Sunday, December 31, 2017

Onward, onward

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: What can we say, gang? It's been quite the year.

Newsrooms often create year-ender reports, but yow. Not quite sure I'm interested in seeing any of those.

Should we count blessings instead? Look ahead? That's what New Year's Eve is about, right? 

We will not forget auld acquaintance. And there are two, at least, we especially remember. 

But let's look at new.

Like: tonight.

Here in Boston, a group of us takes turns hosting New Year's Eve. This year, we're headed to a brownstone in Back Bay, and J and I are supposed to bring the appetizers. At this particular moment, ahem, the actual apps are not yet decided, let alone made. And it is WAY too cold, I mean, WAY, to go shopping. But we will manage when the time comes. All suggestions welcome.

Fireworks at midnight, and we will happily and gratefully and yes, optimistically, ring in the new. 

How about you? What are you doing tonight? 

Copyright: suti / 123RF Stock Photo

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Alphabet Now Ends with Y

The world has lost a great talent and prolific author in Sue Grafton — and in Louisville we have lost a citizen, friend, neighbor, a master gardener and hometown hero. Her legacy will live on through her words, which will entertain and thrill readers for generations to come.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Following the example of Saturday Evening Girls with Jane Healey

HALLIE EPHRON: I had the pleasure of meeting Jane Healey at a Christmas fair. She was talking to fans and showing off her brand new book, The Saturday Evening Girls Club

And she had a piece of Saturday Evening Girls pottery on the table in front of her. It often has the sweetest, most whimsical design and was handmade by mid-century immigrant women at a time when there were few other ways for them to make a living. 

(PS: TSEGC was named  one of Redbook Magazine’s “20 Books You Need to Take to the Beach this Summer”)

JANE HEALEY: A huge thank you to the Jungle Red Writers for letting me be a guest blogger for the day!

My debut novel is called The Saturday Evening Girls Club. It’s based on an actual group of young Italian and Jewish immigrant women in Boston’s North End at the turn of the 20th century

I first learned about the club when I wrote an article about their namesake pottery for Boston Magazine years ago. The club was founded by North End Librarian Edith Guerrier and Boston philanthropist Helen Storrow. It changed the course of many of these young women’s lives in the best possible ways.

There is so much going on in the world today to feel anxious about, but for my own sanity, I try to focus on the more positive news. And one thing to celebrate? Every day, I am reminded of the spirit of The Saturday Evening Girls Club when I witness the many ways women in this country are uniting to help each other and improve the lives of those around them. 

To cite a couple of examples in my own life, my dear friend Susanna’s kids go to a school where more than half of the children are below the poverty line. The school’s principal asked her if she could help raise some money so that the school could discreetly purchase coats for some of the neediest children. A team of moms from the school banded together and not only raised money, but started a non-profit to anonymously give many of these children desperately needed new coats, boots and winter clothing. Their efforts have been so successful that they’ve started to expand to several other schools in the area. 

In an example that I think is representative of what’s happening around the country politically, Jen, a mother at my daughter’s school, decided to run for school committee this year. The number of her female friends in our town that held signs, knocked on doors and hosted coffees, was nothing short of extraordinary. The best news is that she won. Jen is part of a tidal wave of women across the country that are seeking office in unprecedented numbers, many for the first time ever. This, in my opinion, can only be a sign of good things to come. 

In my own journey as a writer, I continue to be blown away by the generosity of other women writers, including the ones on this blog. From my writing group, to my “sisters” at my publishing company, to the established authors who have encouraged me since the early days, I am so grateful for the continued support.

In my novel, I include an Italian or Jewish proverb at the beginning of each chapter.  One reader favorite is the Italian proverb, "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle." 

In these volatile times, I think one of the best things we can do is support and lift up the women in our lives. To keep lighting candles. I’d love to hear stories about how a mentor or friend or group of women have helped you along the way, or how you have helped others. 

HALLIE: Keep lighting candles! I'm going to put that at the top of my New Year's to-do list for 2018... and on into the future.

My favorite sisterhood is of course the Jungle Reds. And  by extension, the fabulous women in the mystery writing community. You couldn't find a more generous bunch. And in the spirit of giving, this final week of December is when I write checks to all my favorite charities... another way of lighting other candles.

Please, share your stories about women helping others through good works, political activism, and sisterhood of all kinds, and...

ABOUT The Saturday Evening Girls Club: For four young immigrant women living in Boston’s North End in the early 1900s, escaping tradition doesn’t come easy. But at least they have one another and the Saturday Evening Girls Club, a social pottery-making group offering respite from their hectic home lives—and hope for a better future.

Ambitious Caprice dreams of opening her own hat shop, which clashes with the expectations of her Sicilian-born parents. Brilliant Ada secretly takes college classes despite the disapproval of her Russian Jewish father. Stunning Maria could marry anyone yet guards her heart to avoid the fate of her Italian Catholic mother, broken down by an alcoholic husband. And shy Thea is torn between asserting herself and embracing an antiquated Jewish tradition.

The friends face family clashes and romantic entanglements, career struggles and cultural prejudice. But through their unfailing bond, forged through their weekly gathering, they’ll draw strength—and the courage to transform their immigrant stories into the American lives of their dreams.

THE SATURDAY EVENING GIRLS CLUB is available via Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Let's All Go to the Movies

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Christmas week is a great week for movies, and this year there are an unusual number of them I'd like to see.

Hubs and I have tickets reserved at our nearby iPic theater to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, next Tuesday. Weather permitting, as the forecast here for the beginning of next week is pretty dreadful. 

But I'd also really like to see The Post, The Greatest Showman, and Darkest Hour.

Who's been to the movies this week? Tell us what you've seen and what you've liked--but no spoilers, please!!!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

For you from Jungle Red: Almost a Poem!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Happy weird week between Christmas and New Years!

I'm doing my holiday cards today. No comment.

And (as always, with my apologizes to Clement Moore and Dr.Seuss) here's a holiday gift poem from your grateful Jungle Reds. And another gift below! 

TOASTING JULIA AT BOUCHERCON!  Next year, we will all be together.

'Twas two days after Christmas
And all through this site
Not a blogger was working
Not even to write.

Our books were all saved on our cloud files with care
In hopes that bestseller lists soon would be there.
Our new novels were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of royalties danced in our heads.

The Jungle Red sisters, (four east and four west)
Had just settled our brains for a well-deserved rest.

But while closing our eyes, what sweet dreams did appear?
All the Jungle Red news that had changed us last year.

There was glory of course, (may her sales still increase)
Farleigh Field sold a billion—applause to our Rhys!

Key West took a hit, though, alas and alack
But with Lucy at keyboard, we know they’ll be back.

Hallie always will rock it, and as we should know:
Her creepy new doll book –won Best Au-di-o!
And Hank’s still applauding, it brought her great cheer
When her book was dubbed a best of the year!

Debs’ Gemma and James wow in book—sev’nteen?
Our Julia’s writing—superfabulous keen!

Plus what to our widening eyes did appear
Two perfect new Reds!
Jenn and Ingrid are here!
 But what makes us the happiest—keeps every day new?
We knew in a moment—it’s our blogging crew!

You listen, you chatter, you join in the game
We cheer you, we love you, we call you by name!

Thanks, DebRo! Thanks Edith! Thanks beloved Joan E!
Both Karens, and Lesa, and darling Pat D.

Hail Ramona, and Susan, Gigi and Mare
We hope Jim and Amanda will always be there

Here’s to Reine, and Danielle, and to Mary (there’s two)
To Grace, Mark and Judi—good tidings to you!

Same for Karen (in O), and Gram Cootie as well,
And dear Mary Garrett--the stories she’ll tell!

To Flora, and Marianne, and Keenan (whoo hoo!)
To Coralee, Biblio—we always thank you!

Kaye Barley, we love you, and love to Don, too.
(We know that this year’s been a big one for you!)

Our guest bloggers were stellar:
Fairstein and James
Strawser, Gard'ner and Brennan…hard to list all their names!

To Delia, and Kristopher (king of the list!)
To Kathy B. Reel--consider you're kissed.

Hail to Kait, and to Margaret—hail Ann, of course, too 
Hail “Anonymous” also--love hearing from you!

And all hail dear Ross, we now raise a sweet toast
You brought us all happiness—we all miss you. The most.

We had memories, recipes, tales of our youth
We’ve had jokes, and disasters, and telling the truth.
To the top of the lists! To the top of them all!
We’re revising, and writing, and sharing our call!

As dry words before our reviser’s pen fly
When they meet with cliché, and we fix them (we try):

We’re almost at New Years, and our thoughts go to you
May you write perfect books, may your wishes come true!

May you waste not a word, may you write fresh and new
And fill all your stories with mysteries and clues

And remember: on days that things don’t turn out right
And you wonder if this was a fraud and a fright

You have sisters on line—there are eight of us here!
And each one is wishing you all-the-year cheer.

And we all say—we love you! ‘Fore you click from our site--
Happy Holidays to All

—and long may you Write!

HANK: Here's an alternate ending:
And we all say--we love you! Good new year, indeed!
Much joy to you all--and long may you read!

And to that end: a selection of Jungle Red books to one lucky commenter! Happy holiday week, everyone!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Happy Boxing Day

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Happy Boxing Day, everyone! Who celebrates Boxing Day? Who knows what Boxing Day is?

In Britain and most Commonwealth countries, Boxing Day is celebrated on the 26th of December. There is some argument about the etymology of the term, but the most common explanation is that historically, the day after Christmas was the servants day off, on which their masters would give them gifts, or "boxes." 

In the UK, Boxing Day is an official bank holiday, and traditionally a day to spend with family and friends, especially those not seen on Christmas Day.  It's also very big for sports, especially horse racing and hunting. 

I think Boxing Day is a lovely tradition to keep, and I can tell you how I intend to spend mine--with my feet up!

We had a really joyful Christmas--fun with the grandbaby, lots of company, lots of great food (if I say so myself...) One of my favorite gifts from Santa was a huge end-grain maple cutting board, and did it get a work out! 

My other favorite gift was a 23andMe DNA testing kit. I've wanted to know more about my genetic history for years, so this is very exciting. Too bad it takes six to eight weeks to get your results back!

What about you, REDS and readers? A good day? Favorite gifts?

And for those who asked, here is a photo of the amazing trifle:-).

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Christmas Feast

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Happy Christmas to all our dear readers from all of us at Jungle Red! We hope everyone is having a fabulous day, however you celebrate.

And now, let's talk about what we're eating!

We've never really had a set tradition for Christmas Day dinner, partly because we often went to family. But the last couple of  years we've stayed at home, which I absolutely love. I mean, you have to use the good china at least once or twice a year, right? 

But what to cook? I refuse to do turkey. Too much work and mess and I don't like the Thanksgiving foods well enough to want to do them twice. So last year, I brought home from England Jamie Oliver's Christmas Dinner cookbook. I was so excited! We'd have a proper English dinner! Then my darling daughter insisted that we should have....enchiladas. And I made them. From scratch, including the sauce. Two kinds of enchiladas, as one guest was a vegetarian. By the time I got those pans in the oven, my kitchen looked like I'd murdered someone. I was exhausted, and oh, the mess.

This year, I'm sticking to my guns. A standing rib roast from our local organic butcher, a la Julia Child, with horseradish sauce. 

Jamie's baked mashed potatoes with Red Leicester cheese. Jamie's baked creamed spinach. And Yorkshire puddings! (Jamie's recipe is fab.) We'll have Christmas crackers for everyone (the English pull-apart favors, which contain jokes and toys and silly paper hats.) And for dessert, I'm getting out the trifle bowl I haven't used in years for a proper English trifle, and we're buying Sticky Toffee pudding from Whole Foods.

And the vegetarian guest is now a "former vegetarian", so no worries there.

What's on your table, REDS?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Champagne, and oysters Rockefeller. (If I can get it together to make them. It's a huge pain, but so delicious!) Rack of lamb, and yes, Yorkshire pudding! (Which is so much fun when it works.) Asparagus, maybe, grilled, with Hollandaise. (SUPER easy, from Joy of Cooking.)  Dessert, hum. Got to think about that. Maybe something with lemon curd? Any Ideas?

And really, Debs, I think turkey is easy. It just has a long ramp up time. Rack of lamb? 20 minutes tops.

And now I am starving.

HALLIE EPHRON: Christmas eve is the big dinner chez nous. We get dressed up (like Downton Abbey without the servants). But these days it begins at 5:30 and ends at 6... because we re determined to include the grandbabies before they melt down and must be summarily tossed into the bathtub. A hot bath soothes savage beasties. And before the reading of THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

To drink: Prosecco and sparkly cider. Lobster bisque. I follow an ancient NY Times (Craig Claiborne) recipe that is spectacular and all the lobster meat goes into it. Potato pancakes with... maybe a rib roast? I'll figure that out at the market. Desert will be mandelbrot, a double-cooked cookie that's full of chocolate and pecans and maraschino cherries.

Christmas dinner we share with friends, Pat Kennedy (who's been a guest here on Jungle Red) and her family. Pat's making beef wellington! And I'm bringing baked stuffed potatoes. Food at her house is always yummy.  

DEBS: Hallie, we want the lobster bisque recipe!

INGRID THOFT: We start the day with a breakfast spread that includes baked French toast or cinnamon rolls, fruit salad, bagels and lox, and sometimes pumpkin bread.  Baked stuffed shrimp has often been on the Christmas dinner menu, and I swear, my mom’s is better than any restaurant version!  Beef tenderloin and prime rib have also been featured, and now I’m craving Yorkshire Pudding, which we don’t generally have on Christmas, but it would be a delicious addition.  A Buche de Noel will be the main event at dessert, and there are usually chocolate truffles that are passed around having been sent from relatives or friends.  We’ll wash it all down with wine or sparkling cider, and for those who still have room, a small glass of eggnog.  Let the food coma begin!

RHYS BOWEN: Our day begins with hot mince pies and sausage rolls. Then a full English brunch late morning. Goodies at tea-time and then turkey, roast potatoes, veggies followed by apple crumble, custard, cream, and Christmas pudding for those who like it! There will be 9 of us this year. Oh, and I've a bottle of good champagne waiting too.

DEBS: One bottle, Rhys???
JENN McKINLAY: Mimosas to start with and ooey gooey pastry. Ham. Always, ham, which I love so it's no hardship. Then it's scalloped potatoes or sweet potato casserole, green beans, a green leafy salad, and dinner rolls (popovers preferred). Those are the highlights and dessert is homemade apple pie, a platter of cookies, cheese cake or maybe a pecan pie, depending on the mood of the chef (me).

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Here on the Big Island (I can't tell you how luxe it feels to be typing that!) we're having a simple made-at-home meal before heading out to the beach, also with champagne, like Rhys! A big, big change from our usual Christmas dinner for 25 - 40 guests! For Christmas Eve, however, we went out to eat at the wonderful Ponds restaurant in Hilo, for the traditional Christmas feast of fresh fish and ridiculously good tropical fruits! It was far superior to our usual Christmas eve dinner of takeout Chinese. I will admit to indulging in a gooey dessert. As much as I love prime rib, ham and mashed potatoes, I'm not sorry to pass them by just for once!

LUCY BURDETTE: I feel a little guilty saying this when you all are preparing such fabulous spreads on Christmas day – we are going out to brunch! We will be in between celebrations with two sets of family, and that makes Christmas a breather day. The night before we will have crabcakes and shrimp and Caramel cake, so that’s my big holiday cooking. Except for cookies, we have lots of cookies on hand! Happy Christmas everyone! (as they say on THE CROWN.)

DEBS: I'm sure we all wish we were having what Julia's having, but if you have a moment, please share your feast with us!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

On Christmas Eve

LUCY BURDETTE: I came across this photo of my first Christmas Eve on this earth, with my mom and big sister, Sue. I don't know what we were singing, but my father was probably playing his accordion and warbling along too. This got me thinking about Christmas traditions and what has been strongly carried along with my current family. The one thing none of us will ever give up is Christmas stockings. We love them, no matter how old we get! (And for me also, it's attending Christmas eve carols and lessons service, though I can't confirm that all of my family does that.)

How about you Reds, holiday traditions?

RHYS BOWEN: We gave up stockings only recently although Daughter Anne and I still exchange. One tradition is mince pies and sausage rolls as we open presents. Another is that the tree gives us another small present in the afternoon.. 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Our Christmas Eve traditions: Go to the 5:00 service at St. Luke's (the one with the Christmas Pageant in it!) pick up Chinese take out, and watch DIE HARD at home, all snugged up together in front of the wood stove.There will be a huge missing piece in our Christmas Eve this year, so the children and I are getting away from our house, and snowy Maine - all the way to Hawai'i! Where we will probably...go to the service at the Episcopal church in Hilo, get Chinese takeout, and watch DIE HARD.

Hollywood Christmas

HALLIE EPHRON: Everyone stays here on Christmas eve--two little grandkids, my 2 daughters, my son-in-law. The Night Before Christmas must be read aloud. The radio tuned into Christmas music. A delicious Xmas eve dinner served early before the little ones turn crabby (shhh, I'm making a lobster bisque this week and freezing it) that includes potato latkes and Hanukah cookies (mandelbrot). I know, Hanukah will be over, but so what? 

And Xmas-eve night my daughter and I put together something yummy/yeasty to cook the next morning after presents are opened. Sticky buns in years past. This year we're making jelly donuts. 

Here's a picture of Christmas morning when I was little, a tree so big my dad always had to cut the top off to get it into the house. We trimmed it Christmas eve.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We are a stocking family, too, and vow never to give it up. And this year we will have a stocking for Wren, such fun! When Kayti was little we read The Night Before Christmas aloud on Christmas Eve, along with A Child's Christmas in Wales. I still try to read both, just for myself.  These days we go to my in-laws for a big Christmas Eve party. (There are five siblings, with sibs' others, sibs' kids, and now sibs' kids' kids, and always some non-family friends.) It's great fun, but I often long for a quiet Christmas Eve in front of the fire, with hot chocolate and a movie or a book.
Stockings with Kayti, 1988

Christmas morning the kids come over as soon as we're all up. We do stockings, then breakfast (with something sticky!) then the tree. We used to go to my aunt's for Christmas dinner but the last few years we decided we really wanted to stay home. However, the quiet Christmas Day has evolved into a proper Christmas dinner for eight to ten people! But I love having family and friends around the table to celebrate.

INGRID THOFT: Christmas Eve includes a delicious meal, new PJs for the grandkids from Nana, reading “The Night Before Christmas,” a viewing of the Grinch, and the stuffing of stockings for both kids and adults.  The last few years, I prepped baked French toast to be popped in the oven on Christmas morning.  This year, I decided to let someone else do the work, so I ordered cinnamon rolls from Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor.  Fingers crossed they taste as good as the French toast.  My photo shows a Thoft tree from years past.  We were more ambitious then, but trimming a smaller tree is definitely a more peaceful process!

Hank's mom, circa 1965

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  When I was little, we had champagne and scrambled eggs. Aw. And oranges in our stockings. (This is my mom, circa, maybe, holidays 1965? And now, I see, we have similar nail polish, and rings, and wear a watch with a bracelet.)  Anyway.  We could open ONE thing on Christmas Eve.  And the whole thing was..odd. Because we're Jewish. But we celebrated everything.  And now Jonathan and I do the same thing.We have rack of lamb one of the days, with a great wine. One of our traditions is this conversation.  Hank: Can we get a tree? Jonathan: We're Jewish. Hank: I know, but still, it'd be fun. Jonathan: If you want a tree, of course we can have a tree. Hank: Okay, I guess it's silly. ::sort of:: 

King George with wind-up toys
JENN MCKINLAY: Stockings! So much fun. We still do those, too, and we always have a wind up toy in it. No idea how this tradition started but I have a collection of windup toys that is unequalled. My picture is our newest kitten, King George, playing with a few years worth of windups. I had to check and make sure i hadn't already given the ones I bought this year. When I was a child and when the Hooligans were little, we always read Twas the Night Before Christmas and left out a plate of cookies and carrots (reindeer get hungry, too). Now that they're older we have a make your own pizza party and watch a Christmas movie together. It's still lovely just  to be together.  

Red readers, what will you be doing today and tonight? Any special Christmas eve traditions?

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas in Key West

LUCY BURDETTE: Like my character Hayley Snow in the Key West mysteries, I was born and raised in New Jersey. We had sledding parties, and ice skating parties, and a real Christmas tree cut from a neighborhood farm. We served hot chocolate and sugar cookies to Santa, and carrots to Rudolph and company. There was a candlelight service on Christmas Eve and piles of presents and many relatives and a roast turkey on Christmas day.
Hayley and I are getting adjusted to Christmas in our Key West paradise. Though we miss the snow and the snappy cold air and our friends and family most of all, there’s something pretty magical about lights on a palm tree.  

The season always kicks off with the Key West Hometown Holiday Parade*. It's my favorite parade, with lots of local spirit. Here's a little snippet from this year:

The police get dressed up too. Here’s me with Officer Joe at the Hometown Holiday Parade: 

Key West folks are darned good at decking out their island for the holiday season. I’ll show you a couple of my favorites: 

There is a contest for best light display. This one won first prize this year:

And this one should get a prize for funkiest/most creative IMHO:

Of course the Truman Little White House (where Death on the Menu is set) is all decked out too. This is the tree in Harry's living room at the Little White House: 

And here is where we'll be on Christmas eve--MCC Key West, where all are welcome! 

*Historical note from Rev. Steve Torrence: The original Christmas parade was put on by the lower keys ministerial association. They would not allow MCC or the Key West business guild to participate. The mayor of Key West said: "That's not how we do things here." They sponsored the KW holiday parade and invited everyone!

How do things look in your town during this season?