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Christmas in July (and seeking book reviewers)

I’ve always found the idea of Christmas in July a challenging one. After all, summer is the time for picnics on the grass, reading at the beach, backyard cookouts, vacations, lemonade, hammocks… 

However, I know there are many people who start to plan — and shop? — for Christmas in July — people who, though perhaps reluctant to admit it, feel a mild frisson to know that in a few short months, they will be wrapping presents, decorating a tree, and baking Christmas cookies. So for those people, I give you the opening paragraphs of the final book in my Christmastime series: Christmastime 1945: A Love Story (available this fall).

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Chapter 1

The snow fell softly over Manhattan as Lillian Drooms hurried home. She was still smiling from her meeting with Mrs. Huntington and the art director of children’s books. Her drawings had been well received and Mrs. Huntington hinted that Lillian had a good chance at being selected to illustrate a children’s adventure series – she would love nothing more! Happiness and Christmas were in the air, and wanting to catch even more of the holiday spirit, Lillian decided to walk up Fifth Avenue and then cross through Central Park on her way home.

The crowds thickened as she neared and then turned onto the Avenue. All around her the sense of excitement was palpable – in the carolers and newspaper boys, in the honking and braking of traffic, in the calls from the vendors: “Hot chestnuts! Pretzels!” Workers rushed from jobs, couples walked arm in arm, shoppers ducked in and out of stores, their arms laden with packages and shopping bags, and groups of servicemen explored Manhattan while they awaited their final train or bus ride home.

Lillian took a moment to look around her at the bustling city, so alive! And this was just one avenue. She knew the harbor and piers, and Grand Central and Penn Stations bustled with returning soldiers. The roads into and around New York City were crowded as never before – the city was bursting at its seams with life and happiness. At long last, the war was over! And this first Christmas after the war was sure to be a memorable one.

Bumped and jostled by the throng of people, Lillian tucked herself into a doorway to take in the post-war Christmas euphoria. The very air tingled with promise and future, and she smiled out at the swirl of commotion. She observed the faces passing by, all united by a sense of cheerfulness and gratitude. A soldier and a young woman passed by, briefly stopping to embrace and kiss. Across from her, a family, with the father in uniform, stopped to buy bags of roasted peanuts from a street vendor. An older couple laughed as they nearly collided with a ho-ho-hoing Santa Claus bell ringer. Down the block, a cluster of sailors pointed and gawked at the skyscrapers, and across the avenue, a group of WACs – such smart, confident women – chatted with a group of soldiers.

Lillian stepped back out into the stream of people but continued to look all about her. The signs of Christmas were everywhere – wreaths and decorations appeared in nearly all the windows and doors, along with red ribbons and garlands of shimmery tinsel. After the gray of war, everything seemed to be in color. Was it her imagination? Was it her own happiness coloring the world? No, indeed, the dresses in the department store windows boasted brighter shades, and young women sported bolder makeup, brighter lipstick that suited their flashing smiles. And the lights! Strings of colored bulbs shone everywhere – outlining windows and doorways and awnings. It was the first time Christmas lights were used freely since before the war and no one was holding back.

The war was over, Christmas was in the air, and Charles would be home soon! Lillian took a deep breath, checking herself, not trusting to such perfect happiness. She would muster the calm and pragmatism that had gotten her through the war years. Charles was not home yet – in fact, she hadn’t heard from him for several weeks. It could be January or February or later before his arrival. But he would be home – and he would never have to leave her again.

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I hope you enjoyed this bit of Christmas in July.

If there are any readers, book bloggers, or book clubs who would be interested in writing reviews for my series, please let me know (email me at Linda@LindaMahkovec.com) and I’ll send you a link to my ebooks. My goal this year is to increase my reviews, especially on Amazon. To those followers who have already left reviews, THANK YOU!! and let me know if you would like to review my other books — The Garden House, The Dreams of Youth, and Seven Tales of Love.

I hope the rest of your summer is lovely, relaxing, and filled with much happiness.

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Hollyhocks – summer’s flower

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“Hollyhocks are the epitome of cottage garden plants…
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Chances are you’ve seen them alongside a barn, in front of a cute cottage-style house, or gracing the front of a white picket fence. This old-fashioned pass-along plant has absolutely caught the hearts of many.” (/www.bhg.com)

 

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Alcea rosea, the common hollyhock…was imported into Europe from southwestern China during, or possibly before, the 15th century…From Middle English holihoc (holy mallow).”  (Wikipedia)

As for marigolds, poppies, hollyhocks, and valorous sunflowers, we shall never have a garden without them, both for their own sake, and for the sake of the old-fashioned folks who used to love them. — Henry Ward Beecher

Certain flowers reappear in my book series, Christmastime, especially for scenes set on Kate’s farm in Illinois. Hollyhocks and lavender, in particular, make an appearance during Lillian’s visits to the farm. Below is an excerpt from the final book, which will be available later this year.

Excerpt from Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, from the “Epilogue: Summer 1948”

A beautiful summer day spread over Kate’s farm. A light breeze carried the fragrance of freshly mowed hay, honeysuckle, roses, and tiny green and floral scents released by the sun’s warmth. White butterflies flitted and landed among the flowers, along with a few dragonflies that briefly hovered and then disappeared. A perfect day, thought Lillian. She sat in the shade of the old oak tree, using her watercolors to capture the profusion of hollyhocks that grew alongside the barn.

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Lillian added a few more leaves to the hollyhocks, and then rinsed her brush. She saw Ursula strolling up the country road, returning from one of her solitary walks. Ursula paused to inhale the fragrance of the mass of honeysuckle covering the fence – then she picked one of the small yellow flowers, pinched the bottom off, and tasted the drop of nectar at its base. In her hand she held a bunch of wildflowers.

Ursula walked over to Lillian. “Hello, Aunt Lillian.” She tilted her head to study the painting. “How lovely.”

“I’ve tried to capture their charm,” said Lillian, standing back to view the canvas.

As always, Lillian was struck by Ursula’s beauty that only deepened with the years. Ursula wore a deep blue and purple floral dress that caught the color of her eyes and flowed around her slim figure. Her long hair blew in the summer breeze, revealing her amethyst earrings.

“Simple hollyhocks,” said Ursula. She offered to hold the painting as Lillian gathered her supplies and collapsed the easel. “You’ve captured them exactly – and yet added something. You’ve lifted them and made them even more beautiful. A piece of summer to be treasured.”

Lillian smiled at the comment. “I’ve always loved hollyhocks. An old-fashioned flower. Always leaning towards the sun and blooming in such happiness.” She looked again at the tall stalks abloom with color, tapering off to small buds not yet open. Rising from lush green leaves, flowers of pale pink with dark centers, soft yellow, deep purple, white, bright pink. “Quaint and lovely. Especially growing against the barn like this.”

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Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, the final book in the Christmastime Series, will be available in the fall.

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The Romance of Travel – Scotland (Part 1)

 

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I recently spent two weeks in May touring Scotland. I was surprised to find that spring was just arriving, enabling me to enjoy early spring for a second time, especially the farther north we traveled. Daffodils, tulips, and blossoming trees added splashes of color to the landscape. Bluebells, in particular, bloomed in abundance.

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In the early part of the trip, there was even a dusting of snow in the Highlands. And though rain was predicted, except for one day, we had beautiful clear weather.

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My trip began and ended in historical Edinburgh, a city that has been high on my to-see list for a long time. It did not disappoint.

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Edinburgh is the perfect walking city with a fascinating mix of medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town, all surrounded by stunning natural beauty.

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Between Old Town and New Town is the verdant stretch of Princes Street Garden, a sunken park in the heart of the city. It was “created in two phases in the 1770s and 1820s following the long draining of the Nor Loch and building of the New Town, beginning in the 1760s.” (wikipedia)

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At the head of Old Town is Edinburgh Castle, built on a craggy outcropping of volcanic rock. Though it has an “1100-year-old history…few of the present buildings pre-date… the 16th century, when the medieval defenses were largely destroyed by artillery bombardment.” (wikipedia)

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Calton Hill from castle

The fortress sits on Castle Rock, one of the seven hills that surround Edinburgh. From this vantage point, you can see two other hills that form part of the city’s identity — Calton Hill, with its Athenian Acropolis, and Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano that can be climbed for panoramic views of the city.

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Edinburgh is full of steep stairs, medieval closes, and unexpected passages, such as the Vennel with its views of the Castle,

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picturesque Circus Lane (converted mews), which was blooming with irises and fragrant wisteria and lilac,

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and Dean Village, a lovely place for a morning stroll. It was “the centre of a successful grain milling area for more than 800 years. At one time there were no fewer than eleven working mills there, driven by the strong currents of the Water of Leith.” (wikipedia) 

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In addition to Edinburgh’s charming walks and its trove of historical sites, the city has a vibrant music and literary culture, and a wide array of restaurants to sample, from traditional fare to various ethnic cuisines. I was glad to know that I would be returning to Edinburgh at the end of my trip for there was still so much more to see.

But for now, as much as I loved Edinburgh, the Highlands in the misty distance beckoned. (to be continued…)

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Miranda’s Pacific Northwest: majestic, mysterious, and magical.

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In the novel The Garden House, the natural beauty and attractions of the Pacific Northwest play a key role in the life of the main character, Miranda.

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Ecola State Park

From the dramatic Oregon coast

to the Puget Sound and Seattle’s vibrant Pike Place Market,

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to the Columbia River Gorge and the Art Nouveau charm of the Vista House

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and nearby Multnomah Falls,

the allure of the Pacific Northwest inspires Miranda to live a life full of beauty.

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Mt. Rainier night

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Blossom time

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“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” – Marcel Proust

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“April… hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” – William Shakespeare

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“There is no glory in star or blossom till looked upon by a loving eye; There is no fragrance in April breezes till breathed with joy as they wander by.” – William Cullen Bryant

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“Break open A cherry tree And there are no flowers; But the spring breeze Brings forth myriad blossoms.” – Ikkyu Sojun

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“In the cherry blossom’s shade there’s no such thing as a stranger.” – Kobayashi Issa

 

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“The April winds are magical.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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“Our spring has come at last with the soft laughter of April suns and shadow of April showers.” – Byron Caldwell Smith

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April Glory

A scattering blossoms

 

April Glory

The winds were wild the day you died

Pear blossoms scattered like snow.

First green tipped the thin tree branches

And your redbud flowered in purple.

Cold wind and sunshine embraced us

As we crossed from house to house.

And the grass and hedge surrounding your yard

Shone in an emerald green.

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I knew you had a hand in it –

Delighting in the April glory.

A day of beauty and laughter

When Heaven touched Earth in joy.

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Early Spring

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“The snow has not yet left the earth, but spring is already asking to enter your heart.”
― Anton Chekhov

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.” – Ernest Hemingway

“That is one good thing about this world…there are always sure to be more springs.”
― L.M. Montgomery

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” — Albert Camus

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“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” –Percy Bysshe Shelley

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St. Patrick’s Day — John O’Donohue on Beauty and the Celtic imagination

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Images of Ireland and quotes from John O’Donohue’s book, “Beauty, The Invisible Embrace.”

“When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming.”

 

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“When the imagination is alive, the life remains youthful.”

“Beauty calls us beyond ourselves and it encourages us to engage the dream that dwells in the soul.”

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“We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul.”

“The imagination creates a pathway of reverence for the visitations of beauty.”

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“With swift, sheer grace, the Beautiful is like a divine breath that blows the heart open.”

“Beauty is quietly woven through our days.”houses and green hills

“The imagination is the great friend of possibility…In a sense, that is what beauty is: possibility that enlarges and delights the heart.”

“Beauty does not linger, it only visits.”

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“To experience beauty is to have your life enlarged.”

“When the soul is alive to beauty, we begin to see life in a fresh and vital way.”

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“The earth is full of thresholds where beauty awaits the wonder of our gaze.”

“Ultimate beauty is a profound illumination of presence, a stirring of the invisible in visible form.”

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“When we awaken to the call of Beauty, we become aware of new ways of being in the world.”

“The eye of the imagination will often be drawn to the edges of things where the visible and invisible worlds coalesce.”

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“True beauty is from elsewhere, a pure gift.”

“Everywhere there is tenderness, care and kindness, there is beauty.”

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“Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue was a native Irish speaker, a former priest, and author of books that provided sustenance for many souls hungering for connection.” (www.npr.org)

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(Images from Pinterest)

The Pyrenees and Pilgrimage, Part 3 – Pamplona

In the north of Spain lies the Basque city of Pamplona, capital of Navarra. It’s a significant point on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella. The streets are full of pilgrims and hikers, as well as tourists taking in the charm of the old city.

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It’s a beautiful walking town, with the Spanish Pyrenees forming a dramatic backdrop and the Arga River flowing around the hilltop location. Walking routes from the Old Town take you to the  Taconera Park, full of flowers, benches, and gravel pathways. A sunken area that used to be a moat is home for a small herd of deer and several kinds of birds, including peacocks, ducks, and geese.

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The walk around the edge of the park offers views of the mountains and valley and reminds you of just how high the city is above the valley — there’s even a tram that takes passengers from the lower part of the city up to the Old City.

A short walk further and you can visit the citadel and the surrounding park. Built in the 16th and 17th centuries, massive bulwarks and stonework reveal part of the original pentagon shape. A museum there explains that the pentagon shape was once a popular design for fortification. (You can listen to the accompanying audio in several languages, including Basque, which is fascinating in itself.)

Pamplona fortress

(Photo – http://www.itinari.com)

The heart of Pamplona, and the most beautiful part, is the Old City. At its center is the Plaza del Castillo, a large square ringed with buildings, many with flowering balconies.

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Most of the streets are cobblestone, and there are several medieval cathedrals and beautiful architecture at every turn — and lots of restaurants, many of them with seating outside, part of the famous pintxo tradition. Throughout the day, but especially beginning at around 4:00pm and lingering late into the night, small appetizers, pintxos, are served with the local wines or other beverages. This tradition makes for a lively street life, especially as the night grows and music pours out onto the narrow streets.

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Pamplona, or Iruña as it is known in Basque, is most famous for “the Running of the Bulls” during the Festival of Saint Fermin in July. Ernest Hemingway wrote about the festival in his novel, The Sun Also Rises. And for this reason, Pamplona offers another sort of pilgrimage — a literary one. Pamplona is one of those rare locations that is specifically associated with an author. There’s a bust of Hemingway outside the bullring, and a life-size statue of him leaning against the bar at the Hotel Iruña. Photographs of him and his likeness are found throughout the city, especially in restaurants and gift shops.

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“Pamplona certainly owes some of its fame to its adopted son, Ernest Hemingway, who spent a considerable amount of time in Navarra during the Spanish Civil War and was a big fan of the San Fermin Festival.” (www.euskoguide.com)Book cover

There was a different festival held the week I was there, with celebrations in the Plaza. The city was full of festivities, musicians and performances, and schoolchildren holding hands as they skipped to the music.

I don’t know if it was the festival or the lively pintxo culture, but Pamplona struck me as one of the happiest places I had ever visited. The streets were full of tourists and local families, couples, and friends enjoying the delightfulness of the city — sitting at crowded outdoor cafes, stopping for ice cream, enjoying the street performers and musicians, well into the night.

Copy of Pamplona night level

 

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Though I loved so much about Pamplona, the Iruña Hotel held a special charm for me. It was full of old-world beauty in warm shades of sepia and globes of golden lights that reflected in the carved wooden mirrors.

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Sitting in the Hemingway Bar with its nooks and small balcony, it was easy to imagine an older, slower time, with people wearing different clothing and holding different conversations — and perhaps someone sitting alone at a table quietly penning a novel.

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