Monday, December 5, 2011

December Joyathon: Guest Post + Giveaway with Vanessa Kelly

Meet Vanessa:
Vanessa Kelly writes Regency-set historical romance for Kensington Zebra. Her second book, Sex And The Single Earl, won the Maggie Medallion for Best Historical Romance. Her latest book, My Favorite Countess, was recently nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Regency Historical Romance.

Where To Find Vanessa: Facebook | Twitter | Blog | Author Site

How To Survive The Holidays

I love most everything about Christmas – putting up the tree, stringing the lights, decorating the house, pulling the animatronic reindeer out of storage and setting him up on the lawn – I love it. I also enjoy the baking and the cooking and I even like Christmas shopping, although I could do without the traffic jams and the insane tie-ups in the parking lots.

click to read an excerpt
Christmas is a beautiful and truly meaningful time of year, even if you’re not a church-goer. The music is (mostly) gorgeous, and the bright-colored holiday lights are a welcome respite from the darkness of the dreariest time of year. The vibrant colors of the season, the fragrant greenery, the rich tang of the eggnog, and the laughter and good cheer of family is a welcome and necessary reminder that life is worth living, even in tough times. Dickens taught us that in the example of Bob Cratchit and his family, and I’m just corny enough to find truth in the message of A Christmas Carol.

But…Christmas can also be a royal pain in the ass. The obnoxious commercials that run for weeks on end, the stress of finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list, the pressure of producing great meals (usually several over the course of a few weeks), and the emotional vagaries of family and friends can tip the joy of the season into a steep nosedive. The next thing you know, you simply want to shut the door, crawl into bed, and nurse your hangover from imbibing too many holiday drinks at the company party.

Yep, all the ups and downs of life can pretty much be encapsulated in a love/hate relationship with the holidays.

click to read an excerpt
I absorbed my own love/hate relationship with Christmas from my family—especially my mother. My mom really knew how to do up a dandy Christmas, and with five kids and a big house it was a lot of work. Mom could out-perform Martha Stewart before good old Martha was even a twinkle in anybody’s eye. We had the best looking and best decorated Christmas tree in town, and the decorating didn’t stop there. The entire house was turned into a winter wonderland, with fresh garlands, twinkling lights, ribbons, legions of angels perched atop the fireplace, a truly spectacular Santa Clause collection, and at least two Nativity sets strategically located for maximum spiritual effect. For a little kid, it was like living in a snow globe come to life. In a word, it was awesome.

Mom was also a great cook. She spent weeks before Christmas baking tons of different kinds of cookies from scratch, and storing them in big bins in the freezer. We also had at least three kinds of pies, and big family dinners on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. She made all the traditional fixings, plus the types of specialty dishes Italians cooked up over the holidays. Nobody cooked like my mom, and I mean nobody. To this day I’ve never eaten better, more lovingly prepared food, and just about anyone who knew my mother would tell you the same.

click to read an excerpt
So what could possibly be the downside? Well, by the time we actually got to Christmas Eve, my mother was totally frazzled. Five kids, several holiday dinners, visits to and from family, and decorating, shopping, and wrapping presents. My dad—always ahead of his time—helped as much as he could. The daughters pitched in, and, under duress, even my brothers would occasionally help. But my mother’s standards were so insanely high that by the time she reached the event itself she was exhausted. There was more than one Christmas that ended in an emotional meltdown, starting with my mother and moving through the rest of the family. Fortunately, by the time we got to dessert we usually pulled it together. Thank God, too, because you wouldn’t want to miss the unbelievably good apple, pecan, and mincemeat pies that Mom dished up.

Plus, it was one of the few times of year we were all allowed to eat as much candy as we wanted. Trust me—chocolate does help.

So what lessons did I learn for surviving the holidays? The first is to lower your expectations. Do what you enjoy and let the rest slide. If you like decorating the tree, then make a big production out of that. Don’t like decorating the house, but feel you have to keep up with the Joneses? Do what we do—buy the animatronic reindeer, stick them on the front lawn and plug them in. Bright, fun, and easy-peasy.
The next thing I learned: cook what you enjoy and skip the rest. And it’s okay to take shortcuts. Get the pie from the bakery, do a turkey breast instead of a full turkey, and don’t stress if the mash potatoes are lumpy. Just invest in some good appetizers and dips (we usually went with the peeled shrimp and bought some nice things from specialty food shops), lots of good wine and some tasty eggnog, and don’t worry if all the guests don’t show up on time. In situations such as this, alcohol definitely helps—don’t get so polluted that you tell your obnoxious uncle exactly what you think of him, but just enough sparkly stuff to cheer you up.

And make everyone in the family pitch in to help. Don’t be a martyr and don’t wig-out if the dishes don’t get done until the next morning. Just enjoy the day, enjoy your family, and remember that Christmas is the season of love. As romance readers, we should totally be down with that, right?

Oh, two other essentials to surviving the holidays—chocolate and books. When it comes to stress reduction, I find a really good piece of dark chocolate goes a long, long way. And books? When one is feeling frazzled, there is absolutely no better escape than a truly awesome book.

To help you survive the holidays, I’m giving away a copy of the wonderful Christmas romance—The Christmas Knight, by Michele Sinclair. Just tell me about one of your holiday survival tactics. One person who comments will win The Christmas Knight.

Her Only Hope For The Season
With their father gone this Christmastide, Bronwyn de Breton and her two younger sisters are utterly vulnerable at unprotected Hunswick Castle. And their troubles are compounded when a fearsome knight arrives on the king's orders to take Hunswick as his own—and the youngest de Breton daughter as his wife.

Is A Man She's Never Met
Bronwyn would never let her little sister be forced to marry a man as rough and wild as the new lord is whispered to be. Yet someone must form an alliance with him, or all of Hunswick will be at risk. So she steps forward, pretending to be her own sister.

And A Love She Never Expected
But the new lord is not so easily fooled. He knows Bronwyn is not the woman he has promised to marry. And yet, no matter how duty-bound he may be, there is no resisting the golden-haired beauty who so fearlessly gives herself to him...and awakens a passion unlike any he's ever known.

Where To Buy: Amazon | Kindle | B&N/Nook | Book Depository

You heard the lady! Vanessa is giving away a copy of THE CHRISTMAS KNIGHT by Michele Sinclair to one(1) lucky reader. Here's how to get your hands on a knight of your own:
  • Leave a comment for Vanessa answering her question along with your email addy, ninja style: yourname at gmail dot com
  • Fill out the rafflecopter form below. You must answer Vanessa's question. All other entries are optional. I do recommend that you follow her on her blog because she's got fabulous guest authors and giveaways!
Easy peasy right? Don't forget to enter for the awesome super secret prize here.

A huge thank you to Vanessa for participating in the Joyathon and for giving away a copy of THE CHRISTMAS KNIGHT.

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