Thursday, December 18, 2008

Winter Holiday Traditions

Traditions hold a special spot in human culture, and I think they’re especially important in the winter, when daylight is scarce, and here in Wisconsin snow is plentiful. The thermometer keeps dipping down below zero this week, and my car makes an unhappy rawrrrrr, rawrrrr, rawrrr sound when I start it on cold days just to tease me a little and make me think it might refuse to get it’s little Honda butt in gear for me.

At least we’re lucky enough to live in an age of insulated homes and central heating systems (right at the top of my “to be grateful for” list lately!), but the dark half of the year is still a challenge. More so with the economy so rocky. In the dark of winter, holidays bring light, color, and joy. Time honored traditions give us something familiar to cherish, a touch of comfort in the cold.

My family celebrates Yule on the winter solstice. Sometime in early December, we cut small branches from the cedars in our backyard and fill glass vases with the vivid evergreens. Then we cut a bundle of bright red dogwood branches and put them in a large ceramic jug of water. The girls hang a collection of carved wooden birds on the branches, some of which we’ve had since before our teens were born. Next, they attach red silk flowers and red feathered cardinals, until the branches are filled with color.

We exchange the first gifts of the season on Yule, and then another each day until we’ve worked our way through the pile. Our family keeps gifts simple, and the girls often give us things they’ve made themselves. The other night, I was sorting through a drawer and I found a present from Solstice past--a little creature made out of pom-poms and glued-on eyes nestled into a yellow and white woven bed created with a potholder loom. I’m not sure which daughter made that particular gift, but she couldn’t have been more than five at the time, and it was delightful finding it now that they’re thirteen and fifteen.

Another solstice tradition in our family is that we put food out for the animals. We make sure the birdfeeders are brimming full, and the girls cut up fruit and vegetables to put out for the small critters that populate our yard. Dried feed corn cobs are another favorite treat for the bunnies and squirrels, though we can only put those out in the front yard so our goofy poodle doesn’t eat them. If it’s not too cold, we all go outside to look at the moon after dark while the girls put out food for the animals.

As with any celebration, food plays a central role. We have a big feast on Yule, and some foods--nuts to crack, clementines, fresh cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mulled or sparkling cider, homemade pumpkin or apple pie, and either homemade cookies or scones--appear every year, and others vary. After the meal, we hold our Yule circle ritual, a time for spiritual introspection and a welcoming of the return of the light, since each day following the solstice will be a bit longer, and each night a bit shorter.

In a tradition unique to our family, we hold a Winterfest celebration several days after the solstice. Each year we pick a different food theme for a fun family meal. This year’s theme is Mexican food. Last year, the girls cooked the entire Winterfest meal, and we had six different kinds of pancakes. I’m not kidding--blueberry, banana, chocolate chip, plain, cinnamon sugar, and apple pancakes. The event provoked a great deal of laughter as we watched the teenage chefs scurry around in their red aprons concocting different batters and sprinkling the kitchen liberally with flour and globs of wet pancake goo. In addition to the feast, we decorate the table in keeping with the meal theme, listen to music, and watch a movie together in the evening.

Our winter holiday traditions help knit the family together, and give us something to look forward to when we’re cooped up indoors fighting cabin fever. What are some of your family’s most treasured winter traditions?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Nature's Pentacle is an EPPIE Finalist!

After a rocky November, December started out on a much more positive note. On the first day of the month, I got a wonderful little note in my in box announcing that Nature’s Pentacle is a finalist in the 2009 EPPIE Competition. I’m still doing a happy dance over that one!

Here’s the blurb for Nature’s Pentacle, my paranormal witch ménage, available now from Loose Id :

After someone exposes their role in a forbidden, sexual rite to heal the parched earth, Matt and Lena are forced to flee vigilantes and a rogue witch. Drawn to each other despite Matt's ties to Kenji, the man who rescued him from a troubled past, they're swept into a ménage, and the three witches exchange magical traits in an explosion of power and passion.

As Matt and Lena face another pentacle rite, a violent kidnapping, and a magical duel, their attachment deepens--and so does Kenji's resentment at losing Matt. The addition of another witch to the group eases Kenji's jealousy, and sparks fly when the foursome mingles sex and magic on the kitchen floor, carrying them finally, to the love they never imagined they'd find.

And here’s a PG-13 rated excerpt to introduce you to Lena, Matt, and Kenji and give you a little taste of the story:

Perhaps sensing her distress, Matt crossed the room and touched her shoulder. “Not your fault, little witch.” Returning to the table, he scooped his violet glow from the bowl of oil and gestured for her to retrieve hers.


“I’m going to show you what you’re feeling isn’t anything you can control. I feel like I’m caught in the sun’s gravitational field, and I couldn’t break free of you if my life depended on it.”

Curious, she reached out and called her light globe to her hand, cupping her palm to receive the slight weight. “I don’t see what you--”

“Something happened during the rite--a connection between us. I think our magic got scrambled, tied together, and I want to test my theory.” The streak of mud across Matt’s shoulder and his tangled curls didn’t do anything to diminish his beauty. When he smiled at her, his amber brown eyes glowed with warmth.

“Okay, I’ll play. What next?”

“Toss your glow sphere in the air. If I’m wrong, it’ll just float back to your palm.”

Realizing he had no more idea what would happen than she did, she bit back a cheeky, “And if you’re right?” Instead, she tossed her blue orb at the same time he launched his. When the spheres spun toward each other she let out a surprised yelp. The lights crashed together, setting loose waves of force, sound, and shimmering color.

“Get down!”

At his warning, she plastered herself flat on the rough wooden floorboards. But rather than harming her, whatever magic they’d set loose caressed her body like a warm stream. Sheets of emerald, sapphire, ruby, and turquoise arched over them like the aurora borealis.

Helpless in the wake of the unexpected discharge of power, she tensed as the door opened a crack. She staggered to her feet, attempting to gather a protective shield. “Matt?”

“‘S okay. No one can cross the wards but me and Kenji. This is his place, and the magic guarding it is unbreakable.”

As if on cue, Kenji--looking no less intimidating than when he anchored the rite last night--stepped into the room and gaped at the light show. “Every witch in the country is in danger, and the two of you decide to play bedroom games with your power?”

Ignoring the continuing display, he clicked the door shut, strode across the room to the table, and set down two grocery bags and his cell phone. Lena’s first impulse was to grab the phone and call Serena, but she had to get something straight first.

“What do you mean, no one can get past the wards?” Bedraggled and exhausted, she drew herself up to her full five feet five inches and cloaked herself in a curtain of power. “Given the time and inclination, I could smash those wards.” She fixed Kenji with a brittle stare. “And what you walked in on was an exercise to test our combined magic--not some kinky game.”

“My apologies.” Six feet of wiry grace wrapped in a package of soft leather shoes, tan chinos, and a plum-colored shirt, Kenji bowed. The formality that would have seemed ludicrous coming from Matt seemed natural, if slightly mocking, coming from Kenji.

Suddenly, the fact that this was one of the three witches who’d drawn molten power through her last night, bleeding her dry as she trembled and wept, hit her with the force of a blow. Kenji couldn’t be much older than she was, and yet he’d earned a spot as one of the three anchors--alongside Sorren, the most powerful witch in North America.

Sweet Brighid, what had she gotten herself into? Taking a step back, she studied the lines and angles of Kenji’s face. The cinnamon mocha warmth of his skin softened his sculpted features, and thick lashes shaded his deep brown eyes. Black curls fell to his shoulders, covered with a sprinkling of rain. But for all his heart-stopping beauty, every movement, every mannerism, reeked of power.

When outmatched, bluff. “I need to borrow your phone.” Feigning confidence, she crossed the room to the table.

Matt, not Kenji, intervened. “You can’t. It’s not safe.” Closing the distance between them, he covered her hand with his own as she grasped the phone. “Your sister needs to be able to say she hasn’t heard from you--with 100 percent honesty. That’s the only thing that will guarantee her safety--and your mother’s.”