Saturday, December 12, 2015

The MUST-HAVE Christmas Present

Happy Holidays!

We've come to my favorite holiday, Christmas. I love everything about it, even the jostling in stores for the perfect gift. I like the snow (not the shelving). I like all the lights and the music. I like the happy smiles on people's faces as they make eye contact instead of just passing by. I like all the Christmas cards spilling out of my mailbox as I open it each day.

As Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Years celebrations begin, remember when you were a kid and wanted the must-have toy of the season? [Note: I realize Hanukkah is over, but for the past several years it's occurred in December close to Christmas, so I wanted to include it here.)

For me the toy I had to have was called Mini-Brix. They were the precursor to Legos. I was about seven and I longed for them. You could build things with them just like you can with today's Legos. However, my father said it was a boy's toy and I was a girl. This was prior to the sexual revolution. On Christmas morning the mini-brik were not there. I got a doll and a tea set as all good little girls should want. I didn't grow up to be a great homemaker. I drink coffee more than tea. I also didn't become an architect or work at building anything. I've worked in many types of jobs, that we won't go into as this blog is about the must-have gift.

A few years ago the e-reader, specifically the Kindle was the gift of the season. Then the i's took over: iPod, iPhone, iPad, and now the Apple Watch of the Samsung phone.

What is the toy you want today? If you could get your must-have gift,
what would it be? You're never too old for the perfect holiday present. If I got to sit on Santa's lap and whisper in his ear what I want for Christmas, it wouldn't be anything tangible, no coat or that one (or more) of my books make the New York Times bestseller list (although I wouldn't refuse that). I want peace.


I used to think it was silly during the Miss American Pageant when the contestants said they wanted peace. But I understand now. And I agree with them.

This is probably why I choose to write romance. There is always a happily-ever-after, and the characters remind me of Superman. They stand for truth and justice. So as the year comes to a close, let us all
pray for our soldiers to come home safely, that the sons and daughters of our enemies lay down their weapons and return to their families, and for the world to work for peace.

When you begin to wine down from the aftermath of the holidays, when the family has begun to return to their homes, take a moment to relax with Summer Magic, a three-story anthology from authors, Lorraine Bartlett, Shirley Hailstock and Kelly McClymer. You'll learn the stories of three special guests who arrive at this beautiful inn overlooking the sea on Martha's Vineyard. AMAZON.COM NOOK APPLE KOBO

Sweet Dreams by Lorraine Bartlett: Serious life changes have pushed Paige and Alex Campbell to the brink of divorce. Still, they win a weekend at lovely Blythe Cove Manor and experience vivid dreams. Is there a chance this magical place inspires the nighttime fantasies that could help them fall in love again?
Forever Bound by Shirley Hailstock: What Ellie Sloan finds in the wall of her home sends her to Martha's Vineyard and irrevocably changes her life.

Honeymoon with a Ghost by Kelly McClymer: Wedding planners know that no wedding goes off without a hitch, but most don't expect the groom to vanish hours after the wedding. Emily Stevens heads for her honeymoon suite in Blythe Cover Manor alone, determined to find out who her husband really was.

Until next time, keep reading...

Move Over Julie Andrews - These are My Favorite Things

by Shirley Hailstock

I'm having a Christmas party.  Of course that means cleaning the house, at least the part that the guests will see.  So I'm vacuuming the dining room, when I start thinking about how I love seeing the lines the vacuum cleaner makes on the carpet.  And the idea for this blog comes to me.  This is proof of that common question writers get: where do ideas come from -- from the great and powerful and the mundane and necessary.
So, my first favorite thing is a clean carpet.  Mind you, I don't like being the cleaner.  I avoided the cleaning gene while I was still in the womb.  However, in order to get what I want, something I have to suck it up.  Writing and reading reference:  submitting a clean manuscript to your editor; providing a reader with wonderful experience devoid of typos and distractions that throw them out of the story.

The smell of fresh cut grass is another favorite. I like the smell all summer long, but that first cut of the year is like all the fragrance buds opened up and offered their scent to the wind.  I don't cut my own grass.  I have a service that whips through the process in record time.  Yet, that first cut welcomes the change from winter to spring. Writing and reading reference:  The writer has finally
birthed the baby and she's holding it in your arms, ready to allow someone, a stranger who plucks it off the shelf (real or virtual) to read her story.  It's going to be a new world as soon as she
lets it go.  Her feeling of fear increases ten-fold, until that first review comes in, until she can exhale and allow all the pent-up emotion out.  For readers, a new voice just entered the world and you're there to receive it.  With hope and admiration, you settle in your chair riveted to the pages, waiting for the end, for your ahhh moment as you reach the last page.  That's the first
smell of cut grass.
The heat on my face when opening an oven.  It's a flash of heat, but it's dripping with anticipation.  There's something good in there.  I can feel the heat of it.  At the first snow, I love to make
cinnamon rolls.  They remind me of home when I was a little girl.  We'd make them from scratch, eagerly waiting for them to finish cooking so we could open that oven door.  This brings me to a complementary favorite -- sticky hands.  We couldn't wait for the cinnamon rolls to cool down, so we'd ice and eat them, still hot from the oven, as the icing dripped down the corners of her mouths and onto our hands -- ala sticky hands.  Writing and reading reference:  It's a favorite book.  All writers have one.  Most won't tell you which one.  We don't want you to think there is a best
because the writer's  favorite may not be the reader's favorite.  What sticks to your hands may not stick to mine. But something will stick.  And you won't be able to put the book down.

SMILE-1_MORGUEFILE_3691233875457I love people who smile.  I find that smiling makes the day better.  It begins that way and continues.  This is not to say that life doesn't happen, that disappointments don't come, sometimes in droves, but putting on that happy face can make it feel a lot less irritating.  Long ago, I read something (probably in science class) about it taking more facial muscles to frown than to smile.  I was skinny then and thought smiling would be better.  I still think that and I also know that frowning uses more energy, but not enough to make you lose weight -- so smile.  You'll feel better.  Writing and reading reference:  Books make you laugh and cry.  They touch your emotions and introduce you to fictional family and friends.  They are people you can laugh with and most often, they make you smile. You may not know it, but they do the authors and readers have the same reaction.  Sometimes we're reluctant to let them go.  Readers want another story with their new-found friends.  Writers have new ideas, new directions to travel with the people they've brought to life.  Come on people, let's all get together for a group photo.  Say SMILE.
 I also include chocolate among my favorites (only about a dozen people in the world don't).  However, I'm a chocolate snob, a cheap snob if that's a consolation. I'm a Hershey girl.  I like milk chocolate.  I don't favor expensive chocolates.  When I was in San Francisco, a friend walked me around for an hour trying to find a very famous chocolate store, Ghirardelli.  I'd never heard of them.  (I can hear you gasping.)  I tried several different samples they had in the store, didn't like any of them. I've tried Cadbury Chocolate, Dove Chocolate, Whitman Samplers, Russell Stovers, even Godiva Chocolate (which always reminds me of a naked lady on a horse), and none of them appealed to me as much as a Hershey bar.  There are other favorites in the chocolate category that I adore; chocolate cake with chocolate icing, chocolate mousse, hot chocolate, chocolate milk, the list goes on.  Writing and reading reference: different books appeal to different people. Some like historical, some small town contemporaries, some Navy Seals, others FBI thrillers, there's something out there for everyone's taste.

could go on listing my favorite things, but Julie has come in and wagged her finger with the enough is enough gesture.  So, let's leave it with a favorite wine, a fireplace with a roaring fire, and good friends.
What are some of your favorite things?

As always, keep reading...

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Best Tea in the World

by Shirley Hailstock

Since Father's Day and Independence Day are practically upon us, I thought about my father and one of the gifts he gave me.  I was also reminded of a previous trip to England by several of my friends (who were in Ireland) posting messages on Facebook.  One thing I enjoy and miss about England tea time.  The entire country seems to stop for an hour and enjoy a soothing cup of tea and a little conversation.

Photo Credit: Morguefile

I have a friend in D.C. that I’ve known since college.  She’s a neo-natal nurse.  We met when she was in nursing school.  I tutored her in chemistry and we became life-long friends.  She spent a lot of time in my apartment and used to say I made the best iced tea in the world.  Of course, I thought she was being facetious since I had very little money and tea bags were the only drink I could afford to buy.  Consequently, there was always tea in my refrigerator.  I didn’t find out until long after I'd married and had children that she actually meant it.

My son also says I make the best tea in the world.  He’s unaware of the comments from my nurse-friend.  But he should know.  He’s traveled from Canada to Australia, New Zealand to Ireland, England to Scandinavia, seen a lot of the world and drank a lot of tea (his refreshment of choice).  For several days one summer when he was about ten, he watched me make tea, asking questions about how much of this and how long to let it boil.  Then one of his friends’ parents I ran across in the local grocery store mentioned the tea.  Apparently, my son had gone to her house and made them the best tea in the world.  Once he called me from Germany when he was an exchange student to find out how to make the tea for his German family.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Tea has been a part of human life since the Stone Age.  Yet people used to only drink it iced in the summer time.  Tea has now become an any time drink.  I think my father personally championed this change, since we had iced tea year-round as I grew up in Buffalo, New York.  My father was from South Carolina where tea is a staple.

He didn’t teach me to make it, however.  And I didn't experiment with different ingredients.  I just happened to try a different type of tea when I was low on tea bags and suddenly I had people turning their heads like on a television commercial and asking, “Who made this?”  I will give a little credit to my father for one ingredient although the knowledge came to me indirectly through one of my sisters.  She told me about the baking soda.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Sun Tea was popular about ten years ago and I tried that, but quickly realized it was only a method of getting people to buy more tea bags and therefore making the tea companies more profits.  Quickly, I dropped that idea.  One reason was the inconvenience.  Sun Tea had to sit in the sun for hours to brew.  I’d have to get it ready and put it outside in the morning before leaving for work.  With all I had to do to get three people up dressed, breakfast prepared and eaten, beds made, and lunches ready (with kids who are not morning people), who had time to think about Sun Tea?  And when it was gone, you couldn’t make more on the spot.  Plus my kids didn’t think it was as good and the kind you boiled on the stove.  So following the path of least resistance, I went back to the tried and true.

Photo Credit: Morguefile

In my first book, Under the Sheets, I loaned my heroine the recipe for the tea.  She owned a restaurant and it was a favorite of her patrons.  It was also the defining moment for the hero when he discovers she’s the same woman he’d known and loved in the past.  I put the recipe in that book.  And here it is for you.  I hope you like it.

Photo Credit: Pixabay & Morguefile

Apple Spiced Iced Tea

2 regular tea bags (a cheap brand, store brand is fine)
1 apple spice herbal tea bag
Sugar (to taste or optional)
Baking soda (as much as you can pinch between two fingers)
Cold water

Photo Credit: Morguefile

Fill a small sauce pan half full of cold water.  Add the three tea bags and bring to a boil. Boil for two minutes.  Remove from stove and add a pinch of soda (The box keeping your refrigerator fresh is fine to use.  The soda will make the tea bubble to the top of the pan, so be careful.  It will also give the mixture a rich, dark color.)  Fill a half-gallon size pitcher half full of cold water.  Pour tea into a pitcher and stir.  (Discard tea bags.)  Add sugar to taste.  Fill pitcher to top with more cold water.  Serve over ice.

Note:  Do not add lemon.  The strength of the lemon juice will negate the apple spice influence.

Substitutions:  You can substitute any herbal tea you desire and experiment with the flavor.  I’ve used Orange Spice and Cinnamon Apple Spice with good results.

Shirley Hailstock

Friday, May 1, 2015

Creating a Tablescape for the Groom

Summer wedding season is gearing up.  I thought of creating a tablescape for the groom and his party.

Do you know what a tablescape is?  It's decorating a table for some event.  It could be a children's party, movie night, a holiday celebration, or dinner without any special reason.  However, when there is a special reason, I like to do something a little more than putting plates on the table and loading them up with food.

There is no wrong way to do a tablescape.  You don't have to design it or plan it, but that isn't a bad thing to do.  I usually plan a theme, a color scheme, and a centerpiece.  Once I have those items in mind, the other objects on the table fall into the plan.  However, if none of these things come to mind, at least you should balance the table someway.  Even if you're setting a table for one, you can still balance it.

The tablescape I created for this article I called the Tuxedo Table.  Names don't generally come with a tablescape.  You can name it or not.  I like giving them names.  It makes it easier for me to remember what it is.  Once I had this idea, I thought of the napkins.  I wanted them to look like a tuxedo.  This table name is based on the way the napkin is folded.  Folding can be elaborate or simple.  The photo above has a simple fold.    As this is a male oriented table, I didn't want it to be too feminine.  Placement of the napkin can also be in various places, on the plate, next to it, in the glass, etc.

The idea for a Tuxedo table came because when we think of weddings, the bride usually comes to mind.  Dressed in white and floating down the aisle toward her soon to be husband, is a mental image we can pull into view.  But what about the groom and his before the wedding activities?   We all have cliche images of the bachelor party, but even there, it isn't all beer and pizza.  So the napkin I folded for the groom's party is above.

Earlier I mentioned a tablescape should be balanced.  I also come up with a color scheme.  For a wedding, the colors are coordinated between whatever the bride and the bridesmaids are wearing.  The subtle message here is the bridemaids wear red and the groom and his men have white tuxedos. 

Let's look at the balance on this table.  In the photo below, if you remove all the place settings except the one at the head of the table, it remains balanced.  The huge centerpieces balance the table.  Don't be afraid to use large or tall centerpieces.

Most of the colors I used in these photos are red, black and white.  Keep the number of colors to a minimum.  As this is a set up for the groom and his party, the bride's colors are subtle and the groom colors are prominent.

The center piece in this tablescape is tall.  The longer the table, the more centerpieces you might need.  These can be spread out, but remember to balance them.   Don't have different centerpieces for different sections of the table.  Make them all the same, even if they are clusters.  The clusters, like the ones above, would be repeated and evenly spaced.

I once worked in a bridal shop and saw mainly the bride's side of the wedding party.  Many of my novels are wedding stories.  The groom always has a part in the planning.  And his bachelor party should be something to remember.  Just as the bride will remember her shower, the groom should have pleasant memories of his last night of bachelorhood.

Doing tablescapes are not difficult.  You do them every time you set the table.  Next time you feel like doing a little more, think of a theme and add a little extra.  You don't have to learn to fold napkins or find the exact color napkins, tiny bow ties (that took forever to find), or crystal glasses, but a little effort will make your guests feel special and you can take a well deserved bow.

As always, I hope you enjoyed your visit. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

How a Wedding is like Writing a Book

How a Wedding is like Writing a Book
By Shirley Hailstock

Weddings, like books, come in all varieties.  There are theme weddings, destination weddings, and ordinary weddings, although no wedding is ordinary.  They are all special to someone.  Theme weddings take their cues from popular culture to traditional heritage. Destination weddings are open to any place on earth (since there are people with seats on the first manned trip to the moon, earth could be a temporary condition).  In books, the wedding can be on earth, but paranormal weddings are occur anywhere in any universe.

Photo Credit:

I've been involved in more than a few weddings.  One year I was in four weddings, three of them were destination weddings.  So I know a little about being a bridesmaid.  I've written five or six books with a wedding theme.  Most of these books required some research.  However, nothing beats the authenticity of writing from personal experience.  Much of mine was garnered first hand; being a bride, a bridesmaid, maid of honor, baker of the wedding cake, and for a couple of years I worked in a bridal shop.

Every bride wants her wedding to be spectacular and for every single detail to unfold according to plan.  When they walk through the bridal shop door, some may have an idea of the type of gown they want.  In writing, these would be the plotters, people who plot their story from beginning to end.  They have the entire story in their head.  It's just a matter of writing it down.  Other brides are looking for a dress that talks to them.  They resemble the pansters in writing.  Pansters have a vague idea of the story.  They sit in their writing chair and learn what happens in their story as it happens.  The bride sorts through the gowns and chooses the dress that speaks to her style.

Writers all want their books to attain bestseller status.  The bride wants the perfect gown that is unique to her. It doesn't matter if the bride or writer is a plotter or a panster, it's amazing how many brides choose the same gown and writers choose the subject that works for them.  It's their bread and butter, their go-to shot.  The bread-and-butter sale at the shop where I worked was a Chantilly lace gown covered in pearls.  While everyone has something about clothing they hate, this type of dress seemed to appeal to a large number of people.  The bestseller is a book that huge numbers of people both buy and enjoy.

As a sales associate (no longer called a clerk), we walk hundreds of miles back and forth over the same flooring, in and out of dressing rooms, removing clothes from the plastic protective covers and rehanging them in the same condition.  Workers need several pairs of shoes in reserve.  Even if the shoes are exactly the same, they don't wear the same and will use different muscles, keeping your legs from getting tired.  Unfortunately, nothing works for the feet.  Just as in writing, nothing works until you get the words on the page.

Having never been to a wedding steeped in heritage, I only have cliche's to go on, so I won't offend anyone, by describing a wedding.  This, however, is the confirmation that weddings can be different, but in the end, all the couples are married.  The books are different, too.  We know if given the same story idea to any number of people, the return will be a myriad of unique stories from the group.  Like series romance novels, they may have the same look and feel, but the characters are different and the situations change.  Yet happily ever after is almost a guarantee.


The destination wedding couple looks for a beautiful locale for the perfect setting to showcase the bride and groom.  In writing, some authors tour the setting for their stories.  Like the wedding, these writers want the details correct.  They want to immerse themselves and their guests in a unique atmosphere where their characters go on their adventure.  And marriage is an adventure.


Time for the reception.  The ceremony is over and the happy couple celebrates with their friends and family. The book is done.  The bride and groom dance about the decorated hall with large smiles and tearful parents.  The author celebrates in her own fashion.  Some people pop the wine, have dinner with a spouse or friend, share the news with a fellow author.  Personally, I go to bed and get a good night's sleep.  For whatever reason, I often finish a book in the early hours of the morning.  So going to sleep is a luxury.  The couple head for their honeymoon knowing everything went well and they are ready for a few weeks of fun before returning.  The author has a breather before beginning the next book.  She often cleans her office or writing area and attends to mundane tasks that were unimportant during the final days leading up to the deadline.


Each bride wants her wedding to be different, reflect her tastes and provide a beautiful showcase for the all important day.  Writers want a beautiful package, too.  They want a cover that reflects the story and is beautiful to look at. As the bride throws her bouquet on the way to her honeymoon, the writer looks to her readers to grab the book as soon as it's available and to tell every one of her friends that they must read it.  Each has a trousseau and each wants to live happily ever after.

Credit: Pixabay
The next time you read a wedding story or attend the nuptials, smile at the comparison.  And as always, keep reading. 

Friday, April 10, 2015


Shirley Hailstock

Inspiration  for learning the folding instructions

This is the final napkin with three swirls.

Attached is a link to the video explaining how to fold the napkin into three swirls.

This napkin folding technique is also available for a four swirl napkin.  Please go to my website ( or YouTube Channel for instructions.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


By Shirley Hailstock

I saw this napkin fold as I was searching the web.  I loved it but couldn't find any instructions on how they did it.  After much thought and trying various methods, I finally stumbled on one that worked.  However, instead of three swirls there are four. 

This is the on I saw on a wedding tablescape.

This is the final one I created.

I used a 15 x 15 inch napkin.  The larger the napkin, the higher it appears, but the amount of starch you might need to have it stand up straight could make it so stiff your guests would have trouble opening to use with their meal.

This is another rendition of the napkin, showing a greater contrast with color.   Color makes the table more dramatic.

Below is a video of how to fold the napkin.  If you're really interested in the three-swirl napkin fold, check out my next blog.