Friday, April 20, 2018



 
            
April in Iceland
Did I read that right? April 19, 2018 is the first day of summer in chilly Iceland? That’s correct; facts like this that makes Iceland a fascinating country to read about and visit. So much so that in grammar school, my fourth grade geography project was a clay model of the island featuring its most active volcanoes. I read books about Iceland dreaming to visit it one day. In 2011, my dream to visit this pristine Island nation came true and I loved every minute of it.


Beautiful Iceland in August!
To us, April signals the beginning of Spring, but this time of year, Icelanders celebrate summer since April begins the end of the long dark winter days as the days get longer with more sunlight.  Sumardagurinn Fyrsti or The First Day of Summer happens on the second Thursday after April first each year. This date also marks the first day of the month Harpa. Harpa is believed to be the name of a young maiden so the day also celebrates Maidens’ Day when young men have to be attentive and courteous to all the young women they meet.
            The formula for finding the date of this holiday goes back to the Icelandic calendar and the ninth century when it was believed that Iceland had only two seasons: summer and winter. This calendar was continued through the 19th century when they switched to the Gregorian calendar. It is no longer a religious holiday but a national flag day.
            Even though the temperature is only 0 to 10 degrees Celsius on that day, it doesn’t stop all the outdoor events such as games, parades, and picnics. Children are excited because parents traditionally give them small gifts known as summer gifts. The traditional food is Icelandic pancakes which are crepe-like flat pancakes. They are rolled with sugar or are filled with whipped cream and jam. Sounds great to me!
            There are superstitions around this happy day. Many fill a dish with water and leave it outside in a sheltered place the night before the holiday. If the temperature dips below freezing, and the water freezes, it’s considered good luck for a good summer  with bountiful crops for the farmers because summer and winter meld together on Sumardagurinn  Fyrsti.
Blue Lagoon Swimmers in August Evening
Lucky for me, we went in August when the temperatures were milder but not hot! We visited Reykjavik, took a dip in the warm Blue Lagoon even though the outside temperature was only fifty degrees and covered our faces in Silica mud. The warm volcanic waters and the steam rising from them made our experience surreal. We toured the island visiting amazing waterfalls such as Gullfoss, whose waters fall from many sides of a mountain, to adorable Icelandic ponies, to the Golden Circle with its shooting geysers and volcanoes. The color of the land scape changed from green pastures to black volcanic rocks. In Thingvellir National Park we saw above ground the boundary between the North Atlantic tectonic plate and the Eurasian Plate. We were amazed to see the bright green streaks of the Northern Lights peak from behind the clouds one night. Iceland is a magical and beautiful country and I am lucky to have visited there.  
There has been no royalty since 1944 when a monarch ruled the country from 1918-1944;
 But royalty takes center stage in THE DUCHESS’NECKLACE, available in print and e-book. My fictional duchess, Amelia Augusta Ethrington,  Her Grace the Duchess of Abbington, is fourth in line for the British throne. 18th century royal marriages were less about love and more about standing and property. Amelia refuses to marry not wanting to relinquish a smidgeon of power to a husband. Because of this, she has to quench her desires in one night stands with traveling nights and younger men seeking favor. She’s too modern a woman for 18th century rules and needs a modern man who will accept her for her intelligence, independence and feistiness. She needs a man from the present. When circumstances in her life go awry, she finds one by chance through Time Travel.
 A deceptive Traveler from the present romances her only to steal her necklace, her sole claim to royal title and standing, before returning to the present. She Travels to get her necklace back: finding the love of her life was a side benefit but with that benefit came the most difficult choice of her life.  Love in the present or wealth and privilege in the past as a duchess?
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Friday, March 9, 2018



  EASTER FUN FOR EVERYONE!


Happy March! Happy Spring! St. Patrick’s Day. Daffodils. Tulips.  And this year, the last day of March is one day away from Easter Eggs.
Yes Easter eggs. I love them. I love to color them in pretty pastels and share them with my friends and family. Of course I love to eat them. It’s hard to imagine but the tradition of coloring eggs goes back to ancient Egypt when during the spring festival of Sham el Nessim, a non- religious holiday still celebrated today, hard boiled colored eggs was a traditional picnic staple. It is believed that Egyptian Pharaohs hung dyed eggs in their temples to symbolize renewed life.
There are many spring holiday customs, but I learned about my favorite Easter egg tradition many years ago after I became engaged. My husband, who is of Armenian descent, taught me the Armenian Egg Cracking Game. One Easter week-end, we visited his Aunt Toorvanda who was getting ready for the holiday by baking her delicious rolls and dying eggs on the top of the stove in a large pot of boiling red onion skins. The eggs, now all the same color rose red, become harder with extra boiling and thus a more formidable competitor.
The competition is usually saved for after Easter dinner. The dyed eggs are placed on a platter in the center of the dining room table. The excitement builds. This is the Super Bowl for eggs.
First you must select your winning egg from the platter. The pecking order (bad egg joke) can be derived by seating position or maybe last year’s winner goes first whatever system is fair for everyone. Remember, you must choose wisely and look for an egg that’s lean with an elongated shape. After you select your champ (keep positive thoughts in mind), you must then select your competitor from those at the table. Draw straws, pick numbers or just say I want Uncle Adam.
Once you know who your competitor is, you have to decide who goes first. Flip a coin. But I’ve been told, it’s best if they go first. Remember this is serious stuff so getting as much good advice as you can, will only lead to victory.
Now hold the egg between your thumb and index finger of both hands so just the tip of the egg peers through the top. Make it as hard as possible for your opponent to crack your egg. Protect that egg with your index finger and thumb.  Like football a good defense makes a strong offense. If your egg does crack, no worries, just flip it over and let them have another whack on the other side. Sometimes you can still win the match with one good side, but when both sides crack, you’re toast (Sorry).
If your egg does not crack, you move up the line of contenders until the last man standing has a perfect egg or one good side left. He or she is the winner!
 
What’s the prize? You get to eat your egg first and have good luck for the year, a prize worth coveting.
At our house, we still carry on this tradition each year only we use my favorite colored eggs and we compete at breakfast. Contestants pick their favorite color but the rest of the game remains traditional with a lot of fun and laughs!
I have since learned that other countries have similar traditions such as Greece, the Ukraine, and Estonia among a few .I would love to visit Armenia, but haven’t as of yet, but I have visited Estonia. The Estonians celebrate Easter in a big way as well with a big mid- day dinner, an Easter egg hunt, and egg painting. Similar to the Armenian tradition, the eggs are dyed with red onion skins or beetroot juice before setting them on a platter as a centerpiece for Easter lunch. After lunch, the egg cracking begins. If your egg is not cracked, you are the winner.
Very beautiful hand painted and decorated eggs are also part of Estonia’s traditions. I remember we went into a small coffee shop near Lake Bled and its castle and the proprietor hand painted the hollow eggs herself. To my surprise, my husband bought one and saved it for my Christmas stocking.
So this holiday, try something fun and different with your family. Celebrate with an egg cracking contest and start your own Armenian tradition.


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A SPECIAL VALENTINE

Anglesey moat and castle in the heart of town- Wales.
Think St. Valentine’s Day has a lock on love? For most of us, this holiday does, but not for the Welsh. If you visit reading her compelling story, you’ll understand why.
  Dwynwen, a 5th century Welsh princess, was the most beautiful of King Brychan Brycheiniog’s twenty-four daughters. She fell head over heels in love with a handsome local young man named Maelon Dafodrill and the pair hoped to marry.
Tragedy, however, soon shattered their dreams when they learned they could no longer be together.
It seems that King Brychan had already arranged for the princess to marry another man, a prince. Maelon, of course, took the devastating news to heart; Dwynwen, broken-hearted and hoping to avoid this arranged marriage, fled into the woods to weep and pray to God for guidance. An angel visited her during her sadness giving her a sweet potion that would make her forget momentarily about Maelon while this same angel froze him in a thick block of ice.
God then answered her prayer and conferred on the princess three wishes. For her first wish, she asked that Maelon be thawed. Her second wish pleaded for God to help all true lovers; while the third asked that she never marry. Once all of her wishes were granted, Dwynwen, whose name means “she who leads a blessed life”, was so grateful, she became a nun and set up a convent on Llanddwyn Island, a scenic tidal island off the coast of Anglesey in North Wales. The picturesque ruins of her church remain on this small island and are visited by lovers of all ages during the year. They remember her favorite saying “Nothing wins hearts like cheerfulness.”
St. Dwynwen’s Day is by far the most romantic day in Wales, more so then Valentine’s Day which the Welsh celebrate as well. There are special cards, romantic dinners, and many hoping to propose present a most unique gift to their intended, a love spoon. The tradition of the love spoon is an old one, many think going back to men of the sea, who carved their beloved spoons of wood each with a specific intricate design on the handle. Keys, for example, are symbolic of a man’s heart. They then gifted the love spoon on St. Dwynwen’s Day to the woman they hoped to marry. This lovely tradition still holds true today with gifts of intricately carved spoons and spoon jewelry.
 A few years back, I was fortunate to visit the beautiful island of Anglesey where my husband gifted me with a lovely love spoon necklace with a heart on its handle. Most recently, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle received love spoons during a recent royal visit to Cardiff, Wales. As we approach Valentine’s Day, let’s remember the date matters little, the gifts differ, but it’s the love in our hearts that really counts.
                                                       ***
Prior to visiting Anglesey, I visited my friends in Darbyshire, England. They took me to the most beautiful royal residence in Derbyshire called Chatsworth, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. The manor house, surrounded by gardens, boasts over thirty rooms all furnished with valuable antiques and works of art. As we toured this lovely estate, my mind wandered wondering what life as an 18th century duchess would have been like.
A few years later, I began to write THE DUCHESS’ NECKLACE. Of course her fictional manor was influenced by my visit to Chatsworth.  My duchess, Amelia, does not fit the role of a royal woman of her time. She is feisty refusing to marry and relinquish her royal authority to a husband.
She soon meets and seduces a handsome young Time Traveler who steals her jeweled necklace, proof of her royal title. He Travels to the present to sell the jewels; she, with the help of a gypsy seer, follows hoping to find the scoundrel, kill him, and retrieve her title, but something called love gets in her way. Amelia is faced with the most difficult decision of her life. Love in the present or wealth and power in the past?

Love Spoon

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