Smorgasbord Christmas celebrations – The Fourth Day of Christmas with guests Norah Colvin and Amy Reade

So here we are all again and it is now day four of the party and I am delighted to have been joined by two more special guests, Norah Colvin and Amy Reade… more about them and their most favourite Christmas gifts later.

My Christmas Past..

I have been looking back over photographs of Christmas past and I came across a gathering we hosted in Tring in 1984 just before David and I left for Houston for two years. It had all happened very quickly. We had moved into our little house in the April when David moved from Liverpool with his job to a new cable television division that had been set up. Unfortunately we had only been there six months when the powers that be shut down the division and made David redundant. A bit of a shock to say the least. While we were in the process of making plans for the future his previous boss rang and offered David a very different prospect. Two years in Houston, Texas responsible for sales in the United States. It was really a no brainer, there was only two of us, the money was great and all we had to do was sell our house which we did quickly thank goodness.

We were leaving early January and wanted to see as much of the family as possible. Despite heavy snow falls our visitors arrived on the 24th of December. David’s parents came from Ireland, my parents and brother from Portsmouth, David’s uncle from London – with only three bedrooms it meant that David and I camped out on mattresses in the dining room and my brother had the conservatory. Money was a bit tight but David brewed up a keg of beer – twice – because the first one was sampled a couple of weeks before by friends who came over to play darts!!

Nine of us crammed around the dining room table and we had a wonderful day with charades in the afternoon which disintegrated into a hilarious debacle. Everybody stayed on until the 27th and we put all our belongings except for two suitcases of clothes and flew off knowing we would probably not see them again for at least two years.

A great Christmas and when I look at the photos, I realise how easy it is to let those memories fade, when actually being together and the laughter was more important than fancy food and presents.

To get you in the Christmas mood.. and because I know there are many thousands of families who will not be with their father’s, husbands, brothers, sisters and other loved ones who are serving in the military over the holidays… here is White Christmas from the United States Navy Band

Time to meet my first guest who is a fantastic member of our blogging community, Norah Colvin and shares a little bit about herself, and also her very best Christmas gift of all time.

I am an experienced and passionate educator. I teach. I write. I create. I have spent almost all my life thinking and learning about thinking and learning. I have been involved in many educational roles, both in and out of formal schooling situations, always combining my love of teaching and writing by creating original materials to support children’s learning.

Now as I step away from the classroom again, I embark upon my latest iteration: sharing my thoughts about education by challenging what exists while asking what could be; and inviting early childhood educators to support children’s learning through use of my original teaching materials which are now available on my website

Here is Norah’s  Very Best Christmas Gift

One of my strongest memories is of waking before sunrise one Christmas morning, checking to see if Santa had been, and discovering a book at the end of my bed. While there was not enough light at first to see the illustrations or read the words, I delighted in the smoothness of the cover and the smell of the pages. Slowly, as the sun rose, the title revealed itself: Heidi by Johanna Spyri, and I started to read. I loved that story and read it many times. After more than fifty years I still have the book in my possession, rather tattered and worn, not unlike its owner, but still loved.

I loved that book too and the sequel and I was a bit pushed at first as to what I might give to Norah as a Christmas present… then it came to me..

Peter in the story of Heidi is a goatherd… voila..front row seats at a performance of The Lonely Goatherd from The Sound of Music…

Countries around the world have their own way of celebrating Christmas and for example if you were in Greenland, you would have to buy an imported tree, as trees don’t grow that far north. As an alternative a large piece of driftwood is decorated usually on the 23rd of December. Since the sun does not rise in the winter in Greenland, an illuminated star is put in the window to bring some light to the darkness.

People visit each other for coffee and cakes and a delicacy is ‘Mattak’ which is a strip of whale skin with piece of blubber inside… unfortunately tough to chew so is usually swallowed. B-B-Q caribou or reindeer might also be on the menu.

You might want to use this snippet about the whale skin and blubber to your advantage as a threat to any child at the table declining the Brussel Sprouts! Or for guests who have outstayed their welcome!

There are so many carols that are popular that it tough to narrow it down to twelve but since this is my party….. I get to choose. Kings College, Cambridge is renowned for its choir and here they are with Hark the Herald Angels Sing...

Day four and it is officially 28th December: The Feast of the Holy Innocents – when prayers are said for the innocent baby boys that Herod allegedly had killed in his efforts to overturn the prophesy passed on by the Magi that the King of the Jews, the baby Jesus would take his throne. There has been much research into this massacre and theologians and historians are fairly sure that it did not take place. It may well be that around that time there could have been an epidemic that took the lives of many infants and someone put two and two together and got five. Anyway perhaps it is a time to remember all young innocents who are taken before their time.

There is much debate about the origins of ‘Four Calling Birds’ but in fact the original was ‘Four Colly Birds‘ and this meant that they were grimy and sooty and actually referred to Blackbirds.. Even more confusing was that they were not really Blackbirds but Thrushes…I suggest that you go directly to the drink section and partake of a very pleasant glass of champagne and forget the four birds of whatever origin all together….

Time for my second guest and delighted to welcome author Amy Reade to the party.  Apart from her own books on her website, Amy features recommended reads from other authors and some delicious recipes.

USA Today Bestselling author Amy M. Reade writes Gothic, traditional, and cozy mysteries. Her books have been compared to those by authors such as Daphne du Maurier, Phyllis Whitney, and Victoria Holt. Amy’s standalone novels feature vivid descriptions of exotic and fascinating locations, such as the Thousand Islands region of New York State, Charleston, South Carolina, and the Big Island of Hawaii. Her Malice series explores a family’s secrets and mysteries set against the breathtaking backdrops of Scotland and Wales. Her newest mystery, The Worst Noel, is the first in her Juniper Junction Holiday cozies. A former attorney, Amy found that writing was her true calling. She loves cooking, reading, and travel.

Here is Amy’s most treasured Christmas gift ever

I wish I could say that my favorite Christmas gift was a sentimental one, one that would prompt sappy tears, but I can’t. My favorite Christmas gift ever was a Barbie Dream House.
Tall, plastic, yellow, filled with stories yet to be imagined, it was a complete surprise. We lived in frigid northern New York in a house with a screened-in front porch. When we finished opening the gifts under the tree, there was one last item—a note addressed to me telling me to look on the porch. Brrr.  There is was, in all its frozen glory.

I think that we might be able to upgrade that first Barbie Dream House for you Amy with this brand new interactive build that certainly beats anything I have ever lived in… enjoy.

Read the reviews and buy Amy Reade’s books
Connect to Amy via her blog:

51dikCmd-RL._UY250_House of the Hanging Jade cover with USA Today

One of the recent reviews for The Worst Noel

Lilly’s Very Bad, No Good, Terrible, “Worst” Day! A very entertaining first-in-the-series penned by Amy M. Reade (Ok, what an apropos name, right?). A clever mystery with wonderful characters and a satisfying conclusion make me a fan and eager to join in as a regular for her Juniper Junction Holiday Mysteries. The mystery gives “karma” a good name…bad character meets bad end, but perp is handed justice, too. Readers are led through a variety of entertaining suspects all with motive, but the final “you’re it” is one that challenged my inner Sherlock. And along with an enjoyable cozy mystery, she provides a engaging look into Lilly’s family dramas, interactions with her BFF, and efforts to have a Black Friday do-over. Amy is not a new author, penning standalone books and the Malice series, so the well-developed characters in a first-in-the-series book are a given. I admire Lilly, the teens are an enjoyable support duo, and she paints with realism her mother’s possible early-onset dementia and ex-husband’s antics. Stories and characters that all made for a great read!

The story has a whopping sixty-two chapters. Whoa! I thought I’d be reading for days. However, I was so pleasantly surprised, and really like the manner in which Amy organized her story. Each chapter is a scene or part of the day easily enjoyed…a real page-turner. In Amy’s story readers are put on the periphery with an enjoyable third-person narrative. However, I prefer a first-person narrative that allows me to feel I’m part of the story with the “I” perspective. She does include intriguing descriptions, engaging banter, and illustrations of tone and personality which kept me totally engaged. I highly recommend this book, and am a big fan!

My two favorite words…No, not “It’s Murder!,” but Recipes Included! Amy Reade has added three delicious easy-to-follow recipes as a bonus. Enjoy what BFF Noley brought for breakfast whose job as a recipe developer for a national cooking magazine has made being her “taste tester” a delicious position: Christmas Jam (Cranberries, and raspberries, and pears…oh, my!), Orange-Kissed Biscuits (Topped with Christmas Jam, of course!), and Fruit Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing (A tropical delight!).

The humble carrot is a vegetable most of us take for granted. Carrots have an ancient history originating in Afghanistan. The Greeks and the Romans ate carrots and in fact, the Greeks called the carrot ‘Philtron’ and used it as an aphrodisiac. Don’t all rush to the supermarket! In Asia, the carrot was an established root crop and was then introduced to Europe in the 13th century. It was the Middle Ages before the carrot became better known and doctors of the time prescribed carrots for numerous ills including snakebite! In those days, the carrot was available in far more radiant colours including red, purple, black, yellow and white. They were cultivated together and over time, it resulted in the orange vegetable we know today.

Carrots eaten as a fresh, raw and unprocessed food is full of nutrients including Vitamin A (retinol), beta-carotene (turned into Vitamin A in the body), other carotenoids, B Vitamins, Vitamin C and minerals calcium and potassium. Of all of the nutrients, Beta-Carotene and latterly Alpha Carotene are seen as the most important properties of the carrot. As far as the eyes are concerned it is the Vitamin A and the Beta-carotene which are the most important nutrients. Vitamin A, helps your eyes adjust to light changes when you come in from outside and helps keep your eyes, skin and mucous membranes moist.

Apart from garnish for your Christmas dinner, you can make this delicious soup for a starter or perhaps with a turkey sandwich on Christmas night… Courtesy of Carol Taylor from the Cook from Scratch series

Carrot Soup Ingredients: Serves 2

  • 2 carrots washed and sliced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Half onion chopped
  • 1/2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger finely chopped or grated
  • The zest and juice of half an orange 500ml of fresh vegetable stock or chicken stock
  • Salt and black pepper to season.
  • Crème fresh and coriander, to garnish. I use Coconut milk and a sprinkle of chilli flakes…but that’s me I love my chilli.

To prepare…

  • Gently cook the onion in a saucepan with the olive oil until it has softened but not coloured, add the garlic, ginger and orange zest and cook for a minute or 2.
  • Then add the carrots and pour in the stock.
  • Simmer until the carrots are very tender and using a hand blender blend until smooth.
  • Serve and garnish as above with crème fresh and coriander or coconut milk and some chilli flakes as I do

We all love some sparkling wine at Christmas and New Year and if really pushing the boat out then buying the finest Champagne can not only add some luxury sparkle to your celebrations but also add quite a bit to the housekeeping bill….

Some supermarkets now bottle their own Champagne and the budget stores of Aldi and Lidl have had some really good press in recent years. When we lived in the USA, we enjoyed Korbel California Champagnes and in Spain you could buy the finest Cava Reserva for amazing prices… and it is still our preferred sparkling wine. This is despite their being the highest tax on alcohol in Europe here in Ireland where you will pay 50% more for a bottle.

Prosecco is popular all year around and also tends to be cheaper than champagne, and follow this link if you would like to find out more about the differences between prosecco and champagne

To be honest I am very partial to a drop of alcoholic ginger beer at Christmas and always look for somewhere that is stocking my favourite brand….

Thank you for dropping in to the party and it would be lovely to hear about your most memorable Christmas gift.

Tomorrow we are at the Five Gold Rings stage of the party with guests Debby Gies, Lizzie Chantree and Joy Lennick… I hope to see you there.. thanks Sally