Hope, and Hugs!

Last year at this time, we were all in shock over Covid 19 and lock down and other scary words like pandemic. Virus. Facemasks. Hand sanitizer. Wash, or risk death.

Now we are hearing hopeful things like vaccination, and lifted restrictions! It makes my heart lighter too, knowing that by May or June, most Americans will have access to being vaccinated if they choose. While being homebound didn’t change my life that much, what I miss is visiting family. I miss my friends. I miss HUGS.

I think we should all go in a hug frenzy—total strangers? Hug. Friends and loved ones—long hugs, to commit that person to memory. Just in case.

What this experience has driven home for me is that life is short. There are things that we can do as precautions (wash, sanitize, six feet separation etc) but being afraid all of the time isn’t mentally healthy.

Boardwalk

Christopher and I are lucky to live in South Florida where the weather allows us to be outside practically every day. That saved our outlook in a big way at the beginning of all of this, until we figured out how to see family that needs us. We have a very small pod but that’s okay. My mother lives in Washington state with snow and cold weather but she would still dress for outdoors a few times a week to get that fresh air. I think we’ve all found ways to adapt. I am a Pollyanna by nature and hope for a better day gets me through darker times.

What strengths have you found during this last year? What is your hope for the future?

It’s why I love reading and writing romance. The characters hope and try and fail yet discover a way to overcome obstacles for their happily ever after. <3

Don’t forget to enter the monthly contest here at Authors’ Billboard! There are so many wonderful books and stories for under a dollar to guarantee a happy escape 😊

The Thief in the Night

It started with the patter of little feet overhead as I lay in bed one night. I first thought it was a squirrel because we’d had squirrels in the attic at our former rental house. The woman living there was terrified that they’d come downstairs, burst through the plasterboard, and attack her. We dealt with the situation by calling “Trapper Bob” who saved her from the monsters in the walls.

Several years later, it was my turn to hear an invader overhead. But these footsteps were pretty heavy. A fifteen-pound squirrel? Not likely. They probably belonged to a raccoon who had graduated from eating the food I put out for stray cats to home invasion.

Confrontation between a cat and a raccoon

The situation went downhill from there. Hearing suspicious sounds from the front hall closet, I opened the door to find a masked bandit staring at me from his perch on a bag of Meow Mix. In a very girlie reaction I jumped back and screamed. Equally alarmed, the raccoon disappeared back upstairs. But now I was onto his clever scheme for free room and board.

Three raccoons chowing down

When I inspected the closet, I figured out how he’d gotten there–-by climbing down the inside of the wall and squeezing through a hole a workman had cut years ago to install a phone line. This time, I called our regular pest control company. They sent their “small animal expert” who told us the invader had accessed the attic through a panel where a fan had been removed. The man was confident that he could solve the problem with a one-way door. The varmint could get out but not back in.

Raccoon absconding with a piece of bread

We looked forward to an easy victory, until it turned out the tally was raccoon one, trapper zero. The guy tried again and scored another defeat. Resorting to emergency measures, he baited a trap on the lower roof near the access panel. This time it worked. My last sight of the defeated thief was in a cage, staring morosely through the wire mesh as he was hauled off to a truck.

I’m still feeding cats, and thus raccoons, outside, but luckily nobody else has mounted a home invasion.

My latest release is Forged in Dreams from Changeling Press. Silversmith Megan Holder thinks she’s an ordinary woman, until she’s kidnapped by demonic creatures and learns she’s a key player in a desperate struggle over the fate of humanity. Her only hope of survival lies with werewolf Daniel Fenton, the man she’s growing to love. But can the two of them survive to fulfill the destiny ordained by the Norse gods?

African Sweet Potato Soup by @Donna_Fasano

This recipe for African Sweet Potato Soup comes from my novel Two Hearts in Winter. My protagonist, Heather Phillips, cooks an international meal for her friends to celebrate the holiday. This soup is served as part of that meal in the opening scenes of the book. There is nothing more comforting during the cold winter months than a bowl of hot, flavorful sweet potato soup. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Soup

African Sweet Potato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled, chopped
  • 4 1/2 cups chicken broth (store-bought is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/3 cup chopped, unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 bunch fresh parsley, minced fine

Directions:

1. Add the oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Sauté the onion until golden, about 8-10 min. Add the garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon. Stir in the tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrot. Cook and stir for 5 minutes.

2. Pour the broth into the saucepan. Add salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 25-30 minutes.

3. Remove the soup mixture from heat. Using a food processor or blender, blend the soup and peanuts until almost smooth. Return to the saucepan. Whisk in the peanut butter, and cook on medium heat until just heated through. Serve warm topped with minced parsley.

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Sweet Potato Soup

Loss and betrayal have caused Heather Phillips to give up on love. She’s thrown herself into running The Lonely Loon, her Bed and Breakfast located on the boardwalk of Ocean City, Maryland. The “off season” in this tourist town is usually a time of rest and reflection for her; however, DB Atwell, a famous author, arrives at The Loon for the winter to finish his long-overdue novel. Daniel, too, has faced grief, and tragedy continues to haunt him. Once Heather and Daniel meet, their lives will never be the same.

Reminiscent of Nights in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks and culminating in a happily-ever-after similar to the great Nora Roberts, Two Hearts in Winter is a story about learning to let go of the past, about realizing that, though hardship affects us, it need not define us, and about coming to understand and truly believe that beauty is sometimes covered in scars. The human heart has an amazing ability to forgive, to heal, and to hope, especially when touched by love.

Titles in the Ocean City Boardwalk Series:
Following His Heart, Book 1
Two Hearts in Winter, Book 2
Wild Hearts of Summer, Book 3

Travel to Seychelles

When people ask me about the most interesting thing I have ever done in my life, I can’t help smiling as I answer without hesitation, “Traveling.”  I visited over hundred countries on vacation or business trips. 

One of my most memorable trips was to the Seychelles in the nineties, after my husband and colleagues sold the first Boeing 767 with GE engines to the Republic of Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, off East Africa, where natives speak English, French and Creole. The spouses were invited to accompany and cheer the hardworking and successful delegation on the delivery trip, or virgin trip as the officials called it.

On the tarmac of the Boeing airport in Seattle before boarding.

The night before the actual delivery trip we arrived in Seattle, home of the Boeing Co., for a reception and the next day we headed to the Boeing hangar where we boarded the brand new airplane. After a takeoff closely monitored by the engineers, the plane flew directly to a freezing airport somewhere in Newfoundland to refuel, then crossed over the Atlantic Ocean, transited in Paris for two hours, and continued to Kenya where it had to drop boxes of medication as part of an international aid program. The Kenyan minister of tourism received us with drinks and snacks and then led us to a tower for a panoramic view of the area surrounding the airport. He kindly invited us to come back for a safari–still on my bucket list.

Map and general view of the Seychelles.

The plane landed in the largest island of Mahé, home of the capital Victoria, to the sound of music. Young girls welcomed us with flower leis. The president himself shook hands with each one of us, and toasted the arriving guests with glasses of palm wine Kalou and coconut water. 

L- Arrival at the airport. R- In downtown Victoria. In January, it’s summer in the Seychelles.

We spent our first afternoon in Mahé, and couldn’t wait to run to the Beau Vallon beach and experience the white sand and turquoise water of the Indian Ocean. The evening gathered our delegation for a dinner of local fish and seafood cooked with rice in a Creole style and the delicious octopus and palm salad. Let’s not forget the mouth-watering exotic fruits that appeared at breakfast, lunch and dinner: mango, papaya, passion fruit, guava and a few I didn’t recognize.

The next day the Minister of Tourism invited us on a submarine tour to admire the underwater life, flora, corals and colorful fish; later we swam and snorkeled in the area.

On day two, we flew to the island of Pralin in a twelve-seat plane. In Pralin we visited the rain forest called Vallée de Mai, home to famous—or infamous—Coco de Mer, a huge coconut, for the female fruit, and an… hum… extra long penis for the male fruit. Seriously, you have to see it to believe it. These fruits grow on the tallest trees in the world. We had a fantastic day, but we were eaten alive by hundreds of mosquitoes guarding the rainforest. Back in the hotel, we spent the evening rubbing our legs and arms with a soothing cream made with the oil of Coco de Mer.

In the left top picture we are standing in the Valée de Mai, home of the Coco de Mer. On the right is a picture of the male nut.

On day three, we used the same small plane to go to La Digue island. It landed on a gorgeous white-sand desert beach with black granite rock shining in the sun—in my humble opinion, it is the most beautiful beach in the world. In La Digue, we also visited a park housing giant turtles. On the way back we had a bad surprise. Our small plane sank into the sand. We had to go down and push to get it out!

Over the years, I accompanied my husband to the Seychelles three times and enjoyed the islands tremendously: the beaches, the activities, the food. A perfect place for a honeymoon.

I wrote about the Coco de Mer in my book, THE GODS OF DARK LOVE, a sensual romance based on the legend of the gods, Isis and Osiris, in the Egyptian mythology. On Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B076K8442S/

Chapter 15 is set in the Vallée de Mai, home of the Coco de Mer.

“This forest is Gehanna created by a devil,” Shafika grumbled. “It has the most indecent fruits I have ever seen. I want to go away from here.”

“Stop it,” Isis ordered. “It’s the wrong time and place to whine.”

The girl pouted. “But my lady, look at those fruits. They must have been created by—”

“We have already seen so many of them at sea. Stop acting like a child.”

“But my lady, I am not talking about the Sea-Cocos.” She pointed to the top of a tree. “Look at these donkeys’ things.”

Exasperated, Isis exhaled and raised her gaze to where the girl pointed. Her breath clogged her throat. “Oh, oh. Osiris, look.” She caught his arm and shook it.

Osiris stared at the long fruits, shaped like a phallus as long as his arm, as long as a donkey’s penis. He swallowed hard and counted a dozen such cones on that tree.