Christmas Shopping

Ah, the bustle of Christmas! Decorating your house for the holidays, cooking traditional family favorites,

shopping. Braving the crowds, the weather, the choices —

and returning home to relax with a mug of hot chocolate or a cup of tea.

In the Christmastime Series, Christmas shopping adds a sense of merriment and celebration to the season — whether it’s Lillian preparing for Christmas Night at the Brooklyn department store where she works (Christmastime 1939),

or Mrs. Murphy taking a store escalator up to the “North Pole” toy section to do some shopping for her nieces and nephews (Christmastime 1941),

or Izzy stopping to enjoy the window displays as she walks to work (Christmastime 1943),

or the sisters Ursula and Jessica browsing at the small-town stores in rural Illinois.

Christmas shopping. The sparkle of lights and tinsel, the scent of pine and cloves, the sounds of bells ringing and Christmas caroling heighten enjoyment of the season and deepen the pleasure of gift-giving.

Then —

And now.

Summertime in Greenberry, 1970 (And So We Dream, a novel)

A nostalgic look at the summers of not so long ago…

(The fictional small town of Greenberry is the setting for my latest novel, And So We Dream.)

Back when watermelons had shiny black seeds set in deep ruby red.

Back when corn was grown in wide discernable rows, “knee-high by the Fourth of July.”

Back when the sky was clear of satellite dishes and cellphone towers, when a bike ride uptown to the concert on the square or to the ice cream shop was high adventure.

And dreams were the soul and sustenance of three teenage girls — Anne, Vita, and Beth — and Joey, the twelve-year-old boy who spends the summer with them.

Coming from Chicago, “Joey thinks of the small town of Greenberry as ‘boyland’ – a world of riding bikes, fishing, going barefoot, and the county fair.”

A place where summer meant vegetables fresh from the garden,

and evenings were for enjoying homemade ice cream with neighbors.

When the days were filled with lemonade stands and swimming,

and all the skies were cotton candy skies.

And the magic of summer came from the belief that everything begins with a dream.

(Images from my Pinterest boards.)

A brilliantly engaging, entertaining, and at times poignant coming-of-age story, ‘And So We Dream’ is a compelling read that will linger in the mind and memory of the reader long after the book is finished and set back upon the shelf. From the author of the ‘Christmastime’ series, ‘And So We Dream is unreservedly recommended…” -the MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW)

A dream garden…

“A dream garden is better than no garden at all. At least your mind is filled with flowers and color and beauty. And I think, without even being aware of it, we slowly move towards what we hold in our minds.” (Words from Millie to her daughter Vita in my novel And So We Dream)

If I had a garden, I’d take my breakfast there.

I’d find a hammock or a garden chair and enjoy the peaceful shade.

I’d invite a friend to join me for lunch among the blooms,

and I’d find a quiet spot in the fragrant afternoons.

In the garden’s comfort, I’d indulge in a book or two,

and include a pot of tea and a floral china cup.

And in the scented evenings, the garden all aglow,

I’d sleep among the flowers and dream the sweetest dreams.

(images from my Pinterest boards)

And So We Dream – my latest novel

Anne, Vita, Beth. They were hippie girls. Teenagers. Long flowing hair, embroidered peasant tops, long skirts, dangling earrings, bare feet. Pulled one way by the tradition of their small Mid-Western town, another by the promise of the wide world outside.

Twelve-year-old Joey Roland spends the summer with them while his parents “work things out.” He soon discovers that, like the home he left behind in Chicago, the small town of Greenberry is also filled with sadness – loss, betrayal, fears, and disappointment.

The difference is that the three sisters – especially the middle one who pursues the path of acting – teach him how to infuse ordinary life with magic, adventure, and joy.

The result is a summer of transformation, and, for Joey, new-found confidence in his dream path.

And So We Dream

My new novel, And So We Dream, is now available for pre-order on Amazon, Kobo, and iTunes (and will be available on Barnes & Noble and Google Play in a few days,) with a release date of March 1st.

Back cover:

In this coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, a lonely boy finds acceptance when he spends the summer in a loving family with three beautiful daughters.

Twelve-year-old Joey Roland is sent away to family friends while his parents try to work things out. He’s eager to leave sadness and secrets behind in Chicago and head downstate to the small town of Greenberry, where the Vitale family awaits him. He thinks of their town as boyland—a world of bike riding, fishing, and going barefoot. Though initially shy of the teenaged daughters—Anne, Vita, and Beth—they welcome him into their lives of adventure, beauty, and dreams.

Joey especially bonds with the middle sister, Vita, and her all-or-nothing pursuit of an acting career. Joey’s “there must be more” merges with Vita’s “I must make it happen” resulting in a magical summer where the town of Greenberry becomes the crucible for two desperate dreamers.

Though the story is not autobiographical (alas), many of the details are rooted in my life. The fictional small town of Greenberry is based on my hometown of Carlinville, in south-central Illinois, and I was one of three teenaged sisters during the 1970s (along with two younger brothers). At the encouragement–and example–of our mother, we approached life as a wonderful adventure, with each day to be savored, and dreams to be taken seriously and actively pursued.

As with all my books, AND SO WE DREAM is very much about stepping into a world of beauty, wonder, longing, and, ultimately, transformation.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09SK36812

A Happy New Year

There are many ways to ring in the New Year.

Whether you enjoy the sparkle and festivities of parties and crowded celebrations

or a reflective evening home alone

or with loved ones,

I wish you the happiness of new beginnings and all the best in the coming year.

May 2020 bring you one step closer to your dreams, and may your life be filled with beauty and love.

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Happy New Year!

An Old-fashioned Christmas Table

In the Christmastime series, baking, preparing meals, setting the table, and having meals  together play a prominent role. Cookies and sweets are made days or weeks in advance, and embroidered table runners, bunches of holly, and candles decorate the table.

Below are images of beautiful and festive Christmas tables (all from Pinterest). Whether traditional, elaborate, or simple, a table set with love and a creative touch forms part of the heart of the holiday season.

Small details at each plate and splashes of red and green enliven the table and add interest.

Colorful fruits such as apples, pomegranates, and oranges add freshness and color.

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Along with fruit, a few sprigs of greenery and pine cones bring the outdoor world inside and connect the holiday to an older way of celebrating the season.

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And, always, candlelight adds a soft inviting glow and contrasts the cold snowy world outside to the warmth and comforts of home.

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Merry Christmas

and best wishes for a wonderful holiday season!

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The Christmastime Series

Stories of love and family set on the U.S. home front during the WWII years.      https://amzn.to/2PUzM1Y

Thanksgiving — WWII

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Most of the action in the Christmastime series (stories of love and family set on the WWII home front) takes place in the month of December, immediately after Thanksgiving. The warmth and coziness of Thanksgiving perfectly set the tone for the world of Christmastime.

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During WWII, with so many GIs and military personnel overseas, the idea of “home” became even more poignant and valued.

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(Thanksgiving service 1942)

Below are some facts about Thanksgiving during the WWII years, along with some images both of the home front and abroad.

Hollywood stars made regular appearances and served up food at various USO canteens and elsewhere in support of the troops.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade was suspended from 1942 to 1944 to save on rubber.

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“Rubber was the hardest material to come by because 92% of our supply came from Japanese occupied lands. The balloons were donated to the cause and shredded for scrap rubber, thus canceling the parade for the duration of the war.” (www.dday.org)

“On Thanksgiving Day, 26 November 1942, Casablanca premiered at the Hollywood Theater in New York City. Initially scheduled for release in June 1943, the premiere was hastily moved up to capitalize on publicity gained by the Allied landings in North Africa and eventual capture of Casablanca in November.” (nww2m.com)

“On the home front … many magazines and pamphlets encouraged making pies with molasses, stretching meat rations, and doing other things to create a feast while the nation was at war.” (nww2m.com)

“1942 was the year of the first wartime Thanksgiving and even though sugar was technically the only rationed item in the grocery, shortages of meat and butter created even more of a challenge for cooks. They also had limited access to certain traditional spices because they came from areas now occupied by the Japanese and cargo space needed to be reserved for wartime supplies.” (www.dday.org)

“In 1943, the Norman Rockwell painting, ‘Freedom from Want,’ became the token image for the holiday.” (www.dday.org)

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“Throughout the U.S. involvement overseas, military officials did their best to provide a traditional, hot holiday meal for the soldiers overseas. In 1943, the American people sent two liberty ships fully stocked with Thanksgiving supplies for the soldiers. Everything was included, turkeys, trimmings, cranberry sauce, and even various pies, all sent throughout the European and Pacific theaters, all the way to the frontlines.” (www.dday.org)

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In 1943 and 1944, “not only were meats, butter, and sugar being rationed, but cheese, fats, and canned or processed foods were as well. Some folks would save their ration stamps for the holidays and use innovative techniques to create the perfect meal. Ironically, even though chicken and other birds were not rationed, finding a turkey for your own table was quite a chore since many of the birds were shipped overseas for the servicemen!” (www.dday.org)

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On November 23, 1945, the wartime rationing of most foods ended. “The rationing of sugar remained in effect until 1947.” (history.com/news/food-rationing-in-wartime-america)

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

(All images from Pinterest)

 

 

 

Ursula — the Christmastime series

The Christmastime series takes a turn beginning with Christmastime 1943, with the sub-plot set on Kate’s farm in Illinois. Kate, Charles’s sister, and her two teen-aged daughters, Ursula (17) and Jessica (15), run the farm while her four sons are away at war. With the workforce severely diminished, and the demand for food production greater than ever, Kate does what many farmers had to do – she uses German POWs to help with the farm work.

Her elder daughter Ursula is furious about it. Francis, the brother she was closest to, has recently been killed by the Nazi army and Ursula is filled with anguish and hatred of the German soldiers. She adamantly refuses to have anything to do with the POWs.

Below are a few excerpts from Christmastime 1943: A Love Story, along with images suggestive of scenes with Ursula during the seasons of 1943-1945. Ursula: beautiful, willful, dreamy, passionate. (All images are from my Pinterest board Ursula – the Christmastime series, 1943, 1944, 1945.)

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Our first introduction to Ursula comes from Lillian. She’s been working on a series of war posters with the theme of Women in the Workforce, and the next posters will be on women and farm work. Based on an earlier visit to Kate’s farm, Lillian sketches an image of a young girl on a tractor.

Lillian studied it and realized that she had largely based the girl on Jessica, the younger of Kate’s daughters – blonde, cheerful, wholesome. Lillian had first tried the sketch based on Ursula, but the look was all wrong.

Again, Lillian gazed out the window, tapping the pencil against her cheek. Both of Kate’s daughters were extremely pretty – but Ursula had that elusive quality of beauty. Though her features were striking, Lillian felt that her beauty had more to do with her expressions, her soft way of speaking, her behavior – she was both pensive and brisk – as if her mind pulled her in one direction, and her body in another. No, thought Lillian, Ursula was more difficult to imagine on a tractor than Jessica, even though Kate wrote that Ursula had really taken up the slack at the farm as one by one her brothers had left. It was easier to imagine Ursula as some kind of mythic heroine – Diana the huntress, perhaps, or a winged victory figure.

Lillian thought of Ursula as she was two years ago – setting out on one of her restless walks across the fields or along the country road, or tucked away poring over a book. Her heart was set on going to college, and that was the life that would best suit her. She was intelligent, curious, strong-willed. Kate had sent a photo in the summer, and Ursula was prettier than ever. Lillian began a sketch of such a girl – tall and slim, with wavy dark hair, and those exquisitely lovely eyes – deep blue, beneath eyebrows like angry wings, smooth and beautiful. An air of intensity surrounded her, as if a quiet fire burned within.

Another impression of Ursula comes from Ed, the old farmhand who has worked for the family for years. He has news for Kate regarding the arrival of the POWs, but on hearing Kate and Ursula arguing about it inside, he waits out on the porch, reminiscing about Ursula as a child.

Glancing back at the kitchen door, he thought how he loved them all – Kate and her sons and daughters. He was fond of each and every one of them, but he couldn’t help the soft spot he had for Ursula. Even as a curly-topped child, she had a way of winning people over with her wide-eyed wonder and her demand for answers – “But why? How? What would happen if…?”

He chuckled, remembering how she used to ride around with him on the tractor, how he helped her learn to ride a bike, how she and little Francy used to hold hands as they jumped from the hayloft. And how, after her father died, she had transferred much of the affection for her father onto him.

How quickly the years had passed. Now here she was, almost eighteen years old, and more headstrong than ever. Yet sweet as a summer day. A hard worker, and capable, yet he often caught her staring out at the sunsets, or wondering at the beauty of snowdrifts, or listening to a strain of music on the radio with a hand pressed to her chest. There was a poet inside her, he often thought – though he doubted it would have the chance to come out now. If only she could have gone on to school, like she wanted. Well, there’s still time, he thought. He gave another shake of his head at the memory of the little girl who used to romp around the farm. Ursula. Here she was, seventeen – a breathtaking beauty in overalls.

Now Jessica, he thought, giving a little nod. She had more chance for overall, everyday happiness. Was more practical, down to earth, did not set her expectations up there with the moon. And was dang pretty. But Ursula…

Ed rubbed his whiskers, and his tanned wrinkled face scrunched in worry. She had that kind of dark beauty that troubled the heart. He took off his hat, inspected the rim, and readjusted it on his head. Well, they’re still young. It’ll all work out, somehow – it always does.

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Ursula, after the argument with her mother about having German POWs on the farm.

Ursula plopped down in a chair in her overalls, arms crossed, an angry fire burning in her eyes. The only adornment she allowed herself these days – and in Kate’s eyes, evidence of her contrariness – were the amethyst drop earrings her family had given her after she was accepted into the women’s college downstate. She wore them every day as a reminder that she would go to college. Some day. And though Ursula wouldn’t admit it, she was just as hungry for a bit of beauty as was Jessica – perhaps even more so. In the middle of milking the cows, or feeding the chickens, or hauling firewood into the house, she would lightly touch the earrings – as a reminder of her dreams.

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Jessica later attempts to give another point of view regarding the POWs — but to no avail.

“I was all ready to hate them. I really was. But it’s hard to do when they look like our neighbors. When they look like us.”

Ursula could listen to no more. “Listen to you. They’re brutal Nazis! They’re killing our men. Doing horrible things to the Poles and Jews. You’ve read the papers, seen the newsreels. Don’t be fooled by their appearance. They’re nothing like us. They’re cold-blooded murderers. Never forget that.”

She stuffed the remnants of the overalls into the rag basket, and then stood stiffly, sore from overdoing her chores.

“You look all done in, Ursula,” said Kate. “Why don’t you go soak in a hot bath? It’s been a long day.”

Ursula went upstairs and ran the bathwater, letting her clothes drop heavily to the linoleum floor. She looked at her reflection in the mirror, pushing aside her hair. She did look done in.

She touched the amethyst earrings. It had been so long since she felt pretty, since she had worn a dress, since she had gone to a dance. Everything now was bleak and grim. Her brothers, and most of the town boys, were gone. Everyone was having a hard time, having to adapt to all the changes. For the most part, she didn’t mind. She loved the farm, loved the fields at sunset, had even learned to love the backbreaking work. It kept her mind focused, prevented it from filling with daydreams. Foolish dreams of college and travel, of seeing the beautiful capitals of Europe. She wondered if those cities would even still be standing after this nightmarish war was over.

The steam gradually blurred her reflection – just as her dreams had blurred and faded, she thought. No matter. There wasn’t time for girlish daydreams. Her mother was right; she had behaved childishly today. Work needed to be done, and she would do it. 

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Amazon link:  https://amzn.to/2paLyMt

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Christmastime 1945: A Love Story

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Finally! The concluding book in the Christmastime series, Christmastime 1945: A Love Story, is available. Now you can find out what happens to the characters you’ve come to know: Lillian, Charles, Tommy and Gabriel. Izzy and Red. And on Kate’s farm, what is the fate of Ursula and Friedrich? What about Jessica and her brothers — do they survive the war? How do their lives unfold?

Below are images from my Pinterest boards that evoke the time, place, and feel of the world of Christmastime — historical photos, along with images suggestive of Kate’s farm, Annette’s orchard, New York City, and the warmth and coziness of Christmas.

Kates’ farm

Annette’s orchard

Lillian’s apartment

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The Christmastime series is available on Amazon, Kobo, B&N, iTunes, and Google and in libraries by request, on Ingram and Overdrive.

Amazon link