Chocolate Delights

Do you like chocolate? If yes, then you know that sometimes nothing can satisfy a chocolate craving but chocolate. It could be a chocolate candy bar, a piece from a gift box, or as simple as a glass of chocolate milk. It would be hard to list all the varieties of chocolate or all the products that include chocolate (cocoa) or cacao in their ingredient list. As the saying goes, America runs on chocolate.

Chocolate is made from the fruit of cacao trees which are native to Central and South America. The fruits are called pods and each pod contains around 40 cacao beans. The beans are dried and roasted to create cocoa beans.

Many historians agree that the ancient Olmecs of Sothern Mexico used cacao to create a ceremonial drink. This civilization passed their knowledge onto the Central American Mayans. Their written history includes the drink was used in celebrations as well as with every meal in many households. The Aztecs believed cacao was given to them by their gods. They also used cacao beans as currency to buy food and supplies. This culture considered the beans more valuable than gold.

Historians agree that when chocolate first arrived in Europe, it was brought by Spanish explorers returning from Mexico. By the late 1500s, it was often served in the Spanish court. Chocolate houses for the wealthy rapidly spread throughout European cities.

Ship ledgers confirm that chocolate arrived in Florida on a Spanish vessel in 1641. By 1773, cocoas beans became a staple import for the American colonies. During the Revolutionary War, as well as WWI and WWII, chocolate was provided as part of the soldier’s ration packs.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, chocolatiers created bars and confectionaries, and major chocolate companies began to mass market a variety of chocolate treats. Do you know that M&M’s are the number one chocolate item sold in the USA?

Today, cocoa from the cacao bean is used in new varieties of food products from beverages to spaghetti sauce.

If you are having a craving for chocolate, I have two recipes that I find quick and easy to make and are satisfying to eat.

Chocolate  – Applesauce Brownie

2 TBS Brownie Mix (any brand)

2 TBS Applesauce (any brand)

Mix together in small microwave dish. Cook on high for about a minute. Check for doneness using a toothpick. Serve warm. Add a dollop of ice cream for a truly decadent treat.

Chocolate Brownie Muffins

1 box devil’s food cake mix

1 15 oz. can pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line 12 muffin cups with foil liners.

In large bowl, combine cake mix and pumpkin until smooth and uniform.

Fill muffin cups.

Bake about 20 minutes, until toothpick comes out mostly clean.

Just to be sure I can satisfy my chocolate craving when it happens I keep a box of the brownie mix in my pantry next a jar of applesauce.

Enjoy.

Believing in tomorrow (and chocolate),

Gini

TREASURE BOXES

Do you have a treasure box? Or maybe more than one?

When I ask my friends this question, boy, do I get a myriad of answers. Some don’t know what I talking about so I go on to explain that it is not a box of gold coins lost by a pirate on the high seas. It is a box of cherished mementos – treasures – that are important enough to you that the box has traveled with you wherever you live.

I have a friend who is extremely creative. She made a cloth-covered box with lace and jewels to keep her treasures in. She laughed when I called it her pirate box. She lives a full, rich life so maybe by now she has more than one box.

I keep my treasures in a plan banker’s box that is almost full. I’ve been adding to my box since high school, and every now and then I go through my box when a memory crosses my mind. I have drawings from grade school (thank you, Mom, for saving them), graduation certificates, a silk kimono from my brother when he was in Viet Nam, and pressed flowers from proms and family funerals. The most coveted treasure is a book of poems and reflections I’ve written over the years – the highs and the lows of my life.

I also have a smaller box of treasures. This one is filled with newspaper clippings, ideas written on the back of used envelopes, pictures from magazines, and photographs. All are ideas for books I planned to write. Let me tell you, I will never live long enough to write all the books that go with each idea in the box. The funny part about this box is that for some of the ideas, I can no longer remember the story that I thought would be of interest to readers or fun for me to write. But I don’t throw them away. Maybe, just maybe, they will trigger a block-buster story, and I will become the next Nora Roberts. Smile here. I can dream big.

So take some time to go through your treasure box and remember those troughs and peaks in your life. Then go live the kind of life that will add more treasures to your box.

If you haven’t started a box, maybe this is the time to find a unique looking one for those moments you want to keep of piece of.

Believing in Tomorrow,

Gini

5 Ways to Celebrate National Quilting Day

The third Saturday in March is National Quilting Day. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the tradition of quilting, its significance, and the ways it connects people. The Kentucky Heritage Quilt Society’s 1989 Quilter’s Day Out was the inspiration for this annual event, which the National Quilting Association approved as a national event in 1991.

You can participate by hanging a quilt outside your house and sharing a photo with the tag #nationalquiltingday.

Here are 5 more ways to celebrate:

  1. Download a free quilt pattern. Click here and scroll down the page.
  2. Contribute a quilt to a special cause such as Happy Birth Day, Baby!
  3. Share your skill by teaching a class or mentoring a new quilter.
  4. Start a new quilting project. The holidays are only nine months away.
  5. Patronize your local quilt shop.

My 2020 Covid Project

My friend, Kendra, owns The Stitching Bee, a shop that specializes in counted cross-stitch handwork, as well as other needle and thread techniques. Whenever I’m in town and have a few minutes to spare, I stop in for a visit.

Such was the case in the fall of 2019. My time was limited, but it had been a while since my last visit, so I stopped. Kendra changes the samples on the walls and display cases regularly. The shop was filled with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas samples. The holidays, by design, are reason enough to entice the stitchers to buy a pattern and the necessary supplies.

The day I stopped she had a non-holiday sample of a pattern called “Baskets,” designed by Karen Kluba from Rosewood Manor, hanging by the register. I couldn’t look away. I liked everything about the piece; the colors, the symmetry, the use of space.

Kendra and I talked for a bit catching up on families and friends. But I kept looking at the sample on the wall. Kendra smiled. She knew she had a sale.

“Get everything I need – pattern, floss and fabric. I’ll pick it up when you call that it’s ready,” I told her. I didn’t remember much of the drive home. I kept thinking about the “Baskets” and how much I would enjoy stitching the piece.

I wasn’t able to begin stitching when I got the supplies home. Life has a way of changing plans in our house. Often, it seems. The holidays came and went, then the pandemic arrived. When the scientists recommended limiting gatherings and celebrations and suggested a stay-home policy I knew it was time to start my “Baskets” project.

This was a large piece to do, not one that could be finished in a weekend. So I read the directions, threaded my needle and made the first cross-stitch. After finishing the top row of baskets, I realized that there was no place in our house that was open enough to hang the finished piece. Then I knew that an antique picture from my Grandmother’s house would be the perfect frame and place for it to hang. For many years the picture had hung in my office, but now was the time for a change.

I needed to rearrange some of the design elements to make the stitched piece fit the frame. So I photocopied the pattern, cut it apart and put it back together so the dimensions matched the frame.

Now I was really excited to stitch. I worked on it every day, more hours some days than others, until it was done.

Kendra’s husband framed my hand-stitched piece using Grandma’s frame. When I step into my office my handwork reminds me that I was able to successfully complete my 2020 COVID project. I get to enjoy it every day.

Believing in tomorrow.

Gini

Happy Ever After

According to the Webster dictionary, the word February is from the Latin Februarius, followed by mensis, meaning month. The original definition then becomes “the month of expiation.” That sent me to the dictionary again. Expiation means to make amends for wrongdoing or guilt.

So how do these definitions move us from wrongdoing or guilt to romance and Happy Ever After?

No romance or lifelong commitment, in my opinion, can endure without some drama. The arguments, the compromises, the commitment make for a great life and equally great entertainment.

As a romance reader and writer, I want to enjoy the journey two characters travel believing in each other, with all their rights and wrongs, to live a Happy Ever After life.

I have favorite authors – Sherryl Woods, Nora Roberts, Virginia McCullough – to name only three of many that surprise me time and again on the unpredictable journeys their characters travel before finding a Happy Ever After. We know the ending of the story, but, for me, the joy is seeing how they get there.

The Hallmark Channel movies send their couples through three difficulties before the man or woman realizes neither of them want to live without the other person. These are not wrongdoings or guilt as suggested in the original definition, more along the line of poor choices. I’ll admit the one to two-hour time frame limits the degree and the complexity of the choices.

I believe in Happy Ever After. Yes, I’ve made poor/wrong choices in relationships, but I’ve also learned from them and have earned my Happy Ever After. Just ask the guy I live with and spoil.

There are days in February that we connect with, which include Ground Hog Day when the length of winter is predicted by the sun and a furry animal.

Birthdays include that of President George Washington. I still remember making a cherry tree in grade school using a tree branch and red gum drops. I don’t remember who got the last candy in the bag.

Another President, Abraham Lincoln also has a birthday. The tall man with the tall top hat was faced with decisions that would either unite or break our country apart. We will never forget a man who bore the consequences of his decision to keep our country united.

Valentine’s Day is the most notable holiday of the month. There is a lot of money spent on marketing the day of love and romance. I think having a special day of the year reminds us to stop the craziness of life and focus on the happiness that is part of romance and love. Such joy.

February has fewer days in the month than any of the other eleven months of the year, but it isn’t small when packed with history, a furry Ground Hog and romance.

Enjoy the month, Make the most of everyday. Find a Happy Ever After.

Believing in Tomorrow

Gini

Giving Thanks for Family Traditions

Webster defines traditions as events that are passed on from generation to generation. The tradition may be a story, a belief, a custom, or a talisman of some sort.

I find traditions comforting, especially those that have passed through more than one generation. Give me the history behind a special one-of-a-kind spoon that Grandma used to prepare a favorite family dish, or a cameo that great-grandmother Erla wore on her wedding dress. I can listen for hours to these stories.

Wisconsin in November brings out a tradition that dates back to early settlers in the region, that of the harvesting of meat to sustain the family through the long winter ahead. Nowadays it is common to see fluorescent orange clothing (or pink for the ladies) hanging on clotheslines or porches as the hunting season nears. Some claim the crisp weather removes human or household odors from the clothes enabling the hunter to be more concealed from the wildlife. I wonder if that is true or if this a tradition that has become part of the adventure.

This year with the raging pandemic there will be smaller family groups gathering as well as fewer spontaneous drop-in visitors. One fallout is that smaller turkeys are being bought for the traditional meal. What if there isn’t any turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce left over for sandwiches on Friday? I, for one, say we can’t let this tradition be lost. Buy a big bird, mom.

Let us also think of new traditions that can be started this year. Maybe we bring out the cloth napkins grandma used that have been kept in a box in the attic, or instead of rushing through the meal to watch the next football game all electronics are turned off during the meal and conversation becomes meaningful.

We can be grateful, happy, and hopeful in this month of Thanksgiving. Maybe that should become a tradition of its own.

Believing in Tomorrow,
Gini Athey

The Beauty of Change

Most people don’t like change, and with good reason. Change brings uncertainty, unfamiliarity, and a sense of loss. When change is forced upon people, there is also a loss of control and a degree of fear.

The one change many people seem to embrace is autumn. The beautiful period of transition from summer to winter when temperatures cool and festivities begin. There are so many pleasures to enjoy that this change of season is the high point of the year for some people.

One of the things I enjoy most is the colorful fall foliage. What do you enjoy most about autumn?

Believing in Tomorrow,

Gini

Fiction for Quilters

What entices you to buy a book? The author? The cover? The description? Reviews? Favorite themes or tropes? Some combination of all of these elements?

When I encounter a new author, the subject matter is often a compelling motivator to buy the book. Women’s fiction that includes small towns and independent women always gets a second look. If the book also involves quilting, it moves to the top of my list.

If you feel the same, check out these books that feature quilting as part of the story.

Forget Me Knot (A Quilting Mystery Book 1)

Welcome to San Fernando Valley, California, where Martha Rose and her coterie of quilters are enjoying life on the good side of retirement—until murder pulls a stitch out of their plans. . .

Martha and her besties Lucy and Birdie are set to expand their Quilty Tuesdays by inviting newcomer Claire Terry into their group. Though at forty Claire’s a tad younger than their average age, her crafty reputation could perk up their patchwork proceedings, especially as they prepare for the fancy quilt show coming to town. But when they arrive at Claire’s home and find her dead inside the front door, and her exquisite, prize-winning quilts soon missing, Martha is not one to leave a mystery unraveled. Especially if she wants to stop a killer from establishing a deadly pattern. . .

Quilters of the Door (The Door County Quilt Series)

Enjoy this new series from Ann Hazelwood, The Door County Quilt Series. This first novel introduces you to Claire Stewart and her life in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin.

Claire Stewart, a new resident of the county, joins a prestigious small quilting club when her best friend moves away. Claire is a watercolor quilt artist, and the beauty of Door County captivates her right away.

Claire’s new friends and her quilt group provide fun, but it’s the man with the red scarf who intrigues her. As she grows more comfortable after escaping a bad relationship, new ideas and surprises abound as friendships, quilting, and her love life all change for the better.

The Sweet Tea Quilting Bee (Southern Grace Book 5)

A stranger’s murder in the dark alley behind May’s Flower Shop is causing the residents of Park Place, South Carolina to keep their children inside and their doors locked at night. Banty Hen Antique Shop owners, Sam and Valerie Owens, are caught right smack dab in the middle since they were the last ones to see the victim alive. Valerie’s new venture, the Sweet Tea Quilting Bee is comprised of an eclectic mix of women, calling themselves ‘newbies’ and ‘oldies’ in the art of quilting. Their weekly meetings help keep Valerie’s mind off the murder, but it’s hard to keep the secret from the ladies that the victim was killed over, of all things, a quilt! The murder suspect has been described as tall and thin, a pitifully vague description, but Police Chief Jess Hamilton and his new detective, a self-described Columbo, are on the case, questioning every tall and thin person in town. Even Sister Margaret, a nun who has just begun her mission at St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church, doesn’t go unnoticed. But it’s hard not to notice a nun who dances, and sings along with country music when she thinks no one’s watching.

Miranda Hathaway Boxed Set: Cutler Quilt Guild Adventures #1-3

This exciting box set includes the first three adventures of Miranda Hathaway and Cutler Quilt Guild Number One:

Book One – The Quilt Ripper: Miranda gets involved in the search for a burglar who simply tears apart vintage quilted pieces and seemingly steals nothing.

Book Two – The Missing Quilter: While helping daughter Zoey search for her missing friend, Olivia; Miranda goes missing.

Book Three – The Quilt Show Caper; To raise money for the school, the guild is holding its first ever quilt show with the oldest quilt in Pennsylvania on display when someone turns on the sprinklers—and steals the cash from the show.

Throughout these adventures, Miranda is assisted by Gabe Downing, a former FBI agent; and Harry, her cat, who always knows when something is wrong.

Birds in the Air

When Emma Byrd moves into the house of her dreams in the small mountain community of Sweet Anne’s Gap, she knows that making friends may prove to be her biggest challenge. Her husband loves his new job and her kids are finding their way at school. But Emma — no natural when it comes to talking to strangers — will have to try a little harder, especially after the sweet, white-haired neighbor she first visits slams the door in her face. Luckily, a few of the quilters of Sweet Anne’s Gap adopt Emma and she soon finds herself organizing the quilt show for the town’s centennial celebration. With Birds in the Air, Frances O’Roark Dowell (winner of the Edgar Award, the William Allen White Award and the Christopher Medal) creates a warm, funny novel about fitting in, falling out and mending frayed relationships one stitch at a time.

You can also enjoy my women’s fiction with quilting themes: The Quilt Company and Quilts Galore (The Shops on Wolf Creek Square, Book 1)

The Power of Positive Thinking

It’s been six months since COVID-19 changed everything. How we shop, how we socialize, how we work, how we communicate, the learning environment, where and how we travel, and even how we dress (masks required!)

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the “new normal”, especially when it looks like these changes will remain in place longer than we anticipated.

Developing a positive attitude in the wake of change and uncertainty is a challenge, but one well worth the effort. When so much is beyond our control, one thing we can determine is how we think, feel, and react.

The benefits of a positive attitude include increased energy, better problem-solving, greater confidence, and more satisfying interactions with people. People with a positive attitude are more creative, more resilient, and live longer than Negative Nellies.

When you are feeling sad or worried or anxious, cultivating a positive attitude may feel just as overwhelming as all the other challenges you’re dealing with. Start with small shifts to build towards greater positivity. Here are five ideas to get you started.

  1. Pay attention to your words and vocabulary. Replace negative, pessimistic phrases with optimistic, empowering ones.
    Instead of saying “I can’t go out to eat,” try “Cooking at home allows me to try new recipes and make healthier choices.”
  2. Start a gratitude journal. Every morning or evening, take five minutes to jot down three things you are grateful for. Reread your entries when you need encouragement.
  3. Connect with people who lift you up with their own positive energy and outlook.
  4. Keep a list of things that inspire you-music, movies, books, blogs, exercise, rituals, etc. Get a daily dose of inspiration to stay on track with your positive outlook
  5. Relish small pleasures. It’s easy to focus on what we’ve lost and what we’ve had to sacrifice, but there is still joy to be had in life. Be intentional about recognizing the pleasure and joy in small moments, such as the perfect cup of coffee, a leisurely walk along a quiet country lane, fresh vegetables from your garden, time to read new books and reread favorites, starting a new hobby, assembling a care package to send to a friend (and envisioning their smile of surprise), and so much more.

How are you staying positive? What inspires you? What encouragement would you offer to others? Keep up the good work and have a wonderful August.

Believing in Tomorrow,

Gini

June – Celebrating Wisconsin Authors

There’s something special about reading a book set in a location you are familiar with, especially when that setting holds fond memories or is much loved.

When an author weaves in authentic details about a location, especially local traditions, culture, and history, the setting becomes another character in the story.

For me, Wisconsin is such a place. What makes The Badger State special for me is its expansive shoreline, quaint small towns proud of their history, creative and beautiful artisan crafts, and a strong sense of community no matter where you live in the state.

Here are five Wisconsin authors whose books showcase what I love about our state.

Kate Bowman – For the Love of Fiber Series, which includes The Spin I’m in and It Never Felt so Good

Virginia McCullough – Author of The Jacks of Her Heart, Greta’s Grace, The Chapels on the Hill, and other award-winning women’s fiction and romance.

Nancy Sweetland – The Door to Love: A Door County Romance

Valerie J. Clarizio – Love on the Door County Peninsula Series, which includes Talia & Ryan’s Story and Jess & Sam’s Story.

Mary Grace Murphy – Noshes Up North Culinary Mystery Series, which includes Death Nell, Death Knock, and Death Nosh.

You can also enjoy my women’s fiction romance, inspired by the joys of living in Wisconsin.

What is a place you love to read about?

Believing in Tomorrow,

Gini