Celebrate New Year's
Walking in the Steps of Our Ancestors

December 2018-January 2019
      With DNA tests and family research so popular this holiday season, there’s nothing better than to literally walk in the footsteps of your ancestors. My husband’s father escaped the Armenian genocide when he was five years old, his family fleeing to France before acquiring safe passage to the US.

     A few years back, we visited The Mormon Family Research Center in Salt Lake City Utah and were helped by knowledgeable people who were fluid in the languages of both our families. We were happy to learn abYerevan Center, Armeniaout each of our parents’ past. We’ve been to Italy but never in our wildest dreams did we ever think we would visit Armenia. It felt so far away from Florida and it was: 14 hours not counting connections and two flights starting from Miami.

      Armenia is a modern thriving country especially in its capital city of Yerevan, but the nation is older than Egypt. Archeologists discovered a cave named Arena-1 containing 6000 year old wine making jugs along with an ancient shoe and more. It was home to Mt Ararat, home of Noah’s Ark, which is now part of Turkey. I recently read on “Armenian Fact of the Day” that St Nicholas, yes that St. Nick - “Santa Claus”, was born in 280 AD to wealthy parents in Antalya Turkey and his mother was of Armenian descent!

     Throughout our fifteen day visit, we met so many kind and wonderful people. In the city Gyumri, devastated in the 1988 earthquake, I sat at an outdoor cafe having a cold drink with a couple on our tour from California. The husband, a college professor, was knowledgeable and fluent in the Armenian language as well as the country’s history. An elderly lady carrying sunflower seeds in a basket with a clear shot glass in its center walked over and was invited to sit down with us. I could see by her clothes and shoes, she was poor. The woman looked at me and told us she wasn’t a beggar. She refused to ask for money but instead offered to sell shot glasses full of her seeds for whatever you wanted to pay. She said the money would help her family members, many of whom were out of work.

      She leaned over and touched my hand speaking to me in Armenian. The professor translated. “She wishes you good health and a long and happy marriage.” The woman attracted a small crowd from our group all of whom bought her seeds. Anyway, the professor who had met her on a previous trip told me that locals told him that if she made a wish for you, it would come true. For some peculiar reason, she only gave her wishes to me. When it came time to leave, she followed me to the bus and waved. What a sweetheart.
the artist colony of Dilljan, a spa town often called Armenia’s Switzerland, I walked into the studio of a wood carver who carried on his family tradition. He showed me photos of ornaments he had carved for the U.S. White House Christmas tree twenty years ago. His work was intricate even on his larger pieces. You know I had to buy a carved egg.
      Many of the country’s modern celebrations take their roots from the ancient Persians, New Year’s, especially.  Ancient Armenians celebrated New Year’s on the 21st of March which is the birthday of the pagan god God Vahan preparing huge feasts to welcome and celebrate the rebirth of nature. If you have any Armenian relatives or friends, you know every family meal is a feast. One of the most ancient peoples of the world who respect their traditions, March 21st remained New Year’s until the 18th century, when it was changed to Jan 1st.

      New Year’s remained the symbol of renewal and remembering the past. Ancient Armenians had a thoughtful cycle of customs, many still practiced in villages today. The New Year is a time to begin again, to think over your mistakes, and try to avoid repeating them. It’s a time to leave all the bad things in the old year and look forward to the new.
    Fire helps with that! Since ancient times, Armenian families have gathered around a fire passing all their bad memories and mistakes into the fire while receiving the fire’s healing light so the New Year would begin bright and welcoming.
     On New Year’s Eve, Armenian girls, as in ancient times, hurry to the nearest river, lake or whatever body of water is near to throw a piece of traditional New Year’s bread “tarechats” or a handful of grain, to bless the water.
     On the first day of the year, the head of the family gave gifts to everyone in the family as was done thousands of years ago. Family members exchanged gifts, while children hung hand knitted socks on the yerdik, a type of chimney, carrying out the tradition of their ancestors. They hoped their stockings would be filled with sweets and presents. Sure sounds like St. Nick to me.
     On New Year’s Eve, girls read their own fortunes by placing an egg in a plate with ashes and colors. The next morning if they found more color than ashes, they would have a good year. The New Year’s table was bountiful and the head of the family first blessed the table offering a taste of honey so all would have sweet days in the year ahead.

     For thousands of years homemade baked bread decorated with small figures and temples symbolized a request for the pagan gods to send a good year. Women baked coins inside the wheat bread before dividing it into several parts as family hurried to find the coins giving them luck in the year to follow.

    We actually experienced something similar. We were at lunch in the Ruben School for Young Artists and cake was served for desert. One of the pieces of cake had a coin baked inside. The finder would have good luck for the next year. No one in our group found it but luckily our wonderful bus driver took a piece home to his kids and they found it. He said his kids loved it.

    We saw so many wonderful sights like Gerhard Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site carved out of the side of a mountain, the History Museum that traced the country’s origin from ancient Persia to the present, wineries, bakeries, and farms.

      Also, we visited the last remaining pagan temple of Garni
and celebrated Armenia’s Independence Day complete with fireworks andstreet performers.  At a carpet weaving company we were feted , eating among the gorgeous and expensive Oriental rugs, while enjoying a show of traditional dancing and music. We visited the Genocide memorial, and the National Theater of state folk dancing and song.

     Finally, We survived the world’s longest cable car ride, the Wings of Tatev. Armenia is full of life, history, and, for us, making wonderful memories as we learned about my husband’s heritage.
Please share you ancestors’ holiday customs in your comments! Some may be similar and many different but reading them makes all our lives richer! Happy Holidays!
- Mariah
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Ghosts of Mary Kings Close Make This #1 Haunted Place!


It’s Halloween! Ghosts, goblins, witches, and vampires will soon walk our hometown streets in pursuit of filling their trick or treat bags with candy. Scotland has many Halloween traditions that we have adapted and carry-on to this day.
The Scottish holiday is known as the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain and held on November 1st to celebrate the end of summer, the harvest, and the start of winter. Scottish traditions begin with a large bonfire. Some turnips are carved into lanterns which are lit and carried and the forerunner of our carved pumpkins.
Edinborough Castle
Guising or ‘galoshin’ sounds like familiar fun. Children disguise themselves as evil spirits dressing in old clothes and painting their faces. This way, the kids can walk safely through the streets at night without being detected by wicked ghouls. The children have to perform a trick before they could expect treats in return. While dookin’ for apples, a favorite of any Halloween party, has you attempting to grab apples floating in a big tub of water with your teeth. Sound familiar?
 About fifteen years ago, my husband and I were fortunate enough to take a driving tour through Scotland. We arrived in Edinburgh and one of the first tours that caught our eyes was a ghost walk at night through the streets of the old part of the city.
Edinburgh, noted as being one of the most haunted places in the UK, makes it a prime destination for ghost-hunters. Little did we know at the time that Edinburgh has since been designated as the most haunted city in all of Europe as well.  Believe me when I say, Halloween or not, this tour made chills run up my spine.
We met our guide near St. Giles Cathedral and he began to relate some very scary tales of hauntings, murder, and witchcraft. We walked the dimly lit streets to Mary Kings Close, a street where victims of the Black Death were sealed up to die. They say their voices can still be heard especially at night. Trust me when I say, his comments rung so true, I was too nervous to listen and that’s coming from a paranormal author.
Old Town- Home to Mary's King Close 
We also visited Greyfriars Krikyard located in Old Town and noted as the most haunted location in Edinburgh. The first burial in this spot occurred in the 16th century and includes many famous Scotsman. But the most notable grave is for Greyfriars Bobby, a loyal mutt beloved by the city for guarding the grave of his owner for more than ten years after his death. When Bobby passed away, he too was buried in an unconsecrated grave inside the cemetery gates. To the present day, reports of his ghostly bark echo through the graveyard at night. Some visitors have even reported seeing Bobby still standing and guarding the grave of his dead master.What are these people doing there at night?


Some other scary places we did not visit at night include Dalry House which is in an area of the city near the Famous Haymarket. This house is believed to be haunted by one of the most famous Edinburgh’s ghost: The Johnny One Arm. Doesn’t sound like someone I’d like to meet up with at night. His real name was John Chiesly who lived during the 17th century. Legend has it that he was ordered to pay a substantial annual alimony payment to his wife when their divorce became final. Johnny didn’t take this lightly. He did not want to pay the money so one day, guided by anger, he killed the magistrate who ordered the payment. He was soon captured, tortured, and his right arm cut off. He was hanged and his body was left on the gallows to warn others. The body, however, soon disappeared. Some believed it was taken by his friends for burial, but rumors surfaced that a one armed ghost was spotted in the area. A three hundred year old skeleton with only one arm was found beneath the Dalry House in 1965. Sure gives me the shivers!

The Death Coach of the Royal Mile is believed to be a horse driven carriage travelling to Old Town to collect the souls of the departed. Witnesses to this event describe the coach as glowing and pulled by black horses. Sightings of this coach are believed to signal an imminent disaster in the city. Yikes!!!!

The Liberton House ghost is one of a very few that has been photographed. It seems this house is haunted by an unknown girl. What we do know is that she manifests herself by wreaking havoc in the electrical equipment which malfunctions for no good reason.

Let’s not forget Edinburgh castle. Lucky for us we toured the castle during daylight. With nine hundred years of history, the castle is one of Scotland’s most haunted places. Built as a military fortress in the early 12th century, the castle has survived surprise attacks, executions and a short capture by the English. Now a major tourist stop, tours of the dungeons which housed the infamous Lady Jane Douglas of Glamis who was accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake. Her ghost wandered down the castle’s underground passages and never returned.

 In 2001, Edinburgh Castle became the site of the one of the largest paranormal investigations in history. Nine paranormal researchers and over 200 members of the public explored the castle's forgotten chambers and secret passages for signs of ghostly activity. The public was not informed in advance as to which areas of the castle were rumored to be haunted and which were not. What the researches learned was that 51% of participants in haunted areas reported paranormal activity, while only 35% did so in the non-haunted areas. When visiting the castle, always look behind you. Shadowy figures, sudden drops in temperature, and feeling like someone is tugging on your clothes are all everyday experiences there. Thank goodness our tour ended in the gift shop to taste a wee dram of Scotch. Trust me that dram was needed!

 Ghosts, witches, and stories of torture aside, I loved Scotland filled with wonderful people, beautiful scenery, and amazing history. I hope to go back some day.


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Egypt!  The land of the pharaohs, the pyramids, and The Nile! Ever since we
Giza & The Sphinx
have been married, Egypt has always been at the top of our trip wish list. In 2010, our dream came true. Believe me, I felt like pinching myself from the time we landed in Cairo to sailing into the Temple of Abu Simbel  not too far from the Sudanese border.
We awoke the next morning to a breath taking view of The Nile. After breakfast, we left for the pyramids at Giza. We climbed up to the entrance of the largest one but did not go inside since you had to crawl most of the way through it. From there, we went to the Sphinx. I remember thinking how close this monument was to town. There were street merchants all around, but they didn’t hassle you. I remember buying two necklaces from the cutest little boy.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Egypt without a camel ride so that was our next stop. The camels looked regal with their colorful woven blankets and handlers in traditional garb. I got up on one which surprised me!
After lunch in a local outdoor restaurant where they cooked chickens in the ground and had restrooms that were mere holes in the dirt (culture shock), we drove to the step pyramid, the oldest pyramid on record.
Since it was the prototype, its structure was not perfect, but it was situated in n the Sahara desert. Not too far away, lush tropical greenery from Nile irrigated fields served as home to water buffalo and donkeys.
Our second day in Cairo, we visited the largest mosque in Egypt and the Cairo museum. The museum was raided with relics destroyed during the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring began less than two months after we arrived home. Filled with ancient treasures, the coral colored building was not air conditioned back then except for Tutankhamen’s room. At the time of our visit, the museum housed many royal mummies and archeologists had just discovered a new one of a queen. Tutankhamen’s burial mask was inlaid gold as were his two sarcophagi.
The next day, our flight to Luxor left at four AM. From the airport we went to
the temple of Karnak filled with statues and drawings. I was greeted by a small dog sleeping at the feet of the statute Ramses. That same day, we went to the Temple of Luxor with its enormous columns and its promenade lined with small sphinxes.
That evening we took a horse and buggy ride with Omar and his horse Rambo through the market where your eyes feasted on colors and your nose inhaled spices before attending a light and sound show at Karnak. We watched the show, but could see men digging not too far away reminiscent of Indiana Jones.
One our tour, we visited the Temple of Horus with paintings dating back to 1500 B.C and visited the museum at Luxor. 
Leaving Luxor, we toured the Valley of the Kings. We went inside the tombs of Ramses II and Ramses VI and of course the most popular Tutankhamun’s tomb which housed his gold sarcophagus and mummy. The young king’s room had paintings of baboons on the wall. Before this turns out to be a book, I’ll skip down to our trip to Abu Simbel. Along the way, we visited temples and ruins on islands since we spent three days on a Nile riverboat.  We approached the massive temple at Abu Simbel by boat on Lake Nasser and the sight of it when we approached was jaw-dropping.
Original 2000 years old un-retouched
It was quite a walk to the large temple of Ramses with its enormous statues that greeted us at the entrance. Inside the temple were colorful drawings and painting that looked like they had just been finished. From there we visited Queen Nefertiti’s temple with smaller but just as beautiful statues. We stayed for the light and sound show which took my breath away with its beauty in multi colors and pictures projected upon the Temple.

We were in Egypt two weeks and toured the entire length of the country by boat, plane, bus, and riverboat. Our guides were professors of antiquities from the University of Cairo. I feel so very fortunate to have participated on such a journey that I filled the pages of a journal.
Abu Simbel- The small figures at the bottom are people!

I love to travel and always have a wish list but this trip is by far my most memorable. 

In my writing, I Travel as well, only through Time Travel like in The Duchess’ Necklace. Thank you for allowing me to share this with you. 

–Mariah Lynne