Annette’s orchard — seasonal charm

orchard dinner

In the Christmastime series, Lillian Hapsey visits her sister, Annette, in upstate New York, close to where they grew up. Annette and her family live on an orchard, which provides Lillian a welcome change from the bustle of Manhattan. Though Lillian only visits once or twice a year, the orchard offers her a wider scope of seasonal beauty and an opportunity to be with family.

Lillian and her boys, Tommy and Gabriel, have fond memories of spending Thanksgiving and Christmas at Annette’s. Depending on the weather, they take hikes through the woods, sometimes taking the logging roads. The boys and their cousins explore the woods and run wild through the orchard, and with the help of their Uncle Bernie, they gather firewood to make bonfires at night, sometimes roasting marshmallows. If there is snow, they go sledding and take sleigh rides.

When the sisters are together, they take long walks along the country roads, gathering bunches of bittersweet and pine cones. At night, they fix a cup of tea and stay up late talking in front of a crackling fire.

One of the things Lillian most looks forward to is preparing wonderful meals with Annette. Part of their tradition is to make dishes that their mother used to make when they were girls.

To the delight of the children, they also make special seasonal treats — apple cider donuts and caramel apples, holiday cookies, and snow ice cream.

And every time Lillian visits, Annette packs a basket for her to take back home with her, full of wholesome goodness from the orchard: honey and beeswax candles, maple syrup and jars of apple butter, bottled pears, jellies and jams — and apples.

When Lillian returns home to Manhattan, she often adds Annette’s orchard gifts to her breakfast and dinner table — besides being a tasty addition, they serve as a reminder of their days up at the orchard.

Annette’s orchard is a haven for Lillian and her boys — a cozy, welcoming place, full of good food and adventures. For Lillian, it gives her a sense of stepping back into her beloved girlhood days, and is a lovely way for her to enjoy the seasons.

(Photos from Pinterest. You can visit my book boards at: https://www.pinterest.com/lindamahkovec/)

The Making of a Book Cover — Christmastime 1939: Prequel to the Christmastime Series

I was lucky to find a great book cover designer, Laura Duffy, for all my books. The Christmastime series, in particular, required several drafts.

Laura patiently added snow, made streetlights glow, erased modern buildings, and cropped and colored and added details until I had the image I wanted.

The cover for Christmastime 1939: Prequel to the Christmastime Series posed the most challenges. Early on, we decided that it would have a few subtle differences. As a prequel, it would not be part of the color sequence of the other books — green, red, blue. And Laura suggested that the “photograph” be vertical rather than horizontal.

I wanted the cover to evoke a sense of happiness and hope, with just a hint of the shadow cast by the war in Europe. After searching and searching for a photograph that would capture the main character’s (Lillian Hapsey) longing to move to Manhattan and start life anew, I found an image that might possibly work — with a little magic from Laura Duffy.

The photo had certain elements I was looking for: snow, a source of light (a lamppost), and it was immediately recognizable as Manhattan, with the Empire State Building in the center of the photo.

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But it needed some work.

First, the lamplights needed to be “turned on.” It took a few attempts to get the right shade of soft gold. Then we looked at several Christmas wreaths, pine boughs, and red ribbons to attach to the lamppost. We decided on the one below. I purchased the photo and Laura added and aged it.

Next, the Empire State Building needed to be more pronounced. The original photo depicted a foggy day (I wanted snow), and the outline of the building was obscured.  So Laura found and superimposed a clearer photo of the Empire State Building and added a light snowfall.

Empire State Bldg superimposed

We were getting closer, but it didn’t yet capture the charm and promise of new beginnings. I imagined a scene at dusk, people hurrying home after work, the Christmas season in the air — and Lillian pausing to look at the view of the Empire State Building and having a visceral feeling of connection — Manhattan embodied everything she wanted.

So Laura turned day into evening, showing lights in the office windows, and patiently adjusting my requests for “less blue, a little grayer, more dusk-like, a little darker, more snow?” — until finally, it clicked — and I entered the world of Christmastime.

The image captures a moment in the story when Lillian becomes a part of the city she so loves. I could see her dressed in 1930’s shoes and coat, her face raised in happiness, knowing that her two little boys would also love the magic of the city. I felt the image now had charm, a sense of excitement, and the feel of Christmas.

1939

Thank you, Laura!

Check out the variety of Laura’s covers here: https://www.lauraduffydesign.com/ 

Christmastime 1939 is now available (the softcover will be available any day now).

(The final book in the series, Christmastime 1945: A Love Story,  will be published in 2019.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Garden House — in winter (images from Pinterest)

gardenhouse_kindle_hiThough the story of The Garden House opens in late spring and closes in the fall, I made a Pinterest board called “The Garden House – winter.” The main character, Miranda, lives in Seattle and has a beautiful garden that’s an integral part of her life. I imagine her loving her garden in all seasons, including the rain and occasional snow of winter.

In The Garden House, Miranda’s garden becomes a  metaphor for life, with themes of family, change, memories, home, and the search for meaning. When all else goes wrong, Miranda retreats to her garden, with a cup of tea in hand, and finds solace.

Surrounded by the beauty of her garden, she allows herself to be captivated and inspired by the mysteries of life.

I imagine Miranda enjoying her garden in January, curled up in her window seat and watching the falling snow cover the birdhouses, birdbaths, and terra cotta pots.

I see her strolling through her garden, delighting in the vestiges of summer and fall — frost-covered roses, hydrangeas, and Queen Anne’s Lace.

In every season, Miranda fills her home with cuttings from her garden. I imagine her gathering branches of winter berries and greenery to make bouquets for her dining table and to set among the plants of the greenhouse window in her kitchen.

Perhaps she even brushes off the snow from a deck chair, and sipping a cup of hot chocolate, enjoys the tranquility and quiet of her winter garden.

table deck snow

 

 

Downton Abbey — in Manhattan

bells

Recently, my sister-in-law was planning a visit to New York City and when I asked her if there was anything in particular that she wanted to do, she said she would love to see Downton Abbey: The Exhibition. I hadn’t even heard about it, but it sounded like a good idea so I booked our tickets. Though I had only caught a few episodes of the series, I found that I was really looking forward to seeing the exhibit. And in the late afternoon of a cold winter’s day, we stepped into the world of Downton Abbey.

Edith

I was surprised to find that the exhibit was in the recently closed Lee’s Art store on 57th Street, a place I had frequented over the years. The windows that once displayed painting supplies, glittering frames, and whimsical toys, now held an equally enchanting display: images, items, and gifts relating to Downton Abbey — including an exquisite 1920’s dress in peacock blue and gold.

The New York City street was reflected in the window — scaffolding and yellow cabs, parkas and mounds of snow — and seemed a sort of symbolic contrast to the elegance of another era.

window contrast

We strolled through the exhibit, laughing as we were greeted by holographic videos (?) of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes welcoming us to Downton Abbey, before they had to hurry away. We entered the “downstairs” area and worked our way up.  There was the kitchen with something simmering on the stove, the carton of eggs, the sounds of chopping and pots and pans being moved about. There was Carson’s pantry with the decanter, and there were those famous room bells.

And there was the dining room with the beautifully set table.

dining table

One room had video snippets of different scenes from the series: the explosions and trenches of WWI shifted to tranquil interior scenes of a fire burning brightly in the library.

fireplace video

Another area was dedicated to short film excerpts featuring the acerbic wit of Violet Crawley. And throughout the exhibit were reminders of the period’s codes of conduct and rules of civility.

The clothes were beautiful, and I found myself lingering over the details of trim and beading and lace: the Edwardian opulence of Violet’s clothing, the shimmering elegance of the 1920’s dresses,

and those beautiful necklaces and earrings that complemented the clothing.

On every floor, in every room was the sense of a time gone by and the societal upheavals of yesteryear. One quote posed the idea that perhaps that earlier period was not so unlike our own times, with technology rushing us ahead, creating some disturbing trends, while offering other compensations.

Since I had only caught an occasional episode, I never got to know the characters and plots in the way that many people did.

So, on these snowy January evenings, I’ve started to watch the series from the beginning — paying extra close attention to the buttons and jewelry, the silverware and bells.

 

The Christmastime stories — rural and small-town Midwest

The Christmastime books, stories of love and family on the home front during the World War II years, portray an America with one foot firmly in the past and the other poised on the threshold of change. The setting for these stories, for the most part, is New York City. However, a few storylines are set in the rural Midwest.

I was born and raised in small-town Illinois and the beauty of the landscape there — old farm houses set among fields and pastures, trains running to and from the small towns, the  woods and orchards that change with the time of year — has always had a strong pull on me. The seasons are rich and distinctive, and the snowy winter setting perfect for the Christmastime stories.

In the first book of the series, Christmastime 1940, we find that Charles Drooms’ past is deeply rooted in rural Illinois, and there are a few flashbacks to his boyhood and life on the farm that explain many of his decisions later in life.

In a later book, there’s a scene where Lillian works on a series of illustrations depicting the role of women on the farm. With so many men enlisted, women had to step into the workforce and fill jobs that had recently been held by men. Lillian draws on her memories of visiting Kate’s farm in the summer of 1941.

postere farm woman

Beginning in Christmastime 1943, a key storyline takes place on Kate’s farm involving her daughters, Ursula and Jessica, and the German POWs who work on the farm while Kate’s sons are away at war. The scenes depict the connection of living close to the land with the rhythms of the seasons, and the rigor and back-breaking work required by farm life.

The farm scenes help to portray a period when time moved more slowly, and a place where most foods were locally grown and cooking was done from scratch.

A time when the home arts played an important role in day-to-day living,

and small-town life offered simple charm and the opportunity for visiting and shopping.

The tension between the beauty and bleakness of the Midwestern winter landscape also serves to reflect the complexities in Ursula, a young woman often driven by opposing impulses.

And on a larger scale, the small town and farm scenes offer a counterpoint to the New York City scenes. The tranquility and wholesomeness of the countryside serve as a reminder of how much was at stake in the war.

The rural setting also represents the tens of thousands of young men, such as Kate’s four sons, who left their small towns and farms to fight in Europe and the Pacific. For many of them, it was the first time ever leaving home. For them, the very idea of “home,” and everything it symbolized, became a deeply cherished and protected ideal.

pie and chair

(For more images evocative of the world of Christmastime, please visit my Pinterest boards at http://www.pinterest.com/lindamahkovec/)

The Plaza Hotel – book cover

All the book covers in the Christmastime series feature an old-looking photograph set in winter. They to help establish a sense of place and give the impression of peering back in time. The images also portray places that are still in existence in Manhattan, so that the reader can feel it’s possible to step into the world of Christmastime by strolling through New York City, whether literally or imaginatively. Hence, the snowy photographs of a brownstone and several scenes from Central Park.

The covers must also reflect the content and tone of the books. I chose increasingly lonesome images and darker colors as the war years wore on, especially for Christmastime 1942 and Christmastime 1943.

Though 1944 was another terrible year, the Allies were clearly gaining the upper hand, and many people believed that the war in Europe would be over by Christmas. (The mid-December surprise count-offensive by the Germans, resulting in the Battle of the Bulge, quashed that hope, and the war raged on.)

But when December arrived, hope was in the air. For the cover of Christmastime 1944, I wanted an image that was lighter, brighter, and more hopeful. When I came across the image of the Plaza Hotel lit up at night, I thought it would be perfect for the story – especially since the hotel figures into one of the plots.

cover Christmastime 1944

If you’re ever in Manhattan, stop by the Plaza Hotel for lunch or tea. Stroll through the lobby to look at the beautiful bouquets of seasonal flowers, the mosaic floors, and the stained-glass ceiling in the Palm Court.

 

And if you’re in the Christmastime frame of mind, you just might catch a glimpse of a lovely woman in a 1940’s satin and chiffon green dress.

Plaza PP mosaic

The Four Seasons – today in Central Park

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Even though the weather is still cold and spring is officially weeks away, I pulled on my jacket and gloves and headed to Central Park to check on the progress of spring. To see if more flowers had bloomed, if more bushes were beginning to bud. But instead of finding spring, I found all four seasons.

I stood on the little arched bridge over the pond, and from there I clearly saw winter. Against the backdrop of the Plaza Hotel, the pond still lay rimmed with ice.

pond Plaza

The cattails and plants growing alongside appeared dormant, almost frozen. And behind me, came music from Wollman rink. There were the skaters, twirling, jumping, gliding over the ice.

Fall made its presence felt in the bare trees throughout the park, IMG_1429especially in the oaks. Their dry, brown leaves clung to the branches and lay scattered over the ground. They seemed to be tucked around all the clumps of flowers.

Under one such oak, I came across a little coupling of spring and fall, the contrast beautiful. A patch of crocuses nestled against a large black rock and above it, almost protectively, dipped the branch of curled brown oak leaves.IMG_1423

Spring was in the park, though at this time of year it seems to be close to the ground. There were bunches of green-speared daffodil leaves along the paths, and even a few daffodils in bloom.

I found a group of Lenten roses and some snowdrops, though like the daffodils, their blooms hung down, as if against the cold.

The sound of birdsong added to the sense of spring, as tiny birds flitted and chirped among bare branches. The forsythia bushes showed yellow, just waiting for a few warm days before bursting into fuller bloom. And that delicate first green appeared on several bushes.

gazabo

The most spring-like thing I came across was a little sunlit patch of bright purple flowers that from a distance I thought were crocuses.

But up close, I found that they were something like miniature irises, almost forming a ground cover.

Summer?  A bit of a stretch to find, but it too was there. summer cartsThe tourists were out, so the crowds alone made it feel like summer. At the Children’s Zoo, a few food carts for ice cream and popcorn were parked, just waiting for milder weather before opening up for business.

And at one of the baseball fields, a group of young men were practicing their fielding. One man stood at home plate, hitting balls out to different positions. The sound of the ball against his metal bat was a real summer sound – a deep rhythmic ping, ping ringing in the air.

But the sky was shifting once again from blue to gray, and the clouds were now growing heavier. Rain was predicted for tomorrow. The temperature seemed to have dropped. Would we have snow? Spring was hiding its head and taking cover once again. I pulled up the hood of my jacket.

I passed the statue of the Falconer as I made my way out of the park. There he was, reaching up to a gray winter sky, undaunted by the cold. I tried to imagine him against the color and mildness of spring, and for the moment, I couldn’t. Falconer

Perhaps I am impatient. It’s just that I know what’s up ahead – Central Park in the spring is magnificent. But there is also something tender to be found in this subtle shifting of the seasons. It’s as if relationships are there among the dried leaves and green shoots, a protective urging forward, alongside a slow goodbye.

So I will slow down and appreciate this understated, changeable time of year. A time when we could have blossoms or snowflakes, and all the seasons are present. A remarkable time of year.