match the wonder I experienced there as a child. My uncle even reported seeing reindeer hoof prints in the snow on the roof, and one year a jovial neighbor dressed up as Santa–I recognized him– came to the house to delight us kids. I was concerned this facade might offend the REAL guy, and he’d stay away. But we heard the sleigh bells out in the meadow, as we did each Christmas Eve. The warning jingle sent us scrambling to bed before Santa’s arrival, and inspired the title of my holiday romance, Somewhere the Bells Ring. The home in this ghostly time slip Christmas romance was also inspired by the homeplace pictured below. Built in 1816, Chapel Hill, as it’s called, has been in the family for generations and is where I spent some magical holidays.

(Virginia Family homeplace in the Shenandoah Valley)

With such fantastic childhood memories, Christmas as a bigger kid/adult was a bit of a letdown. Maybe it is for everyone. Christmas really belongs to children, but I still cherish it in my heart. As Scrooge says after hard lessons learned, “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.” And so I do.

My mantle is perpetually decorated with angels and lights. Also a Dalek Supreme and the Tardis…a little random, I suppose. Still, it’s festive year round. The holidays can be rather overwhelming. I try to keep our celebration simple but fun, especially for the small people in my life. I truly must love Christmas because I’ve written three romances with the holiday as a central theme and I’m pondering a fourth. Maybe with an angel in the story…I love angels. But not the weeping kind, thanks to the creepy ones in Doctor Who.

Don’t blink.

(My mantle)

(I especially love angels.)

Several years ago, my mother found a number of vintage Christmas cards in an old trunk. This marvelous find took us on a trip down memory lane, back to people who lived before I was born. I’m terrible about remembering to send cards, but these are great. I may have shared some of them before, but here’s another look at a few.

(Vintage Santa and a Norman Rockwell print on cards among Mom’s finds.)

Somewhere the Bells Ring (Somewhere in Time)

Blurb:

December 1968: Caught with pot in her dorm room, Bailey Randolph is exiled to a relative’s ancestral home in Virginia to straighten herself out. Banishment to Maple Hill is dismal, until a ghost appears requesting her help. Bailey is frightened but intrigued. Then her girlhood crush, Eric Burke, arrives and suddenly Maple Hill isn’t so bad.  To Eric, wounded in Vietnam, his military career shattered, this homecoming feels no less like exile. But when he finds Bailey at Maple Hill, her fairy-like beauty gives him reason to hope–until she tells him about the ghost haunting the house. Then he wonders if her one experiment with pot has made her crazy.
As Bailey and Eric draw closer, he agrees to help her find a long-forgotten Christmas gift the ghost wants. But will the magic of Christmas be enough to make Eric believe–in Bailey and the ghost–before the Christmas bells ring?~
I really think Hallmark is waiting for me with this story.

From Romancing the Book: “Ms. Trissel captivates her reader from the moment you start reading the first page. She has written a compelling love story that spans some fifty plus years and keeps you entertained every step of the way with the story within a story…I fell in love with her characters and look forward to the next delightful story ready with Kleenex box in hand. A must read for every romance fan.” ~Reviewed by Robin

Somewhere the Bells Ring is available in eBook from all online booksellers. Plus a smashing new audio version from Audible is out at Amazon. For the kindle and audio visit:

Follow my Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Beth-Trissel/e/B002BLLAJ6/

(Tag from the earlier 20th century)

“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.” ~Mary Ellen Chase


“Love came down at Christmas; love all lovely, love divine; love was born at Christmas, stars and angels gave the sign.” ~ Christina G. Rossetti

the-angel-from-on-high

“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable 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, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” ~Charles Dickens

“Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.” ~Larry Wilde, The Merry Book of Christmas

“Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.” ~Peg Bracken

Christmas ball in tree “The earth has grown old with its burden of care But at Christmas it always is young, The heart of the jewel burns lustrous and fair And its soul full of music breaks the air, When the song of angels is sung.” ~ Phillips Brooks (1835-93), American Episcopal bishop, wrote ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem‘.

“Brew me a cup for a winter’s night.For the wind howls loud and the furies fight; Spice it with love and stir it with care, And I’ll toast our bright eyes, my sweetheart fair.” ~Minna Thomas Antrim

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
~Charles Dickens

Chritstmas Tree

“Let’s dance and sing and make good cheer, For Christmas comes but once a year.”
~Sir George Alexander Macfarren

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day; their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the word repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men!” ~ Henry Longfellow

“Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves.” ~Eric Sevareid

Victorian Christmas Tree“Christmas is the day that holds all time together.”
~ Alexander Smith

“Christmas is the keeping-place for memories of our innocence.” ~Joan Mills

‘“Christmas is a time when you get homesick – even when you’re home.” ~ Carol Nelson

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” ~Norman Vincent Peale

Christmas Sleigh Ride“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.”~Roy L. Smith

“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.” ~Mary Ellen Chase

“Christmas is the gentlest, loveliest festival of the revolving year – and yet, for all that, when it speaks, its voice has strong authority.” ~W.J. Cameron

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” ~Burton Hillis

Singers Glen, Virginia  Brick Church in Snow

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.” ~Laura Ingalls Wilder

“There has been only one Christmas – the rest are anniversaries.” ~W.J. Cameron

My Cats Are Super Helpful with Christmas Preparations


christmas-cat-siamese-tabby-mix-with-bow

The holidays can be hectic. Thanks heavens, I’ve got the cats to help me: Peaches, Cream, Pavel, and Percy. Kitty Pavel likes to assist with decorations and gift wrapping. Little escapes his notice. He gets excited when the tree goes up and the wrapping paper, boxes, tissue paper, and bags come out. He likes the crinkly sound paper makes and exploring inside bags and boxes. Also hiding. He’s all about Christmas, unless you have catnip and then he’s easily distracted.

Peaches and Cream are Christmas lovers supreme. They are, however, disappointed that we switched to an artificial Christmas tree (because of my allergies). They will still crunch on the fake branches, though. I hear them ‘crunch, crunch, crunch.’ And ascending the artificial tree is not impossible. Heck no. I’ve greatly reduced the number of ornaments I put on it, and anywhere else in the house within their reach, or I would have camels and wise men carried all over the place. And have. I was constantly retrieving Creche figures and ornaments. Peaches and Cream are what some might consider ‘naughty’. Because of them, far less goes up so they’ve saved me work. Less decorating.
Peaches and Cream

Our older curmudgeonly tabby Percy ignores most of the festivities and keeps my spot warm on the couch. The only problem is that he complains when I want to sit in it, however, he will compromise by sitting on me. Preferably my chest, when I’m trying to write on my laptop. All very helpful. Peaches adores Percy and hangs out with him as much as Percy will tolerate. Even more.

percy-and-peaches-happy-in-a-sunbeam
(Percy and Peaches curled together in a sunbeam)

“Authors like cats because they are such quiet, lovable, wise creatures, and cats like authors for the same reasons.” ~Robertson Davies

“People who love cats have some of the biggest hearts around.” ~Susan Easterly

“Cats can be cooperative when something feels good, which, to a cat, is the way everything is supposed to feel as much of the time as possible.” ~Roger Caras

“There has never been a cat
Who couldn’t calm me down
By walking slowly
Past my chair.”
~Rod McKuen

Christmas cat--Siamese Tabby Mix.jpg 2

(Pavel exploring Christmas packages)

“I had been told that the training procedure with cats was difficult. It’s not. Mine had me trained in two days.” ~Bill Dana

“If there is one spot of sun spilling onto the floor, a cat will find it and soak it up.” ~J.A. McIntosh

Peaches and Cream opening gifts.JPG1
(Note this tree only has lights on it….)

peaches-cream2015-jpg1

(Peaches and Cream into everything)

“Kittens believe that all nature is occupied with their diversion.” ~F.A. Paradis de Moncrif

“What greater gift than the love of a cat?” ~Charles Dickens

cream-into-the-presents

(The look on Cream’s face when I caught him in the act.)

“It is in the nature of cats to do a certain amount of unescorted roaming”. ~Adlai Stevenson

Did Someone Say Christmas Romances?


Hauntingly beautiful Christmas Romance

Hauntingly beautiful Christmas Romance

I’ve written two Christmas romances, hauntingly beautiful Somewhere the Bells Ring and my sweetly scintillating colonial American historical, A Warrior for Christmas.

The ghost in Somewhere the Bells Ring appears whenever the heroine is drawn into the past in the beautiful old Virginia house inspired by my father’s homeplace in the Shenandoah Valley.

“An intriguing, gripping ghost story with a focus on romance rather than terror.” ~Reviewed by Stephanie E with Fallen Angels Reviews

From Romancing the Book: “Ms. Trissel captivates her reader from the moment you start reading the first page. She has written a compelling love story that spans some fifty plus years and keeps you entertained every step of the way with the story within a story…I fell in love with her characters and look forward to the next delightful story ready with Kleenex box in hand. A must read for every romance fan.” ~Reviewed by Robin

AWarriorforChristmas_7288_300Historical romance A Warrior for Christmas features a deaf heroine and a Shawnee captive turned warrior, recently returned to upper class colonial American society. A vastly different life from the one he knew in the frontier. The romance between this unlikely couple is one of the best I’ve written.  This novella is also available in audio.

A Warrior for Christmas took me by complete surprise. I expected the usual tale of a former Indian captive transcending his past to live the life of a gentleman, but Beth Trissel’s exquisite writing skill made me love this story…No reader of historical romance will want to miss A Warrior for Christmas, even if it isn’t Christmas.” ~Two Lips Reviews (Five Lips and A Recommended Read Rating)

These two novella length romances published by The Wild Rose Press are available from all online booksellers.

Visit my Amazon Author Page, My books at Barnes & Noble

If you enjoy these, or any of my other stories, please leave them a review at Amazon, Goodreads, and/or any of the other online book sites.

Rosemary and Remembering


“There’s rosemary that’s for remembrance. Pray, you love, remember.” ~ Hamlet

rosemary-in-pot-outdoors-with-lavender-and-geranium-jpg1

Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs, mostly just because. I rarely cook with it, but I love its scent and the wealth of history behind it. The scent is said to stimulate memory so I sniff it frequently and carry little sprigs with me. I have a large potted plant growing in my sun space now that I’ve kept going for several years. In summer, it stays outdoors, but our Shenandoah Valley winters are too cold for the plants to survive. I brought it back in this week.

Known as the herb of remembrance from the time of ancient Greece, rosemary appears in that immoral verse by Shakespeare. My fascination with herbs plays a significant role in my ghostly murder mystery romance novel Somewhere My Love, as does Hamlet, for that matter. I always wanted to write a murder mystery with a focus on herbs and parallels to a Shakespearean play, and so I did. I just completed a paranormal time travel romance, Somewhere My Lady, with flavors of Somewhere My Love, but different. The new addition to my Somewhere in Time series will release in the new year.

A Modern Herbal by Maud Grieve, a wonderful source of herbal lore as well as practical information on the medicinal uses and growing requirements for a myriad of plants, is an invaluable guide. I have volumes one and two of Ms. Grieve’s work and can easily lose myself in their pages. She refers to her herbal as modern, and in comparison to the ancient herbalists it is, but A Modern Herbal is charmingly quaint and published in the early 20th century.

Regarding Rosemary, she says,

Rosemary1The Ancients were well acquainted with the shrub, which had a reputation for strengthening the memory. On this account it became the emblem of fidelity for lovers. It holds a special position among herbs from the symbolism attached to it. Not only was it used at weddings, but also at funerals, for decking churches and banqueting halls at festivals, as incense in religious ceremonies, and in magical spells.

At weddings, it was entwined in the wreath worn by the bride, being first dipped into scented water. Anne of Cleves, we are told, wore such a wreath at her wedding. A Rosemary branch, richly gilded and tied with silken ribands of all colours, was also presented to wedding guests, as a symbol of love and loyalty. Together with an orange stuck with cloves it was given as a New Year‘s gift…

rosemaryIn early times, Rosemary was freely cultivated in kitchen gardens and came to represent the dominant influence of the house mistress ‘Where Rosemary flourished, the woman ruled.’

The Treasury of Botany says:

‘There is a vulgar belief in Gloucestershire and other counties, that Rosemary will not grow well unless where the mistress is “master”; and so touchy are some of the lords of creation upon this point, that we have more than once had reason to suspect them of privately injuring a growing rosemary in order to destroy this evidence of their want of authority.’ (Meanie heads.)
Rosemary was one of the cordial herbs used to flavour ale and wine. It was also used in Christmas decoration.

“Down with the rosemary and so,
Down with the baies and mistletoe,
Down with the holly, ivie all
Wherewith ye deck the Christmas Hall.”—HERRICK.

Rosemary Christmas Trees

rosemary-decorated-for-christmas (1)Although an herb, rosemary is often shaped into lovely miniature Christmas trees. The plant is well suited for this purpose as its essential oils produce a scent similar to pine trees and it has a natural evergreen shape and needle-like leaves.

If you purchase a rosemary plant whether as a Christmas tree or for your indoor herb garden, remember it needs good light and moderate watering. Allow the soil to dry before re-watering to avoid root rot. The most common cause of death for potted rosemary is over watering. In spring transfer your rosemary to a clay pot. The clay will help wick excess water out of the soil. Fertilize monthly to maintain health. To this advice I add that you can also kill them by allowing the plant to dry out, so don’t do that either.

Because rosemary is native to the hot, dry hills of the Mediterranean, growing it indoors can be a problem. You may find you get more dense vigorous growth if it is kept outside during most of the year. Trim the plant periodically to preserve the Christmas tree shape.

And God bless us everyone.

***Rosemary Christmas Trees are available from Jackson & Perkins.

‘Tis the Time For Christmas Romances


Hauntingly beautiful Christmas Romance

Hauntingly beautiful Christmas Romance

I’ve written two Christmas romances, hauntingly beautiful Somewhere the Bells Ring and my sweetly scintillating historical, A Warrior for Christmas.

The ghost in Somewhere the Bells Ring appears whenever the heroine is drawn into the past in the beautiful old Virginia house inspired by my father’s homeplace in the Shenandoah Valley.

“An intriguing, gripping ghost story with a focus on romance rather than terror.” ~Reviewed by Stephanie E with Fallen Angels Reviews

From Romancing the Book: “Ms. Trissel captivates her reader from the moment you start reading the first page. She has written a compelling love story that spans some fifty plus years and keeps you entertained every step of the way with the story within a story…I fell in love with her characters and look forward to the next delightful story ready with Kleenex box in hand. A must read for every romance fan.” ~Reviewed by Robin

AWarriorforChristmas_7288_300Historical romance A Warrior for Christmas features a deaf heroine and a Shawnee captive turned warrior, recently returned to upper class colonial American society. A vastly different life from the one he knew in the frontier. The romance between this unlikely couple is one of the best I’ve written.  This novella is also available in audio.

A Warrior for Christmas took me by complete surprise. I expected the usual tale of a former Indian captive transcending his past to live the life of a gentleman, but Beth Trissel’s exquisite writing skill made me love this story…No reader of historical romance will want to miss A Warrior for Christmas, even if it isn’t Christmas.” ~Two Lips Reviews (Five Lips and A Recommended Read Rating)

These two novella length romances published by The Wild Rose Press are available from all online booksellers.

Visit my Amazon Author Page, My books at Barnes & Noble

Christmas Memory from the Shenandoah Valley by Beth Trissel


Chapel Hill at Christmas

When I was new and the world was young, at that wonderful age of six,  my younger brother, John, and I celebrated our first Christmas in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia at the Churchman family home place where my Dad was born and raised.  Called Chapel Hill (all these old Southern homes have names) the gracious Georgian style house has been in the family since 1816.  In those early days, John and I had only just grasped the concept of Santa Claus because our family had spent the previous three years in Taiwan where my parents taught English and only returned to the states that previous summer.

Everything about an American Christmas was new and wondrous to us, especially the amazingly generous fat guy in the red suit who was just waiting to give us presents.  But it seemed that he required snow, the cold white stuff we had not yet witnessed, for sleigh travel with his flying deer.  A bit eccentric perhaps, but I was an imaginative child and willing to indulge him.  It wasn’t lost on us, though, that this weather phenomenon didn’t fall from a clear blue sky.

Beth and JohnOur parents hadn’t made much of Christmas in Taiwan.  We were tiny tots and toys  scarce, the few there were being some that other missionary families shared with us from those their children had outgrown.  There were no toy stores in Taiwan then like there were here.  Chewing gum was a major treat.  We caught our breath at the delights we saw in the American shops.

Barbie dolls had just been introduced and I longed for one with hair to comb, an endless perfect wardrobe, and furniture of her own. John had his eye on a racing car set.  We’d seen picture books with Santa in them and there was always snow.  What to do, what to do?  Nothing but wait and hope.

The journey to Virginia began in the mountains of Tennessee, jolting along in our old Ford on Route 11 to Augusta County in the Shenandoah Valley.  Our grandmother, whom we all called Mommom, Aunt Moggie, Uncle RW and our five cousins awaited us on the family farm.

Dad spent what seemed like days in preparation for the trip, packing and repacking the car.  Finally we got underway.  I’m amazed as an adult to find that the trip normally takes about six hours, or less, because I have vivid memories of this ride going on all day and far into the night, playing ‘I Spy with My little Eye,’ and singing carols until we were hoarse and my parents must’ve been nearly half mad.

horse and sleigh

Mom taught us a song on the way about Santa, ‘You’d Better Watch Out,’ a worrisome ditty.  I wasn’t an exceptionally naughty child, but knew there were the occasionally times when I had been what, in some person’s minds, might be construed as bad. What if Santa, this wonderful provider, had seen me at less than my best?  What if I got switches?

My father told us about his Uncle Gus who’d received switches.  Horrors of horrors.  Deep down I felt it was no more than I deserved if my every move had been carefully noted. I hoped Santa was a forbearing fellow, but doubts lurked, a new worry on top of the snow thing.

Eventually we arrived in the Valley and the paved highway turned into bumpy dirt roads as we wound deeper into the country with its unique smells.  My father pointed out the lights of Chapel Hill glowing in the distance, then unbelievably we were driving up the long lane and the yard filled with family to warmly welcome the weary travelers.

The first night we went straight to bed.  I slept upstairs in the yellow room––every room has a name––with my two cousins, Margaret and Elizabeth Page.  In the morning, John and I got our wish.  We awoke to heavily falling snow, a magical world.  We went sledding down the lane, made a giant snow bunny with my father and had the time of our lives, clambering back into the kitchen ravenous and soaking wet.  We peeled off layers of pants––no snow pants back then––and took our wet clothes and mittens to hang them by the stove in Mommom’s room, before downing bowls of homemade soup.

Dog UNDER CHRISTMAS TREEThe day before Christmas finally came and the old brick house filled with tantalizing smells.  The kitchen door opened periodically, the sleigh bells on it announcing the arrival of yet more friends bringing yet more gifts.  Friends, neighbors and family all exchanged gifts, even if it was only a plate of cookies exchanged for yours.

Presents were stashed in every corner of the front room, covering the old piano and stacked beneath, wrapped in paper and ribbons which I found almost too beautiful to bear. I knew there were some for me among them, that I was not in total reliance on Santa.  Even so, I longed to be kindly remembered by him.

As any child can attest, Christmas Eve is the longest day of the year and one in which we made extreme nuisances of ourselves, asking endless questions and climbing over and under the furniture to see which gifts were ours.  At last we gathered together in the front room in the presence of the magnificent pine decorated shortly before our arrival.  My uncle cut it from a nearby woods and I loved its fresh smell, also new to me.  A stern glance from him quieted us down and my grandmother read the Christmas story from The Book of Matthew.

Vintage American Christmas Card--excited boy peering through windowThe ancient story evoked a new-found sense of awe at the holiness of this night as I gazed at the little wooden crèche and the figures carved by my father.  I felt the love in the room and understood that it had something to do with this sacred child whose birth we were celebrating.

All right, Jesus loved me, so did God, but what about Santa? After all, he was the one to fill the stocking I’d hung carefully in between my cousin’s on the mantle under the portrait of our great-great grandmother.  All of our stockings had been knitted for us by an elderly relative and had a scene of Santa on one side and a reindeer on the other with little bells that jingled when I lifted it.  A reminder of his imminent arrival.

After the stockings were hung and The Night before Christmas read, we heard sleigh bells ringing far off in the meadow.  Good heavens, Santa was that close.  We tumbled over each other in our haste to get to bed lest the old guy should discover us still up and promptly leave.  Touchy fellow, peculiar ways, but ours was not to question why.  We scampered under the covers and did not dare to peep until dawn.

Vintage Santa Christmas CardAfter that, it was every child for him or herself.  We launched out of bed, vying to be the first one to wish each other “Christmas Gift!” then paced about in acute impatience while the adults had a leisurely breakfast.  Who could eat at a time like this?  And dressed with slow, careful deliberation.  I was wearing the same clothes I’d donned two days ago.  As for bathing, only under duress.

We practically gave up all hope of ever seeing inside the front room and paced outside the closed double doors where no child could enter until everyone had gathered.  Mommom, her blue eyes twinkling, reported that Santa had come and relieved our troubled minds.  Uncle RW told us he’d seen reindeer hoof prints in the snow on the roof of the house.  Imagine that.  We never once questioned what he’d been doing on the roof.  Not that this would make the slightest difference if we eked out our days waiting in the hall.

Then, glory hallelujah, the family assembled and lined up according to age, as required by the law of our clan.  The all-important doors opened.  Great was our wonder.  There was the tree lit, the stash of presents sorted into individual piles, and the stockings filled.  Mine bulged with promise.  Praise be!  The old fellow was extremely tolerant.  I’d truly feared to see those switches.

It’s ages later now and Mommom has gone on before us.  Lining up outside those omnipotent doors with my brother, cousins, parents, aunt, uncle and her at the end is a distant cherished memory.  Christmas is a place I return to in my thoughts whenever I need the sense of joy and reassurance it brings.  And I remember that time so long ago when my brother and I despaired of snow.

A Very Virginia ChristmasThis account is included in A Very Virginia Christmas collection by Wilford Kale

*Pics of Chapel Hill, the old Virginia Family homeplace in the Shenandoah Valley

*The dog under the tree is Mia, a friend who has passed on, taken by daughter Elise. Images of vintage family Christmas cards by our mom, Pat Churchman.

*Pic of Beth Trissel and younger brother John Churchman from our Taiwan days taken by our mother.

Image of Old Order Mennonite horse and sleigh passing our farm in the valley taken by my husband, Dennis, last winter

Homemade Soap Crayons


Contributed by Pamela Roller

These soap crayons are easy to make and safe for children to use in the bathtub. What better way to have fun and get clean at the same time?

1 C soap flakes (such as Dri-Pak Soap Flakes)
¼ C hot water
food coloring

Place soap flakes in a bowl and add warm water, a teaspoon at a time, stirring constantly. The mixture will be extremely thick and hard to stir. Spoon some of the soap into each of several small bowls and color each separately, adding the color by drops until the soap has the consistency of a very thick paste. Gently press spoonfuls of the paste into your molds (i.e., plastic ice cube trays). Set the molds aside at room temperature to harden (may take up to two days). Makes 20 crayons.

Keep soap out of children’s eyes.

Pamela Roller is the author of On Silent Wings, a gothic historical romance set in Restoration England. Visit her website at http://www.pamelaroller.com/.©Pamela Roller

Scented Waxed Pine Cones


Contributed By Pamela Roller

If you have a wood-burning fireplace, consider making scented waxed pine cones to use with your kindling to start your fires. When burned, the cones send a delightful scent throughout the room. Create for your personal use or give as a lovely gift.

Gather together:
–Pine cones—size doesn’t matter as long as they can be totally immersed in the melted wax. The usual size is three to five inches.
–Three or four bars of paraffin wax (available at craft stores) – see the notes at the end of this article about the use of paraffin wax.
–A double boiler (or an empty metal coffee can large enough to dip the pine cones in
–Wax candle coloring agent (available at craft stores)
–Essential oil of choice. Be sure you are buying a genuine essential oil or you won’t have much scent.
–Tongs
–Waxed paper

Directions:
1. Melt wax in the double boiler or empty metal coffee can placed in a pan of simmering water on LOW heat (the can is preferable because you can just throw it in the recycle bin when you’re done and the wax has cooled).
2. Add the wax candle coloring agent until you get the color you like.
3. Add one or more droppers of desired essential oil until the scent is to your liking.
4. Using tongs, dip each pine cone into the wax to coat. Lift the cone and allow it to drip off excess. Place upright on waxed paper and allow to dry. Drying completely will help the next coat stick to it.
5. Dip repeatedly, drying between coats, until you are satisfied with the thickness (usually three or four coats will suffice). Too many coats will make the pine cone lose its detail and it may end up looking like a waxed lump, so use your judgment on thickness.
6. When completely dry, place the cones in a basket by the hearth or give as a gift.

Notes and hints:
Wax must remain completely melted during the dipping process or it will cause a dull, lumpy finish on the cones.
Leftover wax may be reused—just cover the can with a lid or foil when cool.
Paraffin wax is flammable. Keep the heat low, check the simmering water often, and don’t allow wax to drip onto the burner. In case of fire, turn off the heat and then place a wet, wrung-out cloth over the wax container. DO NOT throw water on the burning wax.
When using the cones in the fireplace, place a screen in front of the fire.

Suggested colors and scents:
Red wax with cinnamon oil, clove, or cranberry
Green with oil of balsam
White with vanilla oil
Pink with rose oil

©Pamela Roller
http://www.pamelaroller.com/

Easy Liqueurs for Gift Giving


Contributed by Pamela Roller

For a lovely homemade gift, consider giving a liqueur or cordial. Below are recipes for various liqueurs. Click here for cordial recipes. At the end I’ve listed hints for packaging ideas.

To sterilize glass bottles, wash in warm soapy water and then dip in water mixed with a little bleach. Rinse thoroughly.
Scotch Liqueur (Make one to two weeks ahead)
2 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp. anise extract
1 pt. Scotch

Heat water and syrup to boiling in medium heavy saucepan. Reduce heat and cook until mixture becomes syrupy. Remove from heat and let cool.
Pour syrup into a sterilized quart-sized bottle. Add anise and Scotch. Swirl gently and place a tight fitting lid on it. Allow mixture to age in a cool, dark place for one to two weeks. Makes 32 ounces.

Galliano Liqueur (Make two weeks ahead)
2 cup sugar 1 cup water
¼ cup anise extract
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 drops yellow food coloring
1 fifth vodka

Heat water and syrup to boiling in medium heavy saucepan. Reduce heat and cook until mixture becomes syrupy. Remove from heat and let cool.
Pour syrup into a sterilized quart-sized bottle. Add anise extract, vanilla and food coloring. Swirl gently and then add the vodka. Allow mixture to age for two weeks. Makes 32 ounces.

Crème de Menthe (Make ten days ahead)
4 tbs. fresh mint leaves
1 fifth vodka
4 cup sugar
2 cup water
10 drops peppermint oil
2-3 drops green food coloring (optional)

Crush mint leaves in a mortar and pestle. Place in a glass jar and pour vodka over them. Cover and let sit for ten days. Strain, discard mint. Heat the water and sugar mixture on low heat in medium heavy saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Let the mixture cool. Add syrup to the mint-flavored vodka; add peppermint oil and food coloring; stir. If liqueur is not clear, filter a second time. Keeps for one year. Makes 48 ounces.

Chocolate Liqueur (From Busy Cooks at About.com)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp. chocolate extract
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup vodka
Combine sugar and water in medium heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower heat and simmer five minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Stir in chocolate extract, vanilla and vodka. Pour into a sterilized glass bottle with tight fitting lid and store in a cool, dry place. This can be used as a substitute for Crème De Cacao. Makes 1 pint.

Packaging ideas: Include liqueur glasses in the gift package.· Packaging depends on the color and type of liqueur. Carefully arrange glasses with the bottle in a basket or flat box surrounded by fresh fruit and color-coordinated tissue or other filler. Tie with ribbon. Green and gold packaging works well with Crème de Menthe, as does either silver or gold with the chocolate liqueur. Tiny flowers such as dried baby’s breath complete the ensemble.

©Pamela Roller http://www.pamelaroller.com/