Gray. Grey. For some reason, the second spelling seems softer, gentler to me. It’s “dove grey” and “gray as cold, hard steel.” For the sake of consistency, I should probably choose one over the other. For the sake of this post, dove grey suits my thoughts just fine.
I love it. We don’t have a lot of cold, cloudy days in southeast Texas. We’re lucky that way. For me, the grey sky and gentle light of a winter day is very peaceful. Add a blast of cold air and it’s positively cozy indoors or even wrapped in protective outer-garments. It’s beautiful.
I comprehend that those who live in colder climes and experience long, dark winters get rather tired of the cold and grey. Similarly, those of us who have long, hot summers weary of the strong, relentless sun and heat that begin baking our brains at some point in July with another couple months of very hot weather ahead to endure.
But for today, it’s all softness, coziness, peace. In the serenity of it, I am able to recall how fortunate I am to be considering the weather at all. I look forward to sharing more with you in the New Year and wish you all the best.
I enjoy Istanbul. It's true that I haven't seen the whole city yet, nor have I spent weeks there. We stop on our way to somewhere else, which seems crazy considering the city's history and wealth of things to see and do. We stay a few days, visiting this ancient site and that, sample local foods, and sip hot tea and raki.
This year, we gave the bazaars a chance. We're not big on shopping. For me, it seems a horrid waste of time, especially vacation time. But in the Grand Bazaar, it's an adventure. I'm terrible at bargaining. The vendors take one look at me and know I'm theirs for the taking. But this year my sister-in-law was with us and she's a genius at it. We prowled the bazaar together one afternoon and I'm not exaggerating when I say that in the end, the shopkeepers were paying her! They were throwing in free this and free that at her request or demand, even after slashing their prices most astonishingly. I didn't feel guilty because they didn't seem in the least bit disappointed. The goods were tantalizing, too, even without going deep into the serious stuff such as leather, carpets, antiques. We had a lovely time choosing beautiful silk scarves, spices, Turkish Delight, and souvenirs.
In early October, the weather was pleasant and cool. The streets were clean. The people were great. I've heard less than flattering stories about the people from other travelers, but in our experience, they've been friendly, helpful, eager for life and laughter, and very often cosmopolitan. They're a wondrous mix, too. with fascinating backgrounds and experiences to share.
It's nice to be able to stop in Istanbul on the way to somewhere else, but it's far more than just a layover. It's a spectacular destination in its own right. I'm already looking forward to our next trip.
May Day, celebration of Spring and the coming Summer, International Day for Workers, and the first day of the Month of Mary, is finally here.
The ancient Gaels called the first day of May Beltane. Falling between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. it marked a time of renewal for the earth, a time of rebirth in nature, and a very important time of year for pastoral peoples. It was celebrated with rites of fire, which have been revived across the modern Celtic world. In Edinburgh, the Beltane Fire Festival, humbly begun in 1988, has become a cast of thousands. beltane.org/about/about-beltane/
Similarly, the ancient Greeks and Romans dedicated the month of May to the goddess of the earth, fertility, and flora.
For Catholics, the entire month of May is devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Today marks the beginning of a month of beautiful devotions and traditions, both private and public. In Lebanon, the shrine at Harissa receives over one million visitors in May, both Christian and Muslim.
Certainly, Marian shrines around the world will receive many visitors during the next few weeks.
I’ll be taking a look at some May devotions, celebrations, observations throughout the month.
For today, Happy May.
Spring has been so busy and all within the small and lovely scope of home, family, friends, and work. The busyness has sort of given me writer’s block, although not exactly. I’ve been hammering away at my novel in progress. It’s my blogs that have been cause for concern, especially this one. I want to be sure that it's focus is clear.
When I wrote my first book, our sons were little and Lebanon was still recovering from its long civil war. Many friends and families were worried and upset. The book was an emotional journey for me and I didn’t publish it right away. It wasn’t until several years later, while trying to promote “Let Us Not Live in Ignorance,” that it became obvious to me that many cross-cultural misunderstandings and issues had not changed very much. I even realized that I held latent anxiety from our sons’ school days and from my own family’s immigrant history. My blog was born.
Obviously, the world has not calmed down, far from it. Poor Middle East – so much grandeur, so much history, so much strife. The same could be said of other regions, of course. For those of us living in a more stable environment, well, all things are relative. Make no mistake, progressive countries have their own sets of troubles and worries, always have and always will. There’s also surely a lot we average citizens don’t know.
But it won’t help to worry about what we don’t know, now, will it? I don’t care much for politics; I’m certainly not going to write about them. Our boys have grown up and I’ve settled down, as have most of my contemporaries. Time and age can be remarkable equalizers. Despite life’s ups and downs, maybe even in part because of them, I can’t seem to summon much angst nowadays.
I’m religious, but I’m not interested in preaching to the choir. I love this beautiful world God has given us and the wondrous variety it offers. History, romance, nature, the seasons… There’s so much to learn, to enjoy, so much for us to absorb, to share, to appreciate. As humans, we share commonalities despite our many differences. Furthermore, the history of the world, up until this very moment, is infinitely cross-cultural.
That’s the bottom line of this blog, that's my focus. We are all in this together and for that, we can be glad. Let's enjoy.
I’m excited and honored to host Cynthia Owens, author of The Wild Geese and The Claddagh series, to talk about her new release, Wishes of the Heart. Welcome, Cynthia!
Good morning, Anastasia, and thank you so much for hosting me on your blog today! I’m so thrilled to share my new Irish-set historical romance novel, Wishes of the Heart, with you.
Wishes of the Heart is the 7th book in my Claddagh Series, historical romances set in Ireland and beyond. It still amazes me that the first book of the series, In Sunshine or in Shadow, was released more than 10 years ago! In some ways, that sounds like a long time ago, yet in other ways, it was a mere blink of an eye!
I chose to name my series after the Claddagh. For those of you not familiar with that ancient wedding ring from Galway, in the west of Ireland, the ring features a pair of hands clasping a heart, topped by a crown. The hands symbolize Friendship, the crown, Loyalty, and the heart, of course, is a symbol of Love Everlasting. The ring’s motto is “Let love and friendship reign.”
Friendship, loyalty and love are three themes which figure prominently in all my stories, but especially the Claddagh Series, most of which is set in or around my fictional village of Ballycashel, Galway, except for Playing For Keeps, Book 3, which is set in Baltimore and Philadelphia.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to introduce you to my Claddagh Series.
In Sunshine or in Shadow (Book 1)
Siobhan Desmond will do anything to keep the tattered remains of her family alive, even if it means working for the new landlord – a darkly handsome stranger with secrets in his eyes and pain in his smile. As she watches her village return to life and begin to thrive under Rory O’Brien’s care, she comes to understand his true nature and soon finds herself falling under his dangerously sensual spell.
As danger ignites all around them, Rory and Siobhan fight to right the wrongs of the past – and protect their newfound love.
Coming Home (Book 2)
“A woman’s love is strong, more powerful than all the ghosts in Ireland..”
Daughter of an Irish village girl, step-daughter of the landlord, Ashleen O’Brien has lived between two very different worlds. But after a year in America, she yearns to return to the green land that is her heart’s home.
War and betrayal have taken everything from Cavan Callaghan – his home, his family, and the woman he loved. A hero of the Irish Brigade at Antietem, he’s searching for the family he never knew.
Love and deception await Cavan and Ashleen along those emerald shores, as the ghosts of a past that can never quite be forgotten rise to threaten their newfound happiness.
Playing For Keeps (Book 3)
He fled life in the shadows for a life in the limelight
Never as dutiful as his older brother, Lucas was a thinker, and a dreamer of dreams. When tragedy overtook his family, he fled to the bright lights of the stage. Can he make the Shannon Theatre Troupe a success – or is he doomed to once again be “the other son?”
She sought the past she barely remembered.
Mary Kathryn O’Brien returns to the genteel world her mother left behind – but can Irish Katie ever truly hope to belong? Or will old wounds and new rivalries destroy the threads of family forever?
Lucas and Katie must battle prejudice and buried secrets before they can learn to trust each other. Is their love just a brief intermission, or are they Playing For Keeps?
Everlasting (Book 4)
Where does justice end and retribution begin?
She was driven by anger
When her fiancé died trying to feed his family, Shannon Flynn vowed to punish those responsible…even if it alienated her from her family, even if it put her—and them—in danger.
He returned to exact revenge
Eight years after he was forced to flee his beloved Ireland, Liam Collins returns to Ballycashel to find his family devastated and the person he holds responsible for his exile dead.
Can these two wounded spirits come together to battle a common enemy? Or will anger and pride destroy them both?
Reluctant Betrayer (Book 5)
Sweet deception and hidden passion…
Trasnavan…a west-of-Ireland village bursting with charm, intrigue and treachery.
Aidan Collins grew up in the shadow of his heroic older brother. The steady one, the responsible one, he burns with anger against the landlord and vows to change the desperate straits of the village folk.
Raised in a family of rebels, Maura Riordan is horrified when she learns the man she loves has committed the ultimate act of treason.
But Aidan has his own reasons for taking the position of landlord’s agent. Will those reasons destroy him? Will Maura’s deception tear them apart?
Christmas Rainbows (Novella, Book 6)
Catch a Christmas Rainbow…
Shut away for most of her life because of her handicap, Lissa Thornhill grew up in shame and yearned for acceptance and love. Will a journey to Ireland and Christmas with her cousin’s family be her dream come true?
Pearse Ryan was the special one. Born in a thatched cottage in a tiny Irish village, the landlord saw something special in him and made sure he got the education he dreamed of. But even though he’s now a fully qualified doctor, he can’t forget the one person he couldn’t save.
Can an enchanted Yuletide in Ballycashel heal both their wounded hearts and bring a Christmas miracle?
And now, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Wishes of the Heart, Book 7 of the Claddagh Series. It’s my Cinderella-with-an-Irish-twist story, complete with a ball, a forgotten object, a little political intrigue and a sprinkle of magic. Oh, and my first non-human character, a sensitive and very loving magpie named Bron.
About the Book:
He’ll never be the true heir…
Tom O’Brien is trapped in the distant shadow of his rebel brother. Heir apparent to Ballycashel, his hands are bound by the fetters of the past and his father’s reluctance to take the estate into the future it so desperately needs.
She lived under a cloud of suspicion…
A wise woman suspected of witchcraft, Neave Devereux spent most of her life scorned by the superstitious village folk. Alone in her tiny cottage, she yearns for acceptance, friendship…and love.
Can Tom and Neave unite to save their village from ruin? Or will superstition and old enemies destroy Ballycashel forever?
Hearing the tenderness in her mistress’s voice, Bron hopped onto Neave’s shoulder. Neave stroked her feathers with loving tenderness, her fingers bright white against the glossy black feathers. Her nails were perfect ovals, the skin beneath a delicate pink. What would those hands feel like stroking him?
Tom’s body went rigid. “Neave—”
Everything seemed to stop. The cool, mist-laden air stilled. The sea silenced its ceaseless pounding against the shore. The moonlight dimmed. Even the bird stopped its chittering as Tom’s gaze met Neave’s.
A sudden, joyous laugh burst from her. She shook her hair free, gazing daringly up at him. A grin tugged at his lips as he stared back at her, utterly entranced. Then he, too, gave a great, rolling laugh, startling the bird into the air. He gathered Neave against him, longing to absorb her bright spirit, her joyous purity, the very essence of her.
“Ah, Neave…Princess Neave.” He crushed his mouth to hers, his tongue plunging between her lips to mate with hers in a dance as old as time.
I believe I was destined to be interested in history. One of my distant ancestors, Thomas Aubert, reportedly sailed up the St. Lawrence River to discover Canada some 26 years before Jacques Cartier’s 1534 voyage. Another relative was a 17thCentury “King’s Girl,” one of a group of young unmarried girls sent to New France (now the province of Quebec) as brides for the habitants (settlers) there.
My passion for reading made me long to write books like the ones I enjoyed, and I tried penning sequels to my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries. Later, fancying myself a female version of Andrew Lloyd Weber, I drafted a musical set in Paris during WWII.
A former journalist and lifelong Celtophile, I enjoyed a previous career as a reporter/editor for a small chain of community newspapers before returning to my first love, romantic fiction. My stories usually include an Irish setting, hero or heroine, and sometimes all three.
I’m the author of The Claddagh Series, historical romances set in Ireland and beyond, and The Wild Geese Series, in which five Irish heroes return from the American Civil War to find love and adventure.
I’m a member of the Romance Writers of America, Hearts Through History Romance Writers, and Celtic Hearts Romance Writers. A lifelong resident of Montreal, Canada, I still live there with my own Celtic hero and our two teenaged children.
Website Facebook Twitter Google+ Amazon Author Page
Thank you, Cynthia! I’m looking forward to enjoying Wishes of the Heart.
For a person who loves good ingredients and has no objection to cooking, I haven’t been cooking much lately. Otherwise occupied, I've been coasting along with easy, tried-and-true basics. Suddenly, I feel inspired.
Have you ever heard of Susan Jane White? If not, where have you been? Where have I been? She is former President of the Oxford Gastronomy Society, author of the bestseller The Extra Virgin Kitchen, and winner of the Avonmore Cookbook of the Year, 2016, for her book The Virtuous Tart.
She calls herself geeky. I would use the word “scholarly.” Although now healthy, married, and the mother of two little sons, there was a time when dietary choices made her very sick indeed. After being hospitalized and going from one doctor to the next, she finally found out that her food choices were the culprit.
She does not suggest that everyone go on a gluten-free, sugar-free diet. What she does clarify is that eating whole foods and grains rather than processed ones is not restrictive but, in her words, “liberating.” She maintains that she means to “take the hell out of healthy.” I believe her.
So taken was I with her writing, I immediately downloaded her first book, The Extra Virgin Kitchen, onto my kindle. The first few chapters alone are worth the price. I love the way she writes. She is thoroughly knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and funny. As for her recipes, they are most definitely granola (adjective), chalk-full of healthy, energy-giving rather than energy-draining ingredients, and there is something for everyone. I am persuaded that they’re worth a go. I think the first recipe I might try is her “Smoked Salmon Blini with Healthier Hollandaise.” Another really interesting recipe is her “Muhammara Noodles.” She takes her version of a typical Middle-Eastern dip and mixes it with fresh zucchini and carrot “noodles.” Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
But don’t take it from me. Susan Jane has an enormous fan base, as in 7,000 plus followers on FB and Twitter, which I think is a lot for a foodie. Both her books are bestsellers, she writes a popular column for The Irish Independent, Ireland’s largest newspaper, and maintains a wonderful blog.
Check out her blog. Her recent article about gluten is excellent. http://susanjanewhite.com/
Happy Saint Joseph’s Day! He is one of my favorites, Patron of Home and Family, Patron of all who work. Following is an old, traditional prayer that I especially appreciate. Sometimes, work just seems so unappealing!
Glorious St. Joseph, you are the pattern of all who work. Obtain for me, please, the grace to work conscientiously and to put devotion to duty before my selfish inclinations. Help me to labor in thankfulness and joy, for it is an honor to employ and to develop by my labor the gifts I have received from almighty God. Grant that I may work in orderliness, peace, moderation, and patience without shrinking from weariness and difficulties. I offer my fatigue and perplexities as reparation for sin. I shall work, above all, with a pure intention and with detachment from self, having always before my eyes the hour of death and the accounting which I must then render of time ill-spent, of talents unemployed, of good undone, and of empty pride in success, which is so fatal to the work of God.
For Jesus through Mary, all in imitation of you, good St. Joseph. This shall be my motto in life and in death. Amen.
Wishing all a beautiful Sunday.
I absolutely love all the fun associated with St. Patrick's Day -- the more, the merrier, in my opinion.
But I would also like recall to the saint. Even without the myths and legends that surround him, Patrick, saint and patron of Ireland, is a fascinating historical figure. He was a man on a mission, determined, prayerful, and brave.
Born in Scotland of Roman nobility in the year 387, he was kidnapped and enslaved by the Irish at the age of sixteen. During his captivity, he was slave to the chieftain and Druid priest Milchu of Dalriada. He tended flocks, praying much of the time. After six years of slavery, he escaped and eventually made his way home to his family. He didn’t stay with his parents long, however. Religiously-motivated, he traveled to St. Martin’s (his relative) monastery in Tours, and ultimately embraced the priesthood under the guidance of St. Germain at Auxerre.
But, according to St. Patrick himself in his Confessions, the Lord prepared him to return to Ireland. He was to convert the Irish. While Druidism certainly did not disappear, many Irish natives did accept Christianity and were baptized by the saint.
What I had not realized was that he left a few writings, not just a prayer or two. Chief among them are his Confessio, which is a short autobiography, and a letter called Epistola ad Coroticum. There are also various prayers and sayings that are accepted as his genuine work, including the Breastplate of St. Patrick. I leave you with a selection from a version of this beautiful prayer.
May the Strength of God pilot us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Angels of God guard us.
Against the snares of the evil ones.
Against temptations of the world.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all!
Image: from St. Patrick’s Confessio, Book of Armagh, Trinity College, Dublin
“March, various, fierce, and wild, with wind-crack’d cheeks…”
Charles Churchill, Gotham
Welcome March, month of sowing, wildness, and wind. Considering that those attributes have been ascribed to March for hundreds of years, I cannot help but wonder about the “sowing.” If there’s wind, rain, and snow, why sow? But then, there are clear, sunny days, too, and farmers and gardeners are always eager to begin. I’ve begun, even knowing that we could still have a freeze. Springtime beckons.
Even for the Romans, it was a month of contradictions. From the Latin Martius, March was named after Mars, the Roman god of war and agriculture. Accordingly, it was a month of planting, which sounds peaceful enough, and yet also of war. You might recall that Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March. Since March was the first month of the new year in the early Roman calendar, the timing was strongly symbolic, a sort of New Year’s statement. More generally, the ides were one of three monthly divisions in the early Roman calendar and fell around the middle of each month.
I tend to agree with the ancient Romans about March being the beginning of the year. It has my vote! Everything is waking. In the northern hemisphere, March is the month of Spring. Meteorogically, it begins March 1. Astronomically, our spring or vernal equinox is March 20 this year. That’s when the sun will cross the celestial equator on its way north. The word equinox comes from the Latin aequus, equal, and nox, night. During an equinox, day and night are just about equal. As Spring passes, of course, we can look forward to longer days.
Nowruz, the Persian New Year, does fall on the Spring equinox. It’s an ancient, pre-islamic observance with many beautiful traditions. Promoting peace and harmony with nature, it has been added to the United Nations’ “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”
March also has some wonderful feast days. Saint Patrick, whose feast day is March 17, is celebrated all month. Another beloved feast day is that of Saint Joseph, March 19.
As for me, I love this month. For me, it is a prayerful month, a time of renewal in spirit as well as a renewal in the nature I love. Despite the contrary weather, plants are awakening from dormancy and it is time to sow.
It is a time of hope.
Images: March, Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
Mars, Guido Bonsatti, 1550
Surely, the past, present, and future connect in this miraculous state we call life. In this light, history and all human experience are ever-present. Wouldn't it be nice, then, if we could enjoy each other, if we could appreciate and celebrate our differences? Let us love! Let us have fun. Let us toast each other and wish each other well. Now, in our awareness, is the time to be happy, to do our best, to live fully to our purest, highest standards.