January 18th is a very special day for me and my husband Leo. In 1991, on this day, we arrived in the United States. Every year Leo and I celebrate January 18th as our own Independence Day.
Between the two of us, we carried $260 in our pockets, all that we were allowed to take with us, two small suitcases, and an unbreakable will to be free and happy.
But first, we had to survive. Literally. Yes, life was a precious commodity in those days. You see, we are Armenian Christians, who were born in Azerbaijan, a Muslim country, one of the former republics of the former USSR.
In the late 1980s there was a national and civil conflict largely provoked by the government. A conflict about a spec of a land that two nations, Armenians and Azeri, had argued about from the dawn of time. That land was called Karabakh. Located in South Caucasus, this tiny space was always home for the Armenian people. They call it Republic of Artsakh. But located on the Azeri territory, this region was a sore spot, and a reason for a long-lasting dispute between two nations.
That slowly-brewing disagreement finally erupted into a riot, and then war.
Since then, several wars were fought, and a sea of blood poured over Karabakh. The two nations, that were friendly once upon a time, became the worst enemies. Hatred replaced love, lies replaced truth, and white became black.
The horrors of those days are impossible to describe. Chaos. Fear. Death.
Friends and neighbors became adversaries; many mixed-race families were destroyed, and peace was replaced with war of the worst kind: racial/religious war.
Even though we lived in the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, long away from that disputed land, we, Armenians, became the enemies simply because of our nationality. Blood-thirsty crowds of fanatics boosted on alcohol and narcotics, ran around our beautiful city, vandalizing, destroying, raping, murdering.
At first, people couldn’t believe that this situation would last. Everyone waited for the government to step up and put a stop to it. But…
I don’t want to go into a political aspect of that horrible war. I’m just saying that somebody higher-up— somebody evil— needed it and made those atrocities possible.
When it became obvious that no one was going to interfere and help us, people took matters into their own hands. Many ran away, but even more died trying.
My family was very fortunate. We didn’t lose anyone, and we were able to run away first to the former republic of Georgia, and then to Moscow. We still harbored hope that our government, not the local but federal, would somehow help our situation. Guess what? No one in our nation’s capital cared that millions of people were left homeless, penniless, and victimized. And no one cared about the dead.
At that time, when hope was the only thing that keep us afloat, the United States officially recognized the situation in Karabakh as war against humanity, acknowledged Armenians from Azerbaijan as political refugees, and opened the doors to my people. And that’s how we first met, my then future husband and I: in line in front of the American Embassy in Moscow. That day fate was hard at work. She brought us together, and opened the doors to our new life. Thirty-two years later, we’re still living that life, and couldn’t be happier.
But back then, it would be another year of hardship before we landed at JFK airport. A horrible year of struggles, sacrifices, humiliations, and personal tragedy.
That year we lost my mom just a few months before we were due to leave Moscow. We are still not sure whether the surgeon who performed her simple procedure made a terrible mistake or it was a broken thrombosis, but she died overnight in a hospital. The autopsy was inconclusive. But what does it matter? We lost our anchor, our rock, the glue that kept our family together. She was just 48 years old. In a matter of days, my dad, a vibrant man of 53, became a shadow of his former self. Our family was shattered.
Scared and emotionally beaten, we resembled a bunch of survivors of a terrible disaster. And that’s exactly who we were back then. We all went through hell and back, but somehow our spirits weren’t broken. Even dad managed to drag himself from the abyss of grief. We all were determined to survive. Freedom was our mantra and our God. And so, with my mom’s ashes, we finally left the old country.
And every January 18th I remember my first glimpse of New York, and those first scary and confusing emotions. We were so young, but my hero was confident.
At first, there was the nerve-racking illusion of being deaf because I couldn’t understand a word spoken all around me. I remember people, so many people, laughing, moving, eating, talking… And the noise! The lights! Everything so bright and sharp and loud. I remember clutching my husband’s hand like an anchor and afraid to let go. But most of all, I remember Leo looking at me with his dark tired eyes, and telling me, “We’ll make it, you’ll see.”
And we did.
Even though the events that brought us here were tragic and horrible, we look at it now as a blessing in disguise. If not for that bloody war, we would never cut our ties with the old country, and would never know what true freedom is.
We would never know what it is to be true patriots, and to love your country with everything you are. And it doesn’t matter that we weren’t born here. The old wisdom says the real parents are those who raised you, not who birthed you.
Such a simple and untarnished truth!
We are proud to be American citizens.
God bless United States of America.
God bless my wonderful beloved country.
Here is a small bit from the novel to tease you Regency lovers.
Helena Marshfield is in hiding. Once the indulged daughter of a baronet, she is now governess/companion to a businessman’s daughters. Her family has been in disgrace since her father’s very public suicide. What if someone discovers she has another secret to hide, that her father had promised her to the revolting Lord Elverton as payment for a wager?
Ivor Stafford struggles to free himself from the mountain of debt his father left. Hiding his problems from the not-so Polite World, he takes solace in his membership of the committee formed by the Horse Guards to investigate how Peninsular campaign secrets are being spilled to the French. Also on the committee is Josh Yardley, Helena’s employer.
When Ivor and Helena meet, an unwilling but intense attraction has them both wishing…what if? But when Elverton discovers where Helena is living, she is in great peril. What price duty now, Helena and Ivor?
Vonnie Hughes is a multi-published author in both Regency books and contemporary suspense. She loves the intricacies of the social rules of the Regency period and the far-ranging consequences of the Napoleonic Code. And with suspense she has free rein to explore forensic matters and the strong convolutions of the human mind. Like many writers, some days she hates the whole process, but somehow she just cannot let it go.
Vonnie was born in New Zealand, but she and her husband now live happily in Australia. If you visit Hamilton Gardens in New Zealand be sure to stroll through the Japanese Garden. These is a bronze plaque engraved with a haiku describing the peacefulness of that environment. The poem was written by Vonnie.
“A father is the one friend upon whom we can always rely. In the hour of need, when all else fails, we remember him upon whose knees we sat when children, and who soothed our sorrows; and even though he may be unable to assist us, his mere presence serves to comfort and strengthen us.” —Émile Gaboriau
from Helen Carpenter
Cheese sandwiches for breakfast anyone? Oh yes—and this simple-to-make chewy and crunchy cheese melt combo is the sandwich of choice. Chewy mozzarella, crunchy fresh green peppers and onions, spicy pepperoni, and Italian seasonings deliciously stacked on buttery English muffin rounds make breaking your night’s fast a pleasure.
Melted Cheese Sandwich
6 English muffins, store-bought or hand-baked
1 tbsp. butter, softened
12 slices (1-oz each) mozzarella cheese
1 sweet onion
1 large green pepper
6 oz. sliced pepperoni
Split each muffin and lightly butter the outer side. Place one-half of each muffin buttered side down in frying pan.
Top each muffin half with 1 slice of mozzarella, 1 sweet onion ring, 1 green pepper ring, and 1 ounce of pepperoni. Season to taste with garlic salt and Italian seasoning. Add another layer of mozzarella. Place remaining half of muffin on top, buttered side up.
Fry sandwiches in covered skillet, turning once, until cheese melts and sandwich is heated through. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Once upon a time there was a mother/daughter author duo named Helen and Lorri, who wrote as HL Carpenter. The Carpenters worked from their studios in Carpenter Country, a magical place that, like their stories, was unreal but not untrue. Then one day Lorri left her studio to explore the land of What-if, and like others who have lost a loved one the magical place lost much of its magic. But thanks to family, plus an amazing group of wordsmiths named Authors Moving Forward (AMF), the magic is slowly returning.
Helen Carpenter loves liking and sharing blog posts from other authors. She lives in Florida with her husband of many years and appreciates everyday, especially those without hurricanes.
This is my hubby’s favorite cookie. I must admit it is mine, too. I hope you like them as well. My recipe makes 10 – 12 medium cookies or 7 – 8 large ones.
⅓ cup organic sugar, or ½ cup for a sweeter taste
1 tsp. almond extract
1 cup almond flour (I use super-fine blanched)
Almonds, slivered or whole
Pre-heat oven to 250° F.
Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Pour egg whites into a glass bowl. Set your mixer on high speed. Whip until whites are very firm.
Gradually add sugar, almond extract, and flour. Drop dough onto cookie sheet using a tablespoon or a scooper. Add an almond on top of each cookie, then set pan into oven.
Bake for 20-25 min, then turn off the oven, but leave cookies inside for another 40-45 min.
Remove and enjoy.
*Store the yolks in the fridge to scramble for breakfast the next morning.
Here is a peek at my latest time travel romance novel for your reading pleasure.
Nika Morris’s sixth sense has helped build a successful business, lovingly restoring and reselling historic homes on Florida’s Amelia Island. But there’s one forlorn, neglected relic that’s pulled at her from the moment she saw it. The century-old Coleman house.
Quite unexpectedly, the house is handed to her on a silver platter—along with a mysterious letter, postmarked 1909, yet addressed personally to Nika. Its cryptic message: Find the key. You know where it is. Hurry, for goodness sake!
The message triggers an irresistible drive to find that key. When she does, one twist in an old grandfather clock throws her back in time, straight into the arms of deliciously, devilishly handsome Elijah Coleman.
Swept up in a journey of a lifetime, Nika finds herself falling in love with Eli—and with the family and friends that inhabit a time not even her vivid imagination could have conjured. But in one desperate moment of homesickness, she makes a decision that will not only alter the course of more than one life, but break her heart.
’Til Time Do Us Part is available in Kindle and Paperback at AMAZON.
Stella May is the penname for Marina Sardarova who has a fascinating history you should read on her website.
Stella writes fantasy romance as well as time travel romance. She is the author of ‘Till Time Do Us Part, Book 1 in her Upon a Time series, and the stand-alone book Rhapsody in Dreams. Love and family are two cornerstones of her stories and life. Stella’s books are available in e-book and paperback through all major vendors.
When not writing, Stella enjoys classical music, reading, and long walks along the ocean with her husband. She lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband Leo of 25 years and their son George. They are her two best friends and are all partners in their family business.
from Emma Lane aka Janis Lane
Shifting with the world in rapid change can be a headache for sure. We humans are comfortable with everything when it stays the same, even if sometimes it ought to be different. Yes, the pandemic was scary. That was and is a bad thing. Most of us lined up for the vaccinations and felt thankful there was some protection. I admit I fell in love with the masks and haven’t had a bad cold or any upper respiratory infection since I started wearing one out in public. That’s a good thing. I may be clutching one of my trusty masks for a long time to come. It’s just too easy a protection to ignore. I know some folks don’t feel that way and that’s their right, but for me and my house, we mask.
On the other hand, I’m connected to a family plant nursery. During the pandemic, a renewed interest in farming, house plants, and gardening surged to the top of the hobby list. We were amazed how fast our plants were scuttling out the doors of the greenhouses with folks snatching and grabbing for more.
We planned an anniversary festival with artist and authors setting up for interest. So plants, paintings, and books. What could be more interesting than that! It was a success and so fun. What is the bad news?
Supplies are precious. We may not have enough pots to present our plants this season. We are scrambling and repainting and reusing old ones we can find. Other perennials are presenting in one too big or too small. We must use ingenuity, creativity, and sheer determination to have a successful season. Big supply boats are stuck in canals and such. Nothing we can do except encourage US businesses to pay attention and invent a new factory or two. I shudder to think we must go back to the ‘dig your own.’
My bad news on a personal level was the fall I took tripping over my easel. (Another fun hobby during the pandemic.) No, my nose isn’t broken, but you aren’t allowed to laugh when you see me.
The good news? Oh, it’s the very best. I have a Cozy Mystery release that debuted in the latter part of April. Ta Da! Check out the pretty greenhouse on the front cover of Murder by Proxy, the fifth of the Detective Kevin Fowler Cozy Mysteries. That’s a clue, by the way. An attitude of thankfulness goes a long way to reconciling the not so good.
Happy reading and happy gardening as we flex with the good and bend with the bad taken in perspective. If you’re looking for me, you know where to find me. I’ll be repotting succulents in Greenhouse 3.
A blizzard blows in big-city crimes which spill into the peaceful small town of Hubbard, New York, catching the attention of Detective Kevin Fowler and staff. What unusual acts engage the Secret Service with the local cops? A young man is found badly beaten in the heated greenhouse of the Young Family Plant Nursery. Early spring melt reveals a sinister vehicle with a deadly cargo, even as the master of the greenhouse welcomes part-time alumni.
Romance swirls, tumbles, and produces surprising changes among the group of friends at Buddy and Rita’s diner. Beverly hires a young, ambitious reporter to work at the growing newspaper and starts a new adventure of her own, while Kevin watches over the townspeople of Hubbard. The mystery of a toxic skunk is finally routed by troublesome out-of-towners. An unexpected wedding shocks everyone but the Young Family. Spring has arrived and May is in full bloom in the Western New York small-town Americana, as another beautiful bride walks toward the flower-laded bower under the approving eyes of a group of fond friends.
She lives in Western New York where winter is snowy, spring arrives with rave reviews, summer days are long and velvet, and fall leaves are riotous in color. At long last she enjoys the perfect bow window for her desk where she is treated to a year-round panoramic view of nature. Her computer opens up a fourth fascinating window to the world. Her patient husband is always available to help with a plot twist and encourage Emma to never quit. Her day job is working with flowers at Herbtique and Plant Nursery, the nursery she and her son own.
Look for information about writing and plants on Emma’s new website. Leave a comment or a gardening question and put a smile on Emma’s face.
from Stella May
I’ve been thinking about writing this for a long time, but never put the actual words to paper. Something always stopped me. When the story is vital, and the memories are bittersweet, it’s very hard to transform into words your emotions. At least, it is for me.
So, the women of my family: my great-grandmother Tatiana, my grandmother Vera, my mother Karina, and my aunt Stella. Even the names sound lovely, old-fashioned, and classy, don’t they?
Three generations, four amazing women who shared blood, but were as different from each other as night and day, or as only mothers and daughters can be. Four women, four fascinating life stories. Today, I will tell you about my grandmother.
Her name was Vera, but we called her Verunya. Even her daughters, my mother and my aunt, referred to her by that endearing nickname. No one in the family knew when exactly it started or who started it. But someone did, and it stuck. For three generations.
As a matter of fact, she had two names: Vera, which means “faith” in Russian, and Gulbahar, which means “spring flower” in Azeri. Why? My grandmother was unique in more ways than one. You see, her mother was from a prominent Russian family, and her father….. Well, here’s where we draw a blank. To this day, no one in the family knows who his ancestors were. But as the family lore goes, my great-grandfather was kidnapped as a child and raised in Iran in a Kurdish family. When he met my great-grandmother Tatiana (and no one is sure when or how he ended up in post-revolutionary Azerbaijan, a republic of former USSR) he was so lovestruck that he converted to Christianity to get permission to marry her. And so, Meshady Abbas became Artemy Kurdov. My grandmother Verunya was the only child of that unusual union.
To say that she was a complex woman is truly an understatement of the century. Stunning, strong-willed, capricious, multifaceted, she looked fragile like a china doll, but was stronger than steel. She was beautiful and knew it. She drove men crazy and enjoyed it.
But she wasn’t flighty, shallow, or mean. There was not a single humble bone in her body, but she never hurt anyone on purpose. She worshipped at the altar of high fashion, but sold without hesitation her favorite dress in order to buy her two little daughters Christmas gifts.
She had a huge heart, and loved all four of us, her grandchildren, to distraction. And every time one of us would visit her, before she would open the door, she’d call out, “My dearest one has come!”
She was not your traditional grandmother. She was not traditional anything, period, and that was a huge part of her charm.
For me, she was a personification of everything female. Always dressed to kill, sporting an impeccable manicure and pedicure, she could apply mascara and her famous cherry red lipstick even half asleep. And grey hair? She refused to even acknowledge its right to exist.
She fell in love at 16 with a man who was almost twice her age. Needless to say, no one could stop her from marrying this dashing hunk who happened to be a popular jazz singer. My aunt was born less than a year after, and my mother three years later.
Then, tragedy struck. My larger-than-life grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. He died three months later, leaving a 20 year-old widow with two toddlers on her arms, no income to support them, and no place to live in a strange city. You see, my grandfather Sergey Periev moved his family from Baku, when my Verunya lived all her life, to Yerevan, where he was offered a position as a lead singer in Armenian Jazz band. The apartment they were living in was a rental for the members of the band only, so after his death my grandmother was asked to vacate it. And the year was 1942, the second year of World War II.
But instead of falling apart, this young girl, a child herself, grabbed her two daughters and whatever meager possessions she had, and returned home. With no help from the well-to-do in-laws, who decided they didn’t need an additional burden, she struck out on her own.
I can only imagine how scared she was. She needed to support her family, but had no real profession or formal education. What she had in abundance was sheer guts and a spine of steel. And a true gift that fate bestowed upon her: her amazing voice.
So, shaking off her own fears and insecurities, my Verunya stuck her perky nose up, squared her fragile shoulders, and set to pursue a career as a singer. And the rest was history. She became a star. In my former country, USSR, the name Vera Perieva was familiar to millions.
In her early thirties, she met her second love. Mikhail Kauffman was her impresario. It was a long, happy, and content marriage. But then cancer struck again, taking away the man who became a true father to my mother and aunt, and loving grandfather to my cousins and I.
When in 1991 our family relocated to the USA, Verunya tried really hard to adjust to her new country, but that proved to be a challenge. The language barrier, failing health, advanced age—everything added to the load.
She passed away quietly in her sleep on one brutally cold October morning, wearing an impeccable manicure and pedicure, with not a single grey hair offending her trade-mark mahogany mane.
Last February would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday. I’m sure the angels threw a huge party for our Verunya, with my mom and dad, and all our dearest departed friends and family in attendance. And then the birthday girl sang, and her deep rich soprano flew over heaven making the Almighty sigh with pleasure…..
Stella May is the penname for Marina Sardarova who has a fascinating history you should read on her website.
Stella writes fantasy romance and time travel and is the author of the family saga/trilogy Once & Forever, and the stand-alone book Rhapsody in Dreams. Love and family are two cornerstones of her stories and life. Stella’s books are available in e-book and paperback through all major vendors.
When not writing, Stella enjoys classical music, reading, and long walks along the ocean.
She lives in Jacksonville, Florida with her husband Leo of 25 years and their son George. They are her two best friends and all are partners in their family business.
from Anne Montgomery
Last year, my mother announced she would be throwing herself a birthday party. The event was a command performance, and since no one in the family wanted to tangle with Mary Anne, we all dutifully arrived at my mom’s independent living facility outside of Denver in July for the festivities.
My mother arranged all the details, right down to the devilishly delicious chocolate cake, since, like most of us, she carries the chocolate-addiction gene. When it came time for gift giving, she turned the tables, handing out presents to those in attendance: personal possessions she mostly wanted to give to the grand and great-grandchildren. She was 96.
That night, happy with her efforts, she went to sleep with every intention of not waking up. But the next morning, she blinked her eyes open. As she has every day since. Now it’s not that she’s depressed, it’s just that almost all of her friends are dead. And my dad died in 2019. Then the pandemic hit, leaving her mostly alone in her apartment.
In her defense, she rarely complained. “I read the paper,” she explained. “I watch the news. And I read books every day.” Still, she described the lockdown as worse than the Depression and World War II, times that were awful, but where one was not cut off from most human contact.
Which brings me to today. Though my mother thought her birthday party would be her last project, I now know that’s not true.
“I want you to play Eliza Hamilton,” she said on the phone.
I was half-listening at the time. “Wait. What?”
“I want you to play Alexander Hamilton’s wife. I’ll write the script.”
It seems the people at the home were putting together a series of events in honor of the Fourth of July. My mother had just finished reading Dear Mr. Hamilton, a fascinating account of the life of Eliza Hamilton, the Founding Father’s wife.
I wasn’t sure what to say. While I was in plays as a teenager, that part of my life had been packed away for a long time. That changed a few years back when friends talked me into auditioning for a community theater production of Steven Solheim’s Company. When I was offered the part of the acerbic, hard-drinking, thrice-married Joanne, a job that required singing two solos, a spot of tap dancing, and learning to smoke fake cigarettes, I was rather horrified. Still, when the final curtain call was over and my parents sat happily clapping in the audience, I was glad I took the shot.
“Don’t worry about anything. I’ve got a costume.”
“I’m a lot bigger than you, Mom,” I said grasping for a way to say no.
“And I’ll write your lines.”
I had no worries there. My mother earned a college degree from Penn State University, back when women just didn’t do that type of thing. She was a reporter in radio and print in the 1940s, and is the author of several books of historical fiction. Had my mother been born later, I believe she would have foregone marriage and childbearing and would instead be a governor, or a Supreme Court Justice, or President of the United States.
“Um…” I could find no easy escape.
“The event is on June 24th.”
I was quiet for a moment.
Apparently, I will be playing an elderly Eliza Hamilton, at my mother’s behest.
“I need a project,” she said. “This will be the last one.”
I have the impression that, if all goes as planned and I don’t do something horribly embarrassing, she will once again take to her bed following the event, close her eyes, and—satisfied with her life—she will hope to drift off. Though, knowing Mary Anne, I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be more projects in the future.
In the meantime, I will put on my gray wig and 19th century bonnet and practice my lines.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
Here’s a glimpse at my latest women’s fiction novel for you reading pleasure.
In 1939, archaeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate beadwork, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine-hundred years earlier, was a magician.
Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archaeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.
Anne Montgomery has worked as a television sportscaster, newspaper and magazine writer, teacher, amateur baseball umpire, and high school football referee. She worked at WRBL‐TV in Columbus, Georgia, WROC‐TV in Rochester, New York, KTSP‐TV in Phoenix, Arizona, ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut, where she anchored the Emmy and ACE award‐winning SportsCenter, and ASPN-TV as the studio host for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. Montgomery has been a freelance and staff writer for six publications, writing sports, features, movie reviews, and archeological pieces.
When she can, Anne indulges in her passions: rock collecting, scuba diving, football refereeing, and playing her guitar.