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Saturday, December 28, 2019

Herbs for Health in the New Year

elderflowerWith flu season here, this is a good time to explore an herb famed for treating respiratory ailments, and other physical complaints, elderberry. It’s also known as American Elder, Black Elder, and Tree of Music to give a few of its names. Some varieties of elder grow no larger than bushy shrubs while others reach the height of huge trees. In addition to its medicinal uses, Native Americans used the long, straight, hollowed stems of elder for arrows.

They pushed the soft and poisonous pith out of the stems with hot sticks. Indians also bored holes in them to make flutes which gave Elder its name ‘tree of music.’ Hunters lured elk closer with elderberry whistles. I referred to this use of elder in my American historical romance novel Red Birds Song.
elderberriesThe fruit was believed to have a cooling, gentle laxative and urine increasing effect. Elderberry wine was thought to be a tonic. The berries are said to aid arthritis. The juice simmered until thick was used as a cough syrup and for colds. The rest of the medicinal was used with great caution and some parts avoided entirely. The inner bark of elder stems and the roots were generally regarded as too dangerous to experiment with, however women drank very small amounts of elderberry bark tea for bad menstrual cramps, to ease the pain of labor and help the child along. I used a potent dose of elderberry bark tea in my historical Native American romance novel, Through the Fire.
Indians and settlers believed that small amounts of potentially poisonous plants could be beneficial under certain circumstances to stimulate the body to heal or maybe because it was fighting off the poison. Native Americans shared their storehouse of knowledge regarding herbal treatments with colonists who used these remedies in combination with those lauded cures they brought with them. Elderberry was also a vital plant in the Old World.
From Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs:
Elderberry Syrup“One of the human race’s earliest plant companions (found in Stone Age sites) the elderberry has developed reputations for great powers of good…as well as great powers of evil. In some parts of the world, no prudent carpenter would make a cradle of elderberry wood for fear of bringing harm to the baby. The elderflower has been involved in human history for centuries, and one story suggests that it takes its name from a unique medicinal dimension. The generic name Sambucus may come from the Greek Sambuke, a musical instrument made from elderberry wood. For centuries the plant has had the reputation of healing the body, but in elderberry’s golden age, it made music to heal the spirit.
During its long association with humanity, the elderberry’s traditions have become an incredible jumble of conflicting currents. It provided the wood for Christ’s cross; it was the home of the goddess Freya. If seen in a dream, it meant illness was on the way; it was such a healthful plant that seventeenth century herbalist John Evelyn called it a remedy ‘against all infirmities whatever.’  It would ward off witches if gathered on the last day of April and put up on the windows and doors of houses; it was very attractive to witches and thus should be avoided after dark.

bird eating elderberriesElderberries worked their way into every aspect of living from dyeing hair black to showing berries just at the right time to signal the beginning of wheat sowing. Shakespeare had something to say about it. One of his characters called it ‘the stinking elder.’ The Shakers used it as a medicinal. The wood of the old stems, hard and fine grained, was prized by the makers of mathematical instruments. The list could go on and on for pages; elderberries stand in our gardens as old friends.”
“Elderberry, or elder, has been used for centuries to treat wounds, when applied to the skin. It is also taken by mouth to treat respiratory illnesses such as cold and flu. In many countries, including Germany, elder flower is used to treat colds and flu. Some evidence suggests that chemicals in elder flower and berries may help reduce swelling in mucous membranes, such as the sinuses, and help relieve nasal congestion. Elder may have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anticancer properties.”
*Image of elderberry syrup, also below
477900653Plant Description
“European elder is a large shrub or small tree that grows up to 30 feet tall in wet or dry soil in a sunny location. Elder is native to Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia, but it has become widespread in the United States. Deciduous leaves grow in opposite pairs and have five to seven leaflets. Flowers are white and flat-topped with five primary rays. Berries are green, turning red, then black when ripe.”
Parts Used: “The berries and flowers are used as medicine. Berries must be cooked before they are taken. Raw berries contain a chemical similar to cyanide.”
Available Forms: “Elderberry is available as a liquid, syrup, and tincture, as well as in capsule and lozenge forms. Dried elder flower is usually standardized to at least 0.8% flavonoids. Sambucol is standardized to 38% elderberry extract for adults and 19% for children. Sinupret contains 18 mg of elder flower.”
How to Take It: “Do not give elderberry or any product containing elder to a child without first talking to your pediatrician.”
To Make Your Own Elderberry Syrup:
Or order the Original Sambucus

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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Childhood Christmas Memories - by Judy Ann Davis

“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, 
and we are better throughout the year for having,
 in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.”
Laura Ingalls Wilder
One of my most favorite memories of Christmas is going out into the woods with my family and canvasing the hillsides to find the perfect tree which we'd load on our Farm-all tractor and bring home. To be honest, it wasn't always the most perfect tree. Many times it was a bit misshapen and often boasted a few holes, but it was "our Christmas tree." By the time the lights were strung and the ornaments were placed on its branches, it was considered the best tree ever.
My mother had the most beautiful reflectors that surrounded the bulbs on the light strings. They were stars with mirrors on the points to reflect the light from the colored bulbs.  An angel was always placed on top, and down below the tree on the front skirt, the manger scene held an important place.

Tinsel? We put lots of tinsel on our tree. Talk about helping the aluminum foil industry! We'd start placing it strand by strand until one of us tired and started putting clumps over the branches--and in the end some tinsel was actually tossed near the top.

Someone asked me once what was my favorite gift? I think my Betsy Wetsey doll was a highlight of my presents, but I always loved books. To this day, I remember "Black Beauty," "The Bobbsie Twins," "Heidi," and the "Trixie Belden" series.

What were your favorite childhood memories? 
Please share them below in the comments

Wishing everyone a Holly Jolly Christmas
 and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Simple Things Make A Joyous Christmas.

Some of the simplest things make up my fondest Christmas memories.

I thought all children received only one gift at Christmas until Miss Aylie Pentecost instructed each student in first grade to stand, one at a time, and rattle off what Santa had brought him or her.

After listening to the other kids recite their long lists, I decided to add to mine. It was the first time I remember telling a lie. Even at the age of six, I knew it was wrong.

It was embarrassing enough to attempt to speak in front of the class. Worse when guilt crept over me as I stammered, “I got a baby doll, a spinning top, a set of jacks, and a teddy bear that plays a xylophone when I pull it across the floor."

I can close my eyes even now and remember the smell of that rubber doll and feel the texture of the soft pink blanket wrapped around her. The other toys I claimed to have received were either from a previous Christmas or belonged to one of my siblings.

I wondered if the other kids had fibbed about their gifts. I was sure one boy did because he took ten minutes to get through his list.

I think I was eleven when on Christmas Eve, Mama took my siblings, Jewell, Paul, and me to the Ben Franklin and gave us each a dollar bill with which to select and buy our own Christmas gifts. The dollar didn't buy much, but I was excited to find a plastic soldier attached to a parachute. It is the only gift I remember from that year.

My siblings and I each bought one. The temps were mild, in the 50s that Christmas Day. We took our plastic soldiers outside, threw them high in the air and watched them drift to the ground. We enjoyed playing with our parachute toys for hours, laughing and guessing which would stay in the air longest.

Mama never knew it, but Jewell, Paul and I climbed on the roof over the carport to throw our parachute soldiers from a higher altitude. We had a blast that Christmas and paid only 39 cents each for our toys.

In our family, all seven children had a box. Each box was placed under the tree on Chrismas Eve. On Christmas morning, we found fruit, nuts, candy and usually one gift in each box.

Daddy often made a fruitcake on Christmas Eve. Mama, my siblings and I, took bowls and sat around the living room or at the kitchen table, cracking pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts to go in it. We didn't include the yucky gummy candies in our fruitcake. Ours had real fruit in the batter, like oranges and pineapple. It was delicious!

I can't emphasize enough that the simple things make the Christmas season joyful. Joy comes from families laughing together, singing Christmas songs about the Savior's birth, and enjoying each other's company.

Most importantly, as we gather around the feasts on our tables,  let's remember we only celebrate Christmas because of God's special gift to the world--a perfect baby born in a stable and laid in a manger of straw, long, long ago.

My prayer for you is that you surround yourselves with family and loved ones this Christmas, and cherish the time you have left with them. With that said, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Since she met him at a cookout, Jill suspects there is more to Rob than meets the eye. But every time Jill questions him about his childhood, he clams up or uses an excuse to leave. Jill is falling for Rob, but something is troubling him. What is Rob hiding? Will Jill's discovery make or break their relationship? 

A heartwarming, emotional romance with a large dose of intrigue and humor--by Laurean Brooks

Monday, December 16, 2019

Easy Holiday Dinner for Guests by @JoanReeves

No Sweets—Just Dinner on the Table
Had enough cookie recipes? Want something to feed the family or guests?

If you're like me, you have no time to spare during the holidays. Preparing elaborate meals for guests? Nope. That's not what I want to do.

I fall back on my Crock Pot, which is the brand of my slow cooker. Mine is decades old. It's big and heavy with a stoneware insert, and it's not programmable.

Today, Crock Pot makes programmable slow cookers and even a power pressure cooker that can also be used as a slow cooker. (Instant Pot also has a slow cooker function on it.)

After breakfast, I can throw all the recipe ingredients into my Crock Pot, and I don't have to do anything else until a half hour before dinner is to be served.

One of the easiest entrees to prepare and serve is Chimichanga, a Tex-Mex favorite that gets rave reviews. It's a meat filling that's easy to make and delicious. For a holiday meal, especially for those who don't get Tex-Mex food that often, it's a winner.

Just so you'll know, a "real" chimichanga is a meat filling, with or without beans, wrapped in a flour tortilla and fried.

The kind of chimchanga we'll be making is the meat filling that you'll wrap in a flour or corn tortilla to make a taco with all the trimmings.

Each guest "builds" his/her own chimichanga taco. Let's call it...

Christmas Chimichanga

  • 2 pounds of beef chuck roast cut in cubes (or 2 pounds of beef stew meat if you really want it to be even easier)
  • 2/3 cup beef broth
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dried leaf Mexican oregano
  • 1-2 teaspoons cumin (use more if you like a stronger flavor)
  • 2 teaspoons salt1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • If you have time, quickly brown the beef chunks. If not, don't worry about it.
  • Place all ingredients in your slow cooker. Cover with lid. Cook on Low for 10-12 hours, or on high for 5-6 hours.
  • When time is up, use 2 forks to shred the meat. The meat should be moist, but not have much more than a tablespoon or two of liquid remaining.
  • If there's liquid that didn't absorb into the shredded meat, either remove the meat with a slotted spoon, or pour everything into a saucepan and simmer until the liquid is nearly gone.
mexican-food-1561970_1920_by ALFONSO CHARLES, Pixabay
To Serve

You can prep all of this days before you plan to serve it. Just store well in the fridge and sprinkle lime juice on the avocado to keep it from turning brown.

Flour or corn tortillas
Shredded lettuce
Diced tomato
Sour cream
Shredded cheddar
Diced onion
Avocado chunks
Chopped fresh cilantro
Sliced jalapeno pepper
Pace's Picante or a similar salsa.

This will be the best taco you ever ate! If you have any chimichanga meat left, it freezes well. Place in a good freezer container for a delicious meal in the future.

Post Script

With all the time you save, why not read my new holiday romance short story Stuck on the Naughty List?

Cassie returns to Capitola, Texas, her small hometown, for Christmas and is immediately arrested on a trumped-up charge and taken downtown to be photographed and booked. 

That's where she meets the new Chief of Police. Could he be the perfect man to mend her broken heart?

Only 99 cents for a feel good story that will leave you with a smile!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

With a Song in My Heart by Bea Tifton

When I found out five years ago that my autoimmune disease had progressed too much for me to ever
Steve Johnson, photo.
work outside the home again, I crumpled up my bucket list and threw it away. After all, I thought, what was the point?

Since then, I’ve bounced back a bit. I know that there are some things I really wanted to do that I will never be able to do, but I’ve created a new life for myself.  Recently, a friend of mine told me that a new choir was forming, auditions by invitation only. I hadn’t been able to sing for years as my health problems damaged my voice, but gradually, my voice was coming back.  I instantly wanted to audition, but I dithered. It had been so long. I was out of practice and, well, scared. But I knew that if I didn’t try, I would always wonder. This choir, you see, was going to be the choir that performed with the symphony orchestra for my town. No small feat. And, secretly, I’d always dreamed of singing in the vast, ornate concert hall where the orchestra performed. 

I prepared something simple and dressed up for the audition. The symphony conductor’s wife, a celebrated conductor in her own right, was going to be leading the choir. She was very nice but I was so nervous. I was sure I bombed my audition. But, the next day, I got the email inviting me to be a member of the choir.  I simply couldn’t believe it. I was over the moon.
The rehearsals were so much fun. I feel most alive when I am singing. I felt happier and more hopeful than I had in years. Finally, once again, I felt like I was a part of something. I had to take naps all day the day of and the day after rehearsals, and to be careful to limit my activities, but it was worth it. Finally, it was time for us to perform in the Home for the Holidays concert with the symphony orchestra. I was like a kid. I was thrilled to discover that the rehearsal hall and the performance hall are connected by a long, winding, underground tunnel. As we passed Santa's dressing room, I giggled like a schoolgirl.  It still didn’t seem real. But as I sat on the front row of the choir (how did that happen?) and the orchestra tuned up, I realized I was actually there, sitting right behind the percussion section.

We performed Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. I attended the choir party Sunday, then came home, exhausted but happy.  As I took out my journal that night, I turned to the back and looked over my newly-created bucket list. Carefully, I put a check by the sentence, “Sing in the performance hall with the symphony.”

And my heart sang. 

May your dreams come true this holiday season.